What is the Spurgeon Fraternal?

So I came back from the Spurgeon Fraternal this afternoon; and it was good. I thought I’d write down a couple of thoughts regarding it.

What is the Spurgeon Fraternal?

3 days, 8 sessions, focused on ‘God is the Gospel’.

The Spurgeon Fraternal is aimed at pastors who hold to the Doctrines of Grace and by and large is attended by those of a Baptistic position [that said, this year there was at least one Paedo-Baptist in the group].

The fraternity’s aims are mutual edification by fellowship with each other and prayer for one another.

That works out in the following way: We have three [or four] sessions a day, of one and a half hours during which we go through some content for half an hour, talk about the content for half an hour and then listen to brothers prayer needs and pray for them for half an hour. The rest of the time is set aside for fellowship and casual conversation (which translates into lengthy debates of the pastoral and theological type).

Where and When is the Spurgeon Fraternal?

Last night bonfire.

Currently the Spurgeon Fraternal happens twice a year; towards the end of the year it’s run on UJ Island, Vaal Dam, and towards the beginning of the year it’s run down in the Western Cape (in Stellenbosch).

The UJ Island, Vaal Dam fraternal is the fraternal that I can make. The beginning of November is just before things start getting crazy and has become a great way for me to gird my loins for the coming battle and I have no doubt that many of the prayer requests offered up are brought before the Lord by brothers regularly in the coming months.

How do I get to go to the Spurgeon Fraternal?

A walk on the wild side.

No group has “rights” to the Spurgeon Fraternal. The mix of Baptist Churches is quite encouraging. This year a number of Baptist Union of Southern Africa churches were represented, some Sola 5 churches, some churches that are in Sola 5 and the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, some independant Baptist churches and a guy from REACH (Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church).

The right person to speak to would be Peter Sammons from Germistion Baptist Church who is the custodian of the mailing list which will inform folk of what’s happening when (psammons@iburst.co.za).

Why consider going to the Spurgeon Fraternal?

To get to the island you take a ferry across the dam. Great times.

Consider going to the Spurgeon Fraternal if you hold tightly to the Doctrines of Grace and desire fellowship with like minded brothers. The fellowship this year was exceptional, the venue as always was great (the sleeping quarters are crude but the food is excellent), the speakers were good (the DVD presentation wasn’t as good as the local content led by Joachim Rieck and Brian Watts), there was worship (we sang a hymn before each session and spent a great deal of time in prayer).

I loved being amongst a bunch of Reformed Pastors and the sideline chats were as edifying as the billboard speakers (I spent an evening been schooled on Amillennial Eschatology and a morning considering Chapter 25 of the 1689; big plus for me). This is a firm fixture on my annual calendar.

Praying for the Holy Spirit

BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Assembly

The theme for the 132nd Assembly of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa was Missions. Click image to enlarge.

I’ve just arrived home from the Baptist Union of Southern Africa‘s 2013 Assembly (It was the 132nd gathering of South African Baptists). The keynote sermons are a mixed bag of fruit. A sermon that really stood out for me this year was preached by Charlie Rampfumedzi. He is the principal of Christ Seminary (can someone closer to the seminary confirm the actual name of the seminary for me? I was told by Rocky Stevenson this past week that it’s actually Christ Baptist Seminary) in Polokwane. Christ [Baptist] Seminary is a campus of The Master’s Academy International.

Now in my home, over Sunday lunch, we play punch the preacher. OK, that’s an overstatement, Liezl (and whoever else is visiting for lunch) gives a critique of the Sunday sermon. Anything’s up for grabs, mannerisms to content, there are no holy cows. I find it useful to my personal growth and it’s become a way for me to gauge whether the main point of my message translated into the mind of my hearers.

BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Assembly, Trent, Trent Eayrs, Umbizo

A highlight of the conference for me was the rich worship. Click image to enlarge.

Anyhow, the following critique emerged after I preached a sermon from Acts 1 (from both a parishioner and my wife), “You said you must be filled with the Spirit but you never said how.” This past Tuesday, when I sat down with a group over lunch and discussed Charlie’s sermon with them, John Rowland’s critique stood out for me because I’d heard it before. Let me be clear – I’m not advocating John’s position (he makes a link to Dispensationalism whereas I’d make the link to Cessationalism – and for the record, I’m both) but I’d love there to be some debate and John was bold enough to put pen to paper. Below is his thinking. I’d be interested to hear what you say (for the record Charlie only had 20 minutes to preach a sermon on a chapter from Acts so it was impossible for him to develop every theological point, however because this was noted, and because it’s been pointed out in my own preaching, and because John MacArthur… oh, you get the point… read it and comment below):


The thesis of this short paper is that it is an inherent aspect of dispensational theology that Christians should not pray that God would grant the Holy Spirit to them.

In Luke 11:13 Jesus says:-

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

CI Schofield comments:-

‘To go back to the promise of #Lu 11:13, is to forget Pentecost, and to ignore the truth that now every believer has the indwelling Spirit #Ro 8:9, 15 1Co 6:19 Gal 4:6 #1Jo 2:20, 27.’

In his book ‘Found: God’s will’ Dr John MacArthur, Jr writes:-

‘I have sat in church and heard sincere people pray, “O, God, send Your Spirit,” and have thought to myself, No, He is here. He is here! I have heard people pray, ‘God give me more of Your Spirit,” as if He came in doses.’

Is it not also significant that MacArthur says nothing in his study Bible on Luke 11:13 about the wonderful promise, in answer to prayer, of our Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit?

Both Schofield and MacArthur are being consistent with dispensational theology. This teaches that after the Jews had rejected Christ and the kingdom, God moved to his parenthetical plan B and introduced the church age. Hence since our Lord’s words in Luke 11:13 were given in his teaching to Jews they no longer pertain to the church age because the church received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

I have heard two brothers from dispensational backgrounds; give moving messages on the need of the power of the Holy Spirit in ministry. Especially, they spoke of our need of him in preaching. Both failed to tell us how to obtain that power.

There are two problems with dispensational theology at this point:-

1 It dismisses precious truth taught by our Saviour as irrelevant.

2 It does not account for prayers in the other parts of the New Testament:-

‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’ (Eph 1:17)


‘For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,’ (Eph 3:14-16)

On the same page quoted above, MacArthur also dismisses prayers for more grace. In many of the letters of the apostles we find such greetings as:-

‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Phil1:2)

Also closing words of their letters such as:-

‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2Cor 13:14)

Are these two latter references not prayers?

To my dispensational brothers, I encourage you to turn from such erroneous teaching and to seek the Lord’s face for what the church in South Africa desperately needs. We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival. Pray in terms of our Lord’s promise in Luke 11:9-13.

John Rowland

Angus Buchan at Ein Gedi, Debunked

Maybe you’ve watched a YouTube video of Angus Buchan, at Ein Gedi, which claims to show a miracle of Acts 2 importance? It is a Hollywood fabrication. This is footage of the night with comments and notations.

You can find this ministry (The 5 Minute Theologian) on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The5minutetheologian.

A personal review and application of Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy

Ministries of Mercy

So Ministries of Mercy was first published in 1989. Maybe you can remember, shortly after, in the 1990’s, red ‘WWJD?’ armbands popped up all over the place. You just weren’t cool if you didn’t have one. ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ quickly became “a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christianity who used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus” (Wikipedia 2012a). Ministries of Mercy as a book was not causal in the social concern explosion of the 1990’s, but was rather a product of its time.

How might we summarise the content of Ministries of Mercy? “Who is our neighbour, and how should we relate to them?” asks Garibaldi McFlurry (2012), “That’s the question that drives this book.” Ministries of Mercy is divided into two parts, the first part, a running contextualized commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, is captured succinctly in this quote from the book, “The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel. If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely” (Keller 1989:58). The second part is very practical, dealing with implementation ideas and issues.

In December 2009 Midrand Chapel set up two Bible Studies using Ministries of Mercy as a guide book (Penrith 2009). As elders we desired to initiate an evangelistic work into Olivenhoutsbosch, a neighbouring township, and felt there needed to be a deeper theology of social concern tied to the project. At the time there was also a perceived lack of social concern in our congregation and we wished to approach the issue in a measured way. Over the period of the study I evaluated the book and was involved in initiatives which flowed out of the study. Both my positive and negative observations are detailed in the evaluation section below.

It’s a parable not a fable

Ministries of Mercy is very well written. It is engaging. It is challenging. The use of a single passage of Scripture upon which several chapters are hung gives it a flow and makes it come across exegetically. Tim Keller is a great writer. However, I believe the book’s use of the parable of the Good Samaritan is flawed. Let me demonstrate:

Chapter Title Passage
1 The Jericho Road Luke 10:25-37
2 The Call to Mercy Luke 10:25-29
3 The Character of Mercy Luke 10:34-35
4 The Motivation For Mercy Luke 10:33
5 Giving and Keeping: A Balanced Lifestyle Luke 10:33
6 Church and the World: A Balanced Focus Luke 10:33
7 Conditional and Unconditional: A Balanced Judgement Luke 10:33-35

Keller sees a point of teaching or point of application under every stone and behind every bush in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Oh, he isn’t as allegorical as Origen (Lienhard 1996:138), but he breaks a fundamental rule in interpretation. Each of Jesus’ parables makes only one main point.

Keller will have his reader believe Luke 10:33, “And when he saw him, he took pity on him” underpins The Motivation For Mercy; and, from the same verse, “But a Samaritan…” makes a point about Church and the World: A Balanced Focus. No, that’s beyond Christ’s intent. The parable as a whole is Jesus’ single answer to the single question, “And who is my neighbor?” To go beyond that is to inject meaning into the text that was never intended. I believe that’s what Keller does; for noble reasons he embellishes the point of the text until the point becomes obfuscated and the intended meaning to the intended recipient is lost.

I’m a chapel not a mega-church

The second negative is hardly Keller’s fault, so I’ll not dwell on it too long. Much of the application seemed to be focused on a straw church of 1,000,000 volunteers and an unlimited budget (weighed in Dollars not in Rands). We had neither.

Also Keller’s use of surveys immediately smacked of church-growth which is anathema to the conservative church culture I come from.

It’s not the Gospel and social concern, it’s the Gospel and social concern

To me it seems amongst the Christian’s primary challenge is to maintain one’s focus upon the cross. That’s really not easy in this messed up world, but we make it harder when we start to allow even good things to impinge on that which should be singular.

Keller presents a model in which the Gospel and social concern go hand in glove.

The Gospel must be primary in the relationship, social concern may be necessary, but it remains of secondary import. I don’t believe Keller got that balance right. He implementation of Ministries of Mercy strategy feels like social concern leads, with the Gospel tagging along.

So what did I get out of it? A lot actually.

An increased awareness

Before reading Ministries of Mercy I lacked a heart for social concern. I hate myself for saying it, but, I knew I needed to do something, but didn’t see the urgency of what I needed to do. Whilst I may not agree with everything between the pages of Ministries of Mercy it certainly challenged me towards action.

Keller’s heart bleeds off the page and his zeal for the afflicted is contagious. I loved the desire to do something that the book instilled into me.

A stalled project

Very soon after completing the Ministries of Mercy Bible study our church began working in Olieven providing a number of services to the community including Saturday tutoring at the local high school. Whilst our church plant stalled the experience gained was incalculable.

A new gameplan

Ministries of Mercy gave me pause to think about the need for social concern, how it related to the Gospel, and how to drive the church towards a Christ glorifying end. I felt that Ministries of Mercy advocated a ‘Gospel plus social concern’ mechanism, but decided that for myself and my church we’d adopt a ‘Gospel followed by social concern’ mechanism. Oh, and our external projects were to be measured against verses like Galatians 6:10, 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”

A new day

Crystal Park Baptist Church, the small congregation I now serve, has embarked on a number of internal and two sustainable external social concern initiatives. We approached the two schools in our suburb and offered to take their assembly devotionals. After a year of interacting with them we began to offer them social services. We go in and provide counselling to children in the high school once a week and provide drama, singing and dance classes to the primary school.
It is worth pointing out that we’ve recently begun to see fruit from these two evangelistic activities, only realised after the social work began.

Whilst Ministries of Mercy is an excellent read, and will certainly allow the thoughtful bookworm to ponder afresh the need and importance of social concern in the midst of the church they serve. That said I’d caution against running a Bible study following the material.

Let’s start at the very beginning, A very good place to start

So on Friday I received a Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). I was planning on reading through Genesis to Psalms starting this Sunday night, but I was too excited and couldn’t wait, so I read Genesis 1 – 11 to Liezl on Friday night and the rest of Genesis on Saturday morning.

This is interesting: I’ve been inundated with emails, Facebook messages and comments from pastors endorsing the HCSB. And not just any pastors, pastors I look up to. Like Brent Meyers, from Sandton Bible Church, who says, “Its a great translation and one my whole family uses. Its philosophy is to begin with a literal translation and then consider how to best express the literal in an understandable way – which is how I translate. It also doesn’t have the theological bias that the ESV has. I hope you enjoy it.” And Steven Murray, blogger of Daylight, and a cool guy in general (keeping me on my theological toes), makes this excellent point, “I like the look of HCSB but I wonder if most of my folk are going to just go out and buy the updated NIV next time they need a new Bible.” And Fr Robert, a Reformed Anglican (wish there were more), and one of my few overseas readers, says “I love the Hebrew and Greek Word Studies! And we are on the same page as to Bible Translations also. Indeed the “Cognitive equivalence” of the literal translation approach!”

Time will tell if I too decide to adopt it, but for now I can say that I’m finding it very easy to read, I’m enjoying the translative decisions that have been made and the interpretive decisions so far match my own theological leanings.

I’m reading the text out loud, with a notebook and pen sitting next to me. I’ve jotted down interesting verses which I think deserve a mention or more research a little later on (I’ve put down about a third below, highlighting what it was about the text that drew my attention). Oh, and I’ve not read anyone else’s review or endorsements yet, but I will, once I’ve done reading the Pentateuch, tonight, hopefully.

Have you read the HCSB? Thinking of reading it? Using it in your church? Hate it passionately? I’d value any comments or concerns that you may have.

Verse Holman Christian Stand Bible (HCSB) New International Version (NIV) New American Standard Version (NASB) Comment
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. One of my favourite verses.
4:26 A son was born to Seth also, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Yahweh. Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD. To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call *upon the name of the LORD. I love the use of YAHWEH for the covenant name of God.
12:1 – 3 The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Now the LORD said to Abram, ” Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you;And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” The establishment of the covenant relationship between God and the Seed of Abraham.
22:12 Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” This might just be me, but I’ve really enjoyed the capitalizations of the Theophonies. This is a interpretative decision rather than a translative one, and I like it.
25:30 He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was [also] named Edom. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. ) and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of *that red stuff there, for I am *famished.” Therefore his name was called *Edom. I love the easy readablity of the text. There of tons of examples of this throughout the text like the way apostraphies are used to shorten words.
26:20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Quarrel because they quarreled with him. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek,because they disputed with him. the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, “The water is ours!” So he named the well *Esek, because they contended with him. I love the transliteration of the names of proper nouns. They don’t do it with all of them, but do do it where it makes sence. This is a translative decision, and I like it a lot.
29:17 Leah had delicate eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful. Leah had weakeyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and *face. I immediately realised the distinction that had been made here.
31:53 The God of Abraham, and the gods of Nahor-the gods of their father-will judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac. May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. I The pluralisation of the gods (el) which makes translative sense given that chapter 1 was translated as plural.
32:26 Then He said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Another example of capitalisation of a Theophony.
33:19 He purchased a section of the field from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for 100 qesitahs, where he had pitched his tent. For a hundred pieces of silver,he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred *pieces of money. Quesitahs. Going to have to go away and add that to my Biblical dictionary.
43:34 Portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, and Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of theirs. They drank, and they got drunk with Joseph. When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him. He took portions to them from *his own table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him. This was interesting spin on a story I’ve read a number of times before. Maybe a little more cutting that I expected.
46:25 These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel. She bore to Jacob: seven persons. These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel—seven in all. These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, and she bore these to Jacob; there were seven persons in all. Now this raises a major concern I’ve got, the online HCSB doesn’t line up 100% with the printed HCSB I’ve received. In fact two of the verse I choose to highlight here weren’t the same in the two formats. This will be a big problem.
50:9 Horses and chariots went up with him; it was a very impressive procession. Chariots and horsemenalso went up with him. It was a very large company. There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company. I much prefer this rendering.



God’s Word, God’s people, my joy

Today a Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) arrived on my doorstep via courier. Why is this important to note you may ask? Not a bad question dear reader, not a bad question at all.

There is a tension at Crystal Park Baptist Church. Let me explain lest you fear church split. Half of our congregation is second/third language English speaking black folk; quarter of the congregation second language English speaking white folk; the remainder first language English speaking white folk like me. A quarter of our congregation on any given Sunday is under the age of twelve. And the paster is a student, trying hard to crack the Biblical languages.

The variety in last paragraph sounds so encouraging doesn’t? So why’s there tension? Great question!

Well, being a student of God’s Word, I favour a literal interpretation (King Jimmy, the New King Jimmy, English Standard Version ect). I preach from a New American Standard Version.

The kids, under twelve, who’s parents don’t come to church, and who are second language English speakers are encouraged to use a Good News Bible as it’s really easy to read and simple to understand.

The first language English speakers are recommend to get a literal translation for themselves.

And to the rest, the adult second/third language speakers, we encouraged the use of the New International Version.

Now variety is the spice of life (did you notice the variety excluded the Message, the Amplified, the Voice, Today’s New International Version?). I’d not have a problem with this as the status-qua, except things change.

Firstly, my bible is falling apart. I bought a Thomas Nelson bonded leather John MacArthur Study Bible back in the day. Well, I read my Bible, so if there was a fault in the manufacturer it’d always come to the fall. Because I now need to replace my Bible I am thinking of changing the interpretation I use.

Secondly, the NIV is falling apart. Oh, OK, that might not be fair. I had read through the 1984 NIV translation a number of times and I was happy enough with the translation. But it’s no longer in print :(. That means I must now adopt a new standard for half my congregation.

And so I’m out shopping. Where will we settle? I don’t know right now. I do know that I’m excited after reading the HCSB’s translation philosophy as it might serve the needs of my church. I’m also delighted after reading the gender language policy they’ve employed. As I’ve gone through the Bible I’ve been sent I’ve also been impressed by the great features in the edition I’ve been sent.

On Sunday evening, Monday evening and Wednesday I’ll be reading from this translation, hopefully I’ll be able to cover a fair portion of the Pentateuch and History up to the Psalms. Then I’ll be able to say if I’m excited about the translation itself. Nothing beats readings God’s Word. I’m looking do forward to my week ahead.

Have you read the HCSB? What did you like about it? What did you dislike? What cautions might you give? I’d love to hear from you.