Book Review

"Called to Serve" by Michael Brown

Jason J. Stellman
Michael Brown
Thursday, May 1st 2008
May/Jun 2008

Until a pastor has trained officers, he may entertain the assumption, like I did, that there is plenty of quality material out there to choose from, and that the real challenge will be narrowing the stack down to one or two helpful resources. When one actually begins searching for books or manuals on officer training, however, one quickly realizes how slim the pickings are.

Called to Serve is an excellent resource not only for training officers in Reformed and Presbyterian churches, but also for expanding one's own understanding of the New Testament's teaching on the subject of ministers, elders, and deacons. Its chapters address topics such as the nature, qualifications, and duties of elders and deacons, a defense of infant baptism, a synopsis of Calvin's view of the Eucharist, a guide for family visitation, and a call for all elders to know, love, and defend Reformed doctrine.

The book is written by and for officers in churches within the Dutch Reformed tradition, which to some degree limits its relevance for people in Presbyterian denominations. When a PCA or OPC minister comes to the two chapters entitled "Our Reformed Heritage I: Early Reformation to the Synod of Dort" and "Our Reformed Heritage II: The Synod of Dort to the Present Day," it may be wise to supplement this material with a history of British Calvinism.

Another way the "Dutchness" of this volume comes to the fore is in the way editor Michael Brown tackles the question in the chapter so titled, "Should We Allow Baptists to Join a Reformed Church?" Coming from the Continental tradition, Brown answers the question in the negative, insisting that to do so necessarily entails the elders denying their confessional vows for the sake of the scruples of a single family. On the other hand, Presbyterians argue that, while the minister of the Word is called to persuade his people that infant baptism is the biblical position, the church should not set the bar for membership in the visible church higher than Jesus sets it for membership in the invisible church. What makes this chapter germane for those who may initially disagree with the Continental position is that it forces them to wrestle with the tensions inherent in their practice of allowing Baptists to join our churches. Though the two sides may never come to embrace the same position, the discussion and debate that such a topic will inevitably precipitate will not only provide healthy stimulus for the mind, but it will aid potential elders in navigating such issues with conviction and pastoral warmth and sensitivity.

Michael Horton's chapter entitled "What Our Service Should Look Like" is especially helpful, as it includes a discussion of the relationship between the theology of our churches and the style employed to communicate it. Style, Horton argues, is never neutral but should be consistent with the character of God in his farness and nearness, his transcendence and immanence, his holiness and humility in Christ. Horton also includes a brief explanation of the difference between an element and a circumstance in worship. The former is a component of worship that must be commanded by God in his Word in order to be included in our services, while the latter can be left up to wisdom and the light of nature. May a church use drama to communicate the gospel? Indeed not, since that would entail a violation of the Regulative Principle of Worship by adding an element to the service that Scripture does not mandate. May we meet at 10:00 a.m. and use hymnals instead of an overhead projector? Of course, since these decisions are circumstantial and as such do not require explicit biblical warrant. Also helpful in Horton's chapter is his rebuttal of the argument that an insistence on a robust liturgy involves trading in the spontaneity and free-flowing worship of the New Covenant with a stifled and scripted Old Covenant model. Ironically, Horton points out, the so-called "Spirit-led" worship common in many evangelical contexts is every bit as scripted as that which occurs in Reformed churches, and it is every bit as "shadowy" as anything offered under the Old Covenant. In fact, it may be even more so, since Old Covenant worship clearly prefigured Christ, which is more than can be said of much of what passes as worship in many churches today.

A chapter that this volume lacks is one devoted to an explanation and defense of the "three-office" view of New Testament ministry. In leading potential officers through this volume, I found that the brief explanation of this position in chapter 1 caused more questions than it answered. For my own part, I would have preferred a more detailed defense of the idea that the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are primarily directed toward ministers and not elders (a statement that is hardly obvious on the surface). I acknowledge that the three-office view is the historical Reformed position, as well as my own, but in a day in which the idea that the minister has the authority to open and shut the kingdom sounds Roman and authoritarian, an entire chapter devoted to this topic would certainly have been warranted.

Despite this book's shortcomings, which are few and far between, it is a much-needed resource whose strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. As a church planter in the Presbyterian Church in America in the process of training elders and deacons, and after having searched far and wide for quality curricula, I was thrilled to come across this well-written and accessible volume. I commend it highly.

Thursday, May 1st 2008

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology