Short-term Mission Trips (Part 1)

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By Scott Catoe (guest author)

As the holidays pass by, the new year starts to get into full swing and the calendar moves from a state of flux to something resembling a solid (sort of like Jell-O in a refrigerator).  There is an inevitable planning process for those events on the calendar that most pastors begin, or at least think about beginning this time of year. Whether senior pastor, associate pastor, missions pastor, or youth pastor, one thing looms on the schedule, one thing guarantees to consume more time than it should, one ministry event promises to consume the energy of all parties involved at a level never even dreamed of before:

The mission trip.

I have the distinct opportunity to be on both sides of this planning. At Slater, we receive anywhere between 3 to 8 mission teams each year, mostly in the summer. We also plan a short-term trip each year, sending a team out to Salt Lake City, Utah. As such, I thought it might be helpful to write a short blog series on short-term missions. Being on both sides has created some pretty strong feelings in my world on the idea of short-term missions, and it may be helpful to explore some concepts and ideas around the planning, implementation, and execution of these trips.

A good place to start is how to prepare a team for short-term missions. This is assuming a few things that we may explore later; namely, that you have right motivations for taking a team somewhere on a short-term trip (HINT: it's not primarily so you can take your church to see things they wouldn't have seen before, or so that you can promote your congregation as "missions-minded").  If the motivation is in the right place, then what are the essentials for planning and preparing for the week? Four things stand out, but there are certainly more than four out there.

1.  Pick the right people.  

This is an easier mistake to make than many think.  Often, we confuse excitement over going on a short-term mission trip with qualification to go on a short-term trip. There are some helpful questions worth asking to get the right people on the team.

Is this person, as far as you can tell, a professing Christian? Sounds like a softball, right? But it isn't. There is a pretty popular view that one of the great ways to evangelize the lost that are somehow connected to one's church is by putting them on a bus or plane or van and sending them to, well, evangelize the lost. Though I do understanding the intention of people who think this way, this is really a case of the blind leading the blind. Christians go on missions. Lost people ARE the mission. The Bible doesn't really show any other pattern.

Is this person interested for the right reasons? What's the motivation for going? It is a certainty that sometimes people will tell you what you want to hear, but that's not really on you. Failing to ask, however, is. Ask people why they want to go.

Finally, can this person communicate the Gospel? Anyone on a team should be able to communicate the Gospel. This one is so often neglected, however, that most guys I know begin the week with a mission team by explaining the Gospel to the team, and then asking them to communicate it. Sending person, it is not the missionary's responsibility to train a team that they may never see again to share the Gospel with people. God has given them you. Take advantage of the mission trip training to train your people on how to share the Gospel. Any missionary is happy to help you in this. But few want to be responsible for it.

2. Prepare them for the context.

Okay, so you have the right people in the van now.  What else should we be doing to get ready? Prepare them for the context they are about to enter. Most likely, it is very different, or at least a little different, then they are used to. And while nothing prepares someone quite like having their boots on the ground, you can do some work to help your folks get ready.

Take a vision trip.  Part of this is you, the leader, going there yourself and having some familiarity with what your team will be facing and doing. What is the same? What is different? What should we expect? Get to know the missionary or church planter you are working with.  How is his personality going to mesh with mine for the week?  You can get some good answers to these questions by going and spending a day, a weekend, or a week there yourself. If this isn't financially possible for your church, at least have some good phone or Skype conversations with the missionary or church planter to ask these questions. 

See if there are books.  In our context, there are three or four good books that I like to recommend for people to read to prepare themselves for our work. Most groups never ask me for this. There are helpful things to read for almost every context. Ask the missionary or church planter what he recommends

Communicate with the missionary or church planter.  Consider a question and answer session via Skype, or a season of prayer between the planter/missionary and the short-term team. Doing so will help the missionary/planter communicate his passion for his context in a way that is contagious.

3. Pray for God's guidance.  

Sure, this seems like an obvious one, but it is vital that we beg God to work, so that our work is made fruitful. A consistent and healthy admittance of the team's dependence on God is necessary for an effective short-term trip that has the potential to have a Gospel impact. What do you pray for? There are a lot of great things to pray for, but here are the big three: humility, power, and unity. 

Humility.  Pray for the team to be humbled at the work, by the work, before the work, and through the work. Pray for Christ to be exalted, not your team or your church, or even the missionary planter.

Power.  Pray boldly for fruitfulness to do the work with joy. Pray for opportunities to serve the people there, for the strength to push through a challenging week with energy, strength, and grace.

Unity.  Pray for God to knit the hearts of the short-term team and the local church they are serving on the trip. Pray for a Gospel-focus for the members of the team. Pray for peace to abound during the time you are serving together.

4. Practice the work you intend to do.  

Finally, practice! Whatever work you intend to do on the field, be sure that, when you do it, you are not doing it for the first time when you get there. If you are leading backyard Bible clubs, use your own community as a lab for practicing conducting them with efficiency. If you are going door to door, find a place close to home where you can practice something similar. Either way, you will find the week far more fruitful if you have come in ahead of time already comfortable with the way to execute the work. There will be plenty to be uncomfortable about in a new context; knowing how to do the work will be one less thing to worry over

OK, you've done all that, and you are prepared! What does a short-term mission trip done well look like when you are there? That will be the subject of next week's post. Until then, plan ahead, and plan well!

Scott Catoe is a friend of SaltyBeliever.com and he's a regular guest on Salty Believer Unscripted.  Scott pastors Slater Baptist Church.

The Painful Side of Leadership by Jeff Iorg

Iorg, Jeff.  The Painful Side of Leadership: Moving Forward Even When It Hurts.  B&H Publishing: Nashville, Tenn, 2009.  978-0-8054-4870-2

At just under 300 pages, Jeff Irog's, The Painful Side of Leadership: Moving Forward Even When It Hurts is more than a read-once and be done book.  It's a comfort for leaders in the thick of it.  It's a handbook for leaders heading into it.  And it serves as a reference tool to come back to when difficult situations surface.  

I wasn't much of a ministry leader the first time a read The Painful Side of Leadership.  Sure, I was serving in the church and leading a small group, but I wasn't leading in the lion's den, where a senior pastor often finds himself.  I was in seminary and required to read the book.  I zipped through it, and that was that.  But add a few years and a great deal more ministerial responsibility, and I was ready to pick the book up once again.  

Dr. Iorg, the President of Gateway Seminary, was lecturing in one of my doctoral seminars and, in Jeff Iorg fashion, shared a biblical account of a leadership problem followed by a story from his own experience.   At one point he mentioned that he wrote about it in his book, The Painful Side of Leadership, but said something like, "But this part was too painful at the time, so I didn't include it."  He was so honest and raw with the situation that I knew I needed to go back to the book.  If Jeff Irog, a leader I greatly respect, felt the barbs in leadership, he probably could help me navigate the barbs too.  

Returning to the book, I realized that it's not just about ministry leadership.  The principles apply to any leadership, and the seat of leadership comes with a painful side.  It was right of my time as a Staff Seargent in the Army as much as it's true of my time as a lead pastor now.   I also realized that having experienced some of the pain in the book, that I could relate to Iorg's struggles, especially from his church planting experiences.  I also felt a sense of comfort that my experiences were not isolated to me and that I could learn a great deal from a guy who, it would seem, had navigated a relatively heavy amount of pain in his leadership role.  And Iorg has walked with enough other pastors to have many additional examples from across the country.  

I don't have anything negative to say about this book.  I do think if Iorg were going to release another addition, a companion guide for the team around the leader could be helpful.  For those not in areas around the leader, the perspective can be lacking.  A companion guide could help them better understand what their leader is going through and ways they can help the leader navigate the waters. 

If you're reading this and you're a leader, heading into leadership, or walking alongside your leader, I highly recommend reading Jeff Iorg's The Painful Side of Leadership.  Find it on Amazon here, or wherever books are sold. 

Are Mormons Anti-Presbyterian?

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I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a., Mormonism or LDS).  Not only do I live in Salt Lake, but I'm also the pastor of an evangelical church in Salt Lake.  As a pastor, I teach people what the Bible says and sometimes that comes in conflict with what the predominant faith group of Utah believes. When this happens, I'm often called "anti-Mormon" by those who hold to LDS theology.
 
In our day, using the word "anti" is loaded.  It might be a way of saying what one hates, but it's also used to create a victim identity.  Just the mere act of drawing a contrast had elicited a victim response, and perceived victims press the hot-iron brand to my flesh.  "Anti-Mormon," I'm called.  

I don't agree with or believe the LDS doctrine, but "anti" used this way blasts me as unfair or mean.  I find this response one-sided and ill-informed given the example I see in Joseph Smith. 

Smith recorded an encounter he had with his Presbyterian mother.  Based on a revelation he believed he had from God, he called his mother's faith a lie.  "I then said to my mother," wrote Smith, "I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true" (1).  Smith's statement was not that much different than my comments.  He based his ideas on what he believed was a revelation from God (his personal vision).  I base my thoughts on what I hold is a revelation of God (the Bible).  

By the standards I'm judged by some Mormons, Joseph Smith was anti-Presbyterian.  And based on previous verses in his recorded history, he was likely ant-Baptist and anti-Methodists too.  

But I'm going to argue for Joseph Smith for a moment.  (Trust me, this rarely happens.)  Smith apparently was a man of deep conviction.  He believed he heard God's Word (in the vision) and acted on his beliefs by pointing out what he thought was wrong about Presbyterianism and his mother's faith.  It was important enough to him that he shared his convictions with others (by putting it into print and starting a new religion).  I can that he didn't keep convictions of this caliber to himself, and I would expect nothing less of biblical Christians today, including Presbyterians, Baptist, and Methodists.  

If an LDS missionary encounters a Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist today, he or she doesn't hesitate to suggest that there's something wrong with these beliefs and that the LDS faith is superior.  The missionary might not say there is something wrong with a person's faith, but suggesting a Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist should become a Mormon gets the job done.  When the LDS missionary encourages that the person converts to the Mormon faith, he or she is drawing contrasts based on conviction (just as I am doing). This act should be seen as anti-Presbyterian, anti-Baptist, or anti-Methodists by the standards I face in Salt Lake City when I suggest the same to members of the LDS faith. 

If what I am doing--as a life-long missionary of the Christian faith--is showing the problems with the Mormon faith and that a Mormon should follow the biblical Jesus, I am not much different than an LDS missionary.  And if my convictions are shaped by the Bible, which I completely believe is a revelation of God, then I'm not much different than Joseph Smith.  If these similarities are true, then either I am not acting in a way that Mormons should brand as "anti" or we should fairly brand Joseph Smith, LDS missionaries, and the entire LDS faith as anti-Presbyterian, anti-Baptist, and anti-Methodists.  Or, maybe, we might want to relax with the victimization and be okay to discuss the similarities and differences of what we believe to seek God's Truth.  Yes, I vote for that.   


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1.  Joseph Smith -- History: Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet. Published by the Church of Jesus Christ Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981, v. 20.

    

Theological Stall Out? (Or what was going to be a review of the "Calvinist" film)

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I stared at the blank screen for nearly an hour before typing the first letter of this post.  Passing before my mind's eye were the faces of well-known apologists who have seen something in a review or statement of another Christian and then made that other Christian the target of thousands of typed words and hundreds of hours of videos of critical blasting war.  This is not true of all apologists, but it is the case for some.  And not that I think any well-known apologists might give SaltyBeliever.com any attention, but maybe the mention of the film I was hoping to review would trigger some alert.  

Sometimes I wonder these apologists have droids searching out the internet like the floating robots the Empire sent to the Ice Planet Hoth.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm as skilled as Han Solo and Chewbacca to take out the probs.  

Therefore, I will not be writing a review of Les Lanphere's film, "Calvinist."  There is much I could say, both positive and negative, but it's just not going to happen.  

As I thought about the situation before me, I conducted an internet search of some of the keywords, the name of the film, and names of the participants.  What I discovered was both shocking and sad.   I found brilliant men (not necessarily in the film or associated with it) who have dedicated hundreds of hours to making YouTube videos, podcasts, and written posts arguing with each other about soteriology.  Is that all we have time for these days?  Is there nothing more important?  Have we reached theological stall out? 

But please don't hear that I think soteriology is unimportant.  And please don't believe that I am suggesting that less time should be spent getting doctrine right.   It goes much deeper than that. 

What I found was a lot of theological energy spent contending for 450-year-old ideas and the men who developed those ideas.  I can't imagine that the intelligent, academically-driven Reformers would have wanted us arguing for or against them still to this day.  Instead of taking up the charge of exploring the depths of God's Scripture to understand better, we've taken up the banner of one theology or another, from one dude or another . . . for 400 years. 

I watched some videos (or part of videos).  Brilliant men used Scripture to argue for or against a position and then against other brilliant men.  They all raised interesting points with Scripture.  It was thought-provoking.  But the objective was to defend a position.  They might say they are trying to get the Bible right, but it was so clear they were coming at it from the presuppositions of their old heroes and social camps.   I started asking, "What kind of theological work and a scholarship might we have if these men spent less time going to blows against other Christians?"  

It seems as if the study and work of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius and many others is considered terminal work.  This can't be so.  They'd have never wanted such a thing.  But that's exactly how we behave and think.  We assume these imperfect men got it down on paper perfectly.  And we act as if they reached the completion and totality of God's ways and thoughts on the matter.  Is God so simple that such a thing could happen in one lifetime?  I don't think so.  So why do we assume this of Calvin, Luther, Arminius and others? 

If others have stood on the shoulders of the Giants of the Reformation, their work must be shelved in the annals of academia.  With the wide variety of Scripture on the condition of the heart--hardening or not, flesh or stone, wicked and deceitful and so on, might there be deep and hard things to consider here beyond what Calvin concluded?  Might the atonement of Scripture be more multifaceted than the theological ideas so many have merely settled into?  And what of God's call?  The human condition?  Scripture speaks so much on these things.  There's still room for thought and work on these topics.  I do remember some academic work and debate on justification at the Evangelical Theological Society, but is that where it ended?  Did that discussion not make it to the pastor or podcaster, the apologists or even the man in the pew?   

I am not contending that we try to add to or morph doctrine into something different than the Bible speaks.  I am, however, asserting, that we continue onward as the people of Berea recorded in Acts 17.  Even with the Apostle Paul as their teacher, they turned to the Scriptures to see if his teaching was so.  Let's stand on the shoulders of giants and look further than they could imagine.  And let us not make man the authority of our doctrines, but God.  Let's continue to plumb the depths of God's Word.  We need not give Calvin or Luther or Arminius the final word.  We must not stall out theologically.  For that would be a tragedy. 

Discipleship Uncomplicated by Warren Haynes

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Haynes, Warren.  Discipleship Uncomplicated (Franklin, Tenn: Carpenter's Son Publishing, 2016).  ISBN: 978-1-942587-51-4

Before I begin my review of Discipleship Uncomplicated, I must share my biases.  Afterward, you may prefer to call this review more of a recommendation.  That would be fair.  

Dr. Warren Haynes was on my doctoral committee.  I pre-ordered his book, Discipleship Uncomplicated when I read Haynes' name on the committee assignment sheet.  I wanted to read some (or all) of the written work of my committee to gain a better understanding of the men of my committee.  I believe Haynes was assigned to my committee because my initial project and focus of research were pointing toward training up indigenous pastors and leaders.  Haynes is the national director of the contextualized leadership development training (now called Advance) through Gateway Seminary, so that was a logical fit.  However, early on in the research, I determined it best to move my attention to a step much, much earlier in the process of developing local leaders. 

As I started the literature review on discipleship and simplicity, Haynes seemed an even better fit, and his book was an obvious inclusion to my review.  After reading the book, I used material from Haynes' work in my DMin project and, I gave his book to participants in my study as an accessible resource for discipleship.  Therefore, you should probably see my bias for this book and its author.  That being said, I have waited until after graduation to share my review.  Now, on to the book review! 

The opening line of Haynes' introduction reads, "I promise to share with you in understandable terms what you have to do to make disciples" (ix).  He continues, stating that the material shared in his book can, "seamlessly integrate disciple making into everyday life" (ix).  I've read (or skimmed) at least a hundred books on discipleship, evangelism, the two rightly combined as the Bible demonstrates, or some extra-biblical combination of the two.  Not one of them offered such a clear statement of purpose like Haynes.  Did Haynes over-promise his thesis?  I was concerned when I read the first paragraph.  However, after reading the book and returning to his opening statement, I believe he achieved his goal and kept his promise.  Also, having spent some time with Warren Haynes, I also believe he indeed practices what he wrote in his book.   

Discipleship Uncomplicated, by Warren Haynes, is a simple book.  It would be misleading if it weren't.   The entire book is less than 140 pages, including the front matter, appendices, and info about the author.  Eight principles of discipleship are covered in 96 pages.  Another 30 pages serve as a guide or workbook that includes individual, group, and leader assignments and a guide to get started. 

Rather than offering a chapter on the biblical mandate, importance, and relevance of discipleship as may books on the topic do, Haynes offers biblical direction throughout each chapter.  The advantage to this approach is the ease of incorporation to a class or small group.  Also, each chapter provides not only the argument on each principle, but tips, a memorable summary, and a challenge to the reader. 

The uncomplicated discipleship principles, which are also the chapter titles, are: 

1. Love God, Love People (The Heartbeat of Disciple Making)
2. What's Your Name (Making Discipleship Personal) 
3. Let's Pray (Bring Spiritual Power to Your Relationships)
4. This is for You (Create Relational Breakthroughs) 
5. Let Me Share a Story; Tell Me Your Story (Share Stories to Build Connections) 
6. With Me (How to Move People Spiritually) 
7. Gather People (Gather People to Influence People) 
8. Multiply Leaders (Empower Rapid Advance) 

The reader will not find any new, revolutionary ideas and methods in Discipleship Uncomplicated.  If that were Haynes' goal, the book would be called Complicated Untested Discipleship.  Instead, Haynes has sifted through the mountain of complex ideas and pulled out the simple, useful principles every Christian can do in faithful obedience to the Great Commission.  

The strengths of Discipleship Uncomplicated are many.  It's a simple book any pastor, Bible study leader, or faithful Christian can hand to anyone else in the Church to get them started in the disciple-making process.  Because the book is short and simple, the learning process is simple, and the reader can take the lessons of this book and apply them immediately.  The tips and summaries keep the already-uncomplicated material grounded in reality.  As each chapter looks to biblical principle, the Bible remains in view of every principle.  And finally, because the goal is simplicity, Haynes took good, but more complex material, and simplified it.  For example, Hayne's discussion on social spaces comes from a more extensive conversation among many books on the same topic.  Few people have the time to read multiple books, so Haynes took the most applicable material and put it in easy to hear and do terms. 

A weakness of Discipleship Uncomplicated is a natural by-product of its strength.  In keeping things short and simple, little attention is given to the cultural and contextual nuances of discipleship that may come up for the reader.   This is not to say that the book should include every possibility, but, for example, the few pages on spacial dynamics were only enough to explain the general concept yet not enough to give the undergirding and differences across cultures or contexts.  The additional material would not complicate discipleship; however, providing too much content begins to subtract from the ease of use this book offers.  

Discipleship Uncomplicated is great for jumpstarting a dead or limping along discipleship effort.  It is formatted to work well with small groups or even a church-wide discipleship program.  It's cost effective and won't eat up too much time to read.  For these reasons, I highly recommend Discipleship Uncomplicated for individuals who want to obey the Great Commission.  I also encourage pastors and small group leaders to give this book your consideration as a resource for equipping those you pastor, teach or lead.  

You can find Discipleship Uncomplicated on Amazon by following this link. 

A Pastor Is. . .

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Toward the end of 2017, we aired a podcast series called, "A Pastor Is. . ."  The idea was to chat with pastors about what informs their thinking and pastorate.  It was a diverse group, although probably not as different as it could have been.  It should only take you a second to notice that we did not get the perspective of pastors in other countries.  Neither did we interview a female. And we didn't cover the range of theological differences.  But before you go crazy, understand that we were asking our friends and contacts to join us for this series.  If we were trying to get a more comprehensive range, we probably could have.  Maybe we should have.  In any case, we still found it informative to have the voices we did.  And we has some great guests! 

If you're a pastor, thinking about entering the ministry, or you want a better lens to understand your pastor through, this series might be helpful.  And if nothing else, it's a fascinating series.  Notice the many differences, even among our less-than-diverse group of pastor guests.  

We also tried sharing episodes on YouTube.  It was a worthy attempt, but it would seem the traffic didn't warrant the extra work.  We may try again in the future, but for now, we'll stick to the typical MP3 audio and normal podcast channels.  

A Pastor Is. . . 
-- Part 1: Introduction audio / YouTube
-- Part 2: Peyton Jones audio / YouTube
-- Part 3: Jared Jenkins audio / YouTube
-- Part 4. Michael Cooper on planters as pastor audio / YouTube
-- Part 5: Michael Cooper on finding pastors audio / YouTube
-- Part 6: Dale Noe audio / YouTube
-- Part 7: Douglas Wilson audio / YouTube
-- Part 8: Ben Fust audio / YouTube
-- Part 9: Conclusion audio / Youtube

Tools for Doing Theology

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I always find it interesting to watch Christian engage in the study of God (theology) without using theological tools. That's right, the school of theology requires tools just as every other school of thought and area of study has its methodology and tools. 
 
When we start learning scientific things, be it physics or biology, we learn the tools of the study of science. The scientific method, observation, control groups, and the difference between a hypothesis, theory, and law. We would be silly to try to use the methods of science without learning how to use those methods.

However, the methods and tools of one school of thought are typically not the best tools the other schools of thought. The tools of science are not the best tools in the school of language arts. Law and medicine are not the same and use different methodology by which they examine the world.   The school of philosophy uses different tools too. And the same is true of theology (the study of God).

As a person starts to do more digging into the Bible and theological thinking, it's helpful to start with some of the most basic tools of theology.  If not, the results might end up in poor, ill-informed places.  Also, don’t be fooled into thinking theology doesn’t have its tools. It does. Lots of them.  And theological thinking has many subsets and related tools. It also has tones and standards for communication and practice.

An introduction to the art and science of theology and theological thinking tends to start with a presentation of the basic tools.  Levels of theology (folk to academic), exegetical methods, hermeneutics, apologetics, historical approaches, the biblical approach, a systematic approach, understanding tension, and on and on.  

The Circles of Importance and the Level of Certainty are two entry-level theological tools. Understanding these tools could save lots of hurt feelings, arguing in extremes, and maybe even keeping your church from splitting.   When we do theology in community (which is another tool), we need to know how to communicate with one another well.  These two devices serve to assist with our communication as well as our thinking on doctrines, concepts, ideas, and opinions. 

I made this videos for this website a few years ago. The material hasn't changed, just the color and style of my beard.  I hope you find them helpful. 

"Circles of Importance"

"Level of Certainty"

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How Do Your Decorations Shape Your Understanding?

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Just after Thanksgiving, at least in America, people start putting nativity sets on their coffee tables and fireplace mantels. I once had a neighbor who put a life-size lighted set in his front yard. The angel stood on the roof of his house. I think the idea of a nativity is to create a visual story of the birth of Jesus, our Lord.

The set we had when I was growing up was very much like the sets most people have, and they certainly tell a story. In fact, the typical nativity set has shaped the story most Americans know as Jesus' birth story. For example, the idea that there were only three wise men. This thought likely has traction because there were three gifts (gold, myrrh, and frankincense), but it is widely reinforced by the fact that the typical nativity set usually only includes three wise men. (And the one I had growing up had two pasty-white dudes and one very black guy, which seems kind of odd if you think about it. I believe that idea comes from a tradition that included their names.  Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India, but you won't find any of that in the Bible.)

Matthew 2:1 simply calls this band of wise men, "Magi from the East." There is nothing that indicates a number other than a plurality. It could have been two or two hundred; we really don't know. And there's nothing that precludes women from this mysterious group.  (The Greek word, μάγοι is a masculine plural word, but there are other occasions in the New Testament when a group is referred to by the men and then makes mention of women and children.) 

Another interesting picture we get from our nativity sets is the presence of the Magi while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were still staying in the stable or animal cave below the living quarters or wherever the manger was. In fact, the birthday story itself is primarily recorded in Luke, but the account of the Magi is told in Matthew. The Magi narrative in Matthew suggests a much broader timeline. They visited the house where the child was (Matthew 2:9-10), which may not have been an animal stable. And even if that house was in Bethlehem, it could be at the "inn" after there was room made with extended family, as some scholars have guessed. Herod set out to kill all the children two years and younger, suggesting that at the point he realized he had been tricked by the Magi, the child Jesus could have been as much as two years old.

When you look at your nativity set this year, think about what shapes your understanding of the Christmas story. Is it your porcelain figurines or the Scripture? If it's not the Scripture, take some time to read the Christmas story this Christmas season. Read slowly, savor it, let it sink in and become the picture you have in your mind as you celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

A Blessed Academic Journey

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A few weeks ago, I presented and defended my Doctor of Ministry project on reproducible discipleship.  My committee was standing when I came back into the room, and they called me doctor.  The project is 139 pages loaded with hundreds of footnotes, a thesis, data, a bibliography, and all the stuff that goes into a dissertation. It's printed on high-quality, expensive paper and bound in a hardcover.  It has a long title.  Nobody else will read it, ever.  It will sit, lonely on a library shelf for years.  Nonetheless, it serves as a symbol of the culmination of a blessed academic journey. 

This post is about to be like the section at the front of books where the author thanks a bunch of people.  You probably skip those parts.  I usually skim, at best.  I'd understand if you skim, but please know that there are a lot of names of brilliant, Godly people in my academic journey, and for them, I'm thankful. 

Gateway Seminary was called Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary when I started.  It was in San Francisco and that's where I did many hours of seminars.  Each of those seminars required thousands of pages of reading and hundreds of pages of writing.  But it was my faculty and cohort that made all the difference.  Al Weeks, Josh Saefkow, Mike Clements, David Yi, and Daryl Watts joined me month after month for cohort learning and growth.  I love all those guys.  And while I had many great professors, some were especially impactful.  I'll never forget Spiritual Formation with Dr. Wilson. The system's theory was a game changer too. Dr. Reed's time management material is still helping me get a handle on my scheduling.  I'm blessed to have studied under remarkable men and women like Dr. Russel, Dr. McQuarter, Dr. Johnstone, Dr. Shelley, Dr. Steele, Dr. Kelley, Dr. Iorg, and others.  I'm especially thankful for my committee, Dr. Rick Durst (chair) and Dr. Warren Haynes.  And I wouldn't have survived the program without my friend and field mentor, Dr. Jim Harding. 

I'm grateful for this academic journey.  

But this would not be a complete story of the journey if I didn't mention my journey through a Masters of Divinity at Liberty University.  Well, it was called Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary when I was there. It seems there has been a merge since then.  

I studied under some brilliant, passionate professors at Liberty but a handful of them have profoundly impacted my academic, ministry, and personal life.  I'm grateful for them too.  Dr. Dave Earely has probably had the most significant impact, both when I was a student and in the years following.  I owe him a great deal.  I'm also thankful for Dr. Percer, Dr. Yates, Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Dempsey, Dr. Mitchel, Dr. Towns, and Dr. Smither (who was a Ph.D. candidate when I was there). 

And finally, I have to thank Dan Bragga who put the theology bug in my soul; and Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, Sam Storms and early years of The Theology Program that made me decide I needed to go to seminary. 

I've enjoyed an incredible journey in academia.  I know it's because of all these I've thanked and so many more who slipped through the cracks.  (If that's you, I'm so sorry!) 

For the Kingdom! 
Bryan Catherman 

The Forgotten Reformer: Balthasar Hubmaier

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INTRODUCTION

Among modern evangelicals, interest in the Protestant Reformation seems to tie many preachers and writers together. It is as if referencing Calvin or Luther nearly grants some kind of mystical weight to any point. Works by Calvin and Luther, and books about them, fill pastors’ and professors’ shelves. Occasionally Zwingli is remembered but not often; Balthasar Hubmaier on the other hand, is a forgotten theologian, despite the reality that his theology is closer to that of most evangelicals today. Where Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli remained magisterial, finding it impossible to separate the Church from the State, Hubmaier believed that separation is necessary for the free will of the believer and the establishment of the free church. The Lord’s Supper remained a theological difficulty for the popular reformers—not so with Hubmaier. Luther and Calvin stood firm on the matter of paedobaptism while Hubmaier understood that the Bible teaches that baptism is for believers only and that the Church is an institution of baptized believers. He was—despite disagreement with Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin—baptized by immersion, a belief and action that eventually cost him his physical life. Hubmaier was formally educated, trained under Johann Eck, and published a substantial amount of theological material. Although once a Catholic priest in the Rosensburg Cathedral, Waldshut in Breisgau, and in Schaffhausen, he eventually rejected much of his Catholic theology, joining with the Anabaptist movement and marring Elisabeth Hügeline.[1] Hubmaier was imprisoned and tortured under Zwingli’s orders, and on March 10, 1528, burned at the stake.[2] Elisabeth was drowned a few days later.[3]“Some people,” writes Wenger, “compared his death with that of Jan Hus in 1415.”[4]

Balthasar Hubmaier’s life and theological work is a significant but often overlooked contribution to the Church as evangelical Christians understand it today. While it cannot be said that without Hubmaier’s work the free church of Baptist and many other denominations would not be, it can and will be argued in this post that Hubmaier was a significant and radical reformer who should not be overlooked, but remembered, read, and understood for his brave and faithful contribution to not only the Reformation, but the evangelical Church. This post will first examine the setting of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in which Hubmaier lived. Then the scope will narrow to his life and theology, followed by an investigation of Hubmaier’s contribution to the Protestant Reformation and the Church today.


BACKGROUND OF THE PERIOD

“As the fifteenth century came to a close,” writes González, “it was clear that the church was in need of profound reformation, and that many longed for it. The decline and corruption of the papacy was well known.”[5] The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, through religious, political, social, and educational circumstances were ripe for reformation. While it might have shocked the world to read Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, it should have been because Luther was brave enough to say it, not because it came unexpectedly. If it had not been Luther, it surely would have been another. “[The Reformation] was not so much a trail blazed by Luther’s lonely comet, with other lesser luminaries in its train, ” argues D. F. Wright, “as the appearance over two or three decades of a whole constellation of varied color and brightness, Luther no doubt the most sparkling among them, but not all shining solely with his borrowed light.” The under girding of the Reformation was the humanist reformers. González argues, “Long before the Protestant Reformation broke out, there was a large network of humanists who carried the vast correspondence among themselves, and who hoped that their work would result in the reformation of the church.”[6] In today’s terms, a humanist might be thought of as one who places or worships humanity over deity, often called a secular humanist;[7] but the humanist of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were quite different. “In this context,” states González, “the term ‘humanist’ does not refer primarily to those who value human nature above all else, but rather to those who devote themselves to the ‘humanities,’ seeking to restore the literary glories of antiquity. The humanists of the sixteenth century differed greatly among themselves, but all agreed in their love for classical letters.”[8] Often called the “Prince of Humanists,” Erasmus of Rotterdam is considered the godfather of the movement and its leader.[9] Wright calls Erasmus the “morning star” of the constellation of the Reformation; further writing, “for most Reformers were trained humanists, skilled in the ancient languages, grounded in biblical and patristic sources, and enlightened by his pioneer printing of the Greek NT of 1516.”[10]

As education swung in the direction of humanism, studies in the biblical languages gained a foothold, and Catholic priests were being educated at the highest levels, it became difficult for some to overlook the abuses, corruption, and troubled theology of the Catholic Church. Luther sounded the alarm when he struck hammer to nail on the door at Wittenberg in 1517, and many others joined him in what started as an effort to reform the Church. However, reformation was not to be and eventually schisms began. Although not the first to separate from Rome, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli became the front men of the Reformation, climbing up to the shoulders of their predecessors such as the Waldensians, Wycliffe, Lollardy, and Hus to look and then go beyond where those before them had attempted to venture. Meanwhile, the Pope fought back. Entire geographic regions shifted from Catholic to Lutheran to Catholic to Calvinist and so on, the various nation states of Switzerland being the most unstable. The social and economic climates were tossed in the storm of theological shifts church-state relations. In this setting, those in disagreement with one another were branded heretics and burned at the stake. Wars were fought over which religious group or leader would have control of the various European states.

Throughout Europe, ideas started surfacing that questioned the practice that one would be a member of a church, and therefore a citizen of the state, simply by birth into it.[11] Luther and Calvin sided with Rome on this matter, as did Zwingli, eventually. Others, hoping to be more obedient to Scripture saw it differently. “The church must not be confused with the rest of society,” writes González in explaining the minority opposing position.[12] “Their essential difference is that, while one belongs to a society by the mere fact of being born into it, and through no decision on one’s own part, one cannot belong to the true church without a personal decision that effect.”[13] This in and of itself was seen as a treasonous act against the state. González continues, “In consequence, infant baptism must be rejected, for it takes for granted that one becomes a Christian by being born in a supposedly Christian society. This obscures the need for a personal decision that stands at the very heart of the Christian faith.”[14]

The ideas of various disconnected radical reformers found a public voice in a group of students studying under Zwingli in Zurich. Calling themselves “The Brethren,” through careful reading and study of Scripture, decided that the reformation had not gone far enough. Members of this group, according to Lichty, “were highly educated young men, students at the universities or sometimes priests. The influence of humanist learning was strong among them, as was seen especially among the circle of Conrad Grebel in Zurich. Like Erasmus, they taught freedom of the will and were relatively optimistic about the possibilities of human betterment.”[15] They were all recipients of infant baptism and believed that credo baptism was the only baptism taught in the Bible and obedience was necessary for the Church. Zwingli, their teacher and now a religious and political leader disagreed. So on January 21, 1525 in the public square in Zurich, Conrad Grabel baptized George Blaurock. Then Blaurock baptized several others, forming a congregation or a church of adults baptized as believers. Those baptized as adults were branded “Anabaptists,” meaning “rebaptizers.” They were quickly seen as subversive to the state for their radical theological views and therefore persecuted, often killed by drowning as symbolic irony.[16] “All the initial leaders [of the Brethren], with the exception of Wilhelm Reublin,” records Estep, “were dead within five years. Zürch lost its three major Anabaptist leaders in short order. Grabel died of the plague in 1526. Felix Mantz became the first ‘Protestant’ to die at the hands of Protestants in 1527, and George Blaurock was burned at the stake in 1529. The suppression of Anabaptism in Switzerland almost completely exterminated the movement.”[17] It is in this volatile time that we find Balthasar Hubmaier, joined by confession and believer’s baptism with the Brethren in Zurich.

THE LIFE OF HUBMAIER

Early Life as a Roman Catholic. Hubmaier was born in approximately 1480 or 1481, and he grew up in Friedberg, Germany,[18] On occasion, he was known as Dr. Freidberg, presumably after his hometown or the University of Freidberg. [19] His upbringing was modest and Moore speculates that his basic education was in Friedberg; but then tentatively wanting to enter the priesthood, he likely went to the cathedral Latin school in Augsburg six miles to the West. He matriculated at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau in 1503. [20] “So advanced was Balthasar in his studies” writes Moore, “that he received the bachelor of arts degree after his first year at the university.”[21] He continued to study theology under Dr. Johann Eck, although Hubmaier considered entering the field of medicine. Eck would soon there after “become the flaming defender of Catholic orthodoxy against the Lutheran reformation.”[22] Also interesting to note is that not only was Hubmaier Eck’s favorite student, he was also a couple years older than his teacher.[23]

In 1507, Hubmaier was forced to take a job as a schoolteacher in Schaffhausen, Switzerland for financial reasons. However, as Moore quotes Eck, “he returned to his accustomed studies, which were under my guidance.”[24] Once back to his studies, Hubmaier mastered Latin and studied Greek and Hebrew. He also studied with Johann Faber who would eventually persecute Hubmaier. After his ordination, he occasionally preached and served as a priest. When Eck left for the University of Ingolstadt in 1510, Hubmaier replaced him as rector.[25] Packull reports that in Eck’s absence, “Hubmaier seemed to be involved in the defamation campaign against Eck's detractors. Along with Urbanus Rhegius, Hubmaier became one of Eck's1most controversial students.”[26] Eighteen months later, Hubmaier followed Eck to Ingolstadt where he earned a Doctorate of Theology, upon which he was made a professor and given a preaching position in the city’s largest church. In 1516, Hubmaier took employment as a cathedral preacher in Regensburg.[27]

In Regensburg, Hubmaier lead a campaign against the Jews living in the city; however, the Jews had the protection of Emperor Maximilian I and Hubmaier was somewhat unsuccessful until the Emperor’s death. After hearing of the death, Hubmaier and the town residents continued and amplified their campaign, leading to the eviction of the Jews and the destruction of their synagogue. “In the tearing down of the synagogue,” writes Moore, “a master stonemason was injured, fatally, it appeared. A few hours later he revived, and the people said it was a miracle of the virgin Mary—manifesting her glory in the very place where she had been dishonored by the Jews. On the site of the demolished synagogue a Catholic chapel was erected and, at Hubmaier’s suggestion, named Beauteous Mary (zur schönen Maria).”[28] This chapel not only became the responsibility of Hubmaier, it became a destination of a pilgrimage movement and was remodeled into a larger church building. In 1519, a papal bull granted 100 days off from purgatory for the visitors of Beauteous Mary and the place became a mad house of activity and miracle claims. Hubmaier sought duties elsewhere.[29]

Eventually, Hubmaier was offered a position as chief priest in Waldshut, a small Austrian town on the border of Hapsburg. “For about two years, 1521-1522, Hubmaier served as a model priest in Waldshut,” according to Moore.[30] “He celebrated mass, preached effectively, presided in ceremonies and processions, even introduced new celebrations. As always, he sought to work in harmony with state and church authority.”[31] However, he grew bored and reached out to the humanist Johann Aldephi, the town physician in the nearby Schaffhausen, Switzerland, as well as, Christian humanists Beatus Rhenanus, Johannes, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Wolfgang Rychard. As Zurich began undergoing reformation, Hubmaier also had regular correspondence with Desiderius Erasmus, Heinrich Glarean, and Konrad Pelikan. It was here that he engaged in detailed studies of the letters to the Corinthians and Romans. He also took visits to Freiburg and Ulm where he compared old and new ideas about church life. Maybe out of loneliness or boredom, he returned to Beauteous Mary as a chaplain but retained his position in Waldshut.[32] However, returning to Beauteous Mary, all the excitement over proclamations of miracles caused Hubmaier a conflict of conscience. “His thinking had begun to take new directions,” writes Moore. “He was still quite uncertain, however, just where it would all lead.”[33] Hubmaier felt uncomfortable dealing with the miracle claims, and although it would have been good for the Beauteous Mary’s visitor traffic, he could not publicize them. Moore writes, “Within a few weeks of taking up the work again in Rogensburg, he experienced what might fairly be called his most basic conversion. He became an evangelical.”[34]

The Transition. Although never claiming Lutheranism for himself, his beautiful; revelation of faith came as he was quietly meeting with a group of Lutherans in Rogensburg. Almost eminently he returned to Waldshut were he could study and explore his new convictions. “Hubmaier still had many questions in his mind,” states Moore, “but on thing he was firm: he theology, when worked out, must come from the Bible.”[35] However, due to the changed nature of his preaching, his bishop filed a complaint about him. Hubmaier initiated contact, started establishing relationships with the Swiss reformers in the Zurich canton, and started making trips to reformation friendly towns. He preached to large crowds in churches and in open-air settings and he lead Bible studies. And he met with Zwingli in Zurich.[36]

It is difficult identify day or time when Hubmaier parted from his Catholic roots and sided with the Reformation in Switzerland; however, it seems that at least theologically, that day was already behind him by the time he had met with Zwingli the first time. Zwingli and Hubmaier spoke a few times, discussing a wide range of topics. On the topic of baptism, Moore writes, “They both agreed that the New Testament gave no real support for the practice of infant baptism and Zwingli said, Hubmaier reported later, that children should not be baptized until they had been instructed in the faith.”[37] Later, and in the public spotlight, Zwingli reversed his position and Hubmaier was critical of him arguing, “You used to hold the same ideas, wrote and preached them from the pulpit openly; many hundreds of people have heard it from your mouth. But now all who say this of you are called liars. Yes, you say boldly that no such ideas have ever entered your mind and you go beyond that, things of which I will hold my tongue just now.”[38] However, before the split between Hubmaier and Zwingli, Hubmaier was invited to the Second Zurich Disputation in October of 1523. Hubmaier spoke at the disputation and was clearly seen as a Zwinglian.[39] It was here the Hubmaier argued, “For in all divisive questions and controversies only Scripture, canonized and sanctified by God himself should and must be the judge, no one else: or heaven and earth much fall (Matt. 24:35). [...] No the judgments of God can only be known out of the divine Word, as Scripture truly testifies to us. [...] For holy Scripture alone is the true light and lantern through which all human argument, darkness, and objections can be recognized.”[40] Already, Hubmaier understood baptism to be for believers only and a symbolic act rather than a sacrament; and he, like Luther, stood firmly on Sola Scriptura.

Returning to Waldshut, Hubmaier’s separation only continued. Potter writes, “Waldshut, however, was no part of the Swiss Confederation; it was Catholic city ruled for Charles V by Ferdinand of Austria. A Catholic ruler must root out heresy or be in danger of excommunication.”[41] Word got back to the various authorities and Hubmaier and his Waldshut were investigated and branded “Lutherans.” It was 1524. Earlier that year, Hubmaier published his Eighteen Thesis, which clearly demonstrate a separation from Catholic theology and Hubmaier wrote to his friends in Ratisbon, according to Potter, “that he had no intention of returning to his duties [in Waldshut]: he was now no longer an orthodox Roman Catholic.”[42] Based on the Eighteen Thesis, Hubmaier held strongly to Sola Fide, preaching in the language of the people, and open access to the Bible; and he rejected purgatory, the mass, pilgrimages, devotion to images, and forced celibacy. “Truth Is Unkillable!” he boldly declared.[43] Ferdinand demanded the suppression of the Lutheran teaching—instead, the city stood by Hubmaier, declared its independence, and removed all Catholic priests from the city. Shortly there after, the Peasants’ war began in the nearby Black Forrest.[44] It was also in this year that distance grew between Zwingli and Hubmaier, and by the end of 1524, Hubmaier had sided with Grabel against Zwingli and his beliefs.[45] Hubmaier was officially and Anabaptist.

New Life and the Worldly Troubles it Brought. With the publication of his Eighteen Theses, Hubmaier started a post-Catholic publishing career the dwarfed the sum of all the other early Anabaptist leaders combined. However, his writing and preaching placed his believes in plain view, bringing persecution upon him and his parish. Due to political and Catholic pressure, Hubmaier sought and found refuge in Schaffhausen. While the canton of Schaffhausen was not his defender, they also took a position of tolerance and let him be, despite numerous requests that Hubmaier be handed over to the Austrian authorities or the Catholic Church.[46] It was here (or on his way here) that Hubmaier wrote he Theses Against Eck. Dr. Eck, Hubmaier’s former teacher, according to Moore, “was not perhaps Germany’s leading theological defender of popes and ecclesiastical custom. He had written bitter denunciations of reformers in Germany and Switzerland and once or twice the name of Hubmaier appears in his attacks.”[47] This document consisted of 26 theological statements with Scriptural references, leaving absolutely no mistaking where Hubmaier’s theology had landed.

The political climate was growing red-hot. A few of Hubmaier’s letters have been published, but what may be his most famous work, On Heretics and Those Who Burn Them, ignited a flame and eventually Waldshut came under Catholic attack. Zurich unofficially sent by way of a band of armed citizens.[48] On Heretics and Those Who Burn Them is a statement of 36 articles in favor of the free will of belief and an attack against those who burn those with opposing views. Article 1 opens with the delectation, “Heretics are those who wantonly resist the Holy Scripture,” and concludes with, “Now it appears to anyone, even to a blind person, that the law [which provides] for burning of heretics is an invention of the devil. Truth is Unkillable.”[49] The argument between these two bookends used Scripture throughout, once again demonstrating his strong reliance upon and reverence for the truth of Scripture. The political and military pressure against Hubmaier ebbed and flowed for a while, at times being fierce, at other times Hubmaier preached to Swiss soldiers after Waldshut peaceably opened their gates to them.[50] Both the Catholic and Zwingli’s men hunted Hubmaier. During this time, a small band of men formed the first Anabaptist congregation and were expelled from Zurich. Also in this time, Hubmaier grew more vocal and declared his view that children should not be baptized and that both baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be conducted biblically.[51] He renounced the idea that Catholic priests were an intermediary between man and God and should remain celibate. On January 13, 1525, he married Elsbeth Hugline.[52] A week before Easter, Wilhem Reublin baptized sixty people—Hubmaier was among them. The following day, Hubmaier baptized many others, and through the Easter season, he claimed to have baptized 300 people.[53]

After Waldshut fell to the Catholics, Hubmaier, weekend by illness, escaped into the country but was eventually captured by Zwingli. For four months, he was detained in the Zurich city hall, still sick and frail. Zwingli had given an execution order for many Anabaptist which included Grebel, Mantz, Blaurock, Aberli, and Hubmaier.[54] Archduke Ferdinand requested to extradite Hubmaier, causing Hubmaier to believe the only way he would survive, even if he remained in the Zurich jail, was to recant. In his infirmity, he wrote a statement of recantation; however, it was not enough for the local authorities. They desired that publicly read his recantation in the churches of Zurich in an effort to humiliate the Anabaptists. The first church was to be the Fraumunster. Moore tells the story,

After Zwingli had preached, Hubmaier was called upon to read his recantation. Just before the service, it seems, he had learned about imperial representatives being in the city. He evidently decided that Zurich now intended to turn him over to the Austrians and that no recantation would save him. He hurriedly wrote down some notes on a scrap of paper for his own sincere defense of the freedom of faith. Later he said this was intended for the use in his defense before the Austrians in case he were handed over to them. A surge of moral strength welled up within him, however, as he rose to read the recantation. He sued the hastily scribbled notes rather than the carefully worded recantation in making his statement to the congregation.[55]

Hubmaier bodily stated that he would not and could not recant and then proceeded to defend his belief of adult baptism. He was immediately carted off to jail where he was tortured until he stated that the devil inspired his statements and that his fellow Anabaptists were heretics.

For three more months, Hubmaier was kept in a wet cell in what was called the Water Tower. Poor treatment and torture were continued as punishment. Somehow, Hubmaier managed to write a short confession called the Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith, which was published the subsequent year. He also wrote a number of other short works from the Wellenberg prison. At the same time, Grebel, Mantz, Blaurock, and other Anabaptist were being held in a new prison named the Heretics Tower. With Zwingli’s blessing, the local authorities issued an order that anyone known to have rebaptized another person would be killed by drowning. Grebel, Mantz, and Blaurock were sentenced to life in prison; however, shortly after sentencing the entire group escaped. Hubmaier, not having been with the others, again offered to recant. Wanting to use this against the Anabaptist, Hubmaier was again transported to three churches were he read his insecure statement of recantation. Knowing his statement was a ruse, Zwingli and the authorities placed Hubmaier under heavy guard. Somehow, he was still able to escape and he and his wife made their way to Constance. Some time later, he left for Moravia. All the while, he continued to write and from Moravia published a substantial amount of work for such a short period.[56]

Dying for His Beliefs. Hubmaier’s time in Moravia allowed him the opportunity to work though and publish his theological ideas. While he was likely considered among the Swiss Brethren, some of his work put a wedge between himself and the others, mainly, his position on against pacifism outlined in Concerning the Sword. However, this time for writing, preaching, and reflection would end when Archduke Ferdinand was crowned king of Bohemia in 1527, just three years after Hubmaier’s baptism. Ferdinand appointed Johann Faber, Hubmaier’s former fellow student and friend, as the persecutor of heretics. The Hubmaiers were taken under custody on a charge of insurrection. The couple was taken to the Kreuzenstein Castle and the charge of heresy was added. By the end of that year, Faber began days of hearing. Fearful of the results of his previous interrogations and charges, Hubmaier was careful how he responded, at first holding true to his beliefs but constructing his statements in less than controversial ways. Eventually he had to take his stand on Scripture, offering a negative statement on purgatory and the intercession of the saints. Neither did his lack of support for any Catholic tenants did not help his case. But none of that would matter given the wide and bold scope of his writing. Hubmaier pleaded for the opportunity to support his positions with Scripture before an open council but his requests never reached Ferdinand. When ordered to write a statement of recantation, he instead wrote a confession of guilt to aiding the peasants at Waldshut. He also included his confession of beliefs but in no way called them heretical. His statement was read publicly and Faber had them published. On March 10, 1528, “without complaint, courageous at the end,” Balthasar Hubmaier was burned at the stake.[57] Three days later, Elsbeth Hubmaier had a stone tied to her and she was thrown into the Danube River.[58]

Dean Stephanus Sprugel of the University of Vienna recorded that on the stake, Hubmaier cried out, “O gracious God, in this my great torment, forgive my sins. O Father, I give you thanks that you will today take me out of this vale of tears. I desire to die rejoicing, and come to you. O Lamb, O Lamb, take away the sins of the world. O God, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[59] Again, only this time in Latin, he declared, “O Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[60] He shouted to the onlookers, “O dear brothers and sisters, if I have injured anyone, in word or deed, may they forgive me for the sake of my merciful God. I forgive all those who have harmed me.”[61] Before the smoke overtook him, Hubmaier’s last words were, “O Jesus, Jesus!”[62]

HUBMAIER’S THEOLOGY

After reading much of Hubmaier’s work, it is clear that most evangelicals and all Baptists are closely connected to the theology held by the Anabaptist theologian. His writing could easily be picked up today and look like a theological survey of the modern evangelical church. For example, in answering the question, “‘What, or how much at least, must I know if I desire to be baptized?’” Hubmaier responds, “This, and this much, you must know from the Word of God before you let yourself be baptized: That you confess yourself a miserable sinner and guilty, that you also believe the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ, and that give yourself into a new life with the firm resolution to improve your life and to order it according to the will of Christ, in the power of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[63] Although many Anabaptists were killed for this belief, this is not much of a stretch for evangelical churches today. In fact, A Form for Water Baptism outlines a set of questions that should be asked of a potential recipient of baptism. It is essentially a multi-question form of the Apostles’ Creed followed by a personal question of confession. This form could be used today without any realization that Hubmaier penned it in 1527.

In the simplest of summation, Hubmaier agreed with Luther in that salvation comes by faith alone and Scripture alone is the final authority: Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. They agreed that Scripture should be taught and read in the language of the people and the common person should have access to the Word of God for himself or herself. Hubmaier rejected the authority of the pope, and elevation of the priest between God and man, mandatory celibacy, the intersession of the saints, and purgatory—to include the penitence works—pilgrimages, relics, festivals, and indulgences. This however, is where the agreement with Luther ended. Hubmaier came to understand the Lord’s Supper as an instructed symbolic memorial act and a communion of the believers rather than a sacrament that somehow brought about salvation. And that is where he left Calvin and Zwingli. Hubmaier further believed that the Church is made up of believers only, who upon credo baptism find entry. Therefore, he rejected infant baptism, meaning he also rejected the union of church and state as it existed in his day. Man is gifted with an aspect of free will, according to Hubmaier, belief and consentience cannot be forced. That being said, man cannot hold the title of Christian simply by being born to Christian parents in a Christian geographical area. This is where agreement between Hubmaier and the Brethren end. Unlike the Brethren and the stream of theology that came be rest on the Anabaptist movement, Hubmaier was not a pacifist. His work, On the Sword laid out a biblical position away from pacifism, and because of this, many modern Anabaptists do not claim Hubmaier as a theological forefather. And finally, this is where Hubmaier and modern evangelicals end. The doctrine held by Hubmaier that is rejected by evangelicals today was his view of Mary. Hubmaier held that Mary remained the “perpetually pure and chaste Virgin.”[64]

Much can be discussed about Hubmaier’s theology, except his ideas will appear as common place because they are so close to those of orthodox evangelical Christianity today. However, Hubmaier was among the minority in his day. He was seen as a heretic and even died at the hands of other Protestants for views recognized as common today. But this does not mean that his theology should be neglected. Every evangelical student of the Bible should have the complete works of Balthasar Hubmaier on the shelf next to his or her other systematic theology books.[65] Understanding the theology of Hubmaier is extremely insightful in understanding the roots of many theological doctrines today.

HUBMAIER’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE REFORMATION

Balthasar did not ring the bell of Reformation as Martin Luther did in Wittenberg. He has not gained the popularity of John Calvin. And Hubmaier was not a lone, superstar reformer like the three most revered—Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. So one might ask what his contribution to the Reformation was. In short, Hubmaier was the theologian and writer of the radical reformation stream, the stream that came to be known as the Anabaptists. On Hubmaier, Friedmann writes,

It is clear that besides Balthasar Hubmaier (d. 1528), who was a doctor of theology (from a Catholic university), there were no trained theologians in the broad array of Anabaptist writers and witnesses. Hubmaier was a special type, greatly esteemed by Christian radicals by not really emulated and followed after. Many of his theological ideas crept into Anabaptist thinking, such as, for instance, his doctrine of the freedom of will, or his teaching concerning the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.[66]

More significantly, the Anabaptist theology—with the exception of pacifism—gave birth to the idea that the church must be free of governmental control and manipulation, is comprised of believers only through baptism by confession, and that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacramental guarantee of God’s grace. With Hubmaier at the beginning, the idea that magisterial church-government leadership is not the biblical picture for the Church. Each person has the free will to believe how he or she will; therefore, the government cannot force belief or membership into any specific church. If it is not obvious, Hubmaier’s contribution to the Reformation was the significant second part of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli’s work. Had it not been for the Anabaptists, there is a possibility that the Church today would look much like the Catholic church of the sixteenth century, only baring the name of Luther or Calvin. If not for Hubmaier, the ideas may not have been work through so thoroughly, and they certainly would not have been published and preserved for the Church today. Today’s evangelical church has much for which to thank Hubmaier.

CONCLUSION

While Balthasar Hubmaier is not as popular as other Reformers, he is as significant, if not more so. As a protestant killed at the hands of other protestants, martyred for his faith, his is an fascinating part of Christian Church history. Today, evangelicals stand upon his shoulders and see higher and farther, whether they realize it or not. And they stand more in line, more united, with his theological contribution than any other Reformer. Therefore, it is important that Hubmaier not be forgotten, that his books not become merely dust on a lonely shelf of empty libraries. It is the hope of this blogger, that this post has generated a greater interest in Hubmaier and his work so that the reader will seek out additional works about Hubmaier as well as his original writing.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.

Estep, William R. Anabaptist Beginnings (1523-1533): A Source Book. Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1976.

Friedmann, Robert. The Theology of Anabaptism; An Interpretation. Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite history, no. 15. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1973.

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Reformation to the Present Day. San Francisco, Calf: Harper & Row, 1984.

Hindson, Edward E., and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene, Ore: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hubmaier, Balthasar, H. Wayne Pipkin, and John Howard Yoder. Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism. Classics of the radical Reformation, 5. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1989.

Moore, John Allen. Anabaptist Portraits. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1984.

Packull, Werner O. "Balthasar Hubmaier's gift to John Eck, July 18, 1516." Mennonite Quarterly Review 63, no. 4: 428-432. 1989. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 7, 2010).

Potter, G. R. "Anabaptist Extraordinary Balthasar Hubmaier, 1480-1528." History Today 26, no. 6 (June 1976): 377-384. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 5, 2010).

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. The Dissent and Nonconformity Series, 14. Paris, Ark: Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc, 2000.

 

Footnotes:
1   Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001), 579.
2  Ewell, 579.
3  Ewell, 579.
4  Ewell, 579.
5   Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: Reformation to the Present Day (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 6.
6  González, 10.
7   Edward E. Hindson and Ergun Mehmet Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 443-446.
8  González, 10.
9  González, 10.
10  Ewell, 995.
11   González, 53-57.
12  González, 53.
13  González, 53-54.
14  González, 54.
15   Daniel Liechty, Early Anabaptist Spirituality: Selected Writings, The Classics of Western spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1994) 4.
16   González, 53-59.
17  William R. Estep, Anabaptist Beginnings (1523-1533): A Source Book (Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1976), 3.
18   David Funk, "The relation of church and state in the thought of Balthasar Hubmaier." Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 17, no. 2 (December 1, 2006): 37-50. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 7, 2010), 37.
19   Elwell, 579.
20  John Allen Moore, Anabaptist Portraits (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1984), 165-166.
21  Moore, 166.
22  Moore, 166.
23  Moore, 166.
24   Moore, 166.
25  Moore, 165-166.
26  Werner O. Packull, "Balthasar Hubmaier's gift to John Eck, July 18, 1516," Mennonite Quarterly Review 63, no. 4: 428-432. 1989 ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 7, 2010), 428.
27  Moore, 166-167.
28  Moore, 168.
29  Moore, 168-169.
30  Moore, 170.
31  Moore, 170.
32  Moore, 170.
33  Moore, 171.
34  Moore, 172.
35  Moore, 172.
36  Moore, 173-174.
37   Moore, 173.
38  Leondard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, The Dissent and Nonconformity Series, 14 (Paris, Ark: Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc, 2000), 200.
39  Balthasar Hubmaier, H. Wayne Pipkin, and John Howard Yoder, Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism. Classics of the radical Reformation, 5. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1989, 22.
40  Hubmaier, 23.
41  G. R. Potter, "Anabaptist Extraordinary Balthasar Hubmaier, 1480-1528." History Today 26, no. 6 (June 1976): 377-384. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 5, 2010), 382.
42   Potter, 382.
43  Hubmaier, 34.
44  Potter, 382.
45  Potter, 382-383.
46   Moore, 178-184.
47  Moore, 186.
48  Moore, 187-189.
49  Hubmaier, 59 & 66.
50   Moore, 189-195.
51  Moore, 194.
52  Moore, 194.
53  Moore, 196.
54  Moore, 205.
55   Moore, 207.
56  Moore, 205-234.
57   Moore, 240.
58  Moore, 234-241.
59  Moore, 240-241.
60  Moore, 241.
61  Moore, 241.
62  Moore, 241.
63   Hubmaier, 120-121.
64  Hubmaier, 430.
65  This blogger recommends Balthasar Hubmaier, H. Wayne Pipkin, and John Howard Yoder, Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism. Classics of the radical Reformation, 5. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1989.
66   Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism; An Interpretation, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite history, no. 15 (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1973), 19.

Apologetic Methods and the Bible

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Not too long ago, I was chatting with a friend who loves apologetics.  Actually, he loves presuppositional apologetics and cares little for the other schools of apology.  Evidential, classical, cumulative case, reformed epistemological, and all the different apologetic camps are not as exciting for my friend, I guess.  After our conversation, it struck me that the various discussions about apologetics have a lot in common with the extensive debates about evangelism and discipleship,  biblical counseling and pastoral care, missiology, church growth, worship, and every other topic where Christians tend to pitch camp.  

So just as I do with so many other ministry methodologies, I started looking at modern-day apologetics through the lens of the Bible.  Camp warfare often includes proof-texts that support each camp.  When it comes to apologetics, I've heard a few.  For example, "We have little need to provide evidence of God's existence because Romans 1 says people already have all they need" (Romans 1:18-25).  Or, "The Holy Spirit will testify to the truth of God's Word; therefore, there is little need to provide anything other than the Bible" (Romans 8:16-17).  And I especially love it when a camp quotes Proverbs 26:4 without Proverbs 26:5, or Proverbs 26:5 without Proverbs 26:4.  That's awesome. 

Too often, when we identify with an apologetic camp, we tend to toss out proper Kingdom tools that don't match our preferred gear.  When we get too selective, we don't build a full tool-box, and that only hurts our efforts.  As I teach with evangelism and discipleship, you might have your preferred tools in the top drawer of your toolbox, but it's okay to have other tools for the time you need them.  You might not be as skilled with some tools, but why toss them out? 

Also, I'm of the belief that the words in the prophets and the epistles are just as inspired as the words in the narratives.  Seeing the methods of the biblical authors is just as important as reading the instruction they wrote, which is why one reason we have the narrative sections in our Bible.  What did they do?  What was Jesus' approach for showing or telling people who he is?  With what methodology did the God-man engage?  What was Peter's argument and approach when he stood up and explained the events of Pentecost?  Paul, who told Timothy to be prepared to make a defense for his faith (or an 'apologia'), practiced what he preached.  What did it look like?  What did Paul do? 

There are biblical arguments for positive and negative apologetics. (By positive I mean a constructive argument to build a case for the Christian faith, and by negative I mean an argument to dismantle other religions and worldviews.) We can find biblical examples of many different methodologies.  We can even find various apologetic conversations directed at both believers and non-believers.  After yet the most straightforward survey, we see that the New Testament offerers support for a wide range of avenues for these discussions.     

The gospels themselves are a written apologetic work.  So is the book of Acts.  John and Luke said so.  John writes, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31). Talk about a healthy positive apologetic!  Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1 shows us that Luke was making an argument for faith to a person named Theophilus.  It is easy to see that Matthew was appealing to Jewish people, most likely with the desire to win them to faith in Christ.  Mark, it seems, is appealing to gentiles.      

What did the apologetic look like between Nicodemus and Jesus? Jesus appealed to Scripture and evidence when John the Baptist sent messengers to ask if Jesus was the Christ.  Jesus and Pilot?  And the apologetic with the Pharisees? Samaritan women, how did Jesus discuss faith with them?  

Acts, too, is loaded with apologetic examples.  What a fun study!  Paul makes a case before rulers on a few occasions.  He also makes a case before a rioting crowd.  Oh wow!  And many of the epistles contain a defense of the faith, made to believers.  

Anyone looking to engage in apologetic work should start with the methods presented to us in God's Word. 

How Does the Bible Define a Disciple of Jesus?

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The term, 'disciple' comes up often in Christian conversations. It's important to know, considering Jesus' disciples we are called to make disciples. What in the world is a disciple?  It's also relevant when dealing with the question about who is and who is not a Christian.  Christian and disciple, given how the Bible uses the term disciple, suggests that the Bible might provide evidence to this question. 

I propose that a disciple of Jesus hears the voice of the Lord and does what he says in the Christian journey toward spiritual maturity. Allow me to show you from God's Word.  

The gospel of John tells of an event where Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath. The healing event happens in the ninth chapter of John, but the connected narrative of chapters seven and eight suggest the timing of the event was during or shortly after the Feast of Booths.[i] As Jesus was defending himself from the accusations of the Pharisees in chapter ten, he made a curious statement. 

Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of a stranger.[ii]

The Pharisees did not comprehend what Jesus was saying, so Jesus shifted to another allegory with sheep. Jesus said in John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Two verses later he referenced other sheep that are not of the same fold and said, “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

On the one hand, Jesus’ allegory is clear. “These details,” writes F. F. Bruce, “were familiar to many of Jesus’ hearers; even today they are aptly illustrated by the way of a shepherd with his sheep in the Holy Land.”[iii] Bruce further argues that the pen would likely have been a stone enclosure with one door and briars lining the top of the walls. A watchman would guard the door, only allowing the shepherds to enter.[iv] “More flocks than one might be accommodated in the same enclosure;” per Bruce, “but all that was necessary was for the shepherd to stand at the entrance and call; his own sheep would recognize his voice and come to him.”[v] In shepherding terms, the shepherd knows his sheep, and his sheep know the shepherd. When the shepherd calls, the sheep follow.

On the other hand, there is much more behind Jesus’ allegory. “It is hard to read these words without thinking of several backgrounds,” writes D. A. Carson.[vi] Carson suggests that Ezekiel 34 is the most important backdrop for consideration. God is tough on the leaders of Ezekiel’s day for the gross mishandling and lack of care for God’s people. “God insists that they are his sheep, his flock.”[vii] Leon Morris also argues for an Old Testament view, writing, “This chapter should be read in light of Old Testament passages which castigate shepherds who have failed in their duty (see Jer. 23:1-4; 25:32-38; Zech. 11, and especially Isa. 56:9-12 and Ezek. 34). God is the Shepherd of Israel (Ps. 80:1; cf. Ps 23:1; Isa. 40:10f.), which gives the measure of the responsibility of His under-shepherds.”[viii] Jesus was both instructing his people to listen to him as the true shepherd while simultaneously blasting the leaders of the day for their disobedience to God’s instruction to rightly care for God’s people. If the assigned undershepherds had failed, it was because they did not obey God. Jesus was showing the Pharisees their lack of obedience as well as his authority over the flock. In both cases, hearing and knowing the Lord’s voice and obeying him are in view.

If the primary matter of the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees centered on hearing from the Lord and doing what he commanded, it was important the Pharisees understood how to hear from the Lord. The same would be true for undershepherds and the flock today. Knowing how to recognize the Voice of the Lord is vital. “In the OT,” writes Andreas Köstenberger, “God communicated with his people preeminently through the law (which spelled out God’s moral expectations for his people) and the prophets (who called people back to obedience to the law). People listened to God’s voice by living in conformity with his revealed will.”[ix] The leaders in the crosshairs of Jesus’ rebuke had the Old Testament Voice of the Lord available yet did not recognize it, showing them as being outside the flock of God. However, Jesus was calling his people by name and charging them to follow his voice, both physically and through the revelation of Scripture. “At the present time (from the perspective of the earthly Jesus),” continues Köstenberger, “those who desire to follow God should do so by listening to Jesus’ words and by obeying his commandments (e.g., 15:10). In the future, God (and Jesus) will speak to his own through the Spirit (16:13-15).”[x]

A couple of months after this exchange, during the Feast of Dedication, the Jews brought the question up again with Jesus.[xi] “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” demanded the Jews in John 10:24. There is much debate if Jesus had or had not divulged his complete identity to them publicly, but Carson argues that no matter the answer, the entirety of Jesus’ life, words, and deeds had served to inform them.[xii] However, they had not heard. “The request reveals, somewhat pathetically,” jests Köstenberger, “that the entire significance of the preceding good shepherd discourse had eluded Jesus’ opponents.”[xiii] Jesus responded with the sheep allegory once more, saying,

I told you, and you do not believe. The words that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.[xiv] 

A disciple of Jesus is a person who hears and recognizes the Lord’s voice through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, this person not only hears Jesus’ voice, but he or she follows Jesus. Disciples follow Jesus to salvation. In his discourse with the Jews, Jesus said his sheep will have eternal life and shall never perish. However, on the journey toward the promised salvation, Jesus gives his disciples the opportunity to learn and grow. While salvation is not dependent upon spiritual maturity, the road of faithful discipleship leads straight through opportunities for Christian sanctification.

While much of the Bible speaks of spiritual growth and maturity, few passages show the Christian journey like 2 Peter 1:3-15. In his letter to Christians,[xv] Peter urges his brothers and sisters in the faith to follow in the Lord’s leading to both the eternal Kingdom and a sanctified life. Verse 3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Toward the conclusion of the road map, Peter reminded his readers, “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[xvi] Peter was not arguing that the instructions between these bookends earn an entry into the kingdom, but that entry has already been granted at the call and promise of Jesus. He further stirred up his readers and reminded them that in doing what Jesus says, a disciple might be a partaker of the divine nature.[xvii] The body of this section of Scripture shows a growth pattern, starting with faith. As a disciple begins to hear from the Lord and follow him, Scripture tells the disciple to supplement that faith with virtue. Then he or she adds knowledge, then self-control, and so on. Eventually, Scripture calls the disciple to learn to love. These supplements are learned and practiced qualities in the discipleship journey, but there are consequences for those who do not follow Jesus toward Christian maturity. “For whoever lacks these qualities,” wrote Peter, “is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”[xviii]

A disciple of Jesus recognizes the voice of the Lord and knows him. Jesus stands and calls to the disciple to follow him, just as a shepherd calls out to his sheep. Then, like the shepherd leading the flock to excellent things the sheep need, Jesus leads his disciples into Christian maturity, if they follow him. The sanctification roadmap Peter offered to his readers is an unadorned picture of the journey Jesus offers to his disciples. Peter’s words in verse 8 should still stir disciples today. They read, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[xix] To learn more about Jesus means faithfully walking the journey he has put before his people.

After this examination, it is reasonable to say disciple of Jesus hears the voice of the Lord and does what he says in the Christian journey toward spiritual maturity.  Of course there is more discussion to be had here, especially when we see the Bible mention disciples who ended up not following Jesus in the end, like Judas.  However, these cases are likely the exception.  Normatively, a disciple recognizes Jesus voice and obeys him as Lord. 


 _____
[i] John 7:1ff.
[ii] John 10:1-5, English Standard Version.
[iii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, Grand Rapids (Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1983), 224.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid., 224.
[vi] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 380.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1971), 498.
[ix] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004), 301.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] John 10:22-24.
[xii] Carson, 392.
[xiii] Köstenberger, 311.
[xiv] John 10:25b-28, italics added.
[xv] 2 Pet. 1:1.
[xvi] 2 Pet. 1:11.
[xvii] 2 Pet. 1:4.
[xviii] 2 Pet. 1:9-10.
[xix] 2 Pet. 1:8. 

The Four Fields (Matthew 4:26-29)

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Missional engagement can be tricky.  There are times when the field is full of rocks, weeds, and nobody has sewn gospel seeds.  Other fields might have the start of something.  Some fields are ripe for a harvest.  Even the way I am using the term, 'field' can be tricky.  It might be a big area of people, or maybe a specific subgroup, or perhaps even a small local community. 

But despite this trickiness, there's a tool that helps us think about the field.  It's called The 4 Fields and highly promoted by the group #NoPlaceLeft.  It comes from the parable in Matthew 4:26-29.  Brett Ricley does an excellent job explaining The 4 Fields thinking.       

One might ask, "Why is this a thing?"  

Because different fields need different action.  If disciple-makers are going to find effectiveness, he or she might be better off doing what the field calls for.  One can't harvest where no seed has been sewn.  When God has readied the harvest, by all means, one should start the harvest work.  

Thinking in terms of The Four Fields might help you think more effectively in the places where you live, work, play, and do business.   So watch Brett's training video and get into the fields and make disciples! 

Review: The Daily Dose of Greek App

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It's certainly no secret that I use and love Dr. Rob Plumber's Daily Dose of Greek.  But I'm not the only one. Jim Hamilton and Trevin Wax (both guests of Salty Believer Unscripted) have written extremely favorable articles about the Daily Dose.  And John Piper says, "Rob Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek is a great way to keep up your New Testament Greek."  

Now Daily Dose of Greek is available in an app.  What was once only available through the website and Vimeo, brought to me each day via email, now affords another way to engage with the Greek.  

I've installed the app and used it for a week.  It's time for my review. (For the record, Dr. Plumber has been a guest on Salty Believer Unscripted, but he has not paid for this review or our endorsement, other than by the superb Greek education he provides.)  But first, a quick word about Daily Dose of Greek.

*SaltyBeliever.com has endorsed the Daily Dose of Greek and we highly recommend it to those wanting to learn Greek, dust if off again after many years, or stay sharp.  

But what about the app? 

I've been using the android app for about a week, but it didn't take a week to see the advantages of this app.  

First, it's convenient to have the Daily Dose of Greek on my phone.  Sure, I could have clicked the link in my email that would take me to Vimeo and watch the video, but it's much smoothing to do it all in one place.  And I can open the app while waiting for an appointment or standing in line.  

Second, it's missional.  So no kidding, there I was at my favorite deli, waiting for someone when I pulled out the phone and fired up the Daily Dose of Greek app.  Shortly after a verse from Philemon was read and Dr. Plumber was starting to translate, the guy in the next booth ask what I was studying.  (Maybe my volume was a little too loud.)  I told him biblical Greek and then after he asked why I was able to share my love of God and God's Word.  Then I shared my 15-second story, and we engaged in a short spiritual conversation.  Previously, I was opening my email and watching the Daily Dose at home before heading out.  

Third, and maybe not as much of a stretch, I can readily return to past episodes.  When the app is opened, a list of every Daily Dose episode, to include all verses, weekend editions, songs, and book discussions.  After a video has been selected, a check appears next to it so you can keep track of what you've seen.  Also, the user can look up the 

And finally, the app icon just looks cool on your phone and makes you look and feel so much smarter than when Angry Birds used to be there next to your text message button.  The app just ups your level of phone sophistication and class.  

The videos run smoothly, and the app is intuitive.  It's just easy to use. And it's free. 

If I could make a couple of changes, they would only be additions to an already great app.  First, I would like to see an option to uncheck the video or mark it as unseen.  This would allow me to come back to something again or keep track if I wasn't able to finish a video for some reason.  I also think it would be wonderful to have the "Learn Greek" videos made available and in a category like the specials.  

The Daily Dose of Greek app is terrific and probably ought to be found an anyone who is remotely serious about learning and knowing Greek.  Hunt for the app wherever you get your apps.  (I'm not promising it will be there, but it's worth finding.) 

Here's some info from Dr. Plumber about where to find the app

Discipleship Essentials

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Jesus told his disciples to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).  Those first followers of Jesus were called to make more people like themselves, that is, more Jesus followers.  Jesus said he is with us as we make disciples and teach them all that he commanded.  So you'd think one of the marks of a Christian is that he or she is introducing people to Jesus (or trying to), and then he or she is sitting with others to teach them all that Jesus taught.  After all, this is Jesus' mission (Luke 19:10, Matthew 18:11). Jesus has allowed us to join him in his mission as he is with us until the end of the age. You'd think being on Jesus' mission would be the most significant place where Christians would want to be found. 

However, it would seem that Christians have perfected the art of explaining away the necessity of discipleship, which is just justifying disobedience.  And by shedding the need to engage in disciple-making and discipleship, we have dumped one of the most exceptional means God uses to grow us into the image of Jesus.  Not only do others miss out on meeting Jesus and experiencing spiritual growth, but we also miss out!  Discipleship is a powerful practice commanded by Jesus so he would be glorified in us and others throughout the world.      

Bryan Catherman has assembled a simple tool to help you get started in the process of discipleship.  He also offers some resources to help.  (Simple, faithful discipleship was the focus of his doctoral studies and he's giving away the meat and potatoes right here.) 

We hope that you are trying to make disciples.  We pray that you are meeting with people to help them walk into maturity with Jesus or that you are being discipled, or both.  If you have not started, you can.  It's not difficult.  And it will draw you closer to Jesus.  

*Additional discipleship tools and training are available under the Resources tab of SaltyBeliever.com. 

What in the World is Reformation Day?

MARTIN LUTHER, NOVEMBER 10, 1483 - FEBRUARY 18, 1546.

MARTIN LUTHER, NOVEMBER 10, 1483 - FEBRUARY 18, 1546.

On October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. The monk was Martin Luther, the grievances are technically called The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, and October 31, 1517 (Reformation Day) often marks the opening bell of the Protestant Reformation. 

Today is the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, and Christians are celebrating around the world.  What's the bid deal.  Why are we celebrating? What's the big deal?

Although not actually the first reformed thinker, it all hangs on Martin Luther. First, Luther was also a professor and did a great deal of study.  He studied the Bible in a time when Scripture was often unavailable.  And second, he grew concerned about what he saw because he read his Bible. Studying God's Word, it became clear to Luther that Pope Leo X had steered the Catholic Church far from the doctrines taught in the Bible. For example, ideas of salvation and grace were dependent upon the mercy of Pope Leo X rather than Jesus Christ and his resurrection. We see the error of this false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, which reads, 

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 

It should probably be understood that at the university where Luther taught, it was actually a common practice to nail a thesis for discussion to the large door.  This was a way to signal an intellectual discussion or academic debate.  It is believed that Luther was not originally intending to fire such a bullet but instead start a conversation.  However, the thesis launched much more conversation than Luther intended, possibly because the printing press had recently been invented and allowed a publisher to remove the thesis from the door, print it, and distribute it to a wider audience than the university.   Regardless of the intention, The 95 Thesis launched a discussion that still lives today.  

On this, the 500th anniversary of the 1st Reformation Day, take a moment to ask yourself, first, is Jesus Christ your mediator before God or are you depending upon another (or maybe some specific works)?  Also ask yourself, are you studying God’s Word, reading the Bible like that German Monk who took a step of faith and changed the world?

Happy Reformation Day!  

{This is and adapted repost from from SaltyBeliever.com posts from multiple years, on this same day.} 

Success and Faithfulness in Discipleship and Gospel Sowing

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The Christian life is about faithfulness, but it's difficult to know when we're succeeding at the Christian.  How do we measure faithfulness?  What is the measure of success? 

Success gets sticky when it comes to reaching the lost and engaging the mission field.  Mission teams, evangelists, and church planting networks often count the number of professions of faith, or baptisms, or churches planted, but does that measure faithfulness?  Are these things the correct measurement? 

Maybe you're in a mission field that's not ready for gospel planting. You need to do some severe rock removal.  Pre-sowing work is hard work but doesn't produce the results we typically measure as 'success.'  Does this mean you are not faithful?  Of course not! 

Some of us may need to re-think our definition of success in evangelism and discipleship.  We might need a better understanding of what faithfulness looks like across the mission field. 

Brett Ricley has filmed a short training video that helps get a better handle of how we should think about faithfulness and success in mission, evangelism, and discipleship.  

We hope that this video is helpful.  Now, get out there and be faithful in whatever stages your fields are in.  

For the Kingdom! 

Headed into a Great Future

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Nearly a decade ago, I started SlatyBeliever.com because I felt like material I was learning in seminary should be made available to others without the need to go broke.  So I started sharing stuff from my papers and reviews of books I was reading at the time.  I wasn't qualified to teach, nor was I the best source, but there wasn't much out there, and I was thrilled to do something to change that.  That was nearly a decade ago, and by the grace of God, I still enjoy making resources available (even if my doctoral work bogged me down for a season). 

Jared Jenkins and I started "Salty Believer Unscripted" as a way to share conversations among pastors and ministers that the Jiffy-Lube Joe wasn't often wasn't able to take part.  We felt like those conversations should be extended to anybody interested, so we started recording them.  We've had many remarkable guests along the way and I hope to have many more.  I'm also thrilled that Brett Ricley has picked up hosting responsibilities with me in this journey and will help me carry this podcast well into the future. 

From time to time, I posted videos resources, but not as many as I would have liked.  If possible, I would love to have so many resources available that bible study teaches, ministers, missionaries, pastors, and many others might have ample training available on this site and that the training would greatly help them for the work of ministry.  Brett and I are working on a plan for more. 

So I'm elated that we've made website and equipment upgrades.  As I finish my doctoral work soon, I hope to post more videos, more articles and book reviews, more podcast, and even some live-streaming events so you can join in the conversation. And I hope to bring other guest writers onboard. 

I beg that you will keep this ministry in your prayers.  We would love to have more podcast guests, more opportunities to help equip the saints for the work of ministry, and more financial resources to do even more.  I hope you might consider partnering in prayer with us at SaltyBeliever.com.  You might also consider helping us out by subscribing to our YouTube channel and podcast feed.  Like us on Facebook and keep up with what we're doing.  We'd also love to hear from you.  How might we improve what we're doing to with this ministry? 

Thanks for your support and prayers over the years!   
Bryan Catherman

Bible Study Essentials: A Simple Framework

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Studying the Bible doesn't have to be difficult, but it does require some system or progression.  How so?  

Well, let's say you are the Bible student who reads a passage through the lends of 'you first.'  You start by looking for "you" in the text and then what plays out in the biblical text applies directly to you precisely as it did in the Scripture.  Suddenly, you are David fighting your giant--a dead battery in your car.  Your promotion at work is the promised land, and you are going to take it.  Every problematic thing is 'your Jericho.'  

Now, you might be asking, why is this a problem?  

Let's take 2 Timothy 4:13 as an example.  You come across this verse through the lens of 'you.'  Out of context and void of a useful framework for Biblical study, you read, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and also the books, and above all the parchments."   What does this mean?  Are you supposed to start a coat ministry?  Should you start a lending library for books at your church.  Or maybe this is about sending writing paper to pastors in other countries?  

But when you look through a system, you discover some timeless principles here.  You see that you are reading a letter from Paul, to his friend, Timothy.   Paul and Timothy were co-labors in the ministry.  Timothy was coming, and Paul wanted him to bring some things.  They help each other.  We also see that Paul was serious about his writing ministry.  There could be more, but after reading in the context of "what did it mean then" and extracting the timeless principles, we might understand that ministers of the gospel should be willing to help each other.  

In the video below, I share a simple system.  I'm not saying that you can't or shouldn't use other Bible study tools.  You should!  A Study Bible is a great start.  I'm not trying to downgrade things like learning the biblical languages, reading commentaries, doing word-studies, or other academic-type tools.  Those things all fit in the system, but you need a system.  

Also, you may download the bookmark in a full-page form here.  (Our was designed by Brett Ricley and adapted from material in Howard Hendrick's book, Living by the Book.) Use the bookmark as is, personalize it as your own bookmark, add more sub-questions, or use it how it will best help you study the Bible. 

Finally, you can buy Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard Hendricks here

Study on and study well!
Bryan Catherman

Gender, the Olympics, and God's Design

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There's lots of effort today to define men and woman as the same.  Exactly the same.  Exactly.  However, the Bible says men and women are equal in value but different in creation.  Genesis 1:21 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."  God created males and females.  Trying to make males and females exactly the same strips away unique aspects of God's design to create two kinds of humans--males and females. 

No matter how hard we try, we can't escape the reality of God's creation.  

Take the Olympics for example.  At the time of this post, the fasted 100-meters ran by male (a person with an x and y chromosome) was run by Usian Bolt.  He did it in 9.63 seconds.  The female record holder (a person with no y chromosome) is Florance Griffith-Joyner.  She ran the 100-meters in 10.62 seconds.  In the world of the 100-meter sprint, that's a large gap.  It's a difference.  

Imagine if a person with an x and a y chromosome (typically called a male) were to self-identify as a female and run in the 100-meter female race.  What if it were Usian Bolt?  What if this happened in boxing?  Would anybody be okay if Mike Tyson self-identified as a female and went into the ring with an actual female with two y chromosomes?  I think the world would cry, "foul."  In fact, the Olympic Committee has had to write a policy for transgendered athletes, to deal with God's created plan.  (You can read that policy here.) 

No matter how hard we try to define the terms as we want them, God, the Creator, is still the one who set the conditions.  Men and women, according to God are equal in value but different in creation.  We can try to make men and women the physically the same in creation, but in the end, God sets the terms.  Because God is the creator.