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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pastor's Study

There was a time when I took seriously the motto that the OPC stands for the "only perfect church". But I quickly learned that the only perfect church is the church triumphant in glory. But in my early days I enjoyed a fierce denominational loyalty that created in me an attitude of condescension toward others. It is a healthy thing to learn existentially that the holy catholic (universal) church is so much wider than the OPC.

That revelation hit me hardest while I was in Westminster Seminary. You must understand that when I attended Westminster (Philadelphia was the only location of a seminary by that name) the institution was virtually an OPC seminary. Almost every professor was a minister in the OPC (Young, VanTil, Stonehouse, Wooley, Clowney), and that fact tended to encourage my loyalty. It was the student body that opened my eyes to honestly respect other denominations as part of the great body of Christ. My buddy, Rex Boda, was just as loyal as I, but to his denomination, The Christian Missionary Alliance. I found him to be every bit as reformed in his theology as any minister in the OPC. He had a good heart, and a godly walk. Another very intelligent, godly man was in the Mennonite church. Another guy was a Baptist, of all things. They were all good guys with reformed convictions. This experience took the wind out of my sails, the sails that had been full of the wind of denominational snobbery.

Later in life, I joined the Minister's Fellowship in locations where the Lord had placed me. Again I have met good men who shared my convictions about the sovereign grace of God. This is always refreshing and encouraging, but it was far too infrequent.

Have you ever heard a "sermon" that was a series of cute stories, awkwardly tied together with scripture verses? It is no accident of spontaneity. It is calculated. The Minister's Fellowship visited one pastor's study and observed his desk with book holders that propped up the most recent work of his research. I was startled to discover two of them were joke books! You have to know that a Westminster graduate expects to see in-depth reference works and commentaries on a pastor's desk, so you can imagine how jarring this discovery was for me.

I remember the time (early in my ministry) that I had been wrestling with an Old Testament text, and some OPC ministers happened to visit my study during a Presbytery meeting. When they saw a Hebrew Bible and Hebrew lexicon among my books on the desk, I was accused of deliberately setting it up for display. I was insulted. I thought every OPC minister might be found with a similar study condition. I must admit that those books are less frequently found on top of my desk, but then again I have a much smaller desk, and most of it is cluttered with stuff to put away some day. These days, if you know where to go on the web, you can find the Hebrew text and get a lexical reference to the words.


  1. I am afraid I let my Hebrew go pretty quickly, but I was glad that I could make sense of the technical parts of commentaries. I always used stories of some sort in my sermons - as long as they introduced the main point of the passage I was preaching on, or illustrated an application. But I agree about "cutesy" sermons that are more pep talks than opening the text so people can know God's Word more deeply.

    We have my desk in our library - four good-sized bookcases with a lot of theology and commentaries. I have retired, but I have not stopped preaching or teaching.

  2. I've been through several denominations, lots of initials, - OPC, CRC, RCA, PCA, EPC, non - denominations and now a local Baptist church - the home of storied sermons. I thank God frequently for the wide variety of views I've had because of these experiences. The one experience that sticks in my mind: We were playing a Bible game at a "Bible Church". The head elder, top dog, could NOT name the first five books of the Bible. But! this church knew Love - and how to pass it on to others. In a very hard time of my life, they poured out more of that unmatched love of God. Do I like the storied sermons I hear now? No, but I've heard lots of sermons, know the Bible in and out, but I'm still lacking in love. So I serve, children born and preborn, adults, sick, healthy - . It keeps me humble, - and though "I have all knowledge" without love - I am nothing.

  3. a short P.S. - I think I found the most balanced approach at your Grace OPC - The spiritual food was always something to "chew on" , and resulted in the church operating as a family of love!

  4. Did you really have a Mennonite student at Westminster? My daughter has become a Mennonite, and the ones we know (and the ones I met when I lived in Harrisonburg, VA, home of Eastern Mennonite University) are not knowingly not Reformed. Of course, Mennonites encompass a vast spectrum of beliefs and practices, so one never knows - but I am puzzled.

  5. Dr. Victor Adrian is Executive Secretary of the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions and Services.