Don’t be a Demas!

By Adam Brown –

Recently, my wife and I started to joke with one another, saying, “Don’t be a Demas.” It’s a way for us to caution one another against being too worldly (I’ll explain it more fully further down in this article). What started as a half-hearted joke, however, has begun to concern us deeply. For my part, I am concerned for myself and my family, and I am also concerned for my local church and the broader church in Canada.

Worldliness and materialism are twin lethal threats to the health and productivity of the church in Canada and the West. Like the proverbial frog in a boiling pot of water, most of us have little or no awareness of the overwhelming pervasiveness of worldliness and materialism in our churches – even in our own lives – and the eternal danger of their destructive consequences.

This is not a new problem. Worldliness and materialism have always seduced the visible church.

Continue reading “Don’t be a Demas!”

Is There Room for Doubt in The Pulpit?

By Adam Brown –

“If you don’t believe it, don’t preach it.”

This statement seems reasonable. Necessary even. It does not seem possible for a preacher of God’s Word to authentically or effectively fulfill his assignment to feed Christ’s sheep if he does not believe what he is preaching.

The old adage regarding comprehension, “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, it’ll be a fog in the pews,” might be leveraged to say something about faith: “If there’s doubt in the pulpit, it’ll become disbelief in the pews.” Indeed, there is something that rings true about this.

John Stott comments on the power of sincerity of faith in the pulpit:

A friend once met [David Hume] hurrying along a London street and asked him where he was going. Hume replied that he was going to hear George Whitefield preach. ‘But surely, ‘his friend asked in astonishment, ‘you don’t believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?’ ‘No, I don’t’ answered Hume, ‘but he does.’

John Stott, Between Two Worlds. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982. 270

Stott’s point is that sincerity of faith is not only a basic requirement for preaching, it is an attractive asset as well.

But. . . What if the preacher has doubts? Here are three thoughts about doubt in the pulpit.

1. Some Doubt in The Pulpit is Unavoidable

Some men are given the gift of faith to such a measure that there is no room for doubt. These men can be tremendous treasures to the church, instilling hope and confidence in those who sit under their preaching. These men can also be tremendous tyrants to the church, ruthless in their inability to sympathize with the failings of the weak.

Most Christians―most preachers even―have some doubts. Most of us can join the distraught father in his prayer, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” as he pleads with Jesus to exorcise a demon from his son (Mark 9:14–29).

The assumption that absolute certainty, perfect clarity, and unblemished obedience is required before a man can stand up to proclaim the Word of God would leave pulpits empty everywhere.

Moreover, a pinch of doubt is a powerful tonic against prideful and needlessly dogmatic preaching.

2. Some Doubt in The Pulpit is Pastoral

There are degrees to doubt. At some point, doubt becomes a liability to the preaching of God’s Word. To guard against unqualified preaching, Paul wrote to Titus in Crete:

He [the prospective elder and preacher] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1:9

Doubt regarding the primary doctrines of the gospel―such as the Trinity, the Person and work of Christ, justification by grace through faith, the infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word, among others― makes it impossible to fulfill this mandate.

Up to the point of elder disqualification, however, the public declaration of doubt might serve a very pastoral purpose.

In 1 Timothy 4:11–16, Paul instructs the young preacher in Ephesus to devote himself to the ministry of the Word. In the middle of this stunning string of exhortations, the apostle writes, “. . . so that all may see your progress. . .” What kind of progress does Paul have in mind? Is it merely mechanical and homiletical? Or, might this progress have something to do with intellectual comprehension, doctrinal confidence, and personal progressive sanctification?

In the context of the local church, members are to watch the spiritual development of their preachers over time. This includes the flourishing of faith and conviction, as well as the maturation of personal holiness.

But how will this progress be seen if the preacher hides behind the pulpit, pretending to possess a level of doubtless conviction that is not actual?

By carefully exposing personal doubts and struggles, a preacher is able to create space in the church for sincere theological discourse that enhances transparency and vulnerability of fellowship in and around the Word of God. These conditions are a spiritual greenhouse for growth.

3. Some Doubt in The Pulpit is Necessary

Last Sunday I preached about the treasures of justification that are given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1–5).

I challenged the church with this exhortation, “The greatest treasures in all of reality are not found in any earthly wealth, but between the covers of this Book, the Bible” (paraphrased).

Then, I asked the church if they believed that. In spite of various nods and visual affirmations, I offered a pastoral rebuke, saying, “I don’t think that you do.” Immediately thereafter, I very purposefully revealed my own doubt, saying, “And, I don’t know if I do either.”

On one level, I most definitely do believe that the greatest treasures in all of reality are found in the written promises of God. Neither I, nor most of the people in our church, have any intellectual doubt about it.

On a deeper level, however, our lives do not readily demonstrate this belief. By taking an inventory of how we spend our time and money, it is fair to suggest that we seek worldly treasures more than we seek after the kingdom of God. That was my point. Our belief is real, but it is shallow. It is not transforming our behaviour the way it would if we truly, deeply, believed it. When put to scrutiny, a real and present Doubt is revealed in us.

It would be hypocritical and insincere―not to mention spiritually abusive― of me to rebuke the church for their deep-level-doubt without including myself in this analysis also.

Thus, revealing some doubt in the pulpit was necessary if I was to issue the rebuke and if I wanted to lead our church in pursuit of the greater treasures. By exposing my own doubt, I intended to establish a tone that would edify the church by helping us to develop a deeper conviction and desire to believe with action.

Is There Room for Doubt in The Pulpit?

Yes.

So long as doubt does not undermine the very essence of the gospel, an admission of doubt in the public preaching of the Word can be used by God to help a church to discover greater intimacy with Him and with one another.

Doubt, properly handled, is an essential tool in the kit of an effective preacher.

Why should you make it a life goal to get to Capernaum?

By Adam Brown –

Why should you make it a life goal to get to Capernaum?

What if you could be at the very house where Jesus. . .

  • Healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39);
  • Liberated the demon possessed (Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:32-33; Luke 4:41);
  • Healed the sick (Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:34; Luke 4:40);
  • Forgave the paralytic who had been lowered through the roof (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26);
  • Restored sight to the two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31);
  • Cast out the demon from the mute man (Matthew 9:32-34);
  • Redefined familial relationships when His mother and brothers were at the door (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; Luke 8:19-21);
  • Sent Peter to retrieve the temple tax from the mouth of the fish in the lake (Matthew 17:24-27);
  • Privately tutored His disciples about. . .
    • (1) the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:36-52; 18:7-14; Mark 4:10-33; Luke 8:9-18);
    • (2) what it means to be great (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50);
    • (3) how to resolve conflict among themselves (Matthew 18:7-35)?

And, what if―having seen the house―you could walk two minutes down a dusty ancient street to the synagogue where Jesus. . .

  • Regularly taught (Mark 1:21-22);
  • Cast out demons (Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:31-37);
  • Healed the man with the withered hand (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11);
  • Proclaimed that He was the bread of life (John 6:22-71)?

And, what if―having seen the house and visited the synagogue―you could double-back down the same dusty street, pass by the house, and within three minutes be on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus. . .

  • Called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11);
  • Taught the parables of. . .
    • (1) the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8);
    • (2) the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30);
    • (3) the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Luke 13:18-19);
    • (4) the leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21)?

And, what if―having seen the house and visited the synagogue and walked on the beach―you could meander through the ruins of the town, not knowing if this place or that was where Jesus. . .

  • Retreated to pray by Himself (Mark 1:35-38; Luke 4:42-43);
  • Healed the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10; John 4:46-54)
  • Raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56);
  • Healed the woman of her bleeding disease (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48);
  • Called Levi from his tax booth to become Matthew the apostle (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32);
  • Interlocked with the Pharisees about such things as. . .
    • (1) the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5);
    • (2) the source of His authority (Matthew 12:24-45; Luke 11:14-36);
    • (3) the right interpretation of the Law (Luke 11:37-54);
    • (4) fasting (Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)?

What if.

You CAN go to this place. All of this happened in Capernaum. You can see the house, the synagogue, the beach, and the ruins of the town where Jesus did all of this.

So much that we read and treasure in the Gospel happened in Capernaum. All within a few minutes walking radius.

Why wouldn’t you make it a life goal to go there, to see this sacred ground for yourself?

In my opinion, “Getting to Capernaum” should be on the very top of every Christian “bucket list.”

When Christians Were Jews

By Adam Brown –

The following is the beginning of a book review I wrote for The Gospel Coalition.

“When I was a kid, we used to camp for two weeks every summer on Beausoleil Island. On days when the lake was calm, we would sail to Giant’s Tomb where the water was clear and you could see bottom at a depth of four yards or more. But when the wind was up and the water was whitecapped we knew to stay by the fire, tucked away in the little cove where we’d pitched our tent, ‘til the morrow.

“If books were boats and seafaring was reading, then Paula Fredriksen’s latest offering, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation, would be a classic swashbuckling adventure, filled with bountiful scenery and gold-promising maps.

Continue reading “When Christians Were Jews”

Thomas Schreiner, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.”

By Adam Brown –

Evangelical scholar and faculty member at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Thomas Schreiner, ably and succinctly summarizes a biblical defense for women deacons in an article published by The Gospel Coalition. Here is an excerpt:

Continue reading “Thomas Schreiner, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.””

Leave the Dead to Bury their own Dead?

By Adam Brown –

After preaching to a great multitude in the Galilean mountains, Jesus returned home to Capernaum amidst a frenzied throng of enthused witnesses.

On route, He cleansed a leper (Matthew 8:1-4). Upon entering his hometown, a Centurion immediately confronted Him with a request to heal a paralyzed servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Having finally arrived to His guest room, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Matthew 8:14-15). That evening many of the townsfolk brought their sick and demon-possessed, and Jesus healed them all (Matthew 8:16).

It had been an epic day. Jesus’ popularity was swelling. Crowds were mounting. His movement was gaining unbridled momentum. People wanted “in,” to be counted among the masses who saw something special in this “might-be” Messiah.

So, what did Jesus do? Did He ride the wave? Bask in the glory? Expand the tent? Launch a newcomers ministry?

No. He escaped:

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side.

Matthew 8:18

As Jesus was extraditing Himself from His popular and growing Capernaum ministry, two men saw Him as He was making a run for the boat.

The first man, a scribe, seems to have been a very promising prospect. He is quoted as having said, “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you go” (Matthew 8:19). We would be inclined to sign him up, make him feel welcome, cater to his every felt-need and desire. Not Jesus. Jesus quickly rebuked the scribe, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). Translation: “Beat it!”

The second man, a grieving son, sought a conditional acceptance into Jesus’ band of disciples, saying, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matthew 8:21). Of all the reasons to absent oneself from a discipleship opportunity, this has got to be near the top. Not only would we permit such a thing, but we might even attend the funeral ourselves in order to show our support and pastoral care. Not Jesus. He immediately dashed the discipleship dreams of this heart-stricken lad, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22). We never find out if this man followed Jesus or attended his father’s funeral. But, having disappeared from the pages of Scripture, it seems he chose the burial instead of the boat.

I am struck by how far we are, in the church in Canada, from Jesus’ example.

When we find ourselves overseeing a burgeoning ministry, we seek to grow it more. We don’t flee to the other side of the lake. We don’t raise the bar when the masses rally; we lower it, hoping for still more.

When a prospective disciple comes to us to stroke our ego with smooth words of flattery, promising to join and to follow, we roll out the red carpet. We don’t spell out the cost, the sacrifice, or the expectation of discipleship; we market the profit, the benefit, and the relative ease of being counted among our number.

When a well meaning-member sends a text or an email to explain why he or she will not be participating in any given church event or discipleship opportunity, we are quick to ease their conscience. We don’t rebuke or challenge the member for a half-hearted commitment; we placate the thorn-choked Christian for fear of losing another soul in the seat or tithe in the plate.

If the scribe needed a little extra encouragement or the son needed a little pastoral comfort, neither of them got it from Jesus. His mission was too urgent and His ministry too important for men such as these. They were welcome to ebb and flow with the crowds, but they could not have a seat at the table.

They could not go on mission with Christ. The scribe loved his house too much. The son loved his unsaved family too much. Jesus required more from them.

Jesus’ expectations, His requirements and demands for disciples, have not changed in the last 2,000 years.

And yet, I cannot help but fear that most of us don’t even come close to the level of commitment that the scribe and the son were willing to offer Jesus. How many of us would even get this close to the boat? No, we count ourselves out for much less.

What stops us from giving Jesus the commitment He demands from us?

The weather. Vacation homes. Rec-league athletics. Netflix. An extra pair of shoes or pants or earrings. The NHL or MLB or NBA or PGA or NFL or CFL. The ladder of corporate success. Sleep. Dance or gymnastics or horseback riding or swimming or skiing. Getting a bigger house or bigger television or faster car or more sea-dos or more ski-dos. Redoing our kitchen or our basement or our loft or our bunkie.

Need I go on?

Leave the dead to bury their own dead?

Maybe we are. The dead burying our own dead.

Christmas in Proper Perspective: Meditations from Mary’s Magnificat

By Angie Brown –

Christmas… is it really the most wonderful time of the year?

Is anyone actually experiencing true joy from “the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer”?

I do love the twinkling lights, the beautiful carols, and the special events. It is such a peaceful season. Or at least that’s what I want it to be.

My hopes of a silent night are usually crushed when my brain is transformed into a relentless news ticker that is constantly scrolling with the latest hopes and dreams I have for this Christmas season: hosting… baking… shopping… wrapping… making memories!

Somehow, in all the busyness, I can lose sight of the amazing wonder of the Advent season and miss countless opportunities to reflect on the Incarnation.

In the gospel of Luke, Mary received the wonderous news that she would become the mother of the Messiah. In Luke 1:46-55, Mary joyfully responded in a song of praise. Here are four aspects of her response that can help us to slow down and consider Christ above all this Advent season. 

Mary Rejoiced in her Spirit

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices” (Luke 1:46).

Mary was so elated about the good news that Jesus Christ was coming that she worshipped from her inner most being. She could not help her soul from exalting her Creator, and her spirit from overflowing in praise.

We too, can reflect on our magnificent Lord this season, and invite the Holy Spirit to help us give glory to God with worship from our innermost being.

Mary Realized her Salvation

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:47b-48a).

The first thing Mary gave praise to God for was her salvation. She realized the arrival of Jesus meant that God was providing a Savior for his people, despite her humble position by worldly standards.

We too, can reflect on our salvation this season, as we realize that the coming of Christ means redemption for those who put their faith in Him.

Mary Recognized God’s Sovereignty

“For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:49).

Mary acknowledged that the plan of salvation was entirely orchestrated and implemented by the mighty and perfect One. Following this statement, she recognized several ways that God had demonstrated His great power and holiness for generations.

We too, can reflect on God’s sovereignty this season, as we recognize that He continues to unfold His brilliant plan of salvation through the Incarnation and future return of Jesus.

Mary Remembered the Scriptures

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:55).

Mary was familiar with the Old Testament prophecies given to her forefathers that a Messiah would come. She recalled the promise that God would bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. The arrival of Jesus Christ fulfilled the Word of God that had been given generations ago.

We too, can reflect on God’s Word this season, as we remember all the promises that are fulfilled in Jesus.

It is possible that Christmas could be the most wonderful time of the year?

I encourage us to make an intentional effort to dedicate this season to remember the enduring joy available to us through the birth, death, resurrection, and future return of Jesus Christ. More than that, might we also share this message with others as the actual reason we can be of good cheer?

As we hurry around this Christmas getting through all our lists, may we pause to reflect on the main event of the arrival of the Messiah. Let us invite the Holy Spirit to help us rejoice in our spirit, realize our salvation, recognize God’s sovereignty, and remember the Scriptures.

Angie Brown is a pastor’s wife and mother at Southshore Bible Church in Barrie, Ontario. She has a passion for women’s discipleship and loves to study God’s Word with women. Angie is currently studying her DEdMin at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and holds an MTS from McMaster Divinity College. She writes regularly at www.discerningdaughters.org.

Why Women Should Publicly Read Scripture in the Local Church

By Adam Brown –

As a complementarian church, we believe that men and women are created by God and are equal in every way. Both men and women are made in the image of God. Both men and women are to exercise benevolent dominion over the created order. And, perhaps most importantly, Jesus Christ died equally for both men and women. Yes, both men and women will share in His inheritance without any discrimination based on gender (Galatians 3:28).

At the same time, equality does not mean sameness. God created men and women to be equal but different. God’s creation of humanity in two genders differentiates the functions inherent to men, in their maleness, from women, in their femaleness. Together, men and women are to co-labour in a mutual, yet differentiated, partnership that aims to glorify their Creator. 

As part of this differentiated partnership, God created men to lead and to teach in the local church. Thus, the Word of God plainly states, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). This is controversial. Indeed, it is anathema in our culture. And yet, it is the Word of God.

The governing and teaching responsibility given to men by God is important to uphold. After all, the church is God’s house and He decides how we are to behave in it (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

It is equally important to uphold the high calling that God has given to women in the local church. Though this can be done in a number of ways, one very important means of doing this is to ask women to share in the public reading of Scripture.

The public reading of Scripture is the vocalization of God’s Word. This means that when a man or a woman stands up, opens the Bible, and reads Scripture from it, he or she is speaking God’s Words to God’s people. Put another way, God is speaking to the church when His Word is being read.

Keeping this in mind, it is very important for complementarian churches to share this profound honour among qualified men and women. This is not an honour that ought to be withheld from women. Nor is it a task that has been given exclusively to men.

Having said this, there are a couple of Scriptures that are regularly marshalled to argue against the public reading of Scripture by women:

1 Timothy 2:12

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.

1 Corinthians 14:33-35

. . . As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

What Should We Make of These Verses?

In the first case, 1 Timothy 2:12 does not address the public reading of Scripture. It addresses the governing and teaching authority of the male elders. The public reading of Scripture is neither teaching nor the exercising of governing authority. The authority of Scripture rests in the Word and not in the reader, though a preacher speaks with authority when he explains and applies the Word in and for the church.

First Corinthians 14:33-35 does not address the public reading of Scripture either. It addresses the evaluation of contemporaneous prophecy in the local church in an era before the church possessed the infallible Word of God in written form, namely our New Testament.

In such times, male elders were to evaluate every act of prophecy in order to deem it to be authentic or counterfeit. Moreover, men would then explain the prophecy to the church, much like we explain the Scriptures in our preaching and teaching. According to 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, women were not to participate in the judging or teaching of such prophecy.

Yet, Women Did Prophesy

In spite of the leading role that male elders were to take in the judging and teaching of prophecy, women were not prohibited from actually prophesying. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:5:

. . . every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. . .

Leaving aside the issue of head coverings for the moment, notice that Paul expected women to publicly pray and publicly prophesy in the gathering of the local church. The issue for Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 was not if, but how, a woman ought to publicly pray or prophesy. The answer Paul gives is this, women are to publicly pray and prophesy with a submissive posture.

In the Corinthian cultural context, this submissive posture was achieved by wearing a head covering. Head coverings do not usually communicate the biblical concept of submission appropriately in our culture, and so are not required. Nevertheless, the submissive spirit of a women in public prayer and public prophecy is upheld in all places, at all times, by the Word of God.

Prophetesses in the Old and New Testaments

Before the Old Testament was written down, prophets delivered the Word of God to God’s people verbally. Likewise, before the New Testament was written down, prophets delivered the Word of God to God’s people verbally. In both instances, they were called prophets and their act of speaking the Word of God was called prophecy. 

Old Testament prophetesses include: Miriam, Moses’ sister (see Exodus 15:20); Debora, during the time of the Judges (see Judges 4:9, 17-21), Hannah, the mother of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10); and Huldah, of Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 34:22). There may have been others not listed in the Bible.

New Testament prophetesses include: Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:41-45); Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (see Luke 1:46-55); Anna, in the Temple (see Luke 2:36-38); Philip’s daughters (see Acts 21:9); and certain Corinthian prophetesses (see 1 Corinthians 11:5), as well as many other unnamed women in the early church.

Complementarian churches would do well to recognize these biblical prophetesses and give opportunity for women to prophesy in the local church by publicly reading the Scriptures.

The Public Reading of Scripture is Equivalent to Prophesying

We no longer embrace contemporaneous prophecy because we believe that the complete Word of God has been revealed and recorded in Scripture. 

Therefore, today every Word that comes from God can be found in the Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The public reading of Scripture, therefore, is the closest we can get to the act of prophesying. That is, we speak the true Words of God, to the people of God, when we read the Scriptures aloud.

This act of prophesying, which, in our case, is the public reading of Scripture, is the central act of the church and is not to be taken lightly. Indeed, it is a tremendous honour for any creature to speak the Words of his or her Creator out loud. 

Our Creator has wonderfully extended this honour to both men and women equally. Therefore, in keeping with God’s good design for men and women, and in keeping with God’s instructions for how we are to behave in His household, the church, it is right and good to invite women to magnify their Maker by speaking His Words to His church through the public reading of Scripture.

It is not enough for complementarian churches to say that we uphold the equality of men and women. We must demonstrate our convictions of equality by giving women every biblical opportunity to serve God according to His revealed design and purpose for women.

The public reading of Scripture – the speaking of God’s Words to God’s church – does more to affirm our belief in the absolute equality of men and women (even while we uphold the differences in our God given design and function) than any other thing we could say or do.

For who can deny the incalculable value of the one who speaks the very Words of God? Indeed, speaking the very Words of God is of infinitely greater value than preaching about the Word of God, even though the latter constitutes the greater exercise of authority in the local church. Matters of office and authority aside, publicly reading the Word of God is the supreme honour bestowed on any creature.

Of course, this blessing is an undeserved gift, whether the reader is a man or a woman. Yes, this act of reading Scripture glorifies God in heaven and does not glorify the one who is reading. Indeed, let us keep all of that in mind as necessary context for what I am about to write. . .

In the moment that she, Woman, publicly reads Scripture, we subtly but truly declare to one another, “Behold, Woman. She is publicly speaking the Words of God. Let us listen to her voice so that we might hear God.” 

Now that affirms something profound about the equality of men and women, and that is why women should publicly read Scripture in the local church.

Why ‘200 Philistine Foreskins’ Matter

By Adam Brown –

I have been preaching through the Rise of David in 1 Samuel. In last Sunday’s preaching text (1 Samuel 18:12-30), David very shrewdly wormed his way into the royal house by collecting on his reward for killing Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:25). For more about this, you can listen to the sermon, David the Supplanter, on the Southshore website.

In this article, I want to focus in on a detail that does not often receive enough attention. It certainly did not get an appropriate treatment in Sunday’s sermon, except to explain the historical and literary allusions it presented, along with the political implications it created.

200 Philistine Foreskins

The detail I am referring to is David’s delivery of 200 Philistine foreskins to his future father-in-law as the dowry for Princess Michal. Now, hold on a minute, Are we really going to talk about 200 Philistine foreskins? Yes, yes we are. Why? Well, you’ll see, but first the text:

1 Samuel 18:25–27 (ESV)

25Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’ ” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.

26And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired,

27David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife.

Notice a number of things in this text:

  1. Philistine foreskins as a bride-price is King Saul’s idea. Let us remember that, at this point in his life, King Saul is demon possessed. Therefore, this is a demonic idea.
  2. Saul’s motive is made clear. He is banking on the fact that it is not easy to collect one Philistine foreskin, let alone one hundred! Philistines, and men in general, tend to be fairly protective of that which is rightly theirs to protect.
  3. David agrees to the demonic, and down-right-gross, dowry and he delivers double.

Why does David agree?

Put simply, David agrees because this is the price of his rise within the royal house. If he can deliver the foreskins, he will get his princess. If he gets his princess, he can make a legitimate claim on the throne. And, with a claim on the throne, he is only a few shrewd moves away from checkmate.

Since we all love David, we collectively shudder at Saul’s ill conceived plot, but give David a pass, suggesting he had been backed into a corner. 

In truth, however, this is far from the truth. David need not rise to the throne of Israel This Way. There is nothing in the text that hints that this is the only way David could have achieved his endgame. 

Moreover, there is nothing in the text to hint that God thought this was a good idea. Indeed, and this is important, there is no divine sanction given. In fact, all textual evidence seems to suggest the contrary, that this foreskin-collection is a demonic idea and, therefore, rightfully deemed Satanic. It is hatched, after all, in the raving mind of a demon possessed madman.

Nevertheless, David plays along and, like Jacob’s double dowry of 14 years instead of 7, David collects, and counts-out, 200.

How did David get those 200 foreskins?

He killed for them. Presumably, each in hand-to-hand cold-blooded murder. Old men in their beds. Young men on their way to the supermarket. Maybe even a few boys coming to or from school. Husbands taken from their wives. Fathers never making it home for supper with their families. Sons never again able to honour their mothers. 200.

This is what 200 looks like:

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Why did David do it?

Well, because David wanted to be king and to be king he thought he needed a princess. It’s heartbreaking really. It makes me shudder and, even now, I can feel a lump bobbing in the back of my throat.

Each foreskin represents a life taken. Not by old age. Not by natural disaster. Not even by war. Or cancer. Or accident. No, each life was taken by David, on the jealous whim of Old King Saul.

Hope and Grace

And herein is the hope for us: If God can extend love and grace to a man like David – if God can establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ through the merciless murder of 200 Philistine men and boys – then the depth of His grace is boundless.

And the same grace that fell to David is available to us all, through the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to God.

Is the Devil Real?

By Adam Brown –

There seems to be a tendency among Christians to obsess excessively or ignore entirely the reality of spiritual warfare.

For some, every headache or traffic jam is the work of the devil. The prince of darkness, it seems, busies himself with the minor annoyances of life. Moreover, Satan has an obsession with “Me,” as if there aren’t billions of other people on Planet Earth to worry about.

For others, the devil is so far removed, that he ceased to be active sometime in the Middle Ages. Post-enlightenment humanity need not fear Satan or his demonic entourage. We have “evolved” past such rudimentary science. The devil and bloodletting are things of the past, spooky disease and medicine of yesteryear.

Both extremes are dangerous. The first reveals a prideful and self-focussed worldview while the second neglects the biblical witness to demonic realities. Both give the devil and this minions far too much power.

The Devil is Real

He tempted Jesus in the wilderness:

  • Matthew 4:1-11
  • Mark 1:12-13
  • Luke 4:1-13

Jesus refers to him in His teaching:

  • Matthew 12:26, 13:39, 16:23, 25:41
  • Mark 3:23, 3:26, 4:15, 8:33
  • Luke 8:12, 10:18, 13:16, 22:31
  • John 8:44
  • Revelation 2:9-10, 2:13, 2:24, 3:9

The Gospel writers declare that Judas was possessed by him when he betrayed Jesus unto death:

  • Luke 22:3
  • John 13:27

The apostles and New Testament writers refer to him:

  • Acts 5:3, 10:38, 13:10, 26:18
  • Romans 16:20
  • 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5
  • 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7
  • Ephesians 4:27, 6:11
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:18
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:9
  • 1 Timothy 1:20, 3:6-7, 5:15
  • 2 Timothy 2:26; Hebrews 2:14
  • 1 Peter 5:8
  • 1 John 3:8, 3:10
  • Jude 9
  • Revelation 12:9, 12:12, 20:2, 30:7, 20:10).

This list does not even take into consideration other references to demonic powers, such as:

  • John 12:31
  • 1 Corinthians 15:24
  • Ephesians 3:10
  • Colossians 2:10, 2:15

Thus, the New Testament witness to the existence of Satan is conclusive. Satan is a real demonic angel, the enemy of God and God’s kingdom.

Spiritual Warfare is Real

Equally obvious to a careful reader of the Bible is the reality that, just as the devil is real, so also spiritual warfare is real. There are so many places we could go in the Bible to prove this point.

The many instances of demonic exorcism by Jesus and the apostles is one possible way to go:

  • Matthew 4:24, 8:16, 8:28-33, 9:32-34, 10:8, 12:22, 15:22-28, 17:18
  • Mark 1:32-34, 1:39, 3:15, 5:15-18, 6:13, 7:26-30, 9:38, 16:9
  • Luke 4:33-41, 8:2, 8:27-38, 9:1, 9:42, 9:49, 10:17, 11:14-20, 13:32

Indeed, by each of these exorcisms, Jesus is declaring that He has power over the demonic world. Moreover, Jesus gives this same authority to His followers.

There are many other places in the New Testament that identify the reality of spiritual warfare. Let’s take a look at one of the most stunning.

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:15-18).

On one level, Jesus’ response to Peter is abundantly encouraging. He affirms Peter’s confession, attributes Peter’s insight to God’s favour to reveal it to him, promises to build His church on Peter, and assures Peter that no opposition will be able to thwart God’s plans. Not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it.

And there it is. Did you see it? Wrapped in this promise of victory is also a promise of war. The gates of hell shall try to prevail against Christ and His church. There will be a spiritual war, and the devil will bring the full strength of his power to attack the church.

So, on the one hand, victory is assured for Christ and His church. But on the other hand, there will be a cosmic battle between the kingdoms of the prince of darkness and of the King of Glory.

This war will last until the very end of history. Satan will not let up until he is thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10). This means, of course, whether we like it or not, we are at war. And, we are not at war with mere mortals. Rather, we battle against the devil and his demonic horde (Ephesians 6:10-20).

The goal of this article is not to ready the battle plan, but rather to point out what should be obvious to Bible believing Christians. That is, the devil is real and we are at war with him. This war is of the most serious kind with the greatest of stakes. Heaven and hell hang in the balance.

Do we know that we are at war against a real enemy, the devil? How are we fighting? Or are we even fighting at all?

Struggling to Understand the Book of Isaiah?

By Adam Brown –

Reading and learning about the book of Isaiah has been one of the great joys of my life. And yet, if I am being honest, trying to derive any meaning from this book has also been one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever endured in any context at any time.

When I initially began to read Isaiah, I found the book to be extremely disorienting, fragmented, and beyond my reach. I was never quite sure of the flow or the historical backdrop in any given section. It was difficult to be certain how to bridge from this ancient Israelite prophecy to today’s Canadian context. It was also unclear to me how to close the gap from Old Testament prophecy to appropriate Christian application.

The result of all these struggles was epic boredom. For years, I avoided the book as if it were a fourteenth century plague. Every time I opened the book to try to read it, my brain glossed over, my mind shut down, and my Bible reading became an absolute drudgery.

I knew of many people who claimed that Isaiah was their favourite book in the Bible. Privately, I assumed that these people were total phonies. They must be lying, to me and maybe even to themselves. Why would they lie? Well, thought I, because it sounded good and smart and superior to love a book that most of the world could not understand or enjoy.

It was because of all of my personal difficulties with Isaiah that I decided that I wanted to focus my Ph.D. study in that very book. Now, let it be known, I did not pick Isaiah because I liked it. I picked it because I had to either learn to love it or walk away from it forever.

It was a high-risk/high-reward academic wager. It was entirely possible that I would flame out, and quickly. It was also possible, however (and this was the hope), that I might just come to grasp a little of the very thing that floated just beyond my reach. If I could just get my fingers to the edge of the hem of Isaiah’s robe, then maybe, just maybe, I might get a hold of him, pull him closer, and begin to see what all the fuss was about.

Five years after embarking on this gamble, I walked across the platform to receive my diploma as a Doctor of Philosophy in Christian Theology. I hadn’t dropped out. Yes, I had thought about quitting many times, but could never ultimately do it. Instead, I became a doctor in Isaianic studies.

Now, having said all of this, I still would not say thst I am an expert in this book. Many mysteries and riddles remain far beyond my reach. Nevertheless, I can say this: I have come to treasure Isaiah, both the prophet and the book.

At some point, I finally broke through the wall that had been keeping me on the outside, and the vista was breathtaking. Like a range of mountains all around me, I was dwarfed by the majesty of the revelation. Now, I fall prostrate before Isaiah’s God and marvel at the depth and height and length and breadth of His salvific work.

I want this for you too. If you, like me, have struggled to make sense of the book of Isaiah, then let me give you a key to unlock the door. In a word, this key is Structure. If you can come to an understanding of the structure of the book, then the rest will begin to make sense. Of course, you will still need to walk through the door and have a look around. Nevertheless, I have found that understanding Isaiah’s structure makes all the difference in the world:

Isaiah Mountain Range 586 x 352

Last Summer, I preached the whole book of Isaiah in 5 sermons at Muskoka Bible Centre. With permission, I have posted these sermons on the Southshore website.

While I am hesitant to promote my own preaching, I do think that these sermons are a helpful introduction to a book that, for most of us, is initially sealed shut. Thus, I encourage you to take a few hours to work through these five sermons by following this link:

The Gospel in Isaiah: Sermons

As a teaser – to whet your appetite – I will conclude this brief autobiographical article by attaching structural charts of the major sections of the book. There is much debate in the scholarly world about how to structure the book of Isaiah. These charts are my best effort to date.

If you want an interpretation of these charts, you will have to listen to the sermons!

I sincerely pray that God’s Spirit would help you to see His glory in and through the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah - Major Structural Divisions 586 x 352
Isaiah 1-6 - Structure 586 x 352
Isaiah 7-39 - Structure 586 x 352
Isaiah 40-55 - Structure 586 x 352

Isaiah 56-66 - Structure 586 x 352
Isaiah Mountain Range 586 x 352