Becoming Reformed: David Bugden & the Westminster Fellowship

I can still see the council representing 13 churches who had gathered for my ordination council on Saturday afternoon April 7, 1973. The prevailing theology of the council was pre-tribulational, dispensationalist, and I was in my element. As the questioning drew to a close, a council member posed the following question:

“David, you will be going to England to work alongside another church-planting missionary. In England you will meet Pastors who are amillennialists. How will you handle that?”

My reply was confident and unhesitating:

“If they invited me to preach in their church, I would probably go, as long as they didn’t prohibit me from preaching what I believe to be true. However, I would never invite them to preach in my church because an amillennialist has to spiritualize Scripture to get their position, and we all know that spiritualizing Scripture is one step away from liberalism.”

Immediately around the room I heard,

“Amen.” “That’s right, brother.” “Never let go of that.”

I knew at that moment, I had passed the council.

The next day an ordination service was held and I was “set apart to the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” April 7th & 8th, 1973 are wonderful days in my memory. I am grateful for the godly men who sat on that examining council, seeking God’s will regarding the validity of my call to vocational pastoral ministry. I thank God that they believed he had called me into a lifetime of gospel ministry.

Fast forward to the Spring of 1975.

Warboys baptist_churchMy wife and I had arrived in England to work under an experienced church-planter for the next two years before heading off the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to plant a church under the same mission. Shortly after arriving, I was told about a good preacher serving in the Baptist Church located in the village of Warboys, not far from Peterborough where we were living and working.

Pastor David BugdenBecause our church-plant services were in the afternoon, we were free to attend the morning worship in Warboys where David Bugden was pastor. We found David & Pamela Bugden to be warm and hospitable, as they opened their home to this young, American couple whose pre-tribulational, dispensational theology was quite removed from their reformed, amillennialist covenant theology. Somewhere along the way, Pastor Bugden asked me if I would like to attend the Westminster Fellowship chaired by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This monthly meeting of approximately 200 pastors from across the country brought me face-to-face with a variety of pastors who embraced reformed theology – most of whom were likely amillennialists.

Those monthly meetings drew me into the reformed world in a way that would have taken years back in North America, because I had no personal acquaintance with anyone who was reformed. At the time, I would have said I was a Calvinist, but by that I only meant I believed if someone was truly born-again, they could not lose their salvation. I was a “once saved, always saved” evangelical Christian. I would soon discover that robust Calvinism runs a bit deeper than that – quite a bit deeper.

Westminster Chapel - LondonThe pastors’ gatherings at Westminster Chapel in London were a highlight for me. The invigorating discussion – the morning session normally explored a theological question and the afternoon session discussed some practical matter of doing ministry – and the fellowship with other pastors opened my eyes to a much wider body of Christians than I had been exposed to.

And so, thanks to the kindness of Pastor David Bugden, I was introduced to some “one-step-away-from-liberalism” pastors, and to my chagrin, I encountered godly men who loved Christ and his Word. They were faithful servants of the Lord, and I was ashamed of how I had thought of them back in the safety of my dispensationalist ghetto. Their reformed convictions ran far beyond the clichéd “once saved, always saved” Calvinism under which I had been raised and trained.

five-points-calvinismI cannot say that my soteriology (doctrine of salvation) was fully reformed when I left England in December of 1976, but I was clearly on the way to embracing what is commonly called 5-point Calvinism.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and the men of the Westminster Fellowship, opened a new world for me. They enabled me to see that thoroughly reformed men with a very different hermeneutic from the dispensationalist one under which I had been nurtured clearly loved Christ, his church, the Word, and longed for the salvation of sinners. They were utterly unlike the caricatured “one-step-away-from-liberals” I had been warned about.

I was still a pre-tribulational, dispensationalist, but with a fresh appreciation for how other equally committed believers read Scripture. I was hungry to understand the reformed nature of salvation – the so-called five points. The door was now open – the theological journey was underway as we made our way back to the U.S., and eventually, in the Spring of 1978,  into eastern Canada.

I am grateful for Pastor David Bugden who kindly overlooked the brash fundamentalism of a young American church planter, believing I would benefit from the experience of the Westminster Fellowship.

Next time: The Banner of Truth connection.

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Becoming Reformed: My Introduction

Banner-of-Truth-TrustMy introduction to reformed soteriology began in 1975, when my wife and I were serving with a church-planting mission in Peterborough England. A colleague in Germany, serving with the same mission, asked me to order some books for him from Banner of Truth Trust in Edinburgh, Scotland – these were the days before online shopping.

A couple of weeks after placing the order, I received a package from Banner of Truth with their latest catalog and the current issue of their magazine. I can still see the picture of theologian Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), an American Calvinist considered by many to be the father of Reformed Biblical Theology, on the front cover of the magazine. But what stands out most in my memory is an excerpt from a commentary on the Psalms written by William S. Plumer (1802-1880), an American Presbyterian pastor and theologian.

Psalms-W-S-PlumerI was captivated by Plumer’s insight and ability in applying timeless biblical truth to everyday matters of Christian living. I ordered a copy of the commentary which I continue to consult to this day. In future posts hope to write more on what I find inviting about Puritan commentators.

Studies in the Book of Psalms: Being a Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks was first published in 1867 and reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust in 1975. It does not appear to be available from Banner now, but you can get a free digitized copy here.

I so enjoyed reading that sample issue of the monthly Banner of Truth magazine that I subscribed to it. And so I found myself entering a theological conversation far removed from the Scofieldian Dispensationalist world of fundamentalist Baptists in which I was raised. Today, 39 years later, I am still a Baptist, but now with a distinctly reformed view of soteriology – the doctrine of salvation.

I am thankful for that request to place that order of books with the Banner of Truth Trust, because in God’s providence, it opened a world of theological truth I had not really encountered even though I had graduated from Bible School, been ordained to gospel ministry, and was nearly five years into vocational ministry.

Founded in London (1957), the Banner of Truth Trust was a clear leader in reintroducing the reformed theology of Puritans to 20th century Christians. We owe a great debt to the vision and tenacity of men like Ian Murray and Jack Cullum who believed that much good could result in bringing the riches of Puritan theology back into the conversation. You can read about the beginnings of the respected Christian publisher here.

If you are hungry for something beyond the ubiquitous guide-to-losing-weight-through-healthy-eating, better-marriage-through-exciting-sex, biblical-principles-for-growing-wealth, five-minutes-with-God, approach to Christian living, you may find reading the Puritans a refreshing change.

The Banner of Truth Trust is a great place to stop by on your journey to a deeper, more robust theology.

More about the journey coming …..


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Highly gifted and in demand: But are you a pastor?

When asked what counsel he would leave with today’s Christian preachers, Haddon W. Robinson said:

Preach the Bible. If you don’t preach the Bible, you have nothing to preach. But don’t just preach the Bible. Preach the Bible to people. Understand your audience. Who are they? Pastors have a great advantage when they interact with their congregation. You know their hurts, problems, and questions. I think it is vitally important that the people in your congregation know that you love them. You want God’s best for them. When you do that, you capture something in your preaching that is vital and solid. ["Life-changing preaching: An Interview with Haddon W. Robinson", Ministry, July, 2014]

I have been thinking about Robinson’s counsel after reading a couple of engaging posts by a well-known American evangelical pastor and consultant. This pastor is a highly gifted and skilled communicator and leader. But does he measure up in terms of Haddon Robinson’s counsel?

In addition to his responsibilities as Lead Pastor of a growing congregation, the above-mentioned evangelical pastor holds an executive position with a major publisher, is a contributing editor for a leading Christian publication, is a columnist for another magazine, overseas a major publishing project, and serves as a visiting professor at two leading seminaries. Further, he has authored many books and articles and is in demand as a consultant throughout the evangelical world.

In what way is this pastor really a pastor? What meaningful interaction does he have with the congregation he leads? What does he really know about his people – their burdens, hurts, questions, and fears? Is he a good pastor?

I do not mean to be overly critical of this man. He is passionate for the cause of Christ and he works hard. And there are many like him. My question relates to the pastoral call – to the solemn responsibility as an overseer of God’s people gathered in a local church. It concerns the increasing ways in which today’s pastors involve themselves in a growing array of activities not directly related to shepherding the congregations where they serve. My burden is that those of us who are called to be pastors need to be just that – pastors. It is a full-time responsibility.

We do well to reflect again on how the Scriptures define and describe pastoral ministry.

Acts 6:2–4 (ESV)
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Acts 20:28 (ESV)
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

1 Timothy 4:13–16 (ESV)
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Peter 5:1–3 (ESV)
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

However highly gifted and in demand you may be, if you have accepted the call to shepherd a congregation, give that solemn charge your full attention and energy. Be a true pastor.


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Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews

Solid Food-J-Leith (196x300)Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews
Jeffrey Leath
outskirtspress Inc., 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4787-2801-6

Jeffrey Leath faithfully prepares and teaches a weekly adult Sunday School class at Pine Grove Church in Bowmansville, Pennsylvania. While he could choose to use one of the many excellent curriculums available from a multitude of evangelical Christian publishers, Leath has embraced the challenge of studying and preparing his own materials.

At the encouragement of those who benefit from his weekly teaching, Leath has made this study of Hebrews available to the wider Christian public. In doing so, he illustrates the cherished doctrine of the priesthood of the believer – every Christian is privileged and responsible to study and meditate on the Word of God.

Written at a popular level, Solid Food is not an academic study; though extensive footnotes demonstrate Leith’s commitment to drawing from the work of a wide swath of evangelical scholars. This is a great example for the scores of laypersons called upon the lead groups and teach classes in evangelical churches everywhere. English-speaking Christians have a deep well of resources from which to draw, and Leath shows how this can enrich one’s personal study and subsequent teaching of others. Hopefully Solid Truth will encourage other lay people in developing their own material for use in their respective ministries.

Following an introductory meditation on how Christ, the Passover Lamb, fulfills the Mosaic Law, the core themes of Hebrews are laid out in thirteen chapters.

Table of Contents

Preface To My Children

Introduction: Christ, the Passover Lamb, Fulfills the Law

Chapter 1. Heavenly View
Chapter 2. 1-4 Earthly View
Chapter 2. 5-18 Earthly View
Addendum to Chapter 2. 5-18, the Preacher’s Us of Psalm 8
Chapter 3. Jesus is Greater Than Moses
Chapter 4. The Rest of Faith
Chapter 5. Jesus the Superior High Priest
Chapter 6. Forward to Maturity
Chapter 7. Order of Melchizedek
Chapter 8. Better Covenant
Chapter 9. Better Sanctuary
Chapter 10. Better Sacrifice
Chapter 11. Faithful Lives
Chapter 12. Support Each Other
Chapter 13. Final Words from the Preacher

Drawing from Jewish literature (e.g. apocryphal writings and the Talmud), Leath reminds readers that the New Testament book of Hebrews was first written to early Jewish believers. Knowing the Jewish background to Hebrews provides a richer study, and strengthens the student’s understanding of the unity of Scripture – how the Old and New Testament tell the same wonderful story of redemption.

If you are seeking an easy-to-follow study guide for your class or small group, or a resource for your own personal study, Solid Food is a good option.

Purchase this book.

Amazon USA
Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews

Amazon Canada
Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews

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28 Free Lectures on Covenantal Apologetics

K. Scott Oliphint, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology (Westminister Theological Seminary), aims to “provide biblical and theological principles that are a part of, and can be applied to, a defense of Christianity.

Working in the same stream as that of Cornelius Van Til, Oliphint believes Christians should be aware of the philosophical arguments for God and the Christian faith. But he warns against falling into the trap of believing that Christian apologetics is mainly a question of of philosophical debate. He wants to encourage believers to root their defense of the faith in the supernatural revelation of Scripture itself.

Covenantal-Apologetics---K-Scott-OliphintOliphint’s latest book, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of our Faith, presents his approach to defending the Christian faith. If you are interested in knowing the basics of Oliphint’s apologetics, Justin Taylor posted Ten Tenets of Covenantal Apologetics, which he culls from from Oliphint’s book.

Earlier this month, Oliphint uploaded Apologetics 101 – 28 lectures – to WTS iTunesU. These free lectures (listen online or download to your personal device) provide a great opportunity to become familiar with Covenantal Apologetics.


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