The more things change

The more things change

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1892) was a French critic, journalist, and novelist. He first became famous for his semi-autographical novels. Karr’s wit and ability to turn a striking phrase is what earned Karr a place in history. He began writing Les Guêpes, a monthly journal that highlighted his cutting wit often in memorial epigrams. Les Guêpes, which means The Wasp, penetrated the sensibilities of the day with phrases that were memorable and repeatable.

 “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” translates as “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”1)Source quote from Les Guêpes, January 1849.

In English it is more commonly translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It was nearly 10 years ago that I finished my last sermon as a Southern Baptist pastor. Baptist identity is based on the importance of baptism. While studying Acts 2 my views on the work of the Spirit, the sacredness of God’s covenant, and Jesus’ purpose for baptism as inclusive to believers and their children led me to leave a denomination that was founded on the idea of profession of faith preceding baptism.

One thing that I learned from my time as a Southern Baptist is the centrality of testimony and calling and even the role of apostolic affirmation.2)From my experience, Southern Baptists at the turn of the twenty-first century did not officially teach about apostolic affirmation as it would be considered too close to Roman Catholicism but they did practice it without using that language. Your testimony is your experiential story of how Jesus saved you. Your calling is why you feel that you have been called by God into ministry. Apostolic affirmation is the idea that a group of called elders and/or deacons from various churches also affirm your testimony and in effect affirm your call to ministry.

I remember being a young 26 year old nervously sitting outside of a room waiting for a group of Baptist men to grill me on theology, testimony, and calling to Baptist ministry. These Baptist men met with me and asked me many questions. Their last question to me is still as fresh in my mind as the day I first heard it. “If we choose not to ordain you, what will you do?” I remember being advised before that meeting to say exactly what I told those men. “Then I will preach the Gospel regardless.” They smiled and welcomed me into that band of brothers.

God has graciously worked a lot in me in those many years since I was ordained as a Southern Baptist and began ordained ministry. All these years later after leaving Baptist life, I sat in a room filled with Presbyterian elders that were listening to me share my call to testimony and calling. We met to discuss my transfer of ordination into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and a path forward. I sat there wondering would they ask me a similar question? What would I say?

After several years of prayer, my wife and I believe that God has called me to spread his Son’s message vocationally for the rest of my life. Yet, if these brothers told me no or wait then I would wait. Submission is never easy but it is necessary to live like Jesus.Part of the beauty of Presbyterianism is the biblical model of interconnectivity and submission in discerning God’s will in community. It means trusting in God regardless of what happens.3) It does not mean that other Christians necessarily hear God or are always right. Sometimes, even Godly men miss hearing God. Even the Apostles were initially weary of accepting the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Paul split with Barnabas over the ministry of John-Mark. In both scenarios though there was at least one voice that affirmed the calling. God put Barnabas as the affirmation that both Paul and John-Mark needed to have outside affirmation of their calling. The key is being willing to submit to God working in others. The Spirit of God moves the hearts of people to hear God. It is submission in trusting God. That is scary and it requires faith.

I have submitted to God’s calling in a variety of ways over the last decade and half of ministry. I have pastored children, youth, college and career, and adults. I have had the privilege of seeing children make professions of faith, former atheists bend their knees to the call of Christ, and marriages on the brink of divorce healed. Each ministry has been an awesome opportunity to share the Gospel. None of these groups are any greater than any other and serving God should never be seen as a stepping stone to better ministry.  I can honestly say that every type of ministry that I have been blessed to lead or be a part of has been a true honor. My ordination in the SBC was quicker than the EPC process but it also did not have built-in accountability, which I needed. I am thankful for that in the EPC even if it is sometimes frustrating. God has a plan–to quote C.S. Lewis, “the Lion is on the move.” I may not see him but I hear him and I trust his voice. I never intended to leave my Baptist calling but the Holy Spirit is moving me where he wants me.

Testimony and Calling at Presbytery of Mid-Atlantic
Me giving my testimony and call to ministry at the 86th Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

As of April 29, 2017, I am officially under-care of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic. Those elders from various EPC churches met and affirmed my testimony and my calling. That is a true honor. This means that I am in the process of officially having my ordination transferred. In some ways it feels like starting over. In other ways it is just part of the process of God building me into the pastor that he desires for me to be in his service (See Ephesians 2:10). One of the great privileges in both my ordination as a Southern Baptist and coming under care of Presbytery is that a group of men gathered around me and laid their hands on me to pray over my calling. That was such an incredible honor all those years ago and again a few weeks ago. Both have been such a blessing. The more things change the more things stay the same.

References   [ + ]

1. Source quote from Les Guêpes, January 1849.
2. From my experience, Southern Baptists at the turn of the twenty-first century did not officially teach about apostolic affirmation as it would be considered too close to Roman Catholicism but they did practice it without using that language.
3. It does not mean that other Christians necessarily hear God or are always right. Sometimes, even Godly men miss hearing God. Even the Apostles were initially weary of accepting the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Paul split with Barnabas over the ministry of John-Mark. In both scenarios though there was at least one voice that affirmed the calling. God put Barnabas as the affirmation that both Paul and John-Mark needed to have outside affirmation of their calling.

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