“Who are the Elders of SSBC?”  I can’t say I’ve never heard that question before.  Our church is at the size where getting to know our Elders is not always easy:  there’s twelve of them and hundreds of us.  Yet God has called these men to be our shepherds (1 Peter 5:2), teachers (Acts 6:4), and examples (1 Peter 5:3).  We should know them!  Being a Pastor at SSBC gives me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with these godly men on a regular basis.  They are wise leaders and enjoyable to be around.  More importantly, they love the Lord, love their families, and love our church.  To help us get to know them better, I plan on asking each eight questions and posting their answers here.  Enjoy.  And please pray for these men.

This was originally posted several months ago on my old site.  

MellosMy first interaction with Eric Mello, the vice-chairman of our Elder Board, occurred a few minutes before the first ministry meeting I ever led at SSBC.  I was the nervous new Pastor and Eric the seasoned Elder.  I don’t remember what he said, but his presence and words set me at ease.  My second memory of Eric happened at his home, where Jeni and I joined his family for dinner.  We ate, chatted, laughed a lot and played Dutch Blitz.  On our drive home, Jeni and I agreed that the Mello family was “awesome.”  Eric and I co-lead a Small Group, which gives me an insider-look at this shepherd at work.  He’s the real deal.  With that, I’ll turn it over to Eric…

1.  How long have you and JoyLynn attended SSBC?  What drew you to SSBC?

Joylynn and I took our family to visit South Shore Baptist for the first time during December of 2000. We became members during 2001 so we have been members now for 11 years.  For the nine years prior to joining South Shore Baptist we joined with a few other families to be part of a Church plant in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. After 9 years of Church planting in Boston, we sensed the Lord leading us into a new season of life and ministry.  Joylynn and I have always first identified the Church that we felt called to join before we made our decision about where we should live. Matt 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

We had three criterion (3 W’s) we were looking for in a church.  The first is a strong ministry of teaching from God’s Word. Second, the Church would have God honoring worship and third was a desire to fulfill the great commission (Matt 28:16-20) by witnessing to our community and the world.  When we visited SSBC we found all three of these criterion in a very healthy balance.  We knew that we found our Church and very soon after that, we moved our family to the South Shore.   At that time we had just had Benjamin who is our fifth child.  We were in a radical time of change with a new home, new baby and new Church Family.

2.  What is your favorite part about serving as an Elder at SSBC?

My favorite part about serving as an Elder is having the opportunity to minister to the body of Christ along- side some very godly men who have a passion to love and serve the Lord in the context of the local church.  Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”

I have come to understand and appreciate the biblical teaching on the role of Elder in the local church (1 Tim 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5) and I fully embrace and aspire to live up to the calling and responsibility. Some synonyms for the word elder are overseer, shepherd and pastor. As an elder/shepherd I am responsible, to in the best of my ability, to protect (from false doctrine), feed (from God’s Word), lead (govern) and care for the needs of the flock (love and pray for the flock).  I love being an Elder and consider it a privilege and sacred responsibility of which I am accountable to God.

3.  When was a time that God undoubtedly showed His faithfulness to you and/or your family?

I can recount so many times that God has demonstrated his faithfulness to me and my family.  The most recent time was a year and a half ago. I was in a job transition and I was completely relying on God to provide for our family of 7.  Two kids were in college and our living expenses were at the peak of my lifetime. If God did not provide me with a job, I wasn’t sure what would happen to our family.

I remember taking a walk with Joylynn at that time and having a tremendous sense of peace as I remembered God’s faithfulness to us in the past.   We prayed specifically about our need and I also prayed specifically about what type of job I desired to have.  I felt a total surrender to God and had peace about his faithfulness to provide for us.  Literally, the next day I had an interview and the day after that I received an excellent job.  This job was an answer to the specific type of job I prayed for. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that they are not experiencing God’s faithfulness if they are experiencing an extended time of waiting on God through a difficult circumstance.  But I can say with full assurance that God’s timing is perfect and he will provide what is best for us in his perfect timing.  We may not understand why he brings trials into our lives but I do know that through times of trials I have grown the most in my relationship with God.

4.  What are three Christian books that have significantly influenced your life?

I will mention three books that God used in my life in chronological order. When I was a young seeker I read a small book by Josh McDowell called More than a Carpenter.  This little book helped me understand and believe the truth of the Bible and learn about who Jesus was.  I recommend this book to new believers or those who doubt the reliability of the bible and the gospel story. The second book that helped me grow as a new disciple was a book written by Gerry Bridges called the Pursuit of Holiness.  And the third book that has influenced me is Desiring God by John Piper. In Piper’s book I learned that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. I have to give credit in part to CS Lewis because Piper’s thesis is based on Lewis’s writings about the relationship between the happiness of man and God’s glory.

5.  What is God currently teaching you?

God has been teaching me about the centrality of the Gospel message in my life as a believer. All wisdom about my identity my life and my creator is found in the truth of the Gospel message.  Everything in the scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, point to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God has recently given me the opportunity to teach His word in many settings (worship services, youth meetings , small groups and men’s retreats) and I now make it my aim to include the gospel message in every instance because this is the answer to who God is and what life is all about. I have been learning that Biblical teaching void of the Gospel is moralism, just a list of does and don’ts, but when the gospel is incorporated in our teaching we realize that God has done it all for us and we just need to believe in His finished work on the cross and surrender our lives to Him.

6.  What is one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?

My two brothers and I were adopted as infants.  I grew up in Falmouth on Cape Cod.  My loving parents brought us up in the Catholic Church and set a wonderful example to us kids of the marriage commitment, unconditional love and sacrifice for the family.  My parents still live in my childhood home in Falmouth and have been married for over 55 years. My dad is turning 82 this summer and is still driving into work four days a week and does all of the household chores and seems to have  more energy than me.

7. What do you like to do for fun?

I like to spend time with my family (mostly laughing a lot together, watching movies, going out to dinner and taking family vacations). I enjoy playing almost any sport, occasionally run road races, play guitar and bass, listening to music and walking on the beach.

8.  How can the SSBC congregation encourage and serve the Elders?

I think that biggest way that the church can support the Elder’s is through prayer and words of encouragement.  We need prayer for our families, our unity, wisdom to lead, delivery from temptation and faithfulness to God. We all could also use some words of encouragement to help us persevere in our task as Elder’s. Hebrews 10:24. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), pp 192.

Introduction

Wouldn’t it be nice to say that all skewed “gospels” have left the modern Church for good?  Unfortunately we can’t.  Richard Hays, for example, claims that Jesus died primarily to provide a “paradigm for faithfulness to God in this world” (from The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pp 197).  For Hays, traditional Christianity has missed the mark because the gospel is chiefly an invitation to live like Jesus.  In Reimagining Christianity (pp 132), Alan Jones agrees:

The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it. Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine.

Hays and Jones forget that redemption has everything to do with what God has done for us and nothing to do with what we can do for Him.  In the Old and New Testaments, grace always precedes law (Ex. 19:1-5; Eph. 2:1-10).  God’s faithfulness always precedes His expectation of our faithfulness.  In contrast, the gospel according to Hays and Jones is a new, sexier legalism – a religious shadow of biblical Christianity that insists on good deeds first.

In 1937, H. Richard Niebuhr criticized liberalism in his book The Kingdom of God in America.  His scathing analysis of the social gospel sounds a bit too familiar: “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.”  Niebuhr’s assessment applies as much today as it did in his own day.

Fifty-five years ago, the Princetonian theologian John Murray wrote a book about God’s salvation project called Redemption Accomplished and Applied.  This little classic may serve as a powerful tonic to the weary Christian, navigating the troubled waters of evangelicalism.  Through its pages, you can almost hear Murray declare to the modern church: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t need to be reimagined or reinvented by jaded men who throw out their Bibles with the bathwater.  The Gospel needs to be remembered and celebrated.”

Summary and Evaluation

Murray’s book is divided into two sections: Redemption accomplished, which expounds the purpose of the atonement; and Redemption applied, which explains how the atonement is applied to Christians. In the opening chapters, Murray explores the necessity, nature, perfection, and extent of the atonement.

To understand what was accomplished on the Cross, Murray explains four biblical terms: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Old Testament temple sacrifices preview Jesus as the final sacrifice.  Temple offerings were shadows and patterns of Jesus’ sacrifice, because of the great disproportion between the sin committed and the temple offering.  Jesus, the archetype sacrifice, offers Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins.

Closely linked to sacrifice are the ideas of propitiation and reconciliation.  A sacrifice is required in the first place because God’s unfathomable holiness requires His unfathomable wrath.  God’s wrath must be absorbed by the offering in order for the sinner to stand free before God.  Propitiation, then, means that Jesus absorbs God’s wrath for Christians.  While propitiation focuses on shielding God’s wrath, reconciliation focuses on restoring enemies to God’s favor.  Reconciliation is the distinct work of God in Jesus’ sacrifice to remove the grounds of alienation (sin and guilt) and to restore our relationship with the Father.

Murray claims that to understand redemption we must understand ransom (42).  Taking his cues from Matthew 20:28 and Romans 3:21-26, Murray points out that ransom presupposes a kind of bondage or captivity to sin (43).  Redemption is God’s work to ransom sinners out of this captivity.  And the price was the death of His Son.

Our author affirms Christus Victor (the teaching that Jesus’ death is primarily a triumph over Satan and evil powers).  Yet he wisely discounts the “prominent place” the early church fathers gave to “this phase of redemption” (49).  For Murray, the heart of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to redeem sinners to God.  Still, this redemption from sin also means that Satan was dealt a deathblow at the Cross (Jn 12:31; Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14-15).

Murray also treats the popular idea of Christus Exemplar (Latin for “Christ our example”).  Hays and Jones champion this teaching, which considers Jesus’ death on the Cross as primarily the best example for Christian living.  Murray takes to task the Hays and Jones’ of his day, Horace Bushnell (55).  He affirms that the sacrifice of Christ provides us with the “supreme example of virtue” (55).  But like Christus Victor, he doesn’t give it a primary place in his discussion of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus’ death is primarily atonement for sins and secondarily an example for the Church.

The second half of our book applies God’s redemption to sinners. Murray begins by defending his ordo salutis (order of salvation): calling; regeneration; faith and repentance; justification; adoption; sanctification; perseverance; union with Christ; and glorification. One chapter is dedicated to each phase of salvation.

Christians should think and feel deeply about these stages, because they reveal different angles of redemption.  In God’s wisdom, He chose to reveal some aspects of redemption in familiar cultural terms.  Only when these salvation metaphors are understood together do we get the full sense of God’s magnificent salvation:

  • Redemption — Economic/Slave Market
  • Regeneration — Birth process
  • Justification — Law Court
  • Propitiation/Expiation — Cultic/Jewish Temple
  • Reconciliation — Relational
  • Adoption — Familial

Surprisingly, Murray begins with calling but neglects election.  Election means that before the foundation of the world, God chose some to be a part of His family. God’s choice is motivated by love for people and a desire to be glorified for His grace (Eph 1:3-6).  Those whom God elects before time, He calls within time.  Murray says God’s calling is His “efficacious summons by which the people of God are ushered into fellowship and union with Christ” (94).

Murray defines regeneration as “the operative grace whereby the person called is enabled to answer the call and to embrace Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel” (96).  Regeneration is spiritual birth, a powerful work of God which makes alive those whom He has elected and called (Eph 2:1-9).  It is the special grace that God grants those whom He is preparing for conversion.  Regeneration makes faith and repentance possible.  Murray rightly says, “we are not born again by faith or repentance or conversion; we repent and believe because we have been regenerated (103).

Murray’s chapters on justification and sanctification are exceptional.  He carefully distinguishes justification (a declaration of righteous standing before God) from sanctification (the gradual process of being made righteous).  In justification, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account and we are accepted as righteous before God (124).  The justified Christian then works out His salvation by becoming what He already is in Christ.  When discussing sanctification, Murray emphasizes the role of the Spirit, our dependence on the Spirit, and the importance of our conscious efforts to grow (146-150).

Sandwiched between justification and sanctification is Murray’s chapter on adoption.  Few theologians give significant attention to spiritual adoption, so I was happy that Murray would dedicate a whole chapter to it.  For Murray, adoption refers to the justified becoming the children of God, receiving all the rights and privileges of God’s family.  Unfortunately, he neglects to couch spiritual adoption within Roman adoption practices (see Trevor Burke’s excellent work Adoption into God’s Family).  In doing so, he misses the depth and wonder of joining God’s household.  He also doesn’t distinguish between present and future adoption (Eph 1:5; Rom. 8:15-23).  While spiritual adoption means experiencing a new status and family in the present, the fullness of spiritual adoption will not be experienced until the next age.

Murray closes his book with discussions on perseverance, union with Christ, and glorification.  His section on union with Christ is probably his best chapter.  He deals with this unique doctrine with keen insight and biblical balance.  Like adoption, this doctrine is often overlooked in modern theology.  But for Murray, union with Christ is the central doctrine of salvation.  The foundation of salvation is our union with Christ, because the whole course of salvation – from election to glorification – happens “in Christ.”  Union with Christ describes converted persons who identify with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation (Rom. 6:2-11; Eph 2:4-6; Col 3:3-4).  Through this spiritual and mystical union, Christians receive spiritual blessings and resources for life (cf. Jn 15:1-7; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 5:23-32; Gal 2:20).

Significance for Today

This book is a feast for the Christian mind and heart. Though Murray’s style of writing is academic, it was not difficult to move from thinking deeply about redemption to praising God for His amazing grace.  We remember Paul, who couldn’t help but “bless” and “praise” God when he thought about salvation (Eph 1:3-14).

Today the Gospel means different things to different people.  Blindspots of the conservative church (e.g. serving the poor) are made gospel issues.  Prosperity and therapeutic teachings are sneaking in the door.  Jesus’ divinity is downplayed.  Consumerism and entertainnment threaten to distract.  In this dangerous milieu, Murray’s book is a necessary corrective and reminder.  Instead of reinventing Christianity or reshaping the Gospel or reimagining Jesus, Christians ought to remember, celebrate, and live out the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A few years ago, Don Carson warned the younger generations against becoming “prophets from the margins.”  If our generation makes central what’s peripheral or screams the loudest about what’s secondary, then fifty years from now we will lose the Gospel.  So we owe a debt to men like John Murray, who faithfully called his generation to love the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we do the same.

Ann Arbor, Michigan is perhaps the most interesting place I’ve lived, though Lusaka, Zambia or London, England may take the cake if I had been old enough to enjoy them.  More than just intriguing, Ann Arbor became a place of transformation, pain, and hope.  In Ann Arbor I received an engineering degree, watched football in the biggest stadium in the country, made a few life-long friends, became a Christian, grew to love hooded sweathshirts and Diesal shoes, and was painfully purged by God of serious sin.

During my sophomore year I ate breakfast every Tuesday at Frank’s Diner on Maynard St.  My first time there was fairly memorable.  I walked in to this historic diner and joined a priest and two businessmen at the bar.  Conversation was buzzing as Mabel, the sole waitress, smiled and poured coffee.  Pete, the cook, who I mistakenly took to be Frank for weeks, was busy flipping bacon strips and chatting with the businessmen.  I ordered and silently ate my food as I eavesdropped on the conversation.  One thing was clear: everyone knew each other on Tuesday mornings at Frank’s Diner.  Another gentleman rolled in and casually asked Mabel for “his usual.”  Really?  I wanted my usual too.  So I ordered the same breakfast for months at Frank’s.  With time I got to know Mabel, the friendly Indonesian whose home overseas was burned because of her Christian faith, Pete, the witty Greek cook, and the priest and the businessmen, whose names I can’t remember.  I enjoyed many conversations with these new friends.

I often brought my Bible with me.  The Diner became a place where I loved to commune with God through prayer and scripture reading.  Occasionally I’d also stuff Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in my backpack.  Grudem is not only a biblical scholar, but an extraordinarily clear communicator.  He has a penchant for applying lofty truths.  At the Diner, God used Grudem to teach me about the Trinity, prayer, angels and demons, the gifts of the Holy Spirit etc.  Perhaps the most significant thing I learned from Grudem was the Doctrine of the Bible.  What can we say about the Bible?  Why should I trust it?  What motivation do I have to read it everyday and to obey its teachings?  Grudem gave me five attributes that have shaped how I approach the Bible today…

1.  The Bible is Authoritative.  “All the words in scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”

2.  The Bible is Inerrant. “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything contrary to fact.”

3.  The Bible is Clear. “The Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”

4.  The Bible is Necessary. “The Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.”

5.  The Bible is Sufficient. “Scripture contained all the words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly.”

When I open up the Bible, God speaks. I am not listening to some dead, hyper-religious men.  What I read in the Bible are true ideas about God, this universe, and myself.  As I peer into the scriptures, I come to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and the only provision for my sin and mess.  These truths are more understandable and helpful when I am humble and eager to hear God speak.  And as I humbly listen and trust His words, I find the resources to obey God, love people, and maintain an other-worldly joy.

I am thankful for all the interactions I had at Frank’s Diner – with Mabel, Pete, Grudem, and others.  But I’m especially thankful that God spoke to me at Frank’s.  He is the One I needed to hear from the most, especially during those formative and tumultuous years.  Then and now, God’s words encourage, confront, and exhort us – whether we are privately reading at a coffee shop, doing devotions with our families, or hearing the preached Word on Sunday morning.

May we long for the Book that gives life.