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Ellsworth: Build a pastorate upon the sovereignty of God

ST. LOUIS (BP)–One of the most vital foundations upon which a pastor must build his ministry is the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God, Roger Ellsworth said at the Founders Ministries’ annual fellowship breakfast June 11 in St. Louis.

Ellsworth, author of numerous books and pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton, Ill., said the sovereignty of God is foundational for pastoral ministry because it holds profound implications for every area of church life.

“It is important first to define God’s sovereignty and I’m going to submit to you the Ellsworth definition,” he said. “And that is this: that God can do what he wants to do when he wants to do it without having to give an explanation for doing it.”

All Christians must affirm the biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God, Ellsworth said, and they must avoid the danger of trying to read into his purposes those not revealed to man.

Christians must focus on the promises and commands clearly set forth in Scripture, he said. Those who stand on the scriptural teaching of God’s absolute and comprehensive sovereignty over his creation will rest in the “who” of God and avoid speculation about the “why” of his perfect will.

Said Ellsworth, “We could say God has two books — his promises and his providence. I am responsible and you are responsible to read the book of God’s promises — the Word of God — and cling to those promises, and God himself will read to you his book of providence in his own good time.”

The sovereignty of God as set forth in Scripture particularly impacts five areas within pastoral ministry, Ellsworth said:

— It focuses and directs worship. Since God is the sovereign creator of the universe, every worship service should be radically centered on the exaltation of him, Ellsworth said. “How much of what we call worship today is actually God-centered and how much of it is man-centered?” he said. “Sadly enough, the asking of the question today almost is sufficient for the answer.”

Ellsworth said much of what passes for worship in contemporary evangelicalism is merely a capitulation to a “consumer” mentality, with people coming to church asking, “What is in this for me?” Instead, God-centered worship should seek to give God the praise due him as Creator and Lord, Ellsworth said.

— It gives focus and direction to preaching. The entire canon of Scripture points to God’s redemption of sinners in Jesus Christ, Ellsworth said. When the Word of God is viewed in this fashion, it will aid pastors in preaching sermons that center on God and help them avoid issuing moral platitudes based upon texts shorn from their canonical context.

“I’ve heard the David and Goliath story preached many times as ‘how to slay the giants in your life,’ instead of presenting it as a picture of redemption,” Ellsworth said. “Let’s retire that one, gentleman. If you are firmly convinced of the sovereignty of God, we need to ask what every text teaches us about the history of redemption because we see God working out his saving purposes in history.”

— It makes the cross of Christ unspeakably glorious. When Christ’s work on the cross is understood as tangibly accomplishing the salvation of sinners, it brings assurance to believers that their sin debt has been paid and that nothing further is owed, Ellsworth said.

“The cross was the means by which God chose to save his people,” Ellsworth said. “God had to take care of sin, because for God to ignore sin would mean that God would have been [unfaithful to himself]. We know he can never do that.”

— It encourages evangelism. The fact that Christ died to accomplish the redemption of a people and that he is sovereign in the work of salvation should give ministers confidence that preaching the gospel will meet with success, Ellsworth said. God has ordained the proclamation of the good news, he reminded, as the means of drawing his people to himself.

“If you believe in the sovereignty of God, then you can carry out the scriptural imperatives to preach to the lost and do so with confidence,” he said.

— It sweetens the trials of ministers. When pastors rest in the sovereignty of God, Ellsworth said, they may trust that God is working out his good purposes even in the midst of events that may not seem temporally pleasant.

“Nothing comes to you except from the father’s hand,” he said. “And by Romans 8:28 we know that it is for your good and for God’s glory. We think we know best what is good for us but God’s idea of good is often quite different from ours.”

The Founders Ministries is an organization committed to the perpetuation of the historic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention often referred to “the doctrines of grace.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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