Author: Josef Urban
It's been a busy 6 months since we've been back in Mexico since our 3-month furlough to the USA. Much travel, much preaching, much evangelism has taken place.
Recently I've had the privilege of teaching the Word of God in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Toluca, Tepic, Tulancingo, Saltillo and Xalapa. These are cities in the central region of Mexico that are spanned from the West to the East coast, and Saltillo is in the North of the nation. In this update and in the weeks that follow, I'll be highlighting what is transpiring in these places and outlining some prayer requests.
Photo above: Descending upon the city of Veracruz. The geography is beautiful in this port city on the East Coast of Mexico, as you can see from the mountains in the background. From here, we traveled another hour and a half to Xalapa, where I did a conference over the weekend and helped support a beloved and struggling pastor in the process of "reforming" (pun intended) his congregation.
This is our home church and missions base; it's what I like to call the Antioch of our mission. From here we launch out to places far and near.
The church appears to be solidifying in all areas by the grace of God, as we plug away at the areas of greatest need. Hector Bustamante (who was ordained to the pastoral ministry last November) and I are serving side-by-side as we oversee the church and labor in the ministry of the Word and prayer. We've been taking turns preaching and Hector has been covering the pulpit during my absence as I travel to preach in other places and consolidate and strengthen other churches. Hector and I have been involved in much personal work with members and those who attend, engaging in counseling, disciplinary measures, pre-marital counseling, membership interviews, etc. With Hector's involvement, the burden of this labor has been greatly mitigated for me. What a blessing it is to now have a plurality of pastors here.
We've been amazed by some recent conversions! Some really encouraging, sudden conversions have taken place among us and seem to be bearing fruit. We've also baptized some new members. Praise God.
Our attendance has also seen a little bit of increase, making it necessary to purchase more chairs and tables to accommodate everyone. Over 100 people stay after the sermon each Sunday for our "agape" (fellowship meal), where they engage in biblical conversation for mutual edification for several hours each Sunday.
I've been teaching a 10-part sermon series on church discipline based on Matthew 18. (For those who are wondering, "Yes!" the church has grown a little even in the midst of a series on that most hated of all subjects: church discipline!)
So far I've taught messages titled:
(1) The Need for Discipline in the Church
(2) The Mandate of Church Discipline
(3) Obstacles that Hinder Church Discipline
(4) The Purposes of Church Discipline
(5) The Evangelical Nature of Church Discipline
(6) The Redemptive Purpose of Church Discipline
(7) The Spiritual Predispositions of the Confronter
Yet to come are messages expounding Matthew 18:15-17 and offering practical counsel on:
(8) The Nature of the Sin Worthy of Confrontation
(9) The Act of Confrontational Peacemaking
(10) The Process of Discipline and Restoration
(Those who understand Spanish can access the recordings of this series here)
This is definitely not an exhaustive treatment, but it covers the bases sufficiently to serve as a helpful introduction to the subject and to provide some counsel on its sound implementation. In addition to Scripture, I've been studying resources from Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman (9 Marks), John MacArthur, D.A. Carson, Al Martin, R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, John Owen, Richard Baxter, Ken Sande ("The Peacemaker") Willhemus Brakel (my favorite treatment), Turretin, and various commentaries on Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 6 and so forth.
(Parenthetical comment: if you are not familiar with Brakel's Systematic Theology, you are truly missing out on what is becoming my favorite series of volumes on the subject. It is theology on fire and represents a beauty balance between deep theological instruction wedded with experiential piety and practical application. It's Puritanical to the core and represents some of the best teachings of the Reformed movement. It'll instruct your mind AND rivet your soul. Brakel is a forgotten hero of the past, a truly buried gem. Don't waste too much of your time in the new stuff; go back and read the old. It's better. And it's reading level is not too technical; it's very easy to follow. It'll be the best 100 bucks you've ever spent. I don't agree with every detail but overall it's sound and trustworthy. You can acquire it from Reformation Heritage Books here.)
Teaching on church discipline is a great need in Latin America, so all the messages are being published online. Over the last couple of years, I've received literally hundreds of questions about this subject from Spanish-speaking Christians all over the world. Previously our greatest enemy within evangelicalism was "cheap grace;" now, in addition to that, we're battling the dangerous concepts of "cheap church." Ecclesiology is anemic and the local church is generally despised, as post-modern, relativistic individualism permeates society in Mexico's largest cities. Historically, discipline has been one of the three marks of a true church, together with the sound preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the ordinances. If discipline is a necessary mark of a true church, then almost all of the churches in Mexico would not be considered true churches! Notwithstanding, we know there are many true believers in these places, and even many pastors in the process of reformation who were never properly instructed or adequately equipped for the ministry.
We are truly living in a crisis moment in modern evangelicalism and urgently need to produce more resources that train men on how to labor to have healthy churches. If we are to see biblical Christianity flourish in Latin America, it is vital that we help the church to be established on a solid foundation. If the church is to arise and advance the Gospel, she must first be firmly grounded in sound doctrine.
In the midst of this series, we've had a few cases of discipline arise in our churches. I foresaw this and thought it wise to instruct the church on the subject so as to ensure biblical grounding and unity as we proceeded with these cases. There has been an encouraging response from the members, demonstrating a true sense of love and concern for the church and for those who have gone astray.
I'll probably turn these messages into a little booklet to distribute abroad.
In the afternoons in the church in Guadalajara, we teach another Bible study and have had a good turnout. Hector continued to expound on our Confession of faith in the afternoon study and I've been teaching miscellaneous messages as needs become apparent. After this, a group usually goes to a Cafe and enjoys some coffee together as they all fellowship and talk of testimonies, theology, etc.
We're initiating some new mercy ministries. We've located some extremely poor areas of the city and have gathered together many items to give out as we preach the Gospel. We'll probably focus on giving out food and clothing to the poor as we share the Gospel and invite them to Bible studies. We've looking forward to these new areas of mercy ministry. It looks promising!
Our evangelism ministries continue to persevere. Our church evangelizes several days per week, in a drug rehabilitation center, in a hospital, and on the streets of downtown. We hand out thousands of gospel tracts, engage skeptics with the truth claims of Jesus, share with the sick and dying of the sweet consolation that is to be found only in Christ, share the gospel of the grace of God with countless Roman Catholics, and teach the Way to those who are far from it.
Much of our activities are well-nigh impossible to detail here, because ministry in the church is not glamorous. The Gospel never advances much in the world apart from adversity and affliction. But I'll spare you those details. Suffice to say that we need your prayers! We stand only by grace.
In the above picture, you can see a brother named Cesar and me standing in front of the ocean in Veracruz.
This brother was called to pastor a Baptist church in Xalapa about a year ago. This is a struggling church that has not embraced the Doctrines of Grace prior to his arrival. He's been expounding on Romans but the congregation still appears to possess quite a shallow understanding of biblical Christianity. He's in a difficult situation.
Cesar is currently laboring to revive and reform this church. The congregation, however, doesn't seem to be all on board. There are many practical obstacles and difficulties he is facing (which I don't have the liberty to share). He invited me to help him out and walk him through this process of rescuing the work. We spent a lot of time talking about this and I trust he has a good, prudent and practical plan for taking steps in the right direction. But being the only pastor, he feels isolated and without much support.
Moved out of a burden for the cause of the Gospel in Xalapa, Cesar organized a series of meetings for my visit. I was able to do a question and answer session with a small group of pastors as we talked about healthy theology and discussed matters of practical importance for the local church. We spoke a bit about the Reformed resurgence in Mexico and interacted with its strengths and weaknesses from a biblical, theological and historical perspective.
Then I taught a conference on "True and False Faith" from John 2:23-25 and 3:36 to a group of about 160 os so persons. They were gathered from several different congregations. I preached about the distinguishing marks of saving faith (it's three elements as consisting in knowledge, assent and trust; it's object; it's fruit), I also contrasted saving faith with "superficial faith" (professions, persuasions and superficial commitments that lack wholehearted trust in Christ), "temporary faith" (failure to persevere, thereby demonstrating lack of true faith), and "historical faith" (believing in Jesus as a past historical reality that fails to practically impact and revolutionize one's current living).
Spurgeon said that one of the greatest duties of a preacher is to make clear the nature of saving faith. After 10 brief years in the ministry, and countless conversations with lost souls in the midst of the church, I can confirm the pertinence of Spurgeon's remark. The whole world "believes" in Christ, the problem is, their belief falls short of genuine justifying faith. Without regeneration and heart transformation, faith is dead. What's more is that true faith is affectional in that it esteems Christ as the priceless treasure that's more precious even than our life in this world. Multitudes abide in a state of delusion, blind to the condition of their souls, because their consciences are pacified by a false faith.
We must thunder forth the truth, that it's not the profession of faith that saves, but the possession of faith. And this faith itself is not the basis of anybody's salvation, but is rather the exclusive instrument through which the grace of salvation is appropriated, because faith lays hold on the righteousness of Christ so as to confide solely in Him. True faith beholds Christ, acquiesces to Christ, unites us to Christ, rests in Christ, refuges in Christ, treasures Christ, follows Christ, denies self for Christ, and refuses to part with Christ though it need to depart with the whole world for the sake of Christ. It is radically Christocentic and fundamentally God-oriented and God-glorifying. Many trust in a "faith" that is turned inwardly, in a faith that beholds and trusts more in itself than in the objective content of the Gospel and the Person of Christ who is revealed in it. It is our greatest and perhaps most difficult labor to turn men outside of themselves that they may trust wholly in another, to renounce themselves, to put no confidence in the flesh and to glory solely in Christ Jesus. So to preach on the nature of saving faith, it's necessary to exult in the Person and work of Christ in the fulness of His Person, His offices, and His sufficiency; for it is to Him to whom the eye of all true faith is directed and on whom it is fixed. This is a preview of what I attempted to demonstrate from the Scriptures in the conference in Xalapa.
I had to labor through this message with a very painful case of what seemed to be a strep throat virus, but my weakness helped make me conscious of my utter dependence on divine grace. The Lord seemed to help, and there was a holy hush of solemnity over the congregation as we closed, as the weight of eternity and judgment day seemed to permeate the atmosphere and strike us with all with reverent reflection on the state of our souls--me included.
May the Lord give fruit in Veracruz for His glory. I will likely make at least one other visit to do a conference on the marks of a biblical church just prior to Cesar's plans to begin implementing some necessary ecclesiastical measures to purify and establish the church on healthy foundations (or die trying!). He holds to the 1689 but the congregation does not. You can imagine his predicament.
In the next update, Lord willing, I'll highlight some of the recent happenings in Tepic, Tulancingo and Saltillo.
We are grateful for your prayers and financial support. May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering!