Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I’m going to introduce all of you to a good friend of mine, Geoff Chang who teaches here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with me. Geoff serves as an Assistant Professor of Church History and Historical Theology and the Curator of the Spurgeon Library, which is one of my favorite places on campus. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin (B.B.A.), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and most recently, he completed his Ph.D. here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he wrote his dissertation on Charles Spurgeon’s ecclesiology. Prior to Midwestern, Geoff worked as a database consultant until he discerned a call to ministry. Since leaving the business world, he has served on the ministry staff at Houston Chinese Church in Houston, TX, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC), and most recently as associate pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, OR. He also serves as the Book Review Editor for History & Historical Theology at Themelios, the academic journal for The Gospel Coalition. Additionally, he writes for 9Marks and has published articles for magazines in the US and the UK. He’s also served as a speaker and instructor for T4G, Simeon Trust, and other national ministries. Now, a few other interesting things about Dr. Geoff Chang, he’s completed the publication of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon in conjunction with B&H Academic, serving as the editor of volumes five, six, and seven. He’s also the author of the book that we’re going to talk about today, Spurgeon the Pastor. He’s married to Stephanie, and they have three children. They enjoy music, good books, working around the house, exploring the outdoors, and serving their local church. He also enjoys keeping up with his hometown team. The Houston Astros, who, by the way, just won the World Series, which is convenient that we could talk about the Astros and beating his kids at Mario Kart, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Geoff, I’ve long been looking forward to talking to you about Spurgeon. I’m so grateful that you’re here to have a chat about Charles Spurgeon.
Geoff Chang: Dale, thanks for having me; I’m excited to be here.
Dale Johnson: And listen, I’m so grateful every time people come to visit; one of the places I want them to come and see is the Spurgeon Library here at Midwestern. And I love the other guys who give tours, but I love when you give the tour, it’s such detailed information, it’s wonderful, walk down, you know, pathways in history that we appreciate in the baptist circle, so thanks, brother.
Geoff Chang: Well, it’s such a great space; there’s so much to see here if you haven’t been down to Spurgeon library. If you’re ever driving through the Midwest, driving through Kansas City, make sure you stop by.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, it’s a fun place for sure. Now, we may need to introduce some folks to Charles Spurgeon. Maybe, maybe not, but I want to do that, at least at the beginning. Who was Charles Spurgeon, Geoff?
Geoff Chang: Yeah. Spurgeon was a pastor in the 19th century there in London. He pastored a church that would go on to be known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The church seated 6,000 by the time of his death and had a membership of over 5,000. Spurgeon was an amazing preacher. His sermons were published all over the world and translated into over 40 languages. He was also a philanthropist. He founded two orphanages and dozens of other institutions for charitable ministries and evangelistic ministries. He also founded the Pastor’s College, this wonderful institution that would train up men in the local church and then send them out as pastors and missionaries. Throughout his life, over 900 men were sent out all over the world, planting again dozens and dozens of churches throughout England; they had guys coming even over here to Kansas to pastor. So, just an amazing figure in church history. I consider him kind of like the Baptist John Calvin, just so influential for Baptists, and how we think about the local church and faithful gospel ministry.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, the capacity of this man is just tremendous. It was unbelievable. Never compare yourself in that way to Charles Spurgeon. I mean, the volume that he put out in so many directions, writing, and then training of men and that sort of thing is just incredible. I personally love reading Spurgeon’s sermons, and morning and evening oftentimes, I’ll read them for devotions, and I just gleaned so much in the way in which he talks about the text, the way he approaches the text, the way he dives deeply into a text, and maybe I’m giving some of the reasons to answer my own question, but I want to ask you, why should Christians today be interested in someone like Spurgeon?
Geoff Chang: Yeah, my new book here, Spurgeon, the pastor. One of the things I try to argue is that he is a model for us, even though I totally agree with you. If you try to copy and do all that he did, we would probably end up killing ourselves. Nonetheless, I want to present Spurgeon as a model of pastoral faithfulness. Here was a pastor, a local church pastor who was ultimately driven by biblical convictions, by a love for God’s Word, a love for his people, and so much that what he did was then rooted in those kinds of convictions, biblical-theological convictions. So in that, whether you’re a small church pastor or whether you’re a megachurch pastor, I think there’s something that you can learn from Spurgeon in terms of following his steps of faithfulness.
Dale Johnson: You know, and that’s one of the reasons. Honestly, I picked up this book, and I really appreciated your work on this. Spurgeon is always known as the preacher. He will forever be known as, you know, the prince of preachers, as we talked about him in the modern day. And I appreciate that. I don’t want us to minimize that or take away from that. The proclamation of the Word is the centerpiece of what the church ought to be doing, but you bring an element to Spurgeon when we talk about him being a pastor that I think gets into the ways in which he did pastoral ministry and pastoral care and that sort of thing. So, I want to dive a little bit into that, and part of what was critical that you bring out in the book is church membership, and I think that that is an important piece even for us to know as elders, as pastors, who are we caring for? How do we care for them? So, describe just a little bit about Spurgeon’s experience with church membership and his view on that subject of church membership.
Geoff Chang: Yeah, so Spurgeon’s context, he, again, pastored in 19th century England. There was a kind of widespread nominalism. If you are an English citizen, you would likely identify as a Christian. You are likely church-going. One census around his day kind of estimated about 61 percent of the population as church-going. And yet, when Spurgeon looked at that, he saw just a lot of spiritually dead people going to church, and these churches are not being very sort of discerning. They were happy to have visitors, happy to fill the pews, especially if they would give to the church, they were happy to bring in the sort of attractions from the world to draw people, and so, he wanted to push back against that kind of nominalism. On the other hand, he was also experiencing something extraordinary under his preaching. There was a kind of revival happening under his preaching, as people were hearing such powerful gospel preaching and were responding by the hundreds. And yet, he was also aware that with revivals comes a lot of false professions, right? A lot of people were caught up in the excitement and the emotion, and so he wanted to kind of discern and push back against that sort of revivalism. So, in response to both nominalism and the revival happening under his preaching. He practiced church membership, and he particularly held to this view called regenerate church membership, which believes that only truly born-again Christians should be baptized and brought into the church.
Dale Johnson: Now, I want to explore that a little bit more, and full disclosure, we have a wide range of listeners here on Truth in Love. I’m Baptist, very decidedly, convictionally baptist. Geoff, you’re a baptist. Yes, Spurgeon was a baptist. So, when we think about this idea of membership, it naturally flows into our view of regenerate church membership. So, just take a moment and explain what Spurgeon meant by that. What do you and I mean when we talk about this idea of regenerate church membership?
Geoff Chang: Yeah. So you know, Baptists, we do hold to believer’s baptism, but that’s, you know, there’s a bigger sort of implication of that more than just who you can baptize. It’s actually a question about who belongs to the church, right? And so, as Baptists, we hold to the that those that we baptized must have a credible profession of faith. They are baptized upon that profession of faith. And so, those people that were bringing in are those who, as far as we can tell, had been born again, have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. So, we don’t hold to paedobaptism right, where these children of believers are able to be brought into the church. Rather, we hold to a kind of regenerate church membership. And that’s huge. I mean that that shapes your understanding of what the church is. The church, then, is made up of those who know Christ, who know the gospel, and who have the work of the Spirit in them. And so, a conviction like that will begin to shape how you think about the ministry of the church. What the church is? How you go about caring for people, but at its core, that’s sort of like one of the main contributions of Baptists within church history.
Dale Johnson: Absolutely. And the reason I wanted to talk about that conceptually is that was a part of what shaped Spurgeon in the way that he viewed membership. And it’s important. So I want you to talk and now relate that specifically to Spurgeon. Why was regenerate church membership so important to Spurgeon’s view of the church, and then how he ministered the Word?
Geoff Chang: This comes out in terms of its importance, especially when you examine the way Spurgeon brought people into membership. So, in my book, I talk about this really amazingly rigorous six-step membership process that people had to go through a met with an elder, the elder took down their testimony, then they met with Spurgeon himself when he would parse out. And here’s where you see Spurgeon’s kind of pastoral heart. You know, as these people are joining the church, he’s examining their testimonies. He’s thinking carefully about them, he’s not just sort of rubber-stamping people into the church, but he’s thinking about each person one by one, then the congregation would vote on each person coming in, then they would send out messengers to go visit the people in their home, and their place of work to sort of really find out what they’re like out in the community. And then, finally, the church was once again to vote on each applicant, and then they will be baptized and take the Lord’s supper, and then they would be brought into the membership of the church.
So, this rigorous six-step process for a church of, you know, several thousand taken in hundreds of applicants into membership. As far as I can tell, they follow those six steps for every one of those applicants, and as I counted them up, over the 38 years of Spurgeon’s ministry, there were nearly 14,000 people that joined the church, all that went through that process, and you just think you’re busy enough as a pastor preaching, you know, running an orphanage, a college. I mean, like do you really have to be that careful about who you’re taking in the church membership? But we talked about the importance of regenerate church membership for Spurgeon; this is like a non-negotiable if we’re going to bring you into the membership of the church. We’re going to baptize you. We want to make sure you have a credible profession of faith and that you understand the gospel. And that your testimony shows evidence of repentance and faith, right? And when you have a church like that, I mean, you really begin to see why the Metropolitan Tabernacle was able to be that fruitful because every member of the church hear the gospel, and they could speak the truth to one another. They could evangelize, they sat under the Word, and they were edified by it. That’s only possible if people are truly born again in the church.
Dale Johnson: Now, in your book, you talk in chapter 4 about hedging and fencing and this idea of the even the obvious of church discipline, so as perfect as we try to be on that front end, as tight as we have the front door, right, sometimes that’s still difficult. And his membership really did protect and guard and attempt to build the church, but I also want you to talk about this idea because I would see church discipline much as soul care, right? It’s a person is unrepented, or they committed sin, they’ve been confronted, maybe individually, as some of the church histories called fraternal admonition where they’re confronting each other one-on-one, and this is a part of what believers do. They get to church discipline, and now we’re calling them to repentance, and they don’t repent. That is a means of caring for a person. So, I want you to talk about that aspect of Spurgeon’s heart, pastorally, to guard and protect and build up the church in these ways.
Geoff Chang: Yeah, Spurgeon would often say to this congregation, you know, in the Church of this size, what can one pastor and a number of elders and deacons do for caring so great a body, right? We need your help, you there in the pew, you members of this church. We need you to look after one another. And I get, you know, as I read kind of the life of the church about the life of the church there in the Tabernacle, you get the sense that this is a congregation that was engaged with one another. So, church discipline doesn’t just begin with excommunication, right? There are all kinds of steps, kind of in Matthew 18 laid out for members to go to one another, to confront, to encourage, to admonish, and you see that sort of activity happening in the Tabernacle. Though beyond that, we also see in the minute books there of the Tabernacle where they do move towards church discipline, right? Where there are cases where folks have confronted, and people have continued in unrepentant sin, and the elders need to step in remarkably in a church that took him so many people, Spurgeon always pointed out to kind of one of the signs of God’s kindness to them was how few people were ultimately disciplined by the church, as a percentage. There were still hundreds of people disciplined, but as the percentage of how many people join the church is actually quite low. And he would point to other churches that were much more taken with revivalism. You know, there was one church they pointed out where they were like boasting about how they took in like 300 new members. But then the next spring, they had to discipline like 100 of them out of the church. And he was saying, thankfully, we’ve not known anything like that at the Tabernacle, you know, over the course of his ministry, something like 2 to 3 percent of the membership was under church discipline, and yet even in those stories there were a number of them were people eventually did repent and were restored back to the church, and that was always a time of celebration for the church. So, I think, even in terms of guarding regenerate church membership, and then also making membership meaningful, right? Once having brought them into the church, Spurgeon is continuing to give care to people’s ongoing profession of faith.
Dale Johnson: That’s really interesting to me. And because, you know, that demonstrates his pastoral heart in the way he led the church to minister, not just the way he ministered the Word, but the way he encouraged the church itself to minister the Word well and to uphold what the Word says, I want to move into, and this is I want to say speculation but, you know, Spurgeon as good as most people and I want to get your ideas on how you think Spurgeon might counsel someone who has hesitations about joining a church or church membership and why membership is essential. And one of the reasons I’ll say Geoff that I ask this question is, I think about church membership, and it’s so important even as an elder, and you’re trying to think about how am I caring for people Hebrews 13:17, we are to keep watch over people’s souls. Paul mentions a similar thing in Acts 20:28, and it is so important to know who we are responsible for but talk about that from Spurgeon’s perspective a little bit.
Geoff Chang: Yeah, there’s a great sermon on Spurgeon.org. If you go, you can find it. We have a digital library of Spurgeon’s sermons. If you search for a sermon called “Joining the Church,” he does this where he makes his case for church membership. And one of the main things he emphasizes is that going public as a Christian, right coming out as a Christian, it’s not just being willing to be baptized but being willing to be identified with Christ and his people, right? So one of the ways we own sort of our Christian identity is by being associated with a body that preaches the gospel, that keeps the sacraments, and so that’s how we make known to the world, know who we belong to. And so, I think Spurgeon sees that in the New Testament. I mean, we don’t get this idea of lone-ranger Christians in the New Testament. We see clearly taught in the New Testament ideas of commitment to a local body, of accountability to leaders, you know. So even if you’re getting hung up on the word church membership, like, oh, I don’t see that phrase in the New Testament, the ideas that we’re after are clearly biblical, and then, so that’s what you want to give yourself to, and undergirding that is a theological understanding that the church is the body of Christ. And when we belong to the body of Christ spiritually, we give expression to that here on earth by loving our brothers and sisters, by being committed to them, and being accountable to them. And that’s what we’re after here. That’s what Spurgeon was after in his church.
Dale Johnson: That’s perfect. So, two more questions, just very basic ones. You’re writing this book Spurgeon, the Pastor. Spurgeon is, as we all know, he’s known as the preacher. As you’re researching and studying for this book, you just start to see these elements leap out from his life of just the pastoral heart that he had. What were some of the things that were most interesting or shocking as you learned about Spurgeon, the pastor?
Geoff Chang: Well, it’s amazing to see him, you know, he started out as like a village pastor. He pastored in this little village called water beach. The church also did really well under his time and grew to 400, but by the time he gets to London, it’s interesting that he is basically pastoring the city church and all the historic Baptist convictions of regenerative membership and church discipline and congregationalism, but he’s doing it in a church that that’s experiencing a revival, right? And it’s blowing up, you know, with hundreds of people joining the church, and yet he refuses to compromise his convictions. I mean, what I love about one of the stories that illustrate this is like when he got there, they had members meetings once a month, where they would take new members. And now they have so many people joining the church. They just have to keep having more members’ meetings by the time he’s done. They’re having like eight members meetings a month just to process all these people through membership, and they could have said, hey, why don’t we just switch to an elder rule where the elders just do everything, and you people can just enjoy the services, but no, like these congregational meetings were a theological commitment because they understood it’s the church that has the final say in Christ’s Church. It’s a congregation. And not only that, but he was so thoughtful in terms of making those congregational meetings edifying, not just sort of drudgery. I mean, if you imagine sitting in a congregational meeting where you’re hearing testimony after testimony of people being radically saved, I mean that’s going to be edifying, and that’s going to encourage you in your evangelism. And so, you know, that’s just one example of, like, his dogged commitment to a biblical conviction congregationalism and yet using that pastorally in the lives of his people to encourage them in their Christian walk and their evangelism.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s great. So I’m thinking of the listener out there who’s maybe being introduced to Spurgeon, give them some places where they can start maybe some of the more interesting introductions to a biography or something like that, or where they can they start reading some of the sermons and things like that, Geoff that will be helpful if you could give our listeners some advice there.
Geoff Change: Yeah, for a good biography to start with, I will point them to Arnold Dallimore. He has a great one volume biography on Spurgeon, very accessible. In terms of his sermons, boy, they are everywhere. You can buy sets of them on eBay. If you go to Spurgeon.org., the org, we have a huge digital library of sermons; you can access them there. And I would point them to his devotional works, as you said, morning and evening; it’s a great resource. If you’re someone thinking about ministry, thinking about the pastorate, you must read Lectures to My Students. These are excellent lectures that he would give to his college students that give a great vision for his vision for pastoral ministry.
Dale Johnson: Well done. We’ll get all those and put those on the show notes for you. Geoff, this has been great. I really appreciate the time and thinking about Spurgeon. The more and more I read his sermons, the more I’m encouraged by him and his pastoral heart to just gather his people with the power, authority, and sufficiency of the Word of God.
Geoff Chang: Amen.
You can find Dr. Geoff Chang’s book here.