"Mark L. Ward, Jr."

No Popes for You

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

Protestants don’t get to have a pope.

Of course, that sounds backwards; the pope doesn’t get to have us. We don’t want him.

But if you’re honest, there have probably been times in your life when a pope would have come in handy—like when your church split over a particular doctrine, or when your best friend was totally wrong about the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2. It’s tempting sometimes to want another word from God telling us what He really meant with the first Word. And, of course, He’d be on your side—right?

But no popes for you. In good blog form, here’s five reasons why.

  1. As many Protestants have pointed out, having a pope just means you have more authoritative declarations to interpret. Now in addition to 1,189 chapters of divine revelation written in three languages over the course of 1,500 years, you have papal encyclicals and homilies and true ex cathedra pronouncements.* And you have to learn Latin if you really want to get it right.
  2. The existence of a supreme pontiff doesn’t actually create the unity it advertises. Having a holy see certainly hasn’t kept Romanists from disagreeing, even splitting. There are over 200 Roman Catholic denominations, and among those still in the fold there are deep divisions between liberals and conservatives. The Reformers were right to argue that, when it comes to ultimate authority for the local church and the believer, it’s sola scriptura.
  3. Most importantly, of course, the sola scriptura standard won’t allow us to have a pope. We are given men with teaching and ruling authority (Eph 4:11–14; 1 Pet 5:1–5), but their authority is subordinated to the Word, not equal to it and certainly not above it. No one is allowed to add dogma (doctrine you must believe) beyond what the Bible teaches, let alone to pronounce anathemas on the biblical gospel (Gal. 1:8).
  4. Empirically speaking, what has the existence of a mitered man in St. Peter’s done for biblical literacy among his 1.2 billion followers? The 1960s council we call Vatican II has been widely credited with promoting the study of Scripture among Catholic laity, and of course Protestants ought to welcome this reform. The more Bible people get, the better. But—speaking mostly from (multi-national) personal experience but also from some statistical studies I’ve read—it seems clear to me that conservative Protestant groups have done a much better job teaching the actual content of the Bible to their people. We have a long way to go in our work of discipling the nations, but Bible study is one of the most healthy things in Protestant DNA.
  5. Lastly, T.D. Bernard once made a point that I have come back to again and again. It’s dense but excessively rich. Please read the whole thing!

    The writer [of NT epistles] does not announce a succession of revelations, or arrest the inquiries which he encounters in men’s hearts by the unanswerable formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” He arouses, he animates, he goes along with the working of men’s minds, by showing them the working of his own. He utters his own convictions, he pours forth his own experience, he appeals to others to “judge what he says,” and commends his words “to their conscience in the sight of God.” He confutes by argument rather than by authority, deduces his conclusions by processes of reasoning and establishes his points by interpretations and applications of the former Scriptures…. Why all this labor in proving what might have been decided by a simple announcement from one entrusted with the Word of God? Would not this apostolic declaration that such a statement was error, and that another was truth, have sufficed for the settlement of that particular question? Doubtless! But it would not have sufficed to train men’s minds to that thoughtfulness whereby truth becomes their own, or to educate them to the living use of the Scriptures as the constituted guide of inquiry. (The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament, pp. 157-158)

    Protestants don’t get to have a pope because God inspired epistles. And He did it on purpose. The sometimes painful and difficult work of personal biblical and theological study is meant to form us into the kind of people who think like God wants us to—not just who think what God wants us to. A pope can be an unhealthy shortcut. Bible study is a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. Your God-given pastors and teachers should play an important role in your spiritual life, and they do bear genuine authority (1 Pet. 5:1–5; Heb. 13:7–17), but they won’t stand next to you on judgment day (2 Cor 5:10).

No popes for you.

*Not all statements from a pope are technically considered to be equally authoritative, but adopting the title of “Christ’s vicar,” the Son of God’s representative on earth, is itself a claim to teaching authority.

Four New Books You Have to Know About

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

“New” in American culture means “good,” or at least “better.” It’s a moniker marketers never tire of using, because it works—and as long as it does, Tide detergent will reliably produce “new” formulations every so often.

But “new” is relative. The four brand new books I advertised in my title are startlingly new, but in at least two senses, they’re also quite old.

It’s time you were jolted typographically awake by four very new books rooted in very old traditions. I’m speaking of Bibliotheca, a Kickstarter (“crowdfunded“) project to produce a four-volume printing of the Bible in an innovative old way.

Designer Adam Greene, a young man steeped in the history of typography, is the force behind the project. The best way to communicate to you what’s new and old about his work is to show it to you.

First the outside:


Now the inside:


And again:


What do you see in this Bible? Or, rather, what do you not see?

You don’t see all the accoutrements you’ve come to view as normal, standard in a printing of the Bible. That’s what’s so new about Greene’s project.

c902_SCOclassic_inside2__4And that’s what’s so old—you see, we all have historical myopia when it comes to Bible editions. We are accustomed to a two-column format in which every verse is a separate paragraph and in which each page is packed with verse numbers and multiple systems of superscript footnoting1 and2 cross-referencing.a b We forget, however, that things were not always so. Verse numbers are a comparatively recent addition to the Bible text. If the Bible were a 65-year-old man, verse numbers were added when he was 56 ½. They’ve been around for about a tenth of the Bible’s history.

What does the standard two-column layout do to meaning? Arguably, it does something very bad: it not-so-subtly leads readers to view the “verse,” whatever that is, as the fundamental unit of Bible statement. (Whenever they’re not viewing the word that way—see Barr quote here.) Making every verse a paragraph is an invitation to atomistic exegesis. It doesn’t help you read with sensitivity to the context.

You simply must try reading a Bible with no chapter and verse numbers at all. It is a beautiful and helpful experience—if initially jarring. I began creating this experience for myself using a Microsoft Word macro about ten years ago. And, providentially, a slow trickle of Bible editions began coming out which made that experience available in codex form. My favorite of the lot is the also-new ESV Reader’s Bible from Crossway (the ESV website also has this functionality), but the Bibliotheca project is even better—it just uses a translation I’m less excited about, the 1901 ASV. (And it would cost me 15 months of my recently reduced book budget…=)

If you’re not sold yet, watch the video. It’s brand new!

A Few Tech Tools Every Small Church Should Have

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

We live in an Internet world. If your church doesn’t have a website, it’s invisible. If it has a bad website, well, there’s something worse than invisible.

Even the smallest church needs some tech tools to make itself credibly visible to its community. At least in America, it’s a matter of your testimony for Christ. It’s that serious.

But a credible Internet presence requires a few more tools than just a website. Here is my short list of essential tech tools your small church needs, divided into four categories:

1. Internet

240px-WordPress_logo.svgYou need a WordPress website. Total cost: $500+. Honestly, you probably need a professional to work with you no matter what kind of website you choose. I can give you names of companies who are dirt cheap but do good work. (I own one of them, or I’d tell you the names.) If you positively refuse to consider hiring someone, Squarespace is my recommendation. If, on the other hand, you’re that rare small church with a sizable endowment from a wealthy former parishioner, I recommend Church Plant Media and Your Creative People. You get what you pay for with them: excellent work. And by the way, you need a logo, too—and only a professional can make a nice one. You might, however, get away with buying a stock logo.

2. Photography

d3100You need a Nikon D3100 with the kit lens, a zoom lens, a camera bag, and a tripod. Total cost: $600 if you shop a little (try Craigslist). Every church should have a D3100 that is owned by the church and cared for by a designated photographer. But youth leaders and Bible club leaders should have access to it and should get a little bit of training on how to use it. And they should use it, and regularly. I have used mine to shoot weddings, church directory pics, Bible club shots—anything a church could want. I pretend to be a pro, and a lot of people believe me, but the truth is that I only ever shoot in auto mode. (I do post-processing like the pros, however—and if you have an artistic person in the church you might consider doing the same.) Make updating photos on your Facebook page and/or website an important ministry, one you would never neglect, like changing the messages on your church sign.

3. Video

You need a Nikon D3100. Yes, a D3100 also does video. But only on a tripod and only with adequate lighting. And the microphone in the camera is not meant to do much (see “Audio” below). Doing good video is not easy, but with a little bit of Internet research you can set up a believable lighting system to at least do a talking-head interview like this one. That’s probably all the good video you’ll ever need. For videos of camp you don’t have to get fancy. The D3100 will do fine. You mainly want it for photos.

Adobe has also come out with a great iPad app that will allow you to make a promo video without shooting any actual footage. As always, use the people in the church who are gifted artistically to do this.

You probably need a projector; maybe not. This is the top-seller on Amazon right now.

4. Audio

jpegYou need a Zoom H2n. Cost: $160. I use the Zoom H2 (the previous version of the Zoom H2n) when taking video, and it sounds fantastic, very professional. Don’t ever try to take a serious video—like a welcome-I’m-the-pastor video—without one. It will sound terrible. And the Zoom H2n can take great sermon recordings. It puts them right onto an SD card, making it easy to upload sermons to your website or to a service like SermonAudio. An Apple iPad can actually take very passable audio recordings, too—unless the pastor wanders around the pulpit a great deal.


There is a very definite generation gap between pastors who value the Internet and those who don’t. I’m genuinely not sure that my (younger) generation is right to value it so highly, but I can tell you that potential visitors do. They will judge you by your website. As a web designer, I have heard more than once that a church’s website was the sole reason a family decided to visit. And the photography, video, and audio on that site are an integral part of your face—quite literally—the whole world. Use gifted people in your assembly and commit some money to it. It’s the world we live in now.