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Faculty Focus Interview with Lane Tipton

This the second installment of a quarterly series of interviews highlighting the Lord’s work in the lives and ministries of our Reformed Forum faculty. Lane Tipton, Fellow of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Reformed Forum and pastor of Trinity OPC in Easton, Pennsylvania, sits down with Ryan Noha to discuss his conversion through a Leviticus 16 sermon on TV, his zeal for Christian education and global missions, and his joyful service of the Lord in his family, church, and the work of Reformed Forum as the George Bailey of Glenside.

Lane, I’m familiar with your background and how you came to know the Lord, but it’s always a joy to hear of the old, old story of the gospel and how the Lord brings the finished work of Christ to bear effectually upon his people. Would you tell us how you were converted and then eventually became a minister in the OPC?

I grew up in a Southern Baptist home. My mother was a devout and godly woman. Her parents were both wonderful Christians. My father was not a believer, but my mother would have us attend worship with her every Sunday morning. From the earliest time I can remember, I was sitting under the gospel, but I did not accept and embrace it. After I hit about age 13, my mom did not require me to go to church but gave me the opportunity to either go or not go, and I decided I wouldn’t go. I went through my junior high and high school years without really going to church at all, without attending any worship services at all. I played a year of football on a scholarship out of Tascosa at Eastern New Mexico State University. I was thinking about pursuing a law degree and thought when I came home that summer that it would be a really wise thing to read my Bible and get a little bit of familiarity with the Judeo-Christian ethic, given the fact that I was wanting to pursue law.

I turned to Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees almost instantly where he was denouncing them in Matthew 23 and following for being whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside, but inside full of dead men’s bones. I recognized that he was speaking in his word to me, and that I was in danger of the judgment. A few days later on a Sunday morning, I turned on the television, and a man was preaching on Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement. He then talked about the blood of a sacrificial offering, a sin offering, being brought into the most holy place and satisfying the wrath of God. He talked about a scapegoat, having the sins of Israel confessed over its head and being driven outside the camp, bearing away the guilt of God’s people. He said these were types of Jesus. And I instantly recognized that my release from my sin, and my fear, and my guilt, and my burden was found in the wrath-propitiating, blood sacrifice of Jesus who bore away my sin. I saw instantly in that typology that Jesus was like the scapegoat, who had taken my sin away from me as far as the east is from the west. He had shed his blood for my sin and satisfied God’s wrath. And I repented of my sin; I asked the Lord to forgive me. I was elated. I thought, goodness, how could I have not seen this all of these years? I instantly told my mom who just came into the room and was weeping tears of joy. She had been praying for this for 19 years. And the Paul Harvey aspect of the story is that of all people to preach that sermon, it happened to be Jimmy Swaggart, believe that or not.

So I was converted and within a few months had found my way toward the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I had received through some men, who were in Amarillo at the time, interested in Reformed theology, some literature that led me toward the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. As I read systematic theologies—Louis Berkhof, some B. B. Warfield, a little bit of Van Til—I was very quickly led by conviction to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I came to appreciate immensely Machen’s commitment to the spirituality of the church, his critique of liberalism as a different religion, the militancy of the OPC, its self-conscious embrace of being a pilgrim people, maintaining faithfulness to the gospel, not seeking cultural influence or affluence, but seeking rather to worship the Lord as engaged pilgrims, taking every thought captive, making it obedient to Christ, seeking the things above by faith, entering Sabbath rest, and being concerned most of all for the worship of the Triune God and giving a consistent, faithful witness to the world and calling all men and women, boys and girls everywhere to repent. That sent me on a path toward going to seminary.

It was a strangely quick movement from my conversion to pursuing the OPC and coming to a profound appreciation of Machen and his militancy and humility, and the church as it has been called by Charlie Dennison, “the church of the brokenhearted,” the church that mourns. This is not the norm, this kind of policy and worship and doctrine and this heavenly-mindedness. I have been in the OPC years and years now. I joined the Abilene congregation in 1989, if my memory serves, so it’s been a while.

I rejoice to hear of the Lord’s grace in your life afresh, not only that he was pleased to raise you from the deadness of your sin, but to grant you such rapid growth and maturity, even that you would see Christ in all of Scripture from day one and then dive right away into the deep end of Reformed theology with Machen and all the greats. This is truly a wonderful grace and profound mercy. I’d love to hear about the Lord’s gracious work in your family, as well. Would you introduce us to the Tiptons and share with us how the Lord is leading you all through this current season of life?

I met my wife, Charlene, when I came back from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. She has five uncles who have been or still are Orthodox Presbyterian ministers. We met in Abilene, Texas in 1992. About 10 months later, we were married. Everyone was saying, you guys need to get married. And I was all excited about us—you didn’t have to encourage me! She’s a beautiful, godly, intelligent, wonderful woman. Soon after that, we went to seminary, Westminster California. And by the time 1998 came around, we had our first child, Lauren; a few years later, Lyle; a few years after that, Trevor; a few years after that, Katie or Kaitlyn. And so we have four children. The oldest, Lauren, is now married. Lyle and Trevor are at Geneva playing basketball. And I will admit, tearing it up, and I’m very thankful for that. They’re godly young men walking with the Lord. Katie is class president just flourishing at Phil-Mont school founded by Cornelius Van Til. It’s all worked out in an amazing way.  Char and I are coming up on our 30th anniversary this next year. She works in the OPC home offices. She has been working there for several years now and does a fantastic job.

We’ve been here in Glenside since 1998, and it’s wonderful. I’m serving at Trinity OPC in Easton. It’s about 50 minutes from here. The family is doing great. They are a delight to my heart. They love the Lord and are all flourishing. I am so thankful. I’ve joked around before; I’ll adapt it, transpose it into this: I’m the George Bailey of Glenside, brother. I am just so thankful, so happy, and so richly blessed to have this family. They are, outside of the Lord, just the truest and purest joy of my heart.

Now as long as you mentioned Phil-Mont Academy and Van Til, I’ve got to ask, did you and Char have a devotional yet over that 1961 Van Til editorial I shared with you? The one that was published by Willow Grove Christian Day School, “The Whole Armour of God”?

Not yet. But talk about a letter that just states all that my wife has said before! Char has said before a number of times that she loves obviously loves Van Til. She and I married in part around a passionate commitment to Christian education. When I was in seminary out in California, Char taught at a Christian school. She taught years before that in Reformed Christian schools. She is just a fantastic teacher. We homeschooled our children. But when we first met, she and I read Van Til’s Essays on Christian Education as devotional literature and would marvel at the wonderful, robust, Reformed Trinitarianism, and Covenant Theology, and antithesis, and understanding of common grace, and the proper and indispensable role of Christian education from a Reformed world-and-life view. We fell in love around that. And so when we came to the Philadelphia area, and Phil-Mont was within ten minutes of our house, founded by Van Til—it’s just wonderful. So we’ll get around to that essay. I’m sure we’ll have numbers of discussions about it. Char has said, and I agree in certain ways with this, that Van Til might be at his very best when he’s talking about Christian education. You know, there’s a lot of “best” about Van Til, but one of his brightest points is talking about a consistently Reformed theological education for covenant children.

I couldn’t agree more. Now, you mentioned that you’re currently serving as pastor of Trinity OPC in Easton, Pennsylvania. What is your beloved congregation like and how is the Lord using the ordinary means of grace to gather and perfect the saints at Trinity?

I’ve been at Trinity in Easton for around a decade. Right before I arrived, the pastor left to join the Roman Catholic communion, which was a devastating blow to the congregation. For the past decade, I’ve had the unparalleled privilege of pastoring and shepherding and encouraging the saints in their walk with the Lord. As I said, apart from the Lord, my family is my chief delight, but just right in there, just as an unqualified delight is the service of the saints at Trinity. The elders, Charlie DeBoer, Joe Olliff, Luke DeBoer, Ian Parkin—a dear brother passed away about a year ago, went to be with the Lord—serving alongside those dear brothers in such a loving and giving congregation has been an oasis in the wilderness for me. I have delighted in my service, to know and love the congregation, to preach, teach, and serve alongside those brothers on the Session. The congregation over the years has grown to be what I would consider now to be a thriving, vibrant congregation filled with delightful people. I don’t want to overuse the George Bailey allusion, so I’ll change here, but I’ve been spoiled. And there is no end in sight from my side in terms of the service there. It continues to be an increasing joy for me. To see the way the Lord blesses through slow, steady, self-conscious means of grace, through Word and sacrament, through visiting and getting to know them as brothers and sisters in the Lord, walking beside them, bearing burdens, turning them to the sufferings and the comfort that are in Jesus Christ. I’ve always wanted to be a pastor; I was never initially aspiring to be a professor. And the Lord has granted me one of the deepest desires of my heart. Once again, I’m just so thankful for it.

That is tremendous, brother. To follow up for those who don’t know, who is George Bailey? And would your elaborate a bit upon what you’re preaching and teaching through these days and share any particular insights you might have from your studies in the Word?

If you remember, Jimmy Stewart played George Bailey in an all-time Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. And the long story short is that he finds that the money, the influence, the opportunity for notoriety, that all of those things pale mightily in comparison to having a group of people, family and friends, who gather around and love you and rejoice when you rejoice and mourn when you mourn. I don’t want to spoil it in case there are some younger folks out there who haven’t seen it, but at the end of the movie, when everyone’s coming into the house, doing something that’s just beautiful—I can’t resist the analogy. It’s delightful, whether it’s you brothers at Reformed Forum, whether it’s a number of dear brothers throughout the world, my loving family, the dear congregation, the Lord has just blessed me. And so I really do mean it, partly as a joke, but partly true: I’m like the George Bailey of Glenside, brother. I’m very thankful for it.

I’ve been preaching for some time on the book of Ephesians. I took about a one-year break and did some work on Hebrews 12 during the pandemic to talk about the unshakable kingdom. No matter what happens in this world, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Over the past several months, I’ve been preaching through the armor of God and Ephesians 6, which is Christ, and have looked at how that armor is fundamentally putting on Christ, his ordinances, his Word, his Spirit, and by faith rising up with his people to fight against the principalities and powers of this present evil age, to set forth the truth of the gospel and its antithetical, full-orbed glory, and to recognize that no matter what happens in terms of the escalation of evil around us in the culture or in the world, Jesus Christ has established his Church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it because the Lord who is our armor has gone before us, destroyed his and our enemies and is in the process of making them a footstool for his feet, which will reach its climax in his glorious, visible second coming.

It’s been a delight to preach through that that book, and I’m kind of coming up on the end of it. You never know; I can’t ever calculate how many more sermons are in the hopper for it. But we’re moving toward the end of the Ephesians 6, and it has been an unusually rich feast for me to preach through. You think you understand the text until you work on it week in and week out for weeks, months, or years, and so it has been peculiarly rich for me. I’ve been very encouraged doing it. Of course, I have—I don’t want to diminish any other congregations in the world—but I might have the most patient and loving congregation in the OPC. They have stayed through it all, and we’ve taken a slow, careful look at that text and just feasted on the Christ who is revealed in it. It’s been a delight.

Now you’re a bit unusual as a minister in the OPC because you not only have the privilege of preaching twice every Lord’s day and doing Sunday school and visitation and serving the saints in Easton, but you’re also a Fellow of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Reformed Forum. How are you actively engaged in the Colossians 1:28 mission of Reformed Forum in that particular capacity?

Let me begin by saying Reformed Forum has been and always will be a pure labor of love for me. You do not find anything like it anymore. In the past, there were some that were striving for this, but the combination of militancy and love, distinctive commitments to the Confession, Van Til, Vos Kline, and the development of what you might call the old Westminster theology or the first generation OPC theology, enriched by people like Kline, Gaffin, Strimple, and others—that’s unique to Reformed Forum. The ministry is so distinctive, while at the same time not succumbing to these biblicist, mutualist perversions that you find in the evangelical and ostensibly “Reformed” world of contemporary vintage in the last 20 years. At Reformed Forum you’ve got a catholic, Reformed, robust ministry of Reformed theology with Colossians 1:28 as the mission, seeking to present everyone mature in Christ.

My service, whether it pertains to the Reformed Academy and teaching courses on Van Til, Reformed Forum conferences—we’ve got one coming up that I’m so excited I can barely contain myself over—or the books that I’ve been graciously given the opportunity to write for Reformed Forum—Foundations of Covenant Theology, the Van Til book [The Trinitarian Theology of Cornelius Van Til], and several on the way—all continues to be a joy in the Lord. I don’t feel like in any of this that I’m working. I’m serving with joy, gladness, and peace and would not want to be anywhere in the whole world serving in except Reformed Forum. So again, I said about pastoring that the Lord’s given me the desire of my heart. Serving with Reformed Forum, though, it’s just been a delight that the Lord has brought. There are people that I won’t mention by name, but they have engaged in extraordinary giving and continue to give in ways that astound me to enable this kind of ministry. They have my deepest gratitude and admiration in the Lord. So, brother, as long as the Lord continues to cause Reformed Forum to flourish, and I have the ability and capacity and strength to serve, the duty is delight. They go right together.

To have over 3800 students in 75 countries involved at Reformed Forum, and to see it exploding in terms of worldwide outreach and ministry and serving the global church so profoundly, that especially gives me unbridled joy in the Lord. I pray that the Lord will continue making Reformed Forum this growing servant of the universal, worldwide Church. I love everything about Reformed Forum, but that, in particular, really is close to my heart to be able to serve brothers and sisters in different countries, under great persecution, who otherwise don’t have access to this kind of theology. To be able to serve them with rich, Reformed theology in the way that Reformed Form enables, and with the quality in terms of the platform and the presentation, as men committed to the deeper Protestant conception, it’s very exciting. I’m thankful to be a part of it, and I’m thankful to see the way the Lord has been blessing it. I’ve been amazed at the way that the Lord is causing Reformed Forum’s ministry to explode throughout the world. And it’s all of the Lord, so we give him glory.

In terms of that worldwide explosion, would you at liberty to share about any of the work that you’ve done with our brethren in China or Cambodia?

I’ll give you just one example. I’ve had an opportunity with a dear brother to talk to numbers of brothers in China, engaging in the training of pastors. I’ve taught a course to brothers in the Lord who are serving and pastoring. I just recently recorded some sermons that will be a part of a conference coming up, and I believe that there are going to be around 1200 people attending. For the last decade, I’ve had opportunities pre-COVID to go to Hong Kong to engage in service of these Chinese brothers and sisters. I can just testify to this: the Lord is giving them extraordinary grace and deep conviction. If Reformed theology in seminaries in this country is on the decline, which it is, and if the broad evangelicalism of this country is strangling true piety and vibrant doctrine, which it is, if liberalism and Barth and the post-conservative evangelical, post-liberal movements are divesting the system of doctrine of its vitality and substance, which it is—as you see a relative decline in the West, these brothers are on fire. The persecution that they are receiving is only causing more and more joy and vigor and militancy to make Christ known and to have an opportunity to serve. I’m going to stop because this gets me choked up, brother, but to have the honor and the privilege to serve such brothers whose hearts are so clearly cruciform and cross-stamped, serving the Lord, not seeking treasure on Earth but in heaven, it’s amazing. That opportunity and ongoing attempts to partner with those brothers, it’s just a delight.

Amen, brother. What you’re saying resonates in a peculiar way with me as I’ve had the great joy of regularly corresponding and working with many brothers and sisters in mainland China and Taiwan through our Reformed Academy. I’m consistently blown away by how they are willing to joyfully lay their lives down for the gospel. They often suffer much hardship for the sake of our Savior in their families and work, and yet at the end of the day, they still have the Spirit-wrought energy and zeal do the difficult work of translation and subtitle correction for us at Reformed Forum. They labor for nothing but for the glory of God and to see the riches of the Reformed faith flourish in their land. I’m truly in awe of what the Lord is pleased to do in bringing Reformed Forum these connections with saints that weren’t on my radar, but they were on the Lord’s radar. He is bringing the Church, his global family, together even while the world is at war. Chinese believers and Western believers are loving one another and are growing unto perfection in Christ.

It is of the Lord. They are the dearest of brothers and sisters, so praise the Lord for them.

As we come to the close of our interview, how might our friends and supporters around the world pray for you and your ministry?

I really appreciate you asking. Pray for my wife to continue to flourish and for our relationship to grow; for my children to continue to flourish and walk with the Lord as they’re doing; for faithfulness in ministry at Trinity, preservation of the elders and growth of the congregation. Pray also for the work at Reformed Forum to move forward with people recognizing that we give all of our resources up front for free. Pray that the Lord would raise up people to support Reformed Forum’s work so that this global outreach, these 3800 plus students from 75 countries, could continue to be served. Pray that the Lord would make Reformed Forum faithful in serving the church and not be distracted by any other mission outside of the mission of Colossians 1:28, to seek to present everyone mature in Christ through the presentation of what the Scriptures teach as received and expounded and enriched in our Reformed confessional tradition. Prayer along all those lines, and that the Lord would make me personally faithful in love and in truth for the sake of Christ would be deeply appreciated.

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