Monday, August 20, 2007


Herman Sasse, a German, came to Australia in 1949. He was a theologian and author who was a member of the faculty of a Lutheran seminary in Adelaide. He wrote an article entitled Luther’s Legacy to Christianity. He wrote in his native language and the article was translated by Lutheran pastor Matthew Harrison.

Some of what Sasse wrote fed the flames of my heartfelt desire to see the members of churches, especially including the leaders, start to exhibit genuine Biblical honesty in their lives.

Let me explain! Several years ago I was speaking to a young man entrusted with the leadership of a congregation. In the course of our conversation a realization struck me, which I voiced, “I don’t know a truly honest pastor!” I had been speaking to him about being transparent in all his dealings with people. The upshot was that my young pastor friend wasn’t impressed, and hasn’t spoken to me since. What I said apparently didn’t coincide with the wisdom he had obtained in the denominational college from which he had recently graduated.

For many years I stood before congregations of silent people, who would stand to sing hymns which expressed great Biblical truths. No matter what the hymn expressed, contrition, repentance, or great Calvary joy, their faces and voices remained the same.

It wasn’t long before I realized that I was not seeing the real person reflected in those faces, I was seeing masks which people put on when they attended congregational meetings, both Sunday and mid-week, the same masks I saw when on pastoral visits.

Back to Sasse, who wrote, “As the rediscoverer of the Gospel of the grace of God, h e (Luther) was the Reformer of the Church, and not only the church of one land, rather the entire, the one church of God on earth.

Only he has understood Luther, who understands him as the Reformer of the Church. The legacy which Luther left behind can be properly grasped only by one who realizes that this legacy applies to all of Christendom on earth. For if Luther - as he himself thought and the Evangelical church believes - with his discovery of the saving truth of the justification of the sinner through faith alone, did nothing other than bring the holy gospel to light again, then his discovery has a significance as universal as the Gospel itself.”

These words were written by Luther on the 16th of February, and found after his death as he speaks of the unfathomable depth of the Bible: "No one can understand Vergil in his Bucolics or Georgics unless he has been a shepherd or farmer for five years. No one can understand Cicero in his letters unless he has served in a significant position in government for 20 years. No one can apprehend the Holy Scriptures unless he has governed a congregation for a 100 years with the Prophets." The note concludes with the sentence: "We are beggars: This is true." Sasse says, “This is true”, and adds, “The words ‘We are beggars’ are written in German for emphasis.”

He goes on to say, “They (the previous words) ring powerfully already in the first words of his lectures on Romans of 1513, where he notes that it is the intent of this letter 'to destroy, root-out, and bring to naught all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh, and this to fortify and make sin great.'

Luther understood that even though "by grace alone" was understood by Roman Catholicism, he insisted that "through faith alone" MUST be added, because, unlike R.Cism, he understood that "Even in the best of lives, our deeds are naught", and that the forgiveness of God and in the power of His Holy Spirit, we are NEVER righteous by what we are and do, rather always ONLY through that which Christ is and what He as done for us.

So many leaders, whether assigned the tile Bishop or Pastor, Elder or Deacon, seem to have no idea that the pious masks which they exhibit , cause damage to themselves as they struggle to maintain the charade, and damage to those they lead, who are looking to be encouraged that sanctification DOES NOT come through seminary training, longevity of tenure or title.

Count von Zinzendorf’s words declare the truth of the matter:

Jesus Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress
With it before God shall I stand,
When I heaven shall enter in.

No matter who we are, Wesley, Calvin, Dave Black, Alan Knox or plain ol’ Aussie John; if we are saved, then it is not because of our amazingly pious life or prodigious work, or diligence, faithfulness or longevity in ministry, but because the Lord Christ died for such poor beggarly sinners.

Paul clearly understood that God has made Him for us "Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption" (I Cor. 1:31). IN HIM is our wisdom! IN HIM is our sanctification, and IN HIM is our redemption. And Luther is right, until the day we leave this life, we remain those who must come to HIM for bread, beggars who had to come to HIM for life, beggars who, to one degree or another, retain the dregs of the sin that put HIM on the cross, no matter who we are, or what level of spiritual growth we imagine for ourselves.

What utter danger we put ourselves in if we ever come to a place in life where we assume that we are no longer bearers of our Adamic heritage which causes man to stand proud before God.

Sasse reminds us of this danger as he quotes Luther’s bold assertion: "Be careful never to endeavor to obtain such purity, that you no longer find yourself a sinner, much less desire to be one. Christ dwells only among sinners. This is why he descended from heaven, when He dwelt among the righteous, so also to make His dwelling among sinners. Take note of this His love time and again and you will experience the sweetest consolation... And so only in Him, through having despaired of yourself and your works, will you find peace. Here you will learn from Christ Himself, that He, as He has received you unto Himself, has made your sins His own, and His righteousness your righteousness."

How could we ever allow ourselves the humanistic luxury, which appears to pervade much of leadership today, of thinking we are something better than Luther confessed at the end of his life?

Because that which Luther described as “a profound evil corruption of human nature," prevents us from understanding our beggarly state. He said that, “… it must be believed on the basis of holy Scripture." That we are sinners "Even in the best of lives"! Even in the best!!

And as Sasse continues, “ the "best" Christ is perceived in the daily and rich forgiveness of sins, this human reason cannot grasp, and it will not accept it for true when it hears it spoken. Original sin can be compared to one of those mental illnesses, a sign of which is that the sick person can no longer recognize his illness, and believes he is entirely healthy.”

There is the real problem: We are like a sick person who cannot acknowledge his ill health and believes that all is well! We seem to think that when we came to Christ with hands outstretched seeking the morsel of living bread He offered, that was the end of our lowly state. No wonder Christians, including leaders, have nervous breakdowns, depression leading to sinful behavior, etc., etc.

These are induced by the effort of dishonesty in wearing our masks! No one can do it!

In works induced, meeting attending, tithing, knowledge fed pride, Christians have largely entered a self-righteous state because we refuse to believe the whole picture the scriptures paints of the state of mankind. We fool ourselves into believing we have nothing to confess to one another, no struggles with sin to contend with and we become liars. We are “good people”! We measure ourselves against the murderers, the rapists, the more public sinners such as homosexuals and abortionists, and settle into smug self satisfied comfort because “we are not like them”!

Preachers stand in pulpits and quote the experts, the gurus, their favorite authors, both past and present. Listen carefully to the messages of many preachers and you will hear the works of so many bygone men of God being regurgitated, often word for word. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent as leaders travel huge distances to attend conference after conference to hear how to do it, how to say it and what to do and say.

The answers, apparently, are everywhere but in the Word of God.

Well, my brethren, we are like them! And we remain beggars, even though saved by grace, through faith in the finished work of Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. This beggar is so thankful for that..

Friday, August 17, 2007


Augustus Toplady

Every religion except one puts upon you doing something in order to recommend yourself to God.

It is only the religion of Christ (which runs counter to all the rest by affirming that we are saved and called with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the Father's own purpose and grace) which was not sold out to us on certain conditions to be fulfilled by ourselves, but was given us (all believers ) in Christ before the world began.

It was long ago remarked by a good man that "It is the business of all false religion to patch up a righteousness in which the sinner is to stand before God. But it is the business of the glorious gospel to bring near to us, by the hand of the Holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought, a robe of perfection ready made, wherein God's people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before the throne."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Artificial or ???

Apart from a small area in the south, Australia is severely drought stricken, the severity and longevity of which depending on where one lives. This has been so for several years. Some areas, five to six years. Consequently there are rigid restrictions on our use of water in most metropolitan and urban areas. Many farmers simply cannot plant crops or grow feed for livestock; many have sold everything. Some have simply walked off their farms. Water is the subject of most conversations.

The water supply for S.E.Queensland, the population of which is 2.8 million is now down to 15% of storage capacity. This is where I live.

I have always been a keen gardener, mainly growing a wide variety of vegetables for our own consumption and to share with neighbors, but restrictions on water usage have meant that is not possible.

I like fresh vegetables, so, a few months ago I decided that I would experiment with hydroponic growing as a means of using much less water (growing without soil). No digging and bending for people like me who have backs which don’t bend painlessly.

The vegetables are just as tasty as any grown in soil, despite my initial skepticism, and what the purists will tell you, and every bit as nutritious, and the plants look really beautiful in their glistening white tubes, and so very clean, nothing to mar their appearance, but without doubt their environment is certainly very artificial.

As I was contemplating the setup in my backyard, it struck me how similar this was to the Christian scene I grew up in, and sought to function in, for the early years of my life in Christ.

Artificial! That’s the way I would now describe those years of orthodox evangelical “christianism” I experienced, and tried to live, in those early days, and ministered in in later years.

During my teen years I struggled to feel that I “belonged” with the “perfect” people who surrounded me. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth! Their public persona was immaculate; smiles, hugs, clinical precision in matters ecclesiological, legal carefulness in everything spiritual, sartorial splendor in the pulpit, fashionable elegance in the pews. Of course, everyone carried the biggest, blackest Bible (KJV, of course) they could find, in the most prominent manner they could muster. The church building was a somber place in which children couldn’t utter a sound. Laughter in that place was irreverent.

These were the real Christians! How could such an imperfect creature as I possibly fit into this scene. I knew that in me there was a “natural man” who, sometimes said the wrong thing, in the wrong way. I knew that, no matter how much I read the Bible, went to church, and prayed, that my mind was still capable of sinful thoughts and urges. When I hit my finger with a hammer? Hmmmnnn!

The longer I spent in this scene the more I became uncomfortable as much effort was expended to instill in the younger ones the need to never be seen with those dirty, ignorant people who sinned, such as the fellow who lived with his girlfriend, the unmarried girl who was pregnant, the convicted criminal just out of prison from serving his sentence, and especially it was important to stay away from those low creatures who frequented the pubs. We were to be separate from such unholiness.

And then I began to understand the Scriptures for myself. Reading it became an eye-brow-raising event. I studied everything I could get my hands onto. I read the Arminians and the Reformers and Puritans. The revelation was mind-blowing. No matter what their theological leanings, the writers, including those who wrote the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were nothing like the “christianists” amongst whom my formative years were spent. They and I were of the same stock, children of Adam, with the tendrils of the “old man” still hanging on, sometimes tenuously, sometimes more firmly.

They were the real Christians, like Peter and Paul whose fingernails weren’t nicely manicured, but dirty and broken from being human, and whose feet, like the Master’s bore the filth and the dirt of the ground from which their father Adam had come, but whose hearts were changed and still being changed, by the work of God’s amazing grace; a continuing process.

Like my hydroponic experiment, those in the artificial atmosphere of institutional “christianism”, looked so beautiful and clean. My plants in their little plastic hole, sit as long as I don’t disturb them, unable to move and stretch their roots. They have no need to do anything because they are comfortable in their artificial “clean-ness”, every last miniscule amount of nutrient is passed across their roots.

The plants in their natural environment get dirt on them, and their roots reach out in all directions seeking nutrients from the soil, and they don’t seem to mind when the cabbage roots reach across and touch the carrots roots, or the cauliflower leaves find the pea vine embracing them.

If it wasn’t so dry I’d shut down the hydroponics and go back to the garden, dirt and all, with Dave Black as my sidekick, Hall of Shame or no!

Friday, August 3, 2007

The responsibility is ALWAYS mine!

I'm beginning to think I'm dependent on Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church to stimulate me to write something. Maybe Hebrews 10:24 is being worked out on the other side of the world. His latest couple of blogs have certainly done that.

I grieve when I hear people recount their experiences of loneliness in the "church", as Alan's correspondent has recently done, and I'm sure the Holy Spirit is grieved also.

Whilst the local (and I mean "local", not the institution, the handful within a few minutes of another Christian) congregation is neglected this loneliness will continue to drive hurting, needy people away.

Whilst the ministry of making disciples, to which EVERY believer is called, and gifted, is, is not encouraged by leadership, even actively quashed, divine appointments for ministry will go unrecognized, and hearts made sensitive by the Holy Spirit will not be at peace.

Whilst the local elders, and individual believers, are selfishly focused on their own life, ambitions and expectations, that they cannot deliberately divert the time necessary to discern the symptoms which reveal the needs and hurts of others, opportunities to heal and succour will be lost.

Many times members of congregations, with great feeling, sing a song which includes lines such as,
"Brother, let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you ....
We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christlight for you
In the night-time of your fear....
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through"

Sentiments which are wonderfully in accord with the principles of living the Christian life, according to Scripture, but which are forgotten as soon as the hearers exit the building.

I have vivid memories of the first congregation to whom we were first called to minister. A small country town congregation. A middle-aged woman, Hazel, came from a small community from “the other side of the tracks”. She was a member of the congregation. Diagnosed with breast cancer. She eventually had, what her doctor described as, “extremely extensive surgery”. She was completely disabled for much longer than usual.

Every time the congregation met they were encouraged to pray for her, and several would pray during the appropriate time during the meeting. Time after time her multiple needs, mostly practical home-making, were made known to them, both verbally and in the news sheet..

The congregation were folk who agreed, with loud “amens”, to all of the principles of the Scriptural “one anothers”. They would discuss how these principles could be practically put in practice, and had good suggestions for their fellows to exercise love, support, encourage, etc.

One day I received a phone call from Hazel. She said, “John, I’m confused. I’ve been a member of this congregation for a long time. Whenever help was needed I was always glad to do what I could. In these past four months I have been desperately in need of help, and I’ve received it abundantly, but only from my unbelieving neighbors, whom my brethren at church despise. Not one member of the church, other than you and your wife, have even offered help or visited me”.

Sadly, I have to acknowledge, as a very new, inexperienced pastor, I really didn’t handle the situation well, and simply accepted the situation with a very sad heart.

A few days later Hazel’s resignation from membership arrived.

Where is the evidence of a “new heart” of spiritually new born men and women in that congregation? How can the lost community around Hazel, including her husband, be expected to KNOW that these people were disciples of Christ “by their “love for one another”?

The attitude of this congregation towards the Biblical principles of love for one another is illustrated by one of their young, recently married, couples who approached me soon after our ministry to them begun, “Pastor! We felt it was our duty to come to you and warn you that this church is not very loving! Since we have been married we haven’t been invited to any home!”

My response to them was, “Well! How about you invite them to your home? If you show your willingness to love them, they may respond!”

The reply was, “Oh no! It’s their responsibility to show love to us first!”

The badge of discipleship and a genuine relationship with Christ is clearly what Jesus voiced in John13:35. The responsibility for wearing that badge is first person, not second person.

Let's say it till we believe it, "The responsibility is ALWAYS mine!"

Imagine the situation if Jesus had waited till we loved Him before He loved us!

Is it possible that the above mentioned congregation has now ceased to exist because of their lack of love?