Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That Sinful Church

And he (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22:37–40 (ESV)

If we profess to love God as Jesus commands, we must immediately ask ourselves why we don’t obey His command to love our neighbor. The problem we find ourselves having to deal with is this: We cannot obey the first if we don’t obey the second.

My wife and I have just read through 1 Corinthians aloud, and as we read we discussed something which has bothered me for many years: I have never heard a message preached on the book which doesn’t emphasize how sinful this church was. We discussed the fact, and began to realize that the Corinthian church was no different to any church we had known over the many years, or now know, traditional or otherwise.

Do we like to have this totally negative view of the Church in Corinth, because it draws attention away from our own sinfulness? Although the actual sin of the members is sometimes quite different to those Paul comments on regarding the church at Corinth, there can be no doubt that sin is still evident, I dare say, at least to the extent it was in Corinth!

Some of the annual Assemblies, Pastor’s Conferences, and local church meetings I have observed prove the point.

The traditional church has become like the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke, covering over what Scripture says with the blanket of tradition, inventing red herrings (straw men ?), and neglecting the weightier matters.

I confess to having preached through 1 Corinthians several times. Each time dissecting it, analyzing and being careful to remain within the bounds expected of one who is attached to a traditional evangelical confession, and, as a result, cannot exclude myself from the criticism I make.

How many of us would receive a letter and read it using the slice and dice methodology of most traditional sermon preparation? How many of us would take weeks, sometimes months, to read a letter addressed to us?

To do so would deny us any idea of the true picture the letter was intended to convey.

We are well aware that to always read and teach, from a Scriptural epistle, in the traditional manner, conveniently allows for the careful avoidance of some matters and the careful protection of others, such as “what we have always done”.

There is no doubt that 1 Corinthians is dealing with a church which fails to use a solid , Biblical disciplinary approach to known sinful behavior, but the failure of the Corinthians centers on two major facts which are spelled out in the above two commands of Jesus in Matt.22:37-40.

This church showed no evidence of love for God revealed in their attitude towards the Lord Jesus, and they showed no evidence of love for their fellow believers, including their fellow believers whose sin was being pointed out.

Having let them know he was aware of reports of their apparent disregard of sinful practices, which reveals to Paul their lack of maturity, so much so that , “…I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.”

He says this to a church which, he acknowledges, is blessed, “…. in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, ….”. It would appear that even though it appears that this church was doing some things right, is never-the-less actually no more mature than the most newly convinced believer.

Furthermore it is clear that the sinful behavior, which was evidently being ignored, extended to the attitudes shown during their love feast, which gives Paul the opportunity to turn the congregation’s attention towards the Lord Jesus Christ as he reminds them of what this love feast is all about. He reminds them of Jesus’ words at The Last Supper. The Lord’s Supper has a past, present and future aspect to it, and they need to be mindful that in coming to this meal, if anyone, “…eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.”

The whole church was partaking of this great meal, “in an unworthy manner”!

Some were obviously sinning by what they did. The rest of the church was sinning by what they did not do!

"Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

If they took seriously Paul’s charge for every individual to “examine himself “, not one person of that congregation could escape having to admit their sin because they were not “discerning the body” .

The church, as a whole, had an individualistic, selfish, self-centred attitude towards being a part of this body of people, who are part of the wider Body of Christ.

What I see Paul doing is focusing their attention back to actively proving their love for Christ, by having a Christo-centric view of their membership in the local body, because the Body to which they belong was bought with the price He paid (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; ch.15).

Their love for God and one another will then be expressed as they lovingly, carefully deal with the sin in their midst. As Paul told the Galatians, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Today we are more likely to do things in the way Paul warns against, self-righteously pointing the finger, chest out-thrust ( so the sherriff’s badge can be seen ?), “ For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”

Paul is well aware of this legalistic tendency. After all, he was right in the thick of it at one time.

They were obviously using the gifts of the Spirit in some way, as Paul had already acknowledged the giftedness of this church in chapter one, but they needed to be reminded that the gifting wasn’t for selfish aggrandizement or self promotion, but for the building up of each other as part of the Body of Christ.

To do this, love for one’s neighbor (one another) is second only to one’s love for Christ. Indeed, one without the other is impossible, as Paul demonstrates as he spells out, in ch. 13, what love for Christ and one another is like, and he expects that such love will be actively pursued (14:1).

As he draws his letter to a close, he brings the attention of the church back to its reason for existence, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

With this thought to the fore he briefly touches on a few other points, then,” Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

This church isn’t any different to any other church I have experienced both in my country or the USA, sinners, saved by grace, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Friday, September 10, 2010

MIMICRY OR?


We have some rather unique wildlife in our part of the world, one of which is the Superb Lyrebird, (below) which happens to be the most amazing of mimics. The male is able to sing beautiful, and intricate songs, often including a combination of perfectly mimicked songs of other birds of the forest in which they dwell.

These amazing birds, about the size of a domestic rooster, even perfectly mimic other sounds they hear in the bush, chainsaws, tractors, trucks, etc.

We admire them so much that we put one on our ten cent coin, as you can see.










As much as I like our lovely birds, I don’t really want to write about them at this time, but I do want to mention another mimic, the human mimic, especially the one who seems to be able to mimic what they suppose is Christian.

They do everything that traditional dictates. Everything! They sit on rows of seats for an hour or so every Sunday, sometimes twice. Whilst sitting on the seats they mimic each other. Unlike the bower bird, they don’t sing a combination of their own song from their hearts, including the songs of others, they simply sing what everyone else is singing, which is nice, sometimes. It would be lovely to hear the melody of their own hearts as they are moved to glorify God and honor Christ!

Often, when the Master of Ceremonies utters an incantation, “Lettucespray!”, they mimic each other by shutting their eyes while the M.C. (often accompanied by a voice change) speaks amazingly flowery, often banal, words, which we never hear spoken in our daily lives.

These actions often bring about an involuntary reflex action of each person, in perfect unison, placing their hand in their pockets, or purse, and then over a plate or into a bag.

After these goings on, they are seated at the command of the M.C., where they remain for the next 15 or twenty minutes, sometimes longer.

Then, there is a sigh of relief as they rise from their perch to repeat the singing ritual, at the end of which the M.C. utters an incantation, often after repeating of "lettucespray", which seems to release their minds from his control, and they stream from the building, with smiles, nods, and the occasional few second chat.

As they leave the property, where the meeting was held, a change comes over them. No longer the unsmiling, sombre visages, held for the last period of time. As they go their separate ways, they appear to revert to a manner which appears to be quite normal for those who have no part in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever it was they have been doing for the last hour or so is gone, until next Sunday!.

I cannot help but wonder how many of those who flock together on Sundays, never truly expressing the radical, life-changing work of the Holy Spirit, which the Scriptures indicate are the result of a life indwelt and imbued by Him.

How easy it is for a lyrebird to mimic something which has no part of him. How easy it is for a man, woman or child to do likewise, especially if that is what the last couple of generations have done. It must be right, after all, we have always done it that way!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

IT'S ABOUT RELATIONSHIP

It seems to me that the following story is illustrative of what we often speak of. Christianity, on the whole, and without doubt, has become a religion of performance. If those claiming to be Christian are seen to attend church, do daily devotions, do not drink, smoke or swear, get involved with certain works like serve at conferences or childrens' camps, they are deemed to be genuine Christians.

As I was thinking about this I came across a story which Alan Knox tells, a story which I couldn't help but repeat here:

There is a story about an old man and a young man on the same platform before a vast audience of people.

A special program was being presented. As a part of the program each was to repeat from memory the words of the Twenty-third Psalm.

The young man, trained in the best speech technique and drama, gave, in the language of the ancient silver-tongued orator, the, words of the Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd …” When he finished, the audience clapped their hands and cheered, asking him for an encore so that they might hear again his wonderful voice.

Then the old gentleman, leaning heavily on his cane, stepped to the front of the same platform, and in a feeble, shaking voice, repeated the same words-”The Lord is my shepherd. . .”

But when he was seated -no sound came from the listeners. Folks seemed to pray. In the silence the young man stood to make the following statement:

“Friends,” he said, “I wish to make an explanation. You asked me to come back and repeat the Psalm, but you remained silent when my friend here was seated. The difference? I’ll tell you. I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, a follower of Christ, is much, much different to what we have traditionally seen as "being a Christian". The word Christian now-days has been stripped of its meaning to simply mean a religious person.

Sadly, there are many who are heading towards the end of their lives, believing they are safe for eternity because they are loyal attenders, workers, etc., when in reality, they are as certain of a lost eternity as any unbeliever.

The above story illustrates the simple truth of what it means to be a follower of Christ, a member of His Father's family. It's about genuine relationship which the Lord Jesus Christ earned for all who would come to Him believing that what He did in His life, death and resurrection, and through the merit of which, those who trust, rest on this completed performance of a work, in faith, are assured of an eternity in His presence.

It's sinful for anyone to want, or expect more, from those who have placed their trust in Him.

Genuine followers of Christ, will want to meet together, not to follow a pre-arranged program, but to celebrate the Lord's Supper, in rememberance of what He did, and what He purchased for us. While they are together they will pray for and with one another, encourage one another, edify one another with what Scripture is saying, exhort one another. Occasionally they may have a teacher they know they can trust.

A strange phenomenon occurs when they understand this; they grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and they can't get enough of it, as they disciple one another, and make disciples, and the prominent figure, central amongst them, is the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ.

As I said, it's about relationship with the Father, the Son and each other indwelt and bound together by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A MALIGNANT DISEASE Part 3

continued -

It is so very easy to profess to be Christians, attending church, the mid-week Bible studies; even being very vocal in prayer, and the affairs of the church, and at the same timer being neither a Christian, or, if one, having neither heart nor life.

Such people are formalists. Their Christianity is a farce, because it is only form.

Strangely enough the voices of such are often the loudest; their “Christianity” consisting of talk and profession. They know all the information of the Gospel, they even profess to delight in doctrinal matters, displaying their expertise as a sign that they are “good Christians”.

Their pride in the "soundness" of their own views, is one of the prominent things about them. The "ignorance" towards anyone who disagrees with them is legend.

They might even be correct in their assertions, but this is as far as they get! If it were possible to put their inner lives under the microscope, all the “godliness”, that they express in words would be missing in the form of deeds.

The fruits of saving grace, such as transparent truthfulness, genuine, sacrificial love for God’s people, humility, honesty, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, lack of guile, benevolence, and mercy are conspicuous by their absence.

The claim that they are Christians, is denied by the lack of substance. The missing substance is the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit, fruit exhibited in love, which Jesus said is the proof that we are His disciples.

Can we wonder why so many churches are floundering when, sadly, such formalists are often seen as the mainstay of the local church. holding to positions of control. As Paul observed, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical".

In Paul’s day a person could be a direct descendant of Abraham, born into one of the tribes. If a male, he could have undergone the rite of circumcision on the traditional eighth day. As he grew up he could have faithfully kept the observance of all the feasts.

The religious observances in the temple always saw him in attendance. But in God's sight he was not a Jew! Because he had no heart for God.

This “heart” of which I’m speaking is what Jonathan Edwards called “religious affections” in Christians is a work of the Holy Spirit, not something artificially and deliberately generated.

Many are carefully diligent about their outward profession. As a member of a church, they carefully adhere to its traditions, are baptized, never missing the regular services, and the Lord's Supper--and yet in God's sight, may not be a Christian at all, still heading for a lost eternity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ speaking of the Jews of His day in Matthew 15:8-9, says, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men" .

So much of what we do, and teach, today are the traditions, practices, and rules of men, often with appropriate proof texts added where necessary, to give them weight.

Jesus repeatedly denounced the formalism and hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and warned His disciples against it.

In Matthew 23:13, Jesus warns, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" Such warnings He gave eight times, in a very short space of time.

But even with the warnings, our Lord held out an open door for repentance; and He does the same for His church today!

Formalism in the practice of God’s people, from a spiritual point of view, is much like cancer is to our body. It is pernicious, very subtle, until it takes hold, and finally destroys “heart”, leaving proud, careful, but dead, religiosity. The virus by which it is spawned is human tradition!

In the eyes of a person looking on, not understanding formalism, all may seem healthy and well, and even draw accolades. The formalist will have plenty of religious activity, but as immense in quantity as their activity may be, it will be accompanied with little, or zero quality.

The Lord Jesus Christ, who sees into the very heart of all men, knows the true situation. In His sight formalism is not a true relationship with Him at all.

The testimony of Scripture gives a clear warning to all of we who profess to be Christians. If we understand sin, we will dread the sin of formalism.

Again I would quote J.C. Ryle, who well understood how perniciously evil formalism is when he said, "Formalism may take your hand with a smile, and look like a brother, while sin comes against us with drawn sword, and strikes at us like an enemy. But both have one end in view. Both want to ruin our souls; and of the two, formalism is the one most likely to do it. If we love life, let us beware of formalism in religion. Nothing is "so common." It is one of the great family diseases of the whole race of mankind. It is born with us, grows with us, and is never completely cast out of us till we die. It meets us in church, it meets us among the rich, and it meets us among the poor. It meets us among educated people, and it meets us among the uneducated."

This initial infection of this malignancy often emanates from a leadership which wants a tidy, controlled ship, over which they have sole steering rights. From thence it spreads to the spreads to those in the pews.

The result? The third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit of God is relegated to the back rooms of our minds and heart.

Again, I am in hearty agreement with J.C.Ryle, who says, The person who thinks that there is no formalism in his church, is a very blind and ignorant person. If you love life, beware of formalism. Nothing is "so dangerous" to a man's own soul. Familiarity with the form of religion, while we neglect its reality, has a fearfully deadening effect on the conscience. It brings up by degrees a thick crust of insensibility over the whole inner man.

I reiterate Ryle’s very wise words : “The person who thinks that there is no formalism in his church, is a very blind and ignorant person.”

I was rather shaken when someone shared with me the following words of an unbelieving observer of Christianity:

"Christianity has dared to lower its ideals before the challenge of human greed, war-madness, and the lust for power; but the religion of Jesus stands as the unsullied and transcendent spiritual summons, calling to the best there is in man to rise above all these legacies of animal (development) and, by grace, attain the moral heights of true human destiny.

Christianity is threatened by slow death from formalism, over-organization, intellectualism, and other non-spiritual trends. The modern Christian church is not such a brotherhood of dynamic believers as Jesus commissioned continuously to effect the spiritual transformation of successive generations of mankind."

Are we so patently out of touch with God's Spirit and Scripture that an unbeliever has such a clear eye when it comes to discerning the problems faced by the institutional church of today?

The world is looking on and sees what is happening! When will we have the blinkers removed from the eyes of our mind and heart?

Oh God! Cause us to take our proud narcissistic eyes off ourselves, and our ego centered plans, bring your people to their knees in genuine repentance, and those who are nothing more than pretenders, to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A MALIGNANT DISEASE Part 2

continued from last post:

Any group of people, habitually committed to formalistic function will eventually place more importance on formal structures, forms and procedures than on what the group represents.

This evil effectively cuts the third person of the Godhead out of the life of those who claim to be God’s people.

Paul was caused to clearly see that formalism would, at some time, cause greater problems for the church, as we can see from his warning in 2 Timothy 3:5 that a time would come when even God’s own people would have "... a form of godliness but denying its power."

Is not this the situation we find ourselves in today? Is it not true that the church at large, has a such a commitment to traditional form, that instead of evidence of true godliness, "a form of godliness" only, exists?

Even though the numbers are rapidly falling, large numbers of people attend church, read their Bibles, pray, preach, teach, with very little evidence, if any, of real godliness evidenced by their life.

In his letter to the Romans, in 2:28-29, we find Paul dealing with this very issue, when he wrote, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical."……...". No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."

In the context of this article we could paraphrase Paul’s words: “Holding to an outward form or profession does not make Christians.”

Saying one is a Christian, or practicing outward expressions of Christianity doesn’t make one a Christian. A person is only a Christian if they are truly, and radically, changed, and being changed inwardly.

Continual changed towards God, continual changed towards our fellow believers, continual changed towards a lost world. A long time ago, I came to the conclusion that there is no settled place of “having made it” in the genuine Christian life.

Another instance of Paul’s concern on this matter was in his letter to the Colossian Christians, in Col.2:8, See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

We could go on ad infinitum about how the traditions of men has thrust the church into formalism.

More than a century ago, in the late 1800’s, J.C.Ryle, said, “Never since the Lord Jesus Christ left the earth, was there so much formalism and false profession as there is in the present day. Now, more than ever, we ought to examine ourselves, and search our religion, that we may know what sort it really is.”

If that was the case more than 100 years ago, we would be extremely naïve about the state of the church, to deny that his words apply, at least equally, to today.

We would be dishonest not to admit that, as we have developed in knowledge, wealth, and capabilities of science and technology, we have become satisfied with our prowess in these things and so proud and sure of our ability to organise and control, that we have rationalized, into powerless obscurity, the work of God’s Spirit amongst His people.

We merely give lip service to the concept of the Body of Christ, as Paul speaks of it. We need to ask ourselves the question: Is our Christianity a thing of form or a thing of heart?

That’s the point being raised by Paul in the passage we read from in Romans 2:28-29.

God lays down some profound thoughts and principles as He speaks through His Apostle: "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God".

Firstly, mere formal religious practice is not true Christianity, whether the way we practice our faith is old or modern, whether home church, organic church, new or old.

Mere formal practice of one’s Christian faith is not true Christianity in God's sight.

Secondly we see that the heart is the seat of true relationship with God, therefore the true Christian is a Christian in heart, a fact which is revealed in whole of life practice, not in knowledge, position, or profession.

Thirdly, true Christianity can never expect to be popular or peaceful. True Christianity can expect praise from God, but seldom the praise of man.

Even as far back as 1658, a Puritan by the name of Thomas Hall, speaking on 2 Timothy 3:5, said, "Formalism, formalism. Formalism is the great sin of this day, under which the whole country groans. There is less life; more profession, but less holiness."

In 1658, he was describing our day perfectly, if his comment was valid for his day, it is certainly true of ours! Now, more than 300 years later, there is more light than ever, and less life, certainly more profession and less practical outworking of functional ministry of every person claiming to be Christian!

When a person is a Christian in name only, in outward things only, and not in heart and mind, in profession and practice only, his attendance to outward practice of Christianity is a mere matter of habitual form, or fashion, or custom, without heart, and with little influence on their own life, much less on someone who is a disciple. Such a person has a "formalistic religion", not a living faith.

This is what Paul told Timothy would be the case; people possessing, indeed, the "form," or outward show of Christianity, but not possessing substance or "power of the genuine article".

We could use the modern example of the thousands of people who regularly attend public worship services, attend the Lord's Table, but know nothing of true heartfelt Christianity.

People who have no idea of a deep, personal involvement with the Scriptures, and as a result, have no great pleasure and joy in reading them, nor do passages of Scripture bring challenge and angst about the aspects of life that are necessary signs in their lives of the working of the Spirit of God.

In the daily outworking of their lives, they have no idea what it means to separate themselves from worldliness without negating their love for others and opportunities to make disciples, nor are they really interested in such matters.

Formalists often take great pride in holding to a Confession of Faith, but in practice care little or nothing about the distinctive doctrines expressed in it.

As far as what is today called, "attending church", "worship", etc., is concerned, as long as many, maybe most, have fulfilled the outward form of attending church services, doing their allocated tasks, they are basically indifferent to what they hear preached, and leave the church meeting focused on their activities for the rest of the day.

Imagine, if at the end of such a day, if you could make yourself invisible and remain in the presence of the average attendee at church services, for weeks on end, what do you think you would observe?

Would you have reason to believe that the meeting they attended, the message they heard, was meaningful in any way?

Indeed, would your observations give you cause to think they were any different from the unbelievers who surround them?

to be continued

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A MALIGNANT DISEASE.

One of the advantages of being retired is to realise the amount of time wasted in times gone by. Mind you, one can also get more of those little things done which were always put on hold because of being too busy. I’ve found retirement has been advantageous because there is more time to think about things we were always too busy to think about.

During my years as a pastor, my waking hours, and sometimes the hours when I was supposed to be sleeping, were absorbed with my work, especially sermon preparation, and writing weekly printed studies, preparing material for the church bulletin. Twelve hour days were common.

Personal matters, and many needy others, received little attention.

One thing that stands out to me like a beacon is the fact that pastor’s wives are, without doubt, greater heroes than their husbands could ever be. My precious wife was much neglected during a large part of my ministry.

I’m not telling you this because I feel a need for confession of such, but to illustrate a terrible malaise, a sickness, which has invaded everything which calls itself “Christianity” in today’s world. Very few, if any, escape this affliction, both pastors and their beloved congregations.

This disease is so insidious, that we don’t realize we are afflicted; and yet it leads, not only to the malfunction of the individual, but of whole church bodies.

In my case, as with most pastors, my total absorption in the traditional forms of ministry masked the symptoms, as does life’s involvements of the other members of Christ’s Body, for whom a combination of formalities is often involved; work, family, entertainment, hobbies, the positions we are entrusted with in the running of the church, other voluntary church work, etc., etc.

I want to share some thoughts about the extremely serious issue of this disease in the church family.

The words of Chrysostom, apply to what Paul said, and are as true today as ever,
Just as the fountains, though none may draw from them, still flow on; and the rivers, though none drink of them, still run; so must we do all on our part in speaking, though none give heed to us.


At the outset, I must declare my love for the church of Jesus Christ, of which all genuine followers of Christ are a part. We are His betrothed, His Bride to be.

Having made that declaration, I'm asking you to please be careful of how you read what I am about to write, simply because it is far too easy to have the attitude expressed in the following poem, of which I am unaware of whence it came:

PREACH A SERMON, PREACHER

Preach a sermon preacher, make it short and sweet,
Our stomachs strike at 12 o'clock a hungering to eat.

Preach a sermon preacher, with words both smooth and fair,
For psychology we are thirsting, for scripture we don't care.

Preach a sermon preacher, punctuate it with jokes,
Fill it with your yarns and tales and entertain us folks.

Preach a sermon preacher, we care not what you say;
As long as you leave us alone and fire the other way.

Preach a sermon preacher, but don't get too specific;
As long as you will generalize we think you are terrific.

Preach a sermon preacher, make it good and plain;
But don't you dare get close enough to call sin by its name.

Preach a sermon preacher, preach it round or flat;
We love to play at hide and seek and guess just where you're at.

Preach a sermon preacher, make it what we like to hear;
We'll pat you on your spineless back, while you scratch our itching ear.

In 2 Tim. 3:1-5 the apostle Paul warned Timothy, about the sickness of which I write. It was already becoming common in his day, but would become more virulent as the age of grace, in which we live, progresses:

In teaching Timothy about this malaise, Paul told the young pastor what symptoms to look for.

In v.5 Paul indicates how the disease will finally manifest itself: “They will hold to an outward form of godliness but deny its power.”

There is no doubt that the visible church is being devastated by this insidious disease. Its more obvious manifestation is in what would best be called “formalism”, which is rooted in much of what is accepted church practice.

My concern in this regard began more than thirty years ago, when I was an elder of a denominational church .

We were blessed to have two consecutive pastors, who were used of God to encourage my wife and I to enter full time pastoral ministry. I had found two brethren who shared my concerns. Interestingly, one was an Arminian who had little love for reformation doctrine, and the other, like myself, was thoroughly convinced in regard to the doctrines of grace, but, we three, held a common love and concern for the Church of Jesus Christ.

They were both the gentlest, unassuming, humble men.

Uppermost, in our many discussions, was that many of the central concepts and practices associated with what we call 'church' are not rooted in the New Testament, but in ideas and habits that formed after the apostolic times.

We found mutual agreement on four crucial points of church history portrayed by Jon Zens:
1. The church portrayed in the New Testament was a dynamic organism, a living body with every member a functioning part. From somewhere around 150 years after the establishment of the church, the church gradually became, increasingly, more and more governed by an established hierarchy, even though that hierarchy was unofficial. The church became institutionalised.
2. The early N.T. church was marked by the ministry of every believer, under the leadership of a plurality of elders. The building up of, and the meeting of needs of the church, was accomplished through the spiritual gifts of everyone who were the local church. People didn’t go to church, they were the church.
After the early years of the apostles, the church became more and more under the control of people claiming to be called to particular church offices. This had the catastrophic effect of separating the so-called 'laity' from the so-called “clergy”. This negated, the significant, and essential ministry of the average church member, leaving it in the hands of a so-called ‘clergy’ class.
3. Most of the first 150 years of the church were characterized by periods of intense difficulty and persecution . Indeed the church was a suffering body, and yet, under these conditions it flourished.
The time of Constantine changed all that and the church became formalised, favored and ultimately sanctioned and protected as the official religion of the Roman state. Because preachers did not teach otherwise by example and precept, the church became, as a rule, an institution at ease, which it continues to be to this day.
4. During the first 150 years the New Testament church was perceived as a real threat to the ungodly political and religious structures and powers of the day. Believers had no official protection and depended on the Holy Spirit to hold them together, to lead them in ministry and to protect them.
After Constantine’s intervention and sanction, the church became a very powerful institution, along with its many rules, rites and offices which had a specific design. That design was not so that the Lord of the church would be glorified, but to ensure an unassailable faithfulness to the institution, and an apparent visible unity among its adherents.
This was the beginning of the malignant cancer of formalism which affects most churches of today.


Formalism is the scrupulous adherence to prescribed or habitual outward forms.

to be continued

Monday, July 26, 2010

Christian Idolaters? Never!

Most people who claim to be Christian would be offended if it were suggested that they had some idols in their lives, and yet, it is clear by the responses when challenged on some matters that the truth of the matter is that many Christians DO have idols.

Idolatry is focusing our attention and affection on someTHING, or someONE, less significant and important than Almighty God, as He is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Creating difficulty for us in identifying idols is the fact that, probably the majority of our idols are things, or people, who, in itself or themselves, are good. They become idols in our lives simply because we hold them to a higher degree of order than we hold the Lord Jesus Christ.

More often than not we are unaware that we do so, but in our lack of awareness, we allow, or cause these other things to take the place of Jesus Christ, and to give significance to our lives.

It’s half a century since I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, almost the whole of that time fully involved in some ministry in traditional evangelicalism. It was only during the last twenty years, or so, of that time that I began to really see the idolatry, which has become so common, that it is regarded as the "normal Christianity” of which I was a part. I would never have admitted it at the time, but I came to see my own practice of this idolatry.

The idolizing of so-called church “offices”, such as bishop, priest, minister, pastor, deacon, is common amongst those who seek to attain such “high positions”. Congregations idolize those who bear such “official” titles, without being aware that they have elevated them above the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. Many people follow a leader around, as he/she changes location. I’ve known some who left employment, uprooted families, so they could sit in the new congregation, and listen to their idol.

The functions of what is commonly understood as church, such as “attending services” and “meetings”, “going to worship”, are often held in higher esteem than Jesus, as they take first place over personal responsibilities to minister to family, friends and neighbors. A pastor severely chastised a member of a congregation because they had arrived at the church as the service ended. They had attended to a road accident, and, by the time they were satisfied the victims were safe and attended to by ambulance, had stayed with them. The pastor expected they should have placed attendance before ministry.

The bound, printed pages of the Bible is idolized as a holy icon that, no matter how torn and worn, can never be thrown into the garbage bin. A relation of mine has a thigh high stack of tattered Bibles from years of family use. I was asked what ought to be done with them. My suggestion to put them in the bin met with a shocked, “Throw God’s word into the bin?”

Bricks and mortar, timber and iron, shaped into meeting halls, are idolized, as they are entered into, by people speaking in hushed tones, and the sound of laughter and joy echoing of the walls is regarded as sacrilegious.

I recently read that John Calvin once said, “Our hearts are idol making factories”, which turns out to be fact as many Christians idolize their theological position, willing to destroy fellowship with any Christian who has a different viewpoint. Denominational preferences are idolized as the familial relationship every believer has with Christ Jesus is held to ransom.

The idolizing of ones self is so very evident as self appointed spiritual police point out the sins and vagaries of another believer, with no desire to “restore such a one in a spirit of humility",lest they too, in the very act, are tempted. They do so without ever recognizing that, in the act of pointing, they have three fingers pointing to themselves.

Oh! I forgot! We only point out another’s sin because we love them! Don't we?

Pull the other leg. It might yodel!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

ARE THERE COUNTERFIET CHRISTIANS?

Just read two articles. The first by Dave Black , entitled “Rhino Evangelism”, and then Arthur Sido ,asking the question, “Is it possible to have your soteriology right but still not understand the Gospel?”

Interestingly for me, they touch on one issue, on which I am thoroughly convinced, affecting the life of evangelical Christianity; pseudo Christians, or fake Christians.

I am NOT saying that all, who fit the situation Dave and Arthur are writing about are false. I AM saying that I’m convinced that there are people, maybe many, who have all the intellectual knowledge and training available to Christians , can speak the language of Systematic Theology, convincingly converse, and live with the appearance a being genuine Christian.

A Jewish woman became a member of a Baptist Church in the U.S., professing to be a Christian, was accepted as such and functioned in that church for, as I understand it, two years. She finally admitted she was actually an atheist who had infiltrated the church for her own purposes.

It has been my own experience to spend several years with so-called Christians who were the product of the “Rhino Evangelism” of which Dave speaks. Having undergone training from which they developed an amazing knowledge of systematic theology, etc., they certainly, genuinely believed they were Christians, but proved to be otherwise.

How do I know they were not what the professed?

By their own, later, confession and testimony!

One such person, I have written about previously who was a deacon for twenty-six years, the church secretary for most of those years, led a boys club for most of that time, as well as filling the pastor’s shoes when he was absent. He knew the doctrines of salvation very well!

He came to me one Monday morning, and with tears streaming down his face said, “John! I am not Christian! I have fooled myself and deceived the church!”

I saw that man respond to the Holy Spirit in a truly life changing manner. He stood before the church the next Sunday and tearfully told his story to a shocked church.

This was God’s doing!

During my long life, sadly, I have seen this kind of thing repeated far more times than I would care to enumerate.

There can be no doubt that there are sincere, good living people, many led to where they are by the leadership of the church to which they belong, who are in fact deceived into believing they are saved.

It would be quite in order to ask whether there are such pseudo Christians in leadership.

In my opinion, far more than we may realize.

Have you ever asked those whom you hold in high esteem as leaders, elders, pastors, deacons to explain to you why they can claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ?

Why not?

Have you accepted the lie that, because they have academic qualifications and knowledge that they are more spiritual, more holy, more important in God’s scheme of things, that they are beyond question?

Maybe that’s why evangelicalism is falling apart at the seams.

Matthew Mead (1629-1699) wrote a book entitled “The Almost Christian Discovered” in which he proposes some of the following points:

- A man may have much knowledge—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may have a high profession of religion, be much in external duties of
godliness—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may go far in opposing his sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may hate sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may make great vows and promises, strong purposes and resolutions against
sin—and yet be but an almost Christian
- A man may maintain a strife and combat against sin—and yet be but almost a
Christian
- A man may be a member of a Christian church—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may have great hopes of heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may be under visible changes—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may be very zealous in matters of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may be much in prayer—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may suffer for Christ—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may have faith—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may have a love to the people of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may obey the commands of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
- A man may do all the external duties and worship which a true Christian can—and
yet be but almost a Christian.


I don't like the term "almost Christian". We are either saved or lost, Christian or non-Christian, but Mead points out a common problem of today:

Mead says this "almost Christian" is a proud person who sees in himself a righteous beauty, but cannot see his deformity. He sees his abilities—but not his spots. He sees his seeming righteousness—but not his real wretchedness.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"And He Gave Gifts to Men"

Two very worthwhile blog comments, which cause me to rejoice and thank God. They are from two much younger men than I who give me cause to be encouraged about the future of those they lead.

Alan Knox:

I grew up in the deep South in the 70’s and 80’s. We grew up going to church where ordained ministers would hold services on Sundays. Perhaps it was only me, but I saw this as holy men performing holy services on holy days in holy places.

As I’ve continued to study Scripture, I see that my understanding while I was growing up is much closer to the Old Testament than to the New Testament. But, what’s the problem with that? The Old Testament is Scripture too, right?

Yes, but when it comes to things like the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the Sabbath, and other aspects of life as the people of God in the New Testament, the New Testament tells us that these things are shadows of reality, and not reality themselves.

In other words, these things were all intended to point to something else, something bigger, something better. In fact, all of these things point forward to Christ, who fulfilled the whole law and became the better temple, high priest, sacrifice, and Sabbath.

Given my background, it is easy to switch back to thinking that there are holy days on which holy men do holy things in holy places. But, when this begins to cloud my understanding, I live in the shadows and not the reality of Christ. In Christ, all of God’s children are holy people; every day is a holy day; all opportunities to serve are holy offerings; and any place we are is a holy place, because we are the temple in which God dwells.

When do we live in the shadows? When we find ourselves asking questions like these: Should you do that on Sunday? Is there an ordained minister available to do that? Should they be doing that in the church [building]? Why is that person preaching [or teaching, or baptizing, or serving the Lord's Supper]?

These questions indicate a shift back into the shadowy thinking of the Old Testament. Today, in Christ, we have the realities available to us; we do not need the shadows.

Eric Carpenter:

"I Know What the Bible Says, But..."
I'll never forget the time I heard someone say, "I know what the bible says, but..."

A few years ago, while I was attending seminary, I had the opportunity to preach for a church whose pastor was on vacation. I arrived at the building on Sunday morning and was greeted by some very nice folks. As was expected, I was given about 30 minutes to speak to them. Everything was fine.

After the service, one of the deacons and his wife took me out for lunch. We had a good conversation, the food was good, and (bonus) he picked up the bill.

Despite all this, what really sticks out for me is what he said at one point during the meal. We were talking about their church and, specifically, their deacons. He told me that they have ladies serving as deacons. Then he said, "I know what the bible says, but..." He then went on to justify ladies serving as deacons based on pragmatic reasons.

My point in this post is NOT to debate whether or not women should serve as deacons. I know there is a lot involved in that discussion.

Rather, my point is that this man, who I'm sure has good intentions, based his view on women deacons on pragmatics. He actually believes that their church is violating scripture but that this is somehow acceptable because it works.

It is easy to fault this man. Instead of doing that, let's take a hard look at our own lives. How often do we say we believe one thing but then live another way? How many times do we believe the bible says one thing, but then turn around and do the opposite? How many times do we do things just because "they work"?

Most Christians say they believe the bible. Most say they believe the bible is our final authority. We all say these things. But do we really believe it?

If we dare, let's take a hard look at our lives to see where we are in reality saying, "I know what the bible says, but..."

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Was There!

Why did I write the previous post? Because I personally know that of which I'm writing!

There's an old saying,
"It takes one to know one!"


Becoming a follower of Christ when quite young,I am now ashamed to say that I spent a large part of my life in the guise of a Pharisee.

About the only thing I didn't do was to fast twice a week.

Appearances were so very important, but that which was visible didn't reflect the internal realities and the sheer effort of being seen to be what others expected of me.

Although I proudly declared that Christ was my all sufficiency, my striving was for the approval of those who were in leadership, both at a local church level and denominational.

If you are wondering: I was zealous for my faith. When I was appointed to the leadership of the church I preached the Scriptures according to my theological persuasions. Praying was extremely important and I learned to pray the flowery, pious, long winded prayers which some of my older brethren could pray. A low income, a wife and five children didn't conspire to allow a proper tithe, a fact which burdened my Pharisaical heart with guilt. The appearance of moral perfection was paramount, to which my dear children could attest. The effort my wife and I put into church attendance was extreme, and how we revelled in the applause of those who knew the long trip we made every Sunday. I was as orthodox an evangelical as one could be.

Oh! How God would be impressed!

I soon discovered otherwise.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So Many Questions.

I cannot help but wonder whether many orthodox evangelicals simply see empty words, which have no real significance, when reading the words of Jesus, the Head of the Church. As the King of kings, He is speaking to His subjects. As the Shepherd of the sheep, He is speaking to His flock, as the Head of His household, He is speaking to the other members of the household, His brethren, all of which appellations evangelicals claim.

I wonder why this is, when all orthodox evangelicals declare, quite emphatically, that the Scriptures are God’s word to His people, His instructions for living a life pleasing to Him, a life in right relationship with Himself and the rest of His family, yet decide that He doesn’t mean what He says and that He needs to be interpreted by them, or that His words don’t apply to them?

Arminian or Calvinist will agree that the recorded words of Jesus are the words of
He who said,
"I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent
me commanded me what to say and how to say it"


When Jesus was baptized, one of the rare recorded occasions when the voice of the Almighty God was heard, He said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; LISTEN TO HIM.”


Then why are we not listening to Him, and taking serious notice of Him when He gave the warning to His disciples,
"Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees"?


Notice that Jesus “gave the warning to His disciples”. It was to His followers, His disciples, which evangelicals claim to be, to which He gave this warning. His disciples, or followers, and in our context, genuine Christians, are the people with whom He had, the closest of relationships, who walked with Him, lived in relationship with Him, ate with Him, endured hardship with Him, and whom, except one, had been faithful in that relationship.

And yet; it seems that there are among us, many, maybe a majority, and even those in the “high places” of Christian learning, who think they are above such warnings.

Why is it that we can become so proud that we consider ourselves to have reached such a pinnacle of proud religiosity that we can forget that there are absolutely none so spiritually strong and mature, so sanctified, that he/she cannot fall?

Why can we not see that even though the Holy Spirit of God has drawn us into a right relationship with the Father, through the finished work of Christ, and that, even though we are justified by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, sanctified by His Holy Spirit, we have NOT become infallible, unable to fail, simply because we are the still flesh and blood we always were, still in the body, into which life was breathed, and still facing the same temptation as always, and still weak and liable to the same failures in our understanding of Biblical truth, function in our own lives, and in the group of believers with whom we fellowship.

Who is so bold as to say they are stronger than those heroes of the faith who stumbled through their walk, such as Peter did? I certainly will not put up my hand to that!

Again, I cannot help but wonder whether our blindness is because we have become Pharisees , who, it seems, were the original blueprints of much of what is regarded as being a good evangelical church member?

The Pharisees knew their Bibles; were disciplined in prayer; fasted twice a week; gave about a third of their income to their church; were moral (very moral); many had been martyred for their faith; they attended ‘church’ regularly; they were evangelical/orthodox; and evangelistic, they were very careful about how spiritual they appeared, piously defending, very vigorously, their own righteousness.

They do seem familiar! I wonder why?

Monday, March 22, 2010

VALERIE



The pharmacist gave me my prescription to sign. Automatically I asked what the date was. She told me. My response was to thank her and to comment that I should have remembered the date because it was Valerie's and my fourty-ninth wedding anniversary.

No! I hadn't forgotten. Asking the date was a habit which had developed over the years.

The pharmacists response was
WOW!! That's a long time!


Funny thing is, the measure of longevity can be very subjective, depending from whence one views time.

When that gorgeous vision in the photo looked into my eyes as we shared our vows, the years ahead seemed to promise an unending time in which to enjoy each other.

From the age of seventy, from which I now view time, it seems that our time together has been so very short.

At any rate, I don't want to philosophize, but simply celebrate the time we've had together, the great times, the difficult times, the blessing that God gave me in this precious bride.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Paradoxical Situation

When reading the different Christian blog sites we are confronted with the writings of a multitude of people, both bloggers and the responders, expressing their own thoughts, and often an accumulation of the thoughts of their teachers, the authors they read, as well as their understanding of the Biblical texts.
The question must be asked,
How do we know whether the words written are from the mind of a false teacher, or a faithful one?

In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 7, Jesus was teaching the crowds. One of His teachings was how to know the true from the false, but He warned them that things were not always what they seemed. In verse 15 He tells them that there are “ravenous wolves” amongst those who are His sheep. These wolves actually appear to be sheep, apparently pious, sincere, truthful, and with the best interests of His sheep at heart.

It is not necessarily so!

So He tells them, in v. 16, that
You will recognize them by their fruits
.
He then uses a very reasonable analogy, which He presents in question form,
Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

Of course the very reasonable response to His very reasonable question, must be a resounding
No!

Reason, based upon evidence must be involved in forming these opinions,
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit
.
So Jesus identified what we ought to look for, a mark of distinction.
Without this mark, we would find ourselves having a question mark hanging over all who express an opinion, whether as a teacher, a blogger, or a responder to a blog.
It is important that those we ascertain those who are trustworthy, and faithful sisters and brothers. Christ’s advice encourages us to form our opinion, or make value judgments, of the words coming from the mouths or keyboards, as to whether the authors are uttering, or writing falsehood. According to Jesus words, we are to make that assessment based upon their fruits.
What kind of fruit is being displayed when I read statements, directed towards a sister or brother, which are void of any evidence of grace?
Seems to me that such words as comparing a brother with “human excrement”, or claiming that a brother has written, or spoken heresy (with the juvenile disclaimer that the brother is not charged with being a heretic), or a sister or brother is “stupid” for what they write, are rather the expressions one would find coming from an unredeemed, pagan mind rather than Christian.
G.K.Chesterton was describing this paradoxical situation of Christians who don’t evidence grace, when he said,
It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong
.
True generosity of spirit towards those who think differently to us only comes as we are abundantly aware of our own unmerited receipt of, and continuing need for God’s grace.
Paul described the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit to look for in the lives of all followers of Christ, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Theological education and knowledge, or conviction, will never convince anyone if not accompanied by a humble awareness of one's own propensity to be pridefully wrong.
Is it only I who cannot see the evidence of grace in the kind of statements I’ve mentioned?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

WHO DESIGNED YOUR CLOTHES?

Thanks Lionel for the inspiration!

Reading several blogs recently, which I won't link to for reasons which will be obvious, I am made vividly aware of the dangers of allowing ANYTHING to be added to the utter completeness of what God has done for sinners like me in the establishment and inaugurating His New Covenant, by the finished work of the Lord,Jesus Christ.

It is reported that one man made a substantial donation with the hope that his gift will make him more visible to God. Another argues that those who don't teach tithing are close to being heretics. Another argues that some believers are more important to God than others.

What do these people imagine the Lord of Glory is impressed by? Do they really believe that Christ's work was imperfect and has to be completed by their meager efforts? Does He have favorites amongst His own?

I must confess that I have nothing which I can add to the great design of the "clothes" I now wear, will wear until eternity, before my Savior God.

Nikolaus L. von Zin­zen­dorf understood it well:

JESUS THY BLOOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
MY BEAUTY ARE,MY GLORIOUS DRESS;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father’s bosom came,
Who died for me, e’en me to atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.

Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.

When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
Ev’n then this shall be all my plea,
Jesus hath lived, hath died, for me.

- Nikolaus L. von Zin­zen­dorf, 1739