Bedtime Ponderings

 

Have you ever found yourself reading in bed at night when you suddenly come across a quote that makes it feel like the ground beneath you just shook? If so then you will be able to relate exactly to how I feel about the two excerpts below. The first is by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and co founder of Together For the Gospel alongside Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney and Ligon Duncan. Despite admitting to being the briefcase kid in high school, Al has proven himself to be no woose when it comes to taking a stand for the truth of the Bible. In the quote he touches on authentic christianity and what he says struck me because I have been thinking quite a bit recently about what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus. To be honest I am often wearied by my own hypocrisy in this area because I know that all too often I pay lip service to things that I should be passionately living out. I think of some of the things that Jesus said like “sell all your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33), “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22), and “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Unquestionably, Jesus was 110% serious about the call to follow him. Yet my western, materialistic, selfish, sinful heart all too often tries to suppress the call of Christ to fully surrender my life for the glory of God. And it really gets to me, or as we say in Northern Ireland “It does my head in”. Too often I make excuses for myself because my indwelling sinful nature is so alluring at times. During these times I don’t want to be challenged with, or rebuked by the truth. I am very comfortable with where I am in my ‘Christian’ walk thank you very much. I’m not alone though am I? We have churches full of people who want nothing more than a superficial, almost superstitious faith. Worse yet we seem to have a growing number of churches who have pastors that seem happy to tickle their audiences ears with self-help, pop psychology and comedic sermons so long as the tithes keep coming in.

Truly though, if we were to stop and examine ourselves for just 1 minute out of the 1440 minutes that make up a day, we would soon see that we fall frighteningly short of the the biblical mandate for what a Jesus follower should be. In fact it probably wouldn’t be wrong to suggest we have more in common with the Pharisees. We possess a “form of godliness but [deny] its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). We love ourselves and our little ‘clubs’ more than we do God. We pat each other on the back and say well done when what we really need is a solid rebuke like Jesus gave to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mathhew 16:23). We hold on to our little unbiblical traditions and refuse to be open and listen to emerging generations. Or, if we are part of the emerging generation, we refuse to learn from the past because we are, as C.S. Lewis termed it, “Chronological snobs”. Who needs the past? They’ve had their say! Their message is outdated and irrelevant for our culture we say! En masse church, as Mohler puts it below, is becoming, or worse yet has already become, “the refuge of the faithless seeking the trappings of faith without the demands of revealed truth”.

God Deserves More

God deserves so much more than that does he not? The Bible calls us to live lives that magnify God not shrink Him. This is to be done in both word AND deed. Not one at the expense of the other. Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” The Liberals and emergent church are big on these deeds but not on the preached word. They seem to follow St Francis of Assisi’s mantra to “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words”. However that stance ignores the clarion call of scripture to “Preach the Word [at all times]” (2 Tim 4:2) and only serves to undermine the fact that we are saved by faith alone, through grace alone, apart from our works. I did a word search for preach in the New Testament and it pulled up 76 passages that talk about preaching the gospel and the good news of the kingdom; 76!! How can that be ignored? Note also that Jesus says in the passage above that we “BEAR FRUIT”. A tree cannot bear fruit if it is dead. Nor can a branch bear fruit unless it is attached to the tree. Likewise we cannot bear fruit, proper fruit, fruit that is more concerned with glorifying God than it is mere social change, if we are not first joined to the tree that is Jesus Christ. But how do we become joined to the tree?! Luke records in the book of Acts,

“….when they heard this [the gospel] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38 ESV)

So by focusing on the fruit the Liberals forget the root!! They forget that the gospel is first and foremost a call to repentance and faith in the good news that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It is through believing the gospel that men and women become attached to the tree of life, Christ, which will then result in the fruit of good deeds. If the gospel is not first then what distinguishes the deeds of the Muslim from the deeds of the Christian?!

Equally as guilty though are we who deem ourselves to be evangelical conservatives. How often do we pass the homeless person on the street without even saying hello because “they are filthy and stink of piss”? We sing our lovely hymns about going and answering the call, proclaiming salvation in Jesus’ name, yet we can’t even pluck up the courage to share the gospel with our friends and neighbours because we are more concerned about offending them, than we are in glorifying God. So we leave them right there where they are; on the path to hell. We need to be careful that we do not become like the liberals and ignore the fact that we are to live it out as well as preach it (Matt 23:3, 1 John2:4-6).

How are we to live then? That brings me to my second quote. It comes from a sermon preached by John Piper. In the extract Piper asserts that it is the Christian’s duty to live a life that magnifies God. In typical Piperesque passion he says, “The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God…” I really can’t say anything more about this quote because it leaves me speechless and amazed at my total and utter dependance upon the grace of God and Jesus Christ. Read the whole quote and perhaps you will be left feeling the same.

 

Albert Mohler

“Spirituality is what is left when authentic Christianity is evacuated from the public square. It is the refuge of the faithless seeking the trappings of faith without the demands of revealed truth. Spirituality affirms us in our self-centeredness and soothingly tells us all is well. Authentic faith in Christ calls us out of ourselves, points us to the Cross, and summons us to follow Christ.”- Albert Mohler

John Piper

“When David says, ‘I will magnify God with thanksgiving, he does not mean: ‘I will make a small God look bigger than he is. He means: ‘I will make a big God begin to look as big as he really is.’ We are not called to be microscopes, but telescopes. Christians are not called to be con-men who magnify their product out of all proportion to reality, when they know the competitor’s product is far superior. There is nothing and nobody superior to God. And so the calling of those who love God is to make his greatness begin to look as great as it really is. The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God…

We are called to be telescopes: people who make the greatness of God seem as great as it really is. This is what it means for a Christian to magnify God. But you can’t magnify what you haven’t seen or what you quickly forget. Therefore, our first task is to see and to remember the greatness and goodness of God. So we pray to God, “Open the eyes of my heart,” and we preach to our souls, ‘Soul, forget not all his benefits!’

…There are only two groups of people in the world whose differences from each other are of any eternal significance: those who love to magnify God and those who love to magnify themselves. At the root of all ingratitude is the love of one’s own greatness. For genuine gratitude admits that we are beneficiaries of an unearned bequest; we are cripples leaning on the cross shaped crutch of Jesus Christ; we are paralytics living minute by minute in the iron lung of God’s mercy; we are children asleep in heaven’s stroller. Natural man hates to think of himself in these images: unworthy beneficiary, cripple, paralytic, child. They rob him of all his glory by giving it all to God. Therefore, while a man loves his own glory, and prizes his self-sufficiency, and hates to think of himself as sin-sick and helpless, he will never feel any genuine gratitude to the true God and so will never magnify God, but only himself.”

What should we look for in a church??

In the consumer-driven age in which we live it is the customer who has all the power. I mean, think about it. We can choose what TV we want to watch, when we want to watch it, how we want to watch it (High Definition or standard definition). We can choose what radio stations we want to listen to, what electrical products we want to buy, what magazines we want to read, what food we want to buy, what friends we have on facebook and on and on we could go. The “customer is always right” is the marketing ethos of the 21st century, however is the customer always right when it comes to church, or rather is the layperson always right?

You see we naturally imbibe certain mindsets/worldviews from the society and culture that we are immersed in and I am wondering if this “consumer is always right” thing is becoming a sub conscious mindset of us Christians? I’ve heard stories of new pastors being told by laymembers “remember who pays your cheque” when they tried to implement biblical changes to the organisation and running of the church. What the church member meant in saying this was basically “if you do something i don’t like i’ll not be giving the money in to pay your wages mate”. This is a classic example of a church member thinking they have some sort of superior choice over the pastor/elders in relation to how the church should be run. There are many mumblings and grumblings today about how people want church to “be done”. Some of these are justified, for there are churches out there that are dying who continue to insist upon holding to the unbiblical traditions of men, pushing away the younger generation in the process. However, there are also churches who are trying so hard to be hip and relevant that they have completely abandoned the New Testament teaching about what a church should be. They almost act as if the New Testament is completely silent about how church should be done.

In his book ‘The Paradox of Choice- Why More is Less’ Barry Schwartz highlights this consumeristic phenomenon sweeping through our churches today. He observes,

“We are unwilling to regard religious teaching as commandments, about which we have no choice, rather than suggestions, about which we are the ultimate arbiters. We look upon participation in a religious community as an opportunity to choose just the form of community that gives us what we want out of religion

If our mindset as Christians is focused on the self, what we want out of Christianity, the only thing that will happen is that we will grow more and more discontented with our churches and with our walk with Christ. God does not exist for us….we exist FOR HIM. He has given us his word, the Bible, whose authority we are to sit under, not twist or ignore to suit our own sinful desires. So when it comes to “doing church” just what does the Bible teach about how we should do church? Well, to be sure, there are some grey areas, areas which the Bible is silent on, such as what clothes to wear, what instruments to use, what programmes should be run etc. However there are certain areas that the Bible is clear about. The guys at 9 Marks Ministries have, in my opinion, hit the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to this issue and below is a list of the 9 aspects or duties that they believe are vital for a church to be a healthy New Testament church. Have a look and see what you think…..

  1. Expositional preaching. Does the pastor preach God’s Word, or his own ideas? Does he allow Scripture to set his preaching agenda, or does he pick topics by some other criteria?
  2. Biblical theology. Does the church openly confess key biblical doctrines? Do the leaders consistently teach sound doctrine?
  3. A biblical understanding of the gospel. Does the church clearly proclaim the good news about what Jesus Christ accomplished for sinners in his death and resurrection? Consistently?
  4. A biblical understanding of conversion. Does the church teach that people must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8)? Does the church teach that in order to become a Christian, a person must repent of sin and trust in Christ, both of which are ultimately gifts of God?
  5. A biblical understanding of evangelism. Does the church preach the gospel to non-Christians and encourage its members to do the same? Does it understand that it’s our responsibility to preach the message of salvation yet God is the only one who can do the saving?
  6. Biblical church membership. Does the church take membership seriously by seeking to ensure that its members faithfully attend? Does it encourage members to fulfill the biblical “one-anothers” with each other?
  7. Biblical church discipline. Does the church lovingly, patiently practice church discipline?
  8. Biblical discipleship and growth. Does the church expect and equip its members to grow spiritually? Does the church encourage its members to disciple one another? Growing as a Christian should be normal, not exceptional.
  9. Biblical church leadership. Is the church led by godly, qualified men? Does the church look to Scripture to determine its leadership structure?

CCEF- Biblical Counselling for the Downcast

Leave me alone, I just want to be by myself. What’s the point in going on any longer? Why me? Why do I have to be the person to be treated like dirt? Why can’t I find somebody to love me? Why did God make me this way, I mean couldn’t he have made me better looking, more athletic, more funny, more likeable, more desirable? I don’t want to live any longer but I don’t have the guts to kill myself. I’m lonely, afraid, heartbroken. Why God why?! These are but a few of the statements people make when they are depressed, hurting or seeking to overcome addictions. Having gone through periods of depression myself I can relate all to well to those who feel this way. All seems hopeless, as if the circumstances of life will never change. It has become almost burdensome rather than enjoyable to live so the logical conclusion for many is to end their life to make the pain and sadness go away.

I have a deep concern for many in the church today who suffer in silence as I have done in the past. There appears to be few options that are readily available for Christians to receive sound, biblical counselling. Who should carry out Biblical counselling? The church? Parachurch organisations? If the answer is the church then who in the church? The pastor? Elders? Members of the congregation? Of all the things I would like to see become more prominent, more visible in the church is is the availability of regular biblical counselling. There is still a lot of taboo, shame and embarassment surrounding the idea of attending counselling and I believe it is one area that the local church needs to work to improve upon because there are many people out there suffering in silence and nobody should have to suffer in silence.

Thankfully I am not alone in my concern. The Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) is a Christian counseling and educational ministry located in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who are attempting to restore Christ to counselling and counselling to the local church. They state that,

“CCEF exists to Restore Christ to Counseling. We have a passion for personal change that is centered in the person of Christ. We have seen him bring significant change to individual lives. This passion is our heritage and heartbeat, and it leads us to constantly revisit the question, “How do the riches of the Gospel impact my life and my efforts to help others?” Everything we do flows from our desire to equip Christians to live and love in a Christ-centered way.”

“CCEF also exists to Restore Counseling to the Church. We believe that the body of Christ is God’s primary context for change, the community God uses to transform his people. CCEF’s mission is to equip the church to be this kind of transforming community. We see ourselves as an extension of the local church, and we want to serve and promote its ministry.”

I highly recommend checking out the CCEF website (click on the link above) to view some of their resources but for now why not watch the two short videos below on Addictions and Depression by Dr Ed Welch, one of CCEF’s leading counsellors. If you feel you cannot talk to anybody in your local church then the CCEF website is a great place to start the healing/counselling process. You don’t have to suffer alone.

The Belgic Confession- Articles 21-23

Article 21: The Atonement

  • We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek– made such by an oath– and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted.For it is written that “the chastisement of our peace” was placed on the Son of God and that “we are healed by his wounds.” He was “led to death as a lamb”; he was “numbered among sinners”^45 and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent.

    So he paid back what he had not stolen,^46 and he suffered– the “just for the unjust,”^47 in both his body and his soul– in such a way that when he senses the horrible punishment required by our sins his sweat became like “big drops of blood falling on the ground.”^48 He cried, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”^49

    And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.

    Therefore we rightly say with Paul that we “know nothing but Jesus and him crucified”;^50 we consider all things as “dung for the excellence of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”^51 We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means to reconcile ourselves with God than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.

    This is also why the angel of God called him Jesus– that is, “Savior”– because he would save his people from their sins.^52

    ^45 Isa. 53:4-12 ^46 Ps. 69:4 ^47 1 Pet. 3:18 ^48 Luke 22:44 ^49 Matt. 27:46 ^50 1 Cor. 2:2 ^51 Phil. 3:8 ^52 Matt. 1:21

Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith

  • We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.

    Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”^53

    However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

    But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.

    When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

    ^53 Rom. 3:28

Article 23: The Justification of Sinners

  • We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works.^54And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ.^55 And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.

    That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves.

    In fact, if we had to appear before God relying– no matter how little– on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.

    Therefore everyone must say with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified.”^56

    ^54 Ps. 32:1; Rom. 4:6 ^55 Rom. 3:24 ^56 Ps. 143:2

The Belgic Confession- Articles 16-20

Continuing to look at the articles contained within the Belgic Confession…..

Article 16: The Doctrine of Election

  • We believe that– all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man– God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just.He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works.

    He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.

Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man

  • We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him.And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,”^31 to crush the head of the serpent,^32 and to make him blessed.

    ^31 Gal. 4:4 ^32 Gen. 3:15

Article 18: The Incarnation

  • So then we confess that God fulfilled the promise which he had made to the early fathers by the mouth of his holy prophets when he sent his only and eternal Son into the world at the time set by him.The Son took the “form of a servant” and was made in the “likeness of man,”^33 truly assuming a real human nature, with all its weaknesses, except for sin; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without male participation.

    And he not only assumed human nature as far as the body is concerned but also a real human soul, in order that he might be a real human being. For since the soul had been lost as well as the body he had to assume them both to save them both together.

    Therefore we confess, against the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother, that he “shared the very flesh and blood of children”;^34 that he is “fruit of the loins of David” according to the flesh;^35 “born of the seed of David” according to the flesh;^36 “fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary”;^37 “born of a woman”;^38 “the seed of David”;^39 “a shoot from the root of Jesse”;^40 “the offspring of Judah,”^41 having descended from the Jews according to the flesh; “from the seed of Abraham”– for he “assumed Abraham’s seed” and was “made like his brothers except for sin.”^42

    In this way he is truly our Immanuel– that is: “God with us.”^43

    ^33 Phil. 2:7 ^34 Heb. 2:14 ^35 Acts 2:30 ^36 Rom. 1:3 ^37 Luke 1:42 ^38 Gal. 4:4 ^39 2 Tim. 2:8 ^40 Rom. 15:12 ^41 Heb. 7:14 ^42 Heb. 2:17; 4:15 ^43 Matt. 1:23

Article 19: The Two Natures of Christ

  • We believe that by being thus conceived the person of the Son has been inseparably united and joined together with human nature, in such a way that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in a single person, with each nature retaining its own distinct properties.Thus his divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life,^44 filling heaven and earth.

    His human nature has not lost its properties but continues to have those of a creature– it has a beginning of days; it is of a finite nature and retains all that belongs to a real body. And even though he, by his resurrection, gave it immortality, that nonetheless did not change the reality of his human nature; for our salvation and resurrection depend also on the reality of his body.

    But these two natures are so united together in one person that they are not even separated by his death.

    So then, what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and his deity never ceased to be in him, just as it was in him when he was a little child, though for a while it did not show itself as such.

    These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and true man– true God in order to conquer death by his power, and true man that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh.

    ^44 Heb. 7:3

Article 20: The Justice and Mercy of God in Christ

  • We believe that God– who is perfectly merciful and also very just– sent his Son to assume the nature in which the disobedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with our sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.

The Perils Facing the Evangelical Church

by R.C. Sproul

When we consider the predicament that the evangelical church of the twenty-first century faces in America, the first thing we need to understand is the very designation “evangelical church” is itself a redundancy. If a church is not evangelical, it is not an authentic church. The redundancy is similar to the language that we hear by which people are described as “born-again Christians.” If a person is born again of the Spirit of God, that person is, to be sure, a Christian. If a person is not regenerated by the Holy Spirit, he may profess to be a Christian, but he is not an authentic Christian. There are many groups that claim to be churches that long ago repudiated the evangel, that is, the gospel. Without the gospel, a gathering of people, though they claim otherwise, cannot be an authentic church.

In the sixteenth century, the term evangelical came into prominence as a description of the Protestant church. In many cases, the terms evangelical and Protestant were used interchangeably. Today, that synonymous use of the adjectives no longer functions with any accuracy. Historic Protestants have forgotten what they were protesting in the sixteenth century. The central protest of the Reformation church was the protest against the eclipse of the gospel that had taken place in the medieval church.

When we turn our attention to the first century, to the churches about which we learn from the biblical record, we know that all of the churches addressed in the New Testament, including the churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and the seven churches of Revelation, were evangelical churches. They all embraced the biblical gospel. Yet at the same time, these churches were different in their strengths, in their weaknesses, and in their compositions. An evangelical church is not necessarily a monolithic community. There may be unity among evangelical churches but not necessarily uniformity. The distinctions of the seven churches of Revelation are set forth clearly in that book. They manifest different greatnesses and frailties, but they all faced perils. Each confronted the dangers that assaulted the church in the first century. They faced hazards of varying proportions, but there was a common threat to the health of the New Testament church from many sides. Those dangers manifested in the first century are repeated in every age of the church. They certainly loom large at our time in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Among what I see as the three most critical perils the church faces today are, first of all, the loss of biblical truth. When the truth of the gospel is compromised or negotiated, the church ceases to be evangelical. We live in a time of crisis with respect to truth, where many churches see doctrine merely as something that divides. Therefore, they stress relationships over truth. That is a false distinction, as a commitment to truth is a commitment that should manifest itself in vital, living relationships. Relationships can never be a substitute for embracing the truth of God. So the either/or fallacy of doctrine or relationship cannot be maintained under careful biblical scrutiny.

A second widespread peril to the church today is the loss of any sense of discipline. When the church fails to discipline its members for gross and heinous sins, particularly sins of a public nature, that community becomes infected with the immorality of the secular culture. This occurs when the church so desperately wants to be accepted by the pagan culture that it adopts the very morality of the pagan community and imitates it, baptizing it with religious language.

The third crucial peril facing the church today is the loss of faithful worship. There are different styles of worship that can be pleasing to God. However, all worship that is pleasing to God is worship grounded in Spirit and in truth. We can have lively worship, manifesting great interest and excitement, with doctrine and truth eliminated. On the other hand, we can have what some call a dead orthodoxy, where the creedal truths of the historic Christian faith remain central to the worship of the church, but the worship itself does not flow from the heart and lacks spiritual vitality.

Another element that threatens the evangelical church is the ongoing erosion of evangelical faith by the impact of liberal theology. Liberal theology saw its heyday in the nineteenth century and raised its head again with the neo-liberalism that captured the mainline churches of the twentieth century. Yet it is by no means dead. Perhaps the place where liberalism is manifesting itself most dangerously is within the walls of churches that have historically been strongly evangelical. David F. Wells describes the crisis of the twenty-first century church as “vacuous worship.” A vacuous worship is one that is empty of content. It is satisfied with platitudes, pop psychology, and entertainment. Such worship is devoid of the Word of God and of the authentic sacrifice of praise.

Dr. James Montgomery Boice, before his death, lamented his concern that the church was being enticed “to do the Lord’s work in the world’s way.” We try to transfer principles of success drawn from Madison Avenue and from other secular institutions and imitate them in the life of the church. Such a process is deadly.

In every generation, including our own, the same perils to the spiritual strength that Jesus rebuked in the seven churches of Revelation threaten us anew. These include such things as a lack of love, a lack of truth, a compromising spirit with the world, a lukewarm devotion, and a double-minded conviction, to name but a few. There were rebukes and encouragements given to these churches by our Lord that every church in every age must take seriously, examining ourselves to make sure that we are not manifesting the same departures from biblical truths that these churches were. We must be vigilant and diligent if we are to maintain a godly witness in our day.

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The 10 Effects of Believing the Doctrines of Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“These ten points are my personal testimony to the effects of believing in the five points of Calvinism. I have just completed teaching a seminar on this topic and was asked by the class members to post these reflections so they could have access to them. I am happy to do so. They, of course, assume the content of the course, which is available online from Desiring God Ministries, but I will write them here in the hope that they might stir others to search, Berean-like, to see if the Bible teaches what I call “Calvinism.”

1. These truths make me stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true God-centered worship.

I recall the time I first saw, while teaching Ephesians at Bethel College in the late ’70′s, the threefold statement of the goal of all God’s work, namely, “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

It has led me to see that we cannot enrich God and that therefore his glory shines most brightly not when we try to meet his needs but when we are satisfied in him as the essence of our deeds. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him the glory forever” (Romans 11:36). Worship becomes an end in itself.

It has made me feel how low and inadequate are my affections, so that the Psalms of longing come alive and make worship intense.

2. These truths help protect me from trifling with divine things.

One of the curses of our culture is banality, cuteness, cleverness. Television is the main sustainer of our addiction to superficiality and triviality.

God is swept into this. Hence the trifling with divine things.

Earnestness is not excessive in our day. It might have been once. And, yes, there are imbalances in certain people today who don’t seem to be able to relax and talk about the weather.

Robertson Nicole said of Spurgeon, “Evangelism of the humorous type [we might say, church growth of the marketing type] may attract multitudes, but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion. Mr. Spurgeon is often thought by those who do not know his sermons to have been a humorous preacher. As a matter of fact there was no preacher whose tone was more uniformly earnest, reverent and solemn” (Quoted in The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 57).

3. These truths make me marvel at my own salvation.

After laying out the great, God-wrought salvation in Ephesians 1, Paul prays, in the last part of that chapter, that the effect of that theology will be the enlightenment of our hearts so that we marvel at our hope, and at the riches of the glory of our inheritance, and at the power of God at work in us – that is, the power to raise the dead.

Every ground of boasting is removed. Brokenhearted joy and gratitude abound.

The piety of Jonathan Edwards begins to grow. When God has given us a taste of his own majesty and our own wickedness, then the Christian life becomes a thing very different than conventional piety. Edwards describes it beautifully when he says,

The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope, and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior (Religious Affections, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 339f).

4. These truths make me alert to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news.

In my book, The Pleasures of God (2000), pp. 144-145, I show that in the 18th century in New England the slide from the sovereignty of God led to Arminianism and thence to universalism and thence to Unitarianism. The same thing happened in England in the 19thcentury after Spurgeon.

Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), p. 454, documents the same thing: “Calvinistic convictions waned in North America. In the progress of the decline which Edwards had rightly anticipated, those Congregational churches of New England which had embraced Arminianism after the Great Awakening gradually moved into Unitarianism and universalism, led by Charles Chauncy.”

You can also read in J. I. Packer’s Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 160, how Richard Baxter forsook these teachings and how the following generations reaped a grim harvest in the Baxter church in Kidderminster.

These doctrines are a bulwark against man-centered teachings in many forms that gradually corrupt the church and make her weak from the inside, all the while looking strong or popular.

1 Timothy 3:15, “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

5. These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.

I can hardly read the newspaper or look at a TV ad or a billboard without feeling the burden that God is missing.

When God is the main reality in the universe and is treated as a non-reality, I tremble at the wrath that is being stored up. I am able to be shocked. So many Christians are sedated with the same drug as the world. But these teachings are a great antidote.

And I pray for awakening and revival.

And I try to preach to create a people that are so God-saturated that they will show and tell God everywhere and all the time.

We exist to reassert the reality of God and the supremacy of God in all of life.

6. These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish – both globally and personally.

This is the point of Romans 8:28-39.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

7. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes – that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever.

All of life relates to God. There’s no compartment where he is not all-important and the one who gives meaning to everything. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Seeing God’s sovereign purpose worked out in Scripture, and hearing Paul say that “he accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) makes me see the world this way.

8. These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.

The warrant for prayer is that God may break in and change things – including the human heart. He can turn the will around. “Hallowed be thy name” means: cause people to hallow your name. “May your word run and be glorified” means: cause hearts to be opened to the gospel.

We should take the New Covenant promises and plead with God to bring them to pass in our children and in our neighbors and among all the mission fields of the world.

“God, take out of their flesh the heart of stone and give him a new heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

“Lord, circumcise their hearts so that they love you” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

“Father, put your spirit within them and cause them to walk in Your statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).

“Lord, grant them repentance and the knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

“Father, open their hearts so that they believe the gospel” (Acts 16:14).

9. These truths reminds me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.

So it gives hope to evangelism, especially in the hard places and among the hard peoples.

John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also. They will heed my voice.”

It is God’s work. Throw yourself into it with abandon.

10. These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.

Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God and there is no other. I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand that I will accomplish all my purpose’”

Putting them altogether: God gets the glory and we get the joy.



Belgic Confession- Articles 12-15

Article 12: The Creation of All Things

  • We believe that the Father created heaven and earth and all other creatures from nothing, when it seemed good to him, by his Word– that is to say, by his Son.He has given all creatures their being, form, and appearance, and their various functions for serving their Creator.Even now he also sustains and governs them all, according to his eternal providence, and by his infinite power, that they may serve man, in order that man may serve God.He has also created the angels good, that they might be his messengers and serve his elect.

    Some of them have fallen from the excellence in which God created them into eternal perdition; and the others have persisted and remained in their orginal state, by the grace of God.

    The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt that they are enemies of God and of everything good. They lie in wait for the church and every member of it like thieves, with all their power, to destroy and spoil everything by their deceptions.

    So then, by their own wickedness they are condemned to everlasting damnation, daily awaiting their torments.

    For that reason we detest the error of the Sadducees, who deny that there are spirits and angels, and also the error of the Manicheans, who say that the devils originated by themselves, being evil by nature, without having been corrupted.

Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence

  • We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground^20 without the will of our Father.

    In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

    For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.

    ^20 Matt. 10:29-30

Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Man

  • We believe that God created man from the dust of the earth and made and formed him in his image and likeness– good, just, and holy; able by his own will to conform in all things to the will of God.But when he was in honor he did not understand it^21 and did not recognize his excellence. But he subjected himself willingly to sin and consequently to death and the curse, lending his ear to the word of the devil.For he transgressed the commandment of life, which he had received, and by his sin he separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his entire nature.So he made himself guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways. He lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and he retained none of them except for small traces which are enough to make him inexcusable.

    Moreover, all the light in us is turned to darkness, as the Scripture teaches us: “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not receive it.”^22 Here John calls men “darkness.”

    Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary concerning man’s free will, since man is nothing but the slave of sin and cannot do a thing unless it is “given him from heaven.”^23

    For who can boast of being able to do anything good by himself, since Christ says, “No one can come to me unless my Father who sent me draws him”?^24

    Who can glory in his own will when he understands that “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God”?^25 Who can speak of his own knowledge in view of the fact that “the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”?^26

    In short, who can produce a single thought, since he knows that we are “not able to think a thing” about ourselves, by ourselves, but that “our ability is from God”?^27

    And therefore, what the apostle says ought rightly to stand fixed and firm: “God works within us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.”^28

    For there is no understanding nor will conforming to God’s understanding and will apart from Christ’s involvement, as he teaches us when he says, “Without me you can do nothing.”^29

    ^21 Ps. 49:20 ^22 John 1:5 ^23 John 3:27 ^24 John 6:44 ^25 Rom. 8:7 ^26 1 Cor. 2:14 ^27 2 Cor. 3:5 ^28 Phil. 2:13 ^29 John 15:5

Article 15: The Doctrine of Original Sin

  • We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race.It is a corruption of all nature– an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother’s womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring.Nevertheless, it is not imputed to God’s children for their condemnation but is forgiven by his grace and mercy– not to put them to sleep but so that the awareness of this corruption might often make believers groan as they long to be set free from the “body of this death.”^30Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.

    ^30 Rom. 7:24

The Belgic Confession: Articles 8-11

Article 8: The Trinity

  • In keeping with this truth and Word of God we believe in one God, who is one single essence, in whom there are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties– namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible.The Son is the Word, the Wisdom, and the image of the Father.

    The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.

    Nevertheless, this distinction does not divide God into three, since Scripture teaches us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each has his own subsistence distinguished by characteristics– yet in such a way that these three persons are only one God.

    It is evident then that the Father is not the Son and that the Son is not the Father, and that likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

    Nevertheless, these persons, thus distinct, are neither divided nor fused or mixed together.

    For the Father did not take on flesh, nor did the Spirit, but only the Son.

    The Father was never without his Son, nor without his Holy Spirit, since all these are equal from eternity, in one and the same essence.

    There is neither a first nor a last, for all three are one in truth and power, in goodness and mercy.

Article 9: The Scriptural Witness on the Trinity

  • All these things we know from the testimonies of Holy Scripture as well as from the effects of the persons, especially from those we feel within ourselves.The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, which teach us to believe in this Holy Trinity, are written in many places of the Old Testament, which need not be enumerated but only chosen with discretion.

    In the book of Genesis God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” So “God created man in his own image”– indeed, “male and female he created them.”^6 “Behold, man has become like one of us.”^7

    It appears from this that there is a plurality of persons within the Deity, when he says, “Let us make man in our image”– and afterwards he indicates the unity when he says, “God created.”

    It is true that he does not say here how many persons there are– but what is somewhat obscure to us in the Old Testament is very clear in the New.

    For when our Lord was baptized in the Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard saying, “This is my dear Son”;^8 the Son was seen in the water; and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.

    So, in the baptism of all believers this form was prescribed by Christ: “Baptize all people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”^9

    In the Gospel according to Luke the angel Gabriel says to Mary, the mother of our Lord: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore that holy one to be born of you shall be called the Son of God.”^10

    And in another place it says: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.”^11

    “There are three who bear witness in heaven– the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit– and these three are one.”^12

    In all these passages we are fully taught that there are three persons in the one and only divine essence. And although this doctrine surpasses human understanding, we nevertheless believe it now, through the Word, waiting to know and enjoy it fully in heaven.

    Furthermore, we must note the particular works and activities of these three persons in relation to us. The Father is called our Creator, by reason of his power. The Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by his blood. The Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier, by his living in our hearts.

    This doctrine of the holy Trinity has always been maintained in the true church, from the time of the apostles until the present, against Jews, Muslims, and certain false Christians and heretics, such as Marcion, Mani, Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Arius, and others like them, who were rightly condemned by the holy fathers.

    And so, in this matter we willingly accept the three ecumenical creeds– the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian– as well as what the ancient fathers decided in agreement with them.

    ^6 Gen. 1:26-27 ^7 Gen. 3:22 ^8 Matt. 3:17 ^9 Matt. 28:19 ^10 Luke 1:35 ^11 2 Cor. 13:14 ^12 1 John 5:7 (KJV)

Article 10: The Deity of Christ

  • We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only Son of God– eternally begotten, not made nor created, for then he would be a creature.He is one in essence with the Father; coeternal; the exact image of the person of the Father and the “reflection of his glory,”^13 being in all things like him.

    He is the Son of God not only from the time he assumed our nature but from all eternity, as the following testimonies teach us when they are taken together.

    Moses says that God “created the world”;^14 and John says that “all things were created by the Word,”^15 which he calls God. The apostle says that “God made the world by his Son.”^16 He also says that “God created all things by Jesus Christ.”^17

    And so it must follow that he who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ already existed when all things were created by him.

    Therefore the prophet Micah says that his origin is “from ancient times, from eternity.”^18 And the apostle says that he has “neither beginning of days nor end of life.”^19

    So then, he is the true eternal God, the Almighty, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.

    ^13 Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3 ^14 Gen. 1:1 ^15 John 1:3 ^16 Heb. 1:2 ^17 Col. 1:16 ^18 Mic. 5:2 ^19 Heb. 7:3

Article 11: The Deity of the Holy Spirit

  • We believe and confess also that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son– neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but only proceeding from the two of them. In regard to order, he is the third person of the Trinity– of one and the same essence, and majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son.He is true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.

Seven Characteristics of Highly Evangelical Christians

An Article by Thom S. Rainer

For over twenty years I have been researching and studying churches, primarily those in North America. I had the joy of serving as senior pastor in four churches where God blessed with evangelistic growth. I have written over twenty books about the church in America.

I am not giving you my credentials to impress you, but simply to share that my life’s passion has been leading and learning about evangelistic churches. At this point in my life and ministry, however, I realize that I have not given sufficient attention to one of the primary characteristics of evangelistic churches.

The Great Omission

It is so obvious. Indeed it is so clear that I am surprised at my neglect of this factor. Stated simply, the evangelistic churches that I have researched for the past twenty years have one or more highly evangelistic Christians.

I know. The previous statement is no great revelation. It is almost stating the obvious. But, if it is reality, why are we not hearing more about these Christians who seem to have a passion for evangelism? Why are we not doing a better job of telling their stories?

In this short article I hope to address this great omission.

Seven Characteristics

It is inevitable that, when we do research on evangelistic churches, we learn about one or more members in the church who, to use the book title by Charles H. Spurgeon, embody the traits of “The Soul Winner.” Oftentimes one of those members is the pastor. But we have also seen many laypersons who are themselves soul winners.

In our interviews with these people, or with those who tell us about the soul winners, we began to discern some clear patterns. We called those patterns “the seven characteristics of highly evangelistic Christians.”

1. They are people of prayer. They realize that only God can convict and convert, and they are totally dependent upon Him in prayer. Most of the highly evangelistic Christians spend at least an hour in prayer each day.

2. They have a theology that compels them to evangelize. They believe in the urgency of the gospel message. They believe that Christ is the only way of salvation. They believe that anyone without Christ is doomed for a literal hell.

3. They are people who spend time in the Word. The more time they spend in the Bible, the more likely they are to see the lostness of humanity and the love of God in Christ to save those who are lost.

4. They are compassionate people. Their hearts break for those who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They have learned to love the world by becoming more like Christ who has the greatest love for the world.

5. They love the communities where God has placed them. They are immersed in the culture because they desire for the light of Christ to shine through them in their communities.

6. They are intentional about evangelism. They pray for opportunities to share the gospel. They look for those opportunities. And they see many so-called casual encounters as appointments set by God.

7. They are accountable to someone for their evangelistic activities. They know that many good activities can replace Great Commission activities if they are not careful. Good can replace the best. So they make certain that someone holds them accountable each week, either formally or informally, for their evangelistic efforts.

The “Secret” of Evangelistic Churches

The secret is really no secret at all. Ultimately, evangelistic churches see more persons become Christians through the passionate efforts of highly evangelistic Christians. More than any programs. More than any church events. More than anything else, we are the instruments God has chosen to use.

Sometimes we ask the question “What is my church doing to become more evangelistic?” But the better question is “What am I doing to become more evangelistic?”

Charles H. Spurgeon was right. We need more soul winners.

We need more highly evangelistic Christians.