The Past

Bumble's response to my recommendation of an article about heritage resulted in my wanting to comment in a blog entry rather than in a response to his comment.

Several years ago our former Pastor had us repeat the Apostles' Creed. A family who had been raised in fundamentalism got up and left and they have never come back. For them, reciting the Creed was associated with formalism and dead denominationalism, and they wanted no part in that. I mourned their lack of perspective.

In the article I pointed to in the previous blog, Rick Phillips suggests returning to or re-acquainting people with the past. I think he gives some good advice, even if one doesn't want to use the particular forms he proposes.

Our culture is enthralled with the latest and greatest. We almost seem to need the latest and greatest to sustain our interest. And we view what came before us as antiquated and irrelevant. When we bring that approach to our spiritual lives and to our churches, we plunge headlong into a consumer driven mentality, and a mentality that suggests that youth is far superior to age and experience, and I believe we do so to the detriment of our people.

I recall a conversation recently with my brother in law. He had indicated that his Pastor had been approached by a visitor who told him that he could fill his church if he would "lighten up" and preach less, sing more. That - to me - typifies so much of what we hear today. Let me see if I get this right: Our people are biblically illiterate, but I should teach them less? Our people live lives that are no different than the pagans around them, but I need to focus on felt needs?

Those who came before us give us balance. Their wisdom calls us to faithfulness and devotion. We can ignore them, but in so doing we display an unusual arrogance. We certainly want to avoid the extreme that equates doing things the "old" way with biblical fidelity. But if using the contributions of those who have gone before us - even if their style is different than ours - can help deepen our people, then let's open that well from which they can drink.

Friday Pickings

Ligon Duncan has posted an article on what we ought to be reading. One of the helpful aspects of blogging is the ability to share recommendations.

My observation is that most evangelicals - especially those in non-denominational, independent churches like the one I pastor - have no sense of heritage. Here is a post on establishing balance.

Proof that the inmates are running the nuthouse.

A good article on the need for a strong foundation.

The Continuing Discussion About Reformation

A number of people have been blogging about the condition of Evangelicalism. Adrian Warnock wrote about his conversation with Phil Johnson regarding the attacks on orthodoxy today. I think he's got it right when he compares the situation to terrorism in that the attacks come from all sides.

This is a different battle than that which the Church faced a century ago. Back then, the enemy was more clearly defined. A general rejection of supernaturalism played itself out in a rejection of most if not all orthodox doctrines. Today, as Adrian and Phil observed, the battle is being fought on many fronts - and often by those who claim (and may in fact be) part of the Church. After the battles of Lexington and Concord at the outset of the American Revolution, the British troops made their way back to Boston, being picked off by unseen American militia hiding behind rocks and trees. Our situation is not unlike that today.

Steve Camp has a good post about some of the people whose approaches have and are potentially derailing us from being the Church in a biblical sense. Don't see a problem with anything he says there.

There seems to be a basic presupposition that Christianity has "not worked" and that something is needed to bring it up to date, make it more effective, etc. But as I see it, abandoning the heritage that some are so quick to toss aside is precisely what contributes to our weakness. As I said the other day, the answer is found in restoring what God has given, not trying to reinvent something else.

It's for that reason that I am so grateful for Mark Dever's 9 Marks of A Healthy Church. I doubt Mark or anyone on his staff reads this blog, but if this should cross any of the 9 Marks staff's desk, please tell Mark that his book, which calls us to hold on to what God has used for centuries, was the most significant book I've read in the last ten years and has deeply impacted my thinking about pastoral ministry.

We've got to hold on, seek after the Lord, preach and follow the Word, and live faithfully. Ideas fade away and become yesterday's fads. God's Word endures forever.

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Speaking of Steve Camp, another of his posts shows what happens when we get off track. What happened to 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12? I appreciate Steve's having the guts to call it as he sees it and show biblically how this kind of activism in the name of Christ is actually disobedient.

The folks at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals have a new web-based publication. It is called Reformation 21. Thanks to Doug McHone of Coffeeswirls.

How about this situation for people who stand for the truth? Hat tip to Random Responses.

Monday Stuff

John Telfer Brown's blog Scotwise has frequently encouraging articles. I recommend a regular visit.

The Constructive Curmudgeon has a good review of Os Guiness' book Prophetic Untimeliness. I've looked at the book a few times at Westminster Seminary's bookstore, but haven't read it yet. I may after reading this review.

Walk Between the Lines has a good post about sermon stealing. With all of the material on the internet today (and frankly, with all that is in print) where do we draw the line between what is appropriate and what is not?

The Bible Archive has a post on commentaries, and also a link to some extensive commentary recommendations that we blogged about in February. A must- have if you like to review lists of recommended resources.

John Schroeder share some quotes from John Wesley's wisdom. Good reading.


Laura and I watched the movie Luther last night. I'd give it 2 stars out of 4.

The abuses of medieval catholicism (though the current catechism affirms the Treasury of Merit and indulgences) are quite graphic, and the film does a good job of showing the political ramifications of the Reformation in Germany. The scenery is fantastic, and generally the acting is quite good. Where the movie falls short is in its failure to clearly show Luther's own struggle. What we are shown is a man keenly aware of his own sinfulness, and his being pointed toward Christ. But the defining moment in Luther's life - and the theological substance behind the Reformation - namely, his understanding of justification by faith - is a no-show. We have a scene where Luther is preaching to his people, and he makes the point that it is Christ and not the abuses of the church that save. But his conversion is too basic to the plot of the Reformation to gloss over it the way the film did. I take away a whole star for that. (Hollywood quivers)

Nevertheless, I'd recommend it as helpful insight into the Reformation time period. I noticed that Christian Book Distributors had the older black & white DVD for $4 so I ordered that. I watched that over 20 years ago. CBD doesn't have the current one, but I have seen it in Best Buy for about $10, give or take. Two hours long.

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Interesting post on "Christian psychology" at Eternal Perspectives. Got Doctrine has a quote from Joseph Smith and a picture showing that the advent of the blow dryer helps a lot of us avoid this kind of bad hair day. Rebecca Writes has been sharing some material from different historic church documents. Rebecca lives and blogs from the Yukon!

Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

My cell phone rang while my wife and I were out to dinner last night. My adult son was calling, hoping to find that I was home. He was flipping through the channels and came across two women TV evangelists. He said, "if the sound was turned down, you would think you were watching two women wrestlers." No doubt a couple of Dolly Parton hair-types. What boggles my mind is that people watch this stuff and not just for laughs.

One of my check-daily websites is called Major Geeks. They frequently list what they consider to be offbeat sites and the other day listed this one. Does the logo offend you? It offends me. So does the t-shirt being sold at the top of this page. "Come on, Peter. Paul said he was all things to all men that he might win some." I wonder if there is a more abused verse in Scripture in our current evangelical environment.

Steve Camp has a post about influential evangelical churches. Those with the apparatus for doing so felt it was important that we know WHO was WHO. First question: why? Second question: So what?

But then there are some good things that have passed by on my screen:

Phil Johnson wrote about the need for new reformers, and I blogged about it a few days ago. Tim Challies had a good post a few days ago that complements what Phil said.

I stumbled across a blog that exists to list the blogs and web pages of scholars. Here 'tis. You might be interested in some of these.

If anyone has the mistaken view that all of today's teens are deadheads, take a look at this young lady's blog. Keep it up, Laura!!

The other afternoon, I pulled our staff into my office and viewed one of my favorite Three Stooges episodes: An Ache in Every Stake. The boys are ice delivery men turned cooks and create total mayhem with good, clean fun. I suggest a good dose of the Stooges from time to time.

A New Reformation?

Phil Johnson's recent post on the state of Evangelicalism ended by saying, "We sure could use a new generation of Reformers." He's right, of course. I believe it was Howard Hendricks who said that Evangelicalism is 5 miles wide and 1 inch deep. And that was said years ago. I can't help but think that it is worse now.

We do need a new Reformation. I've thought a lot about that over the last few years. How might it happen?

First, we need to remember that the Reformation was a work of the Spirit, unique for its times. Can the Luther/Calvin/Zwingli (and a host of others) event happen again? Who knows? But it was a work of God's Spirit. Because of that, the most important thing that we can do it pray. And when we pray, we may find that we, like those who came before Luther and company, are planting seeds for a future harvest.

Second, we need to be faithful to Scripture. If we don't have 500 or 5000 people because Bible teaching is "boring," then so be it. Oh, not that we are to be boring. We are to be creative, engaging, relevant, personal. Afterall, Jesus embodied these qualities. But the message is unchanging. The meal we offer hungry people on the Lord's Day cannot be a clever quick-fix "how to" series. We need to teach the Scriptures, teach them through exposition, teach them sequentially (meaning that we don't skip from place to place each week).

Third, we need to urge greater commitment to the local Church. In many churches, we've gone from what was considered a legalistic approach to church attendance (Sunday AM, Sunday School, Sunday PM and Prayer Meeting) to a far more lackadaisical approach. I'm not saying that we need to go back to old forms. But we do need to call our people to be faithful. As I have been urging our folks, we need to see that being with with the Lord's people on the Lord's Day so that we can hear the Lord's Word is an essential, not just one of a number of options for Sunday. They need to understand that something is wrong with their hearts if they are not giving the Word of God the attention it deserves in their lives. Our particular model emphasizes Sunday morning, Sunday School and Small Groups. If we really believe that our people need to be taught, so that gathering together on the Lord's Day or in Small Groups are times for re-orientation and encouragement (among other things), then we need to let them know that we expect them to be there. Some will choose to not follow. Lead the ones who will. But when we meet, let's be sure that we feed them well.

Fourth, we need to preach the Gospel clearly. We've obscured the meaning of justification by faith by all sorts of nonbiblical terms from "invite Jesus into your life" and "surrender to Christ" to (for children) "ask Jesus to be your special friend." Are we smarter than the Spirit? Are we more clever, more articulate, better able to understand how to get through to people? We need to repent of false representations of the Gospel. And if you think I am being overly technical, survey your people and find out how many of them believe they are saved because of what they said, prayed, did (going forward). I read on someone's blog yesterday (sorry - I forgot where, so I can't give credit) about a woman who would bribe children with candy so that they would pray the sinner's prayer, and thereby be "saved." What a horrible, horrible thing to do. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. Let's explain it clearly and accurately. It is possible to do both.

Fifth, we need to warn our people when we see them endangered. We need to be able to point out error and wrong emphasis, but do so without the jealous rivalry and silly bickering that characterized (and apparently still can characterize) fundamentalism. We don't need witch hunts. If you have a problem with what Rick Warren says, articulate a biblical position against it, but let's leave his waistline and Hawaiian shirts out of the discussion. What do they have to do with anything?

Finally, we need to pray. I said that already. But we need it. I am so deficient in this, and in talking to many in ministry I know I am not alone. We need to pray for the state of the Church, but be confident that Christ is building His Church. We need to pray that God will raise up sound teachers. We need to ask God to mute the impact of those who have the ears of our people due to TV, radio and bestseller lists, if they are teaching what is not sound. We need to pray that God will work in the hearts of our people to lead them to a deeper commitment to the local church. We need to pray for each other, that God will keep us faithful, will help us to be growing, and that He will use us as His servants in this difficult day.

Perhaps God will use these things to bring needed Reformation and renewal to His Church. Maybe not. But Luther's reformation began in his heart. Let's let that be true of us.

Unregenerate Church Members

One of our Elders sent me an article by Jim Elliff about the Southern Baptist Convention. What he describes as a problem in the SBC (Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination) is likely common in most churches to one extent or another.

Our western evangelical culture relies heavily on a revivalist style that called people to outward profession of faith, and frankly, there can be problems with that. It should go without saying that it is entirely possible for people to pray a prayer, make a decision, go forward, etc. without having genuinely repented and been converted. Yet how many times haven't you heard someone base their assurance of salvation on an experience of profession?

A lot of this comes as the result of alleged childhood conversions. Can kids be saved? Sure. IF THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THE GOSPEL. But so often kids have been led through an experience of sorts. In fact, it is almost funny. Someone will say, "I accepted Christ when I was 5 but . . ." and I want to jump in and say, "let me finish - you didn't have any real change/you weren't sure/you couldn't remember what you did so you rededicated your life to Christ when you were a teenager and it was then that you started to follow Him." And that's the testimony of those who are probably genuine believers.

But what about those who are not? My wife was talking to a co-worker the other day about a young man who made a profession of faith years ago but shows no fruit. When she said something about his not being a believer, her co-worker was quite surprised. "Didn't he make a decision years ago?" Which means that the "decision" somehow got him "in." Let's face the fact that many - too many - people think this way. Kids grow up, leave the church, live like pagans, but Mom and Dad say, "Well, he made a decision when he was 10."

While addressing far more than childhood conversion issues, Elliff says that wrong thinking about conversion is rampant in the SBC. It's rampant in any church. So what do we do? Going through Romans 1-5 the past few months has given me an opportunity to address this from a number of angles on numerous occasions. I may have sounded like a broken record at times (or for you younger people, a scratched CD), but I don't care. There is something fundamentally wrong with us - especially those of us in the pulpit - if we don't understand the biblical Gospel and instead substitute an experience of some kind for genuine conversion.

Elliff says that there are five things that we have to begin to do:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member.
2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members.
3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership.
4. We must stop giving immedate verbal assurance to people who have made professions of faith or who respond to our invitations.
5. We must restore sound doctrine.

Each of these points is worth pondering.

I mentioned a resource the other week that we have used this summer. RC Sproul has a newer series of videos on Assurance of Salvation. It is excellent. I would recommend that you check it out. In fact, you can download the mp3's for $2 each (there are 6 of them) and preview his comments. The resource is described here.

Accepting the Word, part 2

Last post I quoted John Chrysostom, late 4th century pastor and bishop. He made a good observation about the need for the individual to work to apply the Word that is preached to them.

Let's face the fact that the average person-in-the-pew is trained in passivity. Not necessarily by us, but our entertainment culture teaches people to be observers rather than participants. I've blogged about this before in some ways, but I am increasingly feeling the need to help our people understand their role in the preaching/teaching process.

One of the things that I shared with our congregation this morning is that the sermon does not end when they go home. Ideally there ought to be some review time during the week in which they ask themselves some questions:

1. What was the point of the text that Peter preached on?
2. What changes need to take place in my life because of that text?
3. What is my role in bringing about those changes?

This is at least a starting point. I'm going to start putting something like this in our bulletin or at the end of the sermon outline that is in each bulletin so that there is clear communication that once they have received the Word (heard it), they need to accept it (process it). I think that is what Paul was thankful for when he commends the Thessalonian Christians in 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

The reality of our passive-entertainment culture says to me that we need to be regularly helping our people learn to listen and process. Making application of the passage is essential, helping them know how to take it the next step is just as essential.

Accepting the Word

This summer I'm preaching a series based on some of the exhortations and encouragements Paul provides to the Thessalonian Church. This week's text is 1 Thessalonians 2:13: "And we also thank God for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe."

Periodically I read through a devotional entitled Day By Day With the Church Fathers. Yesterday's entry contained this quote by John Chrysostom:

"For the Word is spoken to everyone and is offered as a general remedy to anyone who needs it. But each individual hearer must accept the remedy that is appropriate for his own ailment"

I think that Chrysostom captured the essence of the dynamic of preaching and of the hearer's responsibility in these two sentences. While our preaching targets certain responses, it really is up to the hearer to think about how the particular truths taught (what I think he means by a "general remedy") applies to his or her own "ailment."

This got me thinking about the fact that we take a lot for granted as pastors and teachers. I wonder if people are taught how to "accept the Word" and if our preaching would be more effective if we reminded our people from time to time about their responsibility and the ways we go about accepting the word. Certainly this transcends just hearing the word, which, as James says, is not the goal.

In the next few days, I want to blog a bit about this. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.