The Vulnerability of True Religion

(Originally published in August 2006).

Every now and then I pick up Maurice Roberts The Christian’s High Calling and read. It strikes me how astute he is concerning the church and trends. In his article “The Vulnerability of True Religion,” he writes the following:

“This downward tendency in the human heart accounts for all the religious errors of the church, and of the whole world indeed. The plain fact is that truth and pure religion are such high, holy and heavenly things that man cannot love them till he is brought under the power of divine grace. Even then, man is so liable to decline in grace that he can hardly bear true religion for very long. Two generations, or perhaps three, may hold fast to a sound creed. But for more than three generations to retain the truth without serious loss is remarkable and it is rare.”

 

“The above sad fact explains the shrewd saying that ‘every institution sooner or later becomes its opposite.’ If we confine the application of this saying only to the churches, we see at once how just it is. Every church, more or less, that we know of in history has ended up by disowning its original creed! It began by admiring the Scriptures and it ended by rejecting them…”

It is for this reason that we have so many church splits. The denominations, even though I believe in denominations, will all eventually fail. They will all eventually turn and reject the truths of Scripture that they once held so dear. Yes, they do it under the guise of becoming more enlightened than their forefathers. But all that they have really become is fools and their forefathers would reject them outright as heretics.

We ask, “how is it that the liberal church has become so liberal when they started out so strong?” And the above answers that question. Men turn away from the truth of the gospel and cover their repentance from the truth under the guise of becoming more educated and more enlightened. As if somehow, today, we can become more educated and englightened than say, the apostle Paul. As if, somehow, we can know more than Peter did, or have a better understanding than Christ Himself. We take a heretical approach to Scripture and say that we are enlightened. When in fact, all we have done is reject the word outright. Jesus, Matthew, Paul and Peter had a few things to say about such approaches. But, of course, if we are truly enlightened, then we know more than they do. Silly, huh?

When we fall to the temptation to think we know more than Christ and the apostles, we have set ourselves up as little gods, and do exactly what John warns us against: we reject our first love. We say we love Christ, but reject His word because we know more than He does. We say we love our neighbor, but then reject God’s Law on how it is that we are to love our neighbor. We say we love God, but then reject His commands on how we are to worship Him. We say we are followers, but our hearts are idol factories by the moment.

As Maurice Roberts points out, if we are to stay true to the true religion, we must watch daily over our affections. He writes,

“The moment we suspect that our love of Christ is waning we must cry out for grace. If our love for any point of truth becomes dim, we are to cast ourselves to the ground before God, fearing lest he should give us over to our hardness of heart. All this is deep and humbling work. But it is the only way to hold true religion fast. The alternative is to ‘lose our first love’ (Rev. 2:4).Not for nothing does the Spirit of God say: ‘Keep they heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life'(Prov. 4:23).”

Yes, I believe all institutions will eventually fall, even the denomination that I belong to. But we must remember, that Christ came to save sinners, not institutions. Yes, they will pass away. But let us hope and pray that our labor for Christ will last into the following generations and as our denominations fail, God will use our faithful descendants to raise up more that hold to the creeds of the faith.

You can read more by ordering his book here!

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The Church is Broken

I know, nothing new here. At least if you know where to look. The entire New Testament is full of books that were written because the church is broken. The Apostle James showed us that there was trouble early on, writing only 30-40 years after the ascension of Christ, he penned the following: Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.

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The Local Congregation Is Enough

Pastor Jared Olivetti writes:

To fight the danger, let’s hold onto this truth: If there was never another conference, retreat, podcast or seminar, God working through your faithful, local congregation would be everything you need to grow to spiritual maturity. Such events are much like special meals. Perhaps a few times in your life you’ll have a meal you could never forget. Maybe it will be a special feast or a date night at a restaurant you really can’t afford. Those meals are blessings to be enjoyed–but they aren’t what sutains you. You are physically alive because of the normal, everyday meals you eat at home. Even if you don’t remember what you made last Friday for dinner (or what was made for you), you were fed and nourished and sustained by that meal. Such it is with our church family.

Read the rest of the article here.

Millennials, You Don’t Get to Determine What God’s Church Looks Like

NOTE: The following doesn’t apply to home-schooled Millennials, some private-schooled Millennials, and Millennials who had parents with the wherewithal to teach their children that life isn’t all about them.

I’ve read the article 10 Things You Won’t Find in a Church That Attracts Millennials several times now and find it wanting in any real substance. Yes, it has a few good points, like the need for older men to mentor younger men. But this isn’t a problem that is exclusive to millennials. This boomer had a real hard time finding a mentor when I first came to Christ, yet that didn’t turn me off of the church.

I think the article’s biggest problem is the underlying premise that if the church doesn’t change to fit the “exclusive needs (wants)” of Millennials then the church is going to dry up and blow away. And it won’t be the Millennials fault. After all, through this article, and others, they make their demands clear as that stamp their feet and remain cocooned in their safe spaces. However, what they think they need is the last thing they need. Millennials don’t need a church that understands their perceived specific and unique needs. They need a church that addresses their real and eternal needs. They need a church that will clearly declare to them that their greatest need is for a Savior to deal with all their “special” and “unique” sins. Changing how things are done, or the environment of the church will not bring that about. Only the declaration of the gospel will bring that about.

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If The Church, Would Just Be the Church

Matt Barber has an interesting piece over at Townhall.com on his upcoming book, Hating Jesus: The American Left’s War on Christianity. He goes on to describe the need for his book and mentions how we need to stand up for our freedom. It is the typical charge of Christians not doing enough to stand up for our freedoms and declaring that we must be more political. In other words, Barber is telling us we need another Moral Majority (especially given the raving success that was).

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The Church is Counter-Cultural

I was reading Rod Dreher’s article, The Failure of Winsomenessand realized that the church is truly becoming counter-cultural. Dreher’s article is spot on in helping us see that for the church to survive, we must entrench ourselves in orthodoxy. Trying to placate the culture will only lead to the church fading away. Dreher writes:

The fact is, ours is a post-Christian society moving towards an anti-Christian one, when Christianity conflicts with secular orthodoxy. Any churches that remain faithful to clear Biblical teaching about sexuality — gay or straight — and on the meaning of marriage and the human person, will be increasingly anathematized in this country. And those that compromise will, in time, fade to nothingness, as the ongoing unwinding of the Mainline Protestant churches demonstrates.

The culture of our country has become so anti-Christian in nature, that for us to remain true to biblical orthodoxy, we will become counter-cultural. Unfortunately, this will not resonate with the youth of America as the idea of counter-cultural movements have in the past. The black-clad Goths are not going to look our way and rejoice over  a new movement that stands opposed to the culture. In fact, the black-clad Goths, even in their attempts to be counter-cultural will be more in line with cultural conformity than they would ever like to admit. This is because they already buy into the culture’s argument for what is right and just despite the fact that the culture’s argument for what is right and just stands opposed to the biblical declarations of what is right and just.

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Is it Time For Pastors To Step Away from Civil Marriages?

With the recent news that Coeur d’Alene, Idaho city officials ruling that pastors either perform gay marriages or face jail time, it’s time for pastors to remove themselves from the civil function of marriage. Here is the following from the Washington Times:

Coeur d‘Alene, Idaho, city officials have laid down the law to Christian pastors within their community, telling them bluntly via an ordinance that if they refuse to marry homosexuals, they will face jail time and fines.

My suggestion might not avert the jail time, but I think it is time that pastors got out of the wedding business when it comes to the civil side of the institution. I’m not saying that we should quit performing marriages, but we should only do so for Christians before a Holy Triune God. This would mean that the couple would still have to go before the local justice of the peace to complete the marriage for governmental purposes.

I saw this process when I was living in Italy and it worked fine. By taking this approach, we would not be bound by civil authorities to perform that which we find abhorrent. I know this post does not address all the issues, but perhaps it will help us think through the entire relationship between the church and state, given that the state is turning on the church more and more.

The Church and the Attack of Satan

Edisto Church

In Martyn Lloyd-Jones book, The Church and the Last Things, he points out four ways that the devil sets out to attack the church. Drawing from the book of Revelation, he shows that the devil draws from different agencies in order to attack the church. The first agency is that of the government. Referring to the beast found in Revelation 13, he writes:

… this beast is meant to represent the secular powers of the world as they are used by the devil to frustrate God’s plans and destroy the Church. The four beasts in Daniel represent specify secular powers. Now here is beast that stands for all of them together — secular power itself. In the time of John, of course, it was the Roman Empire, and perhaps even before that the Jews themselves. But since then it has been many other secular powers.

As we look at our own government we can see these truths being played out as well. The government, which is intended for the well-being of mankind and the peace of the Church, is now being used against the Church and the people of God. Every time a judge rules against the convictions of the saints on behalf of government-ordained sin, we see this reality. Every time the government uses its power to silence Christians and attempt to run them out of the marketplace of ideas, we see this.

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The Quest for Big

I’ve been pondering the latest movement to the Christian scene a lot in the last several days. Read about it here. The newest movement really bothers me, as most movements do, because movements take away from God’s prescribed means of grace towards His church.

His means of grace toward the church are the preaching and reading of His word, the sacraments of baptism and communion, prayer, discipline and the taking of religious vows and oaths under God appointed leadership, men who meet the qualifications of elders and deacons. Anything beyond those means is man-made, especially the movements that we see from time-to-time.  The sad reality is that so many people fall for the lie that the means of grace are not enough. They believe God did not see what we needed and they lack trust in the means He has given us. Therefore we must take matters into our own hands because obviously, God was not doing enough through the means He gave us. It is this false sense of urgency that feeds the fervor found in the movements.

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Dangerous Cliques: The Good Ol’ Boys Club

A friend posted something I wrote several years ago dealing with dangerous cliques in the church. The first installment was about the Domineering Old Lady Club. The point is that in Christ, we are not to form cliques in the church. Peter found this out the hard way when he tried to form the Jewish Lunch Club, by eating solely with Jews and excluding the Gentiles. The Apostle Paul came down rather hard on Peter for doing so, telling him that he was acting more in accordance with being a Gentile, than a true Jew since he was in direct contrast with the gospel.

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The Charge of Hypocrisy

We often hear the charge of hypocrisy from those outside the church. It’s an easy charge since the church is full of sinners and we tend to fall short of God’s glory like the rest of mankind.

I even had my doctor mention it to me the last time I had an appointment. She pointed out that the church was fully of hypocrites. I know the temptation is to say, “well, there is room for one more.”

But that would have missed an great opportunity. I answered her in the affirmative and said that when it comes to the heart of Christianity, we know that we are all hypocrites. That is the point. No one lives up to the righteous requirements of the Law. This is why we need Jesus as our Savior. He did live up to those requirements. In doing so, He is able to save any hypocrite that is willing to trust in Him for salvation.

I hope it and pray it planted a seed that the Spirit will water with the word. We will see. She seemed quite bitter about religion in general. In fact, her main attack was on the Roman Catholic Church and Jews in Israel. That shouldn’t surprise us since they suffer from the same problems we do. But I think it wise to admit our short comings and point to Christ. He is the answer to our hypocritical problem.

Three Ways the Church Can Take Better Care of Their Pastors

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the issue of churches taking care of their pastors who leave since I stepped down from my church back in June. I’m not upset or bitter or even remotely angry, but the subject is brought up to me by others. The basic problem is that when a pastor loses his job, for whatever reason, the church does a terrible job in taking care of the man and his family. Let me be clear that the church I left in June did their best to take care of me and my family in my departure. I commend them for that. But my church was the exception, not the rule.

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Finally! A Study That Shows Why Non-Christians Don’t Attend Church!!!

Of course, I’ve been saying it for years, but it’s good to have scientific evidence on my side. What have I been saying? The reason non-Christians don’t attend church is because they are not Christians. They, and I’m using a reliable source here, don’t seek God and never have (see Romans 3:9-18 for a better explanation).

This study, put about by Pira, or the Pirate Christian Radio, shows that 100 percent of the verses in the Bible that describe non-believers, speaks of them in a non-favorable sense. Chris Rosebrough, who helped put the study together, says the following:

“For decades the conventional wisdom in the broader church growth and missional movements has told us that the reason why unchurched people don’t attend church is because they think church is boring and irrelevant. Although true, the conventional wisdom has not been able to satisfactorily explain why unchurched people feel that way. Our survey, of the Biblical texts, strove to dig down and uncover the real reasons why our pagan non-Christian friends and neighbors feel that way about church. What we discovered was shocking and its implications regarding the newly adopted church methodologies in seeker-driven churches will challenge the core assumptions of the entire church growth industry!”

What they found was that the Bible doesn’t support anything the church-growth gurus have been telling us for years. Wow! Imagine that. The Bible contradicts conventional wisdom born out of a business model? My jaw is metaphorically dropped!

Here is the chart:

Looks pretty conclusive to me. Non-Christians don’t like church because they don’t like God. They don’t like the Bible. They don’t like anything having to do with the faith. I think Jesus said something about this if I’m not mistaken: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

This is why I’ve always thought that the Seeker-Sensitive churches were getting it wrong, along with the Emergent churches. We don’t need to reinvent the church, but let the church become what it is supposed to be: the people of God gathering together for the purpose of worshipping God. The church doesn’t come together to evangelize the lost or make the lost feel more comfortable. The church is to proclaim the truth, which is not comfortable. The church is to edify the saints, not seduce the lost, so that the saints can do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11ff). The church is here for the people of God and for God’s glory, not to make non-believers feel more comfortable.

Hopefully more in the church will realize that and we will start doing what we are supposed to do instead of doing what those with MBA’s are telling us we should do. After all, God’s word about what the church is and how it is set up predates any MBA program by a good 1,900 years. You would think that God had it already figured out.

The Sin of Following Men

Shortly after I graduated from seminary, I remember that the president of the school decided to leave and go start a church up north of town. He was planting a church in an area that could have used another church, but what happened was unreal. The very first day the man preached, there were 700 in attendance.

I would like to think that this was so because he had worked the neighborhoods, sought the lost, evangelized and was used mightily by the LORD for His glory. But I knew better. The man was not only the president of the seminary, but also a nationally known pastor for his radio program, at least nationally known among the Christian subculture.

The people were not there because the LORD was drawing them there, they were there because of his fame. Yet, the Bible warns the church against following men in this manner. Paul writes to the Corinthians against following men: 1 Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

What of the churches where these people had been attending? Had these people not made a commitment to the LORD there, before men, to be faithful to that body of believers? I know in the Presbyterian Church in America, we have those who join our churches take an oath before the LORD when they join. Part of the questioning process is:

Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline
of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

By leaving one congregation, and going to another simply because that pastor is more famous is breaking that commitment. I know not all churches have such commitments, but it is still wrong to leave one church and go to another simply because a man is popular. This is exactly what Paul was warning us against.

Now, I do understand that there are times to leave a church. For instance, when the pastor is not preaching the word of God, and simply telling moralistic, feel-good stories about himself and others, then it is good to leave a church. But this should not be done without first confronting a pastor over such issues. Far too many people fail to hold their ministers in check when they refuse to preach God’s word. They simply leave. I know, it’s easier that way, but this is not what Christ calls us to do. He gives us the admonition in both Matthew 5 and 18 to deal with a sinning brother. Go to the leadership of the church if you have problems going directly to the man.

If there is no change in the man’s preaching, then leaving a church is perfectly acceptable.

The sad reality about the popular preacher I mention above is that he preaches good stories and moralistic messages. Yes, he adds a gospel preaching message at the end. But that is not the gospel. Giving people messages about how to be better people by listing the 10 ways not to be a liar, is not the gospel. That is a message that we can better ourselves if we just try harder. The gospel shows us that we cannot try harder and become acceptable to God. Our efforts bring us nothing. The Gospel message is that Jesus saves His people. They don’t save themselves. Jesus doesn’t make it possible for us to save ourselves. He saves us.

But the point of this post is that people should not follow a man because he is famous. This is the sin of sectarianism, and Paul condemns this sin outright. The way most people see it today is when a pastor leaves a church, over some dispute, and goes and starts another church across town, encouraging his people to follow him. Sadly, this happens all the time. In doing so, those who follow him are joining with him in his sin. This should be discouraged on every level.

I know there have been times where I thought about doing just that when things were going well in the church where I was a pastor. Fortunately, the Spirit never gave me peace about starting a church and I never followed up on it. I thank the LORD for that. He has always had a place for me and kept me from committing such a sin.

Satan’s Temple

The subject of Grace Presbyterian Church came up again last night, this time with my 6 year old, Andy. He called it “Satan’s Temple.” He said that he called it that because the people there were so bad.

I made sure that he understood there were a lot of good people in the church who are good friends and were not behaving in a godless manner. He agreed. But he knew enough to know that there were people there who were behaving less than cordial (I was going to say “Christlike” but they were not even close.)

Is Grace Presbyterian Church Satan’s Temple? I’m not sure. But I will say that Satan can and does use believers from time to time to try and disrupt the plans of God. Remember that Jesus had to rebuke Peter when he was being used by Satan to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matthew 16). We cannot say that those who were so ugly are without faith at GPC. But we can say that seem to be acting in a manner that is less than Christlike.

I can also say that the actions of a few have truly grieved the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

The group that rose up two Sunday’s ago to confront the elders and demand my removal were not acting in a manner that can be construed as “kind to one another; tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” They were grieving the Holy Spirit according to God’s word. That is really all we can say about them and what they did. They were not acting in a manner that was submissive to the leadership and in their rebellion against that leadership, they were rebelling against Christ as well.

That should grieve our hearts as well. Whenever those who are called Christians act in a fallen manner, it should cause us to grieve and examine our own hearts. When these people were so ugly, how did we respond? Did we try and get even by sending across some well-worded zinger? Or did we respond in kindness as Christ calls us to do?

I know there were times when I responded in anger and with the zingers, and for that I repent. It was wrong to respond that way even though justice was not being carried out. My responses in anger and harsh words, would probably be hailed in more worldly circles, but we are not called to be of the world. We are called to be like the ONE we know who didn’t respond with anger, but took on the death of a sinner even though He was innocent.

It is that reminder and the reminder from Ephesians 4:30-32 that allowed me to respond the way I did when things came to an end for me at GPC. I knew that tensions were growing in the congregation, although I wasn’t sure about why the tensions were so high. I did know that I was staying very close to that verse. I came across it while preparing what ended up being my last two sermons. I was preaching on the Maker of the Church, the Sender of the Church and the Equipper of the Church, from Matthew 16, 28 and Ephesians 4.

I really wasn’t writing these sermons for the people of GPC here in Jackson. I have already preached these things here. While I knew it would be a good reminder to those who love God’s word, I also knew that some in the church would reject the message out right, simply because they were no longer listening to anything I said. I could have said, “Jesus wants you to be rich, happy, wealthy and wise, just believe in Him,” and they would have rejected it.

I was preparing those two sermons for a church that I was interviewing with in New Mexico that invited me out for a visit. One of the elders called me and asked me to preach on the purpose of the church so that those in the congregation could be reminded why it is that Christ has made the church. After the first sermon, I could tell the contentious bunch at GPC was even more contentious and when I preached the second one, they were spewing venom from the back pews.

This didn’t surprise me. While praying the previous day, I prayed that the Lord would tender the hearts of those who belong to Him so that they could hear the message and rejoice. I also prayed something more serious. I asked the LORD to harden the hearts of those who were rejecting HIS word and make it obvious to all who were there. I’m not sure why I prayed that, but I did.

And He answered that prayer. While I was confident in the message given to me to preach, those whose hearts were hardened, exploded that Sunday. I don’t know the full extent of it, but they went after two elders and an elders wife. The vicious attack led the elders to conclude that it was  better if I resigned. They asked me to that night, and I did.

I knew the LORD would take care of me and my family. He had a job waiting for me in New Mexico and I thanked the two elders who had stood with me for the two years at GPC. I don’t begrudge them at all. They were actually doing me a favor by asking for my resignation. They provided me two months severance and the opportunity to leave that church. I was thankful and relieved the battle was over. It was a blessing from God.

The sad reality is that those who attacked did not need to. Had they been patient, the LORD would have moved me and my family on without the need for them to sin against the LORD and His elders. They added more burning coals to their already scalded heads. That is what people do when they are not walking in the Spirit. The flesh has a tendency to destroy itself and what is left of that church will now turn on itself. The two elders that were raked over the coals, resigned after I did and left the church. The congregations is now down to about 15 people. While I’m not sure what will happen to them, unless there is some repentance on the part of those brood of vipers that ran us off, that church will remain Satan’s temple. As long as we operate in the flesh, as they did, we too can be used by Satan. That is why we need to keep our eyes on Christ, walk by faith in the Spirit, and trust Him with His church. After all, it’s His church to deal with. He can redeem those in it, or leave them to their flesh, the world and the devil. I thank God He has redeemed me and brought me out of Satan’s Temple