Monday, April 25, 2016

A Call to Return

     Currently, I am reading a very thought provoking book entitled "Here We Stand" edited by James Montgomery Boice.  I came across it in an email by the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals and it looked to shed some light on recent discussions we have had in our office.  We frequently discuss the awful news we hear every day and the question is raised, "How can people do things like that?"  It is a valid question as more and more our culture seems to be sinking into decay.  The values we once held dear are disappearing.  Morals have become whatever a person believes is right for himself.  As a result, we see our nation in decline.
     While this book was written in 1996, the insight applies to us today.  A number of authors lent their wisdom to this tome including:  Michael Horton, David Wells, Sinclair Ferguson, R. Albert Mohler, Gene Edward Veith, W. Robert Godfrey and Ervin Duggan.  By no means are they lightweights when it comes to an understanding of where Christians stand in the midst of a crumbling world. The subtitle of the book is:  "A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation".  Indeed, this is what we need today in the church of Jesus Christ.  Somehow instead of being a light and the salt, we have lost our savor as the body of Christ.  For some time now, my husband and I have felt a drifting away from the solid foundation which was laid upon Jesus Christ the corner stone among believers.  We have become too complacent and instead of influencing our world we have let the culture influence us.
     In his essay, Ervin Duggan points out that our nation was really founded on two streams of thought.  One was the Judeo-Christian precepts and the other (which came out of the Enlightenment) was the classical thought which came out of Greek philosophy.  We had, as he put it, "a moral vocabulary" which everyone spoke and understood (pg. 45 "The Living Church" in Here We Stand).
Now, however, our culture is drinking from another stream not at all in line with classical or biblical waterways.  Ours is a culture of moral relativism, "self-realization", political correctness, and acceptance of every strange behavior or thought that comes down the pike.  This has led our office discussions to query if everyone has lost their mind, and in one sense, man has lost more than his mind.  He is also a lost soul without Jesus Christ.
     Though we may despair over the things we see, they have all been seen before.  The Apostle Paul faced a culture that was pagan, worshipping idols, and as filled with sin as ours.  Remember the words of Solomon who said that there is nothing new under the sun.  When man tries to do things in his own way (being his own god and center of the universe), he will ultimately find no answers to the big questions of life.  This is the perfect time for a new Reformation in the church.  I am not suggesting that we throw out all the traditional modes of worship or even of evangelism.  To the contrary, what seems to have happened over time is that we have begun to look for new methods to get people in the door.  The "Church Growth Movement", "Seeker Sensitive Service", entertainment instead of true worship and countless other ways have been tried.  New Christian books have been written every day suggesting how to reach this new culture in which we live.  Yet, what about going back to the foundation of our faith?
     In His letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote this in chapter 2:19-22:   "19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."  Our foundation was built on the apostles and prophets who foretold of the cornerstone Jesus Christ.   The message is simple.  Jesus came.  He taught us about the Father and lived a perfect life.  He died for our sins in our place, and He rose again to claim victory over sin and death.  All of this is recorded for us in the Bible.  Yet, we are always trying to improve this message by adding frills to make it more attractive.
     Scripture is more than sufficient to reach people.  Jesus said this as recorded in both Matthew and Luke:  "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).  Then, Isaiah the prophet spoke these words from God (chapter 55:11):  "11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."  At times, I believe we have forgotten that God's inspired Word is far more powerful than any new methods we can come up with to bring people in the door.  I have heard church leaders wonder why people are going out the back door as fast as they come in the front door.  Could it be that they are attracted only by the entertainment, building or some other catchy frill, and when this gets boring, they head out to another attractive place?  Jesus made it clear that His Word was a stumbling block.  In fact, the Pharisees frequently could not stand the truth that the Lord clearly shared, and Peter affirmed this when he wrote:  "7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”[a] 8 and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”[b]
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for." (I Peter 2:7-8).  Candy coating the truth will not make it go down the throat of someone who has not been regenerated by the Spirit of God.  We can be as "hip" or cool as we want to attract the current culture, but ultimately, it is God and His Word that changes the heart.  Otherwise, all we are doing is entertaining people to death.
     If we as Christians believe in the all sufficiency of Scripture as the foundation of our faith, then we need to preach it, teach it, sing it, and pray it as well as share it on a regular basis in relationship with others.  This is how we bring about a new reformation.  With this in mind, I encourage you to get a copy of this timely book which speaks so clearly to where we are today.  Reformation Resources or Amazon have this book in paperback or your church library might have a copy.  However, I like to underline what I am reading so you may want to have a copy for yourself.
     Now is the day of salvation and there is no time like the present for the church as a whole to return to its one foundation.  As the book of Hebrews admonishes us in 12:1:  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..."   May we be runners for God's glory and may we like Peter say:  "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God..." (I Peter 4:17).  Selah!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Do the Ends Really Justify the Means?

     Edmund Burke once said, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."  No truer statement can be made, and it goes along with my husband's frequent declaration that "It all started in the Garden."  If we are unaware of just how drastically our nature changed after the Fall, we will put our trust in man rather than God.  This has been proven over and over again.  Solomon had it right when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9:  "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."  Certainly not knowing history or understanding the "sin" nature causes us to repeat the same errors over and over.
     For some time now, I have noticed the drift in the church of our Savior across our culture.  We have gone from making central the message of the Gospel in winning souls to Christ to a more emotional, entertainment type, seeker friendly approach called "the church growth movement".  Certainly, we all want our churches to grow.  The question is how do we do it in a way that glorifies God?
     Charles Finney, an attorney turned evangelist in 1821 (part of the Second Great Awakening), felt he had the key to bringing people to belief.  He had no formal education at seminary but was apprenticed to a Presbyterian pastor.  He came along at a time when  "there was a shift from Reformation orthodoxy evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitfield) to Arminian
(indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism, evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present" (Michael Horton, "The Legacy of Charles Finney, Modern Reformation Magazine Jan/Feb 1995, Vol. 4 pg. 1).
     As Finney's ministry grew, he used what he called "New Measures" such as an "anxious bench" (this is a precursor to an altar call).  He also used many emotional tactics which led to crying, fainting and other "excitements" as Michael Horton described them.  He also grew more hostile towards Presbyterianism and was very critical of the Westminster Confession telling others that the men who wrote it had created a "paper pope".
     Basically Finney believed in social change and moral goodness.  His beliefs centered more around man than upon God.  He did not believe in the atonement.  Instead, he felt that Christ had died for Himself but not men.  Further, he believed that a man had the ability to change himself since he was essentially good (he did not believe in original sin being inherited by all men since Adam).  Horton says in his article:  "Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an 'anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma'" (page 2 Horton).  He also believed that a person had to be morally perfect and if they sinned, they would lose their salvation and have to begin again.  In other words, Finney had drifted far from the course of orthodoxy in his position, but he was very successful at drawing crowds.
     His revivals were so well attended in some cities that business men would shut down their stores during his meetings.  Many committed themselves to God at the gatherings, but just as quickly, they left the faith when the excitement was over.  In fact, the district where Finney held many of his revivals later became known as "the burned over district".  It was an area where people were exhausted spiritually trying to live the Christian life on their own merits and not in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
     Finney later declared of his revivals:  "A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle in any sense.  It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means --as much as any other effect produced by the applications of means." (pg. 4 Horton) For him, the ends really did justify the means.  If a right approach was used, people would commit themselves to God.
     Michael Horton goes on to state concerning this:  "When the leaders of the church growth movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes:  growth is a matter of following the right principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney" (Pg. 4, Horton).  If we approach evangelism with this concept, then any program, demonstration, or method is fair game if it brings the people in to the church.  However, the question remains, what kind of growth is this?  Shallow?  Empty?
     According to Scripture, Romans 10:17 tells us:  "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."  When the Bible is preached, it proclaims God's message, His character and His means of salvation far better than any other mode tried by man.  Paul writes in an earlier verse (Romans 10:14):  "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"  This is the way we can reach those outside of Christ - by presenting the truth and leaving the results up to God.  It isn't based on emotion, entertainment, or methodology as much as it is the simple telling of the Gospel.
     If we want to experience real revival, we must first pray and then, go out to reach others.  God through the power of the Holy Spirit is the One who awakens the dead soul and brings it to life enabling man to commit his life to Him.  Does God want this?  Yes, so much that He sent His Son to die for us.  How can we possibly improve on that message?  Today's churches need to come back to that simple message and the foundation which the Lord has laid for us.  We must remember as Elijah did that the Lord is not in a windstorm, an earthquake or a fire (I Kings 19:12).   He is a still small voice that reaches inside our hearts where no man can penetrate.  His Word alone is what changes and transforms us.  So the question remains:  with which Gospel will we side?    The self made man Gospel of methods or the Gospel of truth as proclaimed in God's Word?  My prayer is that we return to our first love and leave the world's methods behind that God will receive the glory...not man.  Selah!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Being the Best for Him

     In our office the other day, several of us ladies were discussing how we used to dress for Easter Sunday during our growing up years.  We agreed that we wore a pretty hat, white gloves, a special new dress and in my case, my father always bought pretty corsages for each of us.  To be certain, it was a special day so we wore our best.  I once asked my mother about why it was so important to dress up for church.  Her response was simple.  She said that in all things we do for the Lord we should offer our best.  My mother was not implying that "our best" had to be the most expensive.  Rather than cost, our "best" is a matter of the heart.  Jesus pointed this out to His disciples.
     Luke, in his Gospel, records the observation of our Lord (Chapter 21:1-4):  "Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'"
Our Savior pointed out the difference in offerings to make the point that the widow was truly making a sacrificial offering to the Lord out of a heart that was right with God.  On the other hand, the more wealthy people were giving out of their abundance.  They gave to the Lord, but was it their best?  In the case of the widow, she gave her very best to God for along with this gift she also gave her heart.
     Whether it is clothing, our service to the community, our jobs or work within the church itself, we need to really examine our motives.  We are ambassadors for Christ in this world; therefore, we need to consider how well we are representing Him in all areas.  Striving for the best is something that the Apostle Paul frequently talked about when he said:  "24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever" (I Corinthians 9:23-25).
     Our goal here on earth is not to impress people or perform to earn man's praise but rather, we are to live in such a way that reflects our respect, love and obedience to God our heavenly Father.  Holy living in all areas is something that often gets put on a shelf like our Bibles do.  We forget that the way we talk, dress and behave towards others reflects either a life changed by Christ or one that is lived to please man.  Unfortunately, our culture has gotten so casual in the way we dress and approach God that there is often little difference between us and unbelievers.  Yet, we are called to be holy as He is holy.  I Peter 1:15-16 says:  "15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”  Let me give one more example.
     When my husband and I traveled to Europe for an anniversary trip, we visited England where we had the privilege to tour Buckingham Palace since the queen was not in residence.  It was a beautiful palace inside and out.  Now imagine with me that the queen had been in residence and we were invited to meet her.  Out of respect for her, I would have worn my best clothes and shown her due courtesy.  Likewise, I would be careful in my speech and behavior.  If I would do this for an earthly person in a high position, how much more should I do this for my heavenly Father who made me?
     Indeed, the days of hats, gloves and corsages may have passed with time, but that does not mean
we cannot offer God our best in worship, dress, behavior and words.  Let us learn to be holy as He is holy that we may reflect His glory and show Him the respect He is due.  Selah!