- Book Reviews
- About me
Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
March 02, 2006
That’s it! From now on I’m deciding where we eat for dinner. We ended up going to a great little deli that was supposed to be nearby. It was not exactly nearby and after eating what was admittedly a nice meal, we raced back across town, or attempted to race, through L.A. traffic. We made it with about a minute to spare. I’m sure Dr. Mohler would not have begun his speech tonight without me present, so it’s a good thing we made it when we did! After all, what’s a conference without liveblogging?
Today has been a long and somewhat frazzled day. I’ve been on the go, it seems, since first thing this morning. I think that tomorrow I will try to spend a little bit more time by myself during the breaks in the action here, reflecting on what is happening and how I can attempt to let others understand the atmosphere of this conference. To this point, though, the feedback on my efforts here have been encouraging to myself and, I trust, to the conference organizers. Still, if I were to slow down a little bit during those breaks I think there is far more I could do.
Quite a few people asked me whether I had access to John MacArthur’s speech last night since I seemed to have typed quite a large quantity of that particular sermon. C.J. Mahaney told me today that he, Al Mohler and Mark Dever were hanging out last night, reading the summary, and wondering the same thing. I did not have prior access to it. And, as you may know, MacArthur does not create a prior transcript of his sermons, or not one that would be legible to anyone but himself! I just typed a lot and typed quickly. I found the sermon incredibly engaging and desired to capture as much of it as I could. I honestly believe that at some point in the future, when people gather a compilation of John MacArthur’s greatest sermons, that one may well be included.
Turning to an unrelated item, I will have a few photographs to share tonight or tomorrow. They should be good for a laugh.
And now, without any further ado, we move on to Albert Mohler’s speech for this evening. This will mark the first time I have sat under Dr. Mohler’s teaching and I am looking forward to it. The session begins with John MacArthur and Mark Dever taking a moment to honor (and roast) Dr. Mohler in gratitude of his contribution to the church.
And with a hug for Mark, he took the stage, exclaiming “One ought not to have that done before one preaches.”
He invited us to look around and to enjoy seeing the site of thousands of men whose are tasking with caring for the church of God. He invited the pastors to enjoy being cared for. “Have you ever been cared for better anywhere in your life than here?,” he asked. People come here expecting to be fed by the Word of God and as they do so, Grace Community Church takes great care of them.
Right here, taking place, in these days and these hours, is one of the most important events that can take place. It is a deeply subversive activity. If the world really understood what we are plotting, they would hit us with everything they have. Our ambition is total world domination. Not militarily, but evangelistically for the cause of the glory of Christ. And yet we need to admit that there are some within the institutional church that are equally uncomfortable with this. We are talking about things that they have not thought about for a long time. The plan for the recovery of the church of God has only one plan: the preaching of the Word of God. We are living in an age when the ministry is so often seen as a profession, but then we show up with mere words. A message. A sermon. Some would prefer that we showed up with something more impressive or showed up more directly. That is why our culture is drawn to the therapeutic - it is indirect and subjective. Here is Dr. Mohler’s counselling method: What is your problem? What would God have you to do about it? Why are we having this conversation?
Have you ever considered that pastors answer to a job description that has not changed in two thousand years? If you want a preacher, you want one who is doing it just as it was done two millennia ago. Paul had a rather restrictive understanding of the ministry. His task was simply the preaching of the Word.
Dr. Mohler’s text for tonight will be Colossians 1:24 and following where Paul gives the eternal, unchanging job description for the preacher. This book was written in a situation similar to what we find in the church today. Paul was a minister of the of the Word and a servant of the gospel. Yet preachers and pastors today so often do not see themselves as servants of the Word.
There are six facets to how Paul describes the ministry in these verses.
A ministry of suffering: We live in an age that largely sets itself to avoid all suffering. If it cannot be avoided with anesthetize it. We see pain and suffering as things that are artificial and must be overcome. That Paul rejoiced in his sufferings is incomprehensible to us, but it is real. He takes personal ownership of his sufferings because he takes joy in them as it allows him to share in Christ’s sufferings. Ministers are called to suffer, but this is set against the backdrop of being joint heirs with Christ, and these sufferings are nothing compared to the glories that will be revealed. A pastor should, then, bear the marks of suffering with joy.
A stewardship of mysteries: We are stewards of the mysteries of God. That is the ministry to which we have been called: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. What are these mysteries? They are strange because they are not secret, but open. They are mysterious only to those who will not see. We have the honor of preaching the message that was hidden but now is revealed. It is a public secret. Christianity is not a mystery cult and our job is not to set a boundary over who may know this mysterious truth. Rather, our task is to make this mystery widely known - to fulfill the preaching of the Word of God. The task of the preacher is not to strategize, thinking that we can target only those who we feel will believe. We are to preach publically and openly.
A destiny of glory: There is an end. Our preaching has a purpose. Our horizon is eternity. We should never meet together as Gentile believers without realizing how counter-intuitive it is that God would include us as He has in the display of His glory. Yet we should see that this is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. In the background is the contrast between the glory of men and the glory of God. And somehow He increases His glory by including the Gentiles in the number of the elect.
A proclamation of wisdom: The only wisdom that matters is the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the gospel. It is two-step: warning and teaching. A task of the preacher is to warn and admonish - hardly popular tasks in our day. Yet these are tasks that are necessary. We cannot avoid dealing with propositional truth. “Truth is more than propositional, but never less than propositional.” We are to warn and teach everyone. We have only one tool in our executive toolbox: preaching - expositional, expository, biblical preaching.
A presentation to maturity: Paul’s goal is to present every believer mature in Christ. Pastors need to have some plan to make this happen and there is only one plan: the preaching of the Word of God. This is about as revolutionary an assignment as we can imagine. The cause of immaturity in the church is a lack of this type of preaching.
A struggle with energy: No one said this would be easy, but Paul says, “I toil, struggling with all His energy.” While we may tire or run out of steam, Christ never will. All the hours of struggle, study, preparation and preaching are toil. Yet the pastor toils with Christ’s own energy as He powerfully works within the preacher of the Word. Some have come to this conference concerned that they are not up to this task. Dr. Mohler affirms that no one is up to this task. It is Christ’s strength in and through us, for the sake of the church, that propels the pastor.
Failure at the task of preaching is too terrible to contemplate. But do we know how serious this is? Surely God could have found a better way to bring forth the Word of God! But no, for God has made the pastor a steward of mysteries and these mysteries must be proclaimed to the church and to the world for the glory of God.
As we close tonight, I would like to ask if you would pray for my family. My wife tells me that my children are struggling a little bit with my absence, and they are being fussy and weepy. They are unaccustomed to having me away for days at a time. If you would hold them up in prayer, asking that God would comfort them, I would appreciate it. And even more so, Aileen would appreciate it.
March 02, 2006
Phil, evidently enjoying a conversation, showed up late for this seminar. It took a tap on the shoulder from his wife to get him down to this basement room. Phil, it turns out, likes to talk. Who knew?
This session is called “Dead Right Part 2.” Part 1 was a seminar from last year’s conference and Phil gave what he felt was a good critique of the fundamentalist movement. It turned out that it was not very well-received in some circles and generated a great deal of controversy. So this is a whole new seminar and not only a reworked version of last year’s material.
He will begin with a review on the discussion so far. But first, a few definitions:
- Fundamentalist: “An Evangelical who is willing to contend earnestly for the essential truth of the gospel and is unwilling to enter into an alliance with anyone who denies an essential truth of the gospel.” The term has been co-opted and now has primarily negative connotations for the vast majority of believers and even unbelievers. Phil will use the word in a positive sense because it speaks of positive beliefs. Because they are unwilling to compromise, they are inherently militant, but in a good, biblical way. Fundamentalist recognizes that a degree of militancy is legitimate and even what Scripture requires of us. This is, though, not a physical violence requiring deadly force. We would die for our faith but would never kill or harm others to achieve our goals.
- Evangelical: “Someone who truly affirms both the formal and material principles of the Reformation.” The formal principle is sola scriptura and the formal principle is sola fide and all that flow naturally and inevitably from them.
- Neo-Evangelical: Someone who identifies with Evangelicals and affirms an essentially Evangelical confession of faith but who formally and emphatically rejects both the militancy and separatism of fundamentalism. The essential philosophy behind this was wrong from the beginning as it is premised on compromise. This view has gained almost complete control of the visible Evangelical movement in our day. Most people today think that this is what historic Evangelicalism is all about.
Phil finds that both movements, fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, consign him to the other. He is an outsider to both of them. Evangelicalism is much larger and popular than fundamentalism today. Phil loves true fundamentalists and the principles of true fundamentalism. Last year Phil suggested that the fundamentalist movement has been a great and spectacular failure. It began with respectable men, began to be dominated by characters, and produced a menagerie of scoundrels. It has ceased to have any significant influence as a movement.
Phil recognizes that there are certain, grave dangers in being too independent as Christians. The kind of dependency he calls for embraces a particular kind of accountability. Our primarily accountability ought to be to our own church and our own conscience as influenced by the Word of God. We cannot allow ourselves to blindly follow the leaders of any movement.
That ends the summary of last year’s seminar. And this is where I began to get really confused. As you may have realized by now, it turns out that this seminar was, in many ways, premised on an ongoing discussion which I have not been privy to and which was begun right here at last year’s Shepherd’s Conference. I had heard a little bit about the controversy about Phil’s last seminar that was fought at the blog SharperIron.org, but I had never taken the time to trace it back. There were lots of laughs that rippled across the room that I did not understand. So I am guessing I gained less from this seminar than many of the other attendees. If you are interested in reading more about this, you can find a complete transcript of today’s seminar posted here.
And that takes us to today’s dinner break. I am not entirely sure what I am doing or who I am doing it with, but I’m sure I’ll have a good time. And following dinner, I am looking forward to Al Mohler’s upcoming speech which will begin at 7.
March 02, 2006
This seminar deals with the tendency of so many churches today to be driven by fads and pre-packaged programs to influence the agenda of the church. Phil will attempt to show why this is a really bad strategy.
There are many pastors and leaders who feel that, to be convincing to their audience, they need to keep abreast of what happens to be the latest craze. There are many web sites that package sermons around whatever is popular in our culture. Christianity Today maintains one of these sites where you can buy dozens of Bible studies that will help you understand the plots and themes in popular movies, including ones that are patently unbiblical and blasphemous. Fads like this are accepted almost without question. Many pastors have bought the lie that not adapting church to popular culture will make a church irrelevant. This is the very thing Paul warned Timothy (2 Timothy 4:3-4). This is what apostasy looks like and it is being actively peddled by supposed Evangelicals.
“Much or most of the contemporary church is already utterly apostate by any biblical standard.” By Phil’s assessment, the Evangelical movement is not really Evangelical at all anymore. Many fundamental doctrines have been attacked by Evangelical authors and leaders who are still considered Evangelical. “Billy Graham, for example, has repeatedly made statements that undermine the clarity of the gospel and question the exclusivity of Christ.” Billy Graham has been making statements like this for almost thirty years and is doing so in increasing frequency and increasingly blatantly. The evangelical movement has been on a long slide so that today even a man like T.D. Jakes, who denies the doctrine of the Trinity, can be considered one of the most influential Christians in America. While he may be influential, he is not an Evangelical, for by the definition of the word, one cannot be both Evangelical and anti-Trinitarian.
Christianity Today is now fifty years old. It was supposed to be a voice for Evangelicals that affirmed Evangelical theology. CT has become a forum for nearly every major theological aberration. The main contribution to the Evangelical movement has been to move the borders of the movement continually outward. Historic Evangelicalism no longer really exists in America as a cohesive, Evangelical movement. If you are consistently and faithfully Evangelical, you are now outside the mainstream of the movement that has co-opted that name. The visible church of Christ is in more serious need of revival and Reformation than the Church of Rome was when Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church.
As Christians we can affirm that, despite this, God’s purposes are being fulfilled. While what is happening today is as disturbing as was the situation in Martin Luther’s day, we simply are not getting as agitated about it. We have people worse than Tetzel on the airwaves every day, peddling miracles for money. We are heading towards a biblical ignorance that is as serious and widespread as during the medieval times. Evangelical seminaries are downplaying doctrine and biblical studies in favor of business, branding and management courses. Men like Barna are telling us that it is the audience rather than the message that is sovereign and this philosophy has influenced untold numbers of authors and pastors since then who have adapted their message to the desires of the listener.
Evangelicalism was once almost unknown, but recently has ballooned in numbers, influence and visibility so much so that even Time Magazine has given a cover to this movement. But the list of pastors who make their list shows that Evangelicalism is in big trouble, for even thirty years ago not one of these people would have been considered Evangelical.
So what changed?
The word “Evangelical” has lost its historic meaning and now means nothing. It has systematically rendered itself useless for the advance of Evangelical truth. Time showed that Evangelicalism is having its greatest influence not in theology or culture but in politics. It is now little more than a political lobby and its representatives represent a wide variety of theological beliefs that deny non-negotiable biblical truths. None of the people on the list would agree on any distinctive points of doctrine - not even the simple points of the gospel message. But what they would agree on would be that they’d like to see Evangelicalism become as broad as possible. There is another common trait shared by the people on Time’s list: they are the fad-makers. Among these are Rick Warren, Tim Lahaye, J.I. Packer, Richard Neuhaus, and so on.
What is it that makes these trends and programs “fads?” None of them have anything to do with the theological distinctives of Evangelicalism. All of these fads have this in common: Not one program existed thirty-five years ago or would even have been dreamed of. None is likely to last another generation.
Why is it that Evangelicals are so susceptible to these fads? What is it that makes pastors and leaders just wait to catch on to the next big thing? (Phil gave us an aside in which he showed that publishing has become “big business” and this has helped the slide away from hard, Evangelical truths). Phil noted that the latest, greatest fad always manages to draw more people than the previous fad and this shows the power and lure of the fad mentality. It doesn’t matter how big or unbiblical or irrational it is - people will line up to be part of it.
Promise Keepers was a recent fad that swept Evangelicalism. That was followed by What Would Jesus Do and Jabez and Left Behind. Publishers were suddenly raking in billions of dollars from these fads. The fads were suddenly bigger but cheaper than ever and were having ever-shorter shelf lives. The Passion of the Christ made a huge splash but petered out before the DVD even hit the shelves. The Purpose Driven Life is the latest and greatest and has become one of the best-selling books of all time. Beyond the success of the book are shelves full of associated merchandise. Every publisher in the world will spend the next five years trying to replicate this and this will guarantee many new fads.
Phil turned to The Purpose Driven Life and asked if there is anything in it to make it deserving of being the best-selling Evangelical book of all time. The truth is, there really isn’t. The extraordinary success of the book owes primarily to clever marketing. It hit the shelves at the very moment that the Evangelical culture was right for fads and stampedes. And this is the current atmosphere of Evangelicalism. The next big fad is already here: it is the Emerging church.
What is scary is that professing Christians are becoming less and less discerning and less concerned with the danger of jumping on the next bandwagon. “We have to rescue Evangelicalism from the Evangelical movement.” A new generation of pastors needs to rise up who will preach the gospel and say “no” to these fads that continue to come along, for Scripture is better than any fad. Preaching the gospel is better than any method the marketers have ever invented.
Phil turned to Hebrews 4:12 and reminded us of the power of Scripture. It is a rich text full of meaning and significance. Three main qualities of the Word of God as highlighted in this text:
The Word of God is powerful and alive: That speaks of life, vitality, energy. It has the power to impart life to those who are spiritually dead. It has power that is unique to the Scripture. Nothing can take the place of the Bible for it imparts life to the spiritually dead. We don’t have to make the Bible come alive, for it is, by its very nature, both alive and relevant!
The Word of God is penetrating: This is portrayed vividly by the author of Hebrews. The Word of God is like a pointed, two-edged sword that cuts no matter which way you swing it or thrust it. In the hands of an amateur it will still work. There is nothing so hard that it cannot penetrate. No human interest or worldly technique is more effective than the Word of God to penetrate the human heart.
The Word of God is precise: The sword pierces with surgical precision. It cuts with painstaking accuracy and cuts what otherwise cannot be divided.
We ought to make better use of the Word of God in our ministry and we must ignore all of these Evangelical fads that come and go. We are called to do this as leaders and pastors. Only the Word of God has the power, penetration and precision necessary to change lives.
March 02, 2006
The sense of anticipation in and around this building has built to a crescendo. No, it has nothing to do with the speaker who will next take the pulpit, nor with the topic he will address. It has to do with books. The patio outside the worship center is filled with tens of thousands of books and everyone knows that in just another hour, the doors will fling open and all of the pastors will be invited to take one of each of these books. The number I hear most often is “28,” as in, “everyone will get 28 books.” And what do pastors like more than books? Not much, in my experience. I am guessing that the stampede to get to those books will by far exceed the stampede to sit near the front of the worship center during the sessions. From my seat I can see a large stack of copies of C.J. Mahaney’s book Humility. Wouldn’t it be ironic to see pastors pushing and shoving to get ahold of a copy?
Well, that’s not likely to happen. But in just another hour or so, everyone walking around this campus will do so with a large stack of books. In fact, many people have brought an extra bag just to haul away their newly acquired treasure.
Having looked around a little bit (while actually seeking a Dr. Pepper - thanks for nothing, Paul) I can see that I already own several of the books. I may take them up on the option of having the books sent to me for the cost of shipping.
And now John MacArthur has opened the microphones for the annual question and answer session.
“Children of disobedience or children of the devil.” What do you call them and are they destined for hell and does God love them?
This can be answered by showing that the love of God for the unregenerate is displayed in non-salvific ways through common grace. MacArthur has written a book on this (The Love of God). Unbelievers are given many blessings of God’s grace and this is expressive of a loving God. God also expresses his love towards sinners in a measure of his own sympathy and compassion in that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Also, the love of God is shown in a universal expression of truth so that all men, elect or not, are able to know of the truth of God through creation. It is also shown in the Great Commission, which tells us that we are to take the message of the good news to all men. God has love and kindness towards humanity, not only the elect. The elect are loved by God in a special way. To say that God loves the world is a true statement and to say that God loves the elect is a more refined statement.
You referred to John Calvin and his three-fold definition of a church. We planted a church three years ago because there was not a single church that did that. Another conservative church in the area has accepted a person into membership that we have disciplined. What should the nature of our relationship be with them?
Grace understands this because they are a church that faithfully exercises church discipline. What has happened through all these years, is that when a person will not repent, is that a person who has been disciplined runs to another church. Grace immediately notifies the staff of another church and lays out the situation and the reason that the person was put out of the church. It is becoming more and more difficult to make people in another church care about this, and so it poses a difficult question.
Do we now engage in community enterprises with this church? That is a difficult question to answer because it seems that there ought to be consequences for the unfaithfulness of the church, and yet we are not responsible for being the punitive hand of God. It seems wrong to punish the entirely body of that church for something they may not be aware of. And so a church will have to exercise some degree of wisdom.
Romans 1:19-21 - a question about elect sinners.
Unfortunately I could not hear the question, so while I heard the answer, it did not make a great deal of sense to me.
It is a question about people who come “close” to salvation - Hebrews 6 and how it relates to sovereignty and election and human responsibility.
MacArthur affirmed the importance of knowing to whom something is written, whether we are discussing the Bible or even a book of human authorship (he mentioned The Purpose Driven Life in particular). Hebrews 6 speaks about people who were exposed to Christ in the apostolic era. These people saw Jesus, heard His word, sampled the word of God, sampled the power of the Spirit of God - they had all the revelation that was available, and still fell away. If your decision after a full disclosure is to turn away, then nothing else can be said.
So how does this incomplete faith fit into the sovereignty of God? Did God try to save them and fail? No. Did someone come to a full understanding and then, of their own power, reject God? No. It is just that there are some who will never hear the word of God and be damned and there are some who will receive a full disclosure and be damned.
If you can reduce God and all the elements of the gospel to categories which can be fully understood, you have just denied them. There are just no categories for some of these things - they have no rational, human explanation. If you spend all your time trying to rationalize these things, you will inevitably corrupt them. You will have pulled Him down from His transcendence. So just enjoy the fact that you don’t know anything. That is comforting, because if you did, you would be God.
A question asked by the pastor of an Iranian Baptist Church in Dallas. When do we get our glorified bodies? Is that when we leave the earth or only after the rapture?
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. To be with Christ is immediate when we leave this world. MacArthur believes that the resurrection has not yet happened, but is tied to the arrival of Jesus Christ. The dead in Christ rise first and then the ones who are alive and remain are caught up with the Lord. Romans 8 says that we are still waiting for the redemption of the body and so we long for the redemption of our bodies. We will be embodied in an everlasting body.
After bringing greetings to “Johnny Mac,” (a term which MacArthur does not object to) a pastor asked about the propriety of naming names when it comes to heresy. When a person reads a passage from a “bad” book from the pulpit, should he publically mention a person’s name?
When a book or ministry is public, it is exposed to necessary and public criticism. MacArthur invites criticism of his words. Once we put something out there it is subject to assessment and evaluation to guard both the truth and the people of the truth.
A question about inerrancy and the fact that inerrancy is applicable only to the original autographs.
MacArthur affirms the classic doctrine of inerrancy that Scripture was inerrant in its original autograph. So it is not currently, in every case, inerrant. But, the good news is, that the discrepancies and differences are minute. God has preserved His Scripture and this is a work of the Spirit. The great watershed event on this was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls which proved the accuracy of Scriptures hundreds of years old. The hand of God is obvious in the preservation of the Bible, not just in the message of Scripture but in the very words.
A question in regards to church leadership and a person who disagrees with the pastor in the area of falling away from salvation.
MacArthur believes that the best teachers are those who are most teachable. He would urge caution towards those who feel they already know a great deal and are unwilling to be taught. He also is nervous about people who seek to lead without seeking to serve. In Grace, those who are in leadership have served their way to that position.
At this point I stopped being able to hear and pay attention as many of the attendees began to file out (which I suppose is a cost of sitting near the doors). I’m guessing that some people are making a break for the book table and lunch lineup!
I believe I am now heading for Tommy’s to eat one of those world famous chili burgers. It could be a long, heart-burning afternoon.
March 02, 2006
Perhaps one of the most amusing aspect of this conference is the regular “pastor rushes.” Every time a session begins, a crowd gathers around each of the ten or twelve doors to the worship center. At the moment the doors open, a crowd of pastors rush to the front, seeking to nab the premier spots. They will, quite literally, sprint to the front, sometimes even pushing and shoving a little bit to get there. It makes for sick comedy and generates a lot of comments and giggles from bystanders. Tomorrow I may try to snap a picture of this in action!
This morning we will be treated to a session led by Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church who will speak on unbelief.
He began by reflecting for a short time on the message John MacArthur brought us last night. He asked, if this message we bring is so wonderful, why would anyone ever not believe it? Why didn’t the younger brother, the older brother and the pharisees we learned about last night believe? Why don’t our friends and relatives believe? This is a question that haunts believers and unbelievers alike and was the topic of Jesus in John 12, beginning at verse 37 and continuing to the end of the chapter.
Though Jesus had done so many miraculous signs, the people still did not believe in Him. This passage concludes the series of signs that define the first part of the gospel. The tragic story of the first 12 chapters is summarized in the first verses: “His own did not receive Him.” This was the grim reality that the recipients of this letter would have labored under.
Why did so many reject Jesus? Those who minister today labor in their churches as they do because of their answer to that question. Will they believe if we change our music? Will they believe if we lower the lights?
The nature of unbelief: John, following in the footsteps of Jesus, turns to the Scripture to answer this question. He turns to a quotation from Isaiah 53 and by examining this passage we can understand what John sought to call to mind. The people’s rejection of the Messiah was part of the Messiah’s substitutionary atonement for us. Isaiah shows us a comprehensive unbelief. Belief, and therefore unbelief, never involve the mind alone.
The core of unbelief: The core of unbelief is a lack of acceptance of Jesus’ words. Rejecting His words is rejecting Him - His person. This is a pattern we see throughout Scripture. God’s word in the Garden of Eden was clear, but Adam and Eve rejected this word and thus, they rejected God. In Adam we have all sinned and have all rejected the word. The Bible continues with the story of what it means like to reject God. Central to Jesus’ message is that He has not rejected God and is in intimate communion with Him. This has great ramifications for anyone who would seek to love or worship a Jesus who is different than what we read in Scripture. This is a live issue in the church today where the substitutionary atonement is under constant attack. It may involve the academic hubris of recasting the words of Christ or involve subverting the rest of the New Testament in an apparent effort to make the rest of the Bible better “fit” Jesus’ words. If we are would believe, we cannot change or disbelieve the words of Christ.
Reasons for unbelief: Verse forty says that they would not believe “so they would turn and be healed.” The purpose is that they will not turn and be healed. It is not that these people are unwilling to turn, but are unable to turn. It is impossible for them to turn as they did not have the power. These people we love and pray for and preach to - they do not have the power to turn. Now, of course, formally they do have some power, but not the power as in the virtue, strength or disposition. They have no such power to believe.
At the end of his life Moses summoned the people and reminded them of all they had seen God do. But to that day the Lord had not given them the ability to see, hear and understand. The same is true with Isaiah and thus with John. God had not given a mind to understand, eyes to see or ears to hear. Did God to this merely by not extending grace? And certainly there is a self-hardening aspect of sin and thus we are all culpable for our own unbelief. But do note that God is also said to be active in causing hardening in unbelief as a just punishment for those who have deliberately chosen to be what they are. It is a judicial hardening.
Pastor Dever shared that he has taught this today to protect pastors from those within the Christian world who seek to sell a product or program in order to prey upon the conscience of the pastor. There are so many who seek to tell us that the reason people do not believe is that we have not bought into their program or product.
In Isaiah 6 God tells the prophet to preach to the people and Isaiah asks how long. How long are we to bring this message? In Romans 11 Paul answers “until the fullness of the Gentiles is complete.”
There are five applications to this:
God’s activity is never pitted against human responsibility: “You do not have to cut out Romans 9 to have Romans 10.” The doctrines of election or reprobation, like in Paul’s ministry, ought to bring greater emphasis to evangelism. We are to preach to everyone, not attempting to discern who is elect and who is not. We bring the message in faithfulness and let God do His work. God loves us and wants us to be in on this. He is glorified by our recounting of the gospel. He uses us because He loves us.
God’s sovereignty is also a ground of hope: Our only hope is that God is sovereign. A pastor will not keep preaching without an understanding of God’s sovereignty. The problems of another person may look insurmountable, but do you not remember what you were like before you were saved? We must never look down on another person and assume that he will never be saved. The only reason anyone is ever saved is because of God’s sovereignty.
Unbelief is somehow part of God’s larger plan of redemption: “I don’t really know much more about it than that.”
Note the hardening effect of the Word: In the ministries of Moses and Isaiah, the ministries of people in church history and especially the ministry of Jesus we see that the preaching of the word has a hardening effect. Sometimes we see people becoming harder through our ministries because we are doing something right.
Be willing to serve even when a ministry seems unfruitful: God, in His sovereignty, calls us to be faithful ministers and see no results. Jesus preached to Judas all the time, even though He knew what was in Judas. Somehow the glorious grace of God was displayed and portrayed when the Lord preached to Judas.
There will be times, of course, where a pastor has done a poor job and has not been faithful. But there are times where a pastor has been faithful. In these times we are following in the feet of Jesus who was rejected. Pastors are not called to generate results, but to be faithful.
It is clear that the general hardening of people did not preclude the salvation of all people.
Real belief centers on Jesus: This was true even for Isaiah. He saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of Him. Christ is known by the prophets through the Holy Spirit. Again, hearing Jesus is hearing God. Seeing Jesus is seeing God. Faith in Jesus involves the mind, the ears, the eyes and is an acknowledgment that we are seeing God.
Believing in Jesus brings benefits: Believing in Jesus leads to, and actually is, eternal life.
- The objective component: You need to have a clarity on the gospel which is composed of particular words. Holy, perfect, image, unwilling, choice. But God, who would have been just to consign us to hell, has run out to us by taking on flesh and becoming incarnate. We are called to repent and trust and so be saved. A pastor must continually drill his congregation on the gospel! If our members do not know the gospel, there is great responsibility for this upon the pastor.
- The subjective component: The subjective component is the fulness of belief. There must be a subjective appropriation of the gospel. There must be more than mere mental assent.
- Real faith is tied to the word: We cannot separate truth from the word of God.
Any real faith must be built upon the real word and must be centered on Jesus.
March 01, 2006
I have not visited very many churches that are as large and important as Grace Community Church, but I have been inside a few. I was not prepared for the “plainness” of Grace. The church is, to be honest, quite unremarkable but for its size. The inside is not at all exciting - the walls and ceilings are plain. The walls are unadorned and the entire focus of the church is a rather simple pulpit The campus is large, but plain. I guess this shows that the church does do what MacArthur claims: it focuses on the gospel while worrying far less about what people may want from a church. It gives people little more than what they need.
I asked Phil Johnson and one of the long-time elders at Grace Community Church about this over dinner tonight and they told me that this was a deliberate decision. It is interesting to note that this church was built at around the same time as Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. The difference between the buildings is striking. So is the difference in the focuses of their ministries.
This evening’s session began with a time of singing. I was struck by the difference in singing between this conference and the Desiring God conference. Last year, when I blogged the Desiring God conference I remarked on the large number of hands that were raised during the times of worship through song. Tonight the singing was loud and powerful, but there were far fewer hands in the air. I would conservatively estimate the number of hands in the air at 1. Maybe 2. At times I am struck by the diversity within the body of Christ. At times that are more spiritually significant, I am struck by the sweetness of this diversity. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Tonight’s session will once again feature John MacArthur.
Scripture is very clear that God has no joy in the death of the wicked. He takes no pleasure in their destruction, for as we read in Scripture, Jesus wept over Jerusalem - sincere weeping. God finds His joy not in the destruction of the wicked but in the recovery of sinners. We don’t talk much about the joy of God. We preach a lot of things about the nature of God, but one thing that gets left out is the joy of God. Do we think of God as joyful? God experiences unending, consumate joy, every moment. What gives him this joy? Deuteronomy 30 points to the obedience of His people.
God rejoices as a groom rejoices over his bride - the supreme human expression of joy. God finds His joy in the salvation of sinners. Do we think of God as shouting with joy? But He does, for He finds His joy in the recovery of lost sinners. Jonathan Edwards said that God supremely values His own joy and finds His highest joy in the recovery of the lost. And thus the end of all we do ought to be the joy of God.
Luke 15 looks at this in an incomparable way in the parables of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Jesus challenges the pharisees to ask who would be so superficial that he would rejoice over the finding of a lost coin, yet not rejoice at the salvation of a sinner? Who would be that selfish? That ungodly?
And then we turn to the story of the prodigal son. This parable is premised on a society that was dominated by the concepts of shame and honor. People and families sought to gain honor while avoiding shame. The listener fully understood the shame of this story. Everything that everybody does in this parable is shameful and unacceptable. It is counter to all conventional thinking. It is shocking, outrageous, unbelievable, unthinkable. Some of it is perceived to be shameful when it is not, and some of it is truly, deeply shameful.
A shameful request: It begins in verse eleven with the story of a father who had two sons. The one son requested his inheritance. It was a shameful request that would have raised the eyebrows of the pharisees. It is selfish, hateful and disrespectful. He is, in reality, saying to his father “I wish you were dead.” The father was standing in the way of how his son wanted to live. The son wants his one-third of the estate and feels it is rightfully his. He wants it not so he can build and develop a business or to manage the money himself, but rather for his own selfish purposes - for his own freedom and independence. The pharisees would expect the father to beat him, punish him, and perhaps reduce the amount of his inheritance. He would do this because of the shame it would bring the family to have a son make such an outrageous request.
A shameful response: The father divided his wealth between them. No father would do this because it would bring further shame to the family. Instead of reacting in an honorable way, the father gives in to his son’s request. Giving his son that much freedom would heap shame upon a middle-eastern nobleman. It was a very dishonorable act.
A shameful rebellion: The son gathered everything together, selling all he had and turning it into cash. He would have sold it cheap with the understanding that a person could not claim the wealth until the father was dead. Who would do something so dishonorable? What older son would stand by and let this happen? What father would allow this to happen? And all of this so the son could go on a journey into a foreign, unclean land and squander this estate in loose living. And again, the pharisees would have asked, “who would do this?” It would have been inconceivable to them. The level of shame and stupidity displayed by the characters in this story was extreme.
But as we know, the son became destitute. Loose living and a famine robbed him of all he had. He squandered all that he had been given. The son was sent into the fields to feed swine. He could go no lower. He is not herding pigs, but is a pig. He is a sinner in the most extreme form of rebellion.
In this story we see sin. Sin is a desire that God was dead and to want nothing to do with Him. It is to take all we have been given and squander it. It is to waste life in selfish indulgence while shunning all that is good and right. “This is the freedom of the will and it is a horrible bondage.” The picture is flagrantly extreme.
A shameful repentance: The son came to his senses and we see that the beginning of repentance is an accurate assessment of one’s condition. He realized that his father’s hired hands had far more than he did and received more than enough. His father was kind, merciful, loving and generous. He has faith in his father’s heart and willingness to take him back. He realizes the height of his sin (as high as heaven) but will confess his sin to his father and beg to be anything to his father. He will make no demands, no excuses, but will throw himself on the mercy of his father.
What could the son expect from his return? The villagers would have a responsibility to heap scorn upon him. This was part of the culture and he would have known this. He would expect that his father would send a message, not even willing to see him, and tell him to sit in the town and soak up his shame for a week or two. He would then grant an audience of great indifference and may lay out a long, harsh program of restitution that may just lead to a cold reconciliation after sufficient time had passed.
A shameful reconcilation: This is most shameful of all. His father had compassion, ran to him and kissed him. The pharisees would have rolled their eyes and mocked, thinking that there was just no helping this father. The father must have been looking for his son, for he saw him a long way off. Without having his honor restored, he runs to his son and plays the fool. He felt compassion like some type of wimp. He ran to him, sprinted to him, something old noblemen do not do, for it is neither dignified nor proper. It was shameful for a man to expose his legs and he would have had to do this to sprint. He acted indecent and shameful, disdaining cultural convention. He hugged his son, the vile, filthy, pig-stinking rebel, kissing him over and over.
Where is the same for this kid? Where is the price he has to pay? He should have been shamed. Should have been beaten. Should have had to wait. The pharisees could not comprehend the actions of the father because they could not understand grace. They had no category for grace.
The son got it. He understood grace. He said to his father that he was no longer worthy to be called his son. He left out the part about being treated as one of his father’s hired men, for he understood that he had received reconciliation with his father’s hugs and kisses. He received the mark of full acceptance and reconciliation. This picture was outrageous to the pharisees. A dignified, honorable person embracing a filthy sinner: this picture was incomprehensible to them.
It is God who seeks the sinner and initiates. He finds the sinner before the sinner could ever find Him. It is God’s love for the penitent that is lavish, loving, gracious and apart from any work. God finds His joy in the salvation of one lost sinner. He runs and He embraces and He restores the penitent sinner.
We are not used to seeing God in that picture. We are not used to seeing God so eager, so anxious. We’re not used to seeing Him with His robe pulled up, running through town, taking mockery for something so dishonoring and shameful. We’re not used to seeing God unrestrained and over-the-top happy and joyous.
A shameful rejoicing: As if this isn’t bad enough, they now have a party. He calls for the best robe - his own robe - and puts it upon the son. He treats his son like royalty, sharing in his father’s dignity. He puts a ring upon his hand - a ring used to symbolize full authority to act for him. He puts shoes on him to symbolize leadership for slaves and hired people did not wear shoes. He calls for the fatted calf, the prime meal to be saved for the greatest occasion. All this because he has received his son back, safe and sound. This is heaven’s joy.
The party is in honor not of the son, but in honor of the forgiving father. We will be at this party in heaven and will celebrate God’s love forever. This father continues to be ludicrous in his conduct in the eyes of the pharisees.
A shameful reaction: The older son is in the field, not involved in the family’s greatest party. This probably indicates that he had no relationship with his father. Should he not have been at the party? Should he not have been consulted? He had no interest in his father’s joy. This is the first person in this story that the pharisees can understand. The son was angry, and to the pharisees this was the first honorable reaction. They can understand the older brother because they were the older brother. They were very bit as lost as the brother.
A shameful lie: The son complains about all that he has done for his father and notes that his father has never given him anything. He is discourteous and shows his lack of respect for his father. He has no joy in his father’s joy and has no relationship with him. This is a terrible, slanderous attack on his father’s graciousness. Rather than reprimanding him, the father answers gently. He affirms that all he has has always been his son’s. The older son is as extreme a sinner as his brother, but in a different way.
God is gracious. He rejoices because one sinner repents. Heaven is not holding off the party and the celebration is going on right now. “There is a party going on in heaven all the time.” The joy in the middle of the party is the joy of God Himself.
And here is the obvious application: are you seeking to bring the lost to Christ for the joy of the father?
And then the story ends without a proper ending. What is the son’s reaction? Did the older son repent? Did he find reconciliation? The real ending was that the son beat his father to death in front of everyone there. It would be only a few months before these pharisees killed the Son of God, thinking that they were protecting righteousness and honor and the Law. As he crushes the father, he screams, “You are evil, you are evil, you are evil.”
The final, ironic twist is that the father, who should have beaten the son, is beaten by the son.
As the evening ended, MacArthur led us in singing “Grace, Grace, God’s Grace.”
March 01, 2006
It is interesting to look around and see how many people travel alone, and how many travel in groups. There are a great number of people, it seems, who travel to this conference on their own. These people tend to sit quietly on their own, sneaking into the auditoriums before they are supposed to be open to the public and sitting quietly with their books or laptops. There are also plenty who have come with friends and co-workers. These people travel in laughing, shouting packs. They go to the same seminars together and insist on sitting beside each other in long rows.
I tend towards the former. I am starting to understand myself as something of a loner - a conviction that grows with each conference I attend. It is not that I dislike meeting people and talking with them: it’s that I am not the type to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I guess that is why I enjoy blogging. It allows me to stay comfortably isolated. I wonder who meets more people during the course of the conference: those who tend to seek isolation or those who find community in the group they travel with. Either way it seems that a person is likely limiting his contact with others.
March 01, 2006
It has become quickly apparent that this conference exists not merely to equip pastors, but also to serve and honor them (and perhaps even spoil them a little). At the close of the earlier session one of the organizers announced that there was an area for “shoe-shining and everything else a pastor needs.” I don’t know too many pastors that need to have their shoes shined (or who need to travel to Los Angeles to have them shined, at any rate), but there are obviously plenty of them who will take up the offer if presented with it. So it seems that this is an opportunity for Grace church to honor pastors who give so much of themselves for the sake of the gospel.
We are about to begin the first round of seminars. I have chosen to listen to Phil Johnson expose the “damning doctrines of Roman Catholicism” in a seminar entitled “Rome is Burning.” From what I know of Phil, he won’t pull any punches, but will continually turn back to Scripture to show where Catholicism has abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Phil decided to retitle this seminar, “Is the Reformation Over?” It has now been more than a decade since the release of the Evangelicals and Catholics together statement of unity. This began a long campaign of trying to bring unity to Protestants and Catholics and has been signed by multitudes of prominent Evangelicals and Catholics.
The ecumenical juggernaut has continued to roll on. John Armstrong, for example, was first against this statement but has since become one of the most outspoken activists for ETC. Timothy George, at first withheld his signature, but since became an activist for ecumenicism. Ecumenicism continues to gain ground. Those who object are seen as being uncharitable reactionists.
Mark Noll has written a book which asks, “Is The Reformation Over?” and the title of that book is what Phil borrowed for this seminar. Interestingly, Noll is now leaving Wheaton College and moving to Notre Dame. One of the reasons for leaving is to prove his commitment to Protestant-Catholic dialogue. He feels that Protestants need to embrace the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has changed, especially since Vatican II. The Reformation has succeeded and thus, is over. But, Phil believes, what has really changed is not Catholicism but Protestantism. Protestants have largely abandoned their own doctrinal heritage. They have replaced it with a brand of quasi-Evangelicalism that is no longer opposed to or offensive to Rome.
This seminar will examine various arguments for Catholic-Evangelical ecumenism.
What is so appealing about ecumenical relationships with Rome? They come in five categories: practical, political, historical, biblical, theological.
- Practical: there is no longer any substantive difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants. It is easy to find Catholics who now act in ways identical to Protestants, whether seeking the gifts of the Holy Spirit, leading Alpha classes, and so on. And this is, in many ways, true. Post Vatican II Catholicism has a greater emphasis on the role of the layperson. This looks like a Catholic understanding of the Protestant concept of the priesthood of all believers. In short, if Roman Catholics and Protestants look alike, worship alike and have similar emphases, they ought to be together. This is a very pragmatic argument, but one that is effective because so many Protestants have long since sold out to pragmatism.
- Historical: the dispute over justification by faith has not been settled in five hundred years and will probably never be. No person, group or council has been able to resolve this dispute. If Protestant scholars keep entering this debate, perhaps it proves that this is a false argument and one that will never be solved. Another historical argument is based around the traditional Protestant understanding that the Catholic church is not a true church. The question then is, where was the true church before the Protestant churches? This question has led many Protestants to cross the Tiber. Catholics can point to an apostolic pedigree whereas Protestants cannot. Noll’s book is heavily slanted towards a Catholic bias and understanding of church history.
- Political: abortion has long been an important issue on both the Protestant and Catholic radar. We share many political and social and moral concerns. While Protestants and Catholics argue about theology, society is falling apart. Should we not lay aside our disagreements, people say, and focus on issues that are of greater importance to our lives? This was one of the original purposes of ETC. Another major political argument is based on a heightened awareness of the threat of Islamic terrorism. Catholics and Protestants should stop trying to evangelize each other when the threat of Islamic facism is hanging over the world? Should we not evangelize others?
- Doctrinal: in the big scheme of things there seems to be much on which Catholics and Protestants can agree. We both affirm many of the same creeds and confessions. We admire and are indebted to many of the same Church Fathers. We reject many of the same heresies and heretics.
- Biblical: most of these are based on the Bible’s continual injunctions to seek peace among all men and to seek Christian unity. And unity is important, even to the point of being the very measure of the strength and growth of our faith. But on what basis?
This is an imposing array of arguments. Within the spirit of the age in which we live, we can see why the desire for unity has found such strong support.
So, what then, is the problem with seeking a tie between Evangelicalism and Catholicism?
There is one argument that trumps all of these and puts them down in one fell swoop: the doctrinal disagreement between Rome and Evangelicalism is not small and profound: first, we disagree on the very heart of the gospel and how to answer the question, “what must I do to be saved?”. Second, we disagree on who has the authority to settle that argument. Two things must be affirmed among Evangelicals: The gospel and the authority of God’s Word.
A thumbnail sketch of Evangelicalism and what makes it what it is:
Evangelicalism used to be defined by a clear, specific theological stance. It used to mean that a person had a faith built on two pillars: the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. The Five Solas were a guide to the major doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. Two of them in particular stand out as the key issues over which the bulk of the debate took place: sola scriptura, the formal principle of the Reformation, and sola fide, the material principle of the Reformation. Note that these are the distinctive doctrines of Evangelicalism. All Evangelicals, until recently, affirmed these doctrines. Only in recent years has the expression Evangelical been broadened to include people who deny these pillars.
Sola scriptura affirms the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. No higher court of appeal exists or is needed beyond Scripture. Neither is anything to be added to Scripture. All differences between Protestantism and Catholicism stem from the difference in this point of doctrine.
Sola fide (faith alone) summarized the main doctrinal point that was at stake between Protestantism and Catholicism. It is a dispute about the most basic issue of the gospel. It summarizes the Protestant understanding that it is by faith alone that we are saved. It is an alien righteousness (not our own, but Christ’s) that is reckoned to our account. Those who have this righteousness need no other to stand before God here and now. It is not a process but is an instant decree. It grants us a perfect standing with God the moment we believe. Scripture affirms this repeatedly. Sola fide points us only and entirely to Christ for our salvation.
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism preach different gospels. This is the heart of the disagreement between Evangelicals and Rome. That Rome preaches a false gospel has been the position of every major Reformer since the Reformation. A defective view of justification is what drives much of the Catholic practice and theology that is foreign to Protestantism: from the veneration of Mary to the mass and from prayer to saints to auricular confession. Catholicism insists that justification is a process requiring not just faith but also obedience. The bottom line is that we are saved by faith plus nothing! These are two different gospels.
Our difference is so profound that both sides have traditionally agreed that only one can be right and one of us must be anathema - damnably wrong. Until we can agree on the substance of the gospel, this breach cannot be healed and should not be glossed over.
All of this has changed in recent years. An Evangelical is no longer a person defined by theology but by experience or church membership. “Evangelical” has been stripped of doctrinal content. Mainstream Evangelicals have been assaulted by movements that seem to be motivated by removing the doctrinal distinctives: The lack of theology in the Church Growth Movement, the anti-intellectualism of the Charismatic movement; the neo-ecumenism in Promise Keepers and other movements, the new understanding of justification in the New Perspective on Paul, the denial of propositional truth in the Emerging Church, and so on. These have all worked to the detriment of Evangelicalism. So now, Evangelicalism which was once a movement defined by doctrine, understands doctrine to be divisive and of secondary importance. The obvious casualty in all of this is the gospel. Catholics and Protestants have long agreed that the heart of the debate is the gospel, but now people would have us believe otherwise.
If we agree with ecumenism, we have set aside the gospel. It is positively sinful and grossly disobedient to seek the type of unity that many have sought between Catholicism and Protestantism. The only real hope for our lost and dying culture is the very gospel message they seek to relegate to secondary importance.
None of the leading Reformers discounted the importance of Christian unity. Because the Catholic Church abandoned the gospel of faith alone, the Reformers were driven to the conclusion that the Church was apostate and the Gospel was the issue.
While many changes have taken place within the Catholic Church since Vatican II, these changes are merely cosmetic. The Church has not made any significant changes in doctrine for the very reason that Catholic doctrine is unchangeable, irreformable. The new Catholic Catechism affirms all of the doctrines of the Council of Trent. Rome has not changed or Reformed doctrinally. She still rejects the gospel of justification by faith alone through Christ alone.
Scripture is clear on the obligation of those within the church who offer a different gospel. We are to reject them and the message they teach. This teaches us what type of unity we are to seek: a unity built on sound doctrine! Scripture’s exhortation for unity is a unity built only upon the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is the Reformation over? Perhaps it is, but this points not to changes in doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church, but to a weakening of doctrine within Evangelicalism.
Phil concluded in prayer that pastors would continue to stand for the truth.
March 01, 2006
I would not have expected John MacArthur to begin the conference with a comedic monologue, yet that is what he did. He made jokes about the length of his tenure at Grace and even his age. He asked for how many people this was their first Shepherd’s Conference. When at least half the men in attendance stood up, he asked, “So whose conference have you been at?” He remarked, though, that looking at the number of men in attendance, he has never been more ready to depart this world knowing that the church is in good hands. He thanked us for attending and turned the stage over to the Master’s Seminary Choir, which, when accompanied by the orchestra, led us in several songs.
And then John MacArthur stepped to the pulpit for the first session: a session dealing with some of the challenges to the contemporary church.
There is a landscape of pseudo-churches and the word “church” is terribly overused. It is easy to call a body a church but more difficult to be one. He mentions George Barna who calls for the demise of the church. MacArthur feels that it is time for us to defend the church and who gets to use the word.
He says that the most common call or letter that comes into Grace to You is “I can’t find a church.” People can find a place called a church but have a hard time finding a real church - a biblical church. To discover what the church is, we need to go back to Scripture and, in particular, Matthew 16. In the text, where that statement is given by Jesus, all the foundational aspects of the church are given. Everything else about the church in the New Testament builds upon this verse: “I will build my church.” This is the first mention of the word “church.” It contains the necessary marks of the true church, either explicitly or implicitly. This has the doctrinal foundations for a biblical ecclesiology.
- A true church is known by a great confession. The great confession in this passage is Simon Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Thus the first absolute is a biblical Christology: a biblical view of Jesus Christ. There must be an understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ. It is not built on a wrong or inadequate view of Jesus Christ. Without Christ there is no gospel, no salvation. The church is an assembly of people who make the great and common confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. To say Christ is at the center of a church is simply to say that this is a church. To confess Christ is the heart and soul of the church. “I simply cannot understand people for whom Christ is not the main subject of their preaching.”
- That great confession is built on a great communication. God communicated the truth of this confession to Peter. Peter was able to make this confession on behalf of the apostles on the basis of God’s revelation. It did not come from a human source but from God Himself. There is no human source for this saving confession. You cannot know the saving confession without the Divine revelation. It was objective, divine, external revelation. All we know of Christ must come through us by God. “The revealed Word is everything. Absolutely everything.” The foundation of the church is the Word of God because faith comes by hearing that Word. “How can church be church if it is not relentlessly Christ-centered and Bible-saturated?” The church is a gathering of people who are brought together on the foundation of God’s Word. A major attack on the church today is by people within the visible church who attack the certitude of Scripture. “God has spoken plainly; they don’t like what it says.” Jesus never allowed people to feel that the Old Testament was anything less than clear. What was in the Scripture, people were responsible to know and understand.
- The church is marked by a great contrast. Jesus warns the disciples to “tell no one that He was the Christ.” Why would He do this? He perceived that the people were going to make Him king. The people had a warped view of the Messiah and His kingdom, so they were not in a position to deal with the truth of this profession. They were looking for an earthly ruler and Jesus wanted nothing to do with that. His kingdom has no connection to any earthly kingdom. The church has no role in rearranging sinners into more acceptable lifestyles. Our mandate is to proclaim the Word of God. We are to penetrate our culture with the gospel, not to change the culture into a Christian one. “The biggest mission field in America is professed Christianity.”
- The church is marked by a great conquest. It is at the cross that all the issues of sin, righteousness, judgment and imputation are made clear. The cross my be exalted in everything. The cross must prevail in conquest.
- The church is marked by a great conflict. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan!” The church is engaged in a relentless war for truth. You either set your mind on God’s interests or you capitulate and set your mind on man’s interest. Many who profess to be Christians, even today, are siding with Satan. Many who think they are aiding the gospel are actually in the way. They are hindering the work of God.
- The true church understands the great contradiction: “Whoever wishes to gain his life must lose it.” Of all of the invitation statements Jesus could have said, he says this one. The great contradiction is that going after Jesus will cost a person everything. Church is not about making people feel good about themselves. It is made up of people who want to escape themselves and bring an end to themselves. This clashes so blatantly with what so many churches are offering today (see MacArthur’s book Hard to Believe for more on this subject).
- The church anticipates and understand the great consumation. The church needs to recover an eschatology that looks forward primarily to glorification. The church desperately needs to look forward to this great consumation. “The great wonder of wonders in heaven is that I’ll be there.”
How do you recognize a real church? You’ll find a person whose proclamation is Christ, the cross and resurrection, humility and submission and obedience to God as sinners desperately in need of grace, and who are living in anticipation in the fulness of grace when they see the Savior face-to-face. No wonder that such churches are hard to find.
And with that, we were sent on our way for lunch!