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Friday, December 06, 2013

The Missing Mark

I have been doing some reading this week in respect to church authority.  I have intentions of doing some serious writing in this area.  In my research I came across a  little book/pamphlet by James Garrett entitled Baptist Church Discipline.  It was included in a Baptist history collection on CD I purchases a few years back when I was teaching on Baptist history in our church.  The author did his work in 1962 but it is largely composed of an earlier work published in 1773 by the Baptist Associations in Charleston, South Carolina.

The opening paragraphs of Garrett's work caught my attention.  As you will see he was writing from a Southern Baptist perspective:

"Baptists in the United States, and Southern Baptists in particular, are giving meager evidence of having today an ordered, disciplined churchmanship. This appears to be true whether one considers ethics, theology, or church order.  Moral failures, which often are crimes as well as sins, increasingly occur among church members — Baptists and otherwise — and are reported in the public press. Even ordained ministers and other church leaders may experience such failures and no action by the congregation or by denominational bodies be taken. Many church members seem quite insensitive to the religious and moral dimensions of contemporary social issues such as race relations, church and state, war and peace. 
Despite some indications of a renewed theological concern there is among Baptists widespread indifference toward the great Christian affirmations. While claiming to revere the Bible and to adhere to the New Testament as the basis of religious authority, Southern Baptists have been too little involved in the renewal of biblical theology. 
The inroad of secularism and materialism into Baptist lives and Baptist churches is more real than acknowledged. Inactive and non-participating church members and the problem of nonresident membership have become major Southern Baptist difficulties.  The increasing number of Baptist church members seeking “rebaptism” on the basis of having been converted to Christ after initial “baptism” in Baptist churches is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon.  Friction between pastor and deacons, pastor and congregation, pastor and church staff, and deacons and congregation abounds and sometimes erupts into major congregational schisms. 
Southern Baptists are affording some leadership and example in the fields of evangelism, religious education, church administration, religious radio and television, and pastoral care. Yet, in the practice of an ordered, disciplined congregational life — that which Littell calls the central concern of the “free church” tradition in its beginnings — Southern Baptists are providing neither leadership nor example."

While I did not necessarily agree with all the author wrote (surprise, surprise) I did find it thought provoking and addressing an issue that New Testament Baptist churches need to revisit.

I also found this particular passage interesting in light of what seems to be the increasing practice of allowing people to simply walk away from their covenant responsibilities.

"The act of excommunication may not be performed by a member on himself; such a one, says Dr. Gill, is a felo de se; he is, in effect, a self-murderer. As consent is necessary to a person’s coming into the church, so none can go out of it without its consent. To attempt it is to break the covenant with the church, and, as much as in a man lies, to break up the church. By the same rule that one member may thus leave the church, another may, the pastor may, all may. The tendency of this conduct, as all may see, is confusion and destruction. Those therefore who are guilty of it ought to be looked upon as trucebreakers — proud, arrogant, dangerous persons — and to be dealt with as such. They should be avoided by all other churches."

I am thinking the lack of church discipline may have something to do with the overall decay of morality in society at large.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Most Detestable Monster

The following are remarks by John Poindexter from the book Virginia Baptist Ministers - Vol. 1 by George B. Taylor

“What is called schism,” he says, “in a religious sense, is division and dissension, whereby the hearts of men are split into opposite factions and interests, so as to make a separation in the church.
This is one of the most detestable monsters that ever appeared in the church of Christ; and yet the schismatic is often received with the greatest applause. The causes of this evil are pride, self-love, jealousy, hatred, evil-speaking, covetousness, lust for preeminence, immoderate thirst after the honors and pleasures of this world. We shall not stop to show by long argument that these are causes of division, because they are self-evident. Pride is at the bottom; self is the idol to be honored; jealousy is in company lest others should be more honored; then hatred, malice, envy, and evil-speaking take place, each endeavoring to disgrace the object in view, that everything may contribute to the honor, emolument, and pre-eminence of the schismatic himself. The description is given by Paul to Timothy: ‘Lovers of their own selves, boasters, proud, trucebreakers, false accusers, fierce, despisers of those that are good, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.’ The Apostle marks with severity this character. ‘Now, I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions among you and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them.’”

Taylor in recording these brief remarks by Poindexter writes, "Some remarks on schism are worthy to be recorded in letters of gold:"

In letters of gold indeed!  One of the difficulties of schismatics is that they prey on the grace and forbearance of others to advance their devilish designs.  Therefore all too often they are suffered way too long multiplying the potential for them to do damage to the work of God and the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Flimsy Method Of Time

The following is from Christ and His Church by B. H. Carroll. The end of a sermon entitled Judgment At the House of God

TEXT: For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? - 1Pe 4:17.

"The time has come that judgment should commence at the house of God." The repelling power is essential. If the church lays too much stress on the attraction, if the church uses worldly means of drawing people, don't you see how fatal that influence becomes?

Out in the unregenerate world are a great many nice people. They do not belong to the riff-raff. They are exceedingly respectable and high-toned, and they are willing to belong to some church, saying, "If you will just let the gap down low enough-if you will not stand there with a flaming sword and demand regeneration, we will come in." If you will quit preaching the necessity of regeneration, if you will quit preaching salvation by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, if you will lower the doctrine, why you can get the multitude. They will come in. And then lay a little more stress on the aesthetical parts of your worship. Bring in art. Be a little more artistic. Employ some fashionable singer, whose reputation is for song and song only, and put her in the church, and let her draw. Let her draw!
Oh, the repulsion of the ancient Gospel, when the people of God would rely upon the truth and power of spiritual religion rather than factitious, adventitious aids from other sources! God needs no such help. It is a question of life and of death. You are lost if you are not regenerated, and you are guilty of suicide if you deceive yourself by any whitewashing or veneering on the subject of religion. "It is time that judgment should begin at the house of God." Away, and forever away, with every appliance that appeals to men except as to lost sinners, guilty before God and needing the regenerating power of the Spirit and the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when the church forgets, when it turns away from its ancient source of might, to make alliance with the feeble forces of time, and surrenders the dignity and majesty and sublimity and omnipotence of God's methods in order to adopt some time-serving method, it stands accursed. The curse of God is on it.

I would rather see this house unroofed, each timber taken down, cast off brick by brick its walls, its foundations dug up and the trench of the foundations filled with salt; I would rather that the congregation itself, all in one place, by one bidding of Jesus, should be called through the portals of death to heaven, and leave not one upon the earth, than for this church to turn aside from God's holy way of saving men to the miserable frauds and shams and impostures that are sometimes employed.

"It is time that judgment should commence in the house of God." This is true, brethren. It is true no matter who is hit by it. Even if it lifts out your pastor and every other preacher in the church, and all your deacons, it is true that you have no religious power in the sight of God that is not in the line set forth in that book. You fail in your mission as a church when you abate one jot or tittle, when you lower the standard by a hair's breadth, when you turn aside to any flimsy method of time, when you go away from that simple foundation: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except you be born from above you can never see the kingdom of God." Let Judas go to his own place. Let Ananias and Sapphira, with lies on their lips, go down to their doom. Let Simon Magus clank the chain of his bondage, his fetters never having been broken. But let the church of Jesus Christ stand for the simplicity of the Gospel as it is in our Lord.

Do thou, Lord, give equipoise to thy church and cause. Make great the centripetal attraction. But also make great the centrifugal force. Let thy cause draw all men, but let not it draw them except by spiritual force. Oh, let not the builders of Zion's walls daub with untempered mortar! Neither let them work wood, hay and stubble. Keep us forewarned of the trial by fire, lest we suffer loss in the day of fire.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Foolishness Of Preaching

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-21 we have set forth God's method for moving men.  Central to that method is preaching!  Preaching has fallen upon hard times.  Preaching and sermonizing has taken on a negative connotation in the minds of many.  The negativity associated with it has caused many to look for other methods of moving men.

Looking back over the last two decades one does not need a very good memory to think of “Christian” fads that have come and gone.

The Jesus film project
Prayer of Jabez
Left Behind series
The Passion – Mel Gibson
The Bible – TV mini-series
A transition to small group bible studies
A group of people sit around a table drinking coffee and eating donuts discussing a passage if perchance they might come to some consensus of what it says, what it means, and how it is to be applied.

All of these things we were told at the time were causing a great stir among evangelicals and the world.  The unchurched especially were to be reached through things like the Left Behind series and The Passion.  The transition to small bible study groups is supposed to be the panacea that brings about revival and maturity in believers and provides a comfortable atmosphere for the unchurched to participate.

Christianity has turned to grasping in the dark for something to move people.  Christianity is in pursuit of the next religious fad that comes along no doubt hoping that this will be the one, and no doubt we will be told over and over again that it is. This new method or packaging of the message will produce revival in the church and bring the lost to Christ.  Christianity is now the person in the room that keeps changing clothes in order to make themselves more attractive and the whole time everyone is snickering under their breath.  The world is snickering under their breath today at Christianity.  How do I know this because they do not take it seriously?  Unfortunately, most would rather endure their snickering rather than their sneering.  In the pursuit of a fashionable Christianity we are forsaking the very things that make for a strong Christianity.  One element of that equation is preaching.

In looking for something that works we surrender the moral high ground.  The focus has transitioned from the glory of God to pacifying men.

There has been over the last 20 years or so a movement away from preaching.  The cancelling of services has more to do with preaching than just about anything else.  Preachers who don’t have that fire in their bones to proclaim and people who are content to have it so.  Jeremiah 5:30,31 - A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;  The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?

You will notice in verse 18 God said the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that perish.  Both the method and the message are often seen as foolish to them that perish.  Let me ask you?  If someone considers preaching to be foolish then what does that say about them?

In verse 21 the bible says that it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them which believe.  Here the emphasis is clearly on the method.

In verse 25 we are reminded that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.  So we are to conclude that what men deem to be beneath them is actually above them.  In other words if you want to start with the premise that God’s method of preaching is foolishness, then his foolishness excels man’s wisdom.

Then in verse 27 we are informed that God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.

There needs to be a wholesale reconsideration of the purpose, value, and importance of preaching.

1.       Preaching is God’s ordained means!   Titus 1:1-3
Preaching has to do with the Word!  Preaching is declaring the word of God.  It is a declaration!  It is not a pitch for consensus but an all out effort to render apparent the a text of scripture.

2.      The purpose of preaching!   Nehemiah 8:8
Preaching is reading in the book of the law distinctly, giving the sense, and causing the congregation to understand the reading!  It is also worthy of note that Nehemiah stood upon a pulpit of wood!   Nehemiah 8:4  We should be careful about to much casualness being introduced into our preaching, whether it be through dress or language.  The preaching does not just communicate through the message but through the choice of language and the choice of attire.

3.      Preaching is intended to be divinely powerful.  1 Corinthians 2:4
Preaching is not to be enticing words of man’s wisdom. Preaching is not first and foremost an intellectual pursuit.  It is not about oratory!  Preaching should be a demonstration that is a  manifestation of the Spirit and of power.

Isaiah 61:1 - The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Acts 10:38 - How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
Psalms 29:3 - The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.
Psalms 18:13 - The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.

 Could it be that when a man is anointed of the Spirit that there will be rumbling in the pulpit?  Is the God who speaks with a voice of thunder destined to choose men who are unable or unwilling to be a fitting mouthpiece?  The fact is if we want to hear the voice of God in preaching would should expect and desire to hear a little thunder come rolling out of the pulpit!

4.  The passion of preaching!  1 Corinthians 15:14
All preaching should be given its passion by the reality that Jesus is alive!  Ours is a living faith.  Ours is a faith that changes lives.  Ours is a faith of life.  Consequently preaching should have life in it!  It should not be a dry, dull corpse of dusty truth, but rather a lively, energetic presentation of relevant truth!

5.  Preaching is to be uncompromising!   2 Timothy 4:1-4
Vs: 1 - Preaching comes with a solemn charge
The charge is presented before God and the Lord Jesus Christ

 Vs: 2 – The elements of sound preaching.
Preach the word.  Be instant.  Reprove.  Rebuke. Exhort.  With longsuffering and doctrine!

Vs: 3,4 – The people will seek teachers.
The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. They will heap to themselves teachers, not preachers.  Everybody is a bible teacher today.  Bible teaching has it place.  But we need some bible preachers!  They have ears that want to be tickled.

Vs: 5 – The preaching is to continue!

6.      Preaching is warning!  Colossians 1:28,29
There is to be an element of warning in all preaching.  There is to be an element of teaching in all preaching.  There is to be an element of pressing for change in all preaching.  There is to be an element of labor in all preaching.

7.      Preaching promotes change!  Matthew 12:41
Preaching should produce repentance!  All preaching is about getting men to repent.  The very premise of preaching begins with the idea that we are not what we should be.  Preaching sets out to correct that.  It does so by proclaiming God’s truth and drawing the contrast between what we are and what we should be.  If you don’t want to change and you are satisfied with how you are then you don’t want to go to a preaching church.  If you want to be better and know you have a ways to go then you will want to attend a preaching church.

8.      Preaching establishes people!  Romans 16:25
To stablish someone is to set fast, i.e. (literally) to turn resolutely in a certain direction.  Preaching is intended to drive truth home to the heart.  It is meant to leave truth deeply impressed on us.  Platitudes may sound nice but they do not produce change.  They may draw a crowd and if that was our primary objective that would be wonderful.  Our primary objective is to be faithful to God and leave the numbers to God.  Platitudes produce pliant people while preaching produces powerful people!

9.   Do not despise long preaching!  Acts 20:7-12
Paul preached till midnight!  The bible say "as Paul was long in preaching"!  Bible lovers should not come to church to get out! Much of modern day preaching it is a great mercy that it lasts no longer than it does.  When we have the opportunity to sit under Spirit anointed preaching that is lively, vigorous, and challenging and thunders with the voice of God form the pulpit we should come with a huge cup willing to spend the time required to see it filled!

Psalms 40:9
Luke 3:18
John the Baptist that transitional figure from the OT prophet to the NT preacher.  He came out of the wilderness of Judea preaching the NT message like an OT prophet.  We need more of that today and not less!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Igniting Of Passion

The book of Nehemiah opens with him being informed of the condition of Jerusalem and the people of Judah.  The people were in great affliction and reproach.  The walls were broken down and the gates burned with fire.  The city and the people had been in ruins for years now. Nehemiah 1:1-3

Nehemiah 1:4 reveals how Nehemiah was instantly effected by the somber report he received.  He was deeply moved.  Though not having seen the destruction personally he took it personally.  He allowed himself to be impacted by the heart of God!  When, if ever, has anything impacted us like this impacted Nehemiah.  The condition of our own country, the cry of the untold millions, the moral decay all around us, the disintegration of the family, anything?

 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept.
This was Nehemiah’s initial and intense reaction.  The report he received created an image in his mind that brought tears to his eyes. He was moved immediately at the thought of the people being in great affliction and reproach and the city being in ruins.  Nehemiah had his emotions stirred at a very intense level.  Nehemiah was not a cry-baby!  Anything but!   But here was a man that allowed his heart to be touched with the things that touch God’s heart!   The fact that he was so stirred is probably the first indication we have that here is a man God can use, because he is a man of intense passion.  We are not a weeping people because we are not a passionate people.

 And mourned certain days.
 His passion was not a “flash in the pan”.  His was a passion that while quickly ignited burned continually.  His was a heart haunted by the images of a city in ruins and a people in reproach! He could not shake it.  Maybe we should begin by praying that God would give us a vision we cannot shake.   A vision that will not leave us alone.

And fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
His passion affected his diet.  His passion affected his spiritual priorities.  His passion affected his focus.  When is the last time we were in such earnest we fasted?  Not for diet sake, or health sake, or medical procedure sake, or weight loss sake, but for spiritual passion sake.  To ask it another way, When is the last time you fasted and prayed?  We don’t have many wall and people builders in our day because we don’t have many spiritually passionate people in our day.  It is this level of spiritual earnestness that will get us before the God of heaven.  When is the last time we were more concerned about being before the throne of God than we were sitting at the dinner table?  Fasting is not a very popular topic in a land with super grocery stores and ten million restaurants.  It is not a matter or deciding not to eat but having a burden so great you don’t want to eat!

Where is our passion for the spiritual!  Or maybe a better way to ask it is, What ignites your passion?  Is there no need so great we are compelled to weep, and mourn, and fast, and pray? 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Prophet Among Them

The first few chapters of Ezekiel sets forth the call of the great prophet and establishes the tenor of his ministry.  A recurring theme in these first few chapters is that Ezekiel was to give the nation of Israel a word from God and that he was to do so "whether they will hear or whether they will forbear".  In fact it seems to be implied that most of them would not be likely to listen.

Ezekiel 2:1-5 is a remarkable example of this divine challenge to Ezekiel.  It is here where God reminds Ezekiel that whether they hear or forbear, "yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them".

Where is the spirit of the prophet in these last days?  Those men who whether they or heard or not, the people will know that there hath been a prophet among them.

Yesterday I came across this blog post by Carl Trueman.  It was recommended by Pastor Jeff Carr.  In this thought-provoking article Trueman writes the following:

. . . . the preacher has to understand what he is doing. Understanding what a task is is basic to performing the task well. If you think that preaching is about communicating information or providing entertainment or fostering a conversation, that will shape how you preach. The greatest danger for seminary students is that they assume the lectures they hear in class are the model for the sermons they are to deliver from the pulpit.  They are not. Preaching is a theological act. The preacher finds his counterpart not in the lecture theatre or the classroom or, most ghastly of all, on the stand-up comedy circuit. He finds him in the Old Testament prophets, bringing a confrontational word from the Lord which explains reality and demands a response. 

If we are not careful we can become so  concerned about homiletics that we forget about the importance of spiritual anointing.  We can be so concerned about seeming sophisticated that we sabotage the Spirit.  We are so worried that some will doubt our scholarship that we cannot break free from dealing in obscurities.  We fear the onset of boredom thus we lower ourselves to joke-telling.

I am not arguing for ignorance or incompetence in the pulpit.  But I am arguing for Holy Ghost anointed preaching!  Men who study the word until they have received a word from God and then stand behind a pulpit and preach like they have a fire in their bones that cannot be quenched. (Jeremiah 20:9)

We are proclaiming a word that is "quick and powerful".  The preaching of it should match the reality of it.  Preaching should be "quick and powerful".  When we preach the word we are wielding the sword of the Spirit.  We should preach with an earnestness that is befitting the contest.  Preaching is a challenge to the spirit of darkness it should be enjoined with the anointing of the Holy Ghost and a skillful deployment of the Spirit's own sword.

The New Testament admonition is to preach the word and whether the people hear or forbear they "yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them".

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

O Give Thanks Unto The LORD

Psalms 105:1-5 O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. 2 Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. 3 Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. 4 Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore. 5 Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth;

 1.       O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name
Today it should be thanksgiving that prompts us to call upon his name.  On Thanksgiving our needs should silence themselves in the hallowed halls of gratitude!  On this day our needs should stand in awe of our blessings!

2.      Make known his deeds among the people
Thanksgiving should not be a day about what we have done but what he has done.  Our resolve should be to make known his deeds!

3.      Sing unto him
 Psalms 147:1   Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.
Psalms 69:30   I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.

4.      Talk of his wondrous works
On Thanksgiving the talk will center on his wondrous works. On this day we will exercise ourselves to talk not of our troubles but rather tabulate our teeming blessings!

5.      Glory in his name
On Thanksgiving we will exalt him as Jehovah-Jireh – The Lord will provide!  As we recount his provision we will glory in his name!

6.      Remember his works, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth
On this day we will remember what he has done. We will remember how he has worked.  We will remember his wonders.  Thanksgiving is a time to remember the judgments of his mouth.

For one day we are not going to trust him to do something for us; we are going to remember what he has already done for us.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mighty Men As Women

Jeremiah 50:35-37  In these verses of judgement against Babylon there is a very humiliating prophesy written against the Chaldeans. It is prophesied that in the day of their judgment "her mighty men . . . shall become as women:"

Certainly in the text at hand it is presented as a shameful condition for the mighty men of Babylon to become as women.  The New Testament exhorts believers to "quit you like men".  Act the part of men.  Be mature and strong in your Christian life.

One does not have to look very far to see that Christianity has been castrated.  The mighty men that were Christianity have or are becoming women.

Churches have been made effeminate by the world!  The raiment of John the Baptist has been exchanged for the vestments of popularity.
Churches sometimes challenge sin on the outside while suffering scandal on the inside!
Churches in cavorting with the critics have compromised their convictions!
Churches, instead of going into all the world with the gospel, invite the world in with their fads and fashions.
Preachers having led their churches down the primrose path now often find themselves pacifying the congregation rather than Pastoring the flock.

Her mighty men have become women.  Reminds me of another similar declaration spoken in respect to the death of Saul and Jonathan his son.  2 Samuel 1:27 How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!

May God give us grace to recover the masculinity of our faith.  Once again clothe ourselves with camel's hair and a leather girdle.  Learn again to earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.  Recommit ourselves to be a living sacrifice.  Prepare ourselves to be hated by the world and to suffer all things for Jesus' sake.

In a word to "quit you like men"!