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Posts Tagged ‘Church’

It is distressing to be led by ungodly leaders, especially when they consistently pronounce as good that which is evil. President Obama continues to do so, as illustrated in his recent affirmation of a woman’s right to choose to end the life of her unborn baby:

As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue—no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption. And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

Notice the President’s argument. The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision affirmed “that government should not intrude on private family matters.” The ending of an unborn child’s life is a “private family matter.” What if the baby were brought home and the mother decided that there was more involved in caring for this child than she had anticipated? She had thought she could continue her college education without too much of a problem, but now she realizes she had miscalculated. This is “a private family matter,” right? Why is it now suddenly government’s matter to say that taking the life of a two-week old baby is murder, but the government blesses the taking of a two-month old unborn baby’s life?

The President calls this “a woman’s right to choose.” To choose what, Mr. President? Please complete that infinitive phrase? To choose what? To choose to end the life of her unborn child. Then again, putting it that way sounds much less innocuous than simply saying “a woman’s right to choose.”

The President informs us that a woman’s having an abortion is a “fundamental constitutional right.” A fundamental constitutional right? Something fundamental would be spelled out, right? Not only does the Constitution not explicitly affirm a woman’s right to end the life of her unborn child, it does not even imply it. There was never, to my knowledge, a document written in the latter 1700’s concerning the Constitution which even discussed the idea that having an abortion is a legitimate right. Put quite simply, such a notion was unthinkable.

The final sentence in the President’s quote almost defies description: “And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.” Again the President makes an illogical statement based on unmitigated emotion. The lives of our sons are not detoured by bearing a child, so evidently neither should the lives of our daughters. If we want equality, why don’t we make the biological father really accountable for his actions? Why must the unborn child pay the price for selfish pleasure of others.

The taking of the life of an unborn baby, unless the physical life of the mother is unquestionably jeopardized, is murder. Those who seek it and those who agree to it, as well as doctors and abortion clinic owners who profit by it, have blood on their hands. Do not legislators who approve and defend abortion on demand have blood on their hands? Does not a president who defends abortion have blood on his hands? Does not an America which refuses to raise its voice about the barbarism of a “woman’s right to choose” have blood on its hands?

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This video by Paul Washer accurately, yet sadly, reveals what goes on in far too many, if not the majority, of churches in the United States. Washer is right in saying that there are godly people in such churches who want to learn truth and lead godly lives. Many of these people remain in carnal churches in hope of turning things around. Rarely does that happen. Should true believers remain in carnal churches?

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Often persons think that being a member of a local assembly of Christians makes them right with God individually. If that were true, the apostle Paul would not have admonished: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). Just because we are associated with others who are following Christ does not necessarily mean that each one of us is following Christ individually.

The Bible clearly tells us to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If anyone in an evangelical church is asked whether he has repented of his sins and believes the gospel, he is likely to answer in the affirmative. One cannot help but question the sincerity of a person’s repentance and belief if that person is known to sin without concern. Far too many professing Christians miss worship on Sunday because they had rather hunt or fish or even do work that is not required to be done. Church members make ungodly statements on Facebook, fail to return things borrowed, fail to acknowledge all their income when paying taxes. In these and many other ways, professing believers reveal the insincerity of their repentance.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) gave us this warning: “If an unregenerate man should leave off sin under fear of death or hell, it would not be out of hatred to sin, but out of the fear of the punishment, as the bird is kept from the bait by the scarecrow.” Similarly, William Gurnall (1617-1679) wrote: “Take heed thou prayest not with a reservation, be sure thou renounces what thou wouldst have God remit. God will never remove the guilt as long as thou entertains the sin. . . . It is desperate folly to desire God to forgive what thou intends to commit. Thou hadst as good speak out, and ask leave to sin with impunity, for God knows the language of thy heart, and needs not thy tongue to be an interpreter. . . . Hypocrisy is too thin a veil to blind the eyes of the Almighty. Thou mayest put thy own eyes out, so as not to see Him; but thou canst never blind His eyes that He should not see thee.”

Someone may immediately protest: “You have no right to question the genuineness of my repentance and faith in Christ just because I attend worship irregularly or because I make some comments you disapprove.” The purpose here is not for any of us to examine anyone else. The purpose before us is to examine ourselves. Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We need to ask ourselves: “Do I truly repent of my sins? Am I really trusting in Christ? If I am, what does my life say about my profession?”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) provides counsel as applicable today as when he penned his thoughts: “By repentance we must lament and forsake our sins, and by faith we must receive the forgiveness of them. By repentance we must give glory to our Creator whom we have offended; by faith we must give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins. Both these must go together; we must not think either that reforming our lives will save us without trusting in the righteousness and grace of Christ, or that trusting in Christ will save us without the reformation of our hearts and lives. Christ hath joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder. They will mutually assist and befriend each other. Repentance will quicken faith, and faith will make repentance evangelical; and the sincerity of both together must be evidenced by a diligent conscientious obedience to all God’s commandments. Thus the preaching of the gospel began, and thus it continues; still the call is, Repent, and believe, and live a life of repentance and a life of faith.”

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More books claiming to contain the secret for helping churches grow and influence their communities are written annually than any pastor has time to scan, much less peruse. I sometimes wonder if we pastors and other church leaders too often look to the latest writing of a church-growth guru than we seek to understand what the Bible itself says about the church.

In the short epistle to Titus, the apostle Paul delineates how the church can successfully fulfill its divine role. He points not to programs and activities but to people and beliefs. He realizes that leaders must be faithful, doctrine must be pure, and living must be godly before methods and projects can be effective.
Paul writes to Titus that it is vital that churches have pastors who meet godly criteria (1:5-9). They must exhibit blamelessness in their family relationships by being morally pure men who lead their homes in a faithful manner. They must demonstrate blamelessness in their relationships toward others by not being self-willed, quick-tempered, given to alcoholic beverages, violent, or greedy for money. Instead, they must be hospitable, promoters of good causes and good people, sober-minded, just, holy, and self-controlled. They must illustrate blamelessness in doctrine by being devoted to God’s Word.

Believers must also recognize the characteristics of false leaders and expose them for what they are (1:10-16). Those who claim to come in the name of Christ and yet are insubordinate, subversive, greedy, disreputable, unsound, defiled, and hypocritical reveal that they are not true men of God.

Christians comprising the local church must behave properly as the people of God in their relationships with each other (2:1-10). Regardless of age, gender, or social status, they must lead godly lives, motivated to do so because of God’s grace, the Lord’s soon return, and his sacrificial death (2:11-15).

They are also to fulfill their role in society as good citizens (3:1-8). They must willingly submit to the laws of the state, unless those laws contradict the laws of God. Christians must treat their fellow citizens with courtesy, honesty, and respect, realizing that at one time they themselves were without Christ, living contrary to God’s will. When believers reflect upon the grace of God in their salvation, they are able to give evidence of that grace in their relationships with their fellow citizens.

The church must be careful, however, to present one voice to the listening world (3:9-11). Those within the church who are guilty of spreading false doctrine and divisive talk must be totally avoided. They are not to be debated; they are to be rejected.

Finally, godly leaders are to recognize some significant principles about their roles within the church (3:12-15). They must realize they are replaceable, must give needed support to faithful ministries, must provide proper leadership by their encouragement and example, and must demonstrate appropriate affection to other believers.

If we endeavor to fulfill God’s role for us as a church, we will follow the lessons learned from Paul’s letter to Titus. These instructions are not to be shunned because they were delivered to another culture during another era. They transcend the centuries of time, the boundaries of geography, the impressions of culture, and the superficiality of yet another method.

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There is really no easy way to say this, but the state of far too many of our Southern Baptist Churches is poor. One has to look no further than the deacons who serve as de facto elders in many churches.

Those coming from other denominations may be unaware of the leadership model commonly found in Baptist churches. In these churches, the deacons function as ruling elders. They are the authority in the church, superseded only by congregational vote. Instead of a plurality of elders having oversight of the church in teaching and administration, most SBC churches (and most other Baptist denominations as well) have deacons functioning in that role. (Even more egregious than this model is the one that has a church council operating as ruling elders, but that is for another discussion.)

Usually these deacons are nominated and voted upon by the congregation. Business sense and popularity are often the criteria for getting elected. Spiritual requirements found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are seldom acknowledged. These deacons typically have little awareness of the Scriptures, no knowledge of church history, no understanding of why they are Baptists other than immersion as the mode of baptism, and yet have authority over the church. When someone in the church has a complaint about the pastor, these deacons confront the pastor to change in order to keep peace in the church. Heaven forbid that a disgruntled church member offended because his sin is confronted through the preaching of the Word should leave and take his money with him. At all costs, the budget must be met!

But why do we have this situation? The blame cannot help but be placed upon pastors who have been more concerned with keeping their positions than being faithful to the Scriptures. Pastors have before remarked about some particular doctrine with this: “I believe that, but I can’t preach it in my church. They won’t stand for it.” Didn’t the apostle Paul warn us of this very thing?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4, ESV)

So now we have church after church led by deacons who possess little understanding of the Scriptures and yet determine whether the church’s pastor stays or goes. Too often they are more concerned about the budget and attendance than with sound doctrine and godly living. Have our churches ever been in a more deplorable condition? I doubt it. May God have mercy on the pastor who seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures in such churches. Unless God intervenes, he will find himself either without employment or with a drastically-reduced congregation (as well as reduced compensation). And often his antagonist will be some curmudgeon retired pastor who has remained as a member of the congregation, the very cause for the congregation’s wretched spiritual condition! (I have in mind a church in which this has recently occurred.)

May God be pleased to change the hearts of our people to be submissive to his Scriptures, to seek to glorify him in all things, and to rejoice in having pastors who preach the whole counsel of God.

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During the past century or so, the concept of pragmatism has become the guiding force behind how conservative churches function and how the gathered church worships. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, pragmatism is “a practical approach to problems and affairs.” Philosophically, pragmatism is “an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief.”

Basically, pragmatism boils down to doing what works, doing what produces the desired results. The April 25, 1912, issue of The Christian Index, the weekly paper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, editorialized: “‘What can it accomplish?’ is the question that meets every man today who presents to the world for its consideration either some new invention, or some new theory of social, civil or political activity; or some religious belief and practice.” That which applied to individuals also applied to organizations: “‘What are you accomplishing for the betterment of men and of society?’ is the question which every organization of men has to meet and answer. And the higher the claim of such organization the more searching the investigation that then will make into the results it is achieving.” Obviously, then, those churches which were producing tangible results were the ones which had satisfactorily answered the question. For support, the work of the Salvation Army was presented: “Some years ago, the Salvation Army began its operations, and by its strange, biazarre [sic] methods, shocked the sensibilities of the thoughtful. It had to run the gauntlet of suspicion, ridicule, contempt, and misrepresentation. But it stood the test. It has done a great work where no one else was working. In the parlance of the day, it has ‘made good;’ and now men of every creed and nation recognize it as a great power for good. Its officers get a hearing anywhere and purses open to its pleas that remain closed to those of regular churches.”

Neither the doctrine nor the methods of the Salvation Army were examined for biblical faithfulness. The criterion for approving the Salvation Army’s methods was that they had “made good.” The Index found support in the words of Jesus: “‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ is as true of churches and denominations as it is of individuals.”

Whatever works, whatever gets the most persons to the worship “service,” whatever appeals to the populace so we can get out our message—these are the concepts which have been directing much of the work of evangelical churches for over a century. In the twenty-first century we find churches following the latest fads to attract a following. Pastors wearing suits are out; pastors preaching in jeans and untucked shirts are in. Reverent worship is out; high-powered bands are in. The use of discretion in sermons is out; explicit talk about sex is in.

Many of these churches teach doctrine which we would endorse, and yet there seems to be danger lurking. When a church appeals to outsiders through a “hip” pastor and a certain style of music and the use of coarse speech, that church is on the slippery slope to compromising its message. It may not happen in the first generation, but the next generation will discover that people are turned off by concepts such as personal holiness, judgment and hell, the wrath of God, and the inability of humans to come to Christ in their own power. After the hip wears off, the message will come under attack. The apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 will come into play: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

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Racism and the church

There are things in life that I have trouble understanding. I don’t understand why Hollywood celebrities are called before Congress as expert witnesses concerning environmental issues. I don’t understand why folks who don’t like winter sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I don’t understand why men can’t pick their clothes up off the floor (or should that be “little boys in men’s bodies”?).

Something I really have trouble understanding is how folks can say they love Christ while at the same time disdaining others simply because those “others” are of another ethnicity or skin color.

I was struck by this last year during South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary. It seems that the Clintons decided surreptitiously to make Barack Obama’s race an issue. Black South Carolinians took umbrage at the attacks and voted overwhelmingly for the candidate of their skin color. White South Carolinians basically voted likewise, dividing their votes between Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

Please understand that I did not have a dog in that fight. As far as I’m concerned, not one of the three is worthy of the presidency of the United States. All three are pro-abortion, and that one factor disqualifies them from my vote. By the way, Republican Rudy Giuliani was likewise disqualified because of his pro-abortion standing.

Unfortunately, the same racism which characterized the Democratic primary is too often seen in our churches, both white and black. How can a person really be a Christian and disdain another person because his skin is a different color? I can hear someone say something like, “Well, you’re not old enough to remember how it used to be.” I have two responses. First, how things “used to be” is rarely how things really were. We all observe the past through biased lenses. Second, how things “used to be” is at most how things used to be. Whatever it was does not make it right. Besides, this is now, not then.

The gospel of Jesus Christ stands in opposition to racism, whether it is white against black, black against white, black or white against Hispanic, or whatever. If it is really true that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), then most certainly there are to be no divisions based upon any ethnicity or color of skin.

God looks not at the color of our skin or the bent of our culture but at the condition of our heart. Outside of Christ, every heart is the same color, filled with depravity. In Christ, the believer is counted perfectly righteous.

Theologian Michael Horton maintains: “The prophets remind us repeatedly of the vision of the latter days, with the nations streaming to Zion, bearing their gifts for the great celebration. As a foretaste of that festival, each gathering of the Lord’s people should reflect as much as possible the diversity of gifts that serve the unity of the body.” (“Grace, Race, and Catholicity,” Modern Reformation, Jan./Feb. 2008, 21).

Horton is right. There will be no preferences in heaven—whether race or age or sex or social status or whatever. Only because of man’s depravity are there any on earth.

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