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Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

For those concerned about the spiritual state of Christian churches, we need to examine the gospel which is being presented. Is it the gospel of the Bible, the gospel that points hearers to the absolute holiness of God, the depravity and rebellion of man, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the call for repentance and faith in Christ alone?

A false gospel is far too prevalent in our churches. It is the “gospel” of a “kinder, gentler” God who needs for you to like him so he can bless you. It teaches that we have done bad things but God still loves us if we will but give our hearts to him. That the Lord Jesus took upon himself the wrath of God in the place of believing sinners is taught too rarely. Though certainly no evangelical, H. Richard Niebuhr criticized the churches of his day: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Unfortunately, things are no better, in the United States at least, a half-century later.

The video below is indicative of the false gospel so many children are hearing. Watch and weep.

For a better understanding of evangelizing children, see “Childhood Conversion,” by Jim Eliff.

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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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In our entertainment-driven “worship experiences,” the life of William Cowper (1731-1800) points us to a radically different, and dare I say, more biblical understanding of the gravity of our coming before God on the Lord’s Day. Suffering acutely from prolonged bouts of depression, Cowper understood his own unworthiness to enter God’s presence. In the conclusion to his The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, John Piper makes a timely observation:

The fruit of William Cowper’s affliction is a call to free ourselves from trite and chipper worship. If the Christian life has become the path of ease and fun in the modern West, then corporate worship is the place of increasing entertainment. The problem is not a battle between contemporary worship music and hymns; the problem is that there aren’t enough martyrs during the week. If no soldiers are perishing, what you want on Sunday is Bob Hope and some pretty girls, not the army chaplain and a surgeon.

Cowper was sick. But in his sickness he saw things that we so desperately need to see. He saw hell. And sometimes he saw heaven. He knew terror. And sometimes he knew ecstasy. When I stand to welcome the people to worship on Sunday morning, I know that there are William Cowpers in the congregation. There are spouses who can barely talk. There are sullen teenagers living double lives at home and school. There are widows who still feel the amputation of a fifty-year partner. There are single people who have not been hugged for twenty years. There are men in the prime of their lives with cancer.There are moms who have carried two tiny caskets. There are soldiers of the cross who have risked all for Jesus and bear the scars. There are tired and discouraged and lonely strugglers. Shall we come to them with a joke?

They can read the comics everyday. What they need from me is not more bouncy, frisky smiles and stories. What they need is a kind of joyful earnestness that makes the broken heart feel hopeful and helps the ones who are drunk with trifles sober up for greater joys (167).

We need to be pointed to the thrice-holy God who is reconciled to believing sinners through the sacrificial death of the Son of God. We need to remember that, left to ourselves, we deserve an eternal hell for having violated this Sovereign’s demands. We need to enter his presence reverently, worship soberly, and leave aware of his blessing because we are reminded that Christ suffered and died for rebels such as we are. And yes, perhaps we need a little suffering during the week for the cause of Christ. A touch of Cowper’s gravity would do us good.

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November’s free audio download from Christian Audio is Desiring God by John Piper. In a cultural Christianity that too often sees God as a means to an end, we need to understand that God is the end, and in him alone is true joy.

Insert NOV2009 into the coupon code in order to receive the book free. Enjoy!

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We carry the descriptive name “evangelical” because we believe that people are accepted by God through believing the evangel, the “good news” that Jesus died upon the cross for believing sinners. Sinners who repent of their sin and look to the crucified Christ, who took the wrath of God in their stead, are forgiven and counted righteous by God: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV).

An unfortunate invention, however, was devised around the turn of the nineteenth century. What we term the “altar call” or the “invitation” was begun by revivalistic preachers and popularized by the evangelist Charles Grandison Finney.

Finney is looked upon by many Baptists, as well as others, as a wonderful role model for evangelistic preaching. Throngs of people listened to Finney’s sermons and responded to his calls to come forward to the “anxious seat.” There they professed Christ and were counted as converts and received into the membership of local churches.

Many of us, though, see Finney as more of a problem to be avoided than a pattern to be followed. Finney put great emphasis upon making a physical move at the end of the preaching service in order to follow Christ, to respond to the invitation to turn to Christ. Unfortunately, as revealed by Iain Murray in his Revival and Revivalism, most of those who so “followed” Christ were revealed to be superficial believers who later stopped following Christ. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), pastor of the famed Westminster Chapel in London, looked upon Finney’s impact with grave concern. An altar call puts psychological pressure upon people to make a decision. Dr. Lloyd-Jones commented, “The Puritans in particular were afraid of what they would call ‘a temporary faith’ or ‘a false profession.’ There was a great Puritan, Thomas Shepard, who published a famous series of sermons on The Ten Virgins. The great point of that book was to deal with this problem of a false profession. The foolish virgins thought they were all right. This is a very great danger.”

Most evangelicals today believe that an invitation at the end of a preaching service must be extended in order to “draw the net,” to bring the unconverted to Christ. Great emphasis is placed on getting people to respond to the invitation, to come forward to confess Christ. Hearers are instructed to close their eyes so that no one, except the preacher, sees their response. They may be asked something like this: “Do you know that if you died today you would go to heaven? Please raise your hand.” “If you were not able to raise your hand, you may very well go to hell for all eternity. If you don’t want that to happen, why don’t you come forward to receive Christ?”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones, though, saw that such practices actually reveal a lack of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. He explained, “I can sum it up by putting it like this: I feel that this pressure which is put upon people to come forward in decision ultimately is due to a lack of faith in the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people. And of course He does. Some may come immediately at the close of the service to see the minister. I think there should always be an indication that the minister will be glad to see anybody who wants to put questions to him or wants further help. But that is a very different thing from putting pressure upon people to come forward. I feel it is wrong to put pressure directly on the will. The order in Scripture seems to be this—the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will.”

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It seems that evangelicals are falling all over themselves to become accepted by mainstream American society. Discussions about creation in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis are deemed “distractions.” The plight of the unborn is considered “yesterday’s battle.” It is considered fashionable to support a United States President who pontificates about the need to defend the weak but turns his back upon the most defenseless of humanity–the unborn.

It is encouraging to see concerted efforts to recover the biblical gospel and to emphasize a biblical view of doctrines such as justification. It is discouraging to see that many of those rightly concerned about the gospel accept the tenets of old-earth creationism and are deafeningly silent about the slaughter of the unborn.

Many rightly see that evangelicalism has been more concerned about culture wars than about the gospel. Far too many pro-life evangelical church members are relatively clueless about the gospel. They may be staunchly anti-homosexual while remaining quite fuzzy about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

That said, it is wrong to neglect what has been emphasized in order to emphasize what has been neglected. Conceding creationism today will result in conceding the atonement tomorrow. Forgetting the unborn today will result in forgetting justification tomorrow.

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One of the distinctives which make Baptists “Baptist” is the belief in a regenerate church membership. In other words, only those who profess faith in Christ and give evidence of regeneration are to be baptized and admitted into the membership of the local church. Because we hold that the Scriptures restrict baptism to believers (with all due respect to my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, whom I love dearly and often envy!), fewer baptisms means that are fewer conversions.

During the past several months there has been a lot of hand wringing among Southern Baptist Convention leaders at the fewer number of baptisms reported by churches throughout the convention. Strategies have been put forth and non-program programs have been implemented to reverse the trend. (I say “non-program programs” because we’re supposedly past programs, so the new “programs” are said not to be programs, but “if it walks like a duck . . . .”)

The latest lament has come from Ron Herrod, recently-elected president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. Dr. Herrod, doubtlessly a man of integrity and motivated by a concern for those who are not Christians, believes that the reversal of baptisms requires a movement of God and change in strategy. Pastors need to take more members on mission trips, train their members to do evangelism, and engage vocational evangelists to hold revival meetings in their churches. Baptist Press reported,
“As an evangelist and president of COSBE, Herrod encourages current pastors to take advantage of God-called evangelists who are trained to ‘draw the net.’ There are certain people God has gifted that when ‘the invitation is given, the harvest comes,’ he said.”

BP’s story is most telling,

In addition, Herrod noted churches that hold revival meetings require 24 resident members to win one person to Christ, compared to 36 resident members to win one to Christ in churches that do not hold revival meetings.

‘Use God’s gift to the church — the evangelist — on a regular basis to help draw the net and bring in the harvest,’ he challenged.

The former pastor is dismayed over a trend he sees in some churches to not offer an invitation at every service.

‘I don’t understand pastors who do not give an invitation. An invitation is biblical,’ he said. ‘What if a lost person is there and he walks away without an opportunity [to make a profession of faith]. We have failed to do what God calls us to do.’

Actually, I think Dr. Herrod is mistaken on most of his points and is part of the continuing problem, not the solution. First, the very office of vocational evangelist is without biblical support, at least the type of vocational evangelist which Dr. Herrod represents. Ephesians 4:11 speaks of evangelists, but these are better understood to be what we called “missionaries,” not a man engaged to hold “revival meetings” in a local church.

Second, the idea of hiring a man—the vocational evangelist—to lead services in a church “on a regular basis to help draw the net and bring in the harvest” is simply silly, and again, without biblical support. The apostle Paul reminds us, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6, ESV). Poor Paul could only plant. Where was the vocational evangelist to come behind him to “draw the net”?

Third, the modern invitation system is itself an unbiblical practice. There is no mention of its practice in the Scriptures. Church history reveals its practice to be only some two centuries old. One cannot help but wonder how the Church survived for eighteen centuries without giving “invitations” and “altar calls.”

I contend that one of the reasons for fewer baptisms is that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have engaged in unbiblical practices and offered a less-than-biblical gospel (such as “asking Jesus into your heart”) for so long that people have been conditioned to believe the gospel really doesn’t matter. After all, only a third of Southern Baptists bother to show up for worship on any given Sunday. Attending corporate worship is the easiest thing a Christian does; non-attendance is most telling about one’s spiritual state. Our methodologies have resulted in a lot of decisions, and those churches which engage a vocational evangelist may witness more decisions, but I fear that most of those decisions are not true conversions.

As I stated above, I think Dr. Herrod is an honorable man motivated by a concern for those without Christ. He is sincere, but I think he’s sincerely wrong.

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