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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Why Christianity is Different from All Other Religions

From the writings of B. B. Warfield:

“. . . The fundamental difference between heathenism of all shades and Christianity is to be discovered in the doctrine of Vicarious Sacrifice, that is to say, in the Passion of our Lord.” This is as much as to say that not only is the doctrine of the sacrificial death of Christ embodied in Christianity as an essential element of the system, but in a very real sense it constitutes Christianity. It is this which differentiates Christianity from other religions. Christianity did not come into the world to proclaim a new morality and, sweeping away all the supernatural props by which men were wont to support their trembling, guilt-stricken souls, to throw them back on their own strong right arms to conquer a standing before God for themselves. It came to proclaim the real sacrifice for sin which God had provided in order to supersede all the poor fumbling efforts which men had made and were making to provide a sacrifice for sin for themselves; and, planting men’s feet on this, to bid them go forward. It was in this sign that Christianity conquered, and it is in this sign alone that it continues to conquer. We may think what we will of such a religion. What cannot be denied is that Christianity is such a religion. (“Christ Our Sacrifice,” The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, p. 435)

Popular or Inspired?

Christianity and the Bible:

In the 9th century A.D., Photius listed around 280 uninspired writings. Many of these books were very popular among Christians. The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (c. A.D. 70-79) was widely circulated and the Shepherd of Hermas (c. A.D. 115-40) was the most popular of all the non-canonical books. Many quoted from these books. The Apocalypse of Peter (c. 150 A.D.) had great popularity in the early church and was a source from which Dante’s Inferno was derived. However, popularity does not equal inspiration.

Many are unaware that various “lists” of inspired books were in existence long before the Church Councils of later centuries. Eusebius (265-340 A.D.) mentions as generally acknowledged all the books of our New Testament except James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, which were disputed by some, but recognized by the majority. Athanasius in 367 A.D. lays down the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as alone canonical; shortly afterwards Jerome and Augustine followed his example in the West. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa–at Hippo Regius in 393 A.D. and at Carthage in 397 A.D. These councils did not impose – they simply codified what was already the general practice of Christian communities.

Easy Preaching or Hard?

Following Christ today is anything but easy. The gospel of Jesus Christ is hard. The message it proclaims is a hard message and it calls for tough decisions to be made. Pastor David Moore writes:

I will never forget many years ago visiting Belfast city centre toy shops in search for a chess set. I was going through a real chess loving period, and couldn’t get enough of the game, and so I decided to invest in a quality board and pieces. I walked into one store and approached the sales assistant asking “Excuse me, do you have any chess sets?” But to my amazement, and curiosity the assistant replied “Do you want easy chess or hard chess?” Now this threw me, because as I understood it chess was chess, and the difficulty of the game was dependent on the intelligence, strategy and experience of your opponent. So I asked “What’s the difference?” and she replied “Easy chess is with plastic pieces and hard chess has wooden pieces!” Obviously the woman had never played chess in her entire life! You see it doesn’t matter if your chess pieces are molded out of jelly in the shape of Winnie the Pooh characters, chess is chess.

A few days ago I was speaking with a pastor’s wife who was commenting on some of the problems her husband was facing in the ministry. She said that some folks were complaining because her husband was preaching a hard gospel. Now I know that some preachers can be arrogant, and some can even be outright nasty so as to put people off the gospel and church for life, but the preacher in question here is one of the most gracious men I know both in and out of the pulpit. So it appears obvious to me that his critics are not aiming their barbs at his preaching style, but at the uncompromising message itself. You see there is no such thing as an easy gospel against a hard gospel. The gospel is the gospel, and its truths are so vitally important that we must lovingly and graciously make them known, but without an ounce of compromise.

There are certain words within the evangelical vocabulary that are in danger of extinction. Rarely now do we hear the word “repent”, likewise the word “sin” is becoming increasingly rare, and the word “hell” is almost extinct, even though Jesus Himself said more about hell than any preacher. As I read books on preaching today I am told that I must address my sermons to “felt needs.” That is, I am to scratch folk where they itch. I am not to use negative terms like sin, hell, repent but to speak positively of love grace, heaven. If the church is to grow I have to ascertain what folks are feeling, to determine their needs whether these needs are real or imagined and to shape my sermon around those needs.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Tim 4:3-5)

It is interesting, is it not, that Paul predicted the day of “felt needs” evangelism, and saw it as people turning away from the truth. It is also interesting that he exhorts Timothy in this context to do the work of an evangelist. The work of an evangelist is to tell the truth

Listen, people NEED to be saved. And whether they know that or not, they need to hear it, and they need to hear it in a way that is clear so that they can make an intelligent decision about Christ and the gospel. Nothing gets my goat more than sitting in a supposedly evangelistic meeting with the preacher “beating about the bush.” If something needs to be said, then say it. Say it openly, say it honestly, if needs be, explain it, and by all means say it lovingly and graciously, but for goodness sake say it. (“The Hard Gospel”)

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