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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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BIBLICAL TRUTH OR EMOTIONALISM?

More and more churches are being led into emotionalism and not Biblical Truth, and, as a result, these congregations have no spiritual power of discernment.  They are willing to compromise Biblical truth for emotionalism and experience as they are taught to seek after a god who is not the God of the Bible.  (Justin Pierce, The Importance Of Truth and Standing Against Apostasy)

Wandering from the Ancient Paths

Ancient Paths“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV)

It is obvious that Christianity has lost much of its influence on the western nations. Where it was once prominent in western culture, it has now been squeezed into a much less important role. How has this happened?

Far too many ministers and leaders in the church today see their position as a job and not a calling. They have forsaken the Word of God and personal holiness to focus on increasing membership numbers (sometimes called “giving units”). Some are like the priests described by Ezekiel, “They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken.” (Ezekiel 22:26-28 ESV) The essential good news of salvation has been lost in trying to make the church an ongoing motivational seminar to help its members meet the world’s standard of success.

Increasingly, parents and children are passing through Sunday Schools and worship services without being given a firm foundation in the Christian faith. Often, the doctrines of the church and personal beliefs are allowed to drift perilously apart. Can it be any wonder then that the definition of sin becomes vague and “salvation by death” the acceptable conclusion of life? The lie that everyone goes to heaven is sending too many to hell.

As church leadership continues to become weaker by submitting itself to secular public opinion, church members lose their purpose of being “salt and light”. Indeed, how can Christians be salt and light when the world has become the standard by which the modern church measures all things? The church has lost much of its influence for good, because its leaders have chosen to ride the whirlwind of public approval than honor God and glorify Him.

God and the Word of God do not change. We would do well to follow God’s instructions: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV) God is speaking here to His people about using good judgment and not blindly following false leaders in the church. The Bible is our compass to direct our way. The ways of the world will never improve upon the Christian message of salvation.

Samuel at Gilgal

The Church and the Hypocrite

We must be careful when looking for evidence that someone else is a Christian. We make the mistake of thinking that every Christian should look exactly like us. There is a much higher standard! Are you consistently trying to walk in holiness? Does even a “little sin” in your life bring you to your knees to ask forgiveness? Charles Spurgeon, in the following article, takes an uncompromising stand on the great gap between holiness and hypocrisy:

Oh! The great thing the Church needs is more holiness. The worst enemies of the Church are the hypocrites, the formalists, the mere professors, the inconsistent walkers.

It is shocking to think how persons dare to remain members of Christian churches, and even to enter the pulpit, when they are conscious that their private life is foul. Oh, how can they do it? How is it that their hearts have grown so hard? What! Has the devil bewitched them? Has he turned them away from being men, and made them as devilish as himself, that they should dare to pray in public, and to sit at the sacramental table, and to administer ordinances, while their hands are foul, and their hearts unclean and their lives are full of sin?

I charge you, if there are any of you whose lives are not consistent, give up your profession, or else make your lives what they should be. May the eternal Spirit, who still winnows his Church, blow away the chaff, and leave only the good golden wheat upon the floor!

And if you know yourselves to be living in any sin, may God help you to mourn over it, to loathe it, to go to Christ about it tonight; to take hold of him, to wash his feet with your tears, to repent unfeignedly, and then to begin anew in his strength, a life which shall be such as becomes the gospel. (“The Gospel’s Power in a Christian’s Life” No. 640)

The Size Of A Minister

 

 

From the desk of John Newton:

“I measure ministers by square measure. I have no idea of the size of a table, if you only tell me how long it is: but if you also say how wide, I can tell its dimensions. So, when you tell me what a man is in the pulpit, you must also tell me what he is out of it, or I shall not know his size.”

The Waning Pulpit

Quoting J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1917):

This opinion may or may not be correct; the one who gave it evidently thinks it is, and unquestionably he represents a certain element in the Church. Whether true or not, it is the sort of criticism facing the preacher today. It is claimed that we have failed to give sufficient emphasis to the importance of prayer, and we read that this was the secret of true greatness in the pulpit of other days. It is said we have lost our power because we have not given sufficient attention to Bible study; not Bible study in the preparation of sermons, but Bible study in the development of our own spiritual life. Unquestionably the secret of Spurgeon’s power was found just here. During the days of the week we must become saturated with the Scriptures so that on Sunday the message comes flowing forth like the current of a mighty river. Men tell us we have lost this, that we preach about God’s Word, but not the Word itself.

It has been said that we have given up personal work, and depend too much upon our pulpit efforts to turn men to God. “How do you like your minister?” said one of my friends to a plain woman in the mountains of Kentucky. She hesitated a moment and replied: “We don’t like him so very well. He preaches well enough, but he has the college habit, and studies so much that we do not see him except on Sundays,” “and,” she said, “you know a minister must speak to you out of the pulpit as well as in it if he is to influence you. . . .”

[W]e must have a message to preach, not for the sake of preaching, but for the sake of convincing men of their sins, as the Spirit of God may lead us. When asked one day his opinion regarding sermons of ministers, Hon. William J. Bryan said: “I desire my minister to preach every Sabbath the simple gospel. The old, old story never wearies the average congregation, if it comes from a devout mind with preparation in the message. My ideal sermon is one which has an appeal to the unconverted and a spiritual uplift for the Christian. I want my minister to be abreast of the times on all new theological questions and research, but I do not want him to bring them into the pulpit. I have formed certain fixed views of Christ, His gospel, and the inspiration of the Bible from a careful reading of that Book of books and of the Shorter Catechism, and it will not make me a better Christian or profit my spiritual life to unsettle these views by a discussion in the pulpit of new theories of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. Finally, I want my minister to act on the belief that Christ’s gospel is the surest cure of all social and political evils, and that his best method of promoting temperance, social morality, and good citizenship, is to bring men into the Church. In a word, I want my minister to emphasize in the lifework the declaration of the most successful preacher, Paul: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

If The Lord Be On Our Side

Thomas Watson

From the pen of Thomas Watson:

If the Lord be on our side He can save us in that very way in which we think He will destroy us. Would not any have thought the whale’s belly should have been Jonah‘s grave? But God made the fish a ship, in which he sailed to the shore . . . If the Lord of Hosts be on our side, He can make the Church’s affliction a means of her augmentation, ‘The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied.’ (Ex.1:12) (Watson, Religion Our True Interest, 91)

The Church Is Not About Public Relations

John Macarthur

Quoting John MacArthur:

Nothing in Scripture indicates the church should lure people to Christ by presenting Christianity as an attractive option . . . The Church must realize that its mission has never been public relations or sales; we are called to live holy lives and declare God’s raw truth–lovingly but uncompromisingly–to an unbelieving world. (MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, 72)

Charles Spurgeon: “What Is The Use Of An Unholy Church?”

Charles H. Spurgeon

Quoting C.H. Spurgeon:

There is nothing which my heart desires more than to see you, the members of this church, distinguished for holiness. It is the Christian’s crown and glory. An unholy church? It is of no use to the world and of no esteem among men. Oh, it is an abomination, hell’s laughter, heaven’s abhorrence. And the larger the church, the more influential, the worse nuisance does it become when it becomes unholy. The worst evils which have ever come upon the world have been brought upon her by an unholy church.

Spurgeon On Bringing The Church Together

Charles Spurgeon

The Church is the body of Christ. For the Church to function properly there must be harmony among the many parts. Do not grieve the Spirit of God my friends by placing your needs, plans, desires, and preferences ahead of others in the church. Humble your tongue to avoid discord. Charles H. Spurgeon warns a group of ministers in the following excerpt on this subject:

For large blessing we must have union among our people. God the Holy Spirit does not bless a collection of quarrelling professors. Those who are always contending, not for the truth, but for petty differences, and family jealousies, are not likely to bring to the church the dove-like Spirit. Want of unity always involves want of power. I know that some churches are greatly at fault in this direction; but certain ministers never have a harmonious people, although they change frequently and I am afraid it is because they are not very loving themselves. Unless we are ourselves in good temper we cannot expect to keep the people in good temper. As pastors, we must bear a great deal; and when we have borne as much as possible, and cannot bear any more, we must go over it again, and bear the same things again. Strong in the love which “endureth all things, hopeth all things,” we must quietly resolve not to take offence, and before long harmony will be created where discord reigned, and then we may expect a blessing.

We must plead with God that our people may be all earnest for the spread of the truth and the conversion of sinners. How blessed is that minister who has earnest men around him! You know what one cold-hearted man can do, if he gets at you on Sunday morning with a lump of ice, and freezes you with the information that Mrs. Smith is offended, and all her family, and their pew is vacant. You did not want to know of that lady’s protest just before entering the pulpit, and it does not help you. Another dear brother tells you with great grief (he is so overcome that it is a pity his voice does not fail him altogether) that one of the best helpers is very much hurt at your not calling to see him last Friday, when you were a hundred miles away preaching for a struggling church. You ought to have called upon him at any inconvenience, so the brother will tell you, and he does his duty with a heart “as cool as a cucumber.” It may even happen that when you come down from the mount where you have been with God, and preached with your soul on fire, that you come right down into a cold bath of commonplace remark, which lets you see that some of your hearers are out of sympathy both with your subject and yourself. Such a thing is a great hindrance, not only to your spirit, but to the Spirit of God; for the Holy One notices all this unkind and unspiritual behavior. Brethren, what a work we have to do! What a work we have to do! Unless the Spirit of God comes to sanctify these surroundings, how can it ever be done? I am sure you feel the necessity of having a truly praying people. Be much in prayer yourself, and this will be more effectual than scolding your people for not praying. Set the example. Draw streams of prayer out of the really gracious people by getting them to pray whenever they come to see you, and by praying with them yourself whenever you call upon them. Not only when they are ill, but when they are well, ask them to join in prayer with you. When a man is upstairs in bed, and cannot do any hurt, you pray for him. When he is downstairs, and can do no end of mischief, you do not pray for him. Is this wise and prudent? Oh, for a pleading people! The praying legion is the victorious legion. One of our most urgent necessities is fervent, importunate prayer.

Brethren, in addition to co-operation in service, we need that our friends should be looking out for souls. Whenever a stranger comes into the chapel, somebody should speak to him. Whenever a person is a little impressed, an earnest brother should follow up the stroke. Whenever a heart is troubled, some genial voice should whisper to him words of comfort. If these things were so, our ministry would be quadrupled in effort, and the result would be fourfold. May all our chapels be cooperative stores for zeal and earnestness, wherein not one man but every man is at work for Christ. (“The Preacher’s Power and the Conditions of Obtaining it”)

May The Lord Give You A Holy, Praying People

Charles H. Spurgeon is here addressing a conference of ministers. He elaborates in the excerpts below on the necessity of church members to pray:

There is a sort of tutorage, as the French call it, in which love delights. Love’s manner of addressing men disregards all the dignities and the fineries of language, and only cares to impart its meaning, and infuse the blessing. To spread our heart right over another heart is better than adorning it with the paint and varnish of brilliant speech. If you greatly love, you are the kind of man that knows how to feel for men, and with them. Some men do not know how to handle a heart at all. . . . There is a way of handling men and women, and the art is acquired through intense love. . . . Get much love to Christ, and much love to immortal souls, and it is wonderful how wisely you will adapt your teaching to the need of those around you.

I will mention a few things more which are necessary to the full display of the power which regenerates sinners, and builds up saints. Much care should be bestowed upon our surroundings. Brethren, do not think that if you go, next Lord’s-day, to a place you have never visited before, you will find it as easy to preach there as it is at home among a loving, praying people. Are you not conscious, when going into some assemblies, that they are cold as ice-wells? You say to yourself, “How can I preach here? “You do not quite know why, but you are not happy. There is no quickening atmosphere, no refreshing dew, and no heavenly wind. Like your Lord, you cannot do anything because of the unbelief around you. When you begin to preach, it is like speaking inside a steam-boiler. No living hearts respond to your heart. They are a sleepy company, or a critical society; you can see it, and feel it. How they fix their eyes on you, and concentrate their spectacles! You perceive that they are in what a countryman called “a judgmatical frame of mind.” No good will come of your warm-hearted address. I have had great success in soul-winning, when preaching in different parts of the country; but I have never taken any credit for it; for I feel that I preach under great advantages: the people come with an intense desire to hear and with an expectation of getting a blessing; and hence every word has its due weight. When a congregation expects nothing, it generally finds nothing even in the best of preachers; but when they are prepared to make much of what they hear, they usually get what they come for. . . . Our work is, no doubt, greatly affected, for good or evil, by the condition of the congregation, the condition of the church, and the condition of the deacons.

Some churches are in such a state that they are enough to baffle any ministry. A brother minister told me of a Congregational chapel in which there has not been a prayer-meeting for the last fifteen years; and I did not wonder when he added that the congregation had nearly died out, and the minister was removing. It was time he should. What a blessing he will not be somewhere else! “But,” said he, “I cannot say much about this state of things; for in my own church I cannot get the people to pray. The bulk of them have not been in the habit of taking public part in the prayers, and it seems impossible to get them to do so. What shall I do?” “Well,” I replied, “it may help you if you call in your church officers on Sunday mornings, before the service, and ask them to pray for you, as my deacons and elders do for me. My officers know what a trembling creature I am; and when I ask them to seek strength for me, they do so with loving hearts.” Don’t you think that such exercises tend to train men in the art of public prayer? Besides, men are likely to hear better when they have prayed for the preacher. . . . Christ went up into the mountain and taught the crowd; and when you have a company of godly people around you, you do, as it were, go up into the mountain and speak with the people from a favored elevation. We need a holy people; but, alas! There is too often an Achan in the camp. Achan is more generally harbored than he used to be, because goodly Babylonish garments and wedges of silver are much in request, and weak faith feels that it cannot do without these spoils. Carnal policy whispers, “What shall we do with the chapel debt if the wealthy deacon leaves, and his silver goes with him? We should miss the respectability which his wife’s goodly Babylonish garment bestows upon the place. We have very few wealthy people, and we must strain a point to keep them.” Yes, that is the way in which the accursed thing is allowed to debase our churches and defeat our ministries. When this pest is in the air, you may preach your tongue out, but you will not win souls. One man may have more power for mischief than fifty preachers have power for good. May the Lord give you a holy, pleading people, whom he can bless! (Address to Ministers: “The Preacher’s Power and the Conditions of Obtaining it)

A Pastor’s Confessions

The following article is composed of excerpts from “A Pastor’s Secret Heart” published by The Banner of Truth Magazine, no. 235, April 1983. I think that it is good for those of us who are laypeople in the church to consider the reality and difficulty of a minister’s life. Toward this end, I suggest you read and consider the following article very carefully:

Our experience of the pastoral ministry stretches back to an ordination in the late fifties, and during the ensuing years we have fed and shepherded three congregations. . . .

In the sweep of these years since ordination, that is, from youth to our middle years, we can see two categories of experience, the bad and the good. Perhaps most of us, in our more public thoughts, are accustomed to concentrate upon the good and we give much emphasis to the privilege of our calling (of which none should be in doubt). But it is possible that, by taking stock of the bad, by facing it honestly, we may arrive at a deeper appreciation of the good. . . .

For us, at least, these are more difficult days than were those of the late fifties. Partly this derives from our youth being gone, because many will make allowances for a young man where none is made for the pastor with grey at his temples, and with heavy eyes. The most obdurate listener will entertain some hope that the youthful preacher will ‘change’, whereas no such hope will shield the same preacher in his later years from the barbs of those hard hearers. (We would here thank God for the love and understanding of those many Christian people, who, with courtesy and encouragement, have warmed even to our most immature utterances!)

But these are also more difficult days than former ones because of developments in society itself. Respect for authority generally, and respect for the ministerial office in particular, is much reduced. Individualism and self-assertiveness now rage without control. The very concept of the declarative communication of truth is demeaned: participation in the quest for ‘consensus’ has much diminished the preaching office. Together with this, we have seen a growing passion for excitement among professing believers. This poor, crude generation appears to know nothing, and to care nothing, for the testimony of the church’s experience through the ages. . . .

The cult of youth enters upon our present experience with desolating power. We recall from our childhood an awe of those who were old in the faith. ‘The glory of young men is their strength, grey hair the splendor of the old’ [Prov 20.29]. Today, however, our western world has gone far to rob old men of their splendor. Even the middle-aged must often give way to youth as we have witnessed when serving as moderator in vacancy committees. We have sat in despair as believers have stipulated that they shall look only for a man under thirty years of age, or certainly no where beyond his early thirties. Indeed, we must frankly confess to a spirit of outrage at the assumption that men in their forties, with both vigor of mind and body enriched by years of pastoral care, are now dismissed as vessels no longer fit for noble use. . . .

We believe that these three ingredients of the present times, namely, diminished respect for authority, increased passion for excitement, and the cult of youth, have given rise to the existence and employment of wrong criteria among the churches in their search for pastoral care. The danger may be described, in general terms, as looking for ‘instant’ personality — ‘cooked and tinned’ and needing but to be opened and served — for glamour, for youth. . . .

We may speak from sore experience, and say that a confrontation with moral problems will prove to be rocks upon which many ministries break. We know what it is to weep with and for the fallen, while seeking to counsel them in the way of life and with nothing but compassion and love for them in one’s heart. But we also know how wrathful a flock can be, if their pastor should dare to enter upon such matters. . . .

The pilgrim went from his Valley of Humiliation into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our path has gone in much the same way. We believe that, as greed rends the world, so vanity too often rends the church. Congregation upon congregation is dominated by a few powerful personalities who love their prominence, and who brook no interference. We do not depreciate powerful personalities, per se. Nor do we forget that the church has been greatly blessed, in every age, by those whom God gifted with leadership qualities. Such men are needed today in every congregation. It seems to us, however, that the church is blighted by the influence of those who love their power more than they love the Lord. To such people there is an impossibility about the apostolic command, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ [Eph 5.21]. . . .

We cannot deny the weight of this suffering. Our resolve at times grows weary. We break-down and cry in our study where no one sees. We learn a certain slowness in our trusting of others: some prove false, and their evangelical statements are exceedingly hollow. But of others we may suggest that their hold upon the truth is so slight, their sympathy with the Biblical emphasis is so superficial, their openness to the poor values of this crazed world is so wide, that, while they declare themselves to be profited under our ministry today, we dread lest some turn of events shall quickly disrupt their loyalty. The night-watches do tend to close our mind upon these sorry things; sleeplessness is our frequent portion during the darkness, and weariness is our frequent portion through the day. Loneliness is the salient feature of our path. . . .

We confess that, at times, we feel that the dullness and beast-like passivity in the people, as if they were so many cows placidly gazing at one from the other side of the hedge, derives from too much television-viewing. In fact, we suspect that our people do sometimes ‘switch’ to another ‘channel’ as they sit before us. Certainly at the heart of our human need is the inability to stir anyone until Christ’s loud voice says, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ [John 11.43]. We have seen this throughout our work. It has dominated our thinking, until, night and day, we cry to the Lord that he will graciously bless our hearers.

Screwtape On Picking Churches

Cover of "The Screwtape Letters"

A MUST READ!

Quoting Senior Demon Screwtape in a letter to his nephew Wormwood:

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization [neighborhood church] should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. (C. S. Lewis. [1898-1963] THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS. New York: Time Incorporated, 1961, p. 52

The Old Truth Of Christ Alone Is Everlasting

How do you respond to change? Are you one of those people who is naturally excited by change and always ready to embrace modern improvements? One of the hardest things to change in the church is the attitude of people who say, “This is the way we have always done things.” The counter part to this, however, is that some people love to change things just for the sake of change or to put their personal imprint on their job. We have all heard criticism of some of the new ways people are doing church. New movements such as “the emergent/emerging church” and “sonship theology” have certainly earned their share of critics. Some very notable theologians have warned us about efforts to turn the sanctuary into a theater. These new movements often neglect the preaching of the Word as they try to appeal to the emotions of the unchurched with an upbeat style of music. This approach is more focused on how we feel rather than God-centered worship.

We cannot simply dismiss these orthodox theologians with that tired saying, “We must make the Church relevant to modern culture.” Instead, we must heed the wisdom which tells us that Christianity is to reform the culture; not vice versa. The older, wiser, and most orthodox of Christian theologians are not simply naysayers to the new methodologies; they are here to warn us if we are straying from the true path. They help us to identify false teaching and to avoid violating the Word of God. It is clearly pride that makes us leap ahead where Angels fear to tread.

Charles Spurgeon teaches here a valuable lesson. “We preach today what was preached 1800 years ago, and wherein others make alterations they create deformities, and not improvements. We are not ashamed to avow that the old truth of Christ alone is everlasting; all else has gone or shall go, but the gospel towers above the wrecks of time.”

Opposing Doubt

Charles H. Spurgeon

Quoting Charles H Spurgeon:

“We want churches that know the truth, and are well taught in the things of God. If we taught better they would learn better. See how little many professors know; not enough to give them discernment between living truth and deadly error. Old-fashioned believers could give you chapter and verse for what they believed; but how few of such remain!

To try to shake them was by no means a hopeful task: you might as well have hoped to shake the pillars of the universe; for they were steadfast, and could not be carried away with every wind of doctrine. They knew what they knew, and they held fast that which they had learned. Oh, for a church of out-and-out believers, impervious to the soul-destroying doubt which pours upon us in showers!”

“Welcome Our New Pastor” And Be Comfortable!

Imagine: Your church has selected or been assigned a new pastor. As part of your church’s community outreach, you want people living in the area to know that you have a new pastor. After all, they may have visited your church before and did not like your old pastor.

As one way to communicate with the local community, you decide to put a message on the marquee in front of the church so that people driving by will read about your new pastor. Now, one very important question is going to be: “What do you say about your new pastor in such a limited space?”

Would you describe him as – “a mighty man of God?” How about describing him as “a man of God”, or “a biblical preacher”, perhaps even “a man who loves God”, or “a man who demonstrates God’s love for His people”? Of course, your imagination is the limit – as long as you are truthful and concise.

If you were called to be the pastor, what would you want the few words on the sign to say about you? If I were called to be a pastor, I would be greatly honored to be called “God’s man” or “a man who has experienced the grace of God.” Whatever is said, I would hope that the words would convey that this church and this minister are all about God, Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and God’s mercy and grace toward us who are sinners.

While driving home during the past couple of weeks I have noticed a marquee announcing a new pastor at a neighborhood church. The sign reads:

WELCOME OUR NEW PASTOR!

DR. JOHN SMITH (name changed)

“HE’S A CASUAL DRESSER!”

What would you assume is important to this church?

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