Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Almost Christian

Tomorrow I will be preaching on the Legacy of George Whitefield, and specifically on the danger of being an "Almost Christian".  I was reminded of a video I came across last year of a young African-American man lyrically describing the 'almost Christian'. Listen carefully, he may be describing you.

(If you're reading this on Facebook, you'll have to go to my blog at to watch the video)

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Listen to a Sermon: Advice from George Whitefield

Did you know that George Whitefield once preached a sermon on how to listen to a sermon?  I've done this once in my life as well (though at the I didn't know Whitefield had already done it).  Below is his advice, adapted, edited, and modernized for a contemporary audience. You may also wish to consult the original sermon.  By the way, I've been guilty of each of these in my adult life.

1. Come to every sermon with a genuine desire to learn.  If you don't have the attitude of a sincere and humble learner, then don't be surprised if you get nothing out of the sermon.

2. Come to every sermon with a yearning to obey Scripture. You might not like the message, but that isn't the point.  The key question is this: what does the Word of God say?

3. Do not hold a prejudice against the preacher.  Are you allowing your dislike for him to get in the way of listening to God's Word being preached? 

4. Do not be too dependent upon the preacher.  Do you believe it just because he said it?  Are you of McArthur? Piper? Sproul? Spurgeon?  The previous pastor? A childhood pastor?

5. Apply everything preached to your own life.  Are you asking God, "How should this truth change my life?" Or perhaps you are lazily waiting for the preacher to do the application for you. Even worse, are you thinking "I sure wish so-n-so is hearing this".  

6. Pray for the preacher before and during his sermon. Are you praying specifically that he preach with power and that God will grant you the ability to put into practice what is being said?

Listen to how Whitefield concludes this sermon.  Remember, he was not the pastor of a congregation, but rather a traveling preacher and evangelist.  Nor is he referring to 'ordained clergy' alone, but rather to that important though generalized group of men whom instruct the church.  He writes:

"Take heed, therefore, ye careless, curious professors; if any such be here present, how you hear. Remember, that whether we think of it or not, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, where ministers must give a strict account of the doctrine they have delivered, and you as strict a one, how you have improved under it. And, good God! How will you be able to stand at the bar of an angry, sin-avenging judge, and see so many discourses you have despised, so many ministers, who once longed and labored for the salvation of your precious and immortal souls, brought out as so many swift witnesses against you? Will it be sufficient then, think you, to allege, that you went to hear them only out of curiosity, to pass away an idle hour, to admire the oratory, or ridicule the simplicity of the preacher? No, God will then let you know, that you ought to have come out of better principles; that every sermon has been put down to your account, and that you must then be justly punished for not improving by them."

This may sound harsh, but in reality Whitefield was known for his tenderness.  Look at the encouraging way he ends this sermon:
"But fear not, you little flock, who with meekness receive the ingrafted word, and bring forth the peacable fruits of righteousness, for it shall not be so with you. No, you will be your minister's joy, and their crown of rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus: And they will present you in holy triumph, faultless, and unblameable, to our common Redeemer, saying, 'Behold us, O Lord, and the children which thou hast given us."

Monday, October 25, 2010

611 out of 613 isn't good enough

The October 15th edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an opinion piece by Rabbi Boteach, founder of a national organization that promotes Jewish values.  The article was titled "My Jewish Perspective on Homosexuality", which is a fitting title as the rabbi has essentially abandoned his Jewish values when it comes to same-sex relationships.  He writes:
As an orthodox Rabbi, I do not deny the biblical prohibition on male same-sex relationships. I simply place it in context. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples tell me they have never been attracted to members of the opposite sex and are desperately alone, I tell them, 'You have 611 commandments left. That you keep you busy. Now, go create a kosher home. Turn off your TV on the sabbath and share your meals with many guests. Pray to God three times a day for you are his beloved children. He desires you and seeks you out."
While I would agree that homosexuality is no worse a sin than many other sins, I find it hard to imagine how a student of the Old Testament could possible argue keeping a kosher home (a command found nowhere in Scripture) is more important than the command to abstain from homosexuality. Yet the most serious problem with this comment is the rabbi's view of the Torah.  Only the most blatant moralistic system could possible claim that obeying most of what God has commanded is good enough.  He is telling us that the intentional and purposeful rebellion against God is OK just as long as we are doing most of what God has commanded.  James tells us in the New Testament "that whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (2:10)Perhaps this rabbi would not accept New Testament teachings.  In that case, I would suggest he consider Deuteronomy (one of two places where the Ten Commandments are found): "Cursed be anyone who does not conform to the words of this law by doing them" (27:26).  Homosexuals are not cursed more than any other person refusing to obey God.  But here is the main point: but neither are they cursed less. If obeying 613 laws is the only way of earning God's favor, obeying 611 isn't good enough. 

Boteach offers a bizarre understanding of the Ten Commandents when he writes,
The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to connote two different kinds of transgressions: religious and moral. The first tablet discussed religious transgressions between God and man, such as the prohibition of idolatry, blasphemy and desecration of the Sabbath. The second tablet contained moral sins between man and his fellow man, like adultery, theft and murder.  Homosexuality is a religious, not a moral sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. Who is harmed when two unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship.
Part of his explanation is true.  The first tablet highlights our sins against God, whereas the second highlights our sins against each other. Yet if anything, this means that the first tablet is more important than the second (though Scripture gives them equal importance, for sins against other humans are counted as sins against God). Also, not all moral sins injure an innocent party.  The 10th commandment forbids coveting your neighbors possessions.  Our neighbors are not harmed when we do this (they are not even aware of it). Boteach is trying to claim that what makes something sin is whether or not it hurts someone.  This is not a biblical definition of sin.  Sin is violating God's standards of righteousness.
Homosexuality is akin to the prohibition against lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during passover; there is nothing immoral about it, but it violates divine will.
At this point anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Old Testament should say "huh?" Violation of divine will is the definition of immorality. The Hebrew word for immoral carries the idea 'wicked, obscene, lewd' and is used to describe shocking sexual practices which degrade the people of God. The issue isn't that homosexuality doesn't hurt anyone, the issue is that it degrades the people who involve themselves in it. 

I have no hatred for homosexuals.  They are spiritually lost, as are billions of unsaved heterosexual persons.  When witnessing to a homosexual person the last thing I would bring up is their homosexuality.  Some conservative Christians act as if this sin is worse than all others.  On the other hand Rabbi Boteach wishes us to believe this one sin is not at all that serious.  Both positions distort the nature of sin (and the nature of God). All sin equally condemns us before Him.  Because of this, following 611 commandments can never save us as we would still fall short of God's righteous standard.  Our only hope is Christ, who alone can change, redeem, and renew.  I praise God for those former homosexuals who have been set free in Christ. 

Sadly, rabbi Boteach offers a way for homosexuals to stay in their condemnation.  He offers not freedom and joy, but eternal slavery and misery. .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Q&A: Should the Church be led by Elders or by the Congregation?

Question: Should the church be led by Elders or by the Congregation?

Answer:  The short answer to that question is simply "yes".** Scripture clearly teaches that the congregation must (a) submit to its leaders on many matters while also (b) requiring the congregation to make decisions on certain key matters.

There are of course people who deny either part (a) or part (b) of the above sentence.  Those who deny part (a) hold to an absolute form of what is called Congregationalism.  These individuals believe that the Congregation is to be the final court of appeal on all matters of the church. However, this blatantly ignores many New Testament teachings, including the clear command in Hebrews 13:17 for the congregation to submit to its elders.  Furthermore, Scripture refers to elders as "overseers" and as those who "rule". 

Conversely, there are those who deny part (b).  This essentially is an absolute form of Elder-Rule which maintains that the congregation is not to vote on any issue, but rather the Elders alone are to make decisions (albeit with input from the congregation...maybe).  What I find troubling with this approach is a similar blind-eye (or even hermeneutical twisting) of Scriptures clearly supporting congregational decision-making. The Bible tells us that elders are not to lead with coercion, but by persuading the congregation to freely follow (1 Peter 5:3). Second, it tells us that elders may be censured and are not above criticism of the Body (1 Timothy 5:19). Thirdly, two passages in Scripture depict the gathered church assembly as the decisive court of appeal in matters of church discipline.  1 Corinthians 5:4 directs charges to be brought before a sinning brother in front of the "assembled church" and in Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus himself directs the assembled church to pronounce judgement upon an unrepentant brother ("if he refuses to listen even to the church...").  We might also look to Acts 6 where the assembled church chose its leadership.  While that may or may not be referring to the office of deacon, it clearly reveals that the NT church--at least on some occasions--had a decisional role on certain matters.  There are numerous other examples.  In Acts 1:15-26 Peter asks the assembled believers in Jerusalem (about 120 gathered brothers in the Lord) to pick a replacement for Judas.  Notice he did not just have the Apostles make this decision, but rather all the believers who were assembled together. In Acts 15:22 it says that "it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas." Also, in 1 Corinthians 14:29-30 Paul notes that the whole congregation is to weigh and discern the teachings of someone who purports to speak a prophetic revelation.

Absolute elder rule and absolute congregational government are not found in the New Testament. What we do find is the clear command to "submit to one another" (Eph 5:21).  I fear that those advocating an 'absolute' form of church government do so (at the expense of clear biblical teaching) out of a refusal to submit.  Sadly, we have congregations who refuse to submit to their biblical leaders and we have biblical leaders refusing to submit to their congregations.  All of it is sin. 

Scripture doesn't give us details.  It does not provide of list of things the elders can decide on and a list of things on which the congregation must decide.  It does give us (1) clear examples that the congregation made real decisions, (2) clear examples of the congregation being involved with the decisions of the elders/apostles, and (3) clear commands to submit to spiritual leaders.  Some have termed this Elder-led Congregationalism.

** I am assuming that we all believe that Christ--and Christ alone--is the head of the church.  I interpreted the question as asking about the human element and structure of church leadership.

Spurgeon on the Plymouth Brethren

Okay, based on the quote below I'm guessing Spurgeon wasn't a big fan of the Plymouth Brethren movement (just a little good-natured teasing to my PB family...I still count myself as one of your tribe):

"The Plymouth-ist strives to get rid of the pastorate, but he never can, for the Lord will ever continue to give pastors after His own heart to feed His people, and all attempts made by the flock to dispense with these pastors will lead to leanness and poverty of soul. The outcry against the ‘one man ministry’ cometh not of God, but of proud self-conceit, of men who are not content to learn although they have no power to teach."
Harsh (but maybe he was having a bad day).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New books arrived

Five new books await my eager fingers and eyes:

This is an old friend, but one that strayed from my library at some point (i.e. meaning some friend "borrowed" it permanently). This coming Sunday I am preaching on the Kingdom and wanted to re-read this classic work.  It is scholarly and technical, and is therefore hardly light reading.  But for those who wish to wade through scholastic jargon, there is treasure to be found.

The Kingdom of God, Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Here is a series of sermon preached by the master-expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Each sermon is based on a New Testament passage dealing with the Kingdom.

I have been waiting for this commentary for over 2 years.  I first learned of it while working through a personal study on Philemon (which I then turned into a family devotional series and now and recently adapted again for a Wednesday night series).  Jerome is here translated for the first time in English.  

I've also acquired two other books that I will hopefully get to before the year ends.  I've been collecting the official "Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works" published by Fortress Press.  Below are the two most recent publications in that series (they are, for whatever reason, not publishing these in their own numerical order):

A classic work, here given in the definitive 'critical' (e.g. scholarly) edition.

Misc writings of Bonehoeffer's during this period.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coming Live to Grace Chapel

OK, not really.

How many horribly disturbing things can you find with this "worship" service?