Saturday, March 25, 2017

Where are You Going?


Where Are You Going By I. C. Herendeen
TIME FLIES. The days, the weeks, the months and the years slip by with incredible speed, and are gone before we realize it. It seems as though they no more begin, than they are gone, passed into eternity. So, too, the happenings of the day soon recede into the distant past. Everything in this world is fleeting and transitory—nothing is stable and lasting. “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psa 90:9). Being busily engrossed with the occupations, labors and pursuits of life we are more or less insensible to the swiftness of passing time, of the solemn fact that life itself is fast getting away from us, and that the end of our earthly journey is speedily and surely approaching. Or, if we are conscious that our time is getting short, either we dismiss the thought or reckon that somehow or other all will be well in the end.
How important it is that we keep in mind that our death is ever on the horizon, that we are but a heartbeat from it, and that when we die, we will be ushered into eternity from which there is no return or escape. Since death is so common we do not give this sufficient thought. We seem to have developed a sense of immunity to such an experience. Because death seems so vague, unreal and unlikely, we fail to take it into serious consideration. Instead, we live as though we were certain of many more years of life, whereas God's Word faithfully warns us: “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Pro 27:1).
We hear and read of large numbers being killed in war or by accident, of thousands starving to death in Africa and India. But we give this little or no thought; it doesn't mean much to us since we are not personally involved. A neighbor down the street dies, or one of our own dear ones is taken from us. This may cause us to stop and think for a moment, but soon it is largely gone from our memory and we go on our way day after day, probably with the thought in the back of our mind that we are safe and have no reason to be apprehensive. We have plenty of time yet.
Likely the thought of our death would take on a new and serious meaning if we knew that the moment we pass from this scene (and this could be and may be before this day is over) we would awake in hell, in the “everlasting burnings” (Isa 33:14) forever past all hope. But this is just what God's Word makes known to every unsaved sinner. Scripture is clear and plain that “the wicked shall be turned into hell!” (Psalm 9:17); “the rich man also died, and was buried, and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:22).
Many take thought for their bodies, but totally neglect the interests of their immortal souls. But “what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). Most drift aimlessly through life without any care or concern as to what is before them after this fleeting life is over, seemingly taking it for granted that somehow or other everything will turn out all right with them in the end. This is what they hope; and they give themselves the benefit of any doubt.
Many have no consciousness of their lost condition. While they do not consider themselves perfect, yet they are not aware that there is anything seriously wrong with them. They are respectable, law-abiding citizens, and consider themselves no worse than their neighbors; and though they scarcely ever read the Bible or enter a church, they fully expect to go to heaven when they die. Some will admit that they are sinners, but imagine that their good works will far outnumber their bad ones. Some fancy that all will be well with them because they have joined “the church of their choice,” been baptized and partake of the Lord's supper. On the contrary, God's Word informs us that it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus3:5) that we are saved. Again, we are told that “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt 19:17); that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), and that “the wrath of God abideth” (John 3:36) on such. This is the condition of every unsaved sinner in the sight of God—be he king or begger, high or low, rich or poor, moral or immoral, kind or unkind, religious or irreligious.
How prone is human nature to neglect or slight God's solemn warnings and threats of coming judgment! We are told after death is the judgment (Heb9:27). The reason is the apprehension of these things is disquieting and disturbing, hence men put such thoughts from them and go on their way. Few indeed are disturbed enough about their eternal future to cry out—“What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). O the consummate folly of such indifference and procrastination when your eternal destiny is at stake!
Soon, very soon, taking the longest possible view, you will go down to the dust and your spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl 12:7). O my friend, do not lightly dismiss this matter from your thoughts, or your folly will only accentuate your misery in that Day. Far better to be made humble now for a time than that you should weep and gnash your teeth (Matt 8:12) forever. His gracious word to you is that God hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his wicked way and live (Ezek 33:11); that you repent and turn from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin (Ezek 18:30). Unless you savingly believe the gospel repenting of your sin (Mark 1:15), Christ Himself asks, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt 23:33).
O sinner, will you continue another day with God's wrath hanging over your head? Remember, your day of grace may be all but over. God warns you—“My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen 6:3). Take heed to His divine admonition—“Seek ye the LORD while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:6-7). Hallelujah, what a Saviour! Flee to Him now by faith while time and opportunity are yours. Cast yourself humbly and penitently at His feet and cry unto Him for mercy, for “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13).
Christ receives sinners . Will you come? “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (Psalm 2:12).
Eternity.
Time will soon end,
Its fleeting moments pass away;
O sinner say, where wilt thou spend Eternity's unchanging day?
Shalt thou the hopeless horror see Of hell for all eternity?

Tonight may be thy latest breath, Thy little moment here be done; Eternal woe — the second death Awaits the Christ-rejecting one Thine awful destiny foresee, Time ends, and then — ETERNITY! 

Friday, March 24, 2017

God is Not Dependent on Our Human Success

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
1 Peter 5:6

The following is a quote from A.W. Tozer's devotional...

 "Why is it that professed Christian church seems to have learned so little from our Lord's plain teachings and example concerning human failure and success?
  We are still seeing as men see and judging after the manner of man's judgement. How much eager beaver religious work is done out of a carnal desire to make good? How many hours of prayer are wasted beseeching God to bless projects that are geared to the glorification of little men? How much sacred money is poured out upon men who, in spite of their tear-in-the-voice- appeals, nevertheless seek only to make a fair show in the flesh?
  The true Christian should turn away from all this. No man is worthy to succeed until he is willing to fail. No man is morally worthy of success in religious activities until he is willing that the honor of succeeding should go to another if God so wills.
  God may allow His servant to succeed when He has disciplined him to a point where he does not need to succeed to be happy. The man who is elated by success and cast down by failure is still a carnal man.
  God will allow His servant to succeed when he has learned that success does not make him dearer to God or more valuable in the total scheme of things. 
  Our great honor lies in being just what Jesus was and is. To be accepted by those who accept Him, rejected by all who reject Him, loved by those who love Him. What greater glory could come to any man?
 

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Rapture-Don't Be Deceived

The Rapture - Don't Be Deceived
14 Studies on 7 DVD's or 10 Blu Rays
If there’s one thing you don’t want to be deceived about in life, it’s the Biblical truth concerning the Rapture. The Bible says that for those who are left behind after this next great event on God’s end time prophetic calendar, they will be thrust into the 7-year Tribulation, which is not a party. Rather, it’s an outpouring of God’s wrath upon this wicked and rebellious planet which will soon turn into mankind’s greatest nightmare! Unfortunately, there seems to be a multitude of opinions out there concerning the purpose and timing of the Rapture which is starting to cause a lot of unnecessary confusion and division. Therefore, The Rapture: Don’t Be Deceived takes a detective’s approach toward the Biblical teaching of the Rapture and examines the many Scriptural facts surrounding it. You will discover such amazing clues as:
1. The Importance of the Rapture
2. The Purpose of the Rapture
3. The Timing of the Rapture
4. The Objections of the Rapture
5. The Positions of the Rapture
6. The Proper Attitude of the Rapture
The Rapture: Don’t Be Deceived is not only designed to equip and encourage you in the truth concerning the purpose and proof of the Biblical Rapture, but to also motivate you in sharing the wonderful truth that people don’t have to be left behind at the Rapture. God has provided a way out of this horrible time frame through Jesus Christ and has been warning us about this sudden shocking event for the last 2,000 years!
It’s near and we need to get ready for it! The Rapture: Don’t Be Deceived!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Absolute Uncertianty

by John MacArthur
For postmodern philosophers and theologians, searching for truth is like chasing a rainbow—a journey with no real destination. They believe “the truth is out there” but they’re comfortable keeping it that way—perpetually beyond reach.
Yet there’s nothing actually new or innovative about their pseudo-quest. They merely echo what Pontius Pilate said two thousand years earlier: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
The tragic part about Pilate’s question is that it was only rhetorical. Like skeptics of all ages, including contemporary postmodernists, Pilate despaired of ever finding universal truth (worse still, standing before him was Jesus Christ—the way, the truth, and the life). And the belief that no one can really know anything for certain seems to be the one dogma postmodernists will tolerate. Uncertainty is the new truth. Doubt and skepticism have been canonized as a form of humility. Right and wrong have been redefined in terms of subjective feelings and personal perspectives.
Those views are infiltrating the church too. The Emerging church began as a self-conscious effort to make Christianity more suitable to a postmodern culture. Emergent Christians were determined to adapt the Christian faith, the structure of the church, the language of faith, and even the gospel message itself to the ideas and rhetoric of postmodernism.
Some in the movement openly questioned whether there is even any legitimate role for preaching in a postmodern culture. “Dialogue” is the preferred method of communication. Accordingly, some Emerging-style congregations did away with pastors altogether and replaced them with “narrators.” For obvious reasons, an authoritative “thus saith the Lord” is not welcome in such a setting.
Of course, the first casualty of that way of thinking is every kind of certainty. The central propositions and bedrock convictions of biblical Christianity—such as firm belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, a sound understanding of the true gospel, full assurance of salvation, settled confidence in the lordship of Christ, and the narrow exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation—do not reconcile well with postmodernism’s contempt for clear, authoritative truth claims.
Listen, for example, to how Brian McLaren sums up his views on orthodoxy, certainty, and the question of whether the truths of Christianity are sound and reliable in the first place:
How ironic that I am writing about orthodoxy, which implies to many a final capturing of the truth about God, which is the glory of God. Sit down here next to me in this little restaurant and ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope’s, whoever’s) is orthodox, meaning true, and here’s my honest answer: a little, but not yet. Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture . . . I’d have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong. [1]
McLaren suggests that clarity itself is of dubious value. He clearly prefers ambiguity and equivocation, and his books are therefore full of deliberate doublespeak. In his introduction to A Generous Orthodoxy, he admits:
I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity. [2]
Postmodern theologians seem to presume that if we cannot know everything perfectly, we really cannot know anything with any degree of certainty. That may be an appealing argument to the postmodern mind, but it is entirely at odds with what Scripture teaches: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
That is not to suggest, of course, that we have exhaustive knowledge. But we do have infallible knowledge of what Scripture reveals, as the Spirit of God teaches us through the Word of God: “We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we might know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). The fact that our knowledge grows fuller and deeper—and we all therefore change our minds about some things as we gain more and more light—doesn’t mean that everything we know is uncertain, outdated, or in need of an overhaul every few years. The words of 1 John 2:20–21 apply in their true sense to every believer: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.”
The message coming from postmodern evangelicals is exactly the opposite: Certainty is overrated. Assurance is arrogant. Better to keep changing your mind and keep your theology in a constant state of flux.
By such means, the ages-old war against truth has moved right into the Christian community, and the church itself has already become a battleground—and ominously, precious few in the church today are prepared for the fight.
(Adapted from The Truth War.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Legalism and Lawlessness



by Jeremiah Johnson
The opposite of wrong isn’t always right. Sometimes it’s simply a different kind of wrong.
There are two dominant errors Christians fall into that can damage and destroy their integrity. You can think of them as two equally treacherous ditches on either side of the narrow way (Matthew 7:14).
On one side you have legalism. With strict rules that govern outward behavior, legalists don’t put much emphasis on integrity. It matters what you do—or moreover, what you don’t do—not why or how you do it.
In legalism, conformity takes the place of faithfulness. Your rigid adherence to the rules is what matters—not the attitude that undergirds your outward obedience or the true nature of your heart’s affections. Integrity is merely the measure of how consistently you follow the rules. It has nothing to do with the inner transforming work of the Spirit, or the mortification of the flesh (Romans 8:13).
Legalists also measure their own spiritual maturity by the flaws they can spot in others. Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 is a prime example. Scripture makes it clear the Pharisee prayed these words for his own benefit: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).
Christ was born into a world ruled by the Pharisees’ heavy-handed legalism. They had reduced God’s law—along with its rich symbolism that pointed to the coming Messiah—to an oppressive list of prescriptions and prohibitions. The apostles knew firsthand the threat that legalism posed to the early church, and warned against succumbing to its influence. Paul exhorted the Galatians to withstand the pressures of the legalistic Judaizers, who attempted to add works to grace: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
One of the dangers of legalism is that it shortcuts the need for integrity. When godliness isn’t measured in holiness and maturity, but by how your life looks relative to others, there’s no need to discipline your heart and mind. Sins that no one else can see essentially don’t count, and you wind up living a hypocritical double life. Your outward behavior might look godly but it’s a worthless façade if your heart is still dominated by selfishness, lust, hatred, and pride. And if your godliness is just a façade, you can be sure it will eventually collapse and expose the hypocrisy within.
The opposite error of legalism’s spiritual pantomime is lawlessness. Just as legalism posed a threat to the early church, antinomianism—the belief that God’s law no longer applies to Christians—was a spiritual plague in the first-century church.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian church to encourage them to shed their sinful habits and live out the transformation God had already worked within: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). He hammered that same point in his letter to the Colossians:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. . . . Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Colossians 3:1-10)
He issued a similar reminder in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared . . . instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”
Despite these and other clear exhortations from Scripture, antinomianism still lives—and thrives—in corners of the church today.
We’ve dealt with the Hypergrace movement in the past (here and here)—in simple terms, it stresses Scripture’s indicative statements (for example, that we’ve been saved by grace—Ephesians 2:8) while downplaying its imperatives (like exhortations to walk in godliness—Ephesians 2:10). The result is a kind of practical antinomianism that shrugs at sin in a believer’s life while pointing to the completed work of Christ.
But that imbalanced emphasis on God’s grace undercuts the importance of cultivating a life of integrity. In fact, it makes it virtually impossible. Consider this definition from John MacArthur’s book The Power of Integrity:
Integrity essentially means being true to one’s ethical standards, in our case, God’s standards. Its synonyms are honesty, sincerity, incorruptibility. It describes someone without hypocrisy or duplicity—someone who is completely consistent with his or her stated convictions. A person who lacks integrity—who says one thing and does another—is a hypocrite. [1]
If a believer is to live with integrity, he cannot compromise on Scripture’s exhortations to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires,” “to lay aside the old self,” “to live sensibly, righteously and godly,” and walk in the good works for which the Lord has called and transformed us.
In fact, applying God’s grace as an immediate free pass for your sin is the height of duplicity. It’s an overt denial of the Spirit’s sanctifying work within you, and it trains you to take both your sin and God’s grace lightly. It breeds carelessness and corruption, and can lead to tragic spiritual shipwreck.
Living with integrity means avoiding legalism and lawlessness, and the hypocrisy inherent in both extremes. Instead, we need to pursue the balance Paul strikes in his letter to the Ephesians—one that clings to the gospel while pursuing holiness:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Together Against Ecumenism



by Jeremiah Johnson
What does it mean for believers to stand together for the gospel?
In simple terms, it means that while they might have other theological differences, they are united in affirming the gospel’s core tenants. Specifically, they agree that sinners are justified not by their own efforts, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
It’s that last element in particular that offends and annoys our pluralistic, inclusive society. But as F. F. Bruce explains, the gospel’s exclusivity flows directly out of Christ’s nature in His incarnation.
He is, in fact, the only way by which men and women may come to the Father, there is no other way. If this seems offensively exclusive, let it be borne in mind that the one who makes this claim is the incarnate Word, the revealer of the Father. If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word . . . mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach. [1]
Standing together for the gospel, then, is standing in agreement with Christ’s own assertions to His uniqueness: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). It’s echoing the words Peter boldly proclaimed to the Sanhedrin, that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
In spite of the innate exclusivity of the gospel, the world’s religions attempt to position themselves as co-laborers with Christianity. They might highlight similar stances on social issues, or simply try to identify a common enemy—whatever it takes to present the illusion of unity.
Worse still, many Christians are all too happy to lend those false religions spiritual credibility by operating as cobelligerents.
Such ecumenical partnerships require a muddying of doctrinal waters. Theological distinctives are downplayed or set aside in the name of unity, as both sides come to a polemical cease-fire in pursuit of a common goal.
The 1994 ecumenical treatise Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (ECT) is a prime example. In an effort to kick-start “a springtime of world missions,” influential leaders from both faiths attempted to identify and affirm theological common ground for the sake of furthering the reach of the gospel (you can read the full document here).
In reality, they ignored centuries of church history and asserted vague platitudes about unity in Christ.
All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have not chosen one another, just as we have not chosen Christ. He has chosen us, and he has chosen us to be his together (John 15). However imperfect our communion with one another, however deep our disagreements with one another, we recognize that there is but one church of Christ. There is one church because there is one Christ and the church is his body. However difficult the way, we recognize that we are called by God to a fuller realization of our unity in the body of Christ.
But what gospel were they uniting behind? Let’s not forget or ignore—as the signatories of ECT must have—that Catholic dogma pronounces anathema on anyone who preaches justification by faith alone. Here is the stark condemnation, spelled out by the Council of Trent:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema. (Canon IX)
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema. (Canon XXIV)
How can evangelicals set aside such a clear repudiation of justification by faith in the name of unity? How can the two sides claim unity in Christ when their views of Christ’s work are so thoroughly divergent? Moreover, what good is that unity once the doctrinal differences have been swept under the rug?
But that wasn’t even the worst aspect of ECT. In addition to propping up the frail façade of unity, the document also prohibited attempts to “win ‘converts’ from one another’s folds,” downplaying such efforts as “sheep stealing” that would “undermine the Christian mission.” It further argued that,
in view of the large number of non-Christians in the world and the enormous challenge of our common evangelistic task, it is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community.
In one fell swoop, ECT declared the entire Catholic Church—which today claims more than a 1.25 billion followers worldwide—off limits from the gospel, consigning them to Rome’s demonic heresies. Why would believers champion such feeble unity to the exclusion of so vast a mission field?
Ecumenism is not true unity. It’s a lie agreed upon—one that inoculates lost souls to the life-transforming truth of the gospel.
And as the world becomes increasingly pluralistic, believers need to be committed to protecting the purity of the gospel, resisting the world’s urging to mix it with error. We need to keep clear in our minds the black and white distinction between truth and error, and not succumb to the influence of an increasingly gray world. Here’s how John MacArthur describes the mindset believers need to foster:
Christians preach an exclusive Christ in an inclusive age. Because of that, we are often accused of being narrow-minded, even intolerant. Many paths, it is said, lead to the top of the mountain of religious enlightenment. How dare we insist that ours is the only one? In reality, however, there are only two religious paths: the broad way of works salvation leading to destruction, and the narrow way of faith in the only Savior leading to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). Religious people are on either one or the other. [2]
Put simply, standing together for the gospel means standing together against ecumenical movements that assault and betray the exclusivity of Christ.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Abusive Shepherds



By Cameron Buettel
The threat of infiltrators is something that secular society takes very seriously. Anyone who enters the United States from abroad knows that. Fingerprint scanners, sophisticated passport technology, and heavily armed border security all indicate that imposters and frauds will not be permitted entry.
It’s tragic that the church isn’t as strict when it comes to prohibiting spiritual imposters. The poor protection of the church is an outrage–especially in light of Christ’s repeated warnings to His disciples about false disciples (Matthew 7:21–23), false prophets (Matthew 7:15–20), false christs (Matthew 24:23–26), and false shepherds (John 10:1–13).
The Lord could not have been clearer about the vital need to guard His people from false shepherds and other spiritual threats:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . All who came before Me are thieves and robbers. . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. (John 10:1–3, 8, 10–13)
Throughout the history of the church, God has set aside men to faithfully preach the Word, care for spiritual needs, build up the Body of Christ, and protect it from the influence of false teachers and their heresies—in essence, God has called them to shepherd His sheep. But recent decades have seen the rise of church leaders who see themselves, not as servants and protectors of the flock, but as visionaries whose flocks exist to support them and their visions.
Earlier in this series, I quoted a statement from one of America’s most influential churches—Elevation in North Carolina—regarding their purpose and pursuit: “Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” [1] “Pastor Steven” is Steven Furtick, and his vision has nothing to do with feeding or protecting his sheep. Early on in his ministry he told his congregation:
If you know Jesus I am sorry to break it to you: This church is not for you. “Yeah but I just gave my life to Christ last week at Elevation”—last week was the last week that Elevation Church existed for you. . . . Over five hundred people have given their lives to Jesus for the first time in this church in the last five months . . . If that doesn’t get you excited and you need the Doctrines of Grace as defined by John Calvin to excite you, you are in the wrong church. Let me get a phone book. There are seven hundred and twenty churches in Charlotte, I’m sure we can find one where you can stuff your face until you’re so obese spiritually that you can’t even move. [2]
Furtick’s desire to create a church for unbelievers fails to recognize what a church is—a body of believers. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, refers to those whom Christ has called out from the world to be His people and gather together in His name. Pastors like Furtick aren’t interested in shepherding; they ignore Christ’s charge to tend His flock (John 21:17). They’re content to let the true sheep starve while they chase goats.
But that’s far from the only way modern shepherds are abusing their flocks. Some prey on the financial resources of their congregations, using their sheep to fund lavish lifestyles. Others manipulate their followers, using them to inflate the sales figures for their latest books, or saturate social media with their influence. Still others simply see their flocks as stepping stones into the high-profile and lucrative world of conference speaking. In every case, these false shepherds have no interest in the hard work of tending a flock—in most cases, they’re eager to cut and run as soon as the work becomes too trying or time consuming.
That’s a feeble, pathetic, and frankly dangerous substitute for the kind of shepherds we see in God’s Word. When David wrote about the Lord as his shepherd, he described the rich blessings of living under a gentle shepherd’s care. He didn’t lack anything he needed (Psalm 23:1). He was led to safe pasture and able to rest there in safety (Psalm 23:2–3). And David’s Shepherd was always armed and ready to protect him from evil threats (Psalm 23:4–5).
In stark contrast, the Bible also describes abusive shepherds who are derelict in their duty—leaders who are anything but selfless or sacrificial. Jude described that kind of church leader as those who have “crept in unnoticed” and are “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). They are portrayed as “shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 12, ESV). John MacArthur comments on that phrase, saying it was “indicating that the apostates shepherded no one but themselves. Their only interest was self-interest and self-gratification—at the expense of anyone else.” [3]
He expands on that evaluation when commenting on 1 Peter 5:3, and what it means for pastors to abuse their authority, “lording it over” their flocks:
Finally, those called to shepherd can be imperiled by the desire to sinfully dominate others. “Lording it over” (katakurieuō) connotes intensity in domineering over people and circumstances (see Diotrephes as an example in 3 John 9-10). Any kind of autocratic, oppressive, and intimidating leadership, with elements of demagoguery—traits that typically characterize the leadership style and methodology of unregenerate men—is a perversion of the overseer’s office. [4]
Abusive shepherds have been an ever-present threat to God’s people, going all the way back to the Old Testament. Ezekiel 34 is entirely devoted to rebuking Israel’s leaders for failing to faithfully shepherd His people:
Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: “As I live,” declares the Lord God, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”’” (Ezekiel 34:2–10)
Abusive shepherds are preoccupied with feeding their own bellies and have no concern or compassion for feeding those under their care—especially the weak and vulnerable who need that care the most. They fail to retrieve the lost and inexcusably leave them vulnerable and easy prey to roaming predators. Modern pastors and leaders who exercise such dereliction of duty should soberly consider Ezekiel 34 and God’s blistering condemnation of their Old Testament predecessors.
More importantly, their abused sheep need to come under the watchful care of a true shepherd who will feed them properly, keep them safe, and drive out the wolves from among them. Next time we’ll consider what those sheep ought to look for in a godly shepherd.
(Source: http://www.gty.org/blog/B160229/abusive-shepherds)