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)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Decision Making that Brings Glory to God

Did you know 90% of the choices you make as a Christian involve areas where Scripture says surprisingly little? What you wear, where you go, how you spend your free time—you won’t find many explicit instructions in the Bible. But you can find plenty of rules and strictures in the various spheres of evangelicalism, many of them unhelpful and even harmful (and not only in the fundamentalist camp).
Of course Scripture forbids all clear-cut sins such as lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, or committing adultery. The Bible also clearly calls us to pursue Christ and grow in our faith. No Christian seriously questions whether he should read the Bible, pray, or tell others about Christ. Scripture is unambiguous about those things.
There is, however, one class of questions that seems to fall somewhere in the middle. These are the issues dealing with Christian freedom—things that fall between what God prohibits and what He commands. What entertainment is acceptable? What kind of music is okay? What can a Christian do or not do on Sunday? What about what you wear, what you eat and drink, or how you spend your free time—does the Bible address those things?
Some would say, "No, the Bible doesn't address those things. Those are gray areas, so do what you want to do—you're free in Christ!" While it is true that the Bible doesn't specifically list every possible decision you'll face in life, it does address all choices with principles that govern Christian freedom. When you run your choices through the following grid of principles from God's Word, you'll find both clarity and true freedom to live your life to God's glory.
Will it benefit me spiritually?
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify (1 Corinthians 10:23).
A "profitable" thing is useful, helpful, or to your advantage to do; and the idea behind "edify" is to build up spiritually. So based on this verse, ask yourself, "Will doing this enhance my spiritual life? Will it cultivate godliness? Will it build me up spiritually?" If not, you should seriously question whether that behavior is the best choice.

Will it bring bondage?
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).
In the second part of this verse, Paul is saying, "I will not be brought under the power of anything." If what you are considering can be habit-forming, why pursue it? Don't allow yourself to be in bondage to anything or anyone. You are a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
Will it defile God's temple?
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Don't do anything that you know will harm your body or bring shame—it is the only instrument you have to glorify God. Romans 6:13 says, "Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." How you choose to use your body should always reflect your concern to honor Jesus Christ.
Will it cause anyone to stumble?
Food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Corinthians 8:8-9).
This is the principle of love. As Romans 13:10 says: "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law." If you know that your choice—what you consider "in bounds" and approved—causes another Christian to stumble and sin, love that brother or sister enough to restrict your own freedom. That is not very popular in our self-absorbed society, but it is biblical. To continue to indulge in a legitimate freedom that causes problems for another Christian is a sin. For "by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore," Paul said, "if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:12-13).
Will it further the cause of evangelism?
Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).
Whether you are aware of it, what you allow or disallow in your behavior affects your witness for Christ, and the world is watching. It's an issue of testimony—what your life says about God. Your testimony either tells the truth about God, or it tells a lie. The choices you make in areas where Scripture speaks principally rather than specifically should reflect your concern not to bring offense to God's reputation but to bring Him praise instead.
Will it violate my conscience?
He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
First Corinthians 10:25-29 contains three references to abstaining from a certain practice "for conscience sake." Never train yourself to violate your conscience. If your conscience is troubled by what you consider, don't do it. If you aren't sure about it, don't do it. It is hard to overstate the value of a clean conscience, but it is worth keeping your conscience clear so that your relationship to God will not be hindered. If you'll keep yourself in prayer and the study of God's Word, you will inform your conscience so you can "walk as children of light . . . finding out what is acceptable to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:810).
Will it bring glory to God?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
That verse is clearly both the summary and the goal of all the principles listed above. Isn't our heart's cry to glorify our Lord and Savior with our lives? Think about your decision—Will He be glorified, honored, and praised through it? May we say along with Jesus, "I glorified You on the earth" (John 17:4).
So the next time you face a decision where Scripture is less than specific or overt, run it through the principles above and enjoy your freedom in Christ. Happy New Year from Grace to You!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Backsliding: Christian Cliches?




By Cameron Buettel
My early months as a Christian were a joyous feast of fellowship. There was nothing I loved more than to be with my new brothers and sisters in Christ. Every believer I knew seemed so sanctified and intimate with the Savior. I actually felt intimidated by lives that were seemingly lived on another plane of righteousness to my own sinful struggles. But it didn’t take long before I discovered a sub-culture my Christian peers described as “backsliders.”
Few things can match the shock we experience when brought face to face with those who abandon the Christian faith. And there was nothing that could have prepared me for the grief of seeing hands once raised in worship, now deployed in satanic vices—backslidden from their former Christian faith.
I could not fathom why anyone would abandon eternal rewards for a short season of wicked pleasure. My Arminian pastor assured me that backsliding was the only possible explanation, and that our job was to “persuade these backsliders to come back to church and restore the salvation they’ve lost.”
Indeed some people were quite effective at retrieving backsliders and over the years I saw an endless stream of people who would gain their salvation, lose it, and re-gain it only to lose it again—rinse and repeat. My eyes were slowly opening to the reality that my church was actually a spiritual transit lounge for people in my city who periodically ventured into the kingdom of God. I could smell the problem but was unable to pinpoint the source. Did the Bible have an explanation?
“Backsliding” is an Old Testament term found in the prophetic books and used within the context of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. John MacArthur describes it as “a word that the prophets used of apostate unbelievers.” [1] He concedes that Christians can backslide only in the sense that they “regress into a period of spiritual dullness or disobedience.” But he adds that such cases always incur God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:6–11) and produce repentance. [2]
That idea captures what most Calvinists mean if they use the term “backslider.” There is much that could be said about what constitutes a spiritual lapse, or how far you can go before you go too far. But the important principle to grasp is that the backsliding of a believer is always temporary and always involves God’s chastening which in turn produces repentance. It never means that their salvation was temporarily lost. (For further reading on this subject I would recommend two of John’s articles: Does Scripture Leave Room for Carnal Christians? and How Far Can Christians Go in Sinning?
John argues that “backsliding” can never refer to a person who professes faith in Christ but lives in a “perpetual state of willful rebellion or ungodly indifference.” [3] Such people are not backsliding believers but rather false Christians who were never accepted by Christ in the first place (Matthew 7:21–23; 1 John 3:4–10).
The backsliding doctrine I had been taught was actually the result of false shepherds preaching a false gospel that demanded no repentance. The result was providing false pronouncements of salvation on false converts who were more than happy to march out the door and back into the arms of the world they still loved more than Christ. The apostle John nailed the issue when he said: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). As Ray Comfort summarized; “It's those we erroneously call backsliders, who fall away, because they have never slid forward in the first place”. [4]
Backsliding has become a theologically tragic Christian cliché—tragic because of the ways it impugns God’s character. It implicitly denies God’s sovereign power in regenerating sinners (Ezekiel 36:25–27), resurrecting them from being dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) to a new and living creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The idea that a Christian can backslide and lose his salvation also impugns Christ’s promise to eternally preserve the people He saves:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29)
I’ll never forget John MacArthur’s simple and yet profound argument for the security of Christian salvation based on God’s power to keep His people—“If I could lose my salvation, I would.” [5] The very idea of keeping our salvation on the basis of our own efforts is as preposterous as the idea of attaining our salvation in the first place because of something we did.
The modern “backslider” cannot be persuaded back into a kingdom he never entered in the first place. He needs to be evangelized and called to repentance—like all unbelievers do. And if he repents, it should not be treated as a re-commitment to his salvation but rather as an outward sign of God’s inner saving work.

Source: http://www.gty.org/Blog/B160127

Saturday, January 16, 2016

How to live in a Pagan Culture



By Jeremiah Johnson
As believers, we know we’re called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). But are you ever discouraged or underwhelmed by what little difference your life seems to make? Are you concerned that your influence as salt and light might not reach very far or go very deep?
In a society obsessed with global impact and political change, it may seem like the life of one believer does not make much of a dent. But our success is not measured in this life. Moreover, it’s not our success to begin with, but God’s, as He works through us to reach His people according to His sovereign timing.
We have not been called to lead sweeping political changes and massive moral reforms, or to turn the world into a theocracy. That’s simply not how the Lord intends us to make a difference in this sinful world. In his book Why Government Can’t Save You, John MacArthur reminds us that the church’s influence is not broadly political, but personal.
The church will really change society for the better only when individual believers make their chief concern their own spiritual maturity, which means living in a way that honors God’s commands and glorifies His name. Such a concern inherently includes a firm grasp on Scripture and an understanding that its primary mandate to us is to know Christ and proclaim His gospel. A godly attitude coupled with godly living makes the saving message of the gospel credible to the unsaved. If we claim to be saved but still convey proud, unloving attitudes toward the lost, our preaching and teaching—no matter how doctrinally orthodox or politically savvy and persuasive—will be ignored or rejected. [1]
Those words echo Paul’s instructions for godly living in his letter to Titus (Titus 3:1-8). The final chapter of Why Government Can’t Save You is devoted to that passage, and Paul’s vital reminders for living as salt and light in the world.
Remember Your Christian Duties
Paul begins by reminding us of our place in the world—that we are not called to be rebellious revolutionaries, but that we must be humble, meek, and submissive to the authority God has placed over us, and that we need to reflect the character of Christ to the watching world. He writes, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1-2).
As John MacArthur explains, such behavior stands out to the world and adorns the gospel:
Consistently demonstrating willing obedience for human authority shows unbelievers that, even though the things of this life are not our primary focus, we still have respect for government and loving concern for other citizens. As Christians, our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and our main focus must be on holy living and on reaching the lost, because our Lord Himself came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). When we do live as God wants us to in an unbelieving culture, that in itself can make the attitude of the lost more receptive to God (1 Peter 2:12). [2]
As we’ve already discussed in this series, the Lord has not saved us for the purpose of temporal political change. The first key to living holy lives in a pagan culture is to focus on the work of God’s kingdom, and not attempting to build our own.
Remember Your Unsaved Condition
There’s a second mindset believers need to cultivate if they’re going to be salt and light in the world. Rather than giving in to spiritual elitism and looking down on lost and depraved sinners, we need to remember that we were no better than them—and would still be no better—apart from the intervening and transforming work of Christ.
Paul describes our prior spiritual condition in stark detail: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
As John MacArthur explains, our sinful past ought to make us sympathetic to the spiritual needs around us, and patient with the depravity of sinners who don’t know any better:
The preceding sins, along with other iniquities, have made unbelievers spiritually insensitive to what God demands of them and what He desires in a righteous society. Hence, non-Christians have produced the kind of culture we have today. And although we detest the sinful, unbiblical aspects of society, we must remember that the same ungodly characteristics once defined our lives. Such awareness will keep us humble and prevent us from putting down sinners simply because they rub us the wrong way by their values and lifestyles. Our unbelieving neighbors don’t need merely to be set straight about their political and moral choices; they need soul-transforming salvation through Jesus Christ, just as you and I once did. [3]
Remembering what you’ve been saved from helps protect you from spiritual pride, and motivates you to reach out to others with the only true source of lasting hope and salvation. It injects your evangelism with much-needed humility.
Remember Your Salvation
Along those same lines, Paul also wants us to remember the saving and transforming work the Lord has already accomplished in us.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Whereas reflecting on our past sinfulness makes us sympathetic to a lost world in need of salvation, reflecting on our new state in Christ and His transforming work in us reminds us to live as citizens of heaven, and not wallow in the wretchedness that surrounds us. As John MacArthur explains,
Being saved is the most precious and important reality that Christians can know and appreciate. Salvation has delivered us from the predicament of being spiritually dead, enslaved to the penalty of sin, living under God’s wrath, and on our way to hell (see John 3:16-17, along with verse 36). As a result, it has also granted us the privilege of being made “alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5), of being “conveyed . . . into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13), of being able “to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and of attaining “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2). [4]
But those glorious truths aren’t just for our own edification—they ought to prompt us to reach out to others with the same truth that has transformed us. As John says, “Our position as people who are saved by the sovereign grace of God provides us with a great hope for the future that ought to daily motivate us and keep us focused on our real priorities.” [5]
Put simply, we can’t be salt and light in the world if we don’t remember how the Lord rescued us from the due penalty of our sin. We can’t hope to accurately testify to God’s work in us if we perpetually ignore it.
Remember Your Mission
Finally, Paul wants us to remember our primary means of preserving and influencing the world. He writes, “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Titus 3:8).
The reality is that preaching fire and brimstone might catch the attention of some people, but it will turn off just as many—if not more—to the glorious good news of the gospel. We need to faithfully preach the truth, but we also need to live lives that make our message believable and attractive. As John MacArthur explains, that starts with a life of good works:
How can we live in a pagan society in a God-honoring manner, in such a way that we do not alienate the very people God wants us to reach with the gospel? We must remember to be engaged in good works, which Scripture says will result from our salvation. [6]
Living as salt and light in the world is not just about confronting the deadness and darkness of society. It’s about living lives that adorn the gospel—that testify to God’s transforming work, and exemplify integrity, humility, and self-sacrifice. Not only do we need to preach Christ, we need to reflect His character to the world.
That, as John MacArthur writes, is how you and I make an impact in this ruined world:
If all that is true of you, you will recognize that it is not your primary calling to change your culture, to reform the outward moral behavior and professed political convictions of those around you, or to remake society superficially, according to some kind of “evangelical Christian blueprint.” Instead, you will constantly remember that the Lord has called you to be His witness before the lost and condemned world in which you now live. [7]

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Finding a good Church


Question: We can’t seem to find a church in our area that has godly leadership and biblical preaching. We feel so alone and now just read the Bible and pray at home. What should we do? And how do we find a “good” church?

Response: It is a sad commentary on the state of the church that we receive many such queries.

What marks a “healthy” church? Crucial to the answer isMatthew:18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst....” Christ himself must be the central focus—not a pastor, gripping sermons, a strong missionary emphasis, exciting youth programs, compatible fellow members, or even agreeable doctrines, important as all these factors are. A fervent love for Christ and a heartfelt corporate worship of HisPerson must be the primary mark of a healthy church.

The early church was thus characterized. It met regularly on the first day of the week in remembrance of His death. That weekly outpouring of praise, worship and thanksgiving had one purpose—to give God His due portion. It isn’t primarily a matter of my need, my edification, my enjoyment, or my spiritual satisfaction, but of His worth in my eyes and the eyes of the church.

As I see it, our secondary focus should be our opportunity for servanthood with a corporate body of believers. I give myself to a needy, imperfect people for whom I can pray, for whose needs I can concern myself in practical ways, to whom I can be an encourager and a minister of the Word, and among whom I can demonstrate and work out Christ’s desire that His own “might be one.” This fellowship is commanded: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews:10:25). Is it our joy to gather with God’s people in intercessory prayer and study of the Word, or is Sunday-morning-only quite enough? A healthy church will not only gather unto Him, but with each other.

Lastly, I need to assess my own spiritual needs. The shepherds must provide the spiritual food that will nurture the flock, that it might be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy:3:17). That’s a big order and requires, of course, a teachable flock that loves the Word and is in willing subjection to it. The shepherds must also guard the flock of God by keeping out false and dangerous doctrines contrary to the truth. They must adhere to the pure Word of God as the only authority for faith and morals.

You say, “Wonderful! Lead me to such a church.” Remember, however, the order of priority: worship (do you worship sincerely, wholeheartedly, and in a manner satisfying to the object of that worship?); servanthood (do you serve, even as Christ gave us an example, with humility and with joy?); personal needs (are you growing, maturing, taking on Christ’s character?).

The final decision as to your church affiliation must be, prayerfully, yours. Is your personal worship of the Savior so joyful and satisfying a thing both to you and to Him that it supersedes there considerations? Do your opportunities for service render your fellowship sufficiently meaningful and significant? Or do doctrinal concerns or lack of biblical preaching and teaching cancel out the other two? You must seek the Lord for His answer. God’s comforting assurance remains: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Source: https://www.thebereancall.org

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Seven Churches of Revelation


(Who They Represent in This Day and Age)
By Christine Peters
(Source: RaptureReady.com) 



The book of Revelation opens with the letters from Jesus to seven churches in Christendom. In these letters He acknowledges what these churches are doing right, where they are going astray and He counsels them as to how to get back on track.  
Jesus additionally addresses the individual believers in each church, commending them for seeing through the fog of doctrinal teachings to the core message of the gospel, challenging them to withstand and overcome. The believers, however, are not the intended audience of the letters.
The Lord’s purpose is to focus on the leadership of these churches, admonishing them to take a gut check on what they are teaching their flocks and where His core message of salvation may be getting lost in their mix of doctrinal interpretations.  
These seven churches have historical roots as actual churches that existed in the Roman province of Asia. The churches are addressed by the city that they were located in.  
There are also prophetic applications of these letters. One application is that the seven churches represent different ages in church history and that they are progressive. This interpretation holds that at the end of days, two main traits will remain - that Christendom is either going to be very alive or very dead (apostate) in their teachings - a very black and white approach to the Lord’s warnings.  The progressive interpretation is not wrong, merely incomplete.
This article is written as a study on a different prophetic application of these writings, the interpretation holding that each of these seven church characteristics are alive and well today.  The intent is to look past the black and white interpretation of right and wrong and delve into the Lord’s warnings about all of the shades of grey in the middle.
The Lord cautions over and over in the Bible about false prophets and false teachers. The purpose of these letters is to address the churches with the Lord’s specific concerns as to the unsound doctrines and practices that have invaded them, putting their flocks at risk. Given the following warnings from the Lord about false teachers in the end days, I would think that people would look beyond their comfort zone and compare their approach to the core teachings of scripture.
Matthew 7:22-23: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

2Timothy 4:3-4: “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.”
There are four elements to each of the letters in Scripture, and they are as follows:
       Praise - What the Lord is pleased with.
       Condemnation - What the Lord is upset about.
       Advice - to the leaders of the group as to how to get back on track.
       Challenge - to the true believers within the group, to hold fast and overcome.
The fifth element in this summation is the application of the letters and is subjective based on the characteristics and symptoms presented in the Scripture.      
The Lord’s purpose in writing these letters was not for people like me to sit around and point fingers and I intend no offense with my conclusions here.  His purpose was for all to take a good hard look at the focus of their doctrinal stances and teachings.  
The Lord tells us that He has sent us out as sheep amongst the wolves, that we are to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).  Additionally, He counsels that we will know false teachers by their fruits (Matthew 7:20), that we are to study the Scriptures to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15) and that we are to try every teaching to see if it is from God (1 John 4:1).
Where I have mentioned specific denominations in my applications, my motive is not to condemn - I am merely comparing their doctrines and/or teachings to the Lord’s warnings and adding their stated positions as real life examples to the characteristics mentioned. An individual church is only as solid as its local leadership.
Don’t take what I have to say about this as the gospel truth - use these letters how the Lord intended: as a measuring stick.

1. Church of Ephesus - Revelation 2:1-7
Praise: I know that you do good deeds, and work hard. You are patient and cannot stand evil. You condemn those who do wrong and hold false teachings to the fire.

Condemnation: You have left your first love - the core of the gospel.

Advice to leaders: Remember where it is that you have fallen from, repent and go back to the original teachings.

Challenge to believers: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Application: Men intent on abandoning the word of God (their first love) for their own doctrinal interpretations.

The inference here is the addition of doctrines into the church placing more importance on them than on the Word of God. This refers to legalistic churches that institute man-imposed salvation requirements, such as specific baptism rituals or organization membership, and teach that there is no salvation unless these requirements are met. They focus more on dos and don’ts and on who does and doesn’t do, than on the core message of Scripture and thus they deny salvation by grace through faith. The easiest way to spot a church of Ephesus is their claim of being the only true remnant church of Christ and their insistence that there is no salvation outside of their organization and without their rituals.  
Denominations known for this practice include the International Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists and the United Pentecostals (UPC - Oneness Pentecostals).

2. Church of Smyrna -- Revelation 2:8-11

Praise: I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich).

Condemnation: None!

Advice to leaders: Don’t fear your suffering - Satan will torment you and you will be tried. Be faithful unto death and you will have the crown of life..

Challenge to believers: He that overcometh shall not be hurt by the second death (and will have eternal life).

Application:  Throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted in places like China, Russia, the Philippines and the Islamic nation states. Witnessing is illegal in many of these places and sadly, it is all too common to hear of Christians being jailed, tortured and even beheaded for the crime of attempting to spread the gospel and the testimony of Jesus. 

3. Church of Pergamum - Revelation 2:12-17
Praise: You live where Satan lives, yet you never renounced me.

Condemnation: But I have a few things against you, your teachings pollute your people both spiritually and socially with unacceptable pagan practices.

Advice to leaders: Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth!

Challenge to believers: To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth [it].

Application: Those teaching false doctrines, causing people to sin because they think it is “okay” based on the interpretations of their leadership. What these leaders are doing is teaching that the Word of God is to be treated as a cafeteria plan where you can pick and choose what you want to believe and disregard that which you don’t. Pergamum is not lukewarm to the gospel, they have just chosen to believe that certain things in it don't apply to them. 

The first group that comes to mind here is the MCC - The Metropolitan Community Church  (gay Christians.) This is a huge denomination that teaches that it is okay to be gay and Christian, maintaining that God created them gay (so it must be all right) rather than acknowledging that their homosexuality is merely a manifestation of the sin nature that we are all born with.

4. Church of Thyatira - Revelation 2:18-29
Praise: I know your deeds, your love, your charity, faith and service. You are doing more of these things than you ever have!

Condemnation: While on the outside, you appear as a model church, you are rife with corruption and corrupt teachings, from deep within. You have committed adultery against me with your idol worship.

Advice to leaders: Repent now or I will spew you into the Tribulation.

Challenge to believers: To those who are faithful within, rejecting the false doctrines, hold fast till I come.

Application:  The Lord references Jezebel in his condemnation to this church - referring to the woman who lured people away from Him with idolatry by focusing them on things other than Him. 
Traits seen today include viewing Mary as the mediatrix between Man and God, the veneration of statues and images,  grace being administered through humanly prescribed sacraments, church tradition held as equivalent in authority to the Bible, and the doctrine of confessing to priests as a means of maintaining one's salvation. The prime example of this is the Roman Catholic Church.

5. Church of Sardis  - Revelation 3:1-6
Praise: I know your deeds - your name carries much recognition among men.

Condemnation: But now you are dead.

Advice to leaders: Remember your beginnings, return to them and repent. You are not paying attention to my Word and you need to wake up!

Challenge to believers: He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

Application: This is referring specifically to name brand denominations with long, well known histories that have fallen from truth and are seeking ecumenical unity without regard to the gospel. The suggestion the Lord is giving here is that these are the Reform churches—once very alive but now dead in their doctrines, filled with Sunday country club pew warmers. 
Denominations that have embraced this ecumenical neutrality include the Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians. I am speaking to the global stances here—again, a particular church is only as alive or dead as its local leadership. 

6. Church of Philadelphia - Revelation 3:7-13

Praise: You may not be the biggest group, but I know your works and your teachings. Even without strength or power, you have kept My Word and not compromised My name.

Condemnation: None!

Advice to leaders: I am coming quickly. Hold onto what you have.

Challenge to believers: Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name.

Application:  This is written to those who are on fire for the Lord’s return that have kept the winds of false doctrines out of their midst and maintained solid teachings.  While everyone wants to think that they are in the church of Philadelphia - it is important to note, that there are true believers in each of the 7 churches. The Lord is merely commending the leadership of Philadelphia for their adherence to sound doctrine. 
Ironically, the letter to the church of Philadelphia is used/abused by many churches to justify their exclusivity (no salvation outside of their organization) under what they perceive to be the “end times remnant church clause.”  For this reason, these churches are in reality the churches of Ephesus, discussed above.

7. Church of Laodicea - Revelation 3:14-22
Praise: None!

Condemnation: You are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other but because you have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, I will spit you out of my mouth into the tribulation.  You say that you are wealthy and in need of nothing, but what you don't realize is that you are truly wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.

Advice to leaders: You need to start concerning yourself with eternal riches and not earthly ones, humble yourself about  your sins and open your eyes to My truth before it’s too late.

Challenge to believers: To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne

Application:  Unlike the other churches that have let doctrinal interpretations cloud the message of salvation, this group is neither hot nor cold to it - they simply avoid it all together. They teach of wealth and healing but not of salvation and repentance. Rather than instruct people on how to humble themselves to the Lord's will, they teach that He is to conform to our will.  
Jesus said in John 18:36 that His kingdom is not of this world. In Matthew 6:19-20, He explains that we are to store up our riches in heaven and not on earth.  All of this is seemingly lost on the church of Laodicea, whose complete focus is on the here and now. They flaunt their opulent lifestyles as proof of the Lord’s earthly blessings. 
They teach that the first step to health and wealth is to give “seed donations” to their ministries and then have the faith that the Lord will bless this gift and multiply it in return. This becomes a vicious cycle when those who are not healed or showered with wealth are told that it is because they lack the faith to give enough to these ministries, thus soliciting even more donations - all the while, using the Lord's name to increase their personal wealth.
Not only are these teachings alive and well in Christendom today, they are the predominate focus in more ministries than I can count. They are the hallmark of the Word of Faith/Revival/Latter Rain movements who have taken the world by storm under the guise of “Fifth Wave” evangelism with such leaders as Benny Hinn, Paul Cain, Rick Joyner, Marilyn Hickey, Kenneth Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, Jesse Duplantis and Fred Price—the list is endless.
Bottom Line to the Seven Churches
Doctrines are nothing but man's interpretation of God’s Word. They in themselves do not save, but they can and do cloud the issue of salvation. The Lord cautions over and over in scripture about false teachers in the end days, leading His flock astray. Sadly, His message is getting lost in a sea of pick-and-choose scriptural teachings and rituals.
Now is the time for self-examination.
Are you leading someone away from the message of salvation with extraneous teachings rather than to it with the core of the gospel?