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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Suffering From Malnutrion

I shouldn’t be writing this right now. I should be studying or reading, but in order to keep the masses happy, I will post!

I’ve been meaning to compose these thoughts for about a week now, but the last post had such a positive response (any response at this point would be positive); and I have been participating with the feedbackers. The subject that has been pressing upon me has not just recently sprung up in my mind. This has been weighing on me for some time now, and I would just like to voice my opinion about it. As many of you may already know, I don’t suffer from a lack of opinion on many things; I hope you all can agree with me on this concern, though. I also pray that if the Lord hasn’t already burdened you with this that He will after you ponder the following thoughts.

My concern is the well being of the church in America today. These concerns may well hold true in other countries, but I live in America which mean I only get to see firsthand the results of what I will suggest is the cause in this fine nation. As we notice the things on TV and on the bookshelves at Wal-mart or the local Christian bookstore being produced by televangelists and other mainstream “Christian” pastors (rather, motivational speakers), we may chuckle at the absurdity of the message that those popular authors/entertainers are propagating. I, myself, feel an uncontrollable sense of disgust and even a bit of anger. That anyone would take them seriously is rather absurd, but the fact of the matter is that the businessmen and women producing these materials are becoming very successful as they lead countless souls to hell. I hope we can all get a little angry over these things, but I think we must realize that this is only a result—the symptom of the real problem. Now I want to turn from this point to what I believe is the root of the problem.

I can’t speak for everyone that may be reading this, but I sure would like to be able to stand up in front of the entire population of the U.S. and proclaim the truth of God’s word over against the serious error that is plaguing so-called “Christianity” today. Where have we gone wrong? I know many people would claim that it is due to the masses of “seekers” with “itching ears,” and I would agree to a certain extent. Certainly there are millions of citizens of the United States who are looking for a feel good pill, and they get that prescription filled at the local church; and they also, I’m sure, get their sense of appeasing God done in the process. By the way, I think that apart from the Biblical evidence for elder rule church government the real life evidence is tremendously strong (maybe I’ll cover this in another post). These evidences being granted, I don’t believe that this is the real root problem here—even though I realize that these current events have been prophesied.

The prophecies of end times disaster within the church (which has been evident since the inception of the last days), I believe, are simply giving us an observation of the result of a lack of the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-16). Like I said, this is not simply a modern occurrence. Dissenters have been a thorn in the side of the church since the very beginning, BUT what are the local churches doing to secure their borders from them and send out troops? Since Paul was traveling this planet planting churches all over the known world false teachers have been pushing their own agendas (rather, Satan’s). And there have been those great heroes of the past who have stood up against them here and there, but what is the realistic solution to our problem? Should we sit back and watch the John MacArthur’s and James Whites of this country confront and refute the false teachers while we applaud the Lord for the work that they’re doing, or do we step up and do the work that we were called to do?

Whether we openly admit it or have even taken the time to think through it or not, we all can recognize the fact that if each pastor took the time to continue to learn in order to teach their sheep the deeper things of the faith we would be a much healthier church. Some pastors would say, “My people wouldn’t understand these things and it would just confuse them.” I say, “Maybe YOU’RE confused over these things, and if not, it’s YOU’RE job to make them UNconfused.” I’m pretty sure that, as a pastor, you are called to teach DOCTRINE, right? Here’s a good verse for the pastor: “He (the overseer/pastor/elder) must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Tit 1:9 ESV) We also read in Hebrews an admonition to progress beyond the elementary teachings of the faith in order that we may seek to know the deeper things of Christ (Heb. 6:1-2). These admonitions are given to those who have “their powers of discernment trained” (Heb. 5:14). “See!” the pastor says, “The deeper things are not for those without discernment!” But when we read the next part of the verse we are told that the one who has discernment obtains this “…by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” How do they practice this art? By having their minds transformed by the word. I don’t think I’ll have any disagreement there, will I?

Back home we had an instance when a man who had attended our church for years wrote a book denying the deity of Christ and the veracity of Scripture tried to, and I believe he succeeded, turn people away from the faith. At this point, my dad (who is the pastor) preached a masterful sermon refuting the book, and many were more grounded in their faith as a result. I praise the Lord for that; and this is an example of something that is necessary, but I believe that the refutations and training in the Scriptures should be a constant--in every church. Some of you may be blessed to attend a church that does confirm the major doctrines of the faith and supplement them with Scriptural exposition demonstrating these truths on a regular basis which is outstanding, but in my experience that kind of teaching is scarce.

What are we afraid of? We should be afraid of answering to God for the shoddy job of shepherding that we’re doing. Why are some pastors not continuing their education? Why don’t we teach our people about the great heroes of the past and the errors and accomplishments that marked their lives? Why don’t we proclaim the truths that the Holy Spirit has taught the church over the years from His word? Why don’t we supply our people with responses to the cults when they come knocking? Why don’t we encourage our people to witness to them instead of slamming the door in their faces? Why are we living like practical atheists and not fearfully working out our salvation and being salt and light? Why are preachers fashioning sermons that are merely motivational speeches to encourage the people emotionally instead of equipping them spiritually for battle in this evil world?

The world is a very dangerous place for Christ’s sheep. The appointed shepherds of the flock must be toiling relentlessly to prepare and protect them from the opposition. We need not point the finger at anyone, and indeed we cannot until we take the beams out of our eyes and live up to the highest calling ever achievable in this life that has been given to us. One day we will all meet our gloriously wonderful and merciful Savior. Imagine the intense heart breaking anguish you will experience if He not only lacks to tell you “Well done,” but He shakes His head at you and tells you how disappointing it was to watch you pass over every opportunity to bless the people He left in your care.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where do we draw the lines?

At the moment, I am attending a Bible college where I am majoring in Biblical Languages, and I have been doing some deep thought and study into the various theological positions that have had an impact on the church over the years. Aside from the ever controversial subjects of predestination, election, the sovereignty of God, the responsibility of man, and the atonement of Christ, I have begun to put much thought into things like eschatology. This was a subject which I was basically forced into by my boss while working at the school over the summer. I casually commented on the fact that I saw a couple of problems with the Dispensational distinction between Israel and the Church based on one lonely passage in Galatians 3. The passage I'm referring to is located in verses 5-7 & 16 which speak of all those who are of faith are children of Abraham and the promises made to Abraham were made to Christ--which to me seemed to indicate the idea that all those who were in Christ were not only children of Abraham but heirs to the promises. This has since led to many other questions reaching into various other areas.

The question that these former topics of study and discussion have led me to ponder is: "By what do we measure what is important in determining the level of fellowship we have with others who claim the name of Christ?" I have had discussions with fellow students of the Bible who have taken a stand on music issues and declared that certain people cannot glorify God with the gifts and talents that He has given them. I don't think that it's necessary to point out how dogmatic Dispensationalists are when it comes to certain areas of Bible interpretation. I have had debates over the power and extent of the atonement with others which have ended in certain people jokingly calling me a heretic, and I even tried to point out the fact that one particular verse did not support the idea of a universal atonement based on the context in which the verse was nestled and I was called a heretic with no joking intended (although he did apologize later and gave me a hug). All these events have culminated in my ultimate questioning of whether or not one who professes to know God could possibly know Him when they deny His person, power, and purpose.

As I consider the Dispensationalist conclusions I realize that in order to come to the same conclusion that they have I need to start with certain presuppositions (Israel and the church are distinct) and rules of interpretation. Then, I must abandon one or the other of those rules in particular instances involving something that goes against my initial presuppositions (when reading Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc...).

I'd like my question to be more pointed, though, so I believe that I'll narrow it down a bit. I happened to be listening to a recent edition of the Iron Sharpens Iron broadcast (which can be accessed in my "Edification" section to the left of my blog), and the host of the show, Chris Arnzen, had a pastor's round table discussion focusing on the thoughts of these particular pastors' opinions of whether or not someone's salvation was dependent on their position regarding the Doctrines of Grace. This is one particular question that I've been wrestling with.

I realize that salvation is not based on some theological system. It is by the grace of God through faith (complete trust) in His Son Jesus Christ. This is something that most evangelicals would agree to, and as I've had interaction with many Roman Catholic priests I've come to find that they will acknowledge this as well. This being said, I hope that your ears have perked up in wondering, "How can this be?" Well, it all goes back to your definition. A Catholic's definition of grace is much different than the traditional, reformed, Biblical one. They believe (actually they hope) that they will receive the "graces" necessary to perform whatever works necessary to be saved at the end of their life, and they hope to die in that "state of grace" in order that they may go to purgatory to pay for the rest of their sins. Now, if salvation is not based on a theological system, I think that some would be able to stand with me in agreement that this particular theological system will keep them from true salvation.

Based on what we understand about the Catholic teaching, I have to reflect upon my own upbringing in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. I was taught that I am saved by grace through faith--not works. I was also taught that all someone needed to do was to believe in Christ, and I believed that this was something that anyone could do. I won't give you my testimony in this article, but I eventually came to realize that God wasn't who I had imagined Him to be--He was much more glorious, to be sure. In fact, God was so much in control of all of the events of history and the present that nothing happened apart from His sovereign direction. I began to realize this when I started studying the Bible. I would read and read and ask questions about particular passages that spoke of God's elect and the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross and as High Priest. Then I was introduced to the Doctrines of Grace. Everything just sort of...fell into place. God's word was a coherent whole. I was taught for so long to overlook some passages of Scripture and give definitions that didn't always fit, but when I realized that there were answers to these conundrums that demonstrated God's glory in all of time and creation (yes, I know that time is a creation) I couldn't deny the validity of it--by the grace of God, I now realize.

Sorry for the prolonged prologue--now for my question: If someone is presented with these truths of God's sovereignty and grace--yet they reject this God as a repugnant philosophical or logical conclusion of the Calvinists--even though the exegesis of the texts are presented, then are they truly saved? As I've been pondering this question, I've been confronted with commandment #2. Are these people worshiping the One, True, God, or are they worshiping a god that they have created in their minds based on traditional teachings and expectations?

I realize that some people might be offended that I would ask a question like this, but please realize that I haven't come to any conclusions for myself. I am simply pondering this question that has been hounding me in many ways and wondering if anyone can give me some insight as to where I should go from here. Please try to answer in a non-emotional way in order that the exchange may be edifying.

Dramatized Exegesis