Grown To Nothing

Rich Dead ChurchTaking stands for the truth has cost me friendships. That will most likely happen again. Not that I intentionally sabotage my relationships–I don’t. But neither can I pretend to agree with practices that go against the Bible. And the pragmatic nature of the Church Growth Movement, precisely because it relies on human strategies rather than the sovereignty of God, definitely goes against the Bible.

I agree with those who charge that doctrine divides (a frequent charge of those in the  Church Growth Movement). Indeed, Jesus brought violent division to First Century Jews to such an extent that many  of His followers suffered persecution and death at the hands of those who believed themselves to be devoted followers of the one true God. He said, quite explicitly, that He would cause division to the degree that people would equate persecuting His disciples with serving God (see John 16:1-4).

So I don’t want to bury truth simply to keep myself  comfortable. But neither do I want to speak truth in a malicious manner. People I love are caught in churches that promote Church Growth strategies, and many of them are genuine Christians. I don’t mind angering false converts (especially those who prefer deception over truth), but the Lord would have me be patient with those who know Him truly (Galatians 6:1-3). I also have belonged to churches that promoted error, and I remember how gently and gradually the Lord corrected me.

Having said all that, I can’t apologize for my concern over churches that measure themselves by the number of warm bodies that fill their seats (and consequently their offering plates) on Sunday mornings. Popular Church Growth leaders like Rick Warren need to be held accountable for influencing churches to jettison Biblical preaching in favor of marketing methods and more palatable presentations of “Christianity” in order to attract young families with earning potential.

Though leaders in such churches convince themselves and their congregations that they employ worldly strategies out of a desire to advance God’s kingdom, I know from first-hand involvement in two such churches that they primarily seek to expand their organizations. To be fair, I know that the leaders of both churches honesty did care about seeing lost people come to Christ. Yet I saw them express more concern over whether the offering plates filled up than about seeing genuine conversions.

Numerical growth, I agree, can be a blessing. Acts 2:41, for example, certainly celebrates the fact that 3000 people came to salvation in response to Peter’s Pentecost sermon. The church that John and I currently attend prays for revival in New England, longing to see many people return to the faith of the godly men and women who first came to Plymouth Rock. So please understand that I do see great value in a church’s numerical increase.

Quantity, however, must always assume a second place to quality, especially in relation to church growth. Rick Warren’s supporters defend his marketing techniques on the premise that “he brings so many people” into churches. Yet many people who purportedly “get saved” through his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, come through a grossly watered-down presentation that barely resembles the Biblical Gospel (page 58):

 “Right now, God is inviting you to live for his glory by fulfilling the purposes he made you for . . . all you need to do is receive and believe…. Will you accept God’s offer?” Again, he offers a sample prayer, “I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.”

That’s woefully inadequate, but much more attractive than confronting people with their sin and using Scripture to present the Gospel. He fails to explain why his audience needs salvation, or even how Jesus accomplished salvation. It isn’t until much later in the  book that Warren bothers to mention repentance. Basically, Warren reduces the Lord to a life-improving commodity. That way, more people will, he believes, come into our churches.

But we must desire that men and women come to a real knowledge of Christ. And the Lord said very candidly that only a minority of people would truly experience regeneration.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

Yes, we by all means ought to pray for more people to fill our churches. But we must pray even more for true conversions, even if doing so means half-empty pews and smaller offerings. Numbers, as exciting and affirming as they are, simply don’t reflect surrendered hearts that focus on glorifying Jesus.

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When Obedience Crafts My Idol

Christians have a duty to identify and avoid unbiblical doctrines and trends. Similarly, God commands us to identify and avoid false teachers. Obedience to these  mandates should lead us into deep sorrow for people who fall prey to deceptive beliefs and practices. That same obedience should also challenge us to maintain our own purity of devotion to the Lord.

Often, however, Christians run the risk of distorting their own obedience into an idol. I can say that, regretfully because I’ve done it.  I may, to be specific, have a calling to point out errors that permeate the visible church, but I periodically catch myself giving more attention to that task than I give to Christ Himself. As a result, I make myself guilty of the very sin I abhor in others.

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” ~~Romans 2:17-24 (ESV)

False doctrine obscures, distorts or calls into question the nature and work of God. In particular, it perverts Jesus Christ either by diverting attention away from Him or  by challenging His authority. Therefore, I need to contend for the faith with the singular goal of honoring Him.

But I can become so engrossed in “discernment ministry” that I worship my discernment more than I worship the Lord Jesus Christ. At that point I commit almost the same sin as do the false teachers I purport to expose. I essentially forget about  Him in my fascination with showing people all the false doctrines that keep them from worshiping Him correctly. I behave with the very hypocrisy that Paul addressed in Romans 2:17-24, don’t I?

I write about myself as an example, not to fulfill some cathartic need, but to encourage you to examine yourselves as I examine myself. You may not be called to “discernment ministry,” but God has called you to obedience in some area. That being the case, you could very easily focus on your task of obedience in a way that actually draws you into idolatry of your obedience. Believe me, it’s frighteningly easy to fall into that sin!

Thankfully, we serve a faithful and loving God Who sympathizes with our weaknesses. His Holy Spirit will always convict us when we idolize our own obedience and will graciously enable us to repent. He restores us to Himself so that we once again obey Him for His glory rather than ours.

So I don’t want to stop dealing with the various aberrations that evangelicals so eagerly embrace.  But in so doing, I don’t want my vision so concentrated on correcting faulty theology that, like the Pharisees of His day, I lose sight of the very Lord I claim to love and worship. So I have to continually pull back from evaluating the various things that pollute evangelical culture by reminding myself of His worthiness to be praised.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-19 (ESV)

Jesus alone deserves my attention, precisely because of His preeminence, and I desire to remain faithful to Him. Certainly, honoring Him will include pointing out anything that deviates from Him, but pointing out those deviations must occur only for the purpose of glorifying Him.

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Deeper Prayer With Content

PrayerfulA little over a year ago, our pastor preached a two-part sermon called Prayer Worthy Of An Apostle, which he based on Colossians 1:9-11:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (ESV)

The Lord has used that sermon to change the way I pray for people. Fewer of my prayers center on temporal matters as I concentrate more on asking the Lord to help people grow  in spiritual knowledge that they can apply to their lives. 

I thought about that sermon again yesterday. I wish I could remember what blog post it was, but the chaos of my husband’s power wheelchair breaking down (and the ensuing repercussions) have turned my mind to mush. Nevertheless, the blogger pretty much echoed my pastor’s point that present day prayers tend to remain surface-level rather than penetrating to the eternal matters that God cares about.

Don’t misunderstand: I appreciate everyone who prayed for John’s wheelchair situation this week. Such prayers fall under the category of “give us this day our daily bread,” since he depends on that chair to perform basic tasks without assistance. Yet how many people prayed that the Holy Spirit would use the trial to work on John’s character and on my character? I made a few attempts at doing so, but I should have done better.

As Bible-believing Christians, we understand (at least we should understand) that God ultimately cares about conforming us to His holiness. As a result, He often puts us through difficult situations to train us to reflect Him (see James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1:3-9 for examples). Evidently the apostles believed in praying for more than temporal matters. They knew that this present life passes swiftly, so they prayed for things that would endure  in God’s eternal kingdom.

Deep prayer is not about mystical experiences, as many evangelical teachers want us to believe. We’ll discuss the error of contemplative prayer in future essays, undoubtedly. But deep prayer certainly does mean that we must push beyond asking for things that fade away with this life and also pray for each other to cultivate the qualities  that honor the Lord Jesus Christ now and that will glorify Him in heaven.

After 45 years of being influenced by a “consumer” approach to the Lord, I realize that He is less concerned with adjusting our circumstances than He is with building godly character. I know I easily attest to His priorities now, when much of my life goes relatively according to my wishes. But I hope people pray the same things for me that I am learning to pray for them. As much as my flesh still wants God to do my bidding, I see how that attitude perverts my relationship with Him by mistaking Him for the servant that He calls me to be.

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Theology Thursday: Philippians 4:13

My fellow blogger Rachel has written a wonderful Bible Study on the real meaning of Philippians 4:13. Not only does she demonstrate how most evangelicals misuse this verse, but she underscores the necessity of quoting Scripture in context.

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You’ve seen this verse used out of context somewhere, I guarantee it. Most likely, you’ve seen this used on a running shirt (when not healing – still – from a broken foot, I fancy myself a runner), an athletic team’s t-shirt, or on Beth Moore’s most recent Facebook banner.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

I’ve seen it on coffee mugs, bookmarks, reward plaques, motivational posters, and at the end-of-my-rope social media posts.

Here’s my most favorite “Christian motivational poster”, ever, by the way, just for laughs:

sand people footprints

But back to Philippians 4:13. This verse is used all the time to give Christians and non-Christians alike the idea that with Christ, you can do ANYTHING. Do you understand?

ANYTHING.

I have Christ. I can run a marathon.

I have Christ. I can win the state football championship.

I have Christ. I can…

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I’d Rather Confess

“To confess Christ is to choose His ways and to own them. To profess Christ is to plead for His ways and yet live beside them . . . To profess Christ is to own Him when none deny Him; to confess Christ is to plead for Him and suffer for Him when others oppose Him . . . Profession is swimming down the stream. Confession is a swimming against the stream”(Mead, The Almost Christian , 28).

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We’ve Been Warned

Martyrs BibleWe’ve all had history teachers that spoke in dry monotones and refused to allow for any class participation. Sadly, those teachers perpetuate  the myth that history is dry, boring and irrelevant to life here and now. On top of that, many people (including evangelicals) consider the Bible to be equally dry, boring and irrelevant. Pardon me, ladies, but we really need to open our eyes to see how both Scripture and history prepare us for a future that is nearer than we think.

For example, let’s take a look at Matthew 10:16-23, which describes Jesus sending the Twelve out to cast out demons, heal the sick and preach the Gospel to the lost sheep of Israel. Although most of His instructions were specific to those twelve men, I believe the last section applies to all Christians. And after last June’s SCOTUS infamous decision to legalize same sex marriage, which obviously goes against the Lord’s true design for marriage, His words take on a more vivid gravity.

 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. ~~Matthew 10:16-23 (ESV)

Do you understand what I’m getting at? Simply put, those of us who take God’s Word seriously will face backlash much like the Reformation martyrs did. If those of us who claim to be Christians remain faithful to Scripture, the world will naturally hate us. We represent a holy God Who refuses to compromise His righteous standards and does not bow to any human cultural invention. Our  courts, influenced by media propaganda and liberal politics, may attempt to redefine marriage and make public bathrooms gender-neutral, but the King of kings and Lord of lords holds fast to His intent and expects His followers to remain loyal to Him.

The LGBTQ community, of course, is only one of many ways humanity rebels against God’s authority. Over the last 2000 years, Biblical Christians have suffered various forms of persecution ranging from mild censure to violent martyrdom. Men like Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale, for example,  bore the wrath of the Roman Catholic church because they called people back to Scripture and denounced the false doctrines that still overtake that church. In our time, the legalization of same sex marriage just happens to be the issue that will usher in the next wave of persecution. But church history informs us that Christians have always incurred the world’s hatred simply by our fidelity to Christ.

Actually, Scripture itself issues the warning that faithfulness to its teachings will guarantee persecution. Jesus taught clearly that the world would reject His disciples (in all generations) because it rejects Him.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ ~~John 15:18-25 (ESV)

As the legalization of same sex marriage brings persecution on Christians who refuse to condone it, we must remember that the Lord warned us of the high cost of following Him. Yes, I grieve over the  loss of religious liberty in this country, and I do feel frightened. But I’ve always understood that following Jesus would most likely have painful implications. Reading passages like Matthew 10:16-23 and studying church history merely reminds me that I’ll be in good company  as I suffer reproach for Him.

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Apparently I’m An Armimian Slave To Calvinism

Dear DebbieLynneSo this weekend, someone whom I’ve never met sent me an impassioned (and somewhat mean-spirited) comment railing against the hellish origins of Calvinism, to which she’d been enslaved for 18 years. Specifically, she objected to the doctrine of Election, which she believes breeds pride.

I felt a bit amused be her diatribe after being recently criticized by a hyper-Calvinist for posting a video that she thought put too much emphasis on human responsibility in salvation. Talk about being hit by two extremes! Since I’ve always heard that upsetting people from both sides of an argument generally indicates that you’re doing something right, I feel strangely comforted by these assaults on my theology.

The juxtaposition of opinions has made me think a bit, though. Not about changing my beliefs, but about how tightly I should self-identify as a Calvinist. To be sure, I’ve come to accept the five points that T.U.L.I.P. represents, though I still struggle a little with Perseverance of the Saints. And really, I’ve still got much to learn. As yet, I’ve only read snippets of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. (Gotta do that!)

On the whole, however, coming to Reformed Theology has been a homecoming for me. Throughout most of my Christian life, I traveled mostly in Armimian circles, always feeling a vague sense that what I believed and what I was being taught didn’t quite line up with Scripture. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I felt a discrepancy, but something told me that we interpreted Scripture though experience, and that doing so operated from a faulty hermeneutic.

Since marrying John, I’ve enjoyed greater exposure to Reformed Theology, and so much of it fit with what I saw in the Bible. Passages that I’d always have to reconcile with personal experience and/or whatever teaching happened to be in vogue suddenly made sense in their own contexts.

Therefore, I pretty much embrace Reformed Theology. But only as far as it aligns with God’s Word. I obviously can’t claim to understand Scripture perfectly, but neither can my two critics. I can, however, say that, to the best of my ability, I will follow the clear teachings of Scripture before I follow Calvinism. Furthermore, I will do my best to measure any teaching I hear or read against God’s Word. And you should too!

I do appreciate comments on what I write. I welcome you to use my Comments Section, The Outspoken TULIP  Facebook page or DebbieLynne_7@yahoo.com  to let me know your perspective on the issues I address. And if you write to express disagreement, that’s wonderful! I ask only that you disagree respectfully, and that you use Scripture (in proper context) to demonstrate your point. Each of us must seek to bring our opinions under the authority of Scripture.

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Center Of Unbroken Praise

Why do we envision heaven as a place that will cater to our desires (as long as they’re not “sinful”)? Once a seemingly mature Christian friend told me that, for each of us, God would make heaven be whatever the individual wanted it to be. For example, her heaven would be filled with chocolate, while mine would consist of endless books.

Her view of heaven appeals to our innate narcissism, certainly, but it totally misses the Biblical truth that heaven revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ll experience indescribable joy, yes. But not the joy of Godiva truffles or laying on a cloud as I read Chaucer.

The joy will come as we behold Jesus, praising Him without the self-centeredness that distracts us from Him here on earth. The lyrics to “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” remind me of that glorious day when He  restores all creation to sing His praise!

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Praise God, Truth Remains

John Reading Tyndale Bible
Photo courtesy of Julie Garber–used by permission

Have you ever gone to your Bible a bit reluctantly? I confess that I have, especially when I have an idea for a blog post that’s begging for me to type it out. I believe 21st Century culture causes evangelicals (assuming they care about the Bible at all) to take God’s Word for granted. Further, I believe we take God’s Word for granted because we don’t understand the history behind the English translation and the cost men paid to make those translations.

Yesterday John and I attended a presentation by Truth Remains that our church has been hosting this weekend. If you’ll click the link I just provided, and then click again to their “Bibles” page, you’ll read that Truth Remains’ founder David Parsons entrusted his incredible collection of 16th and 17th English Bibles to this ministry so that they can educate churches around the country on the marvelous way God made His Word available to English-speaking people. The presentation deepened my awe of the Lord’s faithfulness to preserve His Word as He sovereignly intervened in history.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31st, 2017, I will be writing more and more articles about the Reformers who brought Christianity back to its Biblical roots. Therefore I’ll not attempt to reiterate everything I learned from Truth Remains in today’s blog post. Rather, I want to give a brief, and somewhat subjective, account of my responses to the afternoon. hoping to whet your appetite for the legacy that the Reformers have left to us.

Truth Remains began their presentation by telling us about William Tyndale, the first person to make an English translation of the Bible directly from the original Greek and Hebrew. Please read for yourself about Tyndale’s defiance of English law by translating the Bible and smuggling copies into England. Steven J. Lawson provides a easily read account in his book, The Daring Mission of William Tyndale. They displayed  a second edition Tyndale  New Testament, one of only six surviving copies left in the world.

After the presentation, the men who brought it generously spent time showing me and John the Bibles they brought. They allowed John to read John 1:1-2:

In the beginning was that word, and that word was with god: and god was that word. The same was in the beginning with god. ~~Tyndale translation

As he read those words from the earliest English translation, my eyes welled up with tears. About 50 years ago (reading, of all things, a Catholic New Testament), my husband came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by reading those very verses! Our pastor’s wife, Julie Garber, captured this special moment with her camera. I’ll treasure the photo and the memory of John reading those glorious and life-changing words for the rest of my life!

I want to end this post by borrowing the point that Truth Remains used to end their presentation. They had shown that Tyndale and others had sacrificed their very lives in order to make Scripture available to all people. Like those Reformation heroes, we again live in a culture that’s growing hostile to Biblical Christianity. Their courage and refusal to compromise God’s Word must serve as our example. Like them, we must understand that only the truth of God’s Word can break the power of evil. Truth Remains reminded me that The Outspoken TULIP exists to exalt Christ and His Word in preparation for persecution.

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