John MacArthur: A Stealth Beth Moore?

Cross and Bible 3Like most bloggers, I have several things I want to say. I began this blog fancying myself as a “discernment blogger.” Shortly thereafter, people whom I respect began distancing themselves from “discernment ministries,” leaving me puzzled because a large number of them had pretty much billed themselves as “discernment bloggers.” As usual, I’d arrived at the party too late.

In recent weeks, however, I’ve seen for myself that some bloggers, in their claims to be discerning, degenerate into gossip columnists, picking at well-known pastors and Christian speakers with the goal of exposing every flaw and inconsistency. They congratulate themselves that they don’t idolize people like MacArthur, Mohler and Lawson. As proof of their “discernment,” they dig up articles (often from less than reputable websites) to substantiate their accusations. This practice directly violates God’s Word:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. ~~Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

Part of discernment involves making sure we judge ministries, trends and personalities from godly motives, using good evidence from well-recognized sources. We must avoid the sin of slander.

One blogger has, just this week, written a piece alleging that I readily denounce people like Beth Moore (this blogger agrees with me on that score) while I idolize people like John MacArthur. She rightly believes that we must be careful not to worship human beings. Sadly, she has believed rumors about MacArthur based on two websites dedicated to discrediting him and an eschatological point where he differs from her. From these things, she has concluded that MacArthur is just as much a false teacher as Beth Moore.

John MacArthur has his flaws, to be sure. Some of his preaching has occasionally caused me difficulty in having assurance of salvation during times that my sin gets the better of me. Sometimes, in his efforts to counteract the rampant cheap grace and false conversions that permeate evangelical churches, he overemphasizes the need for self-examination. Because I tend toward self-righteousness, MacArthur’s sermons sometimes plunge me into fear that I’m not genuinely saved. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit always brings me back to the truth that Jesus gave me His righteousness.

My difficulty with John MacArthur means that he’s decidedly imperfect, and I need to evaluate his preaching against Scripture. I also need to be aware that my struggle with self-righteousness (and therefore self-condemnation) may cause me to overreact to his overemphasis on self-examination. I disagree with him on the extent of self-examination we should undertake, but I don’t believe he should be considered a false teacher.

In judging MacArthur’s ministry, as in judging the ministries of people like Beth Moore, we must consider the wider scope of his teaching and character. He does, in other sermons, balance himself out by teaching that salvation comes only through Christ’s work on the cross. Clearly, he teaches a Biblical Gospel. In contrast, Beth Moore violates Scripture by preaching with men in her audience, by making Scripture into an allegory focusing on us and  by promoting the idea that God requires our cooperation to do His work. Several sources have documented her doctrinal errors, and most of these sources proved to be reliable and centered on Scripture.

Discernment is necessary in the Christian life. But we can turn “discernment ministry” into an idol, using it to point to our ability to ferret out problems with popular ministries, trends and personalities. When we cross that line, we exercise pride in ourselves rather than a humble desire for pure doctrine. We turn our blogs into gossip columns, using yellow journalism to slander and libel those that we dislike. Certainly, we must call out those who actually do teach a perverted gospel, but even then we must do so responsibly and in a way that seeks Christ’s honor.

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Our Loved Ones In Heaven

Mourning the death of a loved one causes most of us to search for a way to keep the relationship viable. They have moved on and into eternity, but we remain here. And we desperately miss them! The unwillingness to release them is perfectly normal in the grieving process, as long as we don’t take it to extremes.

In our efforts to maintain a sense of connection with our loved ones, however, we often imagine them watching over us, and sometimes causing heavenly intervention on our behalf. Such thoughts offer consolation by providing a sense that they still love us enough to be involved in the intricate details of our lives…perhaps even more involved than they had been during their earthy lives. But that line of thinking must be rejected as unbiblical!

How can I make such an uncharitible statement? Can’t I show compassion to those who grieve? Yes. But I want to show the sort of compassion that reflects the truth of Scripture as opposed to the false comforts of human ideas. The comfort God offers through His Word far exceeds human fantasies by reminding us to look past our loved ones to Christ Himself, realizing that they have the joy of being in His immediate presence.

Certainly, Christians can rightly expect to be reunited with their believing loved one in heaven. The Bible encourages us to cling to that very expectation during times of grief. The apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonian Christians, showed that faith in the resurrection provides tremendous assurance to those of us who stay behind:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. ~~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)


Through Paul, the Holy Spirit assures us that death separates Christians only temporarily, and that when Jesus returns all of us will rise to meet Him in our resurrected bodies. At that glorious moment, we will be reunited with each other, and we will finally be face-to-Face with Him.

In the meantime, the spirits of our Christian loved ones dwell in heaven with the Lord and His angels, where they focus on worshiping Him. How much more marvelous for them to behold His glory and majesty than to watch us struggle with our bodies of sin! Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, eagerly looked forward to death with the knowledge that he would then come into Christ’s presence. He longed for that day! Yet he knew that, once he went to be with the Lord, he could no longer do anything for those he left on earth.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. ~~Philippians 1:18b-26 (ESV)

While he was on earth, Paul could minister to the Philippians if only by praying on their behalf and perhaps writing additional letters. He anticipated a release from prison that would permit him to visit them again, and consequently he knew that his death would curtail his ministry to them. Once in heaven, Paul’s gaze would rest solely on Christ, not on his beloved Philippians.

Our loved ones in heaven will rejoice when we join them, but Scripture indicates that their eyes currently fix themselves on Jesus, rather than on us. They know, better than we do, that He can care for us without their intervention. More importantly, they understand that, like them, we need to keep our attention completely on Him. And they love us so much that they hope we’ll do so.

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Autobiography On Purpose: Yankee And Belle

Pink RosebudWay too soon after Jimmy Joe so unceremoniously broke our engagement, I created an online chat room for singles with disabilities. Yes, I know I should have been focusing on the Lord while He healed me from the relationship…and from Memphis in general. But I did what I did, and God mercifully brought John Kespert to that chat room within a few days. Obviously, he was the man I eventually married.

John always tells the story to our friends from his perspective, and no doubt he’ll be disappointed that this narrative won’t include his favorite details. Since this is my blog, however, and since I type much too slowly to recount everything that happened between our first chat in February of 1998 and our August 2002 wedding, I reserve the right to tell the tale as I see fit. Therefore, I’ll invite him to use my comment section, if he so chooses, to offer his version.

Today, let me limit the recounting to the earliest stages of our relationship. As I recall, John first appeared in my chat room shortly before Valentine’s Day, 1998. If he did try to come to to the chat room on Valentine’s Day, he would have found it closed. One of my girlfriends, who had also recently suffered a broken relationship, came over to watch Figure Skating that afternoon.

But John did drop by the chat room again, several times. I learned, in those early conversations, that he lived near Boston, that he had an incessant sense of humor and that he didn’t like the types of foods I loved (except for Italian). Most importantly, I learned that he loved the Lord wholeheartedly, and desired to serve Him with integrity. After my previous relationship, it refreshed me to talk with a man who genuinely sought to honor the Lord in his daily life.

By March, we started emailing and chatting by Instant Message. By then, I felt convicted to shut down the public chat room I’d started, so I created a room called Yankee and Belle (reflective of Boston and Memphis) just for us and friends we’d invite. Yes, I was back in San Rafael, but Yankee and Redwood Tree just didn’t seem right.

His obvious love for Christ, as well as his compassion, made  him easy to talk with. He caught a cold that April. I knew he used a ventilator much of the time due to Polio, so I understood that a cold could be serious.  At that point, I realized that my feelings for him extended well beyond friendship.

John knew about Jimmy Joe, of course, so when we did acknowledge our mutual attraction in July, he told me that we’d take things “one wheelstroke at a time.” I felt frustrated by his chosen pace, especially when he withdrew his invitation to visit him that October. By that time, I’d been talking with his pastor online, and the pastor advised me to give John time. Disappointed (I really wanted the opportunity to see Boston), I accepted the pastor’s advice.

My mom seemed somewhat unsure of what to make of John until that Christmas Eve. With John listening on the phone, she helped me unwrap, among other things, a three-pound chocolate computer with the words “Merry Christmas, DebbieLynne” written across the monitor. From that point on, John could do no wrong as far as she was concerned!

In a chat conversation the following March, I had once again been complaining about the way Jimmy Joe had treated me. After listening sympathetically for quite some time, John typed “He never loved you as I love you.” Right there and then I stopped him, asking him to clarify whether or not he was actually telling me that he loved me. He was! Naturally, I was delighted! I had been suspecting that he loved me for a couple of weeks, but of course I brushed off such thoughts, not wanting to believe something that wasn’t true.

That October I flew out for my first visit face-to-face visit with John. But as it is late, and time to start supper, I think I will write about that stage of the courtship in my next autobiographical installment. I will close by stating that the Lord was definitely doing something in our relationship — I just didn’t know how wonderful it was going to be.

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He Owns Me For His Child

What could be more joyful than knowing God’s forgiveness? Of course, only those who, in glimpsing the Lord’s holiness, understand the weight and severity of their sin experience the exhilaration of this release from debt. And the more we learn about His amazing sacrifice for us, the more we explode with jubilation over His mercy. I pray that today’s hymn will encourage you to exult in the glorious work He’s done for you!

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Unacknowledged Pharisees

Biblical UnityMy insistence on sound doctrine as an essential element in Christian maturity has, more than once, spurred people to call me a Pharisee, either directly or by insinuation. People making that connection also sometimes point out the perils of dead orthodoxy, reminding me that the Lord cares more about how I live than about my finer points of theology. In some respects, I understand their concerns. And, in one sense, I agree with them. After all, Paul’s advice to Timothy applies to everyone–not just pastors:

 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)

Yet the apparent hostility to the idea that sound doctrine (by which I mean the teachings of the Bible)  matters troubles me. The rallying cry to disregard doctrine “for the sake of unity” often tolerates (or even promotes) violations of Scripture such as Contemplative Prayer, pragmatism, women in leadership and the acceptance and celebration of homosexuality. Some who bristle at the word “doctrine” believe these are secondary matters. Others still recognize  that the Bible does prohibit homosexual behavior, but increasing numbers of evangelicals now question the “traditional interpretations” of “the six clobber passages.”

Those who minimize concern over the erosion of doctrine typically equate conservative Christians with the Pharisees of Jesus’ earthly ministry, charging that we live by the “dead letter” of Scripture rather than by the Spirit of the Living God. I shall resist the temptation to embark on a lengthy discussion of their hypocrisy in making that judgment. Instead, I want to give attention to their implication that God’s Holy Word is a “dead letter” that requires human intervention (such as Contemplative prayer or pragmatic evangelism strategies) to revive it.

Hebrews 4:12 describes God’s Word as “living and active.” Additionally, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches  both that the Spirit of the  Living God authored each word of Scripture, and that  Scripture adequately gives us all the teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness necessary for serving Him. Far from being a “dead letter” that opposes the Spirit, the Bible is His sword, operating by His power.

The Pharisees dogmatically  claimed that they adhered strictly to God’s Word, and fiercely objected to the “new” doctrines that Jesus proclaimed. In reality, however, Jesus routinely brought them back to the original intent of His Word, rebuking them for corrupting it with their traditions, loopholes and embellishments. For example:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” ~~Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV)
 
Could it be that the  real Pharisees shun the pure doctrine of God’s Word, preferring the human traditions that now creep into churches despite their claims of fidelity to the Bible? Could a return to the doctrinal purity of Scripture pose a threat to their unacknowledged doctrine of cultural accommodation? Perhaps not. Only the Lord knows the thoughts and intentions of their heats. But they might consider the possibility, especially before attaching the Pharisee label to those of us who stand for sound doctrine.

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A Case For Unpopularity

Do many people ever really outgrow the desire to be popular? As adults, of course, we’d probably prefer the terms “held in high esteem” or “highly respected,” operating under the aassumption that the quest for popularity belongs to adolescents. Having moved well past the angst of dealing with acne, securing prom dates and passing midterms, we are surprised (or perhaps embarrassed) to find ourselves still longing for almost universal acceptance.

This longing has intensified for Christians as general society increasingly defies sound biblical principles. For example, the notion that sexual expression belongs exclusively within the confines of monogamous, opposite sex marriage evokes  laughter and mockery, even from some self-professed evangelicals. Similarly, many people unquestioningly embrace a wide variety of practices that derive from Eastern spirituality, including folks who claim allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve been discussing these disheartening trends since I began this blog in July, and will most likely continue having to do so.

Why is such conversation necessary? In part, because so many evangelicals seek worldly acceptance.  Rather than separating from the world as people called by a holy God, a growing number of people who call themselves Christians adopt worldly philosophies and behaviors, assuring themselves that such compromises communicate “love” and “tolerance.”

Worst of all, churches that once excelled in preaching and teaching sound doctrine now look to marketing techniques for methods to fill their membership rolls and, consequently, their offering plates. They seek to attract neighbors through non-threatening social activities, contemporary music, mystical spiritual disciplines and short sermons that minimize the gospel message. Popularity, in short, promises fuller pews and (more to the point) increased income.

Jesus, although He gained popularity when people supposed that He would immediately benefit them, stated clearly that the world would reject both Him and His true followers. Let me cite just one example of Him making this claim:

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)


While Christians shouldn’t be obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious, it remains imperative that we expect rejection, both from the world and those who aren’t truly saved. This rejection hurts. Admitting the fact that we’d prefer not to endure taunting, ridicule and censure only displays our willingness to be honest and humble. Yet, in disliking the rejection that necessarily accompanies our faithfulness to follow Jesus, we must remember that He told us that persecution comes as a natural reaction to His truth.

Last night, speaking in the General Session at the Shepherd’s Conference (you can live-stream the General Sessions), Steven Lawson introduced his exposition of Psalm 2 with a comment that perversion is at an all-time high in Western culture. I agree! As a result, the Gospel simply won’t attract those who aren’t elect, no matter how many marketing strategies we employ. We must proclaim truth boldly, insisting that sin be brought to the cross in repentance, and that faith in Christ alone offers salvation.

Let me go a step further. We must warn professing Christians that they can’t sustain friendships with the world and yet claim to belong to the Lord. Our message necessarily creates a distance between us and the world that, quite frankly, we have no business trying to bridge.

Definitely, everyone likes accolades and prestige. But when faithfulness to obey the Lord and proclaim His Word include the risk of offending people, we need to choose Him over even those dearest to us. Although the Lord would call us to present the Gospel gently, and with humility, He would also call us to be bold and uncompromising. By all means, work to present the Gospel in a winsome manner, but don’t compromise the truth.

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Foolish Christians

Worldly WiseChristians in 21st Century America receive little respect from the world at large. As time progresses, what little respect we receive now will diminish because genuine believers refuse to interpret God’s Word through the lens of political correctness. Of course, our unwillingness to compromise His Word causes the world to regard us as “backward” and “uneducated.”

The apostle Paul, who himself enjoyed both Hebrew and classical Greek educations, noted that the 1st Century world also held Christians in low esteem. Yet he maintained that our wisdom, which often contradicts worldly wisdom, is far superior to all the sophistication of worldly philosophies can offer.

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ~~1 Corinthians 1:20-31 (ESV)

Right now, most of our country celebrates the “enlightened” views of political and religious liberals, dismissing conservative beliefs as antiquated at best. They accuse us of oppression, largely because we hold to Biblical teachings on Christ’s authority and how He commands us to live. Because the world rejects Christ and His teachings, it holds Christians in contempt (see John 15:18-25).

The animosity that the world holds toward believers will erupt in persecution. I believe seeker sensitive and emergent churches will avoid persecution because of their readiness to accommodate contemporary culture by downplaying doctrine. But those of us who continue to stand on the truth of Scripture, especially when doing so opposes the accepted wisdom of American culture, must expect various levels of pressure to compromise our allegiance to the Lord.

Those of us who adhere to Scripture already appear foolish to the world. This perception of us will only intensify with the passage of time. We can, however, rejoice that God’s wisdom will ultimately trump the supposed enlightenment of worldly sages. When Jesus returns and sets up His kingdom, all of His detractors will see their folly in opposing Him. At the same time, those who remain faithful to Him will joyfully boast in His wonderful faithfulness to prove the superiority of His wisdom.

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