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Archive for October, 2009

Foreword:  Goblins, ghouls, witches and demons…these are but a few of the costumes that young kids (and adults too) in many countries around the world will wear on Halloween’s eve (Oct 31) and go around merrily trick or treating from door-to-door . It is also the eve of the day of the commemoration of the dead and much is also celebrated about it. One thing for sure, it is good to lovingly remember people who have passed on into the next life. While many would love to think that their love ones are in a “happy place”, rarely will anyone like to think that they could have possibly gone to that “other place” which the Bible calls hell.

The issue of hell in some quarters have been relegated to a symbolism while some have altogether erased the reality of it, at least in their mind, calling it a ‘Christian myth’.  For who could truly erase it when the Lord Jesus Christ has talked much about its reality and the one place that He so warned all who would not repent and believe in Him.

Hell is much a part of these two celebrations mentioned above, whether one cares to admit it or not, and John Piper’s article on hell is posted hereunder because I think this is an opportune time to for us think about these things. Is hell a trick or a threat?

EmmausTrekker

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How Willingly Do People Go to Hell? Does Anyone Standing by the Lake of Fire Jump In? by John Piper

C.S. Lewis is one of the top 5 dead people who have shaped the way I see and respond to the world. But he is not a reliable guide on a number of important theological matters. Hell is one of them. His stress is relentlessly that people are not “sent” to hell but become their own hell. His emphasis is that we should think of “a bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is.” (For all the relevant quotes, see Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 288-295.)

This inclines him to say, “All that are in hell choose it.” And this leads some who follow Lewis in this emphasis to say things like, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”

I come from the words of Jesus to this way of talking and find myself in a different world of discourse and sentiment. I think it is misleading to say that hell is giving people what they most want. I’m not saying you can’t find a meaning for that statement that’s true, perhaps in Romans 1:24-28. I’m saying that it’s not a meaning that most people would give to it in light of what hell really is. I’m saying that the way Lewis deals with hell and the way Jesus deals with it are very different. And we would do well to follow Jesus.

The misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. They will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12). Between their sobs, they will not speak the words, “I want this.” They will not be able to say amid the flames of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), “I want this.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). No one wants this.

When there are only two choices, and you choose against one, it does not mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Unbelieving people know neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent. Apart from regenerating grace, all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

The person who rejects God does not know the real horrors of hell. This may be because he does not believe hell exists, or it may be because he convinces himself that it would be tolerably preferable to heaven.

But whatever he believes or does not believe, when he chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.

So when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination.

When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.”

What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.

Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).

The reason the Bible speaks of people being “thrown” into hell is that no one will willingly go there, once they see what it really is. No one standing on the shore of the lake of fire jumps in. They do not choose it, and they will not want it. They have chosen sin. They have wanted sin. They do not want the punishment. When they come to the shore of this fiery lake, they must be thrown in.

When someone says that no one is in hell who doesn’t want to be there, they give the false impression that hell is within the limits of what humans can tolerate. It inevitably gives the impression that hell is less horrible than Jesus says it is.

We should ask: How did Jesus expect his audience to think and feel about the way he spoke of hell? The words he chose were not chosen to soften the horror by being accommodating to cultural sensibilities. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51).

These words are chosen to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever “want” if they knew what they were choosing. Therefore, if someone is going to emphasize that people freely “choose” hell, or that no one is there who doesn’t “want” to be there, surely he should make every effort to clarify that, when they get there, they will not want this.

Surely the pattern of Jesus—who used blazing words to blast the hell-bent blindness out of everyone— should be followed. Surely, we will grope for words that show no one, no one, no one will want to be in hell when they experience what it really is. Surely everyone who desires to save people from hell will not mainly stress that it is “wantable” or “chooseable,” but that it is horrible beyond description—weeping, gnashing teeth, darkness, worm-eaten, fiery, furnace-like, dismembering, eternal, punishment, “an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

I thank God, as a hell-deserving sinner, for Jesus Christ my Savior, who became a curse for me and suffered hellish pain that he might deliver me from the wrath to come. While there is time, he will do that for anyone who turns from sin and treasures him and his work above all.

Trembling before such realities, and trusting Jesus,

Pastor John Piper

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How Reformed Christians can contend for a pure gospel: “Get beyond witnessing to fellow Christians about the Reformed faith and start witnessing to non-Christians about saving faith.” – Sinclair Ferguson

 

sinclair_fergusonSinclair Ferguson (born 1948) is a Scottish theologian known in Reformed Christian circles for his teaching, writing, and editorial work. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen. Ferguson is the Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina. He is also a Professor of Systematic Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, prior to which he held the Charles Krahe Chair for Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is also a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

 

 

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Foreword: The Legacy of Antioch was preached by John Piper on October 25, 2009, his exposition on Acts 11:19-26 interspersed with a topic on partnering for missions. Hereunder is an excerpt from that sermon which I would like to share to you with the hopes as well that anyone who is called in the “sending” or in the “going” for missions will be encouraged further for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

EmmausTrekker

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The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” – Acts 11:19-26

I have asked the Lord to help me choose words so that one or more of these eight implications will penetrate hundreds of hearts that he has been preparing for this work. Some of you are ready and only need guidance. Others of you are sensing a change of life on the horizon, and you need God to push you over the edge of your dream. And some you will be awakened to a new calling from the Lord for the first time today. And the rest will, I pray, rededicate yourselves to aggressive involvement in sending. There are only three kinds of people in relation to missions: Goers, Senders, and Disobedient.

1. Someone must cross the cultural barriers that separate unreached peoples from the gospel.

Some of you are being called to this hardest of all work. Look at Acts 11:19-20.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.

The Hellenists in this context means Greek-speaking Gentiles. Till now the gospel was spreading mostly along the mono-cultural lines of Judaism from synagogue to synagogue (with the exception of Cornelius in Acts 10). But in Antioch, someone broke through the barriers of language and culture and spoke the gospel to the Gentiles.

Is that you? Is God stirring you, moving you? Would you consider giving your life to this? There is no other way for the church to fulfill her mission in the world. God will raise up the workers and send them out. What an honor we have to send them. And what an honor it would be if you were one of them.

2. Don’t wait to be forced out by persecution.

Look at Acts 11:19: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled.” The believers in Jerusalem were not leaving on mission voluntarily. It took a persecution to force them into mission.

Little did Stephen know that one of the great effects of his death would be the mission of the church outside Jerusalem because people were driven away. So my point is simply this: Don’t wait till someone has to die to move out of America—or across the street to the Somalis or the Native Americans. God has his ways to loosen our roots and move us. Some of them are gentle—like a still small voice—and some are severe—like the death of a great man. Tune your heart, and discern how God is leading. Do it before you have to do it.

3. The hand of the Lord will be with you, when you follow him into his mission.

Acts 11:21: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”

When Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, he closed with a promise, one of the sweetest in the Bible—one that has sustained many missionaries in the darkest hours. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus gave us this promise so that as you sit there and ponder how he may be changing your whole life-course, you will have ringing in your ears: Don’t be afraid. I am going to be with you. I am going to be with you.

4. Be willing to serve a work that God has already begun.

Acts 11:22-23: “The report of this [pioneer breakthrough in Antioch] came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”

Barnabas was not the first on the ground in Antioch. He did not begin the work. He was sent to serve what someone else began. He was building where someone else had laid the foundation. Some of you are called to do this. It is a noble work.

It means that dozens of jobs that are done here at home in the midst of thousands of churches and tens of thousands of Christians could be done in a place where the church is younger and smaller. Many of you are being loosened from your roots these days to make such a move.

5. The main prerequisite for this work is not great gifts but great grace.

Acts 11:23-24: “When he [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”

There is no reference here to Barnabas’ gifts, but only to his graces—that is, his spiritual and moral qualities, not his skills. Verse 24: He was good. He was full of the Holy Spirit. And he was full of faith. The effect was that God worked. He added people to the Lord. God is not mainly looking for great gifts. He is looking for great faith that is willing to be filled with the Holy Spirit and then does good. God may be calling you not because you have great gifts, but because he has taught you to trust him implicitly. I don’t mean there are no qualifications. I mean they may not be as insurmountable as you think.

6. When you sense God’s leading, recruit others to go with you.

Acts 11:24-25: “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.”

Acts doesn’t tell us that God told Barnabas to do this. It just says he did it. He needed help and he knew someone who would be a good helper. So he recruited him. And Saul came. Don’t be afraid of saying to a friend, “Would you consider going with me?”—or to a couple, “Would you consider going with us?” Many times in history God has called a person through the forthright requests of others.

7. In all your evangelism and church planting, don’t neglect to teach the converts and to take them deep into the gospel and build them up so they are stable and strong.

Acts 11:23 says that Barnabas “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” And in verse 26, it says that Barnabas and Saul together focused on teaching. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.”

What if God sends a great awakening? What if he gives a great harvest and grows the church with a great response the way he did in Antioch? Verse 21: “A great number who believed turned to the Lord.” Verse 24: “A great many people were added to the Lord.” What will you do if God sends such blessing?

Don Carson tells of talking to woman who had been converted during the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. That conversation was, he says, “an inexpressibly glorious half hour.” But then he commented on how sad it is that so little of the revival was preserved. “Almost nothing was done to capture or develop theological schools, multiply Bible teaching, or train a new generation of preachers.” So Carson makes this amazing pledge, and I turn it into an exhortation to some of you:

Should the Lord in his mercy ever pour out large-scale revival on any part of the world where I have influence, I shall devote all my energy to teaching the Word, to training a new generation of godly pastors, to channeling all of this God-given fervor toward doctrinal maturity, multiplication of Christian leaders, evangelistic zeal, maturity in Christ, genuine Christian “fellowship.”8

In other words, he would do what Barnabas and Saul did. They saw a great ingathering, and they taught and taught and taught. They strengthened the believers. They sank the roots of the people down deep. They brought stability. They built a foundation for missions.

All over the world (you read this in all the literature), the cry is for trained, strong, Bible-saturated leaders. What will your part be in raising them up?

8. Be open to a significant change in your life.

Some of you know that God is making you restless where you are. You sense deeply that what you are doing now is not what you will be doing for long. Others of you need to think seriously about whether your present secure and established position maybe is not a path to security or an exit ramp to retirement, but a runway for taking off into something new in missions.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (*)

We have seen that the devil is never quite so subtle, and never quite so successful, as when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist at all! That, as we have suggested, was his supreme masterpiece, and it is certainly a part of our problem at the present time. The tendency now is to say that we must not talk about ‘the devil’ but only about ‘evil’. We must not tell people to ‘renounce the works of the devil’, we must tell them to ‘resist evil’. In other words, the whole tendency today is to say that our fight is only against a principle of evil that is in ourselves and in others, and perhaps in the very environment into which we are born. But it is not considered to be ‘consistent with modern knowledge’ to believe still in a personal devil. We must not even make that principle of evil positive. What has been called ‘evil’, we are told, is simply the absence of good qualities rather than something positive in and of itself!

But the whole emphasis of the Apostle here is on the devil as a person. A principle cannot be subtle. It is only a person who can be subtle. ‘The wiles of the devil!’ The Apostle’s whole object is to tell us that we are not fighting merely against flesh and blood, merely against some principle, or absence of principle, which is within us as flesh and blood, as men and women. He goes out of his way to say that it is quite otherwise. In other words what he says is the exact opposite of what is being taught commonly at the present time.

But somebody may ask, ‘Does it matter whether you believe in a personal devil or not?’ The answer is that the Apostle most certainly assures us that we are fighting personalities and ‘spirits’ of evil, the world ‘rulers of this darkness’, not the ‘darkness’, but ‘the rulers’ of the darkness. His whole object is to get us to see that we must not be deluded in this respect, but realize that there are these spiritual entities, personalities, headed up by the devil himself, who are warring a terrible, subtle, vicious warfare against God and all His people. This is not a matter of opinion, it is not just a matter of accommodating our teaching to suit the modern mind and modern knowledge and understanding; if you do not believe in the person of the devil you are rejecting not only the teaching of the Apostle Paul but you are rejecting the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

The problem that arises here primarily is the problem of revelation. Was the Apostle Paul just a creature of his age, or was he given this revelation by the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit? Was our Lord Himself but a creature of His age? He obviously believed in a personal devil, and in these powers. He addressed demons as persons, saying ‘Come out’. You cannot say that to a principle! You cannot dismiss the devil, as it were, in that way; you are denying at the same time the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. You are saying that you are in a superior position to Him, that your knowledge is greater, that you have greater understanding. You are involved in the whole question of revelation and of authority.

This digression is important, for the business of preaching is to relate the teaching of the Scriptures to what is happening in our own day; and if this teaching in Ephesians is true there is nothing more dangerous than to substitute for a personal devil a principle of evil! The whole of our faith is ultimately involved in the matter. The trouble with the critics is that they really do not believe in the spiritual realm. Many of them are equally doubtful, as I have shown, of the Person of the Holy Spirit. He is just a principle, a power, an influence. There is, in fact, nowadays, a fundamental lack of belief in the spiritual realm and the reality of these spiritual personalities. Never was there a time when it was more necessary that we should consider carefully what the Apostle has to teach us, and what all parts of the Bible teach us, concerning ‘the wiles of the devil’.

Having looked at the wiles in general we must now become more particular in our approach. Here, again, I would sub-divide our treatment of this matter into two main sections. First, we must consider the devil’s activity in general, and then his activity in detail, for it is quite clear that there are certain general activities of the devil described in the Scriptures, and which are seen very clearly in the history of the Church throughout the centuries, and in the Church today. These in turn can be sub-divided into strategy and tactics. It is the same classification as is used in military warfare.

We start with these generalities, these matters of broad strategy. There have been certain movements initiated by the devil which have affected the life of the whole Church, and which in turn have affected the lives of individual believers in the Church. We are, indeed, involved in these very things at the present time. ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed.’ Let us use again the analogy of international problems. The last War came upon this country suddenly and unexpectedly because people would not face the facts, because we were nearly all believers in, and supporters of appeasement, surrendering this and that, saying that war could not happen again, and that two World Wars do not occur within a quarter of a century! This country kept on refusing to face the plain facts of the international situation. Men wanted to be happy and to enjoy themselves, and dismissed the man who kept on warning us as a ‘warmonger’, a ‘difficult person’ with whom nobody could work, an ‘individualist’. Precisely the same, it seems to me, is happening in the realm of the spiritual today. People say, ‘Do not be negative; let us be positive; let us just preach the simple gospel’. But the Bible is full of negatives, full of warnings, ever showing us these terrible possibilities. If you find in yourself a dislike of the warnings of the Scripture and of this negative teaching, it is obvious that you have been duped by the wiles of the devil. You have not realized the situation in which you are placed.

The movements to which I am referring can be best classified and considered along the following lines. We start with Heresies within the Church, which have been caused and produced by the devil and his powers. I am not concerned to go into the detail of heresies; I am simply concerned to emphasize the fact of heresies, the fact of movements within the life of the Church that have so often led to terrible trouble and produced a state of chaos.

A heresy is ‘a denial of or a doubt concerning any defined, established Christian doctrine’. There is a difference between heresy and apostasy. Apostasy means ‘a departure from the Christian truth’. It may be a total renunciation or denial of it, or it may be a misrepresentation of it to such an extent that it becomes a denial of the whole truth. But a heresy is more limited in its scope. To be guilty of heresy, and to be a heretic, means that in the main you hold to the doctrines of the Christian faith, but that you tend to go wrong on some particular doctrine or aspect of the faith. The New Testament itself shows us clearly that this tendency to heresy had already begun even in the days of the early Church. Have you not noticed in the New Testament Epistles the frequent references to these things? There is scarcely one of them that does not include mention of some particular heresy that was creeping in, and tending to threaten the life of some particular church. It is seen in this Epistle to the Ephesians; it is still more plain, perhaps, in the Epistle to the Colossians where heretical tendencies were entering through philosophy and other agencies. It is found likewise in the Epistles to Timothy.

Incipient heresy can be detected from the very earliest days. There is an enemy who comes and sows tares. I am not applying that parable in detail, I am using it as an illustration to show the kind of thing we are considering. The enemy’s object, of course, is to disturb the life of the Church, to shake the confidence of Christian people, to spoil God’s work in Christ. The Epistles were in a sense written to counteract these evils. The threat was already there in many different forms, for before the New Testament closes, all the major heresies were beginning to show their heads in the Early Church.

But from the second century of the Christian era the evil becomes still more evident and obvious. The simple fact is that for several centuries the Christian Church was literally fighting for her very life. With the conversion, and the coming in, of those who were trained in Greek philosophy and teaching, all kinds of dangers immediately arose, and the danger became so great as to threaten the whole life of the Church. People who called themselves Christians, and moved in the realm of the Church, began to propagate teachings that were denials of Christian truth. The threat became so great that the leaders of the Churches held certain great Councils in order to define the Christian faith. Their object was to pinpoint heresies, and to protect the people from believing them. Such confusion had come in that people did not know what was right and what was wrong. So the leaders met together in these great Councils, and promulgated their famous Creeds, such as The Athanasian Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Apostles’ Creed.

These Creeds were attempts on the part of the Church to define, and to lay down, what is true and what is not true. And in this way they were able to brand certain teachers as heretics, and to exclude them from the life of the Christian Church. The confusion that led to the drawing up of the Creeds was a great manifestation of the wiles of the devil. And today there are many people who recite these Creeds in their churches every Sunday, and then in conversation tell you that what you believe does not matter at all — ‘believe anything you like!’ But the Creeds are a permanent reminder to us of the wiles of the devil in this respect.

During the great period of the Protestant Reformation likewise the different sections of the Reformed Church drew up their Confessions of Faith, such as the Belgic Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and in this country the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. In the next century Protestant theologians meeting in Westminster Abbey in London in and after 1643, eventually produced ‘The Westminster Confession of Faith’. What was their purpose? I ask the question because we are living in an age when many say, ‘Of course, these things do not matter at all, they have no relevance to us’. I am trying to show their vast importance, their extreme relevance at this present time. Confessions were drawn up for the same reason as held good during the earlier centuries. Church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened by Him, saw very clearly that they must, as their first duty, lay down clearly and on paper what is true and what is not true. In part they had to define their faith over against Roman Catholicism. And not only so, but also over against certain heresies that were tending to rise even amongst themselves. So they drew up their great ‘Confessions’ — which in a sense are nothing but the Creeds once more — in order to give the people light and guidance and instruction with respect to what they should believe.

Is there someone who feels at this point, ‘Well, really, what has all this to do with me? I am an ordinary person, I am a member of the Church and life is very difficult. What has all this to say to me?’ Or there may be someone who is recovering after illness and who says ‘Well, I was hoping to have a word of comfort, something to strengthen me along the way, something to make me feel a little happier; what has all this about Creeds and Confessions and the wiles of the devil to do with me?’ If you feel like that, the truth is that the devil has defeated you. The Apostle Paul says, ‘Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners’ (I Corinthians 15:33). He means that wrong teaching is desperately dangerous. He is there dealing with the great question of the resurrection, he is concerned with that one doctrine, and he says, Make no mistake about this; it is not a matter of indifference as to whether you believe in the literal physical resurrection or not. ‘Ah but,’ you say, ‘I am a practical man of affairs, I am not interested in doctrine, I am not a theologian, I have no time for these things. All I want is something to help me to live my daily life.’ But according to the Apostle you cannot divorce these things, ‘Evil communications’ —wrong teaching, wrong thinking, wrong belief — ‘corrupt good manners’. It will affect the whole of your life.

One of the first things you are to learn in this Christian life and warfare is that, if you go wrong in your doctrine, you will go wrong in all aspects of your life. You will probably go wrong in your practice and behaviour; and you will certainly go wrong in your experience. Why is it that people are defeated by the things that happen to them? Why is it that some people are completely cast down if they are taken ill, or if someone who is dear to them is taken ill? They were wonderful Christians when all was going well; the sun was shining, the family was well, everything was perfect, and you would have thought that they were the best Christians in the country. But suddenly there is an illness and they seem to be shattered, they do not know what to do or where to turn, and they begin to doubt God. They say, ‘We were living the Christian life, and we were praying to God, and our lives had been committed to God; but look at what is happening. Why should this happen to us?’ They begin to doubt God and all His gracious dealings with them. Do such people need ‘a bit of comfort’? Do they need the church simply as a kind of soporific or tranquillizer? Do they only need something which will make them feel a little happier, and lift the burden a little while they are in the church?

Their real trouble is that they lack an understanding of the Christian faith. They have an utterly inadequate notion of what Christianity means. Their idea of Christianity was: ‘Believe in Christ and you will never have another trouble or problem; God will bless you, nothing will ever go wrong with you’; whereas the Scripture itself teaches that ‘through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22), or as the Apostle expresses it elsewhere, ‘In nothing be terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake’ (Philippians 1:28-29). Our Lord says, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). There is nothing which is so wrong, and so utterly false, as to fail to see the primary importance of true doctrine. Looking back over my experience as a pastor for some thirty-four years, I can testify without the slightest hesitation that the people I have found most frequently in trouble in their spiritual experience have been those who have lacked understanding. You cannot divorce these things. You will go wrong in the realms of practical living and experience if you have not a true understanding. If you drop off into some heresy, if you go wrong at some point, if you believe, for instance — I give one example in passing — ‘that healing is in the atonement’, that it is never God’s will that any of His children should be ill, that it is always God’s will that all His children should be healthy, and that no Christian should ever die from a disease . . .; if you believe that, and then find yourself, or someone who is dear to you, dying of some incurable disease, you will be miserable and unhappy. Probably you will be told by certain people, ‘There is something wrong with your faith, you are failing somewhere, you are not really trusting as you should be’, and you will be cast into the depth of despair and misery and unhappiness. You will be depressed in your spiritual life, and you will be looking here and there for comfort. Such a person’s condition is due to error or heresy concerning a primary central doctrine. He or she has insinuated something into the Christian faith that does not truly belong to it.

Nothing is more urgently relevant, whether we think of ourselves in particular or the Church in general, than that we should be aware of heresy. Take the New Testament, take the history of the Christian Church, or take individual Christian experience, and you will see that true doctrine is always urgently relevant. It is of supreme importance for the whole life of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the power in the Church, and the Holy Spirit will never honour anything except His own Word. It is the Holy Spirit who has given this Word. He is its Author. It is not of men! Nor is the Bible the product of ‘flesh and blood’. The Apostle Paul was not simply giving expression to contemporary teaching or his own thoughts. He says, ‘I received it by revelation’. It was given to him, given to him by the Lord, the risen Lord, through the Holy Spirit. So I am arguing that the Holy Spirit will honour nothing but His own Word. Therefore if we do not believe and accept His Word, or if in any way we deviate from it, we have no right to expect the blessing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will honour truth, and will honour nothing else. Whatever else we may do, if we do not honour this truth He will not honour us.

This is surely one of the major problems in the Church at the present moment. Everyone is aware of the fact that the Church is lacking in power. The leaders are trying to seek the cause of this in order that they may discover how to remedy it; and apparently, they are all jumping to one conclusion, namely, that the cause of our lack of power is found in our divisions. So we must all come together. That is the argument. The divided Church is the cause of the trouble, and so the argument follows that if only we all come together we shall be blessed, we shall obtain the missing power, and tremendous things will happen. But how are we to come together? One believes this, another believes that. The main trouble, we are told, is that some put far too much emphasis on what one believes. Surely, they say, we ought to recognize that the one thing that matters is that there are great common enemies against us, for example, Communism, so we must all come together, all who call themselves Christian in any shape or form. We are all one; why divide about these things? We must all come and stand together as Christians, and then we shall have power.

We read about these things constantly in the newspapers. Some are rejoicing because Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are drawing nearer together. ‘What does the past matter?’ they say, ‘Let us have the right spirit, let us come together, all of us, and not be concerned about these particularities.’ I have but one comment to make about this matter, and I regret to have to make it. To me, all such talk is just a denial of the plain teaching of the New Testament, a denial of the Creeds and the Confessions and the Protestant Reformation! It is carnal thinking, in addition to being a denial of the truth. According to the teaching of the Bible, one thing only matters, and that is the truth. The Holy Spirit will honour nothing but the truth, His own truth. But that, He will honour.

To me the most marvellous thing of all is that, the moment you come to such a conclusion, you realize that in a sense nothing else matters. Numbers certainly do not matter. But today the prevailing argument is the one that exalts numbers. If only we all got together and formed a mammoth World Church! Some would even extend that idea further and bring in everyone who believes anyhow in God. They talk about the ‘insights’ of Mohammedanism and Hinduism and Confucianism, and dream of all who believe in God uniting against a godless, atheistic Communism. The present, they say, is no time to be dividing on these small, irrelevant differences of belief, the result of which is that we are dividing our forces and become ineffective. I can only comment: What a tragic fallacy! What a tragic failure to understand the basic elementary teaching we are given here in Ephesians about the wiles of the devil!

To explain this matter further I use an analogy which seems to me to be an apposite one at the present time. I am not concerned about its political aspect; but look at the condition of the Labour Party in this country at the present time. People say, ‘There is no Opposition today, there is no “Her Majesty’s Opposition”.’ This is due, they say, to the fact that the Party’s members are all divided into groups and factions. They argue with one another, and they will carry no weight until they settle their internal differences and all speak with one voice. Now, when you are talking about a political party, that is absolutely right. Political parties can do nothing unless they have a majority. Political parties function in terms of majority rule. However right what they believe may be, if they cannot command the votes they will not be able to form the Government; in fact, governmentally they will be paralysed. Obviously they must get together and try to achieve unity so that they will command votes and increase the possibility of forming a government.

But this argument is not only wrong, it is dangerously wrong, if you relate it to the realm of the Christian faith. The whole Bible testifies against it. The glories of Church history protest loudly against it. The Christian position is entirely different. Here, you do not begin by counting heads, you are not concerned primarily about numbers and masses. You do not think in that way. You are in an entirely different realm. Here, the one thing you think of primarily is your relationship to God! Over against the modern faith in numbers we must say with an American of the last century, William Lloyd Garrison, ‘One with God is a majority’. God has come in, the everlasting, the almighty, the eternal God! It is the power of God that matters. And the moment you realize that, the question of numbers, as regards men, is comparatively irrelevant and unimportant.

Nothing matters in the spiritual realm except truth, the truth given by the Holy Spirit, the truth that can be honoured by the Holy Spirit. Is there anything more glorious in the whole of the Old Testament than the way in which this great principle stands out? God often used individual men, or but two or three, against hordes and masses. Is there anything more exhilarating than the doctrine of the remnant? While the majority had gone wrong, the ones and the twos saw the truth. Take a man like Jeremiah. All the false prophets were against him. There is a man who had to stand alone. Poor Jeremiah — how he hated it and disliked it! He did not like being unpopular, he did not like standing on his own, and being ridiculed and laughed at, and spat upon, as it were; but he had the truth of God, and so he endured it all. He decided at times to say nothing, but the word was like fire in his bones, and he had to go on speaking it. Obloquy and abuse were heaped upon him, but it did not matter; he was God’s spokesman and God’s representative. Similarly Moses had to stand alone when he came down from the Mount where he had met God. To stand in isolation from one’s fellows, but with God, is the great doctrine of the Old Testament in many ways. And it is emphasized in the New Testament also.

Is it not amazing that people should forget the Scriptures and past history? Look at the Early Christian Church. From the standpoint of the modern argument the position was ridiculous. The Son of God goes back to heaven and leaves His cause in the hands of twelve men! Who are they? No one had ever heard of them. We are told about the authorities of Jerusalem that they noticed that they were ‘ignorant and unlettered men’. Incidentally, they added that they had been ‘with Jesus’. They did not see the significance of that fellowship. What they saw was ignorant and unlettered men, and only a handful of them at that! A mere handful of men in a great pagan world with all the Jews against them, and all the authorities! Everything on earth was against them.

I do not understand that mentality in the Christian Church today which says that we must all come together and sink our differences; and that what we believe does not matter. It is a denial of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the story of the twelve ignorant, untutored and unlettered men who knew whom and what they believed, and who had the power of the Spirit upon them, and who ‘turned the world upside-down’. This is surely one of the central messages of the Bible. The great concern of the New Testament Epistles is not about the size of the Church, it is about the purity of the Church. The Apostles never said to the first Christians, ‘You are antagonizing people by emphasizing doctrine. Say more about the love of God and less about the wrath of God. They do not even like the Cross, and they cannot abide the story of the resurrection! Drop that talk about the wrath of God and Christ’s ethical teaching!’ Not so do the Apostles speak!

There is an exclusiveness in the New Testament that is quite amazing. The Apostle Paul writing to the Galatians says, ‘Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:8). ‘My Gospel!’, says Paul writing to Timothy. He denounces other teachers. So many of these modern preachers are much nicer people than the Apostle Paul! They never say a word against anyone at all, they praise everybody, and they are praised by everybody. They are never ‘negative’! They never define what they believe and what they do not believe. They are said to be ‘full of love’. I am not misjudging them when I say that that is not the explanation. The explanation is that they do not ‘contend for the truth’, they are innocent concerning the ‘wiles of the devil’. It is not for us to decide what to leave out and what to drop for the sake of unity. My business is to expound this truth, to declare it — come what may! We must not be interested primarily in numbers, we must be interested in the truth of God. Why are many today denying the glory of the Protestant Reformation? Martin Luther — one man, standing against the whole Church — would be dismissed today as ‘just an individualist who never cooperates’. But he stood up and said in effect, ‘I am right, you are all wrong!’

Without realizing it the moderns are dismissing Luther as a fool, and as an arrogant fool, because he stood alone. But why did he stand alone? There is only one answer. He stood alone because he had, seen the truth of God, and had known and experienced the blessed liberation it brings. He had seen the light and had also been awakened to ‘the wiles of the devil’. When a man sees this truth he has no choice. He does not force himself to stand alone. He does not even want to do so; but he can do no other. As Luther said, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God!’ And God did help him. Of course He did! God will always honour His truth and the man who stands for it. Of course such a man will meet criticism and sarcasm and derision; much mud will be thrown upon him. But that does not matter. The man who continues to stand, and who is ready to die for the truth of God, will have ‘the peace of God that passeth all understanding’ in his heart and mind. He will say with the Apostle Paul, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’. He will ‘know both how to be abased, and how to abound; how to be full, and how to be empty’. He will be able to hold on his way quietly, steadily, knowing that God will vindicate His own truth sooner or later. As an individual he may be spat upon and trampled upon, or even be put to a cruel death. But God’s truth ‘goes marching on!’ It will be vindicated, it will be honoured by the Spirit; and he knows that ultimately, beyond this temporary, passing world, he will hear the most glorious words a man can ever hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’. There is nothing beyond that — to have the Almighty God and our blessed Lord looking down upon us and in effect saying, ‘While you were in the midst of all the confusion, you preached the truth; you stood for it in spite of everything — Well done!’

Heresies always result from the wiles of the devil, the efforts of the principalities and powers. Are your eyes open to it? Do you realize the relevance of all this to you as a member of the Christian Church? Are you being carried away by this loose, general, sentimental talk? God forbid that any of us should ever say that it matters not what you believe as long as you are a Christian. May God open our eyes, and having given us to see the truth, then enable us ‘to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might’. ‘Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’

 

(*) originally posted The Highway website

 

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Well can I remember the manner in which I learned the Doctrines of Grace in a single instant. Born as all of us are by nature, an ‘Arminian,’ I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the Grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received these truths in my own soul–when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron: I can recollect how I felt that I had grown all a sudden from a babe into a man–that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God. One weeknight when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me: ‘How did you come to be a Christian?’–I sought the Lord. ‘But how did you come to seek the Lord?’–The truth flashed across my mind in a moment–I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself: ‘How came I to pray?’–I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. I did read them; but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith. It was then the whole doctrine of Grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make it my constant confession. I ascribe my change wholly to God. – by Charles H. Spurgeon

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IT’S WELL PAST TIME TO GET READY By Ken Silva pastor-teacher on Oct 20, 2009 *

Red Sky

“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired [Jesus] that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” – (Matthew 16:1-3, KJV)

Each Morning The Sky Grows A Darker Red

Beloved of God, no doubt as this apostasy accelerates within the very heart of the evangelical community, those with eyes that see can see the dark red sky above us each morning. We also recall that our Lord Jesus has said:

The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  – (John 10:3-6)

Now in it’s immediate context our Master is speaking to us. He’s talking to the remnant of His people that He is currently calling out of a rapidly decaying evangelical Christianity, mortally wounded as it is by the poison of the Church Growth Movement (CGM) vomited out of Fuller Theological Cesspool; essentially good ol’ ruggedly individualistic [read: proud] American business savvy repackaged as a centered on the self spiritually. I offer the following as an exhortation not to be surprised if “suddenly” you find yourself looking at your local church through a new set of eyes almost overnight.

Perhaps you may not have stopped and thought about something else concerning the above instruction from God regarding hearing His Voice; this spiritual principle is also true in reverse. In other words, the children of their father Satan will also follow him because, well, they know his voice. Can you see this means that God is a stranger to them; and it’s also why they cannot hear what we are telling them. Have you wondered why the leaders within The Ecumenical Church of Deceit (ECoD), duplicious daughter of apostate Roman Catholicism simply cannot rightly divide the Word of Truth?

It is as the Master has just told us — “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Keep in mind that if we are teaching people from the Bible, and they respond in anger or fear, you now know the reason why. And no, we will not know for sure whether they are saved or not; but because of this backward time in which we are now living my brothers and sisters, we are going to have to turn away from prevailing views of “love” and instead — “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, KJV).

I write also to encourage you dear Christian that you need not fear these “voices” that have been recently raised against you as a resounding gong and a clanging symbol (see—1 Corinthians 13:1), nor should you become discouraged that so few are responding to our teaching. Remember Jesus exhorts us:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

May We Begin To Earnestly Pray To Be Given Power From God The Holy Spirit

And further the Master tells us — “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, ESV). However, at the same time, so many Christian “leaders” today in what’s become an anti-Reformational ECoD like Purpose Driven Pope Rick Warren, Emerging Church icon Rob Bell, and/or Robert Schuller knock-off Joel Osteen have the ear of the world because they speak their language (see—1 John 4:5).

Dear children, more than ever as we near the end of this Age we need to realize, and to fully believe, that these are not just mere words; but instead, they have even more pronounced meaning in our day. And I’m not talking about some escapist theology. As you know from Holy Scripture, God never does anything without first dealing with His remnant at any given time in history. This truth is all throughout the Bible; it seems that our Lord patiently endures the sin, that is inevitably produced by a corrupt and degenerate mankind in this fallen world, while He gathers in His lambs.

However, when our Lord’s Own people start to be dragged down by corruption and then wander too far off our narrow path, then God will begin His inevitable judgments with His children first. This is most pointedly spelled out by the inspired Apostle Peter when God the Holy Spirit guided him to write — “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18)

And those who truly belong to Christ are now feeling a sense of “urgency”; a quickening, a longing for us to be given the ability to boldly preach His Gospel in the power of the Spirit:

grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31, NASB)

In closing this for now, I remind you of Henry Martyn, who was motivated to become a missionary to India and Persia after reading the biography of David Brainerd, and who was himself a great missionary to the Indians in America. Martyn would write, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we must become.” But sadly, despite all their blather about being “missional,” these CGM Pied Pipers of pragmatism in the ECoD are really those who are saying — “for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter” (Isaiah 28:15, ESV).

 

(*) original article can be accessed by clicking here;  Pastor Ken Silva’s other articles are linked with the original post.

 

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THE WELL-READ CHRISTIAN: Why Bible Lovers Should Be Bibliophiles

by Rick Ritchie

 

Modern Reformation archive issue 1994-4-smallHis accusing questions to the Pharisees begin with the words “Have you not read…?”, suggesting that his hearers were readers who should have read with more diligence.

The well-read life was the aspiration of bygone saints. No, not the life that was read by everyone (That was usually fantastical and morbid!), but the life that was spent reading everything.

For these old saints, heaven on earth was a scriptorium, where illuminated manuscripts and scrolls containing the collected knowledge, wisdom, and misinformation of the ages were available to the literate for their use, enjoyment, and befuddlement. With the rise of printing, we are no longer confined to the viewing of books in a library; we can purchase them for ourselves, in forms that would once have sent many a monk to confession for book lust. From cheap pulp novels to costly full-color encyclopedias, the possibilities are endless. And so are the accessories, from laminated bookmarks to clip-on reading lamps. The reader’s world is a true hedonistic wonderland open to the enjoyment of all.

But for the serious Christian questions will arise at some point. If we do not ask them ourselves, concerned brethren will.

The miserly sun of a winter’s afternoon sinks over the horizon. We set aside our dogmatics book, having made small progress. Youth and eyesight have limits. Jaded, we ask ourselves why we should sacrifice our days to print.

Christ proclaimed to us a simple message of good news, while today’s books confront us with complex and confusing messages of sadness and despair. Did Christ purchase our lives at such a high cost, our brethren ask, only to see them invested in vicariously living the lives of fictitious reprobates?

I make no claim to offer the one definitive reason why Christians do or should read. Any single reason offered would either be so broad as to tell us nothing about reading, or so narrow as to leave out most of the real reasons we read. Most of you who read what follows are Christian readers already. I am thankful that you read. You read for many different reasons and I want to give you more. I also want to add to your arsenal so that you can defend your libraries against the attacks of morbid conscience and narrow-minded brethren.

Why Past Saints Read

There are three stages in the history of God’s people which can be used to show three ways Christians can benefit from reading. Tradition itself is no infallible standard which can be imposed on the consciences of Christians, but if past practice can be shown to be reasonable, we may miss something worthwhile if we ignore it.

The first stage in the history of God’s people with books came with the writing of the Scriptures. Unlike an oral tradition, written Scriptures required literacy in order to be understood, so the people became literate. The second stage came with the confrontation of Christian teaching with pagan learning. When learned pagans argued that Christianity was unreasonable, Christian teachers had to know how to refute, reinterpret, or assimilate the teachings of their opponents. Critics of paganism became literary critics. The beginning of the third stage cannot be located with any precision, but this stage begins for any Christian reader when the ability of a book to set forth possibilities is exploited to a Christian end, allowing the Christian reader to explore the feasibility of other forms of Christian life. In each of these stages, a new reason was given for the Christian to take up books and read them. I wish to explore each stage and see what it has to offer as an incentive to today’s reader.

People of the Book Become People of Books

Some argue that what we know as historic Christianity is a late development. Primitive Christianity, they say, was an undogmatic, private experience-until basilica-building bishops, seeing that laymen with direct access to God couldn’t be controlled, foisted upon the church a collection of politically useful documents. The church has been chained to the Scriptures ever since.

Contrary to these revisionists, Christianity has always derived its very life from the written text. In the Bible itself, the words of Scripture are so identified with the words of God that the words “God” and “Scripture” are used interchangeably. The Apostle Paul even uses the expression “Scripture says to Pharaoh”(Rom 9:17) of an occasion where Moses speaks God’s words to Pharaoh (Ex 9:13-19). (1) A high view of Scripture is no late invention of second-century clergy, it is the view of St. Paul himself.

But what about Jesus? Our revisionist friends often accuse Paul of complicating Jesus’ simple gospel, but they are wrong on this count, too. Certainly Jesus is the center of Christianity, but we know of him only through his words. Jesus himself says that his words are spirit and life (Jn 6:63), and promises his disciples that the Holy Spirit will remind them of his words (Jn 14:26) and guide them into all truth (Jn 16:13). One of these disciples, Peter, refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pt 3:16). There is therefore no possibility of driving a wedge between Jesus and Scripture, or Jesus and Paul.

But the connection between Jesus and Scripture is even stronger. Jesus says to his followers: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (NRSV Jn 8:31-32). Since Jesus is God, and Scripture is God’s word, anytime we say “Scripture says,” we can say “Jesus says.” The whole Bible, in this sense, ought to be in red letter text! This should lead those who wish to know Jesus into the study of all of Scripture.

Biblical religion’s focus on the written word of God has always led naturally to literacy among God’s people. It is common when arguing the authority of the Bible with an unbeliever to be asked the question “But wasn’t this believed by primitive people who didn’t even know how to read or write?” The answer is that a written revelation led to a literate society. The synagogue was an educational institution which required literacy, as in it the Scriptures were read. According to Scripture, Jesus read (Lk 4:16) and wrote (Jn 8:6). His accusing questions to the Pharisees begin with the words “Have you not read…?” (Matt 12:3,5; 19:4; 21:16,42; 22:31; Mk 2:25; 12:10,26), suggesting that his hearers were readers who should have read with more diligence. People of the book were always a literate people.

Not only does a religion of a book require literacy, it raises the level of literacy among the already literate. Most people I meet are literate adults whose public school instruction taught them to read to the point where they can understand what is written in the newspaper. For many, what Christianity provides beyond this is an interest in reading.

I have met countless people whose interest in learning began as a result of their coming to the Reformation faith. The world became more interesting to them. In the Reformation worldview, although our fallen world cannot bring us lasting happiness, it is a purposeful place in which God is active, both supernaturally and through providence. Books are a way of exploring this world more deeply. Since God has used language in communicating about the world to us, we believe that the written word is capable of embodying truth about the world. Our studies in theology naturally lead us to an interest in the world and trust that we can learn about it through print. I had this experience myself. Early in my college years, before I had discovered the Reformation, I remember observing one of the lecturers at my university in dialog with some students. He was a pale man who probably spent a good portion of his time in a cramped faculty office poring over some old book or other-a book written by a non-evangelical, no doubt. I felt sorry for the man. Assuming that he was probably an atheist or agnostic, I thought, “How sad that this man who has no share in eternity cannot even enjoy the present.”

I later discovered that the man was a Christian, but that was not the only thing to change my opinion of him. I sat under him for a course reading some of the old classics of Western culture. When he taught on Homer, memorized passages in ancient Greek tumbled from his lips. The same was true of medieval Italian with Dante. The man was an intellectual traveler to worlds beyond my reach.

A couple of years later, I saw this professor in the university bookstore. He now appeared to me as an aristocrat. Books were to him as airplane tickets were to others, only he could traverse time as well as space. He could visit not merely Florence, but the Florence of Machiavelli and Dante. Now I was the wretch. I only hoped that if my professor could have seen the music and the books that I was purchasing, he would have approved.

What an advantage for a Christian to be able to understand how the world of the past developed into the present world! Without this perspective, we see our own environment as inevitable, gray, vanilla. We long for something more exotic. Feeling powerless to change the world, we look to stimulation to distract us from our boredom. Access to the past through books changes this. It shows us how the current structure of our lives-our architecture, government, entertainment, technology-is the result of the ideas of many people in the past. One idea suppressed, or another introduced at a different time, and the whole landscape would be different. As sinful and frustrating as our world can be, it is not an inevitability, but a surprise.

It is only when we understand the world that we can transform it. If our present world is the result of ideas, this puts the spotlight on the Biblical injunction to take every thought captive to Christ. It also poses the question “How are we to take modern thoughts captive if we don’t recognize them as thoughts?” In many cases the modern world is lost to the gospel, not on account of blatant anti-Christian propaganda, but because of the acceptance of hidden assumptions which render the gospel implausible.

We have seen how a focus on Scripture leads to an interest in books in general, and how this is advantageous to the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, there is an opposite dynamic at work in our culture. As the culture drifts away from writing as the chief medium of communication, and toward television, people become harder to reach with the gospel because their concept of truth is altered. The shift from print to television has already had devastating consequences.

Social critic Neil Postman has argued that television’s very nature as a medium changes the way people think. He complains not so much about the drivel that is aired, but what happens to discourse on serious issues. What becomes of seriousness, he asks, when one minute top experts are discussing the possibility of nuclear war in hushed tones only to be followed by the words “And now this from Burger King!” (2) Could television’s ability to place anything subsequent to anything be what has made relativism so plausible to so many?

Television seems oblivious to the law of non-contradiction. In the world of the novel, plot and character development rule. People who die stay dead. If not, there is a brilliant explanation. Not so on a soap opera, where Marissabel can be killed off as a result of a contract dispute, and later be re-inserted into the story without apology. It used to be that writers needed to come up with ingenious twists of plot to account for a supposedly dead character’s reappearance. Now they have found that no explanation is necessary. Everyone is so happy to see Marissabel back they don’t ask questions.

A return to print is crucial. People of the book should not only be people of books, they should be people of print. While we could not say that print itself has a bias towards truth-it is obvious that one can tell a lie quite splendidly in print-it does have a bias towards the conditions of truth: continuity, non-contradiction, precision. A well-written fantasy novel may portray a world where the laws are different from our world, but a commitment to the laws of reason will be manifest on every page. (3) If certain things happen, certain things must follow. This type of connection is absent on television in general. I may not be overstating it to suggest that a mind for truth would be better cultivated by reading fantasy novels than watching the evening news.

Critics of Culture Become Cultured

A commitment to reading and knowing Scripture was not enough to prepare the early church to take the world for Christ. Early on, Christianity was besieged by well-educated unbelievers and heretics. In many cases, top-notch argumentation was not needed to keep Titus and Claudia from abandoning the faith. For a while any argument might do. Besides, pastors had enough to do persuading their hearers to avoid the arena. Over time, however, arguments had to be met, and this meant that someone had to do the hard work of coming to grips with pagan thought.

One example of this, documented in George Grant’s Heresy and Criticism, is the way the early church responded to the ancient practice of literary criticism. Pagan literary critics threatened to undermine the validity of the Christian writings by attacking their internal consistency on the one hand (displaying alleged contradictions), and their origin on the other (claiming they were written by someone other than was traditionally claimed, or claiming they had been altered). Christian apologists responded by learning literary criticism and either critiquing their opponents’ methods, or using the critics’ techniques to prove Scripture’s logical consistency and apostolic authorship. Christians were drawn into the pursuit of pagan learning to combat paganism, and became more cultured in the process.

In the Middle Ages it happened again when the universities encountered Aristotle through his Islamic commentators. The result was a breathtaking synthesis of Christian and secular learning which commanded the respect of the learned and still finds adherents in our time.

This can happen today as well. In many cases it is the Christian apologists who are our best guides for broadening our mental horizons. Many will pick up a book by C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, or John Warwick Montgomery to learn how to defend their faith against unbelief only to have those authors interest them in any number of other subjects.

These were men of broad interest. C. S. Lewis was a poet, a medievalist, and a philosopher. G. K. Chesterton was a journalist. J. W. Montgomery is a lawyer and a theologian. These men are capable of illustrating the correspondence of Christianity to the known world using knowledge from many fields because they studied all subjects asking the question, “How does this relate to what Christianity teaches?”

They present not merely a unified field of knowledge, but unlike many Christians today, they present a broad field of knowledge. Many Christian teachers will present a unified field of knowledge by narrowing their field to theology. A parishioner leaves one of their churches convinced that what they have heard on Sunday is the truth about the world, and upon seeing the real world during the drive home wonders how it relates to what the teacher said earlier.

How much better for a teacher to be able to show how fields other than theology can be integrated with Christian teaching. How wonderful it is to pick up a Christian book and be able to say “Here is God’s plenty!” When a Christian author engages with a broader slice of the world, Christianity becomes more plausible to his readers, for it can be shown to be compatible with other known truth.

Engaging with truth outside of theology is not only attractive, it is necessary. If we neglect it, what is to prevent parishioners from sliding into unbelief because they fear that what their pastors teach cannot really stand up against the real world? Those who present Christianity must be able to relate it to the world their parishioners face and defend it against unbelief.

Paul tells us that it would be a strange thing if the evangelist who brought the good news to others should himself end up in hell on account of carnal weakness (1 Cor 9:27). But what about intellectual weakness? What about those times where a pastor’s grip on the gospel is sufficient to save himself, but not strong enough that he can communicate it clearly to others? A shepherd must be able to defend not only himself, but his sheep against wolves. Would it not be odd if a pastor’s failure to master the communication of Christian doctrine became the ruin of all of his parishioners but himself? We could paraphrase the Apostle and say, I pummel falsehood and subdue it, so that after accepting the gospel myself, my hearers should not be lost to the truth.

This is not only true of pastors, it is true of academics. Many are the teachings in the universities today which directly and indirectly undermine Christianity. Christian teachers and professors are in a wonderful position to oppose these teachings. In many cases it is not necessary to oppose them in the name of Christianity. When the very possibility of objective truth is attacked, it is the duty of an academic as an academic to defend it. The advantage of the Christian academic is that he or she knows that the fight for truth is God-pleasing.

I think that the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews will some day be found to apply to academics. From the roll call of the faithful, I expect to hear the names of college professors read. “By faith Dr. So-and-so left his English faculty and their idols of deconstructionism to teach students how to understand the meaning of an old text…” For if students do not believe that an old text could possibly reveal truth, what chance do we have of getting a hearing for Scripture?

Past Lives Become Present Options

Many of my readers have seen for themselves that an interest in Scripture made them more interested in other books. Some have probably also been led to a broader interest in God’s world through the writings of Christian apologists. There is a third service which reading can provide the Christian which is often overlooked, and that is broadening our narrow view of what the Christian life can look like. For this purpose I suggest old Christian books. Even when we have weeded out those deviants who espoused damnable heresies or held to grossly deficient views of grace, the remainder is a surprising lot.

Christians of the past who would have confessed the faith as well as we do, or better, often lived very different Christian lives from our own. Their lists of Christian virtues and pagan vices, if they made such lists, would not match ours. They would wink at behavior which would shock us and condemn as sinful actions we didn’t know were sins.

How cock-sure was Jesus’ generation of its own moral code? Certainly many, even of the Pharisees, would have confessed to failing to live up to the code perfectly. That there might be something amiss with the code itself, however, was unthinkable. And the same is true with us. After Jesus’ lectures to the Pharisees, few of us would claim perfection. But everyone is confident knowing right from wrong and the relative gravity of one offense compared to another.

Aside from a re-reading of the New Testament, a reading of old Christian authors is probably the best way of challenging our own complacency with our understanding of the good Christian life. In fact, sometimes it is better.

Jesus was able to point out the specific holes in his contemporaries’ ethics. The inspired writings of the prophets were certainly sufficient to prove the points Jesus made if anyone would make the application.

The problem is that we seldom do. And like those who failed to see how the prophets’ words applied to new first-century conditions, we seldom make the application of Jesus’ words to our own situation with any ease. Many applications are strained, the most tenuous becoming the favorites of retreat speakers and youth leaders. We believe we are teaching Scripture when we present stale recipes for victorious Christian living, but this has not led to a better understanding of the Christian life. The problem is not with the clarity of Scripture, but with our own perspective on our lives. We take the environment in which we have grown up for granted. It is difficult to criticize precisely because we cannot see it for what it is. Does the fish criticize the ocean for being salty?

A comparison with past ages shows the behavioral codes in our church gatherings to be both prissy and flippant. Would Martin Luther or C. S. Lewis be able to enter our church gatherings comfortably? Luther would shock everyone with his free use of vulgarity, while C. S. Lewis would scandalize coffee hour by lighting up a cigarette (and can’t the man wait until we find him an ashtray? What is to become of the new carpet in the fellowship hall?)-and yet both of these men were committed Christians.

In fact, I imagine that when those who wished to criticize these men calmed down a little, it would be the late twentieth-century churchmen who would have explaining to do. What has happened to the historic liturgy? Why do we spend so much time singing about how we feel instead of about what God has done? Why are we so preoccupied about how others use their leisure time, while so little attention is given to their work (aside from the injunction not to steal)?

These are just a couple of examples of the way looking into the past can relativize twentieth-century standards. The point of this type of perspective is not just to topple false standards, while this is important in itself (Christian liberty is a necessity, not a frill!). It brings the forgotten wisdom of older standards back into view. Perhaps C. S. Lewis’s smoking shows a bad use of the gifts God had given him. This might be sinful, but no more so than the eating habits of other well-respected churchmen. And it is a trifle compared to the mean-spiritedness, the lack of reverence, and the ignorance which we put up with on a regular basis.

Another of the benefits of reading is its ability to combat what C. S. Lewis’s friend Owen Barfield referred to as “chronological snobbery,” which is the assumption that the present age is to be held superior to the past merely because it came later, that history is a record of uninterrupted progress.

It is truly a wonder to pick up an old document only to discover that an idea you thought modern could be found stated, and stated clearly, many centuries ago. For instance, when do you suppose the following words were written?

Perceiving long ago that religious liberty ought not to be denied, but that it ought to be granted to the judgment and desire of each individual to perform his religious duties according to his own choice, we had given orders that every man, Christians as well as others, should preserve the faith of his own sect and religion. (4)

Does this come from one of the writings of our American founding fathers, or is it perhaps an article from the old constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia? No! It is a line from the Edict of Milan, written by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the year AD 312.

My point is that some of us are fortunate enough to be well-traveled in the present world. This does something to combat our cramped prejudices. But there is a world of the past available to us which can do more for us in this area for less.

A Prescription

There is so much to be gained from reading, but my call is not merely for Christians to read, but to read more, to read more broadly, to read more broadly together.

Reading more makes reading easier. The more material you have been exposed to, the more you will be capable of reading. We need a grid on which to hang facts and perceptions. Reading gives us categories, and the more categories we have, and (what is more important) the more solidly these categories are fixed in our minds, the more we will be able to glean from what we read and experience.

Reading more broadly keeps us from getting into ruts. Narrow reading makes the world itself seem narrow. Broad reading reminds us that the world is enormous. It also allows us to see the same thing from different points of view.

Perhaps a new worship service format is adopted at church, causing controversy. My reading of psychology will induce me to examine motives. I will wonder where the people on the wrong side of the quarrel (those bothersome people who won’t worship my way!) derived their need to control others. A reading of sociology will make me ask whether people want to worship one way rather than another because of secular trends. A reading of missionary biographies might remind me that worship is a privilege which not all have, so I should be thankful that I can worship either the old or new way. A reading of theology and liturgical history will have me wondering if our worship has become more man-centered or God-centered.

My reading might sway me to react now one way, now another. Broad reading is a corrective to our tendency see one narrow aspect of a situation neglecting other ramifications. Perhaps what we do matters in ways we cannot guess.

Reading broadly together will keep me from always being on a new crusade to the bewilderment of Christian friends. The Christian purpose of all of this reading is to glorify God. Reading alone may do this, but when we become passionate about an issue, it is nice to have company. When we have seen things rightly, others can support us. When we have missed the mark, they can correct us. It is gratifying, however, when the new viewpoint which seemed so exciting to me is adopted by the others. When I make a new discovery, it will often seem implausible for the simple fact that no one around me sees what I now see. If friends travel the same road, all is different. Those of my readers who have come to Reformation convictions understand this, if they have been lucky enough to have fellow travelers.

If you decide to take my advice, I have a warning for you. While “of the making of books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12), of the printing of a particular book there is an end. Not all of the good books that have been written are currently available at your local bookstore; consequently, used book stores are a wonderful thing. Not all books will be cheap, but the point is that out-of-print books can be found. The other piece of advice is to buy in-print books while they are in print, especially in fields of narrow interest. You will be thankful for heeding this advice-or sorrowful for neglecting it-sooner than you think.

As far as books go, we live in the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, the culture at large is abandoning print. On the other, there is more available to the one who will hunt for it than there ever has been. I wish you a well-read life, and hope that as time goes on we will have more fellow-travelers to bump into. It makes the journey more enjoyable.

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1 For a detailed analysis of this and other ways in which God and Scripture are identified, see B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. by Samuel S. Craig (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company 1948) pp. 299-348.

2 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985) pp. 104-105. Postman’s book is as profound a piece of social criticism as I have read. His criticism of television news forms chapter 7 of the book.

3 For an extended treatment of this phenomenon in a Christian apologetic, read chapter 4 “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton.

4 From the Church History of Eusebius, volume I of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 379.

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Rick Ritchie resides in Southern California and is a long-time contributor to Modern Reformation. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

Issue: “Wanted: Thinking Christians” July/August Vol. 3 No. 4 1994 Pages 18-23

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