Friday, April 30

Exploding Thanks!

That's right. The driving desire to give thanks for who God is or for what God has done is a compulsion which collects inside and explodes from our hearts. Honestly, this is the feeling that I have experienced numerous times in recent memory, but I had never really thought to write about it. But it IS biblical, based on truth, so I feel it almost a necessity to address myself to it. 

OK, so we are familiar with the command, "In everything give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:18). Familiar also is the command when anxiety gives way to faith-filled prayer in order to "Rejoice in the Lord!" (Phil. 4:4-6). Now, the beauty of such a command is missed if we limit our understanding of the word command to "unwilling constraint." Thankfulness only comes from a willing heart, ready to express appreciation.

Let me give two guidelines regarding the giving of thanks.

1. Thanksgiving issues from a Spirit-filled heart. 
Ephesians 5:18 teaches us to "be being filled with the Spirit," and then proceeds to show how such a continuous filling affects us. Paul uses 4 participles (ending in "ing") to do this. 1) Addressing one another in psalms, etc. 2) singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 3) giving thanks always, and 4) submitting to one another. I focus here on the third, "giving thanks always." My point? Such thanksgiving is more than a command, it is a Spirit-produced response. It's what naturally comes out of a believer. It's almost as if he cannot help himself!

2. Giving "Thanks" Completes the Act
More. It's as if I HAVE to give thanks just to relieve (NOT a guilty conscience), but to complete the act of faith. It's kind of like getting out of the car and leaving the door open. You just have to go back and close it! YOU HAVE TO! I feel personally overwhelmed by God's generosity (however it's received) and therefore I remain in a sort of limbo until I actually stop and express heartfelt thanksgiving for his grace. In this sense, I enjoy it all over again. But it's better! It's one thing for God to perform a wonderful act of grace, it's quite another for me to relish it. How quick are you to give thanks? Does it comes spontaneously, freely?

Thursday, April 29

My Testimony: Faith in God's Provision

Ever hear a testimony and conclude (falsely), "That's great! But it'll never happen to me?" I had certainly heard my quota of God-blessed testimonials. But it happened to me as well.

I'm a bit remiss that I've never shared the following provision of the Lord from our seminary days in Philadelphia. So here goes. May it encourage your faith!

In 1986, God led Phyllis and me to move to Lansdale, Pa, north of Philly in order to attend what was known as The Conservative Baptist Seminary of the East (now Bethel Seminary of the East) in Dresher, PA. He provided wonderfully through my sister, Christine and her husband, Gerry and numerous others to get us there. But, back up just a week . . .

In late summer, after everything had ended in Richmond, Virginia, that is, my job and all bills were paid off, we took a short trip to Ohio to visit my sister and brother-in-law, Kathi and Tom. Then we visited Phyllis' bridesmaid in Cincinnati. While there, we received a call from Christine in Philadelphia. Would I consider coming next week to interview with the Dean, Dr. Spruance? "Sure!" Excitement ensued (I had applied but sort of forgotten about it). Quick drive back to Richmond, then up to Philly. Same day we were scheduled to meet Dr. Spruance, we met Phil Ashley who agreed to hire me for construction, and my brother-in-law, Gerry said that we could live in a large farm house for FREE as caretakers until the property could be decided on (13 months). Yikes! God was throwing so much at us we could hardly handle it! Met the Dean and had a great chat re: my call to ministry which has always been abundantly clear. All issues discussed, everything was a go. Spruance asked, "Is there anything else you'd mention as a possible hindrance?" "Well," I said, "we don't have any money." Not that kind of money. (See, we figured if God was in it he'd work it out. Old Bob Jones senior used to say, "If God ordered it, he'll pay for it"). "Money?" Dr. Spruance didn't miss a beat, "Is that all?" he asked minimizing our obvious concern. I said, "Yes," He replied, "Well, then come on." OK. That was it. 

But school started next week! Yep. NEXT week!

Phyllis was extremely supportive, desirous and excited. She knew God's call on my life, on OUR lives. Our parents were very supportive as well, even though it meant they'd lose the close proximity of two of their young grandchildren. We called home with our decision, and immediately Phyllis' Mom and sister-in-law, Kim made tracks to our house in south Richmond to begin packing up pictures, etc. Mom "managed" to secure a moving van on (of all weekends) Labor Day! In short, within one week we were all packed up and heading out to Lansdale, north of Dresher, north of Philly. God was manifestly in all this.

Part of a ground-breaking education (one-third to be exact) was an internship/mentoring program through a local church. Normally this was done through your own church. But since we were "transplants" to the area, we were at the behest of a hitherto unknown but welcoming church. Thus, God directed us to First Baptist Church in Newtown, PA. 

The pastor then was David Ridder (now Dean of Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN). He recommended that I keep a financial record of all the gifts that we received in our time at seminary. I did, and am very thankful for it. While I did construction work, and Phyllis whatever jobs we could squeeze in while not neglecting our two young children, we still depended on God's gracious provision through others. The people of the church were very generous. We have precious memories of their love. After a year, they agreed to give toward our tuition with voluntary offerings through the church. We tried to earn our housing through jobs. All this was strictly on a voluntary basis, mind you. Still, from that point on, we never missed another school payment! All debts were paid by graduation!

By the end of our time in Newtown, I tallied gifts and the total came to an amazing $21, 900! So, if you're doubtful of God's ability or willingness to provide, take it from our record. God does "exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). God provided in such a way, that I could not, yes, would not ever believe but that he would do this for any child of God who exhibited the least bit of faith. Is your faith weak? The puritan, Thomas Watson helps, "Faith, though it hath sometimes a trembling hand, it must not have a withered hand, but must stretch." And stretch it did! Oh, listen, dear saint of God. You already have the greatest gift in Jesus that anyone could ever have. Will you not because of him, pursue even more? Think not of the hurdle, but of the legs of faith that will clear all hurdles. He will do exceeding abundantly above all that you could ask or think!

Wednesday, April 28

The True Church - J. C. Ryle, Part 2

This is the only Church which possesses true sanctity. Its members are all holy. They are not merely holy by profession, holy in name and holy in the judgment of charity; they are all holy in act and deed and reality and life and truth. They are all more or less conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. No unholy man belongs to this Church.

This is the only Church which is truly catholic. It is not the Church of any one nation or people: its members are to be found in every part of the world where the gospel is received and believed. It is not confined within the limits of any one country, or pent up within the pale of any particular form or outward government. In it there is no difference between Jew and Greek, black man and white, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, but faith in Christ is all. Its members will be gathered from north and south and east and west and will be of every name and tongue, but all one in Jesus Christ.

This is the only Church which is truly apostolic. It is built on the foundation laid by the Apostles, and holds the doctrines which they preached. The two grand objects at which its members aim, are apostolic faith and apostolic practice; and they consider the man who talks of following the Apostles without possessing these two things to be no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.

This is the only Church which is certain to endure unto the end. Nothing can altogether overthrow and destroy it. Its members may be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, burned; but the true Church is never altogether extinguished; it rises again from its afflictions; it lives on through fire and water. When crushed in one land it springs up in another. The Pharaohs, the Herods, the Neros, the Bloody Marys, have labored in vain to put down this Church; they slay their thousands, and then pass away and go to their own place. The true Church outlives them all, and sees them buried each in his turn. It is an anvil that has broken many a hammer in this world, and will break many a hammer still; it is a bush which is often burning, and yet is not consumed.

This is the only Church of which no one member can perish. Once enrolled in the lists of this Church, sinners are safe for eternity; they are never cast away. The election of God the Father, the continual intercession of God the Son, the daily renewing and sanctifying power of God the Holy Ghost, surround and fence them in like a garden enclosed. Not one born of Christ’s mystical Body shall ever be broken; not one lamb of Christ’s flock shall ever be plucked out of His hand.

This is the Church which does the work of Christ upon earth. Its members are a little flock, and few in number compared with the children of the world: one or two here, and two or three there, a few in this parish and a few in that. But these are they who shake the universe; these are they who change the fortunes of kingdoms by their prayers; these are they who are the active workers for spreading knowledge of pure religion and undefiled; these are the life-blood of a country, the shield, the defense, the stay, and the support of any nation to which they belong.

This is the Church which shall be truly glorious at the end When all earthly glory is passed away then shall this Church be presented without spot before God the Father’s throne. Thrones, principalities, and powers upon earth shall come to nothing, dignities and offices and endowments shall all pass away; but the Church of the first-born shall shine as the stars at the last, and be presented with joy before the Father’s throne, in the day of Christ’s appearing. When the Lord’s jewels are made up, and the manifestation of the sons of God takes place, Episcopacy, and Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism will not be mentioned; one Church only will be named, and that is the Church of the elect.

Reader, this is the true Church to which a man must belong, if he would be saved. Till you belong to this, you are nothing better than a lost soul. You may have the form, the husk, the skin and the shell of religion, but you have not got the substance and the life. Yes, you may have countless outward privileges: you may enjoy great light and knowledge, but if you do not belong to the Body of Christ, your light and knowledge and privileges will not save your soul. Alas, for the ignorance that prevails on this point! Men fancy if they join this church or that church, and become communicants, and go through certain forms, that all must be right with their souls. It is an utter delusion; it is a gross mistake. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not members of Christ’s Body who profess themselves Christian.

Take notice; you may be a staunch Episcopalian or Presbyterian or Independent or Baptist or Wesleyan or Plymouth Brother, and yet not belong to the true Church. And if you do not, it will be better at last if you had never been born.

Tuesday, April 27

The True Church - J. C. Ryle, Part 1

Don't overlook the Church. It may seem obvious what it is, but nothing is obvious any more. Or, at least, we should not think it is if for no other reason than it will help us to study honestly. Please do that with this post on the nature of the Church from an old and well-seasoned veteran, J. C. Ryle. I present this in two parts, today and tomorrow. Ryle writes:

"I want you to belong to the one true Church: to the Church outside of which there is no salvation. I do not ask where you go on a Sunday; I only ask, “Do you belong to the one true Church?” Where is this one true Church? What is this one true Church like? What are the marks by which this one true Church may be known? You may well ask such questions. Give me your attention, and I will provide you with some answers.

The one true Church is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus. It is made up of all God’s elect of all converted men and women of all true Christians. In whomsoever we can discern the election of God the Father, the sprinkling of the blood of God the Son, the sanctifying work of God the Spirit, in that person we see a member of Christ’s true Church.

It is a Church of which all the members have the same marks. They are all born again of the Spirit; they all possess “repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” and holiness of life and conversation. They all hate sin, and they all love Christ. They worship differently, and after various fashions; some worship with a form of prayer, and some with none; some worship kneeling, and some standing; but they all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit; they all build upon one foundation; they all draw their religion from one single book, that is the Bible. They are all joined to one great center, that is Jesus Christ. They all even now can say with one heart, “Hallelujah”; and they can all respond with one heart and voice, “Amen and Amen.”

It is a Church which is dependent upon no ministers upon earth, however much it values those who preach the gospel to its members. The life of its members does not hang upon church membership or baptism or the Lord’s Supper, though they highly value these things, when they are to be had. But it has only one Great Head, one Shepherd, one chief Bishop and that is Jesus Christ. He alone, by His Spirit, admits the members of this Church, though ministers may show the door. Till He opens the door no man on earth can open it, . . . Once let a man repent and believe the gospel, and that moment he becomes a member of this Church. Like the penitent thief, he may have no opportunity of being baptized; but he has that which is far better than any water-baptism, the baptism of the Spirit. He may not be able to receive the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; but he eats Christ’s body and drinks Christ’s blood by faith every day he lives, and no minister on earth can prevent him. . . .

It is a Church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates or any act of favor whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. It has often been driven into the wilderness, or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. Its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and His Spirit; and they being ever with it, the Church cannot die.

This is the Church to which the scriptural titles of present honor and privilege, and the promises of future glory especially belong; this is the Body of Christ; this is the flock of Christ; this is the household of faith and the family of God; this is God’s building, God’s foundation and the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven; this is the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the purchased possession, the habitation of God, the light of the world, the salt and the wheat of the earth; this is the “holy catholic Church” of the Apostles’ Creed; this is the “One catholic and apostolic Church” of Nicene Creed; this is that Church to which the Lord
Jesus promises “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and to which He says, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”-(Matthew 16:18; 28:20)."

This is the only Church which possesses true unity. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are all taught by one Spirit. About God and Christ and the Spirit and sin and their own hearts and faith and repentance and necessity of holiness and the value of the Bible and the importance of prayer and the resurrection and judgment to come, about all these points they are of one mind. . . .

Tomorrow, Part 2 . . .

Saturday, April 24

Comfort That God Controls All Things-J. Newton

"I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths!" Psalm 135:5-6

[We are studying the Providence of God in our Wednesday and Saturday morning Bible studies to great profit. This follows along those lines. If we had a better handle on this doctrine we would be better able to cope with and and rise above the trials that come into our lives]

God rules all! And though He is concealed by a veil of second causes from common eyes, so that they can perceive only the means, instruments, and contingencies by which He works, and therefore think He does nothing; yet, in reality, He does all according to His own counsel and pleasure, in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.

Who can enumerate all the beings and events, which are incessantly before His eye, adjusted by His wisdom, dependent on His will, and regulated by His power! If we consider the heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained; if we call in the assistance of astronomers to help us in forming a conception of the number, distances, magnitudes, and motions of the heavenly bodies--the more we search, the more we shall be confirmed, that these are but a small portion of His ways! He calls them all by their names, upholds them by His power, and without His continual energy upholding them--they would rush into confusion, or sink into nothing! They are all dependent upon His power, and obedient to His command.

To come nearer home, and to speak of what seems more suited to our scanty apprehensions--still we may be lost in wonder. With respect to mankind, He reigns with uncontrolled dominion over every kingdom, family, and individual. Before this blessed and only Potentate, all the nations of the earth are but as the dust upon the balance, and the small drop of a bucket--and might be thought (if compared with the immensity of His works) scarcely worthy of His notice! Yet here He presides, pervades, provides, protects, and rules! All changes, successes, and disappointments--all that is memorable in the annals of history, all the rising and falls of empires, all the turns in human life--take place according to His plan!

In Him His creatures live, move, and have their being. From Him is their food and preservation. The eyes of all are upon Him--what He gives they gather--and can gather no more! And at His word they sink into the dust! There is not a worm which crawls upon the ground, or a flower which grows in the pathless wilderness, or a shell upon the sea-shore--but bears the impress of His wisdom, power, and goodness! He preserves man and beast, sustains the young lion in the forest, feeds the birds of the air, which have neither storehouse or barn, and adorns the insects and the flowers of the field with a beauty and elegance beyond all that can be found in the courts of kings!

All things serve Him, and are in His hands--as clay in the hands of the potter. Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of saints!

This is the God whom we adore! This is He who invites us to lean upon His almighty arm, and promises to guide us with His unerring eye!

From: Letters of John Newton

Friday, April 23


I join with John Angell James in underscoring the following as of the greatest importance. Few posts of mine are issued with a deeper and more profound sense of awe at the weight of what is discussed as is this one. If the stats are true that 1500 ministers leave the ministry per month due to moral failure, discouragement or burn-out, then we MUST read and HEED these words of wisdom! He writes:
I trust our churches will consider piety as the first and most essential qualification in their pastors, for which talents, genius, learning, and eloquence, would and could be no substitutes. 
And then James gives this warning: "It will be a dark and evil day when personal godliness shall be considered as secondary to any other quality in those who serve at the altar of God." But I fear that this is exactly what has occurred. Try to discuss among Christian leaders (perhaps even Pastors) their love for God and you may just get a "deer-in-the-headlights" look. Sometimes it seems as though the intimate pursuit of God is just something from bygone days. Well, if that is so, please for Christ's sake let us bring back those days! As it is, it seems abundantly evident that we are living, as James says, in "a dark and evil day."

Deep Earnestness
But still there is something else wanted in addition to natural talent, to academic training, and even to the most fervent evangelical piety, and that is, intense devotedness. This is the one thing, more than any or all other things, that is wanting [lacking] in the modern pulpit, and that has been wanting in most ages of the Christian church. 
Here, then is the heart of our problem in the ministry today. It is not effectively any different than it was in James' day (19th C), for the issues remain the same, sin and faithlessness. 

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6). Evermore let this be the light that shines forth from each of us who names the name of Christ, ESPECIALLY we who are called ministers of the gospel!


Thursday, April 22

What Ministry Ministers Minister?

Therefore, as ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

"The design of the ministry," according to James Angell James, "is to bring sinful men into actual reconciliation  with God, on the ground of that system of mediation through Christ which God himself has devised and proclaimed." In other words, God conceived of man's existence, his inevitable fall, and his reclamation via God-sacrifice. He wrote the book on Gospel. It is, therefore, not to be conceived of in any way as man's concoction, and therefore must not be tampered with by frivolously altering it's tenets. On the other hand, since God created the good news and empowers it through the Holy Spirit, we have every reason to go forth in confidence knowing that as we proclaim the ministry of reconciliation, God WILL DRAW all men unto himself (John 6:44 & 12:32).

James describes in his own nineteenth century words what Paul was meaning in the above verse:
Wherever we go, we find men in unprovoked hostility, inveterate enmity, and mad rebellion, against God's holy nature, law, and government: we carry with us, as his ambassadors, the proclamation of mercy through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ: we tell them that we are appointed by God whom they have offended, and who could overwhelm them with the terrors of his justice, to call upon them to lay down their arms and accept the offer of eternal pardon and peace: but we find them every where so bent on their sins, and the enjoyment of their worldly occupations and possessions, that we are compelled to use the language of the most vehement entreaty, and to beseech and implore them in God's name, and in Christ's stead, to come into the a state of reconciliation.
So, please pardon the somewhat whimsical title of this post. The real question today (as it has been from the beginning) is will we who know Christ, so proclaim him that others might enter into the message and pattern of reconciliation? Oh, the sheer beauty of a soul set free! Let us become enamored of that truth again and so go forth unapologetically with this message of peace!

Incidentally, the man on the cover above is William McKendree, pioneer Methodist preacher in the United States and a true representative of the earnestness which John Angell James calls 'the want of the times.' (taken from the back flyleaf)

Monday, April 19

Why Did Jesus Keep the Scars?

In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey surfaces issues about Christ that we may overlook or simply never consider. 
One detail in the Easter stories has always intrigued me: Why did Jesus keep the scars from his crucifixion? Presumably he could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why?

I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin was the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering.
Such scars serve as a constant reminder of the mammoth pain sin caused and to the very Son of God at that! We tend to underrate, or time softens the travesty, the horror of sin. We therefore, lose sight of the marvelous but ugly truth of what a shameful, ingloriously tragic event this was. But it must at least give us serious pause before we dismiss our many and various types of suffering and trial. Pressure is more than just the cause of making diamonds, it becomes the very force of God to form us into his gems of grace.

Saturday, April 17

Prayer: Basic Training/ Wiersbe

Life is too short, and the Christian life too exciting, for us to waste our time on trivialities. T. S. Eliot, in one of his poems, describes a group of sophisticated people who measure out their lives "with coffee spoons." What a foolish way to live! Yet some Christians live that way.

One day each of us will have to give an account of his life to God. Jesus, when He gave His account, said: "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do" (John 17:4). I trust that I will be able to give that kind of a report, and that you will, too.

One of the first steps toward making our lives "accountable" is to major on the priorities, the things that matter most. If we are going to overcome the world, we must abandon the world’s standards for success. We must measure our lives by the things that God holds dear [emphasis mine]. We must ruthlessly cut away all that is excessive and that holds us back from doing God’s will. "Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

We may not like to admit it, but too many believers (and Christian ministries) live by the code of the world. Instead of overcoming the world, they have been overcome by the world. Some of them have imitated the world in hope that they can attract the world, but their very success is failure. They have forgotten the priorities that make the Christian life distinctively Christian. Jesus reminds us of these priorities in [His prayer in John 17]. [The rest of his chapter goes on to explain the following six priorities]

1. God's Glory
2. Truth
3. Assurance
4. Obedience
5. Unity
6. Holy Living

Friday, April 16

The Church’s Responsibility for Educating Children

Thanks to the Evangelical Movement of Wales and Martin Downes for the following article:

The Church's Responsibility for Educating Children
The direct responsibility of educating children in the Christian faith is given by God, not to Sunday schools, but to parents. In order for this to happen the church’s responsibility to parents, in their distinct and complementary roles, is to teach them all that God requires of them, and all that they must do to bring their children up in the ‘discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4). 

I suspect that on these matters our attention has been focused on Sunday schools and children’s clubs and not on parental responsibilities and family worship and instruction. There may be good reasons for this. Perhaps the majority of children in our churches come from unbelieving homes (as I did). Some will come from broken homes. Others will be from families where an unbelieving husband tolerates the church attendance of his wife and children but will not allow Christian influences in the home. There certainly is a place for the direct role of the church in educating children. In fact an hour of Sunday school may be all the Christian influence that some children receive in a week.


The church and the Christian home

The church must educate children indirectly by teaching believing parents directly. This includes teaching parents the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This of course requires that each Christian parent has a genuine, growing spiritual life that shows itself in a humble and teachable spirit. If you are not growing in grace and in knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18), walking in the light (1 John 1:7), loving others sincerely (1 Pet. 1:22), and taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) how will you be able to teach your own children about trusting in and living for Christ?

We will never find encouragement from the world to order our families in ways that please God. Not only is the family openly attacked and being reinvented, but in subtle ways we are led away from what God says in his word about family life. On television and in films children are encouraged to find their security in their peers and not in the home. It is almost taken for granted that education happens outside the home. In Scripture the ultimate responsibility for educating children lies with parents. We are not to hand our children over to a state school, Christian school, or Sunday school in such a way as to let someone else take the ultimate responsibility. We need to be reminded of this.

In the Old Testament we see this principle, of indirectly teaching children by directly teaching parents, at work: ‘these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise’ (Deut. 6:6-7). Here we see who should teach, what should be taught, and when it should be taught. God’s word is not like a ride at a theme park where height restrictions apply, ‘The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Deut. 9:29).

No one has a greater influence upon a child than a parent. The great truths of creation, fall, salvation in Christ and new creation, are to be learned at home. This requires commitment, diligence, patience, and prayer.


The church and Christian parents

In Paul’s letters we see again and again how the gospel of grace straightens out misshapen relationships (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1; Titus 2). Here we find the directives from God, grounded in the gospel, that shape day-to-day living in the home. Parents must be shown, and taught, from the word, what God requires of them. Children too must learn from the word how they must honour, respect, and obey their parents (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3). 

Ministers should find opportunities to teach from these passages whether or not they are part of the current Sunday series. Not only must there be clear teaching but there should also be, from the elders, encouragement, exhortation, modelling of family life, and where necessary correction. As well as emphasising this in teaching and by pastoral care, there is the vital ministry of older women to younger women in how to bring up children (Titus 2:3-5).

We live in a day when there are excellent resources available for children and families that churches can stock and recommend. John MacArthur’s What the Bible says about parenting and Ted Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart, are helpful ways in which the wider church can equip parents to educate and raise their children. 


The church and children

Public worship and the teaching of God’s word, in the Old Testament and the New, is for all of God’s people. Indeed Moses commands, at the Feast of Booths, to ‘Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God’ (Deut. 31:12-13).

Our task is not to send all the children out during our gathered worship but to teach them that this is for them. This will involve getting them used to sitting still and helping them to understand the songs, reading and sermon. If you have young children draw appropriate cartoons to help them follow the sermon. We should ‘educate them up’ and not dumb the service down for them. If we do the latter we are sending the message that Christianity is something to grow out of and not a message so great that it transcends our highest thoughts. It is also important that families worship together, that children learn what is expected of them by seeing mum and dad listening to God’s word.

When the church teaches children it is vital to show them how the stories of the Bible are part of and make sense in the light of the ‘big story’ of redemptive history. In this way we can educate children to see that the Bible is not a random collection of spiritual and moral lessons but is one book with one message about the kingdom and grace of the one and only Saviour Jesus.

We also need the courage to turn back the clock and to learn the great catechisms. The best education that we can have would be to learn the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Learning by question and answer is found in Exodus 12:26-27, ‘And when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?” you shall say, “It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses”’. It is how we all learn, and it is a proven way to store the mind with essential biblical truths.

A husband and father, as the head of the home must lead the way in these matters. Christian families must know what God requires of them and be encouraged and exhorted to do it. All must be done so that the doctrine of God will be adorned, and the word of God not reviled.

Thursday, April 15

Piper's Take on Forgiving an Unrepentant Person

I am glad to re-post this brief word on FORGIVENESS from DGM:

Author: Tyler Kenney

There's been some good discussion in the comments on Sunday's and yesterday's posts about forgiveness and reconciliation. One big question has been, "Do you forgive a person who is unrepentant of their sin?" Some have argued Yes and others No.

For what it's worth, I thought it would be good to highlight Piper's answer to this question as expressed in his 1994 sermon "As We Forgive Our Debtors: What Does Forgiveness Look Like?"

Forgiveness of an unrepentant person doesn't look the same as forgiveness of a repentant person.

In fact I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. Jesus said in Luke 17:3—4, "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." So there's a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.

But even when a person does not repent (cf. Matthew 18:17), we are commanded to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27).

The difference is that when a person who wronged us does not repent with contrition and confession and conversion (turning from sin to righteousness), he cuts off the full work of forgiveness. We can still lay down our ill will; we can hand over our anger to God; we can seek to do him good; but we cannot carry through reconciliation or intimacy.
Please pay attention to the thought regarding the person who does not repent, viz., that they "cut off the full work of forgiveness." that's vital! There's a soothing, a healing, and a mending that takes place in the soul, which CANNOT take place without repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness really DOES heal, and remove from someone the blight of the sin. It goes to the doctrine of forgiveness. So, who says doctrine doesn't matter?

Wednesday, April 14

Preachers NOT to Tickle Ears

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. . .4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1, 4-5). John Angell James writes:
But when the Christian public is so enamoured of talent, as to admire it more than the message, which it is employed to set forth; when no preacher can be heard with pleasure or even endurance, however sound his doctrine, clear his statements, impressive his manner, or earnest his address, unless his discourse is radiant with the light of genius, and gay with the flowers of rhetoric; when truth itself is unpalatable unless it is sweetened with the honey of human eloquence, and even error so sweetened is swallowed for the sake of its luscious accompaniment; when the hearer of a sermon turns from it with disgust, because it fails to regale his fancy by the brilliancy of its images, or to lull his ear by the smoothness and harmony of its periods; when this is the state of the public taste, and it is to be feared that to a great extent it is the state of it now, surely it is time to call the attention of our congregations to something higher and better. -John Angell James (1785-1859) An Earnest Ministry.  
Thanks to Ray Van Neste from Oversight of Souls blog for this quotation.

Tuesday, April 13

Character In Ministry-Do We Have It?

How do you define success? The following comes from the pen of Fred Smith, Sr., "Essays on Christian Character."

Beware of the Celebrity Syndrome
The celebrity syndrome is one of the ruling principles of our present society. It isn’t so much what you are known for as it is that you are well known. Moral tramps sell more books than saints.

Our son Fred invited a Christian layman who was experiencing a phenomenal rise in popularity to attend a meeting Fred was holding for laypeople. This Christian leader accepted. A friend of the man remarked to Fred, “You know he will expect to speak.”
Fred had not put out the program, and before he did Fred called the assistant of this Christian layman, asking if he expected to speak. The assistant said, “Nothing could be further from the truth. He doesn’t want to speak. He just wants to attend.”

The experience was so unusual, Fred called his entire staff together and told them, “We have found a real one,” meaning, “a humble one who has not yet accepted the celebrity status.”
Before a person becomes a Christian celebrity, he realizes that God is working through him. After he becomes a celebrity, he thinks he is working for God and that he’s doing God’s work. He may even delude himself into thinking his will is really God’s will.
Those working to be celebrities are tempting God.

Is God Using Me or Am I Using God?
I met Torrey Johnson when he first started Youth for Christ. At that time I was asking certain people I admired for their picture and autograph. He gave me his with the inscription: “To Fred, God’s man in God’s place.” I never felt I could hang that on the wall. I kept it in the desk drawer. I was always condemned by how seldom I felt that I was truly God’s man in God’s place. During the times I felt God was using me, I felt extremely small and extremely secure. When I felt big, I felt insecure, because then I was depending on my own strength.
Recently when I asked a friend the usual question, “How’s it going, Ron?” he answered in the best possible way. He said, “Fred, I feel God is using me.” What a wonderful feeling to realize God is using us rather than our using God. So long as we keep that spiritual dimension in our leadership, people will see God in us.

Two great epitaphs come to mind: Someone told me he found the small gravestone of Fanny Crosby, which was located in the same cemetery as the large monument to Barnum, the circus king. Crosby’s said simply, “Aunt Fanny—she did what she could.”
The other great epitaph is the one for A. W. Tozer: “He was a man of God.”

Inner Success
Once a young preacher said to me, “I can be happy just being a man of God, but that isn’t enough for my family. It isn’t enough for my board. They want me to be successful.”
If we let others define our success, it is truly a slippery slope. If we follow Christ’s example, then we simply go about doing good.

I suggest to any Christian who wants to be successful that he or she explore Scripture and try to find someone who started out to be successful and then made it. I can name five or six who tried it, and each was cursed. Remember the man who offered the apostles money for the spiritual gift? He probably intended to help people with it, but he wanted to take the credit instead of seeing that God got it. Peter told him, “May your money perish with you.”
You may remember that Mother Teresa said she would not accept any more honors because it took time away from her work. Caring for the dying was more important than receiving the Nobel Prize. She knew inner success.

Smith, F., Sr. (1998). The Pastor's Soul Volume 5: Leading With Integrity (79–80). Pub Place: Bethany House Books.

Monday, April 12

Say "No" to Pornography - John Piper clip

The battle rages for our hearts and minds. That's a stark fact! Here, Piper deals with the sticky issue of pornography with a group of young people, but his application certainly pertains to all of us. Please view this for your own good and the benefit and blessing of those around you.

"I will not set before my anything that is worthless" (Psalm 101:3).

Saturday, April 10

What's With All the Confusion About "Judging"?

IF you've been a pastor any length of time (or even a mature Christian) you're bound to have heard every conceivable approach to the subject of judging that there is. Even those who care little about the Bible will declare with certainty, "Well, doesn't the Bible teach that you're not supposed to judge?!" It's in the air we breathe! But is that all that the Bible teaches on the subject of judging?

Here's a test. 
Just go into any Bible-believing church and ask them, "Does the Bible teach anywhere that we ARE to judge?" And just listen to the answers. Hopefully, I'm wrong, but time and experience have taught me that the lion's share of Christian folk are locked in on this subject. Their answer will most likely be . . . "Never!"

REALLY. Are Christians never supposed to judge?

I want to answer this question. But if you are looking for a humanistic answer. Skip this post. I am not the least bit interested in what man has to say about this (or any) subject. I want to know . . . and ABIDE by what the Scripture teaches, what the Spirit of God says through His authoritative WORD! First . . .

It Depends!
That's right. Most who deny any judging are thinking of Matthew 7:1ff, "Judge not lest you be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you yourself will be judged." This verse is speaking about judging the motives of people's hearts, which, of course we cannot do and must not try. Why? 1) Because we cannot know infallibly what someone's thinking. Only God reads the heart and knows our intentions. 2) The "Love" chapter, 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that "love believes all things," which is another way of saying love "believes the best about someone." So, we (if we love) will not "jump to conclusions, but will give the other person the benefit of the doubt. OK, so that is the general rule on THAT kind of judging. Remember, Matthew 7:1 says that IF you do judge, be prepared to be judged by the same standard. If you can judge that way, you are probably on safe ground. NOTE: It seems that many of those touting this verse are trying to avoid anyone judging THEM because they have already determined that they are living sinful lives! Unfortunately, many Christians fall for such a deceptive maneuver and back off. 

Another King of Judging
But the Bible clearly teaches another kind of judgment and we must not be ignorant of it! Starting with the verses immediately after Matthew 7:1, Jesus urges us not to "give that which is holy to the dogs," and swine trample the pearls of the gospel under their feet etc. So, who is Jesus expecting will determine who are those "dogs" and "swine?" Point here is that WE must assess the "dogs" and "swine" (not at all meaning that we call them such). Jesus is urging us to discern those who will not rightly determine the gospel to be the rare jewel that it really is, like pigs not being able to appreciate the value of real pearls!

Jesus, in John 7:24, tells us not to "judge according to the appearance, but to judge righteous judgment," that is to tell the difference between true and false religious practices. Further, Paul, after warning the Corinthians that "natural" men do not understand the things pertaining to God, offers that the "spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one" (1 Cor. 2:14-15). Meaning? The spiritually minded person has the inner "Spirit" capacity to discern true and false faith, spiritual from non-spiritual, things of God verses things of man. That they are "judged by no one" refers to their spiritual status which is earned by Christ's blood and affirmed by grace through the Spirit. Therefore it is outside the purview of man's ability to detect. It is confirmed in and through the Holy Spirit. The Lord God knows the truth about our true spiritual status. We do not, according to Paul, judge even ourselves. Why? God is our judge. And his judgment is always perfect. 

One More
Paul commands the Roman believers: 
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive (Romans 16:17).
See the clarity in this? He's expecting the Christians to detect who is causing divisions and creating obstacles doctrinally, which means you have to be able to discern error and declare it wrong and discipline it out of the church! Again, this is a type of judgment.

There's more. But this is perhaps enough to get across the point that one must not subtract from God's Word that which it DOES teach on judging, or for that matter on ANY subject!   

Friday, April 9


"The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice" (Psalm 99:4). 

This is a great comfort to us. Indeed, if God is all-powerful and all-wise, how could we hope to escape his wrath were it not for his unfailing love? And how could we hope for all things in this world to be made right were it not for his perfect justice?

Men are not apt to focus on God's justice when thoughts of Him arise in their hearts. Yet here we read that He "loves justice." From a child we all protest, "It's just not fair!" We have a sense of justice from youth.  And we look to our parents to secure it.

But our sense of justice is often askew, and more often abused. Lord Acton (1834-1902) famously wrote to his friend, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." William Pitt (British Prime Minister, 1766-1770) also said, "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it." 

We appeal to God like Abraham who tried to dissuade God from judging Sodom, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen. 18:25) The answer to this most important question is an unequivocal, "Yes." Still, like Abraham, we often have no clue as to how sinful the 'Sodoms' (i.e., injustices) in our lives can be. God's justice is his holiness protecting his Name and his love securing man's freedom from sin's choking restraint, so that he may "taste and see that the Lord is good." No wonder the "King in his might loves justice." If we were more aware of what is truly at stake and less blinded by our own self-absorption, we would be more quick to praise God's justice too! In His might, the Almighty could blow us all away in a flash! But we read in our verse that it is "in his might" that he loves justice. He never takes advantage of his power, but uses it lovingly and wisely to His own ends.

Do you LOVE God's justice?

Thursday, April 8

Downcast? Pessimistic? Help's Here!

The LORD hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Psalm 126:3

Some Christians are sadly prone to look on the dark side of everything, and to dwell more upon what they have gone through than upon what God has done for them. Ask for their impression of the Christian life, and they will describe their continual conflicts, their deep afflictions, their sad adversities, and the sinfulness of their hearts, yet with scarcely any allusion to the mercy and help which God has vouchsafed them. 

But a Christian whose soul is in a healthy state, will come forward joyously, and say, “I will speak, not about myself, but to the honour of my God. He hath brought me up out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings: and he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. The Lord hath done great things for me, whereof I am glad.” Such an abstract of experience as this is the very best that any child of God can present. 

It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that we are delivered out of them. It is true that we have our corruptions, and mournfully do we know this, but it is quite as true that we have an all-sufficient Saviour, who overcomes these corruptions, and delivers us from their dominion. In looking back, it would be wrong to deny that we have been in the Slough of Despond, and have crept along the Valley of Humiliation [from Pilgrim's Progress], but it would be equally wicked to forget that we have been through them safely and profitably; we have not remained in them, thanks to our Almighty Helper and Leader, who has brought us “out into a wealthy place.” The deeper our troubles, the louder our thanks to God, who has led us through all, and preserved us until now. Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise, we reckon them to be the bass part of our life’s song, “He hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Devotions, June 9).

Wednesday, April 7


Some of the deepest wisdom issues forth from the most dire of circumstances. Who'd doubt this with regard to Job? In chapter 26, Bildad briefly defends God's awesome dominion, of such magnitude that none can answer Him--especially Job! To this Job responds in kind (27), listing his take on God's endless immensity (thus defending himself against the wrongful assumption that he doesn't really understand God's magnificence, for if he did, he would not complain so.) So Job resorts to a sort of "one-up-man-ship," giving more and deeper info about God than Bildad. God is over the dead, over death itself, the vast universe, the weather, lunar movements, times and seasons. He stills the seas and controls even the sea monsters. Oh, my! He goes on (and here's the verse I'd point out) . . . and on top of all this,
Do you see what I mean? These universe sized issues all under his awesome dominion . . . and these are but the "tip of the iceberg"!! They're nothing to God! And our understanding of God is really quite tiny. And forget comparison to the Almighty! No one can understand. NO ONE! But we try. We must. And with time, if we seek God humbly, we grow in our knowledge and wisdom and . . . and we worship accordingly. Check out this from the puritan, John Flavel:
In the studying of Christ it is as in the planting of a newly discovered country. At first, men sit down by the seaside, upon the skirts and borders of the land, and there they dwell; but by degrees they search farther and farther into the heart of the country. Ah, the best of us are yet but upon the border of this vast continent!
At best, dear Christian, not to discourage you, we have (none of us) tapped anything close to the depths of subject of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, his ways are past finding out. 

Tuesday, April 6

MacArthur on The Purpose Driven "Gospel"

"Judge righteous judgment" the Lord teaches (John 7:24). The "Gospel" by definition is unique; there is only ONE. We used to say when seeking to validate something we said, "And that's the gospel truth!" The point being that there is only one gospel, and it is absolute. A cursory reading of the New Testament letters reveals the apostles defending the validity of the faith against all opposition. But today you'd think those who battle for the gospel are the most irritable, uncooperative people on the planet. Still, that should not--yea, must not--deter us from a just and good defense of the faith. When Jesus claimed to be THE "way, the truth and the life" he left no opening for "alternate" views. Nor should we look for them in order to placate those who wish to find a perhaps "easier" way to God.

John MacArthur explains in the following brief video some major drawbacks to Rick Warren's view of the "gospel" message. These are not small or inconsequential matters. Scripture does not mince words on these topics. The Bible is quite clear with regard to what constitutes the "Good news." We must remember that salvation is God's bailiwick, his domain. He created it. He paid the price to earn it. And only via the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit do people see the truth, repent of sin and turn in faith believing. 

Let us "fear the Lord" above all things and fight earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3).

Monday, April 5

Wisdom Regarding Small Groups

I love the church for it is the creation of our Lord Jesus Christ! As it is connected intimately to Christ, I cannot but help to adore his grand design in giving us this living reality of His presence. While there have been aberrations within her (as there necessarily must be where redeemed sinners gather) we must not throw it out as if the church were man's idea, or as it we can destroy what God has created! It is not nearly so tenuous a thing as that. Truly, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against her!

We have Small Groups at our church, and I'm glad we do. But I am not unaware of the tendency which Wuthnow surfaces in this 1994 article from Christianity Today. I would always want to do what we do in the right way. And I am ready to be corrected. So, I hear his concerns.  
The kind of community small groups create is quite different from the communities in which people lived in the past. These communities are more fluid and more concerned with the emotional states of the individual. Some small groups merely provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. What's more, the social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone's opinion. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied. Families would never survive by following these operating norms. Close-knit communities in the past did not, either. . . . A majority of small-group members says they joined because they wanted to deepen their faith and that their sense of the sacred has been profoundly influenced by their participation. But small groups are not simply drawing people back to the God their fathers and mothers. They are dramatically changing the way God is understood. God is now less of an external authority and more of an internal presence. The sacred becomes more personal, but, in the process, also becomes more manageable, more serviceable in meeting individual needs, and more a feature of the group process itself. . . . The deity of small groups is a God of love, comfort, order and security. Gone is the God of judgment, wrath, justice, mystery and punishment. Gone are concerns about the forces of evil. Missing from most groups, even, is a distinct interest in heaven and hell, except for the small heavens and hells that people experience in their everyday lives. (ROBERT WITHNOW, "How Small Groups Are Transforming Our Lives." Christianity Today, 2/7/94)

Saturday, April 3


Life's exigencies, mine or those of others, drive me--hopefully all of us, to prayer. Prayer is our first line of defense, and the greatest offense! Yet, how often do we treat it as a last resort? Is this not in itself ample justification for us to cry out in confession, "Oh, God, forgive me my unbelief, that I turn your privilege into dour duty." If we confess, that is good. But let us not remain in confession, nor be satisfied there. Oh, no! Let us rather turn more quickly to Jesus. Let us pelt heaven with our cries for mercy, for power, for more insight, and for more of God's eternal protection from the evil one!

Look closely at the following poem by William Cowper, hymn writer and close friend of John Newton ("Amazing Grace"). NOTE: you may recognize the familiar strain in verse three!
(Book II, Hymn 60, page 549)
The Works of John Newton, vol. 2
What various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy seat!
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there?

Prayer makes the darken’d cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armour bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when through weariness they fail’d,
That moment Amalek prevail’d.

Have you no words? Ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain,
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent
To heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
”Hear what the Lord has done for me.”
Lord, make it that this Easter season will drive us to our knees, for it is through the blood of your cross that we both have access and the ability TO pray.  


Friday, April 2

Michael Horton on Rick Warren, Modern Reformation, and Desiring God

This is the first response of which I am aware on Piper's invitation of Rick Warren to speak at this year's national conference in October.

It is not our usual course at Modern Reformation or White Horse Inn to comment on the invitations of other organizations for their conferences.  However, we’re starting to receive questions about our views of Rick Warren’s professed adherence to Reformational theology because an interview in Modern Reformation was posted by Justin Taylor and cited in the comments of his blog as supporters of John Piper wrestle with his recent decision to invite Rick Warren to an upcoming Desiring God conference.  So our team felt that some clarification was needed.

In 2004, Rick Warren graciously accepted our invitation to respond to some Modern Reformation questions in our “Free Space” section, where we engage with various voices, often outside of our usual circles.  We do interviews like this regularly, encouraging conversation, asking questions that we know our readers are wondering.  It’s in our feature articles where we analyze trends and arguments, and I among others have challenged Pastor Warren from time to time.  Our magazine is not just a platform for a few voices or churches.  We’re trying to spark conversation—and, yes, to guide conversation toward a modern Reformation. Part of that means that we let others speak for themselves. Yet I think it's pretty clear to everybody where we land on the main issues.

Speaking first for myself, I admire Rick Warren’s zeal for reaching non-Christians and concern for global challenges.  I respect him for giving away much of his income for charitable purposes.

At the same time, I believe that his message distorts the gospel and that he is contributing to the human-centered pragmatism that is eroding the proper ministry and mission of the church.  Judging by The Purpose-Driven Life, Pastor Warren’s theology seems to reflect run-of-the-mill evangelical Arminianism, especially with its emphasis on the new birth as the result of human decision and cooperation with grace.  There are also heavy traces of Keswick “higher life” teaching throughout the book.  None of this disqualifies him from being an evangelical statesman.  After all, much the same can be said of Billy Graham.  After pointing out how difficult it is to define an evangelical theologically, historian George Marsden famously surmised that it’s “anyone who likes Billy Graham.”  Today, perhaps, it’s anyone who likes Rick Warren.

Obviously, Rick Warren believes that he is simply translating the gospel in terms that the unchurched can understand.  However, the radical condition of sin is reduced to negative attitudes and behaviors and the radical redemption secured by Christ’s propitiatory death and resurrection are reduced to general and vague statements about God giving us another chance.  His central message seems to be that you were created for a purpose and you just need to fulfill it.  Even at Easter he can say, “…And of course, that purpose now becomes greater — and in fact, I think that’s really what the message this week of Easter is, is that God can bring good out of bad. That he turns crucifixions into resurrections. That he takes the mess of our life, and when we give him all the pieces, he can — God can put it together in a new way” (”Larry King Live,” CNN, March 22, 2005).  I heard him say on a network morning program last Christmas that Jesus came to give us a mulligan, like in golf—a chance for a “do-over” in life.

While I applaud his concern for social justice, I am concerned that he confuses the law with the gospel and the work of Christians in their vocations (obeying the Great Commandment) with the work of Christ through his church in its ministry of Word and sacrament (the Great Commission).

His best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, begins by announcing that it’s not about you, but about God, and then the rest of the book is about you.  There seems to be a contradiction between the God-centered theology that is professed and the basically human-centered orientation that dominates much of his message and methods.  Some time ago, my wife discovered a letter that Rick Warren wrote to me way back in 1998, in which Pastor Warren mentioned the impact of my first book, Mission Accomplished, and his intention to write a book that highlighted the point that God made us for his purposes, rather than the other way around.  Since then, we have corresponded periodically, but that has not kept either of us from offering occasional critiques of each other’s views.  In fact, we will be together for a panel discussion at Saddleback in June, sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

Pastor Warren tailors his appeals to his audience.  To Calvinists, he stresses his support for the “solas” of the Reformation.  Yet he tells prosperity evangelist David Yonggi Cho, “I’ve read your books on Vision and Dreams - speak to pastors about how you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit?…What advice would you give to a brand new minister?…Do you think American churches should be more open to the prayer for miracles?” (“Breakfast With David Yonggi Cho And Rick Warren,”  In a June 2006 article in, editor-in-chief Rob Eshman reported on a speech that Warren gave for Synagogue 3000, after Rabbi Ron Wolfson became involved in the Purpose-Driven pastoral training seminars. “Warren managed to speak for the entire evening without once mentioning Jesus — a testament to his savvy message-tailoring.”  When USA Today asked him why Mormon and Jewish leaders are involved in his pastoral training programs, Rick Warren reportedly said, “I’m not going to get into a debate over the non-essentials.  I won’t try to change other denominations.  Why be divisive?” (USA Today, July 21, 2003).  Rick Warren endorses a host of books, from New Age authors to Emergent writers to conservative evangelicals.  So why not include Calvinists?

The first Reformation was about God and the gospel of his Son.  It centered on the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Robert Schuller wrote Self-Esteem: The New Reformation in the 1990s.  And in 2005 Rick Warren announced at the Baptist World Alliance meeting a new Reformation based on “deeds, not creeds.”  As he explained in an interview,
I’m looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs.  This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what is the church doing (
He has also said he is working toward a Third Great Awakening, which seems like the better comparison, since the basic message is more in step with Charles Finney and the Second Great Awakening than it is with the Reformation.

I agree wholeheartedly when Pastor Warren argues that Christians can work with non-Christians—even agnostics and atheists—on the global challenges of poverty, racism, corrupt leadership, injustice, and disease.  However, this is precisely why his confusion of the Christian’s calling to love of neighbor with the gospel is so dangerous.  Working toward the common good is the calling of every person, believer and unbeliever alike, but it is not the Great Commission.  It is the law of love that obliges us all, but it is not the gospel.

Long ago, the evangelist D. L. Moody responded to criticisms of his message and pragmatic methods with the quip, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”  We can be so proud of getting the gospel right while we don’t bother to get the gospel out to those who need it.  Furthermore, we can be self-confident in our theological integrity while ignoring the Word of God when it impinges on questions of social concern.  Yet the answer is not “deeds over creeds,” but to be re-introduced to the creeds that generate the deeds that are the fruit of genuine faith.  Getting the gospel right and getting the gospel out, as well as loving and serving our neighbors, comprise the callings of the church and of Christians in the world. However, confusing these is always disastrous for our message and mission.

-Michael Horton