Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: September, 2016

THE DUTY OF PASTORS AND CHURCHES

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George Whitefield

Probably most American evangelical churches today have been working under an “attractional” or “seeker-friendly” model in which the church tries to make Christianity look as attractive and appealing as possible to outsiders.  They invest money in facilities, and put on programs and special events, all designed to make the church look inviting.  The hope is that the visitors will like what they see and eventually be induced to join the church.  It is an approach designed to appeal to the consumer mentality.

The problem with this approach is that the churches are soon filled with nominal, half-hearted church members.  They are content to show up on a Sunday morning to be entertained, but show little interest or appetite for prayer, Bible study and personal holiness.  And the great tragedy of it all is that while they attend church regularly and think of themselves as Christians, in many cases they are not really saved at all.  They have never come under the conviction of sin, exercised true repentance and faith, and experienced the new birth.  They think they are going to heaven when in reality they are on the road to hell.

What does God think about all of this?  The Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament gives us a clue.  Ezekiel lived and prophesied during the troubled last days of the southern kingdom of Judah.  Ezekiel was a priest, living among Jewish exiles already in Babylon following the deportation of 597 B.C.  He was commissioned by God as a prophet five years later and was actively prophesying when Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonian army in July, 587 B.C.

What was involved in being a prophet?  In many situations it was delivering a message that people did not want to hear.  Yet what God told Ezekiel was that “You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious” (Ezek. 2:7; NKJV).

God went on to explain.  “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel” (3:17).  A watchman is a person who is supposed to watch for approaching danger and sound the alarm when he sees it coming.  In Ezekiel’s case he was to warn Israel of the approaching judgment from God because of their sins.  God then pointed out that “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (v. 18).  If the wicked perishes because we have failed to warn him, then we are partially to blame.

On the other hand, “if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered you soul” (v. 19).  The wicked was given fair warning; he failed to respond.  His blood is on his own hands but the prophet is absolved of all responsibility in the matter.

Strictly speaking we today are not prophets in the same sense that Ezekiel was.  We do not receive direct revelation form God.  And yet we do have a message from God in the form of the Bible, and we are responsible to communicate that message to the world.  The eternal destiny of our fellow human beings hinges on their hearing the gospel and responding to it.  If we fail to communicate that message to them, their blood is on our hands.

This means, first of all, that we must alert them to their danger.  We are, in effect, “watchmen.”  The lost will not repent and come to Christ unless they see themselves as lost.  That means that the church as a whole, and pastors in particular, must be faithful to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  The apostle Paul could say of his own ministry that “for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 30:31).  And so we must do the same.

Too many pastors today see themselves as paid employees of an organization, responsible to keep the organization viable.  But a pastor is fundamentally a servant, and he ministers to people, to fellow human beings who will spend eternity in either heaven or hell.  And what the pastor, and any other Christian for that matter, must continually ask himself, is what does God want?  What exactly has the pastor been called to do?  And the answer is, to warn the wicked of their ways, point them to Christ as the only Savior from sin, and build up the saints in the faith.

But in warning the wicked we must do it with the proper heart and attitude.  We are not to do it in self-righteousness, simply condemning the wicked and leaving them in anger or despair.  Rather, we are to do it out of a genuine concern for their wellbeing.  God would go on to tell Ezekiel, “’As I live’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn, turn from your evil ways!  For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11).  While God is genuinely angry with the wicked, He does not want to see them spend an eternity in hell.  His desire is that they should repent and be saved, and that should be our desire as well.  It is the whole aim and goal of the Christian ministry.

We are living in challenging times.  The highest court in the land has pronounced sin a constitutional right.  Christians are being called hate-mongers for opposing homosexual relationships.  And yet we must never forget that we are accountable to God for what we say and do.  He has sent us forth to call the nations to repentance.  We do not have the option of watering down the message to make it more palatable to the unconverted.  And yet we must deliver it with genuine humility and compassion.  Let us discharge our duty faithfully.

AMERICA’S PROBLEM IS SPIRITUAL – III

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The end result of secularization is social chaos.  As moral restraints are removed social disorder ensues.

The apostle Paul puts it like this: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting . . .” (Rom.1:28; NKJV).  It is important to observe here the cause-and-effect relationships.  The root cause is our attempt to exclude God from our knowledge – to exclude Him from our worldview.  This results in God “giving them over to a debased mind.”    The word translated “debased” literally means “rejected after testing.”  Because we excluded God from our thinking, God abandons us to our own devices.  We have become “rejects,” as it were.  The result is that we “do those things which are not fitting,” or proper.  Our behavior is inappropriate.

How so?  Paul goes on to say that they were “being filled with all unrighteousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness . . .” (v. 29).  This describes their general attitude and their complete abandonment to it: they are “filled” with “all” of it.  People habitually do what is wrong (“unrighteousness,” “wickedness,” “maliciousness”) because their controlling desire for sex, material possessions, and whatever.  This, in turn, results in oppression and conflict: “murder, strife, deceit.”

The result is a whole list of what we euphemistically call “anti-social behavior”: these people are “whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (v. 30).  They hurt each other by word and deed.  There is even rebellion against parental authority.

Finally, there is the complete absence of any redeeming social qualities.  They are “undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (v. 31).  Even in some pagan societies there is a recognition that honesty and compassion are positive qualities to be admired and encouraged.  But not in a society in an advanced state of moral decline.  There comes to be a jaded, cynical outlook on life, in which people are more or less expected to be dishonest and crooked.  Everyone is out to “game the system.”

Paul concludes by stating that the members of a pagan society, “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32).    It is one thing to practice one’s misdeeds in secret; it is another thing to celebrate misconduct openly and to reward it publicly.  When society as a whole commends evil behavior, it has sunk to the lower level of depravity.

It is important here to note that Paul is not talking only about the sins of individuals, but about the mores of society as a whole.  Individually, as human beings, we are all “totally depraved.”  We have inherited from our parents a natural bias toward sin; and no matter how outwardly respectable we may seem to be to others, inwardly we are almost completely controlled by self-interest.  We often do the right things for the wrong reasons, responding to social pressure rather than to conscience.

But a human society as a whole will adopt certain norms and standards, depending on the local culture.  It will reward certain forms of behavior and punish others.  But as a given nation becomes powerful and prosperous it will have a tendency to question its earlier values and standards.  It becomes more “tolerant,” “diverse,” and “inclusive.”  The lessening of moral restraint, however, results in social disintegration.

Modern western society has traveled down this well-worn path.  Built on a foundation of Judeo-Christian morality, it listened to the siren song of such prominent atheists as Marx and Darwin, Freud and Nietzsche.  The mainline Protestant denominations tried to find a middle ground by adopting a liberal theology.  The sexual revolution, radical feminism and the “New Morality” ensued.  Eventually the highest court in the land gave legal sanction to abortion and sodomy.  We have become a thoroughly corrupt society, “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

At the bottom of it, then, America’s problem is spiritual, and cannot be solved through the political process.  It is not so much this candidate or that, but an entire population that has lost its moral bearings and cannot tell good from evil.  America’s social problems are the result of its religious apostasy.  The answer to the problem, then, is not to vote for this, that or the other candidate – it is spiritual revival within the church.  The churches which profess to know the truth must humble themselves before God, confess their sins, and seek His blessing on their ministries.  The reason we are not seeing results is because the presence and power of the Holy Spirit are largely absent.  We need a fresh visitation of the Spirit, a fresh awareness of eternal reality, a genuine, heartfelt love for God and for our fellow man.  It is only when the church is what it ought to be that there will be any hope for America.

AMERICA’S PROBLEM IS SPIRITUAL – II

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Paul at Athens

Perhaps nothing is more controversial in America today than LGBT “rights.”  The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriage, and since then there has been constant controversy over the bounds of religious freedom and the rights of gay and transgender people.  The government is on a collision course with Christianity, and many churches are struggling with how to respond.

The controversy is not new.  Sexual activity is as old as the human race itself, and both Judaism and Christianity have always been “anti-gay.”  In ancient times the Canaanites were noted for their licentious practices, and homosexuality was widely accepted among the Greeks.  And yet the Torah refers to homosexual practice as an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22) worthy of death (Lev. 20:13), and the New Testament says that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9,10).  Their attitude toward sexual behavior was one of the sharpest things that differentiated Judaism and Christianity from the surrounding pagan culture.

But why the difference?  The apostle Paul explains in Rom. 1:24-27.  Here Paul speaks of both men and women engaging in homosexual activity.  He says, “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature” (v. 26; NKJV).  Several things are noteworthy.  First of all, homosexuality is “against nature.”  Paul says that there is a “natural use” of the opposite sex and that same-sex relationships are “against nature.”  But what does he mean by that?  This brings us to the very core of the controversy.

The modern LGBT community would have us to believe that homosexuality is perfectly natural and normal, and therefore should be accepted.  Some people are just born that way, can’t help being that way, and therefore should be accepted that way.

But some people are born with birth defects, and we don’t “accept them the way they are.”  If at all possible we try to correct the defect with surgery.  And some people have behavioral problems, alcoholism for example, and we don’t “just accept them the way they are” either.  Their behavior is a problem, no matter how naturally it comes to them.

At this point it becomes evident that secular psychology has its limitations.  Psychology purports to be science, and science is supposed to be neutral and objective.  But how, then, can psychology determine what is “normal.”  Psychologists look at the mores of a given society, or ask people how they feel about themselves.  And since most homosexuals have no desire to change their behavior, the conclusion is drawn that they are not suffering from a mental illness.  The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1974.  But what is appropriate sexual behavior is a moral and ethical question and involves a value judgment that science is not prepared to make.

Why, then, does the apostle Paul condemn homosexuality as “against nature”?  The answer is that we should evaluate things in terms of their function.  The obvious function of our reproductive organs is reproduction, and this calls for heterosexual intercourse.  But to say that something in nature has a specific function presupposes the idea of Intelligent Design – that there is an intelligent Supreme Being who is behind it, and that therefore everything in nature has a reason and purpose.  What God intended in sexual relationships is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman in which they genuinely love each other and raise their biological children together.  We are not to use each other simply to satisfy our own sexual lusts.  Homosexuality, then, is a radical departure from what our Creator intended.

In other words, what is at issue in the current debate is the nature of reality itself.  Do we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being?  Or do we exist as autonomous individuals in a universe that is essentially impersonal, irrational and amoral?  If we hold to the latter view we are essentially denying God as our Creator.  It is a form of intellectual rebellion against the created order.

But Paul goes one step further.  He says that “God gave them up to vile passions” (v. 26), and of gay men he says that they “burned in their lust for one another” (v. 27).  This suggests that what is motivating them is not so much a tender love and affection for another human being as much as it is an unrestrained desire for self-gratification.  In saying this I realize that many homosexuals feel a genuine attraction for members of the same sex.  But at least among gay men it is a notoriously hedonistic lifestyle involving numerous sexual partners in casual encounters.  They have become slaves to their own lusts.

Paul says that they are “committing what is shameful” (v. 27).  In popular parlance we might call this “the yuck factor.”  To see a man dressed up in women’s clothes and makeup, to contemplate men having oral and anal sex with other men, we intuitively find it to be revolting.  It is a grotesque caricature, a parody of what a sexual relationship is supposed to be like.

All of this is a sign that “God gave them up.”  The growing acceptance of homosexuality is an indication of our society’s increasing moral degeneracy.  We are becoming progressively less able to distinguish right from wrong, normal from abnormal.  We have lost faith in universal truths and moral absolutes.  Nowadays we call it “Post-Modernism”: the Bible calls it “a debased mind” (v. 28).  It is the sign of a civilization on the verge of collapse.