Friday, May 26, 2017

Why You Will Join the Wrong Church

Interesting and helpful read on church life from 9Marks . . . 
The most read New York Times article from 2016 had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment.
The piece, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” was written by Alain de Botton. In it, de Botton takes shots at our culture’s idea that the ultimate foundation for commitment in marriage is romantic affection, that feeling of compatibility that means the other person will finally fulfill my needs and make me truly happy.

We all know this is misguided, so much so that de Botton predicts every married person will eventually find inadequacies so severe in their spouse that it will prompt them to ask, “Did I marry the wrong person?” He humorously notes, the relational arc of a marriage leans away from idealistic romantic sizzle as “maddening children . . . kill the passion from which they emerged.”
As I read de Botton’s article, I couldn’t help but see how much of our culture’s view of love and commitment mirrors how many Christians view church membership. Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility.
Almost every Christian knows what it’s like to question whether they joined the “right church.” After an initial “honeymoon stage,” we begin to see our church’s problems with greater clarity than we see its strengths. The sermons start to seem too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. The church begins budgeting for ministries that don’t seem deserving of the dollar figure on the spreadsheet. The small groups don’t meet our needs in the ways we’d hoped.
More personally, the needs of other church members begin to encroach increasingly on our own personal freedoms. Some members sin against us—even without knowing just how deeply we’ve been wounded. Without even realizing it’s happening, we begin to wonder whether our local assembly is the “right” place for us. Of course, we remind ourselves that there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told our fellow church members. And yet, we can’t help but grapple with the nagging question: “Did I join the wrong church?”
The problem with this question is that it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from our relationships with other members or the church’s leadership.
But these assumptions reveal a deep and unthinking commitment to consumerism: only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis.
I’ve found that Christians most often push eject on their membership not because they’re upset at the church’s budget or because they disagree on matters of polity. Instead, Christians leave their churches for the same reason people leave their marriages: a lack of relational depth and affection. In other words, many Christians leave their churches because they just don’t seem compatible with the church or because the relationships leave them feeling a little dry.
Personal relationships, however, were never meant to serve as the foundation for our sense of church commitment. If we pursue relationships as the foundation of our belonging, we’re more likely to be inescapably trapped in the consumerism and “met-needs” mentality at the heart of our divorce culture. However, instead of valuing consumerism, the Bible roots our membership in the idea of a covenant, which offers an infinitely superior alternative.
Tim Keller notes in his book on marriage that a covenant “creates a particular kind of bond . . . a relationship far more intimate and personal than a merely legal, business relationship. Yet at the same time, it is far more durable, binding, and unconditional than one based on mere feeling and affection. A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.”
When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community. Church members aren’t just part of a shared interest group. They’re covenanted to one another by a sacred promise to oversee one another’s membership in the kingdom and faithfulness to King Jesus (Matt. 18:15–20). The New Testament unfolds the details of that sacred promise: We regularly gather together (Heb. 10:24–25), bear one another’s burdens and sorrows (Gal. 6:2), encourage one another (Heb. 3:12–14), pray for one another (Jas. 5:16), and forgive one another (Col. 3:13). Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership.
These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community. The covenant promises members make to one another blossom into the life-giving relationships our hearts crave.
Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean that church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as de Botton perceptively notes in his article, “Compatibility is an achievement of love, it must not be its precondition.” The world argues that affection is pre-requisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.
I’m amazed at how this principle works out even in my own life. A few years ago, after a couple in our church had a baby, my wife and I signed up through the church’s member care ministry to bring them a meal. Our act of service, however, wasn’t rooted in a pre-existing relationship with this couple. In fact, we barely knew them. We simply wanted to be faithful to our covenant promises to “bear one another’s burdens.” Yet that service, rooted in our covenant commitment, ultimately blossomed into a sweet friendship between our two families. We weren’t expecting a relationship to bloom, but that’s what happens when you hold yourself to covenant promises, even with people you barely know.
The reason God roots the most important relationships in the world—like marriage and church membership—in covenants is to ensure they endure through fire. Have you ever noticed how traditional marriage vows were designed to ensure couples prepare to love one another well in the midst of suffering? Couples pledge themselves to one another even in “poverty” and “sickness” until parted by death.
This same expectation of future trials also marks the promises church members make to one another. We pledge to “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) and patiently bear with and forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters who wrong us (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). If we make our covenant commitments the ground of our life and relationships in the church, we come to expect the rough patches and prepare to face them with godliness.
While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade. As Keller notes, covenants are by their very nature oriented toward the future. They “are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” In some sense, the whole point of a covenant is to pledge our love and fidelity for the rough times ahead. Thus, covenants carry us through suffering. Once more, de Botton incisively notes, “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”
Joining a church, like seeking a spouse, is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.
Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


More thoughts on heresy, this one on seeing the good in the wrong by Derek Rishmawy . . . 
T.S. Eliot is one of my favorite poets that I don’t read–at least not his poetry. When reading Scruton I found out he had a lecture series involving the notion of heresy, so of course I was intrigued.  It took some digging to track them down though, because they had been suppressed by Eliot himself due to some unfortunately anti-Semitic content. In any case, I found them and tracked down his definition of heresy and heretics:
Furthermore, the essential of any important heresy is not simply that it is wrong: it is that it is partly right. It is characteristic of the more interesting heretics, in the context in which I use the term, that they have an exceptionally acute perception, or profound insight, of some part of the truth; an insight more important often than the inferences of those who are aware of more but less acutely aware of anything. So far as we are able to redress the balance, effect the compensation, ourselves, we may find such authors of the greatest value. If we value them as they value themselves we shall go astray. And in the present state of affairs, with the low degree of education to be expected of public and of reviewers, we are more likely to go wrong than right; we must remember too, that an heresy is apt to have a seductive simplicity, to make a direct and persuasive appeal to intellect and emotions, and to be altogether more plausible than the truth.
-Eliot, T. S., 1888-1965. After Strange Gods : A Primer of Modern Heresy; London : Faber and Faber.
In other words, heretics are usually never totally wrong. In fact, they often-times grasp a vital truth more profoundly than others, but let it distort their thought when it becomes a focal point dominating all other truths. For that reason, sometimes interacting intellectually with heretics, or distorting teachers, is helpful–albeit in a negative way. One thinks of the way that Calvin’s interactions with Osiander on the issue of union with Christ which forced him to clarify his own thought on the matter. This doesn’t excuse heresy or mean we shouldn’t strive to avoid it and cling to the truth any less. It does mean that sometimes it’s good to try and understand what motivates it in order that our orthodoxy might be all the stronger. If I can understand the repugnancy of the absolutist dogmatism that drives some towards relativism, I can learn to present truth in a more gracious and understanding manner. If I can understand what would motivate a panentheistic denial of transcendence, I can know better how to communicate the beauty of a God whose transcendence is the ground for his immanence.
In other words, in the sovereignty of God even heretics can teach us something about the truth.
Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Lure of Heresy

Never has there been such interest in the idea of heresy. Ancient heresies, seen by earlier generations as obscure and dangerous ideas, have now been sprinkled with stardust. The lure of the religious forbidden never seems to have been so strong. As Geoffrey Chaucer shrewdly observed back in the fourteenth century: ‘Forbid us something, and that thing we desire’. For many religious alienated individuals, heresies are now to be seen as bold and brave statements of spiritual freedom, to be valued rather than avoided. Heresies are the plucky losers in past battles for orthodoxy, defeated by the brute power of the religious establishment. And since history is written by the winners, heresies have unfairly lost out, their spiritual and intellectual virtues stifled by their enemies. The rehabilitation of heretical ideas is now sees as a necessary correction of past injustices, allowing the rebirth of suppressed versions of Christianity more attuned to contemporary culture than traditional orthodoxy. Heresy has become fashionable.” Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (HarperOne, 2009), p. 1 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Heresy Is Atrractive

There’s something attractive about every heresy. Otherwise, no one would had bothered with it in the first place. People didn’t come up with the ideas that eventually came to be labeled as heresies because they were bored and wanted to rile the “powers that be.” No, heresy comes from an earnest attempt to answer life’s most difficult questions. Although the answers heresy offers were eventually found to be inadequate and/or unacceptable, that doesn’t change the fact that they were honest attempts at good theology – attempts that many people found compelling for some reason. ~ Marc Cortez

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

False Teachers are Deceptively like Sheep

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

I have been thinking and reading about false teaching and false teachers as one of the pastors in town has embraced inclusionism.  Briefly, inclusionism is the belief that the work of the elect Son, Jesus Christ, automatically includes all humanity.  I will probably write more as I am reading a couple of books and most all the review are by those who also embrace the teaching so it is my hope to write up a critical review of the books.  Here is what an early church father, Irenaeus has to say about false teachers . . . 

"Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in on attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself," (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.2).

Monday, May 15, 2017

8 Sins You Commit Whenever You Look at Porn

Great thoughts from Tim Challies . . .
We know that pornography is an ugly and harmful sin. We know that those who indulge in porn have committed the sin of lust, but there is so much more to it than that. When you open your browser and begin to look at those images and videos, you are sinning in ways that go far beyond lust. Here are 8 sins you commit when you look at porn.

You commit the sin of idolatry. All sin is idolatry, an attempt to find joy and satisfaction not in God himself but in what God forbids (Exodus 20:3-6). Matt Papa says it well: “An idol, simply put, is anything that is more important to you than God. It is anything that has outweighed God in your life—anything that you love, trust, or obey more than God—anything that has replaced God as essential to your happiness.” In the moment you begin to look at porn, you have allowed it to replace God as essential to your happiness. You’ve committed the sin of idolatry.
You commit the sin of adultery. This is the most obvious sin you commit when you use porn. In Matthew 5, Jesus draws a clear connection between lust and adultery. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (27-28). Pornography is lust and exists to foster lust. But lust is simply a form of the wider sin of adultery, the deed or desire to be sexually involved with someone other than your spouse.
You commit the sin of deceit. Deceit is the act of concealing or misrepresenting your actions. Because pornography generates shame, you will hide it, cover it up, or refuse to confess it. When you erase your browsing history to keep your parents from finding out, when you use it in secret to keep your spouse from learning about your addiction, when you refuse to proactively confess it to an accountability partner, when you participate in the Lord’s Supper even though you are unrepentantly given over to it, you are practicing deceit. And the Bible warns of the dire consequences: “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes” (Psalm 101:7).
You commit the sin of theft. The porn industry is being badly damaged by piracy, by people illegally distributing copyrighted material. Some estimates say that for every 1 video that is downloaded legally, 5 are downloaded illegally. Fully 60 percent of all illegal downloads are of pornographic content. While we can be glad that the industry is in dire straights, we have no right to participate in such theft, for God says clearly, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). When you use porn, you are almost definitely watching material that has been stolen and, in that way, you are participating in its theft.
You commit the sin of greed. Sexual sin is greed, a form of taking advantage of another person to defraud them of something that is rightly theirs. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul insists “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter [of sexual sin], because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (6). The word translated “wrong” in this context refers to greedily taking something from someone else. It is to allow greed to motivate fraud, to unfairly and illegitimately use another person for your ignoble purposes.
You commit the sin of sloth. We are called in all of life to “redeem the time,” to understand that we live short little lives and are responsible before God to make the most of every moment (Ephesians 5:16). Sloth is laziness, an unwillingness to use time well, and reflects a willingness to use time for destructive instead of constructive purposes. In that way pornography is slothful, a misuse of time. It is using precious moments, hours, and days to harm others instead of help them, to foster sin instead of kill sin, to backslide instead of grow, to pursue an idol instead of the living God.

You commit the sin of sexual assault. A person who drives a getaway car for a band of bank robbers will rightly be charged with murder for anyone who is killed in committing that crime. The person who voluntarily watches sexual assault for purposes of titillation is rightly guilty of that sexual assault. And a nauseating quantity of pornography is violent in nature, displaying men taking advantage of women. Sometimes these women have volunteered for such degradation and sometimes they are forced or raped into it. To watch such horrifying smut is to be a participant in it and to bear the moral blemish of it.
You commit the sin of ignoring the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, you have the tremendous honor and advantage of being indwelled by the Holy Spirit. One of the ways the Spirit ministers to you is in giving you an internal warning against sin. Paul assures that the Spirit warns against sexual sin in particular, then provides a stern caution: “Therefore whoever disregards this [warning], disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:8). To commit sexual sin is to ignore the Holy Spirit, to actively suppress his voice as he warns that you need not and should not commit this sin. He provides everything necessary to resist this temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). To resist the Spirit and ignore his ministry to you is a serious offense against a holy God.
It is sinful to lust after another person and to enable this lust through pornography. Yet the sin bound up in pornography goes far deeper than mere lust. It extends to idolatry, adultery, deceit, theft, greed, sloth, sexual violence, and ignoring the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:12 warns: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Thankfully, what God demands God provides, and he does so through the gospel. Those who have trusted Jesus Christ can have confidence that Christ has satisfied our account, that he has satisfied God’s wrath against our sin, that he has provided us with his own righteousness. Yet we must also know that he has done this not so we can remain in our sin, but that we can “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Six Ways Pastors can Give People False Assurance

Here is a helpful article on assurance from the Nine Marks website.  Some people are always looking for assurance and sometimes we should not always give it.  The lack of assurance may be because they are not genuinely born again!
As a pastor, I interact with a lot of people who struggle to have confidence in the authenticity of their conversion. To their mind, their sin clings closely and their failings are always at hand. Most of the time, I find that these are faithful brothers and sisters who need comfort and reassurance.
But there’s another group of people in many of our churches that are much more worrisome: those with a firm but unfounded belief that they are genuinely converted. Perhaps you know the type. They know the right words. They stay free from scandalous public sin. And they are moral people. But they have no true fruit, no evidence that God’s converting Spirit is at work within them. And oftentimes there is an untreated area of secret sin.

These people are hard to reach—it’s like they’ve been inoculated to the gospel. They think they already have what they most need, and so they aren’t looking for anything more! And if there is an area of hidden sin, they’ve long made peace with it.
Sadly, our churches are at least partly to blame for their presence in our midst. Allow me to suggest six ways that we pastors may inadvertently help to foster false assurance in people like this.
1. Assume the Gospel
It’s easy to assume that the people in our churches understand and believe the gospel. After all, they are in church on a Sunday morning. But the fact is, many of our churches have taken the message and the congregation’s understanding of it for granted. As a result, our churches are full of people who may understand some of the implications of the gospel (e.g., how to be a better husband; how to manage your anger) and live moral lives without appropriating the gospel for themselves.
This is spiritually deadly because moral lives might be the evidence of someone’s faith in the gospel, but they also might be the evidence of self-righteousness and Phariseeism. It’s surely right to emphasize that the faith which justifies is never alone, that works always accompany true faith. But we must first emphasize that we are justified by faith alone, and emphasize this over and over again, else the works which you see will not be the works of a saving justification. When the gospel is not made clear, when the Way to heaven and the highway to hell are not clearly pointed out by the preacher, then people will assume that their morality or their church attendance gives them grounds for assurance.
In short, don’t preach moralism. Ever. Preach the gospel every week. And then, with the indicatives of the gospel firmly in place, preach the imperatives that necessarily follow.
2. Give Them a Superficial View of Sin
The Bible teaches us that sin is not just something that we do, it’s who we are in our fallen state. The Scriptures teach us that we are all spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-2), slaves to sin (John 8:34), guilty of breaking the entirety of the law of God (Jas. 2:10), and condemned to experience God’s righteous wrath (Rom. 1:18). We are sinners through and through.
People with unfounded assurance often misunderstand sin. If sin is merely a matter of external and observable behaviors, then with some effort and discipline they can solve their own problems. But if we can compel them to wrestle regularly with the biblical teaching about their sin, then they will be forced to see their need for the new birth and a salvation that comes from outside of their own person.
3. Treat Church Membership and Discipline Casually
Membership in a local congregation is meant to give believers assurance of their salvation. It’s a corporate seal of approval on someone’s claim to be a Christian. When a congregation examines someone’s profession of faith and way of living and then baptizes that person and admits them to the Lord’s Table, the church is saying, “As far as we can tell, and with the power and wisdom given to us by Christ, you are one of us.” On the flip side of the coin, when a church excommunicates someone, they are taking away that seal of approval. The congregation is telling the individual that his or her actions have undermined the credibility of their profession of faith and the basis of their assurance.
But when a church is promiscuous with its membership, when it allows people who do not attend the church to maintain their membership, it fosters false assurance. How many people are going to hell because their lazily-overseen church membership gave them false confidence?
4. Teach Them to Base their Assurance on a Past External Action
As we’ve already noted, the gospel demands a response from us. And churches and evangelistic programs have sometimes found it helpful to present some method for people to express their newfound commitment to Christ. Some offer people with the chance to say a “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others offer them with the chance to walk the aisle on Sunday or fill out a response card. And those external actions may indeed be a genuine response to the converting work of the Spirit.
But they can also be deceptive. It is possible to pray a prayer, walk an aisle, and sign a card and still be completely lost in your sins. So if we encourage people to have assurance based on some sort of external activity that can be performed quite apart from the new birth, we put them in grave spiritual danger. How many people are walking around completely lost, but sure they are going to heaven because they prayed a prayer once as a child?
5. Don’t Connect Justification and Sanctification for your People.
In a well-motivated effort to magnify the free grace of God, it is possible to teach the truth of justification by faith alone through Christ alone without connecting all of the dots for our hearers. But the teaching of Scripture is that the justifying work of Christ will always produce the fruit of righteousness in the lives of believers, as I said earlier (for just one example, see the logic of Romans 6:1-14).
A disconnect between justification and sanctification is very dangerous for believers. It undermines their understanding of the need for personal holiness and their motivation for loving God with their obedience. But it is doubly dangerous for those who have false assurance, because it encourages them to think that it is possible to live in open rebellion against God and still be righteous in his sight.
6. Teach Them to Ignore the Bible’s Warnings.
The Scriptures are full of dire warnings to those who would embrace sin and/or leave the faith (e.g., Matt. 5:27-30, Heb. 6:1-6). In our efforts to clearly teach God’s sovereign care for his people, it is possible to undermine the force of these warnings by giving the impression that they don’t apply to believers.
But those warnings are in the Scriptures for a purpose. They are true and they are one of God’s ways of keeping his people from wandering away. A wise pastor will press home the gravity of sin and apostasy and call all of his hearers to endure in the faith.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017