After walking away from the Lord for a VERY long time (I was the prodigal son on steroids), I returned to Him in early 2014 and my wife and I began attending a small Southern Baptist church with a brand new pastor shortly afterwards. However, it became increasingly evident that the teaching at that church wasn’t in line with our beliefs on a couple of very important issues and we finally reached a point last June when we had to walk away.
Genuine evangelical Christians share a common belief and faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. We are all part of the Body of Christ and are brothers and sisters in the Lord. But we have our differences in regards to a long list of secondary doctrines. And that’s okay. You worship the Lord the way you believe is right and I’ll do the same. The problem is finding a pastor and church that believes as my wife and I do.
We began searching for a new church but that’s not a simple task. In our area, there’s six yellow pages (Am I showing my age?) full of church listings but I wouldn’t bother visiting 95% of them because they either don’t preach the Gospel or I don’t agree with their teaching on some of the secondary doctrines. It used to be you could pretty much tell what every particular church believed and taught by the denomination they belonged to but churches are now shedding denominational tags and adopting ambiguous names to attract the younger crowd. You either have to get a recommendation from like-minded Christian friends or you have to check each church’s web site to find out where they stand on various doctrines.
Well, with the Lord’s help, we finally found a church home on the first Sunday of November and we like it a lot. A whole lot! The contemporary worship songs are geared toward a younger crowd but I can still get choked up praising the Lord beneath the din of the amplifiers. Maybe it’s better that the folks around me don’t have to listen to me sobbing occasionally. The teaching and preaching are excellent. Some of the best I’ve ever heard. The pastor humbly instructs and admonishes us from God’s Word with amazing clarity. I’m very happy to say there’s no railing against secular society, there’s no nationalism and patriotism from the pulpit, and there’s no cooperation or compromise with apostate churches (e.g., Catholic, liberal mainline Protestant). The focus is on Jesus Christ and the Gospel. The Five Solas of the Reformation are referred to often. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with our pastor 100% on all issues. If that were the requirement I’d have to hold church in my own living room every Sunday. No, we don’t agree with the pastor on everything but we’re pretty close. And that’s a blessing. My wife and I eagerly look forward to worshipping with our brothers and sisters every Sunday! The Lord is GOOD!
A couple of weeks ago our pastor announced he was resigning to join a consulting ministry that counsels pastors and churches on how to “make more and better disciples.” Everyone was surprised and a bit saddened. The church leadership is currently searching for a new lead pastor. Gulp! Just when we were REALLY enjoying church, the pastor up and resigns! But as much as we’ll miss our pastor, we’re confident the Lord will work it all out.
Too often we set up our pastors as demigods. We engage in leadership idolatry. We put them up on pedestals and they will inevitably let us down. Our pastors are sinners saved by grace just as we are. It’s a tough job and a big responsibility and Satan certainly singles them out. We should pray for them and encourage them to stay faithful to the Lord and His Word. But our focus should ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS be on our Rock, Jesus Christ, not on weak and fallible stewards.
Thank you, Lord, for our pastor. I pray you bless him and his family in their new calling. I ask that you a raise up someone with a heart for You and Your Word to lead Your people according to Your will. Amen.
Commentators frequently like to remind us that anti-Catholic bigotry was once widespread in America. What the commentators neglect to mention is that some of that intolerance and paranoia stemmed from the knowledge of how Protestants were treated in countries where Catholics were in the majority. Several Popes issued declarations maintaining their god-given responsibility to oppress and limit non-Catholic religions in league with the civil government. Protestants were persecuted in Catholic-dominated European and South American countries right up into the mid-20th century. The intolerance continues even today in some parts of the world.
I’ve reported on the persecution of evangelical Christians in Mexico several times in the last nine months. Below are some recent stories. The Mexican bishops could put an end to this oppression with one official statement but they remain silent.
The photos in the article below show the abandoned St Joseph’s Catholic Seminary in Upholland, England, opened in 1883 and closed in 1992. Charges of sexual abuse at the seminary were brought forward in 2004.
The grim photographs are a chilling testimony to the sad and tragic events that took place behind those walls. Thousands of young men were trained to be priestly mediators between God and men while the Bible says Jesus put an end to the sacrificial priesthood. Young men were instructed in the ritual of turning bread wafers and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ while the Bible says we must receive Jesus as Savior spiritually, by faith alone. Young men were trained in the intricacies of a legalistic, formalistic religion instead of preaching the Gospel of grace. Young men were prohibited from enjoying natural relationships with women in the name of man-made religious rules and traditions. Trusting boys and young men were sexually victimized by predatory clerics.
The boys and young men, ages 8-24, who entered the doors of St Joseph’s Seminary for close to 110 years, were taught the precepts of an unbiblical perversion of Christianity. They were not taught the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Looking at these photographs, I cannot help but feel a very heavy sadness in my heart for all of the young, trusting souls who were deceived and victimized by the religious lost.
“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 19:13-14.
The news item below from a Southern Baptist source is both encouraging and sad at the same time.
I’m encouraged that a large number of evangelical pastors, seminary teachers, and para-church leaders gather at conferences such as the Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2016, united in the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and upholding the Five Solas of the Reformation. Christians can take heart that the Lord is still on His throne and He’s still raising up men and women who are faithful to His uncompromised Gospel. Please take a moment to read the article and you’ll be blessed.
But on the flip side is the reality that there are many in the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical “denominations” and independent churches who have sold out to “Just love Jesus” ecumenism. The young SBC pastor of the church we attended for thirteen months occasionally littered his sermons and personal conversations with praise for such Catholic figures as Malcolm Muggeridge, Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas, and Peter Kreeft. Some say “SBC” stands for Slowly Becoming Catholic and I experienced the truth of that first hand.
We must pray for our pastors and other leaders to stay true to the Gospel of grace and to resist the siren call of unity with error and apostasy.
Evangelical leaders esteem Reformation heritage at T4G
Andrew J. W. Smith, Southern News, 4/18/16
The legacy of the Protestant Reformation must endure in the doctrine and ministry of the church, evangelical leaders said at the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky, April 12-14.
Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517, 10,000 attendees from 43 different countries and 20 denominations filled most of the KFC Yum! Center to hear preaching from the biggest names in Reformed evangelicalism. Over 4,000 attendees identified as members of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and co-founder of the T4G conference, said the Protestant Reformation radically transformed the nature of pastoral ministry, starting with Luther himself. The German monk rejected the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel and eventually criticized the priesthood and papacy — key ecclesiological doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Justification by faith alone is not one doctrine among others,” Mohler said of Luther’s famous declaration that justification is the doctrine by which “the church stands or falls.”
“The Solas were not just slogans,” Mohler said. “They were a matter of life and death. Without those Solas, there is no gospel.”
Preaching from Colossians 1, Mohler noted that the fundamental question of the Reformation was about the nature of the gospel, and that has not changed in 500 years, he said.
“The key question that drove Luther to his knees — that drove him to those fits he called ‘Anfechtung’ — the key issue that led him to flee the altar in what was supposed to be his first mass, the key issue that was behind his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door is this: How are sins forgiven? And Colossians 1 declares these sins are forgiven in Christ.”
Mohler also presented a breakout session, “Nowhere to Hide? Facing the Reality of the Secular Movement” and was on a panel with Ligon Duncan and John MacArthur on the need for seminary education. James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, also spoke at a breakout session about the role of biblical theology in the pastor’s study of Scripture.
David Platt, president of the International Mission Board of the SBC, preached on the martyrdom of English Reformers, including William Tyndale and John Rogers, who were persecuted for translating the Bible into the common language. They were able to endure death at the burning stake, Platt said, because they knew the greatness of their forgiveness from God.
“Your perspective of earthly embers changes when you’ve been saved from an eternal inferno,” Platt said.
With countless unreached people around the world, many of them without a Bible translated into their native language, Platt urged believers to consider what price they are called to pay for the spread of the gospel today. Following the example of Tyndale and Rogers, Christians should boldly speak the gospel despite opposition.
“The martyrs didn’t die because they believed this gospel; they died because they were proclaiming this gospel,” Platt said.
Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 Network and pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, said a healthy awe of God fuels the believer’s endurance through personal trials and public opposition.
“Thin, flat pictures of God will not sustain with the courageous force of a big, deep, beautiful, borderline-frightening, glorious God,” Chandler said. “If you preach him flat, if you preach him small, if you preach him worried, if you preach him hopeful, your people will not be bold.”
Preaching from Paul’s rich doxology in Romans 11:33-36, Chandler said Christians can have absolute confidence in God’s wisdom and provision.
“Christian courage, inflamed and informed by the glory of God, will be the undoing of every empire but the kingdom of God,” he said. “Brothers, be fearless to preach the fullness of the character of God.”
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and president of 9Marks, said pastors are tempted to place too much value upon worldly achievements like large numbers in the pew, numerous conversions, or many church plants. Instead, he challenged attendees to value the slow, lasting joys of “the elder’s chair” instead of the fleeting joys of the spotlight.
“Things that may first appear to be the kind of nourishing joys that we need to live on may in fact not be,” Dever said. “In fact, they can deprive us of the discipline we need to find our joys where we should.”
Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., walked through the salvation language in Romans 3:21-26, noting that the glory of saving grace shines brighter when perceived out of the darkness of believers’ fallen condition.
“If we can comprehend something of the ugliness of sin, then we can against that dark backdrop, see something of the beauty of justification,” he said.
Because of God’s mighty and powerful love to save Christians, Anyabwile said, Christians can have absolute confidence in their final deliverance. The Father’s plan stretches into eternity past and will endure forever.
“Before time began, God decided that he would save us, not because of anything we did, but because of what his Son did,” he said. “Because his Son did it, it can never be controverted, it can never be subverted, it can never be taken away for those who trust in Christ.”
MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, said believers should heed Christ’s call for reformation in the church. Expositing the message of Christ to each of the seven churches listed in Revelation 2-3, MacArthur said pastors should remind their congregations to return to their “first love” of fidelity to Christ.
“We all like to call the nation to repentance, but when do we call the church to repentance?” he said.
John Piper, founder of Desiring God and former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, traced Luther’s doctrine of human sinfulness as expressed in “The Bondage of the Will” through the New Testament, highlighting the numerous ways the Bible describes the human bondage to sin. It is from this slavery to sin and selfishness that Christians were saved and by God’s power that they can live in freedom.
“Our working is not added to God’s working. Our working is God’s working,” he said.
Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, argued Christians cannot be glorified if they have not been sanctified during their lives. Despite some articulations of grace that seem to diminish the importance of personal holiness, Christians should recognize that lives truly changed by the gospel do not live in sin, he said.
After noting the three signs in 1 John that a person is truly regenerated — believing Jesus is the Christ, loving one’s brother, and refraining from sin — DeYoung said Christians must not depend on their own self-evaluation of their spiritual condition.
“You are not bound to be a very good evaluator of the fruit in your life,” DeYoung said. “You need other people. Assurance is a community project.”
C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Kentucky, said leaders should be prepared for suffering in ministry. The Reformer John Calvin had preached 156 sermons on the book of Job, Mahaney said, and pastors and ministry leaders should learn how trials and suffering relate to their ministry.
“Think of your suffering as part of your sermon preparation,” he said.
Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, demonstrated the continuing need for the reformation of the church, as all of Calvin’s reasons for the Reformation are still necessary — justification by faith, a more biblical understanding of the sacraments, and the reclamation of the pastoral office remain areas the Roman Catholic Church has still not reformed.
The 2016 Together for the Gospel conference was the sixth iteration of the conference, which started in 2006 under the leadership of Mohler, Mahaney, Duncan, and Dever. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon at t4g.org.
Evangelicals view the Reformation as a glorious, Holy Spirit-led movement to return the church to God’s Word and simple, saving faith in Jesus Christ. Thank God for the Reformers and their defiance of Roman authority, legalism, and ritualism. It’s entirely understandable that very few Catholics viewed the Reformation with any kind of appreciation over the years.
Next year there’ll be lots of handshaking and backslapping between some Catholics and some Protestant leaders in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We’ve already seeing some of this friendly collegiality at preliminary events.
Since Vatican II, the Catholic church has openly expressed its goal to recover the “separated brethren” into its fold. For Catholics, Christian “unity” specifically means submission to the pope of Rome. Read the text below slowly and carefully:
“When such (ecumenical) actions are undertaken prudently and patiently by the Catholic faithful, with the attentive guidance of their bishops, they promote justice and truth, concord and collaboration, as well as the spirit of brotherly love and unity. This is the way that, when the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.” – from Unitatis Redintegratio (“Restoration of Unity”), The Second Vatican Council, 1964
Official Catholic attitudes will be warmly conciliatory during the anniversary commemorations, but if you want to learn what Catholics really think about the Reformation, see the recent articles below from conservative Catholic sources. The Catholic hierarchy will need to constantly remind its militantly conservative and traditionalist factions that, when it comes to Reformation celebrations and ecumenical glad handing, the end will justify the disingenuous means.
I’ve mentioned many times that evangelicals and Catholics view the Lord’s Supper VERY differently. Evangelicals partake of the symbolic elements of the Lord’s Supper with great humility and thanksgiving as we remember that our Lord gave His body and blood as a sacrifice for our sins so that we could have eternal life in Him.
Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches its priests change bread wafers and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus at every mass. The priest then offers up Jesus the “host” (victim) to God the Father as a sacrifice for the sins of those present, the pope, the local bishop, and anyone else mentioned (including souls suffering in purgatory). Many of the attendees then line up to receive a wafer (wine from a shared cup is optional) from the priest. Catholics are taught Jesus is physically present inside of them for 15 minutes as their body digests the wafer. The church teaches the venial (small) sins of the participants can be forgiven at any point during the mass but especially during the “penitential rite and at Holy Communion.” Catholics believe the consecrated wafer imparts graces to the recipient to help them avoid committing mortal (deadly) sins in the future.
The sacrament of the eucharist (thanksgiving) is the central tenet of the Catholic belief system. Rather than receiving Jesus as Savior by faith spiritually, Catholicism sadly misinterprets John 6 and the Last Supper discourses and insists Jesus must be physically eaten. Catholics give lip service to “grace” and “faith” but believe they must ultimately merit their salvation by obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and man-made church rules.
Getting back to the wafer hosts, any leftovers are stored in a locked box called the “tabernacle,” to be distributed later to the sick and housebound. On occasion, priests will set a large host in an ornate viewing container called a “monstrance.” Catholics are invited to come to church separately from the mass to worship and adore the wafer Jesus as he rests in the container. In some churches, volunteers sign up for time slots so that the wafer will be worshipped around the clock in “perpetual adoration.”
Catholic friend, accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith. Jesus is not locked away in a gold box or in a monstrance. He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father and He’s waiting for you to forsake your dependence on your church membership and religious laundry list and accept Him as your Savior by faith alone.
“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” – Matthew 24:23-28
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:11-14
The article from the Catholic news source below reports on a recent gathering of 90,000 Pentecostals, charismatics, and Catholics at the Los Angeles Coliseum to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival.
Some evangelicals view such an event as a wonderful thing; a manifestation of Jesus’ call for Christian unity in John 17. Others, like myself, see “Azusa Now” as part of the ongoing betrayal of the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Doctrine takes a back seat to emotional euphoria as Catholic priests and Protestant pastors embrace each other as fellow brothers in Christ. But Catholicism teaches a decidedly different “gospel” than the Gospel of evangelical Christianity. Catholics believe salvation comes through its clergy-administered sacraments and then by successfully obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules. One belief system can be summarized as “done” (personal faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ), while the other can be summarized by “do” (meriting salvation by “cooperating” with God’s grace). There is no point of agreement between the two diametrically opposed messages, but at “Azusa Now” and similar gatherings, experiential ecstasy trumps Truth and right doctrine.
The river is muddy and getting muddier.
Obviously, not all Pentecostals and charismatics embrace Catholicism as Christian, but it’s difficult not to do so when the obligatory gifts of the spirit are manifested by Catholics who are also unwavering in their faithfulness to their church’s doctrines.
The National Day of Prayer is coming up in a few weeks on Thursday, May 5th. Back in 1952, during the Korean War and in response to a groundswell of support sparked by a young Billy Graham, President Harry Truman signed into law the bill which mandated an annual day of prayer be observed throughout the nation. The observance day was later fixed as the first Thursday in May. On this day, people of all religious faiths in the United States are called upon to pray for the nation and its leaders. Many born-again followers of Jesus Christ will join in prayer with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, New Agers, and followers of various aberrant “christian” denominations and sects including Catholics and Mormons.
Many evangelical Christians see participation in the National Day of Prayer as a good thing. After all, doesn’t God’s Word instruct us to pray for the authorities over us, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). But the National Day of Prayer also has some critics within evangelicalism, including myself.
Christians should never join with unbelievers in spiritual endeavors. God’s Word is explicitly clear on this:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.'” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-17
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” – Ephesians 5:11
“…holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” – 2 Timothy 3:5
Jesus proclaimed that He is the ONLY way to salvation. That’s definitely not a popular message in our post-modern age of cooperation, pluralism, tolerance, and inclusiveness. But Christians should NOT join with religious unbelievers as they pray to their deities. That is cooperation with idolatry. Yes, we Christians must pray for our country’s leaders so that the Gospel can continue to be preached unhindered throughout this land, but we cannot join with religious unbelievers in this ministry.
Some Christian supporters of the NDP argue that the event can be used as an evangelism tool. But compromise works both ways. Cooperation and compromise with unbelief always leads to betrayal of the Gospel. The Old Testament is largely a record of the disastrous consequences of God’s people cooperating with idolatry.
In closing, I would ask born-again believers who regularly read God’s Word to try to imagine the Lord, Jesus Christ, or even the Apostle Paul, joining with the pagan religionists of 1st-century Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor in ecumenical prayer. The notion is beyond preposterous and yet many followers of Christ will enthusiastically join with religious unbelievers in the National Day of Prayer. For many evangelicals, shared national citizenship and religious-tinged, patriotic fervor take precedence over fidelity to the Gospel. The pastor of the Southern Baptist church we previously attended encouraged participation in the NDP, which was one of several signs that we were worshipping at the wrong place.
Opposing viewpoints are welcome.
“The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel. Yet nevertheless, the church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the church militant, the church armed, the church warring, the church conquering. And how is this? It is the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing, and we should at once suspect that it were not true if error were friends with it. The spotless purity of truth must always be at war with the blackness of heresy and lies.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
Three weeks ago, my wife and I were eagerly looking forward to our trip to Germany to visit family. We were eating breakfast on the morning of March 22 when news sources reported the three coordinated ISIS bombings in Brussels, Belgium, killing 32 and injuring over 300. We looked at each other with some concern. Hmm, not a good time to be visiting Europe, we thought. But the reality is it’s relatively much more dangerous to walk the streets of Detroit, Chicago, and New York than any city in Europe.
On April 1st, we finally boarded the plane for our transatlantic flight from Newark, New Jersey to Frankfurt, Germany. At a cruising speed of around 500 mph, it takes a large, commercial passenger jet about 8 hours to travel the 4000 mile distance. The normal altitude for transatlantic flights is between 6 and 7 miles above the Earth. There’s very little material between the passengers and the -66 F temperature outside the plane’s cabin.
My wife and I aren’t exactly frequent fliers so plane rides are still a little bit unnerving, especially while traveling through patches of turbulence. Of course, thousands of airplanes take off every day around the world with reports of accidents being very rare. The chances of dying in a commercial plane crash are said to be around 1 in 53,000,000, much better odds than driving your car to work every day. But sitting in a speeding tin can, miles above the ground, and rocked by changing air currents, can make one feel especially vulnerable. Life is such a fragile gift. It could end in a split second, whether while driving to work, riding in a plane, or walking through a train station in a European city.
While sitting in that airplane seat, I thought often about my Shepherd. My life is His. I am in His hands. Always. He puts my fears and worries in perspective. To leave this Earth is to be present with Him.
Yesterday, I was studying Psalm 103, one of my favorites, and read the following verses:
“As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him.” – verses 13-17
Within our own personal universes we can’t conceive of our own deaths. We can’t imagine a world without us. But this life is fleeting. Take the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, today. Don’t wait until tomorrow. None of us know what may transpire in the course of a single, unpredictable day. Church membership won’t save you. Trying to obey the Ten Commandments or trying to be a good person won’t save you. Only accepting Jesus as your Savior will save you.
“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” – 1 John 5:11-12