I’ll begin by saying it’s grievous to have to write this…
One day last week, as I was preparing to do some work on our powder room, I set up my iPhone to play that day’s radio message from evangelical pastor, Alistair Begg (photo left), via the Truth for Life website. I used to listen to pastor Begg regularly, but I remember being put-off by some of the people he referenced in his sermons, C. S. Lewis being one of his oft-mentioned favorites. But I had recently taken to listening to pastor Begg again. During the course of this new sermon (“True Friendship,” broadcast 9/30/19), pastor Begg said something that was upsetting to hear.
But before I get into the meat of this post, let me start with an observation. We evangelicals live in a bubble. We tend to think we’re the only people who pray and the only people who write passionately and lovingly about our faith. I hate to break it to you my friends, but committed Hindus and Muslims write passionately about their religion as well. Likewise, members of pseudo-Christian cults, like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are passionate about their religion. They too have devotional materials filled with lofty prose meant to motivate their membership to worship and praise their nonexistent faux deity. Writing pious words about Jesus does not make the writer a Christian. That being said, let’s return to pastor Begg.
As I was listening to the sermon, pastor Begg expounded on our Savior, Lord, and Friend, Jesus Christ. We thrill at being Jesus’s friend, but, as Begg points out, friendship with Christ is not just a doctrinal truth of objective, forensic position, but also experiential. Begg quotes John 15:14:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Begg then refers to several authors who wrote about obeying Jesus. The first writer Begg mentions is Brother Lawrence (photo right). At the 18:20 mark, Begg says:
“If you read the writing, for example, of Brother Lawrence in “The Practice of the Presence of God,” and you say, now this is an inkling of what’s involved here.”
So what’s the problem? Well, Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) aka Nicolas Herman was an unordained lay brother of the Roman Catholic Discalced Carmelite religious order who resided at a monastery in Paris. Brother Lawrence lived his entire life as a faithful Roman Catholic and fully adhered to his church’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit.
Since Brother Lawrence adhered to Rome’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit, I’m curious why a popular evangelical pastor like Alistair Begg would hold up such a person as a Christian example? Does he believe Brother Lawrence was a genuine Christian because of his pious religious prose? But what of Lawrence’s legalistic and anti-Gospel beliefs and religious practices that were not mentioned in “The Practice of the Presence of God”? Has Begg forgotten the cause and necessity of the Reformation, which began only 97 years before Brother Lawrence was born? What was going through Begg’s mind as he was writing this sermon and decided to extol the writings of a committed Roman Catholic to his audience as an exemplary resource on Christian obedience? Does Begg not consider the effect of recommending a Roman Catholic writer to his evangelical audience or is he well past that point? Can we also expect pastor Begg to recommend the eloquent devotional writings of other false gospel, works-religionists such as Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Smith, Jr., or Mary Baker Eddy? Can anyone imagine a Charles Spurgeon or a Martyn Lloyd-Jones recommending from the pulpit a book written by a committed Roman Catholic to their congregations?
All of the above questions are obviously rhetorical. Ecumenical accommodation and compromise are rampant in the Body of Christ. There’s more than ignorance and carelessness at work here.