Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Frog in the Kettle

The Pyromaniac’s postings on the state of evangelicalism have been excellent and he has articulated the issues well. He discusses the issue of how the church has become obsessed with constantly following the latest fads. I agree with his assessment. However, while it is true that these fads eventually run their course and fade away, they nonetheless do their share of damage to the church. The church does not go unscathed, and suffers damage with each successive bout of pragmatism.

A famous experiment was once conducted that involved placing a frog in a kettle of water. Don’t know who ever thought up this experiment, but it serves as an excellent illustration. If the frog were placed in a pot of boiling water, the frog would immediately jump out so as not to be scalded. Then the frog was placed in the water while it was yet cool. As the frog sat contently in the water, the water was heated one degree at a time. The frog adapted to the gradual changes in temperature until it boiled to death!

The church can be likened to that frog. Christians sit nice and comfortably in their churches, while the leadership implements changes devised by the latest “experts” and popular authors. The changes are so subtle and incremental that Christians adapt to each successive round of change until they eventually boil to death in heresy!

Suddenly springing heresy on people does not work well since people will immediately resist and cry out. But introduce subtle changes over the course of time and Christians will incrementally adapt to the new environment. Of course, spiritual apathy on the part of believers plays an important part as well.

Satan uses a clever strategy in order to dilute the truth. Satan used this successfully back in Genesis 3:1-5, with the statement “yea, hath God said?” He subtly introduces doubt on the Word of God. He does not launch an outright attack on God’s Word, but introduces an apparent clarification, with his own little twist. He promises “enlightenment”.

This is how Satan distorts the truth. The Corinthians were in danger of succumbing to this tactic in 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 prompting a heartfelt warning from Paul. The most deceptive lie is the one that comes closest to the truth. The truth tends to mask the error.

It is crucial that believers immerse themselves in the Word of God. The more they know the truth, the more they will be able to spot the error when it comes along. We need to be like the first century Bereans in Acts 17:11, who “searched the scriptures daily” to discern whether the things taught were true.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Wanted: A Few Good Men – Can You Handle the Truth?

The Pyromaniac has been posting a series on the state of the Evangelical church. The articles are right on target with defining the key problems in evangelicalism. Many of us have been bombarded with the latest trends and fads being thrust on us from the pulpit of many of our churches. I don’t know about everyone else, but I am getting quite fed up with the nonsense.

Evangelicalism is in urgent need of a return to biblical truth and biblical ministry. We desperately need a return to the truth of Scripture, but it will require men to take a firm stand and exercise discernment, employing sound wisdom and judgment guided by God’s truth. What we need are a few good men like the men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12, who had a keen understanding of the times in which they lived.

“32 of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their command;” (1 Chronicles 12:32, NKJV™).

These were men who understood the times in which they lived and could provide Israel with sound judgment and guidance in order to win the battle at hand. This was not a case where they were trying to find ways to engage in pragmatism, attempting to blend Israel with the culture of their day. Not long ago, I herd someone imply this in a dire attempt to justify a pragmatic approach to ministry in reference to adapting to the postmodern culture. In fact, the preacher went so far as to say that the men of Issachar probably dressed in the “garb” of the day, with the implication that they were focused on trying to engage the culture. I thought to myself, “Well of course they dressed in the garb of the day, what else do you think they wore”. But I doubt that the men of Issachar were scoping out the culture to adopt the coolest fashion of that time to prove that they were as hip as everyone else. If you could imagine the men of Issachar cruising around the countryside, saying “Hey, gettin’ phat for God”! People in every generation dresses in the basic fashion of the day. Look at paintings of Jonathan Edwards or pictures of Charles Spurgeon. They all dressed in the “garb” of the day. I hate it when preachers really push the text of Scripture to try and make it support the latest fads, trends or gimmickry. Unfortunately, with the lack of discernment today, most people just sit back and think “Wow that was profound.” But the men of Issachar were not focused on fads or gimmickry. Their thoughts were centered on the battle at hand and were keenly aware of the challenges and dangers they faced. They knew how to guide Israel in troubled times as they prepared to engage in battle. Today, we too, should be focused on the battle for truth. I am not advocating that we should drop evangelism and the mission of making disciples in order to devote all of our time in constant battle over every minor issue at hand. But the type of error that exists today threatens the purity of the gospel message that people desperately need to hear. Furthermore, the church is threatened by “wolves” that are ready to devour the flock of God with their aberrant teaching. The issues are not minor, but critical. The church is faced with everything from liberalism, “seeker-sensitive” pragmatism, the Word-Faith debacle, and the latest, the Emerging Church movement that in many respects is nothing more than repackaged liberalism. More than ever before, we need to understand the times and be willing to battle for the faith.

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3, NKJV™)

The term “contend earnestly”, means to literally do battle. This is not exactly a pleasant thing to do and is often quite grueling. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was keenly aware of this since he fought vehemently against the errors that were creeping into the church in his day. He even experienced rejection from his own brother due to his stand for the truth.

“Controversy is never a very happy element for the child of God: he would far rather be in communion with his Lord than be engaged in defending the faith, or in attacking error. But the soldier of Christ knows no choice in his Master's commands. He may feel it to be better for him to lie upon the bed of rest than to stand covered with the sweat and dust of battle; but, as a soldier, he has learned to obey, and the rule of his obedience is not his personal comfort, but his Lord's absolute command. The servant of God must endeavour to maintain all the truth which his Master has revealed to him, because, as a Christian soldier, this is part of his duty. But while he does so, he accords to others the liberty which he himself enjoys.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Address at the Tabernacle, 1861

What we need today are more men of this caliber who are willing to engage in battle with discernment of the times and understand the strategy the church should take in light of the dangers being faced. There is nothing wrong with understanding the culture in which we live, in fact it can help us get an idea of the magnitude of the challenges that we face and how to navigate the dangerous waters. Understanding the culture can give us insight concerning the challenges of communicating with the people of this generation. I am not advocating totally ignoring the culture. This is indeed a part of “understanding the times”. But pursuing the challenge to communicate with the culture should never interfere with or alter the message, nor should it take preeminence over the proclamation of truth. For example, since people in our culture today do not like to be told they are wrong and do not seem to respond well to propositional truth, we are told that we should avoid those things when communicating with people of this generation. Scripture teaches that we are to do otherwise.

“2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NKJV™)

The word “preach” is translated from the Greek word “kerusso”, which means to proclaim something openly, verbally, with authority, an urgent message that needs to be heeded and obeyed. This is to take place regardless of what the culture wants. Just focusing on engaging in a philosophy that seems to draw a crowd is deceiving. Numeric results marked with emotionalism and sentimentality is not a good indicator of success in reaching the culture. The real test is whether those who profess to be followers continue to walk with Christ, keeping His Word. (John 8:31)(1 John 2:24) The pursuit of pragmatism causes us to circumvent the truth of God. It only clouds the message of Scripture and weakens the church. It muddles the message of the gospel, so much that the world gets a distorted view of God. Certainly, some methods of delivering the message can change over time. For example, we are now utilizing the power of the internet in order to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. Television and radio have been used for many years. There is nothing wrong with utilizing new methods as long as those methods do not alter or distract from the proclamation of God’s truth. The methods must harmonize with the message, not detract from it.

We have been informed by the church growth experts for more than a decade that we need to treat people as consumers, being sensitive to their “felt” needs. The implication is that we can entertain and coax people into the Kingdom of God. But according to Barna research, while the population has only increased 15% since 1991, the number of the “unchurched” has increased by an astounding 92%! You would think that the church would learn that it just is not working. It is interesting that in Barna’s article, he admits that “Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen.” and “Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer.” But here is a statement made by Bill Easum of “21st Century Stategies”, claiming that we need to engage the “unchurched” in worship. This is from an article by Easum outlining his observation of the trends for the 21st Century church.

“focuses worship primarily on what a person experiences about God instead of what a person learns about God. This trend is confirmed by the growing unchurched, biblically illiterate, ethically void, population growing up outside of the influence of Christianity. Their basic need is to experience the presence (immanence) of God, not to be educated about God or the church. Emphasis is placed on stirring the heart and emotions, not educating the head.”

The Church of the 21st Century” by William M. Easum

But man in his unsaved state lacks any ability to worship God. The natural man is dead in his sins and trespasses, and cannot seek God or do anything to please God. (Romans 8:5-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14)

Because the church has so neglected the truth of God’s Word, people in the church lack discernment to ward off false teaching. The influx of false teaching can be likened to disease that enters the body due to the failure of the body’s immune system. When there is a total breakdown, the body is left vulnerable to any disease that may attack it. The condition is called AIDS. John MacArthur preached a two-part series some time ago entitled “Spiritual AIDS”, where he likened the spiritual condition of the church to the human malady called AIDS. It has been awhile since I listened to that message, but I recall him saying that as with the physical condition, when the body loses the ability to ward of disease, it is usually not AIDS itself that kills the person. It is usually the other diseases that the body cannot defend itself against that does it in. This is a good analogy of the condition that threatens the church today. Due to a shallow understanding of God's Truth, Christians today lack the level of discernment necessary to distinguish between truth and error. Consequently, the church is becoming plagued with various sorts of doctrinal "disease".

Paul instructed Timothy to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”(2 Timothy 2:15, NASB®). The way that we can be approved of God is by handling the Word of God with great care, striving to interpret it with precision and accuracy. Until leadership in today’s church takes this message to heart, the church will continue to falter. What the church needs today is for more men to step up to the plate who are willing to properly and accurately handle the Word of God and boldly proclaim it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Good Resources on Catholicism

A good book to read that explains the doctrines of the Catholic Church in light of Scripture is The Gospel According to Rome by James G. McCarthy. There is also an excellent video entitled Catholicism:Crisis of Faith, where many Catholic clergy as well as laity experienced a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ after they were faced with a crisis of faith. In this video you will hear their testimony and how Catholic teaching differs from the biblical teaching on salvation and many other key doctrines. I showed this video to a small group Bible study that I led. It was certainly an eye opener for many. I think that it is imperative that Christians understand the differences, especially today with the ecumenical push.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Fallout From Ecumenical Compromise

If there are any questions about the Roman Catholic Church’s intentions in regard to their ecumenical efforts, it would be profitable to examine the “Decree on Ecumenism” from the Vatican II council. Here is an excerpt from that decree illustrating Rome’s intentions to pull all churches back under her authority.

“The term "ecumenical movement" indicates the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity.”

“When such 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.”(Emphasis Added)

Decree on Ecumenism
Second Vatican Council

It is the Catholic Church’s intention to court evangelicals in an effort to win them back to Catholicism.

The effects of ecumenism on the evangelical community are causing wide scale compromise concerning the essentials of Biblical faith, especially concerning salvation by grace alone (sola fide). There are numerous examples of the effects of this compromise on the evangelical community. There have been some who have been won over to the Catholic Church through this ecumenism. I realize that it is likely that those who convert to Catholicism never were really a follower of Christ to begin with. Those that are Christ’s are those that continue following the teaching of Scripture and conduct their life in a manner that honors God.(1 John 2:19) However, this does not exonerate us of our responsibility to warn others. Paul could say with confidence that he was free from responsibility for the indiscretion of people who failed to heed his warning(Acts 20:26-31). There are those whom God appoints to act as watchmen to warn people of impending danger. God commanded prophets in the Old Testament to act as watchmen to faithfully warn the people and deliver the message commanded by God. Ezekiel was commanded to warn the people regardless of whether or not they listened.(Ezekiel 3:17; 33:2-7) God requires that leadership is to fulfill that same function of watchman today.

The president of the Christian Coalition in Alabama, John Giles, is now a convert to Roman Catholicism. An article in the May 25,2004 edition of the “The Decatur Daily News” describes his journey to the Roman Catholic Church. He described his experience attending Mass in a Catholic Church.

"I have to admit to you that the whole time that I was in that church service, I was reduced to tears, and I couldn't explain it," Giles said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.
"In fact," he jokes, "you would have thought I had been spending the whole weekend down at the House of the Rising Sun down in New Orleans, that I had all this sin in my life that I had to get out."

The Decatur Daily News
Online Edition, May 25, 2004
“Christian Coalition chief is now Catholic”By Kyle Wingfield Associated Press Writer

There are well-known Evangelical leaders who have been downplaying the significance of the differences between Catholicism and Biblical Christianity. Billy Graham, for example, has made some outlandish statements concerning the RCC over the years, implying that the differences are minor and that the Catholic Church is really not much different from evangelical churches. I am not trying to discredit everything Dr. Graham does. Many people have been brought to Christ over the years through the effort of his ministry. His ministry also played a part in my own conversion. No, I did not get saved at a Billy Graham Crusade, but prior to my conversion I had watched Billy Graham on television on a couple of occasions and what I heard began planting seeds in my heart. But I can’t help but wonder how many other people have gotten a distorted message through some of the things that he has stated concerning Catholicism over the years.

Upon receiving his honorary degree at the Roman Catholic Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, Graham stated:

"The Gospel that built this School and the Gospel that brings me here tonight is still the way to salvation."
'The Gastonia Gazette' Nov. 22nd 1967

In a January 1978 interview with McCall’s magazine, Graham had this to say:

“I am far more tolerant of other kinds of Christians than I once was. My contact with Catholic, Lutheran and other leaders - people far removed from my own Southern Baptist tradition - has helped me, hopefully, to move in the right direction. I've found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics, for instance. They believe in the Virgin Birth, and so do I. They believe in the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming judgment of God, and so do I. We only differ on some matters of later church tradition.”

It is commonplace for those who attend and come forward at Billy Graham Crusades, if they were affiliated with a Catholic church, to be referred to a Catholic Church for follow up.

The compromise does not end with co belligerence with Catholics either. It also includes a nod of approval for other world religions as well. In an appalling interview with Robert Schuller on May 31, 1997, Graham made the following statement:

SCHULLER: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?

GRAHAM: Well, Christianity and being a true believer you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven.

SCHULLER: What, what I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying!

GRAHAM: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they've believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

SCHULLER: (his face beaming) I'm so thrilled to hear you say this! There's a wideness in God's mercy.

GRAHAM: There is. There definitely is.

In the 1978 interview with McCall’s magazine, Graham stated:

"I used to believe that pagans in far off countries were lost going to hell if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I NO LONGER BELIEVE THAT. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing God through nature for instance and plenty of other ways of saying 'yes' to God."

The Roman Catholic Church also finds merit in the other world faiths as well. I find it interesting that some evangelicals are basically agreeing with the Catholic Church. I believe that we are heading into the final days of apostasy very rapidly, and we are going to see more efforts to unite with various false religions of the world as well as so-called Christian groups that deviate from biblical truth.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The New Downgrade

Steve Camp wrote an excellent article entitled “The New Downgrade? Twelve Dangers of Evangelical Co-Belligerence”, where he pointed out the dangers of ecumenical co-belligerence. Under well intentioned efforts to battle the culture war, well known evangelical leaders have watered down the truth, reducing faith to a lowest common denominator and unwittingly diminished the power of the Word of God. Instead of intensely laboring for eternal matters, too many evangelicals are vying for political power in an effort to restore the moral fabric of our nation. It is not that battling against moral decay is wrong, but never at the expense of doctrinal purity and certainly not in place of the life changing message of the gospel. Evangelicalism is making the mistake of thinking that they can win a culture war, while accomplishing little more than compromising the doctrinal integrity of the church. Furthermore, how is it, as Steve points out, that we are battering the lost with accusations blaming them for acting like lost people? How else would they act? He aptly points out that we do nothing more than alienate the very ones that need to hear the saving message of the gospel. That is the only thing that can genuinely transform them. Even if we succeed in engaging them in behavior modification, they will still be lost people separated from God by their sins.

It is interesting that Charles Haddon Spurgeon faced similar issues in his time. He fought vehemently against the adoption of methodology in the church that was based on worldly wisdom that threatened to undermine sound doctrine and theology. Spurgeon fought valiantly, but his firm stance certainly did not win him any favor with fellow church leaders including his own brother. Spurgeon likened biblical truth to “the pinnacle of a steep, slippery mountain. One step away and you find yourself on the downgrade. Once a church or individual Christian gets on the downgrade, momentum takes over. Recovery is unusual and only happens when Christians get on the 'up-line' through spiritual revival.”

It certainly appears that we are on another “downgrade” today. It is such a sad shame that the church does not learn from history. But then again, most people in the church never study history. As it has been wisely said, those that ignore history are most likely to repeat it.

I was going to elaborate more on the dangers of ecumenical compromise by the end of the week, giving some examples of the harmful effects, but it will have to wait until Tuesday. I will be spending time with family over the 4th of July weekend. Have a safe 4th of July.