Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some Never Learn

I know that this is not new news any more, and others have already commented on this, but I will give my two cents any way. Bill Hybels has apparently had a life changing experience after the facts revealed through their evaluation of their ministry. After years of instructing multitudes of churches and leaders about how they should be doing church, they have come to realize that what they have been doing has not been grounding people in Scripture and maturing them in the faith. As Phil Johnson pointed out in his post, isn’t this what many have been warning about for years, because Willow Creek was failing to follow a Biblical model for ministry? And it is only now, as a result of their own poll, that they have realized the truth. Wouldn’t they have avoided all of this had they followed a Scriptural model of church ministry?

What is frustrating is that there is not really any hint of true repentance for their actions. The only remedy they are going to offer apparently, is some new program for training on how the congregation can read, learn and apply the Bible for themselves. Now, I think that teaching people how they can read and learn the Bible for themselves is extremely important and certainly should be a fundamental part of what a church does. And it is also true that Christians should not rely solely on the church to provide all of their spiritual nourishment, spoon-feeding them all truth. Christians need to take responsibility for their spiritual growth. But in addition, God has ordained that there should be leadership that assists with that process as well. (Ephesians 4:11-16) And the church is biblically obligated to provide solid Bible teaching to help believers grow. This is why Paul exhorted 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 3:15, NASB) Pastoral leadership is to labor in the Word of God, seeking to teach with precision and accuracy. In fact, those who "work hard", putting forth greater effort at preaching and teaching are considered worthy of greater honor (1 Timothy 5:17). This describes seeking to teach the more in-depth truths of Scripture. That is fundamental to contributing to the spiritual maturity of the congregation. Simply offering what is essentially a do-it-yourself kit is not going to achieve what they think. People need to be exposed consistently to solid biblical preaching. Also fundamental to the ministry is a mutual exhortation and accountability, and this can only occur as members have opportunities to share biblical truth with one another, challenging one another.
What is even more astounding though is what else is taking place at Willow Creek. You would think that after their discovery, they would be inclined to return to the Word of God, and be even more vigilant to make reforms to align themselves with Scripture. But instead, they are now cozying up with leadership in the emerging church, scheduling Brian McLaren as a keynote speaker at their youth conference. This is not the first time that they shared the platform with an emerging leader. They have had Rob Bell speak as a guest at their church before. So perhaps it is a case where they are exchanging one error for another jumping on the Emergent bandwagon.

But a similar revelation was also shared by Gilbert Bilezikian some time ago. Bilezikian was one of the founders of Willow Creek.

But these sudden revelations that what they have been doing has not proven beneficial has been realized by others in the popular seeker church movement. Take Sally Morgenthaler's realization that falls in line with what Bill Hybels has come to realize. I wrote a post on this awhile back. But then she partners with popular emerging church leaders Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt.

Paul warned the Ephesian elders of the wolves who would enter the flock in Acts 20. But instead of warning and protecting the flock, leadership today is merely going to allow the wolves to come in and play with the sheep. This graphic from Phil Johnson at TeamPyro captures the essense of the situation.

I am afraid that the evangelical church has become so removed from the truth, that even when they seem to come to their senses, they lack any real discernment to implement any true reforms.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Battle Over Justification By Faith

Justification and the Diminishing Work of Christ
By John Piper

For about ten years now, the biblical reality of justification of by faith has captured more of my time than any other doctrine. There are at least five reasons for this. One is that eight of those years I was preaching through the book of Romans, and justification is at the heart of Romans. A second reason is that I have been surrounded by apprentices that read widely and ask tough questions, and I don’t have the luxury of indefinitely equivocating.

The Embattled Truth of Justification
The third reason is that in those ten years the truth of justification has become increasingly embattled, so that the truth as I see in the New Testament is increasingly confused and reduced and contradicted.

  • The lines between evangelical faith and Roman Catholic teaching have been blurred.
  • The doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s obedience has been denied.
  • The New Perspective on Paul, especially N. T. Wright, has redrawn the map of New Testament theology in such a way that confusion is widespread as to just what justification is and how it relates to the gospel and conversion and judgment.
  • Others have so merged faith and its fruits that the term “by faith alone” has ceased to provide a foundation for holiness but is now virtually identical with it.
  • And some have so changed the ordinary meaning of the word “righteousness” that in the act of justification, it no longer refers to anyone’s right attitude or right action but only to a courtroom verdict of acquittal.

In other words, year after year, as I try to win people to faith in Christ and help my people enjoy the fullness of assurance so they can live radical, risk-taking lives of love, I keep bumping into ever new permutations—John Owen in his day called them “innumerable subterfuges”—of the denial of the New Testament teaching on the imputation of Christ’s obedience to believers.

Click here to read the rest of the article at Desiring God.

John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is the Reformation Necessary Any More?

The Albert Mohler program had an interesting topic for discussion a couple of weeks ago. There is controversy surrounding the topic of whether or not the Reformation is still necessary today. In fact, one prominent author, Mark Noll along with Carolyn Nystrom, pose the question “Is the Reformation Over?” in their book by the same title. They apparently seem to make a case that both Protestants and Catholics have perhaps moved closer together rather than moving farther apart. They site many changes including the outcome of Vatican II.

But what people need to remember is that the fundamental doctrinal stance of the Roman Catholic Church has not changed, and a careful reading of the latest Catholic catechism should prove that. Most of the changes have been mainly cosmetic, with most of the core beliefs remaining the same. Even a recent proclamation by the Vatican affirms their belief that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. (Al Mohler commented on this back in June) At least they are now being honest and evangelicals should take notice that Rome has not genuinely changed. And they are on an aggressive campaign to win back former Catholics, as well as evangelizing new converts. Even utilizing strategies mimicking evangelicals. And the so-called ecumenical partnering with evangelicals has dubious intentions.

Some have concluded that the Reformation was a mistake, or the intent has been accomplished and now we need to build bridges with Rome. But I think that these conclusions are a result of not understanding the key issues that are still remaining. Not least of which is the doctrine of justification. And the current shallow state of evangelicalism does not help matters either. The average church-goer has little understanding of what the Bible teaches and the current trend does not look promising.

I hold to the view that the Reformation is still certainly necessary. In fact, we need another reformation to lead the church today back to solid Scriptural footing.

Unfortunately, the attitude that seems to pervade much of evangelicalism is that of indifference, or at times hostile to the principles of the Reformation. This is especially true of the attitude projected by many in the emerging church movement. But the attitude is not unique to the emerging church. It is pervasive of the evangelical church in general. And it has been for quite some time.

In fact, Rick Warren has called for a new Reformation, a reformation focusing on deeds rather than creeds, and in a sense, tends to deemphasize the importance of beliefs by emphasizing deeds over beliefs. And this can be seen in his approach to ministry. Let’s take for instance, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven program.

This program is implemented by a whole host of denominations. This includes Roman Catholics. Holy Family Parish in Illinois was one of the first Catholic Churches to utilize Rick Warren’s approach. The purpose driven program is apparently so adaptable that Catholics can use it as a tool to evangelize people utilizing their doctrinal perspective. This should underscore its fundamental weakness and Rick Warren’s careless approach to fundamental doctrine. Don’t kid yourself; the RCC is on an aggressive campaign to win back former Catholics, as well as to win new converts. Catholics want to paint a picture that they are just another evangelical church, when their beliefs are different from us at very crucial points. Of course today, the average evangelical really knows little about his faith, so they really don’t understand the important differences.

Yes, the Reformation is still necessary after 500 years when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Whittenberg Church. The same crucial issues still divide Catholics and Evangelicals. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals do not understand their faith well enough to understand these differences.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Church Has Been in a Mess Before

We may be thinking that our generation is the first generation that has experienced a spiritual decline in the church. But this is simply not true. There have been other times in the history of the church where the spiritual vitality of the church has waned. A study of church history should prove this to be true. Of course, it certainly seems that the decline today has reached unprecedented proportions and perhaps this is just one more sign that may be signaling Christ’s soon return.

But the period leading up to the first great awakening was awash in an attitude that is similar to what we are experiencing today. The state of affairs in the church was not good at all, and it was this backdrop that Jonathan Edwards proclaimed the truth of Scripture without shame. It was this approach that God blessed and it ignited the Great Awakening.

Here is an interesting article by Dan Jarvis entitled "The Next Great Awakening", discussing the “Halfway Covenant” that was the official policy followed by churches in the American colonies in 1662. It was a way the churches attempted to turn the tide of waning numbers, by allowing unregenerate children of members to become partial or "halfway" members.

Typically, to become a full member of a church meant one must have given testimony of a conversion experience. With the increasing affluence in the colonies, people became more concerned with comfort and material wealth and less concerned with spiritual matters. Under the half way covenant, if someone led a reasonably wholesome life and agreed to follow the creed and teaching of the church, they could become partial members without giving testimony of having a conversion experience. These partial members did not have voting privileges in the church, but they were allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Halfway Covenant was implemented with the best intentions. The church would continue to grow and influence society, and new members would be brought in who would be exposed to the teachings of the church and eventually be converted. Or so they thought. Eventually just about anyone could become members and the half-way members outnumbered the full members. The plan had a disastrous effect on the church and eventually the spiritual vitality of the churches declined. Rather than the church having a positive influence on society, worldliness entered into the church and society continued to degenerate.

What turned things around? The straight forward preaching of God’s Truth by men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. And it was sermons like Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that awakened people to their need to repent and embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior.

The dilemma of the Halfway Covenant sounds quite similar today with the seeker sensitive mentality of the church. It certainly shows how we really don’t learn from history, but have a habit of repeating some of the same mistakes of the past.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I’m Afraid That He Is Right

In this video, Newt Gingrich shares his perspective on the dangers that America faces in light of terrorism. We are not aware of the full extent of what we are faced with and perhaps how unprepared we really are. This is certainly sobering and I am afraid he is right.