Archive for the ‘State of the Church’ Category

The State of the Church, Part 24

June 18, 2008

In the past several newsletters the effort has been to show the dismal state of the professing Church in America and perhaps beyond. This is not to say that there are not many outward things going on and perhaps pockets of spiritual life in a few places, but the effort has been to show that the congregations and ministers alike are under the judgment of God. The main evidence for this is that there seems to be very little to no seeking of the Lord for His sake. There is a lot of seeking the Lord in name for larger congregations and more money. There is a lot of seeking the Lord for financial and physical health. But the reality should break in upon us and we must begin to see that we are seeking the Lord for things rather than seeking the Lord for Himself. We are even seeking the Lord for spiritual things but even those seem to have been averted from what the Lord has intended for them to our selfish interests.

We see a picture of this in Philippians 2:19-21: “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” This is a brutal text in terms of ripping the veil from the covering of American versions of Christianity. Paul wanted to send a man to the Philippians in order to teach them the Word of God and shepherd their souls, but he had no one available at the moment. Why is that? He had no one who would truly be concerned for the welfare of the people because the ones he knew about were those who sought the interests of self rather than of Christ.

How many men who want to be pastors today have so died to self-interests that they truly seek the spiritual welfare of the people and the interests of Christ? The so-called ministry has become about salaries and total packages. We now look for ministers who have are more like CEO’s who can run a business and get people in the door rather than those who seek the true welfare of the souls of the people. Of course those “CEO’s” want larger salaries and bigger perks to do the work. This type of situation is really a ministry sent from hell with the blessings of the devil rather than sent by Christ regardless of the numbers of people coming or the amount of the offerings. It is still seeking after the interests of self rather than the interests of Jesus Christ though we will offer words and statements that make it sound like we are after the interests of Christ. That is deception.

But what kind of minister do people desire today? They want someone who will make them feel good about themselves and who will not make them endure a long sermon or one that searches their hearts. They desire a minister who is moral and so they end up applying the qualifications of a minister like a Pharisee to make sure the man has been morally qualified since he was fed his formula. However, if we get beyond the outward qualifications do they really want a man that is sold out for the interests of Christ? If a man is focused on the interests of self he can be controlled in many ways. But a man that is sold out to Christ and is dead to the praise and honor of men is not a man that can be controlled by anyone other than Christ. That is a dangerous minister to the congregation that wants ease and comfort in the world. So congregations do not really want a man that is sold out to Christ though they think they may. A man like that is one that will not be hired or at least not for long.

What we are left with is a terrible picture. Ministers seek the things of self rather than the interests of Christ and the true spiritual welfare of the people. Congregations, though they might not admit it, really want a man given to the interests of self because a man like that will not make them uncomfortable and will give them essentially what they want. We can smile knowingly and point to the people down the street, but it is true of us all. Reformed ministers want to go to Reformed congregations because they think that they can preach Reformed teaching without being persecuted. Reformed congregations want Reformed ministers because they are comfortable with that type of teaching and it all goes under the guise of truth. But where is God? Reformed people no more want to have their hearts exposed than anyone else. Reformed ministers can preach what is intellectually Reformed and do so from self-interests as well. It is easy to stand up and preach and teach an intellectual doctrine and never really get to the heart. Oh, we may say words about the heart and tell people it must be from the heart, but if we never get beyond that we have only given lip service to the heart rather than exposing the heart for what it is before God. All sin comes from the heart and until we get to the source of the sin we have not exposed sin for what it is. If we reach the heart the people will get uncomfortable and that means we will get uncomfortable and will have complaints. It is much easier to be orthodox and moral and go on with the way things are rather than to deal with the hearts of the people. We simply must not offend anyone but Christ. After all, He will forgive us. Right?

We don’t like to see what is going on and we may not even believe it, but the spirit of the Pharisee is alive and well. It is not that we have to be just like the Pharisees in order to have the spirit of the Pharisee, but we can be like them in some ways. The Pharisees were religious in all that they did out of the interests of self. They did all in the name of God but they did not really do what they did out of a true love for God. Perhaps the deepest issue with the Pharisee was his devotion to self and the effort to have self honored while doing so in the name of God.

One of the things brought out in the last newsletter was the lack of true prayer in the churches and as individuals. What is at the root of hearts that lack true prayer? It is the heart of a focus on the interests of self rather than the interests of Christ. We see many in our day praying for wealth and riches and we have little trouble identifying those people who are really praying for self. But of course they will say that they want God to be honored and for God to be seen as great when He gives them all of the stuff that they are asking for. We know that those people are deceived and we wonder how they can be so blinded to it. But are they all that different than most of America today? If we are doing the same thing in a different way, perhaps we are blinded to ourselves as well.

Why do we evangelize? Why do we pray for results from evangelism? Is it from self-interests or is it truly for the glory of God? The Pharisees traveled over land and sea to make one convert and we know they did not truly love God but were in the service of self. Could it be that churches have evangelism programs that are driven by the interests of self rather than the desires from the heart for the glory and honor of God? Could it be that we are more interested in numbers and success in order to make ourselves look good and in order that we can be part of a successful church than we are truly interested in the honor of God and the true spiritual good of other people? When we go out evangelizing, could it be that we have a program designed to make it easy to get decisions and to avoid conflict with people? Could it be that we will not deal with the sin of people’s hearts in order to avoid any sort of trouble and conflict? But if we do not really deal with the sins of the heart, we have not dealt with sin at all. We are only skating along on the outside and we are not dealing with the issues of salvation. If we only deal with the outside we are only dealing with moral reformation at best. Is that really being interested in the souls of people or is that being interested in numbers?

We say that we are going to have prayer meetings, but do we really pray for anything but the external? The Pharisee spent a lot of time in what he called prayer but it was in order to make a show. Are our prayer meetings, if we still have them at all, more than anything but a way for people to show up and fulfill a duty? Are they any more than people praying for physical issues or external issues with the church? Where is God in our love and in what we truly desire? Are we seeking the interests of God or of self? Are we willing to pray prayers that will cost us for them to be answered? Ah, now we get to an entirely different level. Even if we pray for God to change another person’s heart, are we willing to talk to that person about the issues of the heart? Are we willing to be mocked and spat on in order to speak to another person about the real issues of his or her heart? Perhaps down deep we know that it is much easier to utter words than it is to be willing to suffer in order for God to use us.

It is easy to shrug off dealing with the hearts of others by stating Arminian or Reformed theology. The Arminian will state that the person is simply obstinate and will not make a choice. The Reformed person will say that God needs to change the person’s heart. Either position can simply be an excuse not to be the instrument of God by speaking to the person in such a way that exposes his or her heart. The heart is so deceitful it will look for any excuse to make it easy on self. But down deep it is the same spirit of the Pharisee that keeps coming up and lying to us. It is that we are in the service of the interests of self rather than the interests of Christ.

One of the hardest judgments of God is to give a people over to themselves. They will then follow their own selfish interests and do that in the name of religion. This is true of Arminians and Reformed, of liberals and conservatives, of Christian and non-Christian, of minister and non-minister, and of politician and non-politicians. Men are lovers of self and follow the interests of self rather than Christ. Some people in the interests of self become atheists and others become conservative “Christians.” But all are born dead in sins and trespasses and at enmity with God rather than lovers of God. All are born with deceitful hearts and trust in self rather than in the wisdom of God. But when true Christianity has been so engulfed with the tsunami of selfishness and self-interests rather than men seeking the interests of Christ as in our day, it shows that we are under a terrible judgment of God. We must repent of our self-interests in order to seek His. Only then have we repented and been saved from sin.

The State of the Church, Part 23

June 12, 2008

Another sign of judgment upon the professing Church today is an extreme lack of prayer. During times of revival prayer meetings were held several times a day and it was a seeking prayer. In our day even the Wednesday night prayer meeting has fallen away and few have those any longer. In the few places where that is held the prayer is primarily for the physical problems of people that few in attendance have even heard of. We would rather pray for a church member’s 122nd cousin who has a hangnail rather than pray for true revival in repentant hearts. We would rather pray for a bodily problem than the spiritual strengthening of the person. We would rather feel good about doing our duty in prayer rather than seeking the Lord for true prayer. We have previously noted from Isaiah 64:7 that when no one is calling on His name and no one is arousing himself to take hold of Him that the Lord has turned His face from them and that is a very hard judgment. When we see the death of prayer meetings, we know that no one or at least very, very few are seeking the face of the Lord in truth from a heart that aches for the Lord.

Without going into the specifics of prayer at the moment, one of the reasons that prayer has fallen into disuse and is really more of a formality in churches today is that our hearts are laden with sin. God does not hear the prayer of the wicked and is far from them. While the liberal ministers believe that they know better now than in former times and sin is not that bad, we have conservatives trying to explain sin away as well. Even if many conservatives don’t explain sin away, their humanistic views of sin have blinded them to the truth of what sin really is. As long as we think of sin as just harming human beings rather than as acts of cosmic rebellion and treason against God we will not see sin as all that bad. Other conservatives are so taken with exegetical preaching that they deal with the words of the text and never get to the sins of the heart. All of those methods or ways of preaching amount to the same as they practically ignore the real issue of sin. This is a sign that the judgment of God is upon us. This should also awaken us to one reason that we don’t truly pray. When we regard sin in the heart, the Lord will not hear us.

Ezekiel 3:26 tells us that it is a judgment of God on the people when the prophet or minister does not rebuke the people. When people are not rebuked for their sin, they don’t see it and so remain under the wrath or judgment of God. “Moreover, I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be mute and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house.” When people are not rebuked for their sin, they don’t see it and so remain under the wrath or judgment of God. God was going to judge these rebellious people and so He restrained the tongue of the prophet so that he would not rebuke them for their sin. This should awaken us to the nonsense going on in our day where we are told to stay away from and not teach about sin so that people will be comfortable in our churches. That is no less than saying that we want people to be comfortable in their sin and under the judgment of God. When a minister or leader has degenerated to the point where others are encouraged not to speak against sin we know that the judgment of God is upon us.

It is a sign of bondage to sin and the judgment of God when sin is not exposed. “Your prophets have seen for you False and foolish visions; And they have not exposed your iniquity So as to restore you from captivity, But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles” (Lamentations 2:14). This is surely a word that makes a direct hit on our day. Ministers are saying many false and foolish things and they are not exposing the sin of the people. When the sin of the people is not exposed, the people are not restored. In the Old Testament the false prophets were speaking from the vacuity of their own brains and were not declaring the words of God. They were giving their false and misleading visions. When they did that and did not expose the sin of the people, though indeed the people loved it and the prophets and priests gained financially, the people remained in captivity in another land. This applies to preachers and ministers today who will not expose the sin of those who are in bondage to sin and so the people remain in darkness and are captives to their lusts of deceit and to the bondage of the domain of darkness. A minister that will not expose sin is one that joins hands with the devil to do his work. The devil wants people to remain in the ignorance and darkness of their sin so that he will keep his power over them. A minister that will not expose sin is simply an agent of the devil in doing his work. It is also not enough to preach against certain actions, we must preach to the fountain of sin, which is the heart, and reach the sins that people love.

Surely it is a sign of judgment when the devil can sit easy while the ministers within the professing Church do his work. The ministers will not expose sin because of their love for honor and for fear of running people off. So they have given in to the lies of the devil who is using religion to blind sinners to his vile work in the domain of darkness. Sinners are in such darkness that they do not see the chains that bind them and they need someone to stand up and shine the light of the glory of God in their eyes so they can see who they really are and what it is that truly binds them. It is a terrible judgment when enough truth is taught to deceive people into thinking they are truly saved when in fact their sin is not exposed and so they remain fast in their bonds of sin while thinking they are free. Leviticus 26:39 then tells us the result of being left in sin and the blindness of sin: “So those of you who may be left will rot away because of their iniquity in the lands of your enemies; and also because of the iniquities of their forefathers they will rot away with them.”

What did Paul do in his letter to the Romans in order to get them to the point where their mouth was closed and they had no excuse before God? He preached to them about their sin. From Romans 1:18-3:20 he set out to shut the mouths of Jew and Gentile so that they could see who they were before God and of their great need for Christ and His righteousness. The great doctrines of the Gospel only came out after all that effort in showing people that they were helpless before God in sin. In our day we think we are smarter than Paul and that all we need to do is be nice to people and show them how nice Jesus was and is and they will make a decision to be saved. We think that we are smarter than Paul and that we need to stay away from the teaching of sin in order not to offend these poor people who just need to make better choices. However, Paul tells us that he would not have come to know sin apart from the law. It is through the law that we die to the law and so come to Christ. The preaching of the law is meant to show us how vile we are and the depths of our sin against a holy God.

The law must be preached because the heart must be contrite for its sin and humbled in order to have Christ dwell in the soul. The law must be preached because the unbroken heart is full of pride and self and, though it may have an intellectual belief, it is full of unbelief (Hab. 2:4). We must preach the law in order to be broken from our unbelief, pride, and self in order for Christ to dwell in the soul. We must get that into our heads and our hearts. Unbelief is not just an intellectual problem; it is a problem of the entire soul. The soul must be broken from its unbelief (pride and self) before Christ will dwell in the soul through belief/faith. The law must be applied to the heart and the heart must be reached and broken in order for faith to be in the soul and therefore Christ. When ministers will not preach the Law and deal with the heart so that it is thoroughly broken, they are not doing what it takes for there to be true faith in the soul. In our day we tell people to believe but we don’t tell them that their unbelief is of the heart and that it must be driven out by contrition and brokenness in order for there to be true faith. If we continue to refuse to preach the Law and apply it to the heart faithfully and forcefully, there will be no true repentance for sin and we will not seek the Lord in truth. The judgment will continue.

Surely, then, we can see why prayer is nothing more than a formality in so many churches and why the prayer meeting is considered to be of no importance. A sinful heart does not truly want to see the truth of God and it does not really want to deal with God as He is. If we do not see our sin, there is no real need to seek the Lord as if something is really wrong with us. If we do not see our sin, then we don’t really understand what sin of the heart is and so we think a little behavior modification will serve us quite well. If the Law is not preached, we don’t see the need for a new heart and so we don’t see the need to seek the Lord for a new heart and will settle for a trip up an aisle or to repeat a prayer. If the Law is not preached to show the sin of the heart and the true nature of the heart, then we think that external and formal prayer will do all we need. We will miss what true prayer is and we will miss what is needed for true prayer. We will just go on with a vast amount of self-satisfaction in our formal prayers while we remain deluded in our sin. It is a terrible judgment upon us when even our prayers are forms of judgment and delude us to the true state of the heart.

We must remember that the Pharisees prayed a lot. Their very prayers were also form of delusion on them. But at least they thought that even their external prayers were important. It would appear that in modern America we are worse than the Pharisees because we don’t even practice much external prayer. Can we say that we believe if we do not pray? What is it that we believe if we don’t pray? Jesus told us that eternal life consisted in knowing God (John 17:3). Can we claim to have eternal life if we don’t commune with God in prayer? If we don’t commune with God in prayer, how can we claim to know Him? Thus we see that the professing Church has been plunged into an awful darkness. Unless the Law begins to be proclaimed and applied to the hearts of the people, we who are without prayer have no prayer at all. The Lord has turned His face from us and has left us in our sin and our external and formal prayers. It is truly a judgment that we cannot bear up under much longer. When even what we think is prayer is really a covering up of the sin of our hearts, we are in dire need of God turning His face to us.

The State of the Church, Part 22

June 4, 2008

In our day we see a lot of activity under the guise of the Lord’s name. But we must never forget that the Lord is holy, holy, holy and He hates sin even of the heart. We have arrived at the point in the professing Church in America where the externals are thought to be sufficient without attention to the heart. We have arrived at the point, perhaps long ago, where our righteous acts are as filthy rags or garments (Isaiah 64:6). In conservative circles these things are thought about, but still mostly in an external way. We might agree that the so-called righteous acts of the liberals are as filthy rags, but they are liberal. We might even see this as true of other denominations, but we have a hard time seeing ourselves in the mirror of Scripture because our mirror is clouded with the fog of self-love and self-righteousness. In other words, our pride has blinded us to the point we cannot see our own pride. The uncleanness of our pride has blinded us to what is really unclean and so we think we are clean while we are filthy.

The literal meaning of this verse is something that is not nice in our sterile society. We think of our sins as making us unclean, but Isaiah 64:6 in its Old Testament context is brutally hard on our pride if the Lord is pleased to open our eyes. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Notice the assertions and how they are connected in this verse. 1. All of us have become like one who is unclean. 2. All of our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. 3. All of us wither like a leaf and our iniquities like the wind blowing a leaf takes us away.

The Israelites to a person had become unclean. In modern thought the idea of being unclean is something that a little soap and water along with the application of some deodorant will fix quite nicely. The thought in this text is something far different. It is the thought of being ceremonially unclean. When a person was unclean in this way, that person was apart from God and the Assembly of God. This thought is also seen in the New Testament in John 18:28: “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” The Jews were in the act of lying to get Jesus legally murdered and yet they did not want to enter into the Praetorium because there were Gentiles there and it would make them defiled or unclean. If they were defiled or unclean, they would not have been able to eat the Passover. They were not concerned about the sin of their hearts, but they were concerned about being ceremonially clean. If they were unclean, they could not take part in their religious rituals.

Let us look deeper into this issue from parts of Leviticus 15:19-27:

‘When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. 20 ‘Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. 21 ‘Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. 22 ‘Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. 23 ‘Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening… 26 ‘Any bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time. 27 ‘Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.

In Isaiah 64:6 the literal rendering of “filthy garment” is really “menstrual cloth.” What Isaiah is telling us, therefore, is that the righteous acts of the people were the same as tying that which was unclean on us. Instead of being righteous acts, those did nothing but make us unclean and separate us from God. If we are wrapped in a menstrual cloth, then all that we do is unclean and separates God from us even more. Our hearts are unclean in the professing Church and all the outward things that appear as good to us appear to God as if they were wrapped in a menstrual cloth. Anything touched by a woman in her menstrual period made it unclean and it had to be purified. Instead of making things holy or instead of pleasing God with good deeds, when under judgment all we touch and do is filthy and vile to God because we are as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth was in Old Testament times.

We have to enter into the mind of the Old Testament to understand what is going on here. To do that I will quote several verses in an effort to bring out the meaning of Isaiah 64:6 and apply it to our hearts:

‘Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. 3 ‘Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty (Leviticus 5:2-3)

When anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean detestable thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people (Leviticus 7:21).

20 ‘But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean (Numbers 19:20).

The unclean person is not just a little dirty, but is one that is guilty of uncleanness. Even touching an unclean thing or person made the person unclean. We see why the Jews did not want to enter the Praetorioum as that would have made them guilty and banned from any religious ceremony. They would have to have been cut off from the people as a whole which was to set them outside the camp or apart from all the others so that the others would not become unclean. At times there was even a final cutting off from the people and the person was not to come back. If an unclean person came to the tabernacle, he was to be made clean by purification. If s/he continued to be unclean and went through the ceremony, it was an extreme violation and that person defiled the very sanctuary of God.

What Isaiah was communicating to the people in his day must be communicated today. When people are under the judgment of God, they are unclean. This is like a person in the Old Testament with a menstrual cloth wrapped around him and yet does not see it as unclean. All that he does is in violation of the laws of God and all that he does, whether outwardly good or not, is unclean. All that person did in his uncleanness, rather than make him right with God, only defiled the sanctuary of God and made it even worse for himself. Surely it can be seen how a person like that would be carried away with sin as a wind blows a leaf. All that a person like that did was sin and even worse than a person who did not try to be religious. This person violated God in an especially unholy manner.

Until a church or the professing Church at large wakes up and sees that it is wrapped in a large menstrual cloth, all that it does will do nothing but bring more judgment upon itself. It is unclean and in its uncleanness it is adding more and more works in an effort to rid itself of its uncleanness and yet all it does is unclean. Each soul in one sense and the church in another sense is a temple of the living God. There is nothing we can do as those who are unclean that does not defile the temple of the living God. As those who are unclean all of our religious deeds and all of our righteous acts are like a menstrual cloth that separated people from God. Are we so blind that we do not notice that God has turned His face from us? Of course He has because we are full of the world and unclean things. Of course He has turned His face because we have the love of the world in us rather than His love in us. Of course we are under His judgment when we love the methods of the world rather than following His Word.

We can be wrapped in the externals of Reformed theology but without a changed heart we have wrapped ourselves in menstrual cloths and are unclean. We can have conferences and teach Reformed theology forever, but until our hearts are purified and contrite our very conferences and services will be as those with menstrual cloths on their hearts. We may think that by bringing the creeds of historical theology into the churches and seminaries that revival is coming, but without clean hearts all that we do is like wearing Old Testament menstrual cloths. We may try for unity in all sorts of ways, but unless it is with people who are pure in heart we are uniting with that which is unclean. We can try to drum up all sorts of interest in historical revivals and prayer meetings, but until we seek the Lord for broken and contrite hearts all that we do is simply unclean. Until our hearts are broken and contrite in truth, the Lord will not turn His face toward us and return. We are involved with so many things instead of the main thing of hearts that are broken from our pride and self-sufficiency. It is easy to continue on with business as usual seeking reputations in denominational circles, but it is far harder to seek the Lord for a broken heart. To seek the Lord for a broken heart means we have to see the pride and wickedness of our own hearts and to repent before the Lord. A broken heart is beyond our methods and so it and the presence of the Lord are very rare in our day.

What we must learn from this is that our hearts must be clean for anything we do to be clean. If our hearts are defiled then all that we do is defiled. The professing Church is under the judgment of God; He has turned His face and has turned it over to a hardened heart. Because it is defiled in the core of its being, all that it does is unclean and vile to God. It has turned to man-centered methods, methodologies, and outward Christian practices while indeed tacking the name of God on to its methods and methodologies. But its heart has not been cleansed and so all of its methods and methodologies are from unclean hands and hearts. The biblical method is to seek the Lord for grace in order for our hearts to be turned back to Him and for His face to be turned back to us. While we seek large numbers and buildings large enough to hold them, our hearts are still far from Him which means that even our outward successes are as impressive to God as menstrual rags. The Word of God brings light to our hearts. It may not always be pleasant to see what is there, but it is still true. We can either hide our eyes from the light or we can bow to God asking for grace to turn from our pride and self-centeredness. We must have grace or we perish.

The State of the Church, Part 21

May 30, 2008

As we look back into the Old Testament to see how God judged His people and of the means in doing so, it is hard to separate and make distinctions with utter certainty. We know that the people were judged by having prophets who were unfaithful to the Word of God and in our day we know that ministers are judged by being unfaithful to the Word and by having congregations that do not listen. But it is hard to know the cause and effect relationship between the two. We do know with certainty that there is a correlation between the minister and the congregation as to the judgment. One can be and is a judgment on the other. Both are signs of judgment.

The Congregation:

Ezekiel 33:30 – “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the LORD.’ 31 “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. 32 “Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. 33 “So when it comes to pass– as surely it will– then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.”

In the text above we see a people under the judgment of God. These were a people that said they wanted to go and hear the Word of God, but they were a people that did not do what they heard. Instead of hearing the Word of God with an understanding heart that desired to love and obey the Lord, their hearts went after their lusts and they wanted to fulfill their own lustful desires. The prophet was nothing more to them than one who had a beautiful voice because they heard the words and did not do them. Even when the minister is preaching the truth, God may be withholding understanding from the people. Even when the minister is preaching the truth, God may be judging the congregation. We know that the prophets were not always sent to preach and be the means of revival, but instead their message of truth was sent to harden the hearts of the people. When a congregation will not listen to the Word of God, it is being judged. When a congregation is receiving the truth of God and it does not understand, that can also be a judgment of God. In America there are many who are willing to go and “listen,” but not many who obey.

The Ministry:

Ezekiel 34:1 – Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. 4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 “They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 “My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”‘” 7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”

The ministry, however, seems to be a means of judgment upon the people and the minister receives a terrible judgment for being an agent of error to the people. In fact, we can see from verse 10 that there are times when God delivers His people from the shepherds. The sheep or the congregation is seen as largely under the care of the minister. In Israel the ministers were to feed the sheep instead of themselves. They were seen by God as slaughtering the sheep without feeding the flock. They were seen by God as not strengthening the flock or healing the diseased. They were seen by God as not binding the broken, not gathering the scattered and not seeking the lost. The people were scattered because they had no true shepherd and they became food for every beast. What does that picture? It sounds like modern America. We have people filling the pews in some building and yet they are without a shepherd. They come and go as they please and yet no one is really looking after their souls. Sure there are programs enacted and ministries carried forth, but there are few shepherds in the land.

The ministry in America is really more of a profession rather than men that God has raised up to feed and nurture the sheep. The minister is now a CEO who is in charge of the vision and of the public relations of the church. When that business model is brought in, who is to feed the sheep? God’s people were scattered then and they were easy pickings and became prey. That is exactly what has happened to the flock today. As the ministry has become busy with everything else, the sheep are starving without true food and have become prey to all sorts of heretical teachings. Instead of shepherding the flock of God that He has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28-31), the ministry has become all about numbers, honors, respect and climbing denominational ladders. Instead of feeding the sheep with the Word of God and understanding, the shepherds feed the sheep with the pollution and wisdom of the world. Instead of preaching the Word of God and driving it to the heart, we have become experts at stories and jokes to make the people laugh and feel comfortable as they continue on their path into the flames of hell.

It is not enough to blame the congregation and it is not enough to blame the ministers. There is enough blame for all. We can blame the liberals all we want, but we must understand that this is true of conservatives and the Reformed as well. Just because a man is labeled a conservative does not mean that he is preaching the truth about God and the sin of man. Just because a man is labeled as Reformed does not mean that man is preaching the truth about God and the sin of man. We must ask some real questions and pray for God to grant us all repentance. Could it be that the Gospel has all but disappeared in America today? Could it be that what we are hearing today is really nothing but the intellectual husks left over from the days when God was moving in true revival? Could it be true that a conservative resurgence is nothing more than a resurgence of conservatism rather than a move of God? Could it be true that a return to Reformed theology is simply the externals of orthodoxy rather than a return of God to His people?

The description of the congregation from Ezekiel 33 fits the professing American Church almost exactly. We still have many attending locations where the name of “church” is on the door, yet how very few really hear the Word of God with understanding and do it. The passage in Ezekiel 34:1-10 describes the ministry of the professing American Church. It is a self-absorbed group that is more concerned with degrees, stature, and packages than with the sheep bought by the blood of God. It is not a group that appears interested enough in the Word of God to labor in the Word and prayer. It is not a group that appears interested in the return of God enough to spend time confessing its sins to God and crying out for Him to break its own hearts and work true contrition and repentance in its own hearts. It is not a group that appears interested in true prayer meetings. Instead it would rather gather at conferences where “experts” come to give academic lectures rather than seek the living God. Then all can leave after a good time of hearing ear-tickling lectures and enjoyable “fellowship” thinking all is well. But where is God in all of this?

The professing Church in America has bought into the business approach to ministry and the psychological approach to counseling. In many ways the “church” is a business to get people in and the Bible is no more than a prop to feed and counsel people with the psychology of the day. As ministers grow in popularity their bank accounts grow larger as well. They have become a success in the eyes of the world and of the religious world as well. But in the eyes of God those men have become nothing but vile and wretched shepherds who have fed themselves and not the sheep. Is God going to move in such a way as to remove His sheep from the shepherds and so deliver the sheep? Is God going to move and rescue His sheep from all the heresies that America is flooded with now because the truth has been taken from the land?

While some might call me an alarmist and perhaps worse, we should remember that Arthur Pink believed that the Gospel had virtually disappeared from the land in the 1940’s. Certainly things are worse now. Could it be that we are in such darkness now that we are like the Israelites who were under the judgment of God and did not recognize it? Could it be that the Gospel itself is truly hidden from our eyes and we are so man-centered and man-focused that we simply don’t see our own blindness and idolatry? Have we truly become so blind that we think God is like ourselves? Could it be that we are so deep in our pride that we don’t see the depths of our pride? Could it be that we think we are being so gracious and all we are doing is being friends with the enemies of God? Could it be that we are being nice because we fear man more than God? Something is terribly wrong and we must begin to seek the Lord for broken hearts in order to seek the Lord in truth. We must do this sooner rather than later.

The ministry must function as the watchmen did in ancient Israel. Ezekiel was appointed a watchman (33:7) and told to hear a message from the Lord’s mouth and give the people warning. If Ezekiel did not warn the wicked, the blood of the wicked would be required from Ezekiel. The watchman was to watch for the enemy coming and to warn the people. Those who take the mantle of a watchman should know that the enemy is already among us and they need to be ringing the bell and lifting up their voices. But instead the watchmen are too busy worrying about what they look like, their finances, and being sure not to offend anyone or wake them up. The spiritual slaughter is immense and the darkness is thick. Yet the watchmen are still busy feeding themselves. While the enemy is busy in the darkness and slaying souls through deceit, the watchmen are not taking up the sword of the Lord and delivering His message. Surely the watchmen have a lot of blood on them in our day. When will they awaken from their self-induced sleep and begin to proclaim the message of the Lord? When will they quit breathing the spiritually toxic air of the world and begin crying out to the Lord? Only the Lord can reverse such a sorry state of things. Only the Lord can open the eyes of those who are running around crying peace, peace when there is no peace. But they have yet to see that and continue on in their own strength upholding the name of conservatism and orthodoxy. We must be broken.

The State of the Church, Part 20

May 21, 2008

Ezekiel 13:22 is an alarming verse. It tells us why those who teach in the Church will have a stricter judgment. “Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood when I did not cause him grief, but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his wicked way and preserve his life.” Here is a concept that should be driven into the hearts of every minister, teacher, parent and probably all others as well. If we teach what is false, whether it is in the local church, the Church in general, or at home; it might dishearten the righteous and encourage the wicked not to turn from his wicked way. Teaching what is false is not a light matter, it is deadly serious. A driver of a car may believe something false and it might lead to a wreck. An engineer may believe something false and a building or bridge may collapse. But if a teacher of Scripture is wrong on the way of life, there are eternal consequences.

We live in a light and glib day where sin is scoffed at and dealt with as something wrong with a person’s self-esteem or a chemical imbalance rather than as sin. This is not to say that people don’t have self-esteem problems, but that is because all people love and esteem themselves too much and love and esteem Christ too little. There are physical problems with brains that cause behavioral issues. However, we must also know that sin in the heart is the real cause of sin and it tries to explain itself away. We explain sin away in our day by looking for causes in all places but the sinful heart in an effort to excuse the sinner. We say that a person has had a tough life or is in tough circumstances, but we hide our eyes from their heart as the real problem for sin. The sinful heart uses circumstances as an excuse to do what it wants and then to justify its own behavior. Ministers, counselors, and friends must be aware that what they are doing is possibly encouraging people not to turn away from wicked ways.

Rather than to encourage people in their sin and their idolatry, we must learn what the Word of God tells us to do: “‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6). This sounds hateful and certainly is not considered gracious and winsome in our day, but the ministers in modern America are unfaithful to God and to their congregations when they do not proclaim repentance to people. We see what will happen in v. 7 of Ezekiel 14 when repentance is not done: “For anyone of the house of Israel or of the immigrants who stay in Israel who separates himself from Me, sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet to inquire of Me for himself, I the LORD will be brought to answer him in My own person.”

This text shows us the gravity of the situation we have in America and the world. Ministers will not deal with the sins of their own hearts or with the sins of the hearts of the people. God has turned His face from the professing Church and has left us to our own devices. We have come up with various methods for church growth, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, and all other things that one can imagine. We are simply following our own wisdom and think that God is blessing that when the numbers increase rather than realizing that judgment has arrived. As long as the professing Church does not turn away from its idols of the heart, then each time a person or group goes to pray those people are bringing idols with them to prayer. Even worse, we pray to God for our idols. We have idols in religious circles and mistake them for the desires of God and so we pray for them. When we pray for the idols of our hearts it is evidence that we are praying to an idol of our own imaginations rather than the true God.

An unrepentant ministry is a horrible judgment upon a professing Church and an unrepentant professing Church is a terrible judgment upon a nation. If it is true that God operates on the church through the true prayer of His people, then what a judgment for Him to turn His face and give them over to the power of their sin and idolatries! It is a terrible judgment for people to think they are praying to God and yet bring the idols of their hearts and then pray for the idols themselves to an idol of their imagination. God hates idolatry and hypocrisy. Both of these are done in the hearts of people when they pray with idols in their hearts. How awful for a ministry to be given over to prayer for idols and then not speak in a way that reveals idols in the hearts of the people. It is the spiritual equivalent of doctors not diagnosing illness or disease. We live in famine conditions regarding our spiritual state.

In modern America the professing Church has lost its authority to preach the Word of God and is now given over to the consumer model. The minister is a hired hand or CEO who is to make the church grow and keep the people happy. He is to give positive and uplifting sermons that are as short and comfortable. He is to be gracious and charming from the pulpit and in person and have a winsome personality. It is okay for some conservatives to preach about sin as long as it is about other people or perhaps some behavior modification that can be tweaked with the few helpful steps. While this sounds good to many and is certainly good for numbers in a time of spiritual famine, it is nothing but idolatry. Ministers are to preach the Word of God and to expose sin. Ministers are to search hearts with the Word rather than to hide the sin of the heart with gracious sounding words.

As we have seen in Ezekiel 13:22, when this is not done the wicked are encouraged to keep on living like they do rather than turn from their wicked ways. In our day the biblical teachings on sin and repentance have become lost. Sin is now just an outward act and repentance is an external stopping of the outward behavior. But how is this idolatrous? Let us do a short study on idolatry from primarily the New Testament. First, however, a verse from the Old Testament that shows idolatry as more than just bowing to an external idol: “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). In this text we see that insubordination (disobeying a command of God) is as idolatry. The text in its own context tells us what that means. When a person rejects the word of God and chooses his own way, even if it appears pious, that person has chosen something over the Word of God and that is idolatry. It is obeying self rather than the Word of God. Saul rejected a clear command of God and followed his own heart. When ministers reject the Word of God for their own wisdom or some guru on a subject, they are idolaters. When a minister who has an idol of his own wisdom or the words of some expert or guru in his own heart when he goes to “pray,” that minister is inquiring of the Lord while having idols in his heart. We are told to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21), yet we drink them down like water. The Word of God is being rejected for all sorts of models of the church and of church growth. It is nothing less than idolatry.

Ministers and congregations are guilty of idolatry because of their immorality, greed and evil desires. “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (Col 3:5). We can have greed in our hearts and think of it as success. We can desire success as preached today and yet it is nothing but greed as the text says. We can have all sorts of impurities and passions which are idolatry also. These things can be part of our religion and part of the so-called ministry. We can desire religious things from greed and evil desires. When what we call “ministry” flows from idolatry, we know that we are under the judgment of God. Ephesians 5:5 says the same thing. “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” An immoral person’s immorality is his idol. The object of the covetous person’s lusting and coveting is an idol. Even more, this text tells us that we can know with certainty that the idolater (immoral & the covetous) does not have an inheritance in the kingdom. If ministers are idolatrous, are they in the kingdom? Does God use non-spiritual people to build His spiritual kingdom? Each person must examine his heart to see if he is an idolater from Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5. They teach us that idolatry is really coveting. We covet a person sexually which is lust and covet property which is stealing. Coveting, then, refers to the passions of the soul and of the desires. We can covet people or possessions. We can also covet position, power, and honor. These things are not just for worldly people; these are for ministers and denominational leaders too. Idolatry is rampant among us because we see so much unfaithfulness to the Word of God and so much immorality and impurity. We see so much greed in the name of ministerial packages and we see the desire for honors. We see men not willing to preach the Word of God for fear of offending other men with no fear of offending a holy and living God.

Ministers are idolaters when they will not preach and apply the Word of God to the heart sins of the people. Saul the Pharisee, though he knew the words of the Bible well, did not understand the Word of God and so did not understand his sin. “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET” (Romans 7:7). How many people do we have in the world with vast amounts of biblical data stored in their heads while they are in total darkness? How many keep the externals and have no idea of the sin of their hearts? How many ministers are there with degrees and advanced degrees with “successful” churches (large numbers) because they will not preach to the hearts of men regarding their sin? How many people believe they are in the kingdom and yet are totally lost in darkness because men will not preach the Word of God?

Because of the idols in our hearts expressed in covetousness toward numbers of people and larger packages we water down the Word of God which is rebellion against God and a rejection of His Word. We can be orthodox and conservative regarding the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and yet our motive in it all is to gain a larger following and perhaps larger offerings. This is nothing but idolatry and an encouraging of the wicked not to turn from his wicked ways. If any church or denomination is going to truly turn from its wicked ways and not just liberalism, it must have men who fear no one but God and will preach His Word in truth and love rather than the effeminate American substitutes. Can we escape the conclusion that we are under the judgment of God and are in a terrible spiritual famine? Are we to the point where we can cry out with the disciples, “surely not I, Lord?” (Mat 26:21-22). Do we even think that we might have idols in our own hearts? Do we really care to find out as long as the numbers are steady or perhaps up? If the numbers go down, what is our real concern? Some of us might even have pride in small numbers and so think that this does not apply to us. If that describes anyone, then that person has pride in other areas and covets honor in a different way. Our hearts are so deceptive and we are so full of love for ourselves that our idol factories (covetous hearts) continue to pour out idols. If we will not deal with them through preaching and repentance, God will continue to deal with them in judgment. “Surely not, I, Lord?”

The State of the Church, Part 19

May 14, 2008

Ezekiel 14 starts off with the elders of Israel coming to Ezekiel. We can imagine quite easily what the easy thing was for him to have done. He could have given them a message that was soothing to them and have tickled their ears. However, instead of listening to what was surely something that came up in his heart, he listened to the word of the Lord. There is a massively important lesson in this for all ministers and leaders in the professing Church. When important people or people with power come to us, we are to speak the word of the Lord rather than what people want to hear. We can follow the trends and encouragements of the world and of the religious world to be gracious and winsome, yet the word of the Lord is quite the opposite of those things most of the time. We can preach and teach most anything today and there will be a group that will like what is said until the word of God begins to strike at the idols of their love. This was true of the Pharisees in the days of Jesus and it is true in our own day now. People will hear almost anything until you begin to get at the idols of their hearts.

The word of the Lord spoke to Ezekiel and told him what was going on in the hearts of the elders of Israel. These leaders were perhaps even blind to their sin, as indeed many are today, but that is exactly why they needed a prophet to declare it to them. Until the ministers in our day have the guts (spiritual fortitude, true love to God and men, honesty) to stand up and begin to search the hearts of the people and declare the word of God in its fullness, the wrath of God will continue in our day. Until the ministers of our day become more concerned with the glory of God and the true spiritual welfare of people rather than their own positions of influence and finances, the wrath of God will continue in our day. Until ministers are more concerned with the truth of the word of God as it shines with the glory of God rather than the idolatrous comfort of sinners against God, the wrath of God will continue in our day. Until ministers are more concerned to penetrate the hearts of sinners instead of tickle their ears with gracious and winsome words, sin will reign in the hearts of sinners and the wrath of God will continue in our day.

We can see from Ezekiel 14:1-4 that the real problem with the elders of Israel was idolatry in their hearts. The elders were to be leaders of the people in spiritual and political things. The nation had priests as well, but they were corrupt and looked after their own welfare and did not teach the truth either. The people were left in darkness because no one proclaimed the word of God to them and they remained in their sins. Instead of nice preaching, even if it is orthodox and in perfect accordance with the 1689 Baptist Confession or the Westminster Confession, we must have preaching that pierces hearts and exposes idols. God does not and will not dwell with people who have idols in their hearts. Doctrinal preaching apart from searching and spiritual application to the soul does nothing but build people up in their pride and idolatry of self because knowledge makes arrogant (I Cor 8:1-2). If all we do is give people biblical knowledge without piercing application, we have not only disobeyed God in preaching to the people what is good we have actually contributed to that which God hates in them the most.

Let us think through this some more. If all we do is teach orthodoxy, what have we done? Is Christianity just something that is learned in the head? Is Christianity something that can be memorized? Is Christianity complete if we know our confessions and have the Bible memorized? No, all of those things apart from a changed heart lead to more pride and more idolatry. Could it be true that in conservative churches the ministers have idolatrous hearts in wanting to please the people and build large churches? With that goal they preach nice sermons that are orthodox on how to live better and all they are doing is building the pride in the hearts of the people along with more idolatry? Could it be that even when conservative ministers go to conferences to hear encouraging words, all that really goes on is that they are encouraged in their idolatries? Could it be that when we hear that what we need to do is be more gracious and winsome that the real thing behind that is that we are being encouraged to be nice and not preach the truth of God in a way that pierces to the hearts? Could it be that we have become so gracious in our presentations that people nod their heads to the orthodoxy while their souls nod to sleep in their idolatry?

The ministry in the modern day (all of us) must wake up to the fact that we have idols in our own hearts as well. The people in the pews and chairs have idols in their hearts too. Until we begin to get at the idols in our own hearts and the idols in the hearts of the congregation, we have nothing to say to the world without hypocrisy on our part. The ministry of the modern day must begin to have some prophetic part to it as well. We can no longer just be nice and teach what is historically true, we have to preach to the hearts of the people and expose their virulent idols and that their opposition to having those exposed is enmity toward God. Ministers need to go to conferences where their own sin is exposed and the rottenness of their own hearts is brought to the surface. Ministers are good at saying about the congregations of other ministers that “The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so!” (Jeremiah 5:31). But do our own people love to hear us prophesy falsely when we don’t search their hearts with the word of God? Do we love it so when we go to conferences and hear nothing but pleasing and orthodox things? Will we be honest and say that our own sermons leave the hearts of people cold toward the real God because they leave them in love with their idols and they think that their idols are blessings from God? Will we be honest with our own hearts and know that we are quite comfortable with our religious idols of esteem and the kind words of others?

Let us also remember that the flattering tongues of others work ruin in our own souls while our flattering tongues work ruin in the souls of others. It is so hard to the idols of our hearts to speak the truth to other ministers and to the souls of people. We want them to like us and esteem us. So in order to maintain the idol of self in our hearts we simply say good and gracious things and then go off in the glow of being liked and esteemed. Idolatry was a problem with the priests, prophets, and elders in Israel. What fools we are to think we are different than they were. The human heart is the same factory of idols now as it was then. The human heart is as opposed to God now as it was then. The human heart is as full of self and self-love now as it was then. We cannot pretend to be faithful to the living God and His word until we turn from this mass of idolatry that has swept and is sweeping through religious America and the world in the guise of church growth and graciousness to being willing to suffer and die for the truth of God. We have turned from God and the faithful proclamation of His word as the way to build churches in truth to man-centered methods that allow us to be gracious and live in ease. That is idolatry.

Holy Scripture describes with explicit language a main part of the ministry: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:28-31). How can we claim to value the blood of Christ when we will not shepherd the church of God which was bought with that blood? In fact, the text tells us that it is the blood of God that bought the church. The idolatry that reigns in the hearts of ministers and leaders that will not shepherd the church of God in such a way to defend it from savage wolves cannot be measured according to human categories. Indeed those savage wolves are in sheep’s clothing and are very gracious and winsome, but in fact they are teaching things about God and the Bible that will cause spiritual destruction to the sheep of God in the way that the teeth of wolves cause physical destruction as they tear the flesh of lambs.

The Church of the living God that has been bought by His blood is not something that can be shepherded by men with idols in their hearts. If they do not truly love His glory, they will not truly love the sheep of His glory. If they believe that God is focused on them and wants what is best for them by their definition and idols, they will not watch over the sheep for the sake of the glory of God in truth. We must always remember that the Church is spiritual and there can be terrible destruction in spiritual things while all has the appearance of calm and good on the outside. When ministers and leaders have idols in their hearts, they are blinded by those idols to spiritual realities and see nothing but what is conducive to their idols. While they gaze on their idols in spiritual sleep or death the sheep are torn to pieces. This is the judgment of God and we must understand it to some degree.

Since Charles Finney the professing Church has been plagued by innovation in an effort to find numerical results. The professing Church in America is operating under many innovations rather than the word of God. There are many new innovations that are coming out and many more soon to come. It is true that many ministers and leaders will swallow those things whole in the name of God that fit with the idols of their hearts, but we must remember that Scripture tells us that people will kill those who love Christ in the name of God also. We live in perilous times while ministers have idols in their hearts and the sheep are being torn to shreds by gracious acting wolves that are nice and winsome and yet have spiritual death and destruction in their teeth. It is time for ministers and leaders to cry out to God for illumination of their own idols and for Him to grant us repentance. If not, we will continue our slide into the pit while thinking that God is pleased with us. We have already become like the world in the church and there is no need for the world to become like us. We follow their ideas of niceness, graciousness, and of how to love in a way that leaves sinners at ease. In doing so it leaves our own idols comfortable, intact, erect, and loved.

The State of the Church, Part 18

May 8, 2008

In most articles I deal with a passage of Scripture and have it at the center. In this particular newsletter I am going to write in a general way. A more accurate way to say it would be that I have been reading Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea and I have also just spent two Sunday morning preaching from Isaiah 64:7. I have a burden on my soul and I am very concerned to see what is going on in the modern professing church and see it as a certain sign that the judgment of God is upon us. I cannot analyze everything and come up with precise causes, but I can simply tell you that according to the Word of God we are under His judgment and have been there for a long time. There is no way out of this judgment by our own works, morality or anything else we can do. We must seek the face of the Lord for broken hearts in order to truly seek His face for grace. The ministers in this land are not the cure; they are part of the problem. I am not just speaking of liberal “ministers,” but I am speaking of conservative ones as well. It is possible to be conservative and not be saved. It is possible to be conservative and be a Pharisee. It is possible to be a conservative and have a hard heart. It is possible to be a conservative and be under the judgment of God.

There is no place to hide but in the real Christ Himself and there is nothing we can do to remove this judgment. We are in the hands of a sovereign God. Indeed many claim to be Calvinists, but they minister and function as if God is not sovereign and can be manipulated. Our hearts are so hard and we are so blinded by programs and methods that we cannot see the judgment that is upon us. God has turned His face from us and has given us into the power of our own religious iniquity. Our best sermons, best works, and our best prayer meetings are as unclean to Him as a menstrual cloth was unclean and a ceremonial separation from God in the Old Testament. In biblical words, our works of righteousness are as filthy rags (Isa 64:6). What kind of life can dead sermons bring? A dead sermon can be very gracious and very active, but it does not have the life of the Spirit of God in it. A dead sermon can use the name “Christ” over and over and not preach Christ at all. A dead sermon can even speak much in words of the glory of God and yet not have the smallest amount of God at all in the sermon. A dead sermon can display marvelous exegetical prowess and have nothing of the life of God in it. One can analyze the text with great skill and miss the very glory of God in the text. We can preach our expositional sermons and speak of being good moral people and all the time speak nothing that has the life of God in the text and say nothing that the Spirit will use that will bring the life of God to the souls of the people.

We have all kinds of movements within the visible Church. There are evangelistic movements, movements for missions and programs along with movements for prayer and on and on. But where is the movement of God? We get people to say prayers and walk aisles by our charming words, but are they going to God? Where is He in all of that? We are able to get people motivated to buy and build buildings, but where is the movement of God? We have mistaken movements and religious activities for the blessings of God. We have turned mission trips into pious vacations. We have heated speaking (yelling) and call it true preaching. We have turned evangelism into church growth movements which have nothing to do with who Christ really is. Where should we look to see the problem? Instead of blaming others, we should look to Scripture and then our own hearts. It tells us the real problem and it tells us the real cure. If we do not understand the real problem, whatever we do will be like applying band aids to help the victims of the guillotine. We have got to understand that we cannot do one thing for the self-sufficient God in our own power. One of the most basic things we have forgotten today is that we cannot do anything for God that He cannot do for Himself and do it infinitely better.

We have started groups to stress Reformed theology. There can be conferences and much writing on Reformed theology and they can be carried out entirely apart from the life of God. Reformed theology can be nothing more than a historical movement or a theological slant without the life and love of God. It too can become nothing more than a replacement for the true God and a focus on husks instead of kernels. We have groups started up to stress various religious things. But where are the groups that have a heart for the glory of God? We have many conferences on programs and theology and this and that. Where are the conferences on prayer and seeking God? Perhaps there are some of these around, but these things would be talked about instead of actually done. Do ministers get together to pray these days? Getting together to offer up some words skyward is not prayer, but to actually seek the Lord is true prayer. What would it take to get ministers to come together to seek the Lord in prayer and truth? What would it take for the hearts of ministers to be broken in our day? What would it take for ministers to be broken from methods, programs, and themselves and to look to the glory of God in Christ alone?

In times past ministers came together to confess their sins and seek the Lord for His blessing. Today we come together wanting music that we like and someone to tickle our ears with our favorite theological issue. We want to go to a conference that is easy to get there and convenient in all ways while giving us free books and good deals on all sorts of other books and media materials. Could that be a way of shepherds feeding themselves rather than the people? But why don’t we go to seek God? While some of us blast ministers who tickle the ears of their people, we want that to happen to us at conferences. Going to conferences is such an easy thing and we can pretend to be spiritual while in reality we don’t have to deal with God while there. Instead of going to conferences on how to start churches and do this and that we need to come together to have the real Word of God driven like spears into our own hearts to show us our own idols and wickedness. Until ministers hear the Word of God as it is driven into their own souls and they are awakened to their own sins, how are they going to preach the truth to the people?

It may be true that conference organizers are afraid that no one will come and their conference will be a failure. So what! What we are doing now is at the very best a total failure in the sight of God and most likely just continuing on in our soothing of others and ourselves in our sins. A burdened soul will be sick of gracious, winsome and encouraging words and desire to hear someone declare the glory of God to his soul so that in His light his own blackness and then glory can be seen. We can pay any quack of a physician to tell us how healthy we are, but what we need is one who will tell us what is really wrong so that there is real help. Jesus came as a physician of souls and He only deals with those who are sick. We can listen to recordings of Robert Schuller and Joel Olsteen if we want to listen to heretics who will tell things that will make us feel good. What our souls need along with every other person in the world is to be awakened to the glory of God and to our sin. What our souls need is God Himself and not someone speaking soothing words that will continue the state of ice in our souls.

Pastors go to conferences and talk about how bad the sheep are. The sheep talk about how bad the pastors are. What we should be talking about is God Himself and His judgment upon us all. God judges churches by giving them inept pastors and He judges pastors by giving them a people with hard hearts and minds. Pastors and the staff are more concerned about their packages and salaries than the glory of God. We pursue higher degrees because they pay more. The pastorate is indeed a profession rather than a calling of God for others though we would not say that about ourselves. We have become a group of hirelings who are climbing ladders in the denominations for the good of our own honor and wallets rather than those who feed the sheep of the living God in the pursuit of His glory. We may not think of it in this way, but the Word of God needs to be applied to our hearts because we have modern methods and ways of committing idolatry that we are blinded to. How can we claim to be ministers of the living God while we come before Him and His people with idols in our hearts?

Pastoral searches resemble a beauty contest more than a group of people seeking the Lord for a man of God (not perfect) who desires to feed the sheep with the Word of God. The searches might have certain noble things about them, but people really want a CEO with a charismatic and charming personality as a hired gun to do the work for them. When the minister makes people uncomfortable, he is fired. Ministers understand that and so their greatest goal in life is to make people comfortable in their sin. We have forgotten that a minister is to be a man of God who knows God and proclaims the Word of God to the people in order to wake them up and to repent of their self-centered ways in order to pursue God in love and truth. The minister is to be first and foremost one who speaks for God to the people rather than doing what he can to make the people feel good about themselves. The minister is to be freed from other activities in order to seek the Lord in prayer and the Word and then teach the people of God to do the work of the ministry. But what we have instead are men who are paid to do the work and let the people sleep in their sins. This is judgment on both the people and the ministry.

The Word of God is quite plain in Isaiah 64:7: “There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.” What it tells us is that when no one is calling on His name (in truth and love) and who is arousing himself to take hold of God, then God has hidden His face from them and has delivered them into the power of their sins. We must remember that this was to the Israelites and they had continued on with their religious activities. The judgment of God in their case as well as ours is that it was the very religious actions that were as filthy rags (Isa 64:6). They were just continuing on in their religious actions oblivious to their idolatry and sin because the Lord had blinded them to it. Could that be happening in our day? Could that be happening in the SBC and other places? Do we see people broken for their sin as against God and seeking Him out of nothing but love for Him and His glory? Do we see people arousing themselves to take hold of the true God? I don’t think we see that at all, but instead we have religious action and that is also with the conservative and Reformed.

What we must understand is that the light of the countenance of the Lord is absent. Instead of increasing our programs and activities, we must repent of them as they are replacements for God. Instead of increasing the outward success of conferences, ministers need to be broken from self-centeredness and busyness in order to seek the Lord. If our churches are going to see true revival, then something like what happened in Scotland in 1596 must happen in our associations. A national Assembly of ministers met and a thorough catalogue was prepared of the sins of every class of persons. More space was given to the sins of ministers than to all the other classes of people put together. John Davidson preached on lying prophets and shepherds who feed themselves. Hundreds of ministers were broken and sobbed and cried before the Lord on the dirt floor. Until ministers repent of their idolatrous practices and sin, the people will remain in darkness and the judgment of God will remain upon us. Until the people repent, the Lord will judge them as false shepherds. Each of us must learn to cry out to the Lord for the grace of a broken heart and the grace to seek His face so that the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ will be seen and His light will shine in the churches to His glory.

The State of the Church, Part 17

May 1, 2008

Last time we primarily looked at Ezekiel 13:1-7 and how God punishes a people by giving them over to certain types of leaders. In that text it is obvious how men are given over to speaking their own minds and feelings rather than preaching the Word of God. Now it might be thought that these things are only true of certain groups or of those who hold to certain types of theology. It is entirely possible for a man to hold any theological position and still be a man who preaches his own mind and feelings. What must happen in our day or in any day that wishes to be instruments of God out of love for His glory is that men must be broken from any desire to be glorified or honored themselves and be given over to preach the Word of God to the pleasure and glory of God. Men must see that they are nothing but instruments that God will use if He pleases. Men must see that they must be given over to love God with all of their beings and not leave a bit for themselves and their own honor. Even the most orthodox and conservative pastor can preach and teach to his own glory out of love for himself and his own honor. The finest scholar can be one that, in all pretended humility, inwardly glories in his own publications. No one is immune to desires for the honor of self. Only the Spirit can break a person and empty that person of self and make that person a tuned instrument fit for God to play the music of His beauty and glory on and through.

Ezekiel 13:8 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord GOD. 9 “So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord GOD. 10 “It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; 11 so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. 12 “Behold, when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked, ‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?'” 13 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume it in wrath. 14 “So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the LORD. 15 “Thus I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, 16 along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ declares the Lord GOD.

In the days that this text was written the prophets who were speaking peace were declaring that Israel would not go into captivity despite what Ezekiel was saying. Those prophets were claiming to have heard a word from the Lord and were going around saying that things were okay. But God had spoken on the subject and those men were speaking their own minds and desires in contrast to what God had spoken. These men were going around cloaked in the robes of religion and piety telling people that they had peace with God when in fact God was bringing judgment down upon them. In fact, their judgment was going to be worse if they did not hear the words of the Lord. But the false prophets were evidently smooth talkers and had skill at rhetoric because the people believed them rather than Ezekiel who spoke the truth. It is that way even now. Falsehood is more popular than truth.

If it turned out so badly for the people in Israel who listened to the soothing proclamation of peace instead of the truth of God, how much worse is it for those who listen to smooth words or words that they agree with when the eternal wrath of God is upon them? How many preachers and evangelists do we have in our day that go around preaching how easy it is to have peace with God when people do not have peace with God? How many are there, Reformed or Arminian, who preach a message with no true repentance and no real change of heart? How many are there that preach a soothing message rather than the truth of who God is? How many teach that all people have to do is to pray a prayer or walk an aisle and then make some moral reform and then they will have peace with God? How many in our day talk much about external sin much less drive deeply into the hearts of people to expose their wicked hearts and natures so that they can see that they are at enmity with God and hate Him in reality? Is this not the same thing as preaching peace when there is no peace?

We live in a day when the preaching of the Word of God has been forgotten in different ways. The reasons for this are perhaps many, but we live in such a time where people will not tolerate preaching on sin and preaching to the heart and so preachers have softened the message in order to please people. When sin is spoken of, it is more in terms of external things that are much easier to deal with than sin of the heart. We have people with skill in the languages that skim along the outside of a text though they think they are going deep with the languages and leave the hearts of men and women untouched. Thomas Hooker put it this way: “What does it profit a man to scrape up a little Greek and Latin together, and to leave the sense of the Scripture undiscovered, and the conscience no whit touched, nor the heart stirred?” In other words, even with all the languages along with all of the homiletical and hermeneutical skills possible, a person may not arrive at the true sense of the Scripture and so leave the conscience untouched and the heart without a stir. This is to be unfaithful to the Word of God and it is also to go around crying peace when there is no peace. Until the heart is touched and a person is made aware of the depth of his or her sin, that person is not even going to hear what the Gospel is really about.

“This is the reason why our ministry thrives not, and the hearts of men are not wrought upon; because we labor not the right way, to show men their sins, and to convince their conscience, that they may not flinch out from the ordinances of God; nay, I take it to be the special cause, why after all the precious promises that God makes known, no man receives good by them; we offer salves to them that know not whether they have sores or no; and we offer medicine to those that know not whether they have any disease or no; we speak of grace and Christ, but people think they have no need of them; suffer me to speak my mind herein freely. That ministry which does not ordinarily humble the soul, and break the heart for sin, does not convert and draw home to Christ.” Thomas Hooker in (The Soul’s Preparation for Christ).

This is telling us that when ministers preach in such a way that souls are not humbled and hearts are not broken for sin, then those people will not be converted and drawn home to Christ. When ministers offer medicine to people who think they have nothing wrong, those ministers are being unfaithful to the Gospel and to Christ. The ministers are crying out that there is peace in Christ when the people have no idea of what is really meant. But then again, perhaps the minister does not know what is meant in that case either.

Thomas Shephard wrote The Sincere Convert and The Sound Believer in the 1600’s. Interestingly enough, he was also the founder of Harvard University. In the introduction (p. clxxxvii) of that volume it says this in regards to Thomas Shephard and what he believed. “A ministry, to be truly fruitful, must show to the people their transgressions; and that doctrine that does not humble the sinner and require unconditional submission, while it offers redeeming grace, though it were preached by an angel from heaven, is anathematized by the gospel.” We must grapple with statements like that because of the man who believed that and because of the vital nature of the Gospel involved. Shepherd is saying that a man who preaches and offers redeeming grace without preaching sin in such a way that it humbles the sinner and requires unconditional submission to God is preaching a false Gospel. In other words, he is standing with Thomas Hooker and telling us that many are calling out with peace and with something they call a gospel and yet they are not preaching the Gospel of Scripture.

In a letter to an anxious inquirer in 1649 Jonathan Mitchel (a pastor) said this: “I have no greater request for myself and for you, than for God make us see things as they really are, and pound our hearts to pieces, and make sin most bitter, and Christ most sweet, that we might be both humbled and comforted to purpose. An imperfect work of the law, and then an imperfect work of the gospel, is the bane and ruin of these days. Some fears and affections, and then some hopes of mercy, without finding full rest and satisfaction in Christ alone, men rest in, and perish.” When men rest in something they think is the Gospel and rest in something they have heard of Christ and yet they are not humbled and broken by the Law with the Gospel not applied to the soul with power and truth, those people are deceived. The ministers are then those crying out peace when there is no peace at all.

The judgment of God is upon the professing Church in America. It is seen by the fact that there are so many false prophets/ministers in the land. It is seen by the fact that so many ignore the Law and how it is to be applied to the soul so that a person may be broken from pride and self and so united to Christ in truth. It is seen when the Gospel is so abused as to give false confidence and assurance to so many. Surely it is obvious that the judgment of God has arrived when He has turned His face from the professing Church and has turned it over to a ministry that is largely unfaithful, which is the spiritual equivalent of having prophets preaching and teaching the people that they have peace with God even while His wrath burned against them. There are indeed many people who are wondering around not knowing what is going on with them and why they are so miserable. Their ministers are applying whitewash to them with false words and a false gospel. People are lost and are without shepherds while those with the title preach soothing words that tickle the ear. We have ministers pleading with people to believe in Christ and yet those poor people are not taught the depths of their sin and are led to believe that faith is simply an intellectual assent or a commitment. Ministers are telling people that they need to repent and yet the people are not told that repentance is of the sins of the heart as well. In the words of Solomon Stoddard, “This is a very dark cloud, both as it is an evidence that men do not have the experience of that work in their own souls, and as it is a sign that such men are utterly unskillful in guiding others who are under this work. If this opinion should prevail in the land, it would give a deadly wound to religion. It would expose men to think of themselves as converted when they are not.” That opinion has prevailed and true Christianity has received a deadly wound. We are under the judgment of God and despite our external riches and glowing numbers; we live in a very dark land where the Gospel is virtually extinguished. The Lord has turned His face away from us and has given us over to the power of our own sin.

The State of the Church, Part 16

April 22, 2008

Last time we looked at Jeremiah 3:11-15 and saw that when the Lord returns to a people He gives them shepherds after His own heart and they feed His people (sheep) on knowledge and understanding. On the other hand, when the Lord has withdrawn from a people He does not give them shepherds after His own heart but instead so-called “shepherds” who lead people in the ways of men and of external religion. The Jewish people in Scripture never drifted totally away from all the truth of religion, but their hearts drifted far from God. They did not worship other gods exclusively, but had both YAHWEH and other gods. When God turns from a people and does not give them shepherds that feed the people on knowledge and understanding, the people still have forms of knowledge and understanding. Many scholars devote themselves to what is called “biblical studies” which is really humanism and rationalism. Pastors are coming out of seminaries today and only know about the Bible from a humanistic view and so don’t know God. This is humanism and rationalism under the guise of Christianity. The professing Church is under the judgment of God as seen by what “ministers” teach and what they don’t teach.

Ezekiel 13:1 – Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, ‘Listen to the word of the LORD! 3 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing. 4 “O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins. 5 “You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the LORD. 6 “They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word. 7 “Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The LORD declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?”‘”

From the text above we can see that Ezekiel the prophet was sent to prophesy against the prophets of Israel. Notice several points that Ezekiel made against the prophets.

  1. These men prophesied from their own inspiration and told people to listen to the word of the LORD.
  2. They were men who followed their own spirit and saw nothing.
  3. They were men who were like foxes among the ruins eating as they wished and doing no good.
  4. They were men who did not protect Israel by declaring the Word of God to them.
  5. They were men who proclaimed falsehood and lying divination yet said that “the LORD declares.”
  6. They were men that the LORD had not sent and yet they hoped in the fulfillment of their word.
  7. These were men who spoke lies when they declared that “The LORD declares.”

What is eerie is that the same things are being done in the name of the Lord today. Many books about the Gospel are pouring from the presses, but it is not the same Gospel that thundered forth with the lightening of the glory of God and conviction of sin during the time of the Reformation, the Puritans, and the early preachers in America. It is not just that American Christians are too self-centered; it is that Americans are too self-centered to be Christians. Many Americans are a religious people with the name of Christ, but they do not have the life of Christ in their souls. Many attend a building that has “church” on it, but they are not truly the body of Christ which is the real church. Many Americans pursue church growth by methods, but they do not pursue the growth of the Church in love and holiness. Many have church building programs, but the true church is not building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16). Many Americans are pursuing morality, but they are not pursuing the true God from whom alone true holiness comes. In other words, the professing Church is pursuing things with the right names but not in biblical ways. What does that come from? It comes from the LORD who is judging the professing Church and giving it preachers and teachers who speak from their own minds and in reality are speaking lies in the name of the LORD.

Matthew 7:2-23 is a New Testament text that speaks directly to this issue: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.‘” Many will profess Christ as Lord and many will prophesy in His name and still others will cast out demons in His name and even perform miracles in His name. Previous to these verses and still in the context we are told this: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (v. 15). In other words, there will be many preachers on that day who will have the correct theology (Jesus is Lord) and will have preached in the name of Christ. There will be many preachers who will have cast out demons and performed miracles and have done those in the name of Christ. Correct theology and the practice of miraculous things are not in and of themselves guarantees that a man has the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. God is surely judging the professing Church in America today.

God judges the professing Church or those who take His name by sending them leaders who lie to them. Indeed, as He says in Jeremiah 5:31: “The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?” The people loved it when the prophets preached lies and people love it now. As Paul wrote to one church about sending them a pastor: “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:21). Preachers are so concerned about their packages that they are not concerned about the glory of God. They are so concerned about numbers and offending people that they do not preach the truth of God and of the depravity of man. In other words, when men are given over to preach and lead from anything other than desires for the glory of God they will be like foxes among the ruins. The church will be in spiritual ruins and they will run around gathering whatever is left for themselves.

We often hear of men telling how they feel in the pulpit. Without saying that all of that is wrong, it is a sign that men are declaring what they think and feel rather than the Word of God. This can be men following after their own spirit and following their own reasons rather than God Himself and His Word. When the Word of God is not declared the truth of God is absent and the professing Church is without defensive walls. This is seen in the spiritual warfare section of Ephesians 6. The church must be strong in His strength with the armor of God so that it can stand against the schemes of the devil. We must see that our struggle is not against the things we see in this world, but is against spiritual forces, powers, and wickedness of darkness in the heavenly places. We are to stand firm having girded our loins with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness. We are to shod our feed with the Gospel of peace. We are to take up the shield of faith in order to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. We are to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Without the true preaching and teaching of the Word of God the professing Church is utterly helpless. When men are in the pulpit and teaching in churches and the true Word of God is not being taught, the judgment of God is upon those churches and they are slaves of Satan.

When men stand in the pulpit and utter lies in the name of the Lord and of the truth, they show that their father is the father of lies (John 8:44). Once a man has the people of a particular group swallowing his lies as truth, if someone comes along and teaches the truth he will not be heard. As Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:45, “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” We must understand that the hearts of men are by nature selfish and hate the truth. They will hear error and false teaching easily because it fits with their own selfish nature. When the Gospel is preached in truth the hearts of men will rise against it. When the gospel is diluted with enough humanism they might hear it gladly. Yet those who go forth speaking their own minds rather than the Word of God speak it in the name of the Lord and that just makes it more deceptive. When someone comes and preaches the truth about sin, self-denial, repentance and the Gospel, those who love error with the Lord’s name attached have no shame in fighting the truth of God. After all, they are doing just what the Pharisees did.

The Word of God must be preached in our land today regardless of the complaints. As in the days of Scripture, the religious people will be the ones who complain the loudest. The liberals will cry foul when the absolute truth of the glory of God is taught. The Charismatics will cry foul when the true work of the Holy Spirit is proclaimed. The modern Pharisees will cry foul when the truth of holiness and the glory of God are taught. The Pelagians will cry foul when the glory of God’s self-sufficient grace is proclaimed. The Arminians will cry foul when God’s free will is taught rather than theirs. The Calvinists will cry foul when it is taught that one is justified by the grace of God applied by the Holy Spirit rather than an intellectual belief in a correct doctrine. The Church must hear the Word of God in spirit and truth so that it can seek Him in spirit and truth. If not, final judgment is sure and it is close. If we continue on in our humanistic and rationalistic ways, we will never see the truth of God and of the true Gospel. We will run around seeking the Lord in name with busyness, religious externals and activities yet without true humility and brokenness which are absolute necessities. Until ministers repent of preaching their own minds, seeking salaries and pleasing people instead of the glory of God, the judgment of God will remain and the sheep will not be fed with knowledge and understanding. That is without question the judgment of God. We must repent.

The State of the Church, Part 15

April 17, 2008

The state of the Church is far worse than anyone imagines. Americans are blinded to the spiritual realm by activities, entertainment and outward success. Our culture is incredibly shallow as seen by what it focuses on and the TV shows that it watches. We are a shallow and hollow people when we cannot look beyond the shell of outward things. The professing Church is the same. It goes on glibly with programs and outward performances with no substance. It can claim growth in numbers in some places, but where is God? It has many activities, but where is God? It has many building programs and many mission trips (vacations?) planned, but were is God?

The point that I keep trying to stress over and over is that the absence of God is what judgment is truly about. When God is absent, the professing Church will turn to all sorts of things in an effort to fill the gaping hole that they may not realize is there. All the things the professing Church has brought in are man-centered attempts to hide the absence of God. Down deep many know that something is wrong in all of the activity and glitz and know that it is hollow and shallow. But the apparent success keeps them so busy and entertained that they don’t look beneath the activity and see that nothing of substance is really there. Without the presence of a holy God, all that we do is shallow and hollow. When God is absent we turn from true love and holiness to morality and outward actions. When God is absent we turn from fellowship in biblical churches to entertainment and social activities.

One thing that should be obvious from what is said above is the absence of biblical teaching. This is not to say that there will not be many people teaching many things about the Bible and even teaching many outward truths from the Bible. What is missing, however, is a deep and spiritual understanding of the Word of God. When God removes His presence from a church or the professing Church, the only source for a spiritual understanding and true love for God and even the inner life (Christ Himself) is withdrawn. That is why that all else that can be done in a church is a veneer that covers a hollow place or an empty shell without the presence of God. Nothing can ever replace the presence of God and that is why the first thing a church should do in all things is seek His face.

When the Lord is blessing a church, He gives them ministers who will feed them with the true Word of God and of His glory. After all, what did Jesus say to Peter after He asked him if he loved him? He told him to feed His sheep. Love for Christ demands that the sheep be fed. In the modern day ministers are thought to be CEO’s, chaplains, cheerleaders, counselors and many other things. Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep if he loved Him. When ministers become responsible to plan activities and all sorts of things in the church rather than to spend time in the Word and prayer, you know that the judgment of God is upon that church.

Jeremiah 3:11 – And the LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. 12 “Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever. 13 ‘Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD. 14 ‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the LORD; ‘For I am a master to you, And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.’ 15 “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.

Israel was commanded to return to the LORD. They had to acknowledge their iniquity and that they had not obeyed His voice. The promise is that if they would return God would give them shepherds after His heart. The incentive God was that He would give them shepherds after His heart. This is so utterly vital. There are many hirelings and people who will preach and teach things for money and other reasons, but where are the ministers today who are men who are truly after the heart of God? Sheep are hungry and need to be fed. A shepherd that does not feed his sheep is either angry with them or negligent. The Lord Jesus Christ is not negligent and so when He does not give His sheep shepherds after His heart we can know for sure that judgment is upon a people.

What a true shepherd does is to feed the sheep. We see that in what Jesus taught Peter and we see that in the text in Jeremiah 3 above. But in the church the sheep are spiritual and so must have spiritual nourishment. Spiritual sheep cannot feed upon and be nourished by moralism and dry teaching that talks about the text without opening the glories of God. Spiritual sheep cannot be fed with doctrinal teaching that never gets past the outward husks of the intellectual part of the doctrine. This is doing nothing more than the Pharisees who studied the Bible and thought they had found life in that rather than going to Christ who was Live incarnate (John 5:39-40). True preaching and teaching must feed the people with knowledge and understanding that goes beyond the knowledge and understanding that an unbeliever can gain from the Scripture. This is teaching that must come from God Himself who feeds His people through His ministers.

We have all heard of the complaints of people who attend conservative churches and complain that they get nothing out of it. Ministers say that the problem is that the people don’t have their hearts right when they come to church. The people say that the minister is not feeding their souls. In other words, both sides are like Adam and Eve in looking to blame others for the problem. The real issue, however, is that when God has withdrawn His presence He is not teaching the ministers and then they are not feeding the people. While there may be a problem with the minister and there may be a problem with the people, the real underlying problem is that God is not feeding His people with knowledge and understanding. The only cure for this is to seek the Lord Himself.

All across the land there are myriads of problems in the churches and just as many answers. The real problem in the professing Church in our land is that it is starving to death on the sugar laden nonsense of humanistic teaching couched in biblical terms. God will not be present except in judgment when that is the focus of a church. We simply must begin to seek the Lord Himself rather than try to cure all of the symptoms of the real problem. It is true that if God returned in glory to many of the professing churches many people would leave. It is true that seeking a return of God will cost us much inner pain over our sin and much repentance in dust and ashes. But that just shows that we prefer comfort and ease of living over the presence of God. When God is present, people are uncomfortable and things cannot go on as they used to and the pain of sin becomes so acute that a person must deal with it or flee from His presence. The return of the presence of God would be a return to biblical preaching and a biblical dealing with the sins of the hearts of the people rather than lying to them about how well things are going.

When ministers speak from their own minds they are speaking from a humanistic point of view and not feeding the sheep of God with the Word of God. When ministers began to water the Word of God down they are doing nothing but holding back nutrition from the sheep and giving people prison rations to live on. This is again a clear sign that God is not feeding His people as He does when He is present. We can see a bit of the glory of a present God from Colossians 1:3-6: “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.” During the times when God is present to activate (so to speak) His Word, people heard of the faith and love of others. They knew that these people had truly heard the Gospel and that whenever the Gospel is truly heard it bears fruit and increases. Fruit is born and increases when people hear and understand the grace of God in truth. It is not just hearing about the grace of God that saves and bears fruit, it is hearing of the grace of God as God teaches it in truth and understanding.

Until ministers begin to seek the Lord Himself they will not understand the grace of God in truth themselves and so will not be able to teach it. They will fill the people with dry platitudes, outward morality, and perhaps orthodox doctrine. People will work harder at doing church, being more moral and in studying their Bibles and doctrine. Yet without the presence of Christ who is life Himself there will be no true life in all that is being done. All that is done in the church must be driven by a life of grace. All that is truly moral is the grace of God in the heart sharing His life, holiness, and love. All that is true and spiritual in the Bible and of doctrine must come from the breath of the Holy Spirit and the life of Christ. Until the ministry is one given by God to feed the people, we will remain under the judgment of God and delivered over to our own humanistic methods. Until the ministry is taught of God and follows the ways of God, the churches will either grow in numbers or die by the methods of men. Either way it is simply the methods of men being practiced or not practiced without the presence of the glory of the Holy One in Christ. Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5) regardless of how intense our activity is. Surely this is a matter for brokenness and prayer rather than more religious activity that ignites the anger and jealousy of God.