Saturday, July 23, 2011

Youth Ministry - Response to Divided

Introduction

In insurance, there is a statistic that 100% of men will have an automobile accident by the time they turn 21. Of course, there are young men who beat this statistic, but they are so rare and far between that they don't drag the statistic down even 1%.

That is why I can say with confidence that 100% of youth ministries are useless and unbiblical. I can point to a very select few youth groups that are very useful and biblical, but they are so rare that they don't even dent the fact that 100% of youth ministries are useless. Most youth ministries do far more damage than good, and must be revamped or scrapped. I know that is an exceptionally harsh and direct statement, but I will back it up with the Bible, personal experience, and scholarly research.

Scholarly Research

This article was born when a new documentary was released, called Divided (http://www.dividedthemovie.com/), which has caused huge amounts of discussion on Facebook and elsewhere on whether youth ministry is biblical or useful. I have a history in youth ministry, not as a youth pastor, but gravitating towards youth in my pastorate (evangelism) since they were the ones who were eager to learn and put to practice what they learned. Divided is amazingly well researched and presented, and while I agree with many of their issues, I don't agree at all with their conclusions as to the next step.

The issues they have found are amazing, without a doubt are backed up in truth, and the biggest thing is that as Ken Ham has found and published in his book, Already Gone, that youth ministry is actually detrimental to the spiritual health of young people, making them more hostile to God and less likely to believe important biblical truths. Very few, if any, are ever born-again.

Another issue is that the Bible is taught as stories for children instead of absolute truth, turning the application into cute moral ideas instead of pointing hearers at the cross of Christ. Youth ministries are supposed to be teaching the Bible, but they do that poorly, and they teach nothing else, leaving it to the public-indoctrination schools to take care of things that are not the Bible. Divided makes the point of showing that students in youth ministries are very unlikely to hold to the truth of a six-thousand year-old earth created in six-literal days. I will focus a bit more on this in my personal experience.

Other issues are a huge lack of parental involvement and a lack of youth pastor maturity. The youth pastor position in and of itself tells parents that someone else is more qualified to raise their children in the faith than themselves. This is directly against biblical exhortation, obviously.

Personal Experience

I have not kept track of which church's students I've witnessed to, that was never my intention. But in hindsight I've realized that I have witnessed to students from most churches in my area that have youth ministry, and even one that has rejected youth ministry. Of these groups I have met literally less than 1% who had any clue as to the biblical teaching on salvation or why Jesus Christ died, and even of those who somewhat understood it, almost none had actually been born again. These students were harder than any other to witness to, because they are inoculated to true Christianity by the squishianity which they've been fed in youth group.

John MacArthur says to this effect, "In the history of the church and in my experience, no one has been harder to reach for Christ than a false Christian." I agree wholeheartedly and see most youth ministries doing a fantastic job for Satan in searing consciences and murdering souls.

I've watched students who were once moving strongly in the right direction hindered hugely by emotionalism, American hinduism, and of course, sin. It is not my intention in this article to really make a huge confession of my mistakes and sins, though I have made many, but I must say that one of my worst was that I assumed that if the youth pastor and a few select teachers were teaching the truth, that the students would be fine. My old church had far fewer bad teachers in it than most, but they were and are present, and have done inconceivable damage to students by failing to teach the Bible faithfully, or even at all.

The teaching of the Bible cannot be just done from the pulpit, it must be done in small groups, in homes, by pastors, by fathers. There is a faithful saying that "only two types of student will continue in the faith; those whose family is so strong that they don't need a youth pastor, and those whose family life is so wrecked that the youth pastor practically adopts them." The preferable standpoint is a church has such strong families that it is able to adopt, spiritually or literally, those (and their family) who do not have a strong family to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

One of my greatest blessings was in teaching the Word verse by verse. We covered topics that most youth ministries would never even consider. The primary subject of any church related event should of course be Jesus Christ, and probably the biggest mistake of youth ministry is the assumption that Jesus Christ is only found in the first-century and only in the Bible. Jesus Christ was, and he is, and he is to come, he is the Creator of physics, chemistry, and music; history belongs to him, biology and astronomy declare his glory and show his handiwork. In my time as a pastor and teacher, I taught biblical biology, history from 6,000BC to AD2011, Christ in Christopher Columbus' journal, and of course I taught the Bible verse by verse with an application towards students and the world today. John Calvin said, "People come not to the preaching merely to learn what they do not know, but to be incited to do their duty."

Youth ministry fails most spectacularly when they pretend that Jesus Christ is not the Creator, Sustainer, and Saviour of history and the present. A youth ministry that only teaches how someone is saved but ignores the vast corpus of scripture on every other topic is a failure. They would do better, as Ken Ham's research attests, to not even meet as a church, and definitely not to speak for God. The Bible speaks on many topics and Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28, cf. James 1:25)

Biblical Youth Ministry

My dear friend and a great pastor, Dave Snyder, coined the phrase, "Biblical, not Cliquical." Meaning that a good youth ministry will be one which loves the whole church instead of just the ones who are closest to their personal preferences. An unbiblical church will have youth cliques and singles cliques and young married cliques and senior cliques, and cliques within cliques, and this of course is not biblical. Biblically the entire church is seen meeting and taking communion together frequently, remembering and celebrating the great love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ.

My massive disagreement and distaste with the Divided movie is that there is practically a complete lack of Jesus Christ; an inappropriate overemphasis on just the bride while ignoring the Bridegroom. I'm not saying that no-one in that movie loves Jesus, in fact I know that many of them do, but the emphasis of that movie, if followed as it is presented (and many will) will result in youth that are just as wrecked as those coming out of unbiblical youth ministries, because all I see in that movie is moralism and preference.

Biblically we know that God has given different gifts to different people within the church. Some of these are evangelistic gifts, some are pastoral gifts, some are teaching gifts, and if every father was gifted with each of these, the Divided movie would work fine, but they aren't, which is why we have churches that encompass all gifts; some fathers, through sin or career or gifting or a blend of these, do not have the time or ability to disciple their children in the way in which a whole church can.

Biblically there is a call for older men and women to be discipling younger men and women, not just in their own families, but in their own churches. A few months ago I actually bribed two such older people to have lunch with a group of students in order to share their wisdom and insight. Elders (in the Titus 2 sense) should not be fleeing from the youth, but rather should be training them up using their gifts to best edify these young people, so that when these youth are old, they can turn right around and do the same, and point whole generations to the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Biblically who did Timothy and Mark learn from? Their fathers, or their pastor/apostle? In Timothy's case explicitly his father was a pagan, yet Timothy was raised to be a capable pastor and evangelist by his spiritual father Paul. Let me make another confession, I should have been much more pressing in asking fathers to come evangelizing with me and their children, but while I am certain I sinned in that area, it was not to such extent to cause an unbiblical outcome. Our youth spent hundreds and hundreds of hours evangelizing the lost and have grown in ways that most churches could never dream of. I am gifted in evangelism, and so on the church model, I should be the one teaching evangelism. In this regard the youth ministry can be as biblical as anything else the church does.

The church should be a place where believers, both young and old, are stirred up for good works. The biblical call for teachers is that they have a firm grasp of the faith; that they are able to teach. So many teachers in churches today don't have a clue what the Bible says, and they are neither able to teach, nor do they teach, the Bible. The church that fails to teach the scripture becomes as godless as the public-indoctrination schools, and Martin Luther said this, "I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth."

Many Christians and churches don't think a youth ministry can be biblical, but let me be so brash as to quote myself, "A youth group will grow in one of two ways, either a whole lot of fun, or a whole lot of truth; preferably both." Youth ministries don't have to be gross-out sessions and bouncy castles to be successful in drawing others, for a solid biblical curriculum will produce students who are biblically stronger than most adults, and send them out into their schools (that's right, students in public schools yet still strong in their faith) and communities to draw others, and proclaim the excellencies of their Saviour who called them into the light from the darkness.

Conclusion

Youth ministry is by and large a tool of Satan, but so are most churches. There are wonderful youth ministries, and there are wonderful churches, but they are becoming fewer and farther between every day. Research shows that most churches produce worse people who are farther from the kingdom than those who never stepped inside of a church, and I readily back that up through personal experience.

The church as a whole has stepped away from the Bible, and a broken youth ministry is only a symptom of a much deeper problem, which is the rejection first of Christ, and second of his Word. The call is not to get rid of youth ministry, though I will never purposefully have a youth ministry in a church, but the call is to preach the gospel and the whole counsel of scripture, so that we may present every member mature in Christ.

Let me turn this towards you; Divided makes some great points, and I pray it wakes you up to the danger that the church and youth face, literally God is in the process of striking many of your children dead (Revelation 2:23), and you must repent of all sin, and hold firmly to the whole Bible, and not just the feel good portions that you like. If Jesus Christ is not at the center of everything you do, and you are not being exhorted to obey him by loving his Word and ministering in your world, then everything you do will fail; don't blame youth ministry, blame the rejection of truth and the embracing of sin.

Are modern youth ministries the gates of Hell, as Luther said? Yes, they are, but only because they exist in churches where Christ is rejected and the Word is forsaken, which is the true gate of Hell. I always weep when I remember that John Bunyan observed that there is a way to Hell even from the gates of Heaven. Church members should be the most godly and sure members of Christ's universal church, but most are no nearer than those who have never heard of Christ. Many are far off, without hope, and without God in the world.

Your exhortation, dear reader, is to repent towards Heaven and trust wholly in Jesus Christ. Know that he promises blessings (not in any way which the world would consider blessing) for those who hear and do his Word. So train up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, carry one another's burdens, use your gifts to edify the saints and equip them for every good work. Love the brotherhood, love the Word, and hold fast to Christ. If you do these things, then even if you have a dedicated youth ministry, it will flourish, because a healthy church makes healthy believers, and healthy believers make a healthy church, from the top to the bottom.

Don't chase band-aids like doing away with your youth ministry and/or youth pastors, when the problem is a gushing wound of lack of biblical belief in Jesus Christ, and an epidemic that follows of unconverted and worldly members. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father is through him; it's not through family integrated worship, it's not through awesome youth groups, it's not through house-churches, it's not through mega-churches with great pastors, it is through Jesus Christ.

So seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be taken care of; even your youth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jesus called Christ

Jesus Christ: Creator, Sustainer, Saviour; God manifest in the flesh, God with us, God the Son, the Sovereign of History, the King of Righteousness, the Lord of Glory, the Prince of Peace; the Judge of the living and the dead, the Just and the Justifier, Faithful and True, the Firstborn from the Dead; the Way the Truth the Resurrection and the Life, Mighty to Save; he was and he is and he is to come, the same yesterday today and forever, he was dead but he yet lives, he laid down his life and took it back up again; he is holy blameless and undefiled, able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him; he loves righteousness and hates wickedness, he exalts the humble but casts the proud to the ground, he is a friend to the contrite but a terror to evildoers. I implore you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, be reconciled to God.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Explanation of Leaving

After months of prayer and endless hours of meetings, I came to a painful decision last week. That decision was to leave my church. This blog post is to answer questions and hopefully encourage church members to call for a godly change in their leadership.

Introduction

There has always been a disdain towards my theology, but I thought that over the years I would show that the truly God-honoring theology is that of Sovereign grace; I sought to do so through evangelism, teaching, discipleship, and charity within the bride. Unfortunately this did not accomplish my desired end among the leaders and influential persons of the church, but rather did the opposite. I never sought to make Calvinism vs. Arminianism a topic of debate and purposefully sought to teach the Bible expositionally instead of in light of the tradition of Calvinism, even using the term as sparingly as I could, which was very very rarely. Of course, this always produces Calvinists, and several of my disciples discovered through listening to Paul Washer and others, that they and I were Calvinists.

Tensions got a little heated in light of theology and the making of disciples who actually were born-again and fulfilling the Great Commission. Deeper study followed, and the first time I remember really ruffling feathers was for quoting a single Bible verse, "You [God] hate all evildoers." (Psalm 5:5) As a person who has always sought to teach the true intention and meaning of the Bible, I did the unthinkable, I taught what the Bible says, that God hates all evildoers.

Not much later I quoted Psalm 58:10-11 in precisely the right context, and was radically opposed by those who did not know their Bibles; including similar events in the New Testament. This began a painful few months of opposed preaching of the whole counsel of scripture, showing that true love is actually holding fast to the good, and abhorring evil (Romans 12:9). I began at this point harder than ever to push for biblical evangelism and discipleship, taking students on local missions trips weekly, and rejoicing in the growth they were showing in both holiness and grace. Making radical disciples exposed an idol which when agitated turned and rent us; we had insulted comfort-driven Christianity and we could not be allowed to continue. We had engaged our culture and made our neighbors think that we were a church body that cared where people spent eternity; this could not be allowed to continue.

Over several months I continued to preach the gospel and sustain disciples, which infuriated many. I refused to edit the Bible to make it pretend you can live anywhich way you want and preach any message you want and still be ok. Over the past five months I have rarely heard the gospel preached from the pulpit, and even rarer is a genuine exposition of a text. Three sermons especially were as heretical as if Satan himself had preached them, yet those in leadership refused to acknowledge that sin is deadly and did not confront nor prohibit these men from defiling the pulpit again.

Myself on the other hand was prohibited from teaching, disagreeing, or discipling. Let me exceptionally clear in this point: If I were not muzzled, then I would not be leaving, I would be fighting as hard as ever to turn the rudder towards Christ and would face any consequences of this action. But, I have found myself in an interesting dilemma that my tongue within the church is required to be in agreement with the leadership, however I desperately do not want to sin with my tongue by agreeing to such sin.

So I am writing this to list a few grievances, I am leaving out personal affronts and will keep this to just three major areas, in hopes that these issues will be addressed and the church can continue the work she began several years ago to be a gospel-driven church.

No Gospel and No Ministry

My major concern as of late is that when the gospel is not preached and the Word is not exposited, a church ceases to be a church. Literally over the past three months or so I have not felt I was going to church in the morning, but to a funeral. I implore you to call your elders to do the job they are entrusted to do, to train you in the fear and admonition of the Lord. On Sundays I want to go to a church that loves Jesus and seeks to do his will in the community instead of a Sunday-morning social club with outrageous dues.

John MacArthur recently preached a fantastic sermon on why young children must not be allowed to eat whichever foods they want, because they can't distinguish between what is good food and what is not even food; it's up to those appointed over them to ensure they have a healthy diet. It is not necessarily your fault that when outright heresy spews from the pulpit that you do not discern it, since discernment comes through constant practice, and we have not had that constant practice in a long time.

Lack of Church Government

In the history of the church-universal there have been three main governments that work well, episkopol, presbyterian, and congregational. Unfortunately, we have a sort of congregation inside of a presbytery with no episkopos (bishop); it's confusing and so I won't try to explain it here, but while it's not an unworkable system, it is a system that currently does not work. After five months without a pastor, you should have a new pastor, not just now be deciding on whether the pastor search criteria is adequate. Beloved church, call your elders to appoint an episkopos, a senior-pastor, who will lead you in the truth. With a senior-pastor in place, the rather unorthodox government which the bylaws call for actually can work, even if the titles and positions are strange. Call this group to lead you in the truth, to preach and teach the word faithfully, and to worry more for your souls than the financial future of the church.

Lack of Fruit

I was once under the impression that we produced fewer false-converts than most churches, but in May I watched a mostly apostate senior class walk out the doors of our church; most of them never to return. Their blood is on our hands (yours and mine) for failing to teach them about the God of the Bible. I was once delusional to think that if a few select teachers were teaching the truth, that it would make up for those who taught opinion and vegetable stories, but I have realized that a healthy church must have a commitment to teach the Bible in a way that exalts Christ and deflates man, and this must be a decision from the top and not from the bottom.

Several times over the past year I have been puffed up by my disciples, thinking that I had discovered something that the rest of the church had missed, but I was quickly humbled in realizing that every Christian is to be making disciples who make disciples, and so I ask, where are they? I was required to stop making disciples because I showed that in the Bible Christians are passionate, can get angry, and make a difference in their world, being the means of grace by which God calls lost sheep home. Disciple making is hard, but it is the greatest joy a person can have (3 John 4).

It's a radical thought, making biblical disciples, but I encourage you to try it. The church is not to sit around its whole life and never offend anyone! Let's take the message to the nations, let's go outside the camp like Christ did, let's endure the reproach of him who loved us and died for us. I will be in the area for about the next year, I will be going on mini-missions trips regularly, and I would love to have you come with me. Very few ever did while I was your pastor of evangelism, many students did and were edified (Philemon 6), so I pray that you will realize you are both being disobedient in this matter towards your King, and also robbing yourself of the joy of labor (Psalm 126:5-6).

Conclusion

I cannot sit in a building that does not preach the gospel, that does not care for the souls of its people, and which sends its children out into the world without the faintest idea of who Jesus Christ is. None of these are unfixable problems, or even problems that are very hard to fix, but they are currently unresolved. I implore you to call those who are responsible to repentance, to tell them you want the Word preached faithfully, and that you want to be a witness for Jesus Christ in your community, and not just a presence.

The Lamb who was slain is worthy, he is faithful. Beloved, I call you to be hearers and doers of the Word, to be a church once again, and to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ who called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light.

With love and hope for the future,
Canyon

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Biblical Fidelity

Introduction

If there is one point of contention that rises more often than any other in opposition to myself and my ministry, it is that I hold too many doctrines as essential. I do not deny this, I readily state that every doctrine has a level of essentiality, and I would even state that the division between essential and non-essential doctrines can be an essential doctrine.

Let me give some examples, eschatology is generally considered to be a non-essential doctrine, and I agree, I have no problem calling everyone from pre-mil to a-mil to pre-trib to post-trib my brothers. However, full-preterists have stepped away from biblical teaching and should be confronted as to their sin; similarly, arch-heretic Mike Bickle has an “over-realized” eschatology which calls for believers in this age to be the John the Baptists who will usher in Christ’s Second Coming.

The second example is the relationship between God’s love and hatred of sinners. There are varying views on how God can simultaneously hold wrath and charity towards the same person, and by and large this is a non-essential doctrine. But when someone denies that God has any enmity towards sinners, then they deny the essential nature of God’s Word (Psalm 1:5, 3:7, 5:5, 7:11, 11:5), and thus God’s love and hatred becomes an essential.

The third and last example is the phenomenology of prayer, which is another doctrine generally considered a non-essential, but if someone claims that prayer can be heard apart from Christ or that prayer earns favor with God, then they have associated the doctrine of prayer with the essentials of soteriology and Christology (John 9:31, Psalm 34:15-16, Isaiah 59:1-2, compare: Privilege of Prayer), and prayer becomes an essential doctrine. Generally when someone elevates a non-essential into blatant heresy, it is not their only heresy; a non-essential gone terribly awry usually points to much deeper problems in essential doctrine.

As I’ve written recently here, what we ought to be looking for is not a check-list of doctrinal beliefs, but rather we ought to be looking at the fruit borne out of such beliefs. We can declare Mike Bickle to be a heretic because of his cult-like organization. He is not just wrong on one doctrine, but on the corpus of his beliefs, and these are a result of his lack of regeneration. He claims to be fleeing from the wrath to come, hastening the day of Christ, but he is not bearing fruit keeping with repentance, and so on biblical authority, we can declare that his religion is worthless and that he is a false-prophet and deceiver.

But not every wrong belief should be looked at so strongly, for there are sins that do not lead to death, there are non-essential doctrines that if wrong (such as dispensationalism) do not instantly mean that the holder of such doctrine is unregenerate and a false teacher. Does that mean that we ought to just let these errors go unaddressed? By no means, we ought to be seeking biblical fidelity in every facet, and call those who believe wrongly to conform their beliefs to match the Bible. For example, those who baptize babies are WRONG, but they will not lose their souls for such wrong belief, but the result of their wrong belief often results in future generations thinking baptism saves and thus losing their souls for lack of faith in Christ. Therefore this non-essential, or any other, should not go ignored.

So what does the Bible say about biblical fidelity? Why should we preach the truth? There are several reasons why we must not allow small heresies into our churches, these range from damage to man, to an affront to God. Some of these cost their hearers their souls, some merely damage growth in grace, but all are damnable, worth crying over, and to be avoided at all costs.

A Little Does a Lot

Jesus tells the parable, The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened. – Matthew 13:33

This parable is twice exposited by the Apostle Paul to say, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” (Galatians 5:7-9, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8) describing the leaven as sin and false teaching; elsewhere leaven is always allegorically representative of sin. Recently I heard the worst sermon I’ve heard in person in a church, it attacked the doctrine of scripture, God’s sovereignty, Christ’s glory, and salvation by grace alone. It was truly a wicked sermon, but seemingly I am the only one alarmed to the danger that such sin can have on a church. It was only one bad sermon, but there is no telling what sort of heresy will flow out of those who heard and embraced it, or the preacher who preached it.

Probably the best example of the power of sin to corrupt and destroy is the heresy of free-will. A belief in free-will does not preclude a person from being regenerate, but every great heresy in history has its foundation in free-will, of desiring to do something to earn God’s favor. Whether that thing be choice, religious service, or humanitarian service, the leaven of free-will is found worldwide, inside and outside of the church. Some claim to be inside, but are clearly outside, one needs only to look at the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses as examples; these are all utterly captured by the lie of man’s free-agency.

It Spreads

“Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” - 2 Timothy 2:16-17

Not only does false teaching lead away from holiness and Christ, but it also quickly infects those who hear it. These hearers see that their teachers approach the Bible flippantly and with disregard to teaching it faithfully, and have no problem doing likewise. This sickness will lead to crippled church bodies and members who are unable to function and are actually a hindrance to ministry.

False Teaching Hinders Service

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”
– Galatians 5:7

False teaching puts the focus everywhere but where it should be. When the focus is on an idol, then work done towards that false-god is directly contradictory to obeying Christ, for he says that you are either gathering with him, or scattering (Matthew 12:30).

When the focus is on the individual, then selfishness ensues, and loving God and loving neighbor fails. The Bible contains great and lasting promises that the believer may know that they are saved (1 John 5:13); one of the reasons it does this is so that the believer can stop fretting over his own self, and set his affections fully on Christ. When I teach on how to know you are saved, I conclude with, “Once you know you are saved, you can stop worrying about your salvation and start focusing on seeing others saved.”

False Teaching Quenches Love

Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. – Matthew 24:11-12

The pendulum swings two ways under false teaching, either to legalism, which will be discussed in a moment, or to libertinism, the throwing off of the law, living for oneself, and lacking the charity and lovingkindness towards others to seek their highest and best benefit.

This lawlessness masquerades under the titles of love and tolerance, claiming that it just wants people to be happy, but it ignores skyrocketing depression rates, decreased lifespans, and Christless eternities.

False Teaching Crushes

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
– Matthew 23:4

Legalism imposes laws upon hearers that cannot possibly be kept. Instead of recognizing that the law is perfect and holy and good, that it points to an infinitely holy God, they edit it to be attainable, changing commands and imposing strange requirements for those unfortunate enough to be burdened by an impossibly righteous law. The end of the law is ignored, for the law is meant to lead the hearer to Christ and exhort them to shoulder his burden, which is light.

For if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.

False Teaching Enslaves

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.” – 2 Peter 2:19

Perfect love drives out all fear, for fear has to do with punishment. All of the false religions claim that if you do good, something good will happen to you. But under these religions is that nagging question of whether or not you have truly done enough. These efforts can never cleanse a conscience, for how thoroughly must you wash your hands in order to cleanse your soul? (cf. Mark 7:20-23)

Idolatry Stifles Growth

“I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” - 1 Corinthians 3:1

Elsewhere it says that certain people should have been teachers by now, but that they were still babes (Hebrews 5:12-13). False teaching that exalts man, wisdom, eloquence, free-will, or any false doctrine will result in spiritually immature members who cannot articulate their faith, nor go among unbelievers to seek to persuade them to trust in Christ. Like a ship without an anchor these will be blown about by every wind of false doctrine, human cunning, and deceitful scheme.

False Teaching Shipwrecks Faith

“They are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” - Titus 1:11

Elsewhere it says that these teachers make shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19); biblical infidelity does not strengthen a church in unity, but destabilizes it in disunity. It may claim to have noble intentions, but its end-result betrays this claim. Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11) This can only happen through the sanctification of the Word of Faith (John 17:17,20-21, Romans 10:8-17), therefore the person who misrepresents the Word of Christ destroys unity, and leads hearers down a dangerous path.

Their Last State is Worse than their First

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” – 2 Peter 2:20-21

Many believe they are rejecting Christianity, when what they have actually rejected is not Christianity at all, but a weak counterfeit of it. The false teacher says, “Come to Jesus so you can be healthy, wealthy, and powerful,” but when such things do not happen, the sinner flees from Christianity. When powerless free-will sermons are preached and the person “asks Jesus into their heart” twenty-three times and nothing happens, they have no qualms with walking away from the Bible and their perception of God forever.

These false-converts, backsliders, and cold-coal have been effectively murdered by those who claim to represent God but who have no part nor lot in his kingdom.

God is Dishonored and His Name Blasphemed

“If you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you.’” – Romans 2:19-24

False teachers profess to represent God and his law, but in so doing they fail to show how transcendent God is, that he is high and lifted up, holy and righteous, just and justifier. They usurp some of his glory, teaching salvation and/or sanctification by works, and in so doing are looked at as being failures in such works, and hence the God they represent is looked at as unjust and inept.

Conclusion

The truth is precious, because it points at the only begotten Son of God; Christ promises that his saints will know the truth and the truth will set them free. Every Christian ought to be concerned with rightly representing Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed: never speaking or doing anything that may bring him reproach.

There are such things as essential and non-essential doctrines, but beloved, always err towards essential, looking for the ramifications of heresy and whether the doctrine in which you are in disagreement over radically misrepresents God or points hearers towards destruction. When the issue is non-essential, look at it again to be sure that it is not a symptom of a larger problem. Many a humanist betrays his heart by preaching Christ merely as a means to the happiness and eternal bliss of man, instead of as the only God and Saviour, just and justifier, righteous and true, faithful, gracious, and sovereign. In you confronting this person it could be that God peradventure grants him repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.

For the sake of Christ and his church: preach the truth, confront error, correct in love, strive to present every member mature in Christ. Proclaim Christ as a firm anchor of the soul, strive to present every member in the full measure of stature in Christ, that they may not be blown about like a ship adrift.

Augustine said, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” Let us keep these in mind, recognizing that true love strives for maturity in Christ. The most unloving thing we can do is let someone continue in a grievous error, knowing that potentially the soul of the fallacious teacher is on the line, and certainly the souls of his hearers.

“Therefore let us put away falsehood, and share the truth with our neighbor.” – Ephesians 4:25

Monday, July 11, 2011

Man of God: Stand Firm

There is a long running history of godly men standing against error, heresy, and false-teachers throughout history and in the Bible. These have all believed they were standing fast on the Word of God, and I will focus this article on those we know were standing fast on the Word of God, for they are recorded in that very Word. For our sake, though, we ought have the mindset of Martin Luther,

I am a man, and I can err. But unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.
Let us do as these six millennia of witnesses have done, heeding the Apostle’s words, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13) Let us look at some of these men who considered the reproach of Christ as greater wealth than the treasures of the world.

In 1 Kings 13:1-6, a prophet confronts Jeroboam in his sin of offering sacrifices to idols, and temporarily ceases that evil king’s sin. In 1 Kings 18:17-19 Elijah confronts that evil king Ahab, to which Ahab calls Elijah the sinner, but it is more than evident that Ahab is the idolater and sinner. In 1 Kings 22:5-28 that great prophet Micaiah stands against not only the evil king Ahab, but also against four-hundred false prophets; he is hated and beaten for telling the king the truth. In Nehemiah 5:5-13 the governor-prophet Nehemiah learns that the nobles were crushing the poor under oppression, and brings charges against them, requiring repentance. Years later in Nehemiah 13:11-18 he confronts them again for their sins and forsaking the house of God. In 2 Chronicles 26:16-20 Uzziah sets himself up as king and priest, to which the prophet Azariah confronts him, saving his life. In 2 Kings 22:8-23:23 King Josiah stands against lawlessness in Israel and makes great reforms towards the keeping of the law. In Galatians 2:11-14 when Peter falls into the Judaizer camp, Paul confronts him to his face and calls him to repent, resulting in Peter’s continued ministry in the truth. In Matthew 14:4-12 John the Baptist stands against evil king Herod and loses his head for it. And of course is that great prophet Nathan, who in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 stands against the very king of Israel, David, the closest thing that Israel had ever received to a messiah, and Nathan, with no fear for his own life, stands for the truth and calls the king to repent.

Time would fail to tell of all of the prophets who “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:33-38)

There is really only one common theme in all of these men, for some of these prophets were paupers, some were kings, some were priests, some were Pharisees, some were boys, some were old, some are famous, some are not even named, some were rich, some were poor, some spoke well, some did not, but they all brought the same message: the Word of God. They did not waver, they did not temper the message, they preached what God had said and did amazing things and faced amazing consequences.

Many after the first century have held to this very Word (Hebrews 1:1-2) and have done things that are just as amazing; even, Christ says, greater things than he had done (John 14:12). They have also faced many of the same consequences as prior prophets, ranging from ex-communication, to slander, to libel, to loss of property, to loss of life. John Owen, a Puritan man of God, stood against luke-warm efforts to conform the church to the state, and was regularly accused of causing schism. He responded in his treatise by stating, “those churches which, by their corruption or tyranny, rendered separation necessary, were the true schismatics.” He is most certainly right, when anyone steps away from the Word of God, they will begin sinking in shifting sand and must be confronted, no matter their rank (compare Acts 4:19-20, Galatians 1:7-9), in order that the way of truth is not blasphemed. Like watchmen on a wall, the prophet must not be guilty of failing to warn of approaching danger.

Jesus tells of a time when those who silence and murder the prophets will think they are doing God a favor (John 16:2), that time has been the last two-thousand years. Jesus says to those who will be rebuked by men wielding the Word of God, “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town,” (Matthew 23:34) yet those who do so will say that they would not (Matthew 23:30).

In light of these dire times and circumstances, Timothy, who was martyred under the Diocletian persecution, is exhorted thusly, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:13-16)

Christianity has no lack of prophets who stood against false teaching, against those who would substitute their opinions for truth while forsaking the Word of Truth. Prophets now, as prophets then, must stand against every hint of biblical infidelity, for the Bible is either absolute or it is obsolete. In so doing, Paul tells Timothy that salvation will come both to the preacher, and his hearers; for we know that faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

If such a rebuke comes your way, do not be brash to oppose these men, but search the scriptures diligently and see if such things are so. These men come with authority and are often quite harsh, but they do so in love, for love seeks to regain a brother and save sinners from the fire; the authority they come in is not their own, but is from God who sent them, and their offense is coming from the Word of Righteousness and not from their own delivery. When their words toward you align with God’s Word, then repent towards Heaven, and preach the whole counsel of scripture, knowing that in doing so, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Do not forsake the Word of Eternal Life, nor the Christ to whom that Word points; for at the right time he gave his life a ransom, and was raised for the justification of many. We know these things by the Word and will lose these things if we forsake the Word. Stand for the Word, even to death, and receive a crown of life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pseudodelphia; False Brothers

If there is one point of naïveté within the modern church that astounds me to no end, it is the lack of recognition that false prophets and false brothers not only exist, but abound. The existence of false teachers and professors is a major theme throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, many of the parables which Jesus told directly relate to the existence of false converts (good/bad soil, good/bad fish, wise/foolish wedding attendants, wheat/tares) and his express statement concerning the end of the age is that, “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:11-12).

Jesus gives no hint as to how many “many” is, but it’s clearly more than one or two, it’s not just Joel Osteen and Ergun Caner. Paul says that people will accumulate teachers to themselves to scratch their itching lusts (2 Timothy 4:3), and it is more than clear that in many churches today, there is at least one lead false prophet per congregation. Four of seven churches in Revelation 2-3 are teeming with false teachers.

This was not unexpected by God, it is not even against his plan, for he promises for his predestined saints to use all things for good; not that all things are good, but that God has the power to use what is evil for good (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20). Paul warned his beloved flock at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:29-31). If we wonder the veracity towards which Paul prophesied these things, within only a few years Paul had no friends in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:15). Jesus said likewise, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

Beloved, Paul said that in order to have our powers of discernment honed, we must be using them constantly (Hebrews 5:14). In my own geographical community I regularly witness to “christians” who sit weekly under the teaching of such wolves. It is an unbelievably sad thing to be the first to share Christ with someone who has sat in a church their entire lives. This past Sunday I witnessed to a group of students who go to a local mega-church who believed that they must confess their sins to a man in order to be forgiven (this is not even a distinctive of their apostate mega-church, but strange heresies creep in where truth is absent). The lost person this weekend who was nearest to some semblance of truth was actually a back-slidden Catholic who recognized that most of the doctrines he grew up with in the Roman cult had no basis in the Bible. A recent study by Answers in Genesis shows that growing up in a modern evangelical church has a discernable detriment to the soul compared to those who never attended Sunday School; these things ought not be. But by denying the possibility of false brothers, the church has opened the door for every manner of false teaching, rotten fruit, and inane babble from the pulpit to appease these carnal and condemned members who spread like gangrene in their unregenerate state.

So what ought be done with these pseudodelphia, these false brothers? Should we search them out and cast them away? Jesus shares a parable of weeds amongst the wheat, he declares that the weeds were purposefully spread by the enemy (compare Galatians 2:4), and that the church ought not tear up the weeds for fear of damaging the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). These false brothers have snuck in; they often have a form of godliness, so that by seeking them out, the true believers may be damaged. Jesus says that he knows the wheat from the weeds, and that he has appointed a day in which to separate them, and that day is not today. However, he says nothing of tolerating them and leaving them to the fire to come; rather letting scripture interpret scripture, there is a definite call for rebuke, silencing, and correction, striving for conversion of the false (Titus 1:10-16), snatching them in pity from the flames (Jude 22-23). To Timothy Paul writes, in light of false prophets and brothers, that he “ought to always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The Christian seeks to be pious within his own congregation in order not to offend, but he cannot be so naïve to think that this plague has not affected even his own flock. Within my own experience I have only encountered two blatantly false converts preaching different gospels. Do not, dear brother, if you are reading this, assume this is you unless I have personally confronted you; both of these men know my opinion of their unregeneracy. One of these began writing poetry “given to him from God” which was both full of heresy and also quite awful; in confrontation he became divisive and fled from truth, and is currently studying witch-craft under Andrew Wommack. The other has been a constant sower of discord and strange doctrine, calling other religions brothers, and claiming that God is the God of all. Within other churches I have found those who doubt and even deny the deity of Christ, who deny Christ as the only way to Heaven, who embellish their conversion stories, who utterly disregard the poor and perishing in their communities, and who exalt the creature above the Creator, et al; I would exhaust my imagination before I could name all of their errors.

Why would God allow these weeds to tarnish his church? Paul gives the reason in his Epistle to the damaged church at Corinth, “there must be factions (kjv/koine-heresies) among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Paul blatantly states that the false are allowed in with the true in order that the true may shine all the brighter.

So beloved, the first thing I pray that you have seen is that there is such thing as a false brother and a false prophet, and that unfortunately neither of these are rare. Their terrible teachings will upset the faith of whole families (Titus 1:11), the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), and even suffering and death (1 Peter 4:19) will result for those who stand the gap opposing lawlessness and preaching truth (Ezekiel 22:22-31). Worst of all, the name of God is blasphemed among the nations because those who bear his name teach shameful and licentious things (Romans 2:24, Titus 1:16).

Secondly, beloved, I implore you that you would not just assume that you are not one of these false converts, but that you would test yourself to see if you are in the faith, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, knowing that if you are a true Christian, Jesus Christ is alive in you. The Bible contains several good tests, I would encourage you to take the long one in 1 John 1-5, or the shorter ones in 2 Peter 1:5-10 and Galatians 5:16-24. Only if you are bearing fruit will you be assured that you will never fall. Whatever you do, do not look at those around you as tests for your salvation, for they may be utterly against Christ and walking in darkness; test yourself against biblical standards, trusting in Christ, striving in sanctification for perfection, setting your affections on Heaven, fleeing from sin and unrighteousness.

Third, these false brothers exist, but unless their sin is blatantly manifest in ways that make the pagans blush, you are not to cast them out of your church (1 Corinthians 5:1,9-13). But they also must be silenced as to their heresies; Paul calls for a firm rebuke and a desire to see them converted (Titus 1:11,13). Dear Christian, I must leave it to your own conscience as to how this should be done, it seems that this is the duty of the senior pastor and his undershepherds, though this also may refer to every lay member, every priest of the Most High God; your own conscience must judge.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18)

In all of this, know that apostasy and false teachers will increase as the end of the age comes closer than it has ever been. Christ calls you to follow him and love the brothers, to test the spirits, to hold fast to good and abhor evil, and to persevere to the end. Love those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you, emulate Christ that while you were against him, he loved you and gave himself for you. Call all to repentance, rejoice when lost sheep return, weep when goats fall into the hands of the Living God, and in all things give glory to the One who is the Faithful and True Witness, who was dead, but yet lives forevermore. His purposes will be accomplished perfectly, so trust wholly in him, knowing that he is working all things for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Promising Freedom

The military has a long tradition of being seen as more important than the masses. In Hindusim the military is in the caste directly below the king, within the Catholic Church those slaughtered in war are often beatified, in Sikhism the soldier-saint is seen as especially righteous, in Sparta the best soldiers were instantly vaulted to the highest class, and of course, in Islam the soldier who dies in battle not only earns himself instant heaven, but also earns merit for his family members. The soldier has long been a savior who will die for you without expecting you to live any differently.

This is a harsh concept, but it is one that must be addressed, since "democracy" has become the goal of military endeavor, since the truth of Christ is utterly abandoned, since Bibles are burned in army camps to appease the enemy. We spread humanism and condemn nations by failing to spread what it was that truly made America great. It was John Adams who said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." And yet we spread the idea of "democracy" which is even against the "republic" for which we used to stand.

I regularly preach on the street, and know many around the country who do likewise. We see that as Christianity fades, so do the freedoms of speech, assembly, and protest; I wrote this a while ago, but am finally fed up enough to post it:

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who has given us freedom of religion:
Saudi Arabia has soldiers.

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who has given us freedom of the press:
Iran has soldiers.

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who has given us the freedom of speech:
The Soviet Union had soldiers.

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who has given us the freedom to protest:
Bahrain has soldiers.

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who has given us the right to a fair trial:
Nazi Germany had soldiers.

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who has given us the right to vote:
Afghanistan has soldiers.

It is the pastor, not the soldier,
who will enslave a nation in bondage

by failing to stand and preach the truth.

Almost no history books of today will draw a link between the true Founding Father of the United States and what brought about a moral and political revolution which blessed people and nations for generations. That Founding Father is George Whitefield, who preached 18,000 sermons in his lifetime and called England and America to repentance. It is estimated that 80% of the people living in the colonies became religious under the preaching of George Whitefield and of those whom he inspired to do likewise. Without the preaching of George Whitefield, uncompromising in the truth, there could have been no unity among those in New England.

Recently I've heard a number of "christians" insist that the church ought not be confrontational, that we ought not be against heresy or sin, but that in loving everyone they will see that Christianity is better and will come to our position. I had a conversation recently where we came to the exact opposite conclusion, men like Finney, Moody, and Graham have locked the nation in bondage by preaching half a gospel, preaching a democratic humanistic message. It has produced what used to be called, "Cold Coal", a populace utterly against Christianity; today it might be called "Post-Christian Europe" or "Post-Christian America". The unfortunate irony of this is that Christian values are still held to (though more and more sparingly every day) without realizing from whence they have come.

We see that through this bad preaching, this lack of truth, and this anemia to engage the culture with anything resembling Christianity, the nation has slipped from blessing to cursing. We have become a nation of baby-sacrifices, of money worshippers, of inept leaders, of boy leaders, of woman leaders, of Sodomites, of adulterers and fornicators; children rule their parents, and leaders rob the people blind. A fall is coming, no nation could possibly stand under such sin and judgment, America will fall and be just like every other godless nation, robbed of rights and blessing, crushed under a lack of biblical preaching.

For one of the greatest curses God ever sent on Israel was not starvation, war, or plague, but a famine of godly preachers. That famine is here, and has been for a long while. God's major contention is with the priesthood, the Christians who became idolaters to comfort and did not notice, care, or complain when the Bible and Christ became bywords in the pulpit. A crushing curse rests on the land, and should God be gracious and raise up preachers to bring the Word of Life, they must not ignore the call. They must not preach only what they want to preach, but must preach the true words of Christ. They must not ignore verses that say God hates the sinner, nor verses that say there is wrath and fury, tribulation and distress for every human who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek. They must not ignore that God is against certain lifestyles, or that he has a plan for marriage. They must not ignore that Christ is king and the Constitution, not a man, is meant to guide the nation by God's authority. They must not remove crosses from their churches because of the offense, and they must preach Christ crucified and resurrected for the justification of only those who repent and believe.

The preacher must preach Christ and him crucified, calling all to a total repentance. He must be a Christian on a crusade, not for blood, but for souls. He must be confrontational, firm, and truthful. He must not temper the message, but know that it is foolishness to some, a stumbling block to others, but to others it is the power of God to salvation. He must preach in season and out of season. He must bear the reproach for the One who loved him and went outside of the camp to suffer and die for his sins.

Apart from this preaching, the nation will perish and the peoples will die in their sins. Many promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; those who declare freedom in anything but Christ are the most enslaved, they are called waterless wells and mists driven by a storm; they do more damage than good and God has prepared the gloom of Hell for them.

Dear Christian, there is one freedom from sin, it is Christ who created, sustains, and saves men. Apart from the freedom of Christ, there is only slavery. Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, do not temper it to men, fear God and preach his Word, and watch God do amazing things through the foolishness of the cross. Do not face God with the blood of a dying nation on your hands, preach the gospel, call sinners from darkness to light, death to life, and corruption to freedom. If the Son sets them free, they shall be free indeed. He is the only way.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
__and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
__and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
__and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
__and kings to the brightness of your rising.
- Isaiah 60:1-3