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Well, here is another jaw-dropping example of weak, numbers-driven ministry.  Thank goodness we have John MacArthur to lift a lid on it and show it for the sham that it is.

My regular readers will be aware that I have puzzled over the watered-down, mindless sermons I’ve heard in recent years.  Thanks to Dr MacArthur, we now know why.  It’s because pastors are discouraged from mentioning sin, hell, fornication, adultery, drunkenness, licentiousness and any deviant behaviour.

The reasons are two-fold: one, it reduces the number of people in church and, two, it eases the minds of the living about what might have happened to some of their deceased relatives.

He calls this ‘easy-believism’, about which you can read more in his essay ‘An Introduction to Lordship Salvation’.  Pastoral guidelines are such that difficult topics are forbidden when ministering in Protestant churches. However, I suspect that the same thing is also occurring in Catholic parishes.  To find out more about this aspect, listen to his 55-minute sermon, broken down into five videos.  To see the videos, click here at DefendingContending

I shall try to tackle this one point at a time.  As to the first, the focus on ‘bums on seats’ (as we say in the UK): churches have targets.  Now, those are driven either at national or diocesan level.  I always watch when a new type of programme starts at my church.  It’s announced in the weekly bulletin;  posters go up all over the place;  the vicar talks about it at Sunday services;  invariably, someone rings to gauge my level of interest.  So, just as it is in the corporate or academic world, so it is among churches.  There are certain targets to be met.  

In the diocesan model, the bishop is likely to follow up with pastors about declining Sunday attendance, less money in the collection plate and so forth:  ‘Why is this happening?’  Any priest who attempts to preach Scriptural truths is likely to have people fall away.  ‘Mmm, I didn’t like what he said last Sunday.  He talked about sin, and that made me feel guilty.’  Yes, well, that’s what church is for, folks.  You don’t mind your boss telling you what a lousy job you did and how you might not win promotion, but when it comes to a priest exhorting you to avoid sin, that seems to be a step too far? 

Bearing all this in mind, the priest knows he has a bishop to please and a job to keep.  Therefore, he opts for an easy life.  He decides to maintain the status quo.  Easy-believism church: smooth as silk, calming to the conscience.  There’s always redemption to look forward to — you’ve been baptised or born again, right?  So, go live your life the way you want.  Be kind to animals, mow the lawn and take the kids out for a meal now and then.  Consequently, the congregation gets the message that whatever they do is okay.  God will understand.  God will accept.  We are all sinners.  He knows that. 

Now, to the second point: what if Uncle Harry or Auntie Jane went to hell?  I’m sure this train of thought torments some people, mostly because it reminds them of their own mortality and behaviour: ‘If they went to hell, I might be joining them.’  For a start, no one knows what’s going on in our judgment except the Judge Himself, God.  So, there’s no use fretting about others, although we can pray for the repose of their souls.  People forget that our ways are not God’s ways. We also don’t know what goes on in the final days or even hours of a person’s life between him and his Maker. Therefore, we would do well to avoid preoccupation with others’ salvation and worry about our own. 

Having said that, a priest or minister does no one any favours by denying hell or saying that we’re all saved no matter what.  MacArthur says that what few people say anymore — on either side of the pulpit — is that Jesus is Lord.  God is sovereign.  This means we owe Him obedience, otherwise we fall from His favour. 

MacArthur lays out nine characteristics of a true understanding of salvation and the Gospel (emphasis mine):

First, Scripture teaches that the gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Pet. 3:9). Repentance is a turning from sin (Acts 3:19; Luke 24:47) that consists not of a human work but of a divinely bestowed grace (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). It is a change of heart, but genuine repentance will effect a change of behavior as well (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:18-20). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that repentance is simply a synonym for faith and that no turning from sin is required for salvation.

Second, Scripture teaches that salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own (Titus 3:5). Even faith is a gift of God, not a work of man (Eph. 2:1-5,8). Real faith therefore cannot be defective or short-lived but endures forever (Phil. 1:6; cf. Heb. 11). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that faith might not last and that a true Christian can completely cease believing.

Third, Scripture teaches that the object of faith is Christ Himself, not a creed or a promise (John 3:16). Faith therefore involves personal commitment to Christ (2 Cor. 5:15). In other words, all true believers follow Jesus (John 10:27-28). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel and does not include a personal commitment to the person of Christ.

Fourth, Scripture teaches that real faith inevitably produces a changed life (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person (Gal. 2:20). The nature of the Christian is new and different (Rom. 6:6). The unbroken pattern of sin and enmity with God will not continue when a person is born again (1 John 3:9-10).

Fifth, Scripture teaches that God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; Rom. 8:32), not just a ticket to heaven. In contrast, according to easy-believism, only the judicial aspects of salvation (e.g., justification, adoption, and positional sanctification) are guaranteed for believers in this life; practical sanctification and growth in grace require a post-conversion act of dedication.

Sixth, Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender (Rom. 6:17-18; 10:9-10). In other words, Christ does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him (James 4:6) … In contrast, easy-believism teaches that submission to Christ’s supreme authority is not germane to the saving transaction.

Seventh, Scripture teaches that those who truly believe will love Christ (1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22). They will therefore long to obey Him (John 14:15, 23). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that Christians may fall into a state of lifelong carnality.

Eighth, Scripture teaches that behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real (1 John 2:3). On the other hand, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith (1 John 2:4). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt the reality of one’s faith.

Ninth, Scripture teaches that genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith (1 Cor. 1:8). Those who later turn completely away from the Lord show that they were never truly born again (1 John 2:19). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that a true believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing.

I’ll give MacArthur the final words here:

no major orthodox movement in the history of Christianity has ever taught that sinners can spurn the lordship of Christ yet lay claim to Him as Saviour.

This issue is not a trivial one. In fact, how could any issue be more important? The gospel that is presented to unbelievers has eternal ramifications. If it is the true gospel, it can direct men and women into the everlasting kingdom. If it is a corrupted message, it can give unsaved people false hope while consigning them to eternal damnation. This is not merely a matter for theologians to discuss and debate and speculate about. This is an issue that every single pastor and lay person must understand in order that the gospel may be rightly proclaimed to all the nations.

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