You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Evangelical’ tag.
As we are in Easter Week, recalling in joyful hope Christ’s rising from the dead, let’s remember Resurrection theology, which keeps our minds on eternal life.
Most of the following posts excerpt the sermons of Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries. He is a proponent of exploring the deeper meaning of the Resurrection and asking how we view it in our lives as Christians.
May you find these sermons and reflections uplifting in your Christian journey!
I hope that those who have Easter Monday as a holiday are enjoying it! We in Britain are.
Yesterday’s post had as a source a sermon by John MacArthur about Acts 10:34-43.
‘The Why, Who and How of the Resurrection’, which he gave in 1996, begins with a summary of articles about Jesus which appeared in Easter editions of Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report.
I won’t go into their vile, false stories, which you can read for yourselves in the sermon.
This is MacArthur’s explanation for such falsehoods (emphases mine):
… they do not like the Jesus of the New Testament because He confronts their sin and He threatens judgment. And consequently, they, wanting to hold to their sin, invent a Jesus more to their liking.
A lot of Christians — especially clergy — do this, too. We have liberation theologians, social gospel proponents and others who say that Jesus came to change the temporal world.
As MacArthur points out:
The historical Jesus reached a living end and because He lives we can live also and escape hell with our sins forgiven. The only thing that sends sinners to hell is their sins and God says I’ll forgive them if you’ll believe in Jesus Christ. What a gift.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you miss the real Jesus and His salvation, life will be a dead end.
It will indeed.
I hope and pray that we remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead not only at Easter but every day with thanks to God.
My past few posts have discussed hell:
Hell on low — or no — heat (20th century history)
J C Ryle on hell (19th century, first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool)
The second one in the series has several quotes from 20th and 21st century pastors and theologians who have downplayed hell and questioned eternal punishment in the life to come.
I think Hell often gets downplayed because it is so difficult to imagine. The mind cannot rightly comprehend an eternity of suffering so it comes up with ideas that are more familiar to it such as a temporal prison sentence or that it simply doesn’t exist at all. In a way, this is how heresy springs up: we cannot fully comprehend so we make it something we can comprehend.
That is very true. Oddly, sinful man has no difficulty imagining heaven as being both beautiful and eternal. Yet, when it comes to divine and just punishment, suddenly, many of us consider that unthinkable.
It is impossible to comprehend God. And, because we cannot comprehend His plan and His ways, we cannot comprehend how offensive our sins against Him actually are.
I hope you will be encouraged to read all three articles in full.
God’s offence at our sin
Tommy Clayton wrote ‘Is God a Monster?’ in which he explains God’s view of sin.
Clayton was not always a Christian. He used to find divine judgment in the Bible unfair, extreme and arbitrary.
The Bible has several examples of people who died because they disobeyed God. Most of these are in the Old Testament, but the New Testament also has one case (not included in the three-year Lectionary, incidentally):
Lot’s wife. God turned her into a pillar of salt as she was leaving Sodom. Her crime? A backward glance (Genesis 19:26) …
- Nadab and Abihu deviated from the priestly procedures. God consumed them with fire (Leviticus 10:1-2).
- One man gathered wood on the Sabbath. God commanded Moses to stone him (Numbers 15:35).
- Achan took a few forbidden items from the spoils of Jericho. God commanded Joshua to stone and then burn Achan along with his entire family (Joshua 7:24-25).
- Uzzah kept the ark of God from falling into the mud by reaching out his hand and taking hold of it. God immediately struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
- Ananias and Sapphira lied to the apostles. God killed them both in front of the entire church. (Acts 5:1-10).
If we find ourselves asking if God is a monster, Clayton exhorts us to consider our imperfect and sinful lack of comprehension:
Our flesh wants to cry out in protest, “That’s not fair!” But responses like that reveal our failure to grasp the depth of sin. We see only actions—a devoted father gathering firewood to keep his family warm; a zealous Israelite anxious to keep the Ark of God off the ground—but God sees things differently, more clearly, than we do. He sees our sin as insurrection, rebellion against His holiness (Exodus 31:14; Numbers 4:15). What’s more, He sees the hidden motives and intentions at the core of our actions (Matthew 5:28; Hebrews 4:12) …
The Bible describes our sin as “rebellion,” “ungodliness,” “lawlessness,” “wickedness,” and an “abomination” (Leviticus 26:27; Isaiah 32:6; 1 John 3:4; Ezekiel 18:27; Proverbs 15:9). Sinners then, are traitors, refusing to love, thank, serve, and obey the God who gave them life, breath, and every good thing.
Sinners spurn God’s love, despise His sovereignty, mock His justice, and view His commands with contempt. They are thieves and murderers, stealing God’s glory and assaulting His holiness. In fact, as Martin Luther once remarked, if sinners had their way, they would dethrone and murder God, which is exactly what they did at Calvary (Acts 2:23). Viewed through the lens of Scripture, sin appears exceedingly sinful (Romans 7:13).
Clayton makes an excellent point about humanity’s anger with God when they should be angry with themselves over repeatedly offending Him:
I find it ironic that those who protest the idea of eternal, conscious torment deride the doctrine with words like, “cruel,” “morally revolting,” “monstrous,” and “repugnant.” Why don’t they employ the same terms of outrage to describe sin? Simple: they fail to see as God sees. God finds our sin “cruel,” “morally revolting,” “monstrous,” and “repugnant,” and He’s absolutely right. If we can’t see our sin as God sees it, it stands to reason that we don’t see the just judgment of hell like He sees it either. We’re just going to have to trust Him.
We’ve all assaulted God (Romans 3:23), and we all deserve hell. Reject Christ, and hell is exactly what you’ll get. God will rise up in judgment and cast all unbelievers into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), and all creation will praise His justice. To accuse God of injustice for sentencing sinners to hell is the height of arrogance and audacity.
This reminds me of an atheist who said to me several years ago, ‘Hell doesn’t apply to me, because I don’t believe. Hell is your thing, not mine.’
Hmm. We’ll see. One must pray for such people that divine grace imbues their hearts and minds.
Annihilation or temporary punishment
In contemplating the eternity of hell for any length of time, one can understand how the Catholic Church devised their unbiblical doctrine of purgatory and all the short little prayers that one could say which are said to reduce the time therein.
Among Evangelical Protestants, the notions of annihilation and temporary punishment are not uncommon. In ‘Is Hell Really Endless?’ Travis Allen takes proponents of both errors to task for misinterpreting — either accidentally or deliberately — the word ‘eternal’ in Scripture.
One view of hell that seems to be making a strong resurgence today among evangelicals is Annihilationism. There are slight variations, but it essentially teaches God will eventually snuff every unbeliever out of existence. Some Annihilationists make room for divine wrath, but they don’t allow it to extend beyond the lake of fire. In other words, they won’t allow God the full force of His judgment, which is eternal, conscious torment. For them, the lake of fire is what completely consumes and finally destroys sinners. Whether they see death as the end, or whether they see hell’s torments as limited in duration, the result is the same—a denial of the endlessness of hell.
… For no good exegetical reason, some Annihilationists have understood the word “eternal” to refer, not to a duration of time, but to the quality of God’s judgment. It’s eternal in quality, even though it has an end. Other Annihilationists say “eternal” refers to the effect of divine judgment. That is to say, God’s judgment results in death—as in extinction, annihilation—which is a state of non-being that lasts eternally.
If you’re having a hard time bending your mind around that, you’re not alone. It’s hard to conceive of a sinner experiencing an eternal quality of judgment without it lasting forever. Matthew 25:46 clearly teaches that the duration of punishment and life are alike, both eternal.
Allen cites John MacArthur’s explanation of the word ‘eternal’:
Punishment in hell is defined by the word aionios, which is the word eternal or everlasting. There are people who would like to redefine that word aionios and say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean forever.” But if you do that with hell, you’ve just done it with heaven, because the same word is used to describe both. If there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven. And I’ll go one beyond that. The same word is used to describe God. And so if there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven, nor is there an everlasting God. It is clear that God is eternal; and, therefore, that heaven is eternal, and so is hell. (John MacArthur, “A Testimony of One Surprised to Be in Hell, Part 2”)
Allen also quotes St Augustine of Hippo who wrote:
To say that life eternal shall be endless, [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity.
We understand our temporal laws easily. Being found guilty of breaking the law sometimes carries with it a custodial sentence which has an end. However, a sentence to hell from God has no end:
the nature of the infraction is measured against the nature of God who is holy and eternal. Likewise, God, who is perfect in righteousness, determines the justice an infraction demands. According to His Word, the punishment for an offense against a holy God is everlasting torment in hell.
In an uncomfortably poignant and penetrating way, the doctrine of eternal hell confronts our loyalty, reveals our true authority, and demands that we set aside what seems reasonable to us and trust in the righteous judgment of a holy God. When we embrace the hard doctrines of the Bible, it becomes one of the most significant evidences of true, God-given faith.
I hope the doctrine of eternal torment sobers you. May it fill you with praise to God for saving you from eternal punishment, for giving you eternal life instead. May it humble you when you realize you’re not getting what you deserve. And may it ignite in you a passion to proclaim the gospel to those poor souls who are unaware of the terror that awaits them outside the mercy of God.
Again, I cannot help but think of the atheist I spoke to several years ago.
Let’s not downplay hell
Tommy Clayton wrote the last article in the series, ‘The Severity of Hell’.
He began with a quotation from the famous 19th century Baptist preacher from London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
Shun all views of future punishment that would make it appear less terrible.
The rot was already setting in back then.
Modern views of hell won’t survive the test of biblical fidelity. They’ll allow the sinner to feel more comfortable and complacent by defanging God, making Him appear less severe.
He cites the Evangelical professor and theologian Wayne Grudem who associates an unscriptural belief about hell with a lack of belief in the validity of Scripture and, in the end, shaky faith:
The doctrine of eternal conscious punishment . . . tends to be one of the first doctrines given up by people who are moving away from a commitment to the Bible as absolutely truthful [. . .]. Among liberal theologians who do not accept the absolute truthfulness of the Bible, there is probably no one today who believes in the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
Jesus never presented hell lightly, nor did anyone in the Bible. Clayton reminds us:
Whenever Jesus described hell, He was never flippant or dismissive. He used vivid, terrifying terms to describe the final destination of sinners, shocking and scaring His audiences with frighteningly graphic metaphors. Hell is a place so bad that you should be willing to cut off sensitive, irreplaceable parts of your body to avoid it (Matthew 5:29-30); even martyrdom would be worth avoiding the torment of hell (Matthew 10:28). He always presented hell as a horrific place of intolerable suffering.
His descriptions are consistent with other biblical writers. Daniel referred to hell as a place of shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). Paul called it a place of endless destruction and punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Jude called hell a place of eternal fire and darkness (Jude 7). The Apostle John described hell as a place where sinners suffer everlasting torment, with no rest day or night (Revelation 14:9-11).
Taken together, all those descriptions of hell communicate pain, fear, loss, anger, separation, and hopelessness. It’s utter agony, eternal torment.
John Calvin explained:
By such expressions, the Holy Spirit certainly intended to confound all our senses with dread.
Some agnostics and unbelievers say they would rather be in hell so they can be with a close relative or best friend who predeceased them. However, that is a flawed, human way of viewing eternal punishment.
God does not allow any succour in hell. Those thinking they will be near their loved ones there will actually be very far away from them — forever.
Clayton cites John MacArthur:
This is a reminder to all sinners that while hell is the full fury of God’s personal punishment presence, He will never be there to comfort. He will never be there to show sympathy. He will never bring relief. [. . .] it is both the punishment of God and the absence of comfort. [. . .] That’s hell—punishment without relief (“The King Crucified: Consummation at Calvary”)
And the Puritan Thomas Vincent:
Not only will the unbeliever be in hell, but hell will be in him too.
The people ending up in hell will only be concerned with their own remorse and continuous torment, not with anyone else’s. Hell implies the absence of all things godly, which include love and compassion.
Please ensure that you understand the full import of hell. No one preaches on it anymore, so it requires independent study.
I’ve only heard one fire and brimstone sermon and that was by an elderly Catholic priest, a weekend guest in our parish, in 1972. He wore pre-Vatican II vestments, preached for 20 minutes and said most of the things that Grace To You elders have said above.
To say that hell is the absence of God alone makes eternal punishment appear metaphysical. It sells God’s justice and sovereignty short.
Posts later this week will give us a more human appreciation of the horrors of hell.
Yesterday’s post started with Matthew 13:50, in which our Lord spoke of the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ that takes place in hell.
In 1982, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Matthew 13:47-52:
The Parable of the Net
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
New and Old Treasures
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
MacArthur’s sermon is called ‘The Furnace of Fire’. In it, he explains the nature of hell.
As I said yesterday, our modern notion of hell has been watered down greatly since the 19th century. Most Christians believe it will be a place of mental torment where the damned long for God forever.
But could there be other sensory elements to hell, ones which mankind would prefer to overlook or to explain away because they are too horrifying to contemplate? MacArthur thinks so.
He says that Jesus talked about how horrible hell would be. The Gospels have many references about eternal condemnation. These can be found in Matthew 5, Matthew 8, Matthew 23 through 25, Mark 9, Luke 6, Luke 12 and Luke 16.
Jesus said more about fire than mental torment, although permanent insanity could well be the end result of going to hell. Yet, many theologians and clergy choose to gloss over this fact. It would be better if they were to say that hell is like Dante’s Inferno and advise us to read it. However, they would probably say that Jesus was using allegory in talking about hellfire. I doubt many believe in hell as Jesus described it.
Degrees of torment
Like Dante, MacArthur believes there will be degrees of punishment in hell (emphases mine):
You have in hell a place of relieved torment of body and soul in varying degrees … In other words, for some people, hell will be worse than others. For all who are there, it will be horrible. It will be ultimate suffering.
There will be no relief for that, but there will be even more severe degrees of suffering for some. It says in Hebrews 10, “Of how much more severe punishment shall they be thought worthy who have trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.” People who have stepped on Jesus Christ, who have rejected his cross, will know a greater hell than those who have not.
There will be degrees, just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven. We saw that, also, I think, in Matthew chapter 11, when it said, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you.” In other words, it’s only relative. It isn’t going to be tolerable for anyone, but it will appear to be more tolerable for them than for you because of what you have experienced.
You had Jesus Christ in your city, they didn’t. You rejected Him with more light; therefore, hell will be more severe for you. And then you have, of course, that incredible parable in Luke 12 where the Lord says, “To the servant who knew and didn’t do right, many stripes. To the servant who didn’t know and didn’t do right, a few stripes.” So hell will be unrelieved torment of body in soul in varying degrees. And John Gerstner says, “Hell will have such severe degrees that a sinner, were he able, would give the whole world if his sins could be one less.”
MacArthur reminds us that the Bible speaks of darkness when referring to hell:
the Bible defines it as darkness, outer darkness. That is deep-pit darkness, darkness that’s way out from the light, impenetrable darkness, darkness that closes in. And it is darkness without the hope of light forever. Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for the daylight?
Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for someone to turn a light on? To be in that encroaching, encompassing, moving kind of darkness and know that for all the eons of eternity, you will never see light is how our Lord describes hell. Unrelieved darkness forever, with no hope of the light, no hope of the dawn.
Yes, there is fire:
And the Bible also says it is a fire. Now, it is not a fire that we would know as fire, to burn something in this world. But fire is God’s way of describing it because it is a tortuous, unrelieved kind of fire, more terrible than any fire that we would ever know. But fire describes the torment of the damned; blackness describes the torment of the damned, no light, no light ever, ever. No relief from the suffering, the agony and the pain, forever. And there’s only two times in all of Scripture that we have any insight into how people respond to hell.
Torment of the body
MacArthur mentions Jesus’s cautionary story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:
24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:
31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Torment of the soul
it is a place of unrelieved torment for both body and soul, for both body and soul. Soul being the inner part.
The new body built for hell
MacArthur explains that the human body as God created for life on earth would not be able to resist hellfire.
So, when the Last Judgement takes place, just as those going to heaven will have a new glorified body, those going to hell will have a new body fit for eternal damnation:
When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment. In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned. They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire. It will be a body not like the body we have now. It will be a very different one. They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians.
We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right? We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned. And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies.
That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever. They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment. And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” You see, hell is soul and body.
Some people think it’s just bad memories. No, it isn’t just bad memories. It isn’t just the inner thinking processes; it is that body as well. Transcendent, eternal bodies, greater than anything we have on this earth, are going to be given to the damned so that they can suffer in those bodies forever. And that’s the only reason that they’ll have those bodies.
With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment. So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell.
The worm and fire forever
We know that the ‘worm dieth not’ and that the fire never goes out. This describes the Jewish Gehenna. Was Jesus addressing His people allegorically or literally?
Now what did He mean by that? When a body goes into the grave, into decay, worms descend into that body. And they begin to consume that body, and the worms will die when the food is gone. So once the body is consumed, the worms die. But in hell, the worms never die because the body, though it is continually being consumed, is never consumed. So the worm never dies.
In other words, the Lord was saying the unrelieved torment of body goes on and on.
it says, also, the fire is not quenched. Now a fire always goes out when the fuel is gone. But the fuel will never be gone. Though the burning goes on, the fuel is never consumed. And so you have unrelieved torment of body and soul.
Do enough of us think about hell or is it something we can explain away?
Is it more than the great existentialist void many of us have been taught to believe?
For all the time we spend rationalising hell, maybe it is time we gave Jesus’s warnings more thought. We — inherently sinful men and women — are telling each other that hell is a state of mind. Our Lord described it differently.
If contemplating the hell He described is a horrifying thought, He meant us to clearly understand it’s not a place we want to spend eternity. Repent, pray for faith and for continual grace.
In ‘A Church for the New Millennium’ he spoke about the incomprehension church growth theorists express with regard to the success of his Grace Community Church.
In other words, how could they increase their numbers without using the seemingly all-essential — in reality, unholy — principles of church growth?
Church growth in that context requires incorporating worldly values into the Church. It is big at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve written about it before.
MacArthur has never resorted to such falsehood. Yet, his congregation started from a small, local one nearly 50 years ago and, today, has thousands of people attending on any given Sunday.
He began by explaining the seeming urgent conundrum of modernising the Church. Emphases mine below. There has been a:
Tremendous amount of discussion on what it’s going to take for the church to reach this generation. The generation itself is incessantly being defined and redefined. Familiar terms – yuppie generation, the generation X and all of those kinds of terms are used to describe something of the cultural attitudes and mor[e]s of our society which are moving so very rapidly and churches are scrambling to try to react and find a place of relevancy in the culture under the fear that if they don’t, they will not be able to reach that culture.
It was some months ago now, quite a few months ago, that I told you about a book which I read, which has become very popular among church leaders that essentially says the church is going to be out of existence in the next 50 years if it doesn’t re-invent itself. By the mid-21st century, the church could literally be out of existence unless it redefines itself in terms of cultural expectations.
He rightly said that this was the wrong approach:
The church continually trying to redefine itself under the terms that are defined by culture, puts itself in a very difficult position since culture is going in the wrong direction to start with and it’s going there very, very rapidly.
In his congregation:
We have always believed at Grace Community Church that the church is defined not by the culture but by the scripture. That it is God who defines the church not the society around us. And certainly not the prince of the power of the air, who is the source of the culture, morays attitudes and philosophies so even religious. So we are different than other churches.
I received a great compliment recently from somebody who said[,] you know the thing that’s remarkable about Grace Community Church is that while everything in our society seems to be changing rapidly over the years, you haven’t changed at all. In fact, he said to me you are doing the same things you used to be doing in about the same way you used to be doing them. And I said this is true. And of course, the question comes up aren’t you concerned about being relevant? Well I’m only concerned really about being obedient to scripture and leaving the consequences to the Lord. So you know we’ve never been caught up in this scramble to try to adjust to the culture. And our church has grown and that’s kind of turned us into something of a curiosity.
This has flummoxed Fuller, which offers courses such as Theology and Hip Hop Culture:
We used to have the people from Fuller Seminary come here with the Church Growth classes and because our church was the fastest growing church and the largest church in Los Angeles, they of necessity would bring students here to show them a rapidly growing church and then they stopped doing that because they said we confused the students because we had no regard. We don’t have any information about how churches grow and we grew anyway. And that was confusing so they felt that selective research that reinforced their point was more useful for them and so they stopped coming here.
That is so sad, and I’m posting on it today because it reminds me of a reading from Matthew 13 coming up next (link goes live Saturday night UK time).
To draw a parallel, the Fuller faculty and students were exposed the truth of a good church then chose to ignore it in favour of their own flawed, worldly theory! It is appalling that their students are no longer taken as part of coursework to see Grace Community Church’s authenticity and faithfulness to Holy Scripture. That is a very serious and deliberate oversight on the part of Fuller faculty. It is a sin to twist a divine blessing into a manmade falsehood.
However, Grace Community Church’s natural growth thanks to the faithful preaching of Scripture has puzzled many other adherents of the church growth movement:
This church has been the subject of magazine articles and thes[e]s. Doctoral dissertations have been written on our church and on my preaching. There have been all kinds of reports about our church seminars, newspaper articles, journals, tapes, books, all undertaken to analyze our church. And our ministry ha[s] been examined and analyzed every way possible. Studied, labeled, categorized, copied. We have been blessed. We have been cursed. We have been defended. We have been ignored. We have been endowed. We have been publicized and we’ve even been sued. So just about a little of everything has come against us and the church itself can be rather simply defined in a lot of ways.
The definition includes:
the word church. That’s what we are. We aren’t anything else but a church. That is what we are. By definition we are a church. And if you understand that word means then you understand what this church is. That is the key to understanding Grace Community Church. It is the key to our identity. We are not like any other institution in the world. We are absolutely and utterly unique. And when you understand church, then you have a definition of what we are and what are to be in the world.
And it is really an unchanging definition. It is no different for us in the 20th century than it was in the 2nd century AD. It is not different for us than it was in the 10th century. It is no different for us than it was in the 15th century or any other century. We are defined by a divine designation church, not by anything cultural, not by anything contemporary, not by anything that society developed but rather by the word church, which is biblical.
MacArthur gave this sermon in 2000. It is sad to think that the church growth movement has been around for decades and shows no signs of abating. Fuller isn’t the only institution promoting it. Rick Warren — possibly their most famous alumnus alive today — does, too.
Fuller’s reach is a long one. Many Lutheran churches in America believe there is a winning formula in church growth.
So do Anglican churches here in England, although it is not referred to as such, however, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of ‘programmes’ and the deadly ‘small groups’. ‘Do, please join,’ our clergy and churchwardens exhort. Everyone needs to be ‘involved’!
It doesn’t work. I went to my Anglican church’s midnight service at Christmas last month. It was only a third full. Twenty years ago to the day — 1995 — it was standing room only. Making the C of E ‘relevant’ has brought down numbers dramatically.
Back to the biblical meaning of ‘church’:
The word church in the New Testament is from a Greek word ekklesia that is a noun that comes out of a group verb kaleo, which means to call. So ekklesia is simply the called, the called ones, those called together, those according to Romans 8:28 called according to God’s purpose. We are called together. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says I therefore the prison of the lord and treat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. You are the called because you’ve had a calling. And the church is simply the called ones. We are the assembly of the called. This was a very ordinary Greek word by the way. Very ordinary Greek word so it can be any assembly of any people called together for anything …
We are not a human organization built by good people. We are not a human organization designed by well-intentioned people. We are not a human organization basically constructed around some tradition. We are a group of people summoned together by God himself for his purposes. So we can say this the church is an assembly of people called by God. We are an assembly of people called by God …
We have been called by God together. Romans 1:6 you also are the called of Jesus Christ to all who are beloved of God in Rome called together as saints. And you find this in 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John and other places. Even Hebrews 3:1 talks about our heavenly calling and heaven is really a synonym for God.
It is not our church. It is not my church. It is not the pastor’s church. It is not the elder’s church. I have to tell you, it’s not even your church. It’s Christ’s church. He ordained it. He builds it. He leads it. We are simply called into it and he is the caller.
And this explains really all the goodness, all the blessing, all the success, all the power, all the things that we have seen by way of spiritual richness. It has all come from God. The weaknesses of our fellowship, the failures of our church on the other hand are the marks of humanness. Where you see us weak and failing is where you see the hand of men and women. The weak human vessels God has chosen do show up in the weak elements of life in the church. We fail because of us, not him. We succeed because of him, not us. So when you come to Grace Church and you want to analyze why it is what it is and when you want to find some pathway to success that might be repeatable somewhere else, you are going to find it very difficult. Because wherever we have succeeded it is because God has done a mighty work and wherever we have failed it is because the imprint of human hands is on this place.
The successes then cannot be easily defined. They cannot be easily analyzed. They cannot be easily canned and they cannot be easily reproduced and repeated because they are the work of God who is the caller of the called. The failures, yes, you can find those and you can certainly can repeat those. People can come to Grace Church and analyze our failures and go back and repeat them. But when they come and try to analyze our success and go back and repeat that, it’s really impossible because the Lord is the one who has caused the blessing and the success. The Lord is behind the power and the impact of the church. And he is not easily defined, analyzed, canned and repeated.
So what I’m saying is that Grace Community Church has been blessed only as we have functioned as God’s called people, not some human organization, not with some unusual level of human leadership or some unusual level of the power of persuasive speech. That is not what has caused this church to become what it is. That is not how we define ourselves and that is no reasonable explanation of the blessing of God. Wherever God moves, the flowers have always bloomed. Wherever we walk, they always die.
what I’m concerned about today is so many people in the ministry who under this pressure to somehow let the culture define them are ceasing to be the church. You can look at some of those places and they may call themselves the church and there is a church in there somewhere. There’s a community of the called in there somewhere not to be confused with what is visible. We never wanted to have somewhere hidden the midst of a visible human organization a real church. We wanted the real church to be visible. The single great goal then for the church through all its life has been to let God be at work and to allow the church to be the church. We don’t want the culture to define what we are. We don’t want the society around us to define what we are. We want to be whatever it is that God wants us to be. That’s what we want to be. Nothing less and nothing more.
Fuller, Warren, their followers and the rest of the church growth movement will never understand that simple, biblical principle.
May we choose our congregations wisely.
On January 6, 2016, the Revd James McConnell was acquitted of charges concerning improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a ‘grossly offensive’ message to be sent via said network.
As Melanie McDonagh, a Catholic columnist for The Spectator put it, the charges were rather ‘obscure’.
In June 2015, the BBC reported that someone filed a complaint about an Internet broadcast of one of McConnell’s sermons in which he referred to Islam as being ‘heathen’ and ‘satanic’ in May 2014.
McConnell, 78, preaches at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast. The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service’s procedure is to issue an ‘informed warning’ which, whilst not a conviction, remains on or creates a criminal record and holds for 12 months afterwards. The Public Prosecution Service takes anyone refusing an informed warning to court.
Although Pastor McConnell apologised publicly for his remarks, he refused the warning and ended up in court. His three-day trial took place in December 2015.
Possibly because he had no criminal record before this incident, McConnell’s trial had jovial aspects and lighter moments with Irish banter exchanged between the pastor’s legal team and the presiding magistrate.
McConnell said at the trial that the first he knew of the charge was when a reporter from the BBC rang him. Furthermore, the judge told the court that McConnell had also insulted Henry VIII, calling him an ‘auld reprobate’.
Two of the pastor’s character witnesses were a Catholic priest, the Revd Pat McCafferty, and an imam, Muhammad Al-Hussaini. Although the latter was not called on to testify, he travelled to Belfast to support McConnell in a case he believes never should have seen the light of day.
Dr Al-Hussaini, a senior fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute in London, told the Belfast Telegraph:
… this should take place in civic society, rather than within the courtroom. “While there is a public conversation to be had now about how religious leaders should best give witness to their beliefs with truthfulness and at the same time ‘always with gentleness and respect’ as Scripture commands, this is a discussion for theologians and ordinary citizens in civil society, and not the judiciary,” he said. “In a free society people take exception to all kinds of things in cinema, online or other media but, other than material which incites to physical violence, I hope the Northern Ireland PPS will give careful consideration before again entering into vexed questions about what is ‘grossly offensive’ enough to prosecute.”
I suspect that Al-Hussaini is an Ismaili (Shia, Aga Khan leader) Muslim because he enjoys Western society. The Irish Times reported in 2015 that he is one of the sean nós singers at the London Irish Centre. He also plays the fiddle.
He told The Irish Times that the London Irish Centre is his ‘safe space’. He explained that, after the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, 2015, he came under severe abuse for opposing extremism and, among other things, received faeces-smeared letters.
Of course, he is equally criticised for loving music, which fundamentalist Muslims say goes against the Koran.
Al-Hussaini reminds me of the Muslims I knew in the 1970s — enlightened, interesting and engaging. I wish there were more of them today, especially in Britain. Even he makes the observation that the strains of Islam practised here are deeply fundamentalist.
On extremism, he had this to say to The Irish Times:
“Extremism seeks to abolish the arts. Isis ban coloured pencils because it is a form of ideological mind-control which the arts frees one from. Arts promote a sense of humanity and expression that is not necessarily constrained by a literalist reading of scripture,” he says.
“So it is in the interests of those who have that particular agenda to sit upon expressions of art, even if they are traditionalist expressions of culture.” In any event, song and poetry is wedded into Arabic culture, “long epic poems, our equivalent of the Odyssey and the Aeneid, that were sung around the Bedouin camp fire.
“People still have the whole of these poems in their heads. There are poetry recitation competitions all over the Gulf. You can become a millionaire from winning one of these, they are so highly valued.”
More power to this imam’s voice — in his lecturing and his singing.
May Pastor McConnell be blessed with a peaceful retirement and provide good counsel to younger ministers and the congregation at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.
I notice that his acquittal took place on Epiphany. Wise judgement prevailed.
If you are in Christian leadership, you should exercise much wisdom:
1. Always use the lightest correctionary discipline possible, not the heaviest.
2. Be suspect of “revelation or confirmation of the Holy Spirit.”
3. Be aware of your own personality and flesh and how that might color your judgement.
4. Use grace. Forgive others.
5. Don’t insist on having your way but look for God’s.
6. Allow the Holy Spirit to rule the church. You are not the Holy Spirit.
7. Know that the Pharisees exceeded their authority and punished the innocent (Jesus). Don’t join the company of the Pharisees.
Hope these tips are helpful.
They are also helpful in the home. I shudder when I read some parents’ blogs with their accounts of supposed divinely received messages or visions. Scary. Is that bringing their children closer to Christ or estranging them?
There are also many families who are quick to universally condemn a sibling or cousin who, for whatever reason, feels estranged: ‘We don’t talk to them any longer’. Why not? Instead of behaving like Pharisees and all falling into line without getting the facts, talk to those relatives! Resolve the problem!
One of my cousins from my late mother’s side once said, ‘Your dad was always so nice — and so witty!’
I said, knowing of our side’s estrangement of another cousin — a devout Christian — who, after many years, feels as if she can no longer be part of the family despite my long-distance appeals, ‘My dad’s side did not have feuds or a falling out, even though everyone was an individual with different life experiences.’
He replied, ‘Wow. That’s sure not how our family operates.’
‘No kidding. What are you going to do about it?’
‘Nothing. None of my business. I have my own children and grandchildren now. They keep me busy enough.’
I hope that my readers are not like my cousin, congenial and responsible as he is. I pray that if you are reading this and have a family estrangement for no good reason, you take constructive steps to resolve it, especially before Christmas. Invite that relative over for coffee or meet up somewhere. Have a friendly conversation. Let them know you love them — and keep in touch afterwards.
The past few weekends I have been writing about Jesus’s healing — creative — miracles in Matthew 8 and 9:
Matthew 8:1-4 – Jesus, creative miracle, leper
Matthew 8:5-13 – Jesus, creative miracle, centurion, faith, humility
Matthew 8:14-17 – creative miracles, Jesus, Peter’s mother-in-law
Matthew 8:23-27 – Jesus, storm, miracle, Sea of Galilee, faith
Matthew 8:28-34 – Gadarene swine, miracle, demons, Jesus
Matthew 9:1-8 – healing miracle, creative miracle, paralytic, sin, Jesus
Matthew 9:18-26 – Jesus, miracles, Jairus’s daughter, death, sleep, woman with blood issue, resurrection, healing
Matthew 9:27-31 – Jesus, miracles, healing, two blind men, physical blindness, spiritual blindness, faith, Capernaum
Matthew 9:32-34 – Jesus, miracles, healing, deaf mute possessed by demon, Capernaum
John MacArthur’s sermon, ‘Miracles of Sight and Sound’, explains how St Matthew wanted us to think of Jesus with regard to His miracles, events in the Old Testament and ancient biblical prophecy. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
Matthew’s purpose in writing is to tell us: that Jesus is that Messiah; that that someday has arrived; that Christ is the promised King; that He is the One who can right the wrongs, who can reverse the curse, who can establish the kingdom, who can destroy the enemy. He is the One. And in order to convince us that Christ has the power to do that, in chapters 8 and 9, Matthew marks His miracle power, and he doesn’t do it in a random manner. He marks His miracle power, I believe, insofar as it is associated with Old Testament prophecy. There were many miracles that Jesus did—Matthew selects nine of them in chapters 8 and 9, three sets of three—and, in these miracles, I see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And Matthew was saying, “This is the Messiah. He fulfills the prophecy. The prophecy says He will do all of this in the kingdom, and He has given you a preview of it all.” The kingdom will evidence His power over disease, His power over death, His power over the elements, His power over the earth; and in His first coming, He gave previews of all of those. Now remember that of the nine miracles, the first three deal with disease, the second three deal with disorder, and the third primarily with death. And there’s some overlap, but that’s just kind of a general focus.
After Adam and Eve committed what is known in the Church as Original Sin — the disobedience which caused every human afterward to sin by instinct — God promised redemption for mankind:
in Genesis, chapter 3, no sooner had man fallen than God gave the promise that there would come One who would be called the Seed of the woman; and that very One would bruise the serpent’s head. And so from that time on, the Old Testament was filled with promises that God would bring a Deliverer, that God would bring a King, and that that King would restore the kingdom, would establish again the rule of God, would wipe out disease and death and pain and illness and sorrow and war and fighting. And the prophets would again and again and again repeat that He’s coming: the Anointed Son, the King of kings, the Satan-Conqueror, the Death-Defeater, the Sin-Destroyer, the Healer. The Jews know Him as the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Prophet, Priest, and King surpassing all others.
MacArthur cites passages from the prophet Isaiah which proclaim that the Messiah would save and restore God’s people. He says these are pertinent to the first three healing miracles.
22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.
23 Your cords hang loose;
they cannot hold the mast firm in its place
or keep the sail spread out.
Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
even the lame will take the prey.
24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.
Isaiah 57:19 (second half of the verse):
As there was no disease before the Fall, there will be no disease after the restoration. Now, if Jesus Christ is the One who has the power to do that, He must be able to demonstrate such power, and that is why Matthew shows us that He has power over disease.
Isaiah 35 prophesies a restored topography of the Earth. MacArthur says that Matthew wanted us to connect this with Jesus’s calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee when the disciples feared for their lives. This is what Isaiah 35:4 says:
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
Isaiah 29:18 speaks of the restoration of sight and hearing:
In that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see.
We can also draw a spiritual meaning from those verses, that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes and ears to saving faith.
MacArthur associates Matthew’s accounts of deliverance — casting out demons — with verses from the Book of Daniel. These also pertain to his raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead. Therefore, Jesus has power over sin and death.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
From these verses — merely a few examples of the scriptural foretelling of the arrival of Christ as Lord — we learn that He did not come to earth randomly.
There are Christians who mistakenly say that we should not study the Old Testament. Ironically, they do, for the verses which condemn certain sins. That is not wrong, but there are many New Testament verses which cover abomination and depravity which lead to eternal death.
A true Christian will read the Old Testament in light of how God and His prophets attempted to guide the Israelites to be ready for the Messiah and what we can expect from Him.
The Old Testament points to Christ throughout.
Scripture is alive, historical and full of meaning. May we study it closer in our walk with the Lord.
Apostleship is priceless.
However, it cannot be bought.
Unfortunately, one minister, C Peter Wagner (please read the posts at the link) makes apostleship sound like a club membership: pay and you’re in.
John MacArthur’s Grace to You (GTY) ministry unpacked this in 2013. Please do not follow anyone who says that you can buy apostleship. If you do have such a membership, please do not renew it.
Excerpts follow from Cameron Buettel and Jeremiah Johnson’s GTY article, ‘The Apostles Who Don’t Do Anything: the New Apostolic Reformation’ (emphases mine):
The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a movement pioneered by C. Peter Wagner. This is what charismatic and continuationist doctrine looks like when taken to its logical conclusion. The NAR claims that not only the gifts, but also the office of apostleship still continues today. And as apostles, they pretend to speak for God and wield His divine authority—but it is all merely a pretense …
Wagner even goes so far as to describe this era as “The Second Apostolic Age.” His “studies indicate that it began around the year 2001,” although he doesn’t bother to explain or define what those studies were. 
In this new age of apostles, several apostolic networks have been established. Wagner’s is called the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). Its website contains a global map to help locate the apostles in your part of the world. According to the network, there are more than 150 apostles in the U.S. alone …
According to the ICA website, the aspiring apostle must be nominated by two existing apostles who can show that he meets the ICA’s criteria. There are some fees, too.
The pricing table for apostleship is curious. The ICA charges an annual $450 fee to be an apostle. However, Native Americans receive a $100 discount. There’s also a couple’s rate of $650, just in case your wife also happens to be an apostle. And you want to stay on top of your dues, because failure to renew your membership on time results in a “deactivated” apostleship—it’s not clear if that includes the deactivation of any spiritual gifts as well. All is not lost, however—a deactivated apostle can be reactivated for an extra $50.
Put simply, becoming an apostle with the ICA is only slightly more difficult (and expensive) than purchasing a season pass to Disneyland.
It is worth noting:
People believe in Wagner’s apostleship simply because he had the temerity to claim it. But you won’t find delusions of grandeur and audacious whimsy in the list of biblical requirements for apostles …
Just a simple reading of the book of Acts is enough to illustrate how impotent and unfit these modern apostles are, and how their fanciful assertions have perverted and distorted the office of apostle beyond recognition.
Please do not follow people like this. Think about the logic about buying apostleship. It cannot be done. It was never done in the New Testament. It’s merely a moneymaking scheme. Disregard it.