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John F MacArthurYesterday’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.”

Darkness

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. 

Fire

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

MacArthur says:

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?

MacArthur explains:

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.

And:

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.

Conclusion

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.

John F MacArthurMy examination of the readings for Christmas 2 two weeks ago cited a sermon from John MacArthur.

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.

In fact:

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.

Therefore:

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.

Ultimately:

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.

In closing:

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.

Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget has an excellent post, ‘Suspicion is not proof’, which gives seven good tips on dealing with those suspected of wrongdoing in a church context:

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.

John F MacArthurThe 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.

Genesis

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.

Isaiah

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.

Isaiah 33:22-24:

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):

“… Peace, peace, (AI)to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
    (AJ)and I will heal him.

Therefore:

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.

Daniel

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.

Daniel 12:2:

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.

Conclusion

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.

Last week, Le Monde‘s weekend magazine featured an article on ‘What would Jesus do?’ wristband bracelets with WWJD on them.

Apparently, they are all the rage among young French Evangelicals aged between 20 and 25. Evangelicals comprise nearly half — 300,000 — of the nation’s Protestants.

In addition to WWJD, one can also purchase wristbands with FROG (Fully rely on God) and PUSH (Pray until something happens) on them.

The article explains that WWJD came from an American novel from 1896, In His Steps. A pastor, Charles M Sheldon wrote it by assembling material from a series of tracts he had previously published and adding a good dose of Christian Socialism involving a homeless man who wonders why Christians are so tight with their money when it comes to charity.

In the book, the homeless man is the guest preacher one Sunday. He collapses of a heart attack afterward and dies. The fictional pastor is so moved by the event that he tells his congregation that they must ask themselves ‘What would Jesus do?’ before doing anything for the next 12 months.

Wikipedia has an entry on WWJD, which explains more about the Congregationalist pastor’s novel (emphases mine):

Charles Sheldon‘s 1896 book, In His Steps was subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?”[3] Sheldon’s novel grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his Congregationalist church in Topeka, Kansas. Unlike the previous nuances mentioned above, Sheldon’s theology was shaped by a commitment to Christian Socialism. The ethos of Sheldon’s approach to the Christian life was expressed in this phrase “What Would Jesus Do”, with Jesus being a moral example as well as a Saviour figure.[4] Sheldon’s ideas coalesced with those that formed into the Social Gospel espoused by Walter Rauschenbusch. Indeed Rauschenbusch acknowledged that his Social Gospel owed its inspiration directly to Sheldon’s novel,[citation needed] and Sheldon himself identified his own theology with the Social Gospel.[citation needed]

My longstanding readers might recall the post on the history of the social gospel, a revealing and somewhat surprising one. An excerpt follows:

Walter Rauschenbusch (1861 – 1918), Professor of Church History at Rochester Theological Seminaryis known as the ‘Father of the Social Gospel’.  You might be interested to know that John D Rockefeller funded this seminary, along with many others in the United States.

Dr Rauschenbusch grew up in a German Lutheran family but became a Baptist pastor prior to his professorship.  His status as a professor gave him the platform to become an influential theologian.  He wrote two books, Christianising the Social Order and A Theology for the Social Gospel.  He considered himself steeped in ‘higher criticism’ and well-versed in socialism.  He proposed a more relevant and compassionate Gospel designed to change the emphasis and direction of American Protestantism.  He also introduced the idea of an earthly Kingdom achieved through socialism. He posited that Jesus didn’t come to save sinners but had a ‘social passion’ for society. Does that sound familiar?  It’s surprising what our forebears thought of such a long time ago, isn’t it?

In 1907, he met with the Fabians (socialists) in England.  Remember, Margaret Sanger also met with Fabians and had one heck of a time.  As with Mrs Sanger, the Fabians advised a gentle, peaceful, sensible approach to this transformation.  Also, as with Mrs Sanger, they proposed propaganda and infiltration to achieve their goals.  In Rauschenbusch’s case the targets were to be universities, seminaries and churches.

A year later John D Rockefeller helped Rauschenbusch and the Fabian Revd Harry Wardremember this nameto fund the establishment of the Federal Council of Churches. This would eventually become the National Council of Churches. We now have the World Council of Churches, which is very much aligned with the United Nations and global agendas.  Jesus Christ doesn’t get a look in. 

My post has much more. Briefly, Ward was the main player in furthering Communist penetration of churches in the United States. His involvement came to light during the McCarthy hearings in July 1953. A former Communist, Manning Johnson, testified:

Dr Harry F Ward, for many years, has been the chief architect for Communist infiltration and subversion in the religious field.

So, the WWJD slogan isn’t as innocent as it seems. Although there might not necessarily be a socio-political agenda attached to it today, there certainly was one in the beginning.

It is interesting to note that, by 1935, Sheldon’s In His Steps had been translated into 21 languages. I wonder who financed that.

The novel was updated in 1993 by his great-grandson Garrett W Sheldon.

In Philippians 3, Paul warns against putting too much faith in our own efforts:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

He tells his own story, describing his former identity as a Jew and a Pharisee. He confesses that he persecuted the Church with zeal, thinking it righteous. Post-conversion everything changed dramatically:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

He acknowledges that he is powerless on his own and:

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

He exhorts the Philippians to do the same:

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

The closing verses of Philippians 3 and first of Philippians 4 appeared in the June 2015 newsletter of l’Église Protestante Unie de Cannes, in a final written commentary by their pastor Paolo Morlacchetti, who has since been assigned to the Reformed congregation in Nice.

The verses are as follows:

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

4 Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

In his commentary, ‘Our city is in heaven’, Pastor Morlacchetti wrote that we can possess the highest human traits and beliefs, but, without faith in Jesus Christ, they count for nothing. Paul saw this in some of the Philippians and, similarly, it is easy for us to recognise such people today:

The enemies of the cross of Christ are those who think they can bypass the cross. They are naturally people who enter one or another of sects which are multiplying in our post-Christian era; they think they can find more and better than the Evangelist [Paul]. Or they think that what the Evangelist said is outdated. These days we need new ideals and a new morality.

The enemies of the cross are also those who believe in humanity, in its faculties, in its achievements without noticing that if humanity is capable of great things it can also commit its worst atrocities. Or they are the indifferent, the great mass of the indifferent, who turn their backs on the cross and obliterate it from their lives.

When the Apostle Paul says that some are enemies of the cross of Christ, he isn’t advocating a crusade against them. He does not say that one must destroy heretics in order to purify the Church and the earth. When he thinks of them, Paul cries (‘with tears’). Yes, he cries with sadness because such people are losing their life by imagining they are saving it.

They have for a god their belly, writes Paul. Their belly, which in that era might have been circumcision or dietary restrictions. It could also be whatever satisfies us morally or materially. It could be moral attributes or a belief system which turns us away from Christ. Any human recourse — false salvation — perpetuates the illusion and enslaves us.

The man who refuses Christ’s cross thinks he can get by on his own efforts; he believes himself to be self-sufficient. But in reality, he obeys this system, this ideology, as if it were a religion and he himself its disciple. He loses his liberty, he allies himself with a foreign power. This is why the apostle Paul directs us to another authority. If we really want to be free, we must choose to submit to this authority, that of Jesus Christ.

Morlacchetti concludes:

As so often happens, we face a choice. No longer putting confidence in ourselves, in our resources and in our own merit … this is the fundamental question which we face our whole lives. Our faith revolves around this decisive choice.

The Apostle Paul understood this well. He ceased putting his confidence in his own personal qualities, however authentic, of being a Jew and a Pharisee. He put his belief in Jesus Christ. When he says to imitate him, he does not say, ‘Follow me,’ he tells us, ‘Follow Jesus Christ, believe in Him’. He directs us to another, not himself.

It is for this reason that we see in him a witness worthy of being believed.

It is useful to read St Paul’s letters not only from a historical perspective but also to discern what they tell us — and the world — today with regard to belief and faith. I’d read this passage before, but not in such a relevant way. Morlacchetti’s interpretation of ‘belly’ was, for me, particularly helpful.

porte du temple après rénovation en 2007In 2009, I went to a service at Église Reformée in the Rue Notre-Dame in Cannes (right behind La Croisette and the Hôtel Majestic).

The pastor, the Revd Paolo Morlacchetti, was on holiday at the time, and Pastor Tambon took the service. My review of it was mixed, particularly the sermon.

(Photo credit: huguenotsinfo. Note the wrought iron Huguenot cross on the doors!)

In June 2015, we were in town during one weekend, so I went back. The church’s name has since changed to l’Église Protestante Unie de Cannes, which I’ll explain at the end of this post.

Perhaps providentially, SpouseMouse and I got a very early wake-up call via the violent thunderstorm which ripped through the Côte d’Azur. Nice-Matin has readers’ photos of the dramatic lightning and flash flooding from that morning.

I am happy to say that my church experience could not have been better. Pastor Morlacchetti was there. As was an organist! Gone was the little machine with recorded hymn music!

There is no Peace with handshakes and hugs, thankfully. In Continental Protestant tradition, people talk to each other in church before the service, sometimes rather loudly. The clergy also appear briefly. A lady came over to speak to me, complimented me on my French, told me there was someone else there from England that morning and cordially asked why I hadn’t gone to the Anglican Church instead. I said that our hotel was but a two-minute walk away.

Beautiful service

Most of the liturgy was sung to organ music. These prayers praised God in His glory. The melodic public confession in minor key was lengthy and meaningful.

Hymns were traditional and serious.

The readings were as follows. First, the Psalm:

Psalm 134

Come, Bless the Lord
A Song of Ascents.

134 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

Then the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, rather apposite for me and the other Briton in the congregation (see verse 9):

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

The Gospel reading was Mark 4:26-34:

The Parable of the Seed Growing

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Pastor Morlacchetti tied the Epistle and Gospel together in an excellent sermon on developing one’s personal faith.

He advised us to resist the world and focus on pleasing God instead. This world is not our natural home. He discussed the mustard tree growing abundantly, almost miraculously, from an incredibly small seed. That is how we should be growing in faith.

He said this would come about if we prayed regularly and studied the Bible daily! (A man after my own heart.)  He explained that the more we focus on prayer and Scripture, the closer our relationship with the Lord becomes. We begin to put away the things of this life and focus on pleasing Him, as Paul says. We also give a true Christian example to others in demeanour and deed.

I wanted to applaud.

After the service, Morlacchetti — in full Geneva gown and starched bands — seemed genuinely happy to greet everyone, including visitors. He seems to be a godly man, truly serving the Lord in ministry.

Pastor Morlacchetti

Paolo Morlacchetti’s theological speciality is Italian Protestantism, particularly at the end of the 19th century.

The revolution in Italy of 1848 resulted in a decree by their king which permitted freedom of worship for Jews and Protestants. Protestants living in the Piedmont region were finally able to escape their mountain ghettos, where they had been forced to live in isolation for centuries.

Morlacchetti preaches on Pasteur du dimanche (Sunday Pastor), a site which features short videos from Protestant clergy on Scripture.

In July 2015, Morlacchetti briefly discussed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, emphasising that Jesus’s multiplication took place only once the disciples believed that He could feed everyone. Therefore, faith brings abundant blessings:

Unfortunately for the Cannes congregation, Morlacchetti has been called to continue his ministry in Nice. His last Sunday with them was July 5, 2015. I’m sure they will miss him greatly. I wish them all the best in a search for a new pastor. Their newsletter L’Arc en ciel (Rainbow) explained that it would take at least a year to find a suitable replacement. They have been able to arrange for clergy to take Sunday services in the near term.

L’Église Protestante Unie de France

In 2007, France’s Lutheran and Reformed Churches began unifying both denominations. In 2012, this process resulted in the creation of a United Protestant Church of France.

Whilst l’Église Protestante Unie allows the Reformed and the Lutheran churches to maintain their own churches and theology, they are unified as a Protestant body following the example of United Churches in other countries.

Although France’s Protestants are a small group, indeed — 400,000, or 2.3% of the population — immigrants from Africa are steadily increasing these numbers. An African family was at the church in Cannes the morning I attended, and two African youngsters were confirmed there on Pentecost Sunday this year.

France’s Protestants have 500 clergy, one-third of whom are women. They have 1,000 churches and two seminaries.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post looked at Matthew 8:18-22, wherein Jesus told a scribe who wanted to follow Him that (verse 20):

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

In his sermon on that passage, John MacArthur explained the meaning of the ‘Son of Man’ as follows (emphases mine):

I love the statement:  “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”  The Son of Man first appears in Daniel 7:13.  Daniel prophesied that the Messiah would be Son of Man, and Jesus came and said, “I’m Son of Man.”  Do you know how many times that’s used in the gospels?  Eighty times!  Jesus affirmed He was the Son of man.  What is it?  It’s a term of humiliation.  Son of God speaks of deity; Son of Man of His humiliation.  He’s saying, “In my humiliation I don’t even have what foxes have, and the foxes were very common in those parts of the world in those times, and they would burrow little holes in the ground.  And birds were everywhere and they had their nests, and He said, “I don’t even have that.”  In my humiliation I don’t have the basic comforts of life and if you’re going to follow me you’re going to have to be willing to give that up.

Again, as MacArthur says, which I covered in my post, the Lord might not ask us to give up material and familial comforts at all, however, if circumstances beyond our control demand that we do so in order to follow Him, then we must. However:

He may not want to take away your personal possessions.  He may not want to take away your personal relationships.  But you have to be willing to let him if He wanted to, you see?  That’s the affirmation of His Lordship in your life.  If you come, saying, “I’ll come, but I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this,” and you give Him half a heart, you get nothing.  If you offer Him everything, He may allow you to keep the portion.  He may give you more than you have.  It’s the willingness that is the issue.

Something to consider. How willing are we to truly follow Christ?

John F MacArthurIn his sermon on Matthew 8:1-4, which I referred to in yesterday’s post, John MacArthur helpfully explains the structure of St Matthew’s Gospel, designed to show us the deity of Christ Jesus.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

First chapter: genealogy.  That attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah.  Second chapter: birth, and all of the fulfillment of prophecy attested to the prophetic qualifications of the Messiah.  And then you come to His baptism: attested to the divine approval of His messiahshipThen you come to the temptation: attested to His spiritual qualifications to be the Messiah.  Then you come to the sermon [on the Mount]: His theological qualifications. And now you come to the miracles, the most essential qualification of all, the proof that He is God.  He’s God.

By the way, chapter 8 begins where chapter 4 left off; the sermon is stuck in the middle. But when we closed chapter 4, do you remember what He was doing? Verse 23?  “And Jesus went all about Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.  And His fame went throughout all Syria.  And they brought unto Him all the sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those who were possessed with demons, those who were epileptic, those who had paralysis, and He healed them.  And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.”  You see, this is right where He left off, isn’t it?  He went up in a mountain, preached a sermon, came down, and started it all over again.  Thousands, uncounted numbers of healings, and He healed all who came to Him.

The first miracle recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is the healing of the leper. MacArthur describes the pattern of miracles in Matthew 8 and 9 and the narrative through Matthew 13:

The 8th chapter through the 12th chapter is really, in many ways, critical to the understanding of the life of Christ and the message of Matthew.  For in this section, Matthew records a series of miracles performed by Jesus Christ.  There are countless thousands of miracles that are done, nine of which he singles out as examples of the power of Jesus Christ. They are really His credentials as the Messiah.  They are those signs which point convincingly to His deity, for only God can do the things that He does.  The sad part is that, after the miracles in chapters 8 and 9, after the preaching that occurs following that, the Jews conclude in chapter 12 that Jesus is of the devil. That was their conclusion.  So in many ways this becomes the heart of Matthew’s message.  Christ does everything possible to manifest His deity, and they conclude exactly the opposite. And then in chapter 13, He turns from the Jews toward the establishment of a Gentile church.  This is a monumental section of Scripture.  Now you’ll notice that it begins with three miracles:  miracle of healing the leper in the first four verses; healing the man with paralysis, verses 5 to 13; and the woman with fever in verses 14 and 15.  This is the opening triad of miracles.  There are nine miracles in these two chapters.  They come in three sections of three:  three miracles, then a response; three miracles, then a response; three miracles, then a response; all designed to manifest the deity of Jesus Christ.

Miracles, you see, were God’s way of attesting to the deity of His Son.  They are creative miracles.  They manifest power that is only defined by the essence of God.  They are things that man could never do.  They are supernatural. 

I will continue to write about the miracles in Matthew 8 as they have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary, widely in use for public worship.

However, understanding more about how Matthew structured his Gospel will help those of us new to the Bible to better understand and appreciate it.

God speaks pinkerwjhharvardeduOne of my readers, LCMS member Brad Grierson, recently wrote a short but essential post on pastors’ sermons, ‘Jesus is not a cameo guest star’.

A brief excerpt follows:

Too many pastors treat Jesus as the cameo guest star. It’s absolutely amazing how these so called pastors can spend over an hour preaching on finances or good sex and never touch the gospel. They just bring Jesus out, bound and gagged mind you so that he doesn’t interfere with the message, and say, “Hey look, it’s Jesus,” thereby giving the impression that the Son of God actually approves of what is being said despite having absolutely nothing to do with him.

I couldn’t agree more. I have heard too many modern sermons from Protestant and Catholic clergymen alike who shoehorn Jesus into their preaching as if a mere mention — a sentence or two — will do. And, as Brad Grierson says, the clergyperson might be falsely linking Jesus’s sayings with unbiblical concepts.

Grierson’s advice is to hightail it out of churches where the Word is not preached. Where the Word is not preached, the Gospel is lacking.

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