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Billy Graham’s Passing

Billy Graham’s Passing

by Rick Shrader

Billy Graham was an evangelical evangelist who preached the gospel and saw many thousands of people come to Christ through his ministry.  Though I have not been a supporter of his new-evangelical ecumenicalism, I have always been thankful for many things about his life and ministry.  It will be interesting to see how America today handles the memory of Billy Graham and his preaching.  It is easy to praise a man after he is incapacitated or has passed away.  In many ways today America would not tolerate the evangelical message of salvation only in Jesus Christ, i.e., the Christian message being the ONLY way to God and that through a personal faith in Jesus Christ.  But I think we will see them paying lip service to it over the next few days.

Most evangelicals today would not be able to handle the “old fashioned” style of the Billy Graham Crusade, with its hymn singing and choirs, with George Beverly Shea singing How Great Thou Art, and especially with its public invitation to accept Christ right now, and perhaps even with Graham’s condemnation of sexual and moral sins.  It should be known or remembered that Graham was not the inventor of the crusade method that he used.  Many of us grew up hearing many evangelists preach in tents and large venues and give public invitations.  My own pastor, John Rawlings, who also died a few years ago at 99, preached this way all of his life.  As a fundamentalist, I am also reminded that in those days there was a stronger ability to stand against the ecumenicalism of the Graham Crusades and even that was more tolerated among evangelicals and fundamentalists than it would be today.  Sadly, we are also seeing that methodology (calling evil good and good evil) bear fruit in the evangelical world.

But I am also quick to compliment Billy Graham for a number of things for which I am thankful.  First, that there are, and will be, thousands of people in heaven because of his message of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.  I know many of them personally.  I am thankful that he kept himself clean from moral, financial, and other public failures that seems to have plagued many public religious figures of his day.  I am thankful that he made the public invitation acceptable, something which helped all of us who give invitations.  Many today who will praise his ministry will never themselves give a public invitation.  And I am thankful that even today, the day of his death, many television watchers will hear in his preaching again, maybe in old black and white scenes, the message that salvation is only in Jesus Christ.  He being dead yet speaketh, at least for the next few days.

In my life and ministry over the last fifty years, I could not support the ecumenicalism of Billy Graham.  But I can rejoice in a message of Jesus Christ and I am thankful for that.

 

Christianity and Liberalsim

Christianity and Liberalsim

by Rick Shrader

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I reread this classic work on a Kindle version.  Machen first wrote this book in 1921 when his Presbyterian church was experiencing encroaching liberalism.  It was first published in The Princeton Theological Review and was later put in book form.  The book simply moves through the subjects of man, sin, God, Scripture, Salvation, and the Church, in each way showing how Liberalism is not Christianity as much as liberals try to make it so.  Machen’s logical reasoning and clear use of Scripture has ever since made historic Christianity clear and plain.

Machen writes, “Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith.  It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there.  The undogmatic faith, it is said, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith—faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge.”  He also wrote, “The greatest menace to the Christian Church today comes not from the enemies outside, but from the enemies within; it comes from the presence within the Church of a type of faith and practice that is anti-Christian to the core.”  These and others show why a second or third reading of this book is always worthwhile.

 

 

There is One God

There is One God

by Rick Shrader

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)

This is such an age of conformity, unanimity, and ecumenical oneness that we can hardly speak of God except in all-inclusive terms.  If one were to express that he believes his God to be the only real or true God, and every other god to be false, he would be branded as narrow and hateful.  To a lesser degree, one can hardly say that his country is better than another or that his form of government is superior to another.  Surely we cannot say that our values (much less our moral standards) are better than someone else’s.  Of course, this is also why we are not allowed to criticize anyone for their actions.  We might actually be positing that there is an absolute truth to which all other notions are subordinate!  But we get to this eclectic, ecumenical quagmire by first eliminating God Himself.  If there is no God, the First Cause of everything, the One who has revealed Himself in truth and equity, then there is no final appeal to which we can judge or compare all else.

Christians in twenty-first century America are observing a unique time of change and redefinition by an atheistic, polytheistic, multi-cultural,  and perverse generation.  In this time we see Christianity under attack from almost all cultural voices, while other religions enjoy unprecedented amnesty from criticism or scrutiny.  Christianity, which teaches that the wheat and tares of belief and unbelief must grow together in this age and cannot be forcibly rooted out of society by church or government, receives the hubris and persecution by that same society.  Yet, Islam, which teaches that the tares of unbelief in their doctrine must be rooted out and even physically destroyed and at best kept as second-rate citizens, is given fawning protection and religious liberty that no other religion enjoys, even in this country of religious freedom.  Could it be that this is due to the simple threat of physical reprisal if society does not acquiesce?  No doubt.  Christianity will only preach to you of truth and peace.  Islam will attack you on the street and attempt to dismember you.  So to which will this culture bow?  It is all too obvious.  This began with my baby-boomer generation in the 60s when we threatened to burn buildings and destroy campuses if we did not get our way.  It worked.  And now that same compliant society is faced with even bigger and more savage threats.  If we didn’t have the stomach  for it then, we surely don’t now.

My objective, however, is not political but theological.  Was the apostle Paul correct in saying that there is only one God?  Our world today is insisting that Allah is the same as Jehovah, the Mormon God is the same as the Jewish God, the Watchtower God is the same as the Catholic God.  Our problem is that we have to figure out the approach that is right for us.  Some Christian apologists would even argue that all religions worship the same God but most do not know enough about Him to obtain salvation, and the Christian mission is to fill in the gaps and bring their religion up to speed.  Of course, there have always been those universalists who believe God loves all people to the extent that no one will be lost forever but that all will eventually find their way to heaven and the God they have always believed in.

The God of the Old Testament as well as the New has called all other worship of a deity idolatry.  The God of the Bible claims to be the only God.  The Bible clearly teaches that no one can come to the true God except through Jesus Christ, Who also claimed unequivocally to be God in the flesh.  The bottom line seems to be that either the universalist view is correct or the Christian view is correct, but not both.  The Christian God cannot also be the non-Christian’s God.

 

Paul’s Direct Statement

Why is Paul correct when he says that the God whom he is preaching is the only God?  Precisely because he also says, “and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).  Only the Christian God is able to become a Mediator between Himself and sinful humanity.  Other Gods not only do not have this capability, they thrust upon mankind the false notion that salvation is up to them, not to God.

First, we should remember that the true God has revealed Himself solely in the Christian Scriptures, the Bible.  I understand that we will need to continually reaffirm our belief in the revelation and inspiration of Scripture, and that other religions can also claim that their holy books are really the true Word of God.  But Bibliology is not my task here either.  The textual criticism of two thousand (plus) years continues to affirm the reliability and uniqueness of the Christian Scriptures.  Second, Paul says that not only is there only one God, but there is also only one Mediator Who can sufficiently stand between a holy God and sinful humanity and bring both of them together.  This Mediator is both God and man, the “God our Savior” from verse three, as well as “the man Christ Jesus” of our text.  What Paul is saying is that only a God Who can be both is the true God.  That is, only the triune God of the Christian Scripture is the true God.  There must be God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to be the true God.  This Mediator is “Christ Jesus” the God-man.  Only a Being Who is divine could be sinless Himself and qualify as our sinless Substitute.  And only someone Who is also fully human could take the sinner’s place and die for our sins and not for His own. 

Job, in his agony over his sinful condition, cried out to a holy God, “For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.  Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:32-33).  The old word “daysman” is usually noted as “umpire” or a person that is on equal footing in behalf of both sides.  Paul’s word for mediator is mesites, a middle person, a go-between.  This is the same word that the Jewish translators of the Old Testament used in their (LXX) Greek translation of Job 9:33. 

Third, this one God Whom Paul extols, could give Himself a “ransom” for all.  Christ Jesus was a ransom, an antilutron, or “payment in the place of,” a Substitute for all sinful humanity.  Peter wrote, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).   Only God is “just” and only a divine Substitute could pay the price for our sins.  Only the triune God of the Christian Scriptures is such a God.

 

Cultish Misstatements

One thing is true about the multi-cultural non-Christian gods; they are all alike in their ineptness to redeem sinful humanity.  But that is why they are all alike in their imagined reality.  They are all a figment of the sinner’s imagination because such a god does not really exist, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).  Paul did not see the pagan gods as uneducated forms of the true God, but as they truly are—no gods at all. 

There are some good examples  today of false gods.

The Muslim Allah.  Islam teaches that God is not a father and does not have a son.  To them, the trinity is pure polytheism.  They admire Jesus as they admire Mohammad, and even admit his virgin birth.  They deny He really died on the cross, and of course deny any atonement or resurrection.  I have read the Koran, and I was left asking the question, “where is the salvation?”  There is no Savior, no atonement for sin, no Substitute in my place.  One is left to himself to try to gain Allah’s favor by his own goodness.  No wonder such a religion cannot evangelize the world with a message of love and forgiveness, but rather must seek to conquer the world by human force. 

The Mormon Adam-god. Mormon theology is as confused as Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon.  God was actually conceived as Adam who eventually became the god of this earth only, from a sexual union between Elohim and one of his many wives.  The trinity to Mormonism is tri-theistic and polytheistic.  Yet Mormonism itself is “henotheistic” i.e. one principle god among many who rule in other worlds.  Jesus was the first-begotten son of a physical union of Elohim and Mary, who then also became a god.  There is no redemption in Mormonism either.  It is a system of works both for the life here and for those who have died already.  I toured a new Mormon temple before it was dedicated and observed the three floors of progressive good works leading to the top celestial room, or the greatest glory.  There is no Mediator for the Mormon, only the hope of becoming a god himself and begetting many spirit children like God had done.

The Witnesses Jehovah.  To Jehovah’s Witnesses all other beliefs are part of pagan “Christendom” or “religionists.”  Though they say they believe the Bible, they alone have the right to interpret it and only then from their biased translation.  They insist on only one person, not three.  Jesus was created by God (thus and only God’s “Son”) and has existed in three forms.  First He was Michael the archangel, then became Christ at His birth, and lastly became the new Michael recreated by resurrection in a perfect manner.  In addition, there is no personal Holy Spirit, but only a “force” of God.  If you are faithful enough to be in the 144,000 at resurrection, you could become a perfect spirit as Jesus became at His resurrection.  Though a JW will always talk of faith in Christ, his faith must be coupled with faithfulness, and that faith is not in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Mary-god.  The Catholic church is actually closer to Christian theology than what is normally called a cult.  They do profess the triune God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But though their theology proper is correct, their bibliology and soteriology precludes having only one Mediator between God and man, for rather than having “the man Christ Jesus” alone, they insist on having Mary, the mother of God and intercessor for the believer.  At the Council of Ephesus (431) Mary was declared to be the Mother of God (Theotokos) as well as the Mother of Christ (Christotokos).  In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of her immaculate conception, that Mary was free of original sin at her own conception.  In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the doctrine of bodily assumption of Mary, that she could not see corruption in death but was resurrected bodily upon her death and ascended bodily into heaven. 

But beyond all of that, it was Bernard of Clairvaux (10th Cent) who declared that Mary was the Mediator between Christ and men, since Christ is also a Judge and men need help to be able to approach Him.  Though we may not disagree with Rome’s doctrine of the trinity, how can we believe in the one true God and His own mediation for us, and at the same time believe that there is another mediator between the man Christ Jesus and sinful men?  These contrary beliefs have come to Rome because of its belief that Tradition is equal to the Christian Scripture.  In that view, the Christian God must be defined by both sources of revelation. 

 

Practical Statements

All religions have their own hypocrites.  It would not be fair to judge any religion by those who do not follow its doctrines.  Biblical Christianity as seen in the Christian Scriptures has had as many hypocrites and heretics as any other religion.  But that is why we stress Sola Scriptura, or the Scriptures alone for our belief.  When the world judges Christianity, though this hardly ever happens, we would wish that they would judge it by what the Bible says, not always by how people try to live it. 

What many people call Christian growth is really only normal human growth.  After all, as any human being grows older, he/she becomes smarter, more experienced, more friendly, more helpful to others.  When this happens around the church we may mistakenly call it Christian growth.  It may actually be a hypocritical faith, a person only growing older, not growing in Christian graces.  At some point we will act surprised when he/she is at a total loss to express any Christian fruit, showing only the wisdom of the world rather than true Christian spirituality.

If we could observe at least one true follower of each of the world’s religions,  we may not be able to distinguish a major difference at first glance.  The Bible promises, however, that over time the believer in the true God, through the only Mediator, Jesus Christ, will show old things passing away and all things becoming new.  Yet, still the real difference between that true believer and the world’s religionists, is faith in God as the Bible describes Him through the Mediator as the Bible describes Him.  Any other faith is a faith in a false god.  It is a faith in a god that does not exist.  It will always produce a religion of human works rather than redemption through the grace of God.

 

And So . . . .

I should end this article the way Paul ended his statement to Timothy, “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (1 Tim. 2:7).  Paul was insistent that this Christian message of the one true God and Mediator be proclaimed to all men.  Of the three descriptions of Paul, one is unique to him and a few other men of the first century, that is that he was an apostle.  This gift from Christ was given to those men specially selected by Christ to be witnesses of His resurrection.  They were men who also wrote the Christian Scriptures under inspiration and established our foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20). 

Paul was also a preacher and a teacher, two words used to describe the ongoing offices of church leadership.  It is essential that the Christian faith be preached around the world until Jesus comes.  A preacher is a heralder (kerux) of the truth.  He does this by preaching (keruss?) and the message (kerugma) that he preaches is that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no man comes unto the Father except through Him (John 14:6).  The Word of God is the seed he sows and the field in which he sows is the world (Matthew 13:3-23).  Only some of the seed will fall into good ground.  Most of it will be unproductive.  The preacher cannot be discouraged because the world refuses the good seed of the gospel.  It is his job to sow it.

Paul also was a teacher in faith and verity (aletheia-truth!).  This faith of ours must be taught to saints and sinners alike.  Sometimes it takes a long process for the truth to sink into a sinner’s heart.  We also know it takes a life-time of study for the believer to mature in Christ.  With the Word of God, and the faithful preaching of its doctrines, and the constant teaching of its truths, we can be partners with God, Christ, the apostles, and the great saints, in proclaiming the one true God.

Jesus Thy blood and righteousness,

My beauty are, my glorious dress;

Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed

With joy shall I lift up my head.

 

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day,

For who aught to my charge shall lay?

Fully absolved through these I am,

From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

 

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,

Which at the mercy seat of God,

Forever doth for sinners plead,

For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.

 

 

Breaking Down the Walls…And the Gospel

Breaking Down the Walls…And the Gospel

by Rick Shrader

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The subversive work of “Evangelical Inclusivism”

Raymond Teachout is the son of Richard Teachout, Robert’s brother.  They are children of Dick and Oril Teachout, long-time missionaries in Africa.  Raymond wrote this book in 1999 and I am sorry that I hadn’t known of it sooner.  There is still a lot of literature explaining the ecumenical compromise of the earlier and mid 20th century, but not very much that follows up on the inclusive nature of that compromise to the end of the century.   Raymond gives good detailed analysis of the evangelical-Catholic hand-holding now going on among well-known evangelical leaders and their Catholic counterparts.  He shows that the current push to engage Catholics in dialogue (ECT, The Gift of Salvation, et al) necessarily begins with the assumption that all are brethren and must be treated as brethren.  Therefore, the doctrinal differences that separate evangelicals and Catholics are merely squabbles among fellow believers.  Any attempt at evangelizing “brethren” becomes anathema.  I also enjoyed Teachout’s observation that the emphasis on presenting various views of doctrinal subjects often relegates doctrine to one’s “view” of doctrine in a sort of relativistic way.

 

Stand for the Truth

Stand for the Truth

by Rick Shrader

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This Sword & Trowel booklet is a 2009 reprint from a 1996 edition.  Masters calls for a Biblical separation from apostasy and from worldliness.  He uses the term “evangelical” to refer to those who are truly saved; have had an evangelical conversion experience.  He takes sharp issue with those who have called Roman Catholics ‘brethren,” specifically naming Charles Colson and J.I. Packer for their participation in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document as well as John Stott for his participation in The Nottingham Statement, which also named all Catholics as evangelical brethren.  The bulk of the book is given to answering arguments made against Biblical separation including why Jesus ate with sinners and whether separation is judging.  I also appreciated his defense of Secondary Separation because not many today are willing to delve into that controversial area.  He gives four ways in which “non-separators” put their people in danger by not separating from brethren who walk disorderly.  You can order the booklet at:   www.TabernacleBookshop.org

 

Biblical Separation

Biblical Separation

by Rick Shrader

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Regular Baptist Press has published a second edition of the late Dr. Ernest Pickering’s 1979 classic on separation.  The new edition has updated some of the language as well as the footnoting to today’s style and information usage.  Dr. Myron Houghton, senior professor and department chair of systematic theology at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, has done a fine job of adding a chapter entitled, “Separation Issues since Ecumenical Evangelism in the 1970s.”  Dr. Houghton also was instrumental in updating Dr. Pickering’s book, Charismatic Confusion (see review in the Dec 07 issue).  Regular Baptist Press has done us all a great service in putting these books back into circulation.  First, because this doesn’t seem to be a day when God’s people have a taste for issues of doctrine and especially those doctrines that can be divisive.  These books put some important subjects back on the table.  Second, because the issues of ecclesiastical polity and charismatic phenomena are as important today (and probably more so) as they have ever been.  New issues having to do with music, liturgy, and church polity have only increased the need for clear lines of ecclesiastical separation, not lessened it.  Third, because this book addresses the difficult topic of secondary separation which most of today’s writers, even within fundamental circles, won’t touch (a noted exception is Dr. McCune’s A Promise Unfulfilled—see review in the Feb 07 issue).  Separation issues among brethren have become more difficult yet more important simply because the definition of “brother” has been widened beyond scriptural boundary due to today’s pro-ecumenical and anti-denominational attitude.  Pickering’s original tact was to expose the reader to the historical roots of separation and bring those principles forward into his own generation.  The updating of this edition and Houghton’s additional chapter again accomplish that purpose.

 

Redefining Christianity

Redefining Christianity

by Rick Shrader

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I had not read Bob DeWaay before this book.  My friend Gary Gilley writes the Forward and can be counted on to give good recommendations.  The book is a pointed critique of Rick Warren’s  Purpose Driven movement.  Unless you are already a Warren fan, you can’t help but agree with most of what DeWaay writes, i.e., that Warren’s version of Christianity is pragmatic to the point of being deceptive, fuzzy at best in regard to the gospel, and dangerous in regard to his  socialized  PEACE plan.

Especially good were the chapters titled “Redefining Vision,” “How Misused Bible Translations Support a Journey of Self-discovery,” and “The Purpose Driven Brand.”  As to the business principle of using a “Brand,” DeWaay shows how Warren’s empire specifically resembles a franchise with pastors as franchisees who must now use all of the system’s material and follow all the franchise instructions.

 

Guess What Has Not Changed?

Guess What Has Not Changed?

by Rick Shrader

Perhaps the most difficult problem in dealing with a postmodern culture is defining our terms.  I doubt that a generation has ever been so flexible with language as this one.  One hundred years ago W.H. Griffith Thomas, combating German Rationalism, said, “We cannot in any degree be sure of the thought unless we can be sure of the word.”1 Unfortunately that battle for context is all but lost on this generation.  Consider the familiar proverb, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”  It doesn’t occur to us today that such a truth is not meant to be a good thing, but rather a warning!  Notice G.K. Chesterton’s comment from a past generation:

In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss.  We were inclined to ask, ‘Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?’  But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right.  The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead.  The moss is silent because the moss is alive.2

What had always been accepted as a bad thing: to be a rolling stone with continual motion but no purpose or life, has now become a good thing:  to be continually moving so as not to become stale and grow roots.  But as Chesterton noted, what some consider to be alive (because it is always moving) is only a misconception of what is really dead, and what some consider to be dead (because it is stationary) is actually the thing that is alive.

The Scripture always confronts the world’s thinking in similar ways.  What the world considers weakness, God says is strength; what the world believes is the way up is actually the way down and the way down is actually the way up; what the world concludes as folly is actually the wisdom and power of God.  We always have to be on our guard not to read a popular concept into a text and thereby come up with an almost opposite meaning.

We have read and studied the book of First John all of our lives in church.  We do it because it is short and to the point and speaks to a number of important issues such as love and assurance.  But the longer we read it or even translate it, the deeper it becomes and we wonder if we will ever get to the bottom of it (which, of course, we never will).  Chapter two gives the reader four tests for the sincerity of his faith.  At first these seem simple enough, but the more we read and reread them the more they take our thinking in the opposite direction from the thinking of the world.

The worldling would rather be a spiritual rolling stone, landing nowhere  in particular than a stone with Biblical moss on it, planted in a solid place, amid the raging stream of culture (so he thinks).  What he considers to be moveable and flexible God says is permanent, and what he considers to be accepted and factual God says will change with the power of His Word and Spirit.  What the worldling believes is new and fresh is actually as old as mankind and void of any spiritual life.

The Postmodern Mindset is Old

John’s first test of spiritual life and vitality is whether we keep God’s commandments (1 John 2:3-8).  But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.  He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked (vs 5-6).  Though love is one of the commandments, it is not all of the commandments of God.  The Living Word has come to us in the form of the Written Word and the believer that claims to be walking in the Light will be seeking to live as He lived and also to be abiding by every precept that he finds in the Scripture.

The new mindset toward the commandments of God is as old as John and probably as old as Adam.  The DaVinci Code/Jesus Seminar mentality of our day or the Rationalism of a hundred years ago, that God’s commands are not definite nor perceptible, leaves one in the old world and bars him from discovering new life in Christ.

Many Evangelicals (and some Fundamentalists) are flirting with the lure of being free from all of God’s commands.  They do this in many ways including creating unscriptural dichotomies between belief and practice; by claiming individual vision from God leading to para-biblical ministry; even exalting technological capabilities over textual priorities.

Douglas Groothuis insightfully observed, “Because postmodernists decry the tyranny of the author over the reader, they rejoice in these technologies.”3 He also quoted Benjamin Woolley saying, “Artificial reality is the authentic postmodern condition, and virtual reality its definitive technological expression….The artificial is the authentic.”4 This is to say that the old attempt (by Gnostics of John’s day) to separate the commandments of God from the life of the believer is nothing new nor refreshing.

The New Generation is Old

John’s second test of spiritual life and vitality is whether we love the brethren (1 John 2:9-14).  He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.  He that loveth his brother abideth in the light and there is none occasion of stumbling in him (vs 9-10).  We have let a new generation totally steal John’s words from their meaning.  Today we are told that the ones remaining in church, the ones retaining their convictions, the ones going on doing what they have always done by God’s Word, are the ones not loving the brethren!  And why?  Because they, supposedly, are not accepting the change that the new generation is demanding.  But John obviously means (throughout this book and others) the opposite! Those who do not like what godly Christians do in church (and argue for a less demanding path) are the ones who do not love the “brethren.”

A few years ago (October 2001) I wrote an article titled, “Why Those Old People Won’t Change.”   I made the point that the older folks are rightly offended by a younger generation accusing them of not changing.  The fact is that the older generation DID change when they came to Christ and they have remained changed ever since.  The irony is that the new generation, which is demanding change, has never changed from their worldly ways and has no intention of changing even within the church.  The old truth is that such a new generation does not love the “brethren” (i.e. what Christians really are) and recoils at their very life of faith!

John’s example of this truth is in chapter three with Abel and Cain (3:10-16).  Cain is the one who did not love Abel and in fact killed him because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous (12).  So John adds, Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you (13).  Today we still have the Cains not loving the Abels because the Abels have lived and done righteously, and the Cains have no intention of making the same sacrifice.

Isn’t it interesting that we start out instructing “children” (2:13-14) to be like Christ, pointing them to a life of maturity and wisdom, praying that godliness will grow with the years, but at the same time we dishonor the “fathers” (2:13-14) in the church when they arrive at that very goal!  One church father wrote, “This, then, is undoubtedly the genuine, legitimate rule of progress, the established and most beautiful order of growth: mature age always develops a person’s part and forms that which the wise Creator already framed in the infant.”5 How tragic then is the old truth that the new generation’s attitude is unloving toward “the brethren.”

The Contemporary Technique is Old

John’s third test of spiritual life and vitality is whether we do not love the world (1 John 2:15-17).  Love not the world, neither the things in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (15-16).  The black and white nature of John’s statement is shocking to our generation.  We have let the abnormal Christian life become the normal.  Love of the world has become an accepted spiritual plateau, perhaps even an accepted theological position!  By a verbal sleight of hand we have replaced the Biblical word “world” with the non-Biblical word “culture” and have even (against history) made culture morally neutral.

The new technique is to draw people into church with “culture” and to embrace it ourselves as an artist embraces his work.  We hear, for example, things like, “there is no such thing as Christian music” and “God made all music” as if man has never put his sinful hand to anything and “made” it.  The fact is God doesn’t make art, man makes art!  And it is an expression of our natures which we rightfully call “culture.”  It has always been a godly man’s duty to change and improve the culture of the world, not embrace it.  Donald Whitney wrote, “The world finds the church and the things of God the most boring things imaginable.  At best it finds them much less meaningful than other things.  And the people of the world can’t understand why we don’t get as excited as they do about the things that turn them on.”6

The Ecumenical Spirit is Old

John’s fourth test of spiritual life and vitality is whether we do not love the antichrists (1 John 2:18-27). Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist will come, even now are there many antichrists (18).  Anything that neutralizes our doctrine is aiding and abetting the flow of the age into the final antichristian religion and person.  Doctrine is being down-played in favor of cooperation.  Separation has become a nadir of the faith rather than a badge of courage.  Denominating your faith honestly with an honest title has become hateful and prideful.

Pergamos and Thyatira have become the models for Christian ministry, active and busy in works while allowing things which God hates.  These things still bring success with the world and in our pragmatic day we have learned to ignore the leaven and enjoy the growth.  In chapter four John demands that we “try the spirits” (4:1) not “try them out.”  He said of the false messengers, They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.  We are of God: he that heareth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us (4:5-6).

And So . . . .

Guess what has not changed?  The world has not changed!  Whether outside the church or inside, it will not and cannot live by the Spirit.  Even carnal believers will continue to walk after the flesh, desiring only milk but carrying the baggage of the old life like strong men!

Guess what has changed?  The church of Jesus Christ has changed!  She is as a bride adorned for her Husband, as a chaste virgin to Christ, waiting to be removed from her present surroundings and transported in the skies to her Father’s house, where she will reflect the glory of her Lord forever!  She is not of them that turn back!

Notes:
1. W.H. Griffith Thomas, “Old Testament Criticism and New Testament Christianity” R.A. Torrey, A.C. Dixon & others, eds., The Fundamentals (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books) 144.
2. G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000) 23.
3. Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In Cyberspace (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997) 69.
4. Quoted by Groothuis, 27.
5. Vincent of Lerins, “Spiritual Maturity,” Sharrer & Vanker, eds. Day by Day With the Early Church Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999) 243.
6. Donald Whitney, How Can I Be Sure I’m A Christian? (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994) 56.

 

Essentials and Nonessentials

Essentials and Nonessentials

by Rick Shrader

Most things in life could be categorized into essential or nonessential, depending on the priorities at hand.  The basic necessities of life are essential if we want to stay alive.  Food is essential to life but ice cream may be a nonessential when your budget is on a shoe string.  Many of the things that an affluent society feels are essential would be nonessential in a third world country ravished by poverty and starvation.   There are many areas of life, however, where these designations are inadequate.  Which areas of disciplining our children are nonessential?  Which areas of loving God are nonessential?  If we are never to tell a lie, which truths are essential to profess and which are nonessential?

Since there are only so many hours in the day, we may be forced to set some things aside due to limited time, and do the things we think are more important.  Even in ministry we often have to choose between the thing that seems most important and the thing that can wait until later.  It’s not so much that something is nonessential as it is non-urgent or of a lesser priority.  Our busy lives have caused us to make these choices and to categorize things in this manner.  In some areas, however, these kinds of choices are very detrimental.

The one area in which I think the term “nonessential” has not served us well is with the Scripture itself.  In many ways we have unwittingly made parts of the Bible nonessential to us, and have therefore relegated them to non-use and non-interest.  The Liberals of a century ago divided the Bible up into parts that were historically verifiable and parts that were not.  The Neo-orthodox theologians divided the Bible up into areas that were God’s Word and parts that were not.  New Evangelicals divided the Bible up into parts that were inspired and  parts that were not inspired, and some Evangelicals have divided the Bible into parts that are inerrant and parts that are not.  In all of these, the result was a pick-and-choose Bible.  Those parts that were difficult, or seemed to lack integrity, or seemed culturally out of place, were easily set aside in favor of more important passages.

It seems that Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals now have their own terms of “essential and nonessential.”  They do not at all say that some parts are uninspired or may contain error.  They believe that the Bible is inspired in every part and in every word.  But the growing tendency is to leave some parts alone when those parts may hinder our present objectives; objectives that men have deemed as “essential” above others which are “nonessential.”  If the objective is unity among brethren, those doctrines that divide us are nonessential, at least for a while.  If the objective is to please visitors in our churches, practicing those things that would make them uncomfortable become nonessential, at least until the objective is accomplished.

So-called “vision statements” have not helped.  Many times these statements are the objectives of what certain people want, not what is the whole counsel of God.  But if we can say that it comes from God, who is going to contradict us?  If God gives every Christian leader his own separate vision of what he is supposed to be doing, it will take precedence over those Scriptures that seem to contradict it.  After all, God wouldn’t tell us something contradictory would He?

In the end, though Fundamentalists and Evangelicals would shudder to think so, we have come to the same practical results as the Liberals, Neo-orthodox and New-Evangelicals:  some parts of the Bible do not have to be obeyed, at least not for the time being.  Conservatives, however, have done this not by maligning the Scripture itself but by constructing a hierarchy of priorities based on our own modern-day objectives.  Everyone is searching for the irreducible minimum of doctrine with an unlimited diversity of ministry.  We think we are retaining our belief in the Bible as God’s Word, but in practicality we are less bound to its tenets than ever before.  This is a kind of biblical minimalism which leads to contradictory results.

Salvation as minimal.  Reducing the biblical priority to the salvation of lost souls has been the common denominator of most ecumenicalism.  Immediately the heart strings are tugged upon to think of the souls that would be saved if we would just drop those things that divide us and unite with those who could broaden our horizons (think of the audacity we have to say this about God’s Word!).  The unspoken (and sometimes spoken!) rule is, “You may speak of salvation freely, but you may not speak of any other doctrine that would be offensive or objectionable to anyone in our midst.”   The real question that is not being asked is whether, in the end, more souls would have been saved by doing it God’s way, even though at the time it seemed like the new methods were working better.  But we cannot know what was on the road we chose not to take.

Theology as minimal.  Obviously, as seen in the first point, doctrine and theology are set aside as divisive and territorial.  If there is any disagreement over doctrine, surely we cannot be dogmatic about it!  Who are we to insist on our interpretation?  Therefore, it can be placed on the back burner while we get on with the important things of unity, vision, methodologies, and “real ministry.”  The current argument is often heard that theology is too deductive anyway.  Surely nothing that arrives at conclusions in this old fashioned manner is without bias.  Systematic theology is just that, they say, a systematized list of proof texts that are to be crammed down the throat of unsuspecting students or congregants.  Now, it seems to me that even inductive study has to, sometime, make deductive statements called conclusions.  And if these conclusions from inductive Bible study can be verbally given in complete sentences, is this not “Systematic” Theology?  And would it not be right to at least list those passages where the study was made?  I would have a hard time believing that such pundits have done more inductive study of the Bible than Augustus Strong or Charles Hodge or even John Calvin, all of whom finalized their study in Systematic Theologies.

Ministry as minimal.  This is the great essential that is ruling out all the nonessentials.  If we can justify our methodology by showing some results to some objectives, then all objections are cast aside.  I thought we were done with the nickels and noses routines of a generation ago, but we are more involved in it today than ever.  If bringing the world’s music, manners, decorum, pluralisms, soliloquies, etc. (rather than give-aways, buses, circuses, rodeos, etc., of a generation ago) to the platform of our meeting houses brings in large crowds, then the validity of those things may not be questioned.  If in addition, many individuals pray prayers that they are asked to pray, then who can question the use of such “essentials” and how dare anyone object by bringing up contradictory “nonessentials?”

So what is our alternative?  Are churches to continue in relative anonymity with small crowds and methodologies that are of no interest to this generation?  Maybe!  That is, if we have done all that the Word of God asks, and yet results are not evident, then rejoice for your reward is great in heaven!  Would we be the only people in the age of grace to experience such results?  On the other hand, perhaps our local churches have become unnecessarily discouraged due to the often malignant accusations of the “successful” churches.  Perhaps our singing of good songs has become unnecessarily heavy-hearted and we have wrongly hung our harps on the willows!  Perhaps we have become unnecessarily weary of contending for all the counsel of God when so many seem to fare better contending for just some.  No!  Let us rather rejoice for the grace, mercy and peace that come only from God.  Let us continue to practice a biblical “maximalism” of all of God’s truths, and let us do it with joy and rejoicing!  Our songs will be better, our sermons will be more inspiring, our children will be more challenged to godly living and service.  Let us be doing these things:

Preaching all the details of our doctrine.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16); Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18); Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Sam. 3:19); Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).  We could continue the Biblical admonitions for paragraphs.  It is clear, however, that no portion of God’s Word is more or less important than another.  That is why Jude’s desire is so crucial, that we contend for THE faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3).

If we are grown men and have put away childish things, we will be able to sit and listen to one another even with our disagreements.  The best conversations among friends are the ones where iron sharpens iron.  Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men (1 Cor. 14:20).  Only with children should we have to limit conversations to predigested and easily palatable subjects.  We sell ourselves and our people far short if we think we must do that!

Practicing all the details of our faith.  Let us put to rest the timid and shy stealth tactics of practicing only what we think the world wants to see and hear.  It is time that we quit being ashamed of who we are in Christ and display our faith to a lost world.  That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus (Phle. 6); But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor. 4:4); Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of a contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you (Tit. 2:8).

We are either going to be shamed by the world or ashamed of our faith.  But we cannot have it both ways.  The best thing that can happen to a lost person is to see God’s dedicated saints doing what only saints can do—worshiping God in reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-20).  Lost people must first come to repentance, to the place of utter helplessness before a holy God, to the place of death to self, before they can be ready to receive the gift of life from the Son of God.  Who are we to hinder that process by soothing their consciences?

Pursuing all the blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus.  If we have seemed languid and dreary in our services, and have been sometimes negligent in our evangelism, and have been afraid and ashamed of the very faith which we possess, it is our own fault, not the fault of our faith.  We are the ones that need to turn back around to our faith and stop trying to turn the faith around to where we have gone.  We need to wean ourselves away from the world’s applause, and again desire to be pleasing to the Holy Spirit; to be people who are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14).  How long has it been since our churches would have rejoiced to hear the apostle write to us:  We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith growth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth (2 Thes. 1:3)?  When was the last time our people rejoiced in heart and song to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3)?

The power has not gone out of the gospel, nor left the congregations of God’s people.  We still have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the Word of God in our hands and we can be filled with the Spirit and cleansed by the Word.  It is not in seeking for the things that please men, but in joying and reveling again in the things of God.

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word;

What more can He say than to you He hath said,

You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose

“I will not, I will not, desert to its foes;”

That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake

“I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”

 

Why I Have Not Seen the Movie, The Passi...

Why I Have Not Seen the Movie, The Passion of the Christ

by Rick Shrader

We all must pause to express our conscience on controversial matters sooner or later even though we would rather talk only of “the common faith” and leave the “contending” to the expert apologists.  C.S.  Lewis said, “The greatest cause of verbicide is the fact that most people are obviously far more anxious to express their approval and disapproval of things than to describe them” (Studies in Words, p. 7).  I have chosen not to see the movie for a number of reasons with which one may agree or disagree.  While I have no desire to make personal attacks, I do desire to speak my own conscience on this very current matter.  Now that some time is going by, there is a growing collection of sincere objections to the film. I offer my own to this list.

1. My life-long boycott of the theater.  It may seem like begging the question to place this reason first but I don’t think so.  I have preached to my church and lived before my family that I believe it is far better for our children/people never to have sat in a theater with their father/pastor than to have done so.  Knowing what has happened to Hollywood in the last forty years, I can’t help but believe the next forty will totally paganize our kids.  My children/people will never recollect me sitting with them there.  To break that commitment now, even for this reason, is more conscience than I care to violate.  I see this as being “blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed” (Titus 1:7).  I think that keeping this principle will reap far greater benefits in the long run.

2. My love, familiarity and blessing in reading the four gospels.  It has been an amazing thing to watch the reaction of our generation to a movie, a reaction that has never taken place from reading the inspired Word of God.  It never occurred to me to see any of the Jesus movies.  But I do read one of the gospels through thoughtfully every month and have done so for years.  The added reality for me is in the theology of the atonement, not languishing in unnecessary detail that the Holy Spirit chose not to include.  Even the rest of the New Testament always emphasizes the reason and scope of Christ’s death, not the added details that humans may have wanted.  Peter is typical when he writes,  Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:22-24).

3. The justification of Roman Catholicism by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.  Although many feel their use of the movie does not justify Catholicism, I believe it does to the Catholics and allows their view of the blood of the sacrament to be affirmed.  Are we not bidding them “God speed” as they return to their Church altar?  In the third volume of The Fundamentals, written in 1917 and edited by R.A. Torrey and A.C. Dixon, T.W. Medhurst from Glasgow, Scotland began his article this way, “I am aware that, if I undertake to prove that Romanism is not Christianity, I must expect to be called ‘bigoted, harsh, uncharitable.’ Nevertheless I am not daunted; for I believe that on a right understanding of this subject depends the salvation of millions” (“Is Romanism Christianity?”, vol. 3, p. 288).  I think we will find it harder than ever to win our Catholic friends and neighbors to Christ once we have given credence to their version of the sufferings of Christ.  What is poetic license to us is church dogma to them.  The obvious exaltation of the Roman Eucharistic Mystery by Anne Catherine Emmerich in her book, as well as by Gibson and his cast during filming, is something with which I cannot have fellowship.  For what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness?  And what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (2 Cor 6:14-15).

4. My opposition to ecumenicalism.  One may conclude that we were wrong to criticize ecumenical evangelism over the last fifty years, but it is hard not to see this as the same thing.  Maybe some can avoid this, but it seems this has been difficult even in the pre-viewing process as well as in the use of the film.  In ecumenical evangelism the lowest common denominator of doctrine is sought so that groups differing on major doctrines may come together for the purpose of evangelism.  This means that you have to acquiesce to doctrine you believe is wrong and which you teach against for what all have agreed is the greater good.  But fundamentalists have objected to this as pragmatic, the end justifying the means, and compromise of doctrinal truth.  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thes 3:14-15).  Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Rom 16:17).  It is always tempting to use the means that seem (to us) to get the job of evangelism done quicker.  But is it a lack of trust or compassion to stay within the bounds of Scriptural commands and trust that God knows best?  Ask Abraham in Hagar’s bedroom, or Moses striking the rock, or Uzzah holding the ark, about things which seem to work as opposed to what God has specifically said.

5. My view of Revelation 17 and 18.  Though it is becoming increasingly unpopular today to identify the Harlot in these chapters as the Roman Church, it has been a common belief of good Bible expositors.  It is the blood of the apostles as well as the prophets (Rev 18:20) that God will avenge on her.  It is Mystery Babylon, the imitation of Babel that John sees.  H.A. Ironside wrote, “In other words all sects will be swallowed up in the one distinctively Babylonish system that has ever maintained the cult of the mother and the child. . . . Rome alone answers to the description given” (Revelation, 297). In like manner, John Walvoord wrote of this harlot, “It is a sad commentary on contemporary Christendom that it shows an overwhelming desire to return to Rome in spite of Rome’s evident apostasy from true biblical Christianity.  In fact, modern liberalism has far outdone Rome in its departure from the theology of the early church, thus has little to lose by a return to Romanism.  Apostasy, which is seen in its latent form today, will flower in its ultimate form in this future superchurch which will apparently engulf all Christendom in the period after the rapture of the church” (Revelation, 248).  I understand that not every Bible expositor takes this view.  But if this old and common view is correct, and if today’s generation happens to be the generation of the anti-Christ, then we will have done what John started to do and was corrected, I wondered with great admiration.  And the angel said unto me, wherefore didst thou marvel?. . . . Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues, for her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities (Rev 17:6-7; 18:4-5).

Again, I know that disagreement over this issue causes irritation to many.  As I have written, “the tyranny of the tolerant” most often closes the door on objections.  But I believe that as time goes on and the emotion of the moment wanes, many such objections will begin to be weighed and considered valid.  God grant us all biblical wisdom.