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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.

 

God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: ...

God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message

by Rick Shrader

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I was glad to read this book by Comfort.  It is a subject all of us must contemplate today:  Is everyone saved who thinks they are saved?  Comfort gives his own history as an evangelist as an example of how he has seen many people “make a profession” of Christ and then walk away from that profession.  He begins the book by quoting a number of polls and articles that show that most people who profess Christianity do not live it.  He also gives statistics from large city-wide evangelistic campaigns which showed that almost none of those who had made a profession of faith at the campaign even attended a church, much less were baptized and joined.

Comfort’s solution is that we cannot see a person saved until he sees himself lost.  We have not preached sin and repentance and so the “gospel” that is preached is merely a “happiness gospel.”  He quotes Spurgeon (and others often) saying, “There is no healing a man till the Law has wounded him, no making him alive till the Law has slain him.”  The modern gospel Comfort describes is one that promises to make converts happy and fulfilled in this life.  When that fails to happen, they walk away seeing the gospel as a failed promise.  Comfort likes to talk about “preaching the Law” but he means using the law for its intended purpose—to expose our sin, not as a means of works-based salvation.  In any event, the book serves a much needed purpose today in our crazy drive to “see results” and “build churches” by counting as many professions of faith as possible.

 

A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christ...

A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Vol. III

by Rick Shrader

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I finally finished Dr. McCune’s final volume of his theology.  This volume covers Salvation, the Church, and Last Things.  The great thing about reading McCune in any subject is his unwavering adherence to a fundamental, dispensational, pretribulational and premillennial point of view.  That combination is almost unheard of these days.  Dr. McCune carries a heavy Calvinistic view toward our salvation, but nothing that should deter anyone from reading and learning greatly from this section.  His section on the church is very refreshing as he defends Baptist ecclesiology, including the singularity of leadership as opposed to a plurality of elders.  His discussions on the ordinances are very helpful as well.  Lastly, I couldn’t say enough for Dr. McCune’s eschatology.  Since I sat in his classes as a student, through reading his words again, I have always been greatly rewarded.

 

The Pilgrim’s Progress

The Pilgrim’s Progress

by Rick Shrader

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How many years has it been since you first read this classic book?  I decided it had been too long for me and when I acquired a used Kindle with this book already on it, I read it that way.  I must say that I again enjoyed it thoroughly and was challenged by its illustrations.  In a way, one has to make direct application from Bunyan’s characters to life situations.  When Christian, for example, meets two men named Obstinate and Pliable, it isn’t hard to figure out what they are like.  When he passes through a town named Vanity which has a fair that lasts twelve months out of the year, and he is not welcomed because of his clothing, his speech, and his demeanor, it is not hard to figure out what Bunyan means.  I would highly recommend a reread of this classic.  When you have done that, pick up Bunyan’s other classic, The Holy War, and read another allegory about the war over the city called mansoul.  Bunyan wrote some sixty works before dying prematurely due to a stormy-weather ride to London.  He is buried in Bunhill Fields where one can view his ornate tomb.

 

 

New Testament Heralds

New Testament Heralds

by Rick Shrader

Perhaps the most seldom used title in the Bible for the minister is “Preacher.”  Though the English word “Preacher” appears four times, one time (Rom. 10:14) is actually a verb, and another (2 Pet. 2:5) refers to Noah, an Old Testament character.  So the title “Preacher,” referring to the New Testament minister is only used by the Apostle Paul to describe himself.  Once in 1 Timothy 2:7 and again in 2 Timothy 1:11, Paul says that ordained him to be a preacher.

The job of a herald was a duty-oriented job.  He was employed by a king to announce what the king gave him.  He could not alter the announcement to fit his own whims.  It was the message of the king and it must be delivered exactly as it was given.  The herald was not a Groucho Marx who used to say, “Those are my principles! And if you don’t like them . . . Well, I have others.”  No, these were the king’s principles.

The disciples were often asked to perform tasks like a herald.  All four gospels include the story of the triumphal entry when Jesus commanded two of the disciples to go into Jerusalem and untie someone else’s donkey and bring it to Jesus.  If the owner asked why they were taking his donkey, they were to reply with the exact words of Jesus:  “The Master has need of them.”  Mark records that the two disciples “said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go” (Mk. 11:6).  The king’s words would be the authority for the herald’s words.  A similar story is that of Ananias in Acts 9 when he was commanded to go to Saul and put his hand on him and call him “brother Saul.”  He did exactly as Jesus commanded (after initially objecting) and everything went exactly as the Lord said it would.

The word  kerux appears only three times as a proper noun (“preacher”), but it appears a number of times as the action ( kerusso, “preaching”) and sometimes as the message (kerugma, “the thing preached”).  Kittel’s Theological dictionary devotes 35 pages to its definition.  There are some clear observations:  1) Every king had one.  It was the common means of getting his message to the people.  2) They were untouchable.  If someone attacked the messenger, he would suffer punishment as if he had attacked the king himself.  3) They were sworn to exactness.  Gerhard Friedrich, writing the article in Kittel’s, says, “It is demanded then, that they deliver their message as it is given to them.  The essential point about the report which they give is that it does not originate with them.  Behind it stands a higher power.  The herald does not express his won views.  He is the spokesman for his master.”1

According to Kittel’s, the Greeks recognized three heralds:  1) Hermes was the interpreter of the gods.  In Lystra (Acts 14), Paul was called Hermes (Mercurius) “because he was the chief speaker” (Ac. 14:12).  2) Birds were considered messengers of the gods, especially the rooster who announced the new day and various watches of the night.  3) The philosophers were considered heralds and called “messengers” with the word angelos or “angel.”  This is why the New Testament pastors can be called “angels” and it was understood as heralds.  Paul wrote to the Galatians, “you received me as an angel of God” (Gal. 4:14).

In the book of 2 Timothy, Paul uses all three forms of the word herald.  In 1:11 he writes of the kerux, the preacher.  In 4:21 he writes of the kerusso, the preaching.  In 4:17 he writes of the kerugma, the message preached.  This is the only book of the Bible where all three appear.

The Preacher (The Messenger)

The apostle Paul tells Timothy that he was “appointed” to this high office by the Lord.  This is the word Jesus used when he said to Paul, “I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles” (Acts 13:47).  Again, Paul says that he was “allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel” (2 Thes. 2:4).

First, God’s herald doesn’t have to be a great man, but he does have to be a man of God.  “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Tim. 6:11).  Great men never wanted to be great, they just wanted to be men of God and God used them in great ways.  Our ministerial schools cannot teach young men to be great without first teaching them to be men of God.  Vance Havner wrote, “What our forefathers were without knowing it, we want to  know without being it.”2 Savonarola said, “In the primitive church the chalices were of wood and the prelates were of gold; today the prelates are of wood and the chalices are of gold.”3

A tourist group, visiting birth places of famous people, passed through a European village.  One of the tourists asked a local man, “Were there any famous people born in this village?”  “No,” the man replied, “Just babies.”  John Bunyan was born into a tinker’s home, one of the lowest status occupations of the time.  But Bunyan became one of the most powerful preachers in England.  “John Owen heard him preach, probably at Zoar Chapel, and when King Charles expressed wonder that a man of his [Owen’s] learning could bear to listen to the ‘prate’ of a tinker, he answered, that he would gladly give all his learning for this tinker’s power.”4 Bunyan’s autobiography is titled “Grace Abounding To The Chief of Sinners,” not to the Chief Executive Officer.

Second, God’s herald must have the mind of Christ, not the mind of the world.  Paul was insistent of this qualification for a minister of Christ.  “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).  “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).  It was Demas, who forsook him, who had the mind of the world (2 Tim. 4:10). Jannes and Jambres were “men of corrupt minds” (2 Tim. 3:8).  Friedrich says, “Heralds adopt the mind of those who commission them, and act with the plenipotentiary [full power] authority of their masters.  It is with this authority that the kerux conducts diplomatic business.”5

John describes the preacher with the worldly mind contrasted with the preacher with the mind of Christ.  “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.  We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us.  Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:5-6).  Too many of God’s ministers are busy winning themselves to the world rather than winning the world to Christ.

A.C. Dixon, who served in both Spurgeon’s Tabernacle and Moody Memorial Church, wrote:

Every preacher is, or ought to be, a prophet of God who preaches as God bids him without regard to results. When he becomes conscious of the fact that he is a leader in his church or denomination, he has reached a crisis in his ministry. Shall he be a prophet of God or a leader of men? If he decides only to be a prophet insofar as he can without losing his leadership, he becomes a diplomat and ceases to be a prophet at all. If he decides to maintain his leadership at all costs he may easily fall to the level of a politician who pulls the wires to gain or hold a position. He who would prophesy or speak forth the message of God is careful of none of these things but only that he shall speak the message that God gives him, even though he be in a lonesome minority.6

The Preaching (The Messages)

“Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:2).  Here Paul exhorts Timothy to action.  Now he is to pay attention to the way in which the message goes forth.  “Herald the Word.”  This is the way in which the prophets of old delivered their message.  “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isa. 58:1).  This is one methodology that we cannot afford to change.

First, the urgency of the situation demands it.  It is a command to preachers of the gospel.  “Be instant,” Paul says.  The kerux must always be ready with the kerusso.  Think what you will of Charles Finney’s evangelism, but in his biography he is quoted as describing his preaching style.

You breast yourself to the work like a giant. You open the attack with Jupiter’s thunderbolt. You take the doctrine for a damning fact—declare you know it—raise your voice—lift high your hand—bend forward your trunk—fasten your staring eyes upon the auditors—declare that they know it to be God’s truth; that they stand upon the brink of hell’s gaping pit of fire and brimstone . . . unless they repent forthwith.7

Paul reminded the Corinthians, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17).

Second, the message of the King guides it.  It must be “the Word” which the herald proclaims.  When we decide to change it to fit the situation, we have betrayed our King.  D.L. Moody said, “When a minister or a messenger of Christ begins to change the message because he thinks it is not exactly what it ought to be, and thinks he is wiser than God, God just dismisses that man.”8

By now we all recognize that this is a postmodern society.  We are finding it more and more difficult to speak the message of our King in a straightforward manner.  Our audience has a hard time accepting anything without a “hermeneutic of suspicion.”  They can say one thing and do another.  They can say one thing and believe another.  They can even say one thing and intend another, and they believe all of us are using language and media the same way!  Benjamin Woolley, a postmodern writer, said, “Artificial reality is the authentic postmodern condition, and virtual reality its definitive technological expression . . . . The artificial is the authentic.”9 As ministers of Christ, and as heralds of the gospel, we must not let our preaching fall to such a low estate.  Paul said, But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay . . . . For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:18, 20).

The Preached (The Message Itself)

“That by me the preaching [kerugma) might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Tim. 4:17).  Here Paul admonishes Timothy to guard the message that is preached.  This form of the word is our English word “kerygma.”  Webster’s dictionary to this day still defines this word as “The apostolic preaching that Jesus is the Christ.”  In the great resurrection chapter of First Corinthians 15, Paul uses this form and the verb form:  “Now if Christ be preached (kerusso)  that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching (kerugma) vain, and your faith is also vain (1 Cor. 15:12-14).  You can have all the action and commotion in the world, but if you’ve lost the content, it is in vain.

Today we play with symbolism over substance to our detriment.  We are worshiping worship as a substitute for a real Holy Spirit experience.  We have faith in faith rather than the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  We have a kerux who is busy with the kerusso, but we are quickly losing the most important thing—the kerugma!  Three things are certain from this final chapter of Paul’s life.

First, when you stand by the truth, the Lord will stand by you.  “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; that by me the preaching [kerugma] might be fully known” (2 Tim. 4:17).  Though all his friends had forsaken him, Paul was not forsaken.  When Paul stood at Gallio’s bema seat in Corinth, the Lord appeared and said to him, “Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee” (Acts 18:9-10).  When he stood before Herod’s bema seat in Caesarea, the Lord appeared and said to him, “Be of good cheer Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).  Now before Caesar’s bema seat the Lord is there to deliver him from the mouth of the lion.  But Paul was most concerned with appearing before Christ’s bema seat, “Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him” (2 Cor. 5:9).

Second, when you stand by the truth, the lost will know they should stand with you.  By the faithful proclamation of the truth, the kerugma “might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Tim. 4:17).  There was no “stealth” in Paul’s presentation.  He did not coax them in with one method and then sometime down the road reveal to them what he was really all about.  Paul prayed for Philemon “that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Phile. 6).  As the old song goes:  “Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave; remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.  Tell me the story always, if you would really be, in any time of trouble, a comforter to me.”  That is the need of the world.

Third, when you stand by the truth, the Lord will deliver you.  “And I was delivered out of the mouth of the Lion” (vs. 18).  The Lord may deliver His saints in the way He chooses.  It may be by life or by death.  Either way, He will not let us be devoured by the Lion.  Once when Vance Havner was old he was speaking to ministerial students.  He described his busy schedule even in the autumn of his life.  A student responded to him, “Why, if we kept that schedule all of the time it would kill us!”  Havner replied, “Who said you can’t die?”  Is not heaven the greatest deliverance from the Lion?  “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Phil. 1:20).

And so . . . .

In his book, Twice Told Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes of the Spring of 1689 and the tensions that had developed in the new country over control from England.  It was a time when “the Puritans were all dead, and the Methodists had not been born.”  Sir Edmond Andros, the king’s hand-picked governor marched his troops through the streets of Boston, slowly approaching the colonists who shrunk from the fearsome militia.  The pastors stood protected by the people and looked piously from behind the cover.

The rightful governor, Simon Bradstreet, stood far away near the court house steps and gave instructions to the people not to provoke the situation.  Just then, “the figure of an ancient man, with eye, the face, the attitude of command appeared on the street, dressed in the old Puritan garb.  ‘Stand,’ the old warrior-saint commanded.  The solemn, yet warlike peal of that voice, fit either to rule a host in battle or be raised to God in prayer, was irresistible.  The advancing line stood still. . . Who was this Gray Champion?” Hawthorne asked.  “I have heard that whenever the descendents of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again.”10 May the preachers of the gospel be ever so vigilant.

Notes:

1. Gerhard Friedrich, “Kerux,” Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. III (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s, 1978) 687-688.

2. Vance Havner, personal collection of quotes.

3. Savonarola, “On the degeneration of the church” Orations: Homer to Mckinley, vol. III (New York: Collier and Son, 1902) 1281.

4. Thomas Armitage, Baptist History, vol. I (Watertown: Maranatha Baptist Press, 1976) 479.

5. Friedrich, 688.

6. Quoted by Vance Havner, In Times Like These (Old Tappan:  Fleming Revell, 1969) 103.

7. Charles Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s, 1966) 135.

8. D.L. Moody, Spiritual Power (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1997) 14.

9. Quoted by Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in CyberSpace (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1997) 27.

10. Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Gray Champion,” Twice Told Tales (New York: Modern, 2001) 3-10. 

 

 

The Gospel & Personal Evangelism

The Gospel & Personal Evangelism

by Rick Shrader

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I have mostly enjoyed Dever’s writings.  I often fall short of agreeing with things regarding worship styles and polity, but I like his forthrightness.  I want to find good books on evangelism for church and class.  This book falls into the same percentage of like and dislike on my part.  I liked that it is short enough for people to read (119 pages with appendix) and done in an easy style.  The chapter subjects are well chosen and appropriate (“Why don’t we evangelize;” “Who should evangelize?;” and “How should we evangelize”).  The down side for me is Dever’s Reformed Calvinism that pops up too often.  When he says that Jesus died “for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust him,” does he mean a limited atonement?  I couldn’t prove that he doesn’t.  In the last two chapters he tries to use this doctrine in a positive way and for that I am appreciative.  Basically, however, he says we must wait for the elect to be regenerated so that they can be saved (at a time when the soulwinner is probably not aware that it has happened anyway).  These differences do not always hinder our evangelism but they can be an unnecessary distraction in a book on personal evangelism.

 

The Kingdom of God in the Gospels

The Kingdom of God in the Gospels

by Rick Shrader

Few subjects have been of greater interest to me in my ministry as a pastor and teacher than that of the Kingdom of God.  Coming out of high school and going to Bible College I knew nothing of its doctrinal significance.  I must confess that I knew little more than that coming out of Bible College.  The gospels especially were confusing to me and my “Life of Christ” class consisted only of lists of miracles, parables, and people.  Seminary did not have a class on the Life of Christ as such, but it had something that opened my eyes and broadened my understanding of the Bible, and that was a class on the kingdom.1 In addition, understanding the kingdom in a traditional premillennial, dispensational setting even further broadened my perspective.

Still, putting Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together in a consistent way that made sense without destroying each book’s individual purpose was challenging.  Even more so was the definition of the kingdom in the gospel record.  But God forced the issue.  I began teaching in a West coast Bible College in 1978 and the first class I was given to teach was The Life of Christ.  The two required texts were A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels (a valuable tool in any day) and Philip Vollmer’s The Modern Student’s Life of Christ which was anything but modern, being published in 1912.  Robertson lists 184 events in the life of Christ, so we took out a piece of paper and put #1 at the top and started there.  In a year’s time we went through 184 events, studying the time, place, and context. I did that for the next ten years and learned far more than any of my students.  In 1981 J. Dwight Pentecost published his Words and Works of Jesus Christ which became the text for my class.  Interestingly he goes through the events of Christ’s life paralleling Robertson’s harmony but with his own titles.  To me it is still the best book on the subject.  (It was my privilege again to teach a module version of the class in Kiev, Ukraine to pastors and teachers this past April).

It is because I love the subject of the kingdom of God that today’s lax use of the term catches my attention.  An insufficient understanding of the kingdom, especially in the gospels, can lead to all kinds of theological and practical errors. McClain begins his book with eight interpretations of the kingdom.2 None is more liberal than the Social-Kingdom idea.  He says,

In the long history of special interpretations of the Kingdom of God, there has been none more one-sided or guilty of greater excesses than this Social-Kingdom conception.  With fanatical zeal some of its champions have been ready to scrap almost anything in the realm of Christian faith and morals if only the process of ‘social reconstruction’ could be somehow advanced.3

McClain cites liberal thinkers such as Walter Rauschenbush, Shailer Matthews, and E. Stanley Jones as examples of liberals who were able to advance their causes (especially of a social gospel) when the definition of the kingdom was bent to suit their purposes.  It continues today.  If we used the word “church” as loosely as we use the word “kingdom,” heretical fires would begin to burn.  That is why I was interested when, browsing the marked-down section of a book store, I saw a title by W.B. Riley (a champion of fundamentalism from the generation prior to ours), The Only Hope of Church or World. Upon opening the book I had turned to chapter II which is titled “The Church and the Kingdom A Distinction.”  The chapter begins this way,

There are certain words that distinguish the liberal theologian as perfectly as ever the ranchman’s brand indicated his ownership.  Among them no word is more suggestive of loose thinking and liberal theology than the word ‘kingdom.’  They not only employ it as a synonym for the church, but as an all-inclusive term that covers every spiritual, moral, ecclesiastical, social, and now even party and political interest.4

This is not a fault just of liberals.  All of us are guilty at times of using biblical terms to suit our own purposes.  However, it seems the broad use of “kingdom” is as loose as ever.  In preaching through the Beatitudes (part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7), I constantly read of the struggle on how to understand Jesus’ use of the term.  If it can be taken to mean something in the present age (whether in addition to, or in place of, the coming age) one can find almost any social, political, or moral issue one wants.  James Boice, for example (perhaps bouncing between his predecessor’s premillennialism and his church’s amillennialism) takes the “kingdom” of the Beatitudes as somehow present and says of the second beatitude (“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”), “To each of us, therefore, the second beatitude is a call to involvement in the social arena.”5 Why?  Because if the kingdom is now, so must be the results of the kingdom.  It is more difficult, of course, for him to apply the pure in heart seeing God now, or the meek inheriting the earth now.

It is much more consistent and satisfying to read John Walvoord when he writes, “As in every text of Scripture, the truth presented must be first of all seen in its context.  In the gospels, Jesus was presenting Himself as the prophesied King, and the Kingdom He was offering is the prophesied kingdom.”6 Stanley Toussaint also correctly writes, “The basis of each blessing in every case is a reference to some phase of the Jewish kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament.”7 Yet many who are premillennial struggle with the concept of the kingdom NOT being present today.  Maybe they just can’t understand how God can really be in control of all things if the kingdom isn’t existing now.  Or maybe they can’t stand the thought that the Church isn’t the final phase of God’s program.  After all, aren’t we the culmination of all of God’s plans?  And, of course, it is much more pleasing to people and easier to preach a social/political gospel than a spiritual gospel because, basically, it takes no faith to believe, no hope in what is not seen.

We need the kingdom of God today to be right where it has always been—coming in the future at the return of Jesus Christ.  Any lessening of the kingdom into some allegorized version is a disappointment in the great prophecies of that golden age.  We ought to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).  We need to hear, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).  We should believe that when Jesus the Messiah is accepted there will be “on earth peace, good will toward men” (Lk. 2:14).  Every believer ought to look forward to the time when “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11).

The following are some of the concepts of the kingdom found in the gospels with which I struggled for years.  I am not saying there are not other ways in which good men take these statements, but I think these help find the consistency for which we look.  I do not have space to give and answer all of the opposing views.  Admittedly my view is a premillennial and dispensational view.  But I think these are great helps and not hindrances, and have been the main stay of prophetic preaching before and throughout my lifetime.

The kingdom predicted in the gospels was a continuation of the Old Testament theocratic kingdom.

This is the only way the Jews would have understood the concept of the kingdom.  In the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1-3) God made a 3-fold promise of land, seed, and blessing.  The promise of land will be fulfilled by the Palestinian covenant (Deut. 30:1-10); the promise of a seed will be fulfilled by the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-16); and the promise of a blessing will be fulfilled in the New covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).  None of these have been fulfilled completely to this day and it will take the second coming of Christ to complete these three promises.  Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, realized that the birth of John and Jesus would be “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham” (Lk. 1:72-73).

The kingdom offer to the Jews was a bona fide offer.

The Jews were to pray for the kingdom to come (Mt. 6:10) and to see that their righteousness (inward) exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (outward) or “ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20).  When the Jews attributed the power of Christ to Satan, He responded by saying, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Mt. 12:28).  George N.H. Peters concluded, “It follows, then, that the Jews had the privilege accorded to them of accepting the Kingdom, and if the condition annexed to it had been complied with, then the Kingdom of David would have been most gloriously re-established under the Messiah.”8 The fact that the offer was rejected in no wise annuls the offer any more than the Jews rejecting the land at Kadesh-Barnea annulled the offer of the land, or that rejecting Christ as Savior annuls the offer of salvation.

The kingdom predicted in the gospels is always to be taken as the future millennial kingdom.9

This is the only conclusion that can be drawn if the kingdom in the gospels is the same as the Old Testament theocratic kingdom.  McClain says, “The gospel records always connect the Kingdom proclaimed by our Lord with the kingdom of the Old Testament.”10 Pentecost says, “The kingdom announced and offered by the Lord Jesus was the same theocratic kingdom foretold through the Old Testament prophets.”11 The only kingdom the prophets foretold was the future millennial kingdom which will be on this earth at the return of Jesus Christ.  Jesus never had to give further explanation as to what He meant when He used the term “kingdom.”  The disciples’ question at His post-resurrection appearance shows this clearly, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel” (Ac 1:6).  There is no rebuke, correction, or redefinition of the term.  If the future kingdom is not here intended, either Jesus did a poor job of teaching for three years or the disciples were incredibly poor students.

A further comment is in order here.  We have been so influenced by non-millennial views in our Christian literature, hymns, and common talk, that we hardly pay attention to how we denigrate the kingdom of God.  From Catholic to Protestant to Reformed, all speak freely as if the kingdom Jesus spoke of were existing now.  If the reader of the gospels would simply place a future definition on the word “kingdom” each time he reads, he would be amazed at what clarity it would bring to the meaning of the text.

The millennial kingdom of God was near at hand in the life of Christ.

Expressions of this abound in the gospels:  “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17); “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (LK. 10:9); The kingdom of God is come upon you” (LK. 11:20); “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21); “The kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (Lk. 21:31).  This must refer to something that isn’t existing now but may exist if the conditions are met.  Pentecost says, “By the term ‘at hand’ the announcement is being made that the kingdom is to be expected imminently.  It is not a guarantee that the kingdom will be instituted immediately, but rather that all impending events have been removed so that it is now imminent.”12 Toussaint says, “It was the Jewish eschatological kingdom which had drawn near.  The verb here is eggizw which means to draw near and not to be here.”13 He then uses the example of when Jesus “drew nigh unto Jerusalem” (Mt. 21:1) showing that He was near but not there yet.

The kingdom of God is “within you.”

“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:20-21).  Perhaps no verse has been so used (and abused) to argue for a spiritual, invisible kingdom existing now in our hearts than this verse.  It is a classic case of one difficult verse being used to explain the many clear verses, rather than the many clear verses explaining the one that is difficult.

“Observation” is from the word paratere? which means that the kingdom is not coming with predictability.  “Within” is from the word entos, an adverb which can be translated a number of ways including within, among, in the midst.  It should also be noted that Jesus was talking to unbelieving Pharisees and not to believers.

George N.H. Peters took this to mean that the kingdom would have to come from within the nation of Israel if it were to come at all.14 Both Pentecost and McClain, however, have taken this to mean that the King Himself was among them.

Pentecost says, “The Lord is not asserting that His kingdom was to be a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men.  Such is contrary to the entire tenor of the Word of God.  He is asserting that the kingdom to which they were looking was already ‘at hand’ in the person of the king.”15 McClain says,

“Surely in no sense could the Kingdom of God have been ‘within’ the hearts of the Pharisees to whom our Lord was speaking, and who had charged blasphemously that His miracles were being accomplished through the power of the devil (Matt. 12:24).  But in the person of its divinely appointed King, visibly present in incarnate form on earth where He must eventually reign, the Kingdom was in that sense already ‘in the midst of’ men regardless of their attitude, whether for or against Him.”16

And So . . .

I know I have been preaching to the choir.  These are familiar lessons to most of us and contrary lessons to many.  Yet a clear understanding of the kingdom of God is as crucial today as it has ever been.  Toward the end of W.B. Riley’s book he wrote,

The time has come when thinking churchmen recognize the fact that the Second Coming of Christ is creating and completing a definite fellowship.  The men who entertain ‘the Blessed Hope’ are bound together in a peculiar brotherhood; a brotherhood of increasing sweetness and deepening strength.  No single denomination, of the many that go to make up modern Protestantism, is as definite in its fellowship and as distinct in its doctrinal teaching as is the brotherhood of pre-millennialism.17

This is one of the reasons why the Blessed Hope is so blessed.  “For theirs is the kingdom of God.”

Notes:
1. My M.Div was done at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis.  In those days Dr. Rolland McCune taught the course on the kingdom using Alva J. McClain’s book, The Greatness of the Kingdom. Dr. McCune also taught Dispensationalism.
2. Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 1974).  First published by Moody Press in 1968.
3. McClain, 11.
4. W.B. Riley, The Only Hope of Church or World (London:  Pickering & Inglis, nd.) 33.
5. James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1972) 31.
6. John Walvoord, Matthew—Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1974) 45.
7. Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King ( Portland:  Multnomah Press, 1981) 96.
8. George N.H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. I (Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1978) 377-378.
9.   Mention should be made in this article that I recognize the existence of a universal usage of the word kingdom in a few OT passages (e.g. Psa. 103:19).   McClain devoted a whole section to it (Chapt. IV) and referenced other premillennialists who do the same. Yet, no one was more insistent on a future definition of the kingdom in the gospels than McClain.
10. McClain, 281.
11. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1969) 447.
12. Pentecost, Things To Come, 449-450.
13. Toussaint, 63.
14. Peters, 390.
15. Pentecost, 452.
16. McClain, 272.
17. Riley, 118.

 

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.

 

A New Kind of Christian

A New Kind of Christian

by Rick Shrader

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Though this book was written in 2001, I wanted to read it first before I read A New Kind of Christianity, which was published in 2010 (same publisher and year as Rob Bell’s Love Wins).  A couple books by McLaren was enough for me but we need to know what those who are denying the faith and the Scriptures are saying.  It is written in a conversational style concerning two friends who are dropping out of the pastorate because of undue pressure from evangelical and conservative believers.  McLaren believes that Christianity has been mistaken for the last 500 years because we have adapted modernistic ways of thinking:  absolutes, truth and error, heaven and hell, two opposites can’t both be right, etc.  Even in 2001 McLaren was saying that heaven and hell are the same place where everyone goes after death.  That place is perfect and without sin.  Those who have understood Christ’s universal atonement (which has already saved every person) will enjoy it (“heaven”) and those who have not will not enjoy it (“hell”), but all will be there anyway.  All religions lead to this place but Christianity leads to it more easily.  Being “saved” becomes unnecessary and even selfish.

 

 

The Highways and Hedges

The Highways and Hedges

by Rick Shrader

I found the joy of the salvation of others.  Oh, the privilege, the blessed privilege, to be used of God to win a soul to Christ, and to see a man or woman being led out of bondage by some act of ours toward them.  To think that God should condescend to allow us to be coworkers with Him.  It is the highest honor we can wear.1

 Such was the compassion of D.L. Moody, a compassion that we have largely lost today!  Jesus anticipated the future evangelizing effort of the church when he described, in a parable, the great supper invitation:  “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be full” (Luke 14:23).

H.A. Ironside said of that early church, “It is a wonderful testimony to the devotion of the early believers that even within one generation after our Lord’s ascension the evangel had been carried throughout the known world.”2 But the commission of our Lord was not finished with that first generation.  As William Carey argued to his hyper-Calvinistic brethren, the Lord’s commission was not finished with the apostles.  If we still baptize and teach in our churches, then we must still preach the gospel to all the world.  We don’t have two-thirds of a Great Commission!3

We have always had to guard against by-passing the hard work of evangelism.  The cults merely indoctrinate people into a system; the Roman church went over the whole world and baptized the nations, not gospel converts; Liberalism sought to redefine the whole world into the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; similarly, the ECT document (Evangelicals & Catholics Together) invented a sort of “redefinition evangelism” by simply declaring all Catholics saved, supposedly accomplishing by the stroke of a pen what missionaries could not do in 2000 years!  The current climate of emerging churches (especially in the wildly popular writings of Rob Bell and Brian McLaren) has grown so tired of evangelization and seeing the world as “us and them” (i.e. saved and lost) that it has invented a new universalism where all will be saved in the end anyway. So just relax and stop feeling guilty that you are not evangelizing at all.  As John Rylands, Sr. told young William Carey, “If God wants to save the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or mine.”  How we have come full circle from his day to ours!

A.W. Tozer wrote a generation ago,

God’s invitation to men is broad but not unqualified.  The words ‘whosoever will may come’ throw the door open, indeed, but the church is carrying the gospel invitation far beyond its proper bounds, turning it into something more human and less divine than that found in the sacred Scriptures.  What we tend to overlook is that the word ‘whosoever’ never stands by itself.  Always its meaning is modified by the word ‘believe’ or ‘will’ or ‘come.’4

We must not excuse our own fundamental churches from abuses even though we faithfully witness, win souls, and give invitations.  We too have often looked at winning souls as simply obtaining a notch on our gospel gun-belts.  The sinner’s prayer is not a magic formula that only needs repeating with no personal commitment.  If all of the “souls saved” which have been reported in the last fifty years were genuine, America would be saved twice over.  The hindrance this has caused becomes obvious.  One commonly hears, in witnessing to a worldly, uninterested person, “Oh, I did that when I was a kid going to such and such church.”

Whatever the abuses of the gospel have been or the obstacles in the way today, the Word of God stands as a megaphone sending the believing child of God out into the world “that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).  We need not be discouraged by the slow progress or the faint-heartedness of some or the persecution of others.  L.S. Chafer wrote, “When a soul has received the redemption which is in Christ and is saved, that one is then privileged to suffer with Christ in a compassion for the lost; being prompted, in some measure, by the same divine vision and love, through the presence and power of the indwelling Spirit.”5 This is still our calling today as much as it was to those first century believers.

The world as it was then

Paul affirmed to the Galatians that Christ came into the world “in the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4).  Consider what advantages and help God gave to those first Christians.  The Roman roads and sea-ways provided nearly worldwide access to all people groups.  Merrill Tenney wrote, “The rule of Rome over the provinces was greatly facilitated by its excellent system of roads, which, until the recent era of the automobile, were the best that the world had ever seen.”6 In the book of Acts Luke seems almost thrilled to describe his travels with the great apostle as much as a modern traveler would be today.

The Greek language provided crucial understanding for the gospel almost everywhere it went.   Thanks to Alexander’s conquest directed by God’s providence, the Jews and Gentiles alike understood in one language.  William Ramsay wrote that “Greek was the language of all even moderately educated persons,” and that, “Graeco-Roman manners and ideas were being actively disseminated and eagerly assimilated by all active and progressive and thoughtful persons.”7 Conybeare and Howson wrote, “The Greek language had already been prepared as a medium for preserving and transmitting the doctrine; the Roman government was now prepared to help the progress even of that religion which it persecuted.”8

The Diaspora, that great dispersion of the Jews from their homeland, also took the early Jewish Christians to every part of the world.  The Jews established synagogues in most cities and kept the Sabbath and most Mosaic Laws.  This afforded the Jewish believers in those areas a ready pulpit for the gospel.  Philip Schaff described this particular advantage, “Jesus and the apostles availed themselves of this democratic privilege to preach the gospel as fulfillment of the law and the prophets. . . . Paul preached Christ in the synagogues . . .  Which furnished him a pulpit and an audience.”9

Paul used his Roman Citizenship as an access to gospel opportunity.  The provincial system of annexation by conquest gave Roman citizens liberties in areas such as Achaia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Galatia.  “The Romans never interfered with the religious freedom of the subject peoples.”10 Paul often appealed to his Roman citizenship if it helped his purpose of preaching the gospel.

Even the Bema seats of the Roman Empire helped the spread of the gospel.  Paul was helped by Gallio’s Bema judgment in Acts 18:12 when he would have otherwise been beaten and run out of town.  It was Herod’s Bema in Caesarea that allowed Paul to appeal to Caesar and be transported duty-free to Rome so he could fulfill a long-time desire to preach there also (Acts 23:35).  It was Nero’s Bema in Rome that allowed him to preach while in prison waiting for sentencing (Acts 23:11; 25:10).  Even under Rome’s own persecution, the Bema “was to give shelter to the infant church, with opportunity of safe and continued growth.”11

Persecution itself sent the infant church into all parts of the world fulfilling the great commission.  Acts 1:8 outlines Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the earth as the road map for the gospel dissemination.  This becomes the outline for the book of Acts.  Even the apostolic gifts were exercised in this order to help the witness of the apostles.12 Beginning with the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen, the church was forced to spread out in these four areas.  “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at [1] Jerusalem; and they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of [2] Judea and [3] Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went [4] everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

The divine wisdom of the local church itself was a great advantage for the spread of the gospel.  This simple form of Christian gathering was flexible enough and mobile enough to be practiced in any locale where God’s people were scattered.  It was not only “multi-cultural” in that, by conversion, it was made up of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, it was also “omni-cultural” in that it could exist in many places and circumstances.  The great Ephesian church began this way.  “But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he [Paul] departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.  And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:9-10).

The World as it is today

God has not left Himself without witness today nor without the availability of the gospel to all people.  Travel today is nearly a miraculous thing compared to world travel throughout history and until just a hundred years ago.  Today’s missionaries can come and go from and to the fields of the world in a matter of hours rather than weeks and months.  In addition  there are amazing internet and satellite communications that allow instant audio and visual communication anywhere in the world.

For centuries English has been the most common language for travel and has allowed an English-speaking traveler to navigate through almost any location.  And now, because of technology, languages are learned quickly and Bible translation is done easier and is therefore traveling  faster to every part of the globe.

American citizenship has helped the gospel go around the world since WWII.  Many missionaries in the 40s and 50s were GIs who went back to the land of their military service.  Yet in most advanced countries, like the United States, the mission field is coming to us.  Immigration, the ease of world travel, and commerce, bring people to our shores that we cannot reach in any other way.

The local church is still God’s divine agency in this dispensation of grace.  By its amazing adaptability, it continues to spread and preach the gospel in all parts of the world.  Though we see the number of volunteers needed to go into all the world and the funds needed to send them waning, the possibilities are still numerous.  Churches at home will trim their appetites if necessary in order to find missionary money.  Bible colleges and seminaries will find ways to operate more leanly in order to continue to train young men and women who are willing to go.  God’s people will see the crisis coming that would result if we do not sacrifice, and they will adjust their lifestyles in order to continue supporting God’s work.

Most of all, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is still the only hope of the world.  It does not need updating nor refining.  It has gone through rough waters before and still stands.  Paul’s anathema upon any who would change it is still in effect today (Gal. 1:8-9).  We are sent to evangelize the world even though we will not be able to convert it.  It is not ours to help the gospel by making it more palatable to those who don’t want it.  Ours is but to offer the great love and forgiveness of Christ.  And “as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

We are still to go to the highways and hedges of our world.  Wherever our “synagogues” or “temple steps” are today we must go with the good news that Jesus saves.  Let us not forget to shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

O Zion haste, thy mission high fulfilling,

To tell to all the world that God is Light;

That He who made all nations is not willing

One soul should perish, lost in shades of night.

Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;

Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;

Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious,

And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace;

Tidings of Jesus, Redemption and release.