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Having Respect of Persons

Having Respect of Persons

by Rick Shrader

In preaching through the second chapter of the book of James, we usually focus on faith and works in the second half of the chapter.  However, the respect of persons which James deals with in the first nine verses is just as needful, and perhaps much more, in our own day.  Faith and works is important, in fact it has been the water shed of differences between denominations and cults.  But James’ pointed words regarding our own reaction to people who come into our church, or you might say, when the world comes to us, is crucial as well.

It is important to define what “respect of persons” means.  We are generally right when we understand that it means we should have no partiality toward people, especially due to their outward appearance.  Even more specifically in this passage, we should not prefer one person as a prospective member of the church over another because of what appears to be a better social or financial status.  James presents the familiar picture of a rich man and a poor man coming into the church service (“Your assembly”) and the rich man receiving better treatment by the saints of God. 

“Respect of persons” comes from a combination of the word for “face” and the word “to receive.”  To respect one person over another is to receive his face above another, or, as A.T. Robertson put it, “to lift up the face on a person.”1  Douglas Moo says that “this word was invented by New Testament writers”2  because it is a rare word.

The word is used only four other places in the New Testament (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25) and in each place it refers to God as being without respect of persons either in salvation or in judgment.  James is the only one to apply it to believers, obviously teaching that we are to be like our heavenly Father in this regard. 

Douglas Moo also noted,

“But the Greek word here is plural—’acts of favoritism’ (NRSV)—and this makes clear that the prohibition has wide-ranging application.  The OT repeatedly stresses that God himself is impartial, looking at the heart rather than at the outside of a person, and God’s people are to imitate him in this respect.”3

Therefore we always translate “respects (plural) of persons” which indeed does widen the meaning of the idea.  There are many ways in which we show favoritism.  We pass by a person without speaking; we look at a person with a suspicious look; we speak but quickly move away  to other people.  But we also laud over an obviously well-to-do person; we follow up more quickly on a large family; we might even change what we do in church to keep someone from not liking us.

Hypocrisy is a kind of respect of persons because in being hypocritical we are changing our own face in sight of someone else for our own gain.  Pragmatism is a kind of respect of persons because we favor some people who can help us accomplish something, the end justifying the means thereby.  So being a respecter of persons is a kind of hypocrisy wedded to pragmatism.  We act in a way we shouldn’t in front of someone, with the purpose of using them for our own ends.  No doubt James saw something like this going on in his own congregation of believers.

Our own history

As fundamental Baptists, we have often had our faults in this matter.  Many of us remember the 60s and 70s when we boasted of the ten largest Sunday Schools in America, or when our churches were among the fastest growing churches in America.  In fact, there was an ongoing contest among the churches to see who would be listed in such reports.  Now, I certainly am not criticizing bigness as such.  There is nothing inherently wrong in a big church or in a little church, just as there is nothing inherently wrong in being rich or poor.  Either could be used for God’s glory and either can be used for selfishness.  But I am remembering, as one who was trained in ministry at that time, that what we really wanted was to grow and we needed people as well as people’s money to do it. Even worse, we may have pushed for altar results simply for the record of it rather than for the rejoicing of sinners being saved. 

I remember being a Bible College student (’68-’72) and fearing that if I left school to start or pastor a church, I might not grow fast enough and would be perceived as a failure by my peers or instructors.  Those were the days of church growth seminars where one could learn the latest method of increasing the attendance and altar result cards.  We all copied Jerry Falwell and Jack Hyles. 

Those days are probably still with us to some degree, but I think we have learned that growth for growth’s sake isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  There is a real hollowness in ministry when things are done by hypocrisy wedded to pragmatism.  People just become numbers or offering envelopes.  And I think our people felt it too.  I believe it is good for us to have dropped off the cutting edge of church growth dynamics.  We may not be in the news as much, but we are shepherding more than herding and I think pleasing God more.

 

The contemporary church

As fundamental churches decreased in numbers, evangelical churches took over.  The 80s and the 90s were given to a seeker sensitive style of ministry where polls were used to find out what would make the world like us.  The churches quickly became what was necessary to draw people.  If they didn’t like church buildings, the look of the building was changed.  If they didn’t like dressing up for church, everyone immediately became casual.  Not just “poor” like the man in James chapter two, but perfectly casual.  Casual with the most expensive casualness.  Ironically, a coat and tie became as nadir as the hobo of the 50s.  If you went like that, you were the one to whom no one spoke. 

The worst show of the respect of persons was the target audience.  Somehow a church determined who should be there and who shouldn’t, or at least whom they really wanted and whom they didn’t.  James would call this a violation of the “royal law” (2:9).  To not “love your neighbor as yourself” is to not love whoever is there, whoever comes in the door.  The word is “kingly.”  A king is supposed to love all of his subjects, and a church is supposed to love whoever comes in. 

I might add to this that there was a certain part of this movement that encouraged churches to push aside (or out) the older people because they would not give a proper impression to the younger generation that the church was trying to attract.  With their removal there was also the removal of their baggage: hymnals, choirs, coats and ties, etc. (and sadly their maturity). 

Was not all of this (like the church-growth movement of the 60s and 70s) truly a way of being a respecter of persons?  I think it was.  Ministry was plastic, a façade, something performed for a certain effect.  And that effect was success.   It’s not that 100% of churches then or now were driven by these motives, but too many of them were.

 

Even newer churches

Somehow I can’t believe that the emergent churches and other new brands of believers are any better in their motives.  Respecting persons is too much a part of human nature.  For the postmodern church to simply criticize the older churches as  being “modern” (i.e. molded by the modern, industrial, cookie-cutter age) and then to drop into the abyss of relativism, having no structure or stable values, is certainly no better.  In fact, it is worse.  The world will never adopt Christian principles on its own and to acquiesce to it in form and structure (or the lack thereof) is to respect the persons (the face) of the world in the worst way.  To say that the postmodern age is better than the modern or pre-modern ages is to become what the world wants you to become for your own gain.  It is to “lift up the face” to them in order to win them over. 

If we simply witness the popular writers of this movement (McLaren, Bell) and what doctrines and interpretations they have adopted in order to draw the postmodern generation, we need look no further.  The Bible is a human story, not an inspired record?  Hell is within each lost person, not a real place to which they go when they die?  To teach these things because the current generation will receive none other is to respect their faces too much.

 

Our culture

I agree with those who say that culture is not morally neutral, and in fact is the incarnation of a person’s (society’s) religion.  A thief steals because he believes it is right for him to do so.  Even if those reasons are nefarious, he was forced into it by circumstances beyond his control.  A liar tells a lie because for the moment it is necessary for him/her to do so.  These things are moral convictions that come from a person’s world view.  This is true for all of us.  If we have a Biblical world view we will talk, think, and do those things that we really believe from the Bible.  If those things are not Biblical, then we are hypocritical to say that we have a Christian world view.  Our culture is the way it is because it is the outgrowth of what society really believes.  Culture then is the incarnation of society’s belief system, good or bad.

It is human nature to respect persons.  A lost person may be made in God’s image, but he/she is fallen, a sinner who does not seek after God by nature.  Therefore, hypocrisy may become necessary for such a person to get ahead in this life.  Pragmatism is a way of life that makes even good things to be mere means to an end.  To respect persons in this manner is a way of life for the sinner, his culture, his real religion.

 

Our country

The respect of persons is seen in political campaigns in an unashamed fashion.  Even as we now try to evaluate why the president won and the challenger lost, the answers from the pundits is that we didn’t “appeal” to certain social groups in the country.  I don’t think there is any doubt that the president’s campaign was based on promising (once again) to give certain people whatever they want if they would vote for him.  Sadly, moral issues and personal failures (especially as the Commander in Chief) don’t seem to matter to people if they get the things they want from the government.  In other words, people are very willing to be the victims of this political respect of persons if it is an advantage to them.  For political parties and candidates to pander to people this way, to study the details of what will persuade them, and then to form a campaign and administration based on that is respect of persons at its worst.

 

Our churches

The most prominent New Testament command from our Lord is to love one another.  But this is like the commands to think right, it is plain but it is easier said than done.  We almost instinctively play favorites with people we know.  We must pray that the Lord will give us a genuine love of the brethren and a genuine interest (if not love) for the lost world around us.  Let us practice the royal law of loving whoever comes in the door.  After all, we spend millions going to all parts of the world, so we ought to be good ambassadors when the world comes to us.

Let’s let the Lord build the church.  I think I say that with the understanding of our great responsibility in the gospel outreach.  I don’t mean that in a cold, uncaring way.  I mean, let’s love all the brethren and let’s love them because they are brethren and not because they are some advantage to us.  Likewise, with those we meet who need Christ. 

At the same time, we must not let the world dictate to us the terms of the gospel.  That would be to respect their person more than to respect God’s own Word.  If that costs us converts, so be it, it didn’t really cost anything because those would have been our own converts, not the Holy Spirit’s.  We must give the gospel to everyone but we will not win every one.  That is Biblical too.

Let’s not trick people into coming to church.  Let the cults tell people one thing and then reveal the reality to them later.  Paul told Philemon that the communication of his faith would become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing that was in him in Christ Jesus (Phile. 6).  Let’s be real.  Say everything we are, do what believers do in church, put our name on the door, and don’t be ashamed or let our faces change because someone who doesn’t have the Spirit may not understand.  Rather, let us begin to show them what the real love of God is.

 

And so . . . .

Perhaps we could say with Isaac Watts of old in Psalm 48,

 

Far as thy name is known,

The world declares thy praise;

Thy saints, O Lord, before thy throne,

Their songs of honour raise.

With joy let Judah stand

On Sion’s chosen hill,

Proclaim the wonders of thy hand,

And counsels of thy will.

Let strangers walk around

The city where we dwell,

Compass and view thine holy ground,

And mark the buildings well;

The orders of thy house,

The worship of thy court,

The cheerful songs, the solemn vows,

And make a fair report.

How decent and how wise!

How glorious to behold!

Beyond the pomp that charms the eyes,

And rites adorn’d with gold.

The God we worship now

Will guide us till we die,

Will be our God while here below,

And ours above the sky.4

 

 

 

Notes:
1. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures  in the New Testament, vol. vi (Nashville:  Broadman Press, 1933) 29.
2. Douglas Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2000) 102.
3. Moo, 102.
4. The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts (Morgan, PA:  Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997) 85.

 

Apostasy, Then and Now

Apostasy, Then and Now

by Rick Shrader

I think we have finally gotten over any love of Halloween in our churches.  That pagan holiday with its ghosts and goblins, witches and broomsticks, can thankfully be gone from our church calendars.  I don’t know of any Christian church that celebrated it this year.  When the origins of customs remain unknown and harmless (such as birthday cakes or where the days of the week got their names) we may use and enjoy without offense.  But when the pagan and anti-Christian meanings reappear we must set them aside.

But in this holiday season, indeed in the end of this present age, I fear a deeper and far more deceptive danger lurks within our churches.  From my periodic reading of the book of Jude as well as 2 Peter 2, I was struck by the reality that in the last times there will be false prophets among the people (2 Pet. 2:1) and certain men crept in unawares (Jude 4) who will do irreparable harm to the churches.  We usually call such people apostates, people who are pretenders and not real believers yet who stay among the believers and lead them astray into much unchristian belief and activity.  We have known these prophecies of Jude and Peter but it had not struck me in such a way that if we are indeed in the end times we must be seeing the very fulfillment of these predictions.  We could call this the great apostasy that will come at the end of the age.  We might call this the signs of the times.  But by whatever description, Scripture often says that such times will come when the end of the age of grace is near.  Paul tells Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils (1 Tim. 4:1).  In the second epistle he says again, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1).  And again, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” or who tickle the ears (2 Tim. 4:3).  In both the book of Jude and Second Peter, these apostates come into the churches, among God’s people, therefore before the rapture of the church, and draw away the disciples after them.

I’m certainly not a date-setter nor do I believe that anything yet has to happen before the rapture may occur, but I can still believe that these verses speak of a phenomenon that is happening in our day and age.  Or I might say it this way, that even if this isn’t THE end of the age, the same things are happening now in our churches that will happen when THE end of the age comes.  Either way it is not very pleasant to see the effects of apostasy on the Lord’s churches.

The Lord had very stern words for the churches at Pergamos and Thyatira for allowing teachers to come in and destroy the flock like Balaam allowed Balak to “cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2:14), or like Jezebel who seduced Israel to do the same (2:20). If our shoe fits the description of Jude and Peter we will have to wear it also.  Jude wanted to write of the common salvation (Jude 3) but this danger is so destructive that he was led by the Holy Spirit to change his subject matter and deal with this error.  He urged the believers to “earnestly contend for the faith” and not just sit by and let this cancer progress.  But I wonder, at the end of the age, if we will let the disease go or if we will purge it from our bodies.  Will the true believers be removed and the apostate church be left to the antichrist?  Will the true church remain faithful to the end?  Time will tell.

I find at least twelve damaging characteristics of end-time apostates in Jude and Second Peter.  One doesn’t have to look far to find parallels in the churches today.  In fact, they are so common I don’t even need to find examples to prove my point.  The reader, no doubt, will know of many himself.

 

Unsaved

The most profound characteristic is that these apostates are not even born again.  Jude says they deny “the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).  Peter says they are “false” prophets (1), reserved for the day of judgment (9), will “perish in their own corruption” (12), and for whom “the mist of darkness is reserved forever” (17).  A hypocrite in the Bible (contrary to popular belief) is usually a lost person.  He is not a true believer living poorly but is a poor unbeliever pretending to live truly, and can’t.

 

Among us

Jude says they “crept in unawares” (4) and feast among the believers “without fear” of reprisal (12).  Peter says they are “among the people” (1) and “feast with you” (13).  Imagine!  Like Judas, they have given some testimony of salvation and received baptism.  Paul told the Galatians they were “false brethren unawares brought in” (Gal. 2:4).  All of these descriptions come from words that mean to come in stealthily, falsely.

We don’t have an “easy believeism” problem today, we have a “no believeism” problem!  We may have made our mistakes in the past by promoting too many quick salvation decisions but even that was better than requiring no specific decision or experience.  Today a person is received in the church with a personal angel-sighting story!  And they feast among us without fear of conviction.

 

Ungodly

Jude uses the word “ungodly” six times in this short one-chapter book, four of those times in verse 15.  In verse four he simply says of these men that they are “ungodly men.”  Peter compares them to the ungodly in Noah’s day and those in Sodom and Gomorrah (5-6).  “Ungodly” (a-sebes) is the opposite of “pious” (eu-sebes).  The ancient name Eusebius comes from the latter.  The root (sebos) means to venerate, to reverence, to worship, to stand in awe.  With an “eu” prefix it means that such people do these things well and are “pious.”  With an “a” prefix it means they do not do them at all.

Is it possible to have people in our churches who do not truly worship God; who do not stand in awe of Him; and who do not show reverence to Him?  Jude says that the apostles “told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts” (18).  Jude’s readers evidently knew these kinds of apostates were there and had done nothing about it.  Maybe like the Corinthians (and many today), they boasted in their broad-mindedness (1 Cor. 5:6).

 

Disrespectful

“Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities” (Jude 8).  Peter adds that they are “presumptuous” and “self-willed” (10).  Disrespect has fallen into disrepair today.  In those days, however, it was a matter of utmost importance.  A man could not hold church office if his children were disrespectful or disobedient (Tit. 1:6).  Both Jude and Peter use Michael the archangel as the example of showing respect to authorities, even to Satan, the former Lucifer himself!  (Jude 9, 2 Pet. 2:11).  But, says Peter, these disrespectful church members are acting like brute beasts (12) who have no conscience of right and wrong and are destroyed without a second thought.  These apostates will truly act like “animals” even in the churches.

 

Lustful

In both chapters under consideration, more space is given to this vice than any others.  Believers who have the Restrainer living within them struggle enough with this sin, but unbelievers who have only the common graces of the world to restrain them, will fall to this sin overtly.  These hypocritical apostates turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4), “defile the flesh” (8), “walk after their own ungodly lusts” (18), and are “sensual” (19).  Peter says they have “pernicious ways” (2), have “eyes full of adultery” (14), and “allure through the lusts of the flesh” (18).  And all of this within the local church!  Peter’s statement about adultery may be translated “having eyes for an adulteress” or someone who is always looking for his next victim.

Our churches have to take extra precautions because of liabilities as it is.  But I wonder if the performance mentality coupled with self-centered immodesty doesn’t also feed this sin of lust.  Most modesty is seen as old-fashioned prudishness and even in-house directives for modest dress on the church platform is seen as some kind of legalism.  Then we wonder why so many of our own Christian kids have fewer moral standards than the world’s kids.  This apostate characteristic will grow worse and worse as the age draws to a close.  There will be more “lovers of pleasures” than “lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4).

 

Make Merchandise

Apostates are in it for what they can get out of it.  Jude says they have “men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (16).  This literally means they “admire faces for advantage.”  Peter says, “through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (3).  The words “shall make merchandise” come from emporeuomai from which we get our word “emporium.”  They made God’s house into an emporium, a house of business, or a market place.  Jesus used this same word when He  aggressively drove such moneychangers from the temple because they had made God’s house of prayer into a house of “merchandise” (Jn. 2:16).  Paul told Timothy that some perverse men think that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim. 6:5) or, literally, “that godliness is a means of gain.”

Surely we have many today that are using the church to make a lot of money.  Like lust, this has always been a problem in ministry, but the avenues for revenues are broader than ever.  Dan Lucarini, in his new book (see my review above), says of the contemporary Christian music business,

Now you know the truth about the images you are ‘allowed’ to see.  There are powerful and prideful creative forces at work behind the scenes, spending enormous sums of money, time and talent and using all the tricks of the trade.  The sole purpose is to manipulate the images of the same artists and worship leaders who are supposed to lead us in authentic praise and worship.  No matter what compromised excuse they may give for this, it is no less than ‘Christianized’ idol worship and the marketing of worship for a profit.1

Whether it is the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel or the snake-oil healer, we should say with Peter, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.  Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:20-21).

Promise Liberty

Peter says that, “while they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (19).  Jude refers to the same when he says that these apostates turn “the grace of God into lasciviousness” (4).  Paul said that in the last days these will have “a form of godliness” but will deny “the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5).  Peter ended his chapter with the sad words about many being led down a false path to liberty but finding servitude to the world and the flesh to which they return like a dog to his vomit (20-22).  Many years ago J. C. Ryle wrote, “I should like to know what doctrine of the Gospel has not been abused.  Salvation by grace has been made a pretext for licentiousness.”2 The abuse is abundantly apparent in our day.

 

And So . . . .

I could add many more to the list from these two chapters.  Without a doubt our day fits the end time scenario described by Jude and Peter.  We cannot know if this is THE end time or whether our time is just amazingly similar to that time.  In either case, the situation for the church is dire.  Yet for every Pergamos and Thyatira there is a Smyrna and a Philadelphia.  For every Balaam and Jezebel there is a Daniel and an Esther.  Even if we have left our first love we can remember, repent, and redo so we won’t be removed.  May God give us grace to that end.

 

Notes:
1. Dan Lucarini, It’s Not About The Music (England & USA:  Evangelical Press, 2010) 129.
2. J.C. Ryle, “Watch”, Our Blessed Hope, Joseph Seiss, ed. (Philadelphia: Garner, 1884) 47.

 

Salvation and Godliness

Salvation and Godliness

by Rick Shrader

Some people think they see contradictions in all parts of the Bible.  Recently I attended a debate at a local school where a Christian apologist debated an agnostic over the validity of the resurrection of Christ.  The agnostic (a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and Princeton Theological Seminary) is a professor of religion at the University of North Carolina.  From what I understood, he teaches graduate students to doubt that the Bible is an inspired, or at least inerrant, book.  His arguments against the resurrection boiled down to insisting that the gospels had contradictions and therefore couldn’t be trusted.  His examples were generally that since the four gospels give four different views of the life of Christ, they can’t possibly all be a correct view.  Unfortunately, no sufficient response was given concerning a harmony of the gospels.

I think there are also many believers who see apparent contradictions in the Bible and make little or no effort to solve them.  Calvinism and Arminianism; the holiness and the love of God; and law and grace are just a few that too many people don’t care to grapple with.  The one that affects us as much or more than any is the apparent contradiction between justification and sanctification, the dilemma of complete forgiveness of sin as opposed to the struggle against, and mortification of, sin.  Denominations have been formed from this apparent contradiction.  Some place too much sanctification in their justification, thus becoming antinomian (Free Grace and Evangelical Free movements); some place too much justification in their sanctification, thus becoming legalistic (Pentecostal and Holiness movements).

Can we handle two truths that seem to be conflicting but really aren’t?  Do we know that our sins are forgiven, removed as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12), that He will remember our sins against us no more (Isa. 43:25), that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Rom. 5:20)?  But do we also know that we will one day stand at the Bema Seat of Christ to receive or lose rewards for things done in our body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10), that we may be beguiled out of our reward by false worship (Col. 2:18), that we may be saved so as by fire (by the skin of our teeth!) for sexual sins done while a Christian (1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5)?  The failure to understand and live with both the doctrine of justification as well as sanctification makes for a lopsided Christian.  Either he will live in fear of losing his salvation, or he will live as an antinomian.  Neither would be the Christian the Bible describes.

The world will never understand these intramural discussions among believers.  They can think only about scales of goodness and badness and spend their natural lives struggling back and forth to no avail.  But believers are made for the meat of the Word.  They have the mind of Christ and are obligated to study to show themselves approved in these things before God (2 Tim. 2:15).  To hide God-given truth in the ground is to receive no reward at all.

Our present desire to do away with doctrine, separation, and even holiness, is not healthy.  I’ve never been one for discarding denominational names because I believe a) the lost person doesn’t care, and b) this is an honest way of informing people before they come in of what you believe and how you operate.  These names usually describe a church’s polity or their conclusions about justification and sanctification.  In a biblically illiterate world, we need all the help we can get in educating people to the great doctrines of the Scriptures.

There are really four kinds of people found in the Bible if we count the lost and the saved.  These four, but especially the last two, show what we believe about salvation and godliness.

1. The lost man with no regard for anything religious.

We come across this man often in the Bible.  He is Cain or Korah, Sandballet or Tobiah, Simon the sorcerer or Bar-Jesus.  This is the spirit of antichrist that has always been present in the world.  They walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness (Eph. 4:17-19).  They are to be pitied more than feared.  They are like blind men walking into things they do not see.  They are objects of God’s love, but have shunned His grace at every turn.  They become the enemies of the cross of Christ, Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things (Phil. 3:19).

2. The lost man who is religious.

The Bible is also full of these men and women.  Sometimes they are religious hypocrites such as Jeroboam or Manasseh, the Pharisees and Sadducees, Judas and Alexander.  Like Simon, they are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:23) and not even Peter could pray in their place before God.

Sometimes they are good people in the natural sense, with moral and religious inclinations who would be open to the gospel if they heard it.  Jethro did not know the God of Moses but loved the Hebrew people to whom his daughter had attached herself.  Rahab was quick to praise the Jewish spies in Jericho and to believe, as soon as she understood that salvation was of the Jews.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was a religious man seeking answers to Biblical questions, but lost in his sin until an evangelist could preach to him.  Cornelius prayed and fasted and sought God’s face without true knowledge until the time when God had His apostle prepared to speak the gospel to Gentiles.  Lydia went to prayer meeting regularly but was lost until the Lord opened her heart to the message of His missionary.  The Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to see if what they were hearing squared with their Scriptures, but were lost until Paul came and preached the true gospel to them.  Sergius Paulus was a prudent man who desired to hear the Word of God, and though Elymas sought to turn him away from the faith, he believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

3. The saved man who is carnal.

It is possible for a Christian to be carnal.  Paul could not speak to the Corinthians in the way he desired because of their carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-3).  It kept them from even being able to receive the milk of the Word that they might grow.  The writer of Hebrews scolded his readers for their lack of desire to go on to heavier doctrine when they should have been teachers themselves.  In more pointed language John scolds the readers of his first epistle with severe consequences for living in carnality: inability to have fellowship with God, lack of assurance of salvation, lack of love for the brethren, and a lack of discernment regarding false teachers who were already among them.

Carnality may come from a lack of understanding about one’s position in Christ.  Not knowing whether one is saved or not will not bring victory in the Christian life.  The helmet of salvation is needed to keep the Christian soldier from ducking at every shot fired by the enemy.  Working to keep oneself saved is a discouraging occupation.

Carnality may come from a lack of time spent in God’s Word and prayer.  The filling of the Spirit is dependent on the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly in all wisdom (Col. 3:16).  Fellowship with the Father and with the Son is maintained by prayer because the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and His ears are opened to their prayers (1 Pet. 3:12).

Carnality results from trying to navigate this life with the self in control instead of God.  Sanctification is a work of God in our heart also.  Our flesh does not have the power in itself, even regenerated, to overcome the world.  As we yield to the Spirit of God, and as He teaches us through the Word of God, we grow strong in the Lord and the power of His might.

Carnality also results from thinking that all human effort to combat the flesh is unspiritual, that striving against sin is somehow a lower role in life than should be desired.  But it is not.  We are to be holy as He is holy, to put on armor that is made for battle, to pull down strongholds of opposition, to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

A carnal believer is still secure in Christ.  Sin cannot destroy the work of justification done in the heart.  But the sinning believer appears the same as the lost man, since salvation cannot be seen except by good works.  Without those Christian graces, you would not know that he is a believer except by his verbal testimony.  The Bema Seat of Christ alone will reveal the sin and carnality with which many believers have lived.

4. The saved man who is spiritual.

The Christian is a spiritual man as opposed to a natural man (1 Cor. 2:14-16).  Before he was saved he was by nature a child of wrath but now has been saved and changed by the Spirit of God (Eph. 2:3-5).  By “spiritual” we mean spiritually mature or strong rather than weak (Rom. 15:1), spiritually mature rather than a babe in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1).

The Bible presents the spiritually mature Christian as the normal Christian.  He may be a new child in Christ but knows full well his salvation, or a young man in Christ who is strong and fighting the battles of faith, or a father among believers who has walked with God from the beginning (1 John 2:12-14).  This is the brother whom we are to love and with whom we ought to desire fellowship (1 John 3:14-16).  It matters not whether the world of lost people love this man, since they did not love his Lord either (John 15:18).  He is the example to which every young believer and every carnal believer should strive.

The spiritual Christian knows that he is never above sin (1 John 1:10) and has a great respect for the old nature that still resides in him.  But this man has fought enough battles with the flesh to know where his strengths and weaknesses lie and he has walked enough years with his Lord to know where the victory comes from.  He has lost desire for earthly fame or reward but more and more looks not at things which can be seen but things which cannot (2 Cor. 4:18).  His wisdom is not from below but from above which begins with purity, then peacefulness, then gentleness.  Others find he is easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy (Jas. 3:17).

There is no lost person who can imitate this man for long, no more than a sparrow can imitate an eagle or a mouse a lion.  His life has a certain attractiveness about it that causes even the vilest of sinners to secretly desire its beauty.  It has a certain humbleness and meekness to it to encourage the strongest believer to hold fast to his Lord.  The spiritual man or woman is the real treasure in any culture.

And So . . . .

I am not and never have been for laying down our weapons of doctrinal warfare.  I am for fighting a good fight and not a bitter fight, of speaking the truth in love.  We know that a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.  And none of us like hypocrites.  For identification, fellowship, and participation in ministry, we may at times seek for common denominators, but we don’t even know what those are unless we are constantly striving for truth in every jot and tittle, nor would we be safe in such an environment unless we were grounded and settled and not moved about by every wind of doctrine.

Our road begins at its broadest intersection of the great doctrines of justification and sanctification.  If we cannot navigate this cross-road, we will probably not be headed out in the right direction.  Once we settle this, we will enjoy our journey through the highways and byways of God’s Word and our walk in the Spirit.  If we get a little lost, we will always be able to return to this place and start again.

These things are not mere curiosity for the Christian.  They are his life and passion.  We must go and teach all nations . . . Baptizing them . . . Teaching them to observe all things,  And we can know that He is with us, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:19-20).

 

Why Won’t Those Older Chistians Change?

Why Won’t Those Older Chistians Change?

by Rick Shrader

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In the current debate over change, we seldom have the patience or the interest to listen to our elders.  It has become tragic to hear of a generation of Christians who have come to the Lord out of their sinful past, given their money over their life-time to their church, raised their kids in their church, only to have their church taken away from them in one leadership change and themselves asked to sit quietly on the sidelines.  The biblical admonitions to learn from our elders as well as to respect them, takes a back seat to the need for growth and innovation.

No older saint I know is advocating unnecessary blindness.  Most of our seniors realize that there will be a time when their reasoning powers as well as their physical powers wane.  Most I know welcome the younger families and are glad for their vitality and participation.  But this is often taken advantage of by younger Christians who do not have a full perspective of the history that preceded them.

Christianity is not unique in its respect for gray hair.  Most healthy civilizations as well as most religions have long traditions of giving honor to their elders, usually men and women.  But for the Christian, from the fifth commandment to honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Ex 20:12), to Paul’s admonitions to rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father . . . and let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor . . .and even against an elder receive not an accusation but before two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:1, 17, 19), respect, patience and recognition have always been the Christian ethic toward older saints.

Our fault in this area comes for a number of reasons.  One reason may be a younger generation’s inability to listen and learn. Ralph Waldo Emerson once retorted,  “The secret of a true scholar?  In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil.”1 Will Rogers said the greatest compliment you could pay to a person is to ask a question and then listen to his response.  Our generation seems to have little time to listen.

Another reason may be a modern notion that what is changing is always better than what remains the same.  Norman Geisler recently wrote concerning modern notions of God,

It is difficult to understand how we can know that everything is relative and changing.  How could anyone be sure that something is changing without having some unchanging measure to measure the change?  And if everything is changing, then there could not be the standard or measure by which we could measure the change.2

When we ask our elders to sit on the sidelines of ministry, we may be removing landmarks that we cannot do without!  Those eyes have seen things that others have not.  They have seen spiritual victories and defeats caused by repeating truths and errors over many years.  Just because the body is wrinkled and the clothes are an older style does not mean the wisdom inside is somehow less.  It may mean the very opposite.  Paul warned the Corinthians, For which cause we faint not; but though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).    I have often said at funerals that some saints grow so much throughout their Christian life that finally their spirit cannot fit inside the body any longer and God graciously lets them leave!  Some of the wisest words of biblical characters are the ones just before death:  Moses to Joshua; Elijah to Elisha; Paul to Timothy.  We would do well to listen to the wisdom of saints in this “prime” of their life also.

Still, when it comes to accomplishing our personal goals and creating our personal visions, the elders are often obstacles in the way of progress.  When I hear critical statements about older saints being reluctant to change, it is easy to identify a number of false assumptions made about the thinking of our elders.

Old Age Means Ignorance

The assumption is that older Christians have no good reason for refusing change, or have never thought through the consequences of not changing.  Typical of our generation, we think that any change is better than no change and therefore it is senseless to resist.  G.K. Chesterton described it,

Modern men are not familiar with the rational arguments for tradition, but they are familiar, and almost wearily familiar with the rational arguments for change . . . . The language which comes most readily to everyone’s mind is the language of innovation; but it is a language that is rather exercised than examined.3

Thomas á Kempis described his Lord’s thought of him as, “unless thou stand steadfast in Me, thou mayest change, but not better thyself.”4 It could be that many seniors know the consequences of proposed changes far better than younger people and are also willing to stand their ground out of conviction and love for the ministry.  It is near-sightedness for younger adults, because the seniors say it in older terminology while wearing older (and far less expensive) styles, to interpret such conviction as old-age senility.

Old Age Means Compliance

This assumption is that because some saints are older they should automatically give in to younger desires.  Youth is always thought to be better.  Older folks are there to pay the bills, staff the menial chores and stay off the platform unless they are willing to act like youth.  Whatever the younger generation desires, they have always insisted on and gotten.  Walt Whitman once described it as, “Open up all your values and let her go–swing, whirl with the rest—you will soon get under such momentum you can’t stop if you would.”5 Perhaps the elders among us realize that.

The great sixteenth century British parliamentarian, William Wilberforce observed in his own day and culture,

At length, old age has made its advances.  Now, if ever, we would expect it would be high time to make eternal things the great object of attention.  No such thing! It is now required of them to be good-natured and indulgent to the frailties and follies of youth, remembering that when they were young they gave themselves up to the same practices.

How opposite this is to that dread of sin which is the sure characteristic of the true Christian.  Such a dread causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow.6

Old Age Means Neutrality

The cry of today’s cultural changers is that all changes of “style” are morally neutral. It should not matter to the older folks that the church now looks different, sounds different and has been “styled down” to an easy, casual atmosphere that is comfortable for any level of spirituality.  Are we to think that folks who have been under the sound of the Word for decades have no sensitivity to grieving the Spirit?  Is it possible that younger saints may not yet have this sensitivity?

Wilberforce finished his statement by saying, “Then instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless—a privilege of their age and circumstances(!)—he is prompted to warn them against what has proved to him to be a matter of such bitter reflection.”7 But this decision to resist what others consider to be harmless, will bring impatient accusations quickly on one’s own head.  To disagree is to say the other is wrong.  And we know how youth love to be told they are wrong!

Old Age Means Surrender

The final straw for many older saints is to be told that they won’t and can’t change.  The irony behind this accusation is two-fold.  On the one hand, we forget that they did change!  Years ago they repented of an old life in sin and became new creatures in Christ!  They quit going where they used to go and talking like they used to talk.  They gave up old habits and even changed the way they looked to more reflect their new found spiritual life.  They started giving sacrificially to start new churches, build buildings and send missionaries.  To say that these folks won’t change is to deny their very testimony for Christ.

On the other hand, the irony deepens when it is finally seen that the younger people coming to the church are the ones that don’t change!  They want the church to be like they already are: same music, same casualness, same impulsiveness with no change of life-style outside the church.  Chesterton said, “The modern man found the church too simple exactly where modern life is too complex;  he found the church too gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy.”8 And when such is the case, who has had to do the changing?  In our age, I dare say, not the younger people!

When I read George Barna deriding older saints for not always changing at the drop of a hat (or should we say ball cap?), I said to myself, “Good!”  He wrote, “Most older adults are not about to accept the new ways of experiencing and learning about God.  In fact, there is not much that most of them will change in terms of values, perceptions, and behaviors at this advanced state of their life.”7 Perhaps that is because they already have changed and are waiting for another generation to do the same!

And So . . .

We really owe a debt of gratitude to the elders among us for fighting a good fight and finishing their course well.  I pray they are not too offended by today’s immaturity.  As one writer said, “The charge of hypocrisy is the unintended compliment that vice pays to virture.”9 I know they know that!

Notes:
1. Quoted by Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Garden City, NY:  Garden City Pub, 1927)  4.
2. Norman Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man (Minneapolis: Bethany Books, 1997) 66.
3. Quoted by Michael Aeschliman, The Restitution of Man (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 8.
4. Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1980) 190.
5. Quoted by William Strauss & Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning (New York: Broadway Books, 1997) 146.
6. William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Minneapolis:  Bethany Books, 1997) 116-117.
7. Wilberforce, 117.
8. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Wheaton:  Harold Shaw, 1994) 96.
9. Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 112.

 

Generic Christianity

Generic Christianity

by Rick Shrader

[Real] Christianity seldom occupies the attention of the bulk of nominal Christians. Thus we may expect them to be ignorant also of its tenets. They will be acquainted merely with those doctrines and principles that the law of the land commonly holds or sanctions. But whatever is unique in real Christianity and should be habitually kept in mind, this men will consider less and less, until it is almost wholly forgotten.

William Wilberforce, 18291

Tozer wrote, “In many churches Christianity has been watered down until the solution is so weak that if it were poison it would not hurt anyone, and if it were medicine it would not cure anyone.”2 It is generic Christianity! Any version will do, any level of commitment will suffice, any doctrinal system is sufficient. And why? Because the highest goal we have for Christianity is to mend broken homes, clean up society, reform broken lives, put God back into schools, and generally lift the moral level of mankind enough to alleviate some of its pain and suffering.

In our Denver paper last Sunday, the Knight Ridder News Service ran a column titled, “The moral life and TV’s ‘The Simpsons’: Despite continuing controversy, the show’s full of Christian ideals.” The article explains how the old TV show supposedly contained many Christian ideals about family and morals. > Not long ago the Associated Press ran an article about a Christian minister in Alabama who teaches a Bible class called “Finding the Way Back to Mayberry.” As he shows reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, the minister proclaims that he “sees God in Aunt Bee’s nurturing, in Andy’s wise counsel and Opie’s innocence.” Because the subject is so appealing, attendance at his church has grown over 200. >Many are talking now about the new “God speaking” billboard campaign which is running all over the country. Black and white billboards with a message such as “I love you. I love you. I love you. —God” One billboard says, “Keep using my name in vain. I’ll make rush hour longer.—God”

If Christianity is true because it works, perhaps Mormonism is more true! The 1999 Princeton Review of Colleges just reported that BYU is the least partying school in the USA. The Mormons are well known for their moral effect on cultures and societies. In a consumer-oriented culture, these may be better reasons for becoming a convert than the real message of Christianity.

The real message of Christianity has never been as popular with the world. But the generic version is popular with nominal Christians and non-Christians alike. It allows each person to keep his own dignity, his own personal desires and his own agenda in life. It attaches nicely to these, giving the person’s whole life a religious purpose as well as personal goals and achievements. Being a Christian, then, sheds all the negatives of repentance, sacrifice and especially suffering, and settles for the general rising standard of a good society where all faiths and religions contribute equally to a better moral climate.

In this generic form of Christianity, our positional and final sanctifications are emphasized almost to the exclusion of any progressive effort, which is now firmly relegated to the back-woods of “legalism.” The natural growth pattern of young person to young adult, and young adult to older person, is sanctification enough. The selfishness seen in a young person’s wilder life usually changes into young adult interests and we all rejoice in such “Christian growth.” The older Christians’ willingness to give the direction and leadership to young adults with as little resistance as possible is praised as wisdom and lauded by the young adults. Thus the natural aging pattern is also praised as wonderful “Christian growth.”

Is the Christian message to sinners unique from any other offer of religion or reform? Is there more to it than just belief in God, desire for happiness, good citizenship, spiritual dieting, exercising and crafting? Perhaps G.K. Chesterton was right when he said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”3 C.S. Lewis said, “if we do not believe it, let us be honest and relegate the Christian faith to museums. If we do, let us give up the pretense that it makes no difference.”4 That is, that the Christian faith is generic, in the same field with all “faith communities.” It may succeed where others fail, and it may fail where others succeed. But if it lifts people to higher spiritual levels, it is true enough.

Mahatma Gandhi said that he was never interested in knowing whether Jesus really lived, the Sermon on the Mount would be just as true to him if Jesus never existed.5 That is pure liberalism and yet it may be just as descriptive of many generic Christians today as it was of the Hindu leader. Do we believe Christianity because it has utilitarian value to society, or because its doctrines are true? In 1923, J. Gresham Machen wrote,

Christianity will combat Bolshevism; but if it is accepted in order to combat Bolshevism, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a unified nation, in a slow but satisfactory way; but if it is accepted in order to produce a unified nation, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a healthy community; but if it is accepted in order to produce a healthy community, it is not Christianity: Christianity will promote international peace; but if it is accepted in order to promote international peace, it is not Christianity. Our Lord said: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” But if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in order that all those other things may be added unto you, you will miss both those other things and the Kingdom of God as well.6

Notes:
1. William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997) 100.
2. A.W. Tozer, Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill, Penn: Christian Pub, 1997) ix.
3. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994) 37.
4. C.S. Lewis, The Weight Of Glory (New York: Macmillan, 1980) 116.
5. Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995) 46.
6. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 152.
 

 

We Are Also History Revisionists!

We Are Also History Revisionists!

by Rick Shrader

St. Amant: “The historian can never allow the message of history to create historical facts. Nor can he ignore or distort those facts in the interest of his own bias.”1

Antiphon: “Be not so unjust; rather leave something for that other witness, Time, who aids the zealous seekers of eternal truth.”2

One of the primary tools of our postmodern culture is our ability to reconstruct history for our own purposes. Dr. Peter Gibbon of Harvard University, travels the country lecturing on this destructive phenomenon. He says, “I remind my audiences that Thomas Jefferson is now thought of as the president with the slave mistress, and Mozart as the careless genius who liked to talk dirty. . . . Revisionist historians present an unforgiving, skewed picture of the past. Biographers are increasingly hostile toward their subjects. Social scientists stridently assert that human beings are not autonomous but are conditioned by genes and environment.”3

This art of reconstructing the facts of history is properly called Deconstructionism and its basic hermeneutic is suspicion. The postmodernist suspects the evil intent (usually the exercise of power of the advantaged over the disadvantaged) of the writer of history who, no doubt, wrote his account as he wanted to see it. The modern reader, therefore, has every right to rearrange the “facts” the way he/she sees them or would like them to be. This becomes even more sinister when we see the same postmodernist justifying lying for the same reason. All we know about the way something happened is the way someone wants to remember it. Therefore, my account (lie) of the same incident is equally valid to anyone else’s including the eye-witness! If this is the way our generation is viewing history and truth (and believe me, it is!), then why not forget reading and spend your time watching TV, videos and computer games? Those accounts of reality are as real to the viewer as actual history!

My proposition in this article is that many Christians today, ourselves products of this subtle inculcation, do a similar slight-of-hand with the Scriptures in order to make them yield to us what we want to find there. It is always easier to see faulty logic in others when we ignore our own.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “What we see when we think we are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be only the reflection of our own silly faces.”4 If, when we look into Scripture, we see what we have wanted to see and miss the intent of the speaker and author, then we have rewritten the sacred history as well.

Revisionists see history as a scrabble game of words. No attention need be paid the order and resultant meaning of the old text. The words are merely left to us to unscramble and rearrange in an order that will gain us points. Perhaps the ultimate example of this game today is the so-called Bible Code. By rearranging all the consonants of the Hebrew Bible with a computer, the user can come up with any order of words and meanings he wants. You would think we would debunk it all immediately! But our generation takes it seriously because it is born out of our basic revisionist hermeneutic.

J.I. Packer wrote, “Scripture can only rule us so far as it is understood, and it is only understood so far as it is properly interpreted. A misinterpreted Bible is a misunderstood Bible.”5 How often do we play spiritual scrabble with the words of Scripture? We merely comb its pages looking for the right words that will support the subject we are attempting to validate. When we find them, we preach our “conclusion” with authority because it was found in the Bible!

The humorous old story of the man who wanted to prove suicide is still instructive. He took three phrases that seemed handy and put them together so that they read, “Judas went and hanged himself.” “Go thou and do likewise.” “What thou doest, do quickly.” Of course, his conclusion has no more biblical authority than Romeo and Juliet though the words are the very words of Scripture. I once heard a man preach a farcical sermon on the blood of Jesus washing us white as snow from the poem “Mary had a little lamb.” It contained a lamb and its fleece was white as snow. It went with Mary wherever she chose to go. Though the meaning of redemption is true, the poem never intended it.

While reading the gospel of Mark recently, I was reminded of hearing a well-known evangelist preach on changing methodologies from Mark 2:21 & 22. This is the statement by Jesus of not putting new cloth on old garments, and not putting new wine in old wineskins. The evangelist’s point was that new times require new methodologies even though the message remains old. Now, I may agree or disagree with the evangelist’s proposition, but I have never gotten any impression that Jesus was talking about such a thing! I only think about it when reading the text because of what I heard the evangelist say, not from coming to such a conclusion from a normal reading of the story.

Whether you agree with me or not about that particular interpretation, do you not agree that we often use the words of Scripture to say what we want to be said even though the writer or speaker of the text never intended to be teaching it? I think a serious question at this point would be: can we use the Scripture in such a way with any promise of power and blessing from the Holy Spirit? Are we not actually rewriting what He wrote though we are using His very words? Isn’t this the same revision of historical text as we see the unbelievers doing around us today?

Blaise Pascal wrote, “Anyone who wishes to give the meaning of Scripture without taking it from Scripture is the enemy of Scripture.”6 One day there will appear many who said and did a lot in Jesus’ name whom He never knew. Words will be no substitute for proper meaning.

Notes:
1. Quoted by Wm. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 272.
2. Antiphon, Orations: Homer to Mckinley Vol. I (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1902) 63.
3. Peter Gibbon, “The End of Admiration” Imprimis, May 1999.
4. C.S. Lewis, Reflections of the Psalms (New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1958) 121.
5. J.I. Packer, Truth and Power (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1996) 137.
6. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penguin Books, 1966) 104.

 

Speaking To Those Who Are Never Wrong!

Speaking To Those Who Are Never Wrong!

by Rick Shrader

Our existence is more real to us than the existence of anything else because the existence of everything else is evaluated in terms of its usefulness and attractiveness to our purposes. Everything is subordinate to our will. To do evil is to attempt to retain that perspective and relation to others. To refuse to do evil is to recognize that we are not at the center and that all things are not to be judged with ourselves at the center.

Diogenes Allen1

I have thought for some time that people do not believe that they are actually wrong about anything they do. In this regard we all remain narcissistic children, fully convinced that each decision we make is justified by circumstances around us. A mother asks in vain why a two-year old hit another child. The reason is always justified in the child’s mind and any crying that follows is only because mother was not able to properly assess the situation. In this morning’s paper, Lawrence Taylor, ex-professional athlete and convicted drug user, said plainly, “I am not sorry for anything I have done.” Adult circumstances differ only in degree, not in kind.

Though God tells us plainly in His Word that we are born in sin, it is the one thing we do not want to hear. Eve thought it was wrong of God to keep her from fulfilling her desires and Adam blamed Eve for his decision to participate in the sin. Since then humans have been convinced that all their decisions are really justified, it is only circumstances that make our decisions appear to be bad ones. We may be forced at times to say we are sorry or to make restitution for our misunderstood actions, but that is not at all the same as believing we were wrong. Perhaps the only true admission of wrong-doing that humans ever come to is called repentance. And perhaps that is why there is so little true repentance these days.

The attitude I am describing is selfishness. It is at the root of our sinfulness. It goes against the very fiber of our nature to take blame, to admit that we are wrong, to be sorry for the action itself, not just for the consequences. In fact, without the help of the Spirit of God no one ever does admit such things, for to admit that would be to repent of our sins. This is the root of paganism! We see it all around us today from the highest offices to the lowest grade school rooms. And it is the most natural thing to see in a society apart from God.

I have said before that I believe the current paganism in America can actually afford us better opportunity to preach the gospel of forgiveness through Christ’s blood than what we have known in recent times. The New Testament was written to pagans, not some form of Christendom. It was a world of naturalism, mysticism and humanism, not a world conditioned to think of themselves as born in sin and in need of redemption.

Our gospel demands repentance. It demands a volitional, moral decision to give up on yourself and throw yourself on the mercy of Christ. This is becoming a more radical concept as our society becomes more pagan! David Wells wrote, “It is obvious that the pagan mind had no moral categories superseding the relativities of daily life. Pagans made no appeal to moral absolutes. They determined what was right experimentally.”2 The Apostolic endeavor (as well as the New Testament itself) was designed for such a world and it worked perfectly.

I believe, however, that in order for us to be as successful, we must be careful and accurate in some areas as well.

1. We must center on the moral arguments for God’s existence, not only on creation. That God’s creation shows His eternal power and Godhead will always be true, and that the complexity of nature gives testimony to a complex Creator as well. But knowing that humans are created in God’s image, and that they will always have a conscience void of fulfillment as they try to live against God’s moral universe, we ought to preach loud and clear to this need.

Ravi Zacharias has stated that as he has spoken on university campuses around the world, it is the discussions of moral absolutes and the existence of truth that bring more questions than any other topics.3 Schaeffer wrote, “In the area of morality we find exactly the same thing. Man cannot escape the fact of the motions of a true right and wrong in himself; not just a sociological or hedonistic morality, but true morality, true right and wrong.”4 The pagan morality of our day will only become more and more antithetical to Christianity as time goes on.

2. We must be convinced as believers that covetous desires are the height of hypocrisy. We will have a hard time pointing out the selfishness in others by congratulating and rewarding our own selfishness. This heart of ours is deceitful and desperately wicked. Even Paul admitted, “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom 7:7). Thomas Watson, an old Puritan writer, called covetousness “The mother sin”5 and showed how all ten commandments are underpinned by this most basic human fault. The breaking of each commandment is a covetous act done for some selfish gain.

I think it is no secret that our churches and our evangelistic efforts are often mere fronts for feeding our own ego. We have a innate desire to be seen and applauded that hounds us constantly. An older writer said, “The enemy whom the Christian combats is his own heart: for he is required to turn arms against himself. He must suspend all sentiments of self-love; he must become his own executioner, and, to use the ideas and expressions of Jesus Christ, he must actually deny himself.”6

If we are to bring the sinner to the place of repentance, in an age which denies moral obligation and exalts self-worth, we must give up our own selfish ambitions. It may be true that we can attract pagans by showing aggressive ambition, but we cannot bring them to repentance. If the cross is lifted up rather than ourselves, God will use us to bring men to himself.

3. We must be willing to accept the vilification which will come our way if we preach the need for repentance. We are seeing this kind of hatred for morality directed socially at the “religious right” and politically at conservatives, but I wonder if we find it directed at us purely because we speak for Christ? In Peter’s first epistle written to suffering Christians, he admonishes the believers in every chapter to accept suffering as Christians, not as law breakers, “for if you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (2:20). Since Christ has suffered for us, we are to “arm” ourselves “with the same mind” (4:1).

It was October 19, 1856, as Charles Spurgeon was preaching to twelve thousand people in Surrey Music Hall that someone yelled “Fire!”. Seven people died trying to escape the bogus alarm, and Spurgeon was terribly vilified as a “ranting charlatan.” After days of soul-searching and agony, Spurgeon emerged from the ordeal while walking with his wife in the garden, and said, “How foolish I have been! What does it matter what becomes of me if the Lord is glorified? If He is exalted, let Him do as He pleases with me. Oh, wifey, I see it all now.”7 That is the true evangelistic spirit that we find in the apostles throughout the book of Acts!

Our generation of believers may meet the Lord in the air! This generation of pagans has only one chance at salvation. We who love heaven more than earth, we who hate the garment spotted by the flesh, must have this kind of compassion, making a difference! That ministry of compassion must somehow convince the pagans that they are wrong, that only repentance from their selfish sins is acceptable before a holy God.

Notes:
1. Diogenes Allen, Christian Belief in a Postmodern World (Louisville: W/JKP, 1989) 106.
2. David Wells, No Place For Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 268.
3. Ravi Zacharias, a tape series called Truth, Evangelism and the Postmodern Mind (May, 1998) tape 1.
4. Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1971) 127.
5. Thomas Watson, Exposition on the Shorter Catechism (downloaded from Banner of Truth, Edinburgh).
6. Jacques Saurin, “Christian Heroism,” Orations, IV (New York: Collier, 1902) 1752.
7. William J. Petersen, “Meet Charles and Susie Spurgeon” a chapter in a collection of short biographies called C.S. Lewis had a Wife, Catherine Marshall had a Husband (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985) 144.
 
 

 

The Hypocrite Finders

The Hypocrite Finders

by Rick Shrader

For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

. . . . But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.  2 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18

“In a Connecticut city, fifty-three residents of a certain neighborhood signed a petition to stop reckless driving on their streets. The police set a watch. A few nights later five violators were caught. All five had signed the petition.”1 Hypocrites are the best hypocrite-finders. It is their nature to be such. No one can walk into our church and spot hypocrisy faster than a total stranger who does not want to be there in the first place. These hypocrite-finders have a real advantage from the start. Being unfamiliar with the teachings of our church (and probably Christianity in general) they are at liberty to evaluate everyone there by their own standards, and not by the doctrines of the church. They have a preconceived idea of what a church should be and when it doesn’t measure up, the hypocrite-finder spots the inconsistency.

Such people are unencumbered by years of study about what the Bible teaches concerning human nature. Nor do they care that, being a stranger, they may not know many of the facts behind each person’s situation. They are much like an anxious fan watching a ball game he knows nothing about and yet criticizing the players for not performing the way he thinks they should. I might criticize a Christian for not being a good Orthodox Jew, but to criticize him for not being a good Christian is another thing entirely.

After two centuries of being criticized by the world, Christians have gotten used to this routine and should seldom be very upset at it. “The charge of hypocrisy is the unintended compliment that vice pays to virtue.”2 If there is an opposite to the Christ-centered worldview, it is the self-centered worldview. That is why true repentance turns us exactly around! Before we knew Christ, everything was intended to make us happy, to please us, to bend over backward to accommodate us. And by all means, nothing should intrude into our world so far as to tell us we are wrong and ought to change. When such a person as that comes into a group of people who believe that the basic nature is corrupt and needs to be changed, and who are constantly being changed from the old natural way to the new spiritual way, that person cannot help but feel the immediate pressure!

Two things are true when this happens. The stranger is not like the church and the church is not like the stranger. But being on church ground, the stranger is under the pressure to change (just as the church comes under pressure to change when she is in the world). The stranger, at that moment, employs the age-old defense mechanism that is the basis of the hypocrisy charge. He determines that a Christian ought to be what he imagines him to be! But since the Christian will not and can not be that, the stranger is obliged to call him a hypocrite.

If that were the end of the story, the evangelism of the church would work very well. But an irony almost always occurs. This hypocrite-finder finds someone in the church who agrees with him! Of course, this new comrade is truly at odds with the church and has been unwilling to conform all along. But now the coterie is complete. These two can be perfectly consistent between themselves and pronounce all others who are unlike them “hypocrites.” As long as the stranger has this new ally, and their self-view can be bolstered by one another, the stranger will never change. “Falsehood is never so false as when it is very nearly true.”3 Now, if a third member joins the gang, a three-fold cord cannot be broken. Had the stranger been left alone without an ally, change might have occurred out of necessity. Ron Mayers wrote, “The individual who says he is a Christian, but does not live like a Christian, actually gives the lie to his own testimony. Unfortunately, unbelievers interpret this contradiction as an indication of the absence of truth in the claims of Christianity.”4

We might recognize one more irony as well. Down deep, those in the church know they are all hypocrites to some degree. That is why they have learned not to criticize very quickly. They know that all believers are in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ, which process will continue until death. But one thing is sure for them, the original self-life is not satisfying nor desirable. To go on comparing oneself to oneself gets oneself nowhere. But to compare oneself with Christ is to begin a life-long and life-changing journey. And each of these travelers is forever thankful that when they were that stranger in the church, no one agreed with them and prohibited the necessary change. Rather, with the love of an observer during a birth process, they encouraged the leaving of the old life and the coming of the new.

The hypocrite-finders will always be coming among us. Bonhoeffer wrote of hypocrites, “He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one But it is not faith in Jesus Christ which made him one of us, but the devil.”5 We must remember that the hypocrite is not living in the “real” world. He is living in a world which he has imagined exists but in actuality does not. The thing he needs most of all from churches and from Christians is to see what Christianity really is, a reality that will contradict his preconceived idea. Stealth tactics that take pains to agree with the hypocrite in order to draw him in will, in the end, keep him from coming in.

Paul won Onesimus to Christ when all he had to show for his faith was his chain! Yet he wrote to Philemon encouraging him in evangelism, “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). It is hard to acknowledge it until you have seen it clearly.

Notes:
1. Charles Swindol, The Grace Awakening (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 169.
2. Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 118.
3. G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Doubleday, 1956) 91.
4. Ron Mayers, Balanced Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1984) 58.
5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959) 191.