“Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 42:6, ESV)
It is a sad reality that people will sometime gather to hear the proclamation of the Word not truly to be instructed by the Lord, but instead to have their own desires confirmed. They come saying they want to obey, but in reality they have set themselves up in the place of God and instead want God to echo what their own heart wants. An when that doesn’t happen, then they reject both message and messenger.
This isn’t new. When Jeremiah was called to speak his words of prophecy, many spoke of their sincerity to obey whatever it was that the Lord said. But after his words were revealed, the ugliness of man’s heart was also revealed.
There are some churches that say they want expository preaching. They say they want to hear the Word of God explained and then applied. But then, when the Word is delivered, and particularly when their own pet sins are exposed, they reject both message and messenger.
Sometimes the teaching of Scripture is like lemon juice on a cut. Sometimes it is like a deep stab to the heart. Sometimes it is sweet as honey. May God’s people come to receive the Word from the Lord—good or bad—so that they can obey it. And may the messengers of the Lord not be afraid of what man may do to us. May we be faithful to deliver the message whether popular and well received or not, both in good or bad times.
In his soul-stirring book, Light From Old Times, J.C. Ryle puts before his reader reminders of the courageous men and women who gave their lives for the truth of the Word of God. Wycliffe, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Bradford, Rogers, and Hooper, among many others, died for refusing to cast aside their conviction of what the Scriptures teach in order to spare their mortal bodies.
The other day I wrote a post in regard to some churches that have diminished views of eschatology as is evidenced in their doctrinal statement. Some claim that since whether one is Amil, Premil, Postmil, is not an issue of salvation, and therefore should be left out of a church doctrinal statement. I think I addressed this in the last post, but I will say this: If we are only going to include universal truths that all Christians agree upon from every communion and tradition, we will indeed have a very small statement.
But this view ignores two realities. First, it mixes the distinction between the universal church and the local expression of the church. Yes, to be included in the universal church we need to ascribe to the gospel as delivered once for all the saints. But the local church, with local pastors and elders will understand very important doctrines and practices very differently from many other local assemblies, that are also a part of the Church Universal.
This simplistic and even naive view wants to act as if anything that is not necessary and primary is not important to express and defend within the local church. Every church makes distinctions in what they believe and how they express their theology in practice. The only way to avoid doing so is to continually water down belief and practice to the lowest common denominator so that whatever you do, so long as you are under the banner of “Christian,” is acceptable. However, in practice, the church that doesn’t write down what they believe and practice does take a stand, but they don’t have it written down.
The second reality often ignored is the fact that not only are secondary and even tertiary issues important to delineate in a doctrinal statement, but their are even good reasons for division. In Ryle’s Light From Old Times, he points out the great division that existed during the Reformation in Europe and England over the issues of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Again, those who would prefer unity over doctrine, would say that this is unfortunate. But history shows that the doctrinally astute understand that these issues matter immensely, and may even be worth dying for if we are convinced by Scripture and conscience.
For the one who would say that secondary and tertiary issues are not important enough to divide over, I would ask whether they have women pastors and elders in their churches, whether they practice infant baptism and believer’s baptism, and by what theological basis do they affirm their practices? Does this non-committal church worship on the Sabbath or on Sunday? Do they partake of the Lord’s Supper without any explanation of the significance? If they do explain, which view do they take? Is it “potluck” and everyone brings their view to the table? Does this sound like unity? Does it sound like nit-picking and division since none of the views would keep a person out of heaven? To me, it sounds like formalized chaos and would break down in actual practice.
We live in a wishy-washy age, but we don’t need anymore wishy-washy leaders in the Church. We need men with lion-hearts and backbone. We need men who will speak with grace, but never depart from truth. We need men who will stand on what they believe and not allow their churches to slink down to the lowest common denominator in its doctrine, and especially under the false guise of “unity.” Doctrine is worth defending. It is even worthy dying for. True, not every hill is worth dying on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have firm commitments, nor that good men can’t disagree and still be brothers at arms in the fight for truth.
May the Lord restore us to a place where we can have distinction and unity. That we recognize the universal church as all those who subscribe to the basic tenants of the Christian faith, and yet the critical importance of the local church is never downplayed or discounted, but seen as the place where further doctrinal detail is hammered out in the everyday life of Christ’s disciples.
“For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”
(1 Thessalonians 3:4, ESV)
Over the last several decades, many within the American Church have moved from an attitude of expectancy for the imminent return of Christ, to one where the world isn’t so bad and, since we kinda like it here, we should make our stay more comfortable. After all, the world was much more accepting and tolerant of Christian ideals and the gospel message (so long as we modified it a bit and kept all those judgy parts out).
What too many evangelicals forgot was that embedded in the Christian message of Christ is a subversive element that demands that rebellious sinners must bow the knee to Christ and come to him as King and Savior. Somehow evangelicals thought that they could woo and attract the world to like us, then maybe our softer, gentler message, and before they caught on, they’d be loving Jesus. There are still many churches that continue on believing this fantasy.
But as Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, the church should have maintained its course to proclaim an uncompromising message that would eventually result in a head-on confrontation between Christ’s servants and the servant of the ruler of this world.
Instead of settling in for a long, delightful stay here in this world system that rejects our God, the Church and her ministers should never have capitulated to the spirit of the age, and should have stayed the course. And instead of a watered-down gospel message to the world, the Church should have been proclaiming the message of faith in our God who will carry us through the fire and the water, and will lead us home, even amidst a world that is burning with rage against the King.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”” (Psalm 2:1–3, ESV)
Now, in 2020, the climate has changed, and in many churches where the softer, kinder message of cultural sensitivity has ruled and where being buddies with Jesus was the goal, the people of God are largely left unarmed to defend against an openly hostile public. They have failed to become battle hardened and ready. Many are filled with fear instead of faith. Some are placing their trust elsewhere, like when Israel called upon the pagan nations to save her.
And it’s not as if these things should have surprised Christians. The world has never really been favorable to our faith. They have been more tolerant at times. They have let us speak, and meet and even testify of the Lord. But we have been tolerated, not embraced. Why should we be surprised? Did not our Lord warn us? ““Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26, ESV)
It is still not too late to be prepared. If those who have bought into the softer-gentler form of Chrisitanity will faithfully return to the Word of God, we will find that it contains all we need to refocus upon the truth and find our greatest comfort and hope. When we once again place our hope in Christ, our eyes on heaven as our true home, our needs satisfied in Him alone, we will no longer love nor need this world. When we see sin and wickedness more clearly, we will long to be free from this world that drags us down. We will long for our resurrection, for our glorification, for our eyes to see Him face to face, as He is.
We must suffer in this world. We must face persecution. We must be reviled because of Christ. We must be ready. It is coming.
But we must not be afraid. We must not shrink back or compromise. We must not fear man who can only kill the body. We must cling to the One who has saved our souls. We must cling to the promises. We must cling to the cross.
Are your prepared? Are you ready? Jesus is coming soon. Until he comes, may we be engaged in the good warfare, taking as many with us to heaven as we can.