The Danger of Cutting Off Our Doctrinal Roots

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1–2 (ESV)

Set in a backdrop where the church in Corinth was filled with many Christians who had a strong taste for ear-pleasing speakers, Paul addresses his intentional plan to not be seeker sensitive in his preaching. The words “lofty speech” and “wisdom” (ESV) both reference the exalted form of rhetoric that the preferred speakers used in their addresses to the church.

When Paul came, however, he did not speak in this way. Paul isn’t embracing crude speech or speech that is intentionally dumbed down in order to sound less educated. Many seeker sensitive preachers do that today, and they are in the same vein as those that Paul is speaking against.

Paul’s comments instead are meant to point out to the Corinthian church that the focus of the message that Paul preached was not primarily focused upon the listener, but rather was focused upon the message. In saying this, Paul does not dismiss the need to be clear and doctrinal. What he is saying, though, is that the particular tastes and preferences of the listeners is not of primary importance, but rather getting the right message was of the highest importance.

This attitude toward communicating the gospel wasn’t something that Paul stumbled upon when he came into the city. In verse 2, Paul clearly says that he decided what his message would focus on instead. The Greek word ekrina comes from the root word krino and this root means to judge. Paul has selected, or set out as separate the way one chooses among many choices, his methodology. What did he decide? That of all the subjects, focal points, and sidebars that he could potentially run after, he would stay firmly planted upon the subject of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.

Of course a simple reading of the Pauline Epistles shows that Paul didn’t only write or teach about the gospel. His range was deep and broad. But in Paul’s process of thinking through what the church needed, the gospel was his home base and starting point. Whereas the false teachers in Corinth had little concern for the ABC’s of the Christian faith, Paul built his theological superstructure upon these critical truths.

When we leave the fundamentals of the faith and become enamored by other ideas or doctrines where we leave the cross behind, we can not only expect that we will soon be lost in the weeds, but we will also find that we have lost our power. The gospel is the deep root from which all our preaching, teaching, discipleship, and faith come from. To cut ourselves off from this root is a fatal flaw. Paul wouldn’t mask it with big words and ideas. He put out his message in words and ideas that were plain and simple. And that was his plan.

Holy Stubbornness

“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.” (Acts 14:1-4)

The preaching of the gospel will always accomplish its intended purpose. Soemtimes the fields are slow to yield anything. We need to keep at it and trust the Lord for the growth. But sometimes the results are seen immediately, as in Acts 14 where a great number of Jews and Gentiles came to faith in Christ after the apostles proclaimed the gospel to them in Iconium. How exciting when this happens!

But along with this immediate burst of growth came an immediate response from the enemy. Spiritual warfare in the shape of stirring up strife and the poisoning of minds is said to have been the tactic used here. This probably means that lies and jealous striving were used to incite the Gentiles against the new Christians. It’s interesting that the non-believing Jews who would normally have nothing to do with Gentiles were now willing to feign concern for the Gentiles so long as they could accomplish their desire of persecution.

What I want to point out is what verse 3 says, “so they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” The “they” of verse three refers to the apostles Paul and Barnabas (13:50). In response to the attack against the new church in Iconium, the apostles did what any mother would do when her baby is attacked—they stayed longer to defend and care for her.

This “holy stubbornness” is a response of love and courage. Paul and Barnabas weren’t willing to proclaim the gospel, see people receive Christ, and then move on. The goal wasn’t to impress their buddies with evangelistic growth statistics. Their goal was to make disciples of Christ, and that meant that they needed to stay as long as necessary in order to ensure that their brothers and sisters in Iconium were protected from the wolves there.

Accompanying the apostles’ stay was the presence of God who gave to them bold speech that was empowered by Christ. It was Christ working through the apostles who bore witness to the word of His grace. This along with signs and wonders that accompanied the powerful Word confirmed the gospel and these messengers as being from God. This would go a long way to both strengthen the Church and warn the enemy.

Sometimes we think of evangelism in rosy, romantic terms that ignores what it really is—an incursion behind enemy lines to snatch away from the devil those who once were his, but now belong to Christ. And the enemy will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We can expect him to fight back.

And this is where holy stubbornness is needed. Since we belong to Christ, we do not need to fear the enemy. Christ is for us, so who can be against us? But that truth does not remove the reality of spiritual attack, hardship, and persecution. We might feel the heat of warfare increase as the battle rages in our community and all around us.

Be encouraged. The devil doesn’t mess with the sleepers. He doesn’t want to rouse a church that is deep in apathy. But once you begin raiding the smoldering sticks from his fires, he will rage and seek to stop you. This might come as discouragement, personal attacks, division, distraction, or many other of his numerous schemes. Don’t give up! Don’t stop making disciples. Don’t become distracted. Don’t move on.

Dig in. Be stubborn. Refuse to relent. God is with us. We have the victory!

Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace (weekend repost)

I love congregational singing before listening to the preaching of the Word of God. It prepares my heart to hear from God in a special way. And when I am the one who will be delivering the Word, it is no different. Singing not only prepares my heart, it settles my spirit, focuses my heart and mind, and begins the process of worship within my own soul.

Read the rest of the post here: Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace

Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace

“We do not live near enough to God, do we? I know that some of you wait upon Him day and night and you abide under the shadow of the Almighty, but I fear that there are some workers who forget to do this. We should work with the hands of Martha, but yet keep near the Master with the heart of Mary! We need a combination of activity and meditation. When we get that, when we inwardly retire for consultation with our Lord and then come out actively to labor for our Lord—then shall we be good stewards in the little part of the great house with which He has entrusted us.”

– Charles Spurgeon, 1895, Sermon 2440

I love congregational singing before listening to the preaching of the Word of God. It prepares my heart to hear from God in a special way. And when I am the one who will be delivering the Word, it is no different. Singing not only prepares my heart, it settles my spirit, focuses my heart and mind, and begins the process of worship within my own soul.

Unfortunately I have also witnessed a few fellow pastors take advantage of the time before they preach to continue reviewing their notes, or to discuss other matters with the staff sitting next to them, and sometimes even checking their phones. Not only is this a poor example to those in the congregation, but it is also a lost opportunity to sit at the feet of the Lord as a worshipper.

As Spurgeon mentions in the above quote, may we not be so busy preparing the spiritual meal of the Word that we fail to sit at the feet of Jesus. As we are filled from the infinite well of living water, we will have more than enough to share with others from the overflow.

Picking Up Our Swords to Fight

IFCA, I Fight Christians Anywhere. At times in the history of fundamentalism fighting fundamentalist meant fighting with other Christians over tertiary issues and the traditions of men. I think we can all agree that many times this was unbiblical and regretful. Afterall, 1 Timothy 3:3 says that an elder or pastor is not to be “quarrelsome” (ESV), a “striker” (KJV) or “pugnacious” (NASB). This word refers to a violent bully who pushes people around with either his fists or his words. Fundamentalism has had its share of those who could be described as pugnacious. Fighting about length of hair and skirts, Bible versions and musical styles has divided the church and diverted attention away from the real enemy.

But, in some ways, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. In trying to get away from the caricature of the fighting fundamentalist, all too many Christians have forgotten that a few chapters later, Paul also wrote “Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1Tim. 6:12). Jude appealed to his audience to “contend for the faith” that was being threatened by false teachers who had crept into the church. Too many in the Church have forgotten—either that we are in a spiritual war, or who our true enemy is. In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul reminded the Church about both of these critical truths.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10–12, ESV)

Be Aware of Your Enemy—v. 12

Our enemy hates us. Look at the word “struggle” in verse 12. This word speaks of wrestling, of hand to hand combat. This is not a battle, but a war. A war made up of many, many bloody battles. We must know what we are facing. Satan wants to destroy us. Consider how he pushed the limits of Job, destroying everything in his life. But he didn’t stop there. Satan wanted to destroy Job’s faith in God himself. He is ruthlessly evil. The angel of the Lord left Jacob with a limp when he wrestled with him (Gen. 32:25-32). The Lord’s purpose in trials is to teach us. But the devil does not want to leave you with a limp, he wants to destroy you: (Jn 10:10), “The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy….” One saint of old said, “Consider that the devil does not sleep, but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways.”

Our Enemy is Spiritual

He cannot be seen, heard or experienced with our five senses. He disguises himself as one of God’s angels (2Cor. 11:14, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14, NASB95). Being a spirit being, he has been alive since the creation and has had the opportunity to watch and learn human behavior. He is the greatest philosopher, sociologist and theologian. He knows what makes humans tick and even worse, how to man-fish. He too is a fisher of souls.

Our Enemy is Organized

Because Satan is neither omnipresent nor omniscient, he must use his demonic horde to do his bidding. But this is not a mob of crazed demonic creatures. Wickedness leads men to rebel, but as at Babel, it also leads them to organize. “Rulers, powers, world forces, spiritual forces” (v. 12) —all of these designations portray an organized hierarchy of demonic angels. We may not know exactly how they are ordered, but we know that the enemy is organized for maximum effect.

Be Prepared for Battle—v. 11

Be Armored

“Put on the full armor” not just selected pieces. Later in this chapter Paul describes each piece of armor, but for now, we need to know that we cannot pick and choose. To do so would be disastrous because would leave us exposed to attack. Think about a police officer heading into a riot. As he surveys his equipment, which would he choose? A bullet-proof vest or a riot helmet? What will happen if he chooses one over the other? What about if he chose a shield and not boots? We too need to be armored, not choosing some, but all of the armor that God provides.

Be Anchored

“Stand firm” is a reference to not being moved in our doctrinal stance. Ephesians 4:11-14 says:

 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Eph 4:11–14, NASB95)

A lack of biblical discipleship leads to many things, including the immaturity of believers who will be like children who are rocked upon the shore by the waves of doubt and deception. Those who have drifted in their faith have brought disaster to their lives, and to the lives of many others. Paul warned Timothy of this happening in Ephesus: “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (1Tim. 1:19–20, NASB95).

Be Alert—1Pet 5:8; 2Cor 2:11

First Peter 5:8 speaks about the need to be “sober minded.” This is not something that our age is known for, and this lack of sobriety is all too often a mark of much of the church. We are easily distracted, silly, and fascinated with the trivial. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul likewise warned, “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (2 Cor. 2:11, NASB95) Those who are outwitted and ignorant are also perfect descriptions of many Christians and churches. In the Bible we have a manual for warfare. War against our great enemies, the World, the flesh and the Devil. Know these enemies and their schemes!

Be Strong in the Lord—v. 10

Human Strength Fails

Second Corinthians 12:7-10 is a glorious text. It reads:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7–10, NASB95)

How we need to be reminded of this! When we fail to pray, we have forgotten this. When we become puffed up in our spirituality, we have forgotten our weakness. When our experiences and victories are worn like a medal on our chest, we have forgotten where our vvictory comes from.

Human Philosophies Fail

We can easily be taken off track by forgetting which war we are supposed to be fighting. We can begin fighting with each other, fighting against the Church, fighting against unbelievers that need Jesus, and fighting with political weapons of war. Our strategies and dependence upon human strength show where we have chosen to use another way to fight than the way that Jesus calls us to fight.

Human Courage Fails

            Joshua 1:6-9describes the time after forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the generation that failed to trust God and enter the Promised Land to conquer it. As Joshua lead the next generation to enter the land, the Lord spoke these words of encouragement:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Josh. 1:6–9, NASB95)

When men go to battle, it is not glorified as it is in the movies and the recruitment posters. War is ugly. It is fierce and cold. But it is sometimes necessary in this fallen world. When you go into spiritual battle, it will be incredibly tempting to retreat back into your comfort zone, into your cozy world where you could forget about the reality of the devil and his demonic attacks. He would love that. He would love for you to put down your weapons and stop fighting, mocking you as a fighting fundamentalist. Or even better, to turn your weapons on others who are not the enemy because confusion is better than apathy to him. But that is not an option. We must gird up our loins for battle and march forward with the Lord into war. He will go before us. Never forget that. He fights for us. This will give you courage.

Fundamentalism is a dirty word to those in the world, but also one which is despised by many within the Church. Fundamentalism is rejected because some who have used this descriptor have swapped out biblical fidelity for cultural baggage and the traditions of men. Others have rejected it because they have given sway to the fear of man. Some have decided that it is too late to salvage the label for any good.

Whatever your opinion may be regarding the term fundamentalist, we should note this: those who are unswerving in their commitment to Christ and His Word must not fear men, but instead must be willing to pick up the Sword of the Word of God and engage the enemy of our souls and his wicked system. Some may call you a fighting fundamentalist, but this is preferable to one day hearing the Lord call you unfaithful.

This post is adapted from the article of the same title in The Voice, Jan-Feb 2020. Used with permission.