Posted in church, jesus, john macarthur, repent, revelation

Why the evaporation of America’s cultural Christianity is a good thing

John MacArthur wrote in his monthly letter why the deflation of the bloated Christianity we see in America is allowing the true Christianity to shine. Here is an excerpt from his monthly letter, and then below that, despite the encouraging news, a warning for the Church.

In light of recent headlines, court cases, and cultural trends, over the past few months you’ve probably heard—or said—something like the following: 

Our culture is spinning out of control.”
I can’t believe how fast the moral slide is happening.”
We’re living in a different nation than the one I grew up in.”
I think persecution of Christians is coming . . . soon.” 

Without question, the cultural Christianity many of us grew up with has vanished. There is no collective Christian consensus wielding any significant power in this country today. In fact, the more that true Christians endeavor to speak and live biblically, the more we are being labeled as extremists, homophobic, and intolerant. Truly we are aliens. We foresee a day when being a faithful Christian will cost us or our children dearly, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. 

So is there any good news? Certainly. We know that God will use even the current hostilities and the climate of impending persecution for good (Romans 8:28). For years I’ve been concerned by the church’s pursuit of cultural change through political and social activities. Large swaths of Christians have placed enormous time, energy, money, and hope in the wrong things. Hand in glove with that thinking, a superficial, cultural Christianity has blurred the clear lines between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world. Pragmatists in evangelical pulpits have softened the hard demands of the gospel, making discipleship sound easy and grace sound cheap. As a result, churches have been filled with religious, superficially moral, self-righteous people who don’t understand the gospel and are self-deceived about their true spiritual state. 

But with the façade of cultural Christianity shattered, biblical Christianity is beginning to stand out in a way it hasn’t in our lifetime. Scripture teaches and church history confirms that the Body of Christ is most potent and most effective when it simply speaks and lives the gospel without equivocation or apology. With the mask of superficial Christianity pulled down, I believe the best days for the spread of the true gospel are ahead of us.

Read more at the link.

With that said, though it’s true that as the cultural church shrinks and thus there are wonderful opportunities for the church global to share the Gospel and to show out living in a doctrinally pure manner, the moral purity of the Church leaves much to be desired. In a wonderful sermon of two parts, John MacArthur is preaching about Calling The Church To Repent.

There are two parts, and the transcript for both is coming soon. He is preaching from verses in the one place the Bible reveals where the Lord is calling the church to repent, Revelation 1:1-3. The warnings to those actual churches are also actual warnings to us today. The warnings were earned by the various churches due to a list of identified problems listed in the scripture. The churches’ problems were:

  • sexual immorality
  • idolatry
  • absorbing the pagan culture
  • tolerating sin
  • compromise
  • hypocrisy
  • false teaching
  • seduction by error
  • deception
  • preaching for money

This is a list that should be familiar to all of us. Many churches, unfortunately, engage in one or more of these same issues that the first century Revelation churches were engaging in. No, we haven’t built a golden calf to worship idolatrously, but we have built football stadiums, paint ourselves like pagans, and skip church regularly during football season to cheer for sports instead of worship our God. We also worship ourselves, and we have constructed many other idols that compete with God. The rest of the church’s sins are exactly the same today, which is why they should be familiar to us now in the twenty-first century.

In his sermon, Dr MacArthur said that it’s unusual to hear of a pastor calling his church to repent. It’s even more unusual to hear of an entire church repenting, he said, or broken over their hypocrisy, or sorrowful over their compromise, or repudiating their tolerance of the pagan culture, and so on. Though many people think the safest place in the universe is the church, MacArthur said, it’s not so. Jesus is intensely interested in the church, and when He sees problems, He makes threats. This should be a concern to all churches claiming the blood of Christ, and all churches as a whole should do their utmost to adhere to biblical and moral purity.

Please tune in to the sermon and then go on to part 2. It’s worth it.

Posted in aimee byrd, church, Michelle Lesley, scripture, women's ministry

Is your Women’s Ministry at church fully integrated, or is it still a kids’ table?

Ladies, be aware of when the church diminishes your value to Christ by scheduling fun activities-lite for you instead of Bible studies with meat. At a certain point, kids graduate from the Thanksgiving kids’ table to the adult table. You should, too.

Source Bon Appetit

Not that scheduling a ladies night around a fun activity isn’t worthwhile. Sometimes it’s relaxing to get together at a home or in the Fellowship Hall with other like-minded friends and just hang out. It’s even more fun to hang out by doing something or creating something than just to sit around and chat. But if your church believes exclusively that these kinds of Ladies Ministry outings and events are a substitute for learning theology, then gently but insistently remind them that your value in Christ is not about decorating cookies and scrapbooking, it is growing in grace in likeness of Christ and knowledge of Him. The only way to do that is by the Word as the Spirit applies it- as you learn it.

Here is Michelle Lesley having stated it so well. This is a re-blog of an excellent piece she wrote, titled,

Mary and Martha and Jesus and Women’s Ministry
By Michelle Lesley

You remember the story. Jesus comes to Mary and Martha’s house. Martha’s Pinteresting up the place while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him teach. Martha gripes to Jesus that Mary should help her and Jesus says no because it’s better for her to listen to Him than fold napkins into the shape of swans or whatever. Moral of the story- Martha needs to relax and not let other things distract her from Jesus.

That’s a good, true, and important takeaway from this passage, and one that we would all do well to heed. 

But did you ever stop to think that Mary and Martha aren’t the main characters in this story? Jesus is. Jesus is the main character in every Bible story, so our primary focus should always be on Him: what He said and did and was like. 

What was Jesus teaching that day at Mary and Martha’s house? The passage doesn’t tell us the topic He was speaking about, but we are privy to a very important lesson He imparted through the scenario with Mary and Martha. A lesson about the way God loves and values women.

Remember how women were generally regarded at that time? They didn’t have much more value than livestock, furniture, or a man’s other possessions. They were considered intellectually inferior, they weren’t formally educated, and their legal and social standing were often tenuous at best. They could not go beyond the Court of the Women at the temple for worship. There was even a traditional prayer Jewish men recited in which they thanked God for not making them a woman, a Gentile, or a slave. Women were low man on the totem pole, so to speak.

And that’s where we find Martha. She wasn’t doing anything wrong that day. In fact, in her culture, she was doing everything right. If anything, Mary would have been the one viewed as being in the wrong because the teaching was for the men, and it was the women’s job to bustle around taking care of all the hospitality duties. Martha knew this. Mary knew this. Jesus knew this. Everyone else present knew this. Martha must have wondered why someone hadn’t yet shooed Mary out of the living room and into the kitchen. So her statement to Jesus in verse 40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me,” was probably not just, “I need another pair of hands,” but also a bit of, “Mary is forgetting her place. This isn’t what proper women do.”

Oh yes it is.

Whatever else He might have been lecturing about that day, that was one of the lessons Jesus taught Mary, Martha, the rest of their guests, and Christendom at large.

Women aren’t second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. We are precious and valuable to Him. He has important, worthwhile work for us to do – His way – in the body of Christ. And He wants us trained in His word in order to carry out that work.
How did Jesus teach that lesson?

First, He allowed Mary to stay and receive His teaching (39). (We see this echoed in God’s instruction to the church in 1 Timothy 2:11: “LET a woman learn…”) It hadn’t slipped Jesus’ mind that she was sitting there. He could have told her to leave, but He had no intention of doing so. Jesus wanted Mary there. He wanted to teach her and to have her learn God’s word from Him.

Next, when someone tried to take Mary away from hearing and being trained in God’s word, Jesus – God Himself – answered with a resounding NO. This “will not be taken away from her,” Jesus said. Mary, and Martha too (41), could arrange centerpieces or turn a cookie into a work of art any time or never. But this, the teaching of God’s word, was urgent. Vital. Jesus didn’t want either of them to miss it by focusing on the trivial things they thought they should be pursuing. 

And He doesn’t want us to miss it either, ladies.

Jesus pulled women out of the craft room and into the study. Is the women’s ministry at your church trying to pull them back? 

Is the women’s events page on your church’s web site filled exclusively with painting parties, fashion shows, ladies’ teas, and scrapbook sessions?

Does your women’s ministry do canned “Bible” studies authored by women who offer nothing but personal stories, experiences, and false doctrine? 

Are the Marys in your church who want to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His word rightly handled and taught being scolded by the Marthas for not staying in their place and embracing the banality the women’s ministry is doling out? 

Is this it? Is this all women are good for in the church- fluff and false doctrine?

Jesus didn’t think so.

Let’s have our women’s ministries train women in the full scope of biblical womanhood. Let’s be serious students of God’s word by picking it up and studying it like mature women. Let’s get equipped to teach and disciple other women who are babes in Christ. Let’s share the gospel with the lost. Let’s learn how to train our own children in the Scriptures and be the ones to raise the bar for what the kids at our church are being taught. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty ministering to those who are ill, in prison, lonely, poor, elderly, considering abortion, experiencing crisis; who have wayward children, problems in their marriages, a parent with Alzheimer’s, or have lost a loved one.

Women are worth more and capable of more than the bill of goods they’re being sold by “Christian” retailers suggests. More than cutesy crafts and fairytales masquerading as biblical teaching. Let’s put the “ministry” – ministry of the Word and ministry to others – back in “women’s ministry.”

Keep this good definition of Women’s Ministry in mind, it’s from Grace Community Church

Women’s Ministries at Grace Church exists to encourage women to worship our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ through the study and application of Scripture and the deepening of relationships with other women for fellowship and accountability.

The fellowship has the express purpose of application of scripture and accountability under it. Note that in order to do that, first comes worshiping Jesus through study.

——————————-

Further Reading

Aimee Byrd, series:

The Danger in Women’s Ministries
Why We Are So Insulted
How the Church Ministers to Every Member

Posted in church, encouragement, sermons

Shepherd’s Conference 2016 begins tomorrow

My friend Craig wrote the following and I agree. I am SO looking forward to the Shepherd’s Conference! It’s live streamed, then archived. It’s especially poignant to see 4,500 pastors gather to be ministered TO. The impact of such numbers of mature, loving, leading shepherds makes one realize that churches across America and other nations are blessed with God-raised men who labor for His name. It’s very encouraging simply to see so many of them. Also please be sure to listen to the 4,000 gathered men sing hymns, it will stir your soul and overwhelm your emotions. Now to Craig’s comment-

“If I was forced to choose only one event each year which I could attend or watch, John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference would win hands down. It is specifically geared to minister to the pastors, elders and leaders of the local church. 

“And as such it is very meaty due to the spiritual maturity of those in attendance. I say this not to discourage those who might not consider themselves to be theological scholars but simply for them to know in advance that many things might be discussed without the benefit of filling in some of the gaps you might usually expect to hear with a less Biblically educated audience. Not a less Christian gathering, just one that might need to hear some of the gaps filled in so as not to be confused or worse feel misinformed.”

“This particular gathering of attendees do not require that level of detail so expect that to be the case as you listen. It might even be a catalyst for many of you to do some research on your own since “spoon feeding” will not be the order of the day as we have become so accustomed to hearing and expecting.”

All times (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time.
Shepherds’ Conference 2016 – March 9 – 13
https://www.shepherdsconference.org/

To give you a foretaste, here are thousands of shepherds whose voices are lifted up in praise of the Lamb. Pray for them! Each one of the heads you see and each of the voices you hear are from men God has enabled to shepherd people like you. For many of them, this is the only R&R these warriors receive all year. Grizzled solders persevering during the long war, new and naive soldiers fresh to the battlefield, overwhelmed by the heated warfare, stagger or sprint to this lone battlefield station where they are refreshed and nurtured for a few short days before leaving to take up arms once again.

Posted in church, contemporary music, encouragement, music, worship

Is Music Worship? Do singers "lead worship"?

The selection of music in churches is important and is not based simply on preferences. Do not pooh-pooh the music by marginalizing it to a second tier of concerns and assigning it as simply a “preference.” Music is doctrine, sacred music is unique to the redeemed because it is our response to His redeeming work, and it is either reflective of the culture or it is reflective of the worshipful heart.

EPrata photo

First, let’s talk about what music in church is NOT. These are taken from John MacArthur’s recent sermon “Is Music Worship?” based on the verses at Ephesians 5:18-20.

  • Music is not worship. Music is a means to express worship, but it is not worship.
  • Secondly, a misconception is that music motivates worship, music induces worship. That’s not true either. … [T]he motive for all of our songs is not a sound, it’s a truth.
  • Another misconception is that when people have trouble worshiping, music will create worship, music will create the mood for worship. Worship is not a mood experience.

What true worship IS, is-

a permanent attitude. John 4, “We worship in spirit and truth.” That’s who we are. … The music of the redeemed is different. We live in a different world. We are citizens of a different kingdom. The music of the redeemed is alien to the music of the world. The music of the redeemed is reflective of that which is most lofty, most elevated, most exalted, most noble: the truth of God – it never changes. So our music doesn’t ride the culture. Music doesn’t ride the culture among the redeemed, it simply reveals the truth, and the truth never changes. (Source)

I encourage you to listen to the sermon. The explanation about music and its place in worship among the redeemed is stupendously explained, especially when you arrive at the powerful ending.

Meanwhile, I’d read Gladys Aylward’s autobiography and was struck by something described at the end of the book. The following is my retelling of Aylward’s event.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Unsplash photo- free to use

There is a great story in China Missionary Gladys Aylward’s autobiographical book “The Little Woman.” This occurred in the mid-1930s. She is trying to escape the invading Japanese, because they had put a price on her head. So she walked in a direction no Chinese went, over some mountains where the map was blank. She was with one other missionary. At dusk, seeing no human, no town, no habitation at all, they were debating whether to go back. The man told Aylward to sit on this nearby stump and he would go ahead a bit and see what’s what. Alone, Gladys began to sing hymns.

Soon the man came back and said, no luck. They might freeze out there or if they go back they might be killed. Just then a Lama (Buddhist Monk) came up. He said, come with me, we will take you to our lamastery. No people were EVER invited into a lamastery. But the duo believed it was an ordained appointment. I mean, what were the odds, right? So they went. They were led up the side of the mountain high up to a lamastery carved into the rock. They were greeted happily and warmly and fed and made comfortable.

She asked the head Lama the next day why they had been so cordially welcomed to such a private and mysterious place. Lama said that 7 years ago they brought to town their licorice that they pick and sell. They heard a lone man in the square saying that there is a God who loves them and salvation is free, if they believe- come to this building tonight to hear more. They were astounded that such a doctrine existed. There is a God? He loves? They accepted the tract the man was handing out, simply the verse at John 3:16 and the address, nothing more.

For five years they sought to learn more but were unable. Every time they went to town to sell their licorice they asked everyone about where to find “the God who loves.” No one else could tell them. Then one day a man was there and he did say yes, go to the China Inland Mission over there and they will tell you. A Mission house had been established.

They went to the Mission house and received New Testament bibles and tracts, which they brought back to the lamastery and read eagerly. They delighted in the notion that there was a “God who loves” but there was much in the book they did not understand. Still, they read, and they came to the verse where Christ had said of his apostles, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.” And the monks believed that one day a person would come and preach to them them, because it said so in the book.

And three years later when they heard singing, they knew the person had come, because as the Monk said, “Only people who know God will sing.” And the person was Gladys and her companion. They rejoiced, knowing they were about to learn more. So she and the other missionary told all the monks about Jesus and then they left the next day, not knowing if the lamas were saved or became saved, but trusting that some would, sometime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I had never thought about it before, but no other major religion really sings. Of course anything other than biblical Christianity is a false religion. In these false religions, there are chants, but no hymns. No singing. On that cold, dusky night, Gladys was recognized by Buddhists because she sang. Our music IS unique and we are eternally identified with it. It is not simply a preference. Toward the end of his sermon, John MacArthur said this:

And by the way, Christians are the only religion that sing. Muslims don’t sing, Buddhists don’t sing, Hindus don’t sing. They don’t sing. Some chant in a minor key; Christians sing. But when the Reformation came, music was reintroduced to the church; and you sing a hymn written by Martin Luther who launched the Reformation: A Mighty Fortress is our God. Five-hundred years after that, we’re still singing that hymn.

We sing because we have been redeemed. We sing a new song, one that the world does not hear. We sing because-

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:2-3)

Posted in church, holy spirit, jesus, the body

Ladies, resolve not to over-extend yourself in ministry this year

If you resolved this year to be more submissive to Jesus, more useful to the Body, and/or employ the Spirit’s gifts for His glory, here is a bit of food for thought. Even if you didn’t resolve those things…here you go!

The New Testament teaches us that Christ is THE HEAD of the church and we are members in vital union with vital ministry to each other– 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16. But reading something in the Bible does not mean “experiencing” it. For the most part, churches today do not function as bodies in which all the members are connected to the Head and to one another in vital union and ministry. Frankly, I’m glad my own PHYSICAL body is not in the shape many churches are in— if it were: My mouth might start talking against my ears. My feet might stop listening to my head, My hands might run off and ‘join’ another body, etc! ~Pastor James Bell

How to maximize your Kingdom impact in 2016 

By Jack Graham
December 30, 2016 

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20. 

Several years ago, I got suckered into buying one of those pocket knives that has everything on it you could imagine. It has a can opener, about five different sized blades, tweezers, a toothpick, a nail file, and screwdriver heads. If there was something you could use a pocket knife for, this one claimed it could do the job. 

But here was the problem: none of the tools on the knife worked very well. The blades were dull, the tweezers and toothpick fell out and got lost, and the screwdriver heads were so small that I couldn’t use them to turn a screw. 

The tool was so versatile, but didn’t do anything well. And as I look at a lot of Christians today, they’re a lot like that knife. So many are multi-talented and well-rounded, but they rarely commit to doing one thing really well. They’re spread so thin that their impact is minimized. 

As you step into 2016 this week, put your focus on one thing you want to do well in the coming year. Resolve to make a deep impact in one place. Do what you do well, and you’ll make a tremendous difference for the Kingdom in the coming year! 

CONCENTRATE ON ONE AREA OF KINGDOM IMPACT IN THE COMING YEAR AND WATCH GOD WORK THROUGH YOU IN A POWERFUL WAY!

I have found that in loving Jesus, in loving the saints, and in gathering with the congregation, there exists a tendency to become “busy.” Sometimes we say “yes” to a task, or a ministry, and it is’t really for us, but we feel like we “need” to say yes. Or even if we aren’t asked, sometimes we women feel the need (silent pressure?) to jump in anyway so as to be seen “doing our part.”

Resist that pressure, whether it comes from leadership or your own self. Slow down and examine whether it is something that will glorify the Lord, or will take away from family, or will use your gifts…in other words, examine your motivations for stepping into a use within the body. I’m careful not to get spread too thin. When I do spread myself thin, my mood sours and it’s not pretty. I thrive when I am mindful of doing the things I truly feel the Lord is guiding me towards and doing the m well and 100% to my ability.

On the other hand, as Pastor Bell noted, doing nothing isn’t helping the Body either. The Spirit delivered gifts so as to maximize all the saints’ usefulness here on earth. He has stationed us here and there knowing what gift within which person will best serve the Lord’s church for it’s growth and Jesus’ glory. Since each of us has a gift or gifts, and each of us is called to use them, it stands to reason that doing nothing isn’t serving the Lord in any meaningful way, and is in fact an abuse of the Spirit’s patience and ministry.

A hand is a hand. It doesn’t try to be a foot. And it doesn’t lay dormant, either. Work, but work wisely.

EPrata photo

Posted in body of believers, church, discernment, encouragement

Don’t Be "The Isolator" Christian

Contrary to popular current sentiment, from those who condescend about “religion” and “the church” and its “hypocrites,” and claim to be able to “do God” on their own, Christianity is not a religion in which one can become isolated. We are part of a body. Christ is its Head. Apart from him we can do nothing.

HT Michelle Lesley

Even me who is Aspergers and believe that a small apartment, independent wealth, a cat, and the internet is all I need, must emerge into the world and be in the world- because God’s Word says so! To obey is for God’s glory and to proclaim His excellencies. It’s so they can be a witness of His Holy Spirit’s strength in reducing the sin in me and live a holy life before others. It’s so I can be accountable to the members of the Body.

If you think you’ve heard “a voice” or had “an inner prompting” urging you to forsake assembling, know that you have just been deceived.

Here are some essays to encourage you in the practice of being in the world but not of the world, (John 17:14-15) and not to forsake assembling with the saints. (Hebrews 10:25).

If you have slacked off attending, resolve this New Year to pray for the Spirit to renew your commitment to the Body.

How can believers be in the world, but not of the world?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

Warnings Against Unfaithfulness

Can you be a Christian and not go to church?

Why Should I Attend Church?

The Spiritually Lazy Saint

Posted in architecture, church, history, preaching, pulpit

Pulpits: do we really need them?

Pastor JD Hall posted this Q&A on Facebook. A friend of mine retweeted it. I thought it made sense. It also brought to mind a series done a while ago about ‘sacred architecture’ at the blog The Christian Pundit. It was a series of good articles on how we cane to use the things in our churches that we do, i.e. pews, baptism pool, pulpits.

——————————-

Jordan Hall
Not Too Long to Read: Q&A on Pulpits

I get lots of questions daily and this was one this morning. Thought I’d share it. It seems petty, but it matters to me.

Question: I found some pulpits in the closet at church and asked our pastor why he doesn’t use one. He says it serves no purpose and he doesn’t want to hide behind it. What do you think?

Answer: The pulpit (aka the “sacred desk”) was designed to hold the preacher’s notes (back when they actually prepared their sermons with great diligence) but also to conceal the preacher. It WAS meant to “hide behind.” The old-timers knew it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. The black robe was for the same purpose. Nobody should be thinking about the pastor’s style. Just preach the word. We don’t need you to look cool or dance around. Now these clowns are dressing hip and bouncing up and down the aisles and all over the stage like ADHD children. Next time he says he doesn’t want to hide behind it, say “You should. It’s not about you.” Finally, the pulpit represents the authority of the preached Word in the sacred assembly, a clear demarcation that what’s said behind it is altogether special and different for the Lord’s people. A pulpit is not a biblical requirement and it’s not “wrong” not to use it, but before we discard a tradition, we need to think long and hard about why people who were probably smarter than us started it in the first place.

The series by The Christian Pundit(s) a husband and wife blogging team: William VanDoodewaard (WVD) and Rebecca VanDoodewaard (RVD) was called Ecclesiastical Architecture. I believe there were 8 parts to it. Here is the part which discusses the church pulpit.

Question 88 of the Shorter Catechism asks, “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The answer comes, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his Ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer, all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” It is the preaching of the Word that God uses to draw sinners to Himself and to feed and sanctify believers (Rom. 10:14). Fisher comments that every other means and dispensation is “always to be considered in a subserviency to the word, Acts chap. 16:25-33.” The Principles of Christian Religion that the Scottish Presbyterians held to argue that since “God is the author of these writings [the Scriptures]…therefore they are of most certain credit and highest authority.”

So, “because the Word is indispensable, the pulpit, as the architectural manifestation of the Word, must make its indispensability architecturally clear” (Bruggink and Droppers, 80). The sacraments are necessary. Congregational singing is important. Prayer is needed. Proclaimed gospel, however, has historically held and should hold primary importance in Protestant worship. Everything else in worship and the sanctuary should revolved around it and point to it. Presbyterians, low Anglicans, Baptists, and Methodists (among other Protestant groups), despite their differences, all originally put the preached Word front and center, theologically and architecturally. This most basic element of biblical Christianity found consistent architectural expression across the board. You will see in old churches that have not renovated their sanctuaries, that even in times of strong denominational affiliation, large, beautiful, central pulpits were ubiquitous.

The pulpit was large, not only so that it was visible from all parts of the sanctuary, but also so there was space to hold the preacher’s notes, a hymn book and a copy of the Scriptures which the congregation could see. The other reason that pulpits were large was to make the minister look smaller, hiding most of the man behind this architectural manifestation of the Word. When a man preaches Christ faithfully, he himself begins to disappear in the minds of the hearers, as God and His work is magnified. Large pulpits facilitate this reality.

Pulpits were the center around which every other piece of furniture in the sanctuary was arranged. They were also usually the aesthetic center of the sanctuary; the motifs decorating the pulpit drew together the designs on the windows, stone sills, pew ends, balcony railings and the supporting pillars. Just as the preaching of the Word drew together all other elements of worship, so the pulpit pulled together all of the architectural details in the sanctuary.

Pulpits were often guarded by two or three chairs for the elders of the congregation, where they sat and listened to the preaching, protecting the congregation from a preacher who would preach something other than the Word. Preaching is not something to be taken lightly, or left to the whim of one man. It is so important that it needs theological and ecclesiastical protection. These chairs signified this.

Pulpits were also often raised well above the pews. The height of the pulpit allowed the minister, at eye level with those in the lowest pew of the balcony, to speak easily to his entire congregation, enabling eye contact with most parishioners.

Most Presbyterian churches also had no pipes or organ bench behind or beside the pulpit, creating more space at the front of the sanctuary around the pulpit, emphasizing the prominence of the Word.

Now, having a large, central pulpit does not mean that a modern sanctuary has to look Victorian. I have been blessed to worship in many congregations from Dutch Reformed to southern Baptist to Presbyterian which recognize the centrality of the preached Word and have large, central, unmistakeably modern pulpits. The style of the pulpit will change with time and taste. But the place and function will not. Literally front and center, the pulpit should function as an aesthetic and doctrinal fulcrum. 

Such an architectural statement does two main things. First, it reminds the congregation that they are there to hear the Lord speak to them. So often we can come to worship thinking that we are there to do something, pray something, give something, etc.. We are there to sing, pray, praise, give tithes and offerings, but the biggest item in the liturgy is the preached Word because through that Word, God by His Spirit works justification and sanctification in His people.

Second, a central pulpit makes a clear statement to any stranger walking in the door: “We have something for you to hear. It’s not what we say, it’s what God says in His Word. The pulpit looks important because what you are going to hear from it is essential for life and eternity.” A large, central pulpit also tells a new person that the congregation is under the authority of God’s Word. We’re not there because we thought it was a good idea – we’re there because of a command of our Creator and Saviour, and you need to join us.

These are powerful effects. Churches must preach the gospel, and they must use words because they are necessary. A large, central pulpit aids in reflecting this reality.

~~~~~~~~~~~~end The Christian Pundit~~~~~~~~~~~~

The pastor wants to minimize himself when he preaches, because the idea is to magnify Christ through His word. Pastor Hall is right, a preacher should want to ‘hide’ behind the pulpit because he wants his flock to ‘see’ Jesus, not him.

Pastor John MacArthur said, when asked of the trend to install huge flat screens to project the pastor,

But for me, the Word of God is alive and powerful. And if I stepped outside the Bible, I would be terrified. I would be absolutely terrified. So I completely rest in the living Word of God doing its mighty powerful work, even if it comes out of the same voice.

I actually try to minimize myself, if I can. That’s why you will never see big screens in here, because people need to hear the Word of God, they don’t need to see my nose hairs. They don’t need to become overly familiar with every nuance of my face and my expressions, it’s not about me. And, you know, when you’re such a dominating presence, and such a continual presence in a congregation, you need to disappear. You know, you need to be out of the picture and that’s one of the reasons, that’s the dominating reason why we’ve never even considered putting anybody’s face on a big screen. I don’t need to be twenty-feet high. The Word needs to be taught.

So before you toss out the pulpit, think. Pulpits have been used for a very long time and there might be an excellent reason for them and their long duration in our local churches. As was said in the article on Ecclesiastical Architecture and with which I agree,

Literally front and center, the pulpit should function as an aesthetic and doctrinal fulcrum.

Posted in church, fullness of the Gentiles, israel, prophecy, rapture

Re-post: No dates! The rapture is a number-driven event

I wrote this in October 2009. It bears repeating. 🙂

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Romans 11:25)(NAS) (Above, poster source)

Paul writing to the Romans here assuring them of the fact of it happening but reminding them that it will not happen until a certain “number” has come in. And after that, Israel’s spiritual blindness will be lifted. The NIV translation states, “full number.” The full number refers to a nautical term, that a ship cannot sail until the required number of sailors had been signed on. And ‘come in’, well, who has not heard of the old saying, “My ship has come in”?

In 1806 the British Parliament passed an act releasing ships from having to stay in port until the ‘full number’ has been reached, and allowing them to sail to certain ports with less than their ship’s required complement. In Dixon Kemp’s “Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing and Architecture” (11th and final edition, 1913) the “full number is defined as “Complement.– The full number; the whole ship’s crew.” These two examples really have nothing directly related to the scripture in Romans, except to present original documents that show the term is indeed nautical and number-driven.

In Mark 13:32, Jesus told the Apostles, “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Many Christians take this to mean that since we cannot know the day nor the hour, we should not study end time prophecies. Others say that they are simply unknowable. But these notions are incorrect. Kelley again explains, using scripture, that the ‘day nor hour’ refers to the very end, the Second Coming of Jesus after the tribulation. As for the Rapture, we are actually commanded to watch, to look, and to encourage each other as we wait. The Crown of Righteousness is reserved for those Christians who have actively longed for His appearing.

In reality, there are several things Christians can do to hasten His coming, in reaching that pre-determined number. One is to witness, and the other is to pray. If we have shared the Gospel with an unbeliever, we should pray for that person to receive it on a prepared heart and through the drawing of the Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Gentiles will come in when that last person claims the gift of grace, so witnessing and prayer are key in that process. If we never share the Good News then obviously it will take longer to reach the “fullness.” (Though God already knows when that will be.)

Since there is not a date on which God has said the Rapture will take place, praying for it to occur will not violate His precepts and it even confirms them. When we pray we are being obedient to Him who wants to hear from us. In Luke 18:1-7, Jesus told a parable about how important it is to persevere in prayer. (The Widow and the Judge). So pray for hearts to receive His Gospel and for Him to gather his sheep from the coming storm!

We are commanded to witness, (Matthew 28:19), and we are commanded to ask, to seek, and to knock, (Mt 7:7-8). Ask the Lord for His soon return, and then go out into this fine day and share the Good News. Who knows, the person you lead to Christ might just be the one destined to complete the number, and then the ship will sail!

Posted in beth moore, church, jesus, jesus calling, lifeway, prophecy

Then and now, compare Baptist publication list from 1870 and 2015

Baptist published book list from 1870

LifeWay is the Southern Baptist Convention’s Bookstore arm. To compare Baptist publications from 1870 to Baptist publications in 2015, here is a list of LifeWay’s 2015 best sellers. What a difference 145 years makes. Would a Baptist returning today from an extended Rip Van Winkle sleep even recognize his own denomination?

I listed the modern books in the order in which they appeared in the LifeWay list but also included a credible review of the book from a discerning person or organization next to it. Most of these books are complete nonsense. The one or two that aren’t are marginal (well, Chan’s is marginal, Platt’s is good).

LifeWay’s Best Selling NonFiction as of July 2015:

#1 Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (review of the book)

#2 Counter Culture by David Platt (review of the book)

#3 Jesus Calling Large Deluxe by Sarah Young (review of the devotional)

#4 The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst (review of TerKeurst and her overall ministry; review of the book)

#5 Before Amen by Max Lucado (review of Lucado’s overall fruit)

#6 The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (review of the book)

#7 The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman (review of the book)

#8 Waiting on God by Charles Stanley (general review of Stanley himself)

#9 Portraits of Devotion by Beth Moore (review of Moore herself, her statements, and her other teachings)

#10 Agents of the Apocalypse by David Jeremiah (review of D. Jeremiah and his use of the novel Agents of the Apocalypse)

#11 The Mystery of the Shemitah by Jonathan Cahn (review of the book)

#12 You and Me Forever by Francis & Lisa Chan (I could not find a review of this book from an organization or person I am familiar with, but Challies gave Chan generally favorable reviews on Chan’s other books, such as Multiply, Crazy Love, Forgotten God)

Godlessness in the Last Days

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

I think the 2015 publication list demonstrates a wide-spread love of self, and LifeWay’s love of money.

Ever since the world was created, we have been going downhill. Even after the Flood when humanity was re-set in Genesis 9, by Genesis 11 there was the the first polygamist, first dictator, and the first ode to false religion. The LORD confused the languages at Babel and dispersed them. It has been downhill ever since.

However, in a Google Hangout yesterday with Dr John MacArthur, Dr Stephen Nichols and Nathan Bingham hosted by Ligonier, titled “Convictions and Cultural Change: A Google Hangout with John MacArthur” MacArthur said in his nearly 50 years of ministry that despite it all being downhill since the beginning, in his years he has not seen an acceleration of cultural decline this rapid. The general consensus among the three men was that we are near to mirroring the fist century church in terms of idolatry, lack of discernment, disarray, and paganism.

And yet the Lord always keeps a remnant. His people are true, righteous, and working for His name. As for the non-Christians doing these things like writing books filled with doctrines of demons and with all the blasphemies occurring in His name, how He must be storing up his anger.

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS... (Romans 2:5-6).

And that is our comfort. When I read of a new heretical book coming out, my heart drops and I mourn the gullible and the lost who will be sucked into its world. But I temper that with the knowledge that Jesus is King. He will render to each person according to his deeds, and even reading that, never mind living it, makes my stomach cringe. He is in charge, He is All-Knowing, He is taking care.

If you love the sovereignty of God this will comfort you.

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:3)

Posted in church, worship

Is your worship exciting? I’m sorry

Source 

Before I was saved I’d attended many concerts and comedy shows. Before the main act appeared, there was always an opening act or as it is known, a “warm-up act”. The intent is to whip up the audience into an excitement. Wikipedia explains,

An opening act, warm-up act, or supporting act is an entertainment act (musical, comedic, or otherwise), that performs at a concert before the featured act, or “headliner”. … The opening act’s performance serves to “warm up” the audience, making it appropriately excited and enthusiastic for the headliner.

When we were at a taping of the Johnny Carson Show (Jay Leno had taken over when we were there) someone came out before the taping began and warmed up the audience. Wikipedia explains the comedy warm-up:

A warm-up comedian or crowd warmer is a stand-up comedian who performs at a comedy club or before the filming of a television comedy in front of studio audience to get the crowd into the mood ready for the show or main act. Their role is to make the audience feel integral to the show and encourage reactions during the show. They usually work alone and perform a comedy routine while also possibly explaining aspects of the show. They will also perform during commercial breaks.

This was the case with us. I don’t remember who the warm-up comedian was, but by the time Jay Leno came out through the curtains with the intro music blaring and asked, “Are you excited?” we could enthusiastically applaud and yell “YES!” The crowd went wild.

There are many praise bands whose intent is to do the same. By the time the main act arrives on stage (pastor climbing the pulpit) he often asks, “Are you warmed up excited?” Or if the congregation looks a little serious he might say “You all look so serious. We’re in church! Smile! Isn’t it exciting!?”

Is church exciting? Is that the only proper emotion one should express in church? Excitement? What is church worship and how should we express it?

John MacArthur’s series “True Worship” has a definition:

Worship Defined 

What is worship? Let me give you a definition: Worship is “honor paid to a superior being.” It means “to give homage, honor, reverence, respect, adoration, praise, or glory to a superior being.” In Scripture, the word is used indiscriminately to refer to the homage given to idols, material things, or to the true God. So the word in itself is not a holy word, it only describes honor given to a superior being. 

The common New Testament word for worship is proskuneo, which means “to kiss toward, to kiss the hand, to bow down, to prostrate oneself.” The idea of worship is that one prostrates himself before a superior being with a sense of respect, awe, reverence, honor, and homage. In a Christian context, we simply apply this to God and prostrate ourselves before Him in respect and honor, paying Him the glory due His superior character.

Essentially, then, worship is giving – giving honor and respect to God. That is why we, as Christians, gather together on Sunday. We don’t gather to give respect to the preacher or those in the choir, we gather to give honor to God. 

When some people attend church and they look serious it’s for a reason. We are there to pay homage to the supreme Being of the Universe, Yahweh. Did the Temple priests go dancing and prancing into the Temple hooting and hollering? Shouting “Come on, ya’all, bring on the sacrifices, it’s a great day to be in the Temple today!!!” Can’t picture it? That’s for a reason.

Here is Worship Matters on How Exciting Should Our Sunday Meetings Be?

Getting the Goal Right

But our lives aren’t an unending string of exclamation points. Our meetings shouldn’t be either. (Neither should our emails, but that’s another topic).

Strictly speaking, God never says the goal of the church gathering is excitement. It’s edification for God’s glory. We meet to stir up one another to love and good works, not simply to have an emotionally electrifying time. We meet to behold God’s glory in Christ through his Word, responding in ways appropriate to his self-revelation (Heb. 10:24; 2 Cor. 3:18).

That doesn’t mean gathering as the church isn’t meant to be a soul stirring event. We have every reason when we’re together to be excited about what God has done for us in Christ. But that’s not the same as aiming for adrenaline-pumping, professionally produced, high energy, exciting gatherings alone. That approach leaves little room to engage in expressions normal for elect exiles on our way to a new home (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Expressions like disorientation (Ps. 42:1-5). Sorrow for sin (Ps. 38:1-8). Grief (Rom. 12:15). A humble awareness of our creatureliness before our Creator (Ps. 95:6-7). Not to mention reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).

Our greatest need when we gather is not simply to feel excited, but to encounter God: to engage with the certainty of his sovereignty, the reality of his authority, the comfort of his mercy in Christ, and the promise of his grace. We need to be strengthened for the battles against the world, our flesh, and the devil that will confront us the moment we wake up Monday morning, if not before. Mere emotional excitement, however it might be produced, won’t be sufficient. 

We need God’s Word clearly expounded, God’s gospel clearly presented, and God’s presence clearly experienced. We need well crafted, intentional liturgies that cultivate God-honoring, Christ-exalting thoughts and desires (See Rhythms of Grace and Christ-Centered Worship for more on that). Our efforts to make our meetings exciting can actually end up obscuring what our congregations need the most.

Some people when they go to church are excited in a way that’s more soberly mindful of the gravitas of the situation than the outward hyperactive excitement some churches seem to want or enjoy. Church is profound. We come before our Holy God to repent of sins, to call others to repent, and to praise and worship our eternal Savior. It is awe-inspiring, and yes, exciting, but not in the foot-stomping, hand waving, fervent excitement that some plea for and yes, even demand. Insistence on demonstrating our “excitement” at being present before God and the Assembly in one particular way is not at all liberating, in fact, it’s inhibiting.

The Bible on worship:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19–25:)

We should aim for a more profound excitement. Here is Worship Matters again:

Towards a More Profound Excitement

The alternative to making our meetings more “exciting” isn’t trying to bore people. But Sunday mornings aren’t New Year’s Eve celebrations. They aren’t rock concerts. They aren’t pep rallies. They aren’t World Cup finals. They’re something much more mundane, and at the same time something much more eternally and cosmically significant. Our plans, lights, smooth transitions, technology, videos, sound systems, visual effects, and creativity don’t make it so. Christ dwelling in the midst of his people through his Holy Spirit makes it so. That’s why if we understand what’s going on, sharing the bread and cup during communion can be one of the highlights of our week, transcending the greatest of world championship sports rivalries in its effect on us.

What a great word. Transcendent. Our worship emanates from a sinful but justified heart, upward through three heavens to arrive at the throne of God.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15).

This is the most exciting thing in the universe, our Holy Spirit in us, dwelling in our very body that is a Temple. I am hugely “excited” over this. Church leaders that insist on a enthusiasm exhibited a certain way, OR produce stage-effects designed to manipulate the congregation into exhibiting the desired enthusiastic exhibitions, should take heed of the 2 articles above.

Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. (Psalm 95:6-7)

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Further Reading

Dude, Where’s your Gravitas?