Posted in apollos, church, encouragement

Apollos: a man mighty in the scriptures but humble enough to be taught

There are so many names in the Old and New Testament. We read of Adam, Noah, Joshua, David, Mary, Joseph, Paul, Peter. And the rarely-mentioned names like Jason, Philemon, Jairus, Cornelius… The great scope and sweep of biblical history from Genesis to Revelation is a tremendous river of events and real people rolling on and under the Providential care of the Holy God we serve. These real people are ones we will have fellowship with forever. They aren’t characters, and they are not long-gone. They are alive! They’re in heaven eagerly awaiting their resurrection body, awaiting the arrival of the rest of their brethren, and worshiping Jesus right now like we will do when we get over yonder.

It’s important to remember that. When we read the Bible and see that Cornelius was commanded to go to Joppa and speak with Simon the Tanner, those are real people, alive today in heaven. Do you ever wonder more about these men and women, the oft-mentioned like Paul and the little-mentioned, like Simon the Tanner? How their lives were, how they died, what their conversion story is?

There is one man who is mentioned with fair amount of frequency in the New Testament but who is rarely talked about: Apollos. The Holy Spirit introduces to us to Apollos first in Acts 18:24. He is subsequently mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1-17, 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:1; 7-11, 1 Corinthians 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 16:12, 19, Titus 1:5; 3:12-13.

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. (Acts 18:24)

What an introduction! Wouldn’t you want someone to say that about you? “Competent in the Scriptures”? I would. Here we learn his name, where he was from, and where he came to. I like the geographical references. They ground us and give the “story” a place to hang our mental hat. Alexandria is in Egypt and Ephesus is in Turkey. Both are coastal cities.

Source

From that one verse we learn a lot. Apollos was a Jew with a Greek name, living in the north African Egyptian city of Alexandria. Alexandria was a Greek influenced city, named after the conqueror Alexander the Great. It was and still is Egypt’s largest seaport and until 641AD when the Muslims conquered Egypt, it was the nation’s capital.

Apollos’ powerful introduction continues:

He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:25-28)

What a joyous remark, “He was fervent in spirit”. May we all be so. In addition, Apollos didn’t know a lot at that time, but what he knew, he taught vibrantly, accurately, and fervently. May we all be so. Note that Apollos was absent the Holy Spirit at that time, he only had the baptism of John, not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thus, his eloquence in the flesh must have been highly notable. Imagine when Apollos received the Holy Spirit and his speech was energized by the mind of God! What a powerhouse Apollos must have been.

About Apollos knowing only the baptism of John. Here the Jamieson-Fausset Critical Commentary explains:

He was instructed, probably, by some disciple of the Baptist, in the whole circle of John’s teaching concerning Jesus, but no more: he had yet to learn the new light which the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost had thrown upon the Redeemer’s death and resurrection; as appears from Ac 19:2, 3.

Yet despite being learned, mighty, eloquent, fervent, bold, and from a sophisticated city, Apollos was teachable! Priscilla and Aquila taught him more accurately and Apollos not only submitted to their correction, he absorbed it so well he was encouraged and recommended to brethren in Achaia. The Holy Spirit was doing a marvelous work in Apollos.

He greatly helped the saints there, this was noted. Apollos was a powerful rhetorician, able to refute Jews in public through extemporaneous speaking, but doing it all through scripture and not of his own persuasion. He is a towering entry into the sheepfold at this early time.

Cut to about twenty years later. Apollos has become so popular that a faction has formed behind him, along with a faction behind Peter and one behind Paul.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12)

Jamieson-Fausset Critical Commentary again:

Those alleging the name of Apollos, Paul’s successor at Corinth (Ac 18:24, &c.), were persons attracted by his rhetorical style (probably acquired in Alexandria, 1Co 3:6), as contrasted with the “weak bodily presence” and “contemptible speech” of the apostle. Apollos, doubtless, did not willingly foster this spirit of undue preference (1Co 4:6, 8); nay, to discourage it, he would not repeat his visit just then (1Co 16:12).

Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. (1 Corinthians 16:12)

Jamieson-Fausset Critical Commentary again:

Apollos, I greatly desired … to come unto you—He says this lest they should suspect that he from jealousy prevented Apollos’ coming to them; perhaps they had expressly requested Apollos to be sent to them. Apollos was not at Ephesus when Paul wrote (compare 1Co 16:19, and 1Co 1:1). Probably Apollos’ unwillingness to go to Corinth at this time was because, being aware of the undue admiration of his rhetorical style which led astray many at Corinth, he did not wish to sanction it (1Co 1:12; 3:4). Paul’s noble freedom from all selfish jealousy led him to urge Apollos to go; and, on the other hand, Apollos, having heard of the abuse of his name at Corinth to party purposes, perseveringly refused to go. Paul, of course, could not state in his letter particularly these reasons in the existing state of division prevalent there. He calls Apollos “brother” to mark the unity that was between the two.

In Titus 3:13 we read that Apollos is still esteemed five or so years later when Paul wrote to Titus

Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. (Titus 3:13)

Apollos was used greatly by the Head of our Church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6). No matter how revered or lowly the man is, it always comes back to Jesus. Everything that is done is done by Him, through Him, with Him, and for Him. He raised up a mighty man in the scriptures that greatly helped the church, and aided Paul in laying the foundation.  When it was time for Apollos to go home, the Lord called him and there he has been ever since. When we get there, either through death or rapture, and at the appropriate time, we can sit with Apollos and hear the rest of the story. What a blessing it will be to glorify Jesus in His work on earth by hearing testimonies of that work done by the other saints.

Hallelujah!

Posted in church, discernment, encouragement, john macarthur, shepherd, shepherds conference, tribute

John MacArthur: An Honorable and Trustworthy Shepherd

Wikipedia

The Lord sends us honorable and trustworthy overseers, no matter the generation in which we live. He sent the early church fathers, the generation after the Apostles, many of them martyrs: Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement…and He has sent us men from then until now. I’d like to focus on the now and one of these trustworthy and honorable men: Dr. John F. MacArthur

Dr John Fullerton MacArthur was born on June 19, 1939, last week he turned 76 years old. He has been serving as a pastor continuously since 1964. He is pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California, part of LA and has been the senior pastor-teacher there for 46 years.

He has preached over 3000 sermons. He has written over 150 books. He has authored innumerable essays. He is currently President of The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary, the seminary he founded specifically to raise up men in the faith and strengthen them in solid doctrine. He has participated in countless conferences, one of which he founded, The Shepherds’ Conference, a gathering designed to minister to men.

I could list all his accomplishments and activities but this isn’t a reproduction of his resume. Instead, this bare listing of achievements and activities is presented to illustrate a commitment, diligence, and a Godly effort all in the sphere of tasks in which God has put forth in certain, specific men of the faith.

From Grace Community Church website

I consider him part of the theological genealogy of extraordinary men the Lord has raised up, and many others do as well. This is a line that includes Hus, Edwards, Spurgeon. Moreover, Jesus not only planted him in a place where ministry flourished, but He then allowed MacArthur to stay and stay and stay. In these years of church-hopping, ambitious pastors whose length of term usually only lasts 3-5 years, staying at one church and preaching 30, 40, 50 years is unheard of. During a sermon some years ago, MacArthur joked that the Lord led him to Grace Community Church in 1969 and “sort of just left me here.” As a result, we are blessed with sermons explaining each and every verse of the New Testament. To my knowledge MacArthur is the only preacher to have taught expositorily through the whole New Testament, and from one church no less. Even more of a blessing, each and every one of those sermons are recorded and transcribed. And best of all, they are all available for free online for the edification of the body.

Here is a first-hand account of the unprecedented achievement of having preached through the entire New Testament verse-by-verse from a congregant who was there as MacArthur closed in on the last verse.

Sunday, June 05, 2011
John MacArthur – Unprecedented Preaching Achievement
By any standard Grace Community is a big and successful Church, and with good reason, for sound fundamental Christianity is taught there verse by verse every week. The teaching of John MacArthur feeds the need for honest down to earth understandable exposition of God’s Word. You can doubt all you want, but once you have heard it you will know the truth of it.

Today was a milestone in the history of this amazing worship center. In a sanctuary packed as usual, John MacArthur brought to a close what can only be described as a nearly unprecedented achievement in his or any other preacher’s long career as shepherd of his flock. Today as he brought to a conclusion his study of the Gospel of Mark, he completed a forty three year sojourn through the entire New Testament. All these sermons were from the same pulpit.

John MacArthur is firm and forthright, never wavering in his criticism of sins of our time. He fully recognizes that Christianity is under attack and teaches us the basic truths to which we must attend if we are to achieve the gift of eternal life with our Lord.

His sermons are packed with substantial insights into the real meaning of every verse. Never have I enjoyed the Word of God so clearly explained.

Together with his unfaltering teaching style there is a humor that is playful and understanding of our human foibles. Showing his humanity and ongoing love for his wife, John presented Patricia with a beautiful rose to thank her for all her support during this academic and preaching epic.

I asked John how he managed to collect and collate all the information he has used to produce the over three thousand five hundred sermons, which are all recorded and available on line through Grace To You, and how big his staff was. His answer, “Neil, I mine all my own data.”

Dr. MacArthur, President of the Master’s College, and pastor of Grace Community Church is nothing short of phenomenal.

His Spirit-led ministry has delivered spiritual blessings to me and many others, as the above testimony attests. The emails and comments my sisters send me that bring me to tears the most are the ones where someone says they found MacArthur through my site or another’s, and were led out of a Charismatic church…or their faith was strengthened, or they now understand the Doctrines of Grace, or they have been blessed spiritually in some other way from material MacArthur has preached or written. He has touched countless lives for the betterment of the faith, more than any other one person in this generation, I maintain.

He is not only learned, but he lives the life that is expected of pastors. He’s wise, kind, and humble. There has never been a hint of a scandal nor a waver of one inch, not even an hour, from solid doctrine. Those qualities are in such short supply it is refreshing to be given opportunity to revel in preaching that is from God’s heart and not man’s pride or the devil’s error.

In example of his wisdom and caring for his flock and the flock in general, on May 24 he preached a sermon called “Hope for a doomed nation.” He usually goes on vacation in June for three or four weeks. He prepared this sermon for his flock just prior to his departure, saying,

So as we look at our nation – and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few weeks when I’m not here. I’m just kind of preempting that a little bit by helping you to be able to think through whatever happens.

Since that date we as a nation have experienced the Charleston SC church shootings, the embarrassing mega-pastor Tullian Tchividjian adultery and resignation from one of the most famous churches in America, and the Supreme Court’s nationalization of homosexual perversity and with it, opening the door to actual Christian persecution in the US.

Even then, on vacation but never vacating his duty as an under-shepherd, MacArthur issued a sensitive and wise statement on the Charleston church shooting, prescient blog essays just days before the Tchividjian resignation naming Tchividjian as a hyper-grace addict and warning us of it, and sent an open letter to all Master’s Seminary alumni comforting and advising them in the aftermath of the SCOTUS decision. He is a calming influence.

In addition, there is solace in trusting a man who has continued to live a holy life and is a leading example of godliness right before our eyes. We mourn but are also saddened and angry when authors, theologians, professors and pastors we had trusted fall, one after another.

MacArthur with his wife Patricia on the day he completed
preaching the New Testament verse by verse. 43 years! Source

MacArthur preached at the 2001 Ligonier Conference titled Holiness. The sermon MacArthur delivered is “A Call to Holiness“. It is one of those sermons where the listener feels even after years have passed since it was spoken, the strength of the Spirit’s presence within the words uttered is tangibly felt. There is no transcript but I transcribed the part which speaks to a pastor persevering in a long, well-lived, holy life. He said:

“People come to me so often, if I can be personal for a moment, and say, “I’m praying for you”. A lady stopped me out in the hall and said ‘I’m praying for you. We’re praying that you don’t fall into some sin… as so many have and disappointed us so greatly. People will ask me, how do you live your life to prevent that? To whom are you accountable? Do you have an accountability group? Let me tell you something. I have a group of elders that surround me. Among those elders are some very precious friends. They spend a lot of time with me day in and day out. They’re exposed to everything there is to see and know about me. I’m a fairly transparent person. They are there and I want them to tell me whenever I’ve overstepped a line that would bring dishonor to the Lord.

Even tighter than that, I have four children that love Christ and walk with Christ. The three older ones are married. The three older ones and their spouses have these immense and probably unrealistic expectations of me. My son who lives in Chicago called me a few months ago. “Dad I’ve just been thinking about you and praying about you and I called to tell you, ‘don’t mess up.’ ” [audience laughter]. This is my son, this is what I told him. “Dad do you know what it would do to me and the other kids if you ever messed up your life and did something immoral?” I told him, Mark, thank you for your prayers and your concern. It means everything to me.”

And then, I have 11 little grandchildren. They expect their Papa to live the way God expects us to live. I look into their little faces and I read them bible stories and I pray with them so often as Patricia and I gather with them around our kitchen table. And I look into their shining faces and I cannot find it in me to do anything to destroy their trust in Christ. It would kill me.

But the most intimate point of accountability humanly speaking is my beloved treasure Patricia. She is right here in the second row. Most of you don’t know her, you should. [gesturing for her to stand]. Honey let them see how God blessed me. Now, this lady expects me to live what I preach all the time. I want to be Christ to her. I don’t want her to be disappointed in her pastor. I don’t want her heart turned away from Christ. I don’t want the standard lowered. That’s the accountability. Her expectations and my love for her is the accountability.

But you know in the end, as precious as all those people are, as intimately as they are connected to my life, even they don’t know what I think. And if you are going to be holy, my friends, you have to win the battle on the inside.

 

Screen shot from MacArthur’s testimony

He continued the sermon from the text explaining just how to do that. And for the last 58 years since he committed his life to Christ, MacArthur has remained above reproach, with no scandal. You notice in the text his focus was first on not bringing reproach onto the Lord, and also being an example to his children, grandchildren, and to properly lead his wife. His life as a witness is powerful and his credibility as a preacher of the holy word is thus credible in the highest order.

This last one is a double blessing because over time, one can listen to sermons from MacArthur from every decade since he arrived at GCC in February 1969 and bask in the pure, unadulterated Word of God. I’ve done so, having listened to sermons from every era in which he has preached, and have not found any major threads of apostasy, error, or swerving from the narrow path the Lord has laid out to us in His word. Oftentimes pastors have a blind spot or some kind of error in one area. Sometimes they start out well, like Andy Stanley, and then just kind of collapse in front of our eyes, descending into liberalism and then error. Not so John MacArthur. The Lord has kept him.

My friend R. Craig Fulford wrote in an email (and gave permission for this to be excerpted and published):

Dr. MacArthur’s Grace to You Website has always been amazingly good but over the last year they have made huge efforts to increase the user friendly aspect.

When you have made the many contributions he has, it becomes quite difficult to archive those efforts. However, his staff has really improved on how to search his efforts in any number of different ways. Frank Barker told me once that Dr. MacArthur was the most prolific contributor to the Reformed Doctrine he had ever seen. But with that comes the difficult task of making sure all of those wonderful efforts do not get lost in the shuffle.

Over the last several months, I have spent a great deal of time just examining his web site and discovering the many different ways to locate what I’m interested in whether it be by exposition, topic, scriptural reference or any other of the myriad of ways we might want to examine Scripture. You would think with the amount of his available documentation, created over almost a half a century of time, you would see a number of contradictions within his teachings but that is just not the case. There is, however, a notable growth in the level of his discernment and Christian maturity, as you might expect.

There is also a conspicuous lack of “fund raising” activities and over a period of time there are few resources left with any cost, except for his most current publications. That is particularly impressive when you stop and consider the millions and millions of dollars that could have been generated by his efforts. As a matter of fact, when “The Gospel of Jesus” was first published, the only book that out sold it under the category of Christianity was the Bible itself.

And now Dr. MacArthur has completed decades of work on his 33 volume commentary of the New Testament. It is available in print and in a Kindle format. I have both and don’t know why every Christian on planet earth doesn’t if they don’t. Especially at its hugely discounted price.

Do you get the idea that MacArthur is a gift to us, a blessing of manifold and untold reverberations throughout Christendom? I do not exaggerate. In listening to many of his sermons, occasionally he offers a small glimpse of his behind-the-scenes work. He doesn’t say much about himself or his interactions with others, lay-people or fellow pastors. Only once in a while. His call to Mark Driscoll after the Scotland debacle where Driscoll shocked the people with his profane and lascivious “sermon” on the Song of Solomon…an encounter with Robert Schuller, counseling a prostitute, dealing with an unwarranted lawsuit, holding the hand of a homosexual man in the hospital dying of AIDS, flying hours upon hours to remote nations to teach new pastors in closed countries eager for the word, smuggling bibles into China… his tireless work seen and unseen for the cause of Christ is an example to us.

In 2010, a brand-new volume by Hughes Oliphant Old was published. It is titled, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 7: Our Own Time, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), The guys at TeamPyro (at that time led by Phil Johnson, Executive Director of John MacArthur’s Grace To You website and one of the preachers at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, published an excerpt from Olds’ book. Between pages 551 and 558, one of the pastors the book highlights is the preaching of Dr. John MacArthur.

Now, the Hughes Olds is kind of a strange duck. He openly admits to disbelieving in satan, demons and demon possession. He admits to having doubts about the authority of scripture. Yet he marvels at the authority that MacArthur preaches, noting “part of the foundation of his effectiveness as an interpreter” is that his “basic assumption [is] that the text of Scripture is reliable.” His review should be taken as someone who is perhaps an unbeliever or a weak believer astonished at the preaching of a man with a settled belief in the integrity, authority, and reliability of scripture. From that perspective, Olds’ review is remarkable. Here is an excerpt.

In the review, Olds wrote in his conclusion,

Why do so many people listen to MacArthur, this product of all the wrong schools? How can he pack out a church on Sunday morning in an age in which church attendance has seriously lagged? Here is a preacher who has nothing in the way of a winning personality, good looks, or charm. Here is a preacher who offers us nothing in the way of sophisticated homiletical packaging. No one would suggest that he is a master of the art of oratory. What he seems to have is a witness to true authority. He recognizes in Scripture the Word of God, and when he preaches, it is Scripture that one hears. It is not that the words of John MacArthur are so interesting as it is that the Word of God is of surpassing interest. That is why one listens.

Now, I am not a sycophant. I’m not an uncritical flunky mindlessly parroting plaudits. I still do test what he says against scripture. I do listen to other pastors, my own, of course, and Phil Johnson, S. Lewis Johnson, Adrian Rogers, Lloyd-Jones, Don Green, Paul Washer… I do read other commentaries besides his, including Gill’s Exposition and Matthew Henry. I do enjoy other authors on the topics of scripture besides MacArthur, including Bridges, Spurgeon, Flavel, and Edwards. I think it would be a problem to follow one man alone and proclaim him to the world, that would be idolatry.

But I do adore John MacArthur for all the right reasons. I commend him and his vast ministry to you. I proclaim him in the strongest possible terms as trustworthy and edifying. When Charles Haddon Spurgeon died in January 1892, a Memorial Edition of his Life and Works was published that same year. I am serious when I say MacArthur is in a genealogical line of specially empowered raised up men who edify the brethren and advance the faith. Here is one of the tributes to Spurgeon written in the biography:

You ask a brief estimate of Mr Spurgeon’s life and work. Volumes would not do them justice. The world is his debtor. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was called a Baptist, but was one of those men too great to be claimed by any denomination. Millions of believers of every name were edified by his words, and quickened by the example of his wonderful life.

Among his many admirable traits, and at the root of them, lay his clear apprehension of divine truth, his firm grasp of it, inflexible loyalty to it, and incessant proclamation of it. He was a man of a whole Bible. From Genesis to Revelation it was to him “the true Word of the true God.”

If he was conspicuous for anything, he was conspicuous for his unswerving allegiance to ‘the Word.’ His theology was as broad and as narrow as the Bible. With him, “thus saith the Lord” settled everything.

With a warm heart and a very clear head, a very busy hand and a supreme devotion to the Master he served, men may call him narrow if they please. God has set the seal of divine approval, passing contradiction, on the work of the London Tabernacle pastor, and called him to his reward. What a reward!”

In 2006 I was a new Christian, having moved from my home environment in New England all the way to Georgia, where I knew no one. I was alone. I began attending church for the first time in my 43 years of life, and I had not a clue as to how to study the bible, much less read it. I mentioned before that prior to moving to Georgia I had not gone to church but had relied on radio and TV for preaching. I listened to Joel Osteen, the biggest and most popular tv preacher in the US, which I thought was the proper barometer for assessing the ministry of preachers. I also listened to Endtime Ministries’ radio prophecy personality Irvin Baxter. After a short while, Baxter’s fervent fixation on the post-tribulation rapture began to bother me. The Spirit graciously led me away from that man’s erroneous and personally unique interpretations of eschatology. However I began to realize that it was a wild and woolly, sometimes scary, world of preaching out there and I felt adrift and exposed. I had not known that there were different interpretations of scripture and that many men preaching it were just plain wrong. This was a new idea to me. I sought the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to know whom to listen to and whom to trust.

That was when He led me to John MacArthur. It was, as so many sisters have commented and emailed me, literally a God-send. I tested what was being preached against scripture and happily found it to be true. The reliability of his preaching, his humble and clean life, and frankly, the free or nearly free resources at his website were a boon to my impoverished but seeking heart and my poor battered checkbook. From there, I grew. I found Phil Johnson, his editor and executive director of Grace To You, and I found S. Lewis Johnson, a pastor of a former generation MacArthur recommended. And so on, the circles widened.

The tribute I posted above which is dedicated to Spurgeon contains similar if not exact words that can be applied to the life and ministry of Dr John F. MacArthur. Too much? Hardly. The benefit we as Christians have received from this tireless man’s Godly dedication and efforts in Christ’s name are uncountable, and manifold. I can’t wait for the day they will be revealed in the throne room of heaven. He is the Pastor for our generation.

I believe that recognizing this and affirming this glorifies Christ because it acknowledges His Spirit’s work in the Body. I began this essay by saying “The Lord sends us honorable and trustworthy overseers” and I end it with praise and thanks by saying the same thing. He used MacArthur to snatch me from the jaws of a wolf like Osteen and confusing men like Baxter and only the Lord knows who else if I had stayed on that muddled path. Who knows what other wolf would have dragged me off in false doctrine and poor Godly examples. Raising up good men is the Lord’s doing because He has care and concern for the people of His church. Peter wrote of overseers,

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)

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Further Reading

Website, many resources: Grace To You

Church: Grace Community Church

John MacArthur’s Biography (and book list)

Posted in church, end time

The reality of the first century church

We’re often reminded that the early church was powerful, pure, and to be emulated. And certainly, the following verse is weighty on our consciences, and it’s truly to be emulated. This was the church in its earliest days:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:42)

This was the church in its early weeks.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)

But that purity was fleeting if it ever truly existed. In its earliest days, remember, Ananias and Sapphira were killed for lying to the Holy Spirit in front of the church. Though sin had always been present, because people were present, Ananias and Sapphira’s act was the first overt, discoverable perfidy. Yet the myth of the pure church persists.

Now we look at the Church at Corinth. Paul had strongly admonished them, he’d used sarcasm, and he soundly chided the members who had gotten drunk at the Lord’s Table, had divided into factions, had sought the ‘better’ spiritual gifts, had done all manner of things unbecoming to a believing church. And now the worst of all:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12).

Some Christians were even denying the resurrection! The book of First Corinthians was written in about 55 AD, a mere twenty years after Our Lord’s death and resurrection. Paul even mentioned in verse 6 many brethren who were still alive at the time that Jesus appeared to the 500! Yet some in “the early church” denied the verifiable fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! A “pure” church? Hardly.

When we read that the earliest church in its earliest days were all “of one mind” I think we would be startled to see how fleeting that was. From almost the very the beginning, sin and falsity lurked.

A parallel to this picture of sin crouching at the door can be seen in the Millennium Kingdom. After the Tribulation and Jesus’ Second Coming, He sets up a kingdom in fulfillment of His promises to His people Israel. He personally rules on earth, with a rod of iron. The Temple is cleansed and sacrifices are ongoing. People come from all quarters of the earth, finally funneled down the Kings Highway to worship Jesus in person. The Church Saints are given tasks to perform, ruling and reigning with Jesus. Satan and his demons are locked up in the abyss. Ahhh, perfection.

Not so fast.

When satan is let out of the abyss at the end of the 1000 years, he gathers sinful people to his side in a rebellion that starts so fast it makes the head spin. All that while, when it seemed that people were at peace with Jesus, they weren’t. They were sinning greatly in their hearts. All it took is the serpent to draw that poison out of them and he uses it to foment a revolution.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, (Revelation 20:7-19).

Sin!

So the point is that man’s sin, even with satan’s influence a total unknown to the people born people in the 1000-year kingdom, thus with satan’s temptations completely absent from their lives, sin still lurks strongly in the heart of man- hiding. It’s there, just as it was in the earliest church. Ananias and Sapphira tell us this, the believers at Corinth questioning the resurrection tell us this.

Here is Pulpit Commentary on 1 Cor:12-19. Bold & italics are mine.

The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our faith in the general resurrection. Verse 12. – Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead. St. Paul sees that if One has risen from the dead, the fact of that miracle, taken in connection with the rest of the gospel, furnishes Christians with a sufficient proof that they shall rise. “For,” he had already said to the Thessalonians, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (see the same argument in Romans 8:11).

“That there is no resurrection of the dead”. These deniers of the resurrection are usually called “the Corinthian Sadducees.” After the state of social and moral laxity of which we have been reading, we can scarcely be surprised at the existence of any disorder or anomaly in the Church of Corinth. Yet it comes with something of a shock on our paralyzed sense of astonishment to read that some of these Christians actually denied a resurrection! The fact at once proves remarkable truths, namely,

(1) that the early Christian Church had none of the ideal purity of doctrine which is sometimes ecclesiastically attributed to it;

What does this tell us for today? Well, if your church is in disarray, as the church at Corinth was, you’re in good company. Secondly, if we stop comparing our church with an idealized first century church we might be a little more content with our own. Third, being disaffected by or leaving our church for shallow reasons is really bad. No church is perfect, not even the first century church. It still astounds me that there were resurrection-deniers in the same generation witnesses as when Jesus was actually resurrected!

The pure church to emulate is the one where people sometimes sin, sometimes waver on foundational doctrines, love the word, love each other, forgive where necessary, repenting always, submitting to their elders, and worshiping together in in Spirit and in truth. Like the first century church did. 

Posted in church, encouragement, ephesus, revelation

Stay strong true believers! We may be few in number but we have All Might behind us!

Does it feel like there are only a few obviously Christian believers at your local church? Does it feel like we puny humans are trying to stem the tide or heresy that is coming in a tsunami? It must have felt that way to the Ephesians, too.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3).

The first century church at Ephesus was planted by Paul, who was its pastor. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city, sophisticated and beautiful. It was at the terminus of several major thoroughfares, was located on a gulf for a healthy seafaring export-import trade, and was a major commercial center. Its population was approximately a quarter of a million people.

In addition to being a major commercial center it was also a major religious center. Though many gods were worshiped there in addition to the emperors of Rome, the temple of Artemis was the main attraction. The temple was three times the size of the Athenian Parthenon, and held 25,000 people. It was in Ephesus that the Sons of Sceva were overcome by devils whom the sons had tried to cast out, demonstrating clearly the difference between false idols and the true God. Here was where Paul’s two- year, three month church planting effort and teaching bore fruit when the new Christians burned their idols and books equivalent to 50,000 pieces of silver. It was here that the reaction to the encroachment of Christianity on a pagan culture sparked a two-hour riot at the temple of Artemis. (Acts 19:23-20:1).

The worshipers at the church at Ephesus must have felt hemmed in by heresy and surrounded by pagans, especially by the time the letter in Revelation was sent, a generation later. It was a letter sent to a struggling church, weary of being the bulwark against sin and heresy.

But remember Elijah who thought he was the last believer left. The LORD said ‘I have reserved yet 7,000 who believe’. (1 Kings 19:18). We are not alone! We might be tiny in number in one location but the Body is large, and thriving.

Also, in the latter days, there will be terrible times, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. There are many warnings regarding the latter days about people following myths, man-made schemes, building fortresses of their own philosophies! (1 Timothy 1:4, 2 Timothy 4:4, Titus 1:14). He said it would happen and it is happening. We take comfort in even the seemingly ‘bad’ events because if His word is true for the bad then it is all the more so for the good! His word is true and He knows who are His and He knows whom to call to account.

We do not have to worry about results. We only have to proclaim. As the LORD said to Ezekiel in Ez 2:3-5

“I am sending you to the Israelites and the rebellious nations who have rebelled against me. The Israelites and their ancestors have transgressed against Me to this day. Their children are obstinate and hard-hearted. I am sending you to them, and you must say to them: this is what the LORD God says. Whether they listen or refuse to listen- for they are a rebellious house- they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

We are not prophets nor is the church Israel, but we take the point, in speaking the truth no matter the outcome the LORD is glorified because while some will repent when we speak His word, others who refuse, when they stand before Him trying to defend their actions, He will say ‘I sent you ministers and lay people to speak the truth and you refused to listen.’ They will know they have no excuse.

Just as He knew each Ephesian and who had not grown weary in the biblical day, in our day the Lord Jesus as Head of our church knows and sees the hearts of those who cannot tolerate evil and those who persist in the doing of good. We must not lose our love for Him, for each other, for the wayward ones, and for the work. We are in a battle, but the victory is His. I praise Him for this opportunity to speak the truth in love, speak His words and stand on His name.

Posted in church, discernment, leaving church

Leaving your church (for another)

People leave church for the right reasons. People leave church for the wrong reasons. People leave because they don’t like the music. People leave because they want to BE the music. People leave because they disagree with the pastor’s stance on minor issues. People leave because they disagree with the pastor’s stance on major issues. People leave because they didn’t get voted deacon. People leave because they heard a better church was down the road. People leave their church because after prayer and consideration and feeling legitimately led, they feel their family would be better served and they could better serve at that church across town.

For better or for worse, people leave their church all the time.

Did you see what I did there? I said ‘for better or for worse’, deliberately invoking the marital covenant, because that is what church membership is. It is a covenant with fellow believers. You you promise to love them, honor them, cherish them, in sickness and in health, bearing each other’s burdens, (Gal 6:2), admonishing and encouraging, (Col 3:16), sharing lives in vulnerability and intimacy, and worshiping Jesus- together. (James 5:13). It’s a close relationship and one not to be thrown away on petty squabbles.

Taking a biblical example, the church at Corinth. These people were fighting, getting drunk at the Lord’s table, allowing incest, having chaotic services, dividing into factions and cliques, and debating over meats. Phew! Yet Paul wrote that he gave thanks for the people at the church at Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:4-5). There was no church down the road to move their letter to. Corinth. That was IT.

How about the folks at the church at Sardis? Jesus pronounced them dead, and their works were dead, and what wasn’t dead was about to die! (Revelation 3:1-3). Yet a few remained alive and pleasing to the Lord. How terrible did they feel being surround by dead believers?! It must have been rough.

What if you had been one of the few members of the church at Sardis that had not soiled their clothes and remained righteous? It must have been hard for those members watching their church die! (Revelation 3:4). But what comfort. Jesus sees them and is not only pleased, but He commends them personally.

Or the folks at Thyatira, suffering by seeing a false prophetess prosper, teaching false doctrines (which is an agony to endure, believe me), tempting the members for so long she birthed spiritual daughters. A few did not hold to her teaching, and are commended.

Would “the few” at Sardis and “the rest” at Thyatira have left for another church, if there had been one? Its purely speculative. They didn’t have the choice so they stuck it out. Were some that fell under the sway of the false prophetess Jezebel children or slaves of the members at Thyatira? No doubt. It is a heartbreaker.

It doesn’t help that pastors these days display a craven ambition, using smaller churches as a ladder to bigger and mega, or as a stopping/resting  place as they write their next book. Some pastors church-hop themselves, pastoring as many as 6 churches in 9 years. They do not provide a good example of shepherding commitment and staying power.

On the other hand, leaving the marriage metaphor alone for a moment, there are times people can and should leave a church. Perhaps the Lord has legitimately led you to serve elsewhere. The Spirit gives gifts as He wills, so perhaps He wants move you to use you and His gifts at another location as a better puzzle piece fit. Maybe your pastor is teaching heresy. Or maybe not heresy but has drifted too far for your comfort zone, and you don’t want to expose your children. There maybe practical matters- employment transfer, moving closer to aging parents, a road that has become too dangerous to travel. What then? Moving your membership to another church would be a legitimate thing to do.

Here are a variety of links exploring reasons to leave and reasons to stay, and if deciding to go, how to leave successfully and graciously. Just some food for thought. Apostasy is gripping all churches to an alarming degree. If a person leaves for a trivial reason, or impatiently, he or she may wind up in a worse condition at a church down the road where a worse apostasy is discovered. Apostasy is everywhere, even in that bustling church down the road. No church is perfect.

No matter how dim things have become in your church, Jesus is still in charge, sovereignly ordering all for His glory. But the nitty gritty of week-in-week-out worship in a church that preaches entertainment, or health/wealth, or Arminianism as an idol, or is teetering toward spiritual abuse, or any of the cringe-worthy fads…is hard. But no harder than the early churches in the Bible mentioned above. And they had to contend with false teachings to a major degree also. The Spirit may indeed by moving you to another worship center for His reasons. Or the Spirit might be impressing on you to stay. It’s not for me to say one way or another when it might be time to leave a church or how long to stay. In Christian liberty, it’s the decision of the spiritual leader of your home, whoever that leader is. There are many things to take into consideration, and prayer of course should be a major part of any decision.

When do you leave a church?

It is the conversation with church members every pastor dreads but inevitably comes to every man who has shepherded a local flock: “Pastor, we need to meet with you and discuss our future at the church. We have been praying about transferring our membership to another church.” Naturally, you ask the inevitable question, “Why?” 

When Should People Leave Their Church?

Leaving a church is not something that should be done lightly. Too many people abandon churches for petty reasons. Disagreements over simple matters of preference are never a good reason to withdraw from a sound, Bible-believing church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17). However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one’s own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men. Such circumstances would include:

When is it right to leave a church?

Believers who feel a desire to leave a church should be clear on their reasons. If the church does not proclaim truth, cling to the Bible and revere Christ as its head, and there is another church in the area that does, then there are grounds to leave. A case can be made, however, for staying and working to bring about changes for the better. We are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). If one is strongly convicted of the need to move the church in a more Bible-based, Christ-honoring direction, and feels he/she can do that in a loving and non-divisive manner, then that would seem to be the better course of action.

Good reasons for moving on

“What right do you ever have to leave a church?” I can remember that question being asked by my ecclesiology professor in seminary. It is a good question and one that would benefit us all to wrestle with. As Kevin has recently pointed out on this blog, there is biblical warrant and there are practical reasons for entering into covenant through local church membership. Having entered into that covenant our breaking of it should never be done lightly. Clearly, there are reasons to leave a local church. But what are they?

5 Really Bad Reasons To Leave Your Church

Let’s be honest, while there are some good reasons for leaving a church, there are a lot more bad ones. As a pastor, I hear some of them every now and then as people walk out the door. As a church planter, I hear them constantly as people walk in the door. If you’re thinking about looking for a new church home, please don’t use one of these five reasons to make the jump:

5 Tips on Leaving a Church the Right Way

I met yesterday with a friend who is leaving our church. We had a good conversation about his reasons for leaving (they are legitimate) and then some discussion about how he can “leave well.” I told him that, based on my experience with people leaving our church or coming to our church after leaving another one, most people don’t leave well.

Posted in architecture, church, encouragement, new testament, temple

Of church buildings and temples

I’m reading 1 Corinthians 6. The verses at the end of the chapter, 19-20 are as follows:

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We are familiar with that passage and no doubt can quote it. In this portion of the chapter Paul is urging the sexually aware and culturally lascivious Corinthian believers to forgo sexual immorality. He said that because the Holy Spirit is inside us, and that we are living temples of Christ, when we sin sexually we make Christ complicit in it in a way that no other sin does. (1 Corinthians 6:15).

In reading my commentary by John R. Rice, he went further in explaining. His focus in this paragraph is not on the body in which the Spirit dwells, making it the temple of God, but on buildings.

What’s in a church building? If you’re an Old Testament worshiper, everything, absolutely everything. If you are a New Testament worshiper, nothing. Absolutely nothing.

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We know that God spent an inordinate amount of ink and inspiration in the Old Testament recording the specifics of the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple’s construction. We have an excellent idea of what they both looked like because of the monumental meticulousness in the OT regarding its dimensions, specifications, and adornments. Some of this information can be read in 1 Kings 5-6, 2 Chronicles 2, Exodus 38, and so on.

The Disciples looked upon the temple in Mark 13:1 and exclaimed over its majestic beauty. There is even much ink given to the construction, location, and adornments of the Temple in the Millennium Age (Ezekiel 40-41), even down to the number of cubits wide each door will be. Revelation 11:19 even mentioned God’s temple in heaven opened up and the ark of the covenant being there.

But did you ever wonder why in all the New Testament, no specificity or even reference is given over to the construction, location, adornments of any church building? None whatsoever?

Here is John R. Rice:

It is significant that not a single church building is mentioned in the New Testament. Were there any church buildings? If so, God was particularly careful that no one should revere or honor them. God does not live in church houses. Many a home where Christians pray and read God’s word and delight in His presence is more nearly a house of God than the church house. It is wrong, then, “to speak of reverence for the house of God.” We should respect the rights of other people. We should see that services are decent and in order, without confusion. We should respect the man of God. But God has no temple on earth but a human body… ~John R. Rice, The Church of God at Corinth: Commentary in 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1973

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We note that the disciples met in the Upper Room after the crucifixion (Acts 1:13, Acts 20:8). When Apollos was expounding in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside to explain the Way more accurately. The verse doesn’t say where they took him, just “aside.” In Acts 19:1 Paul arrived at the interior of Ephesus and found some believers there. The verses don’t say where. We know that early believers initially met in massive numbers in the outer court of the temple. (Acts 2:46). After Paul’s discipleship grew, he quit the synagogue and reasoned “in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” for two years. (Acts 19:9).

We read in Acts 11:25-26 that

And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

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Here Paul stayed a year, but again, no big deal is made of the building or place where they met. The church grew hugely, in fact this was where the followers of the Way were first called Christian, and yet…biblical silence on the building or specific location where this happened.

There were house churches. Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa (Acts 10:6), believers were gathered at Mary’s house to pray (Acts 12:12), Lydia had a house church, (Acts 16:40), and so did Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3,5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Nympha hosted a church at her house, (Colossians 4:15). Philemon and Apphia had a house church. (Philemon 1:1-2).

We have absolutely no idea as to the size of these house churches, how regularly they gathered, what their gatherings were like.

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What we do know is that the early believers met in homes, lecture halls, the great outdoors, stadiums, synagogues, wherever they could. Even at the end of the New Testament when Jesus dictates His letters to the seven churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea they must have had a known building since presumably the letter-carrier would have known where to bring the letter. Yet we do not have any specificity of the 7 churches’ size, dimensions, adornments, etc., unlike the Old Testament’s attention to the details of the worship house.

This is because WE are the temple.

Churches today meet in rented school gymnasiums, storefronts, homes, brick buildings with steeples, clapboard structures large and small, majestic buildings, traditional edifices with bell towers, or simple square humble dwellings. It doesn’t matter what the building looks like as long as the temple of people that are gathered are holy and worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Or own church was founded in 1892 and is brick with bell tower, with solid wooden pews, hymn-holders, red carpet, tin ceilings, a pulpit and other traditional architecture. I love it. I’m comfortable there. I love the tradition and solidity of the permanent location of a place that’s immediately recognizable as “worship place.” Yet our church voted to move to a larger facility down the road which is currently a factory by day. The Youth meet there every Wednesday night, and we hold special events intermittently there as we make the transition.

The Old Testament is loud and noisy about the Tabernacle and the Temple. The New Testament is silent on church houses. The obvious variety of the structures in which they met isn’t the point. The point is that they, being the temple of God, met. And they did so continuously, joyously, even when persecution came. They gathered, prayed, baptized, learned, exhorted and proclaimed the Good News from lecture halls, homes, stadiums, hillsides, and temple courts. They met, these people who are the temple of God, they met. The building does not matter. We are His temple. This is what matters-

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)

Posted in church, encouragement, end time, fellowship, gather together, prophecy, putnam

Churching Alone: The Collapse of American Churches

In 2000, an important book was published. Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Since the founding of America, we as a nation have always emphasized the importance of a strong and active civil society to the consolidation and perpetuation of democracy. When Thomas Paine wrote “Common Sense” before the American Revolution, people grabbed up his pamphlet and brought it to the tavern to discuss. Taverns and public squares were abuzz with discussions of ideas, concepts, philosophies. A robust public conversation with personal engagement among neighbors was the foundation of democracy.

I grew up in Rhode Island, the 13th state in the American Colonies, a place where there are more pre-colonial buildings still standing than anywhere else in the US. The first American Jewish synagogue is in Newport. (Touro). The first Baptist church is in Newport. A letter written in 1790 from George Washington to the RI Hebrew Congregation, assuring them, citizens of a newly independent United States, of tolerance and freedom of religion. Washington wrote,

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

But back to the old days. Men discussed ideas together in public spaces- taverns, the town square, the general store, front porches. They argued, persuaded, they met, they wrestled with ideas and formed community. It was that wrestling and knitting that made us strong enough as a collective of disparate farmers, millworkers, sailors, and the like, to dare to poke the eye of the mighty United Kingdom, and fight for freedom, including freedom to assemble and freedom to worship.

In this paper, the Daily Life of the American Colonies: The Role of the Tavern in Society Noon Inn Barroom, we learn of the importance of a citizenry discussing ideas together,

In the century or so leading up to the Revolution, colonial taverns and inns were an essential part of the community. Horses need frequent rests, travel by coach and horseback were far from comfortable. In Massachusetts on the roads leading to Boston, taverns and inns were spaced about every eight miles, which worked out to a reasonable journey in the winter cold before a person needed to warm up, inside and out.

The main reason for the importance of the colonial era tavern was as a social hub. Issues of the day were discussed and hammered out here, in fact, often in official settings. The City Tavern in Philadelphia, was the site of the first continental congress. The Virginia legislature met in the taverns of Williamsburg. And the initial investigations of the Salem Witch trials were supposed to be held at Ingersoll’s ordinary, [a name for a small tavern] though it was in the end was too small for the crowds.

To the common man, the tavern was where you learned the current prices for your cash crops. It was where you could find a newspaper, often read aloud for those who couldn’t read. It’s where local issues were debated and local governments met. The colonial era tavern was the link to the outer world for those in rural areas, and a place where you could meet your neighbors for conversation, games and diversion.

Entertainment included gambling; on horse racing, cockfights as well as cards. Actually the colonists were known to gamble on almost anything, including guessing the weight of pigs, a practice eventually outlawed on Long Island as it led to too many fights. The tavern also served as courthouse, where you learned of new business opportunities and worked out trades with your neighbors.

The tavern also served as post office. Originally the practice was to put your posts on a table, which travelers would then take along the route with them. It was commonly accepted that the travelers had the right to read your mail, providing a bit of entertainment along the way. Mail arrived in the community in the same way that it left, eventually becoming more organized and efficient.

In addition, recruitment and deployment of the militia took place in the taverns. Prior to the battle of Lexington, the militia organized and fortified themselves at Buckman’s tavern, before marching out onto the Lexington Green and into the history books.

In Newport RI, where our family would often drive on a Sunday, the White Horse Tavern still stands. It was constructed before 1673, is one of the oldest tavern buildings in the United States. It is located on the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets in Newport. We used to eat brunch there. I’d sit in one of the many small rooms, with small fireplace blazing, hardwood floors and ladderback wooden chairs, and wonder about the Colonists who lifted a tankard in debate as to whether to separate from England.

In Wikipedia it is stated,

“In the first half of the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville had observations about American life that seemed to outline and define social capital. He observed that Americans were prone to meeting at as many gatherings as possible to discuss all possible issues of state, economics, or the world that could be witnessed. The high levels of transparency caused greater participation from the people and thus allowed for democracy to work better.”

White Horse Tavern, Newport, in 2009. Wikipedia

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42 KJV)

If the foundation of a democracy was forged by citizens together in community, discussing things of import, ideas traded, dispensed with, held onto; how much more should those behaviors be replicated in the church? Where do the community of Christ’s members gather, discuss, flesh out biblical ideas, knit ourselves together in His name? Where are the robust discussions, healthy praises to Jesus, songs and fellowship? Because it’s not in church. And increasingly, it’s not in homes, either. Forget the public square, if a gathering occurs, say at Cracker Barrel, the talk is rarely biblical. Other times, Christians are prevented from speaking of Jesus in public.

Public domain

Corporate worship is extremely important. In this sermon by Phil Johnson called A Foretaste of Glory Divine. Pastor Johnson explains the verse from Psalm 122.

Notice the plural pronouns in the first two verses: “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” Our feet are standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem.” One of the distinctive joys David is writing about here is the corporate nature of this worship experience. He had spent much of his youth alone on the hills tending sheep and meditating on the truth of God in solitude and that’s certainly a good and valid exercise. But it cannot take the place of fellowship and public worship with the multitude of God’s people. That is why the feasts were so important in Israel. Verse 4: “The tribes go up, even the tribes of the LORD–An ordinance for Israel–To give thanks to the name of the LORD.”

And,

There’s a sanctifying influence in the gathering of believers that you will not benefit from if you think watching a church service on TV or streaming church on the Internet is a valid substitute for real live participation in the public worship of God’s people. Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There are two problems in today’s ‘churching alone’ era. One is that people increasingly satisfied to stay at home and watch someone on TV or streamed online. The second and the greater problem is that when people do attend church for any reason at any function, rare is the talk of doctrine. We might sing some ‘me-oriented’ songs, listen to a (too-short/self-help/topical) sermon. And then when the last ‘Amen’ is said, people are out the doors, never to speak of Jesus again until next week.

When believers gather these days, too often it is not really to worship God but merely to entertain one another. ~Phil Johnson
What are we losing by ‘churching alone’? What are the effects on the church when its members forgo social intercourse, fellowship, and good discussions and praises to the Lord? Wikipedia summarizes Putnam’s book,

Putnam surveys the decline of “social capital” in the United States since 1950. He has described the reduction in all the forms of in-person social intercourse upon which Americans used to found, educate, and enrich the fabric of their social lives. He believes this undermines the active civil engagement which a strong democracy requires from its citizens.

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When we ‘church alone,’ whether at home or alone as an island at church, our biblical lives are not enriched. When we are not educated in biblical literacy, we weaken. When we are weak, the scarlet thread of our lives that should be evident when we gather with others isn’t connected. And the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 4:12,

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

If Putnam’s notion of social capital is an investment in social relations with expected returns in the marketplace, then in the church world, social capital is investment in spiritual-social relations with expected returns in the church. In Acts 2 we see the priority of fellowship, and along with that came praise for the Lord. (Acts 5:42)

It seems clear that the more we meet in His name, breaking bread, having fellowship, and discussing His doctrine, then the more we have glad hearts, generous spirits, and praise for Jesus on our lips. It stands to reason that the opposite is true too; less we get together, the fewer times we discuss His doctrines, break bread, and have glad hearts, and thus we praise Him and proclaim Him less.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:46)

And truth be told, if we do get together, how often do we really discuss His doctrines as the verse in Acts 2:42 states the first church did? Not a lot.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
Yet personal engagement at an all-time low. The previous networking availabilities in church, such a personal visits, dinners on the ground, home gatherings, have gone the way of the dinosaur. People don’t do that anymore. We do not ‘continually devote ourselves to… fellowship.’

More often than not, the way this generation engages today is via social media online. Visiting in person is a relic from the past.

What do colonial times in the 1770s to 1800 have to do with today’s church? Cut to 100 years later, the 1900s. There was still a public square. Before television, before the internet, people sat and talked. They had coffee. They visited. They had Sunday suppers. They sat by the pot bellied stove at the feed store and talked. People played bridge, gathered for parties, told stories. They discoursed.

The iconic Andy Griffith show reflected this reality- front porch sitting was a favored past time.
It was a time when people were invested in each other’s lives. They know when someone wasn’t feeling well. Or wasn’t themselves. They knew when someone was struggling. They celebrated victories and pitched in during hard times.

We have lost that.

We’re “crazy busy” now.

Yet the youngsters don’t know any other way of engaging except what they see online or through their parents or other trusted adults. They think fellowship is gathering at a google hangout.

I’m not saying anything that is unknown to anyone living in the year 2014. It’s old news that we do not socialize anymore. Here is the new news. New, at least to me.

We are forgetting HOW to socialize.

The influence of personal cellphones and texting have infiltrated our psyche to the extent that front porch sitting, passing the time, just being with someone is a lost art.

If people socialize at all in person now, it includes a phone interruptions and texting, looking at email, or a myriad of other things that distract from looking fully into someone’s eyes and listening to what they are saying with full attention.

This is my favorite episode from Andy Griffith. A business man in a hurry breaks down in Mayberry on a Sunday. Initially chafing at the slow pace of life and the almost uniform commitment by its inhabitants to the priority of fellowship on the Lord’s Day, the man eventually succumbs to the love shown to him- and he slows down.

Will you visit someone this week? Will you sing with them, or speak of the glories of our savior, or read the bible together? Will you linger at church for a while afterward and praise the sermon and flesh out some of its points- coming to happy agreement with a fellow believer? Let us not “church alone.” The foretaste of glory divine Mr Johnson was preaching on is the corporate gathering of believers on earth being the glad foretaste of the gathering in praise of all of history’s saints at the end of time. What a true foretaste- glorying in the Lord together, never alone forevermore.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Man in a Hurry- full episode

Posted in church, doctrine, prosperity

Phil Johnson: Did God Promise Health and Wealth?

This week I’ve had a burden for the evangelical church. Today I wrote a long essay about the Roman Catholic Church’s infiltration to the last religious battleground, the evangelical church. What sparked this burden is the speed with which the RCC has infiltrated Protestant evangelicalism with their doctrines of demons, and how many evangelical leaders have fallen under Rome’s sway.

It has been a tough week. Reading about Franklin Graham’s partnering with Pittsburgh’s Bishop Zubik and the many attendees at the Graham Crusade who were directed to the Catholic Church next door pained me deeply… learning about the RCC’s ‘new evangelism’ into Protestant waters starting wit its leaders shocked me … and Victoria Osteen’s blasphemous comments to 16000 applauding goats that’s circulating among social media angered me much … all caused this deep burden I feel for the shrinking organization we know as the evangelical church.

The Osteen 38-second video is above so you can compare her words with the words I’m going to post next.

Phil Johnson

As I prepared to make a pot of soup to end this Labor Day weekend, I searched for a sermon to listen to. I decided on Phil Johnson’s latest sermon at Grace Life (the small group section at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church). Though the Osteen video came out after his sermon, Pastor Johnson could have been saying these exact words directly to Mrs Osteen:

Churches worldwide are full of people who aren’t the least bit interested in scripture, or doctrine, or truthfulness. They just want to have a good experience and feel good about themselves. More than that, they want to hear that God feels good about them, and that He exists to do their bidding.

In general, imagine my happy shock and surprise to hear that my burden for the evangelical church was shared by Johnson and his articulation of it was (not shockingly) much better than mine-

Did God Promise Health and Wealth?

Unless you live in total isolation and never read any news about the church and our testimony to the wider world, you must be aware that the evangelical movement worldwide is currently undergoing a doctrinal and philosophical meltdown of catastrophic proportions. By any measure you could possibly employ, the evangelical movement right now is more backslidden and more spiritually bankrupt than medieval Catholicism was just before the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. The evangelical movement of our generation has become a monstrosity. Doctrinal, moral, and political corruption are the rule rather than the exception, and some of the largest and most visible evangelical and charismatic churches today are populated with people who absolutely love to have it that way.

Of course, it is not good that the evangelical church is in such catastrophic disarray. But I am relieved to see that the extreme burden I’ve felt for the evangelical church is not unwarranted.

My opinion-conclusion from what I see for the evangelical church was that it is the last days with the Tribulation church forming right before our eyes. Though Pastor Johnson didn’t speculate into the Tribulation, he did say,

“I would go so far as to say the desperate need for critical thinking and careful discernment has never been more urgent.”

“Contrary to the way most people today like to think and act, we desperately need clear boundaries and careful watchmen who are willing to speak plainly and wield the sword of God’s Word wisely for the protection of the flock and the preservation and proclamation of sound gospel truth. We especially need people skilled in discernment now.”

Please enjoy his sermon. It is a refreshing teaching on exactly what is wrong with the Prosperity movement. he said we all enjoy an uplifting sermon for edification but sometimes reproof and correction are needed just as much. You will be educated, blessed, and at the very least, will know how to respond when someone charges you with being “mean to the brethren.”

Posted in art, church, ephesus, laodicea, philadelphia, revelation, sardis, smyrna, thyatira

A pictorial representation of the churches of Revelation

This is a creative, artistic rendering of my view of the 7 churches in Revelation. The original photo, which I took, is of an abandoned church in the area in which I live. Photographic manipulation and imagination did the rest.

In the first century, there were 7 churches Jesus caused John to write messages for. These were actual churches with actual congregations, doing and saying actual things. Jesus told apostle John, exiled at Patmos, what to write to these congregations. Jesus spoke commendations, criticisms, and instructions. Not all 7 churches were commended. Not all 7 churches were criticized. All had an instruction, though.

The church at Smyrna and the church at Philadelphia were not criticized. The church at Laodicea was not commended. The rest had both.

The churches were: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.

Can you imagine being assembled on Sunday, hearing a knock on the church door, a messenger arriving and handing a scroll to your pastor, and the pastor reads a letter from the head of the Church, Jesus Christ Himself? Jesus is very much alive and in charge of His global body of worshipers, AKA His bride. He was directly involved then, and He is directly involved now.

Each of the seven churches was not only an actual church but is also a type of church dealing with a problem mentioned in the letters. The problem is not unique to that church for that time. There are always the same kind of systemic problems many churches deal with and have been recurring throughout the centuries. Always, there is a church somewhere that is busy but not alive. Always, somewhere, is a church that is indifferent and lukewarm. On this earth, there is a collection of churches gracefully enduring suffering, or being persecuted. And so on.

Please read Revelation 1-3, it is not hard. Those chapters offer the reader plain language and it’s not heavily symbolic. Meanwhile here are my renderings of the churches in Revelation with their pictorial representation of the problem (or commendation) they had. Below the photo essay is a short artist’s statement of how the interpretation came about.

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Artist statement:

Ephesus: I was struck by the fact they had abandoned their fervent love for Jesus. I imagined how hearing this, John might have felt like he had ashes in his mouth and ears. “Nothing cold as ashes, after the fire is gone.” (Loretta Lynn). The photo is as if ashes were smeared on it.

Smyrna: No criticism. Only light, the crown of life in heaven, and joy. The bubbles are angels surrounding the church Jesus commends in love and encouragement.

Pergamos: Compromise was their problem. Anyone who ever had a house built knows that if the contractor compromises on the concrete foundation, cracks appear at the first frost-freeze-thaw cycle. Nothing cracks a structure or an organization faster than compromise. Hence, the cracked door and walls.

Thyatira: This church had a problem with a seductress teaching sexual immorality and the people tolerated it. It is a harlot church, literally. Hence the lipstick on the walls and the hearts and fireworks and pink.

Sardis: Revelation has a change in tone here. Sardis is dead. I used tombstone engraving font for the verse.

Philadelphia: No criticism. This church is loved eternally from above. Its door will never close. Hence the sunburst coming out, the eternal stars above to indicate they will be taken before the wrath, and the font in script like a love letter. This church is beloved in heaven.

Laodicea: Indifferent. Jesus hates that worst of all. He excoriates it with a lengthy invective no other church received in their message. He will vomit this church from His mouth. Hence the bilious green splat from heaven.

(I never said I was THAT imaginative.)

Posted in church, distinguishing of spirits, jesus, spiritual gifts

What is the gift of distinguishing of spirits?

More on spiritual gifts: I asked the question in prior blog entries on whether the spiritual gifts that were given as a sign are ceased now. (tongues, interpretation of tongues, miracles, healing). I came to the conclusion that scripture seems to say they are concluded.

There are many other permanent, edifying spiritual gifts that remain to this day.  The spiritual gifts are endowments given by the Holy Spirit.  As Theology professor Wayne Grudem says, “these are the supernatural graces which individual Christians need to fulfill the mission of the church.” I won’t take time to do a series on all of them, better scholars than me have weighed in on explaining them. However today I do want to look at one particular gift, though: distinguishing of spirits.

Here is the verse from 1 Corinthians 12:10 in several different translations:

“to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (ESV)

“To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:” (KJV)

“He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.” (NLT)

The word for distinguishing in Greek is diakrisis, and it means an act of judgment. Not the kind of judgment in court, but “properly, a thorough judgment, i.e. a discernment (conclusion) which distinguishes “look-alikes,” i.e. things that appear to be the same” goes the definition from Strong’s. (source)

Pastor Charles Spurgeon once said that “discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.”

In the bible one example of the gift of distinguishing of spirits was when Peter was able to tell instantly when both Ananias and Sapphira were lying to him and thus to the Holy Spirit.

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. (Acts 5:1-5)

How did Peter know? Ananias had made a claim, and there doesn’t seem to have been enough time to pass for Peter to have heard any different from other sources…except from the Holy Spirit. And the exact same thing happened when Ananias’s wife Sapphira came in three hours later and laid some money down. She also claimed it was the full amount. Peter pronounced her death and immediately she fell down and breathed her last. (Acts 5:7-10).

Paul had the same thing happen, and the gift of discerning of spirits manifested itself in a way that showed him though the girl was saying something truthful, was at root an evil from a demon.

“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. (Acts 16:16-18)

The Holy Spirit had given Paul and Peter the ability to discern if what the person was saying was a lie or the truth, or was a half-truth, or was truth but was from an evil spirit.

We all have a certain amount of discernment. We should practice it, pray for it, and be diligent about it. As we grow in our faith, we employ the discernment knowledge we have gained as we strive with the Spirit. But there are other people who have been given a gift of discerning the spirits. These people seem to be able to tell earlier that something is false. They are ahead of the curve so to speak.

The men at GotQuestions tell us:

“There are certain individuals, however, who have the God-given ability to distinguish between the truth of the Scriptures and erroneous and deceptive doctrines propagated by demons. Although we are all exhorted to be spiritually discerning (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1), some in the body of Christ have been given the unique ability to “spot” the forgeries in doctrine that have plagued the church since the first century. But this does not involve a mystical, extra-biblical revelation or a voice from God. Rather, the spiritually discerning among us are so familiar with the Word of God that they instantly recognize what is contrary to it. They do not receive special messages from God; they use the Word of God to “test the spirits” to see which line up with God and which are in opposition to Him. The spiritually discerning are those who “rightly divide” (2 Timothy 2:15) the Word of God in a thoughtful and diligent manner.”

John MacArthur on 1 Cor 12:10, on how the discerning spirits verse manifests itself today says,

“This kind of gifted Christian can intuitively identify truth from error, hypocrisy from genuineness, and false prophets are everywhere today and I believe there are some people who are gifted by God to unmask false prophets. I think some of them write books. I think some of the people who have done good work in the cults and in the occult may be exercising the gift of discernment, the capacity to see through something to the core of its hypocrisy.”

The gift of discernment of spirits is a gift the Spirit has given to me. So, how does a person with this gift use it? How is the church edified by proper use of a gift of discerning the spirits?

MacArthur again:

“The gift can be exercised in many ways. Let me just share what possibly could be the use of it today. It could be used to reveal demonism in any form, any form. It could be used to reveal false prophets and spiritual phony’s. This person can spot a spiritual phony without missing, usually. Sometimes someone say to me, “You better not put that person in such a such position. You’d better not have that person come to your church and do, because something’s not right, protecting the church. I think the gift can even be used to see the intrusion of carnal elements into worship. The gift can discern one in whom the Holy Spirit is genuinely working. The same person will often say to me, “You know there’s a person really energized by the Spirit of God. I can see it.” They are the watchmen of the church.

Tim Challies wrote a book on discernment. He said,This is not merely a gift, but a responsibility.”

You shouldn’t accumulate knowledge just for the sake of knowledge. Once you know something is true or false, you have a responsibility to do something about it. You have a responsibility to praise the Savior if you find a true teaching, but if you find a false teaching you have to say something about it, as well.

I tell my fellows at church that I am a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide gas is poisonous and odorless. It kills, but people only detect its presence when they start to feel sleepy and even then it may be too late. False doctrine is like that, odorless, undetectable except for some symptoms that appear in people who are under its influence. If you detect a false teaching, or an evil spirit at work or a carnality creeping in, or whatever it may be as MacArthur outlined, DO something. What I do is speak to my pastor or the teacher of the class. I make a report. I tell the men, right away. I let them know what I found, how I found it, where I found it, and the methods I used to find it. This is so they can check for themselves. I also offer the scriptural foundation that in my opinion shows the teaching or carnal thing is false so they can compare it to the Word. If they deem it false, my prayer next becomes that they do something about it and therefore it will not be tolerated.

Remember the condemnation of the church at Thyatira. The people were tolerating a false prophetess. Jesus was unhappy about that. (Revelation 2:20). If you discern something is off somewhere, you have a responsibility to speak up about it.

It isn’t an easy ministry. I don’t go looking for falsity. The blogs that have a badge on their top menu bar “member of heresy hunters” or some such…I disagree with that. I don’t spend my time hunting evil. I spend my time hunting good. There is too much evil to keep up with and it always finds me anyway. Instead, I try to stay on the center line of the narrow road of His goodness by listening to sermons, praising Jesus, learning the word, exhorting about Him everywhere I go.

Sometimes in other places or in other churches when I did make a report on this or that, my report was rejected summarily without prayer or consultation to the scriptures. Sometimes I was identified as a bad influence rather than the false doctrine being bad. Shooting the messenger does happen. Poor Jeremiah, thrown into a nearly bottomless cistern… That is why having the gift of discernment of spirits is a responsibility and not an intellectual game and not a personal playground. It comes with consequences, sometimes.

Challies said,

“Satan and his spirits can be discerned in appearance. Satan invades the Christian community with teachers and leaders who counterfeit the truth. These people will always introduce teaching that is foreign to Scripture. … Though her [the slave girl’s] words were true, the spirit behind them was false and sought to lure people with a little bit of truth so that the opportunity could be used to heap reproach upon the gospel.”

And there is the nut of it. Whether you don’t have the specific gift but are maturing in your faith and gaining discernment, or you do have the spiritual gift of distinguishing spirits, not bringing reproach on the Gospel is the goal. Jesus is to be uplifted, always. It is HIS Gospel, it is HIS church, it is HIS doctrine. So even though the responsibility is heavy, the joy is wonderful when the body works together to maintain a level of purity in a local church. It is joy when we see the melding of the separate gifts result in something pleasing to the One who delivered us from the evil that we are now reporting and protecting the fellow sheep from.

In some cases, the sheep never even knew that a creeping poison almost touched them. They are happily ministering and functioning in their spiritual gifts unknowingly protected from yet another foray by satan. Praise the Lord for mature churches where all gifts of the body work together to edify His congregation and exalt Jesus, the ultimate goal of any church!