Iain Murray and the Evangelical Discontentment

Iain Murray writes:  “An invariable characteristic of true preaching has been the assurance that the proclamation of the gospel is the divinely ordained means for the conviction and conversion of sinners.  ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’ (1 Corinthians 1:21), and in accordance with this persuasion evangelicals have never been content to preach the Word without seeing any change wrought in their hearers” (The Invitation System, pg 1).

As I read this earlier this morning, I was struck by the stark nature and realization that the evangelical church today is absolutely focused and dedicated to seeing results.  Many pastors of today’s mega-churches seem to insinuate that if your church is not growing and experiencing phenomenal “spontaneous” baptisms, well, then you are part of a dead, failing church.   But, what is worse is that pastors who are faithful to the Word of God, faithful to their congregation, faithful in their walk before the Lord, find themselves dealing with all the negativity and thoughts of failure that are projected on them by the evangelical, results oriented, culture we live in.

I find it fascinating that the writer of Hebrews, in the 11th chapter talks about Noah.  If the Bible were being written today (and in many ways it is being rewritten, and not for the better), Noah would not get any mention at all.  Yet the writer of Hebrews states that Noah “condemned the world” by his faithful obedience to his reverent fear of what God had revealed to him.  Peter even calls Noah a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5).  Yet, only 6 people besides Noah entered the ark before “the Lord shut [them] in” (Gen 7:16).  By today’s pragmatic standards, Noah would be a colossal failure since he only “reached” 6 people in 120 years.

I write this as an encouragement to all of you pastors out there who don’t preach to 15000 people every Sunday, don’t have a staff of 50, don’t deal with a budget of millions; but constantly struggle with the bills every month, wonder if 20 people will show up to hear your sermon, and haven’t seen a baptism in a year.  Stay faithful!  The work is the Lords.  He is the one that is faithful to bring about His will, for His glory.  As I read His Word, I seem to find that God doesn’t “need” our help, matter of fact, if God needs anything, then He isn’t God at all.  The amazing thing is that He uses us as a means of bringing His good and perfect will to pass.

Young, Dumb & Ignorant

Once upon a time, I was extremely young, dumb and ignorant.  Oh, wait a minute, that would describe exactly how I am right now.  When one stops to consider the timelessness of God along with the wisdom and knowledge that He possesses, we don’t even compare.  The reason I bring this up is that I have been pondering several things that I have read lately along with a conversation I had with a local pastor about 5 years ago.

pragmatism2The first article I want to touch can be found here and deals with how the modern evangelical church has allowed worldliness to creep in and shape and define the modern church.  The second article is one by James Boice entitled The New Pragmatism which talks about how, over the course of 30 years, the worlds ways and means have crept into the church and are influencing it, and not for the better I might add. The conversation I had was with the senior Pastor of the church I attended.  I had asked for an opportunity to sit down and talk with him because I was beginning to see some major discrepancies between what I was reading in my Bible and what I was hearing preached.  The conversation was very cordial until I started talking about how black and white the Scriptures were beginning to appear to me.  We were talking about theology and individual Christian growth and I made the following statement to him, “It would appear to me, after spending the last few months digging into the Word of God like I never have before, that the Word, when preached only has two outcomes.  It will either cause a softening or a hardening of the heart.  If that is the case, it would then appear to me that the Word needs to be preached in it’s fullness and God will cause the church to grow (by which I meant growth in a spiritual sense).”

The room was silent for about 5 seconds, and then I literally feared for my well being.  The Pastor, who happened to be sitting behind his desk, jumped to his feet, his face became extremely red and contorted, and he said in a fairly loud voice, “I know exactly what I am doing here, I know how to grow this church, I don’t need you to tell me how to preach or what to preach.  I will preach what I want to reach the people and this church will grow.”

I admit that I almost burst into tears when this happened, but not for the reason you might expect.  The overwhelming sadness that flooded my soul was due to the fact that God was not even in this pastors mind at this time.  This outburst triggered memories of months of announcements of programs that came and went in this church to cause it to grow.  One month an announcement would be made that new classes/programs were going to be instituted to help people grow deeper in Christ (which I am all for), and then 2 months later you would find that that class/program was no longer offered, only to have another announcement telling of a different approach.  I was too ignorant to realize that this was worldly pragmatism at it’s finest, and it was in the church.

Today, 5 years later, I am even more firmly convinced that The Word of God, rightly preached, is what this world needs.  It will not be received by all.  Matter of fact, it will offend the_wisdom_of_godmany because of the depraved sinfulness of the stony human heart.  But, those “he chose in him before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4), will hear the Word of God; it will destroy the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Eze 36:26), and salvation will come, renewing lives.  So, if you call on the name of Christ, put aside pragmatic worldliness and put on Christ.  It is foolishness to this world, but it is the wisdom of God.

What is Worldliness?

An edited extract from Mr Murray’s new book Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth).  The original post can be found here.

Iain_MurrayWorldliness is departing from God. It is a man-centred way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man’s fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be a ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.

Worldliness is the mind-set of the unregenerate. It adopts idols and is at war with God. Because ‘the flesh’ still dwells in the Christian he is far from immune from being influenced by this dynamic.

It is of believers that it is said, ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to another’ (Galatians 5:17). It is professing Christians who are asked, ‘Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ (James 4:4) and are commanded, ‘Do not love the world’, and ‘keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 2:15, 5:21).

Apostasy generally arises in the church just because this danger ceases to be observed. The consequence is that spiritual warfare gives way to spiritual pacifism, and, in the same spirit, the church devises ways to present the gospel which will neutralise any offence.

The antithesis between regenerate and unregenerate is passed over and it is supposed that the interests and ambitions of the unconverted can somehow be harnessed to win their approval for Christ. Then when this approach achieves ‘results’ – as it will – no more justification is thought to be needed. The rule of Scripture has given place to pragmatism.

Converted to the World

The apostolic statement, ‘For if I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10), has lost its meaning. No Christian deliberately gives way to the spirit of the world but we all may do so unwittingly and unconsciously.

That this has happened on a large scale in the later-twentieth century is to be seen in the way in which the interests and priorities of contemporary culture have come to be mirrored in the churches.

The antipathy to authority and to discipline; the cry for entertainment by the visual image rather than by the words of Scripture; the appeal of the spectacular; the rise of feminism; the readiness to identify power with numbers; the unwillingness to make ‘beliefs’ a matter Continue reading

The Blind Leading the Blind

The following is a section out of the book Deep and Wide:  Creating Churches Unchurched People Love To Attend by Andy Stanley.  You are welcome to agree, or disagree with my assessment of this statement made by Mr. Stanley, but before you do, check out the links included below to others who share similar opinions.  So, on that note, lets dive in to Deep and Wide.  Mr Stanley writes:

People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no here’s the difference it will make tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.

Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren’t more like you in that regard. But that’s the way it is. It’s pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of difference in this world. And your kids…more than likely your kids, are going to confuse your church with the church and once they are out of your house, they probably won’t visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won’t be sure the first one took. And I’ll be happy to pastor your kids. But I would rather you face the reality of the world we live in and adjust your sails. Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. If people are more interested in being happy, then play to that. Jesus did (Copied from my Kindle, sections 1216-1234).

BAL31875I listened to this quote a while back while on my way to work and it was all I could do to not drive my car off the side of the road in total frustrative disbelief that a supposed minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ could even say something like this, much less print it in a book that will sell many copies and be around for years.  This is an incredible display of arrogant pragmatism that is a slap in the face of any method that Christ, the Apostles, or the Church down through history have used to preach the Gospel.  If I turn to scripture, I find no indication at all that Christ conformed to the culture of his day and used that to his advantage to spread the Gospel.  If anything, he decried the culture of his day.

So, how do you reconcile the above statement with Jesus’ own words? Christ said in Matthew 10:34-39,  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”  Jesus Himself was very emphatic in stating that he came to cause offense in families, which, from what I have observed, is anything but a happy situation.

Culture is very man-centric.  100 years ago, there was no such movement for same sex marriage rights like we see today.  I submit that in just a few years, polygamy, polyandry, and polyamory will be on the front burner and become even more divisive to our current culture.  All of these forms of relationships mentioned above are due to our cultures inability to find ‘happiness’ in life, so it just leads to more and more debauchery.  So, to take this to an extreme, what would a church that practices what Mr. Stanley says above do if someone came into their congregation and said something to the effect that they enjoyed killing someone or having sex with children because it made them happy?  From the quote I shared above there would be nothing you could say to that person to convince them they were wrong because that would take away their happiness, and we should ‘play to that because Jesus did.’

I have absolutely no doubts that Mr. Stanley is a well educated man, probably much smarter than me, but I don’t think he has thought this proposition through to its logical end.  A statement like he makes above is pretty much a license for ‘anything goes’ as long as it makes me happy and if I am one of the people he is trying to reach, then I should come to expect whatever makes me happy from what I experience at his church.  If it doesn’t make me happy, then Mr. Stanley needs to be informed so that he can make the necessary changes to accommodate me, because my happiness is the ultimate goal, right?  Of course, I’m stymied as to how that would work in a church of 20,000 plus people who all want to be happy.  From what I have seen, there is no generic ‘happiness’ that reaches everyone in the same way.

So, Mr. Stanley, you just keep on preaching to the goats you lead because they have itching ears and only hear what they want to hear.  You, sir, do not want absolute truth because that would cause a full on confrontation with the God of truth who is more concerned with His glory than any happiness that you or I could ever have.  And, by the way, should you ever preach the truth of Gods glory, you would find yourself as one of those small, obscure, non-world impacting preachers you so haughtily poked fun at.  Joshua 24:14-15 says:

Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

That word spoken by Joshua is not a request, that is an emphatic statement to put away the culture that was left behind when the Israelites came out of Egypt.  An entire generation fell in the wilderness because they would not put the culture behind them.  I fear for you, sir, as you and others like you are leading an entire generation into a wilderness that has been charted and explored before.  In your quest for happiness, you will find only misery, heartache, destruction, and when it is over, eternity apart from God because you refused to listen to the voice of God.

Like Joshua said, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Other links of interest:

Happiness Questing from The Mortification of Spin Podcast

Carl Trueman weighs in at Reformation 21

Stand Firm in the Faith has a take on this

A View From Serenity Acres