En Gedi: Finding rest in the wilderness!

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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Ten Indictments for the Modern Church-Paul Washer

Posted by Scott on December 1, 2008

Paul Washer delivers a timely message on the plight of the church today.  I have witnessed as Paul has said here younger men all over the world that are digging deep in the Word of God, studying and reading the old theologians like Spurgeon, Tozer, Ravenhill, Lloyd Jones, Whitefield, Edwards, Owens, Boston, Augustine, Campbell, Flavel, and more.  Young men are being drawn back by God to the core foundations of the faith.  Many young men all over the world proclaiming authentic Christianity are not pulled into the humanistic lie of the Emergent and Seeker friendly philosophies.  They are pulled into a God centered biblical theological doctrine sometimes called Reformed Theology or 5 Point Calvinism…either way, it is the truth of God’s Word.  Watch and listen carefully.  Come back to see it over and over.  Personally, I will watch and listen many times as well.  I need the constant reminder of the direction God is taking us and what His Scriptures are telling us.  Search, dig, and act accordingly.

 

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Martin Luther’s 95 Theses-Happy Reformation Day!

Posted by Scott on October 31, 2008

To honor and remember the beginning of the great Reformation 490 plus years ago please take time to read the 95 These Luther posted to the door to the castle at Wittenburg, Germany.

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther
31 October 1509
 or 1517 (?)

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers
mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

71 . He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”

85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”

86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”

88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”

89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

Published in:  Works of Martin Luther, Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds. (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38.

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Does God Predestine Some to Hell? Great Video by Mark Kielar

Posted by Scott on October 29, 2008

Romans 9:17-18

17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[a] 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Exodus 7:2-5

2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Exodus 9:12

12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.


So, God either actively or passively intervenes in peoples lives.  The same opportunities to accept the gospel are present, but the intervention of God is different.  Remember also, God’s common grace that all men enjoy whether deserved or not.  Without the hand of God restraining this vile evil that exist in man, the world would not be tolerable by any human being or beast.  God is Sovereignly at work in the lives of His people for our greater good and ultimately His greater glory.   Praise the Lord He first loved me and sought me out like the hound on the trail of a rabbit…nothing will deter the will of God.


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Happy Reformation Day! 499th Anniversary of the Great Reformation Beginning!

Posted by Scott on October 28, 2008

This October 31st, 2008 marks the 499th Anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Germany. Through his sacrifice and courage to challenge the church at that time he made known that we can go before God without any human “go between”. Jesus Christ is our “go between” now. Please, enjoy the short article below as we celebrate another year this great reformation has survived.

Martin Luther

Luther Brings Faith and Grace to Everyday Life. Martin Luther’s great evangelism tool was the written word. Though Luther was famous as a preacher and teacher, he believed that everyone needed to build his or her own personal relationship with God through God’s word.

He translated the entire Bible into German (his native language), believing that every single person should be able to read well enough to read the Bible on his or her own. He also wrote the explanations in the Small Catechism, so that parents would have an simple way to teach their children the basics of their faith.

Luther had a complex and interesting life. The definitive biography is Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton (New American Library). John Osborne’s Luther (a play published by Criterion Books) was filmed in a version starring Stacey Keach, which is still available. But the important part of Luther’s life is the legacy he left to us of his overwhelming fascination with the study of God and God’s relationship to us. He based his view of God on a thorough rereading of the New Testament, from which come the key Lutheran beliefs of priesthood of believers (Hebrews 7, 9 , and 10) and justification by faith (Romans 3: 23).

The priesthood of believers includes all of us who are believers, and it means that each of us has the right to approach God directly through prayer and study without go-betweens and without wondering which of us is the most important to God: each of us is equally important to God. And in Christian community, we serve as priests to one another.

Justification by faith means that God loves us and saves us not because of who we are or what we do, but because he created us and we are his. Luther wrote, “In baptism, our sinful selves are drowned, and day by day a new self arises.” He encouraged us to remember our baptism every time we take a shower or wash our faces; God’s removal of our sins is that close and that constant. The knowledge of the closeness of God to us in every thing we say and do every day of our lives is Luther’s great gift to Christian life.

During Luther’s lifetime, he was the best-selling writer in Europe. What would our lives be like if Luther’s Small Catechism was at the top of the list of best selling books week-in and week-out?

More resources can be found at SundaySchool Lessons.

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Altar Calls, Invitations are Dangerous!

Posted by Scott on October 3, 2008

The Dangers of the Invitation System!

Reposted on 10-3-2008 by Scott Bailey

by Jim Ehrhard


As a young minister, I once made the “mistake” of closing a Wednesday evening service without extending a public invitation.1 Early the next morning, an irate husband came to my office. For the first time in years, his unsaved wife had come with him to church. “If you had only given an invitation,” he angrily explained, “she would have gone down the aisle.”I explained that if the seed of God’s Word had been planted in her, then she would come to faith. Then she could “go down the aisle” on Sunday and share what God had done. My explanation fell on deaf ears. I had missed the opportune time, and if she never came to Christ, I would have to bear her damnation on my conscience for eternity, he retorted. 

In the ensuing months, God granted me many opportunities to speak personally with this lady about her spiritual condition. Not only was it obvious that she was not under conviction of sin; but she had little real understanding of the gospel. Through our conversations, she came to see her sin and real conviction made her life miserable. One morning she called and said, “I’ve finally come to Jesus. Now I understand what you’ve been talking about.”

This experience, and many similar that followed, led me to reexamine my views of the invitation system that I had always assumed were as much a part of the gospel as the death and resurrection of Jesus. My involvement with a Christian college ministry, attendance at a number of schools of evangelism, and my denominational traditions had led me to see the public invitation as vital to evangelism. Studying the Scriptures and the history of preaching and revivals began to lead me to a different conclusion. But the process of laying aside something that was so “normal” to me was a great emotional struggle. I needed to know that the dangers of such a system outweighed the benefits that everyone claimed.

2 I needed to know that I could still be evangelistic without extending a public altar call. I needed to see a better way.It is my hope that this article will help you in these areas. To do a thorough analysis of the system and its history is far beyond the scope of this undertaking. But perhaps as we examine this issue, we can see the dangers inherent in this system and chart a course for a better way.As we begin, one thing must be made thoroughly clear. I am not advocating that we not invite people to come to Christ. The invitation to come to Christ is one that we are called to make. Should we shrink back from such a call, we would be rightly accused of being “ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Thus we should do everything possible to be more proficient in extending God’s great invitation to come to Christ.

However, God’s invitation that must be extended to all is not synonymous with man’s invitation system. Only since the 1800s has this system been employed to bring men to Christ.3 Since that time, this system has been refined and employed to such an extent that many today equate “coming to faith” with “coming down the aisle.” Such an equation is not only inaccurate; it is dangerous because it deceives many into resting their faith on a “profession” rather than on Christ, who alone is “able to save to the uttermost” (cf. Heb. 7:25).

 

The Dangers

 

Evangelists often seek biblical support for this practice in a number of passages. One evangelist says, “Christ always called people publicly, and this statement is confirmed by texts such as ‘Follow Me,’ or ‘Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.’”4 But to conclude that Jesus gave altar calls on the basis of those passages is to fail to be honest with the text. No doubt Jesus called men to Himself. But do we see any example where He (or the apostles, for that matter) appealed for people to “come forward” as either a testimony to their decision or as an act of accepting Him?

1) The danger of promoting a method not promoted in Scripture

 

Furthermore, what is Jesus calling these to? Is it merely to make a “one time” decision about Him, or to follow Him all their lives? The invitation system gives the impression that the former is Jesus’ intent. And what about “confessing Him before men”? Is Jesus saying that by a single act of confession one becomes a believer? Or is He teaching that one mark of true faith is a life that continually confesses Him? Again, the invitation system leads many to trust their eternal destination to confidence in a “confession,” though they openly live in rebellion to Him throughout their lives.

In summary, many passages show that Jesus and the apostles called men to repentance and faith. But no passage indicates that either used any form of “invitation system” in bringing them to faith or in confirming their faith.5

2) The danger of eliciting an emotional response based upon the personality of the speaker or the persuasion of the appealIn Mark 4, Jesus portrays four types of hearers of God’s Word by using the parable of the soils. In the second soil, Jesus describes those who, “when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness.” But, Jesus cautions, “they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time.” Jesus knew the reality of being heard by crowds who had no desire to truly follow Him.

 

While this psychological element ought to be reason for concern and caution in using the invitation system, proponents actually argue that this element is all the more reason to extend an appeal for a public decision. Billy Graham teaches that the pressure brought upon the human soul is so great that an emotional outlet must be given. He argues:

Many psychologists would say it is psychologically sound. One of the reasons why our films and dramas usually have such a bad effect is that they stir the emotion to such a high pitch and do not offer any practical outlet for action.6

Evangelist George Sweazey agrees: “To stir people religiously without giving them anything they can do about it leaves them far worse off than they were before.”7In reality, most psychologists would agree with Graham’s assessment of the psychological pressure of the appeal, but would conclude that the response to his call is largely the result of this psychological pressure. One psychologist, George Target, gives such an assessment:

 

 

All present are told to pray, instructed to close their eyes and bow the head, and the form of the words is the auto-suggestive one that hundreds of others are already going forward, finding happiness, peace, love, God. … The counselors planted all over the audience make the first few moves, create the sense that the statement is true even when it very often is not. … It might all be true, there might be some nameless peace down there with all the others. The tension screws to the breaking point and beyond. The wonder is that so few actually obey.8In his book, Preaching and Preachers. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones cites an example in which the invitation appeal given by an evangelist was, by program necessity, separated from the message by a half-hour of hymn singing. In explanation of the disappointingly small response to his appeal, the evangelist stated that the effect of his appeal was diminished by the half-hour of hymn singing. Lloyd-Jones observes that the evangelist’s “admitting that half an hour of hymn singing can do away with the effect of a sermon… is a striking illustration of the fact that direct pressure on the will can produce ‘results.’”9

Lewis Sperry Chafer, a well-known evangelist and one of the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary, used the invitation system until he saw the inherent dangers:

 

 

Because of satanic blindness to the gospel of grace (2 Cor. 4:34), unregenerate man cannot comprehend the true basis of salvation, and is therefore ever prone to do the best he knows. This is to attempt to work out his own standing before God by his own efforts. It is this natural tendency to do something of merit that prompts many to respond to the evangelist’s appeal. … A leader with a commanding personality (and every successful evangelist must possess that characteristic in the extreme) may secure the public action of many, when the issue is made one of religious merit through some public act.10 

 

To make matters worse, many go away from the “altar,” told that they are now Christians, knowing that they are not changed one bit. As a result, their unbelief may harden into skepticism toward anything Christian. R. L. Dabney notes:

They feel that a cruel trick has been played upon their inexperience by the ministers and friends of Christianity in thus thrusting them, in the hour of their confusion, into false positions…. How natural to conclude that those [experiences of conversion] of all others are delusions also? They say: “The only difference between myself and these earnest Christians is that they have not yet detected the cheat as I have.”11 The extension of an appeal for public decision may result in a purely psychological response that provides a catharsis for the emotional pressure of the sermon. Such persons falsely assume that their action has made them right with God. In others, it may drive them further into skepticism and doubt about the reality of the conversion of anyone. Such dangers ought to alarm every person sincerely concerned about the salvation of lost souls.

3) The danger of confusing the “coming forward” with salvation 

 

 

There’s nothing about the mechanics of coming forward that saves anybody’s soul. Coming forward is an open acknowledgment and a testimony of an inward experience that you have had with Christ. But this inward experience with Christ, this encounter, is the most important thing.12 

 

But examination of the invitation used by Graham shows just how confusing the system is. Keep in mind that Graham has already noted that the coming forward is a “testimony of an inward experience that you have had with Christ.” When is the person converted? Why are they coming? 

 

I’m going to ask you to come forward. Up there – down there – I want you to come. You come right now – quickly. If you are here with friends or relatives, they will wait for you. Don’t let distance keep you from Christ. It’s a long way, but Christ went all the way to the cross because He loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps and give your life to Him. …13At the “altar,” the confusion continues as he addresses those who have come: “You have come tonight to Jesus Christ, you have come to receive Him into your heart. …” Which is it? Have they already come to Jesus, or are they coming now to receive Him? Graham continues: “He receives you; He died for you; He says, ‘Thy sins are forgiven.’ You accept that. The past is forgiven, God forgets…. He cannot even see your sins.”14 Then he leads them to repeat a prayer known as “the sinner’s prayer.” The question again is obvious: have they been forgiven, or will they be when they pray the prayer?

To make matters worse, many often add so many things to the invitation that one cannot be certain what he is being asked to do. This was especially true in the invitations of Billy Sunday who often exhorted people to “Come on down and take my hand against booze, for Jesus Christ, for your flag.”15

Even Spurgeon warned about the potential for confusing any system16 with salvation:

 

 

Sometimes shut up that enquiry-room. I have my fears about that institution if it be used in permanence, and as an inevitable part of the services…. If you should ever see that a notion is fashioning itself that there is something to be got in the private room which is not to be had at once in the assembly, or that God is more at that penitent form than elsewhere, aim a blow at that notion at once.17 

 

Who can observe the invitation system today and not see that many are in danger of confusing this practice with coming to faith in Christ?4) The danger of counting great numbers who only discredit their profession by their lives 

 

 

I am convinced that the giving of some kind of public invitation to come to Christ is not only theologically correct, but also emotionally sound. Men need this opportunity for expression. The inner decision for Christ is like driving a nail through a board. The open declaration of it is like clinching the nail on the other side, so that it cannot easily be pulled out.18 

 

In other words, the giving of an invitation ought to result in an even higher percentage of “converts” living out their profession. Yet the very opposite seems to be true. 

 

Even the statistics compiled using the invitation system show that only a very small percentage of “professors” show any signs of conversion even a few weeks after the decision. According to Sterling Huston, a survey after a crusade in the Pacific Northwest indicated that only 16 percent of the inquirers became new additions to the churches. While one should be appalled at the low rate of retention, Huston actually considers this a significant fact showing the value of the crusade!19While pastoring in New England, our church participated in two Graham crusades. We received the names of 10 converts from one crusade and six from the other. In our follow up, not one was interested in church, the Bible, or even talking about their “new-found faith in Christ.” Other pastors reported the same results.

Ernest Reisinger notes: “This unbiblical system has produced the greatest record of statistics ever compiled by church or business.”20 But such an observation is not new to our times. A century ago, Dabney observed, “The thing is so well-known that in many regions the public coolly expect about forty-five out of fifty, or even a higher ratio, to apostatize ultimately.”21

Such was not the common experience before the use of the invitation system. Those who were converted were so thoroughly changed that there was no need of a system to encourage decisions or record them before there was fruit. False conversions were the exception rather than the rule in the ministry of Finney’s contemporary, Asahel Nettleton. For example, of the 84 converts in an 1818 revival in Rocky Hill, Conn., all 84 had remained faithful according to their pastor’s report 26 years later! Similarly, only three spurious conversions out of 82 professions were noted in a similar pastor’s report on a revival in Ashford, Conn.22

Toward the end of his life, Charles Finney, after reflecting on the many who claimed conversion but had since fallen away, had mixed thoughts about the genuineness of his work. In fact, his development of a doctrine of perfectionism (”entire sanctification” was the term preferred by Finney) came out of his attempt to answer the question as to why so many of his “converts” lived such godless lives. The use of an invitation system eventually leads to a two-tiered approach to the Christian life to explain the difference between those few who have been changed by their “decision” and the multitudes who have not.23

5) The danger of giving assurance to those who are unconverted 

That is exactly what the invitation system does. It encourages people to make a response that “settles things” and, through subsequent counseling, to never doubt that decision. Anyone who is involved in personal evangelism can share countless examples of persons who, though presently living in gross sin, will nonetheless tell the evangelist that they are fine because they “made a decision for Christ” a certain number of years ago. They have never had any change in their life; they have no interest in church, the Bible, or even God. But they have made their “decision.” Can we not see how dangerous such a system is to the souls of men?

Two centuries ago, evangelist George Whitefield warned about this danger:

 

 

I am glad you know when persons are justified. It is a lesson I have not yet learnt. There are so many stony ground hearers, who receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits. That makes me so cautious now, which I was not thirty years ago, of dubbing converts so soon. I love now to wait a little, and see if people bring forth fruit; for there are so many blossoms which March winds you know blow away, that I cannot believe they are converts till I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul any harm.24 

 

Likewise Spurgeon warned: 

 

Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, Father, I have sinned.”25In The Soul Winner. Spurgeon cautions against using pressure to secure quick decisions:

It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over…. Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church; and were, as I believe, led to make a profession by undue pressure, well-meant but ill-judged.26

For years, we have heard about the values of the invitation system. It is even widely intimated

(often plainly stated) that one who failed to give public invitations could not be concerned for the souls of men. Yet could it be that the very opposite is true: that the very extension of such an appeal might be the means for deluding many into a false state of assurance ultimately resulting in their damnation?

 

 

A Better Way

 

But some will ask, “What other way is there to bring people to Christ?” I would respond: “The way that was used by Jesus and the apostles, the Reformers, the Puritans, and most others until the 1830s.” That way is simply to proclaim the truth, to call men to repent and believe, and to leave the results in the hands of the Spirit who alone can bring people to faith (cf. John 3; 6:44, 65; etc.).To explain a little more fully, let me give you two “musts” for those who would be evangelistic apart from using the invitation system.

 

 

1) We must learn to trust the power of God’s Word to convince, convert, and change lives 

Paul said: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). In I Corinthians 1:18, he contended: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Peter was likewise convinced that the Word of God has power to convert. He reminded believers that they had been “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23).To be evangelistic, we must be convinced of the power that God’s Word has in converting men without the help of our man-made systems. Remember the evangelist whose appeal was separated from his message by a half-hour of hymn singing? It is obvious that he was not convinced of the power of God’s Word apart from the addition of his appeal. We must be, or we will be tempted to add things to the preaching of the Word to secure greater commitments.

Those who ministered before the development of the invitation system saw the awesome power of the Word to work in men’s hearts. David Brainerd testifies to the:

preaching God made use offer the awakening of sinners, and the propagation of this “work of grace among the Indians.” … There was then the greatest appearance of divine power, in awakening numbers of secure souls, promoting convictions begun, and comforting the distressed.” 27

Accounts from the ministry of Nettleton show the deep and penetrating work of the Word of God on hearers:

 

 

 

As he was speaking, a youth sitting near a window cried out like one shot with an arrow. The people were so engrossed in the evangelist’s message that it hardly caused a diversion. Several in one family were aroused at this meeting and went home weeping. The head of the house had gone to bed when they arrived. He listened as their carriage drove up and was startled by a wail of distress coming from without. He leaped from his bed, rushed outside and was met by his daughter-in-law who threw her arms around his neck and exclaimed, “My father, what shall I do? What shall I do?” It was a miserable night for this young woman, but before morning all was well. She received Christ as Saviour and peace came.28 

 

Such occurrences while ministering in the power of God’s Word were not uncommon. In letters to his friend. Philander Parmele, Nettleton described many similar conversions. After a meeting in New Haven, Nettleton wrote: 

 

One young man seized my hand exclaiming “I am a sinner. I am a sinner. What shall I do?” They [people at the meeting] left the house and went home sighing, & sobbing in every direction. I came home & found a number around the door of Mr. Williams’ house, in the most awful distress, Some were standing, some sitting on the ground, & some on the door steps exclaiming “What shall I do?” I shall die. I shall die. “I Can’t live.” This alarmed the neighbors who called to witness the awful scene. With much ado I got them into the house, about eight or ten in number. The fact was, the young man aforementioned, who left the meeting house in such distress, was walking in company with them, when all at once he found relief and exclaimed, “I have found the Saviour.” He was now very joyful. He sat clothed and in his right mind: and they were afraid. My first business now was to warn them against a false hope. Prayed with them and enjoined it particularly on them not to go home together, but to go alone, & be alone, for the business must be settled between God and their souls. Maria (a young woman living in this family) was one of the number. She retired to her chamber, sighing and sobbing, and crying for mercy, and exclaiming ‘I shall die, I shall die.” She came down and went out doors, and returned in the same awful distress to her chamber. And suddenly all was still and hushed to silence. I sat still below and said nothing. I soon heard the sound of her footsteps descending the chamber stairs. She opened the door and with a joyful countenance exclaimed O, Sir, I have found the Saviour. I continued to warn her of the danger of a false hope. She exclaimed “I love Christ. I do love him. O how sweet.” In the morning, early, she called to see one of her anxious mates, who was so distressed the night before; and Lo: Barsheba exclaimed “I have found the Saviour.” That was a happy meeting. The young man aforementioned resided in the same family (this was John Towner’s house). On Saturday evening about midnight another, equally distressed, found relief. Within a few days 8 or 10 are rejoicing in hope. What will be the end. I know not. Do pray for us, and your friend, A. Nettleton.” 29 

 

Such was often the nature of conversion in the days before the invitation system when the Word was boldly preached and left to do its work in souls. Many modern examples of conversions could also be given, such as that of C. S. Lewis, who, after being confronted with the truth, struggled with it until one day he was strangely converted riding in his sidecar.

The real question is: How powerful is the Word of God? Can it change men from sinners into saints without an extension of an altar call? Will it convict and convert (as God promises),or will we need to add something that helps men “settle it”? You will never be able to do without the invitation system until you are thoroughly convinced of the power of God’s Word.

2) We must urgently appeal to all men to come to Christ nowAfter reading this far, one may be tempted to avoid giving any appeal for people to come to Christ. Please do not misunderstand: we are under divine command to call “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Erroll Hulse reminds us: “The preacher is free to exhort and command, to plead and implore, to reason and invite. He is an ambassador who speaks on behalf of the great King and whose purpose is to bring about reconciliation.”30

 

Allow me to note a few particulars about this responsibility.

First, our invitation must be universal. It matters not (for the purposes of this article) whether you view the atonement as limited or unlimited or whether you accept the doctrine of election or not: the scope of our appeal must be universal. Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest evangelistic preachers, was a thorough-going Calvinist. Yet he understood that our appeal must be universal.In one of his sermons, Spurgeon reminded his congregation about the doctrine of God’s electing some from the foundation of the world. But he noted that our task is to “preach the gospel to every creature,” not to find the elect. Spurgeon said that if God had painted a yellow stripe down the back of each of the elect, he would run up and down the streets of London, lifting up shirttails, and preaching the gospel to the elect. But, Spurgeon reminds us, God has not done so. Instead He has commanded us to “preach the gospel to every creature.” We must urgently appeal to everyone to come to Christ.

 

Second, our invitation must be urgent. When preaching or counseling about salvation, we must never give men the idea that repenting is something they can put off. Some who have dropped the invitation system because of its dangers have also dropped the urgent call to believe. We must say to men, “You must repent and believe the gospel.” Should they say, “But I cannot,” we must say, “But you must. God has commanded all men everywhere to repent. Your failure to do so only shows the wicked state of your heart. If you saw your sin as God sees it, you would flee to Him as the only salvation for your soul.”John Kennedy, a nineteenth-century British minister, provides some additional instruction concerning counseling inquirers. Notice that he puts the focus of counseling inquirers on the object of their faith:

 

Faith [by those using the invitation system] is represented as something to be done, in order to [gain] salvation; and pains are taken to show that it is an easy thing. Better far than this would it be to see it, that those with whom they deal are truly convinced of sin, and to labour to set forth Christ before them, in his glorious completeness as a Saviour. To explain faith to them, that they may do it, is to set them still to work, though setting an easier task before them. I know well the tendency there is, at a certain stage of anxious inquiry, to ask, “What is faith, that I may do it?” It is a legalist’s work to satisfy that craving; but this is what is done in the “inquiry-room.” “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” was the question asked by one who approached the dawning of a day of salvation. Explanations of what faith is are but trifling with souls. How different is the Scripture way! The great aim there is to “set forth” the object, not to explain the act, of faith. Let there be conviction, illumination and renewal, and faith becomes the instinctive response of the quickened soul to the presentation by God of His Christ; and, without these, no explanation of faith can be helpful to any one. The labour to explain it is too often the legal spirit. It were wiser to take pains in removing ignorance and error regarding God, and sin, and Christ. Help them know these, if you would not build them up with “untempered mortar” in a false peace. If you would be wise, as well as kind, work in that direction, rather than hurrying them to belief.31

We must be patient to allow the Holy Spirit to work conviction in the heart. That may happen in a few moments, a few hours, days, or even years. But we must remain imperative in our appeal. Our message and our urgency must not change – people must repent and believe today. 

Finally, our invitation must call them to Christ. The focus of all the evangelistic appeals in Scripture is the same. Jesus said, “Come to Me … and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Our appeal must be to come to Christ, not to follow any prescribed method that might cause some to equate their “coming” as coming to Him. 

Conclusion

 

An examination of the invitation system is not an easy one. It is an emotional one. “To reduce sense of shock that some may feel, I would remind them that for well over 1800 years the Holy Spirit completed successfully all His work of saving sinners without this method. It was only with the advent of Charles Finney (1792-1875) that the ‘appeal’ as an organized method really got under way.”32 Even then, it met with much resistance until near the end of the nineteenth century. Today it is accepted as if it was used by Jesus and Paul. Be warned – many will consider you non-evangelistic if you even question the validity of this system, much less consider no longer using it as a method to bring people to Christ.33But we must be honest about the dangers that we have examined in this article. Is it not clear that the Scriptures “provide an invitation to sinners which is perfect and does not need addition?’”34 Are you concerned about asking people to do something for salvation that was never promoted in the Bible or in early church history?

Do you wish to eliminate possibilities that persons might respond to an emotional appeal or your persuasion rather than to the gospel? Do you wish to reduce the confusion that many have in equating “coming forward” with being saved?

Are you tired of seeing great numbers coming forward only to discredit the name of Christ by professing something that has no reality in their lives? Are you really concerned to see people converted – truly converted – instead of falsely assured? Then please examine this system carefully and honestly.

On the other hand, we must not confuse the invitation system with inviting people to Christ. This we must do with all urgency. “The Great Invitation of the gospel is an awesome and glorious subject. While we are in this world we should never cease making ourselves more proficient and winsome in the employment of invitations.”35

Still, the dangers of this system are serious. The souls of men are at stake. To be biblically evangelistic, we must be certain that what we do leads men to faith, not just to decisions.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 1999
CHRISTIAN
COMMUNICATORS WORLDWIDE
Scripture quotations taken from
The New King James Bible, Copyright © 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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Critique of “The Shack”!

Posted by Scott on September 26, 2008

THE SHACK, “Elousia,” & the Black Madonna

IMAGINATION, IMAGE, AND IDOLATRY

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Herescope

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant “The Shack” wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?”
description of The Shack on www.amazon.com

God is Truth. That He is Truth distinguishes Him from idols which are false. Of the Lord, the prophet declared, “There is none like Thee, O Lord; Thou art great, and great is Thy name in might,” and explained of those who create idols, “But they are altogether stupid and foolish In their discipline of delusion—their idol is wood!” The prophetic commentary which follows then states, “Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, And gold from Uphaz, The work of a craftsman and of the hands of a goldsmith; Violet and purple are their clothing; They are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God . . .” (Jeremiah 10:6-10, NASB).[1] In this vein, A.W. Tozer once wrote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[2]

But idols arise out of human imagination. Humanoids make god however they want him/her/it to be. In the description of the declension into idolatry, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man (Emphasis mine, Romans 1:21-23a, KJV). Imagination creates images — even idolatrous images — and the images can either be material or mental, actual or verbal.[3]

Words can create mental pictures. Someone once said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In an image-oriented age where people watch more and read less, this statement makes its point. But words can also create images. Through the mind’s eye, we see. Someone once defined idolatry as thinking wrong thoughts about God. So the question becomes, with the stroke of his verbal brush and in his bestselling novel The Shack, what picture of God does William P. Young create? I am fearful that the book’s painting of God, even though fictional, might promote the wrong image of Him.

The novel tugs at the emotional strings of its readers, and for just that reason the book has become a bestseller in the fiction category. I am therefore aware that I am about to tread where angels might not dare. This pastor realizes he is about to enter the personal and emotional space of the human heart. People feel very deeply about this book and its author. I ask only, as you read Young’s book with an open heart, that you might also read this theological review of the book with an open mind.

We now proceed to look at the theology of The Shack.[4] We turn to the ideas presented in the book about God. The god of The Shack (In this reference, I refuse to spell God with an upper case “G.”) is an imagined hermaphroditic trinity, consisting of a retreat center owner and hostess who goes by the name of “Elousia,” a carpenter-handyman by the name of “Jesus,” and a gardener who goes by the name of “Sarayu.” In order, we consider the three main characters, and another omniscient and sensual lady who goes by the name of “Sophia,” or Wisdom.

THE FIRST PERSON — At first mention, and according to Mack’s wife Nan’s understanding, the first person of the godhead goes by the name of “Papa” (perhaps alluding to the Apostle Paul’s designation of Him as “Abba,” Romans 8:15). But upon Mack’s arrival at The Shack, “Papa” morphs into a large and loving African-American woman named “Elousia” (i.e., a combination of the Hebrew name for God the Creator, “El,” and the Greek word “ousia” suggesting a Platonic meaning of “being” or “existence”).[5] Among other characteristics, “Elousia” describes herself as, “the Creator God who is truly real and the ground of all being.”(The Shack, 111).

This name for God appears to be borrowed from the writings of theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965), who referred to God as “the Ground of Being.” By so designating deity, Tillich meant that, “God is not a being alongside others or above other but God is Being-itself or the Ground of Being.”[6] Likewise, to Tillich, “God is not a being, not even the highest of all beings; he is being itself, or the ground of being, the internal power or force that causes everything to exist.”[7] This conception of God compliments the conception of deity amongst devotees to the New Age/New Spirituality.

Even though Tillich’s assertions about deity were esoteric and complex, Young presents a Tillich-like scheme of deity who describes herself as “the ground of all being” that dwells “in, around, and through all things . . .” (The Shack, 112). Such a view of God is acknowledged to be panentheistic (i.e., God dwells “through all things”).[8] This may explain why, toward the end of his life, Tillich no longer prayed. He only meditated. To him there existed no personal or transcendental God to pray to. God was immanent only, his “ground of being.” So like an airplane, which is refused take-off for reason of mechanical failure, the concept of god in The Shack never gets off the “ground.” However, according to The Shack’s picturing of God, there may be a similarity even more startling.

Having finished reading The Shack, and while surfing the Internet, I was quite smitten when inadvertently, I ran across an internet article by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times or How the Black Madonna is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century. Fox’s description of the Black Madonna (or the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis as she is alternately understood) included her supposed leading of distressed people to find emotional healing within themselves. This description seemed to possess, at first glance, an eerie parallel to the black goddess character (“Elousia”) created by William Young. The comparison upon further reading, study and thought, revealed that their similarity was more than just color. In both writings, two similar personages emerge. I proceed to note a few of the analogies between Fox’s Black Madonna and Young’s “Elousia.”

First, Fox states that, “The Black Madonna invites us into the dark and therefore into our depths. This is what the mystics call the ‘inside’ of things, the essence of things. This is where Divinity lies. It is where the true self lies. It is where illusions are broken apart and the truth lies.”[9]

In The Shack, we note the word “darkness” occurs frequently. It is as if darkness is archetypal to Mack’s Great Sadness. This is especially noticeable in his appearance before “Sophia.” In the chapter “Here Come Da Judge,” darkness is the dominant aura surrounding Mack’s experience. As he entered the cave, “with his hands outstretched in front of him, he ventured a couple of steps into the inky darkness and stopped.” (The Shack, 151). To create Mack’s experience, Young heaps up references to amplify “darkness”—“deep shadows . . . inky blackness . . . dim light . . . darkened room.” Similarly, in Fox’s words, the Black Madonna “invites us to enter into our grief and name it and be there to learn what suffering has to teach us.”[10] By entering the darkness, Mack dealt with his sadness. In contrast, 1 John 1:5 informs us that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (KJV).

Second, Fox also notes, “The Black Madonna calls us to Grieve. The Black Madonna is the sorrowful mother, the mother who weeps tears for the suffering in the universe, the suffering in the world, the brokenness of our very vulnerable hearts.”[11] Fox goes on to say, “To grieve is to enter what John of the Cross in the sixteenth century called the ‘dark night of the soul.’ We are instructed not to run from this dark night but to stay there to learn what darkness has to teach us.”[12]

In The Shack, at the climactic moment when “Papa” (AKA “Elousia,” the black goddess) enfolded Mack into his/her arms and gently invited him to “Let it all out,” the story records that in a moment of emotional catharsis Mack “closed his eyes as the tears poured out . . . He wept until he had cried out all the darkness, all the longing and all the loss, until there was nothing left.” (The Shack, 226).

Third, Fox explains that “The Black Madonna calls us down to honor our lower charkas [sic] . . . The Black Madonna takes us down, down to the first charkas [sic] including our relationship to the whole (first chakra, as I have explained elsewhere is about picking up the vibrations for sounds from the whole cosmos), our sexuality (second chakra) and our anger and moral outrage (third chakra). European culture in the modern era especially has tried to flee from all these elements . . . in religion . . .The Black Madonna will not tolerate such flights from the earth, flights from the depths.”[13]

To those unacquainted with eastern religion, Fox’s words appear as mumbo-jumbo. But according to Yoga teaching, chakras are, “vortices that penetrate the body and the body’s aura, through which various energies, including the universal life force, are received, transformed, and distributed.”[14] It is believed that there are seven points of entry for the energy; among others, they include,

  • “The root (muladhara) [which] is located at the base of the spine and is the seat of kundalini . . .
  • The sacral (svadhisthana) [which] lies near the genitals and governs sexuality . . . [and]
  • The crown (sahasrara) [which] whirls just above the top of the head.”[15]

The experience of the entrance of energy into the body, which can happen spontaneously, is called kundalini (Sanskrit for “snake” or “serpent power,” named as such because of the belief that it lies coiled within the body ready to strike at any moment). Kundalini describes the mystical experience when energy enters the body and arouses the “sleeping serpent” (Shouldn’t we compare this to Genesis 3:1?). When that happens, wham . . .! This transient moment of arousal is defined to include, “physical sensations . . . clairaudience, visions, brilliant lights . . . ecstasy, bliss, and transcendence of self.”[16] With this description in mind, let’s look at one incident in The Shack to see if Mack, the novel’s main character, experienced kundalini.

Upon hearing the sensual Sophia ask him, during his journey into the darkness, “Do you understand why you’re here?” the novel records that, “Mack could almost feel her words (clairaudience) rain down on his head first (the 7th chakra) and melt into his spine (the 1st chakra), sending delicious tingles everywhere (the 2nd chakra). He shivered (physical sensations) and decided that he never wanted to speak again (transcendence of self). He only wanted her to talk (bliss) . . .” (The Shack, 153). What do you think? Did Mack experience kundalini? If so, then it came to him at a spontaneous moment in the darkness via the voice of the goddess-like Sophia.

Fourth, Fox states that, “The Black Madonna calls us to our Divinity which is also our Creativity.” He goes on to state that The Black Madonna “expects nothing less from us than creativity. Hers is a call to create, a call to ignite the imagination.”[17] On the next point Fox again states, “The Black Madonna calls us to Diversity. There is no imagination without diversity — imagination is about inviting disparate elements into soul and culture so that new combinations can make love together and new beings can be birthed.”[18] His Black Madonna calls us to a magical consciousness that has nothing to do with Scripture.

Likewise, when the goddess-like Sophia calls upon Mack to role play as The Judge, to sit in judgment over all other persons including God, she notes his pensiveness about assuming such an awesome responsibility. Sophia says to Mack: “‘Your imagination,’ she interrupted his train of thought, ‘is not serving you well at this moment’.” (The Shack, 160). In the Front Matter of the book, Greg Albrecht informs the potential reader, “You will be captivated by the creativity and imagination of The Shack, and before you know it, you’ll be experiencing God as never before.” Young’s novel itself serves to ignite the imagination, something Fox writes that the returning Black Madonna is also doing.

Other parallels between Fox’s Black Madonna and The Shack’s Elousia — their gender diversity, nurturing of hurting hearts, emphasis upon developing personal relationships, concern for the environment, and so on — form archetypal metaphors around which the mystery of life and suffering can be probed and explained, and upon which transcendent values can be formulated and applied for the social welfare and unity of the world’s diverse and divided population. These ecumenical metaphors are increasingly making their way into the evangelical church, especially via the Emergent Church.

The feminization of deity extends back to time immemorial. The Egyptian goddess Isis, in which Matthew Fox finds his precedence for the return of the Black Madonna, was likely the source for all the female deities of ancient Middle Eastern religion, including the idolatrous “queen of heaven” worshiped by the women and men of ancient Israel (Jeremiah 7:18-20; 44:15-19). The Black Madonna and “Elousia” find themselves in company with an idol goddess that Yahweh could not, and did not, tolerate before His face (Exodus 20:3-4). We now consider the second person of Young’s trinity.

THE SECOND PERSONThe Shack describes Jesus to be a quite human person, a relatively unattractive Middle Eastern Jewish man with a “big nose” who functioned as the retreat center’s repairman. (The Shack, 111). As regards Young’s portrayal of Jesus’ humanity, there is little disagreement. The author’s portrayal of Jesus in a literary symbolic sense seems reasonable and within the bounds of Scripture (See Matthew 1:1-17; Romans 1:3; Isaiah 53:2; Mark 6:3).

Nevertheless, the author leaves the door open for the idea that Jesus originated from “Papa-mama.” In explaining the derivation of woman from man, The Shack‘s Jesus tells Mack: “We created a circle of relationship, like our own, but for humans. She out of him, and now all males, including me, birthed through her (Eve), and ALL originating from God” (capital emphasis mine, The Shack, 148). Seemingly, this dialog makes Jesus’ birth to be as profane as the rest of humanity, thus calling into question His being the “only begotten of the Father” (meaning unique, or only one of His kind, John 1:14). Theologically, doubt is also aspersed upon Jesus Christ’s eternal generation.[19] After this assertion, the novel pictures Jesus’ desire to join all humans in “their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (The Shack, 182)[20] In this regard, never once in the novel is Jesus (His human name) ever referred to as “Christ” (His self-chosen messianic and divine name, Matthew 16:16).

Young presents his readers with a very human Jesus who comes up short of being Christ. We turn now to the third member of The Shack’s trinity.

THE THIRD PERSONSarayu, the retreat center’s gardener — perhaps referring to Spirit’s production of fruit for Christian living (Galatians 5:22-23) — is the character meant to represent the Holy Spirit. Just after his introduction to her, Mack asks The Shack‘s Jesus, “Speaking of Sarayu, is she the Holy Spirit?” Jesus answers, “Yes, She is Creativity; she is Action; she is Breathing of Life; she is much more. She is my Spirit.” Mack responds, “And her name Sarayu?” Jesus explains, “That is a simple name from one of our human languages. It means ‘Wind,’ a common wind actually. She loves that name.”(The Shack, 110)

Sarayu is likely a Sanskrit word (the language that is the most important religious and literary language of India). It might also be construed to compare to the blowing of the wind in the necessary new birth spoken of by Jesus (John 3:8). But by naming the Spirit Sarayu, there seems to be allusion to the Rig Veda, the Hindu scriptures, for Sarayu bears semantic and phonetic resemblance to Vayu.[21] In so naming the Spirit with the Indic word for “wind,” is the author making overture to eastern religion?

Nevertheless, the novel’s impersonation of the Holy Spirit as female contradicts Jesus’ clear statement that the Spirit is neither an “it” nor a “she,” but “He” (John 16:13).

Is there a fourth member of Young’s polymorphous trinity? Maybe . . . we are left to our imagination.

WISDOMSophia, though separate from the trinity, but secluded not far away from the resplendent retreat center, is a divine-like lady-judge, who is wise in all the ways in which “Papa” conducts his/her affairs (See Proverbs 8:1-36; 1 Corinthians 1:24.). In her verbal exchanges with Mack, she clearly possesses clairvoyant, if not omniscient, perception. (The Shack, 156, 160)

IN CONCLUSION, The Shack, under the cover of biblical allusion, presents a god which may be likened to a deity of eastern mythology and mysticism. The reader ought to beware lest biblical allusion be used to peddle theological illusion. But you ask, “How can that happen?” How can scriptural allusion promote spiritual delusion? I would point out that Satan used biblical allusion to tempt Jesus. In the second phase of the temptation of Christ, Satan alluded to Psalm 91:11-12, to which Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (See Matthew 4:5-6, KJV.). Presenting a potpourri of spirituality combining biblical allusion with mystical illusion and mythological delusion, The Shack will surely resonate with an Emergent Christian mindset that attempts to flirt with the New Age/New Spirituality of postmodernism. The fact that the novel is fiction makes no difference — it communicates wrong ideas about God. As A.W. Tozer wrote,

Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.

“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards decline along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

“Before the Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is, and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.” [22]

THE TRUTH:

“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)

ENDNOTES
1. The Apostle Paul also remarked of the reputation of the church at Thessalonica how they, “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (I Thessalonians 1:9). Scripture also records that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also Truth (John 14:6; 1 John 5:7, 20). In this vein, one must note John’s closing word: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
2. A.W. Tozer,
The Knowledge of the Holy, The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1961) 12
.
3. The word “imagination” (Greek, dialogismos) literally means, “the thinking of a man deliberating with himself” (Romans 1:21, KJV). On this point, it is appropriate to note that
William P. Young accounts for the origin of his novel for reason of personal and private conversations he had with God on his daily work-commute from Gresham to Portland, Oregon. World magazine reports that, “Young used 80 minutes each day . . . to fill yellow legal pads with imagined conversations with God focused on suffering, pain, and evil.” (See Susan Olasky, “Commuter-driven bestseller,” World, June 28/July 5, 2008, 49.) Paul, the apostle states that idolatry germinates out of people “deliberating” within themselves. This is gnosis spirituality which is ever in contest with the Logos spirituality of the Bible. The Word finds its origin with God (John 1:1, 14). Gnosis, the basis of the New Age/New Spirituality, finds its origin in the mind of man, or perhaps might even be received from demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
4. In that in the Front Matter The Shack book receives rave theological kudos, it is not unfair to investigate and evaluate the book’s theology, especially the doctrine of God known to systematic theologians as the category of Theology Proper.
5. On this point, I find it interesting that the novel has not yet been accused of racial stereotyping, i.e., that God is pictured as being a “large” or “big black woman” (The Shack, 84, 86), and that Jesus comes from a Jewish nation of people with “big noses” (The Shack, 111).
6. John P. Newport, Paul Tillich (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984) 108. Newport also observes that in the “grounding” of God, Tillich “seems to synthesize the pantheistic element of immanence with the theistic element of transcendence in a way that leans toward pantheism.” (110). Newport’s assessment may be too generous. At the end of his life, Tillich might have been an out and out pantheist. Of Tillich’s book, Courage to Be, Erickson remarks that it “appears to have more in common with Hinduism than it does with historic Christianity.” See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 334.
7. Erickson, Theology, 333.
8. For sake of explanation, pantheism teaches that God is all things while panentheism holds that God dwells in all things. For sake of analogy, a tree is not God (pantheism), but the sap which is the “life force” in the tree is. God is “in” the tree, but the tree is not God. See Erickson, Theology, 333.
9. Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, “The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times or How the Black Madonna Is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century,” Friends of Creation Spirituality, January 2006, Article Number 1 (
http://www.matthewfox.org/sys-tmpl/theblackmadonna/).
10. Ibid. Article Number 8.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid. Article Number 3.
14. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, “Chakra,” Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991) 86.
15. Ibid. 86-87.
16. Guiley, “Kundalini,” Encyclopedia, 319.
17. Fox, “The Black Madonna,” Article Number 6.
18. Ibid. Article Number 7.
19. When it acknowledged Jesus to have been “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead,” it might be construed that the Chalcedonian Creed (AD 451) allows for a concept that God originated Jesus (See
http://www.carm.org/creeds/chalcedonian.htm). However, to imagine the mystery surrounding the Trinity to be analogous to some kind of human begetting (i.e., as in the Mormon doctrine of God) is improper. The relationship of the Father and Son to each other is their personal relationship, and it would be well for us creatures not invade their privacy (i.e., mystery). Their relationship is theirs alone. Though the unity for which Jesus prayed may be compared to that of His with the Father, it is only similar to (“as”), but not the same as their unity (John 17:21).
20. In this regard, one can note the capitalization of “Beloved.” When used in the NASB translation of the Bible, “Beloved” is capitalized as when Paul wrote of the grace God bestowed upon the believer “in the Beloved” (in Christ, Ephesians 1:6, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, 1901 ASV). Thus when the “Jesus ” of The Shack said he desires people to be transformed “into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved” (The Shack, 182), it is as if Jesus envisions that humans can achieve a theotic state of “being” that morphs into divinity. While believers are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), we are not consumed of it (Romans 7:14ff.).
21. “Word Mythology Dictionary: Vayu,” Answers.com (
http://www.answers.com/topic/vayu-2).
22. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy,
9.

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This article used with permission.

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Reformation Preaching by John MacArthur

Posted by Scott on September 9, 2008

A great message by John MacArthur on Reformation Preaching.  This is about a 6 minute message on the conrast between todays preaching and the preaching of the Reformers like Calvin & Luther.

Listen Here:  Reformation Preaching

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The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching

Posted by Scott on September 8, 2008

 

Rev. Charles Terpstra

Table of Contents:

Foreward:
Introduction:
The Need for Such a Reform:
The Reformation as a Return:
The Significance for the Church of Christ today:


FOREWORD
by
Rev. Allen Brummel
Pastor of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church

Christ-centered preaching is the source of hope, comfort, and life for the regenerated believer. Those touched by the love of God desire above all to hear faithful preaching which directs them to their mediator and savior, Jesus Christ. By the 16th century, the Roman Catholic church had removed this source of comfort and encouragement from the saints. Empty relics and complex liturgies replaced the personal, powerful preaching of the Word.

In Martin Luther’s zeal to make Christ central in all things, Christ was brought back into the worship service. Christ was not brought back in through a cold crucifix on a wall, but in the power and warmth of the faithful preaching of the Scriptures. “To place the Bible in a central position had been done by the theologians of earlier centuries. To place Christ in the center of the Bible as totally as Luther did, was previously unheard of.” (Captive to the Word, A. S. Wood, p.171)

Luther’s conviction was that all Scripture had been given for the sake of Christ, in order that He might be made known and glorified. In Christ alone Scripture and worship find its meaning. Christ is the substance of Scripture. If Christ is known, then everything else in the Scriptures becomes plain and able to be understood. Luther saw every passage in the Bible, whether in the Old or New Testament, to point to Christ.

John Calvin shared this conviction with respect to the centrality of Christ in the preaching and life of the saints, demonstrating it by a life committed to preaching. Calvin knew and believed that the most important means that would be able to bring reform to wicked Geneva was the preaching of the Word. By the grace of God, the history of Geneva’s reform is a testimony to the power of God through faithful, Christ-centered preaching.

Rev. Charles Terpstra, the former pastor of our South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, demonstrates in this small booklet the fact that the Reformation of the 16th century was instrumental in returning to the church that which she so desperately needed – the primacy of faithful, biblical preaching!

Christ is God’s grace, mercy, righteousness, truth, wisdom power, comfort, and salvation given us of God without any merit. Christ is the salvation of the church. Christ must not only be proclaimed, but Christ must be heard in and through the preaching The encouragement, salvation, comfort, and holiness of the church are dependent upon it!

During the years prior to the Reformation there was a void of Christ-centered preaching. Tragically, that void is again evident in our day. A Return to the Primacy of Preaching,” a Reformation Day lecture given by Rev. Charles Terpstra in late October of 1994, serves as a timely reminder and pertinent warning to the church of the 21st Century to maintain the primacy of preaching as that aspect of worship which God has ordained for His glory and for the edification of His sheep.

“The majesty of God is…indissolubly connected  
with the public preaching of his truth…If his word is not allowed to have authority,
it is the same as though its despisers
attempted to thrust God from heaven.”
-John Calvin on Jer. 5:13

PREACHING

Through the preaching it pleases God through Christ, the exalted Lord, the chief Prophet of God, Who alone gathers His church to speak to His people unto salvation This is very evident from Roman 10:14,15. In this passage we read, according to the original: ‘How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?’ Through the preaching therefore, you do not hear about Christ, but you hear HIM.
Reformed Dogmatics, by Herman Hoeksema, page 637


INTRODUCTION:

With humble gratitude to God, faithful Reformed Protestants commemorate the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. We say humble, because the Reformation was a mighty work of God’s grace, and because we are the blessed recipients of this glorious tradition. Thus, as often as we remember this event, we must do so with thankfulness to God.

The heritage of the Reformation is rich. Consequently, there are many different aspects to the Reformation which are worthy of consideration. But one of the most important is that it constituted a return to the primacy of preaching. In this, we have the support of many other historians and analyzers of the Reformation. To quote one man who wrote on the Reformed tradition of worship:

Whatever else it was, the

 Reformation was a great preaching revi

val, probably the greatest in the history of the Christian church. Riding a rising tide of preaching in the late Middle Ages, the Reformers expanded the practice still farther, and gave it a significantly new function and character. (James Hastings Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition, p.29).

In this respect, the Reformation was a return to the days of the early church, when preaching was at the center of the service and when God’s people came eagerly to feed upon the Word of God proclaimed from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. This is what makes the Reformation so pertinent to our day. For it is especially this heritage of the pure preaching of the Word which we count so necessary for the church of all ages, and which is so precious to us. Every truly Reformed Christian wants faithful preaching, because he knows that this is the way of salvation God has ordained for his soul (Eph.4; Rom.10).

But we also realize that this heritage is being undermined and lost; it is being replaced today in churches which have their roots in the Reformation. This grieves us, as well as the Lord God. For this reason, this subject is relevant, even urgent, for our consideration.

We turn then, to our subject, dividing it into three parts:

The Reformation: A Return To The Primacy Of Preaching

1. The Need for Such a Return,
2. The Reformation as a Return To Preaching,
and
3. The Significance for the Church of Christ today.


1. THE NEED FOR SUCH A RETURN:

During the Middle Ages (approx. 500 to 1500 AD.) preaching gradually lost its place of primacy in the church, until it was all but lost from her life and work in the years before the Reformation. We should remember that the Middle Ages were in general a time of gradual but steady decline for the church. As she increased in her worldly power and influence, she decreased in her spiritual strength and influence. Sometimes the Middle Ages are referred to as the “Dark Ages.” This was certainly true also with respect to the preaching.

The days before the Reformation were preaching poor times. Many of the established clergy, bishops, and priests, simply did not preach at all. It is said that the lay people could not expect any preaching from the priests in the local parish. Weeks and even months could go by without their hearing any sermon from the pulpit of their local church. Many priests simply forsook their parishes (local churches), checking on them only on occasion. The English Reformer, Hugh Latimer, called such absentee priests “strawberry parsons” since “they came only once a year and stayed for a very short time,” (quoted by G. J. Murray in The Preaching of the English Reformers, pp. 9,10).

Writing already in 1520, Martin Luther explained,

Lo, whither hath the glory of the church departed! The whole earth is filled with priests, bishops, cardinals and clerics, and yet not one of them preaches by virtue of his office, unless he be called to do by another and by a different call besides his sacramental ordination. (“The Babylonian Captivity”, Works, II, Baker, 1982, p.280.).

And if and when the bishops and priests did preach, the quality of the sermons was very poor. There was preserved in the worship service a place for preaching. This was called the “homily,” a brief sermon. But these homilies were for the most part nothing but borrowed sermons from the church fathers. The priests did not do any original work, nor was there any exposition of the Scriptures. The sermons were therefore not edifying but boring treatments of meaningless subjects of the Middle Ages. In addition, these sermons were filled with many absurd stories and fables. Besides, even where the sermons were of good quality and content, they were most often read in Latin, which most of the people could not understand. On the character of these sermons John Calvin wrote:

…What sermons in Europe then exhibited that simplicity with which Paul wishes christian people to be always occupied? Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month? For, as sermons were then usually divided, the first half was devoted to those misty questions of the schools which might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained sweet stories, or not unamusing speculations, by which the hearers might be kept on the alert. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the Word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for these frivolities. (Selected Works of John Calvin, ed. & Trans. by H. Bevridge, vol. l, p.40).

This weakness in preaching also applied to the traveling preachers, the friars. These were special religious orders of men in the Roman Catholic Church. whose beginnings had been sound and good. This class of clergy arose because of a lack of preaching in the church and care for the sick and poor. Founded by Francis of Assisi and Dominic in the 13th century, they were organized into preaching orders, which would travel throughout the countrysides bringing the message of the gospel to the poor peasants. But gradually, these friars too fell victim to the abuses in the church. They gave in to the sermon style of the day, and worse, became nothing more than instruments of the pope.

Hence. also their preaching became corrupt and worthless. Instead of bringing the pure and simple gospel based upon the Scriptures, they resorted to embellished messages in which the stories of the Bible were mixed in with sensational fables and traditions, designed to entertain the peasants. Thus did they spread fact and fiction, truth and error, and therefore, confusion, throughout the countryside. The result was that, though they still traveled preaching, the message they brought was not that of the gospel, but of loyalty to the pope and the need of money for the church coffers.

It is also striking but sad that with the preaching so bad and the people so ignorant, another method of bringing the gospel to the people was being used — drama. Groups of dramatists would travel from town to town putting on mystery plays and passion plays. Sound familiar?! Yes, history is being repeated in our day! Entertainment once more fills the churches! And sadly, this occurs in Protestant churches which have their roots in the preaching revival of the Reformation!

But if there was little or no preaching done by the ordained clergy of the church, who was doing the preaching? Undoubtedly, there were a few faithful bishops, priests, and friars scattered throughout the vast regions of the church world who continued to bring the gospel to the humble city and country folk. But one Reformer was convinced that there was another faithful preacher at work in the church.

Hugh Latimer, in a sermon preached in 1548 denouncing the sin of a lack of sound preaching among the clergy of his day, announced whom he considered to be the “most diligent preacher and teacher in all England.” Said he,

And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his diocese; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied… And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kinds of popery. He is ready as can be… to devise as many ways as can be to deface and obscure God’s glory. Where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the Gospel, and up with the light of candles…. Where the devil is resident that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry; censing, painting of images, candles, palms, ashes, holy water, and new service of men’s inventing; as though man could invent a better way to honor God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with Christ’s cross, up with purgatory pickpurse, up with him, the popish purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor and impotent; up with decking of images and gay garnishing of stocks and stones: up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and his most holy Word. Down with the old honor due to God, and up with the new god’s honor…. Oh that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel. (quoted by G.J.Murray in The Preaching of the English Reformers, pp.70,71).

 

Such was the situation prior to the Reformation. Not only was the true biblical preaching no longer central; it was also virtually nonexistent. How do we account for this?

There are especially two reasons for this decline and dearth of preaching. First, there was the rise of the authority of the pope, and with that, the decline in the authority of the Scriptures. During the Middle Ages gradual stress was laid upon the offices of the church. With this came a multiplication of offices: cardinals, bishops, priests, monks, etc. In particular, the office of the papacy came to dominate, when the bishop of Rome assumed the title of successor of Peter and head of the entire church of Christ. From that point, all it took was a few dominant popes, and the power of the pope was firmly established. And that is what happened in the Middle Ages. Yet these men were not satisfied with being the mere successors of Peter. Assuming to themselves the office of Christ, these popes took the position that they were the direct mediators between God and men; they were the voice of God to the people. Hence, the pronouncements they made, and the decisions they took were the infallible, authoritative word of God.

The result was that the authority of the church and her tradition were exalted above the Scriptures. As far as the church was concerned, the people no longer needed the Bible nor the preaching of it; they only needed to hear and abide by the teachings of the popes. The Bible and the preaching of it were even considered dangerous to the people. Because of these things, the Bible was virtually taken out of the hands of the people. And with that, of course, went the preaching.

A second reason for the loss of the primacy of preaching was the emphasis placed on the mass as the chief means of grace. During the Middle Ages great stress was also placed on the sacraments and with that, on the formal, outward worship of the church. The result was that at the time of the Reformation the worship services of the Roman Catholic Church were filled with countless unbiblical rituals and ceremonies. But at the center was the mass. This was Rome’s sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, only with many abominable additions.

According to the Romish church an amazing thing takes place in the mass. First, the bread and wine are changed into the actual body and blood of Christ. And, second, the priest offers up the ‘body” of Christ in a real, atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. Consequently, the people were led to believe that they were fed with the actual body of Christ in the wafer, and that this was the chief means of grace for them. They were taught that on the basis of the priest’s repeat performance of Christ’s death they had the forgiveness of sins. Their salvation, they were told, was tied to the mass.

It is not difficult to see that with this idea of the sacrament the preaching of Christ crucified had to take a back seat. In the mind of the church at that time, was it not far better to have Christ really crucified again before your eyes than simply to hear about it in the Word preached?

Thus did the mass become the heart of the worship service, because it was seen to be the chief means of grace. And the preaching was relegated to a low, insignificant place in the worship; it was no longer primary. Indeed, it was unnecessary!

For these two fundamental reasons, the priests and other officers of the church did not really need to preach, nor were they trained to do so. The priests did not have to bring the message of the gospel to the people. All they had to do was dispense the grace of God through the means the church established as the vehicles of salvation. The attitude that prevailed was: Why use the preaching of the Word when there are so many other easier ways to bestow divine blessings?

Hence, for the most part the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church went untrained in the art of sermonizing. Seminaries for the training of preachers were unheard of. Instead men were taught how to hear confessions, read the forms of the church, and follow her elaborate rituals and ceremonies. The result was an office of ministry that was woefully ignorant of God’s Word, and consequently incapable of delivering its message to the people. Even if a priest had wanted to preach, he did not know how.

The most serious consequence was that God’s people were being deprived of a true knowledge of God through His Word preached. Souls were starving since they were being fed stones for bread. There was a famine of the Word in the church (Amos 8:11). But God would not have it so for any longer.

2. THE REFORMATION AS A RETURN TO PREACHING:

The Reformers restored the Church to her central task — preaching.

They brought down the papal system and pointed out the errors of mass. They denied the mass the primary place in the worship of the church. They cried down the sad lack of knowledge among the clergy and laity.

But what was to be done? What was to take the place of the mass? How were the people to receive the grace of God? How were they to be built up in the knowledge of the truth?

The unanimous answer was: by the preaching of the Word!

The Reformers came to this conclusion on the basis of the Scriptures themselves. The Reformation was a return to the centrality of preaching because it was a restoration of the Scriptures. As the Bible came once again into the people’s hands in their native language, and as they poured over it, they came under the powerful conviction that the Bible was the sole authority for the faith and life of the church. Therefore, they took it up as their sword to bring reformation to the church. With this sword, they cut down the authority of the pope and exalted the authority of God’s Word, the Bible. With this sword they shredded the Roman Catholic Church doctrine and practice of the mass.

But with this instrument they also established anew the true doctrine and the pure worship of God. In the Scriptures they rediscovered the truths of God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation, justification by faith without works, and Christs Headship over His church. And here they found again that pure, simple, humble way of worship God has commanded – with preaching at the heart as the chief means of grace.

In this way did the Reformers become convinced of the indispensability of the preaching. Having studied the Scriptures themselves, they came to see that the church could do without all the ceremonies and elaborate services. But there was one thing she could not do without, and that was the pure preaching of the Word. As they studied the Scriptures, they noticed that the prophets, Jesus Himself, and the apostles had all been instruments to bring the Word of God.

Consequently, they rediscovered the truth that the proclamation of the Word was God’s method of salvation. This is easily verified from the writings of the Reformers. We are familiar with Martin Luther’s 95 theses, which he nailed to the door of the castle church at Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these theses is #62 which reads: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

A little later in life Luther expanded on this in his “Treatise on Christian Liberty”:

One thing and one only is necessary for Christian life, righteousness and liberty. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the Gospel of Christ.... Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not,, there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word, it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate. 

… On the other hand, there is no more terrible plague with which the wrath of God can smite men than a famine of the hearing of His Word, as He says in Amos, just as there is no greater mercy than when He sends forth His Word, as we read in Psalm 107.

…Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry but that of the Word, and the whole spiritual estate, apostles, bishops and all the priests, has been called and instituted only for the ministry of the Word (Works, vol.II, p.314).

 

Calvin reiterated this when in preaching on Eph.4: 11-14, he said:

Now the fact is that it (i.e., the church, CJT) cannot be built up, that is to say, it cannot be brought to soundness, or continue in a good state, except by means of the preaching of the Word. So then, if we earnestly desire that God should be honoured and served, and that our Lord should have his royal seat among us peaceably, to reign in the midst of us, if we are his people and are under his protection, if we covet to be built up in him and to be joined to him, and to be steadfast in him to the end; to be short, if we desire our salvation, we must learn to be humble learners in receiving the doctrine of the gospel and in hearkening to the pastors that are sent to us… (Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth, 1973, p.374).

In fact, it may be said that the Reformation itself was brought about through the power of preaching. How did the Reformation begin? It began with preaching. Men such as Wycliffe, Huss, Savanarola, and others before Luther, brought about reformation by preaching. And how did the Reformation move forward as an unstoppable force? By means of preaching! This was due to the fact that the Reformers believed preaching to be the power of reformation. There was present in the 16th century’ the radical wing of the Reformation, which wanted to use physical force and human power to effect change in the church. But the Reformers despised this, and instead held that only the preaching could effect change, since it was God’s spiritual power.

This was concretely manifested in Wittenburg, when Luther returned there after he had been excommunicated at the Diet of Worms and subsequently hid at the castle at Wartburg. The radical element in Wittenburg was threatening to ruin the true reformation of the church there by resorting to the arm of flesh. But Luther came and preached eight sermons in eight days, pleading with the people not to use force but to rely on the power of the Word. In his second sermon Luther stated clearly that the Romish mass was evil and that he wished it to be abolished. But he went on to say,

Yet Christian love should not employ harshness here, not force the matter. It should be preached and taught with tongue and pen, that to hold mass in such a manner is a sin, but no one should be dragged away from it by force. The matter should be left to God; His Word should do the work alone, without our work. Why? Because it is not in my power to fashion the hearts of men as the potter moulds the clay, and to do with them as I please. I can get no farther than to men’s ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force anyone to have faith. That is God’s work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart. Therefore we should give free course to the Word, and not add our works to it (Works, vol.II, p.397-98).

A little later in the same sermon Luther gave an example of how his preaching had been the power in effecting the Reformation:

I have opposed the indulgences and all the papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and with Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing; the Word did it all. …For it is almighty and takes captive the hearts, and if the hearts are captured the evil work will fall of itself (Works, vol.II, pp.399-400).

Thus it was that the Reformers labors consisted chiefly of the proclamation of the Word. Luther, Calvin, and all the other Reformers were chiefly preachers. It is true that they were also men who wrote and lectured. All of them wrote books, commentaries, catechisms, and letters. And of course, as pastors of established churches, they had their regular duties of the ministry – bringing the word privately, leading meetings, and so on. But all of these labors were founded on and were the fruit of their preaching. The chief thing that has come down to us from them is their sermons.

That is because they saw their primary task to be that of preaching the Word. That becomes plain when one considers their labors in their respective places. Beginning in 1510, Luther preached at Wittenburg; and here he continued until his death in 1546. For 36 years then, Luther expounded the Bible in Wittenburg, first in the little chapel, and then in the great city church. He preached often: at least two times on Sunday, and usually three times a week, in the morning. And his method was to preach systematically through the Bible.

The centrality of preaching is especially evident in the ministry of Calvin at Geneva. When he came here for the first time in 1536, he immediately set himself to the task of preaching. But it was when he came back in 1541, that the labor of preaching the Word became dominant in his life and in the city of Geneva. Not only did Calvin himself labor in Geneva for 23 years chiefly as a preaching pastor, but he also established the preaching of the Word as central to the life of the entire city.

Shortly after he returned in 1541, Calvin worked with the government of the city to adopt an organized policy for the churches of the city. The result was the “Ecclesiastical Ordinances.” In these “Ordinances” the work of the pastors was outlined. In the three congregations preaching was to be conducted twice on Sunday and every day of the week! These sermons were at least an hour in length and usually longer.

Furthermore, both Luther and Calvin trained men to preach and sent them out with the Reformation gospel. Believing that the chief task of office of pastor was preaching, they established schools and seminaries where men might be prepared for this work. Luther did this at the University of Wittenburg, and Calvin did the same with his Academy at Geneva. At these schools young men were trained in the doctrines of the truth and in the knowledge of the Scriptures. And with this knowledge these men went out into all of Europe, Asia, and beyond with the message of the gospel.

Thus did the Reformers restore preaching to the lives of God’s people and to the center of the worship service. For this reason too, God’s people came readily to hear the preaching. In the preaching was the message their souls needed and craved. It was a refreshing oasis in the otherwise barren desert of the church scene. This God used to feed and nourish His people once again. Once more God’s people had the Word, and with that, a true knowledge of God and of His works and ways. This was the great benefit of the Reformation as a return to the primacy of preaching.

In this connection, T. H. L. Parker, a significant and sympathetic biographer of Calvin, makes these comments regarding the preaching which the people heard due to Calvin’s diligence in the pulpit:

Before he smiles at such unusual activity of the pulpit, the reader would do well to ask himself whether he would prefer to listen to second-hand views on a religion of social ethics, or the ill-digested piety, delivered in slipshod English, that he will hear today in most churches of whatever denomination he may enter, or three hundred and forty-two sermons on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah sermons born of an infinite passion of faith and a burning sincerity, sermons luminous with theological sense, lively with wit and imagery, showing depths of compassion and the unquenchable joyousness of hope. Those in Geneva who listened Sunday after Sunday, day after day, and did not shut their ears, but were “instructed, admonished, exhorted, and censured”, received a training in Christianity such as had been given to few congregations in Europe since the days of the fathers (John Calvin: A Biography, Westminster Press, 1975, p.92).

 

This is our Protestant heritage. This is what God has given Reformed churches through the Reformation.

But where do we stand today? Is the conviction of the Reformers still our own? Do we believe that the preaching ought to be primary in the labors and life of the church today? Is this what pastors are giving themselves to in their ministries? Is the preaching of the Word of God what we seek and love to receive each Lord’s Day for the salvation of our souls and those of our children?

3. THE SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE CHURCH OF CHRIST TODAY:

The church today needs once more to return to the primacy of preaching. Sadly, we are again seeing a serious decline in the important place of preaching in the church — only now in evangelical and Reformed churches. Ministers of the gospel are forsaking their God-given duty to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). They are busy with counseling sessions, with church meetings, with social activities, and with their own personal interests. And what is it that suffers? What is neglected? The exposition of the Word of God before the public assembly of the church on the Lord’s Day!

Worship services are packed with new innovations — beautiful singing by trained choirs, liturgical dancing, testimonies, dialogues, dramatic presentations, and many other forms of entertainment. And what gets less and less time and attention? What is shoved to the rear of importance in the worship service? The preaching of the Word!

But why is this? What is the cause or (are) the causes of this near loss of preaching? Is it that many evangelical and Reformed seminaries are no longer training their students to be chiefly preachers of the gospel, but rather counselors and liturgists and administrators? Is it that the churches are full of unfaithful shepherds who are feeding themselves and not the sheep of God? These may be reasons too. But they are all subordinate to a more basic and underlying reason.

That is that Protestant churches have forsaken the sole authority of the Scriptures and have, therefore, lost their confidence in the preaching of this Word. Reformed churches have been influenced by the higher critical views of Scripture that swept this country at the beginning of this century. Men denied that the Bible was the inspired and infallible Word of God through and through. They claimed it was more the word of man than of God. In this way they undercut the Bible’s authority and power. And Reformed and Protestant churches have fallen for this lie. This is “the great evangelical disaster” as Francis A. Schaeffer points out in his book by that very title. Hence, Protestant churches have lost their confidence in preaching this Word. If the Bible is in fact mainly the word of man, why preach it?!

The English preacher D. M. Lloyd-Jones makes precisely this point in commenting on the decline of preaching in the 20th century. He gives as the leading factor accounting for the decline of preaching this: “…The loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures, and a diminution in the belief of the Truth.” And so he continues,

While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of Cod and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching. But once that went, and men began to speculate, and to theorize, the eloquence and the greatness of the spoken word inevitablv declined and began to wane…. As belief in the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined (Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, 1972, p.13).

 

That is where the church is at today.

What is the answer to this? A return to the Scriptures, first of all. And then, on the basis of that Word, a conviction that preaching is God’s method of saving and building up his church. This, too, is what Lloyd -Jones prescribes:

So I would sum up by saying that it is preaching alone that can convey the Truth to people, and bring them to the realization of their need and to the only satisfaction for their need. Ceremonies and ritual, singing and entertainment, and all your interest in political and social affairs cannot do this. .. . What men and women need is to be brought to a ‘knowledge of the truth’; and if this is not done you are simply palliating symptoms, and patching up the problem for the time being. In any case you are not carrying out the great mandate given to the Church and her ministers (ibid, p.40).

This is the way the church will be gathered and her saints remain strong. What is it that God’s people need? What is it that will still effect true reformation in the life of the church in these days of apostasy? It is the preaching of Gods holy Word. This alone will be effective and blessed,

 because it is God’s way. To this primary labor He has called and does call His church yet today. Anything less than this is disobedience to Him.

Let us be warned that a departure from this God-ordained method is sure to spell doom for Reformed and Protestant churches. Let us pray and work for faithful pastors to bring us the faithful Word. By all means let us preserve the pulpit!

In conclusion, let us hear once more from Luther:

Therefore, it must be a grievous sin not to listen to the gospel, and to despise such a treasure and so rich a feast to which we are bidden. But it is a much greater sin not to preach the gospel, and to allow so many people who would gladly hear it to perish, for Christ has so strictly commanded that the gospel and this testament be preached that He does not even wish the mass to be celebrated unless the gospel be preached.

For this reason, it is so dreadful and horrible to be a bishop, pastor, and preacher in our times, for no one knows this testament any longer, not to mention that they ought to preach it; although this is their highest and only duty and obligation. They will certainly have to account for the many souls who perish because of such feeble preaching (quoted in A. S. Wood, Captive to the Word, Paternoster Press, 1969, p.94).


Last modified, 13-Nov-2001

 



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No Matter How Difficult….!

Posted by Scott on July 26, 2008

“Christian, no matter how difficult it is for you to bear it, yet the corruptions of your heart (that are not yet crucified) the pride, the selfishness, the impatience, the unfaithfulness, the love of the world….(all of which remain to some degree in the best of Christians) require all trials, afflictions, sicknesses and problems that God (in His kindness) can throw at us.

Such weeds as those that grow in the heart require a ‘hard frost to rot them’!!  The ‘straying bull needs a heavy clog’!!  In the same way, the Christian whom God will keep within His commands and within His place of blessing and service needs afflictions.”   -John Flavel

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God’s Chief Design….!

Posted by Scott on July 26, 2008

“God’s chief design in killing our comforts is to kill our corruptions!  Sanctified afflictions are afflictions lovingly allowed into the lives of believers by our heavenly Father.  These are prescribed by the Great Physician of our souls for purifying our sinful nature.  God cares far more about our eternal heavenly well-being than He does our temporary earthly one.  For God knows:

o Poverty kills pride!

o Public reproach kills public ambitions!

o Needs kill greeds!

So, yield to the work God is trying to do in your current affliction.  God kills our comforts from no other design than to bless us.  Fall in, therefore, with the gracious design of God.  DOn’t fight it!  Instead, during every affliction, pray and ask God to follow it with His blessing. 

Happy is the man who understand, approves, and heartily concurs with the design of God in afflicting circumstances.”                                                -John Flavel

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