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Thoughts on Missionary Work, and Christ’s Return

December 16, 2021 Leave a comment

The two things — the only things — to which I can look forward now are the coming of Christ and my going to the Waodani.  O, if Christ would only come–but how can He until the Waodani are told of Him. — Elisabeth Elliot, from her journal

Through the years I’ve picked up on some of the history of the “modern missionary movement” that started in earnest in the 19th century — such as the 19th century activities referenced in Spurgeon’s sermons (he occasionally spoke at special Society meetings for the purpose of missions work), along with things I learned in a visit to Hawaii in the early 2000s, and occasional reading about some of the great missionaries (such as Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson) and a few martyrs in historical accounts.

Another part of the missionary movement, though, is from the mid-20th century.  This last summer, taking advantage of an audio-book library, I read the audio versions of Elisabeth Elliot’s first book, “Through Gates of Splendor,” followed by Steve Saint’s “End of the Spear,” and learned the details of this event, the five martyred missionaries in Ecuador back in the 1950s; and it is an interesting story, along with Steve Saint’s follow-up several decades later.  Now I am reading a third book on this topic (a hard-cover book loaned from a friend at church), Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, part 1 of a biography of Elisabeth Elliot.  This book, by Ellen Vaughn and published in 2020, tells of Betty (Howard) Elliot, from early life, through her years at Wheaton College, then through the missionary years up through 1963 — and fills in a lot of the details of the events that Steve Saint had made mention of, how the American missionary women established contact with the Waodani tribe in the years shortly after the men were killed, and the spreading of the gospel to that remote jungle tribe — along with mention of the missionary work among other native tribes in South America. 

Nearing the end, I am enjoying this book even more — so many interesting things in it, and not least because of the applicability to my own situation– what I can so well relate to in my own experience,  seeing several personality characteristics in the difficult person she worked with (Rachel Saint) and similarity to someone in my own life.  Somehow it is encouraging to read about another believer who had similar experiences of being misunderstood and accused of unbelief and heresy, and finding that there have been others before who have such strong and difficult-to-deal-with personalities.

From the middle chapters in the book, the time soon after the murder of the five missionaries, comes an interesting statement from Elisabeth Elliot’s journal at the time — as she was still dealing with the trauma and the turmoil of thoughts, and seeking the Lord’s will after what had happened (from page 165): 

I long now to go to the Waodani.  The two things — the only things — to which I can look forward now are the coming of Christ and my going to the Waodani.  O, if Christ would only come–but how can He until the Waodani are told of Him. … Or if only I could die–what a blessed release.  But I do not ask to be released.  I ask to be made Christ-like, in the inmost part of my being.

Her theology was better than that, in recognizing God’s Sovereign purposes and that He has determined the time of His Return, and God cannot be manipulated by our actions.  (Though Betty still had much to learn through suffering, and God’s providence in the years ahead.)  Yet it fits in the overall picture of world events, and an interesting point,  as another of the end times indications.  Christ’s Return is now that much sooner than it was back in the 1950s, and along the way the native tribes of Ecuador, including the Waodani tribe, did indeed hear the gospel; and quite a few have come to saving faith.  Christ did say that this gospel would be proclaimed throughout the whole world, before His return, Matthew 24:14.

The preterists’ idea that this had somehow been accomplished in the 1st century — referencing the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:8, that “your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (and yes the gospel had been spreading throughout the general Roman world, so that people generally in those parts had at least heard something about the gospel) — really falls short of the full explanation, as such a narrowing and limiting of our infinite God, who has intended something far greater and far more extensive than what was done in the 1st century alone.  

On the other hand, a dispensational idea I came across several years ago — that Matthew 24:14 does not have any reference to the missionary work of spreading the gospel around the world throughout the ages, but instead is referring to a specific event that occurs in Revelation 14:6-7 — also misses the full truth.  Revelation 14:6-7 certainly will play its part too, during the Great Tribulation; yet Christ’s statement about the gospel being proclaimed throughout the whole world surely must, and does, include all of Christian history, including the worldwide missionary work of the last 200+ years.  Further, the professing, historic Church throughout the centuries has understood Matthew 24:14 as related to the Great Commission. 

The great story of how that has been accomplished, the spread of Christendom throughout the world, in the differing ways throughout the millennia, is itself quite interesting, a lengthy tale with many different particular stories, of all the many ways that God has used individuals at different places and times to save His elect people.  The gospel message indeed has been heard by all types of people — the great, the small, the rich, the poor — from “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.”  In medieval times it was accomplished by the conversion, at least outwardly expressed, of key leaders of the Gentile nations, after which it was understood and assumed that all of that nation would now be considered part of Christendom — Constantine with the Roman Empire, and later the conversion and civilizing of the Vikings, for instance.  The immediate effects of such efforts were to bring basic “Western civilization” to the heathen nations, to bring in the form and outward expression of serving the one true God.  Individual conversions of some of the people in those lands then followed.  The early centuries also saw the gospel reach to some groups in far east Asia, as far as India — though always as a minority there, never becoming the mainstream dominant religion there.  

The missionary work post-Reformation included the early work of John Eliot (no direct relation to the Jim Elliot of the 20th century) in 17th century Puritan New England, among the native tribes there — including his use of an “informant” who taught him their language, followed by his development of a written form of Algonquian and the first Bible printed on American soil, this one in the Algonquian language (as the first book printed, on the first printing press in the colonies).  John Eliot’s techniques were of course used later in the much larger-scale missionary work begun in the 19th century, with William Carey and later efforts, through the 20th century and the work of groups such as Wycliffe Bible Translators. 

That too is an interesting part mentioned in this biography of Elisabeth Elliot:  the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators was one of the missionaries who came to Central America in the early 20th century, with ambitious plans to print and distribute Spanish language Bibles – only to discover the great numbers of tribes there (and throughout Central and South America) that spoke many different languages, all unique, and that did not know any Spanish.  William Cameron Townsend, who founded Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1942, was among the characters in the events surrounding Betty Elliot (and the other missionaries in Ecuador) during her years there in the 1950s through early 1960s. 

This early years biography of Elisabeth Elliot touches on so many interesting aspects of the 20th century missionary work in Ecuador, in addition to the other items mentioned above.  It has been a great read, as a time for me to reflect on missions work as it relates to the season of these last days, and to appreciate and think again upon the spread of the gospel around the world, one of the great promises in God’s word that we have seen come about, in the story of Church History and to this day.  Yes, as Christ promised us, the gospel has been and is being preached throughout the world — “as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”  

Challies 2019 Reading: J.I. Packer on Evangelism and God’s Sovereignty

February 18, 2019 2 comments

Going through my stack of paperback books, here is an interesting one: J.I. Packer’s early work (1961) on “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.”  This is an early work (originally published in 1961), preceding his “Knowing God” which made him an evangelical household name.  I find it especially interesting for the historical context of the mid-20th century, the era of “Forgotten Spurgeon” (see this previous post).  Much of what is said here regarding the two seemingly-contradictory truths of divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility, is found in the Charles Spurgeon sermon volumes — ideas brought out in a few sentences at a time over the course of many sermons, and well covered within Packer’s book.

I have not read any other J.I. Packer books, but relate much of what he says here to his comments in a lecture series on the Puritans (and this previous post about the Puritan Papers), in terms of overall ideas about preaching the whole gospel and its full range of application: addressing certain points in one sermon or setting and other doctrinal truths at other times, yet regularly addressing the whole counsel of God, so that people will get the full picture.

In addition to the topic of God’s sovereignty, Packer discusses “wrong” versus more biblical methods of evangelism:  the  Arminian-style special prayer meetings with use of emotion; and, positively, the need to present the full gospel, so that people know what they are committing to. He also describes and advocates what is now known as ‘friendship evangelism’, of the type that presents all of the word of God–as contrasted with the manipulation method of inviting an unsaved friend to a special prayer meeting.

Describing the antinomy between the seemingly conflicting truths, Packer describes the mystery and transcendence of our creator God:

We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Another great quote from Packer:

For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Near the end, Packer addresses the implications of God’s sovereignty in evangelism, as an answer to the discouragement of evangelicals at this point in the mid-20th century, a discouragement brought about by nearly 100 years of “revival” type evangelism campaigns and the dismal results.  Noting the early success of D.L. Moody and others of that era as occurring “not because they were always well planned and run, but because God was working in Britain in those days in a way in which he is evidently not working now,” yet even then the campaigns experienced the law of diminishing returns.

 We had come to take it for granted that good organization and efficient technique, backed by a routine of prayers, was itself sufficient to guarantee results.  We felt that there was an almost magical potency in the special meeting, the special choir and soloist, and the special preacher.  We felt convinced that the thing that would always bring life into a dead church, or a dead town, was an intensive evangelistic mission.  With the top of our minds, many of us still think that, or profess to think that…. But with the bottom of our minds, in our heart of hearts, we have grown discouraged and disillusioned and apprehensive.  … we do not know what to make of a situation in which our planned evangelism fails.

After acknowledging the disappointments (failure of converts) through these methods, Packer brings home the underlying reality:

First, we must admit that we were silly ever to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could of itself guarantee conversions; second, we must recognize that, because man’s heart is impervious to the Word of God, it is no cause for surprise if at any time our evangelism fails to result in conversions; third, we must remember that the terms of our calling are that we should be faithful, not that we should be successful; fourth, we must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism on the omnipotent grace of God.

This is a well-written book for layperson reading, a short book yet very informative, with a lot of solid Christian teaching as to how evangelism has been done and what we need to remember about how it should be done.

 

Challies 2019 Reading: Derek Thomas’ Heaven on Earth

February 14, 2019 2 comments

Heaven-On-EarthMy recent reading of hard-copy books (free from book giveaways) has included some interesting titles, such as Derek Thomas’ “Heaven on Earth.”

Thomas’ work, noted on this Theology to Go podcast is an interesting read, a short one that can be read within a day or two.  It provides a good summary regarding the difference between heaven as the intermediary state (sometimes called paradise) where the believers who have fallen asleep in the Lord are now, and the later Resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth.  The book is also noteworthy as a treatise that discusses the future, especially the Eternal State, without one single reference to the millennial age or to millennial views.  Thomas appears to have a view similar to that of Hoekema – amillennialism that recognizes the Eternal State New Earth as a place/time that includes the basic things of this creation such as geography, physical activity, and animals.  This view also fits well with what Michael Vlach described several years ago as the “New Creation model” – as contrasted with the “Spiritual Vision” model (the traditional church view of saints sitting up on clouds with their harps), with reference to the Eternal State.  Thomas also sees the future New Heavens and New Earth as a renovation rather than annihilation/completely new creation; here, reference this post (The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3) from several years ago, regarding 2 Peter 3 and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.

Other reviewers have mentioned the part about dogs being in heaven – an item specifically mentioned on only one page, yet fitting within the “new creation” model, a future that does not specifically include our own beloved pets from this life, but will include the reality of animals then to care for and appreciate.  Thomas also considers questions for speculation and the imagination, such as what our resurrected bodies will be like:  will our bodies age?  will they change in any way? will they grow tired and require sleep?  will we experience pain, if we fall on rocky ground, will they bleed?  and what age wil we be?  Will we all look like athletes?  Along with quotes from C.S. Lewis in his non-fiction as well as fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia The Last Battle,  and The Great Divorce), and consideration of various OT and NT scripture texts, a lot of questions are raised, on practical things such as will we recognize each other as friends from this life.  Jesus told the Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33) that in the resurrection we will be “like the angels,”  but given the context of that, we should not over-interpret.

I do not think that we should over-interpret this passage, in a way that suggests that we will not have close friends in the new heaven and earth.  Jesus had close friends -Peter, James and John – and the latter was His closest friend.  I see no reason to doubt that we shall experience these kinds of friendship in the new earth, and with those who have been our spouse and best friends here in the old earth.  And perhaps this helps us understand a little Jesus’ statement about marriage.  It is not the intimacy as such that is dearest, but the companionship and the love.  And Jesus didn’t say that we won’t experience the friendship and the heady sense of love that two people know.

This book is an enjoyable read about a good topic — suitable to share with friends who have questions, and a good book for the average evangelical Christian.  It’s a short read at about 100 pages, but with a lot of good points and ideas to consider, great “food for thought.”

Conflating Preparationism With the Second Use of the Law

July 18, 2016 4 comments

I recently came across an online discussion that revealed some people’s misunderstandings about the law and another term, preparationism.  For consideration was the following quote from Spurgeon.  (The full quote is available in this sermon, from January of 1886.  The conversation included only the bolded parts of the full quote — but the excerpt still makes Spurgeon’s point well enough):

I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The book of Leviticus and all the other typical books are valuable as gospel-teaching to us, because there is always in them most clearly the law of God. The law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart, unless you first send the needle of the law through the center thereof, to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel that they are sinners; and if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. If the Ten Commandments are never read in their hearing, they will not know wherein they are guilty, and how shall they make confession? If they are not assured that the law is holy, and just, and good, and that God has never demanded of any man more than He has a right to demand, how shall they feel the filthiness of sin, or see the need of flying to Christ for cleansing? There is no healing a man till the law has wounded him, no making him alive till the law has slain him.

Clearly, Spurgeon is here referencing the “second use” of the law (the pedagogical use): to point out to sinners what God’s holy standard is, to show that they are sinners and that they cannot keep God’s law on their own and they need a savior.  Yet the people in this conversation instead concluded (incorrectly) that this is an example of preparationism — which they defined as, that a certain “work” of preparation needs to be done in a person’s heart, or else the Holy Spirit is not able to bring conviction of sin to that person.

Such reasoning shows two problems: first, an incorrect definition of what preparationism is; and second, attributing that error (preparationism) to Charles Spurgeon.  As explained in this lesson in the 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series, as well as in this previous post about one of Spurgeon’s sermons, preparationism is the idea that a sinner must show a certain amount of repentance, a certain level of sorrow for his sin such as some of the “great saints” experienced, before he can come to Christ — an error that amounts to “justification by repentance” rather than “justification by faith.”

Quoting Spurgeon again on the error of preparationism:

In our day the evil has taken another, and that a most extraordinary shape. Men have aimed at being self-righteous after quite an amazing fashion; they think they must feel worse, and have a deeper conviction of sin before they may trust in Christ. Many hundreds do I meet with who say they dare not come to Christ, and trust Him with their souls, because they do not feel their need of Him enough; they have not sufficient contrition for their sins; they have not repented as fully as they have rebelled! Brothers and Sisters, it is the same evil, from the same old germ of self-righteousness, but it has taken another and I think a more crafty shape. Satan has wormed himself into many hearts under the garb of an angel of light, and he has whispered to the sinner, “Repentance is a necessary virtue. Stop until you have repented, and when you have sufficiently mortified yourself on account of sin, then you will be fit to come to Christ, and qualified to trust and rely on Him

The post about Spurgeon, linked above, includes additional quotes from Spurgeon in which he “named names” of specific Puritan authors who taught preparationism.  So it is established that Spurgeon did not teach preparationism; the original Spurgeon quote above is instead in reference to the second use of the moral law, that which is clearly taught in the New Testament – the law as our teacher, to teach us the knowledge of sin.

For some reason, many evangelicals today, especially of the New Calvinist group, dislike any mention of “law,” as though the gospel is all and only about grace; to suggest anything about “the law” gets a response of “legalism!” and rhetoric about how we’re saved by grace and “not under law.”  Much of this attitude, directed at those in the Reformed Covenant Theology camp, comes from failing to distinguish and to understand the difference between the second and third use of the law; an article from a couple years back well notes this problem as seen in actual posts from the Gospel Coalition blog (Tullian Tchividjian’s misunderstanding).

As seen with the above example conversation, some within New Calvinism are taking their anti-law idea even further, going to the extreme of rejecting not merely the third use of the law, but even the second use of the law – and equating it with the unrelated error of preparationism. To reject both the second use and the third use is to take a position outside of the Christian Protestant tradition.  For all evangelical groups – Reformed/Calvinist, Reformed/Lutheran, and even classic, revised and progressive dispensational Calvinists – have affirmed at least the second use of the law.  To reject the second use, and misunderstand what Spurgeon was saying as legalistic error, is to join company with the early Protestant-era antinomians and their leader John Agricola, a position described in this article about the 16th century antinomian controversy:

This Lutheran confessional consensus concerning mandata dei as guides for sanctified living nearly crumbled in the mid sixteenth century amid the Antinomian Controversy. Antinomianism, or a rejection of any use of the Law for Christians, found a prominent spokesperson in John Agricola. While serving as an instructor in Eisleben during the 1520s, Agricola taught that the mercy of God revealed in the Gospel alone suffices to cause a person to repent of his sins. In addition to rejecting the second use of the Law, he also discarded the third. Agricola, who had trouble accepting that Melancthon, rather than he, received an appointment to the new theology post at Wittenberg in 1526, criticized the distinction that Melanththon made on these points between Law and Gospel. “Agricola took an extremely antinomian position, virtually rejecting out of hand the whole Old Testament, as well as injunctions of the Law in the lives of the regenerate.” Confusion compounded the controversy when Melancthon’s followers noted that their teacher had, at times, ascribed a Law function to the “Gospel,” using that term in its broader sense to include both the Law and the narrow definition of the Gospel. “But Melancthon’s followers did not make this distinction. They insisted that the Gospel in its narrow, proper sense worked contrition and rebuked sin.” Luther and Agricola argued back and forth in print during the late 1530s. After Luther’s death, Agricola took major part in drafting the Augsburg Interim (1548), which forged a compromise between Rome and the Lutheran theologians by equivocating on the distinction between Law and Gospel.

 

Charles Spurgeon: Salvation Experiences

September 10, 2015 2 comments

Charles Spurgeon often preached about the experience of salvation — as in answering possible objections of unbelievers, urging them to move past those objections or obstacles to come to Christ; or overall consideration of how people come to Christ.  From my recent reading come two sermons (#559 and #570) from 1864 (volume 10) on this topic. The first one (sermon #559) describes various unbelievers and their different responses – how they are kept lame, as with this excerpt:

Some are still lame, though they have faith, through ignorance. They do not know what being saved is. They entertain wrong expectations. They are trusting in Christ, but they do not feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy, and therefore, though they have “faith to be saved,” they have not the faith of a present salvation. They are waiting for something, they hardly know what, to embellish their faith, or to fortify it with signs and wonders; now, poor soul, why do you wait? These things are not necessary for salvation. In fact, the fewer you have of them, I think, the better—especially of things which are visionary. I rather tremble for those who talk much about sensible evidences; they are too often the frivolities of unstable hearts. Beloved, though you may have never had any ecstatic joys, or suffered any deep depression of your spirits, if you are resting on Christ, it does not matter one whit what your feelings have been or have not been! Do you expect to have an electric shock, or to go through some mysterious operation? The operation is mysterious, too mysterious for you to discern it; but all that you have to do with is this—“Do I believe in Jesus? Am I simply depending upon Him for everything?” If you do, you are saved, and I pray you to believe this!

One observation from this sermon: all the people he describes at least have a basic worldview of belief in God – and then various “religious” reasons for fearing to come to God. Very likely this reflected the actual worldview backgrounds of the people of Spurgeon’s day, Victorian England. In all his sermons to this point, indeed, he never considered the case of people who professed atheism, those who had so suppressed the knowledge of God as to really think in naturalist, anti-supernatural and anti-theist terms. Even today the majority of unbelievers are not of the atheist type (and even less likely to be reading such a sermon in the first place), but after so many years of modernism and even post-modernism I suspect it is more common than in Spurgeon’s day.

Also from reading this sermon, the thought: how amazing it is that God saves each of us in different ways, dealing with us and our own personality and background. We don’t all have the same experiences in the process of conversion (from the time leading up to it through the time of regeneration / saving faith), and thus we observe great variety of people and their conversion/salvation experiences. Some cannot point to a specific moment when they came to saving faith, but instead a gradual process and general period of time (as for instance, those in Christian homes with childhood conversions), while others (as with my own case, and also the testimony of Spurgeon himself) recall a specific point in time. While, as in the Spurgeon quote above, people should not be “looking” to “feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy,” yet in my own case God graciously did provide the sudden understanding and sudden, excited joy.

Where sermon #559 prompted these thoughts, Spurgeon comes through – as though in answer – a few sermons later, with #570 to specifically consider the variety of means used in conversion. A very helpful sermon, with a longer text than is usual for Spurgeon’s textual style preaching  – John 1:37-51 – Spurgeon here provides many insights into the experiences of “The First Five Disciples,” and their four different types/methods of conversion. Were you, however, to examine any five persons, I suppose you would find similar disparity. Pick out five Christians indiscriminately and begin to question them how they were brought to know the Lord, you will find methods other than those you have here; and probably quite as many as four out of the five would be distinct from the rest.

  1. Andrew and John – the fruits of preaching
  2. Simon Peter – Private instrumentality, not by the preaching of the Word
  3. Phillip – without either the public Word or private instruction, but directly by Jesus, and
  4. Nathanael – partly through private instrument, but also the preparation and Christ’s divine word to convince him.

An excerpt, describing the third case:

in some cases no apparent instrumentality is used. We have known some who on a sudden have felt impressions, from where they came or where they tended they did not know. In the midst of business we have known the workman suddenly check his plane—a great thought has entered into his brain—where it came from he could not tell. We have known a man wake up at midnight—he could not tell why, but a holy calm was upon him, and as the moon was shining through the window, there seemed to be a holy light shining into his soul, and he began to think. … We cannot tell, brethren, when God may regenerate His elect, for though we are to use means, and cry to God to send forth laborers into the vineyard, yet the sovereign Lord of all will frequently work without them. The Word which has been heard in years gone by, the Scripture which was known in childhood, may by the direct power of the Holy Spirit, without any immediate apparent means, turn the man from darkness to light. …What preparation of heart there had been before, I cannot tell. What still small voice had been speaking before this in Philip’s ear, we do not know. Certainly the only outward means was this voice of Christ, “Follow Me.” And there may be in this House some who will be converted this morning. You do not know why you are here, you cannot tell why you strayed in; but yet it may be—God knows—Christ would have you come here because He would come here Himself.

1689 Confession Series Study: Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King

May 18, 2015 3 comments

Continuing in a sermon audio series through the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 8 in the confession includes a good study of Christ as our Mediator: our Prophet, Priest and King. The following comes from the introductory message in this mini-series on Christology (number 74) in the full 1689 series, and the introductory message brings out many interesting points.

Christ is the Last Adam. Thus, the First Adam was also, at least in some sense, a prophet, priest, and king – and would have continued in that state if he had been confirmed. Though Adam may not have consciously realized his three roles, Adam’s three roles are implicitly taught.

  • Adam as a prophet, had true knowledge; he accurately reflected God in his thoughts, words and deeds, thought God’s thoughts after Him, and acted as a representative of God, reflecting God and His truth.
  • Adam as a priest offered sacrifices of praise and service, in complete communion with God, and represented a people. No mediator was then needed (before the fall), and Adam could approach God on behalf of himself and others.
  • Adam as a king: he had been given dominion over the lower-creation (the Garden of Eden), and ruled according to correct knowledge.

The Last Adam, Christ:

  • Our Prophet: we come to Him and learn from Him, we study His word, and hear it proclaimed in sermons.
  • Our Priest: daily we confess our sins to Him as we continue in fellowship with Him
  • Our King: the basic understanding of Lordship Salvation, that we obey Him

A right relationship to God includes observing all three of Christ’s offices.

  • Some people only want to have Christ as Prophet (liberal Christianity), saying that He was a good man and a great teacher—ignoring that the one who was a good and great teacher also claimed to be Priest and King.
  • Others will go further, affirming Christ as Prophet AND as priest—Christ our Savior—but claim He need not be our Lord–or, that third part can come later (“Free Grace” non-Lordship and easy-believism views here).
  • Others may claim Christ as their King, with emphasis on obedience, on following the law of God; yet are really taking a self-righteous approach of doing their own works, denying Him as their priest.

A good application: three things to consider whenever we read or study scripture or hear a sermon. We should always ask ourselves these three questions:

  1. What do I learn from this passage, and what am I learning about God? – role of Christ as prophet
  2. What sins do I need to confess and repent of right now? — Christ as priest
  3. What must I now do? What do I learn, in this passage or this sermon, about obedience: what things to stop doing or start doing? – Christ as King

The gospels present Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, which has implications for evangelism.  A key text is Matthew 11:28-30, in which Christ offers Himself in all three offices:

  • All you who labor and are heavy-laden:   Christ as our Priest
  • Come and learn of Me: Christ as our Prophet
  • Take my yoke upon you… : Christ as our King

Evangelism and ‘Revival’: God’s Divine Purpose

December 10, 2014 4 comments

From my recent readings, including George Mueller and the recent newsletter of the SGAT (Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony), comes a point often overlooked in our day, regarding God’s purpose in evangelism and missionary work. There is a difference between the salvation of individuals and “praying for revival,” and we understand this issue based on our interpretation of scripture including overall eschatology and the prophetic word.

George Mueller’s autobiography notes his establishment of the “Scriptural Knowledge Institute” in the early 1830s. He provided several scriptural-based reasons for this decision, to establish this new organization instead of working with existing missionary organizations. The first reason involved scriptural understanding of God’s purposes, as Mueller noted that the other missionary organizations referenced scriptures such as Habakkuk 2:14 and Isaiah 11:9 in support of their idea that the whole world will eventually be converted to Christianity. As Mueller well observed:

These passages have no reference to the present dispensation but to the one which will begin when the Lord returns.  In the present time, things will not become spiritually better, but worse.  Only people gathered out from among the Gentiles for the Lord will be converted. (Ref. Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Acts 15:14.) A hearty desire and earnest prayer for the conversion of sinners is quite scriptural. But it is unscriptural to expect the conversion of the whole world.

From the latest issue (Jan-Mar 2015) of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony newsletter, “Watching and Waiting” comes an article on a similar topic: “Did Noah Pray for Revival?” A look at several scriptures, including the time of Noah as well as Jeremiah’s day, shows indeed that it is not (always, or even usually)  God’s purpose to bring revival and save the majority of people at any given point in time. Select individuals were saved even in times of judgment, such as wicked King Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:12-20) and King Josiah, yet the nation as a whole faced judgment. There was undoubtedly a great measure of blessing, of revival and reformation, but the judgment brought on by the wickedness of Manasseh and his generation remained and was still going to be judged after the death of Josiah. The scriptures tell us similar for the future, of ever increasing apostasy within the church.

I was made to think of Noah and his circumstances as I listened to a Christian friend pray for the United Kingdom that God would send a mighty revival that would turn the whole land back to Him. Thinking upon this request, I pondered the fact that we are surrounded by an ever-increasing tide of apostasy. What are called the ‘main’ churches have abandoned all semblance to Bible religion and have embraced wicked doctrines to a degree never before witnessed in the history of Christendom. Furthermore, the remnant of true believers has never been smaller or weaker. This being so, it does seem likely that we cannot be far removed from the days of that last generation and the manifestation of the antichrist and the Savior’s return to earth to destroy him and establish His own Millennial Kingdom. That raises the question then: Is it the will of God for God’s people in the close of this age to pray for revival?

These facts serve to bring home to us that it is so necessary for God’s people to rightly divide the Word of God and so understand the signs of the times in which we live. It is through God’s Word that the final generation of believers in this age will know of the approach of the end and what it is we should be praying for and expecting the Lord to do. It is only by studying the prophetic scriptures and being informed of God’s will that we will be saved from praying and hoping vainly for revival when it is clearly the purpose and mind of God to bring down man’s rebellion and apostasy by judgment.

Evangelism, Islam, and the Kingdom of God

June 19, 2014 5 comments

A speaker from a Christian missionary group recently presented an evening conference at a local church, about how to evangelize and reach Muslims. The presentation was a condensed form of material sometimes presented in all-day seminars, covering several interesting points: basic history of the Muslim faith, the cultural connection with blending of state and religion, the overall population of Muslims worldwide (only about 20% are Arabic, and representing many dialects and ethnic groups even within the Arab world), as well as the main beliefs and the 5 or 6 “pillars” of Islam, and how this works-based religion approaches these pillars: really good Muslims will try to follow most or all, while others may skip on some of the works while performing others.

The speaker had experience mainly with Turkish Muslims, and thus no reference to Muslims in more radical Islamic countries.  Rather, he emphasized the variation among individual Muslims and varying commitment level to their faith, while acknowledging that yes, parts of the Koran (Mohammed’s later writings as compared to earlier) do advocate violence.  Nothing was said regarding present-day events, such as the trend evident in Europe, of the increasing Muslim population and the gradual overthrow of European society by these immigrants. Likewise nothing was said regarding Muslim eschatology and the Mahdi, or even any mention of the historic and ongoing enmity between Jews and Muslims.

Much of what the speaker had to say included general evangelistic principles, applicable to any group of unbelievers, whether Muslims, Jews, or secular atheists: personal evangelism rather than theological debates; most Muslims you meet on the street are not that expert in what their religion teaches, so talk to each one and find out what they believe).   As anyone who has spent any time in facebook group theological discussions knows, yes of course such “debates” are not useful for changing someone’s beliefs: whether unbelievers to Christianity, or even for convincing believers of secondary doctrines they misunderstand.  Also, same as with other unbelievers, it usually takes many experiences of hearing about Christianity before God works in the heart; we plant seeds and pray for God to change the heart, but often it takes many years and a lot of exposure to Christian truth before a Muslim, or any other unbeliever, comes to Christ.

It was the speaker’s handling of one doctrinal issue that led me to tune out briefly. After pointing out the Muslim’s negative association with the term “crusade” as referencing what was done in the name of Christianity (Catholicism) so many centuries ago, he asserted that the kingdom is only spiritual and not an earthly kingdom such as that attempted by the crusaders. The second part of that is certainly correct: the kingdom of God is not something such as was attempted by the medieval Crusades. But why not rather acknowledge that Christians do have differing views of this, including the fact that the church itself was generally premillennial for the first 300 years, and that premillennialism returned early in the Protestant era? Instead the speaker gave a brief one-sided and partial “exposition” of Acts 1: just before Jesus’ ascension, the disciples are asking if the kingdom will be restored; after all this time of Jesus teaching them they are still confused, they don’t get it and they don’t know that the kingdom is only spiritual — and instead they need to be out evangelizing the world. As usual with amillennial teaching, the speaker stopped at that verse and did not continue to consider Christ’s actual response in the very next verse.  He did not rebuke them or give any indication that they had an incorrect understanding (that they were such idiots for thinking Christ’s kingdom is a real, physical kingdom), but merely said it was not for them to know the “times or seasons.” And Peter’s speech in Acts 3, plus other references later in Acts, tell us that the apostles later on were still expecting the future kingdom.

A proper perspective helps at this point. Yes, certainly, it is better that Muslims be saved even if with incorrect understanding of a secondary doctrine. The Unitarian, who denies the divinity of Christ yet participates in online Christian eschatology groups, who understands and can defend premillennialism with all the scriptures, yet isn’t even a Christian at all, serves as a clear example of what Al Mohler likely meant by “theological triage.”  Still, premillennialism is not some evil doctrine that would prevent anyone, including Muslims, from coming to Christ. To evangelize Muslims and address this point of the nature of the kingdom — as contrasted with the negative Crusade experience — one can simply explain that the kingdom is something that will be established by Christ upon His return, not that which has been attempted by the outward visible “Church” during this age.

Do Unbelievers Really Just Not Understand the Gospel?

February 27, 2013 24 comments

From my readings through a devotional book (Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, volume 2), comes this excerpt from the Feb. 21 reading:

Many of the lost fail to embrace the gospel because no one has presented it clearly to them.  That’s because many Christians communicate a muddled gospel that emphasizes lots of secondary issues, thanks in many respects to their leaders’ digressing from the genuine message. A sure way for Satan to weaken the gospel is simply to prevent its clear and accurate presentation.

The devotional’s point was for believers to stay focused on the gospel itself and not chase rabbit trails onto less important, secondary issues. Still, somehow in reading that, I considered the fact that, really (and generally speaking), lost people don’t have a problem of “not understanding” the gospel message.  I’ve been going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, in which he pointed this out, that people don’t have a problem with understanding the gospel.  Jesus perfectly communicated the saving message, and they understood His message so well that they crucified Him.
Sometimes I think, that people think that if the Lord Jesus were the preacher everyone would respond.  If the Apostle Paul were preaching in Believers Chapel there would be much better results.  Well, I’m willing to grant there would probably be some better results, but let me assure you it would not be because when a man gives a clear presentation of the gospel and gives it in a greater spirit of love, that there must therefore be a response.  Just think for a moment, who was preaching?  The Lord Jesus Christ.  Whoever gave the gospel message more clearly than he?  No one would debate that.  Whoever spoke out of a greater sense of divine love than the Lord Jesus?  What was his response?  Well he was crucified. … The facts are that men are unresponsive to the word of God.  They are unable to come.  They rebel against the Scriptures, for the mind of the flesh is enmity against God.  …  So when those who were listening to the Lord Jesus said, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” they were really representative of human nature.
Regarding the idea that believers do not always present the gospel message because they (believers) get side-tracked onto “secondary” issues, and therefore the unbeliever hears a “muddled gospel”: perhaps that does happen, just not within my experience.  Instead, in conversations with unbelievers what usually happens is that the unbeliever likes to throw up objections, and the unbeliever likes to get sidetracked, away from the gospel itself to other unrelated issues.  Here again I recall something that S. Lewis Johnson mentioned sometimes, both from his own experience as an adult unbeliever in conversations with the Christian people around him (including his wife and mother-in-law) as well as the similar advice he was given on this very issue soon after he was saved.  Here is one excerpt from SLJ, describing this:
This reminds me of something that the man who led me to the Lord said when I was just a brand new Christian.  I came to him and spoke to him about a friend of mine with whom I had spoken about the Lord Jesus, and whom I’d sought to bring to faith in Christ, and was totally unsuccessful.  And then he said, Lewis, you’ll notice this about dealing with the lost.  They frequently will come to you with six or eight intellectual reasons why they should not believe the gospel.  He said, you ask them to list them, and they do, and you answer the first objection, and the second objection, and so on down through the six or seven.  And he said, “Lewis, you will notice that when you finish answering the seventh, the last one, they won’t say, ‘well then I’ll become a believer’; as a general rule, they’ll go back to number one again.”

From SLJ’s own experience:

I can remember when I was like that.  Whenever spiritual things would come up, and I would get involved in the conversation, I had about half a dozen things that I thought were things that prevented me from responding to the gospel.  I was in the insurance business, and I prided myself on thinking fairly logically.  And so I had a series of reasons that I would lodge against the Christian faith as it was understood by my mother-in-law and by others.  I usually reduced her to tears.  I won the arguments, and lost the ultimate battle of course.  But anyway, this is what I would do.  I would start with reason number one, why is the Bible the word of God?  How can we know the Bible is the word of God?  And I would go one, two, three, four, five, six.  And if we were in a large group of people, everybody would pounce in and they would answer my question.  So I would move on to number two, number three, number four, number five, number six.  And when I finished number six I would go back to number one again, number one, two.  That’s the way we are.

Unbelievers don’t have a problem of not understanding the gospel.  Jesus perfectly explained it and they still rejected it.  The greater issue is not so much that Christians do not clearly present the gospel and instead present a “muddled gospel” due to being sidetracked into non-essentials, but that unbelievers themselves, by nature, do not want to hear the gospel and will use such “defensive” tactics to distract away from the presentation of the gospel message.

Bible Verses Misused: Missionary and Other Topics

November 13, 2012 4 comments

Many of us can think of particular misapplications of scripture verses, such as topical sermons where the preacher starts with the topic and then picks out certain Bible verses to “fit” that topic—especially a problem when the text chosen has nothing to do with that particular topic.  Often, indeed, the idea being taught is found in the Bible, but we realize that other verses, more to the point, would have been more suitable.

A particularly bizarre time, from a layperson filling in for the regular pastor, involved a sermon about the salvation of children and how children come to know the Lord – from Jeremiah 48:11:

 ​​​​​​​​“Moab has been at ease from his youth and hassettled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed.”

The book of Revelation, including narrative sections describing events such as Revelation 11 or Revelation 13, being taught only as basic soteriology, is another obvious example.  The way some preach through Revelation, one wonders why God chose to give us that book of the Bible and why it was included in the canon of scripture.  After all, the way it comes out in some sermon series, the only truth found in Revelation is that which is already taught, very clearly and in abundance, elsewhere in the New Testament.

Another common area for scripture misuse, that I’ve especially seen in the last few weeks:  Old Testament texts treated as having to do with the spread of the gospel and missionary work throughout the world in this age.  A visiting missionary with a pragmatic topical message about getting people involved in evangelism and sharing the gospel with all the foreigners now among us in the U.S., who took part of Exodus 9:16 as the sermon verse:  “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”  Only the last part of the verse was referenced, of course, because Exodus 9:16 is actually a great statement about God’s sovereignty, God’s sovereign purposes especially in election of saved individuals: the same meaning of which is taken up by Paul when he quoted it in full in Romans 9:17.  The missionary took a declarative statement, similar to other great statements such as Habakkuk 2:14, about God’s name and God’s glory being proclaimed throughout the earth, as the purpose statement for mission work.

Agreed, mission work is important and not to be neglected:  but so is the truth and context of God’s word.  Many other passages are suitable, ones that actually relate to mission work: the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, for instance, as well as Romans 10 and especially parts of the book of Acts, the main book describing actual missionary work, its adventures and its fruit.

Furthermore, such misuses of Bible verses lead to error, perhaps subtle, but nonetheless error – what would be avoided by careful teaching and preaching of the actual verses that do speak to missionary work.  The subtle, implied idea behind Exodus 9:16 as a missionary statement, is man’s involvement and even the necessity of man doing the work, in bringing about what God has already declared: that His name will be declared in all the earth.  Yes, agreed, God uses means to accomplish His work, and that work does include the work of missionaries to foreign lands, bringing the gospel to areas so that people can hear God’s word – so well brought out in Romans 10.  But to take Exodus 9:16b as a statement for missionary work comes across as a way of attempting to rob God of His glory, since that verse especially has to do with God’s power and sovereignty, a passage and section of God’s word focused on the attributes of God, not on men doing evangelism and missionary work.  My glory will I not give to another  (Isaiah 42:8) comes to mind.