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THE OVERWHELMING ODDS ARE THAT YOUR PASTOR IS KEEPING THE TRUTH FROM YOU INSTEAD OF PREACHING ABOUT IT
by John Muncy
(**Warning!** Don’t Read This Post Unless You Are Willing… To Face A Horrible Fact About The Majority Of Churches! I share these words with no malice, but with a genuine broken heart Please read it, not as a prideful put down, but as a humble cry for revival in our pulpits!)
Recent research confirms what I have been warning about for years. The majority of the pulpits of American Churches have unfaithful watchmen who won’t fully do their job as God’s spokesmen. (If you are not one of these preachers, or if you don’t have one of these preachers in your pulpit, you are rare indeed.) I’m thankful for the many faithful men of God that serve the Lord and their people with an authentic heart of love for the truth, and the willingness to stanchly proclaim the truth in love. I want to make it very clear that this is not a put down towards preachers, but a clear trumpet blast to wake-up and become alarmed at what we are seeing!
Carolyn and I were riding together a couple of nights ago, listening to a preacher on our local Christian station. This man, who is now gone to be with the Lord, was so powerful and straight with his message. He did not mix words, but laid out the truth, without fear or compromise. When he was finished, I turn to Carolyn and asked, “Now why can’t we find more men of God like that today? Why are pastors so afraid to tell the truth, even when they know it is in the Bible?”
It is so troublesome to me to watch, in over four decades of rubbing shoulders with pastors all across this country, a developing trend among our church leaders to minimize the message at the expense of having a “successful” church. I say this with a broken heart; I fear for the direction our ministers are taking our churches.
George Barna is the foremost researcher of modern Christianity in the country. He recently spoke about a two-year research project studying why modern-day pastors and churches are so silent regarding political issues. The result of his research only confirms what I have been trying to tell people for years. (It is available in a book entitled, “U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots”)
According to Barna’s two-year investigation, about 90% of pastors believe that the Bible speaks to key issues of our day, and yet, disappointedly, less than 10% say that they, as pastors, speak about them from the pulpit.
That 90% of America’s pastors are not addressing any of the most important issues affecting Christian people’s political or societal lives should cause alarms to go off – but that is not going to happen – BECAUSE THE CHURCHES APPEARS TO LOVE IT THAT WAY…
Jeremiah 5:31 “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and MY PEOPLE LOVE TO HAVE IT SO…”
This is very alarming to me as an evangelist. I have visited churches from one end of our nation to the other, working with both conservative and liberal views, but I can never remember a time like this. When we see our pastors, the leaders, the shepherds of God’s little flock, ignoring the issues that face them day by day, I can’t seem to understand why this is not being openly rebuked and challenged!
Did you get that? 90% of America’s pastors say they KNOW that the Bible speaks to all of these issues, but they are deliberately determined NOT to teach Biblical principles in answer to them! That is an amazing admission! It would be one thing if the pastors would claim that none of these issues have any relevance with the Word of God, but these men are admitting that it does, but they continue to deliberately choose NOT to teach the Scriptural principles from their pulpits!
Does this alarm you? Does this bother you? Understand, we are not talking about IGNORANT pastors who don’t know about these things – we are talking about DISOBEDIENT pastors – who refuse to speak up! They choose to remain silent!
But, according to Barna, the report found that when these pastors were asked how to know if their church was “successful”, Barna found five factors that the vast majority of the pastor turned to:
1) Attendance – how many go on Sunday morning
2) Giving – how much money is coming in
3) Number of programs – how busy they are
4) Number of staff – how many associates serves you
5) Square footage of the facilities – how big is your building
What does all this reveal?? It reveals that the majority of pastors are more concerned about being “successful” than they are being TRUTHFUL. They believe if they tell their congregations the truth, their churches will not be as “successful”! This is how hell is lying to preachers! And it’s working! But where are these men getting these ideas, because they are NOT found in the Bible?
Like it or not, our pastors are trying to “keep up with the Jones’s”! They look around and see all the megachurches on TV, they watch these “big-time” preachers with their “big-time” crowds, making “big-time” money, living in “big-time” houses, driving “big time” cars and having a “big-time” name and their knees buckle under the temptation to follow the latest fad that has taken the church by storm.
ASK ALMOST ANY PASTOR if he has read anything recently on church growth and he’ll look at you like you’re insane, “Well, sure I have – several books!” Ask that same pastor if he has read anything recently on prayer, holiness or revival and he’ll look at you like you’re insane, “Why would I want to read about that?”
I’ve been to hundreds of the pastor’s meetings, the luncheons, the conferences, the conventions, and they’re all the same. I just stand around and listen to these guys talk “preacher talk”…they’re all comparing notes with each other, with the same questions time after time: “How many are you running now?”, or “How big is your sanctuary?”, or “What’s your budget for this year?”, or “How many do you have on your staff now?”
Most of these men are mesmerized by the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren or Bill Hybels – these men are the “heroes” of today’s pulpiteers, or should I say, “puppeteers”. I’M AFRAID WE’VE EXCHANGED PROPHETS FOR PUPPETS IN MOST OF OUR PULPITS!
(I know, some of you are mad because I just named names, but please, keep reading…)
What we have today are men who have exchanged truth for “what works”. The best they can do is the only way they’ve been trained – just mimic the tactics and strategies of other “successful church growth experts” and you too can have a “successful church”. And what one thing is identical in the Osteen, Warren, and Hybels approach? The pastors avoid controversy like the plague!!
Remember, they are taught that one must realize that the goal is NOT being faithful to Biblical principles; the goal is building a “successful” church. Ladies and Gentlemen; the “success bug” has bitten these guys and they can’t stop now.
It is time for Christians to acknowledge that these ministers are not PASTORS of God’s flock; they are CEOs OF A BUSINESS ADVENTURE. They are not BIBLE TEACHERS; they are PERFORMERS. They are not SHEPHERDS, who would lay down their lives; they are HIRELINGS, who run from conflicts!
It is also time for Christians to be honest with themselves: do they want a pastor who desires to be faithful to the scriptures, or do they want a pastor who is simply trying to be “successful?”
BE HONEST, BECAUSE EVERY CHURCH DESERVES ITS PASTOR!
George Barna’s research blows the “ignorance” excuse out of the water. Again, it is not ignorance; it is deliberate disobedience. He goes on to say, “Now all of those things [the five points of success listed above] are good measures, except for one tiny fact: Jesus didn’t die for any of them.” Wow! Somebody better pay attention!
How different the church is today! It looks very little like the original! The preachers don’t look the same either. When John the Baptist preached, he didn’t need to give out “free camel rides” to get a crowd – he preached REPENTANCE – and it got his head cut off. Was that a successful minister by today’s standards? NO! But Jesus thought he was successful! (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28)
When the Apostle Paul listed his ministerial pedigree and credentials in 2 Corinthians 11, it looks nothing like our “big time” preachers today! Here is what Paul’s looked like:
*Stripes above measure
*In prisons frequently
*In deaths often
*Beaten with rods
*Hunger and thirst
*Cold and nakedness
I don’t see attendance, offerings, programs, staff, or square footage in that list at all; do you? Maybe Paul lived by a different standard then today’s hotshot preachers!
When Paul wrote his own epitaph, it read, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7). He didn’t say, “I had a large congregation, we had big offerings, we had a lot of programs, I had a large staff, and we had large facilities.”
In the world of “Pimping Preachers” and “Life Coaches in the Pulpits”, men in the ministry like John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul must be labeled as a dismal failure! I wonder how many church pulpit committees would even consider the pastoral résumé such as what the Apostle Paul wrote above?
Like it or not, I’m convinced that America’s problems are directly due to the deliberate disobedience of America’s pastors – and the willingness of the Christians in the pews who tolerate the disobedience of their pastors, who are more concerned over their tax-exempt status than they are at proclaiming the truth! God help us!
Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside
Chapter 16 – THE PREACHING THAT PRODUCES REPENTANCE
In all that I have written I have failed completely to express what was surging up in my soul if I have given anyone the impression that I think of repentance as something meritorious which must be produced in man by self-effort ere he is fit to come to God for salvation. On the other hand I hope I have made myself clear that it is the work of the Holy Spirit producing repentance, that leads any soul to come to Christ in order to be saved. The formula used by Paul the Apostle to describe the substance of his preaching ought to make this plain. He proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike the necessity of “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since this is the divine order it behooves those of us who seek to give the Gospel to a lost world to inquire as to the type of preaching that is best calculated to produce such results. In other words, what kind of message is needed to bring our hearers to repentance?
And in trying to answer this very proper inquiry let me first say that it is not necessary invariably to use the actual term “repentance” in order to bring about this very much to be desired effect. In many quarters men have attached to the words “repent” and “repentance” meanings that do not properly belong to them. So that there is the possibility that our hearers may altogether misunderstand us if we urge them, in so many words, to repent. They may imagine they must, by some effort of their own, produce that which entitles them to consider that they have attained a state where they are acceptable to God. This is not the truth as set forth in His Word, as every Bible-taught preacher well knows.
But, on the other hand, it is not wise to be too squeamish about the use of an expression which we have seen to be eminently scriptural, and which the Holy Spirit Himself has used in all dispensations. John the Baptist and our Lord, the Twelve Apostles and Paul, preached that men should repent and do works meet for repentance; yet in no case did the thought of anything meritorious on man’s part enter into it. Evidently the term used had not then been misapplied as it has been since. But what Biblical expression is there that has not been perverted in the interest of some false system throughout the so-called Christian centuries? Such words as regeneration, justification, sanctification, yes, and even the very word salvation itself, have all been grievously misused and the most unscriptural doctrines have been built upon them. Are we therefore to discard the terms themselves, or shall we not rather seek to present them in a right way, clarifying their meaning so far as we possibly can, in order that wrong conclusions may be averted?
So in the present case we want results. How best can men be brought to see their lost condition, and therefore to feel the need of the salvation God offers so freely in His blessed Son? In endeavoring so to preach as to bring this to pass we are not shut up to one method of presentation, however, though the message must always be the same. God has only one remedy for man’s lost condition and that is the Gospel of His grace. But the manner in which this is set forth may differ according to the circumstances and the state of mind of the people addressed. Thus Paul was made all things to all men if by any means he might save some. And a somewhat careful analysis of the few sermons recorded in the book of the Acts will show us how differently the truth was proclaimed upon different occasions.
Yet in one thing they all were alike — in each instance Christ was lifted up; His life. His death, His resurrection, His glorious return personally, and His power to save, were plainly set forth. The one solitary exception seems, at first glance, to be Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, in Athens. But we need to remember that he was interrupted by a mocking crowd before he had opportunity to finish. He began by a logical, calmly reasoned attempt to prove the unity of the Godhead and so to stress the sin of idolatry — for he was addressing a heathen people — that they might realize their sin and folly. Then he announced that God, who in His patient grace had overlooked much of their past ignorance, “now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). He was now prepared to tell them more of the Lord Jesus and show how God had set Him forth as the one only Saviour. “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter” (v. 32). And so they turned contemptuously away, thus losing, perhaps forever, the opportunity of hearing the Gospel of the grace of God, unfolded in all its beauty and power.
In Peter’s sermons, on Pentecost and on the occasion of the healing of the lame man, he could bring directly home to his Jewish hearers their fearful guilt in rejecting the Redeemer whom God had sent, in accordance with the ancient oracles, to save and to bless by turning them away from their iniquities. In great power He pressed upon them their responsibility in regard to Jesus, a responsibility they could not possibly evade.
In each instance conviction seized upon many who listened, and they repented of the great sin of Christ-rejection, and identified themselves with Him whom now they owned as Lord and Saviour by being baptized in His Name.
In Cornelius’ house the method of presentation was somewhat different, for Peter was there addressing a Gentile group, but nevertheless a company who were through Jewish contact quite familiar with the hope of Israel. They had heard of Jesus, and of the treatment He had received at the hands of His own nation. Peter showed with all simplicity and clearness how every blessing was bound up with Him. He rehearsed the story of His wondrous life, His sacrificial death, and His triumph over the grave, climaxing all with the glorious message, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). During the time he was speaking the hearts of his listeners had been responding to the truth. When he made this declaration they, as one man, received the message and the Holy Spirit sealed and baptized them into the body of Christ.
It is true that repentance as such is not mentioned, but it is plainly implied. Turning from all else these Gentiles trusted alone in Christ.
Paul, in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, followed a similar outline, and with amazing results. It is a model sermon for all who would endeavor to preach the Gospel today. There was no effort to be startling or original, no attempt at eloquence or rhetorical flourish, no pandering to the natural desire to win the approval of his audience. Solemnly, honestly, earnestly, he told the story of Jesus, and showed at the last that all hope for salvation was in Him and in Him alone: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him, all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). Then with a solemn warning of the judgment that must fall upon them if they spurned the message of grace, he brought his discourse to a close. The whole city seemed to be stirred by the sermon of the strange preacher, for the Gentiles begged that it might be repeated, at least in substance, to them on the next Sabbath, and the eventual result was that many were converted and a church established in that city ere the Apostle and his companions moved on.
It is noteworthy that so simple a method of presentation should be accompanied with such power. But where the preacher is truly a godly man and seeks in the fear of God to show his hearers their need and then presents Christ — His person and His work — as the all-sufficient answer to their need, the Holy Spirit can be depended on to use the Word in producing conviction and leading to repentance.
The Epistle to the Romans, while not merely a sermon or homily, but rather a careful treatise, is the fullest unfolding of the Christian message given us in the Scriptures. It is true that in this letter we have the Gospel taught rather than preached, and in a certain sense it is the evangel set forth for the clearing of saints instead of for the salvation of sinners, yet God has used it, in whole or in part, to lead thousands to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. He who would preach so as to produce these desirable results cannot do better than saturate his own soul and fill his own mind with the truth as therein set forth.
How much Augustine in the fourth century and Luther in the sixteenth owed to this Epistle! It is the cornerstone of New Testament theology and the battle-ground of the Reformation. From the day that the Vicar-general Staupitz drew the monk Martin’s attention to the key verse, “The just shall live by faith,” it began to open up to the troubled spirit of the earnest young priest, leading him to see the folly of trusting any righteousness of His own, and the blessedness of resting in the righteousness of God as revealed in the Gospel. This was repentance indeed, never to be repented of!
In the opening chapters the inspired writer brings all mankind, as it were, into the court-room, and proves that all are sinners and guilty before God. The ignorant heathen are not to be judged for rejecting a Saviour of whom they have never heard, but they are already lost and guilty because of their own sins and will be judged accordingly. He deals with these sins unsparingly and in this becomes an example for all who would faithfully minister the truth to the souls of sinful men.
In the first part of the second chapter he exposes the hypocrisy and wickedness of the more cultured, philosophic class who condemned and despised their more uncouth and barbaric fellows, while themselves slaves to enormities just as vile and abominable in the sight of God. Then he looks at the religious Jew, boasting in the Law and priding himself on being of the seed of Abraham, while his life is such that through him the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles. He shows conclusively that none can ever hope to attain salvation on the ground of human merit or legal works, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “There is none righteous, no, not one.” The Law which had been proposed as a test for life had proven to be but a ministry of death and of condemnation. By disobedience all have come under judgment. No future reformation could atone for the past. All the world is brought in guilty before God.
Then comes the wonderful setting-forth of the divine provision for man’s desperate need. “But now” — upon the proven unrighteousness of all men — “the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe.”
Thus the question that perplexed Socrates was answered five hundred years later. Puzzled, he exclaimed, “It may be, Plato, that the Deity can forgive sins, but I do not see how.” Christ’s vicarious atonement is the righteous basis upon which God “can be just and the justifier of him who believes on Jesus.”
Why waste time on substitutes that can never move the conscience and produce repentance when the Gospel is the dynamic of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth? This is the message for our unreal and hypercritical age, as truly as for every era of the past. Men talk of a new evangel for changing times. But the old story of Calvary still meets the needs of sinners — and Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. Thousands can bear witness that they never realized how utterly lost and ruined they were until they saw themselves in the light of the cross of Jesus. No wonder Paul declared, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The old hymn is right that says,
“I need no other argument,
I want no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.”
Such was the Gospel of Luther, that set half Europe aflame with love for the Saviour and devotion to God. Such was the burning message of Whitefield, Edwards, and the Wesleys, that transformed untold thousands of lives in the days of the great awakening at the close of the eighteenth century.
Such was the story, which, told in living power by Jeremiah Meneely and his associates, shook Ireland and Scotland in the great revival of 1859-60.
Such was the trumpet call of Caughey and Finney and later of Dwight L. Moody, that brought tens of thousands to repentance in the mighty visitations of the nineteenth century in America and Britain.
Such was the forceful evangel of Reuben A. Torrey, J. Wilbur Chapman, and a host of other stalwarts as they visited Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and every corner of America in the early years of the present century.
Such was the flaming proclamation of that prince of preachers, Charles H. Spurgeon, as for a generation he ministered by tongue from his London pulpit, and by pen, to millions throughout the entire world.
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell” of Munhall, of A.C. Dixon, of Gypsy Smith, of Billy Sunday, of Mel Trotter, of the Stevens brothers, of Mordecai Ham, and scores of like-minded men of God, who in power have set forth men’s sinfulness and God’s great salvation through Christ’s redemptive work, and thereby moved myriads to repentance.
The Salvation Army’s marvellous success, in bringing the very vilest to find newness of life when they turned as confessed sinners to Christ, certainly did not rest upon a carefully reasoned out theology preached in cultured phraseology, but in stressing the awfulness of sin and its dreadful penalty, and the wondrous grace that provides deliverance for all who will come to the Saviour and find cleansing in His blood.
How pitiable it is to see men, who ought to be winners of souls, turning away from this grand old Gospel to the vapid puerilities of what is vaingloriously termed modern thought, and being content to preach on year after year without ever seeing a tear of repentance drop from the eyes of their hearers or moving any to cry in distress, “What must I do to be saved?”
Back to the Gospel, brethren, if like the men of God throughout the centuries who have turned many to righteousness, you would bring men to repentance and lead them to heaven. This will never result from substituting a social service gospel, which is really no gospel at all, but an attempt to make the cross of Christ of none effect. By saying this I do not mean for one moment to cast a slur upon well-meant efforts to ameliorate conditions under which millions of our fellow men are struggling. Everywhere that the pure evangel has found lodgment in human hearts it has bettered the social environment into which it has found its way. Even unsaved men profit by the love and grace set forth in the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Men are ashamed to do in the light what they will do unblushingly in the dark, and so the Gospel has curbed many social evils and bettered living conditions, wherever it has been received.
Of old it was said of Paul and his companions when they entered a certain city, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” The trouble with this fallen world is that it is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up. And twenty centuries of missions and evangelistic testimony have demonstrated the glorious fact that civilization always follows in the wake of the story of the cross, and men learn to think kindlier of one another and to be concerned about the welfare of their fellows when the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto them.
To take the position, as many who are hailed as “great thinkers” do today, that we are not to be so much concerned about individual salvation as we are to seek the social regeneration of the nations, is to be false to our commission, and is a case of sadly misplaced emphasis. Man is made for eternity. His few years here on earth are but as a moment in contrast to that which is to come and which lies beyond the grave. It is of all importance to every individual that he be properly oriented to his Creator — in other words that he be right with God — then all other necessary things will follow.
I recall hearing William Booth, the first general of the Salvation Army say, when explaining his “Darkest England” scheme, that its real objective was, not just the amelioration of social conditions, but first and foremost the bringing of men to repentance that their souls might be saved. I can recall the flash in his eye, and the noble bearing of his commanding figure as he exclaimed, “Take a man from the filth and squalor of the slums, exchange his rags for decent clothing, move him from the stifling stench of the city tenement to a neat little cottage in the pure air of the country, put him on his feet economically where he can make a decent living for himself and his family, and then let him die in his sins, unsaved, and be lost forever at last — really it is not worth while, and I, for one, would not attempt it.”
Godliness has “promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” But the only way one can enter into godliness is by turning to God as a repentant sinner and receiving the Saviour He has provided in the Gospel. Therefore the crying need of our degenerate times is for a revival of true old-fashioned, Christ-centered, Bible preaching that will call upon all men everywhere to repent in view of that coming day when God will judge the world in righteousness by His Risen Son.
[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]
Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside
Chapter 15 – CITY-WIDE REPENTANCE
While repentance is distinctly an individual exercise, yet we have in the Word of God, as we have already seen, churches called upon to repent, and we learn from our Lord’s words, in Matthew 12:41 and Luke 11:32, of the repentance of a city: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”
This is most suggestive, particularly in view of the failure of the cities wherein Christ had done most of His wondrous miracles, to turn to God. “If,” He declared, “the mighty works which have been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” This was one of the passages that caused great distress of mind and absolute bewilderment to the sensitive souls of Charlotte Bronte and her gifted sisters. If Tyre and Sidon would have repented under such circumstances, why did not a loving God give them a similar testimony in order that they might have been saved from destruction? One answer of course is, that the men and women of these ancient cities will be judged at last only for rejecting the light they had, and not on the ground of knowledge they did not possess.
But from these Scriptures we learn that a city in God’s sight is a responsible entity, and that He holds it accountable to obey His word and walk in His truth. This raises a question as to how far ministers of Christ ought to concern themselves about the sins of the cities wherein they labor, and to what extent they should lift up their voices against the evils of the day, when tolerated by those in authority. Many preachers take the ground that the servant of God is to confine himself wholly to explaining the Gospel and to calling individual sinners to repentance. The Lord will deal with civic unrighteousness in His own way and time, we are told, and it is best that pastors and evangelists ignore what it is not in their province or power to correct.
And yet God has unquestionably set His seal in a remarkable manner upon the efforts of some of His honored servants who in their day and generation battled against entrenched wickedness in civic and national affairs. Think of the influence exerted for righteousness by Savonarola in Florence, Calvin in Geneva, Luther in Erfurt, Knox in Edinburgh, Wesley in London and all England, and a host of like-minded men who cried out unflinchingly against the iniquities of the times in which they lived. It is written, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” But our own Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, whose name was a terror to privileged sin, well exclaimed, “But they go a lot faster when the righteous get after them.”
The prophets of old were set by God over cities and peoples and nations to call them to account for their evil-doing and to summon them to prepare to meet their God. The Saviour, as we have noted, dealt with cities as such, and nothing is more pathetic than His lament over unrepentant Jerusalem: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:41-44). Link with this His impassioned cry as recorded in Matthew 23:37-39: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Surely none can read such passages as these without recognizing the civic consciousness of Jesus. He yearned over men, not only as individuals needing personal salvation, but as community groups which would be blest on earth if they would only heed God’s Word and repent.
To many of us the story of the repentance of Nineveh is far more wonderful than that of the miracle of Jonah and the sea monster. People object to the latter as being unheard of elsewhere and so contrary to ordinary human knowledge that it is unbelievable. But where else in all human history do we find a great, godless, pleasure-loving city brought to its knees as in the case of Nineveh? If it were not written in the Word of God and so definitely authenticated by our Lord Himself (as also the instance of the experience of Jonah) we might hesitate to credit it. But here it is, solemnly recorded on the pages of Holy Writ.
A great city containing “six score thousand souls that knew not their right hand from their left” — that is, little children — must have had a very large adult population indeed. This vast throng were given over to impiety and wickedness of such gross nature that God could tolerate it no longer and sent His prophet to announce its summary destruction. As in the case of the cities of the plain, whose stench had reached to heaven, He would blot Nineveh from the face of the earth. But the Word of the Lord came home so convincingly to the hearts of the King and his councilors of state that they not only repented themselves, but called upon all in the city to do the same. The results were unparalleled in the history of religious revivals. The entire populace fell down before the Lord in sackcloth and ashes bemoaning their sins and crying for mercy. And God heard and pardoned — much to the disgust of Jonah, who was more concerned about his own prophetic reputation than about the salvation of an entire people.
Perhaps the nearest thing to this in secular history is the story of Savonarola and Florence, Italy. The impassioned monk, moved to deepest concern by the lasciviousness, the licentiousness, and the godless luxury of the Florentines, inveighed against the city, threatening dire judgment from heaven if there were no repentance, and moved the populace almost as one man. Drawing his messages largely from the last solemn book of the Bible, he preached in the Duomo month after month expository addresses on the Apocalypse. The awful figures of judgment depicted therein he declared to be about to find their fulfillment upon the Florentines and all Italy unless the people repeated and turned from their corrupt behavior.
Nobles, merchants, and laborers alike felt the power of his words and at his call they brought their treasures of gold, jewels, and objects of art and piled them in the public square at his feet, to be sold or distributed for the relief of the poor and needy. The churches were crowded with penitent suppliants confessing their sins and seeking divine forgiveness. For a time at least the city was largely purged from its iniquity and men realized their responsibility to seek to glorify God in their lives and with their means instead of living in lusts and pleasures on the earth.
It is true Savonarola was burned at the stake in the end, because of the hatred of a corrupt clergy; in that he but shared the baptism of his Lord and participated in His cup of sorrow. He was, undoubtedly, the most Christlike man of his generation, and he suffered as his Master suffered because he was a witness to the truth. His own words were really prophetic: “A Christian’s life consists in doing good and suffering evil.” After the lapse of centuries the church that decreed his martyrdom honored him as one of its outstanding apostles. Like Israel of old, the fathers slew him and the children built his sepulcher. So it ever is in this inconstant world.
Calvin’s outward regeneration of Geneva is another marked instance of the power of the Word — when faithfully proclaimed — to influence civic life. Unhappily there was a great deal of Old Testament legality about it all, and like most men “who really amount to anything, Calvin made some stupendous blunders, as in the case of Servetus, for which the world has never forgiven him. But his influence throughout was on the side of righteousness and truth, and for this he will be remembered forever and shine as the stars eternally.
Macaulay declared that the Wesleyan revival saved England from the horrors of anarchy and revolution. Yet Wesley’s great work was preaching the Gospel and calling sinners to repentance. That message stirred London and the other great cities of Britain to their depths, and even where it did not result in actual conversion to God it made people ashamed of the enormities they had condoned in church and state and led to a national renovation that was an untold blessing to millions.
Jonathan Edwards’ clarion call to repentance and faith in God meant more to the young American nation than can now be computed. He put the fear of the Lord in men’s hearts and this largely molded the character of the fathers of the republic.
After the terrible war between the states the voice of D.L. Moody was heard throughout the land, and across the seas, arousing, heartening, and bringing spiritual deliverance to many thousands who had lost all that life held dear. Accounted Chicago’s most prominent and most valued citizen for a generation, his influence for good in that great city was simply marvellous and, though more than another generation has passed since his voice was hushed in death, “he being dead yet speaketh” and his influence is perhaps greater today than when he was alive. His favorite text was, “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,” and since his death the truth of this has been increasingly manifest.
Observe carefully that these men, and many others whose names might be added to the illustrious list, wrought their works of power, not by mixing in political squabbles, but by faithfully preaching the Word of God, denouncing sin fearlessly and persistently, enjoining men to repent or face high Heaven in judgment, exalting Christ Jesus as the only Saviour and the supreme example for all who professed to follow Him, and insisting that outward forms and ceremonies could never satisfy an offended God. There must be true self-judgment, a turning to God from idols to serve Him wholly and to wait for His Son from heaven.
Such preaching inevitably produces results in reformation of life and purification of civic relationship. When the conscience is reached and the will is so captivated by grace that men turn to the Lord and cleave to Him with purpose of heart, all other desirable results will soon manifest themselves.
What is needed in every city of every land is, not a mere “new deal” or a political reformation, but preachers of righteousness who will proclaim the Word of God, crying, “Thus saith the Lord,” without fear or favor, faithfully dealing with the problems of the day in the light of the cross of Christ.
So long as ministers are afraid to expose the vices of the rich lest their collections shrink, or fear to cry aloud and spare not regarding such entrenched evils as the ruthless exploitation of labor, the horrors of prostitution, and the abominations of the liquor traffic, lest they offend some who perhaps directly or indirectly derive a part of their income from these very sources, the world will only despise them and think of them as what they really are, conscienceless sycophants toadying to the wealthy while they attempt superciliously to patronize the poor for outward effect.
On the other hand the clerical demagogue, blatantly advocating godless schemes for the renovation of society that involve, if successful, the very destruction of the church of God itself, is beneath contempt. These men, as a rule, are unsaved and do not even pretend to be born again. Their place, if anywhere, is on the lecture platform, not in the pulpit which they degrade by their utterances. It is one of the amazing signs of our times that in many churches communistic propaganda and similar unscriptural plans for overturning the present unsatisfactory order of society are not only tolerated but applauded. Yet Sovietism is the avowed enemy of God and His Christ, and churches that nurture these enemies of the cross are sheltering in their bosoms vipers that if not sternly dealt with will sting them to death in the end.
Real Christianity is the truest friend the laboring man will ever know. It provides for happiness, not only in this life, but in the life that is to come. It respects sacredly the natural rights of all men, exhorting the rich to use their wealth for the blessing of their fellows and guiding the poor into paths of contentment and peace. The Gospel received makes the only real brotherhood that the world has ever seen. Tolstoi, disappointed to find how powerless his plausible theories were to move the hearts of men, exclaimed sadly, “I found out that there could never be a brotherhood without brothers.” This is the great secret many of our Christless social reformers have never yet learned. Did ministers everywhere realize it, they would cease trying to work from the outside in, and would begin at once to work from the inside out. There will never be a regenerated society without regenerated individuals. Hence our Lord’s stress on the heavenly birth: “Except a man be born again he cannot see [nor enter] the kingdom of God.”
This Kingdom is not, as many religious leaders would have us believe, simply an idealistic state of human society. It is the aggregate of those who have humbled themselves before God as repentant sinners and received the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal Saviour: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1st Peter 1:23-25).
Let all God-anointed preachers proclaim anew what Spurgeon called “the three R’s,” Ruin, Regeneration, and Redemption, and we may hope to see again, not only individuals, but whole communities brought to repentance.
To this end we need to get back to our Bibles and back to our knees. Let prayer meetings be re-established in churches where for years there has not been spiritual fervor sufficient to maintain them, and all kinds of entertainments have been substituted in their place. Let the Word of God be given its rightful place, and let ministers and people cease criticizing and sitting in judgment upon it; but, instead, let them study it carefully in dependence on the Holy Spirit for divine illumination. In the light of that Word let our manner of life be sternly judged, putting away every known evil and confessing our past sin and failure. Then may we expect God to be gracious, to grant repentance unto life to cities long given over to our modern paganism, and so to bring again times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
The days are dark. The need is urgent. Men are dying all about us in their sins. The Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. Let it be faithfully preached, and it will do its work as of old. Nothing else has the same attractive power or will appeal so winsomely to the weary hearts and troubled souls of the men, women, and children, who make up our great, godless cities, whose appalling need should be a challenge to every preacher of the Word.
[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]
“Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
I have observed and been involved with many churches – some grew; most did not. I noticed that very few churches experienced growth. Most came to the place where they plataued, both spiritually and numerically, and then they would gradually decline. The more I saw this the greater my discontentment became with the status quo of plataued and declining churches.
It has often been said that the church is but one generation away from extinction – the point being that personal evangelism is God’s appointed remedy. Indeed, the church is in trouble. There is little urgency anymore to win the lost to Christ. There is no panic to redeem the souls of lost people. What happened to all the stories of people’s lives being changed, as they were in the book of Acts, where people joined the church every day (Acts 2:41-47)? What happened to the church? Few people are changing anymore. They’re certainly not being saved every day. They are still just as disconnected, lost, and confused as they ever were. What happened to the church?
There has never been a more important time in history than now to help people understand the great things God is doing. He is gathering a people to Himself for His glory and honor, and He wants us to declare that message to the world. There are many churches that are content to sit in their holy huddle every week and get fed in the Word, but the reason we get fed is not only for our benefit, but so we can go out and minister to the world, so we can be salt and light.
A good definition of missions is taking Christ’s message outside of the church. Anytime we take the gospel outside the four walls of the church, we are engaged in missions. We want the church to be a desirable destination for people to come. The best way to reach them is to mobilize the church to go out and bring them in. We need to see the church as a mission to lost people.
Lots of things never get done, but the Great Commission cannot be one of them! It’s no secret that making disciples is the mission of the church. When we fail to make disciples, the church fails to grow. Jesus began with a handful of disciples and turned the world upside down! He wants us to follow His example.
Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples as they preach, teach, and baptize. Today, Jesus is still commanding the church to make disciples for His Kingdom. His commission is worldwide and we are to go – whether it is next door or to another country – and make disciples. This is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus “Lord.” The question is: are we going to be obedient to the Lord’s command and if so, what does that look like?
There is a story about a man who prayed every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop, so he could exit the bus. But then the big guy burst into tears and began to weep. He cried out with a loud voice, “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner. I need the Lord. Won’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian man and pleaded, “Can you show me how to be saved?” But the man immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this the sign I’ve been asking for?”
What about you? Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing? The Lord has already commanded the church to go and make disciples. Perhaps the reason we’re seeing a decline in the church is because we’re not making disciples.
If I’ve seen any success in ministry, it was times when God used me to make a difference in another’s life. Those results are not easy to quantify. They don’t happen every day, but if a year goes by without it happening, something’s wrong. There needs to be tremendous urgency when it comes to making disciples and sharing the gospel with lost people.
One of the purposes of the church is to minister to the world. It is the duty and privilege of every child of God to win the lost to Christ and make disciples. The effectiveness of churches and individual believers is judged by whether or not we are reaching others with the gospel. Going and making disciples is central to what Christ has called us to do. There are seven truths with respect to the gospel, each of which has a bearing on our responsibility to share it with others:
First, the gospel is Elementary. It is the simple story of God’s love for humanity and His offer to save all who place their trust in Him: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).
Somewhere along the way, however, we have complicated the gospel to the degree that it has become convoluted and difficult to understand. People don’t need to have a thorough understanding of systematic theology in order to place their trust in Jesus. All they need is simple childlike faith. Look at the early disciples. None of the Twelve had a theological education. Peter was a fisherman, anything but educated. Matthew was a tax collector. He was not a biblical scholar.
One of the most common excuses I hear from those who are not actively involved in evangelism is that they simply don’t feel qualified. They say, “I just don’t know enough about the faith,” or, “I’d rather leave that to someone who knows more about the Bible than I do.” But the gospel is so simple that even a little child can understand it.
One of the reasons why children and youth are so vital to the life of the church is because they are ripe for the harvest. They have not become “set in their ways”. We need to focus on the story of the gospel, especially with young people. Statistics show that 19 out of every 20 people who come to Christ do so before they reach the age of 24. Young people are especially receptive to the gospel.
The renowned evangelist D.L. Moody once spoke with a woman who didn’t like his method of evangelism. “I don’t really like mine either,” he said. “What’s yours?” She replied that she didn’t have one. Moody said, “Then I like mine better than yours.” The point being that we are responsible to share the gospel with lost people. Some evangelism is better than none at all.
Not all of us may be able to discuss the finer points of theology, but like the blind man, we can say, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Those who know Jesus find it very simple to introduce Him to others. The gospel is elementary.
Second, the gospel is Exclusive. There is no other way to gain access to God and eternal life except through Jesus Christ. Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The exclusivity of the gospel goes against the grain of our postmodern culture and many take offense to the truth that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Postmodernists are appalled by the audacity of any one truth being the only truth, or any one way being the only way. The exclusivity of the gospel may not be popular, but Jesus tells us that He is the “only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life.” Any message which claims there is salvation in anyone or anything other than Jesus is heresy.
One of the most difficult questions many Christians fear being asked by a lost person is this: “What about all those people who never heard about Jesus? What about those people who have never had a chance? How can God send them to hell?” But these questions arise from a faulty understanding of why people go to hell. People don’t go to hell because God wants them to, they go to hell because they deserve to. All of us are sinners and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23, 6:23). But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins! He acted as our Substitute. He paid the penalty for our sins, so we could be forgiven. The gospel is exclusive.
Third, the gospel is Eternal. It is timeless, changeless, and applicable to all people, in all places (Matthew 24:14). Many things have changed in the two thousand years since Jesus ascended into heaven, but don’t be fooled by all the changes in our world; the most prominent things have stayed the same: people are still born with a sinful nature, they still rebel against God, and they are still helpless to save themselves. The message that God loves us and sent His Son, Jesus, to save us has not changed. It is timeless and applies to everyone. The methods we employ to share it may have changed, the language we use to communicate it may have changed, the customs surrounding our worship and singing may have changed, but the message is still the same.
The fact Jesus went to the cross in order to pay for our sins is good news. The fact Jesus was buried in a grave, but rose 3 days later is good news. Because of what Jesus has done, all people, from all nations, of every race, every color, and every social level have the opportunity to be forgiven, saved, and brought into a right relationship with God with the hope of eternal life in heaven. That’s good news. The gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal.
Fourth, the gospel is Exacting. It is a message which demands everything from those who accept it. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
I often wonder how many people who claim to follow Jesus really understand what it is He wants of those who follow Him. Do they really understand that believing on Jesus means that they abandon everything to Him? Do they really preach a message in conformity with the one He preached? Or have they come up with their own version of the gospel?
When we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must be careful not to preach an incomplete version; one which calls for nothing, but promises everything. Sadly, this is what many people see and hear when they go to many churches today. They simply hear a part of the gospel: the part which speaks to what we get out of it and not the part which demands everything from us.
If it were that easy to follow Jesus, if all it entailed was believing that He is God and that He wants good things for us, then there is no reason why anyone would reject it. But the gospel, as Jesus taught it and Scripture explains it, means that we surrender ourselves, totally and completely, by faith, to Him. The gospel demands that we take up our cross, the instrument of death, and follow Jesus. It calls us to surrender our wills to the will of the Father, even as Jesus did. It assaults our pride and self-sufficiency, calling on us to renounce our own abilities and to see ourselves for the sinners we are. It demands we abandon our love for this world, and instead place our treasure in heaven and our hope in the world to come. A faith which demands nothing from us is neither a biblical nor a saving faith. The gospel is exacting.
Fifth, the gospel is Enlightening. It teaches us to obey all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus does not call us to simply make converts, but to make disciples. The Great Commission includes the careful discipling of new believers. Jesus is not satisfied with any hasty profession of faith. We are not called to evoke decisions, but to make disciples. And that is an altogether different assignment.
Making disciples involves Christian training. That is why I believe many activities at church need to be geared towards Bible study, at every level. There is to be basic Bible study, designed to help people understand the basic claims of Christ and to help them come to faith in Jesus. And there is to be more intense Bible study as well, which is designed to help Christians grow, mature, and develop deeper in the faith. All of this is part of what it means to make disciples. The gospel is enlightening.
Sixth, the gospel is Effective. It thoroughly transforms those who believe: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The person who truly accepts Christ is a brand new person, old things have passed away and all things have become new. If a person is really saved, there will be a metamorphosis in their life, a transformation whereby they will be changed.
If there is no change, there is no salvation. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt. 7:20). That’s not only the fruit of new converts, but the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Do we possess those qualities in increasing measure?
If the fruit of the Spirit is not evidenced in our life, how can we say Jesus has changed us? How can we claim transformation if there is little to no difference between us and the lost guy next door? The gospel will change us from the inside out. It is not merely a moral code we try and obey; it is not merely a set of nice things we strive towards. The gospel is revolutionary, it is transformational, it changes all who truly accept it to be like Jesus. The question the world is constantly asking as they look at your life and mine is, “Did it work for them? Were they changed? Do I see any transformation in their life?” The authentic gospel of Jesus Christ is effective.
Seventh, the gospel is Extended. Those who truly accept Christ will be busy about the business of sharing Him with others: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we have a stewardship of the gospel, something for which we will be held accountable. It is something God has entrusted to us. But more than that, it is something He has commanded us to do. Sharing the gospel should never be seen as a burden, like paying taxes, but rather as a privilege, like being an ambassador. In fact, that’s what the Scripture says we are: we are ambassadors, sent from Heaven’s throne to the world around us to be messengers of peace and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). We are to go to others on behalf of God Himself and to offer them the opportunity to know Him through Jesus Christ. We are to tell them of His love, and invite them to accept His offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
While speaking in London, evangelist D. L. Moody was approached by a British companion who wanted to know the secret of Moody’s success in leading people to Christ. Moody directed the man to his hotel window and asked, “What do you see?” The man looked down on the square and reported a view of crowded streets. Moody suggested he look again. This time the man mentioned seeing people – men, women, and children. Moody then directed him to look a third time. The man became frustrated that he was not seeing what Moody wanted him to see. Finally, the great evangelist came to the window with watery eyes and said, “I see people going to hell without Jesus. Until you see people like that, you will not lead them to Christ.”
What kind of witness are you? When God calls you into account someday, for the stewardship of the gospel, when He asks you to tell Him how you handled the most precious and powerful gift He ever placed in the hands of humanity, what will you say? Now that you know and understand what the Good News is, what are you going to do with it? What difference are you going to make in the life of God’s church?
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With Diverse and Strange Doctrines
For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;
which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.
We have an altar,
whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,
by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things,
which is the head, even Christ:
It is an age-old deception. Adding to the Scripture is one of the easiest ways to deceive believers. Why? Because error is cleverly brought in as “new information” that it is claimed will “illuminate” the Word and enrich the life of a believer. Sola Scriptura is being challenged by many new modes of augmentation. Adding to Scripture with supplemental “diverse and strange doctrines” is a form of heresy.
Today’s evangelical leaders are adding to Scripture in every possible way. The rush is on! Things that would have been considered unimaginable even ten short years ago are rapidly being incorporated into the Christian faith. The Bible plus. Adding to Scripture is a popular pastime, very lucrative, and exciting to the senses, particularly as it pertains to speculating about biblical prophecy, envisioning new revelation, or attaining deeper levels of spirituality. But what did the early reformers think about adding to Scripture? And what does the Bible have to say about it? Today’s post takes a look at Matthew Poole’s 1600s Bible Commentary* on the verses above.
“Added to the Gospel”
According to Matthew Poole, “diverse and strange doctrines” are things that add to the Gospel in Scripture:
“Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines“: the doctrine of Christ being immutable, it is but necessary to dehort [dissuade, ed.] His subjects from deserting it, which the apostle doth here; that they should not be wheeling or whirling about with an unstable and inconstant motion of judgment, faith, and practice, about such human doctrines which are vain rules to lead to God, such as are different in nature from Christ, one and the same rule, and those very numerous and various, strange and untrue, taught by false apostles and teachers, taken out of Gentilism and Judaism, and added to the Gospel by them, as necessary, together with Christ, to justification and salvation. [bold added]
The Gospel is being added to by those claiming that their new information is necessary, “together with Christ,” as supplementary material that enriches and enhances the plain doctrine of Jesus Christ. The following Scriptures are among those cited by Poole as evidence that believers should exercise caution lest they “carried about,” “corrupted” or “beguiled” by these added-on “diverse and strange doctrines,” i.e. heresy:
through his subtilty, so your minds
should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
(2 Cor. 11:3)
that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith,
giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy;
having their conscience seared with a hot iron;…
But refuse profane and old wives’ fables,
and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.(1 Timothy 5: 1,2,7)
even as there shall be false teachers among you,
who privily shall bring in damnable heresies,
even denying the Lord that bought them,
and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways;
by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
(2 Peter 2:1-2)
Have you noticed? These verses, and others like them, are seldom taught in churches anymore. There is a carefree, even careless and lax attitude about warnings regarding “diverse and strange doctrines.” Many evangelicals think they can handle the adding-on of extra-biblical material and still stay sound in the faith. Some flatter themselves that they are immune to heresy. Others seem to think that the modern-day church is perfecting to the point where it doesn’t need to be concerned about heresy anymore. Their focus has shifted to all of the exciting methods being brought into the church world, or the “new” revelations being unearthed, or the rapidly changing global or cosmic events happening. This flood of information substantially alters how the Bible is viewed. The Bible is deemed insufficient and must be augmented with data pouring in from all sorts of spurious sources.
However, Scripture is true and it doesn’t change. It warns believers that they can be “beguiled,” “corrupted,” and “tossed to and fro.” It warns believers they are susceptible to the “sleight of men,” and can be seduced and “deceived” by “cunning craftiness.”
In Ephesians 4:14-15 the Apostle Paul uses the word “children.” This is referring to those who are weak, immature or unstable in the faith. These tender ones are most susceptible to being “tossed to and fro” when Scripture is added-onto with enticing allurements. They are most apt to be “carried about with every wind of doctrine.” They are easier to manipulate by “sleight of hand” or “cunning craftiness.” Matthew Poole, commenting on the phrase “whereby they lie in wait to deceive,” points out:
…ambush; the word here used, is translated wiles (Eph. 6:11), against which the apostle would have them fenced with “the whole armour of God,” and seems to signify a laying in ambush, or assaulting a man behind his back; a secret and unseen way of circumventing, a laying wait to draw them that are weak from the truth.
In our era of pervasive Humanism, where evangelicals now believe that human beings are basically good at heart, it is hard to grasp this sober scriptural warning. No one seems worried about being spiritually ambushed. But this is what Scripture says, and unfortunately we hear many examples of shepherds fleecing and abusing sheep — their own flock as well as the sheep of other shepherds. Popular leaders sell their add-on wares in the great evangelical marketplace. They have thrilling new books, exciting new programs, arousing new theologies, provocative new revelations, unveiled new secrets, decoded new mysteries, stimulating new understandings, etc. There is great profit to be had by ambushing immature sheep with their own ***exclusive*** add-ons to Scripture.
“PUFFED UP” with “A SHEW OF WISDOM”
There is a specific danger of adding to God’s Word with “diverse and strange doctrines.” Believers are prone to becoming “vainly puffed up” with a “shew of wisdom.” Matthew Poole explained this phrase in Hebrews, and cited additional verses to make this point:
“Not with meats”: doctrines of meats and ceremonies, which are divers, and strange from Christ’s cannot make the heart agreeable to God, but only distract and divide it from Him; for whoever is not in and from Christ, is strange to God, and abhorred by Him…
and worshipping of angels,
intruding into those things which he hath not seen,
vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,…
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship,
and humility, and neglecting of the body;
not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. (Col. 2:18, 22)
for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
And their word will eat as doth a canker:(2 Tim. 2:16-17a)
“Meats” here refers to adding-on requirements to the faith that “beguile” believers into feeling they need to do more spiritually. It can lead to a “puffed up” feeling of elitism, especially when a believer feels he is privy to exclusive new information that is superior to to the old outmoded plain Bible teaching. There is a temptation to make “a shew of wisdom in will worship.” Indeed, there is a mad scramble in the evangelical world today to try to out-do one another in being hip (“puffed up”) by jumping into any new-fangled, spiritual-sounding thing. No need to exercise discernment; everyone’s doing it so it must be okay, right? As long as it is “spiritual” it must be Christian, right?
Following “divers and strange doctrines” eventually ends up in some sort of legalism, which is why the writer of Hebrews stated “not with meats” in the context of discussing “diverse and strange doctrines.” Adding-to Scripture may not seem like legalism on its surface, but a believer soon discovers that additional teachings come equipped with additional requirements. There is a point when a believer may begin to notice an unsettled “carried about” or “tossed to and fro” feeling. How much energy is spent engaged in the added-on commitments of time, talents and money! “Diverse and strange doctrines” are man-made add-ons that promise believers a heightened spirituality, greater insights, the acclamations of man, and even prosperity if believers do certain things. Following the latest blog postings, book publishings, conferences and spiritual-sounding pronouncements of the leaders who are busily adding-on to Scripture can be a full-time job! But at what cost to one’s faith?
Note: If a leader is charging money to divulge “new” secrets or “hidden” revelations, save yourself the money and hassle. Don’t buy it! The plain Gospel of Salvation is FREE, sufficient and open to all!
Matthew Poole warned that we will reap no true spiritual benefit from adding-on strange doctrines and practicing them, in his comments on the phrase “which have not profited them”:
“which have not profited them that have been occupied therein”: those who did converse in these various and strange doctrines, professing and constantly practising them, observed times, and meats, and ceremonies, have not been profited by them; for being carnal and earthly, they could not justify them as to their state God-ward, nor could they renew or sanctify their souls, nor yield any advantage to their spiritual life; and being perishing could not profit to the attaining of eternal life…
Adding-On: Another Altar
False altars are associated with idolatry in Scripture. The fact that the writer of Hebrews mentions an “altar” in the context of “diverse and strange doctrines” is noteworthy. Adding-on to Scripture is a form of idolatry, a strange altar with strange fire. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have an altar, which is Jesus Christ. Matthew Poole commented:
“We have an altar”: these strange doctrines are not only unprofitable, but perilous to Christians, since they disinterest all that entertain them, as to any participation of Christ; since His subjects, adhering to His simple and immutable doctrine, have a right and just claim to, and an actual use of, Christ, as their altar, in opposition to the Mosaical; and from whom they have altar sustenance for their souls, in opposition to the Jewish meats, while they attend on Him; all the quickening benefits issuing from the sacrifice of His human nature on the altar of His God-head, as reconciliation and adoption to God, justification and perseverance therein, to the perfecting of it in glory…. We have altar sanctification of our persons and offerings in our access to God from Him…. God had but one altar under the law, and He prohibited all others, and complained of and threatened the increase of them…
that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.
Matthew Henry in his 1700s Commentary on this same verse agreed, and made the point this altar is Jesus. Any other altar, with “diverse and strange doctrines” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
The Christian church has its altar. It was objected against the primitive Christians that their assemblies were destitute of an altar; but this was not true. We have an altar, not a material altar, but a personal one, and that is Christ; He is both our altar, and our sacrifice; He sanctifies the gift.
altars shall be unto him to sin.
according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars;
according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty:
He shall break down their altars, He shall spoil their images.(Hosea 10:1-2)
Those who add on to Scripture, who dally at fascinating foreign altars, will soon find their heart is divided, as it states above. And the Lord Jesus Christ warned that “No servant can serve two masters.” We cannot serve both “God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:16) The cognitive dissonance of a divided heart ultimately results in the bad fruit of a seared conscience. And those who look for truth at the pagan altars of “diverse and strange doctrines” will not find it.
Diverse and strange doctrines are “profane,” i.e. “unholy.” New teachings don’t usually come into the church in flaming colors proclaiming they are a new heresy! Rather, most heresies come in as subtle additions, challenging ideas, new thoughts to consider, speculations, etc. Add-ons can come from such scholarly sources as “scientific revelations.” Most originate from pagan sources! But Scripture takes a dim view of these “profane” teachings, likening them to “fables” and “vain babblings”:
and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.(1 Tim. 1:9)
avoiding profane and vain babblings,
and oppositions of science falsely so called:(1 Tim. 6:20)
for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
(2 Tim. 2:16)
lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you,
and thereby many be defiled;
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person,
as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
Note that it says that “profane and vain babblings” will “increase unto more ungodliness.” There is a tendency for profane teachings to spread like leaven, corrupting believers and then entire churches. Hebrews 12:15-16 refers to Esau as a “profane person,” and Matthew Poole noticed how the “root of bitterness” acts like leaven in increasing profanity:
the springing up and growing of errors, heresies, or immoralities, as profaneness, filthiness, etc., which are apt to infect churches, and as they spread, to molest, trouble, and disturb them, and to keep them from pursuing holiness.
“thereby many be defiled”: lest by but one such poisonous root, a whole church of Christians may be infected and poisoned, their sin being as apt to spread and diffuse itself as leaven, 1 Cor. 5:6, to taint the whole lump, Gal. 5:9; and how early, even in the apostles’ time, for want of obeying this caution, were the primitive churches corrupted, both in doctrine and morals, by loose, filthy heretics among them!
Pursuing “diverse and strange doctrines” will only “increase unto more ungodliness.” There is a very real defilement that takes place when anyone begins to search into occult and pagan mysteries to try to glean truth. Those who take this route find that it becomes a never-ending spiral of “new truths,” each new nugget more intoxicating. Believers will soon discover themselves lost and wandering on dark paths with no end. These are dangerous paths that do not fulfill, and do not lead to the Cross of Jesus Christ.
BE ESTABLISHED & STEADFAST
Believers, lost and unsteady in their faith, can repent and return to a sole dependence on God’s Word for sustenance, spiritual edifying and strengthening. A symptom of losing one’s moorings on Scripture can be the actual feeling of being “carried about” and “tossed to and fro.” What is the remedy for this? Matthew Poole asserts that only the mercy of God’s grace can make our hearts steadfast and established on the “simple doctrine of Christ,” which gives us a solid foundation of maturity:
“For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace”: for the goodness of heart-establishment unto God is no less than full and complete salvation of the soul…. And this is only wrought by grace, the free love of God put out in Christ, for regeneration and preservation of souls unto life eternal, carried in the simple doctrine of Christ, which is always the same,
be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Cor. 15:15)
seeing ye know these things before,
beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked,
fall from your own stedfastness.
But grow in grace,
and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
(2 Peter 3:17-18)
and God, even our Father, which hath loved us,
and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
Comfort your hearts,
and stablish you in every good word and work.
(2 Thess. 2: 16-17)
who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus,
after that ye have suffered a while,
make you perfect, stablish,
strengthen, settle you.
(1 Peter 5:10)
*All quotations taken and adapted for blog posting from A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Volume III, Matthew-Revelation, by Matthew Poole (Hendrickson Publishers). All bold and emphases added.
The Battle for Truth
Let us be mindful of the words of A.W. Tozer, who wrote:
“So skilled is error at imitating truth that the two are constantly being mistaken for each other. It is therefore critically important that the Christian take full advantage of every provision God has made to save him from delusion – prayer, faith, constant meditation of the Scriptures, obedience, humility and the illumination of the Holy Spirit” (That Incredible Christian).
We need to ask God for courage and boldness as we rely on the power of His Word. May we all become more like the apostles who were strong, bold, fearless, dogmatic, unaccommodating of error, courageous, intolerant of sin, inflexible concerning the Gospel, controversial, willing to die for the truth and fully devoted to Christ. We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).
During these times of great deception, the Body of Christ must respond with a theological, biblical worldview that defends the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must protect the purity of His Gospel for the sake of His elect.
From Apprising Ministries
The Way To Life Is Death…To Self
So there’s the sad situation of your evil “true self,” and mine. This would be a tragic story indeed if this is where our loving and merciful Creator left it…but He didn’t. God came into the world in Christ and lived the life of perfection required to be in His awesome presence. What you need to understand here is that the Lord isn’t some kind of cosmic meanie demanding perfection just for the sake of perfection. No, the LORD God Almighty literally cannot have evil in His presence so our Creator Christ Jesus Himself paid the unspeakably awful price on the Cross for those who will believe and thus become God’s children (see–John 1:12).
This is written to exhort you that rather than looking around in Christian bookstores for silly little self-help books that will only tell you want you want to hear, open up the Word of God and read what it says about the true nature of mankind. Because the only way you will ever come to know the absolute Truth about the only God (see–John 5:44) is to go the way of the Cross. And what happened when someone went to the cross? Did they go discover their “true self”? Or maybe this precious gift of being themselves while nailed to the cross would then lead them on the “sacred call to self-discovery”? No, they went there to die and by so doing they ceased being themselves. And the Master already said to you – “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
There are at least two things that now come emerging here. The Christian Church in America isn’t producing “seeds” because it simply refuses to go to the Cross and die. And unless we tell people the real truth about our evil “true self,” which I have just shared with you here from the Bible, they will never be driven by the Spirit of God to that Cross and cry out:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And the real truth is that telling people what they want to hear is killing them…forever…
Link also HERE