Saturday, 20 December 2008

Evangelical Ministers in Abundance!

It is quite amazing, and a little amusing, to hear students for the ministry delighting in the fact that all the students for the ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland are sound evangelicals - a very welcome fact indeed. It is a sign that God is blessing His church when He gives Gospel ministers to her.

The obverse is also true; when He gives only liberals to the ministry, that is a sign that He has placed the church under His judgement. When there is a bit of each, then it is difficult to assess what exactly it is that God is doing.

But when all the students for the ministry are 'sound evangelical men,' there is cause for great rejoicing amongst the people of God. When young ministerial students report this wonderful fact, they do so with an air of superiority at times, and with a sense of gratitude to God at others.

I started formal training for the Christian ministry in the Presbyterian college, Belfast in 1975, and I can remember saying to a senior minister how great the future for the church really was, now that God has called all these good young men into the ministry.

He, also an evangelical man, took the wind out of my sails when he told me that when he entered the ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland some 35 years earlier, that all the students in his day were also evangelicals.

What had happened in the meantime? To my recollection, most of the men of my friend's generation were not noted evangelicals, as we both admitted. So what happened?

Several things come to mind. First, it is possible for men to lose their 'first love' for Christ and the Gospel, and these are then forced into second place, if even that, in the affections of these men. A love for Christ and the Gospel that has run cold, is no love at all. They have lost the reason for their entering the ministry.

Decency would demand that they resign, or are removed, but pride and security, tempered with the desire for popularity, demand otherwise.

Second, the denomination sucks them in. While officially within the Presbyterian system of church government, there are no preferments, as in Anglicanism, for example, those at the top of this system do exert a certain 'benign' influence on them, offering them inducements. Young evangelical ministers of promise are promoted to positions of leadership within the wider church, promised foreign travel opportunities, lured by the potential of a bigger congregation in which to minister, told who best to associate with, and whom to stay away from at all costs - those men who would not do your promotion chances any favours - even have held out to them the possibility of the Moderator's Chair.

Now these inducements are there for the 'good churchmen' of the denomination, and the younger evangelicals, having taken their eye of the ball, are deluded into following this evil advice. A senior churchman of any credibility or standing cannot and does not hold to this simple Gospel that they preached in their earlier years of their ministry, so they tone down their preaching, and make it a real struggle for their hearers to discern any clear message. So they give up the Gospel in order to hold on to their chosen careers for life!

A third reason why men depart from the evangelical message is the love of this world and all its attractions. How many have sold the pass in order to have more of this world's goods! Here again, toning down the Gospel so that it becomes palatable to "the people that matter" within the church, the good payers, the people of standing in the community, the people who can decide your destiny, yes even within the Presbyterian system!, the people who 'count,' is resorted to. These worldly thought patterns draw good men away from the Gospel that may have once burned in their hearts and souls, thus ending their evangelical credentials.

Fourth, there is unbelievable pressure in congregations for men to conform to the way things have always been done there. If every young person reaching the age of 15 or 16 has been admitted to church membership and privileges, then the new man must not change this practice. If every new born thing that moves has been 'christened' by the previous minister, and/or the one before that, then the new man must conform. If having a Bible Study and Prayer Meeting has not been there in the past, then he will be allowed to hold these, but must not insist that these are attended by elders, deacons, Sunday schools teachers, youth leaders, and all new communicants. Why? Because they might not be into such things. And in any case, you don't want to lose members from the church!

And the result? Ministers have three choices: they either relinquish their precious privileges and 'go with the flow,' or they will have to move to another church, or they will be removed from their present charge by Presbytery on the grounds of incompatibility of minister and congregation.

So a few men were still clear-cut evangelicals when I left the church, but only a few. Young zealous evangelicals need to know that the situation that they are today reporting was virtually identical with the case 65 years ago, and 30 years ago.

Yet where is the church today? In theological bankruptcy, and in the spiritual wilderness, having no saving message for a lost and dying humanity, and therefore incapable of criticising what is now tolerated within her ranks.

I dare say that this pattern will repeat itself for generations to come, and young zealous evangelicals who train to minister in the big liberal and ecumenical churches, and sadly also in some of the smaller evangelical churches, will express delight in the influx of godly evangelical men to serve in the ministry.

Christians must pray for these good young men who offer themselves for the Christian ministry. But they must also take them under their more experienced wings, and be mentors for them.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Worshipping GOD

When you look at the issue of worship within the church, where do you say the emphasis really lies? On the worship? Or, on God?

Without hesitation, I aver that the emphasis, almost universally within the professing church today, is on the worship.

That's why we have worship bands/groups, worship leaders, worship songs, worship services, etc.

What is forgotten in all this is Who it is we are worshipping! Our worship tends to be directed towards the worship of worship, not the worship of God. It is better to focus on getting the worship right, than Who is being worshipped. Problems arise in many churches when God is brought into the idea of worship, because what He sees as being acceptable worship is decidedly NOT what the modern church believes and practices today.

Unless and until the church returns to what is the acceptable worship of God, she is erring greatly. To do this, she must denounce her current idolatrous worship, and get back to Who God is, and what He wants. He has told us Who He is, and He has told us how He is to be worshipped. And the one thing that is prohibited here is innovation!

May God teach the church this lesson before it is too late.

Meetings more abundantly

Listening to the contemporary church, you could be excused for believing that Jesus said, "I have come that they might have numerous committee meetings to attend, and committee meetings more abundantly."

This attitude has found its way into the outside world. Visit any government department or agency, and you will see not a few people walking about carrying a folder, and looking as if they are very important people. Try to speak to a particular person in some big corporate organisation, and more than likely they will be at a meeting or seminar somewhere.

Examine some organisations, and you will discover hat most committees are manned by a small number of people - the professional committee people, the people without whom the organisation would collapse, the really important people.

Why do people join so many committees? And why do they attend so many meetings? More fundamentally, is this why they were called into the Gospel ministry? Are committee meetings to take precedence over the real work of the ministry?

Ask yourself, Is this why were called into the Christian ministry?

On reflection, I consider that those ministers who are habitual committee people have a spiritual problem - they have egos that are going quickly, because they see themselves as those who cannot be done without.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Discovering God's Will

New Christians are taxed greatly about this matter. "I want to do God's will, but how do I know what it is?" They have yearned and prayed, worried and lamented, discussed and argued, about this solemn matter, and have got nowhere as a result. They are as confused as ever!

What we have to realise is that God has two wills: there is His sovereign will by which He orders everything that comes to pass for His own glory; and there is His moral will that He has revealed in the Scriptures, and summarised in the Ten Commandments.

But the young Christian will ask, "Is there an individual of God for my life?" A good question, and a sign that the believer is keen to do God's will in his life.

Now this provokes an important question: does God have an individual will for all His children? Is there such a thing as being "in the very centre of God's will" for my life? Can I know "God's perfect will for me?"

First, I want you to tell me where these phrases are found in the Bible. Answer: Nowhere. They are not biblical categories. This explain why it is so difficult to discover God's perfect will for your life - it does not exist!

Second, God's Word describes God as a Father, a Shepherd and a Guide for His people.

(a) As a Father, He surrounds us with everything we need in the days of spiritual infancy, and as we grow into maturity, He gives us increasing personal responsibility to make our own decisions that must be within His moral will/law. The more mature we become, the more spiritual freedom we enjoy in life. So we can make our decisions on the basis of God's moral will - as revealed in Scripture - allowing us to serve Him within that broad field.

(b) As a Shepherd, He tends and provides for us, and so long as we stay within the area He has given us, we can do very much as we please. He does not come to us and tell us what blade of grass we should eat, or how much water we should drink. So long as we stay within the boundaries He has set, we can do as we please.

(c) As a Guide, He directs our steps along life's way, more so in the early days of our Christian pilgrimage, but less so as we mature in our faith. The children of Israel were guided by "a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night." In the Christian era, after the initial stages of the establishment of the church, He again allowed His people certain freedoms to decide what they wanted to do, so long as it remained within His moral will/law.

So what is God's will for my life? To grow in holiness and godliness and in likeness to Jesus Christ. To live life so that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Redeemed people are to be 'good' people. What college ought you to go to, and what career ought you to take up? Well, that's up to you, and will be in accordance with your interests and abilities. Where should you live, and in what way should you serve God? Again, you decide where to live, and as a Christian, you are already in the full-time service of the Lord. You are to "shine as lights" wherever you are, and to be "His witnesses ... to the ends of earth."

So discovering God's will is not the big problem that some make it out to be. God's will for you personally is that you might be holy in all you do, and where you do it is quite immaterial.

Contemporary Worship - a Great Crowd-puller

"Contemporary worship" - what on earth is that? "Worship in today's church must be modern if we are to attract and hold the young people." Oh yes?

This is true in every church or Christian grouping that has knowingly or unknowingly swallowed theological liberalism. This has been "drip-fed" to the churches, and to ministerial students in training for the most exalted calling there is. And they, in turn have "drip-fed" this liberalism to their congregations. You might protest with, "But my church and my minister preach the Gospel; they are not liberals!"

But this begs two basic questions: what is liberalism, and what is the Gospel?

Put simply, liberalism is that attitude of mind and heart that believes that Scripture is not "the only infallible rule of faith and practice," including worship. It is the attitude that says, "We know better than God does about how He is to be worshipped." It is that frame of mind that plays fast and loose with the Scriptures, and substitutes all sorts of human and worldly innovations into the worship of God that He never required.

Liberalism is essentially 'arrogance dressed in theological garb.' It is the refusal to be governed by God's Word in all aspects of life.

And it stands in direct opposition to conservatism, especially of the evangelical and reformed type which seeks honestly to honour the Scriptures in these matters. Now this is not about getting into the exclusive psalmody debate, because, like the baptism and church government debates, it, too, is deeply divisive.

However, the teaching of Scripture says that innovation in worship is prohibited, and that God Himself has laid down how He is to be worshipped, a position taken historically especially in the reformed churches. But the churches depart from this faithful and tested position when they embraced the spiritually bankrupt system called theological liberalism. So now we have a plethora of 'liberal evangelical' churches, as opposed to 'conservative evangelical' churches. This bodes badly for the future of Gospel witness that goes on in these very churches.

This brings me to the next issue: What is the Gospel? Another massive question, but put simply, it is the message that God Himself has delivered to His apostles and prophets to preach to the human race, telling what He has done in grace to redeem the world, and which centres on the Person and Work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the only saving message in the world and the one which the world urgently needs.

Now where God's Word is disparaged regarding how He is to be worshipped (and what is today called worship has been adulterated by all kinds of human crowd-pulling innovations), it is but a small step to a change in thinking that says that because we are not 'pulling the crowds' with the old Gospel, we must now subject it to similar fundamental changes that will attract and hold the young people within the churches.

But where is this all going to end? Exactly where a writer of old said it would when he talked about the church preaching "A Christ without a Cross, faith without repentance, conversion without commitment, hope without holiness, love without wrath, heaven without hell..." and so on. Why? Because this will be a nicer Gospel for the twenty-first century sophisticates who do not wish to be challenged, or even have it suggested that they are not on the Way of the King, and going to the Celestial City.

This new gospel and the contemporary worship services might well 'do the deal' in the short term, but the longer term prognosis is bad. Why do I say that? Because the church will have to keep reinventing itself, Madonna-like, in order to draw and keep the crowds.

And what about God? What God? We have dispensed with Him many years ago, and we have now become even more biblical, because "every man does that which is right in his own eyes." When and where will this man-pleasing end? And who's to stop it?