Friday, 26 February 2010

The good pagan described

The religion of the 'good pagan' is of purely human, this-worldly, origin and orientation. He calls it 'Christian,' but it has no need of Christ as Saviour and Lord, therefore has nothing to do with the historic and biblical Christian faith.

It is centred on self - how good he is and how much better he is than many Christians. It glories in the kind of life lived with only a formal relation to God, but no dependence upon Him.

His is a morality that owes nothing to Christ or on what He did on the Cross, and everything to himself. Christ simply does not enter the equation.

Religious observances are purely outward, there being no heart in them. They are religious rites that are not right.
When he sings praise, this is a form of enjoyment much akin to what is sung in the bar, only this is religious singing, the other is not. He knows the words and likes the tunes, but beyond that there isn't much.

When (or if) he reads the Bible, it bears no more relation to him than if it was a John Wayne comic story. Its just another religious book! Indeed, the Bible is not a much read Book. Different from the newspapers, including the notorious Sunday papers.

When he gives, it is to ensure the minister calls and 'says a wee prayer' when he or a family member is ill, and also to ensure two other important things: that he is buried by the church, and is assured a place in heaven.

In short, his religion has no place for Christ, no place for His death on the Cross as mankind's only hope for eternity, no personal relationship with Him, has never trusted Him personally for his salvation, and in fact just does not need Him or His righteousness. His own righteousness is sufficient to satisfy God at the judgement Day, he argues. So good is this pagan that it never occurs to him that Christ died for him because his own righteousness is like "filthy rags" in His sight, and therefore no good to be accepted by God.

But he just cannot or will not see this. The 'god of this world' (Satan) has blinded the eyes of those who believe not, so that they cannot believe! Their blind unbelief has been used by Satan to keep them from believing. But the responsibility will rest squarely on their shoulders when they wake up in Hell.

So right are they in their own eyes that they actually despise those who claim to have been saved by Christ. And why do they despise other believers? Because in their self-righteous hearts, they despise the truly righteous Christ Himself.

In order to justify himself, he resorts to some known imperfection in another's life, of which there are many, both the seen and the unseen. He thinks this comparison justifies his paganism. But it does not!

The modern pagan is a stranger to God, and puts down any goodness in him to his own works, his own religious efforts. It had all to do with himself, and nothing to do with Christ. A man who has no place in his heart for Christ is not Christian, whatever else he might imagine his religion to be. It is not God's revealed religion in the Scriptures or in Christ, therefore cannot, by definition, be Christian.

As a stranger to God, he is obviously a stranger to grace. For God is the God of all grace. And if a man is a stranger to grace, he has no part or parcel in the pilgrim band that is on its way to Heaven. He is a lost soul!

The pagan's religion is one of arrogant self-satisfaction. He is so pleased with himself that for anyone to suggest differently is ridiculed. He accepts that he is s sinner like everyone else, but has never been brought to see himself as a lost, hell-deserving sinner. Never has he viewed his sin as divine wrath-provoking. His religion does not allow him to see the God he claims to worship as being angry at his rebellion against Him, so imagines, vainly, that all is well with his soul.

In fact, it is questionable if he even believes he has or is a soul. He has taken in the absurdity proffered by some GPs that they have never seen a soul in any person they examined or dissected. Such smart-alec talk is unimpressive, and tells us nothing about the facts, but plenty about these self-styled experts in everything.

Have these 'professionals' ever seen electricity? No. But they have seen the positive and negative effects of it and would never dream of being irresponsible in its use.

Such 'smart' pagans lead other 'good' pagans astray because the latter believe that since these 'professonals' know a lot about a little, they assume that they know everything about everything. This is patently untrue. In fact, they know nothing about the things that matter most - a sinner's right relationship with God through Christ alone.

Sadly, all 'ministers' are not good spiritual guides, although this is what they are supposed to be. Some are excellent guides on spiritual matters, and are indispensable to a person's total well-being. But that's a discussion for another day.

The Suffering Servants of Christ

A saint cannot serve if he is not prepared to suffer ... because all servants have a cross that comes with their calling. So wrote the Puritan William Gurnall in 1662.

One of the clear qualifications of a calling to the Christian ministry is the willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. The Gospel is God's 'change agent' in the world, and change will be contested at every point by that God-defying world. Change is an unwelcome intrusion into a comfortably sinful world (and church), and will be resisted at every stage once change has been proposed.

But the called minister will have already embraced the hostile resistance to him and his message, and be prepared to suffer for it, long before he has been ordained to the Christian ministry. He will have 'considered' and 'reckoned' what ordination to the Christian ministry will cost, and concluded that he is prepared to accept the attendant suffering.

This suffering will be completely misunderstood by the unbelieving world, and also by the unbelieving church, a fact that, in itself, adds to the minister's suffering. Sometimes, he will misunderstand it himself, and even his own family, his nearest and dearest, will not understand the situation. As Gurnall do rightly says, 'Whoever may be the instrument of trouble to a saint, the sword is always in God's control.'

But, if he is not prepared to suffer, even greviously, he has disqualified himself from service in Christ's Kingdom! If he is not prepared to walk the same road his Master trod, service for his Master is impossible! Service in Christ's Kingdom is predicated on daily and willing cross-bearing. How sad and pathetic are those usurpers in Christ's church who seek 'peace at any price, or none,' for the sake of 'getting on' with their people and in their chosen 'career'! How cowardly are those who run close to the world in some vain attempt to gain and hold its worldly young people! It is clear from this that such men are not serving the Christ Who revealed Himself in the Scriptures, but another Christ made in their own image. He is not the Saviour Who suffered and died for the world on Calvary. Nor is He the Lord who told His disciplines that if they refused to take up their cross daily and follow Him, they could not be His disciples. He was
disqualifying them for service in His Kingdom.

Oh, how sweet and disturbing a thing it is to realise that it is the Lord Who determines the qualifications for service, and Who will remove from His service those who do not meet His criteria.

That does not necessarily mean, of course, that men who once served in the church and are no longer there, have been removed from the church by the church's Lord because they were disqualified for service! Hardly. It is often the case that the gracious Lord showed His compassion and tender care to His faithful servants who were suffering at the hands of the church because of her unwillingness to serve her suffering Lord! To follow the Lord against all pressure is to display a humility and obedient spirit that is most rare!

As Gurnall says, if there is no cross in a man's calling, the calling is absent. Ministers who are at ease in the Christian ministry are as ugly as members who are at ease in Zion.

Hence every minister can test his calling by the presence of the Cross. Those men who do not preach the Cross - and I'm not talking about preaching 'about' the Cross, for there is a difference- will never experience what it means to suffer as a Christian minister. If the suffering is because of faithfulness to the self-crucifying ministry of the cross-centred Gospel, then that man has been truly and divinely called to the work of the ministry; but if that man has concocted an admixture of Gospel and world, and suffers for that, then he needs to make speedy and radical amends. But if he has forsaken the Cross for a life of ease, then he had better examine the foundations once again; his ministry is resting on very shaky foundations. And who suffers as a consequence? Himself, his congregation and the entire Christian church worldwide.

In conclusion, if the Cross is absent, so also is the calling. If God's servants actually flee the Cross - and such is unknown within even reformed evangelicalism - then they are usurping the place God had set apart for His true servants. No minister can serve the Suffering Saviour who does not himself suffer for that Saviour.