Pastor John MacArthur continues with a Biblical explanation of the sovereign gospel. His first message introduced the doctrine and now expands on that teaching on Grace to You. His passage comes from Romans 9-11.
Pastor John MacArthur continues with a Biblical explanation of the sovereign gospel. His first message introduced the doctrine and now expands on that teaching on Grace to You. His passage comes from Romans 9-11.
Contentment…what a word and a very rare jewel. Who would have thought that this word could mean so much and change how we respond to our everyday situation. As I began reading through this book I realized what was missing in my life. I had not been content with the things I’ve gone through. Every time something happened I didn’t like I would complain until I realized what I was doing.
In recent years we have gone through some tremendous hurt and pain yet the Lord keeps reminding me, “Violet, trust Me! I know exactly what I’m doing whether you know or not.” I’ve read and reread this book and I thought it would be great to share little tidbits out of it with you. May the Lord bless each of you in the reading of the parts posted from this very special book.
The Rare Jewel of Contentment
By Jeremiah Burroughs
Thus you have the true interpretation of the text. I shall not make any division of the words because I take them only to promote the one most necessary duty: quieting and comforting the hearts of God’s people under the troubles and changes they meet with in these heart-shaking times.
The doctrinal conclusion briefly is this: That to be well-skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory, and excellence of a Christian. This evangelical truth is held forth sufficiently in the Scripture, yet we may take one or two more parallel places to confirm it.
In 1 Timothy 6:6,8, you find expressed both the duty and the glory of it. “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (6:8)—there is the duty. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6)—there is the glory and excellence of it, as if to suggest that godliness were not gain except contentment be with it. The same exhortation you have in Hebrews: “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have” (Heb 13:5).
I offer the following description: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. This description is a box of precious ointment and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts in troubled times and conditions.
2 Thessalonians 2:3, Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion (apostasy) comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (ESV).
1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (ESV).”
The apostle Paul provided us an insight into what the future would hold for the church. His warnings were not written because he had nothing better to do than to try and scare the believers of the 1st century. The church was in its infancy, yet the problems were already present. Just about every book revealed another aspect of what they faced, and the issues were real.
For example, in Romans, he reveals a great deal of doctrine, but he also pointed out the reality that sin in the life of the believer was real. It would not be eradicated in this life but we could be thankful that we, as believers, would not be found to be under any condemnation. Nothing would separate us from the love of God, who had adopted us into His everlasting family.
Could anything have prepared the early church for the events that transpired in Corinth? Despite the debauchery that was a part of the Roman Empire being found in the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul had to remind these precious believers that although many had participated in various sins, they were now clean. They had been washed in the blood of the Lamb and justified. Their accounts had been settled and they were no longer enslaved to the slimepits of the world in which they once loved to wallow.
The problems that were addressed were game-changers. As each scroll must have been unrolled, read, and shared, each local body of believers had to have rejoiced that their names were truly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Paul picked up his quill though and continued to warn each group.
To the believers in Thessalonica, he lovingly encourages them by pointing out that the Lord had not yet returned. In fact, one of his greatest joys was the testimony that this local assembly had before the inhabitants of the city, and yes, even beyond the region in which they lived. This was a group that did not allow their testimony to wane. Were they perfect? Were they super pious? Did they live on some spiritual plateau where they had become free from the ensnarements of sin? No, no, and no! The Thessalonians were real people facing real threats from an empire that hated the God of the Bible first.
However, Paul then gets another parchment and writes to a young pastor named Timothy. This letter is different. He gives pastoral counsel and godly wisdom for how this young man can shepherd the flock of God carefully, biblically, prayerfully, and lovingly.
In the middle of this epistle though, Paul uses a phrase to show the importance of what he is about to share. “The Spirit expressly says…” We understand the inspiration of the entire Word of God, yet, under that inspiration, his words point out a solemn truth that was meant to be a word of warning to Timothy.
When I began teaching in a ministry capacity over 25 years ago, you would not have been able to convince me that the blood-bought church would be where it is at today. Were there cults to deal with? Yes, of course. Were books being written based on, at best, shady theology? Again, we affirm that there were such books.
However, had you told me that so many churches and even entire denominations would depart from the faith in such record numbers, I would have struggled to believe such a thing to be possible.
To have been told that the proliferation of local assemblies would involve being willing for many ministers to become a Judas and sell-out their testimony and the Word of God for the purposes of entertainment or for profit, I would have told you that you were crazy.
Believers have gone from a hunger for the Word of God to having itching ears. They want to hear nice platitudes that make them feel good about themselves. Churches no longer want to hear about sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment. Padded pews keep people comfortable while they learn how to have a higher level of self-esteem. We are now so full of ourselves in many churches today that there seems to be a self-imposed moratorium on the Holy Spirit’s working in our midst.
Today, an overwhelming number of pastors and churches are more interested in hearing “Judge not!” from each other than they are interested in hearing God say, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Judgment is coming!”
Above all else, we have smoothed sin over to the point where churches are looking for ways to embrace it, instead of calling sinners to repentance. Step on board a blogsite, Facebook post, Twitter feed, or whatever medium you choose and dare to speak out and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. It won’t take more than 4 or 5 minutes before people who have never spoken to you before arise from the dark mists of the internet to shout you down. “How dare you judge?” “Who do you think you are? God?” “We are called to just LURVE everybody without question!” Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
And the words of the Spirit to the church at Ephesus rings out saying, “You have left your first love. You no longer hold Christ preeminent over all others and to the exclusion of all others.”
Sadly, the clarion call to repentance has mostly fallen on deaf ears and now we have truly become closer to the model of the Laodicean church, “You are neither cold, nor hot, but you are lukewarm. I will vomit you out of my mouth.” There is not one good word that is ever said about the church at Laodicea. They had passed the point where there was no turning back. The writing was on the wall.
Today, I look at the 21st century church and realize that the 1st century church would not recognize us today. They would probably wail with despair realizing that we are not prepared for persecution. From the pulpit to the pew has capitulated to the world so much that some may well be willing to sit in the arena looking down on those being sacrificed to the lions.
It is heart-breaking to realize that if and when persecution comes the words of warning will fall on mostly deaf ears. Brother will turn against brother, children against parents, parents against children, and so-called believers against true believers as they ignore the reality of the dangers that were there all along.
Dear believers, if you are not willing to stand for something, then you will fall for anything. We must seek forgiveness from our Lord and with humility dust off our armor. We need to prepare for the fight of our lives and become like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress when he was willing to face the dangers of Vanity Fair.
The world mocks our “standards” when they look just like the standards to which the world adheres. Why should they want what we claim to have that makes us special if we look the same on Sunday as we did while partying with the world on the Saturday before? If our music, words, actions, and attitudes look no different week after week, month after month, and year after years, then we cannot claim to worship and adore the only One Who has the power to make us a NEW creation in Christ.
God does not save us to leave us wallowing in our sins. That simply means that the world can change to accept all the wickedness it wants. Even, the so-called church can accept all the evils of the world and call evil to be good or good to be evil. However, the day will never come when it is acceptable to God.
To conclude, the 21st century church of the future is failing as the church for the present, and they are a far cry from the church of the past. Are there any who will mourn when our children reject biblical Christianity because of the hypocrisy they see from parents? Will any be willing to weep as did Nehemiah over the sin that surrounded him? Will those who are true believers recognize that while Paul recognized the sin within his own life that grace abounds so that we no longer have to live as slaves to sin anymore than he did?
My prayer remains that God will begin a work of revival within my own life and heart so that I will be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Then, I want to see the Holy Spirit move in a way that helps other true believers realize that there are still 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The end result is that when those who come after us look back, I want them to say with full confidence that the church of the past left a testimony for the true Church of the Future!
And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. ~Daniel 10:11
And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. ~Daniel 10:19
I admit I’m a bit different in the way I think sometimes. Words jump out at me and send my mind to wandering. As I was reading the Book of Daniel a few weeks ago, I was struck by the angel calling him “greatly beloved.” To me, that speaks more than just, “You are loved.” “Beloved” means “adored, cherished, treasured, highly regarded, esteemed, much loved.” Daniel held a special place in God’s heart, and God wanted Daniel to know that.
We all know that God loved the world that He gave His Son but it seems like there are some who hold an especially close place in His heart. With Moses, God talked face to face (Numbers 12:8). At one point, God stated, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:2-3). He called David a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). I’m sure there are more examples I could give, but you get my point.
I don’t write this to begin a doctrinal dispute. I just feel like it’s easy to take God’s love for granted and to think that, since God loves us, He will love us regardless of how we live. I want to study the lives of people like Moses and Daniel and David and find out what it was that made God pay special attention to them. They were just men and yet each one of them had a heart that was fully toward the Lord.
I pray that God will find me drawing ever closer to Him, that nothing will be more important than spending time with Him and taking time to hear what He would speak. I pray that pleasing Him would be my goal before anything else. I pray that He would say to me, “O daughter, greatly beloved, I am here.” I can’t think of anything that speaks peace more than that.
Over the past few months, I have not been able to get on Defending Contending that much for a variety of reasons. The main reason is because I have been very busy with work, working on a professional level exam in the evening, and trying to squeeze in time for family with what little bit of time I have left. Having said that, I wanted to take a few minutes to say that I appreciate those who have been able to contribute and who have commented.
Yet, with the responsibility of sharing with others comes another responsibility that I believe is even more important. This responsibility has been sadly lacking in some of the things that have been shared and I want to clarify a few points so we can move forward. The responsibility of which I speak is that, as true believers, we are called to reflect Jesus Christ in all that we say or do. Our position can be right, but if our disposition is wrong, then we are wrong. Being belligerent, obstinate, hateful, derogatory, or even caustic does not reflect who we are in Christ.
Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have walked the path before us. When I think of this passage, I cannot help but wonder what they would say to us if they could read our words or hear what we say to others who are true believers. As but one example, I wonder if they would wince when our words are written or designed to tear strips off of those who believe in salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone yet are not in total agreement with us on some point of doctrine that has nothing to do with our salvation.
It seems that on a regular basis, we can get sideways with others for a variety of reasons and in the process we forget that part of being in Christ is that we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. This has not always been the case here at Defending Contending, and even I have had to back off and extend an apology to our readers and our commenters for not being gracious. Again, my position may well have been right, but my disposition only inspired others to dive for shelter instead of looking to Jesus Christ.
Too often it seems that we forget the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul reminded the believers of Corinth that we are not called to be followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Luther, or Calvin, or MacArthur, or Sproul, or Paul Washer, or fill-in-the-blank. When we put our eyes on mere men who are fallible and by no means 100% correct in every single area of their life, we will be disappointed. Not only will we be disappointed, but the world will have reason to wonder as to who really paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. They may well wonder why we spend more time trying to defend points of doctrine over acting, speaking, and listening in ways that are truly glorifying and Christ-honoring.
Recently, we have had posts that were meant to be words of encouragement only for the gloves to come off and comments began to spin out of control. The post was never intended to be anything more than apples of gold in pitchers of silver. The short post got hijacked and it became a stomping ground for people from different ends of the spectrum to parade how they felt. Several posts recently have been such that I cringe when I look back and read them and the comments. I wonder what in the world we are really doing or what we are attempting to do.
Finger-pointing does nothing profitable. Thus I felt this post was necessary to hopefully clear the air. First, let me reiterate that I am unashamedly, first and foremost, a Christ-follower. Second, I hold to the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God that is good for ALL that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Third, I do not have any desire to follow a mere man. Yes, I, myself, have posted comments or quote or even sermons from men like MacArthur, Washer, or Dr. Steve Lawson, but they are men just like me. Others quote Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Sproul, or whoever as though they are to be esteemed to the level of the apostle Paul.
Anybody that cares to take the time to read through more of this blog will know where I have stood for the more than 8 years I have written here at Defending Contending. I have no intention of backing down from defending truth or contending for the faith. Many of you already know that I do not use the term Calvinist to describe myself. Most would be hard pressed to tell you exactly where Mark Escalera stands, but I am willing to share if I am asked. I have no issues standing against false teaching or false teachers. What I do have an issue with is the attitudes that are portrayed at times that are not Christ-like.
I have almost shared enough for now, but I want to share just a couple more things. Not every reader, nor every person who comments, nor even every person who has been asked to contribute stands on the same ground theologically. While I disagree on various points with each contributor, I still have the final say on the blog and who I invite to write here.
I would kindly ask that each reader remember that ultimately, I am the one that is responsible for Defending Contending and that this is not, nor will it be, a forum for just anybody to come here and defend and contend for what everyone else believes. If a person comes here and desires to share, there are still rules that are not going to change.
If you come to DefCon just for the purpose of trying to change all of our minds on a particular area, then please feel free to start your own blog. We do not mind questions, nor do we mind disagreements. But, writing inflammatory comments or demanding to be heard on one side or another of a particular issue will not be tolerated. If you have a comment that is held in moderation, I do not need 1, 2, 5, or 10 more comments letting me know that your comment is in moderation. I have a busy life and it may not be answered for an hour, a day, or even 2 days.
As for those who write blog posts here at DefCon, I respect each one and each one has added to the mix various points that I appreciate. This is true whether it is George Alvarado’s points on evangelism or apologetics, Manfred’s book reviews or posts on various doctrinal issues, J.L. Pattison’s posts on various topics, or even Sony Elise’s words of encouragement. Each of these individuals are my friends, some closer than others, and I will defend each one of them even if I do not always agree with them with everything they post or will post.
In conclusion, my entire point of the post is to bring us back to the reality that we will all disagree until the Lord takes us home. Then we will quickly come to the understanding that we were not right on everything. However, that will quickly fade as we realize how glorious it is to be worshiping with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To find ourselves standing, kneeling, dancing, waving our hands, stomping our feet with glee, or running the hills of glory will be all worth it in the end when we see Jesus Christ, who ALONE is the author and finisher of our faith. I expect, in the meantime, that we each strive diligently to be gracious to each other so that others will see the reflection of the Master Carpenter.
A review by Stuart Brogden
Aldred Genade has written a very thought provoking guide to Titus (The Letter To Titus: Becoming a Persuasive Leader and Preacher), with the aim of showing how the Apostle intended Christian leaders to be persuasive. Which preacher does not want to be persuasive? The first chapter provides us a review of the various ways pastoral epistles and Titus in particular have been addressed by theologians and gives us this author’s thesis: “This book is an attempt to advance the dialogue concerning the macrostructural coherence of Titus in a meaningful way. The instrument that will be employed toward this end is a modified rhetorical critical method.” 1 He explains that rhetorical reading entails seeking to truly understand the meaning intended by the author by exploring the bits of the letter and the letter as a whole. This intentional endeavor to grab hold of the author’s intended meaning is a wonderful alternative to the inherent post-modernist view so pervasive and unexamined in our world.
In discussing the salutation found in Titus, Genade observes it is meant “to emphasize the divine basis of legitimate ministry.” 2 (emphasis in original) We see in several places in his letters how Paul emphasized his appointment as Christ’s Apostle as a means of impressing on Christians the truth of his message (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; and 2 Timothy 1:1). I think this is an example of being unashamed of the calling; something we could all learn from. Staking our identity in Christ (not as an Apostle, but as an ambassador of the gospel – 2 Corinthians 5:20) is the proper way for every one of us to establish authority; not our own, which every man can claim, but that which comes from the Creator and Judge of all people. This is the basis of Paul’s authority and that’s what makes his – and ours – legitimate ministry. False teachers and false converts have no such solid foundation (Matthew 7:24 – 27). Our author points out the focus of Paul’s ministry (and, by extension, that of the local church) is with the elect of God: Titus, his true son in the faith in Christ they have in common. As we will see later in this book, much of Paul’s message to Titus is meant for the entire church located in Crete.
So as not write a book about this book, I will highlight a few points that I think will serve the reader best. Genade’s book is heavily end-noted; this is good news as a careful writer will always let his readers know his sources. He also uses Greek words “in the open” as part of his dialogue with the reader. If you are like me, ignorant of Greek, the letters and words will make no sense; but the paragraphs in which these appear give us excellent context and explanation so as not to left in the dark. Our author also provides a brief summary and some excellent questions at the end of each chapter. If you have ever tried to formulate questions that require some thought and more than a one-word answer, you will recognize hard work here; and it pays off for those who pay attention.
Each of the twelve chapters covers a different aspect of persuasion, as Genade works through the epistle. Chapter 4 is Persuade by Exposing the Opposition, 5 is by Affirming the ministry of Others. Chapter 7 is Knowing Why You Obey, and is where we will dig in a bit before I sum up. In the previous chapter the lesson was on right behavior, based on Titus 2:5 & 10. This brings us to chapter 7 (Titus 2:11 – 15) and the importance of knowing why we obey. To do good one must have the right goal, the right method, and the right motive. Saints want to do good and we know obedience is better than sacrifice, so know our motives is critical! Genade claims, “Paul is now arguing that God is the one teaching the doctrine, making the doctrine and the behavior inseparable. The teaching as well as the Teacher are transcendent and must therefore be obeyed because they are not of human origin. This line of reasoning stresses the obligatory nature of sound doctrine upon the minds of the Cretans. In other words, sound doctrine must be obeyed because it is the exact opposite of “the commandments of men” (1: 14). Not to obey the doctrine and therefore not to manifest these particular behavioral characteristics is tantamount to disobedience to God.”3 The Christian who cares not about obeying God is testing God: a double bad place to be.
We are further instructed, “Obedience to the instruction becomes obedience to “someone,” rather than something. This is a very persuasive angle. Grace offers the complete opposite of what the false teachers have to offer. By formulating the proposition in this way, the appeal of sound doctrine is highlighted, making the argument for compliance to it even more persuasive. Furthermore, the personification of grace reinforces the notion of accountability.”4 This builds on the same foundation as noted in the opening chapter – Christ Jesus is our righteousness and if one has been made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), he will be humbled to be so clothed, knowing how filthy his own righteousness is apart from Christ (Isaiah 64:6) and this makes each of us who have been born again willing and able to obey our Lord. Again, the false teachers have no foundation and the false convert has no clothes (Matthew 22:11 – 14). As our author tells us a bit later,
They have become in Jesus Christ the objects of divine interest, when he gave himself for them (ὃς ἔδωκεν ἐαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν). The inclusive language in this part is also emphatic. They are no longer mere Cretans, but the people of God— God’s own peculiar people (ἑαυτῷ λαός περιούσιος). Their identity and consequently their natures have been changed. They have been made God’s own “unique people.” This expression reinforces the communal sense prevalent in this section. Thus, when Cretan believers perform good deeds, in other words, when they obey the instructions of divine grace, they are acting consistently with their new character.5
So it ought to be in each local church, this sense of unity in Christ and the desire to honor Him and encourage one another to do so. A church that does not embrace this “communal sense” nor recognize their identity as God’s “peculiar people” is adrift in humanism and the Lord Jesus bids them to return to their first love.
While this book is mostly academic in style and content, it is engaging and provocative, a book I intend to return to time and again when the Lord brings this epistle to mind. We need such books if we are to renew our minds and test what we believe to see if these things be so. For the child of God will seek to be aligned with Holy Writ, not content with the mere words of men. Our brother has written a book that will help us examine our thoughts and God’s Word, and submit the former to the latter.
1 Genade, Aldred (2015-09-21). The Letter To Titus: Becoming a Persuasive Leader and Preacher (Rhetorical Bible Commentary Book 1) (Kindle Locations 126-128). Africa Scholars Press. Kindle Edition.
2 ibid; Kindle Locations 267-268
3 ibid; Kindle Locations 1057-1061
4 ibid; Kindle Locations 1106-1109
5 ibid; Kindle Locations 1205-1210
Have you ever seen this scenario take place?
A good friend calls you to tell you that they are struggling with their current church and wants your advice on how to work things out. Your heart sinks as you realize that what he or she is wanting is not what they are asking for. The first or second time the phone call took place, you may have encouraged them to speak with the pastors or elders to try to work out any differences or resolve any issues. Now, the real reason they are calling you is not to seek your help and guidance in seeing relationships restored. What they really want is for you to say that it is acceptable for them to don their Peter Rabbit suit and hop to the next church that might or might not make them happy.
I am reminded of the old joke about the ship that stops at what they thought was a deserted island only to discover that an old man lives there as a castaway. Taking a tour, the man proudly shows off his little hut where he lives and takes the captain into another little building that has a steeple made of coconut palm leaves. He informs the captain that this is his church where he worships God. Thanking them for coming, the island castaway walks with them back down to their ship. However, the captain is intrigued about a third building that the man had said nothing about, so he asked him what it was. The old man replied, “That’s the church I used to go to!”
Sadly, hopping from church to church often becomes the normal pattern for many Christians. Instead of considering what may be wrong in their own life, the fault is always placed at the feet of the church that they used to attend. The sad reality is that even if they were to attend by themselves, like the old man on the deserted island, they would eventually find a reason to leave.
I have long contended that the reason people go to a church is more times than not the very reason why they will leave. As an example, if you go to a church because they have a great music program, when that ministry fails or begins to struggle, you will look for another church. The same is true if you go because of the programs or all the ministries designed to keep your children happy and entertained. If the really hip, cool, relevant youth leader leaves and the youth group dries up, you will soon be on the search for a new place to worship.
For the record, I am not discounting leaving a church because the church refuses to address sin, or because of a change in teaching to a doctrinal position that is clearly not in line with Scripture. I am speaking about the plague that has infiltrated churches to the point where members are switching from one church to another faster than they switch fitness clubs or switch from the latest diet to the next.
Now as honesty is the best policy, I am afraid that in the beginning of our marriage, I was there. We hopped so many times that I had a custom-made Peter Rabbit suit that I would wear before I even attended the first service. While I was ensuring that my family was with me, I was certainly not being a spiritual leader.
The normal routine was to schedule an appointment with the pastor. In that meeting, I would grill him on the usual “important” issues like the KJV Bible, or if they used CCM in their services, whether they had adequate programs to babysit my children when my wife and I wanted a break, etc., etc., etc. Yes, I remember playing the spiritual card of “We just want a place where we can serve and where our family can be fed!” That would normally score points with the pastor and his wife.
However, it may have been a week later, month later, or even a year later, we would become discontented with something that was being done and we would “miss” a Sunday to see if somebody came to visit or to call us. Eventually, my standard phrase became, “Well, I think we should be looking for a new church because we are not getting fed at this church! What do YOU think, Sweetheart?” That was always a good indicator for me as to whether she was unhappy with the church as much as I was or whether I was just looking for an excuse to leave so we would not have to become too committed.
I can remember a conversation with my father one day while we were in the midst of yet another church hop. His comment was, “Son, I’m sure that every church around your area can’t be bad! What is it you are looking for?”
That was a good question and the standard answer was usually, “mumble-mumble-mumble-just don’t feel like I am getting fed-mumble-mumble-mumble.”
Looking back, I realize that not all churches and pastors we visited or were part of it for awhile were preaching false doctrine or involved in covering over issues of immorality. Some of the churches were struggling works or small and it was just easy to come up with excuses about how we “need more teaching for ummmm…yeah, more teaching for the kids.” That was the answer! Some of the churches were large though and the excuses then would be, “well, we feel like we are just a number and our needs are being overlooked!”
But the truth is that until I was willing to find a place that was first and foremost doctrinally sound, the rest of what we were looking for was actually irrelevant. Further, when we found a place where doctrine was the focus along with expositional ministry of the Word, I should have been thankful that somebody cared enough to feed my soul and my family as we worshiped together. However, this was rarely the case because doctrine was not as important to me as I thought it was or as I pretended it to be. You see, if doctrine was really important, THAT would have been the reason why I remained instead of looking for another excuse to run to the next place.
So instead of focusing on learning and how I could be a blessing to others, I simply became Peter Rabbit again and laid the blame for the next hop on the previous pastor or church we were attending.
However, this plague that is devastating to churches is a problem that occurs for two main reasons. It is often these two reasons or a closely related one as to why I and others like me would have hopped from church to church, or even why you or somebody you know is still getting plenty of usage out of their Peter Rabbit outfit.
First, pastors and elders have made it too easy to be part of their social club. Having been there as a pastor, I can recall how great it felt to finally get some visitors to come in to service. Of course, in our desire to see them back again, we would invite them to lunch to get to know them. While there is nothing wrong with taking guests home for Sunday lunch, there were times when during the conversation I would be listening to all the things they would tell me they had done in their previous church and how eager they were to find a church where…yep, you guessed it…where as they would put it, “We just want a place where we can serve and where our family can be fed!” Hmmmmm, where had I heard that before?
My problem was that I was focusing on numbers instead of disciple-making. What I should have been asking was WHY were they leaving their previous church? Was it a doctrinal difference or was this another church hop? Then, I could have clarified WHAT kind of doctrinal difference would cause them to initiate an upheaval in their family and leave their local fellowship behind. When it got to the point where they were expressing an interest right at the beginning, I should have taken the time to contact my fellow brother and colleague to verify there were no hidden issues.
The problem would become compounded if there were issues or if the family was not leaving their previous church due to moral or doctrinal problems, and by accepting them into our assembly, we were choosing to overlook the issues hoping that our church would be the catalyst that might throw them into a better relationship with God. Sometimes that does happen, but I am afraid that accepting problems from one church is only going to add to the problems that already exist in your own ministry. By accepting the problems when a person is leaving for an unbiblical reason, we have not helped that previous church or pastor, nor have we helped the family looking to join, nor have we helped our own church.
Another sordid example from my own life came home to roost when I first pastored in England. Like the times when we would leave a church for the wrong reasons, we had some folks do the same with us where I was pastoring. It caused quite a bit of turmoil, and while they left because in their words, “We prefer to go somewhere that we can hear nice, fluffy messages,” they simply ran right down the road and were accepted into membership there. I never received one phone call, but neither did I attempt to contact the other pastor. As far as I was concerned, “He could have the problem if they want members that bad!”
Now I recognize that not all leavings fit into this category, but I have found that many do. It is hurtful and does not portray a unity within the body of Christ to those who watch us from the world.
Today, my ministry is different and I hope there are a few areas in which I have grown considerably. Numbers are not so important any more and I try to be content with those whom God has placed in front of me each week at each meeting that I have the privilege of opening His Word. When I speak with a person now, I want to know the answers to those hard questions that I should have been asked and that I should have asked in prior ministries.
And if our assembly accepts somebody into the fellowship, my prayer is that it will be for the right reasons and that they will be coming for the right reasons. I do not offer programs with the hopes that more will come and I have no desire to present people for acceptance if they look like they are hopping to avoid problems that they refuse to address either in their own lives or that might just be a minor difference or even based on a personality conflict. I do ask them if they have sat down with the leadership at their previous church and spoken about their concerns. If they have not, I do tell them that I will contact the leadership to see if we have their blessing to work with the family and if there are any concerns of which we need to be aware.
As a little side note, there is something to be said for the “letters of commendation” given from one church to another as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16. I am NOT talking about the little postcard sent when people transfer their membership by letter either. But that should probably be a post for another day.
Now on to the second problem for the plague of church-hopping and it is fairly simple. Members today have little to no commitment for the hard things of God or His Word. As long as they do not have to be committed, nor are expected to be committed, they will continue donning the Peter Rabbit suit as often as it suits their whims or desire for the latest and greatest programs racing the church circuits.
Commitment seems to be a dirty word in many circles. It requires that we give up our pet foibles and whims in an honest desire to share fellowship with brethren around what is important. What is important is what is clearly stated in Scripture, and not the latest battles raging today over minor issues like Bible versions, style of music, or a whole host of other concerns that are separating brethren that are not worth the fight and only make us look foolish to the watching world.
To conclude, my encouragement to fellow pastors and elders is to be careful who we consider allowing into our midst. Sometimes wolves start off looking like nice fluffy little pups. We are to guard our flocks in our calling as overseers and this will require taking a more proactive stance on dealing with issues like the perennial Peter Rabbits. Brothers, we are not islands to ourselves and should be working to fellowship with others who are like or simmilarly minded in doctrine and teaching. Our churches profit little if all we are doing is growing by sheep-stealing.
And, to my fellow brothers and sisters, from past personal experience, the Peter Rabbit suit is not all that it is cracked up to be. It is uncomfortable to wear for you and your family and to those you keep leaving behind. Wearing the suit will normally only serve to get you all hot and bothered. Then you will end up looking for fellowship in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. It is time that we take the suits off and don’t bother hanging them back up in the closet to wear another day. It is time they were destroyed and that we started seeing commitment to God and His Word, and to have a heart to deal with the problems as they arise.
In all this, our one desire should be 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, DO ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD!”
It was a post from my friend and fellow evangelist, Bobby McCreery, that got me thinking. He wrote, “I’m no expert, but it seems one reason revival tarries is the fact that there is so much division in the body of Christ. So many brothers biting and devouring each other over secondary and tertiary issues like baptism and eschatology grieves my heart. I am not saying these issues are not important. I am saying my prayer is that our love for Christ would cause us to love one another in spite of our differences.” I could not help but echo the sentiment of my friend. So often in the Christian community we are ready to go to the mats over issues that, while important, are secondary to the essential doctrines of the faith.
These essential issues – such as: the nature of God; the deity of Christ; the Trinity; salvation by grace alone, through faith, in Christ alone; the sufficiency of scripture (and that scripture is inerrant); justification; and imputation – are what all Christians should be willing to go to the grave over. They are so essential to the very nature of our faith, that to remove any one of them would do irreparable damage to Christianity. These are doctrines that we must be absolutely unified on. Yet today, the doctrines which, while important, do not cause the cause of Christ to crumble have been elevated to first order status. Christians are going to war over doctrines which have been debate by good and godly men for centuries. What is worse, where some of the learned men of the past have been willing to call each other brethren despite their differences, today, Christians are declaring each other false believers, false teachers, or even worse, heretics. And all the while, we ignore the words of our Savior, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35 ESV).
This is not to say that every discussion or disagreement over doctrinal issues is a failure to show love to each other. In fact, it is very important that we as Christians be willing to wrangle over tough doctrinal teachings so that we may come to a full and mature understanding of our faith. But in so doing, we are not to despise one another for differing beliefs. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches more mature believers in the faith that while we are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols (because it is only meat and the idol has no power at all) those who are weak, or lacking maturity in doctrine, may see this as sin. Paul calls on the more mature Christians to be willing to abstain from eating meat around them in order to keep from adversely affecting the weaker brethren’s conscience.
Inherent in this teaching we see a couple of principles. First, that of the opposing views, one is right, one is wrong. Those who are right have a greater and more mature understanding of the teachings. Second, those Christians who are more mature are taught to not lord over the weaker brethren due to their advanced wisdom. They are in fact, called to work with the less mature brethren at their own level. Incumbent in this is that the mature brethren will instruct, in love, the weaker. In other words, we are told it is less important to prove our being right in this matter than it is to love our weaker brethren and to build them up in the faith.
Now, I would agree that this matter of meat sacrificed to idols is not a debate of eschatology, soteriology or baptism. However, the principle, I believe remains. When we discuss our viewpoints of doctrine, it must always be with the mindset that we are talking with fellow believers. One of us is going to be wrong in our beliefs, but unless this is a core matter, one can still be a Christian if they are indeed wrong. Thus, the debate is not about finding a tare among the wheat, but the education and edification of our brethren. If we approach the matter purely from the standpoint that anyone who does not understand the wisdom in this view of doctrine must change their mind or else, then we have wrongly declared hosts of brethren anathema, even though they have agreement on the core essentials.
Often times, disagreements on secondary issues can turn into nasty, knock down, drag out arguments. The unfortunate result is that some Christians end up becoming unwilling to affirm other Christians as brethren when they refuse to see their “wisdom” in an area of doctrine. However, in Romans 14, Paul admonishes Christians who debate over the eating of certain foods or days on which one should worship. Remember, in this passage, Paul is talking specifically about Christians. So when he asks, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (v. 4a) he is pointing out that those who are in disagreement on this secondary matter should not be calling into question the salvation of the other. He goes on to say, “It is before his own master that he stands or falls,” (v. 4b). Paul is saying that only God can make that final determination when it comes to a brother’s wrong understanding of a secondary doctrine. That means it is not up to us to declare them anathema!
In this same passage, when writing of the debate over days of worship, Paul writes “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind,” (v. 5b). Did we just read that correctly? Did Paul just say that two Christians could have two separate viewpoints on a matter of secondary doctrine? Yes! Paul just taught us that we can disagree and still be brethren. Why? Because “the one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God,” (v. 6). In other words, even though we may disagree with brothers and sisters in areas of secondary doctrinal matters, we all worship the Lord and submit to our beliefs in honor of Him. It is in fact possible to rightly worship God with differing views on non-essential matters.
Paul repeatedly teaches for unity among Christians who have differing view points. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul calls out those who evidently decided that some apostles and teachers were better than others. Believers had aligned themselves under Paul, Peter and Apollos. Some were rejecting the other three and saying, “I follow Christ,” (v. 12). Paul admonishes this manner of division saying “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (v. 13). Like matters of secondary doctrinal matters, we can even get into arguments over who preaches better, or which preacher has the right doctrine (because after all, that’s the doctrine I believe!). Paul calls the brethren into unity under Christ, even though there were differences between the teachers they sat under.
Again, I know some are going to say, “but (insert doctrine here) is not what Paul was writing about! So this does not apply to my situation.” The issue at hand though is the principle that Paul was teaching, which goes back to what Christ taught His disciples. There are going to be differing viewpoints among Christians on a variety of secondary doctrinal matters. We can discuss and debate the matters, but only if we are doing so with unity amongst the brethren and love for one another in mind. If we are seeking to prove ourselves right at the expense of others, if we are willing to declare brethren anathema because they do not believe as we do, if we just become downright mean and nasty to one another, then we have failed to obey the command of our Lord and Savior. And to make matters worse, as my friend said in the quote at the beginning of the article, revival tarries. Why? Because, while we are hacking and slashing at each other, the gospel is not preached to the world. And what little of the gospel message that does make it into the hands of unbelievers is now tainted by our lack of love for those within the Christian camp. So, the world marches on, blindly unaware of its headlong plunge into Hell, while we sit arrogantly smug that we proved ourselves right to someone we should have been linking arms with in the proclamation of the gospel.
Christians this must not be so. We must be above the petty bickering, back biting, and name calling. Let us discuss and debate, let us educate and edify. Let us be a blessing to one another, even when we disagree. But more importantly, let us be unified in the core essentials of the faith and let us proclaim, as one voice, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation.
Whenever you hear this it’s usually followed up with “we all worship the same God” and “can’t we all get along?”
Whenever the mantra “doctrine divides” is employed, it’s always with a negative connotation. But have you stopped to ponder why?
Allow me to submit for your consideration, that “doctrine divides” is actually a good thing–a positive thing. It’s true that “doctrine divides,” and here’s what it divides:
The ones just wanting to be fed from the ones willing to take up their cross.
The false conversions from the true conversions.
The ones under law from the ones under grace.
The swine from the pearls.
The profane from the holy.
The tares from the wheat.
The goats from the sheep.
The wolves from the flock.
The hirelings from the shepherds.
The “other gospels” from the one true Gospel.
The false christs from the one true Christ.
The darkness from the Light.
The lies from the Truth.
The myths from the facts.
The wicked from the righteous.
The wide gate from the narrow gate.
The broad road from the narrow road.
The many paths from the only Way.
Doctrine divides; doctrine divides; thank God Almighty, doctrine divides!
– The Pilgrim