Millennials – The Worst Generation Ever

The Greatest Generation
Tom Brokaw, host of NBC Nightly News for many years, wrote a book extolling the virtues of the generation of Americans who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. The Book, “The Greatest Generation” went on to become a best seller. It describes the selfless sacrifices of a generation of Americans who arguably suffered the greatest hardships any generation of Americans and  went on to build America into the global power that it has become today.

Most of these great Americans have passed away, but there are a few who are still living. Some of them reside in the retirement community where I live. These are some of the most gracious people I have ever known. They all fly American flags outside their homes. They are unassuming, generous, and hospitable. They raised the Baby Boomer generation who benefited greatly from all the sacrifices they made.

The Me Generation
The Baby Boomer generation, unlike their parents, never had to experience the same kind of hardship, deprivation and daily struggle to survive. Not only did they live in a time of comparative peace and prosperity, but advances in modern medicine eradicated a host of infectious diseases. During their years, fast food became ubiquitous. Shopping centers sprang up across the country. Vast distribution networks made fresh fruits, vegetables and even seafood available year round from coast to coast. Radio gave way to TV and commercials began to raise peoples’ expectations with a deluge of enticing ads. This generation has come to be known as the “Me Generation.”

Having been exposed to a constant barrage of marketing year after year, Baby Boomers were not content to sacrifice and save up for major purchases like their parents did. The arrival of the credit card resolved that issue. Before the credit card, stores had what were called ‘lay away’ plans. If you didn’t have the money to pay for the item you wanted, you could make deposits with the store and they would hold it until you had made payment in full. Credit cards, however, could be used for a variety of items and you didn’t have to wait to get them.

With more purchasing power than their parents’ ever knew, young Baby Boomers soon began to acquire things their parents had to save years to buy. My folks did not buy a new car the entire time we were growing up. When I first got married, my new wife and I went out and bought one immediately (to my parents’ consternation).

By now America was a dominant superpower that faced no imminent threat.  So there was nothing that made it necessary for people to unite for the common defense. The universal draft was eliminated. People were free to pursue their own self interests without any obligation to national service.

The Millennials
Having experienced an ever rising standard of living throughout their childhood years, Baby Boomers expected the same for their children. They indulged them in ways previous generations never could. On the contrary, the greatest generation needed the children’s contributions for the family to thrive. But Baby Boomers’ children grew up in cities and suburbs surrounded by comfort and convenience. And for the first time, children became a liability rather than an asset as parents provided every opportunity for them get ahead and spent hours chauffeuring them from one activity to another.

The parents of the Baby Boomers considered hardships and hazards an inevitable part of life. Their children never had bike helmets or car seats.  Most of them earned their own spending money. Many paid their own way through college. By the time the Millennial Generation rolled around, parents saw their role as protecting children from the hard parts of life. They paid for their children’s college, weddings, and maybe even grad school and a car or first home.

What were considered privileges for the Baby Boomer generation  soon became entitlements for their children.  This group of young people had never experienced any significant deprivation. Most had never missed a meal and had the luxury of being picky about what they ate. Many became obese from overeating or eating too much fast food. Most of them never even been been exposed to measles or mumps as a child, much less polio. Many have never been told “No” by a parent or been corrected for misbehaving. Many parents tried to use reason to coax good behavior, allowing little ones to manipulate them with objections and tie them into knots with temper tantrums. They even let little ones participate in family decision making.

Cultural Complicity
Most Millennials were raised in the public schools by teachers who carefully protected their fragile sense of self esteem from any kind of negative feedback.

Other adults didn’t help either, encouraging over-familiarity by insisting that young people call them by their first name. Nor would they ever scold or reprimand other’s children for misbehavior lest they risk the wrath of an over-protective parent.

Now these Millennials have become young adults and Baby Boomers are reaping the consequences of their over-indulgence. They are discovering that their obsession with self esteem has led to a generation of young adults who will not tolerate disagreement. When they are offended, which doesn’t take much, they take to the streets in protest. They destroy property, slander their opponents on social media, and demand safe spaces where they don’t have to listen to contrary points of view.

Baby Boomers failure to demand a modicum of respect from their children has bred contempt for past generations as well, as shown by their zeal for  destroying monuments to national heroes whose politics or lifestyles they dislike. Many have completely rejected the values upon which our nation was built as indicated by a recent poll that shows almost half of millennials would rather live in a socialist society.

Insufferable Arrogance
Despite their contempt for capitalism, these same children expect their purchases to be delivered to their homes, and their meals to be prepared hot and ready to eat by their favorite take-out spot or grocery store. Many cannot cook and wouldn’t consider doing so even if they could. So they don’t open their homes to others for hospitality. If they don’t like their in-laws, and many don’t, they cut them off and don’t let them ever visit their grand children. If a parent has the audacity to stand up to them, they may take them to court in an attempt to silence them.

They are also filled with a sense of insufferable arrogance. This is especially evident in the names they choose for their own children, names like “Valour,”  “Justice,” and “Honor,”  that represent values that are foreign to them. Traditional names have become rare. Naming children in honor of a family patriarch is no longer fashionable. Every name has to be unique and make a statement. A friend recently overheard one delivery nurse say to another, “Doesn’t anyone ever just name their child “Jim” anymore?

An Irreversible Trend
The Bible describes people in the last days like this, “But understand this, that in the last days… people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” (2 Tim 3:1-4). This is an apt description of Millennials. It is a generation that has been given more than any previous generation and appreciates it less. It is dedicated first and foremost to self-gratification. It looks down upon its elders and their values. In fact, a recent poll showed that nearly half of all Millennials would reject the freedoms secured by previous generations to live under socialism.

Perhaps the Baby Boomer generation may one day realize that protecting their children from the hardships of life may also have prevented them from developing such character strengths as kindness, sympathy, compassion, generosity and the other graces that the greatest generation had in such abundant supply. Unfortunately, it is too late to reverse the trend now.

 

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Rightly Handling the Word of Truth

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Believers interpret the Bible in many different ways. But God is a god of order and intended it to be understood in one way only. That became abundantly clear to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who encountered Jesus shortly after His resurrection. Like most of the rest of Jesus followers in those days, they had an incorrect understanding of scripture. They thought the Messiah would be a powerful political leader who would come to set his people free from the tyranny of Rome and establish His own kingdom in its place. But Jesus had to take them back through the entire Old Testament to show them how they had misinterpreted God’s Word.

Today is no different. There are many different interpretations of end time events, for example. Some people say the Tribulation occurred in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Jesus said this particular event would indeed take place before His own generation would pass away. But He also made some other predictions about war and natural disasters and the gospel being preached over the entire world that have not yet been fulfilled 2000 years later. Jesus Himself warned in several parables that His own return would be delayed for a very long time. So, just like parts of divine revelation were shrouded in mystery in Jesus’ day, so that part of God’s plan that has not yet been fulfilled is still a mystery today. The one thing we do know for sure is that we are to be prepared for Christ to return at any moment.

That is why it is so important to have a sound theology when interpreting the Bible. I believe that theology is Reformed Theology. That was the understanding of the apostles, early church fathers, and sixteenth century Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Let me briefly summarize Reformed Theology for you. This material is covered in an informal way in the book entitled An Unexpected Journey by Robert Godfrey, which I would highly recommend, if you have not read it yet. It is not a technical book, but a narrative account of the author’s own encounter with the Christian Reformed Church in his own home town as a youth and how it affected his outlook on the gospel, worship, and the life of the church.

Of course what I am about to offer is an oversimplification, but the basic tenet of Reformed Theology is that we contribute absolutely nothing to our own salvation. It is entirely the work of a sovereign God who sets His love upon us while we are still spiritually dead and unable to do anything to effect our own salvation. He gives us spiritual life through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to repent of our sins and come to Him in faith. But even that act of faith is a gift from God, not a product of our own choice as most professing Christians believe.(Eph 2:8b) He then removes our sins, putting them on Christ,  and clothes us with Christ’s own righteousness instead. He does this by uniting us with Christ in His death and resurrection when we repent of our sins. If we are truly born again, we are also united with Christ in His sufferings. So although we share in all the eternal blessings in Christ such as justification, sanctification, adoption, and a sinless resurrection body, we also share in Christ’s sufferings on this earth if we genuinely belong to Him.

The fact that we are one with Christ means that we have new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit who indwells us and gives us the power to glorify God by manifesting such fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, meekness, faithfulness and self-control. These are all evidences of genuine conversion and without them there is no real faith. That is why it is not inappropriate to assume that apart from a changed life, there is no real conversion. This is the difference between what most professing Christians believe and what Reformed Christians believe. Most Christians have been taught that becoming a believer is simply a matter of “accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” But they do this through a simple prayer, not by committing their lives to the Lordship of Christ through faithful obedience to the Word of God. In fact, this prayer is found nowhere in the Bible. Salvation always comes through the preaching of the word in the biblical accounts, not some simple formula. But for many modern day church goers, this prayer has itself become a once-and-for-all portal into the gates of eternity, whether one’s subsequent life shows any interest in the things of Christ or not.

Since everything we receive at the time of our conversion including even the faith that we exercise when we come to Christ are all gifts from God, there is absolutely no room for pride in the Christian life. In fact, pride is the one sin God hates more than any other, and for good reason. After all, only He knows the depth of our depravity and the priceless cost of our redemption through the blood of His own Son. So for us to presume we can merit His approval when He has paid so dearly to redeem us is absolutely abhorrent to Him. That is why Jesus rejected the righteousness of the Pharisees and commended the faith of the Publican who beat on his chest saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 18:13) It is also why He blessed the poor in spirit (humble) (Mt 5:3) and those who mourn (express heartfelt sorrow for their sin) (Mt 5:4) in the Beatitudes. It is also the reason why David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17).

Just the idea that my salvation was God’s choice and not my own has transformed my relationship with Christ. It brings tremendous humility to know that in my natural state I am totally depraved and unable to do anything to win God’s favor. The idea that He reached out to me on His own initiative when I was dead in my sins, unresponsive to Him and incapable of even exercising faith on my own behalf makes me forever grateful for His mercy and love. You see, I was hopelessly lost without Him!! Every prayer I pray now begins with thanks for His great salvation. It also makes me realize that many people who profess faith in Christ and attend church regularly have never really been born again because they think they chose Christ when they “accepted Him as their Savior,” when in fact they never even felt a shred of remorse for their sins. Remorse and repentance are two elements of genuine conversion that are found in every gospel account of salvation. Yet these same people typically go to church but have no interest in following Christ when it means they may have to pay a price for their obedience.

I would say the hallmarks of a Reformed Church are strict adherence to the Word of God in preaching, prayer, praise, and worship, coming into His presence with humble hearts, and practicing close fellowship including giving and receiving comfort, encouragement, meals and material resources. These are the features of the Reformed faith that come out so clearly in the book, An Unexpected Journey and that characterize the worship of our own church, Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and to listen to one of the sermons by our pastor, Craig Troxel at bethelopc.org/ministries.  Then consider visiting a reformed church in your area or our church if you live in the Chicago area.

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Don’t Get Too Comfortable

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey has just dumped more rainfall on Houston, Texas than any other storm in history – over 52″. That represents over a trillion gallons of water — enough to supply Niagra Falls for eleven days.

Increase in Natural Disasters
In the 49 years from 1935 to 1983 there were 11 hurricanes that killed 2,279 people and caused $9 billion in damages. In the seventeen years from 1992 to 2008 there were another eleven hurricanes that killed 6,808 people and caused $918.7 billion in damages. In other words, there were as many hurricanes in the seventeen years from 1992 to 2008 as there were in the 49 years from 1935 to 1983. These hurricanes killed three times as many people and caused ten times as much damage. Admittedly, some of the increase can be attributed to increased population and economic development, but there is no doubt that in recent years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of natural disasters and the amount of damage they have done. (1)

Increase in Moral Depravity
At the same time there has been a marked rise in moral depravity in America. At the time our nation was founded, all thirteen colonies had anti-sodomy laws. Benjamin Franklin described the young nation this way, “Atheism is unknown there, infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an atheist or an infidel.” (2) What Franklin means by ‘infidel’ is an unbeliever. ‘Infidelity’ means unbelief. Imagine living a lifetime without ever meeting an unbeliever or an atheist! Today unbelievers control academia, the media, and the arts, and atheists run the science departments of our universities. Christians, on the other hand, have become an increasingly small and marginalized minority.

Back in the 1960s when I was a youth, all my friends came from two parent families. Then came the sexual revolution and free love. The divorce rate soared. Then the feminist movement liberated women from traditional female roles. Abortions became commonplace.  As homes broke apart, crime rates rose.  Then came the gay rights movement and gay marriage.  Gay adoption forever changed the American family. With the advance of medical technology came the ability to surgically change sex and the transgender movement. Gender dysphoria followed and, with the stroke of a President’s pen, men gained free access to women’s bathrooms. It took society a number of years to become conditioned to most of these changes, but the push to allow men into women’s bathrooms took place in just one day.

Things have become so confused now that there is a special term for people who accept their own biological sex—’cisgender.’ Abnormal has become the new normal. Immorality has become the new morality. One California elementary school even punished a kindergarten girl for not using the appropriate pronoun for her mis-gendered classmate.

The Reprobate Mind
Here is how the Bible describes this condition, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:26-28). When the Bible says that God  gives a people up, it means that he consigns them to judgement. Theologians call this condition the ‘reprobate mind.’ It is a mind that set on defiance of God. Romans goes on to characterize this mindset, “They are filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Rom 1:29-31). There is no more possibility of redemption for the reprobate because they have finally rejected the truth. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).

The generation that was swept away by the flood was a reprobate generation. Listen to how God describes them, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) God determined that he would allow this generation only 120 years before wiping it out, “Then the Lord said, My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Gen 6:3).

The ancient city of Sodom was also reprobate. It was known for its homosexuality. In fact sodomy, the term that describes the homosexual act, comes from the name of that city. God promised Abraham He would spare the city for the sake of just ten righteous men, but He couldn’t even find that many. So He sent His angels to destroy it. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” (Gen 19:24-25). Today this area is covered by the dead sea. Its water is so briny that nothing can grow in the surrounding soil.

America is now exhibiting all the signs of a reprobate nation. We have spurned the truth. The LGBT movement went mainstream long ago. The gay lifestyle is celebrated in gay pride parades. Lies and distortion fill our media. Some of our heads of government are guilty of sexual harassment, rape, and pedophilia. One of them heaped praise on the prophet Mohamed and the “Holy Koran” but called Jesus a cynic. Our justice system punishes good and rewards evil. Take for example the case of Daniel Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress. He outed Planned Parenthood for trafficking in aborted baby parts.  But the courts did not go after Planned Parenthood. They prosecuted Daleiden instead!

Two Reactions to Harvey
People responded to Hurricane Harvey in two ways. One young woman said, “If this doesn’t humble you, nothing will.” President Trump said, “The people of Houston are tough and they will rebuild bigger and better.” The first response shows a sense of fear and awe for the God who controls the power and fury of nature.  Psalms 29:3-4 says, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The second response shows an unwarranted sense of bravado, for man cannot harness the power of a hurricane. Scientists tell us that the power of a category 4 hurricane is five times the total annual energy output of the entire world! Hurricane Harvey destroyed millions of man-hours of labor in a matter of just a few days. The cost to repair the damage is conservatively estimated at over $100 billion dollars. Just five years ago Hurricane Sandy caused another $50 billion in damage. Twelve years ago Hurricane Katrina caused $175 billion. That is a total of $325 billion dollars of damage over just twelve years, a cost of $1000 to every man, woman and child in America. And there will undoubtedly be other devastating hurricanes to follow. Man may try to rebuild bigger and better, but the forces of nature cannot be tamed.

Birth Pangs
Jesus warned His disciples that the last days before His return to earth would be filled with natural disasters, war and famines, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mt 24:7). This list does not include hurricanes, but it is not a comprehensive list. Just like a woman’s birth pains increase in frequency as the moment of birth draws near, so these disasters will multiply in a cascading effect as the day of Christ’s return approaches.

Isaiah describes the coming judgment this way, “The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again” (Is 224:19-20). The destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey will pale in comparison to the devastation that is yet to come. The book of Revelation says that Babylon the Great, a metaphor for this world system, will be wiped out in just one hour, “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (Rev 18:10).  All of man’s efforts will ultimately end in futility.

Take Heart
We live in troubled times. For those without Christ, things will only get much worse. But to the believer Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). We can take great encouragement from the fact that these things were predicted long ago. We know what the final outcome will be. Christ will return to establish his kingdom on earth, a kingdom that will never perish.

As for those of you who have not yet repented of your sins and believed in Christ, don’t get too comfortable. The present storm may have passed but there are many more to come. Now is the time to set your sights on heaven before things start getting a lot worse here on earth.

 

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Worship That Pleases God

Recently we learned that the pastor of the church we used to attend was forced to resign over a personal indiscretion. The church hired this man years ago despite concerns that his preaching was very weak. In fact, several people felt so strongly about his lack of preaching skills that they left the church when he was hired.

For years he was able to manage the situation by relying heavily on the help of his wife, a much better Bible expositor. However, she came down with cancer and after years of chemotherapy, finally passed away. When left to his own resources, this pastor outsourced his preaching and teaching responsibilities. As a result, teaching and preaching became a sort of free-for-all as people with varying degrees of Bible knowledge and a variety of theological positions took to the pulpit to expound their views.

None of this bothered the leaders or membership enough to call for change until the pastor secretly married a woman with five illegitimate children. Only then did the elders call for the man to give an account of his actions. It was at that point that he chose to resign.

When Preaching Isn’t Paramount
This is an example of what happens when the faithful preaching of God’s word is not made the centerpiece of worship. It is through preaching that believers are sanctified as they study the word together under the direction of a man who has given himself diligently to the study of God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15). As people learn more about Christ, they become more Christ-like in their character and their love for one another grows (Rom 8:29). Because preaching was neglected in this church, there were divisions. Because it is a church of Chinese immigrants, there are people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. They get along if they don’t talk politics. But let someone suggest that Taiwan is not a part of mainland China and the mainland Chinese will say, “We could snuff you out in an instant.” Such attitudes show how the lack of sound preaching can inhibit growth in grace.

People will not abide sound doctrine if they don’t hear the word of God preached on a regular basis. The interim pastor of the the other congregation that comprises this church was a very good reformed preacher who spent long hours in sermon preparation. But most of the congregation, including the leadership, had never even heard of reformed theology. Only a few members of the congregation embraced his teaching. The others were adamantly opposed to it. When his period of service was up,  his small group of followers moved to a nearby Orthodox Presbyterian Church where they were able to continue to receive sound biblical preaching and teaching, even though it was in English. For them the doctrine was more important than the language, culture and friendships.

The Fad Driven Church
Much of the evangelical church has abandoned orthodox biblical preaching in favor of modern marketing methods. In an article titled “Expository Preaching—–The Antidote to Anemic Worship,” Albert Mohler says, “Pastors these days are carefully indoctrinated with the notion that they must regard their people as consumers. Religion is carefully packaged to appeal to the consumers’ demands.”(1) This trend began with Peter Wagner and the “Church Growth Movement,” and was popularized by Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in his best selling books, “The Purpose Driven Life” and “The  Purpose Driven Church.” It was given added impetus by Bill Hybels who built the Willow Creek megachurch on a marketing model. Albert Mohler describes Hybels’ ministry this way,

As any good marketer would, Hybels deliberately surveys his people with questionnaires in order to determine what they worry about, what their needs are, what’s important to them. . . . Then he schedules what subjects he will preach on in the coming year, and circulates the schedule to those on his team responsible for music and drama in the services.”(2)

George Barna, a pollster who makes his living surveying church trends, says, “The audience, not the message, is sovereign…our message has to be adapted to the needs of the audience.(3)

Adapting the message to the needs of the audience has led to  many church fads, among them the seeker sensitive movement, the ecumenical movement, the emergent church, Blue Like Jazz, The Shack, the Left Behind series, Forty Days of Purpose, the Prosperity Gospel, and  the Word of Faith movement. The Christian publishing industry drives these fads in its constant quest to sell books. Churches snap up these books for their Sunday School classes and small group Bible studies. I attended one local megachurch that based its entire teaching curriculum on the latest best seller in Christian bookstores.

The flitting from one fad to another has set the church adrift. Rick Warren acknowledges this when he says,

At Saddleback Church we’ve . . . tried to recognize the waves God was sending our way, and we’ve learned to catch them. We’ve learned to use the right equipment to ride those waves, and we’ve learned the importance of balance. We’ve also learned to get off dying waves whenever we sensed God wanted to do something new. The amazing thing is this: The more skilled we become in riding waves of growth, the more God sends!”(4)

Ephesians 4:14 says, “So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.(5)

Mt 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.“(6)

God’s word never changes. God doesn’t send waves. He condemns wave riding! Fads add nothing to one’s knowledge of God. They are all about the profit motive. Selling lots of books. Building a big church. Having lots of programs. Hiring lots of staff and being able to provide them all with a comfortable living. 

The blessings of scripture are ample enough that Paul can say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (9). There is enough of the wisdom and knowledge of God to occupy our minds and hearts forever without seeking thrills by resorting to fads. It just requires diligence and hard work to mine all the treasures of scripture.

What True Worship Looks Like
The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian church says, “The preaching of the Word, the power of God unto salvation, is indispensable in the public worship of God. It is therefore a matter of supreme importance that the minister preach only the Word of God, not the wisdom of man, and that he handle the Word of God correctly, always setting forth Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.” (10). It goes on to say that the text should not be used as a point of departure, but that each passage of scripture should be carefully expounded, using other portions of scripture to explain the text in as clear and simple a manner as possible. The OPC restricts the pulpit ministry only to those whom the leadership deems sound in doctrine and practice.

There are examples of how this is done in the Bible. One is in the book of 2 Chronicles and another is in the book of Nehemiah. In 2 Chronicles 34, King Josiah of Judah commissions the restoration of the temple after years of neglect by his predecessors. In the process of reconstruction, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovers the Book of the Law written by Moses. He brings it to the king who has him read it aloud. When Josiah hears the word of God, he realizes the gravity of Judah’s disobedience and asks the high priest to intercede with God on behalf of the people. The message that comes back is, “Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah” (11).  Josiah gathered all the people and read the entire Book of the Law to them, pledging himself to obedience and making the people do the same. After that he destroyed all the idols and removed all the pagan altars from the land. Because the king had expressed genuine remorse, God promised to postpone judgment until after his death.

Some years later Nehemiah led a group of Jews back from exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. One of the very first things he did was to assemble the people for the reading of the same Book of the Law that Josiah had read. A tall platform was erected for Ezra the scribe so that all the people would have to look up as he read. Beside him stood the priests. Ezra began by blessing the Lord and the people responded by lifting up their hands and then bowing with their faces to the ground in worship. Ezra was assisted in the reading by other priests who were stationed among the people. Together they read the word and then interpreted it for the people. The people responded by weeping in repentance for their disobedience. But Nehemiah encouraged them to rejoice because they understood the words and responded in the right way. Notice here the actions of the worship leader and the attitude of the worshipers. The leader began by blessing the Lord and the people responded by humbly receiving the message and repenting of their sins.

The Book of Church Order  affirms this pattern. Just as the worshipers in Ezra’s day lifted their hands in response to the blessing of God and then bowed in worship, so members are encouraged to, “actively… embrace the blessing of the Lord in the salutation and benediction.(12) And in the same way the Israelites responded by respectfully listening and receiving the Word of God, so members are urged to “to confess together with all the people the faith of the church; to heed the Word of truth as the sermon is preached and to appropriate it to their lives as God, through his servant, proclaims and applies it.”(13) The Book of Church Order also specifically calls for a prayer of repentance when the Old Testament Law is read, “It is fitting that a prayer of confession of sin precede or follow any reading of the law of God to the congregation.” And just as the Old Testament priests carefully explained the word of God to the people, so the pastor is urged to, “take pains to expound the chosen text, bringing in other texts as applicable, carefully explaining the meaning, and diligently applying the particular text for the salvation and edification of his hearers.(14)

So the two essential components to worship that pleases God is faithful exposition of the word of God on the part of the worship leader and humble submission to the preaching of the word by the congregation resulting in repentance and obedience.

 

 

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Repentance – The Key to Faith

Remember the story of the rich young man who came to Christ with the question so many seekers ask, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). Jesus knew this young man’s heart. He had a sense of his own self righteousness. So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Then Jesus told him he must keep the law perfectly. This man claimed he had done that from his youth. But he must have had a sense his efforts had fallen short or he would not have asked the question in the first place. So Jesus asked him to do one more thing – to sell everything he had and come and follow him. This was one commandment the young man could not obey because he was too attached to his wealth. So in great sorrow he went away.

Mark tells us that Jesus had great affection for this young man, despite his lack of total commitment. So why did Jesus let him go? Why didn’t he make things a bit easier for him? Jesus did not require others to sell all their belongings in order to follow him. Commenting on this incident to his disciples, Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23).

The Fallacy of Seeker Friendly
What would happen in this same context today? If an evangelist were to sense that a person’s wealth might be a hindrance to the gospel, he might very likely lower the bar just enough to let him in. In fact, many evangelists would go even farther and promise the young man that a life of service to Christ might mean even greater riches. This is what is known as the prosperity gospel.

I met a woman once who said she would never have come to Christ if the evangelist had confronted her with her sins. She needed to hear all about the blessings first. There is a very popular book in Christian bookstores called “The Shack.” The main character encounters God as a black woman. This man had issues with his father, so the author of the book presents God as someone more soft and compassionate, someone that will be easier for him to accept.

It seems that many folks today simply cannot trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of conversion through the word of God without a little assist from the evangelist. We need to soften the message to make it less offensive and more palatable. But the core of the gospel message is that sinners need  to be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul says this message is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Who wants to acknowledge the fact that their transgressions are so offensive to a Holy God that it required the death of his Son to save us? Today that same gospel is no less offensive than it was 2000 years ago. We should expect people to have difficulty accepting it.

The Call For Total Commitment
Here is what Jesus said to those who had reservations about following him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mt. 16:24). “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37). “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).  “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:60). “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” ( Lk 9:62). “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mk 10:29-30). Does that sound like he was making things easier for them? On the contrary, he expected total commitment without reservation.

Jesus said that his followers should expect to be hated by the world because the world hated him, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

The Apostles affirmed what Jesus said. Acts 14:21-22 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:1). The Apostle James said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). Paul told his disciple Timothy that, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles all began their messages with an appeal to repent. John the Baptist and Jesus both said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2, Mt 4:17). Peter accused his listeners of killing the Son of God, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23). Stephen launched a diatribe against the religious leaders for their hypocrisy just before they stoned him, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53). The entire first chapter of Romans is a condemnation of the lawlessness of man without God. Paul begins by saying, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).

Spiritual Blessings are not for the Natural Man
We must recognize that the natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). So when we offer spiritual blessings before the Holy Spirit brings new life, the natural man misconstrues this as an appeal to his  natural desires. To him becoming a Christian under these terms means all things are going to go well with him. But the blessings are not natural blessings. They are supernatural blessings that come with repentance and submission to the lordship of Christ. And they are accompanied by tribulation. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”  (John 16:33). The peace that Christ gives comes in the midst of turmoil. It is not an escape from hardships. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This is the kind of peace that martyrs experience in the face of death, not the peace that comes from looking at a beautiful sunset. The unbeliever does not associate peace with calm in the face of peril. In describing his own sufferings, Paul told the church at Rome, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39). He experienced the comfort of Christ in the midst of all kinds of terrible times. This is the peace that Christ confers on the believer.

So the person who comes to Christ for all the blessings without acknowledging his own sin and repenting will fall away when times get tough. That is not what he signed up for. And that is why, despite the dysfunctional relationship a man had with his father, we should not try to redefine God as a kindly Black woman or something else that he is not in order to make him more appealing. He is a holy and righteous God who cannot tolerate sin and will not receive us unless we come to him humbly, confessing our sins and asking for his forgiveness. That is the only way anyone can ever be reconciled to God. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of enlightening that man or woman with the truth of the gospel regardless of his or her background without false comforts offered by us. He did it in Paul’s day in a society as morally bankrupt and full of dysfunction as our own. He can still do it today.

Sacrificing All For Christ
The thrust of Jesus’ message to the rich young man was that in order to become a disciple he would have to put Christ first. Jesus was testing his willingness to do that by asking him to leave his possessions behind and come and follow him. In another passage. Paul said, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8b). Like Paul, those who would inherit the blessings of eternal life must be willing to forsake all to follow Christ. Those who come to Christ in an attempt to “gain the whole world,” or as we would say today to “have it all,” will only lose their own souls.

 

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What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

I recently had a conversation with a woman who is very active in church Bible studies. These are normally small group studies that are based on an inductive Bible study method. People are free to draw conclusions about what the Bible means based on their own self discovery without necessarily being guided by the traditional historical interpretations of the church.

I was surprised that this woman had never heard of Arminianism despite having taught various Bible studies for fifteen years. I was also surprised to learn that the elders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church which I used to attend had never heard the words “Reformed Theology.” These represent the two most common views on soteriology or the study of salvation in the Christian faith.

Definition of Reformed Theology
To put it simply, Reformed Theology is how the founders of the Protestant church understood the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the theology upon which the Protestant Church was built. It is expressed in the great confessions of the Protestant faith such as the Westminster Confession, the Belgian Confession, The London Baptist Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Confession, the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles Creed. These documents explain the basic teachings of the Bible regarding such biblical truths as the nature of the Trinity, justification by faith, unconditional election, the preservation of the saints, the limited scope of Christ’s atonement, irresistible grace, and the total depravity of mankind.

Unfortunately, the modern evangelical church has for the most part neglected these confessions and the orthodox doctrines they represent. Few churches recite them as part of the worship service or teach them in catechism class anymore. They are rarely if ever referenced in preaching or in Bible study. Consequently, most evangelicals have ceased to believe or practice much of what they teach.

Unconditional Election
For instance, the vast majority of evangelical Christians believe that people either accept or reject Christ based on the exercise of their own free will. But that is not the faith the Reformers confessed. In fact, that teaching was condemned by the church at the Council of Dort in 1619. The Canons of Dort say, “In accordance with this decree God graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of the elect and inclines them to believe, but by a just judgment God leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen.” (Canons of Dort, Article 6).

The Reformers believed it is God who chooses to save some people and to leave others in their sins based solely upon his own determination.  The Westminster Catechism puts it this way, “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ.” (Chapter 10.1).

In the same way that God chooses to save some, he consigns others to unbelief. This is very evident in the way Christ veiled the truth in parables so that many of his hearers were unable to understand what he said. Matthew 13 says, “Then the disciples came and said to him, Why do you speak to them in parables? And he answered them, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Mt 13:10-11).

On the other hand, Christ very plainly revealed himself to others, like the woman at the well. When she said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25) Jesus’ response to her was very straightforward and unambiguous, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26). He kept nothing hidden from her because she was one of his chosen ones.

Irresistible Grace
The doctrine of irresistible grace says that it is not possible for those whom God has chosen to resist his will, nor is it possible for those whom he has not chosen to come to faith in him. The best example of a man who could not resist the will of God is the Apostle Paul. He was on his way to the city of Damascus to arrest Christians when Jesus suddenly stopped him in his tracks with a blinding light and a voice from heaven that said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 26:14). Saul simply said, “Who are you Lord,” to which the voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” So Saul did what he was told. Later Ananias showed up in response to a vision he had received from God, and said to Saul, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 9:17). Then Saul arose, ate something, and was immediately baptized. Saul never took the initiative in any of these actions.  God called him, commanded him, gave him back his sight, and filled him with the Holy Spirit before he did anything. He had been chosen by Christ and his only option was to obey. This is irresistible grace.

The doctrine of irresistible grace is expressed in Article 10 of the Canons of Dort, “But the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God. This does not involve God’s choosing certain human qualities or actions from among all those possible as a condition of salvation, but rather involves adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as God’s own possession. The Westminster Confession puts it this way, “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.” (Westminster Confessions 10.2) Saul was a passive participant until he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then did he begin exercising his faith by preaching in the synagogue. (Acts 9:20). He could not resist God’s call despite the fact that he was a sworn enemy of Jesus Christ.

Limited Atonement
If it is true that God calls only some to salvation, then it follows that the sacrifice Christ made on the cross  covers only the sins of those whom he has chosen. Those who have not been chosen still must pay for their own sins. If Christ’s sacrifice covered everyone’s sins, then Christ’s death on behalf of the elect would have been superfluous and a terrible waste. If, on the other hand, atonement is available to all but depends on whether or not they accept it, then his sacrifice is ineffectual for those who reject him. Since God is sovereign, nothing he does is ineffectual. The Westminster Catechism 10.1 says, “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death.” This idea that Christ’s sacrifice covers only the sins of his chosen ones is called “limited atonement.”

Total Depravity
Total depravity does not mean that man is incapable of doing anything good. It means that no man is capable of humbling himself before a righteous God in genuine repentance. Romans 3:10-11 says,

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
not even one
.”

Reformed theology teaches that sin has so radically corrupted the human soul that repentance is impossible unless the Holy Spirit first imparts a new nature that can respond to God. Jesus told Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5-8)

Spiritual rebirth precedes believing faith. It is an invisible process that takes place at God’s direction and is prompted by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

Justification by Faith
This doctrine is understood in much the same way by both evangelical and reformed believers and so does not require explanation other than to say that all men are born sinners and cannot achieve righteousness on their own. The only righteousness available to them is the righteousness of Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life and then offered up his life as a sacrifice for the justification of the elect.

Preservation of the Saints
This doctrine is more commonly known as the perseverance of the saints. I prefer the term preservation over perseverance because, like every other aspect of salvation, it is a result of the sovereignty of God. Preservation means that God keeps us saved. Perseverance means that we remain saved. In either case, the true believer cannot lose his salvation. But the reason why is important. If salvation is entirely a work of God, then he cannot fail to bring his work to a successful conclusion. He holds us in an unbreakable grip. As Paul says in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38). He explains his reasons for such confidence in the preceding verses. If God did not withhold his most precious Son but gave him up for us while we were still at enmity with him, why would he withhold any good gift from us now that we have been reconciled to him? The Judge Himself has justified us. We have no reason to fear condemnation.

The Westminster Catechism expresses this truth beautifully. Chapter 17.1 says, “They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”

Why Theology is Important
These doctrines should inform our study of the scriptures. They provide the guard rails to prevent us from going astray and a context to help us reconcile seemingly contradictory verses of scripture.

For example, how are we to understand a verse like 1 Timothy 4:9-10 if we do not put it into the larger context of scripture? At first glance it seems to be telling us that Christ saves both believers and unbelievers, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” The doctrine of justification by faith alone tells us that only believers are saved. So in what sense does God save all people? And what is special about the salvation of those who believe?  Well, we already know that the salvation of those who believe is forever. So from what are those who don’t believe saved? They are spared from immediate destruction by the wrath of God which would consume them if it weren’t for his patience and mercy. Paul explains this seeming contradiction in Romans 9:22-24, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy…?” 

Bible study that is unguided by sound theology is prone to error. I have heard all kinds of error taught in small group Bible studies. In small groups, everyone’s contribution is welcome. But not everyone’s contribution is equal.  Some believers are more firmly grounded in scripture and their insights are more accurate. Many of these groups foster a “there are no wrong answers” type of environment. But there is only one truth, not multiple versions of the truth. God wants us to understand the Bible one way and one way only – the way he intended it. That is why we must respect the contributions of those great saints who came before us and whose wisdom has withstood the test of time.

The meaning God’s word does not evolve with time. It remains the same throughout the ages because God does not change. If Bible study produces novel teaching, it is producing heresy. Yet Christian bookstores continue to pump out the latest Christian fad from Church Growth strategies to Seeker Friendly to the Purpose Driven Church to Contemplative Spirituality to the New Apostolic Revival. You would be hard pressed to find Christian classics like the works of St. Augustine or Martin Luther or John Calvin or any of the reformers or Puritans on the shelves of Christian bookstores.  Yet the true church has been built on the shoulders of these great saints, not the promoters of the latest evangelism technique or church growth method.

 

 

Posted in Assurance of Salvation, Election, False Teaching, Reformation, Reformed Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment