Sunday, 22 November 2009

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8

The Modern Church Growth Movement had its beginning somewhere, naturally it did not just evolve from nothing. Most place it's origin in mid 1800's New England and New York which paralleled the Second Great Awakening. It's father is said to be that of George Grandison Finney the famed Evangelist. Most of us have little direct knowledge of Finney. We know a great deal about his theology however, because we are the children of it. In fact, most of todays pastors and virtually all of yesterday's pastors have studied it in great detail because his Systematic Theology has been required reading in American bible colleges and seminaries for over a century now. For instance, many of us have no idea what the "anxious bench" is, but, if you had attended one of Finney's revival meetings, you would recognize it's form in a second...today we refer it an "alter call". Many evangelical churches have abandoned this practice due to deep concerns over its emotional appeal to make a "decision" for Christ, rather than helping the lost understand clearly all that is meant by redemption and what God has done in Christ. God said, "Come, let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow." We are neither promoting a cold, lifeless intellectualism, nor a passionate, irrational emotionalism, both are equally cruel in their exercise, but rather, a careful, diligent and loving explanation of biblical facts that the Spirit of God can use to accomplish all His good pleasure. We ought to be directed and find godly instruction in texts like these, "Pay attention to yourself, and to your doctrine, for in so doing, you will preserve both yourself and those who hear you." and again we read, "Be diligent to show yourselves approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, correctly handling the Word of truth."

Because of the continued mindless loyalty to Finney's miscarriages of theology untold millions have experienced and continue to experience "false starts" and none of the promised changes they were sold. Where there is no true conversion, soon afterwards the soul runs out of emotional fuel and lapses into bitterness, apathy or greater unbelief. Or worse yet, they become twofold more the children of heresy than their fathers. When the "levening" effect of these doctrines take hold of the "survivors" many rise to new levels of devotion and promotion....hence the Modern Church Growth Generation. The following paragraph is taken from Phil Johnson's article, "Wolf in Sheeps Clothing: How Charles Finney's theology ravaged the evangelical movement".

We read, "Predictably, most of Finney's spiritual heirs lapsed into apostasy, Socinianism, mere moralism, cultlike perfectionism, and other related errors. In short, Finney's chief legacy was confusion and doctrinal compromise. Evangelical Christianity virtually disappeared from western New York in Finney's own lifetime. Despite Finney's accounts of glorious "revivals," most of the vast region of New England where he held his revival campaigns fell into a permanent spiritual coldness during Finney's lifetime and more than a hundred years later still has not emerged from that malaise. This is directly owing to the influence of Finney and others who were simultaneously promoting similar ideas.
    The Western half of New York became known as "the burnt-over district," because of the negative effects of the revivalist movement that culminated in Finney's work there. These facts are often obscured in the popular lore about Finney. But even Finney himself spoke of "a burnt district" [Memoirs, 78], and he lamented the absence of any lasting fruit from his evangelistic efforts"

Many of you have heard me talk about the ministry of Paul Washer. Paul is dear brother and ardent warrior for Christ against the heresies of the Modern Church Growth Movement. He is passionately devoted to defending the historic Gospel which was "once for all delivered to the saints" Paul's sermon, "The True Gospel" has the honor of being the most downloaded sermon in the history of SermonAudio. And it is not because he tries to tickle anyones ears! If you have not listened to it, you can find the video version on Youtube.com under the same name. I hope you take the time to do so...it will test your anchor chains and give you a renewed devotion to the only gospel that can save. Cathy Trainor said after she listened to it, "that was the best presentation of the Gospel I have ever heard." Paul's address to a youth rally in Atlanta is a must listen also.

I am also including the web links to Phil Johnson's compete article and also Michael Horton's article on Finney as well. For those of you who do not know Michael Horton, He is the host of the web broadcast "White Horse Inn" and a professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. (The historic White Horse Inn was a pub in England where the doctrines of the Reformation fresh from Germany and France were first heard in the British Isles.) Combined both Johnson's and Horton's articles are no more than 15 minutes reading. Please take a half hour and reflect on these things and let them sharpen you as they have me.
Just click on the highlight web address or copy and paste it into your browser (eg. internet explorer, firefox, etc) and hit enter!

1. Wolf in Sheeps Clothing by Phil Johnson http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/finney.htm

2. The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney by Michael Horton http://www.mtio.com/articles/aissar81.htm



Sunday, 15 November 2009

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you, cleanse your hands you sinners, purfy your hearts you doubleminded" " James 4:8

The words of James could speak to the churches of God in our day like few can. Some baulk at how he could use the language he chose in addressing a born again audience. But as we mature in Christ we realize that James had no special knowledge of who was really saved and who was not; and something that was markedly different in early church theology, than that which held today is the belief that no one was ever considered truly born again unless their fruit could back it up. Like good watchmen, they waited and observed. They believed that "a city set on a hill could not be hidden." They were not prepared, as we are today, to "file" such oral professions in the "born again" folder; no, apart from the fruit of the Spirit clearly seen, you were just considered an empty adherent. You would have been challenged, told to "examine yourself to see if ye be in the faith", taught, prayed for...but never believed as to your words, if the fruit of the Spirit was not evident in your life. James was writing to a vast host of jews and gentiles throughout asia who would read his letter. We must also not forget that virtually all of the early churches began through the conversion of jewish people scattered throughout the Mediterranean. It was Paul's habit to begin his evangelizing in the synogogues...partly because they were the only people likely to have a copy of the scriptures and because of the the commandment of his Christ "to the Jew first". We have all wondered about the lamentable progress of the "church" in our generation both in sanctification and a right maturity. Could James's admonition and the church's paltry progress be linked? Why is it that most men, most families, most churches never seem to make much progress in sanctification or maturity in Christ. The acceptable standard for the Gentile church today is tantamount to graduating from the 12th grade when you are 40 or worse. In many respects the visible church is a reprehensible mess as a people and kingdom. Her leaders and shepherds are awash in vain philosophy and doctrines of demons or just outright unsaved. You couldn't feed an ant with the sermons they prepare (or buy) and their doctrine is as varied as snowflakes...scarcely two alike. It's armies are in disarray or altogether asleep. And Her people revel in self indulgence in broad daylight. We would do well to consider again that "judgement begins with the household of God" , but the fool has said in his heart, "oh, that toothless old text?".
As I have stated in the past, all idolators share one common thread, their hope of passing through the waters of judgement are wholly based upon the dream that God will not be the Soul the Scripture steadfastly warns us He is. For those who exchange this Word for a dream..."a certain, terrifying expectation of judgement" will haunt their ease. Troubled by the testimony of selfish pursuits and frustrated by unanswered prayer, they none-the-less press on. The bible calls them "clouds without water" and "hidden reefs" they fill the pews and pulpits in seemly endless churches. I remember watching the horror on mens faces when John MacArther would say that he questioned whether 10% of his congregation was truly born again. By the way, Grace Community church at that time boasted an attendance of 5,000 people on a sunday morning. It is an astonishing thing, when you consider the constant blast those tares must endure, as John opens up the Word each week and "goes easy on them" (I jest) as we all know he is so apt to do. So often good pastors face the heat of persecution alone when there should be ten thousand facing it with them. Modern "pastors" shutter at the thought of having ministries that could be characterized as even remotely negative. And since the Word is is so negative when talking about sin and evil...they surely cannot use the bible as their text! They dare not preach the whole counsels of God in the pulpit for fear they might offend so many, or in the case of tiny churches, so few...after all, we want them to stay where they can be "properly taught", who knows what doctrinal ills might befall them if they start visiting other churches, not to mention all of that giving going down-the-road. Here at least, we can be sure their giving is being used for "the Lord's work" and they are receiving a good wholesome diet of hallucinogenic drugs and sleeping pills. Paul was not kidding when He warned that "ravenous wolves would enter in among you not sparing the flock"...but who could have imagined a non confrontational, non offending ravenous wolf?!

Our sin is a much more consistent testimony to us than God's Word. It should not be, but we forget His Word, and our sin on the other hand is constantly before us. It levens us...it levens those around us. We would like to believe that we are prompted by the latter, but for most there is simply no evidence to prove it. We are constantly confronted with threat of being "deceived and being deceived". God is not the Head of His Church...we are. I speak as a man. We (weighed down by our loving this present world) saw the Heir coming to take possession of His vineyard and we killed Him. Not literally of course, He lived too long ago. Another generation actually committed that act...but "evangelical pharasee's" that rule in the church today have the same spirit. We are no different than the Pharasees of generations past. If we actually were, there would be irrefutable evidence! Oh yes, there will always be 7000 who have not "bowed the knee to Baal" (praise God) but would you make yourself out to be one of them? With no fruit to back it up, just empty talk while you make plans to pick out your new granite countertops or where you will spend your next vacation dollar?

Savvy souls know today what savvy souls knew in Jesus' day...we read about their heart toward Jesus as pastor: "If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation!" (John 11:48) Church goers and their leadership alike are deathly afraid of Jesus actually becoming their Pastor. The biblical Jesus after all is an extremist! He is extremely Holy...He is extremely God...He is extremely Right all the time...He is extremely Lord over all His affairs...and friend, that makes churches and their leadership VERY nervous. And don't think for one second this spirit can't exist in your own heart and your own church! Ah...but what do the children always cry when they are confronted by such an accusation?? Even this, " 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers we would not have taken part with them in the shedding the blood of the prophets', Thus (says Jesus) you witness against yourselves that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.' " (Matt. 23:30-31) Then comes that dreadful sovereign decree, "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers"! (Matt. 23:32) Are we so deceived that you actually think this is NOT going on in the in our own "synagogues" today (you can call them churches if you wish)? But what is the earnest prayer of the church and leadership that is lead by the Spirit of Christ? Even this, "To whom shall we go, Thou hast the words of eternal life"...and we read again, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me!" Do you think it is far fetched that God is not right now using this appointed time for the "filling up of the measure of our fathers?" while He saves His elect? Did Jesus say for no reason, "Let them both grow together"?"(Matt. 13:29) The tares are growing under His holy supervision right beside beleivers in the church! Not outside the church! Inside! Are you one of them Oh Man? And the "Rabbi's" of our day are telling the whole flock that they need not tremble or fear, do they not realize that the Lord of the Harvest has already said that two distinct groups are growing side by side? It is true the elect should not tremble or fear the angels when they come at the last day to separate the tares from the wheat, but the preaching of the Lord's true pastors should be such that the tares should have their faces aflame! They should never know one moments rest nor one settled thought in the presence of our Majesty's Words and Precepts! What has happened to us? What has happened to our preaching? How is it those whose hearts are not right with God, seeking only to have their ears tickled, can find peace and rest for their souls while yet unsaved in our churches?!?! My problem is, I can no longer find anyone to offend my ears! When John saw the "pastors" of his day coming he said, "You brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?! Bring for fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt. 3:7-8) Some refuse to speak in such terms or utter warnings at all because they argue, "what if we 'offend' or 'uproot' the wrong souls"? I would to God that were their problem. Now John no more knew who the elect were than the Apostle Paul, and yet he still spoke those dreadful words of warning to the leaders of his day regardless of whether or not they might be saved by the Lord at some later date. Paul was no different as he condemned the Judaizers of Galatia when he said, "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!" (Gal. 5:12) How did they preach the way they preached? Were they granted extra knowledge or insight by being a prophet and an apostle? The wicked man may say in his heart, "Have I found my excuse?" No you have not found your excuse. They did it the same way the Lord Jesus did it when he cursed the barren fig tree. He judged them based on their fruit!
And we must stop making divisions in our logic as though there were any difference in the Lord's mind between "bad" fruit and "no" fruit. They are both equally solid indications of evil. You are playing a dangerous game my friend if you allow yourself to treat them differently. Jesus did not curse that tree because it was not a fig tree...but because it was a fruit-less fig tree. It ought to have had fruit on it!! Hebrews chapter 6 says of the fruit-less soil, that it produced, not what was planted, but rather "thorns and briars". Some on the other hand are called bad trees and produce bad fruit also. John knew well the long trail of rotten fruit the "pastors" of his day left behind them. Paul also knew well the doctrine and the words of the Judaizers. Both John and Paul, like their Master, "knew them by their fruit". The word "know" implies certainty when judging righteous judgement. We indeed must have evidence of what we condemn (as to a man's works and the present condition of his soul; or else how do we determine who to witness to and who to encourage?). But our problem today is that, both bad fruit and no fruit are in abundance everywhere you look and still these souls go on at peace in their own vanity and resting in their delusions.

The Lord Jesus saw to it that no wicked fig tree was left resting in its complacency on His watch. How the zeal for His Father's house did consume Him...not just in the church but in the field also! Wouldn't it be something if a gravestone was placed by the door of every church and written on it the words, "Ananias and Sapphira did not lie in peace here" The Holy Spirit was on watch that day...and oh how He ended the "revival" too, we read, "None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem" (Acts 5:13) There might be some who, like Peter, might challange the Holy Spirit for His wisdom that day, "Far be it from you Lord". The Osteens , Hybels, Schullers, Grahams and Warrens of our present day Sanhedrin could be heard echoing those infamous words, "Why all this waste?" Many thousands more could be saved if...But Jesus reveals to us that Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief and because he kept the bag! The biblical truth is viewed as too rigid, and as I have said before, the gospel gate must be widened, thus those who are lost because of a refusal to widened the gate appear as a "waste". The tares, it could be said, were getting a little too cozy and when they do, it always comes from a modified "gospel" designed to smell a little more rosie (forgive the pun). Is Christ Jesus's worth and beauty enough? If you believe that it is, as I do, why are you even tempted to modify the gospel so that you might "save" more? We must be grounded by the reality that there is no greater Evangelist than God. No one exhibits more zeal and deliberate purpose in building His Church. And no one has paid a greater price for Her redemption. We must follow the Lord in our evangelism...He alone is the one who makes babies.

Oh for the day that preachers would leave the security of their pulpits and plastered walls and go out again into the highways and byways and preach this message! Paul and John never let the tares they encountered in their earthly ministries have a moments peace. It is not that they went "tare hunting"...no, they were effective by their child like adherence to the true Gospel. They knew well the meaning of that psalm, "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me!" God's rigidly expectation of careful and whole hearted reliance on His Gospel is not a burden, but a saving grace as we are all wanting of a truly God like love. And good shepherds, like their Great Shepherd seek to please God in this work. There was no "cushioned pew" found for tares in church of the Living God then...because the scriptures provide no comfort outside of true conversion. The pricks and thorns are built in, Jesus in fact stated to Paul before his conversion, "It is a hard thing to kick against the thorns". The answer is not "hey, lets just remove the thorns"...the answer is: Stop kicking against them! How should the words of David ring so loudly to us now, "Serve the Lord with fear, rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry with you and you perish in the way, for is wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him". (Ps. 2:11-12)