Grace & Truth is the blog page for

Pastor Brett M. Werner…

Our prayer is that this blog will help the Woodville Church community and its readers to strengthen their faith in God as He does more than all we can even ask or imagine. The views and content contained in Grace & Truth is my opinion alone, and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion or views of the Christian Reformed Church or Woodville church board or its employees. The information on this site is intended for informational purposes. While I will do my best to provide accurate and timely information, I am not responsible for unknowingly posting incorrect or outdated material. In addition, Grace & Truth is a snapshot of my thoughts and opinions as well as thoughts from other theologians so I admit in advance that I may change my mind in regards to information expressed. The articles and essays found on this page are solidly Reformed in my understanding of the doctrines of grace… they are meant to help understand better the issues that we deal with in the church at large from a Reformed perspective. We want to learn how we can think biblically about those issues in the context of ministry within the lives of God’s people…enjoy!

Read the Latest Posts Below

How Skipping Church Affects Our Children

In a Q&A, Carl Trueman was asked about why churches today are losing their young people. Typical answers to this question range from things like the temptations of this world or the irrelevance of the church…your typical answers. But Trueman makes a keen and convicting connection between our parenting and apostasy. Note his statement…

“The church is losing its young people because the parents never taught their children that it was important. I think that applies across the board. It applies to family worship, and it also applies to whether you are in church every Sunday and what priority you demonstrate to your children church has on a Sunday. If the sun shines out and their friends are going to the beach, do you decide to skip church and go to the beach? In which case, you send signals to your children that it is not important.” (Carl Trueman)

Now we know that artificially taking your kids to church neither bestows salvation nor guarantees it. God is obviously not honored by external religious acts without heart worship. This type of legalism is not the subject of this discussion. This is about parenting and the weight of the responsibility behind how they prioritize their time and lifestyle choices for their families. Salvation for our kids and extended family, and anyone else for that matter, are totally dependent on God’s work of grace in their life. Even the best examples shown to our kids is no guarantee that they will follow God in salvation. But we are responsible before God to be setting up the model for Christ-like character.

Parents make choices all the time for their families. As they decide on what takes priority in family, every choice is carefully observed and taken into the heart of their children. Yes, they are watching you, and they are learning from you. Maybe the reason why our children have no love for Christ is due in part to the fact that we as parents do not show any love or passion for Christ ourselves, evidenced by how we prioritize our time both on Sundays and during the week.

I have first-hand witnessed parents putting sports and other school activities on Sunday mornings in front of the priority of worship first. When television, sports, school, hobbies even family itself are elevated to a place of idolatry and replace the vital Christian responsibilities, then we tell our children that Christ is secondary to all these things. We tell our children that it is not necessary to take up your cross and die to yourself daily in order to follow Christ. We tell them that you only have to live for Christ when it’s convenient for you. We tell them it is okay to sacrifice time with all-satisfying Savior if something “more fun” or “more important” comes along. And this sounds like a clear path to apostasy if you ask me. It is no wonder we are losing our youth at church.

Let’s evaluate where our hearts are by observing our choices. Do you prioritize the local church? Do you prioritize the worship of Christ in your home and on Sundays? Do you prioritize serving Him and worshiping Him in the contexts of school and work?

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever miss a Sunday or that you can’t have any extracurricular activities. Instead, it is a sobering reminder that we shouldn’t put the things of God at the bottom of the priority list, because it tells our children that Christ is at the bottom of our priority list. And the God of this universe does not belong there.

My prayer is that we all would improve in this area. But be aware, maybe we have not seen this before because Christ isn’t a priority in our lives. And if He isn’t a priority in our lives, then our children will know and follow suit.


Why Must There Be Factions in the Church…?

In every church, there are individuals who can cause disunity within the church body. Often leadership can become overwhelmed by those who fight among themselves over even petty church affairs. Many times this is the result of our own sinful hearts and fallen conditions. At other times, it may be the result of the tares that are sown in with the wheat. Paul was well aware that division cannot be entirely avoided. Until the Lord returns, there will always be tares among the wheat, and disobedient believers as well.

The church in Corinth was so divided that you might say it was diced. There were divisions over which apostle was superior, sexual morality, lawsuits, marriage, eating meat, head coverings for women, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of believers, and I’m probably missing some. The paradox is that “it was necessary for there to be factions in the Corinthian church in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11: 18-22). The worldliness and fleshly disobedience of those who caused the divisions would expose and highlight the love, harmony, and spirituality of those who are approved (passed the test of being a genuine believer)

Paul, who really wanted these saints to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10), said something in chapter 11, verse 19 that is important for us to remember: “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” Church division, ungodly and sinful as it is, nevertheless is used by the Lord to prove the worth of His faithful saints. In the midst of bickering and divisiveness they are separated out as pure gold is from the dross. Evil helps manifest good. Trouble in the church creates a situation in which true spiritual strength, wisdom, and leadership can be manifested.

Factions painfully serve the church. They provide opportunity to differentiate between real and unreal Christians. Does this mean that factions only occur between the genuine and the false? No. Paul wrote this book to help “brothers” (genuine believers) solve their divisions; “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

But factions do reveal false Christians. How? Well, exposing an unwillingness to submit to the apostles’ teaching is certainly one thing (e.g.1 Corinthians 11:16). But a lack of love is the biggie (1 Corinthians 13). Paul said love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). And if we have truth and not love, we’re nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). Nothing.

There must be factions. Factions reveal hearts. So in our disagreements and divisions, Paul wants us to measure our motives, words, and actions by the gauge of chapter 13. The less they look or sound like biblically defined love, the more concerned he wants us to be about our genuineness.


The Heresy of Worshiptainment

I often hear tidbits of people’s comments here and there that cause me to ponder where people’s priorities are in coming to a church. Often times the statements I hear are disconcerting. Things like… “You have to have young people coming to your church, or the church will die…” Really? A Church dies because of a demographic based on age…? Jesus said that He removes the “lampstand” of a Church when that Church stops being faithful to His Word and His direction for how His Church is run (Rev 2-3). Certainly young people are important as our future, and their involvement within the Church body…but NOT because of it! It is this kind of thinking that also carries over into the music of the church. If you believe that young people is what determines the health of a church, then you will also buy into the next line of thinking which is then…you MUST change the music to attract the young people. Here is the slippery slope; taking the focus off from God and the sufficiency of Scripture, to figuring out “what works” to attract a new demographic with aesthetics.

Mike Livingstone wrote an article on his concern for the “entertainment” motion that many churches are gravitating to these days.

The great heresy of the church today is that we think we’re in the entertainment business. A.W. Tozer believed this to be true back in the 1950s and 60s. Church members “want to be entertained while they are edified.” He said that in 1962. Tozer grieved, even then, that it was “scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction was God.”

More recently, David Platt has asked: “What if we take away the cool music and the cushioned chairs? What if the screens are gone and the stage is no longer decorated? What if the air conditioning is off and the comforts are removed? Would His Word still be enough for his people to come together?” (Radical)

Would it be enough?

Tozer got it right: “Heresy of method may be as deadly as heresy of message.”

HALLOWEDNESS, NOT SHALLOWNESS

Like Tozer, we should be concerned that so many people in our churches want to be entertained while they worship. We should be concerned when we no longer recognize the difference between the two. And we should be concerned by the growing belief that adding more entertainment value to worship is necessary for the church to accomplish its mission.

I may stand alone, but it grieves me when I see worship services characterized more by props, performances, and pep rally atmospheres than by any sense of divine sacredness; and hallowedness giving way to shallowness.

This is not about worship styles. The issue is not traditional versus contemporary versus blended worship. It’s not about organ versus worship band. That discussion misses the point completely. This is about the heart and focus and intent of worship. The real issues, for me, are these:

Who or what is the spotlight really on?

If the figurative spotlight in our church services is on anyone other than God, it is not worship. If the spotlight shines brighter on human performance than on the gospel of Christ, it is not worship. If anyone other than Jesus is receiving our adulation and applause, it is not God we worship.

What message are we communicating?

The message of the church—the message the world needs to hear from us—is not, “Come and have a good time,” “Come and be entertained,” or “Come and find your best life now.”

Tozer said: “Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name.” The message of the church is the message of the cross. Lest we forget, Jesus’ cross was a source of entertainment only for those who mocked Him as He hung on it.

How are lives changed?

“But our methods are attracting and winning people!” some will say. Tozer addressed that sentiment: “Winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ?”

THE WORD DOES THE WORK

David Platt and the church he pastored, The Church at Brook Hills, decided to try to answer the question, “Is His Word still enough for His people to come together?” They stripped away the entertainment value and invited people to come simply to study God’s Word. They called it Secret Church. They set a date—on a Friday night—when they would gather from 6:00 in the evening until midnight, and for six hours they would do nothing but study God’s Word and pray. People came. A thousand people came the first time and it grew from that. Soon, they had to start taking reservations because the church was packed full. Secret Church now draws tens of thousands of people via simulcast in over 50 countries around the world—with no entertainment, no bells and whistles or smoke machines.

Why do they come? Platt explained in an interview: “People are hungry for the Word. There’s really nothing special or creative about it. It’s just the study of the Word …. The Word itself does the work!”

People are hungry. They are hungry for a diet of substance, not candy. More of the Word. Deeper into the Word. Less of what Tozer called “religious toys and trifles.”

As we face this New Year…let’s try to remember to keep far away from these “religious toys and trifles” and keep the focus on what really makes for a healthy Church…God’s Word. Let’s leave the Church growth to God…let’s remember to keep our concerns for the health of this Body not on age or numbers…but on faithfulness.


What About the Salvation of Our Children & Grandchildren…?

Is there anything believers can do to guarantee the salvation of their children? No doubt many Christian parents have asked that very question; naturally hoping to see their offspring grow to know and love the Lord, and spared the horrors of hell.

But the truth is that as much as we might like to pass on the spiritual inheritance of our faith, that’s not the means the Lord has chosen to bring people to truth faith and repentance except through His sovereign will through the power of His proclaimed Word, through the working of His Spirit.

The spiritual outcome of your child, taken by itself, is no reliable gauge of your success as a parent. Nor is it an accurate measure of your faith—salvation is non-transferable, regardless of the depth and breadth of your love for the Lord. Sometimes children raised in fine Christian families grow up to abandon the faith. On the other hand, God graciously redeems many children whose parents are utter failures.

What about Proverbs 22:6?

Invariably parents ask about Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Isn’t that a biblical promise that if we raise our children right, we can guarantee that they will walk faithfully with the Lord?

That notion is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the Proverbs. These are wise sayings and truisms—not necessarily inviolable rules. For example, two verses earlier, we read, “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life” (v. 4). That is certainly not a blanket promise that everyone who is humble and fears the Lord will always be rich and receive honor.

Furthermore, Proverbs 10:27 says, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.” We know that this principle does not hold true in every case. It cannot be claimed as if it were a binding promise from God to all who fear the Lord.

But Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise for Christian parents to claim that will guarantee their children will never depart from the way of truth. The truth of this saying is a warning to parents, and a promise that if behavior in not corrected when they are young…when they grow older that unchecked behavior will follow them. This verse actually is a warning in Scripture on the importance of training our children to forsake bad “bents” in their fallen condition. Each child has a particular bent; stubbornness; pride; stealing; disrespect, etc. The way they should go is what is confusing in this verse. The way they should go is better translated, “according to their particular bent.” Our responsibilities as parents are to make sure that when we see a particular bad habit or bad behavior, that it is corrected with discipline immediately. Children that are allowed to continue in that bad behavior unchecked, will “train” their children that they can continue it outside the home. The children then become the problem for the teachers; the employer; and eventually their future mates. We are living in a society where the children rule the homes and get their own way and invariably will be the ones who manipulate others as they have their parents.

No Guarantees

Ultimately, however, your children’s salvation is a matter to be settled between them and God. Nothing you can do will guarantee your kids’ salvation. To that end you should be praying to God and instructing your children—using all available means to impress the truths of the gospel continually on their hearts. But ultimately a grown child’s spiritual fitness alone is not necessarily a reliable gauge of the parents’ success.

The simple fact is that you’re best efforts cannot guarantee salvation for your children, but your bad example could be a great hindrance to the work of the gospel in their hearts. While you might not be able to singlehandedly win them to the Lord, your influence runs deep and helps set the course for their lives. How do they see you act on making spiritual disciplines a priority in your own life? How importantly is church attendance and Bible studies, and prayer opportunities in your life? Do your kids see it as an absolute priority to you…or do you model compromise? You have the greatest impact on how your kids will see that what you say you believe is really true or not. We call that…integrity.


Once Saved…Always Saved…?

You have probably heard of the saying that goes, “Once saved, always saved.” in reference to one’s condition after receiving Christ as their Savior, but have ceased to walk with Him. We believe in the doctrine of eternal security, or what is called the “perseverance of the saints.” The Bible is clear that once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. This is a settled fact to one who has been born again, adopted, forgiven, justified, redeemed and united with Christ. Once someone has been born again, they cannot be un-born again. Once they have been adopted into God’s family, they will never be un-adopted. That is the doctrine of eternal security. But there is another focus in the book of Hebrews 5:11-6:12 that is related to eternal security which is a different doctrine called the assurance of salvation.

Eternal security holds that if you are a Christian (from God’s point of view), you cannot lose your salvation. Assurance of salvation is concerned with whether you or I can know for sure that we are Christians (from our point of view). Being a Christian and knowing that you are a Christian are two different things, although they are usually connected. The doctrine of assurance of salvation fits better with the journey, sports, agricultural and maturity metaphors. It is viewing salvation not from God’s point of view but from ours. From our point of view, someone who does not continue to the end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven; not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place.

1 John 2:19 makes this point. John Calvin formulated it this way: how do you know if someone is a Christian? Answer…if they persevere to the end. If you abandon Jesus and the journey of faith and live a life separate from the commands of Scripture you are demonstrating that you are not genuinely born again. The question arises; don’t genuine believers sometimes wander away from Jesus for a season? Absolutely. But, you know that a person is a genuine believer if he or she comes back. If a person does not come back, you cannot know whether they were a genuine Christian in the first place.

Consequently, if you have loved ones that have walked away from God, I would not want to give you false hope, nor should anyone else. No one should ever tell you that if you’re loved one has made a profession of faith when they were younger that everything is okay with their souls as a matter of fact. Here is where time and truth go hand in hand. If one is genuinely saved, (believers by faith alone), they will end up in heaven, even though they may have walked away for a season. If they were never believers, they will not. If someone is not currently journeying with Jesus, then neither you nor I can know whether that person is a true Christian or not. And so our job is not to give false assurance but to warn them – if they do not keep going with Jesus in a consistent God focused walk of faith, they will not get to their destination (not because they lost their salvation, but because they are giving evidence that they are not actually saved).

But here’s the additional point to be made from Hebrews. If you read Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:12-14, 10:26-31, 12:25 and 5:11-6:12 you will not find any discussion there about eternal security. You will not even find a discussion like what is found in 1 John 2:19 about how people who turn away from Jesus were not believers in the first place. What you will find are warnings not to walk away from Jesus. These verses are meant to frighten people or awaken those who call themselves Christians (also see Matt 7:21-23; John 15; Romans 11:17-22; 1 Cor. 9:27-10:12; James 2:14-26). If we preach these passages in such a way that they don’t frighten us, then we have not preached them correctly. The author of Hebrews believes in eternal security. But he understands that people who are constantly fed a diet of “once-saved…always saved” can draw from it an incorrect inference, namely if I pray to receive Christ it doesn’t matter what I do from that point on. I realize that it is a difficult tension, but we have to let the Word of God speak in all its complexities without using one passage to silence another.

Scripture both affirms that “even if we are faithless, He is still faithful because He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) and “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

It is difficult to see loved ones walk away from the Lord after a profession of faith was made in the past. However…to give an assurance of something that is not there is cruel and misleading when it come to their final point of death. We never want to have blood on our hands for giving an assurance that is not warranted. I know that we want to hear just the eternity security passages, especially if we have a loved one who once professed faith but now no longer does so. But we should not silence the truth of Hebrews. While I have seen God use 2 Timothy 2:13 to bring comfort to believers, I have also seen the Holy Spirit use the real, bona fide warnings of Hebrews to bring people who were wandering from the faith back to Jesus Christ.


The Limits of Liberty…

I thought I would tackle what all of us at one time or another have contemplated…those “gray areas” of Christian living. I often wondered why we call them gray areas in the first place. Gray comes from a white clean base with a little black added to it. So is gray even good? Is it something that is neutral? Is gray something where God kind of looks the other way with because everybody is doing it? Is gray my “out” when faced with a decision that could swing either way in the face of morality? To try to answer these questions I have included some thinking and research on the subject of what is called Christian liberty. Does Christian liberty have limits?

Scripture is clear and understandable, but it’s not exhaustive. Throughout the history of the church, believers have faced countless issues that God’s Word is silent about. While the Old Testament law provided detailed instructions and restrictions for most areas of life, believers today are not bound by God’s covenant with Israel—we’ve been set free in Christ. But how do we know what to do with our freedom?

Regardless of whatever the questionable activity or action might be, believers must not mistake Scripture’s silence as God’s indifference. The Bible might not specifically mention such things as movies, TV, beer, or many of the other issues facing us today. But it does give plenty of principles to help us make good, God-honoring choices when it comes to the gray areas of life.

Is It Necessary?

When faced with one of life’s many gray areas, one of the ways to determine what you should do is to ask yourself, Do I need this? Is this thing—whether it’s an object, hobby, activity, or entertainment—a benefit to me, or is it excess baggage?

Hebrews 12:1 gives believers clear instructions to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Greek word for encumbrance basically means bulk, and it can be anything that distracts your focus or your energy from the task at hand. As God’s people we are to run the race He’s set before us with excellence. We can’t do that if we’re weighed down with worldly pursuits and distractions.

Is It Profitable?

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.” Many believers have used the first half of Paul’s statement as license for the exercise of their liberty, but they miss his real point.

The question should never be What am I allowed to do?, but What is profitable for me to do? Whenever faced with a question of Christian liberty, every believer needs to ask themselves if engaging in that activity is going to build him up to be a better servant of the Lord. Will it increase his effectiveness as a believer? If the answer isn’t yes, then why would you do it?

Is It Christlike?

A third principle helps us take a broad look at how to exercise our liberty. 1 John 2:6 says, “The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” As believers, we know our lives are supposed to emulate Jesus—including how we live in life’s gray areas.

When it comes to making tough decisions about how to exercise your freedom, it’s always helpful to ask yourself, Is this what Christ would do? An honest examination of the issue from that perspective should push aside any personal desires and biases, and help you make God-honoring decisions that reflect the person and work of Christ in every facet of your life.

Is It a Good Testimony?

Another important question to ask yourself is How will this enhance my testimony? Colossians 4:5 says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” In other words, believers need to wisely consider how they behave, and how their behavior impacts their testimonies. How we live—particularly in the gray areas—shapes how the world evaluates us, our faith, and ultimately, our Savior. Is your behavior strengthening your testimony to the outside world? Does your lifestyle adorn the gospel, or is it a hindrance to it?

Is It Edifying?

And it’s not just a question of how the exercise of your liberty impacts others—you also need to consider what impact it will have on you. You need to regularly ask yourself, Will this build me up? Each of us needs to faithfully ask ourselves if each activity, entertainment, hobby, or diversion will have a positive or negative effect on our spiritual growth. An honest evaluation of what we might gain—as well as what we might lose—ought to accompany all of our gray-area decisions.

Is It Glorifying to God?

Finally, we need to regularly ask ourselves, Will doing this glorify Christ? In a way, the principle of exaltation encompasses all the others, drilling down to the most basic element of Christian life. Believers have been set aside to glorify God and worship Him forever. But those activities aren’t reserved just for our eternity in heaven—they ought to describe the pattern of our daily lives. This life isn’t “our time” to do whatever we like.

The hard part of dealing with the gray areas of life is that it is very easy to justify our behaviors by simple rationalizations. It is especially difficult when we see the culture endorsing sinful behavior and calling it culturally acceptable. We must be careful in not allowing our leisure time to become a place where we see on the TV and movies to dictate what is clearly a violation of God’s Word. When we allow this—we slowly become de-sensitized and will begin to fall down the slow slope of compromise.

All cited material with special thanks to John MacArthur


Why Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible…

It becomes disheartening as week after week I inevitably hear from someone visiting our church that they are just not getting fed by the sermons they are hearing from their churches. They tell of 15 minute sermons (“sermonettes”) that leave them empty and frustrated. What is going on…? Why the continual shift from expository (verse-by-verse) messages to quick, feel-good sermons which usually comprise a reading of Scripture…followed by a clever story…?

On the other end of the spectrum there are also those who are not used to expositional sermons who sometimes wander into our churches and wonder why the sermon has to be so long and drawn out. I mean…the game is coming on and this guy just keeps going on and on… Notice the quote below on what some modern, liberal seminary’s echo…

“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God.

The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled, “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.

Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”

As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.” Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.

As Mark Galli notes:

It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.

And Galli continues:

It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time—if not worse.

Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves?

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8. Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand: the Bible was read and explained and received.

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God and if there is—it is a short passage read, the Bible closed and a story told. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation such that God’s people—young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well—hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues His church from error, preserves His church in truth, and propels His church in witness only by His Word—not by congregational self-study.

In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We all, both individually and congregationally, risk neglecting God’s Word to our own ruin. As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Special thanks to Albert Mohler for his fine commentary and insights into this subject. Mark Galli, “Yawning at the Word,” Christianity Today [online edition], posted November 5, 2009


The Big D in the 21st…

The Christian is engaged in a three-front war. The Bible is clear about this reality. The great evil trinity against which we fight is the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Too often in our day we have made friends with the world, and we have reduced our flesh down to a few psychological crossed wires. We have often ignored the responsibility we have to live differently than the culture mandates. We have lost sight of these two battlefields precisely because we have lost sight of the third. In other words, we miss that we are at war with the world and our flesh because the Devil has defeated us in battle — we have forgotten that he exists.

C.S. Lewis, in the preface to his great work The Screwtape Letters, points out this nugget of wisdom: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” As wise as Lewis and this particular quote may be, I do have a quibble. No doubt the Devil is able to accomplish a great deal of mischief among those who see him as some sort of evil god, those with a morbid interest in him and his minions. That said, I would suggest that he is able to cause far greater damage among those who give him no thought at all. That is to say, both the materialist and the magician are bad, but the materialist is worse.

We have much the same problem within the Christian subculture, and for much the same reasons. One of my friends in the ministry (Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr.) makes this rather blunt but (in my opinion true) statement concerning this: “On one side of the spectrum are the extreme wing of the charismatic movement. These folks claim to see a demon behind every bush. They don’t catch colds; they are under attack by the sniffle demon. They don’t have wandering eyes, but are at war with the lust demon. Often those in this camp are looking for demons behind every bush, because they can prove quite useful for excusing our sin — as Flip Wilson used to say, “The Devil made me do it.”

This is not the danger we face in Reformed circles. We are on the other side of the spectrum. Unlike the materialist, we do indeed believe in the demonic realm. The Bible, after all, talks about such things. But we tend to believe that demons exited the human stage at the same time that miracles ceased. Demons exist, we are willing to confess, but they have been sitting on the celestial sidelines since the apostolic age. What drives this, I’m afraid, is less a careful exegetical study of the matter, and more an embracing of the modernist worldview. We look down our noses at our brothers who pay attention to the spiritual realm not because we find such to be unbiblical, but because we find it unsophisticated. We think Martin Luther’s habit of shouting at the Devil, of throwing his ink well at him, is a sign that Martin was on the psychological brink, when perhaps we ought instead to conclude that he exhibited here the same wisdom that led him to declare, “Here I stand!” It may be that Luther mined the truth that our God is a mighty fortress from the same source where he discerned that this world is with devils filled, namely, the Bible.

The whole of Scripture is that which gives us the complete story of our earthly dilemma… fallen man living in a fallen world with the attraction to sin and antagonized by the assaults of the evil one. The devil and his cohorts are active not only in the dark corners of Africa, but in the dark corners of our hearts and minds. If we would seek first the kingdom of God, we will have to come to grips with the reality that he is trying to frustrate us.

Sproul also points out that his forces, we ought also to remember, are not only arrayed in the political and cultural battlefields. He does not have his hand in the Democratic National Committee only, nor does he work his magic only in Hollywood. He is also about the business of growing in us his diabolical fruit. He is at work when we are filled with envy, malice, fear, selfishness. He is waging war when he encourages us to spend our energies not pursuing the kingdom, but pursuing personal peace and affluence to quote from Francis Schaeffer. He is practicing his dark magic when he encourages us to defend not the honor of Christ, but our own reputation and dignity. He is at work in the details of our lives, how we speak to our children, how we listen to our spouse. And sadly, he is winning great victories.

The war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is not the exact same thing as the culture war. They intersect, but they are not one. Instead, the war between the seed and the serpent is the same thing as our war with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. We need to be asking God to give us the grace to win great victories in the little battles we fight each day. The times of great victories in our faith and the times we face the deepest discouragements. Right underneath our noses are the epoch-changing battles in our very ordinary lives. Only when we rely on Christ and His power can we turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

(Cited material with special thanks to R.C. Sproul Jr.)


Blog Archives

For my latest blog, I thought I would print Paul Harvey’s transcript of a broadcast he made back in 1965 called, ‘If I were the Devil’ …Interestingly, everything he pointed out that the devil might do to cripple a nation has remarkably happened down to the last detail. I admire Mr. Harvey, as I always enjoyed listening to him over the years. Little did we know that he was a prophet for his own time. Paul Harvey, a Christian, had his hand upon the pulse of an already questionable culture even for 1965. I hope you will think upon in wonder at what has now become a reality to our culture in 2013…

“If I were the devil … If I were the Prince of Darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness. And I’d have a third of its real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — Thee. So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first — I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.

“To the young, I would whisper that ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is ‘square.’ And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’

“And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d pedal narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

“If I were the devil I’d soon have families that war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames. If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions — just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.

“Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography — soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money. If I were the devil I’d make the symbols of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

“If I were the devil I’d take from those, and who have, and give to those wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what do you bet? I could get whole states to promote gambling as thee way to get rich? I would caution against extremes and hard work, in Patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure. In other words, if I were the devil I’d just keep right on doing on what he’s doing. Paul Harvey, good day.”


Who Are the 24 Elders…?

Rev. 4:4 – “Around that throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones sat 24 elders dressed in white clothes, with gold crowns on their heads.”

Around the throne in heaven John sees 24 thrones upon which are seated 24 elders wearing white clothes and gold crowns. There has been a great deal of speculation about the identity of the elders. The two major views are that they represent the church raptured prior to this time and rewarded in heaven, or that they are angels given great responsibility. These are not angels because angels are never numbered in scripture – although they are described as “myriads” in Heb. 12:22 – nor are they enthroned or given crowns. And there’s no evidence in scripture that angels receive rewards. In addition, the elders wear human garments that suggest endurance and victory. Therefore, it seems reasonable that they represent the redeemed of God – Old and New Testament saints. Also scripture reminds us that we (Humans) will be judging angels (1 Cor. 6: 2-3)

That they are seated denotes honor, rest and satisfaction. That they are near the throne of God signifies intimacy with the Creator. Their robes represent the righteousness of the saints – the imputed righteousness of Christ as well as their righteous deeds. Their crowns depict authority and victory, and the fact that they so eagerly cast their crowns before the throne of God illustrates their clear understanding that the One seated on the throne has given them their righteousness and granted them their lofty position. These crowns are stephanos, similar to those given to victors in Greek games, not diadema, or crowns of sovereign rulers, suggesting the elders have been judged and rewarded.

The ESV Study Bible summarizes well the identity of the elders: “Their number may reflect the orders of priests serving in the OT temple (cf. 1 Chron. 24:7–19) but more likely they symbolize the unity of God’s people, encompassing OT Israel (led by the heads of the 12 tribes) and the NT church (led by the 12 apostles), like the new Jerusalem’s 12 gates and 12 foundations (Rev. 21:12, 14). Their thrones resemble those of God’s heavenly court in Dan. 7:9–10 (cf. Rev. 20:4).”

It is very unlikely that these 24 elders are representatives of the church as many commentators suggest. 24 is a specific number given by God and to “symbolize” this with a general reference to the church at large is sloppy hermeneutics at best! It seems clear from the words of Jesus who this group is by the plain statement He made, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones,judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19: 28-29 (ESV)

It seems very clear from this text and common sense theology to see that these 24 elders are simply the 12 tribes of the Patriarchs and the 12 apostles. And to spiritualize the text to say that they are referring to church order and government, and how we must listen to the elders of the local church as some reformed commentators suggest, is simply to miss the point of the passage.

If the elders represent Israel and the church, are they actually the patriarchs and the apostles (presumably Paul in the place of Judas Iscariot)? The elders are never named, and they don’t need to be. John is simply seeing a basic image of a redeemed group of 24 human people. Some commentators think that this could not be the apostles because he does not recognize himself. This is ridiculous because he isn’t focusing on the details of who they are individually. He is simply identifying these two groups of redeemed people representing Old and new covenant saints in heaven.

And in heaven the emphasis is on the One seated on the throne, on the Lamb of God, and on the seven-fold Spirit before the throne, not the identity of these elders. Perhaps our focus should be less on the identity of these elders than on what they are telling us: that the One seated on the throne is worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because He has created all things, and because of His will they exist and were created.