Friday, March 28, 2008

Don't describe the water

Two postmodern preachers were discussing their evangelistic efforts on television. One was being congratulated that he did not preach about sin. The assumption was that everyone knows they are in sin and do not need to be told. Then came this advice: "When a man is drowning, you don't describe the water to him. You throw him a rope!" The audience clapped their cheer and approval.
It sounds good, doesn't it. Sin destroys and we need immediate response. Of course the response of the postmodern preacher was for people to stand during the invitation and say a brief, salvation prayer with the preacher. Some rope.

The process of salvation is often cast into the drowning man analogy, but analogies are often short-sighted and inadequate.

First, sin in the minds of most people isn't what it used to be. A recent Ellison Research survey showed that thirteen percent of Americans did not believe there was any such thing as sin. Recent Harris polls now reveal that many people no longer think of a variety sinful behaviors as even a moral issue to be thought about. According to the Ellison report:

"People under age 35 are less likely than Americans in other age groups to believe adultery, getting drunk, not reporting income on taxes, homosexual activity, pornography, and gossip are sin. At the same time, younger people are more likely than others to say using tobacco and working on the Sabbath are sinful." They found that only 35 percent of Americans (who are not evangelicals) thought sex before marriage was sinful.

You have to describe the water to people who don't know they are in it. You have to preach a more balanced approach than "Jesus loves you, believe in Him, say this little prayer, and you are saved and can never be lost."

The main burden of Jesus' preaching was a balance between "repent" and "grace" (though he uses the latter term in the gospel accounts). Jesus talked much about sin, repentance, obedience, and hell. He did not assume the people (even the Pharisees) understood those things. And preachers in a post-modern world cannot assume that either.

Preachers who don't like to talk about sin don't do any favors to the people who hear them. Yes, people like to hear about other things; and I believe in giving hope to people. But if there is a serious problem, then ignoring a discussion about that problem will not make it go away.

Salvation is far more involved than throwing a rope. Jesus did not die simply to save us; He died for us in order to cause us to be new people. We must die to the old man of sin (yes, sin) and be born to a new life. We aren't saved to be reformed a little for a better life; we are saved to be reborn as new creatures altogether (2 Cor. 5:17).

Giving medication to a man with a broken leg relieves the pain for a short while; but until the break is corrected, the man is not helped. Someone has to set the leg, so that it can heal. Repentance, life-correction, is necessary to make a lasting difference. God gives us a great blessing in granting us repentance, because he gives us the ability to start over fresh and clean and right.

Just getting someone out of the water may not keep him out of the water. Until change takes place, the threat is not over. A rope may not be all that person needs. We are not saying, "don't throw a rope." Of course, we must give hope. But what good have we done, if the person doesn't even know when he is drowning? The water is the danger, and we must show people where the shorelines are.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You can't be quiet

I am working on a commentary of Deuteronomy 13 for a lectureship in the fall. Manuscripts are due next week. I could not help, however, to point out God's view of tolerating sin.

Dt. 13:6-11
“If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, 7of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, 8you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; 9but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. 10And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 11So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.

Sin often creeps into networks of family and friends. The temptation was for one loved one to woo another into idolatry and apostasy. This is often done in secret. How often a false teacher has moved into a city, made many friends, and secretly introduces false notions among the congregation.

They were not to yield to the idolater, or listen to him. They were not to pity him in such a way as to spare his destruction or to conceal him from others. They were not to lie to themselves or tolerate this abominable evil (Dt. 12:29-31). They were to expose this loved one and stone him. The close friend or relative who accused him was to be first to stone. God did not permit any tolerance.

Since the temptation came through a loved one, the tempted person would naturally feel compassion and be inclined to cover up the sin of his loved one. To yield to the temptation would certainly be sinful, but just as sinful was to conceal the sin or ignore the sin out of compassion. The tempter put his closest relatives in an awful predicament, making the relative have to choose between allegiance God and natural love for the offender. Here God steps in and insists that the tempted not be silent about the tempter; God would not tolerate the covering up of sin.

It is easy at times to give our friends or relatives a pass on sin. When we do so, we are not doing any favors to the relative or to the Lord. A little leaven still leavens the whole lump of dough. Sin left to grow surely will infect many. You see, it is no good to take this compromise stand that we will only speak what we believe but will not speak out against what we believe is wrong. Paul rebuked Corinth for failing to discipline the sinful man in 1 Corinthians 5. The Lord Jesus rebuked Thyatira for tolerating Jezebel. On some things, there is no place for neutrality. Loyalty to God demands we speak out.

Love for God calls us to speak out.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Walk in the Light

The Lord is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. God is wholly pure, wholly righteous, wholly good, and wholly loving. He cannot look upon sin with any favor at all (Habakkuk 1:13).

It is easy at times for us to assume that God is like us. We seek to find a way to do as we please. "All we like sheep go astray; each of us turn to his own way" (Isa. 53:6). God never considers being anything but holy, doing what is right.

I remember my father telling the story of three men who were competing for a job driving a wagon. Each were experienced, and the owner of the company wanted to see who was the best driver. He asked each man to drive his wagon down a rather dangerous road. There was a high slope upwards on one side of the road and a deep ditch on the other.

The first driver showed how skilled he was by coming very close to the edge of the ditch without going into it. He was certainly skilled. The second driver felt he must do at least as good, so with great patience he got even closer to the edge without falling in. The third driver would have none of it. He drove the wagon far from the edge and from any danger. The load was too important to risk. The first two drivers were skilled but foolish to the owner, so he gave the job to the third man.

Doing things right and avoiding the slippery slopes of life is not foolish. It is wise and safe. I have no desire to "try God" and see how close I can come to sin without falling over the edge. When the devil tempted Jesus, the Lord replied with a quotation from Scripture. "It stands written...." That is why Jesus is the light, and in his example is no darkness at all.

Those who desire to go their own way often mock the concept of the narrow road, the safe way. Let them. At day's end, the safe way is still safe. The narrow road still leads to life. Jesus is still light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Let us do what we know pleases God. Presumptuous sins are great transgression (Psalm 19:13).

Walk in the light of what we know pleases God.

God bless you,

Monday, March 17, 2008

A cappella tradition? What kind?

Recently a poster sent me this message:

A cappella singing is a fine tradition - perhaps even a long one - but it is not a scriptural command. Singing is indeed something that God wants us to do - but He does not specify a cappella in scripture. What one wishes - whether Baptist or member of a church of Christ - is not command. If our salvation was dependent upon it, I can't imagine Him not expressing that in scripture.

This is certainly not a new position to me. I have been hearing it for years. The suggestion is that if we can turn singing (without accompaniment) into a human tradition (though fine and long), we make it no different than playing the instrument in worship. Just call something a "tradition" and that makes it all right. Or does it?

Following and binding a human tradition is not okay; it is sinful. A tradition always smacks of authority, whether human or divine.

The problem with this poster is that what he is trying to say is a human tradition is not human at all; it is a divine tradition. The word tradition comes from the Greek term "paradosis" and refers to a teaching or practice that has been "handed down." The Lord's Supper was a practice handed down to us (1 Cor. 11:23-26). The gospel is a "handed-down" message (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Paul praised the Corinthians for holding firmly to the traditions, just as he delivered them (1 Cor. 11:2). Paul urged the Thessalonians to "stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us" (2 Thess. 2:15). He further says that we are to "keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us" (3:6). There is such a thing as Divine tradition.

Now as to specifics in our music. I can read in Scripture words such as speak, teach, admonish, give thanks, confess--all of these are activities of the lips, which is our means of sacrifice (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16: Heb. 13:5). Not once in the New Testament is there any suggestion that the church ever worshiped musically except by verbal means--singing. That is the inspired, apostolic, and divine tradition of the church; and it arises from the New Testament. That is what God desires.

The human tradition is the use of instruments, which came centuries later than the apostles. When one reads the Bible to justify what he desires, exegesis rolls off like water on a duck's back.

What is human is to add to God's word that which God never authorized; and all such additions are condemned. Every plant which my Father has not planted shall be rooted up (Matt. 15:13). Such additions are disgraceful and underhanded tampering with the word of God. God does not want such things. If He had he would have told us.

As for salvation matters, the sin of adding the instrument is in tampering with God's word, of speaking when God is silent. One does not have a specific prohibition for it, since the Bible everywhere condemns men for innovations. This principle of condemning innovation applies every time some human dreams up some new thing (Jer. 23:16-40).

The responsibility for this issue does not fall on those who hold fast to what they know is right--singing; it falls on the innovator to show there is some apostolic justification for the practice of adding to the singing that which has no roots in the New Testament. More than a hundred years has passed, and the innovators have yet to find one shred of evidence. They cannot find what is not there. They just dreamed up what they desire and want everyone else to say it's all right. Well, it is not all right. The principle of condemning innovation stands.


Saturday, March 15, 2008


While the postmodern world is telling us that doctrine is divisive and ought to be avoided, the Bible presents a very different picture. I remain firmly convinced that what we believe is just as important and the fact that we believe. Have you considered the pitfalls of believing error?

Most errors begin with a loss of right attitude or with underdeveloped skills. Approaching God we must come with the attitudes of love and of humility. We must also believe that we will find what we seek. Without the right attitude, we can never come to know the truth.

All too often people approach the Bible looking for what God will accept or allow rather than for what God desires from us. They believe in loophole religion and justify in their own minds what they themselves desire. I remain amazed at the lengths people will go in order to justify their beliefs and practices. Whenever a person has to use fanciful hermeneutics and imaginative exegesis to perhaps permit his practice, he isn't listening to God. Listening to God with honesty is in God's eyes a precious thing.

Some are not saved because they do not love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). They allow themselves to believe a lie.
Some are blinded by tradition (Matt. 15:1-14), teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. God does not accept their worship.
Some are blinded by the god of this world. They have fallen for a perverted gospel, where disgraceful people have tampered with the word of God to make it their own thinking (2 Cor. 4:1-4). Verse 2 says:

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Some have exploited the brethren with sensuality and false words (2 Peter 2:1-3). Such men are daring, self-willed, and rebellious. They are enslaved to their own lusts and captivate others in their evil. (2:10-19).
Some have listened to the people of their day and have created myths rather than preach the truth. Worldly people who are unconverted sometimes come into the church. Such people cannot endure healthy teaching; they have to have their ears tickled, and they are able to find just the teachers they desire (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Some fall to the philosophies of their day. Some people will always lose sight of what Christ says and follow the "scholarship" and the trendy thinking of the time (Col. 2:6-10).
Some have left the faith and perverted the grace of Christ into sensuality. They try to creep in unnoticed by private meetings with unstable souls (Jude 3-4, 8-13).

So many people are "ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7) Why? They read the Bible to find what they wish rather than read the Bible for what it has to say. They do not know how to listen.

Now these, my friends, are all salvation matters. When people err from the truth and listen to the prevalent thinking of the time, they are not walking in the Word. They have left the teaching of the Lord for the thinking of man. So much of what I see today in "religion" is not Christianity as God wills. It is a hybrid faith, an impure mixture of a little Scripture with a lot of culture. This is a pitfall. If the blind man leads the blind, they both will fall into a pit.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

What We Know Pleases God

Harold Redd at the Affirming the Faith Seminar in OKC recently said something very worth repeating:

"We need to be far more focused in our Bible study on what pleases God rather than on what God allows."

I fear that much of the so-called scholarship of our day is focused more on expanding our accommodation to culture than it is on learning what God desires from us. Some seem more free to offend God than they do the person they are trying to reach. When "reaching out" to the world becomes more missional than pleasing God, any worldly thing can be justified.

In the emerging church movement, some "pastors" have begun using profane language, drinking a beer now and then, and watching sexually explicit movies, so that they don't appear to be too righteous to others of the world.

Wait! I thought we were to be salt and light! (Matt. 5:13-16) I thought our righteousness was exceed the hypocrites! I thought we were not to be conformed to the world but transformed by renewing our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). I thought we were not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17)!

Well, that's what I get for thinking. These elites have learned that unsalty salt works better than salty salt. Imagine that! I can draw closer to God by pulling further away! Of course, in such matters everything is so muddy, we can't really know anything for certain. Just ask any postmodernist!

I frankly am weary of asking a postmodernist or the public how to be a Christian and how to please God. The postmodernist doesn't know and can't know anything lest he offend someone; and the public changes with the wind. I, for one, am far more concerned about what pleases God. We can know His will. It is not so difficult (Deut. 30:11-20). We are not Christian agnostics; Jesus promised that we can know the truth (John 8:31-32). He has revealed himself in Christ, so that Paul said he had preached the whole counsel of God to the Ephesians (Acts 20:20, 27). Paul knew it well enough to call anyone who tampered with the word of God disgraceful and underhanded (2 Cor. 4:1-3).

The question is not what we can know--we can know what pleases God, because He has told us in His word. The question is whether we are willing to walk in God's ways or whether we will tamper with the word of God in order to accommodate the world.

If we reach out with a bleached out message, we may get a crowd; but they won't be converted to the gospel. They will be converted to a bleached out, powerless human message. I fear in many cases today's form of the gospel makes "Samaritan" who know a little of God but serve other gods. They are ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.