Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fruit, Souls or Not?

Enemies of Evangelism 2

One of the devil’s favorite ways to attack evangelism is to explain it away. In other words, he establishes some incorrect understanding, some doctrinal misperception that when followed pulls the rug out from underneath our high necessity to preach the Gospel. Such is the case with today’s post.

One of the primary words in the New Testament representative of soul winning is the word “fruit”. We find frequent reference to it in one of the primary passages in Scripture that emphasize witnessing, John 15. Take a moment and read it with the understanding that “fruit” references the souls of men and you will see this emphasis clearly.

John 15. 1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit (does not win souls) he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit (wins souls), he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (more souls)
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit (win souls) of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit (many souls): for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit (reach many souls); so shall ye be my disciples.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit (win souls), and that your fruit should remain (that those souls would grow in grace): that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

The anti-evangelism theologian, however, will say that fruit this nowhere represented in Scripture as the souls of men, and the word “fruit” in John 15 only refers to the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, righteousness, and truth. (Galatians 5.22, Ephesians 5.9) The anti-evangelism theologian says, “Well, where is evangelism or witnessing or soul winning listed in the fruit of the Spirit?” The only possible reply to that question is that it is not. Take a moment and go back through that passage just above and substitute love, joy, and peace for everywhere I have written souls and you will see how dramatically it changes the interpretation of the passage.

Now, I do not argue for one moment that such an interpretation is invalid. I do not believe it is invalid. “Fruit” can be the fruit of the Spirit, and I think there is much to be gained in our understanding if we approach John 15 that way. I do take issue, however, with the idea that “fruit” in this passage ONLY refers to the fruit of the Spirit. I believe with all my heart that “fruit” in this passage also refers to the souls of men. It is that interpretation I wish to argue for in this post, and to do that we are going to look at a lot of Scripture. If that bores you, I am sure I have already lost you so I shall plunge ahead fearlessly at this point.

Right off the bat I would show you the obvious connection in Proverbs 11.30. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Oh, sorry, I forgot we are not allowed to use that verse in reference to evangelism since it is in the Old Testament. <insert eye roll emoticon here> Ok, New Testament then...

The phrase “beareth fruit” found in John 15.2 is only found in one other place in the New Testament. Sound hermeneutics would tell you that to establish an unsure meaning you examine other places that phrase is used. We find it in Matthew 13. But he that received seed into good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The context shows us Jesus telling the parable of the sower.

Matthew 13.3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

th (1)Now here the anti-evangelism theologue has a problem. If fruit in the New Testament is ONLY referring to the fruit of the Spirit you have a terrible time with this parable. The sower must of necessity be the Holy Spirit. The seed must be, what, miniature spiritual graces? The ground is a heart that is sometimes receptive to conviction and other times is not. The graces rise up, then wither, some scorched by fire, some with no root, some result in a tremendous number of fruits. Which is puzzling since “fruit of the Spirit” is singular, and in any case only eleven are listed in Scripture.

Let us come back to the context of Matthew 13 and hear our Lord’s own interpretation.

18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

How can “fruit” in the New Testament ONLY be the fruit of the Spirit if said fruit is often called “he”, and given a large number (exceeding the fruit of the Spirit), in a verse that finds the only other time the phrase is used outside of John 15? The only possible reply to that question is that it is not. “Fruit” here in Matthew 13 clearly refers to the souls of men, and “beareth fruit” explicitly ties it in with John 15.

Not only that, but Matthew 13 contains a second parable about fruit which is tied by word usage, context, audience, and timing to the first parable.

8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

“Brought forth fruit” is only used two times in the Bible, both in the same chapter, both in parables about fruit. Would it then be a stretch to think that there are obvious similarities between the first parable about fruit in Matthew 13 and the next one? No – the “fruit” of the first one is the “fruit” of the second one.

24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time wheat grain-3of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

The anti-evangelism theologian is having even more difficulty here than he did with the first parable. If fruit in the New Testament is ONLY the fruit of the Spirit then this parable must mean that a mixture of good and bad is allowed to grow in the Christian’s life until the final judgment. But that is clearly not so.

36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Without partiality, Matthew 13 shows us that “fruit” means the souls of men. The “beareth fruit” of Matthew 13 connects this interpretation with the “beareth fruit” of John 15. Ergo, there is to be a huge emphasis in the life of the Christian on reaching others with the Gospel.

Do not let theologians intimidate you out of a simple belief in a heavy New Testament emphasis on soul winning.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Lest Satan Should Get an Advantage

Enemies of Evangelism 1

Satan is brilliant. He is also more motivated than us, more 1948-03_wiles_of_the_devil.jpg__700x320_q95experienced than us, and stronger than us. Thus, it is that Scripture instructs us to keep our heads on a swivel, so to speak, alert for the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6.11) I write this not to make you afraid, but as Paul says in a similar passage to warn us lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2.10)

He cannot take away our salvation, but he can and does seek to limit our effectiveness for Christ. He ambushed David with lust via Bathsheba and pride in numbering Israel. He filled Ananias’ heart with pride and greed and caused him to lie his way into an early grave. Using the tool of fear he provoked Peter to deny his Lord, and that after Jesus had clearly warned him, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. (Luke 22.31) None of these men lost their salvation but in all of them Satan clearly gained quite an advantage over them.

I do not like to talk about Satan. It seems to me that in so doing I am giving him attention he should not have, and building him up in the minds of the saints. But I cannot allow that concern to prevent me from discussing him. He is mentioned dozens of times in Scripture. He is obviously a personality of great power actively opposed in every way to God and His work. And just as obviously, though we have no need to be afraid of him (I John 4.4), we do have a scripturally mandated need to be aware of how he works. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he didn’t exist.” I cannot allow him to do so in my life or ministry.

In so saying, I should make it clear that I am not attempting to write here a series on spiritual warfare. Such a series would be beneficial, I am sure, but this series is more narrowly aimed. I intend to discuss how Satan works in attacking the tremendously important area of soul winning, witnessing, and evangelism. I have been attending church for 45 years, paying close attention for 31 of those, and pastoring for 21 of them. I have, over the years, been exposed closely to dozens of churches. In my experience there are four exceptionally difficult things to get church members to do – give sacrificially, dress modestly, do personal evangelism, and pray. It seems to me like the devil fights tooth and nail on these four points.

Harpies in the Wood of Suicides
Illustration for Dante's Inferno
Gustave Dore, 1861
Turning our attention specifically to evangelism, why? Let me attempt to furnish an answer or two. First, he does so because soul winning directly and immediately impacts the population of Heaven and hell. The psalmist tells us, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9.17) If he can decrease an individual’s or a church’s witnessing fervor he can keep people out of Heaven and in hell.

Second, he does so because in so doing he can attack the main purpose of Christ’s work and the main purpose of the church’s existence. The Apostle John in his great introduction of Jesus Christ said, And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1.5) The devil fears a praying Christian and a praying church more than he does an evangelistic one, but a Christian or a church that is not witnessing is not much of a problem for him. Such a church gathers together and preaches, literally, to the choir. No matter what they know of and study of the Word, even in depth, and no matter how honest, good, kind, humble, and faithful they are, their light is only shining in the light. Such a Christian and such a church, no matter how good they are at living, is not fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. Reaching the lost is why Jesus came. (Luke 19.10) Reaching the lost was His last and greatest command to us. (Mark 16.15) No matter what other good we are doing, if we are not doing this we are not achieving the purpose for which He came, and the purpose for which Christ saved us, personally and corporately.

Third, the devil attacks witnessing because in so doing he indirectly yet powerfully impacts the spiritual vigor of a church. The healthiest church in the New Testament was the one found in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Not coincidentally, it was also perhaps the most evangelistic church. If all a church does is focus on soul winning it becomes unbalanced. Sadly, I have seen that a time or two. But a church that does not focus on soul winning at all becomes spiritually anemic, and I have even more sadly seen that dozens of times. Every great church has several things in common, and first and foremost they are churches with a great burden and effort to preach Christ to the lost.

I liken soul winning in this respect to physical exercise. The ministry as a vocation is a curious combination of high stress and low activity. Throw into the mix our Baptist propensity for potlucks and unhealthy, overweight preaches become par for the course. One of the ways I fight that in my life is a three letter word that starts with g and ends with m. Either I go several times a week or I will die both broke and young. Exercise gets my muscles working and my blood moving. Its results continue on even after I get off the elliptical or step away from the weights. It makes me happier, healthier, and stronger. It makes me feel better. It helps me to avoid Dumbbells-PNG-Picsickness and to recover more quickly when I do get sick. It will help me live longer. It positively impacts not just the specific muscle groups I worked but my entire body, even my mental and emotional health as well.

That last paragraph is what soul winning does for a church. The devil knows that better than I do, and he expands great effort to prevent it from happening.

How does he do all of this? The entirety of this series will be an attempt to answer that question but let me give you this taste now. The devil uses a two pronged attack in two different areas. One prong is doctrinal, the other practical. Doctrinally, the statement orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy is a good one. Correct believing leads to correct living. Likewise, incorrect believing leads to incorrect living. The devil has a number of faulty doctrines that he gets people and churches to embrace, and when they do the practical result is that their soul winning is severely undermined if not eliminated. We will examine a number of these doctrines over the next couple of months. Some you may know, others may surprise you. Some are held deeply by people you respect and love. Some are held correctly when they are balanced, but held unbalanced they become damaging to the effort to build a soul winning mindset and emphasis. All of them, however, that I will mention directly impact soul winning negatively in my experience.

The second prong of attack is practical. There are certain ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are prevalent in many people and churches the result of which is a decrease in witnessing fervor. We will deal with some of these as well.

This two pronged attack – doctrinal and practical – is aimed in two different areas: personally and corporately. If you are not a personal soul winner he will try to prevent you from starting. If you are, he will seek to get you to stop what you have started. If your church is not a soul winning church he will try to prevent it from becoming one. If it is, he will work like the devil, so to speak, to get your church’s witnessing program and emphasis to die.

This series of posts, as with most of my blog writing, first came to life as a set of lessons I taught in my own church. Frankly, as a pastor, I want to make sure that soul winning stays front and center in my church. Jack Hyles used to say, “The devil is after the fruit trees”, and he was right. What I am giving my life to build on the corner of George and Lavergne in Chicago is a fruit tree. The devil is going to come after that hammer and tongs. It well behooves me as a pastor to pay attention, to, in Christ’s parlance, watch and pray. And I suspect it would well behoove you as well.

Why should we be concerned? Lest Satan should get an advantage of us. How ought we go about that? For we are not ignorant of his devices.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Marriage Is...

I have finished my series on grace. I will begin a new series next week. As has become my custom, in the week between series I like to publish something else I have written, some stand alone piece. Sometimes this is poetry, sometimes prose. Today is a bit of both. The year Mandy and I got married the subject of marriage occupied my mind very much, naturally. We were married in December of that year. A few weeks prior to our wedding I sat down and wrote a description of what I believed marriage to be, went to Kinko's, had five copies printed and framed, and gave them to my siblings and parents on Christmas Day. Nearly twenty years later I find these descriptions truer then ever. Here then is what I think marriage is.

Marriage is the knitting of two souls into one blanket that keeps out the chill of life.
Marriage is the exchanging of loneliness for the richness of companionship.
Marriage is independence becoming dependent.
Marriage is having two carry the burden meant for one.
Marriage is multiplying your joy while dividing your sorrow.
Marriage is not the absence of disagreement but the presence of compromise.
Marriage is trust given and trust returned.
Marriage is the pooling of resources and the evaporation of selfishness.
Marriage is God’s plan for a wonderful life.
Marriage is the best of both worlds.
Marriage is a foretaste of glory divine.
Marriage is hard work.
Marriage is having someone to read the map while you drive.
Marriage is the poetry of two entwined lives melding into one.
Marriage is the combination of strength and beauty.
Marriage is apologizing, not because you are wrong, but because you hurt the love of your life.
Marriage is trading McDonald’s for a delicious meal.
Marriage is the multiplying of love with the addition of wrinkles.
Marriage is the creating of two smiles where there had been none.
Marriage is the acceptance of responsibility and the abdication of foolishness.
Marriage is always having someone to button the back of your dress.
Marriage is always having someone to pick the lint off your suit.
Marriage is coming home to a kiss instead of an empty house.

Marriage is having someone care how you feel, what you think, and where you are.
Marriage is finally being allowed to use mistletoe for its intended purpose.
Marriage is two nuts becoming a single tree.
Marriage is the joining of souls in twin bodies.
Marriage is the discovery and exploration of the fascinating world that is the other gender.
Marriage is the union of similar differences.
Marriage is the bringing of Heaven to Earth.
Marriage is not an experiment, but a commitment.
Marriage is sometimes leading and sometimes following, but always loving.
Marriage is the utter revocation of others and the utter acceptance of one.
Marriage is the anchor around which successful lives navigate.
Marriage is the lifelong opportunity of living for someone else.
Marriage is giving yourself away unconditionally.
Marriage is not the spice of life but rather the main course.
Marriage is not the ignoring of flaws but the acceptance of the flawed one.
Marriage is the greatest test of character in the world.
Marriage is fun.
Marriage is sadly becoming old-fashioned.
Marriage is Christianity in work clothes.
Marriage is the completion of two incomplete people.
Marriage is privilege accompanied by responsibility.
Marriage is not fifty fifty but hundred hundred.
Marriage is rewarding.
Marriage is the most important earthly decision of our lives.
Marriage is for better for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do you part.
Marriage is learning to enjoy shopping because of who you are with.
Marriage is learning to enjoy football because of who you are with.
Marriage is being convinced you got the best of the catch.
Marriage is doing all you can to be the best of the catch.
Marriage is the proper balance of needs and wants, namely you want to give them whatever they need.
Marriage is two walking together because they are agreed.
Marriage is growing old along with me; the best is yet to be.
Marriage is the weave that keeps the fabric of our society from unraveling.
Marriage is having someone to pat you on the back instead of breaking your arm doing it yourself.
Marriage is adding a rose to the thorns of life.
Marriage is an obligation of delight.
Marriage is the cornerstone upon which civilization rests.
Marriage is a good life's work.
Marriage is the other half of yourself.
Marriage is forever.

-by Tom Brennan
Christmas, 1999

Monday, May 21, 2018

Grace and Truth

Grace 15
The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c1550
The beginning of Jesus' ministry is generally regarded as His baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. By the time Jesus stepped into his baptism line, John had built a truly massive ministry. (Matthew 3.5) The Lord had commissioned him to preach a message of forward looking repentance to His people, repentance of sin, and a faith in a soon coming Messiah. Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3.2)

John, of course, did not know that this Messiah, this Christ, would be Jesus. Christ is not Jesus' last name; it is a title that means Anointed One, and is used in Scripture to designate His claim to be Israel's messiah. As John preaches, and masses of people respond, he discovers in his baptism line one day his first cousin once removed, a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus. The succeeding brief interaction between John and Jesus, and God's actions from Heaven revealed to John that Jesus was the messiah he had been preaching was about to come.

Immediately after His baptism, Jesus heads into the wilderness for a six week season of fasting and prayer. Meanwhile, John begins preaching more specifically, pointing people not just toward a coming messiah, but toward Jesus particularly as that messiah.

John 1:14–17
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

In those four verses there is one phrase used twice. Once it is used to describe our Saviour and the other time it is used to describe what He brings – grace and truth. He is full of grace and truth. Grace and truth come by Him. These two things – grace and truth – so marked the life of our Lord that after only one meeting with Him their presence made a deep impression on John the Baptist. So deep that John could not but tell people about them as he preached Jesus.

What is truth? Truth, loosely defined, is what is true. Truth is real, actual, correct, and factual. It is also dependable because it is unchangeable. This is implied in the phrase "facts are stubborn things." Facts and truth are not interchangeable but they are similar. Truth is unchanging. Truth is true regardless of whether it is popularly accepted or popularly denigrated. Truth is true whether it is in fashion or out of style. Truth is true even when it is represented as being mistaken or false.

What is grace? Grace, loosely defined, is unmerited favor. It is goodness poured out on those who do not deserve it. Its clearest use in Scripture is in relation to salvation but it is found in a remarkable variety of spiritual contexts. For the purposes of this particular post I am going to define it with another scriptural term, loving-kindness. Grace is the kindness done to me by God out of His great love for me. Turned the other way, grace is the kindness done by me toward others out of my genuine love for them – whether in my estimation they deserve it or not.

Understanding this, let me give you two applications. First, hqdefaultgrace and truth marked the life of our Lord and they ought to mark ours too. Personally, I ought to hold an allegiance to the unchanging truth, come what may. At the same time, my life ought to be marked by loving-kindness in my treatment of those around me.

This is true of you and me, individually, but it is also true of churches corporately. I am to be like Christ; that is the aim of my Christianity. But one of the three definitions given in Scripture for the church is the body of Christ. My church, Maplewood Bible Baptist Church, is to be the visible/physical extension of Jesus Christ in this corner of Chicago. As such, it too, corporately, ought to be marked by grace and truth. My church should hold an allegiance to the unchanging truth, come what may. And our ministry in this neighborhood ought to be marked by loving-kindness in our treatment of all those within our embrace.

Second, in so saying, I am asserting that both of these should be present.

Some people, some churches, some ministries are all truth. They are hard, unbending, impossible to be swayed. Such people, such ministries become marked by a my-way-or-the-highway kind of mentality. They breed a refusal to listen to any other perspective, no matter how slightly it may differ from their own. In them, loyalty to the truth is the highest compliment, and they are marked by a willingness to lead an all-out charge against anyone thought to be compromising the truth.

I can hear you from here… "Tom, you sound like you are describing the classic fundamentalist. You're a fundamentalist. What's the problem?" I am describing a fundamentalist, and I am one. The problem lies in the fact that all too often that is all we are identified with – truth. We are full of the truth – but that is all. We are loyal to the truth – but that is all. We are willing to fight over the truth – but that is all. We are inclined to drop the hat ourselves so we can fight – but that is all. Our theme phrase is "contend for the faith" with an emphasis upon the contention.

By the same token, there are other people and other ministries that are all grace. They are kind, sweet, loving. Such people and such ministries become marked by an attitude of whatever-you're-doing-is-ok. They refuse to take a stand on anything. In them, niceness is the ultimate virtue, and they are identified by a willingness to overlook practically everything in the name of grace. They are full of grace – but that is all. They are nice, the nicest people to ever grace the planet – but that is all. They are sweet, kind, forgiving, charitable, patient – but that is all. They are always wiling to see something from the other person's perspective – but that is all. Their theme phrase is "judge not" with an emphasis on the not.

I can hear you from here… "Pastor Brennan, you make it sound like these two things are irreconcilable. How then can you expect me to include them both?" They are not irreconcilable. They only seem that way when you choose one of the two to have. But you are not supposed to choose just one of the two to have. You are supposed to have both.
You are supposed to have an unalterable allegiance to the unchanging truth and to hold that truth in a spirit of loving-kindness. You are to refuse to compromise but to do so with a loving, gracious, sweet spirit. You are to cling like a bulldog to what is right but give other people the benefit of the doubt as long as possible. You are to stand up straight and tall while the rest of the world bows down, but you are to do so with a tender spirit, and a heart of love for the brethren.

In other words, you are to be just like Jesus. He went about doing good. His life was marked by compassion. But He had a backbone of steel, and on one anywhere at any time was going to push Him off the hill of truth even if He had to die on it. He was full of grace and truth. And so should we be.

I am unashamedly independent Baptist. I suspect ninety percent or more of my readers are as well. Although our movement has thousands and thousands of churches we are certainly in the minority when it comes to American Christianity. This American Christianity has been pushing leftward at an increasingly rapid clip in my lifetime. I am not talking about the Mormons and the Catholics; I am talking about our brethren in Christ, God's people. I am talking about evangelical Protestantism, non-denominationalism, the large conventions and associations that preach the Gospel but have ministries marked by compromise, pragmatism, and worldliness. And they are not just heading left; they are actively seeking to drag as many independent Baptists with them as they can.

Best-Practices-for-C-Suite-to-Manage-Both-ICD-10-and-Meaningful-UseWe live in an age of compromise, of a weak, spineless Christianity that is seeking to pull us along with it. We absolutely must develop the capacity to resist such a pull – no matter who else goes with them, no matter how isolated we get, no matter how tired we get of taking such a stand. But we just as absolutely must do this with a spirit of grace, cultivating a heart of love for those with whom we disagree.

Beloved, let us be full of grace and truth. Both.

It is the only way to be like Jesus.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Praised, Yet Awful: A Review of Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace?

Grace 14

In my discussion earlier in this series of Paul's seminal Whats_So_Amazing_About_Gracestatement, Ye are not under the law, but under grace I mentioned Philip Yancey's influential book, "What's So Amazing About Grace?" I alluded to the fact that it, along with a few other original works and a whole bunch of copycats, have twisted much of American Christianity's concept of grace into something wholly unrecognizable to our forefathers. In so saying, I am not overstating its influence.

For example, it is praised by religious leaders as diverse as Larry Crabb, Brennan Manning (no surprise there), J. I. Packer, Jill Briscoe, Jim Wallis, Gordon MacDonald, Charles Colson, and the Irish rocker Bono. Tony Campolo said, "There are huge amounts of sermon material here." (No surprise there either.) Robert Seiple said, "This is beyond a doubt the very best book I have read from a Christian author in my life." Robert Jeffress said that it "did a valuable service by rescuing the doctrine of grace from the legalists." It was awarded Book of the Year by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association in 1998, and in 2006 was named as the seventeenth most influential book on Christianity Today's list of works that have shaped evangelicalism the most. Never mind the dizzying array of contradictory theological positions held by those listed in this paragraph, and how ashamed I would be if all of them praised any work of mine, let us simply agree that selling more than 15 million copies of any religious book in ten years, as this book did, qualifies as influential.

Censor-the-bible1If it is so praised why do I assert that it is awful? Let us start with the fact that for a book that purports to bring us back to a scriptural view of grace there is an appalling paucity of Scripture in it. Yancey unabashedly emphasizes this in his own introduction. "I have just read a thirteen-page treatise on grace in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, which has cured me of any desire to dissect grace and display its innards. I do not want the thing to die. For this reason, I will rely more on stories than syllogisms. In sum, I would far rather display grace than explain it."

In choosing this course Yancey does two things. First, he makes his book much more readable and thus popular. Second, and far more importantly, he writes a book almost entirely untethered from the Word of God. Yancey does an emotionally entertaining job of telling us what he wants grace to be, and a spiritually wretched job of telling us what God said grace actually is and does. It takes him forty-two pages to quote the first Bible verse. In the entirety of the book he never takes a verse, let alone a passage, and systematically explores its words, context, and flow of thought to tell us what God says about grace. Needless to say, he does not examine contrasting thoughts either. He examines nothing and reveals less of God's Word on the subject.

Curiously enough, while studiously avoiding the Scriptures, he manages to favorably quote any number of theologically sketchy characters. Roman Catholic theologians such as Romano Guardini and Brennan Manning? Check. Mystics such as John of the Cross and Bernard? Check. Intellectuals such as Mark Twain and Anthony Hecht? Check. Neo-orthodox Europeans such as Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Check. To add insult to injury, he purposely chooses to use both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa as wonderful examples of grace.

The previous paragraph does not mark Yancey as wicked. It Pope_John_Paul_II_in_St_Peters_Square_circa_1978_Credit___LOsservatore_Romano_CNA_6_16_15does, however, mark him as severely lacking in discernment and seriously doctrinally deficient. Why conservative Christians let alone independent Baptists would look to such a man to explain and expound the Word of God is a mystery to me.

If his book does not come from Scripture where does it come from? I believe it was birthed out of a reaction to his own conservative/fundamentalist Southern upbringing. He mentions it often in the book and makes no bones that he found his home church experience wretched. In some sense Yancey is right to be appalled. The deacons of his home church patrolled the entrances to ensure no African-Americans made their way in. But in reacting against error Yancey makes the same mistake I have seen numerous acquaintances of mine make – he throws the baby out with the bathwater. At a dead run, he heads from the ditch of a harsh, racist religious upbringing to the ditch of license on the other side of the road. In the process he is highly critical of rules of any kind, and especially those of his youth forbidding rock music, alcohol, short skirts, and long hair. Those are, in his words, "pettiness", signs of a religion with no grace.

Do you begin to see his influence? The problem with Yancey, however, is much worse than that, much worse. It is not just about where Yancey was when he wrote the book, and how your friends use its arguments to overthrow their own long-held beliefs, it is even more about where Yancey's concept of grace leads, about what it produces years down the road. For example, the church here in Chicago where he served as an assistant so long believes nothing, is against nothing but taking a stand. But even more egregiously, Yancey's embrace of "grace" toward homosexuality is revelatory indeed.

mel_gary_30th_anniversaryIn the book, now twenty years old, he unabashedly promotes the homosexual Mel White as a wonderful example of Christian grace and love vs the evil, intolerant Christians who insist on shouting about doctrine. An emphasis on doctrine is "hatred" while Mel, on the other hand, evidences "a graceful spirit." Yancey likens preaching against homosexuality to the preaching against social drinking he heard in his youth, preaching that he clearly views as petty, legalistic, and beneath the spirit of Christ.

Remember, though, it is not just about where Yancey is when he writes this book, though that is bad enough. It is about where his concept of grace is going, and where it is going to take you. On his own website today on a page discussing his views of homosexuality he gives us these little gems. "In my relationship with Mel White, I have to remind myself that it’s not my job to present the absolutely proper, balanced viewpoint of the church." Somehow, after reading his book, I do not think Yancey even balances his checkbook. But I digress. Or there is this: "I intentionally don't take sides on this issue." And this: "I feel no need to represent a balanced viewpoint myself. So I don't take an official position. I simply try to love the gay individuals I know and bring a little grace and mercy to a church that puts this particular sin – if indeed it is that – in a special category." And this: "When it gets to particular matters of policy, like ordaining gay and lesbian minsters, I'm confused, like a lot of people."
I could go on in the same vein but I risk you thinking this blog post is about homosexuality. It is not. It is about where the wrong view of grace leads. It leads to repentance eliminated in favor of tolerance and forgiveness cheapened into permission. In a word, it leads to grace no longer being grace but rather being acceptance. Yancey can deny it all he wants, and your now-contemporary-used-to-be-fundamentalist friends can do the same. Their denials fade to the echoes of a whisper when confronted with their actions. What you believe changes how you live, and what you read changes what you believe.
You might want to think long and hard about that before ingesting what passes for classic discussions of grace in our day. No matter how many copies the guy has sold or how many famous religious leaders recommend it.

Monday, April 30, 2018

How to Get Grace

Grace 13

Thus far in this blog series on grace we have examined what grace is, where it begins, how it ought to impact our treatment of one another, and how it becomes the atmosphere in which we grow. We have also examined some of the important doctrinal questions surrounding grace, namely what it means to no longer be under the law but under grace, and how it relates to a legalistic mindset.

Wax Seal Header SubheaderIn today's post, I want to discuss how to get grace. Now I realize that concept will immediately strike some of you wrong since, by definition, we cannot merit or earn grace. But just because grace cannot be merited does not mean that there is not a requirement that we must fulfill prior to obtaining grace. Fulfilling that requirement does not earn us grace, but it does make it possible for grace to come to us.

Salvation itself is an illustration of this. How are we saved? By grace is the automatic and correct answer. Yet, though, that grace is freely offered to every human being it is certain that not every human being has received it. How do we human beings obtain the grace of God for salvation? By faith. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand. (Romans 5.2) Faith is the hand that reaches up to Heaven to obtain the grace of God. Did we earn that grace by offering God faith? Of course not, rather we fulfilled the conditions necessary to obtain it. Faith is a requirement for salvation but that salvation is still entirely by grace. For by grace are ye saved through faith. (Ephesians 2.8)

As the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ we need His grace just as much now as we did while we were yet sinners. (Romans 5.8) We need the grace of God to enable us, to empower us, to help us to obey every command in the Bible: large or small. We must have His grace, not just for eternity, but for today. So how do we get it?

Grace comes free, but it does have one requirement – humility. Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly. (Proverbs 3.34)

Some years ago, I did an intensive word study in Proverbs. Such a study might be a good blog series on its own, now that I think about it. In that study, I discovered that a scorner is a person driven by pride to reject instruction. He not only foolishly embraces his own opinion, but actively seeks to turn others around him likewise away from their instructors towards himself. In dealing with such a creature, God, as He often does, gives him a taste of his own medicine. God ignores the scorner's opinion and instruction, actively seeks to undermine the scorner's influence, and heaps upon him proud disdain in the meantime.

Look for a moment at the contrast in this passage from Proverbs. The scorner's number one attribute is pride, yet the opposite of pride is humility. When a man embraces humility, not about a particular issue, but as a way of life, God, as a result, pours out the undeserved blessings of grace upon him. He giveth grace unto the lowly. 'Lowly' in the 6a00e55043abd088340120a8e619b2970b-320wioriginal language is rooted in the phrases to stoop, to be humbled, to be bowed down. The article 'the' which precedes it implies this is not just an isolated action on the part of a person, but rather a way of thinking and/or living. They do not act lowly on occasion; they actually are classified as 'the lowly.'

For an example of what this looks like in real life I would point you unhesitatingly to Christ. The Old Testament prophet said to Israel, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9.9) Jesus Himself specified this as the correct term to describe Him when He said, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. (Matthew 11.29) To quote one of my very first blog posts, "Jesus' entire earthly career is marked by humility. We see it in the events of His birth. We see it in His chosen approach to life, first as a blue- collar laborer and then later as an itinerant, poverty-stricken rabbi. We see it in the events of His death, crucified like a criminal between two thieves and then placed in a borrowed tomb. In fact, God's entire decision to offer redemption by presenting His own Son, in human flesh, to die for us, means He humbled Himself (Philippians 2.8). What did He leave? To what did He come? How did He arrive? How did He live? How was He treated? How did He die? There is humility in the answer to all of these questions. It is wrapped up in the very fabric of who Jesus is."

Likewise, the man so often referred to as the greatest Christian to ever live, the Apostle Paul, lived a life marked by humility. "Wait a minute. Isn't he the guy who boasted that he worked harder than everybody else, and that's why God used him?" Yes, but he also surrounded that assertion by several references to humility. By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (I Corinthians 15.10) He credits God for every one of his accomplishments, for the churches started, the men trained in ministry, the Scripture written, the influence of a life which almost single-handedly turned Christianity from being the religion of an isolated tribal sect to one that permeated every corner of the Roman Empire.

If God has used you to raise good children, if He has used you to bless hearts with music, if He has used you to win souls to Himself, if He has used you to teach someone the Scriptures, it is He that is doing the using. It is His grace in you that did it. When my first-generation Polish immigrant neighbor greeted me the other day in his broken English with the phrase, "Hello, my best neighbor" he paid me a compliment. But that compliment does not belong to me; it belongs to Him. It is His grace in me that produces anything good with my life. And the minute I lose that understanding is the minute God stops pouring more grace into my life. The Lord's brother said it this way, He giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4.6)

Grace is amazing. It is wonderful in every sense of the word. No matter what additional superlatives I use to describe it they will fall short of its actual value. If grace contains so many matchless blessings then why would I not want as much of it as I can possibly get? I grow in it – so if I get more I can grow more. It enables me – so if I get more I can do more. If that is not enough, He loves to give it and has an inexhaustible store. Annie Flint penned an exquisite description of this when she wrote…


He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

…but what would stop me from getting more of that grace I so desperately need and so deeply desire? God resisteth the proud.

As I write this at my dining room table my youngest son, Sam, is sitting a few feet from me on the couch. He is busily engaged in his own pursuits. Several times this week he has stopped himself dead in his tracks, looked at me, and said, "Dad, it's been a long time since we wrestled." Of course, a long time for him is last week, but nevertheless, he delights in wrestling with his father. I am not sure why we call it wrestling, though. The truth is I am so much larger than him the contests are over before they begin. If he wants to move me somewhere there is no way he can if I am really resisting him.

You and I often seek to accomplish something, and good somethings at that. But if we are not making any headway it just may be that our pride is causing God to set His own omnipotent power in array against us, to resist even the good things we are seeking to accomplish. That last thing I need is God resisting me. What I really need is God enabling me, empowering me, pushing me forward. In other words, I need grace. What is the requirement? He giveth grace unto the humble.

I picture it like this: God has a great big tub of grace and a huge wooden spoon. There is a line of people waiting for Him to scoop some up and put it on their plate. But getting in that line is kind of like getting into the lines in the kiddie section of the amusement park – you have to be rather low to the ground.fall-on-one-face

Some ignorantly say, "Ah, that cruel, mean God is making us crawl to Him. Well, I'm better than that. I won't crawl for anybody." I say, "That wonderfully good God is just waiting to lavishly pour out on us His undeserved goodness, but He wants to make sure it isn't wasted so He waits for humility to be evidenced first."

We cannot merit grace. Perish the thought. But grace does have a requirement. Beloved, do you view Him as high and holy and lifted up, and yourself as a man of unclean lips? Then brace yourself. Grace is coming your way by the truck load.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Destruction of Legalism

Grace 12
Note: by Joe Cassada

Welcome to the fourth and final article in this series within a series. If I may, I’d like to preface this last post with a word of thanks to Tom Brennan for entrusting me with the important task of addressing a complicated issue – one that, within the context of independent fundamental Baptist churches, is an emotional (and even a volatile) topic. Tom has worked hard to build his readership over the years, and I know that a subject as touchy as legalism is one which carries with it the very real possibility of causing significant attrition among his readers.

To Tom’s readers, I say thank you for reading. I imagine that most of you know Tom much better than you know me, so let me invoke your graciousness towards Tom. After this post, this blog will return to Tom’s measure of normal, so hang in there with him. It would be unwise to assume that everything I’ve said is something that Tom would say. 

Legalism is an intricate theological issue that doubles as a heart-sin. As such, it inherently involves nuances and perspectives that will vary from preacher to preacher, and my attempt at doctrinal precision may not match Tom’s own. We’re both mowing the same lawn with the same lawn mower, but it’s possible he will go clockwise around while I prefer a diagonal cut. Keep that in mind.

2e47d583ea08921be40d9623d217758eI’m sure most of you have been accused of being legalists at some point in your life. It’s not fun and many times it is unjust. But the only thing worse than enduring false accusation is tolerating our own willful ignorance of indwelling sin. Let us not be like the church of the Laodiceans who were oblivious to their own failures and deficiencies. If we find even the seminal germ of legalism in our hearts, let’s root it out.

Earlier, I gave a biblical definition of legalism based on a very brief sketch of the issues Paul addressed in Galatians and Sinclair Ferguson’s treatment of the temptation of Eve in the garden (Ferguson, 82-83). I came to the conclusion that, in its most basic meaning, we can describe legalism as “an abuse of law and grace so that God’s favor becomes something that must be earned.” Having discussed legalism’s danger, definition, and detection, let’s now turn to the next task at hand: legalism’s destruction.

How can we defeat this sin? If legalism is an abuse of law and grace, then it is defeated by a proper understanding of law and grace. We should start there.

The law of God is a good thing. Paul says as much in Romans 7:12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. The Bible is replete with positive and even affectionate terms for God’s law:

Psa 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

Psa 119:97 O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day; 165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them; 174 I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy law is my delight.

f191974646dde09a48b94353413de1e6_f1549The defeat of legalism is not accomplished by keeping God’s law in low esteem. We are not freed from legalism by pursuing libertine values and forsaking the commandments of God. The 1689 London Baptist Confession describes the law as something positive and good for believers because “it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience;” (chapter 19, paragraph 6)

Don’t miss this: a proper understanding of the law drives us towards Christ, not away from him. The law wasn’t a mistake; it is perfect. Paul says it is holy and just and good. But neither was it designed to give life. Only through the grace of Christ can we have life, but when we go to the law for life, we fan the flames of destructive legalism.

Neither should we abuse grace. Obedience is still important, and grace doesn’t deny this. Holiness is still something Christians ought to pursue. The verses in the Bible that deal with the Christian’s behavior, including such unpopular topics as how we dress, talk, and even entertain ourselves, actually do mean something. We may disagree as to what they mean, but we have no right to dismiss them.

Thomas Manton (1620–1677) wrote, “It is a great grief to the Spirit of God when you abuse grace. You do as it were put your miscarriages upon him, when you call licentious walking Christian liberty, and neglect of duty gospel freedom, and godly sorrow legalism, and strict walking superstitious niceness; you do as it were father your bastards upon the Spirit, and entitle the monstrous conceptions and births of your own carnal hearts to his incubation and overshadowing; you think God warranteth you in all this, and that is a high wrong to him which he will avenge in due time.” (Manton, 81)

Manton is right. We abuse grace when we blame our sin on Christian liberty. It is a blasphemy which God will not let go unpunished. Beware of falsely thinking that, since grace abounds where sin abounds, then we can continue in sin so that grace may abound. The Apostle Paul’s response to that twisted thinking is “God forbid!”

In my opinion, no greater picture of this relationship between law and grace exists (outside of Holy Scripture) than in what we find in John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” In the scene of the Interpreter’s house, Christian is shown a curious sight: a large room caked in dust that had never been swept. A man entered the dirty room and began to sweep, and “the dust began so abundantly to fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel that stood by, ‘Bring hither water, and sprinkle the room;’ the which when she had done, it was swept and cleansed with pleasure.”

We echo Christian’s inquisitive response: “What means this?”

The Interpreter answered, “This parlor is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the Gospel. The dust is his original sin, and inward corruptions, that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel.

6180836824_978521dee3_z“Now whereas thou sawest, that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to show thee, that the law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase it in the soul, even as it doth discover and forbid it; for it doth not give power to subdue

“Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure, this is to show thee, that when the Gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean, through the faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit.” (Bunyan, 81-82)

I think if some Christians were to rewrite Bunyan’s allegory, they would cause the maiden to enter, and instead of cleansing the room of filth, she would content herself to wallow in the grime. This isn’t grace. The law cannot make your heart clean, and grace comes not to overlook the dirt, but to remove it. Does grace make obedience irrelevant? No. It makes it possible.

Tom has already written a great deal within this series about the right view of the law and its proper role in the life of the believer, so I will not try the patience of his readers by rewriting what he has already laid out for us in these past several weeks. He has also carefully addressed the nature of grace and the importance of it being rightly understood. So allow me to simply encourage you to apply these truths carefully and to remember: legalism is defeated when we understand these two concepts together: law and grace. The cure for legalism is not more sin, or even a relaxing of rules, it is more grace.

As with any sin, the threat is ever with us while we remain in our earthly tabernacles. And though we know sinless perfection awaits us on the other side of the river, yet we must daily maintain vigilance in the cause against indwelling sin. The promise of full deliverance from sin’s presence should never dissuade us from fighting against sin’s power, for we fight the fight of faith, that is, we lay hold of God’s promises now though we know their entire fulfillment is yet to come. The hand of the faithful soldier is not empty, for the earnest of the promise of future deliverance from sin’s presence becomes a sword with which to battle sin’s power in the present. Don’t lose heart in the battle, for your King has conquered and he has not left you ill-equipped. Love his law, feast on his grace, and pursue his holy example.


Works Cited

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress. Birmingham: John L. Dagg Publishing Company, 2005. Print.
Ferguson, Sinclair. The Whole Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016. Print.
Manton, Thomas. The Complete Works of Thomas Manton. Still Water Revival Books. PDF.