The Real State of the Union

This conference is being held at Briarwood Presbyterian Church on November 9-10 in conjunction with Westminster Theological Seminary featuring speakers: Dr. Peter Lillback, Dr. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Harry Reeder and Dr. William Edgar. Please join us!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-real-state-of-the-union-tickets-12048311825

WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM QUESTION #1

What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1

The Westminster “Divines” (i.e. those called of God, sent by the Holy Spirit and affirmed by His church) gathered each day by edict of Parliament to compile first The Westminster Confession of Faith to unify the church of the Reformation in England with a distillation of essential Biblical truth and eventually two teaching tools. One teaching tool was the Larger Catechism designed for pastors to use in discipling the ordained officers of the church. The second was the Shorter Catechism designed for fathers to use in discipling their families. The very first question they composed to initiate the Catechisms was framed to explain Biblically God’s purpose in making man (Creation), male and female; saving man (Redemption) and sustaining man (Providence). Yet the question has what seems to be either a grammatical oddity or a carefully phrased precept. Let’s look closer.

First let’s examine the question. What is the chief end of man? (note that “end” is singular). Now let’s look at the answer. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (note that “end” is repeated as a singular but “end” though singular is defined as two-fold and therefore plural – “to glorify God forever” and “to enjoy God forever.” So did they make a grammatical error, were they sloppy or is something else of significance being communicating to us? Perhaps some would argue they made a grammatical error but I know of no one who would call them sloppy. These men began every day by re-affirming the vow they took on the first day as Dr. David Calhoun reminds us in his research on the Westminster Assembly.

“to maintain nothing in point of doctrine but what I believe to be most agreeable to the Word of God; nor in point of discipline, but what may make most for God’s glory and the peace and good of his Church.”

Furthermore, the careful wording of the Confession and the Catechisms would manifestly reveal the care they took in the formulation of Biblical truth which they desired to be taught in both the family and in the church. That then means they were being thoughtfully engaging. So what were they saying to us beyond the obvious fact that we are created, saved and sustained “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever?”

What the “Divines” were saying is that God’s design in creation, redemption and providence is to make, save and sustain man (male and female) with a two-fold purpose. Therefore it could be re-written or understood more clearly in this way – “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever” (as others have noted such as the beneficial expositions of Jonathan Edwards and in our day John Piper). But I would suggest that is not all they are saying by expounding a singular purpose as defined by a two-fold fulfillment. They are also saying that “the chief end of man is to enjoy God BY glorifying Him forever.”
In other words we exist “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever” and we “enjoy God BY glorifying Him forever.” To be more precise they are saying when we are embracing our created, redeemed and sustained ‘responsibility’ “to glorify God” we will “enjoy God” and when we “enjoy God” we will instinctively and increasingly “glorify Him.” To attempt to be even more specific, the more you “glorify Him” the more you will “enjoy Him” AND the more you “enjoy Him” the more you will “glorify Him.” To “glorify God” (our sacred responsibility) and “to enjoy God” (our sacred relationship) are two sides of one coin and therefore mutually dependent upon each other and inseparable from each other. You inevitably will display one when you intentionally embrace the other.

How many times in my life has the joy of Christ as my Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer caused me to both intentionally and spontaneously glorify God in worship and witness? But how many times in my life have I been momentarily empty of joy yet obediently embrace God’s call to glorify Him in worship and witness and the result was the joy of the Lord filling my heart and soul to overflowing? The answer to both of these questions is – many times.

To conclude a short blog, while knowing there is no conclusion to our grace secured forever lives, – The Triune God of glory has made you, saved you and sustains you for one purpose or “end” – to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Your responsibility is to glorify Him and your relationship is to enjoy Him. The more you enjoy Him (your grace-given and God-secured relationship) the more you will glorify Him and the more you glorify Him (your grace-enabled and God–defined responsibility) the more you will enjoy Him.

THE GOSPEL BLESSING OF GUILT

Gospel? Blessing? Guilt? Is it not a contradiction to put those words together in a title? How can “guilt” possibly be a “blessing” much less a “Gospel Blessing?” The answer is no. The title is not a contradiction. There is a guilt which is a Gospel blessing and by the way there is also a guilt that is an anti-Gospel curse. But I will acknowledge the title is counter-cultural in much of today’s contemporary grace preaching which treats guilt as the unwanted stranger to a Gospel-driven Christian life. So let’s briefly examine guilt as a Gospel blessing. We can start by first describing the onset of a guilt moment in a Christian’s life.

A Lord’s Day has arrived. Somehow you have navigated getting everyone in the family up, fed, dressed, out the door, into the car and headed to church. Beyond that, amazingly the entire family is in a reasonable state of relational neutrality as the brief trip to the Lord’s Day morning worship service is achieved in record time. In fact, this Sunday you have arrived in time to actually look at the worship folder, prayerfully peruse the printed meditation while the prelude wonderfully provides an environment for worship preparation. Starting with the Call to Worship you are guided with focused simplicity throughout the worship service upon both the majesty of God and the blessings of the Gospel by Confessions, Psalms, Hymns, Songs and Scripture Readings along with various prayers of intercession, thanksgiving, illumination and consecration.

Then came the preaching of God’s Word and by God’s grace came also the convicting and convincing work of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word owned by God’s Spirit had exposed both your sin and God’s solution in Christ to both forgive you of its guilt and free you from its power. In those moments the bittersweet Gospel work of grace arrived in the depths of your heart and soul. Bitter was the reality of how you had sinned and assassinated God’s glory in your disobedience to His glorious Law. Yet sweet was the patience and power of His grace reminding you of the gifts of forgiveness and of the power that enables you to assassinate besetting sins. All of these redeeming and life-changing promised blessings of grace had begun to flow experientially at the moment the Gospel gift of guilt arrived in the preaching of God’s Word and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. And when the Gospel blessing of guilt arrives there are five Biblical affirmations identifying it as a Gospel blessing.

The first affirmation of the Gospel blessing of guilt over personal sin is the fact of its felt presence. Not everyone who “feels guilt” over the reality of personal sin is saved by grace but no one who is saved by grace can develop a lifestyle that dismisses guilt and sign ongoing peace treaties with sin in their lives. In contrast there are those who are lost in their sin and rebellion and are so calloused in their sin that they “feel no guilt.”
The second affirmation of the Gospel blessing of guilt over personal sin in the life of an authentic Christian is that while bitter is its taste at the point of conviction it sends us to the sweetness of the patient and powerful Savior who has promised that His grace to forgive us is greater than our sin. And His Word declares “if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Thirdly, the Gospel blessing of guilt over personal sin in the life of an authentic Christian awakens within us a heart-hatred of sin and at the same time a heart-gratefulness for salvation. Why? Because the Gospel promises not only an unfailing forgiveness united to the gift of His righteousness but also the power and desire to kill sin and pursue holiness in and for Christ.

Fourthly, the Gospel blessing of guilt over personal sin in the life of an authentic Christian is an awakened and renewed awareness of the majesty, patience, power and undeserved blessings of God’s love for us to save us from the persuasion, power, penalty, position, practice and one day presence of sin for His glory and our joy.

Fifthly and finally, at least for this blog is the Gospel blessing of guilt that is differentiated from “false guilt”. Specifically the false guilt that is produced because I think that I am not doing enough to enable God to save me or assist God to save me or the false guilt that is produced by not measuring up to the “traditions” of men. Traditions have their beneficial place in life but they are not the standard to define sin. Sin is defined only as the transgression of God’s Law by omission or commission in thought, word and deed. The Gospel blessing of guilt is used to remind us that God’s grace is greater than either sin’s penalty or power when by faith and repentance we flee to Christ alone for salvation.

In summation, the Gospel blessing of guilt is experienced in two contexts. First, it is experienced in the conversion of the elect as the preaching of the Gospel exposes our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and exalts Christ as our Savior to whom we flee as He removes sin’s guilt and shame. Secondly, it is experienced in the sanctification of the elect by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as the Lord exposes our sin to remind us of not only our positional blessings in Christ but also our relational blessings with Christ as we grow by grace to “put off the old man” and to “put on the new man” in order “to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.”

While false guilt is to be abhorred, guilt itself in the life of a Christian is not necessarily a false guilt nor should it be avoided. On the contrary, true guilt should be welcomed as a Gospel blessing as the Lord uses it to bring us to Christ, remind us of the joy of our salvation and grow us to become more like our Savior and increasing consistency in exalting our Savior.

The Gospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials on the Gospel and Sanctification

Friends,

 Grace and peace. It has been my joy to participate in a growing fraternal fellowship of Reformed and Evangelical pastors identified as The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) for the past three years. The GRN is committed to addressing some of the issues of Gospel preaching in today’s setting which has been influenced by what we have called a “contemporary grace movement.” The problem with this movement is not hyper-grace or too much grace. The problem is a dwarfed grace that rejects the right use of God’s law in sanctification and declares any preaching of Gospel imperatives and call to human endeavor in the life of a believer as at best moralism and at worst legalism. Therefore, our fellowship has given specific focus upon the Biblical and historically Reformed understanding of the Gospel privilege and imperative of sanctification. In doing so the GRN also desires to highlight the multi-dimensional motivations that believers experience propelling them to obey our Lord’s call to “pursue sanctification.” The GRN joyfully affirms the monergistic Gospel blessings of Effectual Calling, Regeneration, Justification, Adoption, Definitive Sanctification and Glorification while also vigorously, yet carefully, affirming the synergistic endeavor of progressive Gospel Sanctification. This requires Gospel preaching that communicates the foundational Gospel blessings of the elect in Christ and the Gospel responsibilities of the elect to “put off the old man and put on the new man” for Christ. It also seeks to preach with the same care that the Apostle Paul displays in his Epistles as he intentionally lays a Gospel foundation of our positional blessings “in Christ” before calling the professing believer to the Gospel commands to “follow Christ.” This thoughtful and intentional Gospel of grace ministry is sometimes displayed in one verse such as “walk in manner worthy of our calling.” (NOTE – not in manner worthy to be called or stay called but in a manner that honors the sacredness, richness and regality of our calling) or “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (worship language) for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (NOTE – our responsibility to “work out” but we are only able to “work out” because of God’s grace and power which is sovereignly “working in.” Furthermore we are not working “for” our own salvation but working out an already grace-secured salvation and even more you are working out “your own” salvation, not someone else’s salvation. Not only does Paul consistently do this but the other human authors of Scripture do so as well. For instance, Peter calls believers “to grow IN the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (NOTE – the imperative of human endeavor – “grow.” Also note the careful wording. You do not grow FOR grace but IN grace and it is only because of the presence of God’s grace and the indwelling power of Holy Spirit that the believer is enabled to “grow.”)

 This is why we labor together with our fellow Gospel preachers to affirm the “whole Gospel to the whole man.” The contemporary grace movement’s penchant to either careless wording of the relationship and distinctives of Justification/Adoption (revealing our deliverance from sin’s guilt) and Regeneration/Sanctification (revealing our deliverance from sin’s power or purposed wording promoting antinomianism in order to attack legalism) must be lovingly but clearly addressed and rejected. The preaching of the whole gospel to the whole man means that we must not reduce the Gospel to one element of the “ordo salutis.” The Gospel is not simply regeneration (born again)… nor Justification… nor Adoption.. nor Sanctification .. nor Glorification. Anytime the Church makes the Gospel one element of the Ordo Salutis it ensures a reaction toward another element in the next generation. Anytime the Gospel preachers attack the error of Quietism by promoting Pietism it assures the error of Quietism in the next generation. And obviously the reverse is equally true. Anytime the Gospel preachers attack the error of Legalism by promoting Antinomianism either with thoughtless zeal or with a purposed strategy they assure the error of Legalism for their children’s church. And again, clearly the reverse is equally true. The intentional pursuit of holiness and the mortification of sin in the life of a believer resting in Christ alone for salvation and who is empowered by Holy Spirit is neither legalism nor moralism but the necessary evidence of love to Christ, His Word, His people, the lost and His glory.

 The fact is, progressive Gospel-saturated Sanctification is set in motion by the monergistic work of God in Christ and through Holy Spirit with Effectual Calling, Regeneration, Justification and Adoption. And then it is effected in life with a supernatural synergistic work of God’s grace in the life of an engaged believer who is 100% dependent upon the power of God’s grace delivered by the indwelling Spirit of God and 100% devoted to the means of grace in pursuit of obedience to Christ out of love to Him who first freely loved us.

The Gospel reveals that God’s grace in Christ HAS delivered us from the persuasion of sin (effectual calling), the power of sin (regeneration), the penalty of sin (justification) and the position of sin (adoption) and furthermore, it IS delivering us from the practice of sin (sanctification) and gloriously one day it WILL deliver us from the presence of sin (glorification) through the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession and second coming of Christ. This progressive sanctification is the expression of our love to Christ by the power of Holy Spirit in that we, who once in sin lived to assassinate the glory of God now, by grace, desire and pursue the exaltation of the glory of God which is the joy of our new life in Christ.

 With these thoughts, as one grateful participant in the fellowship of the GRN, I, without reservation commend to you (for reading) the Affirmations and Denials of the Gospel Reformation Network (below) which we have adopted and if so led, for your adoption and subscription. But more than that, with thoughtful passion let’s unite to preach the Gospel of Christ – “the whole Gospel to the whole man.” By God’s grace, I would humbly yet boldly ask the Lord that together we might know the Gospel, love the Gospel, be gripped by the Gospel and proclaim the Gospel to the glory of our Triune God revealed in the preeminence of Christ our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Our nation, this world needs preachers of the whole Gospel to the whole man. My brothers, get up on a high mountain and proclaim Good News! Our God reigns! The Gospel is not an appeal from an impotent God through fearful people. It is a regal proclamation and a commanding invitation from the King who has sent us. He has won the victory over sin, death, hell and the grave and Our King reigns! Come to Him and reign with Him. This is the Gospel of reigning grace…greater than all our sin!

The Gospel Reformation Network Affirmations & Denials

on the Gospel & Sanctification 

  • We affirm that legalism is a dangerous problem that the church must always address.
  • We deny that legalism is the primary enemy of the gospel to the exclusion of spiritual bondage, moral rebellion and a love for sin.
  • We affirm that unregenerate man, being totally depraved, is unable to obey or please God unto salvation.
  • We deny that the believer, being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, remains unable to obey and please God, by grace and in Christ.
  • We affirm that the gospel provides salvation for the whole man, including man’s need for both imputed and imparted righteousness.
  • We deny that the gospel is provides freedom from the guilt of sin in justification without deliverance from the power of sin in regeneration and liberation from the practice of sin in sanctification.
  • We affirm that both justification and sanctification are distinct, necessary, inseparable and simultaneous graces of union with Christ though faith.
  • We deny that sanctification flows directly from justification, or that the transformative elements of salvation are mere consequences of the forensic elements.
  • We affirm that gratitude for justification is a powerful motivation for growth in holiness.
  • We deny that gratitude for justification is the only valid motivation for holiness, making all other motivations illegitimate or legalistic.
  • We affirm that believers are not under the Law as a covenant of works, where the believer is required to merit his or her own righteousness before God.
  • We deny that Christ has freed the Christian from the moral Law as the standard of Christian living.
  • We affirm that through the finished work of Christ believers are adopted by God as sons and now relate to God as their loving heavenly Father.
  • We deny that our adoption precludes God’s fatherly displeasure when His children rebel, or that God’s Fatherly love prevents Him from disciplining Christians who stray from the path of righteousness.
  • We affirm that God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-empowered effort to put off sin and put on righteousness is necessary for Christian growth in grace.
  • We deny that all practical effort in sanctification is moralistic, legalistic or that the only effort required for growth is that Christians remember, revisit and rediscover their justification.
  • We affirm that growth in the Christian life comes through faith, which believes and acts on the promises of God in the Scriptures.
  • We deny that faith is wholly passive in sanctification or separated from good works in the same sense that justification is by faith alone.
  • We affirm that faithful preaching of the Law for use in the Christian life must always be done in the context of God’s provision through the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • We deny that preaching the Scripture’s indicatives without the imperatives is a healthy model for Christian ministry because such preaching fails to conform to the pattern seen in Scripture and is dangerous to the life and ministry of the church.
  • We affirm that Christians gain assurance of salvation by cherishing the promise of the gospel and by the fruit of the Spirit’s work in the believer’s life.
  • We deny that assurance gained through growth in godliness amounts to a performance-based religion or necessitates an unwholesome spiritual pride.
  • We affirm that Christians can and should experience victories over sin, however limited and partial, and that these victories bring glory to God and bear testimony to the power of His grace.
  • We deny that rejoicing in victories over sin amounts to spiritual pride or performance religion, although Christians may and sometimes do sin in this way.

http://gospelreformation.net/

The Bible & Church Revitalization

In 1980 a young Pastor fresh from seminary arrived at his first pastorate encountering startling realities. Although thinking he was fully aware of the issues at hand, he soon learned this was not the case. When you get “onsite” you soon gain “insight.” Church attendance had diminished from more than 1,000 to an average of 55. There were no children’s Sunday School classes because there were no children. The average age in the congregation exceeded 70 and its past had become glorified nostalgia. On his first Sunday, the service ended at the expected 12:00 hour. As he and his wife made their way to the lobby, amazingly, in spite of the infirmities of age, the congregation had exited and were rapidly emptying the parking lot. The box of church attendance had been checked and they were ready to move on. There were no sounds of fellowship from lingering crowds…only an empty sanctuary and parking lot within five minutes of the benediction. The pastor, who had gone outside to speak to the departing congregation, was embarrassingly locked out of the church building by the equally rapid exit of the part-time church janitor. After breaking into his own church to obtain his Bible and car keys, along with his wife’s belongings, they looked at each other with an increasing realization of how enormous this challenge would be. But, there was more to come.

While all other churches in the area had monthly accounts at the local office supply store, the pastor soon learned his church was excluded and designated as “cash only” due to past payment delays. The first Session meeting revealed the likelihood that of five elders, only two had a personal saving relationship with Christ. The other three, while well-meaning, did not savingly “know the Lord.” Of the two who exhibited spiritual maturity, one was transferred within three months and the other died of leukemia. The church had not met its budget in seven years. Perhaps the most startling event was a phone call from one of the previous nine pastors revealing a tumultuous past. This pastor, while graciously welcoming the new pastor to his charge, asked a strange and probing question. “Did you pray before you accepted this call?” After answering “yes” the obvious question was, “Why do you ask?” The answer was stunning. He informed the new pastor that he believed the church “had the mark of Satan upon it.” He then revealed his reasoning. One pastor had been attacked publicly with a knife by his wife after she discovered his marital unfaithfulness with a church member. Another pastor had demitted the ministry due to prescription drug addiction. Yet another pastor had left the ministry because of his wife’s alcoholism. The caller declined to describe his own experience except to say, “you really don’t want to know what happened to me.” This information, along with other “horror stories,” obviously was not encouraging for a new pastor in his first pastorate. So what do you do?

While grateful for his seminary education he realized he had not been prepared for this moment. But thankfully his seminary preparation had been framed by a pervasive commitment to the inerrancy and the sufficiency of God’s Word. So to his study and the Scripture he went. I can verify all of the above since I was this young Pastor. Only space limitation prevents an even more astounding profile. So how would God’s sufficient Word instruct me to respond?

Here was a church in decline and its demise imminent. It could be said one flu season would put the church out of business. Even the Presbytery counseled us to sell the property and use the proceeds to plant another church. Yet the neighborhood was full of unreached people. The daily vandalization of the church revealed two factors. One, the neighborhood viewed the church as a derelict unused building. Two, the neighborhood knew of its presence. Could this church be revitalized? Knowing that revival is God’s work and I could preach and pray for revival but only the Lord could bring one. I also found a Biblical pathway to lead a church back to spiritual vitality? Let me explain.

As mentioned, this took place in 1980 which also witnessed the rise and proliferation of “church growth” publications. Clearly, these resources were of interest. I devoured them. In doing so a few things became obvious. First, the writers of these publications were well-meaning. Second, most of the proposed remedies were “best practices” drawn from psychological, sociological and demographic analysis. Of course, all of the recommended practices were “checked out” against the Scripture to make sure that no Biblical truths were violated. Yet, very few were actually derived from Scripture. They were commended on the assurance that they would produce “statistical church growth.” That surfaced another concern. While the Bible, in the book of Acts, records “statistical growth” in the church, there is no indication that the leadership focused their ministry philosophy upon statistical church growth. But, the leadership did focus on the spiritual vitality and health of the church with statistical growth recorded as a consequence of the apostolic ministry, not their objective.

Furthermore, in my study, I was intrigued by the recorded expansion of the Kingdom of God through the church and the strategy employed by the Divinely-called and equipped leaders.

First, the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed in Jerusalem by the apostles established the church of Jerusalem (Acts 1-8). Then the Kingdom powerfully expanded as promised by the Lord to Judea and Samaria resulting in the church at Antioch (Acts 9-12). This eventually expanded the Kingdom to the world through another epicenter at Ephesus in Asia Minor (Acts 13-28). At each step of the ever-expanding Kingdom through vibrant and healthy churches, statistical growth was the result of Gospel vitality furthered through the effective ministry of Gospel-healthy leaders. Closer examination not only verifies this observation but actually reinforces it.

In Acts 13 Saul (soon the Apostle Paul) along with Barnabas are sent by the Church at Antioch on the first missionary journey. They employed a four-fold Gospel ministry strategy expanding the Kingdom to city after city. This recorded strategy was:

  1. Gospel evangelism and discipleship
  2. Gospel Church planting
  3. Gospel deeds of love, mercy and justice
  4. Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized (if prohibited they would leave behind leaders from their team knowing the importance of leadership for the church.)

 Later in Acts 15:36-16:5, after the conclusion of the first General Assembly of the New Testament Church, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they take a second missionary journey. The narrative then records their “sharp disagreement” as to whether John Mark should go with them. The result is two mission teams instead of one. John Mark and Barnabas depart on their ministry while Paul takes Silas and later recruits Timothy departing upon his second missionary journey. Interestingly, Paul, on this extraordinary initiative, not only repeated the four-fold strategy of expanding the Gospel of the Kingdom but he intentionally added another – Gospel church revitalization – fulfilling his repeatedly stated objective “to return and strengthen the churches.”

Paul’s strategy of church revitalization is clearly not embraced by today’s denominations who for the most part leave struggling churches to fend for themselves or superintend their closing while pursuing the planting of other churches. Paul, in contrast, intentionally and strategically sought to “strengthen the churches” who were stalled, plateaued or declining by leading them to spiritual health and vitality.

Furthermore, my study uncovered an intriguing case study of church revitalization by focusing upon the checkered history of the Church at Ephesus. Paul, at the conclusion of his three year ministry, warned the Ephesian Church leaders that Satan would attack the flock by infiltrating the church leadership with false teachers and leaders (Acts 20:17-35). Paul’s warning went unheeded and in the coming years the church found itself in rapid decline propelled toward extinction by the prophesied false teachers and leaders. Upon Paul’s release from the first Roman imprisonment, when informed of the predicament in the Ephesian church, did not ignore the problem or leave the church to its soon demise but instead sent his best disciple/pastor,Timothy. He also gave him a handbook on church revitalization identified in the Bible as I Timothy. Interestingly, he also sends Titus on an identical ministry of church revitalization with similar instructions found in the book bearing his name. Timothy’s ministry obviously met with success as Ephesus regained its noteworthy and statistically verified effective ministry even producing multiple churches throughout Asia Minor some later numbered with the churches under the charge of the Apostle John in the book of Revelation 50+ years later. Yet, as Revelation 2:1-7 reveals, the church at Ephesus is in need of revitalization again. Our Lord informs John, by the Holy Spirit, that Ephesus still has the forms of faithfulness but is now missing the passion of its “first love.” In fact, four of the seven churches listed are in need of church revitalization. Christ, the Great Shepherd, who would leave a flock to search for one wondering sheep now shows that He will pursue a wondering flock as well.

While sitting in my study facing the challenge of a dying church, the Biblical roadmap to revitalization given by the Head of the Church Himself, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and a pillar of the church, the Apostle John, seemed to leap off of the pages of Scripture. There in Christ’s passionate call of revitalization to the Ephesus Church, a three-fold paradigm (roadmap) for leaders is delineated.

Remember – Repent – Recover.

  • Remember from where you have fallen.
  • Repent of your sin.
  • Recover the first things.

 Interestingly, this Divinely-designed three-fold revitalization paradigm consistently reflects the Divinely-designed three-fold emphasis in the Covenant Meals of Renewal. From the Old Covenant, the Passover meal called God’s Covenant people to “remember” the Lord who delivered them from bondage, “repent” (cleaning out the leaven) and “recover” the first things by taking up their staff to follow the Lord of Glory. Likewise, the New Covenant meal, the Lord’s Supper, commands His people, “remember” our Lord’s atoning sacrifice, “repent” through self-examination and “recover” the first things through the vitality of a Gospel proclaiming life until He returns.

How does a Pastor lead a church to embrace this Biblical paradigm of church revitalization? Again, the sufficiency of God’s Word manifested itself readily. Christ who had promised – “I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” and had prescribed how He would build His church and how the leaders whom He had called could lead His church back to the foundations of Gospel health and vitality also profiled how this three-fold paradigm of “Remember, Repent and Recover the first things could be implemented.

The ten Biblical strategies employed by Paul, John, Timothy and Titus affirm how the three-fold paradigm of church revitalization was to be implemented.

REMEMBER

Strategy #1 – Learn from the Past to live in the present and lead the change to the future.

REPENT

Strategy #2 – Godly repentance modeled by leaders and penetrating the congregation. Almost always when churches are in decline there is “sin in the camp” that is being covered up that needs to be confessed up.

RECOVER THE FIRST THINGS

Strategy #3 – Christ-centered and Gospel-driven – the First of the First things (I Cor. 15:1-5)

Strategy #4 – Personal Gospel-saturated spiritual formation of the leaders and the leadership

Strategy #5 – The ministry of persistent intercessory and protracted revival prayer

Strategy #6 – The ministry of the Word preached

Strategy #7 – The Biblical mission and vision

Strategy #8 – Leadership multiplication and mobilization

Strategy #9 – Small group disciple-making

Strategy #10 – The Great Commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment – to live you have to give.

In summary let’s establish three church revitalization maxims distilled from God’s Word and discovered in the crucible of life while facing the leadership challenge of a dying church.

Church revitalization is not simply a good idea – it is a Biblical mandate affirmed by Christ and demonstrated by the Apostles as a ministry strategy which was used to “shake the world” with the Gospel of the Kingdom.

 The evangelical has a net loss of 3500 churches in North America over the last 20+ years with 88 to 91% of the churches demonstrably in decline, stagnant or dying. While church planting is crucial to the strategy of fulfilling the Great Commission so also is church revitalization. Instead of closing more churches than we are planting why not close less which then allows us to plant more because there are more healthy churches to reproduce new ones.

The objective is not church growth. It is church health.

The church is called the Body of Christ in Scripture. To illustrate, think of your children. You know God has put within their body a DNA which determines their measured bodily growth. Your responsibility is not to alter their DNA but to lead them to health and vitality through a three-fold parental paradigm of nourishment, rest and exercise. Churches like people can become fascinated with bodily growth. Note how athletes obsessed with growth use steroids to increase their size and strength. As they inject the steroids they are ultimately injecting death. In contrast, some churches will say “no” to the church growth mantra that “big is good and small is bad” by believing the inverse, “small is good and big is bad.” When we do that with our physical bodies this results in hospitals containing entire wings caring for those who believe that smallness is desirable and consequentially are dying with eating disorders which eventually lead to their body actually eating itself to death, organ by organ. If church growth becomes the objective it will eventually leads to the pragmatic decisions of injecting “cultural steroids” into the church body. So worship becomes entertainment. Membership becomes customer service. The salvation message becomes the prosperity Gospel or the self-esteem Gospel. This will likely result in a statistical increase initially but a compromised message and methods for growth will eventually destroy the church body. Churches that react to such compromised pragmatism by taking pride in their smallness will soon turn upon themselves and be destroyed by implosion. The answer is not a church that is five miles wide and one inch deep nor a church which is one inch wide and five miles deep. The answer is a Christ-centered, Gospel-driven, Spirit-filled, Bible-shaped, God-glorifying church contextually growing five miles wide and five miles deep.

Statistical growth is a normal affirmation of the Biblical priority of spiritual vitality leading to functional effectiveness.

“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

The Spiritual vitality described as the Word of the Lord grew” leads to the functional growth of the church in worship, evangelism and discipleship which consequentially leads to statistical growth – “the numbers increased.”

The objective of the Biblical paradigm of church revitalization is simply yet profoundly a God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Holy-Spirit empowered, Gospel-driven and Bible-shaped church expanding not by a slavish faith in marketing plans but an intentional commitment to a disciplemaking spiritual fitness plan as described in the healthy vital church of Jerusalem.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any h ad need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number cay by day those who were being saved.”

(Acts 2:42-47)

Here is the profile of the Jerusalem Gospel healthy church distilled:

Worship – Our ministry of UpReach to God – praising God in the Temple

Evangelism – Our ministry of OutReach to the world – the Lord added to their number daily

Loving with purpose – Our ministry of InReach to one another – they were together, selling their property and possessions giving to any who was in need.

Learning with disciple-making – Our ministry of DownReach to ourselves – they were devoted to the Apostles teaching.

While we rightly value the highly acclaimed and pioneering ministries of church planters should we not also intentionally acclaim and equip those like Timothy, Titus and John who are called to the ministry of church revitalization which is not injecting the death of cultural steroids with a compromised message and thoughtless pragmatic methods but an intentional employment of the Christ-given church revitalization paradigm employed with the Ten Biblical Strategies that returns Gospel health and vitality to stagnant churches.

Remember – Repent – Recover the first things.

Some Obvious Yet Drastic Implications of the Current Campaign to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage with the Complicity and Coercion of the Federal Court System of the United States Government

The rapid cultural transformation to mainstream the practice of homosexuality now being accelerated by the Federal Court initiative to redefine marriage affirming homosexuality is on the one hand startling but on the other predictable. The decision of the Supreme Court to strike down the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has predictably opened the flood gates for the same-sex marriage movement designed to legitimize homosexuality. This tsunami wave to moralize the immoral has now engulfed 17 states and has been assisted by nine separate federal court rulings against targeted states that had previously passed constitutional affirmations of the historic definition of marriage as a covenantal, monogamous, heterosexual, and conjugal relationship. The implications are incalculable and almost enumerable but here are 7 to consider. They are selected in light of the undeniable fact that each will now become a thread woven into the social and cultural fabric of the United States. All of them will be applauded by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda proponents and will be affirmed by the secular progressives as a necessary cultural evolution. I am convinced if unchallenged these predictable consequences will soon signal the demise of what was once an imperfect but significantly blessed national heritage.

 The Seven Implications

  1. The sexual choices of citizens in the US will now be legally defined as a civil right to be affirmed and protected. Furthermore, these sexual choices will also become the controlling identity factor of an individual’s existence. In other words, one’s sexual behavior will now be considered a civil right. Initially this effort was designed to promote the acceptability of homosexuality but the rejection of the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic (sexual activity belongs in the context of a heterosexual marriage) required to accomplish the normalization of homosexuality removes the framework necessary to prevent other sexual aberrations as protected civil rights. Presently, the only legal restraint to sexual practices outside of marriage is adult consent. But without a doubt even this restraint will soon be declared immoral and illegal. Previously immoral sexual acts will now be declared not only moral but also a Civil right to be constitutionally protected. Furthermore, the idea of defining your essential identity by your sexual behavior would have been considered nonsense but now we have established a predominately sexualized culture where one’s existence is signified and defined by their sexual behavior – (I am homosexual, or I am transsexual, or I am heterosexual, etc.). The identity list now becomes endless as indicated by Facebook’s recent creation of 56 sexually defined identity choices. I’m not sure how or why they would stop at 56 but I will predict that they can’t and won’t. Of course, the sanity of the Biblical world and life view declaring our identity in life as having been created in the image of God as male and female will be a faint echo of a voice from the past. Therefore, the insanity of a national culture of sexual chaos, promiscuity, and aberration will be embraced as normal and a civil right securing the new human sexually defined identity to be legally promoted and protected by the Federal Courts of the United States. This irrational plunge into the abyss of a depraved sexualized culture will soon bring to believers legal challenges determining whether we will “obey God or man.”
  2. We will purposefully dismiss all reputable social science studies universally affirming the obvious fact that children need a two-parent, two-gender, male father and female mother environment for a beneficial and normal process of maturity through adolescence. The family unit as the irreplaceable environment to promote the spiritual, physical, psychological, educational, and economic development of children revealed in God’s Word and affirmed by observable evidences will, of necessity, be relegated to at best, an option. These studies unsurprisingly affirm that the same God who created us in His image also created marriage as a one man and one woman for one life institution. This divinely-designed family structure singularly provides the optimum environment for the well-being of children. This means a healthy culture must embrace and establish as normative families who have both a father and mother committed first to each other as a husband and wife and then to their children for life.
  3. In the name of thoughtless societal experimentation designed to moralize the immoral in a manufactured chaotic culture we will now consign children in this generation and the coming generations to the likelihood of either a fatherless or motherless home. Of course, the secular progressive authors of this mindless agenda will quickly assure us that this is best for everyone including the children in spite of all the documented evidence to the contrary. The cultural landscape will increasingly be dominated (to the demise of children) by same sex and soon to come, poly-amorous marriages with multiple gender combinations resulting in irrational and destructive family configurations as a consequence.
  4. We will officially dismiss the historic definition and declaration of marriage pronounced at the conclusion of a sacred wedding ceremony – “upon the consummation of this union before God I pronounce you husband and wife” – Obviously the dismissal of this benedictory valediction will be necessary since we will have redefined marriage in a manner which precludes the act of consummation. In a same-sex marriage it is biologically impossible to have a true husband and true wife and therefore a conjugal relationship. The religious and historically legal “sign and seal” of marriage by sexual consummation will be rendered meaningless and impossible. The marriage bed consisting of one man and one woman for one life will be replaced by inventive and vacuous sexuality in a likely soon-to-be crowded marriage bed of multiple sexually aberrant participants – same sex or otherwise.
  5. We will have dismissed the singular essential foundational block of a society and culture – the monogamous, heterosexual, conjugal covenantal marriage – which provides the necessary environment for human flourishing and the development of future generations. The tried and true creation ordinance of marriage will now become at best, a possible option and at worst, a rejected relic of the past. This previously unimaginable phenomena is the future present even though the historic definition of marriage has provided a culture which has more than doubled our lifespans while advancing living standards and providing a stable social order, all of which has produced an unprecedented era of beneficial human flourishing.
  6. We will have intentionally returned to the sexual and familial anarchy of our pagan barbarian forbearers. In other words, we are not entering into a Brave New World but re-entering a Cowardly Old World. This Old World of paganism from which Christianity had rescued our ancestors and progressively transformed their existence (and thus ours) from disorder to order has now become the new objective for today’s cultural elite – back to the future. In other words, the Biblical framework which, by consensus, had guided the moral direction of the culture in general and marriage/family in particular will be rejected for the familial anarchy of our pagan ancestors in order to promote sexual aberrancy as normal. This illogical agenda is now called a cultural progressive evolution although, in reality, it is a cultural regressive devolution.
  7. Finally and ominously, we will arrogantly position ourselves under the inevitable righteous judgment of God as previous nations and city states such as “Sodom,” “Gomorrah,” the “cities of the plains” and Empires who have long since disappeared. That judgment if not by Divine edict is inevitable by Divinely ordained consequences for those who engage in high-handed rebellion against God’s law. Those nations who knowingly break God’s law will inevitably be broken by God’s law. “What a man (nation) sows he (we) will also reap.”

Is there a way out? There is one, but only one. It is not a political movement although it would affect politics. The answer is simply, but profoundly found only in a Gospel awakening – a Gospel awakening which produces not only the life changing and culture enhancing blessings of redeeming and transforming grace through the saving work of Jesus Christ in the lives of men and women but also the work of common grace through the witness of God’s people “growing in grace.” But there will be no Gospel awakening until Christ’s church determines that to be “in the world” does not require us to be “of the world.” There will be no Gospel awakening without a loving, compassionate yet clear and distinctive witness of the redeeming and transforming grace of God in the lives of His people which alone will return the Church to its calling of being both “salt and light” in an “evil and adulterous generation.”

Finally, no such revival will be found in the Church to ignite a Gospel awakening until there is a Reformation within the leadership of Christ’s church. Specifically, a Reformation producing Pastors who in life and from their pulpits faithfully proclaim “the whole counsel of God.” Our great need is the movement of God’s grace providing persistent prayer and Christ-consumed, Bible-filled, Holy Spirit-empowered, Gospel-saturated preaching from the pulpits of local churches. O Lord, please begin with me.

 

 

Concerning the Insider Movement

In light of the determination of the 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to refer back to the Ad Interim Study Committee the matter of the Insider Movement without action to adopt the excellent, well thought out study report, and while many decisions of PCA churches have been placed on hold pending this report and action of the General Assembly, looking to the General Assembly and Mission to the World to lead us in this issue; and

Having received requests for assistance for understanding and guidance from a number of congregations in the (PCA) and from others outside of the PCA concerning the Insider Movement in general and its theology and philosophy of ministry in particular as it relates to discipleship and evangelism among the people of the religions of the world; and

Realizing that certain aspects of the Insider Movement have fostered an apostate Christology by presenting Jesus Christ as something less than the eternal Son of God and have encouraged Muslims who have professed conversion to Christ to retain their religious identity thereby becoming “secret believers or followers of Jesus” which results in producing professing converts framed more by their existing cultural/religious surroundings than the inerrant Word of God; and

Because Islam as well as all other religions of this world are inventions of man to save himself by his religious endeavors and realizing the absolute necessity to reject and repent of these delusional religions which not only are inadequate to save men and women from their sins and be made right with God but are also blasphemous and deceptive in their false promises and assurances; therefore

the Session of the Briarwood Presbyterian Church does accept the majority study report of the Ad Interim Study Committee as a well thought-out theological, exegetical, and practical resource of use by PCA churches and members; and furthermore to respond with assistance to those who have requested are would desire assistance in the future both within and without the PCA; the Briarwood Session summarizes the analysis, teaching and recommendations found in the Report with the following statements:

All religious spiritual belief systems other than Christianity are ultimately and definitively false as well as deceptive and therefore of no value as it relates to forgiveness of sin and salvation from the lost-fallen estate of mankind.  While recognizing that in God’s common grace there may be technically accurate statements within any religion there is no ultimate redeeming value within the religion. Therefore these systems do not need to be reformed, but forsaken; and all followers within these religions must repent and forsake them and must put their faith in the substitutionary redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Son of Man ALONE to be saved from both the guilt and power of sin; and

People who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, second member of the Trinitarian Godhead, should continue to live among the people of their former religious belief system as a faithful witness to the truth of the Gospel and the saving-cleansing power of the Lord Jesus Christ, resolved in humble reliance upon God’s grace not to be conformed to the world in which they  live but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind and;

People who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, second member of the Trinitarian Godhead, should not continue to live out non-biblical religious practices, rituals and practices that are a part of their family, community and former religious belief system, such as praying for the dead, animal sacrifice, or pilgrimages for holiness, etc; and

People who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, second member of the Trinitarian Godhead, are permitted to utilize biblical forms and practices even though those forms and practices are a part of their former religious community, such as prayer, alms giving,  and assembling with other believers, etc; and

People who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, second member of the Trinitarian Godhead, are expected by men and required by God to live by God’s standards for His people, such as ethics, morality, witness, love, compassion as revealed in His inerrant Word and enabled by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit; and

Bible translations that remove from the text references to God as “Father” or Jesus as “Son”, thereby compromising the Biblically revealed economy and relationships within the Trinity and therefore the divinity of Jesus, the doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ, and the doctrine of Scripture, are unfaithful to God’s revealed Word.

Based upon the work that the Global Ministry Team at Briarwood has done, Briarwood would offer these practical suggestions as well as cautions to local PCA Church Mission Committees as they evaluate their present ministry involvements and as they move forward we would share the following observations:

  1. We found it necessary to make a clear distinction between the philosophical, methodological, and theological position of field personnel who are doing the work of ministry and the philosophical, methodological, and theological policies of the organization under which they serve.
    1. It was discovered that in some circumstances it was either the official position of the organization which was incompatible with our position and at other times it was the actions of the field personnel that was unacceptable.
  1. We came to the position that supporting the ministry being done by personnel who had no Insider tendencies, if they serve under an organization that encourages or permits such tendencies, still put us in the  position of supporting “Insider” philosophy, methodology  and theology,  or being identified with  and endorsing such unacceptable philosophy and theology.
  1. We asked to see the organization’s official statement on the contextualization of the Gospel.   If there was not a written statement, we urged them to put in write the principles by which ministry were being done.
  1. Then we evaluated the official position statement of each organization against the statement / position of Briarwood.
  1. We asked the heads of all the organizations, under which we supported ministry, if any of their field personnel functioned in ministry among peoples of other religions at a C-5 level on the contextualization scale or beyond.
  1. We asked how personnel was handled who functioned in ministry outside the official position statement of the organization.
  1. The hard decision was made to suspend all financial support to all ministry personnel serving under any  organization with an unacceptable position statement, a statement incompatible with the Briarwood position.
  1. We gave a full explanation to each organization involved, seeking to be very clear as to what issues within their official statements was unacceptable; and we  offered alternative wording to improve the statements and  to make  their statements theological biblical.
  1. In some instances official changes were made, Praise the Lord, and we were able to re-engage in ministry partnership with the reinstatement of support; however, in some instances no changes were made and we disassociated ourselves and  discontinued  support completely and in some cases wording was changed but practice remained in violation of the Briarwood position statement.

This has been a health, ministry-strengthening, painful process.   But we have a better understanding of the Word of God as well as God’s purposes and plans for world evangelization.

The Session of the Briarwood would gladly make available the work of our Global Ministry Team and provide any assistance to whoever might request it.