Thursday, August 23, 2007

Turning Triumph Into Tragedy: The "Church"'s Abandonment of the Gospel

With all my talk about T.U.L.I.P.s and R.O.S.E.s lately, I somehow forgot to provide any follow-up regarding the recent 2nd annual Stone Mountain Conference on Reformed Theology. As I mentioned in my post leading up to the conference, the theme this year was: "Recovering the Gospel: The Crucial Need of The Church". I won't dare attempt to review the entire conference for you here; but if you would like to listen to the four presentations you may listen to them at the Southwest Christian Fellowship website.

I would like to focus on the last question that was addresses by the conference speakers (Pastor Michael Leach, Pastor Robert Benson, Pastor Roger Skepple and Rev. Anthony Carter) during the final Q&A session. Yours truly submitted this question and the responses to it accurately reflect how far too many "churches" have deviated from the mission given to it by the Lord Jesus Christ. My question was this: "Many professing Christians seem to believe that since they are saved they have the Gospel in their back pocket; it is a done deal. Now they believe that they must go forth and conquer and take authority for the Kingdom. Is this valid? How should we respond"?

Pastor Leach, in his response, stated that this idea is called: "Triumphalism". It also goes under the title of "Dominionism", "Kingdom Triumphalism" and "Kingdom Dominionism". Whatever the title, it is NOT Scriptural. This idea has as it basic tenet that the church is here to take over. As part of that taking over, Christians (having gotten the business of getting saved out of the way) are to go into society and take back the territory that satan has stolen from them. We are to go back into the sectors of business, education and government and show 'em how to do things God's way. It even goes much further. This "triumphalism" even goes to the extreme of preaching that the church holds the key to Christ's return and that all of Jesus' authority has been given to the church to use on earth while He reigns in heaven.

While we certainly are to glorify God in everything aspect of our lives, the triumphalist ideal gives new meaning to the old cliche: " give a n@!#$% a rope and he'll want to be a cowboy"! Proponents of the triumphalist doctrine such as, Earl Paulk and Rod Parsley, believe that the church will one day rule the world thereby allowing Jesus to return. The saddest part of this whole mentality is that while all this conquering and taking authority over the earth is going on; very little preaching of the Gospel and the conquering of personal sin is going on. Whatever happened to "small beginnings"? There is much more to be said about "Triumphalism". Consider this article:Kingdom Triumphalism.

Even more piercing was Pastor Skepple's response. Pastor Skepple stated that those who adhere to the triumphalist doctrine are preaching a gospel; but they are not preaching THE Gospel. And according to the Apostle Paul: "even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed"(Galatians 1:8-9). Skepple warned that "any movement that doesn't allow you to say what Paul says in this passage, you know is false".

Pulling no punches, Skepple further cited Romans 5:1-4:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have* peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and exalt in hope of the glory of God.And not only that, but we also exalt in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;and perseverance, character; and character, hope."

Emphasizing that as Christians we are commanded not only "to rejoice in hope of the glory of God" but also to rejoice in tribulations, Skepple stated that "any movement that does not advocate or support exalting in tribulation, difficulty, hardship, trial, failure; any movement that does not allow for the exaltation in tribulation, you know is unbiblical . . ." Strong words . . . TRUE words!

Another unfortunate outgrowth of this triumphalist thinking has been the transformation of the church into the corporation. Churches now boast of not being churches but being businesses. Pastors have traded being under-shepherds for becoming CEO's. Inevitably, the church ceases to be house of prayer and spiritual healing and now becomes the clearinghouse of networking, finance, and economic empowerment. How quickly is the lesson of the children of Israel forgotten. In their frenzy for position and power these triumphalist followers blend the faith of Christianity with the savvy of Wall Street, just as the Israelites blended faith in Yahweh with the religions of the Canaanites. It's called syncretism and idolatry and God hates them both. So much so, that He sent His people into captivity under those they so wanted to be like!

I hear your objection, "God never rescinded His original mandate to man that he subdue the earth and have dominion over it". Nice try. First of all, triumphalism is an absolute perversion of the creation mandate. If you reread Genesis chapter one, you'll notice that this mandate is given prior to Adam's fall (it was Eve's fall to0, why do we keep leaving her out!:-)); therefore this mandate was issued to all mankind not just Christians. Every man and woman from Adam forward was supposed to be keeping this mandate. Marriage, procreation, Sabbath-keeping was intended for everybody. Christians do not have a monopoly on these things. Secondly, triumphalism is a self-glorifying theology. It desires the benefits of the Gospel without the suffering of the Gospel. It craves victory now without having to follow the steps of Jesus. Here is the truth: following Jesus inevitably leads to a crucifixion . . . ours! We claim to want to follow Christ, but when we get to the cross we suddenly want to take a detour. The Apostle Paul made it crystal clear: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake . . ." (Phil 1:29).

We naturally want a crown without the cross, but the writer of Hebrews said,

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.' It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline"?

According to Apostle Peter unjust suffering is the way to glory. The truth is, not many of us here in "persecution-free America" are worthy of it (me included).

We must return to the expository preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. True power exists nowhere else. The Gospel is THE POWER of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . . for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'the just shall live by faith'". Notice, "the righteousness of God" is revealed every time the Gospel is preached. How often do you think God's righteousness should be revealed? Notice, "the just shall LIVE by faith". "Live" here is an ongoing process. "Faith" is the fuel for the just person's living. How many times should we continue to hear the Gospel, even after we have been born again? Once for every sin we commit! That ought to cover it!

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

T.U.L.I.P. vs. R.O.S.E. (Part IV)

For whom did Jesus Christ die? That is the question. Did He die with no one in particular in mind? Did He just intend to put His sacred atoning blood up for grabs so that any "Joe" off the street could choose to treasure it or trash it? Or did He "foreknow", intimately know, each and every individual for whom He would make the supreme sacrifice? Did He sovereignly ordain that each person whom He foreknew would be granted the new birth and given the gift of faith? Let's look to Genesis.

In Genesis 3:15 we have what has come to be called, "the proto-evangelion". This is our LORD Yahweh's first pronouncement of the coming Messiah:

"And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."

It is evident in this passage that there are two "seeds", the "seed" of the woman (Eve) and the "seed" of the serpent (satan). For those of you who are jumping ahead and saying, "the 'seed' refers to Jesus!"; yes that is correct. But do I have to go get a Hebrew grammar text and demonstrate that "seed" in this context has a dual application? Don't test me, cause I'll do it! "Seed" refers to the woman's ultimate "seed", Jesus; and it also refers to each of the woman's offspring throughout time.

The two "seeds" from this point in Scripture forward are embroiled in an epic struggle. We observe this struggle as it is played out between: Abel and Cain, Jacob and Esau, Israel and everybody else. The "seed" of the woman being God's people and the "seed" of the serpent being those enslaved to sin and satan. I hear an objection coming, "we all are enslaved to sin and satan prior to salvation". This is true; but thanks be unto God we have received the "adoption as sons". So this "adoption" that we receive necessarily identifies us as the "seed" of the woman. Question: as with any parent who desires to adopt children, does God have the right to choose whom He will adopt and whom He will not? We find no fault in the couple who chooses to adopt child "A" over child "B". Why do we find fault if the ruler of the universe exercises the same right? The adopting couple chooses based on something they see in the child. God would find nothing in us to make us worthy of His choice, but does so based on His own sovereign will. Who chooses more wisely?

But who did Jesus die for? The "seed" of the woman or the "seed" of the serpent? The "seed" of the serpent by nature hate God. They detest His law. They would destroy Him, if they could. The Jezebels, the Manassehs, the Herods, the Neros, the Nietzsches, the Russells of history demonstrate this. Did Jesus die for them? Millions of the serpent's seed died never even having heard of Jesus? Whole barbaric civilizations came and went before Jesus was ever born and died in their sin knowing nothing of redemption. Did Jesus die for them? Could they make a "decision" for Christ never having heard of Him? What about those who were wiped out in the flood, did Jesus die for them? Those whose "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5)? Such are the "seed" of the serpent.

The "seed" of the woman, according to Scripture have been chosen from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit are given the gift of saving faith (Eph 2:4;8-9). These have been granted repentance (II Timothy 2:25) and then place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for the salvation of their souls. For such, and such alone, has the LORD Jesus Christ shed His precious blood.

There is also much debate over the use of words like "all", whole", and "world" in Scripture. Many point to these words and argue that they indicate that God's intent in sending Jesus to the cross was for every human being to have the opportunity to be saved. Hogwash. Have you ever said (or heard some one else say) something like this: "the whole world is ___________" Did you mean that every human being (past, present and future) was doing "____________" including yourself? And if you did, how did you know? Words like these are often axiomatic, general terms that describe a perceived overall condition. The Bible sometimes uses axioms just like we do today. Consider the following examples.

"And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness"(Numbers 14:2). Did all the children of Israel complain? The babies, Moses' wife, Moses and Aaron themselves.

Picky you say? How about this one?

"The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him" (John 12:19). Had the entire world gone after Jesus? Obviously the Pharisees had not gone after Him. Are they not part of the entire world? What about the ancient aborigines in Australia?

"If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you"
(John 15:19). Did the whole world hate the disciples? Did the disciples hate the disciples? Did Jesus hate the disciples?

Get the picture? Words like those above when used regarding salvation refer to every kind of people. People of every single tribe and tongue and nation; but not every single member of every tribe and tongue and nation. When people try to apply these words to every single human being they habitually forget all those who died prior to Jesus' incarnation. As listed above, these people were long dead before Jesus came. How could they have been included in the "all", the "whole", the "every" or the "world"? Even if everybody since Jesus' death is covered, that leaves out a major chunk of humanity!

Since every single human being (past, present, and future) deserves death and hell, there's no sin in that. Some receive mercy, some receive justice, no one receives injustice. If you have been saved by Jesus Christ, rejoice! You have received mercy! If you think you had anything to do with it, you'll learn better in glory!

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!

P.S. I highly recommend "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" by John Owen. It's a tough read, but you will be highly blessed. Trust me! :-)