Sunday, October 08, 2006

Spiritual Deadness: Backsliding Part 5 of 7

5. Spiritual and intellectual ignorance of the truth leads to the fatal plague of spiritual deadness in the church. God’s people must begin with themselves. What happened to the times when people were often weekly moved, shaken, and convicted by the Lord? Should they not confess today, "Oh, that it could happen once a month or once a year"? Where are the active, current exercises of spiritual life? "Oh," they confess, "It is so dead! And the rest is all spoiled manna."

What should be yearned for here is not some sort of spirituality, or appearance of it. What should be yearned for is not a emotional outburst or over welling of joy. Indeed, as Dan Phillips has pointed out, being spiritually alive may not always be accompanied by feelings or emotion. In fact, when our yearnings are for feelings of "spirituality", or emotions of joy, or emotions of being "on fire for Christ", then what we are actually desiring is satiation of desires of the flesh. That is not to say that God does not often bless us in those ways, it merely means being truly alive spiritually results in yearning for our minds to be set on the things of the Spirit and not to be set upon satifying our desires. In a time when our churches have shunned worship in exchange for "celebrations", it is clear that we are seeking to meet the fleshly desires of those that should be worshipping rather than the commands of THE ONE worthy of worship. We honor Him with our lips, but are hearts [and minds] are far from Him. We worship Him in vain and our teachings are just rules taught by men.

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)
5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Picture of Shackles
What the spiritually alive yearn for is God's truth, to be humbled and awed by His majesty, to be afraid of His justice, to have our minds set upon His will and not our own, and to have our minds set upon His desires and not our own. The spiritually alive yearn to submit themselves to Him, not just as a pheasant would before a nobleman or fuedal leader (read as "Lord"), but as a slave before a master... completely owned. Completely owned...

Is this the view of the people in the church today or do most rebel against His Lordship... His Mastery of our lives? We need to "start with ourselves," wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, [r]emember what we received and heard, keep it, and repent.

Pastor Phil Newton of Southwoods Baptist Church in Memphis, TN points to the Church of Sardis in a sermon [text] [mp3] on Revelation 3:1-6 as the Biblical example of a spiritually dying church. He not only draws out the traits of a church under a "deathwatch", but also gives a prescription for dealing with spiritual deadness in the church.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ignorance, the companion of Indifference: Backsliding Part 4 of 7

We interrupt the regularly scheduled programming to attempt to tie together several concepts floating around out there in the blogosphere. Those concepts are the Lordship of Christ and the role of emotion and feelings in the Christian life.

I believe that the proper balance of mind and heart is what Dan Phillips is straining to describe when he says:

    “You see, I envision another category besides hollow, rote, ritualistic going-through-the-motions on the one hand, and surfing in absolute thralldom to waves of emotion, on the other. There's the category of attitude, of mindset, of frame of mind. There's living from conviction. It may overlap the realm of the emotional, it may cut straight across that realm. It isn't chained to it. It survives it, it goes on -- you go on -- when emotions ebb. And when they ebb, you don't seek them, you seek God.”

To understand the context of what Dan is describing MUST require a proper understanding of Christ’s Lordship.

Os Guinness in Fit Bodies Fat Minds draws the parallel well:

    The first influence that helped to undermine what was left of the Puritan mind and leave its mark on evangelicalism is the polarization of truth, in the sense of a false antagonism between heart and mind…

    Some tension between mind and heart, intellect and emotions, is a recurring theme of Christian history. Yet despite this condition, a hallmark of the Puritan mind was its commitment to the unity of truth and thus to the integration of faith and life, worship and discipleship, faith and learning. All of these things were under the lordship of Christ. Each was a part of its own sphere and calling. None was to be isolated or treated as a favored part of truth.

    This feature was not unique to the Puritans – various periods and schools of Catholic thinking have had the same high aim. But for the early American Puritans it was a direct legacy of the Calvinist wing of the Reformation as it passionately endeavored to return to the New Testament requirements of the lordship of Christ. As the great Calvinist prime minister and pastor Abraham Kuyper was to express it later in Holland, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’ “

    By the early eighteenth century and the time of the later Puritans, however, this passion was cooling and the old false antagonisms were developing – between faith and learning, learning and experience, formality and fervor, a sharp mind and a warm heart. Then when the First Great Awakening occurred, many people emphasized one of the two poles at the expense of the other – faith, with it warm heart, experience, and fervor usually being favored at the expense of learning and a sharp mind.

Hmmmm…. it seems that perhaps this interruption of regularly scheduled programming has provided the perfect segue into the forth stage down the slippery slope:

    4. Indifference produces its close companion on the road of backsliding: ignorance. When we look back to Edwards, Whitefield, Owen, Bunyan, and dozens more of our forefathers and consider that their sermons were understood by the common people, we must fear that what the Lord said of Israel is also true of the church today: “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)

As Os Guinness put it, [These types of errors] “have been widely justified but deadly – such as the only-in-America notion that it is legitimate to separate an acceptance of Christ as Savoir from an acceptance of Christ as Lord (a sorry case of testimony overruling theology.) He goes on:

    All reveal a critical, two-hundred-year flaw in the evangelical mind. As Charles Malik warned in his address at the Billy Graham Center, “The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world. Indeed it may turn out you have actually lost the world.” [Deathrow would like to point out that in reality, what probably occurred is that the world actually won you.]

    Until this flaw is addressed, the antagonisms are overcome, and evangelicals hold to a vision of Christian truth that displays wholeness and integration, evangelical thinking can be faithful neither to the lordship of Christ nor to the intellectually challenges of today’s world.

Amen! and Amen!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hardened Indifference: Backsliding Part 3 of 7

This is part three in a series of seven, the material is taken from the Free Grace Broadcaster distributed by Mt. Zion Online. I have added additional commentary on the topic from Spurgeon that helps demonstrate the slippery slope of backsliding churches and the similarity to the current Emergent movement.
    3. Unbelief leads the church to backslide further into a hardened condition of indifference. It leads us to lose all concern for truth. How many are truly concerned to hear true doctrine from the pulpit, to hear about death in Adam and life of Christ? Are we concerned about guarding the foundational doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? Do we delight to hear of them preached fully as they flow out of the biblical text being expounded?

       We should desire to hear all the rich doctrines of Scripture preached in their fullness, all of which are grounded in the heart of the Gospel, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, as spokes are ground in the hub of the wheel. Are we interested in the doctrines of God’s never-ending love and full redemption through the blood of Christ? Do we care to understand the necessity of the Holy Spirit, justification, sanctification, and perseverance?

       We need to cherish experimental doctrine rather than being indifferent to it. Does it concern us whether we hear about the necessity of saving grace, the fullness of it, and its fruit?

       Finally, we must not be indifferent to hearing about the marks of grace – marks that separate the work of God from the work of man, saving faith from temporary faith, true trembling (Phi 2:12) from devilish trembling (Jam 2:19), and abiding convictions from common convictions.

       We live in a fearfully indifferent and careless time. We must acknowledge that true doctrine is fading more and more in our world and in our hearts. Concern for the truth is disappearing, and most of the distinctions mentioned above are becoming increasingly unknown, even in the minds of church members….Some can no longer see the difference between biblically experiential and outwardly historical marks of grace. They do not take the time to read the works of our forefathers and study the differences; they hear not differences, being indifferent.

       By nature, we care for none of these things. We live on the same level as beasts. Our lives seem to be little more than work, eating, sleeping, and dying. We are bent toward backsliding for our own names’ sake and our own lives. We place self above true doctrine, and this is why we can go on living unconverted.

       God’s people love preaching that is searching, experimental, and discriminatory, no matter how difficult or stressful it may be. By nature, we prefer a false assurance or a presumptuous claim, but God’s people would rather be killed than deceived. They know by experience that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). They know, too, that it is far easier to be deceived than to know truth. Therefore, no flood of tears, no nights of prayer along with God, and not counterfeit message (no matter how close it is to the genuine) will satisfy them. God’s people need more than tears, prayers, repentance, unworthiness, and humility. They need something and someone outside of themselves. The need Christ. The need Christ and His real doctrine burned into their souls by the Holy Spirit. God’s people can never experience it enough. They cry, “Lord, seal it home with Thy Divine stamp of approval that I may know it is Thy doctrine inscribed on the walls of my soul, not my own doctrine – not my own inscriptions, tears, and works.”

       Their lives are characterized by seeking more and more doctrine worked by the Spirit, experienced by the soul, and blessed by heaven. The yearn for the truth that will set them free and drive away doubt with its overwhelming power – a truth that will soften and bless their souls. Such truth comes down from God and leads back up to Him. Is this your desire also, or is your religion nothing but tradition mixed with the common convictions now and then? Does a little religion, a little knowledge, satisfy your conscience, and then do you set your soul aside? Are you content with the scaffolding of religion without knowledge of the heart?

       If you honestly must answer yes, then you are backsliding further every day, every sermon, every Sabbath. It is a hard but real truth: by nature, we are asking the Lord for the shortest way to condemnation. We are bent toward backsliding ourselves directly into hell. May the Lord open our eyes before it is too late!

[Note: The quotes from Spurgeon that follow were put together at least a week before Phil Johnson over at PyroManiacs stole my thunder with his "Weekly Dose of Spurgeon" post, ...the Danger of an Uncertain Trumpet. Oh well, what am I gonna' do? Phil always hogs the best Spurgeon quotes.]

I have little to add that Spurgeon has not already said far more eloquently and impactfully, therefore here are his words:

    [Referring to Zephaniah 3:16-18] The solemn assembly had fallen under reproach. The solemn assemblies of Israel were her glory: her great days of festival and sacrifice were the gladness of the land. To the faithful their holy days were their holidays. But a reproach had fallen upon the solemn assembly, and I believe it is so now at this present moment. It is a sad affliction when in our solemn assemblies the brilliance of the gospel light is dimmed by error. The clearness of the testimony is spoiled when doubtful voices are scattered among the people, and those who ought to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, are telling out for doctrines the imaginations of men, and the inventions of the age. Instead of revelation, we have philosophy, falsely so-called; instead of divine infallibility, we have surmises and larger hopes. The gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is taught as the production of progress, a growth, a thing to be amended and corrected year by year. It is an ill day, both for the church and the world, when the trumpet does not give a certain sound; for who shall prepare himself for the battle?

    If added to this we should see creeping over the solemn assembly of the church a lifelessness, an indifference, and a lack of spiritual power, it is painful to a high degree. When the vitality of religion is despised, and gatherings for prayer are neglected, what are we coming to? The present period of church history is well portrayed by the church of Laodicea, which was neither cold nor hot, and therefore to be spewed out of Christ's mouth. That church gloried that she was rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing, while all the while her Lord was outside, knocking at the door, a door closed against him. That passage is constantly applied to the unconverted, with whom it has nothing to do: it has to do with a lukewarm church, with a church that thought itself to be in an eminently prosperous condition, while her living Lord, in the doctrine of his atoning sacrifice, was denied an entrance. Oh, if he had found admission— and he was eager to find it— she would soon have flung away her imaginary wealth, and he would have given her gold tried in the furnace, and white raiment with which she might be clothed. Alas! she is content without her Lord, for she has education, oratory, science, and a thousand other baubles. Zion's solemn assembly is under a cloud indeed, when the teaching of Jesus and hisapostles is of small account with her. (1887 - MTP)

    There is no room for indifference where the gospel is concerned--it is either the most astounding of impostures, or the most amazing of revelations; no man can safely remain undecided about it, it is too weighty, too solemn to be snuffed at as a matter of no concern. (1866 - MTP)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hardening Unbelief: Backsliding Part 2 of 7

Acts 19:8-9
8And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.

2 Thessalonians 2:13
13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits[a] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

     The Matthew Henry Commentary has this to say, "When we hear of the apostasy of many, it is a great comfort and joy, that there is a remnant according to the election of grace, which does and shall persevere; especially we should rejoice, if we have reason to hope that we are of that number. The preservation of the saints is because God loved them with an everlasting love, from the beginning of the world. The end and the means must not be separated. Faith and holiness must be joined together as well as holiness and happiness. The outward call of God is by the gospel; and this is rendered effectual by the inward working of the Spirit. The belief of the truth brings the sinner to rely on Christ, and so to love and obey him; it is sealed by the Holy Spirit upon his heart. We have no certain proof of any thing having been delivered by the apostles, more than what we find contained in the Holy Scriptures. Let us then stand fast in the doctrines taught by the apostles, and reject all additions, and vain traditions."

We cannot be more sure of anything than the TRUTH contained in the Holy Scriptures.

         2. Worldliness bends the church towards further backsliding and into a hardening condition of unbelief. Jesus Himself complained of His generation. “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented” (Matt 11:16-17).

         Is this not a picture of the church today? If the funeral tune of the Law is preached, how many sinners are mourning? If the wedding tune of the Gospel is proclaimed, how many mourning sinners are brought to rejoicing? In general, we can say that the Law no longer seems to cause trembling, and the Gospel no longer seems to provoke jealousy….Could we confess, “I have become hardened to the Law and to the Gospel – I fear even to hell itself”?

         Even the preaching of hellish damnation is making less and less impression. And heaven? By nature, we do not what that either. An atheist once said, “You can keep your heaven and your hell. Only give me this earth.” We may not dare to voice that, but do we live it with our lives? Unbelief makes us practical atheist. Hell is no longer hell, heaven is no longer heaven, grace is no longer grace, sin is no longer sin, Christ is no longer Christ, God is no longer God, an the Bible is no longer the everlasting Word of God.

         Unbelief also makes us hardened to the truth. We may know the truth in our minds, but it will burn us eternally if it does not become engrafted into our hearts…

"Unbelief" at this stage starts out rather subtlety, but almost always begins by discounting the truth of the scriptures or by denying truth itself. To be a scriptural Christian, how can we deny that there is truth or deny that it can be known, if we are called to and responsible for knowing and believing it? Especially the truth of the scripture... It seems that part of our salvation, the consequences of election, is belief in the truth.

The Emergent Church very clearly stepped upon a slippery slope at worldliness and quickly and predictably "backslid" down the slippery slope to unbelief. After all, belief in uncertainty is really just unbelief all dressed up. It is just a "smile on a dog."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Increasing Worldliness: Backsliding Part 1 of 7

Worldliness seeps into a church and begins it's backslide because the PURPOSE of the church is forgotten or ignored. Somehow we have gotten the mistaken idea that the purpose of the church is a place where cravings can be met, deviancies accepted, and boredom can be entertained instead of a place where God is exalted, man humbled, doctrine taught, others served, and the body of Christ strenthened by every saint serving somewhere. The difference, as Al Mohler has put it, is clear that when you ask if you are building a church, or are you building a crowd. Satan can easily build a crowd, and does so with regularity. Only God and His elect build a church.

       1. When the church begins to backslide, the first visible sign is usually an increase in worldliness. In everyday lives, in conversation, an even in dress and fashion, the spirit of the world begins to infest church circles. What crept ashamedly into the church before begins to walk freely, often covered or overlooked instead of exposed and admonished. The black and white line separating godliness and worldliness becomes increasingly grayer.

       Instead of walking in opposite directions, the world and the church begin to have more in common with each other, much to the church’s detriment. Some of its members begin going to worldly places, taking part in its entertainment, and befriending its people. Some take all kinds of modern media into their homes without even considering what controls they should exercise; consequently, the quickly become addicted to today’s worldly mentality.

       Worldly people, worldly entertainment, worldly customs, worldly places – is this not what Hosea warned against when the Spirit directed him to write, “Ephraim hath mixed himself among the people” (Hosea 7:8)? The sin of increasing worldliness is the church’s first downward and tragic step in the spiral of backsliding.

Phil Johnson in the "Weekly Dose of Spurgeon" on the PyroManiacs blog highlighted Spurgeon's thoughts on how The church should be separate from the world. It is worthy of repeating:

    Great attempts have been made of late to make the church receive the world, and wherever it has succeeded it has come to this result, the world has swallowed up the church. It must be so. The greater is sure to swamp the less.

    They say, "Do not let us draw any hard-and-fast lines. A great many good people attend our services who may not be quite decided, but still their opinion should be consulted, and their vote should be taken upon the choice of a minister, and there should be entertainments and amusements, in which they can assist."

    The theory seems to be, that it is well to have a broad gangway from the church to the world: if this be carried out, the result will be that the nominal church will use that gangway to go over to the world, but it will not be used in the other direction.

Click HERE for more resources on worldliness.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Backsliding Down the Slippery Slope

BackslidingThere are a number of small periodicals that I consistently look forward to and have made an integral part of my personal devotions. Among these are Table Talk, The Founders Journal, and a quarterly jewel that seems to regularly meet and exceed their stated purpose. "To humble the pride of man, to exalt the grace of God in salvation, and to promote real holiness in heart and life."   I am talking about the Free Grace Broadcaster.

     When this issue of the FGB arrived, still fresh in my mind was the discussion of about slippery slopes and a statement that Centuri0n made in the comments. He said, "My point in posting both kinds of slippery slopes (valid and invalid) is that you can make the slippery slope argument if your cause-and-effect chain is solid." I had been mulling those thoughts over and wondered how it applied to the "Emergent Church" debate.

     The theme of the Fall 2006 issue of FGB is "Backsliding" and one of the articles (written by Joel R. Beeke and taking from his book Backsliding: Its Disease and Cure) was titled "Signs of Backsliding Churches". It seems to me that this article very clearly lays out a solid chain of cause-and-effect that bolsters a valid slippery slope argument against the "Emergent Church."

     The content of the article will be posted in a seven part series. See if you agree that "Emergent" doesn’t start to seem an awful lot like "Backsliding." - Isaiah 5:20


    And my people are bent to backsliding from me - Hosea 11:7

         IS THE PRESENT-DAY CHURCH following the Word and ways of the Lord and abhorring all that is otherwise? Is the fear of God, the love for truth and for God’s glory, and the desire to walk according to all God’s commandments prospering among God’s church? Before God and men, we must confess that, honestly, the answer is no. True, there may still be some outward truth, outward growth, and even outward spiritual privileges to an extent that the church of former ages scarcely possessed. But Israel could claim the same things- outward truth, outward growth, outward privileges- and yet they were backsliding...

         A church tends to slide from a strong foundation. Therefore, God calls His church to be aware of how backsliding begins, how it thrives, and how it ends. We must be acquainted with Satan’s devices and methodical plans to bring the church into an abominable, backsliding condition. Under the light of the Holy Spirit, the history of Israel and the church reveals a clear pattern of step-by-step backsliding, a pattern we will consider in closer detail.

    1. When the church begins to backslide, the first visible sign is usually an increase in worldliness.

    2. Worldliness bend the church towards further backsliding and into a hardening condition of unbelief.

    3. Unbelief leads the church to backslide further into a hardened condition of indifference.

    4. Indifference produces its close companion on the road of backsliding: ignorance.

    5. Spiritual and intellectual ignorance of the truth leads to the fatal plague of spiritual deadness in the church.

    6. Spiritual deadness bends backsliding into man-centeredness.

    7. This brings us to the last step of a backsliding church: man-centeredness yields the fruits of an unholy or no holy expectation from God.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


I have been on the inactive reserve list for sometime, hence the dearth of posts on this website. I have been experiencing some major changes in my life lately, all of which are potentially positive, if I keep my mind right about the situations and trust in the Lord. These changes are all legitimate excuses to have neglected posting upon a weblog, especially when you consider that as limited human beings we have to set priorities. I am happy that I prioritized my family above my blog. Nonetheless, I desperately suffer from a lack of contentment. Am I being all that I can be? Am I fulfilling my calling and fully utilizing God’s gifts? My wife jokingly calls it a mid-life crisis. My pastor’s wife says it is a spiritual crisis. In many ways, I guess they are both right. My pastor sort of smiles understandingly when I talk to him and seems behave as if he thinks the Lord is leading me on a path that only HE can, and mostly just quotes Bible verses that I need to reflect upon without providing much explanation or help beyond that. The verses he quotes end up giving me the eerie feeling that he (my pastor, who is only slightly older than I am) has been where I am now… and is also satisfied that the Lord has me right where HE wants me.

In light today’s post by Dan Phillips over at the Pyromaniacs Blog, I guess that it is not so bad that I feel “trapped” by Him. I have indeed been “brought low” and cry out to the Lord, “Do anything, but don't leave me to myself!"

As Christians, perhaps we should not be in a perpetual state of discontentment. But, righteous lack of contentment may very well be one of God’s tools to bring about progressive sanctification.

Paradoxically, I feel like every fiber of my being screams out, “HERE I AM LORD! SEND ME!” and yet HE still has not said GO.

If you are familiar with the book Pilgrim’s Progress, then you will understand what I mean when I say that I feel like I am trapped in the Interpreter’s House sitting between the children “Passion” and “Patience.”

Pray that I find the wisdom I need to develop the patience required while waiting upon the Lord.