5 reasons people walk away from church

by Jesse Johnson, The Cripplegate

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In my fifteen years as a pastor, I’ve seen my fair share of people who have left the church. Some have left the churches where I’ve been on staff for other churches—the sort of greener pasture mentality, you could say—and others have left the church all together. Its that second category that fascinates me the most.

Why would someone leave the church? I’ve kept a little journal over the years, and when I’ve followed up with someone who has left the church for no church (as opposed to simply transferring their membership somewhere else), I’ve jotted down why. This exercise has served as one-part prayer journal, one-part sociological survey.

Recently I read through those names. Looking back on it, five main reasons stand out why people leave the church for no church:

1. Internet/multi-site/midweek/home group.

I’ve known quite a few people whose initial stop after leaving church has been some sort of “almost church.” What I mean by that is a group that is like a church, without actually being a church. Think anything from a home-group study to a midweek “young adults” group to an internet church.

I say this is their “initial” stop because they generally don’t last long there. Either the group folds, the young adults grow up, or the patient develops an immunity to the internet church virus. These aren’t long-term alternatives to church, but I’ve known a few people who have tried.

2. Relational Isolation

Sometimes people try church for a while, and they just don’t develop relationships with other there. They attend Sunday after Sunday, but after several months, they just don’t feel like they know people there. Others seem so plugged-in, with their friendships, ministries, and long-term relationships. Over time, the new person starts to think, “this just isn’t working.”

I’m not saying the blame for this is on the church. The truth is, the person probably isn’t availing themselves of the opportunities to grow. Its possible they just don’t know where to start though, and I know several people who have simply given up trying.

3. Negative Association

The more the true church gets known as standing against culturally accepted sins, the more likely it is that some people will simply leave. Over the last three or four years (ever since the Obergefell decision), I’ve had people attend church for a few weeks, then simply ask, “Wait a minute…is this one of those churches that is against same-sex marriage?”

I’m actually thankful for that cultural clarity, because it helps reinforce the narrow gate at the front end of a person’s relationship with Christ.

4. Not being fed

This is the  “there are no good churches where I live” crowd, and its always humbling as a pastor to have someone say that after being at your church! These lines vary from the patently untrue (eg., “you never talk about Jesus”) to the truth hurts (eg. “you hardly ever talk about grace”). The common denominator in this that I’ve heard is that the person has in their mind some kind of teaching that they want to get out of church, but they just can’t find a place that scratches that itch.

While in some cases there may be some truth to this (empty pulpits do lead to empty pews), but I think many of these four groups are just reflecting symptoms, when its possible there is a root cause:

5. Unregenerate

The truth is, the underlying heart issues today are essentially the same as in the NT—many people leave the church because they are not regenerate. They simply have never been born again.

For that reason, they don’t love fellowship with other believers, and they don’t feel like they have anything in common with believers who are not their age/ethnicity. So they gravitate toward a group that is more homogeneous, looking for some point of contact with others. Or they simply give up trying to make friendships with people who are friends with Jesus.

In other cases, they are unwilling to stand for truth in a world that is drifting away from it. They have counted the cost, and come up short. They listen to sermons where the law leads to gospel, but they can’t hear the gospel because their ears blocked out the law.

Its not the case in every situation, but many who leave our churches just weren’t saved to begin with. Maybe they grew up in church, or maybe they have been there for days or decades. But at the end of their time there, they didn’t have a relationship with Christ.

I think this basic reality is a reminder of God’s sovereignty in salvation and the pastor’s impotency to save people through is own effort. Often we are prone to thinking, “God, if you just give me a few opportunities to follow up with this person, and answer their questions, become their friend, then they will certainly become a Christian.” Then a dozen conversations later, they walk away. Its not that pastors or churches did something wrong; more likely its that the problem is not one that can be fixed by man.

What about you? What are some reasons you’ve heard people give for leaving church altogether?

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries

By Pastor Gary Gilley, Southern View  Gospel & Think on These Things Ministries (TOTT)

TOTT Ministries publishes really well written articles concerning contemporary issues facing today’s church. The two most recent articles address the topic of this blog post. They represent a careful and honest  examination of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)  covering NAR’s

  • Historical Roots and Foundation,
  • Theological Distinctives,
  • Infiltration into Mainstream Evangelicalism,
  • A Biblical Examination,
  • and Conclusion

All of the information in these articles is carefully presented and referenced in great detail. Due to the length of the material it is not practical to post them in their entirety in this blog. Instead, I offer you the linked to the online articles:

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 1

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 2

Whether you recognize the term NAR or not,  You will recognize many of NAR’s theological distinctives, as well as the names of well know NAR proponents.

I pray that God will bless your reading!

Sermons and Pep Rallies

Has anyone else noticed the similarities between some of today’s ‘sermons’ and high school pep rallies, or am I just nuts?

Remember those pep rallies in which we were told to say/repeat stuff at the command of whoever was leading it? 

I jst love stened to yet another sermon/talk delivered at a pupular megachurch in which the folks in the pews/theater,seats are being told now and again ‘everyone say’ or ‘can you say’ something (you fill it in).

Regretably, none of these instances has anything to do with scripture. No one is collectively reading scripture or reciting an inportant creed. They are just being told to repeat or say something the speaker has chosen for them., just like at the high school peprallies I remember.

Sad, really sad.

Food for thought on a Sunday morning.

Engaging the Culture and Robert E. Lee

“If those who hate the Word of God can succeed in getting Christians to be embarrassed by any portion of the Word of God, then that portion will continually be employed as a battering ram against the godly principles that are currentlyunder attack. In our day, three of the principle issues are abortion, feminism, and sodomy.” – Doug Wilson

That was a very interesting and I think true statement made by Pastor Doug Wilson in an intriguing article that can be read here.

The Bible , the Constitution, and the Law Regarding Immigration Bans

I came across a really good article that discussed the the Bible, the Constitution, and the law regarding the President’s temporary ban on immigration from certain countries. Below is the Biblical argument supporting such a ban from that article.

Trump’s Directive: Biblical, Constitutional, and Legal

By: Bryan Fischer

The cacophony from the political and religious left over Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban has been not only clanging but irrational and unhinged. Most of them seem on the verge of some kind of mental or emotional breakdown. 

Trump’s travel restrictions halt the refugee program for a time until better vetting procedures can be implemented and halt immigration for a time from countries which are noted hotbeds of Islamic unrest. 

To the degree that there is anything rational about the frenzied opposition to Trump’s directive, it is the accusation that it is un-Christian, unconstitutional, and illegal. Such opposition is wrong on all three counts. 

First, the charge that an immigration ban is unbiblical. Because of the immediate and implacable hostility of the people of Ammon and Moab when Israel came out of Egypt, God himself forbade the nation of Israel to accept any immigrants from either of these people groups to “the tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:3). Since a biblical generation is 40 years, this was in essence a permanent ban. 

So the benchmark established by God is this: if a people group manifests an unremitting hostility to another nation, that nation has the moral right to forbid entrance to immigrants from that people group in the interests of its own security and peace. Was God saying that every Ammonite and Moabite was evil beyond redemption? No, but since it was virtually impossible to tell which Ammonites or Moabites Israel needed to worry about and which ones they didn’t, God’s directive was to be careful with them all. 

Immigration exceptions were made for those who were properly and satisfactorily vetted. Ruth, for instance, was a Moabite but was not only allowed to enter Israel but to become a part of the line that led to the Savior of the world. 

It should be noted that Ruth was embraced as an immigrant because of her willingness to reject the religious practices of her native land and completely assimilate to her newly adopted homeland. “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:17). 

Second, to the charge that Trump’s directive is unconstitutional. This assertion is categorically and resoundingly false. The Constitution grants to Congress unilateral and unquestioned authority to set whatever immigration restrictions it wishes, according to Article I, Section 9. According to that section of the Constitution, Congress is free to limit “migration” to persons that “it shall think proper to admit.” 

There is, you will note, not even a prohibition against the use of a “religious” test, which is nothing more than an ideological test. First Amendment guarantees apply only to legal American residents, not to people who have never set foot in the United States. 

If Congress thinks it is not “proper to admit” individuals whose religion orders them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (Surah 9:5), it is perfectly free to do so. We have denied immigration to Communists since 1952 on the grounds that communist ideology is incompatible with American values. So is the ideology of Islam. 

There is absolutely no constitutional right whatsoever to immigrate to the United States. The U.S., like every other sovereign nation in the world, has the moral right to reserve immigration to those who will be an asset and refuse it to those who won’t. 

Congress restricted immigration to the Chinese for 10 years in the late 19th century in order to preserve demographic balance. In the 1920s, Congress established quotas based on national origin to preserve the diverse but harmonious unity we enjoyed. 

Third, as to the charge that Trump’s directive is illegal. As Andy McCarthy reminds us, 

Federal immigration law also includes Section 1182(f) which states: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate” (emphasis added).

This is the very section of the law that Trump cited in his directive. He applied it specifically to seven countries of particular jihadi unrest and danger: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. These are countries which have already been designated by the Obama administration as “countries of concern.” 

It’s worthy of note that this is NOT exactly a “Muslim ban,” since the directive does not apply to 87% of the Muslim world. Even some countries which ought to be on the list (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) aren’t. 

It should not be forgotten for a moment that President Obama himself banned immigration from Iraq for six months in 2011 for national security reasons. Where were the howls of outrage about religious liberty and Islamophobia back then? And let’s remember that Democrat president Jimmy Carter completely banned immigration from Iran in 1980 during the hostage crisis. Where was the screeching then about the Constitution? The silence of the left was deafening on both occasions. 

McCarthy sums it up this way: “[T]here is no doubt that the executive order temporarily banning entry from specified Muslim-majority countries is both well within President Trump’s constitutional authority and consistent with statutory law.” 

So Trump’s directive is biblical, constitutional, legal, and designed to protect America’s security. There is nothing here for American citizens and patriots to dislike and everything to approve.

Nothing more needs to be said by yours truly.

How Do I Meditate on The Word Of God?

by Jack Wellman

How do we meditate on the Word of God?  The Bible instructs Christians to meditate on the Word but how are we supposed to meditate on the Word of God and what does it mean to meditate?

A Secular Definition of Meditation

When you look in the dictionary and see what the word meditate means, you can get dozens of differing definitions. I will try to give a general definition based upon what most people think meditation is and then what God means by His command to have us meditate on the Word of God.  Most dictionaries define meditation as:  Intentional contemplation on the author’s work with the express purpose of  reflecting upon it, contemplative thinking, the revolving of a subject in the mind or a self-directed practice of calming the mind and body.

Other definitions are a clearing of the mind, an emptying of thoughts, having a mind that is open.  The thing that I don’t like about this kind of meditation is that a clear, open mind is one that is subject to spiritual attack or evil influence from demons or wicked spirits.  The problem with an open mind is that it often needs to be closed down for repairs!   What is called Transcendental Meditation for example is a technique that is derived from Hindu traditions that promote deep relaxation through the use of a mantra. However a mantra’s different for differing belief systems like Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age ideas and so its definition depends upon the group’s beliefs and is dependent upon the context of it.   Some of this is practiced even in the work place, at Yoga classes, and in many Eastern religions.  This is not what the Bible means by meditating on the Word of God.

Meditating on the Word

Our church elder said that meditating on the Word of God is a lost art in the church today. He is absolutely right.  We lose out on so much when we simply read over the Word and don’t meditate on it. Part of what the Psalmist says where we are to “hide your Word” in our heart is simply meditating on it.  Yes, memorizing Scripture may be part of this hiding the Word, but there is so much power even in one verse…in one word…that we don’t tap that power when we read right past it.  The Scriptures often tell us to do this both day and night and so you can never meditate on it if you are not reading it…both day and night.

Benefits of Meditating on the Word

Here are a few verses that tell us that we should meditate on the Word of God, why we should meditate on it and what the benefits are:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

If we meditate on God’s Law, and I don’t mean the Mosaic Law, then we will “be careful to do all that is written in it.” You can’t obey what you do not know.  And God promises to “make your way prosperous” and you’ll have “good success” if you meditate on it.  Meditating and memorizing Scripture is like “hiding His Word” in your heart.  When you are tempted, you can more easily resist sinning because you already know the precepts, statues, and Laws of God.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:97

We will love the law of God only if we meditate on its meaning.  It is not so much “don’t do this” but “do this and suffer” and “don’t do this and prosper.” God doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves or others and that is why we must love His law and meditate on it.   God loves His own law so much that the biggest chapter in the Bible is dedicated to the law in Psalm 119; it must be of high importance to God.  If it is that important to God (and it is) then it must be for us as well.

May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” Psalm 104:34

God is well pleased when we meditate on His divine Word.  The Psalmist wrote that rejoicing in the Lord is tied to meditating on His Word.  Imagine you get a letter from your loved one.  You have been separated from him or her for a long time.  You love re-reading it…reflecting on the words, and so you will rejoice in this letter and your loved one and you will meditate on certain lines, would you not?  The same applies to God’s Word.  It is the greatest love letter ever written!

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” Psalm 119:15

I love this verse.  Here the writer is fixing his eyes on God’s ways.  He is meditating on the precepts of God for they are always true, faithful, and good.  To “fix” your eyes is to meditate on specific things and these things (like precepts) are in the written Word of God.  Try fixing your eyes on one verse today.  You’ll be amazed at how the Holy Spirit will enlighten your mind to it.

My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.Psalm 49:3

Here is a cause and effect verse.  Our mouth can speak wisdom only because the meditation of our hearts on His Word gives us understanding.  This is not a subjective, human wisdom but the wisdom of God Himself because when our hearts mediate on His truth (which is objective), what we say will be wise because it is the wisdom of God.  By the way, the seat of the intellect in the Jewish idiom is the “heart” and so when you read the word heart, you can understand that it is talking about the mind.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Although Paul didn’t use the word “meditate”, the intent is the same thing when he said to “think about these things.”  When we think on “these things” we are pondering them, we are reflecting on them, and we are contemplating (meditating) on them.

My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” Psalm 119:148

Many of the strongest Christians have the most worn out Bibles and you have probably heard that a Christian whose Bible is coming apart has it most together.  This verse speaks of meditating on the Word before “the watches of the night” or late at night, perhaps before bedtime.  They are meditating on God’s promises and that helps to keep a believer’s hope strong.  His promises are all revealed in Scripture and what better thing to meditate on than those promises which are sure, true, and can not be broken.

Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” Psalm 119:24

clip_image002The writer here ties together our ability to not be discouraged or fearful even while our enemies are plotting against us.  How many times have we laid awake at night, unable to sleep or “turn it off“, worrying about our problems (even if they are people)?  We can sleep in peace by meditating on the Word before we go to bed.  I have known fewer solutions to my sleeplessness than to open the Bible and read His Word for I realize that even that bad things will work out for my best (Romans 8:28).  That is another of God’s promises.

Conclusion

We have read from Scripture that there is so much good that can come from meditating on the Word of God.  The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  I tried to meditate on this shortest of verses and found it to be one of the most powerful verses in the entire Bible.  I thought of why Jesus wept, what He was weeping for, who He was weeping over, and how He showed such depth of emotion in His love.  By asking who, what, why, where, when, and how over a single verse, the Holy Spirit can speak to us through the written Word because the Holy Spirit is the Author of the Word (2 Peter 1:21).  I thought of His humanity, the suffering that He saw, the lost sheep of Israel who would have nothing to do with Him, the depravity of mankind, the compassion that He had.  What must Jesus have been thinking (meditating) on when He wept?

It must grieve the heart of God to know that many will be called but few will be chosen.  Many have heard of Jesus but few will trust in Him.  The path to destruction is broad but the way of life is narrow and winding and few are they that find it.  That makes me want to weep too.  For all those who refuse to believe, those who will not come to saving faith, I meditate on their eternal, future fate.  That makes me want to share the gospel all the more.  I want to be about my Father’s business in rescuing the perishing.  The Bible is full of God’s desire that no one will perish (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, Ezekiel 18:23).  Meditate on what breaks God’s heart and your heart will be broken too.  Meditate on the Word of God and you will hide it in your heart (memorize it).  Then you will have the Word in you to be able to resist when temptation comes.  You can meditate on God’s desire to save those who are headed for the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 21).

This week, choose one verse to meditate on.  I choose John 11:35 (“Jesus wept“).  I wanted to align my heart with Jesus’ heart.  Take one line from the Word of God and memorize it, think about it, ponder it, reflect upon it, and then God “will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).  That is a promise from God.  There is nothing more certain in all the universe than a promise of God.  Just meditate on that for a while.

Tozer, youth ministry, and a plug nickle

by Jesse Johnson at The Cripplegate

Youth MinisterRecently I was reading an Al Mohler book on preaching (He is Not Silent), and came across a series of A. W. Tozer’s laments about the decline of theology in the typical evangelical pulpit. Tozer rings prophetic as he diagnosed this negative trend consistently and for decades.

Tozer (d. 1963) points back to the dumbing down of youth ministry as the moment that the cancer of non-doctrinal preaching entered evangelicalism. When youth pastors began to fancy themselves as professional entertainers, they prepared the students to disassociate theology from church:  

We have the breezy, self confident Christians with little affinity for Christ and his cross. We have the joy-bell boys that can bounce out there and look as much like a game show host as possible. Yet they are doing it for Jesus’ sake?! The hypocrites! They’re not doing it for Jesus’ sake at all; they are doing it in their own carnal flesh and are using the church as a theater because they haven’t yet reached the place where the theater would take them. (Tozer on Worship and Entertainment).

He then watches that cancer work its through the body as those youth pastors became pastors, and those students either left the faith or became comfortable with a faith that didn’t challenge:

It is now [1960’s] common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.

This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture designed to house the golden calf.

So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that hit is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

Any objection to the carryings-on of our present golden calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the worlds’ treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course, the answer to all these questions is “no.” (Man, the Dwelling Place of God).

As young people grew up, reared in a church that was even physically structured to entertain, it produced congregations that didn’t have a hunger for theology. The result is a dumbing down of evangelicalism:

We have simplified until Christianity amounts to this: God is love; Jesus died for you; believe, accept, be jolly, have fun and tell others. And away we go—that is the Christianity of our day. I would not give a plug nickel for the whole business of it. Once in a while God has a poor bleeding sheep that manages to live on that kind of thing, and we wonder how. (Rut, Rot…Revival).

So for pastors and youth workers, it is worth reminding ourselves that if people are drawn to church with frivolity, then—assuming they stay—that appetite will follow them as they grow. Youth groups should be fun—even Tozer would grant that!—but if the games edge out doctrinal instruction, that vacuum won’t magically be filled when (if) the students become members.

“Degrees of Separation”

How do we, as believers, handle ‘relationship’ issues with other Christians? There are certainly times when we can and should walk in fellowship with other believers and times when we should part, or ‘separate’ from them to some degree. Some issues are clear and some are not. If other professing believers are caught up in unrepentant sin, we are not to hang around them. In matters of doctrine things can be a bit more difficult. The article below, from Ligonier Ministries, offers some really good principles to follow.  At the end of the day, however, it can also be a matter of one’s personal faith and conscience. Here’s the article:

Degrees of Separation

by David Murray

One of the most difficult challenges to address in the Christian life is our relationships with other Christians. It’s like walking a tightrope with heavy weights on each end of our pole. On the one side is the biblical command to unite with professing Christians, while on the other is the biblical demand to separate—at times—from professing Christians.

“Unite!” and “Divide!” Complicated and challenging, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just choose one or the other? Some do. They decide to separate from everyone who does not agree with them on everything, producing sinful schism and division in the body of Christ. Others decide there is virtually nothing that justifies separation from anyone and unite in unholy alliance with anyone who says he is a Christian, no matter what he believes.

But both of these are unbiblical extremes that throw us off balance, tipping us into dangerous and damaging sin. Although we might prefer a simpler life, God calls us to walk this precarious tightrope carrying both weights on the ends of our pole.

DEFAULT TO UNITY

Having said that, the balance of Scripture suggests that the heavier weight is on the side of unity rather than division. That makes sense because one of sin’s great consequences has been to divide people from God and people from people. Our innate, sinful default is separation. That’s why there are so many verses in the Bible that are weighted toward strengthening love and unity between Christians. God calls us to make unity our starting point, our instinct, our default. We look for reasons to trust and unite before reasons to distrust and divide.

As we do, we will make different decisions about the nature of our relationships with other Christians. And it’s not just our relationships with individual Christians to consider. We also have to decide how to relate to individual churches, denominations, or associations of churches (for example, the Presbyterian Church in America, Southern Baptist Convention, and so on), as well as Christian ministries such as Ligonier, The Gospel Coalition, and others.

CRITERIA FOR SEPARATION

So, we begin with biblical balance, weighted somewhat toward unity, and then we start coming into contact with Christians, churches, and ministries about which we must make relationship decisions. Before we look at the different kinds of relationships and associations that may result from this, we need some criteria to help us decide which way to go.

There are four areas to consider when deciding the nature of a relationship with other Christians. The most important area is doctrine. As Christian unity is unity in the truth, we must ask what this Christian or church believes.

However, even before that, we have to ask, what doctrines are fundamental and nonnegotiable? Do we insist on complete agreement on every single truth before we have any kind of association with any Christian or church? If so, one will end up uniting only with oneself.

That’s why we need a sliding scale of biblical truths and principles that will determine to what degree we unite or separate. At the top of that scale, we might put the inerrancy of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, justification by faith alone, Jesus as the only way to God, and other primary truths. Without the basic foundation that such truths provide, there can be no spiritual relationship of any kind.

Then, as we go down the list, we will come to issues like baptism, the role of women, eschatology, and others that, while important, might not warrant total separation. Obviously, the further down the list we can go with someone, the greater the degree of Christian unity and the closer our relationship can be.

Apart from doctrine, another area we will want to look at is practice. Regardless of what the church or person says they believe, what do they actually do?

A third area of concern is the church’s or Christian’s relationships with others. We’ll look at this further under “secondary separation” below, but it might be that a person’s or group’s relationships with others who deny cardinal truths and doctrines may cause us to decide not to fellowship with that person or group.

Fourth, church discipline also affects whether and how to relate to someone. If a person has sinned and is under the discipline of his church, we will have to decide how best we can support that discipline by our relationship with the offender.

SEVEN DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIPS AND ASSOCIATIONS

With these criteria in mind, here are the main categories of relationships we might have with other Christians.

SPIRITUAL UNITY: This is the essential union that every Christian has with God and with other Christians through the Spirit of Christ. There may be much visible and vocal disagreement and division among Christians, but there is an invisible and unbreakable spiritual union that connects every believer in the spiritual body of Christ.

ECUMENISM: The Greek word oikoumenē means “the whole inhabited world,” and it originally referred to the Roman Empire. The church took over this word and used it to describe the visible worldwide unity among Christian churches. That’s why some of the early church councils produced ecumenical creeds, reflecting the visible unity in the truth throughout the worldwide church.

More recently, the Roman Catholic church has promoted ecumenism as a way of bringing Christians and churches back into the Roman Catholic Church, usually at the expense of the truth.

However, just because the word has been perverted and abused does not make it a bad word. Every Christian and every church has the duty to seek and promote true ecumenicity—visible unity in the truth. When done well, it is a persuasive witness to the nature and power of the gospel.

ASSOCIATION: Despite valiant attempts to promote biblical ecumenism, sometimes the differences between churches are too great to produce ecclesiastical union. But even when churches decide not to unite, they can still enjoy some level of relationship, often called association. This can vary from accepting one another’s ministers, working together on joint projects, financial support, and even simple recognition and correspondence.

However, great care is usually required to navigate this, as there is always the danger of ignoring fundamental disagreement on the nature of the gospel when we unite to work on less-important issues. In a formal association, all should agree on the major truths, and disagreements should be limited to less-vital areas of doctrine.

ENDORSEMENT: But what if there is not enough common ground to unite or even associate formally? Does that mean the only option left is separation? No, it’s possible to endorse some aspects of a church or person’s witness without agreeing with them in everything. Perhaps a pastor from a church writes an excellent book on justification, but we disagree with his view on the millennium. We can endorse the book while being careful not to give blanket approval to everything else.

FRIENDSHIP: Even if there can be no formal, visible union or association on the institutional or organizational level, that does not mean there can be no unity at all on a personal level. On the contrary, informal Christian relationships and friendships can be a powerful reminder of our underlying unity and the practical love we have for one another.

SEPARATION: Sadly, the doctrinal and practical disagreements between churches and Christians are sometimes so serious and substantial that there is really no option but to separate on both an institutional and personal level. We cannot unite, we cannot associate, we cannot endorse, and we cannot even remain friends.

For example, if a church or Christian denies justification by faith alone or the exclusive claims of Christ, these heresies go to the heart of the Christian faith and cannot be played down. In such instances, we may and must separate completely. This kind of separation, though, should be a last resort, and it should be reserved for the most serious of cases. Usually it will also be necessary to publicly explain the reasons for separation and even to issue warnings about the matter.

SECONDARY SEPARATION: In 1963, Billy Graham asked D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones if he would chair the first Worldwide Congress on Evangelism. Lloyd-Jones said he would gladly do it if Graham stopped including liberals and Roman Catholics on his crusade platform and staff. They talked for three hours, but when Graham refused to agree to this, Lloyd-Jones said he could not o”er any support or endorse Graham’s campaigns. Lloyd-Jones had a high regard for Billy Graham but separated from him formally because of his associations with others.

That’s secondary separation, and again, it should be limited to denial of primary biblical truths, or else we will end up in a church of one, isolated and completely alone.

PRAYERFUL DISCERNMENT

The nature of our relationships with others is one of the most challenging areas in our Christian life and witness. We need to be prayerfully searching the Scriptures to remain sensitive to the Spirit of truth if we want to safely traverse this high wire of holiness.

Online Source:  http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/degrees-separation/

“And such WERE some of you.”

Christianity Today magazine, in its now standard FOX News style (we report, you decide) recently published an article called What It’s Like to Be Gay at Wheaton College. When I received CT’s email alert the title caught my attention so I read the article. Needless to say, CT lived up to its reputation of not taking a stand about anything in the article. I came away from my reading angry again at CT for not providing any sort of Biblical perspective on various issues to which the article pointed. I was deeply saddened that Wheaton College seems to be on ‘the downgrade’, as Spurgeon would undoubtedly claim.

Wheaton College is not alone in treating homosexual tendencies differently than other ‘tendencies’ that some people seem plagued with. If someone ‘comes out’ as homosexual in a public Christian setting like the young man who authored the CT article, he is applauded for his/her courage and other Christians line up to offer their love and support, whatever that means. Apparently it doesn’t mean offering Christ as being able to conquer any and all sins, whether actual behavior or just a tendency toward that which God calls sin.

The apostle Paul would I think disagree vehemently with the approach many Christians and Christian institutions are taking in not addressing homosexual tendencies as ‘sin’. For that I call them hypocrites. Hear Paul:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11) (Emphasis mine)

In the above passage, Paul, in speaking to believers in Corinth, lists nine sorts of people whose lives are marked by patterns sinful behavior. He numbers them among the ‘unrighteous’ who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. I submit to you that for every pattern of behavior Paul names, there is also a ‘tendency’ toward the behavior that by nature is also sinful!

Would Wheaton College or other students offer the same love and affirmation it affords the homosexual who ‘bravely comes out’ to the sexually immoral (in other ways), idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers?

The Apostle Paul certainly didn’t put homosexuals in a separate category, so why do we? Paul didn’t ‘affirm’ one type of lost sinner and condemn the rest. He said they were all headed for a fiery eternity. Then he added “and such WERE some of you”. He also told us how it is that some of them WERE in the list.

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11)

There were among the believers in Corinth those who had been sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers who had repented and believed the gospel and were now firmly in the Savior’s grasp and bound for Glory.

In summary:

1. Lifestyles of sin have at their root, sinful tendencies.

2. In Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit, sinful behavior and tendencies can be overcome, if we recognize sin for what it is, repent of it and believe in Christ.

3. If we don’t call every sin ‘sin’ and treat those who struggle with sin equal love, concern, as well as Biblical counsel and guidance, we are 1) hypocrites and 2) we do great harm to those who need guidance and deliverance, NOT affirmation.

The Soft Prosperity Gospel

Written by Erik Raymond | Tuesday, April 26, 2016

“The soft prosperity gospel teaches that if you work hard for God, then He should work hard for you. Many have bought into this lie. We go to church, keep our noses clean, and do whatever extra we can. Then we hope God will do His part and bless us with good kids, a nice house, a steady job, and plenty of money. But what happens when the company downsizes? When a kid starts taking drugs? When the 401(k) shrinks?”

What do you think of when you read the words prosperity gospel? Odds are that your stomach turns a bit as you think about the preachers on television who speak to very large crowds and appeal to even more people in their books. Queasiness is the reaction one should have to the brand of Christianity trumpeted by prosperity preachers. This is because the prosperity gospel is not a gospel at all but rather a damnable perversion of the true gospel. Its preachers herald a message of self-improvement that runs painfully contrary to several key biblical realities. They minimize the purpose of suffering, discourage self-denial, and make the Christian life about the accumulation of stuff. To do this they turn Jesus from the self-giving, sin-atoning, wrath-satisfying, guilt-removing Savior into an eager butler who fetches all of our desires and gives us our best life now.

The prosperity gospel shrinks the gospel down to an unfiltered pursuit of our desires. It shifts the message from the spiritual to the materialistic. Let’s be clear about this: the prosperity gospel is about us rather than God.

This is nothing new. Many have tried to avoid the clear instructions of Jesus that are forever etched on the doorpost of the church: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call to deny self. It’s a costly call that expects and embraces suffering.

Martin Luther vehemently opposed those who would seek to marginalize the experience of suffering and self-denial in the Christian life. His contrast between the “theology of glory” and the “theology of the cross” showed a fundamental difference in the starting point for Christian thought and experience. Theologians of glory build their theology on what they think God would be like, while theologians of the cross form their knowledge of God in light of the cross. On the one hand, the theology of glory will craft a god that looks like the theologian. On the other hand, the one who stares intently at the cross will learn about God through the lens of Calvary.

Doubtless, you can see how this intersects with prosperity thinking. There is no way that people can hold to prosperity theology when they have a front-row seat to the cross. There upon the tree, the perfect Son of God suffered the triune God’s accumulated wrath for all of His people. The Sinless One became a curse for us. As the hymn writer wrote, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.” And we should hasten to add that the cross was not plan B. It was God’s plan all along—even from eternity past. Christ was focused with unrelenting precision upon the cross that He might accomplish the work that He had been given. And this work that He accomplished serves as an example for us (1 Pet. 2:20–25).

We would be naive to think that prosperity thinking is limited to those who cruise around in their expensive private jets or overtly speak in self-help platitudes fit for fortune cookies. No, prosperity thinking has gone viral today. Being more nuanced and subtle than you may think, prosperity thinking is very active in the church. And because it undermines our understanding and application of the gospel, its effect is cataclysmic. Like a computer virus, it drains the vitality and productivity of the covenant community. And you know the worst part? We may not even recognize where we’ve been affected by it.

Let’s call this the “soft” prosperity gospel. It is not so loud and ostentatious. It is more mainstream, polished, and even American. Here are a few ways that you can tell that you may be nibbling at the hook of a soft-prosperity gospel without, perhaps, even knowing it.

The Place of Suffering

When you encounter suffering, do you have an unresolved answer to the question of why? Do you find yourself beginning to question God’s goodness? Or have you become somewhat bitter about what you are going through? The Christian, of all people, should know that suffering is part of the Christian life (John 15:20; Phil. 1:29). Let’s not forget that we follow a Savior who was crucified. The soft prosperity gospel has shaped our thinking to see that suffering is an intrusion in our lives. We ask questions such as, “Why is this happening? How could God let this happen?” It is happening because we live in a fallen, broken world. But, it is also happening because God uses suffering to strengthen and sanctify His people. He makes us more like Jesus through our suffering (Rom. 5:3–5; Heb. 5.7; James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–9). As Luther observed, it is suffering that God uses to fashion our understanding of the gospel. Far from an intrusion, suffering is an instrument from God for our good and His glory.

The Role of God

The soft prosperity gospel teaches that if you work hard for God, then He should work hard for you. Many have bought into this lie. We go to church, keep our noses clean, and do whatever extra we can. Then we hope God will do His part and bless us with good kids, a nice house, a steady job, and plenty of money. But what happens when the company downsizes? When a kid starts taking drugs? When the 401(k) shrinks? We go into private litigation in our minds because God has not kept His end of the bargain. We want to sue God for the prosperity promises that we have signed on to. The trouble is, God does not stand behind this soft prosperity thinking; He stands behind His Word. And He has shown us how to understand His Word through the work of Christ. Do you think (even subtly) that God owes you?

The Shape of Worship

Let’s be honest, in one sense, the Lord’s Day gatherings for the church are very unspectacular. We sing, read, and respond to God’s Word together. We probably don’t walk out of church like we walk out of a movie saying, “Wow! That was spectacular! I can’t believe how it ended! I never saw that coming.” No, we do the same thing every week with some variation of songs or Scripture. We do this because God tells us to do it; He says it is good for us (Heb. 10:25). We trust Him. But sometimes we want a little more. Dissatisfied by preaching, prayer, and singing, we want worship to be a little more “our style” and to fit “our tastes.” Soon, we find ourselves looking for that perfect place for us rather than the faithful place to God. Somehow it becomes our show. This subtle shift shows that we are at least susceptible to soft prosperity thinking, if not fully on board with it.

The Focus of Devotion

Let’s get right down to it: Christianity is spiritual before it is physical. If you are restless about what you see, you will never be content in the One whom you cannot see. There is an epidemic of Bible negligence and prayerlessness in the church today. It is not because we are too busy, too smart, or too whatever—it is because we do not want to have communion with God. I believe this is a demonstration of soft prosperity thinking. It is hard work and a real demonstration of faith and discipline to read your Bible and quiet your heart before the Lord in humble adoration, confession, and petition. We are very distracted by our stuff, and our craving for stuff, and not so drawn to God. Having or wanting stuff does not in itself indicate that we have accepted the prosperity gospel, but if we make the gospel and our faith all about material blessings on this side of heaven, we have bought into the prosperity heresy.

The Object of Affection

When so much of the emphasis is on the here and now and so little is placed on the New City that awaits us, we have to ask the question, “Do you even want to go to heaven?” Let’s say I had the ability to make you a deal where you could stay here on this world forever. You would never die and the ability to enjoy this world would not end. You could play all the video games, watch all the sunsets, drink and eat whatever you wanted; there would be football, hunting, shopping, and whatever else you would want. You could just ride the merry-go-round of this world forever without ever having to put in another quarter. The only catch is this: no God. That’s right—you can’t pray, read the Bible, go to church, or anything. It is on the shelf. Would you take it?

The very thing that makes heaven so heavenly is God. That which makes Christians long for heaven is the lack of God—God’s tangible presence here. Ultimately, we don’t want more rides on the merry-go-round; we want fellowship with God unhindered by our sinful flesh. Soft prosperity thinking has sold us a way of life that is so seemingly improved by their “gospel” that we don’t even want to go to heaven.

Many of us have been unwittingly lulled to sleep by prosperity thinking. In its subtlety, the soft prosperity gospel wears the uniform of honor, happiness, and achievement. These are all good things but not necessarily implications of the gospel. The entry point into following Jesus is a call for self-denial and cross-bearing. This is to be our ongoing expectation and priority. To the extent that we have dozed off and imbibed the assumptions of the soft prosperity gospel, we need to be awakened by the theology of the cross.

This article previously appeared on Ligonier.org, and is used with permission.

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