Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I am not a big Mark Driscoll fan but have to give him credit for a great explication of the Gospel in this excerpt from his book DEATH BY LOVE:

See this at Andy Naselli's blog here

Friday, December 26, 2008


An anonymous commenter responding to an old post here has got me thinking some radical stuff! It was a comment on the nearly-year-old post on congregational singing versus solo performances and he/she said, among other things, "At times I'm asked to sing solos in church, and I don't mind singing because it's something I'm passionate about, but what disturbs me so much is the feeling of being judged by the congregation because of my 'performance'."

That led me to some thoughts about the nature of the church in general. No doubt I am going to ramble on in this post; I hope you'll bear with me. We have today this dominant attitude of going to church to be an audience. The congregation is audience for the preacher; we are audience for the "performers" who sing (choir, instrumentalists, soloists). This is wrong, for starters. This wrong is either born out of or promoted and sustained by, among other things, that platform or stage upon which our "performers" do their act. Have we not copied that physical arrangement from the entertainment world?

Even the pulpit....Oh, you may say: That puts the Word of God at the center of our attention! I say it puts the Preacher at the center of our attention....and we sit there in the audience waiting to see how well he performs on any given Sunday.

We're approaching the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That reformation was born out of a spiritual awakening to the truth of salvation by grace alone apart from works. It separated the church from the man-centered corrupt theology of Rome. Unfortunately, the reformers despite their sound soteriology brought a lot of baggage with them. Many of the trappings of Romanism were carried over and still influence the idea of what "church" and "worship" should be like.

Lately, I have been wondering if we are not making a mistake in modeling the worship assemblies of the church so closely after the practices of Tabernacle/Temple worship of the Old Testament. I think this is what Rome did in the beginning (and continues to so do) and this concept has been maintained by the reformers, thus dominates in Protestant churches today.

The Tabernacle/Temple was the place where God came to meet with men. All the nation of Israel was commanded to worship there. Those assemblies were ceremonial in that they looked back in history to God's work among them and looked forward in type to the coming Messiah. They were not meetings of God's church in the same sense as in the New Testament. (This may be related to the conflation of Israel/Church which occurs to varying degrees in reformed theology. I'm not going there today!)

Anyway, it goes without saying that the OT services were filled with pomp and circumstance, very elaborate and liturgical. But...when we look at all that is given us regarding the New Testament church, there is none of this. No great choirs, no trumpets, no parades of priests, no palm-waving.....The church met together house-to-house; their focus was on prayer and fellowship, and the Word of God. God gave teachers and elders to those congregations to guide them and lead them, but there is no indication that those individuals "ruled" over congregations in the manner we see today....quite the contrary: humility and servant-hood are the main characteristics of the elders God ordains.

"I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, "If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me." -Soren Kierkagaard

I'm not a big Kierkagaard fan, but that's pretty near the mark, isn't it? We have gone from the church of Acts 2 to the modern-day iteration which meets in a 25 million dollar building, has a 5 million dollar annual budget (70% of which goes for salaries/benefits of "employees") and feels content that their obedience to the Great Commission is fulfilled by their 10% annual donation to the Cooperative Program. They have no local outreach. Jails, nursing homes, homeless shelters, food kitchens, all that stuff is left to the "liberal, social-gospel" churches.

The "audience" of 2500 comes once or twice a week to be entertained by the talented orator (preacher) and the great singers, then goes home to their niche in the world, happy to have done their bit for the Kingdom of God.

I wonder what it would be like to attend a real N.T. church? Imagine no stage, no performers, but a group of believers hungry for the Word, gathering together regularly to pray with and for one another, to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (even if off-key) without all the smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles, and velvet-covered pews? To have God-ordained elders stand in the congregation and say: Thus saith the Lord...and teach the Word as God gifted them to so do. To see and be among brothers and sisters whose hearts are truly broken over their sin and broken over the state of a lost world in which they live, those who have been made new creations in Christ and genuinely care nothing for the trappings of this life, easily giving whatever they might have that another has need of......To be a part of taking the Gospel to the streets, to the undesireables, to the social outcasts, the poor, the dirty, the wicked denizens of our cities, just exactly whom we would be like but for the Grace of God.

something to think about.......

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
(Gal 5:9)

Good ministries are being undermined. Not new, not a surprise, but still disturbing. First let me say what I mean by "good ministries" I'm talking about churches and other ministries which adhere to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, are evangelistic, own the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and hold to the doctrines of Grace, eschewing decisional regeneration and works-based salvation.

The other "ministries"--those compromised by the church-growth movement, entertainment theology, and living their best life now--when they go further astray, I'm not much bothered. It's seeing churches where I've always thought: That's my kind of church/preacher/ministry--seeing them polluted by the leaven of this world's perversion of Christianity--that's disturbing, saddening, and maddening.

Recently I've blogged a bit about seeing the "Prosperity Gospel" making inroads into "good ministries" There's so much of this stuff being peddled on TV and in the Lifeway Stores that the infection finally has been transmitted to formerly-sound Baptists, I guess. And, I suspect part of the reason is that Success Sells. Everybody wants to get a piece of the pie....

Now, I find a new virus infecting another "good ministry"--not really "new" but new with respect to its appearance in the part of the world where I live. Someone wrote me the other day and asked what I knew about Neil Anderson. Well, I'd never heard of him. I've managed pretty successfully to miss all the trendy "new idea" theologies for the past 30 years or so. They come and go without appearing on my radar. I'm still reading stuff written in 300-400 A.D.

Neil Anderson is a demon-hunter. He sees Satan everywhere. He is more impressed with Satan's power than with Christ's from what I can see. I'm not going to repeat a lot of what I've read since hearing the name, but here's a good place to get some background:

Anyway, that called my attention to the leader of a "good ministry"--one I am (was) very much supportive of, impressed by, blessed by, etc, this leader quoting Anderson and touting his specious theology of demonology. The Anderson "method" includes believers having to repent for their ancestors' sins of idolatry since they are, because of the ancestors, under the "curse of God."

I have to ask: What are these people thinking? Do they not recall certain admonitions about forsaking Grace and returning to the bondage of the Law? Have they forgotten the "Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin"?

From that website I noted above:

These demonization ministries are Satan-centered, with Christ brought in to save the situation. If they were Christ-centered they would seek to minister the two aspects of the Christian life: death to sin (the old man, the law, the world, and Satan), and Christ as Life, with the Christian life hidden with Christ in God. Romans. 5-7 comes before Romans 8. All ascended life is predicated upon death. The believer is to be taught to count himself dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).

Both these sets of error--prosperity gospel and the demon business--were born (or revived) in the Charismatic movement; they thrive in the Charismatic movement. Seeing them make inroads into formerly-sound, non-charismatic churches and ministries is frightening. It's another step down the road to the final apostasy. Biblically sound churches have been few and far between for the past 30 years in my personal experience, and obviously will become more scarce as time goes on.

It is imperative that we take a stand for the Truth. The cost is going to be increasingly high. Are we prepared to pay?...or will we allow just a bit of leaven for comfort's sake?

Monday, December 22, 2008


I guess every ministry has its special tragedies. In prison work, the worst thing I can think of right now is seeing an inmate who has done his time or been paroled, gone home, get in trouble again and return to prison. Of course, overall that is the way the System works. It's called "recidivism" and the percentage is about 85%--that is, 85% of all inmates, once released, will "re-offend" and end up back in prison.

Still, those of us who work with these men and get to know them and love them, and know the testimonies of God's grace working in their lives, do not expect to see any of them back in prison. It does happen, however. This past weekend was a particularly rough one for me. Friday night we were holding our regular service in a facility which has about 150 men in a special program for parole violators so our "congregation" is mixed between those fellows who are in a 6-month program and regular inmates doing time.

We had a big turn-out and some new faces and I was wandering around greeting the guys when a familiar face appeared--familiar, but out of place. Brother Spencer, who had been a member of our group in another prison until a couple years ago when he was paroled, was back. He was embarrassed and I was stunned. This fellow would be voted "Most Unlikely To Reoffend" if I were the voter. Soft-spoken, dignified, intelligent, reserved, about 50 years old......looks like a college professor. As we talked, he told me his parole was violated for "Failure to Report"--meaning he skipped his mandatory meetings with his parole officer, probably habitually to get violated for it. Without knowing for sure, I'd guess he got back on drugs and in that messed-up state, did not care or know whether he reported.

Then Sunday night, at the prison where I first met Spencer, the Chaplain's Clerk (an inmate) asked: Do you remember Brother Hamm who used to sit back in that corner pew? Sure I remember him, I said. "He's back....." This hit me hard, maybe because I was still suffering from the Friday night episode; it was like being punched. "Where is he?" I asked, since it was obvious that he was not in the Chapel. The clerk explained that Hamm was back in the living area because he was ashamed to show himself to me or the other guys in the Chapel service. I told him to go ahead with the singing service and that I'd be back in a few minutes....

Down in the living area, I asked the officer which cell was Hamm's and was directed to 119. As I headed in that direction, I saw him watching me...."I guess you came after me, huh?" he said "Who told you I was here?" Through his embarrassment, he was smiling and happy to see me, at least on some level. We walked back to the Chapel together, he tried to express how ashamed he was and how difficult it is to face his brothers after such a fall. And I, probably pretty lamely, tried to tell him that we loved him none the less and wanted him to rejoin our group and worship with us. We had a small group in that service, most of whom knew Hamm from before, and they welcomed him warmly and sincerely, leading me to think that it will benefit him to associate with them, that they will genuinely minister to him.

It breaks my heart every time this happens. Yet, it will always happen so long as men are in this sinful flesh. It's good for me to see how quickly one can fall. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1Cor 10:12)

This prison system is a self-perpetuating monster. I'll try not to get started on that. But I will start on this: We minister to these men while they are incarcerated. There are lots of good ministries, doing a good job of preaching the Word, faithfully getting the Gospel to these inmates. While the guys are locked up, they can go to services almost every day. Some services are not doctrinally sound, to be sure, but many of them are. Men are converted while in prison, and Christian inmates are brought back into fellowship with the Lord during their time behind bars. This part works pretty well, if not problem-free.

The problems begin when the men leave prison--at sentence end or on parole. We encourage them to find a good church home, even give them recommendations to visit specific churches in the area where they are going to live. Sad fact is that many churches do not want these "convicts" in their congregation. Yes, it is the individual believer's responsibility to find a place to worship, but it seems to me that the church ought to reach out to these men willingly and lovingly rather than the men having to go through rejection after rejection from uncaring, unconcerned and even frightened congregations.

Right now, I have four former members of my "congregations" in half-way houses in Nashville. I have actually "advertised" for a church to minister to these men. Currently these guys are wandering from church to church, attending all sorts of off-the-wall, undoctrinal assemblies just because they don't have any guidance. From my advertisement, I got one response. After that fellow managed to get the approval of the elders for these men to visit, he apparently was unable to find anyone to arrange transportation for them. I've not heard any more from him after the initial flurry of interest.

Overall, the "church" has made it clear to me that: 1. They are not interested in ministering to "those people" at all. 2. For those of us who do go and carry the Gospel inside, fine. Just keep it to yourself. 3. If those inmates are saved while in prison, or are restored to a walk with Christ, when they come out, they are still "those people" and not welcome in "our church"

With that heart, I guess the "church" is relieved when the guys end up back in sin, back in crime, and subsequently back in prison. That's where they belong, right?

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word;....(2 Timothy 4:1,2)

Recently I was again exposed to the negative aspects of "topical preaching." So often, I am tempted to say "always" but won't, so often, the preacher takes his heart's Topic and drags in every scripture verse he can find in support of his own view as he builds his "case."

The result is a man-made conglomeration of error and half-truths and the Word of God lies mangled at the preacher's feet. I speak as one who has fallen into this trap more than once. I have hobby-horses just like most men do. I have "proof-texts" too. But that imperative "preach the Word" does not mean: preach what you think is right and torture the scriptures as necessary in order to support your theme.

The art of expository preaching, where one preaches through a text verse-by-verse, protects both the preacher and the hearers from much of the error which can come from the work of sinful men, even regenerated sinners. The Word acts as a restraint upon our passion to promote our own ideas and pet theories. We should be, by this framework, held close to the intent of the Holy Spirit Who penned the words of the text. It is so easy to grab a verse somewhere because it "sounds good" in support of our topic when in fact, it is being used out of context, either grammatical or historical, or both.

"Preach the Word" means preach His Word, not ours.