Posted by: Andrew Webb | July 4, 2015

A Thought for the Fourth of July


SweetCakesFinalOrder-1250x650One of the great purposes of constitutions in Republics and Democracies is to protect the rights of minorities. The U.S. Constitution has done an admirable job of doing that. For over 200 years, in a world filled with ethnic cleansing, genocide, secret police, gulags, torture, book burning, and summary executions the U.S. has remained as a sanctuary for those who would otherwise be persecuted and suffer for their differences from ethnic, religious, and political majorities.
 
A great example of that freedom in action is seen in the history of the Amish and the Mennonites, who because of their religious beliefs and practices, were ruthlessly persecuted in Europe and hunted down and martyred wherever they were, and yet here in the USA they found an abiding refuge. Although they maintained a strict separation from the world, did not pay taxes, did not vote or hold office, did not fight in defense of the nation, did not participate in the school system and did not change with the times, they were not persecuted or expunged. Their way of life was protected by the first amendment which protected them by not, “impeding [their] free exercise of religion.”
 
While Christianity remains the majority religion in the USA at around 70%, Bible-believing and practicing Christians [or what many would call fundamentalist Christians] are now a political and demographic minority in the USA, and surveys and polls tell us they are shrinking minority. Their beliefs and practices are regarded with increasing abhorrence by those outside of their circles, and they are coming to be regarded as every bit as socially undesirable as the Amish were in Europe.
 
The question is, will the same constitutional protections that were afforded to the Amish (and other non-majority religions, such as the Hassidim, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) be afforded to them, or will those Constitutional protections be regarded as antiquated and perhaps “dangerous” by the majority? Will the US simply become another place where religious minorities are persecuted, expunged or expelled? Certainly recent cases, like that of the Kleins, do not bode well for the future, but I’d like to hope that the US, having looked into that abyss, will turn back from it before it is too late.
Posted by: Andrew Webb | May 21, 2015

7 Reasons Christians Should STAY On Facebook

FacebookI read a lot of messages encouraging people to leave Facebook (and other social networks) these days and in partial answer to those calls, I wanted to outline 7 Reasons I believe Christians should STAY on Facebook. I hope this may also encourage you to see ways in which Facebook can be used for Kingdom purposes (and not just Candy Crush Saga) :

1) FELLOWSHIP: Christian fellowship is usually limited to specific settings and relatively small gatherings, and the ability of Christians to meet and fellowship with other Christians outside of their area can usually only occur during conferences and mission trips. But Facebook creates a setting in which fellowship can occur at any time amongst Christians from around the world. It also affords an opportunity to keep in touch with brothers and sisters in Christ who have moved away that would only otherwise occur very intermittently. While it can’t replace the actual assembling together of the saints that occurs in corporate worship (Heb. 10:25), and should never be thought of as a replacement for bible studies or prayer meetings, when rightly used Facebook can provide a healthy supplement to that fellowship and is especially important to believers who are separated from their brothers and sisters in Christ by great distances.

2) ENCOURAGEMENT: The media, and that includes Christian media, tends to focus on negative stories, but Facebook provides a setting where Christians can encourage one another with good reports, lift up the disheartened and do what they can “to stir up love and good works” in their fellow believers (Heb. 10:24). There have been many occasions when I have received words that have encouraged me to press on in difficult times or which have lifted my spirits in a time of sorrow or trial. As Proverbs 10:23 puts it, “a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”

3) REJOICING AND GRIEVING: Paul counseled the Roman Christians to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) There are so many occasions for rejoicing and grieving with fellow Christians that might be lost if you did not hear about them via Facebook. One of my great joys is being able to hear good news from friends who are far away and be able to share in their joy, or to be able to sympathize with them when they are afflicted.

4) PRAYER: James encourages the saints to “pray for one another” (James 5:16) Facebook provides a wonderful platform for both speedily sending and receiving prayer requests, especially for urgent requests. It also provides us an opportunity to pray with and for saints from other countries and congregations whom we would never know apart from Facebook. It’s been my privilege to see many of these Facebook prayer requests wonderfully blessed by the Lord over the years. 

5) ACCOUNTABILITY: Facebook is often a place where people publicly share things they probably wouldn’t share in a church setting. I know of many instances in which pastors and elders have learned of serious problems in their congregation via the medium of Facebook that might otherwise never have come to their attention, and have been enabled to deal with them pastorally because of this medium. I know of at least one marriage that was saved, and one suicide attempt that was averted in this way.

6) EDIFICATION: We are often grieved when social media becomes the setting for angry or obscene exchanges, but for Christians there are wonderful opportunities to share articles, scripture, anecdotes, stories, and videos that are intended to teach, strengthen, and build up the people who read, watch, or listen to them. When wisely used, Facebook can massively extend the reach of what would otherwise be a small and very local fellowship. When using Facebook we would all do well to heed Paul’s exhortation to, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph. 4:29)

7) EVANGELISM: In the parable of the wedding feast the King (God) tells his servants,  “’The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’” (Matthew 22:8-9) While it is increasingly uncommon to see people speaking or gathering on the streets, social networks have become the highways and gathering places of our age, and good places for evangelism. If we were to spend a day knocking on doors or speaking to people about the gospel we might reach a score of people at best, but one gospel-centered post on a social network can easily reach hundreds if not thousands of people. Never before in history has it been possible to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18) from your own house or office, and it strikes me as wrongheaded to be turning away from such a wonderful opportunity just when it has been given to us.

Posted by: Andrew Webb | May 7, 2015

Was Eric Liddell a Legalist?

Chariots of Fire is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies. It tells the story of two runners who competed in the 19liddell-chariots-daughter24 Paris Olympics. One of those runners was a man by the name of Eric Liddell, a man dubbed the “Flying Scotsman” because of his nationality and astounding speed. But in addition to being a superlative runner and all around athlete, Eric Liddell was a man of deep Christian convictions. The son of missionaries, born in China, Eric’s vision was always to return to the mission field to do the essential work of spreading the gospel. But Eric also felt that God had given him a great gift in his athletic abilities and he was determined to put these gifts to good use. To that end he trained hard for the Olympics in the event in which he had already set a record in Britain – the 100-meter dash. But when he arrived in Paris, he found to his dismay that the race he had been preparing to compete in, the 100-meter dash had been set for Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Eric quietly but firmly informed his country and his teammates that he would not run on Sunday and thus break the Sabbath.

His stand brought outrage throughout Britain. His countrymen widely believed that by refusing to run he was betraying his country and eliminating their best chance to win the Gold medal in this event. Eric tenaciously weathered the condemnation of both the press and his countrymen, and stuck to his guns. Even when the Prince of Wales, his earthly sovereign, appealed to him to run for king and country he pointed out that if serving king and country meant disobeying God, he could not do so. The Sunday of the race, in keeping with his convictions Eric was not on the track, he was in Church and not surprisingly it was the Americans and not the British who took the medal in the 100-meter dash.

A few days later, Eric competed in the 400-meter dash, a race he had not prepared for, and which was 4 times the distance of his best event. Just prior to the race, an America runner by the name of Charlie Paddock handed Eric a scrap of paper. On it he had written a paraphrase of 1 Sam. 2:30, it read “The Good Book says ‘He who honors me, I will honor’.” Clutching that piece of paper, Eric Liddell went on to win the 400 meter dash, and set a new world record in the process.

So, was Eric Liddell what Christians today would call a legalist? Someone similar in convictions to the Pharisees who persecuted Christ and misused the law of God? In order to find the answer to that question, let’s take a close look at the first 8 verses of Matthew chapter 12.

1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.
2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.
5Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?
6I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.
7If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

In the first verse of Chapter 12 we see Christ and his disciples passing through the grain fields. The Season was probably the late spring just prior to the harvest when the grain was ripe. The disciples were hungry, and because they had no food as they passed through the long rows of grain they broke off a few heads and after rubbing the grain from the husk, they ate it. In doing so, they were not stealing from the owner of the field. Deuteronomy 23:25 had made provision for the poor saying “If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.” Any of you who have ever seen a grain field will know that allowing the poor to break off a few heads of grain is not going to lead to any monetary loss. The disciples were poor and hungry, and although Christ could have used his miraculous powers to provide food for his disciples he did not do so. As Spurgeon points out, Christ was not going to bribe anyone to become his disciple, to serve Christ was not then, nor has it ever been an easy thing.

But it was not the fact that the disciples were taking from the standing grain that offended the Pharisees, it was the day on which they were doing it. The Pharisees considered what the disciples were doing to be unlawful on the Sabbath. This was because the Pharisees had developed a precise code of regulations that set out no less than 39 different kinds of “work” that they felt constituted a violation of the Sabbath. These restrictions were so detailed that they governed exactly how much a man might put in his pocket before he broke the Sabbath by carrying a burden. The intent of the Pharisaic restrictions was to create a “hedge” around the Sabbath so that men would be dissuaded from breaking it. These restrictions made the disciples picking of grain “reaping”, and the rubbing of the grain from the husk “threshing”. Thus in their eyes the disciples were breaking the Sabbath by working.

But the rank hypocrisy of the Pharisees should be readily apparent. How were these super-pious servants of God observing the Sabbath? By keeping a watch over Christ and His Apostles to see if they might find something to accuse Him with! And once they had observed a violation of their rules, they wasted no time in laying the crimes of the disciples at the feet of their teacher.
How then does Christ answer the accusations of the Pharisees? Does Jesus tell the Pharisees that the observance of the Sabbath day has been done away with, and thus His disciples are no longer constrained to abide by it? No. Christ does not do that here or anywhere else in the gospels. Instead our Lord proves from the Scriptures that his disciples were not violating the Sabbath by their actions, but only the false restrictions of the Pharisees regarding it.

With their accretions and additions the Pharisees had taken a day that was intended to be a blessing to men and had made it into a burden. The Disciples had picked grain because they were hungry and had nothing to eat, and Jesus immediately draws a parallel between their actions and those of David when he and his men were in similar straits. He asks the Pharisees in Matthew 12:3 if they have read what David and his men did when they too were hungry. They entered into the Temple and ate the shew bread which was not normally lawful for them to do as only the Priests could eat this bread after a new set of loaves had been set out. What Christ is emphasizing with this example is that God never intended His law to be used as excuse for not doing deeds of necessity or mercy. Had David and his men eaten the consecrated bread out of bravado, or levity, or simply to thumb their noses at God, that would have been a grave sin, but that was not their intention. David and his men had an urgent need, and the law of God was never intended to be construed as compelling men to starve. In the same way, the Sabbath should not be construed as requiring that the disciples go hungry and become faint in order to abide by the made-up rules of the Pharisees. The Pharisees did not stop to consider, and it is doubtful whether they cared, how well an extremely hungry man could concentrate on keeping the Sabbath “Holy Unto the Lord.”

But the observance of minutia and the neglect of that which is truly important has always been the emphasis of religious hypocrites. The Pharisees were constantly guilty of observing the tiniest portions of the law in great detail, while ignoring that which the Lord truly wanted. This was the point Christ was making when he quoted a verse from Malachi to them, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” No law or commandment of God is to be so twisted that it makes us neglect our clear duties of charity and necessity. We are never to interpret our duties to God expressed in the first table of the Ten Commandments in such a way that we end up breaking our duties to man expressed in the second table. The fourth commandment which tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” is never to be interpreted in such a way that we are made unkind and unmerciful to our neighbors. The Pharisees and religious hypocrites were constantly guilty of perverting the law of God in this fashion, for instance, by declaring that their property was dedicated to God they found an excuse for not providing for their parents and by not wishing to expose themselves to the possibility of becoming ceremonially unclean by touching a dead man, the Levite and the Priest were able to pass by on the other side road and ignore their duty to the man who had been beaten and left for dead by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

Now if the problems of the Pharisees were the problems of the Christian community today, then the rest of this essay would be markedly different. I would go on to emphasize the foolishness of placing man-made rules over our God-given duties, or of interpreting the law of God in such a way that by keeping the letter of the law we end up violating the spirit of it. But, by and large, our problems with the Sabbath are not those of the Pharisees, we have not forgotten that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Instead we are generally guilty of dismissing the importance of the Lord’s day altogether! Thousands of Christians have come to the conclusion that the fourth commandment has been abrogated – done away with entirely – when nothing that we read in the New Testament justifies that conclusion. Certainly Christ did not tear the fourth commandment out of the Decalogue and announce that we now only have nine commandments to abide by.

Jesus did not abolish the law of the weekly Sabbath; he purified it from man-made additions and sinful interpretations. Christ put the Sabbath where it belonged – subordinate to His Lordship.

There are some who try to eliminate the Sabbath by saying that it was specifically Jewish, and merely part of the Ceremonial law, consequently, they maintain that the Sabbath passed away when the ceremonial law was fulfilled by Christ. But the Sabbath is a CREATION ordinance; God instituted it long before the ceremonial laws came into existence. To quote John Murray: “The sequence for man of six days of labour and one day of rest is patterned after the sequence that God followed in the grand scheme of His creative work.” The fact that this scheme is part of the Moral law and not the Ceremonial law is further reinforced by the fact that it was included by God in the Ten Commandments. God is not the author of confusion, he did not include one Ceremonial law destined to pass away in the midst of a group of moral laws that never expire.

The Ceremonial and Judicial laws that passed away are those which have reached fruition. They were shadows that were fulfilled when the reality they pointed to – Jesus Christ – appeared, or when the state for whose governance they were intended – Israel – passed away. They were akin to the photographs of families and loved ones that we take with us when we are far away from them. We may contemplate or even lovingly hold these images, but when the reality of those loved ones is present we no longer retire to our rooms to contemplate the images. Calvin compared these ceremonial laws to candles – dim lights – while Christ is like the Sun. A man does not light a candle at midday.

The pattern of one day in six set apart to the Lord has not expired, however. The writer of Hebrews tells us “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Please turn with me to (Hebrews 4:9-11.) Here and elsewhere Hebrews teaches us that the weekly Sabbath points to the final rest anticipated by God at Creation, and secured by the redemptive work of Christ. This final or eschatological rest-order will not be finally entered into by the people of God until Christ’s return.

We’ve seen in the example of the Pharisees, how the Sabbath can be abused under the pretense of sanctifying it. But how then should Christians keep the Lord’s Day holy? To begin with, we should note well that Christ proves that certain types of work are permissible on the Sabbath:

First, we have works of piety – those works that must be done in order for God to be worshipped.

Christ tells us in verse 5 of Matthew 12 that the priests who worked in the Temple on the Sabbath day were not breaking the Sabbath. In the same way those involved in the ministry are not guilty of violating the Sabbath even though they work on the Sabbath and receive payment for doing so.

Secondly, we have works of necessity – those works that cannot be delayed without harm to life or property, this would include things like rescuing a sheep from a pit, feeding livestock, putting out a fire, stopping a crime, or even defending a nation.

Thirdly, we have works of Mercy – these are acts of mercy or kindness to a person who is sick, distressed, hungry or in need. They would include ministering to someone who was injured, or feeding someone who was hungry, or even consoling those who mourn.

Christians are never to rest from doing GOOD. We should never use the fourth commandment as an excuse for neglecting our Christian duties and in this we are given the supreme example of Christ. God’s Sabbath rest began when creation was finished, but man’s sin and misery required that this Sabbath be interrupted in order to redeem man from this condition. Christ then performed that awesome work of redemption – which was the ultimate deed of necessity and mercy – during the Sabbath rest of God.

But given that the basic meaning of the word Sabbath is cessation it is clear that there are some things that Christians should cease from doing on the Sabbath. What then should we cease from doing on the Sabbath? Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession answers this question by summarizing the teaching of scripture on the subject:

VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

On the Lord’s Day we cease from performing our work, but we do not merely cease from performing our work so that we might continue our favorite recreations unencumbered by employment. It means we rest from all the things that engross us during the other days of the week whether it is employment OR recreation. We do not set these enjoyments aside because they are not proper to the Christian life, we set them aside because the Sabbath is to be devoted to exclusively to the worship of God, the reading of God’s word, and for other works of piety, necessity, and mercy.

Please do not confuse works of necessity with works of convenience. It is a work of necessity for a Doctor to attend to a patient on Sunday, or for a fire fighter to put out a fire, or for a policeman to respond to an emergency call. It is not a work of necessity to work on Sunday because otherwise you won’t get a promotion, or receive a raise, or even if your job requires that you work on Sunday simply because all the other stores are open on Sunday. Unless the work itself is a necessity, then working on that day is not a deed of necessity. The vast majority of stores and business that stay open on Sunday are flagrantly violating the Sabbath, if Christians choose to work for them on the Lord’s day, then they join them in breaking the Sabbath, and for this there is simply no excuse.

Some people consider this to be an unfair imposition on their time, but consider well: God, your Creator, your Sustainer, and — if you have faith in Christ — your Merciful Redeemer gives you 144 hours each week to do with as you will. He only commands that 1/7th of your week be devoted exclusively to Him. What man can honestly say that 1/7th is too much to ask, especially when we are the ones who benefit so greatly from observing a Sabbath rest? It is not God who will grow in grace, truth, and peace and rest in mind and body on the Sabbath, but His worshipers! If, on the other hand, you truly consider playing sports or doing business to be of greater importance than honoring God, then consider what or who it is you really serve.

So let us now turn our attention once again to Eric Liddell, how shall we answer the question that was originally posed? Was Liddell just a legalist, some sort of modern-day Pharisee? The Bible’s answer is a resounding NO.

Even though it was the Olympics, the pinnacle of human athletic achievement, Eric Liddell understood that running that race was less important than running THE RACE (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Cor. 9:24). He understood that obeying the Lord of his nation must come second if it meant disobeying the Lord of all nations. Eric Liddell described the Christian life as, “complete surrender.” In fact, years later, as Eric Liddell lay dying in a Japanese concentration camp in China, those were his last words to his nurse, “It’s complete surrender.” Eric Liddell understood that complete surrender to Christ is total victory.

Does complete surrender describe your Christian walk? Have you surrendered your Sunday to the Lord of the Sabbath, or are you still holding on to it? If so, I beg you to let it go. You will find that in giving it up to him, you receive back a day made infinitely more precious, and of far greater value to you than it ever had when it was yours. And if you haven’t yet seen Chariots of Fire, it’s high time you did!

A question for Christian friends who are currently opposed to homosexual marriage:

If the cost of remaining opposed to homosexual marriage becomes losing your ability to work for the government* or company you work for, lose your tax exempt status, and lose your ability to adopt or foster children, will you change your views about homosexual marriage or accept the consequences?

* keep in mind that members of the military, firefighters, public school teachers, and policemen are also government employees

Dr. Al Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an article that all Christians who are religiously opposed to same firedsex marriage need to read.  But before I discuss some of the issues Dr. Mohler raises, I need first to address anyone reading this who might be a supporter of same sex marriage; The issue here is no longer opposition to same sex marriage. That battle against the legal imposition of the Gay Agenda and nationwide Homosexual marriage  is, without a miraculous intervention or a successful rebellion, irretrievably lost and most sensible Christians understand that. Regardless of how we feel about it, we accept that The Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) will soon rule, by at least a 5-4 majority, to make homosexual marriage a civil right nationwide. What Christians are preparing for are the profound consequences of that ruling for our faith, life, and practice. We were initially told that allowing homosexual marriage would not affect us, that we weren’t being asked to be involved, and that we could go on believing as we always had. Now subsequent developments and even constitutional lawyers (on both sides of the issue) are saying that won’t be the case. Some of the effects will include:

1) Tax Exempt Status: Religious institutions such as schools, universities, seminaries, and even potentially churches that don’t recognize homosexual marriages or make accommodation for them in hiring, benefits, housing, etc. will likely lose their tax-exempt, non-profit status. This would bankrupt most of them.

2) Adoption and Fostering: All agencies that place children in families will be required to be willing to place children in homosexual marriages and Christian organizations that refuse to do so will have to close down. This is already the case in Europe and US states like Massachusetts. Also, it is highly likely that as is the case in the UK, families opposed to homosexuality will not be allowed to foster or adopt.

3) Employment – Public: Government employees and employees of companies and institutions that receive Federal funds simply cannot be functionally opposed to a civil right guaranteed by the Supreme Court. After the SCOTUS rules, same sex marriages will be the equivalent of interracial marriages, and no government employee can refuse to recognize them. This will have profound consequences for all employees, including government chaplains. As an example, the Fire Chief of Atlanta was fired simply on the basis of his Christian beliefs about homosexuality even though he was found never to have discriminated on that basis. Those who do actually discriminate will be gone in a heartbeat, and the courts will agree with those who fired them.

4) Employment – Private: Most private employers will be legally required to treat homosexual marriages in exactly the same way they treat heterosexual ones, this includes hiring, benefits, insurance, housing, etc. Additionally, employees who remain opposed to homosexual marriage will be subject to not being hired because of their views or being fired without much legal recourse at all. We are already seeing high profile cases of beliefs-based firings in the private sector such as the forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and the lightning fast firing of Fox Sports commentator Craig James.

In other words, the legal message being sent is, “Sure, you Christians can hold on to your “bigoted” views of homosexual marriage, but you can’t also have your own schools, adopt children, or work.”

Given that situation, most Christians are going change their religious views at lightning speed, and denominations are going to be scrambling for theological excuses to change theirs about as quickly as the Mormons suddenly discovered that polygamy wasn’t an article of their faith in 1890 when the US government explained Utah couldn’t be a state and allow polygamy (ironically, the Mormons just needed to weather the storm and wait a century or so for America to catch up to them!) It’s no understatement to say that Christians who choose NOT to change their beliefs about homosexual marriage are going to find themselves quickly isolated and consigned to the same kind of cultural ghetto historically reserved for the most extreme kinds of racists. Many will also be appalled at how quickly the previously steadfast views of their Christian denominations and friends change in the wake of these legal challenges. As has already happened, many Christians who do change their views to conform to the new cultural norms will also end up attacking their former friends who refuse to change.

Given all of this, it is well past time that American Christians sat down and began seriously counting the cost of discipleship in the present age (Luke 14:28) we may well find out that it’s much more expensive than we were initially led to believe.

Posted by: Andrew Webb | April 9, 2015

Why Do Pastors Get Depressed?

The faithful preacher lives a life filled with melancholy – one cannot read the writings of Jeremiah or Paul, or the biographies of men like Luther and Calvin and Edwards and not recognize that they were often struggling with Depression.

 We should not think this is odd or sinful, even Jesus had his times of sorrow and depression, for instance in the garden on the eve of his crucifixion he confessed to his disciples:

Matthew 26:38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 

Now while no merely human preacher will have to endure anything like the struggle that Christ did in the garden, all pastors are called to take up their cross and follow CSpurgeongravehrist and endure the same kinds of sufferings. The great evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon confessed to his ministerial students that he knew, “by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between” and went on to explain to them why that must be the case:

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. … It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?”” [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Ministers Fainting Fits” in Lectures to My Students]

Posted by: Andrew Webb | April 8, 2015

Samuel Miller’s Pastoral Theology

My own first contact with Samuel Miller, Old Princeton’s Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government, came many years ago when I read an essay that had a quote from his “Presbyterianism The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ.” The quote was just a paragraph or two from one of the chapters on worship entitled bluntly “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days” and after reading it I remember being convinced of his position and thinking I MUST find the rest of this! Eventually, I found a copy of the book from 1840 in the library at Westminster Theological Seminary, and I have to admit I probably damaged the spine in the process of photocopying the entire work. It was that book, more than anything else I’d read to date, that convinced me of the truth of Old School Presbyterianism. It brought together church history with biblical exposition and a fervent piety in a way that few men other than Miller have ever been able to. 

Those who are familiar with the works of Samuel Miller, will probably have noticed that while his works are all very biblical there is a pronounced bent towards the historical and towards facts rather than speculation, as John De Witt put it “he lived intellectually in the sphere of the concrete.”[1] While he understood Reformed theology better than most and could defend it admirably, he was not a Systematic Theologian like Alexander or Hodge. You can’t read most of his works and even sermons without very quickly beginning to encounter references to Eusebius or Tertullian or Clement, and his ability to recall those facts of history and apply them practically to the issues of his own day made him perfectly suited to teach Church History and Church Government at Princeton. It’s my own private opinion that the church desperately needs men of Miller’s historic bent today, because as Ecclesiastes 1:9 reminds us there really is nothing new under the sun and the errors of the present are inevitably the errors of the past.

For instance, modern Presbyterian quarrels over Confessional subscription have obvious parallels to the quarrels of the English Presbyterians in the 17th century, the Scottish Presbyterians in the 18th century, and the American Presbyterians in the 19th and early 20th century. Competent Systematic theologians might miss those parallels, but able Church Historians like Miller wouldn’t, and I think you will find that as you read Miller, you’ll be struck by his amazing historical insights into issues like the office of Ruling Elder and the nature of Baptism. My great hope is that as a result of reading this, someone who hasn’t yet read anything by Miller might decide to pick up one of his volumes, and perhaps even come to embrace Miller’s Old School Presbyterianism as a result. Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | April 6, 2015

Charles Haddon Spurgeon on How Ministers Should Dress

The question is often raised about how Reformed ministers should dress in the pulpit. We have “Missional” pastors who will spend a fortune to affect a carefully arranged “grunge preacher” look, and then we have “high-church” reverends who prefer to look like the Reformed version of an Anglican Archbishop in the Pulpit. For myself, I tend to agree with Charles Spurgeon about dress. Incidentally you’ll find that although he was writing over a 100 years ago, he still managed to describe both the “Missional” and “High-Church” approaches to pastoral garb:

“When a man is proud as a peacock, all strut and show, he needs converting himself before he sets up to preach to others. The preacher who measures himself by his mirror may please a few silly girls, but neither God nor man will long put up with him. The man who owes his greatness to his tailor will find that needle and thread cannot long hold a fool in a pulpit. A gentleman should have more in his pocket than on his back, and a minister should have more in his inner man than on his outer man. I would say, if I might, to young ministers, do not preach in gloves, for cats in mittens catch no mice; don’t curl and oil your hair like dandies, for nobody cares to hear a peacock’s voice; don’t have your own pretty self in your mind at all, or nobody else will mind you. Away with gold rings, and chains, and jewelry; why should the pulpit become a goldsmith’s shop? Forever away with surplices and gowns and all those nursery doll dresses—men should put away childish things. A cross on the back is the sign of a devil in the heart; those who do as Rome does should go to Rome and show their colors. If priests suppose that they get the respect of honest men by their fine ornamental dresses, they are much mistaken, for it is commonly said, “Fine feathers make fine birds,” and

“An ape is never so like an ape

As when he wears a Popish cape.”

  Among us dissenters the preacher claims no priestly power, and therefore should never wear a peculiar dress. Let fools wear fools’ caps and fools’ dresses, but men who make no claim to be fools should not put on fools’ clothes. None but a very silly sheep would wear wolf’s clothing. It is a singular taste which makes honest men covet the rags of thieves. Besides, where’s the good of such finery? Except a duck in pattens, no creature looks more stupid than a dissenting preacher in a gown which is of no manner of use to him. I could laugh till I held my sides when I see our doctors in gowns and bands, puffed out with their silks, and touched up with their little bibs, for they put me so much in mind of our old turkey when his temper is up, and he swells to his biggest. They must be weak folks indeed who want a man to dress like a woman before they can enjoy his sermon, and he who cannot preach without such milliner’s tawdry finery may be a man among geese, but he is a goose among men.

At the same time, the preacher should endeavor, according to his means, to dress himself respectably; and, as to neatness, he should be without spot, for kings should not have dirty footmen to wait at their table, and they who teach godliness should practice cleanliness. I should like white neckties better if they were always white, but dirty brown is neither here nor there. From a slovenly, smoking, snuff–taking, beer–drinking parson may the church be delivered. Some that I meet with may, perhaps, have very good manners, but they did not happen to have them about them at the time. Like the Dutch captain with his anchors, they had left them at home; this should never be the case, for, if there be a well–behaved man in the parish, it should he the minister. A worn coat is no discredit, but the poorest may be neat, and men should be scholars rather than teachers till they are so. You cannot judge a horse by its harness; but a modest, gentle–manly appearance, in which the dress is just such as nobody could make a remark upon, seems to me to be the right sort of thing.

FROM: JOHN PLOUGHMAN’S TALKS BY CHARLES SPURGEON

Posted by: Andrew Webb | April 4, 2015

Samuel Johnson On the Absurdity of Materialism

The pen of 18th century London journalist Samuel Johnson produced many memorable quotes, but this one is by far my favorite. If only the legions of 21st century materialists would take it to heart…
Samuel Johnson
A learned gentleman who holds a considerable office in the law, expatiated on the happiness of a savage life; and mentioned an instance of an officer who had actually lived for some time in the wilds of America, of whom, when in that state, he quoted this reflection with an air of admiration, as if it had been deeply philosophical: ‘Here am I, free and unrestrained, amidst the rude magnificence of Nature, with this Indian woman by my side, and this gun with which I can procure food when I want it: what more can be desired for human happiness?’

It did not require much sagacity to foresee that such a sentiment would not be permitted to pass without due animadversion. JOHNSON. ‘Do not allow yourself, Sir, to be imposed upon by such gross absurdity. It is sad stuff; it is brutish. If a bull could speak, he might as well exclaim, Here am I with this cow and this grass; what being can enjoy greater felicity?’

From The Life of Samuel Johnson

Posted by: Andrew Webb | April 3, 2015

Preparing Our Hearts For Worship

Many Christians report that, “they don’t get much out of worship” and that they find themselves listless, distracted, sleepy, bored, and unenthusiastic on Sunday morning. I am convinced, with the Puritans, that a major reason for this is a failure to prepare our hearts for worship in advance. If we want to be ready to wholeheartedly worship God on the Lord’s Day, then the key to success lies in how we prepare on the day before. J.I. Packer wrote this about the connection between what the Puritans called “heart work” and fruitful worship:

“But still oJIPACKERne question remains. … How can we, cold-hearted and formal as we so often are — to our shame — in church services, advance closer to the Puritan ideals? The Puritans would have met our question by asking us another. How do we prepare for worship?

Here, perhaps, is our own chief weakness. The Puritans inculcated specific preparation for worship — not merely for the Lord’s Supper, but for all services — as a regular part of the Christian’s inner discipline of prayer and communion with God. Says the Westminster Directory: “When the congregation is to meet for public worship, the people (having before prepared their hearts thereunto) ought all to come….”But we neglect to prepare our hearts; for, as the Puritans would have been the first to tell us, thirty seconds of private prayer upon taking our seat in the church building is not time enough in which to do it. It is here that we need to take ourselves in hand. What we need at the present time to deepen our worship is not new liturgical forms or formulae, nor new hymns and tunes, but more preparatory “heart-work” before we use the old ones. There is nothing wrong with new hymns, tunes, and worship styles — there may be very good reasons for them — but without “heart-work” they will not make our worship more fruitful and God-honoring; they will only strengthen the syndrome that C.S. Lewis called “the liturgical fidgets.” “Heart-works” must have priority or spiritually our worship will get nowhere. So I close with an admonition from George Swinnock on preparation for the service of the Lord’s Day, which for all its seeming quaintedness is, I think, a word in season for very many of us:

“Prepare to meet thy God, O Christian! Betake thyself to thy chamber on the Saturday night, confess and bewail thine unfaithfulness under the ordinances of God; ashamed and condemn thyself for thy sins, entreat God to prepare they heart for, and assist it in, thy religious performances; spend some time in consideration of the infinite majesty, holiness, jealously, and goodness, of that God, with whom thouart to have to do in sacred duties; ponder the weight and importance of his holy ordinances…; meditate on the shortness of the time thou hast to enjoy Sabbaths in; and continue musing…till the fire burneth; thou canst not think the good thou mayest gain by such forethoughts, how pleasant and profitable a Lord’s day would be to thee after such a preparation. The oven of thine heart thus baked in, as it were overnight, would be easily heated the next morning; the fire so well raked up when thou wentest to bed, would be the sooner kindled when thou shouldst rise. If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on the Saturday night, thou shouldst find it with him in the Lord’s Day morning.

[From J.I. Packer’s: A Quest For Godliness]

BBC206171The British Historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) was no fan of the Christian faith, but his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is still worthy of being read, particularly because of his insights into the reasons for the collapse of the empire and the way they should be a sober warning to Western Culture that we are repeating many of the same patterns that destroyed Rome.

Gibbon listed the following five primary reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire:

  • First: The rapid increase of divorce, with the undermining of the sanctity of the home, which is the basis of society.
  • Second: Higher and higher taxes; and the spending of public money on bread and circuses.
  • Third: The mad craze for pleasure, sports becoming every year more exciting and more brutal.
  • Fourth: The building of gigantic armies to fight external enemies, when the most deadly enemy, the decadence of the people, lay within.
  • Fifth: The decay of religion; faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, and becoming impotent to guide it.

Romans 8:28 assures IslamicStateCoptsus “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” and so when I saw the way my Egyptian brothers in Christ were called upon to suffer and die for the name of Jesus, I found consolation in the fact that even this great evil will ultimately be used for good. So with that idea in mind here are some of the ways it seems to me that atrocities like this one could be used by God for good:

1) Because death cannot hurt them, it’s sting having been forever removed by the sacrifice of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:55), all that those evil Jihadists ultimately did was usher those who put their trust in the Lord Jesus into the presence of their Savior. There beyond the veil of death they saw their Savior face to face (1 Cor. 13:12) and heard the words they longed to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 5:21). Now they dwell amongst those who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”, who neither “hunger anymore nor thirst anymore” and from whose eyes, God has forever wiped away every tear. (Rev. 7:14,16,17)

I hope that this will have the good effect of reminding the church here in the west not to be afraid to suffer for the sake of Christ, because nothing, not even death by the sword can separate us from the love of Christ:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

2) Because it starkly illustrates the difference between Islam and Christianity as no theological lecture ever could. Clad In black, we see men with knives in their hands who are about to kill for their god, Allah. Kneeling before them, clad in orange, we see men who are about to die for their Savior, Jesus Christ. One religion is, and has been since its inception, the religion of “Go and Kill” while the other is, and has been since its inception, the religion of “Come and Die”. The founder of one religion decapitated those who disagreed with him by his own hand and instructed his followers to do likewise, “When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads, and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly…” (Sura 47:4) the founder of the other religion died for those who disagreed with Him, and instructed his followers to “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)

3) Because it reminds us that suffering for the name of Christ unifies and strengthens the church in ways that nothing else can. In times when the church is not suffering, we are tempted to separate and bicker, and rebuild the walls of separation that divide believers demographically and racially. We forget in those times that in Christ, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Col. 3:11) but in moments like the one above, we see as never before that we really are one in Christ suffering together that we might be glorified together (Rom. 8:17) In that picture on the beach they really “are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) and therefore all equally “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

4) Because we are reminded that suffering for righteousness sake is a mark of blessing, not a curse and that we should be willing to embrace it, as the Apostles embraced suffering for the sake of Christ (Acts 5:41). It also should remind us that the meaning of the Greek word “Martyr” is actually “witness”. Often the church is prone to forget that the strongest witness to the truth of the Christian is our willingness to patiently endure suffering for the sake of Jesus. Peter’s words regarding persecution in his time are even more true in ours, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:14-15)

And these are just the obvious ways that immediately occurred to me that this evil can be used by God for good. There are undoubtedly many, many more. So let’s pray that even as darkness increases, that the gospel light would be seen to shine even more brightly because of it! Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | January 10, 2015

Himmler Proposes a Toast

Meanwhile,Himmler Toast in a drawing room in Berlin in Late September, 1939…

Himmler: “Gentlemen, let us raise our glasses and toast the capture of Warsaw!”
Goering: “And let us not forget the brave pilots of the Luftwaffe who…”
(A staff officer hurriedly enters and whispers in Bormann’s ear for several minutes. An uncomfortable pause ensues.)
Goebbels: “Is something wrong?”
Bormann: “It seems Chamberlain and Daladier are still refusing to declare war.”
Goebbels: “But that is wonderful! It is just as the Fuhrer predicted!”
Bormann: “They have dismissed our successful invasion of Poland, as an ‘incident’ and they say…”
Goering: “What? What do they say?”
Bormann: “They say… That we are ‘lone wolves.’ They say that this has nothing to do with National Socialism!”
Goering: “What? But that’s absurd. Surely they know we were acting on the direct orders of the Fuhrer?”
Goebbels: “Haven’t they read his book? I mean, the invasion of the East is all clearly spelled out in Mein Kampf. How could they miss that?”
Bormann: “I don’t know.”
Himmler: “Surely you’re having us on Bormann? I mean, we’re all wearing National Socialist uniforms and we greet each other with ‘Heil Hitler!’ What could be more obvious than that?”
Goebbels: “And the armbands, what about the armbands? We’ve all got them!”
Goering: “I told the Fuhrer we needed to make the Swastikas on our airplanes bigger…”
Bormann: “I’m just telling you what I’ve heard!”
Himmler: “So what ARE they going to do?”
Bormann: “We are unsure. At present the French and the English are gathering in public places and holding up Kielbasas and signs saying ‘Je suis Pologne.’ Last week they were signing everything they wrote with “‪#‎BringbackourPoles‬.”
Goebbels: “What, all one word? With that tic-tac-toe thingy in front?”
Bormann: “Yes.”
Goering: “You’re kidding.”
Bormann: “No, I swear by the Fuhrer.”
Himmler: “The Pig Dogs! They’re mocking us!”
Goering: “How will this affect the planned invasion of France and the low countries?”
Bormann: “As far as we can tell, it will make it unbelievably easy. We’ve accelerated the schedule and our soldiers report that as long as they don’t have their weapons with them at the time, they can simply walk into their countries. “
Himmler: “Surely not even the subhumans are THAT stupid.
Bormann: “No, apparently they are. Many of them have already gone back to watching football and amusing short films about kittens. We’ve already managed to capture countless neighborhoods in France, Holland, and England and we’ve even put up “Nazi Only” signs in many areas.”
Goering: “Ah, and that must have given away the game, surely?”
Bormann: “No, apparently they are more afraid of being called ‘Naziphobic’ than they are of losing their own freedom.”
Goebbels: “I told you! Didn’t the Fuhrer say they were all cowards who would never go to war with National Socialism?”
Himmler: “Well then! Gentlemen, let us raise our glasses and toast the capture of EUROPE!”

Posted by: Andrew Webb | July 16, 2014

The Picture of a Godly Man

Believe it oGodlymanr not, church-going Christian Men have become a rare commodity. In fact, most American men, whether or not they identify as Christian, do not attend church on a weekly basis. In his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow cites the following sobering statistics:

• Just 35% of the men in the USA attend church weekly
• Women comprise over 60% of the typical adult congregation on any given Sunday
• At least one-fifth of married women regularly worship without their husbands
• The majority of men attend worship services and nothing more
• Men 18-29 are the LEAST LIKELY demographic group to be in church

Why is this happening? Why are men in particular dropping out of church? Murrow, in his book, says the culprit is the feminization of the church, he says evangelicals are making going to church something as inappropriate to the male gender as wearing a pink sweater. But while what Murrow says is true, he’s actually identifying a symptom that exacerbates the problem rather than the cause. Of course we should expect that as men leave the church and women begin to play a more and more dominant role, that churches will become more feminized and that men will react to that feminization by leaving in even greater numbers. But knowing that, while it is helpful, doesn’t tell us what the root of the problem is. We need to ask what caused men to leave evangelical churches in the first place? In my opinion the answer to that question is that in the evangelical world generally, and especially amongst men, if we concentrate on anything theological at all its salvation. When we go to church we are told how to be born again, and usually we are told that we are born again by “asking Jesus to come into our heart.” Then the following week when we attend church we will be told how to be born again, again.
Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | June 13, 2014

Some Thoughts About The Current Moment in World History

We live in an age of transition. Just as the Pax Britannica and the British Empire that had dominated the world stage during the 19th century came to an end in the early years of the 20th century, so too the Pax Americana and the American Empire that dominated the 20th century are coming to an end in the early years of the 21st.

As with the Roman Emthe-decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-empire-700x400-1364317094pire, the signs of the American decline are the same; weighed down by debt and an increasingly worthless currency, the empire sags under the terrible burden of trying to feed an increasingly indolent and decadent population. The bread and circuses that demagogues use to stay in power have to be paid for, so the legions that once kept the peace worldwide are gradually withdrawn from the far-flung borders they once defended and the barbarian advances are no longer seriously contested. Prior alliances and assurances become almost worthless, and stripped of that protection, nations that were once civilized sink into anarchy and darkness. War, rather than peace, becomes the prevailing wind on the frontiers. Other empires, eager to fill the power vacuum left by the American retreat, begin to arise, and people begin to look to powers like Russia and China for support, commerce and protection from the Barbarians. America takes the place that Britain occupied after the Second World War, still classed as a superpower, but no longer really able to act as one, and in reality only the hollow husk of the great nation she once was.

The tides have shifted and are now flowing east. The West, having abandoned the Christian religion that once made it great, is gradually buried by the silt of its own decay. We live now in a civilization lit only by the dying embers of a once bright and shining light. Will those embers be extinguished and the culture be plunged into a darkness that will make this present moment seem like “the good old days?” Or will the Lord be gracious to bring another Great Awakening that will fan the embers into flame once again?

Most of the critiques I’ve seen to date of our session’s post entitled “5 Reasons It Might Be Time to Leave the PCA” seem to misunderstand our points in sections two and four, so I’d like to briefly deal with the most common misunderstandings I’m seeing.

In section 2, “Anarchy in Worship” our objection is not that all worship services in the PCA don’t look exactly the same. Our objection is that as a denomination we no longer follow the teaching of our own Confession in worship, and instead of following the Regulative Principle we have adopted personal preference as the rule and guide for our worship. This means that when it comes to worship, anything goes, and if a session wants to adopt a worship practice that is not taught in scripture, such as intinction, there is nothing to stop them. We are aware that many sessions believe that churches should be free to do whatever they want to in worship, provided it doesn’t violate a command of scripture too explicitly, but we do not believe that this is the teaching of Scripture or our Confessional Standards, and that a quick perusal of some of the better known commentaries on the Westminster Confession of Faith should make that point absolutely clear:

1)  Dr. Robert Shaw, Comments on Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 1

2) Dr. A.A. Hodge, Comments on Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Sections 1 & 2

In Section 4, “A Failure to Maintain the Teaching of Scripture Regarding Six-Day Creation” our objection is not primarily that views other than the literal six day view were allowed by the PCA’s compromise on Creation, but rather that the one viewpoint that everyone affirmed would never be taught or spread in the PCA, namely theistic evolution, is in fact being taught and spread and nothing is being done to stop it. The evidence for this fact is cited in the article, but here are links you can check out again:

1) Christianity Today, “Evangelical Evolutionists Meet in New York”

2) The Aquila Report, “Metro New York Presbytery (PCA) hosts symposium on ‘Conversations Surrounding the Historicity of Adam”

Posted by: Andrew Webb | May 12, 2014

5 Reasons It Might Be Time to Leave the PCA

1) A Failure to Exercise Discipline: In 2007 several ministers who were known advocates of Federal Vision (FV) theology drew up and signed what they called, “A Joint Federal Vision Profession” in which they tried to make clear what advocates of the Federal Vision affirmed and denied regarding doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith. This profession was signed by ministers from the CREC (which has become well known as an FV friendly denomination) as well as several ministers from the PCA including Jeff Meyers, Mark Horne, Steve Wilkins, and Peter Leithart. The question of whether these ministers were FV advocates had never really been in question, but their signatures on the Profession certainly removed all question regarding their FV beliefs.

Later that year the 35th PCA General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to approve the recommendations of the ad interim study committee on “Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, and Auburn Avenue Theologies.” In so doing, the PCA condemned Federal Vision theology as contrary to the Westminster Standards and joined the rest of the NAPARC denominations in publicly declaring that at a number of critical points, including Justification and Sacraments, the Federal Vision was not Confessional, Reformed, or true to the teaching of the Scriptures. Peter Leithart and Steve Wilkins were both quoted in the PCA Ad Interim report as advocates of the Federal Vision and examples of people holding to the opinions being condemned in the report. Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | May 9, 2014

Common Problems In Modern Preaching

Since my conversion in 1993, I’ve listened to a lot of sermons, ancient and modern, reformed and non-reformed, and I’ve noticed that every age in the church has had its own persistent problems in preaching – for instance ancient sermons commonly suffered from the spiritualizing of the meaning of every text, so that in every sermon a fish was never a fish, the moon was never the moon, a child was never a child, and so on. Puritan sermons, on the other hand commonly suffer from the over-reliance on the Ramist method and an overabundance of points and sub-points.

Modern preaching has its own problems, and while there are some commonalities, there are differences between the problems you are likely to see in reformed and non-reformed preaching. Here then are my observations on the common problems in both camps, I should stress this is just my opinion and is not intended to be exhaustive, and yes I’ve been guilty of some of these myself. I offer these lists in the hopes that they might be noted and avoided by preachers in the future!

Primary Problems in Modern Non-Reformed Preaching:

  1. The topical series rules. There is little or no use of lectio continua and hardly any expository preaching.
  2. Lack of solid exegesis. The text is a leaping off point rather than the basis of the sermon.
  3. Scripture is seldom allowed to interpret scripture
  4. Sermons require little or no understanding of the bible on the part of the listener
  5. Emphasis on entertaining or impressing the congregation rather than exhorting them. Often there is actually a twisted symbiotic relationship between the preacher and the audience – he needs their approval and approbation so he tells them things that will provoke those responses. Too many preachers are actually closer to improvisational actors/comedians.
  6. Unwillingness to say anything most Americans don’t already believe
  7. Little or no law and precious little gospel.
  8. Success is measured by how happy the audience was with the sermon rather than how convicted they were or the good fruit it produced. The goal is usually consumerist – success is making the customer happy so that they will continue to buy your product.
  9. The majority of preaching centers on what the people are supposed to be enthusiastic about, but often these days sin (except the sin of judgment) is never discussed so that people are not offended.
  10. As a result what is too often created is not the church, made up of called out, soundly converted, and assembled together saints, but a franchise that can comfortably be frequented by anyone with a spiritual bent.


Primary Problems in Modern Reformed Preaching:

  1. There is far too little emphasis on connecting with the hearers.
  2. Too many of our sermons are actually theological lectures, and our aim is usually to inform the mind rather than melt the heart.
  3. Instead of an emphasis on impressing the audience with our personality via entertainment, our emphasis is on impressing the audience with our erudition via teaching. We want them to go away thinking, “Wow! I never knew that word had such an amazing semantic range in the original Greek. What a teacher our pastor is!”
  4. We tend to make our hearers do too much of the work, and far too many of our sermons are actually unintelligible to non-Christians
  5. We often forget that our preaching should have the same end as John’s telic note in John 20:31 – ” but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
  6. We eschew Finney’s idea that conversion is the result of “the right use of means” but are sometimes stunningly unsupernatural in our own view of preaching. Instead of conversion being a supernatural work of the Spirit that must be fervently prayed for, we make it the result of the right understanding of information correctly imparted and received. Small wonder that so many of our listeners can explain theological doctrines but have no clue what Christ was really asking Peter in John 21:15-17.
  7. We often act as though it doesn’t matter how good a communicator the pastor is and don’t see being stunningly boring as a problem. Sometimes we even view being uninteresting as a badge of honor, as though boring was the opposite of ear tickling.
  8. Secretly, we also don’t want to upset our hearers, so the majority of our convicting fire is directed towards the sins found outside the church rather than within it.
  9. Often the majority of our preaching follows the via negativa, we spend our time telling people what we are against, but not what we are for.
  10. As a result what we too often create is “Fortress Church” – a dwindling and unapproachable bastion of the saints –  and then wonder why no one from the world is coming to visit us.

mr-bean-asleepIf you’ve been a Christian for any period of time at all, you may have noticed that the more time you spend in church, the harder it is to fit in and feel comfortable with non-believers or to really enjoy worldly activities, relationships, speech, movies, habits, etc.

So how on earth are you going to make sure that your church attendance doesn’t end up damaging your friendship with the world? How can you make sure that you’ll never seem weird, different, and overly religious to friends, relatives, and coworkers? I mean, you don’t want to be the guy who can stop the telling of a dirty joke just by walking into the room, do you? Well friends, as he has been since the beginning, the deceiver is here to help. He’s prepared this handy list of his top ten tips for minimizing the sanctifying effects of Church attendance. Simply by following these easy-to-do directions you can proudly join the legions of American Christians who have already mastered the fine art of remaining babes in the faith who show little or no sign of growth in what Peter called, “the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)!

1) Try to stay up as late as possible the night before.

If possible, try to drink too much as well. Nothing says “not ready for worship” like a hangover. Read More…

Sun_Red_Giant-390x285One of the things that struck me most profoundly during the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate last night was Nye’s statement about how belief in a Creator would destroy “the joy of discovery.”

It strikes me that exactly the opposite is true.

As the Christian scientist, like Newton, examines the universe and discovers new things about the creation he is constantly given new reason to wonder and admire the work of the Creator, and confess as David did, gazing in wonder at the stars, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) Moreover, he is thrilled that some day he will see the Creator of that handiwork face to face, and have a chance to spend eternity in enjoying the infinitely greater maker of such an amazing creation. With each discovery his desire to find out more about the creation grows, in the same way that someone who has just finished a beautifully written novel in a series can’t wait to start the next one. The idea that someday he will be able to meet and question the author about his work only adds to his delight. Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | February 5, 2014

A Reflection on the Superbowl…

superbowl_rect540 “The attachment many Americans now have to sports teams far exceeds attachment to religious faith—any religious faith.” – Al Mohler

Driving home from church on Sunday Night was eerie, it was a huge contrast to the heavy traffic we normally see as people drive home from restaurants, shopping and work. But on Sunday night, there was hardly any traffic on the road at all.

Where was everyone?

The rows of cars parked outside of houses, the smell of grilling in the air (the first thing people noticed on leaving the church was the heavy barbecue smell) and the glow of big screen TVs told the story. Most of America had gathered to watch the Superbowl, far more in fact than had bothered to attend church that morning.
Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | February 4, 2014

Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday and Not Saturday?

Why do Christian churches meet Covworand worship on Sunday? After all, doesn’t the fourth commandment clearly say “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God?” So is Sunday worship just a Christian tradition? Did we not want to get mistaken for Jews? Or perhaps there was a church council that met to decide the day should be moved?

Well no, none of those is the reason that Sunday became the day upon which Christians worship. Sunday worship was not fixed by a church council and as William Perkins points out, “The church, has no power to ordain a Sabbath.” The only authority who can tell us when to worship is the true head of the church, Jesus Christ, and He has done that in His word.

So together let’s take a look at the example of worship in the Apostolic church that we read about in Acts 20:

“But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.” (NKJV Acts 20:6-12)

Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | January 8, 2014

On Family Worship

“Family worship, which Family-Worshipought to be performed by every family, ordinarily morning and evening, consists in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and singing praises. The head of the family, who is to lead in this service, ought to be careful that all the members of his household duly attend; and that none withdraw themselves unnecessarily from any part of family worship; and that all refrain from their common business while the Scriptures are read, and gravely attend to the same, no less than when prayer and praise are offered up.”
(American) Directory for Worship, chap. 15.

Some time ago I gave the following study on the Why, What, How, and When of Family Worship stressing its vital importance for the religious instruction of children. I believe that, along with prayer, there is literally nothing more important you can do for your children than to regularly worship with them at home. Of all the forms of worship (corporate, family, and personal) I believe this is form is the most in need of revival within the American church. Since we are beginning a new year, if you haven’t already done so, I want to recommend you commit yourself to starting the diligent practice of family worship in your own home. I hope this study will help to explain why and how!

Posted by: Andrew Webb | December 31, 2013

Another Year is Dawning

Havergal

Another year is dawning, Dear Master, let it be,

In working or in waiting, Another year for Thee.

Another year of progress, Another year of praise,

Another year of proving, Thy presence all the days.

– Frances Ridley Havergal (January 1, 1874)

Posted by: Andrew Webb | December 17, 2013

Dear Atheists, Actually it’s NOT a Bronze Age Book

Bronze_Age_Timeline

If there is one popular phrase used by atheists to criticize the bible that I’m heartily tired of reading it’s calling the bible a “Bronze Age Book.” There are two reasons I’m tired of it:

1) It’s Grossly Inaccurate: The vast majority of the Old Testament was written during the Iron Age (1200 BC – 500 BC) and the entire New Testament was written in the 1st Century AD and entirely postdates both the periods referred to as the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. If you want to use a snarky chronologically arrogant term to imply you are smarter than the people who preceded you merely because you were born after them, the correct term would be “Ancient Book.”

2) It’s Doesn’t Even Prove What it’s Supposed to Prove: Apart from the foolishness of asserting that people like Moses, Solomon and Aristotle were clearly idiots because they were around a long time ago and didn’t have things like Google, Microwaves, or Cup O’ Noodles, age doesn’t nullify truth or the factual nature of a record any more than the fact that something was generated recently makes it true.

For instance, “I, Rigoberta Menchu,” an autobiography that won Menchu the Nobel Prize, was written in the late 20th century, and became wildly popular and was considered by American academics to be “the gospel truth” about oppression in Central America. Subsequent investigations however revealed that Rigoberta Menchu had made up much of her life story.

In the case of the bible, if the events it records happened, the fact that they were written down a long time ago doesn’t change that factual nature of the record, and to date, every historical event the bible records that can be confirmed by archaeology and other histories has been confirmed.

Posted by: Andrew Webb | December 10, 2013

And You Thought YOUR Pastor Preached Long Sermons!

Very few congregations today can endure a sermon for longer than one hour, and it’s common to hear complaints when a sermon exceeds 45 minutes in length. But it’s worth noting that in the past Reformed Christians regularly endured and even thrived under preaching that lasted for two hours or even longer. For instance, the following is recorded of John Craig, one of the first Presbyterian ministers in Western Virginia:

“Every Sunday morning Jostoneministerstablet1resampledhn Craig walked five miles to the place of worship. In one hand he carried a Bible. In the other hand or upon his shoulder he usually carried a rifle, to be used against Indians if they should make an attack. All the men of his congregation likewise brought rifles. A powder horn was hung from each man’s shoulder by a long strap. At ten o’clock in the morning the people were seated in their accustomed places upon rude benches made of logs and the service began. The minister continued to preach his sermon until noonday. Then for an hour the men, women and children of the congregation sat down in family groups beneath the shade of the great trees and ate their simple midday meal. At one o’clock, the minister resumed the same sermon and continued until after sunset. It was sometimes so late when the sermon was brought to a close that the leader of the congregational singing could scarcely see how to read the last psalm. One of John Craig’s sermons has been handed down in the written form. We may understand how it occupied the attention of the congregation for an entire day, when we learn that it is arranged under fifty-five heads, or divisions.” [Henry Alexander White, Southern Presbyterian Leaders, B.O.T., 2000, pp. 33-34]

One might be tempted to think that Craig was only invited to preach one of these seven hour mega-sermons, but he continued this manner of ministry for many years and it is said of Craig that, “…his heart was always full of tenderness. Multitudes were brought into the kingdom of God through his labors.”

While I wouldn’t personally recommend preaching for over 50 minutes, it should be remembered that at times, long sermons have been greatly used by God. For instance, Acts 20:7-12 tells us that during the Sunday worship of the church at Troas, the Apostle Paul preached until midnight,  paused briefly to raise a young man named Eutychus from the dead who had fallen asleep and out of a third story window, ate a meal and then continued on speaking till daybreak. The total length of Paul’s message was probably around twelve hours in length.

It’s worth keeping these examples in mind the next time you are tempted to call a sermon “too long!”

John ElmergantryBrown of Edinburgh (1784-1853) offers the following sound advice to pastors in his commentary on Galatians. It seems particularly apt in our age of celebrity pastors and evangelists:

“Egotism, or a disposition to bring forward a person’s self, is a characteristic of a weak mind and a contracted heart. It is not an agreeable feature in any man’s character ; but it is peculiarly disagreeable when it is a leading trait in the character of a man who, from the office he fills, should be distinguished by the wide comprehension of his views, and the generous liberality of his affections. Such a man is a minister of the gospel ; and there is something incongruous and disgusting in one whose mind ought to be habitually employed about the glory of the Divine character — the order and stability of the Divine government — the restoration of a ruined world to purity and happiness — the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God — the transforming and consoling influence of the Holy Ghost — the joys and the sorrows of eternity — and whose grand business it ought to be to bring these things, in all their reality and importance, before the minds of his fellow-men — it is incongruous and disgusting in such a man to appear primarily anxious to draw men’s attention to himself — seizing every opportunity to bring himself into notice — exhibiting the truths of the gospel chiefly for the purpose of displaying his own talents — calling men’s attention to them more as his opinions than as God’s truth, and less ambitious of honouring the Saviour, and saving those who hear him, than of obtaining for himself the reputation of piety, or learning, or acuteness, or eloquence. This is truly pitiable ; and if angels could weep, it would be at folly like this.

 A minister of the gospel can scarcely, in ordinary circumstances, keep himself too much in the background. He should try to forget himself, and to make his hearers forget him, in his subject. His ambition should be to be a voice proclaiming, ‘ Behold Him ! behold Him !’ attracting no notice itself, but fixing the mind directly and entirely on the subject of the message.”

[John Brown,  AN EXPOSITION OF THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS, William Oliphant and Sons, Edinburgh, 1853, pp. 53-54]

 If you’re like me, you get many calls from people seeking assistance. Sometimes they are looking for food, money, rides, or help paying for rent and electricity. The hardest part of this process is is figuring out if you are dealing with one of the many grifters who will contact you, or if you are dealing with the genuine article.

Most pastors already know how frustrating this process can be. No one contacts them and says, “Hi, rather than giving you a bogus hard luck story, I’m just going to tell you straight up that I’m going to use any money you give me to buy Meth or Crack, additionally any food or items you give me will be taken back or sold, and if you pay my rent, it will simply make it possible for me to stay somewhere while I’m scamming other churches and doing drugs.”

So how do you identify the person who is going to abuse your help?

Well here’s a tip that might help. If the person contacting you lives at a motel (as roughly 60% of the people who contact me do), get their name and the name of the motel, then call the motel itself and ask to speak to the manager, explain that you are a pastor who has been asked for assistance and then ask about the person or family who contacted you. They’ll know if they are doing drugs, prostituting themselves, etc. and they’ll also know if they are getting money from other area churches.

Another helpful methodology is to do a Google search on the person’s name, your town name and “arrested” or “charged.” Usually scammers will already have racked up a long string of arrests before they contact you. For instance, just today I was contacted for assistance by a woman whom a Google search revealed had recently been charged with three counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Posted by: Andrew Webb | November 8, 2013

Christians, Don’t Become Your Own Minitrue!

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the main character, Winston Smith, worked at a government organization called the Ministry of Truth (or “Minitrue” in the “Newspeak” of the novel.) Smith’s job was to revise history to fit thjohn_hurt_1984_ie ever changing needs of the socialist party that ruled the nation. If a former hero or party official was denounced by the party, that person became an “unperson” and Winston Smith erased their good deeds and accomplishments and made sure all prior newspaper accounts and speeches that mentioned them were changed to reflect their new status. The person either ceased to exist or their past deeds became uniformly evil in keeping with their new status. The memories of people like Smith were also expected to change, so that former friends and allies were now remembered as enemies.

 That this kind of radical historical revision actually took place in socialist and communist nations doesn’t surprise most people, but what sometimes surprises me is the level to which everyone – even sincere Christians – can be guilty of operating their own version of 1984’s “Ministry of Truth” in their minds by which they change their memories to conform to their present feelings about individuals or institutions. For instance, in marriage counseling one of the most difficult problems to overcome is what I call the “I can’t remember why I married Hitler” syndrome. A person suffering from this syndrome has usually been deeply hurt by their spouse, and there is a high level of animosity between both of them, in fact they are usually teetering on the brink of divorce. At this point, their own private Minitrue is hard at work justifying their current feelings about that individual by removing any memories of good things, pleasant experiences, positive events and just about anything that doesn’t make the other person seem like a monster. In place of these good memories, every bad thing that ever happened between them is magnified and often times memories that were either good or at least neutral are rewritten so that they become bad and unpleasant. Once a person is suffering from this syndrome it often becomes difficult or even impossible for a counselor or pastor to remind them that they were once head over heels in love with this person and couldn’t stand to be apart from them for even a moment. All they know is that they are married to someone who has always been the spousal equivalent of Adolf Hitler, and they are usually looking for a way to end the nightmare as soon as possible. Read More…

Posted by: Andrew Webb | September 25, 2013

Does Matthew 7:1-5 Forbid All Judging?

Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)keep-calm-and-stop-judging-people “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

If you had asked forty years ago for people to tell you what their favorite bible verse was, I’m fairly certain that the most common answer would have been John 3:16, even if they couldn’t recite it from memory. You saw it on T-shirts, license plates, even banners at football games. But today, I’m fairly certain that if you asked the same question, the most popular answer would be Matthew 7:1.

Even if they can’t tell you what the Ten Commandments are, or what the golden rule is, or whether Matthew is located in the Old or New Testament, it seems as though everyone has “Judge not, that you be not judged” memorized, and usually it is brought out whenever anyone points out an obvious sin. For instance, these days, whenever you point out that the bible calls certain sexual behaviors “sins,” it won’t be long before someone is using Matthew 7:1 in such a way that the words of Christ in this verse are actually being used against the words of Christ elsewhere, and scripture is actually being used to silence scripture. Read More…

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