Friday, April 19, 2019

Disengaging from the Bible

Research released recently by Barna indicates that approximately one-half of American adults (48%) are “Bible disengaged.”  I.e. such people interact with the Bible infrequently, if at all.  It has minimal impact upon their lives.   Furthermore, more than one-third (35%) never use the Bible in 2019.  On the other end of the spectrum, only 5% (down from 9% last year) are “Bible centered,” meaning they frequently interact with the Bible so that its truth concretely shapes their relationships and choices.

These numbers are more than merely academic.  The lifestyles of many reflect the real consequences of ignoring the revelation of their Creator.  The breakdown of families, the scourge of drug addition, the proliferation of pornography, the plague of gender-dysphoria, and the unending violence are all the fruit of a society that has turned its back upon God. 

It is easy to complain about the nature of the politicians that represent us locally and nationally.   The lack of character and the absence of wisdom and integrity are endemic among the political class.  Many espouse certain perspectives on the campaign trail that seem to evaporate when established in office.  But the reality is that the paucity of honor and moral strength among our politicians is ultimately merely a reflection of the populace that elected them.

Consider from where we have fallen.  American statesman Daniel Webster (1850-1852) captured the essence of the Pilgrims’ worldview: “Finally, let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely; in the full conviction, that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.”

If there is hope for America it will be found in emulating the spirit of our Pilgrim forefathers.  In our homes, our schools, our governments, and our churches, we must recapture a love for the Word of God and make it the supreme arbiter of moral and spiritual truth.   

Unless the core values of our nation change, we will continue on the fast track to societal and national disintegration.  As Christians, we must pursue the truth of God’s Word as our greatest passion in life.  And that truth will govern how we spend our time, how we vote, how we train our children, how we worship, and what our expectations are of the future.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Evangelism: The Urgency and Necessity

Among the core Christian beliefs is the existence of a place called heaven and the horrific reality of hell.  When time has expired, every person will find himself in one place or the other.  The fact that many choose to ignore this truth in no way lessens the gravity of the prospect.

Scripture unambiguously charges those who know the truth to share that life-changing message with those still in unbelief.  The message of the gospel sets men free, and we are to shine as lights in this dark world (Phil. 2:15).  We are to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).  We are to be witnesses for Christ to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).  And we are to follow the example of Paul and pray with burdened hearts that the lost may be saved (Rom. 10:1).  Those who fill this vital role as bearers of the truth are lauded in Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation …”  There is no function in life of greater importance than being a bearer of the message of salvation through Christ alone.

Yet, in the changing cultural landscape of the Christian church, evangelism is becoming increasingly ignored, even opposed.  Barna research recently released the results of a study which found that almost half (47%) of Millennials agreed at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.  These same Millennials indicated that they are confident in how to respond when their faith is questioned.  But they are quite reticent to do so.

Among older Christians – Boomers and Elders – only about 20% hold to a negative view of sharing their faith for the purpose of evangelism.  So the perspective is definitely tied to one’s generational standing.  But given the waning influence of senior believers and the growing impact of the youthful outlook, this development is of serious concern for the future of the Christian church. 

The Old Testament illustrates what happens when a generation drifts from the core beliefs of their parents (Judges 2:10).  The sorry events recorded in the subsequent chapters of that book serve as stark reminders of the importance of both holding to the faith and passing it on to others.

The Christian’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  One cannot carry out that mandate and keep the faith buttoned up inside.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Who Really Is Jesus Christ?

One would think that of all people in the United States, evangelical Christians would get this question right.  But one would be wrong to make that assumption.

Ligonier’s 2018 State of Theology survey reveals evangelicals’ reaction to the statement: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”  73% strongly agreed; just 14% strongly disagreed.

These results reveal the abysmal state of Christological understanding among the great majority of professing evangelicals.  If the full spectrum of professing Christians were surveyed, doubtless the results would be even worse.  The assumption typically is that the theological acumen of evangelicals is markedly better than nominal Christianity as a whole.  But in this case there is no good news.

The nature of the person of Christ was the subject of intense debate in the early centuries of the Christian church, leading to the development of the Nicene Creed in 325 and further refined and expanded at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.  Part of the Nicene Creed declares that Jesus Christ is “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The statement proposed in the State of Theology survey reflects the ancient heresy taught by Arius in the 4th century, who viewed the Son of God as being created by the Father and therefore less than fully God.  It is the same deviation from the truth promulgated today by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If Jesus was not, as the Council of Chalcedon declared, “perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood, truly God and also truly man,” then He was not capable of paying the infinite price necessary to redeem us from our sin.

Clearly the 21st century church has much work to do in refuting the ancient heresies which have begun to reemerge among our ranks.  So much of Christian preaching and teaching is currently focused on practical matters of how to deal with life’s day-to-day crises that we are losing the critical center of our faith.  If the Son of God is not co-equal with the Father and with the Holy Spirit then we have lost the essence of the Christian faith.  Without the Trinity, lesser issues fade into insignificance.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Forty-Five Years and Counting

To the GCF Family:

Sunday, September 16, 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the formation of the new church body which would eventually become Grace Christian Fellowship, a member congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.  Some of you have been involved since the beginning.  Most of you have joined the church family in the years since.

The vision driving the founding of this church was a desire to remain true to the orthodox teachings of the Christian faith in the face of theological liberalism infiltrating the mainline Presbyterian Church.  Today, the inroads of compromise and lack of theological integrity continue to plague organized Christianity across our land.  Pressures from secular society are taking a toll on numerous denominations.  Rather than standing for biblical orthodoxy, many choose the path of capitulation and compromise, leading to churches that gradually are losing their Christian distinctives.

Semper Reformanda, Reformed and always reforming, has been the battle cry of churches in the heritage of the Protestant Reformation.  This phrase doesn’t mean that we are always to be adapting to the latest trends and demands of secular society.  Rather, the focus of these two Latin words is that churches must be continually striving to re-orient our beliefs to the absolute authority of Scripture.  

The human tendency is to compromise.  The burden of such Reformed churches is that our beliefs and practices must continually be brought back into line with the Word of God.  And that is our goal at Grace Christian Fellowship.  Our loyalty is not ultimately to the traditions of the past but to the abiding relevance of God’s eternal truth in the Bible.

As we look to the future, let us pray and work and serve together so that in the years to come we will remain true to our founding vision.  There is much work to be done to honor the name of Jesus Christ and to address the evident needs of the tri-state area in which we live.  Thousands of people in our neighborhoods lack a fundamental understanding of the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone.  Let us pray for increased zeal that we may more effectively be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).

God has gifted each of you to contribute to the ministry of this congregation.  Let us encourage each other as we serve the Lord together.  May God’s hand of blessing rest upon our labors so that much fruit is produced for His glory.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

American Christianity and the Dodo Bird

     If you listen to many voices in the mainstream media, it is only a matter of time before American Christianity goes the way of long-extinct Dodo bird.  We’re told that this nation is following in the secularizing footsteps of Western Europe where many once-prominent churches have become museums instead of houses of worship.
     A recent article touted this headline: “The Percentage of Young Adults with No Religious Affiliation Has Nearly Quadrupled Since 1986.”  If accurate, that’s scary, because the future of Christianity requires the passing on of the faith to each succeeding generation.  It appears there is a breakdown in this process.
     But upon further examination, the picture is not nearly so dire.  Earlier this year Harvard University published research that clearly demonstrates that America is a strong “exceptional outlier” to the secularization pattern that has happened elsewhere.  Yes, mainline denominations are in precipitous decline.  Churches that deny the historicity of Jesus, the reality of sin, the biblical view of marriage as only between two heterosexual adults, and ordain homosexual clergy are rapidly hemorrhaging members, many of whom are choosing churches that continue to stand for the orthodox and historic Christian faith.  In contrast, our own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, has continued a pattern of slow, consistent growth, with an increase in total membership each of the last four years. 
     People are demonstrating with their feet that they care about theology and real, practical Christianity.  It’s a simple reality that those churches which have forsaken orthodox, biblical theology are experiencing dramatic decline.
     What of the rapid growth of the youthful “nones” – young adults with no religious connection?  Research indicates that of those young people who left the faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood.  The remaining 89 percent indicated that they came from a home where there was a weak adherence to faith and practice.  As one observer commented, “It’s not a news flash that kids don’t tend to hang onto what they never had in the first place.”
     The facts demonstrate that there remains a strong, vibrant Christian community in America.  The Harvard research found that the percentage of Americans who attend church more than weekly, pray daily, and believe the Bible to be a wholly reliable guide for their lives has remained absolutely consistent for at least the past 50 years.  And this is not a tiny percentage.  One-third of Americans pray multiple times a day – this in stark contrast to the average in other countries of one in 15.  Moreover, those who take their faith seriously, as a percentage of all religious people, have grown from 39 percent in 1989 to the current 47 percent.
     The bottom line is that God continues to build a strong Christian presence in this nation.  But that is no reason for complacency.  Instead, these trends highlight the urgency for Christian parents to devote themselves with renewed vigor to the mandate of Deuteronomy 6: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children . . .”  And if you want your church to grow, remain unalterably committed to the historic Christian faith taught in the New Testament and recovered during the Reformation.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Descending toward Destruction

The Apostle Peter reminds his readers that God used the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as an object lesson for the future of humanity.  The text states that God turned the cities into ashes, “making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6).  In other words, if individuals, cities, or even whole nations, choose to live in a manner that flagrantly violates the moral law of God, they can expect similar treatment.  Now, as the Creator, God has many means at His disposal.  In the case of these two cities, He used fire and brimstone.  In the case of the Canaanites, He used Israel’s army.  Upon His own people, He used a plague of disease.  The means is inconsequential.  The divine purpose in doing so is unambiguous: to drive humanity to fear the Lord and to walk in His ways. We cannot devote ourselves to sinful lifestyles without suffering inevitable consequences.

In America today there is an urgent need to reconsider the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Recently a random sample of 1,000 adults was asked about certain family-related behaviors.  Large majorities endorsed such behaviors, either because they regard the actions as “morally acceptable” or because they don’t even rise to the level of being a moral issue.  In the latter perspective, the thinking is that each person can define right or wrong for himself as there is no absolute standard. 

Examples include the following: getting a divorce is acceptable to 77% of the respondents; sexual intercourse between unmarried male and female adults was approved by 71%; having a baby outside of marriage was acceptable to 69%, and viewing pornographic pictures and videos was unobjectionable to 58%.

George Barna, who directed the research, further noted that at least 15% and as much as 40% of American adults do not consider such behavior a moral issue at all.  These people believe they are free to do whatever is right in their own eyes, with no divine disapproval to be concerned about.

Beyond the concrete example that the destruction of these two cities presents is the general warning in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”  God has revealed His mind in the Scriptures for our benefit.  Let us take heed and proclaim this truth to our land while God grants us more time to repent and turn to Him for forgiveness and salvation through Christ.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Christian Response to Overt Evil

As Americans, and as Christians, we are reeling from the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX on Sunday.  We have more questions than answers.  We grieve for this tiny community which lost so many lives in an attack driven by unadulterated evil.

Last month these words of John Calvin, from nearly 5 centuries ago, came to my attention.  They remain sound advice for us who face tragedies of our own time.  In 2 Samuel 1 King David is grieving the loss of King Saul and his son, David’s beloved friend Jonathan.  Expanding upon the Scriptural account, Calvin comments as follows.

We can see how God is afflicting the world today. Even people who are strangers to us are related to us, because we are all made in the image of God, and have a common nature which should be a mutual bond of love and brotherhood. Then there is a far closer union between ourselves and the suffering of believers who are scattered here and there in all churches which God has chastened on every side.

Indeed, we see troubles everywhere; we see fires burning; we hear that the throats of poor innocent people have been cut; that they have been subjected to mockery and contempt, and that they are being led to the slaughter. We see the enemies of truth ready to annihilate everything, and we do not know what God is intending to do. Nevertheless, see how his sword is unsheathed. The fire, as I have said, is kindled and we do not know how far it will burn.

Let us thus allow ourselves to be genuinely touched by mourn­ing, anxiety and grief so that we will not be careless, hardened, or unfeeling over what our poor brothers are going through. Instead, let us have the kind of compassion towards them which members of the same body owe to one another. On the other hand, let us not give way to despair, like those who have become so grieved and full of lamentation that they refuse the remedy of consolation in God. Rather, let us confess our sins, knowing that our savior has not ceased to pour out his blessings upon us, even though we have sinned. Then, in the midst of our sorrows, let us recognize all our offenses so that he may show himself merciful to us, as he always has done to those who clearly take refuge in him.  (John Calvin, Sermon on 2 Samuel 11562).

The conflict with evil has not abated in 500 years.  May God help us to “mourn with those who mourn” while maintaining our confidence in the Lord’s sovereign purposes.  Let us support in our prayers those who have experienced such tragic loss at the hands of a madman.  And let us not fail to recognize the fragile grip we have on life in this world, how quickly it can be shattered, and how vital it is to make each moment count in light of eternity to come.