It's been an amazing past few days watching the fallout from David Platt's prayer over president Trump. When I first heard about the situation and read the transcript of the prayer, my initial reaction was quite positive. This was further confirmed for me when I saw the video. From what I know of Platt, he isn't the type to mark his ministry with political affiliations. In fact, for a guy who wrote a book about being radical for Jesus and pushing against American success, I found his move to pray for Trump quite admirable. Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer provided some further insight into just how far removed Platt is from being a sycophant for Trump. After all, this was the same guy who was conflicted about participating in the president's first prayer breakfast and who last year gave a speech at the TGC conference that ruffled feathers over remarks made about racial equality. I have no idea of his political orientation, but I think it's a safe bet that he's probably not a big fan of Trump. So his decision --and one that was hastily made given the unannounced nature of the visit--to bring Trump on stage and pray according to Scripture was even more commendable. It seemed to me that he prioritized pray and the preaching of the gospel over his own bent.
Apparently, not everyone saw it that way. As the criticism mounted, there was a general consensus that Platt should not have brought him up on the stage. Doing so seemed to give him a priority status that smacked of conflating politics with Christianity. Some believed his presence on the stage to be harmful to women and minorities, especially considering statements that have been made that have racist undertones.
Now, the first charge might have some validity if Platt had prayed a politically charged prayer. However, the content of the prayer appealed to the lordship of Christ and the granting of wisdom in line with the 1 Timothy 2:1-6 passage he read. In other words, there was nothing in his prayer that suggested any kind of partisan interest or political posturing. Platt is far from being of the ilk of evangelicals that court the president. So any criticism in this regard is unwarranted, in my opinion.
However, I am not without empathy for the other reason. I confess, I don't care for Trump and continue to be disheartened that out of all the GOP candidates in the 2016 election, his presidency was the outcome. I confess I am one of those never-Trump conservatives who would have gladly voted for any of the other candidate on that stage (and did as a write-in). Since he came into office, I have vowed to be fair and give credit to where it is due. But do I find his boorish behavior devaluing of the presidential office and his crude remarks towards women and minorities to give credence to the charges of racism and sexism. In short, had I been in that congregation, I would have been uncomfortable, too, especially with the applause that erupted after Platt's prayer.
But here's the thing: in the Lord's house, the greatest priority is to honor Christ, proclaim his lordship and orient the hearts of the congregants towards him. However I feel about a particular individual and whatever I think may have been ill motives on his part, all of that has to be subjected to the purpose for which we are gathered. Yes, Trump crashed a church service and quite possibly for his own political gain and photo op. But that doesn't take away the priority of prayer and preaching the gospel that obviously took precedence for Platt. In his post-service statement that he issued in response to the pushback, he stated, "In that brief moment, I prayed specifically for an opportunity to speak the gospel to him, and for faithfulness to pray the gospel over him." Aside from the fact that he was put on the spot (and perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt) I'm puzzled why a prayer that was so thoroughly gospel saturated and honored Christ as king would be so upsetting to God's people, unless of course, our priorities are misplaced.
Sadly, the whole episode of the backlash quite possibly revealed that we have elevated other priorities over Christ's redemption and kingdom purposes. What does it say that we cannot abide by prayer for a sinner that he would look to Jesus and govern wisely according to kingdom precepts? Have we elevated our disdain for Trump above the cause of Christ and the fact that he can turn the most wretched of human beings, or those we deem wretched, into his followers by softening the hardest hearts? When God gave his commands to Old Testament church in Exodus 20, the very first thing he told them (and us), "you shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20:2). That means we give no other agenda above his and place his kingdom paradigm above any socio-political interest.
Christ came to save sinners and he commands his church to make disciples of all nations. If in fact we truly believe that Trump is the worst of the worst, what better opportunity to display the love of Christ by proclaiming the agenda and lordship of Christ over a person we believe in dire need of this heart orientation. Who knows what that prayer on a stage did in his heart. Instead of being mad that Platt made a wrong decision about bringing him on the stage, perhaps we can be glad that Trump encountered a pastor who had no other interest than honoring Christ as Lord above any kind of partisan agenda.
I can't help but wonder if the underlying premise to the criticism is that we really don't believe that Trump is deserving of God's grace and mercy. The book of Jonah is instructive here. God told Jonah to bring a message to the Ninevites about turning their hearts towards him. Instead, Jonah did everything he could to avoid such a spectacle and begrudged the fact that God would ask such a thing. Just like Jonah, who qualified who should receive God's grace and mercy, we might be saying the same thing disguised as anti-partisan interests. But here's a telling clue: would we have the same reaction if the same situation happened and the same prayer was offered over former president Obama?
At the end of the day, our chief priority is to exalt Christ and his agenda. I believe Pastor David Platt did just that.
Lisa Robinson Spencer holds a ThM degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She is newly married and recently moved from Dallas, TX to Roanoke, VA where she reside with her husband Evan and attends Christ the King Presbyterian Church.
For followers of Christ in America, things are changing rapidly. If thirty years ago, you would have predicted where our culture would be on a variety of issues, no one would have believed you. And yet, here we are, with many aspects of the moral fabric of the culture spiraling down at breakneck speed.
A while back, I wrote some policies for how the church that I serve as pastor will handle marriage-related issues after the legalization of same-sex marriage. As I began articulating our beliefs on marriage, I originally wrote that we believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Suddenly it struck me--that definition is no longer clear enough. Rather, our documents needed to say one biological man and one biological woman. There were similar issues related to the current gender chaos, which demanded careful and nuanced language.
This is where we are in our culture. As I hear many Christians react to the changes in our culture, I hear panic in their voices. In fact, I would say that fear of the changes we are facing in the culture grips and controls many professing believers.
So, how do we respond to cultural declension and intimidation that we see happening? This is not a new question for Christians. Thankfully, we have a good roadmap in the Bible for how to deal with this. And the examples laid before us involve contexts that are far more difficult than the one we find ourselves in. One such example is Acts 4:1-31.
In the Book of Acts, the Gospel of Jesus Christ explodes and spreads at an exponential rate. Yet, that growth did not come without difficulty. It was not a comfortable path. As we begin Acts 4, Peter and John had just healed a man. After that healing, Peter and John preach the Gospel and they do so with boldness. As the crowds grow, the Temple Guard and the Sadducees have Peter and John arrested. They threaten and attempt to intimidate them.
The council of rulers, elders, and scribes asserted their power and authority over Peter and John. The next day the council questions them, "By what power do you do this?" (Acts 4:7). The council sought to show Peter and John that they have no power and should fall in line with their expectations. But their attempts at intimidation fail. When Peter and John are told no longer to speak and teach in the name of Jesus, they steadfastly refuse, "We cannot help but speak what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
Do you see the picture? Manipulation. Threats. Intimidation. Legal power. This has been faced before. Did you notice the courage? The boldness? It is possible to stand up against cultural intimidation. How? The Resurrection. Look at Peter. Before the cross, Peter denied Jesus three times--with cursing! And here he is, boldly refusing to bow to the intimidation. The Resurrection changes everything. Death has been defeated! Living in the reality of the Resurrection is what makes us bold in the moment of cultural intimidation.
When Peter and John were released, they returned to the community of believers and tell them everything that happened. In response, they gather to pray. I wonder, if you were in their shoes, what would you pray for? Would you pray for safety? Protection? But that's not at all what they pray for. "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness" (Acts 4:29).
They pray for boldness to continue speaking, even though they know that to continue preaching might mean ending up in prison again. When was the last time you prayed for courage rather than for your temporal deliverance? When did you last just pray, "Lord give me courage"? Have you ever?
Why do we lean toward prayers of comfort rather than prayers for courage? I think it all boils down to expectations. These believers still had the images of the cross of Christ fresh in their minds. Jesus told this little band of believers to go make disciple of the whole world.
They didn't think it would be easy. They didn't envision their spiritual lives as a spiritual vacation. They believed that they had been called as soldiers to spiritual war. They did not expect life to be problem free and stress-free. So when problems came, they prayed for the strength to face them with courage.
Imagine you are coaching a football team and after a few plays, your players come to the sidelines exasperated, "Coach! The problem is that they keep hitting us!" You would be perplexed. This is football. You get hit in football. If you don't want to get hit, don't play football. Too many Christians face cultural intimidation and ask "What's going on? Why is this happening?" Well, do you want to be a Christian? We must understand that Christianity is a spiritual contact sport. Expect to get hit.
Where did we get the idea that we were saved for a spiritual vacation?
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).
We have not been saved for a spiritual vacation, but for spiritual war. Our cultural opponents are also our mission field. But what if we never ask for courage like the believers in Acts 4? What if we believe that Christianity saves us from having to have courage? Then we will respond to cultural intimidation with cowardice. We will attempt to sever our Christian life from the Christian mission. We will think that Christianity is about me being happier and more content and only occasionally are we called, on our own terms, to be sacrificially on mission.
These believers in Acts 4 saw their whole life as living out the mission. They existed to make much of Jesus and spread the Gospel. Many professing Christians have traded theology for sentimentality. They want convictions that cost them nothing. Only when we realize that Christianity is a spiritual contact sport, will we prepare for and ask for courage in the battle.
A witness for Christ in any age--and certainly in this present age--requires a prayer-saturated, Christ-centered, Gospel-motivated, Bible-shaped, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying commitment to "speak the truth in love." But this essential command for effective Gospel ministry to both those not yet saved and those already saved is easier said than done. The prevailing tendency is to sacrifice "speaking the truth" in the name of love, or to thoughtlessly speak the truth without love. We cannot truly love without speaking truth truthfully; and we can't speak truth truthfully without loving intentionally and thoughtfully. You can "speak the truth" without loving but you can't "love" without "speaking the truth." To paraphrase a much more able Gospel minister from another age who confronted this issue with a clear, insightful and captivating observation: "Truth without love is barbarity, but love without truth is cruelty" (Bishop J. C. Ryle).
Because speaking the truth is central to an effective Gospel ministry, there is little doubt that Satan will devise as many reasons possible to discourage Christians from either speaking to those living in the death spiral of sin and idolatry; or to distract them from intentionally, thoughtfully and relentlessly loving sinners drowning in the brokenness of a sin-deceived life.
Furthermore, it is equally obvious that if Satan cannot silence the truth, he will attempt to trap us into speaking the truth without love. If he can't stop us from loving, he will entice us to quit speaking the truth. He does this in two ways. First, Satan tempts us to minimize truth with meaningless euphemisms that disguise the horrific consequences and the irrationality and blasphemy of sin. Second, and often even more effectively, he will culturally intimidate us into outright silence in the name of love. Our diminished truth speaking or silence actually reveals that we are more interested in people loving us than we are in them knowing truthfully the love of Christ and being brought into the life-changing blessing of loving the Christ who first loved them.
So Satan--with an insatiable desire to reduce love into deeds that are void of truth or to communicate truth through self-righteous arrogance--today employs five deceptive myths:
Five Deceptive Myths
What is the Result?
In the present age the influence of these myths (when they are individually and/or collectively embraced) are almost always initially revealed by "selective truth speaking"--all of which is done in the name of "sensitivity." The result is that many contemporary Christians following their leaders will sacrifice truth speaking in the name of love; yet, amazingly, they will boldly address the sins and prevailing issues that the culture agrees are undesirable. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with speaking to cultural sins (cultural sin and justice concerns must both be addressed, after all). However, though many boldly speak the truth on issues found on the list of "Culturally Approved Topics for Denunciation," there is an astonishing silence about other prevalent issues the Bible clearly identifies as heinous sins. Why the silence? First of all, those who the masses confront are confronted with permission by today's culture shapers. Many suppose that by speaking to these issues the cultural capital of the church will be enhanced. But in contrast, those sins--corporate, cultural, and individual--which are avoided, are the ones that have been declared off limits because they are on the "Cultural Approved Lifestyle List." Even more, those issues on the Culturally Approved Lifestyle List are not only declassified as sins but now are to be celebrated, perpetuated and propagated. This brings us to the crux of the question: is "selective truth speaking" an evidence of sensitivity or is it a lack of courage; is it compassion or is it cowardice?
Multitudes of ministers and leaders are imploring Christians to embrace this "selective truth speaking" as an exalted virtue. For example, the present culture expresses concern about refugees, sex trafficking, racism, and other heinous sins and injustices--and rightly so! Churches and pulpits join the culture's efforts by truth speaking affirming these practices as sins and lovingly instituting ministry initiatives to eradicate these acts of iniquity and minister to the victims. And so we should and must! But by doing so an unassailable fact emerges - leadership is speaking publicly with compassion, courage and conviction. In fact, when pastors speak publicly on these issues, in their sermons and on their podcasts or blogs, people praise them for the very fact that they are being leaders. They should be praised for this.
However, at the same time, many of the voices that speak boldly on these issues are silent in the same public square concerning the agenda of culturally normalizing unfettered sexual eroticism, marital anarchy, and the sanctity of life (among others). In addition to their deafening on these issues - which the culture is now promoting and celebrating - it is now considered unspiritual or unbecoming for the Christian and/or the church to participate in the messiness of bringing the blessings of common grace to the culture by promoting and debating public policies rooted in a Biblically informed public theology for human flourishing.
A Crucial Theological Fact
Often, in all of this, one important theological fact is forgotten. We live in a world that, emphatically, does not desire the love of Christ or the truth of the Gospel. It never has and, apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit; and, it never will. Neither did I, until the grace of God changed my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brought me from death unto life. What did He use? He used believers who spoke the truth in love to me. They did so with varying degrees of sophistication, but praise the Lord they were willing to speak the truth and love me. Now I, as a beneficiary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their courageous compassion, must also speak the truth--lovingly--to those who need me to do so (even if they do not approve me doing so - even if they do not want me to do so)--we still must do so as others did so for me and you.
We must seek to speak the truth thoughtfully, timely and with words carefully chosen--even while we create an environment of love for effective communication. If a doctor knows you have a terminal condition and loves you he will not be silent. He will thoughtfully tell you the truth. He will likely take you aside in a private room providing an appropriate environment. Then he will tell you the truth in love and he will love you with the truth. Ministers are physicians for the soul. We know sin brings death and we know God's grace has provided the solution to sin's guilt and power. We also know that God has commissioned us to speak the truth in an environment of love. We cannot be silent about the truth they need to hear in the name of love any more than the doctor could. Nor would we tell them the truth about sin and God's grace in Christ without creating a thoughtful environment of love.
Those who have not yet come to Christ need to hear the truth of His Word spoken from those who will love them sacrificially and intentionally. And those who know Christ but have faltered in their walk for Him need us to love them enough to speak the truth. Those around us need us to deliver truth with a love that demonstrates the astonishing and unstoppable love of Christ and Him crucified.
In a world that has grown increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel, it would be easy to fall prey to perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed statements like the one famously attributed to the renowned St. Francis of Assisi: "preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words." Instead, we must preach the Gospel and we must use words because they are necessary. Why? Because God's word tells us that "faith comes by hearing." In a word, we must speak the truth.
Love is essential because it opens the door for truth, affirms the truth and authenticates the truth; but, it is the truth that will "set you free." We are all born with a desire to be approved. But for believers our approval rating does not come from the world. "Do your best to present yourself unto God...handling accurately the Word of Truth."
Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. Harry completed his doctoral dissertation on "The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization" and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church, as well as a number of other published works.
"This light momentary affliction," Paul writes, "is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul's use of the singular noun "affliction" in 2 Cor. 4:7 is intriguing. Paul doesn't say afflictions (plural), which would suggest periodic suffering in the life of the Christian. Nor, to all appearances, is he referring to some specific episode of suffering in his own life and ministry, though Paul's life and ministry certainly contained episodes of more concentrated difficulty. He seems, rather, to be making a point generic to all Christians (hence the "for us"). "This light momentary affliction," then, seems to be a reference to the entirety of the Christian's life on this side of eternity. The Christian's life in toto can be characterized as one singular "affliction." The whole thing is hard. The hardship of the Christian life doesn't preclude joy. Nor does it preclude any number of concrete pleasures in this life (family, friendships, craft beer, pillow fights, etc.). But the life of the faithful Christian will, as a whole, be difficult.
That's a hard pill for us as Americans to swallow. Our culture puts tremendous pressure on us not just to be happy -- to pursue happiness in the here and now at any cost -- but also to look happy. Hence selfies. Selfies exist, I'm convinced, not to preserve or trigger their subjects' memories of places visited, things seen, and experiences experienced, but to be posted to some form of social media in order to project a certain image of their subjects; namely, the image of fun, adventurous, and (above all) happy people. Paul's designation of life as an "affliction" invites us to abandon the very pretense our culture bids us maintain. Acknowledging life as difficult is both scary, because it pushes against the grain of cultural expectations, and liberating, because it invites us to stop pretending that everything's peachy all the time.
But why must life be so hard for Christians? Difficulty in life is typically attended by confusion on the part of those undergoing it. The question "why?" seems to follow inevitably in the train of suffering. There seems to be a logic to Paul's sequence: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair" (2 Cor. 4:8). There is, of course, the obvious response that life is hard for Christians because it's hard for everyone in consequence of the Fall. But Paul, in 2 Cor. 4:7-12, outlines a particular logic for the suffering that Christians' encounter, a logic that, if grasped, might help Christians endure in the midst of difficulty. The suffering Paul seems especially to have in mind in these verses is persecution as a result of efforts to share the Gospel. But the logic for suffering he outlines, I think, has applicability to other forms of hardship.
Christians suffer, first of all, because God delights to triumph in weakness. "We have this treasure in jars of clay," Paul writes, "to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." The treasure that Christians' possess and seek to share with the world is the Gospel and its fruits. But their efforts to share that treasure with the world generally reap trouble. Life as a clay jar ain't pretty (see 2 Cor. 4:8-9). It's not surprising, of course, that efforts to share the Gospel with others result in unpleasantness. The Gospel is an affront to those who would deny any absolute moral standard because they wish to live their lives without accountability or consequence. It's even more of an affront to those who would acknowledge an absolute moral standard, but insist upon their own ability to meet that standard. The Gospel, in other words, is offensive.
But God grows his kingdom through the means of Christian witness, however much attended by animosity from the world. There is, in fact, a correspondence between the manner in which God accomplishes salvation through the person and work of His Son and the manner in which he advances his kingdom through the application of Christ's work to elect sinners. God triumphed over sin, death, and hell through apparent weakness -- an apparently deluded man hanging on a cross, Rome's most despicable instrument of capital punishment. God brings sinners through faith into a share in Christ's kingdom through equally apparent weakness -- persecuted, perplexed, and suffering Christians, feebly testifying to the treasure that they possess and trying to share it with others. Jars of clay. Significantly for our theme, the weakness of the means (i.e., us) that God has chosen to advance his kingdom ensures that all glory and praise for the same will be returned to him in the final analysis. The "surpassing power" that brings fruition to the efforts of silly people proclaiming a silly message clearly "belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7).
But there is a further logic to suffering outlined in these verses, which is this: Suffering turns our lives into sermons. Suffering may or may not show us what we're made of (as the saying goes), but it will definitely show us and others where our hope, where our identity, and where our confidence lay. The suffering Christian, in other words, becomes a form of Gospel proclamation to the world. Feed a Christian to the lions, or give a Christian some incurable disease, and what do you discover? Someone who ultimately has more invested in the life to come than this present life. Someone who can face pain and even death with ultimate hope rather than despair. Strip a Christian of his job and livelihood and what do you discover? Someone whose identity is rooted less in a profession or job title than it is in the reality of God's love and Christ's work for him. Someone whose confidence rests in God's sovereign provision more than it does in a bank account. Soak the Christian in trouble and then wring that Christian out, and what will pour from that Christian is the Gospel in visible, lived, concrete form. What will pour from that Christian, in other words, is confidence that nothing this world throws at him/her can jeopardize his/her treasure, namely, the Gospel and all that it comprises, which is chiefly the prospect of eternity in God's presence (2 Cor. 4:17).
Paul makes it clear in the opening chapters of 2 Cor. 4 that one aspect of our calling as witnesses to Christ is to make "open statement of the truth" (i.e., open our mouths, and actually articulate the gospel to others.) In 2 Cor. 4:8-12 he makes it equally clear that "open statement of the truth" can be made with our lives in addition to our lips. "We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." Translation: We who are heirs of eternal life with God ("we who live") will regularly get the snot kicked out of us in life ("are always being given over to death"). But suffering has a purpose ("for Jesus' sake"). It puts our hope in Christ on full display to others. It turns our lives per se into a form of witness ("so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh").
Suffering is no fun, no matter how we gloss it. But seeing the opportunity that suffering affords to proclaim the Gospel with our lives may go some way towards helping us to "count it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds" (James 1:2).
If I've heard it once I have heard it a thousand times: Christians who are members in Reformed Churches tripping over themselves to apologize about how poorly the Reformed Church does evangelism. Related to this is the tried and true self-deprecation: "We need to see more adult baptisms." What turns my stomach most of all, however, is hearing such individuals says things like, "Evangelical churches win people to Christ and then we disciple them." Such a statement is almost entirely untrue. In this post, I wish to challenge the assertion that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism by focusing attention on the sacrament of baptism.
It has been both my pleasure and privilege to baptize more adult converts than I ever could have imagined when I first became a pastor. However, it is probably the case that the majority of baptisms that I have performed have been those of the children of believers. For some-- even among those who gladly wear the Reformed and Confessional label--this is not a good thing. "We need more adult baptisms," they say. Generally speaking, those who talk like this seem to have embraced a scale by which they judge baptisms: Infant baptism, good; older children (in a family that has transferred from a non-Reformed Church) baptized by profession of faith, better; college students/young professionals baptized on profession of faith, even better; middle aged or senior converts, even better still. The problem with this scale is that people who unnecessarily create levels of baptism unfortunately reduce the beauty of covenantal baptism, and unwittingly undermining baptism itself. Covenantal (i.e. household and infant baptism) is baptism. We should, therefore, rejoice in the same manner and with the same passion and emotion at each and every baptism. Sadly, it is often the case that, for many, simply speaking of "infant baptism" subtly undermines baptism.
Those who have adopted a baptism scale miss what is actually taking place during the baptism of the infant of a believer. When the child of a believer is baptized we are doing evangelism and we are making disciples (Matt. 28:18). At every baptism we rejoice in the work of God in these waters as we witness another baptism, another disciple being made and another member added to Christ church. From this perspective the Reformed Church is quite good at evangelism.
One of the things that the Reformed Church universally acknowledges is that re-baptism isn't baptism. When I was 19 or 20 years old, having undergone a profoundly religious experience and a turning from sin to Christ, a group of Christians was encouraging me to be re-baptized. The ironic thing about this experience was that the group encouraging me to do this, on the one hand, absolutely insisted on it (so much so that membership was not allowed without it); while, on the other hand, they were equally clear that baptism doesn't really matter that much. They told me that baptism was about me taking a step of obedience and proclaiming my new life. The reason I was told I had to be re-baptized was because I had been baptized as an infant. To the group insisting on re-baptism, this baptism didn't count. I came to see, however, that my baptism as an infant was really baptism and my experience in the backyard pool at 19 or 20 was nothing more than a religious incantation which I was forced to undergo.
There is no such thing as re-baptism. There is only baptism. Baptism is not repeatable. There is only one baptism. One is either a baptized person or one is not a baptized person. The Reformers and the Reformed Church have consistently defended the fact that baptism cannot be undone--no matter the state of one's heart or one's church standing.
Grasping this principle helps us understand, in part, why we see fewer adult baptisms than infant baptisms in our church. Additionally, it helps allay the thesis that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism. One very clear reason why we see fewer adults being baptized in our church is because a large number of people come to repentance and faith in Christ many years after having been baptized as infants. In that case, they join our church by reaffirmation of faith rather than re-baptism. That was my experience and it is the experience of many who live in areas where the Gospel has been at work for Centuries.
In contrast to such an approach to baptism, evangelicals of all stripes insist that those who have had a spiritual experience and have come to Christ in repentance and faith must enter their waters. By virtue of that, Evangelical churches have more adult baptisms than Reformed Churches. This is, of course, nothing new. This is the Anabaptist way. The fanatics (as Calvin called them) were doing the same during the Reformation as they are doing in our day. By the looks of things, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Does the fact that we do not see more adult baptisms really mean that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism? Au contraire; it may simply mean that we have a different way of evaluating and calculating effectiveness. Simply put, this difference stems from a different way of viewing baptism.
The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2.24-25).
A couple of times a month, as God enables us, the church which I serve attempts to proclaim the gospel in the centre of our town, preaching in the open air, handing out tract-invitations, and engaging in conversation with those who have a few moments to spare. Today was one of those occasions, and it gave a fairly representative glimpse into the spiritual battleground on which we are fighting.
On our arrival, we found the Jehovah's Witnesses established just along from our usual patch. They have been unusually active in our area recently, and have begun to employ some new techniques and hardware - well-designed portable leaflet stands which are put up in prominent or busy places (just outside bus, train and tube stations seem to be favourites, though obviously not limited to them) with a couple of well-spoken Witnesses manning their stations.
As we began to set up and hand out our invitations some distance away, a passing gentleman pointed out to me that we had a little competition. Trying to seize the opportunity, I plunged into what became a conversation with a French philosopher of sorts (literally French, philosophical by inclination), a thoroughgoing humanist for whom all was relative and death alone was absolute. We ranged hither and yon, with the usual shoal of red herrings as I tried to address his objections and bring him back always to the scriptural realities of sin and salvation. He parted with my contact details, and expressed a willingness to consider getting in touch so that I could speak with him further. I hope, too, that he will accept the invitation to come to our church services and to see what kind of people are true Christians, and so learn the character of the God we serve.
His claim that we had competition (to which I will return) was further and sadly enhanced by the arrival of another local group, wild-eyed Arminians with a thoroughly worldly programme and a range of heresies to proclaim and a great deal of health and wealth to promise. They saw us, sounded us out, got their gear out about twenty yards away and planted themselves all around us. Their basic approach is to set up something like a street party, invite people to another party, and then try to sweep people further into their clutches on a wave of emotions. There is a lot of Bible speak, but not a great deal of biblical truth. The noise of their contribution bordered on the overwhelming.
Interestingly, they were drowned out by about forty devotees of Hare Krishna who were making their way into and around the centre of the town with drums, bells and cymbals. We heard them coming a way off. Given that our Arminian friends had bordered on the aggressive in their locating of themselves, a troupe of orangey chanters trampling pretty much through and over them might have caused a snigger in less high-minded chaps than ourselves. One quick-witted of our number managed to get in amongst them and hand out a few tracts, but the poor fellow was almost drowned in the tangerine tide.
It did not appear, on the surface of things, to be our most successful endeavour. It certainly underlined to us the nature of the battle. As we prayed, we asked the Lord to save those who are trapped in these godless and heretical environments, and to bring all these systems of error to nothing. As one of our number pointed out, there was something Athenian in the situation: our spirits were provoked as we saw our town given over to idols (Acts 17:16) and so we tried to reason with them, preaching to them Jesus and the resurrection by means of tracts and conversations (less so by open proclamation on this occasion, given the nature of the environment). It is interesting that all the artwork I have found of Paul in Athens gives the impression of a rapt audience seemingly enamoured of a potent speaker who has his hearers in the palm of his hand. I wonder how near or far those images are from the reality? We are not Paul, we know that, but maybe it was not quite as neat and pleasant there as some of our imaginations make out.
So, are we in competition? Are we, as my Gallic interlocutor suggested, just one of a range of equally valid voices all clamouring for attention? As I pointed out to him, we are not.
First of all, we do not compete in terms of method. We are not going to attempt to out-suave, out-dance, out-shout, and out-beat those who come with their empty messages and vain offers. We are not playing that game and we do not need to. Just because the world suggests that we are one among many in the marketplace of ideas does not mean we have to prostitute our message with the same froth and filth as everyone else. We are not competing in terms of our method.
Second, as I made clear, we are not merely offering another alternative to a range of spiritual or intellectual placebos. In that sense, we are not competing in terms of our message. Every other offer he was hearing - indeed, his own notions and his own system in which he so ardently believed - called out to mankind to look to themselves, to work harder, do better and climb higher. Ultimately, and in many cases sooner rather than later, every other one of those systems and claims will crash and burn. Ours is the one distinctive message: a call to look out and up, to look to Christ who has accomplished all, finished the work, having climbed down to save his wretched and rebellious creatures by suffering and dying in their place, exhausting God's curse against sin and providing his own righteousness in order that we might stand before him with peace and joy. We call men away from everything else to the one true and living God, and to his Son, who loved us and gave his life for us, and rose from the dead in triumph on our behalf. We see and feel and loathe and mourn the clamour of falsehood and idolatry that swirls around us, but it is not a competition between parallel vanities. It is a battle between the truth of God and the range of damnable errors and heresies and emptinesses that masquerade as hopes for the hopeless and helps for the helpless.
May God grant that within and without the walls of our church buildings, he would give us grace to give earnest, winsome and unflinching testimonies to the truth as it is in Jesus, demonstrating in our lives the truths that we confess with our lips! May God's message and God's method prevail, and may the light overcome the darkness!
When I listen to men battling away around Europe (and the states) in well off areas, it makes me break out in a cold sweat.He went on to sing the praises of the straightforward, straight-speaking Schemer, the noble savage of the Edinburgh wilds, a square-jawed all-round good egg (come on, Mez, rise to the bait), open of heart and hearth.
How the heck do you evangelize in an area where everybody has a decent paid job, a nice place to live and possibly a car (or two) on the drive?
How do you break through the intellectual pride of a worldview that thinks religion is beneath them and that science has all the answers?
How do you witness in an area where the average house price is over £250k? How do you talk to a guy who feels no need for Christ because he is distracted by his materialism?
How do you make it work in an area filled with nice, law abiding citizens, who don't cheat on their wives, beat their kids and spend their days stoned on the sofa watching reality TV?
Now that's hard.
That's more than hard. That, my friends, is brutal.
Hard is trying to build authentic community among a scattered congregation. Hard is trying to foster meaningful relationships in a diarised culture. Hard is trying to engage in spiritual conversations with disinterested individuals. Hard is not having the freedom to pop into your friends house uninvited because it might not be polite.So, how do you evangelize? Exactly the same way as you do anywhere else: you go to the people around you, you speak to the people in front of you, you seek to communicate to them in an intelligent and intelligible way the reality of man's ruin through sin and redemption through Christ, relying on the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the blind to the truth as it is in Jesus.
As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Rom 3.10-19)Those are the facts. All the world is guilty before God; all the world needs the gospel. All are in darkness, and all need the light. That is the reality, wherever you are labouring. Every preacher engaging with the lost could tell you the same. As Mez sez,
please, let's not compare our ministries on who has it toughest.However, Mez has already conceded the high ground. It is clear who are the real tough guys. What we do, we warriors of the up-class urbs and the beatific burbs, is "more than hard . . . [it] is brutal." We don't even have the glamour of being applauded because people (apart from Mez) think it's hard. So, if you want a really hard ministry, come and visit us here in Crawley. There is always more work; there are not so many workers.
I promise not to if you don't. Let's just get behind one another in concerted prayer and support. Let's get rid of this spiritual one up-manship and face the facts that it's all a privilege anyway.
Amazon.com provide a service called Certified Frustration-Free Packaging. The idea seems to be that whatever it is you order comes ready to use right out of the box, eliminating that 'wrap rage' to which I am sure we are all endlessly subject. It is advertised with a video in which two customers receive the same product, one in traditional packaging and the other in frustration-free packaging. A troubled woman spends about fifteen minutes trying to put her item together and is left with a pile of waste and a pained expression; a cheerful chap pretty much pulls his out of the box and is left with oodles of happiness and more time to enjoy his gift. Now, what kind of salvation are you seeking? Salvation is an intricate, glorious, wonderful thing, needing to be complete and perfect if it is to be effective. But man's efforts are not unlike receiving a box with countless thousands of pieces but no tools and no instructions. Despite all our efforts, we can never put salvation together, and are left with nothing but frustration and waste. In Christ Jesus, the Lord of heaven has provided us with the finished article - there is nothing to do except to receive it, and to enjoy what has been given, full and final.Levy, you owe me a kebab.
Recently, I published a book titled Words in Season: On Sharing the Hope that is Within Us. It is an introduction to sharing the good news of Christ that was birthed out of a Sunday school series. The book not only focuses on our individual privilege to witness of the person and work of Jesus but it also emphasizes the centrality of the local church. You can read more about it here.
In chapter 3, I focus on some of the common hindrances to personal evangelism. There are ethnic and cultural barriers; sometimes we wonder if our Bible knowledge is adequate; we are, perhaps, overly concerned about our reputation; we don't want to lose friends; we are nervous. I believe, in time, these concerns can be reduced or completely overcome. However, one of the biggest deterrents, which I only briefly mentioned elsewhere in the book, is one that is difficult to overcome. We cannot eliminate it. We cannot reduce it; it is there when you go to sleep; it is there when you awake; no matter where you go, it always follows you--time.
I've sometimes remarked the older I get, the faster time seems to move. Yet that is exactly what is required for personal evangelism, which is the very thing that it seems we often do not have--time. Our schedules are packed with many so-called obligations--children's sports activities, church meetings, personal hobbies and interests, writing blogs or other literature, spending time on Facebook, employment, sermon preparation, family vacation, education. With our massive to-do lists, where is the time to share Jesus Christ and him crucified?
It takes time to talk to others about Jesus. It takes more time to invite these people, with whom you share Christ, into your life so that they might see the realities of your faith (Col. 4:5-6).
Although time seems to move faster the older we get, we can change. We can be more aware of this great privilege to talk about Christ and invite others into our lives. It is much like our finances. Once we realize we are overspending in a certain area, we rearrange our budget to more accurately reflect what is important to us. Similarly, if sharing the good news of Christ and inviting unbelievers in to your life is important, you will rearrange your busy schedule in order to accommodate those priorities.
Jesus spent time w/ people; he entered their homes; he walked with them; he talked with them; he repeatedly answered their concerns and objections. I do not believe the point of the Gospels is help us calculate the amount of time Christ spent with unbelievers so that we might enumerate how much we should spend with them; nevertheless, the point is clear--Christ spent time with unbelievers. We should, too.
However, be mindful. There is a popularized phrase floating around called, "Friendship evangelism." The emphasis is on building relationships with unbelievers as a means to share Christ with them. (That is my understanding). This is dangerous. First, while it a fantastic idea to erect relationships with unbelievers, if we are developing those relationships for the expressed purpose to share the gospel, the friendship is simply a means to an end. We do not really care about them. We are not in awe that they are made in the image and after the likeness of God. We are simply befriending them to reduce our fears. Our underlying purpose in developing a friendship with unbelievers is to soften the impact of that initial conversation about religious matters.
Is that true friendship?
This is one of the reasons I share the gospel with unbelievers almost as soon as I meet them. That way, when the topic is approached in the future, it is no surprise. There are instances, though, when we cannot share the gospel immediately. Providence seems to prohibit it. In that case, what do we do?
Chapter 8 in Words in Season is titled, "Hospitality: "One-Anothering" with the Stranger." It provides some practical tips on spending time with your unbelieving neighbors and those in the broader community.
God can save people immediately. He has done it in the past and he will continue to do so. However, there are times when he chooses to plant seeds over an extended period of time. It may take months, even years--it requires time. Are you willing to spend the time it takes to befriend unbelievers, plant the seed of the gospel, answer their concerns, and invite them to church? You may have to rearrange your schedule, but it is more than worth it.
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecc 4.9-12)We do not need to super-spiritualize that text to say that, if you are to make Christ known, there will be times when your spirit falls, when your heart cools, when your mind blanks, when your courage fails. But two or three together, even three streets - perhaps even three towns! - away from one another, the mere fact that others are engaged in the same work with you, can make all the difference to the personal evangelist, seeking to be effective. It stirs up his love, provokes his tenacity, encourages his boldness, assists his consistency, aids his understanding, directs to prayer, stirs up faith, extends his experience, and helps him to keep going. As an aside, it is one of the reasons why it is so important for husbands and wives to be united in their aims and intentions in promoting true religion in the home. It is one of the reasons that vibrant evangelists draw in and draw on others into a similar pattern of going and speaking.
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9.20-22)Paul got better! The apostle began as a recently converted Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, his brain stocked to the brim with all the wealth of the Old Testament. Very quickly Paul began to understand how these things fitted together, as the Holy Spirit gave him increasing light and understanding. Paul began to explain what he was learning, and his erstwhile co-belligerents began to argue back, and Paul perhaps went away, and opened his scrolls once more, and read through them, and learned more and better of how Christ was revealed in the Old Testament, and how Jesus was the fulfilment of all those promises. Jesus is the Christ, and all these Scriptures speak of him, and there are answers to the denials and diversions of the unbelieving heart, answers that will - by the Spirit's gracious working - bring a repenting faith to birth. Paul, perhaps, would leave the synagogue one day with his head buzzing, and return the next to pick things up where he left off. Paul got better at proving that Jesus is the Christ. You may think that are not a very competent personal evangelist. You may be right. But, honestly, if you start, you will get better, God helping you. Engaging in the work will enhance your capacity for the work, if you go about it with a diligent and dependent spirit.
Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches to be instant in preaching the Word, by way of office; yet the work of preaching the Word, is not so peculiarly confined to them; but that others also gifted, and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved, and called by the church, may and ought to perform it. (26.11)The texts offered as proofs are Acts 11.19-21 and 1 Peter 4.10-11, primarily proving the point that the preaching of the truth is not necessarily restricted to the elders of the church, but ought to be discharged by those gifted for and called to the work. Here the confession bears close resemblance to the Westminster Larger Catechism, which asks in Question 158, "By whom is the Word of God to be preached?" and answers, "The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office."
As I write, Thabiti is debating a Muslim on the subject "Who Is God and How Are We Saved?" The Muslim representative chose the topic! God is sovereign and gracious, isn't he? I won't disclose the location for obvious reasons. But you can pray!
I am just back from preaching at anniversary services at Melbourne Hall Evangelical Free Church in Leicester. The most famous occupant of its pulpit was its first minister, F.B. Meyer (of whom a recent biography by Bob Holman was published by Christian Focus Publications last year). Meyer led seventy-seven members in constituting the church in September 1878. His warm evangelicalism and social conscience were mightily used to draw thousands to Christ in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.
Leicester (following on from Phil's recent post on the Islamicization of Britain) is apparently set to become Britain's first white minority city, and the housing in the vicinity of the church building is virtually a Muslim suburb of the city. It brings added meaning to the words above the door as one exits the sanctuary: 'the mission field starts here'. Pray for its current pastors, Paul Bassett and Gurnham Singh, as they lead this congregation in its worship and evangelism.
Just back from a week in the Pocono Mountains, speaking at Pinebrook Bible Conference. While there, I met up with a retired missionary from Scott Theological College in Kenya. And after some wonderful conversations with him, I decided to return to reading the Africa Bible Commentary for my morning devotional time. No better place to start than Genesis, especially since the particular commentator on Genesis (actually, he's a cowriter of the article) is a fellow Westminster grad.
Among many things, two comments by Samuel Ngewa and Barnabe Assohoto struck me. The first is the comment on Gen 2:15:
"This principle [to work and to take care of the land] applies to us today as it applied to Adam. It is not enough to have been blessed with land. We must maintain that land and control all that would destroy it. Thus we need to stop destructive processes like soil erosion and deforestation and must not use chemicals that are harmful to the soil," (Africa Bible Commentary, 14)
And secondly, on Gen 2:24-25:
"The marriage relationship provides the stable basis from which all other human relationships will develop," (ABC, 15).
I think there is a great deal here for us to consider when thinking of ethics or even thinking of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. No Gnosticism here, this is rather straightforward and rather earthy. God wants us to be his people in his creation. To enjoy it (2:9: God made every tree "that is pleasant to the sight") and to cultivate it as a good steward. God has also gifted us with relationship and community, at the center of which is the marriage relationship. The question is how well we are doing in these areas as a church.
Indeed, they will know we are his disciples by our love, by our following the commandments of Christ, by being image bearers of Christ our Redeemer. They will also know we are his disciples by being image bearers of our Creator. For most of "them," they first see us in the role of image bearers of our Creator, before they see us as image bearers of our Redeemer.