Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

11:12PM, Monday, March 3, 2008

What follows was written in the 1800s by a man named Charles Haddon Spurgeon. You may know of him. Oh dear brother Charles, if only you knew how timely, relevant, and accurate an indictment your words to the Church are more than 100 years after your slumber. Would that we would repent of our offerings of strange fire and incline our ear to the sound teaching of the Word which gives life and peace. Would that we would see that to continue in the way of our perverse and adulterous generation is to tread the path to death and Hell.

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most short-sighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the Church. If it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ That is clear enough. So it would have been if he had added, ‘and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.’ No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him. Then again, ‘He gave some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry.’ Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the Church to the world? ‘Ye are the salt,’ not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out, not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ He was in awful earnestness!

Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of his teaching. I do not hear him say, ‘Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow!’ Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them. In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of the gospel of amusement. Their message is, ‘Come out, keep out, keep clean out!’ Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon. After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the Church had a prayer meeting, but they did not pray, ‘Lord, grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.’ If they ceased not for preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. ‘They turned the world upside down’. That is the only difference! Lord, clear the Church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her and bring us back to apostolic methods.

Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the Church met them half-way, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment had been God’s link in the chain of their conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.

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Problems and Solutions

2:08PM, Monday, January 28, 2008

What is noticeably wrong with the Church visible:

1. We have departed from the very foundation of our faith: the Bible. It is not held in high esteem. It is not revered as the very Word of God. It is not presented as the highest and sole authority in all matters, moral and spiritual. Instead, we follow after every wind of doctrine, becoming the fanboys of whoever claims they’ve got a “new way” to do the Jesus thing and writes a book about how the entire faith should change so the world will want to be friends with Jesus. We’re so concerned with the world liking us and liking our message that we’ll dress up God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit as anything but what the Bible teaches them to be. This we do all in the name of not offending anyone. We are content to repaint the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ until we have arrived at a blasphemous caricature of the thrice holy God of the universe.

2. In our relationships and our personal lives, we do not consult the Bible for instruction. And if we happen to be confronted with the Truth, chapter and verse, we dismiss it as not applicable to us because it doesn’t feel right to our deceitful, sin-soaked hearts. Our feelings and our desires hold more weight in our rebellious minds than God’s commands. We quarrel with those who rightly rebuke and correct us with God’s Word, refusing to acknowledge the sin dwelling in our hearts. One almost wonders if such a person whose mind is in such a rebellious state can rightly be called saved. How can one who is truly reborn despise the counsel of God and refuse to repent of sin which is plainly revealed by the light of the Word?

3. We bring the world’s music, the world’s media, and the world’s way of ordering things into the house of God and call it holy and good. We bring to the house of God songs which are qualitatively bankrupt and utterly man-centered and we dare to call it “worship” with a straight face. We sing songs about how we do this and we do that, as if extolling the virtues of man’s deeds were praise of the Creator and not praise of man’s response. We have all but abandoned the regulative principle, opting instead for whatever pleases the flesh and makes people feel good about themselves. We do not fear God. We do not revere His name nor do we revere His Word. We offer strange fire to God and expect that He will accept this as true worship.

I propose the following as solutions to these issues:

1. Reaffirm the Bible’s place as our only standard and the highest authority. Both the Westminster and 1689 London Baptist confessions begin with the same topic: the Holy Scriptures. And this for good reason, because “[t]he whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” Given the serious nature of the current state of the church, I would recommend that we make formal declaration of such a principle, whether by affirming a confession or otherwise making formal recognition of such a principle. We ought to formally draw the battle lines. Let those who call themselves Christians and yet deny Scripture its proper place of authority over our beliefs and actions be lovingly brought to repentance or else let them be put out from among our congregations if they refuse. Let us preach the whole counsel of God from the pulpit. Let us rebuke, reproof, correct, and encourage one another with the whole counsel of God.

2. Bend the knee and submit to the Bible in all areas of our lives, personal and public. When we are confronted with what Scripture says and our words, actions, and thoughts are not in line with God’s Word, we must humble our hearts and submit to God’s Word as corrective and right. When it says that we are always to forgive, we don’t make excuses about why we “can’t” forgive some wrong against us (look to the Amish in Pennsylvania circa 2006 for an example of what biblical forgiveness looks like). When it says that we are to always pursue reconciliation with all, even before coming to worship God, we obey and do not make excuses about how deeply someone has offended us or how deeply we have offended a person with whom we should seek reconciliation. When it says that we are to correct and rebuke those who are in error, we are to do so without hemming and hawing about how uncomfortable confrontation is. When it says that we are to discipline those in the church who refuse to repent of grievous sins, we are to do so without hesitation after it has been reasonably ascertained that biblical disciplinary proceedings have occurred and the person in question is in sin and unrepentant.

3. Rid ourselves of this love affair with the world (and consequently, enmity with God) and return order and reverence to the house of God and the services of worship therein. The house of God is to be a place of dignity and humility before God. A rock concert atmosphere and songs which lift up the “I” instead of the King are out of the question. If a given congregation does not have leadership capable of providing these things due to a lack of time or lack of ability, then I would contend that this warrants a return to more formal liturgical pursuits. At the very least, all singing should be congregational and focused on exalting God and His works as holy and good and humiliating man and his works as unholy and evil. After examining Scripture and understanding the instructions and principles it gives for the right worship of God, I am wholly convinced that the insertion of “special” music and disharmonious breaks for greetings and announcements into a service which is ostensibly set aside for the worship of God and the preaching of His Word is wholly inappropriate and unacceptable. If you wish to announce things to the congregation because they happen to be gathered on a Sunday together, let it be through a bulletin or else a newsletter. If it’s not worth preaching about or singing about, it’s not worth time spent talking about during a worship service. A worship service is for the worship of God through psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and the preaching of the Word. It is not a place for dramas, community announcements, or dancing around like fools. Church is not where you go to have fun and indulge the flesh by doing what feels good. It is where you go to worship the true and living God the way He commands us to worship Him and to be instructed by His Word. God demands love and adoration. He also demands reverence, awe, and fear. Do not mock Him by offering strange fire — that which He has not commanded.


How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds!

10:14AM, Thursday, January 3, 2008

I happened upon this hymn, and I am compelled to share it with you, my friends. Be reminded of who Jesus is. Be encouraged by these words from our sleeping brother, John Newton.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death!


Opus Dei

11:40PM, Friday, November 9, 2007

Can there be anything more beautiful than the paintings which God Himself paints? Can there be anything sweeter to the ear than music God Himself inspires?

Tears well up in my eyes every time I hear this piece. To hear it while perusing even but a few of the works wrought by a divine hand moves my soul all the more.

O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8 )


No Appeal to the Flesh

1:27AM, Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I’m making a note here of some things Charles Spurgeon said in order to analyze it later this week.

Our Savior did not use any means which might enlist man’s lower nature on his side. When I have heard of large congregations gathered together by the music of a fine choir, I have remembered that the same thing is done at the opera house and the music-hall, and I have felt no joy. When we have heard of crowds enchanted by the sublime music of the pealing organ, I have seen in the fact rather a glorification of St. Cecilia than of Jesus Christ. Our Lord trusted in no measure or degree to the charms of music for the establishing his throne. He has not given to his disciples the slightest intimation that they are to employ the attractions of the concert room to promote the kingdom of heaven.

I find no rubric in Scripture commanding Paul to clothe himself in robes of blue, scarlet, or violet; neither do I find Peter commanded to wear a surplice, an alb, or a chasuble. The Holy Spirit has not cared even to hint at a surpliced choir, or at banners, processions, and processional hymns. Now, if our Lord had arranged a religion of fine shows, and pompous ceremonies, and gorgeous architecture, and enchanting, music, and bewitching incense, and the like, we could have comprehended its growth; but he is “a root out of a dry ground”, for he owes nothing to any of these.

Christianity has been infinitely hindered by the musical, the aesthetic, and the ceremonial devices of men, but it has never been advantaged by them, no, not a jot. The sensuous delights of sound and sight have always been enlisted on the side of error, but Christ has employed nobler and more spiritual agencies. Things which fascinate the senses are left to be the chosen instruments of Antichrist, but the gospel, disdaining Saul’s armor, goes forth in the natural simplicity of its own might, like David, with sling and stone. Our holy religion owes nothing whatever to any carnal means; so far as they are concerned, it is “a root out of a dry ground.”

(Charles Spurgeon, A Root Out of Dry Ground, 1872)


Simply Amazed

10:23AM, Sunday, September 2, 2007

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

I am enamored with the Cross of Christ: its justice and its mercy; its unmerited favor and its infinite mercy; the infinite love of God on display and the hope of salvation it offers.

My lips tremble and tears flow as I contemplate His death and my utter unworthiness of His grace. I am sinful man. He is the thrice holy God. On no merit of my own did God choose me and know me before the establishment of the universe. The defining miracle of my life is that God’s sovereign grace overcame my rebellious and sinful core and brought to me even the desire to submit to Him. Forever I am a debtor to God’s grace.

When I do Thy will, my Father, ’tis not as though I deserve payment. ‘Tis only what I ought do, for I am an unworthy servant and Thou my gracious Master. Lord have mercy on me, I plead. Cleanse me of all that does not glorify Thee. Assist me to walk humbly in Thy grace and confidently in Thy strength.


Holy God, Holy Joy, Holy Love, Holy Living

5:16PM, Saturday, August 11, 2007

An incredible joy stirs in my heart. God is exceedingly good and His glory is great. I stand amazed at the richness in mysteries God has found pleasure in making known to my once-dumb mind.

Joy to me is no longer simple pleasure and happiness in earthly things in and of themselves. It is now the full surrender to and pursuit of God’s pleasure and His will. It is that which brings to me far greater pleasure and happiness than I could have ever hoped to obtain by my own efforts. It is shalom peace which far surpasses any “rational” man’s understanding.

Love to me is no longer simply a word which means warm fuzzy feelings and good emotions. It is pleasure in the pursuit of true joy (found in God) for another, even at — and some might say especially at — great cost to my time and treasure. Love motivates service without an expectation of praise or material goods in return. But that doesn’t seem to encompass all that love is. To me, love does seek a result for its actions, but that which it seeks is itself! That is to say that love seeks to create love where there is no love and increase love where there is already love. When I love, I do it because I love to love. Love finds pleasure in translating itself into action.

What motivated Paul to write to the Thessalonian brothers, “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thes 3:11-13, emphasis mine)?

My friends, I posit to you that Paul was motivated by his love for them to pray this. He loved the Thessalonian brothers so much that he desired for their love “increase and abound” for one another and indeed for all people.

God has increased my love for my brothers and sisters as well as those who are not yet in Christ. My desire to love is exceedingly great, and this is all because of God’s work to bring my human heart and mind to reconciliation with His divine, perfect and holy nature. I desire that they may find pleasure in loving inasmuch as God has seen it good to reveal this great pleasure to me and demonstrate His own love by lavishing it upon me. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.

God has adopted me as a son, even as a fellow heir of Christ! How can I possibly honor Him for who He has time and again demonstrated Himself to be? Or as a song I heard today put it, what can a poor man bring to lay at the feet of a King? I can bring nothing to God but my sin and my brokenness.

God is owed everything because everything is His. He deserves all that I am and all that I have because He is worthy. I was bought with a price; my life is not my own. And this is why my life ought now to be a living sacrifice, given to Him that I might decrease and that He might increase.

Holiness is a product of an intimate relationship with a holy God. God’s intimacy causes me to pursue holiness because I cannot help but respond to Him in this manner. He meets me here and now; I choose to submit and allow Him to take me from where and who I am now and cause me to be where and who He wants me to be.

I’m finding this concept of holiness encompasses all that I touch, see, feel, think, say, do: every aspect of life. Some people (even brothers and sisters in Christ) might say I’m “overspiritualizing” or making a big deal out of nothing when I take a chance to examine how I approach music for worship; or when I examine the extent to which I ought to forgive people and pursue reconciliation; or examine what it really means to love someone; or examine why I feel something negative toward someone which causes me to avoid them and if I even should feel that way; or to examine how much time I spend pursuing leisure activities and how much I spend renewing my mind. Some people might say I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I think these things are important to God because of the very fact that they are a part of our lives and our pursuits. God cares about how much I pray. God also cares about how much I eat and if I’m taking care of my body. I have neglected my body and am overweight and out of shape. If I desire holiness, it means that I need stop drinking so much soda or perhaps cut it entirely out of my diet. It means I need to eat less, and eat less fried foods. It means I need to exercise more. And all of these actions are not holy in and of themselves; a desire for holiness coupled with an action that is profitable to that end is what marks a given action as a pursuit of holiness.

So I must ask what my motivation is in my choices, no matter the significance. Some choices might be relatively trivial and fairly flexible like when, where, and how I get my hair cut. Other choices are pretty black and white, like whether or not I harbor hatred or bitterness in my heart toward someone.

So that’s what’s going on for the past 2 weeks for those who are curious. I might update, but I’m a bit rushed to finish this since there’s stuff going on tonight.