[The following is an excerpt adapted from Sermon 28 from The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield.]
Jesus said, ‘Therefore consider carefully how you listen’ (Luke 8:18). Here are some cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons with profit and advantage.
1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.
2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?
3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister. That was the reason Jesus Christ Himself could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country; for they were offended at Him. Take heed therefore, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you.
Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3).
4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: ‘For whereas one said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?’ (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).
Are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work’s sake?
5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved disciples and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart and said, ‘Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22).
Oh, that persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, ‘This was intended for such and such a one!’ instead would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, ‘Lord, is it I?’ How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally are!
6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.
No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: ‘Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the mysteries of the gospel’ (Eph. 6:19-20). And if so great an apostle as St. Paul needed the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!
The Bible has a great deal to say about what a godly man is like. Here are some of the characteristics he possesses:
He is a cultivator
- Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
- Genesis 3:17-19 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
God put man in the garden to cultivate the land. As such, God has given man a nature to cultivate, create and build. Men are to cultivate their jobs, marriages, children, minds, churches, finances, homes, other believers, etc. Without God, men will direct their cultivation skills to the wrong things, like sin and rebellion (example: the tower of Babel in Genesis 5).
He is a provider
- 1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The Bible is clear that it is the man’s responsibility to provide for his family. Many men offload this responsibility onto others: their wife, their church, the government. However, it is his duty and calling to meet the needs of his household.
He is a protector
- 1 John 2:14 …I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Men have been given strength by God to protect and defend the vulnerable, needy, and helpless. They are to defend their wives (unlike Adam in the garden) and their children. The Word of God should abide in them so they can refute false teachings and the schemes of the evil one.
He is responsible
- Galatians 6:5 For each will have to bear his own load.
A godly man is one who rises up to the challenge of his responsibilities. The difference between a man and a boy is not age or physical stature: it is the way they handle responsibility.
He is an honest worker
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Godly manhood includes toil and labor. The man is called by God to make an honest living by working a job and doing it well. The godly man is not idle.
He is a leader
- 1 Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
Men are called to lead their home and their church. They are also to lead themselves and not follow the ways of the world.
He is a man of faith and character
- 1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…
A godly man is one who follows God, repents of sin, reads his Bible, prays with his family, tells others about Jesus, and serves in his church. As a good Christian he has a solid reputation, is faithful to his wife, wise, loving, and self-disciplined.
He is counter-cultural
- 1 Timothy 3:3 …not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
The world develops men who get drunk, are violent, angry, and lovers of money. The man of God is not like this.
He is worthy of respect
- 1 Timothy 3:7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Godly men earn respect. They should have others looking up to them and desiring to be like them. (Note: women should only date a man they can respect).
He is a family man
- 1 Timothy 3:4-5 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
Should a man be married and have children, he should be leading and managing his household well. He is attentive to his wife, loving her and meeting her needs. He is raising and disciplining his children. His house is in order and his family is blossoming.
One of the ways the prosperity gospel is supported by preachers is through the teaching that Christians are “little gods”, and that little gods are in some way entitled to the same kind of blessings and honor that the Almighty God Himself is worthy of. This teaching that Christians are little gods comes from two main sources:
- The Lord speaks in Psalm 82:6 saying ‘I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High; all of you.” Here, prosperity preachers say, God is acknowledging that His people are little gods, a smaller, less complete slice of the Lord Himself. The truth of this is further confirmed in John 10:34-36, where Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 and affirms it as being true.
- In Genesis 1:11, 12, and 21 the things that God creates are said to produce “according to its kind”. Then, in verse 26, God says “let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Therefore, the reasoning goes, since things produce after their kind, and “there can not be a product of something unless the product is a kind of what it came from”, human beings are little gods.
Though the evidence seems clear and the reasoning logical, there is more to this issue than meets the eye.
Regarding Psalm 82:6, the word “gods” there is Elohim in Hebrew, a term which usually refers to the Lord God. However, it does occasionally have other uses. Psalm 82:1 (just a few verses earlier) says “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [Elohim] he holds judgment”. The next three verses make it clear that the “gods” referred to are human magistrates and judges. Therefore, calling a human a “god” in the context of Psalm 82 is referring to humans in positions of authority, similar to the way God is in a position of ultimate authority. In fact, verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 82 reminds the human rulers of the earth that they too will face the Judge. Ultimately, the point of calling human magistrates “gods” is to denote that they have a position of authority over people just as God does, but also that they are put in their place below the True King.
In fact, referring to humans as “gods’ happens elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as Exodus 7:1 where Moses is “like a god” to Pharaoh. This too indicates not that Moses is divine but rather that he is speaking the words of God and acting in a position of authority that God has granted him.
Additionally, when Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 in John 10 he does so in the midst of an argument. Jesus has just claimed to be the Son of God and is charged with blasphemy (claiming to be equal to God). He then quotes Psalm 82:6 essentially to make this point: if those who are mere men can be referred to as “gods”, then how much more is the God-man Jesus worthy of a divine title?
Therefore, using the term “gods” in the Old Testament in reference to men is simply a way to indicate their God-given authority in a limited way. It is not meant to ascribe deity or a form of deity to human beings. If this were the case, it would be troubling to acknowledge that Satan himself is also called a “god” (2 Corinthians 4:4), as well as the false gods of other religions (Exodus 12:12; 18:11; Numbers 33:4). Should we expect that Satan and false gods are worthy of the honor the Lord deserves because they too are “gods”? The presumption that because a small number of human beings were called “gods” we are therefore entitled to glory is simply an unbiblical idea.
In reference to the logic of Genesis 1, there are a few things to be said. (1) God indeed did make man in His image; however, this does not mean that mankind is in part a deity. Being made in God’s image means a great deal of things, but not that humans are in any way divine. Nowhere in the Old Testament it is ever hinted at that men are sharing in God’s divinity. (2) The principle of producing “according to its kind” is applicable to the things God has made. However, man is not the only thing that God created; He also made horses, water, wind, land, light, bugs, and planets. Does this mean that God is a horse? Or land? Or a planet? To assume that the principle of producing “according to its kind” is applicable from God to his creation is absurd. However, producing “according to its kind” from creation to creation is a confirmable truth. In other words, God produces many things in variety, but the things He makes reproduce not in variety but after themselves.
The heart of the matter concerning the doctrine of “little gods” is that of pride. To take a couple of obscure verses, use them out of context, as well as some faulty logic from Genesis and then blow up a very significant doctrine that men are gods is irresponsible. The “little gods” teaching adds nothing beneficial to the life of a believer (not to mention it is wrong). The true reason this teaching has gained some ground is that it puffs up our hearts with pride and makes us feel bigger than we actually are. It expands our self-esteem and self-worth. It results in Christians being worthy of things that only God is worthy of. The Bible uses the word “gods” in reference to humans or spirit beings that have significant power, though insignificant and minuscule in light of the power of the Almighty. Therefore, the prosperity teaching that we are little gods and worthy of such honor is an abuse of God’s word and the result of a prideful heart.
The following is a paper I wrote in Bible college on the subject of eternal security. I think I could do a better job on it now, but it’s still pretty decent. The footnotes aren’t included in this version.
One of the most debated doctrines among Christians has been the permanency of salvation: can a Christian lose their salvation, or is their salvation secure? This debate goes all the way back to the early church, and shortly after takes its most intense and scholarly from in the infamous Arminian verses Calvinism feud. Rejection of eternal security “is an inseparable part of the Arminian system, flowing necessarily from their views of election, of the design and effect of Christ’s death, and of the sufficient grace and free will.”
This paper intends to reveal that eternal security is indeed a biblical doctrine and that it is also an integral part of Christian living.
Those who hold to an Arminian point of view tend to make two prominent arguments against eternal security. They are as follows:
- God will surely never leave you, but you can leave Him.
- The doctrine of eternal security means you can act any way you want to after you are saved because your salvation is secure no matter what.
There is also a plethora of scriptures that are used to “prove” that salvation can be lost. While we cannot deal with all of them here, we shall take a look at the above statements and a few key verses.
The first comment used says that one can willingly leave God and walk away from salvation. The verse used here is almost always John 10:28-29, which states “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”. Note that Jesus only speaks of salvation in one-way terms: God is faithful. Arminian thinkers point out what was not said by Jesus, that people can choose to walk away from God.
The problem with this thinking is twofold: (1) assuming that salvation is a two-way street and (2) assuming that a Christian might walk away from God. Concerning the first problem, the Bible makes a strong case for salvation being much more one-way than two-way. Calvinists do not deny the free will of man. They hold to the truth that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. However, Calvinists also rightly uphold the doctrine of divine election – that is, God sovereignly chooses some for salvation. This “predestination” is revealed most clearly in the conversion of Saul. It seems obvious that Saul’s salvation was a direct result of blatant interference by God. While Calvinists sometimes falsely ignore free will, Arminians often falsely ignore predestination. Both doctrines are in the Bible and we must accept them both without diminishing the other. This is all to say that viewing salvation in solely two-way terms is not biblical.
Concerning the second problem, the Bible demonstrates that true Christians do not walk away from God. The key verse here is 1 John 2:19, which says “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us”. Contextually, this verse is speaking of a Christian community. John is saying that truly saved Christians will continue in their faith. Christians who walk away from the faith were never Christians at all. This truth is “plain” to see.
Moving to Arminian’s second objection to eternal security, we deal with the issue of holiness. It is often stated that eternal security is a license for Christians to behave however they choose. This, however, is a gross misunderstanding of both the eternal security position and the mirrored position of scripture. Concerning this very issue, the apostle Paul asks “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) Essentially, Paul is saying that the possession of God’s grace is not license to sin, but rather just the opposite. Being Christians means we have put away our old nature and put on Christ. Eternal security, and salvation in general, carries with it the responsibility of Christ-like living and continual sanctification and repentance of sin.
Of note, the phrase “once saved always saved” is not preferable. Though it is accurate, the phraseology carries with it a negative connotation. The Calvinistic phrase “perseverance of the saints” is better suited because eternal security, at its very core, is the belief that all Christians will continue with Christ until their dying day. Salvation, though a one time event, is also continued through life. Thus, “once saved always saved” is a less complete and flattering message for the biblical truth that true Christians endure to the end.
The Arminian belief that salvation is not eternally secure also seems problematic when lined up with the doctrines of regeneration, new birth, and Holy Spirit possession. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit at conversion whereby the believer is made to be a new spiritual creature. Scripture declares “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the former things have passed away, and all things are made new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If one can lose salvation, then this “new creature” would again have to die. And then, if one came back to the faith, the creature must be made new again. This is illogical, and the Bible nowhere indicates that regeneration is reversed or happens more than once.
Strongly linked to regeneration is new birth. Jesus said “truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the following verse, Nicodemus asks skeptically if a man can climb back into his mother’s womb to be born again. Obviously, that would be absurd. A man is born once physically and once spiritually. To believe that spiritual birth can be reversed or repeated is as silly as saying a born man can climb back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.
Lastly, the New Testament clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is the possession of all believers. It is clearly states that there is “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit for each Christian (Ephesians 4:5). Again, this cannot be reversed or repeated. The Spirit is also called a “seal” until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13). Surely this seal (literally, down payment) secures salvation eternally.
To conclude, it is the overwhelming evidence of scripture that salvation for the Christian is eternal. May the church find this truth and hold to it, as it is a treasure to be enjoyed.
We hear a lot these days about being “gospel-centered”. A search of that phrase on Google returns over 9 million results, as well as over 1,200 hits on Amazon. Many of these resources – books, websites, and articles in particular – have been produced within the past couple of years. Why this emphasis on gospel centrality, and what does it even mean?
As I understand it, being gospel-centered is a worldview that is presented by the Scriptures whereby all of life is seen in it’s connection to the good news of Jesus. Essentially, it means we look at the world through the lens of the gospel, giving us an accurate understanding of reality. The opposite of gospel-centrality for the Christian would be thinking of the good news of Jesus as nothing more than a way to get to heaven. Once converted, it would seem, the gospel is to be abandoned for other doctrines and growth. This may all sound very theoretical and intangible, so let’s take a subject and apply these two views to bring some additionally clarity.
Let’s say, for example, you are a Christian struggling with materialism. From a non gospel-centered view, you might acknowledge that the Bible condemns greed, coveting, and over-dependence on material things and respond by trying to willfully overcome your materialistic habits. What you might notice in this view is that the gospel is seen as good for becoming a Christian but not for helping us overcome sin. The gospel-centered view, on the other hand, would say that because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we are set free from material cravings, forgiven for our coveting, and commissioned to using things as a means to glorify God and serve others. In this approach, the gospel is central to how we assess and address the situation.
So to be gospel-centered means we connect everything in life to Jesus’ redeeming work. The gospel is like the centre hub of the multi-spoked wheel of life, the crux on which all things turn and exist. Seeing things this way, the gospel is good not only for the afterlife but current life as well.
If this is what being gospel-centered means, why does there seem to be a surge in this kind of thinking? The basic reason is that much of Christianity, especially in the West, has lost its focus on the gospel. We have not altogether forsaken the gospel (for the most part), but we have made it simply one topic among many. It is not treated as supreme or central. As the statistics would indicate, this has caused a massive dropoff among the younger generation of the Church. In my opinion, it has also lead to unhealthy Christians who value any number of Biblical topics as much as they do the gospel of Christ.
It has been said that the first generation treasures the gospel, the second one assumes it, and the third one loses it. We seem to be in the transition from second the third generation, where many current Christian teachers do not make the gospel central or explicit, instead assuming the next generation already knows it. However, the up-and-comers miss the gospel altogether and adopt a “Christianity” that is more like vague religion than Christ above all.
Some Christian leaders are seeing this disturbing trend and fighting back with a return toward gospel-centeredness.When we begin to allow the gospel to inform our preaching, our churches, our lives, and our beliefs, Jesus returns to his place of prominence and God’s glory is restored to proper order. There also comes a rush of sin-conquering power, as the Christian life was meant to be lived as a daily walk with Jesus, not a momentary conversion followed by virtual abandonment of him. Only in the gospel is there power to change lives. A strong return to gospel-centeredness is just the thing this next generation needs to discover real faith in the living Savior Jesus and transform the nations for the glory of God.
One common misconception regarding the Bible is that only the New Testament has Jesus present in its pages. The Old Testament, it is thought, speaks of God in a general sense, but Jesus only really shows up after his birth in the gospels. This, however, is seen to be untrue as even Jesus himself affirmed that the Old Testament’s primary purpose was to point to his coming:
- Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Jesus appears in the Old Testament in two primary ways. (1) Jesus shows up in a literal, visible sense prior to his incarnation. These pre-birth appearances of Jesus are known as Christophanies, or “appearances of the Christ”. (2) Jesus’ presence is seen in a less tangible sense through typology and foreshadows, meaning that certain people and events represent Jesus symbolically in an incomplete, yet significant, way.
A Christophany is when Jesus appears prior to his incarnation (human birth). In most of these instances, he is referred to as “the angel of the Lord”. We can infer that Jesus is “the angel of the Lord” since on many occasions this figure is also identified as God. Angels are not God, but Jesus is. Also, “the angel of the Lord “ differs from the phrase “an angel of the Lord”, which the Bible also uses. Saying “the angel” instead of “an angel” gives obvious importance that this particular being is distinct from and superior to the other angels.
Jesus appears in a Christophany somewhere around 20 times in the Old Testament (an exact number is difficult to determine since not all instances are definitively Jesus). Here are just three instances:
- Genesis 22:11-18
 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”  And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven  and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,  and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Notice in verse 12 that the angel says Abraham has not spared his son Isaac from “me”, something God asked of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-2). Therefore, this angel is referring to himself as the person who gave the initial command, and thereby claiming to be God.
- Exodus 3:1-6
 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.  And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”  When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Again we see here the angel of the Lord being referred to as “the LORD” and “God”. This is a pre-birth appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Isaiah 6:1-5
 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
This description alone is not enough to ascribe it to Jesus with certainty. However, the disciple John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, records in John 12:41 that the figure Isaiah saw in this vision was Jesus.
2. Types / Foreshadows
A type or foreshadow is a person or event that represents Jesus or his ministry in some way. It is a precursor to Jesus, an expectation of his arrival. There are many figures and events in the Old Testament that are designed to point to Jesus. Below are just a few examples.
|High Priest Rituals||Jesus|
|Abraham offers Isaac||Jesus|
For whatever reason, lately a topic of conversation among some Christians I know has been how to handle having a critical opinion of something a church is doing. This is something that is probably a universal issue for believers, for I have never met a follower of Jesus who has not one single complaint about his or her church. In fact, it is unfortunate to say that some Christians have formed a downright critical spirit towards the Church. While this kind of negative attitude is to be rejected as sinful, there certainly are valid concerns that are worthwhile to be shared. However, simply having a conviction about a matter does automatically give one license to air their opinion without carefulness. Behaviour such as this is destructive and a tool used by the enemy to sow discord and division among God’s people. So the question begs to be asked, how does one voice criticism in a healthy way?
The Bible lays out certain principles that should be followed in cases such as these. Each one must be carefully adhered to in order to bring about peace, growth, and life in both churches and church-goers. This post in no way covers fully the various factors and outcomes that may be seen in situations such as these. More specific guidelines may be sought in the comments sections. However, as overall general rules, let’s briefly examine a few of these principles one at a time to give some framework to operate from.
1. The heart is deceitfully wicked. We must first acknowledge that our sin leads us to blindness, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy (Luke 6:37-42). Often we are quick to point out the flaws in others while ignoring our own personal issues. This can cause us to be overly critical of the church without having valid concerns. Taking time to bathe the matter in prayer, seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and asses the motives of the heart will go a long way towards killing an overly critical heart.
2. There are two sides to every story. As humans we are prone to jump to conclusions, having neither all the necessary information nor giving what information we do have a fair evaluation. We cannot help but see things from our own limited perspective. This is not sinful but it should be kept in mind. Often the decisions and direction of a church makes more sense when we give consideration to all of the relevant factors (Proverbs 18:17).
3. Pursue constructive criticism. Sometimes it is not the complaint itself that causes disruption but the way in which it is shared. It is possible to have the same issue shared in a way that is helpful and shared in a way that is unhelpful. The Bible commands Christians to make every effort to live at peace with all people (Hebrews 12:14) and to speak in such a way that it builds up and not tears down (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Practically, this would mean speaking humbly, showing respect to those with differing opinions, and perhaps offering one or two solutions to your perceived problem.
4. Should you feel the need to confront, do it Biblically. The culture of technology has in some ways forged a generation who does not know how to handle confrontation. In teaching Christians how to confront one another (Matthew 18:15-17), we can glean some principles from Jesus on how share criticism with the church. Three crucial points can be seen. One would be the absolute avoidance of any gossip; we must never be free with our criticism to others while neglecting to share them with the relevant people. Second is the related need to keep confrontation private. There are proper settings for public criticism but they are extremely rare. Third is the need to be open and accountable with complaints. Never are we to take anonymous pot-shots through emails or unsigned notes.
5. Conclude the matter. Regardless of the outcome of a confrontation, find some way to bring some closure the matter. In some cases this will be agreeing to disagree. If so, explicitly state this is the result and what your subsequent action will be (anywhere from a silent disagreement to leaving the church, depending on the seriousness of the issue). In other scenarios, the church may look further into the issue and get back to you. It is also possible that a church may receive criticism as accurate and make necessary changes. Whatever the result, it is healthy for both sides to “close the book” on the problem so that unnecessary strife can be avoided.
6. Pray for your church and its leaders. It is no easy task to lead the church. Nor is it always easy to trust the direction of the church to others. Both church leaders and church members are sinners and in need of God’s grace. We ought to seek the good of one another as much as possible and pray for each other’s well being. Give no room for bitterness, pride, or vengeance. Remain humble and loving and trust the Good Shepherd to keep watch over his own.
We sometimes hear people use the language of making the gospel relevant. Christians know already that the gospel is relevant to all people whether they realize it or not. Evangelism is not making the gospel relevant, but rather showing people how the gospel is already relevant to their lives. There’s no debating this.
So the challenge of evangelism is not in making Christian truths seem more important, but instead helping a person see how these truths are important specifically for them. In other words, the evangelism battle in not fought in the arena of truth, but in the arena of culture.
What this means practically is that Christians must be students of culture; or, at the very least, not naive of it. We should have a basic understanding of who people are around us, what they struggle with, what influences and inspires them, what strikes fear into their hearts, what their thoughts are like in quiet moments. When we understand people (ie. culture) this way, it becomes easier to show the relevance of Jesus to them.
This has been on my mind recently, especially in light of music and movies. If you are familiar at all with either of these media outlets, it should be fairly simple to profile out the North American culture. Follow the lyrics of music or basic storylines of movies and they lead you right to what makes people tick. Armed with that kind of knowledge, it should make our task as gospel-sharers that much easier.
As the risk of making it too simple, I see the same basic theme crop up in music and movies: Life sucks, so do what you gotta do to make it better. Of course, this exists in many forms. The “life sucks” side of this equation might look like any of the following:
- I’m a loner / I’m irrelevant
- Life seems empty
- No one cares about me
- The world is not fair
- I’ve experienced tragic loss
- I’ve been abused
- My life has no purpose
Of course, all of these feelings/thoughts are a result of the fall. Sin has caused God’s perfect creation to be tainted. Life was never meant to be this way, and so that inner feeling of “it shouldn’t be like this” that most everyone has is bang on. However, now these problems must be dealt with. This is the “do what you gotta do to make it better” portion, which often looks a lot like this:
- Do something ridiculous, dangerous, or illogical to make yourself famous
- Party hard / have fun
- Get rich
- Numb the pain (ie. distract yourself)
- Have lots of sex
Again, this may be oversimplifying it, but the basic point can’t be missed. Our world is broken, people know it, and they want relief. This is the perfect setting for the gospel! How much more relevant can the Saviour be? What is terribly sad is that our culture keeps doing all the wrong things to fix the problem, somehow hoping that this time it will work. Yet it only makes things worse. People are stuck on a downward spiral of misery that they can’t escape, and in trying only get themselves deeper still.
Even worse, movies and music conveniently overlook the negative consequences of trying to make life better with solutions that don’t work. So what we have is modern-day youth culture. One big party on the surface, but deep pain underneath. And the places they look to for guidance – namely, movies and music – aren’t offering them much long-term hope.
Add to this bleak situation the shallowness of relationships thanks to social media, and it’s easy to get pessimistic. People are more connected than ever, yet often feel more alone than ever.
Friends, let’s show them a better way. Let’s show them Jesus! Though Jesus does not fix every problem in life, he does promise the be there, to help us make it through, and offers a tangible promise of a future hope that you can take to the bank. Christians, I encourage you to listen to people around you. There are more opportunities to share the gospel with people than we think, if we would only listen to the subtle hints that “life sucks”. It’s moments like those that are open doors for the gospel.