Why Read The Dead Guys?

Reformers

We live in a day in which there is a new, hip, cool, contemporary Christian book or a book about the Church hitting the shelves every minute (potential exaggeration). To a degree, many of the writers think they have the next best plan for how to transform the Church, how to reach more millennials, how to make the Church more relevant for society, or some other novel idea that has apparently never been thought of before. Modern Christian literature is inundated with material to make you a better you, feel better about you, boost your self-esteem, and everything in between. Again, all seemingly new ideas being promoted to keep up with the postmodern culture and how one feels about themselves.

Early on in my Christian life, I was this guy. I was the new wave of Christianity that kicked against the traditions of old, thinking that I was more spiritual than this person or that person because I raised my hands in worship, moved around a little more, wore shorts and a t-shirt to church as a non-conformist, and read Relevant magazine (before it was as irrelevant as it is today). I was a rebel Christian that refused to be kept in a box, and anything that happened before I was born again in 2005 was old and outdated. It was my charge to find a new way of doing church because the old way and the old guys were not getting it right.

As I started my trek into revamping the 2000 year old tradition, I began to realize something about the new wave of Christianity that was emerging. Much, not all, of the culturally relevant Christians had little depth to what they were promoting. I began to see little depth in biblical knowledge, theological understanding, or doctrine being handled from the pulpits. I began to read book by people that Relevant magazine promoted, only to find out many of the books I read were by Universalists promoting a gospel contrary to that of the Bible.

As a young Christian, the Lord began to open my mind and my heart to people such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and R.C. Sproul. My first memorable encounter with John Piper was my Freshman year of college at a conference our college group had attended. I had never heard anyone expound the Scripture in such an authoritative, yet grace-filled, manner as John Piper. I immediately went to the bookstore of the conference and bought his books Desiring God ( purchase Desiring God) and God is the Gospel (purchase God Is The Gospel). These two books began to open my eyes to the deep things of God in a way that none of the cutting edge books I was picking up on the shelf at Books-A-Million were. Tony Merida then became the Pastor at the church I was attending and I began to hear the Word of God expounded week in and week out in a manner very similar to Piper. I started studying Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (purchase Systematic Theology) with Tony and a group of other  guys, being exposed to good theology that would shape my thinking, even up to today.

In this process of learning, one thing remained the same for guys like Piper, Grudem, and Sproul. They heavily referenced and relied upon dead guys for their theological insight. They were quoting and reading guys like Edwards, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, and Augustine. They were alluding to things said by guys dating back to second and third century Churches and the theological ideologies that had shaped them. Are you telling me that I, in the 2000s, could learn something about Church and God from guys that existed many years before my time?

King Solomon wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9, ESV). Solomon is not a moron. Solomon had great wisdom and with this quote, he is on to something. The Church has been around since the first century, and who was I, or am I, to think that the writings of men God has used mightily 1500, 1000, 500, or 50 years ago are not relevant to my spiritual growth or the furtherance of the twenty-first-century church that I am serving? We should read the dead men because the dead men have something to say. Not only that, but these guys communicate on a level that , sadly, most American Pastors and Theologians are incapable of communicating upon today. We live in an anti-intellectual church age, and the state of theology behind most American pulpits is disheartening. It would serve every Pastor, thinker, Sunday School Teacher, and Church member well to grab Calvin’s Institutes (purchase The Institutes), Augustine’s Confessions (purchase Confessions), Edwards Religious Affections (purchase Religious Affections), or anyone mixed with that group, so that we can be better equipped to battle the schemes of the Devil, especially when it comes to doctrinal formations of the Church.

Now hear this, I am not saying that anyone writing books today are off base, I can name thousands of modern books that are gifts to the Church and gifts to God’s people. Yet, do not think that a book has to be written within the last 20 years in order to be relevant for the Church. I am also not saying that we need to divert back to all the old traditions and never make any changes within the Church in order to reach people or try new things. I think the Church is losing the battle in a lot of areas because it refuses to change. My point is nothing less than one of encouraging everyone to read guys who have been dead for many years and thank our great God for their theological contributions for the furtherance of the Gospel and of the Church.

Give Thanks For The Church

church

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you Christ Jesus.” – 1 Cor. 1:4

“I’m not going to that place, it is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” “I can have church right here in my own home.” “Me and God have our own thing going on, I do not have to go to a church to get that.”

These, among many others, are common objections to gathering with God’s people and being a part of a church. The underlying premises for such protests might be the result of numerous occurrences. It might be that someone was abused by the church, a Pastor abused his authority at some point, God’s people were harsh towards an individual and acted in an ungodly manner, or immorality was accepted within the  church and God’s people ignore God’s commands in Scripture. All of these incidents are potentials within the church that easily lead people out the door, all of which grieve the heart of God.

However, it does not have to be this way. Think about the church to which Paul is writing in 1 Corinthians. To a degree, all of the incidents just mentioned that would lead someone out the door of the church were happening in Corinth. Yet, Paul begins the letter with declaring his love and thanksgiving for the church. Here is a church that has issues. The church at Corinth had some serious moral issues, ecclesiological issues, they were dabbling in charismania, and the people had an issue with regularly coming together as the body of Christ. Paul is aware of all of these things and yet offers great thanksgiving to God for the church.

Why? He does this because he understands the importance of the local gathering. Forsaking church, casting aside membership and regularly gathering with God’s people for the Christian is in direct violation of the commands of Scripture; it is sin. For the person looking for the perfect church before they commit, they are leaving in lala land. What Paul understands about the Corinthians church is the lack of perfection, the occupancy of imperfect people, but knows the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows that despite our imperfections and the church’s imperfections this side of heaven, the grace of God extends to the church as they pursue holiness, practice repentance, and keep Scripture as their centerpiece.

The church may not always have it together this side of heaven, but a church that holds high the authority and supremacy of Scripture, making it their manual for instruction, that is the church that will “succeed.” Please understand, we are not talking worldly success. We are not talking big numbers, huge budgets, and monumental buildings. We are talking success gauged by health, commitment, and faithfulness.

I am thankful for the church because it provides nourishment for my soul. I am thankful for the church because the people of God at my local congregation are gracious, merciful, and caring. I am thankful for the local church because it encourages me to pursue holiness, fight sin, and hold high Scripture. I am thankful for the local church because it provides a safe place for my family in which I know they will be taught the word of God in every area. I am thankful for the local church because it provides me with a place to use my spiritual gifts that God has given me for the edification of His people. I am thankful for the local church because it is the God-ordained gathering of the Saints that equips me with what I need to fight through the week and battle sin. Without the local church, the Christian cannot and will not fend off sin and the evil one. So, I echo with Paul, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you Christ Jesus.”

What Are You Learning?

Learning

I refer to myself as a person always learning. I like to learn. I spent many years in the classroom caring little about learning, but several years ago that all changed for me. I’m not exactly sure what happened  that flipped the learning switch, but some how I ended up in the PhD department at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing further education. In addition to formal education, I enjoy knowledge about a vast array of topics. I watch documentaries, read biographies, and feel that if I am not learning something I am wasting time (which is not always the case).

While I enjoy learning on both a formal and personal level, one classroom that I have been in recently, and always find myself in, is the classroom of God. Life is full of eventful, unexpected happenings. Some of which are good, others less than desirable. However, one cannot escape the spontaneity of life’s events.

With that being said, I have found myself in situations and circumstances over the last year or two, and beyond that, to which I am powerless, perplexed, or left with more questions than answers. Personally, times have come, gone, and will come again to which I tend to scratch my head and wonder who/what/when/where/and why this is happening. But what I have come to the conclusion of in all of life’s situations is the reality that God has something for me to learn.

So in all of life, I have started asking the question: “God, what are you trying to teach me?” When I look at different circumstances and situations in life through the lens of this question, it begins to provide an outlook to which I see purpose in all things. Scripture does not give any indication that the God of the Universe sets things in to motion, steps back, and is not actively involved with His creation every again. However, Scripture affirms that God is active within Creation, He is speaking through His Word, and He is working by way of His Holy Spirit. So the question remains: “What is He trying to teach me?”

I have found myself asking this question quite often over the last several months. With this in mind, God is teaching me so much about Himself, His character, His provision, and HIs faithfulness. He has brought me to the point in my life to which I am utterly powerless, and have nothing more to do than to trust in His provision over my life. Both in the good and in the bad, I know that God is working things together in my life for my good and for His glory (Romans 8). While this is the Scriptural truth, it is a tough pill to swallow when some of those workings may involve instances within life that are less than desirable.

Thus, I will leave everyone with the question: “What is God trying to teach you?” Consider something you may be going through, something that is good, something less than good, something leaving you with uncertainty, a job change, a financial crisis, a family issue, and ask yourself the question. I can assure you that in all of life God is trying to teach those who seek Him about who He is, His love for His people, and the glory that He rightfully deserves from all of Creation.

Ungodly Infiltration

infiltration

For several months in 2017 I preached through the book of First Timothy and will preach the book of Jude over the next two Sundays. Jude and Paul deal with similar subjects in their address to the letter’s readers, namely the infiltration of false teachers within the church. Upon a review of the New Testament Epistles, one might quickly draw the conclusion that the early church had its fair share of issues, one dominating theme being that of unbiblical teaching. For the Church of Ephesus as well as the recipients of the letter of Jude, the reality that a false gospel was being promoted within the walls of the primary place in which good doctrine should be upheld was both alarming and appalling.

The same might be said about the current state of the American Church. The Church has been polluted by false doctrine, misguided information, liberal theology, and emotionally therapeutic false teaching for quite some time, running more rampant than ever in the very place good theology and doctrine should flow freely. The very place in which Scripture should be held to the highest authority has unconsciously (or consciously) rejected the Word of God as the standard by which the entirety of the Christian life and the Church should be measured, trading it for man’s fleeting and finite opinions.

Why? Why is this the case too often within our Churches today? I think Jude alludes to the answer in verse 3 of his letter. A good portion of American Churches and a good portion of American Christians have stopped contending for the faith. Jude writes in an appeal that believers “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (ESV). To a degree, the Church has stopped contending for the faith. It may be out of ignorance, cultural relevance, fear, or comfort, but the Gospel has been lost somewhere in the mix. Because of this, immorality reigns within God’s Church, Scriptural exhortation and correction is viewed as suggestion instead of fact, and individuality is held high above discipleship.

Consider for a moment that this issue affecting the American Church of the twentieth and twenty-first century is not a construction of the times, but is a carry over from what began at the start of the Church. Why? Primarily because the Church is composed of sinners that often give way to their own flesh rather than to the Spirit. While this is true, this cannot be an excuse to allow the condition of the Church to continue. The Church must return to the Word, acknowledging the sinful inclinations of all people, even those who have been redeemed. The Church must pursue holiness, holding high the Word of God, living out their faith in fellowship with other believers in the local Church, practicing repentance on a daily basis. God’s Church should reflect God’s Word. When this does not take place, repentance is necessary and reconciliation must happen.