When the Church Becomes Worldly (Guinness)

 Here’s a helpful commentary by Os Guinness on worldliness in the church:

It would be idle to speculate what terrible new order today’s trendy clerics and faithless Christian activists are greasing the slipway for.  But we need not wait for the outcome.  The truth is that the greatest enemy of the Western church is not the state or any ideology such as atheism, but the world and the spirit of the age.  Anything less than a full-blooded expression of the Christian faith ahs no chance of standing firm against the assaults and seductions of the advanced modern world.

So when the church becomes worldly, she betrays her Lord, and she also fails to live up to her calling to be dangerously different and thus to provide deliverance from the world by a power that is not of the world.  When ‘saving us from ourselves’ has become the widespread problem of the advanced modern world, the worldly church has no supernatural salvation to offer and stands in shame and as desperately needing saving herself.

But that is not the end of it.  The worldly church is not only corrupt but cowardly, for much contemporary worldliness is a voluntary capitulation to the spirit and system of the age.  There are times when the powers of the age openly seek to seduce the church or brutally subjugate her to their own purposes.  That can be bad enough, as witnessed by the widespread compromise of Russian Orthodoxy under Stalin or Lutheranism under Hitler. But the contemporary worldliness of parts of the Western church, as exemplified differently by the extremes of either the Episcopal Church in America or the emergent Evangelicals, is in one sense worse.

As Jesus said, ‘You will know them by their fruit.’  Just wait long enough for their ideas to ripen, and in case after case it turns out that the much-trumpeted ‘new kind of Christianity for a new world’ turns out to be the old kind of compromise and heresy.  Such worldliness is inexcusable because it is self-chosen, naively and brethlessly self-chosen, and in many cases foolish beyond all comprehension.

From Renaissance, p. 119

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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Family Visitation > Small Groups

If done wisely, small groups can be a benefit to Christ’s church.  On the other hand, small groups can sometimes get in the way of the church’s ministry.  It takes wisdom, patience, grace, and work to ensure that small groups help rather than hinder spiritual growth in the local church.  One aspect of the church’s spiritual growth that many forget today is the practice of family visitation.  In historic Reformed churches the elders and pastors go “from house to house” every two or three years to visit the members of the congregation (Acts 20:20b).  During these visits, they pray, read Scripture, and discuss the Christian church and life with God’s people.  Some might disagree, but I would say that this kind of family visiting is even more important than small groups.

Here’s a book that I very much recommend on this topic: Taking Heed to the Flock by P. Y. DeJong. This book talks about various aspects of family visit: its history, biblical basis, spiritual purpose, necessity, value, and so on.  Taking Heed to the Flock is one of the best books you’ll find on family visiting.  Here’s one excerpt that was encouraging for me thinking about family visits in the church I serve:

In an age in which individualism is rampant and has wreaked havoc everywhere, it is essential to stress the organic aspect of life.  We cannot live without each other.  Nowhere is this more valid than in the church among the communion of saints.

Where this law of life is understood, the elders do not regard themselves as policemen of the congregation.  Theirs is not the duty of trying to uncover all the sins which mar the hearts of God’s people who are as yet imperfect.  But, realizing the almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of a well-rounded Christian life, they visit the families for the purpose of helping all to see their duty more clearly.

This makes for the closest possible fellowship between the officers and members of the church on the one hand and between the m embers among each other on the other.  They learn to stand shoulder to shoulder in the great spiritual struggle against the common foe and learn to wage this war more successfully.  It makes of the church truly a ‘militant’ church.  As each soldier has his own position and duty and obliges himself to carry it out in strict obedience to the commands of his superior, so too in the church all the members find their calling outlined by Christ in His Word.  The purpose of the work of the elders is to remind the believers in the name of the Commander-in-Chief of their personal and social responsibilities.  Where this is found, the words of the well-known hymn are immortalized in the life of the congregation:

Like a mighty army
Moves the church of God
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.

As this is progressively realized in the life of the church, she marches forward from victory to victory in the name of the Captain of her salvation.

P. Y. DeJong, Taking Heed to the Flock (1948), p. 38.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Mentality of Abuse

In the past few years, I’ve written several posts on church bullies and abuse (also here).  These two topics overlap and I’ve studied them on and off for some time.  Another resource that has to do with these topics is Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Before I say anything else, I want to note that this is not at all a Christian book and I have many major disagreements with this book.  Christian readers will have to be especially discerning when reading it.  To be absolutely clear, I only recommend it to mature Christian readers.

Having said that, it is a helpful resource on the topics of [church] bullies and abuse.  Here’s one section where the author talked about the abusive mentality.  I’ve edited it for length:

  • He is controlling.  A few of my clients have been so extremely controlling they could have passed for military commanders.  Most of my clients stake out specific turf to control, like an explorer claiming land, rather than try to run everything.  A large part of this man’s abusiveness comes in the form of punishments used to retaliate against another for resisting his control.
  • He feels entitled.  Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner.  The rights of his wife and children are diminished but his own rights are greatly inflated.
  • He twists things into their opposites.  The abuser’s highly entitled perceptual system causes him to mentally reverse aggression and self-defense.  When I challenge my clients to stop bullying their partners, they twist my words around just as they do their partners’.  They accuse me of having said things that have little connection to my actual words.
  • He disrespects his wife and considers himself superior to her. The abuser tends to see his partner as less intelligent, less competent, less logical, and even less sensitive than he is.  He often has difficulty conceiving of her as a human being.  This tendency in abusers is known as objectification or depersonalization.
  • He confuses love and abuse.  An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares, but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love.  The more a man abuses you, the more he is demonstrating that he only cares about himself.
  • He is manipulative.  If a man is abusive all the time, his partner starts to recognize that she’s being abused, and the man may feel too guilty about his behavior.  The abuser therefore tends to switch frequently to manipulating his partner to get what he wants.  He may also use these tactics just to get her upset or confused, or so that she blames herself and feels sorry for him.
  • He strives to have a good public image.  If you are involved with an abusive man, you may spend a lot of your time trying to figure out what is wrong with you rather than what is wrong with him.  One of the most important challenges facing a counselor of abusive men is to resist being drawn in by the men’s charming persona.
  • He feels justified.  Abusive men are masters of excuse making.  In this respect, they are like substance abusers, who believe that everyone and everything except them is responsible for their actions.  The abusive man commonly believes he can blame his partner for anything that goes wrong, not just his abusiveness.
  • Abusers deny and minimize their abuse.  If the man is abusive, of course he’s going to deny it, partly to protect himself and partly because his perceptions are distorted.  If he were ready to accept responsibility for his actions in relationships, he wouldn’t be abusive.
  • Abusers are possessive.  Possessiveness is at the core of the abuser’s mindset, the spring from which all the other streams spout; on some level, he feels that he owns you and therefore has the right to treat you as he sees fit.

These points can be found (in full length) in Why Does He Do That?, chapter 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christian Marriage and the Christian Church

Love That Lasts (Foreword by CJ and Carolyn Mahaney): When Marriage Meets Grace by [Ricucci, Gary, Ricucci, Betsy] A Christian marriage cannot flourish apart from the church.  This fact is sometimes ignored in Christian counseling and in Christian books on marriage.  But it’s true: the local Christian church is a vital ingredient in a solid biblical marriage.  I appreciate how one marriage book, Love That Lasts, emphasizes this fact:

“…[T]he local church is the biblical home for Christian marriage, the indispensable context where love and marriage are to be lived out. …There is no room in Scripture for Lone Ranger spouses.”

“The church is the place where marriages are fed and supported with truth.  The local church is God’s primary context for the teaching and application of God’s Word.  As helpful as recorded messages, Christian media, conferences, and even books can be, the Lord has established the church as the central depository and dispensary of the truth.  If you truly want to mature as a husband or wife, if you want your spouse to spiritually thrive, if you want to see your family nurtured into the truth, the local church is your God-given context.”

“…[T]he church is the place where marriages are helped in seasons of need.  In every marriage there are times of trial, struggles with sin, and seasons of suffering. …There are many ways in which serious trials can assault a marriage.  It is at these times that our brothers and sisters in the local church embody the love of Christ to us.”

“…And regardless of the cultural whirlwind around us, it is the local church – Christians living a shared life biblically before God and one another – that will ultimately secure the place and role of marriage and family from generation to generation.”

Love that Lasts by Gary and Betsy Ricucci, p. 24-26.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Radical Duality of Anabaptist Ecclesiology (Bavinck)

(This is a repost from August 2015)

One thing that Herman Bavinck did so well was put his finger on the pulse of the radical Anabaptist theology in the post-reformation era.  Here’s one of his many penetrating insights into the Anabaptist dualism.

“Anabaptism proceeded from the premise of an absolute antithesis between creation and re-creation, nature and grace, the world and the kingdom of God, and therefore viewed believers as persons who in being born again had become something totally different and therefore had to live in separation from the world.  Its program was not reformation but separation: Anabaptism wanted a separated church.  For centuries [they said] there had been no church but only Babel, and Babel had to be abandoned and shunned.  In Munster it was said that there had been no true Christian in 1,400 years.  The true church was a church of saints who, after making a personal profession of faith, were baptized, and who distinguished themselves from others by abstaining from oaths, war, government office, and a wide assortment of worldly practices in food and drink, clothing, and social contact” (Reformed Dogmatics, IV.292).

This is pretty significant to understand, especially in light of an earlier post here concerning the conversion experience.  Over and over Bavinck reminds us that grace restores nature; it does not work against or remain outside, above, or beside nature “but rather permeates and wholly renews it.”  In other words, conversion experiences are as diverse as the scores of people who have been converted: there is no one conversion that trumps the others.

This is where the conversion experience and the doctrine of the church go hand in hand: if one sharply distinguishes grace from nature, he sees conversion as a separation from (or destruction of) nature instead of a renewal/reformation of it.  When it comes to the church then, it has to be made up of only those who are separated from nature and show it by their sharp distinction between themselves and everything else.  In pretty blunt terms, it is as if conversion is a lightning-bolt-supernatural-shock which results in something totally different, and those who are totally different make up a totally different church (almost an a-natural church).  In Reformed terms (and Bavinck’s terms), this is a dualistic principle that underlies more than a few sects that emerged within Protestantism following the Reformation.

What is the Reformed response?  It is quite detailed, but the first thing to note with Bavinck is the organic working of grace, the way grace restores and works through, in, and with nature.  We see this principle 1) in the writing of Scripture (God didn’t destroy the personalities of the author, but used them for his purposes), 2) in the unfolding promises of his covenant of grace (his ordinary way of working is through the natural means of parents and their seed), 3) in conversion (which is a renewal [not destruction] of the imago dei), 4) in sanctification (God reforming his people – including their various personalities and emotions), and 5) in the church (he uses natural things like speaking, bread, wine, and discipline – the 3 marks of a true church – to help his people).  These are just five areas – there are more.

There is a pastoral side to this.  Just as with conversion we don’t always need to see the “hell to heaven” experience that one can pinpoint (though those are fine), so too with sanctification and the doctrine of the church.  In a church, we’re going to find a whole bunch of people with different personalities, different ways of struggling with sin, different methods of speaking about Jesus, and so forth.  Since grace renews nature, we should expect to see one parishioner fight sin with tears, another fight it with a more upbeat attitude, and yet another fight it quietly behind the scenes while a fourth sings a favorite Psalm to combat sin.  When I counsel a believer who struggles with some type of addiction, for example, though we follow general Scriptural principles, he may not fight that addiction like I would.  This sometimes frustrates me, since I tend to be Luther-like, fighting sin with fists flying.   When Bavinck reminds me that grace restores nature, I can rest at night knowing that God’s gracious renewal gives us the same weapons to fight, but we all use those weapons in different ways.   Just because the sinner-who-is-a-saint doesn’t throw fists at sin like I do doesn’t mean he isn’t fighting it!  Just because a church is made up of people who are at different stages of struggling and have different methods of struggling doesn’t mean the church is impure!   A church is made up of sinners using the same weapons to fight sin, only they wield the weapons differently.  Grace renews nature!

This post is too long already, but this topic also has implications for preaching.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Church Is Greater Than Her Pastors (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In the era of celebrity pastors and famous preachers who have thousands of “likes” and (sadly) even fans, it’s very important to remember that Christ’s church is greater than her pastors.  Pastors serve for 10, 20, or 30 years; maybe sometimes they even serve 50 or 60 years.  Then they die and someone else takes their place.  The church lives on even when the pastor leaves or goes to be with the Lord.  In a rightly ordered church, everything doesn’t collapse when the pastor leaves or dies.  The church may grieve, but she doesn’t fold or dissolve.  Instead, she prays, calls a new pastor, and together they press on in the faith.  I appreciate how Francis Turretin talked about this in the third volume of his Institutes.

“…Now the church is superior to pastors, not pastors to the church; the church does not belong to the pastors, but the pastors to the church.  ‘All things are yours,’ says Paul, ‘whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22).  Here he rebukes those who gloried in men as heads and for whose sake they raised dissensions and parties among the Corinthians.  He shows that they acted falsely because the church is greater than and superior to all.  Hence pastors are called servants and ministers of the church: ‘We are your servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Cor. 4:5).”

Earlier Turretin noted this:

“…The church is not for the sake of the ministry, but the ministry for the sake of the church.

Turretin did say more, but this is a good reminder for pastors (myself included) that we are called to serve the church and humbly minister to her.  The church doesn’t revolve around the pastor.  The church does not exist to serve the pastor.  The pastor is not the church’s lord and ruler.  Jesus is.  The church revolves around him and exists to serve and worship him.  Pastors are merely servants that point the church to Jesus.  Might we even say that pastors are in a way expendable?

The above quote and entire discussion about pastors and the church are found on pages 227-8 of Turretin’s Institutes, vol 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Israel, the Church, and Replacement Theology

Numbers (PTW) I appreciate and agree with Iain Duguid’s discussion of “replacement theology” in his commentary on Numbers 24:

Some Christians believe that Old Testament promises that speak of “Israel” are only intended for ethnic Israel and not for the church. For them, Balaam’s prophecies speak of a glorious future for the physical descendants of Israel, but they would call any attempt to apply these promises to the church “replacement theology.” I would suggest that this is a misunderstanding of what the Scriptures teach about Israel. It is not that the church has replaced Israel in the New Testament so much as that Old Testament Israel—ethnic Israel—finds its true goal and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the star of Jacob, the Israel of God.

In the person of Jesus, therefore, the true Israel has arrived, and all those who come to God by faith in him—Jews and Gentiles alike—become God’s children and are thereby incorporated into this new people of God (John 1:11, 12). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles together become the true heirs of the promise given to Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Galatians 3:29). Outside of Christ, on the other hand, there is no longer any true Israel. It is those who are in Christ who are the true chosen people: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been chosen by God for exactly the same special relationship that he had with his Old Testament people. In his incredible grace and mercy, God chose us before the foundation of the world, so that we might be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3, 4). He has rescued us from the final judgment that awaits all those who remain outside his people and has given us the glorious inheritance of a relationship with himself. In Jesus, the star of Jacob has risen for us and for our salvation.

Iain M. Duguid and R. Kent Hughes, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 287–288.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI