Romans 10: 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,[h]
Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
It's easy to decry the state of the Church here in America. Chesterton has spoken of an inner joy for the Christian that is shrouded by an outer sorrow, and an outer joy that conceals the true inner despair of the unbeliever. But what scares me are the large number of Pastors and teachers who mask a morbid delight with a "concerned" bemoaning of the "imminent" destruction of our sinful, rebellious nation. The glee and delight comes from the prospect of persecution. I find this both repulsive and arrogant. To hope for our destruction so that we, the elect, can shine forth like the sun while all the non-elect Christian posers wilt under persecution and deny the faith, is about as abominable an attitude one can take in this most urgent crisis. For indeed, our nation is in crisis. Our nation's foundations have been ripped from beneath, postmodern thinking has a footing (which is a logical absurdity in itself!), and the average Joe walking down the street seems largely unaware of it all. Or worse, fully aware but to busy or preoccupied to care.
If the gospel were bursting forth like glorious day across the nation, if pastors and theologians were preaching sound doctrine with fiery, passionate exhortation, and if Christians were living faithfully in their callings as salt and light unto the world, then I'd say bring on the judgment of the Lord, bring on my persecution at the hand of the reprobate. But my grief is that the Church, the true believers, the elect, consist of half starved sheep because the pastors and theologians entrusted to them are the very ones happily rubbing their hands together, salivating at the prospect of the end of this nation's faithfulness to God. They will express this by saying things like, "Homosexuality, abortion, feminism, evolution, all this stuff is God's judgment, and will bring greater judgment as our nation persists in it. They have been warned, and it appears we are past the point of no return. This nation will be down the tubes in half a generation."
I would like to turn the gun around at the pastors and theologians who make these doom and gloom statements with hidden delight and say, "Yeah, and it's your fault!" We've been in a Christian cove for far too long. Our young people cannot defend the faith, and that's a sin (1 Peter 3:15). And they cannot defend the faith because they haven't been shepherded right by their shepherds and they haven't been parented right by their parents. We pass our kids off to public schools and Sunday schools, thinking both will do them some good, when in reality most Sunday schools do little more than tell cutesy stories. At least you might learn something at a public school. And the worst of the three is private schools, I know because I was in one for thirteen years. If you want to look at religious hypocrisy, from both student and administration, go to a private school. Pick a private school, virtually any private school, they are all cut from the same cloth, because they all have the same false theology and are all drawing teachers and pastors from the same weak colleges with bad teaching from bad professors.
Through and through the Church in America is sick because we have much ignored the grave warning of James in James 3:
3 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.Instead, the philosophy of today is if you really want to be a true, passionate follower of Christ, sign up to be a pastor or teacher or missionary. After all, as one of the pastors would say at the Christian school I went to, it isn't about your ability, it's about your availability. And that is a lie that people are believing in mass, and it is slaughtering the sheep.
Since Romans 10 teaches that one must hear the true gospel to be saved and have faith, it follows that one must continually receive the preaching of the Word, especially the true gospel, in order to be fed and grow properly as a believer who now has faith. Most churches get the gospel wrong, but then I think the ones that get it right think that's all there is to it and never get much past that. No, you don't ever leave the gospel, you just apply it rightly to all things. And as I've noted in other posts, a monergistic view of regeneration does not a reformer make. One can still easily misapply the gospel, even when one gets the doctrines of grace right, or think that the sovereign election of God only impacts how one is saved, when it reality it changes literally everything. And by literally everything, that's exactly what I mean. The very purpose of existence hinges on the sovereignty of God.
And then there is the problem of confusing preaching with teaching. Martyn Lloyd Jones said, "Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire." And I think that quote captures the essence of Paul when he speaks to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4,
4 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at[a] His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Preach the Word! Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. Why? Because sheep are dumb, and will drift away into fables and fantasies. They won't naturally bend toward sound doctrine. But you can't just talk about it like you are sipping beer and smoking pipes in a parlor. No, the preacher must exhort with the text. He must defend and contend for the faith. And the sheep learn by coming under this fire, by being the objects of which the preacher is rebuking, exhorting, pleading, and convincing, with sound doctrine and passionate patience. The sheep also learn by observing their shepherd. As we are to imitate Christ, we are to imitate our undershepherd, assuming he is actually shepherding at all.
But this isn't happening. Not even in many reformed churches I would wager. Cold, dead orthodoxy still reigns. Which translated means preaching the hard truths of Scripture impassionately, non-exhortationally, unconvincingly, with little rebuking of the sheep. This is wrong, and Lloyd Jones wouldn't, and didn't, like this kind of preaching one bit. He also said,
I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him.
Now I am saying that it is impossible for a shepherd to give his sheep food, to feed and nourish them, unless he exhorts, rebukes, and convinces. Unless the shepherd is preaching at his sheep, charging them as Paul charged Timothy, then the sheep have yet to be shepherded. They are but an audience coming to hear a wise man pontificate, to have their ears tickled, perhaps even by biblical truth and sound doctrine (!) at best, rather than coming to be struck by the shepherd's staff so that they can once again find the straight and narrow and this time stay on it, and rear their families to stay on the straight path as well. And I believe Lloyd-Jones is saying this too in the quote above. How can one receive a sense of God for one's soul, how can one really see His majesty and glory, and the love of Christ, and the magnificence of the gospel, when it is being delivered abstractly, to no one in particular, like a lecture where it is improper to blink to noisily? When we Presbyterians are more worried about the prim and proper, more concerned about putting on grave, serious faces for God on Sunday mornings, when we are more focused on maintaining the rigidity of our backs as we sit with good posture in the pew than we are on whatever little we might glean from the man droning on in the pulpit, we aren't gathering as sheep and we aren't coming to be shepherded.
To be sure, not all churches are this way, and some go the other way where it is proper to be silly and shout amen at anything the pastor says loudly, regardless of whether it is actually true of God or not. Amening heresy is a very bad thing, idolatry even, but being more concerned about how you appear in church rather than having your hearts and mind focused on the actual reason God tells us to gather is a form of idolatry too. Both are claiming to try and revere God and worship Him properly, some wanting to obey the command in Psalm to dance for Jesus, others wanting to avoid being incinerated by the "strange fire" that was wrongfully offered up by Aaron's sons Nahab and Abihu. Good in themselves, to be sure, but when the one side begins to say "look at me, I'm dancing for Jesus," and the other side says "Look at me, I'm avoiding the tomfoolery that God forbids that is about to get you struck," both are no longer worshiping God but telling God, "look at me." But in worship, we are supposed to be looking at Him, verging on self-forgetfulness, until the pastor yanks us with the hook of his staff behind our necks and reminds us of our sin.
We come to be fed. The pastor has about 30 to 45 minutes, once a week, to use his staff to straighten me, the sheep, out. If you come twice on Sundays you might get an hour to an hour and a half of correction. If words are to carry freight when written so each point is gold, the shepherd had better make each syllable, each turn of phrase platinum. In other words, this meal on Sunday better stick with me till next Sunday, else I'm going to be hungry again. But it is a rare case indeed for me to remember much of anything a pastor has said past Sunday lunch or the football game.
And why is this? Certainly because I am sinner, that is for sure. But I would say because preaching happens very rarely from the pulpit on Sundays, or any day for that matter. You may get a few good jokes in from the Joel Osteen crowd, a few seeker-sensitive pleas and plenty of pyrotechnics catered not to sheep but goats from the Perry Noble and Steve Furtick crowd, and then a cold, calculated college lecture from the reformed crowd. Or an in-your-face, loud and proud, topical sermon with Calvinistic hot sauce from the "New" Calvinist or the YRR crowd. But is any of that actual preaching? I don't think so. I get tired of talking about the problems in the Church or America and then talking about the same points of Calvinism to my same Calvinist friends over and over as if that's all their is to this faith, and as if repeating the points of themselves is going to somehow help me with this constant lust problem that I have, or this anger problem that my friend has, or this depression problem that she has, or this spirit of distrust that this other fellow has. Constant academia and having your head in the clouds, in trying to splice open the meaning of perichoresis, of uncovering the precise differences between and importance of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism is wearisome. And never, never, NEVER can it replace simply picking up your Bible and reading it AS A SHEEP LOOKING TO BE SHEPHERDED BY THE GREAT SHEPHERD HIMSELF. That is something I especially need to remember, and I bet you do too.
And if you were feeling me until I said, "and I bet you do too," then you have proven my point. Because preachers so rarely shepherd anymore, because they so rarely rebuke and exhort and convince and use their staff, the sheep become rebellious, like a child does when he is never spanked and gets away with most whatever he wants with but a mild scolding, if that. So of course one affects the other. Bad shepherding produces bad sheep, which translated means very carnal Christians result from a lack of preaching. And I don't care what flavor of bad shepherding it is, it all will lead to unsanctified lives for the sheep. To be sure I'd rather listen to a cold sermon by a 90 year old Presbyterian than go to a charismatic service where people are flopping in the aisles and keep on saying that we are the "Joshua generation," but the difference is negligible. I want both of them to just shut up.
Then there's the antinomian sentiments in both Calvinist and non-Calvinist circles. The mindset is basically you get fed on Sundays and give some special hallowing to church attendance; that is, if you tick it off and have good attendance and act very serious and attentive in church, then you've clocked in and clocked out for the week and can go merrily on your way, leaving behind what little bit of nutrition that might have been dispensed in the service to begin with, all because you got reminded of the gospel.
I hate making excuses for myself when I sin, because I know there are none. When someone pops off a "Yeah I really messed up there, but praise Christ for His sovereign grace and forgiveness" I can't help but think there goes someone leaning toward antinomianism. Why? Because, though that's true, the first thing that should be felt and remembered and publicly expressed is your bitter disgust with your sin, that it is serious, that it vexes your soul because the Spirit won't let you rest until you deal with it, not an appeal to Christ first as if that's that and how you act now doesn't matter a whit. When we are fully sanctified, when we are glorified in heaven, we can have that attitude that says "yeah but Jesus paid it all, and that's that." But no one in the midst of spiritual warfare, who has been commanded by the One slain for him, when he or she doesn't fight well or isn't really fighting at all, appeals to the slain one as a justification for our laxity, for our indifference to the remaining sin in our lives. He is our justification, of course, but he justified us and is sanctifying us to have greater disgust for our sin, not greater complacency and nonchalant attitude. The weight of sin for the believer is supposed to get heavier, not lighter, but in a completely different way than as before we were saved. Before we were saved, the weight was unbearable because we knew we were damned. Now the weight seems unbearable because we aren't damned and we know we should be. But the Christ's Spirit of love, which has been shed abroad in our hearts, bears all things (1 Cor. 13:7), and by this Spirit we are to wage war against sin and the flesh, and if we do so, we shall live (Romans 8:13).
I could go on, but I have church in the morning. And a tired sheep doesn't make for an attentive one. My lament is with everyone that makes up the church- the shepherds and the sheep, with my sinful self at the top of the pyramid. Sheep need to listen more, but shepherds especially need to actually start shepherding. This goes for the seminaries and Bible colleges too, I would imagine.
Because if America goes to hell, it will because the Church lead it there.