Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Power of the Spirit - Absent

In a few more years—I know not when, I know not how—the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a far different style from the present. There are diversities of operations; and during the last few years it has been the case that the diversified operations have consisted in very little pouring out of the Spirit. Ministers have gone on in dull routine, continually preaching—preaching—preaching, and little good has been done. ( Emphasis mine) I do hope that perhaps a fresh era has dawned upon us, and that there is a better pouring out of the Spirit even now. For the hour is coming, and it may be even now is, when the Holy Spirit shall be poured out again in such a wonderful manner that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased—the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the surface of the great deep; when his kingdom shall come, and his will shall be done on earth even as it is in heaven. We are not going to be dragging on for ever like Pharaoh with the wheels off his chariot. My heart exults and my eyes flash with the thought that very likely I shall live to see the out-pouring of the Spirit; when “the sons and the daughters of God again shall prophecy, and the young men shall see visions, and the old men shall dream dreams.” Perhaps there shall be no miraculous gifts—for they will not be required; but yet there shall be such a miraculous amount of holiness, such an extraordinary fervour of prayer, such a real communion with God and so much vital religion, and such a spread of the doctrines of the cross, that everyone will see that verily the Spirit is poured out like water, and the rains are descending from above. For that let us pray: let us continually labour for it, and seek it of God.
For meditation: Spurgeon saw answers to his prayers in the 1859 revival. What are your visions for revival? Lots of excitement with extravagant claims that the Holy Spirit is involved? Or a genuine work of the Spirit which speaks for itself in real conversions, true fellowship and godly living ( Acts 2:37-47)?
Sermon no. 30, preached on 17 June 1855

Meditate on these things.

I would draw your attention to the statement in bold type above.  This has been a refrain of mine for many years - preaching and more preaching, but little good being done, and nothing much to show for it.  With all the advanced education of most preachers today, the Gospel has been undermined by degrees, as has the clear witness of the Christian church.

That something is seriously wrong, none but the most blind will deny.  What needs to be done to correct this malady does not find agreement.  It seems that the church today wants entertainers rather than true prophets.  She wants men who will bring the world into the church in a 'spiritual' way. The less preaching of the Word there is, the better; hence new churches seem to place the preaching of the Gospel at a serious discount all in an attempt to get the people in and to build up their own personal empire.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Life's Ironies.

Why is it that some of the worst rascals in the world have never been in trouble with the law?  How do the most vicious criminals the world knows have no police record?  Strange, but true.

Then some of the best people in the world have gained for themselves a police record, often through no fault of their own.

But in whose company would you rather be - the former or the latter?  And which of them would you want to rule in the church? 

Well, give me the latter any day.  Why?  Because knowing some of the worst rascals around to be utterly destructive of spiritual priorities and holding office within their local churches and denominations, they are very bad company who corrupt everything good.

The churches know that these people have no spiritual life in them that comes from Christ, given their utter opposition to the Gospel.  Yet they protect and retain them in office.  These people have mouths like cesspools, which express hearts like dunghills.  They hate Christ with a passion as measured by the blasphemous way they speak of Him.  They have rejected the Gospel continually and still do.  They are highly involved in their churches, even where an evangelical minister preaches.

But one must ask how it is that unregenerate officer-bearers within local churches can sit under preaching that makes no inroads to their souls?  Do ministers not carry out a spiritual audit of fellow-elders to ascertain their true spiritual standing?  A man may be a Christian and yet unfit to be an elder; but an unconverted man is clearly unfit to be an elder because he does not even satisfy the most basic qualification for eldership - being a Christian.  Therefore he is not fit to be a church member.

Here, a distinction must be made between a man being a church member and his being a Christain.  Church laws only require a man to be a church member, regardless of whether or not he is a Christain.  This view is held in defiance of the New Testament teaching.

For the church to be reformed, ministers must take spiritual issues much more seriously than they do.  It is way beyond time for a radical spiritual audit to be carried out into the spiritual standing of every member and office-bearer, including ministers, within the church.

The Problem of Powerless Preaching

If we are too self-dependent and not God-dependent, we cannot expect God to bless our ministries, can we?  Our life before God and others is critical, as is our personal prayer life.  I think we can still miss out spiritually if we then have our dependence on our own self-sufficiency.

I know how big a challenge my suggestion would be for me, so I almost trembled after writing it.  I have found great comfort, not so much in God, but in my poor frail sermon notes.  May God forgive me for this.  

You know me well enough to know how much I value learning in the Christian ministry, so I am not discounting this whatever.  On the contrary.  What I am trying to say is that I seem to have displaced God in favour of my desk preparation, and not given sufficient time to heart preparation before entering the pulpit.  I wonder does this resonate with you, too?  I think we may have got our priorities wrong.

I am speaking here from experience in my last work when there were people who felt that the entire global victims work was dependent on their efforts, and they felt they had to be at every congress in Europe and internationally.  These men were elevated by others who kept saying how well connected they were at senior government levels and that were just the men to head up this work.  And they loved it.  I was nauseated by it.  Far too much self-promotion at the expense of what we were there to do.

I know that Donald Macleod criticised DMLJ for the same kind of reason, describing him in terms of the cardinal archbishop of evangelicalism, arguing that he should have disallowed lesser ministers attributing this position to him (See Engaging with Lloyd-Jones).  

But DMLJ, with whatever faults others saw in him, was mightily used of God.  The reason: he self-defined as a man of prayer and as an evangelist.  And no one can be an evangelist who is not first and foremost a man of prayer. 

Maybe, like Paul, we might have to go into virtual seclusion in some "Arabia" for 14 years before we can be of real use to Him.  Perhaps, Like John, Patmos is where we have to be exiled to if we can be of any use in His holy service.  Perhaps we like the praise of men too much; maybe secretly we see ourselves as being indispensable to the Cause, though we would never admit that to others.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ministerial Time-servers

Believe it or believe it not, they do exist in our churches.  Ministers whose only aim is to draw their salary, keep their noses clean, and retire on a decent pension.

Let me tell of a case I was made aware of recently in which the minister decided that he would play it very calm and cool, not rock too many boats, and get his ministry in with as little ease as possible.  He was in a nice quiet rural parish, quite small, and nothing much to do.  He had all the time in the world to do what he wanted, and frequently made excuses for not staying long with church members whom he 'visited' in hospital.

His preaching ministry left a lot to be desired.  And his over-riding concern was to see his time through until retirement with minimal hassle. The people he watched most closely were his elders, then his colleagues.  So long as he was saying and doing what they were happy with, he was on a pig's back, as we say.

Now this scenario is not uncommon.  The work to which such men were 'called' just is not being done.  But the church loves it, and so also does Satan.  The last thing in the world that the church wants today is any kind of trouble, or controversy.  Keep the church pagans happy at all costs, because that keeps the money rolling in to our ecclesiastical coffers.

What is also very sad is that many of these men know the Gospel, but refuse to preach it with the power and passion that is needed to awaken a sleeping church.  They will go "thus far and no further."  They do not want to be known as passionate evangelical preachers - that's only for mission halls.

To be fair to them, they know that the Gospel of Christ has divine power to affect change; but that's the last thing they want because they do not know how to handle or work constructively with change.  I mean, what would people say if a church elder was converted and became a Christian?  Or the minister?  Or some other church member?  What would that say about the spiritual discernment (or lack of it) of the elders who accepted these 'professors' as real Christians?

And what would happen if these newly converted people were to take their new faith seriously?  Think of the extra work that will give a minister!  And him near the end of his working life.  You just cannot have that!

Then if these true Christians were to become passionate about evangelism in a church where the leadership, including the minister, were not?  How would that make them feel?  And look?  If God was to bless their work and people were to leave other churches, even within the same denomination, and come here, and many were converted to Christ, well, that would be embarrassing.

Then there is another danger.  If some of these new Christians, who are the most active members of the church, were to offer themselves for full-time Christian service and ministry, where would that leave us?  The gaps would be hard enough to fill, but we could manage that by closing down come of the work they did; what would become of the income - and my salary?

No, taking things too seriously is not recommended.  It only brings more work - and we can't have that.  After all, I have to attend so many committee meetings at Church HQ (committee meetings are where people in a special interest group meet for discussion and a bit of craic and where precious little of substance is ever done) and I would not have the time for all this other church work, especially if it is too spiritual.  I need to be seen to be a good churchman, because I am now of an age where I could become Moderator, and I don't want to compromise that possibility.

You get the picture.  Time-servers are everywhere, and in every church.  They love the position, the greetings of men on the streets, and the applause.  Keeping in with the world is of utmost importance to them, because that same world is deeply embedded within their church.  But evangelism?  Oh, I forgot to say, what we do in the community is called 'pre-evangelism.'  The health club, the golf club, the photographic society, the young farmers club, local history club - that's all 'pre-evangelism.'

But is that what the minister is called to?

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Reformed Magisterium

I don't know if you saw it, but E. T. Kirkland wrote a nasty review of the John Calvin 500 book in the English Churchman.  At least he had the grace and courage to make public his views.  Is this the Mr E T Kirkland from NI?  From his review, it is very clear that he is lacking in any Christian grace whatever.  Does he hold to the doctrines of grace?  I shouldn't have asked this question because anyone who treasures grace could not possibly write as he did.  It was disrespectful, prejudiced and unbecoming a Christian minister.  Lack of grace in a Gospel minister is like a diamond on a pig's nose.

I have no problems with people disagreeing with another traditionally reformed theology - that's their privilege; but I would expect fellow Christians who claim to uphold reformed truth to exhibit a semblance of grace when criticising a fellow reformed Christian believer.  I doubt if he has read much of Calvin, and by that I mean the available writings of Calvin - Institutes, Commentaries and, not least, his excellent sermons.  I recall the sage words of Dr Iain D. Campbell at the recent Puritan conference saying that if you wish to know what a man really believes, read his sermons.  

Why is it that this is the last place reformed people will look in order to understand Calvin's theology?  Linked to this, why is it that some Christians regard DMLJ's sermons on Acts as not his best; I listened to these 'wise' reformed men and did not read these sermons until relatively recently.  They are vintage DMLJ.  If any preacher wants to know how to preach the everlasting Gospel, go to DMLJ's eight volumes of Acts.

What do you think is happening within the reformed world?  Have reformed evangelicals now latched on to the Roman teaching that if we are to understand what the Bible teaches, it must be read through the lens of man-made documents, however good and excellent they are?  Are the Scriptures not perspicuous after all?  Is it the case that they can only be properly understood when received through accredited teachers?  I think we have been on a slippery slope for many decades, and no one seems to care one whit.

Do you think that men have sold their souls to a 'system' and are more faithful to it than to Christ?  Do you think the temptation is to hold to the system in order o be well thought of by colleagues.  "The fear of man brings a snare," 'tis true.  I remember being told as a young minister within PCI that if you keep in with the main people, you'll be well looked after.  This idea has not abated today.  The drive is to keep in with the right people (whoever they might be); but by so doing a man is selling his soul into a form of slavery - and it is not slavery to the Word of God.  Luther's phrase "My conscience is captive to the Word" has been my mainstay for many decades now.  Sadly, good reformed men are captive to something else.

I'd be very glad to get your response to this mini-'sermon.'