This is Tuesday February 14th. Happy Valentine’s Day. We love because God first loved us!!
This is Session #6 in our Theology of Evangelism. We are considering God’s work of redemption in the life of Lydia.
“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” (Acts 16:14) The NIV says: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
First of all we note that Lydia did indeed “attend” or listen to the words of Paul. She gladly heard and willingly believed his message. As we have already shown, she had to do this in order to benefit from the gospel and be saved. Lydia’s attending,” or hearing and believing, illustrates points One, Two, and Three above, and refutes hyper-Calvinism, (which says the elect will be saved regardless of whether they hear and believe the gospel or not). Lydia did choose to believe, and she herself did it only because she wholeheartedly wanted to. She did not do it “unwillingly” nor did God hear and believe for her. It was her own response and it was a most willing response.
Next, we notice exactly what God did. We see here demonstrated what God must do before Lydia can be saved.
(1) He provided a salvation of “by grace through faith” that could be preached. Obviously “the things spoken” by Paul were the gospel facts concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and surely this Lamb is God’s gracious provision.
(2) God also brought the message of His provision to Lydia. He sent a preacher to tell her about this great plan of salvation. God went to a lot of trouble to provide such a gospel-He gave His only begotten Son up to death. He went to great ends to provide such a preacher as Paul-read about it in Paul’s testimony in Acts 22. It is at this point that Arminianism departs from the Bible and proceeds to apply human logic. They tragically fail to look at the rest of the Biblical text and see that God must do something else.
(3) God must open Lydia’s heart (or give her spiritual life) so she will be able to believe. Her natural mind is blind, her natural heart is averse to God, and her will is in bondage to sin and spiritual death.
The contemporary culture in the USA is populated with a host of perspectives on the church that are wrong and without a shred of biblical support. We have an entire collection of people under the label ‘Nones’. These are folks that claim to have a faith relationship with the God of the Ages. But, they want nothing to do with the church. You cannot say ‘I love Jesus’, but I don’t want anything to do with the church of which He is the Head.
Then we have folks who NEVER darken the door of the gathered body of Christ. They say things like – ‘I would rather be in the woods and thinking about Jesus than in church thinking about hunting in the woods.’ What? That is pure bunk!!!
There is no perfect church so stop looking for one. Further, if you go there it will no longer be perfect. The church is full of sinners. God did not send his Son to make bad people good. He sent his Son to make dead people alive.
When a person becomes a true believer through unconditional faith in Christ, they become participants in the New Covenant. There are several types of Covenants. There are Conditional Covenants; the Mosaic Covenant is an example of a conditional Covenant. There are Unconditional Covenants. The ‘New Covenant’ is an example of this type. If you are a member of the NT church you are a member of an unconditional covenant. You are a slave to righteousness & to Christ. Slaves honor all that their masters call upon them to do.
This includes obeying the One Another Commands of the NT.
This includes living life in community.
This includes actively representing Christ in the marketplace – making disciples as you share the gospel.
This includes willing submission to the Elder/Shepherds that God has placed in your assembly.
This includes participation in all that your local church agrees upon as God’s direction for that assembly.
Hebrews 10:22-24 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. . . . And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works
Your active role in your church ministers to others. Be there!!!
Our focus is Evangelism; what does and what does not meet the NT criteria for effective evangelism.
Let me clarify. The problem I highlighted by using Bellevue Baptist in Memphis is not unique to that church. The issue is widespread and very pervasive. One of the causal reasons for this syndrome of greater membership than attendance is driven by a corrupt metric that has been embraced by nearly all of the SB churches. That metric is numbers. More is better and biggest is best. Healthy churches have a greater number of people attending than they have on the membership roles. Unhealthy churches the opposite.
This unrelenting pursuit of numbers has corrupted the glorious ministry of evangelism. Multiple substitute approaches emerged. In 1954 the tag line for SB was ‘A Million More in 54’. That highlights the problem I am presenting. Numbers mattered more than TRUTH. The membership of SB churches swelled but with scores of people who after a very brief time following their ‘profession of faith’ never darkened the door of the church again. Even more tragic is the fact that when confronted with this they steadfastly cling to their ‘profession’ from days gone by. Folks the irrefutable evidence of regeneration is transformation. When there is no transformation you can take it to the bank, there has been no regeneration.
Any and all approaches to evangelism that give higher priority to numbers than to genuine transformation and disciples who make other disciples are spurious. This does not demand immediate maturity. That is a matter of sanctification. But, it does demand progress in the life of the one professing Christ toward the likeness of Christ.
Biblical Literacy is a crucial dynamic in evangelism. A deficient level of Biblical Literacy produced a host of canned evangelistic ‘programs’. Canned programs produce ‘professors but not possessors’. These approaches to evangelism are driven more by immediate results than by presenting the whole counsel of God with integrity. Some examples of this would be the ‘ABC’ approach; Admit, Believe, Confess. Another is the Four Spiritual Laws or Evangelism Explosion. The people using these approaches do not comprehend the damage this approach has done to the church by filling the pews with people who profess to know Christ but in fact do not.
Jesus said – by their fruit you will know them. Their ‘fruit’ shows they are not redeemed.
Ezekiel 34 is a frightening chapter. It records the judgment of God upon those charged with caring for God’s people, his sheep. Those Shepherds failed miserably at this task. They engaged in selfish ‘me first’ narcissism. Read the words of God’s indictment against them:
Ezekiel 34:4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.
The text of Scripture is very clear and precise concerning the role of Shepherds.
James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
It has been my practice for 47 years to engage in self examination. Each week on Friday at noon I looked back over the week just completed and ahead to the week before me. I endeavored to honestly assess my leadership from God’s perspective. This was sometimes quite painful. There were failures that required repentance and God’s gracious forgiveness. There were triumphs to be celebrated. I sought to be well prepared for the challenges ahead. Ephesians 6 provides a detailed profile of how we must be clothed and equipped for the battles that are before us.
The New Year is a great opportunity to examine your effectiveness as a Shepherd of God’s people. Look at both what you did that was wrong and what you failed to do that you should have. Make the necessary modifications in your leadership.
Pastor we serve a God that is gracious and merciful beyond your wildest comprehension. Go to him. Confess. Repent. Then bask in his glorious mercy and enabling grace. He loves you and he loves his people. He blesses his people through you. What an amazing way to invest the life that he gives.
Help, LORD, to whom for help I fly,
And still my tempted soul to stand by
Throughout the evil day;
The sacred watchfulness impart,
And keep the issues of my heart,
And stir me up to pray
My soul with thy whole armor arm;
In each approach of sin alarm,
And show the danger near:
Surround, sustain, and strengthen me,
And fill with godly jealousy
And sanctifying fear.
“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: Bread and Circuses.” – Juvenal – Satire (100 A.D.)
Juvenal’s satire indicted the Roman citizenry for a total corruption of cultural and civil priorities. They wanted ‘Bread & Circuses’ over sustainable civil order. Today in Alabama we need only replace ‘Bread & Circus’ with ‘Football’. There is far greater concern for the outcome of the National Championship and who wins the ‘Iron Bowl’ than for an accurate honest assessment of the moral fiber of our community. A prime example is the condition and direction of the local church.
What is the general condition of the church in America? Thom Rainer with Life Way Research in Nashville states that 94% of American churches are declining. Other denominational leaders confirm this trend.
“The SBC is rapidly dying, and resistance to change could kill over half of the denomination’s churches by 2030. Unless something is done to reverse the downward trend, SBC churches could number only 20,000 – - down from the current total of more than 44,000 – - in fewer than 22 years.” (Frank Page as quoted in the Assoc. Baptist Press, May 6, 2008).
The CFO of the United Methodist stated at their National Conference in June of 2015 that unless they implement immediate changes in the way they conduct ministry, by the year 2030 the United Methodist Denomination will be bankrupt, and, by 2050 they will no longer exist as a denomination.
What is the response of those that occupy a leadership role in these churches? DENIAL! It is no longer possible to deny the reality of decline. However, when presented with irrefutable data that validates this precipitous decline there is an overwhelming refusal to implement any ministry modifications that lead to effectiveness. The stadium in Tuscaloosa will be filled to capacity on Saturday but there is little or no interest in spiritual formation among the same people that fill church services each Sunday.
When Martin Luther led what resulted in The Reformation that changed not only Germany, Europe and ultimately the world, the German people became a driving force in that movement. The people in the American Church must do the same today. Decline is not only persistent, it is accelerating – rapidly.
Where are your priorities? Are you more concerned with Football, or, the stability and nobility of America as a ‘City on A Hill’, the beacon of Truth and Righteousness? The people in our churches must demand the modifications that evidence true spirituality as measured by Special Revelation. What are your priorities?
to have sound health, i.e. be well (in body); figuratively, to be true in doctrine.
We are examining the American Church and the prospects of doctrinal corruption due to ecumenical initiatives. We stated that the church is in trouble with a capital T. Our focus today is on the Scriptures. 66 Books that are truly one Book. From Genesis to Revelation there is one theme, the incredible story of Redemption provided by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ to purchase a people for himself. His death did not merely make salvation possible. It actually accomplished salvation for his chosen people (Rev. 5:9-10).
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
The OT provides the history of Israel. The NT informs us of the body of Christ, the church. It is through God’s gracious revelation to man that we have knowledge of the church, heaven, hell, and eternity.
The Nature & Authority of the Bible, is the single most critical factor in identifying Theological Orthodoxy, sound doctrine. Error on this essential virtually guarantees there will be a multitude of unorthodox and flat out false doctrines issuing from those who embrace such error. Church History confirms this fact.
What is the Nature of our Bible? It is God’s Word. The orthodox position on the Bible for thousands of years has been it is inerrant and infallible. It is our guide for faith and practice. Many denominations have abandoned this perspective. This is a major factor in the decline of the American church. When this principle is compromised it is all downhill from there. The PCUSA as a Denomination has lost 21% of its membership in just the past 4 years as a result of abandoning the Authority of Scripture. Are you in a church that has done this?
What is the Authority of Special Revelation, our Bible? It is the final arbiter, the ultimate source of TRUTH absolute. Jesus said straight up to Pilate that his purpose in coming was ‘to bear witness to the truth.’ (John 18:37) The culture of America has become saturated with relativism. The claim of our culture is there is no such thing as Absolute Truth. The Bible is TRUTH Absolute. All Scripture is inspired and profitable. Case Closed!!
What does the church that you are a part of believe and practice on this vital matter?
Leadership – research has revealed as the #1 cause of decline in the American Church – Leadership.
The Francis Schaeffer Leadership Institute surveyed over 1,000 pastors. This research disclosed that 75% of pastors responding stated they were not prepared to lead well by their colleges and seminaries. 81% stated they had no strategic and intentional disciple making process. These statistics lend credence to the major cause of decline is a leadership issue. Seminaries teach a man to study the Bible. They do not teach a man to pastor with effectiveness.
Further validation of this principle is this. Men who lead well serve churches that are for the most part thriving.
Metric – This brings us to the final factor we will consider. The vast majority of churches measure ministry effectiveness by mere activity. They look at numbers; how many, how much, and how often. The NT criteria for ministry effectiveness are Transformation. This principle is a clear NT objective for all believers:
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Future – Joshua issued a compelling challenge to the people he lead. Choose you this day whom you will serve. This is where the American church is positioned. The old aphorism is true – - ‘When you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got’. Poor grammar – sound logic.
The church cannot continue to engage in dysfunctional ministry practices and expect to have the blessing of the LORD. He honors his word. The text states clearly when we seek him he will be found. However, he will only be found on his terms, not some substitute that is an eclectic conglomeration of practices borrowed from the culture around us.
If the dysfunctions we have noted are present in the church you lead, address them. Do so with courtesy and dignity but with a real measure of tenacity. Failure to change leads to continued persistent decline. The rate of decline is accelerating. The time for action is NOW.
Delay is deadly. Act NOW!!
Dr. George Guthrie teaches at Union Univ. in Jackson TN. Each year he administers a Literacy Quiz to incoming freshman. These are young people from SB churches. Theoretically they are the ‘cream of the crop’. This quiz is very simple. An example of the questions, ‘Who preached the Sermon on The Mount?’ The average score on this quiz – 57. Stunning, absolutely stunning! You cannot obey what you do not know!
The Prophet Amos grappled with literacy in his ministry:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. (Amos 8:11)
Listen to the observations made concerning Biblical Literacy by men who teach in Christian Institutions.
In “The 9 Most Important Issues Facing the Evangelical Church,” theologian Michael Vlach cites “Biblical Illiteracy in the Church” as his final concern. George Barna’s assessment is that “the Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy.”
New Testament scholar David Nienhuis summarizes his understanding of the situation in an article titled “The Problem of Evangelical Biblical Illiteracy: A View from the Classroom”:
For well over twenty years now, Christian leaders have been lamenting the loss of general biblical literacy in America. … Some among us may be tempted to seek odd solace in the recognition that our culture is increasingly post-Christian. … Much to our embarrassment, however, it has become increasingly clear that the situation is really no better among confessing Christians, even those who claim to hold the Bible in high regard.
In 1986, Neil Postman published an influential cultural essay titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Postman wrote:
What George Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Adolphus Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.
Turn off that phone, read, and discover what God’s word says!
Monergism is a theological perspective that boldly and unapologetically declares that ‘Salvation is of the LORD!’ This perspective was dominant in American Christianity until the mid-1800’s. One of the primary architects of the transition was Charles Grandison Finney.
Finney was a disgruntled attorney who became a preacher. He had little or no theological training. The consequences of this change have been nothing short of tragic!
Remember the phrase ‘it’s the economy stupid!’ “It’s the theology, stupid.” The dominant moralism of the fundamentalist/revivalistic evangelicalism of the 60′s and 70′s gave way to the dominant moralism of the attractional/”contemporary” evangelicalism of the 80′s and 90′s and we — the American Church — discipled our people right into this mess. When we traded in biblical exposition for self-focused how-to’s, when we blended up a syrupy syncretism of Americana and “Judeo-Christian values,” when we stopped prophetically proclaiming and started handing out trite inspirational slogans, when we started treating congregants like customers and church programs like consumer products, when we moved the gospel to the end of the service and then escorted it out of the sanctuary altogether, we basically asked for this. We set these wheels in motion.
What I want for the faith perspective of the American church is more than theological agreement in the mind. I want us to experience a theological change of the heart. If we truly believe in the Doctrines of Grace, our zeal will be complemented with humility and our earnestness with compassion. Those who embrace the absolute sovereignty and unbreakable love of God, in light of our own moral inability to do good or to please him, will be struck with awe and overwhelmed with meekness.
The Father chose us, the Son died for us, and the Holy Spirit awoke us when we were rebelling, refusing, and resisting. Salvation is truly of the Lord, leaving us no room for boasting or pride. We should be passionate about doctrine but patient with people, for apart from the working of God, how will their minds and hearts be changed?
Before we set out to correct others with the Doctrines of Grace, be sure we apply them to our own heart. Preach to ourselves before we preach to others. Only then will doctrinal precision be accompanied by compassionate persuasion. Others will more easily see the glory of these truths when they see how they have already changed us.
Salvation is truly and only of the LORD.