FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 43, October 8, 2020
“Do not be conformed to this world, Romans 12:2. Submit, therefore to God.”
Women in ministry, homosexuality, and Critical Race Theory are a trifecta which is threatening evangelical and Reformed churches in the U.S. Grace Church DC, a PCA congregation in Washington D.C., recently advertised their ministry of “shepherdesses”. “Shepherdesses will also assist the Elders in overseeing the spiritual well-being of the flock and advise the elders on matters of governance. They will be publicly examined, called, and commissioned by the Session.”
A book entitled Help(H)er: A Churchwide Response for Women in Crisis, written by staff members Bernie Lawrence and Anne Marie Goudzwaard of Christ Covenant PCA in Matthews, North Carolina, addresses the issue of women in ministry. The book deals with women assisting women, which of course, is a very needed ministry. What should concern us, however, is the co-opting of language. They term “shepherdess” is clearly meant to communicate a quasi, official ministry, which may serve alongside the elders of the church. There is no doubt the Session at Grace DC, PCA, Washington D.C. sees it this way.
Notice how the terms “social justice”, “same-sex attraction”, and “Side B Homosexuality” have been injected in recent years into the church lexicon. Words mean something. We saw this many years ago with the words “Pro-choice” and “women’s reproductive rights” put forth by pro-abortion advocates. When we choose to use the words of the world these words very soon are accepted by the church. It is not long before the actions behind these words are readily acceptable by the church as well.
Why does this happen? It is the same old same old, accommodation to the world. After his masterful theological work on sin and redemption in Romans 1-11, the Apostle Paul begins then practically to apply his work, Romans 12-16. The first words he writes is a command to present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices. His next command is not to be conformed to the world. Believers have always battled conformity to the world. It is quite natural. Our inclination is “to go along to get along.” Most of us do not like confrontation. We want to be liked, accepted. We want to reach as many people as we can with the good news of Jesus Christ. Making a few language compromises along the way seems, at times, to be a small concession to gain hearers and followers.
This is nothing new. In a desire to reach those skeptical of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in his day, Friedrich Schleiermacher around 1800 wrote that holding to the miracles of Jesus was not really necessary, that the cultured despisers of the gospel in his day would not accept them. So it was advisable to omit any talk of miracles when preaching the gospel. In the late nineteenth century, when Darwinism became the rage, men like James Woodrow (uncle of progressive President Woodrow Wilson) of Columbia Seminary promoted a form of theistic evolution. And presently, in a desire to accommodate the postmodern culture of our day, many in evangelical churches are caving in on the doctrine of creation (denying the plain teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith, based on the clear teaching of Scripture of a literal twenty-four hour, six day creationism), thus moving ever closer to embracing some form of theistic evolution (God created the world but uses evolution to sustain it). There also is a watering down of the doctrine of eternal punishment (believing that eventually the souls of those in hell will be annihilated and cease to exist). In some Muslim majority countries, some missionary leaders are making translations of the Bible which omit references to the Trinity or Jesus Christ as the Son of God in hopes of making their message more acceptable to hardline Muslims. And since the postmodern world seems to be enamored with social justice (we most definitely should be concerned about dealing justly and fairly with all people, Colossians 4:1), the emphasis seems to be on what we once called social gospel issues—leading with and focusing on issues like sex-trafficking and unfair labor practices rather than calling men and women to Christ in faith and repentance (Mark 1:16). I am not saying these are not important issues, but people can be on the right side of social issues and still be lost, on their way to perdition.
Consequently a decided change in preaching and evangelism is taking place. Much of the preaching today refuses to make direct, specific, personal application to the hearers, calling the people to repentance and commitment to gospel holiness. The preacher tends to “let people off the hook” by saying, “We all sin. We all are a mess. We are all broken. We white people are all racists. Your idol may be pornography. Mine might be adultery, but that’s okay. We are in Christ and all is well.” These preachers say this while failing to warn the recalcitrant, unrepentant sinner of his danger (1 Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:1-5, Heb. 2:3, 6:4-6, 10:26-31, 12:14-17). And some tend to use the pulpit as the stage for an emotional, psychological burlesque show, telling the congregation of all his doubts, struggles, sins, fears, and anxieties, believing that this shows his authenticity. Preachers need to “get a grip” before they enter the pulpit so they will not inflict their problems on their congregations. Whining from the pulpit is not helpful. Such preaching is bereft of manly leadership.
Evangelism is changing drastically as well. One-on-one personal evangelism is perceived as confrontational, negative, judgmental, unloving, and unprofitable. So a great deal of time is to be spent in building relationships with unbelievers in order to earn the right to be heard by them. I would think, if I was an unbeliever, and a Christian was using this tactic on me, that he was being dishonest, that he was merely using me instead of genuinely being concerned for my soul. Being kind and gracious to people is a no-brainer (Romans 12:9-13). We are always to be kind and gracious to everyone. But have we forgotten that people are on the road to hell without Christ? If you believe in the lostness of people, how then, can you remain silent, hoping over several months or years finally to get an open door for the gospel. Just go for it. What’s wrong with lovingly, gently, but directly sharing Jesus with people from the get go?
But lots of church leaders have bought into this new kind of Christianity, and in some places, their churches are flourishing. By flourishing I mean, of course, lots of people are attending. There is lots of activity and excitement.
There is not, however, any power in this kind of ministry. The underlying assumption, whether acknowledged or not, is that man is inherently good, that he, at the very least, has some ability in himself to call on Christ. The Bible says otherwise, that all of man’s desires are always evil continually (Genesis 6:5), that his throat is an open grave, that his feet are swift to shed innocent blood, that there is no fear of God before His eyes (Romans 3:10-10-18), that he consequently is under God’s just wrath and condemnation (Romans 1:18ff).
When will the twenty-first century church realize and accept the truth that accommodation with the world has no power? This kind of capitulation to the world did not work in twentieth century liberalism. It emptied churches. The mainline denominations are continuing their slide into oblivion and an increasing number of so-called conservative churches are following in their train. There is no convicting, regenerating, converting, or sanctifying power in ecclesiastical accommodation to the world. Let’s remember one vital truth—the gospel of Jesus Christ has always been a stumbling block, an offensive stench to the nostrils of the unbeliever. When has the world ever bought into the utter and complete sinfulness of man, the exclusivity of Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, Biblical creationism, or the doctrine of eternal punishment? The unbeliever has rejected the scandal of the gospel and he is doomed to hell because of it. Everything about the gospel of Christ is offensive to the unregenerate man; and when you preach the full gospel of Christ, bearing down on the sinfulness and utter lostness of your audience, stressing your supreme confidence in the inerrant, inspired, and infallible word of God, calling sinners to flee from the wrath of God which is sure to come and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then the world will scoff.
So, you my friend, have a decision to make. Will you accommodate to the world or will you submit to God? You submit to God by believing and doing what His word clearly commands. Here’s the bottom line—don’t worry about what the world thinks of your Biblical doctrine. They are not buying it. Don’t dilute it. Don’t soft sell it. Are you enamored with being accepted and admired by the world? Be done with such folly. If you want to see a graphic contrast then google “Larry King Live, Joel Osteen and John MacArthur” and see the difference between how Osteen and MacArthur communicate Biblical themes.
Paul said that he gloried in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14), that he was a fool, a bond slave, a spectacle to the world, the very scum of the earth and the dregs of all things (1 Corinthians 4:1-13).
Our confidence, dear friends, comes from the empowering Holy Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit and this comes through much prayer, much time alone with God. We then go forth from our knees to the world, opening our mouths, trusting God to fill them with His word in convicting, converting, and sanctifying power. This has always been God’s way. Nothing has changed. People are no different today than at any other time. Trust the Spirit’s power working in and through you to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.______________________
1 <gracedc.net> “Candidates for Deacon, Deaconess, Elder, and Shepherdess,” June 11, 2020. Sermon for Shepherdess Commissioning Service by Duke Kwon, “Greatness Redefined,” September 23, 2018.
2 For a detailed account of the controversy, see David Calhoun’s Our Southern Zion, page 265ff. Woodrow embraced a “limited view of theistic evolution,” while John Girardeau led the opposition to Woodrow’s theological position on the issue, warning that pupils of Woodrow would not stop where their teacher stopped, that “mediate evolution” would soon become real evolution.
3 skandalon-literally the word means the movable stick or trigger of a trap which, when removed, causes the trap door to shut quickly on the prey. It is any impediment placed in the path of someone which causes him to stumble, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, page 577.
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