Saturday, September 30, 2006

Do Men and Women Worship Differently?

By Bob Kauflin

Patrick referred me to this article from the Biola University website. It’s entitled, “The Feminization of the Church: Why Its Music, Messages and Ministries Are Driving Men Away.” The article includes references to Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow, and The Church Impotent, by Leon Podles. Both are sitting on my shelf, as yet unread. Both authors claim that Christianity has become increasingly feminine in its appeal and membership. Podles traces the roots back to the 13th century, when he says women mystics popularized the personal use of “bridal imagery.” In response to the article, Patrick had this question:

Do you have comments, ideas, approaches in your ministry to address the needs of men vs. women in worship (in general), music and the arts (specifically)?

First, let me say that I agree that the church at the beginning of the 21st century is becoming increasingly feminine. The obvious example is the acceptance and increase of women pastors and leaders. More subtle examples are music we tend to classify as “worship” (slow and intimate, focusing on mercy and beauty, with add2 or major 7th chords), the percentage of women at church services, and the emphasis on “feminine” traits over “masculine” ones in churches. For instance, many pastors are more prone to talk about sensitivity, tolerance, and nurture than courage, holiness, and the offense of the Gospel. I realize that this is a broad over-simplification of the issue, but there’s ample evidence that things are changing.

Back to Patrick’s question. God has made us male and female, with undeniable differences that are biological, cultural, psychological, and sociological. Those differences affect the way we process and perceive information, as well as the way we interact and communicate. Women in general tend to be more relational, talkative, and sensitive to others. Men, in general, tend to be more achievement-oriented, difficult to engage in conversation, and self-reliant. Again, I understand this is a generalization, with exceptions. In any case, our starting point for relating to God is not the way we like to perceive him, but the way He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Though men and women may be different in gender, we find a common root in our status as sinners. That is why Paul writes that in Christ, “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Both men and women can understand that they have fallen woefully short of God’s righteous standards and are in need of a Savior. Our “need” in worship is to realize our innate self-centeredness and self-exaltation, the judgment we were under as a result of our rebellion, the provision God has made for us in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, and our appropriate response of repentance, faith, and gratitude.

But how is that communicated? In ways that are masculine or feminine? Do we respond to the current trend by singing warrior type songs, helping men get in touch with their masculine heart? Do we remind guys that Jesus was a carpenter, that he got his hands dirty, and encourage them to take risks and be a man’s man?

I don't think so. Simply encouraging guys in supposedly masculine traits doesn't necessarily bring clarity to the situation or resolve the current dilemma.

In my years of pastoring, we’ve sought to focus people’s attention not on the particular way we say or do things, but on the One we have gathered to worship. His self-revelation determines our communication. It's not about worshipping God in a feminine or masculine way, but worshipping Him for Who has revealed Himself to be and in the ways He has commanded us to worship Him. As we do so, we'll find men becoming more manly and women becoming more "womanly." Given the current climate in many churches, this would probably result in many churches becoming more "masculine" in their worship, but any church becoming more biblical.

We celebrate Jesus Christ in his divinity and his humanity. We should praise Him for his meekness and humility as well as His wrath, justice, and fearsome holiness. We sing to God not because women like singing more than men, but because God commands us to sing His praise. We use songs that reflect God’s strength, power, and majesty, as well as songs that celebrate His care, love, and mercy. We take a strong stand for truth because we are to contend for the faith, but seek to do so with humility and kindness. We believe that God ordained different, but complementary and equally worthwhile, roles for men and women in the church, and that all we do is meant to be an expression of servanthood. When the different roles of men and women are honored, both see their gender in light of the God who created us in His image for His glory.

One pastor suggests that men and women have an inherently different way of relating to God:

"The classic example is the worship pose of the eyes shut and the arms raised in this tender embrace, singing a song that says, ‘I’m desperate for you. You’re the air I breathe.’ Guys don’t talk to guys like that.”

That may be our common experience in our culture, but it was David, the warrior-king, who penned these words:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Ps. 63:1).

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple (Ps. 27:4).

“Fainting for the Lord” and “seeking to gaze upon his beauty” may sound like feminine expressions, but they are specifically biblical attitudes. I want to learn what it means, as a man, to so desire the Lord that I am physically affected. Also, these aren't meant to be the only ways we speak about God. They should be filled out with other expressions that communicate a love for holiness, a passion to live for God’s glory, and a hatred for sin and everything that opposes God’s will. Men in particular need to be aware of God's command to "“be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1Cor. 16:13). As we keep our focus biblical and balanced, we’ll find that both men and women are less concerned about worshiping God “their” way, and more concerned about becoming conformed to the image of the Savior they worship.

I realize this has barely scratched the surface of answering the question, but I pray it sheds a little light on an appropriate way to address the feminization of the church.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Faith Club -- A Postmodern Parable

By Albert Mohler

Want to join a Faith Club? A trio of women in New York City have established a group they call the Faith Club as an effort toward interfaith relations at the most personal level.

As reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today explains, "This New York City trio is out to share with a fractious world their way of fostering interreligious understanding soul to soul."


When the news abounds with incendiary stereotypes, contradictory theologies and confusing cultural identities, can any ordinary person sort it all out?

Yes, if they're bold, persistent and open-minded, say the three women of the Faith Club: Ranya Idliby, a Muslim; Suzanne Oliver, a Christian; and Priscilla Warner, a Jew.

The three women started meeting together shortly after 9/11 and sought to understand one another. Now, they have written a memoir of their experiences entitled Faith Club.

More from USA Today:

Gathered in Oliver's apartment to talk about their experience, they're easy, laughing, finishing one another's thoughts and bolstering one another's ideas, munching their favorite snacks, such as Warner's addictive gourmet chocolates.

But The Faith Club reveals how very hard it was when they were spiritual strangers learning to lay down their guards and dredge up their deepest fears and prejudices.

Through it all, they found insight into one another's beliefs and greater clarity in their own.

This is not what the three mothers imagined when they met in 2002. Back then, still reeling from 9/11, they set out to create a children's book centered on the common ties and tales of the Christians, Jews and Muslims who all link back to the biblical patriarch Abraham.

They finished the children's book, but publishers were more interested in the mothers' challenging -- and enduring -- relationships. What emerged was The Faith Club and a guide for forming similar groups.

Here is the most interesting part of the article:

Everywhere they go, people who already have heard of the book say they want to start their own clubs.

There are stumbling blocks, however. Will everyone be as open, as bold, as willing to press on with these women's mantra of absolute honesty, constantly asking one another, "What do you really think?"

For anyone who reads the Quran or the Bible literally, rather than metaphorically or in cultural context, the women say, their views will be too liberal. For people who believe there is exactly one way to one heaven, described and delineated only by their own faith, The Faith Club may not offer a template.

So there is nothing so new here after all. The central weakness of most interfaith dialogue groups is that the wrong people show up. The more orthodox believers in all groups tend to be less interested in circular discussions of faith based mostly on feelings. The more liberal folk love these groups, councils, and coffee meetings.

The only interfaith dialogue worth having would involve orthodox believers of various belief systems -- not the moderates and liberals. The more liberal members hold to such a plastic concept of religious truth that conflict with other groups is translated into etiquette rather than a true exchange of convictions. Liberal Christians, liberal Jews, and liberal Muslims have little ground for serious disagreement. Instead, it's all a matter of respecting each other's traditions and ceremonies.

When the exclusivity of the Gospel is denied from the onset, the "Christianity" that shows up at the dialogue is not classical biblical Christianity.

Conflicts over theological conviction should be at the level of honest debate, not physical violence. We should seek a responsible means of speaking about our deepest convictions. But we cannot hold a true conversation if we hold to watered-down forms of conviction.

The Faith Club is a postmodern parable for our times.

True Faith and True Grace

By John MacArthur

Because narrow is the gate...Those who teach that repentance is extraneous to saving faith are forced to make a firm but unbiblical distinction between salvation and discipleship. This dichotomy, like that of the carnal/spiritual Christian, sets up two classes of Christians: believers only and true disciples. Most who hold this position discard the evangelistic intent of virtually every recorded invitation of Jesus, saying those apply to discipleship, not to salvation.

But this arbitrary distinction has done so much to undermine the authority of Jesus’ message. Are we to believe that when Jesus told the multitudes to deny themselves (Luke 14:26), to take up a cross (v. 27), and to forsake all and follow Him (v. 33), His words had no meaning whatsoever for the unsaved people in the crowd? How could that be true of One who said He came not to call the righteous but sinners? (Matt. 9:13).

James M. Boice, in his book, Christ’s Call to Discipleship, writes with insight about the salvation/discipleship dichotomy, which he frankly describes as “defective theology”:

This theology separates faith from discipleship and grace from obedience. It teaches that Jesus can be received as one’s Savior without being received as one’s Lord.

This is a common defect in times of prosperity. In days of hardship, particularly persecution, those who are in the process of becoming Christians count the cost of discipleship carefully before taking up the cross of the Nazarene. Preachers do not beguile them with false promises of an easy life or indulgence of sins. But in good times, the cost does not seem so high, and people take the name of Christ without undergoing the radical transformation of life that true conversion implies. (p. 14)

The call to Calvary must be recognized for what it is: a call to discipleship under the lordship of Jesus Christ. To respond to that call is to become a believer. Anything less is simply unbelief.

Jesus’ gospel invitation explicitly and unequivocally rules out any type of superficial belief. To make all of our Lord’s difficult demands apply only to a higher class of Christians blunts the force of His entire message. It makes room for a cheap and meaningless faith—a faith that has absolutely no effect on the fleshly life of sin. That is not saving faith.

By Grace Through Faith

Salvation is solely by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). That truth is the biblical watershed for all we teach. But it means nothing if we begin with a misunderstanding of grace or a faulty definition of faith.

...which leads to life...God’s grace is not a static attribute whereby He passively accepts hardened, unrepentant sinners. Grace does not change a person’s standing before God yet leave His character untouched. Real grace does not include, as Chafer claimed, “the Christian’s liberty to do precisely as he chooses.” True grace, according to Scripture, teaches us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Grace is the power of God to fulfill our New Covenant duties (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19), however inconsistently we obey at times. Clearly, grace does not grant permission to live in the flesh; it supplies power to live in the Spirit (cf. Rom. 6:1-2).

Faith, like grace, is not static. Saving faith is more than just understanding the facts and mentally acquiescing. It is inseparable from repentance, surrender, and a supernatural longing to obey. None of those responses can be classified exclusively as a human work, any more than believing itself is solely a human effort.

Misunderstanding on that key point is at the heart of the error of those who reject lordship salvation. They assume that because Scripture contrasts faith and works, faith must be incompatible with works. They set faith in opposition to submission, yieldedness, or turning from sin, and they categorize all the practical fruits of salvation as human works. They stumble over the twin truths that salvation is a gift, yet it costs everything.

Those ideas are paradoxical, but they are not mutually exclusive. The same dissonance is seen in Jesus’ own words, “I will give you rest,” followed by “take My yoke upon you” (Matt. 11:28–29). The rest we enter into by faith is not a rest of inactivity.

Salvation is a gift, but it is appropriated through a faith that goes beyond merely understanding and assenting to the truth. Demons have that kind of “faith” (James 2:19). True believers are characterized by faith that is as repulsed by the life of sin as it is attracted to the mercy of the Savior. Drawn to Christ, they are drawn away from everything else. Jesus described genuine believers as “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). They are like the repentant tax-gatherer, so broken he could not even look heavenward. He could only beat his breast and plead, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
That man’s desperate prayer is one of the clearest pictures of genuine, God-wrought repentance in all of Scripture. His plea was not in any sense a human work or an attempt at earning righteousness. On the contrary, it represented his total abandonment of confidence in religious works. As if to prove it he stood “some distance away” from the praying Pharisee. He understood that the only way he could ever be saved was by God’s merciful grace. On that basis, having first come to the end of himself, he received salvation as a gift. Jesus said that man “went down to his house justified” (v. 14).

...and there are few who find it.Our Lord’s point in relating that account was to demonstrate that repentance is at the core of saving faith. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means “to think after.” It implies a change of mind, and some who oppose lordship salvation have tried to limit its meaning to that. But a definition of repentance cannot be drawn solely from the etymology of the Greek word.

Repentance as Jesus characterized it in this incident involves a recognition of one’s utter sinfulness and a turning from self and sin to God (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9). Far from being a human work, it is the inevitable result of God’s work in a human heart. And it always represents the end of any human attempt to earn God’s favor. It is much more than a mere change of mind—it involves a complete change of heart, attitude, interest, and direction. It is a conversion in every sense of the word.

The Bible does not recognize “conversion” that lacks this radical change of direction (Luke 3:7–8). A true believer cannot remain rebellious—or even indifferent. Genuine faith will inevitably provoke some degree of obedience. In fact, Scripture often equates faith with obedience (John 3:36; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; 2 Thess. 1:8). “By faith Abraham [the father of true faith] … obeyed” (Heb. 11:8). That is the heart of the message of Hebrews 11, the great treatise on faith.

Faith and works are not incompatible. Jesus even calls the act of believing a work (John 6:29)—not merely a human work, but a gracious work of God in us. He brings us to faith, then enables and empowers us to believe unto obedience (cf. Rom. 16:26).

We must remember above all that salvation is a sovereign work of God. Biblically it is defined by what it produces, not by what one does to get it. Works are not necessary to earn salvation. But true salvation wrought by God will not fail to produce the good works that are its fruit (cf. Matt. 7:17). No aspect of salvation is merited by human works, but it is all the work of God (Titus 3:5–7). Thus salvation cannot be defective in any dimension. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As a part of His saving work, God will produce repentance, faith, sanctification, yieldedness, obedience, and ultimately glorification. Since He is not dependent on human effort in producing these elements, an experience that lacks any of them cannot be the saving work of God.

If we are truly born of God, we have a faith that cannot fail to overcome the world (1 John 5:4). We may sin (1 John 2:1)—we will sin—but the process of sanctification can never stall completely. God is at work in us (Phil. 2:13), and He will continue to perfect us until the day of Christ (Rom. 8:29-30; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23–24).

Distinctive Christianity in a Nominal Christian Culture, Part 3: Membership

By Thabiti Anyabwile

In this series of posts, I've maintained that the defining feature of nominal Christianity is that it blurs distinctions. It blurs distinctions about conversion and salvation, and it lives on the kind of preaching that fails to distinguish, to divide, to bring into relief real differences between Christian thinking and living and uredeemed living and thinking.

Well, nominalism also blurs the distinction between God's covenant people and the surrounding nations and culture.

One can not read the Bible without seeing that God's great purpose in history is to gather together for Himself a special people. He created Adam and Eve to enjoy fellowship with Him and to worship Him in the Garden. God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to make of his seed a special nation. Isaac became the seed of promise, not Ishmael. The Lord chose Jacob the younger brother but not Esau. Israel is loved by God as His special people, marked out through the covenant of God and distinguished from the pagan nations surrounding them. They were to be holy, to observe His statutes, to avoid mixing with the unbelievers, and to serve God forever. They were to await the Messiah who would fulfill all the promises of God. And, as the New Testament reveals to us, they were to become one new nation with a new covenant along with Gentiles who believed on the Messiah. And this nation, the Church, is to be the revealed wisdom and glory of God to all the powers of heaven and earth, spiritual and natural. The church--the called out gathering of God's people--is the focal point of God's redeeming work and the revelation of His divine wisdom.

How incredibly important it is, then, that membership in the church, the body of Christ, be made distinct, clear. By its very nature, the church is something that distinguishes. It clarifies who belongs to the covenant community of God and who doesn't. Our individual petition to join a church is a confession of the saving work of God in our lives. And the church's admittance of an individual member is the corporate "affirmation" of that individual profession. Together, the individual and the corporate community testify to God's work of redeeming and separating to himself a special people, a royal priesthood.

Living distinctively Christian lives depends in good measure on establishing effective ways of distinguishing between those inside and those outside the church. It depends on good membership practices. Otherwise, those who may never have tasted the saving work of Christ may be left to think that their status before God is secure and to wrongly assure themselves of a salvation that is not theirs to claim. And the church runs the risk of giving affirmation to this false profession and false assurance.

Overcoming the blurring effects of nominalism means the faithful pastor must be willing to help people "examine themselves to see whether they are in the faith." He must not be willing to take for granted that someone is a Christian because they come to church, wish to join a church, or indicate by some mere profession that they are "Christians." He must be willing to look for evidence of God's grace that supports the profession, for saving knowledge of Christ.

A couple months ago, we thought a bit about why we should pursue regenerate church membership (see parts one, two, three, and four). One reason, quite simply, is to defeat the deafening effects of nominalism toward the call of the Gospel.

So much of the modern thinking on church membership assumes that the front door of the church should be open wide to all and the back door closed to prevent people from leaving. Actually, it seems that biblically it is precisely the opposite that God intends. We should narrow the front door since broad is the path that leads to destruction but narrow the path that leads to life. And we should open wider the back door, realizing that the seed sown in every heart does not produce abounding, abundant life in everyone. This closing of the front door and opening of the back door will help us to discriminate (yes, there is a good way to use this word) and discern on the front end and to expel and release on the back end persons who prove themselves disobedient in following the Lord in critical ways. We tend to fear letting people go, but that tendency will at various times actually be to their spiritual detriment.

Nominal Christianity thrives in places where lines are erased. It finds a home in the church because membership practices fail to erect a dividing wall between the people of God and the world. If we would conquer nominalism and the carnality that comes along with it, we should be careful with how we take people into the church. The souls of our nominally Christian friends and neighbors depend on it.

"Soul Winning" in Focus

By William Dudding

"Jesus' last request is our first priority" I have heard it said. I believe that to be true. I have heard a lot of preaching on "soul winning" and how we ought to be fired up about keeping people out of hell. However, I believe there are some mis-conceptions about our great commission that need to be cleared up so that we can be faithful witnesses. I want to look at some mistaken ideas that are commonly found in our churches and make sure that we are thinking biblically on this subject.

1. The Terminology: The term "soul winning" comes from a phrase found in Proverbs 11:30 that says: "he that winneth souls is wise." This has been interpreted to mean that if you can win over a person to trust in Christ, then you are a wise person. I don't know where they get that interpretation from the text. It would seem that the ability of a person to persuade another is wisdom on our part to make someone wise to salvation. That attitude just doesn't jive with scripture. Davis Huckabee's website explains it as follows:
"The Hebrew word rendered "winneth" here is loqach, which, in all of its verb forms appears 1,058 times in the Old Testament. The most common rendering of it is "taketh" (and other forms of this word), appearing 708 times, and of these, at least 53 times it is rendered "taketh away," and many more times this is clearly the meaning. It is also translated "fetch," "bring," "receive" (all fairly common), "get," "marry’’ (less common, but still appearing several times each), and "use," "mingled" (participle form), "infolding" (participle form), and "winneth," all appearing once each.

All modern "soul-winning" is based on this one verse, though it has no other verses that teach specifically the same thought, namely, that one actually persuades another by his own wisdom and oratory to be saved. Such an attitude is a rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. At the same time, this verse is susceptible of another wholly distinct meaning which is more in harmony with other texts of Scripture. The word loqach is used both in a good and a bad sense in Scripture, and if we render it as most commonly rendered "take" or "take away," and reverse the order of the words, as may be done without doing violence to the Hebrew, and as several translations do render it, then we get "He that is wise takes away souls." This rendering is much more agreeable to the meaning of the words used, and it finds several other texts which agree in teaching the same thing, for it is a perfect description of Satan’s work as described in 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3; Ephesians 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:26, et. al. The Scriptures make it clear that no human being ever has "won" a single soul to the Lord, for this is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. We may witness to, preach to, teach and exhort sinners to repent and believe, but only the Spirit can convict, convince and convert sinners. Unfortunately, many "soul-winners" seem to confuse themselves with the Holy Spirit in this matter. Many, while declaring that God has no right to compel, coerce or use any form of compulsion in salvation, will themselves justify every trick they can muster to get a profession of faith, even pleading the old Catholic maxim that "The end justifies the mean

What was said in this paragraph wouldn't be to popular in most of our fundamental Baptist churches since the main thing is considered to be winning souls. The term: evangelism is more appropriate. The word "evangel" comes from the Greek word "euaggelion" which means "gospel". We also get the word "evangelist" from this word: "euaggelistes". So, the term "evangelism" is much more biblically correct than "soul winning". I have never been fond of the term 'soul winning' because I can't win anyone over to Christ. Which brings me to point two.

2. The Power- Of course the avarage Christian knows that he can't "win" someone to Christ without the Holy Spirit's power, but as I used to think, the Holy Spirit was important in the conversion of a soul, but not absolutely essential. After all, it's up to the person to accept or reject the gospel anyways, but it would be nice to have the Holy Spirit's help to persuate that person. This kind of idea comes from a faulty hamartology (doctrine of sin) and anthropology (doctrine of man). First it must be understood that man is totally depraved. Do not misunderstand this terminology, he is not utterly depraved which means that man is as bad as he can possibly be. Total depravity of man is his fallen condition. He has no ability, desire or inclination to choose to obey God. (Romans 3:11-13, Jer. 17:9, 1 Cor. 2:14) This is a highly disputed point of theology among Christians, but the more that you deal with people, the more you will come to understand that this is true. Man left to himself, would never in a million years come willingly to Christ to repent of his sins. When one understands this truth, he finds his efforts to persuade and win souls to be futile. The Holy Spirit is vital in the saving of a person's soul. He must turn the persons heart and give him the inclination to choose Christ. God is sovereign in the salvation of men; He does not wait for us to do the work, he does not wait for the willing to come, God is active in drawing people to the Son through the Holy Spirit. John 6:65 , Jesus said, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father." Jesus is explicitly speaking about the ability of someone to choose Him. He said no man CAN come to him unless the Father gives him the ability to do so.

Also see John 6:39 and 44 " And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day......No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." So, what is Jesus saying? Simple..those who will be raised up in the last day are those whom the Father has given to Christ by drawing them to Christ, and the only way a man can come to Christ is if the Father draws him. And none of these will be lost, all of them will be raised up. I've heard it argued that the Father draws all men to Christ, but some refuse. However that arguement won't fit into this passage. If every single man is drawn, then all would come, and all would be raised, that would make you a universalist, thus all men will be saved. Consider John 6:37 "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." This is very simple: only those whom the Father gives to the Son will come to him, and Christ will not cast any of them out / shall not lose none of them.

This is the only way a person can come to Christ. It is none of our human "soul-winning" efforts. However, God in His goodness has choosen us whom He has saved to partner with Him by giving us a small part in His work:
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? God has ordained us to preach His Word to every creature, and by doing that, He will use the power in His Word that is preached to draw those men and women to His Son. All we can do in the salvation process is deliver the message, God will change the heart, win the soul and sanctify him, bringing glory to Himself and none to us.

3. The Method- Acts 20:20 is the model that most of us use as our method of evangelism. Going house to house. And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.
Let me ask you an easy question: Is this verse commanding anything? Where is the imperative? There is none. This verse is a description of what Paul did in Ephesus. We need to understand that this is not a prescription for the method of evangelism. When Jesus said "Go ye therefore and preach!" He was prescribing his method of evangelism to us. But in Acts 20, this is description not prescription. So, why do we demand that a person go door to door when it is not commanded in scripture? Evangelism is commanded, but how we go about it is not. We are to always be evangelizing everywhere we find ourselves. Door to door is just one way of doing it. Open air preaching like Paul did in Athens is another, but there is no command concerning the how, only the what.


Do It Yourself Market Research for Churches

By David Zimmerman,

Sometimes the best things in life don't cost any money. This is a fact that is very easily overlooked in the realm of church marketing. From fliers and mailers to complete demographic surveys--there is a lot of money you can spend in marketing your church.

Let's face it, to market your church effectively you are going to have to spend some money--but I think I'm preaching to the choir on this blog. There is a potential hazard down this road, however, and it is overlooking the simple, inexpensive ways to find out about our market. One of the most effective and least expensive things I've ever done to learn about my church's market is simply going around the neighborhood and asking people questions.

I can't take credit for this idea myself. I ripped it out of Aubery Malphurs' definitive church planting tome, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century. I took his suggestions and contextualized them to the South (where I was to be planting a church).

After introducing myself and telling them that I am starting a new church in the area I begin to ask these questions:

"What do you think is the greatest need in this community?"
You will get a range of answers to this question--some you or your church might be able to help with but most of which you can do nothing about. Listen anyway. This is your opportunity to distinguish yourself from people with hidden agenda who have also appeared at their door. This question sets the tone for the rest of your conversation--and tells them you are sincerely interested in what they have to say.

"How often have you attended a church in the last year?"
Don't ask if they go to church. If you do most people will say, "yes." You want to know how churched they are. Frankly, if their answer to their first question was spiritual in nature and they tell me they go to church every Sunday, I usually thank them for their time and move onto the next home. I am interested in what nominal and non-Christians think so I can reach them, rather than becoming the new, hip church in town for Christians. This is also an opportunity to tell your interviewee you are not there to judge but listen--just write down whatever answer they give you and move on.

"Why do you think people in the area don't attend church regularly?"
This is an indirect way of asking them why they don't attend church regularly. Nevertheless I've found most people will not speak for anyone else but themselves. This is a very important question--it will tell you the excuse most people in your target area give for not attending church.

"If you were looking for a church in the area, what would it be like?"
This is a very helpful question if you want to overcome their excuse and provide for their perceived needs.

"What advice would you give to a new pastor?"
This might be the only time a pastor asks them for advice. I've found that people are usually very grateful you asked and more than willing to give you some good advice. Again, the key here is to listen! Don't justify yourself or make excuses.

After your interview thank them for their time and move on. Don't use this as an opportunity to preach at them or you will have undermined your entire survey (this is very hard for most pastors, and especially for type-A church planters). Only give them information about your church if they ask for it--this is a fact-finding mission, not a mission trip. The most I ever did after interviewing someone was write down the address and name (if I got it) to send them a brief, hand-written "thank you" for taking time to help me out. There were a couple of people who visited our church as a result of these efforts, but if that was my primary goal it would have been a big waste of time.

As I traveled the neighborhoods I noticed a couple of things made it more likely for people to answer their door.

  • Don't travel in pairs. You will look like you are there to proselytize them. For safety's sake, since you are alone, don't enter a home under any circumstance to avoid dangerous or sticky situations.
  • Don't dress up. Door-to-door salesmen (and Mormons) dress up as they go door-to-door. I had the most success when I wore shorts and sandals (which was a necessity in a Southern summer anyway).
  • I got the best response between dinner-time and dark. This limited me to the hottest time of the year, down here in the South, because of daylight savings.

I don't want to tell you the results of my surveys not only because I want you to do your own work, but because I am curious of whether the responses will be different based upon region or social class or if most people will give the same answer regardless of any demographic distinctions. Of course, the results will be slanted because people won't be completely honest to a stranger, but it is at least a starting point to begin to address their perceptions and for you to understand your target area--for free.

Can Numbers Become More Important than People?

By reglerjoe

A True Story of What Happens When Results Are All That Matter

One crucial area that needs reforming among many IFB churches is baptism. We have the mode correct, but the why's are often outside biblical parameters.

So many fundamental Baptists treat their ministry's baptisms as a product that they can manufacture - the more you produce, the more successful your There are not a few IFB pastors' conferences that provide lessons as to organize and execute your baptismal practices like an assembly line. The result? More. Faster.

But is that really what we want?

Is that what the Lord wants?

Let me share with you a personal experience of mine that perfectly illustrates what happens when numbers, and not people, are all that matter:

During my Bible college tenure, I was a worker in a large bus ministry. Our bus ministry would have special “project outreach” Saturdays (which being interpreted means we were going to the inner-city ghettos to hold baptizing services in order to boost our church’s baptism numbers).

Here’s how it always played out: We would secure the usage of a local, inner city church near the government project buildings where we would be focusing our evangelistic efforts. We would break up into several teams, go door-to-door through the projects, inviting the kids to a “special service”, and then we would come later and round them up on the buses. They would be driven to the local church where they were treated to a short 20 minute service. The gospel was hurriedly preached (no exaggeration) and the children, teens, and even some adults would then be “led to the Lord.” Having been ushered through the sinner's prayer and their decision cards filled out, they were whisked away to the changing rooms and readied for baptism. It was not uncommon for children as young as 5 (or possibly younger) to be baptized. When all was said and done, my fellow bus workers and I would rejoice in the many (sometimes more than 200) baptisms we secured that day (and this we did several times a year).

But during one of these baptism blitzkriegs something happened that began to show me that numbers, and not the Gospel, was the real focus of our "Project Outreach". The enlightening experience was a very brief conversation I had with a little 8 or 9 year old boy.

I had knocked on his door to invite his family to our "special service". I’ll never forget his response. As he opened the door, and saw me (a white boy wearing a tie and toting a Bible) he rolled his eyes and exclaimed, “Oh man! Do I have to get baptized AGAIN?

It was clear from his immediate response that he had been subjected to the “results manufacturer” not once, but several times. And I, in my IFB uniform, represented not a Gospel preacher, nor a caring Christian, but somebody whose only purpose was to get him in the baptismal waters.

I was ashamed and emabarrassed.

His childlike innocence and honesty cut me to the core of my heart. “No, buddy, don’t worry about it. You can stay home,” was all I could think to say. Project Outreach Saturdays would never be the same to me. I began to see them for what they really were. Unfortunately, my dedication to leadership and the fear of being stigmatized as a critic kept me from voicing my concerns.

What a tragedy that this treatment of baptism is promoted and applauded within some IFB circles. We, who proudly take the name “Baptist” as a badge of honor, have cheapened the sacredness of baptism and abused the theology behind it. Our Baptist forefathers did not die for the biblical doctrine of baptism so that their spiritual posterity could turn it into some circus sideshow, or a means by which we could show-up the other churches.

IFB celeb preachers reveal the truth in all of this when they defend the philosophy of results manufacturing from behind the pulpit with such outrageous and unbiblical statements such as, “A new convert doesn’t need to understand baptism, they just need to do it!” or “They can learn the importance of baptism later - just get them in the water!” Basically, many IFB preacher boys are taught that the new convert shouldn’t ask if they are ready to be baptized, they should just be told to do it. Thus, obedience in the matter of baptism is changed from inner submission to outward conformity.

Of course, I’m sure all of the pastors of large and influential churches who engage in results manufacturing will deny these statements and accuse me of exaggerating a few isolated instances. For them to admit the error of their ways would require them to apologize to their people for wasting their time and money in the frivolous and pride-fueled endeavor of getting more baptism numbers. The standard defense is, “We believe numbers are important because every number represents a soul!” That statement is as transparent as I was to that little boy mentioned above. It’s not about their souls, or else we would have been more thorough in our witnessing and more careful in our baptizing and more diligent in our follow-up. It’s about the numbers – being bigger, better, and faster growing than everybody else.

Despite what others may say, numbers can, and often do, become more important than people.

I know it. I've seen it. And that little ghetto-bound boy knows it too. We treated him like a statistic, not a soul.

The Down Side of Controversy

By Bob Kauflin

Some people live for controversy. I'm not one of them. However, I've come to realize that controversy has many positive aspects. Foundational doctrines of orthodox Christianity have been fashioned through the fires of opposition and disagreement. We can see the truth more clearly when someone says something that flies in the face of the biblical evidence. The nuances, perimeters, and shape of our faith become more obvious to us when placed against the backdrop of falsehood. Most of all, God’s truth has had opposition from the Garden of Eden. Controversy often arises simply from a desire to make clear what God has actually said.

However, not all controversy is healthy. I was reading Seeing with New Eyes, by David Powlison, today and ran across these wise words:

Controversy, even for good causes, tends to create tunnel vision and to breed ungodly attitudes. We make one mountain into the whole mountain range, or one molehill into a mountain. What we see, or think we see, consumes our minds. We lose sight of the mountain range, the context in which both mountain and molehill can be seen and weighted for what they are. We may be exactly right about our particular issue, but narrowed truth becomes unbalanced truth. It loses the ability to listen and be corrected. Narrowed truth becomes half-truth, and broadly false. Narrowed truth loses love and the redemptive modus operandi. As it does so, it become reactive error. It becomes increasingly distorted. It becomes a vehicle for interpersonal conflict and self-righteousness. (p. 32)

I usually think of truth in “narrow” terms. After all, didn’t Jesus say we must strive to enter through the narrow door, and that the gate is narrow that leads to life? Yes, but Powlison is saying here that our understanding of truth may be “too” narrow. In other words, we might think that our small slice of truth is the whole truth. “Narrowed truth becomes half-truth.”

This is really helpful to keep in mind when I think the congregational worship in my church needs to be more celebratory or subdued, more current or historically based, more planned or spontaneous. I quickly run to defend my position, when I should be asking more questions about why someone sees something differently than I do, what I can learn from it, and how what others think can complement what I’m saying.

For instance, much of contemporary worship resulted from a reaction to meetings that unbelievers had a hard time understanding or relating to. Not for a moment would I say that intelligibility, comfort, and acceptance should be our main concerns for non-Christians in our meetings. However, those who are raising that issue may be saying something I need to hear about the unnecessary separation unbelievers have experienced which is not a result of the Gospel, but rather my commitment to my own traditions.

There are many more examples I could give, but I’m sure you can figure out where this might apply to your situation. Let’s work harder to understand than to make our point, and only engage in controversy when our attitude honors the One whose truth we claim to defend.

Spurgeon on Blind Guides

“I know of no surer way of a people’s perishing than by being led by one who does not speak out straight and honestly denounce evil. If the minister halts between two opinions, do you wonder that the congregation is undecided? If the preacher trims and twists to please all parties, can you expect his people to be honest? If I wink at your inconsistencies will you not soon be hardened in them? Like priest, like people. A cowardly preacher suits hardened sinners. Those who are afraid to rebuke sin, or to probe the conscience, will have much to answer for. May God save you from being led into the ditch by a blind guide.” -Charles Spurgeon

Jesus Christ: Great Teacher or God Incarnate?

Jesus Christ
Great Teacher or God Incarnate?

By Charles Leiter

Many think that Jesus was a "great teacher," but they don't know what He taught

Jesus Christ said that He was the Messiah the Jews had awaited for over 700 years. John 4:25-26 The woman said to Him, 'I know that Messiah is coming.' Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am He.'

He said that He existed before the creation of the universe. John 17:5 'And now Father, glorify Me with Yourself with the glory which I had with You before the world was.' John 8:58 Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.' Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him.

He said that He came down from heaven. John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

He taught that He was the only person in the world with a true knowledge of God. Luke 10:22 'All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.'

He taught that He had the power to give men eternal life. John 10:27-28 'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish.' Luke 23:43 And He said to him, 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'

He directed men to Himself as the answer for all their soul's needs. John 6:35 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.' John 8:12 'I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.' John 11:25 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.'

He claimed absolute devotion for Himself. Matthew 10:37 'He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.'

He taught that He was the only way to God. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.'

He taught that He had the power to forgive sins. Luke 5:20-21 He said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven you.' And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, 'Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?'

He taught that He Himself was sinless and absolutely perfect. John 8:29 'And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.' John 14:9 'He who has seen Me has seen the Father.'

He said that He was God. John 10:33 The Jews answered Him, 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.' John 5:18 For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

He accepted worship from other men. Matthew 14:33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, 'You are certainly God's Son.' John 20:28 Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God.'

He taught that one day He was going to raise every dead person in the world from their graves, just by speaking a word to them. John 5:28-29 'An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear My voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.'

He said that He would return at the end of the world to determine the eternal destinies of all men who have ever lived. Matthew 25:31-32 'But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.'

C.S. Lewis said, "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

John Piper on the Holy Spirit at work today

John Piper has recently summarized his position on the work of the Holy Spirit in a sermon on August 20th. The full sermon is freely available in text, audio and video from Desiring God.

“Should we be expecting the same miraculous confirmations of our witnessing [evangelism] today? My answer is yes, but not in the same measure that the apostles experienced this miraculous power. The reason I say yes is that I don’t see any compelling reason given in the New Testament that God has declared a moratorium on miracles. But I do see lists of miraculous gifts for the church (not just apostles) in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. So I think God intends to bless his word and his people with miracles in our day — extraordinary works of divine power that go beyond the laws of nature.

… when the Lord Jesus returns to heaven and the apostles have laid the foundation of the church in the New Testament and are taken off the scene, I think what we have is not a de-supernatualized religion. Not at all! The Holy Spirit has been poured out, and he is still fully capable of doing signs and wonders. Rather, we have a centralized focus on the word of God, the gospel, because all the central acts of salvation are now in history and it is the word that connects us with these saving acts of God in the past.

… As long as we keep the word of God in its properly central place, I think it would please the Lord for us to pray the way the early church did in Acts 4:29-30. Here’s what they said, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” We don’t dictate when or what kind or how many miracles God may do among us. But not to ask for them seems to me to be more secularistic and naturalistic than biblical.”

- John Piper, sermon: By Signs and Wonders, 8/20/06

Spurgeon on the Ministry and Trials

"I know that, whenever God chooses a man for the ministry, and means to make him useful, if that man hopes to have an easy life of it, he will be the most disappointed mortal in the world. From the day when God calls him to be one of his captains, and says to him, “See I have made thee to be a leader of the hosts of Israel,” he must accept all that his commission includes, even if that involves a sevenfold measure of abuse, misrepresentation, and slander. We need greater soul-exercise than any of our flock, or else we shall not keep ahead of them. We shall not be able to teach others unless God thus teaches us. We must have fellowship with Christ in suffering as well as fellowship in faith. Still, with all its drawbacks, it is a blessed service, and we would not retire from it. Did we not accept all this with our commission? Then we should be cowards and deserters if we were to turn back. These castings down of the spirit are part of our calling. If you are to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, you must endure hardness. You will have to lie in the trenches, sometimes, with a bullet lodged here or there, with a sabre-cut on your forehead, or an arm or a leg shot away; where there is war, there must be wounds, and there must be war where there is to be victory.” (C. H. Spurgeon)


Lord’s Day Evening, Winter 1860

Logic in Its Place

The two latest installments of Kevin Bauder’s In the Nick of Time, “Shall We Reason Together?” parts one and two, raise interesting questions about the relationship between Scripture and logic. (I’ll refer to them as SWRT 1 and SWRT 2.) The essays are stimulating reading and provide valuable perspective in an area that has received little attention among biblical fundamentalists. But the articles represent only two views of the role of logic: Dr. Bauder’s view and the view he rejects as “alogicality.” A third option is available and might be a better choice.

The Alogicals

The essays refer to the philosophy that what we infer from Scripture is less authoritative than Scripture itself. People who believe this are not hard to find. But Kevin also describes the alogical philosophy as holding to the following beliefs:

  • Drawing inferences from Scripture should be avoided whenever possible (SWRT 1).
  • If we must draw an inference, we should “advocate it only in the most tentative terms” (SWRT 1).
  • Logic itself should be rejected. (SWRT 1: “To reject reason because some people reason badly is like refusing to eat with a spoon because some people dribble.”)
  • No rational thought process is occurring in the act of reading. (“Alogicals seem to assume that reading is simply a matter of running their eyes over the words on a page, upon which meaning somehow (magically?) registers itself in their minds.”) (SWRT 2)
  • “We ought not to treat inferences as if they were authoritative” at all (SWRT 2). That is, inferences have zero authority.
  • “It is wrong to impose moral requirements that are merely inferred from Scripture” (SWRT 2).
  • Reasoning should be avoided entirely. (SWRT 2: “Alogicals reason, analyze, form inductions, and draw inferences all the time. They are constantly doing the very thing to which they object.”)

Another Option

If the philosophy truly holds to these ideas, “alogical” is a good name for it. But there is another position on logic and Scripture that is neither Kevin’s nor the alogicals’. It shares most of Kevin’s view, with one important reservation. First, several points of agreement.

  1. Logic itself is not the problem. “Humans did not invent logic; they discovered it and systematized its principles. Those principles are . . . an aspect of the order that God has worked into His creation” (SWRT 1). This is well-stated. Logic is really nothing more than math with verbal symbols. When executed correctly, it just expresses what is, like 2+2=4. It’s silly to argue that there might be “another way” to approach the 2+2 problem, as though 2+2 might feel like three or five to some and we should respect their views.
  2. Extreme tentativeness in making inferences is uncalled for. We have no passage of Scripture that says it’s wrong to rob a bank, but since Scripture forbids stealing, we needn’t be shy about claiming that the Bible is against bank robbery. The same goes for abortion, Darwinian evolution, pornography, and a host of other things not specifically named in Scripture.
  3. Paul was not opposed to reason. Paul “showed nothing but respect for the sound use of logic” (SWRT 1). This is well attested. Acts 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8-9, and 24:25 are a partial list of examples. When Paul rejects the “wisdom of this world,” he is referring to a set of notions and the ways of thinking such notions force on those who hold them. He is not setting aside the activity of figuring out reality through reasoning.
  4. Believers should use logic to interpret and apply Scripture. SWRT 1 concludes, “If we hold children responsible to eat soup with a spoon, then we should hold Christians responsible to draw sound inferences from Scripture.” Certainly we should, and this is true regardless of how skilled believers are in the use of the spoon.
  5. Reading Scripture involves reasoning. Kevin asserts that the cognitive processes involved in reading are inferences, and that “we can never rightly oppose Scripture to reason” (SWRT 2). Though a definition of “inference” that includes the mere act of reading is debatable, he’s certainly correct that reading involves rational thought, and no inherent incompatibility exists between Scripture and reason. The written word is a rational form of communication.

The Sticking Point

The essays express incredulity at the idea that Scripture itself holds a superior position to anything derived from it by human beings. In SWRT 1, Kevin writes “Somehow, reasoning soundly from biblical premises is supposed to be less authoritative than appealing to the straightforward statements of Scripture.” SWRT 2 faults alogicals for insisting that we may not “proclaim ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ unless we have a direct, verbatim Scripture to quote” and later adds, “We can never suggest that we prefer the plain statements of Scripture to inferences drawn from the text.” But recognizing the uniquely superior authority of the words of Scripture is not novel or amazing; nor does it require that we reject all inferences. Here’s why.

First, logic and “human execution of logic” are not the same thing.

Truly logic itself is part of the created order and no more “human” than gravity, but the phrase “human logic” is useful in the sense of “human thought processes.” These are, on the whole, not very reliable. So “logic as attempted by human beings” is not the same thing as logic itself. Math is how accounts work. “Aaron’s math” is what he writes in his check register. Unfortunately, these can be two very different things! It’s possible to take a dim view of “human reasoning” relative to the words of Scripture but still not reject logic entirely.

In SWRT 1, Kevin observes that “some people reason badly.” This understates the situation. Most people reason badly, and nobody reasons perfectly. When it comes to spooning the soup out, we’re all working with palsied hands. There is nothing wrong with the spoon, to be sure, but our ability to use it declines rapidly with the complexity of the soup.

To put it another way, most people can add two and two, but when we’re dealing with complex ideas represented by symbols in complex relationships we are less able to claim with certainty that what we have done is really math (logic). 2+2=4 is one thing. Newtonand Schrodinger are something else. [1] It’s one thing to say the equation is authoritative and another thing entirely to claim that, having calculated it, we have an authoritative answer, a “sound inference.” Sound inferences from Scripture theoretically carry the same authority as Scripture. The trouble comes in arriving at a sound inference and knowing for sure that we’ve done so. And since God has not inspired our inferences, He has not authorized us to claim they carry the same authority as His word.

Second, authority is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Authority is not binary. Claiming “thus saith the Lord” belongs only to the words of Scripture is not the same as saying the inferences we draw from Scripture have zero authority. They have less authority, but less is not zero; it’s just less.

Since human ability to do logic is tainted, the results of the inference process are always in some doubt. Sometimes the doubt is very small. When we are inferring from Scripture on a two-plus-two level, we don’t have to belabor the authority-loss in our answer. But when the reasoning is more complex, the likelihood of error increases, and the authority we may claim diminishes. Few would argue, for example, that the idea of a pretribulation rapture has as much authority as the idea that God created the world.

But even very clear inferences are less authoritative than the sacred text. Otherwise, why not add them to Scripture? Shouldn’t there be an eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not abort unborn babies”? We all believe this is a sound inference, but it does not have the same authority as Scripture because God did not inspire it, and the fact that He did not inspire it means, at best, it has an authority nearly equal to that of Scripture. We may proclaim it as the teaching of Scripture, but we are not free to claim it is equal to Scripture. We may not put it in the mouth of God by claiming “Thus saith the Lord.”

Third, the inevitability of inference does not require ascribing equal authority to inferences.

In SWRT 2 Kevin points out that the act of reading itself involves reasoning. But then the essay concludes that “we can never suggest that we prefer the plain statements of Scripture to inferences drawn from the text.” This is a non sequitur. Admitting that reading requires thinking does not force the conclusion that the understanding I arrive at when I read is just as authoritative as the words themselves. Far from it. Reading comprehension is a skill that varies a great deal from person to person, and nobody can claim to correctly understand what he reads 100 percent of the time. So the fact that reading is a rational process argues in favor of preferring the “plain statements of Scripture to inferences drawn from the text.” Unless we’re prepared to argue that there is no difference between what is written and what we understand it to mean, we must maintain that the two have different degrees of authority and infallibility. [2]

The problem is not with the reading process itself. When we read correctly, our understanding has equal authority to what is written. But since the word is inspired and the reading only illumined, the reading process is subject to our fallibility, and we cannot equate Scripture-read with Scripture-written.

This is not to say that we should always read Scripture wondering, “Does it really say what I think it says?” But at times that reality should be front-of-mind and drive us to study. As a matter of principle, we should always maintain the distinction between God’s revelation and our perception.

Problems Solved, Problems Created

The Fundamentalism I’ve grown up with doesn’t have a tentativeness problem when it comes to claiming authority for inferences. American culture may be obsessed with non-judgmentalism and avoiding dogmatism, but Fundamentalism has been only too willing to claim “thus saith the Lord” when He has not spoken. In any case, equating inferences in general with the Scriptures they are derived from runs the risk of eroding the significance of inspiration and infallibility. What problem could be worth solving at the expense of blurring the distinction between what is inspired and what isn’t? Isn’t it better to encourage sound reasoning with the understanding that only the starting point is perfect? We certainly do not need alogicality. But we do need logic in its proper place.


1. I hear these are differential equations courtesy of Newton and Schrodinger.
2. “Infallibility” actually is binary. Something is either infallible or it isn’t. I use the term here in the sense of “likelihood of failure” or “likelihood of error.”

Aaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in small-town west Wisconsin where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Disciplines of a Devoted Prayer Life

By Andrew Henderson

While we spend our time debating some much-less-important topics, many times the most important ones (prayer and a true passion for Christ) are ignored in our schedules. Nevertheless, as a word of encouragement and comfort to all: this is the last of the four-part series on prayer.

E.M. Bounds wrote,

In any study of the principles, and procedure of prayer, of its activities and enterprises, first place, must, of necessity, be given to faith. It is the initial quality in the heart of any man who essays to talk to the Unseen. He must, out of sheer helplessness, stretch forth hands of faith. He must believe, where he cannot prove. In the ultimate issue, prayer is simply faith, claiming its natural yet marvelous prerogatives—faith taking possession of its illimitable inheritance. True godliness is just as true, steady, and persevering in the realm of faith as it is in the province of prayer. Moreover: when faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live.

In all parts of prayer, faith plays an enormously large role. This next discipline is no exception. We have spoken at length (although certainly not exhaustively) about the disciplines of commitment, candor, and concentration in relation to our prayer lives. Now we will turn our attention to the . . .

Discipline of Communication

It can be found in the last two verses of our text:

Matthew 6:7-8—”But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (KJV).
This prayer deals with the method of prayer. I do not believe that there is any coincidence that this admonition is being mentioned directly before the Lord’s Prayer given in the following verses. How many have recited the Lord’s Prayer in a group and not concentrated on one word of it?

William Barclay, in a most helpful discussion of this passage in The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958, 1:191-98), points out that over the years, a number of faults had crept into Jewish prayer life. For one thing, prayer had become ritualized. The wording and forms of prayers were set and were then simply read or repeated from memory. Such prayers could be given with almost no attention being paid to what was said. They were a routine, semiconscious religious exercise.

The Practice of Their Prayer (Use not vain repetitions)

Jesus encouraged His followers to cease praying as the heathen do in their pagan worship when they use vain repetitions. The Greek word for “vain repetitions” is battologeo—which means to stammer or to repeat the same things over and over. It comes from two words: battus and logeo (word). There are two prevailing ideas about what “battus” is: 1) the king of Cyrene had a severe stuttering problem, or 2) the author wrote tedious and wordy poems that apparently contained much repetition. Some think that this is a combination of the Aramaic word battal (idle) and the Greek word logos (word). Coupled together, it means “idle or vain speaking.” Whichever of these two origins is correct, it means exactly the same thing.

John MacArthur wrote in his commentary on Matthew:

Those who used repetitious prayers were not necessarily hypocrites, at least not of the ostentatious type. The scribes and Pharisees used a great deal of repetition in their public displays of piety; but many other Jews used it even in private prayers. Some may have used repetition because their leaders had taught them to use it. Others, however, resorted to repetition because it was easy and demanded little concentration. To such people, prayer was simply a matter of required religious ceremony, and they could be entirely indifferent to its content. As long as it was officially approved, one pattern was as good as another.

Although this problem did not always involve hypocrisy, it always involved a wrong attitude, a wrong heart. The proud hypocrites (spoken of earlier in the text) tried to use God to glorify themselves, whereas those who used meaningless repetition were simply indifferent to real communion with God.

How many of us have gone through prayer—saying things but not thinking through what we were saying? Those words are vain and empty. I shudder to think of the times that I have carried on whole conversations with my wonderful wife, Melinda, while my mind was on autopilot. Most of the time she picks up on that, but occasionally I get away with it . . . until later, when the application of what we were talking about comes to fruition, and I have absolutely no idea what is going on. That is when I hear these words from my lovely and very patient wife. “We talked about this the other day. You told me that this would be fine.” I was on autopilot. May our minds never be on autopilot as we speak to an all-knowing God because every word really does matter.

Matthew 12:36—”But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

The Purpose of Their Prayer (For they think that they shall be heard)

The reason given for this practice was they supposed that through the means of vain repetition their many words would be complied with or given heed to (passive form of eisakouo—to give heed or comply with). They felt that the more times they prayed for it, the better chance there was that they would get that for which they petitioned their god. I saw the same thing on a mission trip in Guadalajara, Mexico. We went to a large Catholic church. It had unbelievably rich furnishings for an area that was so poverty-stricken. We watched scores of people crawling on their knees on the cobblestone floor repeating phrases time and again (I could not even understand them in their native tongue, but the repetition of the words was unmistakable). I looked at their bloodstained knees and passionate pleas, and my heart broke for them.

And we throw up our hands and say, “Preposterous.” How could they look at God as if He were some magic genie? If we say the right words or say them often enough, we will get what we asked for. But let’s back up for just a moment. We go to the Lord and make requests. And this is a biblical thing. But it behooves us to question our motivation in making the request. Is the motivation of my prayer truly to unite my will to the will of the Father? Or is it to coerce Him to do that which I desire?

What are some of the certain things for which you are praying right now? In the depths of your heart, do you really want to know God’s will? Or do you really only care about His answering that petition in a way that pleases you? Our motivation in prayer often determines our reaction to God’s answer. For instance, I have heard many people say, “I just do not understand it. I have prayed and prayed that God would _____________________. Why did He not do it?”

This is not an indictment on . . .

Long prayers—The Lord Himself would pray for hours at a time.

Persistence in prayer—That is made clear in the parable of the importunate widow and the wicked judge. Paul prayed multiple times for alleviation from his “thorn in the flesh.” In fact, persistence in prayer can be a very good thing. E.M. Bounds said,

Importunate prayer is a mighty movement of the soul toward God. It is a stirring of the deepest forces of the soul, toward the throne of heavenly grace. It is the ability to hold on, press on, and wait. Restless desire, restful patience, and strength of grasp are all embraced in it. It is not an incident, or a performance, but a passion of soul. It is not a want, half-needed, but a sheer necessity.

Christ Himself prayed for some things on more than one occasion.

Matthew 26:39-44—And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

But I can assure you that it was not “vain repetition.” Augustine rightly said that there is a difference between “much speaking in prayer and much prayer.”

The Pointlessness of Their Prayer (Your Father knows what ye need)

God does not have to be coaxed or persuaded. He knows what our needs are before we ever even think to ask Him for them. Yet He wants for us to bring our needs, cares, and the hunger of our hearts before Him. He wants to commune with us. The remarkable thing is that He wants to commune with us infinitely more than we want to commune with Him because His love for us is infinitely more than our love for Him. Our praying to the Lord glorifies Him because it gives Him the opportunity to manifest His love, majesty, power, and sovereignty to us as His beloved children.

John Stott wrote, “The purpose of prayer is not to inform or persuade God, but to come before Him sincerely, purposely, consciously, and devotedly” (Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978), p. 145).

The application is very simple. We must come to the Lord in constant faith, thinking through every word spoken in prayer. Our commitment must be, “May an idle word never pass through this mind and these lips when communing with the Lord.” Our prayer must be that of David:

Psalm 141:1-3—LORD, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

Have we set a guard before our mouths in prayer? Are our minds engaged as we worship the Lord in this most intimate way?


It has been said that at one time D.L. Moody felt so overwhelmed by the spiritual blessings of God that he prayed, “God, stop.” It is my firm belief that God wants to do that in the lives of every believer. And I believe that is what He will do for every believer who spends great time in sincere prayer before the Lord.

Andrew Henderson is a church planter in the Tampa, Florida, area. He graduated with a B.A. in Bible and M.S. in Biblical Counseling from Bob Jones University and is currently working (very slowly) on a D.S.Min. from Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI). He is the husband of Melinda and the father of Drew, Austin, and the most beautiful baby girl ever, Alyssa.