We are constantly being threatened, I think, in some measure by the fact that we’re willing to take a stand on issues in a day when that is distinctively unpopular. This is not a time to take a stand on something; this is a time to take a stand on nothing. This is a time to sort of blend into the evangelical gray. This is a time to just embrace everything and everyone, no matter what they advocate or what they proclaim or what they say, because it’s the spirit of the age that’s found its way into the church: egalitarianism, tolerance, and all of that.
And that puts the church in a very threatened position. And I told you tonight I would share some things from my heart with you, just some personal things, to help you to understand what’s going on out there. And what I’m talking about with you tonight is not something that’s localized to the area of Southern California or the West Coast or even the United States, but something that is, frankly, everywhere - absolutely everywhere I go in the world. And I’ve been a lot of places, since last summer, all over this globe. And I can tell you that it’s basically the same issues wherever I go, wherever evangelism is, it has imported and exported the same basic kind of thinking. And the church, as we see it today, the church that names the name of Jesus Christ, is in a very, very serious condition. Extremely serious because of its utter lack of discernment. It can be demonstrated in a myriad of ways.
I’ll give you a very personal illustration, sort of a launch point. A number of us went to a certain city in America, at the invitation of a very large church, to hold a shepherd’s conference. They invited us to bring in our staff and to teach there. And we had several hundred pastors come in; we had a great time, definitively talking about what the church is, and what ministry is, and what preaching is, and what the Word of God teaches, and how we need to draw some lines and be clear about where we stand, and do church the biblical way, and build the church the way God would have it done. And we laid down all of that.
And we felt we had really found a warm reception and a great fellowship there only to find out that a few weeks after we were there, the Power Team came in – same church – and started breaking bats and throwing bricks and crushing ice and doing all of that kind of stuff, and espousing charismatic theology in the same environment.
I at first was sort of shocked by that because I really don’t normally travel with the Power Team. It’s really not a different – it’s a different theology of significant proportions, and yet it was clearly an illustration to me of the eclectic or syncretistic character of modern Evangelicalism of the utter absence of any doctrinal parameters or any discernment.
Let me tell you what is encroaching significantly upon the church today. And these are things you know. I’m just going to sum them up briefly for you tonight just to give you a little bit of perspective. As we think about missions, my burden is to get the church straightened out so it can do missions. I’m not sure we’re in a position to do what we need to do the way that we need to do it as long as we really aren’t too sure what we believe or what’s important or what is the gospel even.
The first thing that threatens the life of the church I suppose we could put sort of under the category of mysticism. Mysticism. Mysticism is the philosophy that says you come to truth personally. It’s inside of you. You come to truth intuitively. You feel it; you have some emotional sensation, and that translates into reality not only to your own reality but divine reality. In fact, it even defines God, and it defines theology. Things like a conversation with someone who said, “Well, I know the Pope is a Christian.”
“Well, how do you know that?”
“I just feel it.”
Does that make it true? Obviously not. It doesn’t have a thing to do with truth. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality in your own life, let alone reality in somebody else’s life, let alone divine truth. But we have a substantial - must I say a majority even in some places? – of people who fit into the mystical category where they’re coming to truth intuitively. It isn’t a question of Scripture; it’s a question of their own feeling. This is particularly true in the charismatic movement, but it spills beyond that. But certainly it is defined in that movement where their theology is a result of their feelings and their emotions.
In fact, it’s fairly typical for me, in discussion or debate or dialogue with some leaders who are in the charismatic movement, to have them say to me, “Why do you attack me personally?”
To which I always respond, “I would never attack you personally. Never. If you write something, and I don’t think it’s accurate in the Scripture, I feel an obligation before God to respond to that and to write something that reflects accurately what the Bible teaches. But you don’t have to take that personally.”
Well, I said that for a number of years, and then I finally realized they do take it personally because they cannot be separated from their theology. If you come to me and say, “I don’t think what you said is true,” I’m not going to take that personally. That’s not like questioning my integrity or my honesty.
I’m going to say, “Well, let’s look at the Bible and see if it’s true or not true. And if it isn’t true, then I need to know what is true, because I’m committed to the truth, and the truth is not in John MacArthur; the truth is outside John MacArthur. And the biggest challenge I have in discerning the Scripture is to get myself out of it, because I tend to come to the Bible with presuppositions, preconceptions. I – my – challenge in studying the Scripture is not to get myself in there, but to get myself out of there so that the voice of God is heard clearly.
But when you’re dealing with somebody in the mystical realm, they can’t get their self – themselves out of their theology, because their theology is inseparable from them, and they feel it. They just know it’s true. As one lady said to me, “I really don’t care what the Bible says; I know what Jesus told me. God is speaking to me. God is saying things to me. God is talking to me. I’m hearing Him. The Lord led me. The Lord led me here. The Lord led me there.”
Now, let me tell you something. I believe that the Spirit of God leads us, but I don’t know what that feels like. I don’t have any idea what that feels like. I’ve never felt the Holy Spirit leading me. I have never felt God leading me. In fact, I don’t really know whether when I go somewhere God leads me, or whether I go and He just sort of allows me to go, and then has to fix what happens after I’ve been there. I don’t know that. I don’t know whether He is leading me there when I get on the plane and fly and land and preach, or whether I’m going and He really had something else that would have been better, but He’s allowed this to happen, and He’s going to repair it. I don’t know that. I don’t know that. I have no way to know that. I can’t feel it. I don’t hear voices. I don’t get goose bumps. I don’t have any intuitive buttons or bells that go off. I don’t know any of that. All I know is that I try to work my way through life the best way I can, responding to the Word of God and doing what wise counsel would lead me to do, and trust that God can pick up the pieces and make something significant out of it. But I can’t feel His leading. I can’t feel His direction.
And I’ll tell you something for sure. When I open my Bible to try to discern what a passage means, I don’t get any impulses until I start to study. And it’s a mental thing for me to comprehend the Word of God.
I heard a woman preacher on the radio, being interviewed one time, and somebody said to her, “How” – and she was a charismatic preacheress or whatever you call them. And this person said, “How do you get your sermons up?”
And she said, “I don’t get them up; I get them down.”
Well, I never have gotten one down; I have to get them up. I have to do due diligence in effort to comprehend the meaning of the Word of God in order to bring to you what I believe the scripture says. It has nothing to do with how I feel. It has nothing to do with impulses in me, or intuition, or some experience that’s defining in my life.
I always remember the interview I had with a talk show host and a hostess, and she does an afternoon program five days a week, and she’s the spiritual counselor for a large city. She answers the people who call in and tell her their spiritual problems – on a Christian radio station, a very large one. And we were doing an interview about a book I wrote, and at the end of the interview, it was apparent to me that she really didn’t have any theological categories at all; that everything she was saying to me indicated that her whole experience of quote-unquote Christianity was purely some kind of personal intuition.
And so, when it was all – when we were off the air, and she had asked me if I could explain to her certain words like justification and sanctification, which she didn’t understand, when we went off the air, I said to her, “Let me ask you a personal question. Could you just tell me how it was that you came to Christ? How did it occur in your life that you were saved, you were transformed?”
This is what she said, and I quote, “Well, I was just living my life. We were having a great time doing what young people do, single people. And I was just doing my thing, and one day I was in my house, and I got Jesus’ phone number, and we’ve been connected ever since.”
And I said, “Could you pardon me? I don’t understand what that means.”
“Well, we just got connected.”
Do you know what that means? It means nothing. It’s a contentless, meaningless statement. It’s empty. It has no meaning whatsoever. You don’t get Jesus’ phone number and then you’re connected. It’s contentless.
I said, “That’s an inadequate explanation of salvation. That’s an inadequate explanation of the gospel.”
She said, “Well, if someone wanted to become a Christian, what would you tell them?”
And so, in about five minutes, I went over a simple explanation of the gospel. At the end of that, she replied to me by saying, “Oh come on. You don’t have to go through all that with everybody, do you?”
Listen, evangelical Christianity is being largely defined by that kind of mystical approach everywhere. Everywhere. That’s why Victor called me on the phone today, to ask for five thousand copies, which have to be printed over there, of the book The Charismatics, because they don’t know what to do with this influx of mysticism.
And you can even add to that Gnosticism, just to borrow some sort of classic terms. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnōsis which means to know. And Gnostics, in ancient times, were people who had the secret knowledge. They were really in the know. They weren’t the common – the hoi polloi, the common people. They weren’t just the average Joe and Sally. They were people who had the elevated knowledge, who had ascended knowledge. They were transcendent people. The rest of the people were the uninitiated. We have that today. We have the people who have attained the secret knowledge, who go around asking you if you have had the baptism, or if you have had this experience or that experience, or if you’ve been slain in the Spirit, or if you’ve been knocked over, or if you’ve felt the power, or if you’ve talked to God, or if Jesus has come into your house, or if the – if you’ve seen the angels. And on and on and on and on this kind of stuff goes. And it makes everybody who hasn’t had those experiences feel like a very common and sort of low level, lower caste-type Christian because they haven’t had any of the elevated knowledge. There are people in all kinds of movements, including things like the vineyard who are plying this sort of quasi-evangelical shamanism, passing it off as if it was the Christian faith.
And in one sense, you’d say, “Well, why does it – why do we have to worry about it? Is it really that insidious?”
And the reason it is insidious is because it demands to be accepted as mainstream Christianity. It demands that. And if you don’t accept it as mainstream Christianity, you are unloving and unkind and ungracious and divisive, and you’re a heresy hunter, as I have been labeled along with others.
In fact, the main word that they, I suppose, could define them is tolerance. Now listen; just a basic, simple principle here, if anybody comes along espousing some message and asking for tolerance, you can be sure it’s error. Because error demands tolerance, whereas truth demands scrutiny. Truth always says, “Test me, try me, examine me, compare me with the Scripture; I can stand the test.” Tolerance says, “Leave me alone. Love me; let’s be one. Jesus wants us one. Let’s embrace each other; let’s not divide. Doctrine divides. Let’s tear down all things that divide; let’s break down all barriers; let’s cross all bridges. We don’t want anything that separates us. Jesus just wants us all to embrace each other.” It’s sort of a – it’s sort of, I suppose, evangelical existentialism; everybody can define his own spiritual experience any way he wants to define it.
Listen, I grew up in an environment, when I was a seminary student, where that was called neo-orthodoxy, and it was blistered by every faithful biblical scholar in the world. And books and diatribes were written against the gross errors of neo-orthodoxy, a kind of existentialist approach to truth. And now we have massive doses of it in Evangelicalism, where everybody gets to define his own Christianity in whatever terms he wants and whatever experience he or she wants. And the thing we need to do is just make sure we throw our arms around everybody, ask no questions, divide nothing, and don’t seek anything but unity. It’s a frightening, frightening day. And when you come along and you say, “This is true and this is not, this is what the Bible teaches, and this is what the Bible speaks against,” and you’re definitive about that; you become the bad person.” You become the enemy of the church. You become the enemy of Evangelicalism. You become a problem. A problem.
I think back to a time when if you stood up and took issue with mysticism, Gnosticism as it comes in the aberrant forms of the charismatic movement, if you took a stand against it, you would be very popular in Evangelicalism. And that, maybe 15 years ago, was the case. Now if you do that, you’re almost anathema.
You have a massive movement, for example, like Promise Keepers. And Promise Keepers certainly is – at face value is – whatever it is when you go there. And if you hear good messages, it’s good. And if you hear the Word of God proclaimed, that’s fine. But behind the scenes, the driving force in Promise Keepers is the Vineyard in Boulder, Colorado, where the three most prominent leaders come from. And that is Christian mysticism, Christian Gnosticism, defining your experience by whatever terms you choose to define your experience. That kind of thing is behind all of that. And that’s why you see in the movement, say, for example, Promise Number Six, “Let’s rub out all denominational barriers; let’s break down all racial barriers and all denominational barriers.”
Well, look, I’ll sign up for the first one, but not the second one. You can’t just immediately rub out all denominational barriers. The reason they’re there is because we differ over – what? – doctrine. Over doctrine. And in recent personal private conversation with one of the most prominent leaders in the in the movement, he said, “We will, in the future, continue to join hands with the Roman Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ. And if you have a problem with that, you’ll have a problem with Promise Keepers. We don’t want those differences between Protestants and Catholics to affect our unity.”
This has reached massive proportions. I mean it’s massive proportions. For all the good that might be done in the Promise Keepers – and certainly, as I said, you hear a good message, you might read a good book and have a wonderful experience; we wouldn’t discount that. This agenda that’s woven into it of breaking down anything that defines truth in narrow terms plays into the hands of the surging mysticism.
If – you know, we certainly can’t be as naive as to think that Satan is going to come in and say, “I’m here; this is me, Satan. And here I’m going to show you what I’m going to do, and you’re going to recognize it clearly.” He doesn’t operate that way. He comes in as an angel of – what? – light. And I think he’s riding in on the great Trojan horse of mysticism. And when he gets in the city gates, he’ll let his demon army loose, and the destruction will begin.
Tolerance, unity – you know, this isn’t really new. You can go way back. You can go way back in a turning point in American sort of church history as Charles Finney, who literally took basic, solid, sound, historic, reformed theology and threw it out the window, and in its place he brought manipulation and basically a personalized, mystical approach to religion. It found its way into the fabric of American evangelism. No less a person who had such a great ministry is D. L. Moody – and I quote – said this, “It makes no difference how you get a man to God provided you get him there. My theology? I wasn’t aware I had any.” Surprised to hear that from someone like D. L. Moody, but not surprised, in another sense, because coming after Finney was this whole legacy of practical approach to evangelism without regard for theology.
And the question that always comes up is do people even know what they’re responding to if it’s not definitive. And if it’s not definitive in the mind of the preacher, how definitive can it be in the mind of the hearer?
Now we are seeing the legacy of that sort of Finneyistic, sort of personalized, internalized, mystical kind of approach to defining your experience with Christ, having reached massive proportions, now redefining Evangelicalism. I grew up as a kid in a day when if you said that you were a fundamentalist Christian, everybody knew what that meant. We knew what we were. We knew what we were supposed to do when we met at church. We knew what we were supposed to hear out of the pulpit. We knew what we believed and what we didn’t believe. We knew what was true and what wasn’t true. We recognized error for what it was. We knew the cults were the cults, and we understood that they were outside the pale of the truth. We understood all of that. Evangelical worship, evangelical expression, evangelical doctrine was, to some degree, fairly well defined.
Now when you say the word evangelical, you have no idea what you’re talking about or what somebody else is talking about just by the word itself. It could be everything sweeping from the most bizarre kind of independent mysticism on the one hand, all the way over to Roman Catholicism, which is being so widely embraced now.
In fact, I perhaps ought to mention that at this particular point. There is a massive movement to join Evangelicalism now to the Roman Catholic Church, and it’s not much of a jump if you’ve got a whole mystical kind of Evangelicalism that allows you to define your experience with God in any terms you want. You can just embrace a Catholic who can define his experience with God in the terms that are consistent with his Catholic religion. Since we’re not questioning anybody anyway, why not all get together?
Now, this is – this is happening at the grassroots level in people movements like Promise Keepers and the charismatic movement, where they want to embrace all of the Roman Catholics and gather them and collect them as if we were all one.
It’s also happening at the highest level of a sort of intellectual elitism. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to read a book called Requiem. I don’t recommend that you waste your time reading it, but it was written by a man named Thomas Oden, who is a very, very elite scholar, a very brilliant man, a man who would be an academic theologian, from Drew University, whose roots are basically Methodist. He is a classic liberal up until recently, when he realized that the horse was dead and so he ought to get off. Liberalism is dead; it’s gone. That’s why he called the book Requiem.
And in the book he advocates that we need to leave the dead horse of liberalism and go back to classic Christianity. Well, for him, classic Christianity can be defined any way you want to define it. It can be defined as the Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox. It can be defined as Roman Catholic, or it can be defined as Protestant. And within the realm of Protestantism, it can be defined any way you want to define it there. All it means is we recognize there is God. He is alive, and He does move, and He does speak through the terms of classic Christianity. In fact, he would probably say, “Pre-reformational Christianity.” That is, “Let’s go past the Reformation. Let’s ignore it; it was a mistake. Martin Luther was out of line. He shouldn’t have done what he did. We’ve got to get behind the Reformation where we can all embrace each other again before the church was split.”
Well, you remember the Reformation was all about the doctrine of salvation, right? The Reformers said, “Salvation’s not by works; it’s by grace and faith alone.”
And the Catholic Church said, “No, it’s by grace plus works,” and pronounced one hundred anathemas or damnations on the Reformers for saying it was by grace and faith alone. And that’s why there was a Reformation, and that’s why we have a Protestant Church. The issue was are you saved by works or are you saved by grace? Pretty significant. But the movement today is just to wipe that out as if it didn’t matter, just to rub that issue off, erase it off the board, let’s go back to a pre-reformational Christianity. That’s the movement from the intellectual side as these – and by the way, in the back of Oden’s book, in an appendix, he lists the names of all the people who are in on this movement in the intellectual realm, and a lot of them would be classified as evangelicals. There’re a number of them associated, for example, with Christianity Today.
So, from the standpoint of academia and the elite, there’s a movement towards pre-reformational Christianity, and from the grassroots level, there’s this all embracing movement toward the same kind of thing, where we don’t define anything other than on personal terms. And it really is the mood of our culture, isn’t it? I mean a person can get on television and be on one of those talk shows and advocate absolutely anything and simply justify it by saying, “Well, it my life and it’s what I choose.” And that’s found its way into Evangelicalism. And now, when you try to be doctrinally definitive and doctrinally sound and draw some clear lines, you are a problem. You are a problem. And just to add to that, another thing that concerns me greatly in Evangelicalism today – and I’m just giving you sort of a broad sweep on this – is that instead of addressing man’s problems spiritually, even though we’re into this sort of widespread mysticism, we still have a group of people who want to address men’s problems psychologically, who want to fix people through some kind of humanly devised therapy.
Samuel Johnson said about Isaac Watts, quote, “Whatever he took into his hand turned to theology. And I’m afraid today it’d have to be said about many preachers, “Whatever he took in his hand turned to psychology, human wisdom.” Whatever happened to theology? Whatever happened to getting in a pulpit and just preaching the profound truths of God? After all, the church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth, the pillar and support of the truth. Do we have to just elevate man, make him feel better about his life, bump him up a few notches on the comfort level? Whatever happened to preaching doctrine, preaching theology? Instead of being God sensitive, we’re sort of seeker sensitive. We’re worried about how everybody feels out there rather than what God thinks.
Let me mention another issue. I don’t have time to develop this, but having just completed a long study in the book of Revelation, let me just make the suggestion to you. Borrowing some terminology from cyber space, if I may, there is reigning today, in Evangelicalism, in many, many quarters, what I suppose we could call virtual post-millennialism. Virtual post-millennialism. It isn’t real post-millennialism; it doesn’t unmask itself as such, but its virtual post-millennialism.
You say, “What do you mean by that?”
Well, what I mean by that? Well, what I mean is this. There is this pervasive mentality that all of a sudden we Christians, in this world, can rise up and take over. It shows up in what some have called dominion theology. “We’re going to bind Satan. We’re going to bind all the demons. We’re going to tie up all the powers of darkness. We’re going after the territorial spirits. We’re going to charge against them. We’re going into various cities, and we’re going to take hold of the demons in those cities and the demons in those territories and areas, and we’re going to grind the whole kingdom of darkness to a halt.” This is pervasive. “We’re going to get out there, and we’re going to start breaking the bonds that Satan holds on people, and breaking the bonds that the demons hold on people, and we’re going to start breaking the bonds the demons have on cities. And we’re going to conquer the kingdom of darkness.”
I mean the brashness of this is frightening. Ever since the fall of Satan, the kingdom of darkness has been doing its basic job, working its work in the world. And God has allowed it. Ever since the fall when Satan and his demons were cast to the earth, as Revelation says, they’ve been carrying out their wicked functions. What kind of audacity, what kind of sort of egotism is it to believe that all of a sudden now, at the end of the twentieth century, a bunch of Christians are going to rise up and grind the whole movement to a halt.
The truth of the matter is you don’t even know what’s going on in that movement and neither do I. I can’t discern those things. I can’t see Satan; I can’t see his demons. I can go wildly, almost blithely into the kingdom of darkness, throwing myself around in absolute ignorance. Am I so foolish as to believe that I’m the one who’s going to bring down Satan’s kingdom?
And on the other hand, you have this other kind of post-millennialism. By the way, post-millennialism means – just to define it, there’s coming a millennium, a thousand-year reign of Christ. Post-millennialists believe that post – that is after the millennium, Christ comes. Okay? He doesn’t come before and set up His kingdom; he comes after the kingdom has already run its thousand years. He comes at the end. The idea is we fix the world, we get it real nice, and when we’ve had it real nice for a thousand years, Jesus comes back, and it’s all fixed for Him. That’s post-millennialism. Pre-millennialism says He comes before the kingdom because we can’t fix it. He comes, judges, sets up His own kingdom.
I am not only a pre-millennialist because I think it’s clear in the Scripture, I am a pre-millennialist because it’s impossible for any of us to set up the kingdom. It’s absolutely ludicrous. I remember Pat Robertson said, when he was running for president, if he got elected, we would be well on our way to presenting the kingdoms of this world to Christ. That’s a post-millennialist view, and a very small-minded one at that, because even when you’re – when you’ve got America, there’s a few other folks around the globe as well that aren’t quite in the fold yet to make the kingdom what is ought to be.
Can you imagine even having the concept that if we put enough money into an anti-pornography deal and enough money into a pro-life deal, and if we pour enough money and enough energy into the political machinery, and if we can just enough people elected and get enough sanctified judges, and if we can just get this thing cranked up in Washington, man, we can bring in the kingdom. We can grind the whole satanic movement, among fallen men in this country, to its halt.
Look, since the fall of man, things have been getting – what? – worse, not better. Now all of a sudden, at the end of the twentieth century, a bunch of evangelical Christians are going to rise up and stop the whole trend. Is that it? You can’t fix the world. I can’t fix the world.
Lyndon Johnson thought he could fix the world with a war on poverty. Now we have more poor people than we’ve ever had in the United States. Then they thought they could fix the moral part of the world by sex education in the schools. Now we have more perverts than we’ve ever had. You can’t fix it. It can’t be fixed. It’s not going to be fixed; it’s going to be destroyed. The only person who can bring the world that we would love to see is Jesus Christ. And virtual post-millennialism rises up and says, “Jesus, you can just stay up there; we’re going to do this deal for you.”
I can’t do anything about the darkness. I can’t grind Satan’s kingdom to a halt. I can’t thwart the Devil. I can’t bind Satan. I can’t stop demons from doing what they’re doing. That is beyond me. You want to know the truth? I can’t even stop myself from doing what I ought not to be doing all the time. Can you? And you’re going to go charging into the kingdom of darkness and tie it all up?
Furthermore, this world is not going to get any better. I can’t make it any better. You can’t make it any better. Collectively we can’t make it any better. Politically we can’t make it any better. We can’t do any anything because what we’ve got is a fallen world that is spiraling down as the Law of entropy works and that means everything tends toward greater and greater disorder and dysfunction, until finally the only way anything is going to happen is if Jesus comes and fixes it himself. That’s why I’m a pre-millennialist. And I resent this virtual post-millennialism that is an elevated kind of sort of evangelical pride that thinks it can fix the world and then Jesus can come back to a nice world that we’ve fixed for Him.
So, why do we spend all our time on this political thing, with all this money and all these campaigns and all these efforts? And, in the end, all you’re going to do is have fallen people join the Republican Party. And then our good party will be wrecked. With fallen people, right? No, it’s pointless. Sorting them all into different groups is meaningless. It’s absolutely meaningless. And as I like to tell the environmentalists, “If you think we’re messing up this world, wait till you see what Jesus does to it.” Step on the grass and shoot a deer, folks, it’s a disposable planet. You know?
I just want you to know I just want you to know that I’m waiting for the King to come back and set up His kingdom. I don’t believe for a minute He expects us to do it; we can’t. And the kingdom of darkness will work its work until He stops it. And men who are fallen will express that fallenness until He comes back and changes it. And it’s not going to get better; it’s going to get worse, and then He’ll come.
I look at Evangelicalism, and I see it blurring all doctrinal lines, losing its perspective on the coming of Jesus Christ, getting enamored and wrapped up in its political clout and its financial capabilities, and missing the whole point. We’ve forsaken the heart of everything. We’ve forsaken the Word, sound doctrine, and we’re in a mess. We’re in a mess.
But I want to close with one final thought. As deeply concerning to me as those things which I just mentioned to you are, there’s one other thing that is more concerning to me, and it is this: we’re turning away from God to man. Theology, if there is any, is becoming man centered. Ministry is becoming seeker sensitive, man centered. Churches are becoming man centered. Everybody’s looking at how they can be more stimulated, happier.
Every preacher thinks his job is to give a moral pep talk or a psychological analysis or – provide fun and entertainment for his people or emotional stimulation, or technique for easing your hurts and overcoming your weaknesses. Not so. I’m not supposed to get you in touch with yourself. I’m not supposed to lead you in some kind of effort at self-analysis so you can find the little things in your life that are going to trigger your happy buttons. That’s not my job.
In fact, do you want to know something? To focus on that might, for a moment, seem helpful, but in the end it is destructive. Even if I were to give you good things, even if I were to lead you into some self-analysis that revealed something about you and you could find a way to deal with that something, in the end I have done you a grave disservice. Even if I’ve put you in touch with some little reality in your life and helped you to find some comfort level or some way to deal with that, I have done you a disservice because I have put your focus on you, and in the end that’s destructive. That’s destructive.
My job as a preacher is to bring you to what you’re starving for. And I know what you’re starving for, even though many people don’t. You’re starving. You are hungering and you are thirsting, and most people don’t know for what. And then you read Psalm 42 and you find out what. “As the deer pants after the water brook, so pants my soul after Thee, O God.” You don’t need a better understanding of you; you need a better understanding of Him. That is the resolve to every issue. The majesty and the glory and the fullness of God is the cure for everything.
Cotton Mather, that American Puritan, said, “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” That’s the job that is before me. And I want to bring you to the place where you can experience what the psalmist said not only in Psalm 42:1 but let me share one other psalm – you might want to write it down – Psalm 63. It’s a tremendous statement of what you’re really thirsty for, what you’re really hungry for. Listen to these glorious words, “O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly. My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh years for Thee in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have beheld Thee in the sanctuary to see Thy power and Thy glory. Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life.”
All I want is You. All I want is You. I want to know You. I want Your majesty and Your glory to be revealed to me. Preaching is never to be man centered; it is to be God centered. And no one is a true preacher who is not a theologian.
One reason that people doubt the abiding value of God-centered theological preaching, one reason people doubt – I’ll say it again – the abiding value of God-centered theological preaching is they’ve never sat under it. They’ve never heard it. They don’t know how foundation building and life transforming it is. Why preach the majesty of God? Let me put it to you simply, because holiness in life is nothing more than a God-centered life. It is to prize God above all else. And what causes you to prize God above all else is to know all there is to know about Him. You must prize God above everything.
Listen, sin is what we do when our hearts are not satisfied with God. Did you get that? Sin is what we do when our hearts are not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. You don’t sin because you have to. You don’t sin because you’re forced to. You sin, as a believer, because sin holds out some promise of happiness. Right? It promises you a pleasure, a thrill, a fulfillment. And that promise will enslave you unless you prize God above sin.
And when you believe that God is to be more desired than anything, when you believe that His lovingkindness is better than life, when you prize Him above everything, then sin has no attraction to you. Why would you do what sin promises when you prize what God promises more. Right? You look at the church today. I was just reading this afternoon divorce is running rampant among ministers, pastors. Percentages are going out of control among pastors. Immorality among pastors, church leaders. Tolerances of that kind of thing in the church. Sin all over the place.
And yet we have proclaimed every gimmick in the book to try to help people fix themselves. Marriages – are they getting better? Well, you say we’ve had a lot of teaching and a lot of books and a lot of tapes and a lot of seminars and a lot of stuff. Are marriages getting better? Maybe the problem is you’re focusing on your marriage instead of your God. It’s not too hard to live with a holy person. Not too hard to get along with one. If you’re prizing God above everything, then you’re not going to let anything come in that destroys your marriage. If you prize God above everything, that’s going to reflect in how you deal with your children. What you thirst for and what you long for and what you hunger for is God. And that’s why we preach the majesty and the glory and the greatness and the character of God which comes through the Scripture and the great categories of doctrine that the Bible unfolds for us.
I would suggest to you that the most powerful motive to holiness is not fear. I can’t hammer you hard enough to make you holy. I can’t preach enough sermons on the discipline of God to make you holy. I can’t chase you all over the place and try to spy on you to force you to be holy. I can’t keep up with you; you’re too quick for me and there are too many of you. And I can’t even – I can’t even call and elicit out of you love – enough love to keep you holy.
There’s only thing to keep you holy, and that’s when you prize God above everything, when the promises that He makes to you, if you obey Him, are more powerful than the promises of sin. Right? It’s that simple so that all that God promises in Jesus Christ stands against all that sins promises without Him. When you prize God above all else, you have the shield of faith in place; that’s faith. It’s prizing God above everything.
My job is to tell you more and more and more and more about God so that you prize Him above everything, so that you trust Him in every situation, so that you believe Him through every issue of life, and you never waiver. Faith is not only the key to heaven, it’s the key to holiness, and it’s the key to contentment. And listen, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.
So, as a preacher I bring you what you need most. And what you need most is the majesty of God. I don’t – I certainly don’t hear that being discussed as the subject of preaching in churches today.
So, we’ve got a massive problem. We’re running away from theology and doctrine. We’re turning toward men, and it’s going to continue to get worse and worse and worse until we begin to preach God and His character and His glory and begin to form clear understanding of theology and truth. Until that happens, Evangelicalism as we know it is just going to spin into chaos all over the place. There will be a reaction. There will be, I believe, a new kind of neo-fundamentalism that’ll come together. People are going to say, “That’s enough. I can’t deal with that. That’s going too far. We got to get back to the Word, back to the anchor. And I’m finding this is happening everywhere I go.
We had a pastor’s conference with, I think, 600 men in the East Coast, and basically saying, you know, “We’ve had it. We’ve had enough. How are we to understand sound doctrine? Teach us. We’ve got to get a grip on something.”
There will come – there will rise a Phoenix out of the crash, and God will have His remnant of people. But it’s a sad time, and it’s a time for us to focus on God. And what are churches doing? Focusing on the people. They don’t want to say anything that offends anybody. Well, if you preach the glory of God, you’re going to offend folks. But we don’t gather – in the purest sense, we don’t gather for the unbeliever’s sake; we gather for our sakes. Right? We’ll go out of here to reach the lost. And we saw that tonight. But we gather to be edified, and to worship, and to learn to prize God above everything else, and to understand what he teaches, and what is our sound doctrine, and where we commit ourselves in regard to truth.
Church is just floating all over everywhere, loose as a goose. All over everywhere. Anybody can define anything they want any old way they want. And if you try to stand in the way and draw some lines, you’re the enemy. And preaching? We don’t want to talk about God. That offends people. Let’s just talk about people, make them feel good, be sensitive to them.
I’ve said this in the past. We have a seeker-sensitive service here, but there’s only one seeker in our church. No man seeks after God, but God seeks true worshippers. So, we are concerned about that seeker who seeks true worshipers, and we want to give him the worship due His name.
When you come together here, we want our worship to honor and glorify God. It’s not designed to be relevant to somebody who’s not a Christian. It’s designed to give wigs to the praise that’s in the heart of the believer. That’s why we gather. We scatter to reach the lost.
You say, “Well, what about if an unbeliever comes?”
We think they’ll see what it means to worship. We think they’ll hear the truth of God clearly expressed to them, and they’ll see the distinction between what they are and what we are. And that’s the beginning. These are days when you can be thankful to the Lord - and all of us can, myself as well – for the heritage that God has given us, a heritage of sound doctrine and a heritage of a God-centered ministry. And we want to see that perpetuated by God’s goodness in the days ahead. Well, all that and more to say, but I won’t say anymore. Pray with me.
Father, we just are so concerned that we’ll be faithful, Lord. We don’t want to criticize others; we want to be faithful ourselves. And somehow just kind of refreshing our minds about who we are and where we stand and why we stand there translates into our own loyalties and our own faithfulness to you and to your truth.
Thank You for this wonderful evening. For all you’re doing in our church family, we praise you in Christ’s name, Amen.
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