Well, we're continuing about our discussions about the church, talking about the state of the church and just sharing my heart with you. This was all sort of prompted by some of the men on our staff because when I travel around the country, or even out of the country and speak to church leaders, I talk a lot about the state of the church and about our church. And they reminded me that I rarely ever do that at Grace, and it would be good for our people to have the opportunity to hear me speak from the heart about the church.
Everybody wants to know about Grace Church. Everywhere I go they ask me questions about the church. They want to know how life in the church is and the character of the church, the ministries of the church, what the people are like. And I think one of the curiosities of our Shepherd’s Conferences to men to come here and to meet you. They perhaps have met me and they need to meet you.
And that’s just part of the wonderful fulfillment that I have in my own heart because I know that they will find the finest people anywhere in the world in our church fellowship. And I just rejoice in that.
But I have a great time talking to church leaders. And I try to identify with them. I don't try to tell them that we have a church without problems. I mean we have enough people to create enough problems to keep us all busy all the time. That’s part of the joy of ministry, seeing those problems solve and sort of casting ourselves on the power of God.
And we've had our share of strange things happen in this church through the years. Some of the strange things in the early years that I share with people about how people fainted at weddings and fell into the organ pit and things like that. I mean we've had our share of things like that. I sometimes share about one of the communion services where I wanted to design a different way to do it just to give a fresh kind of feel to communion.
And we had trained everybody on how it was going to be done. We were going to pass little loaves of bread, and it was just a great way to do it. Take a loaf and give one to each row and the end person breaks off a piece, passes the loaf, breaks a piece, pass it. Just a different way.
And the ushers came down to the deacons and elders. And they were – we had prepared our hearts and prayed and sung. And they come down and creatures of habit that they are, these loaves were piled in little trays and they just passed the trays. So, in three rows all the bread is gone and you've got three rows of people looking at a loaf of bread waiting for me to say, “This do in remembrance of me” and wash it down with one ounce of grape juice.
I remember another occasion when we ran out of bread in the back. And people panicked. And so, there was a meal – a spaghetti dinner being prepared for after church some group was meeting. And somebody darted to the kitchen and served the last three rows garlic toast which I suppose, I mean is okay. What distressed me was the next time we had communion the same people were in the same rows hoping for the same deal, I think.
I mean we've had our share of issues around here. We've fought our battles. We've had things that we planned to work out perfectly and they didn't work out as we would have liked to have them work out. We've had a wonderful time in the life of this church. It has been tremendously fulfilling. And I confess that I am addicted to the church.
I am a fanatic for the church. And most specifically, for this one. It is my life and breath. The source of my joy and the source of my anguish. Both come from my wonderful opportunity in the church.
And really, in a day when Christians loosely wander around in a sort of a quasi-evangelical culture, with little or no regard for a local church and a earl commitment to that local church, a day when the personal relationship with Christ is the reigning definition of Christian living. And not the corporate one, but we need to redefine the importance of the church.
There are a lot of irresponsible Christians running around with little or no association with a local church – no commitment to the local church. No accountability. No submission to the leadership of that church. And no devotion to faithfulness to the life of that church. We need to desperately get back to really understanding what the church is.
And, as I've been pointing out the last couple of weeks, it is really up for grabs. And there’s just a tremendous amount of chaos, a serious identity crisis as to the character and the nature of the church. The church is in serious trouble, sever crises exist with regard to the church.
And, unfortunately, the people that are most loudly defining the church are least capable, in many cases, of doing that. The people that are trying to tell the church what it ought to be, in many cases, do not even understand what the church ought to be nor are they in a position to take that leadership.
Obviously, we can go back to the Word of God and under godly pastors and elders be taught God’s design for the church.
Michael Griffith wrote, some years ago, Christians collectively seem to be suffering from a strange amnesia. A high proportion of people who go to church have forgotten what it’s all about. week by week they attend services in a special building and go through their particular time-honored routine, but given little thought to the purpose of what they're doing. The Bible talks about the bride of Christ, but the church today seems more like a ragged Cinderella. And I think he’s put his finger on it in very prosaic terms. the church doesn’t really understand its own identify. And we're trying to reaffirm that because we want you to understand that.
And I suppose there’s also the reality that there’s a certain level of indifference toward the church. And I concern myself with that in this church most particularly. The first generation fights for the discovery and the establishment of truth. And I was a part of that fight and some of you were a part of that fight in those early years when we were really going after the scripture and trying to discern what it taught and try to bring that teaching out of the Word of God and put it into principles.
And I used to talk about principle-izing the scripture, developing doctrinal truths that came out of the exposition of the text. And I remember, in those early years, how we used to struggle to understand all the biblical issues, to come up with what the Bible taught on a variety of things. Even our staff pastors wrote papers and we were engaged in dialog. And sometimes we’d go away for a couple of days to hammer out a theological truth. And I was spending hours and hours in my study trying to understand the Word of God and frame up a sound biblical theology.
And we were all in the battle of discovery and establishment of the truth. And, typically, the second generation comes along and their responsibility is to maintain that truth, to refine truth and to spread that truth. And that’s happened here as well.
We went from early years of trying to discover the truth. Once we found the foundation and it was solid, then we were committed to refining it and fine tuning it and maintaining it, and then spreading it. And all of a sudden, we started to be concerned about other churches and other pastors and other church leaders, and getting involved in a ministry of education and training leaders. And all of that became part of that second generation mission.
And we're still in the middle of all of that. And we're still concerned about refining things and maintaining the truth, which we understand so well, and extending it as far and wide as we can.
Tragically, in terms of history, the third generation comes up, basically, apathetic. They really haven't been a part of the discovery process and they haven't been a part of that refining and extending process. It’s just there for them. And that’s a very dangerous period in the church’s history.
Certainly, there is a tremendous amount of apathy in evangelism across the board because it has been around long enough to have gotten into that third generation, but that’s not necessary. That’s not acceptable to me and certainly not acceptable to God.
So, it’s really crucial that we, as a church, understand what is foundational to our life. And I wish I could take you back to the discovery process. Take you back with a blank slate and let you go through that because it’s the most overwhelming of all experiences. Certainly, it is so in my own life.
But for now, since I can’t do that, what I want to do is have you go back and regrip those basics a little bit. And I want to share some of that with you.
And I suppose we can build it around a simple question. What should you look for in a church? This is not self-serving, by any means. This is not a call for church membership, although we certainly would want to include that. I really want to talk about what do I look for in a church, any place, anywhere?
What do I look for? I remember hearing that asked on a radio talk show one time. Some years back, a caller asked the talk show host, what do I look for in a church? I’ll never forget the answer. The answer was just three words. Fellowship. Caring. And sharing.
And that was really the hot button when there was sort of a psychological surge in the life of the church and actually, fellowship and caring and sharing sounds pretty good. The problem with that is you can find that in a bar. You can find that on a bowling league. You can find that in AA. You can find that in a cult. You can find it at the Masonic lodge. You can find it in the Mormon youth movement. And you can really find it at Weight Watchers.
Sharing, oh yeah. Caring, yeah. Fellowship, commiseration. It’s all there. You can find it in all those places. And that cannot be the right answer.
Now somebody today might answer the question, “Well, you need to find a place that is alive and exciting and enthusiastic and captivating and entertaining.” That doesn’t limit it to the church. I mean you can go to Magic Mountain and have all that. And I don't know if a church is going to be able to compete with a roller coaster. Or you can go to Disneyland or you can go to some other entertaining event or some theatre or some stage play or whatever it might be, or turn on your television and watch entertaining things. That can’t be the answer.
And the answer is not even find a church that has a good preacher. You've got to define what “good” means. Or find a guy who is interesting to listen to. You have to find what that means. A lot of people are interesting to listen to and don't have anything significant to say.
When you're all done, your life hasn’t changed but the ride has been fun. Some people would suggest go somewhere where you can enjoy the music. Go somewhere where they take good care of your children. some would say, yes, go where you can park. That’s really important. Go where it’s comfortable. Lots of suggestions.
But really, only one thing matters. Just one. And when you ask the question, “What do I look for in a church?” There’s only one answer. And the only thing that is a concern to you should be, “How do they handle the Word of God?” That’s it. That’s really all that matters. How do they handle the World of God?
Now, yesterday we were having a soccer match. The Master’s College was playing Westmont College. And I was up there to watch the soccer match, and this was for the Western Regional Championship. We've played in that championship game seven years in a row, and we had won three and Westmont had one three, and the other year we had beaten a team from Fresno.
And so, it was a big game, the biggest came of the year. Our kids were playing their hearts out and I was standing next to somebody. Facetiously, and I said, “Now look. Between these two schools, who would the Lord prefer?” I said, “Let’s just be honest about this. I mean whose team would the Lord be on.” “Well,” he replied. And he was from the opposition. He said, “If inerrancy is the issue, he would be on your side.”
And I walked away from that and it was kind of a facetious and fun conversation. As it turned out, we lost, so I have to rethink that whole issue. But, apparently, inerrancy plays no role in soccer. But I walked away thinking, you know, that is precisely what is the beginning of the issue. The first thing you want to consider about a church is do they believe in an errant scripture, right? Certainly, you want to take that into consideration when you do think about a school.
But certainly, when you think about a church, it starts with a view of scripture. You want to find a church that takes the scripture as the absolute Word of the living God inerrant. And takes it seriously.
Are the leaders committed to the Word of God as the true and inerrant revelation of God? Are they committed to teaching it, to preaching it, to implementing it, to applying it, to enforcing it? When you read the epistles, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, this is the recurring theme over and over and over – sound doctrine. Sound doctrine. Sound doctrine. Speak with authority. Preach the Word. Be instant in season and out of season. If anybody is in the leadership and they're not doing that, get rid of them. You've got to find the rebellious and evil talkers, the people who confuse and upset whole households. Get rid of them.
You've got to get rid of those people who purport to teach knowledge but do not. You've got to hold fast to the Word of God. Guard the treasure. Retain sound words. All of that. All through those pastoral epistles identifies the fact that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth – 1 Timothy 3:15, and that is the watershed issue.
Do the leaders study, proclaim and apply all that scripture teachers? That is the issue. The issue is not style. The issue is not entertainment. The issue is not programs. The issue is nothing superficial like that. The issue is how do they handle the Word of God. That is the issue.
Psalm 119:161, the psalmist in that great psalm says, “My heart stands in awe of thy Word.” “My heart stands in awe of thy word.” That is the spirit of a true worshipper. And that is how every believer should see the church as a place where the word, the awesome word is disseminated.
In Isaiah, that very familiar closing to the great prophecy of Isaiah, in which a rhetorical question, in a sense is asked, but it is also answered. Isaiah 66, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. where then is a house you could build for me? There isn’t any that could contain me. And where is a place that I may rest, for my hand made all these things. Thus, all these things came into being, declares the Lord, but to this one I will look.” I’m not interested in a house but here’s what I’m interested in. I’m looking to this one, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at my word.
God is looking for someone who takes his word seriously enough to shake under its authority. The responsibility of the church is to guard and to proclaim and to defend the scripture. And when that is not the church’s priority, the church begins to crumble. It begins to disintegrate. And as I have pointed out in the last couple of nights, and as I say often, as I travel around and talk about these issues, this becomes the issue.
Your view of scripture, and not just simply saying, “Yes, we believe the Bible” and then carrying on as if you did not. And not selectively enforcing it willy-nilly as it seems suitable to you or comfortable for the people. But literally affirming, everything in the Bible to be true to the degree that you tremble at its seriousness and you are committed to implement as well as to proclaim every aspect of scripture. To guard, defend, proclaim the scripture.
When you look for a church, that is what you are looking for. And the sad fact is, and I hear this over and over again, there are people all across the country who can’t find a church like that. They can’t find one that takes the Bible seriously, that takes the Word of God seriously.
And when that is not the case, the church falls short of what God intends it to be. There is nothing to commend in us here. Not our talents. Not our skills. Not our giftedness. What is commendable in this church is all bound up in the Word of God. We are simply those who articulate to you the Word of God.
If there is anything to be commended, it is that God, in his wonderful grace has brought together, a leadership here, who are serious about the Bible. About every aspect of it.
Now, let me just talk about that for a few moments and give you some important insights into it. When the Word is not exalted, when a church is not absolutely serious about every aspect of scripture, several things result. And I want to share some of them with you.
Number one, God is underestimated. God is underestimated. What do I mean by that? I mean that the church becomes trivial and disrespectful and shallow in its understanding of God. First and foremost, you would agree, if you are any student at all of scripture, the purpose of the Bible is to reveal God. Is that not true? It is God’s self-revelation. It is God’s self-disclosure. And you show me a church that doesn’t take the scripture seriously and I will show you a church that doesn’t take God seriously.
It trivializes God. It trivializes Jesus Christ. It pulls them down to some shallow conception. And that is a frightening thing to think about it. Since the whole of the decalog that God has given us begins with giving God his rightful place. Isn’t that the beginning in the Ten Commandments? You shall no other gods but the true God. Make no graven images. God is worthy of your worship, all of your worship. He stands alone as the supreme deity, the supreme God.
When we don't really take scripture seriously, we don't take God seriously. For example, is a church – and this is obvious. If a church can read the scripture and the scripture calls for a certain kind of conduct, and they don't enforce that conduct on the people, they are not taking God, who wrote that, seriously. And that is a frightening thing to realize.
If you gloss over the scripture, if you ignore part of the scripture, if you just blatantly reject part of the scripture, if you just refuse to apply part of the scripture, you are essentially saying, “God, I know you said that but it really doesn’t matter to us that you did.” That is a frightening thing to do. A fearful thing to do. But, essentially, that is what churches do all the time.
The scripture says, “The church should come together for worship” and that that worship should elevate God to the highest place. It should be the noblest expression of Christian faith to exalt God. If a church doesn’t do that, they are taking God lightly. They are treating God with a trivial mentality.
If the Bible says that we are to discipline sin, and if someone’s sin is to be confronted, and then two or three witnesses and the process of Matthew 18 is to be followed and a church doesn’t do that, then the church is simply saying, “We don't really treat that section of scripture with any seriousness.”
You have to understand what you're dealing with. You're not just dealing with a congregation of people who are a little bit weak or maybe a little bit ignorant. You're dealing with people who trivialize God, who don't understand how seriously God is to be taken.
In fact, the Bible says if you break one law that God has given, you're damned. Is that not true? You're cursed. Apart from the grace of Jesus Christ, you’d perish in eternal hell. So, the first thing that happens in a church that doesn’t take the scripture seriously is they trivialize God. They sing shallow songs about him. they have shallow thoughts about him. they carry on shallow worship toward him. they shallowly apply the scripture. They're not serious about the things that are very serious to God. How demeaning that is to his greatness.
Secondly, and if follows in line with that, and I already hinted at it. They will misrepresent the content or the, I guess the content is a good way to say it, the content and the attitude of true worship. Their worship will fall short because you can only worship – listen carefully – you can only worship truly with your mind. That is to say, God is pleased when you really understand with your mind his glory.
There is no virtue in mindless sort of worship where the tune is everything and the feeling is everything and the emotion is everything. That, as I’ve said, is a – often a simple form of a sub-Christian mysticism. We are called to worship in spirit and in truth. We are called to worship God which means to understand him to be who he is, to understand him to be the holy and glorious and majestic God that he is. And when you truly worship him, there is a brokenness, like Isaiah experienced when he fell on his face, in chapter 6, having had a vision of God.
The focus moves, in a shallow church, where the scripture is not taken seriously, God is trivialized and the next thing that happens is instead of elevated worship, everything becomes man-centered and they focus on themselves. On how they feel. And it feels good to do some worshipping.
I've been in situations like that. I’m in them, sad to say, very frequently where people call something that they're doing worship, but it has very little to do with worship because it is all an attempt to induce a certain kind of mushy feeling.
Back when I was in Canada this week, I expressed to them some of these kinds of thoughts and I said, “Look, I said sometimes you will hear some kind of schmaltzy sort of syrupy kind of emotionally-geared feely music and then somebody will say, ‘Well, we had that to prepare the people for the message.’” And I always react by saying, “Look, if you want to prepare them for the message, wake them up. don't put them to sleep” because they need to be alert and acute and their minds ready to grasp truth.
Sing a great hymn about doctrine and elevate their minds. We're not trying to induce a state. We're dealing with truth here. But there is so much of that, and it follows, where there is a weak view of scripture, there is a trivializing of God, of shallow thoughts toward him and consequently, worship sinks down to a state of feeling rather than a cognitive elevation of the mind to contemplate the greatness of God. And, frankly, you can kind of reverse these things. I could have started with any of them. You could say where there is that kind of worship, where there is a rather emotional kind of feely, less than cognitive worship experience, it is because they are man-centered. And that’s because they have trivialized God and that’s because they don't take scripture serious.
Now following, quickly, on the heels of that, I would also want to add, very carefully, that typically there will be a dilution of the gospel. There will be a dilution of the gospel. That is to say, you've got a sort of an emotional orientation, a sort of a feeling kind of worship. You've pulled God down, like Romans 10:3 talks about that the Jews had done the same. They failed to understand the righteousness of God for what it really was.
You don't take the scripture very seriously, so how are you going to evangelize in that touchy, feely, sort of trivializing of God, sort of not taking scripture seriously kind of attitude. How are you going to evangelize? “Well, it’s going to be kind of a man-centered, kind of an emotional, and that’s the way it’s going to” – this was illustrated to me again this week. And I’m talking very personally to you and I’ll share this with you.
I preached a very strong message this week on the gospel; a strong message on the content of the gospel as I could. The theme was evangelism and I gave them four messages. Message number one, on the character of our times. What time is it in the history of the world in which we evangelize? That has a lot to say with urgency and seriousness.
Secondly, what is the character of our message? When we say, we're going to evangelize, what do we say? What is our message? What gospel do we preach? Well, prior to my message, there was some of this sort of sloshy – trying to induce a state kind of stuff going on. And I just sort of sat there and asked the Lord to give me a triumphant attitude in the midst of all of this. And then I just got up and preached and the Lord just, obviously, allowed me the freedom to say what I needed to say and I said it with great conviction and power. And there was tremendous quiet and there was very penetrating truth from the Word of God.
And I talked about how we need to confront sinners about their sin. We need to bring them before the law of God and they need to be broken over God’s law. And they need to be crushed by God’s law and they need to understand they're under a curse. And then, and only then, can you bring the good news of the gospel.
I shared with them that men must understand. And then I said we have to confront them with the tremendous glory of the saving gospel in which Jesus takes the curse for the sinner and frees the sinner from the curse. And I went on all through that. And no sooner had I done that, then this guy who led the thing got up and said, “Well, he said, we just to remember that we just want to be really kind and really gracious to everybody.” Like it just – it can’t be that way. It just can’t be that way. And he felt like he had to fix me. Like he had to fix it because it was just too much. you can’t just – you just got to sort of schmooze them in.
Isn’t that the word? I’m careful about my words, folks. I got in trouble – I got in trouble in England. I told you about that, didn't I? The question and answer period with pastors. And I think I know English. Three pastors stood up to answer a question and I called on a man. I said, “You sir, with the suspenders,” and the place went ashen white. And the man’s face went as bright red as red could be. And it went dead silent. And I thought, “What in the world is going on?” And I was informed later that suspenders, to the English, is a garter belt worn by a prostitute.
They call those things braces. And when I identified a pastor as having – so I want to be careful with my words. And I choose the words very carefully. But you see, what happens is, this is sort of a package deal. Once you're not a diligent faithful, hard-working student of scripture who takes everything that scripture says with tremendous seriousness and responsibility, scripture yields for you this high estimation of God which calls you to the most elevated worship, which calls you to the most profound gospel.
Where you don't have any of those things, you usually get all the rest too. And as I look at the evangelical church, that’s what I see. That’s what I see.
And I’m not surprised to see a further element of that, and I guess you could call it a weakening of the lordship of Christ. A weakening of the lordship of Christ. They don't want to talk a lot about repentance. They don't want to talk about that too much. and they don't want to talk about submission. They didn't want to talk about bowing the knee to Jesus Christ. You heard that tonight, didn't you, in the waters of baptism?
These people understood what repentance was and they understood that they were submitting their lives to Christ, right? That’s not a very popular issue today. I have tried to address that a couple of times in books. And I don't think that people would necessarily argue against it theologically. I just think that they're so concerned that this thing not be too tough, that they want to minimize everything.
I just think what happens is if you don't take the Word of God seriously, or when you don't take it seriously, even though you think you might, when you really don't take it seriously, everything becomes minimalistic. Your view of God is minimized. Your estimate of worship is minimized. The message of the gospel is minimized. The role of the lordship of Christ is minimized and you get a general shallowness across the board.
And then something else follows. Corruption of the church through worldliness. It is inevitable that the minimalistic approach results in an unholy people. It results in – first of all, the church can’t be elevated to the level of godliness that honors the Lord because they don't know it. It’s not held up to them. They're not called to it at salvation. They're not held to it once they've come to Christ. And so, this minimalistic kind of thing results in a very worldly church and they tolerate that.
Church discipline doesn’t take place, as it ought to take place, because they just don't enforce that. And if they were to start, the question is, where would it end? Where would it end? Then they tolerate sin in the church and all is lost. So, it works down through kind of like that. I’m not sure that it’s always in that order or as crystal clear as that. But you get the sense of what I’m saying.
So, let me back to one final note. Once that’s happened, that little scenario, and I’m not taking the time to take you through all kinds of scriptures to illustrate it because I know you know it. What happens in the end then is a loss of authority in the pulpit. It’s a loss of authority. Now, all of a sudden you can try to cajole people and move them along and inspire them a little bit and motivate them a little bit. But, there’s no authority there because you can’t arbitrarily wield authority.
You either have it because you have the Word of God all the time, or you don't have it. You don't have authority. I mean if you don't take the Bible seriously some of the time, and you try to tell your people to take it seriously some other time, it just lacks authority, right? And you know the thing that’s so wonderful here, I remember years ago, when I decided to do a series on the family, and this place blew sky high because the feminists came. And I told you about that. And ABC and NBC were here and the National Organization of Women marched on our campus and attendance went up 1,000 in one week. And we had all these people filling up the choir loft back here. And they were the ones who came late so they were there – all the visiting unbelievers who wound up behind me during the sermon with all of you watching their faces.
And I got on – Jess Marlow interviewed me and he said, “Your women seem intelligent. We've interviewed these women. They seem intelligent. How in the world do you get them to buy into this? How do you get them to buy this thing about women submitting to men and raising children and not working and they and home and how do you? It doesn’t seem reasonable in this day and time.”
And my answer to him, and he was at NBC at that time, was, “It’s very simple. They are already completely committed to the authority of the Word of God. All I have to do is tell them what it says and they acknowledge it.” The issue of authority is established. It’s established.
And you've shown it again just in your giving the last couple of weeks. You always do that because you understand the Word of God is the authority. I stand up here and show you the Word of God and your heart eagerly embraces that truth.
But where the Word of God is not taken seriously in a church environment, when you try to get up there and lay something serious on them, you might be able to emotionally charge them, but they're not going to succumb to a powerful authority from scripture because they don't see the scripture as binding at every point.
And so, in the end, you have an inherent weakness that can’t be solved by just preaching and trying to turn it around. It can’t be solved easily. Sometimes pastors will ask me the question, “I’m in a church like that. What do I do?” and I said, simply, “The first thing you have to do is establish biblical authority and that is a great challenge.” That is a great – and you may not survive that. You may not make it. They may have a petition to get you out long before you get them under the Word of God because you're going to now invade their processes. You're going to invade their perceptions. You're going to invade their ideas about how you do church. You're going to invade their belief system. You're going to invade their relationships. When you start calling for an absolute commitment to the authority of the Word of God, you may not survive. You may not.
We find even the young men from our seminary, bright and aggressive and excited about ministry and full of energy and well-trained and go out in a church and then church will eat them up because of a resistance to come under the strong authority of the Word of God.
And I don't mean by that an abusive – I don't mean by that an overbearing on the part of church leadership. And certainly, I don't have any authority in your life apart from the Word of God. I don't have any authority, as the senior pastor, whatever that means. It just means I’m the old guy. I don't have any authority that I can wield because of my title. The only authority I have is in the pages of scripture. Once I step outside of the Bible I don't have any authority at all. At all.
I may have an opinion. I might have some wisdom. You might decide that my opinion or my wisdom is valid, but once you get me outside the pages of scripture, I have no authority. But inside the pages of scripture, as we open the Word of God, we have authority.
I look at our church and I – and I guess what I've told you kind of on a negative side, I’d like to re-cast, if I can, on the positive side for a moment because I really do believe that what has made this church unique is these very things that I have just addressed.
One, and the watershed for all of it, we take the Word of God seriously. Many years ago, when I came here, I told the people that we were going to take the Word of God at face value. Absolutely at face value. And I remember the first time that happened. And I went to the first elder’s meeting when I had first come here in 1969, February 9, 1969. We had an elder’s meeting and we sat down. And I was just a young guy in my 20s. I didn't know much at all. I knew I believed in the authority of the Word of God.
And they said to me – by the way, the first time I candidated here I preached an hour and a half. And I don't know why I did that. It was a stupid thing to do, and my wife told me that at the time. And she was right. And I don't know why I did that except that I was so excited about the passage that I had been studying all summer – Romans 7, and there was no clock on the back wall in the chapel. And I just got into the thing and I just did – I just – it just happened.
And afterwards, the elders came up to me and they said, “If you were our pastor would you give us the Word of God like that every week?” and I said, “Well, yes, but I wouldn't preach that long.” But they didn't ever ask about that. They wanted to hear the word.
I remember, they said to me, “We're ready to work. We just want someone who will show us what the Word of God says we're to do.” So, we came. The first time we had a meeting there was an interesting discussion because there was a gentleman in the church, a prominent, well-known individual in the church teaching a Sunday school class and very prominent. And his daughter wanted to get married to an unbeliever.
And so, they said, “There’s a wedding and she’s marrying this guy and he’s not a believer but we want to marry her here at the church and we want you to do the ceremony because we might win him to the Lord, and this is a good opportunity.” And I said, “Well, it is a good opportunity. It’s a good opportunity to decide how we're going to do this ministry here.” And I said, “Let’s go to the Word of God.”
And we went to the scriptures and I pointed out, I did know a few little things, and I pointed out to them that it is wrong for a believer to marry an unbeliever. I said, “That’s wrong. That’s a sin. That’s a violation of God’s commands.”
I said, “We can’t condone that. I can’t marry those people.” They said, “Okay. You don't have to do it but we’ll let somebody else do it and we’ll have the ceremony here and that’ll be a good compromise.” And I said, “Whose church is this?” They said, “It’s the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I said, “Then do we want to honor him in this church?” “Yes, we do.” I said, “Then there’s no way that we can either do this marriage or have this marriage here.” And they said, “You're right.”
Well, that whole family left the church but the die was cast. And from that moment on, we have never equivocated when we understood what the scripture says. Never. Because it is the authority. And I really believe that that was a very, very important issue. A number of people left the church over that issue. And that happens sometimes. I didn't want that to happen. I told you in the past that when I came to Grace Church I never asked God for more people. I only prayed that the people there wouldn't leave. That’s the truth. And I still haven't asked for anymore. I don't want to be responsible for all of you let alone more. I have to give an account to God for you and some of you are a long way from where I’d like to give that account.
I mean it’s a pretty heady responsibility, you understand that. So, but I just said, “Lord, please don't let them leave” because I’d seen pastors come to churches and people left. And they did leave, but we set our course and so we – and I did a series on the Bible. A series on the reliability of scripture. And went right through all the issues about the inspiration and authority of scripture and the reliability of scripture and we still have that in our tape ministry.
I’m sure I sound like a chipmunk so many years ago. But that was – and I talked so very, very fast. the old people were really, really, always concerned about that. And I always humored them by saying, “I know you think so much faster than I do, I’m trying to catch up to you.”
But we set our course then and we determined – as I look back over the ministry, we determined another watershed issue early on in the ministry was the glory of God. I did a message on the ultimate issue in the universe which is glorifying God, and we began to think about elevating God and honoring God and glorifying God. And it was easy to do that in a sense because it just kept flowing out of scripture.
For the first seven years, ever Wednesday night I taught through the Old Testament. We finally stopped after seven years in Psalm 73. And as we studied the Old Testament and the Psalms through those years, we were learning about God and about his nature and his character as well as learning about the character of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ as we studied the gospel of John in those early years.
And then we were concerned about true worship. We weren't concerned about gimmicks, or we weren't concerned about what was so enjoyable on the fleshly side but what really lifted God and elevated God. And we were concerned about great hymns and great hymnology and great theology and thinking what we were doing and saying.
And then we were concerned about the purity of the gospel and having a pure message and an accurate message. And that’s why I became, early on, concerned about the charismatic movement because I felt they misrepresented God. And they misunderstood the character of true worship.
And then I became concerned about the gospel, and I started to think about that and preach about that. We got into the beatitudes and the gospel of Matthew and things began to really shape up as we did that. The Sermon on the Mount.
The lordship of Christ became an issue very soon after that. We began to think about making sure Jesus was lord. And then we became concerned about church discipline and we became concerned about the holiness and virtue of our congregation. And we didn't want the church to be corrupted through worldliness. And that’s been basically the foundation of our church life.
And when I look at our church, those are the things that have set us apart. And the capper is that there’s authority in this church. It’s not human authority. It’s not the authority of a group of men. It’s not the authority of one individual. It’s the authority of the Word of God, and you understand that and you know that and you know we're committed to that.
Consequently, when God speaks, you listen. And that’s why the church is what it is. That’s why it is unique. That’s why it is unique. Nehemiah, chapter 8 verse 1, people talk about renewal today. I hear it all the time. “Renewal this, renewal that, revival here, let’s pray for renewal.” And there’s a simple statement in Nehemiah 8:1. “And the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the water gate,” and they asked Ezra the scribe, - here it is – “to bring the book” and then the revival broke out. And then the renewal happened.
Then the miracle of regeneration, the transformation of the people happened. Bring the book.
And I pray to God that this church continues to be the pillar and ground of the truth. That sets the course. We're committed to that at every level. We're committed to that through every level of our church ministry. We're committed to that in the elementary school. We have Grace Christian School, the Master’s College. We're committed to the seminary, to that very issue, so that we can produce other men who will go out and take the same pattern and build great churches – churches that honor God in other places, establishing them on the mission fields of the world wherever it may be.
But when you ask the question, “Why is Grace Church what it is?” that’s the answer. And you want to know something truthfully? Sometimes when I’m asked that and I answer that question I get disappointed looks because people would like to think you can build a big church and build a successful ministry a lot easier than this, but you can’t.
You can draw a crowd. You just can’t build a church. It’s not the way the Lord would have his church built. And I’m not saying we're there. I’m not saying we're what we ought to be, but I am saying we're on the right path to being what we ought to be.
We're not in an identity crisis here. We don't have an identity crisis. We understand what our mandate is. And we follow that mandate in the strength and the grace of our great God.
Well, those are the things that were on my heart to share with you tonight, and things for which I am thankful. Look, when you're – you're just a human being like I am and you all of a sudden pop into a position of spiritual responsibility, there are a lot of courses you could choose. There are a lot of options that you might take. And I thank God constantly that he put my feet in the path he put them in. and it all starts with a serious commitment to this Word which was given to me first of all by my grandfather and my own father, and then reinforced again and again by many mentors and teachers I had when I was young. That’s the course that this church has set in God’s grace and by his strength, will stay until Jesus comes. Amen? Amen.
Let’s pray together. Father, we thank you for your mercy to us as a church. We are not at all desirous of taking the credit. If ever, we have had a thought like that, forgive us for that sin. We're not proud of what we're done. We are humbled by what you've done with sinners such as we are. We know that we're not everything we ought to be but we thank you that you've shown us the path, and through the years you've given us the leadership to walk in it.
And from this place, you've sent out many to go and lead other churches both as pastors and lay people, as missionaries, to extend this wonderful, clear pattern of what the church is. And, father, we thank you that because we have endeavored to walk according to your Word, your hand of blessing has been upon us and you've multiplied this church and multiplied it again and again and again. And you've allowed it to influence all across the world. How thankful we are for that.
How humbled we are at that. And, Lord, keep us humbled. Keep us trusting. Keep us absolutely dependent and keep us fixed on those things we know to be true and right and according to your will. And, Lord, bless every precious person who’s a part of this church – member, non-member, every person. Father, may they find themselves in the flow of these great truths. May they find themselves the recipient of your abundant blessing as they walk in the path which you have established. And we’ll all give you praise and glory forever and ever. In the name of our Lord Jesus, Amen.
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