Not long ago, one of our professors at the seminary, Dr. Robert Thomas, who is known to many of you, and who was my Greek professor all through seminary, wrote a little article that I have in my hand, and it’s about precision. He talks about the importance of precision in all different realms of life, and then he talks about the matter of precision when it comes to the Bible.
Knowing him as I do, I understand his penchant for precision. He was educated as an engineer at Georgia Tech, a very precise thinker, and then on to seminary and particularly astute in the knowledge of the technicalities of the Greek language, again calling for very precise thinking and handling.
And in this little paper, he makes the point that people don’t often go heretical all at once; it is gradual. He says, “They do not do so intentionally most of the time; they simply slip into it through shoddiness and laziness in handling the Word of Truth.” It’s a very important insight. People don’t go heretical all at once; they just slip into it through shoddiness in handling the Word of Truth.
He further writes, “All it takes to start the road to heresy is a craving for something new and different. A flashy new idea, along with a little laziness or carelessness or lack of precision in handling the Word of God.” He says, “Precision is a compelling desire to master the truth of God in more definitive terms, to facilitate a more accurate presentation of that truth to others, and to safeguard against doctrinal slippage that leads to error and false doctrine.”
Now, Dr. Thomas is calling us to precision in biblical thinking, to precision in handling the Word of God. And I want you to understand that I am convinced that this is of great importance today because there is so great a lack of precision. It is apparent to me that in the particular society in which we live – and I’m talking about our church society – there is a great deal of shoddy thinking, a great deal of shoddy teaching, a great deal of laziness in terms of the pursuit of precise biblical thinking.
One writer was talking about a deceased English teacher, described her in this way, “She carried a permanent, militant grudge against mediocrity. Dissatisfaction is too weak a word for it. She had a holy revulsion against the status quo. She hated the second best with a perfect hatred, even when the second best was very good. ‘Work a little harder,’ she urged her students. ‘Press on to the very best.’
“She wanted students to study harder and she told them so. She wanted good teachers to teach better, good writers to improve their skills, a good college to be a better college. She wanted the bricklayer to lay his bricks a little straighter. She wanted the preacher to focus on the text a little more sharply. She wanted the evangelist to communicate the gospel a little more clearly.”
And then he closes the article by saying, “There are too many ballpark interpreters and expositors. The theological atmosphere of evangelism is saturated with a dense fog of uncertainty and misplaced emphases in handling the Word of God. Many churches are on the rocks because of careless hermeneutics, ignorance of biblical languages and unsystematic theology. Rough estimates as to what this or that passage means will not do. We need qualified expositors who will take the time and make the necessary sacrifices to do their homework well and bring clarity to the minds of God’s people as they read and stud God’s Holy Word.”
That, in a sense, distills what is on my heart. And I suppose, in part, it is the legacy of Dr. Thomas to me when I was his student. To think carefully and critically and deeply and precisely about the Word of God, and so to teach, seems to be the mandate to me of ministry. But it seems also, at the same time, that is not part of the sharp thinking of our day.
Recently, I flew to Chicago and then on to Philadelphia. The occasion of my going to Philadelphia was that I was asked by the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, an association which ordained me many years ago, if I would come and stand before the entire national convention and defend my teaching, defend my theology, my doctrine.
I walked into a crowded auditorium. I was late. You’re always late when you leave from Chicago. And I was – they told us we would land in ten minutes in Philadelphia, and then we circled over the Delaware River for a long time. And someone drove as fast as he could, and he was, I suppose, somewhat near the limit, but pressing it a bit to get me there on time.
I walked into a packed auditorium; I suppose there were about 800 official delegates and about 1,400 people who came. And I was told that I would be questioned, and that questions had been drawn from the delegates of the convention, put on paper, that I would be asked those questions.
I stood behind a pulpit, and there were two tables going out on each side of me, and at those tables were four or five men with microphones who were to follow up the printed question with any clarification questions they wanted to ask me. I had no idea what the questions were, and I was afraid I would have absolutely no idea what the answers were. And it was a long way to go if you didn’t know the answer, and not a good place not to know the answer.
The issue was simply this: when I teach the Bible, I am very definitive, or I tend to be very definitive, and I try to be precise as much as I can in my own weakness. I try not to just repeat things that have been said in the past, but to say things in a way that is clear and that perhaps digs a little bit deeper, maybe to say things in a way that is unfamiliar to some folks or maybe even to have a clearer understanding and to say something that people haven’t heard that way before. As a result of that, I say things dogmatically and precisely and definitively, and I say them frequently in ways that people perhaps have not heard in terms of terminology.
And so, what had happened was there was a mounting sort of suspicion that maybe my theology wasn’t biblical. Over the last few years, I have been attacked, as you well know, in a number of ways for what we teach here at Grace church, what we believe. I’m not alone in what I believe. As you know, we have a wonderful church, a board of elders, a pastoral staff. We have a college, a faculty there, a board of trustees there. We have a faculty in our seminary, and we have gifted, godly men who stand with me in these matters. But we’re not saying things that others are not saying or are saying contrary. It’s just that some people are not listening carefully to the things of the Word of God.
And so, there have been attacks against me, and they have fallen into a number of categories. Some people have said that I deny the blood of Christ. That has been going on for a number of years. In fact, the exact number of years since we started getting involved with The Master’s College. I’ll be very honest with you; I think the attack initially had very little to do with what I teach and everything to do with the college because it came out of another college. Also, other attacks have continued from other institutions on that issue.
Then there were some who were saying that I was denying the sinful nature of the Christian, that I was advocating that we were new creations in Christ Jesus and therefore that there was no longer a sin problem; we’d reached, by salvation, some kind of perfection or at least I was confused about the nature of a Christian.
Others were saying that I have denied my dispensational heritage and no longer held to dispensational theology – that is a theology that maintains the distinctness of the nation Israel and believes in a pre-millennial return of Christ and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. Some others were saying that I was denying the deity – the eternal deity of Jesus Christ, and others were accusing me of preaching lordship salvation.
Now, some of you have heard about this. A couple of days ago, I went to visit a very dear lady in our congregation. She has serious cancer; she is bedridden, can’t come to church, and periodically I go by to see her and pray with her. I went over the other day – I think it was Friday – and spent an hour with her. And she said to me, “John,” she said, “you believe in the blood of Christ, don’t you?”
And I said, “What in the world would ever make you ask that question?”
She said, “Well, I know you do because I’ve been coming to Grace long enough.” But she said, “My brother is a pastor, and somebody came into his church and said you don’t believe in the blood of Christ.”
So, I realized that this touches many people, and it touched many people across the country. And so, I was asked to go to Philadelphia and answer questions on those five categories. And so, I prayed and asked the Lord to give me the ability to do my best to respond to what was like going through ordination all over again.
And they asked me questions, and I did the best I could to answer their questions. And we had a wonderful time. They called me in two days, and they said, “You were affirmed by a two-thirds vote.” Now, you’re thinking what I’m thinking, what about the third? And all I can say is that I presented as clearly as I could what the Bible teaches on those issues, and I stand in the great tradition of the historic Christian church, but I’m afraid that there are a lot of folks out there, even well-meaning and good-intentioned folks, who do not understand clearly and carefully the Scriptures.
Later on I had to go in for another hour before the executive committee, and they asked me more questions, and I did my best to answer. And I came away from that – there’s some wonderful people and some precious people – and by the way, I said, “You know, we want to invite you to hold your whole national convention at Grace Community Church because we’d just like to love you and share our church with you. And you bring your delegates to California next year, and we would love to have as a part of our church and feed you the Word of God and let you have a great experience with the best church in America. And you know what? They voted to come. So, they’ll all be here next year. The same two-thirds will be here, and the same one-third will be here. I just want us to love them. They’ll be here toward the end of June for a week, from all across America. We’ll have the glorious privilege of ministering to them, and we’re very excited about that.
By the way, if you’re interested in what I said, they recorded it, and I think there’s some tapes available from Word of Grace. But you know, it points up to me, beloved, the issue of thinking clearly about the Word of God – thinking clearly about the Word of God.
I told you, a number of weeks ago, about the privilege I had to lead a young man to Christ who was dying of AIDS. You remember that? And he received Christ, and then within a week he died, and he’s now with the Lord. And as I thought about that situation of AIDS, I began to think about what AIDS is; AIDS is a deficiency in the immune system. When you die, you don’t die of AIDS; you die of another disease that invades your body because your immune system can’t fight. AIDS is a disease that destroys the immune system. And once the immune system is destroyed, the body can’t fight off any other diseases.
And I want to suggest to you that as I look at the church today, I see that the church is suffering, in many cases, from spiritual AIDS. It has a deficient immune system. It does not think critically, clearly, biblically, precisely well enough to defend itself from the onslaught of a myriad of diseases. If there is anything that we want to be committed to in our ministry, it is clear thinking about the Word of God. But this is not a time for a climate that’s going to tolerate doctrine and even precise thinking.
You say, “Where does this come from?”
Well, let me just give you three things that I think in retrospect, as people look back on this time of the church, they’re going to see. Three things that have really given a near-fatal blow to the church. The first one is the charismatic movement. The charismatic movement has affected the church in a profound way.
When I was growing up, Pentecostal people were a group of people sort of off to the side out of the mainstream. They had come into existence early in the twentieth century through some sort of ecstatic phenomena. They cultivated themselves into a little group, pretty much relegated to the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare and a few other smaller groups. But they were never really a part of the mainstream and evangelism in general and fundamental Protestantism looked at them as isolated.
But in our generation – really started in 1960 right here in Van Nuys, California, the birth of the modern Charismatic Movement, which has infiltrated all of Christendom to the degree that, for example, one of the stalwart radio ministries of our nation, which has broadcast our program for a long time, we recently had a series on the Holy Spirit in which I referred to the issue of tongues and taught what the Bible teaches on tongues. And they wrote us a letter and said, “Don’t do that again or we won’t play it because our radio network is committed to peace.”
And our response was, “You used to be committed to truth. What happened? What happened?” But that’s the climate.
I heard a man on television, and he was preaching at his people, and he said to the television audience, as well as this congregation, he said, “If you’re in a church where they don’t speak in tongues, and if you’re in a church where they don’t practice the full gifts of the Holy Spirit and signs and wonders and healings, get out of that church.”
I want you to know that if I ever tried to say on the radio, “If you’re in a church that advocates tongues and advocates healing and ecstatic gifts, get out of that church,” they’d edit it out. I can’t say that. No one can say that. We can be attacked as being unloving, out of the mainstream of the movement of the Spirit, but we can’t say anything without being censored if we speak the truth of the Word of God regarding the Charismatic Movement. I’m not saying that there’s all bad in the movement.
People always ask me, “Are charismatics going to heaven?”
Sure. And I’m not saying that many of them are not Christians; many of them are. But the Charismatic Movement – and I want you to listen carefully to what I say – has created an environment which is anti-doctrine, which is anti-precision, which wants to make everybody the interpreter of the Bible. And the byword is, “What does the Bible mean to me?” Do you want to know something? That’s irrelevant. It’s not what the Bible means to you that’s important; it’s what does the Bible mean period. And if you want to add a direct object, what does it mean to God? What’s He saying?
But what you have is everyone has the right for the Holy Spirit to tell them the Bible means this. You turn on the television, you watch one charismatic preacher after another, and they will say things about the Bible that aren’t remotely related to truth, that are not proper interpretations of Scripture at all. And the devastating effect of this is not only to teach error as if it was truth or, worse yet, to teach that there really is no truth but whatever you think is the truth – that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that this fast-moving movement that has captured the media has created a climate which won’t tolerate doctrine. That’s the bottom line. And I want to think precisely, carefully about the things of God.
Now, please know many of these are wonderful people, redeemed people, the chosen of God – although they don’t know it; they think they chose Him. They’re wonderful people, but they have not only taught error as if it were truth, but they have created a climate of tolerance for every teacher teaching everything, and every person with their Bible coming up with every interpretation that literally resists doctrine. And I think, as you look back someday in this century, you’re going to say, if you live long enough, “That was a disastrous thing.”
The church rejects the teacher – the pastor-teacher – in favor of everybody’s opinion. Who are the – where are the definitive teachers, the clear-cut teachers? Even some of the best institutions that train pastors are moving to a second thing that I think is threatening the church and that’s pragmatism. We live in a pragmatic day – right? I mean this whole culture is into pragmatism. Everything has to work. What works? Everything is utilitarian. Everything is valued on the basis of how effective is it in producing results? Totally a result-oriented, goal-oriented culture.
So, the church now is moving away from doctrine, away from teaching, away from preaching to whatever draws a crowd, whatever attracts.
People sometimes – in fact, recently, someone said to me, “You know, we ought to have programs on Sunday night. We ought to really draw crowds. We could just – we could have all kinds of programs on Sunday night.”
My response was, “Well, let’s say God gives me another ten years at Grace, that’s 520 Sunday nights. Do you want to program them all? What are we going to run for 520 Sunday nights? And what are we going to improve on beyond the Word of God, and the testimony of redeemed people in baptism, and the singing of gospel songs to the glory of God? Well, how could we improve on it? You got something better than that?”
But you see, the mood of the time says we’ve got to give them what they want because we live in an entertainment-oriented culture and we’re facing that reality. But the church is moving toward pragmatism. And I’ll tell you, the pressure is on to capitulate – to capitulate.
When I was up ministering recently at a church, some people came to me and said, “Oh, you know, all we’ve had for so many years is programs, programs, programs. We are so hungry for the Word of God. All we want is true worship. We’re so tired of shallowness.” They were pouring out their hearts. You know? And these dear people saying, “Oh, we just long for the meat of the Word; we just long...”
And what was so interesting about it was that I had just come from lunch with a person in our church who took me to lunch who said, “I’m leaving the church.”
I said, “Why?”
“All your sermons. Frankly, they’re just boring. You need to tell more stories.” And he said, “There’s just not enough stories.”
I said, “Well, you better go somewhere else because God didn’t call me to tell stories. God called me to preach the Word.” And I suppose – thank you – I suppose someday I’ll be standing here all by myself and Patricia will be there because she has to come. But I’ll go to the grave doing what God called and gifted me to do. I really don’t – in fact, I can’t do anything else, folks, if the truth were known. Don’t tell anybody.
Young guys always say to me, “Well, if you weren’t a preacher, what would you be?”
My answer is, “A bum. I don’t think I could make a living.”
But the church is moving toward pragmatism. I recently had occasion to see a church musical in which there was dancing, profanity, rock music, so forth. I met with the pastor of that church and said, “What in the world are you trying to accomplish?”
“I’m trying to attract people.”
Do you believe that people are saved by the cleverness of men? Do you believe that people are saved by manipulation? Do you believe spiritual growth is a result of how clever we are? I believe that everything spiritual happens by spiritual means, not by fleshly ones. But the church is moving toward pragmatism.
There’s a third thing, and I’ll stop with this, that has encroached upon the life of the church in this generation, and I think times is going to look back and see it, and that is psychology. Not only the Charismatic Movement, pragmatism, but psychology. We are living literally in a day when psychology has moved in and swept the church away.
I told you about the guy I heard in a Christian talk radio program, and he said he’s a counselor who works with young people and does family counseling. And they asked him, you know, where was he trained. And he said, “I just got my Ph.D. in psychotheology.” What is a psychotheologian? The only thing I could think of is a theologian who kills people. I’ll tell you what; I wouldn’t carry the label of a psychotheologian.
There’s no such thing as psychotheology. Theology doesn’t limp. It doesn’t need another leg to walk. It doesn’t need a crutch. I’m just about ready to write another book. I’m always read to write another book. Get ready, folks; I want to write a book on the sufficiency of spiritual things. We’ve talked about the sufficiency of Christ, the sufficiency of spiritual resources, the sufficiency of the Scripture, the sufficiency of the Spirit. And yet today, the church has a deficient view of sufficiency. We keep wanting to introduce psychology into this thing. And I think that it’s tragic.
I’ve told you some of the terrible things that I hear – quote-unquote – Christian psychologists say. We get replaced sometimes on the radio by Christian psychologists. The church is being really deceived. And you see, because of these things, we don’t think critically. If you take a strong stand on doctrine, people get mad at you because you’ve been too definitive. If you take a strong stand on the purity of the church to teach the Word and carry out spiritual ministry towards spiritual goals with spiritual means, they think you’ve got your head in the sand and you’re archaic. And if you say you believe the Word of God is sufficient for every spiritual need and every need I ultimately spiritual, they think you’re just uneducated.
So, I just want you to know, folks, that that’s where we stand. And I don’t want there to be any questions in your mind where Grace church is or where I am, and I just want you to know this is where we’re going to be, and I don’t think that the heat’s going to go down; I think it’s going to go up.
But I want you to know this; we’re going to continue to be true to the one thing that we know we can be true to and be in the dead center of God’s will and that’s His Holy Word. And these things will pass, and they will ebb and flow, but this will never change – never change.
This particular battle is not a new one. The other day, a friend of mine called me, and we were chatting on the telephone, and he said, “I’ve been reading a book.” And he said, “The title of that book is The Forgotten Spurgeon.” And he said, “As I read this book, I keep thinking about you. Spurgeon was a battler, and you are, too. Spurgeon was always trying to deal with issues, and you are, too.” And he said, “In fact, as I’ve been reading, you guys both deal with the same issues, and it seems to me that the church keeps cycling back through the same problems and the same time periods without discernment that put it in the same danger - well, periods without discernment that put it in the same danger.
Well, I would like to be mentioned in the same breath with Spurgeon. I don’t know whether that’s legitimate or not. He was a fighter. He was a warrior. He was a soldier for the truth. H was a battler. He took on the issues of his day. On the one hand, he was the prince of preachers, the greater orator maybe in modern history. At the same time, he had many enemies. While the flocking of the crowds obviously were there, and the interest of the newspapers, and the world really watching him was a reality, his detractors were also a reality.
One of the sermons that he preached 103 years ago this month, in July of 1886, includes an interesting little parable. And he was great, because of his creative genius, at developing parables to illustrate spiritual principles. This is what he wrote or really preached, and this was copied down. “In the days of Nero, there was great shortness of food in the city of Rome, although there was abundance of corn to be purchased at Alexandria. A certain man who owned a vessel went down to the seacoast, and there he noticed many hungry people straining their eyes toward the sea, watching for the vessels that were to come from Alexandria with corn.
“When these vessels came to the shore one by one, the poor people wrung their hands in bitter disappointment, for on board the galleys there was nothing but sand which the tyrant emperor had compelled them to bring for use in the arena. He had commandeered all the ships to bring sand rather than food. It was infamous cruelty, when men were dying of hunger, to command trading vessels to go to and fro and bring nothing else but sand for gladiatorial shows when wheat and corn was so greatly needed.
“Then the merchant whose vessel was moored by the key, said to his shipmaster, ‘Take thou good heed that thou bring nothing back with thee from Alexandria but corn, and whereas a foretime thou has brought in the vessel a measure or two of sand, bring thou not so much as would lie upon a penny this time. Bring thou nothing else, I say, but wheat, for these people are dying, and now we must keep our vessels for this one business of bringing food for them.’
“Alas, I have seen certain mighty galleys of late loaded with nothing but mere sand of philosophy and speculation. And I have said, within myself, nay, but I will bear nothing in my ship but the revealed truth of God, the bread of life so greatly needed by the people. God grant us this day that our ship may have nothing on board that may merely gratify the curiosity or please the taste, but that there may be necessary truths for the salvation of souls.
“I would have each one of you say, ‘Well, it was just the old, old story of Jesus and His love and nothing else.’ I have no desire to be famous for anything but preaching the gospel. There are plenty who can fiddle to you the new music; it is for me to have no music at any time but that which is heard in heaven. Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory forever and ever.” And with that introduction, he launched into his sermon.
I feel like that. That captures my own feeling. I am not interested in bringing you the sand of entertainment. I am interested in bringing you the wheat of nourishment. And that is how one in my position helps people set their defenses; that’s how you have an efficient immune system when you understand the truth of the Word of God.
Recently a book came out called Preach the Word, by the very title of it you can assume to whom it is written, written by R. L. Reymond, and in it he writes this, “On and on we could go, cataloging still other doctrinal declensions in modern Christendom away from the norm of scriptural truth.” Now, that is a concern of his and a thesis in his book, that there is a continuing and escalating decline, if you will, if those two terms are not contradictory, in interest in scriptural truth.
He further writes, “I say it with sadness, but in my opinion it is true nonetheless, that at a time when opportunities for the church of Jesus Christ to make real advances were never better, a theological illiteracy, which invites the rise of wholesale heresy, pervades the church.” He says, “It is traceable to apostate clergymen and to a distressing lack of theologically articulate spokesmen, among evangelicals, capable of correcting the maladies that afflict the church.” End quote.
What he is saying is absolutely correct. Apostate clergymen and inarticulate spokesmen incapable of speaking theologically and biblically have created maladies that afflict the church by their inability to fight off the invasion of disease.
There is a significant quote out of a book by Benjamin Warfield, written a number of years ago. That man is long with the Lord with a past generation. But in this book, there is a quote that says there was a growing tendency to deem it of prime importance that they should enter upon the ministry accomplished preachers, and of only secondary importance that they should be scholars, thinkers, and theologians.
Writes Warfield, “It is not so that great or even good preachers are formed. They form themselves before they form their style of preaching. Substance with them precedes appearance instead of appearance being a substitute for substance. They learn to know truth before they think of presenting it. They acquire a solid base for the manifestation of their love of souls through a loving, comprehensive, absorbing study of the truth which saved souls.” And Warfield there, by the way, is quoting another man by the name of flint.
Then Warfield writes, “In these winged words is outlined the case for the indispensableness of systematic theology for the preacher. It is summed up in the proposition that it is through the truth that souls are saved, that it is accordingly the prime business of the preacher to present this truth to men, and that it is consequently his fundamental duty to become himself possessed of this truth.” End quote from Warfield.
Then Reymond further writes – and I think it worthy of reading – “I take for granted from the fact that you the reader have proceeded with me to these concluding remarks that you are interested in and committed to the acquisition of a sound theology. Covenant with God to learn all that you can from His inscripturated revelation to His church about what men are to believe concerning Him, His Christ, and His great salvation; and what duty God requires of them; and to preach what He teaches you to the dear church for whom Christ died, for the improvement of its health and the equipping of His children for those good works which God Himself has decreed for it. And while it will ever be the case that it is He alone who can give the increase, bathe your entire labor for Him in the fervent prayer that you may be used to plant His Word and to water it in the souls of needy men.” End quote.
Now, whether you’re talking about a new book, or whether you’re talking about a Benjamin Warfield a few decades ago, or whether you’re going a hundred years ago to Spurgeon, the plea is always the same. We must feed the wheat. It is of no use to deliver the sand that provides the entertainment; the people must have the feeding of the Word of God. Without it, there will be scriptural illiteracy. Without it there will be lack of discernment. Without it there will be spiritual AIDS, and the church will not be able to throw off the diseases that invade and threaten its very existence.
So, we are committed, at Grace church, over the long haul, to teach the Word of God. Now, that’s not going to change. That’s going to be our commitment. You don’t ever need to ask that question, “What’s going to be the emphasis of the ministry here.” That’s the only one that we have biblically.
But I want to go a little bit aside from that - even though that, of course, is that to which we have committed ourselves – to focus on some of the diseases that threaten the church for which there must be a clear-cut, developing, spiritual understanding. I am very concerned that if the church does not build theology in certain areas, it is going to be invaded tragically. And I want to share these areas, these regions, if you will, where the church seems to me to be very vulnerable. If you like, we could call these the encroaching diseases on the church.
I suggested to you that the spiritual AIDS in the church, in many ways, is the product of a charismatic, psychological, pragmatic mindset. Those were the three contributing factors that sort of gave us the disease. Now, what, because of this, are the diseases that invade the church? And let me suggest a few of them to you tonight, and these are the places where I really do believe we have to put together a clear-cut theology. Here are the areas where I believe the church has to look critically at its vulnerability. And they’re not in any particular order other than the order in which I wrote them down.
Number one, I believe the church has a serious disease that I’ll call love of the creature that exceeds love of the Creator. Love of the creature that exceeds love of the Creator. If you could reduce human depravity to any one manifestation, you would have to say that the baseline evidence of human depravity is creature love over Creator love. Right? Isn’t that Romans 1, that the problem with man in his fallenness is that he loves the creature more than the Creator? That’s the bottom line. That is the essence of the proof of human fallenness.
What is curious to me is that instead of the church recognizing that self-love rather than the love of God is a problem, it now sees self-love as a factor in human spiritual development. And it’s the kind of theology that focuses on human need as if it was the key to sanctification. Self-fulfillment, a desire to have all of my problems solved and all of my needs met.
Gary Ezzo was sharing with me before the service tonight. He said, “The number one problem we see in parenting today is the idea that the primary role that a parent has is to make sure that all the needs of the children are met.” And a couple of the compelling things that are behind that are these: the parent says, “Look, I never had that when I was a kid, and I’m going to make sure that my children have that.” And so, the focus becomes child-centered parenting, and that is disastrous - attempting to give to your children everything you never had. And then, in other cases, believing that somehow you can capture the love and affection, and you can even capture your children for Christ and for your values and your morals and your ethics if you just continue to give them things and essentially satisfy all their whims.
It finds its way into all of the life of the church, this love of the creature that exceeds the love of the Creator. Rather than pursuing Christ, we pursue self-fulfillment. It shows up in a number of ways. It shows up in some very crass ways. Giving, in the church, has descended from about 3.5 percent per individual to 2.7 percent. Neither of those statistics is particularly encouraging, but a few years ago, the average person was giving 3.5 percent; now it’s down to 2.7. People have more than they’ve ever had; they give less. And statistically, charitable giving, they did a study on that - I mentioned it to you a number of months ago - and in the study of charitable giving across America, they segmented population groups - $10,000.00 groups from $0.00 to $100,000.00 – to find out what income group gave the most to charity. The highest percentage was 3 percent; it was given by the $0.00 to $10,000.00 group. The people with the least gave the most. The lowest was something like .3 percent or .4 percent, and that was the group from $80,000.00 to $100,000.00. The more you have, the less you give. Why? Because you are bent on meeting your own needs. I read an article in a magazine. I asked them not to publish it; they published it anyway. But I read an article in a magazine that advocated as a Christian magazine; it goes out to pastors. It advocated that you drop the Sunday night service in the church, forget it because people need time to be together with their families; they need time, and church just gets in the way of cultivating real relationships. What are you talking about? You mean to say you can’t cultivate a relationship at church, you can only cultivate a relationship if you go to a movie or go to a ballgame or go to a park or watch television? Who are they kidding? That kind of advocacy doesn’t even understand basic facts.
There was a lot of this going on, and people are advocating the disintegration of the Sunday night service so people are free to have more recreational time, to cultivate personal fulfillment, family fulfillment. I have people say to me every once in a while, “Oh, we don’t come to church on Sunday night because that’s our family time.” What are you telling me, you’re all gathered around the TV? What are you telling me, you’re all in the backyard or Mom’s in the kitchen, you’re in the garage working on something, and the kids are playing catch, and there is no family involvement? Or are you saying, “Well, we certainly couldn’t come and get involved in worship and then go home and talk about the things of God”?
Through the years, the richest and best times in our family are the debriefing times after father has preached. And then we have what we call family application time. Those are rich times. The dialogue of our life is around the things of God.
One of the fallouts of this love of the creature more than the love of the Creator is a diminished capacity for worship – a diminished capacity for worship. That’s why a number of years ago I preached a series – do you remember it – on the ultimate priority, worship? And out of it came a taped series, and out of it came a book which has already been relegated to the back shelf somewhere because people in our society aren’t interested in worship – I mean true worship. Worship is contemplating the person and work of Almighty God and offering Him praise for it in a conscious act of the mind. It is not an unconscious emotion. It is not a fuzzy feeling. “You worship in spirit and in truth,” Jesus said.
So, the church, I believe, today is suffering from a decreased capacity for worship. They don’t know how to worship. And the contributing factor largely is that we’re so into our own selves that it’s next to impossible to lose ourselves in the contemplation of the awesome majesty of God. And even in saying that, I know that for many people “Does not compute” comes up on the screen because you can’t even relate to the fact that you can’t worship because you can’t worship. So, how can you understand what it is? We’re a long way from the deep, profound contemplation on God that is true of some cultures, some societies past and even present.
Let’s talk about a second disease that touches the church that runs along the line of this first one. Let’s call it the pursuit of things over relationships. Here is another disease that I think is infiltrating the church. A lot of talk about relationships, a lot of talk about the fact that we need to lose ourselves in the lives of people, and we need to love each other and give ourselves to each other. And yet the bottom line is that we pursue things with a passion. And it just cuts the heart out of relationships.
I’ll give you an illustration. I was in the Radio Bible Conference in Ventura, and we were sitting at a table eating dinner, and a waitress – actually, she was the hostess for the dining room at this place where we had dinner – came up and said, “I want to introduce myself to you. I’m a Christian, and I listen to Grace to You all the time, and I want to meet you.” And she talked, and I could see that she was – she was imminent to deliver, great with child.
And I said, “My, you’re going to have a baby very soon; isn’t it about time for you to stop your working?”
“Oh,” she said, “yep.” She said, “I’m going to have to take two weeks off when this baby’s born.”
I said, “Two weeks off?”
“Oh,” she said, “yeah. I’ll take two weeks off before I can come back to work.”
I said, “You mean you’re not going to stay home and take care of this baby?”
“Oh,” she said, “I can’t.”
I said, “What do you mean you can’t?”
“Well,” she said, “my husband and I bought a large home, and I have a mortgage that has to be paid.”
And my instant response – and I probably was a little out of line – was, “You have a mortgage? You have a baby! You don’t mean you would sacrifice a baby for a mortgage?” But that is precisely what she meant. That is exactly what she meant, and she was sorry that she ever introduced herself to me in the first place. I said, “May I be so bold as to suggest to you that you should keep your child and lose your house before you should keep your house and lose your child?”
But we’re into things. We’re into things. I was listening on the radio as I was driving in, and three out of four homebuyers – this guy was giving a report – three out of four homebuyers are buying bigger houses. Three out of four. Now think about that mathematically. That’s going to make an interesting crunch at the top end, and a whole lot of empty houses at the other end.
But apart from that, they asked this expert, “What do people look for?” The first thing they said was curb appeal. Is it the kind of house that when somebody pulls up to it they’ll go, “Wow,” and you’ll feel proud that you own this house? It’s all feeding ego.
And they said the second thing you look for in a home is entry appeal - curb appeal was number one. Entry appeal. When you open the door, do you go, “[Gasp]”? The first thing I look for in a house? Does it have air conditioning? The second thing I look for in a house? Does it keep the rain out? But we are into curb appeal and entry appeal. Never met a person in India who was interested in curb appeal or entry appeal. We are into a whole different mentality.
By the way, he gave five things; none of them had anything to do with function at all – at all. They all had to do with mystique. And the newest thing is four car garages – four car garages. It’s really amazing where our society is going. As a boy growing up, I had a little bedroom with two twin beds. I was in one; my grandmother was in the other.
You say, “But you had no privacy!”
Right. I had no privacy. But I didn’t know I needed any. I really wasn’t going to do anything I didn’t want anybody seeing. I wasn’t – I couldn’t listen to anything – I’ll tell you, when your grandmother’s in there, it does affect the radio situation. Especially also if your grandmother snores, it affects - That was life.
I remember Esther Phan, this wonderful missionary – Chinese missionary we met in Hong Kong, said to me the most traumatic moment of her life - the most traumatic moment of her life was her honeymoon because she had been raised – get this – in a 700 square foot tenement with four entire families. And her honeymoon night was traumatic because it was the first time in her life she’d ever been alone in any place with only one person. She couldn’t handle it. Amazing how our culture has changed. You have parents seeking things and things and things and things, and they’ve got curb appeal, and they’ve got entry appeal, and the kids are on drugs. Right?
You say, “Why does this happen?” I’ll tell you. This is the first – you know, this is the first century of advertising. Do you know that? This is the first century that any people have ever been exposed to mass advertising. You see, it used to be, before this century, that you bought something because you – what? – you got – you knew that; I didn’t even have to tell you that. You bought it because you needed it. And I’ll tell you, if you didn’t need it – what? – you didn’t buy it.
Now, look around your house and identify everything you don’t need. Amazing, isn’t it? Amazing. Well, why do you have that stuff? Because people keep telling you to get it. It’s image. It’s part of image. We’ve been sold image instead of need. And this comes into the church, and you have people who are running fast to acquire, to purchase, to buy. And in the process, the children’s division, the youth division, the college department is trying to pick up the pieces of kids who have no relationship with their parents. We don’t know what relationships are.
We’re like the little boy this morning who’s on his fourth daddy. Devastating our society. How does this impact the church? I’ll tell you how it impacts the church. Here we are, a bunch of people madly pursuing the building of our own little kingdom. And the Bible tells us that we’re supposed to intensely, intimately fellowship with one another around the deep things of God. And you know, to be honest with you, we don’t have time or interest in that. That’s a tough turnaround. Very difficult because of the continuing isolationism that the pursuit of things creates. People are judged by the kind of car they drive, not the strength of their marriage. They’re judged by the curb appeal of their house, not the character of their children. And when that comes into the church, people who are supposed to be intimately related for significant benefit to one another, as the Spirit ministers mutually, can’t find the space or the time to care. It’s tragic – absolutely tragic. And so, the church is crippled relationally.
There’s a third disease that’s encroaching on the life of the church. Let’s call it a fixation on entertainment over truth. A fixation on entertainment over truth. We’re into entertainment. We’re into feeling, not thinking. In fact, I tell you, everything – everything today is entertainment. Everything. We are on a fast track to be entertained. It doesn’t matter what it is; it’s all got to be entertainment. Every bit of it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about that which is identified as entertainment or that which isn’t identified as entertainment, in order for us to handle it, it has to be entertaining.
And somebody said to me one time, “Well, what about the news? The news isn’t entertainment.”
Of course it is. The news on television? You don’t think those people sitting there, giving you the news, are politically astute. You don’t think they’re socioeconomic theorists. You don’t think they’re Ph.D.s, do you? They’re talking hairdos. They’re there because they have sex appeal; they look credible; they can read a teleprompter with a smile and a look of believability. Oh, a few of them may be astute, but that’s entertainment. They’re not giving you the news because they don’t give you anything deep enough to make you think at all. I mean when is the last time you saw something on the news that made you change the way you do anything? It’s all irrelevant. It’s sheer entertainment. You watch it because it’s entertaining. They’re appealing to your visual response. I mean they said today on the TV, “There’s a fire,” and then they showed a picture of fire. And I thought to myself, “I can handle fire without a picture.” But some people couldn’t just sit there and listen to a guy describe a fire. You have to see little flames; go, “Oh, fire. I identify with that.”
Today I had the happy experience of watching the fire not on my TV but on my porch since it’s burning where I live. But that’s entertainment. It’s just another form of entertainment. They never tell you enough to make a significant thought or to draw a significant conclusion, and no story ever lasts longer than about 30 seconds to a minute. It’s just jerking you emotionally. And they keep it moving so fast, and they intersect all kinds of emotional events to pull your emotions back and forth.
And so, in watching the news, you’re sort of jerked around emotionally. And that’s what television is meant to do. You turn on a program, whatever it might be, and it’s meant to appeal to you emotionally, not intellectually. And so, you sit there, and you just get your emotions pulled and yanked and torn in every direction, and that’s watching one program. Then you get that thing in your hand, and you just keep cranking that deal around, and you can be emotionally drained in about 15 minutes because you’ve seen it all.
I wanted to experiment a little bit this afternoon, so I turned on the TV, and I started hitting that deal. I was astounded when I began to think of what I was exposed to: smashing cars with bodies flying all over in some auto race; deep emotion in a golf tournament, watching the guy who was losing, his wife was biting her lip – you know? I mean it’s just one thing after another. It generates very little if any thought. You don’t come away feeling you learned anything. We’re into emotion and entertainment, feeling over thought. Everything is reduced to entertainment.
I recently was given, by one of the professors at The Master’s College, the new little brown reader, which while it sounds to be a bit childish, is anything but. It is a little brown reader produced for those who are in the English area of study.
There’s an article in it by Paul Robinson. Paul Robinson is a professor at Stanford University. In fact, he’s a history professor. The article is entitled, “TV Can’t Educate.” Listen to what he says. “Learning requires one kind of time. Visual media are bound to another kind of time. In learning, one must be able to freeze the absorption of fact or proposition at any moment in order to make mental comparisons to test the fact or proposition against known facts and propositions, to measure it against the formal rules of logic and evidence. In short, to carry on a mental debate.
“Television is a matter of seconds, minutes, and hours. It moves inexorably forward. And thus, even with the best will in the world (a utopian assumption), it can never teach. In the last analysis, there is only one way to learn: by reading.” Do you know why God gave us a book? “That’s how you’ll find out.”
Then he says this, “The worst thing on TV is educational TV. Educational TV corrupts the very notion of education and renders its victims uneducable. Complete ignorance would be preferable, because ignorance at least preserves a mental space that might someday be filled with real knowledge.” He doesn’t like educational TV. Why?
Well, as he says, and as perhaps even more clearly elucidated in the book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, “Whatever form of communication a culture develops will dictate how that culture thinks.” And here’s the illustration Postman uses, “The prior generation basically had as a means of communication typography, a typographic mode” – that means print. “In a typographic society, where things are put in print, thinking occurs, cognition, thought. Why? Because print freezes thoughts. And as soon as a thought is frozen on a page, you can look at it, you can analyze it, you can assess it, you can compare it, you can evaluate it, you can synthesize it.” As he says – as Paul Robinson said, “You can have a mental debate. And you study it, and you muse on it, and you interphase it with other matter in your mind, and that’s how you learn.”
So, a typographic culture will be a thinking society. He uses the illustration of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He says, “When Lincoln debated Douglas for the presidency of the United States, those two men stood toe to toe for seven hours. Seven hours in a political debate, debating theory of politics, national government, economics. And people stood outside for seven hours and listened to the reasoned debate between Lincoln and Douglas. Now, compare that with the Bush-Dukakis campaign. What reason was there there? Who thought of anything? The whole approach was 30-second commercials on TV. They didn’t want you to think or analyze; all they wanted you to do was see a bunch of filth in the corner of Boston Harbor and get emotionally upset because Dukakis gunked up Boston Harbor. So, you don’t like him. How cognitive is that? Or they want to show George Bush patting little babies and putting his arms around farmers so you feel warm about George Bush. There’s nothing to do with reason, theory.”
Then Postman goes a step further, and he says, “If you want to see this more graphically, look at Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher of the American Revival, the Great American Awakening. He was used by God greater than any preacher in America, at least as the key person in that great – the greatest of any revivals we’ve known.”
And do you know that Jonathan Edwards, at the age of five, began to master Latin, Greek, and Hebrew? At the age of five. And do you know that Jonathan Edwards was so profound and so literary that his treatise on religious affections is one of the greatest pieces of American literature in the history of our nation? It is profound, erudite. And do you know that Jonathan Edwards preached in a monotone voice and read his sermons from a manuscript? Can you imagine listening to a preacher standing still, reading in a monotone off a manuscript?
You say, “Why did he do that?”
Because he didn’t want anybody to respond to his technique but only to truth.
You say, “Could people stand it?”
Yeah. Halfway through his sermons, it is said, they cried for salvation. They pleaded for God to save them. How could they follow that? Because they knew how to think. They were in a typographic culture which bred cognitive abilities. Postman says, “We are no longer in that culture. We have vestiges of it; the books are still around.”
But we are in a photographic-telegraphic culture. And the combination of photographic-telegraphic is not words on a page – it’s what? – pictures. We’re into pictures. If you think we’re into it, wait till the next generation gets there. We’re going to raise a generation that can’t even appreciate music because it isn’t a music video. They won’t even be able to appreciate sound of music without something to go along with it to entertain their visual capacities. And it’s obvious that they’ve lost the ability to reason regarding music, because contemporary music is utterly irrational. We are raising a generation of people who will feel and emote but not think. And what is the church doing? The church is saying, “Well, they want entertainment? We’ll give them entertainment.” That’s a challenging thing. That challenges me. I mean I come in here on a Sunday morning, and I say, “Well, folks, let open our Bibles to study this passage.”
And, you know, people say, “Oh no. Not that again. You know, where are the dancing girls? Where are the racing cars? Turn the deal, push the button. You know? We need a break.” It’s very challenging.
People are saying, “Well, you should never preach more than 15 or 20 minutes. I mean you’ll lose them.”
That’s pretty much standard stuff today; 25 minutes at the very most because a half-an-hour is the limit. And so, we have a society of people in the church who have no meditative skills, who have little cognitive ability, and I fear the next generation. What in the world is it going to be like 15 years from now, when I stand up to preach, if I’m still clothed and in my right mind – and I pray that I will be? A generation of young people are going to be saying, “We can’t stand this guy. We want a movie or a musical group or whatever, but get him off. Enough is enough, 15 minutes of that guy is more than anybody ought to endure.”
A generation of people who can’t think, don’t think, and who can only feel. You know what’s so deadly about that? People will make choices not on the basis of clear thinking, but on the basis of feeling. That’s a bad reason to make choices. And preachers will begin, rather than appealing to the mind, to appeal to the emotion and manipulate.
Compare Jonathan Edwards with the romping, stomping, comedic kinds of TV preachers that you see so much of today. A far cry. They’re, in a sense, a form of entertainment given to a society that finds it difficult, if not impossible, to think.
I believe that what we have to do is reestablish a theology of worship, reestablish the priority of relationships, and reestablish the essential quality of thinking, reasoning, studying, learning from the Word of God. And I won’t give in on those because those are diseases that can literally threaten the existence of a church with spiritual AIDS. We’ve got to have an efficient immune system to guard those kinds of things.
Well, am I coming through? Feel the beat of my heart a little bit on this? I have a few more things, but I have to wait till next week. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You tonight for the joy of being together. What a wonderful day it’s been, and I thank You for these dear people; what a joy to be with them and to share my heart. And, Lord, we haven’t looked deeply into your Word tonight, which is really our life bread, but these things reflect perception that will help us be motivated to look there and to know what to look for.
So, tie these things in, Lord, to the truth of Your Word so they might have substance and form and make a difference in our lives, and in this church, and in the church in this nation and around the world, in Christ’s name, amen.
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