PHIL: Hi, I’m Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, and I am here with John MacArthur for one of our in-studio discussions. And, John, this time we’re actually interrupting your vacation in order to record this, so thanks for giving us this time.
JOHN: No, it’s a delight and a joy to be able to do this. A vacation for me is just a bit of a break from the study and preparation and preaching, and I don’t necessarily have to go very far away. So I’m glad I was around for this.
PHIL: Me too. It’s a delight for me too. It’s, in fact, one of the perks of my job; and also one of the chief joys of my life, to be able to sit down with you from time to time and just fire questions at you. And we like to use these sessions, these recorded sessions to tackle important issues that all of us as believers struggle with. And today we want to talk about the sort of spiritual meltdown in Western culture, and how we as Christians should respond.
JOHN: Yeah. Well, I think everybody who’s a Christian who has any sense at all, any common sense at all about what’s going on in the world understands that Christianity is under attack everywhere. The gospel is under attack, the Bible is under attack; Christian convictions, doctrine under attack. I think what’s so surprising about a lot of this is the unwillingness of the church to stand up against this attack and affirm sound doctrine and truth, and the absolute exclusivity of the gospel and the authority of the Bible.
So what that does is sort of speed up the meltdown because there just doesn’t seem to be any resistance. Not surprising when you think about it because the church has been literally drinking in pragmatism for a long, long time, and trying to adapt to the culture, trying to please the culture, trying to appeal to people in the culture without having to change their lives. So we’ve capitulated so often to the culture that now when the culture becomes the enemy, a rather violent enemy of the church, the weakened, compromised church doesn’t know what to do.
PHIL: The church has absorbed too much of the culture.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah.
PHIL: Now, also, when we talk about the spiritual meltdown, we’re not talking about superficial things like people who don’t want to say merry Christmas or whatever, we’re talking about large moral issues. This spring we watched a long parade of news stories about shifting trends in the culture and things that any sane American just 40 years ago or so would have thought, “This is too farfetched even to be real.”
And just recently, topping pretty much everything else in the spring news was the news about Bruce Jenner, the decathlon winner in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He professes to be a Christian even.
JOHN: Yeah. I was in Eugene, Oregon, when I was a lot younger, and I went to a track meet because I used to run track in college, and I was always fascinated by it. And I went to see the greatest decathlete in the world compete. There were ten decathlete, Russian and European guys, and Jenner won that whole thing. So I had the opportunity to meet him personally there – this was many years ago – and then kind of followed his career.
What is shocking is that he’s about to receive the ESPY Award as the most courageous athlete in the world; not for anything he did athletically, but for declaring himself to be a weird, bizarre, twisted, perverted transgender person. And that literally has become the model of courage in our culture.
That is iconic. You know, this is an iconic guy, not only because of what he did in the Olympics in Montreal, but because he attached himself to these Kardashians and their serial sinfulness and wretchedness, and made himself a household figure through reality television, and now to already have sort of won over some level of affection from a national audience. He makes this transition.
This is iconic. I mean this is a massive, massive kind of statement to which all the evil in that realm will attach itself. This gives legitimacy at a sweeping, sweeping level.
PHIL: And it’s frightening how quickly the attitude of our culture is changing. That sort of thing 30 or 40 years ago would have just been unheard of. It was unthinkable.
JOHN: Yeah. But what’s so shocking, I came in this morning and you handed me an article written by Bruce Jenner’s pastor praising him for being the most faithful in his church and calling him Caitlyn: “Caitlyn, she was always in the front row. She was always faithful,” and going on to speak of him as one who knew Jesus. You know, when the church has become the world, then there’s nothing to stop the slide.
PHIL: Yeah. I’m sure you see it like I do. What troubles me more than this stuff going on out in the world is how quickly the church seems to embrace every cultural trend that comes along.
JOHN: Yeah. But it’s put itself in that position by deciding long ago, 20-30 years ago. You know, this goes back to the pragmatic move in the church. This goes back to the Bill Hybels and the Rick Warrens and the Robert Schullers and all of those who thought you needed to accommodate the culture, and it’s been literally proliferated in every conceivable way.
Just backing into that Kardashian story a little bit: There was a pastor in the area where they lived, which is out here in Southern California, and he was basically kicked out of his church for immorality. And he was working in a Starbucks because he’d been completely discredited. He had come originally from Saddleback, from Rick Warren’s church, and then he took this large church scandalized his life. And the Kardashians met him and made him their pastor of their new church.
When the church gets to the point where it is so accommodated itself to the world that it can’t address sin, that it can’t confront, there is no restraint. I mean we often talk prophetically about the coming tribulation, and one of the things that we read about in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is in the time of tribulation when the Antichrist takes over, the Restrainer will be removed. The Holy Spirit will remove restraint. It’s sort of like global Romans 1, God gives them over, gives them over, gives them over. And in the book of Revelation, hell belches out demons that have been bound, and they overrun the earth in the Antichrist reign of terror.
Well, now in the present age, the church is the restrainer. The church, the Holy Spirit in the church is the restrainer. So we’re getting a taste of what the tribulation will look like. This is what happens to a culture when the restrainer doesn’t restrain, and the church is not willing to restrain.
You showed me a picture today of a senate meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church with a homosexual guy dancing in his jockey shorts as the opening event of the Evangelical Lutheran Convention.
PHIL: Yeah. He called it a liturgical dance.
JOHN: Yeah, liturgical dance in his underwear. So, again, we know that’s not the true church.
But even the true church doesn’t want to step in. Where is the outrage over the LGBTQ movement? Where is the outrage over gay marriage, homosexual marriage, homosexual unions, homosexuality, and all of that. They should be pouring out of the church.
Instead of that, you get people like Andy Stanley saying, “Well, the church should be the safest place for gay people.” You get major Christian institutions, historic Christian institutions hiring professed, same-sex attracted faculty members to be basically the teachers of the next generations of young people.
So, yeah, the church is to be the restrainer. The Holy Spirit in the church restrains evil. But when the church is unwilling to do that, then the restraint is gone. And I think we’re seeing a kind of preview of what that would be like in the time of tribulation.
PHIL: Yeah. And it seems like in the current climate, even the most faithful believers, people who are still committed to Scripture on some level, they’re nevertheless afraid to speak out and condemn some of these trends.
JOHN: Yeah. And I think part of it is because churches aren’t telling them what to think. Churches aren’t being bold and forthright to help them understand what’s going on.
PHIL: Very little biblical content in the message.
JOHN: Right. It’s a feel good message. It’s a self-esteem, build you up, and simplified, marginalized gospel message. So first of all, they don’t know what to think because they’re not being told that this is sin, and they’re not being told also that these people, along with all sinners – we’re not just picking on this sin, but this seems to be the one that dominates our discussion now.
But the people who are trapped in these sins need to be confronted in these sins because they’re on their way to hell because these are the very people that do not enter the kingdom of heaven. They have to be confronted for the wretchedness of their sin, and warned about the inevitable result of it, and then given the gospel. But the church is unwilling to call sin sin.
Again, Phil, this goes back to what you and I talked about and studied about and preached about through the years: where there is no law, where there is not the upholding of the law, there is no understanding of the gospel. Where there is no proclamation of law, and punishment, and judgment, and severity, and the wrath of God, and eternal hell, there’s no fear, there’s no dread. People aren’t frightened of the realities of their own fallenness and wretchedness, and so the gospel is meaningless to them. So not only does the church abandon the preaching of law, but it marginalizes the gospel and makes it some kind of a simplified message that I think in many cases is sub-salvation. There’s not enough there to genuinely bring a person to real salvation.
PHIL: And it directly undermines wisdom too because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s right.
PHIL: Before we move away from Bruce Jenner very far, you mentioned that he’s an iconic character; and this is really why this is sort of an important thing. It seems to me that what he has done is the ultimate statement of personal autonomy, rejection of the lordship of Christ and the sovereignty of God. He’s basically saying, “I can be whatever I want to be,” which is antithetical really to what Scripture teaches.
JOHN: Yeah. But he is the high point now of this self-esteem culture. This is where we’ve gone. We’ve come to the point where you can be whatever you want to be; you can be God. He is God. He will decide what he will be. This is the epitome of that; this is absolutely the epitome of that.
PHIL: But it will go further down the road to absurdity. Have you ever heard of transability?
JOHN: That’s a new word.
PHIL: Transability is defined as the desire or the need for a person who is identified as able-bodied to obtain some kind of physical impairment or disability. So people actually have their limbs amputated or do things to cause themselves to be paralyzed because they feel that they’re disabled and they don’t want to live as a fully-abled person.
JOHN: So this is some kind of desire to identify with disabled people. This is when the more disabled you are, the more a victim you are, the more heroic you are.
PHIL: I suppose. I think, you know, it’s just a step further down the road that sin takes people towards self-mutilation.
JOHN: It’s irrational.
PHIL: But it’s apparently a significant, or a growing movement anyway. There are academic people –
I just watched a video online by a fellow named Clive Baldwin who is the Research Chair, the Canadian Research Chair in Narrative Studies at some university in Canada, and he discusses all of this and says, “We don’t need to look at this as pathological, people who want to get their limbs cut off or whatever; it’s not a pathology.” These are his words: “Society needs to appreciate that however strange it sounds, it isn’t beyond the pale to allow people to align their bodies with how they feel they need to.”
Well, it’s just an extension of what Bruce Jenner has done. He’s mutilated himself.
JOHN: Yeah. And so at what point do you say, “Raping people is wrong,” if that’s what want to do?
PHIL: Well, exactly.
JOHN: At what point is being a pedophile wrong? If there’s nothing wrong, if nothing is really wrong, and you should be able – I mean that’s where we’re going with this.
You know, it’s simple to understand how this happens. It happens when there’s no absolute authority; and that’s where we started on all this: get rid of the Bible, get rid of an absolute authority, get rid of an absolute morality that is written in the Word of God and in the heart of man. Overthrow all of that and all hell breaks loose.
I mean really, what do you say about a guy like the guy on trial in Colorado who takes guns and goes in and just mows down a bunch of people? Where are you going to draw the line? That’s how he feels; that’s who he is; that’s an expression of himself. At what level of damage do you draw that line?
PHIL: You can’t really, because once you’ve gotten rid of all the biblical standards and all law –
JOHN: Yeah, it’s arbitrary.
PHIL: It’s just all you’re left with is personal autonomy.
PHIL: So every man does what’s right in his own eyes.
JOHN: And that’s nothing new.
PHIL: So do you see any hope for the future of Western society?
JOHN: No, not really, not as we look at it presently; and let me explain why I say that. They’ve denied the authority of the Bible. It’s out; it’s completely out.
This is so interesting to me: you have these politicians, all these people that are running in the primaries for the republican office or the democratic office; and when they’re asked direct questions about morality like homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, I don’t know, whatever it might be, they hedge – and they may be with some exceptions – that they hedge, and they modify, and they don’t want to answer those questions. And yet they say they have conservative values, they hold to conservative values. Maybe they used to be Catholics or they grew up in some kind of religious environment.
But there’s a bigger issue than morality to them, and that is power and election. So they hedge on all of that. They don’t want to talk about that because they know that there is no dominant morality to which all people agree. So you’re going to set yourself at odds with a completely free society if you say you hold the line on almost anything.
So it’s safe to say they want to talk about economics, they want to talk about rights, they want to talk about taxes. They do not want to talk about morality. They don’t want to come out with strong, firm convictions, with a few exceptions, and those are the people who don’t have a chance.
So without a biblical standard, there is no standard of morality. You had, what, ten years ago or a little less than ten years ago, Obama saying he was against gay marriage.
PHIL: Yeah, because he had to say that in order to get elected.
JOHN: He had to say it to get elected because that was the still vestiges of biblical morality. Here we are two terms later –
PHIL: It’s totally changed.
JOHN: he talks about gay marriage. And Hillary is going everywhere, this week declaring herself supportive of the LGBTQ community, and homosexual marriage. I mean that’s how fast a change has come, okay.
PHIL: Yeah. In fact, I read an article this morning that said very similar to what you’re saying. It noted that everyone of the democratic and left-leaning presidential hopefuls has already come out and praised Bruce Jenner for his courage. But not one of the politicians who wants to be identified as a social conservative has said anything about it at all. They’re hands-off because it’s a hot potato. If they say anything, they fear they’ll lose votes.
JOHN: They lose votes, and that’s what it’s all about. Okay. So that’s the bottom line; the Bible is out. It’s a free-willing kind of culture, and the people in power and the people who are going to access power and be the leaders are going to have no morality. They’re not going to have any morality. They’re not going to hold to any morality at all.
So we know that’s gone. And I’m driving at this point. I’m driving right back to Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and it says this: “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.”
In the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20, the first time repeated in Deuteronomy when the children of Israel arrived at the Promised Land. That first commandment has to do with having no other gods, making no graven image, honoring God. And it says when you have a generation of people who don’t do that, who don’t honor God, who don’t worship God, the sins of that generation are visited on the third, down to the third and fourth generation.
Now what are we talking about? Some people think that means, “Well, if my life is corrupt, it’s going to affect my great-great-grandchildren.” That’s not what that’s talking about, because in Ezekiel 18:20 it says, “No person will be punished for somebody else’s sin; no person. Each man is responsible for his own sin and faces his own punishment.”
So what does it mean then that it’s visited to the third and fourth generations? It’s all plural: “The sins of the fathers,” which means the leaders, the rulers, those in charge. Those sins, those collective sins that dominate a culture at its highest level, those who are responsible penetrate so profoundly into the culture that it takes three to four generations, under the very best circumstances, to be begin to root that out.
How long is a generation? Is a generation 30-40 years, 50 years? So are we 200 years down the road from now before we begin to see any kind of change? That’s what Scripture says.
I think what is going on in the world and in America – and, of course, whatever happens, happens globally because media is everywhere and it’s all kind of the same – I think it’s so deep. I think this is in the groundwater. This is far worse than nuclear penetration in the ground in Chernobyl. This is immorality that has penetrated the ground and it’s in the groundwater. It’ll be a couple hundred years in the best of circumstances, if the Lord Jesus doesn’t come.
So we’re not going to turn this around and we’re not going to change this. Politicians aren’t going to change it; judges aren’t going to change it; lobbyists aren’t going to change it; Christians trying to fix the culture aren’t going to change it.
I gave a quote a couple of Sundays ago when I preached and I said, “It is more significant, far more significant to rescue one sinner from hell through the gospel than it is to turn a nation to temporal morality.”
And too many Christians are working on trying to fix the morality of this nation. That is not going to happen. It isn’t going to happen. It’s gone; it’s over. It’s Romans 1, they’ve been turned over, turned over, turned over to a reprobate mind.
They can’t think straight. So you can’t use reason, you can’t use logic. You can’t go to them with the Bible because they reject the Bible. They don’t want anything to do with the Bible.
And Christianity: Christians are going to be persecuted more than ever. They’re going to be fiercely persecuted. While at the same time, while at the same time, for example, radical Muslims are not going to be persecuted.
I mean there’s a big movement now to shut down the Pamela Geller situation where she was purposely saying things against Islam. And the media is saying, “Well, she exacerbated the problem. She exacerbated the problem.” Well, I don’t hear them saying that about Christian persecution, mocking the gospel, the Scripture and all of that.
So I just think it’s so far gone. There is so much animosity toward Scripture. There is no way to turn this around. I mean we have the biblical pattern that the sins of those fathers are visited in the third and fourth generation, even in the best of circumstances.
So what do we do in the meantime? We do what we’ve always been called to do; we go into all the world and preach the gospel. We’ve got to get back to the gospel. So the church has to stop accommodating the world, stop accommodating sin, stop trying to create tolerance and loving acceptance of everybody’s whimsical, personalized morality and behavior, and rise up to proclaim the law of God, and judgment, and sin, and death, and hell, and then preach the glorious grace of the gospel.
PHIL: Now I want to come back to that and have you elaborate on it. But let me ask: do you think – I’m thinking, as you’re saying that, a number of things. If you’re like me – and I think you think like I do here – as concerned as I am with these trends in secular society, that involves mostly unbelievers, and unbelievers are going to act in worldly and unbelieving ways. I’m much more concerned about the drift in evangelical movement right now, which I think is at the heart of the reason all these trends are shifting so rapidly. Jesus said we’re the salt of the earth. But it’s like we’ve lost our savor.
JOHN: Yeah, there’s no question about it. Sure, I’m concerned about the world, but only on one level, and that is because they’re on their way to hell, they need salvation, and we’re called to proclaim the gospel that can save them from hell. There’s only one level of concern I have for the world. I’m not concerned about the world’s morality. I don’t think it matters whether you go to hell as a policeman or pedophile. I don’t think it matters whether you go to hell as a homosexual or a heterosexual. What matters is you’re going to hell.
I don’t think homosexuality is worse than adultery or fornication. I think it is equally wicked for a young man to have sex with a woman he’s not married to, who he’s engaged to; and that goes on all the time. That’s equally sinful, as is homosexuality.
But in any case, the objective of the church cannot be to make those people feel comfortable in their chosen iniquities. The church must make those people feel uncomfortable, miserably uncomfortable. And when you have a pastor say, “The church should be the safest, most comfortable place for a homosexual,” that is a complete defection from what the church is.
PHIL: Does it seem to you like most of the dominant leaders in the evangelical movement right now, their biggest fear is to be thought of as out of touch or out of step with the world, or behind the times?
JOHN: Yeah. What a horrible thing that would be, to make your biggest fear to be out of step with the culture rather than out of step with God.
PHIL: If you look at the books that are published and the advice that church growth gurus hand out and all that, that really is what they’re obsessed with. When they talk about engaging the culture, they’re never talking about engaging the culture in any kind of conflict or correction. They want the church to sort of get in step with culture.
JOHN: Yeah. And, you know, even when they do sort of engage the culture, they engage the culture sort of on a soft side. You’ll hear somebody say, “Well, gay marriage: there are statistics that prove that gay marriage is non-productive, and that people are sad about that, and that they can’t produce children, so they don’t have the joy of having children. And in marriage is a higher calling.”
I just read an article just a couple of days ago by Tim Keller and he gave a speech on this. And what he said was true, but it was all about the fact that there’s a glorious reality between a man and a woman, and it’s a wonderful thing to be married. You have children, and children are the grace of life; and you have completion, and you have another generation; and life has an ongoing value and richness.
True. But where was, “And if you behave like that and you choose that as your lifestyle, you’re on your way to hell. You’re under divine judgment. You are going to receive the reward for your iniquity”?
Where is the fear? We just can’t keep trying to find some kind of soft way. Even though it’s true, I think we have to preach fear, I think we have to preach wrath.
I think there’s an absence severity. And I don’t think that we have to be mad at people. I think we have to love them enough and be compassionate enough and care enough to speak the hard side of God’s law.
PHIL: Yeah. There’s a gravity to biblical truth that is missing from most preaching today.
JOHN: So much of preaching today is, first of all, trivial, silly, superficial, clever stuff. Well, we saw an article the other day from no less an Andy Stanley denouncing expository preaching, denouncing expository preaching, the explanation of the Scriptures. Well, that makes sense, because if you’re going to explain the Scriptures, you’re not going to be able to preach the way these guys preach. If you’re going to open the Bible and explain what the Bible says, you can’t do what they do. You can’t be Joel Osteen and do that.
JOHN: You just can’t, because the Word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, and it cuts. It cuts deeply to the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It’s disturbing. It’s frightening to hear the Word of God truly proclaimed.
So, yeah, if you want to adapt to the culture and make culture feel good about itself and accepted, obviously you can’t be an expositor.
PHIL: Well, plus it’s reaching the point now where you can’t adapt to the culture and retain any semblance of commitment to biblical truth, biblical authority, because the culture right now isn’t just demanding silent acquiescence.
JOHN: You’re absolutely right.
PHIL: The culture wants us to celebrate and participate in their sins.
JOHN: Yeah. Adjusting to the culture 25 years ago was a little different than adjusting to the culture now. Adjusting to culture 25 years ago meant rock music. Now it means homosexual behavior and gay marriage. So if you’ve got on that train, all of a sudden, the train has moved a long distance away. And if you’ve been on that train, now you’re in a very difficult position.
PHIL: Yeah. There are high-profile executives who have lost their jobs because they dared to say out loud that they hold to a biblical perspective on marriage and gender.
JOHN: Yeah. And that’s coming even to non-Christian people who have a sort of traditional morality to say nothing of us.
Look, the message doesn’t change, the truth doesn’t change. Sinners need to be confronted with their sin. God will use that; God will bless that. The church needs to wake up to that. So, yeah, I mean you started this part of our conversation by saying, “I’m more concerned about how the church is responding to this.”
The church is now at a point where it is going to pay a profound price for its developed weakness. It has developed a weakness by continually acquiescing to the culture by continually bending everything to make unconverted people feel at home in the church, and this idea of trying to win them over. So the reckless behavior of the church in accommodating the world has now taken the church to a place where I don’t think they ever thought they would be. And now it’s sort of hard to switch and go back and say, “Whoa, whoa, this is too far.” You know, we could do the rock music thing, we could go with the fashion, we could go with the style of the world, we could maybe give a little bit on some of the moral issues here.
Did you read that – that was that article by Andy Stanley in which he said, “If Christians would just take a year off of adultery and fornication,” and listed all these things.
What? Christians? Christians took a life off of that when they came to faith in Jesus Christ. So I just think there’s a false church and it’s massive, people who feel religious and feel some warm things toward Jesus. But this makes the church hopelessly weak.
And, again, as I said at the beginning, the restraint is gone. Unless there is a massive, dramatic, 180-degree turnaround by the “evangelical church,” the church is going to make it easier for people to just stay in the direction they’re going and end up in hell.
PHIL: Yeah. That’s actually a running theme from the beginning of your ministry until today. You’ve warned repeatedly and in various ways about the dangers of false Christianity, the fact that the church is becoming more and more full of unbelievers, unconverted people who are filling our pews. And some of the megachurch pressure to get more and more people at any cost into the church has just exacerbated the problem. And now it’s a monstrosity.
JOHN: Yeah. You remember many, many years ago now, probably close to 30 years, I wrote the book The Gospel According to Jesus – I think it was 25 years or so – The Gospel According to Jesus and addressed that. I was curious the other day, so I looked at Amazon reviews on the book; and they have five stars, four, three, two, one. There were three one-star reviews: “This book is garbage. This book is trash.”
Well, yeah, because what I’m saying in there is exactly what the New Testament says about what it means to be totally transformed and totally saved. And it’s unpopular. It’s trash to some people in this contemporary church – way too far.
Then I went over to Hard to Believe. Remember the book Hard to Believe?
JOHN: It’s Hard to Believe which gave the same message – and I found a whole bunch of new, recent, one-star reviews saying the same thing.
PHIL: Yeah. I think there’s a campaign to sort of bring back that issue, which has never really totally gone away.
JOHN: No, because superficiality lives in the kingdom of darkness. Satan is disguised as what?
PHIL: An angel of light.
JOHN: As an angel of light. Well, what’s he trying to do as an angel of light? Deceive people. He works in religion; he works in Christianity; he works in the church.
Well, look, I mean one of the primitive parables in ecclesiology, on of the foundation parables of ecclesiology is the wheat and the tares growing together.
JOHN: Right, and you can’t separate them, and you don’t know for sure the hearts of people; and the enemy sows tares in the field. So we know from the get-go that Satan is going to work in the church; and he’s done it.
PHIL: Well, in fact, you can see that in the earliest epistles in the New Testament. That was already happening in the apostolic era.
JOHN: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.
PHIL: So it’s been a perpetual problem.
JOHN: Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, one message to true believers is, “Get out of those churches. Get out of those churches that accommodate the world. Get out.”
You say, “Well, you know, they do a lot of things, they have a lot of programs.” Get out. Get to a place where the Word of God is taught and where people understand the law and the gospel, and understand the need for salvation, and are reaching out lost with the truth, and get with faithful pastors and faithful believers. I mean it’s separation.
PHIL: You’ve mentioned a couple of times that it seems like we’re on the precipice of an era of persecution for the church. One of the things you can almost discern from church history is that it seems that God providentially uses persecution to purify the church. Does that give you any hope or expectation? Do you think the coming persecution could actually be good for the church?
JOHN: Oh, I think it is good for the church. It’s hard on the church, but it’s good for the church. It’s hard for Saeed Abedini to be in an Iranian prison and away from his wife and his family. That’s hard on him personally; you don’t wish that on him. You know, he’s a faithful Christian who is imprisoned in Iran because he’s a Christian. That’s hard.
It’s hard to be martyred; it’s hard to be slaughtered; it’s hard to have your head cut off by ISIS if you’re a Christian. So you don’t want to be too happy about persecution on the one hand because it’s painful and it’s a level of suffering. But on the big picture, pulling back a little bit, when the persecution comes, the church gets purified; and I saw this firsthand.
You know, Phil, years ago I went to the former Soviet Union and behind the Iron Curtain, and I was there just at the time of Perestroika and Glasnost when the Soviet Union and freedom came. And I went into those places, and I met Christians, and I preached all the way from Moscow in the west, clear to Almaty in the east, sweeping across the whole of the Soviet Union. And everywhere, I met Christians who were sacrificial, loving, humble, who had stood up publically; and the reason they were in the church was because they had repented publically of their sins.
That’s how they talk about salvation: “I repented.” They were baptized. They made a public profession of faith in Christ. Their life had to demonstrate a transformation.
I didn’t see liberals; I didn’t run into false teachers. Why? Because they persecuted them; they sent them to Siberia. False believers won’t go to Siberia. They’re not going to hold onto their faith if it costs them their life and their freedom.
So persecution discloses the frauds. In that sense, given the big picture, the persecution that comes against Christianity will reveal who the true preachers are – the true faithful leaders, spiritual leaders, pastors, trustworthy men – and it’ll reveal who the true believers are; because as the price of being a Christian goes up, it becomes too high for the phonies to pay.
PHIL: And the converse is true as well, where there’s no challenge to being a Christian where it becomes socially acceptable and the thing to do, the church tends to die.
JOHN: Well, yeah. Take a look at England.
PHIL: Yeah. I was going to say one of the things that struck me when the Iron Curtain fell was that there were these thriving communities of committed Christians in all the Communist nations, former Communist nations, where it had cost them something to be believers. But in free Europe, even to this day, it’s secular dead; the church is dead.
JOHN: Yeah. The church is nonexistent. And even in England, they’re exactly where we are on morality. And they had such a dominant kind of Christianity there that virtually every kid that was born into England hundreds of years was baptized into the church. Whether at some point it was the Catholic church or the Protestant church, you know, if you were a part of the kingdom, you were baptized into the church because they were one.
The same thing was true in Germany. Every German kid born from the time of Luther on, you know, infant baptism was basically a part of what was viewed as some of the unitary theocratic kind of thing, and you can see the effect of that. That’s when there’s no distinction between the true and the false; and, eventually, it collapses.
So, look, it has to be said at some point that nothing going on in the world affects, in the end, the true church, okay. It doesn’t affect the true church because Jesus said, “I’ll build My church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.” He will accomplish His goal. God will accomplish His purpose. Whatever He purposes to do, He will accomplish in the world.
So it isn’t that the work of God in the end is somehow thwarted, but God will do His work. But the question is: “Is my life, is your life, is our community of believers lives going to be instruments by which God can be glorified and do His work? Or, are we so compromised, so worldly that we, one, are useless to Him, we compound the problem, forfeit our eternal reward, and fail to give Him glory?”
PHIL: Just to ask that question is convicting, you know. You look at the make up of our culture and it seems the pressure for these trends towards tolerance and the breakdown of all of morality and all that comes primarily from the two coasts. Middle America is not so quick to adopt all of those things; and it’s pushed by big media and the entertainment industry. Do you think Christians have compromised themselves by spending too much energy and giving too much attention to secular media, secular entertainment?
PHIL: Or we’re too worldly?
JOHN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Oh, the younger generations are so literally sucked up and engulfed in individuals that they see on television and approaches to life that they see on television. Look, it starts when they’re six and seven years old and they’re watching Disney. It starts then, and it just escalates and escalates and escalates.
It’s in the theater, in the movies, immorality, you know, 25-30 feet high and 60 feet wide, and you sit in a theater and watch immorality, indelible impressions on young people. It’s in television, it’s the vile kind of assumed immorality that occupies the music; it’s in the books.
You know, there’s a book that I’ve been hearing a lot about called Fifty Shades of Grey. But this is a kind of book that’s in the hands of Christian people. There are Christian people talking about reading the book. Now I don’t know anything about the book except to know that it’s about sexual deviancy. And they’re so inoculated, I guess you could say, they’re so vaccinated with the culture that they don’t understand how deadly this disease is.
Yeah, how do you call this culture to separation? How do you tell people, “Separate yourself from the culture. Stay away from its literature; stay away from its entertainment; stay away from its media; stay away from its influences”?
How do you tell Christian parents, “Don’t send your kids to a university where they’re going to mock and scorn and ridicule Christianity and the gospel. Don’t do that”? Worse yet: “Don’t send your young person to a ‘Christian college’ that denies the book of Genesis, that has same-sex attracted faculty members who are ‘Christians’ that wants to accommodate gay students”?
Recently, I saw a document from the New England Accreditation Association, a document regarding Gordon College, Gordon College in Boston, which was started in 1885 as the New England Missionary Training School by Adoniram Judson Gordon. He was named after the great missionary to Burma. He started that with some others to train missionaries. Well, that’s now Gordon College.
Gordon College, with the Accreditation Association, just came up with 14 new initiatives at the college to make the gay/lesbian/queer/transgender community comfortable. It was actually called the Boston Missionary Training Society now introduced 14 initiatives to accommodate the students, and the reason was they had admitted them to the school and then they told them in the handbook that they couldn’t have sex relationships, and they were sued for that and they caved in.
You’d better think carefully about where you’re sending your young people. It’s a very dangerous world out there. I mean that’s why I’m so committed to the Master’s College. That just doesn’t exist.
We had that organization that was traveling around and coming onto Christian college campuses that homosexual group – remember, led by Mel White?
JOHN: And they said, “We’re coming to the Master’s College, and we just want to let you know, we’re going to be there, and it’s a whole bunch of homosexuals that come on and want to dialog with your students.”
I don’t mind talking to somebody who is in that lifestyle who’s a nonbeliever. But the idea that you think you can come onto this campus and advocate that under our tolerance… Well, they did it in a lot of Christian colleges. They were called Soulforce. That was the name they used; you probably remember that.
We have a stewardship. People give us their most precious possession. What is it? It’s their young people. And we want to inculcate them with the Word of God. It’s not that they’re blind to the realities of the world. Believe me, there’s plenty of exposure. But we won’t purposely allow them to have trash poured into their minds.
So this is a very challenging time, and we’ve got to think carefully about those separations. I’ll tell you one thing that’s going to happen is homeschooling is going to increase. There’s no question in my mind about it because the public schools scare people to death. If you send your child to a public school in California, a public elementary school, you have no idea what that child’s being told, what that child will assume is normal behavior, because they’re going to be inculcated with things that you would do anything to prevent them from hearing. And if you are against that, you’re the enemy.
PHIL: Yeah. And our government now has sort of taken on itself the mantle as if it’s their duty to press people to get in line with this new agenda. The President saying he’s trying to make an influence in these other nations, foreign nations, where homosexuality is still considered a crime.
JOHN: So the President, by executive order, is creating a morality that he wants, okay: no authority, no traditional morality, no biblical base, no historic basis. He, he will decide what morality is. And what will he decide? He will decide that morality is whatever the majority thinks it is, or whatever enough people think it is to keep them in power.
So he’s inventing morality, and then he’s declaring it law. He’s inventing a morality and declaring it law. And what’s going to happen is we’re all going to be in a position to be literally arrested or cut off from functioning as organizations in this country if we violate this law. It’s going to get to the point where to uphold biblical law, to uphold biblical standards of morality, Christian truth, it’s going to be very, very difficult.
PHIL: As we’re recording this, the Supreme Court is considering a case and will decide, perhaps even before this recording gets out, on whether states have the right to deny gay couples from marrying, or if that’s a state’s right issue. What’s your expectation on the direction that’s going?
JOHN: Oh, they’ll cave in. The court will do one of two things. They will declare homosexual marriage is a right for everyone, and it must be acknowledged by all 50 states; or they will punt and say it’s a state’s rights issue, that the states need to decide for themselves. I don’t know.
There’s a possibility they may go with a state rights things because I think there still may be a majority of people who have some biblical morality. I don’t know, I haven’t looked at the make up of the court recently. But the best that could ever be assumed is that they’ll kick it back to the states, and all that will do, we’ll end up the same way, because the states are essentially going to come up with the same thing.
It may take awhile for all the dominos to fall. But that doesn’t really change anything anyway. If some states acknowledge homosexual marriage, then every other state has to recognize what that state acknowledge. In other words –
PHIL: It’s inevitably going to happen anyway.
PHIL: In a culture where politicians are afraid to denounce gay marriage lest they lose votes.
JOHN: You know, and it isn’t even that if you say, “Well, why do homosexuals need to be married?” Well, they don’t. They just want benefits that typically are associated with married people. The end result of all this is a complete disintegration of an entire society. It’s Romans 1, a reprobate mind, and all hell will break loose on every level.
And you see it now. Just running along with all this is open public rebellion against police. Police represent authority, and now you’ve got the federal government and high-level people like in the city of Baltimore, essentially trashing the police. So what’s happened in Baltimore is there are more murders than there have ever been, and the police don’t know what to do. They can’t do what they’ve always done. So, consequently, crime will burst out. And we see that in Romans 1 as well.
So you’re going to see in the future more aggressive immorality, more aggressive hostility toward authority. The federal government is calling into question decisions made by local police departments. The federal government is invading local police departments like in Ferguson, Missouri, and now in Baltimore, literally stepping in and deciding whether those local police are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
This is happening in the city of New York as well, and this is because there is an ideology in the federal government. There’s an ideology that is essentially against authority and against the status quo that exists. And I think it’s even wrought with racist tendencies.
So you’re just seeing it on every level, the disintegration of an entire society. And if we can’t keep law and order, if we can’t control the masses, this thing could really break out.
PHIL: It’s just a different expression of that same rejection of biblical authority that says, you know, “We want to normalize homosexual behavior,” and all of that.
JOHN: Yeah. It’s back to the book of Judges: “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s where we are. Everybody thinks they have a right to do whatever they want.
PHIL: But it also seems pretty clear right now that federal government policies will soon make it difficult for institutions like The Master’s College, or even Grace to You, or churches to continue to operate at least as tax-exempt organizations and hold to a biblical standard. We’re probably going to lose our tax-exempt status over an issue like this.
JOHN: That’s very true. I mean we are subject to the rules of the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission here. And if they decided that our position on homosexuality was against the law, they could remove our tax-exempt status. That might be slow in coming.
I’ll tell you what could happen. The Master’s College has, for example, a 125-acre campus. But because we are a nonprofit educational institution, a Christian educational institution, we don’t pay any property tax, we don’t pay real estate property tax.
Well, on 125 acres in Southern California, that’s a lot of tax. The government could decide that because we’re not in compliance with the law regarding homosexuality, we lose our exemption from property tax. So the property tax exemption, some of us Christian leaders that talk about this, think that that could be one way they could get at us.
Obviously, being almost $20 trillion in debt, the nation’s got to find money somewhere. And if they took away property tax exemptions from churches, Christian institutions, Christian schools, all of that, there would be an awful lot of money for the government, and it could be devastating because that would be millions and millions of dollars that we would have to pay. And then what does an institution do if all of a sudden you’re taxed $3 million in property taxes a year that you never were taxed before? How do you survive that?
It’s very, very challenging in the future. Of course, we rest in the Lord’s purposes and we’re just going to faithful to Him. Whatever happens, we’ll adjust and seek His will.
PHIL: Yeah. In fact, I have a few questions about that because it’s an issue not only on an organizational level and for leaders, but a lot of individuals. I mean there have been these high-profile cases where bakers have actually lost their businesses because they refused to bake cakes for homosexual weddings and all that.
What is the proper response of a believer to the government when the government begins to put pressure on issues like this? Where is the line? Because we are supposed to obey those who are in authority over us. We don’t deny that at all. But there comes a point where the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.”
What is that? What is the line? What’s the dividing line?
JOHN: Well, first of all, it’s one thing to bake a cake and have somebody come and buy the cake who’s a homosexual, or an adulterer, or a fornicator, or a liar, or a cheater, or whatever. I mean you’re not going to control everybody who’s going to buy your cake. But the distinction that those people were making was that these were cakes baked for a wedding, and that that took it to another level, because now you’re providing part of celebrating what you know is wrong, what you believe is wrong, what is immoral. And at that level, I think that’s a conviction that they need to stand by, that you can’t participate in a celebration if that’s a violation of your conscience; and for most of us, it is. You can’t be a part of that.
I don’t have a problem selling something to somebody who’s a sinner because everybody’s a sinner. But celebrating an iniquity, I don’t think you should be made to do that. So if the government, if you say, “That’s my conviction,” and the government says, “Okay, there’s a fine,” then I think you have recourse in our society to go to a lawyer and see if you can bring some litigation that would mitigate that fine. That’s legitimate. I don’t think you can defy the government.
Look, in the New Testament it would look like this: You preach; they told you not to preach. You kept preaching, so they threw you in jail, so you went to jail. You went to jail because you didn’t kill the guy who came to arrest you; you didn’t beat him up and run; you went to jail. You took the medicine. And, of course, we all know what that led to, jail ministry, where like Paul ended up in jail and the believers in Caesar’s household greet you; because while he was there, he was evangelizing people.
So, yeah, I think we do what’s right; we don’t change that. And I applaud those people who stand by their convictions. But when they face the consequences, they have to accept those consequences or use lawful means to address those consequences.
PHIL: Let me ask you some rapid fire questions to sort of wrap this up. You would agree, I’m sure, that Christians need to love homosexuals and all sinners, right?
JOHN: Absolutely, absolutely.
PHIL: How can we do that without approving of their sin, and particularly if they’re demanding approval and acceptance?
JOHN: Look, that kind of sin is unusually bizarre; it is not normal. There’s a certain kind of sin that is normal. My grandfather used to say about homosexuality, “Why can’t they go out and do something normal like commit adultery?”
Okay, there’s a normal kind of sin. There’s something in us that seeks the opposite sex. It’s normal to lie; it’s normal to be proud. I mean those are part of just sort of natural things.
But sin can fly beyond boundaries of normalcy; and when it does that: it’s not normal to rape children, it’s not normal to mass murder, it’s not normal to do the things that homosexuals do, it’s not normal to do what Bruce Jenner does. That’s beyond the limits of what anybody would think is sort of normal sin. So, therefore, it carries with it a kind of repulsiveness and a kind of stigma.
It’s pretty devastating commentary on a society when you get awarded for that, when you are honored for that. That’s how far gone our society is; it doesn’t even know what normal. And that is a reprobate mind. That’s a Romans 1 reprobate mind. It can’t even think straight.
PHIL: That is where we’re at because I can imagine a lot of our listeners listening to you are going – because we live in a culture where these sins that used to be labeled perversions – and that word itself suggests this is something perverted. It’s far out of the ordinary. But the affect of the recent propaganda has been to convince multitudes of people that, “No, this is normal. This guy was born with these desires.”
JOHN: Romans 1:24 says when God turns over a nation, they will do unseemly things with their body. It could be a sexual revolution; we saw that. But the next one says, verse 26: “They will do what is not natural, what is not natural; men with men doing what is not natural; women with women. That’s not natural.
PHIL: It’s contrary to nature.
JOHN: It’s contrary to nature. And then comes the third one in verses 28 to 32, they can’t think straight anymore, the mind is gone. That’s where we are. That’s exactly where we are and it’s going to take three or four generations in the best of circumstances for anything different to happen.
So, yeah. So I’m saying that it is common sense to be to some degree repulsed by these unnatural things. Look, I’m repulsed by the idea of pedophilia; I’m repulsed by the idea of attacking children; I’m repulsed by those things. And I’m repulsed, in a way, by homosexual behavior and all this stuff that goes with it because it is that unnatural.
However, having said all of that, I don’t hate those people. I mean you would know this, Phil. Grace Church has a lot of folks who were homosexuals. I see them on Sundays.
Rarely a Sunday goes by that I don’t fellowship with someone who comes from that background: “Such were some of you. But you’re washed, you’re justified, you’re sanctified,” 1 Corinthians 6. So we don’t hate them even though that sin is bizarre. We have to reach out to them.
Look, they’re not the enemy; they’re the mission field. They’re not the enemy. You cannot turn them – even when they persecute us – and believe me, the persecution coming from that realm is immense. Even though they persecute us, they are not the enemy, they are the mission field. They still are the mission field. We can’t hate them.
I remember having a session; we did a session on this subject, not turning the mission field into our enemy. And there was a group at the White House when President Bush was in office, and they listened to that message, and I was called to go to Washington to talk to some of them, because they were struck by the fact that they were not to turn the mission field into the enemy even though they violently disagreed with them. And I think all of us as Christians need to realize that.
The people that are caught up in these iniquities are not only making bad choices, they’re under the power of the prince of the air, the spirit who works in them, the sons of disobedience. They’re captive to the powers of hell. They are not the enemy. They act like an enemy, but they are the mission field, and we have to see them as such. But we can’t accommodate. Accommodate them, or deferring to them, or accepting them is not how you minister to them, not how you reach them.
PHIL: People in bondage to any sin really would be in the same situation, right?
JOHN: Yeah, of course.
PHIL: Now, you know, there’s a big discussion these about whether people are born that way, born with a specific sexual orientation or whatever. My response to that has always been it doesn’t matter to me whether that’s true or not. I was born with an inclination towards sin. That’s what original sin is all about.
And I probably have a proclivity to some sins more than others. If science could prove – and I don’t think this is going to happen – but if scientists found some genetic factor that lent itself to homosexuality, that wouldn’t make it any less sinful, would it?
JOHN: No. And, of course, they won’t find that because it’s not genetic at all. It’s a learned behavior. There may be some reasons why people go that way. There’s nothing genetic about it. Look, they’ve been working on the DNA genome for long enough that if there is something there in the chromosomes, they’d have know that. But it doesn’t matter.
Look, I was born with a tendency toward pride and deception and lying. I didn’t have to train any of my children to lie, they were really born liars. When they were little and you’d say to them, “Did you do that?” the first answer was, “No, I didn’t do that.” And you knew they did that: “You’re lying to me.” Literally, I had to take the rod and teach my children not to lie, you know.
There’s no gene for bank robbery either. And somebody could say, “Well, you know, it’s a high and I just do it. I’m a bank robber. You’ve got to love me as a bank robber and this is what I do.”
Those things are manifestations of sinful choices and sinful proclivities. I don’t even think there’s more of an attraction for some people. I think it’s purely a cultivated response to certain behaviors. But nonetheless, it doesn’t really matter. Sin is sin, and there’s no excuse for it that will be accepted by God. There’s only a covering for it and forgiveness through Christ.
PHIL: What are your thoughts about what’s going to happen to the church in America going forward? Given the culture’s increasing hostility and all, how do you see the future unfolding? I mean I know we’re looking, you and I, looking for the Lord’s return, and hoping that happens.
JOHN: Yeah. I think we might be near to the Lord’s return. It’s not going to take three or four generations for this to turn around because the Lord’s going to come before that happens. But the true church will go on.
Look, I’m so thankful for our church and The Master’s Seminary where we’re training men at The Master’s Seminary now to pastor churches. We’ve got 1,500 guys out pastoring churches, and we’ve got 18 or 19 training centers across the planet training thousands of pastors in the Word of God. The church is growing and flourishing.
Grace to You is touching continents with the truth of the Word of God. They’re downloading our messages. We’ve got missionaries. We had 70 missionaries that we’ve sent out from Grace Church, guys in their families that have graduated from the seminary that are preaching and teaching the Word of God, and training leaders all over the world.
The Lord will build His church, and I know that. But you can’t just back up and say, “Well, you know, the Lord’s going to do what He’s going to do,” and just put your hands behind your back and say, “I’m just going to hang around until God does His work.” While we believe in the sovereignty of God, we also believe that that work is necessitating our efforts, our commitment, our devotion, our sanctification. I mean we could say people are saved by a sovereign choice of God, but never apart from faith.
And evangelism is the work of the Holy Spirit, but never apart from an evangelist: “How will they hear without a preacher?” So the Lord will build His church, and we know that in the end. Satan cannot destroy the church, cannot destroy the people of God.
PHIL: Yeah. The gates of hell will not prevail against –
JOHN: No, no. God will do His work.
PHIL: But this could be that we’re witnessing of the end of Western civilization as the dominate culture, the dominate world culture. The work of God could move to Asia or Africa.
JOHN: Well first of all, morally, this culture is going to go back into caves. Morally, this culture is going to be barnyard. It’s going down so fast. Seventy-five, eighty percent of kids born in major cities don’t have a married mother and father. This thing is gone; it is gone. Now legalizing homosexual marriage, legalizing marijuana, you’ve got people that are basically stoned out of their mind, wandering around. What is this going to do to these people? What do they have to offer the world in the future?
The absence of a morality, just disastrous conditions are plunging this – and it’s global – into complete chaos. And America, an interesting thing to watch is, they have no will to fix anything, no will to fix anything globally. I mean you could say, “Well, we shouldn’t be involved in the Middle East.”
Well, really? If you know to do good and you have the power to do it and you don’t do it, what is that? If you see there’s a force over there that are cutting people’s heads off and you have the power to stop that and you don’t do that, isn’t there some culpability? Neighborhoods have to be policed, cities have to be policed, states have to be policed, nations have to be policed, and so does the world.
There’s always been a kind of global force, and America was part of the coalition of that global force that kept evil at bay in the world. And once we lose the will for that, then we say, you know, “Fix your own problems over there.” So it’s a different world. We’re not willing anymore to do good to prevent slaughter, to do good in the Romans 13 sense, to carry the sword and be a threat to evildoers, that that government should be. We’re not willing to do that anymore.
So I think we’re seeing the collapse of society at a level never in history. And then you add the immediate domination and the corruption that is being poured into people through the media. The inside is being corrupt; the outside is chaotic.
Having said that, yeah, I think we’re nearer to the coming of the Lord than we’ve ever been. But it doesn’t change what the church does. It doesn’t change what the church does. We’ve got to get back to living godly lives and proclaiming the gospel, which is the only hope.
PHIL: And the work God has given us to do –
PHIL: not to recover a collapsing culture. If you look at church history, or look at world history, you see that cultures that have had easy access to the gospel and then rejected Christ and moved into secularism and all that, they never recover. I can’t think of one that ever did.
JOHN: No, no. I think America’s day is over; it’s over. There was a sense of morality built upon, I think, the understanding of marriage and the family. I think that was basically it. It was about marriage and the family, and people used to say his word is his bond. You didn’t need a contract, because when you said something, his word was good. How far are we from that? It’s a complete culture of liars.
You know, I’ve been on FOX News a few times and they keep asking me questions about truthfulness. And, you know, I guess when they want to talk about it, they get me in. And they were saying, “Don’t people have an obligation to tell the truth?” and I said, “Yes. But who tells the truth? Everybody lies. Everybody lies. From the President, to the Congress, to the media, to people who deflate footballs: everybody lies, everybody lies.”
And when you don’t have any commitment to truth in a society, all relationships break down. Everything breaks down because you don’t know reality. You don’t know what reality is. You don’t know what’s going on in the world.
You can’t trust anybody. You can’t have a relationship with anybody you can’t trust. So you have the complete disintegration of a culture. And then have people trying to marry each other and build a family who basically don’t tell the truth. So there’s just colliding liars everywhere lying for their own benefits, to achieve whatever it is they think they need to achieve for themselves. So the dishonesty of the contemporary society, the deception, the unwillingness to be honest and truthful just literally destroys the fabric of relationships; and that just wipes out society.
PHIL: Yeah, it’s self-destructive.
JOHN: Yeah, totally.
PHIL: Our society is self-destructive.
JOHN: And just try telling the truth and see where you get.
PHIL: Yeah. But the truth will triumph, and that’s really our hope.
JOHN: The truth will triumph.
PHIL: Right. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church.
Well, John, thank you for the time. We love your preaching. All of us are richly fed by you. And over the years, I think you’ve taught me more than all my other teachers combined about Scripture and theology and Christian life.
JOHN: That’s because you’ve had to listen to me for so long.
PHIL: I love listening to you. And lots of our listeners I know would say the same thing.
JOHN: Well, thank you for being my friend through all these years. And I love listening to you too.
PHIL: Thank you.