Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Evangelical Apathy and the Danger of False Teaching [John MacArthur]

FROM: The Truth War -John MacArthur pp.165-68
Why do so many evangelicals act as if false teachers in the church could never be a serious problem in this generation? Vast numbers seem convinced that they are "rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that [they] are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17).

In reality, the church today is quite possibly more susceptible to false teachers, doctrinal saboteurs, and spiritual terrorism than any other generation in church history. Biblical ignorance within the church may well be deeper and more widespread than at any other time since the Protestant Reformation. If you doubt that, compare the typical sermon of today with a randomly-chosen published sermon from any leading evangelical preacher prior to 1850. Also compare today's Christian literature with almost anything published by evangelical publishing houses a hundred years ago or more.

Bible teaching, even in the best of venues today, has been deliberately dumbed-down, made as broad and as shallow as possible, over-simplified, adapted to the lowest common denominator—and then tailored to appeal to people with short attention spans. Sermons are almost always brief, simplistic, overlaid with as many references to pop culture as possible, and laden with anecdotes and illustrations. (Jokes and funny stories drawn from personal experience are favored over cross-references and analogies borrowed from Scripture itself.) Typical sermon topics are heavily weighted in favor of man-centered issues (such as personal relationships, successful living, self-esteem, how-to lists, and whatnot)—to the exclusion of the many Christ-exalting doctrinal themes of Scripture.

In other words, what most contemporary preachers do is virtually the opposite of what Paul was describing when he said he sought "to declare . . . the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Not only that, but here's how Paul explained his own approach to gospel ministry, even among unchurched pagans in the most debauched Roman culture:

I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Notice: he deliberately refused to customize his message or adjust his delivery to suit the Corinthians' philosophical bent or their cultural tastes. He had no thought of catering to a particular generation's preferences, and he used no gimmicks as attention-getters. Whatever antonym you can think of for the word showmanship would probably be a good description of Paul's style of public ministry. He wanted to make it clear to everyone (including the Corinthian converts themselves) that lives and hearts are renewed by means of the Word of God, and by nothing else. That way they would begin to understand and appreciate the power of the gospel message.

By contrast, today's church-growth experts seem to have no confidence in Scripture's power. They are convinced the gospel needs to be "contextualized," streamlined, and revamped anew for every generation. Forty years of that approach has left evangelicals grossly untaught, wholly unprepared to defend the truth, and almost entirely unaware of how much is at stake. The evangelical movement itself has become a monstrosity, its vast size and visibility belying its almost total spiritual failure. One thing is certain: the cumbersome movement that most people today would label "evangelical" is populated with large numbers of people who are on the wrong side in the Truth War.

We are right back in the same situation the church was in a hundred years ago, when modernists were busily re-inventing the Christian faith. Far from being a strong voice and a powerful force for the cause of truth, the evangelical movement itself has become the main battleground.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mohammed: The Character of a Prophet?

Having covered briefly the historical highlights of Mohammed’s life, I suppose it is right to talk a little about his personal life and more importantly, his character. The objective is to provide you with a general idea of who he was as a man, as a person. As is the case with each of us, there are positive and negative character traits that make us who we are. We are all created in the image of God and we have that to point to as the ground for any positive traits that exist in us. On the other hand, we are all fallen sinners and this fact accounts for the negatives that we find in others as well as in ourselves.

As a child, Mohammed suffered from seizures that resemble what we now know as epileptic fits. It is not my contention that he suffered from that disease. It is enough to point out that what Moslem scholars call miraculous episodes were actually convulsions resembling epileptic fits and may well have been brought on by epilepsy. We have not sure way of knowing. As Mohammed grew into adulthood, we made a living by attending to caravans and as a shepherd. It should be noted that a shepherd was a disreputable occupation by Arabs. Mohammed would later glory in this occupation and point to David and Moses as examples of prophets who were shepherd’s before they were prophets. Mohammed, according to tradition was of medium size, slender, broad shouldered, strong, with black eyes and black hair.  He possessed a commanding look. Perhaps if he were living in our culture we might say that he had “presence.” He had a fertile imagination, was a skilled poet and he was religiously astute.

Mohammed married Chadijah, a rich, 40 year-old widow when he was twenty-five. While her father disapproved of the union, she was able to keep him drunk long enough to complete the ceremony. The marriage was a happy one. Some attribute Mohammed’s faithfulness to his dependence on Chadijah because she gave him only what he needed and never allowed him any control over her wealth. The two had six children, all of whom died except for one. After his wife passed, he took a dozen or so wives. Mohammed became somewhat knowledgeable of the traditions of Judaism and Christianity while on commercial journeys to Syria. However, this knowledge was imperfect at best. It is widely believed that Mohammed was illiterate and dictated his revelations and beliefs to scribes who would record them.

After three years of laboring, Mohammed had only managed to collect some forty converts. Some may observe that this accomplishment relatively successful compared to the twelve of Jesus Christ. However, Christ had more than twelve. There were at least one-hundred and twenty gathered at Pentecost. Nevertheless, this progress was depressing to Mohammed. He left Mecca in fear of his life and journeyed ten days to Medina. There he was received and built a small army of just over three-hundred. Having won his first battle against a force twice his size, his success was underway.

Mohammed was long abhorred in Christendom as an evil imposter, a liar and antichrist. Mohammed had a melancholic and nervous temperament and was prone to extravagant hallucinations. Mohammed had serious issues with depression and suicide. His mind was neither clear nor sharp, but strong and fervent, under the influence of an exuberant imagination. Was Mohammed driven by his fear of God or by a thirst for power and glory? It is difficult to say. One thing stands sure: he did not fear the God that is. That fear is a gift of grace that results in complete surrender to His revealed will which is clearly expressed in the person of Jesus Christ and propagated in sacred Scripture, which is also a direct expression of divine decree.

Mohammed was a very sensual man. The wife who was closest to him, Ayesha, said the prophet loved three things: women, perfumes, and food. He had his heart’s desire of the first two, but not of the last. His followers excused his behavior and used Abraham, David, and Solomon in doing so. He claimed extra revelation that exempted him from the normal limit of four wives. He married by revelation, his adopted son’s wife, Zeynab. In fact, he married Ayesha, his favorite wife when he was fifty-three and she only nine. She brought her doll-babies with her when she was acquired to be his wife.  Philip Schaff comments,

To compare such a man with Jesus, is preposterous and even blasphemous. Jesus was the sinless Saviour of sinners; Mohammed was a sinner, and he knew and confessed it. He falls far below Moses, or Elijah, or any of the prophets and apostles in moral purity. But outside of the sphere of revelation, he ranks with Confucius, and Cakya Muni the Buddha, among the greatest founders of religions and lawgivers of nations.
As believers we have no choice but to be as candid with folks about the truth of historical events and about the lies that are spread in the name of religion. Mohammed, while possessing admirable leadership traits, was not an admirable human being. He was kind to his friends and merciless to those who dared disagree with him or oppose him in anyway. He was ruthless toward his enemies compared to Jesus Christ who stood before his accusers like a lamb being led to slaughter. Though he could have called the armies of heaven, he restrained his right and surrendered his will to the will of his father. Nevertheless, make no mistake about it: Christ will one day return with the armies of heaven and when that day arives, all liars and opponents of Christianity will be required to give an account for their deeds. The judgment of God stands ready to spring upon every soul that rejects his or her Creator.

[1] Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1997). History of the Christian church. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Prophet Mohammed

In the previous article on Allah, the most significant differences between theology proper in Islam and Christianity became readily apparent. The transcendence of Allah in Islamic thinking leads to a form of agnosticism that makes knowing anything about God truly impossible. On the other hand, Christian theism asserts that God reveals Himself along with His will in sacred Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Scripture also asserts that God reveals truths about Himself in nature as well. We now move on to the most important figure in the religion of Islam, a man by the name of Mohammad. In doing so, it is proper to ask and answer some critical questions about this man as well as the history of this religion. Who is Mohammad? How did one man become the fulcrum in one of the world’s largest religions? Is the phenomenon of Islam akin to the miraculous spread of Christianity in the world or are there differences?

Hebrews 1:1-2 says,

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

Islam contends that Allah has spoken through his last and greatest prophet, Mohammad. The Bible, on the other hand, asserts that God, who spoke through the prophets to the fathers, has in these last days spoken to us in His Son. So who was Mohammad and why was he so successful in building the second largest religion in the world?

Mohammed was born around 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca in Arabia. His father died before his birth and his mother passed when he was only six. He was raised by his grandfather at first and then later by an uncle. In his early years, there is evidence that Mohammed suffered from fits. It seems, however, as he grew older into adulthood the fits subsided. Mohammed was given to dreams and loved to withdrawal to caves for seclusion and meditation. He was profoundly dissatisfied with the polytheism that dominated his culture along with its crude superstitions. Somewhere along the way, Mohammed must have been exposed to Judaism and Christianity. Both religions permeated the region in which he lived. Mohammed clearly came to value the idea of “one” true God. This influence had to have come from outside the polytheistic culture in which he was reared. Mohammed is described as being generous, resolute, genial, and astute. He was a shrewd judge and a born leader of men. On the other hand, concerning his enemies Mohammed could be vindictive and cruel. He stooped to assassination and was undeniably a sensual man. At age 40, Mohammed had his first vision. These revelations serve as the basis for what is recorded in the Qur’an.

Initially, Mohammed thought he was demon possessed and actually began a journey that would end by throwing himself off a cliff in an act of suicide. He was actually accused of this later as Mecca rejected his revelations. Mohammed later dismissed his fear of demon-possession and waxed confident in his conviction that the visions were revelations from God. Mohammed received these visions for the next 22 years until his sudden death in 632 A.D. Mecca and Jerusalem both rejected Mohammed’s visions and new message from Allah. In response this he turned to Mecca as the center of Worship. But before returning to Mecca, he killed some of those who rejected his message and sold others into slavery. This after having established himself in Yathrib which later was renamed to Medina, “City of the Prophet.” Mohammed also disrupted the trade routes into Mecca and before finally conquering the city.

Much of Arabia was in revolt until two years after Mohammed’s death. The recalcitrant were deemed better off dead along with other competing prophets. By 634 the entire region was given over to Islam and to carrying out the will of Allah. Unlike Christianity, Islam spread by conquest of the sword contrary to historical revisionists. Mohammed was a false prophet raised up by God for God’s own purpose as He pours out judgment on men who have arrogantly rejected His reign over their lives. Hence, Islam, as we will see, is akin to a strong divine delusion in response to the willful ignorance and self-deception of men who hate the one true God propagated by the Christian worldview.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shepherd's Conference: Leadership

I just returned from yet another amazing conference in L.A. hosted by Grace Community and the Master's Seminary. It is so refreshing to hear men like John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Phil Johnson, Steve Lawson and other great pastors and theologians "preach the word." If there was a theme, it was providential. Apparently there was no strategic plan in place to talk about anything specific. But when the topics made their way back into the committee and onto the agenda, the burning issue was clear: leadership. It seemed clear that almost to a man, leadership was of primary concern. Godly, loving, biblical leadership that cares for, guides, and protects the sheep. Acts 20 was covered more than once. The Pastoral Epistles and Peter were made use of repeatedly. If one wants to understand why the sheep are in the spiritual condition they are in, it became clear that one need look no further than leadership.

What is required to be a leader? Well, when you ask it that way, one thing is required: followers! Notice I did not say what is required to be a godly leader or even a good leader. There are all types of leaders in the world today. In fact, in Acts 20, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that ungodly leaders would rise up from among them. They will draw people after themselves. One thing is necessary to be a leader and only one thing: followers! Now the question that every leader needs to ask themselves is this: "Why should anyone want to follow me?" If you are a leader in the Christian community, you need to take your time and ponder that question. Why should anyone line up behind you and follow you? What is it about you that other believers, those who are purchased by God for God, should submit to your leadership? If you cannot answer this question, you should be able to. You need to stop what your doing and be honest with yourself about why people should follow you.

The one trait that continued to emerge at the Shepherd's conference was the love that all godly leaders possess for the sheep and more importantly, for their Lord. A shepherd LOVES his sheep so much that he is willing to lay his life down for them. Are you willing to lay your life down for those whom God has placed in your care? How many leaders can honestly say this? Some so-called leaders claim to love the sheep, but what they really love is themselves. They love their church, it's size, their status, their job, the recognition, the attention, the position, etc. What they do not really love is their sheep. They view some people as problems that must go away and then actually engage in activities specifically designed to that end. Godly shepherd's love the sheep. Their heart BREAKS into a million pieces when a sheep leaves. They do not want the sheep to leave. And they will do everything in their ability to keep that sheep in the fold, grazing on God's truth, protected from the enemies that would seek to tear it to shreds. Not all men who claim to be spiritual leaders have this kind of attitude.

The sheep belong to God. They are given to the care of the leader. The leader cannot pick and choose whom God places under their care. The godly shepherd does not seek to resign from shepherding God's sheep. He fully understands the weight and gravity of the duty and responsibility placed upon him by a holy God who will certainly hold him to a higher standard. But the shepherd's heart is tender. It is soft, and kind. This is not to say that shepherd's are perfect. They are sinners like the rest of us. No more, no less. But the godly shepherd has a heart for people. If you do not have a tender heart for the people God placed in your care, then as Phil Johnson would say, get out of the ministry and get out today.

The heartbeat of Christianity is love. There is no greater witness to the world that we are disciples of Christ than that we love one another. This love is nowhere more obvious than in the heart of godly shepherds. They love their Lord. They love His truth. And they love His sheep.

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