The Double-Edge of Worship & Conscience

Here’s something I read recently that directly applies to our context:

When the elders of the church call the people of God to worship, they are necessarily and unavoidably binding the conscience of worshipers (because Christians are forbidden to forsake the worship of God). This is not a problem if the church is worshiping biblically because the elders of the church are binding consciences according to the Word of God, as they are called to do in the Great Commission. But imagine a worship service that involves something without biblical warrant . . . If a believer finds this practice objectionable, what can he or she do? Either one must not participate (which sinfully breaks a divine command to worship God with the rest of the saints assembled) or one must participate (which sinfully violates one’s conscience).

—D.G. Hart & John Muether, With Reverence and Awe pg. 84-85

Say the church adds something to worship (let’s assume the church has the marks of a true church). They do something that Christ has not commanded in his Word. Well, it’s not acceptable worship.

Here’s the dilemma, the tight spot that this puts the congregation in.

On the one hand, the church (the pastor and/or elders) has bound consciences of the congregation where Scripture has not. They are telling the congregation to worship God this way, when God himself has not said to! They are overstepping their place, which is merely to say what the Bible says (ministerial authority). But they have introduced an innovation, and something manmade is now being forced on the people. With the best and most sincere intentions, no doubt.

So what should the Christian do? Well, since God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men (WCF 20.2), then the Christian should refuse to participate. If your conscience is bound by Scripture, then you can’t contradict or add to Scripture. To participate would be to violate your conscience, and sin against God, by making men lords of the conscience.

But here comes the other side of this dilemma. God’s Word clearly commands that we assemble for corporate worship. We are not at liberty to neglect the public worship of God, with his people, on the Lord’s Day.

So, wouldn’t leaving or not going to corporate worship be sinful? Remember, this is assuming the church is actually a true church, bearing the marks of the true church. They have just innovated with worship, but have not ceased to be a true church. So, to not be there to worship on the Lord’s Day would in fact be wrong.

See the burden that is placed on the people? Either way, it’s like you can’t win. On the one hand, you are going against your conscience by participating in a practice that God has not prescribed. Yet, to not worship with the church would be sin, because God commands that we worship him with the corporate body. Now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What’s the solution?

The only way in which a church can worship God and protect liberty of conscience is to observe the regulative principle, that is, to worship as God has commanded. Properly observed, it liberates worshipers from the tyranny of churches that impose on their people elements of public worship that have no biblical warrant. When churches engage in unbiblical practices (whether for the sake of tradition or innovation), they usurp the lordship of Christ, and automatically bind in an illegitimate fashion the consciences of believers. The sad and nearly inevitable result is the outbreak of controversy and disharmony in the church.

—Hart & Muether, pg. 85

What a responsibility the elders of the church have, then. This is merely one reason why the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is so vital: it protects liberty of conscience.

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Stop Worshiping

Previously: Keep the Truth, or Keep the Peace? and Unity by Sacrificing Truth

Leaving a church is a big deal. It’s a serious decision, not one to be taken lightly or made hastily. There is a huge, blurry, gray area between the extremes of never leaving a congregation no matter what and being promiscuous with Christian community (neither of which are biblical).

There are many factors at play in this decision. J. C. Ryle helps out with one element: the doctrine preached.

True Doctrine

He who deliberately settles down under any ministry which is unsound, is a very unwise man. . . . But I do believe, if false doctrine is preached in a local church, a Christian who loves his soul is quite right in not going to that local church. To hear unscriptural teaching fifty-two Sundays in every year is a serious thing. It is a continual dropping of slow poison into the mind! I think it almost impossible for a man willfully to submit himself to it, and not be harmed.

—J.C. Ryle, “The Fallibility of Ministers

Since stating the obvious is always helpful, I’ll say this: the local church does not replace your brain. The pastor does not replace your personal judgment. You do not surrender your responsibility to discern. God in his word has made it clear that you are personally responsible to distinguish between truth and error.

Now, the church is supposed to help with that, and actually train the people to do that. But, sinful as we are, sometimes the opposite is done. Sometimes false doctrine is being peddled to the congregation. And you as a student of Christ with the Bible in your hand are responsible to detect when the teaching is contrary to sound doctrine.

Do you think it might be a good idea for you to stop worshiping at that church, then? J. C. Ryle thinks so:

I see in the New Testament we are plainly told to “Test everything” and “Hold on to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I see in the Book of Proverbs that we are commanded to “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27). If these words do not justify a man in ceasing to worship at a church, if positively false doctrine is preached in it, I do not know what words can.

Does any one mean to tell us, that to attend your local denominational church is absolutely needful to a person’s salvation? If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

If false doctrine is being preached, then you are justified in leaving that local church, according to the mandates of Scripture.

Notice that question of Ryle’s regarding a denominational church. He’s pointing out an objection that is still around today. There are believers, who out of loyalty to their denomination (or non-denomination), will never leave their local congregation no matter what. Even if false doctrine is preached, it would be wrong to leave the church, because it’s our denomination! Non-denomination, movement, whatever label you prefer, that tendency is still there. I know first hand. I’ve seen it.

Ryle asks why would you stay even in the face of the preaching of false doctrine? Will leaving the denominational church compromise your salvation? If anyone dares make such a preposterous claim, please, step up to the microphone so everyone can hear you.

Now, if that wasn’t far enough, Ryle points out this ugly fact of life:

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than Roman Catholicism. Ought the congregation of such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly? They ought not. And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

Ouch. That hasn’t changed since Ryle’s time, either. I was just reading yesterday this excellent article by K. Scott Oliphint. Evangelical seminary graduates are sliding over to Rome, partly because they already have epistemology and synergism in common. As Oliphint says, “In agreement with Rome, these authors were taught that “God is not a divine rapist” (p. 53); conversion is not a monergistic work of God, but is synergistic.”

Evangelicalism (in the theological sense of the word) is very similar to Roman Catholicism. “By evangelicalism we mean . . . the general non-Reformed Protestantism” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Edition, pg. 308; also Defending the Faith kindle loc. 36). In other words, Arminianism. So there are not only outward similarities in evangelical practice (like moralism, the authority given to pastors), and preaching (Law without Gospel), but also presuppositionally. If you want to look into that, read The Defense of the Faith (4th Edition) by Cornelius Van Til, where he says “evangelicalism has retained something of Roman Catholicism both in its view of man and in its view of God” (pg. 102). Some of the essays in the book were first published as a six-part series which is available for free: Defending the Faith.

The migration of Evangelicals to Rome would not be so easy if evangelical churches weren’t already teaching like Rome. I know of a Roman Catholic who visited a large, popular, local evangelical church. After the service concluded, she commented: “it’s not that different.” That’s the kiss of death, right there.

That’s not even as bad as Christians, who believe in justification through faith alone, choosing to remain in the Roman Catholic church and attend the mass.

J. C. Ryle keeps going:

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than morality. The distinctive doctrines of Christianity are never clearly proclaimed. Plato, or Seneca, or Confucius, could have taught almost as much. Ought the congregation in such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly? They ought not. And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

I’ve been there. It was emotionally difficult to come to grips with, and admit it to myself. But I had to conclude at one point that the church I was a part of was not marked by the preaching of the Gospel. The preaching was morality. Some friends and I labeled that “Mosque.” Bryan Chapell says “Synagogue sermons.” The point is, you could take many evangelical sermons and preach them in a synagogue, a mosque, the kingdom hall, or the Mormon church, and walk out of there alive. Why? Because what makes Christianity different from them is entirely lacking in that preaching. It’s just morality. Ryle says we should not sit quietly with that. Make some noise. Because the truth is more important.

Division!

But division! That dirty word. Forbear everything, anything, to avoid even being remotely associated with divisiveness. The unforgivable sin, that is. Keep the peace, at all costs!

Yet, Christ said he brought a sword, to divide. Jesus Christ’s coming to earth caused division. Another classic case of “What Would Jesus Do?” that everyone seems to forget. What is worth dividing over? As in, detaching from your congregation? Truth. Remember, truth before peace. As Ryle says, returning to the matter of loyalty to a denomination,

But it is useless to expect attachment to the denomination, when the minister of the denominational church is ignorant of the Gospel, or a lover of the world. In such a case we must never be surprised if men forsake their denomination, and seek truth wherever truth is to be found. If the denominational minister does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, the conditions on which he claims the attention of his congregation are virtually violated, and his claim to be heard is at an end. It is absurd to expect the head of a family to endanger the souls of his children, as well as his own—for the sake of “the denomination.” There is no mention of denominations in the Bible, and we have no right to require men to live and die in ignorance, in order that they may be able to say at last, “I always attended my local denominational church.”

And all the non-denominational types said, “Amen!”

But honestly, all are addressed, here. Whether you want to admit to being a denomination or not, whatever label you choose, this is just as likely to happen. If the preacher, in any church, part of any “movement”, does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, his claim to be heard is at an end. Seriously, saying at last, “I always attended my local non-denominational church” doesn’t sound any better.

But division is bad!

Is division always bad? Not according to Ryle, based on all the Scriptural reflection up to this point.

False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue—and not a sin.

There you have it. Separate. Without fear, but with confidence that the Scripture itself promotes truth before peace. Separating from your congregation is a serious thing. But false doctrine and heresy are also serious. Peace is a good thing and something to pursue, but not at the expense of truth. Disruption needs to happen when the God’s truth is at stake, as Paul did with Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-16).

Just because it is the right thing to do doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. Just because you should get out, doesn’t mean it’s easy. It may be painful. To have remained silent and still would have been easier. Things would be more peaceful. False teaching is toxic.

To separate from a church that teaches false doctrine is wisdom. To sit still, be content, and take it quietly is harmful and demonstrates that the truth of God’s Word is not valued. Rather, to separate is a virtue, and praiseworthy. Indeed, we should show ourselves as disciples of the one who is Truth (John 14:6).

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Unity by Sacrificing Truth

Previously: Keep the Truth, or Keep the Peace?

J.C. Ryle, in talking about unity, says:

Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth, is worth nothing. It is not the unity which pleases God. The Church of Rome boasts loudly of a unity which does not deserve the name. It is unity which is obtained by taking away the Bible from the people, by gagging private judgment, by encouraging ignorance, by forbidding men to think for themselves. There is quiet and stillness enough in the grave, but it is not the quiet of health, but of death. It was the false prophets who cried “Peace!” when there was no peace.

—”The Fallibility of Ministers

Around here, the Church of Rome literally takes away the Bible from the people. It’s even believed that if a normal person reads the Bible they will go crazy. How can one even exercise private judgment when the very truth that would allow him to test their teaching has been taken away? So much for “test all things.”

You claim to have unity (that “unity” is grossly exaggerated, by the way). But at what cost? The cost of truth.

Lest you think that is merely a Roman Catholic problem, allow me to disillusion you.

The cults do it too. Gagging private judgment is the number 1 characteristic of a cult, in my mind, at least. That artificial unity and critical thinking do not mix. Ignorance must be cultivated, lest anyone think for themselves and realize what’s really going on. That’s why you’re not allowed to read any books/authors from outside the movement.

Now, lest you think that is merely a Roman Catholic and cult problem, allow me to further disillusion you.

There are plenty of Protestant denominations, movements, and congregations that do the exact same thing. When a church engages in “gagging private judgment, encouraging ignorance, forbidding men to think for themselves” in order to maintain unity, I think cult-like. Even if the gospel is not formally tampered with, that is not a healthy unity. And any disruption of the peace is punished. Such scare-words as “divisive” are used to suppress any valid criticism. Even questions are not allowed. Don’t disturb the peace.

But wait? Certainly that’s true for the “little people.” But, perhaps if you rise up into leadership, it’s not so bad. Certainly then you’ll have some voice, right? First, that doesn’t excuse gagging everyone else’s private judgment. Second, wrong. Say you’re in a place of regional leadership in a large church network. You notice truth being compromised throughout your movement. False teaching is spreading. What should you do? Per “chain of command”, you write letters to the ruling council expressing the areas of concern and asking what if anything will be done about it. Next: you are removed from your position.

Too hard to believe? Sadly, it’s a true story. For the sake of unity.

You claim to have unity. But at what cost? The cost of truth. Not only in Ryle’s day but even today, truth is so often sacrificed upon the altar of “unity.” Maintain the peace, even if it means losing the truth of Scripture. But hey, graveyards are peaceful too.

That is not true peace. It is a worthless unity and displeasing to God.

Peace and Unity — Ryle

What’s it like at your church? What kind of “unity” is there? Are you really allowed think for yourselves on the basis of Scripture? I ask “really” because I know plenty of congregants who will readily affirm that they are, even though ignorance is perpetuated by their leaders. Which is the authority, not just in theory, but practically: the leadership, or the Scriptures?

Is the leadership open to questions? Can you approach with the Bible in hand and say you think there’s a conflict between the teaching/practice of your local church, and what the Bible says? Is there more than just a superfluous encouragement to “be a Berean”?

Is there more than mere lip-service to having an educated congregation? Is there an unwritten rule against the people researching, reading books, and listening to outside sources?

Furthermore, what is the basis of your unity? What is your local church united on?

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Keep the Truth, or Keep the Peace?

The text is Paul rebuking Peter to his face at Antioch, Galatians 2:11-16, which reads:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

In this shocking episode, the Apostle Paul confronts the Apostle Peter. Not so bad? Well, he did it publicly. *Gasp*

Shouldn’t it have been in private? Apparently not. Why did Paul do such a thing as oppose Peter to his face? Because Peter did something wrong. Hypocrisy to be exact. And such that others followed Peter in his hypocrisy. So naturally, a public opposition was in order.

But, why disrupt the peace? You’ve got two Apostles of Jesus Christ, co-workers. The church is gathered together. Why did Paul have to oppose Peter to his face in front of God and everybody, just because Peter didn’t hang out with the Gentiles when the Jews arrived? Talk about killing the mood. So disruptive. So divisive. Why stir up a conflict?

Not only did Paul oppose Peter in public, in front of everybody, but he *deep breath* recorded it for everyone to read. Oh no. Paul wrote it down, and sent it to others. It was copied and forwarded. And people have been reading about this public rebuke for 2,000 years.

If something like that happened today, I can see the Christian-social-media-lynch-mob starting a Twitter-storm of rebuke for such unloving, divisive, un-Christlike behavior.

Why would the Apostle Paul do such a thing?

Because, Paul saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel (v. 14).

Let us now take a lesson gleaned from this text of inspired, infallible Scripture.

I now pass on to the second lesson that we learn from Antioch. That lesson is, “That to keep Gospel truth in the Church—is of even greater importance than to keep peace.”

—J.C. Ryle, “The Fallibility of Ministers

What? Balderdash! Not today! We avoid confrontation and conflict like the plague. Double that if you’re in a more indirect culture. Sprinkle some postmodern influence on top, and you’ve got a Christianity that never wants to disrupt the peace even if someone is contradicting the gospel. Never tell someone they are wrong. Especially if they are in authority.

As I’m heavily implying, this peaceful niceness attitude has more in agreement with cultural preferences than with the authoritative, infallible Word of God.

Losing truth is worse.

Ryle helpfully points out some details from the Galatians text that are obvious, but easy for us to miss. As I have personally discovered to be true, stating the obvious is always helpful. J.C. Ryle notes,

[Paul] runs the risk of all the consequences which might follow. He takes the chance of everything that might be said by the enemies of the Church at Antioch. Above all, he writes it down for a perpetual memorial, that it never might be forgotten, that, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, this public rebuke of an erring Apostle might be known and read by all men.

Now, why did he do this? Because he dreaded false doctrine; because he knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, because he would teach us that we ought to contend for the truth jealously, and to fear the loss of truth more than the loss of peace.

False doctrine is serious, and not to be tolerated. A little bit spoils everything. Therefore, we must fight for the truth. Even if that means disrupting the peace. Conflict. Confrontation. Losing the truth is worse than losing the peace.

Many people will put up with anything in religion, if they may only have a quiet life. They have a morbid dread of what they call “controversy.” . . .

So long as they have outward calm, smoothness, stillness, and order, they seem content to give up everything else. I believe they would have thought with Ahab that Elijah was a troubler of Israel; and would have helped the princes of Judah when they put Jeremiah in prison, to stop his mouth. I have no doubt that many of these men of whom I speak, would have thought that Paul at Antioch was a very imprudent man, and that he went too far! I believe this is all wrong.

I know from experience that J. C. Ryle is right. Many people will do anything to avoid controversy. Any disagreement over the truth is the worst thing ever. “Stop fighting!”As long as there’s peace, they don’t care what lies and heresies are flying about. Anything is better than controversy. We shouldn’t worry about what we believe, “doctrine divides.”

You bet it does. The truth makes controversy. The examples Ryle listed are but a few. I think also of Amos and Micah who were told to stop preaching. John the Baptist who was beheaded. Christ himself announced that he brought a sword, to divide people.

Paul should have just agreed to disagree, you know. At least, that’s the prevailing attitude I see from those who claim the name of Christ. As long as they can appear calm and peaceful, they will sacrifice everything else.

If you want a tweet from J.C. Ryle, here it is:

Sacrificing Truth — Ryle

In our churches, let us follow the infallible teaching from God in Galatians rather than the “culture of niceness” that sacrifices everything to avoid controversy. Let us jealously guard the truth and contend for it, even if it means losing the peace.

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(Almost) No Excuse

Dear, ChristianDear Kitten

I write this to you out of concern for your maturity. You say you love Jesus. But I’m wondering how well you know him? Tell me, what have you learned of him, recently? Are you growing in Christianity? What lengths have you gone to in order to learn more?

There’s not many excuses left to not be continuously learning through reading.

Perhaps you would do well to visit, maybe for the first time, the letter to the Hebrews. He rebuked the congregation, calling them “too lazy to understand”and saying that by this time they should be teachers (Hebrews 5:11-12).

How long have you professed to follow the Lord Jesus? Should you be a teacher, by now? But you already know that you have much to learn.

Indeed, none of us never stop learning. All Christians are forever students. But there is something to be said about the proportion. It seems natural to expect more from someone who has been a Christian for 10 years, than someone of 5 years.

On top of that, you may claim a position of service in the church, or have some teaching responsibility, or have association with fellow believers that could teach you so much.

Indeed, to whom much is given, much is required.

Take this example, if you will:

Some time ago I lost one of my best friends, a woman eighty-six years old, the most exciting lay teacher I’ve ever been exposed to.

The last time I saw her on planet Earth was at one of those aseptic Christian parties. We were sitting there on eggshells, looking pious, when she walked in and said, “Well, Hendricks, I haven’t seen you for a long time. What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?”

She had a way of changing a group’s dynamics. Her philosophy was, Let’s not bore each other with each other; let’s get into a discussion, and if we can’t find anything to discuss, let’s get into an argument. . . .

She died in her sleep at her daughter’s home in Dallas. Her daughter told me that just before she died, she had written out her goals for the next ten years.

May her tribe increase!

—Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives pg. 23

Seriously now, how would you respond to that question: “What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?” Honestly, should I instead ask how many years has it taken for you to read five books? Let alone reading enough so you could choose the best five out of all of them?

What’s that you say? You don’t need to read? Au contraire.

Charles Spurgeon, who himself did not attend seminary, begs to differ on this point.

The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books

There is no escaping the written word. Even seminary classes assign books to read. When you were in school, there were books (perhaps that was the last time you read one). No amount of Youtube videos will replace the great books. No blog will, either. There’s no getting around it: you must read books.

Oh, but it is inconvenient, you say? It’s a particularly busy time of year. You have too much going on. Later this year would be better. After this period, you’ll do it. You are just waiting for this and that to get over with, and then you will get down to more diligent study. Yes, well,

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

—C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time” in The Weight of Glory

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. C.S. Lewis smoked a pipe. You would probably know that if you read. Anyway, once again Spurgeon has said something similar to the Oxford Don. Spurgeon notes how the Apostle Paul did not let his unfavorable conditions stop him:

Paul herein is a picture of industry. He is in prison; he cannot preach: what will he do? As he cannot preach, he will read. As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats. The fishermen were gone out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets. So if providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class—if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading. If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the apostle read you a lesson of industry.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books

What do you do, dear Christian, when you are not busy with your occupation?

We should be learning. That is obvious. And God in his grace has not designed us to be alone. He has blessed his church through the ages with faithful teachers as gifts to us. We can and must take advantage of that resource.

But, money. Ah yes. Finances most certainly can be a real obstacle. Most people, however, simply need to spend wiser. They can’t afford a small book because they spend on other things that they can easily do without. It’s a matter of value. Many Christians, if they simply changed priorities, and quit spending on trifles, and seriously examined how they steward the money God has given to them, could easily begin investing in solid reading material.

 

With the amount of good books being published, and the best old ones being made available, there has been no better time to be reading. But as soon as you start building that wishlist on Amazon, you see the price start to climb. Bummer. Unless you have people who will surprise you with a gift (one reader actually did, and made my day with an excellent book), and you are financially insecure, you won’t get very far. I understand. Especially for hardcopies. Amazon doesn’t exist, where I am. If it isn’t electronic, it’s going to be a long while, indeed. For the multitude of Christians living in the less affluent parts of the world, solid books are not being sold and it would be even more expensive to try to order online, from another country.

Perhaps that then, is a legitimate excuse to not be reading? Not so fast.

Behold, a great mercy of God: free digital resources

And this is why there is little excuse for not continuing to study and learn. No matter where you are, so long as you have 1) an internet connection, and 2) some device to read ebooks, you have access to an overwhelming amount of solid wisdom from the Church. For free. You don’t even need to own that internet connection or screen you’ll be reading on. But seriously, free wifi is everywhere now. And I am surprised at how many smartphones are walking around town. It seems to be not unreasonable to expect someone to download an ebook and read it, anymore.

There is so much available electronically, that it’s not for lack of resources that Christians stop learning. The truth is, the proverbial (and nonsensical) trapped-on-a-desert-island-alone-with-my-Bible situation is not a reality. Even if you are outside of the first world, there is still plenty available for free.

From Monergism:

We believe the Church should have open access to Scripturally/Theologically sound edifying Christian literature and that one need not be held back from having a significant Christian library because of cost.

I feel the same way. For those of you who desire to learn more but think that it’s impossible, be encouraged. So much has been made available to you. Many obstacles have been removed. You can amass a rich library for yourself.

For everyone else who may take comfort in the perceived impossibility of getting good books, realize the lack of excuses left. Maybe the only thing holding you back is discipline. Are you not so much a victim of circumstances as “too lazy to understand”?

I just recently read Holiness by J.C. Ryle. And I was able to because it is available for free in Kindle format. And I praise God for it! I’ll be reading that book every year.

Since I enjoyed his writing so much, I just stocked up on a bunch more books by J. C. Ryle. For free.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.28.17 AM
Ryle library

That will take awhile. And all free. You can do this. There’s little excuse not to.

As Spurgeon said, you need to read. As C.S. Lewis said, don’t wait until it’s convenient, for it never will be.

 

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When to Get Out

No, I’m not talking about when to get out of your country that (seems to be) going down the drain.

I’m talking about when to get out of your church. When should you leave your denomination? Or, for you “non-denominational” types, when to get out of your “movement”?

This is an important matter. It’s something that could be considered at any time. People leaving their church is something that happens regularly. It doesn’t always happen for the right reasons. And when a church should be left, people don’t always leave.

There’s so many variables that need to be addressed before the discussion can really get going.

One such important factor, which I have seen passed over consistently in articles about leaving your church, is what defines a church. It should be obvious as the sun that before we ask “should I get out of this church?”, we should ask “am I even in a church?” As in, before you know when to get out, you should know if you’ve been in a real church at all. It seems common sense to address what defines a church before covering reasons to or not to leave one. Those reasons would not apply if a person was not in a true church in the first place.

The Marks of the Church, in brief, are:

  1. Preaching of the Gospel
  2. The Sacraments rightly administered
  3. Church Discipline (assumes formal membership)

If your “fellowship” doesn’t have all three of those, it’s not a church. That must be made clear before the issue of leaving is considered. You cannot leave what you are not in.

Church membership – that formal, public means of expressing your commitment to a congregation and of that congregation’s commitment to you – is an important, in fact a vital, non-negotiable, part of being a Christian.

Carl Trueman

If where you are turns out not to be a church after all, find one. If you church actually is, have you thought about what it would take for you to leave?

I ran across some helpful wisdom on this issue in a place I wasn’t looking for it. That’s a benefit of constantly reading solid books, by the way. Anyway, J. C. Ryle in his wonderful-you-should-read-it-every-year-book, Holiness, says this:

In the last place, would you understand what the times require of you in reference to the Church of England? Listen to me, and I will tell you. No doubt you live in days when our time–honored church is in a very perilous, distressing and critical position. Her rowers have brought her into troubled waters. Her very existence is endangered by papists, infidels, and liberationists without. Her life–blood is drained away by the behavior of traitors, false friends and timid officers within. Nevertheless, so long as the Church of England sticks firmly to the Bible, the Articles, and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the church. When the Articles are thrown overboard, and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not until then, it will be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. At present, let us stick to the old ship.

—J. C. Ryle, Holiness Kindle loc. 5578-5583

You had better be considering the standards, that pattern of sound words that your denomination/movement subscribes (assuming that they wrote it down). If all your church has on paper as an official, binding document is a short statement of faith, then there can be whole lot of maneuvering without any accountability. Do not think for a moment that it’s possible to not have a creed or confession. Every person and every church/denomination has one. The questions are, is it written down, and is it biblical? If it’s not written down, it cannot be tested. And if it’s not written down, no members can detect when someone has drifted from the “official” teaching upheld by that church.

Let’s adapt Ryle’s wise statement:

Nevertheless, so long as the [denomination/church] sticks firmly to the Bible, the [confession of faith/catechisms; standards], and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the church. When the [confession of faith/catechisms; standards] are thrown overboard, and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not until then, it will be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. At present, let us stick to the old ship.

There is a long history of this. It’s how the Orthodox Presbyterian Church came to be, when the mainline denomination became liberal. When the other denominations (Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran) were throwing their confessions and doctrinal standards overboard, several of their congregations abandoned ship. And it continues, as even some “Reformed” denominations become more accepting of homosexual practice.

Like I said, this is far from a theoretical matter.

I appreciate Ryle’s mentioning of his church’s confessional document, the Thirty-Nine Articles. That’s the summary of biblical teaching that that church subscribes to. Once a church as thrown that out, it has in effect broken it’s own rules. The purpose of confessions is to provide the broad summary of biblical teaching. When someone asks what we believe, we don’t just say “the Bible.” The quick and necessary follow up is, “and what does the Bible teach?” Instead of reinventing the wheel every five minutes, we point to our secondary standards, that official document of the church that summarizes the Christian faith. Every minister must subscribe to it. It is the standard by which teaching is checked, in submission to the ultimate authority of Scripture. The confession of faith of a denomination/church is central to this question of leaving.

An example is the denomination of the church I attend. It is painfully apparent to me that there is zero enforcement of the Westminster Confession of Faith. “Well, have you explored that denomination nation-wide?” No, I have not. So how can I make such a sweeping claim?

Because the Confession hasn’t made a bit of difference in the city where I am. And if the Confession is not being enforced and adhered to, and discipline dished out according to them, at the local level, then they might as well not be there at all! If our so-called “standards” actually aren’t setting the limits on what we preach and what we do as a church, then why are they there, exactly? And why do we claim to believe them, exactly?

I call this “confessional drift.” There has been a wandering from the pattern of sound words at the local level (and even at the presbytery level). And what have been the consequences? Has there been a call back to the Standards? Has there been a reminding that we have Standards that limit what we believe and practice? Has there been discipline for those who by there words, doctrine, and practice, contradict the documents they claim to subscribe? Have pastors and elders within the denomination been held accountable for teaching and doing things that go against the teaching they claim to submit to?

No. At least, not where I am. And where I am, at the local level, the level of congregations of souls of people sitting under preaching, is where it matters.

The confessional drift is nation wide. There’s no attempt to even hide the amount of women who are filling the pulpits throughout the country, for example. That “evangelical feminism” is merely one manifestation of leaving the pattern of biblical teaching we claim to believe.

Is it time to leave? I know there are some who prefer reform to separation. Try to pull it all back to where we should be. That could solve the problem, in the sense that when you start calling people out for leaving confessional faith and practice, that they will all kick you out.

Has the Confession been thrown overboard? It’s usually clear when a denomination does that, like what the PC(USA) and UCCP have been doing lately. There is no doubt about the apostasy of those denominations. And I’ll never forget this line from John Shelby Spong (Episcopal Church), when James White referenced the Thirty-Nine articles during a debate with him, he replied “We got rid of those a long time ago.” To my knowledge, that hasn’t happened here. But I could be very wrong.

Perhaps the condition right now is merely what Ryle described as: “Her life–blood is drained away by the behavior of traitors, false friends and timid officers within.”

This is all something we would do well to think about, before it becomes an unavoidable choice. We should study well before the exam, not during it.

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Remember this in Choosing a Spouse

From J.C. Ryle:

Remember this in choosing a husband or wife, if you are unmarried. It is not enough that your eye is pleased, that your tastes are met, that your mind finds congeniality, that there is amiability and affection, that there is a comfortable home for life. There needs something more than this. There is a life yet to come. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be helped upwards or dragged downwards by the union you are planning? Will it be made more heavenly or more earthly, drawn nearer to Christ or to the world? Will its religion grow in vigor, or will it decay? I pray you, by all your hopes of glory, allow this to enter into your calculations. “Think,” as old Baxter said, and “think, and think again,” before you commit yourself. “Be not unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14). Matrimony is nowhere named among the means of conversion. Remember Lot’s choice.

—J.C. Ryle, Holiness Kindle loc. 2833-2839

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