Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Why Rebellious "Christians" Prefer Celebrity Pastors, Dead Puritans, and Megachurches over Smaller Local Ministries

You might be asking, “pastorless preaching and teaching”? What’s that? Let me explain. What I mean by the term is any preaching  or teaching where the pastor does not know you and cannot rebuke you through it. Pastors of a small church usually know their congregation well. They know what issues are going on. They know what their people need to hear because they are acquainted with the church’s struggles. Hence, God uses them to speak to the people through His Word and exercise of authority in the same way God uses the father of a family to lead that family.

Now, imagine a family listening to a father down the street who does not know them but they like what his kids say that he says. They like his pithy sayings. He’s a super cool dad. The problem is that God has not given that family that father. He gave that family their own father to lead them. What that means is that they are not being led by God because they have ignored the means God has provided them to be led. Instead, they merely have the illusion of being led because they feel inspired by the sayings of the dad down the street.

But the real reason they love the dad down the street is because he can’t really correct them when they want to do something that is wrong. He can’t really discipline them when they decide to be rebellious. He can’t do any of that because he doesn’t actually know them. He doesn’t know anything about them or what they are doing. He doesn’t know that they are going out and partying until late into the night, getting drunk and sleeping around. He doesn’t know that they violently yell at their siblings or real parents. He doesn’t know that they are actually awful kids. And that’s why they like him.

You see, he reflects what kind of god they want. They want a god who doesn’t judge them, a god who just encourages, a god who doesn’t talk to them about any subject about which they feel uncomfortable. They don’t want a god who will change their lives from the course which they have chosen. They like their sin and so they like their false god and their surrogate fathers.

What does this have to do with pastorless preaching and teaching? It’s actually the term I would use to describe any time someone chooses to go to a megachurch, listen to celebrity pastors online, or read dead teachers in replacement of placing themselves under the discipleship ministry of a small local church. You can get a variety of teaching from these, some more solid than others, but you can’t get good teaching because good teaching is creational and is going to lead you to humility rather than rebellion toward those who God has placed over you. And not submitting to the discipleship ministry that God has placed in that small local church is rebellion against God.

There is a reason why the Pharisees loved the dead prophets and killed the greatest of them who was right in front of them. You can imagine those who do not know you to be on your side. They can’t see what you are doing or what direction you are going in or how you are interpreting them. They can’t do anything because they’re not the shepherds in your time and place who God has decreed should represent Him to you.

This is also why some will even try to find pastors who, although they may know them, will not rebuke them or ask hard questions of them. The rebellious want pastorless teaching because it gives the illusion that they are being discipled in obedience to God when, in fact, they are just as hard-hearted toward God as they were when they did not have a claim to Christianity.

I see this a lot among the young, restless and reformed. They cultivate communities online or elsewhere that are just echo chambers of what they want to think and do. Whenever someone challenges them, it’s met with shouts of “Off with your head!”, or less dramatically, defriending you from the group or chat.

Cyprian, later quoted by Calvin, once said, “He cannot have God as Father who does not also have the Church as Mother.” He was thinking of a mother in authority over her children, nurturing them and disciplining them when needed. Guidance is necessary and so personal knowledge of the children on part of the mother is necessary. What this means is that no one who has replaced the discipleship ministry of the small local church with a rock concert, online celebrities, puritan paperbacks, or non-confrontational pastors has made the Church his mother.

And I would argue is that is because rebellious people don’t want fathers, and therefore, they don’t want God as their Father. They want themselves and so they mold themselves in their own image, what they admire, the lives they want to live, and ignore anything else that would redirect them toward an obedient life that cannot be lived out by their doing what is right in their own eyes and having that verified by their selective interpretations of a pastorless teaching.

You can see the venom of these untransformed people who think they are Christians because they read Van Til and listen to Reformed Forum when they are directly challenged by any type of thinking or practice contrary to their own. You can see that they have very little direct challenge in their daily lives and so they are largely offended by it when it comes into their conveniently arranged world of the echo chamber.

The Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, solid Reformed pastors are helpful to read and to listen to, but they cannot replace the teaching and counsel of the local church pastor who knows his congregation and what issues are going on. Jonathan Edwards isn’t going to tell you that your being foolish and choosing not to grow up. Spurgeon isn’t going to rebuke you for having an ongoing feud with another Christian. Tozer isn’t going to tell you directly to stop slandering your pastors and discipline you for continuing to do so. Piper isn’t going to counsel you in your marriage. MacArthur isn’t going to sit with your family for five hours while it’s in a moral crisis. Your local elders will. With all do respect to MacArthur, he has to ask people’s names when they come to ask him a question at the mic. That’s just the nature of big churches but they don’t work well for genuine discipleship because of that, which is why most large churches create smaller churches within them. You might view these men like the Pharisees viewed the prophets of old but someone needs to tell you one of the most important things you will ever hear, “They’re not your prophets.” Your prophets are right in front of you. Your prophets are addressing you specifically. Your prophets are the only ones with whom you really need to concern yourself. Everything else is supplementary, and yet, the supplement is taking place of the substance, the condiment is being eaten without the sandwich, the salt without the steak.

My fear is that many by doing this are now leading lives that are drifting away from the truth and its necessary fruits all under the delusion that they are growing simply because they are being intellectually and emotionally inspired.

As a cautionary tale, let us remember the many audiences of the Prophets and of Christ Himself who were often inspired by them, but bore no real fruit of a changed life because they did not bring themselves under obedience to those authorities.

The elders of a local church, a small local church (i.e., one small enough for the elders to know what issues are going on among the people) are given as a gift to God’s people. They are there to bring it up to maturity in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. And since there is simply no other means given in the Scripture for a Christian to grow to maturity, the only conclusion one can make of these rebellious souls is that they don’t want to live the Christian life. They want to live their lives and have Christianity affirm them in doing so. In essence, the act of throwing off the authorities God has placed over you to direct you is to throw off the authority of God, and is, therefore, nothing short of apostasy.

The good news is that if you find yourself in this position, Christ calls you to repent today of the play version of Christianity and enter into real deal. Read your books, listen to your podcasts, and attend your occasional megachurch meeting if you must, but do not replace the teaching of your local small church pastors with them because they are your real fathers representing your real Father. 

The sad thing is that they might subconsciously think that they are escaping judgment but what they are actually escaping is love. What all of these dead teachers and celebrity pastors can't do is love you. And in the end, that is all the elders of your small local church are tasked to do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

An Argument for Cessationism

 Cessationism is often caricatured as an anitsupernatural sentiment inherited from the Enlightenment tendency toward naturalism, and subsequently, a practical deism where the world merely functions as a natural machine overseen from a distance by its Creator. However, let me say at the outset that many continuationists don't understand cessationism if this their critique. I, for one, as a cessationist, believe that God can do anything and performs miracles in the world on a daily basis, the most normative of miracles being the regeneration of fallen people and the continual transformation of these sinners into saints who are miraculously being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. 

On top of this, God heals, nudges His people, orchestrates their lives in such a way so as to continually renew their minds and lifestyles, and speaks to them through His Word so that these healings and orchestrations orient them in the direction He wishes them to go. 

On top of this, God is fully capable and may on occasion still give a person a supernatural ability to speak or be understood in another language and/or prophesy something to a person. 

But what I want to say today is that not only is this not a gift of tongues or prophecy but that specifically the gift of prophecy isn't often seen in either cessationist or continuationist churches.

We continually hear the mantra that cessationists need to engage in all sorts of theological acrobatics in order to argue that those miraculous outpourings are no longer happening today. This is usually stated because continuationists are looking for specific prooftexts that give a time limitation on the gifts. Of course, what is often assumed in all of this is that these periods of miraculous outpourings are not themselves understood as having a time limit given to them by the biblical pattern itself. 

What seems to be missed in the discussion is that these sorts of outpourings do not continually occur throughout the Bible. They only show up in three places: at the establishment and verification of the Law through Moses and Joshua, at the establishment and verification of the Prophets through Elijah and Elisha, and the establishment of the New Testament through Jesus Christs and His apostles. See, for instance, the statement in 1 Samuel 3:1, where it says that "in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon." There is no continuationism even after Moses and Joshua.

Miraculous and supernatural things do exist throughout the Bible, as they do today, but they do not exist in massive outpourings such as when you have the authority of Scripture being established or verified. And, as in the verse above, prophesy is even very rare throughout the Bible (that's why prophets were of note--if everyone was prophesying it would become a common thing).

However, that is not the argument I wish to make today. What I wish to point out today is that prophecy specifically is almost unheard of in the modern day even among charismatic/continuationist churches. By "prophecy" I do not mean merely the act of proclamation but the act of receiving what is proclaimed, as it is commonly used in this debate. Furthermore, by "prophecy" I am referring to the gift of prophecy, not an occasional instance of it. Prophecy in this sense is largely unseen in the church today.

You might say, "Not true, I hear it claimed all of the time." The problem with this statement is that those claiming it and those hearing it are calling something prophecy that isn't. If continuationists want to be faithful to Scripture, and that's why they're continuationists, and they don't like the "acrobatics" of their theological opposition, then they should not commit them themselves. If the gift of prophecy continues today then that means that the biblical version of prophecy must continue today. It cannot be some other thing that one is merely calling "prophecy." 

Hence, it becomes important to note not what prophecy is in some generic sense, i.e., revelation from God, since revelation from God can be in the form of the natural world, the Bible, in gifts of knowledge and discernment, etc. Rather, it is important to note what prophecy is in terms of how one receives it in the Bible. 

One can argue that he is continuing to get revelation from God through the urim and thummim all he wants but if his manner in continuing it is flipping a coin then he is not continuing to get revelation through the urim and thummim. He may want to argue that he is getting revelation through something entirely new but that in no way is his continuing the biblical means of receiving revelation, and he, therefore, is not a continuationist, as innovation is not continuation.

What I see everywhere in these churches is the claim that God spoke to this person or that person and said this or that but when questioned as to the means of receiving this revelation they describe things that are either belonging to intuition, emotional, thoughts that pop into their heads, voices they hear, etc., none of which describe the means God uses to communicate throughout the Bible.

Can God communicate through all of these means? Sure. But it would be a new thing to call them prophecy since this is not how prophecy is received in the Bible.

Throughout the Scripture, it is very clear that in order to receive communication from God, one must either have God manifest Himself in this world by becoming something physical (e.g., a theophany, angel, incarnation, etc.) or we must disconnect from our world in order to connect to the unseen realm by either going into a trance or going to sleep. Once this is done, one can receive a vision while in a trance or a dream while sleeping. God can then communicate to the individual.

We see this throughout the Scripture. Novices, who are not prophets, get things in dreams (e.g., Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis, Samuel sleeping in the temple as a child, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph in Matthew, Pilate's wife, etc.). A prophet, however, has the ability to put himself into a trance, and therefore, can go into a dreamlike state with his eyes open.

This state is described a few times in Scripture. In Numbers 24:4 and 16, it is repeated twice of Balaam who is a prophet of YHWH (22:18).

"This is the utterance of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Who falls down, with eyes wide open" (24:4)

"This is the prophecy of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falling down, has his eyes wide open" (v. 16)

In 1 Samuel 19:24, Saul is laying on the ground while he prophesies. This is because one disconnects from this world in order to receive revelation from the other. 

In Zechariah 4:1, the prophet says that the angel who had speaking to him woke him up as if from sleeping, although this passage may indicate an angelic messenger turning Zechariah from a novice who gets revelation in a dream into a prophet who can get revelation from now on in a vision. 

This is why Paul can tell the prophets to speak in order. The spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets because they can choose when to go into a trance in order to perhaps receive revelation (1 Cor 14:26-32).

To reiterate, God can put thoughts in your head, nudge you emotionally, direct your steps, give you knowledge and discernment, etc. but this isn't prophecy and it certainly isn't a gift of it where you can exercise it at will. In fact, the very fact that it is a gift means that you can exercise it at will but how is this being done if prophecy is just a reference to whenever God chooses to give you revelation? It prophecy includes the ability to go into a trance in order to get that revelation, however, then the spirit of the prophets is truly subject to him (which is also why people can inquire of a prophet to go before the Lord for them).

This is indicated in all of the other prophets who get their prophecies through visions, not direct correspondence with God (Isa 1:1; Ezek 1:1; Amos 1:1; Obad 1:1; Nah 1:1). Dreams themselves, when revelatory, are described as visions while on the bed (Dan 4:13). Even when it is not explicitly laid out, as in Jeremiah's opening prophecy, it is clear that it is a vision that he is seeing (Jer 1; Zech 1). It is clear that the variant expression "the word of the Lord came through X" that this refers to visions as well, and is interpreted as such in places like Hosea 12:10, "I spoke to the prophets, i.e., gave them many visions and told parables through them" (also see Amos 1:1). All of the words indicating that the prophet is seeing (חזה) are connected to the חזון "vision" (Micah 1:1; Isa 13:1; Hab 1:1). These are dreams that one has while either in a trance or sleeping. They are not a voice in one's head, a voice heard elsewhere, thoughts, emotions, intuitions, etc. So "the word of the Lord came to X" means it came through a vision or dream unless an angel or theophany are noted.

In fact, God speaks to all of the prophets, except Moses, through either visions and dreams or through angels, and sometimes angels in visions and dreams but never directly while the person is still connected to this world. That happens only when God takes on physicality through theophany or incarnation. 

 I see very little if any of this today. And if the argument is that God has changed what prophecy looks like then one must argue that he is not practicing the prophecy of the Bible but rather something new. This is not continuationism. 

Hence, the admission that the "prophets" of one's church are not actually receiving revelation as the prophets of the Bible received it is an admission that cessationism is true even by those who call themselves continuationists. It is something new, an innovation, and I would chalk it up to a mislabeling of some things that may be God working in the lives of his people and the rest of it to the Enlightenment idea that God speaks to us directly without mediation. The latter is the idea that I don't need a theophany, an angel, a dream or vision, or a Bible for God to speak to me. He does so directly and unmediated. Hence, He can do so while I eat chips on the couch watching TV or when I am in the middle of sermon wide awake and in no dreamlike state at all. 

And the outpouring of this sort of thing isn't happening because the Law and the Prophets and the New Testament Scripture has already been established and verified. Hence, if it is happening at all, as in the days of Samuel, it is happening with such rarity that it cannot be described as existing in a gift or even as something normative for the churches. Hence, the prophetic gift has ceased.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Observations on Carl Lentz and the Qualifications for Ministry: A Word for Pastors

Many of you have already heard of Carl Lentz's dismissal from his church because of what seems to be a long lasting affair with one or more women. Let me first say, I don't really care to jump on the bandwagon of people saying, I told you so. Largely, I don't think it is helpful to attribute a desire for other women as something with which only people with bad theology struggle. There are pastors who can be completely qualified when they go into ministry and become disqualified, and so this is not a post about how only disqualified ministers commit adultery. 

Secondly, I will and forever say that everyone I know is an adulterer. We are unfaithful to God even as Christians and therefore unfaithful to our spouses in various ways. We are breakers of the covenant by our sinful nature. This doesn't mean that all adultery is the same. Most people are adulterers in their desires but not their actions. Some are adulterers in their thoughts, some in what they watch, others in how they interact with women, and still others by actually becoming physical with other women. No one is clean but there are "better" and worse manifestations of a sin. 

For instance, a person may hate his brother, which is the seed of murder, as Jesus says, and that sin is worthy of hell, but there is an expression of depravity in actually physically murdering one's brother that goes far beyond the hatred. Likewise, a desire is not a sin but the enacting of the desire is and to the degree that one enacts the desire is the degree to which his lack of self control has left the desire unchecked. 

However, having qualified my statements with these above, I want to also say that Carl Lentz was never qualified to be a pastor and his adultery is merely one of many proofs of that fact. The fact that he was never a one-woman-man, as Paul describes it, is seen in his behavior throughout his ministry and in his very ministry itself. A qualified man may fall into the fullest expression of a sin but an unqualified man almost always will. There is a reason why sexual immorality characterizes false teachers and the wicked world in general. It is the last stop on the train out of Eden. Again, it is possible for anyone to have traveled so far away that he makes it to that stop but some people have lived their whole lives at that station and were never in Eden. I believe that this was evident long ago in the life and ministry of Carl Lentz. 

Let's begin with the most controversial, which is the fact that he became a pastor at a young age. Despite the fact that Paul warns Timothy not to set anyone in place who is a novice, which I take to mean someone who is not a seasoned Christian who has grown up in a solid Christian atmosphere of discipleship, we put young men in the pulpit because they went to seminary where they magically became qualified due to the fact that they can now quote some Greek and put a three point sermon together. Many young men are put in the pulpit with even less than that. But pastors are referred to as "elders" for a reason. They are "older men" in the faith. They have been seasoned. I am not arguing that they all must be physically older, but that a seasoned younger man is a rarity and the pattern is more often that one becomes a seasoned Christian, especially in our heavily abbreviated Christian culture that exposes God's seed to very little water at a time. A younger man in the ministry is a danger for this reason alone but there is more than this that makes youth a threat and that is the issue of beauty.

 He will, if for nothing else, often be more attractive, simply by way of his youth, to the younger women in the congregation. It's funny to say but you kind of want the old man who looks like a troll. That's the opposite of what most churches are looking for. I remember when I was hired at the age of 28 years old that one of the elders said, "Our church doesn't have many people but now that we have a handsome pastor we might attract more people." We're looking for the more handsome because we are trying to attract people using the wrong means. Although no one likes getting old and uglier, I actually thank God that I have this consolation to the quality of "trollness" I have acquired through sickness, weight gain and age, so that I no longer have to deal with such nonsense. But many churches still think this way and so they want the youngest most attractive pastors they can get. This dynamic makes ministry all the more perilous and apt toward producing situations where adulterous desires, both on the part of the pastor and on the part of the women in the congregation, can take hold and come to fruition.

Lentz also displayed a large amount of immodesty in his ministry. He looked for opportunities to take his shirt off to show his ripped physique. Whereas most of us start out as naive in thinking that women do not lust over men when they see their chests and abs, it only takes one or two times to learn that this is a myth. I remember being shocked by this when I was younger but once I discovered that what I had been told was a lie, modesty compelled me to cover up in the same way we tell women to cover up. 

But immodesty is not only in how one dresses but in how one acts with the opposite sex. It is signaling to the other that you are sexually available to them. This can be done with words or body language while one is fully covered up to the hilt in clothing. It is being flirtatious or talking about things that should only be discussed between a husband and wife. Often, it is becoming emotionally tied to someone by sharing things one does not feel comfortable sharing with his or her spouse. Whatever form the immodesty takes, it is often the second to the last stop out of Eden.

One might also note here a common foolish practice I have observed among many pastors, and that is to be alone with a woman who is not your wife. I cannot tell you how many times this situation has presented itself in ministry and how many times I have had to say, "Keep that door open," "I can't drive with you alone there," "I'm bringing my wife," or "I'll be bringing my son," etc. As daunting as it may sound, however, it takes the littlest of effort really. I confess that it is not really because I was worried that I or the other person would do anything but simply that it takes any possibility of even the thought of it off the table. No opportunity is created for the flesh to wonder. Yet, it is painfully obvious that if one is not alone with a woman it becomes a little difficult to fall with her. A pattern of accountability is often not in place and we wonder why our flesh takes advantage of such a situation. 

Another thing to consider is that pastors must be mature enough to have a sense of sufficiency in Christ so that they do not seek it in the opposite sex. Anything left over should go to one's wife. There should be nothing left for anyone else. If you have someone in ministry who needs the attention of the opposite sex in order to feel valuable or alive, that someone is not qualified for the ministry. 

Pastors are also fathers to the congregation, not young men on the prowl. The women in our congregations are family we are there to watch over and love, not romantically but as family. They are our mothers and sisters and daughters. Once we are married, they are no longer prospects for intimate relationships. They are family only, and any breach of that is incestuous in our thinking. The man who commits adultery, in mind or deed, with someone in his congregation has forgotten that, and is not qualified for the ministry. Women are preyed upon enough in their lives and they themselves are distorted in their sexuality. They need our help to grow out of that depravity and they need a safe place, the home of God, to do so. They don't need another predator or man in their life lacking self control to feed into their destruction. We are to be shepherds of these sheep but if they become objects of desire in place of our wives then our only possible relationship to them at that point is that of wolves. 

Furthermore, it is clear that Lentz needed to be accepted by the group as a peer and not a father. This was obvious in his interactions with Justin Bieber. He wanted to roll with the boys rather than be a man who taught the boys how to be men. Again, this is a telltale sign of immaturity in that the person lacks a sense of sufficiency in Christ.

It should also be said that there is a certain greed in what Carl Lentz did. I was talking with my wife about it and if you have seen pictures of his wife, she is a stunningly beautiful woman. In fact, I would venture to say that she is far more beautiful of a woman than the woman he slept with. I would further speculate that she is likely far more beautiful than all of the women he slept with if there are many more. But that isn't always why men commit adultery. It reminds me of the story Nathan tells David after he has committed adultery with Bathsheba. He could have had any woman he wanted in the kingdom and God would have given her to him but he wanted what God did not give him. He was the rich man with all of the sheep but nothing is more desirable to one who is spoiled than having what he doesn't. It's all he can think about. His cup runneth over but he can't enjoy drinking it because he is too busy wondering how much wine is left in the barrel that he didn't get. Adultery is just the fruit of a life lived in the flesh. The flesh is never satisfied because it has replaced God with itself, its own pleasures, and now must feed an infinite black hole with anything and everything that it can, never satisfied, never filled. If it is given a throne higher than all thrones except God's, by the very side of God Himself, it wants God's throne instead. This greed, this spoiled brattiness, that all fallen men have, it is carnal, and if one's life is characterized by a dissatisfaction in what he has, it is a major sign that he is not a mature Christian and is not qualified for ministry.

Finally, the qualifications of a pastor can be seen in the type of people he produces in his ministry. Paul says to the Corinthians that they are his letter proving his qualifications as an apostle. Lentz's ministry produced people like himself. Even if they are not theologically and morally shallow, immodest in their dress and behavior, and driven by emotionalism, which I think many in his congregation actually are, they also show a severe lack of basic Christian love, which is the worst you can say about any church anywhere. This man was in sin, it was painfully obvious, but no one did anything about it. Gossip went every which way but no one loved the very man they believed God had placed over them as their shepherd. Now, I don't believe Lentz ever was this for them but they did. They believed that he guarded them from wolves and when the wolves turned on him they watched and even joined in. 

These types of false churches exist all over. They are not only seen in their bad theology and ethics, their emotionalism in singing and preaching, their gimicks that replace the Spirit of God in an attempt to attract the fleshly eye, but in the way they deal with sin in the congregation when they actually believe someone is sinning or has sinned. If someone sins, they ignore it until it is brought out and shamed. Once shamed, they join in on the condemnation of the person, expelling him or her from the group even when the person has repented. One congregation not only expelled their former pastor from the church but from the very town and his own house after he had repented. But it was supposedly OK because they were really mad and they needed time and counseling to deal with his betrayal. And that is precisely what displays the problem. Bad theology and ethics is evidence of a Christless ministry. Oh, yes, Christ is proclaimed a lot in name but the cross is not seen as the sufficient answer to sin. We still need our pound of flesh. And now you have a church displaying an attitude that is a very denial of the gospel itself. It either looks past sin in a denial of the holiness to which the cross calls us or it denies the cross in its need to seek retribution for the sins committed. And that is the fruit of unqualified men in the pulpit. They don't plant and cultivate gardens because they aren't real gardeners. They destroy the roots and then wonder why all of the trees died and there is no good fruit to eat. 

The truth of the matter is that anyone can drift slowly out of Eden and end up at the furthest desert from no matter who you are, but some people build their houses in that desert, and it is no surprise when we discover that their fruit is thorns and thistles. All of the above indicate that Carl Lentz is not a one-woman-man, and therefore, was never qualified, something known long before his train made that last stop.

May we all pray for Carl Lentz, his beautiful wife and children, and the group of believers he betrayed, not merely in committing adultery during ministry but by taking the ministerial role to begin with, who need to be discipled in the truth. May he one day become qualified and may we all watch ourselves with great care, in thought and deed, that we may remain so.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020