Wednesday, December 27, 2017

3 Types of Sermons

I have been reading again one of my oldest and dearest books on preaching entitled "Preaching & Preachers" by the London pastor, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). The book is actually a series of lectures he gave to theological students of Westminster Seminary. Although I first bought this book when I thought I myself might be heading toward the ministry, I have found it to offer much valuable information, encouragement, and instruction to myself as a non-preacher as well.  I highly recommend it to anyone who listens to preaching. 


Lloyd-Jones, by the way, was a medical physician who left that profession to enter the ministry in 1927. He is known, affectionately to many, as just "the Doctor." 

What has struck me in this re-reading are his thoughts on what he calls 3 types of sermons. He suggests that a balanced ministry will include all 3 types, and that the preacher should organize his ministry in a way that all 3 types are being regularly preached. These 3 types of sermons are:

Type 1: Evangelistic
Type 2: Experimental (focus on issues, problems, life in general)
Type 3: Instructional, doctrine, theological

To put it in the words of the doctor himself:

"In other words, every Preacher should be, as it were, at least three types or kinds of Preacher. There is the preaching which is primarily evangelistic. This should take place at least once a week. There is the preaching which is instructional teaching but mainly experimental. That I generally did on Sunday morning. There is a more purely instructional type of preaching which I personally did on a week-night." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 63).

Now, Lloyd-Jones himself would emphasize that these distinctions "should not be pressed in too absolute a sense." In other words, good preaching will probably have at least something of all 3 types in every sermon. 

That being said, I think Lloyd-Jones is right. Most sermons I have heard could probably, overall, be put into one of those three categories. 

And here is the problem - it is possible (and I think fairly common) for preachers and churches today to get into a habit of only preaching just ONE type of sermon week after week. 


THE TYPE 2 CHURCH:


For example, I believe that vast majority of preaching that goes on in our Protestant churches today is the type 2 sermon above. It is a type of experimental preaching. The focus is generally on problem-solving and dealing with issues Christian's face. Look through the sermon list of many church websites and what you find are sermons about marriage, divorce, suffering, grief, parenting, living strong, being a better Christian, life in the church...

For the most part, these are all type-two sermons. They focus on the Christian and how he or she experiences life both inside and outside the church. And the sermon gives instruction on how to live that life. 

Absent are sermons entitled something like "Christ's Divinity - Defined and defended" or "modern heresies" or "The Trinity" or "Justification by Faith Alone" or "God's eternal decrees" or "limited atonement explained" or "the second coming" or "implications of the virgin birth" or "God's holiness explained." Doctrine is absent. 

Absent are also the more truly evangelistic sermons - in the truest sense of the word. I'm not talking about the "give Jesus a try" kind of talks. This is not Biblical evangelism. True evangelistic preaching exposes the real danger mankind is in due to sin, the consequences of sin, the remedy for sin and the only way to obtain that remedy - which is by faith in Christ.


THE TYPE 3 CHURCH:


On the other hand, there are other circles in which the type-two sermon almost never happens. For this church it is all about type-three: Doctrine. The preaching relies heavily on systematic theology, the confessions and foundational instruction. Maybe the Reformed circles are more prone to falling into this trap than any other. This is just an observation from a layman. So I admit my perspective may be skewed. 

However, if there is any truth to the fact that "type-three" churches exist, then the result could be Christians who are well instructed in the foundational doctrines of the Bible but very ill-equipped to live out that faith in their lives. The preacher may say things like "this is very important" but in reality the people in the pew have no idea why it should be so important to them. It makes no difference in their everyday life when they have to go home to a bitter spouse, rebellious children, chronic pain, an ungodly workplace, loneliness, personal addictions or any number of other real problems. 

THE TYPE 1 CHURCH:


Finally, I suppose that there are also type-one churches out there. They preach the gospel to sinners every week. Maybe this includes an altar call (no comment on that practice at the moment). I think this type of church probably existed more in the past than it does today. Maybe I'm wrong. But my own little and limited perspective on our evangelical situation is that true Gospel-preaching is a rare exception, a special-occasion-only event, and not the week to week menu in most churches.


APPLICATION:


So what? A couple closing thoughts come to mind.

1) Preaching a balance of these 3 different types of sermons is, it seems to me, especially unlikely today because most churches rarely have "preaching" more than once a week. This, we have to admit, is a failure of the modern church. I'm guessing I could get a lot of "preacher" friends upset at me for such a comment. But frankly, I think preaching once a week (or less than that for some places) is at least a very strange (historically speaking) way to do ministry. Lloyd-Jones said "I contest very strongly and urge that there should always be one evangelistic service in connection with each church every week. I would make this an absolute rule without any hesitation whatsoever." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 151).  But with only one sermon per week...this is impossible if you wish to maintain a balanced ministry.

2) Hearing a balance of these 3 types of sermons is unlikely today because we "hearers" are now accustomed to only listening to 1 sermon a week (at best). Maybe this habit could be changed if hearers got used to knowing that an evening or week-night sermon was going to be of a different "type" and therefore understood it to be part of a "balanced spiritual diet." I don't know. But it is worth thinking about at least. Here is what the Doctor says in this book "We must convince them [church goers] of the importance of being present at every service of the church. Every service! Why? If they are not present at every service they may well find one day that they were not present when something really remarkable took place." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 153).  

3) I think we need reminding that Christians need to hear evangelistic preaching too. Every true believer loves to hear the gospel faithfully preached. It is the message that saved us. And a preacher makes a grave mistake in thinking ALL his congregation is saved, so he doesn't need to preach the gospel like that anymore. Not to mention the fact that our churches are probably filled with "professing" Christians who are not actually believers at all. To put it in Lloyd-Jones words "There is something essentially wrong with a man who calls himself a Christian and who can listen  to a truly evangelistic sermon without coming under conviction again, without feeling something of his own unworthiness, and rejoicing when he hears the Gospel remedy being presented." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 150).

4) Finally, for any preacher who is either offended or discouraged by this post, I highly recommend picking up Preaching & Preachers and reading it (again). You have been called to the highest and most important work that goes on in this world. Businessmen build companies that will one day be sold or collapse. Doctors and medical professionals (like myself) help treat illnesses, but everyone is ultimately going to die anyway. Every job is, in some sense, just killing time. But preaching is an eternity-focused endeavor. The grass withers and the flower fades, but God's Word endures forever. 

In the words of the Doctor "To me the work of preaching is the highest and greatest and most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called." 









Thursday, December 14, 2017

R.C. Sproul Goes Home at the Age of 78

"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them." Revelation 14:13.

Dr. R.C. Sproul (2/13/39 - 12/14/17) passed away today at the age of 78 from complications related to COPD.

When I became a Christian in 1989 the first theologian I began reading was Dr. R.C. Sproul. Actually, it is more appropriate to say that I began "listening" to R.C. Sproul. His teaching ministry was available on tape cassettes. I ordered just about every teaching series he produced and listened to them while I drove back and forth to college for 5 years. I also bought his books and fell in love with his style of teaching and his way of understanding the Bible.

It is no exaggeration to say that his ministry has impacted me more than any other theologian, past or present. While I love the Puritans and still have so much to learn from the likes of Calvin, Warfield, Hodge, Dabney, Edwards, Turretin, and many others...R.C. taught me the Reformed faith. 

But he did more than teach me the Reformed faith. In a sense, he taught me how to think. He had a rigorous mind. He was never afraid of the hard questions about God, life, truth, evil, death, eternity, Christ, faith and so much more. And he never settled for the easy answer. He taught me how to make distinctions. How to be careful with our definitions. He believed that words were meaningful, and when listening to him you always had the feeling you were listening to a man who took life and truth seriously.

He also taught me how to teach. I make no apologies for the fact that I have tried to imitate his style of teaching over the years. He was effective. He was interesting. He understood his subject deeply but made sure his teaching was accessible to the average Christian in the pew. He could take very deep subjects and simplify them...without making them simplistic. He approached every subject he taught on with a deep sense of awe, humility, and grace. 

I had the great privilege of meeting R.C. in person once. I will always remember what I said to him. With gratitude welling up in my heart I said to R.C. at a conference "R.C., thank you for teaching me the Reformed faith.  Would you mind if my wife took my picture with you?"

He smiled widely. He said, "of course not." He welcomed me around to the other side of the table where he was sitting and he put his arm around my shoulder as if he had known me for years. This was the first and only time I saw R.C. in person. But I will never forget that day the rest of my life.

Dr. Sproul will be missed. His legacy, in the form of Ligonier Ministries, will remember his contribution to the promotion of the Christian gospel for many years to come. He was a man who loved Christ, served Christ and has now gone home to be with Christ. But more than Ligonier ministries, his life's work will echo in the lives of the tens of thousands of Christians like myself who were helped along our way to heaven by this precious servant of the Lord.

R.C. - you will be greatly missed. My heart goes out for your family and close friends. But, like Able, "he, being dead, still speaks." His teaching ministry echoes on. His works will follow him. He has entered his rest from his labors. And may the Lord be pleased to raise up more voices like his for this and future generations. 



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Marshmallows and Making Good Choices

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day; for surely there is an end; and your expectation will not be cut off.”
Proverbs 23:17-18

What is your capacity for delayed gratification

An interesting study was done on children in the early 1970's that has been called the “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.” The test offered children an immediate treat (like a marshmallow) with the option to eat it now, or of waiting a short time (like 15 minutes) to get a larger treat.  The children were followed up on in years to come and it was found that those who could wait for the larger reward were generally more successful academically and in other ways.



The point is clear enough. Delayed gratification, though hard, is better in the end. And what makes it so hard is that all around us everyone seems to be eating their marshmallows now. 

Let’s be honest. Most of us are doing the same. Zig Ziglar once put it this way “Be careful not to compromise what you want most for what you want now.”

But it’s hard. It is hard to watch people eating their "marshmallows" while you wait. It goes against the grain of our nature. Socrates was asked what the most troublesome thing was to good men. He replied “the prosperity of the wicked.” I think Socrates knew the doubts and fears that assault the soul that says “no” to the instant pleasure in exchange for a lasting one.

Almost every day we are presented with choices which give us the option for immediate pleasure, or a more distant, long-term benefit. We have the choice between spending and saving. We choose be eating the cheese fries or the salad. We play the video game or we work out. We hit the snooze button or we wake up and go to church.

The Bible presents the Christian life as a daily commitment to delayed gratification. That is what this Proverb is talking about. Don’t envy those who are eating their marshmallows now. Rather, choose “the fear of the Lord all the day.”

There are many aspects to the Christian life that do not bring the immediate pleasure which is offered by sin. Reading your Bible may not provide the immediate thrill of a video game. Prayer doesn’t satisfy our craving for amusement like Facebook does. Honoring the Lord’s Day doesn’t instantly satisfy like a day at the beach or amusement park. Note, these alternative enjoyments are not sinful in themselves. But when they are substituted for things that would benefit our souls, they are dangerous.

I don’t think Solomon had any one particular “sin” in mind when he advised against the envy of sinners. The Proverb does go on to talk about “drunkenness.” But this, it seems, is simply an illustration of a larger principle. The unbeliever simply doesn’t think in terms of “sin” or “holiness.” As long as no one else is hurt, anything (for the most part), goes. But the Christian is concerned with offending God. That is what the “fear of the Lord” is all about.

Sometimes concern for the fear of the Lord brings about tangible persecution, ridicule or pain. It was said of Moses that he chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin [Hebrews 11:25].” In this case it was not merely delayed gratification, but the embracing of present suffering that Moses was called to endure.

How do we make better spiritual choices? Solomon suggests thinking about future: “for surely there is an end; and your expectation will not be cut off.” The Hebrew seems to be saying something like “Be patient. This life is a marathon, not a short sprint. The real winners can only be determined at the finish line. Don’t try to pick who has made the best choice by their present circumstances. Godliness pays off in the end.”

He says "do not LET your heart" do this. In other words, we have the personal responsibility to master our thoughts. You can decide what you want to dwell on. You can either think about what you are "missing out on" or you can think about the end reward. Your thoughts don't wander anywhere that you don't let them. You can choose what to consider and what to ignore. 

This is a big theme in the Bible. 

For example, the whole of Psalm 37 seems devoted to this theme: pleasure now, or pleasure later. You choose. But the Psalmist advises to “not be envious of the workers of iniquity” because, even though now they seem to be having fun, “they shall soon be cut down like the grass [Psalm 37:1-2].” The Psalmist tells the believer to “rest in the Lord” and to “wait” and not get discouraged because others are prospering right now (vs. 7).  Though it doesn’t look that way, he says, remember that “the meek will inherit the earth (vs. 11).”

Christ modeled this. He chose obedience over pleasure. Every day. He chose affliction rather than comfort. “Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross (Heb 12:2).” Not for present pleasure, but future joy. “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil 2:8).”

So which are you choosing today? Is it immediate pleasure, gratification, happiness, satisfaction and pride? Or will you do something for your long-term good? One hundred years from now the only thing that will matter is how you cared for your soul. Paul warns that “in the last days” men “will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:4).”


May the Lord bless your good choices today my friends. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bernie, Christianity and the Death of Truth

Bernie Sanders appears to have stirred up quite the hubbub over his conversation this past week with Russell Vought. Mr. Sanders questioned Vought's Christian beliefs and specifically suggested they should disqualify him for public service. He didn't like the fact that Vought believed that the adherents of other religions were "condemned." 



Christians across the country have responded with outrage. They didn't like Mr. Sanders'  opinion that Vought's views are incompatible with what this "country is supposed to be about."  Fox News reporter Todd Starnes called it a "viscous attack." Others have quoted the Constitution Article VI about "no religious test" being required for public service in office. 

Frankly, I think all these responses have utterly missed the point.

Please.

Calm down.

Take a breath.

We need to step back for a moment and realize what was really going on in that conversation.

Mr. Sanders was NOT attacking Christians or Christianity. Someone please pick up a copy of Fox's Book of Martyrs. Or visit the Christian Martyr's website. Or read the Gospels and Acts. You will find plenty of examples of attacks upon our faith. This wasn't one of them.

But Mr. Sanders was attacking something

Mr. Sanders was attacking truth.

You see, what Mr. Sanders fails to realize is something which ALL Christians and Muslims BOTH know: we can't both be right

Bernie said “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.” 

But the hilarious irony of Mr. Sanders statements is that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Atheists all get something that Bernie does not.  We ALL know that we can't ALL be right. 

This principle isn't fundamental to Christianity.  This principle is fundamental to truth itself.

If Christianity is true, then Muslims are condemned. If Islam is true, then Christians are condemned. If Atheists are right then we are ALL condemned for the foolishness of our faiths. This is a plain and incontrovertible fact which the sacred texts of all religions assert.

And, with all due respect to Russell Vought, he missed an opportunity to explain this.

When Bernie Sanders asked him if he thought all Muslims and Jews were condemned, he should have answered with an enthusiastic, unmistakable, loud and clear "YES! Of course! Just as they think that I'm condemned!"

Vought could have quoted the Quran if he liked:  "But those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment."

Or he could have quoted the Bible "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not PERISH but have everlasting life." 

Religion assumes the existence of truth. 

Thus Christianity, as nearly ALL of the major world religions, is an exclusive religion

This is because truth, all truth, is exclusive.

If anything is true, then something is false. And things cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same relationship. 

So when Mr. Sanders balked at the idea that anyone could hold to a faith that claims exclusivity, he was actually taking his aim at a far more fundamental idea than Christian doctrine. He was questioning the very possibility of truth itself. 

And, my friends, when we reject the idea of truth, we reject hope.  Where there is no truth, there can be no true comfort.

C.S. Lewis said it well "If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

PoC Chpt III - On Marriage - Part 1

From Principles of Conduct by John Murray.  Chapter 3: The Marriage Ordinance. Part 1.

What causes the most pain, disappointment, frustration, sorrow, anger, anxiety and aggravation in the lives of individuals today? I suppose someone might say "illness" and that is certainly a problem of no small nature. Others might suggest finances, and no doubt money problems impact huge numbers. But it would be hard to argue against the idea that "relationships" and in particular "marriage" problems constitute a significant portion of the pain and problems people experience in life.

Think of the circle of people around you. If you were asked to think of some who have either "marriage" or "relationship" issues that are really causing serious problems in their life, do you have any trouble coming up with some names? These problems are all around us. If nothing else, think about how many movies and songs are produced that have relationship issues at the core of them.

My point is simply this: there is enough evidence that our culture is frustrated with our modern approach to marriage and relationships. Something is broken. It's at least worth a look at what the Bible says about marriage to evaluate if maybe...just maybe...we are doing something wrong. I'm not suggesting that following certain "rules" will ensure a perfect marriage. But on the whole, it is at least possible that God's plan for marriage has been twisted and obscured, and that this is behind many of the troubles we experience.

John Murray spends about 40 pages in his book, Principles of Conduct, covering many of the Biblical principles related to God's plan for marriage. We might think it strange that a book on "ethics" starts with marriage. What does marriage have to do with ethics? But this approach reminds us that, from a Biblical perspective, marriage was God's idea. Therefore, to approach it in any way that is contrary to His design, is an unethical way to live. When we take an institution of God's and re-design it for our own purposes, then we are in violation of His pattern for life, which is the very definition of unethical.

PART 1


In Murray's review of Scripture about marriage, he starts with a few episodes found very early in the history of the world as recorded in the Bible. Scholars call it the "patriarchal" period. And he shows that we find hints that certain ethical standards for marriage were understood by people from the very beginning.

For example...

Digamy or Polygamy (Genesis 4:19). The Scriptures record that a man named Lamech "took 2 wives." This fact is recorded along side the fact of his boastful murder of another man. Murray concludes, I think rightly, that "the desecration of marriage is complementary to the vice of violence and oppression [p. 46]."

Mixed Marriage (i.e. believers marrying unbelievers) from Genesis 6:1-3. Murray offers insight on a passage which has confused many. It is the text which speaks of "the sons of God saw the daughters of men" and they married them. Some have thought this referred to some sort of strange marriage between angels and mankind. But Murray argues it is simply an expression to indicate marriages between the Godly and the ungodly. He concludes "When the interests of godliness do not govern the people of God in the choice of marital partners, irreparable confusion is the result and the interests, not only of spirituality, but also of morality, are destroyed [p. 46]."

Murray shows that the natural, healthy and God-given desire for sex is to be managed within certain boundaries established by God.

Other episodes from this period in Biblical history also highlight certain well-understood principles of marriage.

Joseph and Marriage Integrity (Genesis 39:9) - Joseph refused to sleep with his master's wife, even though she urged him. He understood that this would be a sin in God's eyes, saying "how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"

The rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) - The sons of Jacob took vengeance (not that this act was condoned) on those who raped their sister. The point is that it was clear, even then, that such a violent act forced upon another, was inconsistent with sexual purity.

The king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2-18) - The foreign king understood that taking another man's wife was improper. It is an ironical passage. Here Abraham was to blame, for saying that Sarah was his "sister" and not his "wife." But this goes to show that the sanctity of the marriage relationship was not something merely understood by God's people. In fact, in this case, the ungodly actually understood that principle better than Abraham himself.

Parent's concern for the marriages of their children - Murray points to the lengths that Abraham went to help secure a godly wife for Jacob, and he mentions how Rebecca was burdened by the "mixed" marriage of her son Esau to Hittite women. These passages just further illustrate that these parents understood the difference between a "good" marriage and one that was in violation of God's design.

CONCLUSION

Murray's review of the marriage ordinance is far from over. But he lays down some basics here which are important. At the very least I think his teaching is a necessary restraint upon our concept that "all we need is love." The Biblical account suggests that "ethical" behavior requires that we engage our minds, and not just our hearts, when it comes to thinking about relationships and marriage.