Christianity has thus passed through many stages of its earthly life, and yet has hardly reached the period of full manhood in Christ Jesus. During this long succession of centuries it has outlived the destruction of Jerusalem, the dissolution of the Roman empire, fierce persecutions from without, and heretical corruptions from within, the barbarian invasion, the confusion of the dark ages, the papal tyranny, the shock of infidelity, the ravages of revolution, the attacks of enemies and the errors of friends, the rise and fall of proud kingdoms, empires, and republics, philosophical systems, and social organizations without number. And, behold, it still lives, and lives in greater strength and wider extent than ever; controlling the progress of civilization, and the destinies of the world; marching over the ruins of human wisdom and folly, ever forward and onward; spreading silently its heavenly blessings from generation to generation, and from country to country, to the ends of the earth.
It can never die; it will never see the decrepitude of old age; but, like its divine founder, it will live in the unfading freshness of self-renewing youth and the unbroken vigor of manhood to the end of time, and will outlive time itself. Single denominations and sects, human forms of doctrine, government, and worship, after having served their purpose, may disappear and go the way of all flesh; but the Church Universal of Christ, in her divine life and substance, is too strong for the gates of hell. She will only exchange her earthly garments for the festal dress of the Lamb’s Bride, and rise from the state of humiliation to the state of exaltation and glory. Then at the coming of Christ she will reap the final harvest of history, and as the church triumphant in heaven celebrate and enjoy the eternal sabbath of holiness and peace. This will be the endless end of history, as it was foreshadowed already at the beginning of its course in the holy rest of God after the completion of his work of creation.
You may know a sheep from a swine, when both have fallen into the same mire, and are, in fact, so bemired, that neither by coat nor color can the one be distinguished from the other.
How then distinguish them? Nothing more easy!
The sheep, a type of the godly, strives and struggles to get out of the muck.
But the swine, in circumstances agreeable to its nature, wallows in the filth.
What the true proverb says has happened to them: The dog returns to its own vomit, and the swine, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire. – 2 Peter 2:22
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! – Romans 7:22- 25
It is amazing the amount of church growth that can be accomplished in the power of the flesh. Though there are significant problems in the church growth movement, we should all be for church growth. In fact, it seems almost impossible for a church to be fulfilling the great commission without some kind of growth taking place. We are to go out and make disciples. When they come in, they too are to grow to the place where they go out and make more disciples.
Many times, however, church growth seems to come down to thoughts like this, “If we get this program or attraction going, more people will show up,” and sometimes this is true, but have we traded the spirit of God for business acumen? Is our church only growing because we have grown skilled in organizational leadership and event promotion? Don’t get me wrong, those things are not necessarily antithetical to the ways of God. God has not called us to be inept in the ways of business and leadership. A godly elder should have knowledge in these things, but let’s be clear, a church can grow in numbers without the Spirit of God moving. To prove this, all you have to do is look at a few well attended liberal churches that have abandoned the faith.
The idea of common grace and saving grace applies not only to individuals but churches also. A church can grow in number and wealth if it has the right marketing plan, along with a number of other useful strategies, but this does not necessarily mean anything spiritual is happening there.
A church where the congregants live worldly lives is not really growing, even if it is growing in size on a regular basis. We cannot call it church growth when the majority of a local church is involved in much of the same worldly lifestyle as the rest of society. If we, as congregants, spend our week chasing after self-glory, personal peace, and affluence, and we let the Word of God sit unread while we neglect our prayer life, it does not matter how big our church is.
This also seems to be a problem in many small non-growing churches as well. The people come on Sunday and see low attendance and wonder why the pastor isn’t bringing in more people with his sermons. Yet there is no real desire for personal holiness in their lives. After they spend the entire week indifferent to God and godliness, they attend church and expect something to happen. However, when we spend a good portion of our time doing things God hates, and not doing the things He loves, we shouldn’t expect much to happen when we attend church. The congregants often have more influence on the spiritual state of a congregation than the pastor. This can be seen every time a Godly preacher is driven away.
True church growth will not occur when there is no desire for personal holiness in the lives of its people. On the contrary, when there is a hunger for righteousness, and progress is being made in personal holiness, church growth has already begun. We do not need more programs to increase the number of people who attend and live worldly lives. We need individuals in the church to grow in Godliness, and as this happens, we will not need programs to bolster attendance. The church will grow because the people will be evangelizing, and more programs will be developed to accompany the need for the people who are coming in desiring to know Christ and be more like Him.
I have many concern about the state of the church growth movement, but this post was not aimed directly at it. It was against the idea that personal holiness can be neglected, while church growth is to be expected, and this can happen in churches with big marketing plans, and those without them.
As we grow to be more like Christ And by the world, we are less enticed, In our hearts, God’s Spirit’s moving, Then of our growth, He is approving.
It has been said that there are no inactive members in any church. They are either actively building it up or actively hindering it. I’m not sure where this came from, but there is a lot of truth in that statement. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to work against your church.
1. Show up only when it is convenient.
2. When you do attend, show up late and leave as soon as possible.
3. Find something to grumble about (music, preaching, people).
4. Whenever your pastor or teacher makes a mistake in his theology, make sure everyone realizes it, but be sure not to talk about it with him.
5. Never appear interested.
6. Refuse to accept any responsibility.
7. Do not spend time in prayer for your church and pastor.
8. Realize that you know more than the leaders in your church, but do not be willing to use that knowledge to teach others.
9. Be more concerned with position and privilege than the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
10. Above all else, realize that Church is about you and what you get out of it.
May we all work diligently in our churches in whatever capacity we can.
It is that time of year again. Excited teams of Vacation Bible School volunteers are lining up to put on a meaningful week of ministry for kids. What many do not realize is that, like the five stages of grief, there are emotional stages to working VBS, and we do not want you to be caught off guard.
Below you find the emotional cycle upon which you are about to embark.
Here is what you need to know about each stage:
I can’t wait until VBS!
At this point, you are slightly delusional, but your excitement is honorable. You are about to embark on an important, and, for some kids in attendance, a life-changing ministry.
This week is going to be great!
Monday has finally arrived, and you have a picture in your mind of a week full of beautiful moments where you will be surrounded by children who were born without sinful natures.
What was I thinking?
It is here that you begin to realize that the image you had in your mind does not entirely line up with reality. From the kid who consistently confuses craft time with snack time, to one who thinks every Bible question should involve a discussion of his fidget spinner collection, things do not go as smoothly as planned.
Am I even human anymore?
By Thursday you are exhausted, and the spiritual vision becomes even more cloudy. You truly begin to wonder if this is making a difference in the life of these kids. After all, Perilous Pete, as you mentally refer to him, continues to be disruptive regardless of the fact that you continue to guide him lovingly.
Glad that is over!
This stage is often the shortest-lived. It is usually recognized right about the time the final assembly closes in prayer. You are spent and ready to go home and hide for a week. Then Pete, now known as Precious Pete, runs up to you, gives you a big hug and says “Thank you, I didn’t know Jesus loved me, but I do now.” At this point, you immediately jump back into the first stage of the cycle.
VBS is a ministry, and we should never expect it to be easy, but like all ministry, it will always be worth it.
I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong he said to me “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.
On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college, and it even happens now occasionally, when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster; sometimes to questionable lyrics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful, but when you put these things together with a Christian worship service, or program, we must be careful to discern our affections. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that our affections had been moved.
We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether or not it is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we truly worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?
Now I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that don’t remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. In fact, I think it can be good to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I also believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing today that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have been moved in adoration of God. Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to God.
Even the natural man’s affections can be moved in powerful ways, but those affections will never be worship unless we are moved by the truth of scripture as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true worship.
I recently taught a class through Pilgrim’s Progress. Below are the discussion questions for each chapter.
-pp. 1-17 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 1-26 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 1-27 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 1-20 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. What is the book Christian has in his hand?
2. What is the burden that Christian is carrying, and have you ever felt this burden? If so, what did it feel like?
3. Christian reads the book and prays but still has the burden on his back. How is this possible?
4. Pliable has no burden on his back yet still follows Christian. Why would someone do this, and have you ever run across people like this? What kind of “churches” appeal to people in this condition?
5. What do you think the “Slough of Despond” represents?
6. Where, and to whom, does Mr. Worldly Wiseman direct Christian, and what false view of salvation does this represent?
7. Read Heb. 10:38 – How does this verse fit with Christian trying to remove his burden with morality and the law.
8. Do you ever find yourself trying to find relief for the conviction of sin by attempting to be moral rather than laying it all on Christ? What do you do in those times?
9. Worldly Wiseman is a false teacher, and Evangelist gives Christian three reasons to abhor him. What are they, and do they still apply to false teachers today?
10. When Christian is grieved by his sin of listening to Worldly Wiseman, Evangelist tells him is sin is very great. How is this different than what you may hear in many churches today?
-pp. 17-29 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 26-40 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 27-38 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 20-35 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Christian runs to the wicket gate and knocks more than once or twice, what do the running and the knocking teach us?
2. Goodwill pulls Christian through the gate. Why does he do this, and what do these dangers represent?
3. Christian goes through the wicket gate and enters the narrow path. Some people view this as the moment of his salvation, but he still has his burden on his back (which he will lose later). What do you think about this?
4. Who do you think the interpreter represents?
5. How does Christian explain to Goodwill that he and Pliable are alike? What does this teach us about Christian’s attitude?
6. Who or what do you think the man in the picture, who is authorized as Christian’s guide, represent(s)?
7. How is the heart of man like the dusty room, and what happens when the room is attempted to be cleaned with the broom of the law? What does this teach us about the law?
8. What do Passion and Patience represent in the Christian life, and what do we learn from them? Can you think of any Bible passages that relate to this?
9. What happens to the fire burning near the wall, and what do we learn from it? Can you think of any Bible passages that relate to this?
10. The picture of the man in the iron cage is one of the most shocking scenes in Pilgrims Progress. What was your reaction when you read it and what do you think it means?
-pp. 29-48 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 40-62 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 39-55 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 35-58 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. How does Christian lose his burden, and what does this represent? Have you heard of any testimonies that would illustrate this scene?
2. Last chapter we discussed whether entering the wicket gate in chapter 2 was his conversion. What do you think now that you have read of his burden being removed?
3. Three beings come to Christian, what do they represent and what do they do for him? Where do we see these things in Scripture?
4. How do Formalist and Hypocrisy get on the road of salvation? What lesson do they teach us? How do they defend their not entering at the wicket gate?
5. When Christian was climbing Hill Difficulty, he finds a place set by the Lord for refreshing weary travelers. What does this represent, and what does it mean that he fell asleep there?
6. What does it mean that Christian loses his scroll, and what does it teach us that it took a while before he realized it was gone?
7. What is the role of the chained lions, and what do their chains teach us?
8. What does Christian say his name was before it was Christian?
9. What is Christian’s reason for wanting to go to Mount Zion? How do these thoughts align with your reason for desiring heaven?
10. What does Christian say is his wife’s reason for not following him? Do you ever see the same tendency in your own life?
-pp. 48-58 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 62-74 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 56-65 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 58-71 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Christian has no armor to cover his back when he meets Apollyon, what does this teach us?
2. Who does Apollyon represent? What descriptions to do see in the book that leads you to that conclusion?
3. Apollyon says, that “many of the Lord’s servants have come to an ill end.” To what is he referring, and how does Christian respond?
4. How does Christian respond when Apollyon accuses him of many sins?
5. Christian loses his sword while battling Apollyon. What does this look like in the Christian life?
6. Christian receives leaves from the tree of life to heal his wounds, what picture is Bunyan painting here? How do the bread and wine fit?
7. Why do you think the way to the celestial city goes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death?
8. Bunyan refers to the quag that King David fell into, to what do you think he is referring?
9. The valley is so dark that “when [Christian] would lift his foot to go forward he knew not where, nor upon what he should set it next.” What Scripture does this bring to mind?
10. Bunyan describes the giants Pope and Pagan as no longer a real threat, what do you think he is alluding to, and do you think he is correct?
-pp. 58-78 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 74-96 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 66-86 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 71-95 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Why does Faithful say Pliable is now seven times worse than before? To what passage of Scripture does this allude?
2. Who is Adam the First, and what are the names of his children? What doctrine is Bunyan talking about here?
3. Why do you think Bunyan portrays Moses as beating faithful, and what saved Faithful from death?
4. What friends are dishonored by going through the Valley of Humiliation? What was Faithful’s response?
5. What were some of Shame’s arguments against faithful, and where do you hear these today?
6. What does it mean that Talkative was more comely [attractive] at a distance than up close?
7. Talkative says many true things, what then is the problem with him? Do you ever have to guard your own heart against being like that?
8. What are some of the ways Faithful says the work of grace is discovered in the life of a person?
9. When Talkative is exposed as a hypocrite, what is his response to Faithful, and do you ever see this type of response happen to Christians today?
10. Christian commends Faithful for talking so plainly with Talkative and laments that it rarely happens. Do you think this is still true and why?
-pp. 78-90 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 96-111 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 87-98 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 95-110 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Evangelist tells Christian and Faithful, “You are not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil; you have not yet resisted to bloodshed,” What does this mean? Read Hebrews 12:4 as you consider this.
2. What are some of the other things Evangelist tells them?
3. As you read of Vanity Fair, what aspects of today’s world come to mind? Has any of these aspects made it into the church?
4. Why were the people of Vanity Fair stirred up when Christian and Faithful arrived? What do these things look like in the Christian life?
5. What does it mean that Christian and Faithful said, “they would buy the truth?”
6. What were Christian and Faithful charged with by Lord Hate-good?
7. Which three people came forward to testify against Christian and Faithful?
8. Pickthank said Faithful railed against several men, what were their names?
9. What was Faithful’s response to the charges of the three men?
10. Knowing that John Bunyan was in jail for the faith when he wrote this, as you read the names of the jury that convicted Faithful, do you think this was an expression of how he saw the men who convicted him?
11. How is Faithful the most blessed one in this situation, even more than Christian?
-pp. 90-110 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 111-137 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 99-118 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 110-135 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Who are some of the citizens of the town of Fair-Speech, and against what is Bunyan trying to warn us?
2. What does it mean when Christian says “you must also own religion in his rags, as well as in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons, as well as when he walk in the streets with applause?”
3. What scripture did Mr. Hold-the-World twist to defend his right to cling to the things of this world?
4. How does Mr. Money-love defend using religion to get rich? What is wrong with his arguments?
5. Demas, who calls the people to the silver mine, is also a biblical character. What is his story in Scripture (See Philemon 1:23-24, and 2 Timothy 4:10?)
6. What is the River of the Water of Life where Christian and Hopeful walked? Where do we see it in Scripture?
7. Bunyan says the pilgrims had to go with Giant Despair because he was stronger than they. What does this teach us?
8. Why was Christian in double sorrow in the dungeon?
9. What were some of Hopeful’s arguments to Christian as to why they should not end their own lives?
10. What does the key represent that unlocked the door to Doubting Castle, and what does it look like in the Christian life?
-pp. 110-135 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 96-111 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 87-98 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 95-110 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. What were some of the sights the shepherds showed the pilgrims in the Delectable Mountains?
2. Why does Ignorance think he will be accepted at the gate of the celestial city?
3. What is the story of Little-faith, and what do we learn from it?
4. Bunyan describes Faint-heart, Mis-trust, and Guilt as powerful. Who were some of the Biblical examples that Bunyan gives who where injured by them?
5. What warning does Christian gives us about desiring to meet our enemies, and what two things must we do if we do meet them?
6. Why did Christian and Hopeful not recognize Flatterer, and what does this teach us?
7. What were some of Atheist’s arguments to Christian and Hopeful?
8. The Enchanted Ground had air that makes pilgrims drowsy, what situations in life have this effect on us?
9. How do the pilgrims keep from falling asleep? What does this look like in the Christian life?
10. What aspects of Hopeful’s conversion do you find interesting and encouraging?
-pp. 135-145 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 167-179 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 138-147 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 167-78 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Where did Ignorance ground his hope when asked whether he was right with God or not? What are some examples where we hear similar things today?
2. What does Christian say to set Ignorance right about whether his thoughts are correct or not?
3. What is Ignorance’s understanding of justification? Where might we hear a view like this preached?
4. What are Christian’s four responses to Ignorance’s false view of justification?
5. What problem does Ignorance have with Christian’s response?
6. What is Christian’s response to Ignorance’s objection to justification?
7. How does Christian say that correct fear can be detected over a wrong fear?
8. How do some people try to stifle the conviction of sin?
9. What reasons does Hopeful give for Temporary’s backsliding?
10. What does Christian say are the ways people like Temporary backslide?
-pp. 145-154 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 179-191 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 149-156 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 178-190 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Why do you think the grapes of the vineyard caused Christian and Hopeful to talk in their sleep? What is Bunyan trying to tell us?
2. Why do you think that Bunyan decided to use a river to represent death? What Scriptures come to mind?
3. The golden beings tell them that the river is “deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.” What does this mean in the Christian life?
4. What do you think it means that Christian “in great measure lost his senses” as he crossed the river?
5. Why were Christian and Hopeful able to climb the hill to the Celestial City so easily?
6. Christian asks what they would do in the holy place, what were some of the things he was told by the ministering spirits?
7. What did you find interesting or encouraging about the reception the pilgrims received and the description of the Celestial City?
8. What was the name of the ferryman the helped Ignorance cross the river so easily?
9. Now that we have finished Christian’s story, what were some of the aspects of the book that had the biggest impact upon you?
Here is a sermon I preached recently which looks at the typology of Joseph’s brothers who came to buy grain from him in Genesis 42. Like the brothers, even when it seems God is against us, we must remember that He will supply our need.
Regular Bible reading is crucial in the life of the believer. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Though there are many ways Bible reading benefits the Christian, here are six ways it will enhance corporate worship.
1. It will Combat Dryness
A loss of appetite is a sign of illness, not health, and daily Bible reading can cause the dryness that you sometimes experience in church to dissipate. As you feed on the word throughout the week, you will grow stronger and hunger for more of it, which means you will go to church with a heart prepared to worship. This also has a positive effect on every other point listed below.
2. It will Enhance the Sermon
When your pastor reads the scripture, you will be familiar with the context of the passage and understand where it fits in the overarching story of redemption. Having a bigger picture of what is being proclaimed, keeps you from missing the main point of the passage, even if it is not explicitly stated.
3. It will Enhance the Worship Music
You will recognize many of the passages of scriptures alluded to in the music, which will enrich the truths they are communicating. You will also be mindful of the role and importance of music throughout Scripture. You may even find yourself singing a song of ascent on your way to church.
4. A Greater Ability to Minister to Others
Since God often brings recently read scripture to mind, you will be better able to contribute to discussions and the edification of others. In times of fellowship, you will be able to apply the scripture to people’s lives as they talk about their daily joys and struggles.
5. A Greater Sense of Community
Scripture has a way of breaking through the masks we try to wear. It will reveal the fight of faith that is taking place within you and produce contrition. Understanding your struggles with sin brings about compassion and gives you greater patience and understanding of others struggling with sin and living in a fallen world.
6. Greater Communion with Your Savior
Since the word prompts you to prayer and setting your mind on things above, you will have greater communion with your Savior as you spend time in the house of the Lord, and in the end, this is what it is all about.
This list is designed to let people know a few of the ways daily Bible reading will enhance the corporate worship in Bible teaching churches. If you attend a church that neglects the Bible, and pop psychology is the main course, attending those types of churches while engaged in daily Bible reading will frustrate you. This frustration happens because you will find that motivational “preaching” neglects the central themes that run throughout Scripture and replaces theology with therapy and redemption with a self-help regimen. Of course, even that frustration is a good thing.