Friday, March 28, 2008

Preaching Like the Antichrist

Spirit-driven Preaching. Most people speak of it, but few understand what it looks like. One man will say it is found in highly emotional preaching. Another man will claim it manifests itself when the preacher abandons any notes or outlines and simply shares what comes to him. Still another man will claim Spirit-driven preaching is revealed by unusual insight from the text. And though there may be diversity on how to explain it, each man will claim it as essential.

But what if someone claimed it is impossible to preach "spiritless?" Ultimately, a person's preaching cannot be devoid of spirit influence. Consider:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.--1 John 4:1-3

John reminds us that every message comes with a Spirit influence. Therefore, it is critical that we filter each message we hear. Like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12), we should be listening carefully and testing the spirits.

But the preacher must ask, "With what spirit do I preach?"

Few would aspire to preach in the spirit of the Antichrist, but many do. There is no "middle ground" in a message. Either we preach a message from God, or one from the Antichrist. The requirements for a God commissioned message are pretty must confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

The earthly name given by Joseph in obedience to the angelic vision. His name literally declares "Jehovah Saves!" First criteria is to understand a message that originates from God is going to proclaim Jesus. The other elements of the confession simply describe Who this Jesus is.

Christ is the greek rendering of Messiah. It is a statement that Jesus is the Anointed One. The Chosen One Whom all the Scriptures speak. Though second temple period understanding of the Messiah may be clouded, the Scriptures clearly enforce that a proper understanding of the Christ, is to understand His Sonship. (Cruise through these 488 mentions of Christ in the New Testament and notice how many are directly related to Jesus being the Son of God.)

Has Come
But in case a person continues to deny the emphasis on Jesus' eternality, John provides this glimpse. We simply do not speak this way of others. When we assess the life of all great leaders in history, we speak of two factors, their date of death and their date of birth. We speak of the day they were born, but we do not state it as the day they "have come in the flesh." John is making it clear to his readers that our understanding is that Jesus always existed eternally, yet at a determined point He clothed Himself with flesh. To say He has come is to say He was somewhere else before arriving on earth.

In the flesh
Though uncommon today, there still remain some who deny that Jesus literally came as man. This became pervasive in the gnostic teachings, which were just beginning to develop at the time of John's writing. In the early church period, some would actually claim that Jesus appeared to have come, but had not literally done so. Or, they claimed that His divine nature hovered over an earthly body, but was never truly united.

While this sort of teaching is not very popular today (It appears often today that the opposite is the attack. Acknowledging that Jesus came in the flesh but denying His divinity. Again, however, John addresses this matter earlier in Jesus' description.), some of its outworking remains. The reason people were tempted to deny the literal flesh of Jesus was that they believed all that was material was evil. Therefore, our calling to escape from the material issues of this world is seen as a form of sanctification. People are told that the physical world around them is either illusion or evil. Therefore our liberation from sin is found in escape from the material world. This, however, is a false hope. For the Word of God says we will one day receive literal, physical (though incorruptible) bodies. Jesus Christ came not to eliminate the physical world, but to restore it to its proper order.

This message must be at the center if we want to preach from the Spirit of God. It must be the message which we confess. But is that the standard we hold people to? Do we require a confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, or are we willing to settle for far less. Consider what is involved in the word "confession."

Confession is not denial. When we are told a spirit must confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, we can easily spot a denial. If a person were to deny any element of the message (regardless of their location or reputation) we know that message is not from God. For if their message denies these truths about Jesus, their message is inconsistent with the Scriptures and God is not double-minded. A denial is usually pretty easy to spot.

Confession is not silence. But John does not tell us to listen closely for a denial. He calls us to listen closely to for a confession. Therefore, if a person is silent regarding the message that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, it is not a message from God. God is not pleased simply with a message that avoids error, but God is glorified by a message that exalts His Son. Any message (whether written or spoken, art or argument) that does not confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not consistent with God's desire to bring glory to Himself through His Son. God will seek every opportunity to lift up Jesus Christ, therefore, if the message does not confess Christ, the message is not from God.

Confessing is not the same as admitting. Because silence is usually the most prevalent form of false messages, many listeners are inclined to ask the speaker/author/singer if they will affirm that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Backed into a corner and asked the right questions, the person responds with an affirmation that "Yes, I will agree that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh." Does this constitute a confession?

Consider an example from parenting. If I walk through the house and notice magic marker on the wall around the front door, I immediately go on a hunt to find the guilty party. As I turn the corner and enter the hallway, I immediately see my son standing near the bathroom, shirt and hands covered with the the stains of magic marker with the graffiti device laying at his feet. My question, "Did you mark the wall?" becomes almost rhetorical. He is caught red handed (quite literally). If he has any brains about him, he knows he is caught and his only hope of pardon is to admit to his sin. Tears may even come, but what do they indicate? Is he repentant? Does he see his error? Is he simply upset that his fun is being cut short? Is he afraid of the discipline to come? I have no indication of the purpose of his admittance.

However, if you have had the privilege of receiving a confession from your child, you know it is an entirely different experience. When the child believes their sin is hidden and yet they come and confess their sin to you, you know repentance has happened. The child is simply coming to desire forgiveness and restoration. The parent doesn't have to question if genuine repentance is necessary, nor do you have to wonder if the child sees his error. He has taken the initiative and it generates a confidence in the child's authenticity.

Bottom Line: To Consider the Message from God, It Must be about Christ

It's amazing how many preachers today wish to call themselves Christian, yet they neglect to preach Christ. They may preach good morals, or even precepts that can maximize potential, but they neglect to preach Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Their books fly off the shelves of local bookstores, and the reader is left to assume the gospel message. When questioned, possibly they will admit that they believe in Christ, but even then, it is usually vague at best. But if the message does not exalt Jesus Christ, then how can we claim it is of God?

Some will argue that proper exegesis of the Old Testament requires a preaching in the "spirit of the Antichrist." While many preachers will acknowledge that Messianic prophecies speak of Christ, they will claim that the historic narratives ignore Jesus, and thus, our exposition should too. Therefore, it could appear that John's challenge to examine the spirit runs in contradiction to much of the Bible. However, Jesus proved this could not be the case. Referring to the Old Testament, Jesus stated:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me--John 5:39
He does not say that portions speak of Him, or even that they "prepare the way for Him." He says that they testify about Him. They witness to who He is. Jesus modeled this for us in Luke 24:26-27:
"Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Jesus uses the Old Testament to unpack what His mission has always been. He walks these men through the Scriptures to point to this plan. Paul understood this concept, for he told the Galatians, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith" (3:24). There should be no portion of the Scriptures from which we cannot preach Christ.

But this is not simply a problem in Old Testament exposition. Sinclair Ferguson states, "Most evangelical preachers don't preach Christ. Not only don't they preach Christ from the Old Testament, they don't preach Christ from the New Testament." And this becomes the crux of the problem. Whether parables, gospel narratives or epistles, much of the New Testament is simply treated as object lessons for moral living. The church becomes very good at sharing what we are to do, but can often neglect the how and why. It is even possible to preach a passage that contains Jesus' actions and words (for instance, the healing in John 9), and yet be so quick to look for "ourselves" that we forget to preach Him!

Every sermon ever preached comes from a spirit. But only the messages that preach Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are from the Spirit of God. Anything that neglects this message is of the spirit of the Antichrist. And just like he will sound good, and be so convincing that he will fool the entire world, a "good" message preached in the spirit of the Antichrist will probably contain a lot of passages and exhort people toward high just won't preach Christ. And just like his "ministry" will end in destruction, so will the preaching ministry of the man who neglects Christ. He may raise up moral, Bible minded people, but he will not raise up people who savor Christ.

Genuine Biblical exposition should result in glorious Christ exaltation.

And the preacher speaking from the spirit of God wouldn't want it any other way.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

DTMW4I: Alistair Begg

From Preaching for God's Glory, Alistair Begg offers these six benefits to Sequential Exposition: (with a few thoughts added to explain each of his points)

    1. It gives God glory alone. The focus is not on the wisdom or genius of the speaker, it is on the glory of God and His grace for revealing Himself to us.
    2. It makes the preacher study God's Word. As a child, I remember our church hiring a pastor who seemed brilliant in the candidating process. However, it quickly became obvious that he had about five good sermons in his pocket to use at any time. A church that loves expository preaching places accountability before the pastor that he better be in the Word, because it is the Word they want to hear.
    3. It helps the congregation. It is a deep prayer of mine that no one will sit in a sermon and feel the study and application is beyond their abilities. As we preach expository messages, we send a picture to the whole Body of how to study God's Word systematically.
    4. It demands treatment of the entire Bible. It's much harder to preach "soapbox topics" or favorite doctrines. Know a pastor who only preaches about prophecy or continually preaches against Hollywood every week? Odds are that expository preaching is not happening.
    5. It provides a balanced diet. Closely related, a church does not become fat on certain topics while starving in other areas. We grow in the whole council of Scripture.
    6. It eliminates Saturday night fever. Begg is not claiming that expository preaching brought down disco (though if our churches had been more expository at the time, it may never have arrived!!!). Begg offers that expository preaching allows the pastor to be released from worrying about what he should preach on next. He no longer wrestles Saturday afternoon, wondering whether this is really what the people need. God's Word does the directing.

Alistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry for 32 years. Following graduation from The London School of Theology he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church. Since 1983, he has been the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio. He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life. The teaching on Truth For Life stems from the week by week Bible teaching at Parkside Church. He and his wife, Susan, have been married 32 years and they have three grown children.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Work of the Evangelist [Preacher]

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.--2 Timothy 4:5

In this passage, it is important to note that Timothy is called to do the work of an evangelist, though he has not been given the title. Every person should take this commission seriously, realizing that always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence is a commission given to all of us, not a particular office (1 Peter 3:15). As I have heard Voddie Baucham say, "If you want the "lo, I am with you always" you better accept that the "make disciples of all nations" applies to you as well (Matthew 28:19-20)!

So first off, let's get that obvious application out of the way...we cannot excuse the mandate to evangelize to a person or title or giftedness. God has called all of us share the gospel. This is a non-negotiable.

However, it should also be noted that these imperatives should not be divorced from the call of preaching. These flow from the stern charge (a post of its own in the future) to preach the Word. He addresses that this message will not always be received well, and then calls Timothy to be sober, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist and fulfill his ministry. This is not an isolated set of imperatives wedged into a discussion, nor is Paul changing subjects abruptly, for he follows these imperatives with his own testimony. Paul is not calling Timothy to do something he himself has not obeyed. Paul is calling Timothy to continue on in the ministry Paul established.

Being a preacher is a unique privilege. When much of his time is spent in study of the Word and interaction with the Body to apply the Word, he can sometimes feel like he has neglected the work of evangelism. In recent years, all kinds of solutions have been proposed. Pastors are encouraged to do their study in coffee shops, malls or public venues (which may work for some, but could be entirely too distracting for others). Often they are encouraged to join civic organizations or volunteer with local community groups. An already stretched schedule is taxed to the limit. And if study time must be cut short, it must be cut short, for this allows the pastor to continue to do the work of the evangelist.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with volunteering or civic participation, but if these things distract a pastor from his Scriptural calling, then he must reevaluate. While we should seek every opportunity for evangelism, we must not seek new opportunities at the neglect of our original calling. Paul says some powerful things here in this verse:

Be Sober in all things...
When many consider preaching and evangelism, sobriety is not a word that would come to mind. Exciting, energetic, lively, fun...these are the words we think are necessary in light of evangelism. Life is hard, depressing and difficult. Shouldn't church be designed in a way that escapes all of these things and allows people to take a break from the difficult things in life?

But sobriety is not usually encouraged in the church. To compete with the variety show culture of today, the pastor is encouraged to have a humorous monologue, lots of visual aides and a catchy hook or two. Music should be "kickin" and the overall atmosphere should be full of energy and light. A person can easily stay home and watch TV, so the pastor should seek to make the service as entertaining and pleasurable as possible, after all, it should be worth the drive. This is especially true when the pastor considers evangelism in the service. Often, to get the unbeliever there--and to keep him attentive--the church should be willing to entertain and dazzle the nonbeliever.

But this was not the calling to the church in Corinth. What would be more energetic, exciting and help people escape the pressures of the present than an all out display of the sign gifts? Some may consider it foolish and others may get confused, yet it would at least draw a crowd, wouldn't it? Yet, Paul encourages that the presence of nonbelievers only further strengthens the call to do all things with order and care (see: 1 Corinthians 14).

Our present realities should provide a unique sobriety to our preaching. The pain experienced in life today should remind us of the pain our Savior endured on our behalf. It should remind us of the present reality that such trials will be used to help conform us to His image. Even the encouragement of the last days, knowing God will ultimately deliver us from all this pain should come with sobriety, knowing that such a day will mark of the judgement of those who are lost. In fact, each time soberness is mentioned in the New Testament it is closely acquainted to the end times. (Perhaps drawing an equally interesting trend that many who hold to a slap-stick style of corporate worship/preaching also diminish the doctrines of eschatology...another post to come.)

Evangelism in preaching does not need to avoid sobriety, but rather, it must embrace it.

Endure hardship...
No one should get into the pulpit for popularity's sake. If I desire to be liked by men, I should not strive to preach the Word of God (Galatians 1:10). Though the church should long to hear the preaching of the Word, it will not always be well received. I have had people approach me before a service, informing me they have an unsaved visitor with them, imploring me to "take it easy" on issues so as to not scare the person away. Other times, I have had people approach me, likewise having brought a guest, but desiring that I "really bring the fire" this week. Now, what is a pastor to do if both these people bring a visitor on the same week?

Quite frankly, he preaches the Word and takes whatever lumps come with it. And sadly, some will not like that. When a preacher seeks to do the work of an evangelist, there will be resistance. Some will consider him too aggressive, scaring people away with the confrontation of the gospel. Others will consider him having strayed from the text, for if they cannot find the centrality of the gospel in the text, then certainly it must not be there. People will complain, special meetings may be called, other elders may question it, but the preacher must endure.

For it is not only a privilege to participate in the ministry, but a double privilege to share in the sufferings for doing so.

Do the work of an evangelist...
It's interesting to note that Paul does not say, "evangelize!" or "Do the work of evangelism." The emphasis is not on the purpose or the position, but rather, the duty. The work of an evangelist is quite simply to declare the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. If the emphasis is simply "evangelism" one could be swayed by the audience (for how does one evangelize a fellow believer), but if the emphasis is on "the work of evangelism" then the audience does not matter (for you can proclaim the gospel regardless of audience). In fact, the preacher should do the work of evangelism for the sake of:
    1. The preacher. Lest we forget, the Word should be speaking first and foremost to the preacher. No preacher should stand before a congregation and share the Word of God when he has allowed his own heart to be immune to the message. Therefore, any message the preacher preaches should rest heavily in his own heart. The preacher needs to daily remind himself of the beauty and the glory of the gospel message if he desires to see sanctification in his own life.
    2. The faithful believer. It is not healthy to move "beyond the gospel" message. A believer is not called to move on, but deeper into it. Paul's letter to the Romans is a perfect model for this. Once he has carefully laid out the gospel message, Paul reminds us that any application comes "in view of God's mercy." If the health of our congregation is dependent upon remaining at the foot of the cross, it is necessary for the preacher to continually lead his congregation there.
    3. The chaff. If the pastor tries to tear up the chaff, he could risk tearing out wheat as well. However, the Word is also clear that anytime you gather a group of people together, it is quite likely that false converts are there. They may be involved in ministries and activities that appear righteous, however, if they are not trusting Christ alone for their righteousness, then the works are not seen as pleasing to God. We may not be able to spot who these people are (although sometimes it becomes clear), but we know the cure. They need to hear and receive the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Therefore, even if a preacher believes he knows each person in the congregation, he should still do the work of an evangelist, acknowledging that he can't see every heart.
    4. Present nonbeliever. Certainly, there will often be nonbelievers present. How tragic if they come to an assembly of saints looking into the Word of God and Jesus Christ is not revealed in their midst! Paul reminds us:
    How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"--Romans 10:14-15
    The preacher should not be tempted to please the nonbeliever with a practical message that he can quickly apply to his life at no cost. He should not seek to spend his message establishing the common ground he has with the visitor who walked in the door. He should not spend his time appealing to the nonbeliever that if they keep coming back regularly they will find the church beneficial. No, the preacher should exalt Christ. How does he know if he know if the nonbeliever will live to see the end of the day? He has him there, and he should take advantage of the opportunity to speak of Christ.
    5. Absent nonbeliever Perhaps point four feels like a moot point, for there seem to be no nonbelievers in the service. The preacher may be tempted to say, "I would preach the gospel clearly if I had a nonbeliever in our midst. I'd jump all over that. We simply never have nonbelievers." I would suggest that it may be because the preacher does not faithfully preach the gospel that nonbelievers are not attending. Ask yourself this question: If my congregation has no confidence that they will hear the gospel this week, will they be motivated to invite their neighbor? Even more pressing: If God is sovereignly calling one of His elect, why would He place him in my church if he will not hear the gospel there? No, the preacher should not just preach to those who are in the room, but to those who should be in the room.
When we understand our call is to the work of the evangelist we understand it is irrespective of audience. We also understand that this commissions the preacher to proclaim the gospel, but to leave the results up to Christ. He is not called to manipulate a person into a decision, or conform his message to what is deemed popular. He is called to declare the message of the gospel.

Fulfill your ministry.
Paul has not called Timothy to an elusive paradox. These tasks are not mutually exclusive. Timothy is to preach the Word. He is to be sober. He is to endure hardship. And he is to do the work of an evangelist. These are not hats he wears seasonally, but tasks he fulfills at once. This is the mark of his ministry.

Certainly, a pastor should seek personal relationships that allow him the opportunity to present the gospel. If he loves the Lord, he will have a compassion for the lost and will seek to reach them in every environment. However, the pursuit of these personal interactions should not exact a cost upon his original preach the Word. If the pastor struggles to see how the wickedness of Gibeah, David's division of musicians, or the Red Horse of Revelation relate to the gospel, his answer is not to put his Bible down and go mingle with people at the YMCA. He first must study and work over the text to make sure he does not neglect the gospel in the midst of his exegesis, but sees how Christ is beautifully and faithfully proclaimed in the text.

Again, (I find it regrettable that I must offer this retraction so often, but know some will wrongly accuse me of saying such) I am not advocating that the preacher avoid interaction with the lost, and also encourage him to strategically seek opportunities to interact with the lost and share the gospel.

Yet, the preacher is given one tremendous privileged opportunity to do the work of an evangelist. This opportunity comes when he opens the text and preaches the Word. If we miss our opportunity to labor as an evangelist at this moment, we have failed to fulfill our ministry.

Monday, March 3, 2008

DTMW4I: Richard Mayhue

I emailed Richard Mayhue to request a list of advantages found in expository preaching. Dr. Mayhue graciously pointed me to a list he has already compiled in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, page 20:

    1. Expositional preaching best achieves the biblical intent of preaching: delivering God's message.
    2. Expositional preaching promotes scripturally authoritative preaching.
    3. Expositional preaching magnifies God's Word.
    4. Expositional preaching provides a storehouse of preaching material.
    5. Expositional preaching develops the pastor as a man of God's Word.
    6. Expositional preaching ensures the highest level of Bible knowledge for the flock.
    7. Expositional preaching leads to thinking and living biblically.
    8. Expositional preaching encourages both depth and comprehensiveness.
    9. Expositional preaching forces the treatment of hard-to-interpret texts.
    10. Expositional preaching allow for handling broad theological themes.
    11. Expositional preaching keeps preachers away from ruts and hobby horses.
    12. Expositional preaching prevents the insertion of human ideas.
    13. Expositional preaching guards against misinterpretation of the biblical text.
    14. Expositional preaching imitates the preaching of Christ and the apostles.
    15. Expositional preaching brings out the best in the expositor.

Prior to enrolling in seminary, Dr. Mayhue served with the United States Navy from 1966 to 1971, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. After seminary he ministered from 1975 to 1977 as an assistant pastor at Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, Ohio, where he also served as director of the Worthington Bible Institute.

From 1977 to 1980, Dr. Mayhue taught in the areas of New Testament and Pastoral Ministries at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, where he also enjoyed an active weekend Bible conference ministry. From 1980 to 1984, he was a member of the pastoral staff at Grace Community Church where he served as an associate to Dr. MacArthur in a teaching ministry and as director for the well-known Shepherds' Conferences. From 1984 to 1989, he pastored the historic Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach, California.

Dr. Mayhue joined the faculty of The Master's Seminary in 1989 and was appointed as Dean of the Seminary in 1990. In November 2000 Dr. Mayhue also assumed the role of Senior Vice President and Provost of The Master's College.