Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Jim over at Old Truth has an interesting article ( Confessions of a 'Numbers' Pastor ) on the modern church's obsession with numeric success. Check it out.

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Michael Horton has written an excellent article in the July/August edition of “Modern Reformation” magazine (http://www.modernreformation.org/). The title of the article is “Grace: How Strange the Sound.” As I read it I was reminded once again how easy it is for Christians to have shallow or otherwise misguided notions of just how radical grace truly is. We sing “Amazing Grace” but we adopt ideas that reduce grace to God’s passive response to our initiative. In a sense we come to see grace as a power that is made effective only inasmuch as we allow it to be effective. While we may say that grace is “amazing” what we are truly amazed by is the power of our own sovereign will that, in the end, even overcomes the very purposes of God. This unfortunate, but common way of thinking is why one prominent theologian speaks of the “pelagian captivity of the church.”

Horton writes:
“We work very hard to make God user-friendly. That’s why the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, terrified by God’s voice, decided to make a golden calf that they could manage more safely. Instead of trembling in God’s presence, they ‘sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play’ (Ex. 32:6). We hear people talk today about their personal relationship with God as if he were a locker room pal or even a romantic interest. However, when people were actually confronted with God’s presence, they always came apart at the seams. Even Moses trembled with fear (Ex. 19-20; Heb. 12:18-29). Isaiah was all set to go on his mission to announce the woes (curses) on everybody else until he received a vision of God in his sanctuary, with seraphim and cherubim calling to each other, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.’ Isaiah could only respond, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Nevertheless, one of the seraphim brought a glowing coal to the prophet and, touching it to his lips, said, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for’ (Isa. 6:3-7). Peter, hardly known for a reverent temperament, responded to the amazing catch of fish at Jesus’ command, fell on his knees and said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8).

“To confess that God is holy is to say that he is not only quantitatively but qualitatively different from us. In other words, he isn’t simply better than we are, nicer, friendlier, more knowledgeable, more powerful, more loving. He is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unsearchable. We can only have access to him because he has willed to be our God, revealing himself by speaking ‘baby talk’ – accommodating to our frail capacities. Grace is God’s willingness not only to condescend to our creaturely finitude even to the point of assuming our flesh, but to give his life for us ‘while we were still enemies’ (Rom. 5:10).

“God is intolerant of sin, but just as infinite in his love and long-suffering. God is just and righteous, unable to let bygones be bygones, and yet he is free to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. To have mercy on the wicked, however, God cannot suspend his justice. God’s justice did not require the salvation of anyone, so his grace is totally free. When God is gracious toward sinners, it is not because his justice is sacrificed to his love, but because he has freely found a way to be ‘just and the justifier of the ungodly’ (Rom 3:26). At the cross, not only God’s love but his strangeness – his utter difference from us – is most clearly displayed…”

“[G]race is not an impersonal substance; it’s the personal attitude and action of God in Jesus Christ toward those who deserve the very opposite. Without the phrase ‘who deserve the very opposite,’ grace is nothing more than God’s warm wishes that make us feel better as we suppress the truth about ourselves…Only when we actually encounter God as he truly is do we finally know ourselves as we truly are – and only then can grace be truly grace. Grace is not self-esteem, moral uplift, or therapeutic recovery. It is nothing less than God’s favor on account of Christ: a new Word (justification) that generates a new creation (sanctification and glorification).”

Posted on Monday, July 09, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

George Whitefield knew a thing or two about revival although, I suppose, no man is an expert. Under his preaching untold numbers of men and women were moved to repentance and faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. His ministry had taken him on the long journey to the American colonies more than once. He had established an orphanage in Georgia and preached throughout the New World. He preached with unusual power. Benjamin Franklin, who was quite fond of Whitefield, once estimated that the preacher’s voice could be heard outdoors by 30,000 souls. During his ministry in the colonies, more people had heard George Whitefield speak than any other person. He may well have been the most famous person in the English speaking world.

In 1742 while Whitfield was preaching throughout Scotland his influence was strongly felt in the regions of Cambuslang and Kilsyth. For decades, these parishes had been experiencing a spiritual drought. A pastor from Kilsyth described the spiritual condition of his parish:
"Former strictness as to holiness and tenderness of life was much relaxed…a formal round of professional duties was the religion of the professors…and as to the multitude they were visibly profane…Things were become so bad with us that there were few that we, the ministers of the word, could comfort as believers in Christ…when we found them a-dying."

Then God began to move in ways that had not been witnessed in those regions for generations. Evangelical pastors serving there were fired by the inspiration they received from Whitfield as he preached in Glasgow. The Reverend William McCulloch of Cambuslang, writing nine years after the work of revival began, described it this way:
“This work…embraced all classes, all ages, and all moral conditions. Cursing, swearing and drunkenness were given up by those who had come under its power. It kindled remorse for acts of injustice. It won forgiveness from the vengeful…It bound pastors and people together with a stronger bond of sympathy. It raised an altar in the household…It made men students of the Word of God and brought them in thought and purpose and effort into communion with their Father in heaven.”

This is what revival looks like. It is not about trembling bodies and ecstatic experiences. It is not something we conjure up or create by wearing down people’s inhibitions. It is the sovereign work of God granted to whom He pleases when He pleases. But God uses means. And history testifies that revival is accompanied by 1) a recovery of God’s Word in the pulpits 2) a renewing of the centrality of the Gospel 3) a common commitment to prayer and 4) a renewed reverence for God in worship. In reading about revivals in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, these four traits appear with unwavering regularity. In fact, I have been amazed at how the accounts of genuine revival all seem to read the same. So when we see the church recovering the Scriptures and the Gospel, praying with fresh fervency, and gaining a deeper reverence for God then look up and give thanks, for God is blessing His people.

blessings,

todd

Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Okay, the title might be a bit of an exaggeration but stick with me. My experience today was confirmation that Western society as we know it is changing for the worse. Just a few hours ago I took my two sons (ages 9 and 7) to the famous supplier of toys with one goal: to buy two cap guns. I love cap guns. As far as inventions go, they ought to be spoken of in the same breath as the internal combustion engine and the light bulb. Growing up, cap guns helped transform my back yard into an imaginary battle field. At various times they turned me into a Green Beret, a cop, Jesse James, and James Bond. So when my sons asked for cap guns last night I happily complied. This afternoon we piled into the car and made our way to the toy superstore.

And this is the point in the story where everything goes south. It seems that Toys R Us has joined the battle against the scourge of developing masculinity in young boys. I suppose it has been too long since I’ve been to Toys R Us because I immediately tried to find the aisle where they keep all the toy guns. Not finding any, I consulted a collection of three employees. I asked innocently, “Where do you keep the cap guns?” The reply came but it was too unsettling to fully process at first. It was disorienting. It was like finding out that you have just been awakened from a long coma and Bill Clinton is president again. “We don’t carry cap guns.”

We did find a few water guns and other things that shot out nerf balls. None of these fanciful plastic and brightly colored monstrosities could ever be confused with a gun. I can’t believe I am actually going to write this. They were the kind of “guns” that a girl might design.

This has not weakened by resolve however. If I have to get on Ebay I am going to find two cap guns and my boys are going to shoot them at each other. They are going to play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, and war. What is more, I won’t have to teach them to do this because they are, after all, BOYS!

They are going to learn that sometimes the good guys have to use force against bad guys. They are going to learn that Jesus never told a soldier not to serve as a soldier. They are going to learn that the state is at times used by God to put down evil in the world. They may be called upon one day to intervene with force against hostile aggressors. On that day I don’t want them to wonder why their gun does not light up with bright colors and emit an array of bleeps and blips.

Press On

todd

Posted on Monday, July 02, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

One of the best books I have read on the Gospel and the nature of salvation is John Ensor’s The Great Work of the Gospel. In a chapter entitled “The Great Work Enjoyed” Ensor writes:

Those whom God declares righteous, he makes righteous: “You shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:25-27). The New Testament word for this is sanctification (II Thess. 2:13). It refers to God’s ongoing work of God’s Spirit to make us holy, as He is holy… The grace that pardons always purifies…

The grace that brings salvation goes on to train us to live a godly life. A sanctified life is not optional to salvation; it is standard equipment. Other things may be called grace, but they are not saving grace…

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning because he has been born of God” (I John 3:9). This seed is God’s gift of holiness. It asserts itself against our naturally disobedient and self-centered tendencies so that we wrestle against the evil behavior we used to relish. God’s grace lays siege against those sins fortified by habitual practice. Conviction strikes and intensifies. A healthy fear of God and a growing love of God bang away at the habit. The Word of God teaches us the value of repentance and prayer and brotherly accountability, all of which are part of God’s continuing grace to free us from habitual sins…

God has put into our hearts a new principle. It is a love for righteousness, and as it grows it nudges old habits till they drop. Over many years we can see this governing principle in the changed life it produces. Or, we will not see it, and thus will rightly call into question the reality of our repentance and question whether we really are under the grace of God.

Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Thomas Boston is remembered as one of the great Puritan pastors in 16th century Scotland. He was a champion of sound doctrine at a time when it was under attack. His book The Fourfold State of Man is still one of the most important books ever on the doctrine of man. But in 1737 a smaller book was published from the pen of the pastor from Ettrick. The Crook in the Lot was the fruit of Boston’s deep reflection on Ecclesiastes 7:13: “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which He has made crooked?” The title of Boston’s book was his way of describing the God-wrought crookedness in one’s life. In other words, Boston understood from Scripture that the “crooks” or difficulties in our circumstances are there by the sovereignty and, yes, goodness of God.

Boston had his own thorns to deal with. His wife struggled with crippling depression and Thomas suffered for years from what were probably kidney stones. This gives The Crook in the Lot the ring of authenticity and empathy. Boston wrote that crook came from “the groaning part of my life.” Reflecting on Boston’s life, J.I. Packer writes, “In addition to ongoing battles for the gospel against the non-evangelical leadership in the Church of Scotland and the continuance of his wife’s paralyzing depression, he was a martyr to some form of the stone (gravel, as he called it) and saw himself become a physical wreck. When he wrote and spoke of life’s troubles he knew what he was talking about, and the sense that this was so comes through strongly…”

I encourage you to add The Crook in the Lot to your morning or evening devotions. Here is a brief sampling:

A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them; and that view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for, it is the light of the Word alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God, and, consequently, designs becoming the divine perfections. When these are perceived by the eye of faith, and duly considered, we have a just view of afflicting incidents, fitted to quell the turbulent motions of corrupt affections under dismal outward appearances…

As to the crook in thy lot, God hath made it; and it must continue while He will have it so. Should you ply your utmost force to even it, or make it straight, your attempt will be vain: it will not alter for all thou canst do; only he who made it can mend it, or make it straight. This consideration, this view of the matter, is a proper means, at once, to silence and to satisfy men, and so to bring them unto a dutiful submission to their Maker and Governor, under the crook in their lot.

Blessings,

todd

Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

When I first saw The Dangerous Book for Boys at Barnes and Noble I assumed it would be another experiment in turning little boys into little girls. After all we live in a day when feminists like Gloria Steinem have advised that “we badly need to raise boys more like we raise girls.” It seems that many Americans have followed that advice. There is a generation of young men who are now more adept at sharing their feelings than they are at thinking logically. If you don’t believe me then watch a little MTV and see the silly excuses that are held forth as “men”. They are as likely to shed a tear as their female counterparts.

If I sound sexist then please forgive. My rhetoric may sound harsh only because the male culture in America has been so feminized. In her essential book The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers documents these disturbing trends. She observes that in the modern school classroom, teachers view the budding masculinity of boys as a disorder to be overcome rather than a gift to be cultivated. Of course most boys are likely to go through school and never have a male teacher except for the occasional health class or P.E. Games such as tag and dodge ball have been banned for encouraging competition and aggression. Adventure stories have been scrubbed from the reading lists. History classes spend little or no time studying the great battles of history and the men who led their troops in victory. No wonder so many boys hate going to school.

Thank God for Mr. Rogers who taught my English Literature class during my senior year in high school. The year began with a two week study of Beowulf, the oldest known story in the English language. It is full of courage, valor, and, yes, violence. It even has a terrible beast named Grendel who, in the end, gets what was coming to him. For two weeks Mr. Rogers helped us sink our teeth, as it were, into the meat of that ancient story. I was hooked. I knew then that reading great stories didn’t have to be “soft.” There were indeed stories full of risk and danger and honor and blood.

That brings me back to The Dangerous Book for Boys by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden. After a few weeks of seeing it there on the shelf at the book store I finally picked it up. I was delighted by the feel of the thing. It is oversized and has the look of an older addition of Treasure Island. It even has the old-fashioned “swirly” liner paper on the inside cover. It is full of illustrations, maps, diagrams, and photographs. It includes information that every boy wonders about from time-to-time. On page two there are instructions on crafting “the greatest paper airplane in the world.” On page 35 boys are taught how to make a bow and arrow. There are two sections on famous battles. The book has instructions on everything from how to make a tree house to fishing to making a go-cart and first aid.

This is no one dimensional book however. In addition to the building and survival skills The Dangerous Book for Boys also operates as a guide for growing well-rounded young gentlemen. There are sections on astronomy, grammar, the seven wonders of the ancient world, and even how to appreciate Shakespeare. It also provides as list of “books every boy should read.”

The authors include a quote from Sir Frederick Treves from 1903 that captures well the spirit of the book:
“Don’t worry about genius and don’t worry about not being clever. Trust rather to hard work, perseverance, and determination. The best motto for a long march is ‘Don’t grumble. Plug on.’ You hold your future in your own hands. Never waver in this belief. Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers – like the man who swaggers – has little else that he can do. He is a cheap-Jack crying his own paltry wares. It is the empty tin that rattles most. Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish. As a quality it is one of the finest attributes of manliness.
“Love the sea, the ringing beach and the open downs.
“Keep clean, body and mind.”

Get The Dangerous Book for Boys. Better yet, read it to your sons. Let them read it. Let them play with it. It’s tough. It can take it.

blessings,

todd

Posted on Monday, June 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The following is a message recorded by the actor Kirk Cameron and played to the pastors gathered for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention last week. It bears repeating:

Can I speak to you from my heart for a moment? I realize that, theologically, I’m not worthy to wash your socks. But imagine this scenario with me, if you will: Imagine I’m a “seeker”- I’m a non-Christian, sitting in your church week after week after week listening to you. Am I ever going to hear the message that will save my soul from Hell? Will you ever tell me the truth clearly enough so that I realize that my sin has made me an enemy of God: that I am currently on the path that leads to destruction, with the wrath of God dwelling upon me, and that unless I repent and put my faith in the Savior, I will perish? Or have you decided that it’s better to simply entertain me, and on Sundays I can come to have my “felt needs” met with good music and good advice? Pastor, while I would appreciate that, it’s the ultimate betrayal of my trust in you if you don’t tell me the truth. Will I ever hear the words “repent,” “surrender,” “turn to the Savior,” “be born again”? If you don’t tell me those things, how will I ever know to do it? Please don’t leave it up to the Wednesday night small-group leader. They’re taking their cues from you. You’re leading the flock.And now I speak to you as a Christian. If you and I fail to teach the whole counsel of God, and we don’t warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and run to the love of Christ on the Cross to save their soul, we make a terrible mistake. It doesn’t matter how happy a person is- how much a sinner is enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season- without the righteousness of Christ, he’ll perish on the Day of Judgment. The Bible says, “Riches profit not on the Day of Wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” You see, that’s how Kirk Cameron realized he needed a Savior. I had riches, but I knew that it was the righteousness of God that I needed in order to be saved from my sin.

Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
Last week the Southern Baptist Convention convened in San Antonio, Texas. On the final day Dr. Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida stood to offer the following resolution that had previously been submitted to the resolutions committee:

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Tom Ascol
May 1, 2007

· Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried” (article 1); and
· Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, I Corinthians 5, and Titus 3:10-11 and
· Whereas the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,306,246 members in Southern Baptist churches; and
· Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,138,776 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and
· Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; now, therefore, be it
· RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further
· RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further
· RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord’s teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further
· RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally
· RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

At the risk of sounding naïve, I believe that most Southern Baptists would say “Amen!” to those words. When I read the resolution, as I have done multiple times, I am humbled and challenged. Who would deny the timeliness and propriety of such a resolution? But some among our denominational leadership have a habit of making the obvious, doubtful and the clear, complicated.

The Resolutions Committee refused to bring this resolution to the gathered messengers for a vote. Pastor Ascol then read the resolution from the floor where it was opened to a very brief discussion. A vote was taken to override the Resolutions Committee and bring the resolution on integrity in church membership to a vote. The vote failed. This was the second year in a row that Dr. Ascol sought approval for his resolution.

The reasons the Resolution Committee gave for rejecting the resolution on integrity in church membership were varied and, to my mind, nonsensical. Some said it would interfere with church autonomy, although it was never made clear how. Others had the strange idea that having unregenerate church members could be a positive thing. After all, they could serve as sort of “in-house prospects.” I’m not making this up.

Astonishingly, while the resolution on integrity in church membership was rejected, a flimsy resolution on, of all things, global warming was adopted.

And the band played on.

Posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In May, John Hammett, professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina made a special plea to the students gathered for chapel to take the issue of regenerate church membership seriously. Each semester a faculty member at Southeastern is asked to speak in a chapel service on a topic of particular interest to them. Dr. Hammett chose well.

The long Southern Baptist tradition of a “pray the prayer” or “walk the aisle” understanding of conversion has left our church rolls full of unregenerate church members. Professor Hammett told the students that the greatest problem facing Southern Baptists is not the surrounding secular culture but a Southern Baptist culture that seems to have lost sight of the necessity of regeneration in church membership. He decried the common practice of allowing people to join Southern Baptist churches without any interview process or means of accountability.

If you doubt the problem is pervasive then consider that Southern Baptists report some 16.5 million members. We often boast in the fact that we are the largest protestant denomination in the world. However, by our churches own reporting, the actual weekly attendance in Southern Baptist Churches is between 35 and 40% of the 16.5 million. This begs the question, “Where have all the Baptists gone?” In our fervency to up the attendance of our churches and inflate the number of baptisms that we report each year, we have too often looked the other way as our churches have received into membership people who show no evidence of genuine conversion. Why is it that some of our largest churches increase in attendance by only a fraction of the total number of the multiple hundreds they report to have baptized each year?

This summer, Southern Baptist churches will baptize God knows how many youth after camp and children after VBS without any genuine attempt to confirm the genuineness of their profession. It would be hard for me to quantify the number of adults I have spoken to who have reported their own spurious childhood conversions. They raised a hand at VBS or walked an aisle at camp and were quickly assured by a well-meaning pastor that they need never question the assurance of their salvation. Only in adulthood have they realized that there never was evidence of a truly changed heart.

Dr. Hammett suggested four reasons why a regenerate church membership is a “battle worth fighting”: It maintains a corporate witness; it insures a corporate health; it produces a love for unregenerate church members; and it honors and glorifies Christ. Further, Hammett proposed that churches compose covenants outlining the responsibilities of church membership that incoming members must sign. He also urged that churches reform their requirements for baptism and restore the practice of biblical church discipline. Wise counsel indeed.

I am astounded that the denomination that often refers to itself as “people of the Book” can get it so wrong in the most fundamental issue of all – regeneration. Contradicting Scripture, some of our most prominent pastors have preached and written that spiritual fruitfulness has no bearing on one’s salvation (Matt 24:13; II Cor 13:5; II Peter 1:10). Rather, they rely on unbiblical slogans like “once saved always saved” and assert that so long as someone prays the prayer they are “in” regardless of the contradictory evidence of an unchanged heart. If you don’t believe me then read Charles Stanley’s irresponsible book Eternal Security.

I am frightened by the notion of ever giving false assurance of salvation to someone who is not truly regenerate. Don’t misunderstand. Christians should not go through life doubting their salvation. Full assurance of salvation is a wonderful, Spirit wrought blessing. I fully affirm perseverance of the saints or the eternal security of genuine converts. But I wholly reject the eternal presumption of spurious converts.

I owe the details of Dr. Hammett’s speech to a May 8, 2007 Baptist Press article by Joy Rancatore.