You may have heard of the modern “word of faith” movement. It might be the fastest growing segment of professing Christianity today. According to those of this movement, the faith possessed by Christians can and should operate like a force or power. If you have legitimate faith, according to them, then you have the potential for and should expect to have power as well. In the word of faith movement, this power or force of faith exerts itself to obtain things that you want—prosperity, position, or health. If you just believe, your faith can operate through your words with God to get anything that you want; that’s what God wants to do, and Christians should expect it. So you could change the world, especially your own world, by means of this faith, to create a healing, cause a salvation, bring about a good relationship, or to change an economic situation.
Like the Pentecostal or Charismatic “word of faith” gets these blessings and changes individual realities, the faith of revivalists obtains spiritual results by means of personal faith. I believe that both of these distortions of scriptural faith come from the same influence upon American evangelicalism, that of Charles Finney in the mid nineteenth century. The perversion of revivalism is actually an earlier error, more in line with that of Finney himself. “Word of faith” was a later development as an outcome of the revivalistic thinking.
Both revivalism and “word of faith” have a similar emphasis on the ability of man to cause his own spiritual effects by the right use of means. Both believe that faith can solve every important problem and create their own desired results. In both cases, the results make it inappropriate to question the means—the end justifies the means.
Finney believed that the faith of a Christian could and should produce a revival. In modern revivalism, a person reveals his faith by paying a price to get the power that comes from believing. If he really has faith, then he will persevere to get the power from that faith by lining himself up with enough moral guidelines to reach some threshold that initiates the spiritual blessing that God wants to give, dependent on his faith. The faith that merits revival also reveals itself in really, really wanting it, manifesting itself in praying long and hard to get it.
How does the faith of revivalism and the “word of faith” movement veer off a scriptural understanding of faith? The faith of the Bible is not a power that someone possesses to control something in his future. The faith of God’s Word accepts the reality that the Bible promises it. And we can see that future is not normally one of success and great results and health and prosperity. Faith is not an instrument that people use to acquire the future on earth that they want, but a God-given means by which men will accept the future that God has already promised them. Faith trusts God with its future.
Jesus didn’t send out the twelve with promise that they could see tremendous results if they only had faith. He sent them all over Galilee and said that they should shake the dust off their feet outside of the town or city that didn’t believe what they said. At times, many believed—that is true. But that is not some kind of paradigm that believers should take as an expectation for their future.
Genuine faith itself is the substance, not the results of that faith. What is promised for that faith? As you look through Hebrews 11 you see it to be a lot of suffering, difficulty, and rejection. You see that in Abel, who was murdered, in Noah, who was mocked and jeered before he was vindicated much later by a worldwide flood, in Abraham, who never did possess the land to which he set out on his long journey, in Moses, who gave up the Egyptian court, and then those who were tortured and saw asunder to reward their faith. They went ahead and went through their characteristically difficult times because of faith. Faith had no connection to worldly success or earthly results. They did what they did because they had placed their futures in the hands of the God they trusted. Their faith was in what God would make of their lives.
The attraction of revivalism is that it guarantees the results an individual of faith would want to receive. The allure is not its historic or biblical theology. Revivalists utilize proof texts out of context and then mainly stories of former revivals that have occurred since the inception of revivalism. They brag about special moments in the past that have come because of power from God they received by faith. No one should depend on these experiences as hope for the future. We can’t and neither are we supposed to trust anecdotal material as a basis for Christian living or decision making.
In its own way, revivalism corrupts faith as much as the word of faith movement. It redefines and misrepresents scriptural faith. Revivalism doesn’t really trust in God. Trusting in God accepts the results that God gives and is content with the outcomes from obedience to the Bible. True faith doesn’t judge based upon assembly size, reaction to a post-preaching invitation, or numbers of professions of faith. Faith brings its own built-in rewards—the indwelling Holy Spirit, the pleasure of God, forgiveness of sin, joy, peace, and contentment. These are rewards of faith in the midst of a sin-loving and God-hating world, where God promises that all they who live godly will suffer persecution.
Deviating from a biblical understanding of faith is obviously going to have an effect on the nature of the gospel. Revivalism has harmed the gospel in this way. Revivalism diverted the focus of the gospel from God and the Bible to the short-term results of believing. Scripture concentrates on God’s nature and His promises. Small alterations are enough to ruin faith and then those changes become bigger through the years, enough for damning deceptions and a broad road leading to destruction.
No one wants to be seen as faithless, and yet he knows he will if his faith doesn’t produce the required result to be seen as faithful. Men know this, so they produce the result that will merit the correct evaluation from men. They give credit in the end to the faith that they possess, but the real praise should go to the methods that they used to produce their results. They say it is faith, but it really is a unique mix of various technology, motivation, propaganda, techniques, and enthusiasm. It takes the form of various styles of music, lighting, comforts, conveniences, advertising, programs, promotions, and compromises. In many cases, the result given credit to faith isn’t a genuine result. It hasn’t been produced by the power of God because of its mixture with the man-made method or strategy.
The manifestations of the perversions of revivalism are all over evangelicalism and fundamentalism, including in the churches or organizations or people who are critical of revivalism. Non-revivalist preachers and their fans also judge their success by how big they are, calling that the “blessing of God on their ministries.” And other non-revivalist preachers crowd around those men and their churches looking for what it is the “successful pastors” have in order to imitate their methods. The sad result is that the One upon whom true faith rests doesn’t get the credit He deserves for the genuine blessing that He has produced that has nothing to do with the trappings of buildings, bucks, or books published. Many of these well-known churches are as guilty of leaning on methodological manipulation as any staunch supporter of Finney.
May we return to scriptural faith. May we seek to judge based upon biblical criteria. May we correct our belief and practice according to the Word of God.
When the Revivalist movement swept Canada and the United States, holiness and humility got a little extra face time. And, as far as that goes, we’re fine with holiness and humility getting some props. We certainly need to emphasize these things. So long, that is, as we emphasize them Biblically. And that brings up one of the glaring ironies of the Revivalist movement, still strongly promoted in some circles in our day. Because the “holiness” and “humility” preached among the Revivalists is not true holiness or humility. In fact, we might argue that they are sinful holiness, and sinful humility.
Revivalistic holiness is not Biblical holiness. It is nothing more than moralism. Moralism sets up a false standard. Rather than preaching what is right and acceptable according to the standard of God’s Word, moralism preaches what is moral according to the times. A false standard produces a false holiness, and false holiness is sinful holiness. As we have discussed previously, we must presuppose the authority of God’s Word in defining our standards of righteousness and holiness. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Paul warns us to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
There might not be any one man who has been more guilty of preaching the rudiments of the world and the traditions of men than Charles Grandison Finney. Finney absolutely denied the doctrine of original sin, preached that man was basically good, denied the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, denied that Christ’s atonement paid for the sin of any man, denied that the new birth was supernatural, believed that Christ died for a purpose not for people, and preached that salvation is the result of men repudiating sin, continually repenting and staying clean, in order to keep in good standing with God. In short, Finney based his theology on logic rather than on Scripture. As a result, Finney developed standards of holiness based on moralistic values and the traditions of men, rather than presupposing the pure standard of God’s Word. Finney preached a form of Christian perfectionism that exalted the self and relied on the flesh in order to obtain holiness. This kind of holiness, the kind that is generated from the sinful flesh, can only be sinful.
But we like Finney. And Finney wanted holiness. We want holiness, so we like the holiness that Finney preached. Do you want to defend the Finney standards? Do you think that a wrong standard is better than no standard? Or perhaps you would defend Finney by saying, “at least he preached holiness.” Then perhaps you should consider this… So did the Pharisees. Finney is not the first to develop his own standards of holiness. The Pharisees, in fact, beat him to it by more than a millenium. What do you think of the kind of holiness that the Pharisees indulged in? Would you consider Pharisaical holiness to be true holiness? Christ didn’t (Matthew 23:3). To be sure, they were very tedious about keeping all of the traditions and laws that they had invented. They were expert gnat-strainers. They also excelled at heavy-burden-binding (Matthew 23:4). But they were not so scrupulous about keeping God’s law, especially the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23) like judgment, mercy, and faith. Their kind of holiness is very unholy, for it fails to observe the whole of God’s law.
The same can be said for the kind of humility — I believe our modern day apostles of revivalism call it “brokenness” — preached by the revivalists in the Finney tradition. The humility they promote mirrors the kind of humility that Paul was speaking of in Colossians 2:18. Granted, he was referring to Gnostic humility. But false humility is false, whether Gnostic, Finneyistic, or perfectionistic. In the case Paul describes in Colossians, they were worshipping angels, as if they could not go directly to the Lord but instead relied on an intermediate agency to bring their requests to God. They promoted this kind of thing in the name of “humility.” They believed that praying through angels made them more humble. But their humility was not the result of a Scriptural understanding of God. Rather, it was a “voluntary humility.” The Greek word for “voluntary” is a participle form of the word thelos, which means “will” or “desire.” It means to take delight in, to devote oneself to a thing, delighting in it. The idea is that they were humble for the sake of being humble, because they delighted in humility, rather than because they were humbled by a proper view of God. It was a gratuitious kind of humility, and they developed a fixation on humility itself as an end. This kind of humility is sinful. This kind of humility actually produces pride and makes a man more self-absorbed, because he becomes enamored with his own humility. This is the kind of “brokenness” or humility promoted amongst the modern-day Finneyists. This kind of humility strips a man of all actual humility, and instead vainly puffs him up by his own fleshly mind.
Paul said, “Let no man beguile you of your reward” in this sort of humility. The phrase “beguile you of your reward” comes from a single Greek word, katabrabeuo. The prefix kata means “against,” and brabueo means “to act as a judge or empire.” A.T. Robertson tells us that the word brabeus is used for the judge at the games, and the word brabeion is used for the prize awarded to the victor. The Gnostics warned these Colossian believers that if they did not humble themselves and seek the mediation of angels, that they would lose their reward. But Paul warns the Colossians that if in fact they followed Gnostic teaching, the Righteous Judge would strip them of their prize.
Instead, they need to hold fast the Head, which is Christ (v. 10). From the Head, all the body by joints and bands has nourishment ministered to it. By the Head, the body being knit together (v. 2), increaseth with the increase of God. Revival, holiness, and humility, contrary to what Charles Finney taught, are not natural results of human effort. Rather, they are the result of God working in us, producing in us that vital life and communion that increases us with the increase of God.
Contrary to the Fundamentals of Revivalist Preaching, revival is never the result of meritorious power with God. Obtaining new heights of holiness and new degrees of humility do not make us especially powerful with God. I believe that Charles Spurgeon was addressing the perfectionism preached by Finney when he said, in his sermon “Power with God,”
when we speak of having power with God, we must not suppose that any man can have any meritorious power with God. It has been thought, by some people, that a man can attain to a certain degree of merit, and that, then, he will receive heaven’s blessings; — if he offers a certain number of prayers, if he does this, or feels that, or suffers the other, then he will stand in high favor with God. Many are living under this delusion; and, in their way, are trying to get power with God by what they are, or do, or suffer. They think they would get power with God if they were to feel sin more, or if they were to weep more, or if they were to repent more. It is always something that they are to do, or something they are to produce in themselves, which they are to bring before God, so that, when he sees it, he will say, “Now I will have mercy upon you, and grant you the blessing you crave.” O dear friends, all this is contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ! There is far more power with God in the humble acknowledgment of sinfulness than in a boastful claim of cleanliness, — much more power in pleading that grace will forgive than in asking that justice should reward; because, when we plead our emptiness and sin, we plead the truth; but when we talk about our goodness and meritorious doings, we plead a lie; and lies can never have any power in the presence of the God of truth. O brethren and sisters, let us for ever shake off from us, as we would shake a viper from our hand, all idea that, by any goodness of ours, which even the Spirit of God might work in us, we should be able to deserve anything at God’s hands, and to claim as right anything from the justice of our Maker! 
He went on to point out the pride of those who think themselves to have obtained a higher sanctification…
Have you ever tried to go to God as a fully-sanctified man? I did so once; I had heard some of the “perfect” brethren, who are travelling to heaven by the “high level” railway, and I thought I would try their plan of praying. I went before the Lord as a consecrated and sanctified man. I knocked at the gate; I had been accustomed to gain admittance the first time I knocked; but, this time, I did not. I knocked again, and kept on knocking, though I did not feel quite easy in my conscience about what I was doing. At last, I clamoured loudly to be let in; and when they asked me who I was, I replied that I was a perfectly-consecrated and fully sanctified man; but they said that they did not know me! The fact was, they had never seen me in that character before. At last, when I felt that I must get in, and must have a hearing, I knocked again; and when the keeper of the gate asked, “Who is there?” I answered, “I am Charles Spurgeon, a poor sinner, who has no sanctification or perfection of his own to talk about, but who is trusting alone to Jesus Christ, the sinners’ Savior.” The gatekeeper said, “Oh, it is you, is it? Come in; we know you well enough, we have known you these many years, and then I went in directly. I believe that is the best way of praying, and the way to win the day. It is when you have got on your fine feathers and top-knots that the Lord will not know you; when you have taken them all off, and gone to him, as you went at the first, then you can say to him, —
“Once a sinner near despair
Sought thy mercy-seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free,
Lord, that mercy came to me;” —
“and I am that poor publican, who dared not lift so much as his eyes towards heaven, but smote upon his breast, and cried, ’God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and he went home to his house justified rather than the brother over there, who talked so proudly about the higher life, but who went home without a blessing. “Yes, my brother, you are strong when you are weak, and you are perfect when you know that you are imperfect, and you are nearest to heaven when you think you are farthest off. The less you esteem yourself, the higher is God’s esteem of you. 
Spurgeon, Charles H.: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 52. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons 52)
My name’s Dave.
I’ve been gone. For a while. You might call it a Rip Van Winkle summer. I took a blog nap, and I’m struggling to come out of it.
But here I am, back again. I’ve been skimming through some of what I missed these past four months since I last blogged. Looks like good stuff. Wish I could have been here for it when it happened.
But one thing’s for sure. I’m not addicted to blogging. These days, I’m a bit scared that maybe my addiction is moving the other way, like maybe I’m addicted to not blogging. We’ll see.
Anyhow, I wanted to give y’all a heads up that I’m intendin’ on being back now. The summer is over and life returns to normalcy for the moment. Who knows, maybe I’ve got some stuff stored up in the back recesses of the mind. Or not!
False doctrine and practice have been around since the garden, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the constant, growing, and innovative arguments for justifying worldliness. Satan isn’t taking a vacation from his world system. And men love the world. It is tangible, tasty, and at the tip of the fingers.
A recent and common approach sees men, who propose to hate worldliness themselves, vindicate worldly living by redefining worldliness. They make worldliness impossible to judge by anyone but God. And He will. They say it’s only on the inside. These men challenge definitions of worldliness that recognize worldly externals. No doubt everything that is worldly in someone proceeds from his heart. However, what comes out is also worldly.
The World Is on the Outside
It is called the “world” because it relates to this planet we live on. Worldliness won’t ever have anything to do with Neptune or Venus. Men become enamored with what’s on the planet. They mind earthly things. Many of the things in the world or on the world came from people from here. They made it, invented it, played it, or produced it. And most of those things are the problem for men, the competition with God for their hearts. The stuff that man generates has been affected by the curse of sin. Because of that, it isn’t all innocent and it must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Music, dress, entertainment, recreation, and even the things that we put into our body have all been trouble for mankind since the beginning. And all of it is on the outside.
Being “conformed” to this world (Romans 12:2) is external. Even being “transformed” is external. It might start on the inside, but it will show up on the outside. The word translated “conformed” in Romans 12:2 is translated “fashioning” in 1 Peter 1:14: “not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts.” ‘Lusts” are internal but “fashioning” is external. The primary verses on worldliness in the Bible are dealing with something that is external.
The Attack on External Worldliness
A recent primer for this novel approach to worldliness is Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney with a foreword by John Piper. Many of the chapter titles reveal the emphasis: “God, My Heart, and Media,” “God, My Heart, and Music,” “God, My Heart, and Stuff,” and “God, My Heart, and Clothes.” You can tell where the book is heading in the foreword when Piper writes: “The only way most folks know how to draw lines is with rulers. The idea that lines might come into being freely and lovingly (and firmly) as the fruit of the gospel is rare.” We get the heads up that rules are going to be a problem in a stand against worldliness. Then Mahaney adds in the first chapter (p. 29):
Some people try to define worldliness as living outside a specific set of rules or conservative standards. If you listen to music with a certain beat, dress in fashionable clothes, watch movies with a certain rating, or indulge in certain luxuries of modern society, surely you must be worldly. . . . Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within.
When this book came out, you’d think that nothing had been written about worldliness before. Actually many books have been written about worldliness through the centuries since the printing press. If you go to google books and use the advanced search mode and look only for full view books, you’ll find many books in the 19th and early 20th century that are now public domain, which talk about worldliness, many of which were sermons (consider this by J. C. Ryle, and this and this and this by Spurgeon). They weren’t afraid to talk about external issues in the days when to us there didn’t seem like much in the world that could be a problem.
We can all be thankful for a volume intending to slay internal or heart worldliness. However, circumventing the externals and painting only a partial picture of worldliness does more damage than good. It offers some leverage to deal with worldliness without depriving the worldly of the worldly things they demand. It vaccinates the adherents with a worldly, softer strain of Christianity that only inoculates them against the real thing. It sends an ambiguous warning signal across the bow while worldliness stays on board. I have to agree with Peter Masters in his recent short review of the Mahaney book, saying that it “hopelessly under-equips young believers for separation from the world.”
Others have obviously been influenced by Mahaney’s book. Blog posts began to appear everywhere that argued that worldliness is a heart matter, so the standards in churches and lines drawn are moralistic and legalistic, argued with fervent dogmatism. Of course, the point of Mahaney’s book was to deal with worldliness, not to encourage it, but the adherents caught one of his major emphases well, that is, people who obsess on externals don’t understand worldliness. “Oh good, I get to keep my music, my entertainment, my worship, etc.” Point taken. The book doesn’t do much to hinder worldliness.
But why would anyone write a book against worldliness but not be against worldliness? Worldliness is often how churches today got where they are. Worldliness is the goose that laid their golden eggs. They’ve produced worldly goslings, but they can’t very well destroy the goose. They use worldly music, encourage worldly dress, offer worldly activities, and allow for worldly amusement. It’s no wonder that they’ve got worldly people who need a book against worldliness. But you can’t slay the goose. So you go after “internal worldliness” with hopes for some kind of restraint.
However, Mahaney provides a perfect cover for the worldly person, excusing his worldly look, taste, and conduct. He says he has a scriptural basis for it and he uses the classic passage, 1 John 2:15-17. In an elaboration on v. 16, he writes:
Notice that in enlarging upon what is “in the world,” John doesn’t say, “this particular mode of dress, this way of speaking, this music, these possessions.”
Mahaney relies on the New International Version to continue with this point:
No, the essence of worldliness is in the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.
Some of what Mahaney says is correct. The internal is important, even as James wrote in his epistle in chapter 4 concerning carnal desires over which we will fight and war.
Mahaney makes at least two errors that debilitate his presentation. First, 1 John 2:15 is far from the proof text on worldliness. What about Romans 12:2? What about worldliness as it relates to the doctrine of holiness, in setting a difference or distinction between the sacred and the profane? Second, he doesn’t hit target in dealing with 1 John 2:15-17. It reads as someone who comes to the text with a lifestyle to protect.
What about Romans 12:2?
Romans 12:1-2 is “gospel centered.” We’ve got eleven chapters of gospel presentation. What does the gospel effect? It effects acceptable, spiritual worship, the saint offering his body to God according to His will. That offering must not conform in its externals to the spirit of this age. Certainly, for that to be accomplished requires a renewing of the mind. You can’t think the same way about the world as you did when you were lost and not be conformed to it. So this isn’t “moralism,” a regular strawman of the new worldly Christianity.
We don’t have a reason to define worldliness only with 1 John 2:15-17. Those who claim to walk in the light, but love the world, are lying. Those who love the world conform to the world. Loving the world isn’t good and neither is conforming to it. You can’t say, however, that you don’t love it when you conform to it. The new approach to worldliness separates loving it from conforming to it. They’ll say they don’t. That’s part of the deniability found in ambiguous communication. They can profess that they weren’t dismissing externals really, but if you read their writing, they leave them by the wayside.
How do you conform to the kosmos, the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist? You do it with the way you talk, dude. You do it with your comfort first, shabby, disrespectful dress. You do it with your groovy music, your deco art, your fashions, your recreation, your amusement, and your entertainment. These externals smack of a philosophy originating from a system operating in opposition against God.
What about Worldliness as it Relates to the Doctrine of Holiness?
Holiness is described by more than just moral purity, but also the transcendent majesty of God. It relates to distinctions that separate us unto God from the common or the profane.
And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be. Exodus 8:23
[T]hat ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. Exodus 11:7
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; Leviticus 10:10
Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Ezekiel 22:26
God wanted a difference put between the holy and the profane. That explains “be not conformed to this world.” It also helps us understand this verse in Zephaniah 1:8.
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
God will punish those who “are clothed with strange apparel.” “Strange” could be understood as worldly. The clothing itself is “strange” or “worldly,” in fitting with a profane culture. The “strange apparel” meant something—it has a philosophy that accompanied it. We see this same kind of teaching from Paul in 1 Corinthians. Paul says that an “idol is nothing” in 1 Corinthians 8:4, because “there is none other God but one.” And yet, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 19-21 that the idol, even though it is nothing, has a meaning to it that is devilish.
The pagan, anti-God philosophy of this world weaves its way into every part of a culture. For this reason, everything must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that which associates itself with a humanistic or depraved way of thinking must be eschewed (1 Thessalonians 5:22). This applies to piercings, modern art, tattoos, extreme hair styles, rock, rap, and country. In other words, we are not to “[fashion ourselves] according to the former lusts in [our] ignorance: but as he which hath called [us] is holy, so be [we] holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:14-15). Every aspect of our conduct or behavior is to be distinct. In no way should our externals reflect the old unregenerate life.
Hitting or Missing on 1 John 2:15-17
1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
Mahaney leaves out the first part of 1 John 2:15 in his exegesis. His description of v. 16, which isn’t completely accurately portrayed by the NIV, explains the love for the things “in the world.” But v. 15 starts with “love not the world” before it moves to “neither the things that are in the world.” The world itself is external. Mahaney argues that “the world” is only internal because that’s how it is described in v. 16. But v. 16 is explaining the things in the world, not the world itself.
The word “man” isn’t even found in the original language of v. 16 (or in the KJV). What is translated “sinful man” in the NIV is a single Greek word, the word for “flesh” (sarx). The NIV makes this “sinful man.” The Greek words translated “cravings” and “lust” in the NIV are actually the same word in the Greek New Testament (epithumia), as we can see reflected in the KJV. When you read the NIV, you’d think that there were two different words. Mahaney applies two different meanings, when they are actually both the same word. The NIV uses so much dynamic equivalence that you can’t get the true sense of 1 John 2:16 from its translation—and yet that is the translation that Mahaney chooses to use. It suits his purposes for his treatment of worldliness.
The lust and pride are a problem, but so are things in the world. We are not to “love the world.” “The world” that we’re not to love is a system that includes dress, music, entertainment, art, conduct, politics, and fashion. Satan is the prince of this current system, one that will be overthrown by Jesus Christ in the imminent future. Yes, weaving its way in this false system are the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Those are not of the Father. We are to love only that which is of the Father. Whatever smacks of the world’s philosophy, the spirit of this age, we’re not to love. We’re called upon to show discernment and say “no” to some things. Those things are on the outside.
Quietism versus Pietism
From Mahaney and Piper (and many other evangelicals) we’re to assume something gospel driven that so swings away from human effort. I believe it misrepresents the gospel and God’s grace. God’s grace teaches to deny. Grace fuels human effort. We live by faith. We don’t let go and let God. The new nature possessed by the converted will do good (Romans 7:21).
The truth is that the new definers of worldliness emphasize conduct. It’s just that it is, and ironically, the loose conduct appealing to the lust of the flesh. And they’re judging externals. They will judge your standards (which they do have) to be more strict than theirs, so you must be the legalist and the moralist. Even in writing style they work hard to make it as easy as possible to understand. Even in the dress down style of the sovereign grace ministries, something strategic is going on with their urban chic and soul patches. They are working at attracting or making comfortable a certain demographic. Something is driving all that, but it isn’t the gospel.
Perhaps it might dawn on these “gospel driven” that grace works toward using the ruler to draw the lines. It is grace working though. Old Testament Israel tested God’s grace by getting as close to evil as possible ( 1 Corinthians 10). Thinking their liberty would kick in on their behalf, these Jews in the wilderness fell because they didn’t get further away from the evil. They should have set up some safety boundaries. The real bondage was found in their attraction to worldly things. God’s grace and the gospel would have driven to distance themselves from them.
What we have here is the age-old tug of war between quietism and pietism. Quietism is a view of sanctification in which the Christian exerts the least effort possible to ensure a product from God’s working. On the other hand, there is pietism, which asserts that we must work hard and discipline ourselves to effect the favor from God that will empower the Christian life. Neither of these are true. The phantom enemy of Mahaney and his crowd is a pietism that wishes to bind his adherents in shackles of extra-scriptural regulations. Most false beliefs that would dictate their desired point of view benefit from a boogeyman to inspire irrational fear. Pietism is the boogeyman of only internal worldliness.
The grace of God that works in believers “denies ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12). As God is working in both to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), true Christians are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). What is this “fear and trembling”? It is the fear of sinning, the distrust of human strength in the face of powerful temptations, and the terror at the thought of dishonoring God. The fear of God and his judgment seat motivated Paul to labor for Christ’s acceptance (2 Corinthians 5:11-12). When Philippians 2:13 says “to will,” the word speaks of the believer’s intent. God instills in His own the desire to please Him. He so respects God that he puts a distance between himself and the world, making no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14).
Noah and his family were “saved by water” (1 Peter 3:21). What did water save them from? The ark saved them from destruction, but the water saved them from the world. God promises to be a Father to those who come out from the world and “be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:18). Having that promise, a believer will “cleanse himself of all filthiness of the flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Worldliness is more than internal. Believers will visibly and tangibly separate themselves from the world like Noah and his family did on the ark, and like God expected of Israel in the wilderness. Out of honor to God, to please Him, and with fear and trembling, they will work out their salvation. If it’s out, then it isn’t in. God put it in. Christians work it out. What God’s children work out is going to look and sound like something way different than this world system.
Almost always today evangelism efforts are judged by their effectiveness. In other words, do they work? Sometimes you’ll hear, “Door to door just doesn’t work any more.” Or, “Door to door evangelism turns people off.” Or, “We invite the lost to our church services because we have found that it is more effective.” I read often about all sorts of “effective” programs for evangelism. “We’ve got this ministry or that ministry, and we’ve found that they work.” Whether these evangelistic efforts work or not seems to be the justification for their usage. Does it matter that the “program” or the “ministry” are not in the Bible? I believe so.
I know this might sound harsh, but I don’t care about your evangelism statistics. I don’t care that a certain program that you used garnered more numbers than other means that you have used. I do care if you are obedient to the Bible in evangelism. That’s what will please God. It is living by faith when we trust what God told us to do and then do it. He gets the credit for it. When I hear about some new program, I can see the innovator getting the credit for it. And I think that following exactly what God said is most important in evangelism. God will always be the One doing the saving no matter what the innovation, but how we go about doing it will affect whether God will get the glory or not. It is for this reason that we should limit our selves and our churches to biblical evangelism methodology. God revealed the way and He gets the credit when it works.
Before I talk to you about why I believe we should do it only God’s way, I want us to consider that we can’t even judge results. God has a perspective about results that we can’t have. He sees all of time in one indivisible present. We may think that we see better results with a certain methodology because of something visible and immediate. We have no way of judging whether that will be the best for the next 500 to 1000 years. None of us should imagine that we could think of a better way than what God has proposed. And yet there seems to be non-stop innovation in the work of evangelism. I keep hearing about one new program and method after another that really makes a difference.
I might see few results in my entire lifetime, but those results may yield more results in the next generation, which then produces even more results in the next generation, and then it keeps going like that. My new method might see some short-term results and then crash in the next generation. This is where we get into trouble with a very cultural “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” philosophy. I think of Jesus in the parable of the mustard seed. He said that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A major point of this, I believe, is that the population of His kingdom builds up slow to something great. It doesn’t show immediate massive size.
What I’m proposing here is seeing your own personal stupidity. I think I’m too stupid to judge better than God. I’ll leave that judgment up to Him. I know that there are things that I can judge by the grace of God, through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Really these are things that God is still judging. Not me. I should take responsibility for judging where I am supposed to, but I don’t want to judge where I can’t possibly succeed. I’m ridiculous to do so. I want to think of myself as a methodological imbecile. God created a universe. I have, um, hmmmmm, not been very impressive. So let’s get off our high horse, folks. Get a rich understanding of how stupid you are and how smart God is. Stop depending on what you might think is keen judgment of results. You don’t have it.
The Permanence of God’s Glory
What will last is God’s glory. And that’s what He wants. He’ll produce salvations. He is the only One Who can do that. If we use His method, we’ll get exactly what He will effect. I’m fine with that, because He gets the glory and that’s why I do what I do. He’s a good God. He deserves to be glorified. I deserve zero glory, less than zero. He isn’t glorified when I do it my way, so I don’t want to do it my way. On top of the fact that I can’t judge results. I’ve got to leave all that in God’s hands.
His glory is the gold, silver, and precious stones. His glory is the laboring, that whether present or absent, I’m accepted of Him. His glory is what’s important at the judgment seat. His glory is what will last through eternity. My ideas are at the most a vapor.
What Glorifies God In Evangelism
The Bible is full of this teaching that God doesn’t want human innovation in evangelism, replete with the idea that God wants worshiped through our preaching of the gospel. We’ve obviously needed to have heard that instruction because we’ve often forgotten what He told us. We have built our own evangelistic towers of Babel. We’ve become the Thomas Edisons of evangelism. And I don’t think we’ve recognized how far we’ve gotten away from what He said.
I’m not going to focus on all of the passages on this, but some are very enlightening. I think of three right off the top of my head and I’ll deal with them in the order that they appear in my brain. The first is 1 Corinthians 1-2.
1 Corinthians 1-2
1:17 gets it started when Paul writes, “preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words.” The “wisdom of words” represents human strategy and technique. This is the gospel plus something else, the gospel along with the additions that make it work or make people like it, take some of the foolishness off of it so that it might seem a little more palatable to the lost. He moves on with this in v. 18:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.
What we should get from this is that preaching of the cross doesn’t make sense to us as a method. The world doesn’t like it. He continues in v. 19:
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Who are these wise and prudent? They’re the ones who have have figured out that people don’t like the straight preaching of the gospel, so they choose something else or something more.
The smartypants know that “Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (1:22). They’ve studied the demographic. They know how people tick. They know how to customize the gospel according to the particular characteristics of a type of lost person—the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless, the American, the big city person, the third world country citizen, the rich guy, the kiddies, youth, urban braniacs, etc.
Paul moves opposite of the strategic program evangelism. He continues in 1:23:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.
And more in 1:25:
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
What people say doesn’t work is actually the wisdom of God. They don’t think it works because they don’t see something that says to them that it has worked. God says it works. That should be enough. No one should assume it hasn’t worked. The assumption should be that God has worked powerfully, because that’s what He does. The way that glorifies God doesn’t make any kind of human sense that it should work. It looks exactly like it shouldn’t work. That it does work is because it is of God.
And why this particular methodology of straight preaching, of just going out and proclaiming the gospel? 1:29 answers:
That no flesh should glory in his presence.
And v. 31:
That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
We don’t want the glory, do we? Do we? If we don’t, then we restrain ourselves from a different methodology. Just preach the gospel. “But people will be offended.” “It will turn people off.” “It works better if you….” But whether He gets the glory matters.
Because of the doctrine that we read in 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, Paul operated in a particular fashion. He explains that in chapter two beginning with this in v. 1:
I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
Read this in vv. 4-5:
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom . . . . That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Somebody who wants God glorified in evangelism will take the same tack as Paul.
Here’s the program our church uses for evangelism—we preach the gospel. We preach it house to house and to those with whom we come in contact. We preach it to relatives, to neighbors, to co-workers, to fellow students, to children, to teens, to college students, and to the elderly. We preach it to Buddhists, to atheists, to Catholics, to Hindus, to Sikhs, to professing Christians, and to Mormons.
In Matthew 13, the sower went out to sow. We go out and sow. We preach the gospel to every creature. We don’t hide our light under a bushel. We open our mouth boldly as we ought to speak. We don’t have a program. We just preach the gospel. The world might hate us. I marvel not.
We don’t use an invitation to church philosophy. We don’t use any kind of special program for teens, for kids, for drunks, for drug addict, or for any other demographic. We just preach it. I can explain to you how that what I am describing is scriptural. I can also describe how that your program is unscriptural. I don’t think a person invited to church has a better opportunity of being saved than someone who hears the gospel at his door.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son.
“Serve” is the word latreuo. It is speaking of the worship of the priestly service, the sacrificial system, the offerings to God. The noun form is used in Romans 12:1 when the offering of your body to God is called latreia.
This verse says that our evangelism is a presentation to God as worship. The concern for an offering to God is whether God accepts it or not. Is it acceptable to God? The question isn’t whether it will work but rather will please God.
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
V. 16 uses the language of priestly service. Paul ministered in the sense that he acted as a priest. As the priest was to offer an acceptable offering unto God, so Paul offered up the believing Gentiles to God. Even as Aaron, the first Levitical priest, offered the Levites before the Lord (Numbers 8:13)—
And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the LORD.
—So also believer-priests living today may offer Gentile converts before the Lord that they may serve Him. God is well pleased when they’re offered up to Him, because it is His plan for this present age. Every new Gentile believer is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, indwelt by Him, made holy and acceptable to God. You see this thought in Isaiah 66:20 where people “out of all nations” are offered to God.
In v. 17 we see that Paul wants to “glory through Jesus Christ.” For Jesus to be glorified, the ministering, the offering that is Paul’s preaching of the gospel, must be acceptable to God.
The concern in evangelism is whether God will be glorified. When we take care of what is required for that to occur, we’ll get the exact results we’re supposed to get, no more or no less. More converts doesn’t justify a method. This isn’t living by faith but by sight. No one should assume that an evangelistic strategy is better because it has worked better than others.
In a question and answer time during a recent conference, John Piper commented that Mark Driscoll has a much greater opportunity to reach the people he does in Seattle than what Piper could. Why? What is it about Driscoll that would be more effective than Piper in reaching unsaved Seattle citizens? The implication was that Driscoll’s speaking style, his deco teeshirts, his grunge rock bands, and these types of customized innovations to the Seattle crowd were more prone to the use of God than what Piper would be able to offer. And this is coming from a Calvinist, who says he believes and teaches theological monergism in salvation. It is sheer pragmatism, Finneyesque new measures. Piper himself shows again and again that this is what he thinks. He would not have the same results if he hadn’t bowed to his own wisdom in evangelistic approach.
You look at the Resolved conference of John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Southern California, and you have the rock concert style theater lighting and platform, the relational dress, and the fleshly rock form of music all tailored for the youth culture. These all smack of the contextualization that defies these passages on Divine methodology.
I bring these two examples because they actually contradict what these evangelicals say that they believe. Young fundamentalists and evangelicals hover around them in part because they think that they are different than abuses in old fundamentalism. There’s hypocrisy in their condoning and acceptance.
Of course, we’ve got the promotion and marketing methodologies of modern fundamentalism, the giveaways and the gimmicks, justified by their effect. Methods don’t glorify God because they work. They glorify God because they stand in His wisdom and not that of men. God uses the supposed non-effective. He doesn’t get Jews through signs and Greeks through wisdom, children through toys and games, and adults through buildings and bribes. Music isn’t an evangelistic method. There’s no gospel music in the Bible, only gospel preaching. A Christmas concert is not an evangelistic strategy. A youth rally with pizza and big ball is not a biblical technique.
Typical comebacks are: “Scripture doesn’t say it’s wrong.” “Jesus got a crowd by healing people.” “The Lord gave food to the masses.” “Paul adjusted his message to the Athenian crowd.” “Jesus ate with sinners.”
The Bible does say the human innovations are wrong (see above). The healing of Jesus was to fulfill prophecy in order to reveal His identity. He wanted those to go away who were merely seeking after signs. Jesus didn’t keep feeding people because it wasn’t an evangelistic strategy. Paul preached the same gospel but used the truth that would pull down Athenian strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Jesus preached to sinners everywhere.
The limitations of the sufficient Word of God will free you from the bondage of evangelistic concoctions. You won’t be burdened by the pressure to find a way to succeed. You’ll find liberty in the simplicity of the gospel. Come to the methods of Scripture. God will give you rest. Above all, Jesus will be glorified. Oh praise His name!
The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Conservative” Evangelicalism pt. 2: Dovetailing with ‘Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture, pt. 2’
Not too long ago I had written the first part of an essay entitled “Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture.” It was only part one, but we moved on to another topic here. I post-scripted it with: “I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing. I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes. I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.” That short paragraph fit nicely with what I was writing at the end of the first of this multi-part post.
I began breaking down Romans 15:15-21 as a choice passage to expose the hypocrisy of conservative evangelicalism. I believe that fundamentalists are also hypocritical as it relates to conservative evangelicals. Someone has mentioned that in the comment section here. How so? They complain about segments of fundamentalism that are revivalistic and man-centered, and yet they seem to turn a blind eye toward the conservative evangelicals who participate in revivalism and man-centeredness. In this regard, I like the comment Art Dunham wrote:
I believe the time has come for us to be independent MEN of God and state the truth whatever the consequence to any affiliation, friendship, or Bible College.
Bravo Art. That’s what we need. We don’t need to move from one big, bad example to another big, bad example. It reminds me of the historic Baptist martyr, Balthasar Hubmaier: “Truth is immortal.”
Back to Romans 15
There are many truths to flesh out of this text in Romans 15, but the first we called to your attention was “instrumentality.” I drew your attention especially to the end of v. 17, the teaching here being that Christ is glorified or worshiped only “in those things which pertain to God.” Paul was ministering as an Old Testament priest, who presented to God his sanctified sacrifices, and he wanted these Gentile converts to be acceptable offerings to the Lord. For this to occur, all of His service must be found within the confines of those things which pertain to God. Things which pertain to men won’t fulfill the goal of glorifying Christ. They are not the instrumentality that God will bless with that result.
I think we should be able to understand how that the things that we use to accomplish the noble goals of glorifying Christ and offering up acceptable sacrifices to God must be those things which pertain to God. It is very much akin to the use of carnal weaponry to attain spiritual ends in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Paul didn’t war after the flesh. In the end, that warring wouldn’t even work. As I have read from many different sources through the years, “You will keep them with what you get them.” Carnal weapons can’t succeed in spiritual warfare.
Here’s what happens today. Hard packed, stony, and thorny hearts today don’t want the incorruptible, life-giving seed. The idea is that if we could package that seed in something that those hearts do want or love (zoom to 2:25 on the link), then we could make the seed work. The seed needs a little help. It needs music. It needs entertainment. It needs stage lights or a night club environment. It needs to look like a theater. It needs a trap set. Maybe even some tattoos. It needs syncopation and driving drum beats. It needs the enticement of some hormonally charged boy-girl interaction. It needs the license of personal expression in the hip-hop cap, soul patch, or oversized shirt. It needs stylin’. It needs “dude.” It needs the emotionalism of some rhythm induced hand-waving. It needs the hip, ghetto, graffiti font on the decaying, urban brick background. It needs youtube ads that mimic the twittering hand-held production values of the Blair Witch Project (this defines authenticity). It needs sensuality and things conforming to the world and its fashion (play numbers one and two, you’ll get enough of a sample). These are all things that hard, stony, and thorny ground might be able to relate to or with. Today we might call this missiological or contextualization, you know, just to make it sound like it is spiritual, when it isn’t. The adherents know everything they are doing and the meaning of everything they do, and yet they’ll often say that it is meaningless and can’t be judged. It smacks of the spirit of this age. It pertains to man.
Holiness Pertains to God
To comprehend this more, we should unpack the theological understanding of “those things which pertain to God.” Those things which pertain to God are holy. Holiness is not just moral purity. It is God’s majestic transcendence, His otherness, His non-contingency. Holiness is sacredness, which means it is not common or profane. It is distinct, unique to the attributes and character of God.
The Old Testament term kadesh or the adjective form, qadesh, translated “holy,” is not used just for that which pertains to God. It is used to describe, for instance, the temple prostitutes of pagan religion of strange nations (Deuteronomy 23:17). That means that those prostitutes had qualities that were unique to their gods. The root of the word means “to cut,” that is, “to separate.” Holines is related to consecration. When an item was holy, it was devoted for and only for the worship of the Lord. Items associated with pagan and defiled concepts could not be used in the worship of the Lord. Something that is holy is designated as sacred and was distinct from the profane or common.
The Christian does not look to the world to find worship forms. He looks to scripture. He sees certain qualities of this world system—sensual, carnal, of the spirit of the age, making provision for the flesh. A basic element of Israelite worship was the maintenance of an inviolable distinction between the sacred and the common. They guarded against the sacred being treated as common. While the realm of the holy was conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, it could nevertheless operate within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained.
Holiness was not and has not been just a separateness from sin. It is a maintaining of distinctions between those things consecrated to God and those that are common. The common may not be sinful, but it is not sacred. God’s name and His worship should not be treated lightly. They should not be brought into association with that characterized by earthliness. Certain aspects of the world are not redeemable as sacred. They were invented by men for men’s passions, to touch his will through the body to influence affections inordinately.
Opponents to holiness today say that worldliness is only a matter of the heart, only an attitude. They fall far short of what scripture says about worldliness. Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.” “Conformed” is not internal. It is external. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads:
14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
“Fashioning” is external.” “All manner” includes internal and external. Sure, being a friend of the world is internal (James 4:4), but the external manifestations also anger God. That’s why God said through Zephaniah (1:8):
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
He would punish those clothed with strange apparel. In other words, they were appearing like the world, associating themselves in their externals with pagan culture. God didn’t want them fitting in with the world. He wanted a sacred Israel. He wanted to keep a difference between the sacred and the profane.
I believe that the redefining and the dumbing down of holiness comes because of professing believers, maybe unconverted, who want to fit in with the world. They know how to do it. Almost everybody does. The philosophies of the world can be seen in dress, music, art, and more. We can know on the outside what message a particular form is communicating. We know when a man is acting effeminate. We know when a woman is acting masculine. We know a foul word. We know a term, an appearance, and a composition that carries ungodly associations. The conservative evangelicals are using these to reach their desired ends. When they succeed, they say that God was responsible. God was also responsible for giving water to Moses when he struck the rock. That end did not justify the means. And men who drank became carcasses in the wilderness.
Hollywood knows what it is doing with styles. It knows how to play something sensual or sexual. It knows how to target certain human emotions (emotionalism) and carnal passions. Conservative evangelicals imitate them. They offer their adherents the same thing as the world with some Christianity mixed in. This is called syncretism—“worshiping” God and using worldly means. It blurs the dinstinction between the sacred and the common, between God and the world, between the Divine and the worldly.
Limitation to Scriptural Parameters
To accomplish the glory of Christ and an acceptable offering to God, Paul limited himself to Scripture—he would only regulate his audience according to a Divine message (vv. 18-19). To make the Gentiles obedient,” in either “word or deed,” he would not “dare to speak” anything but that which was given Him by Christ. Those were all that were authoritative and authenticated by means of “mighty signs and wonders.”
The Bible wasn’t given to us to read between the lines. Certain actions aren’t forbidden in God’s Word. That doesn’t mean they become our means of accomplishment or a strategy for success. God gave His Word as sufficient to regulate any area of our lives. Even if our own ideas aren’t sinful, they aren’t what He said. Only what He said, when obeyed, will give glory to God.
Conservative evangelicals often expose scripture. However, they are just as guilty as revivalist fundamentalists at looking for non-scriptural techniques to influence believers toward what they believe will be salvation and spiritual growth. Even if they “worked,” they wouldn’t give glory to Christ or be acceptable to God. They would not require faith and so they couldn’t please God. Paul kept just preaching the gospel. He limited himself to the activity God endowed to fulfill His work. We must limit our means if we will glorify Christ and send up that acceptable offering to God.
Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture
We’re to be regulated by Scriptural precept and example. We’re to be distinct from the world. We should have a unique Christian culture. Culture itself isn’t amoral. Many ways that a culture expresses itself are filled with meaning. Some of those expressions may honor God and others may not. God laid out some very detailed laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of the nations on earth. He wants us to be different.
If we’re going to reacquire a Christian counterculture that separates from the world’s culture, however it is expressing itself, we must get a grasp on scriptural holiness. We must understand it, let it influence our affections above indifference, and then choose to be holy as God is holy. Our music, dress, and other cultural expressions will change. They will become distinct from the philosophies of the world and from the spirit of this age. The change will not allow us to fit into the world. The world will also know that we’re different–not just in matters of righteousness versus sinfulness, but in those of sacredness versus profanity.
A Bonus (a comment I wrote under a blog post about Peter Master’s recent article about worldliness).
In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).
Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.
What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.
Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.
This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.
Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.
Many young fundamentalists vocalize their hatred for the errors of fundamentalism, especially concentrating on Jack Hyles, bad preaching, shallow evangelism, political bullying, and standards pushed with little to no exegetical basis. They also decry the excesses and abuses of revivalistic practices. Of course, at the top they spew venom against the exclusive use of the King James Version. They are angry and they’re not going to put up with it anymore.
One repercussion of the above mentioned items is the pendulum swing over to the “conservative evangelicals” by these young or youngish fundamentalists. Certain evangelicals provide a perfect shelter for runaway fundamentalists. They provide an almost perfect checklist for youngfundamentalist-matchmade.com. And the fundamentalist will defend his new asylum with the fervor of a revivalist.
Why the Loyalty to “Conservative Evangelicals”?
I believe that much of the new loyalty to these evangelicals is fueled by the fundamentalist seminaries. The seminary professors there aren’t as critical of the evangelicals as they are of fundamentalism. They see, I believe, violations of their own principles or at least preferences to a much greater degree among fundamentalists than they do among the so-called conservative evangelicals. They feel more comfortable with evangelicals than they do fundamentalists. You catch this mood by the way these fundamentalist professors and presidents talk about these evangelicals and the great respectfulness they talk to them.
By the way, what conservative evangelical, who young fundamentalists love, has a small church? Interesting. They are drawn to those with earthly success. Success isn’t justified by numbers, right? That’s one thing we hate, right? The numbers game. But they like the guys that got big. How did they get big? What did they do to get that way? This is all tell-tale in what is happening within this movement.
There is now underway a movement toward giving a new label to conservative evangelicals. They’re now paleofundamentalists. They are fundamentalists of the old stripe of fundamentalism, who fought mainly for the fundamentals, and we’re talking now 75 to 100 years ago. These historic fundamentalists supposedly remained indifferent to anything that fell below a major doctrine (the fundamentals). And I’m just reporting what I’m reading.
The feelings of the refugees from fundamentalism also are stirred by the published authorship of the conservative evangelicals. They pump out books. The fundamentalist fugitives read and study their books in seminary classes. They then think: “if we are so impressed with their books, then why is it that we don’t just join them.” The lists of recommended reading are almost entirely evangelical—hardly anything of fundamentalism. I recognize fundamentalists haven’t written much, but it’s still an elephant in the fundamentalist seminary class room.
Disapproval of “Conservative Evangelicals”
Very little critical is said of the conservative evangelicals. Only recently has any popular evangelical been the target of any fundamentalist denunciation—the one guy is Mark Driscoll. Driscoll had been constantly beloved in fundamentalist writings, only with minor disclaimer for potential future deniability. John MacArthur and Phil Johnson granted permission to fundamentalists to join the opprobrium of Driscoll. He had broken MacArthur’s and Johnson’s rules of decorum, so everyone was now welcome to start shelling Driscoll with them. MacArthur and Driscoll started pummeling Driscoll a few months ago and now it is open season on Driscoll. Even John Piper has come out in vintage Piperesque fashion to talk about the good spanking he was going to give Driscoll while they remained in fellowship together. (I believe that this is an example of how evangelicals separate. They write essays and make statements.)
I would like to begin to illustrate to you the hypocrisy of this crowd of people, the conservative evangelicals. Beyond Driscoll, the fundamentalists can’t seem to see the hypocrisy. That is a kind of hypocrisy in itself. There’s also the hypocrisy of seeing all the foibles in most of fundamentalism with very little about evangelicalism. But before I start exposing this problem, I’d like to expose some Scripture that applies to the problem. I want us to think together about a segment of Romans 15.
Here’s the text so you won’t need to look it up:
15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, 16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. 17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. 18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, 19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: 21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
I recognize that with a passage of scripture like this in an essay, there’s a tendency for your eyes to avert the passage and go to what I’m saying about it, even evangelicals and young fundamentalists who are reading. Let’s make sure to read through the text. I mean, you want to, right? At least to check me out, to see if I’m treating the text correctly?
The “grace of God” had a certain effect on Paul (v. 15). And we see in v. 16 that the grace was available to him to minister the gospel of God to the Gentiles, and not just in any way. The grace of God worked toward the result of these Gentiles being an acceptable offering up to God. And then he goes to elaborate on that in the next few verses.
This is what the young fundamentalists miss about the conservative evangelicals. The conservative evangelicals like to talk about the grace of God, but they are as guilty as the Hyles’ people and the revivalists at manipulation in order to get their results. The reason they’re big is not the grace of God. The grace of God operates in a different way than what we see with them. If it is the grace of God, then it will look like what we see Paul describe in Romans 15. What does characterize a work of God?
In v. 17, Paul says that Jesus is glorified “in those things which pertain to God.” The instrument of the glory of Jesus Christ is something that is God. Paul wanted a result that he could give God as an offering (v. 16). The second “ministering” in v. 16 is a word that applies to the sacrificial service of the priest, speaking of priestly offerings. The word “sanctified” is a form of the word “holy.”
Jesus is glorified in a work, when it pertains to God. Works that don’t pertain to God, but pertain to human techniques and strategies, these are by nature unholy. They’re profane or common—they don’t pertain to God. The work produces sacredness in its adherents because it is sacred itself.
We see constant man-made, worldly techniques in the work of John Piper. A recent Calvinist publication reveals this with a review by Peter Masters (you’ve got to read this whole article), the pastor of Spurgeon’s church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle:
The author begins by describing the Passion, conference at Atlanta in 2007, where 21,000 young people revelled in contemporary music, and listened to speakers such as John Piper proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments. And this picture is repeated many times through the book – large conferences being described at which the syncretism of worldly, sensation-stirring, high-decibel, rhythmic music, is mixed with Calvinistic doctrine.
We are told of thunderous music, thousands of raised hands, ‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction) uniting the doctrines of grace with the immoral drug-induced musical forms of worldly culture.
Masters does more than report what is happening, when he diagnoses:
Indeed, a far better quality Calvinism still flourishes in very many churches, where souls are won and lives sanctified, and where Truth and practice are both under the rule of Scripture. Such churches have no sympathy at all with reporter Collin Hansen’s worldly-worship variety, who seek to build churches using exactly the same entertainment methods as most charismatics and the Arminian Calvary Chapel movement.
The new Calvinists constantly extol the Puritans, but they do not want to worship or live as they did. One of the vaunted new conferences is called Resolved, after Jonathan Edwards’ famous youthful Resolutions (seventy searching undertakings). But the culture of this conference would unquestionably have met with the outright condemnation of that great theologian.
Masters doesn’t leave it alone to Piper. He goes after another fundamentalist icon, John MacArthur, with this further criticism:
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)
I’ve been talking about this for awhile, engendering hatred from younger and even older fundamentalists. They don’t want to hear it. Their guy exposits well. He doesn’t use the King James Version. They show a high degree of shallowness and an almost complete lack of discernment in their evaluation of Piper and MacArthur. They might listen now that Masters has said something, but they have been extolling them despite these things and have pushed Piper and MacArthur. It will come across as disingenuous now—Johnny come lately. Jesus is not glorified.
Piper and MacArthur like to connect themselves to the Puritans, but they are so far away from much of what the Puritans wrote. They work in those things which “pertain to men,” that “pertain to sinful culture,” that “pertain to worldliness.” It doesn’t produce something different than the world. It produces a more conservative version of the world, but not something separate. Piper and MacArthur neither preach separation. They don’t practice separation. They don’t produce separatists, that is, they don’t produce sanctification through the Spirit.
If you read Johnson carefully over at his blog Pyromaniacs, you will hear him say that how good men are in the pulpit, speaking of their communication skills and ability to connect through their speech, being what yields success. It’s blatant revivalism. The other Pyromaniacs glory in their rock music and their knowledge of contemporary culture. They don’t like the degree that Driscoll gets to, but they do movie reviews and often quote rock music lyrics from godless pagans who hate God. Much more could be said and be given in example, but Jesus is glorified with things that pertain to God. Those things do not pertain to God.
Pastor Peter Masters doesn’t even leave out Together for the Gospel, when he writes:
A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.
True Calvinism and worldliness are opposites. Preparation of heart is needed if we would search the wonders and plumb the depths of sovereign grace.
We have to have Peter Masters write these things because fundamentalists won’t. You don’t hear Kevin Bauder or Dave Doran or anyone of the separatist fundamentalists. When you do hear a few men saying things in their midst, small church pastors, they are savaged. It’s a sad time when the things which pertain to man are acceptable to us, especially since they aren’t approved by God.
Extra: Others, including myself, have been saying the same thing as Masters for awhile. We see Peter Masters’ review article is linked at Scott Aniol’s Religious Affections and then at SharperIron. I’m interested in hearing how they’ll react with someone saying exactly what myself and others of the supposed lunatic fringe have been saying. Maybe it will be “right” now. I’m pointing out the political nature of fundamentalism—in so many cases it isn’t WHAT is being said, but WHO is saying it. Truth is truth.
Extra #2: Phil Johnson gave Greg Linscott a quote over at SharperIron in response to Peter Masters’ article. Here’s my take on Phil’s comment. He starts with introductory words of respect for Peter Masters. By the time he’s done, writing on and on, the words of respect are lost. His comment, in my opinion, is condescending to Masters. I noticed two other aspects. First, he makes reference to Greg Linscott’s note to him and says he agrees that NO ONE is saying the things that Masters is saying (which, of course, means that he has a private interpretation of matters—anyone can see he is saying this—this is where he starts tearing apart Masters’ article, while feigning that he isn’t). Second, the respect he does have for Masters is based on his success, his numbers, that the auditorium is full. Here are the exact words:
[H]e took a historic but nearly-dead congregation and shepherded it through a season of growth and fruitful evangelism, so that it is now full every Sunday, I think he is entitled to speak his mind on the worship issue.
This smacks of new measure Finneyism. It is a perfect example of what I’ve talked about regarding these evangelicals. They talk against revivalism, but they deal like revivalists.
(to be continued)