It is good to be self-critical; this is even more encouraged in our post-modern age of ‘humility’, ‘community’ and ‘connection’. What has alarmed me as a Baptist of reformed conviction is how sometimes our confessions have a shimmer pirde. The admission I am foremost thinking of is that of pharisaism. “We need to be careful…” often you can hear a bible study leader say, “If we ever were to fall into error, it would be on the side of legalism and pharisaism. You just need to search through some of the popular blogs and writing of the YRR and you will read much about this topic.
We could point out the obvious signs that would reveal the pernicious shimmer of this proud sickness, but I want to peer a little deeper if possible.
- Everywhere is Puritan New England
Francis Schaefer said, “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.” However it seems that often we preach as if we had a church in 17th century Puritan New England. Everyone knows what ‘propitiation’ is; everyone grasps the horror of hell and eternal separation from God. Everyone crumbles when shouted at about sin and holiness.
The truth is we don’t. We live in a predominantly pagan country with a vicious air of secularism and a veneer of watered-down superstitious Christianity. Generally our communities encompass a mixture of traditional, modern and post-modern people. Issues like imperialism, westernisation, tradition, identity, gender issues, authority, politics, culture etc all cloud issues that are intrinsic to normal pastoral ministry like brokenness, spiritual blindness, and so forth.
These are things which need to be considered if we are going to “communicate the gospel in understandable terms” to those whose souls have been entrusted to us and if we are to do the “work of an evangelist”.
- Love is a virtue best displayed in wrath
We speak alot of love. In fact, the doctrines of grace are the most magnificent and beautiful theological description of love that ever there was. From Ghandi to Lennon, men made in the image of God have spoken of the need and beauty of love. We, who of all people know the answer to the lack of love, and worship the God who is ‘love’, should thus be the greatest reflectors of that love. If we bring offense it is only to be either the breadth of the gospel by welcoming all kinds of people into the courts of heaven, or the narrowness of Christ’s arms alone being the path to a place where gold has the same value as tar. Augustine said, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like”
However would a homosexual or prostitute or atheist or ‘new ager’…. feel, apart from the offence of the gospel, welcomed in our company and pews? Or would we seek to break them with the hardest words, or most formalist liturgies possible? Friends, it must not be our political opinions, tones, or words which offend, nor our views on gun ownership. We are to be all things to all people, but presenting Christ and Him crucified.
- What our sermons REALLY mean
It seems to me that ‘most reformed Baptist’ sermons are really saying, “Buck up and try harder this week” or “we are so blessed to have the best theology and understanding of Scripture”. I say this because so often that is the kind of talk you can hear after a time of morning WORSHIP. What is going through our hearts as we work through a text and consider our context? That is our subtext; the real message of the sermon. It’s either an Arminian “go and try harder sermon” or it’s a pharisaical, “Aren’t we so great as 1689ers” Keller points out that, “The task of the preacher is to present the beauty of Christ so that He becomes the object of our hearts greatest affection. Presenting Christ as more excellent than everything will weaken the Christians [and none believers] love for things other than Christ.” (Note in brackets is my own).
The doctrines of grace must invariable produce graciousness or one does not actually understand them or has not appropriated them.