O Foolish Evangelicals! Who Has Bewitched You? – The Deceptive Disguises of Legalism Pervasive in the Church Today

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:22-25)

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone is the gospel. It is God’s one way of saving fallen man. We are saved by His grace, apart from our own doings, and we are sustained and kept by that grace as well:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:1-3)

The thesis I present to you in this article is that the evangelical church today, and for many, many years past, is presenting and practicing Christianity as a legalistic system of self-help. Now, you may say “amen!” to that and fancy that you have the ability to spot a legalistic false gospel. But I suggest that the prevailing plague of “Christ plus _____” is far more deceptively subtle in its forms. So much so that it seems the very air we breathe in most local churches and Christian ministries is fouled by it.

Christ is a stumbling block to the natural man. His way of salvation is foolishness to Mr. Worldly Wiseman. The flesh craves doing. But God’s way is believing that the doing has all been done by Someone other than me. Good news! Grace! Indescribable gift! And yet, surely the Spirit in the believer needs, some help?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully confess that justification is entirely the work of God and that sanctification entails something on our part. I am in no way promoting some kind of misguided quietism in which the believer simply “lets go and lets God.” What I am saying is what Paul said:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Php 2:12-13)

What I am saying is that visible Christianity of our day is adding to this formula of God working in me and me working out what he is doing in me. Want to know the secret to the spiritual life? No need to go buy a book by that title. Just look at the two verses above. God is working in you by His Spirit to shape your heart’s desire, your very will, your free will (freed finally in Him) so that you will live and work and do according to His good pleasure. And what I am saying here is that for the most part in the majority of its teaching, standard, normal, typical evangelical Christianity is adding all kinds of trappings to this work of God to the point that most Christians are suffocating in it all. And the counterfeit Christians are using these things to fine tune their disguises even more.  All of this provides fertile soil to evil!

Let me explain by way of example.

Recently I received a catalog from Christian Book Distributors. CBD. They have been around a long time. If it’s trendy, you can bet CBD will be right on top of it – “Everything Christian for Less” – that’s their motto. Bestsellers. Favorite authors. Sunday School curriculum. Holy hardware as I call it. Bibles, study Bibles. Bible studies. Favorites for men and women. Marriage and family. Christian living. You have the bucks, they have the books.

Let’s look for a moment at the Marriage and Family section. (If you have followed the blog A Cry for Justice, you will recognize some of these titles as terrible, terrible books that enable abusers and oppress abuse victims).

  • Sacred Marriage
  • For Men Only
  • For Women Only
  • Parenting
  • The Total Money Makeover
  • Seeking Him: The Joy of Personal Revival
  • 40 Days with Jesus
  • One-minute Inspirations for Women
  • 199 Promises of God
  • The Battle Plan for Prayer
  • The Bait of Satan – how to escape Satan’s grip
  • Praying through Fear
  • Love and Respect (this one is particularly notorious)

And on and on and on and on it goes. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church has his own page so that you too can scarf up all the books and workbooks and DVD’s and finally find the purpose-driven life. CBD, it seems, is not overly concerned with selling books by false teachers. What’s hot right now. That’s the thing.

But here is my main point. I am saying that all of this junk, this stuff, is sheer legalism. It is exactly the same thing that Paul rebuked the Galatians for. Listen to him again:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:1-3)

Are we so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, that we now believe we are being perfected by all of these doings and programs? Yes. Apparently we are that foolish. And let me ask you, Christian? How’s that all working out for you? I know the answer to that question even though I don’t know you.

For my part I went through the buying of books and dvd’s and programs phase. I never consciously said “today I am done with it all.” But I am done with it. Years ago I totally lost interest in it all and have more than once gone through my library and thrown volume after volume in the garbage, leaving only the very valuable few resources and increasingly turning my attention to the Word of God itself.

Do you see what I am saying? Christian, if you are indeed a Christian, God is at work in you to shape you increasingly into Christ’s image. He leads, you follow. He directs, and you go. He thinks His thoughts in you and you embrace them as your own. His Law is written on your very heart, and you love it. By His Spirit and through His Word, you have everything you need to live as the new creation you are.

CBD catalog going in the trash can now.

 

That “Most Holy Guy in the Church” is often an Agent of the Enemy

[I originally wrote this article on my Facebook page but I am publishing it here as well so everyone can see it]

Beware of people who are too “religious.”

I have been a pastor now for going on 35 years. And I can tell you that the people who have caused the most grief and trouble in the churches I have served as a pastor are the people who APPEAR to be the most “holy.” Let me explain.

Christ came into this world to set all who believe in Him right with God. We don’t enter this life righteous. We all know this. No one had to teach us to throw a tantrum or to be selfish or to curse someone who gets in our way, even using God’s own holy name in that curse. Nope. We all know how to do this even in our earliest years. But Christ came to 1) Pay for our sin by dying on the cross, and 2) live a perfect life in perfect obedience to His Father – FOR US. So that when we simply believe this good news, embrace by faith Christ as our Savior and in fact the ONLY Savior who can make us right with God, HIS perfect life and HIS redeeming sacrifice on the cross become OURS. It is all by Christ alone through faith alone by God’s grace alone. NOT by anything we do or don’t do. That is the gospel.

Ok, so what about these “holy” religious people. Well there is nothing wrong with holiness or with religion, as long as it is true holiness and true religion. The problem comes in when “holy” people base their holiness on works – on things THEY do or things THEY do not do. And then they start telling us that we have to keep the same code as them or God will have nothing to do with us. In other words, they teach by example and by word that getting right with God (salvation) requires not only faith in Christ but “doings and not-doings” on our part. The Bible calls all of this “works of the law” – the Old Testament requirement of keeping perfectly the ten commandments. If that is your idea of what God requires of you, well, let me ask you – “how’s that working out for you?” I can give you the answer. It’s not. Because God requires total and complete, perfect, flawless obedience to His Law, and only Christ could ever pull that one off.

But back to these “holy” people I have known and perhaps who you have run into. Listen to what Martin Luther said about these kind:

“Note carefully that every teacher of works and of the righteousness of the law is a troubler of the church and of people’s conscience. The more holy the heretics seem to be outwardly, the more mischief they do.” (Commentary on Galatians)

Man, I have to tell you, it’s true! Luther is right on. I could write books about the grief and false guilt and misery these kind have brought my way over the years. They come into the local church, they look OUTWARDLY like the best most holy Christians you have ever known. People start listening to them and imitating them, thinking this is Christ. It’s not. These people are phonies. As Luther said and as the Bible says, their “holiness” is barely skin deep. Their hearts are evil and unchanged. They crave to be worshiped themselves and they despise real Christians and the real truths of the Bible.

Let me suggest to you that the most holy, perfectly sinless, purest Man who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ, at times would cause people like Peter to say, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” And yet very frequently and even typically, “tax-gatherers and sinners,” the outcasts of Jewish society in His day, would flock to Him, invite Him into their homes, and listen to Him. He didn’t ever of course enter into their sin, and He told them exactly what they needed to hear. But people who really were “heavy-laden” with the weight and sense of their sin, craved to be with Him. In other words, the Holy One was not “holier than thou” as we say today.

Beware then of people who display great “outward” holiness. They don’t drink alcohol. They never say a bad word (so you can hear them that is). They are all the time quoting Bible verses. All they do, it seems, is religious. Don’t trouble them with “frivolous” talk about daily things. Oh no. They are too “deep” for that. They say long prayers. They are at every single meeting of the church.

And by their counterfeit holiness, they preach in word and in action a false gospel that can never set us free and give us a clean conscience that no longer condemns. In fact, their “law-keeping” actually promotes and energizes sin. That is why you so often read or hear about these kind being “found out.” Turns out what Jesus said about them was true all along:

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Mat 23:24-28)

Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Really? Excellent Article by Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis exposes the misuse of “innocent until proven guilty” ploy that is often laid on victims and witnesses of evil. We see this tactic used over and over again in churches when an evildoer is exposed. Rebecca reminds us of something so obvious that we seem to miss it: that victims of and witnesses to wickedness certainly are not to consider the attacker “innocent until proven guilty.” And yet repeatedly we see churches essentially telling them they must.

Read the article here.

Paul’s Last Words to the Ephesian Elders are About Evil Creeping into the Church

Acts 20:28-31 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (29) I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; (30) and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (31) Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

I am thankful to a good friend for pointing these verses out to me, and the ones which follow in this post. How very different Paul’s words sound in contrast to the typical teaching that pastors and church leaders are being given today.

Whenever we have a record of someone’s “last words,” as we have here, we do well to pay close attention to them. Paul was never going to see these Ephesians again. He had limited time. He had instructed them for three years about many things, but here he distills a final warning down to this very point – Be awake and alert. Fierce wolves are coming and some of them are going to rise up from your own ranks. If you are careless, they will lead the flock away to destruction. 

To some degree, the evangelical church has fought just such a fight in the past century, particularly standing against liberal theology that denies the foundational doctrines of the gospel – the deity of Christ, His resurrection, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and so on. And yet the battle against what I suppose is best called “legalism” has not been fought well at all. Paul warned the Galatians that they had been set free by Christ and must never, ever again be subject to a yoke of slavery. And yet, what are we seeing today? The traditions of men trumping the Word of God so that large segments of the church are enslaved.

Nowhere are these man-made counterfeit “doctrines” more evident than in their approach to the very evil that Paul warns about. We are told (“commanded”) by leading Christian celebrity authors, pastors, conference leaders, movers and shakers in the counseling movement, and others things such as:

  • Anger is always sinful
  • We must be sure that our churches have a “non-judgmental” atmosphere toward everyone
  • Everyone, no matter who they are, is to be welcomed into our churches
  • Regardless of the evil committed by someone, God requires us to forgive them and that forgiveness must include reconciling relationship with them
  • All of us are sinners, all just as bad as anyone else
  • No one is beyond God’s mercy

And on and on we could go. Not one of these teachings is true. None are to be found in Scripture. In fact, what we do find in Scripture is the very opposite of these supposed “bible” truths.

Paul did not lay these things on the Ephesian elders in his “closing statement” to them. What he did tell them was to wise up about evil, to fully expect emissaries of the devil to show up, to not be surprised that some of those diabolical agents were already in position disguised as brethren, and to be ever vigilant in guarding Christ’s flock. You can bet that in those three years of instruction, Paul had described what these wicked types look like, how they operate, and what Christ commands us to do with them. THIS is what he is telling them to remember!

Did they listen? We don’t know. But something we do know – most of the elders and pastors and church leaders today are NOT listening. And as a result the majority of local churches have numbers of these savage wolves sitting in the pews if not actually standing at the pulpit! This means then that another Babylonian Captivity of Christ’s people has happened and that a new exodus is sorely needed away from this bondage. These are dark, dark times when Christ’s light is needed desperately.

Ephesians 4:11-14 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (12) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (14) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

 

If You Stand Against Evil, Don’t Expect to Have Many Stand With You

2Ti 4:9-17 Do your best to come to me soon. (10) For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. (11) Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. (12) Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. (13) When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (14) Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (15) Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (16) At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (17) But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

The common, regular experience of Christ’s genuine people as they stand faithfully for Him is exactly what Paul describes here. “All deserted me.”

2Ti 1:15-16 You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (16) May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

Over and over again it is the same:

Php 2:20-21 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. (21) For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Mar 14:50 And they all left him and fled.

This is why I am immediately suspicious of any kind of “ministry” that claims to serve Christ and yet enjoys popularity and a large following. By “large,” I do not necessarily mean the tens of thousands in a so-called “mega-church.” Rather, I mean even a much smaller number. How, for example, do you attract, say, several hundred people nowadays and still faithfully and accurately proclaim God’s truth and follow Him? And yet this kind of thing is thought to be the norm, something we must expect to happen and if it does not then we are miserable failures.

Joh 6:65-66 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (66) After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Jesus failed, you see. At least by current measures of ministry “success.”

You say that you want to follow Christ? That you want to be light and stand against the darkness of evil? Well, make no mistake. Largely you are going to be doing this alone. If you are really blessed, you will have a few faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who will stand with you, but not many. And even that number may grow thinner when the times get tougher and the cost grows higher. I am sure that this is the reason Jesus said:

Mat 10:36-39 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (38) And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Think it through. Think of the Old Testament prophets. Think of the other Apostles. Think of the Reformers in the later history of the church. Think of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Betrayed and abandoned. Alone. Why do we expect that it will be different for us? Why do we envy “ministries” that attract lots of people, put up big new buildings, and are abuzz with all kinds of activity? The biblical pattern of faithful, genuine service of the Lord is nothing like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Propriety” and “Protocol” are Often Used to Protect Evildoers

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Mat 15:12-14)

Evildoers and those who protect them often create “protocols” in order to silence anyone who would seek to expose wickedness. As we work to shine light upon evil that is hiding in churches, we see this tactic very frequently.

As you can see in the verses above, Jesus smashed through the niceties of the day and confronted the wicked in broad daylight. The Pharisees were the “clergy” of the day. The exalted church leaders claiming God’s authority, yet they did not know Him at all. They misused God’s Word to keep people in bondage and to exalt themselves. Power and self-glory were their goal.

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Mat 15:10-11)

He called the people to him. He told them publicly. So that not only the people, but the Pharisees could hear. He said that the theology and doctrines of the Pharisees were bunk. And everyone knew exactly who he was talking about.

The disciples, bound to some degree by the evil-protecting etiquette of the day, cautioned Jesus that he had offended these holy ones. “Too bad. Forget about them. They are destroying people along with themselves.” That was Jesus’ reaction to “protocol.”

We have the same false, binding, evil-protecting rules laid upon us today. For example:

  • Oh my goodness, you said these men who are our brothers in Christ covered up for a child molester. Yes, I see there is a possibility they did, but it just isn’t right for you to say so where everyone can hear.
  • You must not speak of your husband that way. Sure, what he is doing is wrong, but a wife must obey her husband.
  • It is wrong (Bill Gothardism here) to “take up an offense of someone else.” You must not speak of a sin or crime committed against another person besides yourself.
  • A Christian must never, ever say something negative about a fellow Christian. Especially in public.
  • That man is a great, holy Christian who has accomplished magnificent deeds for the Lord. And YOU dare criticize him?
  • Ok, ok, he did that. But now is not the proper time to say so. What you say may be true, but I don’t like the way you are telling it.
  • In response to a news article about a wicked man who claimed to be a Christian, charged with murdering his wife and two children, one commenter said: “There isn’t enough information to even tell if he’s guilty or not. It shouldn’t be guilty before being proven innocent. There are no details at all about the crime and why they think that he is guilty.” So we must not speak of it, you see.

People who expose injustice know that if they “play by the rules,” nothing is going to change. They are not going to be heard. Because “the rules” are most typically loaded in favor of the wicked. Of those holding abusive power. Think for example of the civil rights movement. Protocol said that a black person was not to drink from a “whites only” water fountain, or sit in a whites only seat on a bus and so on. These were the very things that civil rights workers did. It got some of them killed. But it was right. The protocol was what was evil and wrong. Or think of the women’s suffrage movement which sought to get the vote for women. They did not always concern themselves with “propriety” so as “not to offend.” Because the propriety was what was wrong in the first place. It silenced the righteous.

And so it is in the church today, just as it was in Jesus’ day. If we are going to expose domestic abusers hiding in the church, or pedophiles creeping in among us, or power and control junkies like Diotrephes (see 3 John), then we cannot “play by the rules.” Like Jesus, we must be willing to be hated by the powers that be and press right on in announcing that they are leading people into a pit.

But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Act 4:17-20)

When Victims of Evil Become Evildoers Themselves

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (Numbers 11:4-5)

As we confront wickedness, one of the chief reasons we do what we do is for the benefit of its victims. We confront domestic abusers hiding in the church because we want their victims set free. We oppose false teachers who bring another Jesus, another gospel, and another spirit because we do not want people deceived by them. And many times we receive deep and sincere thanks from these victims.

But not always.

Over the years I have seen more than one wife of a wicked husband choose to stand with him. To be his defender. For a time it seemed that perhaps these women were starting to see the bondage they were in. A couple of them even asked for help and we poured our lives into them in an effort to confront the wickedness and get them free.

But then they made a choice.

Just like the wavering Israelites longing for “the good life” in slavery in Egypt, these victims chose to defend their own “Pharaoh” and they became very abusive themselves toward those who had tried to rescue them. “My husband is a good man. How dare you speak against him!” They chose up the side they were on and became allies of evil themselves.

This is important for all of us to understand and expect. That sometimes the very people who are targets of evil, the people we are trying to help, will turn against us and become our enemies.

Why? How can this be? I will suggest a few possible reasons:

  • They did not want to give up the material benefits they enjoyed. Some were married to wealthy men and they had grown accustomed to that wealth. To stand for truth and against evil would require them to give at least some of that up.
  • They enjoyed a widespread “reputation” as a fine Christian couple and family. The wickedness which is so often hidden and secret, behind closed doors, was something not many people knew about. The facade of saintliness had its benefits.
  • Others allowed fear to drive their choices. Certainly it is fearful to be the target of an abuser, but most often, eventually, victims will conquer that fear and go to freedom. But not all. I have known several who chose to stand on their abuser’s side, defending him against anyone who would confront him with his evil. In this way, they believed, they could remain in good graces with him and escape at least some of the abuse.

In each of these instances, the victim becomes an ally of evil and eventually exercises evil toward others herself. This decision, this change of attitude toward those who she was once warm toward and who she saw as her rescuers, can happen as quickly as you can throw a switch. One day she is your appreciative friend, perhaps having even come to you for help. The next day the warmth is gone, replaced by a cold distance, as if you had never been a friend at all. The years of friendship are over and soon fade into a distant memory until eventually it is as if you had never known one another before.

Knowing these things will provide us with wisdom. When we are working to help victims of evil, it is wise to proceed with some caution. We must realize that one day this person who is so appreciative toward us now may turn against us and choose the abuser’s side. Whatever things we have discussed or shared with such a victim in the past may well then become common knowledge to Pharaoh once she is back in Egypt.

The fact is that we simply cannot set someone free from evil if they are not willing to be free of it. Not even the angels who came to rescue Lot and his family could help Lot’s wife. She yearned for Sodom, she looked back, and she was salt. So let us be wise in these things.

 

When a Church Becomes a Man’s World it has Strayed from Christ’s Model, And from His Blessing

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. (Rom 16:1-6)

but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (Joh 19:25)

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luk 8:1-3)

I suppose that in some ways this is one of the most important articles I have ever written. It is the result of realizing something that is so pervasive in the church, so much the air which we breathe in typical Christianity today, that we cannot see the log right in our eye. Let me explain.

I recently watched the memorial service at St. Andrews Chapel for R.C. Sproul. I wanted to watch because Sproul taught me so much, even though I never met him personally. I absorbed his teaching tapes some 30 years ago and still have them all in our church library. I have steered many people to them over the years.

But as I wrote in last week’s post, published at A Cry for Justice, addressing the fact that Sproul changed his view on abuse as a grounds for divorce, I did not always agree with him. He taught, you might recall, that domestic abuse was not a biblical grounds for divorce. We documented for you all that he in fact changed that position at least by 2012, but never publicly announced that correction.

This morning, I listened to the Ligonier broadcast of Renewing Your Mind, entitled Spiritual Father: Remembering R.C.  It was very interesting and I appreciated the testimonies given by two of his long time friends who were led to Christ by his ministry.

But something really struck me as I listened. What I am about to say, I do not say in a critical way, but simply as an observation of what I would call “the obvious log” that so many churches and church leaders have in their eye – the one they do not see. Here it is:

Conservative, evangelical churches and organizations, pastors and elders and church members, often (even typically) become so male oriented that they almost forget about women. Women become secondary, even to be seen and not heard. The men lead. The men hold office. The men are the theologians. The men serve the Lord’s supper. The men preach and teach. The men are even told that they are the priests of their homes. The men, the men, the men.

I am not here proposing that women are to be pastors and elders in the church. That is not a subject I even want to address here. But what I am stating is that men in the church so typically develop a mindset in that climate of trivializing their sisters in Christ. You will notice from just the Scriptures quoted above that women were very, very active and prominent in the ministries of Jesus, of Paul, and of the New Testament church. In fact, Scripture records for us that sometimes when the men bailed, the women stayed.

What does this have to do with my viewing of R.C.’s funeral and listening to Renewing Your Mind today? Well, if you watched the funeral (you still can see it on YouTube), what you saw was:

  • Men who were friends of R.C. giving eulogies
  • John MacArthur, Jr. gave a eulogy as well, which I very much appreciated
  • Robert Godfrey, a theologian and I believe current President of Ligonier, spoke
  • At least two men, pastors I assume, offered prayers
  • The primary message from Isaiah 6 (the basis of R.C.’s great book The Holiness of God) was delivered by Sinclair Ferguson, pastor and theologian.
  • Both the choir and the congregational singing were directed by men

And then you have the Renewing Your Mind program for today (Dec 22, 2017) which focused on R.C. as a personal evangelist. Two of his long time friends told how they were led to Christ through his ministry. Both of them were men. Furthermore, as they related their stories, they described how they met R.C. at the golf course and especially at the locker room where R.C. spent time almost daily writing and studying after a round of golf. They told about all the other men that R.C. influenced in that place over the years.

And that is why this all struck me today. I know that the funeral service and the RYM program cannot and did not present a comprehensive view of the entire ministry of R.C. But nevertheless, what struck me is that in such a world that R.C. ministered in, in such a church and in his professional contacts, and at Ligonier, at the seminaries and Bible College, the climate appears to me to have been one of male….what? Male leadership. Male emphasis. Male ministry. Men of God. Brothers.

And where does such an atmosphere leave the women?

Oh yes, I have no doubt there are some kinds of women’s ministries at St. Andrews. We know that men and women both attended the Ligonier conferences. And yet as we pointed out in our article last week, when it came down to dealing with men who are hypocrites, men who abuse women, men who are church members but who cruelly oppress their wives, R.C. taught that a woman cannot divorce an abusive husband. In addition, even after he changed that view (or at least “broadened” his opinion on it as he wrote to me), R.C. never did make it a priority to publicly correct his error. Why? Why did he not feel the burden of those many victims in Christian churches, including his own? Why did he seemingly just blow off our pleas to announce his changed position? Why?

Well, think about it. If you live and move and have your being in a structure that is so male dominated, a place where elder meetings and presbytery meetings and General Assembly board meetings consist pretty much solely of men, just how likely is it that such men are inevitably going to end up rather deaf to the needs and pleas and talents of their sisters in the Lord? How do such men view a woman, for instance, who comes into their office asking for help?

Compare this with Jesus and Paul. Look at their writings and the accounts of  their dealings in the New Testament in ministry. What do you see? You see men called as Apostles, but you see women mixing it up right in there with them. You see a church where women’s names in the registries are as prominent as those of the men. You see stories of women clinging to Jesus when men abandoned Him. You see Jesus coming to a screeching stop in order to heal a poor woman who dared touch His robe. You see Jesus nailing the male hypocrite clergy of the day with a pronouncement of divine woes!

And I submit to you that all of this male-emphasis not only had an effect on R.C. Sproul, but it has had a significant effect upon all of us in the church today as well.

And that effect has not been a good one.

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, (Exo 22:22-23)

 

Most Local Churches Today are Dominated by a Plague of Legalism and Taught by Legalists

Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1Ti 1:6-11)

Most local churches, though they speak much of things like mercy and grace and forgiveness, in actual practice betray the fact that they are legalists. How can we say this? Because all you need to do is watch how they deal with people who are oppressed by the wicked – domestic abusers, sexual abusers, and so on. Let me show you.

Most of you know what happens when the victim of domestic abuse goes to her pastor or church leaders for help. So often her abuser spouse is a member “in good standing” in her church. She is not believed or the wickedness against her is minimized….you know the old sick story. And what is she told? LAW (that really isn’t God’s law at all) –

  • Divorce is forbidden. You shall not divorce
  • You shall forgive your abuser
  • You shall reconcile with your abuser
  • You shall look at your own sin as a cause of this abuse
  • You shall not speak to others about the abuse
  • You shall not call the police
  • You shall…
  • You shall not….
  • And if you do not abide by these laws, you will be cursed

See it? This is law, not gospel. This is treating the victim as if she were an ungodly, lawless, disobedient, unholy, profane person rather than the spiritual new creation in Christ that she actually is. A person with God’s Law written upon her heart, indwelt by the Spirit, guided and directed, taught and led by Christ. Such pastors and church leaders and even individual members who claim to be Christians preaching the gospel are in fact, right out legalists preaching another gospel with the intent of enslaving people.

This, says Paul, is what is at the root of this evil:

desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions

I say again, most churches are actually driven by law, not by Christ and the Spirit. They believe, like the Pharisees, that unless law is brought to bear upon Christians, all hell will break loose. Everyone will run to sin. Open the floodgates and the divorce rate will skyrocket. Their remedy? Law. They treat Christians like unbelieving pagans and they handle unbelieving pagans like Christians! The latter error is carried out when such churches tell the abuser “Yes, you have sinned. But Jesus will forgive you.” Understand – the typical abuser hiding in a church is anything but repentant! No matter. He is promised divine forgiveness anyway.

Martin Luther wrote much about law and grace and how vital it is that we understand their realms and purposes. In particular, he emphasized that every person who believes they are called by God to serve the church as a preacher, must be absolutely certain of that calling. Because if a man is not called to preach or teach God’s people, if his “calling” is one of his own imagination, the inevitable result will be that his preaching will kill and destroy, not give life and build. He will enslave Christians because he does not know the proper use of the Law, and he will enable the wicked because they love to hear how they can in themselves merit God’s acceptance.

I submit to you that a primary, foundational reason local churches are abusing victims of domestic and sexual abusers and enabling the wicked is because they are teachers of law, not of gospel. Furthermore, I maintain that a chief reason for this evil is that many, many pastors and preachers and elders are not called by Christ to those positions.

So what does the gospel look like in such situations? I can tell you. When we are dealing with, for example, a Christian wife who is oppressed and abused by an evil husband, the gospel approaches her as a new creation in Christ. A person indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. A person who has been taught by Jesus and who possesses therefore the ability to discern righteousness from unrighteousness. We do not thunder laws to her and command her to obey, “or else.” That is Sinai, not the New Jerusalem:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
(Heb 12:18-24)

We do not fear that she will run to evil if we do not bind her with the Law. Why? Because she is a new creation. Because grace in the believer does not promote sin. In fact, it is the LAW that is the power of sin! So we pray with her. We tell her she has the right to separate from and divorce her abuser. We stand with her and tell her that we will support her in her decision. We stand ready to bring the Law of God and the law of the civil authorities to bear upon her abuser when it can be done so without violating her safety. In other words, in accordance with Scripture, we give her the freedom that is hers in Christ to heed His leading in her life. And then we pronounce God’s blessing, not his curse, upon her.

 

 

R.C. Sproul Changed His View on Abuse as Grounds for Divorce – but to our knowledge he never publicly announced that change

As you know, R.C. Sproul died December 14th, 2017. Barbara Roberts and myself had interaction with him in 2012 on the subject of abuse and now that he has passed away, we thought it was appropriate and necessary to share with you the details of that interaction with him.

While R.C. privately claimed to have broadened his views, allowing divorce for abuse, he never to our knowledge publicly made that change known. And that was to the detriment of justice and mercy to the oppressed. You can read our article HERE at the A Cry for Justice blog.  It includes a picture of the letter I received from R.C. in which he states that his views on abuse as grounds for divorce had “broadened.”