All posts by John

Christian saved by grace through faith.

Take Heed What you Read

An appropriate follow up to the post Christian Nominalism and the Christian Bookstore:

By Arthur W. Pink 

“Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24): the word “hear” obviously includes what is read, for that which is written or printed is addressed to the ears of our intellect. Few people today realize the urgent need for “taking heed” unto what they read. Just as the natural food which is eaten either helps or hinders the body—so the mental food we receive either benefits or injures the mind, and that, in turn, affects the heart. Just as it is harmful to listen to the rubbish and poison which is being served from the great majority of present-day pulpits—so it is exceedingly injurious to the soul to read most of what is now being published. “Take heed what you hear” and read! But let us seek to be more specific.

The only thing which is really worth calling “religion” is the life of God in the soul-commenced, carried on, and consummated solely by the Holy Spirit. Hence, whatever does not bear the impress of the Spirit’s unction, should be rejected by the Christian: for not only can unctionless messages do us no good—but what proceeds not from the Spirit—is of the flesh. Here, then, is the test which God’s children ought to apply unto all they hear, and here is the balance in which they should weigh all that they read. True, there are varying degrees of the Spirit’s unction. As it is in the natural so it is in the spiritual—there will be a varying amount of wetness from the faintest moisture of dew—as compared to the copious shower. As there had to be “salt” in every sacrifice (Lev. 2:13), so every discourse or article proceeding from the Spirit’s aid, is “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). But O how very much today is devoid of spiritual savor and flavor!

Some of God’s dear people may suppose that it would be presumptuous to set themselves up as judges of what they hear or read—but that is a serious mistake, being both a false humility, and a shirking of duty. The Apostle rebuked the Hebrews because their senses (spiritual faculties) were not developed so as to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:13). With as much reason, might it be termed pride for anyone to pass judgment upon the groceries or meats purchased from the stores. Others may ask, “But how are simple and unlearned souls to distinguish between the different religious publications of the day?” Very simply: in sampling your natural food how do you determine whether or not it be seasoned? By your natural taste, of course. So it is spiritually: the “new man” has a palate too! If the God of creation has given us natural palates for the purpose of distinguishing between wholesome and unwholesome food, the God of grace has furnished His people with a capacity, a spiritual sense, to distinguish between nutritious and unwholesome soul food.

“Just as the mouth tastes food—the ear tests the words it hears” (Job 34:3). Does yours, my reader? Are you as careful about what you take into your mind—as what you take into your stomach? You certainly ought to be, for the former is even more important than the latter. If you eat some material food which is injurious, you can take a purgative and get rid of the same; but if you have devoured mental food which is injurious, it stays with you! “The ear tests the words it hears.” Again, we ask, Does yours, dear reader? Are you learning to distinguish between “letter” and “spirit;” between the “form” and the “power;” between that which is of the earth and that which is from Heaven; between that which is lifeless and unctionless and that which is instinct with the breath of God? If the answer is ‘No’, then you are greatly the loser.

How many of God’s dear children listen to the automaton “letter” preachers of today, and yet find nothing suited to the needs of their poor souls! And how many are subscribing for one magazine after another, hoping to find that which will the better furnish them to fight the good fight of faith—only to be disappointed? What they hear and what they read does not penetrate and grip—it has no power—it neither breaks down nor lifts up—it produces neither godly sorrow nor godly joy. The messages they hear or read, fall upon their ear like an idle or twice-told tale—it completely fails to reach their case or minister to their needs. They are no better off after hearing a hundred such “sermons” or reading through a hundred such periodicals, than they were at the beginning! They are no farther from the world—and no nearer unto God!

It is often a long time before God’s children are able to account for this. They blame themselves; they are exceedingly loath to say, “This message is not of God.” They are afraid to act in the spiritual, as they do in the natural, and condemn and discard that which is worthless. While they feel a lack of power in the sermons they hear, or the articles they read, and while their souls steadily get dried up like a potsherd—they are slow to realize that this is the inevitable effect of the unctionless preaching they listen to, or the unctionless literature they read; and that such dryness and leanness of soul is inevitable—by their association with unhumbled and empty professors. But in due time God opens their eyes, and they see through the flimsy veil and discover that both the sermons they hear, and the literature they read—are only the product of a dead profession!

Ah, it is a great thing when once the Holy Spirit teaches a soul—that it is power which is lacking from the lifeless preaching and lifeless articles of dead professors. It is power which the renewed soul seeks—a message which has power to search his conscience, to pierce him to the quick, to write it upon his heart; a message which has power to bring him to his knees in broken-hearted confession to God; a message which has power to make him feel that he is “vile”; a message which has power to drive him to Christ, for the binding up of his wounds, for Him to pour in “oil and wine,” and send him on his way rejoicing. Yes, what the renewed soul longs for (though at first he knows it not) is that Divine message which comes to him “not simply with words—but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction!” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Sooner or later, every Christian comes to value “power,” and to count as worthless, whatever lacks it. It is by Divine power, that he is taught in his own soul, by which he is made to feel acutely his sinnership, his carnality, his beggarliness. It is Divine power working in his heart—the same power which brought Christ again from the dead (Eph. 1:19, 20)—which draws his affections unto things above and makes his soul pant after God “as the deer pants after the water brooks” (Psalm 42:1). It is this Divine power working in him which reveals to his burdened spirit the Throne of Grace, and causes him to implore mercy and to seek grace “to help in time of need.” It is this Divine power working in him, which makes him cry “Make me walk along the path of Your commands—for there I find delight” (Psalm 119:35).

Those who are partakers of this Divine power (and they are few in number) can never be satisfied with a powerless ministry, either oral or written.

“Those who live according to the flesh—have their minds set on what the flesh desires,” (Romans 8:5). They are charmed with oratorical eloquence, catchy sayings, witty allusions, and amusing illustrations. On just such “husks”, do the religious “swine” feed!

But the penitent prodigal can find no nutriment therein! Men “of the world”—and they may be graduates from some “Bible Institute” or possessors of a diploma from some Bible Seminary, now styling themselves “preachers of the Gospel”—will speak of the things of the world and “the world hears them” (1 John 4:5). But those who are seeking to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” obtain no help therefrom, yes, they perceive clearly that such sermons and periodicals are “broken cisterns, which can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

“Take heed what you hear” and read! More than forty years ago the saintly Adolph Saphir wrote, “I think the fewer books we read—the better. It is like times of cholera, when we should only drink filtered water.” What would he say if he were on earth today and glanced over the deadly poison sent forth by the heterodox, and the lifeless rubbish put out by the orthodox? Christian reader, if you value the health of your soul, cease hearing and quit reading all that is lifeless, unctionless, powerless, no matter what prominent or popular name be attached thereto. Life is too short to waste valuable time on that which does not profit. Ninety-nine out of every hundred of the religious books, booklets, and magazines now being published, are not worth the paper on which they are printed!

To turn away from the lifeless preachers and publishers of the day—may involve a real cross. Your motives will be misconstrued, your words perverted, and your actions misinterpreted. The sharp arrows of false report will be directed against you. You will be called proud and self-righteous, because you refuse to fellowship empty professors. You will be termed censorious and bitter—if you condemn in plain speech—the subtle delusions of Satan. You will be dubbed narrow-minded and uncharitable, because you refuse to join in singing the praises of the “great” and “popular” men of the day. More and more, you will be made to painfully realize—that the path which leads unto eternal life is “narrow” and that FEW there are who find it. May the Lord be pleased to grant unto each of us—the hearing ear and obedient heart! “Take heed what you hear” and read!

 

In Adam and Original Sin

 

One of the more neglected doctrinal teachings in today’s evangelicalism is the doctrine of Union with Christ.  Contrary to popular belief, doctrine is not a word to be avoided, nor is it exclusive for academics and theologians.  Doctrine is simply the teaching of Scripture as it relates to a particular subject, in the case of this post – Union with Christ and its related Union with Adam.  Before we can properly understand our union with Christ as the Apostle Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (and further exposited in Romans 5:12-21; See also Ephesians 1-2), we must understand another union, that with Adam and his fallen posterity.

As mentioned earlier, a summary statement may be found in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”  and is expanded upon in Romans 5:21.

The doctrine of union with Adam, or we may say Adam as our federal head or representative, is this: when Adam sinned in the Garden, all those who have been born “in him” share in the guilt and condemnation of that first sin.  Said another way, the effect of Adam’s sin is not limited to him alone, but is passed down, or better “imputed” (credited) to each offspring and subsequent generations from Adam to the present day.  This is an all inclusive imputation of that original sin, to every individual member of the human race, without exception.

Each individual born from Adam on inherits this original sin, meaning that all persons regardless of doing anything either good or evil are born under the guilt and condemnation of sin and subsequently are under the wrath of God simply because they are born.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  We need only to look at Ephesians 2:1-3 for support of this statement, And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind“.

Returning to our verse from 1 Corinthians 15 cited above, we find the parallel statements of “by a man came death” and  “for as in Adam all die” each of which is contrasted with a positive action by Christ, which we will look at in a subsequent post.

For now, we may conclude with the Apostle that through Adam, death spread to all men and that all those “in Adam” die.  Adding Romans 5 to our understanding we read that Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned and Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men” Romans 5:12, 18. 

Due to our union with Adam, the doctrine of original sin dispels any notion that we are born either morally neutral or morally good.  We are born sinners and act only in accordance with our nature.  Apart from the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit to give us new life and a new heart, we are dead in our trespasses and sins.  Guilty because of our own iniquity and guilty from simply being born downstream of Adam.

Because the doctrine of original sin is opposed to man’s natural inclination that he/she is either morally neutral or morally good, we will look to address some more common objections in a future post.

For Further Study see: Romans 1-3

Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore

 

You may have heard the news recently that Family Christian Bookstores are closing their doors and liquidating their merchandise.  By the time I’ve gotten around to publishing this post, the liquidation sale is nearly over.

It’s fascinating to me that a “Christian” bookstore would be venturesome enough to locate in malls and shopping plazas across America.  After 85 years in business, to date they operated 240 stores in 36 states and employed more than 3000 people, self-billed as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”.

Several reasons for closing may be obvious, like a lot of major brick and mortar retailers, they are simply suffering at the hand of online shopping, unable to compete with the selection and pricing of major online book companies such as Amazon and even Christianbook.com.  This I grant is a very real possibility.

But there may in fact be another reason for the sharp decline in the demand for “Christian-themed” merchandise, one that can be directly correlated with the changing landscape of American Christianity, i.e. Western Christendom.

If you’ve ever set foot in a Family Christian Bookstore, you know that their target audience is not the theologically astute or discerning mind.  I know I may be stepping on toes here, but their store markets everything from Christian jewelry to wall art to all things Christian if it has a cross or an Ichthus.  Their book of 2017 is Jesus Always by the cautionary Sarah Young and you’re far more likely to find the works of T.D. Jakes on their shelves than John Owen.

I get it.  Largely believers want to read or buy things for encouragement and don’t really know where to turn, so stores and merchandise like this have their appeal.  I’ve been there, done that.  This isn’t to entirely denigrate their store or to kick them while they are down.  They’re in the merchandising/marketing business so obviously they’re going to cater to what people are interested in purchasing.  Which brings us back to a speculative reason why they are closing.

It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America is quickly changing.  What used to be dominated by Christian nominalism, i.e. Christians in name only, is quickly becoming dominated by the Religious Nones, i.e. those who claim no religious identity or affiliation.  They can’t necessarily be described as agnostic, as there is a certain level of syncretism with other religions and secularism in their beliefs.

In the 1980’s – 2000’s Christian nominalism lived in an incubator.  The Religious Right was asserting political and cultural power, televangelists dominated T.V. programming, and Christian bookstores were flooding the market on the backs of the downtown and suburban mall phenomenon.  It’s speculative, but perhaps reasonable to conclude that the seeds of Christian nominalism may have been sown decades prior in the fundamentalist vs. liberalism debate of the early 1900’s.  Nevertheless it became very popular, fashionable, and dare I say financially lucrative to associate with Christianity, largely identified as Evangelicalism or for the sake of historic continuity, that which falls under the umbrella of Christendom.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Christian nominalist has given birth (literally in most cases) to the Religious Nones, those who saw no real power in the faux faith of their nominalist parents; were never really exposed to the Gospel; have not properly understood the majesty of Christ nor the sinfulness of their sin; and have largely been inoculated to the Gospel because of the disingenuous form of it to which they were exposed.

This is the landscape in which Family Christian Bookstores now finds themselves.  Peddling nominally Christian books to a nominally Christian audience that no longer exists.  This is most probably the reason for their demise.

But their closing isn’t merely about the loss of a giant Christian merchandise seller, as though the Kingdom of Christ has now given up ground to the enemy.  There is more to be gleaned here.  What can we conclude, generally speaking, from this observation of the relationship between the Christian retail market and the changing religious landscape of the United States?  Primarily, I think we may observe that there is a sifting underway, particularly in this country.  It is a sifting of all things Evangelical.  All things Christian in name only.  And this will ultimately further the collapse of Evangelicalism.

This was something I mentioned on this blog in March 2009 in the posts: The Coming Evangelical Collapse and Survey shows a Falling Way.  As I’ve revisited those posts and the articles linked in them, it’s remarkable how it is all unfolding before our eyes.  In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to interact some with those posts, particularly the predictions made by the late Michael Spencer in his own post “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” which I linked to 8 years ago this month.