Category Archives: In the News

3 Tests for Genuine Christianity

 

In 2011 I had the great joy and pleasure of preaching through the book of 1 John.  It was a series birthed out of the necessity to ensure that those who heard had 1. definitely been exposed to the gospel and 2. Had known without question what genuine Christianity was to look like.

In this epistle, the Apostle of love, writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides for us three tests for genuine Christianity which of course should be applied first personally (2 Corinthians 13:5) and then to professing believers (Matthew 7:20).  These three tests, by way of gleaning through and interpreting the epistle, may be summarized as follows:

  1. Knowledge of God
  2. Growth in Holiness
  3. Love for Believers

First, knowledge of God.  This knowledge of God is more than just accumulating facts about who God is, or what He has done.  Instead, this knowing is more intimate, it is far more relational.  In fact, in 1 John it is called fellowship, If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6-7  This mention of fellowship, namely the “with him” is further defined in verse three as “fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.”  

Concerning this fellowship, Martyn Lloyd- Jones says, “Here we are given, without any hesitation, a description, the summum bonum [highest good], of the Christian life; here, indeed, is the whole object, the ultimate, the goal of all Christian experience and all Christian endeavour.  This, beyond any question, is the central message of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith.” As the Apostle instructs us, walking in darkness is incompatible with having fellowship with God.”

Which brings us to the second test, growth in holiness.  An extended quote from chapter 3 is necessary to establish the significance of this in the apostle’s message

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Clearly, a practice of sinning is incompatible with practice of righteous, or growth in holiness.

Finally, love for believers.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

A genuine Christian profession, by necessity, manifests love for the brethren.  It is not optional.  Commenting on this test and its relationship with fellowship with God, Lloyd-Jones writes, “To fail to love the brethren will interrupt our fellowship with the Father and therefore rob us of many of the blessings of the Christian life.” 

This trinity of genuineness, in the form of these three tests, cannot be broken.  If one has perceived knowledge of God, but lacks any noticeable evidence of growth in holiness, then their profession is simply disingenuous.  How many scholars have waxed eloquently on philosophical musings of the attributes of God, yet their words have lacked any notion of charity or love.  How many preachers of doctrine of God have garnered a spot in the public eye only to fall hard and fast from scandalous sins.

Similarly, if one would appear outwardly to be holy, perhaps by living a moral life, but internally lacking any knowledge of God through His Son Jesus Christ, then again, the result is a disingenuous profession of faith.  It is by grace we are saved through faith in Christ, thus drawing us to an intimate knowledge of the Father through the Son.  Works have their place after salvation, but despite the efforts of men simply cannot contribute towards a coming to faith.  We throw around the label of a “good man” far too liberally, yet why do we call anyone good?  No one is good but God. (Mark 10:18)

Finally, love for believers is sometimes the most misconstrued quality because it seems most naturally connected to the condition of the heart, i.e. good heart, and this may sometimes prove to be true.  Downstream of genuine knowledge of God and growth in holiness is a necessity to show love for the brethren.  It is an indispensable consequence.  However, charities, hospitals, and mercy organizations by the legion have been started by men and women who could care less about who Christ is, yet alone the demand of holiness placed on their lives.  Additionally, there have been those whose great goal in life was the establishment of social justice, yet lack genuine knowledge of God and any semblance of holiness.  Would anyone dare doubt the love for humanity that someone who rings the bell for social justice, be it race, class, economic or otherwise? (unless of course there were ulterior motives, but that could never happen…right?)

The motivation for this post has primarily been driven by recent conferences in which men have ascribed genuine Christianity and then celebrated a man who has certainly rung the bell for social justice louder than any other in the United States, yet without question there is documented evidence of failing the first two of these tests.  Is he then among the faithful?  No.  Should he then be celebrated and held up as a Christian model for showing love to the brothers? No.

Brothers and Sisters I implore you, do not let personal agendas or feelings, even if they are for friends or family members who you genuinely desire to see saved, compromise the written and holy word of almighty God.  As we know, our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, yet God’s Word is true and provides a plumb-line, a compass for navigating this life through the revelation of Himself.

If you are struggling to know whether you are genuinely saved, look to the epistle of 1 John and humbly ask the Lord to apply these tests to your heart.  For those who do not struggle with assurance, these tests are a good reminder and litmus test for where you are currently in the process of sanctification.  Are you growing in the knowledge of God, a desire for holiness, and expressing love for the brothers?   Finally, if there are those within your circle, even those whom you admire from a distance, apply these tests to their lives and take the results into consideration before ascribing to them the label of a genuine believer in Christ.

When Billy Preached

 

Earlier this week the most well-known preacher in American history passed away at the age of 99.  While lots of people are publishing blogs on the heroics of his life or the errors of his doctrine, I want to keep this post simple, yet personal.  I’m well aware of the controversies surrounding his ministry, particularly his ecumenical view of Protestants and Catholics, and I’m well aware of the dangers of the sinner’s prayer that was the capstone of his preaching, nor do I particularly care for the phrase “America’s Pastor”, but I’m also well aware that when I was 5 years old, I watched a televised broadcast of a Billy Graham Crusade and trusted Christ as my Savior right then and there.

Billy Graham looked like my grandfather and preached with fire.  It still amazes me the number of people that would fill stadiums around this country to hear him preach.  If that weren’t enough, his crusades were broadcast on prime-time, national television.  Think about that for a minute.  They weren’t broadcast on an obscure religious channel.  They were broadcast on national television.Every.Time.

As in the video below, after Billy Graham’s preaching there was the familiar “Just as I am” and a call to come forward to accept Christ.  While I may disagree with the method, and I’ve read plenty disparaging those who would pray with people that came forward, it is still simply remarkable that after hearing a largely gospel-filled message (as the one below), that literally hundreds of people would come forward.  We will never know how many were actually saved, but how much would we give today to hear someone preach the gospel publicly to tens of thousands, even broadcast nationally, and then see hundreds respond in a profession of faith.

Despite areas that I might disagree with, the things that I’ve written here over a decade, the preaching and teaching I’ve been allowed to do, the witnessing, my own salvation, and the salvation of my children are fruit of Billy Graham’s ministry.  I’m just one person in Appalachia writing in an obscure corner of the internet.  How many others can claim a similar testimony, owing to God’s grace working through the ministry of Billy Graham?

For more on Billy Graham’s legacy see here: Three Lessons from the Example of Billy Graham

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5

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.