Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Conservative Reformed Theological Cussers

Yep, you read that title right. I see an issue in the young “reformed” generation today. Namely, that they love the label, but they don’t know what it means. How can I say that? By the methodologies and lifestyles that are employed and encouraged from behind some of the pulpits themselves.

Here’s the contradiction that I see in its simplest definition: People are oftentimes professing to be reformed in their theology and proponents of biblical teachers such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, etc., yet have a terribly shallow and oftentimes crude lifestyle. Now, the emphasis here is not on whether or not they are approving of the right scholars that I just mentioned, although that can reveal a lot, but the emphasis is that it is not enough to read them and be able to talk about them. Anyone who knows just what these great theologians taught will know that it was the doctrines of grace and the entire revelation of the Bible as set forth from the Bible. Their desire was to see God glorified and understood in His Word. Their desire was for people to understand the grace of God as revealed in Scripture.

Martin Luther started the Great Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses to the wooden door of the Wittenberg Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Someone started passing out copies and the rest is history. Then John Calvin articulated the very things that the Bible taught and how it stood in stark contrast to the traditional Roman Catholic Church, affirming Luther’s stance on unmerited grace. He penned out his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which has been a major source of reformed theology to this day. The teachings of these men were based on the unmerited grace of God and not on the works of men in order to merit any form of forgiveness or salvation, which is what the Roman Catholic church teaches to this day. In an age where the true church and true doctrine were obscured and misused, they were the forerunners in teaching and preaching the Bible solely and clearly.

Reformed theology has become more and more popular with the younger generation because of its solid foundation, clear teachings and academic nature. Going back to the source is always a good way to find out whether someone is truly a biblical teacher. This is exciting to see, yet at the same time it is sometimes confusing because while there is excitement to learn about what these men taught from Scripture, there also seems to be a heightened desire to find comfort and "redeeming value" in worldly passions and sometimes sinful, cultural lifestyles. What do I mean by that?

In a nutshell, I sense a desire for knowledge, but a lack of desire for holiness. I have noticed an interest in theology, but a disinterest in purity. I see reformed theological language and jargon being used along with profane, irreverent language and jargon. I see people living by the motto, “How close can I get without touching it”, versus, “How far can I get away from it”. As the apostle Paul would often say…my brothers, this should not be.

To boil this down even more, I see a misunderstanding of Christian freedom being used all over the place. 1 Peter 2:16 says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

So, why is there this greater interest in old Reformers along with greater interest in cultural and wordly activites that are supposedly used as tools to reaching the lost? There is this funny blend of philosophically-bent, missional-minded outreach stuff that are methods used by the popular church planters nowadays that are really undermining what they claim to believe...reformed doctrine. How so? Read on.

What I would like to do by starting this topic is to show how studying reformed theology and knowing church history does not make you a better Christian just because you know it. If you can’t live in a way that honors the Lord Jesus before others and even in secret, then you may have a head full of knowledge that is no better than a Pharisee’s…hypocritical. That is the issue. The fame of Jesus Christ is at stake in our conduct, so it needs to be honoring and glorifying to Him.

Second, as John MacArthur has recently started posting on the Grace To You blog on this same topic (unbeknownst to me when I started writing this) he has made the same important points that being reformed means you are constantly reforming, or becoming more like Christ. Additionally, it is inconsistent when you say you are reformed, which means believing the doctrines of grace that involve God’s sovereign plan in election, and then write books about how cool and hip you need to be in modern culture in order to effectively reach people for Christ. So, which is it? What really draws people to Christ? God’s efficacious call, or our tactful use of cultural paraphernalia? Inconsistencies abound in this young, missional-minded church-planting movement. Not all, but largely.

Aside from the essential understanding of the doctrines of grace, reformed theology is nothing more than biblical theology. With that comes a demand for obedience to Christ in all aspects of life. Having right doctrine is foundational and crucial, but living a pure life is just as important. You don’t pick one or the other. Plus, the doctrines that reformed leaders often taught were oftentimes centered on certain things like unmerited grace, as I already pointed out. This doesn’t mean that the rest of the Bible was not as important to them.

In a period where the Roman Catholic Church was the only recognized church and clearly irreverent and unbiblical in its existence as a majority, people like Luther and Calvin had to show how the Catholic’s view of salvation was inherently wrong. That was what they fought for so much. They wanted people to take the Bible as their only source of divine revelation because that’s what it is. Only God could forgive sins and only God could cause someone to have the faith to trust in Him. Sola Scriptura.

So, while they specifically challenged things like the Roman Catholic’s belief in justification and salvation, they also taught that the Bible needs to be loved and studied in order to know it and learn how to be obedient to the God of the Bible that demands it.

What we don’t want to do is talk about intellectual and theological topics concerning God’s grace and how loving he is, but fail to see how that actually gets fleshed out. God’s grace is not to be used as a crutch or a scapegoat. God’s grace is what calls us to Him when we wouldn’t have come to Him ourselves. It is our salvation. When we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, then we are now living for Christ and not for the flesh. Freedom in Christ is still meant to exist within the realm of obedience to his commands as 1 John is so good to lay out. Just take a quick browse through that book. You won’t come out the same.

Regarding the study of reformed theology, we should never take it as taught by the great reformers as some kind of philosophical or philological knowledge that provides us with intellectual stamina. We shouldn’t study it just to look as though we are more knowledgeable of the Church and have more wisdom in the things of God. This would be Pharisaical.

We should study the Bible for what it is and see what it was that the reformers fought for, so that we have an understanding and appreciation for the church we have today. The Bible then helps us learn what God’s perfect and pleasing will is. It teaches us how to be obedient to him and how to live a life of holiness and purity that stands out in a world full of corruption. It teaches us about our original depraved nature and how to repent of our sins and call upon the name of the Lord for salvation.

I have to constantly remind myself that I will only be effective for Christ if I am humble and willing to learn and willing to be corrected. I have certain friends in my life that have literally asked me, “What were you thinking?!” They keep me accountable to my conduct at all times and whether or not I am a good reflection of God’s grace in the life of a redeemed sinner. We all need these reminders.

I also write from a personal perspective on this issue of studying reformed theology because I DO like to study it. I like to know how history went down and who did what. I like to know just what caused the splits in the church back then and how we have denominations today. The more I know about it, the more I appreciate what we have today and how available the Bible is. It helps me understand what people like Augustine, Luther and Calvin actually taught when I read their actual material. I love to study the doctrines of grace and understand them to where I can teach them. It changes you when you really grasp the depth and breadth of grace.

I do this so that I am not building a belief or argument based on something I have heard someone else say. I read their books so I know that I understand for myself what they taught and then I can compare that with what the Bible teaches to see if it lines up. This is not to say that I am the final authority on their accuracy, but I must allow the Holy Spirit to work in me as I discern these writings. It is especially important that I stay in the Word and study it just as much (and more!) while I read these other sources because the Bible is what nurtures our soul and teaches us discernment and has final authority in all matters.

With that said, let me address the first issue I stated at the beginning. Oftentimes, people may have a right understanding of doctrine, but a wrong motivation for knowing it, thus leading to a bad understanding of our responsibilities as Christians. I won’t go into a full break down of Calvin’s five points that he belabored in his Institutes because that is not what this is necessarily about. I will say that if you know them and believe them, then that’s great (I do, too!), but do we also focus on the holiness that God has called us to?

Do we think that knowing and affirming the doctrine of election and predestination and perseverance of the saints is enough? Do we think that using phrases like ‘unmerited grace’ and ‘substitutionary atonement’ is something that trumps our need to know how to hold back our tongue or live in a way that doesn’t cause someone else with weaker faith to stumble? Do we think that by quoting old reformers and puritans and pastors in our sermons will make us better at holding sway with people?

If anything, I want this blog post to remind people about the seriousness of purity in all aspects of life, especially language. I have seen a large disregard for purity in language by many believers and it makes me sad because it certainly does go against what we’re taught in Scripture.

As I looked up today I saw their verse of the day on the home page. It was James 1:21 and it is a great way to start this topic: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

We should put away the wickedness and receive the Word, which can save our souls. The things we say are so revealing in who we are as people. Luke 6:45 says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. It is the fruit that reveals the root of our heart.

Are we full of grace and seasoned with salt? Our words will tell. Are we full of carelessness and seasoned with impurity. Our words will tell that, too. Colossians 4:5-6 says: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

James 3 also talks about the danger of the tongue and how serious it is. It addresses the issue of people who bless the Lord with their language and then curse someone else with it. Pay attention to the language used here in James 3:5b-12:

“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

Just before this passage, it starts with saying that not many people should presume to be teachers because the tongue is such a delicate area that many people stumble in controlling. Think about it, there are some things (sins) that some people will struggle with that others maybe won’t. There are certain things that are harder for some people to deal with than others, but every single one of us has said something we regret, or said things that have been inherently sinful, or evil. Verse 2b says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” We all know it is hard to say the right things at times, but there is an expectation of purity we are to maintain.

Since leaders will be judged with a higher level of strictness, then someone should not want to be a leader if they can’t bridle their tongue (James 3:1). Why? Because we will be misrepresenting Christ and his call to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Look at Ephesians 4. In verse 17 it starts talking about how we have new standards as new creations living for Christ in a new life. It makes this clear by emphasizing how the old way of life was anything but living for Christ. In verse 17 it says that we must no longer live like the Gentiles do because they are futile in their minds. Let’s look at what else Paul says here:

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

He then shows us the difference of how we should be:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The common comeback I have heard from people who do not feel that swearing is necessarily a bad thing is: How could one or two measly words offend Christ when there are such bigger issues at stake? How do we know what a swear word really is? Hey, even the apostle Paul used language that is equivalent to the s-word!

Really? He did? Let me help you understand that it wasn’t exactly the same. Paul wouldn’t write here in Ephesians that corruptive talk should not come from our mouths and then use it in another letter to someone else. This is the Holy Bible we’re talking about here. The words of Paul were inspired by the Holy Spirit, Himself! For someone to use that excuse to excuse their own profanities is at a whole new low in Christian living.

The verse that I am mentioning here is Philippians 3:8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

I haven’t done the word study on it myself, but the common answer you find when you do a preliminary search on it is that the word can be associated to cow manure, so people say “Oh, boy! Paul was practically saying the s-word!” No. No he wasn’t. Notice that the words ‘cow manure’ are much different than the word you are trying to excuse. Please get over yourself and place more concern in the Lord’s standards and not your own. Capisci?

Now that that’s settled, let’s move on in Ephesians. Continuing in verses 29 and 30, he says:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Here’s a question for you: Does not the very nature of things tell you that certain four letter words are more offensive than others? Is it not obvious that even the unbelieving world will sometimes apologize for their “french” because they know it is harsh language they sometimes use? Doesn’t the fact that a public school system who runs the “Dare Not To Swear” campaign tell you that there is a corruptive nature to certain language that should not be seen among school children, let alone the body of Christ? Come on!

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” –James 1:26

The first thing that people notice about us and make impressions by is how we appear and then how we speak. Remember the old joke?

“Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright ... until you hear them speak.”

This translates perfectly into our Christian living as well. We can often appear pure, but once we speak we reveal the true nature of our spirit. This is how we communicate. We speak in order to articulate what is being felt and conjugated within us. Language is no light matter. It reveals something.

If you still aren't convinced that you can effectively label certain words as "swear words", then let me set the standard based on what the Bible says is appropriate or not. Consider the name of God, Himself. Consider the name of Jesus. Now consider Exodus 20:7, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."

It depends on how we evoke and use the name of God that classifies it as reverent, or in vain. And it is a big deal.

Do you want another example? The KJV says in six different places this phrase: "pisseth against the wall". It is referring to King Saul when he was in a cave and searching for David and it is referenced in a number of ways. This particular word, though, is considered a swear word by many. I, for one, never use this word because it carries that cursing weight to it (in my opinion), but is it any better for me to say that someone "ticked me off"? I am still using the word in vain, which has a negative and sinful connotation to it, grieving the Holy Spirit no doubt.

That is the standard. Are we speaking in vain in any way? Look, some words can only be used as swear words and we certainly should not be using them. They are offensive to believers and non-believers alike and it is even culturally abohorred in most public settings where decency and a moderate level of professionalism is expected. We need to be careful how we use our every word, for we will certainly be held accountable for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36).

Considering all of this leads me to make certain decisions about leaders I may have listened to in the past. I hate to pick on just one person, but Mark Driscoll has, unfortunately, made many crude and profane jokes in his sermons out of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. To his credit, he has given good sermons as well. Being from the Seattle area, I have been able to go there before and listen for myself.

Unfortunately, he has certainly fell short of the basic qualifications of a real pastor, which is to be pure in conduct and above reproach. A pastor or an elder are required to have certain characteristics that set them apart as leaders of God’s people. Why? So the people resemble them, who resemble Christ, and are more obedient to God.

Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Look, if a pastor purposely swears from behind the pulpit and makes crude jokes, then he has failed his purpose in setting an example for the body of believers in his good conduct. If he can’t take seriously what the Bible says about the tongue, then how do we know he will accurately view the rest of the Bible? These are tough questions that need to be asked.

This verse in Titus says that “he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine.” Ironically, Mark just wrote a book called Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. I haven’t read it, so I have no comment on the book, but for someone who purports that he knows what doctrines we should believe, I would certainly expect a better proof in his use of language, which the trustworthy Word we have been taught says to keep pure.

His past use of loose language shows immaturity, lack of tact, and irresponsibility at the most fundamental and basic levels. For this reason, I don’t look to Mark for other spiritual help in understanding the Bible because he has proven that he doesn’t understand simple things, so how can he take me deep? There are plenty of other teachers out there that can help me in understanding the Bible, so why bother with a loose-lip?

For those who don’t know, this pastor was dubbed “Mark, the cussing pastor” and I believe it was after a particular sermon he gave that lasted only a few minutes and went something like this:

“You know that if right now the earth ended, there would be billions upon billions of people on this earth who would go to hell and nobody here gives a s***. In fact, you probably care more about the fact that I said the word s*** than about those people.”

This was just stupid. He was trying to make a point about how we can make the wrong issues too big or too little. So, now we’ll rate sins and say that swearing is no big deal compared to the fact that billions of sinners will go to hell if the world ended today. That doesn’t make sense. Will you convince the world they need forgiveness of sins by sinning in your gospel presentation? This was an incredibly immature and irreverent way to make a point that people are going to hell. We already know that people will. He accomplished nothing but getting a devastating title for someone who is supposed to be above reproach as a pastor of God’s Church.

He also gave credence to the fact that swearing is okay, by doing that. Mark is certainly not the example that people need for their life, at least in this area. Since then, swearing has been a joke among many young evangelicals who think they have a faith that honors God and that scares me. I personally know of people, however, who have been changed by his teaching in general and for that I am thankful, but I have a valid fear that in the process they will also degrade in these matters I just mentioned.

To his credit, Driscoll has apologized for his lack of humility and cursing from behind the pulpit and many people seem impressed by this. I am also glad he has taken some of those things back. Again, though, people should not presume to be leaders because they are called to a higher level of accountability. We cannot escape the call to be pure in speech and conduct. This kind of behavior legitimately disqualifies himself and others as pastors. I know he’s not perfect and he admits to it, but if Paul didn’t think there was a reason to have certain standards for preachers, then he wouldn’t be so specific to Titus and Timothy and other churches about the issue. Pastors are not to be irreverent, left and right, and then get to move on if they apologize for it, while being heralded as being humble when they do. It doesn't work that way. Sure, let him teach on the side and encourage people in areas that he is strong in, but being a pastor of a church is another ballgame that he doesn’t measure up to, biblically, from what we have seen in the past and what he has written in some of his books.

Remember, Paul told the Colossians that in order to walk in wisdom towards outsiders you need to always be gracious and have your speech seasoned with salt…not swearing. The world doesn’t need to hear us swear to know that we are like them. That’s the exact opposite of what they need from us (Col. 4:5-6). Driscoll and the new young “reformed” generation thinks that the more you know about pop culture and media, then the better you can evangelize. Again, for someone who claims to know and uphold reformed theology, which includes God’s electing in salvation, he sure does place a lot of weight in extra biblical knowledge (worldly knowledge) in order to capture the imaginations of the unsaved. Truly, they contradict themselves and deceive themselves if they really think they are reformed in their theology.

Look at what Paul told his young understudy, Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). Enough said.

Here’s a few other reminders from King Solomon’s works in Proverbs:

Proverbs 10:31: “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.”

Proverbs 21:23: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”

Proverbs 15:2: “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”

I cannot say enough about how important it is to consider everything you say and make sure that it is something that people recognize as being abnormally seasoned with salt, compared to the world. A house divided against itself cannot stand, so do not use evil language as a way to try and spread light. It doesn’t work. It only spreads confusion and a lack of spiritual integrity and depth that this world needs…inside and outside the Church.

Do you consider yourself reformed? Then prove it by your actions that produce a hundred times the fruit in other lives. Show it through your pure speech and conduct. Affirm it by your understanding of Scriptures, which leads to Godly character and obedience.

In John MacArthur’s most recent blog post on he said in regards to the young and immature actions of ‘reformed’ Christians:

“Those who exhibit such behavior are out of their element claiming to be Reformed. Maturity is a necessary virtue for those who would be truly effective in ministry. "Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). That is a desirable—and honorable—goal: Strive for it.”

Let us not be like the Pharisees who were shut up with Jesus’ powerful and humbling words: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?”

God bless! Now zip it.