Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is This Approach We So Often See What The Savior Had In Mind?

     Do you remember reading the Lord Jesus Christ's promise to His apostles in Caesarea Philippi, "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"? Granted, the Lord makes use of various kinds of means when building His church, but when the right thing is done in the right way by His servants, then it is He who is doing it. That said, I am a bit puzzled by what I see in the way of congregational growth these days.
     Used to be, when a man was called by God to establish a church he would relocate from where he was to where God wanted him and began the laborious task of reaching with the gospel those who would comprise the core of the new church to be built. At least, that is how the Apostle Paul did it. Granted, the church at Antioch was established with a mixture of believers who had been saved and trained in Jerusalem, along with those brought to Christ by those scattered from Jerusalem by severe persecution. But Paul's approach to church planting was a pioneering approach, and not at all like what is commonly the case these days.
     These days a guy moves into an area to engage in what he euphemistically terms "team building" to prepare for the launch of a new church, which is another way of describing what used to be called sheep stealing. It is an effort at skimming disloyal and immature members of sound churches that makes use of offers of better programming in such areas as youth, music, and marketing to attract those already involved in a gospel-preaching church. Thus, it is a way of establishing a new church without any real evangelism taking place. Of course, this sets the course for the future of the church, its entire program of growth based upon attracting members from other churches rather than engaging in the grueling task of contacting, cultivating, and eventually bringing to Christ the lost of the surrounding community. This fruitfulness takes place mostly in small to medium-size congregations, with many of those converts then being siphoned off by slick programs and enticements to family members other than the head of household.
     Having been in the ministry in Southern California for forty years now, I have seen a great deal. One of my observations of many men and ministries confirms my conviction that pragmatism is rampant among putative gospel ministries, existing as developments of two men whose names are now barely known by those most influenced by them. Charles G. Finney had a profound effect on 19th-century evangelism, resulting in such 20th-century phenomena as Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Jack Van Impe among the ranks of the Baptists. Less well known to average Americans are such as Jack Hyles, Jerry Falwell, Jim Harrington, and the entirety of the famous from the Charismatic and Pentecostal groups. These embrace the notion that evangelism is routinely accomplished in ten or fifteen minutes when dealing with someone at his front door who wants to get back to the college football game he had been watching before he heard the hard knock on his door. What is missed is that such an approach almost never results in a conversion to Christ, but sometimes does result in skimming members from another church, a church that is not engaged in outreach who then join the church that is so engaged in outreach, with the new members being used by the aggressive church's leadership as evidence that the approach they use "works."
     As if that oft-used but poorly considered outreach method isn't bad enough, there is another man's influence at work. He was a 19th-century pastor and theologian named Horace Bushnell, who successfully transformed the English Sunday School program from a thoroughly evangelistic outreach of poor unchurched children into an American phenomenon that barely resembled its original purpose. Bushnell's "Christian Nurture" transformed Sunday School into an in-house educational arm of the congregation that was devoted primarily to the children of church attendees. Further, Bushnell was adamantly opposed to frightening church kids with threats of damnation and hellfire unless they repented of theirs sins. Instead, he advocated (successfully) teaching children that they love Jesus despite what God's Word teaches about the unregenerate. Such propaganda invariably led to shallow professions of faith devoid of any grasp of personal guilt and the need for heartfelt repentance when coming to Christ. Now one simply asks Jesus to save him, or accepts Him, with either approach diminishing the stature of the Lord of glory in a real gospel encounter.
     Long story short, pastors who move into a town and claim to be the first gospel witness the city has had (when such is not true), who claim to be the only one in the city who uses the right version of the Bible (when such is not true), and who sets out at the very beginning not to bear fruit but to steal fruit, have little familiarity with the New Testament plan for church planting and building, causing one to wonder how familiar he is with the One who actually promised to build His church.
     I recently celebrated thirty years in the wonderful church where I serve. I have never indicated to anyone that I am the only gospel preacher in the area because I am not. I have never claimed to be the only Bible preacher in the region because I am not. I will not countenance claims that I am a better pastor than someone else or that the church I serve in is a better church than other churches because that nonsense is distasteful to my Lord and I fear for those who employ that approach.
     This is not to say that when preaching I will not name names that need to be named, and point out dangerous ministries that need to be pointed out. The Apostle Paul did, and I do. It is to say that I will not knowingly allow the influences of such men as Charles G. Finney or Horace Bushnell influence my ministry or Pelagius for that matter. It is to say that a minister of the gospel approaches ministry differently when he relies on the Lord Jesus Christ to build His church than does a hireling who employees manipulative methods and unethical practices because he seems himself as the primary agent in his church's numerical growth while caring little for congregational spirituality.

Friday, November 6, 2015

"The Creation Answers Book" by Don Batten, David Catchpoole, Jonathan Sarfati & Carl Weiland

     Any book written by those four scientific creationism heavyweights is worth picking up and reading, and this 265-page wonder is no exception.
     This is a book that serves two wonderful purposes for the curious investigator and also for the grounded and well-informed Christian Bible believer: On one hand, it deals in a straightforward manner with more than sixty questions that need to be asked and answered by anyone open-minded enough to question the anti-scientific bias of the evolutionists and old earth propagandists who tend to argue more from assumptions than from real science. It is a book that I would recommend to anyone with a genuinely open mind in search of the truth. It is also a great book for the seasoned warrior who was first informed by such heroes of the faith as the late Henry Morris and Duane Gish. This book updates theories and suggests newly developed approaches to defending the faith and our unchanging Bible.
     I highly recommend it for readability and fidelity to God's Word.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Long Process Of Preparing For Worship

     What are church services really for? Have you ever wondered, or have you just assumed that church services are whatever the pastor or the 'worship leader' decides church services are for?
     In the New Testament we see two things taking place that people typically conflate into a single type of event, the evangelistic gathering (usually outdoors) where the gospel is proclaimed and the gathering of Christians for worship. The prime example of an outdoor evangelistic gathering is found in the record in Acts 2 of the Apostle Peter's sermon delivered to thousands with great effectiveness and 3,000 conversions on the Day of Pentecost. On a much smaller scale we see a similar type of event take place in Acts 3 following the healing of a man lame from his mother's womb, providing an occasion for more gospel preaching to those who reacted with curiosity and interest to the lame man's healing. For insight into the worship of God's people in a congregational setting we take note of First Corinthians 14 and First Timothy 2.
     Careful consideration of the two types of events reveals that they are decidedly different in intent. I propose a consideration of the second type of event, the church congregation's gathering for worship, for instruction, and for training. What is oftentimes ignored in planning a church service is the distinction between the two types of events shown in the New Testament. This is understandable in light of the fact that real evangelism takes place at both types of events though the primary thrust of the two types of events is not the same (an issue I will deal with at another time).
     For now, I urge the reader to focus on the matter of Christians gathering to worship God in Spirit and in truth. To begin I call upon you to seriously reflect on the Savior's rebuke of the believers on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection, wherein He said in Luke 24.25, "Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." Of course, it falls upon you to be sure by considering the surrounding context that you grasp what the Savior has said, but I direct your attention to the phrase "slow of heart to believe." Isn't that something worth investigating? We find our Lord rebuking two believers for being "slow of heart to believe."
     Human beings have two aspects to our nature, the physical aspect and also the spiritual aspect. We could label them as being material and immaterial. That which comprises the immaterial portion of our being includes man's spirit, man's soul, man's mind, man's conscience, and man's heart. As to where one part of man's immaterial composition ends and another part ends no one pretends to fully know. However, we know enough about our immaterial side to readily admit that our minds are typically very quick and agile, capable of turning on a dime, prone to shortness of attention span, and having other characteristics. What can be said about the heart? Though it used to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (prior to being given a new heart when Christ was trusted), we learned from the Savior Himself in Luke 24.25 that the heart is slow. May I set forth a visual analogy? If the mind is something like a small boat with an outboard motor in its agility and ease of directional change, the heart should perhaps be likened to an oil tanker that can be maneuvered only slowly because of its tendency to respond only gradually.
     What are some implications derived from the differences between the responsiveness of the mind and the heart in a believer?  Assuming the spiritual leader desires to have his greatest impact on the hearts of those he ministers to instead of provoking them to quick decisions that have little lasting effect, he must take into account the slowness of the heart to believe. After all, it is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, is it not? If the heart tends to be slower in its responsiveness than the human mind then consideration must be given to that tendency when ministering grace to others, and when seeking to be ministered to by someone.
     My own conclusions resulting from these considerations are that one cannot laugh and joke with teens for 30-40 minutes before settling into a 10-15 minute devotional from God's Word, and that one cannot tell several interesting stories before driving home a 'spiritual' conclusion in the lives of adult listeners who have arrived on the scene without any preparation for receiving life-changing truths. To be sure, you can work teens into convulsive laughter with a good comedy skit and then turn them on a dime with heart-rending stories and a few verses from the Bible that will leave them in tears and willing to make a decision. However, it will as likely as not be a decision that is purely mental with no heart response. Why not? The Savior Himself said the heart was slow to believe, did He not? As well, even if the pastor preaching to adults is not imitating a comedian doing a stand-up routine before he turns toward a convincing and 'spiritual' climax to his sermon, the people he is speaking to are likely incapable in their hearts of turning about so quickly that genuine heart responses are possible on such short notice. The issue at hand is the nature of the human heart.
     Granted, from time to time the Spirit of God working in someone's life provokes deep and thoughtful consideration of spiritual verities so that the response that is evidenced at a youth rally or on a Sunday morning is genuine. However, such is the exception rather than the typical consequence of most decisions. For the heart to be engaged more time is typically needed.
     Do you want your heart engaged in worship? Do you want to engage the hearts of the people during worship? Then I suggest that preparation for Sunday morning worship actually begin Saturday night, at least with serious consideration of tomorrow's worship of God being a topic for bedtime prayers. Some family discussion of the worship time the next day would also be advised. Then, after a good night of sleep (please, no video games or television viewing late into the night), an unhurried and nourishing breakfast preceded by prayer for the worship service, and a relaxed time of preparing for church, recognizing that preparation for church should be so much more than dressing.
     I am convinced such an approach to worship accomplishes three things: First, attention will be given to actually praying and preparing the heart for handling spiritual truth. Next, an unhurried and planned approach to worship will minimize or eliminate carnal distractions leading up to worship. Finally, what is prayed for and planned for will actually be anticipated, God working in your life because you want Him to work in your life, you have asked Him to work in your life, and you have prepared for Him to work in your life.
     Most spiritual behavior is planned. Therefore, plan to worship God and you will be far more likely to actually worship God.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finders Not Keepers

     During my devotional reading this morning I was once more struck by an instruction found in the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 22.1-3:

1 Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.
2 And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.
3 In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

The principle is somewhat more succinctly stated in Exodus 23.4-5:

4 If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.
5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

     Please recognize no solicitation from me for either explicit or implicit adherence to the Mosaic Law, but rather a principle of ethics and courtesy that reflects the timeless principle of loving one's neighbor as oneself. Sad to say, such ethical practices are virtually unknown who serve as pastors of churches these days, even as we like to say as fundamental Baptists in churches of like faith and practice. I am not sure I have ever been on the receiving end of a phone call or written message inquiring about a member of the church's flock that had wandered into another IFB's pasture. Sad.
     On the other hand, on those rare occasions when someone from nearby has wandered into one of our services I have herded them back to where they ought to have been as well as placed a phone call the very next day to the pastor of the church.
     Can we do less and consider ourselves ethical? Or has the gospel ministry itself strayed so far afield that church members are no longer consider sheep of the flock, pastors no longer look at themselves as under shepherds, and attendance and membership no longer truly reflect spiritual realities but rather success in a scheming game of cleverness and salesmanship?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moody's Bible Institute Model or Spurgeon's Bible College Model?

     In my mind at least there is a difference between Bible colleges and Christian colleges. Perhaps it is an artificial distinction that is not real, but in my thinking I have understood Christian colleges to be primarily colleges that sought to provide a college education to Christian students using a distinctively Christian curriculum. Many Bible colleges which were founded for the purpose of training men for the gospel ministry have changed over the years and became Christian liberal arts colleges. Few are aware of the University of Southern California's founding as a Methodist seminary, since it is now famous as a large Los Angeles university known primarily as a football factory. Two Christian colleges near my home merged years ago and with a dramatic infusion of money have transformed Azusa Pacific University into a large and academically rigorous school of higher education. That trend is not unusual as Christian colleges go. Liberty University was initially a small Bible college that became a Christian college and then a large Christian University. Bob Jones University began as a small interdenominational Bible college, changed into a Christian college and is now a Christian university.
     My present musing is not about Christian colleges that seek to educate Christian young people in a Christian atmosphere using Christian curricula. My musing is about Bible colleges that were formed (purportedly) to train Christian young people for the gospel ministry as pastors, pastors wives, missionaries, Christian educators,etc. In the United States the Bible colleges I am somewhat familiar with seem to have adopted the Dwight L. Moody model. In London in the second half of the 19th century was Charles Spurgeon's college. Though not formally educated, no one familiar with Charles H. Spurgeon would deny that while he entered the ministry without formal education, he was very well educated informally. Such was not the case with D. L. Moody. Their schools reflect their founders. Unfortunately, most Bible colleges of the Baptist stripe in the USA were founded using a modified Moody template, not a Spurgeon template.
     My familiarity with Spurgeon's college comes primarily from Tom Nettle's recent book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published by Christian Focus Publications. It is a very good read. Following are excerpts in connect with Spurgeon's college written by Nettles, as well as quotes of Mr. Spurgeon:

"God needs not our education but even less our ignorance." - Nettles, page 356.

"Spurgeon never rejected a student on account of meagerness in education or culture as long as he was convinced that the student's call was from God and his zeal deeply ingrained." - Nettles, page 358

"Approving the fitness of the applicants too some weeks, and in order to make the August start date, the applications need to be prompt." - Nettles, page 358.

"Only devout, hardworking, studious, holy men need apply. A life of toil and probable poverty lies before them; and if they are not called of God to the work, woe to them. Whoever is truly called, we shall be glad to take as Aquila did Apollos, and show him the way of God more perfectly." CHS, page 358.

Concerning the curriculum at Spurgeon's college, "The subjects included English language, Mathematics, Logic, and Natural Philosophy, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Biblical Literature, Systematic Theology and Homiletics." - Nettles, page 361.

"Applicants must be preachers of some experience and ability, sound in the faith, and earnest in soul, or we cannot receive them." - CHS, page 362.

"When they came, they must have gifts and experience that no education could provide; their first study would be in Bible, doctrine and homiletics that would help them sustain a lifelong ministry or the Word; if they could stay longer they would receive instruction that would help them adjust more readily to a wider variety of cultural settings for effective ministry." - Nettles, page 362.

"One might be faithful, eager to learn, submissive to authority, and a marvelous student of the classroom and colleague of fellow disciples. But the lack of ability to teach often proved an embarrassment to these othe fine qualities. Spurgeon had observed the sad event and had lamented the loss in the investment of tiem and energy on the part of tutor and students." - Nettles, page 367.

"The truth is in them, but they cannot either get it out of themselves or get it into others. In all probability the persons to be taught could give no reason for their aversion; but the aversion is plain enough; the brother has no winsome ways, he has something forbidding in his countenance, or his tones, or his general style; one could hardly light on the exact point of disqualification; but the fact is clear, the man cannot teach, for nobody will learn of him. Matter of temple, heart, and spirit, and even of mannerism,in some secret manner impress common folk for or against a person who aims to be their teacher; and it is of no use arguing against that impression, for it will not be removed by argument." - CHS, page 367.

Quoting Spurgeon, Nettles notes, "The one demand of every candidate for acceptance is clear evidence that 'he has been called of Christ, and endowed by Him with natural and spiritual gifts for effectively preaching the Word, as pastor, or evangelist, or missionary.'" - Nettles, page 369.

     It is quite evident to anyone in the gospel ministry among the independent Baptists who is somewhat familiar with Baptist Bible colleges in the USA that were founded to train men and women for the ministry that the Spurgeon college model has not been adhered to. For one thing, Spurgeon sought to train men only and preachers only, something which no Baptist Bible college I am familiar with limits itself to. For another thing, Spurgeon would expel (is that too harsh a term for it) a student who demonstrated over time while enrolled in the college that he was not called or not suited by ability to teach and preach God's Word. I know of no school in the USA willing to do that, likely because on one hand pastors and churches supporting the Bible college would not permit it ("How dare you tell my church kid he is unqualified!"), or because of my previous musing regretfully recognizing that most Bible colleges are caught up in a numbers game.
     I know very good men associated with Bible colleges, men of integrity, men of conviction, men of faithfulness, men who have born much fruit in their lives of service to the cause of Christ. I count them as my much admired friends. However, I have always wondered why those who founded Bible colleges (back in the day when they were founded to train servants of God to reach the world for Christ and not as a device for obtaining a free labor pool from smaller churches) adopted the Moody template rather than the Spurgeon template. Would it have made a difference? We will never know.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bible college?

     I find Tom Nettles' newest book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an interesting and challenging read. In my opinion it is the best of the Spurgeon biographies.
     In the portion of the book that deals with Spurgeon's college is found this paragraph on page 356: "The depth of his conviction that no human agency can call, set aside, and endow a minister of the gospel overflowed in one intense and extended sentence. 'Both those who usurp the Spirit's office and send, and those who admit to the imposture and are sent, may think themselves mercifully favoured that they escape the immediate judgment of God; but they may be assured, beyond all hope, that no power of a divine kind ever will or can rest upon the ministrations thus inaugurated, for God will not own the messenger of men, nor set his seal to a commission which did not originally emanate from his throne.' The surplice may fall on uncalled shoulders, but not the prophetic mantle." This started me thinking.
     Do we see in Christendom in our day those who usurp the Spirit's office and send, and those who admit to the imposture and are sent without a divine call to the gospel ministry? Nettles' final sentence following his quote of Spurgeon is, "The surplice may fall on uncalled shoulders, but not the prophetic mantle." A surplice is a garment worn by Roman Catholic and Anglican priests while conducting the Mass. Nettles is suggesting that someone not called by God to the ministry may end up wearing priest's garb while performing his religious duties, but that does not mean he wears the [spiritual] mantle of a prophet; he will never be a God-called preacher.
     I think we do see in Christendom these days what Spurgeon saw in his day, those who usurp the Spirit's office and send uncalled men into the gospel ministry. The mechanism is different in our day than it was in Spurgeon's day, but it happens nevertheless. In Spurgeon's England it occurred when an infidel attending Oxford or Cambridge chose the path to the priesthood in the Church of England that guaranteed a lifelong income without any particular need to perform more than routine religious duties. It was just this type of priest that George Whitefield and John Wesley railed against almost every time they preached outdoors to the assembled multitudes. It was this type of priest Gilbert Tennant wrote against in his published sermon whose title I will shorten, "The Dangers Of An Unconverted Clergy," that so well prepared New England for the ministry of Jonathan Edwards and the arrival of George Whitefield. However, in our day the path of the uncalled to the gospel ministry, especially among independent Baptists, is somewhat different than in 18th and 19th century England.
     Imagine several cases of individuals that I will consider in turn, the pastor's kid who goes off to Bible college and majors in music, the pastor's kid who goes off to Bible college and majors in youth ministry, and the church kid whose dad is not a pastor and who goes off to Bible college. Such a youngster would go to camp every summer. Why? Because that's what churches with youth groups do. So, what happens when a hundred kids are at camp each summer and most of them made professions of faith the year before or two years before? The role of the camp speaker is not to preach the gospel, not really, since most of the kids at camp are all saved (he thinks). Therefore, his thrust can be summed up in two goals; to get a kid to rededicate his life and go forward at invitation time, shedding tears for his past sins, and asking for forgiveness as a commitment to doing better in the future, and also to obtain a commitment from the kid (especially if he or she is a high school junior or recently graduated senior with no fixed academic goals) to go to the Bible college favored and endorsed by the pastor . . . for at least one year.
     The three different categories I have mentioned are encouraged by their parents, by their pastors, by the Bible college's recruiters, and by camp evangelists to enroll and attend the Bible college. I know of one Bible college here in California that used to use female students to call prospective males still in high school, luring them to Bible college with the suggestion that they would be friends if only he would enroll. I hope they have forsaken such means to grow their school. What hormone-charged teenage boy would not enthusiastically to such a "spiritual" motivation? The student ends up enrolling in Bible college and provides only the most perfunctory testimony of salvation to gain admittance, goes through Bible college (not knowing what else to do even though his original design was to attend for only one year), and then ends up after graduating working for a church as an associate pastor, or as a music director (they call them worship pastors these days), or as a youth pastor. Some graduates occupy all three positions in their first positions out of Bible college.
     At some point he marries. At some point his wife delivers their first child, and he is given a raise. However, when the second child comes along the pastor (likely as not daddy if he is a preacher's kid) provides no additional raises because the church cannot afford it. Therefore, because he simply has to make more money to support his growing family, the associate pastor, the worship leader, the youth pastor, must secure his own pastorate to make enough money to live on. The real problem, of course, is that not only is he not really called to the ministry (remember, he was talked into Bible college by pastor/dad, by the evangelist, and by that sexy girl who called him on the phone indicating they could be friends if he enrolled - he never did find out who she was), but he is not genuinely saved! Thus, his approach to the associate pastorate is mechanical and fleshly, his approach to music is not ministry but to overestimate the benefit of emotionally moving audiences, and his real philosophy of youth ministry is pizza and Pepsi, funny jokes, and pranks that lead into sad and tearful stories and end in prayers of recommitment. Thus, it is no wonder that his arrival to the pastorate is the beginning of a shallow and church growth philosophy approach that is more concerned with manipulating crowds than seeing individuals coming to embrace the Savior.
     Of course, if he is not a pastor's kid the story has a somewhat different ending. He may not even finish Bible college. Or he may finish Bible college but spend only a short time attempting to function in the gospel ministry. The real problem is that if he is converted he may still not be called to the gospel ministry and is inherently honest enough that he just can't live a lie. So, he goes looking for a "secular job" to support himself, and may be one of many who continues to live in Mecca (the town where the Bible college is located) and attend the church he was involved in while in Bible college. He will become one of those guys who is not a God-called preacher but is married to a young wife whose heart was set on a life in the ministry here in the USA or on the mission field, forever feeling like is he somehow a disappointment to his wife. He attends church faithfully, serves in some capacity, uses some of the training in his church that he learned in Bible college, though he will likely always feel he is a second class Christian citizen because he somehow let his parents down, let his wife down, let his former pastor down, and let his school and current pastor down.
     What he never quite figures out is that his former pastor always knew how it would turn out for the kid whose dad was not a missionary or a pastor. Churches these days lose such a high percentage of teenagers who eventually drop out of church to never return that pastors prefer for that tragedy to occur somewhere other than their church being the exit portal out of Christianity. That is the real reason they want all of the church's kids to end up in Bible college elsewhere, so that when the expected dropout does occur it will take place somewhere else and neither the pastor nor the parents will have to face the blame for their role in what happens. Bible colleges are okay with all this because they too know most of their incoming students will drop out, but they need warm bodies if even only for a year or two. The truth is that training for the ministry today is nothing like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton used to be when huge percentages of enrollees graduated and spent their entire lives in the gospel ministry (and not as youth directors or so-called worship leaders either). And the big church with the Bible college, or the big churches in the same town as the Bible college, are engaged in a quiet conspiracy to take those kids in with the full understanding that while most will drop out of Bible college or graduate but never enter the ministry, a high enough percentage of them will hang around after the inevitable occurs that those churches end up growing numerically as a result of their participation in the wicked conspiracy.
     Spurgeon's approach was radically different. There were real obstacles to overcome to gain entrance to his school. You actually had to convince him you were converted. You then had to convince him you were called. You then had to do the academic work or you would be flunked out, something almost no independent Baptist Bible college actually does these days. As well, Spurgeon did not provide fluff training in the form of song leaders disguised as worship pastors, or pizza and Pepsi party guys disguised as youth ministers, which two supposed local church jobs have no authorization I have ever found in the New Testament as paid staff positions.
     I have been in the ministry since 1975. I have the privilege of serving Christian men and women who were caught up in the Bible college meat grinder, who are wonderful church members who in some cases needed a great supply of God's grace to deal with disappointment and possibly even guilt associated with what they at one time felt was failure on their part for having failed. Only they did not fail. They were taken advantage of by cynical pastors, thoughtless evangelists, and Bible colleges caught up in a must succeed by whatever means and at whatever the cost mindset. Gone is the day when it can be assumed Bible colleges exist for the purpose of training men and women for the gospel ministry, not since recruiters have existed, and not since youngsters have been encouraged to attend for only one year. We are now in an era in which many Bible colleges have been seen as useful only for adding numbers and unpaid workers to the church or churches most closely associated with the Bible college, literally sucking the young people out of medium and small-size churches to contribute to the growth of large churches. How is this not parasitism?
     Are all Bible colleges bad? Certainly not. However, it would serve the cause of Christ well to take a careful look at what really takes place in connection with each Bible college. There are lives at stake, and the cause of Christ to be advanced by spiritual means and not carnal means.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


     I can think of no Christian who denies God's right to be worshiped as He prescribes in His Word.  What most Christians disagree about is related to a failure at some level to consider that God might actually regulate His worship by His people in scripture, or to varying amounts of spiritual illumination related to the meaning and application of passages with respect to worship.  For example:  I have heard it said by men who occupy positions in churches labeled "worship pastor" that dancing is entirely appropriate when worshiping God, citing the passage that records David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, Second Samuel 6.16.  However, David was leading a procession while leaping and dancing, and was not then actually engaged in prescribed worship.  Thus, it is mistaken to suggest that because David danced before the Ark of the Covenant in a procession there is a place for dancing in Christian worship in the assembly.
     Granted, there are times when congregations gather for reasons other than worship.  Sometimes we gather for fellowship, such as when the church's anniversary is celebrated.  At other times we gather for purely evangelistic endeavors, to present to the lost the unsearchable riches of Christ, such as when there is an evangelistic crusade (unfortunately referred to by too many as a "revival."  These types of gatherings recognized as occurring, it must be admitted that the most important of the types of Christian assemblies are the gatherings for worship, even if the presence of the unsaved among us when so doing is a distinct possibility, First Corinthians 14.
     When we are worshiping God, what are some of the guidelines for decorum and propriety?  We have already seen guidance provided in scripture for the proper use of the word "amen" by God's people during worship, as a means whereby the saints can participate in the preaching without interrupting but having the effect of reinforcing and agreeing with what is declared.  However, there is an increasing tendency in congregations to exhibit a response that seems to have had its origin outside Christianity, in the theater and as a means of expressing approval for a performance.  I refer of course to clapping.  We see it after a singer completes a song.  We see it following a dramatic performance.  It has even found its way into Christian assemblies as a means of expressing approval and agreement.  However, is clapping appropriate in worship?
     Pastors will sometimes apologize for their people when clapping interrupts a sermon (saying "Amen" never interrupts a sermon) by suggesting, "That's just our way of doing it."  However, is that explanation appropriate in light of God's Word?  I suggest that we consider every verse in God's Word in which reference is made to clapping to find the answer to that question.

Job 27:23 "Men shall clap their hands at him, and shall hiss him out of his place."

caphaq - Also found in First Kings 20.10 and Isaiah 2.6, this is a gesture of mocking.[1]  Therefore, this could not be an example in God's Word to justify clapping during worship.

Psalm 47:1 "<> O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph."

taqa` - Found more than sixty times in the Hebrew scriptures, the word refers to thrusting (such as a weapon), driving (such as a tent peg), or clapping (such as one's hands in victory).[2]  Though the psalm exhorts the people to clap (and also to shout), it is presumptuous to think such was to be done during worship.  I am in agreement with Mr. Spurgeon that the occasion of the psalm was the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededom to Mount Zion or some other notable victory.[3]

Psalm 98:8 "Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together"

macha' - This word is found in only two other verses, Isaiah 55.12 and Ezekiel 25.6. That this is poetry of such a type as to have no bearing on worship is obvious.

Isaiah 55:12 "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

The same word used in the same way as in Psalm 98.8, this verse has no bearing on worship as it is used in this verse about trees of the field clapping their hands.

Lamentations 2:15 "All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?"

This is the same Hebrew word that we looked at in Job 27.23, found in a total of ten Old Testament verses.  Here we see predicted the Gentiles passing by the defeated Jewish people, clapping their hands at them, hissing and wagging their heads at them, and making snide comments about Jerusalem.  This is not clapping during worship.

Nahum 3:19 "There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?"

Using the same word found in Psalm 47.1 to describe the victory celebration of the Jewish people, the word is found here to describe the celebration by Nineveh's enemies as they celebrate the destruction of the city in fulfillment of Nahum's prediction.

     "Because worship is an inherent, inborn characteristic of man, God prescribes the way we should worship. . . God not only prescribes whom we should worship (himself) but also how we should worship."[4]  "E. C. Dargan observed that the English word 'worship' is simply a contraction for 'worthship' and denotes the giving of suitable honor to whom it is due."[5]
     Is it unreasonable for Christians committed to honoring God in worship to engage in a style of worship that is informed by God's Word?  Hardly.  Therefore, the propriety of clapping in worship, while not expressly forbidden in God's Word, is never encouraged as a practice during worship.  The reasons are obvious:  First, clapping is not worshipful.  It is celebratory and exaltational.  It is also a response that is not provoked by knowledge but by ignorance, not by spirituality but by worldliness, and it follows the example not of God's Word and God's people but of the entertainment industry and their followers.  Understand that I am not suggesting a powerful political speech or wonderful dramatic performance not be met with a great round of applause at the end.  However, I speak to the matter of worship and not performance.  Second, clapping is defined as "to show pleasure at or approval of by clapping the hands."[6] However, is this not what saying amen is supposed to accomplish, at least in part?  Therefore, why would someone substitute clapping for saying amen when saying amen is the God-ordained expression of approval, pleasure, or agreement?  Finally, clapping interrupts in a way that saying amen does not.  Speakers cannot continue to speak when an audience or a congregation is clapping, thereby interrupting the flow of thought.  However, when a preacher is exercising spiritual leadership is it appropriate for the congregation (which is supposed to be following his leadership) to dictate when he is to stop speaking?  No.  Yet this is done when clapping in a way that saying amen never does.
     What should a pastor do whose people already clap to show approval or agreement?  I would suggest great caution and slowness to change.  This is because individual believers usually have more immediate and pressing concerns than whether or not to clap while worshiping.  However, Christian worship is profoundly important and is rightly ordered by God's Word.  Therefore, I would suggest the pastor stop clapping if he was once in the habit of clapping.  Then, and very gradually over time, I would suggest the pastor begin to encroach on those few seconds of pause that allow for clapping, slowly crowding out clapping each time it occurs within the congregation.  If this is done while teaching and encouraging the people to participate in worship in a scriptural manner, by saying amen when appropriate, the congregation can then be oh so gradually weaned from inappropriate and brought to appropriate expressions of agreement, approval, and celebration in corporate worship.


[1]  See footnote for Job 27.23 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 724.
[2]  Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 1075.
[3]  Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume I, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), page 352.
[4]  Ernest C. Reisinger & D. Matthew Allen, Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation, (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2001), page 15.
[5]  Cited in Reisinger & Allen, page 16.
[6]  Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 333.