When You Pray: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer, by Herman Hanko. Jenison, MI, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006. Pp. 177.
The contents of this book are just as the title states, an application of the Word of God to the study of prayer. Scripture’s teaching on God’s sovereignty, the Trinity, sin, the conscience, chastisement, affliction, and many other topics are examined in connection with the prayers of believers. The book is profitable instruction on prayer exactly because its arguments are taken from God’s Word and are not what someone happens to think prayer is or should be.
It was encouraging to read in the preface (p. xii) that this book, in part, is the fruit of a Monday night Bible class that the author taught to young people on the topic of prayer. Writes the author,
I owe the Bible class a debt of gratitude. Without these many classes, the book now presented to the reader would not be what it is. The young people contributed enormously to its contents, and through their intense discussion, they shed much light on the entire subject. It is hoped that the profit we gained from the classes will also help others of God’s people in the difficult art of prayer (p. xii).
Certainly the young people who read the Beacon Lights should be encouraged to know that the study of prayer and spiritual growth in prayer is not something exclusively for the older generations in the church.
As I read the book I took note of sections which I found particularly interesting and edifying. While I cannot mention all of them, I will highlight a few of them. On pages 3 and 4 the author states the truth that “the wicked cannot pray.” A strong argument is used to prove the point. It goes as follows.
God’s covenant is like a family. God is himself a family God because he is, within the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s covenant with his people means that God takes his people into his own covenant family. He does not and will not take any into his family who hate him. He has no family conversation with the wicked. They prefer to blaspheme him rather than to hear his words.
On pages 11 and 12 the author emphasizes that “our prayers, worked by the Holy Spirit, are made in Christ’s name and are directed to God.” This truth is important to understand because many are of the opinion that God speaks directly to His people by the Holy Spirit apart from the Word. This is not the case as the author points out and a failure to understand this is dangerous and will quickly lead one in the wrong direction.
Perhaps the most important biblical truth to understand in connection with prayer is God’s sovereignty. The author writes,
Prayer presupposes the truth of God’s complete and absolute sovereignty, but it also determines the character of our prayer. God is God alone; he does all his good pleasure. He holds the heart of kings in his hands and turns them whithersoever he will (Prov. 21:1). If even the hearts of kings are in his hand, everything else is as well. We pray because God is sovereign. If he were not, there would be no point in praying (p.17).
On pages 44 and 45 the author addresses the difficulty of our calling, as found in Ephesians 5:20, to be thankful for all things. How is it possible to be thankful to God for the fact that one’s house has burned to the ground or that one has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer? The author uses Romans 8:28 and Isaiah 55:8 to answer this difficulty. Towards the end of his discussion of this challenging question he writes,
To be thankful for the sufferings of this present time is really possible only after the troubles are past. Only after the hurt has gone away and the pain is eased are God’s people able to say, in retrospect, “Yes, it was good for me. I was blessed in and through what God sent. I am thankful for the dark and difficult way through which the Lord led me. It was a blessedness which, if it had not happened, would have left my life impoverished.” As one old saint said to me after being on the edge of the grave, “I would not have missed it for anything” (p. 45).
Those of you who are familiar with the author’s preaching know his ability to make difficult truths clear by means of illustrations from everyday life. This book is full of helpful illustrations which aid the reader in understanding scriptural truths. One illustration that the author uses is found on page 53 in answer to the question, “Why must we seek all things from God when He knows what we need before we even ask Him? The answer:
…because our heavenly Father loves us, it is pleasing to him that we, as little children, seek all things from him. Parents, concerned for the welfare and care of their children, also know what their children need and what is best for them. Nevertheless, these parents want their children to ask them for what they need. Our heavenly Father does the same. Just as parents would be hurt if their children went to the neighbors to get food to eat, so our Father is hurt when we seek our daily needs from the world rather than from his hand. To do so is a slight, an insult, a lack of trust. It is a kind of denial of the father-child relationship. If our children do this consistently, then we ask them, “Are we not your parents? Do you think, perhaps, that we do not take good care of you? Why do you go elsewhere?” We deny that God is our Father when we fail to seek all things from him. Petitionary prayer is a confession of our spiritual Father-child relationship.
The chapter on praying with a good conscience is interesting. The dreadfulness of a conscience that has been “seared with a hot iron” is explained. The author gives many examples of Old Testament saints praying with a good conscience. It seems as if these men, in their prayers, were bringing their own righteousness before God. Hezekiah, for example, prayed to God , “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (Isaiah 38:3). The Psalms are full of expressions similar to this. The difficulty of this kind of language is removed when one understands that these men were coming to God in prayer with a good conscience, as the author explains.
The author spends a good deal of time throughout the book explaining the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to our prayers. Emphasized is the fact that the Holy Spirit never works apart from the Scriptures. One memorable paragraph explaining this relationship is found on page 124 where we read,
To put it a little differently, God has given us our minds sanctified by the Spirit and a good measure of common sense so that we know in the light of Scripture what is right and good. God tells us, “Now use your sanctified common sense. Do not ask me to tell you whether you should move to another state. You have my word; now apply it to your life.”
Comforting are Chapter 15 on “Perseverance in Prayer” and Chapter 16 on “Praying to a Hidden God.” One of the questions addressed is “Why does God not immediately answer our prayers when they are according to his own will?” (p. 134). Another issue the author addresses is the fact that from our point of view God seems to be hidden from us when we pray to Him in times of great trouble or affliction.
One final section that I took note of was towards the end of Chapter 17, dealing with the problem of repetition in prayer. The author makes the point that, “One who truly meditates on the Scriptures, makes them a source of his contemplation, takes them into his heart, and sees in them God’s great glory will quite naturally have much to pray about. The very reading of Scripture inspires prayers within the praying saint” (pp.158, 159).
Every saint, whether young or old, will benefit from reading this book. But since this review appears in the Beacon Lights, I would like to recommend this book to the younger generation. What a privilege it is that we have older saints willing to put their lifetime of trials, study, and experiences on paper for our spiritual edification and growth.
The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers: Sovereign Grace in the Covenant, by David J. Engelsma. Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2005. 239 pages.
As the title expresses, the covenant of God and the place of the children of believers in that covenant are the central contents of this book. As the author states in the preface, the occasion for this book is “the appearance in conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches of a grievous heresy—one of the most dangerous threats to the gospel of grace since Dordt” (Preface, p. ix). This heresy is the “federal vision,” described by the author as “covenantal universalism.” The error is serious because it “denies justification by faith alone and, with this fundamental doctrine of the gospel, all the doctrines of grace—the “Five Points” of Calvinism” (p. ix).
The purpose of the book is to tear out by the root the heresy of the federal vision and along with it the false teaching of justification by faith and works. The “biblical, confessional truth concerning the covenant of God” (p. x) and the place of children in that covenant are set forth. Throughout the book both the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Standards are used not only to show how this heresy is condemned by the creeds, but how the doctrine of the covenant as it has been developed and is confessed in the Protestant Reformed Churches is in harmony with the confessions.
It is fitting that this book is written by a Protestant Reformed office bearer and especially a Protestant Reformed Professor of Theology. All Protestant Reformed office bearers, when they sign the Formula of Subscription, promise before the Lord that they “heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine, contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine, made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-’19, do fully agree with the Word of God.” This commits them “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same by [their] public preaching or writing.” Moreover by signing the Formula they declare that they “not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned Synod, but that [they] are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert [them]selves in keeping the Church free from such errors.”
Especially are Protestant Reformed Professors of Theology to do this. The Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology charges the professor to “expound to them (the seminary students) the mysteries of the faith; caution them in regard to the errors and heresies of the old, but especially of the new day.” No doubt the heresy of the “federal vision” is one of the errors of the day which must be refuted and contradicted so that our Protestant Reformed Churches are kept free from this error and others in the Reformed tradition may be warned of the consequences of maintaining the doctrine of a conditional covenant.
I found a couple of chapters of this book to be particularly interesting. The first was Chapter 4 about the Canons of Dordt, 1, Article 17. This article deals with children of believers whom God is pleased “to call out of this life in their infancy.” The author admits to disagreeing quite strongly with his seminary professor, the Rev. Herman Hoeksema, about the value and comfort found in this article. No doubt he would also not fully agree with the treatment that Prof. Homer Hoeksema gives this article as found in The Voice of Our Fathers, on pages 267-280. Whatever position one may take regarding the doctrinal value of this article, everyone must admit that the author convincingly sets forth the comfort that is to be found in this article for godly parents whose infants or even their unborn children are taken in death.
The third part of the book, dealing with “The Netherlands Reformed Objection”, I also found to be quite interesting. After first dealing with “The Baptist Objection” in Part II of the book, Prof. Engelsma refutes the Netherlands Reformed position that believers must view their children as being unregenerated and “under the sphere of the covenant” rather than “in the covenant” (p. 60).
The consequences of maintaining this view are frightening. Just how does an unregenerated child pray? (p. 61). How are little unregenerated children to obey the fifth commandment? (p. 64). How are admittedly unconverted young people to make confession of their faith before the consistory? (p. 70). How is it possible for confessing unbelievers to have full membership in the church? (p. 73). This position is confusing to say the least.
A paragraph quoted from the book illustrates the affect that the Netherlands Reformed covenant doctrine has on their Christian school education.
The covenant doctrine of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations and like-minded churches radically affects the Christian day school education of these churches and parents. This is spelled out in the 1988 statement of purpose and philosophy of education of the Plymouth Christian Elementary School, a school owned by the First Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this school, “the education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidence of saving grace clearly appear[s]… But though the religious education of children should proceed on the ground that they are destitute of grace, it ought ever to be used as a means of grace.”
Those who believe and love the doctrine of the unconditional covenant of grace as it has been developed and is maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches will find this book valuable and comforting. By the grace of God, it is the privilege of the PRC to maintain this doctrine in the midst of rapid departure concerning the truth of God’s sovereign grace. The high school and college age young people of the PRC ought to attempt to read this book. While it is by no means an “easy read,” with the doctrinal preaching and excellent catechism instruction that Protestant Reformed youth receive, the book will aid them in an understanding of our doctrinal heritage.
Parents, and especially newly married couples expecting a child or with young children, will find the book beneficial as well. It is very important in the instruction and discipline of children to have a proper understanding of their place in the covenant. This book helps lay the foundation for proper child rearing and the obligation of believing parents to instruct their children in the fear of the Lord.
In our last article we noticed how many mega-churches tend to be structured and operated more like businesses than churches. We also observed the casual attitude that these churches have towards membership. We ended with a look at the average mega-church pastor who has his “fingers on the pulse of the culture.”
In this article we will conclude our look at mega-churches by examining their “vision” and “purpose” and how this relates to their outreach and evangelism. One can get a good grasp of the “mission” of mega-churches in general by looking at a sample of their websites. Nearly all mega-church websites contain a “mission statement” or some kind of statement expressing a “vision” or “purpose.” When one takes the time to examine a number of websites, one is struck by the similarities among the sites and how little they differ from church to church. This is also true with the mission statements of various mega-churches. Many of them are merely variations on one general theme.
Let us take a look at a few mission and vision statements taken from various mega-church websites. The website of a South Barrington, Illinois church and trend leader among mega-churches, states that: “The mission of Willow Creek Community Church is to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”1 A few paragraphs later, we read that they believe the role of the church “is to glorify God and serve those in need.”
The mission of Northwoods Community Church of Peoria, Illinois is “to make fully devoted followers of Christ out of unchurched people in the Peoria, Illinois area.” Next, we read that their vision is “to build a community of contagious Christ-followers out of unchurched people in the Peoria area by attracting them to the life of Christ, introducing them to Christ, and maturing them in Christ.”2 The mission of Kensington Community Church of Troy, Michigan is “To turn people who think God is irrelevant into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ through high-impact churches.”3
A central theme found in many of the mission statements is a desire on the part of mega-churches to “impact” and “make a difference” in their surrounding communities and even the world. This theme can be found in the vision statement of Point of Grace Church of Des Moines, Iowa. It reads:
Equipping people to impact their world, by providing an innovative, grace-filled, people-empowered church, located in the western suburbs of Des Moines, focusing on the real needs of people, introducing them to an authentic growing relationship with Jesus Christ in a casual environment of love and acceptance.4
Calvary (undenominational) Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan states that their mission “is to equip followers of Jesus to impact their world to the delight of God.”5 If a church views its mission as making a difference in the surrounding community then the kind of outreach they conduct will reflect this mission. Mariners Church of Irvine, California makes the connection between their mission and outreach in one paragraph found on their website. Under the heading of “Innovative in our ministry and relevant to our community,” the paragraph reads:
We want to make a difference in our community by being aware of and sensitive to current situations within our neighborhood. In doing so, we challenge ourselves to stretch outside our “comfort zones.” Our goal is to be innovative in the ministries of music, teaching, drama, art, and multimedia, as well as other ways that may capture the attention of those in our community who don’t know Christ.”6
Under the title of “Citywide Ministry,” New Life Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado declares that:
No city in the United States has been measurably impacted by the success of one church. However, cites can be forcefully impacted by the success of networks of churches. At New Life, one of our main functions is to organize and coordinate with the hundreds of churches in our area. Together, we can strategize and utilize each others distinctives to strengthen us all in the goal of reaching and serving more people for Christ.7
Perhaps the mega-church which serves as the best example of how mega-churches view themselves and their mission in the world is NorthRidge Church of Plymouth, Michigan. The first two sentences and a few excerpts of their vision states:
Our vision is most clearly understood when pictured as a spiritual shopping mall. The shopping mall seeks to provide availability and easy access to most everything a person needs or wants in an attractive, convenient and desirable setting….
We see NorthRidge as that kind of place, only for the purpose of meeting spiritual needs. It is our desire to provide availability and easy access to ministries designed for every spiritual need and want a person has at every stage of spiritual development, from unbelieving to mature believer. As well, we want to have something for every kind of person God has placed in our surrounding communities…
We see ourselves as a church that, through diversity, innovation, size, total member involvement, flexibility, understanding of present cultural and community needs, love and acceptance, concern for quality and excellence, and commitment to truth, can meet the spiritual needs of people in all of life’s varying circumstances in an exciting, relevant and enjoyable way.8
In order for us to properly evaluate the various mission and vision statements of these mega-churches, it is necessary for us to know from God’s Word exactly what the church is, who the members of the church are, and the reason for the existence of the church in the world. Rev. Ronald Hanko, deals with the topic of the church in his book Doctrine According To Godliness on pages 219-279. Pages 219 and 220 are very helpful in defining the church and God’s purpose for it in the world.
Rev. Hanko defines the word church as follows.
The Greek word translated church means “called out.” The name church in the highest and best sense refers to those who are saved and to them only. The name reminds us that the true members of the church are those who are “called… out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9). It reminds us, too, that their place in the church is of grace. They are not members by their choice or works, but by God’s calling.9
One sees immediately that this definition of the church does not square with the various mission statements which we have just read. No doubt average unchurched, irreligious mega-church attendees would feel very uncomfortable being told that they were a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that they should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). They would feel much more comfortable being told that they were gathered together for the purpose of improving themselves so that they could go out and make a difference in the world. Mega-churches do their best to blur the distinction between the church and the world, between those “called out” and those not. Their very appeal is that they are as close to the world as possible, yet still calling themselves the church.
We must notice also how mega-churches put emphasis upon their own innovation and techniques in “reaching” and “equipping” people “for” Christ. There is much talk about “love and acceptance,” “flexibility,” “innovation,” and “understanding.” Many mega-churches are careful to advertise their “ministries” of music, drama, teaching, and multimedia. Bringing people into the church is seen as nothing more than a human endeavor. It is up to the church to become as creative as possible to draw people through the doors. God is not extolled as the One who powerfully calls His people out of darkness and into the light of His truth through the preaching of the Word.
Also missing in the various mega-church mission statements is the reality of the spiritual separation that exists between the members of the church and the world with all its wickedness. Rev. Hanko points this out as he continues to define what it means to be “called out.” He writes:
That members of the church are called out refers not only to their salvation from sin (they are called out of darkness), but also to their spiritual separation from the world and its wickedness (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Implied in the name church, therefore, is the holiness and obedience of the church’s members. A church whose members are not holy does not deserve the name church.10
Churches which incorporate as much of popular culture into their worship as possible, in order to appeal to those in the community around them, are not living out this spiritual separation. Churches which reject sound doctrine, which overlook sin in the lives of their members, and which have a “come as you are” attitude about attendance, are guilty of violating the command of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. The “impact” of all of this behavior is that the church becomes more and more like the world. Instead of the church “making a difference” (the vision of many mega-churches) in the world, the world floods into the church, drowning the witness of the church and its members.
That the church and its members live in spiritual separation from the world and in dedication to the service of God is very important. Writes Rev. Hanko,
Holiness is essential to the very existence of the church. Unto holiness the members are called, chosen (Eph. 1:4), and redeemed (Col. 1:21, 22). Church holiness is important because it has to do with God’s purpose in the church. The reason for the church’s existence is the glory of God (Eph. 1:6, 12). It is in the holiness of the church and its members that this purpose is reached. An unholy church, a church whose members are not holy, cannot and does not glorify God. In the holiness of the church, most of all, God’s glory shines out.11
Notice how the glorifying of God is missing from nearly all of the mega-church mission, purpose, and vision statements. They see meeting the “needs” of the community and “impacting” the world as their main reason for existence. The typical mega-church resembles more a social service agency existing for the service of man than a church living in holiness for the glory of God.
Because they see their purpose in this way, their witness in the world is ineffective. Writes Rev. Hanko,
It is to the shame and hurt of the church today that its members do not live as those who are called out. If the church itself is not any different from the world in its teaching, in the conduct of its members, and in its practices, its witness will be ineffective. The church’s glory, and the glory of its witness to this lost world, lies in its being called out, separate, and holy—different from the wicked world.12
Perhaps mega-churches most clearly manifest the spirit of the age in their endeavors of trying to make this world a better place to live. Ultimately, their goal is an earthly kingdom brought about by the efforts of man. This goal brings them into close contact and cooperation with the world. We see this cooperation between apostatizing churches and the world and the attempt to establish an earthly kingdom as one of the signs of the return of our Lord.
May we be those who watch and are aware of the signs of Christ’s coming, not fooled by the false doctrines and practices which surround us. May we also be careful to remain members of a true church (or join it, if necessary) where the marks of the true church are found: the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).
1http://www.willowcreek.org/what_we_believe.asp (retrieved 6/11/2005)
2http://www.nwoods.org/?section=76 (retrieved 6/11/2005)
3http://kensingtonchurch.org/aboutus/missionstatement.php (retrieved 6/11/2005)
4http://www.pointofgrace.com/about/purpose/index.php (retrieved 6/11/2005)
5http://calvarychurch.gospelcom.net/purpose.htm (retrieved 6/11/2005)
6http://www.marinerschurch.org/pages/values.html (retrieved 6/11/2005)
7http://www.newlifechurch.org/whatwebelieve/index.cfm?FUSEACTION=citywideMInistry (retrieved 6/11/2005)
9Ronald Hanko, Doctrine According To Godliness, (Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grandville, MI, 2004) p. 219.
10Ronald Hanko, p. 219.
11Ronald Hanko, p. 219.
12Ronald Hanko, pp. 219, 220.
So far in our examination of mega-churches we have noticed that in general they manifest the spirit of the age in their lack of clearly defined doctrine and their contemporary, seeker sensitive worship. Their doctrine and worship are calculated to attract as many as possible through the doors so that they continue to grow in numbers. As a result of this emphasis on growth in attendance, mega-churches are rarely organized and governed according to the pattern set forth in God’s Word concerning the governing of the church. Neither do those who attend or become members of these massive churches understand what it is to join a church and belong to the body of Christ.
Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky is an example of the structure of a typical mega-church. One paragraph in the Owensboro, Kentucky, Messenger-Inquirer describes Southland Christian Church as follows:
But Southland isn’t just a place for singing and preaching on Sunday mornings. It’s a teeming, nonstop center of community life in suburban Lexington, an enormous business enterprise, an engine for volunteerism and a potent social and spiritual force with a multimedia message.1
The phrase “an enormous business enterprise” accurately describes many mega-churches. Many of these churches operate music studios, publish books, magazines and other religious materials. Some churches have their own record labels, while others produce television and radio talk shows.2 Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas, has a media strategy which it analyzes every quarter.3 In 1999, the typical income of mega-churches averaged 4.8 million dollars, with average expenditures of 4.4 million dollars.4
The manpower needed to keep these enterprises operating is also enormous. The study performed by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (referred to in the 1st article) indicated that the typical mega-church “averaged 13 full time paid ministerial staff persons, and 25 full time paid program staff persons. The average number of volunteer workers (giving 5 or more hours a week to the church) was 297.”5
It is not unusual for these churches to resemble a shopping mall more than a church in their appearance and layout. Take, for example, the 140 acre campus of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. “Prestonwood has sports fields, an arcade, small Bible-study groups and a bookstore on what is called Main Street. There is even a food court… complete with a Starbucks.”6 Before a Sunday morning service at Southland Christian Church, one can sip on Starbucks coffee at the café, or browse the CD selection in the bookstore.7
Because mega-churches are large operations, they need many volunteers in order to function smoothly. Volunteers are needed to maintain church grounds, organize and staff various church programs, lead Bible studies, direct traffic and usher at worship services, and contribute to the worship service itself. Leading this army of volunteers are scores of paid, full and part time staff members who typically report to a board of directors, often made up of church elders and ministers.
Consider the number of volunteers it takes just to conduct the service at Southland Christian Church.
“It takes hundreds of people to pull off a service,” Weece [senior minister of Southland, AJC] said. “People can’t even begin to fathom how this place operates. I don’t even know all the detail.”
Five camera operators caught the action onstage from every angle.
Upstairs, in what looks like a tiny television station, five people controlled the shots that appeared on the worship center’s four big screens and taped the service for broadcast on cable television later. A producer, stage manager and assistant stage manager were stationed downstairs.
“We all have different roles,” said Dave Welch, who was working as director.
The service was timed to the minute.
The first 14 minutes were spent in worship and the welcome. One minute for a prayer before communion, five minutes for communion itself, four minutes for baptisms.
As the band played “Sing to the King”—allotted four minutes—for the last time that day, “decision ministry” volunteers waited at the side of the room to meet with people who came forward in response to the sermon.
Those who came forward are taken to one of five small decision rooms equipped with a box of tissues, a Bible and a few wing-backed chairs.
“We always try to make people feel as welcome as possible,” said Katie Bodager, the decision ministry team leader that day.
The volunteers determine what the person’s needs are and direct them to the part of the church that can help. If they wish to be baptized, it can be done immediately or scheduled for a later time.8
That the worship service is flawlessly executed according to a set schedule is no accident. Just as most entertainers practice their routines before their performance, so the staff at Southland carefully plans and practices for all worship services. The Messenger-Inquirer reports,
An hour before the children arrived on Saturday evening, Jason Byerly, the children’s minister, and his wife, Christy, practiced teaching the concept of salvation—“God’s Big Gift,” illustrated by a large gift-wrapped box positioned on a small stage.
“God loves you more than anyone in the whole world,” Christy Byerly said. “God loves you so much that he wants to be your forever friend. He wants you to live with him in heaven.”
The lesson incorporated props, such as a large cross, and a video clip from “The Parent Trap.”
Out in the main worship center, which can seat as many as 3,000, Weece, only the third senior pastor in Southland’s 49-year history, and Jim Burgen, the church’s executive director of ministry, were onstage practicing the sermon they were about to preach together.
It was the third week in the month long sermon series “The Gospel According to Bass Pro,” which focused on Jesus’ instruction to the disciples on becoming “fishers of men.”
The stage—which gets a new look for each sermon series—was decked out with wooden boat docks, a fishing boat and fishing gear. Boats were parked in the concourse and on the sidewalks outside.
Weece and Burgen lounged on stools made of boat seats, with a big green cooler between them.
“At the end of the invitation, I’ll pray,” Weece said.
On cue, soft piano notes began to play.
“If you need to talk with someone, Jim and I’ll be down front,” Weece said, as the overhead lights dimmed and lights projecting onto the back wall of the stage changed from blue to red.
Although it’s scripted, Southland’s worship style is fluid, casual and ever-changing. It’s all part of the church’s effort to attract and keep worshippers. Greg Corona, who is in charge of worship, said “the element of surprise” is a key in keeping people engaged in services.9
With all of this attention to detail, massive budgets, scores of employees, throngs of volunteers, large campuses, and various business endeavors, it is no wonder that many mega-churches are managed more like a business than a church. And just as businesses are profitable by producing and marketing a product which the consumer desires, so do these churches seek to lure potential customer-worshippers by producing and marketing carefully developed products, such as their entertaining worship services, religious music and literature, and various family activities.
Articles 27–35 of the Belgic Confession show us not only how the true church in this world is known from the false, but also how the true church is governed. We have already noticed how mega-churches in general reject sound doctrinal preaching, which is the first mark of the true church. Because of their large attendance and casual attitude toward membership, they also fail to manifest the third mark of the true church, the exercise of church discipline in the punishing of sin (Art. 29). Southland Christian Church, for example, averages 8,000 worshippers on a weekend. Of those, only 2,500 to 3,000 “attend worship regularly.”10 Even if these churches have a council, composed of many ministers, elders, and deacons, how are they to properly take oversight of thousands of individuals, many of whom are only casual attendees? Christian discipline becomes nearly impossible in a situation like this. Further, because of this lack of supervision, the proper administration of the sacraments, the second mark of the true church, becomes impossible. Yet, because these churches reject sound doctrinal preaching, which is where discipline begins, and because their goal is to attract as many attendees as possible, they show that they are not interested in church discipline and even reject it. For this reason, just about anybody feels comfortable coming to one of these churches.
This comfortable feeling along with the anonymity of being one among thousands attracts people to mega-churches. This question was posed recently in a Grand Rapids Press religion article with the title, “Do mega-churches bring thousands to God, or let worshippers get lost in a crowd?”11 The article, which summarized a study done by Calvin College students on three Grand Rapid’s area mega-churches, noted that the “students said it is easy to slip in and out of Sunday morning services without getting noticed, and that anonymity may be part of the mega-church attraction.”
One who is an anonymous attendee of a church, and who refuses to become a member and join himself to a true church, goes to church for the wrong reasons. One is living in the sin of refusing to submit to the “doctrine and discipline” of the church and is refusing to bow his neck “under the yoke of Jesus Christ” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28). Further, he shows that he does not want to use his gifts for the edification of the members of the body of Christ (Art. 28). Yes, one can say that he is “going to church” and come away with an emotional boost from the entertaining service, but all of this is in disobedience to God’s command to believers to join a local congregation which manifests the marks of the true church.
Another attraction and characteristic of mega-churches is that frequently they are lead by dynamic pastors. Kevin Dougherty, a Calvin College sociology professor, notes that often pastors are the main attraction at mega-churches. The Grand Rapids Press reports:
A survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research shows 70 percent of churches with at least 2,000 participants boomed into a mega-church during the tenure of their current pastor. That’s because those pastors “have their fingers on the pulse of the culture and are able to put together a product that people understand,” Dougherty said.
While only two-thirds of senior pastors have seminary training, Dougherty suggests all of them “are highly entrepreneurial individuals.”
As a result, mega-churches resemble “complex corporations” in the way they operate. And their growth attracts more growth, to a point where “their reach is comparable to small denominations,” Dougherty said.
“People want to associate with a winner, “he said. “These churches are winners.”
But are there too many people riding the bench in championship churches? Students wondered if those players will stay on the team when a coaching change occurs.12
While it is sometimes the case that God raises up energetic and gifted men to positions of leadership is His church, these men do not have their “fingers on the pulse of culture,” nor are they interested in creating a culturally relevant product which the masses will flock to. No, God uses them to preach the truth and deliver His church from error and departure. Quite often it is the case that many are offended by the doctrinal truths they preach and leave. Only a remnant is left to follow their leadership. Those who follow today’s “dynamic” pastors remind us of the multitude that followed Jesus when He gave them “to eat of the loaves, and they were filled” (John 6:26). As soon as they discovered that His kingdom was not of this world, with earthly health, wealth, and dominion, they left Him. Only those who desired the “true bread from heaven” (John 6:32) and a spiritual kingdom remained His disciples.
Next article, Lord willing, we will continue with this idea as it relates to the vision and purpose of mega-churches. We will also take a look at mega-church evangelism and outreach.
1Karla Ward and Lu-Ann Farrar. (2005, April 16). Megachurch Connection, Thousands worship at centers for community life. Messenger-inquirer.com, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Retrieved April 22, 2005, from http://www. Messenger-inquirer.com/features/religionvalues/8330085.htm.
2Luisa Kroll. (2003, September 17). Megachurches, Megabusinesses. Forbes.com, Retrieved March 5, 2005, from http://www.forbes.com/2003/09/17/cz_lk_0917megachurch.html.
3Luisa Kroll. Megachurches, Megabusinesses.
4Scott Thumma, PhD. (2000). Megachurches Today: Summary of the Faith Communities Today material on Megachurches, Hartford Institute For Religion Research. Retrieved February 28, 2005, from Hartford Seminary Web site: http://www.hartsem.edu/org/faith_megachurches_FACTsummary.html.
5Scott Thumma, Hartford Study.
6ABC News. (2005, March 27). Mega-Churches Offer Prayer, Play, and Shopping. Retrieved April 22, 2005, from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/print?id=617341.
7Karla Ward and Lu-Ann Farrar, Messenger-inquirer.com.
8Karla Ward and Lu-Ann Farrar, Messenger-inquirer.com.
9Karla Ward and Lu-Ann Farrar Messenger-inquirer.com.
10Karla Ward and Lu-Ann Farrar, Messenger-inquirer.com.
11Matt Vandebunte. Do Mega-churches Bring Thousands To God, Or Let Worshippers Get Lost In A Crowd?, The Grand Rapids Press, (February 12, 2005), Sec. D, pp. 1, 3.
12Matt Vandebunte, p. 3.
In the last article we noticed the mega-church characteristic of a lack of clearly defined doctrine. In this article we intend to examine another characteristic which mega-churches in general possess a contemporary style of worship.
The following excerpts have been taken from an article in The Christian Science Monitor. The lifted quotes detail the style of worship found at Lakewood Church, America’s largest mega-church in Houston, Texas.
After a rousing live performance of “Jesus is better than life,” broadcast over three Jumbotrons in the Compaq Center, Victoria Osteen steps to the podium in front of 16,000 cheering Sunday worshipers and proclaims: “We’re going to rock today. This place has been rocked a lot of times, but it’s never been rocked for Jesus.”
At Lakewood’s recent groundbreaking services, Pastor Joel Osteen’s sermon—given like a motivation speech—included phrases like: “Keep a good attitude. Don’t get negative or bitter. Be determined. Shake it off and step up.”
Worked into a frenzy by the 10-piece band and 300-member choir, dozens of slick music videos and, yes, the wave, congregants were enraptured. “We love it. We don’t miss a Sunday,” says Annette Ramirez, sitting in the arena’s front row with her husband Joe. “The message is always very positive and the music is great.”1
Another article, found in Forbes.com, examines the marketing aspect of services at Lakewood Church. One paragraph reads,
As for the services themselves, Lakewood makes sure to put on a grand show. It has a 12-piece stage band, a lighting designer to set the mood and three large projection screens. The technology will be even more spectacular when it moves into its new home in the former Houston Rocket’s stadium. “We really want it to feel like a concert,” says Duncan Dodds, Lakewood’s executive director. Something is working: Church attendance has grown from 6,000 in 1999 when Osteen became pastor to 25,060 today.2
The same article also refers to the founding of Willow Creek Community Church in 1975 in South Barrington, Illinois. As mentioned in the first article, founder and current pastor Bill Hybels went door to door asking people what kept them away from church. Using the answers, “Hybels then crafted his services to address their concerns, becoming one of the first pastors to use video, drama and contemporary music in church and encouraging a more casual dress code.”3 Today, Willow Creek has 500 part and full-time employees. Through the sponsoring of conferences and seminars and the publishing of literature, the Willow Creek Association teaches other churches how to market themselves in their communities. Thousands of churches belong to this association and put into practice, to one degree or another, the techniques used at Willow Creek.
There are two things which we must notice about the contemporary style of worship which characterizes the services of many mega-churches. First, these services are said to be “seeker sensitive.” A “seeker” is supposedly one with little or no church up-bringing, yet is seeking fulfillment in his life and has come to feel needs that must be satisfied and certain questions about life that must be answered. Not finding fulfillment or the answers to his questions anywhere else in the world, he looks to the church to address his needs. That a service is “sensitive” to the needs of the “seeker” means that the worship service must be as attractive as possible to the non-churched “seeker” who walks into the church for the first time. In other words, the atmosphere of the service must be “as un-churchlike as possible.”4 That which is church-like is done away with and is replaced with as much of popular culture as possible, including contemporary music, drama, and theater-like surroundings. Because the atmosphere of the service so closely resembles the experiences which the “seeker” has in the world, he does not find his visit to church intimidating or offensive and is willing to listen to the message offered by the pastor. Perhaps, because of the emotional fulfillment he experiences during the service, he will return and over time be attracted more to the messages he hears and become involved in the church.
The second thing we must notice about this contemporary style of worship is its purpose. One may think that the purpose of a worship service is to worship God. Yet, it becomes very evident as one examines contemporary worship that its proponents see church growth as the primary purpose of gathering on the Lord’s Day. Man, not God, is the object of the service. The worship service is not a gathering of God’s people assembled to have covenant fellowship with Him, but a grand theatrical production designed to entertain the audience and get as many newcomers as possible to come through the doors.
Prof. Barry Gritters explains this error of contemporary worship as its failure to distinguish between mission work and worship. He writes,
A third error is that these contemporary services do not distinguish between mission work and worship. Mission work and trying to preach to unbelievers is one thing. Public worship is quite another. Those who advocate contemporary worship, appealing to the example of Jesus on the seaside and Philip in a chariot, are making a simple but fundamental mistake; they confuse evangelism with public worship of the gathered people of God.5
The gravest error of contemporary worship is that preaching is pushed into the background. The fact that many mega-churches lack clearly defined doctrine is no surprise. They do not intend to preach doctrine. Their attendees do not want to hear it, and so the worship consists of what the people want to see and hear. How God is worshipped and what the elements of that worship are to be are determined by the desires of the people.
As Reformed believers, we are familiar with the regulative principle of worship. This principle states that God is the one who sets forth in His Word how He will be worshipped by His church in public worship. Prof. David Engelsma defines the regulative principle as follows:
God regulates worship by clearly prescribing in his Word what his worship must consist of. God himself tells us how to worship him. This how refers to the inner, spiritual disposition of the worshipers: “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It also refers to the elements of the service of worship: the preaching of the gospel; the two sacraments, rightly administered; prayers and congregational singing; and the offerings, especially for the poor.6
Any worship which sets aside elements commanded in God’s Word and substitutes in their place elements which men find pleasing is despised by God. The Heidelberg Catechism, in its explanation of the second commandment, states that we may not “worship him [God] in any other way than he has commanded in his word” (Q & A 96). Those who disobey this command must answer to, “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate” Him.” Those who rightly worship God and keep His commandments experience His mercy (2nd commandment).
We must not be ignorant about what is going on in the church world regarding contemporary and “seeker sensitive” worship. In many ways, this kind of worship is calculated to draw young people out of the true church and into apostatizing churches. For those who are not firmly grounded in the truth, the lure can be very strong. It can seem that the excitement found in these churches is an indication that God is at work in them. Can 10,000 people be that mistaken about how to worship God? Is the truth purely preached that important? These people are excited; they are living for the Lord; they’re out making a difference in the world.
Yet, the truth of God’s Word opposes contemporary worship and its shunning of preaching. God is pleased to save His people by the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10: 14, 15; I Cor. 1: 17-31). He does not use drama, worldly-wise messages, or praise songs as means of grace. There ought to be no doubt that drama, contemporary music, and relevant messages are effective tools in “growing” a church, but they certainly are not used by God in the gathering of His people into the true church. Neither do they serve to strengthen the faith of those already members of the church. Excitement in these churches is not an indication of the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is present only where His Word is faithfully preached. The child of God must not be tempted to leave a church where the truth is preached and where God is rightly worshipped and join another where the marks of the true church are not found. As our Belgic Confession states, our duty is to join ourselves to or remain members of the true church. That church is known by the preaching of the “pure doctrine of the gospel,” the “pure administration of the sacraments,” and the exercise of church discipline (Art. 29).
Having considered these two primary characteristics of mega-churches, next time, Lord willing, we hope to look at mega-church organization, leadership, and membership.
1Kris Axtman. (2003, December 30). The rise of the American megachurch. Csmonitor.com, Retrieved March 15, 2005, from http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1230/p01s04-ussc.html.
2Luisa Kroll. (2003, September 17). Megachurches, Megabusinesses. Forbes.com, Retrieved March 5, 2005, from http://www.forbes.com/2003/09/17/cz_lk_0917megachurch.html.
3Luisa Kroll. Megachurches, Megabusinesses.
4Barry Gritters, David J. Engelsma, and Charles Terpstra, Reformed Worship, (Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grandville, MI, 2004) p. 29.
5Barry Gritters, p. 37.
6David Engelsma, p. 2.
There was in the February 12, 2005 edition of The Grand Rapids Press an interesting article on the front page of the Religion section with the title, “Do Mega-churches Bring Thousands To God, Or Let Worshippers Get Lost In A Crowd?” In the article, three Grand Rapid’s area mega- churches were referred to, Calvary Church, which draws 6,000 to Sunday morning services, Resurrection Life which draws nearly 8,000, and Mars Hill with an attendance of 10,000. The article pointed out several characteristics of mega-churches in general and showed how Grand Rapid’s three largest mega-churches exhibited these characteristics to one degree or another. Referred to in the article was a study on mega-churches done by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
A look at the study reveals much about the recent explosion in growth of mega-churches across America. In 1970, there were about 10 mega-churches in America. By 1990, there were 250. By 2003, there were approximately 740.1 A mega-church is defined as a “congregation with an average weekly worship attendance of 2000 or more.”2 Some narrow the definition by adding non-Catholic congregations, or more accurately non-Roman Catholic, with weekly attendance of 2000 or more. Notice the definition’s use of the word “attendance” and not “membership.” This distinction is important as we will see later. While many of the mega-church congregations have existed for nearly 50 years, most of the “tremendous growth has taken place in the past 25 years.”3
The study reveals many interesting things about the worship services of those churches that participated in the study. Among the nondenominational churches in the study, “75-80 percent” of them use “electronic keyboards and guitars, and drums” in their worship. “Forty-three percent include recorded music in the service” and “22 percent report they use dance or drama always or quite often” in their worship services. As to the elements of the worship services, the study reports that “worship always or often includes:”
- Sermons (100%)
- Organ and/or piano music (92%)
- String or wind instruments (79%)
- Time for people to greet each other (93%)
- Altar call for salvation (60%)
- Prayers for healing (45%)
- Speaking in tongues (17%)
While 67 percent of the churches in the study belong to a denomination, “only 37 percent thought the statement ‘Our congregation clearly expresses its denominational (or nondenominational stance) heritage’ described them very or quite well.”4 The study also points out that these churches are more likely to participate in joint worship services and social outreach with churches outside of their denomination than they are with churches within their own denomination. More than 10 percent of them report holding joint worship services and conducting social outreach with, as the study terms, “other faith traditions.”
It is important to remember when analyzing mega-churches as a group that we do not apply to individual churches characteristics which belong to the group as a whole. Individual mega-churches vary greatly. While some churches in the group may resemble the group as a whole, others may be quite different and not really fit the pattern for what a mega-church generally looks like. This rule will guide us in the rest of our analysis.
Having looked at some of the facts about mega-churches in general, let us look at some of the traits, which, to one degree or another, characterize mega-churches.
There are seven characteristics of mega-churches as a group which we will notice, some of them overlapping each other. These traits relate to mega-church 1) theology, 2) style of worship, 3) organization, 4) leadership, 5) membership, 6) outreach and evangelism, and 7) vision and purpose. As we look at each one of these items, we will evaluate them in the light of God’s Word and our Reformed Creeds, particularly the Belgic Confession.
The first characteristic of mega-churches is the lack of a clearly defined system of doctrine. Many mega-churches advertise themselves as such. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, founded his church upon what people wanted in a church. In 1975, he, his wife, and others surveyed the neighborhood to see what people would like church to be. The answers he received—“shorter and more practical sermons, upbeat music, use of the contemporary arts and lots of classes on how to live the Christian life.”5 Today, more than 17,000 worshippers a week pack Willow Creek to hear “practical sermons” on how to live the Christian life.
While it may be the case that a church has an official “Statement of Faith,” it is also true that a document like this is meaningless unless its contents are consistently taught to the congregation and violations of it by members disciplined. In his analysis of mega-church members’ beliefs, Dr. Scott Thumma writes,
These congregations and their ministries exhibit considerable pluralism. Although the official theology espoused may be orthodox conservative Christianity, a variety of opinions and practices are tolerated in relation to women’s roles, sexuality, abortion, and political persuasions. In a cultural climate which emphasizes the self-construction of beliefs and spirituality, tolerance of a diversity of possible alternatives, unified under a common vision, is an asset.6
When one takes the time to examine a few mega-church websites, one is struck by the fact that it can be difficult to find exactly what doctrinal stances the churches take. The typical website is often elaborate, flashy, and loaded with information about church leaders, opportunities, programs, activities, events, and music performed during the worship services. If one finds a “Statement of Faith” or description of “beliefs”, it is usually very brief and vague. There is a noticeable effort to push any kind of doctrinal affirmation into the background.
There is a reason for this. Doctrine is not appealing to the natural man. Sound doctrine is offensive. When the goal of a church is numerical growth, which many mega-churches freely admit, then every obstacle to that growth must be removed. The church must become an inviting, non-offensive, and casual place to meet in order to attract as many people as possible from the surrounding neighborhood. There will not be very many repeat visitors if the minister spends a considerable amount of time explaining doctrine, especially if he preaches sound doctrine.
Yet, it is exactly the preaching of the “pure doctrine of the gospel” which is the chief mark and calling of the true church in the world (Article 29, Belgic Confession). It is this kind of preaching which causes the most important kind of growth, spiritual growth among God’s people. It is a manifestation of the spirit of the age when churches, leaders and members (attendees) alike, reject sound doctrine and replace it with whatever the man on the street wants to hear. This is exactly what Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to Timothy in II Timothy 4:3, 4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
Those who attend and become members of churches where sound doctrine is cast aside show that they do not really know what it is to “join” a church. Article 28 of the Belgic Confession, which sets forth the believer’s duty “to join himself to the true Church,” points out that one of the reasons one joins himself to a church is in order to submit himself to “the doctrine and discipline thereof.” Jesus Christ is pleased to rule His people in this way. To look for or join a church which willingly rejects God’s ordained way of ruling His people is sin.
The second trait of mega-churches which we will examine is their contemporary style of worship. It is a style of worship which flows directly out of their rejection of doctrinal preaching and their emphasis upon being a non-offensive and inviting community. This is where we will begin next time, Lord willing.
1Luisa Kroll. (2003, September 17). Megachurches, Megabusinesses. Forbes.com, Retrieved March 5, 2005, from http://www.forbes.com/2003/09/17/cz_lk_0917megachurch.html.
2Scott Thumma, PhD. (2000). Megachurches Today: Summary of the Faith Communities Today material on Megachurches, Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Retrieved February 28, 2005, from Hartford Seminary website: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/org/faith_megachurches_FACT summary.html.
5Chris Meehan. “Vibrant leader puts old message in new form.” The Grand Rapids Press, (March 5, 2005), Sec. E, pp. 1, 2.
6 Scott Thumma, PhD. (2000). Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena: their characteristics and cultural context, Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Retrieved February 28, 2005 from the Hartford Seminary website: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article2.html.
We ended last time considering the various ways in which we are commanded to “buy” the truth. We found that the truth is most importantly the doctrines which we believe as they are found in God’s Word and summarized in our Reformed creeds. That we believe and love that truth will be evident by our godly walk of life in the midst of a sinful world.
There is one more aspect to buying the truth which we must still consider. We noticed last time that we must be willing to give up certain things for the sake of the truth, such as pursuing certain professions, jobs, friendships, and pleasures. But, one who buys the truth is willing even to suffer loss for the sake of the truth. This was a lesson which Jesus’ disciples found very difficult to learn. Peter, when taught by Jesus that “he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day,” replied to Jesus, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matt. 16:21-26). After rebuking Peter, Jesus went on to explain to His disciples that if any man would follow Jesus, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Our buying the truth means that we follow Jesus in the way of denying ourselves. We will suffer loss for the sake of the truth. Some will hate us and separate us from their company and cast our name out as evil (Luke 6:22). In our own history as Protestant Reformed Churches we have the example of Rev. Herman Hoeksema who faithfully preached the truth of God’s sovereign and particular grace. He, along with those who loved that truth were hated, cast out of the Christian Reformed Church, and were lightly esteemed among the Reformed churches of the day, even as we are today. Yet, as those who “buy” the truth, we are willing to suffer loss and bear reproach for the sake of that truth.
When we, by faith, are “buying” the truth, we show this by submitting to that truth as it is proclaimed in the preaching. This means that we are to be members of a church where, according to Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, the “pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein.” Our standard for evaluating a church is not the level of friendliness exhibited (although true friendliness certainly is found where the truth abides), the style of music, the number of activities for young adults, or the size of a church. Our standard for evaluating our own church membership is this “Where is the truth of God’s Word most purely preached?” One who “buys” the truth desires sound preaching. One cannot say before God that he is obeying this command if he willingly joins himself to a church where he knows false doctrine is tolerated or preached.
Now that we have an understanding of what it means to “buy the truth,” let us notice that God makes the command even more specific by adding “and sell it not.” When we sell something, we are parting with an object which we have in our possession. We exchange it for something else. For example, we may sell a car we own for money. We then use that money to buy another, perhaps newer car. Throughout our lives we buy and sell things. We start out with a smaller house, sell it, and buy a bigger house to meet our needs. When we get older and no longer need a large house, we sell it, and buy a smaller dwelling. God says that we may not do this with the truth. We may only buy the truth and never give up possession of it in exchange for something else.
Why may we never “sell” the truth? The truth is the only possession we have which is of any lasting value. Our possessions of clothes, cars, homes, and money cease to be ours when we die. Further, they will all be destroyed with fire at the coming of our Lord. Earthly possessions serve the purpose only of sustaining our physical life on this earth. However, “the truth of the Lord endureth for ever” (Psalm 117:2). That truth is ours now and will be forever. That truth sustains our souls. By means of believing the truth God is pleased to save us. Therefore, to “sell” that truth or exchange it for something we consider “close enough” will lead to our spiritual death. Without exception God forbids we sell the truth.
There are many examples of how a young person may sell the truth or be tempted to exchange it for a corruption of the truth. A young man shows that he is willing to sell the truth when he dates a young woman who is not of like faith. He knows that if he is to marry her, it will mean giving up the truth, even if he does so little by little.
The Protestant Reformed young man who separates himself from the fellowship of the church and begins to attend or even join a church where the gospel is not faithfully proclaimed and where false doctrine is tolerated shows his willingness to sell the truth.
Young people (and sadly many of their parents) who listen to the godless music of this world sell the truth. It is not a harmless thing for children of God to listen to music which is antithetical to a godly walk in the paths of truth. Those who listen to this music begin to come under the influence of it. Their thoughts, language, dress, and conduct begin to reflect the values of the music they hear. If one continues to walk in the sin of listening to this music, one finds that he is more and more given over to greater sins of living out the sins which the music expresses. Perhaps they are sins of rebellion against authority, sins of fornication, or sins of taking God’s name in vain.
Watching the dramas of the world, whether on the television or at a theater, necessarily involves selling the truth. Prof. R. Dykstra, in a recent series of editorials in The Standard Bearer (Volume 81, Issues 6-9), demonstrates how the viewing of drama is harmful to a godly walk and hinders the believer in his fight against sin. Writes Prof. Dykstra,
You can be sure that this [viewing drama] affects a man’s life. Continued exposure to sin for the sake of entertainment wears a man down spiritually. Initially he and his family are shocked or at least uncomfortable when the children in the sitcom openly mock their “parents.” However, the discomfort wears off, and the disrespectful attitude rubs off. If this sin is not checked, similar insolent behavior will appear in his own home. By then, perhaps, he will shrug it off—all families are like that, the television reassures him, and the children will turn out fine. He takes sin lightly. …The world’s drama cripples the new man within, hardens the heart, destroys covenant family life, and corrupts holy living (Vol. 81, Number 8, pg. 174).
One can also sell the truth by way of ignoring it and allowing it to sit like a dusty Bible, undisturbed upon a bookshelf. So much time can be spent with friends, at the mall, pursuing sports, working, and away from home. Little time is left for fellowship within the home, edifying reading, and understanding God’s Word in Bible study and how it applies to our daily lives.
All of us, young and old, know that we fall short of obeying this command perfectly. When we examine ourselves, we can see how we do not buy the truth as we should. Perhaps we do not deny ourselves as we should and are not willing to suffer for Christ’s sake. As soon as speaking the truth means confrontation and opposition, we back down. We also see that we can easily sell the truth. All of us know of sinful practices which we would rather not give up, even though we know they are contrary to God’s Word.
In the way of repenting of our sin of violating this command and asking God’s grace to obey it, God’s blessing rests upon us and our families. To continue in violation of this command results in God’s judgment coming down upon us. It is frightening to observe God’s judgment upon individuals, families, and churches that forsake the truth. Take, for example, the young father who separates himself, his wife, and young children from a church where the truth is faithfully preached. All seems to go well at first. However, as he progresses in this sin as time goes on, and as his children come to years of maturity, it becomes apparent that his children have become even farther removed from the truth than their father. This man’s grandchildren, in spite of his wishes, fall farther away from the truth and walk in sins that he is ashamed of.
There is also the familiar example of what has taken place within the Christian Reformed Church since they officially adopted the doctrine of common grace. Rev. Herman Hoeksema and others carefully set forth from God’s Word and the creeds the truth that God’s grace is always particular, always saving, and never common. The CRC Synod of 1924 rejected this truth and adopted the Three Points of common grace. Those who proclaimed the truth of God’s particular grace and the antithesis between the church and the world were cast out of the CRC. At that time, and throughout his life, Rev. Hoeksema warned the mother church of the inevitable consequences of maintaining the doctrine of common grace. Even the CRC Synod of 1924 recognized the dangers of adopting the Three Points, and warned the churches of a misuse of it. They knew how easily their members could appeal to this doctrine to countenance worldly-mindedness. Sadly, Rev. Hoeksema’s prophecies have come to pass despite the warnings of the Synod. While the consequences of maintaining this doctrine were not immediately apparent, the CRC’s development along the lines of common grace is now plain for all to see. Evolutionism, Arminianism, unbiblical divorce and remarriage, blatant worldly-mindedness, and a host of other doctrinal errors and sinful practices now have their firm grip on the CRC. Let this be a testimony to us of the severe consequences of disobeying God’s command to “buy the truth, and sell it not.”
By God’s grace, in the way of holding to the truth, God’s blessing will rest upon us as individuals, families, and churches. One cannot help but think of Psalm 128 in this connection. For the individual believer there is blessedness only in the way of fearing the Lord, and walking in His ways. Husbands and wives and parents and children experience God’s blessing only in the way of fearing the Lord. Parents who faithfully instruct their children in the truth see their children grow to be mature members of the church. God blesses them with grandchildren who embrace the same truths that they do. And when the truth is faithfully taught and lived within families, there is a strong church. God promises this. Let us, young and old, “buy the truth, and sell it not.”
“Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” This is the familiar command of a father to his son found in Proverbs 23:23. This verse sets forth a very important principle, or standard, by which the child of God ought to live his life in this world.
This instruction is especially important to the young people of the church as the context of the passage proves. A father is instructing his son as to how he ought to live in a world of “sinners” (vs. 17), “winebibbers” (vs. 20), and “strange women” (vs. 33). The father is speaking to his son who, as he grows older, is beginning to leave the shelter of the home and Christian school. More and more he will be confronted with the temptations, pleasures, and ideas of the world. He is at the time in his life when he has to make many decisions which will have implications for the rest of his life. Where will he seek a spouse? What profession will he pursue? Who will his friends be? What church will he join himself to? The decisions he makes will set the pattern for the rest of his life. For them he will have to answer to God on judgment day.
Let us then examine this instruction as it applies to you, the young people of the church, as you begin to take your place in the church and in relation to the sinful world around you. We will consider four things about this command. First, what is meant by “the truth”? Second, how does one “buy” the truth? Third, how does one “sell” the truth? Finally, we will see the sad consequences for those who disobey this command and how God’s blessing rests upon those who obey this command.
First, let us observe that we read, “Buy the truth.” That is the command. We do not read, “Buy a truth,” or “Buy some truth.” No, the truth we are commanded to buy. There is only one truth. What is this truth? In John 17:17 Jesus prays for His elect to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” God’s Word, as it is recorded for us in the Bible, is the truth. In that Word, God reveals to us who He is. We confess, along with Article 7 of the Belgic Confession (the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, to be the only rule of faith), that “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.”
When we speak of truth, we mean most importantly doctrinal truth, and specifically, the doctrines of the Bible as they have been developed in the line of the Reformation. We believe those doctrines are best summarized in our three Reformed creeds, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. We confess those doctrines not only as they positively set forth the truth, but also as they stand in opposition to false doctrine, the lie. We also understand that all of the various parts of the truth are united into one whole. To deny one part of the truth will ultimately lead to a denial of the whole truth.
The Reformed faith is a grand system of doctrines which fit together into one unified whole. Take, for example, the five points of Calvinism—total depravity, unconditional election, limited (particular) atonement, irresistible (efficacious) grace, and the perseverance of the saints. All of these doctrines complement each other. All of them fit logically together. One who denies just one of these doctrines takes the first step down the slope which ultimately leads to a denial of them all.
In our own history as Protestant Reformed Churches we have also been led by the Spirit to confess the doctrine of God’s particular grace in opposition to the false doctrine of common grace. We confess the truth of God’s unconditional everlasting covenant with His people as opposed to any kind of conditional covenant. And related to our doctrine of the covenant, we confess that the marriage bond is broken only by death, and that the Bible clearly forbids remarriage while one’s spouse still lives. All of these are doctrines which we believe to be “the truth” as found in God’s Word.
When we speak of the truth, it is important to remember that we are talking about more than a mere head-knowledge of Reformed doctrine. We are referring to that by which our heart is guided, or the truth as it comes to expression in our daily walk. It will be evident by our walk of life that we are guided by the truth, that we know and love that truth. We will confess the truth and speak of it to others. Our actions will demonstrate obedience to God’s Word. We will confess, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Others will be able to see this in us.
Knowing what “the truth” is, how does one “buy” the truth? Immediately we understand that there is a sense in which we do not “buy” the truth. II Thessalonians 2:13 instructs us that we are saved “through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” That we believe and love the truth is part of our salvation and is a gift of God (vs. 10-13). God, in His sovereign good pleasure, withholds from others a “love of the truth” and belief in the truth. God is not pleased to save them. Even though the truth is plainly set forth in the Bible, and faithfully expounded to many in the preaching, and many understand that truth intellectually, because God does not give to them a love for and belief in the truth, they are not saved. God allows them to continue to take pleasure in unrighteousness.
That God works in us to love and believe His truth is not because we are more worthy objects of God’s love than those who take pleasure in unrighteousness. Of ourselves, we are dead in sins. We cannot merit anything with God (Canons III/IV, Art. 15). Furthermore, every gift that God gives has been paid for by the blood of Christ and is given freely to His people. We read in Isaiah 55:1, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Therefore, we cannot buy the truth in the sense that we merit anything with God, contribute to our salvation, or make ourselves more worthy objects of His love.
However, there is a sense in which we are commanded to “buy” the truth. In the first place, we buy the truth when we live by faith. Question 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is true faith?” The answer explains how we “buy the truth” when we are living by faith. The answer states,
True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits (emphasis added).
By faith we “buy” the truth when we live in the certain knowledge that all that God has revealed in His Word is truth. By faith we “buy” the truth when we live in the assured confidence that the promises found in that Word belong to us. We “buy” the truth when we know with a knowledge of love the truth of God’s Word, when we believe that truth, and when we confess and live that truth in the midst of a sinful world.
Secondly, we “buy” the truth when we give up certain things for it. The central thing which we must forsake when we “buy” the truth is our sins. We cannot possess the truth and lies at the same time. For example, we cannot buy the truth and walk in the sin of taking God’s name in vain. We cannot say, “Yes, I know and love the truth of God’s holiness” while continuing to walk unrepentantly in the sin of listening to music where God’s name is blasphemed. If we refuse to forsake the sin of taking God’s name in vain, then we cannot say before God that we are buying the truth of His holiness.
Thirdly, we “buy” the truth when we are willing to give up or deny ourselves certain earthly things for the sake of the truth. Because we confess the truth of the fourth commandment, we are willing to deny ourselves certain professions which we know would prevent us from diligently frequenting the church of God on the Lord’s Day. Because we love the truth of the fifth commandment we are unwilling to take jobs which would make it necessary for us to join a godless labor union.
Our love for the truth and our desire to live a life separate from sin and sinners may mean that we must end friendships with those who walk unrepentantly in sin. Perhaps these friends are relatives, or close family members, who refuse to turn from their walk in sin. Said Jesus, we must for His sake and that of the gospel be willing to leave our house, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, and land (Mark 10:29).
As Moses, we may have to deny ourselves a place of prominence and importance according to the standards of this world. Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24). By faith Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). Buying the truth will certainly mean that according to the standards of the world we will be of little importance.
Because we are busy buying the truth we will have little time for the pleasures of this world. Faithfully attending worship services, Bible studies, church functions, living in fellowship with one’s family and fellow saints, and laboring faithfully so that one might support the causes of the kingdom leaves little time or money for “living it up” in the world. Yet, as those who possess the truth, we know that we have Christ, and having Christ, we have all things.
Next time, Lord willing, we will continue to examine how we are to “buy” the truth and we will see how we are forbidden to “sell” the truth. Also, we will point out God’s blessing upon our buying the truth and the painful consequences of selling it.
In the previous article we looked at the various reasons children of God are afflicted. We also noticed how we should view God’s affliction of others. Now we hope to see how God deals mercifully with His children in affliction and how we benefit spiritually from God’s chastening.
That God sovereignly controls our afflictions is the foundation for understanding how God deals mercifully with us and how we grow spiritually from afflictions. If we do not acknowledge the Lord in all of our ways, then in our trials we will have no comfort, we will not experience God’s mercy, and we will not experience God directing our paths (Proverbs 3:6). That is why it is important for us to know and believe sound doctrine. Only those who confess God’s sovereignty, especially over every aspect of their salvation, have comfort in affliction. We confess this in the first Q & A of the Heidelberg Catechism when we say, “that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation.” Just as God works all of our salvation, from beginning to end, so does He cause every event which takes place in our lives to serve the purpose of our salvation.
That God always deals with His children in mercy, even in the way of affliction, is found in many places in God’s Word. In Psalm 103:8, 10, we read “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Apart from Christ, we would rightfully be the objects of God’s fierce anger because of our sinfulness. There is nothing that we have of ourselves that merits any favor with God. We have no right to any spiritual, much less physical gifts from God. Of ourselves, we are the deserving objects of His wrath only.
Yet, in Christ, God deals with us in mercy. The price of our sins has been paid. No longer are we the objects of God’s anger. Rather, we are the objects of His love and mercy. Because of this, God mercifully uses even the evils of this life to further our salvation. The prayer of David in Psalm 25 illustrates this. God had put David in great affliction. Said David, “The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain” (vs. 17, 18a). His enemies were many and they hated him. David’s way was very dark. Yet, the chief concern of David in all of his trials was not the difficulty of his way, but his sins. It was not the pain that he suffered or the hatred that he endured, but his sins which disturbed him the most.
“Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions” (vs. 7). “Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins” (vs. 18). To David, his sins were more unbearable than his pain. To know that his sins were forgiven was more important to him than any physical relief he may receive from his afflictions. Recognizing our sins, repenting of them, and experiencing God’s forgiveness ought to be our chief concern when we are afflicted also.
Our Catechism teaches us that in order for us to “live and die happily”, we first must know how great our sins and miseries are (Q & A 2). Secondly, we must know how we are delivered from our sins. God mercifully teaches us how great our sins and miseries are through the way of affliction. As we discussed earlier, our afflictions are a result of our sinfulness. Because of our sins, we experience pain, sorrow, distress, and difficulty. When we are afflicted, God shows us clearly the fruit of our sins. However, our consideration does not stop with only knowing our sins. We desire to turn from our sins and to experience God’s forgiving of them.
That God uses affliction to bring us to repentance is clear from Psalm 119:67, where we read, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.”
And as David in affliction prayed “forgive all my sins,” so do we (Psalm 25:18). That our chief concern in affliction is our sins does not mean that we may not desire to be delivered from the physical circumstances of our affliction. The believer is not one who desires to live in a state of misery in order only to dwell upon his sins. Rather, we are to use the occasion of God’s affliction to examine our lives while we pray “Thy will be done” concerning the physical circumstances of that affliction. God, in His time, when His will is accomplished, delivers us out of our affliction.
Because God uses affliction to teach and correct us, we spiritually benefit from the Lord’s chastening. This is the idea found in Hebrews 12:1-11. In a previous article we noticed from this passage how the believer experiences God’s chastening as a child from a loving Father. We know that we are the children of God because of the fact that we are disciplined and corrected. We profit spiritually from that chastening by being made “partakers of His holiness” (vs. 10). While chastening is never a pleasant experience for our flesh, yet God’s Word tells us that “nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (vs. 11). Calvin calls that fruit of righteousness “the fear of the Lord and a godly and holy life” (Vol. XXII, p. 320).
The godly and holy life that God produces through chastening is the positive fruit of affliction. Not only does God work a sorrow for sin and a mortification of our old man of sin, but He also works the quickening of the new man in Christ. We produce the fruit of an obedient life. Sinful thoughts and desires are put away and replaced with holy thoughts and desires. Instead of speaking sinful and vain words, our conversation becomes more edifying and builds up the brother. Instead of using our time to carry out our own selfish plans, our time is more willingly used in the service of God.
The figure found in John 15 of a vine and branches also illustrates how God uses affliction to purge us, or prune us. Just as a husbandman must cut away the parts of the branches that are dead and the parts which are fruitless, so must our Father deal with us as branches in the vine of Christ. Often our Father uses the pruning hook of affliction to cut away the dead and unfruitful areas of our spiritual life. If we are ignoring or misusing a spiritual gift He has given us, God may bring about a particular affliction in our life that causes us to use that gift for the good of His people and to the glory of His name. Perhaps God brings an affliction upon our family or upon others in the church which gives us the opportunity to use our time and resources in the service of others rather than ourselves. Always our Father is pruning us so that we produce more fruit.
When enduring afflictions, we must remember that they are “light” and “but for a moment” when compared to the glory which awaits us (II Cor. 4:17). By them our heavenly Father prepares us for the enjoyment of heaven. They are His means to conform us to the image of His Son. This is part of our comfort in affliction. Not only do we know that God sovereignly sends us various afflictions, but He also causes those afflictions to serve our salvation.
God is praised when we endure, by His grace, the afflictions He sends upon us. The faith which He gives is proved to be a genuine faith. Only that faith which is from God enables the believer to endure affliction. And that faith is strengthened by God in affliction. On the last day, our proved faith will be “found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:7). It is all God’s work. Let us thank our Father for His sovereign use of affliction for our profit.
In the previous article we examined God’s sovereign control over affliction and the difference between His judgment of the wicked and of the righteous. We saw that God’s people experience various afflictions as chastisements from a loving heavenly Father who is faithful to His covenant and who will not allow His people to walk in ways of sin.
Before we examine the question: “Why are we afflicted?” let us remember that suffering, pain, sorrow, distress, and death are a reality in this world because of sin, our sin. Because we are in the world, these evils come upon all of us. Yet, we acknowledge God’s hand in control of these evils. We know that they do not come upon us by chance, so that every once in a while we are randomly plagued by evil. Rather, we confess that our heavenly Father so controls our afflictions, that He rules when, how, and why we are afflicted.
Our Father demonstrates His faithfulness to us in the way of affliction. We confess in Psalm 119:75: “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” This is true because God’s afflictions of us are chastisements. One who is chastened is corrected. He is restrained from falling deeper into sin and restored to obedience. Spiritually, we are like sheep, always going astray. Yet, our faithful Shepherd always keeps us in His care. Further, the Lord’s faithfulness is demonstrated when, after enduring the Lord’s chastening, we emerge spiritually refined and purified.
When we are chastened by the Lord and when we endure His chastening, we know that God loves us as His sons (Hebrews 12:5-11). Just as an earthly father must discipline and correct the son he loves, so does our heavenly father correct us in the way of chastening us through affliction. What a terrible thing it would be if our heavenly Father allowed us to walk in the ways of sin without correcting us in love. How miserable our life would be without the assurance that all of the evils which come upon us are from our covenant Father who deals with us as His dear children.
Our Father chastens us for a number of reasons. First of all, we may be chastened as God’s direct response to a specific sin we were walking in or presently walk in. David, after he confessed his sins of murdering Uriah and committing adultery with Bathsheba, was chastened by God with the death of his son. We read in II Samuel 12:14, “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” David knew this act of God to be the direct result of his sins.
That God answers our disobedience with His rod of correction is the language of Psalm 89:30-32. Speaking of His covenant faithfulness, God says to the seed of David, “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes” (Psalm 89:30-32). When the Lord sent fiery serpents among His people in the wilderness it was because of their sin of speaking against the Lord (Numbers 21:5-9). After the serpents bit and killed many of them, the people confessed, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee [Moses]” (vs. 7).
Our affliction ought always to be a cause for self-examination. We know that when we are walking in a particular sin, we can expect a certain punishment from God for that sin. Take, for example, the young man who persists in the sin of being drunken. When that young man loses control of his car late at night, smashes into a tree, and ends up in the hospital, he had better understand that God is speaking loudly to him about his sin of drunkenness. God often chastens us with judgments appropriate to our sins. To close our ears to this clear speech of God is a great evil.
Secondly, we are chastened to spur our spiritual growth. While we may not be presently walking in any sin, yet it is the case that our sinfulness stunts our spiritual growth. We never walk in God’s ways as we should. Our faith becomes weak and our light becomes dim. We so easily become lazy and distracted by this world. We waste our time and do not make full use of our abilities. God then sends affliction upon us to bring us to His Word and draw us out of the world and away from our own selfish pursuits. Perhaps, God sends the evil of family strife into our life. This affliction causes us to examine ourselves and brings us to a renewed study of His Word in order that we may know His will and have wisdom and patience to endure the affliction. Perhaps the affliction He sends us causes us to better use our time and eliminate from our lives that which is unprofitable. It may be that the affliction God sends causes us to use a God-given gift which we had neglected. Then we confess, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
Thirdly, we may experience affliction as the direct result of our obedience. “Take, by brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (James 5:10). The prophets experienced the afflictions of poverty, hunger, pain, loneliness, sorrow, and persecution because of their obedience to God. This is our experience in life also. It is often the case that confessing the truth about Christ will cause us much difficulty in this life. We will be mocked. We will have to endure the hatred of many, even close family members. The way of the believer in this world is never an easy way. Yet, our heavenly Father uses also these afflictions to draw us closer to Him and remind us that we are His sons.
While our afflictions must always be the occasion for self-examination, we must be careful in how we judge God’s affliction of others. It is easy for us to view the afflictions of others as God’s punishment of them for their sins. How we view God’s dealings with others ought to be restrained by the lessons taught in John 9:1-3. There we read:
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin writes that one of the lessons to be taken from it is that we “learn to be quick in discerning our own evils rather than those of others” (Vol. 17, p. 364). Later in his commentary on this passage Calvin writes, that God has sometimes another object in view than to punish the sins of men, when he sends afflictions to them. Consequently, when the causes of affliction are concealed, we ought to restrain curiosity, that we may neither dishonour God nor be malicious towards our brethren.
Therefore, when observing the afflictions of fellow believers, our main concern ought not to be why God deals with them in the way He does. Rather, we ought to see the glorious works of God in strengthening them in their afflictions and in delivering them from their afflictions. Just as the sickness and death of Lazarus was “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby,” so does God use all of the afflictions of His people for the glory of His name in Christ (John 11:4).
Knowing that our afflictions serve the purpose of the glory of God, we are able to endure them. We know that they come from His hand. We know that He sends them in love to chasten us. We also know that the purpose of God in those afflictions is good. Our confession is that of James 5:11, “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
Next time, Lord willing, we hope to focus more on how God deals mercifully with us in our afflictions and how we benefit from them to the glory of His name.
The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]
As we examined the first eleven chapters of Genesis last month, we took note of the fact that the book of Genesis is theological, meaning it helps us to grow in our knowledge of God. In addition, we noted that the book of Genesis is historical, meaning that the events chronicled in it are the […]
Who am I? What is my purpose on this earth? Why is everything the way that it is? These are the kinds of questions that often trouble young people as they become more independent from their parents, enter the world of college or career, and make major life decisions such as choosing a spouse, a […]
The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]
The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]
This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]
Although it’s been a couple of months since we’ve been immersed in news coming from Japan about the 2020/2021 Olympic games, it’s still worth considering how these events are understood in the modern worldview of our country. The “Top Story of the Day” on Monday, August 9 (at least according to my newsfeed), was how […]
One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]
At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]
The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]