I have found that I have personally become quite exercised about some of the various methods and practices that are employed within the popular American evangelical community. Sometimes I have, through introspection, wondered if my offense was based upon my preference and these evangelicals’ divergent view of ministry. In other words, I wondered if my issue was chiefly my offense or God’s.
So in effort to have clean hands, a clear conscience and pure motives I examined this, and tried to understand what in the world contemporary evangelicalism is doing. And you know what? I’m offended. But now more than ever I feel that my offense is rooted in the attack upon God’s method for accomplishing his own end.
I have gone to these churches whether in here in Omaha or in Saddleback CA to the ‘church-growth’ Mecca, or to my television watching smiling preachers, or to the South to visit the Arminian Southern Baptist culture, and wherever I go I find myself concluding that I really don’t think these churches exist for the purpose of undermining God. I really don’t. Perhaps I am wrong, but I really think that a lot of these people wanted to reach more people for Jesus. But my question is what are they reaching them with and what are they producing?
In this post I am not going to go after anyone in particular, nor am I going to cite specific examples. Instead, today I am going to point out God’s methodology for sanctification and then draw a couple of conclusions. Tomorrow my aim is to do the same with evangelism.
God has prescribed that his children are to be built up into the image of his son Jesus. Conformity to Jesus is God’s main point in everything he does with the elect (cf. Rom. 8.29). Well how does he accomplish this? God sanctifies his children through the word of God. Listen to these verses for just a sampling of what the Bible says about this:
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17.17)
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; (Psalm 19.7a)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2.1-3)
In particular the NT church is uniquely and supremely gifted with the means for accomplishing this work of sanctification. Christ has endowed his church, of which he is the Head, with particular gifts and the blueprint for accomplishing the divine desire of Christ likeness. He gave apostles and prophets to lay the foundation (Eph. 2.22; 4.11) and then evangelists, pastors and teachers to continue to build upon this foundation (Eph. 4.11).
In this building up or growing up of the body the unmistakable tool is the word of God. We read in Ephesians 4 about what the word is to produce, “unity”(v.13), maturity that matches Christ’s (v.13), discernement and protection from false doctrine (v.14), growing into the image of Christ (v.15), and the whole body working together with the goal of mutual edification in love (v.16).
The standard that God has established is unmistakably high, however, the means provided are unmistakably able! The pastor who is called by God is called to equip the children of God (v.12) with the end that they would be built up into the stature that belongs to the Son of God (v.13).
God has spoken clearly here in his word; the goal of sanctification is Christ and the means is the proclamation and reception of the word. There is no plan B. There is simply no other option.
So what must one conclude when you find more meat at a Catholic fish fry than the average evangelical pulpit on a Sunday morning?
It is really not that difficult. If the image of Jesus is the goal of sanctification (and it is) and the word of God is the means by which God uses to accomplish this (and it is) then we must conclude one or a combination of the following three options as to why the word is so neglected, shielded, and abused today..
1) Pastors and Churches do not know that the word is what produces mature (Christ like) Christians.
2) Pastors and Churches do not believe that the word is what brings maturity.
3) Pastors and Churches do not chiefly value maturity (Christ likeness)
Any one of these three are reproachable. God has spoken clearly in his word and articulated the means and the goal of sanctification. Anything less than submission to his will is sin. This creativity in sanctification is not cute or admirable but instead it is despicably insulting to the God who gave his son “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” Ephesians 5:26-27
Anything less than conformity to God’s program is to undermine it and to insult the cross of the Savior who bled and died upon it to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1.21)