R.C. Sproul's Blog, page 4
August 4, 2014
Breakdowns in fellowship can be gut-wrenching events in the life of Christian churches. When we part unhappily with other members of Christ's body, we can say with Robert E. Lee, at the death of General Jackson, "I have lost my right arm" (Cf. 1 Cor. 12:25-26).
Often, when someone leaves a church, the leaders who conduct the exit interview are confronted with the thought: "If only we could have talked about this earlier."
But what if we could take what we learn from church exit interviews, and ask with Paul, "How ought we conduct ourselves in the house of God?" (1 Tim. 3:15). Those who trust in Christ, and love God and their neighbor, must also pursue certain traits which will strengthen and enrich church life for themselves and others.
Church members are bound to use "wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim. 6:3). Failure to do so is a sign of moral degeneracy (1 Tim. 5:12-13) and almost always spells trouble for church unity.
Among other things, wholesome church communication includes a refusal to gossip. In contrast to how believers sometimes talk about other church members, Paul writes about his fellow gospel laborers in glowing terms. Tychicus is a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord. Epaphras is a zealous bondservant of Christ. Luke is the beloved physician (Col. 4:7-14). What would happen in our churches if we refused to speak ill of others, despite their undeniable faults?
Reflecting the words of Christ also requires that we not let problems fester. Often, when church members finally communicate their ecclesiastical unhappiness, the damage is irreparable. Had they spoken sooner, and persevered longer, many wrongs might have been righted.
Clear, direct, and timely church communication can be intimidating. But believers must bring concerns to fellow church members, and leaders, as if to beloved fathers, brothers, mothers, or sisters (1 Tim. 5:1,2), speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We must believe that church family members care enough about each other's hurts to listen and respond appropriately.
According to Paul, good doctrine, heartily imbibed, nourishes the soul (1:10, 4:6, 16). Held in common, doctrine also unites believers. The historic Christian confessions do more than summarize Scripture. They also provide a unifying expression of the faith for those who might have little else in common.
Until a person develops biblical convictions about salvation, worship, and the church (for example), they will be tossed about by every wind of doctrine and by the allure of the next best church. And surely these convictions can take time to develop. Many people visit churches for non-theological reasons. They might be intrigued by the website or respond to a friend's invitation. They might appreciate a church's hospitality, singing, or proximity. But these reasons will keep few people in a church. Eventually, a church's "cultural strengths" can lose their magnetism. A shared confession of faith has a stronger holding power.
For this reason all believers must learn to think like theologians. Not everyone will read difficult theological works. But we all must know what we believe and why. Could you distinguish between an Arminian and Calvinistic concept of the gospel? Do you have a biblical view of creeds? Do you have a sound theology of worship?
A congregation that is held together only by geography–or even theology–will never be a biblical family. When Paul talks about right conduct in the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15), the house he's referring to isn't a church building it's a household, the new family God has constituted in Christ (Eph. 2:19). Though this family is already a living organism, the members must learn to live together. When Paul speaks of the importance of hospitality in the church (1 Tim. 3:2), he's calling for the church to be a loving and close-knit community which is committed to lodging strangers, washing the saints' feet, and relieving the afflicted (1 Tim. 5:10).
Building community requires that we not be ruled by past experiences. Many of us have been disappointed in an effort to develop close church friendships. We may have tried, and seemingly failed, to get to know our pastor, elders, and other church members. Don't let an unhappy history determine future church relationships. When Christ reconciled us to Himself He gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). Keep working at that ministry.
In warning against church arguments, Paul heralds this truth: "Now godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 3:6). Some people do not become settled and serving members of a church because they lack contentment. Usually discontent is characterized by a disproportionate focus on a church's shortcomings and an unwillingness to work constructively toward a brighter future. The fallout from unhappy, uninvolved, and critical members can be crippling.
The church does have spots and blemishes. Your pastor isn't going to visit you as often as you'd like, or always preach the kind of sermons your family wants. The programs aren't going to address your every need. The music isn't going to reflect the kind of repertoire you might prefer. You will be hurt and disappointed. But Christ is building His church and He knows exactly what He's doing.
The first step in developing healthy church membership is finding rest for our weary souls in the One who is building the church (Matt. 11:28-29). After lauding contentment, Paul urges believers to consider the appearing of our Lord Jesus (1 Tim. 6:14). With reference to deep struggles Paul speaks of the exceeding abundance of God's grace (1 Tim. 1:14). With grace for today and hope for tomorrow, each of us can press on toward more Christ-like conduct in the house of God.
Rev. William Boekestein is pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, Pa. He is author of a forthcoming biography of Ulrich Zwingli published by EP Books.
Until the end of August, Reformation Trust is giving away the ebook edition of R.C. Sproul's Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life.
In Surprised by Suffering, R.C. Sproul argues that we should expect pain and sorrow in this life. Some are actually called to a "vocation" of suffering, and all of us are called to undergo the ultimate suffering of death. God promises in His Word that difficult times will come upon us, but He also promises that He allows suffering for our good and His glory, and He will never give us more than we can bear with His help.
Surprised by Suffering offers biblical counsel and comfort for those undergoing suffering and for those who minister to the suffering, counsel that can help believers stand in times of trial with faith in a God who is both loving and good.
"It's a real gift to the church when a seasoned theologian, with insights gained from years of personal experience and biblical study, handles a tough topic like suffering. Here you will find the wisdom of biblical perspective combined with the eternal hope of the gospel leading you to greater rest in your Savior, even in times of trouble. I am thankful for the new edition of this book."
—Paul David Tripp
Available in August as a Free Download
from the Ligonier Store;
and from iTunes.
Not sure how to download an eBook? See our FAQ section.
Offer expires August 31, 2014.
August 2, 2014
It's time for our weekly $5 Friday sale. This week's resources cover such topics as the Reformation, ethics, the gospel, abortion, apologetics, and more.
Sale runs through 12:01 a.m. — 11:59 p.m. Friday ET.
Though it may be counterintuitive, it is nevertheless true—we have more privacy in the big city than we do in the country. There is actually a converse ratio between people per square mile and anonymity levels. In the city, even though we are cheek by jowl, we have precious little interaction and what we do have remains strictly surface. In the country, though we may be as far from each other as to very far away things, we notice things, follow events in each others lives, even, truth be told, talk about each other. Many have known to follow the high praise of country living, "Everyone knows your name," with the bitter complaint, "and everyone knows your business."
While I stand opposed to the sin of gossip, I stand to speak in favor of knowing our neighbors. I know, having spent more than half my life in the country, that there is a gracious restraint that comes from having your neighbors know you. I was regularly informed on by neighbors I barely knew, but who knew me, and called my parents from time to time to bring them up to speed. Even more often I was kept from reportable sins precisely because I knew word would get back.
I'm not arguing that we need to all move to the country. I do, however, want to suggest that there is a parallel here with mega-churches. Like mega-cities, monstrous churches not only carry the temptation of invisibility, but such is one of their selling points. I've read polls where one key reason why people like their local mega-church is, "You can show up, sit down, and when it's over go home. And no one bothers you." Ouch. Any church receiving such an endorsement ought to blush.
There are, of course, benefits to large churches. There are also, I suspect, certain strategies that can be done to combat anonymity of congregants in a large church. But if there are such strategies, they don't come to pass by accident. And, I suspect, if these methods are practiced, mega-churches will quickly become ordinary churches. If people are buying the opportunity to worship incognito, they will stop buying when we stop making it available.
Paul describes the church as a body. He reminds us that because we are a body, the eye cannot say to the ear, "I have no need of you." How much less can the eye say to the ear, "You have no need of me." Indeed, how can the eye and the ear even speak to each other if they don't even know each other's names? That, I would argue, is a nice, organic way to estimate when a church has gotten too big. If I don't even know the names of those sitting beside me in the pew, I'm pretty sure I'll find it difficult to do a great job of living out the one anothers.
We are all in different circumstances. I know of one church, in fact, that found itself with a sudden influx, in just one day, of three thousand members. I don't suspect, however, that they built a bigger building, or piped in video of a mega-pastor. Nor do I suspect that the 3,000 were allowed to show up, watch the show, and slip out unaccosted. Instead, they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
We give thanks for our Ministry Partners and all those who pray for and support the kingdom outreach of Ligonier Ministries. This is encouraging. Jesus' command in the Great Commission to go and disciple the nations was never meant to be carried out in isolation from one another. Some send, some go—and God gets all the glory (Rom. 10:15, 11:36; 1 Cor. 3:6–8).
The Ligonier team works hard to come up with new and better ways to serve all of our Ligonier students as they extend their own ministry outreach. For instance, many of you probably have cassette or VHS editions of Ligonier teaching resources around the house or perhaps in your church's library. Digital editions of these resources would likely be much more convenient for you or your church, and so we've come up with a way to make these resources available to you in a digital format. We now makes it possible for you to have free access to digital copies of every series you own. Simply visit your Learning Library, which is accessible on your personalized account page. If we've produced digital copies of any of your past purchases, they will automatically appear in your account. Download or stream the files right from your Learning Library. If you need help accessing this new feature or don't see a resource that you own, simply give our resource consultants a call at 800-435-4343 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lord has worked through the support of our Ministry Partners to undergird many new outreach initiatives in 2014. Our recent #TruthAtTheCup outreach enabled the distribution of 140,000 gospel-centered booklets to attendees of the World Cup in Brazil. We even sent a small team to several cities in Brazil to serve alongside local churches, missionaries, and indigenous ministries—all with a view to gearing up for an even larger Christian ministry outreach for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
This blog post might never end if I explained in detail everything else we are working on for you and others. Here is a brief overview to help inform your prayers:
The extensive update for The Reformation Study Bible continues to move forward. We aim to head to production in early winter for release in the English Standard Version before the spring of 2015 and for a fall release of the New King James Version the same year. There is much work still to do and considerable expense will be incurred during the multiple printings of this key resource.
RefNet continues to grow in reach even as we make improvements to the daily broadcast schedule.
Speaking of broadcasting, we have launched a new home for our signature broadcast, Renewing Your Mind. Take a moment and please bookmark RenewingYourMind.org for daily Christian teaching.
We are eager for you to read the new book on John Owen releasing this October from Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Reformation Trust. It heads to production this month. Plus, this summer we crossed the mark of more than 1.2 million free copies distributed of the Crucial Questions booklet series.
Dr. R.C. Sproul has been working with an award-winning composer to produce a landmark work of new hymns. Recordings are taking place in Seattle, Phoenix, Orlando, and even internationally in London and Canterbury, England. We can't wait for you to hear this project when it is released at a debut concert preceding next year's National Conference. The concert will be free for Ministry Partners, and it will be held at Saint Andrew's Chapel on February 18, 2015.
The 2015 National Conference will be February 19–21, and for the first time it will be held at a resort on the Disney property. (Our normal location is undergoing renovations and unavailable next year.) The speakers and venue are outstanding. We hope to see you there.
Later this fall we will launch the next phase for Here We Stand: The Campaign for Ligonier Ministries . Dr. Sproul and the leadership at Ligonier have worked diligently to present the future vision and scope for what we need to accomplish on our ministry campus in order to reach more people worldwide. This includes providing the distinctive education offered at Reformation Bible College, which many young adults are seeking.
Before the end of the year, we plan to share the illuminating results from our first Ligonier-commissioned National Theological Awareness Survey. As you will see, the results demonstrate the ongoing relevance of our outreach and your vital support.
We trust you were rejoicing with us last spring at God's provision of new leadership at Ligonier Academy and Reformation Bible College. Along with Dr. Sproul's new role as chancellor, we announced Dr. Stephen J. Nichols as president of Reformation Bible College and the chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries. Additionally, to help ensure that these institutions remain faithful to Dr. Sproul's theological vision, Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. was appointed rector of theology and chair of the department of philosophy and theology. His firsthand knowledge of Dr. Sproul's teaching will serve the ministry well. Also, Dr. L. Michael Morales was promoted to chair of biblical studies for RBC after years of faithful service as the college's provost. We are grateful for his past guidance and look forward to his future contributions to the college. Finally, Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson was appointed dean of the doctor of ministry program at Ligonier Academy last fall. His pastoral experience and academic excellence will be invaluable as we seek to provide further training to pastors around the world. We ask that you pray for these men as we move forward in educating current and future Christian leaders for the glory of Christ and the good of His church.
Both on Ligonier's campus and around the world, faithful prayers, support, and partnership is fueling faithful Great Commission work. We are in this together.
July 31, 2014
To further help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it, in May 2013 we made the ebook editions of R.C. Sproul's Crucial Questions series free forever. We continue to publish new ebooks in this series and this year have added Are These the Last Days?, What Is Repentance?, and What Is the Relationship between Church and State?
Here is a complete list of the free ebooks in the Crucial Questions series:
Are These the Last Days? (iTunes) NEW
Can I Be Sure I'm Saved? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Can I Have Joy in My Life? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Can I Know God's Will? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Can I Trust the Bible? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Does God Control Everything? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Does Prayer Change Things? (Kindle) (iTunes)
How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience? (Kindle)
How Should I Live in this World? (Kindle) (iTunes)
What Can I Do with My Guilt? (Kindle) (iTunes)
What Does It Mean to be Born Again? (Kindle) (iTunes)
What Is Baptism? (Kindle) (iTunes)
What Is Faith? (Kindle) (iTunes)
What Is Repentance? (iTunes) NEW
What Is the Church? (Kindle)
What Is the Lord's Supper? (Kindle)
What Is the Relationship between Church and State? (iTunes) NEW
What Is the Trinity? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Who Is Jesus? (Kindle) (iTunes)
Who Is the Holy Spirit? (Kindle) (iTunes)
You can also download the free collection from Logos.
Please share these resources with your church, family, and friends. Not sure how to download an eBook? Please see our FAQ section.
July 30, 2014
People ask, "Does prayer change God's mind?" To ask such a question is to answer it. What kind of God could be influenced by my prayers? What could my prayers do to induce Him to change His plans? Could I possibly give God any information about anything that He doesn't already have? Or could I persuade Him toward a more excellent way by my superior wisdom? Of course not. I am completely unqualified to be God's mentor or His guidance counselor. So the simple answer is that prayer does not change God's mind.
But suppose we ask the question of the relationship between God's sovereignty and our prayers in a slightly different way: "Does prayer change things?" Now the answer is an emphatic "Yes!" The Scriptures tell us that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). This text declares that prayer is effectual. It is not a pious exercise in futility. That which is futile avails nothing. Prayer, however, avails much. That which avails much is never futile.
"There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.' (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, 'How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?' (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)" (John 4:7-9)
In John 4:7-9, Jesus crossed three barriers. The first was that which separated Samaritans from Jews. In the eighth century BC, the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and deported the Israelites who lived there. In their place, the Assyrians brought other peoples to populate the land (see 2 Kings 17:24). These Gentiles sought to worship both the gods of their homelands and the local deity, the God of the Israelites, so they mixed the religions. This was a grave offense to the Jews, and over the centuries their hatred only grew as the Samaritans developed their own brand of Judaism. Because of this resentment, most Jews traveling between Jerusalem and Galilee went the long way around Samaria and carefully avoided personal contact with Samaritan people. Rabbi Eliezer taught, "He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine." So the first barrier Jesus crossed was a barrier of ethnic and cultural hatred.
This Samaritan was also a woman. It may not seem scandalous to us for a man to sit at a well with a woman, but it certainly was in Jesus' day. Religious Jewish men used to thank God daily that they had not been born Samaritans, but they also prayed, "Blessed art thou, O Lord . . . who hast not made me a woman." A rabbi would lose his reputation if he spoke publicly to any woman, even his own wife or daughter. Yet Jesus unashamedly crossed that gender barrier.
Third, Jesus overcame a social and religious taboo by asking for a drink. Jews did not share utensils with Samaritans; doing so risked separation from the fellowship and worship of God's people under the temple rules. But Jesus deliberately crossed that line, too. Even the woman was astonished by this, asking, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (v. 9).
Why did Jesus cross these barriers? Because He cared for the woman's soul. We, too, have to cross barriers to reach people for Christ. This does not mean that we should participate in sin—Jesus never did that. But it does mean that we have to reach out to people who will never come to church or read the Bible. This woman did not belong in the religious world that produced Jesus. So He came into her world with the gospel. He crossed ethnic, gender, and religious lines to seek her out. William Barclay exclaims, "Here is God so loving the world, not in theory, but in action." We must do the same on His behalf.
In His exchange with Nicodemus, Jesus gave us a very negative explanation for unbelief: He said that people love darkness and hate light (John 3:19), so they have no interest in Christ. But more of the story is shown in John 4. Many people are kept from God simply because they think they don't belong at church. They assume that believers will look down on them. Moreover, they feel uncomfortable in religious surroundings, the way a Samaritan would have felt in Jerusalem. For all these reasons, they are not likely to come to us, so we have to take the gospel to them.
July 28, 2014
Here are highlights from our various Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past week.
In hardship or decline, God is on His throne working out all things according to the good pleasure of His will: http://t.co/3epqphgU2R
— Ligonier Ministries (@Ligonier) July 23, 2014
— 5MinInChurchHistory (@5ChurchHistory) July 23, 2014
Idolatry is when you worship what you should use, and use what you should worship. —G.K. Chesteron
— Tabletalk Magazine (@Tabletalk) July 23, 2014
You can now stream RC Sproul's 10-part series on the Apostles’ Creed for free: http://t.co/xScEGI49QV
— Ligonier Ministries (@Ligonier) July 24, 2014
How do we know that God has elected us before the creation of the world? By believing in Jesus Christ. —John Calvin http://t.co/xiWXIehpm2
— Reformation Trust (@RefTrust) July 24, 2014
Facebook Post by Ligonier Connect.
Facebook Post by Tabletalk Magazine.
In recent years, there has been a renewal of interest in the work of Satan. Hollywood has given us a host of films to whet our appetite for the satanic. Within Christian circles, there has arisen a concern for ministries of deliverance. Some of these deliverance ministries have developed a bizarre and radically unbiblical view of demon possession and deliverance.
For example, we hear that particular demons cause particular sins. There is, they say, a demon of alcohol, a demon of depression, a demon of tobacco, and so on. Others say we can recognize the departure of a demon from a human soul by a manifest sign that is linked to the particular point of bondage. I have listened to recorded talks from well-known deliverance ministers (whose names I will not mention, to protect the guilty) in which they teach the signs of departure of the demon. A sigh, for example, indicates the departure of the demon of tobacco. Since the tobacco demon enters with the inhalation of smoke, he leaves with an audible exhale. Likewise, vomiting may be the sign of departure of the demon of alcohol. There are demons for every conceivable sin. Not only must each one of these demons be exorcized, but there are necessary procedures to keep them from returning on a daily basis.
I know of no polite way to respond to this kind of teaching. It is unmitigated nonsense. Nowhere in sacred Scripture is there to be found the slightest hint of this kind of demonic diagnosis. These teachings cross the line into the sphere of magic and result in serious harm to believers who are duped by them. Sadly, too much concern with Satan and demons means that we focus less of our attention on Christ. That must please Satan, and it is certainly not pleasing to God.
The Scriptures indicate that Satan can oppress us, assault us, tempt us, slander us, and accuse us. But a Christian who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit cannot be possessed by a demon. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). If a person indwelled by the Holy Spirit can at the same time be sovereignly controlled by an evil spirit, then our redemption is meaningless.
All this emphasis on Satan and demons tends to distract us from another very real menace, our own sin. Yes, there is a Devil. There are real demons. But there is also the reality of sin. Satan may be our accomplice in our ongoing sin, but we cannot pass the blame and responsibility for our sin to a controlling demon. We do not have to be possessed by a demon to get drunk. There is enough abiding wickedness in us to do it all by ourselves. We can never say, "The Devil made me do it." We can say that we are tempted, incited, or seduced by Satan, but not that we are controlled or coerced by him.
There are two serious problems with the view that our sins are the result of controlling demons. The first is that we yield to the temptation to take no personal responsibility for our sin. How can we be responsible if in fact we are not able to resist? Second, we are lured into thinking that we are powerless without the aid of the deliverance minister. We are encouraged to think that we are not really guilty and that we are actually helpless without a minister with special powers of deliverance. This negates the entire biblical concept of sanctification. It is surely unbiblical to teach that we cannot lead lives pleasing to God unless some so-called expert on deliverance comes to our side. Therefore, I say with all urgency that believers must turn away from those who teach such things. Indeed, we should run for our spiritual lives.