The Word-less “Church”

W. Robert Godfrey: Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs? What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help

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10 Things You Should Know about Church Membership

Sam Storms: Membership in a local church is very much in the minds of Christians these days. Is it biblical? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? These and other questions lead to the following ten things you should know about what church membership means and entails. [In addition to my own research, I’ve drawn heavily on the writings of John Piper, Michael McKinley, Jim Elliff, Mark Dever, and Kevin DeYoung.] Perhaps the best place to begin is by asking the question: What do you want from your local church? I assume, first of all, that you want a local church where you can be known and loved and cared for by other Christians. There is, after all, no such thing as an “anonymous-lone-ranger-Christian” in the NT. You can certainly remain anonymous if you want to. It’s easier to do in a church of several thousand where you can slip in on a Sunday morning and sit along the wall and

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How Corporate Worship Strengthens Weary Saints

J. Garrett Kell: When my church gathers, it appears we have little in common. Our skin colors vary. Our political tastes differ. Cultural backgrounds have ingrained us with diverse identities. We have distinct preferences and convictions. Yet, we have two realities that bind us together. The first is our love for the Lord Jesus. Though each salvation story is unique, we bear the marks of his divine love. He died for us, rose for us, called us, converted us, and continues to hold us fast by his grace. We love him for this, and so we gather to worship him. Secondly, we all suffer. I have my own scars, as do the rest of these heavenly pilgrims. While I preach, I see their faces tell a story. Or when they sing, sometimes I hear and sense the hurts and pain of God’s people. Why Gather? As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking with many through their pain. Miscarriages.

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The Gospel Is Not Just for Unbelievers, but Also for Believers

D.A. Carson: The gospel is not a minor theme that deals with the point of entry into the Christian way, to be followed by a lot of material that actually brings about the life transformation. Very large swaths of evangelicalism simply presuppose that this is the case. Preaching the gospel, it is argued, is announcing how to be saved from God’s condemnation; believing the gospel guarantees you won’t go to hell. But for actual transformation to take place, you need to take a lot of discipleship courses, spiritual enrichment courses, “Go deep” spiritual disciplines courses, and the like. You need to learn journaling, or asceticism, or the simple lifestyle, or Scripture memorization; you need to join a small group, an accountability group, or a women’s Bible study. Not for a moment would I speak against the potential for good of all of these steps; rather, I am speaking against the tendency to treat these as postgospel disciplines, disciplines divorced from

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What is the gospel?

    Justin Taylor: Don Carson’s lengthy chapter in For the Fame of God’s Name is entitled, “What Is the Gospel?—Revisited.” Below is a substantial section where he interacts with and builds upon Greg Gilbert’s analysis in What Is the Gospel?. All that the canonical Gospels say must be read in the light of the plotline of these books: they move inevitably toward Jesus’ cross and resurrection, which provides forgiveness and the remission of sins. That is why it is so hermeneutically backward to try to understand the teaching of Jesus in a manner cut off from what he accomplished; it is hermeneutically backward to divorce the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels from the plotline of the Gospels. A more helpful analysis of the problem of defining how broad or how focused the gospel is comes from a series of posts by Greg Gilbert on the 9Marks blog. He argues that some passages where “gospel” is used focus on the message a person must

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What Is the “Church”?

Justin Taylor: Gregg Allison, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides the following definition of the church his book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 29–30. [Bullets, brackets, italics, and formatting are mine.] The church is: the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit. It consists of two interrelated elements: [1] The universal church is the fellowship of all Christians that extends from the day of Pentecost until the second coming, incorporating both the deceased believers who are presently in heaven and the living believers from all over the world. This universal church becomes manifested in local churches characterized by seven attributes: [Origin and Orientation] doxological oriented to the glory of God logocentric centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture

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What is “the gospel of the kingdom”?

9Marks: It’s very popular these days to talk about “the gospel of the kingdom.” Many people claim that when Jesus came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23) he was preaching a message about the overthrow of evil government powers, the transformation of society, and the lifting up of the poor. All kinds of revolutionaries can get behind these ideas. But is that what the Bible means when it speaks about the gospel of the kingdom? Not exactly. When Philip the evangelist preached “the good news about the kingdom of God,” men and women believed and were baptized (Acts 8:12). This “gospel of the kingdom” called them to turn from their sin, trust in Jesus Christ and begin a new life, symbolized by baptism. On the other hand, when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God coming near (Mk. 1:15), he is referring to something truly revolutionary. He means that with his own coming to earth, God’s saving rule and

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Five words of hope in the face of horrific evil and pain

Denny Burk: When horrific evil and terror unfold before our very eyes, there is a temptation to lose sight of the verities that ought to sustain and comfort us. Here are some words of hope to cling to. Hold them close. 1. God is good all the time. “O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8). “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, And His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Ps. 106:1). “The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9). 2. God is near to the broken-hearted. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “He heals the brokenhearted, And binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). “But as for

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10 Things You Should Know about Charles Spurgeon

Michael Reeves: 1. His ministry began in the year of his conversion as a young man. Spurgeon was raised in a Christian home, but was converted in 1850 at fifteen years old. Caught in a snowstorm, he took refuge in a small Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester. After about ten minutes, with only twelve to fifteen people present, the preacher fixed his eyes on Spurgeon and spoke to him directly: “Young man, you look very miserable.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” Spurgeon later wrote, ‘Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.’ 1 The ‘Prince of Preachers’ was tricked into preaching his first sermon that same year. An older man had asked Spurgeon to go to the little village of Teversham the next evening, “for a young man was to preach there who was not much

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There Are No Shortcuts to Growth

R.C. Sproul: I’m still amazed whenever I see the bumper sticker that reads, “Visualize world peace.” The idea is that if I, and enough other people, create the right mental picture of peace, it will soon come to pass. It’s astounding that some people actually believe that silly technique will bring about such a desirable goal. Then, there’s the popular “Coexist” bumper sticker. You may have seen it, the one spelled out with the symbols of different religions—the Islamic crescent forming the C, the Christian cross forming the T, and so on. The idea seems to be that if we religious people would just stop focusing on our differences, we could achieve world harmony. If we understood that our beliefs are all ultimately the same, all of the problems of war and strife would go away. The funny thing is, we’ll reject such sentiments when they appear on a bumper sticker, but we’ll accept them elsewhere. How many business seminars promise increased

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What Is God’s Holy Mountain?

T. Desmond Alexander: God’s Holy Mountain The concept of God living on a holy mountain is a significant theme in the Old Testament. However, this same theme frames the entire Bible. It begins with the garden of Eden in Genesis and ends with New Jerusalem in Revelation. In Genesis the elevated location of the garden of Eden is indicated by the fact that a single river flows out of Eden, before dividing to become four rivers. Genesis 2:10–14 provides a short and enigmatic description of these rivers. While there is some uncertainty about the identity of all four rivers, the description implies that the garden of Eden occupies a raised position in the middle of the world. In keeping with this picture, the prophet Ezekiel designates Eden as both “the garden of God” and “the holy mountain of God” (Ezek. 28:13–16). A New City Leaping to the New Testament, the concept of a holy mountain city is linked to New

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Kiss the Wave

Tim Challies: None of us makes it through life without suffering. None of us escapes physical pain, emotional distress, or spiritual agony. At some times and in some ways, we all suffer. No wonder, then, that so many authors have turned to the subject. As Christians, we are well-served with books to help us suffer well and books that help us grapple with the deeper theological questions that inevitably arise in the midst of our darkness. New to the market is Dave Furman’s Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials. The title is drawn from a quote generally attributed to Charles Spurgeon: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Furman explains, “When I am in the midst of suffering, I am doing my best just to keep my head above water as the stormy waves of suffering crash over me. I have often longed to be lifted out of the rough and

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Don’t Forsake the Public Reading of Scripture

By Justin Borger: Bible reading has become a largely private practice—something we do in our own personal “quiet time.” A few verses, or perhaps as much as a chapter, are often read before the sermon on Sunday morning. But when was the last time you heard multiple chapters or, better yet, a whole book of the Bible publicly read aloud from beginning to end? This has become a relatively rare experience in the church. However, the public reading of Scripture is one of the most ancient, time-honored practices of God’s people that is recorded in Scripture. It is a practice that is repeatedly described and commended at crucial moments in redemptive history, from the very beginning to the very end of the Bible. In fact, it is something that God’s people are specifically commanded to do with devotion. As Paul told Timothy, his young pastoral protégé, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13, emphasis added). PUBLIC SCRIPTURE READING IN

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10 Things You Should Know about Suffering

Dave Furman: 1. Suffering is a result of the fall. God warned Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would result in death (Gen 2). Romans 5:12 confirms that this happened after Adam’s fall, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death (and the accompanying pain and suffering) came as a result of that first sin and our continued sin. Pain, suffering, and death—in and of themselves—are not good. 2. God uses suffering for good. Thankfully, Romans 8 tells us “That for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God never tells us our pain is good, but he uses pain to work for our good in his miraculous and mysterious way. One of the ways God uses pain is to wake us up and bring up to himself. Our tendency in

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The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down

Al Mohler: This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution. We long for revolution. Something within us cries out that the world is horribly broken and must be fixed. For centuries, the word revolution was scarcely heard, buried under ages of oppression. The word itself was feared and speaking it was treason. And then, revolutions seemed to appear almost everywhere. Some historians have gone so far as to identify our modern epoch as “The Age of Revolution.” Is it? Perhaps it is more accurate to refer to our times as “The Age of Failed Revolution.” Looking across the landscape it becomes clear that very few revolutions produce what they promise. Arguably, most revolutions lead to a worse set of conditions than they replaced. And yet, we still yearn for radical change, for things to be made right. We rightly long to see righteousness and truth and

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Three things to know about union with Christ

Timothy W. Massaro: The phrase, “union with Christ,” has enjoyed a recent resurgence of interest. This important element of Scripture was something that I only came to understand in part within the last ten years of being a Christian. Until recently, it never really struck me how important this doctrine was for my whole outlook on Christianity, and especially how we as Christians relate to Jesus. Union with Christ represents the sum of our salvation, fellowship, and communion with Jesus. From the early days of creation, the goal that God had in mind was ever-deepening fellowship with his people. This communion is emphasized over and over again in the New Testament as what we now have through God’s Son. The Bible points to our union with Christ with the prepositional phrase “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4; 11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 5, 6:1–23; 1 Cor. 15:35–58). Through the Holy Spirit who gives us faith, we are united to Christ like branches

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A Biblical Theology of the City of God

T. Desmond Alexander: What Is the City of God? The apostle John’s vision of a gigantic, golden city brings the book of Revelation to a dramatic conclusion. The vision recorded in Revelation 21:1-22:5 forms the climax to a series of amazing visions that reveal through rich imagery God’s plans for humanity and the world. The descent of this extraordinary city from heaven to earth marks the goal of God’s creative and redemptive activity. John’s vision of the city abounds with imagery drawn from the rest of Scripture. Elements of the Garden of Eden reappear in Revelation 21-22, especially the tree of life (Rev. 22:2; Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24). Importantly, in New Jerusalem the consequences of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden are fully reversed. People are no longer barred from eating of the tree’s life-renewing fruit. God and humans enjoy each other’s presence, living together in perfect harmony. God’s Original Plan The creation of New Jerusalem does not occur as an

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The Comfort and Security of Knowing that God is in Control

Sam Storms: It’s not easy today to remain hopeful and encouraged and confident about the future of our society and the world as a whole. Things are a mess. For every one step forward it seems like we take two steps backwards. For every victory that is won for truth and morality and the Christian faith, it seems as if there is a multitude of defeats. In his excellent commentary on Revelation Dennis Johnson puts it this way: “When evil is everywhere and the world is ripe for judgment, can God protect his own? When economies crash, when civil order falters and the social fabric frays, when restraint and respect give way to rude aggression and random violence, when greed and animal appetite reign supreme, this question weighs on the hearts of God’s people: Can God keep Jesus’ little flock safe as they stand, it seems, defenseless in the crossfire? On the one hand, Christian believers will be targeted for

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Something Better Than the Gospel

  Fred Sanders: The Good News of God There is something even better than the good news, and that something is God. The good news of the gospel is that God has opened up the dynamics of his triune life and given us a share in that fellowship. But all of that good news only makes sense against the background of something even better than the good news: the goodness that is the perfection of God himself. The doctrine of the Trinity is first and foremost a teaching about who God is, and God the Trinity would have been God the Trinity whether he had revealed himself to us or not, whether he had redeemed us or not, whether he had created us or not. Obviously, these “whether or not” statements are counterfactual: they are about situations that are not the case. God has in fact made himself known, has redeemed his people, and, to say the most obvious thing,

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What does it mean to believe?c

R.C. Sproul: I think the whole concept of faith is one of the most misunderstood ideas that we have, misunderstood not only by the world but by the church itself. The very basis for our redemption, the way in which we are justified by God, is through faith. The Bible is constantly talking to us about faith, and if we misunderstand that, we’re in deep trouble. The great issue of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century was, How is a person justified? Luther’s controversial position was that we are justified by faith alone. When he said that, many of the godly leaders in the Roman Catholic Church were very upset. They said, “Does that mean that a person can just believe in Jesus and then live any way they want to live?” In other words, the Roman Catholic Church reacted fiercely because they were afraid that Luther’s view would be understood as an easy-believism in which a person only had

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