Opening Address: First Chapel of New Semester Sept 2004
As I stand before you who have come to be partakers of the Word of God together, I must confess my heart is heavy. I rejoice in you who occupy these seats of learning during this term, both professor and student alike, but I mourn for the chairs that sit empty. They represent a serious problem within the church today, which I would share with you, because it is my fervent desire to see each of you successful in making a difference.
When we think of the Marriage Supper of the Lord as presented by the Master in Matthew 22 and Luke 14, we usually think of the people out in the world as being the lost. But I want you to pause and realize that a great many of the people who are in churches, yes, even people occupying pulpits are in reality out in the world. They in one accord begin to make excuses about why they cannot commit the precious time God has given to them for equipping themselves to better serve Him. I must ask you, even as I heard the question posed me this past week, what else is there more important to talk of or occupy our time about than the things of God?
We are now living in a world that is full of heathens, pagans, and secular humanists. With the scandals that have rocked Christendom, which by the way the world loves to see happen, we should be able to recognize that some of these have invaded the church and helped to form the body of heretics and apostates that have attacked the very fundamentals of the faith. These inside the church need to get saved as much as anyone outside the church needs to be saved, but I fear that many have gone too far and are no longer being dealt with by God’s Spirit. But there are some who simply dwell comfortably in ignorance. When they are church leaders, be they pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, and others, they are the blind leading the blind till both fall into the ditch.
This past week I was reading an article written by Dr. Peter Toon, where he posed the question: “If a pagan in ancient times or a secular humanist today is to become a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, an adopted child of God, and a baptized believer what is he required by God, who calls him, to believe, be and do?”
Though Bishop Toon is not a Baptist like myself his initial answer is one which I can agree with and one which I think you should be able to agree also if you have a right doctrine of salvation. Peter Toon says that he should “Obviously .. believe the Gospel, and as he does so he is also to repent of sin and begin to obey Christ, as he is baptized and admitted into church fellowship.”
When a person first believes the Gospel of salvation, which purpose is stated in John 3:16, that Gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ paid the price of sin for us, there are some things he might not fully understand at the beginning. For instance he might not fully realize that God in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ is the Creator, Judge, and Redeemer of the world or that as a man he is God’s creature and fully loved by the Most High. But they should come to know these things as they study God’s Word and sit under the preaching and teaching of that Word. I would propose to you that the education of many new converts falter from the beginning because people in the positions to do these things really do not understand these fundamentals themselves. And they are not studying to show themselves approved unto God to find out.
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The controversy over the Ten Commandments and statements some churchmen have made that these are unimportant to the Christian Gospel serve to illustrate the depths of ignorance that abound in the church today. For not only are the Ten Commandments repeated in the New Testament, with the exception of Sabbath observance, the power of preaching and teaching the Commandments help us to understand the depths of our sinful state, and the basics of our moral and ethical duty which are then illuminated and expanded by the teachings of Christ and the epistles of His servants. We are called to dispel darkness.
Most of the people setting in pews and occupying pulpits have little acquaintance with the facts of the Christian faith, whether you are speaking of how we then should live, or of the great cloud of witnesses that have preceded us down through time, the high and low points of which experience we refer to as Church History. They do not understand the simplest truths of Christ’s Example Prayer, which is erroneously called the Lord’s Prayer, and they certainly do not comprehend the real Lord’s Prayer, which is that Great High Priestly Prayer prayed in the Garden before He sacrificed for our sins. Yet they are often smug in their ignorance.
What I am saying to you is that most people in the United States today are functionally pagans, and they have not changed very much when brought into the church. We should not be surprised at the evidences of apostasy and heresy we see. What is bothersome to me is that those who should know better are willing to compromise with sin for the sake of being undisturbed in their ease. I think many will be at the Marriage Supper, having been in church for many years, yet they will be revealed as not having a wedding garment, and thus cast out into Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
The church is lacking in obedience to Christ today because the people within the church are lacking in obedience to Christ. There is a great emphasis today on the privileges people have in Christ, even new privileges or rights are invented by the blind leaders, but there is little proclamation of our responsibilities and duties within both the church and within the world. Some people are failing in this proclamation because they fear that telling the truth about these things would empty their churches. Frankly, if the membership of the church is composed of unregenerate and rebellious people they need to empty the church so the Lord Jesus can rule and reign within its walls once more.
Once it was true that some people refused to become Christians because they knew that changes were going to be required of them by God. We call that being conformed to the image of Christ. Today, we deny that the working of the Gospel in regenerate hearts makes such demands on our conduct, attitudes, and yes, service. Today such terms as church discipline are virtually nonexistent because the church itself from the pulpit to the pew is filled with people who need to repent. People no longer ask “what must I do to be saved?” because they believe in their hearts God has some obligation to save them no matter how they choose to live. The best proof of their belief is the actions of people who are already in the church, just as changes that once were being worked in church people used to be the best evidence change was required of those who came to faith. Once, for a pagan to profess Christ he had to renounce his paganism; the same being true for a secular humanist. And it was understood he could never return to the original position. No more is this true.
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What is required by God of sinners is for them to enter by the narrow gate. There is only one way and it is by way of the cross. The road to eternity is narrow at its entry and narrow in its journey. But viewed from the aspect of eternity the pilgrimage to heaven is no more than the minimum, which the Bible calls “reasonable service.” This is not the road that many choose to follow, so they will arrive at their destination, if they arrive at all by virtue of having passed the narrow gate, bereft of any reward for the journey. And I fear many arrive with the awful record of others they have caused to falter along the way.
When a person is converted to Christ we cannot expect them to know and therefore believe all the doctrine related to the Triune God, any more than we can expect them to live the Christian life in perfection. But I would think that within the first year of their conversion they should have a good understanding of the basics and evidence of a transformed life should be very evident. I have seen many people who have professed Christ a half century or longer who were still intellectually ignorant and spiritually babies in the faith. These kind of people proud and obstinate in many cases are fertile ground for the preying wolves and others reprobate concerning the faith.
Let me make something completely plain to you. There are three tenses to the verb “to save” past (saved in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus), present (being saved as faith, hope and love are exercised through the work and teaching of the Holy Spirit) and future (shall be saved at the Last Day). The evidence that a person has been saved in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is how they live out that salvation in their journey along the way. This is evidence of that blessed hope being alive in them, looking to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and their being saved in the Last Day. The Person who is genuinely saved should desire to obey Christ totally by knowing and living out the whole counsel of God. Life is to be lived in God’s grace in service and obedience to His will and way. As we grow in salvation we should desire to learn to know more of God’s revelation to His church, contained in His Holy Word. If that were true in the lives of most believers our classrooms would be filled by those who would come to us out of the forty or more churches in our local area alone.
It is a core doctrine of the Church that the Great Commission of our Lord holds two commands to teach. The first teaching is to the lost and contains the Gospel message. The second teaching is to the believer and contains what we sometimes call the whole counsel of God, beginning with how we then ought to live, but going on to contain a great many other things which includes the Great Doctrines of the Bible. It is the function of what happens within these seminary walls that we as part of Christendom are participants in this second area of teaching, especially as it relates to the preparation of people who will minister within the church. We are neither the enemy or replacement for the work of the church, but a preparer of those who will work within the church and out in the world. It is our work to prepare pastors and teachers of the faith. And we do this with the knowledge that the Word of God pronounces a “Woe unto the pastors that feed not the flock.”
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Were there an abundance of people who took the Great Commission seriously or were concerned about the narrow way of faith we would not have empty seats in this assembly. We cannot evangelize a modern secularized people, a nation of pagans and secular humanists until we first reject the principles of the world, the flesh, and the devil ourselves. I challenge each of you who are here this day to actively seek to grow in knowledge and grace because of the narrow road set before you as you live out so great salvation. If this happens in you, then you will go forth better equipped to serve God in the world you find yourself in.
In the midterms Chapels I will be speaking to you about getting Bible translation right. For it is not right in most versions and that contributes to the spiritual darkness that abounds. I am concerned that we should worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness and glorify Him only in our Chapel and school, and that we should take a zeal for that back to the various churches from which we come. To do that we must worship in Spirit and in Truth growing in maturity in the faith as we work through this present tense of salvation with fear and trembling.
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