Many people struggle with the church. We go and it feels plastic. Inauthentic. Or it seems like the church is full of people who understand themselves to be crushing it. And so, it doesn’t seem there is a place for the weak or miserable sinner. As a result, many people are disenchanted with the church. Where did all this come from? Is there something better?
Semper Reformanda Podcast: Jon and Justin talk about the corporate nature of everything in the life of the church. We survey Ephesians 4 and consider the language of the Scripture and the ordinary means of grace.
Jon Moffitt: Hi, this is Jon. Today on Theocast, we are talking about the struggle with the modern church. If you’ve walked in and you feel like it’s plastic, it’s cold, you feel disconnected, you look around and you feel like an alien, we want to talk about that and why we have those struggles. Stay tuned.
Today is a conversation that you and I seem to have almost every week. We are trying to shepherd people that are coming into our context in our church and help them, I would say, find out what it looks like to find not only rest in Christ, but truly rest within the community of Christ, which is the design of God. Jesus died for the church and Paul dedicated his life for the church, and I think the entire New Testament is focused and centered on what the local New Testament church looks like in a fallen, sinful world. How does the gospel go forward in our context and in the world?
Justin and I grew up in very different backgrounds; his was more of a liberal Baptist background, mine was more of a fundamentalist background. As we have grown in our theology, and as pastors, we have been able to look at history and we are making assessments about the Christian life and church that are way off. You move 1% off of a line and you start walking that line for many years and before you know it, you’re miles off the mark—and we are definitely miles off the mark.
What Justin and I wanted to do today is help you think through your feelings, your observations, your conclusions, and I would even say comparisons to Scripture and the local context of the church. I know there’s a broad range of churches that are out there, but I will say, what we’re talking about today has impacted almost every single denomination that’s out there. That is why we wanted to have a conversation about what happened to the church and why most people struggle with the church and why most books about the Christian life have nothing to say about the church, or what they do have to say about the church is very foreign to something like Ephesians 4. That’s what we’re going to talk about today: the struggle with the modern church, what we see, and hopefully put some words to your own thoughts about your feelings about the local church.
To open it up there, let’s talk about when we look at the modern church, what is wrong with this context? How is it that we have got to this place? When you walk into a modern, broad evangelical church, almost an Nevin denomination—describe it to me.
Justin Perdue: So many thoughts running around in my head right now. I just want to affirm everything you said and state from the outset that one of the things that I aim to do as a pastor, second only to helping people understand their need for Christ, is to help people understand their need for the church—and in one sense, to help people understand how those two things go together, how we need Christ and we need each other. It’s just not a common notion in our current church context.
There are a million reasons why books written today about the church and the Christian life don’t have the church in them. One of the reasons for that is this conversation we’re having today because so many people have had terrible experiences in the church. They are disenchanted with the church. They feel jaded and burned by the church, and have never seen anything legitimate or anything that seems to have any merit in their entire life in their experience of going to church. We want to unpack some of that today and have an honest conversation about some of our own experiences, and hopefully, as you said, put words to the thoughts that many have had.
I grew up in a more liberal environment theologically, but the culture of the church that I grew up in was still moralistic. It was this combination of an aversion to doctrine—because all that does is divide and it binds us and it’s bad—but then the emphasis was always just on you being a good person, doing the right stuff, and not doing the bad stuff. It was a very, very confused and difficult situation. I grew up thinking that Jesus was legit and knowing that he was the real deal. There was something about him that I couldn’t walk away from. But everything else about the Christian life that I had been presented with and everything that I had ever seen in the church- it was whack. I was incredibly disenchanted with the church as an institution, and even Christianity as a religion, in light of everything that I had seen.
I think for sure, one of the things that stands out for many people is the fact that the church feels and seems to be very superficial, that there is no real admission of real grievous heinous, damnable sins.
Or real struggles.
Right. And we may get there in a minute. There’s no place for the weak.
People seem to be very hesitant to admit the very dark things that go on in everybody’s mind and heart. We know they’re there, but we don’t ever talk about them. You’re happy to admit that you struggle with pride, or maybe that you worry a lot, but you’re not really happy to talk about things that are much maybe darker and more sinister that are going on inside of you. There seems to be, alongside this, a lack of an awareness of sin at the same time. People seem to think that they’re doing a lot better than they are. There’s all this talk about all the things that we need to be doing and the things that we shouldn’t be doing, and it’s just almost full blown works righteousness sometimes in terms of the way that it’s presented. You look around and everybody seems happy to listen to that kind of talk, and your conclusion is everybody else is crushing it because nobody seems disturbed by the fact that we’re just being told things that we need to do, and things that we need to refrain from doing, as though that’s going to earn us righteousness before the Lord. I guess all these people are doing well, but I know I’m not. You’re sitting there thinking, “I must be the only unrighteous hypocrite of this whole bunch. Clearly this place isn’t for me because apparently, these people have it all together. They look put together, they’re saying the right stuff, they seem to understand themselves to just be doing well. Every time they pull the lever, it’s trip sevens. I’m over here floundering and struggling with my own conscience and I’ve blown it countless times this week, and if this is Christianity, then either Christianity is a sham or it didn’t work for me. Our conclusion is: I’m going to go elsewhere because the church has nothing for a sinner like me.
Jon Moffitt: It can also become personality-driven. Those who have an outgoing, energetic, bubbly personality seem to be the ones that are always the active, good Christians, and those who are tend to be quiet, introspective, or even melancholy can be the ones who aren’t the good Christians. It’s a divide. This is true of not just one denomination; we’re not even going to pick on a denomination because we’re going to explain how this really has influenced a lot. It has just changed the way the structure and the purpose of the church is supposed to be.
You walk into a context of a church and the conversations are not on a familiar level, like the way you would talk to your brother or sister or your wife. They are on a very superficial level: how was your day? How was your week? When there is a small group, the community groups tend to be social groups where you talk about social stuff; you’re not talking about the muck of the Christian life. Their prayer requests are about needing to pray more, or struggling with this, or struggling with pride, or needing a new job. What’s really crushing you, what’s going on, and the depression—that is not allowed. I’ve had a man in my church recently who talked about expressing some serious issues in his life in a men’s group, and they all looked at him like he was crazy. Or they’ll just say, “You need to read your Bible more and you need to pray.” That’s it. That’s the solution.
People don’t share because if the response to everything is to read your Bible and to pray more, then why should I even tell you I’m struggling? I already know the answer you’re going to give me, so I’m just not going to say anything. That way I won’t be judged and I won’t feel guilty about my own struggles.
Justin Perdue: What you’re describing is a lack of legitimate community. There’s a lot of language about community, and you might even have groups that bear that name, but to your point, there’s no real admission of weakness, there’s no real confession of sin where we are legitimately baring our souls and talking about what’s really going on. We all speak in this very calculated language, because like you said, we have either experienced this in the past, or we’ve seen it happen to other people where they do confess legitimate sin and legitimate struggle, and they are shamed, judged, or run out of town on a rail. And we leave that thinking, “I’m never going to do that again.” Or, “I saw what happened to that person. I’m never going to do that because it just did not go well.”
In addition to that, I think that many of us have been in church contexts where we look around and we listen to what’s being said. The way the whole thing is presented to us, it’s like this whole project is about constant improvement. This whole project is about onward and upward, and we are always getting better, everything is always exciting, every Sunday is literally better than the one before. We look at that and we think, “Uh, that’s not how my life works.” This feels like a lot of hot air and a lot of hype. A lot of sunshine is being pumped at me, but this just doesn’t feel legitimate. It doesn’t feel authentic. The way that we could end up coming away from that, aside from it just feeling fake, is because the presentation is one of we’re always getting better, we’re always improving, we are conquerors and we are triumphant, we are the people who are having victory over sin and struggle and weakness and the like, we conclude that there is no place for the weak in the church. There’s no place for the struggler in the church. There’s no place, as I said a minute ago, for like the miserable sinner. For many people, especially the ones who have more tender consciences, for people who have proclivities and bends in their frame, or they struggle with melancholy, depression, anxiety, etc., people like that just ended up feeling like there is no place for them because they cannot keep up. The tender conscience in the room looks around and assesses what’s going on, and then looks within and assesses his or her own heart and mind and thinks, “I have never done anything that’s legitimate or adequate. I’ve never loved God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I’ve never loved my neighbor as myself. I’ve not done this as I should. I’ve failed to do that as I should.” All of this improvement stuff , this constantly getting better stuff, and this constantly getting victory, the tender conscience is thinking, “Well, I’m a failure. I just don’t fit here.”
Another thought. You’re talking about a lack of authenticity and a lack of an ability to confess sin. I do think there are a lot of environments where people not only have been burned when they’ve confessed sin, but they receive horrible counsel when they have confessed things in their lives. I’m not even talking about reductionistic, somewhat absurd stuff like, “Read the Bible and I’m sure it’ll be better next week.” I’m talking about legitimate faults, where they’ve brought some deep issue, like a struggle with sexuality, or a marriage is falling apart and the husband and wife go and seek counsel and they’re just told ridiculous things by pastors. “This is what’s going to fix your marriage,” and a particular person in the marriage leaves, thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’m ever going to trust a pastor after what I just heard.”
Jon Moffitt: The trust for the church definitely is not there. We understand that the Bible emphasizes the church, the church is good, but what we experience in the church is not what we feel is right. “Feeling” is a dangerous word to say, but it’s within your soul; you feel this dry, cold distance, and yet you’re yearning for this warm, compassionate connection to Christ in his body.
When I was first married, I started to sell this insurance. We would go to these conferences, and so we’re at this conference in Texas, and these people are making all this money and they’re really talking to us about how we can make money. I’m trying to just get through college and I’m just trying to sell this insurance on the side so I can make money, and then they are hyping it up; it’s bumping music, we’re jumping, and we’re clapping. Everything is high, high, high energy, and a ton of emotion. You walk out of there at the end of that conference, and there’s one conclusion that is on your mind: everyone around me is successful, everyone around me is doing it, and if I want to do it, it’s up to me. I walk out of there going, “All right. If I try harder, I become better, and I work longer, I can be like that.” That is what church feels like: it’s high energy, it’s pumping, and the pastor basically tells you all of these amazing stories, and at the end you go, “All right. If I try harder this week, I can be like that.”
Justin Perdue: Ultimately, at the end of the day, it depends upon me. And. That can be presented in a number of ways: it can be in this quasi prosperity wave, and it also can be in this way where we’re told that we need to be more disciplined and our lives will go better and we won’t sin as much and all those things. It’s like a smack on the backside: “Go out there and don’t disappoint God.” We leave ultimately discouraged, because again, we think, “Well, this clearly depends upon me, at least in some measure, and my life isn’t going that well. I’m still struggling. I must be messing this up and God is displeased with me.” We leave exhausted and not encouraged.
A couple of other observations just really quickly for me; these are not related at all so I’m going to do the best that I can here. Another thing that I think is hard for people is that whenever they have raised concerns in the church, those concerns have been met with pride, defensiveness, and condescension, rather than humility, patience, grace, and charity. That’s sad. I know you and I, Jon, have had this conversation offline many times about how we will fail in this because we’re sinners too, but one of our chief aims as pastors in our respective churches is to meet the concerns of our people and even critiques that are raised. Or when somebody comes to us and they’ve been hurt by us or whatever it is, to aim to meet that with humility, charity, grace, and patience, rather than being proud and defensive.
I think pride is only fuel. That flame of pride is only fanned and there’s gas poured on that fire by a lot of the pietistic culture that exists in the church that tells you that you will be doing better if you are disciplined and if you apply yourself in these particular ways, and people think that their discipline, devotion, and dedication are what have gotten them to work where they are. I don’t want to impugn on people’s motivations, but I think they end up looking down upon others who are not doing as well as they are, and are just unable to hear from other people that may raise legitimate concerns before them.
The last thing I want to say before we move forward in terms of struggles with the church is this: when we go to services, it seems that the entire thing, or at least most of it is aimed at the non-believer to try to bring the non-believer in. What that means is that the gospel, in particular the way of salvation—Christ for you, that is almost exclusively preached to the non-Christian in order to get them to make that decision to trust in Christ. But then when it comes to the Christian life and the day-to-day and the week-to-week, once I am in, all I’m getting is a bunch of instruction on how to live better, how to improve, five steps to this, here are things that you need to flee from, here are ways to be disciplined. I end up being exhausted by that because I’m not actually given Jesus in the service. I am, maybe at best, in a situation where Jesus is assumed: we all believe the gospel, but we’re going to talk about how you should live today. Our experience of church is not one of rest, it’s not one of being reminded that Christ is our righteousness, it’s not one of being comforted in the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby being motivated to live out of love, joy, and gratitude. It’s a culture that’s driven by guilt, shame, fear, dread, and judgment for the believer. Christ is really only held out to somebody who is not yet believed.
Nobody would ever say it this way… Steven Furtick did recently, but a lot of people go to churches where it’s, “If you’re a Christian, this church isn’t for you. This church is for the non-believer. If you’re in, we got nothing for you here. In some ways, we might almost do people a service if we were just as honest as Steven Furtick is and saying that this church, Elevation, doesn’t exist for the Christian, this church just exists to bring people in because in many churches, that’s how they function anyway. The Christians are sitting there starving and are sitting there discouraged and dry because they’re not being given Jesus, who is their life, and apart from him, they can do nothing.
Jon Moffitt: The question then becomes, “How did we get here?” We’re going to talk about what we think the biblical church looks like, as part of what this podcast is about—thinking things from a Reformed perspective—and we will get there eventually, but we want to talk about how we got here. Sometimes it’s helpful to understand, deconstruct, and pull back the structure of a church—or the structure of anything—and ask, “Why was it built this way?” I would say the modern church has a patchwork of multi-theology that is not centered on a biblical theology. I think we’re going to start with revivalism, we’re definitely going to talk about the emergent church, and even the massive influence of the purpose-driven church by Rick Warren.
Something we reference a lot, but I think it’s important for you to understand… Justin, let’s talk about revivalism a little bit. It’s a response to court cold orthodoxy; you think that the church has lost its way, they call it the frozen chosen, the church is dying, and so you have men who want to revive the church and get them back excited. It is not based upon theology, it is not based upon a doctrine, definitely not based upon the history of the church. You have men who are coming in and they are going to preach passionate, fiery sermons to get people to repent. From revivalism, you have all kinds of new things introduced into the church, which is event-based theology, meaning that revivalism wasn’t happening inside churches but it was happening inside tent meetings.
Justin Perdue: It was happening outside the local gathering on the Lord’s Day.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. They would go from town to town. It’s where Billy Graham really got his wings—this idea of these massive events coming from town to town. You have to understand during revivalism, there was no entertainment: there was no radio, there was no TV. When you have someone publicly coming and speaking, and it’s in the center of town and you can hear it, you’re going to be drawn into that. This is where you start hearing about the anxious bench and sort of famous sawdust trail.
Justin Perdue: I think concerns with revivalism are several; you’ve mentioned some of them. One is the relocation of the ministry of the Word: it’s removed from the corporate gathering on the Lord’s Day and it’s taken outside of the regular assembly in a field or a tent meeting or something like that. There is a huge emphasis on conversion—making a decision for Christ—not that that’s a bad thing to desire, but there is perhaps an off-centered emphasis, in any means necessary, to get those professions of faith and to see conversion happen. Then in addition to that, there’s a huge emphasis on moral transformation, because there’s always a concern with lax and apathetic living and lawlessness. That is a piece of revivalism.
As you look back through the history of the church, the first and second Great Awakening are both revivalistic movements. The first one was better than the second in terms of the theology that was being preached. George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards are preaching better doctrine in terms of the gospel and how people were saved than many in the second great awakening were, like Charles Finney and others. That’s where new methods and all kinds of things were introduced into the church. Like you mentioned, the anxious bench, the altar call, and all of these kinds of things came about in the early to middle part of the 1800s as a result of that movement. It was worse than the first Great Awakening, for sure theologically, and this sounds scandalous to say, but the whole project of revivalism in our minds from our perspective—and this is again thinking about Scripture and thinking about the history of the church and the like—the whole project was skewed and off. The Lord brings revival; He’s the one who does that and He’s going to do it through the means that He has given us. He’s going to do it through the ordinary means of grace that are a piece of the corporate reality of the gathered church on the Lord’s Day when we gather for the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, for prayer and for song, and we trust Him to do his work there, rather than using these other more extraordinary measures to bring about what we say is a work of God.
Jon Moffitt: It was performance-based theology. They were going after moral transformation, they were preaching against all kinds of things like gambling and drinking, they’re trying to shut down bars, they’re trying to shut down pool houses. There’s a massive movement. You have men like Charles Finney, who basically said he could convince an entire room to come to be converted to Christ given enough time. He was a great salesman and he was a lawyer.
Justin Perdue: He was a fiery preacher but his theology is so terrible. He would say that every time a Christian sins, he or she needs to be reconverted. This is how you preach fire and brimstone messages. It’s not hard. If you’re dealing with people who are legitimately converted, if you’re dealing with regenerate people who are aware of their sin, it is not hard to convince them they’re sinners. But when you tell them that every time they sin, they basically are now unsaved again, and what they need to do is come forward to the front, this is where a lot of this mess of not only coming forward for the altar call to profess faith, but this whole rededication of life and all this stuff—this is where it comes from.
Absolutely. You have a deemphasizing of doctrine, creeds, and confession. These men were not trying to promote a theology based on church history that had been faithfully handed down to them. They were emphasizing the heart of it behind it, I’m thankful; they’re emphasizing evangelism and preaching the gospel. But just because someone has good intentions doesn’t mean that their actions and the way that fulfilled it is correct. I think a lot of the assessment of the men who were doing revivalistic preaching, they were assessing the local churches and what happened to the dead orthodoxy, and I would say they, too, lost their way. This is part of being a sinner. This is why there’s so much warning in the New Testament about who should be elders, who should be teachers, and Paul’s warning against those who are shepherding. But the response had such a ripple effect. The wave of this has influenced church history hugely. Millions of millions of churches and Christians around the world have been influenced by this revivalistic movement.
Jon Moffitt: We’re going to move forward a little bit. Revivalism starts to take a shift and change where you’re starting to see a deemphasizing of doctrine. Even theological schools are dying because men are not seeing the necessity of being well-trained in church history, in the languages, and in doctrine. All of a sudden, men who were performing well and know how to articulate themselves well, or are high energy—I would even say good salesmen—you start to see the shift. Where the shift, I think, in the ’90s exploded is in the emergent church, which for a while was really hard to even pin down. What does the emergent church even mean?
Justin Perdue: It’s like a big tent.
Jon Moffitt: Right. Rob Bell is really big in this. You have Mark Driscoll coming out of it. The emergent church was dealing basically with postmodernism. What they are trying to fight against what they are really pushing back against is resonating with people in the early ’90s , in the 2000s where you had cold, hard facts that were cold and distant from our culture. They wanted something that was more warm and inviting, subjectivity versus objectivity, or spirituality over religion. I can remember that. “I don’t want a religion, I want a relationship.” it’s images versus word, or outward versus inward, feeling versus truth. You can go on. This is where the emergent church really drew in this younger crowd, and they created these massive communities, the people are excited, churches exploded. But as Justin had said, the entire experience came more about how do we draw in a bigger crowd and how do we draw it in and be relevant to the culture? It became all about relevancy. It did not become about faithfulness to the Word of God, allowing the Word of God to convict people of sin, leading to the hope of Christ in the gospel. It became more about how to help people have an experience of God, and the experience became the primary driver of what church looked like.
Justin Perdue: One other piece of this in terms of how we got here… I’m going to use a few words and define them. The current church context and the things that we’re describing today are in part a result of triumphalism, and that again is a way to describe this onward and upward, always improving dynamic. The current church context is a result of pietism, which is a hyper-focus on how we are doing on our affections for God, on our disciplines, our obedience and our performance. It’s this very inward, very introspective posture that has certainly characterized the church. So you combine that with a triumphalistic perspective of always needing to get better, and then you’re hyper introspective and always assessing yourself, your affections, your disciplines, and your obedience. That’s a big piece of how we’ve gotten to where we are.
Then in addition to that, all of this—the triumphalistic and the pietistic stuff—is a part of a larger theology of glory, which is again, “We’re strong, we’re getting better, we’re getting victory,” and all of that versus what has historically been understood as a theology of the cross that says that we are in fact weak still. Yes, Christ is strong, but we are not; we are weak, we are needy, and that is where the grace and mercy of Christ is made manifest and obvious as he meets us in our need and our weakness. Right now, not only will we be weak, we will suffer, but there is a glory that awaits us. That kind of theology has just gone by the wayside in most churches today, which is what has resulted in something that we were describing earlier where there’s just no place for the struggler, there’s no place for the weak, there’s no place even for the sinner—certainly not the miserable sinner, as Augustine would have called us. Augustine was lambasted for propagating what many called a miserable sinner version of Christianity. If we’re going to be lumped in with him, I guess guilty as charged; we are miserable sinners and Christ is our only hope. But that’s not what’s been heralded to many of us in our church experience and it’s left many of us jaded and disenchanted, and feeling like the church just clearly is not for us.
Jon Moffitt: To Justin’s point, if you’re new to Theocast, two really important subjects that we cover a lot; in our description in our podcast, there’ll be links to a podcast for both of those—we did one on the theology of the cross versus the theology of glory, and triumphalism.
One of the things I do want to mention and the impact of it: I grew up about an hour away from this church, Saddleback. Rick Warren wrote a book in the mid-nineties called The Purpose Driven Church, which is based off of The Purpose Driven Life. I don’t know if people understand the influence and impact of that book, but that book is listed in the top 100 Christian books that have changed the century. In many ways, people understand the church in general shifted because of what he wrote. If you read the book about what the purpose of the church is, this is the thing that we are battling today in more ways than I’ve ever seen. Justin and I used to shake our heads constantly when we’re thinking about all of the purposes of the church. What is the purpose of the church? You can think about it: it’s social justice, or it’s race, or it’s dealing with gender equality. There’s so much that is driven. When you think about what Jesus handed to us as our primary focus—what drives us, our purpose—and you look at the history of what the church has been driving from revivalism, to the emerging church, to the purpose driven church, you’re not handed, what we are going to argue, is what the Reformed tradition has been holding to and what we think is the accurate explanation of Scripture—which is we’re going to go now—of the explanation of what the purpose of the church is, the design of the church, and what you should experience in a church.
Justin Perdue: In short, the church is about Jesus and the people who need him. The church obviously is centered around and built upon Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. He’s the cornerstone; he’s the stone off of which every other stone is oriented in terms of the building of the household of God, and he is the one who bears the weight. He is the one who has accomplished everything that we need. We begin with Christ. We emphasize what he has done for us that we received by faith. This work of Christ stands outside of us. It’s extra nos. We’re always looking to him for our righteousness, for our forgiveness, and our absolution. We are absolved of guilt because of what Jesus has done. We herald that message.
Alongside that, not only do we need Christ, but it’s very clear in the New Testament that we need each other. The way that Christ has instituted the church and designed the church is one. It’s a design where we together, as we have all been united to Christ and then are united to each other, thereby we live life together with our various gifts and we together build one another up in love unto maturity in Christ. That’s going to happen in a corporate setting, not when we’re by ourselves; that’s going to happen when we’re with the saints, not when we’re alone. We will grow together or not at all—that’s very obvious in the letters of the New Testament.
One of the things that we emphasize regularly is the gathered church. We need to understand that the New Testament epistles are all written to congregations, or they are written to pastors with the congregation in view ala 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Thereby, the exhortations in the New Testament are practically all corporate in nature. The use in the New Testament are plural and the exhortations are to people, groups of Christians, who are living life together. We sadly often just rip those from their context and assume that they’re all individual exhortations, but they’re not.
The church gathered is a reality that the New Testament upholds all the time. The exhortations about the word of God, or about the sacraments, or about prayer, singing, or any of that, are to take place within the context of the gathered body when we’re assembled. That’s what the Reformed have always historically referred to as the ordinary means of grace. The way that we’re grown in the faith primarily is by gathering with each other and then partaking of these means of the Word and the Lord’s Table, baptism, prayer, and the like. God uses that over the course of a lifetime to do things that we could never have imagined that He would do in our lives.
Jon Moffitt: I want to mention several verses that are not emphasized. You’re not going to hear a lot of sermons on these. These are not verses people memorize but these are what I would call verses that the New Testament writers use to structure what life looks like after conversion. When you are adopted into the family, what does family life look like in the house of God? I can tell you what family life looks like in the house of Moffitt, and we have ways in which we function, we gather, and how we care for each other. My family doesn’t live independent of each other. It’s not like we pass each other in the hall and say, “How’s your day going?” That’s not how we work in the Moffitt house.
In God’s house, He’s very clear in what He wants. I’m not angry at the modern church. I’m not mad at the church. My heart is broken because what God has given us, we seem to have abandoned. So many people are drowning in their own despair, and they’re so lonely, and they’re so exhausted by sin.
Listen to some of these instructions that God gives the writers in the New Testament to help us understand. We’ll start with James: when James says confess your sins to one another. I mention this every Sunday from my pulpit. I say, “Listen, we want to take the Word of God seriously, and James says to confess our sins to one another. Why would we do that? Because what’s the fastest way to create a quality within a group of humans? Have everybody admit that they have all failed.” That’s immediate quality. I don’t care what gender you are, I don’t care what race you are, I don’t care what income you have—you’re in equal need of God’s grace. How do we know that? Because we confess our failures.
But here’s another thing: we do not see dependence on the local church. We see dependence on our efforts and ourselves, but listen to how the writer of Hebrews says this. For instance, he says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We don’t hear this explained, preached, and really put out there as a protection and a place of rest saying, “Hey, listen, rightly trained elders and selected elders are there for your benefit.”
Justin Perdue: Staying in the book of Hebrews, because I know we’re going to save Ephesians 10:19 and following. I’m not going to read all of it, but the writer says that because of Christ and the access we have to God, and the confidence that we have before God, because of what Jesus has done, he says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Those few verses are just dripping with corporate language. Let us consider how we can stir one another up to love and good works. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope because God Is faithful. Let’s not neglect to meet together. Let’s assemble.
Jon Moffitt: Even to that point earlier in chapter three, verse 13, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Justin Perdue: Right. There are so many other passages that we could go to. We’re running a little bit short on time. One last comment that I do want to make, before we move over to the members’ portion of the podcast, is that as we—in the context of the church, in the context of legitimate community, as the gospel is preached and heralded faithfully week after week and we all understand who Christ is for us and what he did for us—what that produces is a culture in the church where honesty is the order of the day. We are confessing our failures and our shortcomings, and it’s actually safe to talk about the things that are really going on in our minds and hearts, because nobody’s going to be shocked. We have a robust enough understanding of sin that we understand that we all do things, think things, and desire things that are evil. We understand that our own performance is not where our standing before the Lord lies so we can encourage each other in the faithfulness of God to us in Christ. The gospel creates this authentic community where these things are taking place. I think that’s what all of us are starving for. I know that by the Lord’s grace, Jon, that’s what you and I—along with our other elders in our churches, and our people—we together are aiming to see those kinds of things happen at Grace Reformed Church and at Covenant Baptist Church. We pray that they will and will continue to.
Jon Moffitt: I have a lot more to say but we’re running out of time. Let’s go ahead and move over to our members’ podcast, which will be changing very soon. Stay tuned for that. We have a whole new ministry coming out which will allow you to take this conversation that Justin and I just had, gather with other listeners, and discuss all of your questions and encourage one another locally and online. Stay tuned for Semper Reformanda. It’s coming your way. We’re excited to launch that.
But we do need to have a further conversation on what the local church looks like. We’re going to need to do that. If you want to know more about that, you can go to theocast.org and you can learn more about one, how to support Theocast, and two, to join in on this conversation that we’re having about continuing the Reformation, helping the church go back to its roots, focusing in on Christ and each other.
We’ll see you over there. For those of you who are listening, we’ll see you next time.