And we think <i>we're</i> modern...
(Tim) This excellent exhortation to church planters and other pastors by son Joseph was just posted on the ClearNote Fellowship Blog. With his wife, Heidi, Joseph is planting a church in Indianapolis and I commend the work to our readers if they know residents of Indy looking for a church home. For more information, please e-mail Joseph.
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Currently, my wife and I are reading out loud together volume one of Iain Murray’s two-volume biography of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years 1899-1939 (v. 1). (By the way, reading out loud is an excellent way to pass the time, but more about that another day.)
Whenever I read history, I find myself wondering at my own stupidity... It's truly amazing I so easily forget the truth of God’s declaration through King Solomon that “there is nothing new under the sun.” But I always do, and this is why it's so important to read history. Whenever I read about the past, I find that it's just like the present. Only today we’re so conceited we honestly think we’re the first ones to…
To what? Just fill in the blank. What are we like today? What are we struggling with? What do we like? What do we believe? The world thinks that it has truly evolved to a higher level of understanding because it is now rejecting dangerous exclusive religions like Christianity in favor of ancient Eastern mysticism and Old World paganism. It thinks it’s discovering a new realm of tolerance as it moves towards accepting the Ancient Greek practice of homosexual pedophilia. Do you see the irony? We are so new and modern, and our thinking is so unique, that we’ve adopted cultural norms left in the dust some 1,400 years ago. And then as Christians, we fall into the same trap. We believe that we’re the first ones to look “outside the box” for ways to “attract” people to church. “Attractional ministry” is a new phenomenon, and we have no one to guide us as we try to navigate the pitfalls of this crazy new world we live in. Or do we?
The simple act of reading history is such a refreshing experience because it provides us help in these supposedly unique things we’re dealing with. How does it help? Do we have to read carefully between the lines to figure out what some ancient hero of the faith would have said, if he had ever faced this problem? Is it a painfully difficult exercise? Does it require us to spend hundreds of hours getting to know one dead man by reading everything he wrote and then carefully synthesizing his thoughts to determine how he would have responded in this new situation?
No. It isn’t hard. We don’t have to synthesize. In fact, all we have to do is read a couple of paragraphs that he wrote on the exact subject. “What? He couldn’t have written on this topic! It is a new phenomenon. Nobody has ever seen it before!”
Wrong. It isn’t new. It’s old. Let’s look at just one example. Eighty years ago, Lloyd-Jones had this to say about “attractional ministry”:
We seem to have a real horror of being different. Hence all our attempts and endeavours to popularize the church and make it appeal to people. We seem to be trying to tell people that their joining a church will not make them so very different after all. “We are no longer Puritans”, we say, “we believe that they over-did things and made Christianity too difficult for people. They frightened people with their strictness and their unnecessarily high standards. We are not so foolish as to do that”, we say, and indeed we do not do so. Instead, however, we provide so called “sporting parsons”, men of whom the world can say that they are “good sports”—whatever that may mean. And what it does so often mean is that they are men who believe that you can get men to come to chapel and church by playing football and other games with them. “I’ll fraternise with these men”, says such a minister. “I’ll get them to like me and to see that I’m not so different from them after all, and then they’ll come to listen to my sermons”. And he tries it, but thank God, he almost invariably fails, as he richly deserves...