Matthew 6:5-15 // When You Pray

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Text: Matthew 6:5-15, CSB

 

Prayer for Illumination

Guide us, O Lord, by your Word and Your Holy Spirit, that in Your light we may see light, in Your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Introduction

Last we started a series of messages on some spiritual disciplines. We started with fasting, this morning we’re going to talk about prayer, and next week we’ll talk about giving. We’ll break for Palm Sunday and Easter, and then we might revisit this idea of spiritual discipline off and on throughout the year.

 

  • Spiritual discipline comes from the idea that as you live you’re always being formed into something. No one lives in static. Every time you make a decision or a choice, it contributes to your formation. How do you interact with God? How do you interact with the people around you? What do you think of the Church? How do you view the world around you?
  • The answers to these questions reflect what you’re being formed into. Now, the ideal goal is for us to be formed into the image of Christ. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8 when he tells that we, as believers, have been predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ, and then Paul describes that process in detail in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says that as we continue to look to Christ we are transformed from glory to glory into His image.

 

These ideas of fasting, prayer, and giving help us reorient our lives in such a way that we are more aware of God’s presence and activity in the world and in our lives.

 

“Each moment of our days–our meals, our conversations with friends, our escapes, obsessions, romances, and distractions–is what we make of our lives. Our habits and rhythms of life are formative not only of who we are but how we know the world, including whether we know it to be a place where God is present or absent.[1]” ― Mike Cosper

 

So, as we look at how Jesus taught us to pray it’s clear that He intends for us to believe what we pray and act on it. We can’t pray for God’s forgiveness and then withhold forgiveness from someone else because as long as we withhold forgiveness, all we’re doing is building up bitterness in our soul.

 

  • People who remain in unforgiveness and bitterness do not get formed into the image of Christ unless God actually comes in and delivers them from that.

 

All that being said, I want us to look at our passage today under three headings:

 

  1. How We Shouldn’t Pray (v. 5, 7-8)
  2. How We Should Pray (v. 6, 9-13)
  3. How to Live What We Pray (v. 14-15)

How We Shouldn’t Pray (v. 5, 7-8)

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward… 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.”
– Matthew 6:5, 7-8, CSB

 

All throughout Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching this same principle of not letting people see our righteousness. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus tells that when we give, we should do so so secretly that our left hand doesn’t even know what our right hand is doing.

 

In verses 16-18, our fasting should be private as well so that no one can tell we are fasting by looking at us.

 

  • Which brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves. I love Ash Wednesday services. I love what the partaking of ashes on our foreheads means. It means that we were made from the dust and to the dust we shall return, and that we are mourning over our sin. However, there are people who will wear their ash on their foreheads from Ash Wednesday out in public, and they’ll take Ash Wednesday selfies and post them on social media. They’re missing the point!
  • The point of Ash Wednesday is to mourn over your sin and wear your ashes as sign of your repentance. No one gets on social media and says, “Hey guys, I begged God for forgiveness because I’m self-centered and ignore the needy! #Blessed” Why would you do it for Ash Wednesday?

 

The point of doing these disciplines in private is because who you are behind closed doors is who you really are. We’ve always heard that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. If that’s true, then how integral is our prayer life?

 

If we look at this portion of our passage, we’ll see that there’s two indictments against the hypocrites and the Gentiles. They love to be seen, and they love to be heard.

 

Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t be like them because when we seek to be seen by people, then we have our reward, and when we pray, we don’t need to use long, repetitive prayers in public because our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask Him.

 

  • I see verse 5 and verses 7 and 8 as parallel statements meaning that Jesus is pretty much saying the same thing twice, and if Jesus is repeating Himself then we need to listen, and listen good!

 

The temptation to want to be seen and heard by others is very real.

 

  • We like looking good. We like it when people see us as a spiritual authority. I loved when I would walk up to a group of people I knew at work or school and someone would say, “Logan knows a lot about the Bible, let’s ask him.”
  • However, if man’s glory is all we long for then when we get it, that’s our reward. Also, If man’s glory is all we long for then we’re settling for a lesser glory.
  • The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that man’s chief end (his highest purpose) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and what happens sometimes we end up living as if we’re trying to glorify ourselves and enjoy ourselves forever.

 

What Jesus describes for us in verses 5-8 is nothing more than religious activity that’s rooted and grounded in the self.

 

A few weeks ago Brittany had mentioned something about a megachurch that she knew about in Texas, and I was curious so I looked them, and I knew their theology was off when the first thing I saw on their website was, “We’re all about people.”  If you claim to be apart of the body of Christ, then you better be all about Jesus and let Him deal with people, otherwise we’re essentially worshipping ourselves, we’re essentially praying to ourselves. And that’s the best we can do because as we saw last week when looked at Isaiah 58, God doesn’t hear these kinds of prayers.

 

  • So, what kind of prayers does He hear?

How We Should Pray (v. 6, 9-13)

“But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6, CSB

 

First of all, we should get alone with God. Jesus invites us into solitude because He doesn’t want us to be tempted to make this about ourselves. He wants us to be sure that this time is between us and Him.

 

  • I probably won’t devote an entire sermon to it, but one of the spiritual disciplines in addition to prayer, fasting, and giving is solitude.
  • Have you ever thought about solitude as a spiritual discipline? We have a lot of things around us that are calling out for our attention, and all the while God wants us to get away from everyone and everything around us for a little while and be alone, in a state of solitude, with Him. And when we do that, we can hear from him.

 

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the run from Jezebel and he doesn’t really know what to do next. The angel of the Lord comes to him, ministers to him, and then tells him to go out and stand on the mountain, and then there was a great wind, and the Bible says that God wasn’t in the wind, and then there was a great fire, and the Bible says that God wasn’t in the fire either, but then there was still, small voice, and that’s where God was.

 

In an article that he wrote for Desiring God, David Mathis says:

 

“Getting away, quiet and alone, is no special grace on its own. But the goal is to create a context for enhancing our hearing from God in his word and responding back to him in prayer. Silence and solitude, then, are not direct means of grace in themselves, but they can grease the skids — like caffeine, sleep, exercise, and singing — for more direct encounters with God in his word and prayer.[2]– David Mathis

 

So, our place of prayer is one of solitude, but what about our pattern for prayer?

 

Look at verses 9-13. I’m going to read this from the King James Version because this is how I memorized it as a child.

 

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” – Matthew 6:9-13, KJV

 

One of the challenges of preaching a text like this is that there’s so much here. If you were here last year, we did a study on the Lord’s Prayer with a series of lectures from Dr. Al Mohler. It took us 12 weeks to get through all of it because there’s just so much in there.

 

  • First of all, notice how Jesus tells us to address God – “Our Father which art in heaven.” One commentator notes that this is a prayer based on a familial relationship. Contrary to how we might normally think, the Jews would have been familiar with God being referred to as their Father, but they would rarely have called God “Father” in their prayers. For them, everything had to be formal.
  • Jesus teaches the disciplines that this God who created the infinite and expansive universe in which we live, is in fact, their father.

 

It kind of reminds be of a story I read about a Roman emperor who had come home from a battle.

 

As he was coming in through the gates, a little boy was seen burrowing his way through the cheering crowd to get to the emperor. Immediately a burly soldier scooped him up and scolded and said, “Hey kid, you can’t do that! Don’t you know who is in that chariot? That is the emperor!” The boy replied, “He may be your emperor—but he is my father.”

 

God is more than an emperor to us—the majestic, cosmic God, through Christ, has become our Father. And Jesus commands us to pray that way.[3]

 

As we continue to look at this prayer, it’s remarkable to see how God is displayed as grand and glorious, and yet He’s also presented as personal and approachable.

 

  • He’s our Father, but His name is holy.
  • He’s the king of the kingdom, but He also gives us our daily bread.

 

As Pastor Ron Hutchcraft put it, the Lord’s Prayer moves “from the galaxies to the groceries.” The Lord’s Prayer is long-term because we’re praying for a permanent and eternal kingdom, but it’s also short-term because we’re asking for bread for today. The God that we worship rules a kingdom that fills the cosmos and yet, He gives us what we need when we need it.

 

When we pray this prayer, not only are we asking God to fill our physical need for daily bread, but our spiritual need for forgiveness for our sins or our debts, our communal need to forgive others of their sins or debts, our moral need to be delivered from evil.

 

  • Any kind of need we have, our Father stands ready to fulfill according to His riches in glory as Paul eloquently says in Philippians 4.

 

Also, think about every single word in the Lord’s Prayer for just a second. Not once do you say, “I” “Me” or “My.” Jesus assumed that when this prayer was prayed, it would be done in community with other people or at the very least this prayer would be prayed for other people.

 

  • It’s very easy to be individualistic in 21st Century America. Ayn Rand, my favorite Libertarian philosopher, said that the individual is the world’s smallest minority, and to some degree I agree with that, but praying the Lord’s Prayer demands that we forget ourselves on an individual level and embrace the idea that we are a part of a collective group of people that has been established in the world by God Himself to be a covenant community.

 

We’re praying together for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done.

We’re praying together for our daily needs to be met.

We’re praying together for forgiveness for ourselves even as we forgive others.

 

There’s power in praying together in community and I think we sometimes forget that.

 

  • I think I have a hard time praying spontaneous prayers in public because I’m so honest with God in my personal prayer life that I’m afraid that someone will get offended at something I say or something I might forget to say, but the beauty of prayer is that it’s not about us individually.
  • Prayer is about connecting with God, and when we connect with God corporately then we may not set the world on fire, but we will establish that our life as a church is not possible without God, and I think that makes a world of difference because there are many churches right here in the Bible belt some of them even small, rural churches like ours that act as if they could go on functioning as they do as if Jesus never rose from the dead and God never existed.
    • They come in sing a couple of songs, listen to someone talk about the good ol’ days and then they go home and eat fried chicken, never making a difference in the world around them. I pray that we never reach that place.
    • If the day should come, God forbid, that we have to close our doors, then there should be a noticeable void in the community. There are plenty of churches that close all the time, and no one in the city notices because they haven’t served their community in years.

 

And then finally, The Lord’s Prayer ends with an affirmation that the kingdom that we’re praying to come belongs to God – “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”

We should pray knowing that God is our Father, He will meet our needs, and the kingdom belongs to Him.

 

Of course, all of this being said, we can’t disconnect any of this from how we live when we leave our prayer closet. You’re gonna have to get up from the altar sometime. You’ve got work to do, groceries to buy, and trash to take out.

You can’t stay at church forever. Monday is coming. So, how do you connect what happens in your prayer closet to what happens when you leave your prayer closet?

 

  • All throughout the Old Testament (particularly in Isaiah, Amos, and Malachi), God’s people would go into the temple and worship, and then go out and treat other people like garbage. They would oppress their workers, and they would ignore the marginalized as we saw last week in Isaiah 58.
  • And then Jesus comes along in Matthew 23 and tells the Pharisees that they’re tithing off their spice rack, but they have neglected the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
    • As we’re getting through Lent and approaching Easter what I would challenge us to do in addition to our normal Bible reading is to do a slow read through Matthew 23, and see if Jesus might be speaking to us the same way that He was speaking to the Pharisees, maybe we’ve neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness in our own lives.
    • “I tithe on the gross and not the net.” Okay, but do you love your neighbor who is a staunch Democrat?

How to Live What We Pray (v. 14-15)

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus demands on no uncertain terms that if we’re going to come before God and ask for forgiveness for our sins and debts then we had better be darn sure willing to forgive someone else’s sins and debts.

 

  • We know that God is a God of justice and mercy, but we seem to want mercy for ourselves and justice for people who have offended us, but that doesn’t fly in God’s kingdom.

 

“For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.” – Matthew 6:14-15, CSB

 

This is pretty straight forward. Our entire identity as children of God is predicated on forgiveness. We can’t rightly claim to be someone whose whole life is predicated on forgiveness and then withhold forgiveness because we’ve been offended.

 

  • That’s not to say that forgiveness is easy. Sometimes it’s a very difficult and painful process, but there’s never a time when forgiveness is optional.

 

Part of reason I think we wrestle with forgiving someone is because we believe, in some way, that we’re hurting them. We’re afraid that if we forgive them then that will just enable them to keep on hurting us or hurting other people, but in the end, all we’re doing is hurting ourselves.

 

It reminds me of a little boy who was sitting on a park bench and it was obvious that he was in pain. A man walked by and asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?” The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he is hurting me!”

 

I think that’s how we handle forgiveness, and Jesus tells us in these two verses that that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable for a people whose lives are not possible without forgiveness.

 

  • Now, think about that for just a second. Your life would not be possible without forgiveness. Think about everyone in your life that you interact with on a regular basis. Your friends, your family, your co-workers. Imagine if nobody forgave you. Ever. The first time you messed up, you were done. You would go through life with people hating you.
  • Imagine if God never forgave you. The good news is that God in Christ has forgiven us, but sometimes I wonder if we don’t take that for granted.
    • When we try to live life on our own terms, then we’ll always be prone to failure because there will be a gaping void in our souls, and because there’s a gaping void, we will try to fill it up with everything other than God, and then that’s when we sin against God and sin against everybody else in our life, and then if no one forgave us, we would just be stuck.

 

If you don’t get anything from this message, just listen loudly and clearly: your life isn’t possible without forgiveness, and when you live in forgiveness, then you’re free to forgive others.

 

If your prayers are patterned after this prayer in Matthew 6, then this how you live what you pray.

 

Conclusion

The point of this entire passage to teach that how pray matters, and how live after we leave our prayer closets matter just as much. Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank You for allowing us to open Your word and hear what You have to say to us. We ask You to forgive where we have failed You, and let us never take Your forgiveness for granted. If there is anyone here who hasn’t yet known Your forgiveness, I pray that You would let Your love be known to them in special way. In the name Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

___________________________

  1. Cosper, Mike. Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2017.
  2. “Take a Break from the Chaos.” Desiring God, 20 Mar. 2019, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/take-a-break-from-the-chaos.
  3. “Search.” Center for Excellence in Preaching, cep.calvinseminary.edu/non-rcl-starters/matthew-6-5-15/.

Isaiah 58:1-12 // The Fast That God Desires

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Text: Isaiah 58:1-12, CSB

Prayer for Illumination

Almighty and Everlasting God, let us feast with gladness upon Your holy word that it may give us strength to love You and love our neighbor. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

I never knew my great-grandfather personally. He went to be with the Lord when I was just 6 months old, but I’ve heard many stories about him and about his character.

One of the things that I hear about a lot is that when supper was on the table and there was only one piece of chicken or one piece of cornbread or one piece of whatever left, he would never take it. He always wanted someone else to have it, and I think that attitude of self-denial for the sake of others is what God is commanding here in Isaiah 58. Peter Leithart notes:

“For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body. We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical. The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked. The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.


Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure. After all, if food and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them? Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.[1]

What we have in this passage is a distinctly different message about fasting than the one we hear on mainstream Christian media.

  • There’s very little teaching and preaching about fasting anymore, but when we do hear it mentioned, it’s not spoken of as a way to be more devoted to God, or as a way to refrain from our own resources so that we can share them with others.
  • Instead we hear it spoken of like a glorified hunger strike to “earn God’s favor” or to get God to “release” blessings into our lives as some false teachers on TBN or Daystar would tell us.

 

However, these people that Isaiah is addressing would probably fall right in line with all of that nonsense on mainstream Christian media because if we’re being honest, our human nature hasn’t changed much since Isaiah’s day.

 

  • Our sinful nature would like to believe that we can manipulate the blessings of God with a hunger strike and call it a fast, and believe that it will be acceptable, but this in no way resembles the fast that God has chosen.

 

As we look at the text, I want us to break it down in four parts:

  • V. 1 – God’s Command to His Prophet
  • V. 2-5 – God’s Accusation Against His People
  • V. 6-7 – God’s Instruction To His People
  • V. 8-14 – God’s Promises to His People

God’s Command to His Prophet (v. 1)

“Cry out loudly, don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet. Tell my people their transgression and the house of Jacob their sins.” – Isaiah 58:1, CSB

 

We need men and women in our day with a prophetic voice who will cry loudly and not hold back when it comes to the issue of sin.

  • Sin separates us from God, and to be separated from God is a fearful thing, and ultimately I think the reason we don’t see a lot of pastors talking about sin the way the Bible does is because they don’t believe God or they don’t believe God will keep His word in regards to all of the warnings that He gives concerning sin.

 

Ezekiel 18:1 is very clear: the soul that sins shall die. People are dead in their sins, marching aimlessly towards death, hell, and destruction and the only way they’ll be made alive is if someone cares enough to proclaim what God has spoken.

 

  • It’s a sad thing when we allow people into our pulpits who don’t believe that heaven and hell, life and death, salvation and damnation aren’t high priority issues, but I’ll tell you what is: winning at life, living your best life now, making sure every day is a Friday.
    • You can win in this life, and lose in the next life.

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33, CSB

Losing doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Now, does it?

This is the whole reason that Isaiah is commanded to cry aloud and not hold back. God’s people are trying to fast try to do all these acts of piety and religion, not for God, not for others, but for themselves.

 

  • They’re giving things away to get an ego boost in return.
  • They’re esteeming their lives and their egos of more worth or value than the people they’re supposed to be helping, and as a result, God doesn’t hear them!
    • It’s not as if God has a hearing problem. It’s not as if God actually can’t hear what’s going on, but God refuses to entertain the prayers of those who refuse to repent.

 

That’s why Jesus tells us that if we’re giving a gift to God, and we remember that someone has something against us, we can’t pretend like everything is okay. We have to leave our gift at the altar, make things right with our brother, and then give the gift. (Matthew 5:23-26)

That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7, that if a husband doesn’t treat his wife with honor and understanding, then God will not hear his prayers.

 

God isn’t going to entertain the prayers of people who think they’re going to get some kind of divine pat on the head for being good little boys and girls. Instead, God brings an accusation against them.

God’s Accusations Against His People (v. 2-5)

“They seek me day after day and delight to know my ways, like a nation that does what is right and does not abandon the justice of their God. They ask me for righteous judgments; they delight in the nearness of God.” – Isaiah 58:2, CSB

 

If we just look at verse 2, then they appear to be doing right, but as we continuing reading, we see that all of this is just for show.

 

“Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!” – Isaiah 58:3a, CSB

 

They want God to be impressed with them.

 

  • “Look, God! Can’t you see all we’ve done for you!?”

 

And this is God’s response:

 

“Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. 4 You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. 5 Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord?” – Isaiah 58:3b-5, CSB

 

The accusation from God comes in three parts:

 

  1. They do as they please on their fast day.

They’re going through the motions. They don’t view their fasting as an opportunity to seek God. Instead they’re going about their day as they normally would, they’re committing the same old sins and transgressions that they normally would. They’re oppressing the same people that they normally would, but by golly, they’re in the temple every time the doors are open.

 

  • They make life harder for their workers.

 

In the temple, they’re worshipping, they’re leaving their offerings, and they’re making sure everyone knows that they’re fasting, but then they go to work and make life harder on the people around them.

“During Isaiah’s time, the temple in Jerusalem was standing room only. No one missed a service. They sang psalms – old ones, new ones, all kinds of psalms. They said prayers and gave offerings. What they did not do was let worship trouble their consciences. If they kept their distance from God, then they could also keep their distance from God’s children. They did not want to make connections between their worship and their neighbors. They ignored the poor and everyone else they wanted to ignore.[2]” – Brett Younger

 

Think about that one line that Younger said out of that quote though – “What they did not do was let worship bother their consciences.”

 

  • How many times have we done that? How many times have we refused to allow ourselves to be convicted, and we just shoved it off by saying, “Oh, that preacher is just trying to make me feel bad. He’s just using scare tactics.”
    • All the while, God’s word is doing it’s work on us, it’s piercing our soul and spirit, it’s dividing our bones and marrow and we just squirm in our seats and hope it’s over with, but the reality of the situation is that letting God’s word work on us is the best thing we could do.
    • If you take a 5 year old to get a shot, they’re going to sit there and squirm and probably cry because they’re afraid of the pain, but the truth is that the best they could do is just sit there and let it happen. It’s the same way with us. The best thing we could when God’s word pierces us is just sit there and let it happen because we’ll come out better on the other side. We’ll be more conformed to the image of Christ than we were before.

 

 

  • They think they deserve to be heard.

 

“You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”
– Isaiah 58:4b, CSB

 

Think about what Jesus says in Matthew 6 about the hypocrites and the Gentiles.

 

“When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” – Matthew 6:7, CSB

 

  • When we think that we have a right to be heard because of what we do, then we won’t be heard.
  • A couple of weeks ago, Kirk preached on Joshua 7 about Achan storing gold from the enemy in his tent after God had spoken the people and told them to destroy everything.
    • We can’t expect the fruit of obedience when we pursue disobedience.

 

The accusation against God’s people is clear: they have an entitlement problem. They want to believe that they can be rewarded by worshipping God in the temple, and making life harder for their neighbors in the workplace.

 

  • When you’re in a place of authority over other people, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way, it’s easy to allow yourself to believe that you are better than those that you’re over because, after all, you’re in this position, and they’re not, but as far as God is concerned everyone’s on the same playing field.
  • Think about the people we interact with on daily basis – the guy working the drive-thru at McDonald’s, the cashier at the gas station, the electronics associate at Walmart. Think about what happens when they make a common mistake.
    • Do we get out of shape about it, threaten to call corporate get some fired? Maybe not. Do we shoot them dirty looks and wish no one else was around so we could give them a piece of our mind? Maybe. Or are we patient with them because God has been patient with us.

 

So, God’s accusation against His people are clear, but so are His instructions.

 

God’s Instruction To His People (v. 6-10)

“Isn’t this the fast I choose: to break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58:6-7, CSB

 

The fast that God chooses does five things things:

  1. Sets Free Those Who are Bound (v. 6)
    1. Verse 6 is a picture of freedom – breaking chains, tearing off yokes, untying ropes, etc. We know that Jesus is in the business of setting people free, and if that’s the case, then we as Jesus’ people should also be in the business of setting people free.
  2. Feeds Those Who Are Hungry – “share your bread with the hungry” (v. 7)
  3. Shelters the Homeless – “bring the poor and homeless into your house”
    (v. 7)
  4. Clothes the Naked (v. 7)
  5. Makes You Available to People – “not to ignore your own flesh and blood” (v. 7)

 

Fasting isn’t simply about giving up food, it’s about giving up our resources and rights for the benefits of others.

 

  • The most powerful example of this is Jesus Himself.

 

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8, CSB

 

We look at this picture of Jesus emptying Himself, becoming a servant, dying on a cross, and we might be tempted to think that he went through all that so that we wouldn’t have to go through all of that, but that’s not the case.

 

“Jesus didn’t die on the cross simply so that we wouldn’t have to, but he died on the cross so that we would take up our cross and follow Him.” – Dallas Willard

 

  • When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, then you go to die with Him.

 

Think about what Paul says in Galatians 2:20.

 

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, CSB

 

Think about each word and each phrase of that verse. Paul is saying very clearly that He died with Christ.

 

Back in Romans 6:3, Paul uses the same language of death and resurrection when he says that all of us who were baptized in Christ was baptized into His death, and we were baptized into His death so that we could be raised into newness of life.

 

  • The more you follow Christ, the more you lean into Christ, the more die to yourself, the more you do those things, the more you are living in the newness of life.

 

The more you find yourself living in the newness of life, the more you realize that you don’t need the material things that you thought you needed.

 

  • Yes, you need a house, but maybe you don’t need a 5 bedroom, 4 bath, 3 story house.
  • Yes, you need a vehicle, but maybe you don’t need a 2019 Lincoln Town Car.

Fasting and celebrating Lent is an opportunity to examine what you can afford to live without and share with others, but it’s also an opportunity to see what has a hold on us.

 

“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.[3]” – Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

 

Once you see what’s controlling you, once you see what you can live without, then God makes a promise in verses 8-10.

 

  • It’s interesting to me that God isn’t simply calling us to a fast, He’s calling us to genuineness. He’s calling us to honesty.
    • These people that God is talking to may be able to live without food for a while, but they can’t live without power. They can’t live without prestige. They can’t live without privilege, and God says that if you really want to fast, then giving up your food isn’t good enough, you’ve got to give up these things too, and when you do, you get the benefits and promises listed in verses 8-10.

God’s Promises to His People (v. 8-14)

“Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer; when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of the yoke among you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, 10 and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. 11 The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry. 12 Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.” – Isaiah 58:8-12, CSB

 

Verses 8-12 in this chapter is a picture of how God intends for us as His people to live.

 

We are to be a people who fill in the broken gaps of the world with our love and kindness, specifically the same love and kindness that God has shown us in Christ.

 

The best illustration I can think of how this might work is that there’s a giant pot hole in the road that goes to and from our apartment in Lamar. That pothole is an area where the road is broken and in need of repair, and the best thing the city could do is fill that part of the road with new asphalt.

  • Well, as the church when we see brokenness, we need to do what we can repair it. When we give to the women’s shelter, when we give to the Main Street Mission, when we get a motel room for a homeless couple, we’re filling a need, we’re repairing the broken walls as it says in verse 12.

Conclusion

Fasting isn’t simply about subtracting from your life, it’s about adding to your life in place of what you subtract.

 

  • You fast from food so that you can add worship, prayer, and devotion.
  • You take time away from normal things that might bring you pleasure (that may not be wrong in and of themselves) so that you can seek a higher pleasure only found in God.

 

In the late 1700’s the Puritan preacher, Thomas Chalmers, preached one of his most famous sermons, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” and the whole idea of this sermon was that it isn’t enough to simply abstain from sin, from worldly pleasures, from the love of the world, we have to replace those things with something else, namely a desire for God.

 

The question I want to leave us with this morning, is do we desire God?

 

If you fear that you do not desire God enough, and I think that’s a healthy fear to have, then you can pray, “God, increase my desire for You!” And that’s a prayer I believe He will honor.

 

  • It’s like the man who said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” We can say, “Lord, I love You, but I want to love You and desire You more.” Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we hear these words from Isaiah 58, and we are convicted to the very core of our being because we are guilty, but by Your grace, You set the guilty free. We are like the woman caught in adultery, except we’re caught in selfishness, greed, pride, lust, and every other vice and fault we can think of, and like that woman, You tell us, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more,” and that’s what we want. We don’t want to continue in our sin. We want freedom, true freedom that only comes from You. Set us free to love You and serve You. Set us free from carnal pleasure and desires. Give us a desire love You and love one another. Give us the grace and strength to love those that seem unlovable so that they can come to know You and be apart of Your family that we call the Church. We ask all of these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us to love one another. Amen.

____________________________

  1. Leithart, Peter, and Peter Leithart. “Fasting and Pleasure.” Patheos, Patheos, 6 Sept. 2017, www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2008/12/fasting-and-pleasure/.
  2. Brett Younger, “Homiletical Perspective: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12),” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
  3. Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperOne, 2018.

A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

A Mental Buffet // 30 Mar 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

After Great Pain, Where Is God? – Peter Wehner

“I’m no theologian. My professional life has been focused on politics and the ideas that inform politics. Yet I’m also a Christian trying to wrestle honestly with the complexities and losses in life, within the context of my faith. And while it’s fine for Christians to say God will comfort people in their pain, if a child dies, if the cancer doesn’t go into remission, if the marriage breaks apart, how much good is that exactly?”

 

There is a Crack in Everything. That’s How the Light Gets In. – Matt Johnson

“God is at work despite the pee-drenched straw, the stubbed toes, and the waiting around in funeral parlors. When your life is in the crapper, when your church is torn apart by wolves, God is present even when you can’t see it, or feel his presence.”

 

The Plow of God – Douglas Wilson

“God plows his people. He deals with us, and He deals with us here in the Supper. He deals with sin in the Supper.”

 

Is the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church the AntiChrist?

popeantichrist

 “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” – 2 John 1:7, NRSV

In a theological group that I’m a part of on Facebook, Michael Ana asked a few questions about whether or not the Pope was the AntiChrist, and  how we should go about addressing the issue. Here is the post he made:

Wrestling with the “pope is an anti-Christ” line in the various confessions and historic letters from the Magisterial reformers, even in Spurgeon’s sermons. Three questions:

1) On what basis do we define someone as an anti-Christ? I know of various scriptures that define a-c as someone who denies Christ came in the flesh (2 John 1:7)…so, is every Muslim an antichrist? Any secular skeptic? Or only if they teach others their views?

2) How should a church’s statement of faith, properly address antichrists?

3) Considering shifts in ecclesiastical authority, should we have a contemporary focus- affirming against…the United Church, Emergent, etc?
Thank-you for your help brothers.

Here is the answer that I gave:

Here are my thoughts:

1. The anti-Christ is anyone who actively stands against the Gospel; this can include the Pope, it can also include the “Prophet” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. John clearly stated that anti-Christ was already in the earth when he wrote his letter. The Church didn’t start recognizing the Pope as the “vicar of Christ” until Pope Innocent III, and papal infallibility wasn’t defined until the First Vatican Council in 1870. So, based on that timeline, I think it’s inconsistent to say that the Pope is THE anti-Christ. I think it’s more accurate to say that he is A anti-Christ.

I would also add that anyone who teaches that the Pope is THE Anti-Christ is teaching a reactionary theology that was leftover from the Reformation. Quite frankly, it’s a matter of Luther and Calvin being pissed at the Pope (and rightfully so); so they make outrageous statements about the Pope being the Anti-Christ and try to stretch Scriptures and make them exclusively fit the Papacy.

2. Because the view of the anti-Christ is such a widely debated topic among Christians, it might be best not to include it in a Statement of Faith. But, if you think it MUST be in the Statement of Faith then I would suggest you handle it in very simple terms. Just state what the Bible says and no more.

3. Yes. We should always be able to stand against heretical movements that deny the Gospel and that dismiss the authority of God’s Word. However, we should not do this to the point that those who see us understand what we stand against, but fail to see what we stand for.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who read it. Be sure to ‘like,’ ‘comment,’ and subscribe to the channel on YouTube where we post the Late Night Theology podcast.

Exegesis and the Small Church Mentality

exegesis

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, NIV

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, KJV

It was exactly 4:30 PM on a Thursday night, laying on my bed, listening to Radio Free Geneva where he was talking about how politics not impacts exegesis, but determines exegesis in Southern Baptist congregations and when I heard these words come from Dr. James White’s mouth, and I instantly gave him an audible “Amen.” Actually, it was more like an “A-f***ing-men.”

White said that you shouldn’t underestimate the power that politics plays in determining exegesis of Scripture in the Southern Baptist Convention. I resonated so well with his comments because I saw this first hand, but not in the SBC. Let me stop here and explain. I spent 3 years in a reformed (lower case ‘r’) Southern Baptist Church where the politics wasn’t necessarily an issue, but they definitely had some horror stories to tell from the SBC church that they came from before planting their church. Where I mostly saw politics play a role in exegesis was these small, non-denominational, Pentecostal, and Free Will Baptist churches. So, that told me that this wasn’t a problem that was limited to any denomination or any particular theological movement. This is something that’s going on in smaller churches, and not all smaller churches either, but I’m willing to bet about 90% of all churches with an active membership of 50 people or less.

Most of the time (not always, but most of the time), if you see a small church there’s a reason why it’s small – hardly anybody wants to go to a church where the sermon is about “the evils of socialism” every freaking week. We, as Christians, believe (or should believe) in a fundamental separation of church and state. Now, to what extent you believe in that separation is up for debate. Personally, I believe in an absolute separation of church and state because I don’t think God needs the assistance of Christians in the government to rule and reign over the earth that He’s created, but that’s just me. I guess if you don’t think God is doing a good enough on His own, you can keep voting Republican. “Hey God, I saw that the world was to hell in a handbasket so I thought I would give you some help by voting for Trump. No need to thank me, I’m just doing my civic duty.”

Going back to the subject of exegesis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer hit the nail on the head when he said, “The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.” Now, if this were true in Bonhoeffer’s day how much more true is it now? Now, like I said, it’s not just small churches that do this. Cornerstone Church in San Antonio is the worst. John Hagee preaches week after week that the government is going to start lobbing our heads off any minute now so we need to start keeping an eye on our dispensational timeline charts to see what chapter of the book of Revelation we’re in this week. Now, I haven’t heard a single Hagee sermon since the election, but I’m willing to bet that since Trump is the President Elect, Hagee is ready to convert to Post-Millennialism even as week speak. There seems to be a trend among dispensationalist to read into the text of Scripture what isn’t there. They do this by comparing Israel to America. They tend to take Old Testament passages of Scripture concerning Israel and saying that those passages apply to America when, in fact, they do not.

This is a common habit among pastors in smaller churches. They tend preach that the physical nation of Israel is still “God’s chosen people” so we should pray for Israel and honor Israel. Then they start preaching about how “evil” it is to not show political support for Israel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting Israel, but it is solely for political reasons. My reasons for supporting Israel have nothing to do with my faith or my interpretation of Scripture. But, these small church pastors are, for the most part, uneducated. They get their learning from watching guys like John Hagee and Perry Stone instead of actually cracking open a reasonable Bible commentary over the book of Revelation. (As far as commentaries go, I would rather a pastor use Wilhelm Brakel’s commentary over Revelation than for them to go by what John Hagee or Perry Stone is teaching, and that’s saying something because Brakel is Postmillennial and I hate Postmillennialism with a fiery burning passion. The only way Postmillennialism makes sense is you’re either a Universalist or if you’re in favor of a Christian version of Sharia Law.)

But I digress, the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “exegesis” as “The act of interpreting or explaining the meaning of verses or passages of Scripture.” So, if this is the true meaning of exegesis, then can we say that a lot of our smaller churches are really exegeting Scripture? I say with a resounding voice, “NO.” When you tell your congregation that America (and the Church) is Israel then you are completely ignoring Romans 9 and you are ignoring the promises of God to His elect people in Ephesians 1 and 2, and there’s no telling how many other passages you’re ignoring.

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got so many other exegetical problems in these smaller churches that it’s unreal. In a lot of churches that aren’t Southern Baptist, you’ve got pastors telling their congregation that they can lose their salvation at the drop of hat. They offer little to no comfort to those of us who struggle with assurance, and they completely ignore every promise of assurance that God gives to His people and say that it only applies to people who “live right.” They make no distinction between law and gospel in their preaching. RJ Grunewald says, “Christians, including preachers, routinely confuse the Law and Gospel, misapplying both. Confusion results: Some needlessly suffer under a burdened conscience as they live under the crushing weight of the Law, while others dismiss the Law (unrepentant sinners) and ignorantly bask in grace they find outside of Christ’s work on their behalf.”

When you step into the pulpit you carry a very weighty task of explaining a text in the context of the whole Bible, and distinguishing between law and grace.

“Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.” – CFW Walther

If you’ve been able to sit through this angry rant, let me know what you think and let’s talk about it.

Blessings, Logan.

Late Night Theology, Episode 3: Naked People & Sociopathy from a Christian Perspective

lnt-episode-opener3

In this episode, Logan retracts some positive statements he made about Tullian Tchividjian from a couple of weeks ago in Episode 1. Tom gives us a rousing mini-lecture about this weird habit that churches have with wanting CEO figures for pastors instead of biblical shepherds.

Remember kids, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are that it doesn’t give a crap about you because its a sociopath.” – Tom Ellinson

Links//
Partial Timeline of Events

Resource Bibliography

Survivor of Tullian Tchividjian’s Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse Goes Public with Her Story – Part 1 (There are 5 parts to this story.) 

Do Unto Others

An Expastor’s Ego

A Call to Repentance

Naked Woman Tries to Rob Burger King

GoFundMe