Why Martin Lloyd-Jones Matters Today

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Recently I have been reading a book about Martin Lloyd-Jones and the influence of his preaching. What I find most interesting is how relevant his approach to preaching is to our day. Here are a excerpts from the book to help you see what I mean:

Martin Lloyd-Jones began his ministry in a time when biblical preaching was considered irrelevant. The common thought of the day was that people are not interested in nor have the ability to handle anything but short “homilies” or “sermonettes”. Churches around the UK were in decline and it was thought that things such as clubs, activities and entertainment were needed to attract people to churches. Martin Lloyd-Jones did not agree with this; he felt that the greatest need in the church was for strong, biblical, doctrinal preaching.

Peter Lewis writes,

“Amidst the spiritual decline in post WWII England, this gifted expositor stood virtually alone in his commitment to biblical preaching.”

Having grown up in church (Calvinist Methodist {I didn’t even know there was such a thing!}), Martin Lloyd-Jones claimed that he was only truly converted at age 25. He later described this turning point in his life:

“For many years I thought I was a Christian, when in fact I was not. It was only later that I came to see that I had no inner Christian, and became one. What I needed was preaching that would convict me of sin, but I never heard this. The preaching we had was always based on the assumption that we were all Christians.”

This experience had a profound impact on the way he preached later on in his ministry; he was always doing the work of an evangelist, because he knew what it was to be in church but not be in Christ.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ definition of good preaching was: theology coming through a man who is on fire.

Preaching, he believed, was God’s method, the primary means by which scripture is to be made known.

In this way, Lloyd-Jones stood with the Reformers and Puritans who insisted that preaching is the chief means by which the grace of God is administered to the church.

Hughes Olifant Old, one of the foremost experts on the history of preaching, states,

“the greatest impact of Lloyd-Jones on the English-speaking pulpit of today is the recovery of expository preaching.”

The attitudes and trends which characterized the times in which Martin Lloyd-Jones began his ministry seem very similar to those of today. Thus, he stands as an example of a different, and may I say: better way.

Author Steven J. Lawson concludes,

“The hour is upon us for faithful men of God to step into pulpits around the world and preach the Word. The need has never been greater. In a day that clamours for churches to captitulate to the spirit of the age and use entertainment in order to draw crowds, the primacy of biblical preaching must be restored wherever the people of God gather to worship. As it was the need in the time of Lloyd-Jones, so it remains the need today for preachers to herald the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to feed the flock and evangelize.”

See also: Preaching While the Bombs Fell

The Problem with Evangelism

I came across this video from Penn Jillette which I found very compelling. Penn Jillette is the “Penn” of the comic/illusionist team Penn and Teller, both of whom are avowed atheists who use their platform as comedians and magicians to promote atheism.

In this video Penn talks about how after a show he was approached by a very polite and sincere man who gave him a Bible as a gift and sought to evangelize him.

Rather than being upset or offended by this, Penn says this:

“I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…

How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that…

This guy cared enough about me to proselytize.”

Here’s the whole video:

I respect Penn for having the intellectual integrity to say this.

Because the problem with evangelism is that in Western society it is considered extremely presumptuous to claim that other people need to change what they believe and believe what you believe or else they will be lost. But the problem is, that this belief is inherent to Christianity. To remove it would be to remove its very heart.

If Jesus came to be a “Savior” who “saves” the “lost,” and to be a disciple of Jesus is to be sent on His mission, which is to seek and to save the lost, then to not evangelize is to betray the very heart of Christianity.

There are a lot of people who look at Christianity and say: “That’s a nice religion with a lot of really nice teachings and great principles. I love the community aspect of it; I respect the teachings about family, and morality and putting others first. But the one part I don’t like is how narrow it is. How presumptuous to claim that you are on a mission from God to save the world by converting people to believe what you believe!
When it comes to mission, I’m okay with you going to help poor people in developing countries by improving their standard of living — but why do you have to try to proselytize them?!”

There are even many Christians who would say, “I love learning about the Bible, and taking the sacraments and worshiping — but I don’t like that part about Christianity where we are always being told to go out and convert the world to what we believe!”

The problem with evangelism is that there are so many voices in our society today which tell us that the idea that you can be on a mission from God to change and save the world is at best: naive, and at worst: terribly arrogant. So instead, you should just privatize your beliefs: focus on your own life and leave everybody else alone.

But the problem with evangelism is that you cannot be a Christian and not care about evangelism, because the command to be on this mission comes straight from the mouth of Jesus.

“As the Father sent me, now I send you!   Go into all the world!  Preach the Gospel!   Make disciples of all nations — teach everybody to obey all that I have commanded you!”

That may not be popular – but it’s straight from the mouth of Jesus. And, to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ means you can’t ignore what he says.

It is encouraging to me to hear this coming from a person, in Penn Jillette, who does not (yet) believe, but has the intellectual integrity to admit that in order to live according to one’s beliefs, a Christian should share the gospel with others.

Evangelism and Street Witnessing Now Illegal in Russia

From Assemblies of God and Christianity Today:

Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law restricts religious practice in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.

The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they will not be allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities may be forcibly disbanded.

This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.

Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church. Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.

If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.

Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.

Sergey Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo.

“If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,” wrote Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”

Pray for the believers in Russia and for the missionaries who go to serve there.

Street witnessing was illegal in the first century, in the time of the Book of Acts, as were Christian gatherings. Such restrictions only caused the church to grow!

Please join me in praying for the gospel to spread throughout Russia despite these restrictions, and for the believers there to be emboldened to share their faith whatever the cost.

What Makes Someone a Missionary?

I spent 10 years in Hungary as a missionary. I had a visa and several legal papers for my residence there which stated on them that I was a missionary. Furthermore, I was sent out and supported by a number of churches who supported as a missionary.

This having been the case, I have put a lot of thought over the years into what it is that makes someone a “missionary”. 

I remember working alongside Hungarians in Hungary, doing the same work – and yet I carried the title of missionary, and they were just Christians who were serving the Lord. Every now and then, some of them would say that they too were missionaries then, since they were doing the same work. But what about the other Christians in Hungary who were not with our organization, who did similar work? Were they also missionaries? They didn’t seem to covet that title, but were content to consider their service simply completely normal Christian behavior.  Some Hungarians we worked with received financial support from churches in the West so that they could serve full time at a church. Did that make them missionaries, even though they were serving in their home country or culture?

Some missions organizations use the term “native missionaries” and raise funds in wealthier countries to support national workers who already know the culture and language of a place. The idea is that with the proper training and some financial support to free them up to do the work, these local Christian workers will be able to reach the places where they live more effectively than foreign missionaries. This is especially popular in countries which do not give visas to foreign missionaries. Is the word “missionary” appropriate in this case? 

What makes someone a missionary?

One time when my wife and I had come back from Hungary to visit family and supporters, we were in Carlsbad, CA, and at the beach some young people, probably in their early 20’s,  approached us and started talking about Jesus. They were evangelizing – and when we told them we were Christians, they told us that they had come from somewhere in the Midwest as missionaries to California. They hadn’t been sent by any church community, but believed they were called and so they had come. Does that make you a missionary?

When I moved to Longmont I knew some people who said that they were missionaries to Longmont, and raised support for their living expenses and various ministry endeavors, so that they could be free to pursue these things full-time. These particular people had grown up in Longmont and felt called to serve God in their hometown. 

What makes someone a missionary?

Something that has often been proclaimed in evangelical circles is that all Christians are called to be “missionaries” and that the work of missionaries is not something which only needs to happen in far off places with developing economies, there is need for evangelism and outreach in wealthy countries, including the United States as well. One bookmark I saw said: “You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a missionary, you just have to cross the street.”

So what are we to make of all of this? What makes someone a missionary?

A little etymology helps to sort things out:

Missio = send. Thus, to be a missionary is to be someone who is sent.

There is a sense in which all Christians have been sent by Jesus to carry out his mission, which he received from the Father, in his mission field, which is the entire world.

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – ‭John‬ ‭17:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭20:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

However, some are sent and supported by a local body of believers, led by a sense of calling from God, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts ch 13. It is clear from the Book of Acts, that Paul had an ongoing relationship with his “sending church” in Antioch, returning there after each of his missionary journeys. It seems there there was an accountability, and probably some degree of financial support from the church there which had sent Paul out. 

Here’s how I sort it out: All Christians are called by be “on mission” with God, in his mission field, which is the entire world. In fact, to be on mission is an essential and inherent part of what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, it should be normal for all Christians to do the work of a missionary wherever they live, whether it is their home or not. This is the NORMAL Christian life.

And yet, I feel that we should preserve the significance of the word “missionary” for those who are sent out on a mission by a local body of believers to another place, following the leading of God. There is a way in which to use the word missionary to loosely diminishes the sacrifices and the unique challenges faced by those who leave home and country and follow God’s leading to go to another place, having had a local body of believers confirm this by sending them out. Similarly, there is a way in which the concept of the priesthood of all believers can be taken to a degree which detracts from the significance of a calling to be a pastoral overseer. While we are all called to minister and we are all called to be on mission, these titles point to particular roles.

There is an interesting place in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where Paul tells Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Timothy 4:5)  Paul, in Ephesians 4, mentions the “office” or official role in the church of “evangelist” – in other words, it seems that there were some people in the church who had this title. However, it would seem that even though this was not Timothy’s official title or role, Paul was encouraging him to do the work of an evangelist nonetheless. 

I believe the same applies in regard to the discussion of the term “missionary” or “pastor”. If you are a Christian, you may not be an officially sanctioned “missionary” – but you are called to do the work of a missionary nevertheless! You may not be a pastor, but you are still called to do the work of a pastor in your interactions with other people.

Spurgeon Quotes

Charles Spurgeon’s hundreds of sermons are a deep well of eloquent and powerful quotes. Here are a few favorites I recently came across:

Calvinists are often criticized for not considering evangelism an urgent priority, since God is sovereign. Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but these were his thoughts on the importance of diligence in evangelism:

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

Spurgeon on the gospel which is worth living for, dying for and sacrificing for:

there used to be a gospel in the world which consisted of facts which Christians never questioned. There was once in the church a gospel which believers hugged to their hearts as if it were their soul’s life. There used to be a gospel in the world, which provoked enthusiasm and commanded sacrifice. Tens of thousands have met together to hear this gospel at peril of their lives. Men, to the teeth of tyrants, have proclaimed it, and have suffered the loss of all things, and gone to prison and to death for it, singing psalms all the while. Is there not such a gospel remaining?

Do you have any favorite Spurgeon quotes?  Leave me a comment below.

Christian Artists vs. Christians who are Artists

This past Thursday night Lecrae performed a sold out show at the Paramount Theater in downtown Denver along with Trip Lee and Andy Mineo. A lot of my friends went to the show, and I wanted to go, but wasn’t able to make it.

All three of these guys are straightforward about their Christian faith (Trip Lee is a Reformed Baptist pastor), and their music reflects their faith, but at the same time they have wanted to avoid being labeled as “Christian artists”.

Lecrae and Andy Mineo have both won Dove awards, but yet Lecrae especially has been very successful at crossing over into the mainstream market. Lecrae recently performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and, most notably, IMO, reached #1 on the Billboard charts with his album Anomaly.

A friend of mine gave me the Anomaly album, and I have to say that I loved it. I’ve never considered myself a fan of hip hop, but what I love about the album is how thoughtful and intelligent it is. Lecrae’s lyrics aren’t shallow and predictable. The topics he covers are deep and sometimes difficult – like in my favorite song off the album: Good, Bad, Ugly.

Today I ran across this video of Trip Lee on the BET website talking about how he doesn’t want to be known as a Christian artist, but as an artist who is a Christian.

Why don’t these guys want to be known as “Christian artists”?   There are several reasons.

One big reason is because they want their music to be heard outside of Christian circles. How can you influence – which is unquestionably one of their objectives – if your only audience is people who already think like you do?

Another reason is because Christian art simply has a terrible reputation for being subpar copycat art, with a capital SUBPAR. If this were not the case, then why do the Dove awards even exist in the first place? Is it not because Christian music is rarely good enough to win Grammys? Sure, the case might be made that “Christian artists” get written off by the pop music community – but Lecrae has done it and so have other Christian artists who are making legitimately good art.

I think it is a much more thoughtful, mission-aware approach to be an “artist who is a Christian”, whether you’re a painter or a rapper or a photographer or a baker.

There are many things about the modern evangelical subculture which are much more cultural than they are “evangelical” in the true sense of the word – and I believe that if Christians are going to be heard by people outside of our own camp, we must distance ourselves from those things.
For example, a friend of mine (who happens to be a pastor) recently recounted a trip to a local Christian bookstore:

My trip to the Christian bookstore on Friday was downright surreal. 10 different Duck Dynasty books, assorted “Christian” candies, a $50 faux pumpkin, a prescription bottle with Bible verses inside and a “legalize prayer” t-shirt…Legalize prayer? Is that a shirt for North Koreans? Wow.
I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to purchase the embellished Thomas Kincade Painting for $7500:)

These kinds of things, IMO, lend themselves towards an inwardly focused subculture that approaches faith like a hobby rather than a mission from God to save the world. With this in mind, I appreciate the attitudes of those who want to be known as artists who are Christians rather than Christian artists.

Is Christian Evangelism Presumptuous?

Evangelism, proselytizing, seeking to convert people to our faith – these are things which are inherent to Christianity if one is to take the words of Jesus as true and relevant.

However, some – even some Christians – feel that this is presumptuous; that Christians should just do their thing and let other people be drawn to it if they will – but not actively attempt to convert others to their faith.

I found this quote to give a helpful perspective:

A major aspect of the Great Commission is the emphasis that Jesus places upon his authority. This is vitally important, because unless Jesus has such authority how can he give such a command? This is a kingly command which assumes that he is Lord over all peoples. If Jesus is not the King, his Commission is presumptuous and without foundation. If he is King, then the whole of life ought to be subject to his royal authority. The fact that God is King is the heart of the Gospel message.

The authority of the missionary lies therefore in the very person of Christ. If Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom then the missionary has the right, even the duty, to go to all people. If he is not King, then the missionary has no right to seek to take his religious ideas to others. Is Jesus Lord? This is the vital question.

– D. Burnett, “God's Mission: Healing the Nations”

 

Colorado Flood, the church & charity work, and the question ‘why?’

Flooding in Longmont – September 2013

Just last month, to the surprise of everyone in our community, Longmont and our surrounding area was the center of a national disaster when rain in the mountains filled up our rivers and flooded the towns along Colorado’s northern Front Range. At one point 7000 people in Longmont were evacuated, 2000 people in Lyons and 4000 in Boulder. Hundreds of homes were affected, the town of Lyons was shut down and cut off. Roads and bridges were washed out, cutting us off from nearby towns.

Churches in the community rallied volunteers to distribute food, house evacuees and help clean up and rebuild. It was an amazing thing to witness. Our church meets in a building that became an evacuation center, with up to 300 people making it their home for over a week. Since we weren’t able to have Sunday services because of that, we took the opportunity to work with the City of Longmont, who asked our congregation to help them set up a disaster recovery center in the Twin Peaks Mall. So that Sunday, in place of our usual service, our church met in an empty retail space at the mall; there were no chairs, so we stood and had a short Bible study and prayer and then got to work. Together with another church from town, we set up what became the first and largest disaster recovery center in Colorado and the epicenter for the relief efforts. We also organized work teams who went into The Greens neighborhood to muck out basements that were full of contaminated water. We helped people save photos and heirlooms that had been covered in mud and sewage. We also set up a disaster relief fund and are now working with a relief organization, Calvary Relief, to help with efforts in Lyons.

As good as all this sounds, I had someone ask me a few days into it: Why is the church putting so much effort and energy into this? Isn’t the government taking care of things?   In fact, this question came from a man who had traveled to our area to help with the relief efforts!  He was asking me what the point and purpose of all of this work was. At the root of his question was a fundamental question of what ‘the church’ is and what we exist to do. In other words: ‘what is our mission?’ and ‘does this fit into our mission, or should we leave this for others to do and focus on our mission?’

That isn’t a bad question actually. As I mentioned in my previous post, everything we do begs the question ‘why?’. Why should the church spend money and human resources on helping with disaster relief, when so many others are doing it already?  Should the church be focused on helping people in temporal ways – or should we be focused on helping people spiritually?

One answer that has historically been given, is that if you don’t meet people’s physical needs, then you will lose the opportunity to minister to their spiritual needs – thus, the reason we should do humanitarian work is so that we can open the door to talking to people about spiritual things.  After all, Jesus did say:  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Another take on it is to say that the church exists to represent the values of the Kingdom of God in this world in order to bring glory to God and to please God by acting according to His heart of love towards the people He created. Jesus said: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” He said: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

So, on the one hand, it could be argued that if we as Christians uniquely have the message of eternal life in Jesus Christ, then our number 1 priority should be saving people’s souls rather than trying to make their lives be more comfortable here and now. Any one of the many NGO’s can help rebuild; shouldn’t we focus on preaching the Gospel so they can be saved eternally? On the other hand, it could also be argued that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves – and I know if my house was flooded and I was displaced, I would want some help! After all, didn’t Jesus meet people’s temporal needs by healing them and feeding them?  Didn’t the disciples in the Book of Acts care for people’s temporal needs by feeding widows and collecting offerings to assist the poor?

What do you think?  Should the church do charity work, and if so, why?

I’ll tell you this much – if we don’t show people we love them in practical ways, we are misrepresenting God. We need to preach the Gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, but we also need to serve and take care of hurting people. Striking this balance is something that Christians have been debating, and even dividing over for centuries.

In a recent sermon, I defined the mission of God as a mission of redemption and restoration of all things affected by sin, and that our mission as Christians is to join God in His mission.

What do you think?  Should the church be involved in charity work? If so, why? and to what degree?