When You Should Just Eat What You’re Trying to Serve (Jeremiah 7:16–8:3)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Jeremiah 7:21–22).

Here’s a confusing command, unless you’re reading your Bible carefully. For those who wonder what’s with all the details about the sacrifices in Leviticus, well, here’s one example of where the dictionary of Leviticus makes for quite a dramatic story later on.

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On the surface God seems to be saying two contradictory things in vv. 21 and 22. “Add another one to the fire.” “I never asked for any.” The catch is that burnt offerings were to be consumed whole on the altar; whereas, there were sacrifices of which the offerer partook. God tells them, that when they make a sacrifice, of which they may eat, to add a burnt offering to it, and go ahead and eat that as well. They might as well please their own palate because they’re not pleasing Yahweh. He told them in 6:20 that “their offerings are not acceptable, nor [are their] sacrifices pleasing to [Him].” Since they’re not worshipping, they might as well have a BBQ. Because the lamb is wasted as a sacrifice, they should eat it up so that it’s not a complete wash.

If our baptisms are more about getting the excited wet, rather than signifying the death and resurrection of disciples, we might as well turn the baptistry into a hot tub so that it serves some practical purpose.

Many churches are right to replace congregational worship with concerts, because worship of the true God is far from their hearts and thus cannot be on their lips.

If we’re not going to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, let’s deck out the minivan of the church with the entertainment package so that they can be amused as they are driven to hell.

If you give offerings as though they are indulgences, you might as well have kept them for yourself.

Because such sacrifices are full of idolatry, Judah might as well eat the world whole and quit trying to play religion. Many “churches” should follow suit.

“I Never Understood a Single Word He Said” (Jeremiah 1:1–19)

For the unaware or the novice to these parts, most of these posts, notably the ones with a Biblical text pinned on the title, are an overflow of my preaching ministry at my local church. That’ll explain some things as you proceed.

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“Why Jeremiah?” one might ask. The best reply might be, “Why not? Is not this too the Word of the Living God? Why would we think this, or any portion of God’s Word odd?” But perhaps the question is less a prideful indictment and more a humble inquiry. Perhaps the sheep queries the shepherd, with a mouth full of grass, “May I ask why you have now led us to this particular pasture?”

“Yes you may.” I am an undershepherd. I don’t presume to know exactly which portion of God’s Word would be best for us, but I know do takes the whole Word to make whole Christians. Because of limitations of time, the elder’s aim and method is simple. We want you to have a balanced diet. If we just started preaching straight through, some of you would hear nothing but law during your time here. Thus, we chew on some Old and then some New. We munch on poetry and then prose. We devour an epistle, then a prophet. After a bite of the historical, we chomp on some wisdom.

This being said, perhaps there is no genre of Holy Writ more neglected today than the prophets. Oh, they are certainly cherry picked, but when you see the tree as a whole you cannot but notice how very little fruit has been picked. The prophets contain much bitter medicine that would do our souls good, but we have been fed only the most sugary portions. If a poll were taken in the average Evangellyfish church to cite passages from Jeremiah, I’m certain Jeremiah 29:11 would be to most cited and nearly the only cited portion.

There is likely no genre more neglected, and also, none more needed. Not merely because our diets have been imbalanced, but because disease is rampant, and the prophets shout the cure—repentance. The whole of God’s Word is enduringly relevant for the church, but when the church has apostatized and committed adultery with the world in unfaithfulness to her Betrothed, then we had best go to Jeremiah and not Philippians, for such is a time to mourn and not rejoice.

Here we have not only medicine, but a lot of it. What is the longest book in the Bible? Perhaps you answered Psalms, and by chapter count that is correct. But man inserted the chapter divisions (though in the case of the Psalms their work was simply one of counting the divisions already there). If we count by God’s inspired words in the original languages, the Psalms fall to third place, behind Genesis in second place and Jeremiah in first.

There is not only much medicine, but there is potent medicine. The American church is riddled with cancer. Jeremiah is chemo for those who would receive it. 

“But are not we as a church celebrating a time of health?” Yes, but we are not immune from nor are we innocent concerning the sickness we see around us. Further, my zeal and hope is that our fellowship have a prophetic voice, speaking God’s Word into the nonsense that pervades in the American Church.

WARNING: Combustible Churches (1 Peter 1:6–9)

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” —1 Peter 1:6

“I am tired of evangelical conferences where more time is given to the hype than to the hope, where more energy is given to the methods than to the message, and where more effort is devoted to techniques than to truth.” —Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace

Peter here rejoices in a hope that is noncombustible. While Peter’s faith in this hope may be tried and tested, pressed and purified, his hope remains imperishable. Our precious faith is being proved by fiery trials to match our 24 karat inheritance.

Unfortunately, we’ve exchanged hype for hope and joy for cheap laughs. The church’s thin jolly front makes for good kindling and the hot spotlights have brought things to the point of ignition. When the fire comes, the mega edifice will be gone and scarcely anything left. Faith survives the fire, but faith is rooted in the Word. When there is little of the Word, there’s little left after the fire. Trials purify gold, not fluff. It’s no kawinkidink that so many adolescent ministries have “fire” in their name, because that’s often all their good for—and awesome quick flame.

Don’t let the veneer fool you. We’re building sheds instead of temples. Sure, sheds go up a lot quicker, but they don’t last long. They don’t stand the fire. Sheds burn down even quicker than they’re built up. What are the glitz and glare of such hype in comparison to the glory of the Son in His revealing? The saints don’t need to be worked up into a hysteria aping the world’s delusional happiness. The saints need to taste of the word to come through the truth of God’s Word.

Teaching the Enemy How to Shoot

*This article was originally appeared on the Christ-Centered Churches blog.

The church is laughing at the salvoes of the enemy while poisoning herself with an addictive narcotic. The bad guys are outgunned but the American church is so hopped up on laudanum she couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Indeed, our opium delusion has got us teaching them how to shoot—at us. “No, that’s not the way you take out the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. You’ve got to shoot here.”

The greatest threat to the doctrine of the Word of God comes from those who own it. How many Southern Baptist Churches, who confess the authority of the Word of God, are so drunk on success-by-numbers that they’re blasting away at their own foundational documents? We survived the bullets of the moderates and liberals only to become our own greatest threat. We own the doctrines of Scripture on paper and then use that paper for target practice. We’ve demonstrated for our enemies that the way to destroy the authority of Scripture isn’t by aiming at it directly, but by setting your sights on the sufficiency of Scripture.

We say the Scriptures are sufficient, but drummers fall from the ceiling on Easter, chain saws are given away on Father’s Day, and our songs ape the world more than they eco the Word. Do we really believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? If so, why do we try to dress it up so much? If the gospel is power, why are our amps cranked up so loud as to obscure it? In the church band, the Scriptures are an un-amplified acoustic guitar, while our programs and production are plugged in hot and loud. Thus, the Scriptures are not the authority that drives the activity of the church, but the “vision” of the leaders who determine the next big stunt. We look not for faithful expositors of the text, but analyzers of culture who can tell us when to ride the next wave of cool.

We say the Scriptures are sufficient, but how many of our churches have a group of ladies studying Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling? Therein she writes,

“This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

The experiential, the personal, and the direct are preferred to God’s holy, inspired, infallible, mediated Word concerning Christ. Many baptists excel Joel Osteen in their knack to dress up charismatic heresies in less gaudy and more acceptable garb. Extra-biblical “prophecies” usurp the Scriptures as the real authority of the church because the Bible by itself just isn’t impressive enough. We’re children who pass on God’s well refined ancient vintage for a cheap juice box with the picture of the latest superhero emblazoned on the front.

We own the Word of God on paper but are so delusional no one notices how absent it is. Our cool videos transform church into a self-inflicted reeducation camp. We’ve indoctrinated ourselves with bad doctrine while thinking we’re holding to orthodoxy. The walls still hold against secular humanists, but we’ve destroyed the foundation from the inside.

The Bible is the authoritative revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is all we need because all is in Christ. The Scriptures are sufficient because Jesus is sufficient. If the Word isn’t sufficient, this means we have another authority source. If the Word isn’t sufficient, this means Jesus isn’t sufficient. When we undermine the sufficiency of the Word, the authority of the Word comes down with it. When we undermine the sufficiency of the Word, the gospel comes down with it. Once the foundation has fallen, how long will the walls hold?

Certainly, the Church herself will not fall. God will build her and purify her by His Word. But good things may be lost if we do not fight the good fight. The church will endure, but ours may become apostate. Even so, I am confident of greater things. I am hopeful God is raising up many pastors to lay down the world’s cools guns and to take up once again the sword of the Word. We may be laughed at when we bring God’s Sword to the world’s gunfight, but that’s far more noble than our current hysteria.

The Exegetical Systematician: Are You an Evangelical?

“An evangelical is committed to certain well-defined positions regarding the Christian Faith. He is a trinitarian and believes there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…

The evangelical also believes that the Scriptures fo the Old and New Testaments are the infallible Word of God written, inerrantly inspired of the Holy Spirit, the only infallible rule of faith and life…

The evangelical believes that the eternal Son of God became man by being supernaturally begotten by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and was born of her without human fatherhood. The Son of God came into this world by this means in order to save men from sin and for this reason he shed his blood upon the accursed tree as a substitutionary sacrifice. He rose from the dead on the third day in that body that had been crucified and laid in the tomb of Joseph. After forty days he ascended up to heaven and was highly exalted, reigns from heaven as head over all things until he will have subdued all enemies, and will return again personally, visibly, and gloriously to judge living and dead.

The evangelical believes that all men are lost and dead in sin, that there is salvation in none other name but that of Jesus, and that apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit and faith in Christ Jesus men are irretrievably lost. He believes in heaven and hell as places of eternal bliss and eternal woe respectively and that these are the two final abodes of mankind. Evangelism, therefore, for the evangelical, is the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to lost men in order that they may be saved. He must proclaim this gospel with the urgency which the gravity of the issues of life and death demands. Evangelism is supported by the fact that Christ is offered freely to all without distinction and that God commands men that they should all everywhere repent.

This summary does not cover the whole field of evangelical belief. But it indicates what the identity of an evangelical is. If a professed Christian does not entertain the type of belief which the foregoing summary represents, then he is not an evangelical.” —John Murray, Co-operation in Evangelism

The Apologist: The Real Chasm

A second problem of those who left the Presbyterian Church was a confusion over where to place the chasm that marks off our identity. Is the chasm placed between Bible-believing churches and those that are not? Or is it between those who are part of our own denomination and those who are not? When we go into a town to start a church, do we go there primarily motivated to build a church that is loyal to Presbyterianism and the Reformed faith, or to the Baptistic position on baptism, or to the Lutheran view of the sacraments, etc., etc.? Or do we go to build a church that will preach the gospel that historic, Bible-believing churches of all denominations hold, and then, on this side of that chasm, teach what we believe is true to the Bible with respect to our own denominational distinctives? The answers to these questions make a great deal of difference. There is a difference of motivation, of breadth and outreach. One view is catholic and biblical and gives promise of success—on two levels: first, in church growth and then a healthy outlook among those we reach; second, in providing leadership to the whole church of Christ. The other view is inverted and self-limiting—and sectarian.

As Bible-believing Christians we come from a variety of backgrounds. But in our moment of history we need each other. Let us keep our doctrinal distinctives. Let us talk to each other about them. But let us recognize the proper hierarchy of things. The real chasm is not between Presbyterians and everyone else, or Anglicans and everyone else, or Baptists and everyone else. The real chasm is between those who have bowed to the living God and thus also to the verbal, propositional communication of God’s inerrant Word, the Scriptures, and those who have not. —Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster

The Apologist: A Big Evangel Is Better than a Big Evangelicalism

What is the use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if sufficient numbers of those under the name evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical? —Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster