We have gathered together today as Berean Bible Church as we do each Sunday, but why? Why Berean Bible Church? There are literally thousands of churches in this area. Do we really need a Berean Bible Church? I have been asking myself that question lately. 2002 was a difficult year for Berean Bible church, we lost so many families due to military moves. With the drop in attendance came a drop in the giving. The giving from our congregation is not even 50% or what we need for our budget. All this has caused me to ask, "Why BBC? Do we really need another church in this area?"
In order to answer that question, we first need to understand what the purpose of the church is. Do you know? What is the main purpose of the local church? To answer that question look with me at:
1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NKJV) These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Let me give you a little background. First and Second Timothy and Titus are commonly called the Pastoral Epistles, because they consist chiefly of instructions and admonitions to two pastors, Timothy and Titus. Paul is writing this letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, who was pastoring the church at Ephesus:
1 Timothy 1:3 (NKJV) As I urged you when I went into Macedonia; remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,
This epistle deals with: error in the church and how to deal with it; proper pattern for church leadership - he talks about elders and deacons; proper attitudes and roles for men and women in the church; and how to discipline in the church. The key verse is:
1 Timothy 3:15 (NKJV) but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Paul had hoped to come to Ephesus soon, but if he was delayed, he wanted Timothy to know how to conduct himself in the house of God. The word "conduct" is from the Greek word anastrepho, which describes his whole life and character; but it specially describes him in his relationships with other people. He is talking about proper conduct within the assembly of God's people.
"....in the house of God" - the Greek word for "house" is oikos. This speaks not of a building but of a family. Then he says, ".....which is the church of the living God" - There is no definite article "the" and should be translated: "which is the Living God's Church". The word "church" is from the Greek ekklesia, which means: "to call out of". The church is a body of called out people.
Please note that the church is the "Living God's Church". The church belongs to God. The title "Living God" was used over and over in the Old Testament:
Daniel 6:26-27 (NKJV) I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, And steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end. 27 He delivers and rescues, And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.
Believers, our God is the Living God. We need to keep this in mind, because many times we act as if God were dead. Martin Luther's wife, Katie, confronted Martin with the fact that he was acting as if God was dead. One day Martin Luther came into the room and Katie was all dressed in black and was mourning. Martin Luther asked her who died, and she said, "God died". Martin Luther went into a rage shouting theological truths about God and said, "God cannot die". To which Katie replied, "Well, Martin, the way you have been acting I assumed that God must have died." Martin Luther got her point.
Now notice what Paul calls the church: "the pillar and ground of the truth". In Ephesus, to which these letters were written, the word "pillar" would have a special significance. The greatest glory of Ephesus was the temple of Diana or Artemis. When Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, got the people stirred up, notice what they cried out:
Acts 19:28 (NKJV) Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"
The temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the world. One of its features was its pillars. It had 127 pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. They were all made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold.
It may be that the idea of the word "pillar" here is not so much support - that's the idea of "ground" - but of "display". The idea is that the church's mission is to hold up the truth of God for all men to see. The church is to support and display the truth of God. We are not the source of truth, the Bible is, but we are to support and display it. The Bible is God's Word, and the church is to support and display that truth. Timothy was to do this through preaching and teaching the Word of God:
1 Timothy 4:11-13 (NKJV) These things command and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NKJV) I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
I don't believe that the church's mission has changed, we are to be the pillar and support of the truth. This is done through faithfully expounding the truth of God's Word. Why BBC? BBC exists to be a pillar and ground of the truth. This is the mission of every local church, but I believe that most local churches have forsaken this role. And that is why I believe that BBC needs to exist.
In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes, "Toward the end of the nineteenth century. . . the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned. Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business."
Postman is right on with his assessment. In this Age of Show Business, truth is irrelevant; what really matters is whether we are entertained. Substance counts for little; style is everything. What is really sad about this is that that kind of thinking is true in the church as surely as it is in the world. I'm afraid that the church is forsaking its calling; it is no longer the pillar and ground of the truth but has become a source of entertainment.
An article in The Wall Street Journal described one well-known church's bid "to perk up attendance at Sunday evening services." The church "staged a wrestling match, featuring church employees. To train for the event, 10 game employees got lessons from Tugboat Taylor, a former professional wrestler, in pulling hair, kicking shins, and tossing bodies around without doing real harm." (The Wall Street Journal (13 May 1991)
The church said that the staff members were not harmed. The staff members may not have been harmed, but what is the effect of such an exhibition on the church's message? How is such foolishness helping the church to be a pillar and ground of the truth?
That wrestling match is not an obscure example from some eccentric church on the fringe. It took place in the Sunday evening service of one of America's five largest churches. Similar examples could be drawn from many of the leading churches supposedly in the mainstream of evangelical orthodoxy.
One noted pastor of a very large church, for example, boasts about the time his staff staged a pie fight during a Sunday morning church service.
Just how far will the church go to compete with Hollywood? A large church in the southwestern United States has installed a half-million dollar special effects system that can produce smoke, fire, sparks, and laser lights in the auditorium. The church sent staff members to study live special effects at a casino in Las Vegas. The pastor ended one service by ascending to "heaven" via invisible wires that drew him up out of sight while the choir and orchestra added a musical accompaniment to the smoke, fire, and light show. It was just a typical Sunday show for that pastor. He packs his church with such special effects as: cranking up a chain saw and toppling a tree to make a point; the biggest Fourth of July fireworks display in town; and a Christmas service with a rented elephant, kangaroo and zebra. The Christmas show features 100 clowns with gifts for the congregation.
There's no denying that these antics draw a crowd. Many churches that have experimented with such methods report growing attendance figures. And a handful of mega-churches - those that can afford first-class productions, effects, and facilities - have been able to stimulate enormous numerical growth. Some of them fill huge auditoriums with thousands of people several times every week. But where do we get the idea that the church's job is to draw a crowd? The purpose of the church is not to see how many people it can get in the doors; our purpose is to be a pillar and ground for the truth of God's Word.
A few of these mega-churches resemble elegant country clubs or resort hotels. They feature impressive facilities with bowling lanes, movie theaters, health spas, restaurants, ballrooms, roller-skating rinks, and state-of-the-art multi-court gymnasiums. Recreation and entertainment are inevitably the most visible aspects of these enterprises. Such churches have become meccas for students of church growth.
Now evangelicals everywhere are frantically seeking new techniques and new forms of entertainment to attract people. Whether a method is biblical or not scarcely matters to the average church leader today. Does it work? That is the new test of legitimacy. And so raw pragmatism has become the driving philosophy in much of the church.
Pragmatism is the notion that ideas may be judged by their practical consequences. A pragmatist concludes that a course of action or concept is right if it brings good results; wrong if it doesn't seem to work.
When pragmatism becomes a guiding philosophy of life or ministry, it inevitably clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical truth cannot be determined by what works and what doesn't. We know from Scripture, for example, that the gospel does not usually produce a positive response:
1 Corinthians 1:22-23 (NKJV) For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
Majority reaction is no test of validity:
Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Prosperity is no measure of truthfulness:
Job 12:6 (NKJV) The tents of robbers prosper, And those who provoke God are secure; In what God provides by His hand.
Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Moses struck the rock and got results. But God also judged him for his disobedience, and he never entered the promise land.
In our day, pragmatism is sweeping through the church. Methodology has replaced theology as the main issue many church leaders are concerned with. Pastors are turning to books on marketing methods in search of new techniques to help churches grow. Many seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to matters of style and technique.
Perhaps most telling is the growing number of churches that now feature drama and entertainment instead of traditional services where God's Word is proclaimed. The new pragmatism sees preaching as passé. Plainly declaring truth is deemed too offensive and utterly ineffective. We're now told we can get better results by first amusing people and thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they'll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.
Proclaiming the gospel message of redemption for sinners, and exposition of the Word for saints should be the heart of every church's ministry. If the world looks at the church and sees an entertainment center, we're sending the wrong message. If Christians view the church as an amusement parlor, the church will lose all effectiveness.
Believers, the growth of the church is a product of the sovereignty of God, not of special gimmicks and plans. Look at how Paul described the growth process:
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NKJV) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
We are to proclaim the truth of God's Word, but it is God who causes growth.
What if the Old Testament prophets had subscribed to today's church growth philosophy? Jeremiah, for example, preached forty years without seeing any significant positive response. On the contrary, his countrymen threatened to kill him if he did not stop prophesying (Jer. 11:19-23); his own family and friends plotted against him (12:6); he was not permitted to marry and so had to suffer agonizing loneliness (16:2); plots were devised to kill him secretly (18:20-23); he was beaten and put in stocks (20:1-2); he was spied on by friends who sought revenge (v. 10); he was consumed with sorrow and shame--even cursing the day he was born (vv. 14-18); and finally, falsely accused of being a traitor to the nation (37:13-14), Jeremiah was beaten, thrown into a dungeon, and starved many days (vv. 15-21). If an Ethiopian Gentile had not interceded on his behalf, Jeremiah would have died there. In the end, tradition says he was exiled to Egypt, where he was stoned to death by the Jews. He had virtually no converts to show for a lifetime of ministry.
Suppose Jeremiah had attended a church growth seminar and learned a pragmatic philosophy of ministry. Do you think he would have changed his style of confrontational ministry? Can you imagine him staging a variety show or using comedy to try to win people's affections? He may have learned to gather an appreciative crowd, but he certainly would not have had the ministry God called him to.
What about Jonah? Did he use a church growth strategy to reach Nineveh? NO! He simply proclaimed the truth of God and the whole city repented:
Jonah 3:2-5 (NKJV) "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
The apostle Paul didn't use a system based on merchandising skill, either, though some self-appointed experts have tried to make him a model of the new pragmatism. Reading into the Bible's white space, one advocate of marketing technique asserts, "Paul was one of the all time great tacticians. He perpetually studied strategies and tactics to identify those that would enable him to attract the most 'prospects' and realize the greatest number of conversions." Of course, the Bible says nothing like that. On the contrary, the apostle Paul shunned clever methods and gimmicks:
1 Thessalonians 2:3-6 (NKJV) For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. 4 But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. 5 For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness; God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
Biblical truth is the only framework by which we can evaluate the rightness or wrongness of ministry methods. If we make effectiveness the gauge of right and wrong, how can that fail to color our doctrine? Ultimately, the pragmatist's notion of truth is shaped by what seems effective, not by the objective revelation of Scripture.
The fact that a church is growing is often mistaken for divine sanction. After all, people reason, why be critical of any teaching that God is blessing with numerical growth? Is it not better to tolerate doctrinal flaws and lapses of orthodoxy for the sake of growth and unity? Thus pragmatism molds and shapes one's doctrinal outlook.
It is folly to think one can be both pragmatic and biblical. The pragmatist wants to know what works now. The biblical thinker cares only about what the Bible says. The two philosophies inevitably oppose each other at the most basic level.
Now the experts are touting the concept of the "user-friendly church." Borrowing a term from the high-tech industries, church growth specialists are advocating a new approach to church ministry. Church growth can be accelerated, they say, if pastors and church leaders will concentrate their energies on making the church as non-threatening as possible for the unchurched. Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don't be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained. Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we're assured; those that ignore it are doomed to decline.
Do you see how that philosophy necessarily undermines sound doctrine? It discards Jesus' own methods--preaching and teaching--as the primary means of ministry. It replaces them with methodologies utterly devoid of substance. It exists independently of any creed or canon. In fact, it eschews dogma or strong convictions as divisive, unbecoming, or inappropriate. It dismisses doctrine as academic, abstract, sterile, threatening, or simply impractical. Instead of exalting God, it denigrates the things that are precious to Him. In that regard, pragmatism poses dangers more subtle than the liberalism that threatened the church in the first half of the twentieth century.
A recent best-selling Christian book warns readers to be on guard against preachers whose emphasis is on interpreting Scripture rather than applying it.
Is that wise counsel? No, it is not. There is no danger of irrelevant doctrine; the real threat is an undoctrinal attempt at relevance. The nucleus of all that is truly practical is found in the teaching of Scripture. We don't make the Bible relevant; it is inherently so, simply because it is God's Word. And after all, how can anything God says be irrelevant?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
"All scripture is inspired by God." Paul says, "All Scripture", referring to the entire Old Testament, "is inspired by God." But we may apply this passage to all of sacred Scripture, including the New Testament:
2 Peter 3:15-16 (NKJV) and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
Peter considered what Paul wrote, the New Testament, to be scripture. So, all Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) is inspired by God.
"All scripture is inspired"-- the word "inspired" is from the Greek word theopneustos, which means: "breathed out from God." Peter says virtually the same thing in:
2 Peter 1:21 (NKJV) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Peter says that men were carried along, much as a wind fills the sails of a ship and moves it forward, by the Holy Spirit. The personality of the authors can be seen in their works, but, ultimately, it is a book supremely correct in what it affirms, and without error because God is the superintending author. It is the very revelation of God himself.
According to the apostle, the Bible can do four things for everyone who hears it and believes it:
First, it will teach you; it is "profitable for teaching." The Bible will instruct your mind about things that no one, except God, knows anything about. It will tell you things about yourself, what can happen to you, and what will happen to you, that only God knows. Everybody wants to know these things. For instance, everyone wants to know what lies beyond death. The human mind has been questing in that area all through history. But there is only one Book that will tell you the answer to that question. It tells about One who came back from the grave and told us what is beyond. He demonstrated, in ways that can never be denied, or explained away, that he had returned from death. Thus, the Bible becomes a reliable guide in areas we know nothing about. The Bible has the power to teach men what they cannot otherwise know - this is why the church is to devote its energy to preaching and teaching this book.
Second, the Bible has the power to reprove. The word is really "convict." How many of you have had the experience of reading the Bible and becoming aware that something you had been doing all your life, something you did not think was wrong at all, was the reason why you, yourself, were hurting or were hurting others? The Bible suddenly made you aware that in order to be free, you had to change, you had to commit yourself to a different direction. That is called "conviction." The Bible has tremendous power to point out to people the areas of wrongdoing in their lives. But more than that, the Bible never does that without setting you on the right path, correcting you and making you walk in ways that lead to life. The amazing testimony of this Book is that, when taken seriously, it leads people to freedom and to life.
Finally, the Bible is for "training in righteousness." That phrase suggests that the Bible has the power to finely tune you, like a skillful coach, to enable you to walk day by day in a more righteous way; and righteousness always leads to peace. So, the Bible is able to train us; to lead us along into ever-expanding experiences of righteous living.
"That the man of God may be complete"-- whole or mature. The world is constantly looking for the secret of wholeness. Everyone wants to be a "whole" person, healed of all his inner conflicts, able to cope, able to handle life. That is exactly why this Book is provided. It is the Book that goes with man. It is the instruction Book that will work out all your kinks and quirks and enable you to be a whole person, as God intended you to be, through faith in the Lord Jesus whom the Book reveals.
The case for preaching and teaching the Bible is very simply put: There is no other way by which you can be exposed to the thinking of God, except from the Word of God. The Bible is not in tune with secular philosophy. It is different than all the other books in the world, because it is a compendium of the thoughts of God about human life. God is the ultimate realist. In the Bible, he has condescended to give us his thoughts on everything about ourselves, about the world in which we live, about the morals and ethics of our behavior. This is why the church is to focus on the teaching of the Bible. Not only will it transform our behavior, but it, alone, brings salvation:
2 Timothy 3:15 (NKJV) and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The Bible, itself, does not save anybody, but the Scriptures are able to bring us to faith in Christ Jesus. He is the one who saves us. The Jesus who saves is the Jesus who is revealed only in the Bible. The only way we can come to know this Redeemer, this Savior of men, this One who can deliver us from the bondage of our own selfishness, is revealed in the pages of the Scriptures.
The Bible shows us how to be saved. The plan of salvation we discover in the pages of Scripture stands in sharp contrast to the world's plan. The world's idea is that salvation is something you earn; the Bible teaches that salvation is a gift from God:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
All of the Christian life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally and practically sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.
The world's idea is that all religions lead to God; the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way:
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Acts 4:12 (NKJV) "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
The world's idea is that God helps those who help themselves; the Bible teaches that God helps those who can't help themselves.
You cannot be exposed to this Book without being changed. You will think differently about yourself and others; you will regard your husband, or your wife, and your children in a totally different way. You will regard the frantic pursuit of wealth and pleasure, which the world goes in for, in a different light. You will make decisions on a totally different basis.
When you submit to the teaching of the Bible, you will find your thinking changed. You will be enabled to live realistically, to adjust to reality, to detect the confusions and the illusions of the world around, and to correct the things that are destroying humanity. The truth of the Bible leads to life. Anybody who believes that truth, and acts on it, will become enriched. Life becomes peaceful, calm, and joyful, even in the midst of trouble. The Bible invariably imparts an inner strengthening to those who live by it.
I don't often agree with the pope, but during his last visit to America, he said something that was profound. He said, "It is not the church's mission to change with the times; it is the church's mission to change the ethos (beliefs) of the times."How desperately the people of God need to stand in the midst of the pragmatism of modern culture and echo these words.
Berean Bible Church is committed to teaching the Word of God, and for that reason I believe that its existence is important. The Bible is God's Word, if we faithfully teach its message, we will impact our world.