I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles).
In a general session address, John MacArthur spoke about Christ’s call to Reformation in our day. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.
One of the most notable things about John MacArthur is that he is a polarizing preacher, author, and speaker. In my estimation, this is one of the reasons why he is such a good speaker. His direct approach and candid delivery are always quite engaging. While I have some areas of disagreement, on the whole I believe MacArthur is a strong theologian. Moreover, his four decades of pastoral ministry in one local church speaks of the seriousness with which he regards such an office. During his time in ministry, MacArthur has been an ever-sounding reformation alarm to American Christianity. It was appropriate that he address the topic of “Christ’s call to Reformation” among churches and pastors.
MacArthur asked an interesting question at the outset, “Have you ever heard of a church that repented?” MacArthur went on to say, “Churches needs to repent before they can call the nation to repent.” This was MacArthur’s way of setting the stage for what was to come. Essentially, he went on to explain that repentance and reformation are necessary among our churches today.
From chapters two and three of Revelation, MacArthur walked through the progression of sin and the need for reformation in the churches listed among the seven. He noted at the outset that there is no commendation in this passage for making sinners feel welcome among the church. No stranger to lashing out against the “seeker-sensitive” movement, MacArthur pointed to the reality that the church is not actually supposed to feel overly welcoming to those who oppose Christ and remain in sin.
Observing the exclusions of Smyrna and Philadelphia (these churches were not chastised, but only commended by Christ), MacArthur showed how each church among the seven went from bad to worse. He argued that the number of genuine believers among each congregation decreased as the passage continued. If the passage can be understood as an exemplary pattern of the slippery slide into apostasy, MacArthur contended, then we may be served well by examining the initial misstep.
The first church mentioned is that of Ephesus, and the repentance and reformation needed there is a reacquisition of the “first love.” It is instructive, then, that we consider the object of appropriate affection and devotion. Of course, the love that every Christian and every congregation must have (first and foremost) is love for Jesus Christ. MacArthur said, “Your people cannot love Christ fully if they don’t know Him fully.” Then he challenged pastors when he said, “They cannot know Him fully unless you preach Him fully.” MacArthur’s charge was straightforward, as usual. He proclaimed that pastors ought to teach the fullness of God’s Word, and pastors ought not shy away from any doctrines of Scripture. The local church is intended to be a Christ-loving and disciple-making family.
During this presentation I was in perfect agreement with Dr. MacArthur, but I did take an honest inventory of my own expectations and what I believe are the general expectations among my congregation. I am still fairly new among my people (not quite 2 years), so I am still able to see a significant distinction between my own posture and perspective and that of my congregation. Of course, there are some in my church family who align with me more than others, but I am thinking on the whole and in general terms.
For my own part, I do notice a desire in me to be liked and admired by the world. I also see a possible shift of emphasis towards acting on behalf of Christ rather than living as Christ lives in me. On the first count, my love for this world must be overshadowed by my love for Christ, and I believe that God is still doing this work in me. On the second count, this perennial struggle (some seasons seem less affectionate than others) is also an ongoing part of my own divinely-empowered sanctification.
For my congregation’s part, it appears that we are likely very similar to many Southern Baptist churches today. We seem very interested in being a welcoming place to all, a well-programed institution, and a service-oriented society. These are not inherently bad, but they can each shift us away from the main thing if we are not careful. Additionally, I am glad to say that we do not seem to have a strong inclination to capitulate to our culture on some socially taboo matters (such as same-sex attraction, transgenderism, and abortion). Yet, we have proven more than willing to accommodate the culture on other matters (such as no-fault divorce, promiscuity, and the idolatry of hobbies and/or family).
There is always room for improvement (at both the personal and congregational levels), and this (I believe) is the meaning of semper reformanda.
May God forgive us where we fail Him, correct us where we disobey, and empower us to serve Him well in our day. To Christ be the glory for all He has done, and to Christ be the glory for what He will do.