The “hottest” response I’ve had to anything I’ve written on this blog came after I posted the text of an email I had written to a young Christian woman (name withheld), begging her to end her relationship with a non-Christian man. I posted some clarifications in the comments which seemed to stem the flow of hostility!
Not long after this, I was contacted by another young woman I know, who told me how thankful she was to her pastor for warning her about a similar relationship. I asked her if she would write out her testimony about this experience, and I am so grateful that she agreed. Her name is Angela McInnes, now happily married to James, a student for the ministry at the Free Church Seminary in Inverness, Scotland.
Having seen so many Christians damage their lives and testimony in a mad dash to marry, regardless of the warnings and counsel of God’s Word and God’s people, I pray that God will use this testimony to prevent this happening to others, and also to rescue those caught in this snare of the Devil. I also hope it will encourage pastors to lovingly warn their straying sheep. Here is Angela’s story.
I had always feared marrying an unbeliever as it is clear from scripture to be wrong – I had seen a number of friends do this and their spiritual life stalled. I remember speaking to one friend who was engaged to an unbeliever about her relationship and her response was that she knew scripture taught it was wrong, but that in her situation God had made an “exception”. “Are you not afraid that this person, the one you love the most in this world, will one day go to a lost eternity if they are not saved?” I asked. “I’ll just have to deal with that if it ever comes to it,” she replied and they married.
It was a very difficult but a very right thing for my minister to speak to me and warn me. As much as it hurt at the time, I am extremely grateful that he spoke out against my sin and the road I was taking. It’s not easy to face and rebuke a very emotional woman – my poor minister didn’t get a “thanks” at the time as I was pretty wild at him! But I love him for it now. Some might think what’s all the fuss, especially if we are not dating anyone. But God makes clear in His Word that sin begins in the heart (Matthew 5:28) and we should deal with it then (or when it’s reached temptation point), and not wait until people get so deeply entrenched in wrong relationships, when it’s so much harder to end them.
May 4, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
May 3, 2010 • By David Murray • 3 Comments
What would you say to a church where two of its most promising young “Christians” had not only left the faith but had turned against it with mockery and hostility? That’s the very real scenario I was asked to address recently at a small gathering of pastors and elders. It is undoubtedly one of the most agonizing and disturbing experiences in the Christian life when a dear friend or family member, abandons his/her profession of faith. I’ve known this very personally and painfully, both among my relations and in my pastoral ministry.I was asked to give some guidance to these pastors and elders on how to deal with such situations in their own congregations. I assumed that every attempt had been made to recover the lost “sheep,” and that the members had been excommunicated. So my advice was really limited to how to minister to the hurting and puzzled sheep who remain. Leaning heavily on John Owen’s epic work on apostasy, I suggested a series of sermons on the following themes (the same subjects should also be emphasized in pastoral visitation). 1. The perseverance of the saints
Some Christians will be shaken by the apostasy of another professing Christian. “If he can fall then what hope is there for me?” So, preach God’s great promises of eternal security to His true people (John 6:39, 40; 10:28, 29). 2. Apostasy is to be expected
This should really be preached before apostasy occurs, to prevent people being taken by surprise when it does happen. The whole Old Testament is a story of Israel’s apostasy. In the New Testament, we have individual apostates such as Judas and Demas. Some in Corinth denied the resurrection, and some in Galatia went back to the law as a way of salvation. No wonder the Apostles urged the churches to expect apostasy (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Cor. 11:19; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:8; Jude; 1 John 2:19). 3. The danger areas of apostasy
John Owen highlighted three areas in which apostasy usually begins: doctrine, lifestyle, and worship. Owen traced doctrinal apostasy to a lack of Christian experience. He said that when someone has no experience of personal need, no sense of God’s righteousness, no spiritual sight of Christ’s glory, no submission to the sovereignty of God, and no trembling at God’s Word, then doctrinal apostasy is just around the corner. Owen actually regarded an unholy lifestyle as more likely to produce apostasy than abandoning some Christian doctrines. He saw both legalism and lawlessness as leading eventually to apostasy. Owen also argued that if we neglect, refuse to observe, or add to God’s instructions for worship, apostasy will not be far behind. Pastors should highlight these three danger areas of doctrine, lifestyle, and worship, and urge watchfulness upon the flock. 4. The causes of apostasy
Owen went on to list particular causes of apostasy, so that pastors and their congregations will “watch and pray.”
- Deeply-rooted and unremoved enmity in the minds of many against spiritual things
- Pride and vanity of the mind which refuses to bow before the authority of Scripture
- Sloth and negligence
- False assurance and groundless self-confidence
- False sense of security due to neglect of the Spirit’s warnings about apostasy
- Love of the world and its passing pleasures (Demas in 2 Tim. 4:10)
- As the first “apostate” Satan draws many into apostasy and forces others to apostatize through persecution
- Persons in high positions in the church leading evil lives (Jer. 23:15; 1 Sam. 2:12-17)
- Unrepented national sins that influence the people
- Divisions in the church
- The uselessness of many Christians
5. The distinction between a stumble (Peter) and a fall (Judas)
Pastors need to skillfully distinguish between a Christian’s stumble and an apostate’s fall. Every Christian errs in doctrine, falls into sin, and offers faulty worship from time to time. That does not make them an apostate. Owen defined apostasy as “continued persistent rebellion and disobedience to God and his word,” or “total and final and public renunciation of all the chief principles and doctrines of Christianity.”
Hebrews 6 describes apostasy as “crucifying again the Son of God and putting him to an open shame.” By declaring they have tried Christ and His Gospel and found no truth or goodness in them, apostates do exactly what the Jews did. In fact, Owen says Christian apostasy is worse because the Jews did it in “ignorance.” 7. God’s judgment on apostasy
In addition to reminding the professing Christians in the congregation of how abominable apostasy is in God’s sight, they also need to be shown from Scripture the temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments that fall on apostates. God uses His descriptions of how he abominates and judges apostasy as a means of grace to keep people from apostasy. 8. The need for perseverance
God’s great promises of the perseverance of the saints are given to those who persevere in the means of preservation that God has provided. Christians need to be reminded of the incalculable need and value of the Church, the Word, the sacraments, and fellowship. 9. How to avoid apostasy
John Owen wanted Christians to know that apostasy could be avoided by heart-cure and heart-care (Prov. 4:23). Keep the Gospel at the very center of our hearts; love its truth and experience its power there. Keep sin out of our hearts, especially the highly-dangerous sins of spiritual pride and a censorious, judgmental spirit. Conclusion
When apostasy occurs in a congregation, it is often tempting to ignore it and put up the “business as usual” sign. However, this does not address the deep needs of Christians and non-Christians who are hurt and perplexed by such events. It also misses the opportunity to prepare the church for future disappointments. So, I would encourage pastors and elders to focus on these nine themes, both in public and in private. PS. Thanks to Michael DeWalt for his ongoing work in this unpopular and much-neglected area of biblical teaching. I hope it eventually sees the light of day!
May 1, 2010 • By David Murray • 3 Comments
Here’s a new website on biblical spirituality being started by Brian Najapfour, a PRTS student from the Philippines. Brian graduated from PRTS with a ThM and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Biblical Spirituality under Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is what Brian says about the website:
We have launched a new website called biblicalspirituality.com especially devoted to the study of biblical spirituality (Puritan, reformed, and evangelical spirituality in particular).
One purpose of this website is to provide unpublished papers that deal with the subject of spirituality for researchers. Thus, if you have written any paper on the subject that has not yet been published, we encourage you to submit it to us, and we will have it posted here, so that others can also benefit from your work. The paper can be e-mailed to Brian G. Najapfour at email@example.com
The ultimate goal of this site is to cultivate holiness in the lives of the believers, especially of pastors. We are convinced that the greatest need of many churches today is the holiness of their pastors. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) says, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”
Please join us in this endeavor. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated. Many thanks!
May 1, 2010 • By David Murray • 3 Comments
Here is the full text of the series of blog posts I ran this week on evangelistic preaching. May God use it to stir up a revival of Christ-centered gospel preaching to the unsaved.