Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Lone Singaporean Cowboy (The Local Church Part 3)

In relation to what we had been discussing, Harry A. Ironside once related the following account:

"When Pliny was governor of Bithynia, he wrote a most interesting letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan, asking why Christians were being exterminated, and added: "I have been trying to get all the information I could regarding them. I have even hired spies to profess to be Christians and become baptized in order that they might get into the Christian services without suspicion.

Contrary to what I had supposed, I find that the Christians meet at dead of night or at early morn, that they sing a hymn to Christ as God, that they read from their own sacred writings and partake of a very simple meal consisting of bread and wine and water (the water added to the wine to dilute it in order that there might be enough for all).

This is all that I can find out, except that they exhort each other to be subject to the government and to pray for all men."

Even amidst persecution, true believers in the infant New Testament local churches would come together for worship, fellowship and the breaking of the bread. How many Christians today would eagerly gather to enjoy sweet communion and fellowship with each other "at dead of night?" But some might retort, "Times are different now. We live in the age of technology, and we do not live in caves. We have bills to pay, children to feed, work to do." Surely, the New Testament scholars ought to know that Paul lived in the stone-age, Titus and Timothy lived in caves, Aquila and Priscilla had no bills to pay, and recent research had shown that having children is a twentieth century phenomenon.

Most certainly, compared to New Testament believers, Christians today believe they have more important events to attend to. In fact, it may even be a matter of life and death, such as catching up with certain assignments, meeting deadlines at work, taking the children out because they have been busy all week at school, meeting Spiderman in the cinemas, or simply filling those poor starving abdomens with essential vitamins and minerals which cannot be done at other occasions. But whatever the reasons, Christians today are too busy for church commitments. They are living in the real world.

The truth is, it is quite impossible for the Christian to grow spiritually and to mature without the mutual exhortation and support from fellow believers. Furthermore, no matter how dire the circumstances are (these include the reasons we give for not joining a local church), pastoral oversight is paramount. Without proper accountability and church discipline, it is spiritually lethal for the Christian pilgrim to walk alone amidst fleshly temptations, worldly attractions, and false doctrines.

Sometimes we wonder, within the comfortable and peaceful setting of Singapore, coupled with governmental protection and freedom of worship, what grounds could there be for Christians to refuse formal church membership and commitment?

There are indeed numerous reasons that Christians refrain from church membership. From the more frivolous to the more weighty reasons, we can observe a few recurring factors for avoiding commitment as church members.

The More Frivolous Reasons

The church does not meet my felt needs.
The church is not accessible from my home.
The pastor cannot heal my sickness, or make me wealthy.
The preaching is boring.
The worship is too traditional and unprofessional.
The church members are too aloof and unfriendly.
The church is so small; I feel everybody is looking at me.
The pastor wants to interfere with my life; who does he think he is?
I want to live my own life. Who needs accountability?
The pastor does not listen to my opinions.

The More Weighty Reasons

I cannot agree with the major doctrines of the church.
I cannot join a church that does not exercise church discipline i.e. the pastor does not rebuke sin and worldliness within the congregation.
The Pastor is not faithful to the Word i.e. the pastor is purpose-driven, money-driven, but not God-driven.
The church does not adhere to the Regulative Principle of Worship.
The church teaches false doctrines.
The church is apostate.
The church is not Reformed, but claims to be.

Among the more well-read Christians, there is a growing tendency for what Mark Dever calls "lone-rangerism." Here, we find a professing Christian who has a certain level of biblical knowledge, and is more concerned with the simplicity of worshipping and serving God according to his own notions and understanding of Scripture. Sometimes, such a professing Christian may be a genuine believer who has become disenchanted with his previous church experience. He may have encountered pastors or church leaders who are not biblically qualified, or are abusive and unfaithful to Scripture. On the other hand, there are those who choose to be lone-rangers simply because of the ease and lack of accountability with which such a lifestyle would accord them.

But no matter how disenchanted we are with our previous churches, we must accept the fact that there is no perfect church. Every church has its weaknesses, and every pastor is a redeemed sinner just like us. But the Word of God requires us to be under the oversight of a plurality of elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet.5:2), and exhorts us to have godly fellowship with other believers (Heb. 10:24-25). For these reasons alone, we ought to commit ourselves to a faithful, gospel preaching church as serving members.

In the meantime, these are some questions for the readers to consider:

Are you a member of a good, Reformed church? If not, why not?

What are the reasons you would accept as being legitimate for you to leave your existing local church?

In the next post, we shall discuss the importance of Christian fellowship within the context of a local church.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Local Church (Part 2) - Marks of a Healthy Church

The Biblical Functions of the Local Church Determine its Minimum Number

As I had stated earlier, I will approach the "local church" issue from a Reformed perspective. The true church must be able to perform its most fundamental functions as a local church. These include worship, evangelism, edification of the saints, and biblical church discipline. Furthermore, every local church pastor must preach the Word - that is, all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27) - and administer the sacraments. With those basic functions of the local church in view, it is not difficult to solve the scenarios presented in the previous post.

The minimum number of members is also dependent upon the circumstances and situation whereby the church is established. In scenarios whereby a missionary is sent to a foreign land as a pioneering pastor, it is often difficult for the newly established church to fulfill all its functions adequately. On top of leading the worship, preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, the pioneering pastor must do the work of an evangelist, groom believers to fill the church offices of elders and deacons, and oversee the young congregation. Sometimes, the home church may be able to send helpers or elders to assist the young missionary church. But this help is not always available. Oftentimes, the missionary pastor has to work alone. Tent-making may even be needful.

I once attended a missionary Baptist church while I was in Ireland (for those who do not realize, I was a Baptist then). Although the Baptist church was essentially a congregational church that did not believe in a plurality of elders, I had the privilege to labor with the pastor’s family, which was an excellent testimony for the Lord in the small county they were in. The family had to endure much hardship and persecution in order to witness to the local community. That Baptist church was a very small church. It was basically made up of the Pastor, his wife and children, and a handful of members. Despite its size, it was able to perform all the required functions of the local church. There were pastoral oversight, good church discipline, administration of the sacraments, faithful preaching of the Word, worship, evangelism, and warm Christian fellowship.

We must also consider the local churches in countries that persecute Christians; these are often located within the 10/40 window. In such countries, it is quite impossible for the faithful church to worship or evangelize openly. Despite the intense persecution, such local churches are not always small. On the contrary, some underground churches in countries such as China are quite sizeable. The spiritual health of these churches is sometimes even better than the best in so-called "Christian" states or countries.

By now, the reader should realize that the spiritual state of a local church is not related to its size. We cannot choose a local church based upon the size of its congregation, its architectural ingenuity, its sound system, the professionalism of its choir and musicians, the eloquence of its pastor, the number of communal facilities it has, the accessibility of its lavatories, or its proximity to one’s lodging. What, then, should we look for in a local church?

Marks of a Good Local Church

Please note that I will not be writing in any detail - except in passing - concerning the question of, "What constitutes a good, faithful church?" This issue is adequately addressed in Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004).

1) Doctrinal Faithfulness: First of all, we should look for doctrinal faithfulness to the Scripture in the local church. In my humble opinion, the old time Reformed evangelicalism known to Spurgeon, Whitfield, and the Great Puritan preachers ought to be greatly treasured. The veracity of the pulpit ministry and the church’s Sunday school are some of the things we should consider.

2) Expositional Preaching: There must be the courageous, expositional preaching of the whole council of God. The pastor should pay particular attention to the systematic preaching of the books of the Bible. He should seek to unfold the meaning of the Word, and apply it to the lives of the congregation. This is contrasted with topical preaching, whereby the pastor picks a topic to speak on, and uses certain Scripture texts to support his point of view.

3) Godly Leadership: A good local church should have godly leadership formed by a plurality of elders, with an emphasis on pastoral visitations and church oversight.

4) Godly Worship: There must be worship according to God’s standards and requirements. This is also known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. The reader should be aware that there is much debate concerning what constitutes true worship, and what constitutes an abomination to the thrice Holy God. For example, should worship be anglicized? That is, are we to use only English-sounding melodies in worship? Does God mandate the usage of only anglicized hymns and melodies? For those who advocate absolute psalmody, is it mandatory for the psalms to be sung with anglicized tunes and melodies? What about different chord sequences, rhythm, dissonance, etc?

5) Godly Church Discipline: There ought to be scrupulous church discipline, not to destroy the flock, but as a true manifestation of godly love for the local church. Sins, and in fact, all sins are to be rebuked and discouraged. Sinning members should be disciplined according to scriptural injunctions, and publicly sinning members should be publicly disciplined. Besides ethical and moral issues, doctrinal errors should also be dealt with. The leadership should have sufficient knowledge, wisdom, integrity, and love so as to be able to protect the flock against false doctrines and philosophies that are so prevalent in contemporary Christendom. Sometimes, the leadership may have sufficient knowledge, but lack the moral courage or integrity to rebuke such false teachings. This is the reason why aberrant doctrines are having a foothold in so many evangelical churches.
6) Sacraments: There must be the proper administration of the sacraments. Again, this is an area of rabid disagreement amongst brethren-in-Christ.

7) Evangelism: There should be a passionate concern with reaching out to the unbelieving world around us, and I am not referring to social work or political involvement. The church should be making disciples of all nations. It should not only be inward looking, but outward looking as well. The needs of the flock are paramount, but a lack of concern for the lost indicates a serious weakness in the local church members and leaders.

We shall explore some of the aforementioned points further when we consider the responsibilities of the individual church member. Furthermore, it is beneficial for us to study in passing what some evangelical leaders are saying concerning the marks of a healthy, local church.

John MacArthur, Marks of a Healthy Church (Chicago: Moody, 1990).

Marks of an Effective Church (p. 23)

1. godly leaders
2. functional goals and objectives
3. discipleship
4. penetrating the community
5. active church members
6. concern for one another
7. devotion to the family
8. Bible teaching and preaching
9. a willingness to change
10. great faith
11. sacrifice
12. worshiping God

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994).

Twelve Signs of a More Pure Church

1. biblical doctrine (or right preaching of the Word)
2. proper use of the sacraments (or ordinances)
3. right use of church discipline .
4. genuine worship
5. effective prayer
6. effective witness
7. effective fellowship
8. biblical church government
9. spiritual power in ministry
10. personal holiness of life among members
11. care for the poor
12. love for Christ

Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004).

1. expositional preaching
2. biblical theology
3. biblical understanding of the good news
4. biblical understanding of conversion
5. biblical understanding of evangelism
6. biblical understanding of church membership
7. biblical understanding of church discipline
8. biblical understanding of church leadership
9. concern for promoting Christian discipleship and growth

In my next post, we shall consider some of the reasons why certain Christians are not committed to faithful church membership.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Local Church - An Introduction (Part 1)

A brother in Christ asked if I could express my views concerning the local church and the responsibilities of the church member. There is actually much literature from the Evangelical scene concerning the responsibilities of the church member, and what constitutes a true church of Christ. Mark Dever, the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D. C., had written two good books - “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” and “The Deliberate Church”, which are extremely concise and useful for the young pastor building a local church to honor Christ. However, this good brother of mine is correct to point out that such books from a Reformed perspective are by far very few.

So, instead of reiterating the points already made in these excellent books, I would rather attempt to discuss the responsibilities of a church member based upon the salient functions of the local church. The phrase “local church” is not an uncommon baptistic theological term. While the terms “Church Universal and Invisible (WCF XXV:1)” and “Church Universal and Visible (WCF XXV:2)” are often used to discuss the Reformed view of ecclesiology, little emphasis is made by Reformed theologians with regard to the specific roles of the “local” church. From a Reformed perspective, the local church can rightly be defined as the “church visible, local, and militant.” The New Testament often uses the word “church” to designate a group of professing believers that is identified as a local assembly or congregation. For example, local churches can be found in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22), in Asia Minor (Acts 16:5), in Rome (Rom. 16:5), in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1), in Galatia (Gal. 1:2), in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1), and in the home of Philemon (Philem. 2). All of these local churches are part of the Universal, Visible Church.

A local church in a specific geographical locality can be correctly understood as a microcosm of the universal, visible Church. While a true child of God can never be separated from the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23, cf. Col. 1:18, Eph. 4:2-6) or the universal, invisible church triumphant, he can choose to segregate himself from an existential and experiential participation with the visible, local church militant. As such, the Christian can erroneously choose to neglect the obligations of church membership, submission to a plurality of elders, or godly fellowship with other believers.

Before we proceed further, the reader should be aware of the most elemental differences between the baptistic and the non-baptistic views of the local church. Mark Dever, expressing the baptistic view in contrast to the Presbyterian and the Episcopalian views, wrote, “The idea of the [local] church being a covenanted community of believers - and not just for everyone who lives in a particular locality - is an important contribution that Baptists particularly have made to our nation’s religious liberty. The church is not finally something that’s for you and every member of your family by physical, natural descent, or that is yours as a citizen of this nation. No, the New Testament teaches that the church is for believers, for those to whom God’s Holy Spirit has given the new birth and who join together in a covenanted community.” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 150.) The Westminster Confession, on the other hand, seems to contain a broader nuance when compared with the aforementioned description, “The visible church … … consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children …” It must, however, be emphasized that no matter which view one adheres to, the functions of the local church as a local community of professing believers remain the same.

The Minimum Number

Throughout the history of the Evangelical community in Singapore, there have always been pockets of Christians who are disenchanted with the New Evangelical church establishments in this little nation. I know of Christian brethren who had left their New Evangelical churches for a myriad of reasons, and had refused to commit themselves to any local church thereafter. According to them, it seems adequate to listen to downloaded sermons from the Internet, worship and study the bible in some “parachurch” fellowship groups, and evangelize every once in a while with a booklet or tract. Some of these brethren had defended their actions by stating that, “God is with us wherever there are two or three believers gathered together in His name to worship Him (Matt. 18:20).” They do not feel the necessity of joining any “man-made” religious institutions.

The first question I would like to address is this, “Is there a minimum number of people that is required to form a church?” I am not asking this question in conjunction with the local socio-legal context. There is, indeed, a minimum number required by the Singapore Registry of Societies in order for the church to be recognized by the state. And that minimum number is ten. What I am asking is this, “For God to recognize a church, what is the required, minimum number of professing believers?”

For those who are confused, do allow me to rephrase the question. If the local church is a gathering of a local community of professing believers, what then is the minimum number of members so that the church can still be called a “local church?” In other words, can a church consist of only two or three persons?

Instead of giving the reader a didactic, straightforward answer, I would guide you through a series of hypothetical scenarios.

Scenario One:

Let us take for example a church with a hundred members. It is called the Peace and Tranquility Historic Evangelical Trinitarian Independent Church (P.A.T.H.E.T.I.C.). Due to certain unforeseen circumstances e.g. emigration, natural disasters, deaths, and particularly, worldliness, the number of church members dwindle to ten. There are now 2 elders (including the pastor) and 8 church members. There are now no deacons, no musicians, no choir, and no laughing kids. Is this congregation of ten still considered to be a local church?

Scenario Two:

Within the same church (also known as P.A.T.H.E.T.I.C.), one of the two remaining elders apostatizes, and draws some of the members with him. There is now the faithful pastor, and three remaining members. Can this congregation of four be called a church? Should they dissolve their church, and join a bigger church?

Scenario Three:

There is a solitary, lonely Christian with very strong and peculiar doctrinal convictions. In fact, he will only join a church which agrees with him 100 percent of the time. He subsequently declares himself to be some kind of “elder.” This is because he considers himself to be a mature Christian due to his extensive theological knowledge. He worships God from his home; he listens to sermons downloaded from the internet (perhaps from or Grace To You); he celebrates the “Lord’s Supper” with his Christian friends from other churches. But he refuses to join any local church. Is this practice viable or defensible?

Scenario Four:

In another case, there is a Christian missionary who finds himself laboring in a remote island in a foreign land. His family was sent there by his church in Singapore. There is no Christian church in that area within 1000 km diameter. In fact, there is not even a cult in sight. The only breathing creatures beyond 100km are the squids, dolphins and an assortment of crustaceans. He decides to start a mission church in this island so as to evangelize the local tribesmen. He and his family of three listen to downloaded sermons and worship the Lord together. Can he start a local church as a lone pastor with his wife and two children?

Note: This post is the first in a series of posts on the local church.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Christian and Controversies

We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win. - Francis Schaeffer

The following post is a reflection based upon the book by Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976).

What is the distinguishing mark of a true child of God? According to Francis Schaeffer, "Love - and the unity it attests to - is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father." (p. 35) At first glance, it seems that Schaeffer is simply regurgitating the same definition of love as propounded by the ecumenical, syncretistic wing of Evangelicalism. The world likewise is inclined to define "love" as a romantic, deep inner feeling - more like a kind of sentimentalism or emotionalism. This "love" is all encompassing and all embracing. It transcends every breed of false philosophy, worldliness, and loose living. But are Christians indeed commanded to show before a watching world this sort of "love?"

I believe Schaeffer clearly elucidated the biblical meaning of love when he dealt with the question of, "What happens, then, when we must differ with other brothers in Christ because of the need also to show forth God's holiness either in doctrine or in life?" (p. 25) In other words, when faced with controversies - be it doctrinal or experiential - how are true brethren-in-Christ supposed to react and respond (cf. John 13:34-35; John 17:21)? When confrontation becomes necessary so as to uphold the holiness of God and the truth of the Word, what should be the Christian’s attitude and reaction to such situations?

I shall now reiterate the following points as observed by Schaeffer. "First, we should never come to such difference with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men's mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians." (p. 26)

Loving confrontation is sometimes necessary, but nevertheless, such confrontation might become the bedrock for further bitterness and controversies in the future. A Christian man does not come to such controversies with an appetite whet by the prospect of blood and claw. A peaceable man approaches such controversies with a distaste that is rightly contrasted with the eagerness with which the moth dances around the candlelight. It is no pleasant task to rebuke or to correct error, and such correction must not be done apart from the sincere desire to edify and build up the brother-in-Christ. But it must be emphasized that a genuinely loving Christian will love his brother enough to drag him away from the fire of self-destruction. The godly pastor will love his congregation enough to risk reputation, popularity and offerings so as to lead his flock to safe pastures and clear waters. And woe is the man who, seeing his sheep running astray, keeps his peace and usher the flock to the wolves. Woe is the man who is unable to find the courage to rebuke error, and yet maintain a fa├žade of holiness, peace and unity before his flock. Such is the cause of ruin for many Christian churches. Nevertheless, we will do well to follow Schaeffer’s admonition, "The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God's sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed." (pp. 26-27)

Secondly, we must have the maturity to discern the gravity of the differences that separate brethren-in-Christ. Not all differences hold the same measure of importance within the Lord’s church. Some are only matters of preference, while others may even be soul-damning errors. But in all areas of differences, Christians must possess "a practical demonstration of love in the midst of the dilemma even when it is costly." (p. 28) Schaeffer elucidates further, "The more serious the wrongness is, the more important it is to exhibit the holiness of God, to speak out concerning what is wrong. At the same time, the more serious the differences become, the more important it becomes that we look to the Holy Spirit to enable us to show love to the true Christians with whom we must differ. If it is only a minor difference, showing love does not take much conscious consideration. But where the difference becomes really important, it becomes proportionately more important to speak for God's holiness. And it becomes increasingly important in that place to show the world that we still love each other." (p. 27)

Love must never be confused with an accommodating spirit towards error, or an attitude of indifference masquerading as an appearance of peaceable unity and comradeship. This is not biblical love. This is the devil’s lie. It is the devil’s way of removing all forms of correction and rebuke by imposing a charge of bigotry and hatred against the one who raises an opposition against error. And how else would the devil deceive the church into capitulating with error unless such godly corrections are silenced, and better still, redefined as anti-Christian pride and intolerance?

Is the true mark of the Christian merely "love?" Many religions and cults preach about love. Buddhists and New-Agers are able to exhibit love in the form of philanthropy, kindness, accommodation and tolerance. So how does such "love" distinguish the Christian man from adherents of other religions? Of course it cannot! Biblical love is holy love. It is the form of love that must hate evil, sin and worldliness. This love is first and foremost directed towards God and His Word, which is subsequently manifested as obedience to his commandments. As the Apostle John has declared, "But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him (1 John 2:5)." We must, therefore, never attempt to create an antithesis between holiness and love. The Christian who claims to love God and his brethren must first be exemplary in his Christian life. His walk must be marked by godliness, holiness, and truth. Only then can he claim to love his brethren, and not by giving in to error, but by an active and loving confrontation of such worldliness, sins, and untruths.

As Schaeffer emphasized, "So often people think that Christianity is only something soft, only a kind of gooey love that loves evil equally with good. This is not the biblical position. The holiness of God is to be exhibited simultaneously with love. We must be careful therefore, not to say that what is wrong is right, whether it is in the area of doctrine or of life, in our own group or another. Anywhere what is wrong is wrong, and we have a responsibility in that situation to say that what is wrong is wrong. But the observable love must be there regardless of the cost." (p. 28) True Christian love can only be demonstrated with power when there is moral courage, godly integrity, and biblical obedience to God’s Word. A coward who pussyfoots around crucial issues, and is unable to find the nerve to rebuke sin within the congregation might appear to be a loving, patient, and understanding leader. But in the eyes of the holy God, such "love" is abhorrent, impotent, and characterizes the spirit of the blind watchmen of ancient Israel (cf. Isaiah 56:10).

Finally, we must accept Schaeffer’s proposal that the proper way of resolving differences amongst Christians is to adopt a problem-solving mind-set. He writes, "[One] way we can show and exhibit love without sharing in our brother's mistake is to approach the problem with a desire to solve it, rather than with a desire to win. We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win." (p. 29)

It is a fact that personal pride may grip the heart of the Christian man, and such sinful attitudes are often manifested as a lustful desire to win. It is a carnal desire to win every debate and argument, not for the edification of the saints, but rather for the puffing up of one’s pride. We must rather approach the sinning brethren with an appeal towards correction and reformation. True Christian concern and love stems from a heart which is yielded to the Word of God, and this submission to Christ’s Lordship is subsequently extrapolated to a godly longing for the building-up of the brethren. The Christian who is obedient to Christ would want to see similar obedience and submission in the lives of his fellow brethren. As such, such a Christian man has mastered his impetus to win. He seeks to edify, to build-up, to reform.

While we agree with Francis Schaeffer that the mark of a Christian is love, we must be reminded that such a love is radically different from the "love" as perceived by the world and other religions. It stands in contradistinction from the lovey-dovey, mawkish sentimentalism as propounded by the pagans. In times of confrontation and differences, the Christian is reminded to balance godly love and holiness, "without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Quote of the Day: Tozer on the Church

"A religious mentality characterized by timidity and lack of moral courage has given us today a flabby Christianity, intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious and, to a great many persons, just plain boresome. This is peddled as the very faith of our fathers in direct lineal descent from Christ and the apostles. We spoon-feed this insipid pabulum to our inquiring youth and, to make it palatable, spice it up with carnal amusements filched from the unbelieving world. It is easier to entertain than to instruct, it is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself, so too many of our evangelical leaders let their minds atrophy while they keep their fingers nimble operating religious gimmicks to bring in the curious crowds."

A. W. Tozer, "We Need Sanctified thinkers," God Tells the Man who Cares (Cumbria, UK: OM Publishing, 1994), 124.

I believe Tozer, in his essays on the contemporary Christian church, had rightly captured the essence of the "Evangelical problem." His elaborate and deliberate usage of adjectival phrases gives us an accurate, albeit prophetic, description of Christendom as it is today. And it is amazing that he was able to discern these issues decades ahead of our time.

As I am of the Reformed persuasion, I will speak of evangelicalism as it is epitomized by the Reformed churches in Singapore today. My observations and opinions might be representative of Reformed churches elsewhere in the world, but only the reader can affirm my suspicion. Nevertheless, it is thought that Evangelicalism today is characterized by "timidity and lack of moral courage." Instead of the fiery sermons exemplified by the Sermon on the Mount, some churches today resort to a euphemistic paraphrasing of offensive terminologies, coupled with the additions of somnolent chants and Victorian English which are supposed to be an intellectual rendition of Reformation sayings and discourses. Instead of preaching and bringing forth the Word of Christ in an attempt to trouble the conscience of the listeners, the sermons are designed to tickle the carnal intellect and interests of the church-goers. Such a form of Christianity does not bear any resemblance, if at all, to the religion of our Lord and the Apostles. The church has successfully stripped the content of the Bible of all its exhortations to challenge the soul, and the commandments of our Lord for a radical reformation of life fit for the Kingdom of God. Those who hear the sermons seldom feel the necessity for reform or change. This is because those sermons only serve to persuade the intellect of its hearers, but never manage to get their conscience into trouble with God. And unless the preacher is able to get the listeners to re-examine their lives on bended knees, Evangelicalism and Reformed Christianity must remain to be "flabby," "intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious and … boresome."

This is not due to the ineffectiveness of the Word to divide asunder the soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12). But the Word coupled with moral cowardice cannot bring forth the intent of the Holy Ghost. The face of many preachers light up whenever there are discussions on the various elements of proper homiletics. But here is an element that requires diligent adherence: the Word must be preached faithfully, courageously, and as it is. There is not so much as the dearth of the Word, but rather the cowardly, lily-livered preaching of the Word in Reformed churches today that is eating away the biblical foundations of the Reformation. Instead of entreating and challenging the pew-warmers within our churches to live holy lives according to the high standards of the Bible (and mind you, the standards of the Bible are high), they are treated to the chaff, wood and stubble of community activities, fellowship fun, and coffee breaks. And all of these are done in the name of love, peace and togetherness. There is little wonder that believers today know so little of the cross-carrying, self-sacrificial, and world-denying lives of the first-century Christians.

We cannot and must not replace the homiletical challenges to holy living with the fun, games, and joy of community activities. For without the testimony of the saints, the disciplinary oversight of the church, and the purity of Christ in our lives, the church will inevitably denigrate herself to the level of a community centre or a public amusement park. If the church fails to challenge her members - who would in turn challenge the worldly zeitgeist - how can we ever call ourselves the salt and light in this world? Unless the church is able to shout to the world, "We are holy as God is holy", what differences then lie between us and them? Are we so conformed to the world such that we are indistinguishable from the world?

Tozer summarized the issues succinctly - "It is easier to entertain than to instruct, it is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself." Furthermore, it is easier to be the peace-maker, than to be the faithful preacher; it is easier to keep ourselves looking busy, rather than to be holy; it is easier to be the coward, than to be the martyr; it is far easier to be Pilate, than to be John the Baptist, to be Balaam, rather than to be Micaiah. And while we keep ourselves busy keeping the people together so that the church will look larger and warmer, the souls are starved for spiritual food and true communion with the living God. In the meantime, the financial planning and church activities must go on. But how many of us are able to perceive the spiritual blight that is devouring the church like a canker?

One such man is Aidan W. Tozer.