Penny’s Pen: Latest Adventures in The Bluff

June 27, 2010

Last Lord’s Day morning Frank had been invited by Pastor Ray Beckham to preach at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in the English Avenue neighbourhood which contains the high-crime area known as The Bluff. The pastor’s brother is Kelvin, who has been attending our Bible studies.  We were greeted warmly, as Pastor Beckham introduced Frank.  This introduction lasted for more than five minutes, with Pastor Beckham detailing not only how he first heard of Frank but all the other times they have been in contact with each other.  He spoke in quite lengthy fashion about the experience they shared at the English Avenue Neighborhood Association meeting in early June, to which Frank had taken R. P. Missions Team member, Stephen McCollum, visiting from Ireland.  This was the second EANA meeting Frank had attended in his effort to be more informed about and involved in the attempt to clean up the neighborhood.  That meeting had been considerably disrupted by a fellow who kept rudely interrupting the moderator of the meeting (Pastor Beckham).  At one point Frank got to his feet to confirm the authority and rulings of the moderator, and was verbally attacked by this person who, among other things, hurled racial slurs at Frank, accusing him of being a white racist.  An off-duty policeman in the audience threatened to call for back-up if the fellow did not stop.  Everyone was very embarrassed and apologised to Frank and Stephen.  After the meeting, this fellow asked for forgiveness from Frank and also asked Frank to pray for him.  Pastor Beckham relayed the entire story with the editorial comment that Frank had stood firm in supporting the moderator in a situation that was tumultuous and he didn’t back down.  He also emphasized the way that the Lord had brought this person to a point of repentance.

Frank preached on Ephesians 2, with the title “But God…”, the sermon lasting close to an hour.  The congregation was very lively, vocalizing their appreciation for the points that Frank was making.  This in turn made Frank more lively in the pulpit that I have ever seen him.  His gestures and the range and inflection of his voice were more pronounced than usual.  When he finished, Pastor Beckham told those assembled that they need to understand that there is more than one way to preach, and that what they had just experienced was called expository preaching.  He went on to explain what that meant, saying that they will never read Ephesians 2 again without remembering the words that Pastor Smith had preached.  He also remarked, to the vocal concurrence of the congregation, that it doesn’t matter whether one is Baptist, Presbyterian or whatever; it is the truth that counts.   There followed a lengthy altar call in which four people came forward while the congregation sang from memory a song that we did not know.  These four were led in the “sinner’s prayer” and then prayers were offered for them before we were dismissed.  Frank was thanked for his message by just about everyone there (about 60 or so people) and we both received numerous hugs and handshakes.  We were given cold drinks and invited to stay for lunch.  However, we had already arranged to drive the half hour up to eat lunch with our son and his family and rest before heading back down to The Bluff for the Bible study.

Thankfully it was not as hot as the previous two weeks.  Earlier that day we had been pleasantly surprised to see that the weeds around the steps had been cut and trash picked up.  Only four people joined Bob and ourselves, including Willie Dyck and C.J., but again, there was lively interaction and great discussion.  We are hopeful that Wallace, who was new to the group, will return.  Mike missed the study having not noticed the time but came up as we were departing, promising to try and keep track of the time in future.  Prayer was requested for Little Rotten, a young man about 18 years old who has fathered two children, is thin, diabetic and very sickly, who received four bullet wounds one day last week.  He is in the hospital and Mike doesn’t know how he’s doing.  That is just one example of life in The Bluff.

We do have some troubling news to report.  First of all, the first Sunday in June, Mary “disappeared” for a while during the Bible study.  When we found her she refused to let us take her home, insisting that she wanted to stay there the night.  Unable to force her to change her mind, we had to leave her there.  Two days later she called and told Frank that she cannot go back to The Bluff again.  Our assumption is that while there she had fallen into temptation.

Secondly, you remember Kelvin’s excitement at his having made it through detox, and his pronouncement, “I’m clean, I’m clean”.  This gave him hope that he could find a job, and excitement in the fact that his wife, who had left him when he was on drugs, now appeared to be seeking reconciliation.  However, about a week later, things went downhill for him.  He was promised a job through a family member but it was eventually given to a relative of another worker at the restaurant.  And his wife broke the news to him that she had divorced him back in April.  He has not attended the Bible study since then, but we did see him at the service at his brother’s church last Lord’s Day morning.  He promised that he would be at the study in the evening but he did not show up and is not answering phone calls.

This may well leave Frank and me without the assistance of someone from the neighbourhood.  We had always believed that we needed an African- American with us in order to be accepted by the community, but our experience over the last two Lord’s Days has shown that the Lord can use us as we are.  We may feel that our ministry has been weakened but the Lord can take even our feeble efforts and use them for his glory.

Penny’s Pen: O Ye Of Little Faith

June 20th  2010

It was a hot, sultry afternoon as Frank and I headed into Atlanta.  Roadside temperature readings varied between 98˚ and 100˚.  Downtown skyscrapers shimmered in the heat.

We were still smarting from a low turnout the previous Lord’s Day evening, when, also in high heat and humidity, we attracted only one person to the Bible study in addition to Pastor Frank, Elder Bob and myself, and, for the first time, Amy Work, the daughter of Stephen Work, pastor of Quinter Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kansas.  Amy, a Christian school teacher in her twenties, had wanted to experience our downtown ministry but had been very disappointed at the lack of activity , and I was already anticipating that she would be disappointed again.  The only person from the area who had attended last week was our faithful supporter Kelvin, who was still radiating excitement over his successful detox treatment and the possibility of reconciliation with his wife.  But this Lord’s Day we knew ahead of time that neither Kelvin nor Mary were going to be with us, and I felt very faint of heart as we drove south.

So it was with little faith that we traveled on to The Bluff.  This time we did not split up to distribute invitations, but spread out across the street, staying in visual contact with each other as we walked around the block.  In spite of the heat there were several people out walking or sitting on porches.  At one point we stumbled upon Nakisha sitting in the shade on an upturned five- gallon paint can.  You may remember that we had already developed a relationship with her, and had been praying, at her specific request, that she would get off drugs and stay out of jail.  She was busy wiping eyeliner off her fingers and was most concerned that we would know that she was clean, having just taken a bath.  The subject of cleanliness came up several times, which was noteworthy for the irony, being in sharp contrast to her lifestyle.  She was pleased to see us and was keen to talk.  She told us that, since we had seen her last, she had spent 15 days in jail for solicitation, having been nabbed by an undercover officer.  Remarkably, she also said that she had the opportunity to pay a $250 fine instead, which her mother would have paid for her, but that she decided it would actually be better for her to spend the time in jail.  She went on to tell us that her mother lives in Marietta and longs for Nakisha to go and live with her but that she is just not ready to give up the drugs.  She shared that she used to have a really good job as secretary at a heart-transplant unit, as well as a home and two cars.  When she started taking drugs she thought that she could have it all.  Obviously she couldn’t, and now she prostitutes herself to feed her heroin and cocaine habit.  As we were talking, four police cars with lights and sirens blazing, swung round the corner and past us.  We assume they were about to conduct a drug raid.  Nakisha walked with us to the church steps but disappeared into a nearby house to get a towel, promising to return.  With her disappearance, the three of us were left alone to “ring the church bell” by singing Amazing Grace. 

Frank began the study in Genesis 3 and after a short while a man with an enormous amount of dreadlocks piled up on his head topped with an outsize woolen cap came and sat between Amy and me, creating somewhat of an incongruous sight.  He did wander off eventually but not before others started to join us including Nakisha, Mike and Willie Dyck (pronounced Dyke).  A total of eight of the local residents participated, making eleven altogether.  Frank solicited responses as he talked about the tempter, the tempted and the temptation.  Nakisha hit the nail on the head with some of her comments showing that she understood her sin and her need for a saviour.  She asked again that we pray for her to have the desire to give up the drugs, insisting that she needed us to pray on her behalf because she wasn’t ready to give them up.  Amy made a valiant effort to persuade her of the need to pray this prayer herself, and lively dialogue ensued between the two of them with Mike and Willie adding encouraging comments.  Willie even sounded like a Calvinist as he insisted that God will make her ready in his own timing, and that when that time comes she won’t be able to resist him.  Nakisha continued to insist, “I’m not going to play with God.  I’m not going to pray for something I don’t really want.”  However, we were impressed by her honesty and her refusal to be hypocritical.  It was an amazing experience to witness this discussion on sin and repentance.

Frank spent time praying for the assembled company, after which we continued chatting for a while.  Mike helped us to carry our ice-box and easel back to the car because, as he said, it can be dangerous loitering in that neighbourhood, even in daylight.  That fact was not lost on us, of course, when we took on this mission.  However, we have been providentially led to this street corner and believe that we will be providentially protected.  Mike went on to tell us that he had been a pre-veterinary student at GeorgiaStateUniversity until he got hooked on heroin.  He is keen to get out of the neighbourhood, realizing that he will never be able to get clean until he does.

As we drove away from The Bluff that afternoon we felt rebuked for our lack of faith.  The fact was not lost on us that, no matter how often we find the Lord gracious in answering our prayers in a way that is beyond what we could think or imagine, we are still afraid of being presumptive.  But where is our faith?  The events of that Sabbath afternoon have reminded me that not only can we approach the throne of grace boldly but that we should also look to the Lord to answer our prayers boldly.  It is true that we should not presume upon him, but we should also be more ready than we are to expect a blessing.  In this case our gracious God showed us that he can and does use our feeble efforts to bring glory to himself and encouragement to us.

Penny’s Pen: The Bluff

June 6th, 2010

We have been ministering to residents of the drug and prostitution racked slum known as The Bluff for eight weeks now. We were led to go there by Mary, to whom we have been ministering for over a year. As our Bible studies in church buildings had not given us the response we had prayed for and as it appeared to be the Lord’s will that we discontinue that effort, Mary insisted that we needed to go to the heart of the problem, “out to the highways and byways,” as she kept saying, quoting our Lord.

Mary herself was delivered from her own addiction to heroin as the result of a stroke which left her in a coma for 28 days, and she constantly encourages others with addictions to get themselves into treatment centers.

Mary’s now-deceased husband was the drug kingpin in The Bluff, so even though Mary now lives in the old Imperial Hotel, which has been turned into low income apartments, everyone down there knows her and knows the difference that being clean has made to her as she loudly gives the praise to God and calls everyone to come and hear the gospel.

Driving into this neighbourhood, comprising broken down houses, boarded up buildings, and streets littered with trash including old mattresses and broken furniture, is somewhat breathtaking. Folk, including some homeless people who have taken up residence in abandoned buildings, and heroin-addicted men and women, are hanging around in groups on street corners or on porches, looking menacingly at us as we pass by, which is very intimidating. Their reaction is not surprising, as it has been made clear to us a couple of times by residents there that they are suspicious that we may be police informants. When Mary is with us, however, as we drive to the derelict church building, park and get out of the car, it is less intimidating than when we have only people from the northern suburbs with us.

This past Lord’s Day Bob, Stephen McCollum (visiting with the RP Global Missions Team), Frank and I, along with Mary, enjoyed a most exciting and blessed time. All day the weather had been stormy, and as we were driving in and out of rain for the fifty minute drive down GA 400 we wondered whether, for the first time, we would be unable to meet outdoors. Naturally, as we were driving, I was praying that the Lord would divide the rain clouds and give us a clear patch of sky so that the gospel could continue to be proclaimed, even though I knew that, in his providence, that may not be his will.

As we arrived and started talking to folk, inviting them to come to hear the Word of God, we were warmed by the reception we received. We split up to talk to people, with Bob going in one direction, Stephen in another, Frank and I in another, and Mary hugging many of her old friends, pleading with them to “come to church” on the steps of the old church building. Between us we cause quite a stir at that intersection which has one of the highest crime rates in the country, and we are coming to be recognized and even anticipated. One of the men, Willie Dyck, a Vietnam veteran who has attended a couple of times was extremely excited to see us again. He had brought his friend Cass along, having told him about Frank’s teaching and our personal interest in him and his family. A group of men that Frank and I approached said that they weren’t interested in attending, but a couple of them thanked us for coming each week, and one even said that it’s great that we “come down from the north” to preach to “poor folks like us.” The fact that he knew that we come down from the north shows that word about us has got around.

As we walked over to the steps to begin, I looked up to see a patch of blue sky and a few white fluffy clouds overhead. I was so excited, and thankful that the Lord had given us a dry patch, and I must have had the biggest smile on my face! We began by singing a couple of hymns as loudly as we could to attract people, and we soon had a total of fourteen in attendance, the biggest number so far. Stephen led the study from Ephesians chapter two. He used our white-board to emphasize his main points, and he did a really superb job, especially as he needed to interact with various members of the group as they candidly sought clarifications and asked questions. He also did well as he had to deal with loud, “souped-up” engine noise from cars and motorbikes (not to mention the extremely loud rap “music” from open car windows) as they went by. One or two of our group wandered off during the study, notably when a fight broke out round the corner. A young woman, Nakisha, for whom we have been praying, approached us during the study. She didn’t want to stay but asked if we would continue to pray for her. She wants to get off drugs and stay out of jail.

As Stephen’s presentation was coming to a close, a gentle rain started to fall and I wondered if we were going to be rained out before we could sing the twenty-third Psalm and pray at the end. However, it eased off again and we were able to complete the time as planned.

Our elder Bob Shapiro offered the closing prayer after asking for requests which varied from a new-born grandchild having already had one operation and needing more, to the most common one of being relieved from addiction.

After the study several of the group stayed around to talk to us, including Melissa who, like Nakisha, desires to be released from her bondage to addiction. One thing that is so noticeable in the Bluff is that, unlike the ritzy suburbs, most folk know that they are sinners in need of a Saviour. This makes it a privilege to minister to them.

As we drove away from the area it started to rain again, and shortly thereafter the heavens opened and it poured so heavily that visibility was drastically reduced and road conditions became a bit dicey. In our rear view mirrors we could see black, thunderous clouds receding into the distance as we headed out of the city.

From the Pastor’s Desk: American Protestantism and the Cold War

The Cold War — a time when the threat of nuclear holocaust hung over the world. For more than four decades, Communism and freedom, embodied by the superpowers of the USSR and the USA, vied for the hearts of men — and sometimes fought it out, via client states, in faraway mountains and jungles.

Behind the political and military struggle was an ideological battle, between godless Marxism on the one hand, and, on the other hand, Western values rooted in Christian principles. Surely there would be no question, then, as to which side found the universal support of the Church.

However, in reality, the picture is far more complex than what might appear at first blush. For during the Cold War, many Protestant denominations and churchmen adopted a position of moral equivalence toward the superpowers — or, in some cases, even favored the leftist regimes. Foundational to such behavior was a commitment to a social gospel that often found expression in socialism and pacifism.

An overview of American Protestantism, then, reveals a spectrum of beliefs and attitudes — from those who favored a Communistic approach and criticized American foreign and military policy, to those who embraced a typical American patriotic position, to those who critiqued both Russian and American officials for being in opposition to genuine freedom.

On Thursday, March 25th, at 7:00 PM, the Circa History Guild will host a presentation by Dr. Frank J. Smith — a program that will range widely over the connection between religion and diplomacy. You will be treated to a discourse on how American Protestants reacted to and were shaped by global politics from 1946 to 1991, and how that interaction reflected their theological and ideological presuppositions.

There is a $5.00 admission charge for those who are not members of the Circa History Guild. The Guild is located at 8480 Holcomb Bridge Road, Alpharetta, Georgia 30022.  From Holcomb Bridge Road, turn south on Ellard Drive and then right into the shopping center. The Guild is on the far side of the parking lot. Its phone number is 678-352-1775.

Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D., a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, is the Stated Supply of cheap Keppra without prescription on internet North Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is the Founding Editor of Presbyterian International News Service and teaches at Georgia Perimeter College. His doctorate is from City University of New York, where he took a course on the Cold War taught by Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Dr. Smith authored The History of the Presbyterian Church in America: The Silver Anniversary Edition, and co-edited (with Dr. David C. Lachman) Worship in the Presence of God.

American Protestantism and the Cold War

From the Pastor’s Desk: What Real Saints Do on the Lord’s Day

By now, the entire world, football fans and others, knows that the New Orleans Saints are the winners of the Super Bowl.

However, am I the only one to notice the ironic nickname of the professional football team from the Crescent City?

A “saint” in the Biblical sense is someone who is “holy”— that is, a person who has been set apart by God for service unto Him.  Unlike a Roman Catholic conception of sainthood, all genuine believers in Christ are saints.

But how are saints to act?  They are to live in accordance with the moral law of God.

And that brings us to the matter of Sabbath observance.

God’s will is clear: one day in seven is to be set aside for rest and worship.  From the beginning of the world until the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that day was the seventh day of the week.  From Christ’s resurrection until the end of the world, that day is the first day of the week.

Isaiah 58:13-14 indicates God’s blessing upon Sabbath keepers: “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.  The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The Westminster Larger Catechism helps to understand how we should keep the Fourth Commandment: “The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.”

But in contemporary America, this commandment has largely been forgotten.  And it especially has been ignored among those who are church members.

Isn’t it about time that the American church repented of sponsorship of Super Bowl parties?  Isn’t it about time Christians in this country started acting like real saints?

From the Pastor’s Desk: The Sacrament of Communion

The Church universal recognizes two sacraments, viz., baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper also is known as communion (since it symbolizes the communion we enjoy with God and with one another) and as the Eucharist (from a Greek word, meaning “thanksgiving”, since we should be overwhelmed with gratitude and thanks for the Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf).

In the sacrament of communion, the congregation partakes of simple elements—bread and wine—which symbolize the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.  These elements do not turn into Christ’s body and blood, but rather represent His body and blood.
This holy meal constitutes a reminder of what Jesus has done at the cross, in giving His life for His people.  Jesus said to observe this sacrament “in remembrance of Me.”
But this holy feast is much more than a mere memorial.  In a real, yet spiritual, sense, Jesus is present with His people when they partake of the bread and wine, in accordance with His appointment.  The old Scottish way of referring to Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper was that this sacrament is a “trysting place”—a place of deep, intimate communion between the Lord and those for whom He has died.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), reflecting not only its Scottish heritage but, most importantly, the teaching of Holy Scripture, takes these holy matters very seriously. Historically, Presbyterians have confessed that the elders of the church have a responsibility to ensure that only those who can make a valid profession of faith and have been admitted to membership in some evangelical church, be allowed to partake of the bread and the wine.

Accordingly, we ask that only those who have had opportunity to meet with representatives of the Atlanta Commission partake of this holy meal.  While the individual has primary responsibility before the Lord for partaking in a worthy manner, the elders of the church also have a responsibility in the matter.

Those who have received valid Trinitarian baptism and are members of a Bible-believing church, and would like to participate in the Lord’s Supper, are invited to contact us prior to the date of observance, so that arrangements can be made for them to commune with us at the Lord’s table.  Our next observance will be January 31, 2010.

If you are not eligible to partake of this sacrament on this particular Lord’s Day, we still invite you to come and worship with us, and to commune in your hearts by meditating on the great sacrifice which Jesus paid at the cross for sin.  We also encourage you to make inquiry as to how you can join with us the next time we observe this sacrament.

From the Pastor’s Desk: An Open Letter to Brit Hume

Dear Sir:

Let me begin by thanking you for your courage and compassion in giving advice to Tiger Woods as to where forgiveness can be found.  We all need to be forgiven, and it is without question that the only place where we can find such pardon is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.

As was predictable, your comments brought severe criticism and derision—a phenomenon which, according to your remarks on The O’ Reilly Factor, bewilders you.  As you have noted, the words “Jesus Christ” are among the most controversial that can be uttered.

Please allow me to offer to you an explanation as to why your advice has caused such angst.  There are, it seems to me, at least two reasons why people get so upset by the mention of the name of Christ, or the suggestion of the need for pardon.

The first is that people don’t want to be reminded of their sin.  Pardon implies wrongdoing having been committed.  And for folks who think that they’re practically perfect—and definitely not totally depraved, as the Bible portrays mankind—any such mention is offensive.

Also offensive is the notion that only in Christianity can forgiveness be obtained.  For if that is true, then all other religions, by definition, are false and worthless.

But, of course, it is the case that there is only one way to be pardoned—it is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereby He not only suffered grievous torments in body but, most particularly, horrific punishment in soul.  He took the full weight of the sin of the chosen ones of God upon Himself, and cried, in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  He, the totally Just One, suffered for unjust ones such as ourselves.  This is why Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).

This is also why the sweetest sacrifice ever made evokes such bitter reaction, because what it represents strikes right at the pride and presumption of man.

May the Lord continue to give you courage and grace to testify of the beauty and glory of the gospel, in the midst of a hostile and cruel society.


Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D., Pastor

From the Pastor’s Desk: The Manhattan Declaration

In November 2009, a group of evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox leaders released a document, the Manhattan Declaration, which expresses concern with regard to abortion, the homosexual movement, and religious freedom.  Signed initially by about 140 leaders, it has now been signed by many thousands of people.

Despite much with which traditional Protestants might agree in this statement, I find myself having to decline from joining the other signatories.  For this document promotes an ecumenism that would no longer distinguish between the genuine Biblical faith (as represented by historic Protestantism) and damnable heresies (such as the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church).

Now, let me be clear —- I am dead set opposed to abortion and the homosexual agenda, and am concerned about the increasing threats to our ability to preach and promote a Christian world-view.  (Those interested may want to check out a couple of my articles, “Equal Rights for Homosexuals!” and “Luther Must Be Spinning in His Grave”, in the “From the Pastor’s Desk” section of our congregation’s website.)

However, there is something even more important than these issues, and it is the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  I don’t think that the Apostle Paul would have regarded the Judaizers of his day, who were trying to subvert the Galatian church, as being genuine Christians.  Nor should we regard those who anathametize Protestant teaching on justification by faith alone as being genuine Christians.  Paul is clear: “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

In the early 1980s, at the Westchester County (N.Y.) courthouse in White Plains, I helped lead an anti-abortion rally that featured both Roman Catholics and evangelicals.  In helping to co-ordinate that event, and in drafting a statement signed by more than 50 evangelical leaders in our county, I was careful not to give the impression that the two groups were doing anything other than sharing the same platform in order to address, from each group’s perspective, a pressing moral and social issue.  I was following the pattern of the late Francis Schaeffer, who wrote that Christians may be able to advocate similar positions with those who are opposed to them on the basis of “co-belligerency”, but not on the basis of an alliance.  (For Schaeffer, Scripture and gospel were the twin issues that defined the divide between faithful confession and faithless denial.)  But the evangelicals —- including a number of high-profile Calvinists -— who signed the Manhattan Declaration, by placing their signatures on this document along with Roman Catholics and those of an Orthodox persuasion, have given the impression that evangelicals and Catholics and Orthodox really are together.

It is easy to understand why a document such as this Declaration, with its clarion call for morality and accountability and courage, could appear to be such a welcome development.  Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that this document not only is deficient, but also insidious -— it threatens to entrap people by confusing them as to what the fundamental issue is, viz., the gospel itself founded on the doctrine of sola scriptura.

At best, this document is a band-aid which will not cut out and extirpate the cancer of our culture.  Only the gospel -— that is, the true gospel, not some seeming replica with which Roman Catholic apologists can agree—will avail.  The need, as always, is for a consistent adherence to and proclamation of that gospel.  And preaching the truth necessarily entails pointing out the soul-destroying errors of systems such as Romanism which deny the truth as it is in Jesus.

From the Pastor’s Desk: Christian Worship in Pagan Drag

One of the “mega-trends” which we’ve been witnessing the past decade or so, is that of making church “hip” and “relevant”. Part of the “inspiration” for this avant garde approach is found in the words of the Apostle Paul, who proclaimed that he was willing to be all things to all people, in order that he might win some to Christ. Accordingly, leaders of the contemporary church claim that by utilizing modern techniques, they are merely repackaging Biblical material in a more palatable form—changing the method but not the message.

Now, let me be clear—I’m all in favor of reaching out to a lost world with the gospel, and even being innovative to some degree: sponsoring a float in a local parade, offering free blood pressure screening at a country fair, employing modern technology (such as websites), and so forth, may all have a role to play in efforts to raise an awareness of the church and to provide opportunity for evangelism. But what is not appropriate is to prostitute the worship of the living God, and particularly to do so by adopting worldly standards and mores.

Consider statements made by some “contemporary” churches. They want, they say, to re-think church, and to do church differently, and to ensure that at the end of a church service, you’re happy!

Of course, I agree that much of what goes on in the name of “the church” today (and has gone on over the past several decades) needs to be critiqued. However, the “rethinking” being offered up by “contemporary” churches consists of following the latest fads, rather than a radical following of the Word of God. For example, I concur that “traditional” church choirs have got to go; but I would also suggest that replacing them with “worship teams” does not solve the problem, but compounds it. Such musical performances distance the congregation from a direct encounter with God, while at the same time playing into a worldly sensualism. That is true of “traditional” church choirs; it is especially true of “worship teams.” And the result may be an emotional “high” that is mistaken for a spiritual experience, but in actuality is spiritually deadly.

And what of the result of attending a church service? We all want folks, ultimately, to be “blessed”—a Biblical term that has been translated as “happy”. However, the blessedness of which Scripture speaks is deeper than the modern notions of happiness. Moreover, despite our penchant for immediate gratification, said blessedness does not occur automatically and very rarely immediately: there’s no “insta-happiness” product or guarantee that comes from being in the presence of God. Rather, it is more often the case that a person must wrestle with eternally significant matters such as his relationship with God, and guilt, before coming finally to rest in the atonement of Jesus Christ.

No doubt many of these “contemporary” church leaders are sincere, and perhaps even sincere believers in Christ. But good intentions cannot disguise the fact that much of what they are doing is trying to dress Christian worship in pagan drag—a jarring incongruity that not only dangerously distorts the message but perverts the worship of God.

From the Pastor’s Desk: Luther Must Be Spinning in His Grave

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is surely one of the most significant figures in church history. A German monk, he was captivated by the grace of God, as he rediscovered the wondrous Biblical truth that salvation comes by faith alone, and not by any works which we can do.

Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg sparked the Protestant Reformation—a great spiritual revival which brought saving knowledge and the freedom that flows from it to countless millions of people.

For centuries, the term “Lutheran” has been a respected one, reflecting the liberating truths which Luther promoted. But over the past several decades, churchmen (and churchwomen) who do not respect Luther’s God or Holy Scripture have hijacked the name “Lutheran” in order to bring it into disrepute.

We have just witnessed another example of the dastardly deeds of these purveyors of darkness. At its biennial meeting in August 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) opened the door for those who engage in same-sex abominations to be ordained to the ministry.

This travesty was a long time coming, and it was predictable. These so-called “Lutherans” had long ago abandoned the teachings of the Reformation. Playing footsie with homosexuals followed a flirting with those who deny divine grace, and a watering down of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The truths of sola fides (by faith alone) and sola scriptura (Scripture alone) go hand-in-hand: abandoning one leads to a rejection of the other.

It is abundantly clear that these apostates in Minneapolis, masquerading as Christians, don’t have a clue as to what Luther was all about. Or, if they do, they obviously don’t care to embrace his teaching, but are intent rather to twist and distort the Lutheran conception of grace into a perversion of Scripture—a position which turns grace into licentiousness.

A Baptist pastor up in Minneapolis blogged about the strange weather that coincided with one of the scheduled sessions of the ELCA Synod that was discussing whether to allow various views on sexuality in the denomination. Out of nowhere came a tornado that hit the convention center where the Synod was meeting, and took off a portion of its roof. The twister also toppled and ripped the steeple of Central Lutheran Church. That pastor noted that it is the Lord who rules the winds, and that this was a gentle reminder from the Almighty that He is not to be mocked. These supposed Lutherans, however, chose to ignore this timely warning as well as Scripture.

Thankfully, Luther is with his Savior, and therefore not perturbed by such wickedness and folly as was perpetrated by those who claim his name. But here on earth, anyone who is a genuine Christian will recoil from and repudiate the embrace of such perversions, no matter what the denominational pedigree that is claimed or the piety that is pretended.