|Posted by John Suttles on April 2, 2012 at 6:40 PM||comments (0)|
As our congregation has prepared itself for our constituting as a church, we have been reflecting much on the history and significance of those who have gone before us and upon whose shoulders we stand. Especially have we thought about our spiritual forefathers who were the founders and early leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.
To borrow a Biblical phrase, there truly were “giants in the land” in those days, spiritual giants who stood unflinchingly in the “old paths” of sound doctrine, but to whom (unlike so many who came after them) Truth was not some cold, lifeless, formal system disconnected from the daily reality of Christian experience. These men – men such as Johnson, Dagg, Howell, Mell, Boyce, Furman, and Mercer, to name but a few – were consumed by passion for Christ and His Church. By the example of their lives they demonstrated that doctrine was the “throne upon which Christ is seated” and to them it was in Christ that every doctrine found its meaning and significance.
This carried over into their concern for their churches. These were men who were not content with simply preaching a homiletically perfect and finely illustrated sermon, yet having their hearers go away as dead as when they came in. Above all, they desired that Christ be glorified in their preaching and that the churches be roused to greater love and zeal for Him who was their life.
This is no more graphically illustrated than in an incident related in a forgotten old book recently acquired by our pastor. This brief account from the early days of the Flint River Baptist Association, which he read to us one recent Lord's Day, involved Jesse Mercer, founder of Mercer University. It draws a clear contrast between the zeal of our Southern Baptist founders and those who claim to be their spiritual descendants today.
The record begins, “In 1833, while a leaden lethargy was settled on the churches, [Jesse] Mercer and [Adiel] Sherwood in a preaching tour came to Walnut Creek Church in Jones County, of which the venerable Edmund Talbot was the pastor. There was a large week-day congregation, and it was Sherwood's lot to preach first. Mercer followed, but was not warm in his discourse, yet there was some feeling manifested among the older members, and especially by the pastor himself. When Mercer sat down, Talbot rose to say a few words, but his feelings overpowered his utterance, and he was about to take his seat when Mercer caught hold of him by the lapels of his coat, and held him in this position, saying, 'If you can't talk, stand and cry! That is the loudest kind of preaching you can do!' The aged man tried again, but in vain. Utterance was choked. And he did stand and weep over his congregation, but not alone, for nearly all in the house were affected to tears, and were weeping in sympathy. Mr. Mercer led in prayer, deeply affected. Those only who have heard him pray under such circumstances know how he was an importunate beggar at the footstool of mercy.”
How we ought also to weep – under deep conviction for the “leaden lethargy” in the churches of our day! Where are the men today who will come to the pulpit with such burden over the coldness of heart and absence of zeal for the things of God within their churches, that they can only “stand and cry!”? Where are the pastors in our day who will, like Nehemiah, weep when they hear the reports of the desolate condition of our Jerusalem? Or, are they so many Samsons, who “knew not that the LORD had departed?”
Mercer and Talbot's example should serve as a stinging rebuke to all of us who can continue in the same course day after day, year upon year believing all is well and never experiencing a moment's concern that the Lord's Church is “groveling here below, fond of these trifling toys” yet having “our love so faint, so cold to Thee,” as the hymwriter Isaac Watts so aptly phrased it.
May we yet have grace to pull the blinders from our eyes and see the great need of our day – not more programs, better advertising, more “relevant” activities, or more impressive facilities. The great need of our day (and every generation) is that, again to quote Mr. Watts, we would cry out: “Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove, with all Thy quickening powers; kindle a flame of sacred love, in these cold hearts of ours.”
May the Lord again be gracious to His Church to give us men who will encourage their fellow servants “if you can't talk, Stand and Cry! That is the loudest kind of preaching you can do!”
|Posted by John Suttles on January 23, 2012 at 7:25 PM||comments (0)|
O, Grow Up! We all remember hearing those words at some point in our childhood, don't we? Usually it was the annoyed response of an older brother or sister, or the older sibling of a playmate, after we had pulled some particularly childish prank (hey, we were kids, what else would you expect!) that targeted the aforementioned sibling. The words were always accompanied by a scowl that was a mixture of scorn and pity. Our typical reaction generally consisted of snickers and giggles, then off we went to plot our next, equally juvenile, prank.
While such antics provided some passing amusement at the time, most of us did indeed eventually fulfill the exasperated exhortation of our “elders” and we “grew up.” We outgrew (at least most of us) the childishness of our childhood and became mature, responsible adults. Sadly, however, it seems that this admonition has been singularly neglected in the one place where “growing up” should be both the supreme focus and natural result of our participation – the church.
The modern church has made perpetual infancy in spiritual things not just a tragic reality but has positively embraced and exalted the condition to a place of honor. Most churches (to use the term in its social context rather than strictly Biblically) in our day no longer seek to build up in the faith those under their care, but are content to offer a bewildering array of programs and activities designed to keep their members in perpetual motion.
In this model, doctrine and truth become secondary to, and in some cases directly at odds with, the goal of keeping everyone constantly busy in the endless round of go-here, do-this, what's-the-next-activity brand of church life that has become the trademark of our modern day. Add to this the rise and current popularity of the “seeker-sensitive church” in which the lost are consulted as to how worship and church matters are to be conducted, and you have a toxic recipe for permanently immature believers and malnourished sheep. Consider but a few examples...
A large and numerically growing church in the north metropolitan Atlanta area recently advertised on a highway billboard that it could boast of more than 160 different “programs” that it offered to its members and the community. A bit of research identified such programs as musical training, an on-site coffee shop, a comprehensive sports program, and a web page for young adults that includes a variety of online video games for amusement, just to name a few.
Nor is this unique to one or even a handful of churches. Countless thousands, small and large, are nearly identical copies of this model of “doing church.” Another aspiring mega-church in north Georgia proudly informed potential visitors that it offered go-kart rides on its property after its Sunday morning worship services. Just the thing to help firmly ground believers in the “faith once delivered to the saints.”
Yet another true mega-church provides an advance warning to those who are attending that flashing lights are used during the "event" (we dare not call it worship) that may pose difficulties for those with epileptic conditions. Do you suppose it might ever have occurred to them that dispensing with the light show and simply preaching the Gospel could be a more effective means of maturing believers, especially in consideration of those with that specific medical condition? Probably not.
So we have come to this in the church –light shows, go-karts, sports programs, and video game web sites. We have substituted amusement for teaching and entertainment for declaring the whole counsel of God. Is it any wonder that members of these “religious organizations” are suffering from spiritual starvation? As one pastor put it (and this was more than thirty years ago), churches have become the poor man's country club where for an extremely nominal membership fee you can enjoy all sorts of pleasant pastimes and recreations.
We should not be surprised, then, that most church members of our day cannot define even the basic doctrinesof the faith nor defend them in the presence of opposition. Nor should we scratch our heads when vast multitudes leave these “churches” to affiliate with blatant heresy in the form of Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, or countless other false prophets. They have not been taught the truth, they have been left spiritual infants. No great wonder then that so many soon shrivel like the plant that was scorched by the sun in the Lord's parable of the sower.
How different is this from the description of believers, and of the church as a body, given to us in Scripture. While we all enter the kingdom as infants, being born again (to use our Lord's own description from John chapter three), there is no commendation in the Word of God for remaining immature in spiritual matters. Scripture's constant and and consistent exhortation to believers is, to use our opening words, “Grow Up!” Just as we manifest natural life by physical health and growth, we display spiritual life by healthy growth in the things of God.
What saith the Scripture?
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” Ephesians 4:13-15.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18
And the apostle Peter, using the very metaphor of infancy to describe believers, instructs us that we should “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word..” But why? For just this reason - “that ye may grow thereby” 1 Peter 2:2. Yes, spiritual growth and eventual maturity is expected and required of those to whom God has given new birth.
This is but a small sampling of all that God's Word has to say on the subject of Christians becoming mature in the faith. You see, the Bible knows nothing of saints in a condition of unending infancy. Either we are growing – in our understanding, our affections, and our desire for spiritual things - or the inescapable alternative is that we are dying. And that is the sad description of vast numbers who are fed a steady diet of the “baby food” that is the activity- and entertainment-driven churches of our day. Such things make for weak, sickly, infantile Christians (if they are really Christians at all) and we may well ask what shall be the condemnation pronounced by the Lord in that Day on the promoters and purveyors of such foolishness when He stands to render final judgment upon all the works of men.
We may rightly wonder and tremble...
|Posted by John Suttles on January 12, 2012 at 7:15 PM||comments (0)|
How To Boil a Frog
“Did you know that you can put a frog in a pot of cold water and set the pot on a slow fire and that frog will sit right there until he boils to death and never even attempt to jump out.”
I’m not sure just how old I was when I first heard that story. I couldn’t have even been in high school Biology class yet, because I remember it long before that. I’m sure, because I distinctly remember as a boy actually considering this little test every time I saw a frog! Since I was “all boy”, it’s surprising that I never did really try it, but I confess, I always wanted to. I just couldn’t believe that anything could be that stupid.
Now, these many years later, I’m certain it’s true. There’s just something about changes that occur ever so slowly. They seem to lull us to sleep while avoiding alarm. The poor frog, no doubt, adjusts and therefore ignores his changing environment.
That’s exactly what happens to us!
Satan doesn’t usually come along one day and slam us to the ground with some gross evil, some hideous violation of Holy Law. He usually just cunningly suggests some lesser thing – entertaining some lustful thought, participating in some “harmless” activity, or joining in some “harmless” conversation or tasteless joke. No harm there, right?
And the temperature in the pot slowly goes up.
Soon enough we’re carrying this evil thought a little further, enjoying it a little longer, becoming more boisterous in those conversations and getting more active in our “harmless” activities. And the temperature in the pot keeps going up. But we’re oblivious. We’re adjusted. There’s no sense of danger, …yet.
This is exactly the method the Enemy of our souls has used in the dismantling of our culture. Within my own lifetime, what a change has been accomplished, one degree at a time! We’ve moved, as the saying goes, “from the frying pan into the fire”. When I was in high school, chewing gum in class or being caught in the hall during class without a pass was a capital crime, punishable by paddling. I know. It happened to me as a senior! Now today, violent crimes, rape, murder and lethal drugs are the everyday norm in schools across America. In society, the things formerly forbidden by God’s law (and generally unthinkable) are now hailed by Hollywood as virtues! It wasn’t that long ago that if a man had some homosexual tendencies he’d better remain “in the closet” with them. Today, alas, the rest of us have been banished to the closet and the homosexuals have been given the streets!
And the temperature in the pot continues to rise!
I remember well when little girls were only allowed to wear dresses and were expected to act like little ladies. Today they’re allowed to wear nothing and expected to be vulgar and crass. And the temperature in the pot rises.
I could go on and on in these illustrations, but you get the point. I’m simply saying, sin has a progression. Like a tumorous cancer, it’s never inert. It grows, but usually at an imperceptible rate. And there is the danger.
So how did we get here? Well, time won’t permit me here to examine that question historically, but just let me say, we got here one small step at a time. Progressivism, Egalitarianism and a hundred other “isms” along with modern psychology have led us gently through the temperature changes until today we’re just about at a rolling boil!
This is why James warns us in chapter one verses fourteen through fifteen:
“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
Yet, while we lament the moral decline in our own generation, let's not forget that this is neither new nor exclusive to us. Satan used this very same process to lure our first parents into sin and his success with this method in the garden bode well (or ill, depending upon your frame of reference) for its continued use throughout the ages. Perhaps James had in mind that very incident when he wrote the words quoted above - lust conceived sin in the garden and sin's inevitable, wretched, soul-destroying offspring was and ever is death since that day.
Every suggestion of the Tempter, eagerly embraced by the sinful heart, merely adds fuel to the fire beneath this pot in which we boil ourselves - individually and as a society! There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18) is an apt description of every generation since the Fall, but seemingly never more so than in our own day. Surely in our day there is what can only be described as a mad rush to practice every kind of wickedness, openly and shamelessly. The Apostle Paul describes it with deadly accuracy when he says in Ephesians chapter four verse nineteen - Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness (gross sensuality), to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Temptation … lust …enticement … sin … death. There’s the progression. It is this, often imperceptible, progression that is lethal. Are we conscious of it? Do we “sample the water” daily to see where we are? Do we measure it by the thermometer of God’s Word or do we simply trust our senses like the frog? It is with great wisdom indeed that the wise man in Song of Solomon warns us, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.”
Are we taking the “little foxes” out of our vineyards daily? If not, soon enough we too, like the poor little frog, will boil alive in the meltingpot of this Godless Society!
Dr. John W. Suttles
|Posted by John Suttles on January 12, 2012 at 7:10 PM||comments (0)|
LEARN TO DIE!
“What we need in our churches today is better education.”
This statement recently fell on my ears from the “fount of wisdom” opened to me by a young, twenty-something-year-old Christian college graduate. As we were discussing the “woes” of post-modern Christianity, this was the universal answer given to me for every issue. Then, in attempting to ascertain the material content of such a saving remedy, I asked whether her degree included a semester on “Dying.” You can well imagine the shock that question provoked!
“What on earth do you mean? There is no course on ‘Dying’!”
“That’s odd,” I said. “I thought that was the whole theme of our ministry. Aren’t we preparing people to die?”
I’ve only recently finished reading, Memoirs of Thomas Halyburton (1825) in which there is a long and detailed account of his deathbed communications over his last few days on earth. I was profoundly affected!
As he lay dying (literally watching his own body lose function gradually from his feet upwards to his throat) he remained conscious and communicating with all who came to visit him. Toward the end, as one visitor looked on quietly, he spoke clearly and said:
“Learn to die! It is rare to die as a Christian: the most people think there is nothing more to do but to lay down their heads and die. This is even as if one cover his face, and leap over a rock into the sea. But it is not so!”
There you have it—“Learn to die!”
Now there’s a course we all need to take; yet, who today is teaching it? The lost world is certainly not. But, is the Church?
Our land is filled today with thousands of colleges and universities, hundreds of thousands of students; and yet, who’s “learning to die”? There is NO single human experience more certain than this one; and yet, we make no preparations for it.
What would that curriculum look like anyway? Where would we start? Where do we find resources and research? Whom do we interview? Let me make a few helpful suggestions.
There was a video clip recently that went “viral” done by a teenage boy who shared his “death” experiences by using written index cards. While it was very interesting, even disturbing to watch and emotionally packed, it was frightfully un-godly and un-Christian. Let me suggest, first, that we not rely on the “experiences” of our frail human minds to study such a critical and terminal subject as death. Remember, for this experience there is no trial run. We can’t afford to come to this place untaught!
Secondly, let me suggest that we cannot look for answers from the hands of “academic speculation”—no matter how many degrees are involved. The removal of the (eternal) human spirit from the (mortal) human body transcends all bounds of mere academia. Simply put—you can’t study this in your lab!
So then, how would we study this subject? Where are the right resources?
Well, I’m glad to announce—the Textbook is already written! For knowledge in such a sublime reality as this, we need to hear from the Creator of the human soul—and we have. He has written a Book. It’s called the Bible—the Word of God.
It just so happens, the entire Text is written for this purpose—to reveal Himself to dying humans. Someone said to me years ago, “If God has ever spoken, the Bible is what He said.” Well, He HAS spoken and the Bible IS what He said, and this is where men may “Learn to die!”
Not only is He the Giver of life, but He has Himself already passed through death, as a man, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Because He has already passed through death, thousands have learned in this university that Christ has “tasted death” in their behalf. Halyburton said it all when, in his final hours, he cried out:
“Blessed be God, there is an everlasting rest! Yea, Christ hath perfumed a bed of languishing and a grave: He has unstinged death!”
Hallelujah! “Unstinged death!” Oh, blessed be God, help us to graduate at this university!
So, I agree with my young friend. What the church needs most today is education. But let our classes begin here: “Learn to die!” Get the Textbook. Hold it up constantly before God’s people. Never leave off the study of this Text until our “graduation” is secure. Calvin said it well when he said:
“There is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breasts, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like angels. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils ALL our lives…”
Dr. John Suttles
|Posted by John Suttles on March 27, 2011 at 6:50 PM||comments (0)|
One of the few advantages of “getting old” is the unique perspective it brings to life. From the vantage point of elevated years, one has a shockingly clearer view of one’s own work and one’s own self! As an example, it is always an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, exercise to go back and read what one has written or listen to what one has spoken when the flower of youth still blossomed. More often than not, this exercise is painful and humiliating!
Surprisingly, however, occasionally one comes across something written in an earlier day that even from the “Mount of Ages” shows deep insight and uncanny wisdom.
I recently had just such an experience. In searching through some of my old papers, I came across a clipping from our local newspaper in which I had written a “Letter to the Editor” in 1986. In it, I found these amazing words:
It seems that “religion” in our “Bible Belt” community has degenerated into little more than a social and political smorgasbord. To find anyone, including religious leaders, who actually belongs to a certain “church” out of sincere conviction for what that church teaches and believes doctrinally is almost impossible …at the present rate of decline, five years from now we may find our community in the hands of the cults. (They seem to be nearly the only ones who actually know what their religion teaches and can discuss its doctrines intellectually.)
Now, more than twenty-five years later, in hindsight, these words appear almost prophetic! Alas, it is true that today we find ourselves in an amalgam of society where every religion under the sun is absorbed and sanctioned for “the greater good,” where “toleration” has distilled into mindless absorption, and “charity” has degenerated into blind communalism for the “welfare” of all, where “love” has putrefied into existential mush, and “truth has fallen in the streets.” (Isaiah 59:14).
True to my own predictions, the “Bible Belt” has become, at best, a fading memory and, at worst, a laughingstock. No longer is truth considered absolute and objective, but rather relative and contingent. No longer do we sing, Holy Bible Book Divine; but rather, the Bible is now an ancient ornament, a relic, and a mere decoration for religions events. No longer, in the South, do preachers hold it high while blazing its lines across men’s hearts. No longer do saints cherish it in their bosoms and stain its pages with their tears. No longer do our people turn to God’s Word for all their answers and for direction in life—they simply “Google” their questions.
In short, since…the salt hath its lost savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. (Matthew 5:13). Among our Baptist ranks, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a single church member who can even offer the simplest presentation of the Gospel, far less, defend our cardinal doctrines.
As I look at the “lay of the land,” today from the lofty heights of my antiquity, I shudder now to make any more predictions for the future! But this I know, and am assured—our God will, in the future as in the past, not fail! His promise remains …I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:1. Of this we may all be assured.
Dr. John Suttles