Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours AliveAutopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A depressing book about churches so dysfunctional that they die.
A family member asked me to review it - I hadn't heard of it before.

The premise is not very attractive or marketable, but as a pastor of 13 years there is plenty of experiential truth in here.

Rainer’s main theme seems to be the need for the church to serve and to look like the community around it. The dying church serves its own members instead of those outside who need to hear the gospel for the first time.

An assumption made throughout: change or die. This one is tricky. If you take this in the modern evolutionary sense or in the Christian marketing world of Lifeway (the author is its president and CEO) it is false. Society is changing and the church has to change with the times to stay relevant. I detest this view.

But there is a theological sense in which this cliché is true. Change or die? John Owen said it best: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Churches like individual believers have sinful defects remaining that must be attacked with a holy warfare. Sanctification is the mortification of sin by the grace of God. We either kill the sinful parts of ourselves (or keep trying to) or we die spiritually.

We need to face this ugly fact, though perhaps not in the way Rainer gives it to us. Lifeway is a statistics machine, and Rainer seems to measure false versus true hope by the statistics, instead of by God’s ability to revive churches out of the blue. I appreciate the defibrillating jolt he gives dying churches with the premise of the book, but more on the solutions and hope side would have been better.

View all my reviews


The Calvinistic Concept of Culture

The Calvinistic Concept of CultureThe Calvinistic Concept of Culture by Henry R. Van Til

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing in 1959, Van Til’s basic thesis is that culture is not some add-on to our Christianity. We will necessarily live out our faith somehow. Culture is not a high-brow, snobbish pursuit only for the upper classes in opera houses. All our work and recreation and customs and lifestyle expectations shape the culture we live in. “The church is weak in its approach to the problem of culture, often uncritically accepting the worldly pattern, because it does not appreciate the full implications of its creed for life in its fullness” (198).

Van Til avoids the Pollyanna cultural optimist approach and the pessimistic “hell-in-a-hand-basket” view, too. He brings some needed corrective even to Kuyper’s view of common grace without rejecting it. He does the same with Schilder, who I have not read. He is decidedly opposed to the radical two-kingdom approach: there is not one realm of life covered by common grace and another realm (the church) covered by saving grace. This “leads to a tolerant neutralism and makes men indifferent to the demands of the Christian warfare” (238). Anyone who advocates and emphasizes that view needs to deal with this book.

Minor weaknesses:
1. The chapters felt a bit disjointed at points
2. Van Til’s overview of Augustine and Calvin felt at times like he was reading his views of culture onto them.
3. The style of writing is often over the head of the typical layman – more abstract and academic than was necessary or profitable. A challenging and helpful read!

View all my reviews


On Mary // On the Incarnation

Thomas Schreiner lays out the Catholic and Protestant views of Mary quite well.

Jared Wilson has a short yet deep look at the Incarnation here.
"God’s incarnation in Christ was not an exit from heaven so much as a descent, an extension."


Tables and Trees

During a Thanksgiving sermon this morning from Matthew 26:26-28, I realized:

Adam and Eve stood by a tree, took fruit and ate it.
Jesus at the table, hours from the tree of Calvary, took bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the disciples to eat.

They both took and ate, but Jesus gave thanks.  This is because He was giving of Himself, not taking for Himself.

Around your tables and trees this season, put more energy and thought to giving thanks and giving of yourself, than taking or getting for yourself.


What's Missing from Worship? // Did the Reformation Fail?

Tim Challies lists a few things missing from worship in church these days.
It's good, but he omits communion.  As Kevin DeYoung quipped once, most American evangelical church-goers partake of more movie clips in church than sacraments.

Peter Leithart makes it on Fox News!  But he tells us the Reformation failed.  What?!
Okay, I get his ecumenical point, but is division not necessary over such major points as justification by faith alone?  We may not tolerate immorality and major error in the church for the sake of unity (Rev. 2:14-15).  Doug Wilson's rejoinder is good: if the Reformation failed because of the divisions that resulted, then Paul's missionary journeys failed, too.


Church Fathers // CS Lewis' Errors // Cell Phone Habits

Stephen Nichols at Ligonier gives Luther's take on the church fathers.
I found this interesting, as I continue my multi-year trek through the fathers.
Did Luther throw out 1400 years of church thought and believe he was right instead?

Doug Wilson offers a friendly critique of C.S. Lewis, on imprecatory Psalms.
"Some people want to use the imprecatory psalms as a way of providing cover for their own personal anger issues....  But there are others who understand that a hard world sometimes requires hard words."

I haven't read it yet, but Tony Reinke's book, "12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You" looks really good.  Here is a free pdf of the whole book!


Standing for the Flag

I didn't care too much about the NFL kerfluffle over kneeling for the national anthem, until a conversation with a family member made me realize that high schools were following the trend, and school leadership was celebrating or endorsing it.

Call me out of touch for not knowing that, but yes, now I'm finally upset.

Of course, Kaepernick has started something, and he is a role model and will be followed by high schoolers and others in dissing the flag.  I note that originally he sat down on the bench, but now all the rage is to kneel.  Kneeling, you see, makes the whole thing seem nobler somehow.  But you are still refusing to stand out of respect for the symbol of our country.  You are saying you cannot respect our country, her flaws are so deep. 

Kneeling is an easy way to say something loud and strong, and to feel noble while doing it. 
But you are dishonoring our country.  Please stop.  Please stand.

Now, this disrespect is sadly something that Rush Limbaugh and ultra-conservative parents have been teaching their children for a long time.  I'll express my disagreement with those liberals so vehemently that my scorn and disrespect is obvious.  So when the kids grow up, they learn to disrespect a country they have disagreements with.  Hm.

Some believe players have a constitutional right to free speech in this way.  To force them to stand violates their first amendment rights.  This grossly misunderstands the first amendment.  When you are employed as a performer, you waive many free speech rights to do your job as the employer wishes.  Could Disney employees disrespect the flag while performing at Disneyworld?  If Disney allowed it, yes.  But should they?

The NFL and colleges and high schools are culture-shaping institutions that should promote respect for our country and her flag, while also giving some meaningful forum for expressing protest.  Schools for certain should not be promoting students dishonoring the flag.  A rule that any player who doesn't stand for the anthem will sit on the bench during the game would be very fitting.

This is why Mike Pence is also a contrasting role model to Kaepernick, and will also be followed.  This is why his walkout, leaving the game during the anthem when players knelt, was brilliant.  We should not give our support to forms of protest that disrespect and disrupt our country.  MLK's march on Washington was a planned and respectful event, and he exhorted all there to continue such respect.  Today's Antifa and black lives matter claim to be the heirs of such protest, but their actions show a night and day difference.

These institutions like the NFL and school administrations should expect a loss of support and revenue if they allow players to go on dissing the country that has made their significant wealth possible.  I have no problem with players exercising their free speech and finding a way publicly to ally with black lives matter or whatever the cause is.  But the NFL should not allow it during the national anthem.

As usual the media is severely biased, to the point of blatant advocacy for the players.
Al Sharpton compares Jerry Jones to a plantation owner, but Donald Trump gets accused of race-baiting?  Come on.

Finally, of course we should avoid idolizing our nation.  We don't want to say, "I side with my country, right or wrong."  Or, "I stand for the flag because my country is near-perfect and is on the right track."  We should be free to criticize our nation's policies and culture.  (If we never do, maybe idolatry is near.)  But just as older children can give their parents feedback, they should do so respectfully, and may never dishonor them.  Patriotism with proper priorities is pleasing to God.

Kneeling for the flag smacks of ingratitude at God's gift of a good land.
It takes the easy road to loud self-expression at the expense of honoring your country.


Hef // Daughters // Solas

An excellent piece of writing about Hugh Hefner, on his recent death.

This is a good one for dads raising daughters, looking to when the suitors show up.
Shotgun jokes come easy, but building a wall, a spiritually strong daughter, is the name of the game.

John Piper makes an important clarification about the five solas of the Reformation.


Ten Tricks of Temptation // Sharper Sermons // 2 Examples

Sam Storms offers 10 methods of the evil one in tempting us.

David Murray has a couple good articles here and here on crafting shorter and better sermons, which I'm benefiting from this week.

I listened to two really good sermons yesterday.
- Alistair Begg on faithfulness in mid-life, looking to the example of Caleb
- Ben Merkle (from Moscow, ID) on the theme of seed in the Bible.

The desire to be first is a disqualification for Christian leadership. —D.A. Carson


Communism // Reformation // Fathers Exasperating

Doug Wilson has a good screed against communism, because of its direct dependence on envy.

How about a Reformation biography each day for the month of October, leading up to the 500th Reformation Day?  Desiring God fills the bill.

6 ways fathers can exasperate children.  Helpful and short.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" - Romans 8:18.


Yahweh is LORD // In the Market without the Beast's Sign on You

Here's an important article explaining why, when I read Scripture in church and it says "the LORD," I usually say "Yahweh."  Our English Bibles change the Hebrew Yahweh (a personal pronoun and a name) to the title Lord.

A modest win for religious liberty in Lansing, Michigan, as reported by World Magazine.


Purging and Inviting

1 Corinthians 5:7
"purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened."

Where it is obvious that a member of the church has left the way of the Lord, the church is bound by duty to purge out the leaven.  There is a door, and Christ and God’s favor are inside, and judgment and wrath are outside.  There are only two kingdoms – light and darkness.  The kingdom of the Son and the kingdom of the dark Lord.  If we refuse and turn away from Christ, then we are delivered to Satan, no matter what lies we believe about living our own life.  This is sobering to consider at the table, and we often sing about it: “Lord, why am I a guest?  Why was I made to hear Your voice and enter while there’s room, when 1000s make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come.  The same love that spread the feast sweetly draws us in.”  Let us thank God all the more for bringing us to Him.

Even when the church excludes some from the table, she also calls all to enter the kingdom of God by repenting of their sins and trusting in Christ for forgiveness.  She points to that doorway as a doorkeeper for God’s house.  

We now sit in God’s house as His children, redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, loved and accepted.  

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 85
Q. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?
A. According to the command of Christ:
Those who, though called Christians,
profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives,
and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions,
refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways,
and who after being reported to the church, that is,
to those ordained by the church for that purpose,
fail to respond also to the church’s admonitions—
such persons the church excludes from the Christian community
by withholding the sacraments from them,
and God also excludes them from the kingdom of Christ.1

Such persons,
when promising and demonstrating genuine reform,
are received again as members of Christ and of his church.2

1 Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess. 3:14-15
2 Luke 15:20-24; 2 Cor. 2:6-11



Isaiah 6:5-7
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts.”

Isaiah exclaims that he is undone by his uncleanness in comparison to God’s majesty and holiness.  Without this sense of our personal undoing, we probably lack a true repentance.  It’s a sense of helplessness before holiness, a sense of guilt standing in front of glory.  Do you know God’s displeasure and wrath against sin?  Against your sin?  We must confess and admit our guilt.  Not just the guilt of the people we live among.  Our OWN guilt.  We have unclean lips and lives.

Let us confess our sins to the Lord.



Angels and Demons

I recently had a discussion about how much demons can influence believers, and not-as-recently read through Calvin's Institutes on Angels and Demons with a discussion group, which is excellent.  But there was some lamentation that good resources on this subject are sparse.
Here's a small collection.

Calvin - start in paragraph 3

Alistair Begg did a sermon series on the devil and his work, recently.

Frederick Leahy - Satan Cast Out - published by Banner of Truth
I haven't read this one, only perused it.

War with the Dragon

Revelation 12:17
And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The same dragon that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden, that fought with Michael and the angels, that sought to destroy the Christ child at His birth, that tempted Him in the wilderness, that same dragon is making war with the woman and her offspring – that means the church – that means you.

But the accuser has been cast down from heaven.  That’s bad news because he was thrown down to us, to give us trouble.  But it’s good news because his defeat has already come.  The same God who protected His Son at His birth, protects His church.  He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.