The heart of the gospel

The heart of the gospel: justification by faith

George WhitefieldThe heart of the gospel is justification by faith alone. St Paul wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous shall live by faith’”(Romans 1:17). “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”(Romans 3:21,22).

Message for the baptized too

This message is basic, and many pastors feel it is only for the unsaved, and therefore not needed anymore for the baptized.  There is a gospelution going on that underlines the need for this “heart” to be preached to the baptized too. The baptized need to hear it over and over again, cooked and served in a hundred different ways, from Old and New Testament texts, to keep them from straying into the unmarked side trails that lead to condemnation, religiosity, Phariseeism and legalism.

Message of the Reformation

Some think that this message originated from Joseph Prince. It does not: it was the message of the Reformation; the message of Martin Luther and John Calvin, and it is still preached today, and needs to be preached much more from all the pulpits  in Singapore and Malaysia. R.C. Sproul is a Reformed theologian and John Piper is a pastor. They are respected by many and I include myself among them. Watch them here teaching or preaching about the “heart” of the Gospel.


TA Tuesday Fellowship in Kuala Lumpur

TA tuesday fellowship

The TA Tuesday Fellowship meets in the TA Building at Kuala Lumpur, in the heart of the marketplace. The meeting serves to equip marketplace Christians to shine as light and be salt in their workplace. It reminded me of the Christian lunch fellowship that met at UIC building at Shenton Way.  There were about a hundred people who sang, heard God’s Word preached, and encouraged one another over lunch. It was a privilege for me to speak on “The Righteousness of God: revealed and received” , a doctrinal talk on justification by faith, not the typical inspirational lunch talk. The meeting has been going on for about 14 years, and is still going strong.

Tony and AliciaTA group is a successful Malaysian stockbroking and property listed company owned by Datuk Tony and Datin Alicia. They are committed Christians who give of themselves in ministry. The Datuk has taught on Wealth Creation in the Eagles Leadership Conference and other places. They have also given marriage talks that won scores of people to Christ. The Datin, who loves to sing and led in the worship, enthusiastically shared how the Lord provided the huge finances needed to purchase the Merchant Court Swisshotel, giving glory to God spontaneously.

Church bombings show intention and pattern

The fire bomb attacks on churches were not spontaneous expressions of outrage and violence of common folk, but deliberate, intentional, strategic acts of violence to damage religious harmony that have largely prevailed since the federation was formed. The avoidance of death seemed to be deliberately calibrated to make all parties open to concessions without triggering a religious war. This was probably masterminded by one who knew what he was doing, and he is educated and not a village folk. It was deliberate because it showed a multi-denominational pattern.

One was a charismatic church: the Metro Tabernacle church in Kuala Lumpur. Another was the Assumption Catholic church in Petaling Jaya, though the explosive that was thrown into the church compound did not explode. The third was an attack on a Brethren church called Life chapel in Petaling Jaya where a Molotov cocktail damaged the porch. The latest was a Lutheran church, the Good Shepherd Lutheran church, in south west Kuala Lumpur. Petrol bombs were thrown into the windows of the first and second floors of the buildings but they narrowly missed.

How many denominations are there in Malaysia? Will the Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists or Anglicans be next in line? Watch and pray.

Meanwhile, Rev Ong Sek Leong, the Malaysian pastor of Metro Tabernacle church spoke for all Malaysian Christians and citizens of all races and religions when he responded to what had happened to the church he pastored.

Contemporary megachurch first founded by a woman

Aimee Semple MacPhersonThe men may not like to read this but it was a woman who birthed what I believe was the precursor to the contemporary megachurch. This woman’s name was Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). After a short stint as a missionary’s wife was curtailed by her husband’s death, and a period of fruitful itinerant evangelistic preaching, she decided to base herself in Los Angeles, California. There she built an enormous church with a seating capacity of 5,300. The Angelus Temple, which was completed in 1923, became a forerunner of contemporary megachurches of today.

Drama and entertainment in the service of the gospel

She incorporated Hollywood entertainment and theatrics to attract and hold the attention of the crowds. Once she had a giant whale built on stage and she dressed up as Jonah to preach. Another time she preached to the LA Police and came on stage on a motorbike in police uniform, dismounted it, blew the aimee with King Kongwhistle, and shouted:”Stop! You are breaking the law! ” That’s drama for you. According to Wikipedia, her “illustrated sermons attracted people from the entertainment industry, looking to see a “show” that rivaled what Hollywood had to offer. These famous stage productions drew people who would never have thought to enter a church, and then presented them with her interpretation of the message of salvation. McPherson believed that the Gospel was to be presented at every opportunity, and used worldly means at her disposal to present it to as many people as possible”. She preached a gospel of love and reconciliation and grace, unlike the many preaching the hell and brimstone gospel. “McPherson was famous both inside and outside of rfalling under powereligious circles. Every city where services were held usually had civic leaders in attendance, as well as pastors representing the local churches of every denomination. She made sure that Angelus Temple was represented in local parades and entered floats into the famous Rose Parade in Pasadena”.

Multi-gifted megachurch leader with a social conscience

Her messages were accompanied with signs following: people were “slain in the Spirit”, “drunk in spirit”, healed, speaking in tongues and other supernatural phenomena. The church was filled to capacity three times each day, seven days a week.

“She was also very skillful at fundraising. Collections were taken at every meeting, usually with the admonishment of “no coins, please”. When the $1.5 million Angelus Temple opened its doors, construction was already entirely paid for through private donations.”(Wikipedia)

She started a social and educational center for mid-western immigrants to California and during the Great Depression she supplied free hot meals for thousands of poor and hungry people.Angelus Temple

She started a Bible School to train pastors and missionaries and by 1944 over 4000 have graduated from its doors. She also planted many satellite churches in the pattern of the Salvation Army and they evolved into a denomination called the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

When it came to communications Aimee was way ahead of many: she wrote scores of books, 180 songs, 7 sacred operas. She also published the weekly Foursquare Crusader and a monthly magazine called “Bridal Call”. She also began broadcasting on radio in its infancy in the early ’20s. McPherson was the first woman in history to preach a radio sermon, and with the opening of Foursquare Gospel-owned KFSG (now KXOL) on and was also the first woman to be granted a broadcast license by the Federal Radio Commission.

But her life was marked by controversy: her divorces, a suspicious kidnap and an alleged adulterous relationship, and her death from sedatives. Read more about Aimee Semple MacPherson (Wikipedia).

The contemporary model of the megachurch is not a new idea: it’s almost a century-old!

And it was founded by a woman!

(This article was first published on the 28th Jan 2008.)

Holy Communion: body and blood of Christ

( In 14th September 2007, I posted this piece in the old blogpastor, which I have now revised and re-published.)

Holy communionDon’t miss this excellent post of the different views of holy communion by Alex Tang of Random Musings. It includes the view of Joseph Prince of New Creation Church.

John Piper’s view is the best fit and description of wrpf’s belief and practice regarding holy communion. John Piper writes:

“Let me read the key sentence from the Elder Affirmation of Faith once more and then show you in the Bible where it comes from. “Those who eat and drink in a worthy manner partake of Christ’s body and blood, not physically, but spiritually, in that, by faith, they are nourished with the benefits He obtained through His death, and thus grow in grace.”

Where does this idea of “partaking of Christ’s body and blood . . . spiritually . . . by faith” come from? The closest text to support this is in the previous chapter: 1 Corinthians 10:16-18. As I read it, ask, “What does ‘participation’ mean?”

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ (koinōnia estin tou haimatos tou Christou)? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ (ouchi koinōnia tou sōmatos tou Christou estin)? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar (koinōnia tou thusiastēriou)?

Here is something much deeper than remembering. Here are believers—those who trust and treasure Jesus Christ—and Paul says that they are participating in the body and blood of Christ. Literally, they are experiencing a sharing (koinōnia) in his body and blood. They are experiencing a partnership in his death.

Partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood, Spiritually, By Faith

And what does this participation/sharing/partnership mean? I think verse 18 gives us the clue because it uses a similar word, but compares it to what happens in the Jewish sacrifices: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants [a form of the same word] in the altar?” What does sharer/participant/partner in the altar mean? It means that they are sharing in or benefiting from what happened on the altar. They are enjoying, for example, forgiveness and restored fellowship with God.

So I take verse 16 and 17 to mean that when believers eat the bread and drink the cup physically we do another kind of eating and drinking spiritually. We eat and drink—that is, we take into our lives—what happened on the cross. By faith—by trusting in all that God is for us in Jesus—we nourish ourselves with the benefits that Jesus obtained for us when he bled and died on the cross.

This is why we lead you in various focuses at the Lord’s table from month to month (peace with God, joy in Christ, hope for the future, freedom from fear, security in adversity, guidance in perplexity, healing from sickness, victory in temptation, etc.). Because when Jesus died, his shed blood and broken body, offered up in his death on our behalf, purchased all the promises of God. Paul says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Every gift of God, and all our joyful fellowship with God, was obtained by the blood of Jesus. When Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” he means: Do we not at the Lord’s table feast spiritually by faith on every spiritual blessing bought by the body and blood of Christ? No unbeliever can do that. The devil can’t do it. It is a gift for the family. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we feast spiritually by faith on all the promises of God bought by the blood of Jesus.”

John Piper’s full article is titled, “Why and how we celebrate the Lord’s Supper”.

Singapore churches are preaching the half gospel

Lord anoint your servants to preach the good news of JesusI find Michael Horton’s books invigorating. I have read his “Putting the Amazing Back into Grace” and “Power Religion” of which I would warmly commend the former. But I have not read his more recent books titled Christless Christianity and the Gospel-Driven Life but they should be thought provoking stuff.Michael is currently the  professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, and the author of many books. Recently he was interviewed by Mark Galli from Christianity Today.

I am posting excerpts from this interview on some issues raised in these recent books to strengthen my claims that preaching in Singapore is too man-centered and imperative-driven and needs to return to being God-centered and indicative-driven or gospel-driven. What people have been receiving is a half gospel. The interview will clarify what I mean.

Here are some excerpts from there:

ARE OUR SERMONS IN CHURCHES TODAY CHRISTLESS:

What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?

When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: “These are God’s commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?” Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

Then there is the therapeutic approach: “You can be happier if you follow God’s principles.” All of this is said with a smile, but it’s still imperative. It’s still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

In both cases, it’s law rather than gospel. I don’t even know when I walk into a church that says it’s Bible-believing that I’m actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I’m going to hear about how I should “dare to be a Daniel.” The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don’t.

But aren’t many churches doing good preaching about how to improve your marriage, transform your life, and serve the poor?

The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn’t gospel. The gospel isn’t “Follow Jesus’ example” or “Transform your life” or “How to raise good children.” The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on “What would Jesus do?” rather than “What has Jesus done?”

Why is this such a temptation for the church?

It’s our default setting. No one has to be taught to trust in themselves. No one has to be taught that what you experience inside yourself is more authoritative than what comes to you externally, even if it comes from God. Since the Fall, it has been part of our character to look within ourselves. And it is part of our inherent Pelagianism to think we can save ourselves by following the right instructions.

In such a therapeutic, pragmatic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society as ours, the message of God having to do all the work in saving us comes as an offensive shot at our egos. In this culture, religion is all about being good, about the horizontal, about loving God and neighbor. All of that is the fruit of the gospel. The gospel has nothing to do with what I do. The gospel is entirely a message about what someone else has done not only for me but also for the renewal of the whole creation.

ON WHATS A GOSPEL-DRIVEN LIFE (IS HE TAKING A DIG AT THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE?):

What specifically do you mean by “a gospel-driven life”?

Because I live in San Diego, I think of a sailboat decked out with all of the latest equipment that tells you where you are and where you need to be. It plots your course, but it’s a sailboat, so you need wind in your sails. You start out, and it’s a beautiful day with wind in your sails. You’re out in the middle of the ocean when the wind dies down. You’re just sitting there dead calm. And your radio tells you that a hurricane is approaching. But all of your sophisticated equipment will not be able to get you to safety. What you need is wind in your sails.

A lot of Christians, especially people who have had dramatic conversion experiences, go sailing out of the harbor with wind in their sails. They are so confident in Christ and what he has done for their salvation, and that gospel wind is in their sails. Yet after two years, they have heard just one imperative after another. They have lots of course plotting, lots of books on how to do this and that. They’ve read every manual on spiritual disciplines. They have heard their pastor tell them they need to pray more, to read the Bible more, to evangelize more. Now they are dead in the water. There’s no wind in the sails.

Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion. The gospel remains the power of God unto salvation until we are glorified. Calvin once said we need the gospel preached to us every week, and the Lord’s Supper to ratify that promise, because we are partly unbelievers until we die.

‘Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion.

In The Gospel-Driven Life you use news as a metaphor. Why?

I stole it from the apostles! Their dominant metaphor for the gospel message is “good news.” The content is that God has done all the saving, no thanks to us. Someone asked Martin Luther what we contribute to salvation, and he said, “Sin and resistance!”

The gospel is not even my conversion experience. If somebody asks me what the gospel is, I’m not going to talk about me; I’m going to talk about Christ. All of the testimonies we find from the apostles’ lips are not testimonies about what happened in their hearts. They are testimonies about what happened in history when God saved his people from their sins. That’s the gospel. Although the gospel makes all sorts of things happen inside of me and gives me the fruit of the Spirit, the gospel itself is always an external word that comes to me announcing that someone else in history has accomplished my salvation for me.

Someone comes with instructions and says, “Here’s what your life could be like if you do x, y, or z.” Good news is, “Let me tell you what has happened!” The gospel is not good instructions, not a good idea, and not good advice. The gospel is an announcement of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

So what is the first step in living a gospel-driven life?

Become a recipient again. Mary and Martha, the two sisters and disciples of Jesus, had different relationships with Jesus. Martha busied herself with many tasks, and she was getting mad at Mary for making her do all the work. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from him. Jesus rebuked Martha for criticizing her sister and said Mary had chosen the better part.

First and foremost, disciples are recipients of Jesus Christ’s teaching. His teachings are really teachings concerning his person and his work. He has accomplished our salvation. He has accomplished our redemption. So first, allow the gospel to soak in again.

Then allow the imperatives that arise out of that to be our reasonable service. Instead of trying to live the victorious Christian life, instead of trying to get into God’s favor by following tips and formulas, let’s receive the gospel and then follow the commands of God’s law when it comes to directives. Then our sailboat is perfectly equipped. Now we have the wind in our sails—the gospel—and we also have God’s own wisdom to guide us in that gospel-driven life.

If we understand what Michael Horton is saying in this interview, we will understand why our churches of full of tired Marthas running around on an empty tank in the kitchen, and who will end up in churches that cater for Marys.

For the full interview go to Christ the Center article in online Christianity Today.com.

And read a related article which I posted recently on the indicatives and imperatives of the gospel.

Indicatives and imperatives of the gospel

preachingUnderstanding the indicatives and the imperatives will help anyone identify what is effective and empowering preaching and teaching of the gospel. This is something many believers and preachers miss. Their criteria of good preaching hinges too much on peripheral issues of structure and style. What is crucial is the content. It distinguishes us from the professional motivational speakers, religious gurus and politicians.

Nowadays there are a great deal of “How to…” messages which give instructional, moralistic, practical, Readers Digest type advice albeit with a Christian makeover. While I admit there is a place for this, the diet of God’s people has to be balanced with apostle Paul ’s order of indicatives(what God has done for us) before imperatives(what we therefore ought to do in response).

Most churches in Singapore preach the imperatives and the result is that Christians may mistakenly or subconsciously think that Christianity is another set of do’s and don’ts like Buddhism, or Islam: a moralistic religion with pragmatic, adaptable and logical rules and advice for living.

One of the more insightful succinct books I have read on preaching is “A Primer for Preachers” by Ian Pitt-Watson, a Professor of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary. I particularly like his emphasis that preaching the Good News is founded on, and driven by the ‘indicatives’ (who God is and what He has done). Here is an extract:

What is preaching? It is procalmation, not just moralizing. It is Good News, not just good advice; it is gospel, not just law. Supremely, it is about God and what he has done, not just about us and about what we ought to do. Logically and theologically(though by no means always chronologically) preaching is about God before it is about us; it is about what God has done before it is about what we ought to do. Our self-understanding must flow from our understanding of God. When we speak of what we ought to do(as of course we must, our moral imperatives must issue from our knowledge of what God has done. Otherwise our imperatives are no more than pious moralizings that refuse to face the facts of life: “When I want to do the right, only the wrong is within my reach”(Rom 7:21). Or else, if the moral exhortations are seriously intended and seriously attempted, the consequence is simply to compound in our hearers their burden of guilt when, inevitably, they make the same desolating discovery that Paul made: “The good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will”(Rom 7:19). Only through what God is and has done can I be what I ought to be and do what I ought to do. What I cannot do for myself, “what the law could never do, because [my] lower nature robbed it of all potency, God has done.” At heart, preaching is about what “God has done: by sending his own Son in a form like that of our own sinful nature”(Rom 8:3). That is the gospel.

The practical consequences of these theological conclusions are of immense importance to the preacher. Now that the “what?” question has been faced, the “how do you dos” of preaching can be answered with more confidence. If preaching is to be proclamation and not mere moralizing, then the ethics of our preaching must be rooted in the theology of our preaching. We cannot make sense of who we are and what we ought to do until first we know who God is and what he has done in Jesus Christ. The Christian ethic, severed from its theological roots, is no more than a new law, more demanding and therefore more burdensome than the old. That is why it is always so clear in the letters of Paul that the ethic flows out of the theology. We can be what we ought to be and do what we ought to do only because of what God is and has done. The theology empowers the ethic; it does not just accompany it with an encouraging, heavenly-father pat on the back. For every imperative of the Christian ethic there is an empowering indicative of Christian theology. In the Sermon on the Mount the imperatives are indeed there and inescapable in their demand. But they are more than imperatives; they are descriptions of life in the kingdom of God, indicatives of that kingdom. Perhaps that is why the Sermon begins, not in the imperative mood speaking of how things ought to be, but in the indicative mood speaking of how things are. “How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of heaven is theirs”(Matt, 5:3). This is how things are in the kingdom that in Christ is already in our midst. People are happy(makarios) with the special kind of happiness that comes from God alone. The most surprising people are happy in the most surprising circumstances. They are not told to be happy or trying to be happy. They just are happy. The blessed indicative of the Beatitudes precedes and empowers the demanding imperatives of the kingdom that are to follow.

“Don’t preach!” means “Don’t just tell me what to do; help me to do it.” That is precisely what authentic biblical preaching is all about. It is about action enabled by insight, imperatives empowered by indicatives, ethics rooted in theology, “what we ought to do” made possible by what God has done. (p21,22)