Sometimes, Christians today feel as though the spiritual issues we face and the doctrinal battles we wage are unique to our age or culture. Yet the wisest king who ever lived once observed, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). King Solomon added, “Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:10). Solomon’s observation is certainly true with regard to the teachings and doctrines of men, even those who profess to minister in the “name of Christ.” Many of the issues we face today in the world and the church are not new. Christians of days gone by wrestled with these same issues, and godly Bible teachers took time to address these timeless topics.
In an effort to be of encouragement to God’s people, let us consider several issues that we face today in the church—issues that affect the very fabric of our faith as well as the practical application of truth and doctrines that are under attack by religious leaders today—and listen to the wise counsel from God’s Word as well as godly Bible teachers of days gone by who addressed these matters in their own day.
Social Responsibility (Mark 14:3-9)
The trend of evangelical Christianity today is to mingle the true gospel of God’s grace with the social gospel of religious liberalism. The church has wrestled with this issue before. Consider what Dr. Frederic W. Farr wrote in 1919 concerning the Christian and social responsibility:
Moral reforms promote the same end that civil government does. They change the form of an evil but do not remove it. They help to check the growth of evil and thus keep the world in a tolerable condition. They are no substitute for the gospel, but they permit a fuller proclamation of the gospel while restraining in part the mystery of iniquity. The children of God should take the same attitude toward them as to civil government and give them all the support that is their due, as partial and temporary restraints upon existing evils. The danger connected with them is that they substitute human effort for divine power and encourage the hope that by means of them alone, sin is being put away and righteousness is being established in the earth. The Bible-taught and Spirit-filled believer cannot afford to become too much absorbed in them, since they pertain entirely to the present age, lest he give a wrong impression to the world as to what real Christianity is, that is, the attainment of everlasting life. When pure Christianity is given the first place, true morality will always follow. When moral reforms are given the first place, Christianity degenerates into mere humanitarianism.
As Christians today we must understand that the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) centers around evangelism and discipleship. The church must not lose this focus! To add “social work” to the Great Commission is to minimize and undermine man’s greatest need!
Date-Setting (Mark 13:32-37)
Sadly, many Christian leaders have proven themselves to be false prophets because they have chosen to neglect the clear words of Scripture and, instead, have invented strange interpretations of biblical texts and have twisted God’s Word in order to set dates for Christ’s return—whether the rapture or the second coming. Again, this is nothing new! Consider the words written by Dr. R. A. Torrey in 1915:
Of the exact time of Christ’s return no one knows, not even the angels; and therefore, any teacher who seeks to set dates is at once discredited. When the date-setting bug gets into any Bible teacher’s head it is all up with him. This disease is well nigh incurable. The shifts and twists they will resort to to get around our Lord’s clear teaching on this point would be amusing if they were not so pathetic and sad. Our Lord Himself, as a man, in order to set us an example to follow His steps and to emphasize the utter folly of setting dates, voluntarily put aside all knowledge of the date. The Father only knew. Our duty is not to try to fix the date, “which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1:7), but to “watch” and “pray” at all seasons that we may be ready whenever He comes.
Dr. Torrey’s words are true because they are faithful to God’s Word. Our responsibility as God’s children is to watch and wait for Him, keeping busy in the meantime doing His work. Do not get sidetracked! Keep your focus on the any-moment return of Jesus.
Worship (John 4:23-24)
It is vitally important for every believer to understand the purpose, posture, nature, and object of worship, for many professing Christians today claim to “worship” God when, in reality, their hearts are far from Him. Even many unbelievers are vainly “worshipping” Him. Consider the words of Dr. T. C. Horton, written in 1919:
God’s glory is the chief end of man, and in worship we glorify God. The Father seeketh worshipers. He has a Father’s heart, a hungry heart, and He seeks the worship of His children. He cannot be satisfied, as a Father, with anything less than the worship of His children. He is a Spirit and demands spiritual worship. He can only be approached through a spiritual nature. The natural man cannot approach Him (1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:8). Cain was in the flesh, and his worship was rejected. The Pharisee went up to the temple to pray, but he prayed in the flesh and his prayer was not received or answered by God. Three things are essential to worship: a divine nature (born of the Spirit), a spiritual nature (the presence of the Spirit to lead our thoughts), and the Word of God (to reveal God to us as the Father). These three requisites enable us to offer true worship. The Samaritans, as Jesus said to the woman, and the Jews, and many church members, worship they know not what. What a pity it is that many real Christians are ignorant of God’s heart desire and of God’s scriptural, spiritual way of worship.
Christians today must understand that the worship of the one, true God must be accomplished on His terms, not our own. It is possible to engage in “vain” worship of God, and yet many do not seem to realize this fact.
Good Works (Philippians 2:12-13)
Too many Christians today—as in years past—lazily think that they do not need to do much of anything for God because it is all up to Him—God will fulfill His will with or without them. Consider the words of Keith L. Brooks, written in 1922:
There is a teaching creeping into some churches today that amounts almost to a heresy. It is a teaching of grace that has become lop sided. Some are so taken up with the thought that “it is all of God and none of self” that they seem to forget that God “worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). The result is that we have some pastors complaining that while some of their people are wonderfully spiritual, they can never be persuaded to act. They will pray for souls but will not undertake work to win souls. They will pray about conditions in the church that call for strong disciplinary action, but they cannot be counted upon to move forward, for they believe that God Himself will, in some miraculous way, attend to the whole matter. As long as Jesus was on earth He engaged in very aggressive works. When He returned to heaven, His followers became His body. All His work on earth must be done through that body, and because He has sent the Holy Spirit to make believers so divinely one with Him, He assures us that He expects even greater works than He did to be accomplished. We cannot do His work until we have prayed…. Prayer is to put us at God’s disposal. It is intended to be a promoter of activity.
Yes, prayer and action are both necessary in order to fulfill God’s perfect will today. The entire thrust of the New Testament centers around divine instruction concerning how the believer can be a testimony to the world, edify the church, and honor God through belief and behavior.
Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6:11-12)
It seems as though many professing Christians today are accepting every new wind of doctrine that comes their way without even measuring such teaching against the Word of God. Strange teachings abound, particularly in the charismatic and Pentecostal circles, concerning what it means to engage in “spiritual warfare.” Consider the words of Dr. R. A. Torrey, written in 1917:
Let us never forget that not all spiritual impressions are from the Holy Spirit. There are other spirits beside the Holy Spirit, and we need to try the spirits whether they be of God (1 Jn. 4:1). Some people are so anxious to be led of the Spirit that they are willing to be led by any spirit. So long as it is a spirit, that satisfies them. They thus plunge into the errors of spiritualism or of the tongues movement or other forms of fanaticism. We do well to heed the very solemn warning of God’s Word and “try the spirits” that speak to us, or seem to speak to us, and see whether they be of God or whether they be of Satan. We should never forget that our most dangerous enemies are not flesh and blood, our fellowmen, but are the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this darkness, spiritual hosts of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). But while we recognize the existence and the activity in human history, and especially in our present-day history, of evil spirits, unseen forces of evil, we do not need to be in fear, for He that is with us and in us is wiser and mightier than they, and it is our privilege, by putting on the whole armor of God, to be able to stand against all the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11).
Never be deceived into thinking we can battle our enemy by “binding Satan” or “casting out” spirits. God makes it clear that we can be victorious over our foe by putting on the armor of God and measuring every teaching by His Word alone!
Religious Liberalism (John 5:46-47)
Religious or theological liberalism is not a new invention. It has been around since the time of Jesus Christ and is prevalent in academic circles as well as our general culture today. Consider the words of Dr. A. C. Gaebelein, written in 1931:
Our Lord predicted the very course of the rationalistic criticism as it should come to pass. This we find in John 5:46-47. To this may be added His words in connection with the story of the rich man and Lazarus: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Lk. 16:31). The rationalists among the Jews evidently doubted Moses. It is a remarkable thing that the present day destructive criticism started with the rejection of the writings of Moses…. The rejection of the authenticity of the Pentateuch and the Mosaic authorship is the cornerstone of criticism. Our Lord emphasizes this fact and speaks of unbelief in the prophets. If anyone does not believe in the writings of Moses, he must also reject the testimony of the prophets. Then He shows that those who do not believe Moses’ writings, who wrote of Him (a fact which critics deny), would not believe His words, and finally, even if one rose from the dead, they would not be persuaded to believe. This is exactly the course which modern infidelity has taken: first, the denial of the fact that Moses wrote; followed by a denial of the message of the prophets; then, the rejection of His own words; and finally, unbelief in Him who rose from the dead. It is a remarkable forecast of the trend of modern infidelity, known as “destructive criticism.”
Beware of this dangerous tide of unbelief that still seeks to destroy the faith of those who know Jesus Christ and to blind the eyes of those who do not know Him. Rather, take God at His Word and trust Him instead of those who think they know better than God or seek to create a “god” in their own image.
The Return of Christ (2 Peter 3:13-18)
It is important to understand that Jesus Christ could return for His church at any moment. Nothing else needs to happen before the return of Christ for His church. Our “blessed hope” is Jesus’ imminent (any-moment) return for His saints—regardless of what notable religious leaders are teaching today. Consider the words of Dr. Dinsdale Young, written in 1932:
I cannot tell you how, of recent years, I have been helped and cheered, and how, I hope, an edge has been put on to my utterances, because I have lived in the presence of the great truth [of the return of Jesus Christ]. There is a sense in which the gospel is not preached if we only preach the Lord’s first coming. The evangelical gospel includes the Lord’s return. “The Lord is coming.” He may come at any time. He is coming as He went, personally. That is the blessed hope, and that makes some of us optimists, even in wartime. We see the glory slowly gaining on the shadow; the King is coming back. It nerves us; it solaces us; it strengthens us; and it gives us a blessed hope. When He comes nations shall be born in a day. The very ends of the earth shall see His salvation. It is for that we wait, and I would from my heart thank God that you have got that precious doctrine—more than a doctrine, that power—always to the front in your life and testimony.
Are you living each day with this blessed hope in view? The apostle Peter describes this as a sanctifying hope—a truth that should have an impact on how we live our lives right now. Strive to be “set apart” unto your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Live life each day ready for Christ’s return. It could be today!
The Deity of Jesus Christ (John 8:54-59)
The deity of Jesus Christ is foundational to our faith, and yet it continues to be attacked even by those who profess to know Christ. Consider the words of J. H. Brewster, written in 1932:
Can you imagine reading the gospel narratives for the first time? If so, then I am sure one of the things to impress you would be the tremendous claims made by Jesus Christ. These claims aroused interest and opposition when uttered, and they continue to do the same today. Did the disciples enter into the full meaning of the opening sentence of John 14? There He said, “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me,” asserting equality with God. His enemies saw His meaning at once when He said, “Before Abraham was, I am” and “I and My Father are one” and promptly took up stones to stone Him. At His arraignment before Pilate they said, ““He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” A professional friend once asked if I could show him one verse where Christ said He was God. He was pointed to these and other passages in the New Testament, but he was not satisfied. He thought he knew God the Father, but how could he when he would not recognize Christ as the Son? For Christ said He was the only One who could reveal the Father. In Luke 10:22 He said, “No man knoweth … who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.”
Yes, the Word of God makes it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ is “Immanuel”—God manifest in the flesh. May we praise and thank our glorious God for this incredible and important truth, for without it we are yet in our sins.
— Matt Costella