Every pastor, ministry leader, and church-goer knows what a negative church person smells like. Cantankerous with a hint of Folgers.
But let’s get more specific.
I’m talking about the person who is negative about everything but they show up every Sunday, are in a community group, shoot — they even give 10%. What do you do with this person? They are suspicious of your leadership, the direction of the church, the new ministry endeavor, the new hire, the last sermon series, the mission’s dollars, the elders, the deacons, the membership process, the lack of position papers on alcohol and home-schooling, the quilting ladies, and the amount of bulletins printed. But they love the bad church coffee, which makes sense, they are in charge of it!
Get the picture?
Negativity comes in many different packages and people; emails and phone calls, early coffee meetings and late night barn-burners — how will you deal with it? I’ve had a man stand in my office, look me in the eyes and say, “I don’t like that you are the pastor of this church.” Thanks for sharing!
Here are a few things to consider when dealing with negative church people.
Before you handle the pan, put on a glove.
Deal with your sin before you deal with theirs.
You get right before you deal with someone’s wrong.
It’s always good and biblical to humble yourself. You aren’t that great. You aren’t above being questioned or criticized. Don’t pull a muscle while thinking so highly of yourself (Romans 12:3).
Jesus had negative critics — and still does. Some of the strongest negativity came from his team of leaders; Peter had a knack for being negative. Peter tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Jesus corrected him, strongly mind you, and still kept him around.
I’ve heard too many pastors and planters shoo someone away that was detracting from their mission and vision because they went against the grain; don’t put the cart infront of the horse and kick out the passengers.
Negative saints are still saints. They need a shepherd, not a sniper.
Instead of writing them off, fulfill your duty as a Pastor and pastor them. If they’ve sinned, rebuke them. Encourage them in the gospel. Meet with them, face to face — email wars are for losers. And when you meet, be biblical. Embody the fruits of the Spirit. You may benefit from them by asking about their perspectives. Do your homework before you give a grade. It takes a humble shepherd to learn from a negative wart, and it take a proud pastor to send a saint out to pasture with out shepherding them on the way. Maybe Mr. Negative needs to find a new church, or maybe he needs his Pastor to pastor him.
Here’s the deal, negative sheep don’t detract from the mission and vision, they are whom the mission and vision exists for — if it’s biblical. Christians are never distractions. Mr. Chipper might be a slithering wolf, but you have to get up close and find out. Don’t judge negative church folk like you’re cooking a hot-pocket; you need more time. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).
Some negative church folk have a rap-sheet filled with church hopping. Could it be that none of their past pastors had the love and guts to shepherd them? The pastor couldn’t get over his wounded pride in order to deal with the pride of his assailant?
I don’t have any data but I bet I’m close to the bullseye.
This should go without saying, but sometimes what is crystal clear is missed.
When dealing with negative church people here are a few verses to remember and put into practice.
The aim of your leadership is love. . .
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
(1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)
And love looks like. . .
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4–7 ESV)
It’s easy to love those who love your sermons. It’s biblical love to love those who can’t stand the way you write your emails and let you know it.
And there will come a time when the controversial straw is breaking the Elder’s back. Titus 3 might be one of the ignored passages in the Bible.
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
(Titus 3:10–11 ESV)
Proverbs and the French call this person, Le Fool.
Negative folks might need an heart adjustment from a loving pastor, others may not change and remain unrepentant. But you gotta go the distance here. Matthew 18 still applies. Titus 3 needs a hearing in the ears of the heart. How many ramped up negative Neil’s and Nancy’s have heard Titus 3:10-11 from the heart of a true shepherd? I bet E.T. could count it on one hand.
In closing, why not . . .
- Change where needed
- Rebuke when needed
- Be thankful
- Love at all times
And lastly, don’t be negative towards those who are being negative, that’s not the way of the Kingdom.
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A lot of people are skeptical of Christianity and the the church in general. You’ll often hear statements like, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” How should we respond?
Take It Back To Jesus
Our goal isn’t to convince lost people that church is cool. We are witnesses of the Risen Lord, this is about Jesus. Jesus is the Savior of sinners, not a cool Sunday service.
When people say they don’t like organized religion, ask them their thoughts about Jesus Christ. More pointedly, ask them if their position on organized religion means that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.
If they think Jesus is dead, why go to church? Who cares? Why be in a huff over organized religion if its founder is a loser?
But, if Jesus is alive—everything changes. Their thoughts about the church and “organized religion” have to be seen in light of the Risen Lord. Since Jesus is breathing, everything the Bible says about Jesus’s church has weight to it. It is solid. If Jesus conquered the largest obstacle in our lives—that’d be death—than we need to listen, and seriously consider everything his book says.
- Jesus said he was going to build his church (Matthew 16:18).
- Jesus came for the church (Acts 20:28).
- Jesus picked 12 leaders to start his church.
- Jesus is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23).
Jesus wants a church; if he didn’t, don’t you think he would have told the apostles in Acts to stop organizing and corrupting his vision for Christianity? In Acts they are meeting, structuring themselves, sending out missionaries, appointing leaders, etc. I don’t think Jesus wants a disorganized religion.
Jesus loves the church (Eph. 5:25). You can’t truly follow Jesus and not be a part of his church. It’s backwards. The New Testament doesn’t recognize that as Christianity.
A Rebellious Christian
If they profess to be a Christian and are against the church, then they should be called to obey Jesus, who is the head of the church, which is his body. To have Jesus, the head, is to also have his body, the church.
A professing Christian that is against the church is against Christ. If you are anti-Church, you are acting more like Satan, more like an anti-Christ, than your professed Savior.
The New Testament is clear, Christians are meant to belong to a local church (Hebrews 10:24). I’ve met far too many Christians who are too “mature” to obey the Bible and go to church. Sheesh. Repentance is in order.
God Isn’t Against Organization
There is nothing wrong with the words, “organized” and “religion.” But put them together and people get goosebumps.
God isn’t against organized religion. The entire Old Testament shows that. And the New Testament affirms the gathering, structuring, and ministry activity of God’s people for the sake of God’s glory and the spread of the gospel. Again, the Bible doesn’t prefer a disorganized religion, “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).
So, the bigger reality is not what we think about “organized religion”, frankly, it doesn’t matter; the greater question is what does God think?
God is pro-organization. I’ll just give two pieces of evidence. Exhibit A: The Bible. And exhibit B: The Universe.
What Do They Mean By “Organized Religion”?
When discussing or debating a word or phrase, define it. Ask what they mean by “organized religion”—it takes the conversation from the clouds to the ground. And then you can get going somewhere.
What they probably mean by “organized religion” is that they don’t want to be a part of some system that doesn’t care about them, doesn’t help them, just wants their money, etc. And I’d agree. That sucks. And frankly, that’s how Satan would run a “church”—which is not a church.
So, yeah, I’m against that kind of organized religion too—we all should be.
But the New Testament gives a different vision for the church—the main metaphor used is that of a family.
No one is against a family—or organized families.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ. God is our Father and Jesus is our big brother. We are adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:15). We aren’t a perfect family. But we are family. There is real love, joy, and harmony to be had among the family God, the body of Christ, the local church.
Affirm the yuck of abusive, manipulative, serpent-like “organized religion”, and put forward the compelling vision of the family of God.
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“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47 ESV)
From Asia to Europe, Africa to Latin America, Christians are facing persecution for what they believe. We live in an increasingly hostile culture that no longer values the foundation upon which it was built—that is biblical Christianity. As I have been thinking and praying about this topic more and more recently, I have become increasingly burdened as I watch the growing situation in Iraq (with ISIS), and the increased persecution of Christians all around the world.
According to Open Doors USA, Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. The U.S. State Department reports that Christians, in more than 60 countries, face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ. Christians Solidary Worldwide reports that one of the worst countries in the world for persecution is North Korea. With the exception of four official state-controlled churches in Pyongyang, Christians in North Korea face the risk of detention in the prison camps, severe torture, and in some cases, execution for practicing their religious beliefs. North Koreans suspected of having contact with South Korean Christians or other foreign missionaries (such as those from China), and those caught in possession of a Bible, have been known to be executed. Open Doors explains that in forty-one of the fifty worse nations for persecution, Christians are persecuted by Islamist extremists.”[i]-
The statistics I quoted above paint a disturbing picture about our world and where it is headed. Thankfully, God’s people don’t have to despair, since we are a people with the hope of the gospel—a message that is the hope of the world. The Church has continued and thrived in the face of persecution from its earliest days and will continue to thrive as it is faithful to the gospel.
Jesus stated that in this world we would experience trouble and persecution (John 16). Paul told Timothy that anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ will experience persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the disciples that, “blessed are those who are persecuted” (Matthew 5:10-12). He also said to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and modeled the truth of how He expects His people to handle persecution on His way to Calvary. The persecuted church testifies of our need to get out of our “comfort zone” and proclaim the victorious work of our Risen Savior.
Be Aware of the Situation
Christians here in the United States (and elsewhere) can support our fellow brothers and sisters being persecuted by gaining knowledge of what is going on around the world. I recommend checking out Voice of Martyrs and other organizations like it that are doing heroic work for the sake of the gospel.
Pray for the Afflicted
Second, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:3 to pray for those in prison. Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” The preacher of Hebrews here gives his readers a profound lesson about those who were experiencing mistreatment and imprisonment.
Be There as a Friend
There are three ways we can seek to fulfill this verse. First, we can be there for others when life gets hard. The presence of a friend has been a boon of encouragement and strength to me in my Christian life.
Give Assistance as You’re Able
Second, we can provide direct help. Paul thanked the Philippians for sharing with him in his affliction by giving him money to carry on his ministry in other places (Phil. 4:14-16). By giving to him financially, they also encouraged him spiritually.
Finally, we can care by praying. Paul’s closing words to the Colossians in Colossians 4:3-4 were an appeal for prayer. They could not visit him and money would have been no help at that time. By remembering him in prayer, they could support him powerfully. Following’s Jesus’ example, who did not come to be ministered to but to minister, we should lose ourselves in the sustained, sympathetic, and loving care of others.
As Christians, we are commanded over fifty times to “one another” each other (love one another, prayer for one another, etc.). It is my hope and prayer today that you would join with me in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Praying for one another is one way we can practically show the world that we love Jesus and one another (John 13:35). Get involved and speak up—your voice matters.
Photo Credit: Pray For the Persecuted Chains
[i] “Quick Facts About Persecution” ERLC, accessed August 1, 2014. http://erlc.com/issues/quick-facts/persecution/
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It appears to me that there is a growing chasm between generations in local churches. Churches are becoming more and more generationally homogenous. If you entered a church on Sunday, you might easily label the church as either a baby boomer, generation X, or millennial church.
Obviously, this is a broad observation. There are churches that do well at being generationally varied. But I don’t think enough attention has been drawn to how uniform many churches are and how dangerous this is to discipleship and spiritual growth. Let me first share my own experience.
I’ve attended four churches in my Christian journey. Each of them had a generational makeup that defined them. Likewise, I’ve interacted with a handful of other churches from which I’ve built this experience.
Two churches that I attended had a strong constituency of young families. One was a baby boomer church; the other was a generation X church. In both, the singles and college ministry was a ghost town. In one of them, there was not a grey hair in the crowd, merely families with children through teens.
I attended the first as a college and single. I was the anomaly of the church. In order to find gospel community with people from my generation, I traveled through several college ministries or singles ministries for four years. I did what I could to build community within the church, but there were many barriers that prevented this. One of which was the lack of urgency that the older generations felt to remedy the situation.
In the second, my wife and I were married with children and I served the church as a pastor. I shepherded the teen generation and was at max capacity. I didn’t have time to pour into my own generation and build community. This generation remained fragmented with no voice or leadership; it had a tough time finding a place in the church.
The third church was a dying church with an aged congregation. Then it relaunched. After relaunch it was mostly constituted of college and single students. As I have watched this church progress, I have seen it turn the corner and develop more heterogeneity. But I can tell that this church has been intentional. My wife and I attended this church between the two churches I shared about above. We felt very connected to our own generation, but were hungry to have more mature saints to pour into our lives.
Then there are the churches I hear whispered about. “Did you hear that such and such church closed their doors?” These churches after decades of loyal saints serving could not afford to maintain their facilities. They atrophied. They lacked younger families, singles, and college-aged adults to sustain gospel ministry momentum. These church facilities become community centers, pubs, or small businesses. As I’ve traveled the Chicagoland area during the past few months, I have encountered the truth of this. What were once beautiful bastions of Christianity have been converted into businesses.
Thankfully, there are churches that have a healthy cross-section of generations present. The fourth church, which I attend now, represents this healthy cross-section. In this church, not one generation sticks out from another.
Why the Divide?
One reason that a church is generationally uniform is because it started that way and stayed that way.
For example, if the plaid, bearded, hipster, millennial church planting conferences that I’ve gone to during the last year is any indication of the uniformity within past generations, I might be onto something. These bearded, plaid-bearing men are a type that I am a part; I’m pointing the finger at myself here. We love to gather together with others just like us to learn how to minister those who are – shocker – just like us.
If churches strive to be generationally mixed, it is important to start that way. They cannot be started with young people who are reacting to the stagnancy of older generational churches. It is not outlandish to claim that younger generations of the church become frustrated with how older generational churches function. The reasons for frustration vary. It could involve theological, philosophical, or cultural generational preferences.
But these preferences have planted certain kinds of generational churches. Some may question if a generation can have theological preferences. But I guarantee there is a young, restless, and Reformed millennial generation that has “left behind” the generations before it.
Likewise, generation X made a pivotal shift philosophically. This generation became seeker sensitive. This generation valued church growth that emphasized programs. The generation before it resisted this shift. The one coming after has seen its foibles and is running away from it as well.
Finally, the baby boomer generation withstood all of these changes. They maintained the culture that it had before generation X. It resisted the philosophical shift. A segment of this generation is delighted with the Reformed part of the young, restless and Reformed millennials. Another segment feels more threatened than ever by how this generation embraces certain aspects of culture. They dress more relaxed, have tattoos, imbibe in alcohol, and smoke pipes and cigars. This generation navigates media in a redemptive mode. All of this frightens the older generations.
Unfortunately, these fears build gospel blockades rather than bridges. From one generation’s frustration, another generation of church dies; the younger generation abandons ship and starts a younger-aged church. This has been going on for decades now. Thus, we can recognize when a church began in the mid 20th-century, the 70′s and 80′s, or the 90′s and 2000′s. You can see the predominant life-stage represented within the church as easily as you can date the architecture of the building.
Here is a major caveat. Do not read this article and think that this guy is against church planting. On the contrary, I am a church-planting intern. I wholeheartedly believe that church planting is biblical. Paul traveled the Mediterranean region starting local churches and installing men that he mentored into elder roles in those churches.
In America, there is a great need of new churches because of gospel poverty. This is not a slam against church planting. It is a caution against a certain kind of church planting; the kind of church planting that does not possess a healthy cross-section of generations. New church plants should intentionally be generationally varied. We should be alarmed when visiting a church plant and the assembly is nearly all college students – regardless of how well-meaning, doctrinally sound, and genuine the community is. Likewise, be concerned if a church plant only has young families.
Listen church planters. Develop a core group that is generationally diversified and you have hope.
Building Gospel Bridges
So how does a church plant or established church build generational bridges and develop a healthy cross-section of generations? How do they take down the gospel blockades? The only way to bridge this growing chasm between these generations is through the gospel. Here are three gospel-bridges a church can build towards having an inter-generational church.
1. Construct Inter-Generational Gospel Communities
If Colossians 3:18-4.1 and Ephesians 5:25-6.9 are examples of household codes, Titus 2:1-10 is a church code. It is a code of how multiple generations and people from varied life situations relate with one another within the church in light of the gospel. Older men, younger men, older women, and younger women should all be present in the body.
Verse 11 explicitly mentions that the gospel is “for all people.” This is not incidental. The gospel saves and unites all people in gospel community. Is this what your gospel communities look like? Have you considered creating Sunday school classes or community groups that are intentionally generationally varied?
I know this is a risky task. How can these generations with such divergent views and lifestyles function in harmonious gospel communities? They do so by the gospel. The gospel has to be the number one undergirding principle in which the community submits. We have to submit to our theology first and then build our philosophy and culture around it. That philosophy and culture should value diversity and respect authority.
Inter-generational gospel communities will add a deeper dimension to your communities. Older men and women will provide wisdom and biblical guidance in the study of Scripture. Younger men and women will infuse the gospel community with vigor and zeal to be intentional to serve both the church and the surrounding community.
2. Promote Inter-Generational Gospel Discipleship
Titus 2:3-4 indicates how older women train younger women. Does your church offer discipleship groups for younger women to learn from older women?
Likewise, similar discipleship groups could be offered for men. The book of Proverbs sets this standard. Proverbs 1:8 indicates that this book is written from the standpoint of a father to a son on living skillfully. Obviously this is the ideal. A mother should instruct her daughter and a father should instruct his son in the ways of each gender.
But guess what? Your church has first generation Christians in it. Those Christians need spiritual fathers and mothers to mentor and lead them through Scripture. My wife and I are an example of this. We are grateful for the men and women who have come alongside us during our eight years of marriage to mentor us towards the gospel and godliness.
Does your church offer inter-generational gospel discipleship? Is this a bridge your church employs to help men and women grow in the gospel and godliness?
3. Make Disciples of Multiple Generations
The gospel is for every generation. In 1 John 2, there is a gospel refreshment course for fathers, young men, and children. John says that he writes to remind them of the sin they’ve been rescued from, the enemy they’ve overcome, and the God whom they know. The gospel refreshes these generations that exist harmoniously within the church.
This is the same gospel that should be preached to multiple generations. Is your church taking intentional steps to preach this gospel to multiple generations?
There are intentional steps that a church may take to make disciples of multiple generations. Serving these people in their natural environment is an excellent way to build a gospel bridge.
To reach mature generations, do outreach to an assisted living community. Maybe there is a person there with gospel interest that needs a ride to church on Sunday. To reach young families, college-aged, and singles with the gospel, look for outreach opportunities at elementary schools, colleges, or local businesses. Help paint a school. Adopt a fraternity or sorority. Offer to do landscaping for a local business.
Allow these service bridges to become gospel bridges. As you serve these people, you are earning the opportunity to share the gospel with them. You welcome them to cross the bridge from their natural environment into your church environment. Through these relationships you make disciples of multiple generations.
Together in the Gospel
The Church has a long way to go to reconcile the generational divide within her. When generations fail to interact with one another and listen to one another, it only widens the divide. When younger generations act as exiles or evacuate from one church to start new, younger, and hipster churches, it only aggravates the situation. Young and old have to come together to build gospel bridges because the gospel reconciles all people..
Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We could apply that to young and old, as well. Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 anticipates this. These two Scriptures give a snapshot of the Church in the last days. It will constitute of sons and daughters and young and old. All of these generations will function together to bring attention to the gospel.
This post first appeared at GCD and is posted here with their permission.
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The chief export of a local church ought to be love. Churches do many things but the main thing we are to express to God, to one another, and to the world is supernatural love—because God is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Boil all Christian activity down to one word and it’s, simply, love.
Since our God is love, we are to be people who are known for love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(John 13:34–35).
God so loved the world that he gave us Jesus (John 3:16). And we love because he loved us first (1 John 4:19). Love is the superstructure of the gospel. The cross of Christ is the supernova of God’s love for sinners. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
It’s Pretty Simple
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is—the greatest duty of God’s people, his reply: robust love for God and real love for others.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:30–31)
Love God. Love neighbor.
It’s really not that complicated. Our pesky flesh just gets in the way.
We can try and contort Jesus’ words, like a good Pharisee, with questions, “Well, who is my neighbor? How should I love my neighbor?” Jesus made it pretty clear. Love your neighbor like you love yourself. We are to have counter-cultural love for the culture—nothing less than loving our neighbors like we love ourselves.
And we are to have gospel formed love for our brothers and sisters. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). We are to do good to everyone, and especially those in Church (Gal. 6:10).
This is a difficult way to live. But not impossible. This kind of love is not beyond the Kingdom of Christ. This is the Great Commandment, not the great impossibility. To walk in the Greatest Commandment requires great power, great ability—given from the Holy Spirit. What’s the first fruit of the Spirit again?
What Are We Exporting?
Our first priority is loving God. Always. Our chief task is not to put on a slick Sunday service, or to assimilate people into community groups, to serve the poor, defend doctrine, write books, preach sermons—our first and greatest aim is love. (Then good works will follow.)
And if we aren’t careful, we can get caught up in the good things and forget the main, best thing.
The Church at Ephesus received a letter from Jesus, commending their sound doctrine, but rebuking their lack of love.
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4–5 ESV)
Every church should take an assessment of their ministry manifest and ask, “What are we exporting?” What is our church churning out? More love or more or more pride? More gospel or more Oprahisms and Osteenifications?
Solid doctrine is a good thing. So important. But churches with stellar doctrinal statements die every day. Lampstand status requires love.
The Ephesians didn’t lose their love for Jesus and others because of sexual immorality, drugs, Netflix, or Jim Beam— it was the good things, overtime, that wore them down. Like the slo-mo drag of the Ocean, they lost their bearing. Caught in the motions of Christianity and they were no longer caught up with the risen Christ.
Stay The Course
Let’s not assume we aren’t there, or that we aren’t a weekend away from being there.
- Does our church really love Jesus, the person? Or are we bored with him?
- Does our church really love one another? Or are we a lame event?
- Does our church really love the lost? Or are we a city in a bunker, instead of a city on a hill?
This is too vital to not consider. Where are we today?
Let’s stay the course. Let’s do the two firsts that Jesus mentioned to the Ephesians.
The love we had a first. The works we did at first.
We never move on from there. There’s no advanced Christianity. This is it. Love for God, love for neighbor. Word and deed. Hear and do.
We remember Jesus; we get re-ignited by his volcanic love, and then we act accordingly. The Way. The Truth. The Life.
We love because he first loved us.
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Only one more song before I went up to preach. I felt prayed up. Ready. But then a sense of uneasiness came over me. As the first verse began to roll, I prayed, “Lord, help me. Move in your people. May you be glorified. I know the principalities and powers are against us in this place. They are looking for gospel seeds to steal. The enemy is prowling against me and your Bride this day. Help us, Lord. One little word from you is all we need.”
The forces of evil (Eph. 6:12) were more real to me in that moment than they had been all week. It was then I realized that there was a snake in lion’s clothing slithering through our church (1 Peter 5:8). We were going into battle.
THE COSMIC BATTLE
Singing as Exorcism
I looked to the words of “In Christ Alone” on the screen and joined the church in singing about a Roman cross and an empty grave. The gathered saints of a risen Galilean, the King of Kings, were singing, exalting, and enjoying the gospel of the Kingdom.
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground his body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!”
As we sang the beautiful truths of the gospel, we were doing more than reciting words. This was no mere singing. Pagans can sing. We were engaging in exaltational exorcism. We were pushing back the darkness around us, in our minds, in our hearts, and in the air.
Tearing Down Strongholds
Cosmic battles are waged in our little churches. It may appear quiet, neat, and orderly to our eyes, but there are powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces that are tempting, distracting, and condemning—even while we shake hands, hug, sip coffee, and take sermon notes. They want Mrs. Jones to be so wrecked by her sin that she wouldn’t dare look to Jesus and believe that she’s forgiven. Demons swirl around that teenager in the back row, hoping he won’t confess his porn addiction to his youth leader—and especially not his parents.
Something nuclear happens we sing the glories of Christ. We are wielding weapons-grade gospel power to tear down strongholds and cast out every word raised against the word of our Messiah, and we fall down before our Lord and follow him.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
THE SATANIC POWERS HATE THE GOSPEL
Victory at Calvary
Satan isn’t terrified of our electric guitars, live drums, or hip services; no, when redeemed sinners exalt the Triune God and exult in Jesus of Nazareth, that’s the moment demons shriek and whimper back to the darkness from which they came (Luke 4:33-36). When we sing the truths of the gospel, we aren’t the only ones being reminded of the victory at Calvary—the satanic powers are freshly reminded that Jesus is Lord, not Lucifer. They follow a loser.
“And as he stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am his and he is mine,
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.”
Jesus holds me; sin doesn’t. My flesh can’t boss me around anymore because Jesus isn’t laid up in a tomb—he stands in victory. It was on a bloody hill outside of Jerusalem that, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus has not only conquered Satan, he has made a spectacle of him.
As the army of Christ assembles in high school cafeterias, warehouses, theater chair filled rooms, and under thatched roofs, these buildings are more like barracks. We gather to be filled by the Spirit of the King, refreshed by his Word, and we march back out into enemy occupied territory, singing in unison the battle hymn of the Kingdom: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Songs laced with gospel truth, sung in faith, are anti-air missile defense systems against the flaming darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Read these last lines of “In Christ Alone.”
“No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of Hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand;
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
We sing those words to God, Heaven rejoices, and Satan watches on in horror. No power of Hell can pluck us from Christ’s hand. “No power of Hell, Satan. Do you hear us? You and all your rotten might are no match for our Jesus.” This is why I advocate for loud singing (Zephaniah 3:14-15). War isn’t quiet. No soldier mumbles on the battlefield—and especially not at the victory party. Belt the glory of Christ. And know that our Champion sings loudly over us (Zephaniah 3:17).
Crucified with Christ
We focus our hearts and vocal chords on the lifeless body of Jesus and his life being returned to him three days later, to remember that Calvary happened to us too. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Dark Snake lost his grip on us when Jesus gave up his life and came back from the dead, because Jesus brought us with him (Ephesians 4:8). We too lost our lives and got them back. We died on that cross. We rose from the grave. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)—and the fallen angels hate it and don’t want us to know it or enjoy it. But “here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!”
Church singing hacks away at the unrealities we’ve bought into during the week. A part of spiritual warfare is cutting the heads off of lies with the shovel of truth. The satanic forces work in tandem with our flesh and without noticing it, we start to believe that maybe we have sinned too big or too much this week, and then we hang our heads, and drag our knuckles on the Lord’s Day. We think, “Maybe this sin is, you know, just the way it’s going to be.”
But that’s all anti-gospel. That thinking didn’t come from the throne, but the ground. We tear down that stronghold and sing, “No guilt in life!” (Romans 8:1).
SING THE GOOD SONG, FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
Some people endure the time of corporate singing, just so they can get to the sermon. Well, there are a lot of dumb things to do in church, and that’s one of the big ones. You may not like the style of music, but that doesn’t matter. If God wanted one style of music, or even the songs done in a certain way, we’d have sheet music instead of maps in the back of our Bibles. God commands us to sing, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4). And it might be that during those songs we are being made ready to hear their word of our Christ. The belt of truth is being tightened, we remember the righteousness of Christ as our breastplate, the gospel shoes are being laced up. As hands are raised in response, they are lifting up the shield of faith blocking the darts of the Serpent (Eph. 6:13-17). We are confident in the helmet of salvation, and we’ve heard the sword of the Spirit through our songs. And it is in those verses and hymns, these gospel songs, that the Spirit gives us the spiritual gift of street fighting.
Believe and sing. Sing and believe. You are in the middle of a war. Look at the words, take them in, believe them, and let them soar into the air. Lift up the shield of faith by lifting up your voice.
And sing loudly. Maybe God will use your voice, as you sing a spiritual song, to help a brother or sister look away from lies, cheap thrills, and temptations. Help lift their droopy hands and dwell on Christ (Colossians 3:16).
The Mighty Fortress
Pastors, worship leaders, lead us to the gospel waters. Help us hear, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
Select songs that are jam-packed with gospel glories. “His glories now we sing.” Is your church singing the glories or a bunch of goofiness? Are we singing about a solid rock of truth or soggy love? If we aren’t singing about the cross and the empty tomb, what are we singing about? God’s love? 1 John 3:16 much? Take us to Jerusalem, show us Golgotha and that empty grave, and then point us to the clouds that will be rolled back like a scroll.
Martin Luther knew this kingdom warfare theme. In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, he sings:
“For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.”
He knew our enemy and his work against us. Luther’s conclusion?
“And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.”
One word from Christ, that’s all. One truth. The truth. Like Tolkien’s elvish waybread, one gospel crumb is enough to sustain the whole church, for a whole lifetime, for a whole eternity.
Sing the good song of the good news. Fight the good fight of the faith—we are in a war after all.
This post was first published at GCD and is published here with their permission.
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