All posts by LouTiscione

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Choices We Make”

The Choices We Make…
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Scripture Quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV)
We all choose what we desire. We do what is our strongest “want” at the moment of choice. Yet, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, and He has ordained the steps of men. Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s choices. The link between these two truths, God’s sovereignty and man’s will is the doctrine of secondary causes. The Bible does not teach what is called determinism. We are not robots. Yet, God’s revelation clearly declares that nothing that we do is outside of God’s sovereign will.

The matter of secondary causes represents the actions of men which God ordained in eternity to accomplish His decrees.

One clear example of God’s sovereignty was written by Jeremiah. “Who has spoken, and it came to pass unless the LORD has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” Lamentations 3:37-38 Isaiah also wrote concerning God’s sovereignty. “Also, henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” Jesus, who is God, declared “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18

Christians affirm the sovereignty of God. But confusion comes when God’s sovereignty is placed against our choices. God ordained the daily routines and details of our lives. Yet, we all choose to do what we desire. Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Genesis 50:20

We search for answers that suit our finite minds. Some suggest that God is sovereign over the beginning and the end, but for all that is in the middle He has given man free will to choose whatever is desired. If this is true, then God is not sovereign, His word is false, and He is not God!

But God is sovereign over the ends and the means. He uses secondary causes to accomplish His ordained purpose. King Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the Hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.” Proverbs 21:1 Luke recorded Peter’s explanation of a secondary cause used by God to accomplish redemption. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Acts 2:23

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, Paragraph 1 states this concerning secondary causes.
“God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

Every action and circumstance has been ordained by God. And, He has chosen to accomplish His ordained plan through secondary causes, namely our choices.

Thereby, the sovereignty of God does not excuse man for his actions. The Bible affirms from cover to cover that every man is responsible for his actions!

The Creator has the right to make creatures as He wills. The Apostle Paul used very strong words aimed at those who rejected the absolute sovereignty of God in choosing some for salvation and passing over others. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you make me like this?”’ Romans 9:20

You may be thinking that the doctrine of secondary causes is interesting but all that one needs is to believe in Jesus. True, but, simply saying His name is not the extent of the saving faith given by God. When one comes to Jesus, he comes to the One who is Lord of all. He is the one by whom and for whom all Creation was made. His word declares that we are accountable to Him for our choices. He has also revealed Himself to be the sovereign ruler of the Universe. True, all that is necessary is to believe in Jesus, but in what Jesus do you believe? Is He the one who somehow permits you to wander in life as you choose or is He the one offered in the gospel who has ordained the steps of your life?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “True Religion”

“True Religion”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
You may think that this Pastor’s “gone to meddling”. But I assure you that the topic of religion is extremely important. Since religion is important, we should concern ourselves with what is called true religion.

Religion is generally defined as a set of beliefs that connect the cause of nature and the purpose of life. Religion is relevant for all whether one is an evolutionist or a creationist. Even those who hold to a man-centered worldview practice a religion called secular humanism.

Those of us who believe in the Creator affirm that man was made for worship. Therefore, mankind has always pursued a means to reconcile himself to the Creator.

Two Latin words combine to form the word “religion”. “Re” means to return and “ligare” means to bind. So, religion is descriptive of the means by which men seek to “bind” themselves to their Creator. Another way of stating the same thing is to define religion as the means by which we seek reconciliation with our Creator.

Since religion involves reconciliation and all men express religion, it is reasonable to seek true religion. True religion is the real expression of reconciliation to God. That is, true religion reflects a right understanding of man’s relationship to God. He is the Creator and we are creatures. The Westminster Confession of Faith used the term true religion in defining the visible church. The visible church is made up of all throughout the world who profess the true religion and their children.

Philosophers say that there are many religions. You may have had a course in college that studied world religions. The late philosopher and professor, Dr. Joseph Campbell said that all religions were simply reaching for the truth. He said that, no religion could make the claim that it was the true one. Joseph Campbell taught, wrote, and was an alumnus of Columbia University and a Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College. You may remember the interviews conducted by Bill Moyers with Professor Campbell. They are still periodically aired on Public Television and are available in book form, “The Power of Myth”.

Joseph Campbell, considered by some to be one of the greatest philosophical minds of the 20th Century, said that the purpose of life was to “follow your bliss”. Another name for this philosophy is hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure. Opposed to this is the Christian Philosophy of Life. Glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

All men can choose to believe anything. It is a sad commentary on our culture that elite institutions of learning would produce such an erroneous, shallow, and illogical philosophy of life such as Campbell’s and teach it to unsuspecting young minds.

There is a test that serves to guide us on recognizing what is true. The test is general and is stated, “That which is true is true for all or for no one.” One doesn’t need to be a Christian to apply this logic to Campbell’s hedonistic philosophy. His statement is destroyed because one person’s bliss may result in another’s terror. Evil is not relative.

Returning to “True Religion”, I propose that true religion can only be described by a right understanding of who God is and who we are. True religion begins with God’s revealed truth of His character. First and foremost, He is the one who spoke, and all creation came into being. He is the eternal being. He has provided the only means by which men might be reconciled to Him. We know Him in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

As we look at our religious practice. We must ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Is our religion centered on God? That is, do we worship God as He has commanded man to worship Him? Being centered on God demands us to think about our hopelessness apart from Him. God has revealed that all men are born spiritually dead. God must raise an individual from death to life so that he is able to see the truth. God has said that the only means of reconciliation of the world is in Christ alone.

The most visible expression of true religion is worship. As you gather to worship with God’s people are you gathering for fellowship or to declare your praises to God, to hear from Him and to confess your trust in Him? True religion is not about community or relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. True religion is about worshiping God as He has revealed Himself.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Frustration and Injustice”

“Frustration and Injustice”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Psalm 73 speaks to the root cause of frustration and anger. The Psalmist described his frustration caused by the prosperity of the wicked. He could not understand how the wicked could go unpunished while they enjoyed prosperity. The Psalmist knew that God was the source of all that is good. He also knew that God was holy and just. His struggle with knowing the holiness of God and seeing the prosperity of the wicked caused him to be frustrated.

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Psalm 73:1-3 (ESV)

The human author, Asaph was placed in charge of the singers and musicians in God’s House. King David assigned him the task of leading God’s people to thank Him and praise Him.

The first three verses put his frustration into perspective. Asaph addressed Israel in general and specifically those who are “pure in heart”, which means those who are faithful to God. The phrase “pure in heart” is in parallel with “Israel.” Applied today, the Psalmist described those in the visible church living under the word of God.

He reminded us of the goodness of God. God is always good. The Bible says that God is the source of all that is good. James wrote in his epistle, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

Asaph acknowledged his own weakness. He said, “My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” Asaph was close to being overwhelmed by the prosperity of the wicked. He said that he was envious of their worldly success.

He saw the wicked prosper in the midst of their arrogance. Asaph experienced what we experience. He saw the proud and arrogant living above the law. We see our leaders selectively enforce the law. He saw men acting selfishly at the expense of others. We see men using the law for their own purposes. Asaph declared that these arrogant and proud men escaped any judgment in this life. “For they have no pangs until death…” Psalm 73:4a.

It was obvious to Asaph that the only time of judgment for these men was death. This was little comfort to him as all men die, even the righteous die.

Asaph kept looking for justice and found none. The wicked were living in great prosperity and no one was holding them accountable for their actions. He was at a loss to explain their prosperity in the face of a good God. “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task.” Psalm 73:16

Compound what you see concerning the prosperity of the wicked with the reality that many people don’t seem to care to do anything about it and you have the formula for deep frustration leading to anger, symptomatic of our society.

One of the great comforts given to us in the Psalms is that godly men experienced what we often experience, and that God not only listened but He answered them in their distress. Asaph received God’s response to this injustice.

Asaph wrote God’s words as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. Asaph received God’s answer and it is important for us to observe where he received it. “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” Psalm 73:17 Asaph received God’s answer in corporate worship. He entered God’s House and was able to discern the end of the wicked. As he worshiped God everything was put into an ultimate perspective.

Everyone must answer to God. This life is not all that there is. Like Asaph, Christians know that they are sinners and that Jesus paid for their sins. Christians also know that God has promised to forgive them and continually cleanse them from unrighteousness when they confess their sins to Him. The rest of mankind will fall under the wrath of the holy God. They are without hope.

This word is for the Church!

If you are relying upon Christ alone, you are secure. He will execute justice on those who live for themselves. They may have their best life now, but they will not escape the eternal wrath of God!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, Pain and Suffering

Pain and Suffering
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings…” Romans 5:3a
Are you kidding? Who is the one who rejoices in sufferings? I know I don’t find my joy in my sufferings. But the Apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said that he rejoiced in his sufferings! Why would he say such a thing? Notice that the verse begins with “more than that”. He had declared that anyone who has been justified by faith alone in Christ alone is at peace with God. More, he stated a propositional truth. He said that those who have been justified are destined for glory. He followed this certain hope of glory with his view of suffering. He saw the suffering of this life as a means by which God prepares His people for glory in heaven. Paul rightly viewed suffering as producing strength, confidence, character and a deepened faith. All of what suffering produces in the believer’s life ends in a deep and abiding confidence in our hope of glory!

Some attempt to explain Romans 5:1-5 as specifically referring to suffering for the gospel. However, there is nothing in the context requiring Paul’s use of the word “suffering” to gospel-related tribulation. I believe that the more natural interpretation that includes all pain and suffering is the Apostle’s point. Clearly, there will be suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake and the sake of the gospel. Jesus said don’t be surprised if the world hates us because it hated Him first. Those who follow Christ will be persecuted. However, there is just plain suffering, sickness and death. What about simply living in this fallen world?

One option given by the purveyors of the health-wealth gospel is that God doesn’t want anyone to suffer. If that were so, no one would suffer. They want us to believe that if we only had enough faith or prayed the right prayer, we’d all be healed. Their teaching is more than nonsense, it is damaging.

First, to believe that God wants everyone to be healed, we have to limit God’s sovereignty. Think about it; if God is unable to accomplish what He wants, then is He really God? God has revealed that He will lift His curse upon Creation, Revelation 21. There will come a time when there is no more pain, no more crying and no death. But now we live in a world that was broken by the fall of Adam and Eve. All Creation was cursed because of original sin.

Second, to believe the claim of the health/wealth teachers, we must deny reality. Suffering is real. No matter what we think or not think about sickness, suffering and death, they are undeniable facts of this life. A friend of mine used to say denial is not only a river in Egypt! We can’t simply “name it claim it and frame it”!

No one escapes the pain of losing a loved one, seeing someone we love suffer with an illness or experiencing pain, loss and sickness ourselves.

I would suggest to you that in the midst of suffering there is only one thing that will cause us to persevere through it. That one thing is not a thing but a person. Only knowing the one true God in Jesus Christ will give us the hope of which Paul wrote in Romans 5. Those who are in Christ have been given the Holy Spirit who testifies to our spirits that we belong to God. We will suffer now, but we are not those who suffer without hope. And, our hope is a certain hope. We can say with James, “count it all joy…” because on the other side of suffering is glory!

Those who study culture have written that our Western Culture is predominantly individualistic. Even in the church we seem to focus everything on the individual. The truth of Christianity is grounded in the word covenant. We who profess Christ are in a covenantal relationship with Our Father in Heaven. He has saved us as individuals, and He has adopted us into His family. The visible family of God is the church. This may seem disconnected to persevering through suffering. But the church is God’s blessing of a community of believers who will stand alongside of us in the midst of our suffering. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The decline of our culture”

“The decline of our culture”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
What happened to our culture? Why is reality ignored? Where are those who are able to think critically about issues without being offended?

The current situation with our government has caused me to think through the issue of our cultural decline. What are the reasons for our confusion and division within various institutions?

What is happening to our Western Culture?

Our current events seem more like a fictional story than reality. It seems we are being led by men and women who continue to deny reality. There are no principles by which decisions are being made. It’s like the end of the book of Judges where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Our leaders feel proud to say that they are doing what they think is right. I continue to look for government officials to promise to do what is right, not what they think is right. Judges 21:25b, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” is contrasted by Micah 6:8, “… do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” One action reflects relativism while Micah called for submission to the ultimate absolute, God.

Our relativistic culture has taken decades to build. It will take a concerted and ongoing effort to reverse cultural relativism.

A symptom of our cultural decay into moral relativism is the impossibility of opposing parties to negotiate. People wonder why leaders can’t sit down together and come up with solutions to the problems we face in our country?

Since in a morally relative culture there are no absolutes, efforts to negotiate over any issue are ineffective. Each side is motivated by different principles. If there are any who hold to moral absolutes, they are marginalized and ignored. We are told that thinking there are moral absolutes is pejorative and mean-spirited. But in their absence negotiations and compromise fail.

Another symptom of cultural decline is the understanding of what is virtuous. Tolerance has become the primary virtue in society. Now tolerance is defined as accepting every position as equally valid. Compromise now includes setting aside principles. The reality is that every view of or position taken on the same issue is not equally valid.

Tolerance previously meant respecting those who have differing points of view. Previously one would never compromise on principles but would negotiate on non-essential details. Principles on which any position is based are never to be compromised because genuine principles are grounded in absolutes.

For example, we have been told that borrowing more money doesn’t mean increasing debt and this logical inconsistency is believed. Some leaders tell us that man can define marriage anyway he wants, and a baby is not a baby until he or she is born. Some say that a child has no right to life as long as he or she is in the mother’s womb. Main line Christian denominations maintain that the Bible is man’s word about God when God has declared that He has spoken to man. Those same churches maintain that men are not accountable before God to be spiritual leaders; that men and women are not only equal but the same. These days no one seems to ask what the Protestant Reformers asked. “What saith the Scriptures?”

I’m sure you could continue this listing of the effects of moral relativism in our society. We continue to experience great frustration in this new relativistic culture. The answer to the question, “What happened?” is… we happened. We who know better have allowed a vocal minority to aggressively change our culture. We allowed prayer to be removed from our schools. We removed any discussion of God from our educational institutions. We continue to elect politicians who don’t know or refuse to do what is right. We elect men and women who make promises to give us something in return for our vote. Our culture has stopped doing justice, loving mercy and acknowledging a sovereign God.

Some have written on this subject and concluded that the trend is irreversible. I am more hopeful. I believe that what has taken decades to accomplish will take a long time to reverse. But by God’s grace and mercy reversal is possible. We who believe in moral absolutes revealed by a sovereign God are called by Him to live our beliefs in all facets of life.

The following timeless quote is traditionally attributed to St. Augustine, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What you don’t know can hurt you!”

“What you don’t know can hurt you!”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
What you don’t know can hurt you. There are times when ignorance will lead you to ruin. The most damaging ignorance concerns one’s soul. Jesus said, “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Matthew 10:28, 39; 16:26 All these words are strong and clear!

Ignorance of God and of what He said can hurt you. Only knowing God and the one He sent, even Jesus Christ will save your soul. We know that what God has said is true. God said that men are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, Ephesians 2:8-9.

Yet there was a time that men sought to usurp God’s authority. These men were in the church rather than outside of her. They were false teachers and false leaders of God’s people. They sought to manipulate the people of God to find their hope in them rather than God.

But God in His sovereign providence raised up godly men to call the church to submit to God’s word. One of these men was an Augustinian priest. His name was Martin Luther. History records his action of rebuking the church as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther’s bold stand for truth is remembered annually on the last Sunday of October. The historic date was October 31, 1517. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (complaints) on the Wittenberg church door against the magisterium of the church. His action was a response to another monk who was doing “fund raising” in Germany. This monk’s name was Tetzel. This unscrupulous man was put in charge of the sale of indulgences in Germany. He was “heard announcing that the indulgence that they sold made the sinner cleaner than when coming out of baptism and cleaner than Adam before the Fall and that the cross of the seller of indulgences has as much power as the cross of Christ.” One of Tetzel’s more evil pronouncements was, “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” (The previous quotes were taken from “The Story of Christianity” by Justo L. Gonzalez, Vol. 2)

Martin Luther started a movement. He and all the Reformers knew that the church needed to be in an ongoing reformation. They taught that the church had to be diligent to reform herself to be in accordance with the word of God. They declared that the root cause of Rome’s problem was her view of authority. The Pre-reformation church placed herself above God’s word. The church’s magisterium, her leaders placed themselves as the authority over God’s people.

The root cause of the Protestant Reformation, also referred to as the “Formal Cause” was Sola Scriptura. This Latin phrase Scripture Alone means that God’s word, the Bible, has ultimate authority. We who are believers live under the word of God.

The Pre-reformation church used their illegitimate authority to manipulate people with guilt. Looking to Jesus’ words we know that God alone saves. He is the one to fear. Jesus is the one for whom and in whom we live.

Fundamental to the formal cause of the Reformation was what is called the material cause. The material cause was the teaching of the Scriptures that justification (God’s sovereign act of free grace) is through faith alone. Justification through faith alone or Sola Fides is the truth revealed by God that eliminates the idea that men can merit God’s favor.

The Reformation was one of the most significant events in history. Yet, the evangelical church seems to have forgotten it. The practices that we see in many churches stand against the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. Methods and programs are suggested as necessary for a “so-called” growing church. When asked about the Protestant Reformation, most in the church respond with a blank stare. Many have been taught that the Reformation was simply an event in history. We in the church must stand on the shoulders of the Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer and others. We know, as they taught, that the church must always be reforming herself to ensure that she is living under the word of God in submission to the headship of Jesus Christ.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Clear, yet not seen…”

Clear, yet not seen…
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I appreciate clarity. It is good to hear a communicator who clearly says what he means. The human authors of Scripture wrote with clarity. Even when using figurative and apocalyptic language (describing prophetic revelations), they can be understood. The underlying reason for their clarity is the intent of the ultimate author of Scripture, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. God intends for us to understand what He has said.

One such example of extreme clarity is the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel is unique from the other three Gospels in that he details not only the life and ministry of Jesus but His human and divine nature and the implications that follow.

The beginning of John’s Gospel declares the absolute sovereignty of the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word.” John 1:1 is parallel to Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God made everything out of nothing and John wrote of the One who spoke and all Creation came into being.

“And God said”, Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29, declares that the world was created at the command of God. John identified the divine Word as a person. He wrote that the Word of God took upon Himself human nature. He set aside His glory and became like one of His creatures.

John confronted the entire world with this miraculous truth. He wrote that even though the world was made through Him the world rejected Him. Further, John declared that not only the world but also God’s chosen nation, Israel, rejected Him.

With clarity, John revealed the implication of the Incarnate Word of God. He said that only those who received the person and work of Christ were given the right to be called God’s children. Further he specified those who were able to receive Him and how they would receive Him. John wrote that only those who were born of God’s will could receive the truth of the Incarnate Word, Jesus.

John continued and declared that the coming of the Only Son of God was not something philosophical but was someone that he and others saw. “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14.

People’s hardness is not because the Bible is hard to understand. That is, God’s salvation revealed in the Bible is not something that can only be understood by the learned. He made it clear. Man’s refusal to receive the truth of the Bible is not due to its lack of clarity. It is due to man’s blindness and hard-heartedness.

Receiving the truth of God’s Word requires humility and eyes that only God gives. Those to whom God gives eyes to see humbly submit to what God has said knowing that He is God and we are not!

John wrote with clarity and unmistakable force that all men are not God’s children. In order to have the right to be called a child of God, He must cause an individual to see the truth.

As further proof, John said that he and his fellow Apostles witnessed the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. He said that Jesus is the one who was “full of grace and truth”. It is through faith alone in Christ alone that God adopts His children.

There is nothing that I or anyone can do to make you see the truth of life in Jesus. Even though He is life and light, men are naturally blind to the Kingdom.

God desires to be known. He makes Himself known to His people. His word is absolutely clear. No one is too far from God’s saving grace. If you are His rejoice. If you know some who don’t believe, pray that God will break into their lives and raise them from spiritual death. God said that His claim upon His people was made in eternity. He will call those who are His and He will never let them go. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Praise the Lord that He has revealed Himself clearly and fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Seekers”

“Seekers”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Much of the Western Christian Church has embraced the idea that men and women are seeking after God. A movement that primarily began in the 80’s called the “Church Growth Movement” had its origin in this assumption.

At least one large congregation on the West Coast of America was started by knocking on doors in the targeted neighborhood and asking “What would it take for you to go to church?” After compiling the results, a “church” was formed to meet those expressed needs. Churches using this philosophy have grown by the thousands. Since those early days, many church leaders have improved upon the “seeker” philosophy. Books have been written that outline methods for growing a large church. In one way or another, the methods condense down to meeting “felt needs” of the people. By definition, “felt needs” are those things people feel that they need to find satisfaction in life.

Since there are as many “felt needs” as there are individuals, unique programs are needed. Church Growth experts urge pastors to develop ministry programs to satisfy the needs of people segregated into groups based on common life situations. For example, they instruct leaders of churches to have a ministry to single mothers, to teens, to divorced people, to older singles, to older couples; the lists go on and on.

There is a common thread in churches developed to meet “felt needs”. They design entertaining worship experiences. Skits or pageants replace preaching. Prayers are limited to one said by the Pastor. The only Scripture read during worship may be the verses or even verse from which the Pastor speaks. The worship service is designed for unbelievers with the intention of evangelism. Praise bands provide the entertainment necessary to attract people. The experience is much like attending a secular concert.

The motivation may be well-intended by some. Those who promote the “felt needs” philosophy of church growth may sincerely believe that men and women can be convinced to give their lives to Jesus. They hold a sincere belief that there are people seeking a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Saint Augustine once said that it was wrong to judge any movement by the abuses in it. In other words, while we may not like some of the aspects of the “felt needs”/ seeker philosophy of church growth, we shouldn’t summarily dismiss it based on our dislikes or preferences. The Bible calls believers to hold up what they see to the light of Scripture. In other words, “What does God say concerning church growth and seekers?”

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jude wrote that believers are to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3. The Christian Faith is the faith received by the Apostles who wrote and proclaimed the truth. The response of those who were pierced by the Word and Spirit through Peter’s preaching, Acts 2, devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to the prayers. But, Peter’s confession, Matthew 16:16, was the main point. He declared Jesus to be the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said Peter didn’t come up with that truth, but God, the Father revealed it to him. Peter’s confession is the truth upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.

Jesus’ method for growing the church is very simple. He is the builder. The means by which He builds His Church is through the proclamation of the truth, Romans 10:14-17. Other methods may attract people. But the only one that grows the church is Jesus Christ by His word and Spirit.

Concerning seekers, Jesus told a Samaritan woman that God, the Father seeks worshipers, John 4:23ff. The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament and wrote, “No one understands; no one seeks for God,” Romans 3:11. Men and women do not seek the one true God. People seek after what they feel they need, but not what they really need. The bottom line is that all mankind is dependent upon God. We depend upon Him to bring us to Him. He is the one who seeks His own. Those who are His come to Him; submit to Him; live for Him and worship Him. Jesus promised to build His church His way and even the forces of hell will not prevail against it.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Hope for Today”

“Hope for Today”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?… Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:1, 3

King David wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He felt all alone, forsaken, abandoned by God. It has been said that desperate people do desperate things. But David’s desperation showed itself in constant prayer. He persisted in seeking God’s answer to his desperation.

Jesus told a parable, Luke 18:1ff, of a persistent widow to teach His disciples to persist in prayer. A demonstration of trust in the Lord is persistence in prayer in our times of need.

Psalm 22 is a prophecy of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Jesus quoted from Psalm 22 as He hung on the cross. The fulfillment of David’s words in the first part of Psalm 22 were in Jesus’ taking upon Himself the full wrath of God for the sins of His people.

Yet, there is ongoing meaning for all who are in Christ. Desperation comes upon all of us. At some time, we will all face being alone or feeling that we are alone. Therefore, there is something that must be known and lived concerning God. David knew that he lived before a holy God. He wrote, “Yet you are holy,” Psalm 22:3a. As David was, I also am aware that I live before God who is holy.

David wrote that the holy God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” That is, He is the God who has revealed Himself to His people who respond in praise. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus said this to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” John 4:22. The point is, there is only one God and He has revealed Himself as holy. Unless we know Him, we are lost and hopeless in our desperation.

I believe that many in churches are like the Samaritan woman, worshiping what they don’t know. In stark contrast David persisted in prayer because he knew that the object of his prayer was the holy God. He remembered that He was the One in whom his predecessors trusted. He remembered that God answered their prayers, heard their cries and delivered them from bondage.

We have a fuller revelation than did the church of the Old Testament. Yet, like them, we seem to think that there must be more than knowing the holiness of God! We demonstrate our desires by the things we do and teach. We think or at least some, that discipleship is a program. More, discipleship programs are often about how to live while being accountable to another person or group. Rarely is discipleship about theology. Often missing in these discipleship programs is learning about the one disciples follow.

Again, notice King David’s declaration. “Yet you are holy.” David knew God! He was a man after God’s own heart. David had the revealed truth of the character of the God in whom he trusted. The Spirit of God held David accountable.

It is the same Spirit of God who holds disciples accountable to grow in the knowledge and love of God. Peter wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” 1Peter 3:15a. The means of growing is by God’s design through the Spirit of Christ working in us to do that which is pleasing in His sight, Hebrews 13:20.

Psalm 22 was not only a prophecy of Christ’s sacrifice; it is hope for all who know Him. The means God has given His people to persevere in the midst of feelings of desperation is the knowledge of who He is.

If you are going through a time of feeling deserted by God, turn to learn more of who He is. Turn to His revealed truth, the Bible. You will discover that He has promised never to leave His people. We may all cry “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” But know that the One who was truly forsaken by God, Jesus, is the light of the world. He has promised to be with us; to intercede to the Father; to go before us and to bring us to His heavenly home.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Ethics”

“Ethics”

The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Why does it seem that society requires Christians to keep what they believe to themselves? In our so-called multi-cultural society, all have equal opportunities to express themselves except Christians. Secular humanists are those who have a man-centered world view. They insist that faith is a private matter. They are quick to point to our founders who expressed the idea that the church is separate from the state.

Those who claim that there is this overriding principle of the separation of church and state, silence public moral reflections. Their premise is that there are no moral standards; just as there is no absolute truth. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes! So, we might use their standard to critique their philosophy. Since there are no absolutes, how can the secular humanists impose this one, “Christian be silent?”

Let me suggest a view that is closer to our Founders’. They, E.G. Jefferson, insisted that the establishment of a state religion was not appropriate for religious freedom in this country. Specifically, they did not recommend a Church of America comparable to the Church of England. However, the Founders knew that this experiment of a Democratic Republic (Representative Republic) would not survive unless those involved in government had a moral compass. The Founders envisioned a triangular system. The three points of the triangle are: Government, Capitalism and Faith, each one informing the other. In my opinion, it has only been in the last four or five decades that faith has been removed the triangle.

When faith is absent, ethics are also absent. Decisions not informed by faith are made based on individual preferences.

Opposed to the system based on personal preference there is an ethical system. Ethics are brought to bear in every situation so as to make good and right decisions. In order to make ethical decisions, especially for those in government, one cannot “keep it to oneself”. The “it” is faith. Faith motivates our actions. Therefore, keeping our faith to ourselves is not possible if credible/ethical decisions are sought.

We are seeing the absence of moral ethics in our society. Self-interest has become the great motivator. That is, we make decisions based upon what someone promises to give us or what we think will benefit us. The question of right and wrong rarely enters our decision-making process.

It’s not only the secular world where this philosophy is seen. It is in the church as well. There is a generally accepted philosophy of ministry in so-called evangelical churches. This popular motivation for why churches do the things they do is called “felt needs”. Felt needs in churches are analogous to self-interest in the public arena.

There are two passages of Scripture that specifically address the question of ethical practice. Deuteronomy 11:26-28, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God… and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God…” and 2Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

In each case, Deuteronomy and 2Corinthians, believers are called to apply what they know to be true in making decisions. The guiding force in each case is the knowledge of God. Faith in God should be seen. It is not in accordance with God’s word that His people keep what they believe silent. He holds all of His people accountable to declare the truth.

James wrote, “… I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18 Peter exhorted Christians to, “… always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” 1Peter 3:15. The Risen Lord Jesus commanded disciples to make disciples of all nations, Matthew 28:19.

If we are truly to be the church of Jesus Christ, we must speak what we believe. How can we simply remain silent when all around us there are people lost and heading to hell? Ethical decisions are made when we look at every opportunity to live out the truth of what we believe.

The Lord has blessed us all with the privilege of living in a country that cherishes freedom. We who are Christians are by God’s word to live under the law of the land and to exercise what we believe in the public arena.