James Boice

Today I am kicking off a brand new series of articles I am titling The Defenders. Through brief sketches of Christian leaders, I hope to draw attention to believers known for defending the church against specific theological challenges or false teachings. I will be focusing on modern times and have chosen to begin with James Montgomery Boice, a long-time defender of the doctrine of inerrancy.

Inerrancy

The Christian faith stands or falls on the Bible. It stands or falls on the trustworthiness of the Bible. It is no surprise, then, that the Bible has often been attacked at this very point. A long list of dissenters have maligned the Bible by insisting that it cannot be fully trusted, and asserting that errors have crept into it. The doctrine of inerrancy addresses the Bible’s trustworthiness.

Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine in this way: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” Said otherwise, “Inerrancy is the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrines or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (P. D. Feinberg). If it is true that the Bible is reliable and contains nothing contrary to fact, then it is worthy of our trust and able to guide us in matters pertaining to life and godliness.

It was this doctrine, and the attacks upon it, that drew the attention of James Montgomery Boice.

James Montgomery Boice

James BoiceJames Montgomery Boice was the much-loved pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death in 2000. A prolific author, he penned dozens of books and commentaries, including a massive and influential four-volume work on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. His long pastoral ministry was unblemished and his congregants remember him as a kind and loving pastor. But outside that congregation he is remembered as a fierce defender of the doctrine of inerrancy.

In a stirring tribute to his friend and mentor, Richard Phillips says that Boice’s ministry can be roughly divided into three phases. The first of these phases lasted from the mid-1960’s to just around 1980, and it was here that Boice distinguished himself as a defender of the doctrine of inerrancy. Phillips explains:

These were the years when Boice was wrapping up the education he received in liberal institutions like Princeton Seminary and the University of Basel. In his John commentary, dating from these early years, one will frequently read Boice defending the Bible from the interpretations of liberals like Rudolf Bultmann. These were also the years when Boice was ordained in the liberal United Presbyterian Church, so that the context for his ministry was that of opposition to liberal attacks on the Bible. It is no surprise that Boice’s chief concern during these years was to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, as seen in his leadership of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was founded in 1977 for the express purpose of defining and defending the doctrine of inerrancy. Boice, who that year would publish Does Inerrancy Matter?, was asked to serve as Chairman. The Council met in 1977 and determined they would write a book-length response to Jack Rogers’ Biblical Authority, an influential work championing neo-orthodoxy and denying inerrancy. Boice served as editor for that work and in it he warned “even among evangelicals, Christian doctrine and Christian living are moving progressively away from the biblical standard and from the classical teachings of the church.” In the fall of 1978 the ICBI held their first conference with nearly 300 Christian leaders in attendance. During that conference the Council met repeatedly and wrote what came to be known as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

In 1988 the ICBI was disbanded, having completed the work it was created to do. Mark Dever says explains that “The plan, all along, was to have a limited life, so as not to form another institution which could go astray. Its purpose was to hold conferences and publish books to the end of championing the traditional position on the inerrancy of Scripture. And their efforts—and those of their friends at the time—have left us one of the richest stores of literature on inerrancy.”

While Boice’s ministry progressed through two more phases, each with a different focus, he did not leave inerrancy behind. In 1984 he wrote Standing on the Rock: Upholding Biblical Authority in a Secular Age. In his theological work Foundations of the Christian Faith he returned to inerrancy, saying:

Can God reveal himself to humanity? And, to be more specific, can he reveal himself in language, the specifics of which become normative for Christian faith and action? With an inerrant Bible these things are possible. Without it, theology inevitably enters a wasteland of human speculation. The church, which needs a sure Word of God, flounders. Without an inerrant revelation, theology is not only adrift, it is meaningless. Having repudiated its right to speak on the basis of Scripture, it forfeits its right to speak on any other issue as well.

He continued to display leadership among Reformed Protestants. In 1994 he convened a meeting with a number of key leaders and together they founded the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals, a work that carries on today, and continues to champion a high view of Scripture.

Boice once wrote these words (italics are mine):

It is sometimes said by those who take another position that inerrantists have just not faced the facts about the biblical material. This is not true. These men have faced them. But they are convinced that in spite of those things that they themselves may not fully understand or that seem to be errors according to the present state of our understanding, the Bible is nevertheless the inerrant Word of God, simply because it is the Word of God, and that it is only when it is proclaimed as such that it brings the fullest measure of spiritual blessing. May God raise up many in our time who believe this and are committed to the full authority of the Word of God, whatever the consequences. In desiring that “Thus saith the Lord” be the basis for the authority of our message, the seminaries, whether liberal or conservative, are right. But we will never be able to say this truthfully or effectively unless we speak on the basis of an inerrant Scripture.

God did raise up those people, and Boice’s efforts were rewarded with a generation committed to the inerrancy of the Bible. The Chicago Statement remains a clear, strong, and scriptural call to inerrancy. Boice’s ministry still resonates in the church even fourteen years after his death, and it will continue to do so long after his name is forgotten. At his death his friend R.C. Sproul said it well: “Here we had a valiant warrior for the church militant in our age.”

Recommended Reading

On Inerrancy:

By James Montgomery Boice

The Bestsellers
Here is another entry in a series I am calling “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We have encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Randy Alcorn (The Treasure Principle) all the way to Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez) and Paul Young (The Shack). Today we look at the only bestselling book written by a alumnus of John MacArthur’s college and seminary.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

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Francis Chan was born in San Francisco in 1967, the son of Chinese immigrants. After professing faith at a young age, he attended The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary, graduating with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees. In 1994, he and his wife Lisa founded Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Though the church began with only thirty people, it grew quickly and within six years numbered over 1,500.

In 2005 Chan released a video titled Just Stop and Think that quickly went viral while also setting him up for the release of his first book: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Published in 2008, the book is a call for Christians to live an authentic faith, and it was marketed behind language like this: “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts — it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same.”

Chan develops two substantial themes. The first is a painstaking self-examination to determine if the reader is truly saved. “A lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” The second theme is a radical obedience concerned more for future rewards than present comfort or prosperity. “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

What may sound cliché after nearly ten years and a host of imitators was fresh in its time. “This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do.” At the time Chan was writing, many Christian leaders seemed to be leading people away from the centrality of the local church. Chan, though, wished to express his love for the church and wanted to draw people back to it. In an interview after the book’s publication he said

As a pastor I hear a lot of emergent leaders talk about what is wrong with the church. It comes across as someone who doesn’t love the church. I’m a pastor first and foremost, and I’m trying to offer a solution or a model of what church should look like. I’m going back to scripture and seeing what the church was in its simplest form and trying to recreate that in my own church. I’m not coming up with anything new. I’m calling people to go back to the way it was. I’m not bashing the church. I’m loving it.

Crazy Love served as a call for young Christians to live obediently rather than safely. It was a message that resonated with an entire generation.

Sales & Lasting Impact

By 2009 Crazy Love had sold 500,000 copies and was awarded the Gold Book Award; the following year it crossed the 1 million threshold and was awarded the Platinum Book Award. To date it has sold more than 2 million copies. It is now clear that Crazy Love was responsible, at least in part, for kick-starting an entire theme in the Christian world—the theme of living radically, but doing so while being grounded in the gospel. Bestselling books like Radical and Jesus > Religion develop the same topics, though with different emphases.

Since the Award

In 2010 Chan announced to his congregation (which now numbered several thousand) that the Lord was leading him in a new direction, though he was not yet certain what it was. He explained that he was weary of being an Evangelical celebrity and that he was concerned that within his church he heard the words “Francis Chan” more often and with greater excitement than “Holy Spirit.” After his resignation he spent several months in Asia before relocating to San Francisco where he founded a church planting movement geared specifically to the city’s poor. He continues that work today.

Chan followed Crazy Love with Forgotten God, a book about the Holy Spirit, and then with Erasing Hell, a response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. In 2012 he teamed up with David Platt to write Multiply and to launch a discipleship movement. He has also written several books for children and travels extensively to speak at conferences and other events. While his influence crosses many demographics, his greatest popularity is among teens and young adults.

A Personal Perspective

My first exposure to Chan, at least to my recollection, was his “Just Stop and Think” video. I reviewed Crazy Love in 2008, shortly after its release, and expressed gratitude for it. Though I still think we need to focus on being ordinary Christians as much as we focus on being radical Christians, I understand how and why his book had such massive appeal, and especially among young people. While I have been a little bit concerned by some of the things Chan has said and done over the past few years, I appreciate his generosity (To my knowledge he has given away all or most of his book royalties which would now number in the millions of dollars) and his desire to escape the Evangelical celebrity culture.

 

shutterstock_166980404A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

False Teachers Are Common

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

False Teachers Are Deceptive

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

False Teachers Are Dangerous

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

False Teachers Are Divisive

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

False Teachers Give People What They Want

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

False Teachers Are Not Innocent

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

False Teachers Cannot Tolerate the Gospel

False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

David Rice, Phil Rice, Edith Rice
David Rice, Phil Rice and Edith Rice

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I remember my Dad who passed away a little over 8 years ago. He didn’t get to see me become a father myself, as my daughter came home about 3 years after he was gone. However, the cool thing about being a good Dad is that your kids will (hopefully) take what you taught them, and teach their kids. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your child doing something that your Dad taught you, and even more amazing when they never met in person. So in memory of my Dad, here are a few of the things he taught me.

Character is Important

My Dad was a minister for nearly 50 years. He taught in small churches, and many times was the only person on staff. He was the primary example people had of what living a life for God was like, and he took that role very seriously.

My Dad had taken over a church a few years earlier from the founding pastor who was retiring. After this man retired, he had a distinct idea of how he was going to still run the church, so to speak. My Dad had a very different idea about that, and because of this disagreement, the older pastor began spreading rumors about my father, saying that he was “adding to Scripture” or “being a false teacher” and trying to lead people away from the Bible. My Dad never once complained about it, he just firmly went about leading the church in the direction he felt was where God wanted him to go.

When I was in late elementary school, one of the elderly members of our church had passed away and we were heading to the visitation. I asked my father if this other pastor was going to be there. He said that he definitely would be. I then told my Dad that if the opportunity came up that I was not going to shake this man’s hand. I was angry that anyone would deliberately hurt my Dad and lie about him. My Dad simply told me that I would absolutely shake his hand because it was the right thing to do. He said that this pastor had led this church for over 3 decades, and that he meant a lot to the people of our church, so regardless of what he had done to us, we were to show him respect.

The Value of Hard Work

My Dad was always serving others. His job was basically like being on call 24/7: if a member of our church needed him, no matter what time of day, he would go, and he didn’t complain. I always saw him working hard at whatever he did.

My Mom shared a story with me not too long ago. A couple years after they had been married, my parents moved to the Daytona Beach, Florida area to start a church. They moved to town with $60 in their pocket. In looking for an apartment to rent, they found one that was perfect, but they needed to pay a month’s rent in advance, and the rent was $60. They explained to the woman why they had come to the area, so she agreed to take only $30 so that my parents would still have money to eat.

While the church was getting started, my Dad took on second jobs because the church was just getting started and there was not enough money for him to have a salary. He worked as a ditch digger, a milkman, and a few other blue collar jobs in order to provide for he and my Mom. He simply said that he wasn’t going anywhere because he knew that God had called him there to preach, so he was going to do anything he needed to do to make it work, and put a roof over their heads.

The Importance of Family

Growing up we effectively shared my Dad and his time with a larger group of people (our church). While there were things that he missed, I always knew that outside of God, we were the most important thing in his life.

He was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in his late 20′s. As he got older, he experienced complications from the disease including circulation issues in his legs. This sometimes led to him having to be admitted to the hospital so that they could very aggressively treat sores that would appear on his feet.

I dare say that he seemed like he enjoyed these times at the hospital because he got to talk to EVERYONE! By the end of his stay, he would know the full back story of every nurse, doctor, and whoever else came into his room. He would enthusiastically introduce his family to all his new friends anytime we were in for a visit. One day someone asked him what his hobbies were, he simply said “my family”.

Don’t be Afraid to Show Affection

My Dad’s father was a good, hard-working man’s man who worked for and retired from Dodge in the Detroit area. He wasn’t necessarily one to express his feelings to others or to show his affection. This changed a bit with us grandkids, and honestly I think it was because we wouldn’t take no for an answer (at least not me).

My Dad was always hugging and kissing us, to the point that you almost got tired of it. I never had to question if my Dad loved me or was proud of me because he told me, all the time, every time I saw him. He told me one day that his Dad was not like that, and he decided early on that he just wasn’t going to be that way.

The last time I saw my Dad was about two weeks before he suddenly passed away. I had missed coming over for dinner as I had planned a few days earlier because I got stuck at work. I had told my Mom that I was upset I couldn’t make it because I didn’t want them to think that work was more important than they were. So I took a long lunch one day and come over to see them. My Dad met me at the front door, hugged and kissed me and began crying, saying “I would never think that you were putting work ahead of us” and I said that I knew that, but I just felt bad for having to break plans with them.

I didn’t see him in person after that day, but I didn’t have to worry about having left something unsaid to him because we always told each other how much we loved and appreciated the other person. So unlike some people who have a hard time talking to their father, I was able to say goodbye to him with no regrets.

All People Matter

There are almost too many examples to choose just one to give details about, but when things like divorce, inter-racial marriage, etc. were still very much taboo in the church, he accepted them. Many of these people had been shunned or literally asked to leave other churches, and my Dad would make a point to make them feel welcome. He wanted to tell them about this man Jesus that he had fallen in love with, and who cared about them deeply.

One woman who been coming to our church since even before we got there had actually been told not to come back before. She and her son would come, but her husband wasn’t a church goer. The pastor before my Dad had told her not to come unless her husband came too. My Dad assured her that regardless of who in their house came with her, that he wanted to see her there. My Dad helped to restore her dignity, and that of others who had been marginalized by bad representatives of the church.

Baseball is an Amazing Sport

My Dad was a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, and he instilled the love of the game into me and my two older brothers. Not only is the sport rich in history, it’s an amazing display of skill and strategy. I think what makes it a great pastime for spectators is the fact that when you watch a game, there is time in between pitches and innings to talk about what you would do if you were a coach, or an amazing play that you saw at another game, or to just socialize with whoever you are watching the game.

What makes it a great game for Dads and their kids is that the players of the past are so larger than life that they are almost mythological characters with god-like status who battled all the odds and won. If you grew up admiring your Dad like I did, then you think of your Dad in almost that same kind of context. My Dad was my hero growing up because he had a big heart and was the most generous person in spirit that I have ever known.

Always Have Faith in God

I didn’t know it growing up, but my parents really didn’t have a lot of money, but we never seemed to go without. Money wasn’t a topic that they shared with us, even though they sometimes were struggling wondering how things were going to work out. But despite this, they never wavered in their faith that God had a plan, we just didn’t know the details at the time.

The week before I graduated college, the company my Mom was working for shut down without a warning. My Dad was retired at this point, leaving my Mom’s salary their major source of income. I was a getting a degree in finance, so I could put two and two together at this point and new that they didn’t have an immense amount of saving to carry them through a prolonged time of unemployment.

My parents just told me that they had faith in God that it would all work out. While I sat there questioning God as to why He would repeatedly allow one bad financial disaster or another happen to my parents given all they had done to serve Him for decades, my parents faith never wavered, never cracked, not even once. I thought I was helping the situation by being worried for them, not that worrying has ever helped out any situation ever. Less than two weeks later, my Mom had a new job.

I could go on and on about what my Dad and Mom have taught me over the years, but this post has to end at some point, right? Not everyone was as lucky to grow up with such a great guy for a father. My Dad wasn’t perfect, and he would have been the first one to tell you that. But his love and care for us has allowed what mistakes he did make to fade away in the background.

The good news is that even if we have lost our father here on Earth, never had one, or had one that was the farthest thing from a good dad, we have an opportunity to see what that kind of good relationship is like. In the Bible, God is referred to as a Father in numerous passages. For those who didn’t have the kind of relationship I did with my Dad, that might seem more like a slice of hell than heaven. But when you have seen how good and nurturing that father-child relationship can be, then you know how wonderful that sounds to hear the term “God our Heavenly Father”.

I pray that those of us fathers here on Earth can build bonds with our children much like the good examples of Dads around us. More importantly, I pray that we can build the kind of relationships with our children just like the one our Heavenly Father wishes to have with each of us.

There is something to be said for evangelism strategies and discipleship programs. My guess is that most churches have some way to introduce unbelievers to the Christian faith and to mature those who are new to the faith. I would guess as well that most churches keep an eye on the various new offerings, looking for what is original, what is interesting, what promises results. But what if we’ve made it all too complicated? What if both evangelism and discipleship can be as simple as reading the Bible?

One To One Bible Reading
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One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm offers the simplest solution of all. “Reading one-to-one is a variation on that most central Christian activity—reading the Bible—but done in the context of reading with someone. It is something a Christian does with another person, on a regular basis, for a mutually agreed upon length of time, with the intention of reading through and discussing a book or part of a book of the Bible.” In their book The Trellis and the Vine (a must-read for anyone involved in ministry), Colin Marshall and Tony Payne dream about just this kind of thing:

Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading—not only digging into the Word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement.

It would be a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer, and Bible reading—more of a movement than a program—but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.

It’s an exciting thought!

It is, indeed. Can you imagine this in your church, in your neighborhood, in your home? It would be a beautiful thing to see.

Helm sees at least four potential benefits in something so simple as one-to-one (or two-to-one or three-to-one) Bible reading:

  • Salvation. The Bible alone, when read and understood, is sufficient to turn a heart from darkness to light. In this way it is an effective means of evangelism.
  • Sanctification. Christians are told to encourage one another and to build up one another. What better way to do this than to learn together from God’s Word—to allow the Bible to be the training manual.
  • Training. Simply reading the Bible together is a great way to train new leaders and future leaders toward greater ministry responsibility.
  • Relationship. Many people, and perhaps most people, are hungry for more and deeper relationships. Reading the Bible together is an ideal means of growing deeper in relationship together.

This short book not only explains the why of one-to-one reading, but also the how. In fact, at least two-thirds of the book offers gentle counsel on how to actually go about such a relationship—who to look for, how many times to meet, what books to read in specific circumstances, and so on. There are even short guides to some of the books of the Bible to help those who are uncertain about leading another person through Scripture.

What I love about one-to-one Bible reading is that it extends the expository ministry from the pulpit to the pew. It is not only the preacher who is going to God’s Word week-by-week and day-by-day to teach, to train, to call to faith, but the entire church. It is not longer simply expository preaching, but an expository church where every person is leading others to and through the Word of God.

One-to-One Bible Reading is a short and inexpensive book, but one that accomplishes its purpose well. It’s just the kind of book you can buy in bulk and distribute within your church. Buy it, read it, and implement it!

I enjoy a good war movie every now and again. I’m not talking about the senselessly violent ones that exist only to find new and creative ways of showing splatter and gore, but the realistic, or at least mostly realistic ones. There is something useful about those movies, I think, and something helpful about seeing war for what it really is, provided that the point is not glamorizing violence or brutality, but exposing us to the reality and the horror of human depravity along with the redemption that can be found in the midst of it.

Some of my favorite movies are the ones that show a remarkable feature of certain armies, and perhaps especially the American military: the resolution that no matter the circumstances, every soldier will be accounted for.

Many armies devalue human life, and devalue their own soldiers, by caring more for the group than for individuals, more for the army than for the soldiers. They will leave their soldiers in captivity, or allow their bodies to remain on the field. But the American military, and others like it, promise this: No man left behind. Whether you are alive or dead, your army will do all it can to ensure that you, or your remains, are accounted for. When you walk into battle, you do not need to fear that you will be abandoned, neglected, or forgotten. Your brothers-in-arms will fight for you, your superiors will battle on your behalf. They will risk their lives for yours. I can only imagine the comfort and security this brings as soldiers march toward the battlefield. After all, what could be more intimidating than the thought of being forever abandoned and forgotten?

On my flight to Australia they were showing Lone Survivor . I didn’t watch it all, but I have read the book and got the point of the film: one man had been left behind and U.S. military might was deployed to rescue him. (Spoiler warning!) The movie culminates in an American soldier busting into this man’s hiding place and assuring him that he is now safe, that he will not be left behind. The soldier, and the audience, then breathes a sigh of relief, knowing that he, too, is accounted for.

And as the credits rolled I found myself thinking about the church, another place where I hope no man is left behind (or no woman, or no child, for that). We should expect no less from ourselves.

If your church is sharing the gospel and reaching out into tough places and difficult situations, it seems likely that it has become involved in all manner of problems. Your church will attract people who struggle with every kind of sin and they will bring sin and addiction and heartbreak into the church with them. They will be vulnerable, they will sometimes sin in big and blatant ways, they may well wander off for a time. The temptation will be to allow people to fall by the wayside, to allow the wanderers to wander indefinitely, and to go on sharing the gospel despite so much attrition. Sometimes it is far easier to go about your convenient life than to risk your time, your attention, or your comfort for one of them. Months later you find yourself asking, “Whatever happened to…?” They are gone, and you barely noticed.

No man left behind. I think of Jesus and his great prayer as his life and earthly ministry drew to a close. He prayed to the Father to say about the people that had been entrusted to him, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost…” He knew his mission and he carried it to the very end. They could have wandered. By all rights they should have wandered and should have been lost. But he cared for them and he protected them to the end.

As Christians, we are charged with caring for one another—the shepherds first and every church member after them. It brings all manner of joy, comfort and security when we affirm, and when we insist, that we will not leave even one person behind. We will guard them, we will guide them, we will pursue them, we will pray for them, we will love them, we will pursue them to the very end. No man will be left behind.

 

Mack Stiles has a new book called simply Evangelism. I haven’t read it all yet, but I sure did enjoy this quote about the power of a church that evangelizes. Don’t you long for this kind of a church?

I long for a church that understands that it—the local church—is the chosen and best method of evangelism. I long for a church where the Christians are so in love with Jesus that when they go about the regular time of worship, they become an image of the gospel. I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment, and lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel. I long for a church where the greatest celebrations happen over those who share their faith, and the heroes are those who risk their reputations to evangelize.

I yearn for a culture of evangelism with brothers and sisters whose backs are up to mine in the battle, where I’m taught and I teach about what it means to share our faith; and where I see leaders in the church leading people to Jesus. I want a church where you can point to changed lives, where you can see people stand up and say, ‘When I came to this church two years ago, I didn’t know God, but now I do!’ I long to be part of a culture of evangelism like that. I bet you do, too.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day fifteen:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The New Testament knows nothing of the lone Christian—the man who claims to be a believer but who deliberately or carelessly allows himself to drift from the local church. Just as the wolf will prowl outside the flock of sheep, looking for the one that strays from the shepherd, Satan prowls the church, looking for the people who stray from Christian fellowship. Every Christian is dependent upon the local church and we neglect it to our peril, for it is in the church that we powerfully experience the means of grace God gives us—the Word, prayer and the sacraments (or ordinances). We cannot thrive or even survive without them. Neither should we expect to.

It is also within the church that we uniquely experience the joy of imitating Christ in putting aside our own desires in order to love and serve others. And so, my brother, don’t simply go to church: Be an active, serving, participating member of that church. Do not expect that you will be able to put sin to death or to pursue holiness without the local church.

Father, I am grateful for the gift of the local church. I am grateful that through the church I am able to experience those wondrously ordinary means of grace. I am grateful that you led me to my church, and I pray that you would help me to commit to it more and more, that I would love the people you bring there, that I would have deep and meaningful friendships there, that I would faithfully serve your people by stirring them up to love and good works.


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).