Grumpy Old Men, “A Ministry Of Condemnation,” And The Church

Where are all the young people going?

Why do the visitors never seem to stick?

Why have there been so many fights in our church?

Why are there so many rules in the church that do not seem to come from Scripture?

Unfortunately, these are common questions in the church. In my years as a pastor, I have been shocked over how much antipathy there has been toward the visible church. It took me more than a few years to get a handle on why the reaction has been so strong.  The sad reality is that many people have witnessed fighting, church splits, abuses, hatred, contentions, jealousies, all undergirded by a hard kind of legalism within the confines of a closed community that demonstrates little of the joy of Christ.  What are we to think of these things? Are there legitimate criticisms of Reformed theology, piety, and practice that we should evaluate?

Two Kinds Of Ministries

The Bible contrasts two very different kinds of ministries.  In 2 Corinthians 3:6 the apostle Paul says that we are ministers of the New Covenant, of the Spirit and not of the letter.  The contrast the apostle is making is between the New Covenant as the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, which he calls the “ministry of righteousness,” and the particular phenomenon of the giving of the law on Sinai to Moses—which he designates as the “ministry of condemnation.”  The contrast between them is important because each kind of ministry produces its own kind of fruit in its recipients.

Jesus’ conflict with the Sanhedrin clearly exposes the nature of the ministry of condemnation. This community was under the ministry of condemnation and the bad tree was bearing bad fruit.  The Pharisees had created a legalistic, self-righteous, exclusive club for those who conformed to their man-made, superimposed interpretations of the law and the “tradition of the elders” (Matt 15:2).  No one could enter the club until there was complete conformity and uniformity. 

Grumpy Manipulators

One of the marks of the “ministry of condemnation” is manipulation. Full of self-righteousness and pride, the Sanhedrin condemned everyone but themselves. The Pharisees would go so far as to condemn Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands properly before eating bread (Matt. 15:1ff). This ministry was practically killing the people. The Sanhedrin did nothing but fight over the most minute points of the law and their shepherding of the people proved to be nothing but a heavy-handed yoke of manipulation. Read more»

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One comment

  1. True Christian joy comes through regeneration and being convinced that though I am a wretched sinner, Christ, through His life and death in my place makes me acceptable to the Father. Only God’s elect truly understand the gospel so that this is their joy and motivation to obey and please God. As Machen observed, “A terrible crisis has unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith.” To attract and retain such people in the visible churches, the gospel must be replaced by a fiction that will appeal and retain them. The gospel must make sense to them, it must be contextualized for the culture, and they must be entertained, and presented with a satisfying and pleasing experience. Above all, anything that might offend them, such as sound doctrine and our sin and misery under the wrath of God, must be carefully avoided. Human expediency, because we are not that bad, and the conviction that that we can change the city, and even the world to make it a better and just place, is the appeal that such people understand: not a covenant of grace but a covenant of works based on human initiative. Whether it is RC, FV, or Social Justice, it stems from the same root of man centred religion that regards the true gospel as foolishness.

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