Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jonathan Edwards & the Youth List

More people commented on my last blog entitled "A Grieving Heart" than I have ever had before. I want to follow it up by testifying regarding the youth here at Sycamore RPC, then answer a question that arose.

In the past week, in response to this challenge that I reiterated from the pulpit a few days ago, many of our youth have written, spoken to me or related to others the conviction the Holy Spirit has brought upon them regarding worldliness in their lives and the desire to change. Tears have been shed, parents have been engaged in conversation, and youth are making commitments to holiness. This is encouraging, and we pray it will be lasting.

In my past article reference was made to a situation involving Jonathan Edwards, the pastor during colonial America in Northampton, Massachusetts, whose preaching in the mid-1700’s was one of the means God used to create The Great Awakening. In light of a question, I thought more information and clarity might be of interest.

In the midst of the great fruitfulness that came through this God-ordained revival, a difficulty arose prompted by a practice in the church at that time called "The Halfway Covenant." In New England baptized children had grown up in the church and had not clearly professed Christ. As they began to have children, the church, rather than reforming its membership requirements which were in some cases too stringent or disciplining those clearly not in Christ, developed a compromise position. These children of baptized, non-professing members were allowed to be baptized, meaning unbelief was welcomed into the church.

Edward’s own grandfather, who had been the pastor in the Northampton church before him, even let these baptized, non-professing church members take communion in the hopes they would be converted. When Edwards insisted communion was for the believer and that a credible profession of faith was required, the people began to turn against his ministry and a flash point arose.

Many of these youth, not truly in Christ, were quite worldly. Several of the young men, who had gotten a hold of a book on female sexuality, began to use its terms to taunt the girls in the church with vulgar comments that would be regarded as sexual harassment today. Professor Alan Strange of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, in an article “Jonathan Edwards on Visible Sainthood: The Communion Controversy in Northampton” (Mid-America Journal of Theology, Vol. 14, 2003, p. 119), said that Edwards “took the whole situation quite seriously, (and) in seeking to enact church discipline he read a list of names from the pulpit” (of young people to come to his office to discuss this matter), but failed to “distinguish between accused and witnesses.” (You can also reference this story on Wikipedia at this link under the section "Later Years.")

Whether Edwards was wise to handle the situation in this manner is a matter of debate. Professor Strange regards is as a "pastoral blunder;" others see Edwards was just trying to get all the parties together without openly accusing anyone. Regardless, the uproar in the church over this matter led to his dismissal in 1750.

The point I was attempting to make with reference to this story is that Jonathan Edwards’ struggle with the Halfway Covenant shows us the need for youth to embrace Christ personally and heartily. Youthful indiscretion, which many associate with "just being a teenager," actually creates great havoc and heartache in the church. But holiness among covenant children brings forth life.

Twice I have preached to the youth of our denomination at their leadership conference from Psalm 110. I remind them once again that this psalm speaks of the ministry of the Christ bringing people by His Spirit's power willingly to serve Him, and particularly addresses the youth. "Thy youth arrayed in holiness like morning dew shall be."

May this heaven-sent dew descend upon us, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Grieving Heart

To the youth of the Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church and their Christian friends:

My pastoral heart is grieving over you.


Every so often I survey your blogs and scan your Facebook pages. Why? You are in the flock I am charged by Christ to keep, one who has to "watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). I am not snooping in your private letters or peeking in your journals. I am looking at the witness you have chosen to advertise about yourself to the world through the internet. It is your testimony to a watching world. And to be honest, after spending some time doing so this morning, I feel sick to my stomach.


Certainly I saw bright spots of youthful enthusiasm for the church, encouraging interaction with others, and devotion to the Lord expressed. Yet I also see that our culture is awash in the sewage of a God-hating media, and many of you are at least giving the appearance of floating along and enjoying the ride.

Why would I say that? It was Jesus who said that what comes out of your mouth comes out of your heart (Matthew 15:18). I'm just taking Facebook at face value. Blogging stands for "web logging," so is it wrong of me to assume what you are writing there is accurately chronicling what you think and what you have done? According to Jesus, then, this is what is on your heart:
  • Look at how many R-rated movies you or your friends have listed as favorites. Do you really mean to use your internet space to promote publicly these films with their shameful scenes and blasphemous expletives? If even the world blushes a bit in rating a movie as sexual or violent, how can you not be ashamed to say to all your friends, "This is one of my favorites"? You appear to be engrossed with promoting what comes out of Hollywood. That's the witness you want to have?
  • Consider the lyrics and lifestyles of the music groups. What if I used my blog to record the antics and lyrics of these groups, then typed your name next to them as one who gives public endorsement? Do not try to excuse yourself by saying, "Just because I list a rock group does not mean I endorse all they do." You and I both know that when we see the guy walk by wearing a T-shirt with Linkin Park or Smashing Pumpkins on it, he is not just promoting the one or two half-decent songs ("decent" here not describing the quality of the music but its lyrical content) on their latest CD. He is advertising the group. And so are you when you list a group under "Favorite Music" on Facebook.
  • You show little regard for Jesus' promise, "I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they will give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Before you say you really believe our Lord's word here, go back and read some of your "Wall-to-Wall" exchanges the way your parents, teachers or elders would. I saw comments belittling people you think no one else can figure out, complaining about school, quoting movies and songs regularly but rarely the Bible, making suggestive comments, showing times when you were supposed to be in school or at work, etc. "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise," yet your mouths runneth over for all to see. If this seems a bit harsh, you recorded it! And it is written in His book also.
Don't get me wrong. You youth at Sycamore RPC are wonderful young people. I love you and want you to grow in wisdom and righteousness. I want you to shine forth with Christ, not the culture!

Now I can hear the protests to the above, only because I have heard them before:

"Mr. York, you are taking this, like, way too serious. This is just for fun. I have quiet times each day and I do love the Lord."
I do not doubt your love for Christ. I'm just calling you to a truer experience of it. And since when is the Christian life, in all its realms, not to be taken seriously (see Matthew 10:38-39)? Fun that denies Christ and His ways is not lawful fun.

"Mr. York, you are saying then that we should not watch any movie that has any immodesty, cursing, or violence? Only G-rated movies will do, huh? Is that not being legalistic?
That, my friend, is called the "straw man argument." Building my position back on a false foundation in order to ridicule it so as to make my points above appear invalid. First, note that my main point is that by posting these things on the internet you are witnessing in their favor. It is one thing to have heard a group; it is another to call it one of your favorites. Next, my concerns are aimed at the time, energy, and heart of your generation being devoted to the media culture. Also, the acceptable amount of "immodesty, cursing, or violence" any given movie may have depends on so many variables (age of viewer, purpose for viewing, way the director presents it, personal sensitivities, etc) that wisdom is needed in deciding on whether to watch a film or not. Finally, the previous sentence is still no excuse for the pervasive nudity, crudity and lewd-ity in many of the movies I saw listed. To outlaw all would indeed be legalistic; but to allow all is licentiousness.

"Mr. York, I have heard that your family - even you! - has watched some of the movies you seem to be so upset about. With all due respect, you being a pastor and all, does that not make you a bit hypocritical?"
I'll be the first to admit I have watched movies I later regretted viewing. When convicted of this, I told the others with me, sought forgiveness, and will not allow that movie to be watched again in my home. I do not agree with all the listings of my family members on the internet, and where I have the ability to change it I do. And I'll gladly make you a deal. Whatever movie you are concerned about that I have watched, please tell me. I'll remove it from my list but anticipate that you will also remove it from yours (Matthew 7:4-5).

At one time in his ministry Jonathan Edwards, pastor in Northampton, MA, during the Great Awakening, printed a public list of youth in the church who were reading inappropriate books. Though it made him highly unpopular and was one of the factors leading to his dismissal, these youth were disciplined for their wrongful behavior. Instead of protesting or making things difficult for the congregation, my dear young friends, listen. "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom" (James 4:8-9). For if this lowly undershepherd is grieving, is not the True Shepherd of your soul? And if He is grieving, should you not be?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Surefire Attendance Booster

One church in Kokomo experienced barking, meowing, and chirping in its service yesterday, and it was not because the Toronto Blessing finally hit our town. No, this was a "blessing" of a different variety.

St. Andrews Episcopal church held its annual Blessing of the Pets service yesterday. Yes, indeed, you can go to this link and see a turtle waiting in line for his priestly blessing, participate in animal liturgy, and hear Fido add his barks to the praise (or was that a howl at the off-key organ?). Though I know Father Tim Kavanaugh, the fictitious Episcopal priest in the Mitford Series by Jan Karon, has a dog who occasionally wanders into the service and even obeys better when Scripture is quoted, I never remember him being invited to worship. But then, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

When churches resort to these cutesy things, the media obligingly follows along, takes cute pictures, and everyone has a good laugh. Yet sadly that's exactly what the world is doing. Laughing at the church, that is.

Alas, however, I assume too much. Perhaps some of my readers in cyberspace legitimately want to ask, "Why should animals not go to church? Is there anything in the Bible against it?" Maybe I am missing something, but my simple reading of the Bible reveals Jesus and the apostles preaching to people and people gathering for worship. Yes, Jesus does mention sheep, but to me at least it appears to read that He is comparing us to them, not telling us to invite them to church. Yes, hogs do get filled with spirits in Jesus' presence, but they rush away from Jesus and (yikes!) jump off a cliff and drown. And, okay, you got me when it says that fish were brought to Jesus by a little boy and blessed, but (correct me if I'm wrong) it sure sounds like He does this so they can be multiplied and eaten.

When we blur these God-given distinctions and start treating animals like people, something worse always follows. We begin to treat people like animals and animals like God, to the point God Himself says that we are starting to act like animals ourselves (Philippians 3:2; II Peter 2:12-16) or even worse (Isaiah 1:3). Certainly the Episcopal Church in our land is living proof of this, as they face being excommunicated by their own worldwide Anglican fellowship if they do not mend their ways. They have shown this lack of discernment in ordaining the very behavior God describes as beast-like (Romans 1:22-27).

Do not get me wrong. I am not a hater of animals; I just want them in their proper place. I like the steak on my plate medium rare, and thank the Lord for it whenever I eat it. I am a firm believer that Fido should be in a nice doghouse, just not in the house of God. I confess that the squirrels trying to attend our services in the ducts above the sanctuary were exterminated as the rodents they were. I believe all these beliefs and practices are in accordance with Scripture.

And neither am I a hater of folks in the Episcopal Church. It's just that I want them to know that the only animals I see in the Bible that were in worship were lambs, goats and bulls being sacrificed. You see, they were a picture of the perfect Lamb of God whose shed blood is meant to be your substitute, your only means of salvation. Your dog, cat and parakeet cannot believe that, but you must. Nothing in church should be brought in that would distract you from that, for fail to trust in Christ in this manner and you will eternally face the flames pictured in the altar.

And if you still are not convinced, could I at least then end by asking some practical questions:
  • Do your pets participate in communion? If not, why not?
  • Can your dogs join the choir?
  • If your parakeet repeatedly says, "I got saved," does it count?
  • What if someone wants to bring their horse? Besides certain "restroom" issues, could a denial not be seen as discrimination?