Servant of the Word and flock – An extract from Iain H. Murray’s latest book, on Dr John MacArthur
Through more than forty years, John MacArthur has opened and taught the Word of God in one local congregation, Grace Community Church, Los Angeles. Consequences have followed which no one anticipated, and which the preacher attributes to ‘the sovereign hand of God’.
A consequence of a preacher holding a right view of Scripture is that it will negate all contemporary ideas of adjusting the message to suit the ‘target audience’. MacArthur sees the modern evangelical insistence on ‘relevance’ as seriously misguided. ‘Relevance’ has often come to mean that the presentation of Christianity should be guided by what men and women perceive to be their needs today.
And because the modern world is thought to be so different from everything that has gone before, all that is ‘traditional’ in the churches comes to be questioned as a hindrance to an up-to-date presentation of the message.
So a change in the presentation of the message comes to be justified in terms of an alleged greater effectiveness. Consequently, it is believed that the recognition of ‘generational differences’ is very important. Churches have even been known to advertise themselves as ‘not your grandmother’s church’.1
An exponent of church-growth quoted by MacArthur says, ‘Those who want to minister effectively in this generation must remember to keep their tone “optimistic”’, on which John comments: ‘The typical presentation today starts exactly opposite where Paul started. He wrote of “the wrath of God … against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”.
‘But modern evangelism begins with “God loves you and wants to make you happy”…. Let me say that I minister to a rather large group from the baby-boom generation, and I disagree with that writer’s unwarranted generalisation that they automatically tune out negative truth. The ones truly being saved certainly must and will accept the negative as motivation to repent.’2
Of course, this criticism of the quest for ‘relevance’ does not mean that all that is old deserves to be preserved. Within the boundaries of Scripture there is always room for changes in style or method, but any thinking that credits man with the ability to decide what is ‘relevant’ is actually supplanting the Word of God.
God has declared man’s real need and it does not change from age to age: ‘Church history is strewn with examples of those who thought they could mould the message for their own time — but ended by corrupting the truth … If church history teaches us anything, it is that different times do not require different messages. Those who preach anything other than the unadulterated gospel forfeit the power of God in their ministries’.3
‘Nothing is wrong with the message … If they don’t hear the truth, cool music won’t help. If they don’t see the light, power-point won’t help. If they don’t like the message, drama and video won’t help. They’re blind and dead. Our task is to go on preaching not ourselves, we carry a supernatural message of everlasting life’.4
Same human nature
Behind the cry for relevance, commonly, is a wrong estimate of human nature. Man fundamentally is a product not of his times, but of the Fall. While the changes in the world are external, human nature is abiding.
Thus men today are dominated by the same sins as were present in the nineteenth or any other century. What was fundamental to the empires of Assyria and Babylon is to be seen in the nations today.
As Lloyd-Jones used to say, men today may now travel at 400 miles an hour instead of four, but they do the same things when they reach their destination. ‘What, in reality, is the precise difference between the pride which the modern man takes in his culture and sophistication and the pride of those men who, at the very dawn of history, tried to build the tower of Babel into heaven?’5
Wherever Scripture controls preaching, it means there will be dependence on the power of God in addressing the conscience of man in sin. That is the real point of contact (Romans 2:14-15). Faithful preaching means addressing ‘every man’s conscience in the sight of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:2).6
John MacArthur: Servant of the
Word and flock (Banner of Truth);
264 pages, £14.50;
1. David F. Wells, The courage to be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p.212. This book is a powerful indictment of how evangelicalism has been misled in this area. In my opinion it is one of the most significant books to be published in 50 years.
2. Ashamed of the gospel, p.132.
3. Truth Matters, p.108.
4. Hard to believe, p.49.
5. D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Truth unchanged, unchanging (London: Clarke, 1951), pp.111-2.
6. Dr John MacArthur’s ministry is regularly broadcast in the UK through Premier Christian Radio.