Eli’s Sin Will Be The Death of Your Church

preistGod despises bad pastors.

In the book of 1 Samuel, three corrupt priests receive a large amount of screen time. Eli and his worthless sons are condemned in 1 Samuel 2:12-16, and again in 1 Samuel 2:17-36, and again in 1 Samuel 3:11-24. And all of 1 Samuel 4 is dedicated to their destruction. They are mentioned more than Hannah, Jesse, and many other names that we are familiar with. Yet, we talk about them very little. I too was unaware of how much screen time they received until I started preaching though 1 Samuel.

Let’s talk about them.

What is their great sin? Eli’s sons stole God’s sacrifices. They picked the choicest meats. When God fearing people refused to defer to the priest, Eli’s sons threatened their church members with physical violence. They would say, “No you must give it to me now, and it not, I will take it by force (1 Sam. 2:16).” Taking note of their abuses, God declared that the “sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt (1 Sam. 2:17).” And God deems these men beyond hope and kills them (1 Sam. 3:14; 4:11).

And though Eli’s sons experience the wrath of God, Eli received the majority of the blame. The prophet in 1 Samuel 2 was sent to Eli and asked Eli bluntly, “Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I command for my dwelling, and honor your sons above my by fatting yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel (1 Sam. 2:29)?”  God kills Eli, wipes out his family, and takes the Ark of God away from the tabernacle because Eli loves his sons more than God.

However, we should not write off Eli has some super-villain who always had it out for righteousness, love, and mercy. He was not going around pouring pepper in people’s coffee, slapping babies, and getting drunk every night. He blessed Hannah (1 Sam 1:17). He trained Samuel. He was not all bad. But when pushed came to shove, he chose to honor his sons instead of God. Instead of condemning his sons and overseeing their execution, Eli joined them. Consequently, he doomed himself, his family, and his ministry to destruction.

The Scottish theolog Alexander Maclaren noted:

But all was marred by a fatal lack of strong, stern resolve to tolerate no evil which he ought to suppress. Good, weak men, especially when they let foolish tenderness hinder righteous severity, bring terrible evils on themselves, their families, and their nation.

I fear many of our churches are dying for just this reason. These men are not all bad. These pastors preach some decent sermons. They show up at the hospital from time to time. But when sin arises in their midst, they look the other way. They lack the resolve to meaningfully apply what they preach.

Sure, they may encourage people to try to fix their marriage instead of divorcing; they may encourage the drunk to stop drinking; and, they may encourage the abuser to stop being angry. But if their light advise is rejected by the congregant, they back off like Eli did (1 Sam. 2:22-25). They refuse to discipline the man who is leaving his wife to pursue the sexier more understanding girl down the street. They refuse to bring a second witness to the drunk’s house to call him to change. They refuse to put out the sexual immoral, the covetous, the angry, the thieving ,the arrogant, and the prideful.

After all, won’t people talk? Won’t people get angry and leave? Won’t people in the community think our church is harsh, unkind, and unloving? Won’t people stop attending and stop giving? If we value the worship and holiness of God more than the feelings of men and women, we will lose the buts in our seats and dollar in our bank account. We can’t risk offending their people.

Thinking the above, many pastors refuse to address the unchecked sin in their congregation. They refuse to talk about sin outside of Sunday morning. They refuse to meaningfully counsel with those overcome with sin. They refuse to bring unrepentant sinners before the church, acting as if Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 7 did not exist. They refuse to honor God in heaven more than the people in their pews. And though God is gracious, he will eventually crush those who lead his church to make much of the emotions of men and women. God will not let Christian leaders mock his name forever. God will act; he will depose pastors and remove churches.

Brothers and sisters, I believe most of our SBC churches are in decline for this very reason. Many of the pastors in our convention are more concerned about not offending Susie, Sally, and Jim Bob than they are about worshiping God. And sadly, most of these pastors and their hand-selected leaders have no plans to change course. After all, they deem their failure to address sin to be mark of spiritual maturity. Ah how peaceful their dead churches seem to be.

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6)?”

Because these pastors do not address sin, their congregations become more and more sinful. People like Eli’s son begin to dominate business meetings, Sunday school classes, and benevolence ministries. Soon, the whole church is driven by man-centered goals and the gospel fades into the background. Those who love Jesus are shown the door.

Admittedly, most pastors will not stand idly-bye as their churches slide into decline. They will launch a new small group ministry. They will rebrand an existing program. And, they will seek to update the music ministry, calling the choir director their “Creativity Team Leader.” (Goosebumps anyone?)

But will these pastors make the glory of God the primary thing? Will they recover their first love? Will they risk all to obey and honor God? Sadly, the answer is no. As a result of their leadership, their church will be obliterated. God does not honor those who mock his word.

Brothers and sisters until we care about the glory of God, we have no reason to hope for change. We have no reason to expect our dying churches will once again breathe the life of the gospel. Evangelism programs won’t save us. As James MacDonaled noted,

Placing evangelistic ministries above the mission of the God’s glory is the single most destructive error in the church today.”

Cooperation with other SBC entities at the state and national level won’t save us. And updated contextualization strategies won’t save us. Repentance will save us. Once again honoring God above all else will save us!

God spent a lot of time discussing Eli and his sons, because he is deeply concerned about his glory and hates those who love people more than God. Are you willing to make the glory of God your main concern? Are you wiling to call you pastor or pastors to do that? Or are you content to wait for the coming judgment? God despises bad pastors.  Do you? Their churches will die. Will yours?

Why Do Families Skip Church?

church-empty

Why do families skip church on Sunday? Why is our Sunday school attendance going down? Why do kids stop coming to our Wednesday night programs? There are all kinds of answers to these questions. We can blame our kids’ sports league, Netflix, social media, the low price of gas, and a the weather.

But what about us? What about our churches, our programs, and our kids’ activities? Is it possible that the problem is not out there but in here?  Is it possible that people no longer view church as a priority because we, the church, are longer offering anything compelling? It’s possible.

People Centered?

Now before I go further, I want to hedge off one concern.  I am not advocating for Christian consumerism. I am not advocating for hanging lights, creating crazy worship sets, and installing bouncy houses so that our churches will begin to resemble Disney World. We do not need to appeal to sinners via their sinful flesh. As James McDonald said in his book, Vertical Church:

If you build your church on celebrity guests and circus chicanery of all sorts, you will attract the kind of people who want shallow service and grow them into snotty-nosed, high-demand, never-satisfied “disciples.”

What About The Glory?

We need to offer something much, much greater. We need to point people to God. Specifically, we need to call people to worship the one true God. What is true worship?   “Worship is the magnification of God and the minimization of self.” Christ came so that he might be glorified through us. As John 1:14 reports:

And 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.

The church exists to glorify the savior of the world. We exist to help people (even kids) to escape their selfish hearts by making much of God. As Paul David Tripp writes,

Children’s Ministry must have as its goal to ignite in young children a life-shaping awe of God.

And when adults, youth, and kids interact with the glory of God, hearts change, lives become altered, and the kingdom grows. Our goal as leaders, teachers, and ambassadors in the church should be to introduce our families to the majesty and the glory of God. We exist to promote the awe of God through worship.

What About Us?

Is this happening in our church? Do people regularly walk into our buildings and experience the glory and the majesty of God? Or is the height of their church experience a few cool crafts, a warm handshake, and a casual conversation about the latest football game?  If our church is nothing more than a religious, social event, our people can easily skip it. But if our church is a venue through which people corporately experience the wonder of the one true God, our people will come. God’s glory and majesty is infinitely more compelling than any program we can think of. Every ministry in our church should be exist to connect people to God through worship. Are we doing this? Are we connecting people to God?

3 Tips For For Finding The Next Great Christian Resource!

booksHave there ever been so many Christian Books in print as now? I think not. Seemingly every day a new book, Bible study, and or instructional video is released with the seemingly magical ability to make Christendom great again. Read this, and you will be the best parent ever. Try this plan, and your besetting sin will disappear. Watch this…and well…your life will be better than ever before. And all these pleas connect with our hearts because we all want to grow closer to Christ. We all have spiritual battles. But at the end of the day, not all resources are created equal. And given the fact that few of us can devote large portions of our days to reading and studying, we do not want to squander our precious time on bad books. To determine which resources in your Christian bookstore are spiritual fool’s gold and which contain lasting truth, I encourage ask the follow three questions:

Who Published It?

Who published the book can tell you a lot about the book’s author. Obviously, all513cwpcnmjl-_sx340_bo1204203200_publishers want to sell you their books, curriculums, etc. (Hence all the marketing that often makes picking the right resources very difficult.) If an author’s books fly off the shelves, everyone wants to publish their materials. But with that being said, publishers often still have some convictions and guiding principles that narrow down their list of potential authors.

Publishers will only publish authors who reflect their view(s) of the world. For example, B&H Publishing (the publishing wing of LifeWay) and Crossway Publishing (They produce the ESV Bibles) and P&R Publishers (They publish many fantastic  theology books) make it a point to publish resources that are based on a literal and inerrant reading of the Scriptures. Publishers such as Zondervan and Tommy Nelson are a little freer with who they publish. For example, Tommy Nelson publishes books by Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and commentaries by Dr. Thomas Schreiner (which are sound theologically and academically). And other publishers like, Faith Words –  who puts out all the Joel Osteen materials –  should simply be avoided. #FoolsGold anyone?

At the end of the day, seeing who publishes a book will not tell you everything you need to know. But it is a great starting point. Check on the publisher.

Who Endorsed It?

vertical-churchNow as a noted above, some publishers publish both good and bad authors. Just discovering who the publisher is not a fool proof. You need to explore a little more. You need to check the endorsements. If another author that you know and trust endorses the book, then you can be pretty sure the book is good. (At the very least your confidence in the book should be as great as your confidence in the one endorsing it.) If you are like me, you probably will not recognize all the names on the back of the book. I recently read Vertical Church by James McDonald (I highly recommend it). Thirty-seven people endorsed the book! The publishers want to get a wide variety of endorsements on their publication so that they can market it to the largest Christian demographic possible. That being said, do not worry about why some Anglican pastor you never heard of endorsed the book in your hand. If Dr. Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, and Paul David Tripp also endorsed that same book, it is probably one really good resources. If you don’t know any of the endorsers, that’s probably not a good sign.

Endorsements are never forced or fabricated. For example, the evangelist Greg Laurie once stretched the truth by saying John MacArthur endorsed his ministry. MacArthur quickly forced Laurie to retract the claim and to change his materials. Endorsements matter and are guarded closely by those who give them. Before you start flipping through the table of contents, check the endorsements. If people you trust stand by a publication or program, you can trust those resources. Check the endorsements.

Does Your Pastor Like It?

41gy-dowwdl-_sx313_bo1204203200_If you want to skip steps one and two, go straight to your pastor(s) and/or elder(s). Ask them, “who are your favorite authors?” Ask them to recommend books and resources that will help you.

Do not worry about bothering them. This is part of their job. They are called to lead and shepherd you, in-part by getting good resources into your hands and by protecting you from wolves in sheep’s clothing. Ask them for help! Most will love to direct you to great resources.

As a young college student, I knew I could trust C.S. Lewis, Francis Shaffer, and John Macarthur. But I did not have a clue about the other 99% of Christian literature filling the shelves of our local books stores. Thankfully, the pastors at the Bible Church of Little Rock did a great job of exposing me and that church to a host of godly authors. While at the Bible Church, I was introduced to J. I. Packer, C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Ed Welch, Bruce Ware, Joel Beeke, and Don Whitney to name a few. I was given a solid foundation from which I could build my personal library. I hope and pray your pastors can and will do the same for you.

But if your pastor shirks this duty, I encourage you to fall back on points 1 and 2.

Alright, are you ready to pick out your next book?