Yesterday we gathered for a special day of worship and fellowship with our church as we celebrated the 175th anniversary of our church. Often when I travel, people ask about our church. When I tell them the name, they hear it and automatically think I’m saying “Praise Mill” or “Pray Mill” and when I let them know that it’s Pray’s Mill—Pray with an apostrophe “s” — they look at me with a confused stare. Allow me to explain the history of our church.
In 1842, a man named Ephraim Pray settled here in Douglas County on 202 acres on Dog River which is located a little more than 2 miles south of our church’s campus. He arrived here with inheritance money from his father and setup a grist mill and a saw mill on the river.
Soon, he became burdened that there was no church in this area. The closest one was a good distance by horse and buggy—it was about 12 miles across to a neighboring town. Mr. Pray decided that he would donate the lumber and the land to establish a place of worship and to plant a new church in this area.
On November 11th 1841, a group of people gathered for worship at his home. They invited a missionary to the Cherokee Indians named Rev. Humphrey Posey to come and preach on that occasion. On that day, 16 new converts were baptized in Dog River and the groundwork was established for a new church.
A few months later in January of 1842, the 16 new converts were added to a group of 23 believers who constituted a new church. Some suggested that the church be named after Mr. Pray, but he rejected that idea. As you drive these old roads around this area – you see names such as Daniel Mill, Phillips Mill, Pool Mill—roads that would pass by known mills in this area. These mills served as popular landmarks in their day. So, the church was named after Ephraim Pray’s mill—Pray’s Mill Baptist Church.
As we celebrated the 175th anniversary yesterday, we were privileged to have Dr. Steven Lawson with us to proclaim the message from God’s Word on this historic occasion. His text was Acts 2:42-47, and he pointed out that all good things in the life of a healthy church stand upon the firm foundation of solid biblical preaching. We also had the Foto Sisters with us, a trio of classically trained musicians who did a tremendous job. It was a joyful day of worship that began with 4 baptisms and concluded with the addition of 2 new families and a fellowship meal with our church.
May the Lord be gracious to our church and allow us to continue to serve Him as we desire to attempt great things for His glory.
Yesterday I preached from 1 John 4:1-6 in continuing our series through John’s epistle. As we read John’s statement—”test the spirits,” we immediately sense the urgent call to biblical discernment. Not only is this essential for the churches surrounding Ephesus in John’s day, but it remains the same for our present day as well.
John used the vocabulary of assurance in different ways at least 30 times in his short epistle. He is not the apostle of ambiguity—he is driving the people to grasp a true biblical assurance of their faith in the risen Savior Jesus Christ. However, beyond moving the Christian community to a place of assurance is his desire to defend the faith—namely, the doctrine of Jesus’ deity from the false teachers who were assaulting the deity of Christ.
Suddenly, at this juncture, we are reminded that doctrine matters—and the strength of discernment is directly connected to the depth of doctrine. Everything from church membership to missions is built upon a firm foundation of biblical doctrine. Without a robust grasp of what you believe, you will end up making life decisions through a lens of pragmatism and this leads to a shallow and unhealthy life. For those who would suggest that doctrine is for the esoteric elite seminary classroom as opposed to the local church, we must test the spirits.
John says, “test the spirits” – so here’s a question to consider:
- Do you believe that a demonic spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about doctrinal teaching from God’s Word?
- Do you believe that the Holy Spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about doctrinal teaching from God’s Word?
The church in John’s day was to stand opposed to the assault on the deity of Christ. In our day, we continue to experience land mines and attacks upon key Christian doctrines from all angles through the Internet and other media outlets. How can we stand against the false teaching of Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn if we lack doctrinal depth and biblical discernment? What about the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and other modern day cult groups? Can you accurately defend the faith once delivered to the saints?
Immediately, we are left with a healthy reminder that the Holy Spirit would never lead a church to lower the seriousness of biblical teaching in the context of the local church. Discernment is necessary to navigate the paths of this present evil world. The depth of doctrine will also directly impact the moral standards of a local church.
John says, “test the spirits” – so here’s a question regarding moral purity:
- Do you believe that a demonic spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about moral purity?
- Do you believe that the Holy Spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about moral purity?
It’s abundantly clear that the Holy Spirit would be driving us to pursue holiness, but it’s the work of the devil to cause us to lower standards in order to enjoy sin, experiment with immorality, and to be entertained by the very things that God hates. The Holy Spirit is not leading His people in that direction. Discernment matters.
Yesterday, after returning from a lengthy ministry trip to Europe, I was privileged to be reunited with our local church for corporate worship. I preached from 1 John 3:11-24 in our ongoing series titled, “Know.” As you know, John the apostle used the word “know” some thirty times in his epistle. Therefore, he was not the apostle of ambiguity.
True Christians Love One Another
The message that the church has heard from the beginning was centered on the true gospel of Christ that results in a genuine love for the whole church. Rather than a love for one area of the church or certain favorite people in the church—we are called to love one another genuinely. Nothing else will suffice.
John opened up his letter with the idea of genuine fellowship (κοινωνία) that is shared among the people of God. The church, being unique in the sense that people from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels assemble together under the banner of the gospel of Christ. The church stands out in the community as a unique assembly.
John speaks about how we should not be like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. Cain was a religious man and out of jealousy he turned on his own brother. He provided an insufficient sacrifice and with anger in his heart after being exposed by God—he cut his brother’s throat and slaughtered him. He is the example not to follow.
True Christians Care for One Another
John wants his readers to understand what true Christianity looks like. In order to do so, he begins with the Founder—Jesus Christ. John points out that Jesus laid down his life for us. This is the central message of the entire Bible. We read in 1 Peter 2:24 that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree. In Galatians 3:13, we read that Jesus was cursed for us in order that we would be redeemed. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read that Jesus was made sin for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God.
John then moves his readers to examine the truth of real Christianity. It moves well beyond just an intellectual comprehension of facts about Christianity. Many people have known the Bible, but they did not know the God of the Bible. We too often think that the Bible teaches us that we must be the world’s food pantry and the word’s humanitarian care group. While we are called to extend help to the hurting and we often do so with food and clothing, we are to begin with one another within the context of the local church before moving out to the community.
True Christians Have Confidence before God
Every person has a conscience, but this conscience does not lead us to God. Your conscience is created by God and has a distinct purpose to accuse or excuse you. Every child of God needs to have a clean conscience before God. If you are taught Christ properly – you will want to obey Christ faithfully. If you have an improper view of Christ – you will likely live in a loose manner that’s disconnected from faithful obedience.
To live in sin is to live in doubt. True Christians should not be found in a perpetual state of doubt. Listen to what John MacArthur stated about the conscience:
“Our culture has declared war on guilt. The very concept is considered medieval, obsolete, unproductive. People who trouble themselves with feelings of personal guilt are usually referred to therapists, whose task it is to boost their self-image. No one, after all, is supposed to feel guilty. Guilt is not conducive to dignity and self-esteem. Society encourages sin, but it will not tolerate the guilt sin produces. But the answer to dealing with guilt is not to ignore it – that’s the most dangerous thing you can do. Instead, you need to understand that God graciously implanted a powerful ally within you to aid you in the battle against sin. He gave you your conscience, and that gift is the key to bringing you joy and freedom.”
If you find yourself in a steady state of doubt and despair regarding the state of our soul—don’t ignore it. It may not be the devil attacking you. It may be God using your conscience to accuse you and through the gospel—bring you to faith in Christ alone.
The proof of genuine Christianity that leads to a clean conscience is found in a person’s genuine acceptance and belief in the gospel that leads to genuine love for one another in the context of a local church. If you claim to believe the gospel but have little care for the local church your faith and practice are inconsistent and contradictory. Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.
In recent days I spoke with Anthony Mathenia about a new conference he is organizing in Virginia for the local churches in his area. If you live in the area or surrounding regions—you should check it out.
How long have you been a pastor of a local church?
After serving for several years as a missionary in Ethiopia, then for a couple of years as an elder at a church in Mississippi, I became the Pastor of Christ Church-Radford, where I have been for seven years.
As a pastor, what is one of the main concerns that you see across the board within evangelicalism?
In our day, there seems to be an increasing disinterest in doctrine, its importance, and its effect on our lives and an increasing tendency to cater to the cultural voices around us. We are at a point, not unlike every other point in church history, where we must give more time and effort to seeing what God has said in His Word.
In recent months, you have organized a conference in your community. Describe the overall goal and vision for the event.
As fellow Christians, our goal is to unite and strive together for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. Our desire is to promote God’s glory throughout our region, while recognizing His work in and among other local expressions of the body of Christ. We have organized the conference to serve as the kickoff for the Valley Gospel Alliance. We do not intend for it to be only a single day affair, but a long term effort for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom.
As you look to this year’s anniversary of the historic Protestant Reformation, what is the bedrock foundation of the 5 solas of the Reformation?
Without question, the foundation of the Reformation and the wonderful emphasis that flowed from it was the sufficiency of God’s Word for all of life. Our hope is to emphasize the Scriptures by looking at the wonderful truths that have marked Christianity for centuries.
Why should local churches today be concerned with the Reformation that happened 500 years ago?
If we as modern Christians are not sufficiently aware of our history, we are very likely to repeat some of the same mistakes of previous generations. In order to prevent this, today’s churches must realize and respect the importance of the Bible, and they must perceive and proclaim that salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ, and for the glory of God.
This conference has a specific design to strengthen the local church as opposed to point people to an event. Can you explain why the local church should be the center of our spiritual development, worship, and service to the Lord?
The Church should be central in these aspects because it is the only institution that God has ordained in His Word for the advance of His kingdom. Our desire with this conference is to recognize the differences that land us in different local churches while also giving attention to the doctrinal specifics that unite us together in Christ. As the Church throughout our region, we want to be more intentional within the communities and university campuses in proclaiming the Good News that Christ came to save sinners.
How can people attend the conference? Explain the cost and how people can get registered.
Anyone interested in attending the conference can simply go the website (bit.ly/vgospela) to register. We established a registration to give us an idea of the number planning to attend and to enable us to secure food trucks for lunch. The cost is $10 per person with a max cost of $25 per family. The proceeds from the conference will be donated to our local Pregnancy Resource Center. (http://valleywomensclinic.org)
Yesterday morning, we continued our study through 1 John in our series titled, “Know.” I preached 1 John 2:28-3:10 and it’s abundantly clear that the older and wise apostle was not interested in allowing his readers to remain in a state of spiritual ambiguity. He pressed them and provided sobering contrasts to help them evaluate their own soul. We must do the same in our day. Take time to consider these three important questions derived from this section.
When Christ Returns—Will You Be Ashamed?
John points to the reality of Jesus’ return and presses his readers to abide in Christ. He then moves on to make the point that assurance is rooted and grounded in the practice of righteousness. Nobody can have assurance of their salvation if they practice unrighteousness.
On the flip side of the coin is the reality for those who practice unrighteousness. All such people will be plagued with doubts and if they’re part of the fellowship of the local church community—they should be in a state of unrest spiritually. No true Christian will find peace in sin.
Is Your Hope in Christ Alone?
John then asks his readers to “see” what kind of love the Lord has shown to us. The Father has loved us in a “wonderful” way. The Greek term used by John is only used six times in the New Testament and always implies a state of amazement. We should be amazed and stand in awe of God’s amazing grace that has been lavished upon us.
John then goes on to say, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). The Father has loved us in a marvelous way through the Son, and our hope rests in Christ alone. No other hope proves to be true outside of Christ. That’s the grievous error of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of works. They add to the work of Christ and point people to hope in Christ plus their own merit. Consider the following errors of the Roman Catholic Church:
Necessity of the Church for Salvation:
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).
Necessity of Baptism for Salvation:
“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257).
Mary’s Role in our Grace:
“Her [Mary’s] role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. ‘In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace’” (CCC 968).
“We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ” (CCC 975).
What Is the Fruit of Your Life—Righteousness or Lawlessness?
John the apostle then makes the sobering contrast between the children of Christ and the children of the devil. He will not permit anyone to remain in the shadows regarding their soul. He points them to light or darkness — Christ or the devil.
The apostle Paul did the same thing in his letter to the church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.’”
The Christian cannot continue in an unbroken pattern of willful sin. The tenses of these verbs are present – which has the idea of continuous action. The Christian cannot keep sinning with an unbroken pattern. Why? Christ has changed his heart and he will not have a desire to keep living in sin.
Although a Christian will sin, will make mistakes, will fall at times, the point is clear—the Christian no longer enjoys his sin. Through a life change that takes place as the work of God in regeneration—the Christian is born of God (born again) and suddenly has a new appetite and desire to love God.
Do you want to know why so many people who claim to be born again are continually practicing sinful rebellion and lawlessness? It’s because they saved themselves through religion – (walking the aisle, praying a prayer, or getting baptized). They equate that as their salvation! That’s why they are full of religion and the devil at the same time. Listen to what Jesus said about those who practice a life of sin (lawlessness).
Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Yesterday morning we continued our series through 1 John and I had the privilege of preaching 1 John 2:18-27. In John’s typical style, he bounced back and forth in a compare and contrast method to establish the clear difference between real and false Christianity. As people were attacking the deity of Christ in his day, John warned about those who seek to deceive and he likewise pointed to the clear doctrinal roots of such deception.
When I was a boy, my grandmother once shared a little rhyme with me that still to this day has stuck in my head. She said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This is true on general levels among social groups in our culture, but it’s also true regarding true Christians. One of the clear ways to see the difference between real and false Christianity is based on the associations of people. Those who love Christ will love the local church and be committed to the people of God. Those who deny Christ and walk away from the true gospel will be those who are outside the local church or those who are on the peripheral who try to lead others astray.
Five different times in one verse (1 John 2:19), John makes a clear distinction between “they” and “us” as he points to the reality that those who are antichrist in their thinking or have been influenced by the false doctrines of those antichrists who have gone out into the world will walk away from the church. John uses the word “us” five times to reference the necessity of the local church for the Christian community.
John likewise pointed out that the true Christians possess knowledge (1 John 2:20). This body of knowledge is the clear doctrines of Christ and the clear doctrines of the faith. Apparently the true Christians in John’s day were characterized by their knowledge. Compare that fact with the lack of knowledge that many professing believers in the evangelical church today possess. Today’s evangelical church is far more excited about going and doing as opposed to reading and learning. When the average cult member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses knows more about their cult than the average evangelical does about the true gospel—there’s a serious problem.
Too often we see churches getting all organized and excited about social gospel service projects:
- Digging wells
- Providing shoes for the poor children in Africa
- Purchasing school supplies for an entire school district here in America
Often those same churches are far less excited about learning biblical truth. When we stop and evaluate the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, we see that Christianity has always been a preaching and teaching ministry. Jesus’ ministry is often believed to be a healing and miracle ministry, but as you read the Gospels, it’s apparent that he spent much time preaching and teaching the Word of God.
Mark 1:21 – And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.
Mark 1:39 – And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1:27 – And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Mark 2:2 – And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
Mark 2:13 – He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.
When we read the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20, we see that Jesus sent out his followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptize those disciples in the Trinitarian formula. However, the commission doesn’t end there. It goes on to say that we are to be teaching the disciples of Jesus. How can one be a disciple if he refuses to be a learner? John makes a clear point in 1 John 2:24 as he writes, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” All true Christians will continue in the true doctrine of Christ—to the end.
Doctrine matters. God has revealed himself to us with words, sentences, and paragraphs in a book. To know God involves time to study and discern true biblical doctrine from the text of holy Scripture. This knowledge does not produce arrogant “big headed” Christians who are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. Instead, the knowledge gained from the pursuit of knowing God will produce passionate Christians who desire to love God and love people — including those within the church and those who need Christ outside the church.
Zeal without knowledge is merely a train wreck waiting on a place to happen. Knowledge without zeal is abnormal and not healthy. True Christians will learn to balance the knowledge gained from pursuing God and their zeal to go out and serve Christ faithfully. Before we can rightly serve God we must first rightly know God. Doctrine matters. True Christianity is not fueled by a mindless approach to following Jesus.