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DELUSION IN OUR CHURCHES!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, May 27, 2001


"I also will choose their delusions" (Isaiah 66:4).

The modern translations give the word "delusions" as "punishments" (NASV) or "harsh treatment" (NIV). But these modern translations do not bring out the truth of the Hebrew as well as the Authorized Version (KJV). Matthew Poole (1624-1679) gave this masterful exposition of the verse:

They had made their choice; they chose not the ways of God, but their own ways, that which God delighted not in, as in the latter part of this verse; therefore (saith God) I also will choose their delusions, or illusions, or devices…it is a noun derived from a word which signifies to "speak childishly or corruptly"; the word in this form is only used in this text and in I Samuel 25:3; it signifies studies or works…It is an extraordinary thing for God thus generally to declare his justice against men, that he will deal with sinners as they deal with him…The meaning is, I will be no kinder to them than they have been to me; they have chosen to mock and delude me, I will choose to suffer (or allow) them to delude themselves… (Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Banner of Truth reprint, 1990, vol. II, p. 486).

God said of the people, "I also will choose their delusions." There is a terrible application of this verse in our time. God has sent "strong delusion" (II Thessalonians 2:11) into many of our churches today.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) spent thirty-two years preaching at London's Westminster Chapel. "He held strong views on controversial subjects, but these were always the outcome of keen analytical reasoning" ( Who's Who in Christian History, by J. D. Douglas, Tyndale House, 1992, p. 428). For instance, he refused to cooperate with the Billy Graham crusades in London on two grounds: (1) Graham's "decisionism" did not produce many true converts, (2) Graham tended to overlook correct doctrine, and promote false ecumenicism. I believe that history has vindicated his stand, and will do so to an even greater extent in the future.

This great British preacher once said that we have to make a correct diagnosis of what is wrong in the churches before we can think of a cure:

The sick man always wants relief and something to ease his pain, but the doctor's first task is to discover the cause of the illness. It is a very unworthy physician who tries to cure before he knows exactly what the trouble is (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth, 1989, p. 25).

Dr. Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor before he became a preacher, so his illustration is very pointed: "It is a very unworthy physician who tries to cure before he knows exactly what the trouble is."

I believe there are several "delusions" in our churches today that prevent us from having revival and life, and blessings from God. The list I give you tonight is short.

1. The delusion of "worship."

2. The delusion of "expository preaching."

3. The delusion of "church growth."

I am only dealing with three of the great deceptions in our churches. But they are major delusions, which keep many from having the full blessing of God.

I.    First, there is the delusion of "worship."

What can possibly be wrong with worship? Aren't we supposed to worship God in church? Yes, if it's done right. But remember that God said:

"Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs: for I will not hear the melody of thy viols" (Amos 5:23).

I am certain that God feels that way today regarding much that passes for "worship." I recently attended the dedication of a Baptist church auditorium, where hand bells were played by a large, meticulous choir. Then young girls in extremely tight and revealing leotards "danced before the Lord." This was followed by the endless singing of "praise" choruses. But they were poorly and half-heartedly sung by the large congregation.

In other churches I have heard repetitive, shallow choruses sung over and over to rock bands, drums and general cacophony. After nearly an hour of "rap" music at a Billy Graham crusade, I had to strain to hear the brief solo by George Beverly Shea, which I could barely make out over the loud talk and confusion of those seated about me.

We are told that "rap" music, drums and choruses are all needed to keep people's attention today - but they don't seem to be doing a very good job of holding anyone's attention - especially God's!

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said:

I commend, as being most important, a study of the subtle change that took place somewhere around about the middle of the last century (the 19th century). Prior to that the old idea was that of meeting together to worship God and to listen to the exposition of Scripture. Moreover, the people waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the preacher and the whole service. But gradually a great change took place from that to a more man-centered type of service (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, 1981, p. 245).

The choruses and songs we now hear are called "worship" songs, but they are really "man-centered." They are designed to please the people rather than God. And I believe that God is saying to us today,

"Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs: for I will not hear the melody of thy viols" (Amos 5:23).

The delusion of "worship" music came into the churches directly from Calvary Chapel and others who want to be "user friendly." The very term "user friendly" shows that this music is, in reality, meant to please the people rather than God.

Furthermore, this delusion in music has not strengthened or helped our churches. You can throw out the piano and the old hymns and have a "contemporary" service, but the people are strangely unmoved by it all. I have never seen it add anyone to a church or help anyone who was already there.

I believe that the answer does not lie in going back to half-hearted singing of gospel hymns, either. We have sung them so long that we hardly think of the words - memorized long ago, and mumbled by stony-faced people.

A better answer is to go back to the hymns of the Great Awakenings, such as these:

"Holy, Holy, Holy"

(Reginald Heber, 1783-1826).

"Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"

(Robert Robertson, 1735-1790).

"Christ the Lord is Risen Today"

(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

"Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness"

(Nicolas Zinzendorf, 1700-1760, translated by John Wesley, 1703-1791).

"Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed?"

(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).

"Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned"

(Samuel Stennett, 1727-1795).

"Hail, Thou Once-Despised Jesus"

(John Bakewell, 1721-1819).

"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"

(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).

"Hallelujah, What a Saviour!"

(Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).

"O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing"

(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

"O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).

"Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty"

(Joachin Neander, 1650-1680).

"When All Thy Mercies, O My God"

(Joseph Addison, 1672-1719).

"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"

(Martin Luther, 1483-1546).

"Jesus Shall Reign"

(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).

"He Who Would Valiant Be"

(John Bunyan, 1628-1688).

"From Every Stormy Wind That Blows"

(Hugh Stowell, 1799-1865).

"Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare"

(John Newton, 1725-1807).

"Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"

(William Williams, 1717-1791).

"And Can It Be That I Should Gain?"

(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

"Arise, My Soul, Arise!"

(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

We sing every one of those great hymns with gusto in our church! And there are many others of this caliber in the hymn books. Forty-seven preachers joined our congregation in singing "Arise, My Soul, Arise!" until the rafters shook in a recent meeting at our church. One preacher said to me afterwards, "I never heard that song! It was great!" Yet it lies in our hymnals, unsung, in a day of "rap" music and repetitive, shallow choruses!

And one other thing: where does the Bible tell us to have "worship leaders?" I realize that the Bible does not give every detail for operating a church. But it does speak strongly about pastors and pastoral leadership (cf. I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:7,17). The pastor should select all the music and preside over all the music in his church.

"Worship leaders" cause one church split after the other. A wise pastor will see how much confusion and division comes through "worship leaders" - and become the leader of worship himself! No musical talent? Better to sing off key than have yet another church split - caused by a music leader!

The delusion of contemporary "worship" music is a judgment of God on our churches. God says,

"Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs: for I will not hear the melody of thy viols" (Amos 5:23).

We have tried to attract people to our churches by using cheap, worldly music. And God says, "I also will choose their delusions" (Isaiah 66:4).

II.   But, secondly, there is the delusion of "expository preaching."

All preaching should be expositional. This sermon is an exposition and application of Isaiah 66:4. But while all preaching should be expositional, most preaching should not be "expository."

What has become known as "expository preaching" in the past 125 years is this - a running commentary on several verses of Scripture. You hear this type of preaching everywhere - from Calvary Chapel to Dallas Theological Seminary, from John MacArthur to Charles Stanley, from Jerry Falwell to Chuck Smith. The idea that "expository preaching" is the answer to our problem is very widespread. You hear constantly, from many sources, that "expository" preaching will bring life and health to our churches. My question is this: if that be true, why hasn't it done so? We have had 125 years of "expository" preaching without a single major revival! I believe that "expository" preaching is actually a degenerated form of preaching. The idea that it is the answer to our problems is a "delusion" - sent to our churches as a judgment from God.

Let me make very clear what I mean:

1. Expositional preaching is what you are hearing in this sermon. It is preaching which has its roots and basis in one or two verses of Scripture. Expositional sermons were given by all the great preachers in America's three great times of revival. Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones and W. A. Criswell preached mostly expositional sermons, based on a few words of Scripture.

2. Expository preaching, on the other hand, is based on a long passage of Scripture. It is a running commentary on long passages in the Bible.

I believe that expository preaching has ruined our churches, and is a delusion - a judgment of confusion sent by God.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones asked this probing question:

What is a sermon? What is the difference between a sermon and a Bible lecture or an exposition of a passage? As I see it, it is that a sermon is always a whole, an entity, a message…A sermon is more than running comments. It must have form, it is a complete message, and it leads to a particular end…this is, to me, a very vital point of distinction between an exposition of a passage and a sermon (Martyn Lloyd-Jones,  Knowing the Times, ibid., p. 269).

Some people seem to think that preaching consists of a running commentary on a passage of Scripture. A man may take a verse or a passage, and he may give you the meaning of the words, he may divide it and open it up; but still I say that is not preaching…(Harry Ironside's) method was to take a paragraph of Scripture, perhaps a whole chapter, often a whole book, and he would analyse it for you and give you its component parts. In a technical sense what he did was give a running commentary on a section or on a book, in the course of which he would add illustrations here and there…His books were very popular. They had an influence in your country (America), and in ours (England), in the direction of making people imagine that that is preaching. Of course, the argument was that this method is more biblical, but I think that was a complete fallacy ( Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, ibid., p. 268).

It was largely through Harry Ironside and George Mueller that so-called "expository" preaching came into our Baptist churches. Both Mueller and Ironside were Plymouth Brethren, and their founder, J. N. Darby, influenced them on this idea of "expository" running commentaries. This style of "preaching" is not Baptist in origin.

Of Harry Ironside, a Plymouth Brethren preacher, it is said, "He preached his typically Brethren verse-by-verse exposition with stories and anecdotes. Ironside had a long connection with Dallas Theological Seminary, where his style was appreciated early on" (David L. Larson, The Company of Preachers, Kregel, 1998, p. 611).

George Mueller spread the Plymouth Brethren-style of preaching in both England and America, "utilizing the typical Brethren homiletic (preaching style)" (Larson, ibid., p. 605). Mueller's method was described like this:

Expository preaching…he selects a passage, it may be of several verses, which he goes over consecutively clause by clause. His first care is to give the meaning of the passage, and then to illustrate it by other Scriptures, and afterwards apply it (Roger Steer, George Muller, Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1981, p. 220).

Mueller and Ironside were good men. That is partly why this deception in preaching was so successful. Dallas Theological Seminary has been a thoroughly orthodox institution. That is partly why their endorsement of "expository" preaching has been so influential. Today the Plymouth Brethren-style expository sermon is heard in churches from one end of our nation to the other - from Foursquare to Southern Baptist.

But "expository" preaching is not the kind of preaching which characterized America's three great periods of revival. And this style of sermon has not helped us morally or spiritually as a nation. The more "exposition" we have, the darker the apostasy becomes.

Yes, "expository" preaching is the preaching accompanying today's apostasy. It is the preaching of the greatest period of darkness in over five hundred years!

We have tried to "teach" the Bible to unconverted people by the millions. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:14). No amount of Bible teaching can help an unconverted person. Our churches are filled with millions of unconverted people. And Bible teaching will not convert them! They need preaching - hot and hard!

George Whitefield was the greatest evangelist of the past five hundred years. He gave this advice to preachers:

Unless your hearts are free from worldly hopes and worldly fears you will never speak boldly as you ought to speak…I love those that thunder out the Word. The Christian world is in a deep sleep! Nothing but a loud voice can awaken them out of it (quoted in George Whitefield: Evangelist of the 18th Century Revival by Arnold A. Dallimore, London: The Wakeman Trust, 1990, p. 72).

We have tried to attract people to our churches by using the "expository" preaching style of the Plymouth Brethren. And God says, "I also will choose their delusions" (Isaiah 66:4). This delusion in preaching is a judgment from God on our churches.

III.  Thirdly, there is the delusion of "church growth."

The church growth movement came largely out of Fuller Theological Seminary, and the writings of Dr. Donald McGavran. The basic delusion or deception of this method is the idea that you can add members to your congregation by various sociological manipulations.

The leaders of the church growth movement, Rick Warren, John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller, Elmer Towns, and Peter Wagner, are all disciples of Donald McGavran of Fuller Seminary. It is interesting how Fuller Seminary is the fountain from which this deception flows out into the churches of all denominations, stripes and fellowships.

I am not saying that these men have intentionally hurt the churches. I think they, themselves, are deluded. Also, I am not saying that the ideas of these men don't work. They most certainly do "work" under certain sociological conditions - if by "working" you mean gathering a group of people together. But such a group of people can hardly be called a "church" in the Biblical sense of the word. "Churches" built by such techniques are little more than "holding tanks" for church tramps who will move on for the slightest reason.

Dr. James Dobson of "Focus on the Family" said: "80 percent of church growth results from transfers of memberships" (Focus on the Family Newsletter, August, 1998, p. 2). In reality "church growth" techniques show a pastor how to collect people from other churches by getting them to "transfer in."

Growth by transfers is the hidden (but actual) way the church growth advocates gain members. The goal is simple: get as many people as you can to transfer from their church into yours. But Dr. Lloyd-Jones correctly said:

The burial of many bodies in the same cemetery does not lead to resurrection ( Knowing the Times, ibid., p. 24).

You can pack in 5,000 dead people, like Schuller does, and it's still a cemetery! Dr. Lloyd-Jones said:

The (correct) aim is not to create a church of great numbers, but people who know God and who are "in Christ"

(ibid., p. 27).

A real New Testament church is made up of people about whom it can be said,

"Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light"

(I Peter 2:9).

Church growth by transferring members leads to the following tragic results:

(1) Pastors cannot be friends with each other, or trust each other, because they are competing hot and heavy with each other to get the other man's people into their church. This leaves each pastor emotionally isolated and lonely. It's a big price to pay for a few flea-bitten transferees! Thus, church growth methods lead to pastoral isolation and loneliness!

(2) This crowd of transferees can never be corrected by the pastor. He cannot preach correctly, with reproving and rebuking (II Timothy 4:2-3) because they can transfer out as quickly as they transferred in - if they hear anything from the pulpit they don't like. Thus, church growth methods turn the pastor into a mere master of ceremonies - a frightened little man who tells jokes - out of the fear of losing some of the "church tramps" he has transferred in.

(3) Very few are truly converted through the slush of building a church by sociological manipulation. Since so few have eternal life within them, there is a very little real life or fellowship. I was visiting two churches built by these techniques recently. The people rushed from the church buildings after both services. They hardly looked at each other. No one but the pastor spoke to me, or even made eye contact with me - although I was a first-time visitor in both churches. Church growth techniques produce a slushy group of people with no common life in Christ, so there is no real friendship or fellowship in the church.

There are many other problems caused by this delusion of "church growth," but we only have time to mention those three.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said:

Time does not allow us, as we should wish, to trace the pitiful state of religion today…the standard of church membership was devalued…Adults and children were encouraged and persuaded to become members, and it was made easy for them to be members. The idea that to become a member in the church of God is the greatest honour that can come to us while on earth was lost (ibid., pp. 18-19).

If I had to express this all in one sentence, I would say that what is needed today is for us to forget the nineteenth century completely and make a detailed study of the beginning of the eighteenth century. If we were to do that, we should learn special lessons. Above all else we would see that the first step is not to bring down the standard of church membership, but to raise it (ibid., p. 30).

I am convinced that he was right. We have lowered the requirements for church membership so far down that we literally beg people to join. And yet the churches are very pitiful and weak.

We should insist on a converted church membership. The pastor should hear the testimonies of those who want to join. If they have faulty testimonies, they should be barred from membership and the Lord's Supper until they are truly converted.

People who want to "transfer in" from nearby churches should be rejected - and sent back to their former churches. This is what all of our old-time Baptists did - and I can prove it - before the church growth people taught us how to "steal sheep!" We need to go back to the old way - and accept hardly any transfers. Those that we do accept should be put on two or three years' probation before accepting them as members. Make church membership mean something!

Then, we should preach hard, uncompromising, sin-naming sermons. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said:

We must convict men of the truth of the extreme importance of the spiritual side of life, of an everlasting world and everlasting destiny. No one will see the need of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour but the person who has seen himself as lost before God (ibid., p. 31).

We have tried to attract people to our churches by using the techniques of "church growth." And God says, "I also will choose their delusions" (Isaiah 66:4). The delusion, the outright deception, of church growth techniques is a judgment from God on our churches.

Now, this is the situation you are in - my lost friend. You are living in a city, and nation, and time when the churches are in a pitiful condition. They have very little life. They have rebelled against God, and He has sent "delusions" to them as a judgment (Isaiah 66:4). It is a time of dark apostasy. What should you do?

You should turn fully to Jesus Christ, the Son of God! He died to pay for your sins on the Cross. He rose physically from the dead. He is alive right now - on the right side of God - in Heaven. No one but Jesus Christ can save you from the penalty of sin!

"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).



Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "He Who Would Valiant Be"

by John Bunyan (1628-1688).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."




THE OUTLINE OF

DELUSION IN OUR CHURCHES!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"I also will choose their delusions" (Isaiah 66:4).

(II Thessalonians 2:11)

I.   The delusion of "worship," Amos 5:23; I Timothy 3:1-7;
Titus 1:5-9; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:7,17.

II.  The delusion of "expository preaching," I Corinthians 2:14.

III. The delusion of "church growth," I Peter 2:9; II Timothy 4:2-3;
Acts 4:12.