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The Lord is God (still)

As conservatives, it can be easy to grow discouraged. There are very few of us. It seems that all of American Christianity (sorry, David de Bruyn) is abandoning the way of worship that we understand to be reverent. The good, the  true, and the beautiful rarely brings in an audience. Our churches are shrinking. Fundamentalism is dying. We have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. But God’s people have forsaken their covenant, thrown down his hymns, and killed his prophets with the sword. We, even we only, are left, and they seek our lives, to take them away.

I am one who generally advocates a frank appreciation of the situation. The state of the church and separatist Christianity does, at times, seem very grave. We ought not be discouraged, however. There are still Christians who appreciate reverence in worship (I know it; I have met them; I have served beside them). All is not lost. There are actually many things for which to be encouraged. Numerous handfuls of Christians of many different stripes are, in many different ways, still laboring to fight against the ecclesiastical trends advocating pseudo-relevance (for examples, see this, this, this, or this, just to name a few). But even if there was not so much to be encouraged about, the truth of the matter is the Lord is still God.

We must be ready to sacrifice the political power within movements at the altar of following Jesus Christ more fully. It is always painful (speaking in a fleshly way) to see the control we have in previous years enjoyed move toward others with opposing viewpoints. This is natural. When we see the power and control of institutions and movements moving from those who share our viewpoints toward those who do not, it easy, from a natural sense of the loss, to let the vitriol spew forth from our mouths and pens (and keyboards). Sometimes this grief of the loss of power is justified, for we should lament the spread of irreverence and blasphemy and falsehood in the holy worship of the Triune God. But the line between justified indignation (John 2:17) and carnal panic (Matt 16:22) is a difficult one to draw.

When we are confused where our justified indignation and carnal panic begins and ends, we should remind ourselves that the Lord is still God. Jesus never promised us that serving him would be easy. He never told us that the money and energy we have given to Christian institutions would ensure their perpetuation orthopathy (as if they ever had it to begin with). Yes, we may be forced to take smaller churches, have smaller ministries, and even see our young people go the way of all flesh. But the Lord is still God. What we are doing is good and true and right. (The case for this has been made on this website and elsewhere many times, and is not the point of this article.)  As good, true, and right, we ought to continue doing it, no matter what the cost.

We are not pragmatists. We must remain principled. Church history has repeatedly shown (as have the history of the people of Israel) that a simple majority does not prove the truthfulness of the true position. More and more, we will see our opponents arguing from the majority of other churches’ practice, as if that in itself justifies the move to more contemporary and popular worship. Are we ready to be even more severely outnumbered than we are now? We must be ready to follow Christ in this matter, even if the world is against us (Athanasius contra mundi). It will no doubt require great personal sacrifice and cost to us. But if we believe these things, let us go forward. The Lord is God.

We ought not only continue to practice these things, but we ought to continue to labor to make the case that conservative, reverent worship is good, true, and right. Let us be winsome and convincing. Let us be happy warriors in this endeavor. We must be ready to make the positive case for conservative worship to our peers, our forebears, and (especially) our children. We should lead with these distinctives we hold, not hide them away like a crazy uncle we’re embarrassed about. As more and more churches embrace the so-called “new hymnody” and popular music, it is incumbent upon us to continue to make the case that, though we recognize the brothers who disagree with us to be orthodox Christians, that the manner in which we communicate our praise to and love for God is an extremely significant concern for true Christian worship, as important to us as it was to the Old and New Testament authors.

In the end, we must ready to take up our cross and follow Christ, confident in what the Scriptures reveal. In times of success and failure, whether our numbers are many or few, our bedrock will always be that the Lord is still God.

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

25 Responses to The Lord is God (still)

  1. Well said Ryan- wisdom is justified by her offspring and not by her contemporaries.

    The ones pushing worldly worship have no idea of the ultimate carnage they are wreaking on the church.

  2. Thank you for this reminder. I have been reminding myself more and more lately that historic Christianity has never been popular or trendy. I believe there are more "conservative Christians" than we may think, but American Christianity is being more and more tainted by celebrity status, materialism, pragmatism, and the desire to be loved. May God help us to remain faithful to the end.

  3. Ryan,

    Do you think that the Northland you (and I!) attended was musically conservative? If so, what was it conserving that was worth passing down?

  4. O.K. I assume you are referencing the "as if they ever had it to begin with" parenthesis.

    I guess I wonder, then, why you are making this "departure" out to be something worth mourning over. This doesn't seem to help "make the positive case for conservative worship" in the most effective way. Isn't it something of a light healing?

    I realize it might come off as sour grapes, but might it not be better to talk about what was wrong even when it was "right"? But I imagine you would come back with, "That is one of the purposes of this very site." Fair enough.

    I know your post never even references Northland; and it applies with or without whatever happened or is happening or will happen at at Northland; but I think the reference is pretty easily picked up on. It just seems a little late to be concerned about our dear mother now.

    I do appreciate the encouragement of this post. And I know I am doing some reading between the lines. While I do not appreciate the changes at Northland I am not surprised nor do I think there is much point in feigning dismay or heartbreak about something one never really cared for in the first place.

    Sorry for rambling!

  5. Brad, even though I thinly referenced NIU at one point, I really was thinking more generally.

    Really, I want us to remember the sovereignty of God going forward. I don't want us to embrace the "Elijah complex" in the midst of our labors. I tend to think that things could get even worse. Even so, no matter what, we must remain principled and determined to continue on for the glory of God.

    Let me also use this opportunity to say publicly that I was not the one who wrote the anonymous post about NIU that has been so decried and since removed. There appear to be rumors to that effect, and they are not true.

    In part, the point of my post is that we should moderate our grief (keeping things in the big overall perspective) and keep moving forward serving Christ.

    Thanks, Brad. I appreciate the interaction.

  6. Fundamentalism used to be a place where conservatives could at least go to church without having to endure rock or adult contemporary forms decorated with pop theology. Fundamentalism also used to be a place where, if not often judiciously or beautifully, the antithesis between the world and Christ was still present, sort of.

  7. Actually, I think Bob does deserve respect for his years of service to Christ here and abroad, his love for people, and his willingness to take unpopular stands. Recent willful pokes in the eye notwithstanding.

    We would do better to deal with whatever substance Bob presents than take potshots.

  8. Willingness to take unpopular stands? On the contrary, he almost always defends what is popular! And love for people? More like love for himself. You clearly don't know how he trashed lives and split churches to build his own.

  9. I don't think it's archived anymore so I placed this article by Dave Doran in a google doc so it can still be read:

    Are Fundamentalists Legalists?

    Fundamentalists (those who hold to conservative principles) can't be a priori considered to be legalists or pharisees (that's a hasty generalization and just plain ad hominem – it is often judging one's motives/heart w/out evidence – the kind of judging that is out of bounds)

    Holding to conservative principles CAN be based upon theologically thought out presuppositions regarding how the image of God must be reflected in every area of our lives (and how every area of life has been affected by the Fall and its effects of depravity)

    To say that we are anti-intellectual (#Bob Bixby) simply b/c he disagrees with our presuppositions is quite anti-intellectual (i.e. like saying "if it doesn't fit in my worldview framework of progressiveism then those thinking in a different framework of presuppositions must be legalists" = either/or fallacy).

  10. I agree with David on this. I'm not going to respond to Bob's article, but it doesn't serves us at all to insult him. We have to move past character attacks and gossip. I, for one, am thankful for the preaching of the gospel that is coming out Morning Star Church, even if we disagree.

    The ideas are what we want to discuss. In the future, I'd like to see interaction on that level.

  11. Bravo Ryan – It's a mistake when any of the sides on this go after each other on anything other than substance. I don't think that makes it wrong for you to say you think I'm off when I say this or that – or for me to call you guys on the carpet when I see the same from you. However, the highest road is when we deal with each other's ideas, thoughts, reasons, arguements, etc….. As to Bob's character it's hard to speak to that because as a close friend I'm hardly non-biased. I love Bob like a brother. There is no question that Bob can be aggressive when you fall on the pointy side of his pen – but he loves God, he loves God's church, has been loyal to the point of sacrifice in connection to the gospel – and hardly defends that which is popular. To say he splits churches is unfair, uncharitable and frankly loose with the facts. I know I'm not a member over here and so I'll be gentile and not say more. Well – in honor of my posting over here with you Beethoven Guys – I'm going to listen to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by Bach this afternoon – With my true affections — oh by the way – the fact that one of you is now officially a Southern Baptist will in no way affect my ability to reach out to you men -I know you were worried about that. Straight Ahead Guys! jt

  12. I know this post is old, but I serve as a part-time youth and children’s minister and I do find it depressing, when my kids seem to respond more to messages that don’t speak of sin and the Gospel of Christ being His shed blood for us. I always tell myself there is no other way under the heavens for man to be saved! But seeing their success can sometimes make us doubt ourselves. This article comforted me, so does the knowledge that my Lord possessing more Holiness than I made less converts than many of His disciples, success is not how the world measures with censuses and the gloating of treasures, but in soulful humility. Thank you for bringing these thoughts to my mind, the LORD Christ bless you.

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