Monday, December 10, 2012


August 2011

This is the fifth sermon of Mr. Lane’s that we have chosen to review. We listened by podcast.

Mr. Lane, Balmoral Bible Chapel, Who are You and Where are You Going?

Summary: These two questions apply to Jesus and to us. (An anecdote follows about a person who got lost.) When you’re lost, it requires that you turn around. We must consider these questions for ourselves, and a further one, ‘Can I get there from here?’ (He reads from John 8.21-30, while the congregation stands.) Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will look for him, but will not find him, and will die in their sins. They had in mind that he would commit suicide and then go to Hades, while they would be okay for being pleasing to God. Since the Bible says, ‘Seek and you will find,’ etc., why was it that Jesus said they would not find him? (He reads from Jeremiah 29.12.) You have to seek God with all your heart, recognizing your need, being ready to respond. (He reads from Zepheniah 2.3) We must search in humility and be ready to obey. Many were not looking in this way. Jesus says to them, ‘You will die in your sin.’ What would this sin be for the Pharisees? Arrogance, for they were whited sepulchres. Their heart was not with him. The bigger sin is that they would not believe who Jesus was. If we come with a heart of unbelief, if we refuse to accept that Jesus is who he says he is, then there is no hope for us. So now to where Jesus was going. (He contrasts the two thieves on the cross.) The disciples had that change of heart that allowed them to get there from here. Is your heart in true search-mode? The same principles that help us come to Christ initially are those that keep us growing: humility that says without Christ I can do nothing. Jesus says to the unbelieving Jews, ‘You can’t follow me. You can’t come…You are from below.’ We talk about Adam’s sin as the Fall. When you look below instead of above, to please yourself instead of God, it becomes a lifestyle. Adam turned to his own way. The whole world-system is under the control of the evil one. As long as we are of the world, we are under his control; we are focused on self and temporary things instead of eternal things. ‘Lord, don’t take me to heaven yet, I haven’t even been to Hawaii.’ That’s the mindset. Heaven is looked upon as an interruption to the good life. We might even have a vague thought that something good awaits all of us anyway. But when Jesus says, ‘I am not of this world,’ he calls us to be not of this world, but as passing through, as those whose real home lies above. It’s not wrong to be comfortable in this world. But this is temporary; we’re working to enjoy the next, working to lay up treasures in heaven. To find Jesus, to go where he was going, requires a changed heart and mind: ‘the renewing of your mind.’ In this passage, Jesus says that you can’t get there from here without transformation of heart and mind. The start of this is to believe, to trust in who Jesus said he was. Jesus is the Word, the power of God, the Creator of the universe, the Lamb of God given up for you and me, the Son of God, the ladder of access into heaven, the source of living water; he’s the Messiah, the Promised One, the Bread of Life, the Holy One, the light of the world who dispels the darkness and gives the light of life. We are without excuse, for we’ve been told who he is. The question is, ‘Who am I in relationship to who Jesus is?’ Are you eating the Bread of Life or have you rejected him and going away hungry? Are you getting your thirst quenched by living water? Or are you seeking to quench your thirst in cesspools that will never satisfy? We are all creatures of God, but not all children of God. Only those who believe Jesus and believe who he says he was are given the right to become children of God. Jesus says, ‘I have not come to condemn, but to save; I will let the Father witness to who I am.’ This happened at the crucifixion. Jesus’ life was a model for us; we are called to please the Father. Who are you? Do you recognize your need of Christ? And where are you going? Do you know for sure that you’ll be in his presence forevermore because you’re living in belief? If you can answer yes, you can say, ‘Yes, I can get there from here.’ (He closes in prayer.)   

Remarks: Mr. Lane seems to be a little off his delivery this time. But as usual, his sermon is cleaner than the sermons of most of his peers. There is no irreverent tone; there are no silly yarns and no crude jokes. And again, much of his content is commendable. He urges listeners to be humble seekers after God, ready to obey. Who Jesus Christ is and what he came to do is drawn out a bit by a recitation of the names given him in Scripture. Distinction is made, though not much beyond what the words themselves convey, between mere creatures of God and God’s children. (That little bit of surface information is more distinguishing than what we hear most everywhere else.) Comparing the fall with looking below instead of above is helpful, as far as it goes. Emphasizing unbelief as the basic, main sin is to hit an important mark. What will matter in the end is who you are in relationship to Jesus Christ. Who can argue with that? The best part of the sermon is the quote from Vance Havener: “We are not citizens of earth making our way to heaven; we are citizens of heaven passing through earth.”

That said, everything we just praised this pastor for is nothing but some of the bare bones of what the simplest part of any sermon should contain. There is nothing remarkable, for instance, in gathering the names of Jesus Christ together. You don’t have to be a minister to do that. Just open a Bible encyclopedia to the right page, and there you go. Praise should be reserved for remarkable things, not things that every Christian ought to know already. But we are determined not to be totally negative in these analyses. Therefore we must praise a pastor, time after time, for the bit of introductory Sunday-school theology that we’ve come to know as the highest divinity to proceed from our local pulpit. And imagine having to praise a pastor for not talking nonsense and for not doing buffoonery. Such praise should never need mentioning. To show that we are not faultfinding sermon cruisers, what else can we do? We go out of our way to find something to say a good word about.

Again, sadly but not surprisingly, the sermon deserves more censure than praise. For the sake of orderliness, the faults will be tackled by categories they seem to naturally fall under. (1) Lack of qualification. We won’t make too much of this first example, but just for the sake of what might have made this sermon more interesting through precision. It is true that the Pharisees were arrogant unbelievers. But it would be helpful to have this unbelief explained beyond the pastor’s statement that their unbelief was the unforgivable sin. John 9.41 gives us a qualifying nuance to their unbelief. Jesus says to them, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, we see; therefore your sin remaineth.” Matthew Henry’s comment: “It will be more tolerable with those that perish for lack of vision than with those that rebel against the light.” The Pharisees had a sort of vision. John 11.47 gives a further nuance. There the Pharisees admit that Jesus is doing many miracles. Matthew Henry’s comment about that: “They own the truth of Christ’s miracles, and that he had wrought many of them; they are therefore witnesses against themselves, for they acknowledge his credentials and yet deny his commission.” You can see by these two verses that even the Pharisees had a kind of surface belief. And so especially supposing that their unbelief was the unforgivable sin, these verses could be used to show that the Pharisees yet believed more than many of today’s infidels do. And then of course it could be suggested that there might be some churchgoers whose beliefs do not even come up to the level of this Pharisaic form of unbelief. This is the sort of research that naturally leads to preaching your text. Next, this world-system is indeed in the control of Satan. But in what sense? To what extent? We need to be told, for encouragement and for reverence to God, that though Satan may have so much of the world in the palm of his hand, yet he’s not so big as to be anywhere but in a palm himself. What needs to be qualified more than the dominion of Satan? A pastor should never leave that part out when speaking of Satan’s influence and control. Next, Jesus did say that he came not to condemn the world. But shouldn’t that be qualified with the fact that sinners stand condemned? You see in that omission Mr. Lane’s aversion to the doctrine of sinful depravity (which we will comment more upon after.) Next, Jesus did speak of the Father’s witness as that which would speak on his behalf. If you listen to Mr. Lane, though, that seems to be the whole story. He gives John 8.26 out as Jesus saying that he could defend himself to the Pharisees, but that he would leave that to his Father. Mr. Lane’s interpretation of this verse is out of balance with what we read of elsewhere in the gospel of John. The problem is that he makes his point and then leaves it at that. Should the fact of the Father’s witness to who Jesus was not be heavily qualified with the other fact that Jesus argued intensively and extensively for himself? Jesus arguing for himself is a prominent, regular feature in the gospel of John especially, and this is what Jesus is doing in the very portion that happens to be the pastor’s present text. Even the passage purported to be the text this sermon is based on has the qualifier we need: “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him” (John 8.26.) This is Jesus saying that he will witness of himself, that he will argue his own case, in harmony with the Father’s voice, yes, but by his own mouth. Jesus says that the Father will witness to who he is, but he also says, “I am one that bear witness of myself” (John 8.18.) Jesus is arguing for himself in the same chapter and passage that this pastor is supposedly teaching on. And yet he gives it out as if Jesus will let the Father do all the arguing for him! Mr. Lane is willfully blind to the more uncomfortable aspects of who Jesus Christ is shown to be in Scripture, even when the text he is dealing with overflows with Jesus’ intensity. We know enough by now to be able to say that Mr. Lane doesn’t like to bring out the fiery side of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t like to do that. Jesus can only be gentle, kind, and compassionate, but not a debater! The agreeable aspect of Jesus is the part most people want and are comfortable with. Mr. Lane gives out the partial-truth people want, not the full truth people need. The truth can be right there in the passage, or even verse, that he is preaching on, but for the sake of what people want and for the sake of remaining comfortable himself, he will turn a blind eye to it and misrepresent the Lord he is in the pulpit to magnify the fullness of. Is that acceptable behavior in a pastor? Do we have to be content with that? 

(2) Lack of specificity. If it’s not wrong to be comfortable in this world, as this pastor says, then we should be told in what way this is so exactly. We need some specifics on this because there are ways of comfort that do not correspond with a lifestyle of laying up treasures in heaven. To state that it’s alright to be comfortable and to leave it at that is dangerous. What ways of comfort are alright? What levels? Professing Christians are pursuing modeling careers, or honing their hockey skills, or singing carnal songs in order to obtain the substance of their opinion that it’s not wrong to be comfortable. These are issues that are right before the pastor in the congregation being preached to. There is righteous comfort, and there is carnal comfort. To speak of it being okay to live comfortably and to let the matter fall is to drop your opportunity to speak to your people about the lifestyle particulars that church members and churchgoers need answers to and conviction about. What are these treasures we should lay up? And how do our comfortable lives thwart this being done? Answers to such questions contain the specific details that consciences could be pricked by the hearing of in order to obedience taking place. Along the same line might we comment on these cesspools that some drink out of instead of the living water they could get satisfied with. What cesspools? How can a pastor omit to tell us what these cesspools are? What an opportunity here to really preach! Drinking, drugs, pornography, sleeping around, cursing, gambling, tax cheating, slander, soap opera fantasies—these are all congregational cesspools. If drinking from them were preached against, some persons might be woken up to their want of sanctity and good works, others to their present condemned state and need of salvation. To speak of ‘cesspools’ without explanation will do nothing for no one; on the other hand, to preach what cesspools are will make people uncomfortable, which discomfort may be the beginning of spiritual thirst. Is the pastor too afraid or shy to preach specifically against sin? Sin can be preached against without getting dirty. The prophets did it. The Lord did it. The apostles did it. The Reformers and Puritans did it. It can be done. It must be done. Nice pastors keep sinners feeling good. It must be in their mission statement somewhere. Nice pastors make poor preachers. Next, hell is mentioned in a ‘by the way’ manner, but nothing specific is said on it. In a sermon about ‘where are you going?’ would it not be competent and merciful to give the people before you some facts and impression about their worst possible destination? Here’s the whole of what this nice pastor tells us about hell in this sermon about ‘where are you going?’ In the Jewish culture it was believed that if you committed suicide you would end up in Hades, a place of punishment, what we would call hell. Immediately following this insufficient information, he says, “Although Scripturally speaking, it’s not exactly accurate. But anyway, that’s what they had in mind.” Thank you for that brilliant clarification. It snuffs out any force that your hint might have carried! An equivocating sermon like this makes you crave certitude. It drives you elsewhere, or should. That’s its redeeming feature. Finally, having to believe comes through in this sermon. But what we need to believe is never specified. The sermon raises more questions than it gives answers. Just before his closing prayer, he challenges his listeners to ask themselves who they are. It’s your job to tell them who they are, Mr. Lane, the job you failed to do! You have to come down to specifics.

(3) Lack of basic truth. That is an odd censure for a fundamentalist pastor to be on the receiving end of, for Fundamentalists major in a few Bible basics and almost nothing else. Unconverted persons are lost, this is true. In the Bible the sinner is referred to as a lost sheep (Isaiah 53.6) And Jesus ‘is come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19.10) The sinner, though, more fundamentally, is dead. This is why Jesus says to ‘let the dead bury their dead’ (Matthew 8.22); that is, to let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. This is why Christians are called persons ‘alive from the dead’ (Romans 6.13.) But let’s go with this theme the sermon begins with, the biblical theme of a sinner being lost. Even then, it is possible and natural to get all the way back to God where our spiritual help must inevitably spring from, which is where the pastor does not take us. Mr. Lane teaches that man is lost and that the first thing he must do to remedy this is to change direction. Okay, from the perspective of man, this is correct. Sinners must be directed to turn around and place their trust in Christ. Repentance must be preached. But why not trace the lost theme to where it naturally leads, and where the Bible takes us? Does the lost soul not have to be found like in that verse just quoted from the gospel of Luke? Adam Clarke has this to say on the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: “No creature strays more easily than a sheep; none is more heedless; and none so incapable of finding its way back to the flock, when once gone astray: it will bleat for the flock, and still run in an opposite direction to the place where the flock is: this I have often noticed.” Now there is a lesson on the sinner being lost. Fallen man is like this lost sheep. If he will ‘get there from here,’ he must be sought, found, and driven. He must be recruited in order to ‘get there from here.’ If you preach that the sinner is lost, then it seems natural, does it not, to follow that up with his need of being found? And if you go so far as to preach that, you get all the way back to God and the sinner’s need of his gracious activity on the soul to save, which begins with his act of regeneration. You see how getting to the root of the matter naturally brings God into focus, for who can regenerate the dead but God? The countermeasure to being lost may be to change direction, and it is good to preach this. But is the countermeasure not also, and more basically, to be found? Later, Mr. Lane speaks of transformation of mind and heart and then defines this as believing, or faith. But to be transformed by the renewing of the mind has nothing to do with first believing, but with the sanctification that ought to, and must, follow from it (Romans 12.2), which transformation is made possible by that first sanctifying influence by the Holy Ghost, the renewal that we call regeneration. The lost soul’s most basic need is to be found by Jesus and to be quickened from the dead. What is it to be found by God and recovered by Christ but to have something gracious done to you by the Holy Spirit? There’s the renewing, or transformation, that is most basically necessary. To speak of faith as the first step in getting a renewed heart and mind is to entirely misunderstand the meaning of biblical transformation. Transformation speaks of sanctification, whether done to us in the regenerating act, or whether applied through obedience consequent to conversion. It has nothing to do with faith. By preaching the necessity of regeneration, which the lost theme naturally leads to, the sinner is apt to see and feel his utter need, which disturbance leads to faith. Mr. Lane does not preach the basics of human depravity, and because of this, he finds it little necessary to preach regeneration by God. He says that looking below can become our lifestyle. That’s not basic. We are born looking down (the doctrine of original sin.) That’s the basic truth; we are born in sin, which truth naturally leads to the necessity of being born again (the doctrine of regeneration.) You see what happens when you don’t do your spadework? when you don’t follow a creed? when you don’t integrate your text and theme? when you’ve dismissed all the good old theology because you think it’s too dry and dusty to be touched and read? You get a sermon that doesn’t get down to basics. You get a sermon without regeneration and the total depravity that necessitates it. You might cry instead of laugh if you read John Bunyan instead of Tony Campolo. But what is the work of ministry for? Is it to make the pastor happy and give him leisure? Or is it to make him concerned for his flock and to give him the best possible occasion to direct their souls aright? When you preach that a sinner needs just to seek after God with all his heart in order to find him and be safe, and you give him no information on how the right heart must first be obtained, you send him on a quest to find God through the disabled engine of his unregenerate soul. Jesus says, “Ye must be born again.” What is more basic than that? Repentance can be preached all by itself with some success. Faith can too. So can total depravity. But you have to at least get the doctrines right and then preach them, neither of which is done in this sermon. Sound doctrine always leads back to God. The sinner is born in sin and spiritually dead, not merely lost and involved in a sinful lifestyle. Preach the doctrine of sin, and from there the necessity for God becomes apparent. God’s part in the event called salvation is not only the main part, but the whole part, for the faith that Mr. Lane preaches sinners to get must itself come from God. Faith is a gift. Mr. Lane’s problem is a theological one, an ignorance, or negligence, of original sin, faith, and just how necessary God is. “The same principles that are involved in helping us come to Christ initially are the same principles that keep us growing in Christ,” he says. Then he names the principle of humility as the chief one he is referring to. But where does humility come from? He doesn’t go back that far. If he did, he would fall back on God, and sinners would be cast upon him to provide. There is no sense of God in this sermon because of this dead doctrine that sinful man is able to come to God unaided. We get no impression from this sermon that Mr. Lane is experiencing the power of God in his life. The atmosphere is as powerless as the doctrine is weak, which makes perfect sense. The sermon is not dug in because the pastor is little dug by God. The outcome is a method of salvation that doesn’t even come halfway to what the truth is. A sermon like this really could result in sinners thinking they are saved when in fact they are not. Souls who think they’ve secured a passage to heaven might not 'get there from here.'

Conclusion: Once again, Mr. Lane is trying to juggle preaching to the saved and the unsaved at the same time in the same sermon, which he does not have the giftedness nor the doctrinal understanding to do without dealing confusion to the souls he’d like to reach. He aims at no one specifically. That is one reason why he fails to come across. He ought to go one way or the other, preach to one segment or the other, or divide his sermon into parts in order to preach to each in turn, as we see well done in the sermons of Jonathan Edwards and R. M. M’Cheyne. There just isn’t any sense here of who Mr. Lane is trying particularly to address. The audience needs to be identified before one has a right to expect that the message might be used by God to prick a heart or at least stick someone in the craw. ‘Who are you?’ is one of the questions in the sermon’s title. But the pastor doesn’t even give an answer! Instead of giving an answer, he tells the souls who have come to listen that they must ask themselves the question! Someone could get a vague desire for heaven by this message. We’ll venture to believe as much as that. But Taliban sermons, as evil as they must be, do much more, for they make zealots out of ordinary sinners, don’t they? Taliban propaganda, as evil as it undoubtedly is, still produces followers who are hell-bent to obtain what they think heaven is. Mr. Lane’s ministerial apparatus would not compel a chicken to cross the road. The man is caring. He wants change to happen. (So do we. That’s why this analysis is being done.) But instead of holy conviction coming across, there is nothing but the proceeds of a dull speech. Another reason for his failure is that he attempts to address everyone, saved and unsaved, but without meddling with comfortable lives, and without sounding exclusive or offensive to any. The man need not marvel at why he can’t seem to get anywhere with his people. You can’t get there from here, Mr. Lane. You can’t get results until you preach at specific targets in order to penetrate and disturb them. Mr. Lane cannot handle preaching to two classes of people at once. And he doesn’t have the stomach to preach hurting doctrine. Both these reasons for his failure stem from his fear of singling sinners out. The third reason for his failure is a technical one. How can a pastor hope to hit any mark at all when the text chosen by him is not even followed? The technical cause for most, if not all, the errors in Mr. Lane’s work is his springboarding technique.  Here, for instance, he chooses a text, then instead of digging in to give us the gold, he generalizes on the content and hooks this content up to a preconceived theme that is not found there and then goes plucking elementary details from all over the Bible to try and polish up the fool’s gold that he got from his cursory, unstudied judgment. He does not unfold the truth in John 8.21-30. Because of this, he does not rely on the text to teach, but on his general acquaintance with the Bible and his own ingenuity, which are nothing to write home about. The text is about who Jesus is and where he was going, says Mr. Lane. But then he makes it about us, about who we are and where we are going (even though he gives us no answer.) Who we are and where we are going could have been an application of the exposition of who Jesus is and where he was going. But there is no cause from this text to make man central and primary. That is not how the text unfolds. In fact, consider this theme of being lost that he begins his sermon with. It is absolutely foreign to the text. Though the Pharisees were no doubt lost souls, no one is said to be lost there. This is how Mr. Lane gets in trouble. He has this idea to preach on being lost, which is not in the text, but then wants to preach on faith, which is in the text (John 8.24.) Mr. Lane begins his sermon by applying this theme of being lost. But notice, not only is this backwards, for we need doctrine first in order for application to be made, but application is being made on a theme that the text doesn’t even contain! This church prides itself on its supposed practice of expositing the Scriptures book by book. There is no exposition happening here. This is not exposition, but a commentary on a theme that is found outside the pastor’s text, wedded to some inadequate, sometimes false, remarks on the text in question. Take a look into volume one of Thomas Manton, or at any volume in the series on Romans by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. That is what exposition looks like. To make a preacher out of Mr. Lane (and this does not apply to him alone locally!), he would have to be made from scratch; he would have to be trained all over again. Is it not stunning in a dreadful way that a pastor at the close of his career is not yet clear on the fundamentals of religion and the basics of how to approach a text of Scripture? Is it not an outstanding travesty that he is one of the best of what Red Deer has got for pulpit-performance? These are the facts, ladies and gentlemen, sinners and saints, friends or foes—facts that cannot be denied once the many sermons that we’ve analyzed have been gotten through with the hard labor of fine scrutiny. We’ve done enough analyses now to be able to say these things with certainty and without fear of being shown wrong. The situation in the pulpits of Red Deer is as bad as we hear of it being all across Canada and America. It is typically wretched, poor, blind, and naked. The churchgoer cannot ground himself in truth by learning from a teacher like Mr. Lane. Teachers must be gotten out of the books this man has never read and probably will never crack the covers of. Refer yourself, reader, if you value your place in the kingdom of God, to the book lists on this blog. You must be taught by old school theology, or else you just might find (even though Mr. Lane believes otherwise) that ‘you can’t get there from here.’ 

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