My Banner is Christ–Introduction

Below is the Introduction to: My Banner is Christ – An Appeal for the Church to Restore the Priority of Solus Christus and to mortify the idols of Celebritism and the Fear of Man

Introduction – He Has Given Us a Banner (pdf & below)
Chapter I – Lessons from History with Pillars of Warning
Chapter II – Being Subject in the Fear of Christ
Chapter III – Celebritism and the Worship of the Nehushtan
Chapter IV – Solus Christus Versus Man-Centered Partisanship
Chapter V – You Cannot Serve Two Masters
Chapter V – Solus Christus in the Land of Sodom and Gomorrah
Chapter VI – Solus Christus in the Home and Church
Chapter VIII – Solus Christus in the Land of Beulah
Chapter IX – Not all are Teachers
Conclusion – The Palace that is Called Beautiful
Appendix – Part I: John Bunyan, John Flavel, and the Fear of God
Appendix – Part II: The Fear of Christ in Marriage and Family
Appendix – Part III: Thomas Manton’s Epistle to the Reader

Date of Publication: October 31st, 2015
ISBN-9781935358107 – 252 pages.
Copyright Year: © 2015

In the fourth Gospel, John the Baptist was asked why all were coming to Christ rather than to him (John 3:26). Rather than competing for the attention of the people, this humble forerunner of Christ simply confessed: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). I would submit to the reader that John’s reverent confession regarding the supremacy and worthiness of Jesus Christ is one that we all desperately need. After all, pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation are as germane to human nature as is breathing, but the desire to magnify Christ alone can only come by divine grace. Apart from such grace, the tendency of human nature is quite the opposite. Man-centeredness is the universal religion of fallen man, and we are all dull fools to deny this. It is for this reason that I say to the reader that John the Baptist’s confession of Christ’s supremacy and worthiness is the very medicine that our proud hearts greatly need. Without such divine medicine, all that we are left with is the deadly disease of human idolatry.

Over the years in pastoral ministry, I have developed an increasing concern regarding the dangerous pathway which leads to the reverence and preeminence of mere men rather than of Christ. By writing on this subject, I make no claim of being above the temptation of human idolatry. It is for this reason that the concerns expressed in this book regarding the church at large, are also concerns that I have for my own soul. As I look back over the years, I can identify several occasions where I was guilty of exalting or fearing men, yet, through it all the Lord has continued to teach me that He alone deserves all reverence, honor, and glory. While attending seminary many years ago, I invited a guest to join me at a chapel service. The speaker was a very popular person whom I admired and respected a great deal. I had already read a few of his books and had heard several of his sermons, thus my opinion of him was already highly favorable. This man preached a sermon in chapel that raised a great deal of controversy among some who heard him that day. He said some things that had a few seminary students buzzing with controversy for weeks afterwards. When I heard the sermon, along with my invited guest, I remember feeling a sense of reservation about what he had said, but I quickly ignored any concerns. After chapel I had lunch with my guest who complained about some of the points made by the speaker. I, as a mindless fan of this speaker, proceeded to defend what he said at the chapel service even though I too had private doubts and questions in my own heart. My internal hypocrisy eventually became a rebuke within my soul such that I came to realize that I had placed my love for, and devotion to, one of my favorite theologians over Christ and His word. What at first seemed like a small error of the heart was later revealed to be a well-hidden disease. But this is not all. Remarkably, I was also guilty of the sin of fearing man.[1] Aware of the fawning devotion of my fellow seminarians for this famous speaker, I felt a degree of implied social pressure to fall in line with the crowd, and this I did like a good little fool. I was no victim in this. My choices were a volitional rebellion against the greater wisdom of Paul who, when faced with theological stardom and the pressures of doctrinal complicity, declared: what they are makes no difference to us; God shows no partiality.[2] Such mistakes from my earlier days became a sharp warning within my heart, reminding me that all such infractions of devotion to Christ alone constitute an incipient disease of the soul, one that can affect myself, my family, my ministry, and my Christian witness in the Gospel overall. In other words, such errors are not minor infractions for anyone, instead they are massive cracks in the foundation of our lives.

I offer this personal account as a means of introducing the core concern expressed in this book. It is my conviction that the modern church has become dangerously distracted from her high calling to adore and reverence Christ alone. What has tempted and lured her from this precious priority is that forbidden fruit whereby the homage that is due to the Creator is instead directed towards the creature.[3] Such a tragedy as this is guaranteed whenever the church fails to live and minister in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). When godly fear diminishes in the heart of the believer, the weeds of ungodly fear will grow in its place, resulting in the corruption of man-centered fear or adoration. Man-centered fear is evident whenever the creature is seen as having greater authority and power than the Creator Himself. In this context, the dread of enmity with men, persecution, or social rejection will often lead individuals to obey men rather than God. On the other hand, man-centered adoration is that corruption whereby individuals are exalted and celebrated in a manner which diminishes Christ. What is so dangerous about this idolatrous corruption is that it is often quite subtle and unnoticed. Its prominence and popularity in American culture thrives in the modern day, and it is for this reason that I distinguish it with the word: celebritism. Its core error is found in the adoration of men over Christ, and its corruption often spreads quickly, especially in this present age of modern media. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of celebrating God’s provision of grace in the lives of godly men and their ministries, there is everything wrong with the idolatry of celebritism: the act of exalting men in a way which diminishes the glory and sole authority of Jesus Christ. The pressures that can lead to this particular problem are enormous, especially in a world which demands that it have its various celebrities and idols: professional athletes, pop icons, movie-stars, prominent politicians, and even internet-idols etc., however, the church must resist such worldly conformity. When it fails to do so, it yields a banner of identity which exalts men rather than Christ, and this is often done under the false assumption that popularity is a guarantee of veracity and piety. When such a banner as this is heralded before a watching world, the church’s sole Savior, Bridegroom, and returning King is horrifically blasphemed. Scripture never calls us to chase after popular trends or prominent personalities, yet this habit among men flourishes readily in our celebrity culture of the modern era.

The sins of celebritism and the fear of man both stem from the absence of an adoration and reverence for God, and every believer must be extremely guarded against this deadly arena of sin. Knowing our human frailty, Satan constantly seeks to lure God’s people into such treacherous territory. Even without his temptations, sinful human nature tends to veer to one such idol or the other like an old jalopy with a defective steering alignment. Left unchecked, this inherent frailty can take any believer off course with little effort at all. All such temptations and defections run rampant wherever there is a lack a genuine fear of God. In such a dangerous condition as this, individuals become far more beholden to the words and thoughts of mere men than they should be. Within this dynamic, it is not surprising that, when teachers of prominence speak, their hearers often slip into a passivity of thought which decimates the requisite critical analysis that all believers must have. When this happens, the hearer enters into a dangerous place where the words of mere men are exalted, Christ’s authority is diminished, and doctrinal errors can take root in the soul. However, Scripture never grants such passivity to the student of God’s word. When we consider the Apostle Paul’s own life and ministry, we find multiple examples of this point. For one thing, Paul bore unique authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and yet he never demanded that others follow his teaching blindly and without question. Instead, he called on his hearers to scrutinize his words with extreme care:

Galatians 1:8 …even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

By this statement alone, we see that Paul understood a very important principle, and it is one that must be upheld by the church in every age: whatever authority God’s servants may be granted in this life, they must remember that Christ is the ultimate authority over His church. Therefore, the Apostles and Prophets did not possess any inherent authority within themselves, instead, the authority they possessed came from the Lord.[4] Because of this, God’s people throughout history have been called upon to test the veracity of those who claimed to be God’s messengers, whether prophets or apostles (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:18-22, Jeremiah 14:13-15, Galatians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). Such reminders as these stand as a rebuke to anyone thinking that exceptions can be made for prominent teachers in the modern era simply because they are prominent and highly celebrated people. Even Paul’s station as an apostle did not afford him such a luxury, instead, his teaching was carefully examined by the Bereans such that they “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [what Paul taught] were so.”[5] We should note that Luke’s record of their activity was not followed with a rebuke against them for some presumed rebellion. To the genuine prophet or apostle of yesteryear, or to the pastor in the present day, Scriptural accountability will always be welcomed because such scrutiny reveals the ultimate harmony of God’s authoritative revelation, while exposing all imposters to the truth. Because of this, Luke called the Bereans noble-minded in view of their willingness to measure Paul’s teaching by the standard of the very Scriptures from which he habitually reasoned:

Acts 17:1–3: 1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom [eiwqos, habit], he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” [italics mine]

No matter where Paul preached, he habitually reasoned from the Scriptures, explaining the Scriptures, and giving evidence from them. All such scriptural evidence became the standard by which all of Paul’s hearers, including the Bereans, could measure his preaching. Clearly, what the Bereans did was not a rebellious response to the Christian faith, instead their noble-minded response was evidence of the Spirit’s work within them. Apart from the Spirit, our fallen tendency is to exalt the messenger above his station, while receiving what is said without careful consideration. Such passivity of thought is dangerous. We could list the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility as “exhibit A” amidst a vast warehouse of past and present demonstrations of such fleshly thinking. All such reminders regarding mankind’s dangerous propensity towards idolatry underscore our desperate need for Christ and His word.

This concern regarding the dangers of celebritism and the fear of man is something that I have dealt with for many years, and for this reason I have already addressed the subject, briefly, in three prior books. Yet, what was a mere parenthesis in those works now constitutes the central concern in My Banner is Christ. It should be known, however, that despite the polemical nature of what I have here written, the ultimate design of this book is to direct attention to Christ Himself, remembering that He must increase, but we must decrease. In particular, there are three foci that I wish to highlight as represented by the title and subtitle of this book:

1. The Priority of Solus Christus: The primary goal of this work is to magnify Christ in the church by restoring the priority of Solus Christus. Of course, Solus Christus is that historic call of the Reformers who sought to magnify the reality that Christ alone is the sovereign Lord over all creation and is the church’s sole redeemer and head, a central truth that was decimated through centuries of various, incremental compromises along the way. In addition to the call of Solus Christus is its necessary companion: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). These two are inseparable and indispensable, for without the latter, it is impossible to seek the former. Without God’s word we do not have the means by which Christ’s supremacy and glory can be magnified. Moreover, without these two aforementioned Solas, all the others fall away: Sola Fide, Solas Gratias, and Soli Deo Gloria. The church’s daily pursuit must be to magnify Christ’s power, supremacy, and authority for He, and He alone, is our message of hope to the church and to the nations. Yet, in order to pursue this priority well, the church must forsake the idols of celebritism and the fear of man.

2. The Idols of Celebritism and the Fear of Man: As already noted, wherever the fear of God wanes, the exaltation of the creature waxes hot, often igniting the sins of celebritism or the fear of man. Regarding the term, celebritism, I gladly confess that it is an invention. Feel free to peruse the Oxford English Dictionary if you wish, but I promise you that, to date, it is not to be found. In crafting this word, I have taken the liberty of adding the suffix ism to the word celebrity in order to denote the natural tendency of human excess due to our struggle with indwelling sin. Of course, the word celebrity isn’t inherently problematic. At its root, it has in mind the idea of celebration. When this word is employed to speak of people, it simply connotes an individual who is celebrated for various reasons. However, due to human sin and frailty, celebrities are often heralded well beyond reasonable measure, leading to sundry cults, cliques, and factions – various isms within society, i.e., celebritism. Within the church, it constitutes that grave corruption whereby the reverence and homage that is due to Christ alone is given to mere mortals. Here in America, where religious persecution still remains at a minimum, celebritism remains as a dominant disease. However, as our freedoms continue to wane, we must also remember that the fear and dread of men is an equally poisonous corruption. Like celebritism, the fear of man stems from the sin of exalting and reverencing the creature above the Creator.[6] Whatever we may face in the future, we must remember that, whether by fear or fawning devotion, the idolatry of heralding men above Christ is a ubiquitous and deadly disease. This contagion in the church has a long and sordid history, and it must therefore be mortified on a regular basis.

3. The Main Title: My Banner is Christ: The science of heraldry (a subject that will be further explored in the next chapter) reminds us that banners and flags are normally used in order to signify the identity and authority of individuals, families, institutions, and nations. In the Old Testament, a banner [n#s] was used as “a rallying point or standard which drew people together for some common action…one of the most important being the gathering of troops for war.”[7] In Psalm 60:4, we are reminded that God gives a banner of truth to those who fear Him so that His glory may be displayed before the nations: “Thou hast given a banner to those who fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. [Selah].” For the church, she has but one object of adoration and reverence, and only one banner of truth within this fallen world: the Lord Jesus Christ – who is the way, and the truth, and the life. Yet the question that remains for believers is this: how well are we clinging to Christ and His authority rather than to false and substitute authorities? This question applies for all believers, myself included, and it is for this reason that I ask the reader to remember that the title of this book is not a personal boast, instead, it is an admission that I write as one whose lifelong goal is to have Christ increase while I decrease. What I believe and seek for myself, I also seek within Christ’s body, and it is for this reason that I issue a heart-felt appeal to the church.

It is my hope and prayer that Christ will increase within His church through a renewed pursuit of Solus Christus, and through a joyful submission to His authoritative revelation alone – Sola Scriptura. I should remind the reader that, though this work contains several polemical arguments, our ultimate resolve will be to seek the biblical solutions to the problems facing the church today. Additionally, as this work was being developed, I was further drawn to the excellent writings of John Flavel (1627-1691) and John Bunyan (1628-1688): two contemporaries who faithfully served as ministers of the Gospel during England’s persistent persecution of nonconformist preachers. In particular, Flavel’s piece – A Practical Treatise of Fear – and Bunyan’s work – A Treatise of the Fear of Godbecame excellent helps and witnesses to my own labors. Both of these men strongly grappled with the subject of godly versus ungodly fear during a time of intense pressure to conform with the religious culture of their day. Within the crucible of such affliction, many brethren learned this crucial lesson as summarized by Flavel in, A Practical Treatise of Fear:

“…it is far better to lose our carnal friends, estates, liberties, and lives, than part with Christ’s truths and a good conscience.”[8]

All brethren who have learned this truth through times of testing, illustrate God’s gracious and powerful work in the life of frail, human instruments. By infusing the writings of Flavel and Bunyan within this work, it is my hope to introduce some readers to these dear servants whose desire it was to herald Christ in a time which heralded men and manmade religion.

Additionally, it was originally my hope to avoid the matter of identifying individuals by name amidst the quest of describing the struggles of the present day. Knowing something about the sensitivities of many within our celebrity-driven culture, I had hoped that this could be done without destroying the structure of the book’s overall development. However, this proved to be impossible. Because of this, I urge the reader to remember the nobility of the Bereans when encountering a critical analysis of any given teacher or teaching. The point is not to tear down people, but to uphold truth.[9] The church is called the pillar and support of the truth[10] – not the pillar and support of prominent personalities within modern Evangelicalism. Should we lose sight of this distinction, then the priority of having Christ increase is utterly lost. The church has no other head or authority and she must therefore rebuff all substitutes for His divine office. When the church understands this truth well, she will be willing to scrutinize every teacher and teaching that comes in her midst – even if the teacher is very popular by the appraisal of the masses. Such activity is not unloving. Instead, it is the most loving thing that the church can do for the Lord and for His people.

Finally, in consideration of this book’s title, the importance of reverencing God, along with the priorities of Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura, I would like to share C.H. Spurgeon’s comments on the aforementioned text of Psalm 60:4. The following comes from his excellent commentary on the book of Psalms, The Treasury of David:

Psalm 60:4: Thou hast given a banner to those who fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. [Selah]: Their afflictions had led them to exhibit holy fear, and then being fitted for the Lord’s favour, he gave them an ensign, which would be both a rallying point for their hosts, a proof that he had sent them to fight, and a guarantee of victory. The bravest men are usually entrusted with the banner, and it is certain that those who fear God must have less fear of man than any others. The Lord has given us the standard of the gospel, let us live to uphold it, and if needful die to defend it. Our right to contend for God, and our reason for expecting success, are found in the fact that the faith has been once committed to the saints, and that by the Lord himself.

That it may be displayed because of the truth. Banners are for the breeze, the sun, the battle. Israel might well come forth boldly, for a sacred standard was borne aloft before them. To publish the gospel is a sacred duty, to be ashamed of it a deadly sin. The truth of God was involved in the triumph of David’s armies, he had promised them victory; and so in the proclamation of the gospel we need feel no hesitancy, for as surely as God is true he will give success to his own word. For the truth’s sake, and because the true God is on our side, let us in these modern days of warfare emulate the warriors of Israel, and unfurl our banners to the breeze with confident joy. Dark signs of present or coming ill must not dishearten us; if the Lord had meant to destroy us he would not have given us the gospel; the very fact that he has revealed himself in Christ Jesus involves the certainty of victory. Magna est veritas et praevalebit (Truth is mighty and will prevail).”

Such is the overall point of this book: to unfurl the banner of Scripture alone and Christ alone amidst a secular and religious world that has countless competing banners. In so doing, we must remember Christ’s victory and triumph over all. By divine grace alone we are the bride of the Lamb and we long for His return. Until He comes again let us raise His banner and uphold the lamp of His word, amidst this crooked and perverse generation.[11]

[1] Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.

[2] Galatians 2:6.

[3] Romans 1:25.

[4] 2 Peter 1:20–21: 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

[5] Acts 17:10-12.

[6] Romans 1:25.

[7] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds., The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1379a.

[8] John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel Vol III, A Practical Treatise of Fear (London, 1820), 303.

[9] 2 Corinthians 10:3-8.

[10] 1 Timothy 3:15.

[11] Philippians 2:15-16.

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