Friday, April 19, 2019

Book Review: Christ's Call to Reform the Church

Christ's Call to Reform the Church. John F. MacArthur. 2018. Moody Publishers. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence (from the introduction): In the book of Revelation, Jesus wrote seven letters to cities in Asia Minor. He didn't write them to city hall; He wrote them to the church. Let that sink in moment.

First sentence from chapter one: Have you ever heard of a church that repented? Not individuals, but an entire church that collectively recognized its congregational transgressions and openly, genuinely repented, with biblical sorrow and brokenness? Sadly, you probably have not. For that matter, have you ever heard of a pastor who called his church to repent and threatened his congregation with divine judgment if they failed to do so? It's not likely. Pastors today seem to have a hard enough time calling individuals to repent, let alone calling the whole church to account for their corporate sins.

MacArthur's sermon text--if you will--is Revelation 2 and 3. In these seven letters to seven different churches, Jesus is calling for--in fact demanding--that the churches repent. Repentance hasn't grown in popularity through the centuries, but its need has not lessened either. What can believers--what can churches--learn from studying these letters? How are our churches like the ancient ones? Do we face the same struggles? the same temptations? the same judgement if we do not repent? Have we forgotten that the Bible was written with authority and should be read as such?

In the introduction, MacArthur points out that the church has never been commanded to go to war with the culture, or to legislate morality. He writes, "The will of God is not that we become so politicized that we turn our mission field into our enemy...It's futile to think the solution to our culture's moral bankruptcy is a legislative remedy. There is no law that can make fallen sinners righteous" (12).

In the first chapter, MacArthur introduces key topics that will be discussed throughout the book: worldliness, sin, compromise, tolerance, repentance, judgment. He examines what happens when churches compromise with the truth--with the revealed Word of God--and choose tolerance, peace, and unity instead. He briefly mentions the Reformation and Puritan movements before addressing contemporary issues facing the church. Did the ancient church have it easier? Or did they face the same temptations and struggles? Has Satan used the same tactics against the church since day one? Are our "new problems" really ancient ones?

In the second chapter, MacArthur takes a closer look at Revelation 1. Since the majority of the book is focusing on Revelation 2 and 3, this chapter is providing orientation and context for understanding and appreciating the book as a whole.

In chapters three through nine, MacArthur discusses the seven churches--Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea--and closely examines the Lord's messages to them. This is the heart of the book. Readers will learn more about these ancient churches and their problems. Readers will be reminded of the relevance of these urgent, passionate messages. Jesus is still calling his church to repent.

In the tenth and final chapter, MacArthur revisits the five solas of the Reformation and discusses the church's need to reform or return to reform. The Reformation should not be thought of "as over."

This was a great read.


  • There have never been any Christian nations--just Christians. (9)
  • Cultural change can't accelerate the kingdom's growth; nor can it hinder it. (10)
  • Morality on its own is no solution; it damns just like immorality. (10)
  • Churches that start down a path of worldliness, disobedience, and apostasy typically move even further from orthodoxy over time. They almost never recover their original soundness. Rarely are they broken over their collective sins against the Lord. Rarely do they turn aside from corruption, immorality, and false doctrine. Rarely do they cry out from the depths of their hearts for forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration. Most never even consider it, because they have become comfortable with their condition. (16)
  • Filling the pews with comfortable, unaffected unbelievers is the fastest way to confuse and corrupt the work of the church. (25)
  • Most people who go to church believe it is a safe place--perhaps the safest place--when it comes to threats of judgment from the Lord. It's almost like climbing aboard the ark; once you're safely inside, you're untouchable. But that's not true. Frankly, it's a foolish and dangerous notion. (35)
  • Sinners--even redeemed sinners--are right to be terrified in the presence of a Holy God. There is always fear in a true vision of Christ, because we see His glory and He sees our sin. (51)
  • Put simply, loving Christ is the defining characteristic of a Christian. And while the genuine believer will always love the Lord, the intensity of his love can fluctuate over time. The redeemed person's love for Christ must be carefully guarded and nurtured, or it will diminish with time. (56)
  • Consider the chain reaction of forsaking your first love. Fading love for Christ is the forerunner of spiritual apathy. Apathy is the forerunner to loving something else. And love for something else means competing priorities with Christ, which in turn leads to compromise with the world and corruption, resulting ultimately in judgment. (67)
  • In themselves, believers don't have the capacity to maintain or protect their faith. If we could lose our salvation, we certainly would. Instead, it's the Lord who holds us steadfast in faith. (83)
  • Incredibly, many churches today proudly ignore the sin in their midst in the name of tolerance, unity, and love--proving only that they have no true understanding of what the Bible means when it talks about unity and love. Amazingly, ignoring sin and practicing tolerance has became a staple strategy for church growth. This directly defies the Lord's commands. (104)
  • I don't understand how pastors and churches can be indifferent to sin when they see this unequivocal statement from the Head of the church: that He will put on a public display of His holy wrath if a church falls into corruption. He will make a spectacle of His judgment, such that other congregations see it and cringe. He will use the failure and the destruction of one church to purify others, and to display His holiness to His people. There is no excuse for tolerating sin or welcoming it as an evangelistic strategy. Doing so invites the wrath of heaven. (116)
  • Error kills the church. False teaching and false doctrine confuse and corrupt the church, draining the life out of it. Sin kills the church. Little by little, sin tears away at the life of the church. It twists your character and warps your mind. Sins of omission and commission slowly suffocate the will of the church to maintain holiness and purity. Sinful leadership can quickly deal death blows to a church. Compromise with the world kills the church, too. Contrary to the current trend, there's no better way to introduce the killing power of sin into a church than with an influx of unbelievers. Accepting and putting those unbelievers into positions of leadership grips the church by the neck and strangles it. Ultimately, churches die for one reason: they tolerate sin, which includes the seminal sin of not taking Scripture seriously. (127)
  • Despite its frequent misapplication, Revelation 3:20 is not a general statement about Christ's knocking on the hearts door of sinners, nor is it an accurate picture of His call to repent. The fact is, the door Christ refers to here was a specific door, not the metaphorical door of every human heart. This is a specific invitation to the church at Laodicea and others like it. Christ was not in that church, further proof that, unlike the church at Sardis, there were no believers in the Laodicean congregation at all. (173)
  • The fact is the church isn't facing unique problems that demand clever new solutions. Satan's strategies have not changed, and "we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Cor 2:11). He assaults the church in the same ways he did in the first century. If anything, what has changed is the church's willingness to compromise with the world and accommodate false teaching. Rather than engaging a spiritual warfare against satanic lies and anti-Christian ideologies (2 Cor 10:4), too many churches have declared an unbiblical truce with the world and stopped fighting for God's truth altogether. (178)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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