Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Installment #2 - Embracing serial adulterers, the effect on our young by so-called spiritual leaders who lose the respect of the young by foolishly rehabilitating men who are clearly unqualified for the gospel ministry.

When I was converted to Jesus Christ in 1974, I spent the first year and a half of my Christian life desperately denying what was in front of me for fear that I would be committing sin by acknowledging the obvious, that Christians sometimes commit incredible sins. Not growing up in a Christian home, this revelation was as new to me as I have discovered it to be to some in my ministry over the past four decades. When my wife and I moved to another church to go back to school to prepare for the gospel ministry shortly after we married, we found ourselves thoroughly confused. The pastor who baptized me chewed me out in the parking lot in front of some church members when I informed him that I was following his directive to enroll in Bible college. And what did he angrily yell at me for? For leaving the church to go to the Bible college, he advised me to enroll in. Thus began my efforts to understand Baptist pastors. And though I have been the pastor of two Baptist churches over the last 38 years, I am not persuaded I have made much progress in my quest to understand what makes Baptist pastors tick.
The church my new bride and I next joined was recommended to us by a fellow who seemed to be considerably more experienced in such things. The church was considerably larger than our previous church home, and it was growing at a fairly rapid pace. The new to me pastor was notable for his previous pastorate, which had been a rapidly growing church. After all, Elmer Towns wrote that his previous church had been one of the fastest growing in the nation. I wondered in passing why he left such a rapidly growing church but gave the matter no serious reflection. We were members under his leadership for one year before he left to become a missionary, and then we were there for two more years under his very kind successor. It was after our new pastor had left that I occasionally heard murmurs and comments about his past but paid no attention to them. After several years had passed and I left my first pastorate for my present pastorate, the rumors resumed, and I heard them now more frequently since I was situated in a vast metropolitan area and no longer in a farming community.
It was at my second pastorate that I also began to face the aftermaths of mishandled ministerial crisis management. My impression (though I am not an expert, not having grown up in church) is that misconduct was frequently handled by pastors in days gone by differently than is legally required today. In my state, I am identified as a mandatory reporter of any accusation made to me of misconduct by an adult with a child, regardless of its plausibility. Thus, if a ten-year-old who is known to be a liar says a certain Mr. Jones touched him inappropriately, I immediately pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1. State law forbids that I exercise discretion when I hear of such matters. I comply with the law. However, sinful conduct that occurs between adults is another matter altogether. And I must admit that pastors are somewhat frequently given unsolicited information that we cannot act upon. Simply because someone makes an accusation about a pastor in another church having an affair with a member of that other church is insufficient grounds for me to say or do anything. Such has always been my stance.
Things began to change somewhat when a ministry friend at my end of the state told me he was visiting a preacher acquaintance of ours at the other end of our vast state. Perhaps six weeks later I saw my ministry friend again, and he was very sad. The man he had visited was experiencing terrible grief in his church ministry because of his predecessor’s predecessor. But his predecessor’s predecessor was none other than my former new pastor! In the course of our conversation, and without names being mentioned (however, being a trained engineer I am clever about adding two plus two) I was forced to the conclusion that my former pastor was a serial adulterer, with his adultery body count numbering in the dozens. The rumors over the years sadly turned out to be true. It seems that the only place he did not soil his own ministry nest was the church my wife and I were in when he was our pastor for one year. My conclusion was confirmed when he admitted to committing adultery (again) at a subsequent pastorate, and yet again when a longtime friend of his and mine informed me of even more sordid revelations. Then an older church planter me he had to leave where he was presently attending because he observed all the signs that pointed to this same preacher grooming yet another woman with attention and flattery. And when he moved to another state he did it all over again! The history of this man is sickening. He is the Bill Clinton of the independent Baptists, leading anyone with a brain and heart to conclude that he is a sociopath and certainly not a Christian.
That is not the end of his story. His story is still being written and with tragic consequences, including sexual infidelity by one of his children and also by those young men employed by him over the years as young staff members fresh out of Bible college. I am hard pressed to think of someone near my age who once worked for the guy who has not subsequently admitted to sexual misconduct at some point. I certainly recognize that sexual infidelity is not something only Baptists are faced with. I am old enough to remember the fall of President Reagan’s former pastor for inappropriate conduct with a church member he was counseling. As well, most of us my age remember the terrible publicity surrounding Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard. Some of you reading this may even be aware of the controversies surrounding Aimee Semple McPherson almost a century ago, who founded the Pentecostal Foursquare denomination and led the Angeles Temple near Echo Park in Los Angeles. However, just because such conduct takes place among other groups does not mean it is excusable in our movement. Additionally, I am sure you are discerning enough to recognize that I do not deny that sinful behavior can be forgiven. No one that I know disputes that. However, there is great evil afoot in our Baptist circles, and it is being advanced as a means of manipulating the gullible at the expense of our God-given message that Jesus Christ saves sinners from their sins rather than in their sins, Matthew 1.21.
In this second in a series of musings about the reasons some of those who are younger leave our movement, let is pay attention to how we handle sin in our ranks, especially how we react to sins committed by those who are supposed to be under-shepherds of God’s flocks but who use their positions to violate the sheep. How do we as pastors deal with such sins as have been committed in Florida by prominent pastors, in the Chicago area by prominent pastors, in the Bay area of California, and also in Southern California? Do we say nothing? Do we do nothing?
I was converted in 1974. Growing up in a secular home, my parents surprisingly took my brother and me to church four or five times during my mid teens. I remember the experiences vividly. I remember that Baptist pastor, as well as his name. I remember that in the small town where I went to high school, a town where no secrets were safe, everyone in my high school knew that pastor was cheating on his wife. If you think I paid any attention to that man’s gospel sermons, with all his talk about being saved from your sins, you are a bigger fool than he was. I scorned him. I derided him. I despised him. I had no respect whatsoever for him. How could I after what he had done? Perhaps he was a factor in my slide into atheism while in engineering school. So my musings about infidelity in the ministry come from my impressions, the impressions of a young person who was aware of the cheating being done by the preacher he occasionally listened to.
Do I think a pastor who cheats on his wife can and should be forgiven? Of course, I do. Do I think a pastor who cheats on his wife with dozens of different women should be forgiven? Yes, but that is not the issue that faces our movement. The issue that faces us is why a man who has already confessed to committing adultery while in the gospel ministry is still in the gospel ministry. And don’t give me any nonsense about the gifts and calling of God being without repentance. Romans 11.29 is not a passage that is properly applied to the call to the gospel ministry and the qualifications that must be maintained to serve as a spiritual leader. Another distortion that is making the rounds is the assertion that not even adultery is grounds for divorce. I suspect such a position is used by adulterous preachers as a way of keeping their disappointed wives from leaving them for their infidelities. That is nothing short of wresting the scriptures to avoid the consequences of committing adultery. It is wickedness.
Here is one of the problems we must come to grips with, as I see it, in our movement. This matter of sexual infidelity is routinely seriously mishandled, even by good men who are faithful to their wives. How so? We are allowing prominent men who are credibly accused of very serious sins to hold themselves unaccountable to their congregations or anyone else because of some warped notion of pastoral leadership, when the Apostle Paul very specifically clarified the church’s authority to address the sins and charges of sin in the life of a pastor, First Timothy 5.19-20:
19   Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
20    Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
This passage shows that a pastor is certainly subject to the authority of the congregation he serves, with Matthew 18.16-20 showing that there is no greater authority on earth to deal with sins in a congregation than the authority of the local church. I remember my days in Bible college when one teacher taught that a pastor was not subject to the authority of the church he presided over. I thought the notion was laughable at the time, but I have seen since then that it is a more widely held belief than I had thought possible. Pastors, we need to be ready to advise congregations that seek our input so deacons and other lay leaders will know how to deal with serious sins by their pastors. And then there is our response as pastors to this evil of restoring sexually promiscuous preachers to positions of spiritual leadership, even to recommending them to churches that have no knowledge of their previous sins. Just last week a pastor told me of a conversation he had in the office of another pastor about yet another instance of adultery that led to a resignation. During their discussion my friend said the other guy received a phone call and proceeded to recommend to another church the adulterous man they had been discussing!
We have got to stop this nonsense of recommending adulterers to be pastors of churches! It is more important for us to be loyal to the Savior and His cause than to be falsely loyal to a traitorous ministry pal. As well, we need to embrace Biblical convictions about this matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Whatever your personal stance on divorce happens to be, please make sure you recognize that there were four grounds for divorce in the Mosaic Law and that our Lord spoke to only one of them (strongly suggesting He had no quarrel with the other three). Thus, the notion that there are never grounds for divorce in the Bible is simply unsustainable. Even if you and I disagree about this topic in general, you have to agree with me that the perverse and malevolent notion that is advanced by adulterous pastors that their wives have no recourse when confronted by their ongoing infidelity would be the only place in scripture where God offers an offended party no recourse. How dare pastors put up with that nonsense without strongly and vocally opposing it for what it is, a demonic attempt to cheat on your wife without paying the consequences. As a Baptist by conviction, I endorse the liberty of Pastors to develop their convictions about the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. However, I would urge upon every preacher two books written by a Baptist pastor and legitimate scholar, David Instone-Brewer, Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible and Divorce And Remarriage In The Church. I assure you that until you have read those two books you have likely not sufficiently studied the topic, regardless of the position you end up embracing.
I know that my new pastor (as I will continue to refer to this scoundrel) seems to have engaged in adulterous behavior in every ministry he has been involved in since he left the church where I was a member. Why did his wife not divorce him? Why did his wife not publicly show him to be unqualified to serve in ministry leadership positions? Has she no obligation to the cause of Christ her husband so damages? As well, why did his grown sons not demonstrate loyalty to the cause of Christ by insisting that their father never again serves in the pastorate after dozens of adulterous affairs? If his adult children are real Christians one should expect them to side with the Savior against their father’s wicked conduct. Then there are those church members such wicked men preach to. How many teens will have to listen to such men as I had to listen to that pastor when I was a teen? And how many families are such men allowed to destroy by such wicked conduct before they are stopped? Does no one who is Christ’s under-shepherd consider the families of those women who are cheated with, families who will never again trust a pastor or seek pastoral counseling to deal with serious problems?
Have you ever given thought to teens in a church leaving and never coming back because they have discovered their pastor is an adulterer, or they have discovered that their pastor has covered for an adulterer, or has invited an adulterer to preach at their church, or has even gone so far as to take steps to rehabilitate a man guilty of dozens of adulteries? And what about the young men who serve as pastors in our movement? Can you criticize a young man for leaving to escape the company of men who passively and spinelessly tolerate adultery? Then there is the matter of training young men for the Gospel ministry while subjecting them to men who have a filthy reputation. How can a pastor send support to a college that seeks to rehabilitate men who have dragged the Gospel ministry through the muck? How can you allow a singing group from such a school come to your church? As well, how dare Bible colleges recruit to enroll in their school by using telephone calls from young women to high school boys? Have you ever listened to one of those conversations? It is preying on the fantasies of young lads to arrange a phone call from a very pleasant sounding young woman who suggests that they might be friends if he enrolls in her school. Such tactics are shameful and border on pimping. I would go through the roof if I ever found out my daughter was employed in such a way.

In my musings, I wonder what I might have done if I had known of my new pastor’s wicked conduct when he was still my pastor and I was in my second year in the Christian faith, just a babe in Christ. Perhaps it was God working providentially to protect me that I did not know what that man had done and would do until I was mature enough to know what to do about his conduct. I know what to do now. I have nothing to do with the man. I have nothing to do with his son’s attempts to rehabilitate him. I have nothing to do with any preacher training school that has anything to do with overlooking the wicked behavior of those with large reputations. I speak against it. I stand against it. I write about it. And if you want to hold on to your young people, both those in your churches and those young pastors in your movement, you will do the same. Forgive? By all means. Restore? Not hardly. I agree with Charles H. Spurgeon, who commented that a man who has fallen into sexual sin in the ministry has demonstrated clearly that he does not belong in that position.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Installment #1 - Adolescence, leaving our young unprepared because we are too much influenced by secularists telling us what they are like when they are not like that all.

Pastors are becoming more and more concerned about the loss from their church ministries of young adults, particularly those who grew up in their ministries only to leave the church without moving out of the area. Some leave the church of their youth to attend another church while others leave their lifelong church but do not attend another church. They simply stop attending church services altogether.
Another concern is regarding young men who enter the gospel ministry as self-identified independent Baptists but abandon their identification, cooperation, and involvement with theologically conservative Baptists to affiliate and fellowship with other groups entirely. While it may seem on the surface that these are separate problems, and they may be separate problems, I am not convinced the two are entirely unrelated. Why are they leaving, be they young adult church members or younger men in the ministry? This is the question for my present musing.
I will leave it to you to uncover the documentation that hides the truth that adolescence is a relatively modern invention conjured up by the “social scientists” that was used to justify an alteration in child rearing associated with advances in technology that enabled the upwardly mobile to enjoy more and more leisure by doing less and less parenting. If you are diligent, you will find it as I did some years back. In short, adolescence is the time in a person’s life when he enjoys adult privileges without being burdened with adult responsibilities. No one gets away with such nonsense without parental complicity. Such was not experienced by Ulysses S. Grant during his childhood, when he began to run his own farm around age eight or nine. Neither is it anything like either of my grandfathers’ experiences when they both began to function as full-grown men before reaching their teens. My maternal grandfather became the sole breadwinner for his mother and many siblings instead of entering third grade. Such was a time when adults understood that childhood was preparation for adulthood and to that end childhood was not seen primarily as a time to “let kids be kids” so they could spend the day playing, but as a time to help the family survive while acquiring the skills needed to survive as an adult in a difficult and challenging world.
What, pray tell, does this have to do with young people leaving churches and young preachers abandoning the movement they formerly identified with? A great deal, I think. For something more than a century churches have engaged in an approach to ministry never before seen in the Christian faith, with parents likely insisting on adopting the new and untried approach as they were influenced by social scientists who suggested solutions for the problems arising from having more and more leisure to occupy their kids. What was this new approach to ministry? There were a number of innovations, but I choose to focus only on church ministry. It is called youth ministry, and it is an astonishingly unjustified innovation as typically practiced that lays waste to the biblical model of fathers and mothers training their children to be successful adults. Youth ministries are usually those questionable ministry adaptations whereby pastors too often assign the youngest and least experienced member of the pastoral staff to deal with those who in any other era would have the status of young adults. Such staff members are frequently thought to be qualified for ministry with adolescents (though adolescents do not actually exist because the category is an invention) because they have a degree in youth ministry (which usually means they have less theological and biblical training than those who seek degrees in Bible or Pastoral Theology). The effect of this not well thought out decision near the beginning of the 20th century was to gradually remove the influence on young people of their God-given parents while adding the influence of the not God-given youngest and least experienced member of the church’s pastoral team. I will address the problem of laying hands suddenly on a novice for responsible gospel ministry responsibilities at another time.
Another development of this adolescence as a substitute for adulthood inclination is the whole idea of Bible college. I attended Bible college after graduating from engineering school, so I have a bit of a perspective. What is a Bible college anyway? Who attends Bible college? Are Bible college students children or are they adults? Granted, some Bible college students are married and some are veterans (I was both), but most are single recent high school graduates who do not really know what they want to do with their lives. The reality is that most Bible college students are treated as though they are neither children or adults, or as if they are both children and adults. Are you not a child if your goings and how you spend your time are not your own decisions to make? Are you not an adult if you no longer live at home, unless of course you are enrolled by your parents in boarding school? Is that what Bible colleges are, boarding schools pretending to be colleges, with children enrolled as students who are passing themselves off as adults? I am not an enemy, but a very experienced gospel minister asking questions that deserve serious consideration and well thought out answers. The fact is, Bible college students (unless they are married students living off campus) are some hybridization of adolescence, which again is an invention. I am not suggesting that Bible colleges should be eliminated, only that they should more clearly reflect the Biblical approach to training someone for the gospel ministry instead of treating someone like a semi-child who is a semi-adult. U. S. Grant was a full-fledged adult by the time he was ten years old. My grandfathers were both full-fledged adults by the time they reached their teen years. Those men were not so unusual for their time, a time before a group of anti-Christian social scientists invented the concept of adolescence.
To consider both aspects related to this adolescence issue, I am not suggesting that pastors or Bible colleges eliminate all age-appropriate ministries to the young. However, I do think in my musings that more attention should be given to treating the young as either children who need to grow up or as young adults. Away with this notion of adolescence, having adult privileges without adult responsibilities! Turn your ten-year-old out into the street? Don’t be absurd. I am only suggesting that you train for adulthood, encourage adulthood, expect adulthood, and increasingly demand adulthood. Is your child enough the adult to make his own decisions, prioritize his own affairs, pay his own way, arrange his own sleep and work schedule? If not he is probably too immature to go to college, any college, including Bible college.  And if Bible colleges are fearful of treating young adults like anything but children, perhaps recruiting kids while they are in high school by young women who suggest during telephone conversations that they would like to be the na├»ve boy’s friend if he enrolls is not the best approach.
Could it be that our young leave our churches because they are striking out in their own sinful ways to be adults? Are our young “leaders” drifting away from familiar movements because they want to leave adolescence behind and become adults, something they should have accomplished long before they entered the gospel ministry? I am not suggesting that departure is right, for either the young person who grew up in church or the pastor who chooses to identify with another group. I am only suggesting that one factor in this complicated sequence of events that results in people leaving is that they are not being treated like adults before they leave.
Just as Paul was not the enemy because he told the Galatians the truth, I am no Baptist preacher’s enemy because I ask questions. When I was designing satellites back in the 1970s, I quickly learned that it is good to ask as many of the hard questions you can think of addressing before you begin to fabricate the bird. Once it is built problems are far more difficult to solve and expensive! And what the necessary question is not addressed until a faulty satellite has been launched, making it too late to fix? Some of these kids are, in my opinion, evidence of hard questions not being asked until it is too late.

Please consider writing your opinion on this important matter from your perspective.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is This Approach We So Often See What The Savior Had In Mind?

     Do you remember reading the Lord Jesus Christ's promise to His apostles in Caesarea Philippi, "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"? Granted, the Lord makes use of various kinds of means when building His church, but when the right thing is done in the right way by His servants, then it is He who is doing it. That said, I am a bit puzzled by what I see in the way of congregational growth these days.
     Used to be, when a man was called by God to establish a church he would relocate from where he was to where God wanted him and began the laborious task of reaching with the gospel those who would comprise the core of the new church to be built. At least, that is how the Apostle Paul did it. Granted, the church at Antioch was established with a mixture of believers who had been saved and trained in Jerusalem, along with those brought to Christ by those scattered from Jerusalem by severe persecution. But Paul's approach to church planting was a pioneering approach, and not at all like what is commonly the case these days.
     These days a guy moves into an area to engage in what he euphemistically terms "team building" to prepare for the launch of a new church, which is another way of describing what used to be called sheep stealing. It is an effort at skimming disloyal and immature members of sound churches that makes use of offers of better programming in such areas as youth, music, and marketing to attract those already involved in a gospel-preaching church. Thus, it is a way of establishing a new church without any real evangelism taking place. Of course, this sets the course for the future of the church, its entire program of growth based upon attracting members from other churches rather than engaging in the grueling task of contacting, cultivating, and eventually bringing to Christ the lost of the surrounding community. This fruitfulness takes place mostly in small to medium-size congregations, with many of those converts then being siphoned off by slick programs and enticements to family members other than the head of household.
     Having been in the ministry in Southern California for forty years now, I have seen a great deal. One of my observations of many men and ministries confirms my conviction that pragmatism is rampant among putative gospel ministries, existing as developments of two men whose names are now barely known by those most influenced by them. Charles G. Finney had a profound effect on 19th-century evangelism, resulting in such 20th-century phenomena as Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Jack Van Impe among the ranks of the Baptists. Less well known to average Americans are such as Jack Hyles, Jerry Falwell, Jim Harrington, and the entirety of the famous from the Charismatic and Pentecostal groups. These embrace the notion that evangelism is routinely accomplished in ten or fifteen minutes when dealing with someone at his front door who wants to get back to the college football game he had been watching before he heard the hard knock on his door. What is missed is that such an approach almost never results in a conversion to Christ, but sometimes does result in skimming members from another church, a church that is not engaged in outreach who then join the church that is so engaged in outreach, with the new members being used by the aggressive church's leadership as evidence that the approach they use "works."
     As if that oft-used but poorly considered outreach method isn't bad enough, there is another man's influence at work. He was a 19th-century pastor and theologian named Horace Bushnell, who successfully transformed the English Sunday School program from a thoroughly evangelistic outreach of poor unchurched children into an American phenomenon that barely resembled its original purpose. Bushnell's "Christian Nurture" transformed Sunday School into an in-house educational arm of the congregation that was devoted primarily to the children of church attendees. Further, Bushnell was adamantly opposed to frightening church kids with threats of damnation and hellfire unless they repented of theirs sins. Instead, he advocated (successfully) teaching children that they love Jesus despite what God's Word teaches about the unregenerate. Such propaganda invariably led to shallow professions of faith devoid of any grasp of personal guilt and the need for heartfelt repentance when coming to Christ. Now one simply asks Jesus to save him, or accepts Him, with either approach diminishing the stature of the Lord of glory in a real gospel encounter.
     Long story short, pastors who move into a town and claim to be the first gospel witness the city has had (when such is not true), who claim to be the only one in the city who uses the right version of the Bible (when such is not true), and who sets out at the very beginning not to bear fruit but to steal fruit, have little familiarity with the New Testament plan for church planting and building, causing one to wonder how familiar he is with the One who actually promised to build His church.
     I recently celebrated thirty years in the wonderful church where I serve. I have never indicated to anyone that I am the only gospel preacher in the area because I am not. I have never claimed to be the only Bible preacher in the region because I am not. I will not countenance claims that I am a better pastor than someone else or that the church I serve in is a better church than other churches because that nonsense is distasteful to my Lord and I fear for those who employ that approach.
     This is not to say that when preaching I will not name names that need to be named, and point out dangerous ministries that need to be pointed out. The Apostle Paul did, and I do. It is to say that I will not knowingly allow the influences of such men as Charles G. Finney or Horace Bushnell influence my ministry or Pelagius for that matter. It is to say that a minister of the gospel approaches ministry differently when he relies on the Lord Jesus Christ to build His church than does a hireling who employees manipulative methods and unethical practices because he seems himself as the primary agent in his church's numerical growth while caring little for congregational spirituality.

Friday, November 6, 2015

"The Creation Answers Book" by Don Batten, David Catchpoole, Jonathan Sarfati & Carl Weiland

     Any book written by those four scientific creationism heavyweights is worth picking up and reading, and this 265-page wonder is no exception.
     This is a book that serves two wonderful purposes for the curious investigator and also for the grounded and well-informed Christian Bible believer: On one hand, it deals in a straightforward manner with more than sixty questions that need to be asked and answered by anyone open-minded enough to question the anti-scientific bias of the evolutionists and old earth propagandists who tend to argue more from assumptions than from real science. It is a book that I would recommend to anyone with a genuinely open mind in search of the truth. It is also a great book for the seasoned warrior who was first informed by such heroes of the faith as the late Henry Morris and Duane Gish. This book updates theories and suggests newly developed approaches to defending the faith and our unchanging Bible.
     I highly recommend it for readability and fidelity to God's Word.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Long Process Of Preparing For Worship

     What are church services really for? Have you ever wondered, or have you just assumed that church services are whatever the pastor or the 'worship leader' decides church services are for?
     In the New Testament we see two things taking place that people typically conflate into a single type of event, the evangelistic gathering (usually outdoors) where the gospel is proclaimed and the gathering of Christians for worship. The prime example of an outdoor evangelistic gathering is found in the record in Acts 2 of the Apostle Peter's sermon delivered to thousands with great effectiveness and 3,000 conversions on the Day of Pentecost. On a much smaller scale we see a similar type of event take place in Acts 3 following the healing of a man lame from his mother's womb, providing an occasion for more gospel preaching to those who reacted with curiosity and interest to the lame man's healing. For insight into the worship of God's people in a congregational setting we take note of First Corinthians 14 and First Timothy 2.
     Careful consideration of the two types of events reveals that they are decidedly different in intent. I propose a consideration of the second type of event, the church congregation's gathering for worship, for instruction, and for training. What is oftentimes ignored in planning a church service is the distinction between the two types of events shown in the New Testament. This is understandable in light of the fact that real evangelism takes place at both types of events though the primary thrust of the two types of events is not the same (an issue I will deal with at another time).
     For now, I urge the reader to focus on the matter of Christians gathering to worship God in Spirit and in truth. To begin I call upon you to seriously reflect on the Savior's rebuke of the believers on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection, wherein He said in Luke 24.25, "Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." Of course, it falls upon you to be sure by considering the surrounding context that you grasp what the Savior has said, but I direct your attention to the phrase "slow of heart to believe." Isn't that something worth investigating? We find our Lord rebuking two believers for being "slow of heart to believe."
     Human beings have two aspects to our nature, the physical aspect and also the spiritual aspect. We could label them as being material and immaterial. That which comprises the immaterial portion of our being includes man's spirit, man's soul, man's mind, man's conscience, and man's heart. As to where one part of man's immaterial composition ends and another part ends no one pretends to fully know. However, we know enough about our immaterial side to readily admit that our minds are typically very quick and agile, capable of turning on a dime, prone to shortness of attention span, and having other characteristics. What can be said about the heart? Though it used to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (prior to being given a new heart when Christ was trusted), we learned from the Savior Himself in Luke 24.25 that the heart is slow. May I set forth a visual analogy? If the mind is something like a small boat with an outboard motor in its agility and ease of directional change, the heart should perhaps be likened to an oil tanker that can be maneuvered only slowly because of its tendency to respond only gradually.
     What are some implications derived from the differences between the responsiveness of the mind and the heart in a believer?  Assuming the spiritual leader desires to have his greatest impact on the hearts of those he ministers to instead of provoking them to quick decisions that have little lasting effect, he must take into account the slowness of the heart to believe. After all, it is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, is it not? If the heart tends to be slower in its responsiveness than the human mind then consideration must be given to that tendency when ministering grace to others, and when seeking to be ministered to by someone.
     My own conclusions resulting from these considerations are that one cannot laugh and joke with teens for 30-40 minutes before settling into a 10-15 minute devotional from God's Word, and that one cannot tell several interesting stories before driving home a 'spiritual' conclusion in the lives of adult listeners who have arrived on the scene without any preparation for receiving life-changing truths. To be sure, you can work teens into convulsive laughter with a good comedy skit and then turn them on a dime with heart-rending stories and a few verses from the Bible that will leave them in tears and willing to make a decision. However, it will as likely as not be a decision that is purely mental with no heart response. Why not? The Savior Himself said the heart was slow to believe, did He not? As well, even if the pastor preaching to adults is not imitating a comedian doing a stand-up routine before he turns toward a convincing and 'spiritual' climax to his sermon, the people he is speaking to are likely incapable in their hearts of turning about so quickly that genuine heart responses are possible on such short notice. The issue at hand is the nature of the human heart.
     Granted, from time to time the Spirit of God working in someone's life provokes deep and thoughtful consideration of spiritual verities so that the response that is evidenced at a youth rally or on a Sunday morning is genuine. However, such is the exception rather than the typical consequence of most decisions. For the heart to be engaged more time is typically needed.
     Do you want your heart engaged in worship? Do you want to engage the hearts of the people during worship? Then I suggest that preparation for Sunday morning worship actually begin Saturday night, at least with serious consideration of tomorrow's worship of God being a topic for bedtime prayers. Some family discussion of the worship time the next day would also be advised. Then, after a good night of sleep (please, no video games or television viewing late into the night), an unhurried and nourishing breakfast preceded by prayer for the worship service, and a relaxed time of preparing for church, recognizing that preparation for church should be so much more than dressing.
     I am convinced such an approach to worship accomplishes three things: First, attention will be given to actually praying and preparing the heart for handling spiritual truth. Next, an unhurried and planned approach to worship will minimize or eliminate carnal distractions leading up to worship. Finally, what is prayed for and planned for will actually be anticipated, God working in your life because you want Him to work in your life, you have asked Him to work in your life, and you have prepared for Him to work in your life.
     Most spiritual behavior is planned. Therefore, plan to worship God and you will be far more likely to actually worship God.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finders Not Keepers

     During my devotional reading this morning I was once more struck by an instruction found in the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 22.1-3:

1 Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.
2 And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.
3 In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

The principle is somewhat more succinctly stated in Exodus 23.4-5:

4 If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.
5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

     Please recognize no solicitation from me for either explicit or implicit adherence to the Mosaic Law, but rather a principle of ethics and courtesy that reflects the timeless principle of loving one's neighbor as oneself. Sad to say, such ethical practices are virtually unknown who serve as pastors of churches these days, even as we like to say as fundamental Baptists in churches of like faith and practice. I am not sure I have ever been on the receiving end of a phone call or written message inquiring about a member of the church's flock that had wandered into another IFB's pasture. Sad.
     On the other hand, on those rare occasions when someone from nearby has wandered into one of our services I have herded them back to where they ought to have been as well as placed a phone call the very next day to the pastor of the church.
     Can we do less and consider ourselves ethical? Or has the gospel ministry itself strayed so far afield that church members are no longer consider sheep of the flock, pastors no longer look at themselves as under shepherds, and attendance and membership no longer truly reflect spiritual realities but rather success in a scheming game of cleverness and salesmanship?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moody's Bible Institute Model or Spurgeon's Bible College Model?

     In my mind at least there is a difference between Bible colleges and Christian colleges. Perhaps it is an artificial distinction that is not real, but in my thinking I have understood Christian colleges to be primarily colleges that sought to provide a college education to Christian students using a distinctively Christian curriculum. Many Bible colleges which were founded for the purpose of training men for the gospel ministry have changed over the years and became Christian liberal arts colleges. Few are aware of the University of Southern California's founding as a Methodist seminary, since it is now famous as a large Los Angeles university known primarily as a football factory. Two Christian colleges near my home merged years ago and with a dramatic infusion of money have transformed Azusa Pacific University into a large and academically rigorous school of higher education. That trend is not unusual as Christian colleges go. Liberty University was initially a small Bible college that became a Christian college and then a large Christian University. Bob Jones University began as a small interdenominational Bible college, changed into a Christian college and is now a Christian university.
     My present musing is not about Christian colleges that seek to educate Christian young people in a Christian atmosphere using Christian curricula. My musing is about Bible colleges that were formed (purportedly) to train Christian young people for the gospel ministry as pastors, pastors wives, missionaries, Christian educators,etc. In the United States the Bible colleges I am somewhat familiar with seem to have adopted the Dwight L. Moody model. In London in the second half of the 19th century was Charles Spurgeon's college. Though not formally educated, no one familiar with Charles H. Spurgeon would deny that while he entered the ministry without formal education, he was very well educated informally. Such was not the case with D. L. Moody. Their schools reflect their founders. Unfortunately, most Bible colleges of the Baptist stripe in the USA were founded using a modified Moody template, not a Spurgeon template.
     My familiarity with Spurgeon's college comes primarily from Tom Nettle's recent book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published by Christian Focus Publications. It is a very good read. Following are excerpts in connect with Spurgeon's college written by Nettles, as well as quotes of Mr. Spurgeon:

"God needs not our education but even less our ignorance." - Nettles, page 356.

"Spurgeon never rejected a student on account of meagerness in education or culture as long as he was convinced that the student's call was from God and his zeal deeply ingrained." - Nettles, page 358

"Approving the fitness of the applicants too some weeks, and in order to make the August start date, the applications need to be prompt." - Nettles, page 358.

"Only devout, hardworking, studious, holy men need apply. A life of toil and probable poverty lies before them; and if they are not called of God to the work, woe to them. Whoever is truly called, we shall be glad to take as Aquila did Apollos, and show him the way of God more perfectly." CHS, page 358.

Concerning the curriculum at Spurgeon's college, "The subjects included English language, Mathematics, Logic, and Natural Philosophy, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Biblical Literature, Systematic Theology and Homiletics." - Nettles, page 361.

"Applicants must be preachers of some experience and ability, sound in the faith, and earnest in soul, or we cannot receive them." - CHS, page 362.

"When they came, they must have gifts and experience that no education could provide; their first study would be in Bible, doctrine and homiletics that would help them sustain a lifelong ministry or the Word; if they could stay longer they would receive instruction that would help them adjust more readily to a wider variety of cultural settings for effective ministry." - Nettles, page 362.

"One might be faithful, eager to learn, submissive to authority, and a marvelous student of the classroom and colleague of fellow disciples. But the lack of ability to teach often proved an embarrassment to these othe fine qualities. Spurgeon had observed the sad event and had lamented the loss in the investment of tiem and energy on the part of tutor and students." - Nettles, page 367.

"The truth is in them, but they cannot either get it out of themselves or get it into others. In all probability the persons to be taught could give no reason for their aversion; but the aversion is plain enough; the brother has no winsome ways, he has something forbidding in his countenance, or his tones, or his general style; one could hardly light on the exact point of disqualification; but the fact is clear, the man cannot teach, for nobody will learn of him. Matter of temple, heart, and spirit, and even of mannerism,in some secret manner impress common folk for or against a person who aims to be their teacher; and it is of no use arguing against that impression, for it will not be removed by argument." - CHS, page 367.

Quoting Spurgeon, Nettles notes, "The one demand of every candidate for acceptance is clear evidence that 'he has been called of Christ, and endowed by Him with natural and spiritual gifts for effectively preaching the Word, as pastor, or evangelist, or missionary.'" - Nettles, page 369.

     It is quite evident to anyone in the gospel ministry among the independent Baptists who is somewhat familiar with Baptist Bible colleges in the USA that were founded to train men and women for the ministry that the Spurgeon college model has not been adhered to. For one thing, Spurgeon sought to train men only and preachers only, something which no Baptist Bible college I am familiar with limits itself to. For another thing, Spurgeon would expel (is that too harsh a term for it) a student who demonstrated over time while enrolled in the college that he was not called or not suited by ability to teach and preach God's Word. I know of no school in the USA willing to do that, likely because on one hand pastors and churches supporting the Bible college would not permit it ("How dare you tell my church kid he is unqualified!"), or because of my previous musing regretfully recognizing that most Bible colleges are caught up in a numbers game.
     I know very good men associated with Bible colleges, men of integrity, men of conviction, men of faithfulness, men who have born much fruit in their lives of service to the cause of Christ. I count them as my much admired friends. However, I have always wondered why those who founded Bible colleges (back in the day when they were founded to train servants of God to reach the world for Christ and not as a device for obtaining a free labor pool from smaller churches) adopted the Moody template rather than the Spurgeon template. Would it have made a difference? We will never know.