Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Installment #11 - Sheep Stealing

Some years ago a dear old friend now with the Lord who pastored and taught in a prominent Bible college for forty years reminisced to me what it was like to be in the ranks of the independent Baptists in the 1950s through the 1980s. “Oh, Brother John,” he said with that remarkable grin of his, “It was wonderful seeing all of our Churches being filled with those people pouring in from mainline denominations.” Pouring in from mainline denominations? This was just the comment I needed to spark my interest in a line of inquiry growing out of my increasing frustration at seeing so little fruit from my agonizing hours spent knocking on doors while refusing to try to coax someone into repeating words of a prayer I recited for them if I saw no discernible evidence of spiritual interest or conviction. Many of my younger former Bible college classmates who had grown up in IFB Churches were thrilled whenever they could persuade someone to repeat the sinner’s prayer no matter the insincerity written all over the subject’s face. To repeat the words meant the sinner was saved, or so they thought. However, I had stumbled through a false hope and knew what pretend Christianity was from my experience.
Coupled together with that wonderful gentleman’s remark was a second illuminating experience. Here at my second pastorate, our Church worked hard to fill the auditorium at the end of an evangelistic campaign that featured a wonderful Gospel preacher more than two decades ago. On that last night of the crusade we had such an overflow crowd that well over a hundred men had to stand outside to make room for women and children in the auditorium. There was simply no place to put them. Thankfully, everyone could hear the wonderful Gospel message, with 54 responding to the invitation to be saved if memory serves me correctly, most of them adults. When I sent the great report to the Sword of the Lord, I quickly received a strongly worded letter of rebuke from Curtis Hutson. “How dare you describe them as hopeful converts,” he wrote. “It shows a lack of faith on your part to count them as anything but new creatures in Christ.” I was stung by his remarks. After countless weeks of follow-up letter writing, phone calling, personal visitation, and yet not one single person who responded to the invitation that last night and praying the sinner’s prayer ever visiting our Church again, I became convinced the description hopeful converts was the appropriate designation.
You may wonder what the two illuminating experiences I have related have to do with each other. They are vitally connected, I assure you because there is a world of difference between obtaining a profession of faith, either being out soul winning or at the front of the auditorium during an invitation and adding someone to the Church. I beg your indulgence while I describe what I think happened in the heyday of Baptist fundamentalism when the ten largest Churches in the United States were all independent Baptist Churches.
Of the thousands of two-person soul winning teams earnestly desiring to reach the lost for Christ with the Gospel, consider the experiences of one team that illustrate the familiar pattern of so many other teams. They knock on door after door after door. Most doors are closed to them or are opened by hostile or indifferent people. At one door, however, they find someone who is open and curious, who graciously allows them to present the Gospel, and who then bows his head, closes his eyes, and repeats the words he has been told to repeat. He is then asked one or two questions, assured from First John 5.13 that now that he has trusted Christ he is secure forevermore, and arrangements are made for him to attend Church the next day. This pattern is repeated all over America, and as with most who follow this pattern the subject, despite repeating words of a prayer, did not trust Christ as his savior and did not attend Church the next day. Two more times that day this soul winning team erroneously thought they met with success as they led two more subjects in a prayer that did not result in them finding new life in Christ. Despite the spiritual reality, the soul winning team reported three people saved that day.
Unknown to that soul winning team, one of the couples they came to during the day who turned them away closed the front door but then said to each other, “I wish our Church did that.” Then, when they attended their Church the next day they were reminded of its spiritual deadness by the lifeless preaching and the obvious absence of zeal in the lives of others attending. Several weeks later, using the Gospel tract handed to them by the soul winners from the Baptist Church, they attended the energetic fundamental Baptist Church, were thrilled by the preaching, and then decided to join after attending for several consecutive weeks. When they went forward during the invitation, they were asked, “Why have you come forward?” They said, “We want to join.” “Are you Christians?” “Oh, my, yes.” “Have you been baptized since you were saved?” “We were sprinkled when we were very young.” To join they agreed to be immersed and thereby became Baptists.
What the IFB pastors did not know during the rapid growth years of the last half of the 20th century is that the matter of false hopes was a vastly more serious problem than their inexperience and lack of training had taught them. They were convinced that those who said they were Christians were, in fact, Christians. And they attributed the growth of their Churches to aggressive soul winning.  Their Churches did grow as a result of aggressive soul winning, but not by adding newly born again Christians. Their Churches grew by adding still unsaved members from mainline denominational Churches, with the baptismal waters being stirred by the immersion of still unsaved people who were excited by the energy, the passion, and the vigor of the determined independent Baptist pastors who sought to win ‘em, wet ‘em, and then work ‘em without much attention paid to whether they were truly won to Christ.
The three W's seemed like a good approach to the pragmatists of our movement, but after a while the old approaches began to wear thin and were eventually discarded. How can we be sure the old approached wore thin? They were discarded, for the most part, with few Churches running buses these days, few Churches having big days these days, few Churches “scheduling revivals” these days. What has replaced the specific crowd draws of days gone by? I could list a whole number of things, but the important thing is what is still not taking place for the most part; conversions. How do I know few conversions are taking place?  Two things persuade me: First, if real conversions were occurring with regularity those conversions alone would be all that was necessary to get lost people to Church since that was the approach used in the first century. Second, if real conversions were occurring with regularity growing Churches would not seek to grow at the expense of other Churches. Let me address this second phenomenon at this time because I am convinced it contributes to the departure of our young people from our Churches and the departure of our young Gospel ministers from our movement.
Most growing Churches in California do not grow using evangelism but using sheep stealing, which is to say the enticement of Christians to leave the congregations where they were reached with the Gospel to find greener pastures elsewhere. Most Christians are reached in medium to small congregations using intimate personal witness and contact with faithful Christians who do not employ a scheme, an evangelistic plan, or some template. It is one concerned prayer warrior who is burdened for a friend, co-worker, or neighbor and who witnesses, patiently interacts, and invites to Church. That subject then comes under real conviction and genuinely trusts Christ as his Savior. However, with the passage of time that fairly new Christian displays impatience associated with his spiritual immaturity and succumbs to the enticements of a nearby ministry that focuses on entertaining music or a truly exciting youth ministry to attract members of nearby Churches. Of course, they claim their interest is evangelism, but an accounting of their growth patterns reveal they are actually “reaching” already Churched people.
Imagine for just a moment the impact that approach has on the young people in both types of Churches, those whose people are leaving to go to a larger ministry for what are essentially carnal reasons and those whose friends have left the smaller Churches they are attending for what are essentially carnal reasons. It establishes as acceptable a pattern of conduct by Christians that is most definitely not acceptable. Yes, Aquila and Priscilla left Rome for Corinth where they met Paul. However, their departure was of necessity and not for reasons of personal preference or the lure of entertaining ministry. When I was a young Christian Church letters were still the norm in most Baptist Churches because leaving one’s Church for another Church was still a serious matter in those days. No longer. When was the last time you granted a Church letter to another Church where one of your people had joined? Even rarer, when was the last time you were made aware of a Church letter request being denied because the move from one Church to another was for unspiritual reasons?
Is it any surprise that our young people treat attendance at Church, faithfulness in Church, and respect for Church so casually given the way pastors have come to treat such matters? Pastors in our day are for the most part no longer leaders who set the pattern for Christian practice and convictions, but followers with a spiritual wet finger in the air to detect which way the ecclesiastical winds are blowing. And the pastors of growing Churches are too often cleverly, if not consciously, growing using solicitation of other Church’s members and not evangelism. This is easy to verify by simply asking members if they were ever members of other Churches. A very significant number of our Church members came to us lost, and I can tell you from twenty years of experience in a forty-year-old ministry that getting folks saved, really and truly saved, is not only the result of a great deal of hard work but a huge investment of time.
Our young people used to leave our Church, but that was back in the day when our membership was a revolving door of comings and goings. Since we stopped inviting members of other Churches to attend our services (even on special days and holiday season events) and focused on reaching out only to the unchurched or those who attend Churches that do not preach the Gospel we have noticed two things: First, new Church members are very hard to come by now that we have limited ourselves to growth by evangelism only, real evangelism. Also, far fewer of our young people leave now than they did before, partly because our entire congregation treats membership and faithfulness to this ministry as being very important. We not only encourage our people to be faithful to our Church, but we also encourage anyone who visits us from other Gospel Churches to be faithful to their Church, as well.

Is there a Scriptural warrant for our approach? I think so. In addition to displaying straightforward ethical conduct, we consider Christians to be sheep who are best situated in their home flock. However, for those who are allergic to any principle drawn from the Old Testament, consider Paul’s comments to the Corinthian congregation in First Corinthians chapter 9.10, where the pastor is likened to a plower and a thresher who should be granted the fruit of their labor. To engage in sheep stealing is taking from a faithful pastor the blessing God would give him of benefiting from the fruit of his labor. Sadly, there are many sheep stealers in the Gospel ministry these days, and I am convinced it affects our young people and our young Gospel ministers.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Installment #10 - The Baptist Commitment To Soul-Liberty

     Have you ever wondered why there are no Christian Churches of any kind in Saudi Arabia?
Were you aware that when communism spread from Russia with the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to such countries as China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba that most Churches in those countries were forcibly closed, that only a few government sanctioned and controlled Churches were allowed to remain open, and that Christians who insisted on the right to believe according to the dictates of their consciences had to worship in so-called underground Churches that were officially illegal, with worshipers subject to arrest, torture, and imprisonment if caught?
Ever wonder why the Roman Catholic Church engaged in the so-called Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions against Muslims, against Jews, and against all Christians who were not Roman Catholics?
Ever wonder why Roman Catholics organized the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of as many as 70,000 French Protestants on August 24, 1572?
Ever wonder why the Church of England persecuted dissenting Christians for centuries, with significant numbers burned at the stake?
Ever wonder why Muslims have from the beginning and continuing down to this day engaged in jihad against non-Muslims, resorting to actual force and bloodshed against those who are not Muslims, even to the extent of beheading them and enslaving their women and children?
Ever wonder why political leftists in the United States supported dictatorial regimes like the Soviet Union and Communist China in days gone by, and like the Castros in Cuba, like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and such organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East today?
It is the same reason why a man named Obadiah Holmes was publicly whipped on September 5, 1651, in Boston, Massachusetts. We have a commemorative portrait of that event in our Church foyer. You see, the Pilgrims and Puritans came to the New World so they could worship and serve God according to the dictates of their consciences. However, embracing the notion that they had the right to believe what they wanted, they denied others the right to believe differently. When a Baptist named Obadiah Holmes came to town with two others, he was arrested for believing and behaving differently than the Congregationalists of Boston permitted. “He was given thirty lashes with a three-corded whip, the executioner using all his strength.”
It was in Rhode Island that the decidedly Baptist concept of soul liberty was incorporated into that colony’s charter for the first time in human history.[1] Before then and everywhere else freedom to think what you wanted to think, believe what you wanted to believe, and conduct yourself accordingly was as restricted as leftists would like to restrict people on university campuses across the country now. Thus, soul liberty first became law in human government in Rhode Island. However, soul liberty did not originate in Rhode Island, or in New England for that matter. Soul liberty finds its origin in the mind and heart of God and finds its first expressions in the Bible.
Consider Second Corinthians 1.24: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”
Four points related to this verse before I make application to the problem of why our young people (both teens and young preachers) are leaving:
There are three phrases comprising this verse: Consider the first phrase of the verse: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith.”
In this initial phrase the Apostle Paul very strongly denies what some undiscerning Corinthian Christians might have wrongly concluded. Remember that he has previously written a very strongly worded first Corinthian letter in response to unresolved divisions in the congregation,[2] in response to flagrant wickedness that had been tolerated by the congregation,[3] and in response to questions the congregation submitted to him about some things.[4] His very strong tone in First Corinthians, especially about the excommunication of the young fornicator mentioned in chapter five, needed explanation. You might notice, in Second Corinthians 1.23 and Second Corinthians 13.2, that Paul makes mention of sparing the Corinthian Church members. In Second Corinthians 1.23, he writes, “Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.” In Second Corinthians 13.2, he writes, “I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare.” These two verses sound a great deal like warnings. Are they warnings? What does Paul mean by these two verses? Whatever Paul does mean by those two verses, Second Corinthians 1.24 tells us in no uncertain terms what he does not mean. The two verses where Paul writes of “sparing” the congregation is verses that deal with matters of Church discipline, how the congregation was supposed to deal rightly with serious unrepented sin in their midst. This is based on a clear understanding of this first phrase, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith.” Beliefs are one thing, and behavior is another thing. What Paul is dealing with in Second Corinthians 1.24 is what those Christians believed, while the issues he makes reference to in Second Corinthians 1.23 and 13.2 are behavior. More discernment is necessary than is often realized to distinguish between the two. Of special significance is the word “dominion,” from the verb form of the Greek word for lord. Paul is telling his readers that he does not want to exercise lordship over their faith, an issue the Apostle Peter also addresses in First Peter 5.1-3:
1      The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
2      Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3      Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
In other words, spiritual leaders, including apostles of Jesus Christ, are not spiritual bosses who order people around. Hebrews 13.17 fully supports this understanding, where the word “obey” in the verse that reads “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you,” translates a verb form that encourages the reader to be persuaded rather than demanding that he mindlessly obey.[5] Because it was so typical for pagan leaders to do so, the Corinthians thought Paul was lording it over their faith, but he assures them he most certainly was not.
Now for the second phrase of the verse: “but are helpers of your joy.” That word “helpers” translates the Greek word sunergoi, from a word meaning together and a word meaning workers; workers together. That seems to fit nicely with our understanding of the first phrase, does it not? Paul does not lord it over anyone’s faith, does not conduct his ministry in a bossy way. Instead, he works with the Christians he ministers to, and does his work alongside the believers he provides spiritual leadership to. And the net result of Paul’s spiritual approach to ministry? Joy is cultivated. Perhaps you are not like me, but I am not thrilled by anyone bossing me around and issuing orders to me. I have always responded better to a leader making suggestions, providing instructions, and offering alternatives. I am convinced that is the approach Paul took, telling folks the facts in no uncertain terms, and then recommending and explaining the proper course of action to take based upon those facts. I know that people who typically don’t do anything are prone to complain that a leader is bossy and dictatorial, but that claim is usually the first evidence by which a lazy liar exposes himself. A bossy pastor is a kill joy. A bossy boss is a kill joy. Paul was not bossy. Bossy pastors are not Pauline leaders and are not Christlike leaders.
Finally, we read in the last phrase of the verse, “for by faith ye stand.” “Here the emphasis is on the responsibility the Corinthians must take in their relation with God. Though Paul brought them the message focused on the Son of God (1:18-20), it is their part, not his, to make their Church ‘stand,’ and that ‘by faith.’”[6] Thus, we see that the Word of God reveals that the Christian faith originally showed believers to possess soul liberty, the absolute right to believe what we think we ought to believe rather than what someone else demanded that we believe. Whatever the Apostle Paul did by way of the conduct of his apostolic ministry, what he did not do was exercise (or attempt to exercise) any dominion over any other person’s beliefs. Did he seek to persuade? He most certainly did. However, the final decision regarding what you believe and embrace as true is your decision and only your decision. How very different the Christian approach to what one believes is from all other belief systems, from political systems uninfluenced by Christianity, and even from so many professing Christians.
Let me read an excerpt from a very fine book written by the former president of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Minnesota, Dr. Kevin Bauder. The book is titled Baptist Distinctives And New Testament Church Order. I would not think any Baptist pastor would consciously disagree with what I am about to read since the author so consistently reflects both Biblical as well as historic Baptist beliefs on the matter:
Broadly defined, soul liberty is the responsibility that all believers share to understand and obey God’s requirements for themselves. This duty cannot be delegated or assigned to another believer. Each individual believer is personally responsible for understanding and obeying God.
Personal Responsibility
Christians are priests who stand directly in the presence of God. On the one hand, this means that they have the right of addressing God without having to go through any separate priesthood. On the other hand, it also means that when God addresses them in Scripture, they bear the personal responsibility of grasping God’s message and obeying it.
Obviously, obedience includes doing what God says to do. Conduct or practice is an aspect of obedience. Doctrine is also part of obedience. God reveals truths in His Word, and Christians are responsible for believing accurately what God has revealed. To believe a doctrine that is contrary to Scripture is to disobey God.
Consequently, each individual believer is responsible to read and to understand the Scriptures correctly. Soul liberty is not liberty to believe whatever one wishes to believe. It is liberty to believe what Scripture teaches. It is liberty to obey God.
Every Christian has a duty to study the Bible. Every Christian has a duty to know the Bible. This duty involves more than reading through the Bible every year or so, and it involves more than being able to recite isolated verses. To understand the Bible, one must know how it is put together and how to interpret it rightly. Gaining these skills is a fundamental duty of every believer. Consequently, fostering these skills is a fundamental duty of every Church, for unless Christians know how to understand the Bible, they will falter in their duty to obey God.
Of course, this entire discussion assumes that the Bible was written to be understood. While some parts of the Bible are harder to understand than others, and while the more difficult parts may require more advanced interpretive skills, the Bible was not written in a secret code and it does not communicate its message using secret symbols. Some parts of the text are more technical in nature, and reading them is akin to reading other rigorous and thoughtful literature. Nevertheless, an ordinary person who can read a thoughtful journal of opinion can also understand Isaiah or Paul. Indeed, much of the Bible requires no more skill to understand than a daily newspaper does.
No one can understand the Bible for a believer. No one can obey God for a believer. All believers must understand and obey the Bible for themselves.[7]
That is soul liberty. I do not know any gospel minister who would disagree in theory with what I have just read. I am convinced Bauder’s comments are the reasonable extension of what Paul writes in our text.
Despite what the Bible teaches, and despite what Baptist preachers typically claim to believe, it has been my observation over the course of my forty plus years as a Christian and my almost forty years as a pastor to observe too many men who serve in positions of spiritual leadership who appear to be oblivious to Paul’s approach to pastoral ministry. This is reflected by the spirit of the people they lead. The people are often terrified of their pastor.
Have you ever observed members of a Church who are scared of their pastor, who walk in fear of him being angry at them, or who tremble at the thought of him scorching them with a withering outburst in a fit of rage? I am sorry to say that I have not only observed such Church members but that I have been such a Church member.
I remember an occasion before entering the Gospel ministry when my pastor ripped me up one side and down the other in the Church parking lot for about ten minutes (it seemed like an hour). And it was in front of my new bride and a bunch of other Church members. Oh, how he blistered me, red-faced and hot with anger. Then he got into his car and left me standing there not knowing what to say or do. Did my pastor ever ask my forgiveness for what he did? Never. It took twenty-five years for me to effect a reconciliation with him. I almost immediately apologized to him for whatever I might have done that angered him, but he never once apologized for yelling at me and accusing me of wrongdoing in front of my wife. However, I never went to Church for any other reason than the Savior in the first place, so I never stopped going to Church because of any individual. That would be stupid.
At the root of many a pastor’s angry outbursts is an unwillingness to tolerate soul-liberty in others. You are not required to agree with me. Your obligations before God are to give me an opportunity to persuade you and to do nothing to disrupt this Church’s ministry with backbiting and murmuring should you disagree with me. When it comes to what you believe, your personal faith, which is between you and God and I have no desire or history with any of you of exercising lordship over you in that regard.
That said, I think significant numbers of pastors do engage in that kind of thing, many without realizing what they do. With some pastors, it is the force of their oversized personality. They are so intense. They are so determined. They are emotional steam rollers which roll over the top of anyone who they see as standing in their way. With others, it is persuasion distorted into becoming manipulation, whereby they control people’s thoughts and beliefs with techniques rather than influencing people with Bible doctrine.
Long story short, it is the lamentable tendency of some spiritual leaders to lord it over the faith of those they lead. That tendency must be restrained. The Corinthians certainly expected Paul to engage in that type of leadership, because it was so common for leaders to do that to them. However, Paul was explicit in his denial that he most certainly did not engage in that type of leadership. And we have seen that the Apostle Peter opposed that kind of leadership, as well. “You have to believe what I teach because I am the pastor” is not something that will ever be uttered by any spiritual leader who follows the example of the Apostle Paul.
It is obvious from the New Testament that no one could take away from the Apostle Paul the relationship he had with the Lord Jesus Christ. Arrest him and he was still a free man. Deprive him and he was still spiritually wealthy. Beat him half to death and he was still wonderfully blessed and overflowing with joy. Paul understood Christians as being so free, with such liberty in Christ, that he advised Christians who were slaves not to worry about their slavery so much, but take freedom from your master if it is offered to you.[8]
What that shows concerning your soul liberty is that you have control over what you believe, and you should never surrender for even a moment control of your beliefs to another human being. After all, if an apostle of Jesus Christ denies that he exercises dominion over your faith what right does any Church pastor or missionary have to lordship over your faith? I fear that is precisely what some professing Christians do in practice. They swallow without reflection whatever they are told to believe.
Consider the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to a person’s relationship with God. The Roman Church demands that faithful Catholics yield to the priests in matters of faith, going so far as actually to forbid Roman Catholics the right to read and understand the Word of God themselves. As recently as 1903 Pope Leo XIII wrote,
“It is not lawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, or writing, or religion, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man.”[9]
Amazingly, at the Council of Valencia, in 1229, the Bible was placed on the Roman Church’s Index of Forbidden Books, with the reading of the Bible and other forbidden books punishable by excommunication![10]
However, even that is surpassed by Islam’s approach to variant thoughts, with even Muslims, who believe differently from the man with the sword being liable to beheading. Go to India and express beliefs different than Hindus. Go to Bhutan and express beliefs different than Buddhists. Go to almost any university and express beliefs different than current leftist orthodoxy. What is standard, what is the norm, what is accepted throughout the world and by almost everyone (including too many professing Christians) is that you are not allowed to entertain thoughts that others disapprove of.
Who alone has freedom of conscience? Who alone is granted liberty of one’s soul? The Christian is expressly granted liberty by God, with your faith answerable to God alone and your faith accountable only to God. This does not mean you should develop pride and stubbornness. Be open to learning the truth with humility. However, do not surrender to anyone the lordship over your faith that belongs to God and God alone.
Dictators typically seek dominion over the faith of another. King Henry VIII did when he formed the Church of England. V. I. Lenin did that when he established the Soviet Union in Russia. Chairman Mao did that when he set up the communist state in China. And Fidel Castro did that when he set up his dictatorship in Cuba. Sadly, every unrestrained government will eventually seek to exercise dominion over the faith of its citizens, even in a nominally free country like ours used to be. Government coerces you to buy and sell and engage in commerce according to the dictates of a secular worldview, despite whatever personal religious convictions you might or might not have. Do you choose not to violate your conscience by refraining to buy or sell to certain individuals? The government will step in, especially if you hold a government license or permit of any kind, and will try to force you to do what you cannot in good conscience do. That is dominion over another’s faith, and it’s wrong.
Unfortunately, we sometimes see dominion over another’s faith even in Churches. Pastors do it when they demand conformity of thought and belief by Church members without allowing for differences in experience, understanding, and spiritual illumination by individual believers in Christ. That is sad. However, what is worse is when a Christian surrenders to such demands despite the Word of God showing such demands to be wrong.
The only person who has any right to exercise lordship over our beliefs is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Not me. Not any preacher or pastor. Not any writer or spiritual leader. Not even our mothers or fathers. Our beliefs are between God and us, and we will either enjoy the blessings of our right beliefs or suffer the eternal damnation of our wrong beliefs.
In closing, let me suggest that exercising dominion over other’s faith is a biblically unjustifiable practice. The goal is not to exercise lordship over another’s faith. Rather it is to expose them to the truth and the implications of the Gospel so frequently and so thoroughly that when they weigh the claims of Jesus Christ and envision their lives in the future should they become Christians, they will want to embrace the Savior. Then, after they come to know Christ they will follow the spiritual leadership of God’s man after the fashion encouraged by the Apostle Paul. Many these days to posture themselves as Baptist leaders are not Baptists at all, as evidenced by the fact that they exercise dominion over the faith of others. Perhaps this is why so many of our young people and young men in the ministry leave our Churches and our movement.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1.10-4.21
[3] 1 Corinthians 5.1-6.20
[4] 1 Corinthians 7.1-16.4
[5] Sakae Kubo, A Beginner’s Guide For The Translation Of New Testament Greek, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1975), page 235.
[6] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle To The Corinthians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), page 116.
[7] Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives And New Testament Church Order, (Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Books, 2012) pages 83-84.
[8] 1 Corinthians 7.21
[9] Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: The Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), page 417.
[10] Ibid.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Installment #9 - "Slow of heart to believe," Luke 24.25

I blogged on the implications of the Savior’s comment about the slowness of one’s heart to believe a year or so ago. I feel the need in my musings to revisit this phenomenon once more because of my perception that very few Gospel ministers give serious thought to the workings of someone’s immaterial nature and its effects on how evangelism ought to be conducted.
I am not persuaded most pastors who are seriously concerned with reaching the lost give more than passing consideration to wider contexts of such passages as Acts chapter two and the Apostle Peter’s great Pentecostal sermon (the only Pentecostal sermon found anywhere in God’s Word). It is assumed by most contemporary Gospel ministers that thousands of Jewish men were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost (which is correct), without any attention being given by my colleagues to the mood of the Jewish multitudes given their awareness of what happened seven weeks earlier (a man considered by most Jewish people to be a prophet was crucified and many were persuaded that same man had risen from the dead) or those men’s personal histories (Jewish men having been taught the Law of Moses from birth and were, therefore, steeped in God-consciousness and profoundly concerned with their nation’s relationship with God). These factors made Peter’s Pentecostal audience about as different from any audience faced by a youth leader as one can imagine.
Therefore, when considering the Lord Jesus Christ’s rebuke directed to the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.25 (“slow of heart to believe”) it should be understood that what took place on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved in response to Peter’s sermon should not be thought of by anyone as a rapid response to a surprising sermon. Consider that Peter was preaching to men who had traveled to Jerusalem over great distances and at great expense to engage in religious activities and to worship God according to their lights. Consider that those same men were likely more familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures than almost any modern Bible scholar. Consider that those men felt the weight of national responsibility and national guilt, and they at least thought seriously about the recent crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and their religious leaders’ role in His execution. Consider, finally, the miracles associated with the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (especially foreign languages and the association with the warning found in Isaiah 28.11-12 that speaking to the people in foreign languages was a warning of impending divine judgment).
Thus, the sermon delivered by Peter on the Day of Pentecost may have been surprising, and it may have seemed sudden, but it can only properly be understood as the culmination of a long process that climaxed with Peter’s sermon and the conversion of 3,000. In some respects, it was the culmination of what began fifty days earlier in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However, in other respects, it was the culmination of those men’s entire lives being subjected first to the Law and then to the Gospel. I point this out to refute the notion that those saved on the Day of Pentecost were anything like quick of heart to believe. Such could not possibly be the case with such personal histories as those converts had.
How does this apply to young people leaving our Churches and young Gospel ministers leaving our movement? If there are two parts that comprise our natures, that which is physical and that which is nonphysical, the immaterial, then a portion of our immaterial (which would include that is called soul, spirit, conscience, heart, and mind) moves and reactions much more slowly than the other portion. The mind moves and reacts quickly while the heart moves and reacts slowly. Why is this important? It is profoundly important because it is with the heart man believes unto righteousness. Therefore, just because a youth leader can change a teen’s mind and provoke him to close his eyes with regret for sins and pray a prayer does not mean the Spirit of God has so persuaded a young sinner’s heart to trust Christ.

In my musings, I would not be so bold as to tell any Gospel minister what to do. But neither would I expect a Gospel minister to discard without serious attention a proposal that he consider something never before considered because that would be a Semmelweis-reflex and we know how bad Semmelweis-reflexes are. More is involved in evangelism than merely changing someone’s mind. Evangelical repentance is more than merely changing one’s mind. A miracle must be associated with it because the new birth is nothing if it is not miraculous. Perhaps so many teens leave is because their minds were merely changed, and that so quickly that hearts remained unchanged. And perhaps young Gospel ministers are leaving a movement they judge to be far too concerned with a simplistic formula and far too unconcerned with heart-affecting evangelism.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Installment #8 - The pastor's Semmelweis-reflex.

I had the great privilege of preaching for a young pastor at a small Southern California Baptist Church a while back. He and I had never met before I arrived to preach for him, having only chatted with him on the phone a time or two after an out of state friend recommended us to each other. We had a wonderful time getting to know each other, and I learned over the course of several hours of asking many questions to get to know him that he was a bit saddened that he and his beloved pastor and father in the ministry were somewhat estranged.

As we talked, it became apparent that my new friend’s experience with his former pastor paralleled my own difficulties with the pastor who baptized me. It is not an uncommon pattern that I have seen develop time and time again over the decades. Before this young man’s sad experience with his now former pastor, I was made aware of the same kind of thing happening elsewhere when a spiritual young man became estranged from his pastor for the same reason, curiosity and the desire to examine different Bible doctrines to arrive at his personal convictions. It seems to frighten many Baptist pastors when one of their young men asks questions about Bible doctrine, inquires about the reason for taking certain stands, or displays some clumsiness in how he goes about asking questions to satisfy his spiritual curiosity. Pastors frequently either display anger when questions are asked and unpersuasive responses are offered or suggest by tone or expression that asking questions of the pastor is somehow out of line. Baptists claim to believe in soul liberty, the right of each believer to study and understand the Bible according to the dictates of his conscience. Such a position is not a threat to good Baptist order and practice but is a glorious liberty. After all, if the Apostle Paul insisted that he exerted no dominion over Christian’s faith in Second Corinthians 1.24, on what grounds can any Church pastor claim or expect to exert such dominion?

My first pastor displayed a standard response to almost every question asked him, either by me or anyone else in the Church: “That’s a very good question, and it happens that issue is the subject of my own study at present. When I arrive at a position from studying God’s Word, I will let you know what my answer to your question is.” The only problem, of course, is that he said that to everyone, he never did get back to me or anyone else that I know of with an answer, and a pastor with that many years in the ministry should already have answers at the ready for most questions new Christians ask. Yet that was what my pastor said when asked about the gift of tongues, when asked about the doctrine of the Church, when asked about the various approaches to observing the communion of the Lord’s Supper, and when asked just about everything else you might imagine. In short, my first pastor had no answers. Thankfully, he did not respond to questions the way many pastors react, with surprise, anger, or a lofty attitude.

One young pastor I know found his relationship with his pastor grew chilly when he asked about the doctrine of election. When his pastor said that election was a doctrine reserved for consideration by more mature Christians my young friend asked how it was then that the Apostle Paul mentioned election to the Thessalonian Christians who were only weeks old in the faith? His pastor had no answer. When he asked more questions about such doctrines, his pastor made it very clear that he was not only not interested in such topics, but he didn’t want to discuss them with his curious young Church member. That was the beginning of their growing distance from each other. His pastor’s only interest was “getting it done,” while having no interest in discussing or teaching Bible truth.

Another young man didn’t even get that from his pastor. Instead, he got an astonishing mixture of anger and accusation. His pastor lied to him and about him to others. The young man’s parents were even subjected to their pastor’s railing accusations about him. I doubt he would know how to be mean-spirited with his pastor. His offense? He was curious about Bible doctrines and was not dissuaded from satisfying his curiosity by pastoral proclamations like, “That’s heresy!” Really? It is something the great majority of Baptist pastors have believed for centuries (and certainly all the famous ones), and it’s heresy? Here is another one: “It stifles soul winning!” Really? Did it stifle Jonathan Edwards’ soul-winning zeal? Or George Whitefield’s? Or William Carey’s? Or Adoniram Judson’s? Or Charles Spurgeon’s? Or B. H. Carroll’s? No pastor has any business expecting someone to take his unsubstantiated opinion about doctrinal questions, especially when his opinions fly in the face of easily verifiable history.

I cannot speak for other men, but I take studying God’s Word seriously. I put in a great many hours and search out a great many other men’s positions before settling on my conclusions concerning what God’s Word teaches. I can recollect numerous times over the years when I have raised a point with this pastor friend or that acquaintance, only to get a loud guffaw in response. I am not always right, but I am not stupid and as I said I do seriously study. It is not uncommon for a pastor to react ridiculously to a question, a comment, or an observation about an issue or a topic that he has never given a serious study or serious consideration to. It should be otherwise. Experienced and capable teachers insist that there is no such thing as a stupid question. As well, there shouldn’t be any such thing as an invalid opinion held by a believer seeking to learn God’s truth. It is crucial for pastors to field questions asked them, and to avoid the terrible habit of pretending to be so busy serving God they have no time to deal with Church member’s questions, or to negatively react to an honest question asked with a humble spirit.

For many years, I was left without a handle to describe this phenomenon. Then I stumbled across the perfect description in my reading: Semmelweis-reflex! The label “Semmelweis-reflex” was coined to describe the automatic rejection of ideas without giving the slightest thought, inspection, or experiment, simply because it challenges entrenched paradigms. Claiming that hand washing would save lives, Ignaz Semmelweis faced ridicule and strong opposition from medical colleagues. But Semmelweis was eventually proved right, and his detractors were wrong, costing many patients their lives.

There you have it, one possible reason why a teen leaves after graduation never to return. Or a young Gospel minister parts company with the movement he grew up in. Curiosity is aroused. A doctrine or stand becomes intriguing. A question is then asked. However, rather than field the question properly, the way a pastor ought to, the way a Baptist ought to, what the curious young man sees instead is some form of the “Semmelweis-reflex.” Do you react that way, pastor? I sincerely hope not.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Installment #7 - Unscriptural but unknown predecessors.

How much of the Gospel must one change for it to no longer be the Gospel? In Galatians chapter one the Apostle Paul made severe but proper comments about “another gospel,” going so far as to curse anyone who preaches a false Gospel (Galatians 1.9). It is not my intention to accuse anyone I know of preaching a false Gospel message. However, I do want to warn one and all about the ungodly influences of two men who had a profound and decidedly negative impact on 20th century evangelistic practices and Sunday School philosophy. One man’s name is familiar to most, while the other man is mostly unknown.
Charles Grandison Finney forever changed the face of American Christianity by altering the way large-scale evangelistic efforts were conducted, radically but not beneficially departing from the approaches used by both George Whitefield and John Wesley in the First Great Awakening. It is very easy to get a grip on the principles that drove Finney since he wrote only three books and all three are available to anyone who will take the time to read them. Sadly, few seem interested in finding out the truth about so popular a preacher, despite his obvious dishonesty and clearly unscriptural views about revival and conversion. However, he changed the face of how preachers seek to reach the lost for Christ, and not in a good way. I suggest you follow up on Finney by reading the following and then by reading his books:

As Charles G. Finney left his imprint on the way even 21st-century American preachers seek to evangelize the lost, so Horace Bushnell forever altered the way Churches conduct their Sunday School ministries. Who has ever heard of Horace Bushnell? His book Christian Nurture has been described by one distinguished historian as “one of the most influential books ever to be published in America.” Released in 1860, Bushnell’s book led all other choices in a poll of Christian educators’ listings of which writings they considered indispensable to their field. Virtually no senior pastor in the United States has ever heard of the guy who created the modern Sunday School template, co-founded the University of California at Berkeley, and who was thought by Mark Twain to be one of the greatest clergy of the 19th century.
You would think preachers would be interested in learning about the two men who have most influenced their approach to evangelism and Sunday School. You would be wrong. Guys of my generation think their influentials were men like John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Jerry Falwell, Bob Grey, or perhaps Jack Hyles. But those prominent 20th-century spiritual leaders did not grow up in a vacuum. They came into the world that was already established by Finney and Bushnell, without even knowing who their predecessors were. Perhaps, in the case of Bushnell, without ever hearing or even reading his name.
Can you take seriously the theology of a man who thought you could lose your salvation for eating graham crackers? Who thought you could lose your salvation even after dying and going to heaven? Who thought that children should never be made uncomfortable in Sunday School by teaching them about their sins, but should be told at an early age (before they were ever exposed to the Gospel) that they loved Jesus? Where do you think the notion that kids could become believers in Christ with no consciousness of personal sin came from?
In my musings about the reasons our young people leave our Churches as they pass from their teen years and the reasons young Gospel ministers leave our movement, I am astonished again and again by the complete absence of interest in real history displayed by our seasoned spiritual leaders. So many men have no regard for Finney’s real beliefs, for Finney’s real practices, and where Finney’s theology came from. And it is even worse with Bushnell because no one has ever heard of him. Two 19th century Christian leaders, one a prototype of the current approach to evangelism and the other influencing almost every aspect of modern Sunday School practice.

Many pastors these days believe they are influenced by these two men. It is impossible to know what effect a man has had on your ministry without knowing what that man believed and did, and the effect he had on his generation. As I muse about such things, my heart is not presently filled with optimism for the men and their ministries who continue to disregard both Finney and Bushnell.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Installment #6 - Manipulative ministries.

When I played high school football, I found myself profoundly unmoved by the halftime speeches of my sophomore and junior year football head coach. Oh, was he passionate and determined to transform our small school (small in more ways than one) into a football powerhouse by running a University of Nebraska-type power I-formation offense. That approach works very well when your players are big enough and strong enough to overwhelm opposing teams’ players. However, I was one of the bigger players on our team at 180-185 pounds, hardly big enough to blow a big defensive tackle off the line to open a hole for a halfback. Then, during the halftime breaks in the locker room when the head coach was screaming at the top of his lungs and spraying spittle all over the room in vain attempts to rally the squad, I found myself entirely unmoved by his antics. I was too much a realist. During one halftime in a game when I was playing opposite a guy (later a friend of mine) four inches taller and 100 pounds heavier, who manhandled me the entire game, the coach singled me out for special criticism by asking, “Waldrip. Why don’t you handle that guy?” I responded, “Because he’s better than me, Coach.” The truth in response to his attempt to manipulate me shut him up immediately. Needless to say, I was furious at the coach for his ridiculous attempt to manipulate me, though he would have described his effort as motivation.
The next year we were blessed with a different head coach, an easy-going guy who had played professional football and had the crazy idea that high school football should be fun. And, boy, did we have fun. He installed an offense more suited to a team of smaller players that relied on stealth and misdirection, while taking advantage of our speed. The result? We won most of our games and thoroughly enjoyed that last season. Oh, by the way. That senior year football head coach never tried any of the halftime speech manipulative nonsense with his team. That approach never worked for me, and I suspect it didn’t work very well with anyone else on the team. However, when he taught his team how to play the game within the limits of our skills and abilities, and when he and his staff had an infectiously good time during practice, the results were obvious. We won most of our games and had a terrific time playing.
As I muse about young people leaving their churches never to return and young Gospel ministers leaving their movement for another, I wonder if the same kind of dynamic is at work as I experienced when playing high school football. Not that there is a one-to-one comparison between the spiritual aspect of church life and the ego-driven mania of high school sports in a small town, but that some similarities exist in the group dynamics of volunteer organizations that are led by passionate and goal-oriented leaders. Here I should inform you that my two high school football head coaches were similarly driven to win, similarly compelled to excel, and similarly in love with their chosen sport. However, one was far more successful in achieving the goal of actually winning games. In like manner, Gospel ministers can be equally passionate and goal-oriented leaders, driven to win, compelled to excel, and in love with the Gospel ministry, while enjoying radically different measures of success.
Let me address this matter of measuring success. For the past century, success among the ranks of independent fundamental Baptist preachers has typically but erroneously been measured by numerical growth. That approach to measuring success is quite tragic and counterproductive because nowhere in the New Testament is there any indication of the size of any congregation other than the first one, the Church in Jerusalem. We know the Jerusalem congregation was astonishingly large, while the sizes of other congregations referred to in the New Testament are never referred to in quantitative terms. Measuring success regarding numbers instead of the Biblical criteria of faithfulness has resulted in many modern-day Gospel ministers evaluating their personal success in the ministries they have given their lives to using criteria not found in God’s Word. Before the twentieth century, Gospel ministers sought with wonderful single-mindedness to be faithful to their calling, with such faithfulness not being in any way measured by the size of the congregation they served. Success was, therefore, a qualitative matter rather than a quantitative matter. First Corinthians 4.1-2 is important with respect to real success in ministry.
The question for my musing at this point has to do with achieving goals that are not outlined in Scripture. If concern for personal spiritual faithfulness of the type mentioned by the Apostle Paul is abandoned in favor of numerically measurable goals such as attendance figures, numbers of souls claimed as being won, numbers of baptisms, quantity of money raised, and so forth, what guarantee does the Gospel minister have that God will bless his efforts to meet such goals and objectives clearly not set forth in Scripture. Let me make this practical and down to earth. If numerical measures of success were pleasing to God, could Adoniram Judson be considered a successful Gospel minister, or even spiritual? The same goes for David Brainerd. Then there was Jonathan Edwards, who was fired from his pastorate and who spent the next seven years serving as a relatively isolated missionary whose numbers did not show appreciable growth before accepting an appointment as president of Princeton, after which he quickly succumbed to smallpox. Would anyone describe Edwards as a failure? Since God’s Word remains unchanged, and the criteria for evaluating success remains unchanged, two questions need to be asked: How dare we conclude someone who has served in a numerically small ministry is unsuccessful? How dare we conclude someone who has served in a numerically expansive ministry is successful?
Now let’s bring this consideration home to our young people and our young Gospel ministers. If a youth director or a pastor is driven to succeed, with his success (in his mind) measured by the numerical growth of his ministry, to ensure his understanding of success he will naturally resort to methods that are contrary to Biblical principles. This departure is guaranteed because God will only bless what He wants, what He calls for, and the goals He has established rather than blessing merely numerical objectives. Driven to succeed numerically, that misguided spiritual leader will invariably resort to manipulation to offset the absence of blessing from the Holy Spirit (Who is grieved and quenched by his concern for meeting unspiritual and unbiblical goals). And is this not the case in so many youth ministries, and the experience of so many young Gospel ministers? To be manipulated by a spiritual leader into praying an empty prayer, making a decision that is unfelt, or engaging in a pretend spiritual activity without any desire leaves the one who has been so manipulated feeling empty, unfulfilled, and used.
Granted, a considerable number of young people and even young Gospel ministers can be convinced by the persuasive and personally powerful, the leader with personal magnetism who stands before all on a spiritual ivory tower. In this world of salesmanship and coercion, many misguided such so-spiritual leaders can produce large numbers of attenders, professors, and baptisms despite the complete absence of indication in God’s Word that such numbers are a measure of anything other than what is counted. However, not all are convinced are they? And not even all who are convinced remain convinced. This is in part why they leave. They have not been built up in the most holy faith. They have been manipulated for the purpose of building another’s ministry, instead of being nurtured and cultivated for the purpose of seeing them truly converted and graciously grown. No real planting was done. No real watering was done. A great deal of manipulating was done. And they went along with it until they found a way out.

When ministry is oriented toward the right goal, which is to glorify God rather than bolster a preacher’s standing and ego, using spiritual faithfulness rather than manipulation, a different result is typically produced. Real Christians are produced, not automatons. Spiritual gifts and joy are discovered and evidenced in individual’s lives. And they stay. This is my conclusion from my musings.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The hireling

I know a man who has been in the ministry approaching fifty years. Forty years ago he once said in my hearing that whenever he perceived trouble arising in a church where he was pastor his habit was to resign immediately and moved on, leaving the problem for the next guy to resolve. His conduct since then bears out what he said. He has probably averaged a new pastorate every three or four years. That, dear reader, is the behavior of a hireling. And the one thing you know about such a fellow is that he does not care for the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ said as much in John 10.13.