Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Targeting Of The American Culture

     "America today is in the throws (sic) of the greatest and direst transformation in its history. We are becoming an ideological state, a country with an official state ideology enforced by the power of the state. In "hate crimes" we now have people serving jail sentences for political thoughts. And the Congress is now moving to expand that category ever further. Affirmative action is part of it. The terror against anyone who dissents from Political Correctness on campus is part of it. It’s exactly what we have seen happen in Russia, in Germany, in Italy, in China, and now it’s coming here."
     Ever wonder how political correctness and the unwillingness of American university students to embrace the notion of free speech came about? Ever wonder why so many of our young are turning their collective backs on the greatest country that has ever existed? Ever wonder how we came to be a culture of victims in which the atomizing of society into small protest groups clamoring for rights? Ever wonder why even conservative Christian groups self-describe as "progressive" and challenge their own rich heritage?
     This video will begin to explain what happened (and is happening), when it began to happen, and who made it happen:
 http://kitmantv.blogspot.com/2009/07/history-of-political-correctness.html 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Baptists Do Not Typically Care If Baptismal Candidates Are Truly Born Again

How long does the typical Baptist pastor wait after a sinner’s supposed conversion before the baptism takes place? Five minutes? Ten minutes? To what lengths will a Baptist Church go to make sure the person who is awaiting baptism has what seems to be a genuine, orthodox, Scriptural conversion testimony, one that doesn’t sound like a Mormon’s testimony, or a Church of Christ member’s testimony, or a Roman Catholic’s testimony?
Sadly, it has been Baptist practice for the last fifty or sixty years to get baptismal candidates into the tank as fast as possible. But what if the person you are trying to get into the tank isn’t converted? Do you not care whether the baptismal candidate is truly, or as nearly as you can tell, converted to Christ? And are you willing to put off the baptism for a couple of days to make sure, or as sure as you can be, that the hopeful convert is saved and is thereby qualified to be baptized?
Why is it that Baptist pastors, for all their professed concern about a regenerate membership, cannot see to it that their baptismal candidates have at least some comprehension of the born again experience? And I know that modern pastors complain that the press of ministry makes it impossible for them to deal with and verify the testimonies of baptismal candidates. But Charles H. Spurgeon dealt with each and every baptismal candidate in his huge congregation before immersing them. And that was in the days before automobiles, telephones, and all the other conveniences that enable a pastor to accomplish more by the use of labor-saving devices.
The fact of the matter is that for the most part pastors these days simply do not care about the spiritual welfare of those they are funneling toward their dip tank. They have set personal and Church goals for the numbers they want to baptize for the year, and anyone they can get into the tank (even if they get them into the tank repeatedly) is to be dipped.
Why else is it that pastors steadfastly refuse to consider asking the most basic questions of a baptismal candidate before immersing him?[1] How else can you explain a pastor’s unwillingness to be careful about his obedience to Christ’s clear intentions that only converted people be baptized? And how else can you explain a pastor’s callus attitude toward someone who, once he has been baptized, may very well be permanently inoculated against the Gospel for the rest of his life, either because he wrongly thinks he is a Christian when he is not or because he thinks Christianity based on his sad experiences is not real?



[1] A pastor friend responded to my expressions of concern about baptizing unconverted candidates by insisting he was always very careful. He assured me that he always asked candidates “Are you saved?” as if anyone in the baptistery would ever say “No” or would understand what such a question actually meant.

Baptists Do Not Typically See Anyone Converted Anymore

Of course, I am generalizing, based upon my experiences as a Baptist preacher, and my experiences as a Baptist preacher convince me that it is most unusual for someone to be converted in a Baptist Church these days. Professions of faith seem to be a dime a dozen, but life-changing conversions of the type that reflected John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress are almost unheard of today.[1] I say this with regret, as one who is a Baptist by personal conviction. I am not alone in my conclusion since even the Southern Baptist Convention reports a decline.[2]
What does this have to do with a discussion of baptism? Baptist Churches most frequently baptize people they claim have been converted as a result of their evangelistic efforts. So, the people Baptist Churches baptize are people Baptists claim they have led to Christ in one way or another. However, when you keep in mind what Baptists do to get their conversions, what their converts typically believe, and how their converts are typically saved, you, too, would conclude that Baptists do not typically see anyone converted anymore. Even if you disagree with my conclusion, you cannot disagree with statistics produced by the Southern Baptist Convention showing a decline in baptisms.[3]
The angel Gabriel said,

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins,”

Matthew 1.21. The Lord Jesus Christ said,

“the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost,”

in Luke 19.10. Typical Baptist converts these days have only the most superficial grasp of their sinfulness and are likely to have no real awareness of their lost condition. This is why Baptist evangelism over the last 100+ years always seems to have been in a rush, for fear that the sinner’s conviction will “wear off” before he is saved. It sadly looks so much like selling used cars or life insurance.
As well, it is extremely common for Baptist evangelism these days to urge sinners to “ask Jesus into your heart,” even though no such act is sanctioned anywhere in Scripture, and such instruction conveys a confusing picture of the “outside work” of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. Justification by faith takes place based upon what Jesus Christ did for the sinner, not what Jesus Christ does to the sinner.[4] But asking Jesus Christ into your heart portrays a saving experience based upon an infusion of grace to make the sinner good enough to go to heaven, which perfectly portrays the confused Roman Catholic view of salvation.
It is also extremely common for Baptists these days to evangelize sinners without taking the necessary steps to persuade them to abandon their unscriptural notions about a false christ for the Savior as He is presented in God’s Word. Many today who are supposedly converted are exposed for false professors by a few properly phrased questions asked by an experienced Gospel minister to which their answers show that they have not placed saving faith in the Jesus of the Bible at all.[5] Rather, these poor misguided souls are trusting in the false christ of some cult, or a christ who is not a coequal member of the Triune Godhead, or a christ who has not risen from the dead in a glorified physical body. Such false christs do not save sinners. Only the Jesus Christ of the Bible saves sinners.
I could go on and on, but perhaps the best reason for concluding that Baptists do not typically see sinners converted anymore comes from talking to many members of Baptist Churches. When you hear someone make a comment that no one who believes in the Trinity would make or a comment that betrays a personal conviction that justification is by works and not by faith, then there is reason to be suspicious about the genuineness of that person’s Christianity. After all, Psalm 107.2 says,

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.”

However, if the person either doesn’t say so or if what he says is utterly at odds with what a redeemed person is shown in God’s Word to understand to be true, then a discerning person reasonably becomes concerned. I do not subscribe to the notion that there are huge numbers of perpetually carnal Christians floating around out and about.[6] People are either lost or saved, with relatively few Christians behaving like lost people. My observations lead me to conclude that, for the most part, Baptists do not typically see many people converted anymore.


[1] Though conversion such as is portrayed in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not the experience of everyone who comes to Christ, it is common enough that even Christians who held quite different views than did the Calvinist Bunyan made it the most popular book read for several centuries (second only to the Bible). See R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism Is Destroying Our Churches, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., Second Edition, 2001), pages 55-58.
[2] http://bpnews.net/44914/sbc-reports-more-churches-fewer-people
[3] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/june/sbc-2011-statistical-realities--facts-are-our-friends-but.html
[4] Romans 5.1.
[5] Matthew 24.24; Mark 13.22.
[6] I am convinced the concept of perpetually carnal Christians is an invention of C. I. Scofield to explain the large numbers of clearly unsaved professing Christians resulting from Charles G. Finney’s new approach to evangelism. Prior to Finney neither Arminians or Calvinists believed those Christians who were long term examples of carnality were Christians at all.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mission Drift

A term that has gained popularity over the last few decades is “mission drift.” “Mission drift” is the tendency for organizations of every kind to deviate from the purposes for which they were established.[1] Churches, which are in some respects like other organizations, are very susceptible to “mission drift.” Our mission, which was given to us almost 2000 years ago, is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. But what has happened in the intervening 2000 years that can be ascribed to “mission drift”? Churches of all stripes and persuasions have run so far down rabbit trails that it seems they exist for anything but making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Even among Churches most like your own, there are the terrible fruits of “mission drift.” How else can you explain ministries that have resorted to counting the number of “souls saved” each year, or the number of “baptisms” each year, or the number of members who have “joined” that year, or the total number of “members,” or the total number of “decisions” at special meetings? Such efforts to measure a Church’s success by tabulating numbers cannot only give evidence that “mission drift” has occurred in a Church but can cause “mission drift” to occur.
Churches and pastors need to be extremely careful of “mission drift.” As well, we need to keep in mind that Charles G. Finney’s efforts to subvert orthodox ministries succeeded, in great measure, by his use of numbers and statistics to “show” that his methods were superior to those he was supplanting. And if we are not careful, a pastor who finds greater numerical success in one area of ministry will tend to focus on that area in which he enjoys apparent success leading him off in a direction that will result in “mission drift.”
Thus, a pastor and Church can focus on stewardship more than making disciples, or can focus on decisions more than making disciples, or can focus on attendance goals more than making disciples, or can focus on professions of faith more than making disciples, or can even focus on seeking to reach certain ethnic groups to the exclusion of others instead of making disciples. But remember, what the Lord Jesus Christ told us to do is make disciples, something that’s much harder to track statistically than baptisms and professions and new members or attendance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Nice Try

Yesterday’s blog entry included some comments about C. H. Spurgeon’s practice of interviewing (usually on Tuesdays) those who were moved by one of the sermons he had preached on the previous Sunday. Those were the days when every Baptist congregation in the English-speaking world worshiped twice on Sundays, with the evening service in England being particularly devoted to evangelism. Spurgeon’s practice was to elicit responses from auditors to questions he asked during the Tuesday interview so that he could more certainly discern if what he meant to convey when he preached was what was heard by his audience. He correctly reasoned that what preachers say is not always what auditors think preachers mean and if you want to find out what people think you said in your sermon you should ask them. It is very simple for pastors who are not in such a hurry to get to lunch to engage in this practice. It would help preachers to get feedback who want feedback. Alas, many preachers want nothing of the kind from their audiences.
To my amusement, one among those pastors from different parts of the world who read my blog suggested, “It seems to me you are advocating for a kind of seeker friendly or felt needs approach preaching.” What makes the comment amusing is that I think it came from a pastor who led his congregation to remove the word Baptist from the name of the congregation he presides over (I have not), who I would imagine has also abandoned the more formal suit and tie attire that used to be the norm for Baptist pastors in favor of cowboy casual (I have not), and who has abandoned the classic view of Biblical counseling held by such as Richard Baxter, Jay E. Adams, and John MacArthur in favor of the medical model view held by Minerth & Meier and others that seeks to mix Scripture with secular psychology (I have not).[1]
The response to his intentional misread of my blog was, I assume, to confuse the hundreds of other readers who comprised the audience he wrote for and distract them. There is no way my responding critic believes that I am advocating anything like a seeker friendly or felt needs approach preaching. He knows enough about me and my ministry over the years to know that such a remark is disingenuous. As well, he knows perfectly well that a third party objective observer would be far more likely to conclude that his is a seeker friendly and felt needs approach to preaching than my own, based on the sermons we have each preached over the last ten years (see http://www.calvaryroadbaptist.church/sermon-archive.php for my Sunday morning and evening sermons). However, methinks his real reason for responding as he did was to subtly bolster the Free Grace position he advocates and I do not. I am far more in agreement with Wayne Grudem and his book “Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel.”[2]
It was a nice try; the attempt to distract and divert attention from Spurgeon’s sound approach to obtaining feedback from his auditors as a means to decide what he would preach about the following Sunday prayerfully. But it didn’t work. C. H. Spurgeon was no precursor of anything like a seeker friendly or felt needs approach Gospel preacher, and neither am I. I am just a Gospel minister with occasional musings that are designed to express my views without attacking anyone.






[1] http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/images/Pro_1.pdf
[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-reviews-free-grace-theology

Monday, November 7, 2016

Annual Preaching Calendar. A Good Idea? Maybe Not

I just finished reading a short article in a periodical I no longer pay any attention to unless someone suggests I look at something of particular interest. The article advocates an annual preaching calendar, which is essentially planning a year ahead of time what will be preached (prayerfully, I presume). The author suggests that there are many reasons for planning an annual preaching calendar. I would suggest three reasons why a pastor should not plan an annual preaching calendar.
First, the approach of the most effective and famous Gospel preacher of the 19th century was undeniably C. H. Spurgeon, long-time pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. I once read that throughout his ministry he preached one sermon series, of two sermons length. The reason why Spurgeon did not use a preaching calendar was the same reason he was the most relevant preacher of his day and why preachers who do use preaching calendars are usually not relevant preachers. In a word it is feedback. Spurgeon was habitually committed to learning from his auditors, something that is rarely done these days. Spurgeon realized that more important than what he actually said to his audience in his sermons was what they thought he said. How to find out what they thought he said? Ask them. And ask them he did when those troubled souls who sought his counsel and who were referred to him by his ten helpers scattered throughout the auditorium when he preached. When Spurgeon detected a common thread among those he elicited feedback from he knew he was on to something, something that invariably led to one of his sermons the following Sunday. Had he an annual preaching calendar that he adhered to he could never have achieved the relevance he was noted for. Sadly, most preachers these days have little contact with those they preach to for the purpose of providing counsel to troubled souls and at the same time obtaining much-needed feedback to obtain the pulse of the congregation. Looked at in this way an annual preaching calendar might be seen to be more of a hindrance than a help to effective pulpit ministry.
Second, consider the tidal wave of contemporary momentum advocating verse by verse exposition of books of the Bible. Almost every preacher who is orthodox in his theology advocates verse by verse expositional preaching. I engage in such exposition, though I do so with trepidation as I ponder the ministry of the most famous of the 20th century’s verse by verse expositors, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose own Church went quickly charismatic soon after the doctor’s retirement despite decades of Bible exposition by a man singularly opposed to the charismatic movement. May I suggest that the benefits of expositional preaching through books of the Bible may be overblown? Frequently, expositional preaching isn’t preaching at all but is boring drudgery that only pretends to be preaching. I am not suggesting Lloyd-Jones was boring, but neither you nor I am Lloyd-Jones. As well, expositional preaching is sometimes a lazy man’s replacement for prayerfully agonizing as you wrestle with God for your next sermon. Messages that God wrings from a man are usually better for everyone than the bland expositions that are pasted together by a spiritually lukewarm pastor. If a man is going to preach through books of the Bible I will urge him to do one thing while considering another thing: First, the one thing to do is preach vigorously for a response, and when auditors respond be sure to seek their feedback. Second, the other thing, if you get good feedback make use of it to consider addressing an apparent need rather than continuing in the exposition. You can always get back to it the following week, but your opportunity to be relevant is a soon-to-close window of opportunity.
Finally, consider that the reasons why a preacher may want to preach verse by verse through a book of the Bible may not be reasons that are appealing to his auditors. Preachers are drawn to verse by verse expositions for several reasons: First, it makes the decision about your next sermon easy. Second, it encourages you to study how the verses connect with each other to form the message of the book you are preaching through. Third, you end up learning things you would not otherwise learn if you preached topical or textual sermons. That is all well and good, but do your Church members care in the same ways you care? I suggest to you that they do not, for the most part. Auditors want sermons that are first and foremost interesting. They also want sermons that apply to their daily lives. Both of those interests are more difficult to provide for when preaching verse by verse exposition, and most who preach expositional style sermons are far less capable preachers than those who do so less frequently. Is it because guys who are less capable preachers are inclined to depend on expositions as a replacement for being interesting, or are really interesting preachers who do not preach so much of the expositional style sermons just so much better at reading the interest of their auditors?

Be mindful of two things when you prayerfully decide the approach to sermon preparation you plan to use: First, it is a sin to bore people with the truth. First and foremost your sermons must be interesting in both their delivery and their content. Second, be very reluctant to pass up opportunities to obtain feedback from your auditors because it doesn’t so much matter what you say to them as it matters what they think you say to them. How will you know what they think you said if you do not purposefully seek to find out?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ethically Challenged Leadership

     What would you say to a nation's leader who informed the citizenry that he had decided to become the citizen of another country? Even if the nation he chose for his dual citizenship was a friendly nation, an ally, would it not stick in the craw of many in his homeland to learn of his decision? And would those in the land of his nativity be unreasonable for wondering why he did not wait until his term of office had expired before dividing his national loyalties? After all, no two nations are perfectly aligned insofar as goals and objectives are concerned. At the very least such a national leader would be thought by most of his countrymen to be unethical. It is unethical to openly and publicly divide one's loyalties while presiding over a country as its leader. Who would disagree with that?
     Along the same line of thinking, what has gotten into spiritual leaders who assume responsibility as the leader of an organization only to then divide their loyalties to that organization by affiliating with another organization while they are still leading the first organization? Have I lost my mind for thinking that engaging in such rash behavior while one is leading an organization is at the very least unethical? Yet it has happened twice during my ministry lifetime that a president has demonstrated that he is ethically challenged by dividing his loyalties while in office!
     "Who are you to call into question a man's ethics?" Who am I? I am a nobody, and no longer affiliated with any organizations other than the wonderful congregation I serve as pastor (and the Chamber of Commerce of my little city Monrovia, CA). However, I have been around long enough to derisively laugh about a Bible college teacher teaching a course on pastoral ethics without even touching the matter of sheep stealing and in other ways enlarging one congregation at the expense of another, while he energetically sought for his congregation the members of other Churches. Huge Churches in the United States are built on that unethical practice. Growing Bible colleges implicitly teach that philosophy by not warning against it as a ministerial practice and by holding up for adoration pastors and ministries that do not know how to grow otherwise.
     But let's not stray too far from the unethical leadership of presidents, be they presidents of countries, presidents of colleges, presidents of other entities, or presidents of navel lint societies. If a man is the president of the green linen society, so chosen by green linen merchants everywhere, you would think he could wait at least until his term of office as green linen society president has expired before joining (while maintaining his membership in the green linen society, mind you) the purple canvas cooperative. If a man is a member of the green linen society he can do anything he wants in a free society. However, it strikes me that since the green linen society and the purple canvas cooperative are two different textile organizations their short and long term objectives are not exactly the same. Not a big deal at all for an ordinary member of the green linen society to join the purple canvas cooperative. But while he is president? Is the matter so pressing that he can't wait until his term of office is expired?
     I don't know everything. I have never claimed to know everything. However, it strikes me as a denigration of the green linen society to join the purple canvas cooperative while still the former's president. Methinks we are becoming ethically challenged in these last days. I just can't imagine the big boys back in the old days doing that, at least not until their term of office had expired.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Political Sermons

     It saddens me that the United States of America is so obviously experiencing political and economic decline at an alarming rate. However, this is to be expected as the necessary consequence of our nation's spiritual decline. If responsibility for our nation's spiritual decline is to be assigned it is rightly assigned to the Gospel ministers of our country for our unwillingness to faithfully and courageously proclaim the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ as the only hope for mankind's ills. As well, responsibility must also be assigned to those who, while faithful to the Gospel, seem to be so embittered toward other Gospel ministers that they are content to write them off rather than engage in the laborious task of patiently wooing them to a right exercise of their calling. Smugness in feeling so right when others are so obviously wrong makes the self-satisfied preacher as culpable, in my opinion, as those who are not so faithful to preach the Gospel.
     While all of this sad interplay of personalities takes place among Gospel ministers who rarely minister the Gospel and who are not much willing to attempt to restore brethren they are convinced are overtaken in faults, I fear the whole lot of us are additionally shirking our responsibility to preach political sermons designed to address some of the ills that plague our nation. How important is this holy task? Not even George Whitefield restricted himself to preaching only Gospel sermons.
     I anticipate much in the way of helping me address my own shortcomings along this line by means of two fine works given to me only yesterday by one of the fine men of our Church. I have begun reading them already and can tell from long experience with books that they will contribute to the flourishing of my ministry of preaching much needed political sermons. I include pictures of them below for your consideration. May God help us in less than two weeks.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Our Commander In Thief

I first noticed it on Facebook a day or two ago. Then retired Army colonel and former U. S. Congressman Allen West’s website confirmed that it is being reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war. Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back. Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade. Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets. But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks. ‘These bonuses were used to keep people in,’ said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received.”[1]
My first reaction to this story is that it is yet another example of one of my life’s maxims, “Government does nothing well.” While it is true that there are certain functions only government can discharge, there is no function that government discharges well. It is the very nature of bureaucracy to function poorly, and the latest example of bureaucratic stupidity is the decision handed down by the drones in the Pentagon to force enlistment bonuses to be repaid ten years after the contracts were signed. As Col West asked, “Who in God’s name will serve in uniform after what the Pentagon is demanding now?” Of course, Col. West is spot on. He usually is about such things. Since matters such as these are little more than perception, perception, perception, and since only the na├»ve would suggest that this was not an intentional move by the administration to discourage future enlistments and create bad morale among the serving troops, this can clearly be seen for what it is.
Take a step back to survey a wider field of view. This inane decision by the Pentagon with the approval of the commander-in-thief is another of those recurring moves calculated to undermine the rule of law in the United States. The goal is to create distrust forever in the ranks of the serving military about the willingness of the nation they serve to honor duly signed and served contracts for service in the armed forces. There have been many examples of such lawlessness over the last eight years, too many for me to recount here. But let me remind you of the first time I noticed the undermining of the rule of law in the United States. Of course, it took place here in California.
California started the revolution when it passed the first no-fault divorce statute in 1969. The state is now a pure no-fault state, meaning that neither spouse may place blame on the other spouse when filing for divorce. Instead, couples may divorce if the couple claims “irreconcilable differences.” Sadly, it was Ronald Reagan who signed that bill into law when it was presented to him by the California legislature. Thought to have the potential to free people from terrible marriages, few people paid attention to another law unleashed by the no-fault divorce law, the law of unintended consequences. The no-fault divorce law began the erosion of the rule of law in California by tossing out the legal recourse that could be pursued by a spouse whose partner in marriage had violated the most important contract that two adults could enter into. Think about that for a moment. What contract between two people is more important to them than the marriage contract? And what contract is more important to a civil society than the marriage contract? With a single signature, the consequences of violating the most important of agreements between human beings were swept away under the nonsensical justification of “irreconcilable differences.”
Used to be you could sue in a civil action anyone you could prove had alienated the affection of your husband or wife, or your son or daughter for that matter. The cost of adultery was high back in the day. Not that adultery was not committed, but there was legal recourse then available to those who had been wronged by the infidelity of a spouse, with the other party in the adultery subject to being sued. A corollary to the legal sanctity of marriage was the ability of parents to sue someone who had led their underage child astray. I know people who would love to have been able to sue a young man for alienating the affections of their foolish daughter. If character could not force a young man to conduct himself properly with a couple’s silly daughter then garnishing his wages for a few years just might do the trick.
Alas, the rule of law has taken some very serious hits in the last few years. The legal contract establishing a marriage is no longer protected by law. Contracts written by the government and signed by enlisted personnel are no longer honored, or at least no longer appear to be honored. This is no surprise to us. We have become a nation of cynics. No longer do most of us have any real expectation our president will be faithful to his wife, that secretaries of state will have any allegiance to protect the lives of their ambassadors, or that troops who risk their lives as instruments of government policy will be looked after when they return home alive but damaged.
There is a word for this ever-increasing tendency to break faith with those you have given your word to, whether it is a commitment to love and honor till death do you part or a contract you present to a boy to risk his life to execute your policy decisions. The word is covenantbreakers, and it is found in Romans 1.31. And in case you are fearful that God is going to judge you for being a covenant breaker or for being a citizen in a nation of covenant breakers, there is no need to worry. You see, God’s judgment has already begun because covenant breakers are consequences of God’s judgment not causes of God’s judgment.






[1] http://www.allenbwest.com/allen/gods-name-will-serve-military-pentagon-demanding-now

Friday, October 21, 2016

Installment #13 - Surrender soul liberty? Impossible!

I am one of those Baptist pastors who provides “The Trail Of Blood” to new Church members. However, I am also one of those Baptist pastors who decries the notion that holding up the red pamphlet and waving “The Trail Of Blood” while espousing its message is sufficient historical background for anyone, whether a preacher or a Church member. I count twenty volumes of Baptist history and almost twenty volumes devoted to Baptist ecclesiology in my library, not counting the dozen or so works that deal specifically with the ordinance of baptism. I suppose the point that I seek to illustrate is that not growing up in a Christian home, and coming to Christ apart from any awareness of Christian denominations after graduating from engineering school, and then not ever thinking about being a Baptist for some time after my conversion, I have arrived at my Baptist convictions on my own and without childhood or adolescent influences. That may make me a bit more alert to breaches of settled Baptist convictions than those who were born and raised in Baptist homes.
I provide this background as a jumping off point for this thirteenth installment in this series of offerings given in answer to the question “Why Are They Leaving?” Providentially, I have recently read a small book written by the longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Camarillo, CA, Dan Nelson. Titled “Baptist Revival: Reaffirming Baptist Principles in today’s Changing Church Scene,” the excellent short book of 124 pages is just the ticket for encouraging longtime Baptist pastors like me and solidifying those great many graduates of Baptist schools who get wobbly once they enter the ministry, supposing that being slipshod with convictions and blending in with evangelicals is the way to go. It is not the way to go.
Though Dr. Nelson’s little book is considerably broader in scope than my present concern, he does devote space to one aspect of Baptist convictions that is often overlooked these days and is a reason I think some young people and also some ministers leave our movement. I have always thought of the matter under the heading soul liberty, though Dr. Nelson prefers to use the label soul competency. Whatever label one uses the concept centers on the individual’s right before God to address spiritual matters relating to his eternal and undying soul as he sees fit, without coercion or manipulation from others. This means the government cannot require you to be a Roman Catholic or a Greek Orthodox Church member, or even a Lutheran Church member. This also means your parents have no right to make that decision for you by subjecting you to paedo-baptism as an infant. The point of fact, no one has any business coercing anyone about spiritual matters. Such issues are between the individual and God.
Oh, I know people in the United States of America will claim to embrace the notion of soul liberty. And Baptist preachers will deliver rousing sermons decrying the loss of soul liberty. However, it is among the Baptists, in particular, the independent Baptists, that I have observed the most egregious violations of soul liberty over the past four decades of my Christian life and service. How so? In two ways, manipulation and intimidation.
Consider this matter of manipulation. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines manipulation as the “artful management or control, as by shrewd use of influence, especially in an unfair or fraudulent way.”[1] Pentecostals and Charismatics frequently manipulate with an organ that plays while the preacher is speaking, using music to heighten the emotional level and excite the auditors. However, Baptists do the same thing by different means. I need not cite examples. However, when one considers the great movements of God of old in people’s lives despite strong influence to the contrary, it is seen that God does not need manipulative ministry to work in people’s lives. Reflect on Pentecost, where 3,000 abandoned family, employment, and who knows that else to embrace Christ. Consider also the First Great Awakening, the Second Awakening, the Welsh Revival, and others where God worked against prevailing cultural, social, and family influences and the men God used did not engage in manipulative techniques of any kind! Is it not sad that most teens have never seen a youth group that did not depend utterly on manipulative techniques? Sadly, the same is true in most congregational services as well, with music being the chief manipulative tool used to influence people and persuade them that God is being worshiped when in fact, the room is only being entertained.
Consider also coercion using intimidation. Webster’s defines intimidate “to make timid; to make afraid; overawe.”[2] I had three pastors before entering the pastorate. The first and the last were veterans of the United States Army during World War Two. Neither man, though both were my father’s age, made any attempt to intimidate me, to instill fear into me as a leadership tool, or engaged in any conduct designed to overawe me. It was my second pastor, one of the subjects of Elmer Towns’ books, though considerably younger and without any experience in the military, whose entire philosophy of pastoral ministry exuded ferocity, aggression, and a barely concealed anger beneath his surface personality. As I reflect on my Bible college days after surrendering to the Gospel ministry, I detected no such hostility or coercive intimidation in the leadership of the school where I attended, even though the man who led the school had been an Army officer during the Korean conflict. The point that I make is that some in the Gospel ministry rely on coercion by intimidation while others, even those who faced life and death situations, saw no need for such an unscriptural approach to ministry.
Turning to God’s Word, it is clear the Savior and His apostles never resorted to such means as either manipulation or coercive intimidation to provoke compliance. On the contrary, Matthew 12.1-21 and First Thessalonians 2.7 paint a very clear picture of directness, honesty, and gentleness in ministry.
But is such directness, honesty, and gentleness the norm with contemporary Gospel ministers in our camp? I know some who are masters of manipulation and who coerce with intimidation while expressing the opinion that gentleness in ministry and refusing to coerce decisions from sinners or Church members is a sign of weakness and lack of spiritual leadership. I am persuaded otherwise. It is easy to see when a pastor or preacher has veered off course into manipulation and coercion by intimidation. It can be seen when those who are being dealt with are often afraid. Or those being dealt with are led to make decisions they do not understand or because they have been influenced but not by God’s Spirit. Be careful when those in your ministry seem to be afraid of displeasing you, when their real concern should be pleasing God.
To keep my comments from being overlong, I summarize: It is a long held practice of Baptists to recognize and refuse to violate anyone’s soul liberty, even a child’s soul liberty. Thus, it becomes the spiritual Gospel minister to make sure he is not even accidentally (or subtly) manipulating or intimidating anyone. Are decisions made that are not followed through? Of course, such always happens. But if it happens overmuch it might suggest manipulation is being felt. Is there fear on the part of those being ministered to, that is not fear resulting from the Spirit’s conviction? That may suggest coercion by intimidation, even if there is no intent.
Our desire as Baptists should be to conduct ministry that is blessed by God. Such ministry does not need to resort to either manipulation or coercion. Perhaps some are leaving to escape manipulation, even if they end up involved in an even more manipulative ministry elsewhere. As well, be on the lookout for those who are afraid of you, suggesting that you may be engaged in some form of coercion. Not good if you truly are a minister of the Gospel.




[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1096.
[2] Ibid., page 962.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Working Out

     I began working out again several years ago when my younger brother came to live with us for a few years while he transitioned from life in the USA to life in Southeast Asia. In return for room and board, he attended Church services once a week and encouraged my wife and me to go to the gym three times a week to lift weights. For that we are indebted to him. Interestingly, when I first met my wife forty-one years ago she was a regular at the South Bay Gym in Lomita, an old-fashioned sweaty male-dominated free weight gym where women who were willing to brave the alpha male environment were rare. She was willing, and she held her own. Back in the gym after all those years, wifey once again showed herself to be a beast in the gym. She does not mess around when she is pushing and pulling steel.
      Now that my younger brother has moved on and our schedules make it inconvenient for wifey and me to work out together, we still hit the gym three times a week, me in the morning and her in the afternoons. All of this brings me to today's workout.
     Those of you who work out at the gym know full well that it is a combination of experiences for an old codger like me since my brother's applied expertise demands that I stay away from exercises I used to excel at for fear of overextending certain joints and doing serious damage. Okay. I willingly comply with his instructions and am only too delighted to avoid cardio. After all, I anticipate running no marathons, but I do have every intention of making sure I am strong enough to push myself out of the recliner as I walk the ever-darkening tunnel of old age.
     Every time I go to the gym I have to put up with young men showing off by their excessive grunting, by their needless clanging of too-heavy weights they are trying to lift with improper technique, and by their absolute refusal to put weights and dumbbells back in their proper places on the racks. One learns so much about a guy's mother by watching him work out poorly. However, today's experience was with the modern woman.
     I had finished with my dumbbell curls, my dumbbell rowing, and my MTS rowing and was standing out of sight and at a comfortable distance behind a woman seated at the lat machine. No problem at this point as I watched her through one set, rest, second set, rest, and third set. Then she pulled her smartphone from a private storage area on her person available only to women and began swiping through emails. One minute passed. Two minutes passed. Three minutes passed. A gymnasium full of mostly men, yet she makes no move to vacate the machine, a comfortable place for her to sit while casually reviewing emails, or the news, or blogs, or whatever.
     After about five minutes of this nonuseful use of the lat machine I stepped up and said (in a pleasant voice, mind you), "Are you finished on this machine?" She indicated that she was, stood up to move away, and then demanded, "What's your problem?" I did not answer her because anything I said would be used against me in a feminist court of law.
     Thus began today's interactions with the female products of modern feminism. I find it astonishing as I age that I did not see it when I was younger, this incredibly deleterious consequence of feminism's blight on women. Unless touched by the grace of God, women today seem to have lost interpersonal skills that most women used to possess back in the day, skills most useful in dealing with someone unlike women in every way, an actual adult male like me.
     Don't get me wrong. I am thankful for those women I deal with whose lives have been wonderfully influenced by God's grace, by God's Word, and by God's men and women who implicitly understand that men are not women, should not be dealt with the way they deal with women, and that there are dire consequences in the lives of women who never seem to recognize this reality. But such women are a rarity these days, even in our Churches.
     Sad.
     

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Installment #12 - Illumination varies; deal with it!

Pastors need to be theologians. That many pastors read Car and Driver magazine instead of theological works is one of the reasons our culture and so many of our Churches are in the mess they are in. As well, there are too many pastors who excuse themselves for not being theologians by concluding that spending their waking hours trying to figure out how to grow their Churches is an acceptable substitute for developing their theological sophistication. It is not.
I know of more than one young preacher who has strayed from orthodoxy because he grew up in a Church whose pastor expended all his energies on evangelism without laying a solid doctrinal footing for future growth and maturation. I suspect that dearth of doctrine contributes to the exodus of the Church’s young people, as well. Sadly, while many pastors devote little of their time to Bible study and the development of their personal theologies, they are very quick to judge harshly someone with such an inclination who does not agree with them in every respect. Sadly, there are even large Bible colleges that studiously avoid (forgive the wordplay, since there is nothing studious about such schools) teaching systematic theology for fear of its bad effects on their students. What incredible folly! Such a posture is a tacit admission to adhering to positions that cannot be supported by sound doctrine.
My own sad experience may sound familiar. Whenever I asked my first pastor what the Bible taught about a certain matter his answer was predictable: “That’s a very interesting question and a matter of my own present study. So when I have arrived at a conclusion from my own investigation, I will get back to you.” That was his pat answer to every question about Bible doctrine. Not too long ago a young preacher told me that the pastor who led him to Christ responded to a question he posed about a Bible word and doctrine, the doctrine of election, by first indicating that it was a matter that should not be dealt with in front of young Christians. But when the young preacher told his pastor that the Apostle Paul made mention of election to the Thessalonians, who were only weeks old in the faith, the pastor indicated that he had rather not discuss the matter at all. I have been told that since then his pastor, who he loves and once looked up to, has become noticeably cooler toward him and disapproved of his attempts to study the Word of God along that line.
Those sad stories can be repeated all the day long, usually, because so many pastors are unwilling to strengthen their theological muscles with thorough Bible study, challenging reading of classic Christian works, and healthy discussions with those who are not in 100% agreement with them (though clearly within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy). I used to discuss with my best friend in the ministry our different positions on the communion of the Lord’s Supper, and we were able to do so with intensity while not becoming angry with each other or questioning each other’s motives or spirituality. How did this happen? My friend was more theologically sophisticated than the average pastor and was not threatened by my different view and position.
Let me cut to the chase to point out two theological topics of importance that many are confused about, inspiration and illumination. I cite from Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pages 66-67 and 62: “inspiration. A term used by many theologians to designate the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the human authors of the Bible to record what God desired to have written in the Scriptures. Theories explaining how God ‘superintended’ the process of Scripture formation vary from dictation (the human authors wrote as secretaries, recording word for word that God said) to ecstatic writing (the human authors wrote at the peak of their human creativity). Most evangelical theories of inspiration maintain that the Holy Spirit divinely guided the writing of Scripture, while at the same time allowing elements of the authors’ culture and historical context to come through, at least in matters of style, grammar and choice of words.” “illumination. The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian person and community in assisting believers to interpret, understand and obey the Scriptures. Illumination is a matter of faith as well as intellectual assent-the Spirit’s goal in illumination moves beyond mere intellectual assent to propositions of Scripture to the moving of the human will to trust Christ and obey him.
Two comments about inspiration and illumination that we will certainly agree with: First, though not every portion of the Bible is equally interesting or equally important, every part of God’s Word is equally inspired. Inspiration is verbal and plenary, meaning inspiration extends to the very words of Scripture and every part of Scripture. Next, illumination differs from inspiration in that while inspiration is an all or nothing proposition illumination is not. The Bible is inspired, and no other writing is inspired. Illumination, on the other hand, varies from individual to individual. The Spirit of God never illuminates two individuals equally or provides to them the same comprehension and understanding of Bible truth. As well, illumination is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and is not fully explicable. One Christian will know one aspect of Bible truth and its implication more than another believer, with the difference not always related to personal sin or consecration. Sometimes God simply chooses to teach one of His children more about a Bible truth than another of His children.
If pastors were more theologically astute on illumination, they would recognize that some differences between brethren are not the result of compromise and that godly and spiritual people will not always agree on everything, with the differences traceable to the Spirit’s illumination instead of personal failures. Do you realize what that means? It means that while some doctrinal differences are the result of sin and compromise, sometimes the doctrinal differences and variant ministry practices are not the result of sin and compromise but the result of the Holy Spirit’s choice of who to teach precisely what in God’s Word. Thus, two spiritual guys who love God and seek to win the lost can disagree about communion practices in their respective congregations without either of them being guilty of compromise. The same is true with two Baptist preachers who are not in agreement concerning the doctrine of the Church (whether visible only or universal). And, believe it or not, two men can disagree over the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism (yes, even Biblicism) without accusing the disagreeing brother of being a heretic. After all, C. H. Spurgeon was a five-point Calvinist who lovingly disagreed with his Arminian but godly hero John Wesley.
Granted, some differences are the result of sin and compromise. The question that arises is if we are always able to know when and if that is the reason for the doctrinal difference. I would insist that we will not always know. After all, the Apostle Paul dealt with this kind of thing in First Corinthians 4.1-5. There he expressed his lack of concern about anyone’s judgment of him, wherein is mentioned that he did not make a practice of judging himself, and wherein is observed that judgment was the Savior’s business at the judgment seat of Christ and not our business.
Preacher friend? Is it not the time for you to consider that differences exist, differences that are not traceable to sin and compromise, and that in these last days you need to knock off this nonsense of labeling a heretic someone who disagrees with you while he loves and lives for the Savior? Doctrinal differences unresolved for 2,000 years should not be the grounds for you marking someone a heretic or a compromiser. If the doctrine of illumination is rightly understood, it may very well turn out when we get to heaven that on that issue you were wrong. Or perhaps I was wrong. I refer not to cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Trinity or salvation by grace through faith, of course. I refer not to declared doctrines but to derived doctrines.

My first pastor lost some good people because he was not theologian enough to address reasonable questions. I know pastors who have labeled their young men heretics for concluding differently about such things as election and the Church. Really? A better understanding of the Spirit’s illumination might prevent some of that stuff.

Installment #12 - Illumination varies; deal with it!

Pastors need to be theologians. That many pastors read Car and Driver magazine instead of theological works is one of the reasons our culture and so many of our Churches are in the mess they are in. As well, there are too many pastors who excuse themselves for not being theologians by concluding that spending their waking hours trying to figure out how to grow their Churches is an acceptable substitute for developing their theological sophistication. It is not.
I know of more than one young preacher who has strayed from orthodoxy because he grew up in a Church whose pastor expended all his energies on evangelism without laying a solid doctrinal footing for future growth and maturation. I suspect that dearth of doctrine contributes to the exodus of the Church’s young people, as well. Sadly, while many pastors devote little of their time to Bible study and the development of their personal theologies, they are very quick to judge harshly someone with such an inclination who does not agree with them in every respect. Sadly, there are even large Bible colleges that studiously avoid (forgive the wordplay, since there is nothing studious about such schools) teaching systematic theology for fear of its bad effects on their students. What incredible folly! Such a posture is a tacit admission to adhering to positions that cannot be supported by sound doctrine.
My own sad experience may sound familiar. Whenever I asked my first pastor what the Bible taught about a certain matter his answer was predictable: “That’s a very interesting question and a matter of my own present study. So when I have arrived at a conclusion from my own investigation, I will get back to you.” That was his pat answer to every question about Bible doctrine. Not too long ago a young preacher told me that the pastor who led him to Christ responded to a question he posed about a Bible word and doctrine, the doctrine of election, by first indicating that it was a matter that should not be dealt with in front of young Christians. But when the young preacher told his pastor that the Apostle Paul made mention of election to the Thessalonians, who were only weeks old in the faith, the pastor indicated that he had rather not discuss the matter at all. I have been told that since then his pastor, who he loves and once looked up to, has become noticeably cooler toward him and disapproved of his attempts to study the Word of God along that line.
Those sad stories can be repeated all the day long, usually, because so many pastors are unwilling to strengthen their theological muscles with thorough Bible study, challenging reading of classic Christian works, and healthy discussions with those who are not in 100% agreement with them (though clearly within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy). I used to discuss with my best friend in the ministry our different positions on the communion of the Lord’s Supper, and we were able to do so with intensity while not becoming angry with each other or questioning each other’s motives or spirituality. How did this happen? My friend was more theologically sophisticated than the average pastor and was not threatened by my different view and position.
Let me cut to the chase to point out two theological topics of importance that many are confused about, inspiration and illumination. I cite from Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pages 66-67 and 62: “inspiration. A term used by many theologians to designate the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the human authors of the Bible to record what God desired to have written in the Scriptures. Theories explaining how God ‘superintended’ the process of Scripture formation vary from dictation (the human authors wrote as secretaries, recording word for word that God said) to ecstatic writing (the human authors wrote at the peak of their human creativity). Most evangelical theories of inspiration maintain that the Holy Spirit divinely guided the writing of Scripture, while at the same time allowing elements of the authors’ culture and historical context to come through, at least in matters of style, grammar and choice of words.” “illumination. The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian person and community in assisting believers to interpret, understand and obey the Scriptures. Illumination is a matter of faith as well as intellectual assent-the Spirit’s goal in illumination moves beyond mere intellectual assent to propositions of Scripture to the moving of the human will to trust Christ and obey him.
Two comments about inspiration and illumination that we will certainly agree with: First, though not every portion of the Bible is equally interesting or equally important, every part of God’s Word is equally inspired. Inspiration is verbal and plenary, meaning inspiration extends to the very words of Scripture and every part of Scripture. Next, illumination differs from inspiration in that while inspiration is an all or nothing proposition illumination is not. The Bible is inspired, and no other writing is inspired. Illumination, on the other hand, varies from individual to individual. The Spirit of God never illuminates two individuals equally or provides to them the same comprehension and understanding of Bible truth. As well, illumination is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and is not fully explicable. One Christian will know one aspect of Bible truth and its implication more than another believer, with the difference not always related to personal sin or consecration. Sometimes God simply chooses to teach one of His children more about a Bible truth than another of His children.
If pastors were more theologically astute on illumination, they would recognize that some differences between brethren are not the result of compromise and that godly and spiritual people will not always agree on everything, with the differences traceable to the Spirit’s illumination instead of personal failures. Do you realize what that means? It means that while some doctrinal differences are the result of sin and compromise, sometimes the doctrinal differences and variant ministry practices are not the result of sin and compromise but the result of the Holy Spirit’s choice of who to teach precisely what in God’s Word. Thus, two spiritual guys who love God and seek to win the lost can disagree about communion practices in their respective congregations without either of them being guilty of compromise. The same is true with two Baptist preachers who are not in agreement concerning the doctrine of the Church (whether visible only or universal). And, believe it or not, two men can disagree over the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism (yes, even Biblicism) without accusing the disagreeing brother of being a heretic. After all, C. H. Spurgeon was a five-point Calvinist who lovingly disagreed with his Arminian but godly hero John Wesley.
Granted, some differences are the result of sin and compromise. The question that arises is if we are always able to know when and if that is the reason for the doctrinal difference. I would insist that we will not always know. After all, the Apostle Paul dealt with this kind of thing in First Corinthians 4.1-5. There he expressed his lack of concern about anyone’s judgment of him, wherein is mentioned that he did not make a practice of judging himself, and wherein is observed that judgment was the Savior’s business at the judgment seat of Christ and not our business.
Preacher friend? Is it not the time for you to consider that differences exist, differences that are not traceable to sin and compromise, and that in these last days you need to knock off this nonsense of labeling a heretic someone who disagrees with you while he loves and lives for the Savior? Doctrinal differences unresolved for 2,000 years should not be the grounds for you marking someone a heretic or a compromiser. If the doctrine of illumination is rightly understood, it may very well turn out when we get to heaven that on that issue you were wrong. Or perhaps I was wrong. I refer not to cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Trinity or salvation by grace through faith, of course. I refer not to declared doctrines but to derived doctrines.

My first pastor lost some good people because he was not theologian enough to address reasonable questions. I know pastors who have labeled their young men heretics for concluding differently about such things as election and the Church. Really? A better understanding of the Spirit’s illumination might prevent some of that stuff.