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.