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.