The Critical Question of Race

RACE – a term that teeters on the edge of being classified as a “four-letter word” in many circles. A term that really doesn’t mean what it has been made out to mean. Just like so many other terms in human language (especially the English language) that have been adultuerated, redefined, and bent to fit political and sociological agendas, the term “race” simply is not what you may think.

And among all settings where “race”, regardless of how you define it, should matter the least – Christianity, the term is again blowing up people and churches. And yet again, it is because so many have a completely erronious udnerstanding of the term.

Se let us take a look at God’s Word. After all, as one who holds to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone for basis of faith, doctrine, and theology).

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28 NASB

Let US make man in OUR image – Us being plural (the very first clear, inarguable statement of the Triune God) , yet a singular image. One image – and “make man” being a general term that actually applies to mankind – all of humanity. THE Image of God (Imago Dei). All of mankind, because the first man (and woman) were made in the image of God, is also made in the image of God. Further – how man different species of man did God make? Absurd question? Not at all – God made man and woman. Period. All of humanity in a single exemplar pair. Even modern science, with the advanced DNA sequencing and comparison ultimatley comes ot the same conclusion – all of mankind are of a single species – a single “kind”. What did Adam and Even look like? It is doubtful we will ever figure that out in this lifetime. But that is truly irrelevant – as we all come through/from that first couple (our family tree further returns to a single line through Noah as well!).

But let us return to the discussion at hand. There are several, some well-known, folks in the Christian/Evangelical circus who have begun abusing the whole “race” label. This goes beyond what the nefarious characters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – two of the most famous race-baiting for agenda promoters of my lifetime. I’m referring to Thabiti Anyabwile (real name is Ron Burns), who formerly had my respect for writing some biblically-sound materials on church membership as well as several other encouraging and true resources. Yet Mr. Thabiti has chosen a different path – one of promoting division among races, who has attacked “multi-cultural” churches, not based necessarily on the doctrinal and theological issues often found is such churches, but for trying to make black church members into what many of his mindset refer to as “Oreos” – black on the outside, white on the inside. He has decried (along side others of similar broken and racist views), that white people have coopted Christianity and made it a “white man’s religion”. He has called out Christians to essentially throw away commentaries and theological works by White men and find Black theologians to follow and learn from. He has joined with such race-hustlers as Kyle J. Howard (a close friend of Beth Moore, who radically endorses him, by the way) who is a self-appointed Preacher, Bible Teacher, Racial Trauma Counselor, etc.. in calling for radical reparations for all of the Black race – and even saying that there can be no reconciliation between black and whites in “the church” until all White Evangelicals” take ownership of their complicity in the injustices against the black race and reparations are paid based.

David facing Goliath?

But the problem isn’t just one-sided. For FAR too long, professed Christians, including many of the “Baptist” pursuasion HAVE held race as a component of their theology and doctrins. Lest we forget, those old family Bibles with all the beautiful paintings of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Jesus” or the similarly European-depicted David (or most all biblical characters). These images became the building blocks of race-based thought in churches. And divides have festered like gangreen in a jungle-wound. And the problem isn’t helped when people further attempt to swing the pendulum the other direction and claim (as the Black Hebrew Israelites do) that all authentic biblical characters (other than the bad guys) are of the dark-as-the-night “black race”. (*could this be a part of why God commanded His people to NOT make graven images of anything in Heaven, in Earth, or below the earth?)

And contrary to what I believe are well-intentioned movements to racially-integrate churches (the current multi-cultural church planting efforts), I see more damage being done to theology and doctrine in the scramble. And it all goes back to a broken concept of RACE.

You see, when the Bible makes use of the Greek term γένος, it isn’t referring to races – different kinds of people. It is a reference to ethnicity, nationality, family lines. There are not different kinds of human beings – because we are all – regardless of location of birth, quantity (or lack) of melanin in our skin, or the circumstances of our birth – we are all of ONE Race – the Human Race. And we know this, not only from the ceation account found in Genesis, but more imprtantly, from the New Testament statements on the matter, with Paul referencing thsoe who are regenerated and born-again as those Christians:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 NASB

but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:10-11 NASB

God is not a discriminator based on anything but the heart, not because of some spiritual blinders, but because HE created us – all of us, in HIS image, through Adam – all unique, yet all of one Human Race. Yes, He has allowed, even brought about, differences in skin color (all amazingly adapted to the areas He sent people after the tower of Babel rebellion.

Even with different languages (many of which have yet to even be discovered, much less have Jesus named), an amazing myriad of skin colors, and other physical attributes – we all remain linked by DNA – and by Jesus’ own label of NEIGHBOR!

In setting up Jesus’ parable of the so-called “Good Samaritan”, He was asked by a lawyer what was required to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response was to go to the Law that this lawyer was so intimately aquainted with – law briefly summarized concludes with “love your neighbor as yourself”. The Lawyer’s question then was “who is my neighbor”. The answer would have been as startling today as it would be to both sides in the evil “race” battles:

The Samaritan – a man who, by cultural standards, was expected to HATE this Jewish man. They were like cats and dogs – both viewed each other as the scum of the earth (despite the fact there was little visual difference between them). They hated each other because they saw each other as different races, not of the single Human Race. Yet this particular Samaratin saw, not a “Jewish dog”, but a human being in need of help. He looked beyond any superficial ethnic difference to the man who needed saving.

If we want genuine “racial reconciliation” – it isn’t going to come because of some kind of reparations paid for evils that others may or may not have suffered. Reconcilliation will not happen by the continued pointing out of differences between “races” – as this simply perpetuates the myth of race. Genuine unity as the Human Race will only come when we truly understand God’s perspective – from the Greator who created us all in HIS Imago Dei – and realize – regardless of the color of our skin – we are all sinners who are desperately without hope – doomed to receive the due wrath of a Holy and perfectly-righteous God – who even HE sees beyond the exterior to see the needy humanity – and reaches down to save those He will by the power of Jesus’ blood – regenerating hearts, not based on ethnicity or any perceived qaulity in us – but by His perfect love, by His perfect Grace – and all for HIS glory alone!

The Problem…

As I sit on my scheduled “day off”, soaking in the after effects of our Palm Sunday services while also ruminating on all that I see in the news of the day, I can’t help but reflect on all the insane finger-pointing. The United States is a nation in decline.  Yes, our economic state is slightly improved, but that is rapidly being undone by uncontrolled Federal spending (thanks to a brand new Omnibus spending bill of over $1.3 Trillion that carries us through 6 months… seriously!) We see lots of senseless death, from school shootings, to a literal epidemic of young black males killing each other on the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago and other major cities.  We see a radical discrimination – where the media and rabid freedom-hating protestors get emotionally up-in-arms, organizing widely-expensive “March For Our Lives”, funded in large part by radically Leftist (and almost universally unregenerate-acting) celebrities, over a single school shooting where the victims were, interestingly enough – caucasian, while these same deep-pocket celebrities essentially ignore the hundreds already dead in inner-city, predominantly black communities.  It takes the “tears of white mothers” to stir up action?  And then the “action” is against inanimate objects and totally ignores the perpetrators, the government and law enforcement agencies that flat-out failed to take any action that would most certainly have prevented this most recent mass shooting altogether – all adding up to a failure to see our problems as symptoms of a greater illness – indeed a disease that is absolutely going to destroy this nation.  It isn’t guns.  It isn’t video games. The disease isn’t violent entertainment or misogynistic, hate-filled music, or a failure for people to be able to even acknowledge basic biology (gender). The problem is not a tool or the endless list of symptoms above – but a heart issue.

Scripture is clear – Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

We have a problem known as sin – and it is a disease that has infected mankind since almost the very beginning. In fact, Scripture clearly says that All have sinned… (Romans 3:23).  And the sin problem in our nation (and world) is not improving – and I would like to propose that a major part of the problem is “US” – the evangelical world.  Oh – we may say we love Jesus.  For that matter, we have libraries full of love songs to Jesus (that too often sound more like love songs between high school sweethearts than adoration of the Holy, Righteous, and glorious Sovereign Creator!)

We have a sin problem – and while the problem isn’t new, the “Church” (especially evangelical churches) have dropped the ball – whether it is simple laziness, complacency, or even proclaiming what the Apostle Paul called “false gospels” – we have actually contributed TO the sin problems in our nation.  Doubt this?  Take an honest look into your local church. Look around – what do you see?  Yes, you see a room full of sinners – we all fit that category.  BUT – do you see in those same people – growing, maturing, and sin-shunning (constant-repenting) believers who are walking by faith?  Chances are, in many “evangelical churches” (regardless of denomination), you will find quite the opposite.  You will find a percentage that fit the above, but you will find far more who are little more than church attenders who have two persons – a Sunday Morning face, and the other 6.5 days personality. Let me further explain.

Jesus gave His great command to His church to make disciples.  For many years, from the first church in Jerusalem, we see a model laid out before us – people lived out their faith in a way that strengthened said faith, that aided each other to grow together in their walk – to see lives genuinely transformed in such a way that they were a beacon of hope, even when under incredible persecution. We still see some startling examples today in nations that are far from Christ-friendly; where Christians indeed walk in faith and where they absolutely understand the need to make disciples.

Return for a moment to the USA – where many see a man-centered religion. What happened? Back in the late 1800’s, a wave swept across evangelical Christianity – some look back with fondness, while most Bible-believing Christians who look through a more Berean lens (discerning) see something far different.  Preachers like Charles Finney began preaching dramatic, emotionally-charged sermons pleading for listeners to come to Jesus. It was the advent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” movement – where “decisions” were made based on feelings and tears (often contrived) verses genuine conversion via the Holy Spirit’s conviction and regeneration. The movement became all about what is known as “synergistic salvation”: a gospel that lays as much or more of salvation’s work on the heart of men (remember the Jeremiah quote near the beginning of this entry?). A feelings-based, emotionally-driven profession of faith, followed rapidly by baptism and adding to a church roll. Great!  But where are the growing disciples who are then to be disciple-makers?  That just didn’t really happen.  Numbers-driven ministry  only continued to take over Gospel-driven ministry. In fact, it was this same existential, pragmatic religious movement that gave birth to what we now know as pentecostalism and other Charismatic faiths, and the erroneous belief that mankind, once genuinely saved, can somehow be plucked form Jesus’ own hand (John 10:28-30). As the dramatically evolving Christianity in America began to spread – Christianity became more and more man-centered and less God centered.  We saw church building expanding along with growing church staffs to manage these growing churches – and with it the ever-growing budgetary needs to sustain these growing organizations.

But it wasn’t just these growing local churches (and so-called “mega-churches”), but even smaller local churches also started to shift towards man-centered ministry and beliefs (even doctrines). With this came the various degrees of the “prosperity gospel” and now the Social Justice/Social Gospel that substitutes the doing for proclamation and motives.

Let me return in this rambling post back to core doctrines that have contributed to our national issues – We have two common models that have evolved since/from the Finney/revivalist era – those that have attempted to remain true to core doctrines and biblical teaching – but have slipped into a form of practical legalism: after a person says a prayer for Jesus to come into their heart (I have yet to find a biblical reference or example), and we get them quickly baptized – we then throw what amounts to a list of rules for Christian conduct at them – then hope it sticks. Keep the 10 Commandments – Don’t make or bow down to idols – yet we have no problem with filling our homes and lives with literal shrines to our favorite sports team, entertainment stars, or hobbies (Whoo Pig Sooie!), don’t kill (though we forget Jesus equated hate towards a neighbor to be like murder), honor your mother and father (while we sit idle by watching society tell kids to dishonor parents and always buck the system). We say to not steal (while many cheat on their taxes, have no problem with being accidentally under-charged for a purchase, or take advantage of someone’s lack of understanding to gain an extra dollar). We say “thou shalt not commit adultery”, while turning a blind eye to the rampant divorce and remarriage rate WITHIN churches.  We MIGHT say to not “covet” what others have – yet we church folks can run with the best of the “keeping up with the Joneses”. And the list goes on –

On the other branch, we see churches that make similar please to “love Jesus”, yet make no expectation at all of change.  Indeed, the functional message is – come as you are (great!), and when you go home – go home unchanged – except with a smile on your face! We see a catering to the tastes and preferences of specific “target groups” through affinity-based churches (churches that are centered and founded on interests or lifestyles – think biker churches, cowboy churches, outdoorsmen churches, etc.) We see the growth of entertainment/flash-based churches where style, excitement, and experience reigns supreme over the Word of God and the clear-preaching of it.

The Gospel, when it is proclaimed is a gospel that helps people understand the genuine nature of sin – the genuine cost of sin (both in this temporal world and more importantly – in eternity).  The Gospel isn’t just about God’s love that was demonstrated in Christ’s perfect sacrifice, but is also recognized as genuinely good news because we see also Gods’ wrath that is poured out on ALL unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And when God (not man) applies the true, and full Gospel to the hearts of men – regenerating their heart of stone for His heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), we should anticipate – indeed fully expect change to come. A desire to please God, to know God, to serve God who paid such a high price for our forgiveness – the same God who, through Jesus Christ, who endured the wrath WE deserve.

And with that change of heart and progressive sanctification (the ongoing growing more like Jesus) we begin to better reject sin and more interestingly – we begin to be able to exercise Judgment/Discernment.  Yes – that ugly word that so many, even professed Christians, are so scared of. We mis the understanding of just what KIND Of judgement we are suppose to exercise.  Our judgment should be connected to and based on Scripture.  We should see God’s Word as inerrant (in its original manuscripts) and completely trustworthy from cover-to-cover and trust it to be the judge of all that we see and must make decisions about. See more about this HERE.

And as we bring this all forward and look to the downward spiral of our nation- where we point fingers at guns, politicians, organizations, etc – let us not forget that many who march against rights, who point blame, who even spew some pretty nasty words – are folks who sit in a char or pew on Sundays. Let us not forget that many who commit crimes and other acts of violence were “brought up in church” and were even considered by some to be “good people”.

Some shout: “THEY NEED JESUS” to which I give a hearty “AMEN!”. But they need Jesus then they need to see good, biblical, Godly examples – not a soup of rules and contradictions along with selective picking and choosing of what parts of the Bible are applicable and dependable.  They need Jesus – and discipleship.  They need churches to not just throw rules at them, but preach doctrines that are 100% Bible-based. They need genuinely born-again Christians to extend a hand to them to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ (that we can’t forget included whips and overturning tables as well as calling sin – sin, and calling wolves and snakes what they are). It means that, while we recognize that God is the “Great Physician”, He owes us nothing! While God can and will provide our needs, He is under no obligation to provide the lusts of our flesh! It means recognizing the absolute necessity to die to self every day (to prefer the will of God and the needs of others over ourselves).

This also means that we must come out of our little protected enclaves we call “churches” and open our hearts and lives up to “those people” – whether they look different than us, act differently than us (are we shocked when people who are unregenerate and without Jesus act like they are unregenerate and without Jesus?). It means we must be willing to call out those who profess to be born-again believers in Jesus who walk in unrepentant sin, reflecting the flesh of the world instead of the Light of Christ.

Lest we forget the message of this little Jewel from the Mark Trammel Quartet:

We cannot guilt and arm-twist people into saying a “sinners prayer” and expect real change. WE must recognize that salvation is not of man, of grand speech, or clever argument – it is 100% of the Lord – as a FREE GIFT, granted by faith, not of any merit of ability we have – (Ephesians 2:8-10). But again, this is just the beginning. While genuine salvation is sure – and we can confirm it by seeing the very change it brings both immediately and long-term, we are called to repentance for a purpose – to be the living, breathing Gospel to those around us as we ourselves journey to know Christ and to make Him known!

And the sooner we realize and trust that it is God who converts the sinner into a saint, the quicker we begin to get about doing what Jesus actually commanded US to do – MAKE DISCIPLES.  Not mindless religious zombies.  Not another generation of unrepentant and shallow “church members”, but to teach, equip, and walk along-side those who we know and seeing them through from lost, to saved, to growing and mature Disciples who then become disciple-makers themselves.  If we in the Evangelical world would take Christ’s command as given, turn lose of measures that revolve around numbers (seats filled in church services and offering totals), and get serious about helping people to grow to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ – we will see first – a resurgence of the true Church of Jesus Christ – we will see churches that are spiritually healthy.  But as an extension, we will see communities changed for the good, the needs of those around us better met – and we will see the Kingdom of God as never before!

But as I preached yesterday (Palm Sunday) – it will cost us something – it will cost us our idols, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our comfort zones. But let us not forget – it cost Jesus everything!

It isn’t about being a “social justice warrior” as many en the evangelical world have become – for the works of our hands alone will make no real difference. It isn’t about a social “gospel” – for that makes no eternal difference at all (indeed – it makes do-gooders who can’t seem to do real good at all). Let us be Christ-followers – as individuals and as local churches.

If you currently are a part of a local church that not only proclaims the whole and true Gospel of Jesus Christ – a church that places a top priority on actual, one-on-one, Bible-based, Christ-glorifying disciple making – congratulations – you have found  a Jewel!  Treasure it and be an active part in it.

If, on the other hand, you find upon real, Berean-like examination according to Scripture that your “church” really isn’t much of a church at all – but a purveyor of man-centered doctrines and theologies – of flesh-pleasing programs, of man-glorifying religion – then I implore you – seek out a church that truly sees the Bible as the Word of God: every page of the 66 books of the inspired, divine revelation of our Lord – a church that takes seriously the command to make disciples – submit to sound Biblical teaching and to being discipled – with a goal of becoming a disciple-maker and using what God has given you in material and spiritual gifts to serve Him.

And to that – I humbly submit the church I pastor – not because I am the pastor, for anything good First Baptist Church may have or display is more in spite of my leadership than because of it! Yes, we have “issues”, as any and every institution made up of human beings will have.  But you will also find that we recognize our shortcomings and are constantly seeking ways to grow in Christ, to deal with the “demons”, and to be the salt and light.  We would love to have you visit, but even more – if you genuinely want to be what Christ has called people to be – join us in our journey! First Baptist Church.

Glorious Day, Yet Grieving…

Today will go down in history, at least in my own little world, as a radical rollercoaster. We had an incredible day at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs today, including the addition of a new church member and a discussion with another couple who expressed their intent to join next week.

We had a fabulous lunch fellowship and then the crowning time of the day – the ordination of my brother in Christ, friend, and servant-minded man Roger Meredith to the deacon ministry (my first such service to lead). It all was quite wonderful!  Yet while all of this was unfolding in our little neck of the woods, in Sutherland Springs, Texas – a young man, Devin Kelley carried out a horrific and apparently planned attack on the First Baptist Church in that small community.  A church with just over 100 members, and an average Sunday attendance around 50…  Reports so far are that at least 27 are dead and possibly 20 others wounded/injured.  The victims at this point range as young as 5 years old.  And particularly heartbreaking for me – the pastor’s daughter, Annabelle, only 14 years old, was among those murdered. In fact, this particular detail is the one that kicked me in the stomach the hardest – bringing this story FAR too close to home…

At the same time – while I grieve for Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife as they have to struggle to come to grips with the loss of their youngest daughter – maybe this extremely ugly, evil, and sad event serves as a bit of an illustration. You see – this morning, preached a message from Luke 9:57-62 titled “No Excuse Faith” (should be posted on the church Facebook page in the next 24 hours or so). The basic message in a nutshell – Jesus wants followers who have a a No Excuse Faith – who step up and follow Him TODAY- because we really don’t know what tomorrow may hold – or even if we will HAVE a tomorrow.  It shadows Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that “TODAY is the day of salvation!”

How many who were gathered together for worship with FBC Sutherland Springs had a clue that today would be their last? How many put off decisions the Lord had been leading them towards? How many went to their grave having shrugged off the conviction of the Spirit?  How many had a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ – that they carried to the grave because they thought they would deal with reconciliation “tomorrow”?

How many of the young victims among them didn’t hear their mom or day tell them they loved them this morning? How many forgot to tell their spouses how much they loved them? Who among them possibly put off turning to Jesus until a “tomorrow” that, for them, won’t come?

The reality is – today is the day to take a step of faith to follow Christ with everything you have in you – to trust in Him, because you may never find  another opportunity.

The same goes for our loved ones – have you hugged your wife/husband’s neck and simply told them “I love you”? Do you sometimes skip telling your kids the same? Take the opportunity you have right now to tell those you love just how much you do!

Stop making excuses – make the most of today, because we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. It’s a shame we sometimes have to be reminded by such shocking events.

Make a difference today!

Redefine or Rediscover Church Membership

I have watched with great interest (and concern) at the evolution of “church membership” over the years. This obviously is seasoned with my own personal experiences, from an early background attending (and technically a “member” of) the Episcopal Church while growing up, to various excursions into differing faith groups – and ultimately being redeemed, baptized, and added to Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Carlisle, Arkansas what seems so long ago.  Add to the mix my observations of several modern/contemporary churches which have essentially eliminated the concept of formal church membership, and I have developed rather strong opinion on what Church Membership is.  So much so, that I have been led to begin a Sunday evening sermon series regarding what Biblical Church Membership is – what it looks like – and indeed, what is a “healthy” church member (and membership).  A great help in my chase on the subject is Jonathan Leeman’s Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents JesusLeeman’s passion for the local church is evident, and while this book does not mine the extensive (and indeed endless) depths of what Scripture has to say about the local church and membership in her, it does serve as an incredible opportunity and tool to help the reader refocus and maybe rediscover what church membership really is.

In fact, I was going to attempt to put into words what I have formed in my own thinking on the subject of how we have maybe gotten it wrong – but then I recalled that in his first chapter, Leeman has a section that lists off some of the symptoms of wrong thinking in and about the “church” and I am simply going to quote that below.  I pray it will serve to help us all rethink, and ultimately rediscover what church membership really is.


The following is from Jonathan Leeman’s Church Membership: How The World Knows Who Represents Jesus Copyright ©2012 Johnathan Leeman, pp. 23-24.

     Maybe we acquired this understanding of the local church from the Protestant emphasis on the location of preaching and the ordinances. Maybe we’ve been duped by Western democratic society into viewing churches as voluntary associations. Maybe it’s a century’s worth of practice at being consumers. I’m not sure. But here are some of the symptoms of our wrong thinking:

  • Christians can think it’s fine to attend a church indefinitely without joining;
  • Christians think of getting baptized apart from joining;
  • Christians take the Lord’s Supper without joining;*
  • Christians view the Lord’s Supper as their own private, mystical experience for Christians and not as an activity for church members who are incorporated into body life together;
  • Christians don’t integrate their Monday-to-Saturday lives with the lives of other saints;
  • Christians assume they can make a perpetual habit of being absent from the church’s gathers a few Sundays a month or more;
  • Christians make major life decisions (moving, accepting a promotion, choosing a spouse, etc.) without considering the effects of those decisions on the family of relationships in the church or without consulting the wisdom of the church’s pastors and other members;
  • Christians buy homes or rent apartments with scant regard to how factors such as distance and cost will affect their abilities to serve their church;
  • Christians don’t realize that they are partly responsible for both the spiritual welfare and the physical livelihood of the other members of their church, even members they have not met. When one mounts, one morns by himself. When one rejoices, one rejoices by herself.

The Basic disease behind all of these symptoms, the disease which, I admit, courses through my own veins, is the assumption that we have the authority to conduct our Christian lives on our own. We include the church piece when and where we please.

That is to say, we treat the local church like a club to join – or not. And this assumption leaves us conducting our Christian lives somewhat aloof from the local church even when we do join one: “Sure, I’m a member, but why in the world would I ask the church to help me think through accepting that job in Albuquerque?”

Please understand, I’m not just pointing the finger. These are my cultural instincts, too. I confess that I want to do things my way. I want to avoid taking responsibility for others.

But this is not the biblical picture. We need to take off one set of glasses and put on another. Are you ready?


So what, then, shall we do?If even one of the symptoms above are present in our lives – we have an issue to deal with. I sadly believe that many of us today have many of these symptoms in some way evident in our lives. The reality is – we are either going to redefine the meaning of being a church member, or we are going to rediscover what Christ had in mind when He set up His church – and will mirror what He has established in our actions and our relationship one with another. I believe that if we will take the step of genuinely investing in each other, opening our own hearts to be poured in to, while also pouring into others – all while also recognizing the fact that much of the authority Jesus Christ gave was to the church, not to individual Christians acting alone. And in all of this, we also need to recognize that it is God who leads Christians to the church He would have us be a functional part of. As Paul illustrated so often – a body, rightly fitted together.

Remember – First Baptist Church Cave Springs, Arkansas – Evening service series: A Church Member is __________.  The first installment filled in the blank with “Functional” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

Church Membership? (why should I join?)

There are many misconceptions today about many areas of Christianity.  There is even a movement among some Christian groups away from a “formal” church membership.  The New Testament never mentions the term (in any translation I am familiar with) “church member”, but the attitude with which Paul writes to the various churches and to Timothy reflect what most would see as an implication that there is some form of accountability and “order” to the local “body of believers”.  Further, how can effective and real church discipline be carried out without some form of “formal” membership or fellowship?

So why be a “church member”?  The first reason might very well be as a testimony and commitment to the work of the local church and to glorifying God through (in/by) the church  (Ephesians 3:23).  Even of more eternal importance: “The Church” is the Bride of Christ as depicted in Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19.

But there is a cost to “church membership”.  The price isn’t in money – but in a willingness to give others permission to help you to remain accountable, to grown, and to serve in God-glorifying ways.  But there is another cost – an that of commitment – commitment to walk in Christ as a living testimony of saving faith and total reliance on Christ Jesus.

Churches, Pastors, and a Problem

I nearly forgot that I set up this blog! I’ve been using my other for some time (though not as regular as I should), and realized I really needed to post here. But it is with a sad heart that I pick this subject on which to post.

The name of this blog is “Contending For The Kingdom”, and that is exactly what I intend for every post to be geared towards. Issues of Kingdom work – observations and experience related to ministry, the Church, and the Gospel.

In this case – I was brought to remembrance of something that has weighed on my heart for some time.  Churches and their pastor(s).  Biblically, we see in the New Testament, elders/pastors basically appointed by the faithful to lead local congregations. Those men were entrusted with “feeding” Christ’s sheep. They were appointed to be leaders who literally ran the affairs of each local church. Church members (saints) were expected, so long as that elder/pastor remained qualified and faithful to the work, to submit to their authority, and to serve along side them willingly and with joy in the Kingdom work.

But there is a sad reality that has grown worse over the years of history, particularly among congregational-rule churches (as most of us Baptists are). The church issues the “call” to a man to pastor, hopefully after bathing the decision in much prayer and after doing do-diligence to find the man God has chosen for the important position. Even though the local church issues the call (usually after a congregational vote with a stipulated margin to consider it a successful call), that pastor is not, biblically, beholden to the congregation first, but to God.

Scripture clearly spells out the framework a pastor is responsible to fulfill. The most important being the ministry of the Word (this is why deacons were called – to take some of the load off the elder/pastor so they could spend more time in that study and preparation of the Word). And while visiting church members and seeing after the sick might not be a biblically-mandated job for a pastor, most of us actually are blessed to be able to carry out this form of ministry as time allows.

Sadly, some church have a great deal out-of-place. They have placed the pastor into a category of little more than an “employee”. Many such churches have lengthy lists of the required “duties of the pastor” that often bear little resemblance to the biblical model. Equally many churches like this have a “ruling body” in the church that leaves out the pastor. This body, often labeled “deacon board”, must approve even move, and hold the pastor under a microscope. Sadly, this is 100% outside the biblical role of the deacons.

Certainly any pastor/elder who has half a brain would LOVE to have a group of men who are godly, spiritually mature, servant-hearted workers to be able to discuss things, to work along side, and to consult with on issues within the church. After all, the biblical qualifications of a deacon are nearly identical to those of the pastor!

Sadly, many in churches have taken upon themselves, either because they have some kind of “seniority”, because of the size of their giving, or the above mentioned title of “deacon”, feel they have the right to exercise ruling authority over the church, with the pastor being the chief (expendable) part of that equation.

I have watched this unfold in several churches, though thankfully not in a church that I have pastored. I have friends who have been flat-out abused by their church, demoralized, and crushed under incredibly un-loving (and un-biblical) actions.

Let me pause for a moment and say this: There are times when a pastor must go. When a man begins to walk outside the clear requirements of a pastor found in scripture – say he is found to be an adulterer, their, or criminal in some other format – obviously he is disqualified and must be put out. Or, if the man occupying the pulpit is not “rightly” handling Scripture, and teaching/preaching spurious, heretical garbage, he should be put out. But even in these extreme cases, there is a process that the Word of God gives us to deal with them – to be addressed “man-to-man”, then take a couple of mature Christian witnesses, then bring it to the church.

Nowhere in the Bible does the Lord say to oust a man from the ministry because he hurt your feelings by preaching against your pet sin. Nor does the Lord indicate that ousting a man for not being able to make it to see you in the hospital. And one the is particularly saddening – when a pastor is bringing in lost people and ministering to them – but members of the church says they don’t want “those people” in the church…

I have been an eye witness to an older pastor, who had endured many health issues of his own, who had recently lost a son to the same health issue, and who was still reeling from it all, when his church, having the un-Scirptural “annual call”  saw a significant (though minority) number vote against him.  How many had actually gone to him to express any concerns they had or any problems that had arisen? To my knowledge, none.  He was blindsided and resigned days later.

Another, more recent case is a personal friend of mine who is one of the most kind, pastoral-hearted men I’ve ever known.  He is biblically-sound and a pretty good preacher who is faithful in His service to the Lord. Yet some of those “leaders”didn’t like that this pastor had disagreed with him (with a biblical response), and was further angered by not being allowed to run rough-shod over the church. This leader (yes, a deacon) pressed for the ousting of my friend. No actual charge was made.

Had my friend been biblically disqualified, had he been teaching or preaching something in error and refused to repent of it, or had he been ignoring his responsibilities as a pastor/elder to “feed the sheep”, I would have been in agreement with the church. Instead he was ousted based on one man’s agenda, who didn’t like the truth (even when spoken in love), and who was offended that those pastor would minister to folks of a different background.

And here we are a few months later, my friend is still hurting – literally wounded in his spirit and heart, and who is drifting in his own world trying to find some clarity. That church had no right to inflict this kind of harm. And I firmly believe that the individual who led this campaign, as well as those who were willing to be pawns in the game, will give answer before the Lord.

In a world of consumer-driven, disposable product, my way mentality, the last place this should be manifest is in the local church. We as a local church are called to be better than that – to be a lighthouse, to offer the world love in place of pain, hope in place of despair, and grace instead of vengeance. In fact, this is exactly what Peter was writing to believers about:

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

When you genuinely love your brethren, as Jesus said we would if we are His, then that love helps you to overlook or in love, to address issues with a person. And is there anyone in your church that needs more grace and understanding that your pastor, who wakes up each morning with the knowledge that he will give account before God almighty what he has done in the role of pastor as a caretaker of the Bride of Christ?

So – first of all, I would encourage you to love and pray for your pastor. Instead of praying for a new pastor, how about praying for the one you have? Second, if you do think there is an issue, won’t you take the biblical path and go to him. Express your concerns. You might just find that you are the one with the misunderstanding.

But even more important is to address spiritual issues within your church, beginning with yourself. Generally a church that will unjustly oust a pastor has other symptoms of spiritual disease. Often it is a membership that is more flesh-minded that Spirit-minded. Usually there is malcontent no matter who the pastor is. And sadly, there may even be the bigger problem of unregenerate membership – meaning that there are people on the church role who don’t REALLY know the Lord. They base their salvation on their attendance, giving, and position, not on their personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus told His disciples that they would be known by one, very specific, character trait: their love one for another. Do the members of your church really love the brethren? This includes your pastor!

And all this extensive blustering, yet I also am aware of churches led by men who should have been ousted long ago, yet they continue one, exercising a near dictatorial reign over their church. I even knew a pastor who had a reputation for calling people who disagreed with him to the parking lot (apparently to punch them out). Again I say – false teachers and those walking in unrepentant sin must be dealt with, and quickly. But we have to quit hurting good, qualified men of God, because ultimately you are hurting the Church. I wouldn’t want to stand before God and try to explain why I harmed the church!