This isn’t the first post that has touched on this subject, and in this case – I plan to be as brief as possible. The primary thing that identifies a particular church (and thus denomination, association, or convention of churches) is doctrine. There are even the cases of “non-denominational churches” that fall into either being non-aligned, but holding fairly clear doctrinal positions (often baptist in nature), or that have absolutely no doctrinal foundation – and thus have no spine or biblical credibility. We Baptists have historically been somewhat confessional (much to the chagrin of many modern baptists), in that we have long held some very firm core doctrines that actually define the term “Baptist”. Among these are:
The BIBLE– The Inerrant, wholly-inspired, Word of God, given through men across thousands of years as the perfect and complete revelation of God to mankind. It is sufficient for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. The Word of God (the Bible) is the sole authority on faith and practice.
GOD – There is One True God, who exists in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection, in three distinct persons: The Father, The Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit – all of one substance, power and eternity, undivided. Jesus Christ, the Word, has always existed with the Father and the Spirit, was born of a virgin (took on flesh), lived without sin, with the single purpose to die in full payment for sin that wasn’t His own.
MAN– Mankind is made by God in His image, created for relationship with God, to bring Glory to God and to Enjoy Him forever. BUT – mankind is, because of Adam’s fall, sinful by nature and has no ability to restore himself to right relationship with God.
SIN – That which violates God’s Law, that in any way attempts to rob God of His glory, whether sins of commission (actions), or omission (things left undone). For All have sinned and come short…
Way of Salvation – God has made provision for the restoration of fallen, sinful man through the perfect sacrifice of Himself in Jesus Christ, who took on the penalty of sin that we deserve, and in His death, paid the eternal price for that sin. Salvation is by grace, through faith – not of works. (Ephesians 2:8&9)
BAPTISM & LORD’S SUPPER – the two ORDINANCES given to the church as signs and as an encouragement to believers as well as a testimony of the gospel in participants. Baptism is the immersion of the repentant convert in water, conducted in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a public sign and profession of the individual’s death, burial, and resurrection with Christ Jesus. The Lord’s Supper, sometimes referred to as Communion, is the memorial meal of the Cup representing the blood Jesus shed for our sins, and the bread – of His flesh broken on our behalf. Jesus commanded His followers “do this in remembrance” of Him. Both ordinances are to be practiced by born-again believers. The Supper to be practiced by believers who are members in good standing of a local New Testament church.
The CHURCH– is the Body of Christ, expressed explicitly as the Local Body of Believers, yet in a sense understood as the larger union of all true, New Testament believers who are part of the local church.
PASTORS/ELDERS & DEACONS– There are two distinct “offices” recognized historically by Baptists: Elders (also known as pastors and by various other terms) who are called out and set apart by God and via ordination of the local church, to be undershepherds of Christ’s flock. The New Testament lists some very specific qualifications for a man who desires the office – (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Among the most obvious are that these are to be MEN (the Greek is unambiguous), of high moral character, and gifted in teaching. Likewise, Deacons – who are not rulers, but men of character and spiritual maturity, who are to carry the primary burden for material/physical care of the local church’s members, with a particular emphasis on widows, orphans, etc.)
AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH– While Baptists have historically often worked together in various associations and later “conventions”, Baptists have a very biblical perspective of the autonomy of the local church – meaning that each church stands units own, and is beholden only to the Lord Jesus Christ and is not to be subjected to the whims of the secular world, nor to the rule of other churches of entities (essentially the opposite of the episcopal/top-down church government of Catholicism, Methodism, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and others).
Beyond these, Baptists have followed a variety of local church polity from firm elder-leadership, to democratic congregationalism. In ecclesiology, there is a wide range of practices among historic baptists (though congregational government seems to be the most common). Churches are free to associate and cooperate with other churches for the sake of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission, and for mutual aid and encouragement. It is out of this voluntary association that larger formal Associations (like the BMAA) and the Conventions have come into existence.
I say all this to set the stage for this concern:
Doctrine Matters! It is doctrine that binds a local church together. That “unity of faith” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:13 that believers ought to be seeking together. This all begins with the gospel itself – that Christ died to reconcile lost sinful man to our Holy and righteous God, by HIS sovereign will and purpose. The fundamental beliefs of any church body or denomination serve as the defining of their faith, and SHOULD be the basis of cooperation and fellowship. This is why Baptists generally reject any cooperation with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses – as they hold very different views of God, Salvation, and even in WHO Jesus Christ is. This is why it is extremely rare to find areas of cooperation between Baptists and Roman Catholics – because their view of salvation and other doctrines are so radically different (and why when there is such cooperation, it is on a single-issue like the right to life).
Even in Baptist history, there have been significant doctrinal dividing points. Early Baptists were divided primarily along Soteriology with the predominant view of Particular Baptists (some might refer to them as Calvinistic Baptists), and General Baptist. While many don’t understand the difference, the underlying division is over salvation – with Particular Baptists firmly holding that salvation is 100% of the LORD *(monergistic- Ephesians 2:8-9), while General Baptists (including those known as “Free Will” Baptists) hold that the individual must gain and hold on to salvation (synergism). It is rare to find these two primary groups associating and cooperating due to this significant difference in soteriology.
In the association of churches I am a part of, the Baptist Missionary Association of America (and the state version), a church is expected to completely affirm our formal statement of faith to be in fellowship and cooperation with us. We believe that an association of churches (voluntary) ought to hold to a common core of values, just as the local church should. A set of theological and doctrinal distinctive that eliminate any misunderstandings on these matters. Beyond these fundamental (primary) beliefs, we allow much more flexibility – whether it be in who the local church invites to the Lord’s Supper table (close vs closed communion), worship style, ministry models, church polity, and even eschatology (theology of end times). But the doctrines that matter, are what bind us together.
I have recently discovered that the Southern Baptist Convention, while having a history of affirming a set of common beliefs, no longer have such affirmation as a criteria for cooperation and fellowship. Maybe this has been a factor for a significant time (I have been trying to research when that came about), but this reality should be a concern. If an Assembly of God congregation decided to cooperate with the SBC, would that be accepted? Based on the current language – the AoG congregation might be found to be in “substantive agreement” with the BF&M. What would stop them?
There are congregations in the SBC who functionally reject parts of the BF&M, including the core belief of sexual immorality, the limiting of the office of Pastor to men, and apparently even the practicing of the “Miraculous Gifts”. Add in that there are some congregations that have pastors preaching blatant heresies that not only directly contradict the BF&M, but shred Scripture – is it any wonder that Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and a myriad of other anti-gospel ideologies have become firmly rooted in many churches? These all find their support in a low view of Scripture -and the question “has God really said?” just as the Serpent used so long ago in the context of the fall.
I would propose that the current “liberal drift” of the SBC (and in other denominations and local churches) is the product of several factors – one originating in another. It is the product of a low view of the Bible, God’s Holy Word – a functional rejection of it’s inerrancy, reliability, and sufficiency, which makes mankind the arbiter and judge of what is and what isn’t/what God did and didn’t mean. But even this is in many ways the product of a woeful failure to make disciples. Making disciples means, as Jesus clearly stated – TEACHING THEM all that I have commanded. It means passing on the doctrines and theology that Jesus (and in a larger sense that all the Bible teaches) – that the man (person) of God is fully equipped. Instead – churches (including baptists) have become the gathering of “feelings” and what is easy, expedient, world-pleasing, and yes – pragmatic. And in a world that hates God, hates Jesus, and hates those who follow and love Jesus (just as HE warned us would happen), pragmatically seeking the world’s approval is doctrinal suicide, and has led to churches that far more reflect the world than the Glorious and Holy God they are supposedly worshipping and proclaiming.
Let me preface this with the fact that I pray daily for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We share a common spiritual ancestry and at least by statement, believe the same Bible and hold the same core values. And as I sit here in my “2nd Office”, having prayed about this post for several days, hoping that the LORD would change my mind – I have received confirmation after confirmation that this post is necessary. Yes, the Southern Baptist Convention has done many great things for the Kingdom of God – including planting churches around the world, supporting seminaries that have through the many years, trained many Christians for greater work for the cause of Christ. BUT: things are not all well with this organization.
This week, as the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Anaheim, California for their annual conference, they face a massive problem that goes well beyond the very publicly-aired grievances. On the surface, you don’t have to be an SBC insider to be well aware of the hashtag #changethedirection. The Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), Founders Ministry (led by Tom Ascol), and even G3 Ministries have been among those most vocal in calling for mayor direction shift by the world’s largest Baptist denomination, a cooperative convention with stated goals not unlike those of my own BMAA.
So why #changethedirection?
Some of us are old enough to remember (or have studied) the “liberal drift” of the SBC that came to a head in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. A significant number of cooperative churches had begun to adopt theologically and doctrinally liberal positions that ran contrary to historic Baptist positions (and more importantly, BIBLICAL positions). The fundamental issue was not the “liberal drift”, but the low view of Scripture that was at the core of this shift. A handful of well-known figures (and a myriad of lesser-known men) began in 1979 to fight in earnest for the “soul of the SBC”. Over the course of several years, Dr. Albert Mohler secure election as President of the convention, which opened the door to change in leadership of the various agencies and seminaries, bringing what is now known as “The Conservative Resurgence”. Among the better sources on this subject was penned by Judge Paul Pressler entitled A Hill On Which To Die (A worthwhile read for anyone interested in that tumultuous time in Southern Baptist history). The end result of that “coup” as some called it, was the spin-off (split) of the “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship”, a parallel body of mostly former Southern Baptist congregations that hold a wide, though significantly liberal in doctrine, beliefs including the ordination of women, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle, and what most Bible-believers would call a very low view of God and the Bible.
To those of us outside the Convention, we have watched as churches of the convention have continued to spin off into liberalism. Somewhat controversial ministries like Pulpit & Pen/Protestia, Reformation Charlotte, and others have been sounding the alarm for well over a decade. Often maligned and accused of being divisive (despite the Scriptures always labeling those in doctrinal and theological error to be responsible for division), these men and ministries have been battling – many leading their own congregations out of the SBC on the basic principals at hand. Over the last several years, as SBC superstars, often in megachurches, have been ramping up the assault on God’s Word, again bringing the inerrancy, authority, reliability, and sufficiency of Scripture into question. From well-documented redefining of sin to simply “brokenness“, the ramping up of easy-believism and “come as you are, but we don’t expect change”, With so-called pastors refusing to speak of teh very real consequences of sin, in favor of soft tone and coddling sinners – it was only a matter of time before this produced the spiritually weak and immature churches, building what my friend Allen Nelson (@quatronelson) has complained are “unregenerate church members”. Mega churches in the convention are now not only ordaining women to pastoral positions (Saddleback Church/Rick Warren), but proudly boasting of having LGBTQ+ volunteers and staff people (Church on the Glades, Corral Gables, Fl). The SBC’s own ministry, the ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), which has expended millions of cooperative giving dollars in promoting mosques, condemning churches that didn’t shut their doors under COVID, and now actively opposing state legislation to stop abortion (unquestionably the greatest injustice in the US for almost 50 years). In fact, the current leadership (following the train wreck that is Dr. Russell Moore, a politically and biblically-liberal man who has left the convention to a far more suitable and liberal group) has announced their “pro-life” conference – where they refuse to even call abortion evil – instead using a slogan of “Make Abortion Unnecessary”. When asked when abortion is “necessary” today, leadership (according to those in Anaheim this week, refused to answer).
What we see unfolding is a war within the Southern Baptist Convention. A war where the battles and skirmishes are over sin, liberalism, Critical Race Theory (a distinctively Marxist and brazenly racist ideology), Intersectionality, radical feminism, and much more, that at its core – isn’t ABOUT these, which are simply symptoms, but are all rooted in the exact same cancer that divided the denomination 40 plus years ago: The Word of God. IS the Word of God reliable? Is the Word of God inerrant? Is the Bible sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16)? It is on this set of questions that essentially all of the “issues” being battled under the banner of #chagnethedirection rest. Indeed, to fight against the clear teaching of the Word of God is to be “ashamed of the gospel” itself (Romans 1:16). Instead, as churches and now the Convention dive off into the poison pill of pragmatism, seeking to please the world instead of their Creator – it begs the question: Now what? Will the effort to elect a distinctly conservative man to the President of the SBC fix the problem? No. The process to even remotely impact the actual direction of the Convention, made up of some 47,000 local churches, with several seminaries that are rapidly flying off the rails, with those holding to liberal ideologies now in the majority in most committees that have any say, is a decade or more of uninterrupted conservative leadership.
To my third-person perspective, it looks like a lot of folks are holding out hope that a man (Tom Ascol) somehow can be the “messiah” of the Convention. Alas – even if he were to be elected today in Anaheim – it doesn’t solve the problem that nobody seems to want to address: Corporatism and an ecclesiology built to fail.
Ecclesiology is by definition, the “study of the church” and is an area of Christian theology that often gets less attention than is appropriate. Within ecclesiology is the study and application of church structure, governance, and polity. Baptists have historically held to a bottom-up framework that emphasizes the equal vote and value of the individual regenerate church member, in a mostly congregationalist local church polity (with some degree of elder-leadership), autonomy of the local church (the local church is not beholden to any other entity or in subjection to outside denominational authority), with each local voluntarily associating with and even cooperating with other local churches in fulfillment of the Great Commission. This is in stark contrast to the episcopal/hierarchical model – where the local church is subject to a ruling denominational authority (Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and even some Pentecostal denominations. Within the Baptist realm, there are some variations in the view of local church “autonomy” – form the stereotypical “Independent, Fundamentalist Baptist”, to the more organize Baptist denominations. But in all – Baptists proudly (and I believe accurately) hold that “the church” is manifested in this world as the LOCAL church.
The problem with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Polity:
The Southern Baptist Convention has grown into a massive corporation, with hundnreds of millions of dollars given every year jsut to the national denomination (and Billions when totaled with state and local conventions and associations). The Convention has several ministries that function as semi-independent entities (such as the North American Missions Board, the International Missions Board, Lifeway, the ERLC, etc.). These all receive their primary funding via the denominational umbrella. I won’t delve into the details of how the money filters up mostly from state conventions, but suffice it to say that churches have very little say in where the funds they contribute are spent. And therein lies the rub: The size of the Convention becomes the excuse for a lack of transparency and accountability. Over the years, many have come into leadership positions that had no business in even leading a local church, much less a multi-million ministry organization in charge of missionaries and missionary policy.
Some within the more conservative circles of the Convention have been trying for years to even find out the compensation package for certain officers. Likewise is the effort to simply get a detailed accounting of how cooperative funds have been spent. The structure itself makes such information functionally a “protected secret”. Outside of general budgets and offering totals, the average church member of a Convention church has no way of being fully-informed. By the time a problem is obvious, the hole is already dug (or in the current situation – the derailment already well-progressed). Even seminaries are under this (though at least for accreditation purposes – they have to have more transparent financials). But when seminaries have professors (and even presidents) who are teaching or tolerating serious errors, doctrinal contradictions, and even blatant work contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (the official statement of all churches in the Convention) – change is nearly impossible because of so little accountability.
The Convention has become and albatross – one that is easily steered by political correctness, but rudderless in trying to “right the course”. And his all goes back to the title of this post: A Denomination Built To Fail. When we explore the New Testament and the model of the Church(s) – we see independent bodies, connected not by some hierarchal system, but bound by the teachings of the apostles, once handed down (Jude 1:3), revolving around the one gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul was so passionate about (Romans 1:16, Galatians 1:8). Churches were organized then left to further the ministry. Yes, Paul and others checked in and offered suggestions and even commands to those early and immature bodies. But we see that contributions were sent for specific purposes to specific churches in need – not via some denominational organization or authority – but simply out of love and concern for the brethren in need. Indeed – we often see reference made to “churches” within a geographic area who often worked together for ministry. But the local church remained the foundation.
What we have seen historically is that the farther away from the local church structures get – the more susceptible they are to corruption and trouble. The latest scandal in the SBC revolving around sexual abuse and the accompanying cover-ups, which should have been handled at the local church level (because biblically, the “denomination” has no authority over the local church), became a denominational issue – precisely BECAUSE of the SBS’s corporate structure. When Executive Committee members actively helped to cover up abuse reported to them – they opened the entire denomination to not just scrutiny, but to a degree of liability. The proposed “solution”? Even more top-down structure and policies.
I had to step away from writing this for several ministry duties and opportunities – but now that I’m back at the keyboard, I do it with an even heavier heart – for literally everything that has been considered “worst case” has come to pass. Just what I’ve seen reported is too much to post here on this already long entry – but here are some of the more alarming and in many cases, Scripturally contradictory actions:
Tom Ascol soundly defeated in a runoff between himself and Bart Barber. Bart has tried to play “moderate”, while defending Dr. Moore and the ERLC when they chose to attack churches for keeping their doors open, while also defending mosques. And lest we forget, we now have absolutely proof that Dr. Moore was an active participant in covering up sexual abuse in the convention – holding information as a secret weapon instead of helping to deal with it. Alas – Barber chose politics over biblically-correct and moral action.
The Pastor’s Conference elected the truly #woke candidate, Daniel Dickard, as President of the conference, over Voddie Baucham (one of the most gifted and biblically-sound preachers in all of the Southern Baptist Convention – who also happens to be a Black man and anti-woke). This was a pretty significant preview of what was to come with the Ascol/Barber vote.
As a result of the above, and a ruling by the Credentials Committee on the issue – the Southern Baptist Convention now endorses and approves of women being ordained to offices biblically restricted to men (including pastoral ministry). This under the decision stating they recognize that some churches practice ordination based upon the person’s “gifting”. (I’m still trying to figure out how you deal with “husband of one wife” – aka a “one woman man”).
A resolution submitted to recognize and proclaim the sacredness of the pulpit – and thus the need to protect it in the local church was rejected by the resolutions committee with no hope of it being voted to the floor by the full body.
Passively endorsed blatant plagiarism from the pulpit (in part by rejecting the above resolution), but also by platforming some of the worst and most brazen practitioners of plagiarism.
The ERLC announced their theme for the next “Stand For Life” – functionally asserting that abortion is currently a “necessity”… (see above).
The body voted to remove full acceptance of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as a necessity to become a cooperating church (in other words – a church can reject even key components as long as they acknowledge most of it and still be “Southern Baptist”).
Voted to implement Recommendation Two which establishes a “Ministry Check” database, publicly accessible, to functionally “register” pastors and leaders in Southern Baptist Churches at churches where there is ANY sort of abuse allegations (they did use the phrase “preponderance of evidence”, but didn’t define that), even if the pastor or other leaders were unaware of abuse – and were not part of the allegations. A functional blacklist or “sex offender registry” that doesn’t even require a conviction (or even actual legal charges) to find your name on it. We have already seen men’s names drug through the mud who were not involved in abuse (Mike Stone being one). This doubles-down and will undoubtably be used as another political weapon.
Faithful and honest people have been verbally assaulted and falsely accused of “stuffing the ballot box”.
The long-and-short of the matter: those who began sounding the alarm more than a decade ago were labeled as dividers, hateful, spiteful, and MUCH worse. Yet again, the Scriptures clearly and consistently equates those who try to inject error, heresies, and wickedness as the “ones who bring division. As the Southern Baptist Convention consummates their marriage to the accursed false gospels and doctrines of “wokness”, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and inevitably incorporating full acceptance of the LGBTQ+ movement (as already openly and proudly practiced at the aforementioned Church on the Glades). But lest we forget – the unaccountable and utterly lacking in transparency missions sending entities of the SBC have been pushing women in leadership roles (including functional pastorship) for a while now.
And sadly, we have a biblical precedent for what we are seeing (as well an historic and recent example): When God’s timing came to bring dramatic judgment to His own people, and after dramatic and warnings by many men of God, Israel was utterly crushed and carried away. Prophets continued to warn Judah to repent and return to God and HIS Word, rejecting their idols – but they refused to heed the Word of the LORD and suffered even more horrific judgment by Babylon. Similarly, the United Methodists went through a nearly-identical (though somewhat more protracted) drift over what is essentially the same issue (God’s Word and it’s reliability, inerrancy, and sufficiency – aka “Hath God really said?”. They too had opportunities to #changethedirection, they too labeled the Conservatives among them as divisive and evil. They too progressively shut down Conservative voices. And now, the UMC is in the process of a dramatic division. I see no path forward for a united Southern Baptist Convention. And sadly, like the UMC, it is the more Bible-aligned “Conservatives” who are getting run out.
But there is an alternative. There is biblical grounds for churches to associate together and to cooperate for the Great Commission Work. But along with that association is a need for both accountability (to the LOCAL CHURCHES) and in that – transparency. The BMA of America is such an association. No “Executive Committee” driving a massive corporate structure (thus no ruling elites entangling the entire denomination in sexual cover-ups and other legal wrangling that consume offerings from churches intended for the support of missionaries and church planting). The BMAA operates with a dramatic and intentional bottom-up structure, where the LOCAL CHURCH is the driving force, the fundamental platform, with the associated (aka – cooperative” work being subject to and in support of the local church’s work in spreading the gospel and planting churches). Churches give directly to each and every ministry, which themselves exist as autonomous entities that don’t even inter-mingle funds. Because of this structure, transparency and accountability are paramount. Every associated church gets reports that include itemized giving and audited expenses, and something as simple as every director’s compensation is clearly listed (and approved) every year! The same-said directors are also re-elected by the body every year – thus they are directly accountable to the churches of the BMA (and the same structure is used at the state level as well). Every church decides which ministries they give to (not some body that makes the decision for you). Missionaries are directly supported.
And the only thing possibly more important the above – is that to be welcomed in to fellowship with the BMA simply requires that you petition in, and completely affirm our statement of faith (and the larger comprehensive confession – the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which use to be the confession of the SBC as well). We believe in protecting the pulpit, we believe in the inerrancy, reliability, and sufficiency of the Bible. And of interest to some: Messengers to our association meetings is a set number (3) per church, regardless of how inflated your church membership roll is! Every church has an equal voice.
Is the BMA “perfect” – absolutely not any more than the local church (or individual believers). But we believe we have a much more biblical grasp of ecclesiology. We take autonomy of the local church very seriously, only eclipsed by our passion for the Word of God.
Oh – and our seminary (Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, TX) – happens to be one of the most cost-effective, fully-accredited, and biblically-conservative seminaries in the country, proudly teaching expository preaching and a very high view of God’s Word.
We have a small, but extra-ordinarily biblically-sound publishing house (Baptist Publishing House) producing unabashedly “Baptist” literature, with the primary literature being titled Baptist Expositor, a curriculum for Sunday school or small group study.
Our broadcast and media ministry is called Lifeword, which produces gospel broadcasts in a massive list of languages, podcasts and ministry videos, as well as conferences, retreats, and events to bolster faith and to help equip believers.
The BMA has other ministries under the umbrella – yet every one is autonomous and independently funded by the churches and individuals of the BMA.
This post was not intended as a sales pitch (though I’m sure the last chunk sure seems like it!), but simply to address some of the symptoms that are sooner than later bringing spiritual death to the Southern Baptist Convention, while presenting an alternative for those churches who can no longer bear to associate (or even to be unequally yoked) with the works of darkness that have become the norm of the Convention (Ephesians 5:11). Please know that my prayers are with our brethren in the SBC. Whether or not you take a look at the BMA, I do pray that you come out of what has become a type of Babylon!
Imagine yourself traveling back in time – a little over 1900 years back, to take a look at the early Christians and what they were enduring. Scripture gives a few indicators that believers were gathering for more formal worship on what we know as Sunday (the first day of the week). But what the Bible itself only hints at, those early believers often were assembling in direct contradiction to the demands of the day set by the “ruling authorities”. We can read in the book of Acts the records of Peter and others being commanded to stop preaching Jesus and Him crucified (aka – the gospel) – with the understood implication that the gathering of like-minded folks (aka – the church) was also on the prohibition list – because what else draws believers together like the common bonds of our crucified and risen Savior?
These early gatherings were not held in big, multi-million dollar temples of brick and stone (or steel and glass…), but in homes – sometimes the LORD blessed a local body with a wealthy believer who opened their estate up for the assembly (like Nympha of Laodicea mentioned in Colossians 4:15). But what we can gather from history plus Scripture – is that believers regularly met together for edification, teaching, and worship via hymns, songs, and spiritual songs, bearing one-anothers burdens, and frequently observing the LORD’s Supper in remembrance of Christ Jesus and HIS sacrifice on their behalf. We also know that this was often an al-day event, and generally included food. But of prime value to this post – we must recognize that often – these meetings were considered “unlawful”.
Now let us return to our present time – but fly across the Pacific to China (or several other Asia/Pacific nations). We find ourselves there on a Sunday – and other than a scarce state-authorized “church” that teaches a Chinese Communist Party edited and approved religion that barely resembles biblical Christianity. But keep looking. In apartments, homes, and even in some of the few remote outdoor places – you may find churches – often comparatively small, meeting together – singing songs of praise, edifying one-another, often sharing a meal, and preaching Jesus and Him crucified – all in a jurisdiction that is actively engaged in the arrest, torture, and murder of those engaging in biblical Christianity – and those small house churches are growing – and despite heavily-enforced prohibitions – they continue to meet – taking quite literally the command that God recorded in Hebrews 10:25 “…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Their love of Jesus and their faithfulness to the call for believers to come together as the Body (and as a side-note, often an amazing zeal for sharing the gospel despite the unlawfulness of it) is a much higher priority than the laws of the earthy authorities.
But this brings us to today, right here in the USA & the rest of North America – And we have seen government entities, under the guise of a global “pandemic”, shutting down churches. On the surface, we might not see a problem – in the “interest of safety”. Yet even as other gathering places and businesses were allowed to reopen under the guise of “essential” (including casinos, big box retailers, liquor and tobacco vendors and bars, etc.), some jurisdictions continued to demand churches remain closed and/or strictly limited attendance to a small fraction of capacity.
One high-profile example comes from Edmonton, Alberta Canada, the home of Grace Life Church, who’s pastor, James Coats, had led his church to continue in their corporate worship. The church refused to tell some (the majority) of the local church that they couldn’t attend – that only a couple dozen could worship together. As the situation escalated, provincial health authorities and police began showing up, then began threatening tickets, and finally demanded they cease or there would be arrests. Eventually, Pastor Coats was arrested and spent a month in jail, as a judge refused to allow bail – because this pastor would not promise to stop preaching and meeting with the church assembled. Since then, other churches in that province have also faced arrests and massive fines. And just this week, RCMP and Alberta Health Authorities took the unprecedented action of raiding the church to have a riot-style, double-fence installed to physical barricade the church from meetging on their own property. Even here in the US, churches like Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California faced similar threats from Los Angeles County authorities for holding in-person worship services. They still are accruing thousands of dollars a week in fines from the county.
And in defense of those who are trying to prevent churches from assembling – are those (some of which profess to be Christians) shouting “ROMANS 13!!!”. For those who may not know, this is a reference to Paul’s command to “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
Unfortunately, those using these two verses as a club against churches fail to take the context of that passage (which follows in verse 3 & 4) the PURPOSE of government – which becomes moot when said government rejects its biblical mandate. Indeed, we have no biblical reference or example to validate believers shutting down corporate worship (the assembly together) based on any government or ruling authority mandate. Quite the contrary, we have example after example of believers meeting together in spite of mandates and laws, and yes – sometimes even to their own arrest and martyrdom.
But that brings us to the cryptic title of this article “2 or more are gathered…” I have been attacked for supporting Grace Life Church (and others who have been fighting the fight for the church and their right, regardless of mandates, to assemble as they see fit). Most recently, this has been in repeated misuse of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” The story goes something like this:
So, what we have here is a completely different subject matter than corporate worship/assembly. The verse is so frequently and wrongly used (being forced into a meaning other than its actual meaning is called eisegesis. NO, a gathering of two or three believers together isn’t a substitute for corporate worship. Believers are expected – and the biblical example in this IS prescriptive – to assemble together regularly for worship, prayer, fellowship, and the teaching/preaching of God’s Word. Period. It is not a sin to do this even when the “ruling authorities” tell you not to. Indeed, Scripture couldn’t be more clear that we are to chose this day WHO we will serve – God or man. If choosing to follow God’s commands is wrong – then Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were actually sinning for refusing to bow down before the Babylonian emperor and his golden statue, or for refusing the food offered them.
And even more troubling – that means that the first-century churches that gathered in spite of the ruling authorities and their commands to the contrary…
And our brethren around this globe today who worship despite laws against it – who face literally torture and death for their assembly…
This past Sunday, thousands of small house churches met in China, Iran, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and several other nations that are lethally-hostile to Christianity. Each led by a pastor, an elder, or simply a layperson who understands Christ’s call to His churches to assemble regularly together. Each faced slightly differing threats – some from neighbors, others from police or government officials – and all also under a declared world-wide pandemic. And without a doubt, there were some who were found and reported, some who have been beaten for gathering with the saints. And we have no way to know for certain just how many may very well have died for their faith as a product of simply trying to meet together with the local body of believers.
Meanwhile, here in the US, Canada, and several other far more “Church-friendly” nations, thousands of churches were empty, doors locked or with only a skeleton crew to operate a camera and to “preach” to, in hopes that an electronic video would stream to a social media or video hosting platform that some of their people might tune in. Some of these local churches are claiming to be following Romans 13’s command to subject themselves to the ruling authorities who have issued mandates and regulations that have all-but made church gatherings illegal. Others are simply scared of this virus and fear being blamed if someone were to get sick and die from it. Figures like Andy Stanley (I refused to call him a “pastor” as he has turned apostate on all manner of foundational doctrinal matters) closed their corporate mega churches months ago wiht promisees to reopen in January, yet their auditoriums are still empty with the lights mostly off – and their flocks still scattered… and like the flocks, big-or-small across this nation – the sheep are suffering and even dying from discouragement, spiritual deprivation, and growing malease from the lack of a fundamental need of all genuinely regenerated believers: the personal fellowship and edification that comes with corporate prayer, worship, and preaching.
I ask, first: which is the biblical picture? Which is seeking to please God rather than man? Which represents a hope of and in a God who is Sovereignly ruling and reigning still? Which holds a low view of God and His power and authority? Which fulfills the writer’s admonition in Hebrews 10:25
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
How do we fulfill the command to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) through Zoom teleconference or a recorded video?
How can we share together the ordinances of the church Christ left for us through a pre-recorded message? The Lord’s Supper, that beautiful reminder of the sacrifice Christ made of Himself on our behalf is commemorated in the sharing together of the elements – with the combined illustration of humble service. Jesus didn’t die virtually, nor should we remember that sacrifice “virtually”.
But lets address a few things. First is that claim of Romans 13 submission to ruling authorities. Throughout Scripture, God’s people are commanded to obey God first. And every single time that man’s law and rulers conflict with God’s Law & Commands, the positive choice is always God’s Commands. Whether in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, or the Pharaoh in Egypt, or in the face of Roman and Jewish rulers who demanded the early believers not proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the God-glorifying, Kingdom-building and righteous decision is to always obey God rather than man.
For those who refuse to open churches for in-person worship based on threats of fines or arrest under law or dictatorial edicts, particularly in the United States, I encourage you to find a copy of the U.S. Constitution and turn to the Bill of Rights and the first Amendment (included here for your convenience):
The key component here is that it clearly prohibits the government from prohibiting (interfering with) the free exercise of religion or the abridging of the freedom of speech… or the right to peaceably assemble. So, even if one were to try to twist Hebrews 13 to be a mandate to obey governing authorities even when their demands contradict God’s commands, these mandates and forced closures are themselves unlawful. This doesn’t’ change just because there is a virus.
So lets turn to fear. Yes, the virus that has triggered the “global pandemic” is a real virus. Yes, I personally know people who have died either directly from, or as a result of complications arising from the virs formally known as SARS-CoV-2. My intent here is not to chase theories regarding where it came from, if it was a human engineered weapon, or if it is a sign of the prophetic end times. But I will argue that Satan has used Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (hereafter referred to as FUD) to cause authorities and church leaders to make un-Godly decisions. And as we see our world (and especially the USA) turn increasingly anti-Christian, anti-church (if the church isn’t #WOKE with the Social Justice false gospel of the day), and so-called “Christian leaders” sacrifice the gospel and kingdom building on the altar of politics and political correctness to appease the culture – we see an increasing hopelessness: the exact opposite of what Christ’s people are suppose to be showing the world.
And please don’t take this wrong – many churches have been forced to reach beyond their physical building via streaming or video uploading of sermons. Indeed, the church I pastor has seen an interesting audience well outside of our local “mission field”. But again, this in no-way justifies shutting the doors of the local church meeting.
Among the most common phrases in all of Scripture, directed always at God’s people:
Each and every time the doors of the local church open, people make a decision if they are going to assemble together with the saints or not. This has always been true (and is the core of admonition regarding not forsaking the assembly as is the matter of some). Long before their was a Coronavirus causing panic or being used to create FUD, people made this decision. Week-after-week. But as a pastor, I have no right to take away an the opportunity to assemble together with believers. I don’t even take issue with taking reasonable precautions as one would with any spreading illness (we can save discussion of the efficacy of some of the current mandates and requirements at another time), if that is what it takes to help people overcome their fear. But ultimately, whether someone assembles together with the local church at any given time is a matter between the individual, their doctor, and their Creator. But I will do everything within my ability to make sure the doors of the church I have been called to lead, are open for for all who desire to worship as we have been called to worship (together), and I call out other pastors – for the sake of the sheep – the flock of God, and even more importantly, for the Glory of God and the sake of His kingdom:
I was privileged to participate in an ordination service for a young man who had recently been called a pastor of a church that had been without a pastor for quite some time. As is boilerplate, the charge was brought centered around the command to “preach the Word” from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Sadly, you rarely hear spoken in these services (or even in seminary classes) that simply “preaching the Word” will bring grief. Yet I’ve had reminders of that truth in the last 24 hours.
A friend in another state, faithful expository preacher of the Bible – who holds no unscriptural view, who has never even been accused of preaching falsehoods, but instead – because of a broken local church ecclesiology (theology of church polity and power) – has been pushed out the door and forced to move from the parsonage, without pay to even afford another place to live. This man has been a faithful preacher of the Word. He has been honest and faithful to his call – but this faithfulness has also been the dagger that stabbed him in the back. When you preach in an expository format, you cannot easily skip over the controversial, uncomfortable, and “hard” stuff that many topical preachers conveniently just avoid. If you preach the Word, you will meet these difficult passages with honesty, love, and in a way that will very likely step on toes. And sometimes a church that has members rebelling against God in their personal lives will become offended and want more candy and less meat.
But add in the clear need for biblical discipline – such as a church member going on a well-publicized (in state-wide media) racist rant, or radical, community-rocking sexual sin (thing the incestuous forniaction of 2 Corinthians fame) then to get blocked by the church’s un-biblical church government – and you have a perfect storm to completely devastated a pastor and his family.
No sooner did I get some details on the above case (which is FAR from the first similar case I’ve become acquainted with among pastor friends), I got word of another friend in a somewhat different ministry position who also has been pushed out of his position via an extremely unbiblical and un-Christlike manner.
This is a sad pattern that, as I shared with my friends this morning, is nothing new and will continue to exist until Jesus steps foot on this earth. But I grieve for the damage done to these men who are simply pouring out their heart, giving of themselves in a very sacrificial way to glorify God and “preach the Word”, to make disciples – and to endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Much of this is rooted in an extremely dangerous theological perspective that many churches have, one that I heard hints of even in the ordination service I was a part of yesterday. While we who claim the Bible as our sole foundation and measure of faith and practice, we often take things to extremes. One example we find – we claim that Jesus is the “head” of the local church. We might even give verbal assent to a pastor being an “under-shepherd” to “lead” the church. Yet I have heard many times (and again heard it yesterday afternoon) that a pastor “serves at the pleasure of the church”. This always strikes me as completely incongruent with Scripture. It is about a maximum stretch to find a full-on “democratic rule” of the local church depicted or prescribed in the New Testament, but to find anything that remotely resembles a pastor being nothing more than a convenience to serve at the fleshly whims of the local church is exactly what brings us to the above mentioned recent cases, and these all are found in a very man/me-centered theology, which is an upside-down theology. It is a very small-view of God that actually places man ABOVE God. While Jesus is the head of the local church, and the church belongs unquestionablly to Him who gave His life for her – scripturally, we have the model and even command for the church to be “elder-led” – meaning God’s man (or men) are called to “rule” (we really hate that word). At the same time, the church does have a voice in many factors – but ultimately, a pastor is God’s man, called to be the primary lead – not as a hireling that can be cast aside when tastes and fleshly desires or feelings blow in a different direction.
But don’t we see this in many help-wanted pastor listings? How often do we see a church saying that they are looking for a man who holds certain degrees from prestigious institutions, who has decades of successful (by what standard?) ministry, yet never even mention that they are looking for God’s man – for the soul that the LORD Jesus Christ would be preparing to lead that congregation. As a seminary graduate myself, I appreciate the tool that seminary was (and still is) in my life and ministry – but the seminary does not make a pastor (or preacher). Wordly preferences do not dictate what God would have for the local church. And the sad reality of many congregations, filled with nominal or immature Christians, we have a recipe for disaster.
Does a pastor, who is faithfully dedicating his life, heart, blood, sweat, & tears deserve to be treated in any matter less than with genuine love, grace, and biblical processes? Understand that a God-called man sacrifices more than you could ever know. He isn’t going to brag about the hours spend in prayer and studying. He isn’t going to post a time card listing the miles and hours dedicated to helping that stumbling church member, that sick widow, or the questioning worry-wart. He won’t trumpet the inconvenience of going to a funeral home with a grieving family that doesn’t know how to put a funeral together. He doesn’t ask for lots of vacation time or leave unless there is no other option available. His phone is on nearly all the time, even when it means sacrificing family. And whether you know it or not: he is praying for you, usually by name every single day.
And in our current world of confusion and fear – he too is dealing with anxiety – and possibly measurable depression. Some who have been deprived of preaching time due to lockdowns or personal quarantine and illness, are struggling with simply not emotionally breaking down. These men… we pastors are not selfish when we pray for some return to “normal”, we are not uncaring when we have expectations that believers would act not out of fear but out of confidence in the LORD as a witness, a living testimony to a fear-paralized and broken world. When we desire the least-restrictive church operation possible, we are not seeking the illness or death of church members, but looking to make the facilities, ministries, and services accessible to the most people.
If you are a member of a local church, you may not realize it – but your pastor loves you. He has been entrusted with your spiritual growth and maturity – and tasked not with babying you and acquiescing to the world or church member preferences, but admonishing, encouraging, and yes, even bringing biblical church discipline when justified. If he preaches a message that spiritually slaps you in the face, don’t get mad, but instead get on your knees and thank God that the LORD and your pastor love you enough to speak the truth – then repent and pursue righteousness! Don’t launch a devil-inspired campaign of dishonesty and destruction in retaliation. And if we slip, if we fail – then remember the Biblical means of addressing that – in the spirit of love and reconciliation, walk and act in grace, covered by prayer, remembering that this pastor is a soul too –
Cast all petiness aside (Read and pray through Romans 14, especially the last 13 or so verses). And seek to walk in the truth of God’s Word.
Please pray for these two men hinted to in this entry – one in Missouri, the other here in Arkansas – and the many facing similar circumstances that I just haven’t heard about yet. If you have issues with your pastor – please pray both for him and for your own heart in the matter – and seek the biblical answer to the perceived problem. And act in LOVE, not vanity and flesh.
The local media posted a story this morning with their usual Left-slant, claiming they had talked to local pastors (though an actual investigation finds that they actually quote exactly ONE). Their agenda is pretty clear in attacking armed churchgoers. So I crafted the following reply to post on social media, but thought it justified its own post here as well:
Interestingly – no-one tried to contact me, a local pastor. But I will share my thoughts here:
Arkansas law leaves the decision of whether or not firearms are welcome on a church property up to the local church (where it always should have been).
Show me one example of where a sign or statute has prevented someone from taking a firearm someplace and doing great harm – The infamous church shooting in Texas a couple of years ago is an example – the law in that state at the time made it unlawful to have a firearm in that church.
The reality is – if someone means to do harm with a gun, no policy, law, or signage is going to prevent them from bringing that firearm.
On the flip-side, as was demonstrated in the shooting Sunday – it was law-abiding citizens who stepped up to prevent far worse from happening. While I grieve ALL the loss of life (even the “bad guy”). I mourn what kind of wickedness must be rooted in anyone’s heart to want to go into a church service and kill people. The depravity is just unfathomable. But praise God that there were people willing to step up and stop the threat. Also – notice this entire event began and ended in less than 1 minute. Police are not magical angels who can appear in 2 seconds to end a threat. And even churches with hired/appointed security teams – can’t be everywhere at once.
As a pastor, I am glad to know that there are solid folks who are carrying a firearm every time the doors are open (and even when they are closed if I am on campus!). If we were to attempt to ban firearms – that means ONLY those who mean harm would have guns. That isn’t a positive position. As a pastor, I have the biblical responsibility to “protect the sheep”. I will do whatever it takes – whether that means I am armed, or I am confident there are good people in the congregation who are armed (or both).
If a local church’s leadership decides they want to try to ban firearms – that is their right. They can post their signs, they can make all the policies in the world. But if, God forbid, someone with nefarious designs comes in – woe is them who then are defenseless. But again – that is the church’s right.
And one last comment – I have read several posts and seen statements given complaining that church people shouldn’t feel the need to be armed. They should “be willing to be a martyr”. I’m sorry – but it is not loving to sit idly by while your neighbor is shot dead. It is not Christ-like to watch as those who very well may not be spiritually ready to meet Jesus have their lives snuffed out. And it is most definitely not the Christian thing to let children be slaughtered. Just because I believe I am prepared for my last breath – doesn’t’ mean those around me are.
What it all comes down to is that we pastors are tasked with the protection of the flock entrusted to us. While most think of such protection as primarily spiritual protection, we are also tasked with trying to promote the safest environment possible for worship, learning, teaching, discipleship, and service that we can. If that is gained by knowing that there are solid, God-fearing people who are armed at any given time, then so be it.
What it comes down to is this: Pastors are responsible for the flock entrusted to them. While we primarily think of that care as spiritual care, we are also tasked with doing all that we can to provide an atmosphere for worship, learning, discipleship, and service that is as safe as possible. I take that
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 Jesus. Leeman’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.
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)