Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bringing Home the Bacon

Congress, with its batch of fresh faces from the November election, vowed to address the subject of earmarks in appropriations bills (e.g., bacon for voters to chew on).

Conservatives proposed banning the practice of earmarks altogether. To do so would mean that individual congressmen would no longer be able to attach the approval to spend money on his district's rattlesnake rodeo to unrelated bills addressing the USDA meat inspection practices, for example.

In the scheme of trillion-dollar budgets and even bigger deficits, earmarks don't amount to much. But to ordinary taxpayers, and because of the ideology of big government it represents, they do.

But even some Republicans balked at the notion, on the grounds that 'it is my duty to make sure I secure some federal money for my constituents back home.'

Let's review a few basic principles from Civics 101.

The 'federal money' only exists because the U.S. Government takes it from citizens. It takes money from citizens by taxing us: income tax, business tax, fees, regulations, etc, etc.

So, to 'secure' federal money for constituents is to capitulate to the most inefficient scheme ever: send money to Washington through taxes, then beg for it back after politicians, bureacrats and regulators have extracted salaries and fees and generally wasted a bunch of it.

If congressmen were really concerned about constituents, they would seek to end the practice altogether. If people in your district need money for the rattlesnake rodeo, don't beg for it from Washington: instead, don't send it to Washington in the first place.

The attempt to ban earmarks? Failed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Effectual Call & Views of Man

Anthony Hoekema, in his book Saved by Grace, gives a good summary of the effects that one's view of the effectual call of the gospel had in relation to one's view of the nature of man.

The 'gospel call' is the demand the gospel places on all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. The 'effectual call' is that which results on one man's responding to the gospel call while another does not.

According to Hoekema, one's view of the nature of man has great impact on whether one sees a distinction between the gospel call and effectual call at all, and the relation between them and the nature of man.

The Pelagian View

Man is morally and spiritually neutral so that he is free to choose to do good or bad. No effectual call is necessary.

The Semi-Pelagian View

Man is morally and spiritually sick, but all still have the ability to respond to the gospel. No effectual call is necessary.

The Arminian View

Man is depraved, but there is sufficient enabling grace such that those who hear the gospel can cooperate with this grace and accept the gospel. No effectual call is necessary.

The Reformed View

Man is dead in sin, unable on his own to respond favorably to the gospel call. Effectual calling is necessary to bring the man to life and enable him to respond.

It is certainly apt to suggest that the doctrines of grace all fall into place once the biblical picture of the nature of man is accepted. As J.I. Packer said, one needs only be a one-point Calvinist: God Saves Sinners.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Do we take heaven by storm?

In discussing the ministry of his cousin, Jesus reported that 'from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force' (Matthew 11:12).

From the time the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, because the kingdom was at hand, multitudes strained to gain entry, much like a destitute hoard which learns that the riches of a fortified city may be theirs if only they scale the walls.

In the eyes of the religious, their precious stronghold was being overrun by undesirables.

In another sense, the kingdom does not come without violence: it separates those who would be in from those who wish to remain out; it pits those who welcome the reign it represents from those who continue to rebel against its Lord.

And, further, the kingdom does violence within each man who wishes to enter, for entry into Christ's kingdom requires the mortification of the flesh -- putting to death the deeds of the worldly desires that continue to rise up within us. This violence requires us to pluck out our proverbial eye, to cut off our metaphorical hand, if such is necessary to secure our entry.

Of course, the world, the flesh, the devil do not want any to enter Christ's kingdom, and themselves strive and strain to preserve their grip on the souls of men. Only the violent -- those regenerated and empowered by the Spirit -- can resist with the violence necessary to escape their clutches.

Of this violent kingdom-taking Thomas Watson writes: 'the flesh is a sly enemny; at first dulce venenum (a beautiful charm or potion); afterward, scorpio pungens (a fighting scorpoion); it kills by embracing' and 'the movement of the soul towards sins is natural, but its movement towards heaven is violent'(Heaven Taken by Storm).

Does our faith resemble this sort of violence? Does our walk with Christ require this sort of effort, this continual homicide of our own man?

Or is the most striving and straining we muster in relation to our favorites sports teams? Do we take heaven by storm -- with zeal -- or do we attempt to ride in, 'easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy'?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Apostolic Preaching

"Truly apostolic preaching is not ethical imperative ungrounded in theological indicative. It is not psychological manipulation, moralistic harangue based on guilt, or pragmatic life coaching, untethered to the truth of Christ's redemptive accomplishment on behalf of his believers.

"When the apostolic preacher directs his hearers in God's name as to their way of life, that direction flows naturally and inevitably out of Christ's redeeming work on their behalf. Apostolic preaching is profoundly practical because it is profoundly theological. Transformed convictions transform attitudes and behavior."

Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Exhortations" are Good News?

Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, prepared the people for the coming Christ. Luke, in his Gospel, reports that the Baptizer's sermons were anything but user-friendly. He called the crowds a "brood of vipers," and challenged them to do works that confirmed their professed repentance.

These deeds included radical generosity: whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise (Luke 3:10). They included radical honesty: [tax collectors should] collect no more than you are authorized to do (Luke 3:13). They included radical restraint of power and lack of greed: [soldiers should not] extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:14).

But the Baptizer gets even more radical. He describes Jesus' superior greatness in terms of His baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Jesus will brandish his winnowing fork, He will clear the threshing floor, He will gather His wheat into His barn, and He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

No wonder the Baptizer wore burlap and ate bugs. He probably was not given the key to many cities.

But Luke describes John's harshness this way: "with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people" (Luke 3:18).

"Good news"? Seriously?

John's exhortations -- even that Jesus will clear the threshing floor and burn chaff with fire -- point to the more glorious truth that Jesus will gather his wheat into his barn. No doubt. No uncertainty. No question. He will do it. He will save his people.

How do you know whether you are "Jesus' wheat"? Repent, and believe the good news.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Subverting our Caesars

Trevin Wax, in his book Holy Subversion, demonstrates that one reason early believers were persecuted was that they subverted the allegiance demanded by the Roman Caesar. Early believers were subversive because they rejected the idea that the Caesar was the chief among the gods, they rejected the idea that power made right, they rejected the idea that sex was to be promoted regardless of its form, they rejected the idea that wealth was to be hoarded.

Wax points out that, obviously, we have no Caesar breathing down our necks, requiring our allegiance by providing bread and circuses — keeping us fat and entertained, as it were.

However, modern caesars still lure us into practical Caesar worship. Views on money and wealth cause Christians to behave like the world. Views on sexuality cause Christians to act like world. Views on power, politics, health and even entertainment subtly tempt Christians to act like the world, becoming not merely practical atheists (living like there is no God), but practical polytheists (living as if there are many gods to be appeased and praised).

Christians today — much like those of the first centuries — must deliberately recognize and topple all would-be caesars, deposing them from their wordly thrones and recognizing instead the one, true God, who alone occupies the throne and rules in all aspects of our lives.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fortifying Hearts

Paul says in Ephesians 3:16-17 that he prays for God to strengthen believers, with power, through the Spirit, in the inner man. The goal of this strengthening is so that Christ may dwell in the believers' hearts, not in a literal sense, but in a spiritual sense, "though faith." In other words, believers' hearts must be fortified by God in order for Christ to dwell there in his absence, much like the breech of a rifle or cannon must be stronger than the muzzle in order not to rupture at the explosion that takes place inside it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where has the power preaching gone?

Many things have changed since Walter Kaiser published Toward an Exegetical Theology. Mainly, thirty years have ticked off the calendar, and his is a "syntactical-theological" method of exegesis and sermon preparation, while the current view is a grammatical-historical method of interpretation (or redemptive-historical, or other variations).

Even so, there is in Toward an Exegetical Theology a wealth of insight to a method of approaching Bible study and sermon preparation based upon a Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, God-honoring and Spirit-welcoming hermeneutic.

Kaiser observed that "One of the most depressing spectacles in the Church today is her lack of power" (p235), and the culprit is an "impotent pulpit" that has stopped walking in the Spirit.

As I was reading the book where he describes this phenomenon I was also doing a survey of the book of Acts and the Epistles for evidence of what the early disciples believed the Gospel was, what they said to unbelievers about it, and any methods they employed to deliver it. What is dramatic in Acts especially is the power with which the Word went forth. After all, Christ had said that they would receive just that.

In Acts, the "method" of the early witnesses can be summarized as: tell people they crucified Jesus, but God raised him from the dead for forgiveness of sins, live communally, do mighty works, be persecuted and even killed. As a result "the word continued to increase mightily."

The weakness of the messengers was contrasted with the power of God working through his Word. A typical theme is found in Acts 9:27-31, where Paul spoke bold apologetics against the Hellenists, who tried to kill him. The effect? "The church...was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied" (Acts 9:31, ESV).

Where has, in the words of Kaiser, the power in preaching gone?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wacky World of NPR

In a recent NPR program (I was actually listening...don't ask), the host was interviewing a Christian missionary of some sort about her travels in hostile Muslim countries.

While discussing a closed Muslim country and its leader's refusal to permit Christian missions, they both referred to Franklin Graham's reputation -- in the U.S. and the world -- as "extreme."


"Thankful' or Frugal?

When the typical Christian sees the poor conditions endured by those in 'missions areas' -- usually parts of the world less wealthy than his -- he speaks of how seeing the desperate conditions should make us 'thankful' that we don't have the same need.

Instead, seeing the needs of others, and how much many of our fellow men live without, should make us realize how little we actually need.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: SBC Entities

[This is the seventh article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

Many in the SBC view unqualified support of the Cooperative Program -- typically meaning that each church give "10% of undesignated gifts" to it -- as a litmus test for discerning true (SBC) believers. Because the perception is that those who hold a Reformed Baptist perspective reject such support, the conclusion is that it is impossible for one to be both Reformed and Southern Baptist.

Critics complain that Reformed Baptists aren't exclusive to Cooperative Program giving: that they also support non-SBC entities and agencies, most notably the Acts 29 network, which 'plants reformed churches.'

But the idea that Southern Baptists must only support official SBC agencies and entities means much more than support for the Cooperative Program. The SBC maintains a publishing arm, LifeWay, which prints a plethora of literature and runs retail outlets to sell it. If the criticism is to be consistent, then Southern Baptists should not purchase non-LifeWay literature or books from a non-SBC press. I remember one local education minister who tried to force all teachers to use only literature from the then "Sunday School Board" -- it was, in fact, as absurd as it sounds.

And what about non-SBC charity? Samaritan's Purse is not an SBC organization, but plenty of SBC congregations fall over themselves to participate in Operation Christmas Child. (I'm not criticizing the enthusiasm; I like OCC...I'm just sayin') To be consistent, pastors who hold to the same SBC-only mentality would have to tell their congregants not to give money or time or service to anyone but the local SBC church, local SBC association, state SBC agency, or the SBC itself. How likely is that?

Shibboleths are useful to detect outsiders. But even SBC shibboleths are due to be abandoned -- that is, the sacred cows tipped and processed for boots and burgers -- when they either don't reflect the essence of the group or actually serve to keep outsiders out.

In the case of the Reformed vs Southern Baptist debate, shibboleths used to characterize Reformed Baptists as outsiders fail on both counts.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Altar calls

[This is the sixth article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

Those who maintain that Southern Baptists cannot be Reformed utilize the latter's caution about the use of "invitations", "altar calls", and the "sinner's prayer" as proof positive. Good Southern Baptists, it is asserted, will do all of these, and more, in "leading a person to Christ."

It is certainly true that we "persuade" men with the gospel, we "urge" men to be reconciled to God, and we make clear the urgency of the situation for those who hear the gospel, understand it, yet put off repentance and belief.

But this is not the same thing as concluding that the only way to persuade and urge men is to utilize the altar call. Nor is there any foundation for the assertion that a necessary and distinguishing feature of Southern Baptist practice is the invitation.

Reformed Baptists believe that the proclamation of the gospel IS the invitation, the expression of the good news IS the urgency: a preacher need not tack on to the end of his sermon non-biblical devices to CREATE them.

An additional problem with that view of Puryear and others is demonstrated in the description of the "sinner's prayer": 'The use of a "sinner's prayer" is a means to help guide the sinner to say what he wants to say to Jesus but doesn't know how.' Reformed Baptists would say to this that if a person does not know how to express repentance and belief, the gospel might not have been presented, and it might not be a good idea to admit to membership one who cannot express this basic work of Christ in his heart. Scripture tells us that when we "confess with our mouth" we will be saved, not that we will be saved when someone else confesses for us.

The worst example of straw-man argumentation and ad hominem attack, however, is this gem from Puryear:

'If your church doesn't want to invite people to Christ during a worship service then go ahead and call a reformed pastor to your church. But if you want for everyone to have an opportunity to come to Christ during all worship services, call a traditional Southern Baptist pastor.'

Again, if the proof of whether a church invites people to Christ is the use of an altar call, invitation, decision card or sinner's prayer, then something is terribly wrong with the preaching and teaching ministry of that church. And equating 'opportunity to come to Christ' with man-made devices and 'traditional' services is an almost perfect example of the man-centered, gospel-weak, Spirit-impotent approach to evangelism that Reformed Baptists prefer to avoid.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Proposition 8, federalism, and freedom

I once discussed with a couple of law school buddies the episode of then Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Federal Judge Myron Thompson's brouhaha over Moore's Ten Commandments display in the Alabama courthouse.

They were giddy that Thompson had judicially thumped Moore by ordering the display removed on the threat of huge fines and, ostensibly, military action if Moore did not comply.

When I suggested (only partially tongue-in-cheek) that Moore resist the order and compel Thompson to send in the Green Berets to storm the courthouse and take the Ten Commandments by force, they looked at me as if I had just performed an alien mutilation on a local cow.

They had no concept that significant issues of state sovereignty, federalism, and religious freedom were at stake. They were only impressed with the power of the federal judiciary.

We are again impressed with the power of the federal judiciary, but not in an altogether favorable sense. A single federal judge, Vaughan R. Walker, struck down the will of the California populace to find a "right" to homosexual marriage in the U.S. Constitution.

As Albert Mohler expressed it: "Judge Walker’s decision is sweeping and comprehensive, basically affirming every argument and claim put forth by those demanding that California’s Proposition 8 be declared unconstitutional. That proposition, affirmed by a clear majority of California voters, amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In one brazen act of judicial energy, California’s voters were told that they had no right to define marriage, and thousands of years of human wisdom were discarded as irrational."

This should come as no surprise, because all of government has come to signify the interest of a few, supposing that they are the brightest and wisest of the bunch, in controlling the lives of everyone else. From using Google Earth to find swimming pool criminals, to ordering every American to purchase health insurance, to requiring every religious objector to accept homosexual marriage, the trend is disturbingly definite.

Homosexual marriage, however, is a sort of piece de resistance: should its proponents succeed in making this the law of the land, it will have codified the underlying aim of homsexuality in general, which is to flout openly the Lordship of God in the world he created, and to revel in rebellion.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Elders & Congregational

[This is the fifth article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

On this point, the criticism of Reformed Baptists is that they prefer an elder-led polity to one traditionally characterized as "congregational." At least on this point the criticism correctly cites the predominant fact: Reformed Baptists do favor an elder-led structure.

Yet clarification -- as seems to be the consistent need -- is in order.

Reformed Baptists do not favor single-elder, autocratic rule that overrides the will and voice of the congregation. In fact, this type of wayward leadership is more possible in "congregational" churches than in the elder-led form favored by Reformed Baptists. The Reformed concept of spiritual leadership is that each church be led by a team of elders, consisting of both staff and lay elders. In this structure, the preacher becomes the "teaching elder" and member of the elder team. Although he is the point man, no one elder overrides or vetoes the others. And the congregation remains the final authority, approving significant elder action, and approving or removing elders as appropriate.

Furthermore, elder-led and "congregational" are not mutually exclusive. An "elder-led, congregational" form is, after all, the example found in Scripture. Elders tend to the ministry of the word and prayer, deacons handle service matters, and the congregation remains the final authority in issues related to affirming elders' handling of doctrinal disputes and the discipline or expulsion of members.

The conflict between and elder-led structure and "congregational" form comes when the church is informed by U.S. style political notions of one-man-one-vote (pure democracy), rather than being conformed to the teaching of Scripture.

Additionally, the "priesthood of the believer" does not mean that every member has an equally valid opinion on every subject. If it did, teachers and preachers would be superfluous, and spiritual leaders an oxymoron. Scripture plainly teaches that there are differing roles for believers in each local body; to suggest that every member is equally able to lead ignores this truth.

Finally, it is unfortunately true that many Southern Baptist churches are neutralized by the presence of unbelievers with voting privileges. There are, as it were, tares among the wheat. To ignore this is naive. Our membership practices encourage little discernment in this regard, and granting a vote to every 'member' and granting members votes on every issue is inviting spiritual disaster, or at least virtual inaction. While an elder-led congregational polity does not completely eliminate this problem, it does a much better job at reducing the potential for having the foxes guard the henhouse.

There is no example in Scripture for a "congregational" form in which votes on every issue are put to the membership in monthly business meetings. God could certainly, if he desired, sanctify such a method, but the teaching of Scripture and the observation of experience suggest that he has not.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility

"If God is absolutely sovereign, in what sense can we meaningfully speak of human choice, of human will?"

D.A. Carson addressed this and other, broader questions in his 1975 doctoral dissertation. I know, I'm late to the party, but questions regarding God's sovereignty and "free will" still plague sincere believers today, and Carson's treatment is a good antidote to some of the muddled thinking going on out there.

In Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility Carson explores the Old Testament's apparent nonchalance about speaking both of God's absolute sovereignty and, at the same time, man's responsibility in choosing.

Carson also examines the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the Greek Septuagint, the apocrypha and psuedepigrapha, the targums and rabinnic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other intertestamental literature. To be honest, I skipped this. Call it lazy, but I went straight to the discussion of the tension as it appears in the gospel of John.

From John's gospel Carson explores all the different ways in which the apostle expresses the theme of divine sovereignty, particularly with regard to how men come to have faith in Jesus.

Much of Carson's discussion is technical, but much is also useful for pastoral concerns and the interests of laymen who wish to clarify their understanding of how God can be sovereign while man is held responsible, especially in the area of salvation.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Holiness of God redux

I had read R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God while in college in the late 1980s, and recently finished a re-read.

Even when Sproul first wrote the book, he recognized that many people left the church because they found it boring. Yet the church that contemplates the holiness of God will be anything but boring.

I still have the same copy that I read 20 years ago, and it was interesting to see what I had marked the first time. This time around, one thing that stuck with me was Sproul's observation that while we talk a lot of God's grace, his love, his mercy, the Bible nowhere says "God is grace, grace, grace, or love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy. It does say, however, that God is holy, holy, holy."

If you've previously read The Holiness of God, get it out and re-read it. If you never have, get one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Covenant Theology

[This is the fourth article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

Among the arguments that one cannot be Southern Baptist and Reformed is the notion that to be Reformed means, necessarily, that one also hold to "Covenant Theology." As Puryear defines it, however, the point of disagreement comes primarily into focus on the issue of paedobaptism: the practice of baptizing infants because they are de facto members of the covenant by virtue of having been born to believing parents.

Again, Puryear falsely presumes that everyone claiming to be Reformed Baptist adopts paedobaptism, or, if they deny it, they are either mistaken or deceiving themselves and others. This is demonstrably false, and a tactic of logic unbecoming serious discussion of issues.

Even so, let it be known that this Reformed Baptist -- and all the others I know -- reject paedobaptism and that aspect of "Covenant theology" decried by Puryear and others.

However, is it prudent to pit "covenant theology" against "Baptist theology," as Puryear expressly does?

There is no doubt that in the Old Testament God promises a "new covenant." In the New Testament, Jesus describes himself as securing the "new covenant" by the shedding of his blood and the breaking of his body, both of which we commemorate in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. Hebrews tells us that Christ obtained for us a "better covenant" through his sacrificial death and perfect obedience.

This "new covenant" -- of grace, as it were -- is absolutely crucial to our understanding of grace, the security of the believer, salvation, and sanctification. No Southern Baptist should acquiesce to any theological framework that rejects an understanding of our place in this covenant.

"Covenant theology" is traditionally framed against an understanding of "dispensational theology," and in that framing, Southern Baptists occupy a sort of de-militarized zone between them (although dispensational theology is quite popular with some prominent Southern Baptists). Puryear quotes Bart Barber's description of covenant theology in terms of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments,and, it would seem, how this relates to the "pattern" of the New Testament church. It is unclear what this means, but apparently has to do with membership in the body: in the Old Testament, membership was determined by blood; in the New Testament, by conversion and profession (Baptism).

But this treatment makes two fundamental errors. First, covenant has to do with much more than the determination of membership lists, and cannot be limited to an expansion of the 'church' from ethnic identity to trans-ethnic spiritual identity: the terms of covenant are also vital. Second, it comes to rest in a position that seems satisfied not merely with a Southern Baptist understanding of 'new covenant,' but with an understanding of Southern Baptist thought with 'no covenant.'

Puryear and others have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. They have identified an objectionable aspect of "covenant theology" (which is essentially Presbyterian), pinned that proverbial tail on the "Reformed Baptist" donkey, and cast them all out of the SBC barn.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Sacraments & Ordinances

[This is now the third article interacting with a series of posts by Les Puryear ( in which he compares and contrasts what he considers to be the "traditional" Southern Baptist position and his concept of "Reformed" Baptist.]

With regard to the Lord's Supper and Baptism, Puryear claims that Reformed Baptists classify those functions of the church as "sacraments" as opposed to the traditional view of them as "ordinances."

First, there is the lingering problem with the assessment that Reformed Baptist thought is truly what Puryear says it is. Puryear seems to propose that every person with whom he has spoken who claims the mantle "Reformed Baptist" views the Lord's Supper and Baptism as sacraments. Yet I have not met one who believes this. Rather than reconsidering his characterization of Reformed Baptists, however, Puryear insists that those who claim to be Reformed but who reject the sacramental perspective are not really Reformed, after all, but are merely "Calvinist" Baptists.

Patronization is alive and well, it seems, and one also finds that there are many distinctions without differences, especially in the blogging world.

Second, it is not altogether certain that a thing cannot be both an ordinance AND some sort of platform for grace. That is, it is certainly true that the physical act of being submerged in water is not the mechanism of saving grace to the believer. Baptism is certainly the believer's outward profession of the inward change that God has wrought in him through Christ. But is it ONLY that?

By disfavoring the term 'sacrament,' Baptists reject the sacerdotal baggage that comes with it, nameley, that the 'sacrament' of Lord's Supper and Baptism is necessary for grace. Southern Baptists reject the notion that should a believer miss partaking in a given 'sacrament,' that he will in some respect be cut off from gospel privileges.

But to reject the 'necessary for grace' view of sacerdotalism does not require us to view Baptism and the Lord's Supper are bare human acts with no relation to grace.

Would not everyone agree that witnessing Baptism as part of our corporate worship, and in that act being reminded that God is still raising men from death to life through Christ, is somehow 'gracious' to the one witnessing it?

And would not everyone agree that participating in the Lord's supper -- and in so doing not only being reminded that the body and blood of Christ were given up for our trangressions and justification, but also 'participating' (Gr. 'koinonia') in the body and blood (1Co10:16) -- is somehow 'gracious' to the participant?

Reformed Baptists do not believe that the ordinances convey saving grace. But it is unwise to suggest that neither do they convey any sort of sanctifying grace.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Puryear on Alcohol

I've become more interested in Les Puryear's blog ( since the Southern Baptist convention, and find that his discussion about all things distinctive about the SBC are helpful in many ways.

Previously I posted a general response to some of his thoughts, but want to address some of his concerns about Reformed Baptist thought and practice specifically.

Before beginning his series on the differences between Reformed Baptists and what he calls 'traditional' Southern Baptists, he posted an article entitled 'Why I Don't Drink Alcoholic Beverages.'

I think that it is perfectly acceptable, from the perspective of both biblical interpretation and practical expedience, for a believer to decide it is better for him to avoid alcohol entirely. The grounds for such a decision might include the reputation of the believer and his ability to witness, the influence of alcoholism, and so forth. In this regard, I agree with much of Puryear's assessment and have no difficulty with many of the reasons for his alcohol avoidance.

However, I part company with tee-totalers when they conclude 1) that all believers should join them, or 2) that avoiding alcohol is 'who we are' as Southern Baptists.

Part of the problem is the view that all alcohol consumption implicates the biblical principle of not being a 'stumbling block.' Puryear references this Pauline principle, and adds "While it may be perfectly fine biblically for me to have a glass of wine with my meal in a good restaurant, it is not perfectly fine bibilically for my example to lead someone else to sin".

The problem comes when we consider the use of alcohol -- which is not categorically a sin in Scripture -- a 'stumbling block,' and enlarge the avoidance category to include all things that 'lead someone else to sin.'

In Paul, a 'stumbling block' is described in terms of those who have emerged from a culture of worshiping idols and sacrificing food to them, and are now faced with buying the same food in the marketplace as a matter of practical necessity. It is bad for the mature brother to eat such food when it causes the weaker brother -- whose conscience bothers him about it -- to deny the voice of conscience and eat, anyway.

So the essence of 'stumbling block' is causing a weaker brother to begin a pattern of denying conscience and behaving against its guidance. In the case of alcohol, it is similar to a mature brother who emerged from alcoholism drinking socially when the conscience of a weaker brother -- who is fresh on the wagon -- still tells him to avoid liquor altogether. It is not, as Puryear suggests, simply 'leading someone else to sin.'

If it were such a broad principle, then I should avoiding eating, because someone seeing me eat a fried chicken wing might justify his eating a whole bucket. I should avoid driving a car, because someone observing me do a 'rolling stop' might justify his wreckless driving. I should avoid going to movies, because someone observing me watch Toy Story 3 might justify his watching The Playboy Channel.

This is not, however, what Paul intended.

Believers have good reason to conclude, as Puryear does, that they should avoid alcohol. But catergorizing the discussion in terms of 'stumbling blocks' removes any discretion and leads to a conclusion that all believers should act the same way.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Kingdom & Reverence

In speaking of the Lord's Prayer and hallowing God's name, R.C. Sproul says

"God's kingdom will never come where His name is not hallowed. ... It is foolish to look for the kingdom anywhere God is not revered.


"The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory." (Sproul, The Holiness of God, pp. 25, 40).

Sometimes we focus on the horizontal dimension of faith, to demonstrate love, mercy, or even wrath and justice to other men. But proper inter-personal relations depend upon proper vertical perspective.

That is, we can't properly love, display mercy to, or exercise justice about our neighbor until we grasp the need to consider God's holiness.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Missing Links

Justin Nale and Les Puryear continue their blogalogue regarding whether one can be Reformed and Southern Baptist.

Apparently the links I tried to use in my previous post didn't work, or work only sporadically.

Justin's blog is at Leslie's is at


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Justin vs Les

The recent Southern Baptist convention in Florida has seemed to spur once again the discussion of issues regarding the relationship of Southern Baptist distinctives -- that is, what distinguishes Southern Baptists from other Christ-followers -- and Reformed theology.

Les Puryear (blog) and Justin Nale (blog) have been dueling on their banjos regarding this topic, generally generating more light than heat, which demonstrates quite a bit of progress in comparison to the customary treatments of such subjects in the blogosphere.

The general question is whether one can be both Reformed and Southern Baptist: Les says No, Justin says Yes.

Justin fairly represents the Affirmative side of the debate -- into which I fall -- so I won't duplicate his efforts, but I will demonstrate what I take to be the most serious errors of the Negative side, to which I think Les gives appropriate voice.

Primarily, Les commits a classic error by deciding for himself what "Reformed" in Baptist circles means, then attacking it (the "straw man" fallacy). He proposes that a Reformed Baptist must look exactly like a Reformed Presbyterian, as if the only theological and ecclesiological brand coming out of the Reformation was the Presbyterian church, and that to be "Reformed" means, necessarily, that one accept a litany of positions that Les decries as not only inconsistent with Southern Baptist thought and practice, but also as antithetical to it.

If, in fact, Les's description of a "Reformed Baptist" were accurate, I would be opposed to it, too. Les maintains that "some characteristics" of Reformed Baptists include:

"1. Non-congregational polity
2. Liturgical-based worship
3. Societal giving
4. Calvinist in soteriology
5. Covenant theology
6. paedobaptism
7. no "invitation" at the end of worship service
8. creedal"

I consider myself "Reformed Baptist," but this list mystifies me. For Les, a Reformed Baptist who does not admit to each of these is secretly attempting to convert his congregation, despite all protestations to the contrary (both by the duped church and the deceitful pastor).

Yet I have never met any Baptist who claimed to be Reformed who looked like this Reformed Baptist man, straw or otherwise.

Reformed Baptists actually hold to a congregational, elder-led form of church structure (#1), which is a far cry from "non-congregational". Every church -- whether they protest liturgy or not -- has a liturgy (#2): stand up, opening song, welcome, prayer, sit down, song, prayer, stand up, song...look familiar? So, if by this Les means that Reformed Baptists prefer 'high church' liturgy, he is mistaken.

I would also think that all Baptists would be in favor of "societal giving," (#3) but here I think that Les opposes anything but Cooperative Program giving as being anti-Southern Baptist. This too is mistaken and unfortunate.

Most Reformed Baptists are "Calvinist in soteriology," (#4) meaning simply that God is sovereign over the salvation process from first to last, while maintaining the truth of human responsibility, and which rejects all forms of Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Wesleyanism, and Arminianism.

However, being Reformed Baptist does not mean that one holds to "covenant theology" (#5, which is different from recognizing the New Covenant in Christ), or is in favor of baptizing infants (#6 paedobaptism). In fact, Reformed Baptists are generally more sensitive to the distinctive of believers' baptism in that they are not inclined to baptize or accept into membership anyone who does not evidence belief.

Which is why, for most Reformed Baptists, the invitation at the end of the service is not a good idea, because combined with an immediate "vote" for membership, this type of response to invitations eliminates any possibility of examining a person's profession of faith (#7). Furthermore, such invitations are relatively recent, dating to the time of Charles Finney, who manipulated people into false professions with extended, laborious invitations. Nonetheless, Reformed Baptists insist on presenting the gospel and explaining the urgency of the situation to those who hear it. Yet "urging men on behalf of God" does not mandate the typical invitation.

"No creed but the Bible," (#8) is, to put it plainly, hogwash, and terribly irresponsible, to boot. For a creed is nothing more than that set of beliefs that 'distinguishes' your fellowship from another. And, while Southern Baptists do not require assent to the Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed, for example, we do 'distinguish' ourselves from other fellowships with congregational polity, believers' baptism, and so forth.

So, while Southern Baptists typically do not identify ourselves with a certain established creed, we are, nonetheless, creedal, in the sense that we consider ourselves distinguished from others on the basis of certain interpretations of Scripture. We do, after all, frequently cite our affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message. Reformed Baptists, themselves, typically do not require adherence to an established creed as a test of orthodoxy, but frequently prefer, for example, the Second London Confession for its greater detail on key doctrinal issues.

Secondarily, Les commits the additional error of confusing the issue regarding what Baptist distinctives are. Is it accurate to say that we want our distinctives to be such things as "democratic congregational" church government? Or fidelity to the Cooperative Program? Or a confused idea that we have no creed?

This is on par with suggesting that we should continue to be known as tee-totalers, because that is "who we are" as Southern Baptist believers.

But a faith that defines itself upon such terms is neither one of which I want to be a part, nor that I find in the pages of Scripture, nor that I believe best demonstrates the power of the gospel for salvation.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lord's Day & Fourth of July

Kudos to the LA Times for encouraging Americans to celebrate the Fourth with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, complete with a great rendition of the National Anthem (here).

At the same time, kudos to Justin Nale for a good recognition that for followers of Christ, steering between the ditches of excessive patriotism and thankless detachment is a constant exercise (here).

'The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

'And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted period and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God...' (Acts 17:24-27).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Favorites in Apologetics: Darwin's Black Box

I'll be starting a new series of posts exploring those books that I consider the best of those I've read in various categories. Most categories will be on Christian themes, but there will be others in social, cultural, and political genres. There will be three to five entries briefly described in separate posts.

The first category is Apologetics, which includes everything from philosophical apologetics to practical apologetics.

Number One: Darwin's Black Box

The first entry comes with a bit of caveat: it is not apologetics per se. That is, the author doesn't present his material as a defense of the Christian worldview, but instead its main focus is as a rejection of the Darwinian explanation of origins, and a defense of intelligent design. I classify it as apologetics because presents a viable explanation of the existence and origins of things apart from a prevailing worldview, Darwinism.

In Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Michael Behe introduces the concept of "irreducible complexity." According to Behe, Darwin's "black box" was the cell, past which Darwin could not detect any further sophistication or complexity because of the lack of more powerful microscopes.

Irreducible complexity is an idea that maintains certain biolochemical processes are too complicated to have arisen through mutation and natural selection. This degree of complexity -- even present in the component parts of cells -- requires that the whole system come into existence at the same time in order to work at all.

Behe's examples of this irreducible complexity, such as the eye and the heat/chemical defenses of the Bombardier Beetle, are fascinating, and should leave the reader more in awe of the creative design and power of God.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lumps, Flatbread & Church Discipline

With many canned Bible study curricula, it is sometimes more interesting to detect what passages of Scripture have been omitted than to study what is said about those passages that have not.

Occasionally these omissions are due to the theological/doctrinal bent of the writer, but sometimes merely reflect a lack of stomach to discuss hard truths that comfortable believers don't want to hear.

First Corinthians 5, which orders the excommunication of a sexually immoral man, is one of these passages. The study materials offered by a a prominent publishing house include 1Co5 in a section on "Christian Morality," but ignore any discussion of the entire chapter.

The discipline of members (the imperative) is inextricably bound up in the idea of who the church is, in Christ (the indicative). 'Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed' (1Co5:7 ESV).

The distinguishing characteristics of God's people in the Old Testament included radical devotion to a single God, demonstrated in strict dietary laws, sacrificial requirements, and, through the Passover, a sense of haste that mandated little time to wait on bread to rise.

Distinguishing characteristics of God's people -- that we are a 'new lump' -- have not been eradicated in the New Testament, but only modified: it is no longer ethnic identity that sets us apart, but grace and a life of obedience that flows from it ('And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise' Gal3:29, ESV).

We are no longer set apart, but have become indistinguishable from the world, when we live like the world and tolerate sin ('of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans' 1Co5:1 ESV). Our distinguishing characterstic is, of course, that we love one another (John13:35). But this love does not ignore the putrefying effects of unconfessed, unrepentant sin in the camp. Instead, it recognizes who we are in Christ, and in love seeks both to preserve the souls of men (1Co5:5) and to honor the name of Christ.

Monday, June 21, 2010

By Grace Alone

Sinclair Ferguson maintains that while Christians sing "Amazing Grace," we have largely ceased being amazed by it. In By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, he offers an antidote to our general unamazement.

To illustrate the truth that none of us truly understands -- is amazed by -- grace until we understand our need for it, Ferguson offers a helpful explanation and application of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

A significant contribution is Ferguson's assessment of the security that grace affords the believer. In discussing Romans 8:31-35 ('who can bring a charge against God's elect', etc), Ferguson challenges the Christian not to look at the circumstances of life, or how much we might 'deserve' grace, and draw conclusions about our security and God's care from them. Instead, it is in grace -- Christ's substitutionary death on the cross -- that provides security regarding our standing before God.

Ferguson also suggests that one of Satan's 'fiery darts' with which he attacks Christian was employed in his attack on Job: attempting to have Job question the good character of God and attribute to Him the devil's machinations. In other words, trying to get Job to 'exchange the truth of God for a lie.' This is, after all, how Satan tempted Eve in the Garden.

As Christ-followers, we need to constantly preach the Gospel to ourselves.

"Sometimes we imagine that our greatest need is to move on to the 'higher' or 'deeper teaching of the gospel. But in fact, our real need is to get a deeper and firmer grasp of the main truths of the gospel." (Ferguson, By Grace Alone, 102).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How the Worship of God is Like a Family Reunion

Is the worship of God for Christians a family reunion?

It depends. There are some differences: not all of the family is here, at least not literally; worship here is weekly; and worship here is fraught with the challenges of sanctified people who are yet still sinners attempting to give proper praise to a holy God.

None of those things will be true in heaven, the eternal state: all of those resurrected in Christ will be present, it will be constant, and it will be perfect.

Even so, in many ways and in the truest sense Christian worship is a reunion, of sorts, though it is more appropriately characterized as "pre-union." With reunions, the family time together has passed, and its members reconvene to remember what once was. With "pre-unions," members of a body who never previously lived together convene in anticipation of a future time when all members will be permanently united.

Typically, earthly family reunions are scheduled together with the birthday celebration of the patriarch. Frequently that elderly relative is, well, elderly, and may be confined to the indoors or to a particular seat while the younger, more mobile and less arthritic members of the clan supervise the toddlers, tell spouses childhood war stories and secrets, and generally ignore the matriarch.

The patriarch, then, was a convenient excuse for all the others to socialize and enjoy the really interesting stuff.

If we are not very careful, our weekly episodes of Christian worship will resemble this family reunion, in which we gather ostensibly to celebrate the Patriarch, but find that our lateral, horizontal relationships and conversations are much more interesting than paying much attention to the old guy in the corner, who we think smells of moth balls, tells the same stories over and over, and is hard of hearing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I realize that this book has been out for some time, and I am notoriously behind the wave regarding when I read new -- or not so new -- books.

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, is one of those efforts that cause thoughtful readers to kill sacred cows and burst favorite bubbles of conventional wisdom.

The most useful contribution of Gladwell's work here is that he dispels notions that people are fixed in the life results that are heaped upon them by their economic condition, social status, or -- most significantly -- their cultural background.

Yes, Asians are better at math, but not for the reasons we typically suppose. And yes, New Yorkers make better air traffic controllers, but not because of common stereotypes. And yes, non-Asians can learn math just as well once we recognize and deal with the non-genetic reasons why work in rice paddies facilitates better math skills.

Gladwell's work has implications for education, cross-cultural communication, international business, and a host of others, and has powerful illustrations that are applicable to other contexts, as well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marks of the Christian Minister

In his commentary, John MacArthur suggests that 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 describes six characteristics of Christian ministers. Faithful servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries (1Co4:1-2)serve Christ by 1) admonishing, 2) loving, 3) begetting, 4) setting an example, 5) teaching, and 6) disciplining.

The Apostle Paul, in this letter, addresses the Corinthian church's attitudes that ran directly counter to his description of the Christian minister.

They certainly didn't want to be 'admmonished' for any poor behavior or attitude, for what business was it of Paul, after all, to pry into their private affairs? Any attempt by other men to point out error, with a view to positive change and conformity to the image of Christ, was seen as an affront to their 'liberty in Christ', the 'priesthood of believers', and --perhaps the sine qua non of Christian deferrals -- it was not 'loving.'

But Paul anticipated this response, and as he frequently did, combined two seemingly disparate and contradictory concepts in such a joinder that neither can be believed or experienced without the other: Paul wrote "to admonish [them] as beloved children."

What? How can that be? And, perhaps for many today, who have swallowed the world's line and suppose that loving children means never speaking harshly to them, let alone administering corporal punishment, it is a mind-blower to think that loving someone means admonishing them from time to time.

Furthermore, Paul did not merely mention the "rod" in verse 21 as a rhetorical flourish: he would deal with them as their level of repentance -- or lack thereof -- required, in order to preserve the edification of the body and the hallowing of God's name.

Admonishment is largely out of fashion in today's pulpit. The congregation considers the minister who attempts it ill-suited to serve them. Many preachers lack Paul's boldness to insist that it is included in his charge to serve Christ. And one can only suppose that our failure to recognize this mark of the minister has resulted in much leaven in the lump.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ministers as Kitchen Managers

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (1 Corinthians 4:1-2, ESV)

Instructive is what these descriptions eliminate in our typical view of Christian ministers. Servants of Christ are necessarily not servants of man, though we typically use terms such as "servant-leader." Leaders in the church are certainly servants, but servants of Christ, and lead Christ's flock through serving Him. It is only in serving Christ and in leading his people that Christian ministers serve their congregation.

A minister should consider his service to the flock, but when the congregation views its minister as serving it, rather than serving Christ, problems arise.

Similarly, ministers are stewards of God's mysteries: that is, they are responsible for delivering God's revelation through exposition and application to those who hear it. Some, however, view the minister as a misguided kitchen manager, who, instead of serving up fresh, nutritious meals to his patrons, instead either hoards all the goods to attain a well-stocked pantry, or only serves the one course he finds interesting or easy to prepare.

The faithful minister serves up dishes from all of God's word, not just those that please the palate of his diners, or that land him a photo in the culinary arts journal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Manna Points to the God Who Sends It

In Deuteronomy 8:3 Moses explained that God sent manna to the Israelites in the desert so that they would know that man doesn't live by bread alone. But, shouldn't the lesson that man doesn't live by bread alone be accompanied by hunger, not relief of hunger?

After all, didn't Jesus experience hunger in his desert fasting, to which he responded to Satan's temptation by quoting Moses? If Moses were right, then God would have provided Jesus with manna, right?

John Piper addresses this, too. "How does the giving of miraculous manna teach that? Because manna is one of the incredible ways God can, with a mere word, meet your needs when all looks hopeless." (A Hunger for God, p59).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why followers of Jesus should stay at Motel 6

They leave the light on...

In 1 John 1:5-10, God declares, through his Spirit and through his servants, that he is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

God speaks truth about himself and about us, but we attempt to talk over him, to speak our own version of truth. Three times John describes the claims of darkness -- our speaking over what God has spoken: "if we say" we walk with God but walk in darkness; "if we say" we have no sin; "if we say" we have not sinned.

The one who follows God by walking in light, faithfully reflecting the glory of God -- 'glowing' with his glory -- will, first, declare God's character as light; second, reject the claims of darkness; and third, revel in exposure to God's light, confessing sin so that we are 'lit up' and rid of darkness. In other words, we speak not what we want to say, but what God has spoken about himself and about us.

As we flee darkness to dwell with God in light, he forgives, cleanses, and washes us in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Audio here.

Repentance & Eye-floaters

"Floaters" are bits of debris in the eye that resemble hairs when they enter the field of vision. They don't hurt, but can be quite the nuisance: when I am at the beach, I frequently mistake eye-floaters for sand fleas.

When one looks up or across the floaters 'jump' to that side of the field of vision, then slowly 'float' down to the bottom. The more violently one looks around, the more quickly they race around the field of vision, like cats chasing a mouse.

Sin is sort of like floaters. No sooner do we look toward God than the sin-floaters race around to compete for our attention. Believers, then, should be constantly repenting, constantly turning away from sin (floaters) and constantly turning our gaze toward God.

Paige Patterson on Courage

"The time has come for wimpy, conservative, Bible-believing evangelical Christians to get over their cowardice and to parley with God until they decide to be courageous enought to tell the truth to a watching world, then to get ready because God will give them an army to follow after. God bless us all."

--Paige Patterson, in Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gov. Jindal, build your berms

The Louisiana governor, charged with protecting the citizens of his state as much as possible from things such as ecological disaster, and also cognizant of his state's relation to others via the national government and the U.S. Constitution, is torn: build some sand berms to buffer fragile ecosystems from an advancing oil slick, or honor the looming figure of Uncle Sam personified at present through the person of President Obama.

Apparently gaining the approval of Uncle Sam is a process mired in red tape and the detached, intellectual conservationism of those who are far removed -- geographically and emotionally -- from the myriad oil-covered carcasses washing up on Louisiana's shore, and whose concern would only reach rational levels when the oil problem affected their consumption of imported shrimp and crawfish etouffee.

Let's just say, hypothetically, that Louisiana built its protective sand dunes without the approval of the feds. Would the present administration actually put itself in the position of bringing in U.S. military engineers to remove them?

Gov. Jindal, build your berms.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin': what Journey tells us about Jesus

Well, not much, really. But Journey's interest in satisfaction of that craving for physical contact does reveal something profound about man's interaction with the world through his senses.

In 1 John 1:1-4, great emphasis is placed on the tangible qualities of the incarnation of the eternal Word. Our craving for physical contact with the Divine, lost in the Fall in the garden of Eden, is satisfied somehow in the Word made flesh, and the proclamation of Him is vital for fellowship (communion) with the Father, with the Son, and with each other.

(Audio here.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Legalism & the CP

Issues surrounding the creation of the Great Commission Task Force last year, and the report to the SBC Convention this summer, involve many agencies and missions endeavors promoted by the SBC. While I have personal opinions about the task force recommendations, I don't know enough yet to evaluate them publicly. I can, though, generally agree that we shouldn't waste mission money on domestic bureaucracy.

Not knowing enough, however, apparently does not stop others from opining,and I will assess the opinion whirlwind surrounding the GCR and its recommendations.

A church's giving to Cooperative Program, has, for some years, been a litmus test of sorts. We tend to view the level of CP giving as an indication of denominational loyalty, manfiestation of Great Commission passion, and, in extreme -- but all too common -- situations, cause to question each others' salvation.

Large churches might give directly to missions projects and missionaries, while still giving to CP. Such a church might have a budget of $2 million, give $200,000 directly to missions, and $100,000 to CP. This sounds good, until smaller churches calculate and point out that the percentage of CP giving is "only" five percent (5%).

It has reached the point (and proceeded past it) that appointees to SBC boards, commissions, and other leadership positions in the denomination are considered unworthy solely on the basis of their churches' CP giving. One recommendation of the GCR Task Force is to calculate "Great Commission Giving," which would include CP giving as well as direct missions spending.

As a result, some say that such an effort is in violation of Jesus' command not to call attention to giving. This creates the situation that the very people who called attention to others' lack of CP giving are now sanctimoniously decrying the recognition of the existence of Great Commission giving.

Hypocrisy, it would seem, is no respecter of logic, nor appreciative of irony.

Unfortunately, the GCR reveals what has long existed regarding SBC attitudes toward CP giving. Without doubt, the CP serves a valid, important function in SBC life regarding out fulfillment of Great Commission living. But insisting that churches maintain certain levels of CP giving in order to qualify as true Southern Baptists, or worthy of leadership roles, is rank legalism.

First, if we assume that the New Testament obligation of individual believers is to give a tithe (10%) to their local church, fine. But the CP is NOT a local church, and congregations are NOT individual believers. Requiring -- even informally -- that congregations give a 'tithe' to CP is nothing less than adding a requirement to New Testament discipleship that is not found there.

Second, no church can evaluate the CP giving of another without judging what should be a matter of conscience and liberty for that congregation. When one church judges another in this way, there is a great danger that it will become envious of the larger church's resources, liberty, or freedom not to give such a large portion of annual budget to CP.

Third,there are much more effective -- and biblically faithful -- methods to guage whether a given pastor would be the sort of denominational leader who is representative of a healthy Southern Baptist church. The ratio of members to attenders is one. Others include the level of involvement of members in discipling, witnessing, and serving; how biblically astute and aware the members are; and the degree to which members' lives contradict the world.

The problem is that these other measures are difficult to assess, while CP giving is easy to see.

One thing, however, remains certain: if one church claims that the pastor of another is not qualified to serve in the SBC because his congregation gives more directly to evangelizing Muslims in India than to the Cooperative Program, something is amiss in our understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Packer on Preaching

"Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ's sheep. The preacher's job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers -- in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats."

-- J.I. Packer, in A Quest for Godliness: the Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Party Crashers (3 of 3)

If the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14)describes those who refuse the king's invitation as Party Poopers, and those who attend under the king's terms as Party Animals, then the one who attends but gets kicked out is the Party Crasher.

This guy, like the rest of the Party Animals, was apparently willing to attend the wedding feast at the king's invitation on short notice, and as the "scabs" of the social order: they were, after all, the king's second choice.

But the king spotted a problem. This guy was not wearing the right clothes. Instead of letting him go outside and change, or providing a tie for him to wear like the best restaurants do, the king ordered him bound and removed. And, not only that, he was cast to the outer darkness where there is a weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Hollywood starlets -- left off the invite list for the must-see party -- might feel like weeping and gnashing, but I suspect that the fate suffered by this Crasher is much worse.

In response to the king's actions we immediately cry "Not fair!" and suggest that the king was a clothing bigot or woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

But this was likely the situation in which the host provided the proper garments, and the Crasher preferred to wear his own. Even if not, the Crasher chose to attend the party on his own terms, not on conditions set by the host.

We tend to believe that invitation to God's kingdom eliminates any further conditions. But as the parable demonstrates, even those invited cannot come in contradiction to the conditions set by God. That is, we cannot enter the kingdom wearing our own clothes. God provides everything for our participation in the banquet: food, entertainment, drink...even the very clothes that we wear.

Jesus dealt with Party Crashers when he told those who claimed to have done great things in his name "Depart from me, I never knew you" (Matthew 7). He encountered the same attitudes when he told one would-be party-er to sell his possessions and give all to the poor, when he told another to "let the dead bury the dead", and yet another that "no one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

When we prefer our own accomplishments (like the Party Poopers), or prefer our own covering (like the Party Crasher), we have no place in the king's banquet.

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Seeking God's WIll

"When believers talk about seeking God's will, we often say, 'We will wait and see if God will open a door or close a door.' Perhaps. But this story [of the paralytic, Luke 5:17-26] suggests that sometimes the door is open, sometimes the door is closed, and sometimes we have to tear the door off its hinges, whether by ourselves or with the help of friends."

-- Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Party Animals (2 of 3)

Previously I discussed the attitudes of the Party Poopers to the king's invitation in the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14). Rather than enjoy the king and enjoy the bounty of his provision, Poopers prefer that the attention -- even if it is only their own -- be focused on their work, their labor, their accomplishments.

Once the original guest list no-showed for the king's party, he took a different approach and sent his servants to the street corners to bring in everyone they could find, both "good and bad."

There was apparently no problem in filling the banquet hall with this second group. Always up for a good time, willing to party any time, any where, this second group are the Party Animals.

There will be some holding to orthodox Christianity who suppose it anathema to be considered a "party animal." For many, buttoned-up, straight-laced, reserved, respectable faith avoids any appearance of having fun. Any appearance, that is, except for exuberance of the golf course, football stadium, tree stand, or stock ticker. Yet the Party Animals attending the king's banquet seemed more attuned to the "Christian hedonism" of John Piper than to the stuffed-shirt religion that reserves expressions of joy for socially acceptable occasions.

The Party Animals are actually the least described of the three kinds of people in the parable, and most of what we know about them comes from comparing them to the other two. In contrast to those invited first -- who were "not worthy" -- the Party Animals consisted of those both "good and bad": their "worth" was established by being in the king's presence when called. In contrast to the third group, the Party Animals came to and attended the king's party on his terms, not their own.

Yet no words of approval or praise were afforded the Party Animals. No attention was called to their superior wisdom in attending the banquet rather than roaming the streets. No praise was given their superior intellect in recognizing the value of the offer. No accolades were given for their obedience, or for exercising their will.

In fact, the manner in which Jesus treated this group almost seemed as if he assumed that the duty of those hearing the king's offer was to heed the call. No attention, praise, or accolade was even needed, because for Party Animals the reward is not to be recognized for the excellence of their choice, but the reward is being in the presence of the king.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Party Poopers (1 of 3)

In the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14),Jesus describes three kinds of people in relation to the king's invitation to party.

The first group -- which had already been invited -- refused to come. Various translations describe their reaction as being indifferent, as going their own way, to their own farm, to their own business. Like the guys who always had a test to study for, and the ladies who were always washing their hair, they were the Party Poopers.

Why would they decline? Everybody wants to go to parties thrown by the prominent, the wealthy, the powerful, if only to see whether the groom's cake or bride's cake is better, and how high the champaign fountain is (non-alcoholic, of course).

In those days, the host at such significant events provided everything, including the clothes that the guests wore. So people attending were paying tribute to the king's guest of honor, eating the king's food, using the king's china and flatware, enjoying the king's entertainment, wearing the king's clothes, and admiring the king's (non-alcoholic) champaign fountain.

It would be poor form for invitees to draw attention to themselves, their farms, their businesses while sipping the king's (non-alcoholic) champaign and dancing to the king's rock band. In other words, the invitees would have to forget themselves, their accomplishments, their work, and instead enjoy the king's bounty.

For some, this is impossible, and they prefer to piddle in their own pitiful worlds than rejoice in the banquet of the true king.

For others, an invitation to focus attention on the wealth of the king is too much, the suggestion that their own accomplishments don't really amount to anything and are nothing anyone would want to party about, anyway, is too humiliating, and the deflation of their pride leads to anger in their heart and to murder on their hands.

Little has changed. Men still decline the king's invitation because they can't accept acknowledging the superior value of his bounty.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Doriani on Boring Preaching

"In too many churches, people hear the same applications, in much the same words, week after week. Week by week they hear that they should pray more, evangelize more, serve more; be more holy, more faithful, more committed. Contaminated by traces of legalism, such messages grow dull and predictable. If the preacher's ultimate crime is to promote heresy, the penultimate crime is to make the faith seem boring."

-- Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ecclesiological Nobodies, or Spiritual Somebodies?

Paul, the author of Romans, who was imminently qualified and inspired by God to write of the realities of God's initiative for us through the person and work of Christ (Chapters 1-11), and what that meant for our relation to the kingdom of God and to each other (Chapters 12-16), was somebody.

Other than for a few directed greetings in Chapter 16, Paul does not name a single person to whom he is actually writing. The audience in Rome, those called of God to belong to Christ, those called to be saints, are nobodies.

Yet the imminent author of Romans, intimately acquainted with the truth of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, says something radical about who these nobodies really are.

"For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you -- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:11-12).

He is not saying that he is going to provide them some gift of the Spirit that isn't already manifested in them. The Holy Spirit does that. What he is saying is that this somebody and the nobodies to whom he writes will be "mutually encouraged" by the respective manifestations of the Spirit that they possess through faith in Christ.

These nobodies, then, aren't nobodies at all, but are the called, the saints, the "belongers" to Christ (verse 6) through whom the Spirit himself works. They are somebody because God had promised the gospel, because Christ secured grace, and because the Spirit demonstrated power in his resurrection (verses 2-5).

Paul and his Roman readers would strengthen each other and edify the body of Christ by manifesting the Holy Spirit to each other.

Do our gatherings for worship, for Bible study, for discipleship exhibit this same expectation? Are the dividing lines of race, class, wealth obliterated by mutual reliance on the Spirit and the realization that we are all the worse spiritually without true fellowship with other believers, regardless of their "importance" in the eyes of the world?

Like Paul we should "long to see" other believers so that the Spirit will do his sanctifying work of edification through us.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Acts 1:8 versus the Great Commission

Jerry Rankin recently posed the proposition that Acts 1:8 has been distorted in our evangelistic efforts. This passage, in which the risen Christ tells his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”, is referenced by Rankin in light of the Acts 1:8 Challenge.

Acts 1:8 is employed by some as a directive for evangelistic efforts, urging churches to concentrate their evangelistic efforts in all of the “spheres” of missions cited in the passage: each church should be engaged in missions in its Jerusalem, in its Judea, in its Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Rankin proposes that some churches consider this to be a sequential directive, causing them to engage in “their Jerusalem” and stop there. The idea that a church accomplishes evangelism in one “sphere,” then works on the next, is the distortion Rankin decries.

This emphasis and the chatter surrounding it is indicative of an apparent shift of focus in evangelism and missions. It seems relatively recent that Acts 1:8 has been adopted as a rallying cry of world missions, almost supplanting its long-time predecessor, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

Some will respond that there is no such “shift,” but that Acts 1:8 is simply a continuation of the charge given in the Great Commission, adding vital instructions for disciples hoping to accomplish the witness of the gospel to the nations.

However, there is a huge difference between Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. The Great Commission is directive, while Acts 1:8 is descriptive. That is, Matthew 28:18-20 lays out the command and Acts 1:8 lays out the consequence. Acts 1:8 is a results passage: it is, in effect, the Great Conclusion to the Great Commission.

Note, for instance, the direction of action in Acts 1:1-11. Christ presented himself alive to the disciples, appearing to them and speaking to them (1:3). Jesus ordered the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise: they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:4-5). The disciples would receive power, the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would be his witnesses (1:8).

All the action is being done to the disciples. The focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do. In other words, the action in Acts 1:8 is passive. The disciples are told what they will receive and what they will be. In contrast, Jesus’ charge to disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 is active: go, make disciples, baptize, teach.

Acts 1:8 is a great promise of what will happen when the Holy Spirit empowers and works through followers of Christ. But using the promise of what we will be (witnesses) as the instruction on what we should do may be less helpful than is supposed. For example, what does it mean to “be a witness”? Neither Acts 1:8 nor the passage in which is sits tells us, so for that we must turn to the gospels and other commands issued by Christ (Acts 1:2 refers to these “commands”). In those, we are told to go, make disciples, baptize, teach (Matthew 28:18-20), proclaim the gospel (Mark 16:15), proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), and “feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17).

There is certainly a direct, unequivocal command from Jesus himself to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel to all nations until he returns. But that command is in the Great Commission. The danger of using the Great Conclusion as our missions and evangelism strategy is that it omits these other positive commands, most significantly, the command to “make disciples.” It is, after all, much easier to “be a witness” than to “make a disciple.”

Taking the natural import of these passages together, we find that when we act under the authority of Christ and in his abiding presence through the Holy Spirit, we receive power to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and baptize and teach those disciples. As the Spirit works this increase of the Word through us, we serve as a testimony to the nations that Jesus has risen in power, that his work on earth continues through his disciples, and the authority and power for this work is through the Holy Spirit and the word.

The significant thing for Christ-followers is not that we are to engage in certain “spheres” – because invariably the spheres don’t cover all areas – but that we, empowered by the Holy Spirit that Christ gives, are to make disciples of all nations.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Our Hands are on the Head of the Lamb

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting” (Leviticus 1:4-5).

It is no wonder that not many of us relish that portion of our read-the-Bible-in-one-year plan that takes us through Leviticus. How morbidly gory. And this description of sacrificial events is not merely the introduction, after which we get to the ‘good stuff.’

Repeatedly we are told how we are to treat peace offerings, either from the herd or the flock, lamb or goat. We are instructed how to treat offering for unintentional sins, intentional sins, sins of the congregation, sins of leaders. We are instructed how to deal with the uncleanness of childbirth, of nocturnal emissions, of leprosy – even of leprous houses.

And for each of these offenses and offerings, an animal dies. The perpetrator brings his lamb to the priest, lays his hands on its head, and turns it over to the priest for slaughter, its blood spilled and flesh torn.

Over and over, offense after offense, animal after animal God gives us the picture of the guilty laying his hand on an innocent substitute. Over and over, day after day, year after year, the picture of symbolic transfer is played out in the scene of temple life for Israel, and as a result of the magnitude of sin, the bleating of sheep fills the ears and the running of blood is ever before the eyes.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11).

We no longer have the picture of temple sacrifice in the style of Leviticus. Instead, we have the Lord’s Supper, with its otherwise mundane elements and repeated words “this is my body, this is my blood.” And rather than depicting a repeated event, these pictures themselves are reminders of a single event, an accomplished act, the final Levitical sacrifice.

It is now Christ who is the sacrificial Lamb, led to the slaughter, his blood spilled and body torn. And it is my offense that requires his presence on the altar, my hand placed on his head, my guilt transferred to the one who was innocent.

When we commemorate the Last Supper in Maundy Thursday celebrations, the crucifixion in Good Friday services, when we claim that we have trusted Christ, we are saying to the priest, to our neighbor, to our fellow offender that we have sin for which blood needs to be shed, and that we have placed our hands on the head of the spotless Lamb. We are proclaiming that it should have be us on the cross.

And when we join together for sunrise services on Resurrection Day, we are acknowledging as obsolete the Levitical system which required that once an animal was slaughtered and new offenses committed, new life was required, new blood had to be spilled.

Instead, in the New Covenant, in which “this is my body, this is my blood,” this Lamb is not forever silenced, his heart not forever stopped, because he was Begotten of the Father and was able to bear the punishment for sin in our stead, God providing proof that he was satisfied with the Lamb by raising him from the dead.

It should have been the offender’s own blood in Leviticus, it should have been our own body on the cross, but praise God that it was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Christian Science Monitor on Calvinism

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article on Calvinism, partly through the lens of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, where Mark Dever pastors. Check it out here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What have you done for me, lately?

We recognize that there is something powerful in the utterance of words. Thoughts may influence us greatly, but speaking them into existence makes them somehow more – well, real.

The drill sergeant, with the goal of getting a green recruit to recognize his dependence on the group, doesn’t merely want to know the recruit’s beliefs, but demands “Let me hear you say it, private!”

Parents who want reconciliation between siblings aren’t satisfied with a penitent heart, but insist that the offending one “tell your brother how you feel.”

And the frustrated girl dealing with her reticent romantic interest doesn’t want to know he loves her, but longs for the day he actually says it.

In Psalm 35, David reflects this same idea when in the midst of an otherwise imprecatory litany he makes a request of God that he “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation!’” (35:3b). Two things occupy David’s mind about God: 1) a fact, 2) a proclamation.

David faced myriad problems: men sought his life, devised evil against him, laid traps for him, bore false witness, rejoiced over his calamity. All of this resulted from the animosity of God’s anointed, King Saul, and the mere fact that David had been called of God to replace Saul. David had a calling and ministry that others resented and didn’t understand.

But against these David seeks the Lord’s aid, and though he suggested that God fight with shield and buckler, with spear and javelin (vv. 1-2), his true request was otherwise: that they be put to shame, disappointed, caught with their own snares, and that David’s cause be vindicated…in other words, that they fail in their attempts against him.

In this midst of all this David seeks assurance. He knows he cannot trust the might of his own armies, or the cleverness of his schemes, or the brilliance of his defenses, but can only draw confidence from the fact that God is his salvation. This Fact further demonstrates that it is not what God does to alleviate David’s temporal circumstances that make him his salvation, but simply – and profoundly – who he is.

But David isn’t satisfied with the Fact: he wants Proclamation. Perhaps sensing the reality of his nature and that he, like us, needs the Gospel preached to him daily, insists that God declare again to him the Fact: I am your salvation! Like the one who longs to hear his master say “Well done, good and faithful servant,” David knows that unless he heard Proclamation of the Fact from God, he would tend to look elsewhere for sources of salvation, or relief, or solution.

Some of us have never heard God say “I am your salvation!” because we remain in our sin. Some of us don’t want to hear it, because we prefer to look elsewhere for salvation. David reminds us that we need both fact and proclamation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kicking the Tires (Smoking Out Calvinists, Pt 4)

Many pastor search committees receive advice to poll the congregation for the type of pastor it desires, and for which the committee should search. This typically results in a fanciful pastoral candidate who is in his 30s, has several children, an earned Ph.D., twenty years of senior pastor experience, and who looks like a news anchor.

Here, then, is at least one limitation of the congregational form of church government.

Some of these polls reveal the congregation’s desire that “No Calvinist Need Apply.” The biblical wisdom of such polls and of using search committees is a topic for another day. But given the fact that a search committee might see calling a non-Calvinist pastor as its goal, how should it go about this?

First, any church and its search committee should make certain that it knows what it means by “Calvinist.” Many members of SBC churches hold to a form of the Security of the Believer, which makes most of the Convention at least One-Point Calvinist (that is, they agree with “Perseverance” in the TULIP acrostic). Stereotypes make it likely that when churches object to “Calvinism” they are objecting to hyper-Calvinism or some caricature of Calvinism, neither of which is truly Calvinism at all. The church should also understand the terms “Doctrines of Grace” and “Reformed doctrine” (in a sense, all Protestants are “Reformed” from the abuses of Rome) in order to avoid stereotypes of those doctrinal understandings.

Therefore, the church and committee should decide whether a pastor’s agreement with any of the other four points of Calvinism renders him unacceptable, and why. Experience shows that it is entirely possible for a full-bore, Five Point Calvinist to faithfully and fruitfully pastor a congregation that does not hold the Five Points.

Second, the church and its committee should understand clearly why they believe a Two-, Three-, Four-, or Five-Point Calvinist is unacceptable. Much of the objection to “Calvinist” pastors is that they attempt to immediately convert everything about the congregation to their view of Reformed doctrine and practice, or use the pulpit only as a megaphone for preaching “Calvinism”, or browbeat and arm-twist everyone with a different view. But there are plenty of Reformed pastors who don’t behave this way (and plenty of non-Calvinists who do), and creating a blanket ban could be counterproductive.

Third, if it rejects Calvinism, the church and its committee should be willing to affirm its own soteriology. That is, the church should be aware of not only what it rejects, but what it accepts. The opposite of “Calvinism” is not “Biblicism”: instead, the one rejecting Calvinist soteriology is left holding some other interpretation of what Scripture says about salvation, but an interpretation, nonetheless. Thus, the church should understand and embrace where it falls in the spectrum of views: Wesleyan, Arminian, semi-Pelagian, Pelagian. It will not do for a church to reject the Calvinist view of salvation while remaining unclear about the view that it accepts, or while refusing to address the issue under the guise of “having no creed but the Bible.”

Fourth, the church and committee should understand that it does not serve clarity and openness to simply ask a prospective pastor, sometimes at the first contact and sometimes by telephone, “Are you a Calvinist? (Yes, or No).” The subject is complex, and is not suitable to simplistic treatment, either in answers or assessments. A candidate who wants to take more time to answer appropriately is not necessarily being evasive.

Thoughtful pastors who hold to Calvinism, Doctrines of Grace, Reformed theology do so because they believe it is what Scripture teaches. Churches and search committees that do not want to call them should at least give as much attention to why they think it doesn’t. They should not simply rely on stories, second-hand reports, and coffee-maker gossip about who is the “Big C” or even upon the poor behavior of men who obviously are.

No church needs unnecessary splits or sinful division. But it may just need that preacher who happens to be Calvinist.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Checking Under the Hood (Smoking Out Calvinists, Pt 3)

A church’s pastor search committee has every right – indeed, the obligation – to explore a prospective pastor’s theological bent to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with its own. But should every church that rejects some or all of the 5 Points of Calvinism “smoke out” Calvinist preachers (or members) using a litmus test and then summarily reject them?

(See “Smoking Out Calvinism” and “Making Labels” here, as well as Tom Ascol’s article.)

If a man is already serving as pastor and someone in his church must use a smoke-out tool such as “Reformed Red flags” or “Theological Differences” in order to determine whether he is unacceptably Calvinist, there is not likely as much of a problem as someone is pushing to suppose. Whether he uses an ESV Study Bible or quotes R.C. Sproul will not reveal much if the congregation doesn’t already believe that the pastor is attempting to surreptitiously convert them all to Doctrines of Grace.

And, if the goal of the smokers is to root out men who have weaseled into their pulpit by hiding his real self, then the solution is not to use cloak and dagger tactics to catch him in his perfidy, but to shine the light of the gospel on the situation and do something truly radical: ask him.

But let’s not miss the significance of this: the very fact that a church must resort to asking its pastor if he is Calvinist, or to using tools designed to help spot the "warning signs", indicates that there is nothing seriously problematic about his theology. If doctrine were truly the problem, then it would be obvious to everyone. If a man proclaims doctrine from the pulpit that is obviously out of sync with Scripture, then you don’t need to know what soteriological brand he wears in order to find it problematic.

In other words, if a pastor is trying to implement church discipline, have an elder structure, eliminate the “altar call” – even preach grace – and the congregation made uncomfortable by it can point to no Scriptural error in the pastor’s efforts but can only throw a label on him in order to find his label objectionable, then the problem is not likely doctrine. There may be other legitimate reasons to send him on his way, but simply “being Calvinist” would not be one of them. The pastor is either being sinfully divisive, or he is attempting to introduce biblical change that the congregation does not find palatable.

If he is being sinfully divisive, the church has ample reason to seek other leadership. But to go to such extremes to characterize his sinful divisiveness as a product of “Calvinism” is gratuitous, and is likely the result of some other agenda.

If the pastor is introducing biblical change that the congregation finds unpalatable, it is facing a different situation, entirely. Any congregation facing this situation should make absolutely certain that its objection is not simply to change.

For proposals about how a search committee can address these issues with a prospective pastor, see my next article, “Kicking the Tires (Smoking out Calvinists, Pt 4)”.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making Labels (Smoking Out Calvinists, Pt 2)

In several of the older churches in my association, a room just off the foyer to the sanctuary is dedicated to a display of the church’s formative documents. Minutes of the organizational meeting include a list of all the members, who the pastor was, who served as deacons, and who served as elders. The Statements of Faith for these churches closely track the Philadelphia Confession (1742), the Second London Confession (1689), or at least affirm doctrines of grace, with copious favorable references to “election” and “predestination.”

Despite the fact that many contemporary members – should they venture into these rooms and read the documents in them – would stroke out at the notion that their church once had elders and once approved such “Calvinistic” concepts – these documents accurately reflect the truth that Southern Baptist life has been characterized by a strong Reformed, Calvinist, Doctrines-of-Grace element from its inception.

On the other hand, there have also been faithful believers in the SBC who have not accepted all of the Five Points of Calvinism (or Reformed doctrine, or the Doctrines of Grace), who have nevertheless engaged the church’s mission to proclaim God’s glory through making disciples of all nations right alongside Five-Pointers and others who not only tip-toe through, but frolic in, the T.U.L.I.P.s. For example, I worked with a friend in college ministry and on mission trips who claimed to be a 1-Point Calvinist (Perseverance, I think), with no adverse effects on the ministry and no after-hours fisticuffs.

Given this historical context, it is somewhat surprising that there would arise such acrimony against all things Calvinistic. (See “Smoking Out Calvinists” in this site and Tom Ascol’s article.) There are, to be sure, church members and pastors who hold to Calvinism and who haven’t quite left the “cage stage” of their understanding of the Doctrines of Grace. Real and significant problems have attended their congregations and pulpits where charity has not tempered their zeal.

Yet the lack of charity is not a malady exclusive to Reformed circles. Arminians and semi-Pelagians can be just as hostile and unyielding. A thoroughly Arminian Sunday school department leader adamantly refused to go along with anything proposed by the Director because he was (so she thought) “a Calvinist”, hindering the function of the group even in matters not dealing with the disputed doctrine. An official state SBC conference speaker referred to Calvin as a “shade tree theologian” only interested in peddling his Institutes and presumably considered him a greater threat to evangelical Christianity than Islam and false converts.

A church search committee has every reason to avoid calling a pastor who will “split the church.” Yet it is avoiding its “sacred duty” when it supposes that it can check off a few boxes on a “watch list”, or ask a prospective pastor “Yes or No: Are you Calvinist?” and justifiably label him a church-splitter to be studiously avoided.

The problem for churches and pastors today is that both sides of the soteriological divide have been characterized by such inaccurate stereotypes. Not all Calvinists preach from a T.U.L.I.P. soapbox, seeking to browbeat and arm-twist every congregant to his brand of soteriology. Not all Arminians or Wesleyans picture Jesus wringing his hands and fretting over his impotence to save men without their cooperation.

What can a church and its pastor search committee do to ensure they address their legitimate concerns fairly and appropriately? I address that next in “Checking Under the Hood (Smoking Out Calvinists, Pt 3).”