Thursday, December 18, 2008– In perusing my usual blogs, websites and news stories this morning, I went to Dr. Al Mohler’s site, as I usually do, and once again he finds something in our culture that is crucial and brings the full force of Scripture to bear on the issue. Today the issue is the Crucial Question: “Are there many paths to heaven or is Jesus the only way to salvation?” Here is the link to Dr. Mohler’s column:
This is an essential truth, a core doctrine of our faith, known as Solus Christus from the Reformation. We are saved by God’s Grace Alone, Sola Gratia, through Faith Alone, Sola Fide, in Christ Alone, Solus Christus. Any variance away from this core doctrine of the FAith would be heresy, it would be another gospel, a false gospel. We find this doctrine in verses like John 14:6
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Or in Acts 4:11-12
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
This doctrine has been a core doctrine of the Church since its founding and has been one of the main reasons for our missionary imperative and the Great Commission.
Dr. Mohler refers to a recent USA Today story about a Pew Report that reveals something which some of us who have pastored for a while can readily back up:
“The report indicates that 52% of those belonging to churches and denominations that teach that Jesus is the only way of salvation reject that teaching.”
I pastored a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood SBC church from 1992-2007, and the dominant age group was the GI generation from the Great Depression and WW2. The next dominant age group was from the Korean to early Viet Nam era. Then we had a big gap and the next generation was a few Boomers and then a few Gen Xers. In this small church I made every effort to preach expository sermons, doctrinal sermons, through various books of the Bible and through the great doctrines of the Church.
Despite years of Sunday School and sound, biblical, doctrinal teaching, we still had a doctrinally confused congregation. One dear woman who was dying of cancer, kept telling me, “I hope I have been good enough. I hope I have been good enough.” I would remind her that her salvation rested in Christ alone and she would say, “I know”. When one of the deacons of the church died of cancer, his widow said, on more than one occasion, “I know my husband is in heaven because he was a good Mason, a good church member and a good Christian”. She used to be a Sunday School teacher, as did her husband. One of the long term Sunday School teachers of the children, and her husband- another leader in the church, had a daughter who had married into mormonism and had raised their grandchildren as mormons. I would frequently contrast what the Bible taught with what other world religions and cults believed, and this family would get up and walk out during my sermon if I mentioned the mormons because they believed the mormons were, in their words, “just like Baptists”. I tried to talk with them, to reason with them, to present the evidence, all to no avail. The subject was closed.
Ultimately, the church sided with the family that thought mormonism was OK, and I was asked to leave the church. Although that was just one issue that led to my firing, it was a major contributing cause.
Although Dr. Mohler seems to emphasize in his column that the majority of the reason why heresy is found in evangelical churches is bad preaching, allow me to say that an equally important contributor is bad ecclesiology. At least in my experience, there is a pernicious view within a lot of churches that says, Relationships are more important than truth. The church I pastored would not exercise discipline for any sin or heresy. Adultery? Accepted. Heresy? Accepted. Theft from the church? Accepted. Cheating on church payroll taxes? Accepted. Racism? Accepted. Preaching sound doctrine? Fired! This church was rebellious at its founding, (I did talk with the founding pstor). No pastor stayed beyond 3-4 years in its 60 years except me. The pervasive view of the pastor by the church was that pastors are employees of the church and are to do the church’s bidding. Upon my being asked to resign, the church leader whose daughter was a mormon, said, “We can do better without a pastor, we have before.”
The last funeral I conducted in that church, in January of 2007, at the dinner for the family afterwards, I was engaged in a conversation with the older ladies who had cooked the meal. The topic was their favorite TV preachers. All of these ladies were lifelong Baptists who loved the old fashioned, revivalistic, evangelistic sermons of the evangelists who used to conduct 2 week revivals. They had opposed me the entire time as I preached verse by verse through books of the Bibles or preached on doctrinal themes. Their favorite TV preacher???????? Joel Osteen. The Baptist faithful, and they liked Osteen’s preaching. God save us!
At my new church, founded in 2005 with biblical principles, with Elders, a Pastor and staff, who love the Lord, the Word and sound doctrine, my teaching as Sunday School teacher and Care Group Leader is welcomed, accepted and approved. The adult SS class and the Care Group both are dominated by people a bit younger than my 50 years down to people in their 20’s. They enjoy and approve the teaching I offer, the same teaching that was disapproved in my former church by the older generation.
Due to a family relationship back home when I visit, I attend a Methodist church. In the past 23 years and with 4-5 pastors and one “revival” I have never heard a biblical, Gospel sermon in that church. It is a small church,in a small town in Oklahoma, in a very conservative area. I have heard lots of good moral lessons, a lot of good psychology, but no doctrine, no gospel. I have another family relation that attends a church in the Charismatic tradition. When we went to church there we heard some motivational, inspirational talks, but no gospel, no doctrine.
Yes, the evangelical church is in crisis. Baptists are in crisis. We desperately need a return to biblical, expository, doctrinal preaching and we need to start churches that have a biblical ecclesiology, not this Americanized democratized “relationships over truth” hybrid that has wrecked the faith of millions. If half the Church in America believes Jesus is not the Only Way, the Only Truth and the Only Life, and that other religions, like Islam, worship the same God we do, there is no wonder why our culture is such a mess- it looks like the Church.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
Monday, December 8, 2008–Here is a great link to Ronjour who has this debate in a timeline of links that is outstanding:
Update on Sunday November 30, 2008– Here is a video blog by James White about the Limited Atonement just for Dr. Allen of SWBTS!
And here is a good post by strangebaptistfire:
The John 3:16 Conference was held at FBC Woodstock, GA on Nov. 6-7 to discuss and rebut Calvinism as it exists in the Southern Baptist Convention. This was not, apparently, a disputation or debate, in that no Calvinists were invited. According to the Founders Ministries Blog
the conference was designed as a response to the Building Bridges Conference of last year that brought together the Calvinist and Arminian branches of the SBC for a dialog/debate. The John 3:16 Conference was just for the Arminians, which is fine- the Founders Conferences are just for the Calvinists.
I am absolutely convinced that these conferences and the dialog within the SBC about the Doctrines of Grace is a major positive and is a sign of strength and vitality within our denomination. Just think about what other denominations dialog about…ordaining homosexual preachers and bishops, whether or not Jesus really existed or if he is divine or not, how we can better compromise with the muslims…etc. etc.
Here is the link to the Baptist Press article about the John3:16 Conference:
Allow me to summarize the article and the arguments against TULIP that were summarized in that article. The Arminian branch of the SBC is the majority of the SBC (although the Founders Ministries Blog by Tom Ascol made a beautiful point- the majority of the SBC doesn’t even show up for church on Sunday so is that the majority they were talking about! LOL that is soooo true) and this conference seems to have been to build up the majority with some good doctrinal teaching and preaching from the Arminian side. The overall concern of this Conference is shown in a quote from Dr. David Allen, Dean of SWBTS:
“Calvinism is not the Gospel,” he said. “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward five-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the Gospel.”
The Arminians are afraid that a move towards Calvinism would damage missions and evangelism.
I believe that that fear is deeply, even historically ingrained in the consciousness of our denomination and the Arminian brothers. Of course there are anecdotal evidences of this being true in our history. The yper-Calvinists, rare though they may be, do seem to be against missions and evangelism in some ways. But our Arminian friends seem to ignore the dangers of their theology: easy believism, unbiblical evangelistic methodologies, and a variety of man-centered programs, music and doctrine.
Let’s call it the way it is: whether you are a Calvinist or Arminian (albeit a Bible believing Conservative/Fundamentalist Arminian) there are theological pitfalls for each; we remain sinners and it is amazing that God uses any of us. I will continue believing that Calvinism places a proper emphasis on the sovereignty of God and that Arminianism places an improper emphasis on the role of man in salvation. You Arminians believe the opposite. You can continue your efforts at spreading the Gospel, and God bless you! We shall continue our efforts at spreading the Gospel, and I hope God blesses us too. We can continue to have a dialog and try to convince each other, all for the glory of God.
However, if people like Dean Allen get a bit overzealous, and an effort is made to purge the seminary of Calvinists, either the professors or the students, then that would be a sad day in the SBC. 20 years ago when I was in Dr. Doyle Young’s Baptist History, he stated that the next big fight in the SBC might be over Calvinism. I pray he was wrong.
Now allow me to critique the summaries that the article presented. Here are my disclaimers: 1) I did not attend the conference nor have I read the papers presented; 2) this blog post, like most of my others, is written hurriedly, without the benefit of my library or careful exegesis. Hey, I’m an old mortar man from the Army, I’m used to hip shoots, fire for effect and area targets.
“I want to help our people understand the issue,” Jerry Vines said in a phone interview prior to the conference. “I don’t expect to change a whole lot of minds; my primary interest is to bring balance to the issue.”
Response: When the majority party of the SBC seeks to bring “balance to the issue” does that imply that within the SBC there is an imbalance tilting toward Calvinism? I really don’t get that statement, “bring balance to the issue” It seems to me that a one sided conference designed for those who think the same way is not about bringing balance. Kind of like how the Democrats want to bring back the “FAirness Doctrine” (talk about Orwellian double speak) by limiting talk radio when the Libtards own ABCCBSNBCCNNMSNBC and every major newspaper in Amerika and all of Hollywood. No, I’m sorry Dr. Vines, balance would be if you allowed the other side to present their positions in your venue. There is nothing wrong with having only your side there, but do not call it “bringing balance”. That is disingenuous.
“During the conference, Vines and other speakers emphasized that the event was intended to address theological issues and provide information rather than attack Calvinists. “I’ve never felt that disagreeing was attacking,” Vines said, adding that he has many friends with different views.”
Response: I see nothing wrong with this at all and I appreciate the attitude of non-attack. I absolutely agree that disagreeing can be agreeable. Don’t you agree?
Vines said that the Greek word for “whosoever,” which occurs more than a thousand times in the New Testament, carries the idea of “anyone, anywhere, anytime. Whosoever believes in Him is John’s normal way of describing saving faith.”
Response: In regards to the use of “whosoever” in John 3:16 I agree with Vines and it does seem a bit embarassing to watch my fellow Calvinists go through hoops to try to redefine whosoever at times. I do think, however, that the Arminians fail to understand or accept that God’s love for all the world has some distinctions and some other scriptures must be taken into account. On the one hand, I can affirm that God loves the whole world, meaning everyone, every individual. On the other hand, I believe it is easily shown in scripture that there is a special love for the Redeemed, the Bride of Christ. God treats the Elect in a different way than he treats the lost. So when John 3:16 says “For so loved the world…” we need to understand he does love the redeemed in a different way. The “whosoever believeth” portion means what it says, but the Arminian must look at the “whosoever” honestly. Who is it who actually believes in Jesus? The Arminian would say those who freely choose Christ. I would ask why do some choose Christ and others do not? What is the difference between them? Why are the “whosoever” the “whosoever”?
This gets to the point of the doctrine of Election very quickly. The Arminians will say later in this article that it involves God’s foreknowledge. They define foreknowledge as simply God choosing those whom he sees choosing Christ in the future. God’s choice is therefore dependent upon theirs. However, even though that was the answer given me in my youth, I began asking questions. “If God can really see the future before it happens, and sees that I will in fact choose Christ and therefore God chooses me based upon my choice, which has not yet happened, but will certainly happen, how is it a free choice on my part if God already knows it will certainly happen?” If God has not predetermined it to happen, then who or what has?
I have never seen an Arminian able to answer that question sufficiently. At least the Open Theism crowd is honest about it, but the Arminians leave it dangling.
What is the basis for the choice of the “whosoevers” in John 3:16? Why do some choose but not others?
My belief is that there are two ways of understanding salvation that must both be accepted. 1)Salvation from our perspective in space and time- we must acknowledge that God loves the world and the gospel is for “whosoever” and that we make a real decision to accept or reject Christ and our decision has eternal consequences. As we preach, we do not know who will respond, therefore we preach “whosoever will may come”. 2) Salvation from God’s perspective in eternity and the spiritual realm- we must acknowledge that he is sovereign and has ordained all that comes to pass, including my salvation. As a sinner, I am spiritually dead and cannot choose Christ. I have a sinful nature that would never accept Christ, only flee from him. God the Holy Spirit overpowers my inability and changes my nature so that I can now act freely according to the new nature He has given me and I then choose Christ by believing in him and repenting of sin.
I think that sometimes we Calvinists use language that is too blunt and we ignore parts of the gospel. To say, “I had nothing to do with my salvation” is technically correct in view of eternity and the spiritual realm, but, I’m sorry, that is not how we actually experience it. We do feel conviction, we do repent, we do choose to believe. BUT, if we fail to grow beyond our own personal experience and fail to ask the harder questions and understand salvation from God’s perspective, then we remain immature and out of balance. Why did I suddenly change and believe the gospel? Why did I repent when I formerly loved my sin? It is unexplainable apart from the sovereign power of God. I once was blind, but now I see.
I think this is demonstrated in Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus uses two illustrations to describe our salvation. 1) You must be born again. Being born is not a choice, it happens to you, you have nothing to do with it. 2) He refers to the work of the Spirit being like the wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. But you see and feel its effects. You don’t move it, it moves you. I don’t choose to have the wind blow; it is beyond my will and power. Jesus uses two illustrations to demonstrate our need and our helplessness. Then comes vs. 16 and the “whosoever believeth”. Jesus is speaking here of two realms of action and two actors. The Spirit and you. The Spirit causes us to be born again and it is mysterious like the wind. But you better be believing! This is clearly a both/and situation where one goes behind and beneath the other to explain that mysterious working of the Spirit.
Whew! What a rant.
“In Scripture God commands men to believe,” Vines said, asserting that God would not command people to do what they cannot do.
Response: I have heard this one so much I want to puke! I have no problem at all with God commanding us to do something which we are unable to do. Did not the same God give us the Ten Commandments? Does Brother Vines and Co. think any of us can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly? What about the Greatest Commandment and the 2nd which is like it? Does brother Vines keep those, even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life? How much more difficult is it to believe in Christ when you do not have the Holy Spirit!
But experientially, as we hear the command to repent and believe, some will take it to heart and trust in Christ! We must not take the command and say flippantly, “I am unable, therefore I choose to reject Christ.” We must understand the command in the here and now as well as in light of the spiritual realm. But the mature Christian will know that my response to the command of Christ was not of myself, it was wrought by God.
T — TOTAL DEPRAVITY
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the issue of total depravity from Romans, saying that depravity means no one is right with God. Any good deed done is tainted with sinfulness, and there is no fear of God or ultimate peace in a person’s heart. All of mankind fell in Adam and are affected by his sin.
“Does that mean we are born guilty before God?” Patterson asked. “I do not think that can be demonstrated from Scripture. We are born with a ‘sin sickness,’ a disease that makes it certain that we will sin and rebel against God.” The Bible says people are condemned for their own sins, he said.
“Look at what dead men do,” Patterson continued, citing Ephesians 2:1: “… [Y]ou were dead in your trespasses and sin.’ If you are dead, then you can’t do anything to respond to God.” Patterson pointed to verses 2-3, which says, “You walked according to the course of this world … you once conducted yourself in the lusts of the flesh fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind….”
“This is analogy, you are dead in trespasses and sin, and pressed too far, you will make it say more than it says,” he stated.
Response: Did Patterson really say this? This is way bad. Totally confused. If we are not born guilty before God, what are we? Are we born innocent? If innocent then are we born neutral towards God, leaning towards God, or what? How can someone with a sin nature be innocent? And then he goes on to say that we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Innocent but dead in sins? How does that work? Patterson rightly asks, “Look at what dead men do…” Hmm, what do dead men do…oh yeah..they freely choose Christ! He says, “If you are dead then you can’t do anything to respond to God.” Thank you! That makes my point..but wait, “This is analogy, you are dead in trespasses and sin, and pressed too far, you will make it say more than it says.” ummm, excuse me?! Dead is dead isn’t it? Unable to do anything, ANYTHING, to respond to God.
I am just not at all sure what Patterson was trying to say here, but I can agree that the lost man is dead in sin and cannot respond to God. We are totally depraved and unable to change. From this point every other point in the TULIP follows.
U — UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke about the second point, unconditional election. Land provided a historical overview of Baptist beliefs on the topic and said election is consistent with the free agency of man; the question is how election is defined.
He also stressed the need to differentiate between God’s corporate election of Israel and individual election, which he said is intertwined with and connected to God’s foreknowledge.
Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “… God our savior, who will have all men to be saved,” Land said the Greek word for “will” is an earnest desire.
Reacting to Reformed commentaries that say “all” can’t really mean “all men” because if God willed something it would have to happen, Land said, “I believe in a God who is so sovereign and so omniscient that He can break out of Calvin’s box … and He can choose to limit Himself and He can convict us and He can seek to bring us to conviction … but He will not force us.”
Response: I am unaware of any scripture that states man is totally free in light of God’s sovereignty. I can see many verses that clearly state God is sovereign, but those verse on man’s freedom are hard to find. Excuse me but in a universe that has been created by and is sustained by, an all powerful Creator admits only one being who is “Free”- that would be God. All other beings, even moral beings created in the image of God, are less than free by definition. Scripture is pretty full of examples of sinners being in bondage, but that free thing…? Where is that verse?
To Land, election is intertwined with and connected to God’s foreknowledge. I argued my position on foreknowledge above so I won’t repeat myself repeat myself here.
God desires all men to repent and doesn’t want any to perish. Here we see that there are two levels to God’s will: his revealed will and his secret will. He commands all men to believe and he wills or desires all men to be saved- but not all men believe or are saved. He reveals his will for us in the 10 Commandments, but we each break them all the time. To sin is to go against God’s will, desire and commands. A good and loving God desires and commands all men to be save yet few are actually saved. Why? Because though many are called, few are chosen. Funny how Christ’s words explain this so simply.
One standard complaint about this is that some say this makes God’s invitation to salvation hypocritical, insincere. Not if you realize that God’s secret will is to save some to display his grace and mercy and to damn others to display his justice and righteousness. Furthermore, who are we to complain against God who did not have to save any? He is free and justified to command all of us to repent and believe but not empower any of to do so. We would remain guilty and in our sins.
L — LIMITED ATONEMENT
David Allen, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Theology, challenged limited atonement quoting only Calvinist authors because “the best arguments against limited atonement come from Calvinist writers.”
Allen named a long list of Calvinists, including John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, who did not hold to limited atonement. Martin Luther and the early English reformers held to universal atonement, which means Christ bore the punishment due for the sins of all humanity.
“The debate is very much about the sufficiency of the atonement,” Allen said. “In the high Calvinist position on limited atonement, Christ is only sufficient to save those for whom He suffered … the non-elect according to that position are not savable, and the reason they are not savable is because Jesus didn’t die for them … they are left without a remedy for their sins.”
Limited atonement has always been the minority view among Christians, even after the Reformation. The correct view, he said, is “all are savable but they must believe.”
If “world” means the “elect” in John 3:16, “whosoever believes shall not perish leaves open the possibility that some of the elect might perish,” Allen said. “That’s a problem.”
Any teaching that God doesn’t love everyone, that God has no intent or desire to save everybody or that He didn’t die for the sins of all humanity is contrary to Scripture and should be rejected, he stated.
“Limited atonement is built on a faulty exegetical foundation,” Allen said, citing verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:15 and Romans 5:18. “… There is no statement in Scripture that says Jesus died only for the elect.”
Response: I think Allen is correct about some of this in that the doctrine of limited atonement does have a wide range of meanings and is the most frequently forgotten of the TULIP. I do think that this argument can go like this: Clearly the perfect man, son of God/son of man, dying on the cross would be a sufficient sacrifice to pay for the sins of all people of all the world for all time. Christ has infinite worth and our sins have a finite number. But who actually has their sins paid for, atoned for? The Elect, the Church, the “whosoever believes”. Atonement is available, yet many choose to remain in their sins. This choice to stay in their sins compounds their sins because salvation is available and paid for. Sin adds to sin.
But that doesn’t end it. We must ask what was God’s intention in the cross? To make salvation possible or to actually save some specific number? Was it indeed possible for all men to reject Christ and for none to be saved? Did God take a huge gamble? Was it really God’s will to save all men but his will got frustrated to the extent that only a tiny minority of all men of all the world for all time got saved? Excuse me, but that sounds like a pretty weak and pathetic god to me. Did God know what he ws doing or did he not?
God declares the end from the beginning and his will stands. The death of Christ on the cross was sufficient for all, but applied only to those who actually repent and believe and they repent and believe because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit goes only to those whom the Lord sends him. The atonement is clearly limited in purpose and effect even though it is sufficient for all and all are commanded to partake.
In his concluding remarks, Allen expressed concern about the effect of five-point Calvinism on preaching and evangelism. “Anything that makes the preacher hesitant to make the bold proclamation [of the Gospel] to all people is wrong,” he said.
“Calvinism is not the Gospel,” he said. “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward five-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the Gospel.”
Response: Wow, where did that come from? I have never heard that Calvinism makes a preacher hesitant to make a bold proclamation of the Gospel to all people. Unless he is talking about some of the hyper-calvinists failure to send misisonaries. Hey, every group has the nut jobs and if you want to compare the few Calvinist nut jobs with the boatload of Arminian nut jobs go ahead….Open Theism anyone?
His last comment was just plain tacky and he really ought to apologize. i won’t hold my breath.
To be continued…
OK, I am back so now I will finish.
I — IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke about irresistible grace.
“Salvation is tied in some measure to our response,” he said, citing several biblical examples of what he said were people resisting God. For example, in Acts 7:51 the Jewish men who stoned Stephen were said to be “always resisting the Holy Spirit.”
Lemke said that while Calvinists don’t deny people can resist the Holy Spirit in some situations, they believe the effectual call is irresistible.
Response: I affirm that our response is a real response experienced in space and time with real consequences. People do resist the Holy Spirit. Ultimately however, the deciding factor in our conversion is the Holy Spirit. Why else do we pray for God to save our friends and family members? If salvation is not up to God, if the deciding factor is not the Holy Spirit’s irresistible call, why pray?
In addition to the all-inclusive invitations of scripture, when people in the Bible ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Lemke said they are told to repent and believe.
He expressed concern that irresistible grace can lead to the denial of the necessity for conversion.
Response: I have never heard a Calvinist deny that repentance and faith were not necessary. I admit to having limited experience here, but…I have heard many Arminians express the idea that they are “good enough” or worked hard enough for their salvation. Sooo, I guess we could trade insults on this all day long. I have seen many false conversions where people did a big public repentance and emotional conversion thing during an invitation…and 2 weeks later were living the same old way. i guess I would say that the real conversions certainly include confession o fsin, repentance and trusting in Christ- all because of the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit and irresistible grace.
Lemke also addressed the question as to whether a man is saved because he believes in Christ, or whether he believes in Christ because he’s saved. He said that irresistible grace reverses the biblical order of salvation, so that regeneration precedes conversion.
Response: Again I point to the conversation with Nicodemus and the need to be born again/above. If I am spiritually dead in my trespasses and sins then I am dead and cannot do anything until the Spirit overpowers me and opens my spiritual eyes, quickens my soul, gives me the faith with which to believe. How can a dead man have the faith or desire to believe?
P — PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Ken Keathley, dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, covered the fifth point, perseverance of the saints. Ironically, he said, many Arminians and Calvinists arrive at basically the same answer: Assurance is based on the evidence of sanctification in one’s life.
While the Reformers taught that assurance is the essence of faith, the doctrines of the hidden will of God, limited atonement and temporary faith undermine this assurance, he said. Some argue that final justification is obtained by perseverance.
“Doesn’t this come close to a works-based salvation?” he asked.
Keathley said the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ, and that saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight.
“Any model that begins with Christ but ends with man is doomed to failure,” he stated.
Response: This always tickles me- how can Arminians say once saved always saved when they freely chose Christ. Why can’t they then freely choose to let go of Christ? Consistent Arminians do agree that you can lose your salvation. Either salvation is a work of God or it isn’t. If God caused me to be born again, I cannot become unborn again. I have personally seen the damage this theology has done to people who believed in their “decision” back as a child but had no discipleship, no lordship, no outward signs of being a Christian at all, yet they claimed once saved always saved.
Those who persevere to the end will prove that they were the elect. Yes I cooperate with the Holy Spirit in my sanctification, yes I follow Christ and work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, but it is He who worketh in me. My assurance is based not on my own obedience but on the Word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. My obedience is a product of God’s grace working in me and confirms to a degree, that I am in Christ and He is in me.
See Steve Camp’s website on this same issue:
And here is another site that has some interesting posts on the Conference:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
“Preacher, these old ladies want to fire you for refusing to marry Katie’s granddaughter.” These words from the old deacon brought a sinking feeling into the pit of my stomach. I had been at the church for less than a year and this was about the third time I had been threatened with being fired over a biblical stand I had taken or over something that had threatened a tradition in the church that was holding it back.
Here was the situation: the granddaughter of a faithful member, in fact a member of the pastor search committee that had hired me, was wanting me to conduct her wedding in the church, but she and her fiance’ had been living together for some time. Though raised in this church, the young lady had not been to church in years; both of them claimed to be Believers. When I first agreed to meet with them and discuss the wedding I told them that I could not perform the ceremony because they were living in sin. If they separated soon and showed signs of repentance I would perform the wedding. They agreed to separate as soon as possible. As the wedding drew closer I checked with them to see if they had fulfilled their committment; they had not. The young man answered, “Well, we are still sleeping in the same bed but we aren’t doing anything sexual.”
Well, I wasn’t born yesterday! I told them that they should seek another minister to do the wedding since they had broken our agreement. They agreed and there were no hard feelings. The grandmother spoke with me and absolutely supported my decision. Katie was always encouraging. She was one of the few bright spots in that church.
When the word got out that Pastor Walker was not doing the ceremony, tempers flared. Several of the older ladies wanted the deacons to fire me. The deacons covered for me as best they could. But when one deacon asked me why I wasn’t doing the wedding I only told him that was between me and that couple. So the anger of the church intensified. Katy also came to my defense and told some of the women that she supported me in my decision. She may have told them why I refused to do the ceremony, I do not know. The interim minister they had before calling me to pastor performed the ceremony.
Just a few months later and I was in another pickle regarding a wedding. An older couple came to me wanting me to marry them. He was a founding member of the church, very active, and served as a trustee. She was his first wife, divorced over 40 years prior. Both had remarried other spouses and both spouses had since died.
The Scriptures seemed pretty clear about this in Deuteronomy
24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.
I consulted a couple more pastors who were older, wiser, and deeper in the Word than I was and got a split decision. One stated unequivocally “No, you should not marry them because of Deut. 24”. The other said, “Yes, you can marry them because of Romans 7”
7:1 Or do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
I did not think Romans 7 adequately covered the situation because a prior divorce and remarriage were involved. Therefore, I sided with the clear text of Deut. 24 and gently told this wonderful older couple that I could not do the wedding.The older couple absolutely understood my position and were very gracious and not upset at all. The old ladies of the church went ballistic. Again, for about the fourth time in my first year I heard the cry, “Fire the Preacher!”. The older couple came to my defense and told them that they weren’t upset so why should anyone else be upset. They got the chaplain from our town’s Volunteer Fire Department to do the ceremony.
The third wedding that came my way was a couple from the community who were living together. In speaking with them, they expressed an understanding of their living in sin and a desire to get right with God. They wanted a small ceremony at home with their daughter and a couple of friends. They expressed their desire to come to church and begin following Christ. I did marry them and they did begin coming to the church faithfully and I did see signs of genuine repentance. They moved away but contacted me a few years later expressing gratitude and telling about how they were serving the Lord in their new church.
It was at this point in my pastorate, about a year and a half in, that I had to do some serious thinking. I realized that the church I was attempting to pastor had almost no biblical foundation, no convictions, no desire to actually be a biblical church. They had rejected the Word time and again in the matter of weddings and, for those who have not read my other blogs in the Worship War saga, in many other ways. I now knew why no pastor before had stayed beyond three years. The constant threats of being fired by the old ladies was distressing, but their rejection of the Word of God was grievous.
As yet another wedding was coming up that I seriously disagreed with, I had to make a decision. If I said no to my third church wedding in a row, I was pretty certain I would be forced out. Should I compromise my standards so that I could stay and maybe gradually lay a biblical foundation in this church?
I compromised my standards and performed the wedding. This was probably the wrong decision, but I still have doubts and conflicting thoughts. At the time I was convinced that I would be fired for refusing this wedding. I could have resigned, but the nagging thought in my mind was that every other pastor they had had for almost 35 years at that point had bailed out, been “called to another field”, or been forced out. My leaving would not do the church any good. Do I stay or leave?
I suppose it is possible that had I stayed the course and not compromised my standards, I might have somehow been able to stay. God may have worked it out. Obedience is always the best choice, but I failed that particular test.
In summary, over the years I did close to thirty weddings. Some were at the church, some in the community, most were related to my secular job. In all my weddings I presented the gospel in a brief way. The distressing thing was that out of about thirty weddings, maybe only 2-3 were actually biblical weddings where the couple were not living together, pregnant, unbelievers or unequally yoked. About 10% of the weddings met the biblical standard. This is a sign of a sick society and a VERY SICK CHURCH. I REPENT of my doing these weddings.
One particular wedding stands out. It was the grandson of one the prominent women, Melba. Her grandson was engaged to an atheist. I am most ashamed that I did that wedding, but once you start compromising…The interesting thing about this wedding was that it absolutely typified this church. It was all for show; to make the grandmother feel good and look good. Though the grandson professed to be a believer, there was absolutely no evidence of such in his life. But he had been “saved and baptized” in this church years before I came along. I knew the drill. This church was all about looking good, but not about following Christ or obeying the Word.
On issue after issue I challenged the church, pushed their envelope, and stuck to the Word, but in this one issue I compromised and gave in.
At the end of my pastorate, in the last year or so when the fighting got to an extremely intense level, one prominent lady who absolutely despised me, came to my office finally, after 13 years, and had a long chat. In the course of that talk I told her that story of the first wedding that I refused to do. Her mouth dropped open, she stated that she remembered that but that she never heard that the couple had been living together and that that was the reason why I wouldn’t marry them. She said that put a different light on the subject. She asked why I hadn’t made that known back then. I told her that it was between me, the Lord and the couple, and that it was not the church’s business (the couple were not members of the church, though the lady had been at one point). Then I told her, “Time and again this church has objected to my decisions without knowing the full story or coming to me for a personal talk. This is the source of many of our church’s problems.”
That conversation ultimately made no difference to her and her husband. They were constantly pushing to remove me from the church and ultimately won that battle. Oh yeah, that couple have a daughter who was raised Baptist but married into the Mormon Church…but that is a story for another time.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008–It has been a few months since last I wrote about the Worship Wars in the church I pastored for 15 years as a bi-vocational pastor. The church is a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood church, Southern Baptist, founded in the 1950’s. I pastored from 1992-2007and it was non-stop fighting. In the 50+ years history of that church I was the only pastor to stay past 3 years. These articles do not include the name of the church, though I will tell you it was in a suburb of Fort Worth, TX. The church peaked in membership in 1968 and declined steadily, much as most of our churches have done. It is still in existence, though only running about 20-25. These stories are usually negative as I seek to discover what I did wrong and what I did right. I have a goal of seeking healing for myself and my family and of providing some assistance to young ministers who may be in a similar situation or who are about to enter the ministry.
This morning while reading through the various news blogs and sites I came across a very probing and convicting article at BaptistPress on doing weddings for lost people. I have the link below. This article brought to mind the various trials I faced over the issue of weddings, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the subject.
When I started pastoring in 1992 I do not believe I was adequately trained or prepared for weddings. In seminary we had studied the issue of divorce and re-marriage in ethics class, but that was about it. I never did any kind of a biblical, theological, or historical study of weddings, or, more properly, marriage. In my personal experience and background, I came from a Christian home that had been broken by divorce. I had participated in a few weddings as a groomsman or as a guest, and had heard several sermons about marriage over the years. I had attended the Bill Gothard Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts and heard his teachings on marriage, which were generally pretty sound. (OK, I know now that Gothard’s hermeneutic can be messed up at times and not all his teachings are strictly biblical, but he was still pretty good.) In the Christian Ministry class and Pastoral Leadership class there was a little bit of reading and instruction about conducting weddings, but no theology. I had been married for about 10 years when I started pastoring. In the past year I have turned down one offer to do a wedding. Thankfully, I don’t think I will be doing any more unbiblical weddings.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Saturday, July 12, 2008–A friend of mine at work is a bi-vocational pastor, like I was for 15 years, and he has invited me to preach at his church tomorrow. I will be preaching from Mark 1, but in my studies I looked up an old sermon of mine from 1999 when I started preaching through the Gospel of Mark. I will use large parts of this sermon tomorrow, but I will study the text anew so it will be a substantially different sermon. However, this old sermon struck me as being something that I ought to share on this blog. CAUTION: it is a confrontational sermon that goes along with my Worship War series of stories from my days as pastor.
********** BAPTIST CHURCH
“Preaching the Doctrines of Grace and Making Disciples Beyond 2000”
*********************founded 1955, affiliated with SBC
Bryan E. Walker, Pastor since 1992 Telephone:
Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria
Mark 1:1 “The Gospel About Jesus Christ- What Is the Gospel?” 18 July 1999 AM
Introduction: Parking Garage illustration
I. What Is A Gospel?
II. What Is The Gospel?
1. The “simple Gospel” 2.Evangelists, Revivals, Billy Graham 3.Tracts
4. Y’all come evangelism
III. Is There A Problem With The Simple Gospel Today?
1. The Simple Gospel, Baby Boomers and a Postmodern World. 2. Revivalistic Preaching vs. Pastoral Preaching. 3. Competition from other gospels.
IV. The Full Gospel and Our Purpose
1. The Full Gospel, the whole counsel of God’s Word. 2. My Purpose
3. The Three-fold purpose of the Church. 4. Hindrances to our
purpose- lack of hunger for the Word, willful ignorance, pride and
unteachable hearts, rebellion.
Conclusion: Garage ill. or full meal ill. I will continue to preach from the whole of God’s Word and I will continue to preach in depth, providing solid food. Your job is to cultivate a hunger for the Word and obey Him.
Introduction: This morning we are beginning a wonderful journey of examining the Gospel about Jesus Christ, According to Mark. Here we shall see Jesus portrayed as the suffering servant who came to ransom lost sinners from their sin. We shall be asking just a couple of basic questions throughout our study: Who is Jesus? And, What should my response be to Jesus? Tonight we will do an Introducion to Mark’s Gospel including a brief biography of Mark, then, next week we will examine the key vss. of this gospel to get an idea of Marks main points. Then we shall conduct a verse by verse, section by section study of this wonderful gospel that is action packed. After a few weeks of Mark we may begin to alternate with either Genesis or another study.
Let me begin this sermon with an illustration from work this week. At the place where I work we have been constructing a parking garage for the past year. Actually, the planning started in the fall of 1996, and the ground was broken in July of last year. I have learned a lot about construction simply by watching the slow progress step by step. I saw the survey work done, marking off the boundaries; then there were soil samples drilled to see what was beneath the surface; I saw the ground dug up for the temporary parking lot, new dirt brought in and finally asphalt poured, lines painted. Then the old parking lot was dug up, concrete and steel ripped out; a huge hole was dug deep into the rock for the foundation, then a series of 6′ diameter holes were bored deeper still (some up to 60′ deep). Steel rebar 2″ thick was used abundantly in those deep holes then the concrete was poured. Next was the bottom floor of the garage, the forms were constructed, steel rebar laid in and tied together, then more concrete. The columns were next, and step by step the 6 story garage went up. The foreman told me he could only be off no more than 1/8th of an inch in all of his measurements and survey work or the structure would be ruined. 1/8th of an inch could ruin a multi million dollar structure.
When you look at it full of cars now, if you didn’t know about all the foundation work, all the steel and deep concrete, you couldn’t tell because all that work is hidden from view. Hidden, yet absolutely essential! If you ignored the foundation the structure would collapse of its own weight, if the foundation was faulty it may last for a while then deteriorate quickly, maybe a tragic collapse. People will use the garage that know nothing of the foundation and could care less. But the architects, the project managers at my company, the engineers, the construction crew, those who built it, fully appreciate that foundation and all the hidden steel.
This morning we will look at this first verse of Mark’s Gospel and ask the question: “What Is the Gospel?” We will look at what is a gospel, the simple gospel and the full gospel and see how we need all three!
This sermon is needed today because in the world where I work and live there are competing gospels, there are those who do not know the gospel, and here in this church there are different ideas of what the gospel is and how it should be proclaimed.
I. What Is A Gospel?
The word gospel is derived from the old Anglo Saxon “god-spell” meaning good tidings or good history. It is used to translate the Greek word euangelion. This word for gospel appears in Mark more often than any of the other gospels! The Greek word was used to announce history making good news. Its Old Testament roots tie it in with the In-Breaking of God into our world, and that is good news to us! We are not left to our own devices! We have a God who has entered our realm, our world.
But the word gospel came to be used as a word to describe the first four books of the New Testament. Hence we have the Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A Gospel then is one of these four books. This gospel is not really a biography for they leave out way too much; Mark’s gospel does not include a birth account like Luke and Matthew. Why? We will discuss that tonight. But a gospel has biographical material in it, it is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
A gospel is not a history book, although it is historical. Acts is more of an historical account, but the gospels are not histories exactly. They are definitely historical in that they accurately describe real events, real people in space and time. A gospel is a theological work that proclaims Jesus, who he is and what he did, with the purpose of persuading people to believe in Jesus.
In order for us to preach the gospel we must know the gospel by reading and studying the 4 gospels. These are the primary sources for what we know about the actions, teachings, and character of Jesus. Now let us look at the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ which is the content of the Gospels.
II. What Is The Gospel?
1. The “Simple Gospel” This is the basic message of salvation that announces that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sin, that we must repent and believe in Jesus and trust in him for salvation. This is good news because we cannot save ourselves with religion, morals, or good works. This is a message of repentance, of trusting in the resurrected Savior, of being born again. If you are to communicate hope to a lost world, there is no hope in any other name than Jesus, and his atoning death on the cross. This is the core of our witnessing, preaching and evangelizing a lost world.
2. This message, the simple gospel, is the main message of evangelists through the centuries. This is the message of Paul, Peter and the apostles. As Christianity spread throughout the world this simple gospel was always the first message to be proclaimed. In America and in the Baptist tradition the gospel message was and is crucial. As revival fires swept the colonies in the First Great Awakening the gospel was preached with vigor from the likes of Jonathon Edwards, George Whitefield, and the Wesleys.
Many of you have fond memories of years gone by when the evangelist came to town and the whole town showed up to hear the preaching. Maybe some of you were saved in a revival? To hear that fiery evangelist speak about the awfulness of our sin, the dangers of hellfire, the great love of God for the sinner, and the blood of Christ, the precious blood of Christ. The message was of repentance, trust in Jesus now.
And of course there is Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century. I grew up hearing Billy Graham and I attended a crusade in Tacoma in 1984. His messages are the pure and simple gospel, directed at the lost in an easily understood manner.
3. I have been trained to witness since I was in Jr High School and I started witnessing in the third grade right after I was saved. Witnessing has always been a part of my lifestyle, but when I was trained it was usually with a tract and a personal testimony of my salvation experience. The simple gospel! Most tracts say about the same thing: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. But we are separated from God by our sins and are incapable of saving ourselves. Jesus is God’s Son and he died to save us. We must repent and believe in the resurrected Lord, placing Christ on the throne of our lives. Then He will indeed forgive us of our sin and we will go to heaven when we die.
4. The Southern Baptists have been known for a strong missions program, foreign and home. But we are known also for Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, children’s camp and youth camp, all evangelistic enterprises spreading the good news. Traditionally the Sunday morning service has been known for being a revivalistic, evangelistic time as well where the people would invite their lost friends to hear the simple gospel preached. The “Y’all come” mode of evangelism has long been the most popular form of evangelism; that is, invite lost people to church so they can hear the Gospel. It is far easier to invite someone to church, after all, than to actually witness to them. It is less threatening for all involved; just get them into the church and the Sunday School teacher can witness or the youth minister or pastor.
III. Is There A Problem With The Simple Gospel?
1. Not with the content, not at all! God has been using it and will continue using it for all time. But, here are two little known but scary facts: a) The year Southern Baptists baptized the most people was in 1955.b)In 1998, for the first time since 1926 Southern Baptists grew smaller. That is we lost members instead of gained. What does this say about Southern Baptist effectiveness? Another statistic, about 70% of our churches have not grown or have shrunk in the past 25 yrs.
We look around at our church and see all the empty pews and wonder where all the people are. Many of you have children and grandchildren who do not go to church anywhere anymore don’t you? Some still go to church but have left Baptist life; others of you still have children who attend a Baptist church, just not this one. Why? Do you wonder why or do you just accept as fact?
Something went dreadfully wrong with my generation when you can have the most baptisms in the 1950’s but look for them now and not find them anywhere. I am going to explain some things about the gospel and my generation that some of you won’t want to hear, but I respectfully ask you to listen.
My generation was raised on evangelistic preaching Sunday after Sunday, we were taught the gospel, the simple gospel, in Sunday School and at camp. But we wee not discipled, we were never taught doctrine from the pulpit in any organized, systematic way. We were never taught to think christianly. We were not given reasons for our faith, we were just told to believe, do it this way because that is how we have always done it.
Remember my opening illustration of the parking garage? My generation is like a beautiful garage with out any depth to the foundation. We are missing the 60′ piers and all the reinforcing steel. We are a crumbling generation that had a religious experience in the 50’s and 60’s but never received the whole gospel.
2. We were raised on revivalistic preaching for several reasons. I am going to tell you a little about preaching that maybe you don’t want to know, but you need to know and understand. When a pastor invites an evangelist into his church there are a lot of factors that come into play. One factor is that the evangelist has about 20-30 standard sermons (if that many), that are highly energetic, and quite polished. He comes to town for a week and preaches 8-10 sermons then goes on to the next church. He can use the same sermons several times throughout the year. Evangelistic sermons are among the easier kind of sermons to prepare; you can change the text and the illustrations some and have a whole new sermon. The local pastor sometimes had to fight jealousy and envy because of the polished sermons of the evangelist. When the evangelist left town the pastor would hear the comments “Did you hear how great that evangelist was!” etc. To some degree the pastors would feel like they had to get the same results as the evangelist, therefore the pastors would also preach the simple gospel sermons. The people of the church responded favorably to this approach, and the pastor got compliments on his newly improved preaching.
In short, pastors became compared with evangelists in their preaching even though the two jobs are very different! In seminary the preaching professors taught us the different kinds of sermons and the purposes of the different types. I was warned by Dr Tatum in class not to always preach the simple gospel sermon, the evangelistic sermon. Pastoral preaching is far different, but he acknowledged that the people preferred evangelistic preaching. He told us to preach at least half of our sermons from the Old Testament because 2/3rds of the Bible is Old Testament. “We must preach the whole of God’s Word”, Dr Tatum used to say. And again, “The most important thing we do as we preach is to explain the word of God” The 6 types of sermons are: Evangelistic, Devotional, Doctrinal, Consecrational, Ethical, and Supportive.
The pastor’s job in preaching is to communicate the whole gospel to the people through the years, week by week, going through the whole of scripture in expositional sermons. I have studied some of the greatest preachers in the world, I have read their sermons, and heard them preach live and on radio or TV. From the great men of God like John Calvin, Martin Luther, the Puritans, CH Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, Martin Lloyd-Jones, WA Criswell, John MacArthur, James Montgomery Boice, Chuck Swindoll and many others it is clear that the best, deepest preaching in the greatest churches of the world is systematic exposition of books of the Bible verse by verse, with some thematic series occasionally as well. This manner of preaching is far tougher than the evangelist’s kind of preaching. This type of preaching is Gospel preaching, however, it preaches the whole gospel, it provides the deep foundation of doctrine that my generation missed. It provides the hidden steel in the structure that gives it strength and endurance.
3. There is competition out there for the ears of the people. There are other gospels that are heretical and spurious, cotton candy sermons that tickle the ears. Please listen to me here, I do not say this to hurt or harm. In my work place I witness a lot, I share the Gospel with folks virtually every day. People come up to me with questions about the Bible and my faith. I have studied evangelism in seminary and have practiced it all my life. There are false gospels out there that are dangerous but sound a lot like our simple gospel. They use the same words we do but with different meanings.
Specifically in my workplace I am presently engaged in spiritual warfare with about 20 Mormons who I work with, who have a different Jesus, a different God, and a salvation by works- another gospel. This past week a Mormon lady began witnessing to one of my friends who is lost. She has now talked with me and has some questions for me about the differences between Christians and Mormons. Yet, while I am engaged in this kind of evangelistic enterprise, real spiritual warfare, I bluntly get no support from this church because the whole issue of Mormons is taboo here. I have another friend at work who is Jehovah’s Witness, again another gospel altogether. I have some agnostic and atheistic friends, the simple gospel must be explained in depth to them. I have friends who have bought wholesale the health and wealth gospel, an out of balance gospel at best.
The pulpits of America, and in particular this pulpit, ought to be preaching the whole gospel from the whole of God’s Word to prepare God’s people for these kind of encounters.
IV. The Whole Gospel and My Purpose and Our Purpose
1. The Full Gospel contains the simple gospel but is bigger and more comprehensive than the simple gospel. Do not ever get the idea that I am opposed to the simple gospel. It has been said in this church publicly numerous times that I do not preach the gospel. I think what that comment means is that I do not limit my preaching to the simple gospel, the evangelistic revivalistic sermons that I grew up on and that most of you remember fondly. I know that several of you do not like my preaching because I am not evangelistic enough to suit you. Let me reassure you that I preach the whole gospel; the entirety of Christian doctrine supports and strengthens the simple gospel. The doctrine of scripture, of God, of man, all have bearing on the gospel.
Now, if you believe that I do not preach the gospel in any way shape or form, that my preaching is in fact heretical, I have manuscripts and tapes available for us to have a reasonable discussion on the subject. If I do not preach the gospel I deserve to be fired, pure and simple. If I do not preach just the simple gospel the way you like it, but if I in fact preach the whole gospel then i humbly ask you to not put your preferences to the front in such a manner. We all have preferences for sermon texts; we all have our favorite passages. Do you think that i only preach from texts that I want to preach from? Do you think I preach only the easy texts, those that minister to me especially? I preach verse by verse to keep myself honest! I try to let God’s Word speak for itself. That way the Gospel comes out instead of my hobby horses.
In this church the preaching from the Old Testament has always been controversial since I have been here. The thought of a portion of God’s Word, the largest portion, would be so dishonored, so neglected, so reviled by God’s people never occurred to me before coming here. I have been very careful to show you Christ and grace in the Old Testament, the gospel in the Old Testament, yet I know there are those who come to Sunday School and check the bulletin and leave if I am preaching from the Old Testament again. The Old Testament is the 60′ piers upon which the NT gospel is constructed. The OT has the steel of doctrine we need. For too long Baptist pulpits have separated the Law from the Gospel, and my generation has paid the price. My generation is lawless in part because we did not receive the steel supports of the OT Gospel.
Hebrews 5:11-6:3; Eph 4:11-16; 2Tim4:2-5.
2. My purpose is to glorify Christ through leading the church back to sound doctrine, forward into pure worship, effective discipleship, biblical evangelism and being the salt and light of the world. Perhaps preaching is the single most important thing a pastor can do, week in and week out bringing the Word of God to the people of God. Preaching sound doctrine is essential and is not to be relegated to Sunday School alone. The pulpit ministry takes priority over the Sunday School, and preaching the whole gospel from Genesis to Revelation is essential. All of Scripture is about the Lord Jesus Christ, and his gospel.
3. Our Threefold Purpose as a church, our priorities are: First, Worship. We are saved with the purpose of worshipping God, we are God worshippers. Proper worship is built upon the whole gospel, sound doctrine from all of God’s word. Second, disciples, we must make disciples. We must be disciples ourselves; mature believers who do not murmur and complain about God’s word would be a good starting point. Disciples are mature believers who can witness, teach, pray and carry out the ministry of the church. Third, evangelize; evangelism is an out growth of worship and discipleship. My generation was evangelized but never discipled. Discipleship starts in the pulpit ministry. Disciples then go out and evangelize, that is the biblical pattern.
4. There are some hindrances to fulfilling our purpose as a church. Age and physical limitations are certainly understandable. But we must ever be vigilant against the sins of lack of hunger for the deeper things of God. If you do not enjoy the deep riches of God’s Word and complain about studying it Sunday by Sunday I would ask you to pray about your desire for the things of God. Again, I have deliberately patterned my preaching after the best pulpit expositors in the world. If you seriously question my preaching come talk with me about it and I will show you some resources that will hopefully change your mind and get you excited about God’s word.
Sometimes the sin of willful ignorance besets us, which is we get exposed to a little bit of truth that pains us, so we do not go deeper into that area, we stop listening. This is frequently accompanied by a spiritual complacency that says I have learned enough of God; I know the word enough and have no need to press on. This sin can ruin a man, a church. Pride can enter in as well and we can refuse to learn from anyone. Many of you have taught me a lot, and I am grateful. But some of you refuse to learn from me. You may criticize me but when I seek to correct you….
In conclusion, let me say that I love and like each of you, you all have held this church together and have blessed me immensely. I know that many of you do not like my old testament preaching, my doctrinal preaching, and my in depth preaching. You have said that I do not preach the gospel. There is a constant undertow here of complaining and murmuring that quite simply must stop or we will never grow. The options are these: 1) stay the same- this is not a good plan! We are really struggling as a church and need to make some progress. The constant murmuring has a heavy spiritual price! 2) In dissatisfaction you can leave, quit. That is a not a good plan either because this church needs every one of you! That would dishonor the Lord. 3) Fire the preacher. I know that some of you want me to leave, but then I would be just like all the other pastors who were forced out of here or who conveniently left due to some of the same struggles. This would not be honoring to the Lord either.4) Agree to disagree agreeably. If we share different opinions and interpretations of various scriptures, that is understandable. We are grownups here and ought to be able to talk over these differences. 5) Repent and change your minds about the word of God, because, ultimately, that is what the complaints are about. Again, it mystifies me why anyone would complain about expositional preaching. If we do not consume the whole of the Word of God, the whole Gospel, we will be less than what God expects. Studying the Word of God, the Gospel about Jesus Christ ought to thrill our souls and be fun as well as challenging. I urge you as we begin this study of Marks Gospel to take up the challenge of God’s Word.
*********************************************************Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
It’s summertime, which in Baptist culture means VBS time. Just last week somebody from my old church put a VBS brochure on my door. I saw her from the window and did not recognize her so I am reasonably sure it was the wife or daughter-in-law of the current interim pastor. The church has signs up in the neighborhood and Vacation Bible School will begin this Sunday night.
I grew up attending VBS. Back in the day it was held for two (yes, 2) weeks, and always met during the day. That was back before all the moms had to go to work. My memories are of the music, marching in with the flags and doing all the pledges, and making colored macaroni necklaces. I remember lots of kids making “decisions” during the evangelistic service, but I don’t much remember them ever coming back to Sunday School.
When I started pastoring in 1992 I remember my wife getting drafted to be the VBS director that first year. My wife is great with children, having already worked in Sunday Schools, VBS, and children’s choirs previously, but being a VBS director was a new experience. That year there were probably about 60-70 children, but of course we heard from the older crowd about the years previously when they had a hundred children. Our facilities were a bit crowded and we were a few workers short, but we had a good VBS. We always did VBS at night because by the early ’90’s most moms were working in the day. This affected the availability of workers as well as the children because the parents had daycare situations for the children during the day.
Through the years we had several VBS directors serve and our averages slowly dropped from the 70’s to the 50’s to the 40’s down to a few years in the twenties. This decline corresponded with a decline in our membership and the amount of workers we had available for VBS. Never did we have enough workers on our own, we were always borrowing from other churches, relatives, etc.
The children who came to VBS, other than the few who were already a part of the church, were largely children from other churches whose parents wanted them to attend every VBS in the neighborhood. But we also had a reasonable sized group of kids from unchurched homes. Many parents dropped their kids off as a free babysitting service, which is understandable. The bottom line is that the smallest segment of kids in VBS was the unchurched.
The curriculum of VBS reflected those statistics in that it seemed to be written for children who were already familiar with the Bible, church and missionaries. This is the first problem I want to address: Curriculum. Over 14 years I saw a lot of VBS curricula and I am not happy with it at all. We used the Lifeway curriculum almost exclusively, with only a couple of years using something else. The curriculum emphasized character traits over doctrine with an evangelistic lesson thrown in. They constantly changed the curriculum every year along some fun theme but the lessons did not ever build towards anything. The emphasis was always on the new and different instead of having some kind of comprehensive plan. Some years I completely rewrote the curriculum and did my own thing with the 6th graders or youth.
I have a major problem with teaching kids to be good from Bible stories which is what 90% of the curricula did. Quite frankly, I believe we innoculated children against the gospel with this approach. I actually wrote a 3-4 page letter to the VBS staff at Lifeway outlining my concerns and making suggestions. I believe there should be a three year curriculum plan that takes kids through the basic core doctrines that present the gospel. You can change some of the cute themes if you want, but the lessons ought to build up to something over time. Teaching kids to be good is not what the church ought to be doing.
This same principle applies to the music as well. There was an emphasis on cute, fancy, fun songs. The musical emphasis should have been on building a repertoire of children’s hymns, church hymns and the best of contemporary Christian music that they would hear on the local Christian radio. There needed to be some solidity to the music program, and there just wasn’t.
Another issue in VBS was that of discipline. One year we had a couple of kids that were extremely disruptive. They were teasing some good kids unmercifully until the parents called me to say how threatened their children felt, and the bad kids had cussed out a couple of VBS workers. After talking with the kids did not help, the next day, as things got worse, I called the parents and explained and asked them to withdraw their children from the program and try again the next year. I then called the parents of the good kids back and the mom responded positively and brought her daughters back the next night. They ended up actually coming to out church for a few months after that.
However, the old ladies of the church called me on the carpet in a big way for sending the bad kids home. That was one of the worst chewing outs I ever got at the church. Not one older person defended my decision. I mean, they were absolutely MAD at me: “Pastor you don’t ever send any child home from church!” I explained the details about the teasing and taunting of the good kids, of the cussing out of the workers, and how the good kids mom had withdrawn her kids because of the bad kids. The old ladies of the church did not care. They absolutely disagreed with my decision. I stood my ground and told them that if I had kids, or youth who did not want to get with the program, and who were preventing the good kids who did want to be a part of the program from participating, I would side with the good kids every time. This would happen again with our Wednesday Night Youth Program as well.
In the final analysis, I absolutely believe that VBS, doing it the way we had been, was not a good thing. I believe that using a children’s ministry in a effort to grow the church was wrong. Our growth efforts ought to be directed at heads of households, grown ups, adults. Yes we need a good children’s ministry, Jesus did say “suffer the little children to come to me”, but that should not be the leading edge of a church’s outreach program.
VBS for my church was the most expensive special ministry that required the most planning and effort to execute during the entire 15 years I was there. Only a couple of times did it result in church growth and that was never lasting growth. But for the old ladies of the church, VBS was definitely the Yardstick by which to measure their effectiveness as a church. If they had a good VBS, they felt good about themselves- never mind if it was abysmally ineffective in actually growing the church. The size of the crowd of kids was all that mattered.
In conclusion I think that the way VBS has been done by the SBC and Lifeway is severely wrongheaded. The basic concept is worthy, but it is being done in an “anti-gospel” way that emphasizes virtue and character over the gospel, even though every year’s program has an evangelistic message. VBS needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the bottom up. It should never be the main outreach of any church.
Friday, June 20, 2008– These are the stories from my years as a bi-vocational pastor in a small, traditional, elderly, neighborhood Southern Baptist Church. For 15 years I served in this church that I knew from day one was a declining church. These stories seem to focus on what went wrong as I seek to examine what I could have done better, or what the church could have done better. The bottom line is that people don’t like to change and if a church refuses to change with the times (without compromising biblical doctrine) then that church will eventually be surpassed by those churches that do change.
Let me begin this story with a link to a great publisher of very strong curriculum in the Reformed tradition. My church did not want to go with this publisher, of course, but I can recommend them to You:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
“The mormon church is not another denomination of the Christian Church and the gospel proclaimed by the mormons is a false gospel that will lead people to hell.” With words like these I attempted to address a newspaper article that accompanied the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention in June of 1998. The headline in the Star-Telegram Religion section was “Are Mormons Christian?” I told the congregation the answer was NO! After about the first 5 minutes of the sermon, one prominent family in the church stood up and walked out.
I approached the sermon this Sunday with fear and trembling because of 2 things: 1)I knew that with all the controversy surrounding the SBC meeting in Salt Lake City that year, and with the nightly news and even talk radio talking about the subject, and with the Fort Worth Star Telegram having front page articles about the issue of Baptists calling mormons a cult, that I was called of God to address the issue. 2) I also absolutely knew that preaching on this issue would possibly get me fired.
Why would a Baptist church possibly fire a preacher for preaching against mormonism? This one prominent family in our church had a grown daughter who had married a mormon and the grandkids were being raised in the LDS. The mom and dad were key leaders in the church- she was the children’s Sunday School teacher for 4th-6th grade and he was a trustee and on the building and grounds committee. She was also key on the all important fellowship committee and worked in VBS every year. He was an usher and money counter. They were greatly loved and respected in the church. But they absolutely believed that mormons were just like Baptists! They had gone to church with their daughter in the mormon church and came away saying they were just like Baptists. In a few previous sermons in my first 5 years as pastor I had mentioned mormonism and compared their doctrines with ours and shown how they departed from orthodox teachings on several points. This family had approached me the last time I had done this and threatened quitting the church if I preached on the subject again.
So here I was confronted with a choice: do I do what I really believe God was wanting me to do, or do I miss this opportunity to proclaim the truth in order to keep the peace (and my job?)? I fearfully opted to confront the issue as compassionately and humbly as I could. I began the sermon by spending time explaining the role of pastors in protecting the flock and teaching the truths of Scripture. I explained that I in no way wanted to hurt or embarrass anyone with the sermon and that I was willing to meet 1 on 1 to discuss this subject (I had previously approached this family and inquired if they would be open to having a private discussion about mormon doctrine…they not only declined but were somewhat upset that I would even approach the subject.)
The sermon carefully but briefly dealt with the mormon distinctives: authority, the nature of God, the Trinity, how people are saved, etc. and I cited the best of references from distinguished scholars and preachers. But by this time the couple was long gone from the sanctuary.
The 2/3 of the church expressed thanks and encouragement for the sermon. The 1/3 that always opposed me sent emissaries (deacons and a couple of others) later complaining that I had hurt this families’ feelings and that I should go apologize to them. The couple stayed out of church for a few weeks, but eventually came back and picked up where they left off, but actively despised me from that time on and were finally successful in ousting me in 2007. When I was urged to apologize them my reply was that they needed to repent and apologize to the church for their outrageous behaviour.
Folks from the 1/3, the Old Guard, persuaded the couple to come back despite my “stubborn refusal to apologize” and our relations were frosty. We eventually got back to a truce and cooperated well until about 2005. I must confess that after this incident I did compromise and did not bring up the cults, especially mormonism, in my sermons much anymore, and I deliberately avoided it when they were present. Whenever I did bring it up, usually on Sunday nights when they weren’t there, I would see members of the Old Guard whisper to one another with serious, disgusted facial expressions. I heard through the “grapevine” that reports of my sermons were passed on to the couple, letting them know that I was still preaching against those mormons. Seriously, that went on in this church.
During these years I also happened to also work with several mormons at my job. During one particular season, around 2000-2002 I believe, there was a young lady who had served as an LDS missionary (not many female missionaries in the LDS) and came back very enthusiastic and evangelistic. She was trying to spread her faith to others in the workplace so several folks came to me with questions (they all knew I was also a Baptist pastor). So I met with several folks over a few weeks at lunch in the breakroom to discuss the differences between biblical Christianity and the mormons. Word swiftly reached the mormons that I was countering their efforts. One day I was talking with 2 ladies who came to me with some questions on mormonism and two entire tables of mormons were sitting across the breakroom literally staring me down while I talked. There were about 16 mormons in this building and 8 of them were attempting to intimidate me! After answering the questions from these ladies, I stood up, walked across the room returning stare for stare and pulled up a chair and sat in the middle of this gaggle of 8 mormons. I figured the odds were about right for a fair fight. I told them what the situation was with folks coming to me with their questions and I told them some of the basics of what I understood the mormons to believe and we talked for about an hour that day and again in the following days. After that direct approach the mormon proselytizing stopped. I also went to a mormon church with one couple and got to see first hand some things that were quite interesting.
Meanwhile, back to the church story…the bottom line with the church was that they did not care to hear about what other groups believed, they did not like polemical preaching at all. They only wanted to hear the “Good News” and never anything that was remotely controversial. Ignorance was bliss.
After 9-11 I preached a whopper of sermon that next Sunday and put in just a little bit about Islam. At one point in the sermon I quoted from Paul in saying that the false gods that are worshipped are really demons. Allah is a demon. A couple that had been visiting whenever they were in town for a few years had a visible reaction when I said that. I could tell they were not responding favorably. When they walked out at the end of the service I did not receive the usual greeting from them…and they never returned. They had previously been very complimentary of the sermons, but calling allah a false god was too much for them. After 9-11 most of my polemical preaching was directed towards islam, for obvious reasons. Mormons were not bombing American buildings! (By the way, I have a lot of admiration and respect for the mormons as individuals who are moral, patriotic and hardworking. i seriously question their intellectual honesty for believing the Book of Mormon, however. Most of them overlook the intellectual difficulties in favor of the familial and social relationships and pressure to remain a mormon).
I believe that one of the key problems in the Church today is that Pastors do not teach their people about the dangers of false philosophies, religions and cults. People have a misguided notion that all religious beliefs are personal, subjective and of equal value and the Church is not spending enough time correcting this.
In retrospect, I still simply am aghast at the attitude of the 1/3 who were the old guard in my former church. They absolutely, time and time again valued relationships over truth, man’s opinion over the Word of God. In their belief that I should only preach the “Simple Gospel” they were willing to compromise the true gospel. Why did I tolerate the woman teaching kids in Sunday School when she did not even have enough spiritual discernment to realize her own daughter and grand kids were in a cult and headed to hell? In the structure of this church the pastor did not have the authority to “fire or hire” Sunday School teachers. the church wanted her to teach the kids because she was the only one willing to teach the kids. You heard me right. That was quite simply the way it was and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Now I am in a great church that is elder led, not an Americanized democratized everyone’s opinion is of equal merit church like most SBC churches have become. This kind of nonsense would never be tolerate at Redeemer!
My word of advice to any young preachers out there- do not be afraid to bring polemics into the pulpit. The church desperately needs to hear the truth about the cults and false religions and philosophies that are out there. My pastor at Redeemer is currently preaching from Ecclesiastes and is certainly contrasting the worldly thought of our day with the truths of scripture in a very bold way. There is a price to be paid for polemical preaching. But the price for NOT preaching against the false ideas, religions and doctrines is far greater and the church of today is already paying that price.
Thursday, April 24, 2008- These stories are from the viewpoint of a bi-vocational pastor who served in a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood, Southern Baptist Church from 1992-2007. In these blogs I am attempting to figure out what went wrong and what went right in my 15 tumultuous years as pastor. The entire time was filled with fighting and controversy, not the least of which was over my preaching. About 2/3 of the church enjoyed my preaching, but the 1/3 that did not, really, really did not! Unfortunately, the 1/3 that could not abide my preaching was the third that ran the church. In my 2 previous posts about Preaching I have written about preaching on political issues and preaching from the Old Testament, both of which were highly controversial in my church. Today I will address Polemical Preaching, and how it, too, was despised by many in the church.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
“Preacher, we are a New Testament Church and don’t need to hear from the Old Testament; you need to stick to preaching from the gospels. We have had 13 Old Testament sermons in a row and we are tired of it.” So began my awakening to a little known fact that Baptists have a canon within the Canon. In my first year as pastor I found out that the members of my little church were not only unfamiliar with the Old Testament, but, practically speaking, did not consider it to be the Word of God. Time and again through the years I would be chastised for any Old Testament preaching and told that, “The Old Testament was for Israel, the New Testament is for the Church”.
I vaguely remember some OT preaching from my youth and college days, but it was when Dawn and I were at FBC Lakewood in Tacoma that we both fell in love with the OT as preached by our pastor, Ruffin Snow. He took us through Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness, conquest of the Promised Land, the time of the Judges and the life of David. We were enthralled by God’s Word faithfully proclaimed. The OT shows us our awesome God at work in a powerful way. All through those sermons back in the early 1980’s we saw God’s grace, our need for Jesus and picture after picture of Christ in the OT. The thought of complaining about the OT never entered our minds; God matured us and blessed us through those sermons.
In Seminary I took preaching class my very first semester and the professor did warn us that OT preaching had fallen on hard times and that we would receive pressure to preach only from the NT. He recommended that we ought to preach 50% OT and 50% NT, stating that the OT comprises about 2/3 of the Bible. Our pastor in Seminary at Birchman, Miles Seaborn preached an outstanding sermon series from Deuteronomy. The longest paper I wrote in Seminary was for Hebrew- an exegesis of Gen.12:1-3 that came to about 100 pages. I had a blast writing that paper. I love the Old Testament!
My first clue that I was in trouble preaching from the OT was in my first 6 months as pastor. I attempted a sermon series that paralleled the Sunday School lessons from Rev.1-3. The lesson material did not deal much at all with the OT roots of the Revelation verses, so I crafted a sermon series based upon the OT texts that lay behind the scenes of the 7 churches. Several in the congregation went to the deacons to complain about the OT sermons. Later that year I did a series from 1-2 Chronicles and the decline of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It was very appropriate to a congregation that had been in decline for 25 years, but it was not well received.
Now do not get the idea that I preached only from the OT. I preached for a whole year from the Sermon on the Mount in my first two years as pastor. After being at the church for about 4 years and hearing complaint after complaint about the amount of OT preaching I was doing I actually counted up all my sermons to see how many were OT and how many NT. I was averaging 30% OT sermons over the 4 years. I preached 3X a week, Sunday AM and PM, and again on Wednesday nights, and about 1/3 of the sermons were OT.
In all fairness I must say that most of those sermons were preached on Sunday mornings, and that may have been a mistake. In my own estimation and in the eyes of many in the congregation, the OT sermons were among my finest. There was 1/3 of the congregation, however, that constantly complained about those sermons (but that group complained about everything).
The issue that underlay these complaints was that of the authority of the Word of God in the life of the Church and the individual Believer. Throughout these blogs that issue surfaces time and again. Personal preference always seemed to take the place of God’s Word in this church. A high tolerance for sin and a low esteem for the Bible were the key elements in this church from the beginning. There was a truncated view of the gospel and of gospel preaching that was deeply held. This view basically said the only parts of the Bible that presented the gospel were the 4 Gospels and some of the Epistles.
The 1/3 of the church that controlled the church wanted to hear evangelistic, revivalistic sermons with heart stirring emotional stories and funny jokes every Sunday morning. They openly told me that on numerous occasions. Several times I was publicly accused of not preaching the Gospel by the leaders of the 1/3. The other 2/3 of the church, however, were very supportive and encouraging and told me to not listen to that other element. The difficulty was that the 1/3 controlled the church with its positions, natural leadership ability and money.
In my earlier OT preaching I have to admit that I did not do as good of a job as I should have in proclaiming Christ from the OT. My sermons did usually have an excellent presentation of Doctrine and practical considerations for the Christian life. With experience I grew to proclaim Christ from every text. From 2000 to 2005 I preached through Genesis. I would take breaks of up to 3-4 months between various parts of the sermon series, so I did not preach straight through. Most of those sermons I did preach at night as I had learned by then to focus on the NT sermons on Sunday mornings. The Genesis series was very well received by the church, mainly because the complaining group did not attend much in the evening services. But a few did and I would get grief from them for preaching through Genesis. After I finished Genesis I moved straight into Exodus. I preached Exodus from 2005 to Feb. 2007 when I was asked to leave, and I was just at Ex.20 ready to start on the 10 Commandments. Genesis and Exodus are very full of Jesus, grace, and our need for a Saviour.
As you can tell from the rest of my blog I am back to teaching Genesis at our new church. My class averages about 20, mostly young couples in their 20’s-30’s. The response has been very positive despite my rather detailed approach. Perhaps there may be a generational difference at work here. It may be that the older generation I had been trying to minister to, was somehow taught at a young age to look askance at the OT.
Clearly the Church in general seems to have an issue with the canonicity of the OT and its usefulness for NT Christians. I really do not think that there are many pastors today who are preaching expository, doctrinal and evangelistic sermons from the OT. The American Church reflects the culture at large which has an anti-historical point of view. Are we becoming the Church of What’s Happening Now? I have heard missionaries speak of the great usefulness of the OT for reaching third world people groups. But can the OT be used to reach 21st century Americans who have it all?
Having somewhat of a Don Quixote complex my entire life, I will continue to preach and teach the OT along with the NT. I will constantly seek new methods of getting the whole Gospel across the culture gap to post-modern Americans.
Friday, April 18, 2008- These are the stories of my years as a bi-vocational pastor of a traditional, small, neighborhood church that was quite elderly, in Fort Worth, 1992-2007. The stories are an effort at finding peace and some degree of healing as well as trying to figure out the things that went wrong and what could have been done better. To an extent these stories are an attempt at educating/warning young ministers as they prepare for the pastorate. I do not give the name of the church or of the folk involved unless I mention someone in a positive light. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much that is positive in these stories. This was 15 years of almost non-stop fighting and bickering. I am thankful the Lord has brought my family through these times to a church that is fundamentally different. Where we attend today there is peace, the ability to worship biblically, and the small petty stuff is non-existent as far as I can tell.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
“Brother Bryan, what a person wears to church on Sunday morning is more important to God than anything you can do at work during the week.” This is an actual quote from the matriarch of the church, pronounced with a Very Smug Smile on her face, deep, trembling conviction in her voice, and with the approval of her disciples in the Adult III (65+ crowd) ladies on a Sunday morning in Feb. of 2006.
What brought on this big discussion in the Adult III Sunday School was that we had just lost an older couple from the church, and the issue was over one of the younger (middle aged) families whose style of dress had been a constant item of unwarranted distraction to these older ladies. There were other issues the older couple had with this younger family that I think were bogus. I really think the issue that caused them to leave was the fact that I had a black friend preach the previous Sunday morning and lead us in our annual January Bible Study. The couple left the church that day. But because style of dress had been a long standing issue between the older ladies and the younger folk, that was the area they chose to focus on during that discussion.
Years earlier, in my first year as pastor in 1992, I would wear blue jeans and a nice shirt on Wednesday nights, but suits or slacks, tie and coat for Sunday morning church always. I based my style of dress on what the previous interim minister wore and what the deacons had told me was acceptable. But there was one older lady, Irma, who was the most impossible to please woman I had ever encountered in the church, who, in one of the many chewing outs I received from her, mentioned that she was disappointed in how I and my family dressed on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Of course Irma never came to church on Sunday or Wednesday nights. And that means that others would tell her how we dressed, so the preacher and his family’s style of dress was apparently a hot topic of conversation. Irma’s exact words about my family’s style of dress was, “They don’t dress in a Christian manner.”
Now my wife dresses VERY Conservatively. She owns no short skirts, will not wear tight tops nor low cut tops. But she would occasionally wear pants, slacks or pant suits, as did most of the other women. I also dressed very conservatively. My kids I let wear jeans and T-shirts a lot. My mother always dressed very conservatively and nicely, she had great taste. But we were labeled as dressing “un-Christian”. So for the next several weeks we all decided to wear Sunday Morning clothes to church on Sunday nights and Wed. nights. My wife and mom wore dresses, I wore suits or coat and tie. After a few weeks the ladies of the church actually complained that we were over dressed! (We heard this through the deacons of course- who were all mutually were quite tired of Irma’s complaining).
In a conversation that I and the chairman of the deacons had with Irma, she actually admitted that she thought the only Christian way to dress was in the 1950’s styles, which is what she wore. She also let me know that she absolutely did not like the fact that I had been seen jogging in the neighborhood wearing shorts. That was conduct unbecoming a preacher!
In a separate incident that happened in about 1995, which I did not hear about until Feb. of 2006 after the big stink that I began with, my associate pastor, Andrew, showed up at the matriarch’s house for some reason, wearing shorts and a tank top. At the time he had been doing some work with the Youth and needed a key or something or other from the Lois and Louis’ house. Their son, who came to confront me after the big stink in Feb. of 2006, and with whom I actually had a very good long talk, mentioned that incident with Andrew and how disturbed he was that a minister would actually show up at his mom’s house dressed that way. He stated, “Bryan I have to question your judgment about who you bring on as associates when you have one who would dress like that and dare go to my mom’s house.” That minister, whom the young man was questioning, happens to be one of the godliest men I have ever known. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament from SWBTS and has pastored a thriving, growing church in Tulsa since 1996. To dare question Andrew’s faith over his style of dress was ridiculous. I will never be as godly, smart or cool as Andrew. Like his mother the church matriarch, this young man valued people by how they dressed overmuch.
Another incident involving Andrew and style of dress occurred in about 1995. I had invited him to preach about every 6 weeks or so, as his school schedule allowed. He had invited some lost (I mean really lost) friends from work to come hear him preach. He had been sharing the gospel with them for some time and they kept putting him off, but finally they agreed to come hear him preach. That Sunday morning they actually showed up despite partying most of the night. They looked a little rough and one of them had on a hat because his hair was a mess, he said.
During the beginning of the worship service, announcements, scripture reading and about the first hymn, I saw the matriarch’s dutiful husband, Louis, get up from one side of the church and walk all the way around to where Andrew’s 2 visitors were sitting and talk to the young man with the hat. Then I saw the young lost man get up and walk out, never to return. Later that week Andrew told me what had transpired.
Louis, probably at the urging of his wife Lois, had asked the young man to take off his cap out of respect for God’s house. The young man explained that he would rather not take it off as his hair was a mess. Louis insisted, and stated that he should leave if he wouldn’t remove his cap. So the young man left and never got to hear Andrew’s gospel sermon. Louis and Lois had successfully defended the honor of God at the expense of the gospel.
That defines this church. Outward appearances are more important than the gospel. Form over function.
Back in 1992-93 one of the deacons described to me a previous youth minister from about 4-5 years before I arrived who had a growing youth ministry at the church. He was spending a lot of time with the kids and there was an abundance of fruit. The problem, said the deacon, was that the young man did not know how to dress. The church thought that he did not have the money to buy nice clothes so the deacons got together and collected an offering and this deacon took the youth minister to a men’s shop and bought him a very nice suit. The young man did not wear it to church however and this brought the ire of the deacons and older ladies upon him. The deacon told me that they then basically ran him off because of his failure to dress up. I asked him what happened to the youth program after that and he said the youth all went away and they hadn’t really been able to get a youth program going since. He said that like it was incidental to the whole suit story, like there was no relationship between the church attempting to force the youth minister to dress up and the consequences of losing him and the youth to whom he was ministering. He absolutely did not get it. Dressing properly was quite simply more of a priority than reaching lost kids.
In my last 2 years at the church I spent a couple of thousand dollars to update my wardrobe and bought some nice new suits, slacks and sport coats, shirts and ties. I made a deliberate effort to please the older ladies of the church with how I dressed. Though I do not believe like they do, I thought I could do this out of respect for them, it would not compromise any of my own convictions, and hey, I like new clothes too. It made no difference in the end, however.
In the church where my family now worships, I always wear a coat and tie, and am one of the few who does so. Style of dress is quite simply not that important at our church. The pastor has asked the ladies to dress modestly and has given some good common sense guidelines that are godly. We believe that worship is much more a matter of the heart, not a matter of clothing.
Which is not to say that clothing is insignificant. As Christians we do need a theology of clothing; we do need to dress for the glory of God. There are lots of clothing styles that we should not partake of and children definitely need the firm guidance of parents in clothing. But this is an area where much freedom should be granted and it should not be The Ultimate Test of godliness that it appeared to b e in my former church.
When what we wear is more important than the gospel, we do sin.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008- It has been a while since I last posted a blog in the Worship Wars column; my work has been extremely busy. These are the stories of my years as a bi-vocational pastor (1992-2007) in a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood Southern Baptist Church, in Fort Worth, TX. These stories are an effort to figure out what happened, why it happened, and what I could have done better. There is a warning here for those young ministers who would serve in churches like this- it will not be easy, it will challenge you, it will break your heart. I do not believe that my little church was exceptional; sadly, I think it is typical of most of these churches.
One of the top 3 issues I dealt with (the other two being music and the authority of the Word of God) was the issue of clothing. The fight over clothing was the most vicious I encountered. It defined this church. In a way, the clothing issue was what ultimately forced me to leave the church. How sad a commentary it is on the church in the 21st century, that the issue of what we wear to church can lead to division, and the death of a church.
More information on this topic:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
“Preacher, we don’t do it that way because the Cowboys games start at either noon or 1pm. And some of us like to eat lunch on time!” That was the answer to my suggestion that the money counters count the offering and take it to the bank after the worship service. Why did I challenge their tradition of counting the offering during the worship service and leaving the church early to make the deposit?
I had thought this one through and believed that I had an ironclad case that would convince the men of the church to take care of the offering after the worship service. (1) My home church in Georgia, Benning Hills Baptist, Columbus, did it exactly the way I described. I had heard of other churches doing that way too, so it was not a “Baptist tradition” to take the offering to the bank during the worship service. (2) They could make an after hours deposit at the bank at any time. (3) Our worship attendance was so small that the addition of the two men from the office would be of positive benefit to the whole church and perhaps make a better impression on visitors. (4) Attending the worship service would be of spiritual benefit to the men who also served as money counters.
My making this suggestion in a deacon’s meeting was not only rejected, but laughed at. One deacon, Louis, said, “I don’t need to hear you preach anyway. I can hear the singing and that’s the important thing.” Then he gave the excuse of the Cowboys and lunch with his family. His wife, Lois, also later chastised me for the suggestion because it would disrupt family life as they always had the kids and grandkids over for Sunday dinner.
Once again, I found that a spiritual, common sense proposal of mine, caused a controversy and failed to bring anything positive to the church.
Today, at Redeemer Church, we take the offering at the end of the service, the financial team and elders count it after the service is complete and take it to the bank later. I have heard zero complaints about missing the Dallas Cowboys games or getting a late lunch. Why?
I really think it is a matter of priorities. One group of men were serving the Church, the other group is serving the Lord. One group of men loves the church, another loves the Lord. In my former church, taking care of the church’s business took priority over worshiping the Lord, but here at Redeemer worshiping the Lord is the #1 priority.
The way my former church operated was the classic committee style of administration that you learn about in seminary in the Survey of Education and Administration course. We had a finance committee (deacons, pastor, treasurer), an Usher committee (all other men of the church who did not also sing in the choir), and the money counters (a slightly smaller committee than the ushers, but comprised of about the same group of men). Basically each man served about 3 out of 4 Sundays in one capacity or another. The men did serve willingly and joyfully (just don’t make me go down the center aisle-I don’t want to pray out loud!). The younger men were not allowed to serve as money counters, but they could serve as ushers.
Towards the end of my pastorate, the men were often doing double duty since there were not as many men left to serve. Because I was asked to resign (fired), I know that 3 families left the church and those included 4 ushers, 2 of whom were also money counters. That left only 4-5 men left to do the ushering and counting.
But, what did that church do RIGHT when it came to dealing with the money? In a previous posting (Preacher, You’re Crooked!) I told you about some of the shady financial dealings of the church. But here is an example of the church doing it right. One group of men collected the offering, another group counted (always 2 men, never related, with a rotation that tried to put men with a different partner frequently) and the treasurer and assistant treasurer never did either ushering or counting. That was a pretty good system to protect the integrity of the men and the offerings.
One of the things that is quite traditional in Baptist churches is collecting the offering in Sunday School as well as in worship. I grew up giving my offering in Sunday School. But as I began pastoring and studying worship, I grew to not much care for the Sunday School offering method because I found that giving during the worship service contributed to my sense of worship while giving during Sunday School seemed a bit more like just giving to the Church. In reality I know that if I give to the Lord joyfully, cheerfully, and in faith, it really doesn’t much matter where or when I give. I have a friend at work who has to work on Sundays and cannot attend worship. He stops by the church office after every payday to faithfully give his tithe. That is his act of worship and what a beautiful example that is. So maybe when we give is not all that important, but it is helpful to me if I give during worship.
I remember one of the faithful men of my former church whose health reached a point where he was not so steady on his feet. Physically he was no longer able to help take up the offering and serve as usher. He was greatly saddened by this, as was the whole church. Something as simple and innocuous as taking up the offering or counting the money and taking it to the bank is a wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord, to lead in worship, and contribute to the ministry of the church. Many faithful men take great pleasure in serving the Lord in these positions which are as ancient as the Levites serving with Moses in the desert Tabernacle.
In today’s world I believe the church needs to focus on offerings as a part of our worship to the Lord and I believe that ushers need to be trained in CPR/First Aid and have a license to carry a concealed weapon. Violence in churches is increasing and we need to take seriously the concept of defending our churches spiritually, doctrinally and physically. Ushers need to be coached in emergency procedures such as what to do in case of a fire, storm, ill church member or violent assault.
Monday, February 25, 2008– Due to pressing work obligations, I have not been able to continue the Worship Wars series for several weeks. This week’s edition is going to focus on offerings, ushers and money-counters. These stories are of my time as pastor of a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood Southern Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. I was the bi-vocational pastor of this church from 1992-2007. Bi-vocational means that I worked another full-time job because the church could not pay for a full time pastor. I worked my job 40-50 hours a week and also pastored, preaching 3 times a week, teaching Sunday School, and taking care of much of the administrative tasks, visitation and all the other normal activities of a full time minister. This church was founded in about 1955 and peaked in attendance at around 300+ in 1968. Decline was pretty consistent after 1968 with some brief upswings here and there. The church had a longstanding reputation as a “problem church” and I was the first and only pastor to stay beyond 3 years. These blogs are an effort at examining what is wrong with churches today, what did I do that was wrong, what could I have done better, and they serve as a warning to any young ministers who may read this blog. Pastoring is a bloodsport in the sense that eternal souls are on the line, and churches and pastors get severely wounded in the process.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
“Preacher, you’re crooked!” shouted the church’s Treasurer and paid Janitor. It was a business meeting in my first year as pastor, in my first 6 months even. Cal was red faced and pointing his finger at me, accusing me of being crooked in front of the whole church. The issue at hand was my pay package. I was following the advice of my CPA, a godly man with whom I had taught Sunday School at Birchman Baptist when I was a fresh graduate out of seminary in 1990-92. He told me, and other resources I checked confirmed that he was right, that a minister could take a substantial percentage of his pay as a housing allowance and that portion would not be taxed as salary. How you figure up the housing allowance was to combine the house payment, insurance, utilities and upkeep. The reason ministers could arrange their pay like this was that we are considered self-employed, similar to farmers. I was asking the church to adjust my pay so that half of it was housing allowance. The former interim pastor had taken the whole pay package as housing. With taking half of it, I was actually cheating myself because I deliberately underestimated my housing costs in order to be above reproach. Yet I caught an earful of reproach from Cal.
How should one respond when one is called a crook in a public meeting of the church? I was quite taken aback. I did what came naturally I guess, I thanked him for his comments very calmly and moved on to the next part of the motion, which carried.
But, as how Paul Harvey would say, here is the rest of the story. Back in March of 1992, in my 2nd month as pastor, the church received a bill from the IRS for back payroll taxes unpaid to the tune of $8,000. For our small church this was a devastating amount. It would almost drain our savings. Who was the Church Treasurer during the years in question? Cal. The church wanted him to fix it so he went to an accounting firm in Fort Worth that dealt with churches a lot. They negotiated with the IRS and got the total down to about $4000. the church raised some money through offerings and used some of the reserve and paid it all off. In a couple of years we elected a new Treasurer.
But the story gets better. A couple of years later, one of the young ladies of the church came to me with something that she was concerned about in the church’s financial dealings. She presented to me the evidence that the church nursery worker was not the one to whom the checks were being made out. The church checks were actually being made out to her daughter, who did in fact work in the nursery with the mom. But all the church documents said the mom was the nursery worker, stated what the salary was, and anyone who visited the church would assume that she was in fact the nursery worker. But the checks told a different story.
I did some checking with the treasurer, Cal, and his wife and a couple of deacons. When the church needed a stable nursery worker, Cal’s wife came upon Nancy and recommended her to the church; the church voted her in as the nursery worker. But between Cal’s wife, Cal, and a deacon or two, the nursery worker had an arrangement to get the checks made out to her daughter, who stayed with her in the nursery. The daughter was quite young, probably around 11-12. The church did not know about this little arrangement. When I was informed of this I consulted my godly CPA and he made it clear to me in no uncertain terms that this was not a wise thing to do, was illegal, and gave the appearance of sin. I got with the deacons and the treasurer and confronted them with the facts and told them that my accountant said we were operating illegally and that we had to make the checks payable to the official nursery worker. Of course there was much whining and I was accused of being mean and trying to hurt the nursery worker. The church was just doing this to assist somebody with their finances. The whole reason this pay arrangement was made was so that Nancy would not pay as much in taxes. When you have a second job you are taxed more heavily. Eventually reason prevailed and the checks were made out properly from then on and the tax evasion scheme between the treasurer and nursery worker and deacons was ended.
Now fast forward to 2005. The church treasurer (not Cal!) came to me with one of the men who, though not a deacon, was a deacon at heart and really did a lot of work around the church. These two men showed me a series of receipts from Cal for yard tools like leaf blowers, edgers, etc. In one year’s time he had gone through an amazing amount of lawn tools. We all recalled that several lawnmowers had been replaced over the years as well. How was this equipment disappearing and being used up so quickly?
Cal, the janitor and former treasurer, had years before, volunteered to do the lawn work for the church at no charge. And he did a good job. But it was never a part of his official duties as janitor. But along the way, Cal also had a lawn business on the side, and he was using the church’s equipment along with his own. They were interchangeable and to him, indistinguishable.
We began to ask Cal about the whereabouts of some of the lawn equipment and it seems that it kept on getting stolen from the back of his truck. One church member though, saw one of the church’s mowers at Cal’s house repeatedly. Finally, Cal’s health was beginning to fail and, combined with the equipment problems, things came to a head. The men of the church wanted me to force the issue and tell Cal to retire.
The last straw, however, was when Cal brought up the issue of vacation pay. Cal never took a vacation. He was incredibly faithful and reliable. But back in the late 1980’s before I came to the church, Cal had approached the church for back pay for unused vacation time. This amounted to about $5000. The church was without a pastor and the deacons gave in without much of a fight. The church paid Cal $5000. The deacons did tell him not to do this again.
Cal approached one of the deacons in the fall of 2005 about the issue again, this time asking for about $8,000 claiming 3 weeks vacation pay for about 17 years or so. The deacon brought the matter to me. I immediately said “No way!” or words perhaps a little less tactful but to the same effect. We brought this matter up in deacons’ meeting and church council, combined with the missing tool issue, and reached a conclusion that Cal had to go.
On the night of one of our monthly Men’s Suppers (a harbinger of things to come for me) we met with Cal after supper and told him that we would not honor his request for back vacation pay and that we were retiring him, immediately. He left without a word. That night one of our men went to the storage room and accounted for some equipment that was in there, thinking that there might be a problem.
Sure enough, the next day I got a call; the equipment had been removed overnight after the one man had checked it. Cal still had his keys and was to return them on Sunday, so the thinking was that he had come to the church later on Friday night or very early Saturday and removed the equipment and supplies.
We had another meeting Sunday evening and I told the group that we should call the police. I had done some thinking about this and the long ago missing Social Security payments and realized that the money owed the government had been reported as paid in all the business meeting minutes during the years in question. Cal’s explanation back in 1992 was simply that the tax forms had not been filled out correctly, but that the money had been sent in. At that time, nobody other than Cal spoke with the accountants who helped him settle with the IRS, nobody did an audit of the years in question. I had now reached the conclusion, perhaps wrongly (was I being judgmental?) that Cal had in all likelihood taken the money from the church in those years. Was the one who publicly accused me of being crooked, perhaps a crook himself?
At that last meeting the consensus was to not call in the police as it “might tarnish the name of the church in the community”. I was the only dissenting vote. Then the committee discussed whether to give Cal severance pay. I couldn’t believe it. Everybody in the room thought Cal had stolen hundreds if not thousands of dollars from the church, he had demanded the church pay him thousands of dollars in vacation pay to which he was not entitled, and he had apparently gone back to the church after the first meeting to take some more equipment, and now this committee was considering giving him severance pay? The motion carried to pay him about $1,000 but to call it a love offering for his years of faithful service.
Now move forward in time to February of 2007 and the Men’s Supper on the first Friday. I was the main cook and had fixed two big pots of my world class spaghetti sauce (this recipe will show up sometime in my recipe column on this blog page). The men all loved my spaghetti sauce, we ate this meal about 3 times a year. At the end of the meal, the same group of men, minus George, requested to meet with me. I pretty much knew what was about to happen as the church had continued to shrink to the point where we were averaging about 20-25 on Sunday mornings. The men asked me to resign and on the following morning I preached my last sermon and made a graceful, upbeat retreat from that church.
Oh, by the way, I did not ask for any back vacation pay, nor did I ask for any kind of a severance pay. No offering was expected, none was given. In my mind, the church quite simply could not afford it. The only thing I went back to the church for was to retrieve my library and clean out my office.
In my 15 years at the church, I never once asked for a raise and I truly believe I was overpaid. The church paid well for a small bi-vocational church, I received about $20,000 a year. As small churches go, it really was paying quite well. I offered to the church council on numerous occasions to cut my pay, but they refused to consider it. The church was actually a very giving church and never had serious money problems until my final two years. Thankfully, due to the Barnett Shale bonanza, the church got several thousand dollars last year for their share of the gas lease.
There is more to tell about the money matters of this church, but that will have to wait until next time.
Monday, February 11, 2008– Due to a drastic increase in my work load at work, my blogging efforts are taking a back seat. Plus, my studies for Genesis: Answers to Life’s Crucial Questions are needing a lot more attention. But, these blogs are the stories about my efforts at pastoring a small, elderly, traditional, bi-vocational Southern Baptist Church. I pastored from 1992-2007 in Fort Worth but I am leaving the name of the church out and will only use first names of the people I am talking about when I am speaking favorably; other names are fictional though the stories are all true.
Why write these stories when they are essentially negative? To try to see where I went wrong, to explore what is dreadfully wrong with the churches like this one, and to help prepare any young minister who may face similar challenges.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
« Previous Entries