Monday, January 22, 2018

Sometimes A Picture Says It All


A Warm Bucket of Spit - And Women "Pastors"

John Nance Garner.jpg
Former Vice President John Nance Garner once famously observed that the vice presidency wasn't worth a warm bucket of spit. (Actually, that's cleaned up a bit. He actually said a warm bucket of urine, though he did not use the word "urine.")

There are any number of doctrinal claims made by Christians (and hordes of pseudo-Christians) that sadly are  worthy of final disposition in the same disreputable warm bucket of yellow body fluid. One of these "truths" is the unscriptural notion of female pastors. Why is it there is a Christian contingent urging the propriety of female pastors in spite of absolutely no example of the same in the NT, and clear and conclusive evidence that the function of the eldership is exclusively male? Why do so many churches, denominations &  seminaries capitulate to such an obviously unscriptural practice? Here are four possible reasons:

(1)  Pressure from the secular culture. The relentless and unbending pressure from secular culture cannot be overemphasized. It is found everywhere:  in entertainment, government and academia. Cultural feminism such as advanced on the political Left exerts a tremendous influence and permeates virtually everything in society. 

(2)  A misplaced sense of egalitarianism. Some believe it is intrinsically unfair to disallow women to function as pastors. Fairness demands absolute equality between men and women;  after all they reason...does not Scripture say in Galatians 3:28 that there is no male or female in Christ? Yet clearly the import of this verse is not to destroy temporal male and female distinctions in this life, nor is it to negate clear teachings elsewhere about the boundaries of male and female behavior in and out of the church.

(3)  A deliberate or confused mishandling of the Word of God. It is no surprise that men and women pervert scripture to placate their consciences,  to facilitate dubious behavior and advance dubious agendas. Every true doctrine of the bible has it's counterfeits. This should never surprise or deter us. 

(4)  Spiritual ambition. Although I would argue that inappropriate spiritual ambition is generally seen as a more  male problem, it is not altogether unknown among women. Spiritual ambition is not always a bad thing, and can be a legitimate part of a sanctified yearning for appropriate ends. (I Tim 3:1) But there is no doubt spiritual ambition has it's darker side. (Luke 22:24 and following.)

Let us desire to follow the Lord in all truth and avoid the niggling tendency to jettison those things the lost and fallen culture finds most egregious. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cheap Membership

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from The Cost of Discipleship

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at Nazi hands (d. 1945) is well known for his concept of "cheap grace" as exhibited in the quote above. It's my intention to take his well known phrase and alter the words and the meaning (save the connecting notion of "cheap") by discussing "cheap membership."
The membership I am concerned with is church membership. What is meant by "cheap membership?" Cheap membership is church membership that lacks discipline, clarity, responsibility  and commitment. Cheap membership (hereafter CM) is rampant in Baptist churches, and in evangelicalism at large. CM has all but jettisoned the notion of covenant membership, even among Baptist churches who openly and deliberately teach of a covenant between local church members based upon  the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (the Second London Baptist Confession) or comparable confessions.  When we come into a church and promise with solemnity and earnestness to adhere to  covenant standards expressed in such confessions (as relates to the duties of church membership, for the purpose of this post) - and then only selectively observe them, or summarily ignore them, we are guilty of CM.

CM manifests itself in the easy breezy way many Baptists (and others) flit from church to church. Many of us are of the mind that at any provocation, or with no provocation at all, it is perfectly appropriate to pull up roots and search for greener ecclesiastical pastures. Our commitment to the Lord , we convince ourselves, allows us axiomatic  and unquestioned autonomy to leave a church at will, without explanation or accountability. We do not feel at all bound to any church covenant (often irrespective of our own public assurances of the same while joining a church), nor do we feel any sense of responsibility to those in our fellowship, including those who "watch for our souls." (Hebrews 13:17) In fact, no matter how tightly or loosely, literally or figuratively  we interpret the notion of "obeying them that have the rule over you"  - to the church member determined to dash out in search of church nirvana, the very existence of Hebrews 13:17 is nearly anathema. Sadly, many would be brazen enough to compare any insistence on such ecclesiastical submission  as a form of bondage, and thereby find excuse to exonerate their irresponsible departure.

Frankly, the absolutely frivolous ways in which some justify their unserious and tentative commitment to their local church brethren is  simply scandalous and ought  to be denounced. Some might charge I am engaging in legalism, but I ask you - is it legalism to teach men ought be responsible to their church unless they are providentially moved OR are forced to flee that church due to the encroachment of heretical doctrine? What truly spiritual and Biblical insight informs us that when the hymn choices don't please us, or the  Sunday fifteen mile drive to the assembly suddenly looms too large, or a few sermons didn't scratch where we feel we itch - that we are inexorably unbound from our spiritual commitment to our leadership and brethren? Is it possible that the heart of the matter is that some of us too readily trivialize our fidelity and our love to those brethren in the local church we once cheerfully joined and willingly submitted to?

Please do not accuse me of being too narrow, unloving or inconsiderate because I expect you (and myself) to affix an appropriate value to our respective local churches. Isn't it honestly  more narrow, unloving and inconsiderate to simply disappear from the meetings of a church you once openly joined but now have wearied of? Is it loving to leave in a huff over non-essential nonsense? How is it loving or honoring of your commitment to your church to simply slink off? You may say, "Well, better to slink off than cause an open fuss." is best to confront your elders with any legitimate concern. It's better to be open and honest with the brethren concerning any honest misgivings you have. It's your duty to responsibly seek to resolve any problems with your local church that you possibly can. Running is "cheap membership."

Churches, like families, are at times disappointing or remiss. Churches can have blind spots. Every church could be better. Are you working past any blind spots in your assembly? Are you endeavoring to function at the spiritual level that you know you expect from others? Or are you so shallow and immature as to jettison your church at the first sign of trouble or disappointment? Maybe you don't need a new church and a new pastor. Maybe what you need is a new, sounder thought process that is more genuinely introspective and more unambiguously submitted to the Lordship of Christ.  Maybe you need to recognize that God has created a bond in Jesus Christ between you and your local church brethren, and that you ought to strive to honor and cultivate that bond via love, patience, forbearance and understanding. Don't be like the foolish man that marries, and divorces, and remarries, and divorces and remarries yet again in a vain pursuit  for the perfect wife. Commit yourself before the Lord in fidelity and love to the church in which He has placed you. Purpose to be a blessing, and it is quite likely you will find yourself blessed in the process.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Four Common Experiences of Pastors

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So you are a pastor? Easy money, eh? Two, maybe three sermons a week. A hospital visit occasionally. And you get to be the boss -  unless you have pesky deacons or an unruly congregation. You aren't getting rich, but you are making a fairly decent salary for 1  or 2 days work, and a few hours of study (or sermon borrowing), and the occasional phone call from Sister Ima Waggintongue or Brother Jess Lisentome. Maybe you conduct a funeral once or twice a year, and a wedding or two.

My dear pastor friend - this unflattering summation of your responsibilities is a caricature, certainly. But sadly, many members of your congregation may hold similar views, or worse. It must be said that  some pastors contribute to this dark stereotype by being irresponsible with their time, and slothful in their spiritual responsibilities. Some compromise to get along, and only preach sermons designed to avoid confrontation and harder edged Biblical truth.  Sadly, there really are those who are simply collecting a check and delivering only a half-hearted or timid effort. 

That said, most pastors I have known since beginning my journey of  faith in 1972 have been responsible to God and their congregations and have endeavored to model godly conduct, along with teaching and preaching the truth commensurate with the light they have. I have never met a perfect pastor, but I have met and benefited from genuine spiritually responsible pastors. May I suggest four behaviors/activities that even good and faithful pastors sometimes confront in their congregations, and which serve to make their efforts to minister a greater burden than it need be?

1. Criticism. Criticism in small measure and with sanctified design can be helpful to the pastor, if it is offered humbly and sincerely. Your pastor, if he is as mature as he ought be, may benefit from an occasional critical insight - if the intent is to ultimately edify or otherwise help. Sadly however, much of the criticism directed at pastoral leadership is the whispering, smug sort that is not shared directly with the pastor, but is spread like venom among the congregation with dubious motive. It's the nitpicking, sniping & gossipy sort of dissatisfaction that is falsely passed off as well meaning.  A well taught and spiritually minded congregation will shun such a one, at least informally, but such a man can do great damage in a weaker, less spiritually astute congregation.

2. Attempted Manipulation. Manipulation is more subtle than criticism, but it is often a kindred spirit. It can be expressed in terms of a desire to turn leadership to the agenda the member prefers or emphasizes. Church members can sometimes bring pressure on their pastor to avoid certain subjects in sermons, or conversely, emphasize certain subjects; or to go easier in exhortation, or harder in exhortation. There may be heavy-handed efforts to pull leadership into certain polity preferences or traditions. 

3. Disappointment. Neither we or our pastors are exempt from discouragement and disappointment.  Hebrews 13:17 tells us to:

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."

Have you purposed recently to encourage your pastor? To thank Him for His faithfulness and diligence? To tell him you pray for him and appreciate his ministry in the Word of God, and his godly example in the midst of the congregation?

4. Apathy. Few things are as disheartening to a pastor striving to lead a congregation than open apathy in the membership. Believers who meet the responsibilities and privileges of the Christian life with a never-ending yawn are perhaps more vexing than those who criticize, manipulate and disappoint. Critics can be better instructed and censored;  manipulators can be confronted and exposed and corrected; those who disappoint can determine to encourage. But apathy is insidious and soul withering. How can a Christian who demonstrates he is consistently careless and indifferent about his Lord and his spiritual duties be delivered from his spiritual lethargy? A Christian who knows his duties, having been instructed in them...but opts to slight them, or do just barely enough to get by creates for his pastor a worrisome and unsettling burden.

Brethren, respect your pastor(s) in the Lord. Pray for them. Support them. Speak well of them before your family and the brethren of the church, in public and online. As opportunity arises, express your love and appreciation for their work in the Lord. If your pastor has said or done something that genuinely troubles you, or worse, in some way embitters you - seek him out privately and approach him in love and holy deference. Exhaust every opportunity to be a blessing to the man seeking to minister the Word of God to you. There are many hirelings in churches who serve their own bellies, build little kingdoms and live for personal exaltation. If your pastor is a man of God - esteem him for his work's sake, and know that your principled submission to him in the Lord will in the end serve and bless you as much, or more... than it serves and blesses him. 

Smile God Loves You (Or Does He??)

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Does God love you? Does He love everyone without distinction? Is John 3:16 an ironclad and unambiguous statement of God's equal benevolence to every member of mankind? Is it the desire of God to save every man woman and child who has ever lived, or who will ever live? What follows are three brief observations/questions concerning the extent of God's love.

(1) If God wills all to be save, why are not all saved? You might answer something like: "because God will not violate man's free will." If this is your reply then tell me please - where does the Bible teach man's "free will" is the ultimate summum  bonum? Why isn't  the truest good the salvation of ALL souls indiscriminately as the universalists teach? Can you explain how salvation ultimately hangs  on the will of man and not on the grace of God? It would seem to me that if  the salvation of all men is God's ultimate preference, that it would be worked out and brought to fruition in His deliberate soteriological design vis-a-vis a universal atonement leading to a universal gathering. 

(2) How is it that a very large number of those whom God loved and those for whom Christ died end up in eternal torment? What sort of love finds it's final answer in never-ending judgment? 

Matthew 7:21-23 says the following: 

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord,Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them "I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"

Can someone explain to me how it is that Christ "knew" those not the elect at the same time  He "never knew them?" In what sense can it be said Christ laid down his life for the goats whom He never knew? Did He paradoxically lay down His life for those He did not intend to save? Did he both "know" and "not know" the non-elect? 

In short, how and why does God switch on and off His love for every member of humanity? Did God love the unbelieving man in eternity past who lives and dies a rebel and then shift gears into non-love when the man passes into eternity and everlasting damnation? How does any man dare charge God with such overt duplicity?

(3) If God loves all everywhere at all times, and that is what we are to preach, how are such verses to be reconciled with this doctrine? -

"The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity." Psalm 5:5

"As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. Romans 9:13-18

How do these and kindred verses reflect a universal love of God?

Do we not present the truth of  God with greater wisdom if we warn unbelievers to flee the wrath to come? That God is angry with the wicked every day? That there is no hope and only the horror and terror of judgment to come outside of Christ?

Do we really want to tell unrepentant, God-hating men and women that God loves them unconditionally and apart from faith and safety in the Lord Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Prissy Poop Hole Liberals

Image result for Bad Pictures of Trump
So let me get this straight. Liberals who
love and endorse filthy movies, filthy TV shows, filthy comedians, filthy speaking homosexual advocates, filthy magazines and books, filthy public discourse, filthy internet dialogue - and just generally filthy speech in every  dark corner of our increasingly creepy, insipid culture  - somehow now takes to dainty fainting spells and outrage over Trump's vulgarity??

I confess that I do not speak that way. My wife does not speak that way. My friends do not speak that way. If I had the president's ear, I'd urge him to never speak that way. It's crude. It's boorish. It's completely unnecessary. But how is characterizing some areas of the world as, if you will, "poop holes" - somehow  a spark that ought to ignite days of moral outrage in the liberal press and among selectively sensitive Dems?

Are these the same Dems who wink at the slaughter called abortion and call it a "constitutional right?" The same Dems who champion sad-sack sleazy men dressed as women going into female restrooms with your eight year old daughter or to live in crowded military barracks with your 19 year old son?

Could it be the same Dems who championed the National Endowment for the Arts (a United States government agency) when they supported an "artist" who submerged a small crucifix in his urine - and had the gall to call it art?

Are these the same Dems that relentlessly snuggle up to all things Hollywood - arguably the biggest and ugliest cultural cesspool in America?

One wonders if it's the same Dems who were quick to exonerate lusty Bill Clinton as he sought the affections of a powerless female staffer less than half his age?

Yet Trump is to be drummed out of the white house for indelicate language about horrible areas of the world that no Democrat would be caught dead in?

The truth is, imagined racism (and bakers who don't want to bake cakes for homosexual sham marriages) seem to be about the only thing that brings outrage to liberals. (Well, that and public prayer outside of designated Christian ghettos.)

Personally, I wish we could ship all these Dems to those areas of the world decried by Trump. Maybe their effete and pretentious  moral outrage might help those in the "poop holes." My view however,  is that the presence of that crowd would only make the "poop holes" poopier. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Christmas Curmudgeon

Is Christmas Christian? Short answer: No.

At least, if by "Is Christmas Christian?" what one is asking is does the Bible demand it's observance or even so much as hint of it's existence as a holy day. We are not instructed to seize one day of the year and pretend our Lord was born on that day and set it aside for special observation. 

Additionally, it is certainly not Christian if by Christian one expects a day that is observed purely from a spiritual point of view. The oft registered complaint that "Christmas is too commercial" or it's corollary "put Christ back in Christmas" both presuppose a responsibility or expectation not advanced by the bible. 

Certainly it is not Christian if by Christian one suggests that the cause of Christ is genuinely advanced. The work of the gospel is not heightened or improved by attaching to it extra-biblical observations. That is not to say that in spite of the largely secular nature of Christmas that some sensitive soul might not have an emotional experience that might be  in some sense meaningful to them. But Christmas as a societal institution is not doing the work of Christ in furtherance of genuine gospel causes. 

So what really is the issue??

The issue is - can Christians go gaga at Christmas as some of the non-Christian culture does?
Short answer? Yes.

The Christian who rightly recognizes Christian for what it really is - an essentially cultural holiday essentially bereft of genuine (read: Biblical) spiritual significance has the liberty to participate. 

For many years, after exposed to a largely anti-Christian mentality in his early Christian life, this parent tended to eschew Christmas observance in his family. That modified somewhat over the years until eventually changing into the position now held. With grown children having their own Christmas preferences, grandchildren and a general old man's softening toward areas of insignificant differences - I no longer feel much need to "bah humbug" each and every 12/25. 

I Corinthians 10:31

P.S. There is at least one thing about Christmas I do deeply enjoy.  It's observation in our culture sometimes annoys or even enrages some rabid secularists. And that can't be a bad thing! Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas ACLU! Merry Christmas American Humanist Association!  Merry Christmas Americans United for Separation of Church and State! Merry Christmas Democratic Party!

Merry Christmas you old Savings and Loan!