Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Unity and Identity

As I mentioned not long ago in a previous post, there is a faith "once and for all [time] delivered to the saints." (Jude 3). There is a content to it. People can know it. But that being said, one can easily see there are many different Christian denominations and groups and they do not all believe the same things. If that is so, how are we (Christians) in unity? Is Jesus' prayer for the unity of His Church in John 17 frustrated? How can we be both in unity and yet diverse?

I believe the answer is given to us in a recent article by Dr. R. Albert Mohler. Dr. Mohler is the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In the humble opinion of this blogger, Dr. Mohler may well be the smartest man in the Southern Baptist Convention. He divides the doctrines we believe into three groups, or orders. By looking at which "order" a doctrine is in, one can tell where we have unity and where we divide.

First order doctrines are those things which a person must believe in order to rightly be called a Christian. All Christians are unified on these doctrines. There is no dissent. If you are off on one of these doctrines, you are outside the entire Christian faith. Such doctrines would include a belief in one God who has revealed Himself in three Persons. The deity of Jesus Christ and his complete humanity would be another. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross for sinful people is a third. Salvation through faith (alone) in Jesus' atoning sacrifice and his sinless life is yet another. (Note: this list is NOT all inclusive.) But such doctrines as these are doctrines around which all Christians are unified. We are unified as Christians around the first order doctrines.

Second order doctrines are those doctrines which divide us into groups within Christianity. Doctrines relating to church government and polity, modes of baptism, styles of worship (as in the case of Pentecostal and non-Pentecostals), paedobaptism (infant baptism) versus credobaptism (baptism of believers only), and so on. Second order doctrines are what makes one Christian a Presbyterian and another Christian a Baptist. Let me be perfectly clear here. Second order doctrines separate Christians into groups. One can be right about faith in the work of the God-man Jesus Christ for salvation and be wrong about who to baptize (I speak here as a Baptist), and still be a Christian. Those people who are divided from us on second order doctrines, we still accept as Christians. But we understand we are divided within Christendom.

Third order doctrines are closer to opinions and various interpretations of scripture. They are the doctrines that separate us within our groups. Among Baptists, one church can practice elder rule and other pastoral rule. One can be King James (Bible) only and another prefer various Bible translations. One can be instrumental and another non-instrumental. Some prefer certain forms of dress in worship, others do not. Yet, for all the differences, they can all still be Baptist.

So, in some things I am divided from my fellow Baptists, yet, we are both unified as Baptists. In some things I am divided from my fellow Christians, yet, we are unified as Christians. Ultimately I am standing shoulder to shoulder, in total unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

In understanding Dr. Mohler's explanation, I begin to see how we Christians can be both unified and diverse. As we see more and more apostasy and error in the Church these days, it may help us to see where we are the same and where we are different with others who are genuinely in the Body of Christ. We need not be identical, but when it comes to Jesus, it is true that the friend of my friend is my friend.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I Sometimes Worry

Sometimes, I really do. I believe in the sovereignty of God over history. I believe everything is working out according to God's ultimate plan for all things. I really do. Still, I worry sometimes. I think about my children and their children.

I worry because I see apostasy and defection everywhere in the Christian Church. Where there is not apostasy there seems to be mendacity, mediocrity, and apathy. Scandals of money, sex, and leadership seem to be almost daily fare in the news. Heresy abounds. In fact, I believe every ancient heresy can be found today, to be preached in evangelical pulpits in the United States. Experiential Christianity (if it can be called that) is everywhere, but Biblical Christianity is more rare than the old two dollar bills.

More than the challenges from inside the Church are the challenges from outside. The homosexual rights movement is gaining victories on a regular basis. Liberalism is on the rise. Scandals in politics (at every level) are daily fare in the news. It is almost as hard to find an honest politician as it is to find a biblical preacher. There are wars and rumors of wars. Terrorism is a constant worry. Laws to fight terrorism are being passed but they also seem to infringe on our rights as Americans. It seems sometimes that we are our own worst enemy. Schools are dumbing down and even the best schools are hostile to the Christian religion.

Beyond all this, studies show that many Christians in the United States are (essentially) biblically illiterate. The faith once and for all delivered to the saints is not being passed on to our children. Sometimes, it is not being passed on to the members of my generation. And for all this, the current generation of Christian leaders are aging and beginning to find their way into the presence of the Lord they have served. They are dying and going home to heaven. There seems to be so few coming behind them who are qualified to take their place ... so few.

So, I worry sometimes. What kind of world will my children grow into? Will they be ready to be the Christian leaders of their generation? Did we do well (or well enough) in preparing them? Jesus promised He would build His Church. But will our children and their children be ready for the persecution and marginalizing of Christianity that will certainly come one day? Is there anything we can do better before our generation passes off the scene completely (if the Lord should tarry)?

I think about all this stuff from time to time. And yes ... sometimes I worry.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Do Unto Others .... Really?

Almost every Christian I know can quote the Golden Rule. "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also for them ..." (Matt. 7:12, ESV). I always thought I knew the golden rule, but in some recent reading I was challenged in my thinking to think a little more outside the box. Let me explain ...

The standard, normal way this passage is interpreted is to say that you should do to other people the same thing you want them to do to you. That is good and it is right, and if that is all the further one goes with it, they will do well.

But Matthew Henry challenges us to take the passage a step further. He suggests that to properly fulfill this passage the Christian ought to put him or herself into the position and shoes (so to speak) of the other person. Then, when we can see ourselves in their place, to treat as we would want to be treated if we were them. So, to give an example, if I meet a single, divorced mother, then I ought to see myself as a single, divorced mother and do to her what I would want people to do to me if I were a single, divorced mother. The list of possibilities are as endless and the number of people you meet.

But this is a hard teaching. If we were to apply it consistently, it would mean that things would not be about me anymore. It would be about other people. But if we are going to be serious about living out the scriptures in love (1 Cor. 13), then we are going to find ourselves called to live out the hard teachings. But I ask you ... being the presence of Christ in the world, can we do any less?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Did you think it costs nothing?

Salvation is free. It is a free gift of God that He gives to those whom He chooses in Christ. Even the faith with which we believe in Christ is a gift given to us by God. Yes, salvation is free, but being a Christian requires you to give up everything.

In America we are a pampered people. John Piper said once that we were "chipper" people and that we are "easily broken." We like having the scriptures in an easily readable format, we like sitting on padded pews, in church buildings designed to be as accommodating us as humanly possible. We will serve Jesus when it doesn't really require anything of us, and we are just as Christian as we are comfortable being. Not so Jesus.

Jesus was ridiculed and scorned. He was called a drunkard and a friend of sinners. He went to places polite people did not go. He went with unclean people, touched lepers, was a friend to Jew and Roman alike. The crowds (like so many people today) loved Jesus when he gave them what they wanted and they turned on him when he would not. But Jesus told us that a servant is no better than his master. If they turned on Jesus, they would turn on his followers too.

There is a price to pay for being a Christian. Consider this, if we were to go to the helpless, the poor, those who cannot do for themselves.... what would people say about us? If we were to hang out with single, divorced moms, with drunkards, with prostitutes, with the homeless and needy, what would "polite" Christians call us? They might say we were also drunkards, adulterers, sinners, unclean, vile and people worthy of being shunned. Yet that is exactly what Jesus calls us to be, the scorned and abused. We are to be that so we can reach those who are scorned and abused.

What is money, fame, power, reputation, safety and security if we are not doing the work of Christ? And if we are doing his work, then what does it matter what other people think? Do we seek to please God or men?

In the end, in today's world, it costs us to do the right thing. But if we are doing God's will, what matters the cost? It is time to move out of comfortable Christianity into the places where God calls us to go. And it is time we realize there is a price for doing it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

One Book We Ought Not Forget ...

I love reading. I really do.

I am constantly amazed at what can be done with the internet. Through sites like the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) and other sites, it seems like every ancient book and many modern works are available to Christians. One could sit at a screen and read for hours without coming up for air. That is not counting the many blogs and news sites that are out there.

But I do not like to read from a computer screen. Not anything of substance anyway. I like to hold a solid manuscript in my hands and read it. I go through ink at an incredible pace because, when I find something I really want to read, if it is of a reasonable size, I will print it. Why? Because I love to read and I love to read books.

My passion is Christian books. As you might guess, I love reading theology, history, and the biographies of great Christians. But in all this reading there is a hidden trap. It is a trap I have fallen into in the past and one I know many others trip over also. It is the trap of reading so much stuff that we neglect the Bible.

I once made a point while preaching. During the sermon I starting piling up books on the pulpit ... Calvin's Institutes, Edwards 2 volume collected works, Hodge's 3 volume systematic theology, James Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology and several other works. I told the people that if they read all the books I had stacked up and read with understanding, they would have a superior theological education. Then I told them, one page of the Bible is more useful than all the books stacked up combined. Why? Because the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is given to us by God through the hands of inspired men. It is God's words. It is that word that sets us apart (John 17:17).

So read, as I do. Read well and read wisely. Read broadly on a number of topics. Read deeply and learn from what you read. But do not forget the book that we ought never to neglect ... the Holy Word of God, the Bible. One page of Holy Scripture is more valuable to your soul that volumes written by men. Be a lover of books, but above all, be a lover of the Bible.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why do we quote the writings of other preachers in our sermons?

I have noticed a disturbing trend among some groups of Christians recently. It is disturbing because it opens the door to serious error coming into the Church. It is the tendency to cut ourselves off from church history. When we are cut off from church history then we can't learn the lessons of church and we do not know the traditions of the church throughout it's history.

Yes, I used the "t" word ... tradition. We Protestants have a bad feeling about that word because of the Roman Catholic teaching that "Sacred Tradition" holds an equal authority over the church as "Sacred Scripture." But we Protestants hold to sola scriptura (scripture alone) which tells us nothing is binding on the Christian for beliefs and life that cannot be proven from scripture. But there is a tradition of the church, and yes, we test it against the Bible, yet, we let it also help guide us in our interpretations of the Bible.

If I am reading my Bible and I interpret my Bible a certain way, how can I know my interpretation is an orthodox interpretation. I am defining an orthodox interpretation as an interpretation of scripture which has been allowed as being within the true stream of Christian faith throughout the history of the church. If I develop an interpretation of the Bible that agrees with a position which the church has help to be heretical, then I need to rethink my interpretation. If I develop an interpretation of scripture and I look back on church history and find that the church has allowed it as an orthodox interpretation, even if it is a minority position, it is still within the boundaries of orthodoxy.

So, why do I quote other preachers when I preach? Because it is important to my people to know that I am not teaching new doctrine. Jude, in his letter, speaks of the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints." There is a body of truth that comprises the "apostolic faith." I want my people to know that what I preach is Christian orthodoxy. By connecting my teaching with the teaching of other credible Christians from the past (and present) I can demonstrate that our teaching and our church is part of the faith stream of historic Christian orthodoxy.

Today, we live in a time when people have a "blender Christianity." People take a little Bible, a little Dr. Phil, a little Oprah, a little what sounds good and fair to them, toss it into a blender and mix it all together, and voila! Personalized Christianity. In my personal experience, much of this blender faith is sub-christian. Some of it is outright heresy. How can we oppose it without a way to know what is right and acceptable? Some will say "We have the Bible." It is true that we have the Bible. But both orthodox Christians and non christian cultists claim to base their beliefs on the Bible. How can we tell the difference? What makes the Baptist way of interpreting the Bible better than the Mormon way of interpreting the Bible? Because the Baptist way falls within the historic orthodox faith and Mormonism does not. If two people both read the Bible and come to opposite conclusions about what it teaches, the difference between right and wrong is what is acceptable to the church. Otherwise, you are left with each person doing what is right in his or her own eyes.

This sense of connectedness with church history is critically important to us today. I will tell you the truth... every ancient heresy is today taught in evangelical pulpits in the United States. People who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it ... and we see the truth of that saying in our churches today.

That is why I quote preachers and theologians from the past and present. I connect my teaching with the historic church's teaching. The first church first of all devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching. It is not my goal to be teaching new things to my church but rather old things, the faith once and for all time delivered to the saints. Because to be outside of that faith is to be outside the church.