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.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why Are We Surprised?

I was watching TV the other day and saw that the movie "The Golden Compass" is about to be released on DVD. You will remember that the Golden Compass is an anti christian movie where the heroine defeats the "Magisterium" by finding that the key to truth is inside herself the whole time. The movie generated a lot of heat when it was first released. It still does. But let me ask this ... what are we (Christians) surprised that a movie like this has been made?

Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky reports on his blog that atheists want a church of their own. They want all the trappings of religion without the attendant religion. The atheists are becoming more militant. Why are we surprised?

On every side it seems the church in North America is under assault. Liberalism inside and outside the church attacks us. Doctrines such as the inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the penal substitutionary atonement, hell and many others, are either being challenged or denied outright. Even the very relevance of the church itself is being questioned. But again I ask, why are we surprised?

I often find myself reflecting on this passage of scripture ...

"For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written." Romans 2:24.

Why are we surprised when people hold such a low opinion of the church? We should not be. If a person looked objectively at the church today, they would see a mess. Even leaving off the liberal parts of the so called church, the conservative parts are not in any better shape. There is carnality. Sin of all types are reported through the various news outlets. Worship is shallow. Doctrine is derided as being divisive and unloving. Often church is little more than an entertainment show with church members sitting passively which watching an entertainment extravaganza. Rock choruses and laser light shows have replaced expositional preaching. There are even pastors who use every manner of vulgar language in an attempt to be "relational" to lost people. Goats go away having had a good time and the sheep starve to death for lack of biblical food. The end result of all this is that the Lord our God is blasphemed among the lost people because of what they see in Christians today. We are the fulfillment of Paul's criticism in Romans 2.

Beloved, until we become the people of God that God has called us to be, we should not be surprised when we see the church under attack and the forces of secularism and liberalism advancing on every side. I read a quote recently where the speaker said that the number one need of the church today is a rebirth of biblical godliness. One church I was involved with had this motto ... "God's people in God's power doing God's work in God's way." Until we can be that ... we should expect people to hold us in derision.

Read that passage in Romans I quoted above and ask yourself this ... Is God blasphemed among unbelievers because of what they see in you? Or do people look at you and see the truth of the life changing gospel by faith in Jesus Christ written out for them in your life? If you are honest with yourself, which side of the line do you fall on? Whichever side you come down on, ask yourself this ... what is God calling me to do? When you answer that .. then do it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Do Calvinists Believe in Evangelism?

If there is one thing, above others, that is true about Southern Baptists, it is that they are a missions minded people. Now, when I say missions, I mean reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ beginning at our homes and going to the farthest reaches of the planet. Sop you can see that missions is not only foreign missions but includes home missions and evangelism. By evangelism, I mean personal witnessing.

One of the charges that are often leveled against Calvinists is that they do not believe in evangelism and therefore, they do not practice evangelism. It is reasoned out that since Calvinism hold to the doctrines of election and predestination, that Calvinists believe God will save his elect even if no one carries the gospel to them. So, if the elect are going to be saved anyway, why evangelize? Now, there are actually some people who think this way. We call them Hyper-calvinists. As a system, their theology is heretical and is not within the boundaries of orthodox, historic Christianity. Hyper-calvinism is a cancer within Evangelical Christianity. One author noted that whenever you have a robust biblical Calvinism, you always have a danger of Hyper-calvinism raising it's ugly head. We need to be vigilant to guard against it.

But I am not blogging here about Hyper-calvinism. I want to talk about the Biblical, Evangelical kind of Calvinism. That Calvinism is very much interested in missions and evangelism. Indeed, the Calvinistic system of theology gives the Calvinist every reason to be involved in missions and evangelism.

First, the doctrine of election leads us to evangelize. The Bible is clear that God has elected people from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people group on the earth to be His people. The Calvinist knows that means that everywhere we go, someone will get saved. From every group of people, there are people who will be saved. No one is left out. Indeed, if someone rejects Christ today, that is not proof that they will ultimately reject Christ. The moment of one's physical death seals a person's eternal fate. But so long as someone is still alive, they might yet be saved and prove they are one of God's elect. Even the hardest hearts are not beyond God's power to save. Calvinists know that God's elect are in every group. Therefore, any person they meet might be one of the elect. Since no group is left out the Calvinist is compelled to go to everyone they can ... the Arabs, the Communists, the terrorists, the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the worst of the lowest examples of humanity, as well as the kings, presidents ... the greats and near greats... anyone of them might be among the elect. We are seed scatterers. We spread the word of God (the gospel) far and wide. But, as the Bible says ... "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." We preach and God saves.

Second, the Calvinist has faith in the promises of God through His word. He has said that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. We know the gospel is the means God has ordained by which to save people. No one gets saved without hearing the gospel and believing it. So, people will get saved if we get the gospel to them. So, we go. We preach to our families, our friends and our neighbors. We go to the world, sometimes to the most dangerous places on the planet .. why? Because the elect are out there. And God calls them out of the world by the preaching of the gospel. And that brings me to my next point.

Calvinists have a very high view of scripture and of Christ. In scripture, Christ has commanded his people to "Go ye into all the world preaching the gospel to every creature..." So we go. We obey. To do less is to deny the very thing we say we believe. If this were the only reason a Calvinist would have to go into the world with the gospel, this one reason alone would be enough. Jesus is our Savior, Lord, King, Master, and God. Disobedience to such a clear command is not an option.

Friend, some of the greatest evangelists and missionaries in church history have believed in Calvinistic doctrine. Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, George Mueller, and many, many others were all men of missions and gospel preaching. Some of the first white men to reach out to the American Indians were impelled by Calvinistic doctrine. Men like Jonathan Edwards and David Brainard.

Calvinism is not opposed to missions and evangelism. It is opposed to the easy believism that leads so many to make professions of faith and disappear from Christian fellowship before the next church meeting. It is opposed to tawdry and shallow evangelism methods that convert people to spectators at religious entertainment shows instead of converting them growing disciples in the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvinism is against everything that cheapens and trivializes the holy things of God. Calvinism is for everything that glorifies the Lord our God in every corner of the earth.

And that's the truth about Calvinism and evangelism.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Love Slave

"And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever." Exodus 21: 5-6.

One of the things I hate is that humans, in their depravity, can take any holy thing and corrupt it. Take the concept of the love slave. The idea is plainly taught in scripture. It is a good and holy thing. Yet, when men get ahold of it they turn it into something that sounds dirty and pornographic. But what men mean for evil God means for good. A love slave is what every Christian ought to be.

The idea is very simple. Every seven years, slaves were freed in Israel. However, if a slave loved his master so much that he could not bear the thought of life without being a slave of that master, the slave could petition the master to keep him as a slave forever. This relationship was cemented when the master would take the slave to the doorpost of the house, and put the slave's earlobe against the doorpost and pierce the ear with an awl ... pinning it (so to speak) to the doorpost. This pierced ear was the mark of the love slave and that slave could never again be free of his master except by death. His whole life would be spent as a slave to that master. The cord that bound him to his master was the cords of love.

Jesus is a master to his people. We are told in the Bible in several spots that we are bought with a price. We are bought, not with corruptible things but with incorruptible ... with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. One of the Apostle Paul's favorite terms for himself was bondservant. A bond servant was an owned servant ... a slave. Paul saw himself as a slave to Jesus Christ.

Shouldn't we all see ourselves that way? Jesus told us that the law was summed up in two commandments. Now, we all know them by heart. Love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Then to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Notice the first, to love the Lord our God with everything we are. We often (as Christians) talk about loving Jesus. In our churches we sing hymns with lyrics like "Oh! How I love Jesus! Because he first loved me." Right? If we really loved Jesus like that, is it a stretch to call for us to see ourselves having our ears pierced to the doorpost of the master's house? Is it a stretch to call for all of us to surrender to Jesus as love slaves to a master we can't live without?

The Bible talks about Christians having circumcised hearts. Let me add the idea of having pierced ears too. It is a Biblical idea. It is a Christian idea. It is an idea we all ought to embrace. Me? I am a love slave of Jesus Christ, my Lord, Master and God. I will not surrender the term (love slave) to the depraved imaginations of dirty minded people. Let my pierced ear boldly proclaim my love for my Master, Jesus Christ. How about you? Will you have your ear pierced and be bound by cords of love to your Master Jesus Christ? You should.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The High and Lofty One

If you are wrong about who God is you will be wrong about everything. I think the American Church, at this point in history, is suffering from the same mindset that overtook the people of Israel when God said of them "thou thoughtest that I was altogether [such an one] as thyself" (Psalm 50:21). I believe the majority of professing Christians today see God as a person who is like they are.

One Bible text that has always spoken deeply to me is Isaiah 6. In that text Isaiah has a vision of God as the High and Lofty One. The train of His robe fills the temple. His voice is like thunder in the mountains. The seraphs fly above His throne crying "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts! The earth is full of His glory!" This picture of the thrice holy God whose glory fills the whole earth is the vision of God we need to establish in our minds. When we set our hearts towards Him, it isn't a person who like us, it is to the Lord God Almighty ... God Most High ... that we set our hearts towards.

This is critical. God has warned us in His commandments that we "shall no other gods before Him." To be wrong about the Person of God is to become an idolater.

Charles Spurgeon believed that the truth of any doctrine could be seen in whether or not it exalted God. He believed any teaching that lifted up men was a false teaching. In John the Baptist's words "He must increase and I must decrease." Spurgeon saw a mathematical formula for the worship of God. He saw a one to one correlation between the exaltation of God and the debasement of men. To the extent that God is lifted up, man must be debased. Remember, this debasing is based on a comparison of God to men. Since God cannot be lifted up too high, man cannot be viewed too lowly compared to God.

In our churches today our God is a lot like we are. Our doctrines exalt man in all his glory and make God a servant to us. Our gospel message today is how God has made us to have a good life. Everything is about us.

God is always the High and Lofty One. Whether we see Him that way or not, it remains true. To worship Him in Spirit and in truth, we need to see Him as He truly is. Make no mistake about it, it is all about worshipping God. He created us to glorify Him. We are to glorify Him in our lives on earth, in our families, our churches, our communities, our businesses, our whole lives are to bring glory to HIM. When our time in these mortal bodies ends, then we will glorify Him in fullness as we worship Him in human perfection in heaven. Beloved, it isn't anything about us. It is all about Him.

If you are wrong about this you won't be right about anything.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"If I am eternally secure in Christ ...

can I sin as much as I want to and still go to heaven?" What a question! At it's heart, it is a facetious and ad hominum attack on people who hold to the perseverance of the saints in Christ. Charles Spurgeon called the question beneath a Christian to answer ... then went on to preach a sermon against the premise of the question. In my mind, it is a stupid question and one that should not be asked by a child of God to another child of God. But ... it is still out there. People still ask it and still use to attack other Christians. So, today, I am going to put this one to rest.

"If I am eternally secure in Christ, can I sin as much as I want and still go to heaven?" The answer is "yes." Surprised? Think it through with me.

The whole premise of the question comes from a free will stand point. It only makes sense in the context that the immediate cause of our salvation is a good decision made by us. Since we gain salvation by our decision, we need to maintain it by our continued good decisions. We have to keep ourselves in the faith by choosing to keep on doing godly things. If we ever choose to do a sinful thing, we have forfeited the grace of God and become lost again. It is ... in essence ... a semi-pelagian question. By our good choices we brought ourselves into the faith and by our bad choices we can take ourselves out of the faith.

But whoever would ask such a question demonstrates by asking it that they do not understand the biblical nature of salvation at all. Salvation begins in time, with the Holy Spirit bringing the sinner to spiritual life. We call this regeneration or being born again. In the new birth, God takes out our heart of stone (which hardens us against the things of God) and puts into us a heart of flesh (which makes us tender to the things of God). Our carnal minds are changed into spiritual minds. Our blind eyes are open. Our deaf ears are unstopped. Our wills are freed from the bondage of sin. We are freed from our slavery to Satan. Things we used to hate, now we love. Things we used to love, now we hate. We are new creations. We are made into children of God, adopted sons of God. We are brothers of the Lord Jesus Christ and heirs to every heavenly blessing that is His. We are now Kings and Priests to the Lord our God. We have become something new. We are Christians. We our disciples of the Lord Jesus. We are now slaves (yes, I said slaves) to the Lord our God.

We were one thing but now, by the power of God, we have been miraculously changed into something else. This miracle of salvation is everything in considering how to answer the original question.

I said that what we used to love, now we hate and what we used to hate now we love. We used to love our sin and hate the things of God. Now we hate our sin and love the things of God. We used to hate the commandments of God but now we love them. It is a joy to us to be obedient to the Lord our God. Our nature is to love God, and the brethren. To be lights shining in the world with the light of the truth of the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Christian who has had a life changing encounter with the God-man Jesus Christ has been called out of the world into a life of holiness and good works. He is characterized by the aroma of the life of Christ living in him (or her). Love, mercy, charity, holiness, godliness, obedience, joy and truth are the bread and butter of the Christian disciple. Living in the Holy Spirit is our very air. It is life to us.

In all this post, it is taken as a given that we are eternally secure in Christ. I dealt with that topic not long ago in a post about the perseverance of the saints. You can read it there. But put all this together now.

If I am eternally secure in Christ, can I sin as much as I want? Sure you can. Go sin as much as you want. But ask yourself this one very important question ... As a child of God, a light in the world, filled with the Holy Spirit, a living testimony to the truth of the life changing gospel, a King and Priest to God, an heir to all the treasures of heaven, a slave of our Lord Jesus Christ, ask yourself ... how much do I want to sin? I believe with all my heart that one thing that every true born again has in them is a heart desire to be obedient to the commands of God. If that is true, how much do I want to sin? You, who might be reading these words, you call yourself a child of the Living God, salt and light in the world, how much do YOU want to sin?

Friends, if your faith in Jesus Christ is not a life changing thing, then it is no faith at all. And if your HAS been changed by meeting the Lord Jesus, then do this ... go out and do exactly as your spirit wants. Go out and BE His child. Go be what you are ... YOU are a Son of God. Act like it and sin as much as you want.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Unity and Identity and Heresy

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 yet 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 church 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.

An important thing to note in this discussion is that first order doctrines also determine what is and what is not heresy. A heresy is defined as a doctrine, that by holding it, proves one is outside the historic, orthodox Christian faith. I said above that if one is wrong about a first order doctrine, they are not a Christian. To be wrong about a first order doctrine would make one a heretic. A false teaching relating to a first order doctrine is a heresy. As the Spirit within us reaches out to relate the Spirit in other believers, as we relate to them in Christian love, it is critical that we discern who is a Christian in error and who is a heretic. This rubric of the three levels of doctrine helps give us a grid for determining these things. It is a tool to help us be discerning. It is a lesson well worth learning.