Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I have often said that I thought that separation was not a doctrine but a principle. Many fundamentalists get upset with our evangelical brothers because they do not adhere to this doctrine. Of course once you make something live at the level of doctrine then all you need to do is massage it a little to make it into a fundamental doctrine and then you separate from anyone who doesn't agree with you on it.
It seems that this is what happened thirty years ago. The evangelical world got divided by fundamentalists into themselves and neo-evangelicals. Whoever was not in the fundamentalist camp was de facto a neo-evangelical. Many fundamentalist leaders seem to still be operating under this paradigm. While many young people who have grown up in fundamentalism are enjoying the writings of Piper, MacArthur, Carson, et al., and are being built up by attending T4G, Ligonier, Shepherds or Desiring God, too many older fundamentalists keep on preaching about the evils of neo-evangelicalism and muttering about the wickedness of young fundies who are drinking the cool-aid of the false teachers. Some of that generation just cannot grasp that the ministries of the men in the conservative evangelical circle are resonating with young fundamentalists because of their biblical grounding. And the move by young fundies into that orb was put in motion by a lack of biblical teaching on the very thing, separation, that was supposed to keep us away from these men.
I have been listening to an excellent class from IBC. Taught by Dr. Kevin Bauder of Central Seminary, it is really the first time I have heard a fundamentalist leader clearly teach, from the Word of God, a cogent view of separation and how to apply it. I have to run now because he is at the part where he is going to talk about separating not only from foolishness on the left but also goofiness on the right!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Determining Orthodoxy

How do we determine what is orthodox within the church? Have you ever asked yourself the question? I have been asking it a lot over the last few years. Maybe that is part of the maturing process. I think most of us just accept that what we have believed and been taught all our lives is right. But as we grow and move around the world we run into people with conflicting views of Christianity who believe what they have been taught is correct. So who is right?
The obvious answer is that we have to base all our doctrine on the Word of God: the Bible. Great! No problem. Except that the Bible has been twisted to justify all kinds of crazy things. Now, I believe that the Bible must be twisted to get it to say many things that people want it to say. But, I ask again, how can we know when it is being twisted?
What I am driving at is that when we interpret the Bible without any reference to the history of the Church we run a real risk of twisting it. The Bible is the Word of God to all people of all time everywhere. On one level that means that if a passage is being made to say something to me that it could not have said to someone 400 or 1400 years ago, then that passage is probably being abused.
Let us look at an example. I grew up with conservative music. I came to a conviction in early adulthood where I decided that if I was going to listen to rock/pop/contemporary music that I would listen to secular music but I did not want that kind of music to mix with the Gospel. I look at David's new song and find it hard to see how it could sound just like his old song. But I have to admit that the idea that the church should never use any kind of contemporary music has little historical basis. The heathen Mozart used the same kind of musical structures to write hedonistic opera and to compose the music of great hymns like "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken." So is my conviction valid? Let's look at another example and then answer that question.
My second example is that of church membership. This has been a big topic at Desiring God for several years. There is a conviction among some Christians that church membership is not biblically required. And it is not to hard to see how their arguments from the Bible are laid out. I would even grant them that the Scriptures do no overtly require church membership. But the Bible implicitly requires membership in a local body of believers and Church history shows that any challenge to that principle has been sporadic and far from mainstream.
So now, back to the question: should I ever hold a conviction that has no historical root? I believe the answer is yes. Our doctrine must be informed by the Word of God and guided by history of the Church. Those are the convictions that we stand on and for which we can and should fight. Convictions like my music conviction often become the things that we fight and separate over and they should not be so. Those are convictions that work in my home and my local church but not much farther afield. I don't think it is hypocritical to hold strongly to beliefs that are not applicable to all Christians. We just have to understand that when we elevate them to the same level as the great doctrines of the faith that we are perilously close to having another gospel (Galatians 1).
Convictions about church membership, inerrancy of scripture and the Trinity are non-negotiable tenets of Christianity. They have been for 2000 years and, if the Lord tarries His return, will continue to be so for another 2000 years. Our views of music, alcohol consumption and the method of the preservation of scripture are recent positions that will probably be outmoded in a relatively short time. They cannot become the basis for how we treat other servants of the Lord.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What has been going on?

I have several posts that I have been turning over in the ol' noggin. Unfortunately this last week I got caught up in a little discussion over at 9Marks. It has been rather interesting and if you have not yet stopped by I would recommend it. The original article is quite interesting and discussion has hit a real cross-section of the larger debate. I am wondering if I have over-participated. I would welcome any loving feedback on that account!

Also there is an article over at Pulpit Magazine about a subject dear to my heart: leaving a church. I managed to jump (or step) into that one too and we will see where it goes.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Civic Religion in America

I had the privilege this weekend to attend the graduation ceremony of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. A whole weekend to military bands and flag waving is a good thing! The bad thing is that Civic Religion was on full display.

At the graduation ceremony Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army, spoke. Like all good politicians he invoked God and Country. He quoted Jeremiah and Jefferson. It all sounded so good. The scary thing is that in this country where the Gospel is increasingly hated and the right of Christians to talk about their beliefs is becoming scarce, politicians like Mr. Garen can get applause when they serve up big helpings of the Civic Religion.

So what is Civic Religion. Well, it works like this. There is a God. We don't want to be to specific about his name, his attributes or his will. All we really need to know is that he likes to bless America. We don't really talk about the fact that God's blessing is pretty meaningless if there is no curse around! (I could not help but remember RC Sproul's message at T4G.) That would be bad to talk about God judging our enemies. But we're very sure that he is blessing us.

He is a God of the present. We cannot talk to much about the past beyond hazy "past blessings" because that might sound like he condoned genocide against Indians and other stuff like that that Civic Religion justified in the past. Civic Religion is very much a religion of the present. We also don't want to talk too much about the future other than to assure ourselves that God will keep on blessing us. Our boys and girls in uniform are doing God's work. It's just like that hymn that the Christians sing in church: "As He died to make men holy/Let us die to make men free." See, Civic Religion American style offers up salvation ass a free gift of the USA. All folks need to do is accept this free gift!

As for the afterlife, God loves us and we don't talk to much about it but if we have to talk about death Civic Religion is nearly universalist. Mr. Garen read from a letter of a WWII soldier that stated that he was sure that while his friends had done some bad things that God had taken them to heaven when they died in battle. What a comforting thought to young soldiers! Whatever you do; swearing, fornicating, cheating, stealing; it will all be OK if you die in battle for the USA and you can go straight to heaven. Here is were Civic Religion gets a more than a little hypocritical. We mock Muslims who will die for their religion. We sneer at the idea of paradise and virgins yet we hold out to our own warriors the hope that they can enter into some kind of bliss after death in battle for Freedom!

I still remember vividly going to the funeral of Gary Isaacs, a US Marine who grew up around the corner from me. Gary was killed in action in Panama. At his funeral Dr. Bob Jones Jr. so clearly laid out that while it would be convenient to believe that Gary was in heaven because of his heroic death that the reason we knew Gary was in heaven was because of his repenting of his sins and placing faith in Christ!

American Civic Religion sounds so pleasant and comforting. It has no doctrine, no scripture. It's temples are the quiet fields with their long silent rows of white headstones. It accepts all, Protestant, Catholic, Jew and atheist. It speaks peace to bereaved families and assures politicians that their decisions are without eternal consequence. It is an easy religion to accept since it requires very little beyond a nod of assent and a trickled tear when the bugle plays and the rifles bark over the tomb of a young soldier.

For all it's talk of God and quoting scriptures like John 15:13, Civic Religion is antithetical to Christianity. It is a religion of the Old Deceiver. It belittles the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It negates Jehovah's standard of righteousness. It is not the Old Time Religion of the Pilgrim Fathers and it is not my religion.

I love this country. I believe that God has blessed it in some unique ways. But even that areligious politician, Abraham Lincoln, was savvy enough to realize the dangers of a God harnessed to current political thought when he said, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." While I value every person who puts on a uniform and fights for freedom and democracy; while I weep for every warrior who falls defending this great country; I cannot help but believe the clear teaching of the Word of God that all who die outside of the righteousness of Christ are lost for eternity and face hell. I was overwhelmed in that while I heard Mr. Geren eloquently give forth the gospel of the Civic Religion that over the course of the weekend I heard a general and 2 chaplains speak clearly the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the lovely pulpit of the Cadet Chapel at West Point pointing young soldiers to the hope of the Cross!

Monday, May 05, 2008


We are studying through the book Respectable Sins at our church. It has been an interesting and challenging time. One of the most confrontational issues in the book is Jerry Bridges contention that the root of all our sin problems is ungodliness. Now Romans 1 clearly teaches that mankind's sin problem is rooted in ungodliness but that is not where Christians live! Maybe we best think about what ungodliness means before we get too defensive. Ungodliness is living life with little or no thought of God. Simple. So obviously the mass of people who may "believe in God" but make every decision as though they were god live in a state of ungodliness but not Christians. Well, all the so-called christians who do not believe that calling themselves christian really means that God has anything to say about what they do, I guess they could be considered ungodly in many respects. But what about born-again, bible-believing christians? People who go to "good" churches; read their Bibles; pray; give; and serve. People like that cannot be called ungodly! Living life with little or no thought of God. Why do you go to that good church? Why do you do anything you do? Too many of us answer with things like, "Because I am growing there." So on whom is the focus? Why do you read the Bible? "I want to get something from God today." Now growing and learning from God are certainly prerequisites for godliness, but when our primary motivation is our benefit then we are fundamentally ungodly. I have been confronted with the fact that this is no where so clearly displayed as in the smaller issues of life. When we get a little extra money on the paycheck, what do we do with it? When we have a few extra minutes, what are we thinking about? I asked the class in Sunday School what God and the Gospel has to do with buying groceries and got a lot of blank stares. Most of us have never stopped to ask ourselves that question. But if we believe in the God of the Bible do we not have to believe that He intersects with every aspect of life. Is not compartmentalizing God to a few moment of Bible reading and a Sunday morning service a manifestation of our ungodliness? And the tolerance of large pockets of ungodliness in our lives leads us to struggle with other sins that Christ wants to free us from. Our sins of covetousness grow from a view of money that does not intersect with the Gospel. Our problems with pride grow from a view of ourselves that is incompletely informed by the Word of God. Our struggles with our tongues come from a failure to let the Sovereign God rule in every area of our lives. It all sounds pretty bleak. But the glory of it all is that the same God who sent His Son to justify us sent His Spirit to sanctify us!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Church Constitutions

Church constitutions are notorious for being poorly written. Most are copies of some older document that are taken and modified by people with no legal or parliamentary experience. That seems to be the way with the whole discipline of parliamentary procedure. It is not a profession. It is a body of quasi-common law that hovers out there. There are a few savants (I would not really classify myself among them at this time!) and a lot of people that dabble and think that they know something about it. There was a time when I fell in love with parliamentary law. I was doing a lot of mock politics in high school and college and I enjoyed the way that procedure allowed a group to discuss matters in an orderly, well-regulated manner. In college I took 3 semesters of Parliamentary Procedure (PP) from one of those true savants I referenced above and went on to complete my Certified Parliamentarian (CP) credentials with the American Institute of Parliamentarians (AIP). For a time I considered if there might not be a way to earn a living in the field. But then I graduated college and got married. There are very few jobs for parliamentarians and most of those are political patronage posts so I gradually moved away from active involvement in PP and eventually left the AIP and dropped my CP credential.
All that to establish where I am coming from as I talk about church constitutions. I am no longer certified. I am not an expert. But I know enough to know that too many people who think they know a lot know dangerously little. These are often the ones who write, revise and interpret church constitutions. This came up this week when I read an article over at 9Marks written by Greg Gilbert. I interacted with the author some this week and thought I would just write out a few things that I have said to different people in various churches over the last 15 years.
1) Every church should spend some money and have a certified parliamentarian read over their constitution. If you are actively planting churches this is especially vital so you do not transplant poor aspects of your constitution into the fledgling churches or saddle young congregations with your documentary problems. The AIP and the NAP are the two US bodies that certify practitioners of PP in the US. It is also good to have a parliamentarian around with whom you have a relationship. You never know when you might get into something and need advise.
2) Constitutions are often filed and forgotten. Church leadership should routinely read through the document and see how the church is following it or not. If you go to court that document is going to be the standard that the court uses to decide a case. It doesn't matter if you have been doing something for 50 years and no one has ever complained about it. If your documents say "We will do A" and you are doing B you are opening yourself for some disgruntled member to sue you. In this regard many church constitutions have way too much stuff in them. For instance, the document SHOULD have how the church goes about hiring staff. It SHOULD NOT have individual sections about hiring a secretary, a janitor and a pianist. The more you have written the less consistent it will be and the less consistently it will be followed.
3) Constitutions should be frequently (not annually but frequently) revised. We have a view in the US especially of the constitution being an old piece of parchment that is hermetically sealed in a glass case in the National Archives. This sacred document should be messed with as little as possible. Now, while I am a strict constructionist when it comes to the US Constitution, I do not think that that is a reasonable way to view your church constitution. Churches grow and change. This is a fact and not a bad idea. We need to have things that hold us to orthodoxy and arrest any impetus to move away from the Truth of the Bible. At the same time our culture is in constant flux. A constitution that worked for a church off 300 in the 50's is probably not going to work for a church of 900 in the 21st century. It should be thoroughly revised on a fairly consistent basis. Parliamentary authorities (i.e. Robert's Rules of Order or my preference Sturgis Standard Code) have long advised against having a Constitution and Bylaws. In many organizations what is called C&BL is really just one document. I think that most churches should have two separate documents. A constitution should have most of the stuff that really is not going to change like the Confession/Articles of Faith, qualifications for leadership and basic congregational polity. The Bylaws ought to be something that is more easily amended and revised that covers committees, services, business meetings and other matters that need to be spelled out but that might change over time.
Thankfully, most people that get disgruntled with a church just leave. But churches every year do get sued and I believe the difference between losing or having the case thrown out can largely be mitigated by these suggestions. A belief that sincerity and spirituality will protect you from sinful men may leave you with egg on your face if you get sued.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened…

It is funny how things jump out of passages that you have read a hundred times. Yesterday being palm Sunday we were reading John 12 and I noticed this:

Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there. They came not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus the one He had raised from the dead. Therefore the chief priests decided to also kill Lazarus, 11 because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus. [HCSB]

I nearly laughed out loud! What kind of crazy rationale would lead well-educated men to kill a man that Jesus had recently raised from the dead? In front of a crowd of people Jesus had stood before that rock-hewn tomb and simple said, "Lazarus come out" and he came out apparently still wrapped in the shroud! And now the Sanhedrin is going to give Jesus an opportunity to do it again in front of an even bigger crowd as Jerusalem fills up for passover week.

I thought of Psalm 2: Why are the nations in an uproar / And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand / And the rulers take counsel together /Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart / And cast away their cords from us!" [NIV]

I find it interesting that the disciples of Jesus connected this same passage with this turbulent period in Acts 4:25 ff. And in linking these events they prayed, "And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word!"

May this Holy Week bring all true servants of the King boldness to proclaim His righteous anger against all unrighteousness of mankind and tell of His gracious transference of that anger to His son Jesus for the salvation of all who will simply believe!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shocker: Antidepressants Don't Work Well!

That's right! I don't know if you saw the BBC story yet but the news is out. Prozac and other antidepressants don't seem to help many people for whom they are prescribed. I am of course being sarcastic since I see these people every day in the emergency room. They come in still feeling depressed and want more help. I will not even begin to mention people who overdose on their antidepressant medicines.
If all this is surprising to you then consider this. People feel depressed. We give them medicine to increase dopamine or serotonin in the brain. They are still depressed. Or, as this study shows, they feel better simply because they are taking something (aka placebo effect.) Of course, in my opinion, the problem is at step one. Why are these people depressed in the first place? They drink too much; smoke too much; tick off everyone they know; don't hold jobs; don't think of others; etc., etc. You get the picture.
What is the solution to depression. As always, I think the Bible holds the answers. We need to align our lives with the Creator's instructions: to love God and love others. We need to poor our lives into the lives of others. We should live temperately whether dealing with chemical substances, food, or activities. In all this we need to realize that life does not revolve around us! Unfortunately, the religion of Scientism, established in the public mind by the teaching of the Theory of Evolution as incontrovertible fact, tells people that they are randomly combined chemicals that need to strive for their own benefit in the great cosmic struggle for survival. What a depressing idea.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I really need to write a book.

I had some time to kill yesterday so I wandered into our local Borders. I was rather amazed at some of titles I saw. If this kind of drivel gets published I really need to write a book. I think I could churn out 200 pages of something like Living History by Hillary Clinton. This was billed on the cover as "the phenomenal bestseller"! Really. I am sure she wrote it completely factual and from the motive of inspiring us to clearly remember past events. Oh yeah, she doesn't clearly remember many past events of her own life. See, that is where I come in. I am thinking of writing some kind of Forest Gump autobiography where I forget a lot of actual events in my life but make up some really cool stuff!
My other favorite was this chestnut: You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right. Really, that is a published book! So if I am right about the world being round and you think it is flat that is OK? Well, the book is about faith and religion and so it is not that simple. But I believe in one all-powerful, good, and just God and if you believe in a cosmic dualism like a huge majority of people then we can't both be right.
Well, I will not inflict any more of this on you, dear reader, until my book gets published!

Friday, February 22, 2008

I like Ben Stein

I am 38 and like most of my peers Ben Stein is the "Bueller,…Bueller, …" guy. I was too young to remember him as a presidential speech writer and old enough to remember him before "Dry eyes…" and "Win Ben Stein's Money." All that to say that over the last 20 years I have really come to like Ben Stein.
There are a lot of smart people in this world. Some of them are insufferable and some are delightful. Ben is the later. I could sit and listen to him talk for hours not because I always agree with him but because he slowly, carefully lays out his thoughts on a matter. If you've never listened to him go over to YouTube and watch some of the videos of interviews with him. Caveat: there is one clip that someone posted to try and undermine this point by showing him getting into a shouting match with a guy (with whom I incidentally agree) who keeps interrupting him.
Now Ben has a new movie coming out. It will probably not get the kind of attention that Michael Moore can get by filming himself blowing his nose because it is not pushing liberal politics. The movie is called "Expelled" and documents the harassment in store for any scientist brazen enough to question the received wisdom: Science is God, the Arbitrator of all Wisdom and Knowledge and the Sole Authority for all of Life. Think of it as kind of the opposite of AlGore's movie. Ergo, don't look for Mr. Stein in Stockholm next year.
The premise is simple, there are legitimate questions about Darwinism but if you ask them you will be more castigated and persecuted than people who questioned the Pope were by the Inquisition. I am tired of people saying things like, "Millions of people have been killed by organized religion." Which I like to counter by simply saying, "Right, since Joe Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Pol Pot all were adherents of Secular Humanism." I also love being castigated as closed minded for my beliefs by people who have swallowed the Dogmatism of Darwinism without any question and will not open their minds one iota to let you question that.
The best part of the movie is where Ben talks about why the establishment is so virulent in opposition to any dissent. He points out that people who are confident in what they believe are willing to discuss it. Only those who are afraid that their beliefs are not fully rational are reactionary against the questioning of their religion.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed should be shown in every school in America. It probably won't be but I still like Ben Stein.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Consider the Prophet Job

James tells us to consider the prophet Job.

As I meditate on that today it strikes me that even as christians we so often think of our lives as our own. Our job, our skills, our money, our family, our personality, our luck, our good karma. But what do we have that we do not hold in the providence of God. No doubt Job worked hard, spent wisely and loved his family. But all of this operated within the protection of God. When it pleased God to oppress Job all this was stripped away, but to what benefit for us! While Job suffered and sought for why God was doing this, God mercifully opens to us a window into the operations of the Tempter and greatness of of He who sits enthroned in heaven.

All these things lead to the great prophecy of Job: "I know that my Redeemer is alive…and in my flesh I will see Him!" We must live every day in a way that makes us ready to meet the Risen Christ face to face.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A New Year


I enter this new year most conscious of my need for God's grace. At this time when so many will attempt to "turn over a new leaf," or to "strive harder to better themselves," I desire, by God's help to be "agreeable to His will, for Christ's sake." That will is given to us so clearly: To love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. I am chagrined to have to confess that we so often make God's direction for our lives a matter of hidden mystery when we neglect to do this thing: love those that are near at hand. Or conversely, we pride ourselves on our kindnesses to others when all is merely selfish pride masquerading as piety.

O Lord, grant that I may love You with all my being and clearly show that love to others this year.