The Seven Summits

The life of a Christ-follower is a journey. Jesus offers us a full and meaningful life (John 10:10). He is the only source and giver of eternal life and the one and only way to the Heavenly Father, the one true and living God (John 14:6).

The choice to trust Christ, embrace His Gospel, and follow Him as a disciple is a choice to take a narrow trail in life. Most of humanity will take a wide road and enter a broad gate that leads to destruction. But followers of Jesus Christ have decided to walk through a narrow gate and embrace a difficult path and become part of the few who really experience life this side of heaven and for eternity (Matthew 7:13-14)

Though the trail we take is difficult and unpopular, I agree with the words of singer and song writer Steven Curits Chapman who testifies decades ago that “there is no better place on earth than the road that leads to heaven!”

The Seven Summits at Trinity Baptist Church refers to the fact that our spiritual journey is along a narrow and adventurous trail. Each section of this trail, however, leads to a beautiful summit of celebration. Though the way is not easy, it is an empowered way. We are guided by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We have taken Jesus by the hand and said, “I will walk with you through this life until you say it is time to step into eternity.”

This way is also a fulfilling adventure. Our souls are redeemed by the blood of Christ by grace through faith in His atoning death and victorious resurrection (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This places us on a new path of discipleship.

The Seven Summits provide us with competencies to actualize our core values and biblical vision. That vision is summarized in the words “leading our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation to know love and serve Jesus Christ.” These competencies are both sequential and concurrent. First, we look at them sequentially as a paradigm for coming alongside the home to bring up a generation of Christ-followers from birth until they are launched from the home in pursuit of a calling, career, continuing ed, marriage, family, etc. Second, we look at these summits concurrently as a tool for spiritual check-ups in our lives as adults, in our homes, and in evaluating the various ministries and programs of our church and their effectiveness.

So, what are the Seven Summits?

(Click here for the sermon series that introduced the Seven Summits to Trinity.)

(1) Provision Summit: We are committed as a church to provide, and equip families to provide, an environment where the love of God is made manifest and where His Word, the Bible, serves as His perfect authority in our lives. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment is central to this summit.

The corporate expression and celebration of this summit is seen our parent/child dedications. From the moment of birth and throughout the preschool years children are able to be established in the facts that God loves us and His Word is true, and a love for God and His Word will always remain foundational for the journey on the narrow road for all ages.

(2) Presentation Summit: We are committed to present, and equip families to present, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and call for a faith response to the Gospel. The fact that God loves us is the basis for His sending of His only Son to die for us that we might have everlasting life by believing in Him (John 3:16). During the grade school years children are becoming able to express remorse for sin, the need for a savior, a comprehension of the Gospel, and what it means to express repentance and faith.

The celebration of this summit is water baptism. This is the first step of obedience for the one who, at whatever age, turns from sin and self and places their trust in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for forgiveness and new life.

(3) Preparation Summit: We are committed to prepare, and equip families to prepare, the next generation and all of those who have been saved by grace to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Sequentially, as children are “preparing” for adolescence it is important for them to be established in their identity with Christ and His Church. At this point they can learn the various spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, Bible study, witnessing, and serving in the church. Concurrently, all believers need to be sharpened on this section of the narrow road.

The celebration of this summit is to encourage a retreat with parents and their “tweens” where they set aside time to discuss identity in Christ, spiritual disciplines, and prepare them for adolescence with talks about the changes that they are beginning to experience in their body, mind, and emotions. Yes, this includes having the birds and the bees talk!

(4) Purity Summit: We are committed to promote a lifestyle of purity and consecration unto our Lord. Holiness as a way of life particularly begins to be tested during those latter middle school years. If habits of purity and personal commitments to live a life of virtue aren’t made during these years, the high school and college years can be an almost impossible season to right the ship. In an age of smart phones and laptops, the purity of our students is under attack like never before. The church and the home must step up and teach that God’s will for our lives is our sanctification, specifically that we are guarded against sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

The celebration of this summit includes a right of passage ceremony for young men and the presentation of a purity ring (during a special father/daughter date if possible) to young ladies as near their thirteenth birthday as possible. Concurrently, the life of holiness and a commitment to biblical manhood and womanhood shall be constantly admonished in our student and adult ministries.

(5) Purpose Summit: We are committed to equipping our families to understand their biblical purpose and mission in life. As we look at the summits sequentially, we realize that those early high school years demand that Christ-followers know what they believe and have something solid to stand on and stand for. They can only say “no” to sin for so long unless they say “yes” to something of far greater value, that pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). As we embrace the joy of living life on mission for Jesus Christ, we find the motivation to continue in purity and power as an effective witness. Again, concurrently, this is an area (as is each summit) of sharpening for students and adults of all ages.

To celebrate and reinforce this summit we encourage students, accompanied by parents if possible, to participate in a mission trip. We offer opportunities in our community, throughout North America, and even internationally. Our church is committed financially to backing such endeavors. We pray that it will be the beginning of a life lived on mission for Christ.

(6) Passion Summit: We are committed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to igniting a passion in our students and adults for a life of service to Christ through and alongside His Church. During the latter high school years students are full of passion that can be righteously channeled for the glory of God. This should be a season of discovering one’s spiritual gifts, developing talents for Christ, committing to biblical stewardship, committing to God’s standards for marriage and family, and growing deeper in the spiritual disciplines and Christian apologetics. This is most certainly a section of the trail that adult believers should revisit again and again.

The celebration for this summit is a junior/senior retreat where our 16 to 18 year-olds are challenged with the aforementioned commitments. While our parents and small group leaders will be presented with resources to assist their leadership in these areas, our church staff and leaders desire to be equipped to answer life’s most difficult questions encountered when hiking this section.

(7) Pursuit Summit: We are committed to continue alongside our young people as they launch out from the home to pursue God’s plan for their lives. As they pursue a career, a season of continuing education, a spouse, military service, or anything else, we want to empower and commission them to do so for the glory of God with great enthusiasm (Colossians 3:23-24). Concurrently, the principles of this summit will be reviewed often in the pulpit and in various small group ministries within the church.

The celebration for this summit is two-fold. Corporately we will have a Graduate Recognition service each May where we recognize and publicly charge our high school graduates to pursue God’s call on their lives. We also encourage families to host their own celebration at a venue and in a context where parents can speak words of public affirmation into the life of their child.

These are the seven summits. While the philosophy behind the summits seems very “next generational,” you need to know that it is never too late to enter through the narrow gate and join the exciting journey down the narrow path that leads to life!

We will continue to develop and sharpen each of these summits. This process will include an evaluation of curriculum and programming for our preschool department, children’s ministry, and student ministry. We will also continue to recommend and provide resources to parents and all adults to facilitate this discipleship strategy in the home. Finally, if you pay close attention you will notice the themes of these summits continually resurfacing in the pulpit ministry at Trinity.

So, grab your hiking gear and join us for the journey of a lifetime that continues until Christ calls us home!

Liberals, Conservatives, and Defining Terms in Political and Theological Life

Ever since the late 1990’s and the discussion of the definition of “is”, as well as the meaning of a few other words uttered during Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, one need has become more and more obvious. I am speaking of the need to define terms. Not only do people have limited vocabularies, we also have a vocabulary that is constantly changing.

By change I am not merely referring to the fact that some words become “dead” due to overuse while new words are being added every day. I am more specifically pointing out that certain words occasionally change meanings with various contexts. Therefore, not understanding a specific context in which a word is used can cause one to skew its meaning and perhaps incorrectly judge the political or religious position someone is taking.

So let’s try to clarify a few terms which have been known to cause a little confusion.

We will begin with the word conservative. Almost any thesaurus will list words like traditional and moderate as being synonymous with conservative. However, on the political spectrum, a conservative is someone who is clearly to the right of a moderate on most issues.

I actually see more confusion when conservative is erroneously equated with traditional when it comes to religious life.

Theologically, I am a conservative. By that I mean that I believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who literally died for our sins and physically rose from the grave. I believe that salvation only comes through faith in Christ, that there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain, and that Christ is returning one day to make all things right.

As a conservative, I accept as authoritative all the Bible teaches us concerning creation, miracles, angels, the roles and differences of men and women, marriage and family, human sexuality, and the mission of the church in the world.

But the word conservative does not necessarily mean the same thing as the word traditional when speaking of the church. A church can be conservative theologically and very contemporary stylistically. On the other hand a church can be extremely traditional in style and at the same time be liberal theologically.

Let me illustrate. Years ago a lady shared with me that her church was much more conservative than the church that I pastor. I was surprised to hear her say this. I happened to know that at that time her pastor did not believe in the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ, the infallibility of Scripture, or the reality of an eternal hell. The church was lacking in godly male leadership in most ministry areas. They had rejected so many conservative ideals which our church had always embraced. Yet she assumed we were more liberal by comparison?

Actually it quickly occurred to me what she meant. The style of worship at her church was more traditional. They were going to sing songs from a hymnal usually accompanied only by a piano and organ. They were going to hold tight to traditional Baptist programs. So in her eyes that made her church more “conservative” than ours. I would have described her church as more traditional, but far more liberal theologically. She was focused on style while giving little thought to doctrine.

To reiterate, it is possible to be conservative theologically while at the same time contemporary or innovative stylistically. And it is also possible to be liberal theologically and very traditional in style. While conservative evangelicals actually took the lead in the modern contemporary style movement, style can no longer be an indicator of a church’s theology. You will have to dig a little deeper than outward observations to see where a church stands theologically. Neither musical preferences, elements of worship, Bible translations used, nor the appearance of the facilities serve as clear indications as to where the church stands doctrinally.

Let’s look further at the word liberal. Again, context will determine connotation. The Bible encourages us to be liberal in areas such as giving to meet needs, offering forgiveness, and showing love. The Bible says that God liberally gives us wisdom when we ask for it without doubting (James 1:5-6). But that is not what we are referencing when we refer to a theological liberal.

A theological liberal is one who usually rejects the infallibility of Scripture. Often having been influenced by Darwinism and higher criticism of the Bible, theological liberals reject doctrines like the exclusivity of the Gospel, a literal eternal hell, and the virgin birth of Christ. A theologically liberal church may have a worship style that is traditional and often very liturgical.

In politics, and occasionally in religion, liberals embrace the title progressive which is a reference to certain social reforms they deem necessary for making progress. The assumption is planted in the minds of young students that political conservatives do not like progress. However, conservatives and liberals both believe in progress. They just bring different sets of values and convictions by which progress is defined and measured. What one calls progress, the other sees as disruptive of progress because we have vastly different goals, standards, and visions of which we are in pursuit.

The word moderate is also a biblical concept. The Bible speaks of moderation as being a healthy thing when it comes to certain areas of diet or exercising religious liberties. But when the word moderate is used as an excuse not to take a stand on an issue in order not to offend someone who is more conservative or liberal on the same issue, we need to be reminded of the many biblical admonitions to have convictions and standards. I would not want to use the concept of moderation to excuse the lukewarm condition Jesus rebuked in Revelation 3:16!

What’s my point? In today’s world we must do more than embrace labels or judge others by the labels they embrace. We need to find out what they mean by these terms, if they even know for themselves. And we need to clearly articulate what we mean when using the same terms… as I’ve tried to do here. I sure hope it helps!

Five Lessons I Learned from the Life and Ministry of Billy Graham

A flood of mixed emotions came to me Wednesday morning when I received the news of the home-going of Rev. Billy Graham. I was overjoyed to think of him in the presence of our Lord. I was saddened to think of our world, for the first time in my lifetime, without him in it. Our hope is always in Christ, not in a mere mortal. However, Billy Graham communicated that hope to more people than ever before.

While I, and most of you, could write a book (as many have) on the influence of Billy Graham’s life on each of us personally, I will take time instead to share 5 lessons that were driven to the heart of this pastor by observing the life and ministry of Billy Graham.

  1. Be Resolved in Your Conviction of Scripture and The Gospel. Billy Graham’s tree stump confession represents a crisis point that every preacher and believer should experience. “The Bible says” is a phrase that echoed through every sermon. May we be convinced of the authority of God’s Word and never be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:16)
  2. Be a Man of Integrity. Spiritual Leaders are to be blameless (1 Tim. 3:2). In the early years of my calling the word televangelist became a punchline as people began to lose faith in spiritual leaders. The commitment of Billy Graham and his team to be accountable and avoid scandal, especially in the areas of money and women, made this man a bright light in the darkness! The Gospel of Grace was never used as a license for sin.
  3. Be Driven by a Biblical Mission and Vision. Preaching the Gospel to all nations was his call, and he avoided being side-tracked. Even his political ties were leveraged to open doors to share the gospel in places closed to many others at the time. May we know our calling, and may we be empowered to remain focused on doing what God called us to do.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid of Ingenuity. Media can be used for evil or good. Billy Graham used it for the sake of the gospel. While many preachers cursed the evil of a television set in every home (and the potential for evil was real), Billy Graham saw the opportunity to preach Christ in every home. While he preached to hundreds of millions of people in person, he likely connected with close to a billion people through TV and radio. In the same way we must avoid the evils of social media and other channels of communication while saturating these same streams of information with good news.
  5. Be Gripped by Christ-centered Compassion. Billy Graham was a gentle giant. Like Jesus, he saw the masses and felt compassion for them (Matthew 9:35-38). He stood against racism and communism in places and times that his stand was not popular. He loved all people. He was willing to meet and pray with political leaders, with whom he disagreed theologically, in their times of brokenness. After the 911 attacks I remember how comforting it felt to hear from “our pastor”, America’s pastor, as he spoke to the nation from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

So many more thoughts and memories will come to our minds over the next several days as we remember this man of God. Please take a moment to share your thoughts with me and others.

There will never be another Billy Graham. But as we live the Gospel he proclaimed, his mantle is passed on to many!

Standing in Agreement When We Disagree on So Much

Endorsing or standing in agreement with people of influence, when we do agree, doesn’t mean that we endorse everything about that person’s beliefs or character.

Can I confess a great struggle to you? This is a subject that I am learning to navigate my way through, both spiritually and intellectually, with more grace as I get older. Its the struggle of applying Romans 12:18 and “as much as depends on [me], live at peace with all men.”

I am speaking primarily of the ability and need to stand in agreement with those with whom I find so much to disagree on.

There seem to be a couple of extremes to approaching this subject. The sanctification of the church and the defense of the faith says, “Come out from among them and be separate!” (2 Cor. 6:17) And often the “them” I speak of are folks with whom I disagree on many things. But not necessarily everything. At other times I find myself in strong disagreement with “them” that are a part of the church. So I want to be clear where I stand by whom I identify with.

On the other hand, Romans 13 suggests that even pagan governments can stand for what is good at times, in which case I should support them and cooperate with them unless their statutes are clearly contrary to God’s Word (Acts 5:28-29). We are also warned that there should not be factions within the church (1 Cor. 1:10-13).

When you consider the whole of Scripture, we should come to a place where we stand in agreement in areas where we find agreement, but clearly communicate where there is disagreement on things that are sacred and of utmost importance. No need to sweat the small stuff and make a big deal of little things… which is another discussion all together.

So let me give you a few areas where I have to address this issue with wisdom, grace, and (hopefully) maturity.

The Sanctity of Human Life. While I have significant theological disagreements with Mother Theresa, I know she was one of the greatest advocates ever for the unborn. I stand with many Roman Catholics on this issue of abortion, but reserve the freedom to disagree with their understanding of the sacraments, prayers to saints, and other beliefs that I perceive as extra-biblical.

While on the subject of the sanctity of human life, we must not neglect the speaking out against racism. As with Mother Theresa, I also have theological disagreements with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but I can stand in agreement with powerful and truthful statements against discrimination.

Endorsing or standing in agreement with people of influence, when we do agree, doesn’t mean that we endorse everything about that person’s beliefs or character. For we all have flaws.

Speaking of that, is there a more polarizing subject than President Donald Trump? If I agree with a statement he makes on religious freedom, the economy, or the sanctity of life it doesn’t mean I endorse everything he says or does. I can vocally disagree, and have, with many other statements he has made as well as language he has used. Discerning people commend that which is good and reject that which is vulgar.

I can’t recall a president in my lifetime with whom I agreed with on every issue. My support of George W. Bush did not prevent me from warning people of the dangers of the strings attached to some of his faith-based initiatives.

It seems that with famous people, you are supposed to love all they represented or reject them completely. I don’t get that. Only Jesus was perfect all of the time!

What about various denominations of the Christian faith? I am not one of these pastors who believe the very existence of denominations is evil, anymore than Israel having various tribes or Sunday School programs having a way of organizing people according to age or subject matter would be considered evil.

Denominationalism, or the worship of a denomination, on the other hand is a problem. But when we realize that our denomination is not the equivalent to the Kingdom of God (I hear a Baptist gasping, “It’s Not?”), denominations can actually promote unity by keeping us from arguing over many secondary issues while we unite for missions, evangelism, and theological training.

Therefore, when we a major on the majors with other denominations, we need to lock arms with them and stand in agreement for the sake of God’s glory and His church. I have dear friends from a variety of denominations, including that denomination of non-denomination, who agree with men on things like:

  1. The authority of the Bible.
  2. The virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, literal resurrection. and certain return of Jesus Christ.
  3. The Holy Trinity.
  4. The exclusivity of the Gospel.
  5. Our call to win the world to Christ.

Certainly many denominations are forsaking these convictions. But with those who haven’t we can and we must stand together in agreement on such convictions. Even then, however, I reserve the right to disagree with them on polity, hermeneutics, and strategies for which I personally find it difficult to support with Scripture. Perhaps that is why you attend the church you attend. Interestingly, there are more Southern Baptist churches than of any other evangelical denomination. Yet you are not likely to find two of them very much alike in style and structure in a given geographical area.

One more popular conversation in this area has to do with church music. I recently read a post about old hymns that we sing which we “didn’t realize had bad theology.” I agreed with some of the observations, and disagreed with others. But I had a problem throwing out solid songs with good lyrics even when the author had been exposed to bad theological foundations.

As theology professors have often said, “All truth is God’s truth wherever it may be found.” If I were to go all David Koresh or Jim Jones in the future, it wouldn’t make the truth I have proclaimed in the past any less true.

In the same way, there are modern worship movements whose theological foundations I question. But as the old adage goes, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.” Occasionally a powerful and truthful song (sometimes even the simple recitation of Scripture and creeds) comes out of a movement that embraces some things with which I disagree. If they proclaim “Christ is risen” while asserting some weird stuff in other songs and sermons, we do not have to avoid singing “Christ is risen!” Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Bottom line? Use discernment. Learn to stand in agreement when you agree. Don’t interpret one’s agreement with someone else on an issue as a total endorsement of all they stand for.

If various denominations and political parties can gather in a stadium to cheer on the same football team, surely we can stand together on a few other things of greater relevance.

 

For God So Loved

I am sure that children all over the nation have enjoyed wearing the new off the gifts they opened on Christmas Day. I remember the excitement of those most anticipated presents – bicycles, electric racetracks, or a set of walkie talkies. I couldn’t wait to open the gifts and play with them from sunrise to sunset until school started back.

The fact that the joy brought by those gifts seems short-lived serves as a reminder that there is only one truly great gift given at Christmas that lasts forever in the lives of those who will receive it. I should say “receive Him.” The gift of Jesus was the greatest gift of love ever given!

During the 2017 Advent Season the Trinity family focused on the hope, peace, and joy that is only found in Christ. Then we closed out the season by taking a closer look, perhaps a refreshing new look, at John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This one verse teaches us so much that our world needs to know about real love. Take a closer look with me! Be reminded of the simple and profound truths.

  1. The Source of Love is God Himself! For God so loved. Agape (selfless, self-sacrificing, unconditional love) flows from the very character and nature of God. He is Love. “For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God… for God is love!” (1 John 4:7-8)

So many of God’s communicable attributes (relational in nature) flow from this perfect quality of love. Out of His love we experience His grace, mercy, faithfulness, and even His righteous jealousy. This kind of love can’t be generated by mere mortals! We can only be a channel of His love as we open our lives to it and allow it to flow through us into this world.

It is impossible to give and receive love, this kind of love, apart from a relationship with the personification of love, Jesus Christ himself.

  1. The Scope of Love is the Whole World. For God so loved THE WORLD. We have to be careful of a couple areas of interpretation and application at this point.

First, “the world” does not refer to the worldly system or the material aspects of the world. This same Gospel writer would late warn in his first epistle that we not to love the world or the things in the world characterized by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Second, the fact that God loves all the people in the world does not mean that everyone will receive and respond to His love with faith and repentance. Universal love does not equal universal-ism and salvation for all. Though the scope of his love is broad, John 1:12 reminds us that only those who receive him are given the right to be called the children of God.

  1. The Sacrifice of Love is the Gift of God’s Son. For God so loved that HE GAVE! Yes, God gave His only Son is a reference to that first Advent. And the first Advent of Christ included much more than the incarnation.

Let us not neglect the context of John 3:16. Jesus was having a conversation with Nicodemus about being “born again” and seeing the kingdom of God. In this context Jesus explained that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” (John 3:14)

The lifting up that Jesus was speaking of was a clear reference to his death on a cross. Just as the Israelites had to look at the bronze serpent in faith for their healing in Numbers 21, we must look to the Cross of Christ in faith for our salvation.

Jesus was born for a cross! And His cross would be the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen. While many have died saving others (John 15:13), no one else has ever become sin for us and died in our place while we were still sinners! Nor could anyone else! (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10, 2 Corinthians 5:21)

  1. The Saving Power of Love is Experienced through Faith!

“Whosoever believes” implies that, though not automatic, forgiveness is available for all! But it must be received by faith. Biblical faith is a repentant faith, turning from sin and self to place our complete trust in the atoning death of Christ who rose, ascended, and sent His Spirit to take up residence in the life of believers. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 8:9)

The saving power of this love rescues us from death, for we “shall not perish!” This is speaking of the second death, an eternal spiritual death and separation from the loving presence of God. (Revelation 21:8) Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus that if you are born once, you will die twice. But if you are born twice, physically as well as born of the Spirit, you will only die once. The believer will never experience the second death!

Love is pictured in sacrifice, but perpetuated through a relationship. And God sent His Son so that you might have life in His Name and enjoy living in fellowship with Him forever!

As the late hymn writer, James McConnell put it…

Oh, what wonderful love, oh, what grace divine,
That Jesus should die for me;
I was lost in sin, for the world I pined,
But now I am set free.
Whosoever surely meaneth me,
Surely meaneth me, oh, surely meaneth me;
Whosoever surely meaneth me,
Whosoever meaneth me.

Seasoned Words

There has been a lot of talk about free speech over the weekend. Whether referencing the protests of a large number of NFL players or the comments of the president of the United States, our nation has once again proven to be very polarized. And while arguments abound, Christians will seek to find a biblical balance in areas of patriotism, respect for all, empathy, compassion, understanding, and common sense.

I thank God for the freedoms we enjoy, especially the freedom of speech and expression. I disagree with the logic of appearing to protest what is good and wholesome when one has issues with other areas of concern.  I question the wisdom and strategy of offending those who have fought and lost comrades so that we can enjoy the freedom of speech. Surely there is an approach that unites us rather than further dividing us.

But that is not the point of this post. There is another issue for Christians, regardless of the side we take on issues.

The TONE of our speech and the language we use are just as important as the issues we address.

Consider these commands from Scripture:

Your speech should always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 HCSB)

Grace is unmerited favor. Salt speaks of palatable influence. We should address those with whom we disagree with a gracious tone, better than we think they deserve. And then we should add some salt (palatable influence) to our words with the desire to be winsome even when speaking a word of confrontation and conviction.

Grace. Better than they deserve. ALWAYS. Wow! Whether you are speaking about the president or speaking as the president, that is God’s standard. This means genuine Christ-followers will often have to take a higher road than either side in many arguments… by seeking to change the tone of the conversation.

I feel certain that all kinds of foul language and malicious tones will be used to describe the president of the United States. And, without a doubt, President Trump will continue to use language and tones that I would have spanked my kids for using. The world we live in is quite, well, worldly.

But dear friends and fellow believers, as we seek to find the biblical balance on so many hot topics at hand let us no forget the warning from our Lord:

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36 HCSB)

 

Supreme Court Vetting and Biblical Hermeneutics

We need a generation of preachers who will study, interpret, proclaim, and apply the Holy Scriptures without trying to change their meaning in order to make them more acceptable.

President Donald Trump has made his first nomination to SCOTUS. You can be sure that Judge Neil Gorsuch has already endured a certain amount of vetting by the president’s staff. But this is likely nothing compared to the questioning he will endure from the members of congress.

Why the process? Why such interrogation? Obviously this is an important step in confirming someone to become a LIFETIME member of the highest court in the land, which could result in this individual being involved in more significant decisions than any 2-term president.

The purpose of the process can be two-fold. The early vetting should reveal certain philosophical foundations regarding the Constitution of the United States. Is this individual a strict constructionist or does he lean toward judicial activism? Of course a loose constructionist would never embrace the title of “judicial activist.”

A strict constructionist will embrace the responsibility to interpret and apply the law according to the language and intended meaning of the authors. If the Constitution needs to be changed, it’s not up to the judge to reinterpret it to make it more palatable or relevant. That is the job of Congress. Congress makes and amends the law, even the Constitution when necessary. Judicial activists, though using refreshing terms and phrases like “progressive” and “the Constitution is a living document”, ultimately usurp the role of lawmakers and defy the wisdom in our system of checks and balances. A loose constructionist approach turns the Supreme Court into an oligarchy. In this case there is no need for Congress to make, amend, or repeal laws. The interpretation of such laws would become so unpredictable and inconsistent that language would be meaningless and the nation would be left to the whims of this nine member ruling body.

If a nominee gives all evidence that he or she is a strict constructionist conservatives could assume that there needs to be no vetting process, right? I mean it doesn’t matter what they believe, or feel, or think about any given issue. After all, they only have to concern themselves with the language and intent of the lawmakers and the Constitution. But it isn’t quite that easy, is it?

Nominees are, and should be, further vetted and interrogated because we don’t really trust people to be objective. And we dig for all the evidence we can find to prove that someone we disagree with can’t be trusted to be objective. Did you notice the NCAA Football National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson had a Big 12 Conference officiating crew, not a crew from the ACC or SEC. Why was that? The officials do not play the game do they? They just enforce the rules. Can they not be objective regardless of conference? Who knows? How can we be sure?

Bottom line: As difficult as it may seem, I believe we need justices who do not overstep their responsibility by becoming an activist to promote a personal or partisan agenda. While he or she may be aware of his or her own biases, they should lay those aside, interpret the law, and rule as objectively as they can on the decision before them. Leave the writing and passing of law, including amendments to the US Constitution, to congress.

What does this have to do with biblical hermeneutics? Everything! Theological progressives, much like political progressives, treat the Bible the same way an activist judge handles the Constitution. They often ignore the language and intended meaning of the authors, as well as the Divine Author, in order to make it more palatable or relevant.

We have often programmed people to think this way, even in Bible-believing evangelical churches. We open our Bibles to a text and go from person to person asking, “What does this mean to you?” While there are many applications of a given text, such a question can imply that the Bible is open to any interpretation you like.

Peter reminds us, however, that “no prophecy of the scripture is of one’s own interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20) If we can’t assume that the Bible is God’s communication and revelation of Himself to us, then it is pretty much a meaningless collection of man’s ideas. The doctrine of inspiration reminds us that the Bible was given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as its human authors were literally “carried along” by the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16 & 2 Peter 1:21). This is a supernatural work!

So while the Bible contains the words of men who were writing from personal experiences, various backgrounds, and with differing objectives, Scripture still ultimately “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter (BF&M 2000).” 

Good hermeneutics concerns itself with exposition which is informed by the careful exegesis of a text which asks, “What is the author’s intended meaning?” Or as my former preaching professor, Dr. Wayne McDill, often repeated, “A text can’t mean what it never meant!” Like a justice of the Supreme Court with the Constitution, preachers of the Gospel are to concern themselves with the simple explanation and proclamation of what the Bible says.  In other words, we should be strict constructionists when it comes to the Bible.

In addition, Bible teachers and preachers should put themselves through a bit of a vetting process even if they are strict constructionists, uh… I mean biblical inerrantists. We all have agendas, passions, preconceived notions, frustrations, hurts, and experiences that can cause us to read something into a text that simply isn’t there. We can twist and manipulate a text while forcing it to suit OUR purposes. That’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to give diligence as an approved workman who correctly handles the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Bottom line (of greater importance than the aforementioned “bottom line”): We need a generation of preachers who will study, interpret, proclaim, and apply the Holy Scriptures without trying to change the original meaning in order to make it more acceptable. We must resist the temptation to make the Bible more acceptable to culture, and return to lovingly engaging and confronting culture with the unchanging truths of Scripture.

When we compromise the Word of God, we compromise the very power that brings the redemptive change that our world and every human soul so desperately need. May Romans 1:16 and Hebrews 4:12 take hold of the heart of every Christian preacher, teacher, and witness. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel for it truly is the power of God unto salvation, as we demonstrate that the Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword!