Independent Thinkers. I love them! I am one of them. I encourage them.
But I also want to speak a word of warning: Embrace the journey of an independent thinker with grace and humility.
“There is no new thing under the sun.” -Eccl. 1:9
What is my concern is for so many of us independent thinkers? It’s that we avoid arrogance! A sacred desire to be different for righteousness sake can sometimes be a disguise for being different for difference sake. The latter can lead to an isolationists mentality robbing an individual of one of their greatest needs, relationships.
To the high school seniors about to enter college: Be an independent thinker. That state university philosophy professor is going to throw a lot at you. As will the science and English departments. And let’s not forget the students and peers who will want you to scrap your moral convictions. You might be tempted to say, “Wow my parents and that country preacher never thought of these enlightened challenges to the faith.”
Truth is our minds have traveled those roads: The generation before you were the first to question everything. Some rationalized away their faith. Others kept digging until they found answers. Just know that there are folks with more education, secular and religious, than that professor you have who do find solid footing in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And, by the way, you might be shocked to know how many philosophies of this world that country preacher had to grapple with along the way.
Think with grace and humility.
To the young adult millennial who has seen the hypocrisy in the church or assumed a blind and shallow allegiance by the faithful. You might be tempted to think that you’ve discovered a new way of looking at things in order to reject everything about the current structures of our worship, faith and practice.
Truth is our minds have traveled those roads. There is now a generation of midlife believers who didn’t settle for a “well that’s just the way things are supposed to be” answer. We grappled with sources of truth. We explored the various components of religious structures, biblical interpretations, denominations, and various factions of Christianity, and we listened to those who would deconstruct every aspect of our way of thinking. Some slipped into isolationism, others dug deeper until they found answers as to why we still hold fast to the core elements of a biblical corporate faith experience.
Think with grace and humility.
To the midlifer who DID NOT actually grapple with all these challenges: You woke up one morning not knowing why you’ve lived a certain way. Your kids are grown now, and you were “doing church” and holding the marriage together for them. And now your mind is wondering what you’ve missed out on. Do you really assume the godly Christian scholars, pastors, and revivalists of the revolutions, reformations, and awakenings didn’t mentally attack these challenges?
Truth is our minds have traveled these roads. Some, even vocational ministers, walked away from the church (and at times their families) while spiritualizing a midlife crisis. Others dug deeper, and their roots have tapped into the True Vine in ways they never imagined. They have become leaders in the Body, not for political clout but motivated by genuine John 15 love.
May we think with grace and humility.
Finally, to the senior adult who has found more time to think in the fourth quarter of life: You feel that you have served your time, that the church is not so much for you anymore, or that your maturity and experience has brought you to a place of spiritual retirement and permanent retreat. You aren’t even so sure you were right all of those years.
Truth is the Bible is full of examples of those whose best works for God took place in their old age. Their minds had traveled these roads. A few did not finish well. But Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Simeon, and many more saw God’s glory in the most magnificent ways in their latter days. Stay in the fight.
Think with grace and humility.
The good thing about independent thinkers is that we are not satisfied with the status quo, nor are we comfortable just going along for the ride. But if we aren’t careful, we will arrogantly assume that we must be pretty smart since we are thinking of things that no one else (at least no one around us) has ever thought of.
Humility says, “Check your motives.” Perhaps God is illuminating His Word to help us grasp something many have overlooked; in which case it will take grace and humility to engage others that need to be awakened to this truth. But, perhaps our flesh has desires for which our faith has not previously made allowances. In this case, we could be subconsciously using our abilities as an independent thinker to reconstruct (or deconstruct) our faith. All the while we are thinking of ourselves as spiritual revolutionaries going where others have been hesitant to go, we could actually be guilty of a blind iconoclasm making an excuse to neglect what our flesh rejects and embrace what our flesh desires.
I grew up attending a small, rural Southern Baptist Church in northeast GA in the 1970’s. The pastor faithfully presented the Gospel week after week, calling for a response. It was at a Baptist summer camp that the local Baptist association sponsored that I first placed my trust in Jesus Christ. I later joined a Baptist church plant in the same county, and my passion for discipleship and spiritual growth was wonderfully fueled during my teen years.
I attended a Bailey Smith (a Southern Baptist evangelist and former SBC president) Real Evangelism Conference at age 19. There, after hearing from pastors like Adrian Rogers and Junior Hill, I sensed the Lord confirming my calling to the Gospel Ministry. After graduating from Emmanuel College, a Pentecostal Holiness school, I attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. in pursuit of my M. Div. as the school was finally feeling the impact of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.
I have served in student/associate ministry in three SBC churches. For the past twenty-one years I have served as lead pastor of the aforementioned church that fueled my passion for discipleship. So, I have been immersed, but not untested, in Southern Baptist life for half a century.
What is the SBC and How Does It Work?
If you are not familiar with Southern Baptist life, you might not be aware of a few things. For instance, Southern Baptists are a group of autonomous churches that share certain core beliefs and cooperate in missions, evangelism, church planting, and Christian education for ministry leadership and a growing number of other fields. This autonomy means that resolutions from the annual meeting of messengers are nonbinding. It also means there is no organizational hierarchy that can tell a local church what they can or cannot do.
You might wonder why you hear about churches being disfellowshipped or “kicked out” of the denomination if the denomination has no authority. This happens when a cooperating church does something pretty egregious, by majority consensus, like approving the ordination of homosexuals, approving gay marriage, tolerating blatant racism, or allowing a sexual predator to serve in ministry leadership. While the denomination has no legal authority in the life of the local church, the messengers at the annual convention can call them to repentance and ultimately cut ties. Basically, they send back the check that makes them a cooperating church thus removing the rights and privileges that come with such cooperation along with the ability to send messengers to the convention.
Since cooperating Southern Baptists put a significant amount of their dollars in the same pot, known as the Cooperative Program, to fund national and state entities like our Baptist colleges and seminaries, the International Mission Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, the North American Mission Board, our publishing interests like Lifeway, and the administrative machinery to keep it all connected, we have an annual meeting to report and affirm decisions on how it will all operate. Leaders are elected, agencies report, budgets are approved, strategies are affirmed, and trustees are put in place.
The Conservative Resurgence
By the 1960’s the influence of the Enlightenment Period was greatly impacting Christian institutions of higher learning. Schools all across America that had been established to train pastors and missionaries and propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ were suddenly destroying the very Word of God they were established to defend. Every mainline denomination was on a slippery slope of theological liberalism, promoting religious existentialism, and denying verbal-plenary inspiration of the Bible – that it is God’s Word from cover to cover. This drift would begin to impact the local church as pastors trained in these institutions began to fill pulpits across America.
Southern Baptists were not exempt, but their autonomy led to a couple different reactions in the 1970’s. One group, having nothing to lose, simply pulled out and became known as Independent Baptists. While they feared that the cooperative program ties made a church less autonomous, independent Baptist mission agencies sprang up everywhere. Many independent and Southern Baptists still “cooperate” to keep these agencies running. Our church supports both SBC causes, independent missionaries, and parachurch missions like Cru.
Another group decided to stay in and fight for the denomination and its institutions and entities. This became know as “The Battle for the Bible”, “The Conservative Resurgence”, or “The Fundamentalist Takeover” (as described by the more moderate and liberal crowd). The nature and authority of Scripture was the central issue of this struggle.
How did the world’s largest non-Catholic denomination turn the ship around? It was through the annual meeting. Well, through many annual meetings. I won’t go into all the juicy details, arguments, and highlights, but there was a process that allowed for a grass roots movement to change everything.
Here is the short version: Conservative pastors and leaders rallied to communicate the theological drift and its dangers and encourage churches to send messengers to the annual meeting. This was quite a challenge before the invention of the internet. Thanks to a grassroots movement, in 1979 a strong conservative, Adrian Rogers, was elected president of the convention. Per SBC bylaws the president appoints the committee on committees. This committee appoints various committee members including the committee on nominations. The committee on nominations recommends the next slate of trustees for mission boards and seminaries. Trustees hire presidents. Presidents hire faculty and staff. Faculty teaches the next slate of pastors and missionaries who influence the church and mission field. After about 12 years of conservative presidents and the rotating in and out of trustees, the denomination was overwhelmingly conservative, the only mainline denomination to reverse course from the slippery slope of liberalism.
Forgive the oversimplification of that process. It also happened simultaneously, or a few years behind, on a state convention level for many Baptist State Conventions. The battle was ugly at times, but members felt that the Bible was a hill on which to die. And the wise realize eternal vigilance is not only the price of victory, it is the price of defending sound doctrine.
The Past 30 Years
I attended my first Southern Baptist Convention thirty years ago in Atlanta. There was finally a feeling at that time that those who would support a more liberal theological agenda were giving up and stepping aside. I would continue to attend the annual meeting through seminary, where I would have the opportunity to serve as a page and monitor a microphone. I’ve been in a hotel room prayer meeting with a nominee who became president, and I’ve been in a preconvention meeting with a nominee who surprisingly did not win. I was there for the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. I was there when the architects of the conservative resurgence saw their nominees defeated by other conservatives who did not emerge from the chief influencers of the resurgence. I was there with my family when Fred Luter became the first African-American president of the convention by acclamation.
You see, the annual meeting is quite a remarkable feat. It is the largest open business meeting in the world allowing every messenger access to be heard from the floor, an exciting test of parliamentary procedure. Any messenger from a cooperating church can bring a motion, offer a resolution, move to amend the annual budget, recommend a substitution for a trusteeship, or ask that the thermostat be lowered for the AC in the convention hall. Seriously, that last one happened this year. The fact that so much gets accomplished is nothing short of a miracle! Every denominational family has their crazy uncles, but we just have an easier way for them to be heard. That’s why you can’t pay much attention to media reports on the annual meeting. Anyone can bring up anything. Statesmanship and a gracious tone by the one presiding plus a host of the world’s best parliamentarians are absolutely essential to keep things moving orderly.
On the downside, some people (both locally and nationally) are always looking for controversy or a fight. So, when the more moderate and liberal Baptists quit attending the convention, especially after the passing of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, we found other things to argue about and disagree over.
Over the past couple of decades we have seen rifts over contemporary versus traditional worship styles, reformed versus nonreformed soteriology, politics (most recently the Trump supporters versus the Never-Trumpers), boundaries for cultural engagement, and changing the name of the denomination to Great Commission Baptists. But you can’t simply classify Baptists in one of two camps. It is much more complicated than that. For example, a south Georgia Calvinist who supported Trump might align politically with the southwest nonreformed crowd that he was previously arguing with over soteriology before the most recent election issues came to the forefront, because the east coast reformed crowd seem to be opposed to Trump, at least the first time he ran. Its all fluid. And reformed churches might argue among themselves over traditional versus contemporary worship styles while the nonreformed churches have the same arguments. With 50,000 churches there aren’t two sides to issues, there are dozens of sometimes overlapping subcultures. See the miracle of our cooperation?
Then why do I remain in the SBC and lead my church to stay connected if our polity lends itself to controversy? First, I do agree with our theological statement known as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. While we are not necessarily known as a “creedal people”, I believe it is the best and most biblical summary of the primary beliefs that we should rally around to fulfill the Great Commission as a team.
Second, I believe the cooperative program, our system for giving and supporting these causes, is a God thing. Other denominations try to emulate it because of its success. The Cooperative Program allows us to offer first class training at some of the world’s largest seminaries, train and send one of the largest missionary forces and keep them on the field, and support strategic church plants in cities across North America.
Third, I believe our missions agencies and mission strategy are second to none. Not perfect. Always in need of accountability and local support. But the potential is unparalleled, and I want to be a part of influencing that potential for the glory of God.
Finally, and more subjectively, I feel indebted. I am a product of many of the things we do right and well. So, I want to see those things grow and continue. I want to see the world’s largest non-Catholic denomination survive and thrive and continue to grow into a people doing greater things than ever for the glory of God. And I believe that a certain amount of the friction, though not all, is iron sharpening iron.
The 2021 Meeting in Nashville and the SBC Today
Here is what most of you clicked to see. Let me share my reactions and concerns based on my experience at the annual meeting this year:
I am hopeful because of the number of church plants taking place, 8000 new church starts in North America in the past decade! More than ever new church starts are surviving their first decade and becoming vibrant and self-supporting. By 2030 one-third of SBC churches will have started after 2010. Obviously this speaks of the need for revitalization work in established churches, but I pray that the new churches in new places will be fruitful.
I am hopeful because of the number of young people I saw at the convention. This did not look like an irrelevant crowd. I may not agree with them all. I may get tickled at the Spurgeon beards, llama haircuts, and skinny jeans, but I was glad to see the convention hall full of people younger than me with a passion for the Great Commission. And while I am not one to pursue political correctness, my missional heart was grateful to see the ethnic diversity among the young!
I am grateful for the spirit and tone of the majority of 17,000 messengers. We all got on our knees and prayed together. We laughed together. We cried together. I realize that the pursuit of unity should never replace the commitment to doctrinal integrity. But dry orthodoxy without a genuine love and contagious fellowship isn’t winning anyone either.
I have a love and appreciation for those who fall into various subgroups with differing priorities and agendas. I am not hesitant to share my opinion, but I refuse to be divided by strategy and policy opinions. I also refuse to fall into what Dr. Johnny Hunt once referenced as the fear of “guilt by association” trap. I can partner with the various subgroups with whom I disagree on some issues to pursue those things that are primary. In fact, I even believe in doing this across denominational lines when opportunities arise to biblically stand together on common passions and missions. Just think how many you join forces with when you stand for the sanctity of human life. The body of Christ is much bigger than the SBC, and certainly much bigger than any subgroup of the SBC.
I am discouraged by how some of these subgroups caricature one another. Hyperbole is not helpful in serious and warranted debate. For instance, in the current debate on Critical Race Theory, there are significant differences in passionately held convictions. Those who want to call CRT what it is, name it specifically in a resolution, go on record and argue for the sufficiency of the Gospel in fighting racism ARE NOT LEGALISTS! They see a threat to the Gospel and want to go on record for calling it what it is. And contrary to the statements of some, many of those who discuss their concerns over the rising influence of CRT DO get much more fired up about sharing the Gospel that they are defending. This is not legalism. It’s not adding to or distorting the Gospel. On the other hand, those who verbally denounced CRT but refused to put the words “Critical Race Theory” in a resolution that denounced all such theories in general terms ARE NOT NECESSARILY LIBERAL. The theological liberalism we battled 40 years ago denied the authority of Scripture placing question marks on things like the creation account, the miracles of the Bible, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, and the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not happening among leaders in the SBC today. Personally, I believe the unwillingness to use specific language is a sincere attempt to hopefully win and influence more minorities. I also believe this is a mistake that can lead member churches to assume it’s okay to place a cultural lens over the Word of God, thus skewing the meaning. So, while I don’t think some of these leaders who refused to be so specific are liberal, I do feel that they fail to realize that this could lead to a pragmatic liberalism in some SBC churches that consider themselves conservative. I pray that we find an Acts 17 Paul at Mars Hill type balance of carefully navigated, but uncompromisingly clear, communication of the Gospel and confrontation of dangers of bluntly named false ideologies. Note: Leaders on both sides of this repeatedly, verbally acknowledged their rejection of CRT, even JD Greear and Danny Akin. But the resolutions committee, led by a persuasive and very respected Georgia Baptist pastor, convinced the majority that the general language of the resolution condemning all such theories was better than specifically naming CRT. I disagree. But my disagreement with someone for what I believe is a weak or even spiritually compromising strategy does not make them a theological liberal.
I am brokenhearted over issues and accusations of sex abuse in SBC life, but greatly encouraged by our response to it… calling it what it is and making it clear that there is no place for sex offenders in ministry leadership. While there were certain situations still being looked into, everyone seemed to try and outdo each other on the importance of fighting sex abuse. Much of this discussion was launched by an investigative article by the Houston Chronicle a couple of years ago that pointed out Baptists had been relatively unheard from concerning some 700 plus allegations of sex abuse by some 380 perpetrators over the previous 20 years. These perpetrators were pastors, deacons, church staff, church volunteers, SBC entity employees, and others. While just one case merits a response and clear statement from the convention, you might be interested to know that that is 380 of a potential 3.8 million (or 1 in 10,000) that fill those various roles in our SBC churches and entities when volunteers are included (and they were). That is still way too many, but by comparison the scandal that rocked the Catholic church was reported to find that 5,000 of 500,000 (or 1 in 100) priests were guilty of sexual misconduct. Again, there must be zero tolerance here. Measures must be put in place to stop such abuse and hold abusers accountable. But, considering the fact that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males in America have been abused, the 380 alleged perpetrators out of the millions who serve in our local churches means some of our churches have failed. But it also means that many are doing a great job of putting safe ministry measures in place. May we increase in vigilance here.
You had to be there! Praying, worshipping, and even listening together, face to face, brings a different tone than armchair quarterbacking through social media and backroom political strategizing. Even if you disagree with someone passionately, getting together with them is more fruitful than tweeting about them. While some messengers spend the majority of their time hanging with old friends in the exhibit hall or local restaurants (a little of that is healthy), and some are so engrossed in committee meetings or gatherings of the various subgroups (9 Marks, Conservative Baptist Network, etc.) that they miss much of the positive reporting, this year the convention hall stayed relatively full of people disagreeing on some strategy, some language, and some personnel, but united in spirit around a common mission. Everyone there believed the world needs Jesus and that we must step up our efforts to reach them.
Where do we go from here?
The cool thing about autonomy and cooperation, trademarks of the SBC, is that you can be a part of something bigger while making your world smaller and simpler. Trinity will give our record amount to the Cooperative Program this year. Additionally, we will likely give more designated to the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board through the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings than any year since I’ve been at Trinity. And we are praying and believing that with God’s help and your faithfulness that we will reach and baptize a record number of new believers. Trinity is unique, and we don’t have to worry about being forced into a box by any of the subgroups of the SBC. I have no aspirations that would lead me to play denominational politics, and that is liberating.
So we will continue to be who God has called us to be. We will continue to stand on the authority of His Word with total dependence on His Holy Spirit to do the work he’s called us to do. We will also continue to keep an eye on our investments. Now that the “cards are on the table” we will keep an eye on entities and agencies that we support and join forces to fight theological heresy, sexual misconduct, institutional adaptations of ideologies that contradict or pervert the Gospel, and evangelistic lethargy.
There are no guarantees that the SBC will last forever. I will avoid hyperbole like referencing the “implosion of the denomination.” Numbers are down for a number of reasons. The world is getting more difficult to reach as people grow up without religious background. Many have lost evangelistic fervor in many places. Its not just megachurches baptizing 300 each year instead of 500, its thousands of small churches baptizing 0 instead of 2 or 3 or 5. Denominational loyalty, across all denominations, is simply not a value to most millennials creating a new type of independent church. So, all Baptist fruit isn’t Baptist. And technology has allowed many churches to get honest about their numbers, cleansing the rolls a bit. Other SBC churches are failing to do their annual church profiles, reporting absolutely nothing to the denomination. If various conservative subgroups branch out and start new denominations, our sovereign God can use that for His glory.
Meanwhile, I commit myself to be an expository preacher of the Word of God, to lead as one led by the Spirit and the Word, to cooperate wherever possible with whomever possible (inside and outside the SBC) without compromising the Scriptures to reach as many as possible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
I remember being on vacation at Oak Island, NC with you both, a toddler and a 4 year old, on September 11 of 2001. That’s the day that our nation was rocked like never before in my lifetime. We watched in awe as the Towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and terrorism left its ugly mark on our land and on our souls. Oh, but you were so young, and we shielded you as much as possible. But you would grow up in world that was different from the world in which I had spent my first thirty-one years. At least in the USA. We had been victims of terrorism, but never-before like this. The world was different.
Though thousands lost their lives that day, and thousands more since then by fighting the war on terrorism, this nation bounced back. And from the day President Bush stood on a pile of debris at ground zero and promised that the world would hear from us, I had no doubt that America would rise quickly. And we did!
In fact, the past two decades have been filled with life, love, joy, challenges, and opportunities. You have grown up watching the political pendulum swing back and forth in prototypical American fashion. You have seen a resurgence in appreciation of the military. You have been a part of a family that values and passionately celebrates faith in God. You have said good-bye to dear friends and family members who are with Jesus now, some leaving us too soon. And you have LIVED!! You have embraced life’s hurts and blessings knowing ultimately that there is a Sovereign God who is the giver of life, and that He has blessed, and often judged, his people and the land in which you have lived.
So here we are at the beginning of a new decade. And suddenly, like in 2001, the world is not the same anymore. This time the attack didn’t happen in a manner of minutes. The COVID-19 Pandemic didn’t happen suddenly by surprise. It hasn’t been like a fatal car accident or a fatal heart attack. It has been more like the cancers that have taken from us so many we love. We saw it coming a couple months out, prayed for the impact not to be so severe, and realized how fragile life is this side of heaven.
Well, what does a father say to his college age children at a time like this?
First, don’t quit believing in a Sovereign God. We are talking a lot about the mortality rate these days. I promise you this: Jesus Christ is alive forevermore! And those who know Him have nothing to fear. For we will live forever with him. For the believer, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). While a healthy respect for this virus is warranted, I am saddened to see so many believers trembling in fear for their lives.
Unfortunately, though, the mortality rate for the human race is 100%. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgement (Heb. 9:27).” I know we aren’t hoping to go to heaven on the next load, but life is a vapor compared to eternity. So always live as a pilgrim here, always on mission, holding on loosely to things of this world, and always ready to report to your eternal home when God calls. No need to fear when your faith is real!
The second thing I want to tell you is: don’t quit believing in the resiliency of the values that have brought this nation back again and again. In fact, our very Declaration of Independence from our beginning would cost this nation nearly 7000 lives in a war. Some 25,000 when you count deaths due to disease, imprisonment, and civilian casualties of the war. Yet this nation would prevail because of convictions like those of Patrick Henry who would rather risk death for liberty than pursue a safety that compromises freedom.
A Civil War and the depravity of humanity would cost this nation over another 600,000 lives, not to mention the collateral damage. Many around the world thought that would be the end of America. But, once again, we would prove stronger once the war was behind us. What about the First and Second World Wars, including the attack on Pearl Harbor? Over another half million lives, but we emerged as one nation under God, still in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
Well all of that was before my lifetime. And while we have not always lived out our principles as fairly and passionately as the great generations who fought for them, we’ve come a long way. I’ve seen soldiers return from a war for which they got little respect fighting. But that is beginning to change. Better late than never I suppose. I’ve seen this nation place men on the moon and land spacecraft like airplanes. I’ve seen hostages return from Iran, and watched a president bankrupt our enemies during a cold war. I’ve lived long enough now to have watched the market rise and crash enough to know that I should not put my faith in it, nor should I panic when collapse seems imminent.
What I am trying to say is, we have a history of rising from the ashes when we value liberty over safety, when our government realizes its limits and depends on the people, and when circumstances bring us to our knees again. And I didn’t even mention the famines, depressions, diseases before the age of modern medicine, assassinations or civil rights movements.
I am not saying that you should throw caution to the wind during this pandemic. I have advised otherwise. This is a serious virus that could take someone we know and love. I am saying that you should keep a discerning eye on the national leadership and on your friends and classmates. Don’t let folks slip into having an unhealthy dependency on government mandates. Make it clear that the answer to this and most crises is personal responsibility, not excessive government intrusion.
Third and finally, don’t quit enjoying life. Some who avoid this current virus will shorten their lives in a practical sense. Stress, worry, and fear will cause them to cease to truly live and will lessen their quality of life and possibly the length of their life.
At some point, hopefully sooner than later, it is going to be advisable to get back out among people. And the virus will still be out there. When the risk versus reward factors loosen the social restrictions currently in place, the chance of you catching and dying from this disease could probably still be somewhere between dying in an automobile related death (40,000 Americans per year) and dying from heart disease (650,000 Americans each year). I don’t think we will hit those numbers this year. And who knows, if we flatten the curve, find better treatments, and the disease weakens over time (all things that have happened before with other diseases) we may not come close to the heart disease numbers, ever.
My point is, if we were daily following the numbers of all other diseases and activities that cause you to live at risk, you would never leave the house. Let’s cooperate with our communities as an act of love while we strive to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, show love to our vulnerable citizens, and give health professionals and national leaders time to get their minds around this. Let’s pray for healing in our land, grow in ability to communicate creatively at a distance, and serve those who are hurting physically, emotionally, and economically. But don’t be frozen by fear. And don’t feel guilty for loving life, despite its risks, and quickly and courageously getting back to normal social interactions sooner than others. God didn’t call us to risk-free living, but to a life of faith and courage.
The Apostle Peter spoke of the ability to “love life and see good days (1 Peter 3:10).” This doesn’t mean trials will not come. The church Peter was addressing was under great persecution with a very high mortality rate. But believers in Jesus knew the deep secret of abundant life. You know it, too! And one day the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 will be added to the events listed above as another trial that this nation overcame. And you will remember that when your kids are in college!
PS. And if one of the crazy conspiracy theories turn out to true, God is sovereign over that as well!
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.
(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!
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 traditionalwhen 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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
The authority of the Bible.
The virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, literal resurrection. and certain return of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Trinity.
The exclusivity of the Gospel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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!