Loser Christians, President Obama, and Andy Griffith

So many Christians today are doing their best Chicken Little impressions. With every new economic policy from Washington, with each new Supreme Court decision concerning same sex marriage, with the discovery of the rising popularity of preaching and teaching that is not gospel centered and (insert your own crisis here), the voices of Christian leadership rise as one to declare that “the sky is falling.” It is almost as if our generation of Christians think that we have never faced crisis moments before. The truth is that the Christians who preceded us faced far more more serious conflicts than we in our current Western culture have ever experienced. I am not trying to minimize the cultural offenses that are perpetrated against people of faith – I just want us to keep things in perspective. We are not more persecuted now than before – it’s just that the first century church did not have a 24 news cycle to fill and hundreds of channels (not to mention internet resources) with which to catalog the struggle. The enemy, his goal and his strategy – as well as his commitment to accomplishing his goal – has never wavered. So let me remind you of a couple of things that I think we seem to have begun to forget.

1) You are not imagining things – things are definitely getting worse. (Warning – my eschatalogical colors are about to be on display.) The Word of God assures us that things are going to continue to deteriorate. There will be a consistent worsening of the world situation until Jesus raptures the church and inaugurates the events that will wrap this thing up. So don’t despair at the degrading of our culture – rather see is as confirmation that the Word of God is true and can be depended on. If the Word of God is right about this, it is also right about the ultimate victory of God and vindication of his children. So come on – stop your belly-aching. This is what is supposed to happen. Your complaining reveals that you are surprised that the bible is true! Don’t sound like a loser Christian – you are MORE than a conqueror.

2) President Obama is not the enemy of Christianity. Satan is the enemy of Christianity. The president is a man who occupies a position of authority because God placed him there. You don’t have to like him, you don’t have to agree with him, you don’t have to support his ideas and you don’t have to vote for him. But you do have to pray for him – regularly and sincerely. And you cannot pray for someone you hate. Paul teaches us that when we rebel against authority we are actually rebelling against the one who has placed them in authority. In those instance where you are compelled by an authority’s apparent violation of biblical principles to be “civilly” disobedient, even then you have to do it in a Godly manner. I will repeat it – President Obama is not the enemy. And just for the record – homosexuals are not the enemy, abortionists are not the enemy, etc… We do have an enemy – he is Satan. ( Remember our battle is not against flesh and blood). Believe it or not Satan is pleased for Christians to rail against these faux enemies. It makes us look like blowhards and gets us off his back, Fight Satan – pray for your president. There is a difference.

So what is the upshot of all this? I defer to that great bastion of theological thinking – the Andy Griffith Show – for my conclusion. In one of my favorite episodes Andy’s 5 year old son, Opie, stops  by his dad’s office (the courthouse) on his way to school. As Opie goes out the door Andy pats him on the rear end and says “Have a good day and ACT LIKE SOMEBODY!” Brother/sister – you are a redeemed child of the most high God. You are a possessor of all the treasures of heaven and guaranteed and exalted place in God’s eternal kingdom. You are not some hopeless, helpless, desperate, whining, wimp. (Which is – by the way – what the world thinks you are, largely because that is often what you sound like.) Replace your endless criticism for the president and all our other elected leaders with consistent prayer and fasting on their behalf. Replace your endless belly-aching about the worsening of our society  with faithful proclamation that God’s Word saw it coming. And replace your validation of the world’s insulting characterization of you as a whiny, wimpy child of God with a declaration that you are assuming your rightful role as a child of the most high God. Go ahead and enjoy life! Have a good day and (Andy was right) act like somebody. If you belong to Jesus – you are!

The Disturbing Trend of Denominational Camouflage

First a necessary disclaimer – I am not a hunter. I do not own a pair of camouflage anythings and I had to look up the word “camouflage” to be sure that I spelled it right in this blog post. But even with my admitted neophyte status as a hunter, I do understand the purpose of camouflage. It is to keep the hunter from standing out. The deer ( or whatever is being hunted) is an easier target when it is at ease and the site of anything distinctive on the hunter will rob the animal of his sense of familiarity with his surroundings, thus making the target ill at-ease and more difficult to conquer. So then cCamouflage serves to make the target have a feeling of comfort and safety that will certainly add to the animal’s sense of security, but ultimately will cause the animal to get captured or killed.

There is a strange thing going on in our churches today. In an effort to make visitors and church-goers more comfortable we have begun to engage in denominational camouflage. I am a Southern Baptist Pastor and we in the SBC are leading the charge on this offensive. It seems that the more common trend for new church starts is to not be identified as a “Southern Baptist Church” and in many cases not as a Baptist Church at all. More and more the church that once would have been the First Baptist Church of Fictitious, is now termed something far more generic such as “The Church at Fictitious” or just some even more confusing moniker such as “Grace Fellowship” or ” The Rock Church” or  “(fill in the blank with your own vaguely religious term).” In the face of such an undeniable trend, the obvious question is simply this – why?

The most common answer is that this change in church nomenclature is simply an attempt to reach more of the unchurched. Supposedly they are so off-put by any denominational name that to utilize one of these labels would be to assure that the unchurched will never come.  So in an effort to draw them in, the decision is made to maintain the belief system of a denominational structure, to still function in pretty much all aspects as a member of that denomination – only not to let the attender know that they are being exposed to such an animal.  The purpose of the lack of denominational identification is to make the attender feel at ease with his surroundings, lest that denominational tag rob him of his sense of security and make him less likely to feel like he belongs.  It is denominational camouflage and it is deceptive at best.

I know all the arguments and it is true that denominations are not God ordained in scripture. But the theological distinctions upon which denominations are built are indeed God ordained. I have heard that Denominations are divisive. It seems to me they are indeed – they divide the casual non-committal believer who doesn’t want to grow and do the often difficult work of engaging with scripture from the believer who is disciplined and committed to spiritual growth through the power of the Holy Spirit. The casual believer has no need for a label because he would have to do the heavy lifting of studying to show himself approved in order to choose the right label. A church that engages in denominational camouflage enables a baby Christian to feel comfortable remaining as such – and that should not be.

Some would argue that churches should just just discard denominations all together – don’t just camouflage them , but do away with them. That doesn’t work because even non-denominationalism is, by its own definition, a denomination. But that is another blog for another day. For now, let’s put the camouflage away. In my little town I salute the Pine Hill Church Of God, the Pine Hill United Methodist Church, Oak Grove Baptist Church, The Pine Hill Chapel of the Apostolic Faith, and even our own Pine Hill Baptist Church. Those “labels” enable attenders to gather with those of like interpretations of the scripture to do those things that most advance the kingdom. Those who attend have the opportunity to know with whom they are aligning. And while the unlabeled churches may indeed eclipses these denominationally marked congregations in attendance, these nebulous congregations foster an atmosphere of scriptural ambivalence that creates a popular faith that often turns out to be a mile wide and only an inch deep.

The Mormons do a great job of denominational camouflage ( though they are a cult, not a denomination.) You often cannot tell who is sponsoring their warm and fizzy commercials until the last frame of the video. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do a great job of denominational camouflage ( again a cult not a denomination) – their slick publications provide an effective front for their agenda. These are are not the groups with whom I want to be associated. Spare me the growth ( or lack of growth) numbers. We are not commissioned by God to create large crowds. We are commissioned by God to make disciples. Disciples are those who have committed to Christ and know what they believe and why they believe it. And they want to be sure that they gather with others who are willing to pay that same price. If you are teaching that which is not true, then stop it. But if you are gathering with a group of believers who are standing on the truth of the Word of God then identify yourself as such.  Deception is an acceptable tactic for those who are hunting deer. It is not an acceptable tactic for those who are seeking to make disciples. Wear your camouflage in the woods on Saturday. Wear your denominational label proudly on Sunday. It matters.

A Non-Calvinist’s Defense of Calvinists

I have been wanting to write this one for a while.  I have watched with great interest and often much sadness at the often vitriolic debate between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists.  I have heard each side of the discussion make vicious personal attacks against those on the other side using words such as heresy, blasphemy, and false teaching ( and then it gets really ugly.) I suppose it is necessary for me to make this disclaimer – I am not a Calvinist. Though I attend the flagship seminary for Reformed theology and though I have very close friends who are Reformed, I am not.  I have been accused of being “more reformed than I am willing to admit,” and I really don’t mind such a label – but the fact is I am not a Calvinist ( and by the way, neither am I an Armenian – it is not an either/or only proposition.) While there are many points on which I would agree with my Reformed brethren,  we would disagree on what I see as the main issue – the “ordo salutis” or order of salvation. To me this is the basic point of contention. I believe that repentance and faith precede regeneration. My Reformed friends disagree – they believe that regeneration necessarily precedes faith and repentance. So there should be no misunderstanding of my point of view and there should be no assumption that my theological understanding has been fundamentally altered (though I pray that through the Spirit of God it has been deepened and matured.) And let me reiterate – this post is not for a debate of these issues. The fact is that I do not see this difference – as substantive as it is – as a reason to break fellowship, or worse launch an attack, against other believers.

Since I am not Reformed in my theology I cannot speak intelligently to those on that side of the discussion. I would like to address those who agree with me – those would be rightly labeled with me as non-Calvinists. Please don’t fall prey to the cartoonish depictions of Calvinists that often cause us to speak ignorantly and appear hateful and anything but kingdom-minded.

-It is simply foolish to say that Calvinists do not care about evangelism. My Calvinist friends and professors are among the most evangelistic minded people I know. If you think that Calvinists don’t share their faith and don’t support missions because they believe “God has already settled it – so why should I do anything?” then you simply have a skewed view of what Calvinists truly believe. It is true that some on the fringe of Calvinism – hyper-Calvinists – might hold such an extreme view, but these are few and far between. And may I remind you that there are some on the fringe of non-Calvinism that believe some pretty extremist things also – and we certainly do not want to be defined by their misguided views.

– It is equally foolish to say that Calvinism kills churches. I have seen churches wither and die that were led by Calvinists and Non-Calvinists alike. As I was reminded by a dear friend in the last few days who was quoting a friend of his – “Calvinism doesn’t kill churches. Sin kills churches.”

– And please don’t label Calvinists as heretics or trouble makers. Are some of them? You better believe it. But some non-Calvinists are also!  The Reformed guys I know are some of the most Goldy men I have ever met with a commitment to scripture that any of us would do well to emulate. It is rarely wise to paint with such a broad brush – please don’t make such hurtful and often baseless attacks.

– Finally, don’t fall prey to the mindset that suggests that Calvinists and non-Calvinists cannot worship together and fellowship with one another.  About three years ago I participated in a conference at Grove Hill Baptist Church that was posited as a response to Calvinism. Indeed, I was one of the organizers. There were five of us who made presentations and I only speak for myself – but my thrust in that presentation was really the beginning point of where I am today. I efforted to show in scripture where sovereignty and free will are often presented side by side. I was clear about what I thought about the order of salvation, but I hoped to show that these two concepts not only can but do coexist peacefully in the Word of God – they are not mutually exclusive. And if these concepts can exist side by side without halting the work of the Kingdom, certainly non-Calvinists and Calvinists can work side by side for the good of the kingdom. I have had Calvinist preachers preach in my pulpit on numerous occasions in churches I have served and will do so again. They are not one hit wonders whose every sermon is on the ordo salutis. We can love them and we can be friends with them and we can go to church with them and most importantly we can serve and worship God with them – I know because I do all of the above.

I do not mean to suggest that these theological matters are not important and I am not suggesting that we do not continue this discussion and seek a right understanding of such matters in the proper context. I simply am saying this : regardless of what we think concerning the ordo salutis, election, predestination, the atonement, etc, the Gospel message we preach is the same. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike preach that you must be drawn by the Spirit of God and come to him in repentance and faith to be reconciled to God. ( By the way if someone is preaching a different gospel then we should indeed cease worshiping with them.)

Let me end with the illustration I used in that conference three years ago. I can get into my truck with one of my Reformed buddies and we can go to tell someone about Christ. During that visit we will share the same Gospel and we will pray to the same God that the same Holy Spirit would arrest the heart of the sinner. If that person responds to the drawing of the Spirit and the Gospel message in repentance and faith and is made a new creature in Christ Jesus, then when me and my buddy get back in the truck we can argue about whether his faith or his regeneration came first. But the Gospel has done its work irrespective of our perception of the order in which it occurred. What we cannot do is get so busy arguing with one another about theology that we fail to share the Gospel.

So to my fellow non-Calvinists, let’s turn the page. Let us determine that from this day forward we are going to do less attacking of fellow believers and more attacking of Satan. We are going to do less proclamation of our theological perspective and more proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are going to do less pointing of fingers to accuse and more reaching out of hands to assist. I am not asking you to alter your  beliefs – I am not. I am not asking you to compromise or water down your convictions – I am not. I am simply asking you realize that Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel  – not theological debate – is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  Right now we Christians are known by what we are willing to fight against – lately, mostly each other. The world needs to know what we are willing to fight for. I am willing to fight for the right proclamation of the Gospel. I know my non-Calvinist friends are as well. And I know my Calvinist friends are also. So let’s not fight the tired fight against each other; rather let’s fight the good fight together.  And save those conversations for when we get back into the truck.

Stop Complaining Pastor – A Word from One Preacher who LOVES his Job!

I have been amazed at the number of negative articles/blogs etc. I have read lately about the horrible difficulty of the work of the ministry – in other words how tough it is to be a pastor. I have seen the incredibly stark statistics about the percentage of ministers who drop out of the ministry due to burnout, whose marriages are negatively effected by their work, whose children are turned away from the church because they see their dad treated so badly, etc… And I believe all of that. I am reminded of what I heard a preacher say recently who has been in the ministry for many years – he said, “I was never really treated badly in secular work. I was never mistreated until I went into the ministry.” So I get it – I really do. I have spent 22 years in full-time ministry and have been a pastor since 1999. I bear the scars that ministry battles will inevitably produce. It is a very tough job – point made.

     But here is what is missing from most of these listings of ministry challenges – the joy of serving the body of Christ is far greater than the pain of the challenges. It may be true that few vocations provide the pain and difficulty of ministry work, but it is definitely true that NO vocation provides the reward and joy of ministry work. I have the greatest job in the world ( spare me the objection to the use of the word job – you know what I mean 🙂 ) I have served four churches as pastor and they were all an unabated pleasure to serve. They were not perfect congregations – but when I was there they did not have a perfect pastor either! I have had some of the same hard times as many other pastors ( some because of my own decisions, some not.)
     I have endured some of those business meetings where things got a bit off track. But for every business meeting that was visited by a measure of contention there have been hundreds of other meetings where a sweet sense of fellowship and love was the order of the day. Sure – I have had those sweet senior ladies complain to me about the volume of the sound system and the temperature of the sanctuary and other such profoundly important issues ( tongue firmly planted in cheek here.) But for every one of those complaints I have had hundreds of moments with those same dear saints when we shared a meal and some laughs or  maybe a bedside visit and some prayers or even a funeral and some tears. My family has felt the unkind attacks of those who were not kingdom minded – but my family has also been the beneficiary of some of the kindest and most gracious friends that anyone could ever know.
     But that is not even the best part – at the end of the day, I go to bed at night with a peace from God that only comes from the knowledge that I am undeservedly blessed. I am blessed that God would call me to this ministry (though he certainly doesn’t need me), I am blessed that God would equip me for this ministry ( I can nothing without him) and I am blessed that God would transform lives through this ministry ( all him – none me.) And that is something that I would not trade for any position or any paycheck.
     So come on fellow preachers – stop belly aching about the challenges of ministry and get down on your knees and thank God for the privilege of serving. Stop running down your people to others and start lifting them to God in prayer. Stop teaching your children that the church is a terrible ogre to be feared and hated and teach them that the church is nothing less than a beautiful bride to be loved and nurtured. I am in love with Jesus Christ and I am in love with his church. I get up every morning excited to see what God is going to do and honored that he would allow me to be a part of it. I pray for my fellow pastors who are serving and feel trapped in a job they hate- but I have just got to say it : This preacher loves his job.