Baptist – What does it mean and why is it important?

It was my privilege to preach at a small country Baptist church this past Sunday. My sermon for that eveningBaptists-logo  was to help them better understand why being a Baptist church matters. The outline for the sermon is this:

Baptists – where did the name come from?
Four Distinctives:
1) Baptism: Mode, Candidates, Significance
2) Nature of the local church: Local autonomy, Offices, Membership, Relation to civil governments
3) Liberty of Conscience
4) Authority of Scripture: Individual responsibility to know the Word of God and live in light of eternity.

The Road to Emmaus

The biblical passage in Luke 24 known as the Road to Emmaus is – like many passages – twisted and misused, Emmaussometimes innocently, many times intentionally. There is a mystical three-day retreat called The Walk to Emmaus (also known as Chrysalis) that was modeled after the Roman Catholic retreat known as Cursillo, which started in Spain in 1949. These two retreats are like identical twins – not the same, but very much alike. And both are embraced by a wide range of churches – including Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutherans, Presbyterian, and Baptist.

You can read about The Walk to Emmaus here: http://emmaus.upperroom.org/ Their FAQ are most informative, and all copyrighted. Here’s another web site where a Baptist who attended one of these retreats discusses the event and explains why evangelicals should not participate.

All that background to bring your this – a wonderful sermon from the text of Luke 24:13-35, wherein we are reminded that the Lord opens eyes to see truth, that seeing is not believing, and that those who are given sight and hearing will respond to the Savior. Pull up your chair and give a listen – you will be glad you did.

Bitter Bile in the Throat!

When a woman cries, men often feel awkward or embarrassed. They struggle with knowing what to say or do. A man will seek to sympathize with her and may say something designed to help when all she may need is just a listening ear and a tissue to wipe her eyes. Another woman will both sympathize and empathize knowing that no matter what the problem is, there are times when a good cry may help to soothe the aching heart.

However, when one sees a man who has been brought to the point where he is sobbing in utter despair and anguish, there is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. How does one watch a man completely broken without the realization that his entire life has crashed to the point where it seems life has been destroyed? There is something that crushes the spirit when a man sees another brought to such depths of despair. Nothing can be said that will probably offer help. A man in grief is often alone, or feels alone, because what makes him a man has been compromised and defeated – but in his despair, he does not care for what others think.

Jeremiahweeps

The year is 586 B.C. and the prophet Jeremiah has come to that point. Reading his words with a true understanding paints a picture that is awkward to read and reveals much of the man in our account. Lamentations 2:11 continues with more of what transpired in the first chapter, but the description of his grief and despair is emotionally draining. “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground.”

I remember the day like it was yesterday. My 22 year old brother’s boss called me at home to tell me that my brother was having difficulty breathing, that the EMT’s were already helping him, that they were taking him to the hospital for further observation, and that we were not to worry as he would be fine very soon.

Arriving at the hospital, I ran inside and was confronted by two nurses talking about a “John Doe.” Identifying myself, they checked their files and asked me to take a seat in a little room. One nurse told me the doctor would be with me very shortly and then closed the door behind me. I was getting rather worked up at this point, but I did not think the worst – yet!

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably no more than 4-5 minutes, I walked back out and repeated my request to see my brother. The nurses hastened to assure me that the doctor was with my brother and would come see me in just a minute. I walked back to the little room, and as I closed the door, I noticed a little sign that said, “Family Consultation Room.”

Now, my mind is starting to race back through the times I had tried to help others and fear began to grip my mind and heart. Still having no desire to put all the pieces together in my mind, I tried to rationalize away everything that was pointing to a meeting I knew I was not going to like. I staggered to a seat and sat down. Absent-mindedly, I watched a couple of minutes later as the doctor walked in with a person in some type of uniform. The only thing I remember seeing was the cross on the lapel of each side of a stiffly starched collar – and I knew!

The doctor’s words, “I’m so sorry. We did all we could, but there was nothing we could do.” The words were not necessary and his apology already rang as trite in my mind. After all, it was NOT his brother who had just had a massive heart attack. What did he mean that there was nothing that they could do? Surely, they could just either just restart his heart, or at the very least reverse the clock so that time could undo what had transpired over the previous 45 minutes.

It seemed like my world ended. My eyes filled with tears for weeks and months at the mere mention of something that made my brother special to our family. I struggled to eat and more times than not, my stomach churned at the very thought of food. That day in the “Family Consultation Room”, I do remember the contents of my stomach demanding to make an appearance. Throwing up is an action and feeling that I hate with a passion and it was all I could do to keep from vomiting that day.

There have been very few times in my life where I have been so violently ill that I have thrown up everything in my stomach. In a handful of those times, I can remember my stomach still tried to find something to get rid of, and so, it found the bile. Bile has a very bitter taste and is dark green or yellow in color.

What had caused such a reaction in my body? It was, of course, the helpless situation that sought to engulf my life. An unexpected death brought an overwhelming sense of despair and it seemed like there was nobody to turn to for comfort. Through no fault of his own, the doctor appeared as an enemy, and the last thing I wanted was the woman chaplain to try and offer me comfort. I did not want the box of tissues she offered and she could not bring my brother back. She was of no use to me.

Cemetery

For the first time in my life, death had personally visited our home. That is what it took to bring me to my knees. The reality of death produced in me a body racked with pain because of the sobs and wailing that broke over and over from my throat like a small boat caught in the waves of a storm.

What in the world did it take to do the same to Jeremiah, a man accustomed to difficult situations? Did somebody that he loved die, maybe a wife, a parent, or a child?

The entire second chapter of Lamentations reveals that it was not the death of a close loved one that was destroying the physical well-being of Jeremiah’s body. Jeremiah’s emotions have been brought to what he thinks is the lowest possible point. He clutches his chest with the pain that courses through his soul. His head must hurt from the throbbing, and just as he thinks he has control of his emotions, another wave crashes over him and takes him down to another level.

Are you ready for the revelation of his words? It was –

THE WRATH OF GOD BEING POURED OUT UPON ISRAEL!

Listen to these words and phrases – “The Lord in His anger,” “The Lord has swallowed up without mercy,” “In His wrath He has broken down,” “He has cut down in fierce anger,” and “He has poured out His fury like fire.”

While we must ask the question of why is this happening, Jeremiah records some of the most solemn events that he has actually seen take place.

1) The Lord has made Zion forget the feasts and the Sabbath.
2) The Lord has spurned both priest and king because of His fierce indignation.
3) The Lord has scorned the altar of sacrifice in the Temple.
4) The Lord has disowned His sanctuary.

When my brother passed away, I remember repeating over and over, “Why, why, why, why?” I sat heartbroken, and although I knew the answer was found in the sovereign purposes of a holy, righteous, and loving God, I still wanted to blame others. There were even a few moments that I wanted to lay the blame on God.

But with Israel, it was different. Tragedy had struck. The tragedy that befell Israel was much worse than my losing a brother. In the despair our family faced, God was so very gracious and gave measure after measure of grace and strength in time of trouble.

wrath_of_god

Israel did not have this luxury. It was too late for that. Jeremiah has confessed his faults and rebellion before God, but the nation has failed to turn from her wicked ways. Now, judgment day had arrived and nothing would stay the hand of Almighty God. The children of Israel thought they could play games with God and get away with it, but they were wrong!

Jeremiah then paints a picture that reveals the same tragedies being played on the stages of many churches across our land. It was a time of not tragedy, but it was a time of utter ruin. In 2:14, we find that many false prophets had risen up to bring nothing more than false hope. The problem was that 1) they prophesied false and deceptive visions saying that it was from God, 2) they had failed to expose the iniquity of the people, and 3) they have sought to encourage only those who are false and misleading.

The church in the West needs to listen to the laments of Jeremiah and take heed. Stop listening to the false prophets spouting Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Stop listening to ministers who whenever things are going wrong parrot the first part of Romans 8:28, “We know ALL things work together for God.” They use this verse out of context thinking this is like a pill that will make everything better for whoever wants to swallow it.

But these prophets who seek to forecast great days ahead have forgotten the rest of the verse, “All things work together for good to them that love God and to them who are called according to His purpose.” This means that not everybody will have all things worked out for the good. The ALL things are conditional based on our obedience.

In fact, the bitter bile that rises in the throat when we realize that we may be the recipients of what Jeremiah notes in Lamentations 2:17, “The LORD has done what He purposed; He has carried out His word, which He commanded long ago; He has thrown down without pity; He has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes.”

Let me point out one more verse that has rocked me to the core as I read this over and over again this week. Lamentations 2:15, “All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem: ‘Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?’”

Those who are true believers should take heed to the lament before it becomes too late as it did with Jeremiah weeping over Jerusalem. If we do not repent and plead to God for mercy for our nation and for our churches, we will see the heathen pass by us clapping their hands, hissing and wagging their heads in derision.

Just as there were few who wept over their sin along with Jeremiah, so, too, there are few today who weep over their sin, the sin in their homes, the sin in their churches, and the sin in their nation. Our churches have failed miserably over and over again. Few are crying out the warnings necessary because it is not popular. It does not make people feel good about themselves. They have itching ears, but as Leonard Ravenhill often stated, “We have no commission to scratch them!”

The representation of Jesus Christ on this earth is the true church for which He died and shed His precious blood. Each local body of believers is called upon to be a light to the part of the world in which they live.

How tragic it will be when those to whom we are called to witness turn on the church. Hissing and wagging their heads in derision, we will hear them say, “Is this the (church) that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?”

True believers, we are called to heed the Scriptures as they call us to remember that one day the glorious Bridegroom Jesus Christ will return for a beautiful Bride. She will be the one who has made herself ready and arrayed herself in white garments. Do our churches reflect Jesus Christ who is the joy of all the earth? Do the heathen see in us the perfection of beauty because of what Jesus Christ has done in and through us? Or, do they only see and laugh at our destruction because instead of being like Christ, we thought it more important to be like the world?

When the heathen were courting Jerusalem with wine, jewels, and precious things, those called by the name of God were happily enchanted as they prostituted themselves over the gods of wood and stone. But when destruction came, the heathen had spoiled and taken all they wanted. They had assaulted Jerusalem and there was no more allure to the beautiful city of God.

Church of Jesus Christ, when we have finished courting the world and finished prostituting ourselves to gain the attention of unbelievers through entertainment and trivialities and messages that save nobody but only bring damnation to the souls of those who come to our meetings – then we will have to pay the price that comes from a reckless abandon of God and the rewards for our unforsaken and unconfessed sin will come home.

We will weep and wail. Our eyes will be red. Our hearts will pound with pain in our chests. The bile will rise in our throat as we vomit our anguish realizing that God cannot and will not be mocked, and that whatsoever we have sown, we will also reap.

However, right now, it would appear that there is still time for repentance. It would appear that the Lord remains a longsuffering and patient God. Let us flee to Him before our laments darken the skies of our existence in a day when it will be too late!

Baptist Covenant Theology

Reformed theology is often referred to as covenant theology – based on the covenants between God and Baptist Covenant Viewman revealed in Scripture and the view that God deals with us primarily through covenants. One of our old Baptist brothers, C. H. Spurgeon, had this to say about the importance of understanding the covenants of Scripture: “The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology. … I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and grace.” He went on to say: “The covenant of works was, “Do this and live, O man!” but the covenant of grace is, “Do this, O Christ, and thou shalt live, O man!”” As we will see, the differences we have with our Presbyterian brothers has to do with these two covenants. Pascal Denault, in The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology describes them thusly: The Covenant of Works is revealed by the light of nature; nature’s light teaches self-righteousness (Rom 2:15). The Covenant of Grace is revealed by the Spirit of God; He reveals Christ’s righteousness.

The entire message with all the slides mentioned can be downloaded or listened to here.

The Reformation We Need

BibleNone of us, as individuals or as local churches, has arrived. We all have need of continual repentance and reformation, knowing that sin easily entangles us and we all have different blind spot and unexamined presuppositions.

This sermon addresses three basic areas where men tend to go astray and exhorts all to repent and follow after Christ as revealed in the Scripture.

Voddie Baucham presents “The Reformation We Need” at the 2013 Founders Breakfast in Houston last month.

The Primacy of the Abrahamic Covenant

Why does it matter how one views the covenant with Abraham? Are there actually different views Covenant Viewon it? My experience leads me to believe that most folks don’t really think too much about such things. Yet this singular item is, in fact, the biggest wedge between Reformed Baptists and our Presbyterian brothers.

As pointed out in this book review, the matter of covenants in the Bible and how one looks at and considers them makes a huge difference in myriad other doctrines that sprout forth. To help understand this issue further, I commend this sermon by Jeffrey Johnson, on the topic of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In addition to Johnson’s wonderful book, I recommend this new addition to anyone’s library.