In Moderation?

Over the past few months, I have not been able to get on Defending Contending that much for a variety of reasons. The main reason is because I have been very busy with work, working on a professional level exam in the evening, and trying to squeeze in time for family with what little bit of time I have left. Having said that, I wanted to take a few minutes to say that I appreciate those who have been able to contribute and who have commented.

Yet, with the responsibility of sharing with others comes another responsibility that I believe is even more important. This responsibility has been sadly lacking in some of the things that have been shared and I want to clarify a few points so we can move forward. The responsibility of which I speak is that, as true believers, we are called to reflect Jesus Christ in all that we say or do. Our position can be right, but if our disposition is wrong, then we are wrong. Being belligerent, obstinate, hateful, derogatory, or even caustic does not reflect who we are in Christ.

Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have walked the path before us. When I think of this passage, I cannot help but wonder what they would say to us if they could read our words or hear what we say to others who are true believers. As but one example, I wonder if they would wince when our words are written or designed to tear strips off of those who believe in salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone yet are not in total agreement with us on some point of doctrine that has nothing to do with our salvation.

grace3

It seems that on a regular basis, we can get sideways with others for a variety of reasons and in the process we forget that part of being in Christ is that we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. This has not always been the case here at Defending Contending, and even I have had to back off and extend an apology to our readers and our commenters for not being gracious. Again, my position may well have been right, but my disposition only inspired others to dive for shelter instead of looking to Jesus Christ.

Too often it seems that we forget the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul reminded the believers of Corinth that we are not called to be followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Luther, or Calvin, or MacArthur, or Sproul, or Paul Washer, or fill-in-the-blank. When we put our eyes on mere men who are fallible and by no means 100% correct in every single area of their life, we will be disappointed. Not only will we be disappointed, but the world will have reason to wonder as to who really paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. They may well wonder why we spend more time trying to defend points of doctrine over acting, speaking, and listening in ways that are truly glorifying and Christ-honoring.

Recently, we have had posts that were meant to be words of encouragement only for the gloves to come off and comments began to spin out of control. The post was never intended to be anything more than apples of gold in pitchers of silver. The short post got hijacked and it became a stomping ground for people from different ends of the spectrum to parade how they felt. Several posts recently have been such that I cringe when I look back and read them and the comments. I wonder what in the world we are really doing or what we are attempting to do.

Finger-pointing does nothing profitable. Thus I felt this post was necessary to hopefully clear the air. First, let me reiterate that I am unashamedly, first and foremost, a Christ-follower. Second, I hold to the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God that is good for ALL that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Third, I do not have any desire to follow a mere man. Yes, I, myself, have posted comments or quote or even sermons from men like MacArthur, Washer, or Dr. Steve Lawson, but they are men just like me. Others quote Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Sproul, or whoever as though they are to be esteemed to the level of the apostle Paul.

Anybody that cares to take the time to read through more of this blog will know where I have stood for the more than 8 years I have written here at Defending Contending. I have no intention of backing down from defending truth or contending for the faith. Many of you already know that I do not use the term Calvinist to describe myself. Most would be hard pressed to tell you exactly where Mark Escalera stands, but I am willing to share if I am asked. I have no issues standing against false teaching or false teachers. What I do have an issue with is the attitudes that are portrayed at times that are not Christ-like.

likeChrist

I have almost shared enough for now, but I want to share just a couple more things. Not every reader, nor every person who comments, nor even every person who has been asked to contribute stands on the same ground theologically. While I disagree on various points with each contributor, I still have the final say on the blog and who I invite to write here.

I would kindly ask that each reader remember that ultimately, I am the one that is responsible for Defending Contending and that this is not, nor will it be, a forum for just anybody to come here and defend and contend for what everyone else believes. If a person comes here and desires to share, there are still rules that are not going to change.

If you come to DefCon just for the purpose of trying to change all of our minds on a particular area, then please feel free to start your own blog. We do not mind questions, nor do we mind disagreements. But, writing inflammatory comments or demanding to be heard on one side or another of a particular issue will not be tolerated. If you have a comment that is held in moderation, I do not need 1, 2, 5, or 10 more comments letting me know that your comment is in moderation. I have a busy life and it may not be answered for an hour, a day, or even 2 days.

As for those who write blog posts here at DefCon, I respect each one and each one has added to the mix various points that I appreciate. This is true whether it is George Alvarado’s points on evangelism or apologetics, Manfred’s book reviews or posts on various doctrinal issues, J.L. Pattison’s posts on various topics, or even Sony Elise’s words of encouragement. Each of these individuals are my friends, some closer than others, and I will defend each one of them even if I do not always agree with them with everything they post or will post.

In conclusion, my entire point of the post is to bring us back to the reality that we will all disagree until the Lord takes us home. Then we will quickly come to the understanding that we were not right on everything. However, that will quickly fade as we realize how glorious it is to be worshiping with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To find ourselves standing, kneeling, dancing, waving our hands, stomping our feet with glee, or running the hills of glory will be all worth it in the end when we see Jesus Christ, who ALONE is the author and finisher of our faith. I expect, in the meantime, that we each strive diligently to be gracious to each other so that others will see the reflection of the Master Carpenter.

Truth or Tradition?

Tevye, Jewish patriarch in Fiddler on the Roof… truth or tradition

It’s a very busy, tedious, hard-scratch life in Anatevka. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word!             Tradition!

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything. How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. I don’t know.

But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as,   As…  As a fiddler on the roof!

As his family responds to the various circumstances of life, they each tear apart Tevye’s sacred traditions bit by bit. His traditions were not transcendent; their foundation was uncertain.

What can we learn from this movie?

Most Baptists recognize that a major part of the errors embraced by Roman Catholicism are enshrined in extra-biblical traditions that are held up as church dogma. While it’s easy to see this in the Roman religion, do we carefully examine our own walk – as individuals and churches – to see if we are guilty as well? I am quite sure we all know the teaching of Scripture on this topic, as Christ quoted Isaiah in saying to the Jews, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Are we Baptist excluded from this rebuke? My personal experience indicates otherwise. I pray these things are not true of you!

When I was first called as a deacon, it took 6 months of discussion to agree that tithing was not a requirement of that office. I was thankful the other deacons were willing to study this topic rather than merely throw me out. When I was in a seeker sensitive church I was ridiculed because I questioned this teaching, not seeing evangelism as inviting lost people to church, as I studied the Bible.

Baptists have traditions and, like Tevye, we often do not know or care where they came from.

While in a 1689 LBC church, I saw how traditions were to be supported without question, and I was looked down upon for not taking these positions on blind faith. The Decalogue is God’s moral law – why would anyone ask where that is taught in Scripture? The “Christian Sabbath” is binding on all people – why would anyone ask where in the Bible this is found?

In the two years since moving to SE Oklahoma, I’ve been exposed to several local Baptist churches and been intrigued by the extra-biblical traditions they embrace. Just as the other groups of Baptists, they are tenacious in the blind faith they have in their sacred traditions. It’s as if, as one church-man said about his “altar call” – “It’s the most important part of the worship service!” And it’s nowhere found in God’s Holy Word. What’s more, there is no altar in the New Covenant church other than the Lord Jesus Himself. Similar attachments are tied to children’s church (unsaved people have their own worship service!) and children parading through the gathered saints, begging for money to put in an offering plate, being applauded by the adults. I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 6:1-4:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In this passage we see that the praise of men is the only reward hypocrites have for their giving; it is not accepted by God as are the gifts from the saints on behalf of the saints (Philippians 4:14-18). The parading children played the part of the hypocrites in the passage cited above, with the adults playing the part of the “others” who praised the hypocrites. As with other acts of worship, giving as worship cannot be performed by those who are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Proverbs 21:27) and the money earned by sin should not be offered to God (Deuteronomy 23:18).

Celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries of all present in a worship service are the norm. Mothers and fathers are honored on those days so identified by the greeting card industry. Veterans and firemen, et al. are honored on Memorial Day as if these men are why we gather. I’ve seen the inside of a Baptist church building virtually clothed in American flags on July 4th weekend.

All of these practices displace the worship of God with lesser things, making man and his domain the focus of at least part of the time God’s people gather to supposedly worship Him.

The standard Baptist membership covenant from the 19th century requires members “abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” The Bible forbids getting drunk and warns about “strong wine” but does not prohibit the sale or use of alcohol for any but a few, such as Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-7). At the end of the time of his vow, the Nazarite was permitted to drink wine (Numbers 6:13-20).

Baptists call the church building “the house of God,” forgetting one lesson from John 4 – that in the New Covenant there are no sacred spaces and that the Bible clearly declares we are the house of God! The church building is not a sanctuary, it is, as an Anglican from New Zealand put it, a rain shelter. Our sanctuary is in heaven where our altar is – Christ Jesus is our all in all!

Baptist churches have sole “pastors,” “senior pastors,” “administrative pastors,” “executive pastors,” “worship pastors,” and the list goes on. All the while the Bible shows a plurality and equality of elders (“Pastor” not being a title found anywhere in Scripture).  Having two or more men who preach and teach provides several benefits, in addition to aligning with the examples and teachings from Scripture (Acts 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 20:7; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; et al.). Two or more men can sharpen one another and hold each other accountable, while the church sees the true Shepherd more clearly when they see Him work through more than one man. The church will see strengths and weaknesses in each man and those men will have the opportunity to be examples of how to serve in unity without letting egos derail the ministry. As they seek to identify others and train them for this service, more men will have opportunity to serve the saints in myriad ways. This is part of life in the body of Christ that is vital and often ignored or undervalued.

Each of these groups, and I pray, none of us, are what I call “white space theologians,” people who build their doctrine and practice on the white spaces in the Bible rather than the words God put there.

Many of these local churches have no statement of faith declaring to their members and interested saints what they believe; they accumulate their traditions along the way and new members find out by experience what’s important. This can be like walking through an unmarked minefield, and just as deadly.

We who are not of Rome tend to cling to our traditions as tightly as do the Roman Catholics. How can we defend this while rightly decrying their practice? Oh how I wish that Baptists would see the danger of our own traditions that are not based on Scripture and cry out for repentance! We were, once upon a time, called “people of the Book” for our tenacious grip on the Word of God. That name cannot, in good conscience, be applied to Baptists at large.

We protest, “Our traditions are not as bad as following Baal!” Yet search the Scriptures and see if you find any commendation for drifting away from God’s instruction in favor of any teaching of man.

My prayer is that each of us here would recognize the need we have to examine ourselves and our traditions – to see if there be any wicked ways therein. If we worship God according to our personal preferences rather than asking how does Scripture advise us to do so, we are in danger of drifting towards the black hole of Charles Finney.

D’Aubigne, in his History of the Reformation, observed, “Nothing terrifies the defenders of human traditions so much as the word of God.” He further recorded a scene in which a Cambridge professor named Bilney in the 16th century was tormented about his salvation and took the advice of Roman Catholic priests – abasing himself in myriad ways to make himself pleasing to God. He grew weak and wondered if the priests were more interested in themselves than in his salvation. He found a copy of the newly available Greek New Testament; he took it up and read 1 Tim 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. He realized that Christ saves sinners and he was a great sinner who needed salvation. With joy in his soul he rose up from the Book and declared that Christ had cleansed and redeemed him, eliminating all doubt and despair. “I see it all,” said Bilney; “my vigils, my fasts, my pilgrimages, my purchase of masses and indulgences were destroying instead of saving me. All these efforts were, as St. Augustine says, a hasty running out of the right way.”

This is what traditions do, if they are not of God and are pressed down on people as if they are required in order to please Him or build up His people. It’s as Paul said, the letter kills but the Spirit gives life! Unhealthy traditions are a burden that many know not they carry; but they weigh down on them more and more until they lose sight of Christ all together, so consumed in seeing to it their sacred traditions are upheld.

God help us so this may NOT be said of us! Let us remember our Lord’s words: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jer 9:24 & 25)

The Absurdity of Rome

In all the discussions I’ve tried to have with papists, I can count on one finger those who were willing to discuss the issues rather than merely put up a defensive shield constructed of Romish fables. One thing I try to do us show them from friendly sources how bizarre some of their beliefs are. They cannot see the truth unless YHWH opens their eyes. May He use the foolishness of His gospel and the outrageous errors of Satan to do so.

There is no peace with God other than by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. For He has told us there is no other name under heaven or on earth that can save men and there is only ONE mediator between God and man – the God-man Jesus Christ! There is no room for you or me – or for Mary.

Even IF she could undo all the knots.

Here are their words from the web site Mary Undoer of Knots.

This Novena is known around the world…..and can change your life.

Why a Novena? Why nine days? novena-booklet

Mary stayed during nine days surrounded by the apostles in the cenacle, praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In this persevering type prayer, She taught us the constancy and ardour of faith, so that we do not get discouraged when direct a petition to God. The Mother of God prayed and gave courage to the apostles to pray for the duration of nine days, in order to receive the most important and precious treasure for human life – The Holy Spirit.

We need to learn to persevere because it is written in Ecclesiasticus 2,15-16, “Woe to them that are fainthearted, who believe not God; Woe to them that have lost patience” and James says, “But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
( James 1,6-8).

Prayer is man’s strenght which shakes the heart of God because “nothing is more powerful than a man who prays” (St. John Chrisostomus) for they are participating in God’s power.
James tells us again, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly” (James 4,3) and St. Basil says, “If you have asked and did not receive, is because you have asked wrongly, with no faith or superficially or you asked something you did not need or because you have abandoned the prayer.”
“All graces we desire need to be asked through Mary, She provides everything we need” (St. Alphonsus Ligori). “All gifts, virtues and graces are dispensed by Her hands to whom She wants, when She wants and how She wants” (St. Bernardin of Siena).

Look at the picture of Mary Undoer of Knots!

In this angelic court, two angels stand out. One of them holds on to a ribbon, the ribbon of our life, which is full of knots big and small, loose and tight. They are the knots of our life, the knots of anguish and despair of separated couples, the dissolution of the family, the knots of a drug addict son or daughter, sick or separated from home or God, knots of alcoholism, the practice of abortion, depression, unemployment, fear, solitude, etc.

The good hearted angel looks to our Queen and holding onto the ribbon of our life, presents to Mary, the Undoer of Knots and says, “We trust you, Mother; You can help us. Undo, then, the knots of this life!”
Then, Mary takes our life into Her compassionate hands and with her long fingers of mercy goes on to undo each knot, one after the other. Look at Her. Feel the attention, love and tenderness with which She does this, hearing our plea, the supplication of a beloved child!
See what happens?
This ribbon becomes free of any type of knot, reflecting all the mercy and freeing power of the holy hands of Mary Undoer of Knots.
Another angel comes over, then, and taking the ribbon of our life, freed of all knots, looks at us and seems to say, “See what She did. Look at what Mary, through her intercession can do again. Trust Her, place your problems and afflictions in Her hands!”

The power of this Novena is the unlimited hope which through our faith we put in our Mother’s hands.
What kind of mother would be insensitive to the screaming pain of her son? This Novena opens Mary’s heart ( compassionate and sensitive) to Her sons, because She wants to reconcile them with Her Son.
“Who hath continued in his commandment, and hath been forsaken? or who hath called upon him, and he despised him? (Ecclesiasticus 2,12)
Because the constant increase in the number of devotees to the Novena, we are convinced more and more of the line in Saint Bernard’s prayer: “Never was it known that anyone who fled to Your protection, implored your help, or sought Your intercession was left unaided.” (St. Bernard).

“Nothing is more powerful than a man who prays” (St. John Crisostomus)

Back to reality. Note that last statement, amidst all the heresy? The one who prays is more powerful than the one to whom he prays.  If that clarify the nature of their god, I don’t know what will.

Romans 2 teaches NCT

Romans 2:12-16 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, New Covenantand all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

(Note: what follows is not a complete exegesis of this passage; it is a focused review of the stated topic.)

A casual read of this paragraph has caused many to get confused about Paul’s use of the term “the law;” it requires careful thought and analysis of what he is saying here and what is revealed elsewhere. Much of Paul’s use of “the law” is clearly meant to refer to the Mosaic Covenant and the Law of Moses. Those without the law are Gentiles: everyone who was not a Jew in Paul’s day, and includes all people in all ages who were not part of national Israel. It was clearly Paul’s kinsmen of the flesh who had “the law” in this paragraph.

Lost Gentiles are not without a law; God’s universal law convicts them of certain truths. We in the New Covenant are not without law; but we are not within the Law of Moses.

James gives the same counsel as Paul: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25) We see reference to a different law than that of Moses; one that is given to the church, not national Israel. He picks this up again in chapter two, My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. (James 2:1) Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9) This phrase, love your neighbor as yourself, is the second great command, taken from Lev 19:18. It is the other side of the coin which also conveys the greatest command: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, cited from Deuteronomy 6:5. On these two commands, neither taken from the Decalogue, hang the Law and the prophets – all the scripture then in hands of man. This shows us that while the Law of Moses is not our master, certain truths that apply to all of God’s people are found in his books. Jesus draws out two and declares them to be supreme to the Old Covenant, the essence of the New Covenant – love for God and one another; love as defined and portrayed in the Bible, not as our culture as deceitfully defined it these past few centuries.

Paul clarifies this in his letter to the Galatians, wherein he gives another term for the perfect law, the law of liberty, the royal law. These are not different laws we must figure out, they are different terms for the same divine concept, in simplicity for those in Christ, contrasted to the endlessly complex scheme developed by the nation of Israel. The New Covenant is contrasted with the Old Covenant in several places, the most familiar one being in Hebrews 8 where the old covenant is described as obsolete and ready to vanish. In Galatians 4 the old covenant is described as earthly Jerusalem and represents slavery while the new covenant is heavenly new Jerusalem wherein lies liberty. We, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise, children of the free woman. And our apostle gives us clear counsel on how to keep this law. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2) This is the love of God expressed in the body of Christ – we love Him by loving one another, and this is an example of biblical love – confronting a brother caught in sin. Not exactly what the world presents as love, is it?

While only the redeemed truly love God, even we are unable to love Him with all that is within us, as the first commandment requires. In the age to come, unstained and not tempted by sin, we will be able to fulfill this law. We can, however, love one another because Christ first loved us. This must be a deliberate focus as our fleshly desires will work against us. There can be no fatalistic “let go and let God” into our lives for He tells us to work out our own salvation (here meaning the present tense “being saved” that characterizes our daily walk) with fear and trembling. As one preacher put it years ago, “The path of least resistance makes both man and rivers crooked.” Seek after the Lord – He will make your pathway straight!

You will hear simple rules such as “if it’s not repeated in the NT it applies” and its corollary, “if it’s not repealed by the NT it applies.” These are easy to remember but not at all accurate. Tithing is seen before the Mosaic Covenant and required during it, including those Jews who lived in last century of that covenant, during Paul’s time. Such activity is taken note of the NT but not once is tithing taught by word or example as a New Covenant rule. Without understanding the rule of covenants, one cannot comprehend what rules apply. As Martin Luther summed it up, we follow Christ Jesus, not Moses – and Moses stands with us, accusing those who think their feeble attempts at keeping the Law of Moses will merit favor with YHWH (John 5:45).

The ancient preacher agrees with his New Testament brothers. He gave this advice as the sum of all he had written: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Jesus said the same thing: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

Note these tangible actions of loving one another in Christ. This is fulfilling the law of Christ, the law of liberty, the royal law – the focus being on truly loving one another within the body of Christ in response to being loved by Him. This is the same thing Paul, James, and Peter have taught.

After feeding the five thousand, many followed after Him because He fed them. Seek after the food that leads to eternal life, He told them. They then asked Him What must we do to be doing the works of God? (John 6:29) Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  This is the law of Christ – believe in Him, love Him, love one another.

Many Christians are struggling to keep the Law of Moses, having a faulty guide for interpreting Scripture. The right view of man and his need of Christ, with the biblical record of the faithfulness and sufficiency of Christ Jesus will provide the guardrails we need to keep from thinking the heavy yoke of the Old Covenant is ours. Acts 15:10 has Peter rebuking Jewish Christians who taught this: Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? Jesus, on the other hand, said Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

There is an old covenant, and old law, and a heavy yoke that was given on stone tablets to a people with stone hearts who worshipped in a stone temple. There is a new covenant with an easy yoke, a spiritual law written on tablets of flesh, given to people with hearts of flesh who worship as a spiritual temple; our Savior bids us find our rest in Him.

All will be made plain on the day of judgment, when God brings this age to its end.

I Surrender All

**** – Note from Mark — This post was written and meant to be an encouragement to the believers. It has gone far off track from that with the comment thread; therefore, I am shutting down the comments here. ****

There are times that I think God underestimates how much I can take in this life. The strength I used to think I had has disappeared, and now it is time to lean on Him. But, when I think about it, that is what I’ve been doing all along. Sometimes He just needs to remind me that I am weak, but He is strong.

i-surrender-all

The fact is that God does know how much we can take but He also knows how much He can carry, and that is immensely more than we can imagine. If you are His child, He will stretch you as much as He has to in order to bring you into a deeper relationship with Him.

This is something I struggle with, but I am learning to sing from the heart:

I surrender all! I surrender all!
ALL to Thee, my blessed Savior
I surrender all!

Surrender is not something that comes overnight, but it is something we must learn as we walk with our Savior and pray to please Him. We can’t pick and choose what we want to surrender and what we want to keep. Jesus gave everything for us. How can we give any less to Him?

Baptist – What Does it Matter?

Anyone passing through Pittsburg County will see many different labels on churches: Methodists, SDA, Presbyterian, Cowboy, Baptist, and more.
sola scripturaWhat is the significance of being a Baptist church and why does Arpelar Baptist matter, in this grand sea of varied churches? There are four significant reasons it matters that Arpelar Baptist is a Baptist church. These are not mere denominational distinctives – every group has those. These four characteristics emerged as spiritual truths that should mark any Christian church. First, a little history.

Where did the name Baptist come from? In the 1500s and 1600s, Anabaptist (the word means “re-baptizer”) was a label widely used for all sorts of religious groups that did not submit to the state church, in England and on the European continent. People who practiced believer’s baptism and held to a few other key doctrines took measures to describe themselves to the state, in an effort to distance themselves from the factions that posed a threat to the state and its church. They protested that they weren’t Anabaptists, and it appears that after a time of protesting this, in answer to the inevitable question (if you’re not Anabaptists, what are you?), the name “Baptist” emerged. The manner and meaning of baptism was, from the earliest times, a distinctive doctrine and practice that has divided people for centuries. We are called Baptists because we see the importance of practicing believer’s baptism – that’s the only baptism we find in Scripture. This alludes to a long-time description of Baptists as “people of the Book.” To depart from His special revelation we call the Bible means we rely on our wisdom. And of that we find no approval of in God’s Holy Scriptures.

There are some who hold to various views of successionism which claims that Baptists have existed since the time of Jesus, often pointing to John the Baptist. History does not bear this out. John the Baptist had that label because of his main mission – baptizing people for repentance. What is true is that we find in Scripture and in history, credible accounts of people who held to certain distinctive doctrines that, when Baptists emerged from the chaos of The Reformation, were true of Baptists. We have kin-ship with them. But until 1609, history knows nothing about a people calling themselves Baptists.

Baptist Distinctives. It’s my experience that we are not well informed on what it means to be Baptist. So let’s first take a look at…

Baptism. This is the best-known Baptist distinctive, although why it’s significant is often not well understood. We will quickly look at three aspects of baptism, which will demonstrate why people have misunderstood and fought about it. Books have written about each of these points, this will be a brief summary.

  • Mode.How is baptism administered? It ought not to be contested; the only mode found in Scripture is immersion. Many teachers of baby sprinkling admit this, but most of the professing Christian world sprinkles babies and calls that baptism. All we see, beginning with the baptism of our Lord Jesus, is clearly the manner of immersion – being dunked under the water. There’s not an exception to this mode and there are many example of it. Consider the eunuch with Philip, they went down into the water and came back up. If sprinkling was the mode, there was undoubtedly water in the chariot that would be plenty. They stopped at a river and went down into the water. The very word baptism comes from a Greek word that primarily refers to a ship that has sunk. We are people of the Book – we dunk people under the water.
  • Candidates. Who is eligible to be baptized? Most recognize faith of some sort is required. Since babies cannot be examined to see if they believe, at least 8 reasons are presented by those who sprinkle infants. Advocates of baby sprinkling read between the lines of lines in Scripture and imagine babies being baptized in a few passages. There is no mention of small children being baptized in God’s Word. ‘Tis far more straightforward and biblical to require the individual presented for baptism to declare his faith in Christ; to be examined by parents and pastor to see if there be evidence of a new creature. Another man’s faith will not serve well on Judgment Day when we each stand before the Lord.
  • Significance. What does baptism mean? This gets to the reason we cannot compromise on these first two points. The main reason baptism is given in Scripture is to point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He said of His baptism, (Luke 12:50), I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! By this, Jesus was not referring to John’s baptism of Him in the Jordan, though that is a type and shadow of the spiritual truth of what Jesus speaks of in Luke 12. The Lord’s true baptism was when He was punished for our sins on the tree. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did – cursed by God for the sins of others, He laid His life down for us, knowing He would pick it back up again. When we baptize believers, we read, We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. This gives us a picture of what has been done to us, that as the Lord Jesus was put to death and raised up, so are we – spiritually. This is why baptism is significant and why we cannot compromise on this topic. The Lord’s death and resurrection are the keystones of our faith.

Nature of the local church. There are three forms of government given to man by our Creator: The family, which teaches children the things of God and is the smallest government of all. The civil government, which is to reward those who do good and punish evil-doers; handling disputes involving citizens of the world. The church, which is the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), represents the kingdom of God in this age and handles disputes amongst the saints. It is here that people gather, for worship, instruction, prayer, and fellowship. It is here, primarily, that God meets with His people, having given the church shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:12-14). The church, both its local form and the universal form, represent the bride of our Lord.

With that background, we will take a look at 4 aspects of the local church.

  1. Local autonomy. This is another area in which the vast majority of Christian churches differ with us. We see in Scripture local churches in various towns that had relationships with other local churches, but not subject to men outside the church. The Council of Jerusalem, found in Acts 15, shows how the Apostles handled a contentious issue that affected many of the new churches. It was a one-time event, handled gently, with the desire that Christians stand before God with a clean conscience. The office of Apostle does not continue, and we see nothing in God’s Word about popes, presbyteries, or other denominational hierarchies that populate the professing Christian world and hold local churches under the thumb of elevated religious offices. The local church was founded by Jesus – these other religious institutions were dreamed up by man. Each church stands before the Lord, and her pastors will give an account to God for how they have served Him and them. This is why no man-made group can insert itself as lord over a local church – each pastor answers to Christ for his service and needs the love and support from the people the Lord has gathered there. The Scriptures are clear in describing two distinct offices or positions with defined responsibilities within the local church: elder/overseer/pastor and deacon are identified and qualified in 1 Tim 3. The men who serve in these offices are co-laborers, with distinctly different roles within the church. The qualifications from God’s Word for service in these offices are identical, with the exception that the elder/pastor must be able and willing to teach. Acts 6 gives us the best insight as to the function of these offices. The Apostles, forerunner of church pastors, were to devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word. Deacons were to tend to the physical needs of the dynamic and diverse body of Christ. As there are spiritual issues behind every temporal matter a deacon might be called upon to help with, these men must be qualified and there must be a good rapport between the deacons and pastors – so the body of Christ gets the best care possible.
  • Deacon: Who can serve as a deacon in the church is a hotly contested issue. This issue exists because of the use of the Greek and English words refer both to one who serves the local church in this capacity as well as those who are simply known for being servants to the body of Christ. Deacons are not required to be spiritual guides, feeders of the flock, or teachers; they are required as to be trustworthy and of moral character as they deal with matters of temporal importance, each of which has a spiritual foundation. The Greek word, diaconos, means servant and oft times in Scripture refers not to those in this office, but to others who serve the local body of Christ in many ways. The health of the church depends on deacons functioning well, which requires the cooperation of the pastors and the people. As with all things, our stand as Baptists must be in line with Scriptures.
  • Elder: This function can only be fulfilled by a qualified man. There is no possible interpretation that allows women to serve in this capacity; and yet many churches do. This is always a step to total apostasy for a church. In our English Bibles we see the words Elder/Presbyter, Overseer/Bishop, Shepherd/Pastor. Each pair of these words comes from one Greek word. They are used interchangeably and they all refer to a single office in the church. Man has developed unbiblical structures, imagining that Bishop is more honorific and must carry more responsibility (by which they mean fame). These words are not titles by which the men who serve are to be called, but descriptions of service they provide within the local church. The terms elder and presbyter refer to a man’s experience – in the Word and in the church. Overseer and bishop convey the act of being a spiritual guardian or protector, while pastor and shepherd refer to the spiritual care and feeding of God’s flock. And though these words are not meant to be used as titles, we find it convenient to put labels on functions and people. So one church will call these men elders, another, pastors. As long as the men serving in those offices are not being exalted, there’s really no harm.
  • Membership. Local church membership important for two over-arching reasons: it reminds the members that we are not of the world, but aliens and sojourners; and it tells the world that we do not belong to them, but serve a different King. Membership is, for most churches closely related to baptism. For the vast majority of churches which sprinkle babies and call that baptism, this means the infants are declared “covenant children” unless they rebel later in life. The Bible does not talk directly about church membership, we learn about it by seeing it in practice: the unrepentant sinner is thrown out of the local church, the sinning elder is rebuked in front of the local church, disputes between members are settled within the local church, and the Lord’s Supper is taken together as church. None of these make sense if small children and unregenerate people are considered members, as they cannot judge accusations in light of Scripture nor examine themselves to see if they be in the faith. Everything we do see in the Word of God around local church membership tells us it does have a relationship with baptism: both require a credible profession of faith in Christ and a willingness to walk in obedience to Him. So we do what we can to insure that every member of our church is, as best we can tell, a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Submission to the command to be baptized is an evidence of that faith.
  • Relationship to civil government. In the apostolic record of the Bible, each local church existed as on outpost for Christians in a hostile world. Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire because the church did not embrace the fable of the Caesar being a god. Until Constantine legalized Christianity, governments either persecuted Christian churches or tolerated them. When infant baptism was settled upon, initially for superstitious reasons, it was quickly seen as a wonderful tool for the newly crafted state church to determine how many little tax payers lived within her boundaries. Even to this day, the state church in Scotland allocates geographical regions to each local church. If you live there, that’s where you go to church – very much the way our government schools operate in this country. This is an issue that shows one reason the state churches hated the Anabaptists. All the so-called radical reformers had one thing in common – they believed the local church answered to Christ Jesus directly and that polluting the church with politics works against God’s people. Baptists developed this topic and embraced a healthy separation of church and state, a doctrine that recognizes the different spheres of responsibility God has given to each and recognizes that governments need counsel from churches so they can fulfill their roles – how else will a pagan government know “good” and “evil”? And contrary to many of the Anabaptists, who thought it sinful for Christians to serve in government offices, Baptists think such service is one way God’s church can influence civil governments to be better ministers according to Romans 13.

Liberty of Conscience. In practice, liberty of conscience is a product of one’s view of the nature of the local church. If the local church answers to none but Christ, then He alone rules the hearts of those in the church. If, however, the local church answers to a regional bishop, a pope, or a governor; that political/religious hierarchy inevitably asserts itself and demands obedience. Here’s how this doctrine worked out in the 1500s. Just as the Roman network of roads and the wide scale influence of Greek language and culture were orchestrated by God to bring about the fullness of time for the Lord’s first advent, so He brought about the printing press and common language Bibles to a people who were awakening from the dark ages and beginning to see a great light. Men such John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were used of God to bring His Word to the common people in their own tongues. As time progressed, Puritans refused to submit to the Roman Catholic Church regarding salvation – they believed in salvation by grace alone. They were persecuted by the Roman Church, which had the power of the state in hand, and fled to the colonies. Baptists who had fled from England, where the Anglican Church used the power of the state to persecute them for not sprinkling babies, landed in the American colonies and were persecuted by the Puritans for not submitting to their requirement that babies be sprinkled and churches submit to the colonial government. This shows what is meant by each Christian being part of the priesthood of believers – we each stand before God as individuals and our conscience can be bound by Him alone. Christians have minds that can comprehend spiritual truths but are still affected by inherited sin and active sin, keeping us from understanding Scripture perfectly. Hence, these tensions between Christians and the various views of secondary issues. This leads to my last point.

Authority of the Scriptures. Each of these points presented depends on the Bible being regarded as the express revelation from God. If we give passing assent to this but our lives are no different from the unsaved, we are either backslidden and in need of repentance or we are unsaved. How we see and submit to Scripture is a key indicator of whose we are. Two short observations: 

  1. Necessity of individual knowledge of Scripture. If we do not read and prayerfully study God’s Word we cannot properly exercise this precious gift of liberty of conscience nor will we understand the spiritual significance of baptism, the nature of the local church, or God’s love for us and wrath for the ungodly. As people of the Book, we must cherish and study His Word so we can be faithful servants to His people and faithful witnesses to the lost and dying world.
  1. Living in light of eternity, not for things that will perish. Our natural tendency is to live for what our flesh craves; this is, as James teaches us, the cause of conflict among us. We are to be focused on the heavenlies, mindful of who we are in Christ and live for His glory, not our own. If the Scriptures are all we need for life and godliness, let our lives be marked the One who authored them and live not for ourselves but for the glory of the One who gave Himself for us.

Four points on why it matters that we are Baptists. Having that name is not the important thing. Being true to the Scriptures is. Each of these 4 points reminds us of Whom we serve and where our hope lies, not that our label is “Baptist”. We live as citizens of God’s kingdom; traveling through a world at war with Him, proclaiming His life-giving gospel and walking as children of the Light. Let us love one another in word and deed, spurring each other onto good works prepared for us before the foundation of the world – as people of the Book, to bring glory to the name of our Lord and Savior and do good to all in the household of God.

Thankful to Be Loved

Several years ago, my sister and I were discussing “love languages.” My typical response, when someone asks what my love language is: “I just like to be loved.” There are things that especially make me feel loved but I know that everyone has a different personality, so I am grateful for any effort someone makes to show me that they love me. The one “language” that I didn’t think affected me at the time was “acts of service,” to which my sister replied, “Maybe it’s because you expect those things.” Ouch!

I’ve pondered that a lot since she said that and, although my initial response would have been to deny that possibility, there may be some truth to that. There are so many things that my family does to serve me that maybe I have become accustomed to and have lost sight of the fact that those things are done out of love whereas, if they stopped, I would probably feel the lack.

thankful

When someone shows you hospitality, I’m guessing you would be appreciative and sure to thank them. Yet how often do you thank your family for the things they do? When your wife makes dinner, do you let her know how much you appreciate her willingness to do that night after night? If your husband is a hard worker, do you tell him what a blessing that is? If your child does a chore without being reminded, do you thank him or her for the act of service? Have you thanked your Mom and Dad for the sacrifice they made while you were growing up?

Family and close friends are often neglected when it comes to showing appreciation and gratitude, but they are the ones who may need to hear it the most. Don’t assume they know how blessed you are because of them; tell them!

I don’t know that I will ever say again that “acts of service” aren’t a big deal to me. The fact is that my friends and family don’t owe me a thing, but I am grateful that they love me and are willing to show me in a variety of ways. I pray that I am faithful to show them love and gratitude in return.

I hope you will purpose this week to let people know how much even the little things mean to you. You will probably brighten their day.

roses