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)

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.

A lot to consider regarding our “little sins.”

The following article by Frank Powell gives us a lot to think about:

image9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus

What if the big sins, you know the ones you try hardest to avoid, aren’t the greatest threat?

I was in an engineering class the first time I watched the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Even though I wasn’t alive when it happened, I caught a glimpse of the horror thousands must have felt as the events unfolded.

And, the first question everyone wanted to know was, “What happened?”

After months of investigation, here’s what the Rogers Commission (the group commissioned to investigate the explosion) discovered: An o-ring seal in the right solid rocket booster failed at take-off. I won’t bore you with the details, but an o-ring is a small device relative to the size of a space shuttle. Very small.

It wasn’t something huge, like a puncture in the rocket booster or a hole in the cabin, that caused this disaster. It was a small, seemingly insignificant, o-ring failure.

I think there’s a lesson here for the church. What if the big sins, you know the ones you try hardest to avoid, aren’t the greatest threat to your joy and the church’s mission?

Maybe it’s the sins lying underneath, the ones considered normal or acceptable, the ones going undetected, that are affecting the church the most. I want to address nine of these sins.

Continue reading here.

What Is Evangelism?

(This is from the last section in the book I am writing on Baptist theology and practice.)

One of the major purposes we are left on this planet after being raised from spiritual death is to Evangeltake the gospel to every nation, tongue, and tribe; being evangelists and ambassadors of reconciliation. We need to clarify what evangelism is and will begin by identifying a couple of popular practices that are not biblical evangelism. First is the notion that inviting lost people to church is evangelism. This reflects the false notion that evangelism is for the “professionals” and it also lets those who are ashamed of or disinterested in Christ Jesus off the hook of being familiar with His message. 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 shows that unbelievers are welcome but not the focus or even normal attendees in the regular worship of the local church. Ephesians 4 teaches that the local church is to be equipped so the sheep will not be tossed about by the wiles of men. Contrary to the idea of inviting lost people to church, YHWH tells us, So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:12-13). By this, God means we are to go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); making disciples of those that have answered the call. About that, more later.

Secondly, many church leaders put emphasis on the personal testimony of those witnessing, rather than making sure they can communicate the gospel. Some even acknowledging that the reason for doing so is because no one can argue with your personal testimony, as it is subjective, whereas the gospel is objective and demands a response. They might argue about the content and the demand of the gospel, but not about what God did for you. This is post-modern thinking and goes directly against the biblical instruction we have as ambassadors of our Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

The essential element in all evangelism is proclaiming the biblical gospel (this was covered in some detail in Chapter 8). By doing so, we take the pressure of our performance and insure we don’t contribute to false converts, and we also get confidence in the Word and Spirit of God as we see them do the work that only they can do. Being familiar with the Scriptures will embolden us as we see YHWH has gone before us preparing the soil for the seeds we sow, insuring a good return for His kingdom; see Mark 4:1-9 and:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:10 & 11)

It is His Word, sent out as He intended, that will not return void, not the 3 minute summary of our personal testimony or a twisted version that He has not commissioned.

As we go about faithfully proclaiming our Lord’s message, we would do well to bear in mind that there are two calls involved in evangelism: we give a general call to every creature (Mark 16:15) and God gives an effective call to His elect (John 6:44). Our call is universal, general, and outward, as we do not know who He has chosen to save. His call is specific, effectual, and internal, as He alone knows those chosen before time to be His adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-10) and He will give ears to hear to His elect. We see this graphically portrayed in Scripture in several places, including the scene wherein Paul and Barnabas had been preaching Pisidia and gained the attention of many people.

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:44-52)

The message preached is found in verses 16 – 41. Gentiles and Jews heard the same general call, bringing them the good news that what God had promised to the Fathers He had fulfilled by raising Jesus from the dead. The seed fell on some rocky and thorny soil, but it fell on some good soil that had been prepared in advance by the good husbandman (John 15:1). As we see in the well-known road to Emmaus scene, it is YHWH Who keeps them from seeing or understanding until the right time (Luke 24:15 & 16; 30 & 31).

Jesus gave this general call in Matthew 11:28 and John 7:37, as people without respect to their persons were called to come to Him and find rest, to come to Him and satisfy their thirst. This is also the context of Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2, as men from myriad countries and religious beliefs (verses 9-11) were called to repent and be baptized (as a sign of their belief). The problem with this call is the same problem the Jews had with their Law: neither one can save or enable the hearer to be saved. People can claim to obey the law (Luke 18:18-23) and they can ignore or refute the words of men (Luke 14:15-24).

The general and effectual calls are likewise revealed to us explicitly in Acts 16, wherein we see Paul, Timothy, and Silas making a journey which finds them in Philippi where they stayed for a while. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (verses 13 – 15) A good number of women who were somewhat aware of God had gathered at the river and all had heard Paul’s gospel message as the general call went out without restriction. At least this one had her heart opened by YHWH so that she heard the effectual call and was obedient to follow in believer’s baptism.

There are some who think the Law ought to be a part of the gospel, as people need to be convicted of their sin before they can see the need of grace. The law provokes us and reveals sin in us, but cannot grant eternal life. John Bunyan is thought to have written this little poem, showing us with memorable lines the difference between the Law and the Gospel:

Run, John, Run! The Law commands;

But gives me neither feet nor hands.

Far grander news the gospel brings;

It bids me fly and GIVES ME WINGS!

Our Savior has said something similar, in Paul’s Roman epistle: For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3 & 4)

The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done to save sinners; refer to the Biblical Gospel in chapter 8. Our focus must be on that message, not 4 spiritual laws or any other nifty scheme man may have invented to make witnessing easy. We are not called to a life of ease; we are called to obedience. We are ambassadors of His message of reconciliation, not a one-off message of our own making. While the Law may rightly be used to show a self-righteous religious man his sin; it is not part of the gospel that every spiritually dead person must hear. Seeing the holiness of God in Christ, even in part, will do more to crush self-righteousness (as in the opening scene in Isaiah 6) than all the heavy yoke of the Law can bring to bear for the one who is being called to new life by the Spirit of the living God.

Much of the activity in a local church under the flag of evangelism takes place in what are called revivals. This is a logical progression under the previously mentioned idea that evangelism is bringing lost people to church. It appears that there is a belief that a specially called meeting with an out-of-town preacher will create an environment for sinners to be saved. I cannot commend revival meetings because I do not find them revealed or recommended in Scripture; I do not find them practiced by the early church; they presume man can schedule the work of the Holy Spirit; they rely on someone other than the shepherd of the local flock to feed them; and they influence many to chase numbers rather than spiritual growth. A century ago, a brother sounded a warning to the church regarding this practice:

The modem “revival,” the work of the “revivalist” who comes under the title of an evangelist, but works as a religious promoter in the organized church, is unexpected in Scripture, except as the word “revival” is used to denote a forward movement in the spiritual life of the church, without including the idea of attempting to regain some spiritual position once held, but now lost. The use of the word usually means, however, a getting up after having fallen down, or a waking after sleeping, or a coming to strength after a period of weakness; while, on the other hand, the Scripture pre-supposes a continual erect, wakeful and aggressive position for service on the part of every Christian (Eph. vi. 10-17). Thus, it may be seen, a “revival” is abnormal rather than normal. It may have a function when needed, but in no way should become a habit, much less a sanctioned method of work. Having regained vitality, believers are not warranted in habitually returning to an anaemic state. … The fact that a “revival” is planned for is a confession on the part of a church of a condition which would render the normal movements of the Spirit in salvation impossible. The call for the evangelist, under those conditions, also reveals the fact that the expectation of the church, to a great extent, is toward the man that is invited, rather than toward the Holy Spirit and His appointed ministry through the church itself. (True Evangelism, Lewis Sperry Chafer, epub, position 38.6 & 40.4, emphasis mine)

Evangelism, like all kingdom work, must be in accordance with the instructions and principles clearly given to us by our God. As discussed in chapters 5 and 6, regarding the nature and use of Scripture, when we use what man has developed to further kingdom work rather than what God has given us, we are betraying a greater trust in man than we have in our Creator. And this should never be the case for people of the Book! God is a jealous God and He will not give His glory to another. There is safety in our standing on and under the Word of God; it is His authority and revelation to us. History aligns with Scripture in bearing this out, as this short extract from an early debate between the reformers and Rome reveals:

Charles Eck had been sent by Rome to Germany to refute what Luther, Melanchthon and others had written in the Augsburg Confession; a document intended to declare essential doctrines and not to be the handmaid or rival to the Word of God. The Duke of Bavaria was the judge. After listening to the reaction to the confession, he asked Rome’s defenders, “can you refute by sound reasons the Confession made by the elector and his allies?” – “With the writings of the apostles and prophets – no!” replied Eck; “but with those of the Fathers and of the councils – yes!” (J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century, Volume IV, page 187, Sprinkle Publications, 2003) As was pointed out in chapter 7 regarding the use of confessions, this peek into history reveals the absurdity of using man’s documents to defend Christian disputes. If we cannot, by sound reason, defend our beliefs and practices by the writings of the apostles and prophets, we have no business expounded them as Christian doctrine or practice.

When man claims to accomplish by the flesh what only God can do, we steal glory from God and He will not allow that to continue. It is His work to raise sinners to life, as He breathed life into Adam, as He gave life to 4-days dead Lazarus by calling him forth. Let us abandon the false hope that we can defer to pastor-man or that we can cause God to respond to our schedule and schemes. His kingdom, His Word, His temple; He is building the New Jerusalem with spiritual stones that He gathers from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We can work with Him or against Him. ‘Tis a far better thing for professing Christians to work with God than in opposition to Him. May it be so with us, as we herald His glorious name throughout the world.

Fifty Years in the Chuch of Rome

Most magisterial reformers took only a half-step from Rome. Much of what protestant churches hold to was learnt from Rome. Certain doctrines and practices clung to men like the sin that so easily entangles us. The following is from Charles Chiniquy’s book, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, chapter 30; published in 1886.
Half-step from Rome
Later in the book, after describing the horrors women experienced in having their most secret sins pried from them by expertly crafted questions, the author reveals one of the vipers mentioned above.
586

The Visitor is available to download for free today.

imageWhat happens when someone travels into the past to deliver an urgent message about the future, but ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Would those unintended recipients of the future warning be able to stop any of the atrocities of the 20th Century (including the assassination of President Kennedy)? Or, in spite of man’s ability to travel through time, would God’s sovereignty demand that the horrible events of history’s past can never be changed?

The Visitor, by J.L. Pattison, is a short story best described as part science fiction, part history, part time travel, and part mystery. With a tablespoon of politics, a pinch of dystopia, and a dash of conspiracy, this tale will take you on an entertaining ride with a climactic ending that will leave you in contemplation long after you’ve put it down.

Here’s what others are saying about The Visitor:

– “I appreciated the conflict between the sovereignty of God and time travel. I have often wondered what would happen if time travel were possible. This story reminded [me] of the rich man and Lazarus from the Gospel of Luke, especially Father Abraham’s words ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’ Or in this case, traveled back through time.”  Javier L. Taylor (5 Stars)

– “A new talent to watch. . . . If the Twilight Zone still existed, this short story would be an episode, it is that good. . . . Rod Serling himself would be proud.” PapaPhilly (5 Stars)

– “Possibly the best short story I have [ever] read!” Anne (5 Stars)

– “I guarantee you will be old before you forget this book.” Mark Escalera (5 Stars)

– “Very thought provoking.” Laura McGowen (4 Stars)

– “The author has crafted an excellent short story that captures your imagination and draws you in with its characters. . . . Well done.” Chris Hohnholz (5 Stars)

– “Reads like a suspenseful Twilight Zone episode . . . . If you are a fan of the Twilight Zone this book is for you.” John Cavallone (5 Stars)

– “There is an allusion to the tension between the sovereignty of God and the outworking of history in relation to time travel. I find that to be an interesting thought experiment. Finally, there’s a big nod given to Neil Postman and his vision of the American future given in Amusing Ourselves to Death . . . . The weaving of an interesting fictional narrative with theology, history, political commentary, media ecology, science fiction . . . in such a short space is impressive.” Heath Cross (5 Stars)

– “I love that it moved quickly and touched on so many interesting points and . . . had such an unpredictable ending.” Bernard Ruiz (5 Stars)

– “It was amazing and scary at the same time. The Vistor left me breathless.” Michelle Bledsoe (5 Stars)

– ” I found this to be a new concept for this genre and actually left me pondering what I would change if I could go back and warn others. Overall, a very thoughtful and entertaining read. The writing and pace was perfect . . . . I found this very enjoyable and thought provoking . . . .” Jenaca (5 Stars)

– “The plot is compelling – I imagine Rod Sterling could adapt it quite nicely for an episode of the Twilight Zone.” Jay Eldred (4 Stars)

– “The Visitor . . . [is] . . . a truism that big things come in small packages.” Chad (5 Stars)

– “Very well written in a manner that kept me riveted to the end.” Paul Bayne (5 Stars)

“This story left me with so many questions, and theories. Not about the plot or the characters, but about humans and their choice of not seeing what’s right in front of their eyes.” Laura (5 Stars)

“I really enjoyed this book! . . . I didn’t want the story to be over. It had great depth and character development for such a short story. There were several thought provoking themes woven into the story line that hung in my head for several days after reading [it]. . . . I look forward to reading more from this author.” Kayci (4 Stars)

___________________

If you’re ready to read a unique tale that is also family friendly, then download The Visitor today at Amazon.com.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can still read The Visitor by downloading the free Kindle reading app to your tablet, phone or PC here

A napkin, a pen, and a Bible verse to prove the deity of Christ.

image“Years ago I read the following simple but effective illustration from Greg Koukl on how to use a napkin, a pen, and a Bible verse to show a Jehovah’s Witness that Scripture teaches (even in their own translation) that Jesus must be God. Greg, who is the president of Stand to Reason and the author of one of my favorite books on reasoning with unbelievers, kindly granted permission to reprint the explanation below. I hope you find it helpful.”

Read the entire article here