Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I am not a big Mark Driscoll fan but have to give him credit for a great explication of the Gospel in this excerpt from his book DEATH BY LOVE:

See this at Andy Naselli's blog here

Friday, December 26, 2008


An anonymous commenter responding to an old post here has got me thinking some radical stuff! It was a comment on the nearly-year-old post on congregational singing versus solo performances and he/she said, among other things, "At times I'm asked to sing solos in church, and I don't mind singing because it's something I'm passionate about, but what disturbs me so much is the feeling of being judged by the congregation because of my 'performance'."

That led me to some thoughts about the nature of the church in general. No doubt I am going to ramble on in this post; I hope you'll bear with me. We have today this dominant attitude of going to church to be an audience. The congregation is audience for the preacher; we are audience for the "performers" who sing (choir, instrumentalists, soloists). This is wrong, for starters. This wrong is either born out of or promoted and sustained by, among other things, that platform or stage upon which our "performers" do their act. Have we not copied that physical arrangement from the entertainment world?

Even the pulpit....Oh, you may say: That puts the Word of God at the center of our attention! I say it puts the Preacher at the center of our attention....and we sit there in the audience waiting to see how well he performs on any given Sunday.

We're approaching the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That reformation was born out of a spiritual awakening to the truth of salvation by grace alone apart from works. It separated the church from the man-centered corrupt theology of Rome. Unfortunately, the reformers despite their sound soteriology brought a lot of baggage with them. Many of the trappings of Romanism were carried over and still influence the idea of what "church" and "worship" should be like.

Lately, I have been wondering if we are not making a mistake in modeling the worship assemblies of the church so closely after the practices of Tabernacle/Temple worship of the Old Testament. I think this is what Rome did in the beginning (and continues to so do) and this concept has been maintained by the reformers, thus dominates in Protestant churches today.

The Tabernacle/Temple was the place where God came to meet with men. All the nation of Israel was commanded to worship there. Those assemblies were ceremonial in that they looked back in history to God's work among them and looked forward in type to the coming Messiah. They were not meetings of God's church in the same sense as in the New Testament. (This may be related to the conflation of Israel/Church which occurs to varying degrees in reformed theology. I'm not going there today!)

Anyway, it goes without saying that the OT services were filled with pomp and circumstance, very elaborate and liturgical. But...when we look at all that is given us regarding the New Testament church, there is none of this. No great choirs, no trumpets, no parades of priests, no palm-waving.....The church met together house-to-house; their focus was on prayer and fellowship, and the Word of God. God gave teachers and elders to those congregations to guide them and lead them, but there is no indication that those individuals "ruled" over congregations in the manner we see today....quite the contrary: humility and servant-hood are the main characteristics of the elders God ordains.

"I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, "If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me." -Soren Kierkagaard

I'm not a big Kierkagaard fan, but that's pretty near the mark, isn't it? We have gone from the church of Acts 2 to the modern-day iteration which meets in a 25 million dollar building, has a 5 million dollar annual budget (70% of which goes for salaries/benefits of "employees") and feels content that their obedience to the Great Commission is fulfilled by their 10% annual donation to the Cooperative Program. They have no local outreach. Jails, nursing homes, homeless shelters, food kitchens, all that stuff is left to the "liberal, social-gospel" churches.

The "audience" of 2500 comes once or twice a week to be entertained by the talented orator (preacher) and the great singers, then goes home to their niche in the world, happy to have done their bit for the Kingdom of God.

I wonder what it would be like to attend a real N.T. church? Imagine no stage, no performers, but a group of believers hungry for the Word, gathering together regularly to pray with and for one another, to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (even if off-key) without all the smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles, and velvet-covered pews? To have God-ordained elders stand in the congregation and say: Thus saith the Lord...and teach the Word as God gifted them to so do. To see and be among brothers and sisters whose hearts are truly broken over their sin and broken over the state of a lost world in which they live, those who have been made new creations in Christ and genuinely care nothing for the trappings of this life, easily giving whatever they might have that another has need of......To be a part of taking the Gospel to the streets, to the undesireables, to the social outcasts, the poor, the dirty, the wicked denizens of our cities, just exactly whom we would be like but for the Grace of God.

something to think about.......

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
(Gal 5:9)

Good ministries are being undermined. Not new, not a surprise, but still disturbing. First let me say what I mean by "good ministries" I'm talking about churches and other ministries which adhere to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, are evangelistic, own the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and hold to the doctrines of Grace, eschewing decisional regeneration and works-based salvation.

The other "ministries"--those compromised by the church-growth movement, entertainment theology, and living their best life now--when they go further astray, I'm not much bothered. It's seeing churches where I've always thought: That's my kind of church/preacher/ministry--seeing them polluted by the leaven of this world's perversion of Christianity--that's disturbing, saddening, and maddening.

Recently I've blogged a bit about seeing the "Prosperity Gospel" making inroads into "good ministries" There's so much of this stuff being peddled on TV and in the Lifeway Stores that the infection finally has been transmitted to formerly-sound Baptists, I guess. And, I suspect part of the reason is that Success Sells. Everybody wants to get a piece of the pie....

Now, I find a new virus infecting another "good ministry"--not really "new" but new with respect to its appearance in the part of the world where I live. Someone wrote me the other day and asked what I knew about Neil Anderson. Well, I'd never heard of him. I've managed pretty successfully to miss all the trendy "new idea" theologies for the past 30 years or so. They come and go without appearing on my radar. I'm still reading stuff written in 300-400 A.D.

Neil Anderson is a demon-hunter. He sees Satan everywhere. He is more impressed with Satan's power than with Christ's from what I can see. I'm not going to repeat a lot of what I've read since hearing the name, but here's a good place to get some background:

Anyway, that called my attention to the leader of a "good ministry"--one I am (was) very much supportive of, impressed by, blessed by, etc, this leader quoting Anderson and touting his specious theology of demonology. The Anderson "method" includes believers having to repent for their ancestors' sins of idolatry since they are, because of the ancestors, under the "curse of God."

I have to ask: What are these people thinking? Do they not recall certain admonitions about forsaking Grace and returning to the bondage of the Law? Have they forgotten the "Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin"?

From that website I noted above:

These demonization ministries are Satan-centered, with Christ brought in to save the situation. If they were Christ-centered they would seek to minister the two aspects of the Christian life: death to sin (the old man, the law, the world, and Satan), and Christ as Life, with the Christian life hidden with Christ in God. Romans. 5-7 comes before Romans 8. All ascended life is predicated upon death. The believer is to be taught to count himself dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).

Both these sets of error--prosperity gospel and the demon business--were born (or revived) in the Charismatic movement; they thrive in the Charismatic movement. Seeing them make inroads into formerly-sound, non-charismatic churches and ministries is frightening. It's another step down the road to the final apostasy. Biblically sound churches have been few and far between for the past 30 years in my personal experience, and obviously will become more scarce as time goes on.

It is imperative that we take a stand for the Truth. The cost is going to be increasingly high. Are we prepared to pay?...or will we allow just a bit of leaven for comfort's sake?

Monday, December 22, 2008


I guess every ministry has its special tragedies. In prison work, the worst thing I can think of right now is seeing an inmate who has done his time or been paroled, gone home, get in trouble again and return to prison. Of course, overall that is the way the System works. It's called "recidivism" and the percentage is about 85%--that is, 85% of all inmates, once released, will "re-offend" and end up back in prison.

Still, those of us who work with these men and get to know them and love them, and know the testimonies of God's grace working in their lives, do not expect to see any of them back in prison. It does happen, however. This past weekend was a particularly rough one for me. Friday night we were holding our regular service in a facility which has about 150 men in a special program for parole violators so our "congregation" is mixed between those fellows who are in a 6-month program and regular inmates doing time.

We had a big turn-out and some new faces and I was wandering around greeting the guys when a familiar face appeared--familiar, but out of place. Brother Spencer, who had been a member of our group in another prison until a couple years ago when he was paroled, was back. He was embarrassed and I was stunned. This fellow would be voted "Most Unlikely To Reoffend" if I were the voter. Soft-spoken, dignified, intelligent, reserved, about 50 years old......looks like a college professor. As we talked, he told me his parole was violated for "Failure to Report"--meaning he skipped his mandatory meetings with his parole officer, probably habitually to get violated for it. Without knowing for sure, I'd guess he got back on drugs and in that messed-up state, did not care or know whether he reported.

Then Sunday night, at the prison where I first met Spencer, the Chaplain's Clerk (an inmate) asked: Do you remember Brother Hamm who used to sit back in that corner pew? Sure I remember him, I said. "He's back....." This hit me hard, maybe because I was still suffering from the Friday night episode; it was like being punched. "Where is he?" I asked, since it was obvious that he was not in the Chapel. The clerk explained that Hamm was back in the living area because he was ashamed to show himself to me or the other guys in the Chapel service. I told him to go ahead with the singing service and that I'd be back in a few minutes....

Down in the living area, I asked the officer which cell was Hamm's and was directed to 119. As I headed in that direction, I saw him watching me...."I guess you came after me, huh?" he said "Who told you I was here?" Through his embarrassment, he was smiling and happy to see me, at least on some level. We walked back to the Chapel together, he tried to express how ashamed he was and how difficult it is to face his brothers after such a fall. And I, probably pretty lamely, tried to tell him that we loved him none the less and wanted him to rejoin our group and worship with us. We had a small group in that service, most of whom knew Hamm from before, and they welcomed him warmly and sincerely, leading me to think that it will benefit him to associate with them, that they will genuinely minister to him.

It breaks my heart every time this happens. Yet, it will always happen so long as men are in this sinful flesh. It's good for me to see how quickly one can fall. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1Cor 10:12)

This prison system is a self-perpetuating monster. I'll try not to get started on that. But I will start on this: We minister to these men while they are incarcerated. There are lots of good ministries, doing a good job of preaching the Word, faithfully getting the Gospel to these inmates. While the guys are locked up, they can go to services almost every day. Some services are not doctrinally sound, to be sure, but many of them are. Men are converted while in prison, and Christian inmates are brought back into fellowship with the Lord during their time behind bars. This part works pretty well, if not problem-free.

The problems begin when the men leave prison--at sentence end or on parole. We encourage them to find a good church home, even give them recommendations to visit specific churches in the area where they are going to live. Sad fact is that many churches do not want these "convicts" in their congregation. Yes, it is the individual believer's responsibility to find a place to worship, but it seems to me that the church ought to reach out to these men willingly and lovingly rather than the men having to go through rejection after rejection from uncaring, unconcerned and even frightened congregations.

Right now, I have four former members of my "congregations" in half-way houses in Nashville. I have actually "advertised" for a church to minister to these men. Currently these guys are wandering from church to church, attending all sorts of off-the-wall, undoctrinal assemblies just because they don't have any guidance. From my advertisement, I got one response. After that fellow managed to get the approval of the elders for these men to visit, he apparently was unable to find anyone to arrange transportation for them. I've not heard any more from him after the initial flurry of interest.

Overall, the "church" has made it clear to me that: 1. They are not interested in ministering to "those people" at all. 2. For those of us who do go and carry the Gospel inside, fine. Just keep it to yourself. 3. If those inmates are saved while in prison, or are restored to a walk with Christ, when they come out, they are still "those people" and not welcome in "our church"

With that heart, I guess the "church" is relieved when the guys end up back in sin, back in crime, and subsequently back in prison. That's where they belong, right?

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word;....(2 Timothy 4:1,2)

Recently I was again exposed to the negative aspects of "topical preaching." So often, I am tempted to say "always" but won't, so often, the preacher takes his heart's Topic and drags in every scripture verse he can find in support of his own view as he builds his "case."

The result is a man-made conglomeration of error and half-truths and the Word of God lies mangled at the preacher's feet. I speak as one who has fallen into this trap more than once. I have hobby-horses just like most men do. I have "proof-texts" too. But that imperative "preach the Word" does not mean: preach what you think is right and torture the scriptures as necessary in order to support your theme.

The art of expository preaching, where one preaches through a text verse-by-verse, protects both the preacher and the hearers from much of the error which can come from the work of sinful men, even regenerated sinners. The Word acts as a restraint upon our passion to promote our own ideas and pet theories. We should be, by this framework, held close to the intent of the Holy Spirit Who penned the words of the text. It is so easy to grab a verse somewhere because it "sounds good" in support of our topic when in fact, it is being used out of context, either grammatical or historical, or both.

"Preach the Word" means preach His Word, not ours.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I am reading and being greatly influenced by Michael Horton's new book CHRISTLESS CHRISTIANITY and am stunned to find aspects of the "prosperity gospel" theology creeping into what were previously considered "sound" churches via the preaching/teaching of men previously considered "rock solid" This is genuinely frightening.

I'm going to quote at length from the book here, particularly from a sub-chapter titled "From Riches to Rags: Losing the Gospel by Taking It for Granted" It seems more sensible to me just to quote his text rather than try to restate it in my own less succinct way.

"We got in by grace but now we need to stay following various steps, lists, and practices. There was this brief and shining moment of grace, but now the rest of the Christian life is about our experience, feelings, committment, and obedience.

Across the entire spectrum from conservative to liberal, we are being told that we need to focus on our deeds, not creeds. Of course, Christ's person and work are important; but we already believe that, right? That's doctrine, we are told; not helping people where they live. Now, we have to save America and the world through our holy actions....

The worst thing that can happen to the Church is to confuse law and gospel. When we soften the Law, we never give up on our own attempts to offer our rags of "righteousness" to God. When we turn the Gospel into demands, it is no longer the saving Word of redemption in Jesus Christ alone....

No longer threatened with hell or comforted with heaven, the new legalism is the upbeat and cheerful hum playing in the background. It's still a form of works-righteousness, with its carrots and sticks. Follow my advice and you'll really "connect" with God's best for your life. If you are not happy, perhaps you have fallen out of God's favor and blessing. Only those who are "completely surrendered" can be confident that they are in God's Plan A. Now here are the steps to living the victorious Christian life. Are you following the steps? Do you have enough faith? Are you praying enough, reading the Bible enough, witnessing enough, serving in the church enough, loving enough? This diet of imperatives becomes just as burdensome and human-centered as the older legalism; it's just Legalism-Lite....

We need the Law and the Gospel, but each does different things. When we confuse law and gospel, we avoid both the trauma of God's holiness and the liberating power of His grace. We begin to speak about living the gospel, doing the gospel, even being the gospel, as if the Good News were a message about us and our works instead of about Jesus Christ and His works.

And since our faith in every moment is threatened by our natural tendency to be distracted from its object--Christ--we need the gospel to be placarded before us not just at the beginning but throughout the Christian life. The gospel is for Christians too. We need to be evangelized every week. It is not by following Christ's example but by actually being inserted into Christ, clothed with Christ, united to Christ--as the Spirit creates faith through the gospel--that we are not only justified but sanctified as well....

So there are really only two religions in the world: a religion of human striving to ascend to God through pious works, feelings, attitudes, and experiences, and the Good News of God's merciful descent to us in His Son."

(CHRISTLESS CHRISTIANITY by Michael Horton, c. 2008 by Michael Horton, published by Baker Books)

How often do we hear this formula?-- OK, now you're saved through the Gospel. It's time to start living like a Christian. You need to "move on" by means of proper behaviors and actions.

Matthew 6:33 is presented as a "moving on" message. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" then, after you have so sought, work hard, be honest, and God will give you all those blessings!

What a travesty of the Gospel!.....what "another gospel, which is not the gospel."

"Seek first the Kingdom of God...." does not mean a one-time conversion experience after which we are blessed by God for our pious actions. We are to seek first the Kingdom with our every breath, every day, in every way. The Gospel is not a pill we swallow, then go on with our lives, getting the occasional "boost-up" from God's hand. The Gospel is Christ, the Way, the Destination, the Journey, now and for evermore.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Day After Election news pundits are nearly all telling us that regardless of how we voted, we should be celebrating the forthcoming presidency of Barack Obama....that this is an event of monumental historicity.

Just what is it that we are celebrating?

That this country has just given a mandate to an unknown quantity......a Mystery Man?

That we have just elected the Novice of Novices to lead the most powerful nation in the world?

That a man whose entire adult life has been guided and influenced by the philosophers and activists of the far Left is promising "change"? (Change from free-market capitalism to Euro-style socialism, an idea merely dabbled in by the recent Republican floundering, can become the legislated Way very quickly)

That a man professing a pseudo-christianity but demonstrating utter disregard for human life in the unborn now seems to be the personification of the American culture?

That we have elected a man who sees no problem in expanding the concept of marriage to include homosexual couples?

That we have elected a man who not only condones and supports the sinful behavior of our government in years past but is anxious to expand government granting legal permission for and protection of practices which are an abomination to God?

.........Well, no, not exactly.

That's not what we are to be celebrating.........

We should be, they say, celebrating the fact that Barack Obama is Black.

That's it folks. We have elected a Black man as President, so congratulate yourself! Never mind all the characteristics listed above......We have done a Great Thing!

Well, pardon me if my "celebration" is a bit subdued.

Is the best thing you can say about Obama "He's Black."? Maybe.....

And we're getting these celebration suggestions from the very same source, the news media, which for over a year has been telling us that we should not allow race to be a factor in our decision-making process.

Don't vote for him because he's Black. Don't vote against him because he's Black. But now, we've elected him and we need to celebrate the fact that he's Black.......?

Are we as a nation that stupid? Maybe.....

I can think of some guys (mostly not politicians) who would give me a lot greater inclination to celebrate were they President-elect: J C Watts, Alan Keyes, Voddie Baucham, Eric Redmond. Hey, they're Black, too....but I wouldn't be celebrating because they are Black, but because they have a worldview which honors God and would incline them to keep our country on the path laid out in the Constitution.

Four years or eight years hence will we look back at our country in ashes, economy wrecked, society in shambles, and take comfort in: Well, at least we elected a Black man! ? ? ?

Believe me, the tragedy would be just as tragic if we were led down the road of destruction by a white man. This seems like some kind of Orwellian brain-washing campaign--telling us how wonderful it is because the skin-pigmentation of our new President is somewhat darker than his predecessors.

Eric Redmond wrote of his personal conflict in deciding which way to vote, since he is Black. I can understand, considering history and man's nature, the inclination to vote for someone who looks like you and has had similar cultural experiences because of that skin color. The question is: Are those considerations weighty? Are they more important than other issues? Redmond decided "No" and said this about his decision:

If a person would allow himself to be pigeonholed into becoming a person of a nationalistic or ethno-centric thought out of the fear of being viewed as an Oreo or Uncle Tom, then Reformed Theology is not for that person. But neither is the Gospel, for the Gospel calls each of us to stand against an ethnic-centered philosophy of one's own race, for such a philosophy is naturally conformed to this present world and is in need of redemption. If you cannot stand against your own culture where it does not square with the Scriptures, you are the one who is ashamed of Christ, and such shame has nothing to with philosophical or ontological Blackness; it only has to do with your view of the majesty of the God who calls you to deny yourself in order to follow Christ. ("Sovereign in a Sweet Home, Schooling, and Solace," in Glory Road: Our Journey Into Reformed Christianity, ed. Anthony Carter [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, Wheaton, forthcoming])

(You can read his entire article here

Nothing to celebrate here, folks......move along! Let's not be caught up in taking cues for our behavior from the press or television pundits. Let's not give ear to the blind guides......

There are some real mandates regarding our human government, however, and they come from a Source to which we must give ear: the Word of God.

1. We are to pray for those in government, local and national, regardless of how we feel about their policies. They are ordained of God according to His purposes. That means we need to pray for Obama; pray that God changes his heart; pray that God be glorified in all that is done in this forthcoming administration.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
(1Tim 2:1-2)

2. We are to be obedient to the government and courteous toward the governors and others.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(Titus 3:1-2)

3, Not just being obedient to the government but doing so because we recognize that it is ordained of God!

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
(Rom 13:1-2)

What??? You still want to celebrate?.......Celebrate this:

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
(Rom 4:7-8)

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
(Rom 5:8-11)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: 'The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. "'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
(Rev 2:18-19)

There's that word διακονία (diakonia) rendered "service" but often translated "ministry" and from which the word "deacon" is derived. Obviously, it's meaning is related to service or servant-hood. There's a lot of talk about "ministry" in the local church today but I am having a tough time finding anyone really interested in doing it. In the passage from the Revelation quoted above, the Lord Jesus is telling a local church "I know your ....service...." That gets my attention. It should get the attention of some of the pastors I've had dealings with recently.

I know without asking that a lot of my "problem" derives from the fact that I work in prison ministry and my "congregations" are convicted criminals, felons, some guilty of really ugly stuff. The "church," including the pulpit, is jam-packed with folks who think they are far and above more holy than "those people" who are incarcerated. That's probably the root of my problem....

Nevertheless, it is really frustrating to call upon "fellow ministers--servants" and find that they are totally unable, unwilling, to remove themselves from their book-lined offices and mingle with the common people. Let me give you a couple of stories from my recent experiences:

We had an inmate in a 6-month "boot camp" program for first-time felons, a program designed to send men deemed by the state to be "salvagable" home on parole rather than spending 5-8 years incarcerated, learning how to be more successful criminals. A high percentage of these guys are under 30 and locked up for various drug charges. This particular young man was 25, had a good testimony of conversion and said he felt God's call on his life to be a preacher of the Gospel. He was from a city where there is a church which fellowships with my home church so I called the pastor to ask him to visit the man's mother who lived within rock-throwing distance of his church building, to meet the young man when he got home, etc. I had given the inmate the church's address and phone number, and although his early church attendance had been in pentecostal circles, his Bible study had pretty well given him an understanding of the doctrines of Grace, so he was excited about going to a doctrinally-sound Baptist church.

So, I called this pastor and told him what was going on, gave him the guy's name and the date when he'd be home and the first words out of this preacher's mouth are: What was he locked up for? Now, in a way, that's a legitimate question, but what does he think.......I'm gonna send him a serial-rapist, axe-murderer? The man had absolutely no interest in ministering to any ex-convict, no matter what. That telephone conversation was brief, centered on the Big Question. It had taken me two weeks to even get him on the phone because he never returned my calls prior to me finally catching him. After that conversation, I resorted to e-mail have never received any response to any communications since that day.....nor have I heard from the young inmate who, if he met with the same level of "ministry," probably drifted back into his pentecostal world or abandoned the idea of "church" altogether. Well, pastor, Jesus Christ says: I know your service.......

Another story: In another prison, another congregation, I have a faithful "member" who has a wonderful testimony and a heart of the type which can only come from God. He and I have spent many a time praying and weeping over his family over in East Tennessee, which includes a wheel-chair-bound sister and her mother-in-law with Alzheimers--a family where most of the men are in prison right now. This sister for whom the inmate was providing most of the care and assistance had attended a local Baptist church for some time until her disabilities further restricted her ability to get around. I talked with her on the telephone several times and kept her brother apprised regarding her surgeries, etc. The inmate, I'll call him "Bob" has a real burden for her soul and for that of others in the household and because it's too long a trip for me to make over there, I decided to contact a nearby congregation to see if they would send a minister to visit this family and share the Gospel with them. Once again, this is a congregation with close ties to my own church--people I should be able to have confidence in, right?

After two or three tries to get any of the pastoral staff on the phone, I got an associate pastor during a week when the rest of the staff was out of town for various reasons. I gave him all the information: phone numbers, addresses, names, situations, my contact numbers, etc. He said that on Monday of the coming week, he'd be on the case, as soon as some others were back to cover the office. That's the last I ever heard from them. Bob's sister never had a call, never had a visit, nothing. (I will state right here that I did not call them back to find out why....just the way I am--like Barney Fife, I don't chew my cabbage twice. I have no confidence that the second promise from them to "help" would be of any more value than the first)......and, Mr Associate Pastor: Jesus Christ says "I know your service......."

Well, Bob's folks still need ministry and in a subsequent phone call his sister told me that the local congregation had helped them several times and she really liked that church. I looked at their website and saw that it was probably the largest congregation in the town, about 600 and their doctrinal statement hinted that they might be more than just a First Baptist Entertainment Center so I decided to call the pastor there. It happens that I knew his father back in dinosaur days and the old man was a fine, Godly pastor. Pastor Son had absolutely no interest in taking my phone calls. His incoming calls are filtered through 2 secretaries and I never got him on the 3 weeks of trying! I won't take up space with all the reasons proffered as to why he could not come to the phone, even when he was in the office. Some light entered last week as Secretary #2 asked "Who are you with?"....and I said "Aha, he thinks I'm trying to sell him something...." Though I had told them before, at one time or another, all the following: my name, location, that I was a volunteer prison chaplain, a Baptist preacher, a friend of Pastor's father, a Baptist missionary.....Even when I told her again "who I was with" soap! After I hung up from what I had decided was my last effort, I had the brainstorm.......and called her back: Hey, does Pastor Son have an email address? Yep, so I got it and sent him an email with all the details and my hope for some help.

And, surprise, surprise......I got a reply, and he had actually done something! Their phone had been disconnected so I had been unable to check on them for 6 weeks or so. He sent a deacon out to the house and reported that they were "all right" and gave me a new phone number. Now that's all I got, far short of what I asked for or feel like I needed with regard to health reports, etc, but I can now get them first hand. He also gave me a litany of what the church had done for these folks over the last year or two.....which I already knew. But the tone was: We tried to help these bums and they came to church for a while but haven't been there for 5 months so we're washing our hands of them. The two emails with which he responded to my lengthy, detailed inquiries totaled 3 sentences. Maybe I'm hypersensitive, but I read a clear: Now, don't bother me about this any more....

I have to give this fellow credit for at least doing something but am still disappointed in the way he isolates himself, or at least isolated himself from me. I cannot understand that kind of behavior in a pastor. "I know your service........."

I've always felt that too many churches are populated with people who hold in disdain the "great unwashed" populations of the backroads and sidestreets of our communities, the down-and-outs, and no group is more in that class than the families struggling with incarcerated members. We love to look down on the criminals who got caught. It seems impossible for the average church member, even some pastors, to realize that it is only the restraining Grace of God which kept them (and keeps them) from the same end. We have modified "servant-hood" to exclude service to those who are "not deserving" those who are too far gone into sin and need to waste our time or resources on those ne'er-do-wells. (And, yes, I am quite familiar with the types who thrive on fleecing churches and other charities, and do not disdain the use of discretion and stewardship principles).....BUT,

To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:29-36)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Get THE Point?

"God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man’s own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner’s inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen."

J. I. Packer, “Introductory Essay” to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (London: Banner of Truth, 1959)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
(Romans 1:22-23)

Recently I was invited to preach a Sunday morning service in a small country church pastored by a friend. He's a wonderful fellow with a real heart for the downtrodden and is a faithful worker in prison ministry.

In a month of study on the Glory of God in Preaching (using Piper's book as a guide), my heart was greatly impressed by the absolute primacy of God's Glory in all that we do, preach, how we live, how we conduct ourselves among other people, in church and out. I guess that's stating the obvious....but it's one thing to believe that in one's head and quite another thing to have God impress it upon one's heart.

So, I delivered the message and as much as one can tell, it seemed well received by both the pastor and the congregation. We had the traditional "dinner on the grounds" (It was Homecoming Day) and after lunch returned to the auditorium for the traditional "singing."

The first group to perform make the oft-heard remarks of how their goal was to "lift up the Name of Jesus" and "glorify Him" etc. Immediately following these protestations of piety came 7 songs totally bereft of any mention of the Gospel, the Work of Christ, or the Glory of God. At that time I thought I'd remember all seven titles and record them somewhere for posterity, but my failing memory leaves me only with a hint of the first 3 titles: "I'll Never Be Ashamed" "I'll Never Turn My Back" and "I Need One More Miracle" (or words to that effect). Three more equally Christ-less examples followed, capped off with a popular chorus, "On Holy Ground" which does have at least a hint of the Lord of Glory......but only a hint.

We were able to escape after that set and I drove back home really stunned by what I had just experienced. Now, these people are not evil; they are local folks, good church members, moral, honest, friendly, and would tell you in a heartbeat of your need of Jesus Christ. I love that pastor out there for his testimony of God's great grace intervening in his wicked life at nearly 40 years of age, for his burden for the outcasts of our community, for his devoted ministry to prison inmates.

But they, like the fools Paul excoriates in Romans 1, have traded in the Glory of God for an idol. Rather than a stone or carved wooden idol, this 21st century group has an idol not just "resembling mortal man" but, in fact the mortal man himself. We are so often the focus of our worship. In the vernacular of this culture: It's all about me!

As I discussed this situation with my wife the Monday morning following the event, I wept over the state these folks are in. They simply don't get it.
This is dangerous territory. I do not want to sound "holier-than-thou"...for me, I barely get it. I'm just beginning to understand a little of God's view of His glory. I've been trying to put together an analogy which would picture how I feel.......

I am driving my car through a dark valley. A friend sits beside me in the front seat. Now and then, in between the peaks of the hills which surround us on all sides, I catch a glimpse of the brightness, the radiance, the glory of the Sun. It is overwhelming! There are no words adequate to describe to anyone what I see during those too-brief seconds of Light.

I turn to my friend to share the wonder of what I've seen......Wow! Did you see that? "What" he says. "I saw nothing. What are you talking about?"

And, he doesn't see it. They don't see it. Why does someone not see what is evident to me, and to others? I do not want to use the word "blind" in my analogy here because of the spiritual implications. "Blind" people are lost. I don't want to label any of these people as "lost"; I don't think they are all lost. But, why do they not see? Maybe my friend has the sun visor down and it blocks his view. Maybe he is reading a newspaper and will not look up. Are they distracted? Is something blocking their view?

What will it take to clear their view?

Where will we see the Glory of God?

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Our Associate Pastor/Music Minister reported in his blog that Bob Kauflin mentioned one of Wesley's points during the recent Desiring God Conference. Hearing that motivated him to publish the entire work and I, having been much impressed especially by #4 and #7, want to share this with you.

John Wesley’s Directions for Singing is found in the front of some Methodist hymnals.

1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing to slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761

Monday, September 15, 2008


To understand this fully you'll probably have to read the post entitled "Our Sovereign God", dated July 22, 2008.

"The Rest of the Story" came to light about 10 days ago and I'm just now recovered to the point where I can write about it. Sunday before last our Chaplain's Clerk (an inmate) told me that one of the other inmates had written to Donald at the halfway house but the letter had been returned as "undeliverable" Enclosed with the original letter was a note from another of the former inmates who lived in that house--one of the mature Christians I referred to in the original post.

He reported in this note that Donald was in jail. He had been stealing from the other residents in the house and when confronted about his actions, he attacked the house manager (another of the "mature Christians" who I hoped would be a good influence on Donald). Though he managed to give the man a couple black eyes, he was quickly subdued by other men and given quite a beating. So, he off to jail again, probably going to have his parole violated and be returned to prison (after he does some jail time for assault).

It seems that very quickly after he arrived in this house, he began to steal from his neighbors and to con every preacher and church group he could think of. As I said earlier, he called me wanting money. Only thing keeping me from being a "victim" here is the fact that I'm broke. At least 5 other volunteer chaplains at the prison reported being hit up for money by him and I know some of them sent him money. Of course, I recommended him to a Nashville pastor whose church put up the $200-250 to get him into this halfway house!

What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire."
(2Peter 2:22)

So, what are we to do? A great number of us were so impressed by Donald: his personality, his apparent interest in the things of God. He sang in our services, he testified to the great work of grace done in his life. I'm sorry to report that I am relieved to find that others "fell for it" too--that I am not alone in being fooled.

Is Donald saved or not? Formerly, I would have answered that question by saying: He gives good evidence of genuine conversion. Today, I cannot say that; but I cannot say more. The more pressing question is: Now that he has done this, how will I treat him? If he were in a jail near me here, would I go to see him? Will I pray for him? Will I care for him as much as I did before he showed himself to be a lying, deceiving sinner? Just how much better than he, am I?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Part 2.

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
(1Tim 3:2-6)

Maybe in this segment I can get to the point....

All that KJO stuff previous was born out of a recent experience with a young pastor who is of the KJO persuasion and took great umbrage because of a quote I posted elsewhere--a 1954 statement by A.W. Tozer wherein Tozer decried the decline of fundamentalism into (even then) shallow, worldly, man-centered religion.

This young fellow's problem is that he has been taught that fundamentalism = the belief that the King James Version is "the" Word of God; that short haircuts on men, dresses on women, and attendance to every church service are Biblical mandates, even indicators of salvation.

That's why I get in trouble when I describe myself as a "fundamentalist"--because I mean none of that by the word. Before the 60's or whenever the co-optation of the word took place, "fundamentalist" meant simply and clearly "an adherent to the fundamentals of the faith." Those fundamentals were defined with some variation but more or less agreed-upon to mean:
1. The inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. 2. The virgin birth and Deity of Christ. 3. The vicarious, substitutionary, and penal death of Christ. 4. The bodily resurrection of Christ. 5. The imminent return of Christ.

From thinking about this fellow, who is pastor of a small Baptist church, my thoughts expanded to include all the young preachers I have come across in the past 30 years--including myself, for I was young once. Very few of the men I am thinking of are scripturally qualified to be pastors (elders, bishops). They are novices! My experience is limited to the Baptist world, either independent Baptist, or Southern Baptist, and in a small corner of the world, but this is what I've seen. Men are routinely "ordained" to the Gospel ministry based upon their profession of a calling from God followed by an examination conducted on a local level, by other pastors, many of whom themselves might be poorly qualified.

What we end up with is churches, especially the smaller, "country" churches, pastored by novices who lack:

1.) Emotional maturity simply because of their age and lack of life experiences.

2.) Any education or training whatsoever (who lean heavily on "Ye have no need that any man teach you..." while clearly lacking the "anointing" referred to in the same passage)

3.) At best, or perhaps "worst" some of them have been trained--at Dr Billy Bob's Bible School and Flea Market--where they were indoctrinated into the particular cultic mindset of whatever sub-set of "fundamentalism" they belong to.

I speak from experience, too, having qualified in all three of those categories at the time I was "ordained" by a local SBC church: NOVICE: saved only 2 years. NOVICE: no education or training of a theological nature. NOVICE: under the influence of the KJO, neo-fundamentalist world I lived in as a new convert.

Part of the problem here is that there are way too many local churches and too few qualified pastors. The county where I live has about 28 churches in the local association. There are usually 5 or 6 open pulpits--mostly little 20-60 member congregations (some even smaller) who can barely pay a man gas money for driving out there and holding one service a week. They have no teaching ministry ("Sunday Schools" are a travesty), no outreach, no witness, most are just kept alive by tradition and family sentiment (Grandad is buried out back....). I have preached in several of these, just filling in on a Sunday morning. I have been offered pulpits in nearly every one....after one appearance......with no questions asked apart from "would you be our pastor?" The idea of qualifying a man to be the episkopos based on his ability to walk into a building, speak for 40 minutes without slobbering too much, and having a firm handshake, prevails in too many such situations.

I heard this story (not directly from Paul) that Paul Washer preached in a pastor-less church one evening, first time ever in the town, and after the service was approached by the leadership who offered him the pastorate! Just like that......! Now, he's an impressive preacher, to be sure, but his reaction was right on: What? You don't KNOW have no idea who I am, how I treat my family, how I live my life.....and you offer me your pastorate?

Exactly. This passage of scripture carries no weight with entirely too many churches. because they are desperate, they are frustrated, and they are like ships without a rudder. They have no internal leadership to carry on when there is no pastor. Of course, this is another strong argument for plurality of elders but that's for another time.

Compounding the problem that these hundreds and thousands of churches, especially small congregations are "led" by novices is something even more disturbing to me. In recent years, mostly in the "internet phase" of my life, where I have been in contact with many more "pastors" than would be possible for me to do "face-to-face," I have found a level of carnality among these men which is astounding. In this internet world, the filthy mouth, the trivialization of the things of God, the preoccupation with things of this world (sports, money, sexual things, etc) demonstrated by self-styled "men of God" is absolutely mind-boggling. And, I'm not hanging around with unitarian-universalists or liberal Methodists...I'm talking about "fundamentalists".

We're all sinners. I am aware of my own fleshly inclinations, so I'm not talking about the occasional slip and stumble; I'm talking about a lifestyle of worldly preoccupation, behaviors, and attitudes. Much is written these days about the problem of the local churches being populated by an unregenerate membership. Real problem. A product of the decisional regeneration heresy, superficial "evangelism" and psycho-babble preaching of the self-esteem mantras.

Now I'm beginning to suspect an even more disturbing aspect of this situation: unregenerate pastors. It would not be illogical for these novice preachers, those who perpetuate the easy-believism heresy and the morphing of fundamentalism into a system of outward appearances, for them to be deceived even about their own salvation. When they are teaching others that one's salvation depends upon "saying the prayer" and "walking the aisle" why should we not wonder if they have fallen for the Lie? J.C. Ryle said it succinctly: Where there is no holiness, there is no Holy Ghost.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Part 1

Today, August 3, 2008, I went to church carrying my Bible.

Zowie, that's a hot item, huh?

It really is because that Bible was an ESV (English Standard Version). I did it without thinking, because we missed Bible study and were going just to the preaching service, I decided to leave behind the large, heavy Key Word Study Bible (KJV) which I usually carry to our Small Groups class. This event marked the first time in the 32 years I've been going to church that I did not carry a King James Version.

That should say something.......and I've been trying to figure out just what it says. It's not a landmark because I've been using other translations for years--mostly ASV and NKJV--for study and comparison; and have unhesitatingly referred to Greek and Hebrew texts and commentaries like Keil and Delitzsch and Robertson's Word Studies. Maybe what it says is that old habits die slowly.

When God saved me, He used the witness of some fellows who were members of an Independent Baptist church of the most extreme sort, and one decidedly King James ONLY. Though we lasted in that atmosphere only a few years because of our discomfort (and worse) concerning various practices and teachings, the King James stuck with me. It probably took 20 years for me to get over the KJO brainwashing I had been subjected to. I remember my wife taking up with an ASV (American Standard Version) at some point and making a serious effort to dissuade her from using it. (She still uses it.)

Furthermore, I always liked the KJV, and still like it. For my own reading it's fine; I love the Jacobean language and am comfortable with it (probably related to my love of Elizabethan literature). All the scripture I have memorized is from the KJV. I never make any effort to memorize ESV or NASB. At the same time, I am aware of the various weak spots in the translation and correct them in teaching or preaching without the slightest twinge of guilt--an act which is directly contrary to my KJO indoctrination.

For the past few years, since I have been preaching in prisons, I frequently intersperse readings from the ESV where the archaic language of the KJV is just too much to cope with, especially for a group of men whose average education is on the 3rd grade level. One can take the time to translate the occasional archaism when reading from the KJV, but some entire passages are replete with words which cause my listeners to go "Huh?"

The KJO world is still out there; it's small but it's loud and it's impenetrable to reason and logic. And, it's sad to see people so wrapped up in a totally baseless "philosophy" which is, in fact, idolatrous. Though it might sound to some as if I'm making this up for the purpose of mockery, I assure you this is true and not unique, though maybe not a majority view in the KJO world: I have heard it taught (condensed version here): Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1); the Bible (KJV or course) is the Word of God; therefore, the Bible = Jesus. We are carrying Him around with us. We worship the Bible (Jesus).

So, it's hard to get along very far with KJO folks if you're not one of them. I started working as a volunteer with a prison ministry which is KJO. It's a great ministry with fine, Godly men serving therein. I had no problem because I always used my KJV (which is just how I am; I didn't do it just for their benefit; I always preach from the KJV) I was compromising to some degree in that I knew better than to "correct" the KJV in any way, whereas I might have so done in another setting. I finally got convicted about my duplicity and have forsaken the work. It's interesting though, looking back. My "calvinist" preaching never bothered anyone; but if I had "corrected" the KJV or quoted my ESV, I'd have been jerked out of the pulpit in a heartbeat.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Friday evening I got a telephone message from a paroled inmate from one of our prison groups. He was supposed to be in a halfway house in Nashville. His message sounded like a "distress call" for money and sure enough, when I talked with him Saturday, money was on his mind.

This is not good for several reasons, not the least of which is that I have no money to send. Cynical old me has all this negative stuff go through his mind about "back on drugs" etc. That happens and though this brother was one with a strong testimony in our group, it's not impossible.

He was not very clear about his situation except to say that he was "thrown out" of the halfway house and was back on the streets. He wanted me to send him a "money-gram" from Wal-Mart. I told him I had other ideas and would get back to him. I needed time to pray and think about how to handle the situation. He told me where he was specifically in the Big City and I knew that he was very close to a big church which has a good outreach to former inmates.

I emailed the senior pastor there and he got right back to me with: Tell him to call me and we'll see what we can do. So, I gave Donald the number and left the ball in his court. Except I was still wondering why he got "throwed out" of the half-way house. I had the name of the place in my mind so I called there, asked to speak to the House Manager, then asked the guy what was happening with Donald. He acted as if he'd never heard of him and said he was actually the Director and would have to have the Manager call me back. That sounded fishy......and they never called back.

So, just a few minutes ago, Donald called me again. "How are you doing?" I asked. "Better than ever in my life" he said. "Praise the Lord! I am living in Such-and-such House and I have a job!" He called the church when I gave him that number. They paid the $250. it took to get him a place in the house and they arranged to get him a job!

This is already a great story to the Glory of God but let me tell you "the rest of the story"--

I had the house name wrong. He was living in So-and-so House, where he was thrown out, because as he says "things are not right there" (All kinds of stuff does go on in some halfway houses....drug dealing, etc) The house I called was not the one where he was; that name was in my mind because two other guys from our Sunday group are living there--one of them is the House Manager!

So, because I had called there asking about Donald, when he showed up the next day, they knew a lot about him, and were almost expecting him! He's with guys he knew back a year or so ago when he was in the same unit with them. These are older men (55-65) and solid, stable Christians.

He said the Director (the guy I talked to) told him: "Oh, yeah, Chaplain Franklin already called about you......" !!!

I had this all wrong.

I was suspicious that Donald was back in trouble.

I called the wrong house.

All I did that was right was direct him to a non-Baptist, non-calvinist which just ministers to the "undesirables" in their community.

Down side is that Donald thinks I really did something great......though we had a great time praising the Lord for His great kindness....

And I learned another lesson on the Providential workings of a Sovereign God. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


It strikes me that the hurricane-force winds which accompanied all the activity in Indianapolis last week have quickly subsided into occasional breezes.

The blogosphere which last year was credited with such power and influence seems miserably impotent today.

There was a brief period of rejoicing over the manner in which the "church membership" resolution which came out of committee emasculated by the non-rockers of the boat was infused with virility from the floor through efforts by Tom Ascol and Malcolm Yarnell...then passed by a solid majority (some say 2/3) of the delegates.

To a cynic like me, this "victory" seems rather of the Pyrrhic sort. Kinda like, we hold a referendum nation-wide on say, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, and it is a 2/3 vote! Is that a "victory"?

When 1/3 or more of the delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting vote "No" to the question of whether local church membership should be based on evidence of spiritual regeneration........can we cheer?

A fellow cynic stated elsewhere (Timmy Brister's blog, perhaps) that purging inflated church membership rolls would not happen because of "pride". What will happen, he asks, when the membership of the SBC drops from 16.7 million to 10 million, or to 7 million, a more realistic number based on actual church attendance? How will we bear the shame? It's quite one thing to pontificate about our sin in our meetings together, but to go public? After all these years of hearing the news media say: The Southern Baptist Convention, the world's largest Protestant organization, etc.??? What will people say?

This same Resolutions Committee did not report out at all but File 13'd an even more telling resolution which would have affirmed the absolute foundational need of correct (Biblical) doctrine in all evangelistic efforts. Delegates never saw it.....irrelevant, I guess.

In hindsight, no one (except me) confesses to being surprised by the election of Johnny Hunt as President of the SBC. Two years ago when his name was bandied about as a probable candidate, there was such an uproar, at least in the blogosphere, that in the end, he let it be known that he would not have his name put forward. Last week, he was elected without a fight, first ballot, all opposition reduced to "token" status.

Some random thoughts:

One wonders what would have happened had Al Mohler's illness not forced him to give up the thought of running. Me? I think that was Providential and kept Mohler from making a mis-step.

Johnny Hunt is not simply a non-calvinist. We've had lots of "non-calvinist" presidents in the past 50 years and done very nicely so far as that goes. Johnny Hunt is the personification of the rabid anti-calvinist mentality seen in one corner of the SBC--the straw-man builders, the demonstrably ignorant (or worse) who cannot or will not differentiate between the various forms of Biblical theology called "calvinism" and the unBiblical heresy called "hyper-calvinism".

He is portrayed by his supporters as a "uniter". I think he's a politician. I think he has one stand before this group, and another stand when speaking at another group. His church is the locale for a meeting this fall which includes speakers like Paul Washer, Kirk Cameron, and Todd Friel. These men are not members of the "everyone is elect" club. First, I was surprised, then I learned that Woodstock was just the venue, not the sponsor. OK.....then, another surprise: Hunt is one of the speakers! His topic is the sufficiency of the Scriptures. The question is: Will he speak to the topic or use his "bully pulpit" to "correct" the calvinists who speak ahead of him? Should be interesting..........

BOTTOM LINE: The actions of the resolutions committee, the casual election of Johnny Hunt, etc, all demonstrate the establishment mentality that "business as usual" is the intention--despite the resolution on church membership. That will probably turn out to be merely lip service. I predict that SBC membership will still be 16+million two years from now; churches will still report 5000 members and have 954 in attendance Sunday morning.

The chasm will widen between calvinists and non-calvinists in the convention. There may be a reverse resurgence in which the non-cals make an effort to "clean up the seminaries" (one in particular).

This does not have a happy ending.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


James K. A. Smith teaches philosophy at Calvin College and is the author of a book, Thinking in Tongues: Elements of a Pentecostal Worldview which will be published next year. In a recent article in Christianity Today, he wrote of his theological position, that of a calvinist pentecostal. It's an interesting article; I think he's probably a nice fellow, and I have no reason to doubt his salvation. Most of what he wrote simply did not resonate with me, but that's cool--much of it is experiential stuff anyway. He did make some theological statements, too--one of which is so blatantly wrong, I am compelled to write about it.

"First, Pentecostals believe in healing--and they don't mean only "spiritual" healing. They think physical healing is part of what the Cross accomplished. God doesn't want to just save your soul; God also cares about your body. The Pentecostal emphasis on the healing of the body is an affirmation of the goodness of embodiment."

That is just so outrageous in so many ways, I hardly know how to begin.

1.) Non-pentecostals believe in healing also. Anyone who has ever gotten over an illness or recovered from an injury has been healed.....healed by God. God is the only source of healing. God also uses means. Not all His healing is delivered by direct intervention in some openly "miraculous" way (though all healing is indeed miraculous). God has provided, in His grace, doctors, medicines, and all that accompanies them.

2.) Mr Smith implicitly equates physical healing with spiritual healing so let's carry on the thought about means. Just as physical healing is accomplished by Him through means, He uses means to spread the Gospel of salvation: men, preaching the Word to every creature. God could have, in His sovereignty, intervened directly with the Good News. All men could have gotten the Word by some direct communication, just as God could heal any and all sickness by direct action. That is not the manner in which He has chosen to work out His plan.

3.) "Physical healing is part of what the Cross accomplished" Yes..........and No.........that is, No, not now. We all know ISA 53:4: with His stripes we are healed. This is the key verse for the "Healing in the Atonement" advocates. I am yet to be convinced that it refers to physical healing at all, though obviously all believers will experience an eternal "healing" when we are glorified. So, for this discussion, I will allow that it refers to physical healing as well as the very obvious spiritual healing.

First of all, then, healing for whom? Mr Smith is a calvinist and thus should know that the work on the Cross is efficacious only for the elect. So, there is no physical healing for the non-elect? But lost people get healed all the time, as an aspect of God's common grace.

And, the main question: healing when? If healing is "in the Atonement" then we believers should never be sick! Oh, wait.....some pentecostals make that healing dependent upon how much "faith" one has. Now, Mr Smith did not fall into that pit, but by staying out of it, he still must answer: If, like salvation of our souls, physical healing is a "benefit" of Christ's work on the Cross, then that healing should be ours, unqualifiedly, as the elect of God, as His children chosen before the foundation of the world.

If healing is in the Atonement, how can we explain Paul's ongoing infirmities? How do we explain: Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.
(2Ti 4:20)

Why did the Apostles die? They had the power to heal the sick and to raise the dead! (Matt 10)

4.) As I said, I am convinced that the healing referred to in Isaiah is specifically "spiritual" healing from the sickness of sin. Let's consider two passages of Scripture:

Peter quoted Isa 53 in one of his epistles--writing to believers, he said: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Pet 2:24)

Note the past tense. In verse 21, he wrote "Christ also suffered for us....."........PAST TENSE......Done. Finished.

Christ suffered for us.
By His stripes we WERE healed.

Obviously, this does not refer to my arthritis from which I have not been healed. It is decidedly a reference to the sin-sickness of those to whom Peter wrote, and it is a reference to the sin-sickness of all those who have been born again by the Spirit of God, had their sins forgiven, been made new creations in Jesus Christ. We WERE healed.

5.) A final word on ultimate healing. There's no doubt about eventual glorification for believers. Romans 8:30
That this final phase of our salvation, following justification and sanctification, is a product of Christ's work on the Cross is undeniable. And, it's plain from Scripture that it is not something which happens in this sin-corrupted body. We must be changed. We are temporarily bound to a death-doomed, sin-weakened body. It's end is certain: death and the grave. But.......death was defeated on the Cross, right? Yes!

"Christ has broken the power of Satan, who held the power of death (Heb 2:14), at the Cross. But Satan will not be permanently divested of his weapon of death until the end of the Millennium. " John MacArthur

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
(1Cor 15:26)

6.) "God doesn't want to just save your soul; God also cares about your body" At first glance, it seems risky to contradict that statement. You want to say that God does not care about your body? But what Mr Smith is doing here, by accident or design I'm not sure, is equating spiritual salvation and physical healing--making them equals. I want to state unequivocal disagreement with that notion. God did not send his only begotten Son to die on that cross with a view to redeeming our corrupt bodies. Those bodies are temporal things of His creation. All His creation is perverted and corrupted by sin. He sent His Son to redeem us from sin and the ultimate redemption of all His creation comes with that, but these bodies are going to be changed, changed into glorious bodies like unto His. The work of Christ in redemption was not a job of patching up damaged goods. When a man is born again by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, he is a New Creation, not a repaired sinner. When God heals our temporal body, it is just that: a temporary repair done to something which is doomed to the grave, now or later, it's going there. The two works are by no means equal. God's concern cannot be considered equal between the salvation of the souls of His elect and the temporary delaying of an inevitable physical death.

7.) "Pentecostal emphasis on the healing of the body is an affirmation of the goodness of embodiment." OK, my first thought here is: What on earth is "affirmation of the goodness of embodiment"? "Affirmation" and "embodiment" must be a couple of the latest buzz-words in neo-evangelicalism. I do hear the "affirmation" word now and then in my circles (and think maybe I've fallen into using it myself once or twice). To me, it means: I did X and the next day Y happened giving me affirmation that God was in it. True affirmation from God comes via the witness of the Spirit and the Word of God, not from fleshly rationalizations or coincidences.

Anyway, what is this he has affirmation of?--"the goodness of embodiment"..........I re-read the article hoping to find that he had defined that jewel of an expression and, sure enough, here it is:

"An important piece of that affirmation is the goodness of embodiment--the goodness of the stuff we bump into, the bodies we inhabit."

Got it now? Me, neither......But it's born out of his view that Reformed theology has a strong appreciation for the "goodness" of God's creation, the material universe. And, since our bodies are part of that Creation, we should see and enjoy the "goodness" of them.

First of all, I've never seen much emphasis in Reformed writing or preaching about the "goodness" of the material universe in the way Mr Smith sees it. Subject to correction, I do not think he is echoing the Psalmist who wrote:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
(Psa 19:1)

Mr Smith seems to be overlooking the fact that all God's once "good" Creation is now under a curse. The once eternal bodies of Adam and Eve are now cursed by the effects of sin and ultimately, death. What was once "good" "very good" and indeed perfect, has become corrupt, defiled, twisted, and defeated by sin.

That Fall is what necessitated the work of our Redeemer. Not only does man need to be redeemed from the curse of sin and death, but all God's Creation:

Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
(Rom 8:21-22)


The danger of this emphasis on physical healing and the "goodness" of the material universe lies in overlooking the great cost of sin and its effect on man and the rest of God's creation. If this material universe is "good" well, maybe man isn't so bad, either. We just need to appreciate ourselves more, seek out that notorious "spark of goodness" which lies buried in every heart (!) It's a short step from this kind of thinking to a watered-down gospel which is not the Gospel.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Ever been faced with a song during congregational singing which you just couldn't force yourself to sing? There are several on my list nowadays but our church's music service is so good, I don't have to deal with the situation very often. Sometimes the music selection in our prison services leaves something to be desired. One group of men has used a Church of Christ hymnbook for a long time and they sing the corrupted lyrics to a few old standards....hymns which have been gutted of the Gospel of Grace in order to maintain the works-salvation philosophy of that group.

For years, I have found it impossible to sing: I Surrender All. I wish.......Was it Tozer who said: Christians don't tell lies; they just go to church and sing them? I mean, that's a great heart to have: total surrender. If it said: Lord, help me to surrender all; I long to surrender all.........that's singable. But the bold statement: I do surrender all--a lie for me to sing that.

My main complaint about "Southern Gospel Music" is that so much of it is man-centered. (Disclaimer: there is some good sgm....this blurb is not about the good, but the other stuff). I had a Latin teacher who, when referring to the Holy Roman Empire memorably said: It was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. I remember that 50 years down the road. Well, SGM is like that for the most part: neither Southern, nor Gospel, nor Music. Way too much of it is all about "I" and "Me" and very little about the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and what He did and is doing. It's too often about what "I" did and how "I" feel and "me, us, and them" and little or nothing about Him.

So, after 3 paragraphs let me get to the point. There's a song gaining popularity in my very conservative world which, to me, is of the same ilk--a song with serious "I" trouble. And I wonder if no one sees this but me (and my wife).....or are we just over-the-hill into "crank"-dom? Rather than quote bits and pieces to make my case, here are the lyrics as I found them on a website. Actually these seem a bit different from what I remember, especially the first verse, but the impact is the same. I have highlighted in red the portions which are about "I" (and "we" at one point, whoever "we" is....):


We're an anchor to those who are hurting
We're a harbor for those who are lost
Sometimes it's not always easy
Bearing Calvary's Cross.

We've been ridiculed by those that don't know Him
And mocked by those who don't believe,
Still I love standing up for my Jesus
Cause of all that he's done for me.

That's why I am not ashamed of the gospel
The gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not afraid to be counted
But I'm willing to give my life.
See, I'm ready to be all he wants me to be
Give up the wrong for the right.
No, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For every moment His hand has held mercy
For all the love that He's shown all my life,
A simple thanks doesn't say how I'm feeling
I've got tears in my eyes.
So as for me I'm going to keep on believing
In the one who's been so faithful to me
I'm not out to please this whole world around me
I've got my eyes no eternity.

That why I am not ashamed of the Gospel
The gospel of Jesus Christ
I am not afraid to be counted
But I'm willing to give my life.
You see I'm ready to be all he wants me to be
Give up the wrong for the right.
No I am not ashamed of the gospel
No I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

I've got too much behind me
To let this world blind me
To some He's just a name
But to me He's my everything

No I am not ashamed of the Gospel
I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

--- Dawn Thomas

Now, rather than go on and on and on......any more than I have already, I want to make just a few statements and hope that some of you will interact on them. First, my feelings are very strong on this song: I think it's an abomination of pride and maybe it affects me more because I am so convicted about my sinful pride.

1.) Sometimes it's not always easy bearing Calvary's Cross.......Unbelievable statement from anyone who has any knowledge of Scripture! "Sometimes" cross-bearing is easy some days? And, "Calvary's Cross"?......We are not bearing that cross. We're told to take up our own cross and follow Him. Only He can bear Calvary's Cross.

2.) "I'm willing to give my be all....." Easy to is cheap! We should pray that God make us willing, but this attitude of having "arrived" is overpowering throughout this song.

3.) "I'm going to keep on......I'm not out to please........I've got my eyes......." Look at me, me, holy am I????

4.) "I'm not afraid.........I'm willing........I'm ready to be all......." Especially that "I'm ready........" OK, folks, I have arrived! The arrogance reaches a crescendo........

5.) "I've got too much behind me............." This is the mystery verse to me.......What does that mean? Is it a reference to one's past........or does it mean: I have this Great Power behind me (supporting me) so that the world can't blind me? Well, if past is precedent, it's not about the Lord but about "I" and "me".......

Paul wrote that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: I am not ashamed of the Gospel............Paul demonstrated that he could indeed say that. I grant Paul that........I long to be able to say it. But I know that I demonstrate my shame for the Gospel all too regularly.......every missed opportunity, every slighted chance to bear witness of my Redeemer is evidence of my shame, diminished it might be from what I demonstrated years ago, I do not, I cannot sing these words.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Overwhelmed By Grace

We partook of the Lord's Supper yesterday morning and I was (and am) particularly affected by the sermon and the service. Earlier in the service two adults were baptized and, as is our practice, they gave a brief testimony of God's redeeming work in their lives as they stood in the waters. Both were greatly moving depictions of His love and grace, transforming lives from misery and hopelessness to peace and hope in Christ. Our pastor's message from I Cor 11, the standard texts for the observance was far from "usual" in that he was greatly empowered by the Holy Spirit to communicate to us (to me, at least) a vivid remembrance of my Savior's body and blood and a fervent longing for His return. He had spoken of our Lord's body being "crushed" as Isa 53:10 is rendered in the ESV (Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; ) The use of "bruised" in the KJV seems weak to us today; being bruised is no big thing. But Jesus was crushed for me! As he spoke about the bread he said, as I have heard others say but not with such convicting power, it would be so much more meaningful if we had a chunk of bread rather than those little Baptist crumbs we use--a chunk of bread from which we would tear pieces--symbolically tearing His body as it was torn for us. Because it was us, it was me, who tore His was for my sin that the Father crushed Him.

So, as the elements were passed to the congregation, I took my little wafer and, as I have always done because I have this dread of ever dropping it, I held it tightly between my index finger and my thumb. This particular wafer had a big air pocket and not much substance. As I squeezed it, making sure I didn't drop it, I crushed it in my fingers. I am incapable of writing well enough to convey how this affected me. Tears well up even now, 36 hours later, as I try to write this. I crushed it. I crushed Him. He was wounded for my transgressions; He was crushed for my iniquities. It was me! It was not some amorphous group of "them" There is no anonymity available in the Truth of His death. It was me. Horatius Bonar wrote:

'Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.

But that's not the end........

He died that death willingly, for the joy that was set before Him.
He died that death willingly, to reconcile me to God.
He died that death willingly, out of Love:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Bonar concludes:

Yet not the less that Blood avails
to cleanse me from sin,
and not the less that Cross prevails
to give me peace within

Yes, I crushed Him. But the Blood avails; the Cross prevails!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Non-Congregational Singing: Performance or Worship?

In our Small Group meeting Sunday morning, conversation touched on this subject-- one which really needs examination in the Light of Scripture.

I've thought some about it prior to then, and have been thinking about it ever since. I encourage anyone and everyone to chip in their thoughts, especially those with specific Scripture in support of the viewpoint.

In my mind, the question revolves around whether musical offerings, especially non-corporate, non-congregational, thus either solos, trios, or choirs, require some degree of "quality" or "perfection" with respect to musical ability, ear-pleasing to the human hearers........or whether that is in fact, irrelevant, because the idea should be that of an offering to God, a sacrifice of praise.....and the fact that the singer is not "recording-artist quality" and may even be off-key and not particularly "pleasing" to our ears should not be a consideration.

Now, I am a great example of a non-starter when it comes to singing: can't carry a tune, even with a wheelbarrow. I have no desire to stand up on the platform some Sunday morning to sing a solo! I'm not overly convinced that solo or small group performances are a big contribution to corporate worship at all.....but to continue this line of thought, suppose we are having a time of testimony on Wednesday night.......or in our class......and rather than talk (or preach!) I am moved to "sing" a testimony? Songs like "And Can It Be?" and "There Is A Fountain" speak strongly of my personal view, my own experience, and I sing them all the time (when no one can hear but the Lord).....So, if I stand up in a group and squawk out a verse or two of a song like seems more like real worship than an orchestrated, pristine, rehearsed, "professional" rendition, though the latter would be more appealing to the ears of the congregation by far..........

There is great emphasis in music ministry (I speak as an outsider) on "quality" performances: timing, orchestration, overall pleasing to the human ear musicality. Defenders of this intense effort, in my experience, fall back upon the description of O.T. sacrifices to justify their position.....that the sacrifice be "perfect, spotless, not the lame or otherwise flawed." Is this proper exegesis? When we speak of the sacrifice of praise, is that offering to be "perfect, flawless" in the eyes of man?.......or the eyes of God?

To me, this looks like a case of man looking upon the outward appearance (outward sound)........where God views this offering of praise as it comes from the heart of the person singing.

Complaints about poor quality singing in "specials" are surely a product of the flesh: the music did not "sound good" to our ears. In all this, I am assuming that the lyrics are Scriptural. There is no defense for unscriptural lyrics, no matter how "well done" they are. So, what are we doing if we criticize or avoid altogether a singer whose "offering" is off-key or not too sound musically.......Can we say that because we were not thoroughly "entertained" that his act was not pleasing to God? On what basis do we, or does any man, judge the acceptability of a sacrifice of praise offered by another believer?

How much emphasis do we need (as a congregation) on musical praise being technically perfect to human ears?
Do we need to cull poor singers in our body to keep them out of the "limelight" keep the overall group from being subjected to "poor singing"?........
Do we need to eliminate all sorts of "performance" singing: solos, choirs, small groups? Have congregational singing only?

I look forward to your thoughts.