Saturday, May 1, 2010


Caught myself thinking again the other day.....actually I was listening to a recording of Bob Kauflin leading "In Christ Alone" (Keith Getty, Stuart Townend) at T4G.
In Christ alone my hope is found....

So, how true is that for you?......for me? My "thinking spell" led me down the paths of all these debates and discourses on Facebook, blogs, forums, etc. I have friends and have myself been involved in the calvinist-arminian debate; I have friends who turn all colors over the young earth-old earth arguments; I've been bent out of shape by paedo-baptist proponents. Now I have a friend who is majoring on "family integrated" assemblies, eschewing age-graded classes, etc.

Wandering further back into time, I revisited my "intellectual" roots. I was an absolute, total, vehement skeptic, unbeliever, "religion is the opiate of the masses" type of guy who by God's grace found himself married to a Christian woman (thank you, Lord!). Early in our marriage, I remember being asked by an acquaintance, a wicked, lying, crooked woman lawyer, "are you in that religious hooey?" meaning "like your silly wife?" I told her, Nah, she does her thing, I do mine.

A few years later, I decided to settle her hash about all that Bible stuff. "Read the Bible, read the Bible, read the Bible......" I kept getting that from her.......So, I said: I will read the Bible and I will show you, for your own good, what a load of baloney it is! I got me a nice "intellectual's Bible"--the Jerusalem Bible--a nice Roman Catholic production with twice as much text in scholarly footnotes as in Bible. I waded through most of the Pentateuch and was getting nowhere....made no sense whatsoever.....and she said: Go to the New Testament, read the Gospels. Yeah, right....

I never got all the way through the Gospels....the conviction of sin was so great, I was literally calling out: What must I do to be saved?!! Just another example of the power of the Word of God....absolutely remarkable, outside reason, outside intellectual understanding, simply supernatural. I pitted my intellect against God and it was no contest.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
(1 Corinthians 1:20-21)

I need to wake up every morning being aware of this: In Christ alone my hope is found

My "great understanding" of scripture is not a source of hope; my hope is not in the truth of calvinistic soteriology. I think there is a real danger of straying into this intellectual realm, the realms of heated discourse or civil conversation are equally risky. We must not lose sight of Christ. This intellectualism is an aspect of the flesh, a manifestation of pride. Oh, I am so smart......I've got this nearly figured out! All those on the "other side" are so dense; how many more hours must I belabor them before they see the light?

I encourage you to think about these issues in the context of our presence in this world populated with lost and dying men. What's important? How much time do we have for debating, for example, "young earth vs old earth"? Do we want to be known as an outspoken leader in the field of "family integrated worship"? I am very skeptical of the field which is called "apologetics" because it seems over-run by debaters whose primary goal is outscoring an opponent, some sort of intellectual victory.....made him look like a monkey, I did! (Yes, there are a few men in this field who are doing a good job of making the Gospel the center-piece, and I am not referring to them, obviously)

Let's think about a "good debate"--suppose I call out some arminian and he and I debate "limited atonement" I'm an experienced debater (high school and college, albeit half a century ago)....I make him look like that monkey mentioned earlier; I score all the points. Does that make him a calvinist? More likely, it makes him bitter, having been humiliated, and more cautious about whom he debates in future. Me? It just puffs me up a bit more.......Then, I take on an unbeliever, a Muslim, or a cult member and really show them what's what. At the conclusion of the intellectual drubbing I deliver, will they convert? I think not; more likely, they will not see the same result I see, rather thinking they carried the day and affirmed all their own, both parties leave claiming victory and the lost are still lost; only my pride is enhanced.

I urge you to focus on the Gospel. Lost people do not need to be lectured or hectored about young earth vs old earth.....they are going to Hell no matter how old the earth is. Their only hope is in Jesus Christ........that's Christ the Person, not Christ the intellectual concept which you have garnered from your books........Christ the Person, the one of the song: In Christ alone my hope is found
Preachers, your congregations don't need you to be driven by "family integrated" church structure thinking; they sure don't need a spiritual leader who thinks he's CEO of a million-dollar business enterprise. They need the Gospel! What percentage of your congregation is lost? And you want to spend all your time selling some organizational concept? I'm talking about your FOCUS....incidentals have to be dealt with, I know.....but I'm talking to the way-too-many who are one-trick ponies, monomaniacs who get on some elaborate hobby horse generated by their fertile imagination and ride that poor horse to death, while their congregations starve spiritually for want of the Gospel.

Bottom line is: I don't care if you're young earth, old earth, or middle earth. I don't care if you have age-segregated classes or not; I don't care if you're supra or infra; I don't care if you are a total abstainer from alcohol or a wine sipper; I don't even care if you sprinkle babies! All that is between you and God. I'll tell you this for sure: Unless your hope is in Christ and Him alone, you're lost. Your intellect, your wisdom, your skills, your personality, your charisma, your experience, your education, your superior abilities in so many fields, you will carry them with you (or not) into eternity, lost.

In Christ alone my hope is found

ADDENDUM: A few hours after I posted this on my Facebook page, I added a comment there about preterists. That started a big debate which at the 4-hour mark already had nearly 40 comments.....a lot of them mine, of course. That debate is a great illustration of just the kind of intellectual rabbit trails one can be sidetracked by. Only a few folks probably read this, which I intended to be a call to the Gospel....but a good fight on some doctrinal hair-splitting draws a big crowd.

I also found this photo (which was not credited, so I cannot give credit here as I'd like to).....this is a visual illustration of just exactly what I've been trying to state verbally.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


We are fools for Christ's sake ....(1 Corinthians 4:10)

I love folks who are so consumed by the love of Christ that their pride and self-consciousness is buried and buried deep.

Earlier I wrote about that "crazy Christian" Robert Park who barged into North Korea with the stated intention of taking the Gospel to the leadership there. He's back in the U.S. and silent....I have no idea what happened to him or what his heart is.....but his actions were crazy! In the eyes of the world "crazy" that is.....

David Brainerd was crazy like that. He devoted the last 4 years of his short life to preaching the Gospel to Native Americans in New England, living among them and suffering with them. This was a guy who could have had a cushy life, going to Yale (from which he was expelled) and living in "civilized" America, but he chose to act like a crazy man.

Next century we find a guy like C. T. Studd.....heir to a fortune, sports hero of the British Empire.....gave it all up and spent the rest of his life on the mission fields in China, India and Africa, eventually dying in the Congo. They all told him he was crazy! I suspect he told them a thing or two since he was notable for very "plain talk" (a man after my own

E. P. Scott was a missionary to India. Despite warnings to avoid the area, he was traveling inland to evangelize a warrior tribe when he found himself surrounded by spear-toting, aggressive men. He figured he was a goner, armed only with his violin......he closed his eyes, tucked the fiddle under his chin and began to play and sing "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" Those warriors were captivated....rather than kill him, they took him to their village where he lived and preached to them for a couple years, seeing souls saved. The man was "crazy"!

We have some crazy missionaries on the fields today, too. Sadly, not enough of them. I am blessed to know one personally who is really "crazy"--he is in the Middle East, preaching the Gospel of Christ in the streets of places where Christianity is "outlawed"--Christians are under death threats and certainly subject to physical abuse, imprisonment and other persecution. He is undeterred, by the grace of God.

Too often missionary work is presented as a "tour of duty" like doing 3 years in the Army or something. Some churches promote these so-called "mission trips" which are nothing more than exotic vacations for folks who want to say they were on a mission field. They'd be better off taking the two or three or five thousand dollars they spend on these shallow endeavors and supporting a real missionary. I know indigenous pastors in Cuba who could live for a year or two on the amount of money some fat-cat American Christian spends on his glorified, "sanctified" mission trip to Costa Rica.

Real missionaries go where God sends them and they stay there til God calls them out (or Home). They do not go to take American culture to the "natives"--they go to carry the Gospel to the lost. They live with the "natives"--they live like the natives. It's incredible to see that there are still so-called missionaries in primitive cultures who insist upon having western-style housing, conveniences, and benefits, living far above the people to whom they supposedly care so much for.

In my wildest dreams, to show how "crazy" I am, too, there should be a way for missionaries on my field to "go native" There should be a way for prison missionaries to go into prisons and as an inmate, live in a cell like any other inmate, eat with them, work with them, be one of them. He should stay there til his work is done. He should be subject to all the restrictions, rules and regulations, deprivations and degradations as his people. I speak from experience when I say it's easy to go into a prison and preach to men about the great blessings of Christ when I know in an hour I can just walk out the gate and return to the comforts of my home, family, plentiful, tasty food, and the freedom to do what I want.

Can you imagine how few candidates the NAMB would have for such a field? Naturally, this is for single men. No married man could abandon his family for this field where it would be impossible for them to accompany him. It costs about $30,000. annually for a state to maintain a prisoner. So, the NAMB could offer to pay the state that cost each year its missionary was in the prison. Of course, there would be a million waivers of liability involved should the missionary be hurt or killed or suffer from the lame medical care which most inmates get. But the IMB sends dozens of missionaries into dangerous places every year without a second thought.....why not into the danger zones of the U.S.?

I know there are a lot of practical complications of monumental proportions in this "modest proposal".....probably never happen, but it should happen--somehow. What passes for "prison ministry" is in many ways lame: give it a lick and a promise, make the gesture. We are weakened by chaplains who are drawing a check, mere bureaucrats with no heart for the inmates; we are weakened by Big Show performances by traveling circuses who think mission work is putting on an afternoon's entertainment for the inmates--a motorcycle jump and a couple songs.....we are weakened because the lack of sincerity on the part of some is discerned by the inmates who are then suspicious of all ministries.

How few Christians are willing to even look foolish for Christ! We have our pride--indeed we do. Just the idea of being rebuffed in efforts to make a Gospel witness at work or at the grocery store is intimidating most people into silence. How few there are who will really risk anything, let alone everything--or more than "risk" it, to forsake it! How we struggle to dilute this passage of scripture in order to continue in our self-justified inaction--

And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
(Luke 9:23-24)

Friday, March 19, 2010


The connection........

I've posted a number of photos of church signs with those incredibly vacuous, insipid, Gospel-less slogans -- ostensibly a way for that church to "reach" passers-by. Reach them with what is not quite clear....

A friend commented recently "wonder what goes on inside a church which puts that on the outside?" I told her the same type stuff was being proclaimed from the pulpit as from the sign. How could we think otherwise?.......surely no doctrinally sound pastor would allow such drivel as their public witness.

So, this is the "connection" I refer to. There is a dismaying amount of drivel falling from the lips of preachers, even some from whom we might expect better. Just recently, I've been exposed to a flood of sloganeering by supposedly sound preachers. These guys are masters of the quip and the quote. They can wow you with blurbs from all the Big Names.....MacArthur, Tozer, Spurgeon, Piper, et al.

This is a variant of the "spring board sermon" where the preacher starts with his idea, his theme, his point.......then he searches the Bible to find a verse (note: a verse) which he feels supports this idea. Building his structure upon one verse, he springs into action, lambasting the hearers with his own pet ideas whilst claiming Biblical support from the out of context verse.

Now we can get instead of a verse, a one-liner from Spurgeon or one of the other icons. From then on, the preacher goes where his own imagination takes him, having justified his thoughts by appealing to one of the Masters.

Another variant is the "borrowed sermon" These guys read Piper, MacArthur, Spurgeon (less so) and next thing you know, they have a sermon! Nice little 3-pointer, sometimes complete will illustrations. This, of course, has been going on for centuries. Some of the most popular books I sell are collections of sermons by Clovis Chappell, Clarence Macartney, and F W. Boreham. Those sermons have been preached and re-preached for nearly 100 years.

The question is: Why do they do this?
The answer is: They don't have nothin' else.

Some birds (pigeons and doves, maybe some others) feed their babies by going out, finding a nice meal and eating it.....back in the nest, they regurgitate that meal in a form palatable to the babies. This is called "pigeon milk"

Lots of congregations of hungry Christians are being fed on regurgitated theology. Those preachers read a clever bit on Piper's website or a MacArthur book, or had a good time on Phil Johnson's Spurgeon site.....and they carry this bit into the pulpit with them Sunday morning and spit it out for the starving sheep.

Baby pigeons thrive on that stuff. Baby Christians will starve.

Much as I like all the Greats I have mentioned here, their writings are inadequate food. Where have we read that:

Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which comes from the mouth of Spurgeon (Piper, etc)? No, that's not it. These guys who are imitating some other preacher, "borrowing" his sermons, quoting him endlessly, in fact, worshiping some man.....are on dangerous ground. They are in danger and their congregations are starving.

I have lots of books; I have lots of commentaries (though I will say I don't use them much these days except for a word study perhaps)...but what I need is a Word from God, not from Spurgeon. Some preachers think a dream come true would be them locked away in a luxury hotel room, with tons of food, hundreds of books to read and "study" and at the end of that stay, they'd be a more powerful preacher. I'm going to tell you that the ideal would be locked up in a bare room with some water and saltines, a pencil and paper, and the Word of God.....after a couple weeks, a changed man would emerge.

All this man-made stuff lacks nutrition. Preachers need a Word from God. They will not get it from reading second-hand stuff, even if it's written by Godly men. Cut out the middle man! Go to the Source! Lock up all those commentaries and sermons books and get into the Word! Your congregation is hungry, some of them are starving,

Feed my sheep!

Monday, February 22, 2010


I've been thinking about this subject for two months and trying to get started on this article. I cannot get my thoughts organized, so I've decided to write anyway, disorganized as it might turn out to be.....random thoughts, shall we say?

Some time ago, I commented about a pastor who "snuck in" a new member for his congregation by concealing the fact that the man was not "scripturally baptized"--that is, according to Baptist practices and tradtions. Most all my experience in this regard (or any other) is Baptist in one way or another. I read about other denominations; I see talk among the "reformed" folks about baptism as a "means of grace" and all that but don't buy into it.

Anyway, the thinking I've done since writing about that membership issue has led me to a more radical position regarding church membership in general. Within the tradition, what I said about that particular incident is correct but now I question the validity of the tradition itself. I have several questions for us to ponder and am uncertain as to the order in which to present them. Let's start with this one: What is baptism?

Baptism is the center of much controversy in Christendom. I think it's clear from Scripture that there are two forms of baptism: Holy Spirit baptism and water baptism. It seems that the two are often confused, though I don't know why, unless it's a deliberate effort to support an otherwise untenable doctrine.

Water baptism is purely symbolic or pictorial. It is not efficacious with regard to salvation. As I understand "means of grace" it is not a "means of grace" It is testimonial; it is an effort to demonstrate visually to an audience something which has transpired on a spiritual level, to wit: one's death to the things of the flesh, his burial with Christ, his resurrection with Christ to live a life in Christ, for Christ, and by the power of Christ. Water baptism is an act incumbent upon a believer; it is to be done because of the transforming work of God which made that believer a "new creation"--it is done after salvation, as a demonstration of what God has already done. It is not done in order to effect change but to demonstrate the change which has been effected.

That change, that transforming work of God in the life of a man results from the "other baptism"--the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is not an external, visible thing in which man plays a role, but the sovereign work of God. This is the work by which God makes men "new creations" and unites them with Christ. Some groups make a big deal about what man immerses another man in water baptism....they actually boast about it (in a spiritual way, of course)..."I was baptized by Jim Bob Miller!" Idolatry takes many forms......

Well, if one is gonna brag, he should go to the Top. As a believer, I can say I was baptized by Jesus Christ. Yes! He is the the baptism which is most important: the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

The confusion over two baptisms and the conflation of purposes has led us into a real mess about church membership, baptismal regeneration, and numerous other issues. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,,,,(1 Corinthians 12:13) Water or Holy Spirit baptism? Clearly, "one Spirit"--so, what is this "one body"? And he is the head of the body, the church. ....(Colossians 1:18). So, believers are, by the work of the Holy Spirit baptism, united with the Body of Christ, the Church.

This forces us to state what the "Church" is and is not. The Greek word ἐκκλησία is rendered "church" throughout the New Testament when referring to both the Body of Christ and to local assemblies. This is the underlying source of confusion. Men begin to equate the local gatherings of believers with the Body of Christ. I have even heard pastors refer to their congregation as "the Body" when in fact they are not. Does Christ have more than one body? No. These local congregations, at least the truly regenerate persons therein, are members of the Body, but the entire Body is not there. I think we would be better off if we were able to purge our minds of the idea that these local assemblies are The Church (but that's probably impossible). If only we could call them something other than "church" so as to give the only True Church its full import and standing.

From my limited experience, I have the feeling that Baptists are particularly bad about overstating the nature of the local assemblies. I rank as one of the most outlandish statements ever heard one from a Baptist pastor who was "teaching" through Ephesians that "Ephesians is all about the local church" It was notable also that when he finished Ephesians and started into Philippians, he told his congregation that "Philippians is all about the local church" So, maybe his view of the local church is a bit warped.....

And, it's out of this confusion that we see arising ideas about water baptism and "church membership" To all my Baptist friends, what is the scriptural basis for this idea of being "baptized into church membership"? You see, it must be born out of the "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body"....the confusion of water baptism with Holy Spirit baptism and the confusion of being united with Christ by that work of God and becoming a "member" of a local assembly by immersion into water.

In my work as a missionary to prison inmates, I have been criticized by Baptists for baptizing inmates. "What church do you baptize them into?" "What church has given you authority to baptize those men?" Can you believe those questions? They're real....from sincere brothers. I ask them "What church did Phillip baptize the Ethiopian eunuch into?" "Where is the scripture outlining authority to immerse converts?" You want to tell me that the gathering of believers I met with last night is deficient with respect to being a local assembly of God's children? Oh! They don't have business meetings, they don't take up offerings, and they don't belong to the ministerial associations......and I'll assure you, some of those gatherings are closer to the model given in the Book of Acts than 99% of modern "churches" I'm familiar with.

So, what is this "membership" thing? The only Biblical references to "member" (primarily in I Cor 12) refer to individual believers being members (as in body parts) of the Body of Christ.....united with Him by the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of being a "member" of a local assembly; there is no procedure outlined for "joining" a local assembly. Men and women can join clubs, become members of Rotary or the Country Club, but there is no provision for "joining" a local assembly of believers via the baptistery. This is a man-made tradition and has the effect of continuing misunderstanding and promoting ignorance about baptism and the constitution of the Church.

We are commanded to forsake not the assembling of ourselves with other believers. God gives teachers and pastors to local assemblies for the purpose of edifying His saints. That assembly is not, however, a club or society which we "join" by being immersed (or by any other means). Believers are "members" of only one Church--the Body of Christ and union with that Church is effected by the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

ONLY ONE LIFE--by C. T. Studd

I get a high number of hits on this blog from folks searching for "only one life...." because I have an article by that title. I took it from this oft-quoted poem which, apparently, some people are interested in but apparently don't know the author or complete text. For their benefit, here it is. If you are not familiar with C. T. Studd, I encourage you to read the biography written by his son-in-law Norman Grubb.


Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill, living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say ‘twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.