Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men

My son is not just our first child, he is also the first grandchild on both sides of our family. Given our long line of visitors coming, church responsiblities, and the Christmas busyness we all enjoy I have realized that I must prioritize. As such I will be stepping away from blogging for the next several weeks. I will try to keep up with ongoing threads, but no promises.

But before I go, I just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. May we all meditate on the meaning of Christmas and come to know Christ in a personal, saving way.

I will see you in January.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Baptism Revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted one of my sermons concerning baptism. Unfortunately the cut/paste from my sermon notes made for a difficult post to read, so today I would like to revisit baptism for a moment.

Let me take a side note for a second. I was a part of a completely unchurched family when I came to Christ at 5. After I accepted Christ the only thing I was ever told about Baptism was that you didn’t need it to be saved. Being pragmatic at a young age, I decided that if I didn’t need it, I wasn’t going to go through the trouble of getting it. 10 years later my family moved and I joined another church that taught me what Baptism was and why it was important – so I was Baptized at 15. I spent the first 10 years of my Christian life in disobedience to Christ because I did not follow Him in believer’s Baptism – through ignorance admittedly – but it was disobedience none the less. Because of this, the doctrine of Baptism is a doctrine that is very close to my heart – one that I revisit and revel in frequently.

Today, there are many who argue that when you are baptized, you are only baptized into Christ, and it does not matter who did it or what church it was done in. I disagree with that notion, so today I hope to explain why I believe the Bible clearly teaches that when we are Baptized, we are not only Baptized into an identification with Christ, but also the particular church which Baptizes us.

First, the command to Baptize was given to the local church. As such, what the church believes about the gospel and baptism matters.

Matthew 28:17-20 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

I hope that there is an agreement that this commissioning was indeed given to the whole of the church, and not just the Apostles (there are those who argue otherwise).
When a person is baptized, they are done so under the authority of their local church, which administers that baptism through an administrator (there are no requirements for this role, except that the church approves of him).
Because they are Baptized under the authority of their local church, there is an immediate identification with that local church. After said person was Baptized by that church, they became a member of that church (Acts 2:38-41) and as a member are identified with the churches teachings – whether they agree with them or not.

Second, baptism stands as the mark of covenant between a believer and his local church.

Colossians 2:10-12 in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Here, Paul shows us that the nature of Baptism is related to the nature of circumcision. Now, before anyone freaks out let me be clear. Baptism is NOT the NT version of circumcision. There is NOT a one to one equivalence between the two. However, Paul makes it plain that they are similar in nature.
In the OT, circumcision was a mark of identification. A child was born to Jewish parents, after 8 days they were circumcised as a mark of entrance into God’s covenant community.
Baptism is similar in that when a person is born again, they are Baptized as a mark of entrance into God’s covenant community of the local church.
Because one enters into a covenant relationship with their church, they are identified with that church, and all that it believes. If they later realize that said church’s doctrine is false, that does not negate the fact that they are none the less identified with that teaching because of their covenant relationship with their church.

Think of it this way:

Not long ago I was doing a hospital visit in Jeff City. I got turned around on 50 & as I was making my way back to Missouri Blvd. there is a place where the speed limit drops from like 60 to 30 on a very steep hill. I missed the sign, coasted down the hill at 65 mph, was stopped by a cop, and learned a valuable lesson. Ignorance does not negate responsibility.


When my wife and I were married, we entered into a covenant relationship with each other. As all married couples know, people encounter a very steep learning curve once the honeymoon is over. I learned that my sweet, beautiful wife had some not so sweet habits. However, I was in a covenant relationship with her. When I agreed to that relationship I got the whole package – everything I knew about, and everything I didn’t know about.

Equally, when you enter into a covenant relationship with a church, you get the whole package, and you cannot casually throw that relationship off.

Finally, the NT gives us the precedent of rebaptism when one is previously Baptized by a body that has a flawed view of salvation.

Acts 19:1-5 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4 Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Here, Paul finds a group of disciples – genuine Christ followers. Yet there was a problem, they had a faulty view of Salvation. After correcting their view of Salvation, Paul immediately Baptizes them.
Now, I don’t care what brand of "ism" you follow in your sotierology, to deny Eternal Security, or Perseverance of the Saints is a grievous error – a problem of the highest order. This is a direct denial of salvation through grace by faith, replacing it with salvation through grace by faith, and staying in the right with God.

If a person was raised/saved in this tradition, and later sought admission into an SBC church they should be rebaptized, based on the precedent set in Acts, for the reasons laid out in Matthew and Colossians.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Strike the Roots

My parent’s farm is being taken over. Not by trespassers, or family, or by eminent domain, it is being taken over by honeysuckle. I never before thought that the honeysuckle vine was a threat to agriculture… but that was before it invaded our fields and refused to go away. First we tried to brush hog it. Apparently that just spread the seeds, because a few weeks later, more vines sprouted up. Next, we burned our fields, hoping to kill the vine and get rid of a few other problems. A few months later, it was back with a vengeance.
Lately, we’ve been talking to our friends who also have farms. Some have had this problem before. They say the only thing you can do is hit it with chemicals. It hits the roots, kills it at its source.
Today, there are a lot of weeds in the SBC field. Calvinism, anti-Calvinism, charismatics, cessationists, legalists, antinomians, Lankmarkers, anti-Landmarkers, declarations, convergences, trustees, policies, alcohol, and the list goes on and on.
We could go on with all of the debates, we could brush hog them down, we could even burn the whole thing down – but they’ll just come back with a vengeance. I believe that all of these vines come from the same root – and if we strike at the root they will all die.

What is the root cause of these problems?

A loss of Biblical authority in our lives.

These are biblical problems, these are problems that the bible addresses, and if we do a serious study of the scriptures we will find solutions. Unfortunately, the one thing lacking in these discussions are serious studies of the scriptures. Why?

Because the Bible has lost its authority over our lives.

So how do we fix this problem? How do we give the Bible its proper place in our lives? How do strike at the root of our problems?

First, read the Bible & establish some program of Biblical memorization.

Despite our emphasis on the Bible, we don’t know it very well. Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: 'Americans revere the Bible -but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."
How bad is it?
Researchers tell us that it is worse than most could imagine.
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can't name even five of the Ten Commandments. "No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don't know what they are," said George Barna, president of the Barna Group. The bottom-line? "Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate."
If we do not know the Bible, it will not be authoritative in our lives – and we will defer to other authorities like tradition and logic and personal preferences. If we want to truly see peace in the SBC, all of those self proclaimed "conservative innerrantists" in the SBC are going to have to start living it.

Second, let the Bible speak in our discussions. (A two parter)

1 – When we discuss these issues, support your position with scriptural evidence.

The way we discuss biblical topics is unacceptable. It shows us that we really don’t care about what the Bible says.
In the charismatic debate, some point to honest people who practice these "gifts." Cessationists point to abuses by some. Neither is Biblical evidence, and is therefore irrelevant.

When we discuss our position, many claim that their position is biblical – but fails to tell us why, or where the Bible speaks to their position. Simply claiming biblical orthodoxy is not Biblical evidence, if you can’t quote it, don’t claim its authority.

Pointing to historical precedence can be helpful, but should not be exclusively relied on. That is tradition, not Biblical evidence.

When someone is accused of doctrinal error, their theology should be defended though biblical exegesis. Simply saying that they are nice people is insufficient because it does not Biblically address the original charge.

2 – When you use biblical evidence, use a responsible hermeneutic.

This is one of my greatest pet peeves, when people do use the Bible to support their view, but in order to do so twist the scripture to conform it to their position.
Not long ago, I and a group of pastors were discussing the validity and usefulness of boycotts by denominations. One pastor, seeking biblical support looked to Daniel’s personal abstinence from royal food to set a precedent for boycotts. Even people who agreed with his position objected to his hermeneutic, yet he refused to drop it because he desperately wanted the Bible to support boycotts.
This kind of irresponsible hermeneutic should not be seen from any Christian, let alone a pastor. Sadly this has become the norm in our churches.

Finally, we should acknowledge that the issues we discuss do have answers – there is a right and a wrong.

Yet again, one of my greatest pet peeves. I am discussing a theological issue with a brother who disagrees with me. He says "A bunch of people see it this way, and a bunch of people see it this other way. Can’t we just agree that both positions are tenable?"

My answer – absolutely not!

Take tongues as an example. I say they have ceased, others say they continue. These positions are diametrically opposed to one another – they cannot both be tenable.
I could feasibly agree that I am wrong and they are right.
I could feasibly agree that they are wrong and I am right.
I could feasibly agree that we are both wrong.
But both right? Impossible! This undermines the very concept of truth. We can find answers to our problems – but only when our position of inerrancy becomes practical and not just academic.

We must strike at the root of our problem.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Church and the Government – How Should they Interact?

I was once told that the only thing worse than a politician who thinks he’s a preacher is a preacher who thinks he’s a politician.

Apparently, that is no longer the case. In the past several years, politicians and preachers have interacted so much that it is really hard to tell the two apart.

Here are a few examples that come to mind from recent events.
Rick Warren invites Barak Obama to speak in his church.
Jim Talent makes a speech at the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting.
George Bush makes a short speech via satellite to the SBC meeting in ’05 & Condi Rice makes a visit in ’06.
Partisan politics is played out in many churches – including a case in North Carolina where one church expelled any church member who did not vote for George Bush.
When it was discovered that Wal Mart supported homosexual groups, a boycott was immediately brought up.
I could go on and on… but I would prefer to stop there.

I suppose that at this point I should stop and offer a disclaimer. I do believe that we should engage our culture in many ways, including politics. Christians should vote. Those called to do so should seek political office. Those Christians called to do so should serve in the military. Christians should feel free to engage the political sphere in what ever way they wish.
However, the church as an institution (or as a denomination) should not become entangled in the political realm for several reasons.

First, politics cannot correct the world’s problems.

There is only so much that the government and laws can do. They can restrict the outward actions of men, but they cannot affect their hearts.
For example:
The government could outlaw abortion. But the "culture of death" that makes such a practice possible and even acceptable in some circles will not go away.
The government could ban gay marriage, but that lifestyle will continue to expand.
Because ultimately these are heart issue (Luke 6:45), and laws cannot influence a person’s heart – only Christ can do that.

Second, in the context of the United States, it is better for the church to limit its involvement in politics so that we can better fulfill the Great Commission.

We have to admit it; the church in the United States has been given a very sweet deal. We don’t pay property taxes, or income taxes, all donations to the church are tax write offs, and outside of zoning laws, government really doesn’t care what we do – In fact, some states have now legally given the church some protections from eminent domain seizures. How did we get that sweet of a deal? Easy, we are considered 501c3 not for profit corporations, and all 501c3’s get that deal. However, as a 501c3, we must follow one rule – it is:
"Organizations with this classification are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities to influence elections to public office. Public charities (but not private foundations) are permitted to conduct a limited amount of lobbying to influence legislation… All 501(c)(3) organizations are also permitted to educate individuals about issues, or fund research that supports their political position without overtly advocating for a position on a specific bill."
That’s it, just don’t lobby or try to influence public elections – if we don’t do that we’re golden.
However, there are some that think this is too restrictive, and we should throw off our 501c3 status so that we can endorse candidates and directly influence policy.
This should lead us to the question, if we do drop our 501c3 status to start doing politics, then what would our new classification be?
I’m no tax lawyer, but there’s a good chance that we might get a 527 classification. Which means that the government will become a permanent member of our congregations.
All of the protections we enjoy as 501c3’s would be gone. We would have caps on the amount of money we could collect per year, and the government would have their hands in our pockets, keeping track of where we spend it.
Smaller churches wouldn’t be affected too much, but if your church has a budget of around $200,000 or more (I think that is the cap for the budget of a 527), the way you minister to your community would be forever changed.
It is in the church’s best interest to keep the government’s hands out of our business. We can only do that by keeping our hands out of their business.

Finally, when the church becomes political, it makes the lost world our enemies and not our harvest field.

Because he puts it so well, I will let John MacArthur speak to this point. He says:
"We must repudiate our confused loyalties and concerns for the passing world and put aside our misguided efforts to change culture externally. To allow our thoughts, plans, time, money, and energy to be spent trying to make a superficially Christian America, or to put a veneer of morality over the world, is to distort the gospel, misconstrue our divine calling, and squander our God given resources. We must not weaken our spiritual mission, obscure our priority of proclaiming the gospel of salvation, or become confused about our spiritual citizenship, loyalties, and obligations. We are to change society, but by faithfully proclaiming the gospel which changes lives on the inside."
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus. Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1996, pg. 138.

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