Southern Baptist Life


I realize that I have probably just shocked the life out of you with this post’s title.  However, I thought I would say what I feel a majority of Evangelicals are telling the world these days.  I have not simply grown weary, I have grown exhausted by the rabid fascination most Evangelicals I know have with the coming of the Lord Jesus.  Now, let me be clear that I fully believe in the Lord’s return to Earth to judge “the quick and the dead.”  The growth of the New Testament Church is directly attributable to the apostles belief that Jesus would return in their lifetime.  They could not stomach the Lord returning and their loved ones being left behind to face the judgment.  Accordingly, they were motivated by overwhelming compassion for their fellow-man and engaged in intensive evangelism.  I often fail to hear any underlying compassion behind many of the songs and sermons spewing forth in the modern Evangelical church.  The only thing I hear is “Yay, the Lord is going to return and we will not be here for all the trials and tribulation the world will endure.”  We are so consumed with reading, singing, and preaching about the retired bliss of Heaven’s avenues that we fail to recall that such bliss is not what Heaven is all about.  The Christian is redeemed to give eternal glory to God for the gift of salvation, not to recline in a mansion sipping tea waiting for the next angel choir concert.  When I hear the prophetic prognosticators give us their latest “Return of Jesus” forecast, I fail to hear anything about God’s grace.  I do hear that the Christian is not going to be here and those left behind are going to face unbearable horrors so come to Jesus.  I am sorry, we are simply scarring people out of Hell at that point.  Where is the recounting of God’s great love for us that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins?   It often appears as if the only thing the average Evangelical is on the lookout for is whether Christ is on the next cloud floating by while ignoring the fields ripe for harvest around them.   Furthermore, I think it important to remember, lest we fall guilty of the same sin as the ancient Israelites, that the Day of the Lord will result in judgment upon the Church as well.  Paul told the Corinthians that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  I cannot help but think that the Lord will find us guilty for focusing on His return above preaching the full Gospel and accordingly that the Day of His appearing will not be as pleasant as we would desire.  I sincerely wish we would stop using the Parousia as means to greater attendance figures or increasing DVD and book sales, and instead return to an intense love affair with God.  I pray that my colleagues would return to the fundamentals of our faith and preach sermons on the richness of grace, declaring war on sin, and growing more each day into the redeemed image of our Creator.  Our world lives solely in the moment and has an acute awareness of its needs.  It finds nothing to meet those needs in sermons devoted to whether the European debt crisis is inching us closer to a one world government and the arrival of the anti-Christ.  I once heard a talk focused solely on the fact that the preacher thought the anti-Christ would be Spanish.  Who cares what his nationality is as long as people are trying everything but Christ to fill the intense longing of their souls.  Let us once more give the world Christ and His grace, mercy, love, and peace.  Let us so taste Heaven through communion with Him that we feel the same fire to evangelize that the early Church did.  Let us stop telling the world to go to Hell and instead say to them, “come to Jesus and live.”

Peace be with you.

Each morning I receive an emailed “quote of the day.”  Some days are better than others, but yesterday’s gave me pause.  I have placed it below.  It is from “The Cost of Discipleship” by Bonhoeffer and deals with the detrimental effects of Lutherans idolizing doctrine.  I found it particularly troubling in light of the direction some Southern Baptist circles are seeking to take the Convention.  I wholeheartedly agree that we need to defend the doctrine of Scripture, but it must be done in such a manner that maintains the sweetness of Scripture–it’s message of grace and salvation.  The Risen Christ warned the Ephesian church the danger of following such a path and I pray that we do not go the direction that Bonhoeffer describes Lutherans have gone.

We Lutherans… have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honours unparalleled in Christendom; in fact, we have exalted the doctrine to the position of God Himself. Everywhere Luther’s formula has been repeated, but its truth perverted into self-deception. So long as our Church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there is no doubt whatever that she is a justified Church! So they said, thinking that we must vindicate our Lutheran heritage by making this grace available on the cheapest and easiest terms. To be “Lutheran” must mean that we leave the following of Christ to the Nomians, the Calvinists, and the Anabaptists–and all this for the sake of grace! We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to follow Christ. The result was that a nation became Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship… We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to
follow Jesus was hardly ever heard.
… Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Peace be with you.

My fellow bibliophile Allen Williams suggested that I read John Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage” after he studied it last spring in preparation for our wedding sermon.  I listen to Piper preach regularly and while I do not always agree with him, I find his insights to be Biblically based and thought provoking.  “This Momentary Marriage” is so thought provoking I finished the book in shock.  Piper dives deep into the Biblical concept of marriage and reminds the reader that covenant marriage is to be a reflection of God’s covenant love for us.  I believe that our not proclaiming this simple truth from our pulpits more often is the reason why so many Christian marriages are failing apart and our society’s moral fabric is being shredded.   Piper writes, while speaking of covenant grace, that “a profound understanding and fear of God’s wrath is exactly what many marriages need, because without it, the gospel is diluted down to mere human relations and loses its biblical glory.  Without a biblical view of God’s wrath, you will be tempted to think that your wrath–your anger–against your spouse is simply too big to overcome, because you have never really tasted what it is like to see an infinitely greater wrath overcome by grace, namely, God’s wrath against you.”    Oh how I wish everyone who was signing up for a “no-fault” divorce would let those words sink deep into their spirits.  Piper spends a considerable amount of time exegeting Ephesians 5 on the nature of marriage.  Southern Baptists have often been skewered because of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message’s statement on marriage and the inclusion of the Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 admonition of wives submitting graciously to their husbands.  I will readily admit that the statement has often heightened my discomfort level because of the immediate negative connotations the word “submission” conjures to mind.  Furthermore, I have seen the use of Paul’s statement abused by husbands, a number of whom are sadly pastors, to the point that it has caused me to think twice about teaching from the text for fear of it being misused.  Piper takes on the subject head-on and paints a picture of submission that is hard to refute.  He uses 1 Peter 3 as his proof text and strongly argues 6 points of what submission is not.  I found it reassuring to see Piper include that “submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the wedding altar,”  “submission does not mean that a wife is to act of fear,” and “submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says.”   Piper spends considerably more time in the book dealing with a husband’s marital duties including placing  sole responsibility for resolving marital disputes on the husband.  Piper asserts that as the husband is the Christ figure in the marriage, he is the one who is to go to his wife and seek reconciliation, just as Christ came to His bride, the Church, to seek reconciliation.  I will say that I have been convicted repeatedly by this after more than one disagreement with Eliza and I am still working to fully implement it.  A significant reason why I left the book shocked is that Piper leaves no stone unturned as it relates to marriage, including intercourse and whether to have children.  My shock though stemmed from my own wonder in why I had failed to grasp the concepts in the light that Piper shined on them and not from any unbiblical assertions.  While there were issues that I simply disagreed with Piper on because of my personal theological proclivities, they failed to warrant enough disagreement for me not to recommend it for every married couple I know.  In fact, should I ever do a marriage retreat, I will probably base it in part on “This Momentary Marriage.” I hope you will check it out and see how best to strengthen your marriage.

Peace be with you.

Our nation has waged war in Afghanistan for the last 9 years, longer than the time we spent fighting the Civil War and both world wars combined.  Yet, I feel confident in asserting that the average American knows little if anything about the history of our enemy.  Our ignorance creates a soulless, faceless combatant that we cannot even feel enmity toward, let alone the compassion that Jesus calls us to feel toward our enemies.  Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” peels back the curtain shielding the Afghan people and reveals a thriving society that has suffered under almost 40 years of continuous war and destruction.  The narrative is woven around the friendship between Amir and Hassan.  Amir’s father is a rich businessman in the days before the Soviet invasion who will eventually flee to America with Amir after the Soviet’s arrival.  Hassan, a member of the Hazara ethnic minority, is the son of their servant and the same age as Amir.  The first third of the book details the highs and lows of a typical childhood friendship and explains the vicious secret why the friendship ultimately dissolved and how Hassan and his father felt compelled to leave.  The story then moves to America and chronicles Amir and his father’s life in Southern California as members of  the Afghan expatriate community.  The final third of the book focuses on Amir’s quest to bring Hassan’s young son, Sohrab, back to the United States during the Taliban’s final days and his acclimation to American society.  Most would point to the need for redemption that Amir feels as the driving force of the book and certainly that figures prominently.  Yet, I found Amir’s redemption to be half achieved for even after he brings Sohrab to the United States the situation remains tenuous.  I would argue that because Hosseini’s work so perfectly captures the human experience he is simply pointing to the fact that we cannot achieve true redemption apart from Jesus Christ.  I recognize that Hosseini never intended that picture to be painted, but I have to allow a book to speak to me and shape me.  I find little value in reading if the book does not shape me in some way.  Hence, while I was on an emotional roller coaster throughout the book, it was the middle narrative that chipped away at my heart.  Let me establish from the start that I believe part of America’s greatness is found in our population’s diversity.  Eliza and I are proud of our German heritage and have been shaped by it.  However, I have intense difficulty in understanding why current immigrants disregard adopting American culture and hold so strongly to their own.  It seems to me that they should have stayed where they were if their love was so great.  “The Kite Runner” helped me better understand why this occurs.  Amir and his father never desired to leave Afghanistan, but were forced to due to circumstances beyond their control.  Thus, when they come to America and join with others in the Afghan community to celebrate Afghan customs and celebrations, it seems perfectly natural because it is how they maintain some small part of the home from which they have been torn.  I know full well that if I were ever forced from American soil, I would certainly carry out some of the traditions that form our culture.  It occurs to me, however, that I am already an alien in a foreign land.  1 Peter urges Christians “as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”   Christians today spend a lot of time trying to look like the pagans around them.  We have created church models that better resemble corporations than the book of Acts.  Our models of success are copied straight out of leading business strategies and so cause us to miss the level of success God commands.  We are not faithful to our Christ due to exorbitant baptism statistics, we are faithful when we grow more in His image each day.  A strange thing happened to me as I read “The Kite Runner.”  I suddenly desired to learn more about Afghan culture.  I have purchased and read several books on the country and the people since completing Hosseini’s work.  I have even found a restaurant in Raleigh that serves strictly Afghan food and am anxious for us to go and try it out.  In other words, Marc, the outsider, has looked at the Afghan community and desired to know more about it.  Can you imagine what would happen if the Church realized it’s alien status and started acting more like it?  I doubt we would have as much trouble as we currently do attracting people to the Gospel and our Christ.  “The Kite Runner” is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it, but only read it if you are willing to let it shape you.

Peace be with you.

I have a lot of interaction with pastors, probably more than I need to sometimes.  The idea behind “networking” is not a new concept, it’s just finally found a title.  It is simple human nature to surround yourself with people who share similar circumstances as you for encouragement and strength.  It is in my interaction with pastors that I have recently seen a very troubling move within Baptist life in how we view the role of the congregation.  I am a firm and absolute devotee in the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.  It is a fundamental tenant of our polity that we make decisions from the bottom up and not vice versa.  In other words, Baptist churches are strong because they reach decisions together through the long-established democratic principle of the “consent of the governed.”   The problem with a growing number of pastors today is that they are not operating under this principle.  I will readily recognize that the pastor is the God ordained head of the local congregation and that it is a local congregation’s obligation to treat their pastor with due respect and submit to their leadership.  I also acknowledge that far too many congregations fail in meeting that obligation.  I know quite a few pastors who are treated as little more than “hired help” and are in no way compensated as they should.  However, there are as many if not more pastors who shepherd their flock as domineering CEOs and not in the way that Peter instructs in his first epistle.   We are to gently lead God’s flock into greener pastures and trying to beat them about the head to get them there will not work.  We need to build consensus from the bottom up and by doing so we can trigger momentum and possibly even a stampede toward the place we are trying to reach.  The reason why people do not follow in the way that we believe they should is that they have not bought into the idea initially.  Our churches will never become healthy as long as we continue to focus our attention on winning over the hearts of pastors and not the people.  John Adams wrote while speaking of the American Revolution that “the Revolution was effected before the War commenced.  The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.  This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”  A fundamental shift in how our churches operate is required if we are to ever reach our changing world with the Gospel.  It will require a thought shift similar to the one that resulted in the American Revolution.  Our Founding Fathers leadership would have been insufficient to such a momentous task if the American people were not with them.  Our conventions must understand that the hearts and minds of our people must be captured in ways never before realized if we will achieve what they desire us to do.  The CEO mentality of our pastors must be destroyed and the priesthood once more empowered to achieve Kingdom work.  I have often thought that the chief problem with today’s congregations is apathy.  I am beginning to question whether it’s really that the Church has failed to motivate their hearts because they certainly seem motivated to do a host of other things.  I think it’s time to quit asking we pastors what we think and start asking our people what they need and want.  I do not mean we turn our churches into theological Burger Kings, but that we hear the cry of their hearts and we engage them.  Then, and possibly only then, will they start listening to us and have their hearts moved to embrace Kingdom work.

Peace be with you.

I began reading an intriguing NY Times Magazine article a couple of weeks ago while I was sick  and it was not until last night that I finished it.  I will admit that I knew some elements within American evangelicalism had such an agenda, but I did not realize the degree with which it was being pushed.  I really do admire those Christians who stand up for the Cross and the veracity of the Gospel in the public square.  However, I always wonder when exposed to the type of devotion detailed in the article what Jesus would say about it.  After all, did not Jesus tell Pilate “My Kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Would Jesus want us to expend countless hours of debate and money to prove the Founding Fathers’ faith or would He rather us go to currently living people and ensure they have faith?   I’m sorry, but I find it quite a stretch to think that lost souls will suddenly find the Gospel more attractive simply because George Washington was a Christian.  I agree wholeheartedly with the assertion that our nation is heading down the same path the Old Testament prophets warned would bring destruction, but inserting an abundance of Christian history and doctrine into public school curriculum will not bring about the change we need.   The result of a Supreme Court that concurs continuously on the side of the “incorporation by reference” effort detailed in the magazine article will not bring increased baptism rates and church attendance.  What will fundamentally change America and turn it’s heart back to God is the type of Great Awakening the article referenced.  The First Great Awakening was a large contributing factor to the American revolution.  The Second Great Awakening awakened the nation’s conscience resulting in a host of efforts, most notably the abolition movement.  Those with a theocratic agenda repeatedly assert they have truth on their side, but I think such assertions do little more than obscure the Gospel truth.  We would do so much better to fan the flames of revival than stir dissension amongst politicians and educators.  I have a history degree and I think to describe our founding simply on Christian terms is little more than gross negligence.  Yes, the colonists flight from religious persecution was a contributing factor to settlement, but it does not rank higher than economic development.   Jamestown and Roanoke were founded for profit, not faith.  The Founders knew history and their desire to not repeat 200 years of European religious bloodletting I believe led to the First Amendment’s religious protections.  They understood that religious battles would divide the country and divert attention away from governing it.   In other words, they were trying to protect us from the situation our nation is currently facing.  It is high time American evangelicals confess that we have been lured away from proper devotion to Gospel presentation and ensnared in the trap of believing in legislative mandated morality.  Let us take responsibility for instructing our children in the ways of righteousness instead of expecting a teacher, whether in a public or private institution, to do it for us.  Only then, will we be able to experience the true blessings of liberty.

Peace be with you.

Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” is considered by many to be the definitive work on Joseph Smith’s life as it intricately details the events surrounding the creation of the Mormon religion.  Brodie’s work is by far one of the most intriguing religious biographies I have ever read and should be a must read for Evangelical pastors everywhere.  The Mormon faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the world and its strenuous morals and family values emphasis makes it attractive to many in America.  Evangelicals should realize that Mormonism is not just another form of Protestantism, but is a separate religion unto itself.  Brodie’s book details the almost God like status that Joseph Smith attained with his followers and provides light on the origin of many Mormon practices and beliefs.  People who believe they are finding the true church of Jesus Christ should be made aware of some of the more obscure of these beliefs such as the doctrine of eternal progression which asserts that ultimately a devoted Mormon will become part of the Godhead.  Brodie’s recounting the creation of the Book of Mormon, during a time of great religious upheaval in upstate New York, should give every Mormon adherent pause about the veracity of their faith’s Scripture.  Smith is portrayed as a grand storyteller who uses the events of the day to create the Book of Mormon’s masterful tales.  Indeed, Brodie points out that the Book of Mormon could be considered simply part of the canon of myths and tales New Yorkers spun to explain the existence of Native American burial mounds scattered across the Upstate.  I find it odd that given Brodie’s retelling of the Book of Mormon’s creation why one does not hear more about the same scrutiny being applied to it that is so often applied to the Christian Scriptures.  Do scholars simply find it fantasy and choose to ignore it?  If so, why do they not choose to treat the Scriptures in the same manner, after all I would think a person “deluded” in one religion deserves to be saved from their delusion just as much as one in another.

I think the greatest danger that Brodie’s book exposes is the that the Mormon religion is an American creation, grounded in the American dream.  Smith’s continued quest for power and fortune is often depicted to be central to his actions, as if he needs these things to find fulfillment.  True Christianity teaches that the pursuit of power is not what our Saviour intends for us.  We must remember to follow His example, that He came not to be served, but to serve.  Joseph Smith’s life tragically proves that to fight against Christ’s example will lead a person down a path of destruction.  It was Smith’s grab for power that ultimately cost him his life and forced his followers to barren Utah.  The American Church would do well to heed Smith’s warning before it follows him down the same path.  Finally, Brodie’s work should awaken within every pastor a desire to provide their flock with theological tools to combat Mormonism and other new religious movements.  Pastors are supposed to be God’s under-shepherd and part of our job is to protect our flock from outside attack.  A failure to teach the errors of Smith’s “taste like chicken” theology and those like it is a failure to protect our own.  For example, the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage, an essential plank in their very attractive family values position, flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in Heaven.  The average Christian I know would not even think about making that point and the blame for that starts in the pulpit.  Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that we should step into our pulpits and rant against these groups.  I think such actions are counterproductive.  I do believe though that we should once more teach clear doctrine from our pulpits to the point that people will know when they are hearing unorthodox theology.  We must recall that just as Joseph Smith will one day have to account for his misleading people, we will have to account for failing to simply lead people.

Peace be with you.

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