The Sin of Racial Division

Claim: It is a sin to divide the body of Christ.

The Psalmist wrote, Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! (Ps. 133:1) The Hebrew word yaḥad appears 47x in the Hebrew text. 25 of those times it is translated together. The song is a wonderful expression of unity among the elect of God. Derek Kidner comments, All Israelites, including even debtors, slaves and offenders (cf. e.g. Deut. 15:3, 12; 25:3), were brothers in God’s sight. The psalm is surely singing, as most versions have taken it to be, of living up to this ideal, giving depth and reality to the emphasized word, ‘together’.

In his high priestly prayer, Jesus himself prayed, I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:23) Jesus prayed that we might be teteleiōmenoi eis hen, perfected in one. This was not a secondary matter where our Lord is concerned. It was so important to him that he prayed specifically for the unity of his followers, such a unity that we would be one similar to the oneness we see in the Trinity. One reason for this display of public unity is so that the world would see that unity and know that God is in us. That should be enough to cause us to pause and think about our public disputes with a great deal of humility and concern.

The apostle Paul wrote to the ancient church at Ephesus, telling them that God had placed ministry gifts into the body of Christ specifically for the purpose of unity: until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:13) The very existence of the gifts of teacher, pastor, apostle, evangelist, and prophet was for the purpose of unity in the body. Of course, that unity was not unity for unity’s sake. For Paul says here, the “unity of the faith.” So, unity for unity’s sake is not the goal. The unity that the psalmist sang about, that Jesus prayed for, that Paul talked about and commanded, was a unity in God, in Christ, in the faith. And that means something very specific. We will return to that momentarily.

Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to be of the same mind. This was a church that was struggling terribly with division. Unity was a priority for Paul. In the same sentence, he says “and of the same purpose, or opinion, or judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10) That there were quarrels among the Corinthians is made plain in the next verse. And the quarrels were themselves, petty. This should not have been the case. And it should not be the case with the true church today. The true church must find a way to re-establish its identity in the culture. Right now, the church looks like a splintered faction of thousands of different versions of Christ. The state of affairs that has obtained is deplorable. Something must be done to right the ship. My prayer is that God would raise up leaders with the right kind of wisdom and insight and courage to lead the one body of Christ as that body should be led. Right now, it is clear that there are very few “leaders” who fit that bill.

My claim, then, to state it again is simple: It is a sin to divide the body of Christ. The four paragraphs above, containing a variety of biblical texts provide the ground for my claim. The argument then looks like this at this point: The Old Testament, Jesus, and Paul all instruct the church to walk in unity. Therefore, it is a sin to divide the body of Christ.

Now, the title of this post is The Sin of Racial Division. If it is a sin to divide the body of Christ, then it is a sin for the body of Christ to be divided by any criteria apart from that which unifies the body. If we are in Christ, we are one in his body. We are one in Christ. Despite this unity in Christ, there are a variety of ideologies in society that would seek to divide the body. When the #MeToo movement makes its way into the church and female Christians begin to group together on one side and to make demands of all men as a group on the other side, make no mistake about it; that is division in the body. It is sinful, and it should be avoided at all cost. It should be avoided for the sake of the glory of God and for the sake of the witness of the gospel. Unity is a critical component in the witness of the gospel. Without it, the witness of the gospel is compromised, weakened.

There are a number of leaders and entities at present who are engaging in behavior that is dividing the body of Christ over the issue of race. Men like Russell Moore, Ron Burns, David Platt, Matt Chandler, J.D. Greer, Danny Akin, the ERLC, the SBC, and others have adopted a form of socialism that has eclipsed the gospel and the mission of the church in my opinion. First, these men have wrongly accepted the race war that is taking place in secular society. This was a war that seemed to be taking its last breath until Barrack Obama moved into the White House. Since then, it seems to have found its second wind. The same thinking that shapes the secular debate is now shaping the thinking of men in the church. And that is the idea that it is acceptable for us, as Christians, to continue to adopt the world’s thinking around how we classify ourselves from a racial standpoint. It is unfortunate but irrelevant that America, at one point in time in her history began to identify humans based on something as silly as the genetic variant SLC24A5. There is more to it than that. American history contains racial sin. It involved slavery. No one should try to deny that. It is a fact of history. But God is sovereign over all of human history. God ordained slavery. That there would be racial sin in American history was part of God’s divine plan from the beginning. We recognize this and while we understand that this does not excuse human behavior, it should help us adopt the right attitude about it, like say, the attitude that Joseph had: what you intended for evil, God intended for good. It was through slavery that God preserved the nation of Israel for his glory and their good.

Recently, the president of the SBC, Steve Gaines along with other leaders have decided to add diversity as a qualification for leadership appointments under their charge. The problem with this practice is that it is completely devoid of Biblical grounding. There is no warrant for this kind of thinking to be found in Scripture. Where it is located and widespread is politics and corporate America. I should point out, before you disagree with me, that I am employed in Human Resources is a very large American corporation. I speak from an informed standpoint. I am very acquainted with affirmative action and diversity in the workplace.

In the middle of this social justice, racial reconciliation thrust is this notion of identity. Those pushing a social justice agenda and racial reconciliation continue to divide Christians based on this variant SLC24A5. They divide white Christians from black Christians, pull out some statistics, toss out terms like white privilege and systemic racism and justice. In so doing, they are dividing the body of Christ. They are dividing Christians from Christians. They are doing this by insisting on identifying Christians based on this genetic variant. Once everyone is identified in the very same unscientific manner in which unenlightened society identified human beings, these brothers in Christ then trot out the American history of slavery and racism and remind black Christians of how oppressive white Christians were in the past. This does nothing to edify the body. It only serves to spark emotions of anger, hurt, and baseless guilt. The black Christian is angered about what happened to his ancestors in years gone by, and the white Christian is angered that they are charged with sins they did not participate in, perhaps sins of their ancestors or perhaps not. To add insult to injury, these irresponsible men then trot out statistics and “facts” to support their claim that white Christians, evangelicalism to be specific, is still entrenched in racism. It does not seem to matter to these brothers that it is a fact that statistics in and of themselves cannot be used by and large to prove racism. All of the studies that demonstrate this fallacious way of thinking is simply ignored by these men in preference for their own inferior way of thinking and their fallacious arguments continue unabated. There are a number of factors that go into why things are the way they are in American society. Human behavior is far too complex to be reduced to an analysis based solely on a spreadsheet. One has to get under the hood of these statistics in order understand and interpret the data properly. To do anything less is not only irresponsible, in this case, it is reprehensible

The end result of all this behavior is to divide the body of Christ. It does not seem to matter that the Old Testament, Jesus Christ, and Paul all mandated unity in the church for the sake of the body, for the sake of the witness of the gospel and for the glory of God. It does not seem to matter to these men that the Bible, in no way, shape or form, condones or supports choosing leaders based on some physical characteristic like melanin. It does not seem to matter to these men that the Bible condemns division in the body of Christ for any reason other than doctrine or morality. These men continue to contradict the mandate of Christ for unity. These men are sowing discord among the brothers by reminding them of sins past; by making arguments that are without exegetical warrant; and by violating sound scientific research and good methodology. Indeed, the ways in which these arguments falter and fail are too many to count in a blog post such as this. It is enough to say that these arguments should be abandoned by those who make them and soundly rejected by those who hear them.

There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers. (Prov. 6:16-19)

It is a sin to create division in the body of Christ. The social justice movement with its racial reconciliation component is creating division in the body of Christ. Therefore, the social justice movement with its racial reconciliation component is sinful.

The Trojan Horse: Seduction of the Evangelical Mind

A few very short years ago, the homosexual movement began to claim that homosexual relationships were at a financial disadvantage from the standpoint of healthcare benefits, taxes and especially wealth transfer. The argument was that their relationships were being discriminated against financially and otherwise because certain benefits and tax advantages were extended to the husband-wife relationship that were not extended to them. As one quick example, the unlimited marital deduction in the estate tax code allows for one spouse to leave everything to another spouse without the value of those assets being subjected to any taxation. Well, for the same-sex arrangement, this was not the case. That is unfair, the argument went. However, some of us saw right through this argument and realized this was not really about the financial disadvantages of the same-sex arrangement. There was much more to it than that. And for what it’s worth, for all sorts of reasons I shall not go into, American culture bought the argument hook, line, and sinker. And now we know that the issue was something else entirely. And we are living that nightmare across this country as I write this post.

The homosexual movement started with one issue that really wasn’t the issue they wanted to address. Along the way, they employed a lot of tactics in their arguments until their final goal was achieved. If you are on the wrong end of the homosexual argument, the typical American thinks you are an outdated, narrow-minded, ignorant, hateful bigot. The same is true where the abortion argument is concerned. That issue is transformed into a woman’s health issue or a woman’s rights issue and instantly, you have abortion on demand for the most part.

Currently brewing in the evangelical community, especially among SBC churches, and to some degree, the PCA, is the racial reconciliation movement. The idea is that racism is bad and must be stopped, not just in the church, but in society. The claim is that it is the duty of the church to do all it can to end racism, both individual and institutional in society. But is it racism when a LEO shoots a black man because the man refuses to cooperate with them and engages in behavior that threatens their lives? Is it racism to vote for Donald Trump? Is it racism to acknowledge that MLK Jr. was both a heretic and an immoral man who showed no evidence of genuine conversion? Is it racism to criticize over-privileged NFL players who refuse to stand during the playing of the national anthem? If you listen to some, the answer is yes, it is racism to support the GOP, Trump, LEO, and to criticize MLK and NFL players for their antics. Setting aside the issue of race as a category, what is going on here? The people behind the racial reconciliation movement have an agenda, an agenda that seems to be hidden for all intents and purposes. I say that because every time I ask what the end game is, what I receive in return is silence or blank stares. They apparently do not want us to know what the end game is. You see, one of the first things I do for a work project is to establish clear goals, objectives. How can you possibly know the direction you should take if you don’t really know where you are going? But the racial reconciliation movement has neglected to specifically disclose its objectives to this day. But that isn’t really my focus as much as it is the tactics in which this movement engages. If you oppose these people or disagree with their argument, then you aren’t “woke,” and you are in fact part of the problem; you are racist. The only thing for you to do is to confess your racism or your complicity in racism and repent.

Racism is evil. Don’t be a racist. If you disagree with our argument, you are a racist. It is the same strategy that abortionists and homosexuals employ. And there are a ton of Christian leaders who are being seduced by it. They are buying in hook, line, and sinker.

One prominent denomination, the SBC, has apologized for its racism ad nauseam. It has become much like the annual high priestly sacrifice. Every year at Passover the high priest offers up the Passover lamb for the atonement of the sin of the people. And it seems that every year the powers that be in the SBC get together and offer up another apology to some group that their teachings or actions in years past or even present have somehow offended them. The SBC leaders have done this several times in the past over the issue of slavery and racism. This year, they will do it again, but they will add an apology to women. Why? Well, because the next group in this absurdly narcissistic culture that will be holding out its hands is the women.

Recently, Page Patterson said some things about divorce that many people are talking about and just as many are taking issue with. The first thing you should not do is consider this a defense of Patterson. I do not know the man. This isn’t an apologetic for Patterson. The point of this post is to point out the deceptive practices being employed by groups within evangelicalism in order to reach certain objectives. I am convinced that public agendas are more or less a cover for private agendas. If you raise the hood, I am convinced that the same women who are making this noise about physical abuse are the same women who will advocate for divorce based on any sort of abuse and who will also advocate women teaching men, leading men, and serving as pastors. That is what this post is about. I know there are exceptions but I am talking about the majority, not the few who really are only concerned about the safety of women in physically abusive relationships. Homosexuals wanted to be accepted and celebrated by all. They never stated that in their arguments until the end. Abortionists wanted unrestricted abortion, but that is not how they argued, and it isn’t where they started. The Racial Recon movement has an agenda that remains hidden mostly, but you can bet there is more to it than we are being told. All you need to do is watch. I am sure that the goals that are implied are not the actual objectives. I believe the proponents of this argument are far more calculated than that.

Couple Patterson’s comments with Beth Moore’s comments about abusive men and place them within the context of the #MeToo movement. Patterson has said that he never advises a Christian woman to pursue a divorce. He does advise them to remove themselves from harm. But he stops short of advising divorce because he hopes for repentance and reconciliation. Image that. Repentance and reconciliation. How unchristian such advice is! Seriously? Now, the world along with many evangelical leaders, to include SBC leaders have come out with a condemnatory tone against Patterson. It is as if this position is ipso facto hateful toward women or uncaring and insensitive toward domestic violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is pure rhetoric and propaganda and American Christians seem too brain-dead to see that. I don’t care about the politics that may be motivating these remarks. I am not interested in the stench that is evangelical and SBC politics. I find such behavior repugnant and I think God does as well. My interest is the bigger picture. My interest is Christian truth, teaching, sound doctrine. You see, I don’t think this is about domestic violence in the church. I think it is about something far more significant than that. Just like the homosexuals, the abortionists, and the racial recon movements have one agenda that is public and another one that is private, I think this movement does as well.

As I have experimented with some exchanges on Twitter, I have discovered exactly what I suspected: this movement seeks to expand the grounds for divorce in the church. As a Christian, you need to ask those who think abuse is grounds for divorce if they believe its physical abuse or any abuse. They are going to tell you that it’s any abuse in most cases. And then you need to understand what they mean by abuse. Say something that is hurtful and that is abuse in their world. And since its abuse, its grounds for divorce. And of course, what do you mean by hurtful. Well, that’s up to the one who is hurt and that’s all that matters. If “I” am hurt by what you said, then it’s abuse. And if it’s abuse, then that is grounds for divorce. The logical end of this argument is that divorce can be had for just about any reason. Moreover, it should not be missed that this argument is also grounded in American narcissism. It’s all about me, my desires, my wishes, my wants, my expectations, my needs. Everything centers around my happiness. Take away my happiness and you are abusing me.

However, it doesn’t stop here. This isn’t just about empowering women to divorce their husbands as they wish, placing them in complete control of their own lives. It’s also about empowering them for other things, like leadership. Just ask Beth Moore. You see, to refuse to allow women to teach, lead, and pastor is also abusive because it oppresses women. It is hurtful to women to say that they are not qualified to pastor, to teach, or to lead men. The reason men abuse women physically and otherwise is borne out of this kind of patriarchal mentality. This is the core problem. You see, if the church begins to acknowledge women pastors, teachers, and leaders of men, then and only then will we be in a position to finally end the domestic violence, or so the argument goes. Men will look at women much differently if women are leading them.

Before you jump on this #MeToo bandwagon and buy into this argument, you had better qualify everything you hear and define the terms as clearly as you can. Of course, the church provides safety for abused women, children, and men. Of course, no pastor worth his salt would counsel a woman to remain in a dangerous situation. But how he advises her depends on the nuances of the situation. And regardless of those nuances, he has to help every woman trust the sovereignty of God and submit to Scripture as her final authority. As it stands, modern men and women are looking to culture as their final authority for ethics and beliefs. How one views Scripture and understands the doctrine of sovereignty has real-world consequences.

What is at stake? Peter says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.” (1 Peter 3:1) In this case, the salvation of the unbelieving husband could be a stake. Paul told Titus to encourage the young women to be subject to their own husbands so that the word of God would not be dishonored (slandered/blasphemed. (Titus 2:5) So the very honor of God is also at stake. That is a lot.

It is easy to make sweeping generalizations regarding this issue if one does not take into consideration all that Scripture teaches on the issue of legitimate divorce and the husband-wife relationship. Female submission to male leadership is intellectually repugnant to American society. Moreover, restrictions on divorce are even more intolerable to American society than restrictions on abortion. The truth cuts like the sharpest of knives in conversations like this. This is the hard stuff. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you can distinguish the hireling from the shepherd in a hurry. And it is here, precisely here, that you find out who is willing to stand for God and who is more interested in the approval and praise of the culture.

God said to the ancient Israelites, “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.” (Ex. 34:12) Paul said the same thing to Timothy a little differently, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Tim. 4:16)

 

 

A Response to the Open Letter Nonsense

Someone informed me recently that it’s open-letter writing season. Who knew? The trouble with writing an open letter to the SBC is twofold: time and space. The number of serious problems that are on the SBC dancefloor at the moment is more than a little daunting. Another problem for me is that I am not a very good writer and I am especially not a very good at being a pithy writer. I am so bad at it that even Google cannot help me. So, I ask you to please keep reading and consider it an answer to your prayer for patience.

Recently, Paige Patterson, the president of SWBTS stepped on a landmine in pagan American culture. Patterson dared to suggest that we never advise divorce in the Christian community. Patterson’s advice remains true, he believes, even in situations of physical abuse. As a result of his remarks, a number of SBC and evangelical leaders have expressed disagreement and even outrage. Now, the real purpose of this article is to help you, the reader, better evaluate what is going on in the church, how to think biblically about it, and as a result, how to respond to it, and how to help your family and your church think about and respond as well. I am not a pastor or a professor. I have a secular job. Someone may say that this means I am not a stakeholder. That would be patently false. We, as believers, are all stakeholders in the Christian community. We are such by our calling and election and it is our greatest duty and privilege to be defenders of the Christian faith and the deposit of divine revelation upon which it is based. We have no other option, ethically, but to get involved in this ugly war that is taking place today. Christianity has always been a religion of inconvenience. That remains true today even in the most privileged country in the history of human existence, America.

The purpose of this blog post is not to provide marital counseling. If you are reading this and you are in a situation where physical abuse is taking place, you need to run to your elders and pastors immediately for counsel. That is the only advice I can offer. Go to your leaders and go now. That said, how should the Christian think about divorce and the fact that so many Christian leaders and an innumerable number of “Christian” women are objecting to Patter’s remarks? First, what is the ground for the objection? If the Bible is our only guide and the Bible clearly provides permission for divorce under two and only two circumstances, then what are we to think about the suggestion that abuse is a new ground for biblical divorce? The Bible teaches that divorce is only allowed in cases of unrepentant adultery, or in the case of unbeliever abandonment/divorce. The Bible never encourages, recommends, guides, advises, or suggests that a Christian ought to seek a divorce. That is never the counsel of Scripture. So, when Patterson says he never counsels that women should divorce their husbands in cases of physical abuse, he is in fact counseling exactly the way Scripture instructs.

Now, modern women, and especially modern American women, and especially, modern pagan American women have a problem with this advice. Nothing could be more wicked than abuse as far as these women are concerned. And I agree that abuse is wicked. In fact, I have a younger sister and when she married, I had the traditional big-brother conversation with my new brother-in-law and he knew I meant every word of it. That aside, we have to ask what is driving the current outrage over Patterson’s remarks? Has Patterson said something that is so obviously contradictory to Scripture that we should be offended as believers? No, he has not. That is not the source of the outrage. The source of the outrage is a philosophy that has become deeply embedded in American society, even in American Christians, even in American Christian leaders. That philosophy is clearly at odds with the teachings of Scripture. The philosophy tells us that women deserve to be happy in their relationship with their spouse. It is a right. They are entitled to the kind of marriage that meets their standard. But that is not actually true if one holds to biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity commands the husband and the wife to be content in their marriage covenant and to love one another.

Recently, Russell Moore has come out to say that physical abuse constitutes abandonment and therefore is grounds for divorce. The abandonment mentioned in 1 Cor. 7 is literal physical abandonment. Moreover, that abandonment itself, in that culture, was divorce. The ancient culture knew nothing of this idea of legal separation and divorce. Hence, when Paul said that if the unbeliever departs, let them depart, that departure itself was the exiting of the marriage covenant. Moore is wrong to suggest that physical abuse constitutes grounds for divorce and that to counsel a woman that way is, for a Christian pastor, reckless and irresponsible.

To add insult to injury, Beth Moore has joined the #MeToo fray and is using the current situation to bolster her own status within evangelicalism. Recently, Beth penned an open letter to her brothers in Christ in which she listed what can only be described as a list of behaviors that she interpreted as micro-aggressions of male abuse. She made much to do of a theologian who supposedly looked her up and down and told her she was prettier than another female speaker. Who knows what this “looked me up and down” actually looked like? In addition, Beth listed a number of other interactions she had with men that she felt were abusive or sexist. And there have been many Christian leaders who have positively responded to Beth: Russ Moore, Matt Chandler, J.D. Greer, and Thabiti Anyabwile just to mention a few. What are we to think about this situation?

Did Beth Moore do what a Christian should have done in these situations? Did she do what a Christian woman should have done in writing an open letter to all of us? I think she should have followed the instructions of Jesus in Matt. 18 and of Paul in Gal. 6:1. When the theologian behaved inappropriately toward her, she should have reminded him of Jesus’ words regarding the sin of adultery and dealing with lust in the heart, that is, if she really was convinced he was lusting. Perhaps it would have been better to have simply addressed the inappropriateness of his comments politely and let it go at that. In act situation, given that the behavior was out of bounds (and I am not saying it was or was not), Beth Moore had a responsibility to her brothers to love them by speaking with them at the time. She didn’t. That is regrettable. And it was wrong. It was a failure on her part to love her brothers just as much as it was a failure on the part of those brothers to love her and treat her with respect to the degree she should be respected. She is a false teacher and in rebellion against God in a number of areas. But I am placing that aside for the purpose of dealing with the issues. There are women who experience these things who are NOT false teachers. They ought to know how to deal with these issues biblically when they encounter them. Beth Moore’s behavior is not in accord with biblical principles. If I had access to Beth as a friend, I would tell her exactly this. That means that those leaders who do have access to Beth ought to be doing just that right now and we should see some sort of retraction and correction from Beth. But instead, we see these men propping up what amounts to behavior that ignores, clearly ignores the mandates of Scripture.

Adding insult to injury, a group of women has signed a letter (HERE) calling on the SWBTS Board of Trustees to take action. The method is one of mob intimidation. We see this in the SJW tribe, and now we are seeing it in the female tribe of American pagan culture that has taken root in and permeated the Christian church. What is driving this behavior? Sin would be the final answer. That said, it’s probably a good idea when we see behavior like this to understand how we are sinning so that we can better equip ourselves going forward to avoid the sin.

In one sense, there is a narcissistic attitude that is prevalent in the culture that has infected the church in two ways: first, there are a ton of false converts in our churches. They don’t know Christ and they don’t want to know him. What they want is the feeling of being a good person that supposedly comes with knowing him. But those who know Christ truly don’t have this sense of being a good person. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The better acquainted we are with our Lord, the better we understand that we are not a good person. The second reason narcissism exists in the church is the neglect of sound teaching methods and training. Thirty-minute SS lessons that are barely interactive and mostly superficial and predominantly geared to my happiness and self-esteem do nothing but contribute to the biblical incompetence that provides fertile soil for this kind of fallacious thinking and unbiblical behavior. People are no self-aware, not reflective enough, not introspective enough to honestly look at themselves and then look at Scripture so that they might be transformed into the image of Christ. And it seems to me that almost all modern Churches in the SBC and evangelicalism have no interest in the purity of the body of Christ. There is no stomach for or toleration of discipline. After all, a shrinking Christianity is a politically powerless Christianity. And now we are getting to the problem.

If you believe that Christianity has a duty to shape the culture, policies, laws, etc., then there are certain conditions that absolutely are vital to such an undertaking. And make no mistake about it, SJW do think that the church has as its mission, the duty to shape the culture in this way. In America, you change the culture through the political process, through protests, civil disobedience, unrest, punishing business whose principles you disagree with, getting people fired etc. These behaviors are all done under the guise of helping the helpless.

Now, in order for the church to have the muscle it needs to carry out this vision, it cannot be weak in number or lacking in credibility. What is needed is a church that is both large in number and sufficiently credible in the eyes of the culture so that it can use those numbers to influence the culture at large. This means that the church needs leaders who have their fingers on the pulse of the culture. You see, if we start excommunicating false-converts before you know, we are too small to matter politically. The only reason Washington pays any attention to evangelicals is that of our size. If we were actually the size of our true converts, we wouldn’t matter. No one would take any interest in us.

Second, we cannot be perceived to hold views that are instantly stigmatized by the world. Consequently, doctrines that society finds outrageous and offensive have to go. Denial of evolution theory is so incredible that we modify our views to get to an old earth, or theistic evolution. Adam and Eve are myths, not literal. The virgin birth can be rejected without consequence. But more importantly, the Christian ethic has to be refreshed so that it does not offend the ethics of society. For example, slavery was not condemned in the Bible. Slavery is racism. Racism is intolerable. Therefore, the Bible is intolerable. This puts these leaders in the unenviable position of having to do gyrations around the Bible’s teaching. The Bible has to be completely reinterpreted so that it doesn’t offend society’s ethics for the sake of the credibility of Christianity. This means these leaders not only come up with all sorts of creative ways to deny that the Bible does not condemn slavery, they must also come up with ways to make the Bible condemn what many modern people consider to be social injustices that amount to racism. This is the price you must pay if Christianity is to have an honored seat at the table.

Now, look at the Patterson issue and the Beth Moore open letter through that lens and think about what you see. Patterson has taken a stand on an issue that Scripture speaks to pretty clearly. However, the ethics revealed in Scripture is contrary to the one espoused by American society. To say that physical abuse is not grounds for divorce or worse, to say that a woman should not ipso facto seek a divorce because her husband has been physically abusive is about as outrageous as being an open racist. In other words, the view itself discredits the one holding it in the eyes of the culture. Your ability to influence evaporates immediately. And if that happens, you cannot even begin to shape the culture in any direction, let alone in the direction you think it should go. To add insult to injury, when Christians adopt these unpopular positions, they are marginalized and suffer extreme stigmatization at the hands of the culture. So, if your opinion of me matters too much to me, then that can serve to influence my own thinking, beliefs, and practices. This is why American society has such influence over the church and her leaders.

We are all susceptible to this kind of thinking. We want to be liked. And when we are not liked we are either hurt or in some cases, angry. I want to be liked. And when I have to say things that I know are going to cost me in that arena, I get angry. We have to be more concerned with God’s mandate to us, with God’s opinion of us than we are of society’s opinion of us. I have to put to death my desire to be liked by others. When that desire is unrestrained, I become less useful to my brothers. My brothers need me to love the truth more than them. And I need my brothers to love the truth more than me. If that state of affairs obtains, then my brothers and I will only love one another more than we would have if we loved the truth less than we love each other. The only way to love your brother more is to love the truth more than you love your brothers. Any time you love your brothers more than you love the truth, then you are not loving your brothers as much as you could or as much as you should.

It seems to me that modern evangelicals and the SBC, as well as some in the reformed community, have become or have been for some time, far too concerned with how society views them. American society has come to believe that Christianity is both intellectually and ethically untenable. Enlightenment philosophies have introduced entirely different criteria for what is intelligent belief and what is ethical behavior. Since these philosophies are antithetical to divine revelation from the start, it is not surprising that they affirm basic presuppositions that are hostile to and contradictory to Christian doctrine. Intellectually, it is simply backward thinking to affirm male headship in the home, at work, or in the church. Once you make such an affirmation, you are summarily dismissed as not credible. There are a number of basic Christian doctrines that fit this category. Miracles, or as add it seems, certain kinds of miracles are also believed to be intellectually untenable. The virgin birth is an example. Andy Stanley is on record as claiming that you do not have to believe in this miracle and many others in order to be a Christian. In other words, if it offends your intellect, you can reject it. God understands. This is true as well for views on relationships and especially divorce. The overwhelming majority of churches stopped excommunicating people for unbiblical divorce years and years ago. It simply isn’t taken seriously which means marriage isn’t taken seriously. This thinking contributed to the pagan notion that same-sex marriage makes sense.

So, when a preacher says abuse isn’t grounds for divorce between Christians, predictably, society finds such doctrine intellectually untenable and even unethical. You see, these women are not going to allow men like Russell Moore and the church at large to restrict abuse to physical abuse. The reason for that is that most women, the majority of women have never suffered physical abuse. I don’t say that to downplay the problem of abuse. It is a problem even if the numbers are low. That is not the subject of this post. Read me that way and you have misread me completely. Many women have suffered emotional and mental abuse, economic abuse, and a number of other abuses, so-called. Who gets to decide? The woman, who else? If it is true that physical abuse is grounds for divorce, then why not any other type of abuse? The door swings open wide now, doesn’t it. And why? Because the Bible swings it open wide? Nope! Leaders who are more concerned with the idea that society finds Christianity, and specifically, the SBC and evangelicalism both intellectually and ethically tenable. Only if that is true can we grow our numbers and grab the political capital we need to shape the culture. It is vital that Christian doctrine is held in high esteem by society.If we prove to be intellectually bankrupt or ethically repugnant, we have lost all hope that we can shape the path forward, or so the current leaders seem to think. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I will close with the following words from Paul: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

 

 

 

 

The Culture Doesn’t Like Me

Jesus told his disciples, If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. Have you ever wondered why modern Christians paint the ancient world as having loved Christ? So often we read that modern Christians are not like Christ because Christ’s culture loved him. Jesus stood up for the oppressed and worked for justice for all the marginalized. Modern Christians do not do that. This is why they loved Jesus in his world but the modern culture hates Christians because they are nothing like Christ. But as one can see, Jesus’ culture did not love him. They hated him. In another place, Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” The world hated Jesus because Jesus told the world the truth about itself: its deeds are evil. Again, Jesus said, “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Apparently, many modern Christians seem to be quite ignorant of Jesus’ relationship with his own culture. It was anything but harmonious. It was so hostile that it ended in Christ’s murder. For some reason, this point is missed by many modern Christians. Not only that, Christ warned his immediate and closest followers that the world would hate them as well. The culture will not receive you with open arms was the message. Jesus warned his disciples that they will hate you, they will slander you falsely, and they will drag you to the courts and kill you just because you are following me.

The post is concerned with the recent behavior of many evangelical Christians, most of whom are celebrity speakers within the evangelical camp. That many of these leaders are watching the culture and hyper-sensitive about what the culture has to say about them matters a great deal to them. For the past four decades since I have been in The Way, I have observed the church’s leaders because more concerned with their reputation and credibility in the culture. Over the last decade, that concerned has increased in dramatic fashion. What the world thinks about the church seems to matter a lot more today than it did when I was first regenerated way back in 1979. I find it extremely difficult to understand how anyone could truly take the life and teachings of Jesus and his closest disciples seriously and care about what the culture thinks about them. In fact, I am tempted to say that if you care about what the culture thinks about you or the church, then you really don’t take the teachings and life of Christ seriously. At best, you just say you do.

There are a number of leaders in the evangelical movement what have completely swallowed the cultural mandate of diversity. Diversity is the holy grail in modern culture. They want diversity everywhere, or so they say. Funny thing is, the one area where diversity matters most, they don’t want it: ideas. If you don’t believe, try having an independent idea of an idea that cuts against mainstream culture and watches what happens. Dare to think that gender neutral bathrooms is a bad idea and see how far you get. But this thinking has made its way into the church. It has made its way into several areas: race, racial diversity, homosexuality, and now, the #MeToo movement.

The push for a never-ending stream of repentance over slavery and racism seems unending as just one example. Even though the loudest voices from certain quarters never suffered from the plague of slavery, you would think they had. The church has been guilted now for the last year over the sins of the past and there are plenty of leaders who care enough about these ungodly opinions and ideas to get in line and placate the complainants. Honesty and acknowledge isn’t enough. Even apologizing for sins they never committed isn’t enough. The culture wants more, demands more, and it won’t shut up until it gets more.

We also see this going on with racial diversity. Many evangelical leaders are now working on strategies to increase the diversity in their communities, their leadership, and in many of the seminaries. Why? Well, its because the pagan culture expects it. There isn’t a shred of Scripture nor principles that can be rightly deduced from Scripture that leads us to conclude that this is the biblical mandate. Not a shred. It is because these leaders care about what the culture says about them. You see, it seems as if these leaders either want their reputation to sparkle or they really believe that the church is doomed unless the culture gives it a passing mark. Both views are unbiblical.

The homosexual movement is not quite as bad, at least not for the true church. And it is the true church that I am concerned about in this post and her leaders of course. Most of the time when a pastor preaches or teaches about homosexuality or gender dysphoria, they have to qualify it with how they have friends who are gay or lesbian and that they love everyone. The church has started to accept the idea of being gay but not acting on those desires. The church has also focused a lot of time on talking about creating safe spaces for homosexuals and this has actually become a strategic focus. In other words, leaders are being more deliberate in making sure their communities are structured in a way that is non-threatening to visitors who may be gay or lesbian. While this may not be a full compromise, it is a compromise. It reflects an abhorrent concern on the part of evangelical leaders with what the culture thinks about them regarding this issue.

Finally, and this was predictable, the #MeToo movement is now forcing these very same leaders to virtue signal as well. These leaders don’t want to be accused of being insensitive to the needs of women so they rush in to make sure they are saying just the right thing so that the culture gives them a passing grade on this issue. One of the most concerning of these is the idea that women should be instructed to divorce an abusive husband. Some leaders have jumped into this conversation and rushed to such support such guidance. This behavior is not only rash, it is spiritually dangerous and biblically incompetent. In the case of physical abuse, of course, a woman should remove herself from physical danger. That is completely consistent with Scriptural teaching. But to move to divorce is a different matter altogether. Additionally, there is a serious problem with the word abuse. It is notoriously ambiguous. The word abuse has to be defined. It cannot be left to the individual female to decide that a certain behavior rises to the level of abuse. That conclusion should be the result of elders/pastors in counseling and must be reached only after serious investigation of the facts. Moreover, divorce is not permitted in just any case of any kind of supposed abuse. The only biblical ground for divorce is sexual immorality or unbeliever abandonment. This does not mean that a woman should place herself in harms’ way. She should not. If she fears for her physical safety, she should remove herself from that situation. Can a woman leave her husband if she deems him to be abusive in other ways? Say emotional or mental or verbally? There is nothing in Scripture that allows for divorce or separation under those circumstances. Yet, we seemingly are witnessing some of these high-profile celebrity pastors and leaders signaling exactly that in some cases.

What should we do if the culture does not like us, or our teaching, or our position on a particular issue? I think it’s pretty simple:

Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 1 John 3:13

 

The Gospel According to Man

 

For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and high priestly intercession, there should be no mystery about what Isaiah 53 signifies. It is the complete gospel in prophetic form, a surprisingly explicit foretelling of what the Messiah would do to put away the sins of his people forever. It is the gospel according to God, set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures.

– John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God

 Just as it was in the days of the early church from the very beginning, so it is today. There is intense competition among sinful men to exchange the gospel once for all delivered to the saints for one that is more palatable and pliable where human desires and interests are concerned. The original gospel, the one spoken of by the prophets and ushered in by Christ and established by his holy Apostles is far too distasteful and unbending. The original gospel does not consider the interests of men, wealthy, wise, popular or powerful.

Writing to the churches of Galatia, the apostle Paul opens his letter with a defense of his ministry in 1:11-24. Whether or not gar (for) or de (but) was the original is beyond the scope of this post. What is within the scope of this post is the thrust of Paul’s statement at v. 11: For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. This Greek construction is employed in five other locations in the NT, all of them within the Pauline corpus. It contrasts what is merely human with that which transcends humanity. Here, the use is the same. Paul’s gospel does not have its origin or source in man.

The Churches of Galatia have a real problem on their hands. Certain men are traveling from church to church in the region and they are turning the gospel upside down on its head. Lightfoot notes, “I assure you brethren, the Gospel you were taught by me is not of human devising. I did not receive it from man, but from Jesus Christ. I did not learn it, as one learns a lesson, by painful study. It flashed upon me, as a revelation from Jesus Christ. [Lightfoot, J.B. Galatians] Paul says in v. 12 that he did not receive the gospel from men, and he was not taught it by man, but instead, he received it through divine revelation. Paul had previously made it a point to emphasize that his apostolic office and calling was also not by or through the agency of men. Paul’s claim is that his apostolic calling, as well as the gospel that he had previously delivered to the Galatian churches, were of divine origin rather than human. Since this is actually the case, the implications are far-reaching for the Galatian churches. If Paul’s gospel was the gospel of God, if it was God’s gospel, then it follows that the men who were busy contradicting it were offering a gospel that did not come from God. And since it didn’t come from God, the only other possibility is that it came from human beings. Now, it might not have been as bad if these men had disclosed that their gospel was a human gospel. But they didn’t do that. They did what men have been doing from that day down to our very own: they passed off their version of the gospel as if it were God’s gospel. And this was indeed a very serious problem. In fact, passing off a gospel according to man as if it were the one true gospel according to God is the most serious transgression a preacher can possibly commit.

The Galatian heresy, as almost every heresy concerning the gospel is prone to do, was the heresy of adding requirements to the gospel that are absent from the actual gospel. To be clear, any change to the original gospel is damning. To remove components is just as serious as adding requirements. In this case, the Judaizers were adding law-keeping to the Christian gospel. Throughout the centuries, men have added requirements to the gospel. Church history is littered with a variety of additional requirements nowhere found in the original. Modern men are also busy adding requirements to the gospel.

In the book of Galatians, Paul does two very basic things where the gospel is concerned: 1) he reinforces the message of the gospel that men are saved by faith alone in Christ apart from the works of the law, and 2) he gives us some criteria for how we can know that someone has experienced genuine faith that truly saves. Paul’s letter to the Galatians talks about false brethren who had been secretly brought in for the purpose of bringing them into bondage (2:4). These false brethren brought with them, a false gospel, a gospel that had been contaminated with law-keeping requirements. But it wasn’t the law that was the problem. It was the additional requirements that were the problem. When someone adds anything to the gospel, they are engaging in behavior that prompted Paul to place a curse on those who did the exact same thing in ancient Galatia. This means that adding anything to the gospel as it was originally given by Christ and his holy apostles, is a behavior worthy of damnation. So, when someone says that something is a gospel issue, they are saying something very serious and even very dangerous. Concerning those who were contaminating the gospel, Paul says that “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Any foreign components added to the gospel serves to corrupt the entire gospel.

Second, Paul was also concerned about those who may, in fact, claim to have been recipients of the kind of faith that only the gospel produces, but who were liars. In the fifth chapter of this letter, Paul provides a list of characteristics that help the churches of Galatian protect and preserve the purity of their community. The one who serves the deeds of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. In fact, Paul tells the churches that the ones who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions, its interests, and its lusts. As we read Galatians, it becomes obvious that there are two types of false brothers, false Christians that stand out in the ancient letter. The first is those false Christians who add requirements of their own to the gospel. They include items in the gospel that are not original to the gospel. The second kind of false Christian is the one whose faith is not working in love. To possess faith working in love is to keep God’s commandments. That is the only kind of faith that is genuine and that is the product of the gospel. If you preach a false gospel, you are a false Christian. If your faith provides no evidence that it is the same kind of faith that works in love, keeping God’s commandments, then you are a false Christian. False Christians live lives that are defined by things like sexual immorality, sensuality, drunkenness, dissensions, factions, envy, carousing, etc. But in front of other Christians, these false Christians put on their sacred mask and pretend to be something they are not.

In modern American Christianity, there are more false gospels than one can count at this point. And the number of false Christians produced by these false gospels is staggering. One could take the attitude that there isn’t anything we can do about it, shrug their shoulders and go back to doing whatever it is he does to occupy his time. Or, as a Christian, one could decide that the issues are important enough that, even though the odds are stacked against him, he must remain engaged in the conversations and do everything he can to defend the one true gospel and point people to the one true Christ who saves people into his one true body, the Church.

In a recent survey, 80% of Americans said they believe in God. Good news, right? Not so fast. Of that 80 %, only 56% said that they believed in God as described in the Bible. 23% said they believe in some other spiritual or higher power. Of the 80% who said they believe in God, only 76%, age 65+, believe that he knows everything and 67% of this group believes he has the power to direct or change everything. Only 45% of college graduates believe in God as described in the Bible. The new study from Pew Research can be found at this link: What do Americans believe about God?

There have always been competing gospels and competing versions of Christianity from the beginning. The church has had to deal with these ideas for 2,000 years. The difference today is that the digital age coupled with the independent spirit have combined to form the perfect storm for deception and confusion around the truth of the gospel. This makes good pastors and solid churches more critical than ever. It makes discipleship and church discipline indispensable. We live in a postmodern society dominated by Enlightenment philosophies. Man believes himself fully capable, having become enlightened by his own scientific discoveries, to lift himself out of his miserable condition to higher ground. This philosophy has posed not a few significant problems for the Christian Church. Enlightenment thinking has infected theology to the point that in many quarters, the gospel has been so corrupted that it no longer exists. Oh, the language is still there, but the content has long since disappeared.

The gospel tells us that Christ came specifically to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the servant would bear the iniquities of those whom he would justify (Isa. 53:11). Christ came to establish a new covenant, one that God himself would write in the hearts of those whom Christ would freely forgive (Jer. 31:34). Paul says that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The gospel is that Christ died to save sinners from the eternal judgment of a righteous God. The object of Christ’s redemption is the one whom God chose before the foundation of the world. Christ did all that was necessary to secure forever, the forgiveness of all those whom the Father gives to him. Garry Williams writes The sufficiency of the cross shows the sinner outside of Christ the one place where refuge from God’s wrath can be found. It assures him that there is no sin too evil to be forgiven, no sin too bad for the blood of Christ. [David and Jonathan Gibson, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her]

Let anyone who preaches a gospel that adds to this simple message or who takes from this simple message, be accursed says the apostle Paul. There is only one gospel and it is the gospel according to God.

 

 

 

 

 

Race and The Integrity of the Christian Church

In the ancient Christian church located in the ancient city of Corinth, a moral scandal erupted that required the immediate attention of the founder of that church, the apostle Paul. The purpose of this post is to focus on just one of those problems and then to relate that problem to some of the behaviors we see in modern evangelicalism. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. The passive ἀκούεται signals the continuation of the oral report brought by Chloe’s people (1:11, ἐδηλώθη), and underlines that the Corinthians did not even inquire about this problem.[1] A report has been brought back to Paul from Chloe’s people concerning the sexual misconduct of a couple in Corinth that was entirely unconscionable. And what was just as scandalous about this conduct is that the church was not the slightest bit concerned about it.

Paul says to them, And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. So, we have a man who is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his step-mother and the Corinthian Church has done nothing to address it. They should have done something. Paul calls their attitude regarding this situation arrogant. Paul has already used this word back in 4:6 when he cautioned the Corinthians not to go beyond what was written which is also a reflection of an arrogant mindset. Arrogance is a problem in Corinth. Not only is this church not doing what ought to be done, they are going beyond Scripture and engaging in behaviors they ought not to engage in. Rather than taking such an indifferent attitude toward the incestuous man, the church should be mourning over his conduct. This man’s conduct should grieve the hearts of the Corinthians. But because of their arrogance, it does not. Not only should they be grieved, they should be taking action. What sort of action should they take? The man should be removed from among them. He has no place in the body due to his sexual immorality.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Paul compares the immoral conduct of this professing brother with leaven. It is like cancer. Once in the body, the body is now contaminated. There is no such thing as a partially non-leaven or leavened piece of dough. If there is leaven in the dough, the whole lump of dough is leavened. As a holy community, the Corinthians were being told that this man has no place in the body. He is leaven that must immediately be purged. Our celebration of the feast must not be done in a state of impurity. Depravity, vice, and things like sexual immorality must be removed from the celebration. The situation is so serious that Paul has decided to turn the offender over to the destruction of the flesh in the hope that he might find repentance in the end. Thiselton writes,

Perhaps the community’s “pride” was nourished by the patronage of one of distinguished status (the offender) whose wealth may even have been enhanced by the illicit marriage. If consigning to Satan means excluding him from the community, this spells the end of self-congratulation about their association with such a distinguished patron; while for the offender himself sudden removal from a platform of adulation to total isolation from the community would have a sobering if not devastating effect.[2]

Paul had previously written to the Corinthians about associating with immoral people. What Paul meant was that it is entirely inconsistent, and in fact, contradictory to the Christian ethic, to tolerate the existence and presence of immoral people within the Christian community. Paul says, But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one (v 11). John put it this way, By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). It seems that when many evangelicals tossed out the old fundamentalist errors, they tossed out holiness with them. The Corinthian church has clearly gone too far. They have exceeded their authority and displayed an attitude of extreme arrogance. When they should have been grieved, mourning, and metaphorically in sackcloth and ashes, they were celebrating the Lord’s table week in and week out without a care or concern about this leaven in their midst. Their behavior was unthinkable, and it earned a sharp and strong rebuke from the apostle.

Paul quotes a mandate given in several locations in Deuteronomy, beginning at 13:5, ordering the Corinthians to “Remove the wicked man from among them.” This requires a love for the body and a willingness to critically examine the life of those who claim to be part of the sacred community. As has already been pointed out, it is extremely arrogant to adopt the opposite mindset. The man must go. The integrity of the church, and hence, the integrity of the gospel is at stake. Jesus himself has already said to his disciples that they are the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill shining into a world that exists in the darkness of sin. The world should see the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. This difference is light and darkness. Contrary to modern social gospel adherents, the salt and light Jesus talked about is not social causes. It has nothing to do with changing political structures. We know this because Jesus was the light of the world when he was in the world and he never attempted to change the socio-political structures in his own culture. And as his torch is handed to the holy apostles to carry on his work and message, they never attempt to change those structures. As the apostles pen the New Testament, they never order any of the local churches or pastors to whom those letters are addressed, to work toward changing social structures. No, the light and the salt have to do with our conduct as a holy community now, marked by the fruit of the Spirit and a lifestyle lacking in the works of the flesh. The love of neighbor is one that takes place on a more intimate level. In our respective community, where our light should be shining brightly, we care for one another, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. We treat one another justly. We extend help where there is a need.

Recently, a group of men gathered in Memphis, TN for the sole purpose of celebrating the legacy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One would fully expect the world to celebrate the legacy of a man who accomplished so much and who had such lasting influence as Dr. King did. But the question here is, should the church celebrate such a man? What has Dr. King accomplished where the kingdom of God is concerned? More important than that, does Dr. King’s life merit a celebration in the sacred community that is the Christian church?

It has been documented that Dr. King was dishonest on his dissertation. Additionally, he denied the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the resurrection. Nowhere in his life is there any real evidence to suggest that he actually repented of these views. Moreover, Dr. King lived a life of sexual debauchery. He was an unrepentance adulterer, and a drunk according to the reports. It is even reported that he fathered a child outside of his marriage. Yet, for some reason, men like Russell Moore, H.B. Charles, and Matt Chandler thought it proper and right for the Christian community to come together in celebration of Dr. King’s legacy, not from a secular standpoint, but from a sacred one. Perhaps now would be a good time for you to pause, open your Bible to 1 Corinthians 5 and read that chapter again, ever so slowly.

It seems to me that the ERLC and the Gospel Coalition are engaging in the exact same behavior that the ancient church at Corinth engaged it. Not only that, there are myriad black pastors and black Christian leaders who place Martin Luther King Jr. on the “untouchable” list. No doubt this is because of his civil rights work. Paul called this very behavior, this very mindset, this very attitude, arrogant. He sharply rebuked the church at Corinth and ordered them to cease and desist from this sort of behavior. That is the message I want someone with courage, someone who has their attention, to say to Russ Moore, to Matt Chandler, to H.B. Charles. You cannot elevate Martin Luther King Jr. without, at the same time, belittling sin and emptying the gospel of its meaning and value. When you elevate King, you say, the resurrection wasn’t that important, adulterous relationships are not that big of a deal, orgies are just imperfections, small missteps, the deity of Christ is not an essential of Christian faith. Essentially, the elevation of King is the unavoidable reduction of the gospel.

I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul to his young protégé, Timothy: Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

 

 

[1] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 385.

[2] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 396.

American Evangelicalism: In Crisis and Confusion

We are witnessing nothing short of a full-on gospel crisis in American Evangelicalism today. Just as the homosexual movement has rapidly deteriorated into the full-blown confusion we see around the psychological disorder and delusion of gender dysphoria; we are witnessing the exponential demise of what was once a clear, focused, gospel-centered movement. When everything in evangelicalism is a gospel issue, nothing is. And this is precisely what is happening in modern evangelical Christianity. A few examples are presented in this post and then a plea for some sanctified common sense follows.

Social justice is all the rage these days. Even within the reformed camp, the balance between social concerns and the gospel is shifting much more quickly than one would have previously imagined. Social justice has, for all intents and purposes, eclipsed the pure gospel of historic Christianity so much so that we no longer know where the gospel story concludes, and it’s impacts on me as a new person in Christ, in my culture, begins. We can see this in a variety of movements that have and are competing for the attention and the money and the time of Christians, week in and week out. Abolish Human Abortion argues that the church isn’t being the church unless it works to feverishly put a stop to the murder of unborn babies. The unborn babies are your neighbor, says AHA, and you are commanded to love your neighbor and protect the defenseless. If you are not picketing abortion clinics and opposing abortion in just the right way, then you are not loving your neighbor. For AHA, ending abortion is a gospel issue. The Gospel Coalition is cranking out one social issue after another and they are all gospel issues. From Tim Keller’s highly controversial and questionable philosophies outlined in his Generous Justice to the most recent pet, outlawing American Football, TGC has turned every social concern into a gospel issue. Many prominent Southern Baptists leaders, a denomination of which I happen to be a part, has its political arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, devoted almost exclusively to social issues. From its website we read the following: The ERLC is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing. And of course, these issues, ranging from social justice to racial reconciliation, from sex trafficking to immigration, are all gospel issues. They ERLC, TGC, and AHA all want your attention, your time, and your money in order to carry out their agenda. But there is more.

Many of these movements, if not all of them, are contain varying degrees of components associated with liberation theology and are incredibly confused about the nature of Christianity, personal holiness, and the mission of the church. This is especially the case as it relates to the relationship of the church and the world, not to mention, the content of the gospel. Now, in case you are skeptical of my thesis (and healthy skepticism is encouraged) that what you are witnessing in Evangelicalism is in fact, liberation theology sporting a fresh coat of paint, note this comment from J. Daniel Salinas concerning the book, An Inquiry into the Possibility of an Evangelical-Liberationist theology: Chaves, the Brazilian professor at the Baptist University of the Americas, argues that later developments in both North American evangelicalism (NAE) and Latin American Liberation Theologies (LALT) have drawn them theologically closer than ever before.[1]

The matter of liberation theology is itself indelibly linked to hermeneutics. This can be seen in how groups such as AHA, TGC, the ERLC, and Racial Reconciliation interpret the biblical text. Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez wrote: “The theology of liberation offers us not so much a new theme for reflection as a new way to do theology. Theology as critical reflection on historical praxis.” As Samuel Escobar points out, “This critical reflection was the result of a new political alignment (praxis) of some Christians in Latin America during the 1960s and their critical way of reading the history of the church in that region.” Liberation then offers up a new way to do theology and along with it, a new hermeneutic, a modified gospel, an alternative mission of the church, and it defines the relationship between the church and the world. The old adage comes to mind: if it is new, it is not true and if it is true, it is not new. Is it too much to suggest that what we see taking place right now in evangelicalism, among the new Calvinists, some in the reformed branch, and especially in the Southern Baptists is a new way to do theology? Social concerns are informing how theology gets done rather than theology informing how the church gets things done. Liberation theology begins with the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, and their concerns, and it shapes theology by insisting that exegesis submits to those concerns above all others. And this is how you end up with the proverbial tail wagging the dog problem. Don’t forget, Liberation theology fills those words with new meaning so that even the most orthodox of doctrines, such as male leadership in the church, is now viewed as complicit in the oppression and marginalization of women. Critical thinking is indispensable and the church neglects it to its own peril.

Returning to the Southern Baptists political arm, the ERLC, in reading the mission statement of this committee, one has to wonder if it should even exist in the first place: The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other Southern Baptist entities.

First, it is the local elders’ duty to help their communities understand the moral demands of the gospel. That is accomplished through preaching, teaching, and discipleship. The same is true for applying Christian principles to moral problems. The statement reveals its overtly political agenda when it turns to “social problems,” “questions of public policy,” and “to promote religious liberty.” In order to defend this mission statement, biblically anyways, one has to change the mission of the church so that it includes culture shaping, involvement in politics, and one has to believe that the church must work for religious liberty. But when one reads the New Testament Scriptures, writings that took place in a largely oppressive and intolerant setting, they do not find anything like these objectives there. More about this below when the subject of pure religion is addressed.

One of the most recent and highly visible areas of focus for these leaders is the topic of racial reconciliation. These men are operating on the basic premise that there is a rift between Christians of different racial classes in society. They begin by uncritically accepting melanin as a legitimate way to classify race and from there they carry their message forward with great enthusiasm and passion. Now, because racism is all the rage in the culture, and because no one wants to be called a racist or seen as doing anything whatsoever that any minority group could use to accuse one of racism, these leaders want to appear to be on board fully and completely. So, they are walking the politically correct line. With this in mind, they are working tirelessly to convince the church that they have a problem that needs to be addressed. The solution to this problem includes everything from the SBC repenting for past racism on an annual basis now for several years, to convincing white Christians that they are the bad guy, having been raised in a predominantly white culture and having unwittingly adopted racists attitudes of which they are naively ignorant and incapable of recognizing. One young minister at a prominent Southern Baptist church is the south went so far as to advocate for affirmative action in pastoral staffs, and even extended that point of view to the recommendations for books, and even conference speakers. There should be people in those positions who look like me he argues. The argument is not based on biblical exegesis, but instead, on principles directly coming from black liberation theology. In fact, recently an article appeared over at Core Christianity that was, for all intents and purposes, denying the sufficiency of Scripture on the issue of racism. I don’t measure a man’s ears when I decide to read his book or attend a conference or submit to his leadership as an elder. I am not going to pay attention to his skin tone either. It is that ridiculous and the sooner we start seeing that truth and looking at the issue that way, the better off we will be in my opinion.

Coming back to the article over at Core Christianity, the title of the article was a sure attention-getter: “Good Doctrine isn’t the Answer to Racism.” The racial reconciliation argument continues to lose exegetical debates, making it necessary to retreat and come up with new strategies. The article begins with the claim, “Just because doctrine is right, good, and true does not mean it is healthy.” Andrew Menkis argues that doctrine, in order to healthy, must be lived. Menkis, in his own attempt to jump on board the racial reconciliation train and project just the right appearance and perhaps “make his contribution” confuses Christian doctrine with Christian praxis. The word doctrine is derived from the Greek didaskalia. It simply means, teaching, instruction, that which is taught. Doctrine is a teaching. For example, the idea that doctrine should be lived out is implied in the teaching itself. When Menkis makes the claim that he makes, that just because the doctrine is right, good, and true does not mean it’s healthy, he is making a false statement on the one hand and a very basic category error on the other. If it is true that doctrine must be lived in order to be healthy doctrine, then Menkis’ doctrine is in the same boat as all other doctrines. That means that Menkis’ own doctrine about doctrine being lived is itself not a healthy doctrine. A question for Menkis might be, “If good, right, and true doctrine isn’t healthy, what is it?” If something is not healthy, then that means, logically speaking, that it is unhealthy. This means that good, right, and true doctrines can be unhealthy. This reasoning is specious. Living doctrine isn’t doctrine. The actual application of doctrine to daily life is not doctrine. Christian doctrine, in many, many cases is meant to be lived but not always. For example, the doctrine that all those in the body of Christ are in fellowship with one another is not a doctrine itself that can be practiced. It is a doctrine that describes our new status in Christ. We call it the doctrine of reconciliation. Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled to God through Christ in one body by the blood of Christ. I cannot live that. I cannot live the doctrine of justification. I cannot live the doctrine of regeneration. Menkis, in his attempt to project the appearance that he is on board and in his ambition to “make a contribution” to the topic, has made himself look rather silly in my opinion. This is the kind of foolishness that you end up with when you abandon sound hermeneutical principles in preference for methods that begin with the core values and principles of pagan society.

Pure religion begins with the gospel of Christ which is itself the power of God to save and regenerate the human heart. To Nichodemus, Jesus said, you must be born afresh, anew, from above, all over again. According to James, religion that is pure, that is undefiled, is religion that includes ministry to widows and orphans and to keep oneself pure from worldly influence. This hearkens back to 1:22 where James says be doers of the word and not hearers only. But my “not doing the word” does not make the word itself unhealthy nor does it mean that the word itself does not have the cure to my problem. The word is always intended to be applied or lived where there is application to be made. The proof that God has invaded my life can be seen in my care for others, especially widows and orphans and in my refusal to pattern my life after worldly principles derived from society. The church must have a vigorous ministry in place to care for widows and orphans. In some cases, this means providing food for care, medical needs where appropriate, etc. The same is true for orphans. It could mean financial support for orphanages, investing time in visiting the children living in these arrangements, or, in some cases, it could mean adoption. God directs the heart. James tells us to look after people in need during their time of affliction. But Paul also reminds us of the practical aspects of this ministry. Paul gives us criteria with qualification before placing a widow on the list in 1 Timothy 5. That we care for widows and orphans with some qualifications is undeniable. But how we do that will vary from person to person or church to church.

The mission of the church is to preach the gospel, baptize converts, and to make disciples. The gospel is that Christ came and died to save helpless sinners from their hopeless condition. To baptize converts is to practice the public confession that one has indeed bound himself to Christ as Lord and Savior. To make disciples is to make students of the commandments of God. Disciple-making entails teaching men to observe everything that Christ has commanded. This is the mission of the church. Nowhere in Christ’s commandments are we told that we must fight for religious freedom, shape the culture in which we find ourselves, or influence civil government to adopt Christian principles. It is through the use of a hermeneutic of liberation that such nonsense finds its way into the mainstream. The source is not Scripture, but instead, the personal ideologies of men who have gained a platform of influence. They need to be corrected by other godly, strong leaders or removed from the platform.

The relationship of the church with the world is the last component of the three basic elements that make up pure religion. The gospel is first, the mission is second, and the relationship of the church with the world is the third component of pure religion. In Romans 13 and in 1 Peter 2, the church has her instructions for how she is to relate to the civil government. Whatever philosophy you might have on this topic, you would be well-served to make sure it is grounded in these passages of Scripture. What are these instructions? First, every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. That is pretty clear. Why? Because every authority is from God. Every civil government is established by God according to Paul. And to that government, we must submit. Whoever resists the authority opposes the ordinance of God. Of course, taken in the context of Scripture as a whole, when the civil law contradicts the divine law, divine law is the greater of the two. Peter instructions are identical to Paul’s instructions. Peter says that we must submit ourselves to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. This applies to a king or to someone the king might send. Peter commands us to honor the king. This is not an option. It is a commandment. The word honor, from the Greek timaō means to show high regard for, to revere. Yet, many of the social causes and issues that the church and these leaders specifically find themselves obsessed with are issues that fly in the face of these instructions. This means that Christians should avoid vilifying our government leaders, president and all, publicly. We must submit to, honor, and respect our government leaders. The objection is sure to come that our leaders are godless men who support all sorts of immoral legislation and policy. This is true. But it is not any truer than it was for the government under which Paul and Peter and the rest of the early church operated. In fact, modern American government is morally superior to Rome from a this-world perspective. If you doubt that, then perhaps you should do some reading on the practices of ancient Rome. What is puzzling is that most of the leaders involved in these movements are also involved in completely ignoring the clear NT mandate regarding how the church ought to relate to the secular authority. In fact, their agenda seems to require a certain rebellion against the secular authority. Such insurrection is not the fruit of Christian living we see in the first-century church.

The evangelical church, to include its reformed branch is in a full-on crisis today. That crisis is due in large part to elements of a hermeneutic of liberation theology finding its way into the community. Men have gained access to the celebrity platform and ascended to a place of influence who do not hold to the historic positions handed down by the reformers. Movements like liberation theology, black liberation theology, the seeker movement, and the emergent church have all worked in varying degrees to weaken the hermeneutic of the conservative Protestant churches. The intensity of the war for truth has increased exponentially just within the last 5 years and more so even within the last year. Christian leaders must do a better job of examining the foundational teachings of men before enabling their influence. It is not evil to examine these claims to make sure they reflect the teachings of Scripture. Nor is it evil, when those claims are lacking in support, are incredibly weak, or outright contrary to Scripture, to correct these men. If we continue to embrace worldly practices, such as obsessing over offending one another, then truth will truly suffer as a result. We should always remember that God is an ever-present witness in what we do and why we do it.

In closing, we should remember some of the very last words of one of the greatest Christian soldiers to have fought in Way, the Apostle Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)

[1] J. Daniel Salinas, “Review of Evangelicals and Liberation Revisited: An Inquiry into the Possibility of an Evangelical-Liberationist Theology by João B. Chaves,” Themelios 39, no. 1 (2014): 142.