Gothpel Style

Contemporary Independent Baptists like Josh Teis and Robert Bakss insist that style is a matter of preference, that God says nothing about style. You prefer traditional hymns; we prefer contemporary. You prefer a suit and tie; we prefer casual. You want the lights bright; we like them dim. You use a pulpit; we prefer an open stage. Potayto; potahto.

But not so fast. These men make some major leaps based on assumption.  They do not attempt to prove their major premise.  They beg the question; they assume what they should prove; they rely on “special pleading” to make their case.

Their major premise, that style is merely a matter of preference, exposes a serious worldview flaw.  It does not faithfully represent Scripture. Ultimately, their principle of musical style undermines the worship being offered to a holy God. In response, I offer three points to consider.

First, Style is not Neutral

The idea that style is neutral, that style choices are merely preference choices, reveals a deep worldview flaw that cannot be ignored. To argue that style is a matter of preference is to say that there are areas in this world over which God makes no claim, over which Jesus Christ is not Lord. If in fact, the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not extend to our style choices, then anything goes. Why not host a Pajama Sunday?  After all, how else will we reach late-night WalMart shoppers?  Better yet, how about Goths for Jesus preaching the Gothpel?

But of course, God does not recognize any place in this world, whether in the realm of truth, goodness, or beauty, that does not belong to Him. “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Abraham Kuyper said it well:

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”

C.S. Lewis echoed that:

There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.

As Christians, we must set apart Jesus Christ as Lord in every part of our lives (I Peter 3:15), including in our style choices. To say that style is a matter of preference, that God says nothing about it, is to say something other than that Jesus is Lord.

Of all things, style is not neutral. Style sends a clear message. Style informs us of the meaning of the occasion. But when people make style choices for an occasion, they also inform us of their attitude toward the occasion. Those who pop into the wedding wearing shorts and a t-shirt state very clearly what they believe about the significance of a wedding. Even the most casual observer gets the message.

Consider, for instance, two renditions of “Be Still My Soul.” I won’t offer any commentary on the two styles, though I certainly have an opinion about both. I offer these as Exhibit A and Exhibit B in my case that style is not neutral. Listen to the first, then listen to the second.  You only need to listen to about 30 seconds of each to get the point.

Surely, you recognize that the different styles between the two versions of the song changed the meaning of the song.  Style conveys the message. Style, in fact, is the message. Whether the discussion is about music, clothing, lighting, or platform arrangement, style informs us of the meaning and importance of the occasion as much as anything else does.

The Contemporary Independent Baptists know this. They are smart, media-savvy guys. They grew up in Independent Baptist Churches. Their dads have been pastors for many years. They know what style says about a church. These young men have grown their churches into the 1,000’s. They didn’t achieve that success by being naïve or ignorant. They know what they are doing when they broadcast their contemporary worship style on the Internet. They include highlights from their contemporary services in order to send a message, and those who visit their websites know exactly what they are saying. So the claim that style is neutral or indifferent simply doesn’t hold water.

This is one of my biggest gripes about the contemporaries – they feign ignorance and pretend naivety about the message they send with their style choices. They claim that they aren’t trying to attract any certain crowd to their churches. They just want to worship God. And their worship is no different than ours – one style is as good as another, as long as we are all worshipping God.

While I disagree with the contemporaries, I still wish they would be straightforward about their purpose.

Second, God is not Silent

The idea that style is nothing more than a grab bag full of neutral options comes from a deeper error, further upstream. That error stems from the fact that modern Christians have divorced beauty from truth and goodness. While we believe in objective truth and objective goodness, we believe that beauty – and style rightly belongs to beauty – is somehow subjective. Throughout the ages prior to this modern era, Christians have rightly fought against the idea of subjective truth. We have defended objective moral standards against the attacks of relativism. But when it comes to style and beauty, many have fully embraced relativism. As a result, we believe that beauty is disconnected from truth and goodness.

The Bible teaches that “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The Bible speaks of beauty more than seventy different times, ranging from beautiful clothing to beautiful people. Surely, God means something by this. The idea that beauty is “in the eyes of the beholder” is not gospel truth. Certainly, our humanity and our fallenness limit our perspective of beauty so that we cannot see all that is beautiful the way that God does. But our perspective is not authoritative. Our perspective is finite. God knows exhaustively what He means when He speaks of beauty. Though we can know what He means in partialities, He knows absolutely. As with everything else, we can know more perfectly as we learn to think God’s thoughts after Him.

God is not silent on the subject of style and beauty. He reveals the objective standard of beauty in Himself. God is the standard of all beauty. He is Himself altogether lovely, fairer than the fairest. All ultimate loveliness and beauty rest in the Triune God. He is the source and spring, the fount of all that is beautiful. As our Creator God, He has not simply created a great variety of creatures and things in the material world. He has created works of art. He has created a beautiful world and filled that world with beautiful things.

The claim that style is simply a preference choice, that style is neutral and thus a matter of indifference is a denial that there is such a thing as objective beauty. It is to relegate style to the subjective, to claim that it is all the same. Style certainly is not all the same. Style communicates in clear, objective, and meaningful ways. And it does so because this is the way God made the world.

God does speak of style in the Bible. In fact, He demands that we worship Him with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28). These things have objective meaning. They are not just found in our spirit or attitude. Our style choices – whether clothing, platform, music, or lighting – must display our reverence for God. As a rule, we must put “transcendence” above “trendy.” Because we gather in the name of God in order to show forth His glory and praise, we must show reverence to God the way our culture shows reverence. And yes, our culture does still maintain certain clothing, music, and decorum that demonstrates respect.

Several clear passages of Scripture paint the picture of what God wants to see in His church. Take for instance Christ’s goal for His church, as identified in Ephesians:

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Consider also the description of worship provided us in Hebrews.

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.

Compare that to Isaiah’s prophetic description of Christ’s church.

Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.

Imagine if God were truly in line with the Contemporaries. He might have toned that down a little bit. Perhaps a more progressive version might read:

Awake, awake; put on thy skinny jeans, O Zion; put on thy flannel shirt, O Jerusalem, the holy city…

Third, Pragmatism Promotes False Worship

If style is simply a matter of preference, then style choices are a matter of utility, and that gives us pragmatism. Whatever you worship will dictate the way you worship. Those who worship success make style choices based on their desire to achieve success. That is pragmatism. But those who worship the God of the Bible will make their style choices in submission to God. In many ways, the contemporary church has become like the strange woman in the Bible, trying to attract the world by showing a little leg. Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the daughters of Zion “walking and mincing as they go” surely applies.

If we come together for worship, and if we worship God (as opposed to success), then we will have different standards. We won’t advertise our style, because we aren’t trying to appeal to an unbelieving world. We will adjust our style in favor of sanctification, reverence, and godly fear. If we truly worship the God of the Bible, then any pragmatic considerations will be aimed toward making it possible to worship Him more faithfully and fervently. Our style will reflect our desire for the glory of God and will display His majesty.

And as we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, we will enjoy more of His glory, and delight more in His praise.

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Gone Contemporary

Recently, several pastors reached out to me about a conference in the Northeast where both Southern Gospel and Contemporary Christian music were a major part of the program.  As a result of their call, I began to look into the use of contemporary music among Independent Baptists.  For quite a few years now, a segment of Independent Baptist pastors and churches have been “modifying” contemporary worship music, attempting to use the music without the characteristic soft rock beats and rhythms.  Over the past few years, some have thrown off their inhibitions, so that we now have a group of men who do not conceal their whole-hearted embrace of contemporary worship music.   They don’t water it down.  They don’t deny it or downplay it.  They have in fact launched a campaign to correct what they see as the “unscriptural” view of worship held by so many stodgy Independent Baptists.

Though I find their position appalling, it at least has the advantage of being honest, which cannot be said for those who have watered-down contemporary music and pretended that their standards have not shifted.  These guys don’t hide their embrace of CCM.  I won’t hide my absolute disagreement with them.

The most important link I could provide is this video, where two such contemporary Independent Baptists provide us with the rationale for their embrace of contemporary worship music:

Here are seven brief observations, followed by a longer response.

Some Observations:

  1. These men represent a growing movement among Independent Baptists.
  2. They like to remind us that they are – actually that “we” are – Independent Baptists, with an emphasis on independent.
  3. They do not like the fact that some separate over music.
  4. They argue for the use of electric guitars, trap sets, and so forth on the basis that the instruments mentioned in the book of Psalms include Philistine guitars and various Egyptian instruments.
  5. Their main premise is that musical style is a preference, and thus a matter of indifference. They see no reason to study music theory.  Since the Bible says nothing about a particular musical style, we are free to choose for ourselves.
  6. They take the same approach to style in clothing and platform style as they do to musical style.
  7. They think worship is about stirring up their own passion for God, rather than about giving God what He wants.

Some Responses:

  1. The contemporary music push is the death rattle of a dying church.  This style of worship is not becoming more popular because we are becoming more faithful. In our attempt to pander to the audience, we have forgotten that God is the audience.  God now bores us.  The more dependent we become on this kind of external approach to worship, the more we lose the very heart of worship.  Eventually, Christians will find that they must have the contemporary kind of music or they cannot worship. Contemporary worship turns the audience into spectators and the music into a performance. It produces a low view of God, a delight in the experience of worship rather than the God we worship, a superficial sense of passion that loses the passion of true worship, a growing dependence on the experience produced by the music itself, and the false idea that worship is easy, that devotion can be whipped up in a couple of choruses.  True worship is challenging – it requires focus and diligence and depth, all things that CCM discourages.

 

  1. It is true that they are independent. Our objections to contemporary worship styles are not an attempt to deny these churches their autonomy.  They certainly can pursue whatever worship style they choose.  So can snake-handlers.  But autonomy as far as church government goes must not be confused with autonomy as far as God goes.  I would not deny these churches the right to act as independents.  Certainly, one church has no authority to dictate the way another church worships.  But God does.  His Word certainly does set standards for music and worship (Hebrews 12:28-29).  Independence does not mean we can do what we want.

 

  1. We are independent as well. As such, we have a responsibility to follow Scripture when it comes to fellowship and cooperation. We have a duty, in particular, to separate from those who walk disorderly.  Musical style indicates what a church thinks of God.  Scripturally, we cannot pretend to be in good fellowship with churches who have chosen relevance over reverence.  So, while we do not attempt to dictate the way another church should worship, we most certainly do have a God-given responsibility to determine the limits of our fellowship.  In a video dialogue between Pastor Josh Teis and Pastor Robert Bakss, author of Worship Wars, the argument is made that to separate over musical style is to place musical style on the same level as doctrines such as the Virgin birth, salvation by grace alone, and so forth.  This is a neat trick, a sleight of hand argument.  Having assumed that the worship debate is about style in worship rather than the very substance of worship, they proceed to minimize the significance of the issue.  But the debate is over the very nature of worship, and whether the contemporary style of music is appropriate for our approach to a holy God.  Is it appropriate to make worship about our style preference, or must we worship God in the beauty of holiness?  Worship is a major doctrine, and reducing God to the level of the common and profane is a serious slight against God.  And that is as serious as the doctrine of the Virgin birth.  We strongly urge faithful Independent Baptist Churches to use your liberty to honor God with dignity and reverence in worship, and to separate from those churches who turn what is holy into something profane.

 

  1. No doubt Israel brought a variety of musical instruments with them out of Egypt, and no doubt they collected some Philistine guitars along the way. It is one thing to play a Philistine guitar.  It is quite another to play that guitar like a Philistine.  Far too many contemporary performers play like Philistines.

 

  1. The claim that musical style is nothing more than a preference choice demonstrates just how relativistic these men have become. They have purposely ignored the study of music theory. They believe that we should only need to study the Bible to see what kind of style is required.  They remind us, somewhat condescendingly, that the Bible says nothing about syncopation or “beat anticipation.”  So saying, they purposely ignore the clear message musical style sends about the occasion of worship.  Their determined know-nothingness aside, style still informs us about the meaning of the occasion.  Movie producers understand this.  Most people know what music is appropriate for weddings, funerals, classy restaurants, backyard barbecues, military parades and basketball games.  These men believe we can drag any style into the worship service, slap some sacred lyrics onto it, and somehow “redeem it.”The Book of Psalms, one of the largest books of the Bible, gives us 150 examples of music for praising the Lord.  The dignity, reverence, majesty, and solemn joy that permeate the Psalms show us clearly what God wants from us (see for instance Psalm 66:2; 92:1-3; 95:1; 96:3-10).  In fact, a big part of our problem is that we stopped singing Psalms years ago, and therefore we don’t really understand the ways God wants to be praised and worshipped.  We have to import a lot of emotion and sensory experience into our music because we stopped praising God with His own words.

 

  1. Style is the meaning. The music, dress, and trendy look of the contemporary Independent Baptists tell us less about their view of style and so much more about their view of God.  The same can be said for most events.  The way we dress and the music we play tells more about the way we view the event than it does about the way we view style.  Sports teams don’t play classical music during breaks.  If a person wears wingtips and a suit to a basketball game, he tells us clearly what he thinks of the occasion.  When people show up at a wedding in shorts and sandals, they say what they think of the wedding itself, not just what they think of clothing style.  The clothing and platform style of these contemporary Independent Baptists displays a casual view of God.  When the pulpit is removed, the auditorium lights dimmed, stage lighting lights the platform, the pastor preaches in skinny jeans, and the electric guitar and trap set take center stage, these men clearly communicate what they believe worship to be about.  The prominent display of this contemporary style on their church websites tell us what they think church is and what they want everyone to know about their church.  This is what they advertise.  With the contemporary Independent Baptists, worship is trendy.  God is casual.

 

  1. Their view of worship is not all that unusual. In fact, they have taken the worship experience of most Independent Baptist Churches to its logical conclusion.  For years now, we have designed our services around the worshipper rather than the one worshipped.  We sing more about our own experiences and feelings for God than we do about God.  We preach to stir the audience rather than to declare the whole counsel of God.  We sing “In the Garden” like we are having a tryst with God, and we are too busy touching emotional chords to really sing to the Lord.  Contrary to Teis and Bakss, worship is about God, not about feeding my passion for God.  When we make our music about giving God the praise and honor that is due to His name, worshipping Him with solemn joy and delighting in Him personally, then we don’t need to import superficial excitement into the song service.

Some final thoughts

Style in worship reflects our view of God and shapes our view of God.  The contemporary style of music pulls God down to our level and makes Him one of us.  If our music presents a true picture of God, there will be a transcendent quality to it, a majesty and glory that proclaim to a watching world the glory of our God.

Some have attempted to boil the issue down to a conflict between the “traditional” and the “contemporary.”  Some are conservative, others more progressive.  But these labels misidentify the true conflict.  The real conflict is for the heart of worship.  That conflict will be settled when we stop playing for the audience in front of us.  And we will stop playing for the audience in front of us when we remember Who the real audience is – because God Almighty is our true audience.

Links and Demos

For a sampling of Independent Baptist Churches watering down the CCM, watch the music at https://summit.northeastvision.org/summit-live.html

Also, view this cantata:

 

For examples of Independent Baptist Churches who have fully embraced contemporary worship, here are three such churches:

https://rockhill.church/

https://fresnochurch.com/

http://www.southernhillslv.com/

Also, these videos provide more examples:

A Note to My LDS Friends about the Trinity

Dear Friend,

Over the past 21 years of ministry in Utah, I have enjoyed the robust discussion we have on issues surrounding doctrine and the church. More than a few of you have made the attempt to “convert” me, and in fairness, I have not been coy about my desire to see you converted either. So what I am about to say comes out of the numerous conversations about God and the Bible we have had in my living room, in my office, or at a restaurant.

It seems to me that you believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be my Achilles’ heel. You might even believe the Trinity to be the strongest argument against orthodox Christianity. I will admit that I am relying more on anecdotal experience than hard evidence or statistics, but every time a Mormon friend – and over the years I have been blessed to make many friends here in Utah – attempts to convert me, the Trinity is always the starting point of the conversation.

Let me just say that I think I understand why you want to start there. The doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely the most difficult of all the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. You have probably noticed that even those who claim to believe in the Trinity struggle to explain exactly what they believe about the Trinity. I will not deny that the doctrine is difficult or even counterintuitive – you might think it untenable. And along with that, you probably recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity is the sine qua non of the Christian faith, the point on which all other points depend. Unless we know Who God is, we have nothing.

As a friend, I want to offer two things in this short epistle. First, I want to give you a brief sketch of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity held by the historic Christian faith. This doctrine, by the way, was held long before Nicea. The word Trinity itself is found more than 100 times in the writings of the ante-Nicean fathers who date all the way back to Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle. So the doctrine was not invented at Nicea, only clarified in response to the heretic Arius. After I have related the doctrine, I want to explain why I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity proves the truth of the orthodox Christian faith. I will strive to be brief.

The Doctrine

The Bible clearly teaches that there is but one God only (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:6). Yet in the Bible, we find three distinct Persons who are all called God and considered to be equally God with each other – they are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is called God (John 6:27; Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:1), the Son is called God (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5-6; Colossians 1:15-19; I Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3), and the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-4). Thus, the orthodox statement of the Trinity is that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory. In our understanding of the Trinity, we must not confuse the Persons, and we must not divide at all the divine essence. Each person in the Godhead is distinct from the others – the Father is not the Son and is not the Holy Spirit; the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Yet the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. Of Jesus Christ, Colossians 2:9 says,

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

The Athanasian Creed offers what is perhaps the clearest and richest expression of the Trinity. This creed, named for Athanasius, was produced by the New Testament church in response to some popular errors that were afflicting the church at the time of its writing. The statement offers a robust description of the Triune nature of God, including descriptions such as this:

…the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.

The entire creed is available here.  Also, R.C. Sproul offers some very helpful insight into the origins of the creed itself.  You can read his article by clicking here.

The creed answers some of the most fundamental questions regarding the nature of God and the Godhead:

The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.

For any of my LDS friends reading this, the major difference between our view of God and yours is just this: we both believe in the distinctions between the Persons of the Godhead.  You do not believe that the three are the same in essence, that they are one God.  By the phrase “the same in essence,” we mean to say that all three hold equally the same divinity, the same divine substance and essence, and that each Person in the Godhead is fully and equally God, not in any way a separate God from the other.

The Difficulty

The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult doctrine, and throughout the New Testament age, many have stumbled at it. In many cases, people have simply adopted something easier, a more comprehensible god that they can wrap their minds around. This practice of opting for the simpler came in full-force near the time of the founding of our nation and the rise of Unitarianism in America. The single biggest objection to the doctrine of the Trinity is that it is incomprehensible. Interestingly enough, the most strident objections to the difficulty of the Trinity came at the very time Joseph Smith had his first vision. Reverend Henry Ware, a Unitarian pastor, became the president of Harvard in 1805, the same year Joseph Smith was born.

Your main objection to the Trinity comes out Joseph Smith’s vision in 1820, fifteen years after Harvard fell to the Unitarians.  In American history, this was a time of great social and religious upheaval, and in Joseph Smith’s account of that first vision, he relates the message he was told that all the churches were wrong and that all their Creeds were an abomination in God’s sight.  For you, it was Joseph Smith’s vision of two personages – God the Father and God the Son, that defines your view of God, and the assessment these two personages gave of the Creeds of Christianity leads you to reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

So we are dealing with two things here, really. First, we are dealing with your reasons for rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity – which is the different view of God provided by Joseph Smith; second, we are dealing with your reasons for making the Trinity the starting point in an attempt to convert a Trinitarian like me to Mormonism – which is the difficulty of the doctrine itself.

While I would like to spend more time on the first issue – your reasons for rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity – I will refrain for now. I will only say that in order to fully flesh out that issue, we would need to take the Bible and see if it gives any credence whatsoever to Joseph Smith’s claims about the Godhead.

My purpose in writing this article is simply to answer the second issue – is the doctrine of the Trinity our Achilles’ heal? And in response, let me say that the difficulty of the doctrine does not undermine it in any way. In fact, quite the opposite: I believe that the difficulty of it is the strongest evidence for it.

First, no man invented this doctrine. The difficulty of the doctrine of the Trinity is the best proof that it is revealed doctrine, not invented doctrine. Men are not capable of inventing a doctrine that is at the same time so logical and so incomprehensible. In the doctrine of the Trinity, the problems of transcendence and immanence are decisively answered. The Trinity offers the only logical possibility for God to be both transcendent – altogether above us and separate from us – and immanent – near to us, involved with us, interested in us.

Without the Trinity, the idea of “unity in diversity” – a design feature of the created world – would be nonsensical. The Trinity explains why God, in the beginning, said, “Let us make man in our own image,” and explains how God, in making man in His own image, would create both male and female (Genesis 1:27). The Trinity explains how God can insist that there is but one God only, that there is no God before, neither will there be any God after (Isaiah 43:10), and yet how the Father is called God (John 6:27; Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:1), the Son is called God (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5-6; Colossians 1:15-19; I Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3), and the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-4).

Secondly, if God could be comprehended by man, He would be no different than us. How could finite man wrap his finite brain around an infinite God? The finite cannot reach the infinite, but the infinite can reach the finite. Through the revealed Word of God, we see that God is truly infinite – not only infinite in power, in knowledge, and in presence, but also an infinite personality. He is the Three-Personal God.

A god who can be comprehended by man is no God at all (Romans 1:23; I Corinthians 2:11). So the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is itself incomprehensible simply demonstrates that an infinite God has revealed His true self to us in the pages of Scripture. I do not want to serve a god who is like me. I need a God Who is in every way greater and more glorious, one Who is capable of saving a wretch like me and at the same time worthy of my worship.  A god who is like me is not worthy of worship.

Utah’s Sex Change Bill – SB 138

The Utah Legislature is considering a bill that paves the way for the transgendered to seek a legal sex change. I have been in contact with the author of the bill, Senator Todd Weiler, since the bill was first introduced. Initially, Senator Weiler told me that the bill was simply meant to provide guidance to judges for these matters, rather than allow the judges to legislate from the bench. Believe it or not, Utah has had a law in place for 43 years that about half of our judges interpret to allow a legal sex change. The language is somewhat obscure, but it is in place.
 
As this bill has progressed now through 3 substitute bills, it has followed a normal course for a controversial bill, first tipping in favor of one side in the debate, then of the other. However, the 3rd substitute of the bill, available at https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SB0138.html, offers 3 options – “male, female, or other,” and requires nothing more than a “sincerely held belief” of a sex change.
 
The biggest problem with this bill is the risk to conservative churches like ours. Our church would not accept a homosexual couple into membership. That would violate our deepest convictions about the nature of marriage and God’s view of sexuality. Currently, state law protects our right to take this position. Of course, if a homosexual couple came to faith in Jesus Christ, we would accept them into membership once they dissolved their marriage and the homosexual relationship.
 
But suppose we are discussing a gay couple, and one of the partners in the marriage sought and obtained a legal sex change. Would the law still consider the couple to be a gay couple? Would the law require us to treat them as a heterosexual couple?
 
By conviction, should a couple like that profess faith in Jesus Christ and apply to our church or a church like ours for membership, we would make the same stipulation as in the case of a gay couple. But would the law accommodate us in this position? I say that it is impossible to know. Certainly, the legal standing would change, and no doubt this would be tested in court. Cultural pressure is already decidedly against us. I see this as a losing situation for our church and every church that takes the same stand as ours.
 
For our LDS friends, a similar question must be considered. If an individual were to seek and obtain a legal sex change, would they then be qualified for a priesthood position in the LDS church, and would the LDS church be at risk if they denied them that position? Again, we are too early in this process to know the answer to that question. But I believe that the LDS church or perhaps a church like mine would eventually find themselves dragged into court over this issue.
 
For this reason, I am urging all Utah residents to contact their Senator and urge them to vote against this bill.

Alternative Medicine, Lyme Disease, and the 6th Commandment

Thomas Ross wrote an article a couple of years ago on the Oasis of Hope.  A friend of mine recently shared it on Facebook.  Not noticing that it was a couple of years old, I posted a comment on it, and from there have enjoyed a small debate with Thomas on some issues that matter to me.

First things first, many who know me know that my wife contracted Lyme Disease about 6 years ago.  It was a life-changing event for us.  My youngest son, who is now 11, has repeated the fact that he cannot remember when mom wasn’t sick.  We have been blessed by the friendship and encouragement of many friends who have sustained us with kind words and constant prayer for us.  This sickness has introduced us to hardships that have at times threatened to undo us.  Yet we can also say by the grace of God that we are not yet overthrown.  These things have introduced unspeakable blessings into our lives that we could not ever explain to anyone.  We have learned some valuable lessons, and we continue to learn.  As we have discussed these things, my wife and I have recognized that, prior to her sickness, we were not very compassionate people, especially towards those who are sick.  We trust that God has changed us in this regard.

In Thomas’ article, I took issue with one particular statement he made:

…by rejecting the Biblically-based scientific method for unconventional “medicine” that does not work you are violating the sixth commandment by rebelliously refusing to preserve life.

Thomas has done stellar work at exposing some of the excesses of the “alternative” side of medicine.  In many cases, he is correct in his view of these things, though I generally disagree with his one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare.  I do, however, take issue with his suggestion that the pursuit of alternative or unconventional medicine amounts to a violation of the 6th commandment.

In the course of our discussion, I posted links to a couple of articles about the controversy surrounding Lyme Disease, which led to Thomas offering an educated opinion on the controversy.  You can read our entire discussion here. For the reader’s sake, I include his entire quote here:

 Dear Bro Mallinak,

Thanks for the links. I do not have time to get into a discussion of whether chronic Lyme disease is what the medical consensus claims or whether thousands of doctors, insurance companies, colleges, researchers, etc. are all part of a conspiracy to suppress the existence of the disease. I am skeptical of the conspiracy thesis for reasons such as those discussed here:

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/chronic-lyme-disease-another-negative-study/

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/does-everybody-have-chronic-lyme-disease-does-anyone/

While I recognize that this can be a very emotionally charged issue for many, the fact that blood tests evidence that people who claim to have chronic Lyme do not have antibodies for Lyme disease (or only residual antibodies from the previous existence of the undisputed normal Lyme disease), the fact that the treatment protocol advocated by chronic Lyme partisans does not seem to work better than a placebo, and other similar factors would appear to be much more likely explanations for insurance companies not covering the alleged disease than a conspiracy between hundreds of competitors who want to drive each other out of business, as well as non-profit researchers, medical colleges, etc.

However, as I mentioned above, I do not have time to discuss this matter at the moment, although I would be interested, as I have time, in reading your responses to the questions I asked if you wish to reply to them.

I am quite satisfied, though, that if alleged chronic Lyme is the reason for my alleged “overstated bloviation” and chronic Lyme is the proof of medical conspiracy theories, that my statement is quite able to stand, and I could in good conscience repeat my overstated bloviation again, as, to my mind, the conspiracy theories appear to be what is overstated, not the scientific consensus.

I trust that neither of us will take personally or view disagreement here as an attack on one or the other’s integrity, compassion, etc.

Thanks for your comments.

I do not know whether Thomas has any kind of medical degree or medical training, but he certainly has more of an understanding of the controversy surrounding Lyme Disease than most people I talk to – so I will credit him for that.  He has a very decided opinion on the controversy as well, which is not unusual for Thomas.

After infection with the Lyme bacteria, a very small percentage of those infected will experience ongoing effects from the bacteria.  The controversy among doctors revolves around this question: Are the Lyme bacteria still living and reproducing in the body, or is it simply “residual antibodies” that are present?  Doctors are divided on that question. Those who consider them to be “residual antibodies” tend to identify most with the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA).  Those who believe the bacteria still to be alive in the body identify with the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS).  Both sides include legitimate, certified medical doctors.  Both claim research to support their viewpoint, and both offer very different approaches to dealing with the disease.

In the beginning stages of our battle with this disease, my wife and I went exclusively to IDSA doctors, first at our local hospital, then at the University of Utah, and finally at Johns Hopkins University.  With each doctor, we experienced a different level of knowledge about the disease.  Each doctor educated us a little more as to what we were dealing with, helping us to understand the disease and its effects.  Each doctor recommended basically the same solution – which was pain management through a variety of techniques, including opiates, narcotics, over the counter pain relievers, counseling, meditation, acupuncture, diet, and exercise.  Through the U of U doctor, my wife was admitted to the headache clinic at the U, and that doctor attempted to treat the constant, migraine-level headache that has been with her since she first contracted the disease.

We did not pursue the meditation or acupuncture recommended by our conventional doctors.  The drugs they prescribed were very hard on my wife.  She has never functioned well with that level of pain medication.  When she took those drugs, she wound up curled up on the bed, unable to move or function at all.  When she woke up, she couldn’t stop crying.  The doctors told us to give it a few weeks and she would be better, but she wasn’t.  She reached a level that frightened me, more than once, and we finally decided that this treatment was doing more harm than good and stopped taking that medicine.  At the headache clinic, the doctor decided to wean her off one particular non-opiate, non-narcotic pain medicine, which we were happy to do.  Unfortunately, the doctor took her off the medicine too quickly.  For 2 weeks, my wife lay flat on her back, unable to eat, only able to trickle water down her throat.  After 2 weeks, fearing for her life, I took her to a doctor to ensure that she was not dehydrated or starving to death.

After about 6 months of treatment at the headache clinic, the doctor told us that she could do nothing to help my wife’s headache. This doctor recognized that the Lyme Disease was the cause of her headache, and acknowledged that her headaches were not a “residual” effect, but were caused by the Lyme bacteria.  Conventional approaches to pain management simply were not effective with this extenuating circumstance.

By this time, we had been treating my wife for about a year and a half to two years.  We recognized that conventional medicine did not have a solution to the problem, and we decided that this was God’s will – we would simply submit to what he had brought into our lives and stop pursuing treatment. At that time, we had exhausted every remedy offered by conventional medicine.

As the months rolled by, my wife’s condition only worsened.  While on a visit to my parents, I decided to stop by and visit with my childhood family doctor.  My parents have gone to him for many, many years, and continue to see him to this day.  He plays an active role in the training and certification process at Indiana University and is a well-known and respected doctor.  He graciously cleared his lunch hour and visited with us for an hour and a half, explaining more about the disease and discussing treatment options.  We told him everything we have done to treat my wife, and he acknowledged that we had done everything that conventional medicine has to offer. He visibly cried as he told us that he honestly did not know which direction we should go in our pursuit of relief from this disease, but that the one thing we must not do is to give up.  He told us that we had to keep fighting the disease.

Because we had exhausted every option offered to us on the conventional side, we began to pursue alternative treatments, particularly antibiotic therapy.  Though these treatment options have not brought an end to her suffering, they have enabled my wife to experience some of her best days dealing with this disease.

Whether those who suffer long-term from the effects of Lyme Disease are experiencing “chronic” Lyme or “post” Lyme, whether the bacteria is alive or “residual,” it is undeniable that a certain percentage of Lyme patients experience long-term damage from the disease.  As the doctor at Johns Hopkins explained to us, the greatest damage caused by Lyme Disease is to the auto-immune system.  Because Lyme Disease is such a powerful bacteria, it has a way of jolting the auto-immune system into hyper-drive.  The doctor explained it in military terms. Suppose a foreign army invaded our country.  We would send in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Special Forces, and Coast Guard to drive them out.  That is what our auto-immune system does when we contract Lyme Disease.  But as she explained to us, with some patients, long after the foreign army has been driven out, the auto-immune system continues to respond to every threat, even one as mild as a paper-cut, with an all-out assault.  And that is the cause of the constant, unrelenting pain.

The most effective treatment of Lyme Disease today attempts to kill the bacteria through antibiotic therapy while at the same time attempting to focus the auto-immune system on fighting the disease rather than attacking the rest of the body.  My old family doctor told us that “if anyone ever tells you that they have found a way to control the auto-immune system, get up and walk out of the room immediately.”  He is right, of course.  If medicine could cure a broken auto-immune system, that would bring an end to all disease.  Yet in recent years, science has made significant advances in helping the auto-immune system to fight diseases, including cancer, in our own bodies.  Some of these advances have come from conventional medicine paying a little more attention to the unconventional approaches to sickness and disease.

Of course, some in the ILADS community will insist that the bacteria is still alive, and that is the reason the symptoms continue chronically.  I will confess that I do not have a decided opinion on which of these is correct.  I will leave that to the more educated people, like Thomas.  He calls it an “alleged” disease.  My wife and I shared a good laugh about that.  Her alleged disease is allegedly causing her a lot of pain, even at this moment.

Because Lyme Disease is not life-threatening like cancer or heart disease, and because it is not widespread, universities do not invest money into research on this disease or focus on finding a cure for it as they do with other diseases.  So while IDSA doctors debate ILADS doctors on the merits of various treatment options, the patients continue to suffer.  Unfortunately, many insurance companies have sided with IDSA rather than allow their customers to pursue treatment as a free market would dictate.  In our case, we have been blessed to belong to Samaritan Ministries, who has graciously allowed us to pursue alternative treatments.  We know plenty of Lyme patients who have traditional insurance, and who are denied coverage.

One of our IDSA doctors told us, as Thomas noted above, that “the treatment protocol advocated by chronic Lyme partisans does not seem to work better than a placebo.”  He was referring specifically to antibiotic therapy.  He explained that the antibiotics work because they contain levels of Tylenol and anti-inflammatories.  The antibiotics can be dangerous when taken long-term, but he told us that if we went on a regiment of Tylenol and ibuprofen (also dangerous in the long-term, by the way), we would experience the same relief.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.  When we stuck with his regiment of Tylenol and ibuprofen, my wife experienced no relief from her pain whatsoever.  But when we began to visit a Lyme-literate doctor who put my wife on antibiotics, she experienced the most relief she has in this long battle.  Over the past couple of years, in fact, this treatment has given us the best, most consistent relief of any treatment we have tried.

Our current doctor, who is a licensed Medical Doctor, told us that for many years, his patients would come to him and say, “but Doctor, I’m not better.”  And he would assume that it was all in their head and they needed to get over it.  But the more he treated patients, the more he recognized that many of them were not making it up.  When he realized this, he also realized that the limitations placed on him by “Best Practices,” the standards conventional doctors are held to, did not always allow him to treat his patients the way they needed to be treated.

I believe in science.  I believe in the scientific method.  I believe in conventional medicine.  If you have cancer, I would plead with you – please, don’t go for all the kooky nonsense treatments that are out there.  Use the tried and tested.

But I also believe in free markets, and modern-day conventional medicine is not necessarily friendly to this.  Doctors who treat Lyme patients in particular, when they use alternative or unconventional methods, have wound up losing their licenses.  At this point, a handful of states (I think about 13) have passed laws in order to grant doctors a little more liberty in their pursuit of treatment.  That is a good thing.

I am not a medical doctor and have no medical training.  I do not have Thomas Ross’ research abilities, and I have no doubt that he can refute much of what I say.  I only know that my wife has suffered much, and as her husband, I must attempt to help her however I can.  Antibiotics have helped her where the narcotics and opiates prescribed by conventional doctors did not.

I cannot make judgments about Thomas Ross, about his compassion, or about his motivations for writing what he does.  He certainly does his homework, and he is very passionate about medical issues.  I do not say that his arguments are without merit.  Nor do I pretend to know what he would do were he in my position.  I cannot pretend to know what he has had to deal with personally as far as health and medical treatment is concerned.  Should God allow a similar circumstance into his life, I would assume that he would do everything in his power to relieve the suffering of his loved one.

Whether he would take the route that I have taken or not would be his decision.  If he decided that the conventional route is the only route, I would not accuse him of violating the 6th commandment.  I don’t think such a sweeping condemnation is appropriate.  On my part, I sometimes believe that if I were to stop pursuing alternative treatments, that may very well be a violation of the 6th commandment.

 

Trumpmares

This week’s Trump scandal of the week is that our President allegedly referred to countries like Haiti and several African nations as, to use a little circumlocution, outhouse wells.  Whether Trump actually said that or not is unclear. With Dick Durban as the only “reliable” source, who really knows. This wouldn’t be the first time Dick Durban flat out made something up about a private meeting, as has been documented here.

But since the possibility exists – and it is a plausible story – that Trump may have said this, the media is outraged.  Again.  That makes, I think, 52 weeks in a row that the media has been in an uproar about Trump; 52 weeks in a row that we have been told that this was Trump’s worst week yet; 52 weeks in a row that we have been reminded that Trump is a racist and we are all doomed and Trump will be impeached by… who knows.  The date keeps getting pushed back.  People just can’t keep their commitments these days.

Since the media narrative has been that Trump is a racist, we are happy to believe Dick Durban.  Even Steve Bannon gets his moment in the spotlight, so long as he is bashing Trump.  And this morning, I heard the latest Trump scandal – he woke up breathing.  Which I think is the real problem.

Trump’s toilet analogy of some third-world countries has predictably unleashed a stream of hit pieces on Trump’s racism.  Reporters asked Trump to respond to those who say that he is a racist.  Trump (predictably) answered, “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.”  Wow.  Didn’t see that coming.  His answer prompted editors at The Atlantic to interview their big room of experienced reporters and ask them “Who was the least racist person you’ve ever interviewed?”  You can read that here.  Their answers are very revealing, in case you had any illusions about reporters at The Atlantic.

My favorite answer came from James Fallows, who said

Claims that begin, “I’m no bigot, but…” “I’m no chauvinist, but…” or “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met, but…” always mean, and are always universally understood to mean, the exact opposite.

Ah, yes.  We trapped you again, Donald.  Haven’t you learned yet?  Answering our questions is proof, as is not answering our questions.

Meanwhile, yet another “big name” celebrity is taken down by the #MeToo movement.  I suppose I will demonstrate what a rube I am, but I had never heard of Aziz Ansari before this weekend.  Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of pop entertainment.  Anyway, The Atlantic also has an interesting article on the subject.

Here is my take on the larger issue.  For decades now, Christians have been mocked and ridiculed for teaching abstinence, for holding high standards – especially when it comes to “dating” standards, for preaching that a man ought not to touch a woman and that a man and a woman should not be alone together without a chaperone.  In response, we were called prudes.  We were accused of suppressing our raging sexual desires and hiding our secret fantasies behind our high standards.  Now we learn that actually, women don’t want to be treated like a conquest.

But now men aren’t so sure how they are supposed to go about this great mating free-for-all.  The girl goes on a date with a guy, alone.  She goes to his apartment with him, again alone.  She sits up on his countertop and makes out with him.  What part of “no” doesn’t he understand?  Wham-O: sexual misconduct.

And now we are faced with a quandary.  How are we supposed to know whether the green light really means “go,” and what are we supposed to do when it skips the yellow light and changes suddenly to red.

One thing we all know: the world is not about to say, “Maybe the Christians had it right about this dating thing for all these years.”  I was reading an article a month or so ago – I can’t seem to find it now – but the author was wrestling with this thing of “consent” and how to separate the stalking creep from the flirting stud.  She had some pretty convoluted ideas about these things, but, interestingly, she wasn’t in favor of bringing an end to men hitting on women.  As she explained, her boss hit on her, and she married him.  They were still married too, which is to their credit no doubt.

I couldn’t help but think about the grace and kindness of God, Who has given us His law of holiness as a mercy to us, in order to spare us from the pain of lived out horror stories.  “Flee fornication” is not God’s way of handing you a boring life in a cardboard box.  “This do, and thou shalt live.”  At God’s right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

While the world ponders what “consent” really means, Christians should show them – it means a wedding dress, a father walking his daughter down the aisle, flowers and bridesmaids and groomsmen and rings and vows exchanged.  It means wedding cake and maybe a limousine and most of all a promise – no, a covenant: “Till death do us part.”  That is consent.  And until that consent, the consent of a father giving his daughter in marriage, there can be no other.

P.S. After writing this article, I came across an article Kent Brandenburg wrote about Trump, one I wholeheartedly agree with.  Let me encourage you to read it.  I have linked to it here.  When you finish, make sure you watch the CRTV video at the end.  Very satisfying.

Blessings!

The Problem of Replacing One Sinner with Another

A pastor is a sinner who, having been saved by the grace of God, has been called and equipped to lead the people of God, preaching the Word and equipping the saints.  How’s that for a definition?

We don’t necessarily think of a pastor as a sinner, unless we had a pastor who sinned against us or fell into some kind of scandalous sin.  Otherwise, we have this persistent notion that the pastor is above the world, untouched by the feeling of our infirmities, unvarnished by the sins that so easily beset us.

This view of the person of the pastor is false.  We know this.  A church is a body of sinners.  The pastor belongs to that body.  There may be times when we are more aware of his fallenness – like when he steps on our toes.  But we know – at least in theory – that  he is in our same condition in most ways.

But in a good relationship between pastor and church, we might forget that the pastor is a man, and a fallen one at that.  For mysterious reasons, when the pastor is ready to hand over leadership and end his ministry to our church, we tend to forget his faults and promote him to sainthood.  Woe unto the next pastor in such cases.  His every move will be scrutinized and he will be measured endlessly against his predecessor, Pastor Donowrong.  Frankly, this is unrealistic and wrongheaded.

In my introductory article on churches in transition, I pointed out that when a church changes leadership, the leadership passes from one sinner to another.  This is fundamental doctrine, and should not require a detailed defense.  The fallen nature of man is as foundational to the Christian faith as the deity of Christ or the unity of the Godhead.  Why then are we surprised when someone goes off the rails?

Here’s the problem: we expect our pastors to be “above the fray.”  Some of that expectation comes from our fascination with power, and the fact that some pastors are impressive and powerful men to begin with.  Blame it on our humanity, but we tend to think that power means perfection.  Too often, we think of the pastor as if he has a walk with God not available to the average Christian, as if he had already attained.  We are shocked to learn that he even has faults.

Some of our expectations about the pastor come from the pastor’s presentation of himself.  The pastor himself may believe that he cannot ever let anyone know about his faults.  In order to conceal the ugly truth, pastors fake it.  This can lead to disaster – be sure your sin will find you out.  But some men are better than others at concealing their faults, and so the church will not be made aware of the problems in a man’s life and ministry.  This is an unhelpful reality in too many churches.

Over years, a church grows accustomed to a pastor’s faults, which helps foster these delusions about our pastors.  Because we love our pastor, and because we try to be gracious, we get used to overlooking those faults and sometimes even excusing them.

Enter the new pastor.  He has faults, the former pastor has faults.  But his faults have become part of the woodwork, and nobody notices anymore.  The new guy on the other hand, his faults are all fresh and unfamiliar, and the church notices these.  Especially if he is replacing a well-loved, well-respected pastor, the new pastor will find himself under a microscope.

What then is a church to do?

First, Keep Things in Perspective

If we enter a leadership transition looking for Pastor Perfect, we will be sadly disappointed.  Every pastor has his own set of sins that are unique to himself.  Brace yourself.  Don’t look for his faults, but when you find them, don’t be surprised or shattered by it.

Secondly, Recognize That Temptations Change

Seasoned pastors have a unique set of temptations that are very different than those a new pastor will face.  The new pastor has temptations unique to his new position; the entrenched pastor has temptations unique to his longevity.  Older men are tempted one way, younger men another.  Martin Luther has been quoted saying that a young man is tempted by girls, a middle-aged man by gold, an older man by glory.  Sometimes we overcome our temptations, sometimes we simply outgrow them.  Our temptations may not be constant, but temptation certainly is.  We are always tempted, but not always the same way.  We can expect, in a leadership transition, that new temptations will creep in all around.

Thirdly, Be Gracious

Extend the same kind of grace to the pastor that you would want extended to you.

For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Pastors sometimes hold a double-standard.  But the double-standard is not a pastor-only problem.  Church members also hold the occasional double-standard.  In truth, the pew is often as guilty as the pulpit.  We are commanded to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  This means, among other things, that we ought to judge Scripturally rather than preferentially.  we must have a true standard, which would be God’s Word.  When we find fault in our pastor, we have some Scriptural responsibilities.  The Bible is not silent in such cases. Galatians 6:1 gives a general command in any case when a brother is overtaken in a fault.  I Timothy 5:1 gives a more specific command regarding pastors who sin.

…ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; (I Timothy 5:1)

These are not options or suggestions for dealing with sin in the pastor.  These are commands.  One sin is not corrected by another; nor does one sin give us an indulgence to commit another.

Fourthly, Respect the New Pastor

Respect takes time to earn.  Recognize that.  But it shouldn’t take time for us to give respect to a new pastor, even when it has not been earned.  Respect the office, and learn to respect the man.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13:7)

You cannot claim to respect the office when you clearly disrespect the man.

Part of respecting the pastor involves understanding his role in your life.  God calls a pastor to live among his people, and sometimes that means we see things we did not want to see.  Recognize that his battles will help you with yours, so long as he approaches his own Scripturally.  We do not want a pastor who has no conflict with temptation or sin.  Such a pastor cannot guide us, encourage us, lead us, or help us with our own struggles.  Pastors learn how to fight against sin in the arena, not in the study.

The man in the arena is likely to have a little mud and maybe even a little blood on himself.  The guy with the clean uniform at the end of the game didn’t play.  When your pastor comes out with his hair messed up, understand that he has been in a battle.  This is good.

Finally, Pray for Your Pastor and Encourage Him

Certainly, there are times when we must sit in judgment.  But those times are thankfully very rare.  In most of our interactions with people, we should behave as those who will be judged, not as those who must judge.  In the past century, we have become much more casual towards authority, and as our culture has become more egalitarian, we have made every effort to free ourselves from our obligations towards authority.  These things ought not to be.  We must act in a Scriptural way towards the pastor, just as he must act in a Scriptural way towards us.

Leadership transitions in a church become difficult when we forget this simple truth – that taking a new pastor means taking a new set of flaws, faults, and failures.  It is no good to expect the new pastor to be what the old pastor wasn’t – which is to say, without sin.

Martin Rinkart’s Thanksgiving

Martin Rinkart knew a thing or two about thanksgiving.  He was just 31 years old when he became pastor of the Lutheran Church in his hometown of Eilenburg, Saxony.  A year later, one of Europe’s deadliest wars broke out.  During the years from 1618 to 1648, more than 8 million people died in what historians refer to as the Thirty Years’ War.  For more than a decade, Eilenburg avoided direct involvement in the war, but by 1631, the war moved to the city.  Sometime in 1636, according to historians, Martin Rinkart penned the words to the thanksgiving hymn Nun Danket Alle Gott – “Now Thank We All Our God.” The next year brought the greatest devastation of the war to the city.  Thousands fled the war, and Eilenburg became a place of refuge.  But in 1637, overcrowded conditions and the devastation of war brought famine and plague to the city.  During that one year alone, 8,000 souls were lost.

At the beginning of 1637, four pastors served the city of Eilenburg.  Soon after the plague struck, one of those pastors abandoned his post and fled to safer regions.  As the death toll mounted, Pastor Rinkart and the remaining two pastors conducted sometimes as many as 40-50 funerals in a day.  Then the two other pastors died.  Pastor Rinkart, sound in body but no doubt suffering in spirit, was left alone to deal with the dead and dying.  Over the course of that year, Martin Rinkart conducted more than 4,000 funerals.  Then, his own wife died.  By the end of the year, with no suitable burial ground remaining, the city of Eilenburg was forced to dig trenches to bury the dead.

Despite his grief, in the face of such extreme suffering and starvation, Martin Rinkart remained steadfast.  He organized efforts to feed the hungry, opened his own home to provide refuge for those in need, gave away his own wealth and all the provision not needed by his own hungry family, and faithfully served Christ and His people.

The story is told that towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army surrounded Eilenburg and demanded a huge ransom in exchange for an end to the siege.  The tribute required much more money than the devastated city could ever possibly afford.  Some have said that Martin Rinkart led a delegation to the Swedish general to plead for mercy.  When the Swedes refused, Rinkart turned to the delegation and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men; let us take refuge with God.”  Then, falling to his knees, Martin Rinkart pleaded with God for his people.  Seeing his passion, the Swedish general relented, reducing the tribute to an affordable amount.

Out of the depth of such extreme suffering came a song that continues to be a classic thanksgiving hymn nearly 4 centuries later.  “Now Thank We All our God” stands as a lasting testimony to the triumph of joy and the faith of the believer in the face of hard trials.

The Apostle Paul said of the Macedonian believers that

…in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

True Christian joy can only be a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  There can be no other explanation for it.  We do not say that extreme sorrow or suffering is necessary for fullness of joy.  Where the Holy Spirit indwells the human heart, joy will be evidently present.  Great trials of affliction do not produce joy.  They are not necessary for joy.  But they do cause our joy to shine.  They make our joy evident.

How else can we explain the way joy lifts us up and causes us to triumph in the face of great trial and affliction?  How else can we understand the way joy overflows out of the cup of our sorrows, so that it seems the deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.  When weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning.  Joy outlasts our sorrows.  When pain and sorrow weighs us down, joy outweighs our afflictions and lifts us above them.  Joy is a display of the power of God in the life of the believer to give him happiness when happiness is the last thing anyone would expect.

If we can only be thankful on warm, sunny days with favorable winds at our backs, then we need to learn the lesson of thanksgiving.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

 

Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Word of Truth Conference Report, 2017

This year’s Word of Truth Conference was a tremendous week of teaching, preaching, and companionship.  Pastor Kent Brandenburg hosts the conference every year at his church.  He places a premium on God’s Word and insists that the preaching at this conference be expository.  As a result, his conference is not your standard fair of emotionally overwrought sermons sprinkled with a dusting of Scripture.  Pastor Brandenburg always challenges me to think in terms of Scripture, and to bring my own doctrine and practice in line with God’s Word.  The Conference and the fellowship at the conference were a special blessing, but three things in particular blessed me this year.

The Church

Bethel Baptist Church of El Sobrante is a wonderful, Christ-honoring church.  The church really loves God’s Word.  The people demonstrate their love for Christ and each other many times over.  The conversations center on the Word, and long after the service ends, the people gather and enjoy what they heard together.  The conversations often branch out into discussions and applications beyond the sermon itself.  It is always a refreshment and delight to be part of this conference, and the joy of the church is contagious.

Apart from the conference, my son and I dropped in at the church on a random Wednesday night, and we found the same thing to be true then.  This is a church that loves the Word, loves the Savior, and loves each other.

The Lessons

This year, Pastor James Bronsveld taught two powerful lessons on Biblical repentance.  I urge you to listen to these lessons as they go beyond the normal presentation.  In the first discussion, Pastor Bronsveld explained repentance in terms of the second Psalm, “Why do the heathen rage.”  He defined repentance as a change of mind from rage against God to sorrow for my rage against God.  In the second discussion, Pastor Bronsveld answered a claim made in this article by Dr. Rick Flanders (here) about repentance in the Old Testament.  Notice especially this claim, made by Dr. Flanders:

Most Old Testament references to men repenting speak of revival, not salvation, and cannot be used properly to illustrate salvation repentance.

Pastor Bronsveld did an excellent job explaining the difference between the old covenant and the new, and then he showed that Old Testament repentance is still repentance.  The clincher came in the book of Jonah and the repentance of Ninevah.  I won’t steal his thunder.  You really need to watch these sessions.

The second lesson on repentance in the OT is available as well.

Pastor Brandenburg also taught a great lesson on the sinner’s prayer.  Actually, he kept promising all week that he was going to “do” the sinner’s prayer.  But he never did.  I was disappointed, because I wanted to see him do it…

Joking aside, he gave an unforgettable illustration of the problem for those who reject the sinner’s prayer altogether.  He stood at the front with his back to the audience, and he said, “God wants me to turn; I need to turn,” and then he started to turn and said, “Oh, but that’s a work.” You will need to watch the video to get a full appreciation – since you weren’t there.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate the video.  Hopefully it will be up soon.  You can monitor the YouTube channel here.  Faith and repentance are the gift of God, and so the “sinner’s prayer,” when it is prayed, is a part of that gift.  When we trust the Lord, we cry out to Him and we come to Him.

Pastor Dave Sutton also taught an excellent message on the Deity of Christ and the necessity of that doctrine to the Gospel.

 

The Fellowship

I am always sharpened by discussions with Pastors Brandenburg and Sutton, and this year I had the joy of meeting two other faithful preachers: James Bronsveld and Chris Teale.  Pastor Bronsveld, who I discussed earlier, pastors in Toronto, Canada.  Pastor Teale is planting a church in Carson City, Nevada, sent out from Mid-Coast Baptist Church in Brunswick, Maine, Pastor Bobby Mitchell.  Pastor Teale is an excellent and straightforward preacher, and he preached two tremendous messages on preaching the gospel.  Both his messages are available on YouTube.

You will be challenged to make the gospel the focus rather than your powers of speech or illustration.  Pastor Teale knows what he is talking about – he has gone to a place where few have gone to preach the gospel, and he is seeing slow but steady progress.  His sermons are amazingly short – I say that because he says so much in them.  I lack his gift of brevity.

Overall, we had a wonderful time together in the Word, “breaking bread” at the various meals provided by the church, and sharpening each other.  I am grateful for the opportunity to attend, and I want to encourage all who read to consider taking a few days in early November next year to be a part of this conference.

Brethren, Arm Thyself

Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (Luke 22:36)

No doubt we all sat up and took notice on Sunday afternoon or whenever it was that we heard about the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in this sort of thing – I saw a statistic that says violent assaults at churches have increased 2,000% since 2007 – and no, that isn’t a typo.  I hope that by now we have all adjusted to the idea that church is not necessarily a “safe space” any more.

My thinking on these things has changed dramatically over these past few years.  For many years, I made it clear that we are in God’s hands and not in the hands of any invader, that He is protecting us, and that if anything were to happen, we as men would throw ourselves in the path of the bullets.  Sounds spiritual, but not really Scriptural or wise.

Jesus taught us to beware of men.

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

When He first sent out the 70, He sent them without purse, scrip, and shoes.  But when they returned he told them to sell their garment and buy a sword.  This was not metaphorical.  They would have to face the reality that they were as vulnerable to assault from thieves and robbers as anyone else.  We live in a fallen world, and Christians have a duty to protect themselves and their families as much as anyone else.

Over 20 years of ministry now, I have my share of experiences.  I once sought to disciple an alcoholic who eventually became very angry with me.  He would stand across the street from our church screaming at me when I came out the door at the end of the Sunday morning service.  He would leave beer cans arranged on the church doorsteps and around our property.  He would walk across town to stand glaring in front of my house.  He left a ten-page letter on the door of the church detailing what he wanted to do to my wife.  He finally set up a tombstone for me behind the church.

Another man attended our church off-and-on for a short period of time.  One Sunday after a long absence, he visited again, angry about something.  He kept moving seats from one side of the aisle to the other, closer and closer to the front, until he wound up directly in front of me.  He then proceeded to stare me down.

A couple of years ago, a set of Academy parents became extremely unstable.  We tried to help them for a time, until the dad wigged out at the front desk, becoming very aggressive towards our Academy secretary.  It was her husband who came to me and insisted that we needed to put a security plan in place.  I agreed.

I hope no pastor who reads this article will ever need to defend themselves against an invader.  But it would be foolish for us to ignore the rising threat against our ministries.  We must take seriously our duty to protect the sheep against wolves.

With that in mind, I would like to recommend a few immediate steps that ought to be taken with the goal of developing a security plan for your church.  Some of these we have done, some we are in the process of doing.  By the way, our church is small – around 30 families.  A church need not be large in order to do what is listed here.

First, lock your doors during services

Leave the doors unlocked prior to the start of the service, but once the service begins, lock the door or else station an usher at that door.  When the usher leaves the door, that door should be locked.

Secondly, designate men to carry a firearm

When I sat down with officers from our local police department, they said this was the most important defense against intruders.  Those who carry should be competent with the use and handling of a firearm.  Some training is ideal.  Our church probably has a disproportionate number of gun enthusiasts, so we have had to set some good sense rules for those who carry on our campus.  Rule number one: if you carry a firearm, it must be in your immediate control at all times.  If a lady carries a handgun in her purse (several of our ladies do), her purse must be in her immediate control at all times.  Nobody wants to hear of a baby in the nursery finding the handgun.

Thirdly, equip your ushers with Mace

This is a simple step, and makes good sense.  Mace gives an usher the best chance of neutralizing a threat.

Fourthly, control the keys to your building

You shouldn’t give keys to everyone, and you should know who has keys to your buildings.  When someone moves or leaves the church, have them return their keys.  It might be necessary to change the locks on the church periodically (which is fairly inexpensive) in order to re-establish key control.

Fifthly, assign a man to roam the property during the service

Obviously, this should not be the same man every service, as the roamer will not be a part of the service.  I was surprised to learn that the majority of violent incidents at the church start outside and move inside.  From what I have read, this was the case at the church in Sutherland Springs as well.  Another surprise to me, and one that we should know, is that a large number of church attacks are not directly related to the ministry of the church itself.  A surprising number of assaults are the result of a domestic dispute or custody battle.  Having a person patrolling the facility and grounds gives a great way to be alert and vigilant.

Sixthly, train your teachers and workers how to do a lockdown

For our academy, we installed door locks, flip latches, and barracuda door lock systems.  You can get one of these for outward swinging doors and another for inward swinging doors.  Your Sunday School teachers should be trained – not just told – what to do in the event of an emergency, especially if an intruder presents a threat.

Finally, the men of the church must be vigilant

It is a good idea to ask the men to station themselves on the aisles and to spread themselves throughout the church.  This should be done every service.

Of course, these are immediate steps.  Much more can be said on this, and it would be wise to look into some sort of security training for your ushers and the men of your church.  Let me recommend Strategos International for more in-depth and expert advice and training for your church’s security concerns.  These folks do a great job helping a church develop a security plan.

Of course, in urging these steps, we are not ignoring our need for the protection of God.  We must trust the Lord and preach the gospel.  But we must acknowledge that we live in perilous times.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.