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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Where’s the Coffee?

Preparing Sunday lunch in Zimbabwe, not Georgia 🙂

Food

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, food is a universal need, even here in the middle of Georgia. However, what people eat and drink when they are hungry can vary greatly between location and culture, and Georgia is no exception.

Consider the following observations…

In Romania:

When I was in Romania, I found out that ground pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (sarmale) was the national dish, and I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any food in Romania that I didn’t like.

…except that soup.

Once, when staying in an apartment, the host family made fish soup. When I looked into the bowl, several little fish glared back at me with glassy, broth-covered eyes. Considering that the fish had to have come from water that was heavily contaminated by industrial waste, I had to refuse it. Before I did, just to be sure I was doing the right thing in offending my hosts, I dipped a spoon into the broth and tasted it…I had a metallic taste in my mouth for a week after that.

At least there was coffee.

In Zimbabwe:

As opposed to Europe, food choices in Africa can be a little more adventurous, especially for an American. However, for the most part, the food I ate in Zimbabwe was pretty much the same as in the States. The only thing I was told NOT to eat was anything from the bush (i.e., monkey).

The reason for the similarity is that Zimbabwe’s food had a history of English influence, so finding familiar food was not a problem, just as long as you knew what to ask for. Don’t eat their “biscuits” with gravy, if you know what I mean.

The only thing I couldn’t stomach in Zimbabwe was a desert made of bananas, pinto beans, green onion, yogurt, and Thousand Island salad dressing. After one spoonful I was done. My American palate had met its match.

But, at least, there was coffee!

In Georgia:

Look, believe me, the food down here is great, and other than when they spring something new on me, like pineapple sandwiches, it’s pretty much like anywhere else in the South. However, I’ve come to learn that we have a completely different understanding of one key food group: Barbecue.

The best I can tell, once you’re exposed to raw kaolin (the clay mined from the ground), pine trees, and higher-than-average heat, what the rest of the South does with pork doesn’t matter. Somewhere in their rich, rich history, these folk evidently developed a subconscious hatred for the pig. They like to eat it, but first they must pulverize it then torture it with a light bath of BBQ-flavored vinegar.

But at least there’s coffee, right? Uh, well, sorta.

Beverages

Like with food, it doesn’t matter where you go – people have to drink. Of course, what they drink depends upon the quality of the water and whether or not the locals have an excess of potatoes.

But, regardless, everywhere I’ve been in the world, from North America to Europe to Africa, one drink has been there for me, waiting around every corner, offered at every function, even boiled in pots over an open fire …coffee.

That is, except in middle Georgia!

Seriously, in Romania I woke up to a big, cast-iron pot full of dark, fragrant, exceedingly rich coffee over an open fire. Yes, there was electricity where we were staying, but because there were more than a few of us, and since coffee was a must for breakfast, they broke out the pot, lit a fire, and poured in the grounds.

In Zimbabwe, coffee was offered everywhere I went, including homes that prepared their meals in a mud hut! Even in an Ethiopian airport, where few things were recognizable to a Westerner, there was a coffee shop serving that familiar, satisfying, nerve-calming, caffeinated friend.

But here? Coffee? What coffee?

No joke, I’ve been to multiple fellowships, dinners, meetings, you name it, and I can’t tell you one time – not once – where there was any coffee offered with the desserts! Where else, except maybe the Sahara, do you go to an important meeting and find only water and iced tea, but NO coffee?

I don’t understand it.

All I can figure is that the folk down here are so laid back, so calm, so chill, so full of the “peace of that passes all understanding,” that coffee isn’t needed. Sweet tea is the cure-all for everything.

Or, it could be that they learned other ways to cope with stress way back when Union blockades stopped the shipment of coffee to Confederate troops. I don’t know.

Either way, I’ll survive. I’m tough. I’ll even grow to enjoy the way they do their BBQ.

It’s not like I have to have coffee with every meal and meeting, right? It’s not like God commanded locally-grown Georgia pecan pie be accompanied by a cup of dark roast, right?

I may need your prayers.

 

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Filed under baptist, Church, community, Food, General Observations, Humor, ministry, places, Southern Baptist, Struggles and Trials

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Doing a Q&A

Inside Bethlehem Baptist Church (built on the congregation’s Centennial in 1890)

This past Sunday evening I did something I never thought I’d do: I did a question and answer service (Q&A) with my congregation at Bethlehem Baptist.

Look, I’m no Ravi Zacharias, so going into an hour’s worth of questions without any idea what was going to be asked was a little nerve wracking. Granted, I had prepared a cheat sheet with some verses that would apply to some of the more common questions I figured they might ask, but they could have asked anything, and I could have looked really ignorant.

Fortunately (at least for me) only four questions were addressed in the entire hour! Actually, four were asked, but only three got answered. The fourth one required me going home and getting on the computer, then following up with a phone call to the lady who asked the question.

So what were the four questions? I’m glad you asked!

I will paraphrase them for you:

  1. Based on Luke 23:43 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17, why did Jesus say that the thief on the cross would be with Him in paradise the same day, yet we read of the “dead in Christ” rising? Did Jesus make a special exception for the thief on the cross, or was there something else at play? Do we immediately go to heaven when we die, or something else?
  2. Is it wrong or a sin for a Christian to get tattoos?
  3. What should the Church’s response be to the issue of suicide?
  4. What is a “busybody” and where to we find it – if that word exists – in the Bible?

Now, if you would like to hear my answers to these questions, well, I didn’t record the service. And if you would like for me to tell you right here and now what my answers were, you’re out of luck…I don’t want to write that much right now! All I will say is that what started out as a Q&A turned into a sweet time of fellowship and sharing.

But here’s the thing…people have questions and they deserve answers.

Zig Ziglar used to say that people will never care how much you know until they know how much you care. Sure, I could have been blindsided by a question for which I did not have a good answer, but I cared enough to put myself in that position for their sake. If they don’t know I care, it doesn’t matter how much I know.

But what if I didn’t know the answer? Was I afraid of that? Honestly, I told my congregation up front that I might not have a good answer for some of their questions, but if that happened I promised I would do my best to find an answer and get back with them.

Funny thing, the only question that stumped me was the one about where to find “busybody” in the Bible! That, for the record, is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; and 1 Peter 4:15.

What did I learn from this adventure? First, I knew more than I thought I did. Second, cheat sheets help. And third, the people loved it so much they want to do it again!

So, we will!

Next time they’ll probably ask about Cain’s wife and predestination 🙂

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Filed under Apologetics, baptist, Bible Study, Christianity, Church, ministry

What Is the “Doctrine of Separation,” and Is It Biblical?

Yesterday I met a fellow brother in Christ who is not a Baptist like me, but a Methodist pastor. I shared the following with him so that he’d have a better idea who I am and who’d he be having lunch with this afternoon.

If you are unfamiliar with the Doctrine of Separation, I would encourage you to read my treatment of it. Even though the subject of “unity” is important, we need to clarify what we mean by that. And, at the same time, we need to clarify what it means to work together without sacrificing our convictions. But what this article primarily deals with is the need to recognize the importance of working with our fellow believers when possible, understanding that if we are truly followers of Christ, part of the Universal Church, the Body of Christ, then Jesus’ call “that they may be one” is more biblical (duh) than any legalistic doctrine that causes unnecessary  division.


Introduction

During most major holidays, especially Christmas and Thanksgiving, it is customary for families to gather around a table to share a traditional meal. And, when looking around the typical table, it is not uncommon to find relatives, people who would normally never speak to each during the rest of the year, smiling and enjoying themselves. They do this because at the head of the table sits the patriarch or matron of the household, the one who brought them into the world. Out of respect for the parent, even the estranged siblings attempt to fellowship in peace. Sadly, this is not the case with many children of God.

The Doctrine of Separation, based on 2 Corinthians 6:17, has led many to avoid other believers, their brothers and sisters in Christ, despite the expressed desire of their elder Brother (Jesus) that they “be one” (John 17:11). Therefore, this paper will attempt to show that even though it is Christ’s desire for the family of God to be one, the doctrine of separation, as generally applied, is resulting in unnecessary, even destructive division, especially with Baptists. However, even though the author’s intent is to shed light on the divisive tendencies associated with the misuse of a particular teaching, in no way does he intend to promote the darkness-inspired synchronistic tendencies of the modern church; biblical unity within the family of God is the ultimate goal.

Definitions

imageIf one were to ask the average church member to define the Doctrine of Separation, or if one were to Google the term, the answers would initially be quite similar in nature. What most professing Christians believe is not much different from the rest of American society, simply because the term is associated with the oft-debated Establishment Clause within the first amendment to the United States Constitution.  There, the Constitution states that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Therefore, when questioned, this is typically the first thing that comes to the mind of the average church-goer. When asked if one is familiar with the Doctrine of Separation, if the response is “yes,” the definition is usually linked to the separation of church and state, a political issue.

However, there are some within the body of Christ that not only know how to define the Doctrine of Separation, but take that definition to extremes. They use it bolster a sectarian mindset which excludes from fellowship any that differ, even in the slightest way, and have gone to great lengths to separate from others who do not strictly observe certain “fundamentals” of the faith.

So, to begin with, let us look at some definitions. By doing that we may better be able to determine if the Doctrine of Separation is properly being applied by certain Baptists who refuse to co-operate with others.

What is the Doctrine of Separation? The Doctrine of Separation is a teaching based primarily on one verse found in 2 Corinthians. Below is the verse (17) in its immediate context.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? [15] And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? [16] And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [17] Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate [emphasis added], saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you (2 Cor 6:14-17 KJV).”

The idea is that in order to maintain a right relationship with God one must separate oneself, or “come out from among” anyone, or any organization, that would seem to be in accord, friends with, or even remotely associated the “unfruitful works of darkness.”

The Doctrine of Separation can be divided into two separate categories: ecclesiastical and personal. In order to understand how specific this doctrine can be, it might be helpful to read how one Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church defined ecclesiastical and personal separation in its doctrinal statement published on its website.[1] The following is a word-for-word copy of their definitions, and it is typical of most Baptist separatists.

Ecclesiastical Separation. We believe that we must stand up against and separate from all Apostasy, Liberalism, Modernism, Ecumenism, Charismatic influences, Neo-Orthodoxy, Neo-Evangelicalism, and Neo-Fundamentalism, as well as all groups, mission boards, organizations, churches, and cults that would compromise, cooperate and fellowship with such that do not uphold the historic Christian fundamentals of the faith as expressed by the Bible. II Corinthians 6:14-7:1; I Thessalonians 1:9,10; II Timothy 3:1-5.

Personal Separation. We believe that every Christian is to keep himself unspotted from the world, and in so doing must deny various practices, sinful habits, and worldly dress; and that a proper standard and example must be raised to the lost world and to weaker Christians. James 1:27; I Peter 2:11; Romans 6:11-13.

Notice that the call to be separate must include separation from both groups and individuals. It calls for strict standards of conduct and dress, prohibitions against working with other denominations, and an implied understanding of what exactly is correct behavior. The problem that arises, however, is when certain practices, habits, and dress are dictated by the church, not a Spirit-led conscience freed by grace. One man’s standard must then be applied to another, thereby legalistically judging him either fit for fellowship, or to be labeled as “liberal” or “modern.” The application of this doctrine can become very legalistic, and below are three concerns which should be brought out.

Issues of Concern

First, the issue that causes most concern with the author is that in no place does the above standards of separation make exception for the fact that sometimes members of the same family do not always agree. To totally separate one’s self from other believers, only because they have a different understanding or conviction for what constitutes “worldly dress” or “sinful habits” is a sin in its self. So often members of churches that prohibit women from wearing pants, for example, look at others who do with contempt. They do so because they believe that their own “dress code” is less “spotted by the world,” and thereby spiritually superior to the one which would allow “modern” and “liberal” dress. The author can vividly remember times from his own past when, all because a particular pastor’s wife was seen wearing pants to an evening service, the offending pastor and wife were deemed “liberal” and “not right with God.”

Another problem with the above list is that it does not take into account that many churches that do subscribe to conventions and associations, which may be liberal, are still autonomous and actually hold to the key fundamentals of the Baptist faith. And this is a key issue. There are certain fundamental truths of Christianity which cannot afford to be compromised, for if they are, then the compromiser can no longer be considered an orthodox Christian. What are the fundamentals of the faith that are non-negotiable?  According to Ed Dobson, Ed Hindson, and Jerry Falwell, there are five fundamentals that are at the heart of Christian Fundamentalism: 1) the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture; 2) the deity of Christ (including His virgin birth); 3) the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death; 4) the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead; and 5) the literal return of Christ in the Second Advent. Don’t the separatists understand that within the community they are trying to reach there may be a congregation from a different denomination which still holds true to the above fundamentals?

Thirdly, there is the interesting fact that the fifth fundamental, one of the key beliefs of orthodox Christianity, the belief in the literal return of Jesus Christ (the second coming; or as some would define it: the Rapture) was never used by Paul as a litmus test for fellowship. What many have never stopped to notice is that in two specific instances the Apostle Paul dealt with believers who thought that the resurrection had already taken place (see 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Thess. 2:2-3). In neither of these situations Paul encouraged separation. “The Corinthian Christians were told in a clear, unmistakable command to ‘remove the wicked man from among yourselves’ in their assembly,” said Robert Lightner in A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine in reference to the man guilty of immorality in 1 Cor. 5:13.[2]  He went on to point out that the “saints at Thessalonica were told also to ‘keep aloof’ [withdraw, KJV] from every brother who leads an unruly life…” Yet, “interestingly when Paul wrote to the same Christians in Corinth and Thessalonica concerning two specific doctrines which were being denied…he did not command to separate.” Why is it, then, that if such a key fundamental was believed back then, and Paul did not command the church to separate, do fundamentalists find it necessary to break fellowship with and label “liberal” and “modernistic” those who have a different view of eschatology?

Baptist History

Baptists (especially those of the IFB persuasion) are famous/infamous for their sectarian, separatist stands. Yet, even though they may be the largest group, and the one to be featured more predominately in this paper, they are not alone. Within every denomination of believers there are separatists. As a matter of fact, there are more denominations of Christianity in America than anywhere else in the world, and many of them were formed when separation was thought the only means to preserve orthodoxy. Each of these groups claims a biblical mandate (2 Cor. 6:14-17) to “come out from among” those who seem to be going in the wrong direction. The problem, however, lies not only in the ability to define, but in the application of the doctrine. A careful look at the Scripture passages they use, especially in light of other words from the Apostle Paul and Jesus, show that separation from members of the same family may be necessary in extreme cases, but every attempt should be made to maintain fellowship at the Father’s table.

Baptists have had a long history of separating on the basis of key doctrinal issues, and for this we owe them a great debt of gratitude. Long before arguments over dress codes and Bible translations, the Anabaptists put their lives on the line over the issues of baptism, the mass, and an ecclesiastical, state-run church. They were the first separatists, for no longer could they accept the position of the Reformers. Unlike great men such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists would have no part of a church that taught unbiblical doctrine. They felt the state church was a fallen church, and from such only separation was appropriate. In February of 1527, in a document called The Schleitheim Confession, Michael Sattler wrote:

“We are agreed [as follows] on separation: a separation shall be made from them and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world: in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them [the wicked] and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations . . . To us then the command of the Lord is clear when He calls upon us to be separate from the evil and thus he will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.”[3]

In modern times, Independent Baptist churches were founded in the second half of the twentieth century as a response to a growing trend toward liberalism and ecumenism that was begun a century earlier by men such as Hegel (1770-1831), F. C. Baur (1792-1862), Frederick Schleiermacher (1768-1834), and Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923).[4] No longer was there a mother church from which to separate, as did the Anabaptists from the Reformed church (reformed, but not completely separated from the ecclesiastical ways of the Catholic Church). Now the call was sent out for all those who held true to the Fundamentals to separate themselves from those within. Those with liberal leanings were to be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17-19). The peak of resistance toward modernism from “fundamentalists” came in the 1940’s and 1950’s with the rise of the Billy Graham and the New Evangelicalism. It was at this time so many militant steps were made toward separating from the world, worldliness, and any modern approach toward evangelism, especially if it involved working together with those who may have differed on a belief or two, especially when it came to music and Bible versions. Billy Graham did, and still does bear the brunt of many senseless attacks.

Billy Graham, the Enemy

If a poll were taken today asking people who they thought was the most important and influential religious leader of the last fifty years, one name would probably rise to the top – Dr. Billy Graham. Actually, the Barna Group recently did conduct a study of Americans and found that nearly twenty percent of adults identified Reverend Billy Graham as the “most influential Christian leader in the U. S. today.”[5] Ironically, however, it was Billy Graham, along with other Christian leaders such as J. Vernon McGee, Howard Hendricks, and W. A. Criswell (all conservative giants), that biblical separatists accused of “building bridges of compromise and apostasy by their middle-of-the-roadism.”[6]  Was Dr. Graham perfect? Did he make the best judgment calls in every situation? Of course not, and pity the man who thinks he is strong enough to stand in the places Dr. Graham has stood without succumbing to the flesh. Yet, it was considered unconscionable for Christians to try new methods of outreach, or work with leaders of other denominations, in order to reach greater crowds with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

No, true to their heritage, fundamental, independently-minded Baptists could only see a devaluing of key, non-negotiable doctrines in favor of a more ecumenical approach to evangelism. So, from these men, especially Dr. Graham, fundamentalist Baptists broke fellowship. Even today, after all the souls that have been won to the Lord, there are Independent Baptists who still think Billy Graham is a liberal enemy of the church. For example, in 1992 this writer personally witnessed a Baptist pastor chastise a Romanian couple in their home (both of whom lost their engineering careers as a result of being publically baptized for their faith in Jesus) for nothing more than having an LP recording of a Billy Graham crusade. This arrogant American pastor would have never sat across the same table with Dr. Graham, or fellowshipped with those who did.

United Baptists

Not all Baptists have sought to separate, however. Some have sought to come together in unity for the cause of Christ. It is common knowledge that there is strength in numbers, and when it comes to Christian congregations, co-operation can lead to expanded ministry and encouragement. Even though the IFB churches in America have gained a reputation for being separatists, other Baptists have put aside minor differences for the common good, much like the family that seeks peace at the dinner table for the Father’s sake.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) makes up the largest protestant denomination in North America. But in Canada, there is the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches  who struggled for years before three separate denominations (the Maritime Convention of Maritime Baptists, the Free Baptists of New Brunswick, and the Free Baptists of Nova Scotia) formed the United Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces in 1906.  For a while, at least since the late 1800’s, many denominations had been pursuing unification, such as with the Canadian Baptists.[7] But there was and is a difference between the conventions, a difference worth noting. Baptists in America hold tenaciously to one of the most cherished fundamentals of Baptist doctrine, the autonomy of the local congregation. Canadian Baptists, on the other hand, possibly because of their monarchal heritage, allow the convention some control over the local congregation. For example, in order to be licensed and ordained to pastor a church in the NABC, the candidate must complete mandatory studies at a specific Canadian seminary, Acadia Divinity College.[8]

Most Independent Baptists consider conventions (like the SBC) to be unbiblical precisely because of their belief that all conventions assert control over local congregations. However, this is not the case with all, as seen above. For better or worse, many Christians felt that a unified Church was better than a divided one.  However, the practical result was a watering down of fundamental beliefs in order to keep from offending those seeking unity.  Strict standards of morality, which had been the norm for so long, were beginning to loosen; biblical inerrancy was being questioned; and mass evangelism was on the rise. The question of what was considered “essential and non-essential” came to the forefront of discussion. And even though attempts have been made by the author to co-operate in a community ministry with an IFB church, all efforts have failed. Because of the Doctrine of Separation, because it is believed unbiblical to co-operate with other believers who do not hold to all of the “fundamentals,” division continues.

Ecumenism

One of the great enemies of the Fundamentalists is Ecumenicalism. One of the big reasons, as could be inferred from previous reading, is that those who seek to unify the church as a whole, in many cases, want to compromise on key doctrines essential to Christianity, such as biblical inerrancy and the divinity of Christ. However, one ecumenical author made an astute observation that can tie directly into the discussion of “biblical separation.” In The Unfinished Reformation Charles Morrison wrote how that he noticed a tendency by separatists to use the Bible to say what was “biblical” without actually proving it literally so. He said that “anything, however trivial or fantastic or commonplace, that one could dig out of the Bible by however ingenious a manipulation of its texts and words was claimed to be authorized by Christ, and was made constitutive of a church ‘founded on the Bible.’”[9]

Much of what divides believers and congregations is based on teachings supposedly founded on Scripture and considered “biblical,” yet, in reality, are only based on culture or personal opinion, or even worse, misinterpretation. One good example is the belief that a church “founded on the Bible” should expect its men to wear pants and its women to wear dresses. Anything different would be considered rebellion to God’s commands found in the Bible. Anyone found in rebellion should therefore be marked and avoided. Yet what does the Bible actually say? “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so [are] abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deut. 22:5). Here the Bible is used to enforce a cultural style. Nowhere does Moses say a woman should wear a dress and a man pants. All it says is that the man and women should dress in ways that “pertaineth” to their respective gender. In other words, a woman should look like a woman, not a man, and vice versa.

Family of God

The family of God is much bigger than one denomination. Before there were conventions and associations, there was the church. Before the Anabaptists, the Calvinists, the Arminians, and the Modernists, there were believers who loved the Lord and worshipped in one accord. They weren’t known for their building programs or bus ministries. They didn’t split over the color of the carpet or whether or not the pews were padded; they just wanted to stay alive. Why is it that so many put such a high priority on denomination, rather than unity? Does unity have to be synonymous with compromise? What kind of compromise is it to dwell in peace with a brother or sister in the presence of a loved earthly parent, even when differences are known to exist? Does compromise for the sake of fellowship change relationship? If a stranger were to sit at the mensam gratias (Latin, “table of thanks”), would his presence at the meal change the blood flowing through his veins? No, it would not. And striving for unity in the family will not change the relation of the true child to that of the Father. Therefore, when and if we find a brother or sister in the same family of Christ, should differences we have, however striking, prohibit us from attempting to share in some common way?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the community of Lookout Valley, churches of like faith have met together every year for a Thanksgiving service. The author has participated in these services on multiple occasions. However, what has been lacking is any participation from the local Independent Baptist churches. Their absence is always noticed, and the message received is that all who are gathering must be those who would “compromise, cooperate and fellowship with such that do not uphold the historic Christian fundamentals of the faith as expressed by the Bible.[10] Their conspicuous absence sends a message that says, “We are more spiritual than you.” Their continual refusal shows the community at large that denomination is more important than family, fellowship, and the opportunity to show the world that we can be one in the Spirit, for that is where genuine unity exists.

The Prayer of Jesus

Jesus made it very clear, as recorded in the book of John, that He wanted the world to see believers come together in love. In a special moment Jesus even spoke of Christians today when He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-21). Our unity within the family of Christ is to be a form of evangelism, “that the world may believe.” And how arrogant are we when, in the face of an actual prayer of Jesus, we say that fellowship is impossible? First, where did Jesus mention the name of any denomination or association? All he spoke of were those in his presence and them “which shall believe on [Him] through their word.” Second, has there ever been a prayer of Jesus unanswered. Did Jesus pray “that they all may be one” in vain? The day may come when He has to force us to drop our labels and institutional names in favor of a discrete and secret meeting place underground. There, with no $20,000 sign flashing out front, the true family of God may have to get back to the way it was before the King James Version was printed.

Early Church Example

Francis Schaff, in volume two of History of the Christian Church, relates the following description of a people unconcerned with denominations, unaware of the “fundamentals,” but always ready to live in such a way that others knew they were not of this world. Quoting an unknown author describing the church in the early part of the second century, he writes:

The dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own lands, but as strangers. They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners . . . They are in the flesh, but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven . . .They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned . . .They lack in all things, and in all things abound . . .They are cursed, and they bless.[11]

Why is it that we cannot try to emulate that kind of spirit? Does anyone seriously think the same description could apply to the Christian church of today?

Thankfully, there are those within the Baptist church who understand that the prayer of Jesus for unity was not just words. Thankfully, there are some out there that are striving to work with believers across denominational lines in an effort to reach the lost and dying, while at the same time recognizing there are doctrinal differences which must be taken into account. These people are not in the business of compromising Truth; they are in the business of fulfilling the Great Commission. One such group of people is the Southern Baptists.

Conclusion

If more IFB churches could be made aware of how conservative the SBC has become, maybe they would stop labeling them as liberal and start working more closely together. It is in the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 that an encouraging statement is made which tempers the Doctrine of Separation. Under section fourteen, entitled “Cooperation,” the following words can be found:

Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people [emphasis added]. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.[12]

Is this not what Jesus wants? Is this not the way the family of Christ should conduct its self? Oh that the body of Christ would come together in true, biblical unity! Even the “black sheep” of the family are welcome at the Father’s table.

One more thing…

Many who hold to a legalistic view of the Doctrine of Separation are regularly guilty of hypocrisy. How could this be? Consider the fact that many of the “separated” churches have active members, deacons, and pastors who are fully-participating members of fraternal organizations, such as the Masons and Shriners. The irony is that according to the writings of one of the “great” leaders and teachers of Freemasonry, Albert Pike (1859-1891), Christians regularly enter into binding agreements, oaths, and common works, even using the term “brother,” with men from any number of other religions, including that of the eastern cults! He said, “We belong to no one creed or school. In all religions there is a basis of Truth; in all there is pure Morality. And all that teach the cardinal tenets of Masonry we respect; all teachers and reformers of mankind we admire and revere.[13]

Family should come before fraternity, the Church before the Lodge; yet, how quickly some will deny fellowship with those clothed in the righteous of Christ, preferring unity with those wrapped in an apron.

Again, how ironic.

[1] Heritage Baptist Church, “Declaration of Faith,” http://www.heritageministries.com/doctrine.html

[2] Robert P. Lightner, “A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine,” Bibliotheca Sacra (March, 1985), 20

[3] Ernest D. Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumburg, Ill.: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 52.

[4] George W. Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville: Bob Jones Press, 1973), 8-11

[5] http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/536-us-lacks-notable-christian-leaders

[6] George W. Dollar, 280

[7] Daniel C. Goodwin, “Maritime Baptist Union and the Power of Regionalism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 2004.

[8] http://www.baptist-atlantic.ca/documents/ProceduresForOrdinationBrochure.pdf

[9] Charles Clayton Morrison, The Unfinished Reformation (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), 209.

[10] Heritage Baptist Church

[11] Francis Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity: From the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great [A.D. 100–325], Vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 9-10

[12] SBC, Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 (Nashville)

[13] Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, (Richmond: L. H. Jenkins) 311

 

Bibliography

Dobson, Ed, Ed Hinson, and Jerry Falwell, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: The Resurgence of Conservative Christianity, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.

Dollar, George W. The Fight for Fundamentalism: American Fundamentalism, 1973–1983. Sarasota: Dollar, George W., 1983.

Goodwin, Daniel C. “Maritime Baptist Union and the Power of Regionalism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 41.2 (2004): 125+. Religion & Philosophy Collection. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.

Heritage Baptist Church. “Declaration of Faith.” http://www.heritageministries.com/doctrine.html (accessed April 9, 2012).

Lightner, Robert P. “A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine.” Bibliotheca Sacra 142, no. 565 (January 1, 1985): 16­­­–22. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 17, 2012).

Morrison, Charles Clayton. The Unfinished Reformation. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953.

Pickering, Ernest D.. Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church. Schaumburg: Regular Baptist Press, 1979.

Pike, Albert. Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Richmond: L. H. Jenkins, Inc., 1960

Schaff, Philip. Ante-Nicene Christianity: From the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great [A.D. 100–325], Vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

Southern Baptist Convention. “The Baptist Faith and Message.” http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp (accessed March 18, 2012).

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A Last and a First: Closing One Ministry and Beginning Another

As many of you know, I am now the pastor of a church down in Warthen, Georgia. You probably also know that I used to pastor South Soddy Baptist in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.

Well, I thought it might be of interest to some of you to listen to two different sermons – one from my last day at South Soddy, and the other from my first day at Bethlehem Baptist.

But the reason I am sharing both of these back-to-back is so that hopefully you will notice a similarity between them. What I hope you will notice, despite the sadness of one and the excitement of the other, is a common thread of hope and assurance that God is still at work and the work for us to do is not done.

God bless you all, and I hope to get back to writing very soon – there sure is a lot to talk about!

Click on the pictures below for links to sermons.

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10 Easy Tips to Spark Up Your Love Life (Conservative Evangelical Edition)

I’m still pretty busy getting settled, so I’m still re-posting some older posts. Here is a good one 🙂

Your Requests

Lately I have been getting a lot of requests* from my readers and random people I meet on the street. They have been asking things like, “Hey, Anthony! Why don’t you write a blog post that deals with relationships and dating?”

There have also been multiple married couples** across the country come up to me and point-blank beg me to share my thoughts on marriage, keeping the love alive, etc. Probably 25 couples*** specifically asked, “Can you enumerate a list of actions we as couples can take to ‘spark’ things up, but in a Baptist way?”

So, what else can I do but give my readers what they ask for, right?

Therefore, as requested, here are approximately 10 easy tips to spark up your love life – if you are a conservative Evangelical or Baptist, of course.

10 Easy Tips to Spark Up Your Love Life

Men:

  1. Open the car door. I know, it may sound old fashioned, but the ladies really to like it when you open and hold the door to the car, especially when other people with bad marriages are looking. NOTE: Make sure you hold it open and watch your wife/fiance/date actually complete the task of getting all the way in before you turn your head and shut the door. Remember, it’s not your responsibility to notice the ooo-ing onlookers touched by your chivalry; that’s the female’s place…you don’t want to break her ankle.
  2. Buy her flowers. Christian girls adore God’s creation just as much as the nearest tree-hugging liberal. Therefore, don’t forget to buy your woman some flowers now and then. NOTE: Make sure beforehand if she is allergic to any particular specimen. Otherwise, make sure you have some anointing oil handy, along with someone who can demand that the spirit of asthma be gone.
  3. Choose the right restaurant. When your better half wants to go out to dinner, or when you suggest it, ask where she would like to eat. When she then says, “Oh, it doesn’t matter; wherever you want to go,” you softly say, “I think I would like to go to _______.” With what do you fill in the blank? The restaurant SHE likes, NOT where you would actually want to go.
  4. Tell her she looks beautiful. Married guys, right when you roll over in the morning and see your wife, tell her you love her AND “you look beautiful this morning!” No, she won’t believe you, but she will enjoy hearing it. Then, later in the day, say it again, right when she doesn’t expect it. NOTE: Don’t tell her she looks beautiful more than twice in the same day – she’ll know you’re up to something and the plan will backfire. Single guys, just tell her she’s “pretty” and save the rest for marriage.

Women:

  1. Tell your man you’re proud of him. In all seriousness, if there is anything a man wants, it is to be respected. Even if he’s been acting like an idiot and messing up everything he touches, let him know you are proud of him for trying. The last thing you want to live with is a bumbling idiot whose depressed, too.
  2. Brag on your husband. Don’t misunderstand, bragging on your husband is just the half of it. What you need to do to spark things up is brag on him to other women, and do it is such a way that he is not supposed to know what you said, but you “accidentally” let him find out. For example, send an email or text to your BFF saying something like, “God gave me the best husband any woman could ever dream of! I’m sorry your husband isn’t as wonderful as mine…#praying4u” Then, leave your computer on, or “accidentally” forward him a copy.
  3. Surprise him with tickets to a manly-man guy flick. Believe me, ladies, if you want to make your man feel special, accepted, loved, and adored, say to him, “Honey, guess what? I got us both tickets to go see Star Wars! Unless, of course, you’d like to go see The Day the World Was Saved by Blowing Up Stuff; I’d really like to see that, too.”
  4. Pick some flowers for him. First, you’d be amazed at how guys can be touched by something as sensitive and caring as you giving him flowers. But, keep this in mind – don’t buy them! Your man will be far less stressed if you don’t spend money on stupid stuff like flowers that are only going to die in a day or two, anyway. Pick the flowers and he will love them – and you!

TransGender & LGBT Folk:

NOTE: I can’t help you. However, see the United Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), Unitarian Church, Alliance of Baptists, and Ecumenical Catholic websites, to name a few, for further information. Or, just look for wherever the co-opted symbol of the rainbow is displayed.

For Couples (heterosexual, married, and not just living together):

  1. Pray together. Don’t just pray for each other; pray WITH each other.
  2. Go to church together. Don’t just go to church, however; sit with each other and worship together. NOTE: if you have children that seem to require the whole pew and it forces the both of you to separate and sit at either end, see my other post entitled “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child.”
  3. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. That’s all I’m going to say about that; you’ll need to look that up on your own.

BONUS: Spend the evening together at your local Lifeway Christian Book Store… oh, never mind… they closed all their stores. I guess you could pop some corn and sit in front of a computer and scroll through their website together.

Conclusion

The last bit of advice I can give is this: Put God first in your relationships and He will provide whatever you need to make it great and make it last.

 

* Not really.

**Again, not really. I’m joking.

***Ditto.

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Filed under baptist, Christian Living, Defending Traditional Marriage, Faith, Humor, Relationships and Family, wisdom

Re-Examining the Divorce Controversy

The following subject comes up periodically, requiring me to give a biblical explanation.  Therefore, for those who may not have done much study on it, let us consider the question of divorce and the pastorate.

My Story

I will never forget the phone call I got from a church in Rome, GA over 20 years ago. Someone on the other end of the line was part of a search committee looking for a new pastor.  They had gotten my resume and were impressed enough to give me a call.  Everything was going well until they asked a very pointed question, “Bro. Anthony, does your wife have a spouse that is still living?”  With an undeniable tone of frustration, I replied, “Yes, ME.”  

Unfortunately, this would not be the last time something like that happened.

What I encountered on the telephone that day was not unusual, nor unexpected, but it stung. You see, even though our (then) pastor told me marrying Valerie would “put the final nail in the coffin” of my ministry hopes, I chose to marry a woman who had been divorced – and there were consequences.

However, I was aware the scripture (1 Tim. 3:2) being used against me was lacking in exposition, and it was ultimately up to God whether or not I pastored a church.  So, after much study, I felt peace that what I was doing was right (but it didn’t hurt when the late Dr. Spiros Zodhiates gave us his approval).

But let me be clear about a few things…

wedding picture fourFirst,  I have never been divorced, so for me the whole argument of 1 Timothy 3:2 should be moot.  Second, my wife was left with no choice but to divorce; furthermore, it happened before she was a believer.  Third, my wife’s ex-husband remarried and divorced again before I even met her. By all accounts my wife was free to remarry, so both she and I were clear from any “adultery” issues.  

Also, I am “the husband of one wife,” and Scripture NEVER said a bishop “must be the husband of one wife who was the wife of only one husband, ever.” Just a minor observation.

So, what DOES the Bible say?

1 Timothy 3:2 says,  “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...”  Also, verse 12 says, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife...”  The difficulty with these verses is not what is being said, but how it is interpreted.  

Is Paul telling Timothy that in order to be a pastor, deacon, or elder in a church, you must have only been married once?  Could it even be possible that Paul is saying that a man of God MUST have a wife, because being single would disqualify one from ministry?  These are things that have been debated for centuries.  

Some believe that a pastor, deacon, or elder should have never been divorced (or married to a divorcee) . Others believe that in order to be a proper leader, one must be married.  Still, many commentators believe that the proper rendering of the Greek is “one-woman man,” implying faithfulness and character over the number of wives.  

In reality, what the Bible says is one thing, but as William D. Mounce put it, “The Greek gives us a range of possibilities, but our theology is going to determine our interpretation.” 

I think there’s another way to look at it…

Take a look at 1 Timothy 3 and read through verse 12.  The best I can figure is that there are between 16 and 17 qualifications for the bishop, and between 6 and 8 for the deacons.  All of these are preceded with a literal or an implied “must be,” as in “must be blameless,” or a “must have.”  How does this affect the argument that an elder “must have” only been married once, never remarried, or never divorced?    

Think of any great man of God you know that has stood behind the pulpit and faithfully proclaimed the Word of God.  Has he always been blameless?  Has he always been on his best behavior?  Did he ever get drunk, covet, lose his patience, or curse his wife or children in anger?  Was he ever a novice, a beginner subject to pride? If so, then according to the logic of some, he should never be able to preach or lead in God’s church, for just as a man “must be the husband of one wife,” so he also must be “blameless, vigilant, sober, well-behaved, given to hospitality, patient, never greedy, and always in control of his house and children.”  

Do you see it?  If your interpretation leads you to believe that the bishop must have only had one wife – ever – then the same hermeneutic (the study of the principles of interpretation) should apply to the other “must be’s.”  

  • Must be the husband of one wife” = never divorced.  
  • Not a novice” = never been a beginner in the faith.

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

1 Timothy 3:1-12 is in the present infinitive tense (i.e., must be / dei einai).  The requirements listed are ones that describe a man of character and faithfulness, of sobriety and gravitas; not a beginner or one untried and unproven.  What I see is a list of requirements that may not have always been present in a man, but should be NOW, after God has done a verifiable work in his life.  In other words, the Bible says a bishop “must be,” not “must have always been,” or “must have never done.”  

Paul said, “and such were some of you:  but ye were washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:11

Here’s my point…

I believe that there are plenty who are sitting back or hiding out because someone has convinced them that they are used up and un-usable.  For example, I can think of men right now who, for whatever reason, are divorced.  Yet, these men, now Christians, are sold-out, God-fearing, faithful, Spirit-filled fathers and husbands with proven testimonies and unimpeachable character.  Sadly, however, because of mistakes made when they were young, unsaved, and stupid, they cannot serve as deacons, much less as pastors.  

On the other hand, I can think of several pastors today who were once murderers, drug dealers, fornicators, extortioners, and abusers of mankind (do I need to explain that last one?). Yet, only because they don’t have “divorced” to add to the list of past sins, they are accepted and given full authority as leaders in the church. 

Sad.

It’s time the body of Christ re-examine this issue in the light of GRACE.

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Filed under baptist, Divorce, General Observations, Independent Baptist, legalism, Relationships and Family, Uncategorized

Going to Bethlehem

It’s already been announced on Facebook, but now it’s time to tell the story here on the blog. 

Me and my wife, along with family that joined us for the day.

This past Sunday, after a unanimous vote, the congregation of Bethlehem Baptist Church (founded 1790) in Warthen, GA, called me to be their pastor, and I accepted. That means I will be moving away from the Chattanooga/Soddy-Daisy, TN area and relocating to “Bulldog” territory (as in Georgia Bulldogs).

NOTE: It won’t be easy to get on board with the whole “bulldog” thing, but I am a certified Atlanta Braves fan, so that helps. I’ll always have orange blood.

It all started several months ago when I was contacted by the pastor search committee from Bethlehem Baptist. They had gotten my resume from the SBC database and wanted to know if I would be willing to be considered for the position. I knew I would not be the only person under consideration, and since I figured they would find someone else more qualified than me, I said it was OK. I mean, why burn any bridges, right?

Eventually, one thing led to another and I got to the point of multiple interviews, background checks, and trial sermons. I wasn’t actively seeking to leave South Soddy Baptist, but it became apparent after a while that the writing was on the wall: It was time for me to move.

This is either me preaching the trial sermon which preceded the vote, or me singing “Stop! In the Name of Love!”

South Soddy Baptist Church, along with many other people in the Soddy Daisy area, made a huge impact on our lives. Had it not been for South Soddy, I have no idea where we would be right now. God opened that door at a time when we desperately needed it, and through our last two years there He proved His faithfulness.

So, for the rest of this month and the month of July we will be attempting to wrap things up, get everything packed, and then moved to Georgia (nearly 5 hours away). My first official day in the office (yes, I will have office hours) will be August 1st.

As you have prayed for our family in the past, I would ask for your continued prayers – this will not be an easy transition.

Pray, also, that God will prepare the soil in the field to where I am going, along with sharpen my plow and fill the seed bag. Even before I get there to go to work, there is work to be done.

Being welcomed as the new pastor of Bethlehem Baptist.

This is going to be an adventure, one that will surely affect not only our lives, but the way in which I write this blog. Big changes affect little changes, like how the ripples from a big splash create smaller ripples that reflect off other things.

Thank you for being my friends and reader all these years (10th anniversary for the blog this September!). I’m just thankful that no matter where God leads, the technology He has allowed will keep us linked.

God bless you!

Anthony

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