Category Archives: Theology

How to Avoid Marrying a Snake-Handling Preacher

Pastor Coots

Let me start off by saying that I am not going to be writing about the biblicality of taking up serpents during a church service. The purpose of this post is not to run down and disparage anyone’s heartfelt religious belief. I’m not here today to call someone an idiot for doing something that is clearly foolish – that could be another post for another day.

Right now let’s just pray for Cody Coots. I mean, just four years ago his father, the former pastor, died (age 42) after being bitten by a rattlesnake – only five minutes after being bitten in the hand during a worship service.

Now, the young Pastor Coots – the still-living pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle In Jesus Name Church – is recovering from a near-fatal bite to the ear from a rattlesnake (click HERE to see the video). Sadly, there must have been sin in his life, the fact made unfortunately obvious right when a bunch of cameras from a world-famous news organization were filming.

That must have been a bummer. We really need to pray for him and his health, and his family.

But, like I said, this post isn’t about Pastor Coots’ religious beliefs or health – it’s about his poor sweet wife and all the other ladies out there who might be concerned with marrying a snake-handling preacher.

Don’t Let Love Be Blind

What I want to do for now is offer a little advice to the lovelorn, the lovesick, and those blinded by love. You see, what really got me about the story of Pastor Cody Coots is what his wife, Tammy said:

“Me and Cody didn’t talk about religion until after we got married and all I said is, ‘God, what did I get myself into?'” (source: The Sun)

Excuse me? 

Pastor Cody Coots

You were introduced by a relative, then you immediately fell in love, but you didn’t know anything about what he believed? You had no idea he went to a snake-handling church?

I mean, seriously, Tammy, what did you do for dates. go out hunting Copperheads? You visited his garage and saw cases of snakes, and thought what? Or did you even visit his home? Didn’t you think it wise to visit your prospective groom’s church just once before walking down the aisle? During the wedding rehearsal, did you think the rattling sound was from a wedding present?

Why only after you got married did you ask, “God, what have I gotten myself into”?

That being said, I feel obligated to spare future Tammy’s from the fear of losing one’s husband to the venom of a faith-testing rattler from heaven.

6 Ways to Avoid Marrying a Snake-Handling Preacher

  1. Visit His Church. If you are a religious person, even in the least bit, never marry anyone without working through where you stand on spiritual issues. It is never a joke to be unequally yoked.
  2. Eat a Lot of Spaghetti. I have a feeling that the right kind of food could open up a deep conversation. Ask your potential groom, “Honey, I love the way you manipulate that noodle; it’s sorta like handling a snake…you don’t handle snakes, do you?”
  3. Go to the Zoo. Take your man to the zoo for an afternoon getaway. Enjoy yourself as the two of you admire God’s creatures. Then, guide your potential mate into the reptile exhibit and say, “Oh, sweetie, look at all those beautiful, holy, God-honoring testers of our faith!” If he replies with an “AAAAAMEN!” and wishes he could just grab one out of the aquarium and start preaching… head to the exit and call an Uber.
  4. Have a Bible Study. I know this might sound too obvious, but how about go to the local ice cream shop, get yourself a root beer, and open up your King James Version to Mark 16:18, then ask: “If this was real beer, and if it was spiked with strychnine, if I had no sin in my life, could I drink this while holding a King Cobra and still live?” If he looks at you like you’re a crazy cat lady on meth, you might have a keeper.
  5. Ask About His Parents. It’s been said that if you want to know what your future spouse will look like in 20 years, look at his parents – or in this case, his father. Ask what his dad does for a living. Ask if his father is still alive. If his father is dead, ask how he died. If he died by snake bite, ask if it happened while his father was screaming incoherently into a hot microphone while ear-splitting gospel music was blasting from speakers on the stage.
  6. Marry a Southern Baptist or Presbyterian. Enough said.

Well, I hope this helps. There’s no need for you to get into a marriage only to say the first Sunday, “God, what have I gotten myself into?”

Commentssssssssss would be nicccccccce 😉

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Filed under Faith, Humor, Life/Death, Marriage, Theology

Distinctions Worth Noting

This morning I came across a quote I posted to Facebook several years ago. Being Sunday morning, and being that I am a Baptist pastor, this is a great quote from a theologian with Chattanooga roots, Dr. Timothy George. And to think, we actually attended the same school 🙂

“The Baptist tradition finds a place within this narrative as a distinctive reform movement within the wider evangelical renewal, a reform within the reform, so to say. Baptists are indeed heirs of the Reformation, but they are not, nor have they ever been, mere clones of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Anabaptists, or anyone else. For Baptists, the great doctrines of the Reformation were refracted through the prism of persecution and dissent which informed their intense advocacy of religious freedom and, especially in the American setting, the separation of church and state (which does not equal the divorce of religion from public life). With all true Christians, Baptists profess loyalty to Jesus Christ the Lord, the eternal Son of the heavenly Father who “for us and our salvation” became man. He died for our sins on a cross, rose triumphantly over death, ascended to the Father, and one day will come again in power and glory. In the meantime, he still reigns, rules, and redeems through the Holy Spirit.” – Timothy George

The Body of Christ (the Church) has many members, each distinct in its own way. I just felt these distinctions were worth noting.

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Biblical Cooperation Is NOT Compromise; It’s What Family Does

For several months we have been using our Sunday School hour to go over each article in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This morning the subject will be biblical cooperation between believers. Southern Baptists believe that where there is no risk of theological compromise, we should seek to cooperate with fellow believers in Christ when seeking a common goal.

However, there are others who preach a “Doctrine of Separation” that forbids cooperation of any kind, even with members of the Body of Christ, when even the slightest difference is observed. It is with this unbiblical “Doctrine of Separation” that I take exception and want to dispell.

Therefore, I want to acquaint you with the following article I wrote in an effort to help promote biblical unity within the Church. It can also be found under a tab at the top of the main page.

Feel free to share the body of this post as you see fit. I simply ask that you include the source.


“The Doctrine of Separation Examined”

By: Anthony C. Baker, M.Min.

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 to 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 an 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 should wear 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, the churches of like faith in one community 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.

 

Footnotes

[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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Reviewing “Infinity War”

I finally went to see the last Avengers movie.

Here are my thoughts.

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“By” or “Through”: That’s the Question (An Examination of John 1:3)

Introduction

Tuesday morning, after a cup of coffee with some great, godly men in our community, I was standing out in the parking lot of a local restaurant discussing the morning’s plans. It was during this short conversation that the subject matter briefly switched to that of Bible translations.

There we were, standing by the cab of a pickup truck when one of these men – a great friend to our family and church – said something akin to the following:

“The reason I will only use the King James Bible can be illustrated by the change in one word, and that word is found in the first chapter of John. There, the King James Version says, ‘all things were made by Jesus,’ but every other version – every single one – changes that word ‘by’ to ‘through.’ I have a problem with that. As I see it, there’s a big difference between ‘by’ and ‘through.’ Either everything was made by Jesus, or it wasn’t.” (Again, this was not an exact quote, but close.)

Therefore, it might take more than the average 500-word blog post to unpack, but I want to address this apparent conflict between “by” and “through” as found in John 1:3.

Doing the Research

You know, the last thing one should do when confronted with an unknown is say to the one making the assertion, “Nuh uh!” Right after my friend said what he did about every other translation of the Bible changing “by” to “through,” I pulled out my iPhone and pulled up BlueLetterBible.com.

Seeing what I was doing, the gentleman goaded me a little and said with a slight chuckle, “You gotta look that one up, don’t ya?” I grinned as I nodded…the subject changed back to hardware for about 30 seconds…then we went our separate ways.

But I did look it up. It wasn’t difficult to do, either. The Bible-study tools we have access to in an instant, even on our smartphones, are literally mind-blowing. At no other time in history have we had so much knowledge available so quickly right in the palms of our hands. Therefore, it didn’t take more than a few seconds to learn that my friend’s assertions were spot on… The KJV was actually the only one to render John 1:3 with a “by,” not a “through.”

For example:

  • John 1:3 (KJV) – All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  • (NKJV) – All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
  • (NIV) – Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
  • (ESV) – All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  • (CSB) – All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

Yes, I did my research, and what I found was that my friend’s assertion was true: every other translation of the Bible changed the word “by” to “through.” However, my research wasn’t complete; it was time to consult the original languages.

It’s All Greek

Like I said above, the study tools we have these days are amazing, and there’s really no good excuse for any Bible student to claim ignorance. For example, if all one had was access to one online tool such as BlueLetterBible.com, then what used to take hours of study could be done in mere moments. Then if you add to that all the other free websites available, including what’s available from online libraries, and then throw in some relatively inexpensive (but voluminous) programs like Logos, oh… my… goodness! It’s hard to comprehend how blessed we are!

So, when it became obvious that “by” had been replaced by “through,” I decided to take the next logical step and look up the source of the translations in question: the original Greek word, διά (dē-ä’).

It may sound unbelievable to you, but there are still people out there who think Jesus spoke Elizabethan English. However, the Bible was not originally written in the language of Shakespeare. In actuality, John 1:3 was written in Greek, so “by” and “through” are only translations of the Greek word διά (Strong’s G1223).

The next question should then be: “What does dia mean?”

Grab Your Concordance

Well, every Bible student should have a Strong’s Concordance in his personal library, even if his library only consisted of a Bible and one other book. Therefore, let’s take a look at Strong’s and see what we find.

G1223: διά diá, dee-ah’; a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; through (in very wide applications, local, causal, or occasional):—after, always, among, at, to avoid, because of (that), briefly, by, for (cause) … fore, from, in, by occasion of, of, by reason of, for sake, that, thereby, therefore, × though, through(-out), to, wherefore, with (-in).

According to Strong’s Concordance, dia is a word that denotes “the channel of an act; through…” Therefore, is it really an act of theological sabotage to translate John 1:3 with through instead of by?

Is it possible that Jesus was the One through whom God the Father made all things?

You see, it is not heresy to say that the Father made all that is through Jesus, the Word of God. No, it is actually MORE theologically sound and true to Jesus’ own words to say that He was the agency or “channel” of creation, rather than the one acting unilaterally in creation. Why do I say this? Consider the actual words of Jesus as recorded by John…

  • John 4:34 (KJV) – Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
  • John 5:19 (KJV) – Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
  • John 6:38 (KJV) – For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

If Jesus had acted alone and created all things by Himself, then His own words would expose a critical inconsistency. The fact seems to be that even though Jesus was and is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, He still had to act in accordance with the will of the Father, and therefore saying “all things were created through Him” is more theologically consistent with the nature of the Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead.

A Dose of Commentary

I learned a long time ago that commentaries can be very useful if used properly; I go to them after I have already read the Scripture and done all the exegesis I can do with the study tools at hand. Therefore, it was only after I did the above study that I consulted several scholarly commentaries. For the benefit of this discussion and for your edification, allow me to share the following directly from the sources.

The New American Commentary: John 1-11

The preposition dia (“through”), used in connection with creation here, should not be taken to mean that the Logos is essentially inferior to God, as the Arians argued. But the early Christians, in attempting to discuss simultaneously the work of both the Father and the Son in creation, sometimes tried to hold both together through the use of two prepositions. The Father’s activity was linked with the preposition ek, which carries the sense of “origin,” and the Son’s activity was linked with the preposition dia, which carries the sense of “mediation” (e.g., the early Christian creedal statement in 1 Cor 8:6; also see Heb 1:2 for the use of dia).

The Pulpit Commentary: St. John (Vol. 1)

In asserting that the Logos is he or that through whom all things were made, the writer does not lower the dignity of the Logos by regarding him merely as the οργανον of the Father, because the same preposition is used of the relation of the Father to the world or to his servants (Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:1; Heb. 2:10). Elsewhere St. Paul powerfully affirms the same application of διά (1 Cor. 8:6) to Christ’s part in the Creation, reserving for the One God, the Father, the preposition ἐκ. From God and by or through God are all things, still “all things” derive their existence “through” the activity, the will, the thought, of the Logos.

Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent)

By Him (διʼ αὐτοῦ). Lit., through him. The preposition dia is generally used to denote the working of God through some secondary agency, as διὰ τοῦ προφήτου, through the prophet (Matt. 1:22, on which see note).* It is the preposition by which the relation of Christ to creation is usually expressed (see 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), though it is occasionally used of the Father (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 11:36, and Gal. 1:1, where it is used of both). Hence, as Godet remarks, it “does not lower the Word to the rank of a simple instrument,” but merely implies a different relation to creation on the part of the Father and the Son.

Again, it would seem to me that it is more theologically sound to translate John 1:3 the way all the other translations do it as opposed to the KJV.

Right or Wrong?

But after all that has been said, was the King James Version’s translators wrong in their use of the word by instead of through? Actually, no.

You see, the whole reason we have newer translations of the Bible is because the English language changes over time. Some words have different meanings today than they used to, and that is why we rarely speak of wearing our “gay clothing” to church, or “fetch[ing] a compass” as we travel (Num. 34:5).

At the time the KJV translators did their work, the meaning of “by” was probably more nuanced than today and would have been understood by the reader of the day to have the same depth of meaning as “through.” However, for the modern reader, by implies more of a literal meaning. For example, if my daughter made a wooden elephant figurine, and if you asked who made it, I could answer, “It was made BY Haley.” If we applied the same meaning to the “by” in John 1:3, then we would literally be on the road to heresy, for Jesus did not act unilaterally (own His own), but by the will of the Father (John 5:19).

So, by may have been the best word for the verse in the 17th-19th centuries, but through better conveys the Truth to those in the 21st.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, the translators of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible were men of superior capability. I dare say that finding modern scholars and intellects with similar credentials would be exceedingly difficult. Therefore, because they did such a great work, it would be wise to consider their words when debating the heart of this discussion.

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place … Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue (the modern, common way of speaking), the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with…”

“For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free…?”

 – from: “The Translators to the Reader,” a prefix attached to the original 1611 edition.

It really boils down to this: What does the Bible really say? Sometimes we have to set aside our preconceived notions in order to honestly exegete Scripture. The last thing we want to do is let a literary bias lend support to a faulty theology, even if our intentions are noble.

Ultimately, though, Jesus is the Door “through” whom we must enter; there is no other Way to the Father. If a translation can’t make that clear, then we have a problem.

So, let me say “Thanks” to my friend. Without his comment, I’d never walked down this rabbit trail 😉 

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Filed under Bible Study, Theology, translations

Do You Hate to Sin?

I hate it when I sin.

Some people hate to get caught, but I wasn’t caught. No one saw or heard or anything – only God.

I hate it when I sin because of the feeling it leaves, the drain on emotions, and the sense of powerlessness that leads to feelings of failure, defeat.

I hate it when I sin because I knew better! I knew better! It’s not like I didn’t know the consequences. It wasn’t like this was something I’d never before encountered. I just walked right into the sin and just committed it, just like it was the natural thing to do.

Oh, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? Nature. That battle between the redeemed and the unredeemed, the spirit and the flesh. How I look forward to the day when this tent in which I dwell is redeemed, also!

I hate it when I sin!

But you may be asking, “Aren’t you a pastor? Aren’t you supposed to be a spiritual and religious leader? How can you be talking about ‘sin’ like this? Won’t it hurt your reputation?”

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

The Truth is in me. I’m not perfect, just forgiven.

And that’s really why I hate it when I sin; it’s because I know I’m forgiven! Yes, I’m already forgiven! I’ve been saved, justified, reborn, adopted, and have received the righteousness of Christ…and I know a little about what it took for that to happen…

“Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear

It took the Cross! It took Calvary! It took Jesus bearing my griefs…carrying my sorrows…being stricken and smitten of God…being afflicted…being wounded for MY transgressions…being bruised for MY iniquities…accepting MY chastisement…and taking MY stripes so that I could walk away free (see Isaiah 53:4-5).

He – Jesus – did all that for me…all because of my sin…because He loves me (Romans 5:8).

But you may ask: “If you know you are already forgiven, then what keeps you from going out and sinning all you want?”

Two reasons. First, my “want to” has been changed. Second, it’s like the Apostle Paul said it: the love of Christ constraineth me (2 Corinthians 5:14). The thought of His love for me…what it took to redeem me from sin…to purchase my salvation…what He endured on that cross…the scourging He willingly accepted…it’s like ropes wrapped around me, binding me, “constraining” me.

Nevertheless, there are times when I sin. And I hate it. Romans 7:15-25 just about sums it up.

I thank God that where my sin did abound, grace…OH! What a word!…did much more abound (Romans 5:20)!

Then you may ask: “Well, if there’s more grace than there is sin to forgive, why not just keep sinning so that grace may ‘abound’ even more?”

Read Romans 6, is all I can say.

If you sin just because you can…there’s probably something major you’ve missed along the way. Maybe there’s nothing “constraining” you.

I hate it when I sin.


God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:10-13 CSB

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Manipulating the Manna

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in America, I have been studying Exodus 16 and Numbers 11:6-8 for this Sunday morning’s sermon. Over the next few days, I would like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned.

When you have a spare moment, please read these passages (Exodus 15:22-23; Exodus 16; and Numbers 11, particularly verses 6-8) in order to become more familiar with the text from which I am gathering my thoughts.


Manna

After the children of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt, it took only three days for some of them to start complaining. After only six weeks of freedom from bondage, the whole Israelite camp was “murmuring” against Moses – actually, against God.

Even after all God had accomplished for them, the Israelites were somehow afraid that the One who kept them from all the plagues that befell their slavemasters, the One who had just parted the Red Sea, could not take care of them in the wilderness. Right from the beginning, they began to complain, up until the point where they began wishing they were back in bondage eating the food of slaves.

As you can read in the text, even though God had already done so much, and even though His people were faithless and idolatrous (because covetousness is the same as idolatry – see Ephesians 5:5), the Lord God was faithful to keep His own covenant and miraculously provided food from heaven – manna.

Nevertheless, even though what God provided them was sufficient to meet their needs, over time they once again began to remember with fondness the foods of Egypt. Therefore, as they became weary of the manna – as miraculous as it was – they sought ways to change it, to manipulate it, and to shape it into something akin to what they missed from the years of their captivity.

Manipulating the Gospel

Do we not do the same thing today with the simple, yet wholly-sufficient gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it not sweet and pleasant enough?

When we are forgetful (forgetful of God’s mercy and grace); when we allow discontent to develop in our hearts; when we take our eyes off God; when we doubt His promises and provision; when we selectively remember the variety of lustful pleasures in Egypt that have tainted our palate; the simple, pure, wholesome things of God lose their appeal, leading us to mix and mash the “manna” with things that suit our particular tastes.

Unfortunately, all we end up with is something no one will find palatable or satisfying.

 


In my next post, I will share with you some actual statistics I uncovered regarding the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. Hint: You’ll need a “boxcar” to walk away with it.

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