Freedom and Dependence

Independence Day in America is a time for the red, white, and blue apparel to arrive, complete with vintage Old Navy t-shirts and clothing that looks like it was made from a flag (BTW - according to extensive research ... a five-second search on Google ... it is not illegal to wear clothing that has stars and stripes on it, but it is not appropriate to wear clothing made from an actual flag. There you go.) However if you do wear your 4th of July inspired, patriotic shirt, don't be like this grandma featured on Twitter who thought she was honoring America by wearing this shirt for the past twenty-five years on the 4th, but apparently was actually wearing a shirt that looked like the Panamanian flag.

 

 

This day is often a time to celebrate our freedoms as Americans with family get-togethers, cookouts, ball games, parades, and of course fireworks.

The United States is far from perfect, but even with our imperfections and challenges, we find ourselves blessed in ways others throughout history and in other parts of the world today long for. Our freedoms, however are often taken for granted. Friends who grew up in other parts of the world, under heavy oppression and great difficulty, remind me regularly how much we presume regarding personal freedoms. 

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Yet, as stated earlier, we still have far to go. Many in our own nation face oppression and injustices in ways that others cannot imagine. These are due to a variety of circumstances.

This past weekend many Christians were debating aloud and online about the veracity of holding patriotic services in their churches on Sunday. This debate comes every year at this time. What had been viewed as normative for evangelical churches in past decades (the shelving of hymns and sacred songs for patriotic anthems, coupled with overtly America-themed testimonies and messages) now causes many to wonder. From my perspective, anything that is allowed to supersede Christ and the gospel in a service of worship runs the risk at best of passively confusing attenders regarding the focus of worship. Therefore, while we may at times add a song or two speaking of God's blessings upon us, we will not intentionally shift our focus from Christ by allowing anything (or anyone) stand in his place. 

Ultimately, if your worship service looks just like the community Independence Day rally, you may be doing it wrong.

Believe me ... I know how to do things wrong. I have much practice at it.

Nevertheless, to ignore that which God has blessed us with would be insulting, in my opinion. So for the freedoms this experiment of a republic has allowed for us, continues to allow us, and hopefully will offer in the future, we thank God. 

Freedom

I'm reminded of a deeper freedom, however, than those listed in the Bill of Rights. This freedom is expressed throughout the New Testament, but most clearly in Galatians 5. 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

It sounds obvious. Almost, too simple. It is for freedom we have been set free. Of course. Yet, the freedom we have in Christ is often ignored as the old nature continues to rise up within us, leaving us living as slaves to sin. Sin that has already been defeated. Sin that has already been covered.

Dependence

As Americans we often speak with pride of our independence. That's what the holiday we're celebrating this week focuses upon. I love this holiday. Yet, as Christians sometimes the prideful statements of individual independence overwhelm the fact that as free children of God we are not independent, but fully dependent. Our dependence on Christ is what gives us freedom. 

While we may tout our rights in this nation, we must remember that we have sacrificed our individual rights on the altar in order to live as fully-devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. It is in this dependence upon God we are free indeed.

That is why we declare our dependence. In Christ alone. Today and every day.

Here's a good reminder of this by the Mississippi Mass Choir...

 

 


J.D. Greear Doesn't Need Me To Speak For Him...But, This Is Slanderous

Just last week the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as president. I was in attendance in Dallas for our annual meeting. The workings of the SBC can be confusing for some, especially those who are not Southern Baptists. While this one-page synopsis of our denominational structure and leadership is correct, it still may prove confusing. Nevertheless, for those who wonder, I recommend you click this link for A Closer Look.

President Greear

J.D. Greear was elected as the SBC president this year with approximately 70% of the vote. Some have portrayed this as a major shift in the Southern Baptist Convention, stating that it as a shift from wing tips to Air Jordans. Greear is the second youngest SBC president to be elected in our history.

Greear

Some declare this election positively as our denomination seeks to engage the world we live in with the Gospel, reaching all peoples, all generations, and varying cultures with the unchanging message of hope from Jesus Christ.

Others lament Greear's election, fearing that the elements of biblical fidelity and denominational integrity will be lost now that a "youth movement" has occurred.

While I wish I could say this amazes me, unfortunately, it does not.

To declare Greear as some "young buck" intent on watering down the Scriptures in order to be relevant to a changing culture is to discount who he is, what he has preached, where he has led his church, and the affirmations from senior leaders throughout the SBC who have voiced their support of his election prior to the vote in Dallas. 

While serving as the SBC president, J.D. Greear continues to pastor his flock at Summit Church in North Carolina. The responsibilities he has now been given do not erase those from his local church, but are added to them. In other words, this is a heavy task given him, not just by the messengers (voting representatives of SBC churches in Dallas) but primarily from God. J.D. Greear, his family, and his church need our prayers.

I have talked to J.D. in the past and through mutual friends, partnerships, and associations in Baptist life and church planting, we have been privileged to come alongside some from Summit Church and the Summit Network who have planted new churches in North Carolina and Florida.

I am confident in Greear's leadership skills, but mostly in his heart for the Lord, his doctrinal integrity, his hold to biblical inerrancy, and affirmations of our confessions of faith as Baptists. Therefore, in no way do I fear that Greear has or will lead his church or our denomination down a path of liberalism or cultural acquiescence. That is why I was shocked and appalled to read the recent article published by the American Family Association (AFA) by Bryan Fischer.

The American Family Association

For many years, conservative evangelicals have aligned with the AFA on social issues. This non-profit was founded by Reverend Donald Wildmon in Mississippi back in 1977 as an "organization promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on television or other media." Later the shift was toward a broader emphasis on moral issues as related to families. Many conservatives appreciated the work of the AFA, as did I. Some even supported the group financially. The AFA has been known for years as promoting and leading boycotts of corporations and companies they determined were promoting immoral and anti-family material. Whether boycotts were effective remains debatable, but nevertheless, issues of cultural shift were brought to the front-burner through them.

You may or may not like the AFA or the work they have done. The point of this post is not to debate the existence and work of the AFA, but the trending article published on their site by Bryan Fischer. 

Fischer's article makes for good click-bait, especially for those who love reading about divisive things and who declare the end of evangelicalism and especially the SBC being imminent. 

Slanderous?

Some would say that slander is too harsh a word. Yet, as I read Fischer's words, that was what came to mind. In his article he quotes Greear, then dissects his words in such a way to lead the reader down a path far from the intent of J.D.'s statements. Fischer quotes a sermon Greear preached when he spoke of loving our neighbors as Christ commanded, even those who are homosexual. Greear clearly states that our love for people as God's image-bearers is mandated. As you read the sermon transcript, it is clear that in no way does Greear state that homosexuality is not sin. In fact, he states the opposite as Scripture affirms. That taken with other postings, interviews, and especially the sermon Greear preached on Monday evening in Dallas at this year's SBC Pastor's Conference clearly affirms that Greear stands firmly on Scripture in calling sin what it is, but also calling Christians to fulfill the Great Commandment.

Yet, Fischer apparently reads this differently. He quotes:

But Greear is saying, it appears to me, that if it comes down to a choice between loving my neighbor or loving my position on homosexuality, I’m going to have to ditch my position on homosexuality. If my position on sexuality comes between me and my neighbor, then I’ve got to jettison the thing that’s in the way, my position on sexuality.

I would say the key phrase here is "it appears to me." To which I say to Mr. Fischer, you're wrong. What you deem as appearing to you is not what Greear has said, not only here in this message, but in the myriad of other statements and sermons.

If you have the time, go ahead and watch this message that Greear preached at the 2014 ERLC Conference on "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage." It seems to clear up what has been presented as contradictory by Mr. Fischer. I would post the sermon J.D. preached at this year's Pastors' Conference, but it is not available online at this time.

In case you wish to read Fischer's full article, it is available here. I sincerely hope the AFA will remove it. Nevertheless, I link it so you can read it for yourself. I don't want to be accused of pulling one paragraph out of context. 

I may be accused of simply standing up for someone I know. I am okay with that. I hope other brothers and sisters in our convention stand up as well. There will likely be many (there already have been some) who will write, preach, and speak against the leadership of J.D. Greear. J.D. is not perfect. He has, and will, make mistakes. However, I believe God has called him to this task for now. He is our convention president and many will be listening more closely to what he says and doesn't say over the next twelve months. 

To my friends who continue to listen to AFA Radio, support the work of this organization, and line up with all that is produced from them, please encourage them to remove the slanderous article that contradicts what Greear has declared historically. I'm not calling for a boycott of an organization that leads in boycotts, but maybe removing support should be considered. Would that be a boycott? Maybe.

J.D. Greear doesn't need me to make these statements on his behalf. Yet, as a brother in Christ, a fellow pastor and servant to our Lord, these statements need to be made. I hope others will agree, stand alongside J.D., praying for him and refuse to be caught in this tangle of misinformation, deceit, and untruths. 


Can We Get a Do Over? Thoughts on SBC 2018 in Dallas

Once more, we as Southern Baptists have had our convention. Yes, the actual Southern Baptist Convention only exists for two days each year. For the rest of the time, the SBC exists, but denominational details are covered by our Executive Committee. But, most people don't care about that.

We have just completed our two-day convention in Dallas, Texas. You may have noticed it trending on social media or things said about it on television or radio. Even in years when we think there will be no controversial aspect...there always tends to be one that pops up.

Hurricane Dallas

For those of us who live in Florida and other coastal states, we understand how a forming hurricane in the Atlantic affects us. We get notified on the local news or Weather Channel days before any storm makes landfall. We watch the swirling graphics online for days as anxiety builds up, wondering if the storm will hit near home and if so, how much damage it will bring. In the literal sense, we have experienced these storms in our state (Florida) and in neighboring areas all too often.

In a way, this year's SBC meeting felt like a hurricane. We knew there would be divisive issues. We knew going in with the situation at our Executive Committee with Dr. Frank Page having to resign and the most recent issues leading to Dr. Paige Patterson's dismissal at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that once the microphones were turned on, varying views would be expressed and those on stage would be put on the spot to answer well. 

Other things were brewing as well, especially issues regarding racial unity and abuse. 

So, like a hurricane, we have been waiting and watching for weeks, until this week. We prayed that the storm that seemed inevitable would dissipate and our meeting would be healthy, peaceful, and lead us forward.

God answered that prayer. There were great moments at our gathering. There were significant moves forward regarding race relations, gender issues, abuse issues, etc. Of course, there was not enough done for everyone to be satisfied, but steps forward in these areas did take place.

Steps Backward

Yet, the storm did hit. This Texas two-step allowed us to take a step forward, but in some ways, a couple backward as well.

The change in agenda that provided a venue for Vice-President Mike Pence seems to have done more to harm our convention than many realize. I believe we're resilient and will be okay in the days to come, but the fact remains, in my opinion, this was a bad idea. Damage was done and it prayerfully, will not be lasting.

In years past other sitting elected officials have spoken at SBC meetings. Those were divisive as well I am sure, but that was then. This is now. Just a short journey down a Twitter feed with #SBCAM18 and you will discover quickly that Southern Baptists were far from unified in viewing the appearance of the VP in a positive way. All the sudden a gathering for worship and denominational business turned into something most did not desire. Vice-President Pence is a brother in Christ. His message began with a word regarding his conversion and powerful words of personal surrender to Christ. For that, great applause for the greatness of our God. (I am not against Mr. Pence. So don't read what I'm not typing.)

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Yet, despite a handful of comments that were worthy of applause and uniting as Christians, the sad reality is that his speech turned quickly into little more than a "look what we have done for you in Washington" focus. While totally appropriate as a stump-speech for any political party, this was not appropriate or healthy for the stage upon which he stood.

Personally, I do not believe a sitting elected official should speak at the Southern Baptist Convention (and probably not in your local church either.) The pulpit (whether you use one or a table or just walk around) is reserved for the preaching of the Word of God. To stray from that causes confusion and waters down the gospel. As has been said many times, "When you mix politics and religion, you get politics." I'm not anti-politics. I believe Christians should be civic-minded and active. I wish we'd be more active sharing Christ than sharing our info on donkeys and elephants. Some Christians are greatly evangelistic about their political views, yet seem strangely silent about the gospel.

I guess for some getting the "right" person in Washington is more important than getting the "lost" person in heaven. <Tweet This>

I was warned by one of my deacons earlier in the month to be very careful what I say, tweet, post regarding our denomination, ministry foci, and politics. His wisdom is clear. I must be careful. I'm trying to be careful. I understand why he said this. He is older and wiser than me and knows that a person with good intentions can be left standing without a chair when the music stops in this sinful world. 

He's right.

As I reflect on this week, as I stated earlier, there are many things worth celebrating. There are also some things that must be called what they are - sin. I'm on no high horse. I have not arrived. I know this. Yet, as a pastor of an SBC church and as a messenger representing our church, I know we must make some changes. I don't know all the changes that must be made, but prayerfully, as God leads, our leaders will have ears to hear and follow His lead.

Some Great News

We heard stories of new church plants, like Kesavan Balasingham in Toronto. He's a friend of ours and part of the Send Toronto initiative. It's an incredible story. You should watch this video below:

 

We saw numerous new missionaries commissioned for service through our International Mission Board. Some had to keep their identities hidden due to safety precautions in the field.

We heard how God has raised up a church from the ashes of tragedy as Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri shared what God is doing in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Let's just say, the reality of what this brother and sister have gone through, the loss of their friends, the devastation of their church, and the murder of their daughter in the shooting last year reminds all of us that much of what we get frustrated about in church doesn't matter at all. Pastor Pomeroy brings perspective. 

College campus church plants are growing and we heard how planters are doing this work on the universities and colleges in our nation as true church plants for the nations, built to send, especially since the congregation is only there for four or five years (or more for that one guy working on the bachelors degree on the ten-year plan.)

We heard detailed information, that wasn't desired but needed, regarding our denominational statistics. This bores some people, but cannot be ignored. CP giving is down, baptisms are down, disciple-making is down. The good news is that more than a resolution or a vote, there seems to be a real, concerted effort for churches to first, get real numbers, and second, do the work of an evangelist and be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. No program will fix this, but to ignore the reality is to continue to pretend that everything is okay when it is not.

A nine-year old boy made a motion during the business portion. It was likely written up with help from his parents, but when this boy asked that the SBC put on the official emphasis calendar a focus on Children's Ministry, the place erupted. Why? Well, because the redhead boy did a great job reading that motion and we were all cheering him on. Also, we need to remember that kids aren't just the group that we put in the back room and show a Veggie Tales video. To be churches that equip families and lead parents to be their children's lead disciple-makers, this emphasis is needed. And...a child making the motion means he was an official messenger from his church. He was in the room (then at throughout the sessions) and was engaged. Yay mom and dad! What a message.

We elected J.D. Greear as our president and A.B. Vines and Felix Cabrera as vice-presidents. These are one-year terms. I believe these men were not just elected by SBC messengers, but called by God for such a time as this. They need our prayers. They need our support.

Sbc leaders

There's more, but then you can read those updates elsewhere.

So, Why Do I Want a Do Over?

I don't want a re-do on the good things, but the other things seem to be all that is reported and remembered. Negativity sells and negativity trends. The title of this blog may be negative as well. I hope not.

I perceive a sense of "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time" pervaded in some of the planning. Yet, when 40% of an almost 9,000 member crowd of Christian brothers and sisters say "NO," I would say it is worth revisiting the original plan. That's my congregationalism showing.

There were some hateful things said to others in the room. Some were said at microphones on the floor. Some were said in the room, but just loud enough for those around to hear. Word is a SWBTS trustee was verbally chastised by a messenger (which they have the right to do) in front of his son and it left the boy in tears. 

Sometimes Christians just don't act Christ-like. And, all of us have been guilty of that.

What would I do differently? Oh, it's easy to say "don't do that" and "do this" but that's like Monday morning quarterbacking. I know we can't get a do-over, but we can move forward. We don't need to forget the missteps of this year's meeting. We need to remember and learn. 

We also don't need to forget the good and great things either. Sometimes, I fear we don't celebrate well. These things need to be taken home to our local churches and shared. In spite of the very real negative, there are very real positives as well. The news and the tweets often don't share those, but we as pastors must. 

Truly, many in our churches have no idea, and do not care really, about what happens at our annual meetings. Yet, we must remember that as a cooperating group of Baptists (even with our crazy uncles and cousins) God has placed us together for His glory and our good and the good of our communities.  


Why Our Jacksonville Statement on Gospel Unity & Racial Reconciliation Is Needed

Approximately three months ago, I was asked to co-chair a team of pastors in our city (Jacksonville, Florida) by our Lead Missional Strategist of the Jacksonville Baptist Association. Along with Pastor Elijah Simmons of Mt. Horeb Baptist Church in Jacksonville, we agreed to serve with these brothers in order to put together a document we hoped would never be needed, but clearly is. 

The team of pastors who agreed to serve on this Gospel Unity Team, in addition to Pastor Simmons and me, include:

Why The Need?

Clearly racial tension in America is high. You would think that we would be beyond this by now, right? While division among many based on race continues within the world, the grievous reality is that the church falls prey to the enemy's divisive tactics as well. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was necessary and an answer to prayer for many. Yet, we are reminded that while needed, right political action does not change the heart. Only God does that. 

Sadly, many (not all) churches and church leaders remained silent during the 1950s and 1960s and beyond as racial equality was debated in the public forum (and sadly, many of those "debates" were one-sided and sinfully devised, especially when "separate but equal" was considered normal and fire hoses and dogs were on the debate teams.)

"But this is 2018, things are better now." I'm sure that's true comparatively. I would never wish to insult those who lived through the most terrible times most only now read about his history books or at memorials. While things may be better, for some, we are far from a place where we can sit back and say "done." There's much work yet to accomplish and as Christians, the church must never again find itself muzzled when the fullness of the gospel must be proclaimed.

Much has been said, more eloquently and from stronger perspectives than I can offer, but when churches and pastors serving side-by-side in a city like ours begin to question even being in the same network due to what others (pastors and Christians) have posted on social media, shared, or commented upon that does nothing for the work of God's Kingdom and actually elevates division, it is no longer an option to remain silent.

That's why this statement on gospel unity is needed.

The SBC Statements

As Southern Baptists, we own a rich, but also troubling legacy. Much has been written about our founding. Repentant statements and resolutions have been made over the years. All needed, but as we all know, resolutions without action leave us empty. At this coming Southern Baptist Convention in June, another resolution will be presented. The statement to be presented is available here in its entirety.  If brought to the floor for a vote, I plan to affirm this statement. 

Yet, for many local church members, national statements may remain unheard.

What about our city?

What about our churches?

What do we believe regarding the racial tensions that exist?

More than that, what does the Bible reveal that we must hold to as truth?

Our statement gives clear, brief, and biblical answers to these questions. Our prayer is that this helps the local church stay on mission and that biblical unity in Christ not only occurs but remains. 

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Jacksonville Statement

Our statement was comprised following two months of meetings that included much prayer, conversation, "word-smithing," and considerations of how others would receive the message. The statement is now available at the Jacksonville Baptist Association website. We hope to soon offer a way for pastors and church members to sign their names to the statement as well. Our desire is to remove anything that promotes unclarity and to have this statement, rooted in God's inerrant Word, as our clear beliefs regarding needed gospel unity and racial reconciliation.

 

JACKSONVILLE STATEMENT ON GOSPEL UNITY 

RACIAL RECONCILIATION & THE JACKSONVILLE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION

“Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

- Ephesians 4:1-6 (CSB) -

Preamble

As evangelical Christians we acknowledge the reality that division and disunity are tools of the Enemy against the proliferation and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether in families, local church bodies, neighboring churches, or even denominational entities, division has unfortunately been far too normative throughout church history.

Race, as commonly defined, refers to the various ethnicities, skin colors, and cultural heritages of human beings.  As evangelical Christians, we acknowledge the sinful divides among those of differing races that, at times, have been ignored or worse, excused within the church.

Reconciliation refers to the acknowledgement of human brokenness and the need for restoration to God through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20-23). In that he has reconciled humanity to himself, Christians are to be reconciled one to another, as children of God (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Great strides toward reconciliation occurred in the United States throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Yet, many continue to experience great division and painful separation due to ethnicity, cultural heritage, and/or race. While acknowledging much has been done to reconcile over recent decades, it is clear we have far to go.

Racial reconciliation for Christians is not solely, or even primarily, a political issue. Racial reconciliation for Christians is not merely a social justice issue. Racial reconciliation for Christians is not a public relations issue. Racial division is a sin issue. Therefore, racial reconciliation for Christians is a gospel unity issue.

To ignore sin is to affirm sin. Therefore, the pastors and leaders serving together in local churches and denominational entities have deemed it right, timely, and proper to present a clear, concise, biblically-founded, gospel-centered statement on gospel unity and racial reconciliation.

We believe that God has created all humanity in His image, male and female, with diverse skin tones and ethnic histories. As image-bearers we exist for the glory of God knowing that brings us the greatest good. We believe that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone and that he died so that all may be saved (John 3:16). This offer is for all people and therefore, believing clarity on the issues of unity and racial reconciliation among believers, we offer the following affirmations and denials.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue.

WE DENY that racial reconciliation is solely a social issue.

Matthew 15:21-28; Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 1:9-10, 13; 2:1-10, 13, 14-22; 3:3-5

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that the gospel alone offers hope and celebrates what the world fears.[1]

WE DENY that anything other than God and the full message of the gospel provide the hope and answers needed for humanity.

Psalm 28:7; 46:2-3; Lamentations 3:18; Matthew 12:21; Romans 8:24-25; 12:12; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 11:1, 7; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 3:3

Article 3

WE AFFIRM the biblical teaching of race references the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish peoples.

WE DENY the definition of race that creates a racial hierarchy based on inferred biological inferiority.

Leviticus 19:34; Acts 8:26-40; Romans 10:12; Ephesians 2:11-3:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that Scripture teaches that Canaan was cursed by Noah due to his son Ham’s actions and that Cain was marked by God following the murder of his brother Abel.

WE DENY the curse of Canaan, often called the “Curse of Ham” and the mark of Cain, wrongly defined as a change of his skin color, refers to racial superiority or inferiority or has anything to do with differing skin tones of people.

Genesis 4:15; 9:20-25; 10:6

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that gospel-centered racial reconciliation is a pursuit of love for others flowing from Holy Spirit-empowered obedience of those who repent, believe in the cross and resurrection of Jesus by faith, and are justified by faith in Christ.[2]

WE DENY that ethnic diversity is synonymous with gospel-centered racial reconciliation.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Matthew 25; John 13:34; Acts 10:34-35; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:32; James 2:8

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, lifelong union between one man and one woman, regardless of race or ethnicity, for His glory, signifying the covenant love between Christ and His church.

WE DENY that marriage between a man and woman from differing racial or ethnic backgrounds to be sinful.

Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:6; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:22-23; 28-29; 31

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that pastors are uniquely called and positioned to shepherd their people toward gospel-centered racial reconciliation understanding that diversity is actually at the heart of the gospel.[3]

WE DENY that racial reconciliation can be forced upon others through human means.

John 21:15-17; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-2

Article 8

WE AFFIRM the resolutions approved at Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings repenting of the sins of racism, most notably slave-holding, of past generations, and the need for continued work toward gospel-centered racial and ethnic unity.

WE DENY that the sins of past generations can be ignored and need not be acknowledged.

Nehemiah 9:1-2; Jeremiah 6:16; Daniel 9:16

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that all human beings are image bearers of God.

WE DENY the validity, truthfulness, and right standing of any and all organizations, groups, or individuals claiming racial superiority of any kind.

Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:15; James 3:9; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 7:9

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that unity in our churches must be founded in Christ alone.

WE DENY that unity in our churches can be founded in political ideologies or national identity.

Psalm 20:7; 133:1; Daniel 2:21; Matthew 6:33; Romans 8:28; 13:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:13-15; Jude 3; Revelation 7:9-12

_____

            [1] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Root Cause of the Stain of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention” in Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, eds. Kevin M. Jones and Jarvis J. Williams (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2017), 5.

            [2] Jarvis J. Williams, “Biblical Steps Toward Removing the Stains of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention” in Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, eds. Kevin M. Jones and Jarvis J. Williams (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2017), 30.

            [3] Jamaal Williams, “Intentionally Cultivating Multicultural Churches,” Light Magazine, Winter 2016, 27.


The One Thing That Will Fix the Southern Baptist Convention

As a child and teenager attending my conservative Southern Baptist church, I knew nothing of the theological and organizational controversies taking place at the upper levels of the Southern Baptist Convention. The only inkling I had that something was not right in SBC-land was when I was living in Ohio as a junior higher and our pastor resigned from our church to attend seminary. At that point, I had to be educated on what seminary was. We lived in Dayton, Ohio and I heard someone in the church ask the pastor if he was going to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky. That would make sense logistically since Louisville is only about three hours away. Our pastor said there was no way he could attend SBTS and that he would be enrolling in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. He explained something related to theology and not agreeing with what was happening at SBTS. I really didn't know what he was talking about. (Thankfully, SBTS is now a highly recommended conservative, biblically-grounded SBC seminary. I am currently studying for my doctorate there.)

My family soon moved to Fort Worth as well when my dad was transferred there. Following high school and four years in college, I surrendered to God's pastoral call into full-time vocational ministry and enrolled at SWBTS. 

I had been an active Southern Baptist my entire life, but the denominational politics, the conservative resurgence, and other elements of SBC life were basically unknown to me. I just knew that I loved Jesus. I wanted to serve him. I felt called. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be used by God. And, I knew pastors and leaders who recommended SWBTS as my next step. 

Those years at SWBTS were wonderful for me. My love for SWBTS makes recent events more grievous for me.

My naïveté regarding SBC politics soon melted as a student at SWBTS. I began to understand the need for a conservative resurgence and discovered that much of that process had already happened as this was the early 1990s and the shift was now seemingly inevitable. For that, I remain grateful. 

The conservative resurgence was needed and I am thankful for those who did what must be done in order for it to happen. Yet we know that there was a great cost for this turn. I affirm what Dr. Albert Mohler, President of SBTS has stated...

The American denominational landscape has experienced significant shifts in recent times, but one major story stands out among them all—the massive redirection of the Southern Baptist Convention. America's largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention was reshaped, reformed, and restructured over the last three decades, and at an incredibly high cost.

For years, the SBC made the news. This was due to the conflict within our ranks. Unity was a concept sought, but not experienced. 

Then, after conservatives took leadership, things settled down a bit. Those who would not remain in the SBC left, forming other organizations and networks. The annual meetings were not as divisive and dramatic. The only big surprise at annual meetings for years seemed to center on what Pastor Wiley Drake may say when he found opportunity to speak in the open forum at one of the microphones. 

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Then, things began to be shaken up.

Political viewpoints partnered with racial statements by some, either in hallways or on the microphones, left many wondering where their place was in the SBC. Presidential elections for the most part were not dramatic. In many cases, we just had two conservatives running against each other. There for years a sense that those who were instrumental in the conservative resurgence would "get their turn" and be nominated with expectation to be elected as SBC president. For the most part, this happened (well, except when Dr. Frank Page was elected in 2005 and 2006.) 

Questions

For the first time in years, I now have church members asking what we are going to do as Southern Baptists.

I have church members and friends asking me who I will vote for as president this year. In the past, if anyone asked anything of me regarding the convention it was "Are you going to the SBC this year?"

I have a number of people asking my take on what just happened this week at my alma mater regarding Dr. Paige Patterson. I'm asked what I would do if a woman came to me after being physically assaulted by her husband (easy answer - call the cops.)

Questions now come regarding racial issues and social justice.

Questions about the news stories regarding the aforementioned Dr. Page have come. 

There are many questions, and as we have already seen earlier this week, Baptist pastors are not immune to letting anger and fear lead to wrong statements and offensive social media posts. 

A Reckoning in the SBC

It is clear there is something wrong in my SBC. It is sad. It is humiliating. It is embarrassing. It is not to be ignored.

Dr. Albert Mohler wrote a poignant article about this earlier this week. Full article is here. Of all that Dr. Mohler said, this stuck out to me:

Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.

Sadly, I agree.

So, Now What?

Here's what I know will NOT fix the SBC...

  • A resolution won't fix our problems.
  • A high-level political strategy won't fix our problems.
  • Meetings with high-ranking politicians won't fix our problems.
  • Finely-crafted press releases won't fix our problems.
  • Ignoring and excusing the sins of others, even those we love, appreciate, and respect, won't fix our problems.
  • Venerating SBC warriors and heroes won't fix our problems.
  • Shifting away from biblical complementarianism won't fix our problems.
  • Bowing to cultural mandates won't fix our problems.
  • Standing proudly as self-righteous American evangelicals won't fix our problems.

This list could go on and on, but this blog post is already too long, so I'll slow down. 

Our problems are not public relations problems.

We know what we need and it's not a tepidly defined revival (though true revival is needed.) We need to submit to God during these days.

We need the right man, his man, as our SBC president and we need SBC messengers to vote for that man, not against another. Each man running for president, as I have stated before, is not only qualified, but godly. One has preached at our church. The other has partnered with our church in helping send a church planter to a nearby city. Qualifications of these men are not questioned. Yet, for such a time as this, I believe we will be well served having J.D. Greear as our SBC president. I was sent this link earlier today by a friend and appreciate Greear's timely and wise words. 

Yet, even J.D. Greear (or Ken Hemphill) won't fix our problems.

We, the SBC, have been humiliated and this has been done by God, I believe. Humbled may be a better word, but it feels humiliating.

God does not need the SBC and we must acknowledge this. <Tweet This>

What embarrassing event will happen next? What will be revealed? I don't know. In all honesty, I don't believe we have dealt well with our most recent embarrassment, so we definitely are not positioned for another.

The One Thing

Yet, God has given us an option. We don't need to ask what God's will is for the SBC. We need to read His Word once more (not that we haven't been) just  to remind ourselves what his will is (it hasn't changed,) then move back "into it."

How does that happen? One repentant heart at a time. Repentance that leads to transformation, to change, to humble service to our Lord, to the mission of Kingdom work.

Friends, brothers, sisters - we have sinned. Since we are the SBC, we are complicit. The wages of sin remain the same as they always have. We must turn from the ways of pride, selfishness, idolatry, and more, and return humbled to the Lord. I don't believe he is through with the SBC, but we must remember that he does not need us. We need him.

That One Thing? Repentance.

 

 


Can Anything Good Come From Dallas This Summer? - The Southern Baptist Convention 2018

Every summer, messengers from Southern Baptist churches throughout the world gather in predetermined cities for our annual meeting. This year it will be in Dallas, Texas in June. For those outside the SBC tribe, this is basically a two-day business meeting where elections for denominational officers take place, reports from denominational entities occur, along with other meetings and some powerful times of worship, preaching, and fellowship. 

The SBC annual meetings often make the news for things done or left undone. Then, the news cycle shifts and for the most part, outside the member churches and denominational entities, others in the culture pay little attention to SBC happenings. I have been to numerous meetings where the consensus going in from many attendees has been "Well, there's nothing controversial on the docket this year, so this should be a pretty low-key gathering." Those sentiments are often shed once business starts. Inevitably, there are some questions asked from the floor or things said from the podium that trend on Twitter and other social media outlets and in today's instant-media world, these get picked up by others to make the SBC newsworthy once more to a culture that varies from not caring to being totally opposed to evangelical Christianity and a biblical worldview.

I am concerned, not worried, at what I am seeing take place in our denomination and member churches and entities leading up to our annual meeting. There are some key decisions to be made this year and some will take place prior to our annual gathering, others at the annual meeting, and still others following.

For decades, a semblance of "controversy" has defined the SBC. Depending on one's perspective, the latest large-scale conflict began in 1979 with what has been termed the Conservative Resurgence. In full disclosure, I am glad this resurgence took place. It was needed. 

There have been other issues over the years, and as we move toward our 2018 meeting in Dallas, there is much stirring in the SBC world.

I remember the good old days (about three months ago) when the only thing being discussed and debated was the SBC presidential election between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill. Now, there are other things talked about and discussed (online, in the mainstream press, and among Baptist leaders and church members) that cause many to see 2018 as a potentially conflicted and controversial meeting.

Questions regarding leadership of denominational entities are on the front-burner. Continued (needed) discussion on racial reconciliation and unity moves to the front as well. Questions centered on sexism and abuse have produced petitions and will become discussion topics as well. Trustee meetings for different entities are happening. One friend lamented to me "These are dark days for the SBC." Perhaps, but let us not lose hope. For such a time as this, SBC messengers will gather for the glory of God and the good of the church.

There will be difficult decisions ahead. Some will be made by individuals, others by trustees, still others by the full body of messengers in attendance. 

We often say "The world is watching" as a reminder to ensure we say and do the right things. Yet, I am reminded that we have a more important audience than the world. God is not only watching, but guiding and if these are "dark days" then we need to be sure we walk in the Light. <Tweet This>

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SBC Annual Meeting 2018 - Dallas, Texas

I fully believe that all the issues being discussed must be discussed. Therefore, I call for all SBC church members and messengers to pray now and continually (and strategically) as we move toward our gathering in Dallas this June 12-13 (with the Pastor's Conference on June 11-12).

Presidential Election

Here's a truth that many may struggle to believe. IT IS POSSIBLE to actually like both candidates for SBC president. J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill are both godly men who will be officially nominated for the one-year term of SBC president by other godly men. I like both of these candidates. I appreciate both men's service to the Lord and his Kingdom and to our denomination. Each will lead well if elected. While some love creating division and seek to utilize ungodly tools to tear down others, I will not.

I have only one vote, I will vote as I believe God has led me to do. I plan to place my vote for J.D. Greear to be SBC president. My vote is NOT a "no vote" for Dr. Hemphill. I believe Dr. Greear is God's man for these days for our denomination. 

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Dr. J.D. Greear (L) and Dr. Ken Hemphill (R)

Denominational Leadership

The trustees of the Executive Committee have been meeting and have a heavy task ahead of them following the departure of Dr. Frank Page. Whether a recommendation for president of the EC is presented in June or not, these men and women need our prayers.  I affirm these recommendations for the next president as written on the Baptist 21 blog - "8 Suggestions for the Next President of the SBC Executive Committee"

The International Mission Board trustees are prayerfully considering new leadership upon the departure of Dr. David Platt back to local church ministry. While this, from my perspective, does not seem controversial, it is a vital decision for one of our major denominational boards. 

As you are likely aware, the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will be gathering at the end of May for a specially-called meeting. It is no small undertaking to call such a meeting and the cost of hosting such is high. Therefore, it is clear that this meeting will result in some decisions surrounding Dr. Paige Patterson and the presidency of SWBTS. I have no insight into the inner-workings of these trustee meetings, but I know that those who serve have a heaviness of responsibility upon them. 

Regardless where you stand on any of the decisions being made or potentially to be made, it is clear that "the times they are a changin'" and we (SBCers) better do well and right.

Racial Reconciliation

It amazes me that in 2018 the issues of racial division seems to be growing, not lessening in our nation. Yet, I shouldn't have been surprised. Sin remains. Latent sin is awakened when others stoke the fires of division. On the heels of the MLK50 Conference (which I gladly attended) and with last year's SBC in Phoenix where we (messengers) stumbled badly on a resolution focused on racial reconciliation, we have another resolution being offered up for vote. My friend Cam Triggs, Pastor of Grace Alive Church in Orlando, is one of the signatories of the resolution. I affirm the wording of this resolution and pray that we will overwhelmingly approve it as SBC messengers. You can read it here.

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Can Anything Good Come From This?

The question reeks with foreboding. Yet, I believe that great good can result from our gathering this summer in Dallas. For two days, we will be gathering for worship, preaching, teaching, and fellowship at the SBC Pastors Conference led by my friend, Dr. H.B. Charles, Jr. I know he and his planning team have prayed over and prepared for this weekend gathering. The Word will be preached boldly. God will be glorified. The church will be benefited. More than that, I believe we, the attendees will be affirmed in areas, convicted in areas, and renewed for that which is to come (the next days' annual meeting and the weekly gatherings in local churches throughout the SBC.)

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SBC Pastors Conference 2018

I believe that we will unify on that which matters most - the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not that we have ignored this, but in times of trial and controversy, we are thrust back to the basics. Political positioning, polity negotiations, clear talking points, or any other human talent or skill will not unite us for that which we must do. It is in Christ alone we find our unity and solid ground. Will everyone leaving the meetings be in full agreement regarding decisions made? Well, no...we are Baptists, and more than that, we are human. Yet, in the essentials, we must be unified. May we "fulfill our ministry" to "testify" to the world the unchanging, life-saving, message of the gospel. 

We are being watched. Let's just be sure we're focusing on the right audience.


I'm That Kind of White Person

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When Matt Chandler, Pastor of The Village Church, spoke at the MLK50 Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, he asked this question...

"What kind of white people come to a conference like this? That wasn't a joke. I don't know why you all are giggling. Because if you look at Twitter, it looks like there ain't no white people in the fight."

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition

The question was part of Chandler's longer message. It wasn't the key point. It was, however a question that elicited some laughter from some, raised eyebrows from others, and an immediate challenge to one white pastor from the suburbs who traveled to Memphis with friends to attend the conference.

Fifty years ago, on a balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed by an assassin. At age thirty-nine, Dr. King was standing in the crosshairs (tragically, literally) of a divide in our nation between races. He was celebrated by some and vilified by others. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively ended segregation, the racial divide in the nation continued. 

Sadly, even Christians were taking sides and fighting over allowing people of color to join or attend churches designated as "white churches" for generations. For a man born the year Dr. King was assassinated, it is impossible for me to understand fully, other than through reading historical accounts, listening to testimony, and watching documentaries of the era, what was happening in our nation.

Yet, here we are, fifty years later. That's five decades of living in an America that proclaims that racial division is a historical story, not a current one. At least that's the narrative. We now understand that while Dr. King's "dream" is celebrated, the division between races, most notably between some blacks and some whites, exists. Not only does it exist, but it seems to be widening as everything is politicized, messages are shortened to be tweetable, and biblically speaking, our enemy still seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

As is the case with everyone, I tend to view life from a particular set of lenses. These lenses can be defined a number of ways, such as white, male, middle-class, suburban, evangelical, conservative, Christian, Baptist, pastoral, tall, formerly athletic, etc. 

That's not an apology. That's just a reality. In fact, I am not sorry that I am any of those things. Well...I am sorry that I'm formerly athletic. I really need to do something about that (typing as I drink my morning coffee and eat a donut.)

Nevertheless, recognizing that viewpoints are different, based on numerous factors, the truth becomes clear - I do not...no I cannot fully know what it is like to live as a black man today. Even if I attempted to pull off a John Howard Griffin Black Like Me charade, it would not be authentic. It may be insightful, but it would be temporary and fake. 

One of my friends in ministry, an African-American pastor, was speaking in a group around a table and was describing some things unique to his journey. He looked to me and said "You know how it is, right?" I had to answer, "I don't. Why? Because I'm a white man and while we are brothers in Christ, the fact remains that we have different experiences and some of those are based on the color of our skin. So, you're going to have to help me understand."

Unity Not Uniformity

Dr. Eric Mason's message on gospel unity was clear, powerful, and convictional. Unity is needed in the body of Christ. Yet, unity is not uniformity. For some, this is a hard concept to grasp it seems. Uniformity states that everyone must look alike, share the same heart language, culture, and heritage.

It is not the outward accoutrements that unify the Body. It is Christ alone that brings unity. And it is this that the Enemy attacks continually. Doctrine unifies the church. The gospel unifies the church. Skin tone, heart language, cultural heritage, clothing style, economic level, etc. are not the unifying items that allow Christians to call each other brother and sister. It is the cross of Christ that brings unity among those who come from varied backgrounds. This must be declared and lived, and not ignored.

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition

Segregated Sunday Mornings

Its has been said for years that Sunday mornings in our churches in America, remains the most segregated hour still. There are exceptions, but there are many instances in the evangelical world where this still remains true. Dr. Charlie Dates preached on Tuesday evening of the conference. His assigned topic was the continually segregated church. Addressing the crowd, Dr. Dates challenged churches to tear down the remaining walls of segregation, acknowledging that many are not intentionally divided. The address by Dr. Mason the following day chastised rightly, the predominantly white churches seeking to be multi-ethnic by simply hiring a person of color for their staff team, who otherwise was unqualified. Therefore, the call is to gospel living, not just gospel preaching. 

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition 

Not All Christians Celebrate

Using Dr. King's assassination as the backdrop for the conference allowed speakers and attendees to have open and clear dialogue that often does not happens. It has become clear based on blog articles, tweets, and social media postings, that not everyone celebrated the idea of a gospel-centric event connected with Dr. King's legacy. Some even have equated what was said in the MLK50 Conference to other events in the city of Memphis commemorating the 50th anniversary. While all MLK50 events and gatherings held in Memphis (and there were numerous unrelated events) centered on the assassination, not all were focused on ensuring the gospel was proclaimed and biblical fidelity upheld. And, based on some things I have read from Christian writers and pastors, some of those would even declare what was preached and stated at the MLK Conference I attended was not biblical. 

Whenever Christians speak about race, a dividing line develops. The vitriol that is spouted from believers and followers of Christ is done often under the guise of contending for the gospel, but actually comes across as anything but.

Would I agree with every word spoken by every speaker and attendee at the MLK50 Conference? No. Yet, I do agree that the gospel is unchanging, is true, and is vital for the church in all areas of worship, service, and ministry.

There are documented questions about Dr. King's theology. Debates rage about what he truly believed and what he didn't when it comes to orthodoxy. These were not ignored at the conference. There was no sugar-coating of some of the difficult topics. Dr. John Piper addressed his feelings on this well in his sermon.

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition 

For Those Tired of Apologizing

It has been said many times, by many people - even those within the church - that they are tired of apologizing for the sins of the past, especially the sins of our ancestors. I have heard this from white Christians (and being that I'm a white Christian, I'll just speak from this perspective.) As a Southern Baptist pastor, I remember when the SBC adopted a resolution of repentance for the support of and ignoring of slavery as an issue in America. While the resolution passed, it was soon discussed by many that confessing the sins of long dead Southern Baptists seemed for some to be a waste, and for others unbiblical.

Yet, there is biblical precedent for the repentance of corporate sin of those in the past that had led to division and sinful behavior. The sin of ignorance once revealed, must be addressed. I cannot attest to the feelings of my black brothers and sisters who feel personally slighted when reading of the history and founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, but I acknowledge the real pain (even though the pain was felt at first by their ancestors) and hurt experienced. 

I was recently studying the book of Ezra and noticed in chapter 9 that he was compelled and convicted by God to lead the people into a time of repentance and confession of sins that originated with their fore-bearers. In this case, it was the sin of intermarrying non believers of God. It wasn't a racial intermarriage, that was condemned. It was a faith intermarriage that was condemned by God. Yet, the ancestors of these people had done so and it had gone unconfessed for generations. I wrote of that here.

From this, it becomes clear that we are the pastors, leaders, Christians today who must stand for truth, affirm the gospel unapologetically, and humbly repent of sins that continue to divide and work against the unity in the faith that God commands.

Yet, once confessed, the realization that the road ahead remains. Therefore, as we glance and address that which is in the rear view mirror, may we be united in the gospel as we move forward, not simply for a dream articulated by a man in the 1960s, but a message and commission declared by God to His church, for His glory and our good.

Why This White Guy Attended

Simply put - I attended this conference because I know there is a chasm in our nation, and in our churches that can only be healed through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I admire much of what Dr. King stood for, and his bravery exhibited through his ministry. I do not ignore the questions addressed by Dr. Piper and others at the conference. I know, as do pastor friends, that Dr. King was far from perfect, just as we are. I also know that he should not have been assassinated. Yet, as we reflect on an era in our nation where division defined us, we hope that things are better today...only to realize we may not have progressed as far as many think.

I attended because I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I attended because to ignore the racial divide in our churches and nation makes me as complicit as those who did so in generations past. 

I did not attend to please anyone in particular or to anger anyone in particular, but I sense that I likely have done both.

I guess I'm the kind of white person who is honestly seeking to live for the sake of the gospel, unapologetically lead others to Christ as God draws them to Himself, and to not be guilty of sinning privately or corporately by remaining silent about the things that matter to God and his church.

_________________

All videos and the complete sermons from the MLK50 Conference are available at The Gospel Coalition's Vimeo page here.


The Danger of the "Hebrew Roots" Movement

After leading five trips to Israel, spending time with and having deeply meaningful conversations with Jewish friends, learned teachers, guides, and theologians, I acknowledge that most Christians (myself included) have much to learn regarding Jewish traditions and the Hebrew roots of Christ and Christianity. Each trip to Israel reveals more that I had not previously known or acknowledged. Yet, the joy of these trips and these conversations is that the message of Scripture and the good news that is the Gospel is affirmed more and more, even as I seek to know more. 

It is true that during the days of the Byzantines especially and following, there was an effort by Christians and some in the church to erase the Jewishness from Jesus' story and the message of the New Testament. A cursory reading of the New Testament makes that assertion implausible.

The Jewish Jesus

Despite the ignorance and racism that precipitated such teaching, the facts remain - Jesus was Jewish. He spoke Hebrew. He likely spoke Hebrew more than has been acknowledged. He did not come to erase Torah (the law) or the teachings of the prophets but to fulfill them. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

To discount the Jewishness of Jesus is ignorant at best, sinfully racist at worst.

What is the Hebrew Roots Movement?

Despite the need to acknowledge and understand the Jewish heritage of Christ and the teachings within scripture that begin with the creation of humanity and celebrate the one true God through his covenant relationship with his chosen ones, there is a dangerous theology emerging (actually not new, just a modern version, albeit wrapped in Hebraisms, of gnosticism) categorized as the Hebrew Roots movement.

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Photo credit: CodyAHoffman on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Here's a good overview of the belief system as taken from gotquestions.org...

Hebrew Roots movement is the belief that the Church has veered far from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.

Those of the Hebrew Roots belief hold to the teaching that Christ's death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the hearts of His true followers. They teach that the understanding of the New Testament can only come from a Hebrew perspective and that the teachings of the Apostle Paul are not understood clearly or taught correctly by Christian pastors today. Many affirm the existence of an original Hebrew-language New Testament and, in some cases, denigrate the existing New Testament text written in Greek. This becomes a subtle attack on the reliability of the text of our Bible. If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted, as is charged by some, the Church no longer has a standard of truth.

Benefits of the Hebrew Roots Movement

As with many religious groups that claim their genesis in biblical Christianity, there are beneficial qualities of what many Hebrew Roots teachers proclaim. This is not unlike other groups who promote healthy living and morality, yet hold to biblically unorthodox theology. For Christians, learning details of Jewish life adds insight into many of the biblical stories, especially the parables and teachings of Christ. It is beneficial and good for believers to understand and study the feasts of Israel, the covenant teachings, and other aspects revealed through scripture, and even Jewish celebrations and teachings that are extra-biblical.

A study of Torah can enhance believers understanding of the teachings of Christ. Yet, while good for Gentile Christians to identify with Israel, it is not beneficial to identify as Israel. It is disingenuous at best.

Ultimately, the benefits of the Hebrew Roots movement are few and far between, and outnumbered by the dangers.

Grafted Branches

Gentile Christians have been grafted into God's chosen people. This is expressed by Paul in his letter to the Romans.

"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you." Romans 11:17-21 (ESV)

It should be noted, however, that the grafting in of Gentile believers is not into the Mosaic Covenant, but "they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs. They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews."(gotquestions.org)

The Danger of the Hebrew Roots Movement

Over the past few years, an increase of those who hold to the Hebrew Roots theology has occurred. Some Christians are abandoning traditional biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy (justified by Hebrew Roots believers since they believe the church corrupted beyond repair.) Seminary students, pastors, and self-taught theologians have joined the movement. The dangers are expressed well here...

The Hebrew Roots movement is dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a "higher path" and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught. Romans 7:6 says, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." Christ, in keeping perfectly every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, completely fulfilled it. Just as making the final payment on a home fulfills that contract and ends one’s obligation to it, so also Christ has made the final payment and has fulfilled the law, bringing it to an end for us all.

Ultimately, the Hebrew Roots followers, though well intentioned I'm sure, have believed in teachings that are not grounded in scripture, nor affirmed in the teachings of Christ, but sound biblical (as opposed to being biblically sound.) Inerrancy of the Word of God is abandoned by those who believe in a "better way" or who have slid into what is also called Yahwism or the Sacred Name Movement.

Can the Hebrew Roots believers line up alongside evangelical Christianity? Apparently not, by their own admission. At this point, Ephesians 4 and other passages are ignored and forsaken and unity in Christ is abandoned, as division grows and falsehood is propagated. This is grievous. 

Some good insight on related issues:

What is Yahwism? What is a Yahwist?

What is the Sacred Name Movement?


Your New Church Has Great Music, a Trendy Logo, and Looks Great On Instagram...But, That's Not Enough

Laura M. Holson recently (March 17, 2018) wrote an article about a young, large, fast-growing church in southern California for The New York Times. Dr. Albert Mohler referenced the article and church in his podcast The Briefing, posted on March 23, 2018.)

As I listened to Dr. Mohler's podcast and then read the article, I could not help but think "I know churches just like the one in the article!"

Pastors serving in a metropolitan or suburban (and perhaps in some rural) areas have noticed an uptick in new church starts intent on reaching the next generation. I am excited to see more churches in our city. I am so glad to see men step up, not just as a career choice, but due to a God calling (BTW - not all who seek to pastor, should. I wrote about that in the past here). That's why I serve in our city network as a church planting assessor, offer our facilities for new works, and seek to help those called into pastoral ministry as best I can.

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Now that I amazingly am an "old-timer" in our community since I've pastored here for over two decades, I often am asked about some of the new starts that pop up from my peers. Normally the question is something like "What's up with XYZ Church?" Sometimes I know the new pastor and have great things to say. Other times, I have yet to meet the new pastor and have no information to offer. Then, there are the other circumstances when I do know the pastor, know of his theology and focus, and seeking not to be negative, will just encourage others to pray for them (while never encouraging anyone to attend their church.)

Referencing the article from the NYT and Dr. Mohler's assessment once more, I noticed some things that stand out and should be addressed by evangelicals (based on a solid definition of the term). I list some of these below, in no particular order:

The Term "Evangelical" Has Become Almost Unusable

In America today, the term evangelical is used by some who understand the meaning to be related to an identified subset of Christianity that holds to biblical authority and the desire to reach out, or evangelize (thus, the name) those who are non-believers. This is a valid definition. It lines up with the explanation of the National Association of Evangelicals on their site:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

However, most recently the term "evangelical" has been muddied. The media uses the term to identify any church or Christian that cannot be categorized as Catholic or Protestant Liberal. More troubling, the term has become an identifier of a perceived political ideology. Christians are likely to blame for this.

Marketing Is Celebrated More Than Message

To be clear, I love specialty marketing stuff. I have no real issues with churches creating attractive logos and plastering them on shirts, hats, or other items. Maybe that's a hold over from my business classes in college. A well-designed logo becomes identifiable in a community. Churches seeking to connect with Millennials often utilize social media (Instagram and Snapchat primarily) to spread the word and create a sense of "coolness" for what they're doing. I'm not opposed to it. Just call it what it is. It is not evangelism. It is not discipleship. It is marketing. While not a bad thing, the church must remember that we have not been called to market well, but to be "salt" and "light" in the world (Matt 5:13-16), commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt 28:19-20).

In some churches, especially the ones referenced in the article, music is incredible, complete with the best sound systems, incredible musicians and smoke machines.

Yet, the message is somewhere an afterthought. The message is toned down into a stream of tweetable thoughts of positive thinking, self-belief, with just enough Jesus sprinkled in to allow the gathering to claim to be Christian. But, it's dangerous.

From Holson's article:

Mr. Veach believes he can save souls by being the hip and happy-go-lucky preacher, the one you want to share a bowl of açaí with at Backyard Bowls on Beverly Boulevard, who declines to publicly discuss politics in the Trump era because it’s hard to minister if no one wants to come to church. Jesus is supposed to be fun, right?

“I want to be loud and dumb,” Mr. Veach said with a wide, toothy grin. “That’s my goal. If we aren’t making people laugh, what are we doing? What is the point?”

Asked about abortion rights, Mr. Veach declined to give a specific answer. “At the end of the day I am a Bible guy,” he said.

Mr. Veach’s father shrugged about his son’s equivocation. “Last thing you want to do is turn off a whole demographic,” he said of today’s pastors. “If you draw lines in the sand, people are going to think God hates them.”

And Mr. Veach wants Zoe to be a refuge for many, against the rhetoric of so many other dogmatic evangelicals.

“From the time I’ve entered, and, maybe, just what we grew up in, it’s, like, you don’t bring politics into church,” he said. “We’re here to preach good news. We’re here to bring hope to humanity. We’re here to talk about God. This is not the place for a political agenda. This is the last place. When I come to church, you know what I need? I need encouragement.”

Dr. Mohler responds:

Now before we dismiss that statement entirely, there's something profoundly true in what he said. People do not come to church in order to talk about politics. That's not what their souls need. But what he said is fundamentally wrong and it ends up being actually, not only allergic to politics but antithetical to the gospel because he reduces what people do need to exactly the wrong word, encouragement. There have been far too many evangelical congregations that have talked more eagerly and more clearly about politics and political issues than they have about the gospel and that is to their shame. But the inescapable fact is that if you are 'a Bible guy" then that means you have to teach the Bible and it means you have to believe the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. It means that you have to preach the parts of the Bible that a contemporary society might find encouraging but it also means you've got to preach the parts of the Bible that a modern, very secular society will find anything but encouraging. Most importantly, if you claim to be committed to human flourishing, you have to be clear about whom the Bible identifies as a human and what flourishing would mean.

"Gospel Lite" with a Good Beat

Now, I do not know Mr. Veach. And, clearly, all I have to go on is what the church promotes online and an article written for The New York Times.

What I do know is that as I read the article about Zoe Church in southern California, as described in this article, I could not help but think of a few churches in our community that seem to have taken the exact blueprint for church launching and growth. They have great music, marketable goods, a trendy logo, an incredible social media presence. This is the Instagram and Snapchat generation and these churches are connecting well.

My concern is the sacrifice of good theology for the propagation of crowd gathering, bent solely on encouragement and good feels.

Many of these music-driven churches are based on others such as Hillsong, described in the NYT article as the "granddaddy of them all." Mohler says, "Hillsong is in many ways an updated millennial prosperity theology packed very well with contemporary music."

Worship Doesn't Have to Be a "No Smoking" Zone

To be clear, having a good band lead worship, complete with lights and even a smoke machine is not bad. Some lambast music styles, but I do not. I am firmly convinced authentic worship can take place through a variety of music styles. To argue otherwise is a waste of breath and ultimately moot.

However, just having good music does not excuse weak preaching. There are some incredible worship songs being written today and many have been sung regularly in churches throughout the world. Yet, the wise pastor would be careful to ensure the worship music (whether old hymns, country gospel, hip hop, modern praise, etc.) has strongly worded lyrics that affirm good theology.  A good rule of thumb is that if a band spends more time explaining why a lyric is biblical after being confronted by solid, biblically sound pastors regarding said lyric, the song should be deleted from the worship set.

I don't care if the band plays contemporary music. I don't care if there are lights and a smoke machine. I don't care that a trendy logo is slapped on various items. I really don't care if a church does that. My warning is to not major on the minors (all that stuff) and miss the main thing - the message of the gospel.

A Higher Standard

I care about these churches because I know some of their pastors and a good number of their members. I pray they will not sacrifice the good news for a good time.

However, if a local church proves to be more icing than cake, I will continue to pray for them and not recommend that anyone attend. 

And for those who counter "Well, they weren't going to church anywhere. At least that church is better than not going, right?" I say - "Probably not."

I care because I want people to come to Christ. I want the unreached reached. I want the lost found. I just don't want a fluffy, weak, watered-down version of Christianity to propagate.

There's too much at stake. 


Live for God and You Will Face a Sanballat & Tobiah

I have been leading our church through a study of Ezra and Nehemiah on Wednesdays recently. We have discussed much about the rebuilding of the Temple and walls of Jerusalem. We looked at the significance of rebuilding these structures and of the gates of the city as well.

As you who have studied these books know, there are a few characters who show up early in the book of Nehemiah that seek to discredit Nehemiah's leadership and put a stop to the work being done in the city. These men are Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

The main protagonists are Sanballat and Tobiah. At first, they start hurling insults at Nehemiah and the people. Then, the threats lead to potential physical attacks. They are opposed to the work of God and are doing their best to stop it.

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Photo credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Nehemiah is seeking to lead God's people well and honor God through the work. The enemies seek to place themselves first, not God nor his people. This is clear in the writings. 

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were men of influence. They had authority in the community due to their roles as governors and leaders of their regions. They represented people groups that were originally expelled from the Promised Land of God's people centuries prior. 

While it's not necessarily a good thing to ask "Where am I in this story?" when it comes to biblical narratives, primarily because that seems to place self at the center of God's stories. In this case, there are some things that are not only clear historically, but applicable for churches and Christian leaders today.

There are always Sanballats and Tobiahs

Most pastors I know have experienced this reality. When a pastor or Christian leader seeks to do great, impossible, God-sized things for the glory of God, there is always opposition. In other words, there's always a "Sanballat" and "Tobiah" in the midst. These may be community members or neighbors. Sometimes, they are actually members of the church. 

Over time they become easily recognizable. Here are some things that occur within the church that reveal a Sanballat and Tobiah may be in the room:

  • A sense of "me first" or "our group first" rises to the surface when community engagement and mission expansion are presented.
  • A pervasive negativity fills the room and is stoked by the Sanballats and Tobiahs. Negativity is like a cancer and can turn a joyous gathering of Christians into a complain-fest that sees nothing positive happening.
  • Vision dissipates.
  • A desire to go back rather than forward is often expressed.
  • An "us versus them" mentality is expressed, either overtly or covertly. The confusion may come in identifying the "us" and the "them." 
  • New ideas (or even old ones cemented in biblical truth) are opposed.
  • A number of pastors have heard the "We were here before you came here. We'll be here after you're gone." expression regularly.
  • A continued reminder of how big a failure you are as a pastor or leader (i.e. "You didn't visit enough," "Your sermons are negative diatribes," "You love 'them' more than 'us,'" "You're changing things and we don't like it," "Your family is rude/mean/loud/unruly/undisciplined/etc."

Here's the good news - your Sanballats and Tobiahs are just members of a long-lasting club. It's a club no one should want to be a member, yet continues to grow in number, it seems.

Pastor, be encouraged. There's no pastor who has not faced this. You are called to shepherd and serve. You are not perfect. You will make mistakes. Believe me, people will let you know when you make mistakes. Just remember that God called and equipped a king's cupbearer for an impossible task of rebuilding a stone wall with large wooden gates around a city. This task he (Nehemiah) was given was impossible. Then, while continually facing opposition, even from those who were working with him, he was opposed by Sanballat and Tobiah. Yet, he finished the task. The city was restored. God's good hand (Neh 2) was upon him. It is on you as well. Stay focused on the task, grounded in the gospel and respond to the negative attackers as Nehemiah did...

And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 (ESV) 

I love that! When Sanballat and Tobiah were working once more to distract and stop the work Nehemiah was called to do, he responds with "Can't talk now. The work of God I am doing now is too important." 

Take heart. You're not the first to face opposition. You' won't be the last. Don't waste time talking about it to those who are direly opposed to God and his work (regardless their position or title) and press on. Yes, this is easier said than done, but then most vital things are.

One other warning: Be careful not to become a Sanballat or Tobiah. It's really easy to slide into that mode, even justifying one's own sin while doing so.