Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Sermon Video: "No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"! - Romans 8:1-4

Having established, in Romans, that all of humanity is alike condemned for sin, the Apostle Paul has offered up salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, a gift from God, as the answer.  Here, in Romans 8:1, Paul emphatically declares just how far and how lasting that salvation really is.  Where once there was universal condemnation, now NO condemnation remains for each man, woman, and child who is in Jesus.  The implications are astounding (and the rest of Romans 8 will dive deeply into them), but for a moment just enjoy the wonder of being set free from sin and death.

Friday, January 27, 2023

When our polity fails us: Baptists and immoral pastoral leaders, what Johnny Hunt's 'restoration' teaches us


On January 15th, 2023 disgraced former mega church pastor and former executive vice-president of the  Southern Baptist Convention, Johnny Hunt returned, triumphantly and defiantly, to the pulpit.  It wasn't at his former church, but one under the pastoral leadership of a friend.  During his sermon, Hunt utilized Psalm 119 to lash out at his critics {portraying himself, the sexual perpetrator, deftly as the victim}, and made a case for pastoral infallibility that would have blown away our Baptist ancestors in the faith. {For a solid article with the details on Hunt's preaching appearance: Johnny Hunt, Disgraced Former SBC Pastor, Makes Defiant Return to the Pulpit - by Bob Smietana of Ministry Watch or Here’s Johnny! Embattled SBC pastor back in the pulpit and will headline a men’s conference - by Mark Wingfield of Baptist News Global

Building upon the thesis that God would have already known that one day Johnny Hunt would attempt to have sex with another man's wife (she characterized the incident as assault, he called it consensual), something that would normally be disqualifying for pastoral leadership in any church that takes seriously the Apostle Paul's high-demands for moral excellence and character on the part of pastoral leadership in the church, Hunt declared, "When God calls you to do something, and you begin to think you’re no longer qualified to do it, hold on just a moment—you don’t think he knew your past, your present, and your future when he called you? He already knew that, and yet he still placed his hand and his calling on you.”  In other words, because God knew Hunt would one day commit this sin, and because Hunt is convinced that his life in ministry was based upon a call from God, that call CANNOT now be revoked no matter what.  The implications of this are staggering theologically for a Church that has had far too many abusers, rapists, and murderers, and the like in pastoral leadership: as long as that person was already "called by God", they can continue to preach the Word of God.  Perhaps Johnny Hunt would object, and draw the line somewhere (beyond his own conduct, to be sure) to say that some sin is disqualifying, but why?  God would have known about the most heinous of sins ahead of time (true enough), and that individual was working in ministry, and thus presumably "called by God", therefore beyond being disqualified.  We know that Johnny Hunt believes in this thesis, he famously led a "restoration" ministry that was once so lauded by the SBC that they helped his church expand it nationally, returning an unknown number of pastors suffering from "moral failure" to active pastoral leadership: Ministry to hurting pastors to expand nationally - By Tobin Perry, Baptist Press, 2013 

The pastor of the church that offered Hunt the pulpit, Jason Rogers, said this, "We are thrilled to host Pastor Johnny Hunt at HomE Church. No one has been more greatly used of God to influence my ministry or as a greater, God-honoring influence on my family. Like myself, everyone in our church family, and everyone in the world, Pastor Johnny has not lived in sinless perfection as a believer. However, contrary to the ‘woke’ ideology that has sadly consumed the SBC and many believers, the Bible is clear that all sin is alike before the holiness of God. Sexual sin is not a greater sin in the sight of God. This is why we all need grace, mercy, repentance, and forgiveness."  Aside from the stunning lack of insight into how this glee looks in the wake of the SBC clergy abuse scandal, Pastor Rogers also fails to come to grips with the fact that while the Apostle Paul didn't expect Christians to be perfect, himself included, but he did purposefully write that pastoral leaders must be "above reproach, faithful to his wife" (1 Timothy 3:2).  Forgiveness from God?  Absolutely, if the repentance is genuine.  Reconciliation with the people of God and renewed fellowship?  Absolutely, again if the repentance is genuine.  Jumping right back into the pulpit (and lucrative conference lecture circuit)?  No, no, no.  

I know that to write or say such things is to paint a huge bright target on my own back, and I'm ok with that.  I hold myself to this high standard that Paul requires as a pastor, and also as a husband and father.  I will never cheat on my wife, in deed or in spirit, as it would not be an "indiscretion" or "mistake", it would be a betrayal of everything I am and do, and just as importantly, guaranteed pain and trauma to the two people I love most in this world.  

So I say, can't we at least have this as a standard?  The ship may have sailed on having political leaders who are faithful to their spouses, but must the Church abandon this too?  Are we so hard up for pastoral leaders that we need to recycle those whose leadership included "moral failures"?  Do those cheering on Johnny Hunt not see the utter hypocrisy that the world sees when the champions of "family values" celebrate pastors who havw made a mockery of their marriage vows?

Where Baptist polity comes into the equation

In the end, Baptists of any denomination have little recourse in such matters, the SBC included.  When a self-appointed group of four pastoral friends of Johnny Hunt declared him ready to return to ministry, the current president of the SBC, Bart Barber wrote, "The idea that a council of pastors, assembled with the consent of the abusive pastor, possesses some authority to declare a pastor fit for resumed ministry is a conceit that is altogether absent from Baptist polity and from the witness of the New Testament. Indeed, it is repugnant to all that those sources extol and represent."  He went on to add that he would have "defrocked" Hunt if such power rested with the SBC president, but it doesn't.  Which is the whole point.  

Baptist pastors are appointed, and ordained, by local churches, as myself was by the First Baptist Church of Palo, MI.  The larger units: associations, regions, and denominations, have no power to do likewise, nor do they have the power to withdraw that local church approval because of immoral conduct or heretical teaching, only that local church retains the power {The local association can remove its recognition of what the local church has done in ordaining someone, or refuse to accept it in the first place, but that is all.}  Thus, unless the church that ordained Johnny Hunt were to act to revoke his ordination, it still stands in the eyes of Baptist polity.  Yet, even if they did, it would not prevent other Baptist churches from inviting Hunt to preach, a role that does not require ordination.  Long story short, there is nothing that any Baptist entity can do to stop Johnny Hunt from going on a victory tour and becoming a speaking celebrity once more.

We believe in local church autonomy for a number of reasons, having just finished teaching Baptist History and Polity, I could list them for you, perhaps another time.  Even so, we have to recognize the downside of that autonomy, such freedom isn't free, and in this case the cost to the Baptist reputation is high.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Sermon Video: "I do not understand what I do", Romans 7:14-25

In this passage, the Apostle Paul discusses the war that rages within the human heart against sin. The two primary ways to interpret this section both reflect deep theological truths: (1) If this is Paul before he knew Jesus, when he was known as Saul, it reflects the utter hopelessness of human being to overcome sin by our own power, (2) if it instead is Paul after he was born again by faith in Jesus, it reflects the ongoing fight against our still-present sinful nature to imitate Christ. Because the Law of Love supersedes the Law of Moses by demanding right motivation and attitudes along with right action, even those who are in Christ and have the power of the Holy Spirit to bolster them still will have a fight on their hands to overcome not only temptation, but the thoughts that lead to it.

Friday, January 20, 2023

The wisdom of our ancestors in the faith: Rejection of the Law of Moses as normative for Christians in Protestant creedal statements

Given the revitalization of the ancient heresies refuted by the Apostle Paul in Galatians by much of the Hebrew Roots Movement, it behooves us to remember that our ancestors in the faith considered these same issues.  They too studied the scriptures, looked to the wisdom of those who had gone before them, and rejected firmly any attempt to impose the yoke of the Mosaic Law upon those called into fellowship by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, apostles-creed.org has links to the pdf of virtually every Church creedal statement on one webpage, if you are interested in one not listed below, you will probably find it there.  {Thus the hyperlinks below are to the Wikipedia pages about the various creeds, for the pdf of the full statements see the link above.}

The Westminster Confession, 1646, was the product of the Puritan movement in England, the forerunner of today's Presbyterian Church, its format was utilized by the Congregationalists in England in 1658 to issue the Savoy Declaration, and then by the Particular Baptists to create the London Baptist Confession of 1689.  The two subsequent creedal statements only modified the Westminster when they needed to express disagreement.  In the case of the Law of Moses, all three statements are virtually identical, as this branch of Protestantism was entirely unified on this position.

Chapter 19 - Of The Law of God, sections 3-7, from the Savoy Declaration

3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances; partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings and benefits, and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only lawgiver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end, abrogated and taken away. 

Commentary: That the Law of Moses contains moral imperatives that transcend its use in the covenant with the people of Israel, AND ceremonial aspects that are limited to that specific people, place, and time, was recognized and accepted.  They also saw in Jesus Christ not only the power to fulfill the Law, but as the Word of God, to bring an end to its era by instituting another.

4. To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution, their general equity only being still of moral use. 

Commentary: Likewise they realized that a theocratic nation built of one ethnic people living in the Ancient Near East would have various civil laws that would no longer apply, excepting any moral principles that could be derived from them.

5. The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it: neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. 

Commentary: These understandings of the limitations of the Law of Moses in the era of the New Covenant with respect to ceremonial and civil law, did not keep our ancestors in the faith from proclaiming the abiding authority of the moral standards from that same Law.

6. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts and lives; so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it in like manner show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works; so as a mans doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace. 

Commentary: In addition, they saw the overall structure of the Law of Moses, with its blessings and curses promised to the people of Israel, to be instructive showing both God's kindness to those who live in righteousness, and anger toward those who indulge in wickedness.  The Law, they believed, still has much to teach Christians, without being binding upon them, with the exceptions of its moral imperatives.

7. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God revealed in the law required to be done. 

Commentary: Contrary to the claims of the Hebrew Roots Movement, the Spirit of God was not given at Pentecost to enable Christians to fulfill the entirety of the Mosaic Law, our ancestors saw instead that the Spirit would Christians to "freely and cheerfully" follow the moral commandments and moral principles of the Law, and that alone.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, 1571, are the historically defining statements with respect to the Reformation for the Church of England (Anglican and Episcopal Churches)

7. Of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

Commentary: Here the Anglicans and Episcopalians profess that the moral precepts of the Law of Moses are binding upon every Christian, but that both the ceremonial and the civil aspects of the Mosaic Law are not.

The Methodist Movement's creedal statement is called the Articles of Religion, approved in 1784; it maintained the exact verbiage of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Wesley seeing no need to change any of it.

Article VI—Of the Old Testament 

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians men, nor ought the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

Commentary: Here also the Methodists profess that the moral precepts of the Law of Moses are binding upon every Christian, but that both the ceremonial and the civil aspects of the Mosaic Law are not.

The Belgic Confession, 1561, is the creedal statement for the Reformed Churches, originally written in French.

Article 25 - The Fulfillment of the Law

We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians.  Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled.  

Nevertheless, we continue to use the witness drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.

Commentary: Likewise, the Reformed movement saw an ending of the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law in the advent of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that they should not be in use among Christians, while retaining a respect for the truths to which they pointed.

The Second Helvetic Confession, 1564, was a product of the Swiss Reformed Churches, originally written in Swiss.

Chapter XII, Of the Law of God

WHY THE LAW WAS GIVEN. We teach that this law was not given to men that they might be justified by keeping it, but that rather from what it teaches we may know (our) weakness, sin and condemnation, and, despairing of our strength, might be converted to Christ in faith. For the apostle openly declares: "The law brings wrath," and, "Through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 4:15; 3:20), and, "If a law had been given which could justify or make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture (that is, the law) has concluded all under sin, that the promise which was of the faith of Jesus might be given to those who believe....Therefore, the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal.3:21 ff.). 

THE FLESH DOES NOT FULFIL THE LAW. For no flesh could or can satisfy the law of God and fulfil it, because of the weakness in our flesh which adheres and remains in us until our last breath. For the apostle says again: "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin" (Rom. 8:3). Therefore, Christ is the perfecting of the law and our fulfilment of it (Rom. 10:4), who, in order to take away the curse of the law, was make a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Thus he imparts to us through faith his fulfilment of the law, and his righteousness and obedience are imputed to us. 

HOW FAR THE LAW IS ABROGATED. The law of God is therefore abrogated to the extent that it no longer condemns us, nor works wrath in us. For we are under grace and not under the law. Moreover, Christ has fulfilled all the figures of the law. Hence, with the coming of the body, the shadows ceased, so that in Christ we now have the truth and all fulness. But yet we do not on that account contemptuously reject the law. For we remember the words of the Lord when he said: "I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them" (Matt. 5:17). We know that in the law is delivered to us the patterns of virtues and vices. We know that the written law when explained by the Gospel is useful to the Church, and that therefore its reading is not to be banished from the Church. For although Moses' face was covered with a veil, yet the apostle says that the veil has been taken away and abolished by Christ.

Commentary: Once more we see the balance on the part of our ancestors in the faith between their understanding that the Law of Moses has been abrogated (repealed, rescinded, nullified) by the work of Jesus Christ, and the desire to learn from the moral principles contained within it.

In the end, one of the remarkable things about these various creeds coming from movements within Protestantism that contain strong disagreements about important theological issues, is how uniform these statements are regarding how the Church should understand the Law of Moses.  They disagree about baptism, communion, church structure, the role of the government with respect to the Church, and a host of other topics, but NOT about the Law of Moses.  Each and every one saw it is abrogated by Jesus Christ, none believed that the Law was in any way incumbent upon Christians in either its ceremonial or civil aspects, and all still retained respect for the teaching ability of the Law's moral principles which where revealed retained the force of commands from God.  On this issue, our ancestors in the faith speak with one unified voice: The Law of Moses is NOT normative for followers of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Listen to the Word of God: 62 Scripture passages that refute 'Christian' Nationalism - #29: John 13:14-15


John 13:14-15  New International Version

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

For those of you who haven't watched Disney's 1992 Aladdin cartoon, which Robin Williams' voice acting elevates far beyond its otherwise pedestrian level, let me inform you how the evil vizier Jafar is outsmarted by the 'street rat' Aladdin in their final confrontation.  Jafar is consumed by a lust for power, simply supplanting the sultan turns out to be insufficient for him, so he commands the genie to make him the world's most powerful sorcerer.  Aladdin, hopelessly outmatched now in terms of power because he doesn't currently control the genie, makes a snide comment that ensnares Jafar, "The genie has more power than you'll ever have...Face it Jafar, you're still just second best."  Jafar then turns to the genie to say, "Slave, I make my third wish.  I wish to be an all-powerful genie."  The genie reluctantly complies fearing the worst, and only too late does Jafar recognize that he has fallen into a trap, for while a genie is indeed powerful, it is also shackled to a lamp and at the whim of a master.

This lesson in the danger of seeking power, and how that pursuit can corrupt those that embark upon the journey, is a lesson for humanity as a whole, one we've never seemed to learn.  At a much more intellectual level, Lord Acton (1834-1902), writing against the proposed doctrinal stance of his Roman Catholic Church known as Papal Infallibility said, "power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

One of the reasons why 'Christian' Nationalism cannot be the answer to whichever question the Church is facing is simple: It is the path of power in this world, not service.  We didn't need Lord Acton, or Jafar, to teach us this lesson, Jesus himself proclaimed that his followers were to be those accepting humble service, not seeking lordship over others.  

How will disciples of Jesus Christ change the world?  Not by bending others to our will, but by bending our knees to serve them.