The Bible comes first, then comes theology. When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism? We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.
God’s love can be trusted. The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation. Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau. Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms. He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings. No one can sit in judgment upon Him.
In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15. The Exodus text refers to God’s merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth. God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren’t saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4). Often the word “mercy” in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.
God’s choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16). The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that “it,” that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn’t merited by Israel. This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole nation. God’s acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them. Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual. He rebuts this from the Old Testament.
Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn’t that God “created” Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt. The point of “raised up” is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).
By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3). The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned. As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34). Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah’s heart. As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah’s heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.” The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping. God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.
Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden? The question this poses is “Is God fair?” And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow? The problem isn’t the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.
Because of their inferiority, men don’t have the perspective to challenge God with such questions. Paul pictures man’s predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19. In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6). Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
A contrast exists between “he made” and “was marred.” The former is active and the latter passive. “Was marred” is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself. You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God. Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot. That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.
God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel. Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity. God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites. God’s purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior. What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19. As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God. Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel’s actions. Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.
In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20. A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself. The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior. The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay. That’s how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.
Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election. It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation. Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.
More to Come.
It will help you if you pull out a Bible and turn to and look at Romans 9 as you read this.
I tell people I’d like to be a Calvinist but Scripture keeps getting in the way. Romans 9 is one place that gets in the way of my being a Calvinist. If I’m supposed to be a Calvinist, the Bible will just make me one. I won’t have to force it. But Romans 9 runs away from Calvinism, contradicts it. If we can’t be a Calvinist as a direct consequence of Bible teaching, then we shouldn’t be one.
At the end of Romans 8 (vv. 35-39), Paul promises that nothing will separate saved, justified people from the love of God. He anticipated some argument with that point, in light of Jewish reaction to his preaching, regarding God’s faithfulness to Israel. If God could not be trusted in His faithfulness to Israel, then how could someone count on Him for individual salvation. The argument also goes that if God elected Israel and Israel was not saved, how could anyone be assured of God’s election. Romans 9-11 defends God’s actions with Israel to buttress the truth that nothing can separate believers from the love of God.
God elected Israel (Jacob), “being not yet born” (9:11). So Israel was unconditionally elect—she couldn’t very well merit her choosing before she was born. So you see, I believe in unconditional election. Part of being elect meant that Israel had tremendous advantages (9:4-5) that one would think would lend themselves toward Israel’s salvation. God bestowed on Israel unique evidence that her God truly was the very God so that they would believe on Him, including the gift of Jesus Christ Himself, “who is over all, God blessed forever” (9:5). Jesus added to those benefits by preaching His kingdom all over Israel during His ministry there. But in Romans 9:1-4a, we see that Paul “could wish that [he] were accursed” for the salvation of Israel.
And right there at the very beginning of Romans 9 is where we begin seeing the contradiction to Calvinism. Why would Paul be willing to be “accursed from Christ” (9:3) for those God chose before the foundations of the world to damn forever? Paul surely wasn’t more loving and more righteous than God. Would he not be out of bounds in expressing such sympathy for those for whom Christ Himself did not die, if limited atonement were true? Only if God Himself were unwilling for these Israelites to perish and if Christ Himself had died for them does 9:1-5 make any sense. And that is just the start here in Romans 9.
If you are a Calvinist and you are reading this, before you start writing your missive, please read this to the end, because 9:1-5 really are hint of things to come. They fit with the rest of the chapter, but they are not all there is.
Calvinists point to 9:11 as evidence of unconditional election, and it is true. Israel was chosen unconditionally by God. And God will save Israel (11:26), so Israel nationally is chosen unconditionally unto salvation. But who are the Israelites whom God will save? They are those whom He elects on the condition of personal faith in Him. Paul distinguishes between personal election and national election in Romans 9, and he makes this crystal clear.
God continued faithful and loving to the nation. God’s Word, especially as found in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, did not fail. Paul begins 9:6 by saying that God’s Word was still in effect for Israel, the Israel that God would save, which was not all of Israel (9:6b). True Israel, spiritual Israel, would receive the promises God made to the nation (9:7-8).
Paul illustrates the point of verses 6 and 7 in verses 8 through 13. He appeals to Genesis 21:12-13. Ishmael came from Abraham physically, but Isaac alone would receive the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. A Jew is unconditionally a Jew, and as a Jew, based on no merit of his own, he has been given incredible advantages. Isaac received blessings not given to Ishmael.
Genesis 21 makes national promises, but physical descent alone does not guarantee an individual will receive the blessings of those promises. The nation will unconditionally, but the persons will not. God will save those Israelites who do not reject the advantages (9:4-5) God gave. Jews who thought they would receive the blessings of the covenants just because they were Jews were sorely deceived (cf. Mt 3:9-12; Rev 20:11-15).
Isaac and Ishmael were both sons of Abraham, but they did not both receive the advantages of the covenant. Only Isaac received them, and he is a picture of the true child of God. This illustrated to Israel that it wasn’t physical descent that made one a child of promise. God didn’t have to save every descendant of Abraham. Romans 9:9 quotes Genesis 18:10,14 for this illustration. The point is that like Sarah and Isaac were chosen over Hagar and Ishmael, spiritual Israel is chosen over physical Israel. Hebrews 11:11 elucidates further on what occurred: “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” The believer receives the spiritual blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. God does make His choices and makes them based on His own terms—He’s done it in the past and He does it again.
“And not only this” at the beginning of 9:10 tells us that Paul has more explanation about the same point, except he uses a different example, that of two sons, Jacob and Esau, of the same mother and father. Again, not all the physical descendants inherit the promises, even as Esau, who was a physical descendant, did not. The election is unconditional and national. How do we know it is national? Verse 12 quotes Genesis 25:23. Consider Genesis 25:22-23:
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
We can see from the Old Testament passage itself that the election is national. First, it says “two nations,” but, second, if it is personal, then every person in the one “nation” and “people” was saved, which was not the case. The very point Paul is making is that the every person in the nation was not saved and so was not true Israel. When we take Genesis 25 and Paul’s quotation of it literally, we are dealing with “two nations” and “two manner of people.” The election here relates to Israel’s rule over Edom, not about the spiritual salvation of Jacob or Esau. The rest of the Old Testament will show that this election was fulfilled, but not until after the lifetime of Jacob. In addition, verse 12 doesn’t say that Jacob would be saved and not Esau, but the “elder shall serve the younger.”
Verse 13 quotes Malachi 1:2-3, which was written a long time after the end of Jacob and Esau’s lives. And that Malachi passage also plainly refers to the nations of Israel and Edom, not individuals. Everything in that text says Malachi is referring to the nations. When he says, “I have loved you,” “you” is in the plural. God’s indignation is against “the people” (v. 4). “Loved” and “hated” in v. 13 are aorist, the one time love and hatred of national election. It isn’t an ongoing, continuous love and hatred. The love and hate related to the favor God chose in advance to give to Jacob and the loss of privilege that God determined for Esau. So the point is that the blessings of God’s covenant do not come based upon physical lineage.
Important to the understanding of a New Testament text is looking at the context of the Old Testament quotations. Those Old Testament passages will shed light on the New Testament usage. This is a major part of deriving the correct interpretation.
Scripture does teach unconditional election—unconditional national election. Personal election is conditional. That is a primary point of Romans 9. God’s national election of Israel did not guarantee personal salvation. No individual Israelite or Jew should think that his eternity is set just because his nation was elect of God. He himself needed to believe.
To Be Continued
I believe we have good biblical grounds for regulating worship by Scripture. True worship recognizes Who God is and gives Him what He wants. We find out Who He is and what He wants in the Bible. God’s Word is sufficient. In so being, Scripture limits what worship is. It is only what God says He wants, which is only in His Word. We know from the Bible that God forbids additions and deletions to the elements He prescribes for worship—since worship is only what He wants. God is God, He wants what He wants, and that’s alone what He will receive. He rejects those elements He does not prescribe.
Worship in and by the church is regulated alone by the Bible. The New Testament reveals elements of worship that God wants from the church: reading the Word, preaching the Word, singing, prayer, baptism and Lord’s Supper, and collection of offerings. You’ll notice that among those six that the altar call or invitation is missing. You won’t find the altar call in the New Testament—it isn’t an element of worship.
Preaching of God’s Word is an element of worship. Regarding preaching, we read the following in James 1:19-21:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Is the listening to preaching an element of worship? I believe that it is part of the element of preaching. The preacher and the listeners, the congregation, are worshiping simultaneously. They are all saying “yes” or “amen” to the message of God from His Word. This is an offering to God, an offering of one’s mind, heart, and body to whatever God says, as preached and heard in the preaching. Only a certain hearing of the preaching is to God acceptable, which is, as seen in v. 19, “swift to hear.” In line with that in v. 21 is “receive with meekness the engrafted word.” “Swift to wrath” and “slow to hear” are both unacceptable to God as an offering. God rejects those two. God doesn’t accept any kind of hearing to His preaching than “swift to hear” and “receive with meekness.”
And then we can see in the above text in v. 21 that besides the preaching and the hearing, there is also a response to the preaching. This too is prescribed worship. What is it? It is to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” A part of the element of preaching is the response to preaching, which is doing what this first part of v. 21 says. This is an actual sacrifice on the part of the hearer. He is sacrificing something: filthiness and naughtiness. Not fulfilling this response is taking away from the Word of God and is not acceptable to God within the perimeters of the element of preaching.
How does someone lay aside filthiness and naughtiness either during preaching or after preaching? How he does this is a circumstance for worship. A church could choose to have him do this sitting there in his seat. A church could suggest to him as an application to get some further instruction and application from someone in another room. A church might apply this Divine instruction by inviting those with the filthiness and naughtiness to come forward and kneel at the front of the auditorium. None of these are the actual element of the worship, but merely the circumstances of the element.
Concerning the circumstances of worship, Brian Schwertley writes:
The circumstances of worship refer not to worship content and ceremony but to those things “common to human actions and societies.” The only way someone can learn a worship ordinance is to study the Bible and see what God commands. But the circumstances of worship are not dependent on the explicit instructions of the Bible; they depend only upon general revelation and common sense (“Christian prudence”).
The Bible does not command for offering plates, hymnbooks, pews, or microphones. Those are all circumstances of the elements of either the collection, singing, or preaching. The “altar call” or invitation could fall within the perimeters of the circumstances of preaching.
Richard Baxter wrote:
What a loathsome and pitiful thing is it, to hear a man bitterly reproach those who differ from him in some circumstances of worship.
I don’t think we should assume that someone who gives an invitation at the end of preaching is disregarding the regulative principle of worship. I don’t believe we should regard someone who practices an invitation as an innovation beyond that which God prescribed. He could be obeying James 1:21 as a circumstance of worship.
Jerry Bridges published Trusting God in 1991, Transforming Grace in 1993, and The Pursuit of Holiness in 1996. I read all three over ten years ago. They were about as strong as you’ll read from evangelicals. As is typical of those who disobey the biblical doctrine of separation, Bridges falls short in application. If you trust God, you will separate; if God’s grace has transformed you, you will separate; and if you are pursuing holiness, then you will separate. The constituency of Jerry Bridges and Navigators, the parachurch organization he served for many years, would enjoy the squishy softness of his books. People not pursuing holiness would enjoy The Pursuit of Holiness. They could read the book and still not be sure what unholiness might be.
Bridges exposes himself in a recent book, published in 2007, entitled, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Bridges always has much solid material in his writing. However, what some might call grace and love really is weakness. I can’t tolerate Bridges’ mushiness anymore. It’s not always what he says, but what he doesn’t. A respectable sin we shouldn’t tolerate is mistaking love for syrupy sentimentality. That will stop a pursuit of holiness in its tracks.
I’m especially referring to chapter 17 in Bridges’ book on what he calls the sin of “judgmentalism.” Many evangelicals love the chapter. However, try to find judgmentalism in the Bible—that’s a bridge to nowhere, pun intended. Since judgmentalism isn’t in the Bible, is Bridges guilty of making his own opinion into the commandment of God?
Bridges judges judgmentalism, but how can he do that and not be judgmental?In order to understand sins that we shouldn’t tolerate, well, we’ve got to judge sin. There’s an assumption that we can judge and we should. Not judging would be a sin that we shouldn’t tolerate.
Bridges essentially says that judgmentalism is when we don’t show toleration for disputed practices. What I’ve noticed, however, is that almost everything is disputed now. At one time we were much more sure about what the truth was and its application. And so if it is disputed, which is now about everything, then you’ve got to just agree to disagree and learn to get along, and then not doing that, with the view of Bridges, is judgmentalism. You’ll have to do a lot of getting along. Getting along has become the most important doctrine.
Bridges says that “the sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our ‘respectable’ sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right.” Hearing that sentence, you just know that evangelicals are going to love it. Then he gives examples of disputed practices where the sin of judgmentalism is practiced, and comments on each: dress, music, and alcohol. If his book can stop evangelicals and now fundamentalists from being judged in those areas, he might have a bestseller on his hands.
Now as you are reading this post at home, and are judging my tone, I ask “What verse tells you that my tone is wrong?” Aren’t you adding to Scripture if you can’t give me actual text from the Bible that says my take on Bridges’ chapter violates God’s will? Or is it just a feeling that you have? How do you know that feeling isn’t the Holy Spirit convicting you? Are you being judgmental? I think you know, my reader, that you are busy judging all the time. And those to the left of me are judging my tone right now. Tone isn’t even one of Bridges’ “respectable sins.” I’m judging that non-separatist evangelicals liked the chapter on judgmentalism (my spell check says it’s not a word), not for themselves, but for “fundamentalists” who are judgmental. For them at best it explains why they should be free in the areas of dress, music, and alcohol.
Bridges writes a shallow, ultra-superficial section on dress, that if it were almost any other subject, would be dismissed out of hand, but evangelicals so crave this sort of freedom, they suck it up like a strawberry shake. He says (pp. 141-142):
I grew up in the mid-twentieth century, when people dressed up to go to church. Men wore jackets and ties (usually suits and ties) and women wore dresses. Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts. Many women began to wear pants. For several years, I was judgmental toward them. Didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.
In the next paragraph he observes, “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church. . . . Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress; it’s a matter of the heart.” What is lacking in this level of analysis is good judgment. Why did men start showing up in casual pants and open-collar shirts? Why did women begin to wear pants? And who were these people? Why did the culture start to change? What was this new emphasis on creature comfort and convenience? Do these changes have no meaning? How much, if at all, should the church be conforming to the spirit of the age?
Bridges’ dealing with all of the subjects in his chapter miss an important aspect of obedience to God’s Word, that is, the application of the principles of Scripture. The Apostle Paul taught the financial support of the pastor in 1 Timothy 5:18 from Deuteronomy 25:4, a verse which teaches the fair treatment of a domestic animal (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn.”).
Most of Scripture requires application and to make the right application certain truths must exist in the real world. To abstain from corrupt communication, you’ve got to judge what bad words are with no help in the Bible. Regarding dress, Paul ordered the believing women of Corinth to wear their head coverings (1 Cor 11:3-16) without any previous verse of Scripture to authorize that specific practice. If women didn’t wear the head coverings, couldn’t they just warn fellow church members not to participate in the respectable sin of judgmentalism?
Then Bridges moves on to music:
I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ. It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today, in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music, and the piano and organ with guitars and drums. Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs, yet they managed to worship God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see Colossians 3:16). I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it’s just that—a preference—not a Bible-based conviction. It’s true that a lot of contemporary music is shallow and human-centered. But there is much that is as God-honoring and worshipful as our traditional hymns. So let’s avoid being judgmental.
How did Bridges know if the old hymns were grand or majestic? Why are churches replacing them with contemporary music? What’s the difference between the music with piano organ and that with guitars and drums? How does he know that the New Testament churches didn’t have instruments? What verse says that they didn’t use instruments? On what basis does he judge the contemporary music to be God-honoring and worshipful? He is judging that, so what is the basis? He says, “let’s avoid being judgmental,” and yet he’s obviously making his own judgment and criticizing. He’s judging that people have no basis for judgment, so that if they do judge, they are sinning. He’s calling people’s judgment about the contemporary music “sin.” I don’t know if I like his tone. My pursuit of holiness says that I need to judge worship, whether it is acceptable to God, since it is being offered to Him.
Is Jerry Bridges saying that only the words have any meaning in worship, and the music is meaningless? Is music meaningless? Can we use grunge music? What about rap? Is heavy metal fine? Is there any line that Jerry Bridges draws? If so, he’s judging too. I guess some people would think that such pablum as what Bridges writes is significant enough to conclude everyone who judges some worship music to be wrong to be sinning in doing so. We’ve got the thing that we should be the most picky about in the world, our worship of God, and Bridges wants to tamp down that pickyness so that people won’t feel so criticized. God gets disrespected and blasphemed so that men can have fun and feel good—party time at church at God’s expense.
Bridges completes his triumvirate with alcohol, the last of three pets close to most evangelical hearts. He writes:
We have convictions that we elevate to biblical truth on a number of issues. I wrote somewhere that I had finally come to the conclusion that in most instances, the Bible teaches temperance not abstinence. I had to work through that issue also because again I found myself being judgmental when I would see Christians having a glass of wine at a restaurant.
Bridges’ second sentence in that quote I judge to be ridiculous. I wish he had an editor who was a little more judgmental, but I guess that’s what happens when you throw this kind of judgment under the beer truck. The Bible can’t teach both temperance and abstinence. He says that in most instances it teaches temperance. If it teaches abstinence in a lesser number of instances, those instances would be contradicting temperance. His judgmentalism, he testifies, caused him to “work through that issue.” Some people have a hard time working through even simple problems when they are under the influence of one drink of alcohol. If the Bible teaches abstinence even a few times, shouldn’t we judge drinking a glass of wine as disobedience to Scripture? Shouldn’t we applaud that judgment? Now what he’s going to do about it is another thing, but it’s a fine thing to make a judgment.
I understand that there are professing Christians that think that drinking alcohol is acceptable to God. There are many others that believe that alcohol is prohibited by God in the Bible. The ones who understand it correctly, that is, that God forbids alcoholic beverages, really should continue to judge people who are drinking it, despite what Jerry Bridges seems to be trying to do with heavy applause from a large evangelical audience, that with this chapter and the present condition of evangelicalism, will be growing even larger.
Here’s what has happened. Rationalism in the 19th century placed truth under human reasoning. In the 20th century, every person’s opinion stands as his own authority. The only permissible dogma is tolerance. That philosophy now is accepted by many if not most churches. Bridges’ chapter against judgmentalism represents the influence of that philosophy. If you follow what Jerry Bridges writes here, you shouldn’t judge if your church were to have a rock concert, serve alcohol at it, and everybody came in their shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. They can call it “worship” ta boot. Evangelicalism already does this and some of the younger fundamentalists are totally kewl with it.
To be effective, Scripture must be applied. To apply God’s Word, Christians must judge. They make decisions based on biblical principles. The most prominent present attack on the Bible in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is against its application. The attack says, “Don’t judge.” It means, “You can’t know how the Bible applies.” God’s Word then loses its authority in many practices of churches and their members.
My recommendation to you is don’t listen to Bridges. Keep applying the Bible and biblical principles to dress, music, and alcohol. Keep judging in those areas.
We don’t want to see the gospel spoiled. We desire to preserve the truth. If we hope for either, we must understand the way God designed to keep both intact. I’m not going to carry nuclear materials in a brown paper sack and not expect bad things to happen. We can say we care about the gospel and the truth, but we don’t and can’t respect either when we leave them unprotected.
The gospel and truth are popular topics today. I’m happy about that. I love the gospel and the truth. We have seen new alliances form today with the gospel supposedly at their center. They have set aside other doctrine—ecclesiological, eschatological, pneumatological—in order for what they say is a stronger emphasis on the gospel. I believe, however, that the greatest threat to the gospel and the truth relates to container in which they are held. The truth, and therefore the gospel, is to be protected and propagated by the church (1 Tim 3:15) and if so, it must be the church alone responsible for that task. However, it must be the church, the actual church, the scriptural church, that does the protecting. We should assume that something different than what Scripture presents as the church could protect the truth. And there are very distinct views of the church. One is that the church is universal and visible. Another is that it is universal and invisible. And a third is that it is local and visible. Each of those three is different than the other.
To see all of this, I want to provide a snapshot of what occurred in the history of doctrine. First, the Bible stands as the sole and final authority for faith and practice. The writing of the New Testament brings us back to the beginning of Christian belief and practice. Genuine doctrine springs from the Bible. Scripture provides the means for judging how men and institutions departed from the truth. The New Testament is a historical record. We can be sure of the history there, because it is inspired by God. We can’t be entirely certain of all the other history, because it truly was written only by men. From the period beginning shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first century, we can read what we call the “church fathers” or the “patristics.” Today when we read those writings, we are getting really only an edition of what they wrote, one that is less certain in its veracity than Scripture, because the patristics don’t come with the promise of preservation. It is possible, even probable, that later these writings were edited to look closer to Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholic theologians read their version of the church fathers. Later, the reformers read a probably amended edition of the church fathers and then the interpretations of the theologians who read them. The Protestant reformers corrected the soteriology of the church fathers and the Catholic theologians. They went to the Bible to do that. However, they didn’t amend the ecclesiology or the eschatology or even much of the hermeneutics of the church fathers and the theologians of Roman Catholicism.
What is clear from reading the writings preserved by Roman Catholicism, called the church fathers or the patristics, is that many of them mixed Greek philosophy with Scripture in their doctrine. By the time we get to Augustine in the 5th century, we have someone who combined the ideas of Plato with Christianity. Augustine originated the invisible church concept in the Donatist controversy. He was influenced by the Platonist belief that true reality was in the invisible, and if the visible represents the invisible, it always does so partially and imperfectly. The allegorical hermeneutic of Origen, borrowed by Roman Catholicism, also influenced the reformers in their ecclesiology, eschatology, and system of interpretation.
The purpose of this post is not to expose the passages necessary to understand what God’s Word says the church is. It is to show that the wrong view of the church will affect the preservation of the gospel and the truth. Someone may say that he shows his great love for the gospel by only dividing over the gospel or what some call “gospel-related truths.” However, I contend that if he does not hold the right view of the church, he contributes to the destruction of the gospel. The gospel can’t be preserved in a leaky container or its contents will be spoiled.
The same people most responsible for spoiling the gospel in history, Roman Catholics, are also most responsible for corrupting scriptural ecclesiology. The Catholics invented the universal church and then the invisible church. The Protestant Reformers did not amend that false teaching. Only churches who remained separate from Catholicism kept a scriptural ecclesiology, the belief in an only local and visible church. Through history they have been known by different names, but today they are called Baptist.
Scripture teaches an only local and visible church. Only that church, the only scriptural one, can keep the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired New Testament give only a local and visible church, the only true church, the necessary means to keep the truth and therefore the gospel. Churches keep the truth through discipline, through the offices of the pastor and deacons, through the practice of separation, and through the purity of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. A universal and invisible church is a leak container that will not preserve the truth. It treats the truth like an open pick-up truck treats an pile of tomatoes. If a few of the tomatoes fly or drop out, it won’t really matter as long as many or most get to their intended destination. Something beyond or in addition to a true church does not have the means necessary to keep the truth. For sure non-church institutions, like colleges or mission boards or publishers, can preserve the truth. The very existence of these parachurch organizations threaten the truth and the gospel. Cobbling together a coalition big enough to support the extra-scriptural institution requires laxity of doctrine.
No kind of viable, practical unity around common doctrine is possible and is not even available to all professing believers from all the various evangelical denominations. To attain some faux unity, doctrines and truths will be devalued and dropped by the wayside. Without the means possessed by true churches to keep the truth, doctrines will leak and leak until very little Scripture is believed and practiced. I believe the wrong view of the church has done more damage to the truth and the gospel than any other doctrine. Great damage will continue to be done to the truth and the gospel until there is a return to a biblical ecclesiology in Christianity.
“I think the Lord is leading me to….” “I feel the Lord is leading me to….” “I really prayed about it and I felt that….” You’ve probably heard these types of statements before. And if it is God leading, who is anyone to question? In many instances, it really is like questioning scripture at this point. Except for one big thing—it isn’t scripture. It is “I think,” “I feel,” and “I felt.” And if not that, then sometimes it is, “The Lord told me.” And that isn’t scripture either, even though, again, it is treated like it’s Bible.
One might hear these above type of statements from men in the office of the pastor. How did he know what the church was to do? How did he know what sermon he was to preach? “The Lord told him” or “he felt the Spirit leading.” One pastor I have known demanded the support of his congregation for every one of His sermons because it was Holy Spirit-preaching. When he preached, that was the Holy Spirit, so it should be unquestioned. Do you see a problem here? This kind of language from a pastor places a type of authority on his decision making that is authoritative on the level of God. Should we expect this kind of authority from the leaders of our churches? In one sense, a pastor represents the voice of God, but it is only insofar he preaches the Word. The people listen to God in those instances by means of the messenger. But every opinion out of the man’s mouth or even just the ones when he is behind the ‘sacred desk’ are not synonymous with scripture.
How do we know what we ought to do in the areas that the Bible is silent upon, like who I’m going to marry, where I’m supposed to work, or whether the reuben on rye or the 10 oz. NY strip steak? It seems that, “the Lord led,” is all we’ve got in those types of decisions? Or is it? How does the Holy Spirit actually work in these situations?
To detect true spirituality, first (part one) we proposed that all believers are spiritual. Every Christian is spiritual. There was a question of whether there were degrees of spirituality. No. Each genuine believer is indwelt by the one and only Holy Spirit, a Person. You can’t get more or less of Him once you have Him. However, He can have more of you. It’s not quantitatively more spirituality. No one is more spiritual in that sense. However, someone can, rather than yield to the Spirit, submit to his flesh. At that time, he is carnal, not spiritual, in a practical, not positional, way. When someone is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then there are manifestations of that yieldedness. We showed six of them. These are how we detect genuine spirituality. And now for the last aspect we will consider in the detection of true spirituality.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
The Holy Spirit leads (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18). We know this. But how does He lead?
First, He leads in accordance with Scripture. “The sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). Parallel to the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Col 3:16). Being controlled by the Spirit is being controlled by the Word of God. All of this fits within the sufficiency of Scripture (Mt 4:4, 2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s Word equips a person for every good work. If a decision attributed to the Holy Spirit contradicts the Word of God, disobeys scripture, it wasn’t or isn’t the Holy Spirit leading. The Bible is how we test to see if something is of God (1 John 4:1). Sanctification of the Spirit is also the sanctification of the Word of God (John 17:17-19). We are set apart by the truth, not by our feelings or opinions, which might be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
A corollary perhaps to the Spirit’s leading in accordance with Scripture could be “no private interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21). The Bible has one meaning and many applications; however, we ought to also look to history to see how the Spirit worked in believer’s lives to apply Scripture. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to suddenly accept a practice that has been forbidden by God’s people in the past.
Second, He leads in accordance with the church. I’ve asked many if they needed the church to know the will of God and most will say that they can know the will of God independently of a church. Often today I’ve noticed people think that they have the right to question a pastor in his preaching, but few think they should be questioned when they say ‘the Lord is leading.’ A church is to be of one mind, one spirit, one mouth, and one speech (1 Cor 1:10, Philip 1:27). People should not operate outside of the unity or unanimity of the church. Believers walk in the Spirit, but they do not walk alone.
In the Old Testament, Israel had the Urim and the Thummim for God to guide her in her decisions (Ex 28:30, Lev 8:8, Num 7:21, Deut 33:8, Ezra 2:63). Do we have anything like that today? I believe we do. The Urim and Thummim today is the church. The Holy Spirit indwells a church as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God leads through the church, not through single individuals. There is one Holy Spirit who indwells church members, the same Spirit, so the agreement of the church is the leading of the Spirit (Eph 4:1-4, 1 Cor 12). Dividing off of the opinion of the church is heresy (Tit 3:10-11, 1 Cor 1:11-17). Church members judge matters of believers (1 Cor 6:1-8). Matthew 18:18-19 suggests a supernatural leading through the agreement of the church.
In the freelancing spirit of the age, many today do not desire the agreement of a church in matters. They rather operate independent of church authority, appreciating the freedom of “the Lord’s leading.” It’s a free country. We can move about when and where we want. Many treat the will of God as a plaything, affording them freedom, which they label “Christian liberty.” Many pastors also use this freedom to move from church to church, again attributing the activity to the “will of God” in their life, when often it is discontent. Rather than just leave, people should be sent by the church for greater ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-5). Lesser ministry isn’t God’s will. But who determines that is the church, not the individual. Someone may ask, “Well, what if the church is wrong?” If the church is wrong, an attempt should be made to persuade the church from the Word of God. Sometimes men will just use scripture to excuse what they want to do. Jeroboam quoted Aaron to justify building calves at Dan and Bethel. The church should be able to determine whether something is the will of God or not.
When Paul discussed Christian liberty in 1 Cor 8-10, at the end of that section (11:1), he commanded the church at Corinth to imitate him as he imitated Christ. In areas of liberty, people of a church should look to the leaders of their church to know what to do in areas in which scripture is silent (cf. Heb 13:17). Rather than follow self, follow godly leaders in the church.
How did Timothy know he was to be a pastor? 1 Timothy 4:14 is a great verse on this. First, prophecy, that is, the preaching of the Word of God. I’ve had men tell me that they didn’t ask me what would be the right decision because they already knew what I would say. How did they know? The preaching of God’s Word. Preaching worked in the heart and life of Timothy. Second, the laying on of hands of the presbytery. Timothy got the unified guidance of godly men to verify the will of God in this matter. In many cases today, men say they’re “called,” in essence, “God told me,” and that’s their chief indication of God’s working. This isn’t the pattern in scripture.
Do you see how that Scripture and then the church puts objectivity to the will of God? This is how the Holy Spirit guides today. In answer to this type of presentation, often I’ll hear from men examples of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Do you understand that God doesn’t work with us like that any more? We have Scripture and the church now. God doesn’t speak to us that way. If He is going to guide you like an apostle or prophet, than you should also fulfill the qualifications of the prophet and the apostle. You don’t, so don’t see yourself as led by the Spirit the same way they were.
Some Specifics Concerning the Individual Will of God
Does Scripture teach us that God has only that one person for us to marry? Or does the Bible order us to obey God’s Word but give us liberty within scriptural parameters in those individual matters? For instance, Scripture prohibits a Christian from marrying an unbeliever among other instructions (2 Cor 6:14), but God would give freedom within the bounds of what He said in His Word. Paul says this in 1 Corinthian 7:39: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” Of course, he adds, “only in the Lord.” Within biblical guidelines, someone can marry whoever he or she wants to marry, unless, of course, God sovereignly overrules otherwise.
The above exact teaching you’ll see in Proverbs 16:1 and 9:
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. . . . A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
The idea of “preparations” is “plans.” It is God’s will for man to make plans. A man is to devise his way. The Lord may step in to change something, directing his steps, but he should go about making plans and devising his way. God allows people to make their own decisions within the bounds of the guidelines and principles He has set up in the Bible. The best way to ensure you do right is to obey God’s Word, practice it or apply it in every area of your life. If you do that, those unknown, individual things will work themselves out, very much like we see in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
In short, if you will trust God and acknowledge everything He said, those individual, personal decisions will work out fine.
We the people must take the offensive against the Bigotry Against the Bible that is being Executed on the citizens of the United States Legally by its government, all three branches, legislative, judicial, and executive. We’ve got the constitution, history, and, of course, God and the Bible on our side. The former don’t matter so much in light of the latter, but we shouldn’t stand by without at least being heard. I believe there is a basis in Scripture to take a public stand on these social or cultural issues, namely that God designates for destruction (Ezekiel 9) those who will not stand against these violations of Him.
Babel represents the world system, the Satanic offensive against God and His way. The homosexuals and their advocates say we’re the bigots for opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but who really are the bigots? Are the bigots those who stand against perversion of nature, of creation, and of obedience to the Bible? Or are the genuine bigots those who force their own immoral desires upon the majority of Americans? Our government should not be executing the will of bigots against the biblical beliefs of its own citizens.
I know there are many of the readers of this blog who don’t agree with some or even much of what I write here, but this may be something with which you agree with me. So I am asking everyone that does, join me, unify with me in a campaign against Babel, the spreading bigotry against the Bible, which is being executed legally. We shouldn’t have to tolerate evil. We should not be forced to live and serve side by side in the defense of our country with blatant perverts. This is not fellowship. This is not biblical unity. This is public and democratic. This is We the People.
It’s enough that our country allows the practice of sodomy, let alone the endorsement of it by executing laws that require acceptance of it. Stand with me against BABEL. Join the campaign starting here and today.
What does the Campaign against BABEL require from you? It requires public opposition to BABEL. That’s it. Bloggers, today join with me in the campaign against BABEL. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not the only evidence of bigotry against the Bible executed legally. However, for me it is a kind of final straw. The camel’s back is broken.
I want to redefine bigotry in our society. Bigotry is not a stand for the Bible. Bigotry is support for unbiblical behavior, practice, laws, or standards. I will not join BABEL through my silence and neither should you. Those endorsing, supporting, and joining the execution of these attacks on biblical belief and practice should receive the bigot label.
Joseph Lieberman, Susan Collins, Olympia Snow, Linda Murkowski, George Voinovich, and Mark Kirk are bigots, bigots against biblical belief and practice. They are bigots against those who believe and practice the Bible. Today they have showed their hatred of Bible belief and practice—hate speech, hate legislation—and forced their hatred of the Bible on all citizens of this nation. They have protected and propagated their bigotry everywhere.
Join me in the Campaign against BABEL.
God has not left men without a basis for discerning true spirituality. 1 John 4:1 indicates that genuine Christians can test “the spirits whether they are of God.” At the same time, most people have been deceived in this area. The road is broad that leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14). As a means of validating their condition, men seek after signs (1 Corinthians 1:22) that very often are counterfeits that lure men into a false sense of spiritual security. From the teaching of Jesus (Mt 7:21-23), we know that at the judgment seat, their tragic deception will be exposed with no future opportunity for correction. Men can be fooled into trusting in fraudulent indicators of their spiritual states.
In the first chapter of his epistle, James says men deceive themselves with the faulty notion that God accepts the mere hearing of His Word. This reveals the nature of people’s deceit. They can rationalize a tolerance of their own disobedience to what God said. Satan is a deceiver and liar, who would have men mislead by their own unreliable measurements of spirituality. And the Devil majors on spiritual subterfuge in particular—it’s his domain of activity (Eph 6:12).
On the other hand, the Word of God is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). We don’t have to be deceived. We have the truth, which sets us apart from spiritual error (John 17:17).
Who Is Spiritual?
Sometimes you might hear someone say, “He’s a spiritual person.” Based on a scriptural evaluation, that would be the same as saying, “He’s a saved person.” Every saved person is a spiritual person, because at the point of his justification by faith, he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:19-20, 1 John 3:9). Only believers are spiritual. No unbeliever is spiritual, even if he says he’s “a spiritual person.”
No believer is any more spiritual than any other person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. When someone receives the Holy Spirit, he has all the Holy Spirit that he will ever get. He doesn’t need any fresh outpouring or anointing. The concept of “more spiritual” isn’t in the Bible. God does command believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), which is to be controlled by the Spirit (Rom 6). When a believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in various ways described in the New Testament.
How Does the Holy Spirit Manifest Himself?
The New Testament indicates several different ways that we can discern true spirituality. We should expect all of these of someone who is spiritual. Because everyone has equal spiritual resources (Eph 1:3; 2 Pet 1:1-4; 1 Cor 1:7), everyone also has equal opportunity for manifesting true spirituality. In other words, no one is breathing any kind of pure spiritual air that sets him apart from any other believer.
God isn’t responsible for spiritual lack. When a man is tempted, he is drawn away of his own lusts (James 1:14). The Holy Spirit will show Himself through a believer, but more than any one thing, self gets in the way. Humbling self is an important first step to revealing true spirituality.
First, a person who is filled with the Spirit is letting the Word of Christ dwell in him richly. Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages. Someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit is also controlled by God’s Word. When we disobey Scripture, either in thought, word, or deed, at that moment we are also either resisting or quenching the Holy Spirit. True spirituality manifests itself in obedience to the Bible. A Christian life obedient to the Spirit will look like Scripture.
Second, the Holy Spirit will show Himself through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I don’t think the emphasis of “fruit” is in the nature of bananas, apples, or oranges. Fruit is production. The Holy Spirit will produce a certain type of attitude that will result in a right kind of behavior. That disposition is seen in the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something you work on, but a work that the Holy Spirit does in and through you. And that fruit will show up because the believer submits to the Holy Spirit. The fruit is all or nothing. He either is manifesting the Holy Spirit or he isn’t. If he is, then all of the fruit will show up. Others will see the Holy Spirit and not self when the Christian is filled with the Spirit.
Third, when the Holy Spirit is in charge in someone’s life, this will show up in God-honoring music (Eph 5:19) and perpetual thanksgiving (Eph 5:20). The Holy Spirit directs the Spirit controlled person toward praise and thanks, both pointing toward God and away from self.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit will transform the relationships of those who are controlled by Him (Eph 5:21-6:8). This is how the Holy Spirit fulfills the law through love. The Christian is directed by the Spirit to meet other’s needs, which are all different by Divine design. A child has a different need from a parent, an employer from an employee, and a husband from a wife.
Fifth, the particular spiritual giftedness of the Spirit-filled person will show up in His church (1 Cor 12). The Holy Spirit divides to a church as He wills, providing it His own unique blend depending on its needs. When the Christian submits to the Spirit, he will fulfill his part in the body. The whole church is more important than his part in it. Jesus will be glorified by being manifested by the Spirit through the church in the world.
Sixth, he will preach the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). No believer has any more power than any other believer. He can be more bold, however, depending upon his submission to the Holy Spirit. If he’s bold, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word of God unto the salvation of souls. There is no unique power for evangelism. The power rests in the Scripture through the Spirit. Boldness will look, well, bold. Some may confuse this for pride, because proclamation of truth lacks the nuance that some expect of a fake humility.
We have these six means for detecting true spirituality. They could be faked for a period of time, but not for long. However, we should content ourselves with what God’s Word reveals as genuine indicators. The replacement gauges of spirituality provide people with false positives, fooling them into a dangerous spiritual ease.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
Part of discerning true spirituality revolves around the discernment of the will of God. How does the Holy Spirit lead? We’ll approach this question next time.
Mormons have their burning in the bosom and Charismatics have their tongues and healings, their signs and wonders. Is it possible that others—evangelicals, fundamentalists, independent Baptists—have their own editions of these?
I started pastoring in 1986 first as an interim pastor in Southeastern Wisconsin and then in 1987 in our new church in the San Francisco Bay Area. After only a few years, I wrote a missions questionnaire for an initial screen for prospective missionaries—they were (and are) all multiple choice questions. One question asked how someone would know the will of God. Very few missionaries in the twenty plus years have circled the letter for the answer I was looking for on that questionnaire.
Many of the others that I referenced in my first paragraph have a very subjective approach or understanding to the will of God, and specifically the individual will of God. For the sake of knowing where I’m coming from here, I believe that there are three aspects to the will of God. There is the sovereign will of God, which is everything that ever happens. God will cause or allow everything that happens. If He didn’t want something to happen, He could or would stop it. And if He wanted something to happen, He would make sure it did just like He wanted it. If something “bad” happens, we can still say that it is the will of God, because God is sovereign. He has some purpose in either causing or allowing it.
There is the moral will of God, which is essentially the Bible. The moral will of God is what God desires for everyone to do, which is Scripture, since God’s Word is sufficient. And then there is the individual will of God, which are those events or decisions or circumstances in our life which are unique to us as individuals, like who we will marry, where we will live, and what kind of vacuum we will purchase. It is this third “will of God” that I’m talking about here.
I want to categorize here the abuses that I’ve witnessed. Some readers may be able to expand or add, which is fine, but here are some of what I have seen and still often do. I think these will be controversial, because I think there are people reading, who have depended upon these “burnings in the bosom,” perhaps Baptist edition.
“God Told Me”
A lot of damage has been done in the name of “God told me.” A corollary to “God told me” is “the Holy Spirit told me.” Do you believe that God tells you things? Now if you’re talking about something you read in the Bible, I’m with you there, but if it is something extra-scriptural, I’m not with you on that one. God isn’t “telling people” anything anymore outside of Scripture. Everything we need is in the Bible. That’s what God is still telling us. How do I know that? Because it is all over the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19; Jude 1:3). And important passage to this is 2 Peter 1:19-21 where Peter exalts Scripture above his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration as a “more sure word of prophecy.” The voice of God speaking to us is Scripture, and that alone. Even if we are hearing from the Holy Spirit, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Eph 6:17).
These evangelicals, many of them, use language that the Bible reserves for direct verbal revelation from God to apply to their normal Christian living. They expect God to tell them what to do in their day to day lives like God at times told Abraham, Moses, and the apostles. And when I say “tell them,” I mean very specific instructions on what to choose or do on an everyday basis. They believe and practice this despite God pointing His people back to His Words that He already has given (Ps 19:7-11; 2 Tim 3:15-17). These same people believe that the Bible is the primary way God speaks to His people, but not the only way that He does.
Were the intertestamental periods actually silent years? Or did God keep up a regular chatter with His people? Was God still directly revealing anything between Malachi and Matthew? Or did He continue to expect His people to follow His Word like we read, well, everywhere in the Old Testament (Deut 4:5-8; Joshua 1:8; 1 Kings 2:3; Ps 119:11, 24). God did have His periods of direct, special revelation. This is not one of them. The last one ended in the first century. There hasn’t been one since.
Often in these experiences, these same people struggle to hear God’s voice, sometimes going through some type of sacrifice to get the direction they need from God—praying through, fasting, really wanting it earnestly. If they really are supposed to be hearing God tell them something like we read in the Bible, then there shouldn’t be any kind of struggle at all. When we see God speak in Scripture, it is always clear and understandable, not dependent on any lifting from the recipient.
If God is really talking to us and like what we see in the Bible, because that’s where we got that idea, then how is that any different than what occurred with either a prophet or apostle? Why would the Bible carefully lay out the qualifications of the prophet in Deuteronomy and the apostle in Acts if there wasn’t anything unique to the prophetic or apostolic experience? God did speak to Moses and Samuel and Peter and Paul. He isn’t speaking to us today. He completed all that with the last verse of the book of Revelation.
I think this “God spoke to me” thing is another version of continuationism—much more subtle and perhaps more dangerous than the Charismatic edition, because of that. A whole lot of both false teaching that “God gave” and horrible practice or behavior gets excused by “God told me.” There is a lot more I”d like to say here, but this is only a blog post. So next.
“God Is Really Blessing”
This second one or some version of it often accompanies the first one. Usually it comes after “God told me.” First “God told me,” then “I did it,” and third “God is really blessing.” “God is really blessing” validates “God told me.” Sometimes “God really blesses” false doctrine and practice, like 1-2-3 pray with me “evangelism.” The same kind of proof is offered for shows of Divine power, numbers of folks who ‘walked the aisle,’ how many decisions were made, and the “sweet spirit we felt there.” The sweet spirit was witnessed in the shouting, the hand or hanky waving, and the tears, among other excitements. Sometimes after “God told” someone something, he had explosive numeric growth that validated the following of what “God told” him.
“God is really blessing” our bus because “we had over 100 on our bus.” “God is really blessing” our bus ministry because we ran over 1000 during our special promotion. “God is really blessing” our Sunday School campaign because we’ve had over 100 kids “get saved.” “God is really blessing” the carnival we held for the grand opening of our new building because of all the people who showed up for the sno-cones and jumpers. “God really blessed” those promotions.
If you were to criticize “God is really blessing,” you might be a “tool of Satan.” You might be Sanballat and Tobiah (the guys who opposed Nehemiah in that book). You might be touching God’s anointed like David understood not to do with Saul. You might say that you don’t think that “God told” is a legitimate means of determining the will of God, but the answer could be, “how do you explain what happened with me then?” Almost always some experience is the validation of “God told me.” When we built, then they came. They came and they came like the rain on Noah’s ark. I was talking to a man who went to a Benny Hinn meeting, and now he can’t or won’t listen to Scripture because Benny Hinn cured him of his stuttering.
Sometimes the question might be asked, “Why aren’t we seeing anything happen?” By “anything happen” is meant lots of decisions, many new converts, or explosive growth. Why not? The assumption is often that you are missing out on some spiritual resource as a Christian or that you aren’t trying hard enough, praying enough, or reading your Bible enough, which results in not having the things that you need. God withholds them from those who won’t pay the price. Instead of one week meetings, go to two week meetings and by the time you get to the second week, then “God starts to break things open.” If you don’t get it in two weeks, why not go to three? If you won’t go to four, maybe you don’t want to pay the price.
Christians won’t experience the blessing of God when they live in disobedience to the Word of God. However, they actually have every blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3) and the moment they were saved by grace, they no longer lacked in any gift from God (1 Cor 1:7). Everyone who obeys Scripture is pinning the needle on God’s blessing even if their brook runs dry. The Bible tells us why church growth sometimes doesn’t occur. It can be because of disobedience, but the most common explanation from Jesus is the condition of the hearts of the hearers. You have nothing to do with that. And ultimately, you are irrelevant to more happening, because it’s God Who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6).
The people who “God is really blessing” are often manipulating the results. It’s an election equivalent of stuffing the ballot box. And why not? It isn’t those who are careful with the Word who get attention in this system. In evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and young Calvinism, people want to hear from those whom “God is really blessing.” Even if you get to where you are through some combination of compromise, talent, or technique, you will most often be rewarded in some tangible way because God must be really blessing you. There is no better cologne than victory. And if you don’t agree, it’s probably because God isn’t really blessing you.
At this LINK you can find the audio for the 2010 Word of Truth Conference at Bethel Baptist Church, El Sobrante, CA. Two of the Jackhammers participated. Enjoy.
Two evangelical or fundamentalist churches could be nearly identical in their doctrinal statements but still be quite different, as much distinct in their view of spirituality as are the disparate understandings of “belief in Christ” terminology for a Mormon and a conservative evangelical. Yes, I believe there’s that much noncomformity. This undiscriminating approach to spirituality, I believe, may be the most damaging, though ignored, situation in the church today. One finds its reality in varying degrees of subjective experience, while the other looks to an objective faith, yet both, again, with the same theological creed. The similarity of the latter provides cover for the contrast of the former, the diversity explained as a matter of preference or taste.
Church members, professing believers, wish for an authentic spiritual experience in their church attendance. They judge authenticity by excitement and emotion, even enthusiasm, which might manifest itself in several varied ways. It’s not that feelings would be their chief criteria if they were asked to mark a box on a checklist. These same people don’t believe they are being guided by their feelings or that their emotions are being swayed by external factors to produce a false sense of spirituality. Their feelings, however, are what are telling them that their experience is authentic, especially in their “worship.”
Scripture shows that true spirituality is judged by God’s Word, by the truth. The two types of churches I’m talking about would both agree with that. However, that is not how the individuals often judge whether spirituality has been attained. They might ascertain the spiritual condition by means of release of emotion, shouting, tears, swaying, giddiness, head bobbing, jumping, toe-tapping, or hand waving, all possible indications of something happening in the realm of genuine spirituality. It also might show up with signs of power, that is, hands raised or movement toward the front at an invitation. What might not be considered is that all or some of these spiritual barometers might be caused or initiated by human manipulation of some kind, either through the rhythm of the music, the rise and fall of someone’s voice, a story, the lighting, clapping, or by the suggestion of the speaker to a wanting audience. The shared experience of the crowd further validates the authenticity. Something good must have happened.
Certain symptoms of legitimacy accompany the concoction of fraudulent spirituality—tightly closed eyes, head tilted heavenward, certain hushed tones, or the Clintonesque biting of the bottom lip. This is assembly line authenticity, Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can realism. A trembling, purposefully scratchy voice, cries out a plaintiff wail with all the gusto that fake authenticity can muster.
The shared emotions of a church galvanize the people like some chant in the pregame ritual of a football team. This does have a sort of power. Many may think of this as heavenly power as they undergo its effects, persuaded that they must have connected with God. They may even mistake it for love between one another because of the shared warmth. It has the power to succeed at attracting or keeping people who wish for something more or different than faith. Churches not aligning themselves with these ways feel a pressure to use the same methods of provocation.
Many who choreograph these types of experiences, that replace true spirituality with the fake, know what they are doing. They know what certain rhythms do. They want the lighting in the building and the cadence of the speaking and the chords and the speed of the music to have their effect on a crowd. They manufacture the feelings with fleshly means and then call it spirituality. Some of the purveyors of these schemes are modern Calvinists, who, while trumpeting the sovereignty of God and bewailing the new measures of Arminianism, whip their own brand of religious ecstacy.
The faux spirituality conforms to a perverted view of Divine immanence, God’s relatedness, stemming from a post-enlightenment evacuation of Divine transcendence. The new emphasis on God’s immanence corresponds to a cultural shift in focus from God to man. Sin is less a concern in its offense of God as its psychological implications for men. The spirit engendered in a church service has the power to overcome a broken relationship or downcast countenance, providing the desired therapy.
Church music, and even all music, reflects the new view of spirituality. Man’s taste has become preeminent in musical composition and performance, both style and words. I believe the music has had a more detiorating effect on the perversion of spirituality than even the substance of the lyrics in church hymnody. Professing Christians have watered down the doctrinal content of hymns, but that has followed the use of popular tunes, which are popular because they lure where luring occurs—the flesh. Man’s flesh isn’t drawn away by his spirit, but by his flesh, and enticed.
Not only have churches been fooled in this particular false spirituality, but also an imposter in the realm of something perhaps even more wicked, that is, mysticism, a secret spirituality found in eastern religions and felt in the their music and worship. They produce natural, whispery, repetitious sounds that our culture has now accepted as something in touch with God. It sometimes takes on the calmness of the surface of a mountain lake or the lapping of the waves on the seashore. The connection isn’t with the God, Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, but the god of this world, who is also the god of pantheism. These rhythms and sounds are now incorporated into modern worship music, again fooling people with a counterfeit spirituality.
In the 1960s, the Jesus movement portrayed itself as authentic Christianity, tapping into the counter-culture sweeping the United States and then the world. The emotions and even rebellion young people felt in their relations to traditional family and government structure and authority was revealed through their music. These feelings were real. The music itself became, to them, an expression of their inner yearnings. The people involved put on no airs—in their dress, with their hair, with their physical touch. They didn’t hold back, just let it hang loose, elucidating the kind of liberty they felt in Christ. They also talked “like so sincere.” The Jesus people took that music and incorporated it into Christian worship. The music itself became associated with authenticity and genuine spirituality. Other forms were stilted, repressive, and against the feeling of the movement. The music not only reflected the emotions, but produced or proliferated them. They were accepted as evidence of spirituality. This movement has bridged the gap for all forms of the world’s music as true expressions of man’s relationship with God.
Not every church takes the tactics to their furthest end. Don’t think that because someone is worse than you that you get a pass on these techniques and this warping of true spirituality. Many churches have stirred up their own unique stew of varied strengths and styles.
This attack on the meaning of spirituality is an attack on the truth. There is true spirituality defined by Scripture. Genuine spirituality is sanctified by God’s Word, not by people’s feelings.
I think that what we have here is equal to the perversion of false doctrine. We have dumbed down or altered spirituality and then many other theological concepts necessary for true worship and obedience to God, including love and the nature of God Himself. God does not receive the affection of which He is worthy. And many men through this deceit are further tangled in a web of pseudo-spirituality from which for many there is no escape.
The New Testament several times lists the people who will not enter into heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8, 27; 22:15) . Since these lists are all different, they are not each intended to be comprehensive, but representative. Whether someone makes it to heaven or not, lives forever in the New Jerusalem, enters through the gates of that eternal city, is a gospel issue. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists today say that they separate over the gospel. God excludes the people on these lists from salvation, so they are gospel related practices. People who practice them are not saved and will not be saved. You’ve got to repent from these sins, resulting in them not being your practice any more. That’s what the lists say.
One of these exclusion passages is Revelation 21:8, which reads:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Later in Revelation 21:27, you read this:
And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Those are very serious sounding verses in the Bible. One is not more caring who does not take these types of verses seriously. I want to draw your attention to just one of the ones in the lists, and that is “the abominable.” “The abominable . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” Wow. I sure wouldn’t want to be one of these “abominable” ones. I wonder who they are. I mean, who are they? Who are “the abominable”? And then in the next verse, v. 27, we see that those who work abomination will not enter into the gates of the eternal city. I should look at Scripture to see who these people are, that is, let the Bible define for me who they are. The abominable would be who the Bible says are abominable. This really isn’t a matter of opinion. So a good thing to do would be to look this up in God’s Word. These “abominable” ones, these people who work “abomination,” are found right in these lists, excluding them from eternal life and heaven. The fact that they are included in these lists would say that these are practices that really have God’s attention. He despises them.
Separation forever from God is the ultimate in separation. God will not have an abominable one, one committing abominations, in His presence for all eternity. This looks like God’s kind of separation over the gospel. Someone could not be said to believe the gospel, but also to believe that abominations are permissible, could he?
I could start with the English word “abomination” to find what is uniquely an abomination, or what makes the people an abomination. I could also look at the Greek word translated “abomination” or “abominable” to find out who they are. The New Testament, that’s right, the New Testament, says that those people who are an abomination will have their part in the lake of fire. Now where does the Bible say that a person is an abomination to God? What would a person do that is an abomination to God? We would need to look at the Bible to find out who that person is. OK, so let’s look.
The Greek word for “abomination” is bdelugma. That Greek word, or forms of it, is found 6 times in the New Testament, two of which are in Revelation 21:8 and 27. The Hebrew word is to-ay-baw. That Hebrew word is found 117 times in the Old Testament in 112 verses. “Abomination” is mainly an Old Testament concept, but it is still in play as offensive to God as seen in the two verses in Revelation. We get our idea of what an abomination is from the Old Testament, however.
If you look at every single one of the verses where these words are used, only one verse says a practice that makes a person an abomination. Only one. People do abominations. They commit abominations. But only in one verse does the person himself or herself become an abomination to God. In certain verses, we see that someone can become an abomination to other people, but in only one does a person become an abomination to God. Which is that verse?
So I see this very serious verse that says that the abominable will go to the lake of fire and then I go to find out who the abominable is and I for sure see in the Bible that person in Deuteronomy 22:5. And what makes the person abominable, an abomination to God? Let’s read the verse.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
“All that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” Who is an abomination to God? Who is abominable? First, the woman who wears the item specifically designated for a man, that distinguishes him as a man. Second, the man who puts on a woman’s garment.
Do you want to be an abomination to God? I wouldn’t think so, especially in light of Revelation 21:8 and 27.
Is someone being an abomination a gospel issue according to Revelation 21:8 and 21:27? I see it as such. God separates himself from the abominable. Should we separate ourselves from the abominable?
What is the male garment? What is the female garment? What item of clothing distinguishes a man from a woman and woman from a man, honoring God’s design? For many centuries, cultures that looked to the Bible in these matters distinguished pants as the male item and the skirt or dress as the female item. As feminism and unisex thinking took hold in a post-enlightenment, rationalistic, evolutionary United States, women began wearing pants in contradiction to the male role and male headship. In certain cases, women began to wear them out of sheer convenience with little thought about the symbolism of God’s designed roles. God’s people would not go along with pagan culture, but like in so many other areas, churches began to compromise with the world. Today in most evangelical and fundamentalist churches, women wearing pants is acceptable. Even further, in most instances, the women who continue to wear only female garments are ridiculed or looked upon as odd. The churches who take the historic Christian position are scorned and marginalized.
But Revelation 21:8 and 21:27 are both still in the Bible. And Deuteronomy 22:5 is still the only verse that says a person becomes an abomination for a particular practice. And women in dresses or skirts and men in pants is the historic way that Christians have followed Deuteronomy 22:5.
Is an abomination a non-essential? Does God say that an abomination is a non-essential? Of course not. Who is anyone to say that an abomination is a non-essential? And yet today evangelicals and fundamentalists would say that an abomination is a non-essential.
Just because a fundamentalist says it is a non-essential doesn’t mean that God is saying that it is a non-essential. You won’t be able to say to God that you would have known, except that a fundamentalist told you that this wasn’t essential and you believed him. You’ll have to base what you believe and do on what God said. If fundamentalists don’t say the same thing, that can’t really matter.
Think about it.
As you are thinking about it, I want to make a preemptive strike. Someone is going to say, “So are you saying that women who wear pants are an abomination and so are going to hell?” That will be the most likely argument to come along to this. It is a jr. high type of argumentation that shouldn’t get any respect. I’m asking you to think about the verses in the Bible. Be serious about them. They are very serious verses.
The other response will most likely be ridicule. Men will scoff at this position. They will not likely offer you an alternative for the practice of Deuteronomy 22:5. They might say that all that really matters is that women look like women and men look like men. That’s not what the verse says, however. It says don’t put on certain items or garments. Don’t have them on. Just because fundamentalists say that there are no such items of clothing today does not make it true.
So again, think about it.
I just finished a series in Revelation and that is what got me thinking about this post. It is normal for me to ask, “Who is abominable? Who would that be?” And if you look it up, you get to Deuteronomy 22:5. But what also crossed my mind is a new attack, I believe, on the Lordship of Christ in which those claiming to elevate the gospel to its rightful place, say that by talking about something like “pants on women,” men like myself are diminishing the gospel, which is, according to them, to be first in importance. By giving the gospel this so-called “back seat,” men like myself, according to these “gospel first” guys, are doing damage to the gospel. This type of idea is being pushed in conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Revelation 21:8, 27, and 22:15 would indicate the opposite. If you love the gospel, you are going to warn about these types of practices in people’s lives. When we left all to follow Christ, we certainly left abomination. So when we confront abomination, and connect that to the gospel, we are doing the right thing related to Christ as Lord. There would be no practicers of abomination, who also follow Him. Abomination isn’t in that path of following Christ. The freedom that Christ gives us through the gospel is not freedom to be abominable, but freedom from abomination.
If someone who brings up an abomination in a gospel conversation is guilty of somehow dismissing the gospel, then the Apostle John was doing that when he mentioned abomination in Revelation 21. Jesus Himself brought up loving your neighbor in a gospel conversation in Luke 10 and covetousness in Matthew 19. What we have with these evangelicals and fundamentalists, I’m afraid, is something of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness that Jude wrote about, and using grace as an occasion to the flesh that the Apostle Paul mentioned in Galatians.
Another point. People want “abomination” to be non-New Testament. Since it’s not New Testament, it doesn’t matter. But it is New Testament. Not being an abomination continues to be an issue in the New Testament. But it obviously points back to practices in the Old Testament. This does great harm to that particular excuse in this.
One more point. Shouldn’t being an abomination give us pause? Shouldn’t we want to make sure we aren’t one? Why mess around with whether we’re being one or not? Especially in light of Revelation 21:8, 27?
Last point. I believe that people just block this one out. They just choose not to think about it. They put their head in the sand in so many ways. They aren’t dealing seriously with the text itself. Until I preached a series through Deuteronomy several years ago, I wasn’t either. Once I came face to face with what it said, I had to make a decision. The decision hasn’t made me more popular. To be honest with the text, I had to take the position I take. When I looked at commentaries from before 1930, they were unanimous in what this text meant. The popularity of alternative positions came later. People hang on to those alternatives. I believe they spread abomination. That doesn’t sound like a good thing to do. But it is what they are doing. They attempt to take comfort in the reality that most professing Christians don’t follow this path any more. If so many other Christians go the way they go, then they must be safe. It couldn’t be true that so many people, who are such good people, could all be doing wrong. You’ll hear the same argumentation used by Charismatics. I heard the same used by a Mormon this last Sunday when I was out evangelizing in Sacramento.
You’ve probably noticed regular new labels and terms popping up. One of these, I’ve seen, is “cultural conservative.” I don’t know when that terminology was first used, but I know it differentiates certain conservatives from the “fiscal conservatives.” Whether you would have the “cultural conservative” label or the “fiscal conservative” one probably depends on why you vote for who you do. The latter would vote with his so-called “pocketbook.” Fiscal concerns may bring people together that do not see eye-to-eye on the culture. The two terms, culture and fiscal, divide conservatism.
What Is Cultural Fundamentalism
I believe that this division in conservatism between cultural and fiscal has now become the basis for a new division that I have read only in the last few years, that is, the cultural fundamentalists and the theological or doctrinal fundamentalists. With just a little looking, I have found that “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile as a technical terminology for something entirely different than how Christian fundamentalists have used it. “Cultural fundamentalism” has referred to a usually violent antipathy to a change of culture. That label is often hung on the jihad of Islamic countries who desire one Islamic culture. So “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile, but only recently has it been used, mainly as a pejorative, to color a certain brand of Christian fundamentalism.
In 1999 a professor at the University of Wisconsin, William P. Tishler, referred to “cultural fundamentalism” existing in the U. S. in the 1920s. He described it like this:
The 1920s was a time when many adherents of “Cultural Fundamentalism” attempted to ensure that all Americans followed the right patterns of thought: quest for certainty and predictability in social relationships; an order in human affairs that was at once familiar, comfortable, and unthreatening; and nostalgia for the idealized, non-industrial society of their parents.
Tishler’s syllabus reads like sheer propaganda, assigning motives to people without evidence. David G. Bromley in his 1984 book, New Christian Politics, calls the “new religious right” (NRR) “cultural fundamentalism.” He, like Tishler, would say that “cultural fundamentalism” supports things like right to life and male headship.
The first “cultural fundamentalism” struck me as an identifiable label was when I read what Tim Jordan said at the latest GARBC national conference. He warned:
If we produce ‘biblical’ reasons for cultural fundamentalism, they [the young Fundamentalists] know you are lying. And why do they know you are lying? It’s because you are!
So you see his usage of “cultural fundamentalism,” differentiating himself from that. I started looking for other usages and I read this from Bob Bixby on his blog in January 2008:
These first-generation Calvinists embrace Calvinism in order to embrace what they really want: contemporary worship, a swig of beer, or the sheer pride of life that gratifies the egos of those who, embittered because of everything they could not have in cultural fundamentalism on the basis of dumb argumentation, now have an indisputably better biblical argument for anything they want.
I don’t know exactly who Ben Wright is talking about at 9 Marks in Mar-April 2008 when he says cultural fundamentalists are atheological fundamentalists. He writes:
In addition, the theological Fundamentalism of Bauder and Doran represents a matured strain of Fundamentalism that intends to expose and disassociate from the atheological (sometimes called cultural) Fundamentalism that has dominated many segments of separatist Fundamentalism in recent decades.
Here’s how someone named Charlie defined “cultural fundamentalism” at SharperIron:
I have heard the term “cultural Fundamentalism” applied to those described as hyper-Fundamentalists. I like this term at least somewhat better, because it communicates that the real areas of controversy are not “doctrinal” in the sense of disputes about systematic categories (which some cultural Fundamentalists wouldn’t even be able to explicate), but rather cultural in the sense of affecting the look, feel, and function of church life. For example, you can sing vapid songs, but not CCM songs. You can murder the meaning of a Bible passage, but you have to have the correct initials on the binding. You can preach all sorts of bizarre allegory, but you need to be in coat and tie when you do it.
Kevin Bauder dealt with this way back in 2005 in his essay “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving,” especially in these two paragraphs:
This, I think, highlights the limited usefulness of a distinction between “historic” and “cultural” fundamentalism. Biblical obedience is never acultural for the simple reason that human beings are never acultural. We must always obey God at a particular time, in a particular place, situated in a particular culture. We do not really care whether George Carlin’s words were obscenities in 1560, nor whether their cognates are obscene in German or Norwegian. We care about what they mean in English at the beginning of the 21st Century.
In short, the only way to be a historic, biblical fundamentalist is to be a cultural fundamentalist. The only alternatives are, first, to say that cultures are beyond the Bible’s ability to critique and correct, or second, to argue that fundamentalism is concerned only with doctrine and not with obedience. I doubt that any of us really wants to take either of those steps.
It’s interesting to consider that Ben Wright says that Bauder is not a cultural fundamentalist, and wants to distinguish him from one, when Bauder himself says that a historic fundamentalist must be a cultural fundamentalist. I think I’ll go with what Bauder says about himself rather than what Wright says about Bauder to help his article along. It would do Ben well to also check out a certain paper produced by Mark Snoeberger, who teaches at Detroit, Doran’s seminary, and his words about cultural fundamentalism:
It is often suggested that there are two kinds of fundamentalism—doctrinal fundamentalism and cultural fundamentalism. The former is to be embraced as a defense of the orthodox core; the latter to be eschewed as a counter-cultural set of archaic, arcane, and even pharisaical traditions some of which are downright silly. There is some validity to this distinction. At the same time, since theology always informs our view of culture, it is impossible to completely divorce the two.
We have already noted above that in the specific issue of evangelism, fundamentalists have typically eschewed both the ―Christ of culture‖ approach (practiced broadly by liberalism and new evangelicalism) and also the holistic ―Christ transforming culture‖ approach (practiced in Kuyperian Reformed circles). I would suggest that this understanding has extended beyond evangelism to a whole plethora of cultural issues.
Snoeberger says you can’t divorce the theological fundamentalism from the cultural.
Why are doctrinal and cultural fundamentalism being divided? I believe there are those who want to hang on to the doctrine of separation. They think it’s in the Bible. But they only want to separate over certain theological issues. They want to allow much more room to maneuver on the so-called cultural issues. Therefore, if there exists doctrinal fundamentalism, they can still be a fundamentalist without associating with the fundamentalists who disassociate over violations of the right cultural practices.
Why I’m Not a Cultural Fundamentalist
I really do identify with these people who don’t mind being and being called “cultural fundamentalists.” But I’m not one. Most would make me a poster boy for cultural fundamentalism. I refuse it. I reject it. Don’t lay that label on me. However, I also don’t like that this division is occurring in fundamentalism. I see what it is, and it’s not good for fundamentalism in my opinion, really for the same reasons Bauder states in his “Fundamentalism Worth Saving” article.
But again, I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because, first, I’m not a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a movement that gets along and gets together based upon agreement on a short list of doctrines. I don’t see that as scriptural unity or biblical separation. To obey the Bible, I can’t be a fundamentalist.
I add to the above first reason that I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because I don’t separate based upon culture. I don’t unify based on culture. I refuse that designation by others. I will not allow that to stick. The name “cultural fundamentalist” is just being used to discredit a biblical belief and practice. It is sliding that scriptural doctrine and practice to something that is just cultural, really only opinion. That isn’t the case. I don’t believe and practice opinions. I am sanctified by the truth. My church will be sanctified by God’s Word to every good work.
Male headship isn’t cultural. It is biblical. Heterosexuality isn’t cultural. It’s scriptural. Gender designed distinctions in appearance isn’t cultural. They are biblical. Modesty isn’t cultural. It’s in God’s Word. Complementarianism isn’t cultural. It’s in the Bible. Spiritual, sacred worship isn’t cultural. It is scriptural. Dress that is distinct from the world isn’t cultural. It’s biblical. Patriarchy isn’t cultural. It is Scripture. I’m to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I’m to teach the saints whatever God has said in His Word. I’m not going to have those teachings diminished for the convenience of those who prefer to fit into an unbiblical way of life. Take the world, but give me Jesus.
The Bible is lived in the real world. The Bible reacts to culture. The Bible guides how we will live. The Bible tells us what is the right music, the right art, the right marriage, the right fashion, and the right family.
This last week I was out evangelizing with quite a few others from our church and I came to the door of the jr-high pastor of one of the local Rick-Warren-Purpose-Driven types of churches. I was with two teenagers. The man’s wife answered the door-bell and she seemed happy we were there once she knew we were out preaching the gospel (not JWs). She said her husband was the jr-high pastor at that particular church, which I know well. A first thought for me was what does a jr. high pastor do all day, but I refrained from asking that question, although I was really curious. I considered the oiling of the skateboard wheels and the proper wrinkling of the urban chic t-shirts. But I digress. I talked to her for awhile about the gospel to find out what they believed the gospel was. I had about finished with her thinking, which wasn’t quite developed enough for me to conclude, when her husband arrived. I spotted her husband before she did. As much as people stereotype fundamentalists, evangelicals might be easier to identify in their desperate desire to blend. Information: stop trying so hard. You blend like a Chinese tourist at Dollywood. Next.
The wife had to leave, so jr. high man and I talked first about the gospel. I was a little surprised to hear that he was a Calvinist. The senior pastor is a Dallas graduate. He didn’t disagree with most of what I said there on the basics, although I’m hard pressed to have even an LDS contradict me up to a certain point. It’s become all how you define the terms. Maybe that’s always been it. A big one is: Who is Jesus? A lot of different viewpoints there all under the banner of Jesus. But I moved on to worship. I kinda see that as the next thing. In a certain sense, I see the gospel and worship categorically as the same (see John 4:23-24). My question is: do you worship God in your church? Just because worship is happening doesn’t mean that it is actually happening. What people think is worship relates to Who they think God is. I already knew that at this church the worship was a matter of one’s taste. Those were almost the exact words I heard from their senior pastor when I had a previous conversation with him. I will say that talking to the jr. high pastor was a little like talking to a jr. higher. The arguments were similar to jr. high ones. I made a note that he needed to get out of the jr. high department a little more—pooled ignorance was happening.
Jr. high guy asked what music was appropriate for worship. I’m fine answering that question, and I knew it was a trap to offer the name of a particular style, but I did name some I did not believe were acceptable to God for worship, namely rap, hip-hop, grunge, and rock, among others. Upon listing those, his eyes lit up and he fired off a derogatory question as an answer: “So you’re saying that God can’t take rap music and redeem it for his worship?” The answer to that question is, of course, “N0,” but that is not how you answer. The key word in his question, I believe, was “redeem.” How he used that word says a lot about his view of the world and his understanding of God, of Christ, of worship, and of the Incarnation.
I believe this man’s concept of “redeeming the culture” is quite popular today. It is also new. It is not a historic understanding of either “redemption” or “culture.” The phraseology is an invention, designed to justify worldliness. What is most diabolical is that the phrase, “redeeming the culture,” is used to categorize a wicked activity into some sort of sanctified one. You should be able to conclude what damage this would do to the cause of biblical discernment.
Earlier I said the man carried on a jr. high type of approach. What did I mean? He used questions as a form of mockery. For instance, he asked, “So you’re saying that individual notes are evil or something?” He also leaned on the time-honored, “So any kind of song that is upbeat, I guess, is wrong then?” Who said anything about “individual notes being evil” or “upbeat songs being wrong”? No one. And he asked them with a kind of accusatory and incredulous tone, as if he was shocked.
To get the right idea of what God will redeem, we should consider 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and that we can glorify God with our body. The body itself is not evil, despite what the Gnostics might say. It is how one uses the body. Paul explains that in Romans 6 when he says that the body can either be used for righteousness or unrighteousness depending upon what it serves. Letters and notes are about the same. They can be either used for evil or for good. Cloth is the same way. The material that turns into immodest clothing is not itself evil. What is evil is what the cloth is turned into, how it is used. Letters can be turned into foul language. Paint can become wicked or profane art. Notes can be formed into godless, pagan music, just like they can be made into sacred music.
However, someone can’t take pornography and redeem it for God. I explained this obvious point to jr. high man. I illustrated it by asking if naked women on the streets of a Marine base could be redeemed by handing out tracts. The Marines would show more interest. More tracts would be taken. The contents of the tracts was holy. Does the message justify the medium? Of course, he said no. The beauty of the illustration is that it makes it simple even for a jr. higher.
At a root level, this wrong idea about redemption relates to a perversion of Christ’s incarnation. It is very much a Gnostic understanding of the Incarnation. The logic of it goes like the following. Jesus became a man. Men are sinful. Jesus became a man so that He could relate with sinners. This takes His condescension right into the sewer. Jesus was a man, but He was a sinless, righteous man. He was tempted like men were, but without sin. Jesus didn’t relate to men. There was nothing wrong about the body. A body isn’t wrong. Jesus took a body. That wasn’t wrong. Jesus wasn’t redeeming the thing of having a body. He didn’t take a body to relate with what sinful men do with their bodies. He took on a body to die for us. That’s how Jesus redeemed. Jesus didn’t take a body to be like men; He took a body so that men could be like Him. These “redeeming the culture” people turn this right around. We Christians are not to take on the characteristics of the world, become like the world. That isn’t incarnational. We should be turning the world upside down, not the world turning us upside down.
To go a little further, we can also see an attack on the atonement in this idea. Jesus redeemed by dying in His body, and shedding real, physical blood in His body. He did not redeem the whole thing of sinful men having sinful bodies by taking a body Himself. This borders on a moral example theory of atonement, as if Jesus showed to sinful men how to have a body through his moral example in and with His body.
Here’s what the “redeeming the culture” people take out of this. If Jesus could take a body to do His work, then we can take rock music to do our worship. Just like Jesus accomplished what He did with a body, we can accomplish what we need to with modern art. This is incarnational to them, redeeming like Jesus redeemed. We redeem these things, making good use of them, sanctifying them, like Jesus made good use of a body.
What should be sad to anyone reading this, and really anyone period, is how that this brand of so-called Christianity destroys scriptural concepts and just about makes it impossible to follow Jesus for these people. The people of their churches think that their feelings, that are really orchestrated by sensual passions, are actually love. They are convinced of it. They are told that it is true, and in so doing, they are deceived. And now the most conservative of evangelicals and most fundamentalists would say that we can’t judge that to be wrong. Sure we can. Those feelings are not love. They are not love for God. Ironically, they are love for self, fooling someone into thinking they are love for God. Rather than redeem anything, they have taken something already redeemed, love, and have perverted it as a result. And God requires His own to love Him. You can see what this does to Christianity.
Professing Christians should just stop using the “redeeming the culture” language. They have it all wrong. They’re just excusing their love for the world and their desire to fit in with the world. You don’t take a profane or sinful activity and “redeem it.” The letters can be used for God. The notes can be used for God. A body can be used for God. But a wrong use of letters, notes, a body, or cloth is not redeemable. Whether any of those will be used for God will depend on what to which they are yielded. If they are yielded to God based upon biblical principles, therefore, acceptable to God, then culture is being redeemed. And only then is culture being redeemed.
Culture is a way of life. If one’s way of life smacks of this world system, the spirit of this age, it is not redeemed. Only a way of life surrendered to the way of God will God redeem.
Evangelicals and Fundamentalists today say that that the right kind of fellowship or unity aligns with the “essential doctrines of Scripture.” On the other hand, at least fundamentalists (since few to no evangelicals talk about separation at all) say that we are to separate only over “essential doctrines of Scripture.” Kevin Bauder, who leads Central Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:
To be a Fundamentalist is, first, to believe that fundamental doctrines are definitive for Christian fellowship, second, to refuse Christian fellowship with all who deny fundamental doctrines (e.g., doctrines that are essential to the gospel), and third, to reject the leadership of Christians who form bonds of cooperation and fellowship with those who deny essential doctrines.
David Doran, who pastors Inter-City Baptist Church in the Detroit area and leads the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:
Believers and churches must separate from those who deny essential doctrines of the faith.
Those are two representative fundamentalists. They write the same thing that evangelicals do. D. A. Carson, professor at Trinity, says:
The Bible itself insists that there is a core of doctrines that are most important. As soon as you start assuming the center and then just focusing on the marginal items, the next generation will be looser on the center.
This “essential doctrine” doctrine is invented for the purpose of fitting in with more people. It isn’t at all some kind of development of doctrine from scriptural exegesis. No way. It’s popular for selling more books, for being bigger, for opening up more speaking engagements, for a fake peace. Guys don’t have to face conflict. They can believe differently and its not a big deal. People can do a lot of things that they want to do and not hear about it. This “essential doctrine” doctrine isn’t from the Bible. It is assumed with no proof. It dumbs down love and unity and truth. A few years ago I wrote this:
But let’s be clear. We know why “core” and all these exciting new theological terms are being used. Men want to be able to water down belief and practice and not be punished for it. The world loves minimizing and reducing, so these same churches will be more popular with the world. And then all the churches that love being popular will also be popular with each other. It’s like a big peace treaty that we could hand out a Christian version of the Nobel Peace prize. We can all smile at each other and get along while we disobey what God said. Then you’ve got a guy that says everything is important, and that’s, you know, an attack on unity. It’s a fake unity like what people have at a family reunion. Real unity is based on what God said.
Not only does the Bible not teach the “essential doctrine” doctrine, but it teaches against it. God killed people for violating certain teachings outside of the “essential doctrines.”
Here are links to articles where I have developed this scripturally and some otherwise:
I’m not saying that ‘what God kills people for’ is the best argument. It just shows how serious God is about things that fundamentalists might say are non-essential. I don’t think we should say something isn’t essential if God kills you for violating it.
When you read D. A. Carson, as in above quote of him, and others that I have read, you see that a new attack on separatists is that they are actually diminishing the gospel or attacking the gospel, so in essence preaching a false gospel, by saying that other doctrines in addition to the gospel are important. This is a subtle, new, and dangerous attack. I am reading the same kind of attack coming from professing fundamentalists.
We should get our doctrine from the Bible. It’s ironic, but evangelicals and now fundamentalists are saying that, if it isn’t stated in scripture, we should allow liberty, but there is no liberty about the “essential doctrine” doctrine, which isn’t in the Bible.