From the very beginning, men have taken liberty both with what God has said and with His grace. In Genesis 3 Satan made a way for Eve to justify eating the forbidden fruit. God’s grace is great. It is wonderful. It is mankind’s only basis for salvation. And yet what? Men who even call themselves Christians turn “the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Jude 1:3). They use their liberty as “an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).
Knowing the potential abuse of the grace of God, Paul immediately after so beautifully describing salvation by grace alone in Romans 1-5, starts Romans 6 by asking, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer in v. 2 is the strongest in the Greek language, translated in the KJV, “God forbid.” Then asking, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” God’s grace isn’t license to sin. So Romans 6:1-2 provides evidence that grace will be perverted in this way, used as a reason for behavior that dishonors God. It signals a need for awareness of potential corruption or cheapening of grace.
1 Peter 2:16 says:
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Here is another place that confronts the use of liberty as license. The context is obedience to government, but the principle is axiomatic. Those to whom Peter is speaking are free. They’ve been redeemed. He doesn’t want them, however, to use that freedom as a covering for evil. The cloak is a veil or a mask, and the mask is covering wickedness. In other words, Christian freedom is never to be used to cover license. Just because we have liberty in Christ doesn’t mean that we get to just do what we want. Someone truly righteous will conform to God’s Word because it says your freedom should be used as a bondslave of God.
Criticism of Adherence to God’s Word
One indication of licentiousness is criticism of a more strict adherence to God’s Word. You see this type of behavior described in 2 Peter 2 and it will often take on the nature of ridicule (2 Pet 3:3). A common, modern criticism coming from the more licentious is one of “legalism.” They label anyone a “legalist” who has stronger standards of holiness and righteousness than what they have. This strategy may have been around longer, but what marked the official beginning in my memory is the publication of the book “The Grace Awakening,” by Charles Swindoll. As Christianity has looked and behaved more and more like the world, new defenses are crafted to justify that kind of living. What drew my attention toward writing this post was a recent essay by Phil Johnson, the executive director of Grace to You. I want to diagnose his piece as a basis for assessing a type of defense of license.
Johnson chooses to paint separatists with this carpet roll sized brush:
[W]e have attracted more than our fair share of very vocal legalists who are convinced that the person with the weakest conscience (or the Bible college with the strictest rules) should get to define holiness for everyone—rather than letting Scripture define it for us. They believe it is their prerogative to dictate to everyone else what’s acceptable and what’s not, rather than following the principles of Romans 14 with regard to matters that aren’t altogether clear. Those people surface at every opportunity, and they seem to love making a fuss. Sometimes it’s fairly humorous (as in the “Chiquita” kerfuffle a few years ago).
I can assure that what Johnson writes here isn’t true. With a meanness in the spirit of a fundamentalism that Johnson decries, he slanders well-meaning and godly-seeming folks. I was involved in the “Chiquita kerfuffle” that Johnson mentions in this paragraph. He used a picture on his blog of a girl, who was wearing biker shorts. He has used a few other pictures with women with full thigh. What was “fairly humorous” to Johnson was his own ridiculing of the men who protested very lightly. It only got a little rougher for Johnson after he mocked those who said anything. I wrote this comment:
I’m wondering what I’m supposed to do when I get to the woman in the hotpants standing on the pyromaniacs logo. She seems to be pyro of a different kind.
And Johnson answered immediately with this:
For all the fundamentalist lurkers whose minds are in the gutter, the girl in the picture is wearing shorts, not a miniskirt or hotpants. The dog is the one in the miniskirt.
This is the kind of “legalism” that Johnson had to face, which he describes in this latest post. To that, he jumps to the idea that we, the legalists, have our minds in the gutter.
Here is how Johnson confronts this “legalism”:
But another kind of legalism is the legalism of the Pharisees. It’s the tendency to reduce every believer’s duty to a list of rules. This is the kind of legalism that often seems to surface in our comment-threads. At its root is a belief that holiness is achieved by legal means—by following a list of “standards.” This type of legalism doesn’t necessarily destroy the doctrine of justification like the legalism of the Judaizers. But it does destroy the doctrine of sanctification, and it is certainly appropriate to call it what it is: legalism—i.e., a sinful misapplication of law; an attempt to make law do work that only grace can do. Like the Judaizers’ brand of legalism, it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.
I’ve read some of these comment threads to which Johnson refers, including the one, of course, that he makes his prime example. Really he tells a blatant lie. Perhaps he thinks he has liberty to tell such a lie. I think it is possible for a kind of legalism to destroy the right view of sanctification, but Johnson doesn’t know at all that the ones he is criticizing hold to such a view of sanctification as he represents. That doesn’t seem to matter to him.
Look at the last sentence Johnson writes—”it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.” What? Scripture doesn’t place anyone under a yoke of bondage. Scripture can’t do that to anyone. Scriptural standards, even Scriptural lists of rules, don’t place anyone under bondage. They could, but God’s law is good. It is good if it is used lawfully. That should be the concern, whether it is used lawfully or not. And immodest dress is bad. Telling someone about that doesn’t put someone under some kind of legalistic bondage. God’s grace tends toward modesty. Informing a conscience with a scriptural standard of modesty will help someone’s conscience. That’s all good too and all helpful toward biblical sanctification.
Left Wing Legalism: Making God’s Word of None Effect
Johnson assumes that separatists, whom he calls “fundamentalists,” recognize only a kind of legalism that applies to salvation, the type of Galatians 1:6-9, adding to the gospel, what he calls the legalism of the Judaizers. He says, however, that these same separatists miss another kind of legalism, that of the Pharisees. He uses Galatians 5:1 as a text to expose this type of legalism, that he asserts that these separatists, “fundamentalists,” are guilty of, for which “fundamentalists” are “notorious,” and what has essentially destroyed fundamentalism. Be sure that this is a simplistic, very selective criticism of the troubles of fundamentalism.
Galatians 5:1 does not give any hint at a kind of legalism that adds to the commandments of God. Johnson twists the verse for his own licentious purposes. The “yoke of bondage” with which the Judaizers of Galatia would entangle men was the actual law (5:3-4), and circumcision specifically (5:2, 6, 11). Circumcision wasn’t a problem. Keeping the law wasn’t wrong for believers. It was making righteousness, whether justification or sanctification, based on human merit. All righteousness comes by grace through faith, even after salvation. However, it is still righteousness that comes by grace through faith. Nothing is said about adding anything to the law in Galatians 5. Johnson reads that into the text in order to criticize people with higher standards of holiness than he has.
It is true that Pharisees were guilty of adding to the law. Johnson mentions that. And it is possible for fundamentalists and evangelicals both to add to God’s Word. Mark 7 is a good passage in this, because Jesus there reveals two types of Pharisaical behavior. The first is the type to which Johnson refers, the adding kind, which is in vv. 7-8. However, he doesn’t talk about another kind of Pharisaicalness, taking away from what God said, which is in vv. 9-13. Jesus sums it up in v. 13: “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” Making the word of God of none effect is the Pharisee behavior of the evangelicals.
You can call reducing the law to a group of rules that you can keep on your own its own brand of Pharisaism, a left-wing kind of legalism. We are sanctified through the truth and God’s Word is truth. Jesus was sanctified by everything the Father told Him to do. In the same way, we are sanctified. If we reduce scripture to something less than scripture, like Johnson chooses to do, that will destroy sanctification.
The Grace of God
Salvation is by grace through faith alone. No amount of works will bring justification to anyone. In the sanctification of believers, it is God who works in them both to will and do of His good pleasure. God works all things together for good. God conforms to the image of His Son. But God is working. The grace of God will look like God. The grace of God teaches us to deny worldly lust, not expose ourselves to it and relish in it.
What upset Johnson enough for him to write what he did was the reaction to a certain blog post by one of his partners. That essay was discussing Lost, a television series that his teammate professed to have watched start to finish. A few criticized a publication that might encourage others to watch such a television show. That’s what bothered Johnson enough to write a “legalism” column. Does the grace of God teach us to watch Lost? That’s a question. And I think it’s worth thinking about. I understand that the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not watch Lost,” but there might be enough Scripture to guide us as to what kind of watching would honor God. A criticism of Lost is what Johnson thinks is the greatest kind of destruction of sanctification in human existence (according to his essay).
We don’t stop watching television to be saved. We don’t wear modest clothing to be saved. We don’t abstain from alcohol to be saved. We don’t communicate in a pure and righteous manner to be saved. But if we’re saved, we will want to live according to God’s Word, to conform to His will.
More to come on this subject.
“So you’re calling me a liar?” I thought I’d just get that out of the way. But to answer it: maybe, but not necessarily you in particular. That’s what will make it easier to read in a blog post. First, let’s go over some definitions, so everyone will be up to speed. Eclectic and Critical Text people are the same ones. Both of them support looking at all the textual variants and deciding what they consider to be most likely the original Words of Scripture. MVO means “multiple version only” and it is supposed to sound like “King James Version Only,” except different. They are the opposite of KJVO, but most of them, I’ve found, don’t like the MVO tag. I believe it fits, however, so I keep using it. They don’t believe in one Bible. They believe only in multiple versions. So it’s bullseye as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t sound good, but if you don’t like the way it sounds, then don’t be MVO.
And finally, “truth serum.” Wikipedia, which is good enough for this essay, says:
A truth drug or truth serum is a psychoactive medication used to obtain information from subjects who are unable or unwilling to provide it otherwise.
I like the definition for the purposes of this post. Alright, I figure that the MVO guys will say, “We’re telling the truth, so we don’t need no truth serum.” Well, let’s just see, OK? Our Critical Text guy has the Swedish name of Olle F. Lilfathe. We’ll just call him Olle. So let’s start with some control questions and see what he says. The truth serum has been administered, so Olle is all set.
Q: Is your name Fred?
Q: What is your name?
Olle: Olle F. Lilfathe
Q: OK. Olle, do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
Q: Do you believe that God inspired the sixty-six books of the Bible in the original manuscripts?
Q: Do you believe that God inspired every Word and all the Words of the Bible in the original manuscripts?
Q: Do you believe that God has preserved His Word?
Q: Do you believe that God has preserved every one of His Words available for us today?
Q: So you don’t believe we have every Word of God available to us today?
Q: So when you say that God has preserved His Word, what do you mean?
Olle: God has preserved most of the Words from the original manuscripts, but not all of them.
Q: So you don’t think we have all of God’s Word today?
Olle: No. They might be somewhere, but we don’t know where they all are or what they all are.
Q: Olle, do you believe that the Bible teaches the perfect preservation of every Word?
Q: Let me read one verse to you. It’s Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:18, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” What do you think that verse is saying as it applies to the preservation of Scripture?
Olle: That God has preserved every one of His Words, even to the letter.
Q: Even for today?
Q: But you said that you don’t believe that God did preserve all of them. Let me be clear. Is that what you said?
Q: But you’re saying that Jesus said that He would preserve all of them?
Q: Olle, doesn’t what you said Jesus would do and what you said has actually happened contradict each other?
Q: Are you saying that God didn’t keep His promise?
Q: Do you think God keeps all His promises?
Q: Did God promise to preserve all His Words?
Q: So do you believe that God preserved all His Words?
Q: Are you contradicting yourself, Olle?
Q: Why are you contradicting yourself, Olle?
Olle: The truth serum is making me do it. I guess I really don’t believe what God said He would do.
Q: Why not?
Olle: It doesn’t seem possible that He could do it. I mean with all the textual variants and differing editions. I don’t know how we could know which Words were His or whether we even have all of them or not. It’s too hard for me to believe.
Q: Olle, if you have 100 marbles and you gave them to me to keep or preserve, how many would you expect back later if I had preserved them?
Q: What if I had 94 of them, would you consider that preservation of your marbles?
Q: Do you think that we have all the Words of God available to us today?
Q: Do you think that God has promised that all of the Words of God would be available?
Q: So why don’t we have all of them?
Olle: God didn’t keep His promise.
Q: Are you sure?
Olle: I’d say “no,” but I took this truth serum.
Q: Thank you for your honesty, Olle.
Olle: You’re welcome.
God promised a wonderful blessing to those who would read or hear the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:3):
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
This verse has several interesting features. It is the first of seven blessings in Revelation. No accident there—Revelation completes God’s special revelation to mankind. The blessing is for people engaged in three activities. They are three present participles, continuous action—”readeth,” “hear,” and “keep.” Those describe what you would do in a church service—Scripture is read, then preached, and finally practiced. What is read, heard, and then practiced? “Words . . . which are written therein.” Those who try to turn “words” into concepts, ideas, teachings, or just oral speaking will have a hard time doing that here. There is an assumption here right away that we will have the words necessary for reading and hearing, the ones “which are written therein.” You don’t read oral teachings—you read only written words that are in either a scroll or book.
We vault forward to the last chapter of Revelation. The Greek term translated “words” in Revelation 1:3 is logos. In Revelation 22 that term is used repeatedly and it is either translated “sayings” or “words.” You find it in vv. 6-7:
And he said unto me, These sayings [logos] are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings [logos] of the prophecy of this book.
You find it in vv. 9-10:
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings [logos] of this book: worship God. And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings [logos] of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
You find it in vv. 18-19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words [logos] of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words [logos] of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
So the “words” of 1:3 are the “sayings” of 22:6-7 and 22:9-10 and the “words” of 22:18-19. They are words in a book, written Words. So here we shouldn’t be getting the common anti-preservation-of-scripture criticism of “these words could be talking about all the words that God ever spoke that aren’t even recorded in scripture—do we even know what those words are?” These have to be the very words that were written down in the original manuscripts. And “that are written” in 22:18 translates a perfect participle, so we see the words to be written at a point in the past with the results ongoing. That alone speaks of the preservation of the words.
In Revelation 22:18-19 God through the Apostle John gives us a warning. The first part of the warning is in v. 18 and it is about adding words, that is, including extra written words in the book. If someone, upon those words being written in the original manuscripts, shall add to those words, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book. The words are written in the book. And there is a play on words here obviously. If someone were to add words to the book, he would have added to him the plagues in the book, that is, this person must be an unbeliever. You will notice in the book of Revelation that the plagues come upon unbelievers.
The second part of the warning is in v. 19 and it is about taking away words of the book. If someone were to take away words from the book—another play on words—God would take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city. It doesn’t say that God would take someone’s already recorded name out of a book, but his part. Someone can’t have his name removed from the actual book anymore than he can have his person removed out of the holy city. His “part” is what he would have had in the book of life if he had not been a person who would tamper with scripture. Anyone who is saved wouldn’t show the Bible this kind of disrespect. Parallel with the adding, this part of the warning about taking away judges the person to be an unbeliever.
These warnings are commands against any alteration of the words of this book. Not one word should be changed. “Add” and “take away” speak of additions and deletions. What is written in Revelation would have been and continues to be very unpopular. Some of the audience of those letters to the churches would receive it with anger. So a strong warning is given. Doctrine can rise and fall on one word, even one letter. God doesn’t want any changes to the words written in the book.
An ironic point for v. 19 is that there are differences in the very verse itself between the critical text (CT) and the textus receptus (TR) “Shall take away” is present tense (aphaire) in the TR and aorist tense (aphele) in the CT. The former denotes continuous action and the latter speaks of point action. The former indicates a habitual or characteristic activity and the latter a one time act. The TR warns against a lifestyle of taking away from the words of the book and the CT warns against taking away from the words of the book even one time. The meaning of the verse changes with this change in the tense of the verb.
Is the warning against altering the words of only the book of Revelation or of any Scripture period? This is the only such warning in the New Testament. No other New Testament book ends with this warning. It ends Revelation in major part because Revelation is the last book of the Bible. No words should be added or taken away from scripture. The canon of Scripture closes with Revelation. This is the last of God’s special revelation.
Instruction about Preservation
The teaching of Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t seem to be that difficult. What those two verses say looks to be very straightforward. They start to get muddled when someone doesn’t like what they say or if what they say clashes with a doctrine that a person already holds. Revelation 22:18-19 teaches that every Word of God is important to Him. He does not want one Word added or taken away from the Words written in the Bible. It is very serious if someone adds or takes away even one Word from the Book. The Words matter, not just the message.
These two verses say nothing about taking away from the teaching of the book. They talk about adding or taking away from the Words. This isn’t a warning about trying to change the doctrine of the book. That would be bad, to twist what the book means. However, it very clearly forbids the adding or taking away from the Words. To not get that, you have to read something into the verse that isn’t there. If you do change the Words, you are changing the teaching, but altering of the Words is what 22:18-19 talk about.
Revelation 22:18-19 assumes a settled text. You can’t take away or add to a body of words that is unsure. If you aren’t sure what a book is to begin with, you can’t know if you made any changes that did surely add or take away from the Words. You can’t disobey a prohibition against adding or taking away words when those words are uncertain to begin with. So the warning itself here in 22:18-19 establishes a settled text of Scripture.
I have found that people, who don’t know what God’s Words are, have to come up with some different meaning to Revelation 22:18-19 other than adding and taking away Words. They know what that meaning does to the uncertainty of the text found in eclecticism. So they make “words” to mean “teaching” in the face of a plain reading of the two verses. If that doesn’t work, then they say that it’s only adding or taking away from the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible. But even that latter position still leaves them with all their textual variants in Revelation itself, including in v. 19. There really isn’t a way to understand Revelation 22:18-19 without the perfect preservation of Scripture.
The book I edited and in which I wrote, Thou Shalt Keep Them, provided exegesis of key preservation passages in the Bible in their context. There were several passages that we did not deal with that will be part of a second volume when it comes out. One of these is Isaiah 59:21. Recently, I merely mentioned Isaiah 59:21 as a part of the introduction to a post at my blog on the LXX issue. A young man named Adam, attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, decided to attack this particular article. He dealt with it as though this really was the major work that I had done as an examination of passages which teach the perfect preservation of Scripture. I only quoted Isaiah 59:21, no more. I provided no commentary, but this is what he wrote concerning that:
Now, one has to really shake their head at the gross misuse of scripture here. Take, for example, the quotation from Isaiah 59. The context is Israel’s transgression before the Lord [vrs.12-13], and the resultant mistreatment of them by their enemies [vrs.14-17]. However, the text says that God will repay them for their deeds, and will bring them a redeemer, so that all will fear the Lord [vrs.18-20]. It is in that context that you find the statement about the covenant being with them in verse 21. Hence, the words here are the *promises* of God to his people, not individual words of the text itself. It is parallel to the usage of Numbers 30:3:
Numbers 30:2 “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Now, are we really to suggest that his vow was just one word? No, of course not. Yet, this is the very same context of covenants and promises of vengance etc. that we find Isaiah 59:21! All I can say is that this is a gross misuse of Isaiah 59:21.
He says that I grossly misuse scripture by relying on Isaiah 59:21 as a verse on the preservation of scripture. I’ve preached through the whole book of Isaiah, verse by verse and word by word through the Hebrew text. It took me about three or four years.
He talks about the context of Isaiah 59:21, but he really does not go back far enough to understand what Isaiah 59 is about. He needs to see the entire chapter if he wants to properly understand the context. A proper reading of Isaiah 59 will show that v. 21 really does teach the perfect preservation of Scripture to every generation of believer.
Context of Isaiah 59:21
Isaiah 59 allows us to see the world like God sees it, and in this chapter he depicts salvation for Israel and for all mankind. For our own well-being, we must give heed to this portrayal by God of His salvation. Chapter 59 begins like chapter 58 with a concern expressed as to why God is not answering prayers and why Israelites do not seem to sense His presence. They were not experiencing God’ s promises for one reason: their sin. Sin was the barrier between them and God, and this is the theme of Isaiah 59:1-8. As the people recognize the cause for their difficulties, they respond to God first by crying out to Him (vv. 9-11) and then confessing (vv. 12-15).
Isaiah 59:15-21 ends not only this chapter but an entire section that began in 56:1. God is pictured as a Mighty Warrior that defeats Israel’s enemies. But who are her enemies? The enemy isn’t the Canaanites, but her inability to live the life of God. God wants righteousness and He will come to deliver them from sin, and in so doing, Israel can become what God intended her to be. God will come to defeat sin in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:13-17 hearkens back to this text in Isaiah. God’s victory over sin has worldwide implications—from the east to the west God will be glorified. His ultimate purpose for attacking sin was so that He might be a Redeemer (59:20).
The Teaching of Isaiah 59:21
In the final verse of Isaiah 59, v. 21, God pronounces a covenant with those He redeems, those whom He saves from sin. And here it is:
As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.
The “them” are the ones that God’s hand is not to short that He cannot save (cf. 59:1). He guarantees those who turn from their transgressions several things.
First, God’s Spirit will not depart from them.
Second, God’s Words, which He has put in their mouth, will not depart out of their mouth. God makes a promise that these whom He has redeemed will always have His Words accessible to them. God will always provide for them what they need to know Him, believe in Him, and live for Him. Adam offers the typical, faithless treatment of “words.” He says, “These are not the individual words.” Instead, they are merely the “promises.” Where does he get that? Ironically, not in the words of Isaiah 59:21. He reads “promises” into the verse, that isn’t there, and it seems so that he might keep alive the uncertainty of the text that will permit his continued textual criticism.
Third, God’s Words will not depart from the mouth of those believers’ seed and their seed’s seed from that point unto forever. We’re still living under this promise to believers.
God promises perfect preservation and availability of His Words to every generation of believer.
Regarding Isaiah 59:21, consider others who write about this verse. John Owen called Isaiah 59:21 “the great charter of the church’s preservation of truth.” Edward Young in his classic commentary on Isaiah writes (p. 442): “The gift of the Spirit (cf. John 16:13), who will instruct the Church in all truth and in the comforting, saving words that God has given her, will abide with her seed forever. The Lord is declaring that His eternal truth, revealed to man in words, is the peculiar possession of His people.” John Owen and Edward Young both see this verse the same way that I do. Adam would have to chide them as well for their “gross misuse” of scripture—pretty cheeky for someone in his M.A. program in divinity school.
I am amazed at the extent to which men will pursue a goal of attacking the doctrine of the perfect preservation of Scripture. Why not accept the plain reading of the text? God’s Word sustains authority and God offers His people certainty. We should cherish these wonderful gifts of God’s grace. Every generation of God’s redeemed really do have every one of His Words by which to live.
Trials and temptations might seem to be vastly different, but they’re not. As a matter of fact, the same Greek word describes a trial and a temptation—peirazo. You see this word in Hebrews 11:17 to describe what God put Abraham through in Genesis 22:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.”
Abraham was “tried” (peirazo). But then you get the same word in James 1:13-14:
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
The word translated “tempted” is peirazo again. So Hebrews 11:17 says that Abraham was tried, and it was obviously God doing the trying. And then James 1:13-14 says that God doesn’t tempt or try any man. Wow. Sounds like a contradiction. They’re the same word after all.
Tried and tempted come from the same Greek word, but what they mean depends on the context. It is true that God does not tempt any man with evil. That’s exactly what James 1:13 says. God wasn’t tempting Abraham to sin. He was trying him, that is, testing him.
Earlier in James 1:2 we read, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” There “temptations” are related to trials, like what Abraham went through. It comes from peirazo again. So God brings trials into men’s lives, like He did with Abraham. So when do these trials become sin?
Trials become sin when a man is “drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14). The temptation originates in a man’s own lust. So what occurs?
God either brings or allows a trial in someone’s life. It’s only a test. He can pass that test. Or the test can move on to become a temptation when it interacts with a man’s lust. Now he is being tempted to evil. God never tempts man to evil. That is man’s own doing. They are the same situation, however. If a man passes the test, it will never get to a temptation. If it gets to a temptation, it reaches a whole new dimension.
The key to temptation comes at the point of enticement. That’s when a man is fooled into sinning in his own mind. He’s deceived. What will combat the deceit is the truth, Scripture. Scripture will strengthen someone’s faith for a trial or a temptation. He can pass the test if he obeys Scripture. If he doesn’t pass the test, it will be because of his own lust, and he will have sinned.
So trials and temptations are both the same thing, and yet they are different. Trials are good. We count them all joy, because when we pass them, according to James 1:4, we get stronger. Temptations are bad, because that means the trial has been affected by our own lust. We can still keep from sinning, but it has become a little harder than when it was only a trial.
Recent reactions to the Together for the Gospel (T4G) meeting in Louisville expose the fundamental error for evangelicalism and fundamentalism. One of the most popular and well-read bloggers in evangelicalism, Tim Challies, covered T4G, obviously at its invitation, and afterward explained what he thought was so good about the T4G brand of togetherness. I’ll break down his argument later, but Ben Wright, one of the bloggers on the SharperIron blogroll, revealed (probably unintentionally) the thinking of fundamentalists and evangelicals on togetherness, unity, and fellowship. He writes concerning Challies’ argument: “There may be another argument that reaches his conclusion, but I don’t think he gets us all the way there.” You see, the “conclusion” and “getting all the way there,” that is, to this utopian evangelical unity, is what is important to evangelicals and fundamentalists. They come with the arguments later. This, by the way, is pragmatism. You start with a desired conclusion and assume an argument. The conclusion is big enough and important enough to them to pervert scripture to get there.
And pragmatism was David’s ox cart in 2 Samuel 6. He needed the ark to get from point A to point B, that is, to reach his desired conclusion, and that desire led him to the ox cart. It was the best, fastest, and easiest way to get the ark from point A to point B, so the cart was the means that David justified for transportation. It wasn’t the scriptural means to get there. It wasn’t a godly method. It wasn’t how God wanted things done. But it would work. It was utilitarian. All that was proved wrong when Uzzah touched the ark and died. David got out of the ox cart business. You would think that professing believers would end their ox cart fascination for ever after that. But ox carts will be built if the conclusion is what guides the argument. You want to get to point B after all.
Now some might argue that Ben Wright, featured at SharperIron, is just a young man, one of the restless, petulant, and angry reformed, regularly disrespectful and impudent to older separatists whom he doesn’t like, using the faux authority that SI provides him as a reward for his ejection to the big tent of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is true that his blog reads mainly as a bitter evangelical rant against his personal distaste with traditional fundamentalism, but I think his point does speak for evangelicalism and now a sizable segment of fundamentalism (why he gets SI promotion). You have a conclusion, unity, and better, significance or bigness, and so now you just have to start looking for the arguments to get you there.
Challies’ arguments for T4G togetherness do represent the kind of stretch that evangelicals and fundamentalists invent to reach their desired ends. They also generally approve of these types of attempts, as long as whatever the reasoning, faulty or not, directs them to their theologically correct conclusion. “Just keep trying, Tim, you’ll finally get us to our goal.”
The first Challies’ argument is in essence that not all doctrinal error is sin, so you don’t have to correct the error and can still be in unity, even for a difference like infant sprinkling versus believer’s baptism. Now Challies says that some doctrinal error is sin, like preaching that Jesus isn’t God or saying that homosexuality is permissible. Why? No reason in particular. Those doctrinal errors won’t threaten the T4G coalition. However, he says we should not see all doctrinal error as sin because doctrinal error is merely the consequence of sin, just like illness is the consequence of sin. His basis for this in scripture? Nothing. And then I think we get a second argument, which is that conscience is the guide in the doctrines that divide godly men. Since two men who differ in doctrine both are persuaded in their own conscience that they are right, neither should they “abuse” the other’s conscience by dividing over those differences. Challies ends by writing this:
I am encouraged to see Christians uniting across lines that were once considered too wide to cross. Together for the Gospel is an excellent example of Christian leaders being willing and eager to put aside secondary differences for the sake of the gospel. While they disagree on many fine points of doctrine and even many very important points of doctrine, they all hold tightly to what matters most–the gospel message. This is one line that would be too great to cross but one, within which, there is opportunity to practice humility and fraternity. They join together not to condemn, not to argue, but to affirm the common bond of gospel unity. Though never downplaying differences, neither do they seek to bind one another’s conscience. And this, I think, is how God wants us to be as just a foretaste of that greater, more complete, perfect unity to come.
The conscience is a God created warning device within us that is trained by what we know and believe. Challies is arguing that keeping a properly operating conscience is more important than believing right on “secondary differences.” In other words, what informs the conscience is less important to Challies than the conscience itself. For instance, a conscience may be informed by false doctrine that infant sprinkling is correct, but it is better for T4G and evangelicals to preserve the smooth function of the conscience than to tell the conscience what is true. The conscience has been raised in this argument above Scripture and above the Holy Spirit. That kind of thinking is permissible to evangelicals and won’t send you off the T4G reservation, because it is an ox cart that can bring them to their desired destination.
SharperIron linked to Challies’ post without disclaimer, as if this were an important bit of interaction for the contemporary fundamentalist thinker. The concluding paragraph of Challies presents numbers of awful points. He’s happy that men are coming from widely divergent points of view in order to “unite.” He disintegrates a biblical doctrine of unity. In the last line of his essay, he says that the unity that we have now is different than the one we’ll have together in heaven. The unity I seek, the one in Scripture, is the same as the one in heaven and the one Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Challies explodes a scriptural understanding of humility and fraternity. He implies, of course, that people who emphasize doctrine for unity are proud. On the other hand, those who put aside difference to get together are the humble ones. The problem is that they don’t “downplay” differences, they just ignore them. Challies also says that arguing about differences wouldn’t be humble and would “bind one another’s conscience.” What that is, I don’t know. Feeding a conscience with the truth won’t bind a conscience. The reality is that the conscience operating correctly should be warning someone that something is terribly wrong at the T4G conference. All of this combined devastates discernment in the people that need it the most, Christian leaders. We could rename the conference, Together for Devastating Discernment—T4DD.
What I hadn’t heard during that week was that there was one more conference during the same time as T4G and IBFI, that is, Wheaton’s Theology Conference, featuring the British theologian, N. T. Wright. Christianity Today quotes Wright saying, “Nothing justifies schism.” Brett McCracken breaks down the idea in his CT article that these two massive and sold-out conferences should be getting together to fulfill a New Testament understanding of unity. I don’t agree with any of this, but McCracken writes concerning T4G and the Wheaton conference:
Are we on the same page on the core issues? Can we agree on the claims of the creeds? Yes? Then let’s hash out the details of theological minutia (which is definitely important) in a spirited, friendly debate as the people of God exercising the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
He concludes his article:
What if both conferences had merged and two seemingly antagonistic groups of Christians put aside their differences for a few minutes to just sing (in both conferences the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” was sung), side-by-side, in worship of the triune God who gives the same grace through which all who follow Christ have been saved? That would be a unity the rulers of the world would truly be afraid of.
This two evangelical factions seem to know what the conclusion should be. Now if they can just find the ox cart that will get them there. Ask Tim Challies. He’s already got one built.
If you see the evangelical or fundamentalist ox cart on its way somewhere, wait for someone else from whom to thumb a ride. Unity is found in the assembly, the church. Outside of the church, it is found in churches of like faith and practice. Same belief and practice are the basis of the unity, just like we see in the Bible (Eph 4:1-3). And that’s the only unity that pleases God. The ark of the covenant was the presence of God. The presence of God is purity, holiness, and righteousness, both doctrinally and morally. His presence was not meant for our ox carts.
by Pastor Bobby Mitchell, Mid-Coast Baptist Church, Brunswick, Maine
The autonomy and independence of New Testament churches is plainly taught in the Scriptures. We must be very careful about “meddling” in another church’s business. However, when a pastor and church seeks to start a “movement” that involves thousands of other churches then it is only right to comment on that movement if error, or compromise with error, is being promoted. When such an influence is presented to New Testament churches then New Testament pastors are under holy obligation to speak out about it. Some have asked why I am not involved with the newest Baptist group that is titled Independent Baptist Friends International, and why I felt it necessary to state that I was embarrassed that Mid-Coast Baptist Church was listed on their church directory. I am happy to answer and I thank you for asking. I am not able to give much time to a long and diplomatic response, so please be forgiving of the pointedness of this. I harbor malice towards none of those that I am stating disagreement with. I believe that there is much good that could be said about many involved with the IBFI, but the following are my reasons for not participating.
I do not buy into the philosophy that to obey the Great Commission we must work with those that have the name Independent Baptist and yet preach and practice contrary to Scripture. For instance, Jack Schaap of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, was a featured preacher at the IBFI conference. Pastor Schaap and FBCH (following former pastor Jack Hyles) have, for years, promoted an un-Biblical form of “soul-winning” in which repentance is ignored and true Scriptural faith is replaced with the repetition of a prayer. FBCH’s un-Biblical soul-winning methodology is widely known and documented. It has resulted in much confusion, many lost professors of faith, and the promotion of a weakened Gospel message. Further, Jack Schaap has a perverted and twisted view of the Lord’s Supper that teaches that partaking of the elements is akin to sexual relations. This is taught in his book titled Marriage: The Divine Intimacy. Another example of the un-Biblical practice of FBCH is their refusal to practice New Testament Church Discipline.
Pastor Sexton emphasizes in his magazine, emails, mailings, You-Tube videos, and preaching that we must be friends to accomplish world evangelism. He wants men like me to be friends with men like Schaap. I am reminded of John 15:14 where the Lord Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” The Lord Jesus commanded that we preach repentance (Luke 24:47) and that we practice church discipline for the purity of the church and the restoration of the sinning church member (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus’ friends obey Him. My friends for world evangelism (those that I will “partner” with, to use a phrase quoted by the IBFI) should be those that are obedient to the Lord. The fellowship of the church at Jerusalem in Acts 2 was in the Apostles’ doctrine and practice (Acts 2:42). It was not fellowship around non-Apostolic preaching and practice! I encourage Baptists everywhere to hold to sound faith and practice and work with others that hold to the same. But, I cannot engage in cooperation with those who are disobedient to the Lord.
It was very obvious from watching three of the services as they were broadcast live on the internet, and observing all of the video highlights, that the IBFI has a “movement” mentality driving it. I don’t see a movement mentality in the Word of God. Scripture reveals that God’s plan for this age is the local New Testament church doing all that the local New Testament church is to be doing! The Lord has promised that “the gates of hell” will not “prevail” against the church. There is no such guarantee for man-made movements. At the Friends Conference Pastor Sexton and others spoke regularly of the new “movement,” the “inaugural meeting,” and the need to “join,” “partner,” and “register.”
I did not hear one speaker encourage any attendee or webcast listener to seek the counsel of their pastor and church as to whether or not they should get involved with the IBFI. They were simply encouraged to join, give, and cooperate. My understanding is that this infringes on the authority of the local church.
One young preacher who was featured at the conference said, “To get the truth to the whole world we must cooperate and coordinate together. It makes sense and it is practical.” I do want to partner and cooperate with New Testament churches (regarding missions) that are serious about obeying all of Scripture, but I see no instruction in the Bible to work with disobedient people to evangelize. The New Testament reveals cooperation among the early churches, but not through compromise. I will not invest my time and money in a man-made movement. I plan to keep on devoting myself to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ through His church.
The host pastor, Dr. Clarence Sexton, and other featured speakers made it very clear that any criticism of the meeting or movement was not welcome. Instead of appreciating that “iron sharpeneth iron,” which is something a true friend does (Proverbs 17:17), those who questioned the promotion of some of the preachers at the conference were referred to as “presumptuous” and “immature.” One preacher stated that we should ”never criticize any man that’s trying to get people saved. It doesn’t matter who they are.” That is foreign to Scripture. Peter, a preacher and follower of the Lord, was sharply rebuked by the Lord Jesus for his un-Scriptural statements (Matthew 16:22,23). Later, the same Apostle was “withstood” by Paul for his wrong practice regarding the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11). Paul even went so far as to write his criticism down for believers all over the world to see!
“It takes no size to criticize” one preacher declared at the IBFI meeting. Of course, that leaves the door wide open for non-militancy that will always result in compromise. The Bible tells us to “try the spirits” and “prove all things.” I also see Jesus, Paul, John, Jude, and others in the Scriptures criticizing as needed. I don’t want a critical spirit, but, as a man of God, I must criticize what is un-Biblical.
By the way, Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and others who are promoting an anemic Christianity would all insist that they are trying to “get people saved.” Should we not criticize their errors, even if we could be glad for the little bit of Gospel preaching they do?
One preacher at the IBFI conference lamented that “we are so divided over personalities.” I agree that we should not divide merely over personalities, but personalities are an aspect of men and men have doctrine and practices that must be proven by Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Scripture states that we should not partner with men who preach and practice in an un-Biblical fashion.
Another preacher warned against “disagreement and division about what God has blessed.” Of course, it was implied that the IBFI has been blessed of God since it is so “exciting” and “so many are registering.” Meanwhile, Acts 17:11 still records that it is noble to search the Scriptures to check and see if what the preacher is saying is so. I do not trust any man or movement that refuses to deal Scripturally with criticism. No man, ministry, or movement is above 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
HE SAID WHAT?
At least three of the messages that I listened to via the live webcast involved misuse of Scripture. One man preached from Acts 15 and compared that meeting of two churches (Jerusalem and Antioch) to independent Baptists around the world needing to work together. He said that he had learned that he’d “better set aside my opinions, what I think we should be doing . . . and let’s do what seems good to the Holy Ghost.” In actuality Acts 15 is about two churches that believed and practiced the same and when a disagreement came up it was dealt with and they went away committed to total agreement as to the doctrine and practice concerning that particular item of business. To compare that to some “need” of independent Baptists agreeing to work together in spite of real disagreements over doctrine and practice is not true to the text. At any rate, obeying all of the Bible commands, including the command to warn and separate from erring brethren, will “seem good to the Holy Ghost” since He has given us His mind on the matter!
Another message involved the divisions in the church at Corinth over Peter, Paul, and Apollos. Once again a comparison was made to modern independent Baptists. Of course, Corinth was a local church, not an international group of Christians or churches. Paul, Peter, and Apollos all believed, preached, and practiced the same. They were not experiencing disunity over different practices and doctrine. It was disingenuous for that preacher to insist that independent Baptists should ignore the un-Biblical preaching and activities of some in the “movement” while attempting to utilize 1 Corinthians 3 for his proof-text.
One other example of a message based on a strange interpretation was the teaching that after his escape from Sodom, Lot regained his burden for souls, resulting in the preservation of Zoar (Genesis 19:20,21). During the same message, the preacher also stated that Lot’s wife “just froze up” because she realized that they had lost everything in Sodom and hadn’t won any souls. I cannot get excited about, or involved in, a movement that glorifies that kind of “preaching.”
The organizing of the IBFI online church directory seems strange, to say the least. During one of the broadcasts of the meeting I listened as it was stated that “thousands” had “registered” their churches and ministries at the IBFI website. On Thursday I looked at the church directory and I noticed that the church I pastor was listed there. None of us here at MCBC had ”registered” our church. I also noticed several other churches that were “registered” that had not been “registered” by anyone associated with those churches. The more I read the stranger it became as I looked at listings of churches that no longer exist, the names of pastors who are now in heaven, and the names of pastors who have moved to a different church. Other pastors began to notice the same thing and a disclaimer was added to the directory that seemed designed to appease any concerns about churches being listed without their approval. One pastor from Indiana wrote to me, “I just went through the directory for Indiana, and found numerous instances of wrong information. Evidently, they did not bother to check or confirm with the local churches themselves before listing them. They just added them without consent or approval, leading to numerous inaccuracies that might have been clarified if they had respected the autonomy of the local church, who should have had a say in whether or not they wished to be listed.”
When I spoke with a staff member at Crown College about having our church removed from the directory he apologetically stated that, in fact, they had built the majority of the directory from other existing church directories that were created and owned by other groups.
IT’S A ______________
Sunday night, the IBFI website appeared to be the website of a new fellowship, but it has been changed now to appear to be something much less organized. There was a statement of faith, but it has been removed. There was a link that said “Become a Baptist Friend,” but that has also disappeared. I don’t know if the IBFI is an association, a once a year meeting, a fellowship, etc. There is a logo. There is a name. There is a directory. There is an annual meeting. There are even “commemorative coins” for sale. Is there a leader? Is there a Statement of Faith that those “registering” ascribe to? Is there accountability? I don’t want to be involved in something when it is not clear what that something is.
I believe that our friendships for world evangelism should be based on obedience to the Word of God. Again, Jesus said, “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Brother Sexton wants us to be friends for evangelism in spite of error and disobedience “in the camp.” I rejoice in any truth that is being preached by the IBFI. I rejoice in the burden for world evangelism. I rejoice in the conservative dress and music and many of the positions declared by the preachers. I am troubled by the promotion of some that preach and practice in an un-Biblical manner. I am troubled by any misuse of Scripture and any hint of dishonesty in the service of the Lord. I am standing where I stand and I am not demanding that anyone else must agree with me. I do not want to be associated with the IBFI. I don’t even want the church I pastor to be listed on their directory of Baptist churches. Before God, I hope that my motivation and spirit is right in expressing this disagreement and lack of cooperation. Please consider it and please consider me with charity.
This last week two huge evangelical and fundamentalist events concurred: Independent Baptist Friends International in Knoxville, TN (April 11-16, 2010) and Together for the Gospel in Louisville, KY (April 13-15, 2010). Obviously, these two groups didn’t get their calendars together to make sure that they wouldn’t be competing for attendance. It’s probably a very small group who had to decide which one to attend. But it was possible. And actually, when you consider the speakers at these two conferences, you aren’t too many steps away from almost the entire spectrum of evangelicalism, including fundamentalism, being represented, except for a very small number.
I think we could probably agree that the Dan to Beersheba at the IBFI conference is best represented by the one side of John Vaughn, former president of Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, and Mike Schrock, a staff evangelist for Bob Jones University, stretching to another side with Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond. It’s harder to find the outer boundaries of Together for the Gospel, because there’s the Charismatic, C. J. Mahaney, the Southern Baptists, Mark Dever and Albert Mohler, and then the Presbyterian, Ligon Duncan. Also there’s John Piper, who is having Rick Warren come to speak at his Desiring God Conference later this year. Some of the conference speakers of IBFI also fellowship with Southern Baptists.
Several fundamentalists, who would associate with the FBFI, would also attend Together for the Gospel. They have. They do. So you move from Bob Jones to Jack Schaap and you can make it all the way through the Southern Baptist Convention to John MacArthur to Rick Warren in the connectivity. Nothing is that far removed. And just for a little sidebar: they all say they represent the historic Charles Spurgeon, all of them. If you take it one step further, you get Rick Warren with Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. I think that the theme for IBFI, Truth-Friendship-World Evangelism, would work for Together for the Gospel too. Both of these conferences are saying, let’s put down differences to get together.
What does all this mean? What is it that the leadership of these conferences are saying to those following, including the people in the churches? And is there anything wrong with it? What brings these people together? Should anything that any of these believe and practice result in some kind of separation between them?
As I start to consider this, the typical reaction to any kind of analysis or questioning is that it is “critical” and “divisive.” In that way, the ironic critics of the analysis would say that it is also “unchristian.” They might even say it is “heretical.” Oh, and “unloving.” Or something like this: “You’re just trying to impose your opinions on others.” And “that’s what gives fundamentalists a bad name.” Or, “you’re why everyone is turned off with fundamentalism.” And just in case, a little psychobabble, “You’re just jealous!” Wait a minute, one more: “While you are writing your blog, people out there are dying and going to hell.” OK, now we can move on.
Getting together like these two groups means deciding that certain differences in belief and practice don’t matter enough. They must be overlooked, ignored, or deemed non-essential, too minor. When it comes to the T4G guys, paedobaptism and continuationism are two obvious of the supposed tertiary differences—together despite them. For the IBFI conference, the gospel itself is at stake with a denial of some that repentance is necessary for salvation. A few of the primary participants are the poster boys of the 1-2-3 pray-with-me method of evangelism. Within both groups the range of acceptable music for worship among the participants ranges from contemporary to southern gospel to very conservative. John Piper’s affirmation of Rick Warren makes a concession to his methodology. IBFI wouldn’t use all the techniques and strategies of Warren, but the basic philosophy between many of these IBFI and Warren are the same. Both conferences are purposefully minimizing certain doctrines and practices for the purpose of cooperation and fellowship. An emphasis of both is that they aren’t going to be judging based on too strict a standard, making concessions in several areas for the sake of unity or friendship.
Several of the conflicting beliefs within these conferences are mutually exclusive from one another. Both could not be at the same time pleasing to God. Two irreconcilable doctrines could not both be congenial to the nature of God. To say so or to act as such is to suggest that God has no particular favor for either truth or error.
I understand that these men would not say that they are indifferent to the contrasting doctrine and practice, just that they are willing to overlook it for the sake of the alliance. The alliance itself becomes sovereign. The idea is also that the value of the gospel in T4G and friendship and world evangelism in IBFI surpasses the value of the differences in belief enough to merit indifference toward those conflicting doctrines and practices.
Unity and fellowship, in contrast with what scripture says, have become more about toleration. Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t wish to be reduced to an insignificant number to the world, which will happen if one elevates all of Scripture to a basis of fellowship. The key then is to reduce doctrine to a manageable level, that will allow the conflicting factions to get along. The new heretic is the dogmatic, someone who thinks he’s certain on too many teachings. He endangers the harmony and cohesiveness and ruins the togetherness. Or in other words, he violates the most sacred tenet to the whole, getting along.
Whether evangelicalism or fundamentalism likes it or not, or whether they agree or not, they have surrendered to the uncertainty and ambiguity of the meaning of Scripture. They concede the perspecuity of God’s Word. At the root of this is a fundamental awareness of permissible doubt. We cannot assume that all truth can be known. They are saying that God hasn’t been plain and that we cannot sort things out. As much as they say they love the truth, the truth is the casualty of indifference.
Nobody is really neutral. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “hold” means “suppress.” Whoever does not receive the truth suppresses the truth. Everyone starts from a position of knowing the truth. Paul elaborates a little further in v. 25 by saying that these truth suppressors “change the truth into a lie.”
You might be thinking, “well, they suppress the truth about God, but they don’t suppress all the truth.” Wrong. When you suppress the truth about God, you have also suppressed all the truth. Why? Without God there is no absolute truth, no objective truth. Without God, everything is random and haphazard. Someone may say that he believes the truth about something, but he cannot qualify it as truth without some standard of truthfulness, a standard that does not exist without God.
Now you might be thinking, “well, someone can say that an object is the color red without God.” Wrong again. There would have to be the idea of color, and someone can’t know there is color and that a color is red unless an idea can exist and that someone could think. Without God, everything is essentially molecules indiscriminately meeting and bouncing off of one another. Why is that color? And how could it be red? Without God, everything is subjective. What’s happening on earth is of no more consequence than what is occurring on Neptune. Chemical processes and colliding matter can’t think or make value judgments. They’re just accidents moving toward ultimate entropy.
So for all truth, we start with God. And everybody knows that even if they do suppress it. Since God began everything, He defines everything, and He determines reality. We know God and we know because of God. We don’t really know without Him, so what we know, including what is true, beautiful, and good, is based on Who He is. And there is no neutrality. We all begin with God. It’s just that one admits it and the other suppresses it.
Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, however, have embraced neutrality. This is a trick of Satan, a shell game that he plays with men, so that they will begin to look at life on his terms. He would like men to think, in contradiction to God’s Word, that everyone starts out on even ground or with a blank slate in the development of his beliefs and the determination of what is true or false. With neutrality, revelation is personal so theological knowledge is ambiguous, requiring a response to evidence.
WHERE WE SEE AN EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
This embrace of neutrality is seen in the evangelical and fundamentalist explanation of beauty. Beauty has been reduced to a mere mechanical response to sensory input. This neutrality denies intrinsic or inherent beauty or any absolute standard of beauty outside of man’s personal choice. While once Christianity accepted an objective standard of beauty that started with God, evangelicalism has fallen prey to the world view espousing man as the arbiter of beauty. This is manifested today in the evangelical embrace and fundamentalist acceptance of anything-goes in music. Objective beauty, sacred and unprofaned, has been sacrificed on an altar of modern and post-modern culture.
I expect evangelicals to deny this, which, of course, they’ll especially have the right to do in their contemporary realities, dogmatic in their tolerance. Modernism broke down traditional institutions through secularization and urbanization, giving numerous opportunities of pleasure and self-fulfillment. Men then looked at life on their terms. Instead of concentrating on what God expects, churches focused on what people thought or felt they were missing. As modernity stripped life of meaning, which begins and ends with God, men have turned to self to explain. The individual became the ultimate adjudicator of what is beautiful. Evangelicals have accepted this.
In many ways conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have objected to doctrinal relativism. They have held the line to a certain degree at certain fundamental truths. They seem to be proud of this. However, they have embraced neutrality in relationship to aesthetic values—what is beautiful—and all absolute truth to maintain their credibility in a post modern world. This embrace of neutrality is seen in the rampant subjectivity in music for worship both personal and corporate, in the casual and coarse, often immodest, apparel, the vast slippage in the realm of entertainment values, and in the wide-ranging acceptance of doctrinal ambiguity, which includes a shunning of the doctrine and practice of separation. God has been marginalized by having far less importance in man’s actual life.
When you watch evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about doctrine, you hear the damage that their own embrace of neutrality has caused. They pander post-modernity with their theological reductionism, relegating truth to essentials and non-essentials. This plays right into the attack on meaning and the self-autonomy of interpretation. Men are on a quest for knowledge, whose progress is slowed by the oppressiveness of unequivocal and authoritative conviction. Certainty violates personal viewpoint and self as source of meaning. This has reduced the church to a shop for religious consumers. The message must be contextualized to the shopper for accomplishment of mission.
With a conformity to post-modern culture, unity has become the highest value of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. You hear this narrative in today’s political speech, the era of post-partisanship. Political operatives vie for the admiration of the independent voters, a mass of humanity in the ambiguous middle, who are proud for not having made up their minds. Uncertainty is elevated to a sacramental place in American culture with few exceptions, such as food and celebrity. Evangelicals and fundamentalists won’t hold your differing belief and practice against you. You can join in by agreeing to disagree and all getting along based on the supreme injunction of unity in the body; well, with the exception of a few essentials that even in those it’s probably just going to be a matter of interpretation. The embrace of neutrality is witnessed in the compliance to this view of unity.
THE RESULTS OF THE EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
Evangelicals and fundamentalists proclaim the supremacy of the gospel. I don’t mind an emphasis on the gospel. But the point of the gospel, the worship of God, is often lost with this embrace of neutrality. God is seeking for true worshipers (John 4:23-24). The profane, desecrated music that evangelicals especially, but also fundamentalists, offer as worship results from their aesthetic neutrality. They have forsaken an objective beauty and worship is the casualty. God doesn’t accept the ugliness they have decided is acceptable to Him because they have forsaken an absolute standard of beauty.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists have devalued aesthetics, resulting in heteropathy. And as they relate to God, they can’t separate doctrine and practice from affections. Without the proper affections, our relationship to the Lord can’t be right, even if we happen to be doctrinally and practically orthodox. The imitation affections, actually passions, desires mistaken for love, are more blasphemous to God than if He had received nothing, no affection, no passion, no nothing.
The product that is devised and delivered by churches today and called worship blasphemes God by its deviation from beauty. It is often profaned by its fleshly stimulation, its banality, or its kitsch. Like animals churches have become driven by their desires, needs, and appetites, and have treated God and worship itself as an instrument to fulfill those things. God is to be the end in itself of worship, the worship to be governed by devotion to Him and not those things that are the means to us. In his book, Beauty, Roger Scruton has called this profanation that he has seen the “Disneyfication of faith.” He has also written, and I agree (pp. 176, 182):
Desecration is a kind of defence against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims. In the presence of sacred things our lives are judged and in order to escape the judgment we destroy the thing that seems to accuse. . . . One cure for the pain of desecration is the move towards total profanation: in other words, to wipe out all vestiges of sanctity for the once worshipped object, to make it merely a thing of the world, and not just a thing in the world, something that is nothing over and above the substitutes that can at any time replace it.
What people really love is themselves and the world. They know that’s not right. Their true love they profess is about God is really still about them.
Almost all evangelicals and fundamentalists would say they love the truth. But truth can’t survive their embrace of neutrality. Some truth, sure, but truth as a whole won’t make it with the accession to modern and post modern culture. It does start with certainty about the Words of God. Evangelicals and fundamentalists can’t know that because they have elevated reason above faith in line with modernism. And then meaning of Scripture comes crashing down close behind, because how can we know what words mean if we aren’t sure what they are.
The next victim of the embrace of neutrality is discernment. With the forsaking of objective beauty, what is goodness and true must also necessarily fall by the wayside as well. The certainty here all comes from the same source. When you change the basis of your conclusion to make way for your own opinion, you lose the ability to decide with any authority. Various factions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism stand at various stages of deterioration, but none will survive their embrace of neutrality.
In the end, perhaps what is lost more than anything is obedience to God. God is not pleased. His truth is not respected. His ways are not kept. And the churches are not so concerned.
If your whole life has been lived in a bunker, it will be hard to see the world with any other perspective than the bunker in which you live. That’s what will make this essay hard to accept for evangelicals and fundamentalists. Most will likely never understand because they will refuse to separate themselves from the bunker. If they hear this in a post-modern way, influenced by the world and the Satan’s work to that extent, they will hear this about how Bill Clinton listened to Ken Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I’ll be the villain like him for attempting to impose my oppressive and narrow moral narrative on their unity and their freedom. I’m pretty sure I’ll be thought to be kooky right wing fringe who attempts to dictate my personal preferences to others.
The barbarians are not standing at the gate any longer. In many ways, we’ve become the barbarians. We have allowed the Philistines to have their way. Churches have lost their will to contend. We’re at a very serious time for the truth, for Scripture, for obedience to God, for true worship, for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Please do not dismiss this. Do not take it lightly. Don’t marginalize it. Don’t be fooled. I ask that you consider whether it’s me or it’s you.
Many years ago, someone taught me an acrostic that listed the historic marks of a New Testament church. The first was “B,” Bible sole authority for faith and practice. A Bible believer, the converted person, will alter his course to the direction of the teaching of Scripture. This is also contained within the mark of “P,” priesthood of the believer, or if you may, “S,” soul liberty. We are first responsible to God and are free to move at the promptings of the text of God’s Word.
God’s men have a responsibility before God. They’re bought with a price. They’re not their own. They must give an account to God. The big conference to which they are attuned is the one at the bema seat with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek term for “preacher” in the New Testament is kerux. The kerux was a herald. He gave only the message of the king without regard for popular opinion. He was the representative of God and all that mattered was that he say exactly what the king wanted. This concept is found in other New Testament terms, like “ambassador.” An ambassador represents the country from which he comes and gives only the message from where he possesses his citizenship. The believer is from heaven, hence a message conformed to God. As 2 Timothy 2:4 teaches: “we please him who has chosen us to be a soldier.” We’ve got one Commander-in-Chief in this war to which we’ve been recruited.
Preachers should have a kind of independent attitude of the Old Testament prophet. We’re not working for anyone else but God. He’s the One Who signs our paycheck, so to speak. This relationship with the Lord gives the man of God the freedom to say what needs to be said. We’re looking for our approval from Him. Even pastors in one sense, although under the authority of the church like the rest of the congregation, still have an office that carries with it a separate authority that is all about saying the thing that needs to be said to that assembly of people. The office of the pastor is a unique organizational role that both submits to and yet rules the church. The pastor’s ruling status allows him to maintain an independence from the people of the church for the purposes of telling the truth and pointing out error. You get the essence of this job in the great passage on preaching in 2 Timothy 4. “Preach the Word.” “Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” They are going to have “itching ears” and won’t “endure sound doctrine,” but be “long suffering” and finish your course whether it is popular or not.
What I see as one of the biggest problems in evangelicalism and fundamentalism manifests itself in where men look for approval and in their fear of independence. Both of them are related. Built into man’s nature by God Himself, I believe, is an appetite for approval. That hunger is intended to be directed toward the right bestower of approval, God Himself. However, it requires living by faith to accept an only legitimate source of endorsement. Instead of waiting for divine confirmation, men seek to gather tangible support on earth to satisfy the craving.
The replacement system of approval on earth has become very complicated. The world itself will offer notoriety or popularity in many different forms. Sometimes it comes in the small time stuff at a school or in a community. If that’s not enough, there is national celebrity and even worldwide fame. Some look for what Andy Warhol called the “fifteen minutes of fame.” You can get that today on youtube if you find a way to get people’s attention. It is often enough for one boy or girl to fit into his little group of friends and get acceptance from them. That might require talking in a certain cadence or dressing with a certain style, but you will likely have to adapt your behavior to the preferences of the group. In the context my son lives in at West Point, the people around him aren’t necessarily going to reward with a higher ranking those who manifest biblical behavior. The young men pick up the cues for what types of actions will bring commendation from peers and from command. Some of the types of actions that might impress the company won’t impress the Lord Jesus Christ. You do have to decide what your life is about.
It is almost impossible for a Christian both to live worthy of God and find approval from the world. But the temptation is great for believers to prove themselves to the unsaved crowd. The sense is that you can’t really find out how good you are unless you can compare your relative skill to what’s happening in the world. How do you stack up next to them? Will they think you’re good? And you’ll probably not ever show up in the history books unless you accomplish something the world can find impressive in whatever niche you might be—music, sports, politics, business, and more.
THE PROBLEM AS IT APPLIES TO EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
For pastors, scripture has isolated the Lord as the one to please. Yet, you won’t likely feel that approval of the Lord. You have to accept it by faith. But sometimes that isn’t easy. So what has developed to replace the confirmation of the Lord has been a very complex system of endorsement and sanction that would rival any organization on earth. It has become its own giant entity with tentacles reaching all over the place—fellowships, boards, conferences, conventions, schools, colleges, publishers, and seminaries. I believe that this is what has, more than anything else, propped up evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
We have the church. That’s Christ’s institution. And it is sufficient. But that doesn’t satisfy the hunger that many have for approval. Fundamentalism has developed its own orbs of sanction. Evangelicalism has its too. Both of them are similar in their organizational systems. They both revolve around associations and conferences, boards and meetings. Now you’ve got the internet as a tool to spread even more notoriety. How many hits does your blog get? What kind of online presence do you have?
Fundamentalism is the ugly step brother as a platform for approval. And young men especially know how dorky they look being a fundamentalist. At one time fundamentalism was bigger. It could contend with evangelicals in that way. But the fundamentalists always did have boundaries that evangelicals never had that would keep the world from being impressed. Both sides have their cast of characters, but now evangelicalism has the biggest religious celebrities, wherever they might fall on the theological spectrum. They are better at drawing a crowd and using the mediums that will gain the most attention. Fundamentalists find this alluring.
To present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, that is, to worship God, we must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). Being conformed to the world is not just the outward forms of the world, but also the same types of ambitions and appeals of the world or as 1 John 2:16 says, “the lust of the flesh” and “the pride of life.” Because of the structures set up in evangelicalism and fundamentalism, you don’t have to go outside of those affiliations to gratify your desire for earthly approval. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism can offer its own mini-versions of what the world offers all over the place. In so doing, it influences behavior just like the world too. Men will be stifled on the things they ought to be saying and constrained to go along with wrong methods and activities by the inducements of the group. Men hunger for approval and they will alter their behavior to fit evangelical or fundamentalist scruples or lack thereof.
So now the lines that were drawn between fundamentalism and evangelicalism have become blurred. The two are getting together more than ever. Many times they say they’re getting together for the gospel, overlooking other biblical differences in order to fill an immense auditorium or convention center. The size is a heady thing. Makes you feel at least somewhat big time. Maybe we all do have it going after all. And you can feel the approval. It seems like it might even be filling that appetite.
I think that evangelicals and fundamentalists should consider whether they’re together for the gospel or even together for the fundamentals or for loyalty to an evangelical or fundamentalist institution, or whether they really are together for approval. I see fundamentalists today that are cozy with men they would have never been twenty years ago and for biblical reasons. If these parachurch groups were in scripture, I would think that there might be something legitimate there, something God-designed. But no. I do believe that this is almost entirely about the feeling of legitimacy that men want to experience.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN
When we look for approval from God, what His Word says takes the preeminence. If the church is good enough, the only scriptural institution, we retain an independence to say the truth to anyone. We aren’t attempting to cobble together a coalition. We don’t need one. What we need, what we crave, is to please Jesus Christ. He is our all in all. He designed that to be accomplished on a local level. That’s why he left the little flocks as the pattern for His mission.
We have to remember that Scripture does say we aren’t going to be liked. We won’t be approved of on earth. “Take up your cross” does not speak of goodwill. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” Not being popular doesn’t bother the galley slave who’s only responsible for keeping is oar going. We’ve got to be OK with faithfulness in this world. Don’t be surprised if the persecution you get comes from evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They don’t like feeling disapproval from you. Your separation from them won’t be tolerated, especially when the disapprobation comes with quoted scripture. You are “complete in” Christ (Col 2:10), not in an evangelical or fundamentalist association. So you can handle it in Him.
I see so much acceptance of false worship and doctrine, the multiplication and the spread of it, and I believe that it all relates to this hunger for approval that men have in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. I play basketball still on a regular basis. There is a phrase that basketball people will understand: “Let the game come to you.” True fellowship isn’t anything that we have to force. That fellowship has just come to me. Men of like faith and practice will gravitate toward one another as long as they don’t try to force it. I’ve got great fellowship outside of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in churches of like faith and practice. They don’t even show up on the radar of fundamentalism or evangelicalism. They are unaffiliated. I’ve never been more greatly refreshed than being around men who weren’t interested in anything bigger than the church. If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for them.
Men who are just fine with just the church don’t minimize the basis for gathering to only the gospel. They fellowship based on the truth. They’re more interested in the truth than they are in getting along. In the end, Christ is honored because His Word is exalted. If I do get together with these men, and they do exist, I’ve found that discussions about the Bible are occurring all over the place and without limits. We’re not getting together with a diminishing of the truth. We know our approval is in Christ. I don’t care that it is a small group. It doesn’t surprise me that it is. I’m not intimidated by the fact that we don’t fit into either evangelicalism or fundamentalism. I don’t feel any pressure from my friends, from these men, to say anything but whatever God would have me.
I suggest to you to get out of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Don’t worry about it. It isn’t scriptural unity. That’s found in the church. You endeavor or strive for unity in the church. The church has been given the tools to have unity. If you have any unity outside of the church, let it come in the context of the truth that your church believes. And then satiate in the approval you have from God. Be truly independent like God designed. You’ll love it
Approval is found in that “B” that distinguishes New Testament churches. God wants belief in and obedience to His Word. Priesthood is not just a privilege, it is also a responsibility. When I’m interested most is my fellowship with Him, then I get the kind of fellowship too that is right in the world. I’ve never had the liberty to do what I wanted, but to be and do what the Lord wants. I want my life and my worship to be acceptable to Him. Let us restore a right thinking of approval and a true spirit of independence in the man of God.
Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Romans 16:10a
You may have heard of the modern “word of faith” movement. It might be the fastest growing segment of professing Christianity today. According to those of this movement, the faith possessed by Christians can and should operate like a force or power. If you have legitimate faith, according to them, then you have the potential for and should expect to have power as well. In the word of faith movement, this power or force of faith exerts itself to obtain things that you want—prosperity, position, or health. If you just believe, your faith can operate through your words with God to get anything that you want; that’s what God wants to do, and Christians should expect it. So you could change the world, especially your own world, by means of this faith, to create a healing, cause a salvation, bring about a good relationship, or to change an economic situation.
Like the Pentecostal or Charismatic “word of faith” gets these blessings and changes individual realities, the faith of revivalists obtains spiritual results by means of personal faith. I believe that both of these distortions of scriptural faith come from the same influence upon American evangelicalism, that of Charles Finney in the mid nineteenth century. The perversion of revivalism is actually an earlier error, more in line with that of Finney himself. “Word of faith” was a later development as an outcome of the revivalistic thinking.
Both revivalism and ”word of faith” have a similar emphasis on the ability of man to cause his own spiritual effects by the right use of means. Both believe that faith can solve every important problem and create their own desired results. In both cases, the results make it inappropriate to question the means—the end justifies the means.
Finney believed that the faith of a Christian could and should produce a revival. In modern revivalism, a person reveals his faith by paying a price to get the power that comes from believing. If he really has faith, then he will persevere to get the power from that faith by lining himself up with enough moral guidelines to reach some threshold that initiates the spiritual blessing that God wants to give, dependent on his faith. The faith that merits revival also reveals itself in really, really wanting it, manifesting itself in praying long and hard to get it.
How does the faith of revivalism and the “word of faith” movement veer off a scriptural understanding of faith? The faith of the Bible is not a power that someone possesses to control something in his future. The faith of God’s Word accepts the reality that the Bible promises it. And we can see that future is not normally one of success and great results and health and prosperity. Faith is not an instrument that people use to acquire the future on earth that they want, but a God-given means by which men will accept the future that God has already promised them. Faith trusts God with its future.
Jesus didn’t send out the twelve with promise that they could see tremendous results if they only had faith. He sent them all over Galilee and said that they should shake the dust off their feet outside of the town or city that didn’t believe what they said. At times, many believed—that is true. But that is not some kind of paradigm that believers should take as an expectation for their future.
Genuine faith itself is the substance, not the results of that faith. What is promised for that faith? As you look through Hebrews 11 you see it to be a lot of suffering, difficulty, and rejection. You see that in Abel, who was murdered, in Noah, who was mocked and jeered before he was vindicated much later by a worldwide flood, in Abraham, who never did possess the land to which he set out on his long journey, in Moses, who gave up the Egyptian court, and then those who were tortured and saw asunder to reward their faith. They went ahead and went through their characteristically difficult times because of faith. Faith had no connection to worldly success or earthly results. They did what they did because they had placed their futures in the hands of the God they trusted. Their faith was in what God would make of their lives.
The attraction of revivalism is that it guarantees the results an individual of faith would want to receive. The allure is not its historic or biblical theology. Revivalists utilize proof texts out of context and then mainly stories of former revivals that have occurred since the inception of revivalism. They brag about special moments in the past that have come because of power from God they received by faith. No one should depend on these experiences as hope for the future. We can’t and neither are we supposed to trust anecdotal material as a basis for Christian living or decision making.
In its own way, revivalism corrupts faith as much as the word of faith movement. It redefines and misrepresents scriptural faith. Revivalism doesn’t really trust in God. Trusting in God accepts the results that God gives and is content with the outcomes from obedience to the Bible. True faith doesn’t judge based upon assembly size, reaction to a post-preaching invitation, or numbers of professions of faith. Faith brings its own built-in rewards—the indwelling Holy Spirit, the pleasure of God, forgiveness of sin, joy, peace, and contentment. These are rewards of faith in the midst of a sin-loving and God-hating world, where God promises that all they who live godly will suffer persecution.
Deviating from a biblical understanding of faith is obviously going to have an effect on the nature of the gospel. Revivalism has harmed the gospel in this way. Revivalism diverted the focus of the gospel from God and the Bible to the short-term results of believing. Scripture concentrates on God’s nature and His promises. Small alterations are enough to ruin faith and then those changes become bigger through the years, enough for damning deceptions and a broad road leading to destruction.
No one wants to be seen as faithless, and yet he knows he will if his faith doesn’t produce the required result to be seen as faithful. Men know this, so they produce the result that will merit the correct evaluation from men. They give credit in the end to the faith that they possess, but the real praise should go to the methods that they used to produce their results. They say it is faith, but it really is a unique mix of various technology, motivation, propaganda, techniques, and enthusiasm. It takes the form of various styles of music, lighting, comforts, conveniences, advertising, programs, promotions, and compromises. In many cases, the result given credit to faith isn’t a genuine result. It hasn’t been produced by the power of God because of its mixture with the man-made method or strategy.
The manifestations of the perversions of revivalism are all over evangelicalism and fundamentalism, including in the churches or organizations or people who are critical of revivalism. Non-revivalist preachers and their fans also judge their success by how big they are, calling that the “blessing of God on their ministries.” And other non-revivalist preachers crowd around those men and their churches looking for what it is the “successful pastors” have in order to imitate their methods. The sad result is that the One upon whom true faith rests doesn’t get the credit He deserves for the genuine blessing that He has produced that has nothing to do with the trappings of buildings, bucks, or books published. Many of these well-known churches are as guilty of leaning on methodological manipulation as any staunch supporter of Finney.
May we return to scriptural faith. May we seek to judge based upon biblical criteria. May we correct our belief and practice according to the Word of God.
When I received Jesus Christ, I gave up my life. I surrendered my ambitions, my time, and my possessions to the Lord. I could have kept my life for myself, but I didn’t. Like Paul, I counted everything loss. I gave up any possibility of worldly success and popularity and even riches for this way I take. Why? I know how it ends. I know.
I understand how men judge success. I really do get what career choices are impressive to people. I have a good knowledge of how one reaches worldly fame. But no. I fully comprehend the reproach and hatred and rejection that comes with biblical Christianity. So why go the latter direction and avoid the former? I know what real success is, I know what pleases God, and I know that worldly fame is worthless.
Again, I know. I’m certain. I’m sure. When we read the Bible, we read faith and certainty. The language of God’s Word smacks of full assurance. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded.” Luke wrote so that those reading would have certainty (1:4): “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” Paul told Timothy that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” John wrote 1 John (5:13) “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Not hope so. Know so.
How can we say that we know something that we cannot see? We know because God’s Word can be trusted. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Paul to Titus (1:2) wrote: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” We can count on God’s promises, because God does not lie. So we know. He does not lie. His Word is Truth (John 17:17). It is knowledge we can count on, not knowledge falsely so-called.
More than I’ve ever seen, men do not have the certainty of which God’s Word speaks. As it applies to faith and theology, many call this postmodernism, where skepticism and lack of objective truth prevails. Belief takes a back seat to feelings. Doubt reigns as authentic with certainty as closed and totalitarian. Nuance abounds. Dogmatism is not tolerated.
One would think that, of all things, Christianity would contradict postmodern philosophy. Satan wants doubt. He questions God. He attacks truth. Now Christianity cooperates with that plan and uses theology to explain, affirming the doubt that Satan and the world system spawns. Most responsible, I believe, are evangelicalism and fundamentalism for codifying uncertainty and doubt.
We live in a day of assault on meaning. We’re now arguing about the words and symbols that are used to communicate. Few can be sure anymore. Is that modest? I don’t know. Is that foul language? Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know. What’s the man’s role? Maybe this. Could be this. I don’t know. What’s male dress? (laughter) What we are sure about is how unsure we should be. Being sure is not only impossible, but it’s mean. It’s insulting. It’s disunifying. But I didn’t offend you? But you did. How? Why? You did. So stop. OK? Alright. There’s something to believe in.
You can see how masculinity disappears in such an environment. Or whatever we once thought it was to be a man. I don’t want to be dogmatic. In the absence of manhood, we get the replacement manhood found in harsh, loud music, denim, shaved heads, two days of facial hair, salty speech, and man hugs. And lots of “dude.” Dude this and dude that. Like dude.
I’m saying that evangelicalism and fundamentalism have retreated to uncertainty and doubt, leaving everyone who wants certainty nowhere to go. If you choose certainty, evangelicals and fundamentalists will mock you. Evangelicals have been doing this for a long time. Fundamentalists have gotten started a little more recently.
Alright, so what do I mean? By the way, I’m contending that I can mean something. I’ve got to do that for the sake of argument. You might laugh, but that’s where we’re headed, if we’ve not already arrived, with no offense to those who think no one can arrive, but can only take the journey. Where does this all break down? It breaks down primarily in three ways that are major components now of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number One Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
I don’t want to give my point away with my divisional word. Evangelicals and fundamentalists will stop reading because they think it is too funny. At least, lol. Evangelicals and fundamentalists gave away certainty when they transferred certainty from the text of the Bible they held in their hands, the apographa, and moved it to only the original manuscripts, the autographa. At one time evangelicals, which were then also the fundamentalists—they were the same group—believed what God inspired, verbal-plenary, they possessed. They believed God’s promise of preservation. They believed that they had every Word of God in their possession by which they could live.
Now they don’t believe that. They’ve explained it away. So now we’re not sure anymore about what God’s Word is. We’ve now got dozens and dozens of English translations, and people have waned in their confidence in Scripture, and ultimately in God. God said He would preserve every Word, but they say, “No.” Their position is not what Christians have believed through history. God had promised, so they believed in what they called “providential preservation” of Scripture. Now evangelicals and fundamentalists say we’ve got the “Word” (not the Words) and the “Message” (the particular Words don’t matter so much). We’re supposed to be satisfied with that even if God promised to preserve every Word.
Since we can’t be sure about the Words of God, then we can’t be certain about the promises of God. We lose seriousness and stability in Christianity. The Bible is one part God’s Word and the other part human speculation, and a new edition of Scripture could come out any year. I believe this is the most foundational of these three. We’re basing the biggest decisions of our life on a book that is now wrought with uncertainty because only the original manuscripts were the very Words of God—so says evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number Two Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
The new doctrine, which you won’t find in Scripture, that is now not only a doctrine but a major belief for evangelicals and fundamentalists, is that all believers unify only over “essential” doctrine. They say we give liberty in the non-essentials. And the essentials are an ever shrinking list and the non-essentials are a mounting, growing, gigantic list of doctrines. Because we have liberty in the so-called non-essentials, it ‘essentially’ doesn’t matter what you belief and practice in those areas. We’ll still have unity with you if you disagree only in the non-essentials.
Now if you disagree on the essentials, which, by the way, is a very amoebic, fluctuating list, then evangelicals supposedly can’t unify with you. The dirty little secret is that evangelicals don’t separate even over the essentials. They don’t separate–that’s only fundamentalists. And mainly fundamentalists and sometimes conservative evangelicals constantly argue over what the essentials and non-essentials are. They have stopped arguing over the very doctrine of essentials itself. You’ve got to believe that we unify only over the essentials. Why? Well, there’s no way you could “separate over everything.” You just can’t. Why? Cause that would be a lot of separation. Nobody separates that much. That’s just way too much separation.
This “essential”/”non-essential” doctrine has become a major doctrine in and of itself. Of course, that allows for uncertainty. You only have to be certain about the essentials. Everything else is sort of up for grabs. And if you are uncertain about a lot, that probably means that you get along with more people and you’re probably going to be liked more. And being liked is, well, big in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Standing only on the “essentials” probably also makes you “gentle,” which has risen in importance as a trait to have. And if you are still struggling along, attempting to get a grip on what Scripture says, not quite getting it, but really trying, you’re more intellectual and definitely more authentic. And what this does is exalt uncertainty.
I’ve noticed evangelicals and fundamentalists scouring historic materials, looking for people who communicated this essential-non-essential doctrine, quoting anybody that gives a possible whiff of it, trying to establish its historicity. And now it is preached quite a lot. And the ones pushing it are saying that this is the way to “unity in the church.” By doing so they redefine scriptural fellowship, church discipline, and many other doctrines. Uncertainty can triumph in the environment of “only essentials.”
Number Three Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
Evangelicals and fundamentalists teach a new uncertainty in the application of Scripture. Historic applications of Scripture to culture are now doubtful. The old standards are thrown out as Pharisaical and legalistic. Because of this, there is very little that you can see or hear that differentiates Christians from the world. This is doubt as it relates to the interpretation and application of the Bible. If we don’t even know what the Words are, how could we expect to know what it means. The latter seems far more elusive than the former.
At one time, we knew what male dress was. Now we don’t. We knew what modesty was. Now we don’t. We knew what fleshly lust and worldly lust were. Now we don’t. We know what worldliness was. Now we don’t. And even if we do, revert back to number two—it’s a non-essential.
All of these three combined result in a tremendous amount of disobedience to God, an extreme volume of unholiness, and a gigantic quantity of dishonoring the Lord. And above all these, uncertainty abounds. Because evangelicals and fundamentalist have codified uncertainty in these three ways, professing Christians are uncertain as to what Scripture is, what Scripture says, and how Scripture applies. And even if they are, it doesn’t matter, because you need only be certain about the essentials, which they are actually uncertain about.
At the end of this letter, Paul writes his acknowledgments. He didn’t get’er done alone. It reminds me some of David’s mention of his mighty men at the end of 2 Samuel. Paul liked giving credit to others. The first on his list is Tychicus and Paul says three things about him to praise or thank him that should characterize all Christians. And that’s what this kind of recognition will do, that is, show other people what important qualities to possess.
Tychicus comes in several times in the New Testament, and maybe he doesn’t get remembered because he’s got a name that doesn’t stick. You can do some rich biographical study on him by looking at Acts 20, Titus 3, Ephesians 6, and 2 Timothy 4. In this case, Tychicus, it seems, would be coming in person to give a report about Paul’s condition to the church. But what about this man?
One, he was a beloved brother. He was a family member to Paul, and Paul loved him. Oh that we might be one to be loved and a brother to such a man as the Apostle Paul.
Two, he was a faithful minister to Paul. Tychicus wasn’t a big shot. He served. You could count on him when you needed help, so we see Paul using him all the time through Acts and the Epistles.
Three, he was a fellow slave with Paul of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Paul, he was a bond slave. He was committed to and loyal to the Lord.
He was a brother to Paul, a help to Paul, and co-laborer with Paul. Let’s be those things too.
Why did the great Apostle Paul in all of his recorded prayers not pray for specific lost people to be saved? I know it was his prayer and hearts desire for all of Israel to be saved, which she would, even as the Old Testament had already taught—so that was in the will of God. As well, if he was a “Calvinist,” why did he not pray for the regeneration of the lost so that grace could become irresistible to them? It is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t say anything in his model prayer in Luke 11 and Matthew 6 about praying for the lost. One of the prerequisites for answered prayer is praying in the will of God (1 John 5:14-15). If it is our desire to see the most people saved, should we not pray regarding the lost like we see the prayers in scripture? We have recorded prayers, many of them, in the Bible. The prayer for particular lost individuals to be saved is conspicuously absent. Could we know better than God? I don’t think so. Maybe we have some different standard of judging our prayers than scripture. As we approach God in His exalted position and powerful nature would we not be benefited by taking into careful consideration what He would like to hear in His throne room? I recognize that we pray in everything and that in everything our requests are to be made unto God, but that doesn’t mean that we can pray for anything we want (name it-claim it) and we’ll get it.
Now I start this essay this way, because I want us to look at what Paul wants prayed and himself prays in Colossians 4:2-6. I never heard these types of prayers in the churches where I grew up. Prayers often come out of church tradition, I believe. People imitate what they’ve heard others pray. After a period of time, if they have not heard many prayer texts preached, those prayers can get further and further away from what we see people in the Bible prayed for. Those prayers would be the way we would know what was in the will of God to pray for. So let’s consider Colossians 4:2-6 very strongly. Let’s at least start praying what’s in there, since, well, it’s in there.
Paul commands the Colossian church to “continue in prayer.” The new man will keep praying. He doesn’t call on the name of the Lord to be saved and then stop calling upon the name of the Lord. Justified people will keep calling. While he continues praying, he is to “watch” to pray, that is, take advantages of the opportunities he has to do so, at the same time giving thanks. It is the mercy of God that provided the basis for praying in the first place, so the new man should always be thankful while he is looking to God, who has given him that opportunity.
And then what is it that Paul reveals to the Colossian church as prayer requests for himself:
- “that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ”
- “That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak”
First, Paul wanted opportunities to preach the gospel. Second, he wanted to preach the gospel when he had the opportunity, just like he ought to. One could say that the latter was a prayer for boldness in evangelism
Then Paul had two related imperatives for the Colossian church to practice:
- “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.”
- “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
Both of these also pertained to evangelism. Be a good testimony to the lost, taking advantage of opportunities to preach to them. That would be a good use of your time. Say to the lost what they need to hear. Give them words that will lend themselves toward salvation. Give them the appropriate scriptural answers that would help them to understand the gospel, what it means to be saved.
As prayer regards the salvation of the lost, I believe our best opportunity to see people saved will be by praying like we see the prayers related to this in scripture. Alter your prayers. Don’t expect God to alter his listening. Pray in His will.
Colossians 3:18-4:1 record the impact that biblical Christianity should have on the culture. The new man is a new wife (3:18), a new husband (3:19), a new son or daughter (3:20), a new parent (3:21), a new employee (3:22-25), and a new employer (4:1). As any one of these, the new man does what he does in the name of Jesus, letting the peace of God rule in his heart and the Word of Christ dwell in him richly.
These descriptions of the new man indicate the standard a Christian possesses in his relationships. A saved wife will subject herself to her husband’s authority, a saved husband will love his wife, a saved child will obey his parents, a saved parent will raise his children in a scriptural way, a saved employee will work hard, and a saved employer will treat his employees with justice. The change in relationships provides a great judgment of the genuineness of someone’s profession of faith.