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The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Conservative” Evangelicalism pt. 2: Dovetailing with ‘Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture, pt. 2′

Not too long ago I had written the first part of an essay entitled “Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture.”  It was only part one, but we moved on to another topic here.  I post-scripted it with:  “I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing.  I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes.  I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.”  That short paragraph fit nicely with what I was writing at the end of the first of this multi-part post.

I began breaking down Romans 15:15-21 as a choice passage to expose the hypocrisy of conservative evangelicalism.  I believe that fundamentalists are also hypocritical as it relates to conservative evangelicals.  Someone has mentioned that in the comment section here.  How so?  They complain about segments of fundamentalism that are revivalistic and man-centered, and yet they seem to turn a blind eye toward the conservative evangelicals who participate in revivalism and man-centeredness.  In this regard, I like the comment Art Dunham wrote:

I believe the time has come for us to be independent MEN of God and state the truth whatever the consequence to any affiliation, friendship, or Bible College.

Bravo Art.  That’s what we need.  We don’t need to move from one big, bad example to another big, bad example.  It reminds me of the historic Baptist martyr, Balthasar Hubmaier:  “Truth is immortal.”

Back to Romans 15

There are many truths to flesh out of this text in Romans 15, but the first we called to your attention was “instrumentality.”  I drew your attention especially to the end of v. 17, the teaching here being that Christ is glorified or worshiped only “in those things which pertain to God.”  Paul was ministering as an Old Testament priest, who presented to God his sanctified sacrifices, and he wanted these Gentile converts to be acceptable offerings to the Lord.  For this to occur, all of His service must be found within the confines of those things which pertain to God.  Things which pertain to men won’t fulfill the goal of glorifying Christ.  They are not the instrumentality that God will bless with that result.

I think we should be able to understand how that the things that we use to accomplish the noble goals of glorifying Christ and offering up acceptable sacrifices to God must be those things which pertain to God.  It is very much akin to the use of carnal weaponry to attain spiritual ends in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.   Paul didn’t war after the flesh.  In the end, that warring wouldn’t even work.  As I have read from many different sources through the years, “You will keep them with what you get them.”  Carnal weapons can’t succeed in spiritual warfare.

Here’s what happens today.  Hard packed, stony, and thorny hearts today don’t want the incorruptible, life-giving seed.  The idea is that if we could package that seed in something that those hearts do want or love (zoom to 2:25 on the link), then we could make the seed work.  The seed needs a little help.  It needs music.  It needs entertainment.  It needs stage lights or a night club environment.  It needs to look like a theater.  It needs a trap set.  Maybe even some tattoos.  It needs syncopation and driving drum beats.  It needs the enticement of some hormonally charged boy-girl interaction.  It needs the license of personal expression in the hip-hop cap, soul patch, or oversized shirt.  It needs stylin’.  It needs “dude.”  It needs the emotionalism of some rhythm induced hand-waving.  It needs the hip, ghetto, graffiti font on the decaying, urban brick background.  It needs youtube ads that mimic the twittering hand-held production values of the Blair Witch Project (this defines authenticity).  It needs sensuality and things conforming to the world and its fashion (play numbers one and two, you’ll get enough of a sample).  These are all things that hard, stony, and thorny ground might be able to relate to or with.  Today we might call this missiological or contextualization, you know, just to make it sound like it is spiritual, when it isn’t.  The adherents know everything they are doing and the meaning of everything they do, and yet they’ll often say that it is meaningless and can’t be judged.   It smacks of the spirit of this age.  It pertains to man.

Holiness Pertains to God

To comprehend this more, we should unpack the theological understanding of “those things which pertain to God.”  Those things which pertain to God are holy.  Holiness is not just moral purity.  It is God’s majestic transcendence, His otherness, His non-contingency.  Holiness is sacredness, which means it is not common or profane.  It is distinct, unique to the attributes and character of God.

The Old Testament term kadesh or the adjective form, qadesh, translated “holy,” is not used just for that which pertains to God.  It is used to describe, for instance, the temple prostitutes of pagan religion of strange nations (Deuteronomy 23:17).  That means that those prostitutes had qualities that were unique to their gods.  The root of the word means “to cut,” that is, “to separate.”  Holines is related to consecration.  When an item was holy, it was devoted for and only for the worship of the Lord.  Items associated with pagan and defiled concepts could not be used in the worship of the Lord.  Something that is holy is designated as sacred and was distinct from the profane or common.

The Christian does not look to the world to find worship forms.  He looks to scripture.  He sees certain qualities of this world system—sensual, carnal, of the spirit of the age, making provision for the flesh.  A basic element of Israelite worship was the maintenance of an inviolable distinction between the sacred and the common.  They guarded against the sacred being treated as common.  While the realm of the holy was conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, it could nevertheless operate within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained.

Holiness was not and has not been just a separateness from sin.  It is a maintaining of distinctions between those things consecrated to God and those that are common.    The common may not be sinful, but it is not sacred.  God’s name and His worship should not be treated lightly.  They should not be brought into association with that characterized by earthliness.  Certain aspects of the world are not redeemable as sacred.  They were invented by men for men’s passions, to touch his will through the body to influence affections inordinately.

Opponents to holiness today say that worldliness is only a matter of the heart, only an attitude.  They fall far short of what scripture says about worldliness.  Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.”  “Conformed” is not internal.  It is external.  1 Peter 1:14-15 reads:

14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

“Fashioning” is external.”  “All manner” includes internal and external.  Sure, being a friend of the world is internal (James 4:4), but the external manifestations also anger God.  That’s why God said through Zephaniah (1:8):

And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

He would punish those clothed with strange apparel.  In other words, they were appearing like the world, associating themselves in their externals with pagan culture.  God didn’t want them fitting in with the world.  He wanted a sacred Israel.  He wanted to keep a difference between the sacred and the profane.

I believe that the redefining and the dumbing down of holiness comes because of professing believers, maybe unconverted, who want to fit in with  the world.  They know how to do it.  Almost everybody does.  The philosophies of the world can be seen in dress, music, art, and more.  We can know on the outside what message a particular form is communicating.  We know when a man is acting effeminate.  We know when a woman is acting masculine. We know a foul word.  We know a term, an appearance, and a composition that carries ungodly associations.  The conservative evangelicals are using these to reach their desired ends.   When they succeed, they say that God was responsible.  God was also responsible for giving water to Moses when he struck the rock.  That end did not justify the means.  And men who drank became carcasses in the wilderness.

Hollywood knows what it is doing with styles.  It knows how to play something sensual or sexual.  It knows how to target certain human emotions (emotionalism) and carnal passions.  Conservative evangelicals imitate them.  They offer their adherents the same thing as the world with some Christianity mixed in.  This is called syncretism—”worshiping” God and using worldly means.  It blurs the dinstinction between the sacred and the common, between God and the world, between the Divine and the worldly.

Limitation to Scriptural Parameters

To accomplish the glory of Christ and an acceptable offering to God, Paul limited himself to Scripture—he would only regulate his audience according to a Divine message (vv. 18-19).  To make the Gentiles obedient,” in either “word or deed,” he would not “dare to speak” anything but that which was given Him by Christ.  Those were all that were authoritative and authenticated by means of “mighty signs and wonders.”

The Bible wasn’t given to us to read between the lines.  Certain actions aren’t forbidden in God’s Word.  That doesn’t mean they become our means of accomplishment or a strategy for success.  God gave His Word as sufficient to regulate any area of our lives.  Even if our own ideas aren’t sinful, they aren’t what He said.  Only what He said, when obeyed, will give glory to God.

Conservative evangelicals often expose scripture.  However, they are just as guilty as revivalist fundamentalists at looking for non-scriptural techniques to influence believers toward what they believe will be salvation and spiritual growth.  Even if they “worked,” they wouldn’t give glory to Christ or be acceptable to God.  They would not require faith and so they couldn’t please God.  Paul kept just preaching the gospel.  He limited himself to the activity God endowed to fulfill His work.  We must limit our means if we will glorify Christ and send up that acceptable offering to God.

Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture

We’re to be regulated by Scriptural precept and example.  We’re to be distinct from the world.  We should have a unique Christian culture.  Culture itself isn’t amoral.  Many ways that a culture expresses itself are filled with meaning.  Some of those expressions may honor God and others may not.  God laid out some very detailed laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of the nations on earth.  He wants us to be different.

If we’re going to reacquire a Christian counterculture that separates from the world’s culture, however it is expressing itself, we must get a grasp on scriptural holiness.  We must understand it, let it influence our affections above indifference, and then choose to be holy as God is holy.  Our music, dress, and other cultural expressions will change.  They will become distinct from the philosophies of the world and from the spirit of this age.  The change will not allow us to fit into the world.  The world will also know that we’re different–not just in matters of righteousness versus sinfulness, but in those of sacredness versus profanity.

A Bonus (a comment I wrote under a blog post about Peter Master’s recent article about worldliness).

In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).

Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.

What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.

Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.

This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.

Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.

Side Effects of Revivalism part two

I want to remind anyone reading that I’m writing about the side effects of revivalism, not revival.  Anyone who hasn’t perceived that, with all due respect, isn’t reading very closely.   We can diagnose genuine revival, contrary to someone’s comment on part one.  We use the Bible.  The point a commenter made was that my post assumed that we wouldn’t know if a real revival occurred or not.  No, my post opposed revivalism.  You can know when an occurrence or activity is revivalism, because it is something not regulated by scripture.  We are to make these types of evaluations.  Paul did (1 Corinthians 2).  Jesus did (Matthew 7:13-29), and you could say that John did (1 John) and James did (James).  In the same fashion, we can know based upon the Bible whether we have seen revival too.

I hear justification for revivalism today according to the same old arguments used by its inventors.  Men see results and they choose to attribute it to some kind of parallel with what they read in Acts.  They prayed and saw what they thought were good results mixed with bad.  The problem with revivalism is that more occurs than just prayer.  If men prayed in faith, they would assume that they had done all they could do to prepare for revival.  Prayer assumes that we’re helpless and we must wait on God.   Revivalism assumes in practice that God needs a little help.  He needs our techniques and strategies and marketing and emotionalism and choreography, in addition to prayer.  The Bible isn’t enough either—we’ve got to add our stories and histrionics.

The philosophy of concocting man-made and extra-scriptural activities intended to initiate a burst of salvation decisions is revivalism.   On the other hand, revival is a surge of genuine conversions disconnected from choreographed human efforts.   Revivalism plans revivals.  We can’t plan revivals.  We obey God.  We live by faith.  Sometimes revivals occur.  God gives them.

In this two part series, I am listing and explaining some of the side-effects of revivalism.   These negative consequences demonstrate revivalism and debunk it.

Inordinate Human Ingenuity (cont’)

Formulaic Sanctification

Bible reading and prayer can contribute to the sanctification of the believer.  They also manifest that sanctification.  However,  these two disciplines are not sanctification.   A revivalist Christian, who wants God’s blessing on his life, might think that a habit of Bible reading and prayer will align him sufficiently with God to generate a revival.  This isn’t true.

A revivalist might not need to know what he read in his chapters.  The Bible, he’s been told, is a supernatural book, and it will do something to you irregardless of understanding the meaning of the words.  You let it speak to you.  You pray for it to give you the message you need.  That may not be what it is saying, but still “the Holy Spirit was able to use it in your life.”  This isn’t true either.

The revivalist might think that God will reward him according to the number of hours of “soulwinning” he does.   It could relate to how many verses he memorizes.  He might commit hundreds to memory, and again, not know what they mean, but those English words bouncing around in his head, seeing that they are the same ones found in his King James Bible, will leave a spiritual effect in their wake.  And this also isn’t true.

None of the above is said to discourage prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, and Bible memorization.  All of these can be wonderful spiritual disciplines with their rightful spirit, understanding, and emphasis.  They could be a means to an end.  They might be part of the end in itself.  But not necessarily.

Invented Office

Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism writes (p. 201):

Revival is not something that men can plan or command as they will; the revivals in the Northeast, which occurred over a period of thirty years, followed no pattern or sequence . . . but why these were years of great harvest, rather than others no one can explain.  It was certainly not because of ‘protracted meetings’ (special evangelistic services), for they were unknown in Connecticut before 1931.

David Benedict in Fifty Years Among the Baptists writes (p. 326):

The revival ministers, as they were called, soon became very popular; they were sent for from far and near, and in many cases very large additions were made to our churches under their ministrations.

The itinerant preacher, who travels from church to church, for a week of meetings, was not an office formed by scripture.  It isn’t the “evangelist” found three times in the New Testament.  Knowing what we see about Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) in Acts 8, that office was more of a church planter, someone who evangelized a community with the possibility in time of an assembly gathering.

Today what is commonly known as “the evangelist” seems to be an invented office.

Methodological Excesses

Many, if not most, programs in local churches are the fruit of revivalism.  The operation of a church in the New Testament reads very simple.  We should assume that this is how God wants us to operate, since the Bible is sufficient.  Many inventions have come out of this movement to aid God through our new measures.  Some have taken other legitimate aspects of church worship to manipulate men.  The revival song, what once was a part of praise directed to God, now takes on the task of enducing men to a saving feeling.  This has been taken to new heights with contemporary Christian music.

Recently popular evangelical pastor John Piper was asked what he thought about the coarse pulpit speech of Mark Driscoll.  As a part of his answer, he excused Driscoll by saying:

These are weird people comin’ to his church . . . look at this . . . they wouldn’t come to hear me for anything.  They wouldn’t go to my church, but they’ll go to his church.  I’m cuttin’ him a lot of slack because of the mission.  It’s kind of a both/and for me.  You don’t need to go as far as you’ve gone sometime with your language, but I understand what you’re doing missiologically there and I have a lot of sympathy for, because I like to see those people saved.

John Piper calls himself a seven-point Calvinist.  He’s the hero all over of professing young evangelical Calvinists.  And yet you get this kind of revivalistic language in which missions has become so dependent on us.  You see  the conclusion here.  Mark Driscoll does things in the way of course language and other strategies, completely detached from scripture and the Holy Spirit, that make him effective at seeing people saved.  John Piper believes this.  And in this case it is the worldliness of Mark Driscoll that he says is causing it.

This understanding of Piper is no different than Jack Hyles or other well-known revivalist fundamentalists through the years.  Perhaps the gimmicks of Driscoll, congratulated by Piper, are more appreciated by the younger evangelical and fundamentalist of the day.  These same would say that they despise revivalism.  They just choose a different brand of it.  Iain Murray writes (p. 412):

Whenever wrong methods are popularised, on the basis of a weak or erroneous theology, the work of God is marred and confused.  Dependence on men, whoever they are, or upon means, is ultimately the opposite of biblical religion.

Decreased Discernment

Inaccurate Assessments

One almost unanimous characteristic of revivalism has been inaccurate assessment of results.  Murray again comments (p. 215):

[T]hese leaders were against treating anyone as a convert simply on profession of faith.  Beecher’s warning against ‘the hasty recognition of persons as converted upon their own judgment, without interrogation or evidence’, was echoed by all his brethren.

The revivalists are often anxious to quote post meeting successes as proof of the genuineness of the experience.  In the same audio of Piper above in his answer about the methods of Driscoll, he mentions the “four hundred” whom Driscoll had “baptized” on Easter Sunday as reason for admiration.  For Hyles, it may have been his 3,000 “new converts” on a Pentecost Sunday.

What is ironic about many of the false results of revivalists is that the methods produce the results and the results validate the method.  This is a destructive circular reasoning that circumvents the Word of God as the authority for faith and practice.  Ignoring the Bible leaves solely human evaluation, which falls short as a means of discernment (John 17:17).

Wrong Credit

Because revivalism depends so much on man’s methods and inducements, he gets the credit no matter how much he might protest it.  This is in part why Paul said what he said in 1 Corinthians 2.  We see the purpose of keeping man out of God’s work in v. 5:

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

God doesn’t want the results of His work to be understandable, we see that in the last several verses of 1 Corinthians 1:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

God doesn’t choose things that seem to men like they will work.  God chooses to use what looks like it would never work.  It does work, not because of man’s cleverness, but because of the power of God.

Genuine Christians will be concerned when God isn’t glorified by what they do.  They won’t fight to defend their own turf and reputations.  They want something real.  In the end, what we produce will produce a lot of us, yet telling people that it is God producing something of God.  We’ve got to be scriptural, transparent, and honest about this.  When we follow God’s ways, the world will despise it, but God will be pleased and praised.

Side Effects of Revivalism part one

You sit down with the doctor and he talks to you about a new medication.  It will get rid of your skin irritation.   However, it will cause migraine headaches, blurred vision, and severe stomach cramps.  I think I’d take the skin irritation.

The lure of revivalism is amazing short term, tangible results.  Churches have experienced a burst of conversions that overflowed their seating capacity.  Sometimes they have had those events and then saw nothing like it ever again.  Some haven’t ever seen it, but they’ve read about it.  Who wouldn’t want it if it were available?

Revivalism doesn’t advertise its peripheral effects.  However, it has several.  We’ve already talked about whether revivalism is even revival.   That’s bad enough, but then the side effects.

Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism writes (pp. 163-164):

From attitudes of indifference, or of cold religious formality, many are suddenly brought by the hearing of the truth to a concern and distress so strong that it may even be accompanied by temporary physical collapse.  The phenomenon of hearers falling prostrate during a service or crying out in anguish is not uncommon at the outset of revivals. . . .  A revival is, by its very nature, bound to be attended by emotional excitement.  But the course of a revival, together with its purity and abiding fruit, is directly related to the manner in which such excitement is handled by its leaders.  Once the idea gains acceptance that the degree of the Spirit’s work is to be measured by the strength of emotion, or that physical effects of any kind are proofs of God’s action, then what is rightly called fanaticism is bound to follow.

Murray talks about revivalism in Kentucky during what is called “the Second Great Awakening” (p. 177):

We have considered the general detrimental effects which accompanied the awakening in the churches of Kentucky, and noted how these effects gained strength on account of the low level of biblical instruction that was prevalent.  Ideas popularized by the spirit of the age were too strong to be counteracted by preachers who were too few in number, or inadequately prepared for a situation of such an extraordinary character.

Murray mentions the “detrimental effects which accompanied” something that was known as a revival.  I have my own observations about the harmful side effects of revivalism.  I believe that a common assumption today is that these effects are seen almost entirely within a certain branch of fundamentalism.  I see revivalism in evangelicalism — including what is considered conservative evangelicalism.

Hyper Sanctimoniousness

People probably have their idea of who is sanctimonious—anyone with stronger standards than they.  I support church-wide application of biblical principles.  However, I have noticed a rigidity, tightness, or edginess that often characterizes revivalists.  So much is dependent on their getting everything aligned correctly for revival that they obsess over administrative minutiae.   Often from top to bottom, revivalists feel a guilt for holding back revival.   The Achan in the camp must be found and dealt with harshly.

Extreme Externalism

Much of the Christian life is external.  We must obey God in our body, which is His.  Externals have gotten a bad rap especially recently.  However, because “revival” in revivalism so hinges on a certain performance by us, a wrong emphasis is placed on the externals, resulting in a kind of hyper-externalism.

Young people in hyper-externalism learn how to perform in order to fit the required appearance.  They know how not-to-get-in-trouble.  They know what it takes to be a good boy and girl.  They train themselves to conform to the rules.  The strong one could actually be the weak one in this system.  The “strong one” may not develop at all in his love for God and scripture.  He may just be the one who knows how to toe the line better than others.  He knows how someone becomes considered good.

It’s not that internals are ignored completely with revivalists. It’s a matter of not following the emphasis of scripture, which starts on the inside and works its way out.   Since so much depends on us in revivalism, keeping everyone in line becomes the challenge, rather than developing the internal convictions and the affections for God.  Keeping standards high is seen as the means by which other revival-receivers have obtained their coveted experience.  The standards are seen as a means to get God’s blessing.

There are two extremes to externalism.  One moves the way of better-than-thou rule keeping.  The other travels the road of “I’ve got more freedom than you do.”  I call it left wing legalism.  It’s probably akin to the Samaritan religion.  The left winged legalist focuses on externals as much as the right winger, just in taking about every possible liberty that he can with almost no limitation.  And he talks about his liberty all the time, reminding people how free he is by mentioning the movies he went to, his favorite rock band, his latest micro-brew, and the beauty of his goatee and mustache.   This guy may be someone who was once a right winger and now he’s proud to be a left winger.  He changed uniforms, but he’s still on the same team.

Ritualistic Service

Rituals are not the sole domain of revivalists, but ritualism is a side effect of revivalism.  I call it a “punching the time-clock” mentality.  We must perform as Christians.  Actions are important.  However, we are not to be performance based.   In revivalism, you’ve got to jump through a certain number of hoops to get the blessing of God.  God holds us to the demands of a certain degree and quantity of performance, withholding His special working until we reach the tipping point.

Many revivalists just give up on attempting to fulfill all the criteria required to get God’s special favor.  The bar seems to keep getting moved or God has entrusted only a few deserving ones with the special endowment of His power.  Once they see that they’ll never find the pebble under the shell, they give up on the inside and start painting on their Christian life.  You could call it “paint by numbers” Christianity.  They become faithful to the ritual of being a Christian, playing the game, going through the motions.  They assume it’s their duty.  Lost is joy and love.

Inordinate Human Ingenuity

Unscriptural Worship

I read a lot of explanations from evangelicals on their music.  They betray their revivalism in what they say.  Here’s a typical statement of someone who wants to leave fundamentalism and go to evangelicalism because he doesn’t see enough emotionalism in the “worship”:

While worship can certainly be “overdone” and focused purely on emotions in more contemporary services, Fundamentalism goes to the other extreme. There needs to be balance here and, unfortunately, I’ve attended exactly 2 services in any Fundamentalist church that managed to strike this balance. . . .  We are careful to ensure that the emotions are not engaged during the song service because we believe emotional engagement is wrong….unless of course it’s time for the invitation. The command to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (these address the will, emotion, and intellect) doesn’t seem to apply in the church service. We want to engage the will and intellect, but the emotions need to be put down. You will never see hands raised in worship in an IFB church (unless there is an “outsider” visiting), nor will you see anything other than dry eyes at any point during the “worship” service. The church service tends to be a very regimented, dry, rote, obligatory occasion.

What I find very interesting is the emphasis on externals and emotionalism as signs of genuineness.  Notice the quote from Murray above, the last part in which he says:

Once the idea gains acceptance that the degree of the Spirit’s work is to be measured by the strength of emotion, or that physical effects of any kind are proofs of God’s action, then what is rightly called fanaticism is bound to follow.

He continues:

For those who embrace such beliefs will suppose that any check on emotion or on physical phenomena is tantamount to opposing the Holy Spirit.

Later he writes (p. 209):

And in their [wise pastors] view, to lay importance on outward signs of conviction, such as tears, was a sure way to confuse the natural with the spiritual.  They also knew that if displays of emotion were allowed to go unchecked in large congregations then, by a principle of natural sympathy, others would soon be affected.  The consequent heightened emotion, far from advancing a true revival, could well bring it to an end.

One of the problems with the contemporary “worship” is that it choreographs the emotions with the music.  This was a characteristic that Edwards dealt with in his Treatise on Religious Affections.  He showed how that scriptural affection starts with the mind, not the body.  The latter could be called passions, which is not the quality of the love for God.  The mind feeds the affections, which results in an act of the will.  Obviously Edwards didn’t have a problem with affection.  He criticized the manipulation of it which occurs today with the productions of contemporary Christian music.  The problem is not the emotions, but how it is that the emotions are influenced.  Targeting them is an act of the flesh.

The nature of contemporary music, which is fitting of the culture from which it was spawned, is emotional.  It is intended to make people feel something.  This should help you understand the existential nature of this spirituality.  It isn’t spiritual worship, which is what scripture requires.  It is a feeling that makes someone think he is being spiritual.  Because the feeling exists, it must be the spirit.  But the feeling was produced by the music.  It didn’t come through the mind, but through the body, the flesh.  And if it is being sent to God, consideration of making us feel something should be the furthest thing from our mind and will.  This is what corrupts the worship to the extent that it is false worship.

Mishandled Converts

I’ve talked about revival being “to be made alive,” so that when revival is occurring, sinners are being converted.   Preachers were not satisfied with only the preached Word as a basis for conversion.  They wanted more numbers, so they began enacting certain measures that they found worked at seeing more professions of faith.  New means were invented to ensure that those hearing would make a decision.  The purpose was to get a physical response, either by walking to the front, to an anxious room, or by joining in a scripted prayer.  Murray talks about the argument that was used by preachers at the time of the so-called “Second Great Awakening”:

If only some souls are saved by the use of these new measures, we ought thankfully to own their power, and give them our countenance.  Conversion is so important that if any cases prove genuine is that not enough to justify the method?

(to be continued)

A Modern Revival That Wasn’t

In the late 1960s, early 1970s, mega churches exploded with growth in California.   Popular evangelical pastor and author John MacArthur talks about it in an interview with Albert Mohler:

I can trace certain trends and a visible process over the past twenty-two years. When I first came to this church as pastor, I started to preach this way and people flooded the place. It was an interesting time. It was just after the publication of The Living Bible — for what it is worth — and that certainly gave people a fresh insight into Scripture. Then came the New American Standard Version, the “Jesus Movement,” Calvary Chapel, and the intensive interest in personal Bible study. People came to church carrying Bibles with covers featuring a dove and a cross, and all that. Christian bookstores and publishers began to flourish. Maranatha Music hit — and Christian music exploded.  I really think that one hundred years from now the 1970s and the early 1980s will look like a revival — and that period really was.

MacArthur elsewhere says that the Jesus Movement was a primary cause for the phenomenal growth of his church:

We kind of caught the wave of that, the tail end of the Jesus Movement. There were new Bible translations, that was huge. People were beginning to understand the Bible in new ways. There was just a wave, I think, at that time when I came that the Lord sort of allowed us to catch that I think a real moving of the Holy Spirit in a special way.

Churches in southern California became huge at this period of time, filling up with the proselytes of the Jesus movement.   Like so many other fads that start in California, those churches in turn had a huge impact on the church all over the United States through their radio ministries with now well-known names in addition to MacArthur—Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Smith, and Greg Laurie—among many others.   These churches took on a flavor that was admired and mimicked all over the country before there was a Hybels, Osteen, or Rick Warren.

This was the beginnings, even by testimony of those who were part of it, of something that still today has a major influence in Christianity, evangelicalism, and fundamentalism.  The leadership that pioneered this direction and style made decisions about how they would function that continue to affect churches all over the world.  They were uniquely non-denominational, choosing to forego the typical church brands that repulsed the spirit of that era’s seekers.   They made plain choices in their evaluation of cultural issues that clearly impact the belief and practice of churches today.

Was that place and period truly subject to God-given revival?  Does what occurred represent what we would see as revival according to a scriptural understanding?  Did the leadership make decisions befitting of a movement of God among men?  Or was this a bevy of deceit that has since caused more problems than good?

What Kind of Movement Was It?

The Jesus Movement was born out of the  sixties counterculture.   Young people, distrustful of authority, attempted to find fulfillment in an anti-establishment attitude and behavior that characterized the war protesters.  Disenchanted with the status quo, they became hippies.  The Jesus Movement contrasted with established churches both in style and substance, keeping  many of the mannerisms and appearance of the hippies yet tweaking the content of the message.    The hippie culture infiltrated and then changed churches into its image.

Sally Thomas in First Things, The Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life characterizes the start of the Jesus Movement in an article entitled “Grooving on Jesus”:

There’s no denying that, in many places, have it your way was an effective formula. Witness the nondenominational Calvary Chapel phenomenon. In 1968, Pastor Chuck Smith, encouraged by other conservative evangelical California pastors, recruited a youth pastor, the groovily named Lonnie Frisbee, from the Christian-coffeehouse counterculture as a “hippie liaison” to draw in the unchurched.  The results were electrifying. Traditional hymn-sandwich services gave way to an effusively emotive worship atmosphere more like the quasi-religious atmosphere of a Grateful Dead concert.

The Calvary Chapel was a struggling congregation of less than thirty until Lonnie Frisbee started bringing hippies to the meetings.  Thomas explains what happened:

Hundreds of shaggy young people clutching Bibles in zippered leather cases turned up for Wednesday-night Bible study with Frisbees. The church outgrew its space, outgrew it again, and ultimately multiplied into a network of churches, its own freestanding denomination.

Rock music itself had already swept the nation through its collection of noncomformists and malcontents.   The Jesus movement was the beginnings of Christian rock.  It began when some hippie and street musicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s converted to this brand of Christianity. They continued to play the same style of music they had played previously, but began to write lyrics with a quasi-Christian message.  Many music groups developed out of this, and some became leaders within the Jesus movement, rockers like Larry NormanKeith Green,  and others.

The same Chuck Smith  founded the first Christian rock label when he launched Maranatha Music as an outlet for the Jesus music bands performing at Calvary worship services.  It was here where the whole contemporary Christian music industry got its start as well as the new viewpoint that the music itself was amoral.   The new innovation was that only the words communicated any moral content.  The only ones still who hold this deceived position are those who like and support Christian rock, country, rap, rhythm and blues, and even grunge.

The churches that saw amazing numeric growth were those receptive of the hippie lifestyle, not expecting it to change.  The Jesus movement was a trojan horse to wheel the world into the church.  There were several keys for contextualizing God to this worldly crowd:  non-denominationalism (an anti-establishment move), toleration, come-as-you-are dress, modern language translations, long hair on men, pants on women, the world’s music, and little application of scripture to the culture (dismissive of worldliness).

John MacArthur calls this time period of the Jesus Movement a genuine revival.  This is when his church saw amazing numeric success.  You see pictures of MacArthur in those days on his book covers wearing long hair.  This is when, more than ever, you would hear the accusations of “legalism” and calls for grace.   It was obvious in the counterculture hippie movement that the long hair was rebellion.   If you moved that direction with your hair, you were making a statement that contradicted God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 11:14.  Although MacArthur’s hair wasn’t as long as Lonnie Frisbee‘s, it was a clear signal to hippies that he wasn’t a part of the establishment.

A later contribution as a polemic for worldliness and the new view of grace to vindicate the worldly practices of this Southern California “laid-back” style was Chuck Swindoll’s 1990 book, fittingly named Grace Awakening.  The Jesus Movement was a Grace Awakening in the opinion of the participants.   Here are some of the statements by Swindoll that typify the defense necessary subsequent to lowering the barriers to the world:

[It is a] freedom from the demands of other people, from all the shoulds and oughts of the general public.

I can be me—fully and freely.  It is a freedom to know Him in an independent and personal way.

It means I’m free to choose righteousness or disobedience.

At one point in the book, inspired by an “awakening of grace,” Swindoll asked why it is that we couldn’t visualize God in a pair of bermuda shorts.

Revivalism?

You can’t explain a true revival outside of the gospel.  When measures are adopted to produce results, you have revivalism.  The Jesus Movement was very careful to adapt its methods to the tastes of the hippy culture.  They liked rock music.  Rock music was a new method to gather and excite a crowd.  They labeled and relabeled their churches with names not packed with the theological dogma of denominationalism.

When you hear MacArthur talk about that time period that fueled the numerical growth of his church, you read of the key conditions that must be met for God to work in a tremendous way:  new translations of scripture and even the paraphrase, the Living Bible, use of contemporary Christian music, and verse-by-verse teaching.

David Wells writes in No Place for Truth, speaking of fundamentalism and evangelicalism (p. 129):

Strong, authoritarian preachers emerged whose very demeanor banished doubt on sight.  The stronghold of faith was thus made invincible. . . .Fundamentalism was a walled city; evangelicalism is a city.  Fundamentalism always had an air of embattlement about it, of being an island in a sea of unremitting hostility.  Evangelicalism has reacted against this sense of psychological isolation.  It has lowered the barricades.  It is open to the world.

Chuck Smith, MacArthur, and many others used the verse by verse expository type of teaching.  Smith would sit on a stool in front of a microphone before a sea of hippies and work his way through the text.  Certainly whatever good that did occur could result from the Bible they did get.  However, what was missing was strong, authoritarian preachers, who wouldn’t lower the barrier for the world, who by their very demeanor would banish doubt on sight.

Like Finney’s Second Great Awakening, the numerical success is the main evidence for the revival.  Iain Murray writes in Revival and Revivalism (p. 283):

Numbers seen to be responding were claimed as more than sufficient evidence for the rightness of the changes in practice and teaching.  If the argument for the new measures had been based upon the testimony of Scripture or the witness of church history, the likelihood of the propaganda succeeding would have been small, but these were not the grounds on which the case for the new measures was based.  The proof urged for them was much simpler:  people had only to look at what could be seen across the country.

Finney himself wrote in his Memoirs (p. 83):

I used to say to ministers, whenever they contended with me . . . Show me the fruits of your ministry. . . . Much fault has been found with measures which had been preeminently and continually blessed by God for the promotion of revivals.

For the numerical success, the cooperation with Lonnie Frisbee, hippies, and rock bands was a necessary measure for continuing revival for Chuck Smith.  Then numerical success validated the new measures.  This was the way to revival that others had missed and became necessary to continue.  Then, like Finney, new theological explanations must be developed that would authenticate the fellowship with the world.  John MacArthur said this about that time at his church:

[I]t doubled about every two years for the first ten, just kept doubling and it went from three hundred, to six hundred, to twelve hundred. Obviously our growth has slowed down eventually. But in those early years it was amazing growth. We were doing something that was fresh, expositing the Scripture, there was a new hunger for that. We kind of caught the wave of that, the tail end of the Jesus Movement.

In his break-down of revivalism, Murray writes (p. 22):

Revival are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than conversion of a single individual is secured by any series of human actions.

I believe that the Jesus Movement and Finney’s revival were both authored by human measures uniquely adapted to their time.  Murray explains it this way (p. 298):

[A]ll christian rightly want to see success, and the new measures seemed to offer that possibility in a way not known before. . . . [T]he introduction of the new measures in a time of real revival gave weight to the claim that their ‘successes’ were due to divine blessing. . . [T]he illusion was ultimately accepted because the alleged successes received far more publicity than did the evidence of harm done to the life of the churches.

The Jesus movement was a revival in the tradition of the Second Great Awakening.  It wasn’t.  However, the numerical successes have influenced thousands of pastors and churches to follow the style of the Southern California mega-churches.  If there is a new wave today, it is the manner of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, or in another way, that of Mark Driscoll and those imitating him.

Rotten Fruit

Lonnie Frisbee, as much as anyone, ignited the Calvary Chapel phenomena.  He sat cross-legged in the front lawn of a local public school, wearing a long robe, beard, and shoulder length hair, the identical circumstance at which Greg Laurie made a profession of faith.  Lonnie Frisbee died of a AIDS, a long time closet homosexual.   Frisbee not only led in the beginning of the spread of the Calvary Chapel, but also the Vineyard churches.

Recently Phil Johnson, a right hand man of John MacArthur, has written a lengthy series against contextualization, coming from Acts 17.  In a comment on vv. 16-18, he writes:

What’s crucial to notice here, first of all, is Paul’s relationship to the culture. He doesn’t try to assimilate. He doesn’t embrace the culture and look for ways to shape the gospel to suit it. He is repulsed by it.

As part of the Jesus movement, the churches of Southern California embraced the culture and did try to assimilate, including Johnson’s own Grace Community Church.

A new type of Jesus movement is exploding all over the country, perhaps best represented by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in the Seattle, WA area. They have embraced the grunge culture of Seattle.  Driscoll’s presentation, the design of the building, the dress, and activity are like the world where Mars Hill exists.  John MacArthur wrote about it in an article he entitled, “Grunge Christianity: Counterculture’s Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel”:

You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if we don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christanity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.

Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.

We could turn the clock back to the early seventies and say the same thing about MacArthur’s compromise with the Jesus Movement.  We could even look today at the youth conference of his church, called Resolved, that dresses up the room to fit the vernacular of secular culture, to make the preachers “cool” with the young people.  What I see Driscoll doing is operating with the same strategy as the Jesus Movement and Lonnie Frisbee, except with the world having gotten that much worse and his targeting the Seattle grunge culture.

Even John Piper, whose churches have followed the Jesus Movement pattern of rock music, is rethinking this now.  He was in a recent Q & A along with D. A. Carson, and he was asked, “What are some of the biggest issues you think the church and evangelical scholars will need to deal with in the next twenty years?”  As part of his answer he said:

Whether the ethos of the explosion of contemporary worship music and worship forms (i.e., chummy rock music) can sustain the gravitas of the glory of God over the long haul.

How could he be questioning the gravitas of rock music?  That’s a done and settled case, isn’t it?  Piper knows in his heart that the rock music is a self-gratifying sell-out to the world.  He said it in a very understated way, but you can still catch his thinking on it.

One of the tragic casualties of the Jesus Movement and its offspring is spiritual discernment.   People see numbers and they assume it must be God.  They have a feeling and it must be the Holy Spirit.  They want to see something spectacular and so they produce it.  And then the methods are copied with very little evaluation.  Later they defend it by calling it grace, so grace becomes a casualty as well.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists who decry the revivalism of Finney latch on to the revivalist children of the Jesus movement.

Holiness is more than moral purity.  It is separation from that which is common and profane.  God in His unique and supreme attributes retains a majestic separation far above His creation.  He desires a difference be put between the sacred and the profane.  As He is holy, He calls on His own to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:14-16).  The angels hovering about His throne repeat “holy, holy, holy.”   He says, “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17).   The Jesus Movement was not compatible with holiness or separation, but that wasn’t a problem for its adherents, as long as they could catch its wave.

The Jesus Movement birthed modern day non-denominational evangelicalism, it’s music, methods, and mega-churches.   It made worldliness the norm for the church.  It spawned even worse paganism in churches for today.  It concocted the entire Christian music industry with its Dove awards and entertainers.  It encouraged an all-time low for reverence in the house of God.  It watered down grace.  It demeaned Christianity.  As much as or more than anything that Finney did, it profaned the holiness of God.  It contaminated and perverted true worship of God. It produced a wicked generation that seeks after signs.

A Primer on Revival

John Angell James in 1861 in his Discourses Addressed to the Churches (pp. 544-545, 551) wrote:

I do not desire, I do not advise a bustling, artificial effort to get up a revival, nor the construction of any man-devised machinery . . .  I want God’s work, not man’s . . . I want no revivalist preachers (emphasis mine).

For a long time, men have distinguished between revival and revivalism.   Iain Murray in his Revival and Revivalism (1994, p. xix) differentiated between the two.  He said that revival was “the phenomenon of authentic spiritual awakening which is the work of the living God, ” while revivalism was “religious excitements, deliberately organized to secure converts.”   A few sentences later he writes:

[O]rthodox Christianity at an earlier date protested that revival and revivalism — far from being of the same genus — are actually opposed.

Earlier (p. xviii) Murray distinguished between the two this way:

[I]t was not until the last forty years of the nineteenth century that a new view of revival came generally to displace the old . . . .  Seasons of revival became ‘revival meetings’.  Instead of being ‘surprising’ they might now be even announced in advance, and whereas no one in the previous century had known of ways to secure a revival, a system was now popularised by ‘revivalists’ which came near to guaranteeing results.

So why did “revivalism” become confused with revival?  Bernard A. Weisberger and William G. McLoughlin wrote about this perversion in two books in the late 1950s:  Weisberger’s They Gathered at the River:  The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (1958) and McLoughlin’s Modern Revivalism:  Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (1959).  Both of these men said that revivalist supporters wrote a fraudulent history that misrepresented the orthodox understanding of revival.  McLoughlin wrote in his preface:  “History has not dealt fairly with American revivals.”  Weisberger wrote:

There are numerous histories of revivals in the United States written by devout ministers or worshippers in the evangelical denominations.  They are, almost with exception, useless as history.

Based on this understanding, what is most often referred to as the First Great Awakening in the American colonies of the early to mid 18th century was an example of a revival.  On the other hand, most of what is labeled revival in what was termed the Second Great Awakening was actually only revivalism.  In the decades following the First Great Awakening, American preachers stated their opposition to what was merely emotional, contrived, or manipulated.  Murray writes (p. xx):

They foresaw the danger of revivalism long before it became a respected part of evangelicalism, and they would have had no problem agreeing with the criticism which has since discredited it.

Much false practice and perhaps even questionable offices were contrived from the revivalism that intended to reproduce what had occurred in the First Great Awakening, including revival meetings and those who lead them.  Before the revivalists and the revision of the doctrine and even history of revival, no orthodox saint would have thought that he could “schedule” a revival.

The Biblical Usage of the Term “Revival”

Many might be surprised to hear that the English term “revival” does not appear once in the King James Version of the Bible.   Eight times you have the word “revive” (Nehemiah 4:2; Psalm 85:6; Psalm 138:7; Isaiah 57:15 (2), Hosea 6:2; 14:7; Habakkuk 3:2), twice “reviving” (Ezra 9:8, 9), and six times “revived” (Genesis 45:27; Judges 15:19; 1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 13:21; Romans 7:9; 14:9).  You’ll notice that all of these instances, except for two,  are in the Old Testament—Romans 7:9 and 14:9 use the word “revived.”   Twelve out of the fourteen Old Testament usages are the same Hebrew word.  Only the two references in Ezra, translated “reviving,” are different Hebrew words.

The English statistics are a little misleading in lieu of a grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture.  Our goal is to understand terms as the people would have understood them in that day.   “Revive” might be found eight times in the King James, but forms of the Hebrew word, chayah (pronounced khaw-yaw), are found 390 times.  It simply means “to have life.”  The first time that a form of chayah appears is in Genesis 1:24 and it is translated “living” as in “living creatures.”  Abraham used this Hebrew word in Genesis 12:12, when he said:

This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.

There the form of chayah is translated “alive.”  It is obvious that Abraham means “physically alive.”   Let’s consider the twelve references of chayah in the Old Testament, translated some form of “revive.”

Nehemiah 4:2 uses chayah and there it is obviously being used metaphorically, because it is used to explain the rocks of Jerusalem being rebuilt up a wall.  It is used in a kind of mocking way to try to show the impossibility of the walls being rebuilt.

Psalm 85:6 is perhaps the classic passage in the Bible used to teach revival.  It says:   “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?”  Psalm 85 is a post-exilic psalm composed after the return from captivity in Babylon.  Israel had been returned from exile, but she had not yet been restored back to her former condition.  She is praying to God that she would be.

In Psalm 138:7, David is praying that God would keep him alive (chayah) in the midst of troubles.

Isaiah 57:15 is the verse that gives the closest idea to what we would understand as modern day revival.  It reads:

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

Here we read of spiritual and heart revival.  God by His grace will bring spiritual life to the person’s heart who is contrite and humble about his condition.  This sounds like it is talking about salvation.  A person will be quickened if he repents of his sin and turns to God for deliverance.

Hosea 6:2 speaks of the restoration of Israel.  It might seem like forever to her, but God would bring her back to life very soon, the quickness of which is communicated by the few number of days this is said that it would be occurring.  Hosea 14:7 is talking about the millennial kingdom resurrection of Israel.

In Habakkuk 3:2, the severity of God’s judgment brought fear to the prophet.  In the midst of the punishment, Habakkuk asks for mercy.  He pleads with God in essence to crank back up His saving work, to repeat the kind of activity that God had done for Israel before in order to deliver her.

In a root way, “revive” mean “to make alive.”  The strongest New Testament equivalent is “to quicken.”   Even looking at the Old Testament “revive” passages in a spiritual way, they seem to be speaking more about salvation than they do some kind of renewing work with believers.  A revival is when someone who is dead spiritually is quickened, something like what we see in Ephesians 2:1, 5:

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. . . . Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).

If there is a revival in the New Testament, it is what we see in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost.  That day three thousand people were made alive.  They were all Jews.  It is even said to be a fulfillment of Joel 2 and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16).   What happened in Acts 2 pre-fulfilled what will occur with the nation Israel before Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth.  The dry bones of Ezekiel will be quickened and returned to the land.

Everyone who is saved is revived.  Someone dead in sin is made alive at salvation.   An already saved person doesn’t need reviving because he is already alive and will continue alive forever.  A revival then would perhaps be a time when through preaching the gospel several are saved in a short period of time.   It occurs because the Spirit of God is convicting, believers are obedient to the Holy Spirit with bold preaching, the seed falls on good ground, and much fruit is produced.  There is no other explanation, especially a human one, for why this might occur, except for this scriptural one.  The New Testament doesn’t even use the word “revive,” so there is little to no emphasis on this as a recurring event.

Contrasting Ideas about Revival

I’m not trying to undo any historic opinion about revival.   Jonathan Edwards’ book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, was prompted by the Great Awakening.  Edwards did not believe that the Great Awakening was either all truth or all error, but a mixture of the two, and that this is normal.  He wrote the book to address the question, “How do we discern between that which is genuine and that which is counterfeit?”  Most agree that a revival occurred during Edwards’ life, and he was concerned that there was enough false to write a book on it.

What we call revivals have transpired.   A whole lot of people have been made alive at a particular point in time.  The biggest part of the argument about revivals, however, I believe centers on the Calvinism versus Arminianism issue.  It also relates to covenant theology and dispensationalism.   Let me break it down for you.

Arminianism

Some might call this Pelagian as it applies to Charles Finney.  This is where we get a lot of human-centered problems that are criticized by Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism, which he calls “revivalism.”  It is also about manipulating the conditions to make things happen like we want.    I don’t believe in revivalism as defined historically, which was the invention of Arminianism.  I also believe that this is major problem in fundamentalism today. There are a lot of difficulties here that I will deal with in a separate article later.

Calvinism

This is where I have found that I have a problem with Iain Murray, and, therefore, anyone who agrees with him.   I believe that his and others’ fundamental problem with Finney and perhaps to a lesser extent, any revivalists, relates mainly to his Calvinism.  Murray shows strong agreement with Samuel Davies and his meaning of revival.  What is that?  Murray writes concerning early American preacher, and short-time president of Princeton, Samuel Davies (pp. 21-22):

In speaking of the meaning of revival it is also essential to note that what Davies and his brethren believed about revival was not something separate from, or additional to, their main beliefs; it was, rather, a necessary consequence.  Such is man’s state of sin that he cannot be saved without the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit.  Regeneration, and the faith that results from it, are the gifts of God.  Therefore, wherever conversions are multiplied, the cause is to be found not in men, nor in favourable conditions, but in the abundant influences of the Spirit of God that alone make the testimony of the church effective.  No other explanation of revival is in harmony with the truths that are ‘the essence of the Christian scheme — the utter depravity of man, the sovereignly-free grace of Jehovah . . . . There is a sovereignty in all God’s activity of his people.  Revivals are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than the conversion of a single individual is secured by any means of human actions.  The ‘special seasons of mercy’ are determined in heaven.

Calvinists define revival according to their five points with a special emphasis in this case on unconditional election.   The opposition to revivalism for a Calvinist galvanizes around the non-Calvinism of revivalism.  For an event to be called a revival, man can’t be involved.  Murray writes (p. 21):

[T]here are times when the Spirit is given in exceptional measure and that such times may come suddenly, even when deadness is general in the church and indifference to biblical religion prevails in society at large.

I believe this no-condition belief clashes with what we read in Scripture.  The one passage in Scripture above that treats the concept of revival more than any other, Isaiah 57:15, says that God revives the spirit and heart of the humble and contrite ones.  The verse specifically says that conditions of humility and contriteness precede revival.  That clashes with a Calvnist view of revival.

A few times Jesus explained why the seed would not penetrate the soil, the gospel would not be received by a human heart.   In Matthew 13 He said that the ground was either thorny, stony, or hard.  All of those are conditions.  Jesus says that those conditions relate to the result of fruit bearing.   In Luke 13, when asked why only few would be saved, Jesus said that men must strive to enter in at the strait gate.  That reads like a condition.  Of course, the Calvinist may say, “You don’t understand Calvinism.  We don’t mean no conditions.”  Well, you can’t have it both ways.  When you say no conditions, then the explanation from Jesus should be no conditions.  Here and several other places, we see conditions.

Covenant Theology

Much of the explanation for revival among the early American Calvinists takes in their covenant theology, especially seeing Israel as the church in Old Testament prophetic passages.   Murray refers to a sermon by Davies (p. 21):

There are eras, said Davies, when only a large communication or outpouring of the Spirit can ‘produce a public general reformation’.  Thus, preaching on ‘The Happy Effects of the Pouring Out of the Spirit’ from Isaiah 32:13-19, he argued that ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the great and only remedy for a ruined country — the only effectual preventative of national calamities and desolation, and the only sure cause of a lasting and well-established peace’.

This type of interpretation of the Old Testament, that does not differentiate between the church and Israel, also affects interpretation of the Gospels and Acts.  Murray writes (p. 19):

It is through Christ as mediator and head of his body that the Spirit continues to be communicated to the church and that his ‘actual influence’ is known.

At that point, Murray then writes this in a footnote (p. 19):

Bishop Moule wrote:  ‘We are not to think of the “giving” of the Spirit as of an isolated deposit of what, once given, is now locally in possession.  The first “gift” is, as it were, the first point in a series of actions, of which each one may be expressed also as a gift.’  Were it not for this truth, prayer for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) would be meaningless.

You can see how the covenant theology affects the interpretation of Luke 11:13 where Christ mentions praying for the Spirit.   Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit, so the apostles’ asking for the Holy Spirit was a legitimate prayer within the will of God like our praying for the kingdom to come.  However, once the Holy Spirit came, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost at the moment of our justification.   All believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit simultaneous with salvation.  The way Murray explains it, we should keep expecting more and more outpourings of the Holy Spirit (pp. 19-20):

Thus, although the Spirit was initially bestowed on the church by Christ at Pentecost, his influences are not uniform and unchanging; there are variations in the measure in which he continues to be given.  In the book of Acts tiems of quickened spiritual prosperity and growth in the church are traced to new and larger measures of the influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31-33; 11:15-16; 13:52-14:1), and so, through Christian history, the church has been raised to new energy and success by ‘remarkable communications of the Spirit of God . . . at special seasons of mercy’.

Speaking of these non-revivalist Calvinists, he continues:

For these men the words ‘effusion’, ‘baptism’, and ‘outpouring of the Spirit’ were synonymous in meaning with ‘revival of religion’. . . . Thomas Murphy wrote, it was ‘the baptism of the Holy Ghost which caused the infant Church [in America] to become animated by the most fervent piety’. . . . [R]evival consists in a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory.

I have to admit that I had thought ignorantly that the Keswick movement of the nineteenth century invented the second blessing theology.  It is obvious that many at least eighteenth century Calvinists believed in a second blessing,  a baptism of the Spirit subsequent to salvation that was accompanied by significant external, tangible consequences.

A Literal, Grammatical-Historical Interpretation of Scripture

I would use the word dispensational, but it really is the conviction of a literal interpretation of Scripture, of course, taking into consideration figures of speech.  This literal hermeneutic separates the institution of Israel from the institution of the church.  The two are separate entities in the Bible.   The outpouring of the Spirit on Israel hasn’t happened yet.  We can’t take those promises to Israel in the Old Testament and relate them to an ongoing occurrence in the church.

The revival of the New Testament age isn’t a recurring outpouring of the Spirit.  The normal body life of the church has included large numbers of conversions in a very short period of time.   In the New Testament we saw it only in the church of Jerusalem in the first nine or ten chapters of Acts.  Since then we have had certain periods where churches have seen the same, but that doesn’t mean that any obedient church isn’t revived.  This is where I find myself at times agreeing with Murray, when he writes (pp. xx, 22):

This school of preachers held that the Holy Spirit has appointed means to be used for the advancement of the gospel, pre-eminently the teaching of the Word of God accompanied by earnest prayer. . . . They believed that strict adherence to Scripture is the only guard against what may be wrongly claimed as the work of God’s Spirit.

When Do We See Revival?

I believe it is wrong-headed to look at the regular obedience to the Word of God in the local church as something less than revival.  This is where the no-condition explanation for many new converts, I’m convinced, falls short.  A major contributing factor is the conditions being ripe for revival.    Very often people turn to God when they are broken by tough external circumstances.   A revived state that is just an obedient Christian life in a local church may lack the pizzazz required to be called revival.

You have revival if you have a church that loves the Lord and regularly and boldly proclaims the gospel throughout the community and beyond.  Those are life endowing activities.  Do we always want more to be saved?  Yes.  But we don’t pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to surprise us with a sudden burst of new conversions.   We keep praying scriptural prayers and continue in obedience to the Great Commission and we have revival.  Revival shouldn’t be measured by the numbers but by the spiritual state of the church—boldness in evangelism, husbands loving wives, wives submitting to husbands, children obeying parents, fruit of the Spirit, and the body of Christ manifested through the mutual spiritual giftedness of its people.  We must be content that this is revival too.

The Prayer for Power

In his day, probably no one was more well known for exhorting professing Christians to pray for power than the late Jack Hyles, the long time pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana and father-in-law of the present pastor there, Jack Schaap.  He influenced thousands of men toward this practice.   He wrote this in his book, The Fulness of the Spirit:

We prayed from 1:00 until 2:00; from 2:00 until 3:00; from 3:00 until 4:00; from 4:00 until 5:00 and sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning the sweet power of God settled upon us, and I knew that God had given me some fresh power, some fresh oil, as spoken of by the Psalmist in Psalm 92:10, “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.”

Hyles said that prayer was the means of getting this power.  He explained:

The question immediately comes: How may this power be obtained? Of course, there are obvious steps such as separation from the world, faithfulness to the cause of Christ, hours of studying the Word, obedience to the commands of God and to the will God, etc., but the main thing is for a Christian to be so sincere that he pays the price in agonizing and pleading and tarrying, begging God for His power. Notice Luke 11:5-13, “And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, saying unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” The word “importunity” in verse 8 means “much begging.”

Because prayer was the means Hyles believed was how to get the power that was a necessity for success, he reported:

On my desk I see the words, “Pray for power.” Behind my desk I see the words, “Pray for power.” In the Bible that is in my lap I see the words, “Pray for power.” On the mirror where I shave I see the words, “Pray for power.” On the door leading from my office into the hallway I see the words, “Pray for power.” Hundreds of times a day I plead with God for His power. Then, of course, there are seasons of prayer when I go alone with God to plead for the power of God.

What else is Hyles’ basis for this? He didn’t invent the subject, even as he argued:

I read about John Wesley, who at three o’clock in the morning on October 3, 1738, after having prayed with a number of preachers for most of the night was filled with the Holy Spirit. His ministry was never the same. I read about George Fox, who went alone for two weeks begging for the power of God, and how his life was transformed. I read about Peter Cartwright, who had been filled with the Holy Spirit and mighty power came upon him. I read of George Whitefield, who on June 20, 1736, was ordained to preach. As he knelt at the altar, Bishop Benson laid his hands on the young preacher and George Whitefield knew then and there that he was filled with the Holy Spirit! I read about George Muller, who was filled with the Holy Spirit the first time he ever saw Christians on their knees in prayer. I read how Billy Sunday used to preach every sermon with his Bible open to Isaac 61:1 and how the Spirit of God came on him. My heart began to burn from within! “Was this for me as well as for them? Was that power that Moody had and Wesley had and Whitefield had and Billy Sunday had available for little Jack Hyles, a poor country preacher in east Texas?”

Hyles sought the same experience for himself. According to him, he got it.

I began to walk in the woods at night. Night after night I would walk and cry and pray an beg for power. My heart was hungry. I got a Cruden’s Concordance and looked up the terms, “Holy Ghost,” “Spirit of the Lord,” “Spirit of God,” etc. I looked up every Scripture in the Bible that had to do with the Holy Spirit. I read in Judges 6:34 that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and in Judges 14;6 how the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson and in 1 Samuel 11:6 how the Spirit of God came upon Saul. I read in 1 Samuel 16:13 how the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. I read in Acts 9:17 where Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost and in Luke 4:1 where Jesus was full of the Holy Ghost. My heart burned! I needed something. I needed the blessed power of God. I needed the fulness of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t understand all the Scriptures. I read in Luke 3:16 the words, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” I read in Acts 1:4 the mention of the “promise of the Father.” In Luke 24:49 I found the words, “be endued with power from on high.” In Acts 1:8, I found the words, “after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” In Acts 2:17, I learned of the “pouring out of the Spirit” and in Ephesians 5:18, I found the term, “filled with the Spirit.”

I was not seeking sinless perfection nor was I trying to name what I wanted God to give me. I had no desire to speak in tongues nor did I even desire to have some kind of an experience. I just wanted God to work in the hearts of the people while I preached and witnessed. Could it be for me? Yes, it was for Samson, for Gideon, for Torrey, for Moody, for Billy Sunday, for Jonathan Edwards, for Muller, for Whitefield, for George Fox, for Christmas Evans, for Savonarola, for Peter Cartwright, for John Rice, for Bob Jones, for Lee Roberson, but was it for me? I was just a country preacher. I can recall how my eyes fastened on Isaiah 40:31 and Acts 2:4 and Acts 4:31. I was hungry!

“I must have results. I must have power.” I can recall saying to God, “I’m not going to be a normal preacher. I’m not going to be a powerless preacher.”

Night after night I would walk through the pine thickets of east Texas, up and down the sand hills, begging God for His power. If you had driven down Highway 43 outside Marshall, Texas, on the way to Henderson, Texas, in the wee hours of the morning, you could have heard me praying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” and begging God to give me power.

I was losing weight. I couldn’t eat. What I did eat came back up! My family was worried about me. My deacons got together and said to me, “Pastor, you’ve got to take care of yourself. You are going to get bad sick.”

Then came May 12, 1950. All night I prayed! Just about sunrise I fell to my face in some pine needles and told God I would pay the price, whatever it was, for the power of God! I did not know what I was saying. I did not know what that meant.

In less than four hours, my phone rang in our little country parsonage. The operator said that it was a long distance call for Reverend Jack Hyles. She put the call through and a voice said, “This is Mr. Smith. I work with your dad. Reverend Hyles, your dad just dropped dead with a heart attack.” I put the phone down. I could not believe what I had heard. . . . On May 13, 1950, Mother’s Day afternoon, we had a little service in the chapel. We then followed the hearse about 50 miles south to a little cemetery on the northeast corner of Italy, Texas, where two of my little sisters were buried. Down near the creek was a hole in the ground. They lowered my daddy’s body in the grave. Not long after, I returned to that grave and fell on my face and told God I was not going to be a powerless preacher any more and that I was not going to leave that grave until something happened to me. I don’t know how long I stayed. It may have been hours; it may have been days. I lost all consciousness and awareness of time. I did not become sinlessly perfect nor did I talk in another language nor was I completely sanctified, but my ministry was transformed!

Hyles regularly told the story of begging on his father’s grave.   What I noticed was that the details of the story often changed, especially how long he stayed at the grave.   I would have a couple of questions about the power that Jack Hyles claimed to have received from God.

  • Why didn’t the power work toward the raising of his son, Dave Hyles?  How did it selectively affect one area, how big his church got, but it circumvented where the power should have been having the greatest impact, on his son?  When Jack Hyles was disqualified from the office of the pastor, why didn’t the power take him the direction that the Bible takes disqualified pastors?
  • If someone has that kind of power, why do they also need gimmicks in order to get people to church?  Wouldn’t the power be a greater force for persuasion than a small toy or candy?  And then in the end, God would be glorified, because it was His power and not a gimmick, wouldn’t He?

Those are just two sets of questions that commonly come to my mind when I think about the power of Jack Hyles.  The Bible reveals the real manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life.  We can be satisfied with those.   The late John R. Rice, who had a lot of impact on Jack Hyles, in We Can Have Revival Now! talked of the same experience:

Charles G. Finney would frequently feel some lack of power and blessing and would set apart a day of fasting and prayer “for a new baptism of the Holy Ghost,” as he was wont to say. Moody sought God unceasingly for two years, until he was mightily endued with power. Dr. R.A. Torrey started the prayer meeting in Moody Church in Chicago and there prayed for two years that God would send a great revival. Then suddenly a committee from Australia came and sought out Torrey, the Bible teacher who had never been much thought of as an evangelist, and Torrey began the mighty campaigns in Australia that led him finally around the world, with hundreds of thousands of souls saved under his great ministry. Torrey learned to pray, so he learned to have revivals.

Hyles and Rice and that branch of fundamentalism are not alone in talking about this practice.  In his article, “Philosophy of Evangelism,” the more recent Mark Herbster writes:

[The evangelist] must pray for power and liberty in his preaching. The evangelist must have this grace from God alone. He cannot and will not be able to carry on within his own strength and power. He must be filled with Holy Spirit fire.

You will find some of these same thoughts in some unlikely sources.  The late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

The prayer for power is always in evidence in the history of the Church prior to revival.

Robert L. Thomas comments:

[Paul] climaxes his own prayer in [Ephesians] 1:15-23 by pleading God’s power for believers.  In 3:14-21, he commences his intercession with prayer for power.  He seeks power from God, for “power belongs to God” (Ps. 62:11). . . .  Such power from the God of power comes to prayer to Him.

DOES THE BIBLE TEACH CHRISTIANS TO PRAY FOR GOD’S POWER?

No.  Scripture doesn’t teach us anywhere to pray for God’s power.   I can understand people wanting a kind of power that can do the things that these men covet.   I believe it is akin to a generation of people that seeks after signs.  Of course, we know what Jesus said about that generation.    This teaching, which isn’t in the Bible, comes from three sources:  poor exegesis of the Scripture, personal experiences, and historical anecdotes.  Certain scriptural truths clear this up.

We Already Have All of God’s Power the Moment We Are Justified

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:  Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.  2 Peter 1:3-4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.  Ephesians 1:3

God’s divine power has given us believers  “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.”  Do you think that we need anything else to live the Christian life?   The Greek begins the sentence with “all things.”  That’s even the emphasis.   We’ve got everything we need for our entire life in the way of any and every resource we need right when we’re justified.   “Hath given” is a perfect passive participle in the Greek.    The perfect tense expresses that all those things that we’ve been given can’t be taken away.  They are ongoing for the believer.

God has also given us every spiritual blessing that there is.  Do we need more spiritual blessing than every spiritual blessing?  What are we saying to God when He says we have every spiritual blessing, but we come to Him in prayer as if we haven’t been given that.  One of the passages quoted in support for praying for power was Ephesians 1:15-23.   The pertinent section (vv. 17-19) reads:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.

This was used by Robert Thomas from Master’s Seminary to back up a point to pray for power.   The prayer is for a spirit of wisdom and knowledge, so that your understanding is enlightened so that you will “know” what is the exceeding greatness of his power.  The prayer is not for power.  It prays for a kind of knowledge that would know the power that a Christian already possesses.  “Know” there is experiential knowledge.  Paul prays that the Ephesians believers will experience the power that they already have.  Our problem is not that we lack in power.  We have that.  Our problem is that we forget that we already have it so that we don’t use it.

The Holy Spirit is God, so He possesses all the power of the universe.  The Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters in Genesis 1:2 and created energy—gravitational force, electromagnetic force, and nuclear force.  The Holy Spirit indwells all believers.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.  And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.  Romans 8:9-11

We don’t need to pray for power because we already have the power.   The prayer for power is actually a lack of faith.   We need to access the power we already possess.  We experience the power by yielding to the Holy Spirit.  We don’t need power.  We need yieldedness.  I feel sorry for people who are praying for power.  They feel like spiritual have-nots and they don’t have to.

Let me illustrate.  Fred gives you all his money, a million dollars.  You need ten dollars.  You don’t use the million that you already have.  Instead, you ask Fred, who has given you all of his dollars, to give you the ten.  It is absurd.  It questions the sufficiency of God’s provision at your justification.  It is not a prayer in God’s will.

Some may ask and rightly so, “Well, if these famous men prayed for power and they didn’t actually get anything out of that prayer, then why is it that they saw so many great things happen?”  This is where biblical discernment comes in.  I’m not responsible to explain everything that happens.   I’ve got to judge based on what God’s Word says.  Lots of false beliefs look like they’re working.  One amazing blessing about this particular branch of false doctrine is that now we have some history to see where a lot of these results ended.  We get the gift of hindsight to see that the extra-scriptural and unscriptural behavior didn’t have long-lasting results in many cases.  It even often hatched monstrosities.

Yes, many times the consequences do last and good things turn out.  God is a good God.  He will bless despite us.  That doesn’t justify unbiblical beliefs and activity.

The Holy Spirit Was Poured Out in the Book of Acts and Will Be Again Just Once in the Future

We don’t pray for the Holy Spirit because He’s already here.  We don’t pray for the Holy Spirit’s power because the Holy Spirit is God.  He already has unlimited power.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which was prophesied by John the Baptist, was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.   For the next outpouring of the Holy Spirit to occur, He will have to leave, which He will (2 Thessalonians 2:7).   The Holy Spirit will be outpoured one more time, when He comes to indwell Jews saved in the tribulation period (Joel 2:28-29).

The reason the apostles were praying for the Holy Spirit in Luke 24:49 and taught to pray for Him in Luke 11:13 was because He hadn’t come yet.  Something similar is Jesus’ teaching that we should pray for His kingdom to come.  When we get into the kingdom, we won’t be praying to get into it anymore.  Even so, since we already received the Holy Spirit, we don’t need another outpouring of Him.  Saved Jews in God’s tribulation will get the second outpouring.  That is not for believers today who have already received the Holy Spirit the first time.

When you read Hyles’ teaching above from his book on the fulness of the Spirit, you see that he strung together a whole lot of verses from all over without context or explanation to come to the conclusion that he wanted people to make.  Usually he proceeded to stories from there and that was where Hyles real authority came from.  People were knocked over by his personal examples.  If you heard him enough times, you started to discern that parts to the stories would change and contradict.

If you pay attention to the verses and even look up their contexts, you would see that Hyles isn’t careful to differentiate between “filling” and “baptism.”  This is a common error for the revivalist.   The two do not mean the same thing.  Jesus had the disciples praying for the baptism of the Spirit.   In Luke 24:49 He instructed them to do so, that is, stay in Jerusalem and pray for that particular event or experience.  However, once the Holy Spirit had come, they were to be filled with the Spirit.  The baptism was an event.  The filling is ongoing.

I hear people pray for Holy Spirit filling.  I believe that many of them do so because they are mixing those two words around.  We don’t pray for baptism of the Spirit because that’s already over.  They prayed for that and then it was answered.  Filling isn’t something we pray for.  We are filled with the Spirit by yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s control.  Then we are filled.  When I hear someone praying for Holy Spirit filling, I believe he is confused about his responsibility.  God commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so it isn’t something we pray for.  We just yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and He will fill us.  He wants to do that.

Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture pt. 1

April 28, 2009 9 comments

Massive cultural changes came about in the 1960s in the United States.  During this era, many Americans went away from standards of behavior that once characterized them, brought about by feminism, freedom of expression, environmentalism, recreational drug use, and civil disobedience.   The Bible and prayer were taken out of the public school system and the nation began a very rapid alteration of its former life and character, leading to a point where several states today (2009) are legalizing homosexual marriage.  Evangelicalism hasn’t slowed down this change.   In many ways, evangelicalism contributed to the slide to where we’ve now arrived.

This social revolution that climaxed in the 60s in this country had started earlier with the advent of the industrial revolution from 1880 to 1920.  Families and then communities conducted themselves based on traditions handed down from the past.  The industrial revolution brought the onset of modernity in at least two ways.  First, it transformed America from a rural to an urban culture because of manufacturing.   People lived closer together.  Dads worked away from home, spending less time with kids.  The school system moved from small rural schools to larger urban ones.  This packed together immature young people all day, every day, every week, spreading their influence one to another.  Second, it brought the invention of new technological advances.  The ones in transportation and communication especially made a huge difference in the lives of Americans.  Of course, all of this combined spread false ideas and practices much more rapidly, introducing people to lifestyles with which they weren’t familiar, but gradually made them acceptable.

Christian Counterculture

Often churches and preachers stood against these changes.  This is the Christian counterculture.  Christian counterculture differs from the world.  The world bucks scriptural, God-ordained aspects of culture.  Christianity is repulsed by what the world offers.  This is very much like we read from Jesus in Matthew 6:32-33:

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

The Gentiles, the world, seek different things than what believers seek.   Believers seek to submit to their King, Jesus Christ.

The pastors, the preachers, the men of God stood up against cultural changes.  Some called this moralism, but it was preaching against sin and worldliness.  All of evangelicalism did this as the United States modernized.  They preached against entertainment, immodesty, and booze.  Every step of the way, the godly stood up against the adverse changes in the culture—not as a means of salvation or as a replacement for the gospel, but because the gospel wasn’t compatible with this new conduct.

Churches Conforming to the World’s Culture

However, Christianity, churches, began making changes that conformed to the culture that had been created by the world system in the United States.  Preachers took on characteristics of showmen to manipulate an audience.  Evangelism became an event where a charismatic figure would hold the crowd’s attention with fiery rhetoric.  This was preceded by a new kind of music that no longer centered on God and His worship, but to draw a crowd and to infuse the people with strong emotions and passions.  It was the new evangelistic or gospel music that utilized the kind of composition that possessed characteristics familiar to what the audience, mainly lost, would hear in the world.

Of course, compared today all this that Christians and churches did between 1920 and 1950 was very tame.  The preaching was scriptural and substantive compared to what one might hear today.   At that time there was still a general respect for a preaching gathering and for things related to God.  People would dress respectfully out of honor of the occasion, despite the sometimes sweltering heat.

A nation won’t preserve its traditions just because they are passed down from a previous generation.  There must be more.  There must be a scriptural basis for counter cultural behavior, for being different than the world.  Still, the United States clung to much of its cherished ways of life, including those values related to marriage and child-rearing.  However, young people will chafe under baseless traditions, and they did.  They must be provided an authoritative foundation, a scriptural one, one that changes a person from the inside out, if a unique culture is to be preserved.  For the most part, this doctrinal and practical basis was not nurtured in America’s young people.   Instead, they became more enamored with what they heard and then saw on radio and television.   Whatever their parents told them, they were hearing something different from the night time DJ, their music, and their friends at school.

Most of what was left of the former values was propped up by tradition itself, a false-front city with nothing behind.  It looked right on the outside, but something vital was missing.  Those walls collapsed in the 1960s in the United States, exacerbated as well by multiple circumstances, including the explosion of rock music, the assassination of the nation’s youthful president, growing dissatisfaction with the present civil arrangement, and a war beginning in Southeast Asia.  Many young people began searching for something real, for answers, for what could really satisfy them.  It was something akin to what happened in 18th century France, when the people there became angry with their current social structure.  It was a bomb ready to go off.

Cultural Collapse

During that time, society as a whole changed radically.  Men with long hair.  Women with pants and short, short skirts.  Rebellion against authority.  Refusal of military service.  Music, art, and fashion took giant leaps away from where they once were.   Many kinds of behavior became acceptable too.  Divorces multiplied.  Drugs.  Fornication.   How people talked changed too.  A culture that at large had been held up by tradition had popped.

What did Christians do?  With these massive changes in the culture, Christians would stick out more than ever as different.   Men grew their hair long as part of the rebellion.  Christians kept theirs short.  I remember that time.  I had teachers with long hair in a family where this was considered female or effeminate.   I had a difficult time inside with respect for a man with long hair.   Because of this sudden transition, it looked like Christians were simply trying to preserve an era—the 1950s—before things collapsed.

What Did Churches Do?

In many cases, churches kept a separate culture from the world.  However, a faster cultural erosion was occurring in Christianity.   Young people growing up in an increasingly different culture knew they weren’t fitting in.  It didn’t feel comfortable.   They didn’t like it.   At the same time, whole movements of evangelical churches just capitulated to the culture.   They would not impede the profanity all around.  There became a growing contrast between evangelicals and fundamentalists.  The fundamentalists kept a distinct culture and the evangelicals gave in.

The evangelicals had “reasons.”  For hair length it was “how long is long.”  “You don’t want to change people on the outside, when we know that God looks on the heart.”  “The emphasis on the outside is just legalism.”  “These people that dress so different and want us to do that are just Pharisees and legalists; they love the 1950s.”  And so on.  They never preached against cultural issues.   Cultural issues became non-moral and preferential.  Worship itself became a matter of men’s taste.

The Jesus Movement

On the West Coast, especially in California, a new movement was growing.  The Jesus movement.  I remember them as “the Jesus freaks.”   In California, you had the most protesting, drug use, and hippies in the United States.   In California especially, you had massive break up of the family and kids who grew up empty and searching.  At that time, the Jesus movement was there to fill that vacuum.   The Jesus movement was not counter-cultural at all.  Their music was the same.  Their appearance was the same.  They looked like everyone else except they had this relationship with Jesus that had them so happy.  Their methods were also very much with the spirit of the age.   They sat down cross-legged in the grass like the hippies.  They played some Beatles-like rock music on their guitars, sung like Joan Baez and other folk-rock singers, except with Christian words, and they just talked about Jesus and what He could do for their hearts.  They made a point of not being different.

Part of the explosive growth of the Jesus movement was the drastic needs of West Coast youth with a hopelessness and despair, and that was met by an approach that was entirely non-judgmental. The leaders just talked to you in a kind of non-authoritative way.   They had on their casual clothes, just like youThey played the same kind of music as you.   There was a tremendous amount of good feeling and companionship and family that was missing at home.  Guys and girls hung out together and played on their guitars and talked about Jesus.   Certain things dropped out—-drugs, fornication, and hate for authority—but the cultural aspects remained entirely the same.  When you got baptized, you headed down to the beach to do it.  You spent time around a camp fire, singing folk-like rock tunes with Christian words, and then you along with dozens of others were put under the surf.

The churches that came out of these efforts were the same.  The services were very emotional with the Christian rock and folk singing.  You came as you were.  Except for the Budweiser t-shirt, you looked no different than the world.  The men had long hair and beards like the hippies.  The woman appeared in the native peace-protester garb.  The promotion was done in the psychedelic sixties font with the big pastel flower petals.   There was the swaying and hand raising and hand holding something like you’d find at the sixties rock concert, minus the drugs.

A lot of large evangelical churches started and expanded during this time with this kind of cultural compatibility.   The culture moved against a clean-cut image with the long beards, sideburns, and facial hair.   Much of it was for the purpose of making the lost feel more comfortable, to contextualize the church to their cultural sensibilities.    This methodology spread to evangelical churches all over the country.  Those churches were growing and others imitated what they were doing.

Where Did This Go?

Evangelical churches did not practice personal and ecclesiastical separation.   That was not only not emphasized, but it was repudiated in most cases.   The goal was a non-judgmental environment, especially on cultural issues, making people feel comfortable that were in the world.   A particular theology of grace came right along with it.  Churches would not give themselves denominational names, because in so doing it would offer doctrinal distinctions that could cause disunity.  Their idea of love, which was very tolerant, surpassed all values.

Evangelical churches have continued like that for the decades since the 1960s, leading up to today.  They have moved right with the world on these cultural issues.  Some fundamentalist churches have grown their ranks, desirous to see the same type of numerical growth they have.  The world’s culture has continued its slide, very much not being impeded by this type of Christianity that uses grace as an occasion of the flesh.  However, not only has the world veered further away culturally, but so have the churches.  The kind of contextualization accepted by these evangelicals has been taken one step further by today’s emerging/ent churches with their grunge look and music, modern art, piercings, tattoos, and street appearance.

Recently, one way that fundamentalists have sought to move along with these culturally compatible evangelicals is by accepting a snapshot of fundamentalism that they believe existed before these cultural issues became an issue in fundamentalism.  They wish for fundamentalism to be a coalition of evangelicals who will separate over a false gospel.  Other factors would not be considered as a basis of fellowship, would even be viewed as a problematic cause of disunity, even heretics.   As a part of this, gone would be the issues of dress, music, and in many cases, alcoholic beverages.   Churches would be fundamental that would simply agree on a very minimal doctrinal statement that was especially clear on the minimal doctrinal aspects of the gospel.  Social issues could be left out.

On the other hand, some evangelicals think now that many evangelicals have slid too far on cultural issues and contextualization.  Those who have moved past their comfort level are now worldly.   Even certain evangelical speech has crossed the line in its casualness, entering the realm of the profane, dishonoring to God, even not worthy of the gospel.  Some are now saying that the gospel must be adorned with certain type of behavior that isn’t specifically laid out in scripture.  In other words, things have gotten even too worldly for them.  When the hippies in the sixties were coming with their rock music and their rebellious dress, they didn’t say anything.   Of course, then they were benefiting from that influx of new people, and that was then.  What we’re seeing, of course, is the complete deterioration of our culture with the contribution of these evangelicals and now fundamentalists who have capitulated to it for the sake of numerical success, false love, and fake unity.

I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing.  I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes.  I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.

A Biblical Approach to Liberties Versus that of Evangelicals and Many Fundamentalists

March 25, 2009 84 comments

The internet is new.  Just look at Al Gore.  Social networking sites (SNS)  are even newer.  In this era of modernity with the explosion of the information age, there is more to come.  C. H. Spurgeon faced new kinds of entertainment at the end of the nineteenth century.  He had words of warning based on scriptural principles for issues not found in the Bible.  These require the development of spiritual discernment.  God didn’t give church leadership a mandate to bury its head in the sand.  We should give guidance in new areas of potential danger to the church.

A common opposition to biblical application to cultural issues is argument by moral equivalence.  I’ve heard a couple different types even this month.  One goes like this:  “You can get in trouble with any kind of communication device.  You can sin on the phone or on the internet too.  SNS are no different.  You could get hit crossing the street.  Are you going to stop doing that too?”  How did you know?  I’m putting my finishing touches on my no street-crossing post, the father of all safety-patrol.  I’m kidding, but I do believe there is a biblical answer to this.   It’s 1 Corinthians 10:12:  “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”  We have admonition against presumptuousness about sin.  Certain places are of greater temptation than others.  Some have worse associations.

Another moral equivalent has been the “SNS isn’t that much different than writing on a blog and you do that” argument.   I could waste time here.  I could violate scripture.  I could cause damage to a church.  I could get puffed up with pride over readership.  I say “yes” to all of those.  I could do any four of those “couldas.”   So I should look at blogging with scrutiny as well.  I do.   I’m not going to write about it, but I do.  However, as I have, I see them as very different activities.  My blog posting doesn’t parallel with the activities of facebook.

The responses I’ve read and heard in this SNS discussion remind me of the major differences in the approach to liberties.  What I am often reading from evangelicals and even fundamentalists are several unscriptural and indefensible perspectives of liberties.  They’ll deny it, but I’ll also explain how it is that they do take on these three at least.

1.  We have liberty to sin.

They say, “Do not say that.”   I say, “You don’t say it, but you do it.”  How?  Some commands in Scripture require a secondary premise.  Let me provide a syllogism.

Major or First Premise:  The woman who wears the male article is an abomination to God.

Minor or Second Premise:  Pants are the male article.

Conclusion:  The woman who wears pants is an abomination to God.

I’ve found that Christians today won’t even agree on the major premise, even though Deuteronomy 22:5 says:  “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”  “That which pertaineth unto a man” is the male article.  I often ask men, what is the male article.   Most don’t want to answer it.  They know it’s pants, so instead of replying to it, they say:  “the cape,” “the derby,” etc.  They take a position of mockery akin to those who scorn the coming of Christ in 2 Peter 3.  Without pants, there is no male garment any longer, and people know it.  And they don’t care.  It isn’t an abomination to them, only to God, so it doesn’t matter.

I recognize that I’ve chosen a more controversial example, but this isn’t a liberty issue.   We don’t have liberty just because there’s a controversy.  We don’t have liberty just because men have muddled up this issue.  This is how Christians have practiced for centuries.  Since the onslaught of feminism and unisex, men have changed the practice in favor of one more acceptable to pagan society.  We have liberty in non-moral issues, and things that are an abomination to God are moral.  It’s a sin to violate God’s instruction.  There are many other examples.

2.  We have the right to cause someone to stumble, to be a bad testimony, to offend another person’s conscience, to conform to the world, or to profane worship.

They say, “I do not say that.”  I say, “You do too.”  How?  Evangelicals and now many fundamentalists turn 1 Corinthians 6-10 and Romans 14 on their head.   Those passages don’t emphasize demanding rights.  They emphasize limiting liberties for the sake of weaker brothers, of unsaved people, and for the greater glory of God.  And yet the evangelicals and fundamentalists now see this as a basis for many unscriptural activities.

3.  I don’t practice personally unpopular biblical application.

They say, “I do not say that.”  I say, “You do too.”  How?  Evangelicals and many fundamentalists say something like what Nathan Busenitz wrote over at Pulpit Fellowship:

[T]he Bible tells us “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). We cannot add to the Scripture without subtracting from its effectiveness in our lives. If we elevate personal preference and man-made tradition to the level of God’s Word (Mark 7:6-15), we risk entangling people in the bondage of legalism and diverting them from the true issues of sanctification (Romans 14:17).

It sounds good.  They say we don’t want to exceed what is written.  And yet Phil Johnson recently wrote what he believed determined what foul language was:

Culture determines this. It’s quite true that the standard may be different from culture to culture and generation to generation. But both history and literature prove that it’s not nearly as fluid or as nebulous as postmodern language-theorists suggest.

You read it.  If you want to know what cuss words are or what smutty speech is, culture determines this.  Really?  I agree with Phil wholeheartedly.  To make application, you have to do that with truth not found in the Bible.  Certain words, based upon the culture, we can conclude, “Yes, that’s foul language.”

We can also determine by the culture what is worldly dress, what is pagan music, and all sorts of other important application of Scripture.  We do it the same way.  Here’s what happens.  Busenitz and Johnson (and me) don’t like the profanity in the pulpit.  That’s wrong.  So there, it’s OK to “exceed what is written” in Scripture.  They throw that verse around at what they want to throw it at.  But when it comes to these other cultural issues, they are blind in their application.  What you will see them do is make statements like this monumental and mocking strawman that Johnson  threw out for areas that he does not prefer to make application:

Yeah, but no one here (except maybe Kent Brandenburg) has ever seriously suggested that 1950′s style is the standard to pursue, either. What I have consistently argued for is clarity, biblical language (as opposed to some subculture’s hip patois), sound doctrine, and boldness in our proclamation of the truth-claims of Scripture that aren’t currently fashionable.

It’s weird how that keeps getting morphed into 1950s-style haircuts and poodle skirts in the thinking of some of the very same people who are so keen to keep up with postmodern fashions. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about dress codes, hair styles, or ’50s fashions in corporate worship or music. Let’s not pretend this post is about that.

What do you think of those arguments?  See what evangelicals and fundamentalists do?  They pick and choose the kind of applications they want to make and then veto the others.  In this case, he talks about 1950′s style (who would make that argument?) or “poodle skirts” as a way to frame what is what Zephaniah 1:8 calls “strange apparel.”  Evangelicals and fundamentalists commonly protect their popularity by making these areas of application matters of “liberty,” and the ones that they don’t like, they say they can be determined by the culture.  You can see it yourself.

Social Networking Sites (SNS): A Case Study for Standards of Judgment

March 17, 2009 4 comments

I’ve made some bad choices.  All the way through college and graduate school, I used the same manual Smith-Corona typewriter that my dad used all the way through his college and graduate school to type every paper.  When we got the church going out in California, I decided to buy an electric typewriter, an IBM selectric with rotating and interchangeable ball.  It’s very funny now, but that was big-time for me at that juncture.  I bought it used with no warranty for about $50, if I remember correctly. What a deal!  In less than a month, it was broken.  I paid $75 to have it fixed.   A little over a month later, it was broken again.  I didn’t repair it again.  I went back to the Smith-Corona, and shortly thereafter, I owned a used Apple IIe with dot-matrix printer (it was free), so the broken IBM launched me into the computer age.

I learned from that mistake a little about purchasing.  I’ve never made that type of bad decision again.   I’ve made others, but not that one.  We go through this life only once.  The choices we make about how we will use our time, energy, and money are what make up our life.  We are redeeming the time, exchanging it for what will be greatest value.   Nothing is more important for us than how we will use this life that God has given us.   What becomes very important is our criteria for making those exchanges of time.

We have more than a standard of right and wrong.  It’s not wrong for me to eat a bowl of hot chili right before I go to bed, but I will pay for it all the next day because of the lost sleep, the acid reflux, and what I call “rot gut.”  I have a higher standard than right and wrong for myself.  So does God.   We’re not always arguing about whether an activity is right or wrong.  We’re asking ourselves other questions like:  Is it the best?  Will it glorify God?  Is it true, lovely, of good report, or virtuous? Will it edify others?  Will God be pleased?  Will it hurt someone else?  Is it a bad testimony?  Is that wise stewardship?  Those types of questions.

In Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, he asked of God for them (1:10):  “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.”  Paul didn’t want just what was right.  He wanted what was excellent.  Someone said, “The greatest enemy of great is good.”  Why have it be good if it can be great?  When Paul wrote that to the Philippians, he wasn’t praying for them to do right.  He wanted them to do their best.

For the Philippians to strive for excellence, he also prayed something else for them in v. 9:   “that [their] love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.”   They needed love, love for God and love for others, if they were to be excellent in their decision making.  It wasn’t just love, but love that was tempered by knowledge and judgment.  When it is love, which it must be, then it will be thoughtful and judgmental, that is, discerning.

One of the bad problems in discussions about issues like social networking sites is that people want to argue that there is nothing wrong with the activity.   They resent someone like myself even questioning their desired practice.  Well, wrong and right aren’t even a biblical standard for a Christian (unless he’s a legalist).  It is ironic, isn’t it, that the people who talk about legalism the most want the standard to be right or wrong?  It reminds me of a blog I read recently, entitled, “Am I Still a Fundamentalist?”, in which the author was asking his readers to inform him if he was still a fundamentalist despite the fact that he allowed himself a list of ten different activities, two of which were:

The church I pastor usually changes the schedule of our Sunday evening service on Super Bowl Sunday to an afternoon service. And, if I were given tickets to the Super Bowl I would probably miss Sunday night church for it (and that might go for Cubs World Series tickets too).

I don’t know what type of behavior he thought he was encouraging with those two points, but it was neither about loving God nor about excellence.  His standard was:  the Bible doesn’t say thou shalt not watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.  He was angry with anyone who might challenge him to anything higher.

Our standard for ourselves is nothing like right or wrong.   We want excellent service, excellent products, excellent food, excellent traffic, excellent treatment, excellent attitudes, and even excellent entertainment.  I contend that the evangelicals and the fundamentalists with the low standards are the legalists.  They will be judged by no greater standard than right or wrong or they are allowed to mock, ridicule, and name call.   I believe that they don’t love God.  They love themselves.  If this is all about God, and not about us, then there is no way that right or wrong could possibly be a sufficient criterion.

The Case of the Social Networking Sites

In a recent study by Valerie Barker, PhD at San Diego State University, research was conducted in the way of interviews with older adolescents about their motivations for social networking site usage.  The most important incentive for SNS was communication with peer group members.   The conclusion of the research was that these teenagers used these sites for collective self-esteem.  Females especially reported a positive collective self-esteem to compensate for negative feelings about their real life social group.  Males more than females needed SNS for identity gratification and as a social function to compensate for low self-confidence.

What do we see in this research?  Young people look to SNS to find their social identities and to boost their low self-confidence.  This is in fitting with a modernistic society that looks outward to find its value.  Who we are, instead of being about belief and character, has become about other’s opinions or estimations.  David Wells talks about this in No Place for Truth (pp. 157-158):

[W]e turn outward in a search for direction, scanning others for the social signals they emit.  This produces a new kind of conformity. . . .  [The modern person] seeks approval and even affection from a surrogate family, “an amorphous and shifting, though contemporary, jury of peers,” as Reisman put it.  This person is oriented not to inner values but to other people.  It is in the peer group that acceptance is found and outcasts are named. . . . Relationships within the group become the coin for all of life’s transactions as well as the chief test of taste. . . . He feels at home only in the mass. . . . Where once people took pride in their accomplishments and in their character, other-directed individuals think only of how they stand with others. . . . Once people worked to achieve tangible ends, to accomplish things.  Now, such accomplishments are of far less signficance than one’s “image.”  Once peple worked; now they manipulate.  Once people sweated; now they seduce.  Once people wished to be respected, to have their accomplishments recognized; now they wish to be envied, regardless of whether they are envied for anything they have actually accomplished.

Facebook and other SNS fit into the modernistic pattern of finding our value in other’s estimation of our personality.  In Losing Our Virtue, Wells writes (p. 97):

Until this time, the self had been understood in terms of character, of virtue[s] to be learned and practiced, of private desires to be denied. . . . These virtues were all sustained by a belief in a higher moral law; . . . the focus abruptly shifted from character to personality. . . . Character is good or bad, while personality is attractive, forceful, or magnetic.  Attention therefore was shifting from the moral virtues, which need to be cultivated, to the image, which needs to be fashioned.  It was a shift away from the invisible moral intentions toward the attempt to make ourselves appealing to others, away from what we actually are and toward refining our performance before a public that mostly judges the exterior.

Our character was once judged by those communities formed and ordained by God—the family and the church.   Wells says in No Place for Truth (p. 202) that “we are creating a new tribe based not on relational but electronic connections.”   Productivity and character are no longer necessary in this new medium to gain social identity, acceptance, and even status.  Once our culture valued the higher achievements of human nature—the good use of language, moral behavior, reasoned discourse, and aesthetic achievements according to the highest aspirations of the human spirit.  We’ve reduced these often to the lowest common denominator, vulgarity, politicization, and triviality.

Objective truthfulness has been replaced by subjective experience.  Personal testimony has become a source of knowledge.  The question is no longer whether Christ is objectively true but whether the personal encounter has been appealing and whether it has brought me into common connection with others.   A true indicator of worth becomes the number of friends, requiring a kind of friendliness that is divested of scriptural judgment, since such judgment cannot escape a charge of unfriendliness, even bigotry.

SNS fit within a larger paradigm of modernistic society.  In other words, when we examine them, we need to take a few more steps backward to see the big picture.   More is going on then typing and talking and networking.  Something that is so popular in the world ought to give believers pause.   Their judgment should not merely consider whether SNS are wrong or right.  What makes SNS so popular in a God-hating world?  Do I have my sufficiency in Christ?  Am I seeking first the kingdom of God?  Why is it that I can’t get satisfaction through my family and my church?  Am I just running from God-ordained evaluation for unconditional acceptance?  Does my desire for SNS signal my own discontent?   Have my electronic relationships replaced or hindered my real ones?  What does God want and is that important to me?

Romans 14 and Issues Like Social Networking

March 11, 2009 4 comments

If someone on the highway speeds past me and cuts me off, almost causing an accident, I don’t care if he gets caught by the police.  However, if I do the same to someone else, I hope I don’t caught.  We believe in justice. We just don’t like it when it applies to us.  I can say the same thing about being judged.   My flesh is repulsed by someone telling me that I’ve done wrong.  I don’t normally like hearing from another person about how far off I am in some of my thinking.   We don’t like to be judged.

All of us are going to be judged by God.  “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).  What God knows about what we do is what’s most important.  And when God judges, He’s going to judge based upon more than whether the activity was right and wrong.

The Bible doesn’t say facebook or social networking are wrong.   Because of that, people don’t want to be judged for using facebook.  When I start talking about potential problems with it, people often don’t like hearing it.  They don’t like to feel judged by me or anyone else.   Just because facebook is permissible, doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for you to use it.

To make a good decision about whether we will use an online social network or not, we must look at the principles God gives us to judge matters that the Bible does not mention.  The first half of Romans 14 says that we should not judge people so harshly in non-scriptural activities.   Verses 1-12 of Romans 14 say that it’s okay to use facebook.  After all, it is a non-moral issue that Scripture nowhere prohibits.

However, the second half of Romans 14 says that we should judge ourselves harshly on the same non-moral activities that we had liberty to practice.  If we’re going to please God, then we don’t judge them based just upon whether they are right or wrong.  The strong Christian doesn’t flaunt his liberties or rights and demand them, but restrains himself in them for the sake of others.  There is nothing wrong with playing pick-up basketball, but that doesn’t mean that I should play on Sunday mornings.  There are reasons why not.

There are two related reasons why it is that we don’t just do anything we want even if  it might be permissible to do so.  We might have a right or a liberty to do something, but that isn’t the only criteria.  We also must ask:

Will Someone Else Be Affected?

The Christian Harmed by a Stumbling Block

An activity may be lawful to do, but it could cause someone else to stumble.   Facebook is a tool, but one that has trappings built into it.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:13:

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Instead of being concerned about whether we’re being judged or not, we should judge ourselves by asking if our continuation will harm someone else.   God is our Judge, but He will judge us not just for what we do, but also for what impact what we do will have on others.  There are many ways that a weaker believer could be harmed by facebook.  We must consider whether our example could result in the potential spiritual hurt of others.

We can see some of the harm that we cause others in vv. 13-15.   One of us might be able to handle facebook.  However, there might be someone else who can’t.  It may waste his time.  It may result in him getting caught up with the wrong people.  It might draw him away from God by his addiction.  In the end, he is grieved by the problems he has because of facebook.  At that time, he might remember that he went ahead and joined because we were there already.

What I am hearing from some commenting about facebook is something like:  “There are numbers of ways that people can sin.  If they were going to sin at facebook, then they probably would have chosen someplace else to sin anyway.  Since they were going to sin one way or another, we shouldn’t be kept from facebook just because of them.”  However, there are dangers on facebook.  I believe that they are too heavy for many, if not most Christians,  to remain obedient to God.  However, they may not be too much for certain believers.   Those Christians must think about how that their continued association with facebook might result in the future grief (v. 15a) or destruction (v. 15b) of others.

The Christian Harmed by Loss of Testimony

You may think that an activity is fine to do.  It might be.  But “your good could be evil spoken of” (v. 16).   There is one verb in v. 16 and from it comes the English word “blaspheme.”  Since it is a liberty, it is a good.  However, if your good causes the world to see us in a different way, in a way that causes “men” (v. 18, not a reference to believers) for whom Christ died to turn from God, to blaspheme, then we should not do it.

Verse 17 tells a little about how this could occur.  An unbeliever might miss out on a true understanding of the kingdom of God because we would rather prioritize what God has allowed us to do rather than what He wants us to do.  It might be that our liberty keeps us from evangelistic opportunities.  If we spend hours on a facebook page and never talk about Jesus in a scriptural manner with the kind of seriousness that would represent Him in a salvific way, then the lost will not understand Him, His kingdom, or His life.  Someone can’t just “drop” the name of Jesus into a mass of commonality or profanity as an accurate representation of Him.

An unsaved man might ask, “If Jesus is really Lord, what doesn’t this man talk about Jesus like He is?”  Or, “If He believes in Jesus Christ, then why does the subject matter of his conversation not differ from mine?”

While I was on facebook the short time I was there, I never heard anything good about Jesus or what He had to offer.  The talk was a clean waste, but nevertheless just as much a waste as any unbeliever’s talk.  These social networking sites are not conducive, I believe, to evangelism.  They tend to weaken or cheapen Christian testimony.

And we also should ask:

Will It Build Up Someone Else?

Does facebook result in the building up of other believers?  Will this be something that edifies the most in the most constructive way?

As other believers relate to our Christian liberties, they should receive us in non-scriptural issues (Rom 14:1).  Facebook is one of those.  However, as we judge ourselves and our use of our liberties, we should see our lives as the Lord’s.  They aren’t our own liberties but God’s for Him to use.  Our desire should be to do what He wants us to do, since we’re going to be judged by Him.  If we see facebook that way, then we won’t be angry if we feel like someone is judging us in our usage of it.   In matters of liberty, we’re called to think first of God and then of others.  Will He be pleased as our Judge?  Will we cause others some kind of spiritual harm or will we edify them?

Deconstructing Fugate and Schaap and a Conclusion about Ranking Doctrines

February 24, 2009 97 comments

You can buy Oxy 10 (strong zit cream) now that performs two tasks—dries up the pimple and covers it with a flesh tone coloring.  It’s both a medicine and a make-up.  Teenagers, no more need for those unsightly bandaids waiting for a bad blemish to heal.   This essay will also multi-task by delivering my break-down of the Fugate-Schaap fight and finish up the actual topic of the month—Ranking Doctrines.  The first will surely bring the largest crowd (fitting for Fugate and Schaap) and the latter will draw the most commentary.   This month our blog has had more readers in its bathroom than other blogs have had in their auditoriums.  Jeff Fugate and Jack Schaap are google gold.

Fugate and Schaap

I still get The Church Bus News, once printed by Wally “Mr. Bus” Beebe, and since his death, the domain of Jeffrey Fugate of Lexington, KY.  I get the major mailings, including The Voice, from First Baptist in Hammond, now headquarters for Jack Schaap.  Like most of you, first I received the special edition of the Fugate magazine (23 pp) and a little later Schaap’s answer (16 pp).  The same day as Schaap’s reply to Fugate, I got the surreal letter to Jack Hyles written by Russell Anderson.   I’ve never been in the Fugate/Schaap loop, but I was happy to have them tell me what they thought about the doctrine of preservation and the King James Version.

Fugate and Schaap represent the Hyles’ branch of fundamentalism.  Schaap took the mantle from Hyles.  He refers to the moment on p. 2:

On his (father-in-law, Jack Hyles) deathbed he took my hand and stated pointedly, ‘I love many people, but I don’t trust them all.’  He paused, squeezed my hand, and continued, ‘I trust you, Jack, with everything I have.’  It was a holy and sacred moment for me.

Schaap has done a phenomenal job in keeping the Hyles’ circus going.  I would not have thought anyone could do it.  He has.  Fugate had to settle, it seems, for getting Russell Anderson, which is a feather in his Hyles cap, but he is a simple Hyles’ grad with a Hyles honorary doctorate, which can’t compare to being in Hyles’ family and getting the Hyles’ death bed handshake.

Synopsis

For those who haven’t seen the mailings, let me start with the Fugate one.  Around a huge, half page picture of himself, Fugate explained and justified his mailing on pp. 2-3.  On pp. 4-5 he presented quotes from Jack Hyles on the subject from Hyles’ book, The Need for an Every-Word Bible.  Fugate printed a chapter from a recent Ms. Gail Riplinger book from p. 6 to p. 12.  Fugate wrote a chapter called “The Inspired, Preserved Word” from pp. 13-17, and then reproduced his “Open Letter to Dr. Schaap” from p. 18 to p. 23.

On the top fold of the newsprint style Special Pastor’s Edition of The Voice read in giant red letters, “Dr. Jack Schaap Speaks on Inspiration and the King James Bible.”  On the top 1/3 of the first page, but numbered p. 2, in about 25 pt. font, Schaap stated what he believes, and after that an open letter to no pastor in particular, p. 3 an answer to eight different questions that he said he had received from various people, pp. 4-5 his Jack Hyles pages, quoted for his own defense, pp. 6-7 excerpts from two different booklets in which he deals with this subject—Why Stand against the King James Bible? and Dr. Jack Schaap Answers, p. 8 the doctrinal statements of seventeen different Baptist schools to support his position, and pp. 9-11 letters from deacons, staff, Charles Colsten, Wendell Evans, and Ray Young in full support of Schaap.   The last three pages were miscellaneous defenses of the Schaap position—one the letter to the readers by the KJV translators, dictionary definitions of “inspiration,” lexiconal entries for theopneustos, and ending with observations and conclusion.

Both of them quote Hyles for their own purposes.  Ironically, I believe that it was possible to defend more than one position with Hyles’ words.  Hyles would say that he always took the same position, but if you read his early Revelation commentary,  you’d see that he commonly corrected the KJV in that book.  Then later he turned to the position that said someone could not be converted except through the KJV.  In between there, he made many varied and contradictory statements on the subject, so much so that men with different positions both use him to defend themselves.

Schaap Mistakes

Fugate and Schaap make convoluted or inaccurate statements.  In the large font on p. 2 Schaap wrote what is his official position:

I believe the King James Version of the Bible is the divinely preserved translation of the inspired Word of God for English speaking peoples.

What’s wrong with that?  It isn’t easy to understand.  I can’t tell what he believes about the underlying Greek and Hebrew text by that statement.  I don’t know what he believes about inspiration or preservation from the statement.  Someone asked Schaap this question:  “If we believe in divine preservation, don’t we then believe that the inspired words were preserved in their inspired state?”  As part of his answer, he made this statement:  “We have copies of an English translation that came from copies of other translations, etc., etc.” By the time he was done, I couldn’t tell what he believed.

When you read the official position of the church and college, you find the same indecipherable type of statement (p. 9):

Furthermore, we believe the Scriptures were translated, copied, and preserved under the watchful care of divine providence and that the English speaking peoples of today have in the King James Version of the Scriptures an accurate, reliable, divinely preserved translation of the Scriptures.

It says the Scriptures were translated, copied, then preserved.  Isn’t copying the way they were preserved?  Wasn’t the copying or preservation of Scriptures done before they were translated?  Nothing else that was written by Schaap or any others from Hyles-Anderson cleared this up.

Fugate Failings

Gail Riplinger took up the bulk of the space for Fugate, carrying the doctrinal water for him.  She wrote on p. 6:

The actual ‘originals’ have not been the recipient of the promise of preservation, as they have long since dissolved.

I haven’t read anything that Riplinger has written until this paper.  She made the above inane statement in the second sentence of her presentation.   She said there was no “promise of preservation” of the ‘originals’ because they have long since “dissolved.”  How does a promise of preservation relate to whether we still possess the originals or not?  The absence of originals doesn’t change what Scripture promises or doesn’t promise.  And how do the “originals” receive a promise anyway?  God wrote promises to people, not to manuscripts of the Bible.  The next sentence brings confusion to what she even means by “originals”:

As is demonstrated in detail in the previous chapters of Greek and Hebrew Study Dangers, all currently printed Greek and Hebrew editions contain errors.

From that statement you can see where we’re headed with Riplinger, but you can also see that when she says “originals,” she doesn’t mean “original manuscripts” but “original languages.”   So she is saying that Scripture doesn’t promise original language preservation.  So what does it promise about preservation?  We’ll get there.

On top of that, how does Riplinger know that every Hebrew and Greek text has errors?  She doesn’t possess the original manuscripts, so she doesn’t know that.  She can’t compare any of the editions of the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture with their original manuscripts, so she can’t even come to that conclusion.  What she should conclude, based upon a biblical view of inspiration and preservation found in God’s promises in His Word, is that we do have all of the Words without error in the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture.

But that isn’t where Ms. Riplinger is headed as she teaches us her bibliology.  She claims to know that we don’t have a perfect original language Bible, but what we do have is a perfect translation of the Bible.  So a perfect translation came from a corrupt text.  And she based that upon what?

The answer to the question, ‘Where is the living word of God’ lies in God’ s promise given to Isaiah 28 and fulfilled in Acts 2.  “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak . . . saith the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:21) [bold hers].

What do you think of that exegesis?  She concludes that God is telling us in 1 Corinthians 14:21 that His Word would come with men of other tongues—not Hebrew and Greek ones—and we know now that they are English ones.  We’re supposed to read that out of that verse from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 (I wish she had read a little further down to 1 Cor 14:29-35 and practiced that instead).

She has many more errors, crazy ones, as you continue to read her.   Her writing should be respected by no one.  What you can see that she believes  is that we didn’t have a perfect Bible from the moment those original manuscripts “dissolved” until we got the King James Version (1611 or 1769?).  She is a living example of why women shouldn’t be teaching doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:9-15).  When Schaap challenged Fugate on the phone about learning theology from a woman, Fugate’s comeback was (p. 23):

Gail Riplinger is a woman who holds an honorary doctorate from Hyles-Anderson college for her work on the KJB.

Somebody should tell her that her career in doctrinal mangling is over.

What kind of respect does Fugate hold for Riplinger? This really shows you the caliber of these types of men.  Not only is half his presentation a chapter from her book, but then he writes his section and plagiarizes paragraphs of her from the very chapter that he printed.  Some editor should have stopped chewing his bazooka and informed him of this.  On p. 15 in the first column and on p. 16 at the bottom of the first column and top of the second, Fugate plagiarizes almost word-for-word two paragraphs of Riplinger’s chapter located at the bottom of the last paragraph on p. 6 and then the last paragraph on p. 7.

Trying to be the diplomat, Schaap wrote this on the back page of his paper:

I don’t think any one of us could slide a piece of paper between our differences.

I want to go on record to say that there is far more than paper-thin differences between the scriptural position and what most of the Hylots have written.  Try a boulder.

An Aside

As an aside, the new filing director at Sharper Iron, Greg Linscott, linked to Dave’s last article on Schaap-Fugate.  It is presently the most visited thread of their filing section and heavily commented.  One of their moderators, a “Larry,” wrote this about Dave:

The irony of this article is that someone who does not have a biblical doctrine of preservation is complaining that someone else who doesn’t have a biblical doctrine of preservation doesn’t have a biblical doctrine of preservation.

That’s all he said.  Clever, huh?  He didn’t say how it was unscriptural, just that it was.  It’s throwing raw meat to the MVO (multiple version only) crowd.  He knows it.   Classic fundamentalism.  What is truly ironic is a person with no biblical doctrine of preservation, Larry, saying that Dave doesn’t have one.   I’ve never ever heard an MVO advocate, someone like Larry, ever start with the Bible to come to his position on preservation.  As a matter of fact, they believe that you start with textual criticism and then restrain your doctrine from keeping the “evidence” from leading you to the “truth.”   Larry’s view of preservation is the new post-enlightenment position that all of the doctrines of scripture have been preserved, not the words.  You won’t find it in the Bible.

Final Comments about Ranking Doctrines

In the previous three posts of mine about reducing scripture to essentials and non-essentials, I haven’t presented much of a scriptural argument against that position and practice.  In my first installment, I linked to a five part series that I had already written, that did give a biblical basis for an every teaching is essential approach.  I also argued against the defense mounted by the other side.  I would like to spend a little time dealing with their main arguments.  I contend that their main point isn’t in the Bible at all and it is invented only to maintain a type of fake unity between all believers.  However, here are some of the passages to which they refer to state their case.

1 Corinthians 15:3

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

Those who rank doctrines see this verse as inferring this practice.  They understand “first” (protos) as “first in importance.”  They explain that Paul is saying that the gospel is foremost of all the doctrines, based on this text.  This is how the New American Standard and the English Standard Versions translate protos.  Protos more often means “first in time.”  If it does mean “first in importance,” then Paul could be saying that the gospel is foremost in this chapter.  With such relative ambiguity, we shouldn’t base a doctrine on the understanding of this one word.  Even if it does mean “most important,” then it is an even further stretch to say that it is the only doctrine or one of the few doctrines worth separating over.

Matthew 23:23

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Essential or non-essential people infer their practice from the use of the word “weightier” (barus).  The Pharisees paid tithe on certain small herbs, but didn’t accomplish the “weightier” matters of the law, like mercy, etc.  What are “weightier matters?”  Barus carries with it the understanding of “difficulty.”  The Pharisees chose to do the easier things, tithing their little herbs.  Jesus is refuting the ranking of doctrines.  They had voided certain practices and replaced them with other easier ones.  Why?  The easier ones they could do on their own.  This is a major reason why men will rank doctrines–because they don’t see how they can keep everything that God said.  They’re right.  They can’t do it, which is why they need justification by faith.

1 Corinthians 16:22

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.

Certain violations come with severe punishment.   Those ranking doctrines  say that this indicates that these issues are essential, rated ahead of other doctrines or practices.  If someone doesn’t love Jesus, then he isn’t saved.  That’s why he is cursed.   It is ironic that people who do love the Lord Jesus will keep everything that He says (John 14:21-24).  In other words, “Anathema Maranatha” if you won’t do everything that Jesus says to do.

1 Corinthians 3:11-13

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

Jesus is foundational to everything.   No one is arguing with that.  We must believe in Jesus Christ or all other doctrine or practice won’t matter to someone’s life and eternity.  In 2 Peter 1, believers will add virtue to faith and knowledge to virtue.   That doesn’t mean that faith is more important than virtue.

Romans 14:5

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Romans 14 applies to non-scriptural issues.  Colossians 2:16 says that we shouldn’t judge one day above another because they are merely shadows of Christ.  1 Corinthians 5:7 says that Christ is our passover.  Days are not a doctrinal issue.  You can’t apply this to scriptural doctrine and practice.

Philippians 3:15

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

This verse has been used for ranking doctrines.   It isn’t remotely about that.  What is the “same mind” that Paul wanted the Philippians to have with him? It was the same mind or attitude of this pursuit of Christlikeness that he just talked about in the context. Paul uses sarcasm with the term “perfect,” because he himself had just said that nobody had reached perfection until they reach Christ. If they weren’t going to have that mindset of pursuing Christlikeness, then his hope was that God would expose this wrong way of thinking and help them change it.

I’ve already made arguments for not having the essential/non-essential teaching over at my blog in a five part series.  I’ve only dealt with the other side here.  I’ve found that this is all they’ve got to offer.

Defining What Fellowship Is

In the comment section, one brother asked me about fellowship, to define what it was.  I thought it would be worth doing here.   I’m not fellowshiping with someone at the park with whom I’m playing pick-up basketball.  I might take an unsaved person out to lunch.  That isn’t fellowship if I have the purpose of evangelism.  I’m on the board of two orchestras.  That isn’t fellowship, even though there are other Christians on one of the boards.  Winning an election and joining Congress isn’t fellowship.

Fellowship is an association with a common spiritual purpose and goal.  I may talk to another professing believer who believes differently than me.  We can sit down for coffee or a meal with the attitude that we are attempting to be in fellowship if possible.  This may take many visits.  I know that these two paragraphs don’t deal with every situation.

Conclusion

Sometimes the word “core” is used. I see it spreading.  Core values. And then fancy words like triage, which puts people in such a daze that they refuse to keep thinking about it. Taxonomy is another one. None of these are taught in Scripture. “Fundamental” is very much like “foundational.” I have no doubt that certain doctrines are “foundational.” For instance, who cares if you practice complementarianism when you are not saved. Being saved is foundational. It could also be fundamental in that sense.

But let’s be clear. We know why “core” and all these exciting new theological terms are being used. Men want to be able to water down belief and practice and not be punished for it. The world loves minimizing and reducing, so these same churches will be more popular with the world. And then all the churches that love being popular will also be popular with each other. It’s like a big peace treaty that we could hand out a Christian version of the Nobel Peace prize. We can all smile at each other and get along while we disobey what God said. Then you’ve got a guy that says everything is important, and that’s, you know, an attack on unity. It’s a fake unity like what people have at a family reunion.  Real unity is based on what God said.

Banned in Blogdom

February 6, 2009 10 comments

I hate to cause any diversion from the great topic at hand, and I certainly have no desire to take away from the tremendous first two posts on this issue.  But, I also have some unfinished business that really must be taken care of, and so, without further delay…

During the last month that we blogged, we did a sort of biographical month.  Jeff gave us all questions to answer… really deep, probing questions, too.  I was sorta embarrassed by a few of them.  But, I answered anyway.  Then, Kent gave his perspective on Jeff and I — I really blushed when I read those.  And finally, I made fun of Jeff.  I’m sure that if he ever gets it, he’ll be blushing.  But we’ll have to wait for him to think it over.

But, I never got to Kent.  And I have wanted to.  I need to, really.  I started to, back at the end of December.  But some very pressing duties combined with my rather foggy brain, hung-over as it was with cookies, candy, and Christmas vacation, simply prevented my completing the process.  In fact, those very same pressing duties have prevented me from even touching a blog over the past 4-5 weeks.  Today is my first day back at “Blog Central” (the place in my office where I do all this wonderful blogging), and so I want to dedicate today’s piece to my friend Kent.

Kent has already told you the story of our first meeting.  Whatever he says about it, I will admit that I didn’t even notice him being there (when it is time to preach, I get a bad case of tunnel vision anyway), until during the lunch time afterwards.  As I recall, his youngest sat in a high chair next to my oldest (also in a high chair), and we had a very nice time at the table.  I suppose that if I had realized that the balding guy with the baby was THE Kent Brandenburg, I probably would have acted differently at the time, but I didn’t know half the people at that meeting, and I’m not an outgoing guy.  Not at all.  So, I just enjoyed the talk.  Whatever Kent might have seen, I looked across that table, and I saw a friend.

And that is exactly what Kent has been to me throughout these years since then.  When Pastor Short died, Kent flew here for the funeral.  He couldn’t stop crying long enough to talk much then.  Later, he flew out here again to preach for me, and we enjoyed sitting up late discussing, debating, and in general growing acquainted.  And, Kent was a friend.  Many, many times, too many times really, I have picked up the phone to dial his number.  Sometimes it was important.  Sometimes I needed advice in a desparate way.  Other times, it was less urgent, but still important to me.  Always, Kent is there to give the help, the nudge, the encouragement, and even, at times, the kick in the pants, the cuff upside the head, or the stinging rebuke that was needed.

No doubt there are readers of this blog who see Kent as a theologue.  No doubt some consider him to be a braniac.  Probably we have a reader or three who think of him as a crank.  To some, he is an extremist.  To others, a hard-liner.  I would be surprised if some of our readers didn’t associate him very closely with the mascot for our President’s party.  Kent is a strong man, a godly man, a true pastor, an expert exegete, a faithful preacher, a father and a husband and a brother in Christ.  But all who read this post should understand that above all else, Kent is a friend.

Will he always say what you want to hear?  Emphatically not.  Will you always like the “friendship” he extends your way?  No, not really.  Will you feel warm and fuzzy feelings towards him all the time?  I think not.  Kent is not the kind of friend that you make on MySpace or on Facebook.  He’s not a friend for the Socially Unfulfilled.  He’s no make-believe friend.  He won’t be leaving comments on your wall to the tune of “you’re so kewl.”  Kent is not a virtual friend.  He is a real-life friend.  The kind that will cry because you are suffering.  The kind that will rejoice because you are rejoicing.  The kind that will listen when you call, will help you when you stumble, will rebuke you when you need it most, and will extend a helping hand when you need that too.

I have stayed in Kent’s home.  I have observed his family.  I have been in his church.  I know his staff.  Kent understands and practices the grace of hospitality.  He is a good host.  He has a very gracious wife, and a couple of the best kids you’ll ever meet (at least in the daughter department).  His home is well-run, his children well-mannered.  I watched as his kids woke up early and started practicing their music.  For the first two hours of the morning, the Brandenburg house sounds like Carnegie hall ten minutes before the Symphony.  Kent has established a well-ordered home.

In this day and age, it seems like most pastors are either doctrinally sound or manly, but never both.  Not so with Kent.  He’ll run you over on the basketball court, and then call the foul on you.  He’s a man’s man when it comes to athletics.  He throws his whole heart and soul into whatever he is doing.  But he isn’t just a man on the athletic field.  He understands that manliness is spiritual, and he is spiritual in a manly way.  He takes a strong stand, and never apologizes until he sees that he was wrong.  I like that about Kent.

There have been plenty of times that Kent and I have disagreed.  Publicly, in fact.  Often, we have done so on purpose.  We both hold our convictions very strongly, and yet, we have a mutual respect for one another.  I suppose that if you are looking for a connection between this post and the month’s theme, this is it.  We both strive to take our stands on defensible ground, with a strong Scriptural basis for all our beliefs and practices.  There are times when we take very different stands.  One of the goals of this blog has been to model a Biblical approach to doctrinal debate.  We desire to show the world that these issues can be debated, and debated passionately, without there being a wounded friendship in the end.  We hope that we are succeeding in this.

But that brings up another point about Kent.  Like iron, Kent sharpens those around him.  Anyone who has debated Kent understands the need to “bring your A-game.”  That is why Phil Johnson won’t touch him.  I still remember that promise, made so very long ago, that Phil made to Kent — I’m gonna debate you (said Phil), and when I do, you’ll need to bring your A-game.  That’s what Phil said.  Somehow, I’m thinking that in the ensuing days, Phil realized that Kent only brings his A-game.  And, maybe, Phil decided that his own A-game had “left the building.”  Who knows?

Kent is a tough debater.  As one who has gone more than a few rounds with Kent, I should know.  Kent doesn’t shadow box.  He never heard of 50%.  Kent is a model of Biblical tenacity.  And, as a result, Kent has gotten himself banned.  Banned at Sharper Iron.  Banned by Frank Turk.  Banned at PyroMeaniacs.  Banned in Blogdom.  I understand their strategy.  If you can’t beat Kent, silence him.  They have put him out of their Synagogues.  They think they have done God a service.  They can’t bear to debate him, and so they gag him instead.  And, if you have no other reason to admire Kent, that should be reason enough.

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