Monday, February 25, 2019

Subject to Change: A Plea to Young Men

Neo-independent Baptists 8

Note: Today’s post is the eighth in an eight part series addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. It is by Dan Armacost, 46, a 1994 graduate of Fairhaven Baptist College. He is currently Dean of Students at Fairhaven Baptist College.

If you are a ministry-minded young man, you are “in the balance.” Living in the
information age affords access to more varied ministry philosophies than ever -- so many blogs, tweets, posts and persuasive personalities to sort through. Sooner or later, you will face what our former president George W. Bush termed a “decision point.”

I count as my strongest influences men who discipled me throughout my youth. I was blessed by wise men who knew me, invested their time into me, and warned me.

Scripture addresses young men repeatedly. The book of Proverbs is one example. The Apostle Paul invested in the personal training of his young associates. Many other examples could be cited but consider briefly the scenarios affecting three different younger men during several chapters of I and II Kings. As a young man these passages gave me guidance that I needed, and I believe that they provide helpful instruction both for young men and those influencing them.

In I Kings 12, newly appointed King Rehoboam faces a choice between two opposing leadership philosophies. He receives conflicting advice from two sources – the first from aged men, and other from his youthful peers. To his detriment, he chooses the advice of his contemporaries. Rehoboam stands as a warning -- a young leader, at his “decision point,” wrecked by the faulty advice of youthful advisors.

I Kings 13 recounts a young prophet carrying a message from God. This man meets an unnamed old prophet, and a kind one at that. Even while claiming authority from God, the old prophet persuades the young prophet to act contradictory to God’s directives. The young prophet’s life suddenly ends in tragedy, while the deceitful old prophet lives on. The young prophet at his “decision point” was deceived through the duplicity of his older “prophet-friend.”

From II Kings 6 yet another lesson for young men emerges. A fearful young man expresses despair at the sight of an army with horses and chariots surrounding his city. The prophet Elisha assures his young servant that God’s forces outnumber the enclosing army, and then simply prays, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. The verse continues, And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw… In answer to the prayer of a prophet, a young man understood for himself the power of God. There stands a young servant safe and secure -- pointed to God by a faithful, older saint.

Certainly, we want our sons and our sons in the faith to see God and His timeless truths for themselves. No one disputes this. To accomplish this, a young man needs courage to recognize and reject error in his persuasive peers. But he also at times needs to discern the faulty direction of disobedient men, even though they are older, carry a title, and are very kind to them.

Do you share in this prayer of Elisha – open his eyes - for those you influence? I do. I pray this for my two sons. I pray this for the students I teach. I pray this for myself.
Psalm 119:18 says, Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. Every believer needs his spiritual eyes opened personally to God’s truth. Young men, impressionable, and susceptible to altering course, will at some point find themselves in the balance – a place of decision about ministry philosophy.

A young, moldable man will receive a myriad of influences and an array of philosophies. But he is not without hope or direction, because when an immutable God opens a young man’s eyes to His unchanging words, many practical ministry decisions are determined. When you find yourself fascinated by the bandwagon of the latest ways of your peers, take a warning from the foolishness of Rehoboam. On the other hand, learn the lesson of the demise of the young prophet who placed his confidence in the older prophet, but in so doing forsook God’s words.

As you establish a ministry philosophy, consider these four areas of concern:

1. The significance of the shepherd

Upon the shoulders of a shepherd lies a vast measure of responsibility. And why is this? Because shepherds guide sheep. The office of the pastor correlates to the function of a shepherd, but rather than leading sheep, pastors guide people. Just as sheep are to follow the voice of their shepherd, congregations are instructed to follow their pastors, as they follow God (Hebrews 13:7). And as actual sheep learn to trust their own shepherds, so it is natural for church members to grow in confidence toward their pastors. Correspondingly, a pastor will give account for his people (Hebrews 13:17), and this accountability weighs on a pastor in a way that many church members cannot fully understand (2 Corinthians 11:28). While your own life is made of your choices, when you begin to guide others, the impact of your resolutions expands, affecting people – profoundly (Luke 12:48).

To go one step further, pastors do not influence just their own congregations. A pastor who writes, posts sermons, or streams his church services can affect many others. Churches host conferences which usually include a time when new ideas are proposed and discussed. And when a man “experiences success,” others migrate toward him. That is a part of the history of the independent Baptist movement. The ability to exert influence beyond the four walls of one’s church has never been greater.

Along with heightened awareness of new movements and growing ministries comes the allurement, particularly to younger men, to react by shifting one’s positions. This becomes his “decision point.” Consider what faces a pastor who chooses to lead his congregation into a philosophical change. First, he must get his own congregation on board with him, and that is not without some level of unrest, and in a discerning, discipled church, may prove a daunting task. A leader who shifts positions also forces the hand of his “spiritual fathers.” His “mentors” love him and do not wish to lose influence on him, yet they are forced to respond to his shift. What are their options? First, they could label his changes as wrong, thus losing influence over him and possibly his affection. Second, they may accept his change and start to add more things to a growing list of non-essentials. Third, they may attempt to overlook it -- a “temporary fix” at best. One way or another, a shift toward the contemporary must eventually be addressed. With the understanding that all decisions have consequences, young pastors must be extremely cautious of the talk of the “new.” New is not always better, nor is it free from wide-ranging effects.

2. Caveat emptor

Caveat emptor - “Let the buyer beware.” Before you “buy into” the latest wave of change, you do well to follow the Bible admonition to count the cost. Unlike Amazon, the return policy on new ministry positions is not generous – at all. Every decision has a consequence, but ministry decisions, because of their nature, result in multi-faceted ramifications. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 implores us to Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.

When a leader embraces a ministry philosophy that includes a readiness to shift positions and practices, he needs to understand that he is not just gaining that new method or practice but also losing something as well. Introducing new tastes and styles to a church has permanent consequences. You will surrender ground that will never be regained. Amen for gathered crowds, but don’t be so shallow as to embrace ministry change due to the ideas of successful crowd gatherers. Someone will always be “bigger.” There’s a driving force behind every ministry. Independent Baptists state that the Bible is the sole authority, and rightfully so. But how that Bible is to be applied in 2019 requires careful discernment (see the previous post - #7 "Chapter and Verse" - by Pastor Brennan for a very practical discussion on this point). No one wants to be misled, but how can a person “foresee” the direction a shift in their ministry philosophy will lead them?

3. Identify the guide

Whether we care to admit it or not, we all have guides. There are no self-made men. Furthermore, men need guides. So, men have and need guides. Understanding this truth proves invaluable when considering ministry choices, because by identifying a man’s guides, you peer into his future. Who doesn’t want to know what’s ahead? Exercise due diligence and “vet” direction. So before mimicking a change suggested by someone’s ministry, note his guides.

A man’s associations guide him. Who are his friends in the ministry? Everyone
remembers the basic truth we learned in Friends 101 – “you are now or you soon shall be what your friends are.” None of us are escaping that fact. Look at a man’s friends. They are affecting him. My friends affect me, and yours influence you.

The books that a man reads become his guides. Many men post reading lists. They may list the books they have read recently, or even their personal recommended reading lists. Without a doubt all reading requires discernment. Even the best writers are at best just men. But when it becomes apparent that someone with influence is championing the writings of those who have “already shifted,” take note.

Learning who a man’s friends are and seeing who he reads will go a long way in explaining the reasons for the changes a man makes in his ministry. It’s the law of sowing and reaping. The fruit of our ministry grows out of the seeds we choose to plant, not the least of which is our friends and our reading.

4. Proper position, but poor practice

Those who “say, and do not” lay stumblingblocks before young men. Leaders who preach holiness and accompanying standards while living contradictory lives are used by many young men as an excuse to abandon their heritage. Young men peg gilded ministries well. A young man may conclude that “although this ‘contemporary church’ may not have the standards I was taught, and may conduct their worship service differently, they certainly model the Lord in their attitudes and their words. I’ll take that over hypocrisy.” Though not the only contributing factor in the migration of men to the contemporary style, disingenuous “traditional” ministries certainly contribute to it. What is to be said about this?

First, to think that changing churches or adopting new styles will insulate one from hypocrisy is na├»ve. Read any Christian news website to see this. Second, this response is anthropocentric -- driven by a man’s adherence or lack thereof to what he says he believes rather than by the Scriptural legitimacy of the position or practice itself. In this situation, the resulting shift (for example, away from “traditional” to “contemporary”) is a reaction founded not primarily on the Scriptures, but merely in protest of an undesirable or hypocritical ministry.

To all young men desirous of a faithful ministry, we praise the Lord for you. May you see and know God personally. And since the privilege of leading people is great, count the cost of every ministry decision you make. Learn to identify the direction of a ministry by identifying the “guides” of that ministry. Be ready to “stand against” pressure from peers. Don’t be fooled by an older man who takes you under his wing, while pointing you away from what is right. Consequences lie ahead, both in this life and in eternity.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Its Errant Defense: “Chapter and Verse!”

Neo-independent Baptists 7

Note: This is the seventh post in an eight part collaborative series addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. Today's post is by me, Tom Brennan. I am 45, a 1995 graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. I pastor the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago.


As Baptists, the foremost distinctive of our denomination is that the Bible is the sole rule of faith and practice. Unlike charismatics, we do not find our own experience authoritative let alone extra-biblical revelation either, and unlike the Roman Catholics we do not elevate tradition to an equivalent place with the Word of God.

The result of this doctrine, and rightly so, is that if we teach a particular thing is right or wrong our people demand to see it in the pages of Scripture. Baptists are made of Berean stuff. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17.11) In real life, this tends to be heard as some version of this: “If you want me to believe you about that I am going to need chapter and verse.”

It is the point of this post to assert that even though this is a wonderful thing it can also become a tremendous problem. Why? Because an unbalanced application of it becomes an almost fatal weakness to the sanctification of God’s people, personal and corporate. In practice, this justifies any and every behavior that is not explicitly forbidden in the Word of God. In other words, if God does not clearly spell out that I should not do a thing it is thus allowed. Voila! I have built myself a loophole large enough to drive an entire Mack truck through – after all, there is nothing in the Word of God about driving Mack trucks, is there?

I am being slightly ridiculous, but my point stands. For example, I have been part of more discussions than I care to remember about whether some particular thing is worldly or not. At some point, someone inevitably reaches for this justification and whirling it around their head like Thor’s hammer demands that all and sundry retreat from the field. But such a position – that unless you can show me a chapter and verse where something is labeled as wrong then I am free to do it – reveals a blatant misunderstanding of how God intended the Bible to function.

Allow me to unpack this for you by way of defining two important words, convictions and principles.


In a spiritual context, a conviction is something I am convinced about. How did I arrive at that definition? By combining the dictionary and the Word of God.

Merriam-Webster defines conviction as a strong persuasion or belief; the state of being convinced. The etymology of conviction is Latin, having its roots in terms that mean to overcome decisively, or to conquer. In context, what am I conquering to arrive at my convictions? My own objections, my doubts. Those are overcome and I arrive at the place of being absolutely convinced about something.

We can see here a similarity with the legal term, being convicted. In that usage a jury convicts someone of guilt. Why? Because they become completely convinced that this person actually did the crime with which they were charged. A conviction in that sense is a legal, formal statement of being convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a person who has been convicted becomes a convict. They have been labeled by a jury of their peers convinced of their guilt.

Let us turn now to the Word of God. The King James Version uses the word conviction not at all but does use a similar word – convicted, though on only one occasion. It is not a legal reference of criminal guilt but a personal, spiritual reference, that of an individual becoming convinced of his own guilt. That man, or men rather, felt convicted by their conscience as Jesus was writing on the ground. Their inner justification for their actions no longer held water. They became convinced of their own error.

John 8:2–9
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped
Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
c 1565
down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

Though this is indeed the only use of convicted in the King James Version the root word in the original language is used another seventeen times in the New Testament. Defined in the original, it means to reprove or expose, to be sternly admonished, likely using argument to convince or refute. It is variously translated as rebuke, rebuked, tell fault, reprove, reproved, convince, convinced, and convinceth.

In fact, in the very same chapter of the Bible you will find one of these. Jesus, in an argument with a crowd of murderously angry men, boldly states, Which of you convinceth me of sin? (John 8.46) No matter what was said no one would ever be able to convince Jesus Himself or anyone else who knew Him well that He was a sinner. This was true informally and formally, for a few months later at His trial a genuine conviction was impossible to obtain. Even the man who sentenced Him to death, Pilate, did so in the presence of grave doubts. He was not in the least convinced that Jesus deserved death. Jesus was not so much convicted as He was assassinated, and the verdict of history bears that out.

A conviction, then, is something about which I have become convinced, often because I got convicted about something.

Where should I get my convictions from? Negatively speaking, I should not get them from popular opinion, from what my friends or peers think, from what experts say, from my own reason, or from my own experiences. Why not? Because all of these are fallible. Yes, they often contain some truth, some fact, but they never always contain entirely truth or fact. These sources for convictions are never completely correct let alone always completely correct. Thus, we see the only proper source for our convictions – the things in life we are to be convinced about – is the Word of God.

For example, one of my life convictions is that adultery is wrong. This is not based on what society says or my own bitter experience. It is based simply on the Scriptures. Moses tells us in the Ten Commandments, Thou shalt not commit adultery. (Exodus 20.14) Ergo, adultery is wrong, as is its closely related second cousin, pornography. Why? Because Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount that the Mosaic law was not just forbidding the physical act but the heart of lust that drives the physical act. (Matthew 5.27-28) On these issues there is no doubt in my mind. I am convinced, and that conviction is based on the Word of God.


Much of the time God reveals His will in Scripture by plain pronouncement. The Ten Commandments cited above are an evidence of that, as is the illustration of adultery and pornography. That is a clear statement, and my application of it to pornography based on Jesus’ explanation of it in Matthew 5 is likewise clear. There are hundreds of such statements in God’s Word, simple declarations that are not complicated to understand, that draw a line and insist we stay inside of it or outside of it. Using such statements as our guide it is not difficult to formulate our convictions. They may be difficult to live but they are not hard to prove or establish.

The Christian life, however, is full of decisions that are not so clear-cut. And if my interpretation of Scripture demands I only hold to those that are clearly and plainly staked out my life will inevitably grow to resemble the worst of the world around me.

What is my support for asserting this?

Let me begin with an example. Is drug abuse wrong? Can I rightly be convinced of that, can I make that one of my life’s convictions? Well, there is no clear statement to that effect in the Word of God, no “thou shalt not take cocaine.” There is a clear Bible statement commanding me to obey the laws of the land, though. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God. (I Peter 2.13-15) Inarguably, it is right for me to obey the law when the law forbids drug abuse. But as our society grows more and more secularistic and paganistic the laws forbidding drug abuse are crumbling. As I write this, in eleven of the fifty American states recreational use of marijuana is legal, and medicinal use is legal in another twenty-three. In the last election my own state voted for recreational use in an advisory capacity, and the man elected governor included that in his official platform. Currently, in Chicago it is illegal for me to smoke marijuana but I am sure it will soon be entirely legal. What will prevent me from doing so then?

The Word of God will. If there is no clear Bible statement forbidding marijuana use how can I say that? Because God reveals His will with more than just clear statements; He reveals His will with biblical principle too.

What is a principle? Merriam-Webster defines it as a comprehensive law, doctrine, or assumption. It comes from Latin terms such as princeps, meaning chief or first, and principia, meaning beginning, origin, commencement, or first part.

Turning to science for an example, we can see this in the principle of buoyancy. Why does iron sink while wood floats? Because of the principle of buoyancy. And there an almost infinite number of applications – various densities of wood, various temperatures of water, how the iron is shaped, if it is propelled, etc. Whether you are building a navy, planning to swim the English channel, or operating a buoy making factory you need to understand and apply the principles of buoyancy. The specific situation varies but the principles apply to all of them.

Understanding this leads me to my definition of a principle. In the context of spiritual things, a principle is a general expression of God’s will often with a wide application. It is not specific as in thou shalt not commit adultery. It is general. At the same time, it is just as much God’s will as thou shalt not commit adultery but it is left wide on purpose in order to allow it to be applied to many different things.

Let us turn back now to my conviction that smoking marijuana is wrong. Is there a clear Bible statement to that effect? No. But there are several principles I can think of relatively easily that apply, and lead me to my conviction. For one, my body is the temple of God. (I Corinthians 6.19-20) He resides in me and I am to glorify Him in what allow and disallow in relation to my body. Additionally, I am responsible to manage the resources God gives me for His use, not my own. One of those resources is my physical health. Good stewardship implies if not demands that I take care of my body as carefully as possible so that I may continue to serve Him. (I Peter 4.10) Not only that, but God tells me that I am not supposed to let something else other than the Holy Spirit control me even if it is legal. (I Corinthians 6.12) These and other principles lead me to my conviction, whether it becomes legal or not.

Paul uses this very approach often. He cites a principle – a general expression of God’s will – and then he uses it as the justification or foundation for a wide variety of applications. For instance, there is a section of Ephesians that runs through two chapters that does exactly this. It begins with a general admonition. That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4.22-24) That is certainly an expression of God’s will but it is just as certainly not a narrow, specific one; it is a wide, general one. From that statement, that principle, Paul over the next nearly twenty-five verses extrapolates out some very specific things. He forbids lying, anger, stealing, corrupt communication, and fellowshipping with those who still do such things. He exhorts us to tell the truth, to work hard, to use our speech to edify others, to forgive, to walk in love, to sing, and to give thanks. These applications are consistent with other aspects of God’s will revealed in Scripture, and are just as valid of a foundation for our convictions as a clear Bible statement is.

If you are still with me over two thousand words into this post you surely must be thinking to yourself, “Ok, fine, but what does all of this have to do with the neo-independent Baptist movement?”

The answer is, “Everything.”

How so?

The neo-independent Baptist movement takes for an article of faith, apparently, the idea that if God does not specifically say He is for or against something in a worship service then the rest of us dare not say so either. This is a blog series aimed at philosophy rather than methods, but here methods become clearly illustrative of my point. I am not allowed to say that God is against a certain style of worship service because there is no chapter and verse I can point to when I say that. "All styles of worship services are acceptable," they say, "the only real guiding point is what is culturally acceptable in your local context. God is not specific as to methodology. These are preferential issues not worthy of dividing over like a conviction would be. We cannot draw lines because the Bible does not draw lines. God may lead you to a more conservative position and me to an entirely different position but that is ok; we are both entirely acceptable in God’s eyes. There is nothing in Scripture to assert that God is more pleased with my church’s worship than the worship of a church down the street. God draws no negative lines here, and to say He does is foolish. You cannot show me any chapter and verse that says He does. Methodology is not theological; it is preferential."

A movement that accepts such shoddy justifications is not scriptural no matter how much it hollers, “Chapter and verse, brother, chapter and verse!” It has purposely refused the anchor of biblical principle (s). While it is beyond the scope of this post or, indeed, of this series to address many of the principles in question the fact is the concept of biblical principle has been rejected in forming corporate convictions. To make matters worse, such refusal is progressive. The consequences, at first minor, over time become more severe. The result is the destruction of sanctification, of being set apart, as the world is incorporated more and more into the church. Eventually, all that marks us as doctrinally and practically distinct evaporates, and we become like the rest of contemporary American Christianity.

…and it is happening right before our eyes.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Where It is Mistaken: Fitting In

Neo-independent Baptists 6

Note: Today’s post is by Wesley Palla, 36, a missionary church planter in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is a 2008 graduate of Hyles-Anderson College.

Ok, first of all, I will not bash anyone. You will find no names mentioned here because I
want to discuss a philosophical/scriptural approach to ministry; it has nothing to do with which men apply said approach. Secondly, I present this article to you for one reason and one reason only: for you to think. Some who read this may find some useful, Biblical principles to help them formulate their practical approach to serving God. Others have already made up their minds, some of which have quietly determined they have moved on to a newer, better philosophy. Still others have not just determined to change their position, but have decided to be as antagonistic and contentious as possible on the way out the door. Regardless of your position, I thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it proves helpful to some. And for those who have changed their position, and have a different philosophy, I want you to know that I am not bothered by that at all. You are not my enemy. Thank you for serving the Lord. Some of you are good friends of mine, and great supporters of our ministry. I hope you will find this article to be biblically supported and Christlike in nature. And yes, you are free to critique it. Here goes.

In II Kings 17, there is an interesting story involving displaced people, an Israelite priest, and a desire to appease the God of the northern kingdom of Israel. These foreigners couldn’t figure out how to worship/serve/honor the God of the Israelites, and so they asked the Assyrian government to send an Israelite priest back to teach them how to fear the Lord (II Kings 17:28) so that they wouldn’t be destroyed. The interesting thing is, the priest taught them, and then they tried to mix it with their own ideology. They tried to fit fearing the true God into their cultural constructs. And according to II Kings 17:32-33, they failed. So basically we have a group of people here saying, “We wanna know how to do it right. Show us how to do it right.” They get someone to show them the way, and they say, “Ok, yeah. We got it. We can handle that.” And when they start doing it the way they think is good, God says, “That’s not it at all. Not even close.” II Kings 17:34 says that they did NOT fear Him, nor did they obey His statutes, ordinances, commands, etc.

That same issue cropped up from time to time throughout the time of the divided kingdom. There were some good kings, men with a heart for God, who did not please God when it came to one aspect of the spiritual life of the nation - the high places. High places were designated places of ritual worship. We usually think of them when it comes to false gods like Baal, Chemosh, Molech, and others. But the high places were also used by Israelites to worship Jehovah. Once the temple was built we do not see the Lord looking favorably on them worshipping Him in the high places. Blending the pagan with the holy is never God’s wish. Looking at the broad context, it is possible to have a sincere desire and yet be sincerely wrong. It is possible to have a good motive but use an unacceptable method. There are some ways to worship or try to draw close to God that will not accomplish that stated goal. The Bible shares numerous examples of people that wanted to draw nigh to God, and God said, “Not like that you don’t.” What is it that we miss in those situations? What are we forgetting?

God is Holy

As a Holy God, He expects (and deserves) that we come to Him in a way that is pleasing to Him. He sets the bar, not us. Over and over again, the Bible reminds us of how holy God is (Lev 11:44; Lev 19:2; I Pet 1:15-16 to name a few). In fact, in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, God gives special attention not just to His own holiness but to the holiness He desired from His people, and ESPECIALLY from His priests - the spiritual leaders, in other words. In the giving of the law God was trying to sanctify (set apart) or differentiate His people from the surrounding cultures. The practices of those cultures were abominable in the sight of God, and God did not want His people picking up any of their practices. Let me reiterate, the proper understanding of the narrative in the books of the law is not that God considered those practices abominable if the Israelites did them, but He did not care that the other cultures did them. No, those practices were abominable by their very nature, and God wanted His people to have no part in those pagan practices. So God demanded that this people that would be called by His name live in holiness.

Eph 4:22-24 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
2 Cor 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

God is Particular

I think that in our modern western culture that is so obsessed with not affirming anything
The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel
by Mariotto Albertinelli, c 1500
offensive we sometimes have a hard time accepting that God is very particular in what he desires. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that the Bible tries to micromanage every detail of your life or your ministry. It doesn’t, but at the same time we must realize God isn’t just a holy, righteous God in some abstract way. He is also, in many areas, very particular about what He wants from us. Especially as spiritual leaders. Why would a loving, patient, merciful God look at those poor Israelites that were just trying to worship Him the best they knew how, and say, “I’m not accepting that.”? They were just worshipping Him within their cultural framework. They had the main points down right? Only one God, and we are offering to Him. He talked about the incense offering in the law, right? So what if it’s on a hill, or in a grove? But the truth is you can be a follower of God, you can be a religious leader/ mentor, you can be sincere, you can try to fit your worship and service to God within your cultural framework, and you can still have God displeased with what you offer, along with how and where you offer it. Am I saying that God is ready to rain down fiery judgment on your ministry because you don’t do it exactly like me? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I am saying that we need to understand our corporate worship, our ministry outreach, every aspect of our spiritual lives needs to be determined with the underlying comprehension that our God is particular about what He desires of His children.

Lev 22:21-22 And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein. 22 Blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed, ye shall not offer these unto the Lord, nor make an offering by fire of them upon the altar unto the Lord.
(See also Titus 2:12-15; I Pet 2:9)

God is Distinctive

Why do we conform to society and what it defines as normal or relevant instead of just boldly and simply proclaiming the eternal truth of God’s Word knowing that it will make us stand apart from our culture? We don’t have a Biblical pattern of social or cultural relativity being a priority. So why do we make it one? Look at just a few examples from Scripture.

Noah - He did not relate well to His community at all. It was a very odd thing he was doing and an even more strange thing that he said was going to happen. And in the end, he found no takers for his message.

Moses - Left the posh Egyptian upbringing he enjoyed to join as one with God’s chosen people. But when he got too heavenly minded even God’s people, the Israelites, didn’t like him. “Hey, Aaron, make us some gods that we can actually relate to, ‘cuz your brother is gettin’ all weird on us, and who knows what’s going on up on the mountain there.”

Elijah - Yeah, definitely relational. Sensitive, gentle, focused on building a sense of community, right? The vast majority of Israelite society considered him their bane. But what did God think of him and his “ministry style?”

Elisha - See above.

Micaiah - His king (Ahab) hated him. But when someone asked for a prophet that everyone could have confidence would speak only the truth, the king who didn’t like him trusted that this prophet would continue to be what he had always been - brutally honest. (1 Kings 22:7-8)

Daniel and the three amigos - The opportunities that they were blessed with to have great influence over society were directly related to the stand that they took. And let’s be honest, you wouldn’t even call those “second-tier issues” as defined by my neo-independent Baptist brethren (your diet? really?). They would have to be third or fourth tier, right? Yet the non-essential issue (so labeled by some of my 21st century brethren) that they determined to take a stand on had a direct correlation to the future position of influence that God blessed them with. Their stand and conviction were inconvenient and uncomfortable at times (Hi, lions! Hi, furnace!), but it was that very decision to be right with God at the cost of being acceptable and relevant to those around them that put them in the position to reach their heathen captors. All the thousands of other Jewish captives that gave in to the social pressures forfeited that chance because truth and righteousness took a back seat to social and spiritual relativity.

You can continue tracing that line through the New Testament as well. Look at Jesus’ closest followers, the guys he invested in, taught, commissioned, and empowered. They were brash, confident, passionate, confrontational, unapologetic, relentless, and determined. By their own admission in the book of Acts, they couldn’t care less what society thought about them (religious or secular) or the political correctness of their message. They only wanted to obey and please God. And here’s a key thought - they believed that the message itself was relevant, and powerful enough to change the viewpoint of the listeners. In other words, they trusted the Holy Spirit to conform the hearers to the message, not the message to the hearers.

There were far more spiritual leaders preaching feel-good messages during Jeremiah’s ministry than there were preaching God’s truth. Did the people like ‘em? Yes. Did they respond well to that message? Yep. Did everyone get upset and roll their proverbial eyes at Jeremiah? Sure did. But the God of the universe was the one who put that message in Jeremiah’s mouth, and Ezekiel’s, and others. The culturally acceptable preachers? God despised their lying words, and pronounced judgment upon them.

I do not believe that being relational is bad. I simply believe that relating to people is not the same as reaching them, and I do not believe the latter to be utterly dependent on the former. Further, I see sufficient evidence in Scripture to back that up. We can talk about a radical gospel, radical love, radical grace, or whatever else, and effecting radical change in our movement to come more in line with the Bible, but I have serious doubts about this shift being a radical much less a healthy move. Let’s be honest, independent, fundamental Baptists aren’t the trend setters of Western Christianity. We all know that. But when a group of us decide to pack up and become much more similar in principle and practice to the majority of evangelical churches in America that’s not radical. That’s just conformity, conformity to a convenient Christianity.

My friend, again I say, you are not my enemy. I’m not mad at you, and I definitely realize that you don’t answer to me. But just think a little bit about where you are headed in your ministry. Does how we minister, does how we evangelize, does how we represent our Heavenly Father line up well with how holy and particular He is? Do we live in distinct difference from the lost world around us, or do we fit right in? Are we content to worship God (and lead others to worship) on our terms, in our modern day high places? Are we guilty of claiming that we fear God while God looks on and says that we neither fear Him nor obey Him?

Monday, February 4, 2019

What It Lacks: The Power of God

Neo-independent Baptist 5

Note: Today’s post is by Emanuel Rodriguez, 45, a 1999 graduate of Beaufort Bible

Institute. A veteran missionary in the Hispanic world, currently he is the director of the Paraguay Bible College.
Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

I am not against new ideas, new technology, and modern amenities in churches. I do not think that all songs written after 1899 come from the bellies of hell. I do believe that there are some “standards”, perhaps many, that have no biblical basis and are therefore man-made and unnecessary. There are some things that I most likely agree with within the neo-independent Baptist movement. I’m all for improvement, so long as said “improvement” doesn’t violate biblical principles.

This neo-independent Baptist movement is supposed to be an effort to revitalize the church. I appreciate that because God knows how much I also despise the dead, passionless, unenthusiastic formalism in churches today. There’s nothing spiritual about being boring and stagnant. Since Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” and the true church is that of the living God, I too must loathe deadness.

However, God’s admonition to the dying church of Sardis in Revelation 3:2 was to strengthen the things that remain, not ditch those things and replace them with newer and trendier stuff. For this reason, I must disagree with the direction that the neo-independent Baptist crowd is going in their efforts to revitalize churches. I believe that their emphasis is in the wrong places.

The problem is that they are searching so hard for new ideas in their efforts to revitalize churches when what we really need is to return to what made the church powerful to begin with. While they spend thousands and thousands of dollars on Idea Days “to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21), the answers for revival and revitalization are right there staring them in the face within the pages of Holy Writ.

God’s ideas have already been given. They are forever settled in heaven. They have also been preserved for us in writing. They have been available for centuries. Plus, His “ideas” are free! …or at least, whatever it cost you to purchase a Bible. You can get one for 99 cents at the local Dollar General. We don’t need to travel or spend money to discover His ideas in some special conference in a new “woke” and more hip Baptist church somewhere. We already have the answers.

The Lord’s ideas are timeless, tried and true! They are proven. They are eternal, which make Gods precepts always relevant. They work. They worked for the disciples in Acts as they turned the world upside down. They worked for the primitive churches who soldiered on throughout the Dark Ages and multiplied themselves at rapid rates despite fierce persecutions. They worked for the Protestant Reformers who had their eyes opened and dared to challenge and defy the hellish juggernaut that is the Catholic church. They worked for the saints of the first and second Great Awakenings as true revival and biblical Christianity swept the eastern seaboard of the United States.


Habakkuk 3:6 “…his ways are everlasting.”

God’s ideas will work TODAY and all the way up to the rapture of the church. I know this not only because the Bible said so, but because I’ve seen it myself. As a missionary who has had the privilege to minister throughout Latin America since 1999, I’ve seen true revival. I’ve seen churches revitalized by God. I have had the undeserved honor of experiencing it.

I know what it is like to take on struggling and dying churches. I’ve done it multiple times.

I took one church on the mission field that had just a handful of people who were just barely hanging on. The church had all but Ichabod written on it. We took the church and its handful of tired, discouraged people. We worked extremely hard to resurrect this church from the dead. We knocked on every door of every community in this town. Yet, no results. So what did we do? We went back to door number one, and repeated the same process. Afterwards, still no fruit.

What did we do? We did it again, and again, and again, and so on, and so forth. We decided to not give up until God did something because we believed He could.

We constantly got on our faces before God and begged Him to do miracles. A miracle was the only way this church was ever going to get off the ground. There were many times I walked through the woods and down to the brook by my house, with a machete in one hand, and a Bible in the other. There, I would pour out my heart to God and beg him to breathe new life into this dying church. Many times I’d go to the church building during the day and walk up and down the aisles, begging God out loud to send revival.

We kept preaching God’s word. We preached it in homes of folks that would let us hold services in their living room. We preached in the plazas in front of the Catholic church. We preached on the basketball courts. We preached in the ghettos. We preached in front of bars and supermarkets. We preached, and preached, and preached.

Eventually, we had our first convert. A little old lady. She couldn’t do much physically but she turned out to become a mighty prayer warrior. Now it wasn’t just us praying. It was us plus a little old lady. We kept toiling on, with blood, sweat, and tears, believing that the same God that sent great revivals in the past could do the same today.

What happened? One by one souls started getting saved. Then God saved this one guy. That’s when revival broke loose.

This guy was the town drunk. Not any old town drunk. I’m talking about THE town drunk, the worst one. He was also a crack, cocaine, and heroin addict. He did it all. He came close to dying from drug overdose over 20 times. He was the guy that everyone saw on the street corner, sometimes drunk, other times laying in vomit, other times with a needle in his veins, other times begging for money.

During his fourth stint in prison, the prison doctor advised him that he was incurably sick and was going to die in that prison cell. There was no hope for him, so said the doctor. The town drunk begged God for mercy and made a promise that if He would let him live, he would give the rest of his life to the Lord.

He started reading the Bible in his cell. Through reading the Bible, the town drunk found out that salvation was by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this discovery, He cried out to the Lord to save him. God began working a miracle of divine transformation in his life.

(I must pause. I cannot refrain from being overwhelmed with emotion as I take this trip down memory lane. Tears are rolling down my face as I write this.)

Later he was released from prison. To make a long story short, God led him to our church. I’ll never forget the precious moment of sitting in his living room as he shared with me this story that I am sharing with you now. With tears rolling down his face, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Preacher, I need to keep my promise to God. He kept His end of the deal. Now I must keep mine. Can you teach you me to serve the Lord?” (I must pause again to wipe away the cascade of tears that prohibit me from seeing my computer screen clearly as I write this. These are blessed memories.)

I took that man under my wing and trained him. Today he is the pastor of the church.

This church has found life. Now folks are going to a church that at one time they scoffed at. A church that at one time could barely keep the doors open is thriving as the former town drunk thunders the word of God every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. This miracle has caught the attention of the whole town. Even the town mayor, who is a lost Catholic, said publicly on Facebook that no one could deny that this was a supernatural work of God.

What’s the point? The point is that it is not new ideas, better technology, different lighting, modern trends, or a catchier beat from a cheap rendition of the latest song by Casting Crowns that we need. We need more of God! We need more of His power.

I’ve seen revival. This is just one story. I have more. I just don’t have the time nor space in this article to tell them all. I’ve seen revitalization accomplished without anything new, modern, hip, or trendy. On the mission field, I see it done over and over again with the timeless tools of the unadulterated word of God, fervent prayer, diligent evangelism, Holy Ghost conviction, constant repentance, old-fashioned worship, and red hot, Spirit-filled, Christ-exalting, Scripture saturated, passionate, bold, and uncompromising PREACHING.


Exodus 32:8 “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”

I disagree with the notion that these new, more modern and trendier things will help to revitalize the church. Now, the neo-independent

Baptist guys may deny that they are depending upon these things to breathe new life into the church, but from the outside looking in, this is exactly the message their movement displays because of the emphasis that they place in these things. I think they fail to recognize how they come across to folks and the message that they are subliminally, though perhaps unintentionally, presenting to their audience.

While they claim to be on a mission to return to what originally made the IFB church so powerful back in the day, they fail to recognize what activated such power. They have an emphasis in utilizing modern day tools and technology, social media, a trendier wardrobe, contemporary music, a more upbeat atmosphere, and a departure from almost anything that resembles “the old paths” in order to reach today’s generation.

The problem is that none of this new stuff produces the power of God. These things only appeal to the flesh. An over-emphasis in things that only appeal to the flesh will result with a congregation full of fleshly, carnal, and superficial Christians who will now mistake worldliness for godliness. This stuff may produce quantity. What you won’t have is quality, the kind that God produces.

Whether they realize it or not, they are trying to revitalize the church with worldly, modern means rather than with the power of the Holy Spirit. Where does real Holy Ghost power come from? It certainly doesn’t come from dimmer lights (or brighter ones), TV screens, more upbeat music, less convictions (standards), etc.


Luke 1:15 “…he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.”

Matthew 3:4 “And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”

I see things through the lens of a missionary serving in a third world country. I’m dealing with people who may never sit in a carpeted, air-conditioned building for church. Dimmed lights? Colored LED’s? These folks are happy to have light at all! We’ve had church with no lights!

Modern amenities? We’re used to having church where it’s sometimes over 100’ F in the building. Many times when I get done preaching in the summer time my clothes are entirely soaked in sweat. On the other hand, we’ve had church when it was so freezing cold folks brought blankets to church to keep themselves warm.

On the mission field, I’ve preached in churches with dirt floors, tin roofs, walls made of wooden pallets, and benches that were nothing but tree stumps with a couple of 2 by 4s going across. The two churches we are planting now started out under mango trees in the front yard of families who by U.S. standards would be considered well below the poverty line.

On the mission field, we many times will not have all these modern amenities that the neo-independent Baptists are so concerned about. But I tell you what we do have. We’ve experienced the power of God! We’ve seen lives changed. We’ve seen marriages and homes repaired. We’ve seen sinners broken under the convicting power of God. We’ve seen Christians brought to repentance and thus restored in their relationships with the Lord. We’ve seen saints develop a more intense hunger for God and His word.


1 Corinthians 2:1-4 “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”

1 Thessalonians 1:5 “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost…”

The problem with this movement is that it is putting the emphasis in the wrong things. While I am not against good ideas, it’s not new ideas that we are in dire need of. God gave us a wonderful Book that already explains to us how to have revival. If there is something new that we need, it’s a “new look in the old Book”!

In the book of Acts, you don’t find the disciples of Christ holding conferences to gather new ideas on how to reach the world with the modern trends of their time being considered. What you find is them simply preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Go ahead and have your special conferences. There’s nothing wrong with getting together and having a good time. But you are mistaken if you think that trendier ideas are what will revitalize the church. You want to return to what made the IFB movement powerful before? How about we return to what made the primitive church and the first disciples turn the world upside down?

Acts 4:31-33 “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”

Preachers used to pray for hours a day. Today preachers struggle to pray for 20 minutes a day, yet they wonder why they have a hard time revitalizing their churches. Instead of finding newer ideas, perhaps we need to fix our prayer lives. The disciples fervently prayed and were filled with the Holy Ghost. That’s what we need more than modern trends. Let’s get filled with Holy Ghost power again!

You know what happened every time a man was Spirit-filled in the Bible? I dare you to
Preaching of St. Paul
Sebastiano Ricci, c 1700
check it out. I double dog dare you! If you’ll research it, you’ll find that every time a man was filled with the Spirit, the result was ALWAYS the same. They preached! 
You want to revitalize the church? Revitalize yourself. Preach! Get filled with God again and preach the Gospel! Preach Jesus! Preach the Bible! That’s where the emphasis needs to be. Preaching! That’s where the power is.

1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”


Understand that there is a balance to all this. There is nothing wrong with using modern means of technology or even social media to advance the ministry. There is nothing diabolical about LED lighting. Nothing in the Bible says that the whole armor of God includes a suit and tie (though I am a suit and a tie in the pulpit guy). I’m not even personally against using a large TV screen in the sanctuary to announce the upcoming pot-luck dinner and other events and activities as opposed to posting a sheet of paper on a bulletin board in the vestibule. Frankly, I don’t care how you promote the pot-luck dinner.

In regards to the revitalization of churches, however, we need less of the world and more of God. The more we emphasize God’s methods, the more He will fill us with His Spirit, just like He did to His disciples when they placed the emphasis where God told them to place it back in Mark 16:15. Instead of trying to figure new things out, if we’d just return to the clear old instructions of God’s word, we’d find the methods already laid out in Scripture to be the best way, yielding the best results possible, the kind that is God-sent instead of man-produced.

2 Corinthians 4:5-7 “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”