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?


  1. AMEN to the this blog post. I especially wholeheartedly agree with you on the following point:
    "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".

  2. Question.You used 2 Kings 17, clearly refering to pagans trying to act like God's people while marrying pagan and biblical practice. Are you aligning the neo-fundamentalist movement with the practices cited in 2 Kings 17?

    You started with an example that would fit a discussion of Constantine joining Roman paganism with biblical Christianity. Your first example sets the tone....God does not accept all worship. And your point is neofundamentalism is in like manner to the pagans of 2Kings 17. To which I simply reply, Seriously? You can do better than that. Everyone knows by now that Josh Teis is the subject. So, he is an Assyrian Pagan trying to add Jewish sacrificial laws to his worship? Um...apples to onions.

    1. Bro Brian, thank you for taking the time to weigh in, and peruse the article. I did not read 2 Kings 17 as implying that the pagan peoples were only trying to act like God's people, but that there was a genuine inquiry on their part as to how to approach the God of the Israelites. They then tried to mix that with preexisting religious constructs. There was a desire to know this God, but on their terms. And no one apparently bothered to inform them that their way would never work. Apparently that priest only went so far in instructing them.

      Perhaps Bro Teis has been the subject of other posts, but you may verify this statement with Bro. Tom Brennan: from the get go I expressed my opinion that this series would be best served by dealing strictly with the philosophy. No man is the subject of this post. To treat it as such would be to force your presuppositions on my writing...which I guess you are free to do.

      One thing I will accept, your statement that I could have done better. I have read things you have previously written, and have heard you speak several times. You are infinitely more qualified to parse and interpret Scripture than I. Perhaps you would have found the opening example less appalling if I used 2Chronicles 33 with Manasseh repenting, but the people continuing to worship in the high places...which was a sticking point with the Lord?

    2. I read the article and will not be as gracious as Wesley Palla in answering Brian Nibbe. Let Josh Teis rest Brian! This conversation has been ongoing before anyone ever knew Josh Teis was relevant. I am honestly offended by any professed brother in Christ who puts name recognition above application of Bible truth. However, as the old saying goes, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

  3. Bro. Wesley, you did a great job of identifying a great foundational Biblical principle.

    1. I was blessed to have the opportunity. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

  4. As someone who came to be KJB Independent / Bible Baptist with joy after 15 years confused struggling through the rock music and false modern version teaching of charismatic, pentecostal and mainstream churches, I appreciate truth & humility.

    For 35 years I was a rock musician, the first 20 were in the world, the latter were 15 in churches. All were in pride. God is holy, and we owe Him more than to be drawn into 'feelings-based' modern 'christian' music.

    It was a challenge to separate from rock music, but now I appreciate the value of separation. There's doctrine in hymns. They focus on God, whereas modern rock-style music focuses on self and feelings, which is not biblical worship.

  5. Great points to think on. I hope the rest of the articles in the series more closely resemble this one. The wide generalizations, anecdotal evidence, and motive-assigning we hear so often is not helpful to the discussion. I've had many discussions regarding these matters with men both older/more conservative, and younger/less conservative than me, and when I sense that they want to lock me into reaching the same methodological conclusion that they have, I realize the dialogue is essentially over.
    When the discussion is focused on the nature of God and the Great Commission, good discussion happens. EITHER "side" is wrong if they think sarcasm, ridicule, or scary stories are going to win hearts and minds.

    1. Adam, I'm glad you found the piece edifying.

      I'd like to ask you two questions though. "Wide generalizations, anecdotal evidence, and motive-assigning" is not helpful in your view. Is that how you view this series so far?

      Second, "when I sense they want to lock me into reaching the same methodological conclusion the dialogue is essentially over." We have purposely chosen to argue philosophy rather than methods in this series, but setting that aside for a moment why you do you feel that way? Aren't there some methodologies that are right and others that are wrong? And isn't one of the points of embracing a scriptural philosophy of church growth/evangelism the very idea that in so doing it will adjust/change our methods to be scriptural?

      I guess that might be more than two questions, but, you know...

      Anyway, curious to know what you think here.

  6. When it comes to "Wide generalizations, anecdotal evidence, and motive-assigning," if those things would be at a level 10 at a hardcore IFB conference, they were maybe at a level 3 in the articles on average. Subtle and measured, but still there - some more than others. Totally my perception, but you asked my opinion.

    I absolutely believe that there are some methods that are unacceptable to God, but there's a huge difference between what I know would be unacceptable for me, and what I'm ready to declare universally unacceptable for every pastor anywhere and in any time period.

    I do appreciate your thoughtful and scriptural approach to these matters, Tom, yours is a refreshingly substantive voice on the "conservative" side.

    Please understand that my comments were not meant to be an indictment of this series. I tried to point out what I've felt from BOTH sides of this discussion in my own experience.

    1. Adam, thank you for weighing in. I think I catch the heart of your comment, and I appreciate your willingness to dialogue with those that reside on either side of you philosophically.

      I would encourage you, though, to remember that when we read the Scriptures, there are numerous generalizations made, there is anecdotal evidence given, and there are scary stories aplenty. Those things are not necessarily bad. Obviously, when our use of those types of communication deviate from Scripture, and biblical principles, they have lost their usefulness, but to quarantine those elements off as toxic or unusable in and of themselves wouldn't be wise.

      God bless you, my brother.

  7. "Wide generalizations, anecdotal evidence, and motive-assigning"
    This does sum up a lot of my frustration. I anticipated scripture based arguments, something I could dig into and regardless of whether I came to the same conclusions I could at least be sharpened by the diologue and study. But the minimal scripture involvement that has been in these posts has not been anything I would disagree with. It has simply, in my view, been misapplied to the neo-evangelicals by "Wide generalizations, anecdotal evidence, and motive-assigning."

    I guess a question I must ask is, who is this series aimed at? If the intention is the re-affirm beliefs among those who already agree, its succeeding quite well. If the intention was to have diologue or convince people like me who are part of these more modern movements, there has been nothing that would constitute a call for me to change, just what comes accross to me as assumptions about my motivations and personal spirituality. What I am waiting for is something specific, some actual challenge that I can evaluate and study. What are the neo-evangelicals specifically doing that is specifically against what the Bible teaches.

    I will freely tell you that the longer these generalized articles about general principles that you believe are being broken continue, the more me and those like me feel that these articles are staying in that broad general relm because the Bible doesn't have anything specific to say about what we are doing. If we believed we were violating the general principles these articles have been about about we wouldn't be doing what we are doing, because we love God's Word just the same as you and desire to be as correct as possible. If you believe something is unscriptural it must be called out specifically and in detail. This article asserts that God is particular about what he wants, so tell me what that is and show me where it says it in the Bible.

    Again, I bear no ill will towards Mr. Brennan or any of the other authors, I definitely see a genuineness and heart that was lacking in many of the IFB circles I was in. But the IFB way of thinking is very set in its ways, and I believe that it leads to a certain assumptive viewpoint, such that these articles make perfect sense to all of you, but to me on the outside they're empty and have nothing to say.

    1. "I will freely tell you that the longer these generalized articles about general principles that you believe are being broken continue, the more me and those like me feel that these articles are staying in that broad general relm because the Bible doesn't have anything specific to say about what we are doing."

      It is specifically our intention in this series to discuss errant philosophies rather than argue specific methods. But if you would like to know how I would argue a specific method, say music, for example, click on the link labeled music on the right side of the blog. There's 50,000 specific words there. You are more than welcome to peruse them to your heart's content.

      My point here is that our decision to argue philosophy rather than methods is not an indication that we cannot find anything specific to say about methods. We can. We have just chosen in this series not to.

  8. Just Another Church MemberFebruary 17, 2019 at 4:25 AM

    Tom, I am reading these blogs and having some of the same question as some of those who reply. I have been observing the dynamics on these issues since the early and mid 1980s after graduating from a conservative Christian college. In short, these philosophical differences have béen alive and well between the Bible School students , the Liberal Arts Bible students and Seminary students for decades, as you well know.

    Please consider an observation about the content of these various posts. They are directly concerning the philosophy and practices / preferences of the New Independent Baptist (NIB) compared to the Biblical Philosophy of the same. They begin as we are not enemies we are brothers in Christ , but end in very obvious insinuations of God's displeasure in the NIB philosophy and practices/ preferences. Although the expressed concern is about where will the NIB's philosophical position eventually lead them, it is becoming increasingly evident that those writing the posts believe that the NIBs are already leading others and nearing, if not entering, the end zone. Whether intentional or unintentional, the "They" in the Title(s) leave little doubt.

    At this point I am respectfully requesting some clarification on the issues of concern for you and your colleagues. Anyone is welcome to respond. I also respectfully request that no one condescend on me with comments eluding to some areas of my ignorance(s). I grew up in the Hyles, Roberson, Rice, Falwell, Hudson eras. I watched how they delt with, managed and overcame these issue. I am also familiar with Josh Teis and colleagues's outlooks,techniques and plans. So please, if you all will, bullet point for me their philosophy, the concerns, the endpoints where God is displeased, when have they gone too far,etc.. You do not need Scripture references. We all appear to be above average students of the Word. As you are well aware , evidenced by your blogs, our philosophy and beliefs are seen in our behaviors and our behaviors can tell us about our philosophy and beliefs.

    So please help me in these areas. If any one feels or thinks clarification in other areas sheds light on this discussion of philosophy , that is welcome also.

    1. "They begin as we are not enemies we are brothers in Christ , but end in very obvious insinuations of God's displeasure in the NIB philosophy and practices/ preferences. Although the expressed concern is about where will the NIB's philosophical position eventually lead them, it is becoming increasingly evident that those writing the posts believe that the NIBs are already leading others and nearing, if not entering, the end zone."

      I don't know what you mean by end zone here, so I cannot comment on that. I do stand by my earlier post regarding the fact they are not my enemy, but that post does not mean I think they are pleasing to God. Far from it in some areas, as a matter of fact. If I didn't think that why would I have done this series in the first place?

      In relation to what you want me to bullet point your request is amorphous. We have purposely chosen not to address, for the most part, differences of methodology. We are addressing the philosophical supports we believe to be scripturally errant that have produced those methodologies.

      The why is always more important than the what.