Neo-independent Baptists 6
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
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?