Philip | Andrew | Meade

Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

Thank God The New Covenant Is New

On May 9, 2018, an article was placed on The Christian Post entitled, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley.” The article discusses a recent sermon where Andy Stanley encourages his people to “unhitch” from the Old Testament since it is not the “go-to source regarding behavior in the church.” He says that “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.” Stanley goes on to say:

“Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures….The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.”

Not long after these comments were published online, evangelicals responded with a swift rebuke. A few examples…

“What an absolute theological trainwreck. ” – @wesleyhill

“If Jesus did not “unhitch” himself from the Old Testament, neither should we. Period.” – @andrewtwalk

“This should sound as strange to us as it would to the apostles, who constantly preached Christ from the Jewish Scriptures.”  -@jaredcwilson

Even Rachel Held Evans chimed in, “Lest you think I only pick on the Reformed guys, I agree that Andy Stanley got this one very wrong” -@rachelheldevans

David Prince offered a lengthier response.

I agree with these concerns. The idea of “unhitching” or teaching the irrelevance of the Old Testament for the Church is a false teaching. Without the categories, patterns, covenants, and kingdom development of the OT, the arrival of the Messiah would make no sense. In this way, the NT is uniquely dependant on the OT for its clarity and purpose. My favorite preacher Alistair Begg says it perfectly: “We cannot really understand Christ without the Old Testament, and we can’t understand the Old Testament without Christ.” That sentiment echoes my position, which necessarily means we cannot “unhitch” the Old from the New.

Even more insidious is the idea that Stanley’s comments were designed and delivered in such a way as to separate himself and his teaching from the doctrines of God’s wrath and justice. In this way, Stanley’s comments would land well with those who believe the God of the Old Testament could never be the God of the New Testament. I do not know if Stanley desires such a thing, but Kevin DeYoung noted the historical similarity to Marcion’s heresy of the 2nd century.

Although these clear affirmations of disagreement with Stanley’s comments are important, more needs to be said. In rightly pushing back against this teaching, I wonder if enough is being said and clarified concerning the glorious good news that the New is, in fact, better than the Old. What we do not have in the covenants is a means of relating to God that is different but equal. Praise be to our Lord, New Covenant Christians do not approach a structural temple and perform daily animal sacrifices and look to a human high priest for intercession. All of these have been fulfilled in the true and better temple, the true and better sacrifice, and the true and better priest. Thus, the New Covenant is better in every way. (Hebrews 8:6).

But the key word is “fulfilled.” Jesus did not break from the OT, rather he fulfilled the OT. As John Piper has said, “…all the precious history and forms and structures and offices in the Old Testament aren’t merely thrown away. They are consummated. They are filled up in Jesus.”

I’ll use the Ten Commandments as an example. Should Christians obey the Ten Commandments? Andy Stanley said he was tempted to put up a slide saying, “Thou shall not obey the Ten Commandments.” That would, of course, fit in well with his language of the NT being “unhitched” from the OT. So, is he right? Should we stop obeying the Ten Commandments?

No, we should not stop obeying the Ten Commandments. But, the reason we obey them is important and germane to this discussion. We do not obey the Ten Commandments because they are binding on us as part of the Mosaic Law. We obey them because they are affirmed in the NT as part of the “Law of Christ” (1st Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:2).

We must emphatically teach that the law of the Old Covenant is dead to New Covenant Christians. A few examples:

“…you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)

“by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two…” (Ephesians 2:15)

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21)

“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15)

In just a few verses I listed of many in Scripture, we are taught that we have been released from the Old Covenant law and it is dead to us, abolished, and powerless.

Now, combine this with the teaching of Jesus. Here’s one example – “He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” (Luke 5:36-37).

Making commentary on this passage, R. Kent Hughes says, “Judaism, as good as it was, had become an old, worn-out garment. It could not be patched with a few things taken from Christ’s gospel…..The gospel of the New Covenant is simply too dynamic for the Old Covenant structures.”

I could make an inexhaustible list of conservative evangelical leaders, pastors, and scholars who have emphatically and correctly taught the superiority of the New Covenant and the inability of the Old Covenant to do what only Jesus can do. Tim Keller has become famous for repeatedly emphasizing how Jesus is the “true and better” everything.

And then there is the book of Hebrews. Having recently preached through this jaw-dropping book, I came away even more in awe of what God has done through Jesus Christ that the law could never accomplish. We are now drawn near to God through the blood of the New Covenant.

None of this is an excuse for Stanley’s comments. The only way we can understand the superiority of Christ is by its link with the Old Covenant. They cannot and must not be separated. But the New is better than the Old. And Christians, especially new believers, need clarity on that point. We must emphatically teach the greater and better Christ while remaining faithful to our commitment to the entire counsel of Scripture.

The Anti-Gun Law Argument That Doesn’t Work

Many of the articles, social media updates, and blogs posted in the wake of another horrifying mass shooting will predictably be arguing from a full pendulum swing position. By that, I mean most opinion pieces work from a presupposition of either all-in support for gun control legislation or all-in denial that guns are a problem. It is rare to find a helpful opinion where the pendulum is in the middle.

Thus, I was thankful to find a link to a level-headed article written by former North American Mission Board missionary Scott Barkley, who helpfully offered this incredibly wise piece of advice:  “…a solution is going to require something that hasn’t happened yet. Each side – no matter where you stand on gun rights or funding for mental health or the importance of prayer – is going to have to consider what part of the equation they’re missing. Each is going to have to approach the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the other guy holds at least part of the solution.”  (Emphasis mine)

For me personally, I like to think my own position is fair and, I suppose, just common sense. I support the right of Americans to own certain types of firearms for sport and protection if a thorough, effective system of checks is in place. I also support the call for a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

However, my interest in this article is not to argue for my position so much as it is to point out forms of ineffective argumentation used by some who are against additional legislation for gun control. I’m not suggesting in this article that such a position is wrong, only that the following specific arguments against gun control do not work.

What I have primarily seen in response to gun control in the aftermath of recent mass shootings is most clearly typified in a tweet by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin a few months ago in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy. (For what it’s worth, I have great respect for Matt Bevin and I’m thankful he is my Governor). Here is Governor Bevin’s tweet:

“To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs…You can’t regulate evil…”

Bevin highlights the two most prominent rebuttal arguments in one tweet: those who support gun control are “political opportunists” and the idea of restricting gun purchases is pointless since you “can’t regulate evil.”

The governor is correct to say that evil will never be dispelled through laws. We know this from experience, but more importantly, we know this through the biblical witness of sin and death. But even though the premise is true, the argument absolutely fails (Ignoratio elenchi) for several reasons.

First, this is what is known as a “straw man” fallacy. A straw man is an argument that paints an incorrect picture of the opponent’s position and then attempts to push back against that erroneous position. I have never seen a gun control advocate argue that gun laws will regulate evil actions or will purge evil intentions from the hearts of men. So, any rebuttal attempting to demonstrate how gun laws will fail to keep people from doing evil things is responding to an argument that doesn’t exist. Gun control advocates are not so ideological as to think that laws will regulate or remove evil. Their hope is to reduce these specific kinds of evil actions.

Second, what is the logical conclusion to Bevin’s argument? If laws and restrictions and regulations will not keep evil people from doing evil things, then why have them at all? Bevin’s argument against additional gun restrictions could equally be applied to the forging of any new law or the strengthening of any existing law regardless of the issue. Such a position is, of course, absurd.  Laws are not written or modified with the expectation of comprehensively purging evil from society, but they are nevertheless important for the good of society. This too is a pervasive biblical theme and is a significant reason why God has issued laws for his people and why the law is an act of grace. (This is Luther’s “first use of the law”).

Third, the “political opportunists” phrase is an “ad hominem” fallacy and weakens the rebuttal. Is it possible that those who are in favor of gun control are legitimately broken and determined to see fewer men, women, and children dying from mass shootings? Yes, that is a very real possibility. Calling them “political opportunists” does not advance the argument, even if there are some seizing the opportunity to push an agenda. By the way, the same is absolutely true for the other side. Calling the GOP names on social media does not work or advance the argument.

Fourth, a type of “red herring” occurs when other ineffectual laws are brought into the argument. For example, drug regulations are often used to demonstrate the law’s inability to stop criminals from selling and using drugs. If laws do not keep people from selling and buying drugs, then why create additional gun laws? But again, what does this suggest? It only suggests that the Congress should make all drugs legal since laws do not stop criminals. Speed limits do not keep people from speeding. Should we forgo interstate driving regulations? And so forth. Additionally, this argument does not take into account the unknown. We do not know the impact of the drug culture on America if drug laws were not on the books.

There are plenty of ways for those who are opposed to gun control to argue their position. But the aforementioned arguments do not work. Don’t use them. Use these steps instead:

  1. Make certain you properly communicate your opponent’s position. Couch it in language where your opponent would say, “yes, that is what I believe.”
  2. Consider the logical conclusion of your argument. How does this play out in the long run?
  3. Avoid personal attacks. It makes your argument weaker, not stronger.
  4. Stay on topic. Avoid making illegitimate comparisons that are actually red herrings.

 

Did Rice See Jack Flack in Cloak & Dagger?

Cloak & Dagger was one of my favorite films as a child and remains one of my most beloved movies. It is a must watch for every father with their children and has one of the most tear-jerking endings of all time. The movie is memorable from beginning to end and so many elements resonated with me as a kid – from the video game incorporation to the action hero to the make-believe friend who we aren’t sure is really make-believe.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Davey Osborne is a young, imaginative, video-game lover who enjoys creating scenarios where he and his friend Kim are spies and must figure out ways to solve their various “missions.” Davey has a make-believe friend whose name is Jack Flack, played brilliantly by Dabney Coleman. Coleman also portrays Davey’s father, Hal Osbourne, and is a gorgeous reminder of how most young boys think about their dads. Only Davey can see Jack, of course, and he shows up to give Davey advice and walk alongside him during Davey’s missions.

Well, Davey gets into a real-life issue that is life-threatening. At the end of the film, the antagonist, whose name is Rice, is about to kill Davey with an automatic weapon (the language and imagery of this final scene is absolutely brutal. Unbelievable that this was a children’s movie). Jack Flack shows up and tells Davey to kill Rice. But Davey won’t do it. In order to save Davey’s life, Jack goes over to draw Rice’s fire. Davey looks over at Jack and yells, “Jack, no!” Rice, who was already looking over in that direction with a puzzled face, pulls the trigger toward Jack Flack and “kills” him. This makes Davey shoot Rice.

Watch the scene below, and then I will provide my thoughts:

Now, most people (and Wikipedia) assume that Rice looks over to his left and ultimately shoots because Davey is looking over there and yells, “Jack, no!” The idea is that Rice assumes there is someone hiding over in that direction and just starts firing.

But I’m not so sure.

I have always wondered if Rice might have caught a glimpse of Jack Flack for just a second, surprising him to the point of causing him to fire. Here are my thoughts.

The biggest and most obvious reason is that Jack Flack looks different in this one scene than he does in the rest of the movie. As he is standing there taunting Rice, he appears to be transparent. Normally, he just appears like a normal human being. Why? Why at this one scene when Jack is “making himself known” do the filmmakers decide to make him look different? It might very well be because the movie is saying something special about our imaginary friends and the power of a child’s imagination.

Also, Rice looks weirded out the entire conversation. This might be because Davey keeps looking to his left, but I have always thought Rice “felt” something was off. I could understand if he was firing into a wooded area or something, but he fires at a blank wall. Why would he do that unless he saw “something?”

What do you think? Did Rice see Jack Flack?

Reflecting on 2017

There seems to be a common sentiment on social media among many of my friends:  2017 was a difficult year. I would count myself among those who affirm such an assessment. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually I have found myself driven to deep and dark places – secret places that are noticeably absent of “this way out” signs. For the first time in 19 years of being on a church staff, my mind wandered to the dangerous land of “ministry isn’t worth it” and I acquired a greater appreciation for those alarming statistics of pastors who call it quits.

And then, of course, guilt piles on top of guilt. That’s what guilt does, you know. It is never satisfied to be left alone. I thought of the endless blessings I enjoy every day. Of my church that is healthy and growing and loving. Of my family who is a daily reminder of God’s goodness. And then I think, how could I possibly be so weak and sinful that I would reach a place of darkness so quickly when others have it so much worse? Guilt on top of guilt.

All of this brings me back to the truth I know so well I tend to forget it so often. God never stops with darkness. He keeps speaking. Always.

There was darkness at creation. God kept speaking. Then there was light.
Abraham fell into a dreadful and deep darkness. God kept speaking. Then there was light.
Egypt was filled with darkness for three days. God kept speaking. Then there was light.
Nicodemus visited Jesus in the darkness. God kept speaking. Then there was light.
Jesus was crucified and the land fell into darkness. God kept speaking. Then there was light.
I was living in the domain of darkness. God kept speaking. Then there was light.

God speaks in darkness. The beauty and brilliance of the light wouldn’t shine near as bright without it. So all of this brings me to this summary of 2017…

It was a difficult year with dark paths. And for that reason, it has been an important year. God isn’t through speaking. As my life marches on and I reflect back on 2017, I imagine I will consider the darkness and worship God with even greater zeal because of the light.

God, I’m not thankful for darkness, but I am eternally thankful that you keep speaking in it. I imagine I could watch 2017 fade away with gratitude for it simply being gone. But I think, God, I will do something different. I think I will watch it fade away with gratitude for having experienced it. For in it and through it, you have revealed and are revealing to me who you are all over again. And I love who you are. I love that you bring light out of darkness. I love that I could never appreciate the light if I did not experience the darkness. So, thank you. I’ll talk to you in the morning. And whatever you have in store for me and my family in 2018, here I am, Lord. Do to me as you will. I love you. Help me to love you more. I believe. Help my unbelief. I trust you. Help me to trust you more. All for your glory. Forever. Amen.

The Storytelling of George Lucas

*This article contains minor spoilers for The Last Jedi

Here’s my thesis:  The Last Jedi will have a surprising, unintended consequence of increasing appreciation for the storytelling of George Lucas in Episodes 1-3 (the prequels).

The nearly universal consensus is that Lucas displayed storytelling genius in the first three Star Wars films, episodes 4-6. The character development and plot progression seamlessly wove together into a “believable” science-fiction masterpiece.

And then Lucas did something crazy. He resisted the temptation to create three identical movies as he directed the three prequels. Lucas veered into dangerous territory by providing a glimpse of scientific explanation behind the force, he built episode 1 on the less-than-inspirational concept of a trade federation, and he relied on the maturity of the viewer to follow an intricate plot development connecting the Clone Wars, Palpatine/Emperor, and the Jedi Order. This was all happening while the Skywalker family remained central to not only the saga as a whole, but also to each individual film.

And that, to me, is the beauty of the prequels that goes unnoticed. Lucas managed to keep the main thing the main thing while presenting a rich and complex story that felt quite different than the original trilogy. The fans, however, were for the most part apathetic at best.

The Last Jedi is a good movie with an emotionally rich subtext. Many of the scenes are breathtaking and the film certainly answers a significant number of questions that were raised by The Force Awakens. The problem is that the film’s most glorious moments are captured by utilizing nostalgic elements from Lucas’ films, and the times the film ventures off to establish new material, there is a silent emptiness that seems to hover over the screen.

The Force Awakens was a powerhouse blockbuster the fans loved. Why? Because it was Lucas’ original trilogy repackaged. The best moments in The Last Jedi? Better give thanks to Lucas for those too. I found the story progression to be, at times, absurd in The Last Jedi. Without giving away too many details, a significant portion of the film depends on low fuel and a bunch of Star Destroyers and First Order ships “keeping their distance” from a Resistance ship.  It’s almost as if the story had to come up with some kind of structure in order to provide room for the cool visual moments, and more often than not, that structure failed. A notable exception was the relationship between Kylo and Rey. That, by far, was the strongest aspect of the film.

I may be (and deeply hope) I am wrong, but Star Wars Episode IX has the potential to be horrible, largely because there is so little left of Lucas to rely on. If the standard continues to move downward, then the stock of Lucas’ prequels will begin to rise. And in my opinion, rightfully so.

 

Trump and the Judiciary

Pro-Trump conservatives rallied behind two key campaign pledges during the 2016 presidential election:  Pro-life legislation and judicial appointments. While many conservative Christian voices were expressing disgust at Trump’s repugnant moral character, Trump supporters would faithfully return to these two concerns. How could a conservative, especially a conservative Christian, vote for Hillary Clinton when her extreme pro-choice rhetoric was unlike any the country had heard before? Additionally, the potential for the courts to be filled with radical liberal ideologies through Clinton’s judicial appointments was used to garner support for Trump.

Almost a year into President Trump’s administration, the pro-life emphasis has been less than stellar. A Republican Senate funded Planned Parenthood and initially cut the tax credit for adoptive parents (they have since reversed that decision). Where the pro-life promises might have been absent, the commitment to conservative judicial appointments is in full effect.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, could confirm his ninth federal judge the week after Thanksgiving.  As a reference, President Obama appointed three federal judges his first year in office. But what I find to be fascinating is….no one seems to care.

In my news feed, virtually every article highlights a recent Trump tweet or the ongoing problems with the tax reform bill. You would think at this point the former would be a loser for the media; the election seems to confirm that the larger conservative population does not care what Trump does on Twitter, no matter how unpresidential he may come across. The latter is certainly newsworthy, but individual pieces of legislation and public policy initiatives pale in comparison to the long-term impact of judicial appointments. These are appointments to federal courts of appeals and the appointments are for life.

In very simple terms – the long-term impact on the shape our country is determined more by the judiciary than a short-term piece of legislation, such as tax reform. Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons said concerning the judiciary, “This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration.” The federal court of appeals has influence over virtually every area of policy, from social policy to gun rights to Presidential executive orders. It is impossible to comprehend how the Trump presidency will impact the future of our country. But it ultimately comes down to the courts.

Should Trump continue on this path, certain conservatives will support him in the 2020 election regardless of his future shortcomings. The courts have become the battleground. But no one seems to care.

The Verse I Just Read To My Kids About Las Vegas

How do we explain and discuss things like the horror and heartbreak of the Las Vegas shooting to our children? How do we discuss them with our Christian friends? How do we discuss them with our non-believeing friends?

I know one clear way not to discuss them. We should never pretend to understand the mind of God when God has not revealed it to us. In other words, if our temptation is to say, “God allowed this to happen because ___________________________,” then we should pause, erase, and start over.

For family worship tonight, I wanted to address the sadness of the senseless killings that have left so many people in shock and in disbelief. I obviously did not want to scare my children or reveal things to them beyond their ability to grasp. But I also did not want to pretend the loss of life did not happen.

So, I opened my Bible to Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

I explained how Christians will not have all the answers all the time, especially when difficult and scary things happen. But when other people are hurting, we are to hurt along with them. When other people are crying, we can cry along with them. When other people are broken, we can be broken with them. That’s how I want my children to respond to the tragedies of life; not by offering an explanation. Not by giving unwanted pieces of advice.  But by being present, offering a broken heart to match the one across from us, and offering a shared tear.

The other thing I know for certain is this – God hurts when we hurt, and the gospel of Jesus Christ demonstrates how much love the Father has for the world. There is a time for systematic theology discussions concerning the problem of evil. And there are times not to have those discussions.

For now, it is a time to weep. To be broken. And to be prayerfully hopeful that the Lord Jesus will come soon.

Even so, Lord Jesus come.

My Thoughts on the Nashville Statement

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement this past Tuesday consisting of fourteen articles concerning human sexuality. Unsurprisingly, the statement was met with strong support from many leaders and pastors within the evangelical community and equally strong disapproval from a variety of pastors, church leaders, and civic leaders who denounce the statement as harmful to the LGBTQ community.

I process statements like this in two parts: first, the content and second, the call to action. In other words, what does the statement actually say and how should I respond?

The Content
I support the fourteen articles of the Nashville Statement and have added my name among its signers. My support is nothing revolutionary or surprising, it is simply an affirmation of what I believe the Scriptures teach on sexuality. In addition, the content of the Nashville Statement should not be surprising to those who are opposed to it. Nothing in the fourteen articles contradicts what the church has historically believed and taught about sexuality. One of the authors, Denny Burk, said, “It was our aim to say nothing new, but to bear witness to something very ancient.” Likewise, political commentator Ben Shapiro said, “Did I miss the part of the #NashvilleStatement where any serious Christian doctrine changed in the slightest?” Thus, the content of the statement is not groundbreaking and simply clarifies in one unified declaration what the church has proclaimed for centuries.

Call To Action
So what? Those are the two words that cause preachers and bible teachers to lose sleep at night, and in this context, cause us to consider how the Nashville Statement should help us not only think correctly about human sexuality, but also respond correctly. Why is this statement necessary and what should we do in response?

I believe the most significant reason the Nashville Statement is a necessary summary of biblical truth as it relates to human relationships and sexuality is because the church today is forced to address questions the church of yesterday would never have needed to ask. There are unique and difficult challenges pressing in on the church related to biblical sexuality that have arrived in just the past few years and these challenges are too great for generalized assumptions about the church’s position on a variety of ethical and moral relationships, including homosexuality and transgenderism. The church must not underestimate the power of societal influence. If we do not remain clear on the ways in which a biblical sexual ethic, along with a host of other issues, stands in contrast to the spirit of the age, then we will fall to its mounting pressure. And although the honest thing to do at that point would be to throw our bibles into a pile of rubbish, the more common and deadly reaction is to turn our bibles into a defense of the very thing it denies….sin. That is precisely where we find churches today who once held to a strong biblical sexual ethic. It can happen to us all.

With that being said, there are things about the statement I’m not thrilled with, the most obvious being the timing of its release. I don’t think there is necessarily a perfect time to submit a statement of this kind, but it seems there are better times than others. It has not been a good year for evangelical Christianity, and in my case specifically, the Southern Baptist Convention, at least when it comes to outside perception. Evangelicals are viewed more skeptically than ever before, and in some ways we deserve the skepticism. With the lingering issues concerning racial reconciliation, the ongoing controversy of evangelicals and President Trump, and the immediate turmoil following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, it seems a better time could have been found to go public with the Nashville Statement.

Also, I would have appreciated a greater sense of response in the articles, helping the church see the way of compassion and grace even while standing firm on biblical truth. There is mention of the grace, power, and hope of the Lord Jesus to save all sinners, but more could be said about the human response. Granted, that was not the primary purpose of this statement, but I believe follow up work needs to be done in its absence. For example, I was glad to see Denny Burk post this article on his blog about how to form relationships with those who have a different sexual ethic.

For me and my church, if this statement causes us to separate from our gay or transgendered neighbors or express feelings of moral superiority, then we would be reading it in a harmful way that does not honor the gospel of Jesus Christ. Likewise, befriending gay and transgendered people for the sole purpose of “fixing them” is equally harmful. No, our response is to be the same as it is for everyone else – invest in people in order to show them the transforming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we believe God is love, and if we believe God is the author of Scripture, then there is nothing loving about wavering on biblical truth. And yet, we patiently point our neighbor to this good news of the gospel without condemnation, without guilt, without oppression, and without excuse.

The ability to hide from the issues in front of us today is no longer a possibility. The Nashville Statement returns to the historic Christian teaching on what it means to be created in the image of God, to be male and female. There is certainly an alternative, one that is quite persuasive and influential. Each Christian must decide where they land. As for me, I will stand on the former.

 

The Pulpit And Political Speech: Why I Won’t Take The Bait

President Trump made a promise at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast to repeal the law that prohibits political endorsements from the pulpit. The law is known as the Johnson Amendment and was established in 1954 to restrict tax-exempt churches and other entities from engaging in partisan politics. The language under the Internal Revenue Code reads, “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Trump signed an executive order today that, in part, focused on adjusting the Johnson Amendment in order to lift restrictions on churches and pastors.

On the surface, this sounds like a win for evangelicals. And there are some positive aspects of this executive order to be thankful for as a Christian, or as a person of any faith. Religious liberty is a non-negotiable bedrock of our democracy and is in my thinking one of the clearest non-partisan issues in front of the American people. Furthermore, for Baptists, religious liberty has been one of the pillars of our identity and our history. So, an executive order to re-establish a commitment to religious freedoms for every person of faith is welcomed, needed, and appreciated.

But as for me and my church, we will continue to refrain from political punditry and partisan endorsements as a church, regardless of the status of the Johnson Amendment. Here’s why:

The Misson of the Church
Although we tend to use the word “missions” when discussing the command Christ gave to his church, the reality is that the church has a singular mission – to make disciples. God’s redemptive decision before the foundation of the world to rescue rebellious sinners through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son is not merely one of several narrative threads woven into the biblical story. It is the story. And it is this story of Christ crucified that directs the church both in her remembrance of who she is, and also who she is not.

Politics, although designed for the social good of the people, is nevertheless a pursuit of power in order to realize a particular approach or theory for how a country should be managed. It’s an important mission. Just not the mission of the church. And entangled in the political mission of our government is an unavoidable trap to out-negotiate, to out-wit, to out-con, and to out-maneuver an opponent for the purpose of achieving greater power. This ever-present agenda of the political world simply does not mesh with an institution who is to be known for our humility, self-sacrifice, love of enemies, servanthood, and allegiance to a different kingdom. The church is to pray for those who are involved in the political game. The church is not to play it.

The Issues of the Church
The Johnson Amendment has no power to regulate the most important ecclesiological responsibility:  preach the word. There is no law on earth that would keep me from preaching the holy scriptures, and if the church is faithful to exposit the Bible, then the issues will be addressed. And if the issues are addressed, then the congregation will be shaped and formed by God to wisely choose the best candidate at any given time. Legendary pastor Adrian Rogers said, “if [a pastor] has done his job, his members will prayerfully and correctly use the standard of God’s Word to select the right candidate.”

And remember, the Johnson Amendment concerns a 501(c)(3) institution. It obviously has no power over the lives of individual Christians, even those who are most committed to the church, to support, endorse, debate, and oppose any candidate they choose. What we are addressing here are the actions of the church as a whole.

We do not need the Johnson Amendment lifted in order to speak to the most pressing issues of our time as a church. We need only the word of God and people who are called to preach it and teach it.

The Purity of the Church
Pastors and churches are human. I believe in the integrity of most churches to pursue only what Christ has established for his people and to hold to his moral authority alone. But we are human. And the purity of the church, both from within and the perception from without, would be open to attack like never before if we embraced a political agenda. The Johnson Amendment is designed to protect the interests of both the state and the church. Without those protections, political heads will quickly attempt to funnel money through our churches in return for a particular endorsement or plug. Need a new church van? No problem, just oppose Senator Smith and support Senator Jones and it’s yours. And by the way, ease up on the sexual purity rhetoric right now – Senator Jones is dealing with a few things and we don’t need that pressure on him right now.

You see? We might scoff at these ideas now as unrealistic. But within our own Southern Baptist Convention, we have already felt the power of political leanings in ways that have not only embarrassed us, but harmed the pursuit of our mission.

The Future of the Church
What kind of legacy do we want the church to have in 25 years? Surely it is to be like the apostle Paul, who would boast only in Christ alone. Our children and grandchildren need a church committed to the counter-cultural, risk-taking, gospel-centered message of a risen Christ without the dilution of a secondary political agenda. The church is not alienated from the political sphere, but the work she does carries an eternal future hope that extends well beyond the mere endorsement of a political party or piece of legislation.

Coram Deo
To live coram Deo is to live one’s life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, for the glory of God. And that is my approach to the church and politics. When our churches lead our people to “seek first the kingdom” and devote themselves to the undivided, unrelenting glory of God, then their influence in the world, including the political world, will be known and felt. And it will be felt in ways that are true to the church of Jesus Christ. Ways that are lasting. Ways that are commendable.

Christians should be thankful for any action that seeks to strengthen religious liberty in our country. I hope President Trump, and future presidents, will not stop pursuing, defending, and increasing the freedoms of religious people. But we must be careful to properly discern what true religious liberty looks like. And when churches walk through the door of political engagement in the name of religious liberty, they might find themselves on the verge of losing both.

 

 

 

A Quick Update On My Health

On Sunday morning, April 23rd, at approximately 3:00 am, I woke up to severe pain in my left ear. I had not been feeling well the week before and just assumed an ear infection was part of the problem. At 9:00 am, I was waiting for the doors to open at the Frankfort Urgent Care to receive a quick diagnosis and hopefully some treatment before worship began. The doctor described a “pretty messy looking” ear and gave me a shot of antibiotics along with a Zpack.

I followed up with my primary care doctor on Monday afternoon who immediately referred me to an ENT. Tuesday morning I awoke with severe vertigo and nausea. On Tuesday afternoon I was at the Community ENT seeing Dr. Hawkins, who I very much appreciate. He told me I have a condition called Labyrinthitis – a nasty middle ear infection had spread to my inner ear causing inflammation. He let me know at that first meeting that he was concerned for my hearing and that the recovery process would be slow. I was sent home with steroids, a stronger antibiotic, nausea and pain medication.

The next couple of days were spent sleeping and watching Bob Ross. Any head movement at all led to either vomiting or extreme motion sickness. The ear pain was manageable at this point.

Today, Friday the 28th, I returned to Dr. Hawkins. After a hearing test, he performed a treatment option called Intratympanic Dexamethasone which consists of pumping a high concentration of steroids into the inner ear. He also prescribed ear drops that contain a combination of antibiotics and steroids; he is calling this the “full court press” to restore some of my hearing. Dr. Hawkins told me this was the worst case of Labyrinthitis he has seen in 25 years. He does not expect my hearing to return in my left ear…unless there was “divine intervention” (he knows I am a pastor).

So, that is where I am. I have another follow-up visit next Wednesday to receive another hearing test and to check on the condition of the ear. The vertigo could last for “a couple of weeks to a couple of months.” Let’s pray it is the former.

My blessed wife has never left my side and has been a continual reminder of God’s grace to me. My children have been so patient; I’m so proud of them. And my family and friends have been praying without ceasing. Thank you so much for the many calls, texts, and messages. I apologize that I cannot get back to you sooner, but I am usually asleep or have my phone away from me.

The joy of the Lord remains with The Meade 5. Pray for patience as I just want to be able to get back to my work and to my family. Thank you, again, for the incredible love.

Colossians 3:3

 

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