Philip | Andrew | Meade

Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

Author: Philip Meade (page 1 of 45)

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

 

Is Genesis History? – A Review

“Is Genesis History?” is a two-hour documentary examining the origins of the Earth. I was present at the one-day showing on February 23 and was intrigued to see how this particular film would handle the difficult nuances of creation history. Here are my brief thoughts.

The documentary supports a “young Earth” view of the Earth’s origin, meaning that instead of the 4.6 billion-year-old age of the Earth that is standard in textbooks and museums, the young Earth view estimates its age to be closer to 10,000 years old. In order to support their position, the filmmakers travel to a host of visually stunning locations and interview creationist experts in the fields of microbiology, astronomy, geology, archeology, marine biology, paleontology, philosophy, and so forth. I found the film to be engaging, informative, challenging, and worthwhile. Here are a few things I liked about the documentary, followed by a few weaknesses.

Describing the Problem
The strongest aspect of the film was the early establishment of the overall problem when studying the Earth. Del Tacket, our host, and all the accompanying experts used the same language to describe the conflict between two competing paradigms and this ran consistently throughout the movie. In other words, we knew the framework from the beginning of the documentary and they never waivered from their starting point.

The conflict was labeled as the “conventional paradigm” vs the “historical Genesis paradigm.” The former employs the use of “deep time” to understand the origins of the Earth, while the latter begins with the historical credibility of Scripture to provide the framework for scientific inquiry. I appreciated how in every segment of the film, these conflicting paradigms were revisited to demonstrate how the current topic would be viewed differently depending on the model. Dr. Robert Carter, a marine biologist and contributor to the film, has said in a separate teaching series that, “facts are not independent. Facts are always interpreted according to the framework that a person has.”

Using the Present to Date the Past
One effective segment described the problematic use of present day geological “decay” times as a standard for dating the history of the earth. These processes, which were largely over my head, were described as lacking uniformity throughout the ages, thus creating an unreliable dating mechanism.  Geologist Andrew Snelling says, “What we see in the present is really only minuscule by comparison with what was seen in the past. … We can’t use present-day rates of these processes to understand how quickly and how majestically in terms of scale the geological record accumulated.”

The film attempted to demonstrate how the evolutionary position is heavily dependent on long amounts of time. The 19th-century geologist Charles Lyell proposed the possibility of the Earth being billions of years old, and it was on this Lyell framework that Charles Darwin crafted his famous scientific contribution we know as evolution. Thus, scientists operating in the conventional paradigm are required to use the scientific measurements from today to create the billion years necessary for the paradigm to work.

To challenge this, microbiologist Kevin Anderson presented a four-foot long horn of a Triceratops. Woven into the bone was soft, flexible tissue that still had cells and proteins, creating an obvious problem for the conventional paradigm. When asked how the larger scientific community responded to this finding, Anderson responded by saying they “said the findings were wrong.”

Four-Dimensional Human Genome
Probably the segment that had me giving the biggest fist pump was Robert Carter’s discussion on the four-dimensional human genome. Carter says, “”Life is so complex that small changes can’t explain it, just like you can’t take a computer operating system and look at it, and say, ‘Oh yeah, this was built up one digit at a time over any length of time.’ No, it took an intelligent person to sit down and put it together. … The number of changes [required for evolution], and the types of changes [we see in nature] are not something that you can do one change at a time.’’ He compared this to a four-dimension computer program, explaining how the fourth dimension must be in place for the first demension to work properly; they are all inter-related. Thus, adding changes one at a time over a period of time cannot explain the complexity of life.

The Personalities
As you would expect, the personalities of these brilliant scientists were all over the map. Some were dry, some were funny. Most were easy going, but a couple were hardcore. One of my favorite was Steve Boyd, a Hebraist. His straight forward approach was incredibly fresh, and he essentially says, “listen, if you read a million years into the Hebrew word for “day”, you’re just wrong.” I was laughing during his segment.

A Few Weaknesses…

Diversity
Of the thirteen (13) experts interviewed for the film, not a single person was female or a minority. For a documentary that is going to be destroyed by the secular community (and faith community for that matter), why give even more fuel to their fire?

Too Much Material
I felt that the film bit off more than it could chew. We moved from one segment to the next fairly quickly and the content was so overwhelming that we were left scratching our heads quite often. In addition, the film could have eased us into the material instead of throwing us into the deep end by immediately discussing the various geological layers of the Grand Canyon.

Gap Theory & More
One of the more telling aspects of the film was its unwillingness to consider creation science that still holds to an old earth. I felt this was the biggest weakness because it tended to undermine their main point. Let me explain…

The primary thesis of the movie is that God is a better teller of history than science. But the film seems to dismiss the possibility that the historical reliability of Genesis 1 and 2 does not require a young earth scientific conclusion. The film rightly demonstrates how the conventional paradigm is dependent on the Earth being billions of years old, thus all data must be forced into that presupposition. But once we insist that the historical reliability of Genesis demands a young earth view, then we are also forcing our present day conclusions.

Now, I think the film would respond by saying, “science cannot do history. We have a reliable historical document that provides a framework more dependable than the conventional paradigm, thus our conclusions are not coerced in the same way.” Nevertheless, I would like to have seen this fleshed out a bit more. At the end of the movie there was a 17 minute follow up discussion with Del Tacket and three of the experts. They briefly, in two or three sentences, address the possibility of holding to Genesis as history but denying a young earth.

Paul Nelson, a Christian philosopher who is an outspoken young earth creationist, was featured in the film. After viewing the final cut, he has written an article describing his uneasiness with what he is calling a “false dichotomy.” Although not identical, his concerns echo my own.

Overall, I am glad I took the time to watch “Is Genesis History?” and it was well worth the money. I doubt any conventional paradigm folks will be convinced, but it is a strong contribution in the ongoing discussion of the Earth’s origins.

 

What You Need To Know About Russell Moore, the SBC, and the ERLC

Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This entity of the SBC is one of the most important ministries supported by the Convention due to the increasing threats to religious liberty in the United States. The ERLC “is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing.” The second part of that purpose statement, “speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing,” is where we currently find some tension within the Convention.

I am an unapologetic Russell Moore supporter. He was Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during my studies there for the Master of Divinity degree. Dr. Moore has had a tremendous impact on the way I think about theology, church life, and even pop culture. Although thoroughly evangelical and conservative in his faith and politics, Dr. Moore is not shortsighted when it comes to how the faith of Southern Baptists, and more importantly the news of the gospel, can flourish in a world hostile to religious liberty. Thus, Dr. Moore has been consistently outspoken for the liberty of all people of all faiths in order for the power of the gospel to be freely spoken and transformative to all who will hear and believe.

Russell Moore came under fire from some SBC leadership during the recent 2016 Presidential campaign, being accused of speaking and writing in a condescending tone toward Southern Baptists who were voting for Trump. He wrote a clarifying article on his personal website, apologizing to those who interpreted his remarks as a rebuke or ridicule. The fact is, many SBC leaders were outspoken in their concerns for a Trump presidency, but Dr. Moore received most of the media attention due to this role in the more political branch of the SBC.

But that is not the end of the story. Another lingering issue has only served to increase concerns toward Moore’s leadership.

In May of last year, the ERLC and the IMB (International Mission Board) signed an amicus brief along with several other religious groups arguing that contradictory standards cannot be applied to Muslims, or any faith-based group, who wish to construct a place of worship. Specifically, the brief was signed in support of the construction of a New Jersey mosque. The brief had an impact. A federal judge ruled in the mosque’s favor on December 31, 2016.

David Platt, president of the IMB, has since apologized for the distraction associated with the brief. But some push-back has already happened. Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, TN and a trustee of the IMB, resigned his IMB position due to the signing of the amicus brief. He said, “When I look at our IMB mission and purpose statements, I cannot see how this action meshes with them.”

As difficult as Haun’s resignation is to hear, the worst possible scenario is just now starting to play out – some churches are escrowing their Cooperative Program funds until a better understanding of the Convention’s leadership is reached, including a Dallas megachurch who sends upwards of $1 million annually to the CP.

Now, if you are not a Southern Baptist, it might be difficult to appreciate how brutal this is. The Cooperative Program is the means through which the SBC funds its agencies and its mission. Every Southern Baptist Church designates a percentage of their budget to the Cooperative Program. That amount is sent to the state convention that keeps a portion and the rest is sent to the SBC.  North American Mission Board missionaries, IMB missionaries, church plants, state missions, the SBC seminaries, and a host of other entities are dependent on the CP for their existence.

Here are a few points of my personal commentary:

David Platt and the IMB
I believe Platt was right to apologize. Although the IMB, NAMB, and any other SBC entity might feel a certain way about an issue taking place in our country, it is not for every entity to take action on those issues. Staying focused on the mission at hand is essential, and the ability for a group of Muslims to build a mosque in New Jersey is probably not what the IMB is called to support. However, the same cannot be said for the ERLC. These are precisely the kinds of issues the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is funded to engage. Remember their statement of purpose? That they exist for the “protection of religious liberty and human flourishing.” So, I affirm Platt’s apology but equally affirm Moore’s action on behalf of the mosque’s construction.

Speaking for the SBC
One consistent complaint I have heard concerning Dr. Moore’s leadership is how he does not speak for Southern Baptists. But what does that even mean? Should Dr. Moore simply do and say whatever the churches tell him to do and say? Or is there room here for us to be challenged and led by our SBC leadership to think critically about difficult issues? And on top of that, save for the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the means to a relationship with the Father, I know of no other single clarifying issue in the history of Baptists than the issue of religious liberty.

The Gospel
Rejoicing in the inability of a religious group to build a place of worship does not win hearts for the gospel. To be clear, I do not want mosques being constructed for the purpose of teaching and spreading a false gospel in our communities. But do we believe in the greater and truer and better power of the gospel? The way we win people to the Lord is not by eliminating every other religion and place of worship, but by believing that the true gospel is bigger than any other religion or place of worship.

Common Sense
If they will prevent a group of Muslims from building a mosque, how long until they prevent a group of Christians from building a church? That, of course, would not stop the church from flourishing (Matthew 16:18), but we do not want to be active participants in the oppression of Christianity in America! And to deny the religious liberty of all faiths is to do precisely that.

Dr. Russell Moore
What is going to happen? Disagreements among trustees and leadership and church members are one thing. Holding back Cooperative Program dollars is quite another. There is an inevitable point where, no matter how supportive a large number of SBC members and leaders are of Dr. Moore, the losing of enough CP dollars will leave the Convention with little choice. But my biggest fear is that Russell Moore, being the kind of person I think he is, would probably preempt something ugly by gently stepping away. Which would be devastating. Absolutely devastating. Pray with me that it doesn’t come to that. That SBC churches will remain committed to the Cooperative Program even when they are in disagreement with a certain leader or action. That Dr. Moore will be comforted by Christ during this incredibly challenging time for him and his family. That we may all as a Convention continue to do the work of making disciples without distraction or division.

 

And Then The Booing Started

On February 8 I was pleased to make my way to the Kentucky State Capitol to show support for Governor Bevin and his historic signing into law two pro-life bills. Senate Bill 5 prohibits the termination of a pregnancy after 20 weeks of gestation. House Bill 2 requires physicians to offer an ultrasound to women before having an abortion (this is not required, women can opt-out). These are two laws that seem, at least in my child-like thinking, non-controversial for pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike.

I was impressed and thankful for the large turnout of Kentucky Baptists and pro-life Kentuckians; the Capitol rotunda was filled. We all were waiting for Governor Bevin to make his appearance, make a speech, and ceremonially sign the bills into law. I saw a few Kentucky Baptist pastors at the Capitol and it was a terrific day.

One small incident, however, made me uncomfortable. About five minutes before the governor appeared, a female emerged from the second floor and quickly draped a long black banner over the balcony that unfolded three-quarters of the way down to the first floor. The sign said something to the effect of, “these laws hurt women.” The lady was wearing a surgical mask and raised her fist high in the air. It was a typical protest.

I was interested to see how my fellow pro-life citizens, including many Kentucky Baptists, would respond to the protest. I didn’t have to wait long. A very quick and very loud orchestration of boos filled the Capitol rotunda. Shouts of “you’re wrong” rose up from the crowd and one lady near me shouted, “go away, you’re not welcome here.” I couldn’t tell what happened, but the banner eventually fell all the way down to the floor and the lady disappeared.

I really didn’t know what to think. My first thought went to the protester. She was on the second floor and I was in a small hallway on the first floor. I wondered where she went, if anyone spoke to her, and if anyone expressed kindness to her. Then I thought about the booing itself. I wasn’t entirely sure how I should feel about what I just witnessed. I thought about the American democratic process. If, for example, a different governor was signing a different set of legislation into law that advanced the pro-choice agenda, I’m assuming some of us would want to arrive at the Capitol to express a different viewpoint. And my hunch is we would not want to be booed or shouted out of the capitol building. Maybe I’m too naive or too ideological. Maybe I need to understand how the world really works. But I don’t think so.

I think Christ called his followers to, in most cases, do the opposite of what seems normal. To do the opposite of our instinctive human response. Because the normal, expected, instinctive response would be to boo this lady out of the building. But isn’t it difficult to love your enemies while booing them? And is this even our enemy? I certainly do not understand how a Christian can affirm a pro-choice position, but I certainly do not think only pro-life people are Christians.

I believe evangelicals should be actively engaged in the political process. But as soon as our political activism corrupts our personal evangelism, we lose.

Kentucky Baptists and pro-choice Kentuckians won a great victory on February 8. I hope there is more like it to come. But for a moment – a brief moment – the sweet taste of victory turned just a bit sour.

 

 

 

 

Worth A Look 2/4/17

The FAQs: President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigrants and Refugees
Joe Carter is a level-headed author who will occasionally do these “FAQ” series on current events. Like always, this one is incredibly helpful and honest.

Failure is not a Virtue
This is an older post I recently came across, but Jen Wilkin hits a homerun with her concern for the celebratory spirit these days surrounding failure.

Myths of Multiplication
Here are a few helpful reminders for churches who do not see the benefit of multiplying and planting.

Steps Toward Evangelism
Chuck Lawless provides a few simple but helpful reminders for cultivating an evangelistic spirit.

Why Update a Beloved Translation?
This interview with Tom Schreiner will shed some light on the revision to the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

“The Bible Clearly Says…” – The Fundamentalist Spirit In All Of Us

Chuck Colson once urged Christians to avoid the unavoidable mistake of using our opponent’s weapons against them. As soon as you do, he said, you “become the thing you hate the most.” We all do it. We all, to some degree, have a fundamentalist spirit.

Today, the term “fundamentalist” is typically used as a pejorative to describe a religious fanatic who holds to a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, reads only the King James Version,  and has a bumper sticker that reads, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Although that is hardly the definition for which the term was originally coined, to be labeled a fundamentalist today is something most want to avoid.

But I’m using the term in a more primitive way. At its root, fundamentalism is an attitude that demands a strict adherence to a set of principles or convictions or doctrines. At some level, we all fit that description, and it has never been more noticeable than in today’s Amercian political climate. Sometimes the demand for acceptance of a particular viewpoint will lead to unintended consequences, such as becoming the thing we normally fight against.

The “right-leaning” spiritual and political group on my social media accounts (of which I am one) have partially embraced the rhetoric and argumentation of the left. The “left-leaning” spiritual and political group on my social media accounts (of which I have many friends) have partially embraced the rhetoric and argumentation of the right. And the beauty of this is so deliciously wonderful – they will both adamantly deny it. You see, I am writing a blog article that no one will agree with. That either makes me incredibly correct in my assessments or incredibly wrong. I’ll let you decide.

I’m going to highlight one clear example from both sides that I find to be indicative of Colson’s warning.

I’ll start with my own camp – evangelical conservatives.  The centrality of character has been the hallmark of Republican-leaning conservative Christians since the age of Reagan. The unwillingness of the left to acknowledge sin and its consequences have been the things we have rallied against for years. Conservatives have rightly rolled our eyes when the cliched response of “we need a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief” is used to defend the defenseless actions and character of a politician. In his recent book “Reclaiming Hope,” Michael Ware describes the Senate race between Barack Obama and Alan Keyes. At one point Keyes said that Jesus would not support Obama because he “voted to behave in a way that is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.” At the time, Obama replied by saying that he “was running to be the senator from Illinois, not the minister from Illinois.” Years later, disappointed with his comment, Obama described it as the “usual liberal response.” Conservatives have been right to highlight the character of our leaders.

And so it is that just a few days ago, Franklin Graham described the rainfall at the inauguration of President Trump as a “sign of God’s blessing.” Such a statement is condemnable for multiple reasons. The only way a conservative could say such a thing is by drawing a line between character and political ambitions – the very thing we have loathed for years.

I do not condemn Christians for voting for Trump. But the way we defend our vote will speak volumes.

And now to the moderate and left-leaning camps. In a fascinating turn of events, the Bible suddenly speaks truth clearly and propositionally in matters related to government and politics.  Proof-texting and rhetoric such as “the Bible clearly says…” have historically been vehemently opposed by the left, especially when it applies to American politics. After all, Christianity, they say, is not the official religion of this great country, so the use of Scripture to affirm or deny American policies is antithetical to the principles on which our country was founded. Until now.

I confess, I have been enjoying myself while reading the argumentation of the moderate and progressive-left as they employ proof-texting techniques to demonstrate the illegitimacy of President Trump and his policies. Let me be clear, much of what they are saying is good material. But they seem largely ignorant of the hypocrisy of their arguments. In their mind, conservatives are apparently quick to proof-text the multiple passages that clearly and unequivocally condemn homosexuality as a pleasing relationship before God. The same is true for the doctrine of hell. Or the exclusivity of Christ. Conservatives don’t take into account the immediate historical context, the theocratic state of OT Israel, the “trajectory” hermeneutic, and a multitude of other reasons why our reading is wrong. But when someone as repugnant as Donald Trump comes along, things change. The left are now willing to attack Trump’s character based on verses from the sermon on the mount and malign his policy decisions by highlighting words from the Old Testament.

And the attacks are not limited to Trump. The aggression I have seen from the left in responding to conservatives who disagree has been enlightening, even calling into question the depth of their faith. That is the very thing the left abhors from conservative evangelicalism.

“Yeah, but this is different” they will say. Of course it is. It’s different because it is a topic they passionately believe deserves a strict adherence. A fundamentalist spirit.

I do not condemn Christians for speaking out against Trump’s policies. But the way we defend our positions will speak volumes.

All of this is to say that it’s hard to be consistent. If we see an open door that will support our opinions and biases, the temptation to run through them is often too great. Even when we become the thing we hate.

Is There A Second Baptism In The Holy Spirit? What About Acts 8?

Should Christians pursue a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit after their initial salvation experience in Christ? Many churches teach that a “second blessing” after salvation signifies the greatest honor for a Christian, and is usually thought to be accompanied by speaking in tongues. This understanding of a subsequent baptism in the Spirit is not a uniform teaching unique to just the Pentecostal or Charismatic movements, but has crossed virtually every denominational line. Therefore, there are a variety of flavors for understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit.

Part of the confusion stems from the various ways the work of the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. The language of “baptism” in the Spirit and “receiving” the Spirit and being “filled” with the Spirit makes us wonder if there is any crossover with these terms. We then read experiential accounts, especially in the book of Acts, where people were mightily transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Southern Baptists have not been unaffected by these discussions. Issues related to a “private prayer language” that is believed to come through the ministry of the Holy Spirit has caused dissension not only in our churches, but also in SBC entities. Nevertheless, Baptists have traditionally held to a single baptism experience in the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion.  That is also my personal belief. I will briefly explain why and then provide one obvious push-back to my position.

There is sufficient teaching from multiple texts to indicate a single baptism in the Spirit. I will list three here.

1 Corinthians 12:13 – “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 
Paul describes all the believers in Corinth as being baptized in one Spirit into one body. The only reasonable reading of this text is to understand the “all baptized” language to indicate every convert in Christ was immediately baptized by one Spirit. In other words, if there were those who had not yet experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then Paul’s declaration that “all” had been baptized in one Spirit would not be correct.

Ephesians 1:13-14 – “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Since the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation, the idea of a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit would render those who have not received that baptism “unsealed” in their salvation when they placed faith in Christ. Notice the pattern – when you believed…you were sealed. Belief in Christ and being sealed by the Spirit occur simultaneously.

Romans 8:9 – You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
If a person truly belongs to Christ, then they have the Spirit. If they don’t have the Spirit, then they don’t belong to Christ. Thus, for a person to place faith in Christ but then wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit necessarily means they are not truly a Christian until their subsequent baptism. But that is contrary to every description of faith in the New Testament.

Now for some push back. Acts 8 provides an extraordinary account of Samaritan believers receiving the Holy Spirit well after they believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is the text:

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”  Acts 8:14-17

So, if we receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon our confession of faith, how do we explain the account in Acts 8?

Answer:  I don’t know.

I have read several explanations for Acts 8 and all of them seem to fall short in one way or another. Here are a few things that I find to be helpful, but probably none of these points will persuade someone who is convinced of the second blessing doctrine.

First is the existence of two different kinds of teaching in the New Testament relating to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Some of the teachings are propositional while others are experiential, written in narrative form. Both are authoritative and without error, but both might not be meant to convey truths that are ongoing for every experience of regeneration. In other words, a one-time experience specific to a Samaritan context in Acts 8 might not be (and I would argue, isn’t) a normative experience of the Holy Spirit, especially if we find propositional teaching elsewhere in the NT to the contrary. So, we can’t take one experience out of context of the Bible’s repeated teaching.

Second, some will argue that the Samaritans in Acts 8 were not truly believers until Peter and John arrived. Thus, there never was a gap between their confession of faith and their baptism in the Holy Spirit because they did not believe until the apostles arrived! But I find this unconvincing. There is nothing in Acts 8 to suggest their belief in the gospel under Philip’s preaching was anything but sincere.

Third, the book of Acts is an exciting history of the church during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Some of what we see unfold in people’s lives during this time must be understood in this transitional context (for example, the experience of Pentecost). Although we must not deny the credibility of the Acts 8 account or its importance, we should nevertheless be cautious of seeing it as the normative pattern that will be repeated in every believer’s salvation experience.

Fourth,  it is no coincidence that Peter (along with John) is the apostle who arrives in Samaria. Following the flow of the third point above, Peter was the apostle who was appointed by Christ to be the key figure in the early church. It was Peter who was preaching at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the Jews. Peter was in Cornelius’ house when the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles. And in Acts 8, Peter was present when the Holy Spirit was given to the Samaritans. With this transition from old to new, and with Christ’s command to make disciples in “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” it makes sense that Peter, an apostle and pillar of the church, was present in each of those three key moments.  Keep in mind that Philip in Acts 8 is not the apostle Philip. This is Philip “the evangelist” and did not carry the same early authority as did the apostles of Jesus.

When we consider the teaching of the Bible as a whole on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we should avoid reading too much into a singular experience in Samaria during the transitionary time of the early church. Nevertheless, the account will remain puzzling for Bible readers and will keep us digging deeper for truth. Which, I think, is healthy no matter what.

 

 

 

Union With Christ: If We Are Righteous, Why Do We Sin?

I am writing a series of articles concerning a Christian’s “union with Christ” and attempting to answer a few common questions. I have previously written on the definition of union with Christ.

Let’s review for a moment. Every human being is a sinner and separated from God because of the “federal headship” of Adam. Adam was acting as our representative in the garden, so when he sinned against God in Genesis 3 by eating of the forbidden fruit, it is as if we all consumed the fruit in disobedience (Romans 5:12).  Therefore, we are conceived and born into this world with a sinful nature and are by that nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).   That is horrific news.

But there is another who also serves as our federal representative – the second Adam – who is greater and better than the first. This second Adam is, of course, Jesus Christ, and when we acknowledge him as the Lord of our life through faith, his actions are credited to us as if we were the ones who carried them out. When Jesus perfectly kept the law, we perfectly kept the law. When Jesus was crucified, we were crucified. When Jesus rose from the dead, we too will rise from the dead.  And so forth.

That is what it means in Galatians 2:20 when it says, “I have been crucified with Christ…” Our old, sinful nature was crucified right along with Christ and we are now new creations in Jesus. We are seen as righteous by God because of our union with Christ – the perfection of Jesus has been imputed to us through faith. That is incredibly good news.

But a very good question comes out of this very good news. If Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us and our sinful nature has been crucified, why do we still struggle with sin? For many Christians, the reality of sin lingering in their lives creates strong doubts as to the validity of their salvation experience. Shouldn’t we be sinless now that we are new creations?

The most common response to this question points to the ongoing struggle between what is perceived to be two natures of a Christian’s life – the sinful nature and the new nature in Christ. We are physically born with a sin nature in Adam and we are spiritually born with a new nature in Christ. Thus, these two natures are in constant conflict with one another. This makes the answer to the question fairly simple – Christians sin when they let their sinful nature take precedence over their new nature.

But I am not satisfied with that response. The breathtaking claims of the gospel demonstrate how the two conflicting natures solution limits the transforming power of Christ. I believe the Scriptures teach a gospel so radical and so powerful that it does not simply bring an additional new nature alongside the old nature to combat it, but rather the gospel puts to death our old nature once and for all, leaving us with a single new nature in Christ.

Consider the language of dying to the old nature when we are in Christ:

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old is passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20)

When Paul says that he has died and that the old nature has “passed away,” he is referring to the sinful nature in Adam. If we are to believe that Adam’s sin nature is still alive and well in the life of a believer, then what does Paul mean when he emphatically announces the death of his old nature? These verses would lose their meaning and their power.

When we then consider the language of the New Testament as it encourages a new believer, this makes even more sense. The New Testament does not instruct a believer to wage war against their own personal sinful nature because Christ has already waged that war and has claimed the victory. In his commentary on Romans, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We are never called to crucify our old man. Why? Because it has already happened – the old man was crucified with Christ on the cross. Nowhere does the Scripture call upon you to crucify your old man for the obvious reason that he has already gone.”

Now, let me address one significant push-back. Someone might say, well what about the verses where Paul instructs us to stop living according to the flesh? Isn’t “the flesh” just another way of saying our old nature? For example, Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” And Romans 7:25 says, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” So, doesn’t this negate the points I made above? Isn’t our old nature still alive since we can “serve the law of sin” in our flesh?

No, our tendency to satisfy the flesh does not mean we have two conflicting natures dwelling in us. Instead, it means the self-gratifying patterns and memories of our old nature can entice us to think and act and speak in ways that are in opposition to our new nature. Paul acknowledges the reality of those desires while maintaining the one-nature promise of the gospel. Look again at Paul’s instructions to the Romans – right after Paul admits that he is prone to walk according to the flesh, he reminds us in Romans 8:9 that “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In other words, we are not “in” two competing natures, but we must depend on Christ to renew our minds to the reality of our new identity in order to avoid being lured by the desires of worldly actions. That is why Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And also in Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

Do you see it? The battle before us every day is not an attempt to kill the old nature; Christ has already done that. Our battle is to renew, to remember, to set our minds on who we are in Christ Jesus – that he has completely redeemed us from the curse of sin and has imputed to us his righteousness. That in Christ, we have all the power we need to do all that he requires, including avoiding the patterns of the flesh. That is why it is essential to preach the gospel to ourselves every day, for the beauty of that message keeps us from despair.

Another way to think about our old nature is to consider how we were once under the “dominion” of sin. When we were still bound to our old nature in Adam, we were hopelessly under the reign of sin. But in Christ, sin no longer has dominion. Pauls says, ” For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14). If we had two conflicting natures in us, we would still be under partial dominion since the old nature would still be alive. But the message of the gospel is clear; we are no longer slaves to sin. We will certainly sin, but it does not have dominion over us due to our new nature in Christ.

You might think, well so what? If we are still in combat with the flesh and are prone to wander, what does it matter if it is an old sin nature or patterns of the flesh? Perhaps you think it is a distinction without a difference.

I believe the difference is significant. First, at a minimum, we want to understand what God has to say about our new identity in Christ. If, in fact, we have only one new nature in Christ and not two competing natures, that is important because it is the way God is accomplishing his purposes of redemption. But second, there is freedom in knowing we are no longer enslaved to sin because we are no longer bound by a sinful nature. When a Christian begins to understand the full implications of their new nature in Jesus Christ, they will become more confident of the power available to them to live a joyful, obedient, purposeful life.

So, Christians will continue to sin because we still have corruptible bodies that are prone to fleshly patterns and desires. We have already received the full righteousness of Christ for salvation, but we have not yet put on a glorified body immune to the desires of the flesh. However, we are no longer enslaved by the dominion of sin in our lives because the old nature was crucified with Jesus and we have now enjoy the freedom and power of his presence in us.

I will end with Martin Lloyd-Jones once again as he explains why the one nature truth is so important:

“…you are in Christ. If we but saw this as we should, we would really begin to live as Christians. We would all hold up our heads, we would defy sin and Satan, and we would rejoice in Christ as we ought.”

 

Worth A Look 1/7/17

These are a few articles I’ve recently read and enjoyed.

I’m Complementarian and I Read Books By Women
Challies explains why he enjoys books by women and makes some great points about the marketing of books authored by women.

Bioethics in 2017
I preached a sermon series on bioethics in 2016 and find these points to be true and haunting.

Why You Probably Don’t Need A Quiet Time
Don’t worry, the article isn’t what you think. Donald Whitney lays it on thick and ends by saying, “Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?”

Bible Reading Plans
If you are looking for a reading plan, this article has about everything you can imagine.

 

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