Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This is Part 20 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being
ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.*
Baptists have historically championed the separation of church and state. Just because that expression has been abused, does not mean that it is not a valid belief. But we need to understand what that phrase truly means and why we ought to embrace it.
We do not subscribe to the separation of church and state because it is stated in the United States Constitution. Despite the common perception, it is not there. The reason we have and should stand for religious liberty is that it is true to the teaching of the New Testament.
In Scripture we find that we are free to choose—we can receive Christ or reject Him. We can love God or turn from Him. That is the powerful gift of choice that our Creator has endowed upon us. Love cannot be coerced, or it ceases to be love. If I compel a woman to surrender to my embrace, it isn’t love—it is rape. God would never force Himself upon us—but, we must live with the consequences of rejecting Him should that be our choice.
True to that spirit, we cannot compel the citizens of the United States to become Christians. The church cannot impose its will on the people by force. It has been tried in Europe and has failed—both the church and the state come out losers in such an arrangement. In so many of those countries you have a state church that is an empty shell—a façade of faith in a massive cathedral—cold and silent—having lost its prophetic voice and become wed to the government. Those same governments have become secularized and are increasingly hostile to God and His moral decrees.
Our Baptist forefathers, along with dissenters of other denominations, formed a powerful catalyst when they arrived in this country seeking religious liberty—freedom to practice their faith according to the dictates of their conscience. By the providence of God, such a nation was established.
In the correct sense of the word, America was birthed as a Christian nation. That doesn’t mean that everyone who founded the United States was a Christian, or even that the majority were. It means that this nation was begun with laws rooted in the moral law of God—acknowledging Him and His Providence. The underpinnings of our society are fundamentally connected to faith.
Yet that same God permits us to follow Him or forsake Him. Sadly, many have. As a consequence we see a vocal and powerful group, hostile to faith that promotes separation of church and state as the detachment from God and government. Such a distortion of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution would been horrifying to the men who penned the words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The secularist who owes his freedom to adopt such a perverse philosophy by that very means now undermines the foundation of that religious liberty established by the Creator! Repeated assaults have been made to strip away the mention of God from the public arena, to ban the name of Christ from the public square and seal Him up behind the walls of a church building. There is no reading of the founders of America that can lead one to such conclusions. It is revisionist history—it is militant secularism.
The implications are that from a Christian government designed to open doors to the expression of faith, guaranteeing freedom to belief or even disbelieve, we have moved toward a government that seeks to close those doors and keep Christians out of politics, the Bible out of schools, morality out of laws—God out of government. Christians know that we cannot compartmentalize faith—we cannot make a distinction between the secular and sacred. If our faith is real, then it affects all we do—how we vote, whom and what we support, our obedience to the laws of the land, praying for government leaders, and the like.
God has established human government. It has its role. It functions best when a moral environment is provided that causes faith to flourish due to the freedom it affords. If the pendulum swings to the wedding of church and state or the isolation of God from government, then the citizens suffer.
This is an important year—an election year—and believers need to be involved in the decision. We may not always like our choices, but we should prayerfully make the best ones we can while we still can. God has called us to be salt and light. Our intent is not to become a Baptist Taliban—that is an oxymoron. Christians have the right to be involved and the church has a right to speak to the issues of the day. But, we do realize that even though government has a role, there are limits to what it can do. The state can never bring in the Kingdom of God. It is the responsibility of the church to change hearts—one at a time—through the Gospel of Christ, freely shared and freely received. If we fail to exercise our responsibility and rights as citizens of both the United States and ultimately the kingdom of God, then we will lose the opportunity to continue to exercise those liberties.
* Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 6:6-7,24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1,13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)
In our world filled with political correctness, it is vital to know what the Son of God coming to earth means to us. Consider the following article.
The following article is located at:http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/areas/biblestudies/articles/071205.html
Are There Many Paths to God?There is only one way to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ.
by Lee Strobel
Jesus often surprised people with teachings that cut across the grain of human nature. "Lose your life to save it." "The first will be last." "The meek will inherit the earth." "Rejoice in persecution." "Pray for your enemies." "It's better to give than to receive." "Turn the other cheek." These are revolutionary teachings.
But by far the most outrageous assertion that Jesus ever uttered is in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." This claim rankles people like nothing else. It's been called narrow-minded. It's been called bigoted. It's been called snobbish. Some of you are seekers and something inside of you chafes at the idea that Jesus is the only way to God, for you are living in a world where there seems to be endless options in virtually every area of life. For some of you this is a stumbling block to faith.
Why is this claim so controversial? One reason is that it strikes at the core of three great myths about religion.
Myth 1: All religions are basically the same.The first myth is that all religions are basically the same. You've probably heard people say through the years that there may be distinctions between various world religions, but if you strip them down to their essentials, all religions fundamentally teach the same thing. In other words, all spiritual paths lead up the same mountain because all religions basically teach the brotherhood and the sisterhood of men and women and the universal fatherhood of God.
Let's concede that there is some common ground shared by many of the world's religions, especially when you look at the level of basic values and statements of belief about morality. Respectful dialogue between people who represent different faith systems is a great starting point. But, at the same time, there are significant differences between the world religions that cannot be papered over. In fact, with this one outlandish assertion, Jesus boldly puts Christianity in a class by itself, because if the path to God is through Jesus, then Christianity cannot be reconciled with any other religion.
The uniqueness of Christianity is rooted in the uniqueness of Jesus himself. Other religious leaders say, "Follow me and I'll show you how to find the truth." But Jesus says, "I am the truth." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me and I'll show you the way to salvation." But Jesus says, "I am the way to eternal life." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me and I'll show you how you can become enlightened." But Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." See the difference?
There are drastic and irreconcilable differences between Christianity and all other belief systems. Every other religion is based on people doing things through their struggling and through their striving to earn the good favor of God. They say people have to use a Tibetan prayer wheel, or they have to go on pilgrimages, or they have to give alms to the poor, or they have to avoid eating certain foods, or they have to perform a certain number of unspecified good deeds, or they have to pray in a certain way, or they have to go through a cycle of reincarnation. These are attempts to reach out to God.
But Jesus Christ is God reaching out to us. Jesus taught the opposite of what those other faiths teach. He said that nobody could do anything to merit heaven, so you might as well stop trying. He said that we're all guilty of wrongdoing. That's consistent with our experience. We know that not a single person here today would claim to be perfect.
Jesus also said that our wrongdoing separates us from our God because God is holy and perfect. Because God is a righteous judge who by his very nature must judge wrongdoing, our wrongdoing has to be paid for. Because he loves us, because Jesus and God are for us and not against us, Jesus voluntarily offered himself as our substitute to pay the penalty that we owe because of our wrongdoing. When we receive his sacrifice on our behalf, we become reunited with God forever.
This distinction is starkly demonstrated by comparing a parable that was taught by Jesus with a similar story that is found in Buddhist literature. Both stories involve sons who became rebellious and left home in a huff, but who later saw the error of their ways and decided to return home. But it's the ending of the two stories that so clearly points out the difference.
In the Buddhist story, the errant son is required to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds through years and years of servitude. But the Christian parable of the prodigal son ends with the repentant son being warmly welcomed home by a loving father who showers him with undeserved forgiveness and undeserved grace.
There are other fundamental differences:
For instance, Christianity says that there is one eternal God who created the universe. But Hinduism says that everything is God; you are God, I am God, this podium is God. Islam denies that Jesus was God and that Jesus died for our sins. All religions are not the same.
While other religious leaders can offer wise sayings and helpful advice and insights, only Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, is qualified to offer himself as payment for our wrongdoing. No other religious leader even pretended to be able to do that. Theologian R.C. Sproul puts it this way, "Moses could mediate on the Law. Mohammed could brandish a sword. Buddha could give personal counsel. Confucius could offer wise sayings. But none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world." Jesus alone was qualified.
Myth 2: Christianity is simply one philosophy among many.The second myth that Jesus dispels is related to the first myth. The second myth says that even though Christianity might be different, it's just one philosophy among many, and it's only as valid as any other religion. In other words, even if there are differences between religions, they all have equal claims on the truth. You have your truth, and I have my truth.
This myth is appealing because it seems to reflect the pluralistic attitude of the United States. On one level, that attitude is helpful. It is important that we are tolerant of people who believe differently than we do. The Bible tells us that those of us who are followers of Jesus need to be loving and respectful and accepting toward people of all faiths. Under our Constitution, all religious viewpoints are equally protected; anybody can believe whatever they want. But the problem is that some people jump to the erroneous conclusion that because different philosophies are equally protected, they must be equally valid. That's just not the case.
The concept behind what our Supreme Court calls the "marketplace of ideas" is that truth and falsehood will grapple in unhindered debate, so that truth will prevail in the end. So even though all religions are equally protected under our Constitution, this has nothing to do whatever with whether they are based on truth.
A few years ago, in one of his classic columns, Mike Royco said in a tongue and cheek way that he was a member of what he called "The Church of Asylumism." He explained that this church believes that there was an advanced civilization that lived in a distant galaxy millions of years ago. One day a few hundred of these aliens ate some tainted veggie dip and as a result, a virus hopelessly scrambled their brain. They tried to treat these victims, but nothing would work. So they decided to take them to an uninhabited planet that would serve as an asylum and where they could roam free and act goofy. That planet, Royco said, was earth. We're all descendants of those aliens. Royco said, "You want proof? Read history books! Look at the newspaper! Look at the TV news! Then tell me this isn't one big loony bin."
Royco, I hope, was kidding about being part of the Church of Asylumism. But in this country people have the right to believe whatever they want. If there really was a church of asylumism, under our Constitution, it would be as equally protected as Willow Creek Community Church, as the Methodist denomination, as the Episcopalians or any other religious group. But friends, that would not mean that the teachings of the church of asylumism were true.
Of course, this gives anybody in the country freedom to make the claim, as Jesus did, that they are the way and the truth and the life; that they are the only way to God. The question is, how do we know that Jesus was telling the truth?
Jesus backs up his claim with unique credentials. Jesus authenticated his claim of being God by living a perfect life, by embodying the attributes of God, and by fulfilling dozens of prophecies written hundreds of years before Jesus came to this planet. Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus also authenticated who he was by performing great miracles in broad daylight, in front of skeptics. He demonstrated his mastery over nature. He demonstrated his mastery over sickness. He demonstrated his mastery over death by bringing Lazarus back to life after four days in a cold, damp tomb. In the most spectacular demonstration of his deity, Jesus fulfilled his own prediction by being resurrected from the dead, in an historical event that was witnessed by more than 500 people and that sparked a spiritual revolution that has been unparalleled in the history of the world.
Christianity is not just a philosophy; it is a reality. Jesus didn't just claim that he is the one and only Son of God. He validated his claim with convincing evidence like nobody else in history.
Myth 3: Christians are narrow-minded to think Jesus is the only way to heaven.The third myth says that Christians are narrow-minded and snobbish when they say that Jesus is the only way to heaven. If there were many roads to God and Christians were claiming, "Ours is the best," I would agree they were being narrow and arrogant. But that's not what Christians are saying. They are saying that somebody has got to pay the penalty for the obvious wrongdoings that keep us separated from God. By virtue of his sinlessness and by virtue of his divinity, Jesus is the only one qualified to be our substitute. That, friends, is the reality of the situation. It is not narrow-minded to act in accordance with the evidence and to pursue truth.
A few years ago, some friends' baby girl developed jaundice, which is a disorder of the liver that caused her skin and the whites of her eyes to turn yellow. Of course her parents were very concerned, so they took the child to the pediatrician. The pediatrician told them jaundice is a potentially devastating disease, but it is also easily cured: all they had to do was to put the baby under a special light that stimulates healthy liver function.
The parents could have listened to this from the doctor and said, "That sounds too easy. Just put her under a light? What if instead we scrub her with soap and water and dip her in bleach? Certainly if we worked hard enough we could get her normal coloring back."
The doctor would have looked at them and said, "You don't understand. There is only one way to cure your daughter." They could have replied, "What if we just ignore all this and pretend everything's okay. The jaundice is your truth, doc; it's not our truth. If we sincerely believe that, things will turn out for the best in the long haul."
The doctor would have said, "You're going to jeopardize the life of your child if you do that. There is only one way to cure her. You're hesitant to pursue treatment because it sounds too easy. But look at the credentials on my wall. I've studied at medical school. I've used what I've learned to treat and to cure countless babies. Trust me."
Would anybody accuse those parents of being narrow-minded if they trusted a doctor with credentials and pursued the only course of treatment that was going to cure their little girl? Of course not! That is not being narrow-minded. That is acting rationally and in accordance with the evidence.
Every person in this room has a terminal illness called "sin." The reason those of us who follow Jesus cling to him so tightly is that he is the Great Physician who has the only cure. We could try to scrub away our sins with good deeds, but it will not work. We can sincerely think that there are other ways of dealing with it. But we would be sincerely wrong. The truth is that only the Great Physician offers a treatment that will erase the stain of sin. He has credentials and credibility to back him up. So when we turn to him, we're not being narrow-minded. We are acting rationally and in accordance with the evidence.
In addition to not being narrow-minded, it is anything but snobbish for Christians to believe Jesus is the only way to heaven. For a Christian to act holier than thou is snobbish, but to believe that Jesus is the only way is not. Let's pretend there are two country clubs. The first country club only admits people who have earned their membership. In order to get into this club, you have to obtain superior wisdom. You've got to fulfill a long list of demands. You've got to somehow attain certain spiritual advancement. You've got to go through cycles of reincarnation or whatever. Despite their best efforts, many people will not make the grade, and in the end, the door will be slammed in their face. They're not going to be good enough. They're not going to make the qualifications to get in.
This is what other religions are saying when they teach that people have to try and try to work their way to God. But Christianity is different. Christianity is like the country club that invites anyone who is interested, because Jesus has already paid for his or her membership. Rich or poor, black or white, regardless of your ethnic heritage, regardless of where you live, we would love to include you. The doors are wide open. Entry is not based on your qualifications. Entry is based only on you accepting Christ's invitation. Which faith system is snobbish?
Christianity is unique. It cannot be reconciled with any other religion. It backs up its truth claims with the credentials and credibility of Jesus Christ, which cannot be duplicated by any other spiritual leader. That's why when Jesus said he was the way and the truth and the life, history does not laugh; history has been revolutionalized by Jesus.
Copyright © PreachingToday.com, Christianity Today International
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This is Part 19 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”
Peace and War
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.*
I can think of no more timely topic than this one. As I write, it is the day following Veteran’s Day. As I started this article, the television was blaring the news in the background of more bloodshed in the Middle East. This is the December edition of the newsletter, and at the end of the month we will celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace to the angelic proclamation of, “Peace on earth, good will to men.” Yet, my gut reaction is to echo the disheartening lament of Longfellow in, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Written during the dark days of our Civil War he mourned,
And in despair, I bow'd my head: "There is no peace on earth," I said,"For hate is strong and mocks the song,Of Peace on earth, good will to men."
So, what are we to think? Jesus has called us to be peacemakers—does that mean we are to become pacifists? Had the government during Longfellow’s day taken such a position then another abomination would have endured for who knows how long—slavery! How much more blood would have been shed and suffering endured due to that evil institution prolonged presence because someone concluded that, “War is not the answer.”
Though the pacifist may be sincere, he is not Scriptural, in that he or she fails to recognize that the Bible teaches the concept of a “just war.” War fought by a government protect the citizens, to end tyranny and defeat a worse evil can be grounds for a country going to battle.
But, war is always to be the last resort, and never the first response. Indeed, God calls us to wage peace, and not war. If posters, slogans, and protest marches would bring peace, then we should all take to the streets. Sadly, there can be at times no alternative to combat, if it means that we allow the wicked to have their way. Yet, there is no glory, no revelry to be found in a declaration of war—only sorrow.
We should demand our government seek every viable option to bloodshed by diplomacy. Peace treaties, though often as flimsy as the paper they are written on, cannot be dismissed as always worthless. A strong military and firm defense is actually a deterrent to the aggression of despotic regimes, functioning as peace keepers and not war mongers.
Understand that we live in a fallen world. The roots of war are grounded in the self-centered heart of sinful humanity. Listen to what James says, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.” (4:1-2a) The Gospel of Christ alone has the power to change the heart and bring peace—peace with God and peace with those created in His image. The best way to change a nation’s imperialism is to change its citizens—one heart at a time. The Muslim, bent on my destruction, becomes my brother when he comes to Christ—no longer an enemy, but family.
Yet, we know that despite all our efforts to propagate the Gospel, there will never be a time in this dispensation when there is universal peace on earth. Jesus said that to the very end there would be wars and rumors of wars. But in that seemingly dark warning is found the ray of hope! The end will come—Christ will return and then nations will not learn war any more. The machinery of the military will be utilized in manufacturing farm implements to feed the masses of humanity rather than brutalize them (Isaiah 2:4)!
In this month, when we celebrate the first advent of the Lord Jesus, may we earnestly pray for the second advent! Come, Lord Jesus—come quickly! Then will the longing of Longfellow’s last lyrics be fulfilled,
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,With Peace on earth, good will to men."
* Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7;14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
This is a commentary from Dr. John Piper, so needful for our generation. Please read it and pass it on!
By John Piper November 19, 2007
The following is an edited transcription of the audio.
Is modesty an issue in the church today?
Yes. And it's not just a problem for males. Women have issues with it as well. But it is true that males are more visually spring-loaded to lust or to think unhelpful thoughts when they see a certain picture or person, so that's where I'll focus here.
My concern today is that it seems like a lot of Christian women are oblivious to the fact that they have some measure of responsibility here. I say it carefully though, because I know that some women would turn the issue back on men as if it is their own problem.
But I know that a sincere Christian woman would not have that attitude. A Christian woman would respond, "Really? I didn't know. Please, tell me what the issue is here." She wants to serve her brothers, and her brothers want to serve her. The brothers don't want to put her under any artificial constraints and she wants to serve them. So there ought to be dialogue about this.
Necklines are an issue these days. Everywhere I turn—at the airport and at church—the necklines are plunging! Some fashion designers in the world are communicating to women today that the thing to do is have your neckline split extend too low.
Women should dress in such a way that they draw men's attention towards their eyes, their face, and not towards the other parts of their bodies.
A woman can test herself in this arena by how she dresses her little girl. What kind of bathing suit do you put on your little two-year-old? Is it a cute little bikini? Or do you begin from the very start to teach this little girl that there is an appropriate way to dress? Are you preparing her so that by the time she is seven, eleven, or fifteen her whole mindset is, I dress appropriately, modestly, and not to entice or flaunt?
One of the first words that my daughter Talitha learned was "appropriate." She didn't even know what the word meant at the time, but now it is built into her DNA as an eleven-year-old that she should dress in a way that is appropriate.
So I plead with the Christian women of the world that they take into consideration the things they are saying by what they're wearing. Dress to please the Lord.
And you can still dress beautifully. You don't have to look stupid or out of style to be modest. I know this is the case because there are hundreds of very attractive women at our church who dress modestly and don't cause men to stumble, and they don't look out of style.
Why do you encourage women to draw a man's gaze to their eyes?
There is something about the face that makes it the most full and complete expression of a person (see Numbers 6:24-26). My hands only communicate a little bit about me, my shoulders don't say much at all, and my belly tells you hardly nothing! But my face says a lot about me—my eyes, my countenance, and my mouth. Having someone just stare at another part of my body would make me very uncomfortable. I'd say, "Look at my face! I'm a person!"
But women are selling themselves because Madison Avenue has said, "Show your belly-button, your knees, your cleavage, etc." And women, evidently, are wired to want men to notice their bodies. And that is what must be channeled in an appropriate way.
Women should handle the desire to be noticed by preserving it for one man, whether he is present yet or not. They should also protect themselves (and other men) by not saying things that they don't want to say. We are always saying things by what we wear.
© Desiring God
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
Monday, November 19, 2007
With a candidate for President who is a professing Mormon, it would be good to know what Mormons believe. This isn't a statement about anyone's fitness to serve as President--neither an endorsement nor condemnation--that decision is between you and your God. Making a prayerful, informed decision in such matters, however is crucial. I ran across this article and thought I would pass it on. Sooner or later some fellows on a bicycle will pedal up your driveway and seek to peddle their heresy. So, being forewarned is to be forearmed!
Written by Rob Phillips
What the Bible says about Jesus vs. what Mormonism says about Jesus:
--He is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:34-35).
--Jesus "was born in the same personal, real and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 547, 742)
--"Let it not be forgotten, that He is essentially greater than any and all others, by reason (1) of His seniority as the oldest or first born; (2) of His unique status in the flesh as the offspring of a mortal mother and of an immortal, or resurrected and glorified, Father …" (James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 426).
--Satan is a created - and fallen - angel (Isaiah 14:12).
--"Lucifer - this spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind." (Milton R. Hunter of the First Council of Seventy, The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15)
--Jesus did not marry.
--"Jesus was the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana - We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into relation whereby he could see his seed." (Orson Hyde, apostle, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 82)
--Jesus is the foundation of the true church (Matthew 16:18; Acts 4:11-12; Colossians 1:18).
--Joseph Smith: "I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet." (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-9)
--Jesus is the judge of all (John 5:22).
--"No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith … Every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, Junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 289)
--Jesus is the one who resurrects all (John 5:28-29).
--Joseph Smith will receive the keys of the resurrection. "If we ask who will stand at the head of the resurrection in this last dispensation, the answer is - Joseph Smith, Junior, the Prophet of God. He is the man who will be resurrected and receive the keys of the resurrection, and he will seal this authority upon others, and they will hunt up their friends and resurrect them." (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 116).
--Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:1-13).
--A "council of the Gods" created the world. "In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it … In all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 308, 474).
What the Bible says about the Holy Spirit vs. what Mormonism says about the Holy Spirit:
--The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the triune Godhead (Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19-20).
--Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit "constitute three distinct personages and three Gods." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 370)
--The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son (Acts 5:1-11).
--The Father has a body of flesh and bones. So does the Son. But the Holy Ghost is "a personage of spirit." (Doctrines and Covenants 130:22)
--The Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost are two Biblical names for the same person.
--"The Holy Ghost … is a personage distinct from the Holy Spirit. As a personage, the Holy Ghost cannot any more than the Father and the Son be everywhere present in person." (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 76).
--The Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost is God (Acts 5:3-4).
--"The Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body as the Saviour did or as the gods before them took bodies." (Joseph Smith, April 6, 1843; see Discourses on the Holy Ghost compiled by N.B. Lundwall, p. 73)
What the Bible says about the Gospel of Jesus Christ vs. what Mormonism says about the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
--Christ’s death at Calvary paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in the Person and work of Jesus (John 3:16, 5:24; Romans 4:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
--Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection made it possible for mankind to be resurrected, but "men will be punished for their own sins." (Article of Faith #2 by Joseph Smith). Through the atonement of Christ "all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel." (Article of Faith #3 by Joseph Smith)
--"There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 670)
--"Baptism … is for the remission of sins … (and) is the gate to the celestial kingdom of heaven." (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 70)
--There is "no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith … No man can eject that testimony without accepting most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 188)
--The Bible teaches that at death, man’s eternal destiny is fixed in one of two places: heaven or hell (Luke 16:19-31).
--Virtually all men are saved in "General Salvation … meaning resurrection." (Contributions of Joseph Smith by Stephen L. Richards, p. 5)
--Then, based on works, all men will spend eternity in one of three levels of heaven - telestial, terrestrial or celestial. A few "sons of perdition" will not be saved/resurrected.
--All men are sinners by nature and by volition (Romans 3:23, 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
--There is no such thing as original sin. All men are gods in embryo. "God and man are of the same race, differing only in their degrees of advancement." (Apostle John Widtsoe, Rational Theology, p. 61)
--There is no second chance for salvation after death (Hebrews 9:27).
--Mormons may be baptized on behalf of the dead for their salvation. "If a man cannot enter the kingdom of God without baptism, then the dead must be baptized." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. II, p. 141)
--Once a person is justified, his or her salvation is eternally secure, based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the faithfulness of God (John 5:24, 10:27-30; Romans 4:21, 8:28-39; Hebrews 7:25, 10:14; 1 Peter 1:1-5).
--Believers must do works to earn a level of heaven and risk losing their position in that heaven if they are not faithful in service. For example, failure to marry in an LDS church will "damn" persons so that their eternal progression will be stopped short of godhood. (See Doctrine and Covenants 132:16-20)
--Each individual is a unique created person whose beginning came at the moment of conception; after death, that person retains his or her personhood and spends eternity in heaven or hell.
--Each individual has four stages of life (eternal progression): 1. Eternally existing intelligence. 2. Pre-mortal spirit born by procreation of God and one of his wives. 3. Mortal probation (present life on earth). 4. Post-mortal status that depends on works done in this life. Eternity is spent in one of three heavens: telestial (everyone makes it at least this far); terrestrial (good and religious folk make it here); and celestial (only Mormons who have fulfilled the requirements for godhood make it here).
Monday, November 12, 2007
Today I was driving down Old Fort Mountain on I-40 when Terry Hollifield, our Associate Pastor, called attention to the brilliant fall colors. It seems that God took His palette and loaded His brush with scarlet, orange and gold, using the mountainsides as a canvas--a masterpiece by the Master!
Autumn in Western North Carolina is like that, and tourists clog the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the show. This year they have witnessed one of the best. The colors have been breathtakingly brilliant and have endured long beyond the typical leaf-looking season. In most years they are already brown and mostly cluttering the forest floor by now.
But not this year. Do you know why? The trauma of the trees! The drought has been unparalleled and the harsh environment has given birth to the vibrant and sustained beauty.
So it is with the beauty of holiness. It can only be produced through the barren times and severe climate of affliction. To exceed mediocrity we must be rooted in the soil of adversity and raise our hands joyfully to God, like branches, reaching up into the sun of difficulty. The result is a saint that captures the attention of those rushing by.
None of us like pain--but there is a purpose in our pain. The Message paraphrases James 1:2-3 so powerfully in this context, "Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors." Beautiful colors, indeed!
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
What's the Big Deal?
Here's an article I read worthy of consideration:
By Russ Young Posted: 10/30/2007
Tract or Treat: A Christian Response to Halloween
With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would take the opportunity to talk about a presentation I give entitled “Tract or Treat: A Christian Response to Halloween.” In the presentation I begin with an allegory about Johnny Christian, which goes something like this: Johnny C’s mom wanted her son to stay clean before they left for a wedding. Johnny, however, being impatient, impertinent and a whiner, complained the wait was too long without being able to play. Reluctantly his mother lets him go out to play with the stern warning to stay out of the mud. Donning boots and gloves to keep himself clean he goes out to play. Not surprisingly he returns home late, and with his clothes smeared in dirt. In closing the question is posed, playing off the wedding feast parable in Matthew 22:1-14, “What will you be wearing when it is time for the wedding?”
The question, of course, is meant to provoke thought about what are we doing to prepare ourselves for the pending return of our Lord. The follow-up question asks everyone to examine what we think about Halloween, and why so many Christian families think they can participate in Halloween activities without any concern for getting dirty.
What is it about Halloween that makes it so difficult for Christian parents to say no to their children? Hopefully we have no difficulty telling them “No” about other activities they “really” want to do, but we know are not good for them. More often, however, parents recall their own more “innocent” Halloween days and do not discern any problems with Halloween today. After all, they say “All I want to do is let my children have fun, besides they love to get dressed up. What could be wrong with going out in a costume and collecting candy?” Or, they say things like, “When my child goes trick or treating she doesn’t have a clue about its history, and we are not trying to accomplish anything the pagans may do. What could be the harm in that?”
Please allow me to answer these kinds of objections by first summing up a Biblical response to be followed with scriptural support.
First and foremost, it should be evident that virtually everything about Halloween is antithetical to the message of Christ. The message of Halloween can plainly be seen in its focus on witches, ghouls, ghosts, graveyards, the demonic, the macabre, and all the ugly aspects that go along with such things. In short, it is fear based and death-centered.
Such things are an offense to the Lord, and grieve the Holy Spirit.
Scripture tells us to think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise, defined by “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8). We should be asking, “What godly purpose could there be in trying to frighten anyone through the grotesque?” By participating in Halloween we are de facto stating “what God says is not important.”
Just as bad, we open the door to the very enemy of our souls who only wants to steal and destroy. In so doing, we become subject to believing the lies surrounding Halloween which can easily distort a correct understanding concerning the Biblical doctrines of Hell and Satan.
Ultimately, Halloween celebrates pagan worship, the demonic, and death itself. Therefore, it is inherently opposed to Christ, the one who is the way the truth and the life.
What does the Bible say?
There are at least three main truths that outline how Christians should respond to Halloween. The first of these is 1 Cor. 5:6 where Paul asks, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” The leaven to which Paul refers is a boastful claim by the Corinthian church that they are so spiritual that other people’s sins do not affect them. Paul rebukes them by telling them not only does one member’s sin affect all of them, but their foolish attitude towards sinful activity will lead to even greater sin.
As Christians we cannot hope to participate in something done, primarily, as a celebration of that which is opposed to God, and not expect bad consequences.
The second controlling passage is Eph. 4:25-32. Not only are we instructed here to not grieve the Holy Spirit, we are also told to “not give the devil even a foothold… (rather, we are to) be imitators of God.” This begs the question how we can think that a day which is explicitly recognized as one of the two most important “unholy holidays,” by witches and Satanists, could become a wholesome activity for Christians. [i]
Furthermore Scripture passages such as Dt. 7:26, “And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.”; Lev. 19:31, “Give no regards to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.”; Prv. 4:14, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.,” clearly demonstrate that the things of Halloween should be hands off for Christians.
Eph 5:11-12 states “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” If it is disgraceful to even speak of such things, how do we suppose God feels when we openly participate in them?
For those who want to pooh pooh the supernatural reality of Halloween, we have been given 1 Timothy 4:7 which states “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness.” Therefore, whether we think we can play in the mud and not get dirty, or if we believe the mud is fantasy, we are still called to avoid Halloween.
A third controlling principle is given in Leviticus 18:30. “So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
It will be instructive here to briefly examine the roots of traditional Halloween activities to understand how such things as seemingly innocuous as bobbing for apples, were actually “practiced before” us in manners abhorrent to God.
Halloween Traditions – Ancient, folkloric, Roman Catholic, other
As it is practiced today, Halloween is an amalgamation of ancient pagan religious rites, combined with several centuries of folklore from multiple cultures, plus Christian and other influences. While there is some debate concerning the particulars, the following are attested to by several sources.
The most ancient root stems from the pagan religious celebrations of the Celtic (kĕl'tĭk) priests known as Druids. One of their most important festivals Samhain, pronounced “sowen,” was celebrated November 1, according to modern calendars. [ii]
Ghost Stories - On Samhain it was believed ghosts, and other spirits, could cross the barrier between the natural and supernatural realms, allowing the dead to make contact with the living.
Tricking and Vandalism - It was also believed that the gods played many tricks on humans at this time. Human sacrifices and cannibalism would lead us to believe that the Celtic religion was very oppressive. [iii]
Scary Costumes descend from the practice of the Celts who would don masks or other gruesome disguises because they thought the ghosts would mistake them for fellow ghosts and leave them alone. [iv]
Bonfires, which is a shortened form of “Bonefires,” were lit to scare spirits away. These fires get their name from their sacrificial nature where the remains of slaughtered animals were burned as offerings. Each family, in a form of Celtic communion, would return home with a burning brand to relight hearth fires which had been extinguished. [v]
Bobbing for apples was originally a form of divination, or trying to know the future against the will of God. [vi]
“Jack-o’-lanterns” One tradition traces the practice back to a folktale in which a scoundrel peasant, named Jack, tricks Satan from taking his soul to hell. Not able to go to heaven, he is sentenced to an eternity of wondering the earth, looking for a place to rest. In his search he carries a lantern lit from the fires of hell. [vii]Others make a connection with ancient practices of trying to scare off evil spirits. [viii]
The modern name for Halloween stems from the Roman Catholic observance of “All Saints Day,” and “All Hallows Eve,” parts of which were known for many centuries and formally instituted in the 7th century. [ix]
“All Souls Day” was another RC observance to be celebrated on Nov. 2. “The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions.” The idea was for the living to pray for these souls further sanctification, but also included “a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead.”[x]
After Columbus, New World traditions quickly appeared along side Catholic observances, in Spanish controlled areas, especially from the pre-Columbian celebration of “The Day of the Dead,” which fell on November 1.
The Mayans also believed Oct. 31 to be a significant calendar date having control over darkness. The date was marked by cutting open a young boy’s chest and removing his heart while still beating. [xi]
In America, communities began recognizing the destructive side of Halloween soon after it was re-established. Articles concerning vandalism became commonplace around the turn of the 20th century. Civic efforts by towns, and organizations like the Boy Scouts to curb such excesses were begun. [xii]
Trick or Treating for candy was first suggested by civic groups as a way to make Halloween friendlier and less destructive. While American in origin it “resembles the All Soul's Day practice called ‘going a-souling’ in which poor people would beg door-to-door. In exchange for a gift of soulcakes, the soulers would promise to say a prayer for the dead.” [xiii]
Bats and cats probably were not part of the Celtic tradition, but it is easy to see how such nocturnal creatures were easily added along with hags, witches, skeletons, and other garish symbols of death. The Celts did believe that owls could communicate with the dead.
What is of great significance today is that Halloween is a major holiday for those who practice witchcraft, Satan worship, earth worship (paganism) and other occult religions. It is one of the two most important “unholy days” for witches and Satanists. While so called “White Witches,” or Wiccans, deny any satanic connection between their beliefs and Satan worship, Satanic Witches maintain that they are only fooling themselves, and rightly contend that any real Wiccan power is Satanic in origin, even if not acknowledged. [xiv]
As such, it is important for parents to recognize this reality. Responsible parents do not allow children to walk into dangerous situations simply because of a child’s ignorance. While our intentions may be innocent, others participating in the same event may not be so. The Bible calls us to count all the costs. Can we do that when so much about Halloween is not in our control?
Lastly, 1 Cor. 10:20-22 exhorts us, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?”
In light of these Biblical teachings it would seem a very far stretch to conclude that Christians should participate in any part of Halloween. Christ’s call on our lives is truly radical. Can we say that giving up a pagan holiday is too much to ask? God says he cannot be mocked; we will reap what we sow.
Tract or Treat:
Therefore, let us sow the gospel. Take the opportunity to use Halloween for evangelism; nothing could be easier. When else do we have total strangers coming to our homes looking for a handout? While I do recommend that candy be given as an appetizer, use the time to give any visitors a tract along with the candy. Also, take the opportunity to pray for the children as they come, you may even get a chance to share, or pray, in person.
We have most often used tracts from Living Waters and AIG, but any good gospel tract will do. A good strategy we have employed is to put kid friendly and adult oriented tracts in the same plastic zip-type bag with a few pieces of candy. We have also determined to spend at least as much on the tracts as the candy, as good tracts may not necessarily be the cheapest ones.
[i] While so called witches, i.e Wiccans, disclaim their involvement in Satanic worship, it is still instructive that they both claim Oct. 31 as one of the most important days for the practice of what they do worship (the other is May 1).
[ii] Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line. There are Roman references to Samhain from the 1st century AD. We can safely assume, however, that much of the practice is as old as the Celtic Religion itself, thus dating back at least another 1000 years preceding the birth of Christ. It is thought that the priests ruled due to their knowledge of astronomy and their ability to predict the seasons. But another major component was the use of fear which was fostered by their religious practices.
[iii] The Religion of the Ancient Celts By J. A. MacCulloch, 1911. At Samhain, it was believed that the gods played many tricks on humans. Some of the darker sides of Celtic practices include the famous 'Burning Man' human sacrifices, cannibalism, and incest.
Human sacrifices were made through the burning of “wickermen,” large wicker cages with bound human sacrifices imprisoned within, during the other most important festival, Beltane. Whether or not human sacrifices were part of Samhain is not clear in the resources I examined. Since, however, we know that they delighted in burning their fellow Celts at other times, it may be the case during Samhain as well.
[iv] Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line.
[v] Samhain: Season of Death and Renewal by Alexei Kondratiev. The end of the harvest was a time when cattle and other animals that were not going to be kept through the winter were slaughtered. This does not mean that there were not special rites or qualifications for which animals to sacrifice.
[vi] Many popular sources of information, like Wikipedia and Answers.com minimize this aspect, by focusing on how bobbing later became a party game to for youth to determine who or if anyone would marry them. More scholarly works, like the aforementioned paper from Alexei Kondratiev, however, note that bobbing for apples had “specific links with the mythology of death and the afterlife.”
As an aside, it seems that the popular sources have a clear bias to “demythologize” all supernatural aspects of Halloween. This is no doubt due to their materialistic bias and misunderstanding of the real nature of the supernatural.
[vii] There are several variants to how this tradition began. Turnips were originally used in Europe; pumpkins were substituted when traditions crossed to America. Encyclopedia of Britannica. Answers.com, and Wikipedia all reference the folktale.
[viii] Wendell Amstutz, a recognized occult authority, claims jack o’-lanterns were used by Celts to scare off the demonic, but cites no source material.
[ix] Encyclopedia Britannica In the 7th century AD, Pope Boniface IV established All Saints' Day, originally on May 13, and in the following century, perhaps in an effort to supplant the pagan holiday with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1. The evening before All Saints' Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween.
[x] The Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line) All Souls Day “The Office of the Dead must be recited by the clergy and all the Masses are to be of Requiem, except one of the current feast, where this is of obligation… The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass… In Germany there existed a time-honoured ceremony (emphasis mine) of praying to the dead.”It should be noted that Protestants rejected the observance of All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day at the start of the Reformation. In Christian Europe pagan and folkloric practices became intermingled with the Church observances right from the beginning, causing a blending of traditions. The first American colonists did not practice Halloween, but it was reintroduced in America with the arrival of Irish immigrants in the mid to late 19th century.
Also of import is to note: the Roman Catholic teaching on saints and praying to, or for, the dead are unbiblical. Therefore, while it is entirely legitimate for Christians to attempt the reclamation of cultural expressions for the Church, it is also to be anticipated that trying to replace one sinful expression with another is a doomed prospect.
[xi] Encyclopedia Britannica
Given the interesting fact of two such holidays falling on the same date, practiced by cultures that had been separated from one another’s influence, there is reason to believe in some cosmic reality that the forces of darkness have some special ability on this day, or have at least co-opted it for their own purposes.. And whatever power they do have is certainly increased by those who participate in any Halloween celebration. One of the basic principles of the occult is that power is gained through controlling others. We would do well not to volunteer our services, even if in a naïve fashion.
Make no mistake about it. Halloween is a deadly serious practice for many in the occult. It is a virtual guarantee that there will be ritualistic murders committed on Halloween night by practicing Satanists. We need to be aware of the supernatural reality of these unholy forces; not to be afraid of them, but to be aware in order to stand firm against them.
[xiv] The Satanic Witch, Anton LaVey, also author of the Satanic Bible.
Distributed by www.ChristianWorldviewNetwork.com
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This is Part 18 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”
The Christian and the Social Order
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.*
Christians are called to be salt and light. Salt is intended to arrest the spread of corruption and light is meant to dispel the darkness. Society left alone will increasingly become morally rotten and spiritually dark. Salt confined to the shaker and light hidden under a basket will have no ability to affect the culture—there must be contact in order to have impact. Yet, many churches ignore their God-ordained responsibility to season and shine—huddling behind the four walls of the sanctuary while the world outside descends into a cesspool of sin!
Kingdom living is not just for the church house, but the courthouse, the state house, and the White House! We are called of God to bring a prophetic voice to a world that will only hear the propaganda of hell, unless the people of God stand up and speak up. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” it has been stated; and that values vacuum between people’s ears has been filled with movies, magazines, music—all sorts of media proclaimed by hell’s missionaries. To rail against Hollywood and the liberal press is all well and good, but what are Christians doing to counter such demonic doctrine?
The most important message we can share is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Political parties cannot bring in the Kingdom of God. It isn’t by legislation or Presidential election that lives are changed—and unless hearts and minds are regenerated, moral freefall is inevitable. True transformation in a nation happens one heart at a time.
Yet, there is a vital role for believers to call upon the government to perform its God-given mandate to promote justice and punish evil. Scripture tells us that government is the minister of God to carry out that very function. But human government will fall prey to the same vices of society unless it is confronted with a prophetic word from the church. Yet, someone has well said that the church today is a “Non-prophet organization!”
Let us repent, and with a word of truth spoken in love become the potent force for goodness that God has appointed us to be! Enough with the hand-wringing that leads us to whine in despair instead of actively working for righteousness! Away with the attitude of monasticism that leads us to withdraw from a world we are called to engage with truth! Let us repent by viewing all our activities—in the home, the community, the marketplace, and the culture—through the lens of Scripture, and model Kingdom principles in our daily acts and proclaim Kingdom principles loud and clear, without being obnoxious prigs.
* Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8;
Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21;Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12–14; 1Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
This is Part 17 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”
Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.*
I will have the opportunity to address the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the Buncombe Baptist Association on Monday, October 8. It is a special time of remembering our missionary heritage with a challenge to future expanded efforts to reach lost souls. We will gather with other Buncombe Baptists at our sister church in Candler—New Morgan Hill—in their new sanctuary beginning at 6:30 that night under the theme, “That the World May Know Him.” Although we can only have ten voting messengers for the business of the association, we can have many guests and so I want to invite all of you to come and worship with us!
Our participation in the Buncombe Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention is of our own choosing. This church is autonomous—as are all Baptist churches. I found it humorous recently when someone sent in a report of their mission work to me and stated they had planted several independent Baptist churches. My response to them was, “Is there any other kind?”
No Pope, bishop, presbytery or other ecclesiastical body can dictate what we believe and how we behave. This church has one ruler—Jesus Christ, the Lord! It has one creed—the Bible! Our decisions are made prayerfully—under the direction of the Holy Spirit (hopefully) within the local congregation.
Yet, we must be mindful of the prayer of that same Lord Jesus in John 17, where He pleads with the Father to make His followers one. Unity and cooperation in love is a mark of the true follower of Christ. As we look around at those attending the Associational meeting we will be reminded of the rich tapestry God has woven together in our churches. Diverse people—the multi-colored threads—of Baptist witness. We are not all identical, yet there is a spiritual unity in a common faith in an uncommon Savior and a fervent purpose to fulfill the Great Commission that binds us together.
That does not mean we need dilute our faith, watering it down to the lowest common denominator. Rather it means that where we find those Bible-believing Christians that we embrace them as brothers and sisters and work arm in arm to advance the Kingdom message. Indeed, we go beyond just cooperation with Baptists, but those of other denominational affiliation to impact our world.
There are parameters beyond which we may not go. Some “Christian” churches and denominations are not “Christian” at all—but apostate. They have left the faith. We pray for them to repent, but we cannot experience true spiritual fellowship in the Gospel, for they preach another gospel. Paul pronounced anathema on all such and we must. But, when a people subscribes to the fundamentals of the faith, we may disagree with them on some secondary matters, and still work together as the people of God.
Here’s the bottom line: we can do more together than we can ever do alone. Even the greatest mega-church has its limitations. But through cooperation in the cause of Christ, we are impacting millions around this world and generations to come! Isn’t that exciting!
* Exodus 17:12; 18:17ff.; Judges 7:21; Ezra 1:3-4; 2:68-69; 5:14-15; Nehemiah 4; 8:1-5; Matthew 10:5-15; 20:1-16; 22:1-10; 28:19-20; Mark 2:3; Luke 10:1ff.; Acts 1:13-14; 2:1ff.; 4:31-37; 13:2-3; 15:1-35; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:5-15; 12; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Galatians 1:6-10; Ephesians 4:1-16; Philippians 1:15-18. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)
Thursday, September 13, 2007
This is Part 16 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”
God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause on earth.*
Everything we have—absolutely everything—belongs to God. He has made it, thus He owns it. The Sovereign God of the universe has the right to direct the use of all He has entrusted into our hands to be used for His glory in fulfilling His infinitely wise and loving designs. This recognition that we have no “rights” when it comes to the use of time, talent and treasure is crucial to Biblical understanding. These blessings have come from the gracious hand of the Almighty, and we will one day give an account of how we have invested God’s wealth—pursuing that of eternal value or squandering His wealth in earthly and trivial pursuits. This acknowledgement of God’s ownership is the foundation of stewardship.
Each breath we take, every beat of our heart, the strength to put one foot in front of another, our moments and our days, the gifts, skills and capacities we possess, along with our material blessings—all are ours because of the goodness of God. Wise use of these blessings is the essence of stewardship.
We have all heard, “You can’t take it with you!” That’s true, but you can send it on ahead! We have the privilege of exchanging the capital of earth for the currency of eternity—to invest in the Kingdom of God with our material dollars in order to receive spiritual dividends. Imagine—we have a limited allotment of days on this planet, but if we use our brief stay here for our Lord, we will have His commendation hereafter. The talents God gifts us with, when employed for His purposes today, will be acknowledged in that eternal Day. This is the reward of stewardship.
A stewardship principle to remember in giving is this: God demands the tithe and He deserves the offering. Ten percent is His, right off the top—the first fruits of our labors—that’s the tithe. Then, since God is so generous with us, as we are able, we can give generously beyond that in special offerings. God has promised to meet all our needs. He does—and then some! Can we content ourselves with just meeting the minimum requirements when giving back a portion to such a beneficent Being who lavishes us with such bounty?
Now, for a personal challenge: The last Sunday of this month, we will receive a special offering to retire the debt on the Gayle Brown Ministry Center of Buncombe Baptist Association. This is a vital building for staging missions outreach throughout our county and the world! Our Director of Missions, Dr. Craig Bailey (also a member of Pole Creek along with his wife and mother-in-law) has called on Buncombe Baptists to eliminate the debt and help us free up dollars paid to the bank in interest to be utilized for mission work. Pray about what God would have you to do. Let’s all do what we can!
I will be preaching at the fall meeting of Buncombe Baptist Association, only a few days after we receive that offering. It would be a thrill to be able to say that Pole Creek has helped push us over the top in eradicating that indebtedness.
* Genesis 14:20; Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 8:18; Malachi 3:8-12; Matthew 6:1-4,19-21; 19:21; 23:23; 25:14-29; Luke 12:16-21,42; 16:1-13; Acts 2:44-47; 5:1-11; 17:24-25; 20:35; Romans 6:6-22; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 6:19-20; 12; 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9; 12:15; Philippians 4:10-19; 1 Peter 1:18-19. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)
Some have called the downward slide of morality in the US, the "pornification" of culture. In view of what we are seeing all about us (and we are seeing too much) this seems a fitting (too tight-fitting) description. Even in the church house we will sometimes see far too much flesh. It's awfully hard for a teenage boy to think about God when there are yards of tanned skin spread out like a buffet in front of him! Someone might say to me--you're a dirty old man! The truth is--I don't want to become one! Yet, there are those resisting the carnal tide. Consider the following article:
Overexposed is a word that comes to mind when considering young celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Nicole Richie. We see too much coverage of them in the news and not enough coverage on their bodies. But it’s not just Hollywood. Young women in general are looking a bit trashy these days.
Take a look at your high school yearbook or photo album. If you’re under 30, look at your mom’s. You’ll notice something: less skin. Certainly there were the exceptions. Remember hot pants? Parental reminders regarding necklines, skirt length, and “sending the wrong signals” have always been a necessary part of raising a girl.
But, in recent years, even good girls dress like they’re bad. And young women who would rather cover up more have trouble finding stylish clothes that work for them.
A few churches are attempting to address the problem. So are some public schools. In Arlington, Texas, the school board voted last year to prohibit “the display of cleavage.”
Some Arlington parents complained that the cleavage ban would be tough to enforce. We can only hope that most are grateful for the back-up in the modesty battle. Some students said the rule would make back-to-school shopping more difficult, and a trip to any mall proves their point. It’s almost impossible to find clothes teen girls like that don’t reveal too much, sometimes way too much. The fashion industry seems to be conspiring with the popular culture to tear down the natural modesty that God has provided as protection for little girls. Some parents, especially mothers, even Christian moms, are going along with it.
Little girls’ natural modesty gets its first challenge during the grade school years, when they are inundated with the Britney Spears-Bratz dolls culture. This world is less than wholesome, to put it mildly, and provides inspiration for clothing manufacturers. Parents do not have to buy the dolls and the provocative clothes for their little girls. But they do, by the millions. Mothers hold the purse strings and have the final say regarding their teen daughters’ clothes. But faced with the most popular stores offering revealing clothing and little else, moms of teenage girls are tempted to compromise to avoid friction with their daughters. In doing so, they sacrifice something very important, their daughters’ modesty. Parents who should be protecting this treasure are allowing, even encouraging, it to dissolve. Girls are victims of this corrosion. So is a society that once benefited from the virtue of its women. We no longer encourage that virtue. The sexual revolution of the 1960s that claimed to empower women fueled a full-blown sexualized culture.
But there are some encouraging signs that this is changing.
Move over Paris and Britney. Make room for the “Mild Girls.” The “Wild Girls” get a lot of media attention for their jail sentences and stints in rehab. And sadly, they are role models for even very young girls. But a recent Newsweek (7/23/07) story describes a growing modesty movement in which young women are learning they don’t have to be what Newsweek calls “bad, or semi-clad.”
It’s a welcome backlash. Author Wendy Shalit calls it “a youth led rebellion” in her new book, Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good. The book is filled with stories of girls who, often motivated by their faith, or just the innate desire not to be defined as sex objects, hunger to escape the sexualized culture. Shalit’s 1999 book A Return To Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, offered a common sense rationale for chastity and virginity. It hit a nerve and sparked a “modesty movement” that has given her the opportunity to continue talking to girls who are tired of the pressure to portray themselves as sex sirens. Her Web site (http://www.modestyzone.net) has spawned at least a dozen others.
Additional leaders in the modesty movement include model and actress Summer Bellessa, publisher of the magazine Eliza, launched in June. Her goal is to help women be stylish and “still keep high standards in dress, entertainment and lifestyle.” And then there’s Brenda Sharman, National Director of Pure Fashion, a modeling and etiquette program for teen girls. The Web site (http://www.purefashion.com) features a schedule of the group’s fashion shows across the country. A new fashion niche is developing, and clothing manufacturers are beginning to respond.
The modesty movement is about much more than clothing, but dress is a sort of bellwether. Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:9 instructs women to dress in “modest clothing, with decency and good sense.” It’s unrealistic to minimize the impact and importance of fashion. The truth is most females love clothes. The “mild” girls are not rejecting the trampy look in favor of the drab denim jumper. Modesty and glamour are not mutually exclusive! Allyson Waterman, from the shopping magazine Lucky and a regular guest on Good Morning America, says we’ve hit a limit in style and behavior. She says the modesty backlash is not about being dumpy or “hiding under a lot of fabric” but “about embracing a woman’s body with elegance and decorum,” a la the style icons of the past like Jackie O, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. No, they’re not the role models for Christian girls, but we never saw their navels or their bra straps.
Some feminists call this modesty revival a new kind of oppression. The mild girls will tell you it’s liberating.
Penna Dexter is a board member of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, a conservative activist and an announcer on the syndicated radio program Life on the Line. She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas, and as a co-host of Jerry Johnson Live, a production of Criswell Communications.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
A sentry's job is to stand guard--alert at his post--scanning the horizon and peering into the shadows for the approach of the enemy. Yet, we have not been vigilant and find ourselves desperately struggling for the soul of our nation. At times we surely wonder if the tide of battle can be reversed. What are we to do?
Periodically, I read something that grips my heart and cries out to be shared. Such is the following article from Dr. Richard Land. Consider it carefully and prayerfully.
Watchmen on the Wall
By Richard Land - Aug 21, 2007 - comment
“This is what the LORD says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to what is good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves” (Jer. 6:16 HCSB).
If America dies, she will perish from self-inflicted wounds. It has always been the case and always will be that nations, great nations, die from within, not from without.
That is surely what God’s Holy Word is telling us in Jeremiah 1. God sent His prophet Jeremiah, and there can never have been a more direct command to go than the one Jeremiah received from God. Beginning in verse 5, God said, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (HCSB). And then Jeremiah said that God put forth His hand and touched his mouth (v. 9). After God put His own words in Jeremiah’s mouth, He sent him out to speak them to His people, who were in rebellion and in the grip of pagan idolatry.
In Jeremiah 6:13-17 we hear these words: “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is gaining profit unjustly. From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated My people’s brokenness superficially, claiming: Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they acted so abhorrently? They weren’t at all ashamed. They can no longer feel humiliation. Therefore, they will fall among the fallen. When I punish them, they will collapse, says the LORD. This is what the LORD says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to what is good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested: We won’t! I appointed watchmen over you and said: Listen for the sound of the ram’s horn. But they protested: We won’t listen!”
In Jeremiah’s day the only real earthly protection that could be afforded to a city was to fortify itself with a wall and place watchmen on it. They would watch through the night and through the day, scanning the horizon. The watchmen were issued trumpets, and at the first sign of trouble, they were to pick up those trumpets and blow a warning blast. The people knew that was their signal to awaken from their slumber or stop their daily activities and defend their homes and families.
In effect, Jeremiah was saying that God’s prophets were his watchmen. They had scanned the horizon looking for any threat, but they had turned and seen that the real threat was inside the walls. The watchmen had taken up their trumpets and blown the warning blasts, telling the people to take notice of what was around them, to ask about the old path and look for the good way, then to find rest by walking in it.
Several years ago a reporter asked me, “We’ve heard a lot from you about what’s wrong with America. What would America look like if it was the way you wanted it to be?” And I replied, “Well, a good place to start would be America in 1955, without the racism and the sexual discrimination against women.”
America in 1955 was a place where the following things did not happen, as they do now:
• Less than half of our children currently grow up in intact families. The divorce rate in America is 45-50 percent for first marriages, 60-67 percent for second marriages, and 70-73 percent for third marriages 1.
• Every year in the last ten years there has been a 400 percent increase in child abuse significant enough to require a doctor’s attention 2.
• Every hour our children watch 20 violent acts on television 3.
• Every day in America nearly 2,800 teenage girls get pregnant 4.
• Every day in America 1,106 of those girls snuff out the lives of their unborn children through abortion 5.
• About 8 out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000. For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other attempts 6.
• By the time they graduate from high school, 54 percent of our teenagers acknowledge that they have used one or more illegal drugs 7.
And we are being inundated with a tidal wave of moral relativism that centers on human sexuality.
• At 13.3 billion dollars a year, the 2006 revenues of the sex and porn industry in the U.S. are more than the revenues of professional football, basketball, and baseball combined. Worldwide sex industry sales for 2006 are reported to be 97 billion dollars. To put this in perspective, Microsoft, which sells the operating system used on most of the computers in the world (in addition to other software) reported sales of 44.8 billion dollars in 2006 8.
• One out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys in the United States will be sexually molested by the time they reach their 16th birthday 9.
• Somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 46 seconds. Every day 4 women are killed by their domestic partner 10.
• Prior to 1960 there were only two significant sexually-transmitted diseases: syphilis and gonorrhea. Both were easily treatable with antibiotics. In the next two decades this began to change. Today there are approximately 25 STDs, and a few can be fatal. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans between the ages of 15 and 55 are currently infected with one or more STDs, and 12 million Americans are newly infected each year. That’s nearly 5 percent of the entire American population. Of these new infections, 63 percent are in people under the age of 25 11.
Yes, things have changed since 1955. That time certainly had its own problems, but this moral filth was not being poured out into our culture.
When I was a Royal Ambassador growing up in a church in Houston, one of the first passages of Scripture I learned was Ephesians 2:8-10 (KJV), “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
What Ephesians 2:10 tells us is that God has a plan and God has a purpose for every single human life that is conceived. But we are like the prodigal son. We as Americans have aborted nearly 50 million babies since 1973 12. Have we aborted the next great evangelist? Have we aborted the one that God sent to find a cure for cancer? Have we aborted the next great military mind, the next great president, the next international peacemaker? Each of those American babies was a child—a child with a future and a purpose, sacrificed to the pagan gods of social convention, career advancement, and material well-being.
I can still remember as a young man in Sunday School having a Bible lesson about how the children of God had become so paganized that they went down into the valley of Gehenna and sacrificed their little children to the pagan god Molech. How could I have ever imagined as a young boy that I would live to see the United States of America offering up its unborn children as pagan sacrifices because they are too expensive, to embarrassing, too ill, or too inconvenient! God help us!
We are the prodigal son. We have taken the inheritance of our unborn children and gone to a far city where we have wasted that inheritance in riotous living. And now we are reduced to feeding among the swine for the husks of life. There is only one hope for America, and that is for us to come to our senses as did the prodigal and shake the filth from ourselves and determine to go home to the Father who is scanning the horizon, waiting for His people to come home.
America is not the America of the fifties. The reporter asked me, “Was it really that good in 1955, or do we just know more now?” And I realized that I might as well have been talking about the time of Louis XIV. The reporter was born some 10 years after 1955, while I was nine years old in 1955. Today’s young people have never experienced America when it was far more right than it is today. And unless we take the initiative to lead them back to the old ways, to the old paths, then surely we will proceed at an ever-accelerating pace toward destruction. If the present trends continue unabated, think about what America will be like 30 or 40 years from now! I become uncomfortable when I read the Corinthian letters because more and more we find ourselves in the same situation in which the Corinthian Christians found themselves—awash in a tide of moral relativity, a tide of sexual paganism, a sexual abyss.
In 1947, C. S. Lewis described the proper composition of a human being in a little book called The Abolition of Man. He said that the head ruled the belly, which was the sensual appetite, through the chest. Lewis defined the chest as consisting of the higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments—in other words, being taught the Ten Commandments, not the ten suggestions. Lewis went on to say that the higher emotions of the chest were the absolutely essential liaison between the cerebral and the sensual, and without the chest, human beings became worshipers of their own minds, their own appetites. Lewis also said that moral relativism tears out the chest and removes moral character.
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity, our culture removes the organ and demands the function,” Lewis wrote. “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked when we find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.” I can think of no better diagnosis for what has happened to a generation and a half of Americans whose fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and grandfathers and leaders lost their moral compass and lost their moral way and are adrift on a turbulent ocean of relativism.
Yet when we believers try to stand up and speak the truth, we are told, “Oh, you can’t do that! That’s a violation of separation of church and state!” Nonsense! Foolish and dangerous nonsense!
John F. Kennedy once said the greatest enemy of truth is often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic 13. And it is a persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic myth to say that you can’t legislate morality. All law is the legislation of someone’s morality.
Romans 13 says that we are to have civil government to punish those who do evil and reward those who do right. You have to legislate morality in order to do that. When we pass laws making murder and theft and rape and racism illegal, we are not so much trying to impose our morality on murderers and thieves and rapists and racists as we are trying to keep them from imposing their immorality on their victims. That is not only our right; it is also our obligation.
When Abraham Lincoln was running for the presidency of the United States in another time of great moral crisis, he got a lot of criticism for making slavery an issue. Here’s what he said in 1860, in the midst of the presidential campaign: “You will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong: there is no place where you will allow it to be even called wrong. We must not call it wrong in the free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the slave States, because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics, because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit, because that is bringing politics into religion . . . ” Lincoln concluded by saying, “There is no single place, according to you, where this wrong can properly be called wrong 14.” I’m glad Abraham Lincoln didn’t listen to his critics.
We have allowed ourselves to believe this lie that somehow Christians don’t have a right and an obligation to be involved in public policy, and we have withdrawn and left the field to those who do not care to hear our faith-based convictions. And we are reaping the consequences. There was a study done several years ago to determine which were the most religious countries in the world. They came to the conclusion that India was the most religious country in the world and Sweden was the least religious country in the world. When Peter Berger, the famous sociologist, was told of this, he commented that if India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden the least religious, then America is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes 15. There’s a great deal of tragic truth in that. Do you know whose fault that is? It’s our fault! It’s our fault for not being willing to get involved and to be part of the process.
Jesus told us we are the salt and the light of the world. Salt is a purifying agent and a preservative, but it must come into contact with that which it would purify and preserve. And it not only purifies and preserves, it also stings and irritates. That’s why when Jesus said we were to be salt and light, He preceded it by saying, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11).
I grew up in Southern Baptist churches where it was often said, “Now, we’re Southern Baptists. That means we don’t get involved in anything controversial. We just preach the Gospel.” Folks, that’s an oxymoron. And as a graduate of Oxford, I want you to know that an oxymoron is not a moron who went to Oxford. An oxymoron is when you take two seemingly contradictory descriptions and use them to describe the same thing. Take “humble Texan,” for example. It is just as much of an oxymoron to say “noncontroversial Christian.” If we’re being salt and light then we are going to be controversial. Jesus intended for us to be controversial! In the first century Christians were known as the people who turned the world upside down, which means they were turning the world upside right.
There has been a conscious, concerted, and clever attempt by some in our country to marginalize Christians and drive them from involvement in the public policy of this nation. We must not allow them to keep us from our rightful place in the public square.
We must convince Christians to run for elected offices at every level, then encourage them to act on their faith-based convictions while they are in office. We must walk, talk, and vote our values. We must elect those who will appoint judges who understand that the Constitution is what governs us, not judges’ opinions about the Constitution.
We must have revival. America is too far gone for anything else to save us. We must have a heaven-sent, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, Cross-focused, life-changing revival, or we are doomed.
I hope you are familiar with the song “Statue of Liberty.” It has special meaning to me. I had been back in America for three days after three years in England. I had moved to Dallas to take a position at Criswell College, and I was taken to Family Night at the Music Hall at Fair Park. They were having their God-and-Country celebration, and it culminated with a rousing rendition of that great song, which says “A rugged cross is my Statue of Liberty 16.” As the screen showed the Statue of Liberty, the song talked about the blessings of being an American. I just broke down and wept.
We live, by the grace of God, in the most blessed country on earth. God has blessed us wonderfully. But He has often blessed us in spite of ourselves. Our salvation will never be in America but in the Cross of Jesus Christ. We must have a revival, and it must be a revival, a revival that blossoms into an awakening and becomes a reformation. It’s too late for just a revival. The revival has got to come first, but the revival and the awakening have got to be applied to our government and to our culture. It has to be from the inside out! It has to be a regeneration of our nation through a regeneration of its people that culminates in a reformation that shakes America as Luther and Calvin shook Europe and Whitfield and Wesley shook England and Edwards shook Colonial America for Jesus Christ.
Government can’t save us. Government is usually part of the problem, not part of the solution. King Josiah is the perfect example that the government cannot bring revival. King Josiah heard the Word of God, and it broke his heart. He called for reforms. He instituted right and holy worship in the temple. He got rid of pagan excesses. He instituted true religion. And what happened? All of Josiah’s reforms died with him because only the king’s heart was changed. The people’s habits were changed, but their hearts were not. When the king died, the reforms died.
We have a right, we have a responsibility, and we have an obligation to be involved in the civic process. Jesus commanded us to be salt and light. But we must always remember that while the salt of the law can change actions, only the light of the Gospel can change attitudes. The salt of the law can change behaviors, but it is only the light of the Gospel that can change beliefs. The salt of the law can change habits, but it is only the light of the Gospel that can change hearts.
My dear brothers and sisters, when we are in crisis there is always a danger that we will turn to the government and try to make the government our ally. And it is a danger to say, “If we can just get the government to sponsor our religion, we can bring about revival.” That always has been and always will be a fatal bargain. When the government sponsors religion, the government thinks it owns religion. When the government puts its arm around you and embraces you, it’s like being squeezed by a python. You lose all life and vitality and eventually drop dead.
Government-sponsored religion is government-dictated, government-deluded religion. We don’t want the government to sponsor religion! We want the government to quit suppressing our right to be involved. We want the government to guarantee a level playing field and then to get off the field! Does that mean that false religions have the same rights to express their opinions and their beliefs as we do? Sure. Let them come. I never saw Elijah backing away from a confrontation with the prophets of Baal. He just showed them the power of the One True God!
Let us never forget our Baptist heritage. America will never get the proper role of religion in society right without Baptists and our heritage. It’s in our genetic code to mistrust government when they come to us and say, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” With government sponsorship, with government favoritism, comes government control. The Baptist Faith and Message says the church should never resort to the state to do its work. It’s our job. It’s our privilege. It’s our work to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But when we preach that Gospel, and God has blessed it and people’s hearts and minds have been changed, then they have the right as citizens to come forth in the public arena and say, “This is wrong, and we want it stopped.”
For example, abortion is the murder of babies, and we want laws to change it. When we convince a majority of Americans that we are right, that’s not called a theocracy, that’s called the democratic process.
God knows that I love my country, but Christians, our hope is not in America. America’s hope is in Christ. Ask not what your country can do for God. Ask what God can do for your country. And the answer, of course, is everything.
Southern Baptists, let’s heed the call to stand in the gap and repair the hedge and claim the promise of God when He said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14, NIV). May there be a new birth of freedom, may there be a new birth of morality, may we stand in the ways and see the old paths and heed the watchmen on the wall.
The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). The vision is the Chazon, the entirety of the Word of God, and it is our job to proclaim and preach the Gospel. It is no one else’s responsibility. It’s the job of those who name the name of Christ. The Cross is our liberty and our salvation.
God bless you, God bless your family, and God bless the United States of America.
Richard Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This is adapted from his 1997 Southern Baptist Convention sermon, with updated statistics.
1 Divorce Statistics [online] 2004 [cited 22 April 2007].
2 National Incidence Study [online] 2006 [cited 22 April 2007].
3 Children and Television Violence [online] 15 April 2007 [cited 22 April 2007].
4 Statistics on Teens [online] 20207 [cited 22 April 2007].
5 Teen Statistics [online] n.d. [cited 22 April 2007].
6 Teen Suicide Statistics [online] 2005 [cited 22 April 2007].
7 Preventing Teen Drug Abuse [online] 2007 [cited 22 April 2007].
8 Statistics and Information on Pornography in the US [online] 2005 [cited 22 April 2007].
9 Keep Your Children Safe [online] n.d. [cited 22 April 2007].
10 Stop Violence [online] 2006 [cited 22 April 2007].
11 The Epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Diseases [online] July 2002 [cited 22 April 2007].
12 Abortion in the United States: Statistics and Trends, National Right to Life [online], n.d. [cited 2 April 2007].
13 John F. Kennedy [online] 21 April 2007 [cited 22 April 2007].
14 Slavery the Snake of the Union Bed Speech at New Haven, Conn. March 6, 1860 [online] 2007 [cited 22 April 2007].
15 Philip E. Johnson. Books in Review: The Culture of Disbelief [online] December 1993 [cited 22 April 2007].
16 Neil Enloe. Statue of Liberty [online] n.d. [cited 22 April 2007].