The Days of Noah

Recent events in our country have stirred the church into an uproar. People I come into contact with are asking, “What does this mean for the church?”, “How should we respond?”, “Will we see persecution for speaking the truth, will be prosecuted for hate speech for preaching the Bible?”

While I do not pretend to know all the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision, I do know this: light shines brighter the darker it is outside. In our work around the globe, I have seen Christians and the Church do far more with less, in much more hostile conditions than the American church even contemplates doing. If we had been busy preaching the gospel without compromise, sharing our lives and beliefs with others, living righteously and not winking and dismissing sin in the Body, we would never have come to this point. Confession of sin and repentance is a foreign language in most churches. Cultural Christianity has been laid bare and found wanting, and all the hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to change things.

Now, more than ever, the Church is to continue her mission — rescuing people from the kingdom of darkness by proclaiming Jesus as the only hope for mankind. We are to be salt and light, exposing evil and flavoring the world with good deeds so that even are enemies are forced to acknowledge that we are beneficial and give glory to our God.

American Christianity has lived in a cocoon for so long, we believed we were never going to face persecution. We believed we were the apple of God’s eye, and He would never let us go through hard times. After all, we are the ones saving the world through our mission efforts. Our mistake was that of Israel. They also believed this and could not fathom God sending them into captivity. They winked at sin and corruption in their midst and believed that they were morally superior to other nations. It took centuries to knock that out of their heads. Seventy years in exile, decades under occupation, finally expulsion from their homeland that God had given to them. What makes us think God will deal with us any differently?

Now is the time for the Church to humbly acknowledge its failings, repent of making itself an idol and go back to our first love, Jesus. We need to do the things we did at the first — mortifying sin in our bodies, following Jesus without regard to cost and rejoicing when we are found worthy to suffer for His name. Our example should be the 3 Hebrews in the Book of Daniel. They did not bow to political correctness, they boldly told the truth, they lived uncompromising lives and when faced with punishment they did not whine or cry but stood fast, willing to endure whatever the penalty was, even if it cost them their life. When we act like they did, the church will once again become a force that will change society.

This, I believe, can be our finest hour. We have a great opportunity to declare our beliefs and to live them out while the world is watching. Let those who come behind us, find us faithful.

I am also reloading a podcast called “The Days of Noah” that I preached some time ago. I find it appropriate at this time.

Huns, Calvinists and Straw-Men

During WWI, in order to gain support for entering the war on the Allied side, propaganda began to stretch the truth and distort the nature of the conflict. The Germans were painted as Huns who enjoyed killing (and eating, in some cases) babies. Joe Public was alarmed and outraged. No matter that the issues that started the war were complicated and convoluted, straw men were erected in order to arouse the public to insist on America’s going to war. The same is going on in the SBC today. Normally we do not post too much on the Arminian-Calvinism debate going on in the SBC. This is because we work with multiple denominations overseas and the issue is secondary to our stated goals in providing training resources to leaders and churches worldwide. Yet, sometimes the issue is forced upon us, because such training materials do lean one way or another and because I am an ordained minister within the SBC.

It is with dismay, then, that many articles have become sloppily written inside SBC magazines and websites, which distort the beliefs of either side and further divide people from having civil discussions and agreeing to disagree over some interpretations of Scripture. The article, Sbc and Calvinism:  All-in? All-out? Somewhere In-Between? by Doug Sayers is one such article that was not helpful or accurate. (http://sbctoday.com/2014/03/26/sbc-and-calvinism-all-in-all-out-somewhere-in-between/). The article tells of Mr. Sayers young son being a near-drowning victim and the debate on whether or not he would go to heaven when he died. The staunch Calvinist in the article comes across as cold-hearted for suggesting no can could give such an assurance since no one knew whether he was one of the elect. Yet, in truth, that is a consistent viewpoint from one who would hold to a belief in the doctrine of the elect. The article goes on to include the authors opinion of Romans 5 and 9 and ends with and ends with basically saying that those who hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint are both absurd and impugning God’s character.

To be fair, I believe that Mr. Sayers is erecting a straw man argument in his article. He focuses the thrust of his points upon asking what sin a baby could commit that would send him to hell and spends a lot of time trying to dismantle the belief in the imputation of Adam’s sin that Calvinists hold. What he does not seem to understand, or fails to mention, is the other side of the equation. Arminians believe that it is the exercise of belief that brings salvation, not God’s election. The question could be asked, “Since a baby doesn’t yet exercise belief, why would he go to heaven?”

The use of babies, little helpless, cute babies, is sure to elicit emotions on both sides. Yet, the answer to salvation must be consistent no matter what the age is. It doesn’t matter that a person is 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 100 years old, the answer must satisfy for all. I have heard many preachers say from the pulpit that “the only sin that will send people to hell is not accepting (or rejecting) Jesus Christ.” So, why not kill people before they can reject Him? Surely that would be merciful. Since we don’t know who will say yes to Jesus, why take that chance? It is the same logic Roman Catholics use to justify baby baptism. They believe baptism saves so baptize early. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to stop abortions if it meant all those little ones would go straight to heaven? No one in their right mind believes this, but it is the logical extension of a belief system that says babies go straight to heaven in death, while they might grow up to become an unbeliever and go to hell.

Why are Calvinists painted as cruel for at least being consistent in saying that if God wants them in heaven they will go there? Why are Arminians not held to answer the flaws in their own system? We are not to preach anyone into heaven or hell at a funeral, but to bring comfort to the family. We appeal to God being a God of mercy and justice. Whether God foresaw who would accept Him and elected them or whether He elected them and foresaw their early death really doesn’t matter to a grieving family. They need to know God loves them, He isn’t being cruel, He can and will sustain them through this trying time.

What Mr. Sanders appears to believe, although he doesn’t come right out and say so, is that we are born innocent and deserve heaven. He says that God imputes the guilt of our sin when we knowingly break His laws. While he derides Calvinists for their belief in the imputing of Adam’s sin to his posterity, which he says isn’t in Scripture, he believes in an “age of accountability” that is just as absent from the Holy Writ. Both beliefs are assumptions based upon particular interpretations of numerous Scriptures. Yet he passes off his beliefs as stated facts that are indisputable. What he has done is to create a straw man, paint Calvinists as modern day Huns and seek to win an emotional appeal for his own set of beliefs.

Such an article is not helpful. To slant an issue without an article stating the Calvinist viewpoint that babies, like teenagers or adults are first regenerated (made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit) prior to placing their belief in the Lord who just saved them is irresponsible. In Calvinism the same God who brings salvation to a person (no matter the age) brings such clarity of vision and thought that their natural response is to grab Him (irresistible grace – not that they can’t resist, they no longer want to). For a baby, God makes them alive spiritually and their soul responds naturally to Him. Calvinists are not Huns nor simpletons and are not impugning God’s holiness at all.

Whether one chooses to believe this viewpoint or not, whether one embraces Calvinism, Arminianism, Augustine’s or Wesley’s viewpoints — let us remember this: we are called to act in love towards one another at all times and to see our own flaws before pointing out the flaws of others. Until that happens, the SBC will continue its descend into mediocrity and that will be a great tragedy.

 

Bold Infidelity!  turn pale and die;
Beneath this stone, four infants’ ashes lie;
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned; because they’re here;
Reason, ah! how depraved!
Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;
They died, for Adam sinned—they live, for Jesus died!

Believing in Jesus doesn’t make one a Christian

I had an interesting conversation with an individual the other day. This person had grown up outside of church but was introduced to Christianity as a young adult. He joined a Reformed Presbyterian congregation but left to enter the Disciples of Christ as a minister. Continuing on in his spiritual journey, as he called it, he soon left that denomination behind and entered into process theology. Process theology, in a nutshell, believes that as we grow in learning about God, God grows in learning about us. In other words, God becomes as we think about him – we create him, in our image. The man I was talking to said he no longer believed the Bible was inspired by God, that it was just man’s beliefs about God, full of contradictions and mistakes. He went on to describe how his journey had led him to the Dali Lama and Buddhist truths. At this point the conversation took an interesting twist. He stated, “I am still a Christian.” I asked how he could claim that.

“Well, I love Jesus. I believe he was a good man, a wise teacher, a great example of God’s compassion and love.”

I replied, “So does a Muslim. Jews also will grant you that. I even have agnostic and atheist friends who believe Jesus existed and was a moral man. Deluded, maybe, but real and a good humanitarian. That is a far cry from being a Christian. A Christian believes Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen One of God who brought salvation. Christians believe Jesus was Divine, God’s Son, our Savior. You, sir, are not  Christian. You are a Deist well on your way to becoming a Buddhist, but you are not a Christian.”

This man I was talking to did not like to be told that. He was not being honest with himself. He started tossing out words of wisdom from Buddhism and Hindi philosophy to show how those beliefs were superior to my “limited understanding.” I used Paul’s writings to Corinth to show that all those same things were found in the Bible he had rejected.

In the end, I left him with a thought. I told him, “There is a world of difference between going on a journey and admitting you are wandering around lost in the woods.” His “spiritual journey” had left him wandering with no anchor. He had a mish-mash of so many beliefs that he was confused and yet, at his core, he was afraid to admit he had completely left Christianity behind. He wanted the safe comfort of a womb, recreating and redefining Christianity to suit his new beliefs without realizing and admitting what he truly was – a theologically bankrupt soul. Those who make God in their own image, as this man has done, find that they have no God at all.