Peripheral Vision (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #9)

Do your eyes work correctly? Eyes, when working as God intricately designed them, are amazing. They naturally put their greatest effort into seeing vividly what is right in front of them. They prioritize carefully. That is not to say that they don’t take the longer look or look on the edges. There is, in fact, peripheral vision to catch a problem on the sides. Peripheral vision complements normal vision, but can never supersede it.

To test our theory, you could run down a trail forcing your eyes to focus on your peripheral vision. What would happen? In short order, you would trip over something and fall flat on your face. I don’t imagine you would get up, brush yourself off, and proclaim focusing on peripheral vision is the most important thing of all.

It would be nice if we could carry the obvious over into our spiritual lives. Peripheral vision is a help, but it had better not be our main focus. Yet we see it so often in our Independent Baptist world. The peripheral is given the preeminence. The main vision falls on the edges.

We see, for example, standards being given the main focus. We have some churches where two weeks can’t even pass by without some strong statements being made about standards. As you might imagine, when you stare too long at what you should only be glancing at, you will become obsessed. In that environment standards grow beyond general guidelines on the edge to a main focus that ever grows to infiltrate the most minute details of life. Dress, entertainment, and on to every facet of life we go. But our eyes are not on the trail right in front of us. We live on the margins when the trail is so nice.

This peripheral vision that goes so beyond its intended scope shows up in other dramatic ways. It becomes such a habit that now it infects our preaching. We come to a passage in God’s Word that in its proper context has something so profound, so vital, to say to our Christian life and we read with our peripheral vision. We miss Christ, or some essential truth to living the Christian life, and see something on the edges that is in no way the main point. The side point becomes the main point and we fall on our faces yet again.

Let us be clear here–the Lord calls us to a single focus. As Matthew 6:22 says,

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

We need a single vision. Christ wants no rivals. Not even things about Him can have any of His place. Rules to live a way He likes can not supersede a personal fellowship with Him. When I say such peripheral vision will trip you up, I mean it. Though many Independent Baptists bristle when you mention the Pharisees, the story of peripheral vision is their biography. They went deeper and deeper into it until after a few centuries they did not even know the Son of God when they looked Him in the face! As the above Scripture says, keep a single vision and you will be full of light. Need I remind you Who is the Light of the world? Don’t ditch your peripheral vision as it occasionally will be of great help, but ever keep your eyes straight ahead.

Find all posts in the series here.


Christmas–A Case Study

We should learn from our mistakes. We can make a big deal about something today that absolutely doesn’t rate a little blimp on the issue scale later. In fact, many Christians have done this very thing.

Take, for example, Christmas. There was once a time some years ago that several felt that celebrating Christmas was wrong. There were sermons and writings that preached against Christ-mass. It was labeled a Catholic perversion and claimed to be satanic. It was widespread enough that Dr. John R. Rice, prominent Independent Baptist and prolific writer (I use an Independent Baptist example because of my background, but many parts of Christianity have had such episodes), felt compelled to write a book entitled I Love Christmas where he argued that Christmas was acceptable for Christians and that Christmas was wonderful on many levels. I imagine that 98% or better of current Independent Baptists would agree with every word he said. It was not, however, the case then.

There was a higher and vocal percentage the other way in that day. Some didn’t go all the way. Some said that Christmas was acceptable, but Christmas trees were heathen idols. They cited a verse in Jeremiah that they felt corresponded to a Christmas tree. It was about bowing before idol trees in that day. How they got a Christmas tree from the context or even the words of the verse is beyond me! But they did.

Fast forward to today. In the last 10 years I have only met three people personally that felt Christmas was totally wrong. I met two or three more that personally felt only the tree was wrong. There are more that think even the slightest mention of Santa is an attack of Christ. In my travels or on my Facebook newsfeed where I have friends all over the country and world I see Christmas everywhere, even among groups where it was once not acceptable. You would have never guessed that anyone ever really wrestled with that issue. It still exists (I had a dear lady write in conjunction with another of these posts that her family ostracized her over her celebrating Christmas), but it is as rare as a tax-cutting liberal.

Doesn’t it seem silly? I mean no disrespect to anyone who held or holds that position. It is your right and I support your right to hold it. Still, it seems odd to me. Just a guess, but I imagine a great majority of those reading this blogpost agree with me. Do you suppose that some who held it years ago, or were forced to hold it, feel silly about it now? Again, no disrespect, but anytime you have to back away from what you now find an unsupportable position, it makes you feel a little awkward. Take it from this Smoky Mountain guy whose grandmother talked him into sitting on a chicken roost when he had chickenpox as a boy!

I imagine there have been more than a few pamphlets and sermon notes trashed from those days on the subject of Christmas. Good riddance, but do you see the point? It doesn’t pay to get on a hobbyhorse not clearly mentioned in Scripture and ride it into the ground. Words pushed that hard taste bitter later.

Christmas is far from the only such hobbyhorse. In the 1970s there was a major push to not own a TV. Many smashed them in the yard or burned them. I know of many, and I mean many, who once held a position of no TV and have one today. They probably have watched a Hallmark Christmas movie in the last two weeks! They have guidelines for what they watch and rightly so, but the fact remains that a TV graces their living room where once it did not. Once it was preached against, but now it is not.

There is still a small group that still refuses to own a TV, but their numbers are too small to even be heard anymore. I respect them taking that position if they feel they should, but most of us simply don’t feel the Lord asks that of us.

The point is neither Christmas nor TVs. It is jumping on a hot button opinion where no Scripture in context can be cited. Make it a focus of your ministry today and you may look a little foolish tomorrow. It will be like some of those high school yearbook pictures you hope never see the light of day!

Do you think maybe we have a few candidates today to be the Christmas or TV of tomorrow? Will not having a projection screen later seem as silly as preaching against a microphone today? Will some other modern technology criticized today seem as odd in 15 years as preaching against central heat and air today? Some preferences today will be as off the radar in 20 years as Christmas and TVs are today. Some sermons preached now will be embarrassing then.

So we might ought to shore up the list of items we make a really big deal of. We should ask: does the Bible actually say this or am I in a fad that won’t stand the test of time? It’s a worthy question, wouldn’t you say?

So as you enjoy this Christmas–and I sincerely pray you have most blessed Christmas– you might want to ponder Christmas as a case study to decide where you really want to be.

May God bless you one and all as we stand victorious in the Christ of Christmas!



This was originally part of IBTR series–you can find all articles in the series here.


Missions-Minded Pastor Or Tyrant? (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #7)

I have listened as they recount their pain. Time and time again, missionary after missionary, the story of absurd treatment reinvents itself with different names and an all-too-familiar plot. We in the Independent Baptist world have a lot of explaining to do when those who should be treated as our finest are treated as if second class and suspect at that.

Of course some of us love missionaries, and I know personally many pastors who make it a point to honor, help, and support missionaries in every way possible. But, sadly, this is not true across the board. The ill treatment comes in three categories:

1. Abuse in the screening process.

Since no pastor or church can support every missionary who calls, nor is every missionary equally worthy of support, some screening must take place. Actually there are more great missionaries than that can be taken on, so we must learn more about each one so the Lord can lead to those we should support. Still, some questions are degrading and give the impression that no missionary is worthy of that particular church and pastor’s support. It presents a standard that no one could live up to and really presents that pastor’s ministry as the gold standard to judge all others by. In other words, if you don’t do everything exactly as we do to the smallest details of life, you aren’t worthy! Besides the audacious pride involved, and instead of just saying that the Lord hasn’t led us to take you on, it insults the missionary as if to say we aren’t taking you on because you aren’t worthy! You are under no obligation to take any particular missionary on, but it is cruel to degrade instead of just politely saying no.

Some pastors question about personal standards in a perverse way. I know of dozens of missionaries who have been asked the question: What does your wife wear to bed? The point is apparently if the wife wears pajama pants, but I always fear a pastor who goes here has his mind in the gutter and I would keep my eyes on him if my wife or daughters were around him. Plus, this is an embarrassment for all of us who are Independent Baptists.

2. Abuse in the interviewing process.

Let’s face it, deputation is tough. All that traveling and living out of a vehicle must be draining. For most missionaries, there are some children thrown in the mix. The best child on earth can’t always be at his or her best after 8 hours in the car. Actually, I can’t even be at my best at such a time! The Lord made them with all that extra energy and it can’t be bottled up for such extended periods. Many times missionaries will rush to the next meeting, barely getting there on time, go straight into a church service, and then they will be taken out to eat. While the meal is a wonderful idea, oftentimes these children have now reached their limit and some “hyperness” starts leaking out. It usually isn’t too bad, but a little noisy. Many pastors have picked just such a time to lecture the missionary on child training. When they do not support the missionary then, the missionary is left to assume that this is the issue–again just not worthy because not quite perfect enough. I imagine the pastor would not like his child rearing skills analyzed in such a way.

This is just a sample of some horror stories. If they mention they like a certain preacher, church, or school, that could change a pleasant visit into the proverbial laying your head on the chopping block. I have even heard of such an innocent comment leading to the missionary being denied getting to present his ministry after all and being sent on his way with no love offering! This is criminal!

3. Abuse in the supporting process.

Some actually get through the above with such pastors and get support while on the field. Then, they feel in a few of these pastor’s cases that they are ever being watched with a nitpicking eye. At times it seems they are vultures just waiting to cut support and leave the missionary in a difficult place until the next furlough. Of course there are real reasons to drop support if there are major doctrinal changes, or a denial of the great fundamentals of the faith, or a failure to serve, but smaller things and whims should never do something that would endanger a missionary family and jeopardize their work for Christ.

As an example, think of social media sites like Facebook. What a blessing it could be to a lonely missionary to both stay connected to family and dear friends and to share pray needs with supporters. ( I always read the statuses of missionaries on my newsfeed when I see them.) What a win-win situation, but there is the fear that the activity, or outfit, or personal opinion, that they would love to share with family might make some pastor angry and support will be lost.

Then they are faced with two scenarios. They are either forced to back away from social media, or they can present an image of themselves that is not altogether who they are and they are left feeling dishonest. Neither is an option that any missionary should ever face.

Then there are pastors who visit the field and forgo the opportunity to pour fellowship and encouragement into these valiant soldiers of the cross. Instead they criticize and force unneeded counsel in an area they really know nothing about. For example, I know of a well known pastor who went to the field once and told the missionaries there that they were failing because they didn’t have a bus ministry!

It seems to me that in these cases the sacrifice made is forgotten. The heroic nature of what they have given their lives to is overlooked. Use your imagination and think how you would feel. I can just see that missionary missing fun things he did at home. I can see that missionary wife slipping to her room to hide her tears that the family will gather for Christmas and she will not be there. I can see that missionary child asking why they never get to see Grandma. The costs are real, the sacrifice substantial, and we should honor it as such and give every benefit of the doubt.

One of the greatest badges of honor Independent Baptists can hold up is the great band of dedicated missionaries they have sent around the world. Why any of our number would ever do anything to increase their load is beyond me. No matter what others may do, I stand before our missionaries today and tip my hat to them for their glorious service to our worthy Christ! I want to enter into their labors by offering every possible encouragement I can. Dear missionaries, I thank God for you and for your taking the Gospel for me to the world. Every one of you the Lord has allowed me to know has enriched my life. May every pastor neither complicate their lives, nor miss a golden opportunity to encourage every one of them.

Find all articles in the series here.


The Weight Of Omniscience (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #6)

It is a strange phenomenon. With free access to the Bible still available to us, you wonder how it could be. Perhaps you have seen it yourself in some places within our Independent Baptist world. I speak of the peculiar feature of a pastor having the full reign for every decision we make. Then there is the stranger feature of people giving them that right. God’s people were not created to look to another man for all of life’s decisions, nor were His pastors created to make them all for everyone else. The weight of omniscience is more than any man can bear.

Since I have the call of pastor on my life, I am pro-pastor all the way. When the Lord discussed giving gifts to men in Ephesians 4:11-16, He listed pastors (I believe “pastors and teachers” refer to one office). Specifically, He gave pastors,
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:12). That is pretty heady stuff. He even gave them an authority in church matters (1 Peter 5:2-3). But let’s not get carried away!

The Lord didn’t leave us to wonder about other aspects of pastors either. Most telling is what He said in 2 Corinthians 4:7,
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Did you get that? A pastor carries the treasure because he handles the Word of God, but he is not the treasure. That is a key distinction that we must never fail to make.

He has a gift to teach and preach the Word of God, but with his feet of clay he is just like everyone else too. He sins, he fails, he makes stupid decisions, he argues with his wife, and he is bewildered by parenting at times. He sometimes doesn’t know what to do and has to pray and seek the Lord like you, he has no more access to God than you, and even with his gift and best efforts he sometimes misinterprets the Bible. Hopefully, he can guide you to the right Scripture for your issue, and perhaps can give some decent counsel, but what biblical evidence is there that he can better determine God’s will for your life than you?

Let me be more blunt–he has no special insight into what career you should pursue, whether you should be in the ministry or not, or where you should live. He especially has no idea whom you should marry or what car you should buy. He might point out a Scripture if you are pursuing a sinful choice, but out of the non-sinful options he is far behind you in the ability to decide that for you. You have a much more vested interest in your future than he does. You probably thought and prayed about it more than him too. If he has a real pastor’s heart, he will be serious about praying for you, but he doesn’t have special knowledge beyond the Word you too possess.

If he is honest, he will tell you there are many categories in life he knows less about than you. He wouldn’t dare pass himself off as an expert on every subject. If you ask him who to marry, besides biblical prohibitions, he will say you figure it out yourself since you will be the one that has to live with them. If he lives up to his calling, he will as his greatest work equip you to seek the Lord and not be dependent on him or any man. He is a failure if you can’t go right on with the Lord if something happens to him.

Watch out for the so-called pastor who wants you to be dependent on him. In light of the Scripture cited above, if he tries to convince you that you must run all decisions by him and let him decide them for you, he is a dishonest user. Whether he is lying to himself or to you only God knows, but he is lying none the less. He is not a shepherd, but a wolf; he is not a pastor, but a hireling. John 10 tells you mess you will be in if you follow a hireling. Just when you need him, he will not be there! If you have such a pastor I have one word for you: run!

Can I give a word to that sincere pastor who has been inundated with this teaching and feels a failure? Your feelings are telling you the truth–you can’t do this! The good news is that you were never asked to. Your marching orders are “feed the flock of God.” You can do this. So move to the real work of a pastor because you will never bear up under the weight of omniscience.

All posts in this series here.


Self-Appointed Guardians Of The Truth (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #5)

self appointed guardians

Have you met one of them yet? Or read one of their articles? You know, a self-appointed guardian of the truth for the Independent Baptist world? Surely you have as we have so very many of them. I am not referring to those who write about issues or trends (like this very blog!), but those who review individuals, churches, and organizations. Nor am I referring to those who address scandals that reflect on the entire movement (as I have done–see link below), but those who with the keenest eyes and most intense scrutiny keep a watch like Big Brother on us all.

Over the years I have seen articles, or heard even as a rabbit trail in a sermon, how this preacher is bad, or how this school has gone liberal. What was the issue? Did the preacher start denying the Virgin Birth of Christ? Did the school start criticizing the Blood Atonement? No, likely it was that he hobnobbed with a blacklisted preacher, or the school sang a song that could be traced to an unacceptable songwriter. These are presented as dangerous trends that are going to destroy us. With all the real dangers to our faith in this world, my first thought is that these guys need to get out more!

Some, sadly, have made a so-called ministry out of it. I have seen several and they claim it is a “discernment ministry”. That is instantly offensive to any thinking person because it presupposes that we are incapable of having discernment ourselves. Even worse, if they must do our discerning for us, it also means that they think we have no access to the Holy Spirit ourselves.

If you want to write what you think about issues, go for it. It is wonderful to jump in the arena of ideas and in this day of blogging you never will have a better opportunity. On the other hand, the rest of us don’t need you to label every preacher, school, or organization good or bad for us.

I read some in preparation for this post and came across an article that analyzed several songs sang at a well-known church and found them wanting. (One of the songs lambasted was “In Christ Alone”. Am I allowed one little rant on my blog where I am trying to be gracious? You are a nut if you find evil in that song! Sorry, I will get back under control now). The article tried to make a connection that this was, more or less, a step straight to the Antichrist and a one-world government!

Also recently I learned of a situation where a church had someone in for some special music and a well-known organization that feels it has a mandate to project its discernment on everyone else actually called the church and scolded them! My first reaction there was, who do they think they are! Where are the apostolic credentials to act this way?

This is done under the guise of “earnestly contending for the faith”. I am all for that as our faith is under vicious assault, but don’t confuse peripheral issues for the majestic pillars of our faith. If I have to be in a big fight, I want it to be for the name of Christ or the truth of the foundational elements of Christianity. Substitute “traditions” for “faith” and you will be more accurate for where we are today.

This behavior continues because we let them get away it. I think it thrives because if we speak up, they will likely turn their guns on us and blast away. We will be labeled a liberal compromiser for the crime of disagreeing with them. Perhaps if we worried only about the opinion of the God we love instead of that of overreaching colleagues, this issue would waft away on the next gust of wind. It is time we tell them to go find real work in the cause of Christ as we will take over discernment ourselves going forward.

Related Posts:

Mentioned above — The Tsunami of Jack Schaap

Find all articles in the Truth Revolution Series Here