Straining At Gnats and Swallowing Camels (IBTR #52)

There are things that go on in religion as if perfectly normal, rational, and spiritual that are, to Christ’s eyes, the most ludicrous of actions. Whether it be the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, or the super spiritual ones of Independent Baptists or any current group of Christians today, the perverse lunacy is the same.

When Jesus preached His most scathing recorded sermon, to whom was it addressed? The Pharisees, or the spiritual forebears of those who trouble us today. That sermon in Matthew 23 is scorching. Jesus spoke so lovingly to adulterers and thieves, but blasted those who claimed a spiritual authority that they used to manipulate and abuse.

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus laid bare the unacceptable dichotomy that had developed among the Pharisees:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Well, you could not accuse our Savior of mincing words! They had inverted priorities and missed by miles what was really important to the God they professed to love. The excelled where it was meaningless and grossly failed where it really mattered. That is not the life I want to live, how about you?

Then with an almost comic flair our Lord drew an unforgettable word picture. If you really can get the image in your mind, you will never forget it. In Matthew 23:24 He said:

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

If the thought of a blind guide wasn’t shocking enough (it is odd, you know, when one blind feels competent to lead you over the rough terrain of life), then He gave us a scene of one easily swallowing a camel but choking on a gnat! Stop and visualize that….it is quite amusing and, of course, ludicrous.

Camels are bigger than you and swallowing is out of the question for sane people. At the same time, no one likes a gnat, but you will survive swallowing them with relative ease, unless, again you are not sane. We have never actually seen this attempted. I guess we are all at least that intelligent, but in spiritual matters there are things Christ finds just as ludicrous.

What does our Lord think when He sees us hammering some poor believer over some little standard while His proscribed call for love is completely absent? Hey look, they have camels and gnats mixed up again!

It is just as crazy in us as that mental picture Jesus drew. I say let’s give up straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

Find all articles in the series here.


20 thoughts on “Straining At Gnats and Swallowing Camels (IBTR #52)

  1. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your articles. I grew up as an IFB’r and I still am. But thank God he is allowing me to see the ignorance of how the movement can be. It was so easy to sit back and judge others for the man made rules I heard preached. Now I fight to not continue that way. When I hear a preacher start with his man made rules my blood begins to boil. Thank you for doing your part to shed light on how we truly are.

    • Like Michael, I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed your articles. Having had a variety of Christian experiences and having been Pharisaical myself out of zeal for the Lord, I now have to be careful not to go too far in the opposite direction with regards to liberty. As you said in your comment to nicholasholmstedt below, Pastor Reagan, we are all at different places, and the most important things are grace, mercy, faith, with the greatest being love. Thank you so much for having the courage and boldness to write and post these with grace and love.

  2. Pastor Reagan,

    I know I probably come across as a thorn in your side with some of my comments. I also know that Independent Fundamental Baptist’s don’t like to be called a denomination (even though their basic function is as a denomination organized through its Bible colleges and mission boards).

    I think when you can point out an issue in need of revolution for every week of the year, it is time to abandon the loyalty to a label and cling unashamedly to Christ and His Word.

    I Samuel 12:24

    • You have never offended me. Glad you commented.

      I see your point, and there are things that need to be dropped, things that are beyond defending. Still, people are at all different places in this. Some are just now opening their eyes to any problems and so articles (it doesn’t have to be me writing them) can help them even if it seems settled to others.

      Every time I hear a story of someone stepping away from bondage, whether they remain an independent Baptist like me or not, I am thrilled. Christ is the life and I wish all could see it.

    • Bro Nick- Can you name any Christian group/organization/denomination that is honestly any better, overall than the FB movement? All of them have their flaws, some of which are deep, and systemic. I grew up in new evangelical circles, and spent one year at one of the colleges. It was that one year there that opened my eyes to the deep downfalls (moral impurity was rampant, for one thing–and this was in the early ’80s). I transferred to a fundamental school, and while I saw its flaws, I found them to be preferable. Much of what we talk about today, while having their roots back then, and even further, into the very beginnings of the movement, at the time, these problems were only small symptoms.

      I believe that as time goes on, institutions will come and institutions will go. No single church, school, board, or whatever is ever going to stay/remain faithful for any extended period of time. The roots for every one of their failures is found in the reasons for the founding. It’s just the fact of human nature–even among Christians. I think that this is why God didn’t found denominations or a religion, even, but local churches. It is kind of self-regulating, at least, in this way–or can be. I know many good churches that do not fit in the mold described in this series. A bunch support us.

      But to summarize, there is no perfect group or church, and some problems in other groups are as deep, and some as easily destructive. To abandon something just because there are problems would leave you all alone–and then, you might discover you have all the worst traits you hated the most in others. šŸ˜‰

      • Krakowian – You asked me to name any group that is better than Fundamental Baptists. This is quite simple. The answer is the Biblical New Testament Church.

        Christ did not found a denomination – He founded His assembly. He did not come to join us; He came to redeem and transform us so we can be with Him. Fair warning for those who are very Baptist, you will feel angry by this next statement. Christ founded a church (singular). “He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). He is the single head of a single body. This is heresy in IFB churches; however, this is the Bible truth. Please don’t misunderstand me, this body is only visible and functional on the individual, local level. So, the church is one body, world wide, that is visible in many small localized assemblies (one body – many members; I Corinthians 12).

        You also mentioned that “institutions will come and institutions will go. No single church, school, board, or whatever is ever going to stay / remain faithful for an extended period of time.” This is a true statement and the world and mocking non believers also take notice. Christ, however, said the exact opposite. He said that His church will be built, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The reasons institutions come and go and “churches” fail is because we have systematized everything. We have followed the world’s patterns, and our “churches” (which are actually business because the church is always only the people in Scripture and never buildings) suffer as our CEOs rise and fall.

        I believe that every true Christian will grow to a point where they want to abandon all labels and names and cling only to Christ. I’ve heard many IFB pastors say a statement similar to this: “I’m a fundamental baptist by conviction.” This is like saying, “I’m carnal by conviction.” When the earlier church was dividing itself between Paul and Apollos, they were called carnal.

        This is what the Scripture says: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (I Corinthians 3:3-7).

        It is not at the name of Baptist that every knee will bow, it is at the name of Christ. It is not the Baptist Distinctives that we are to cling to, it is Christ and His Word. We are only who we are before Christ and nothing else; therefore, the only label we should be concerned with is the one that reads “Good and Faithful Servant.”

      • There is no problem with denominations. You say that Christ founded 1 church and to some degree that is true. However, if you read in the Bible you can find references to specific churches, ie And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write…. There is God’s church which is the whole body of the redeemed, and there is specific local called out bodies that are called churches.

        Denominations help guide us in our quest to find a church. Some denominations are trapped in heresies like allowing women pastors or gay pastors. Since those churches have labeled themselves then I know I can avoid them.

        Often churches that are “community” or “Non Denominational” follow the tenants of a denomination, or often their own odd ideas. Denominations can help to show what a church believes and does not believe. If every gathering was just called Church then it would be confusing and hard to find a church.

      • JHB – I think you’re missing the point of what I said. You are actually arguing with me by restating my point about Christ forming one church and it is functional and visible through local assemblies (i.e. the church in Smyrna – your example).

        The mindset that “denominations help guide us in our quest to find a church” is exactly the problem with Christianity in general in our lukewarm times. The church is not the building; if you are saved, you are the church. So, as you are looking to assemble with other believers, you must talk to them. You can only know what they believe as you communicate with them about what the Scripture says.

        I’ll give you some examples of the dangers of assuming doctrinal beliefs based on a label. When I was a younger preacher, I visited an IFB church in GA, and I wore a suit to church and showed up for Sunday school. The first question I was asked was, “Are you a preacher?” I responded, yes, and I was escorted to the Pastor’s office. We chit chatted during Sunday School, but discussed nothing from Scripture. He told me to follow him, and I sat on the platform that day as a distinguished guest. He knew nothing of what I believed, but after his message, he asked me to take about 10 minutes to encourage his folks from Scripture. Without knowing anything about me, he trusted me based on how I was dressed and they type of church I was visiting from. This is incredibly dangerous. My wife and I have been to another church where we show up “dressed properly” and on our first Sunday as visitors we were asked to begin serving in the ministries of that church. This is simply because of how we were dressed and the church we came from. No one in the church ever even asked for our salvation testimony or if we were even saved.

        I could have said and done anything in these opportunities, but the label afforded a level of trust that no discerning person should allow.

        By the way, old line IFB Pastors have explained to me what the words Independent, Fundamental, and Baptist mean, and it has always been explained as follows:

        Independent of all denomination and hierarchies
        Fundamental to the doctrine of Scripture
        Baptist in distinctives

        Here’s my point. IFB churches are supposed to be Non-Denominational; however, they function as a denomination structured and controlled through Bible Colleges and Mission Boards. I’ve even spoken to missionaries here in Korea that have told me that their mission board would drop them if they received support from non-baptist churches. Other missionaries have told me that as they were on deputation churches told them that they only supported missionaries from a certain Bible college or with a certain mission board.

        The “our stripe” mentality has replaced Biblical discernment and doctrinal purity. Furthermore, those who are “not of our stripe” are not to be fellowshipped with, read from, talked to, or gleaned information from of any variety – or else! This is a denominational control mindset that is not Biblical. The only stripes we should bear are the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:17). Once you free yourself mentally from the yoke of all denominational thought and the fear of man that accompanies IFB churches, you are free to serve the Lord only with an undivided heart.

        “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

        Also, the church I pastor is independent by practice, fundamental by precept and baptist by distinctive; however, we are not part of the IFB movement.

    • Nick you made a good point that got me evaluating IFB’s, thanks! But I’m getting the impression that the sampling of them you have experienced is not diverse. I know of many resembling your accusations, and the bloggers critiques, closely. But I also know of many that only partially resemble these faults, or have no similarity at all. Certainly many “bad” IFB churches have stereotypical faults, but there are so many good ones I have been able to avoid the bad ones for years. There are enough Godly ones to not abandon the title because of the un-Godly faults of the others. I do understand, though, that your point was as much against denominations generally as IFB specifically.

      • Caleb,

        I appreciate your comment because it underscores the word Independent in an IFB church. Also, the comments that I’ve made on Pastor Reagan’s blog don’t begin to fully explain my thought processes and experiences.

        My sampling size of IFB churches, however, is rather large. I personally have been a member or a visitor in IFB churches in the United States in seven states and in three countries. In addition, my wife and I have had multiple conversations about her experiences in churches throughout America and around the world. As a ‘military brat’ and a missionary kid, she has traveled to and been in churches in nearly every state and on three continents.

        With that said, there are issues with IFB churches that need to be fixed from Scripture, and that are systemic in nearly every IFB church (even the good ones which I have been in quite a few of them). In the good churches, the problems are not the leaders or the spirit of that church. There are a couple of foundational problems with the IFB churches that are propagated through the Bible College system. Some of those problems are:

        1. The churches function as a business.
        2. The pastors act as CEOs before shepherds.
        3. The families don’t worship the Lord in church services as a cohesive unit.
        4. Rarely is someone discipled by their pastor and Scripturally proven by their church before being ordained and sent out.
        5. Ministries are formulated to function as a well oiled machine regardless of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence.
        6. Success in the ministry is counted by that which is tangible: the size of the building, the number of people, the amount of programs, the variation of ‘ministries’ of the church, the amount of money collected in the offering.
        7. Rituals of false churches have been replaced with programs to substitute true spirituality with busyness.
        8. This list demonstrates that the church is the building (not the people) which is not a Biblical thought and has lead to unbiblical teaching within IFB churches.
        -It is from this point that you hear phrases like, “It takes three to thrive.” This means that you need to be at all 3 church services to thrive as a Christian. You actually need a daily personal relationship with Christ to thrive.
        -This thought also leads to the kingdom building mentality among Pastors and rivalries between local churches.

        I could go on and on with these type of examples. Others that I have spoken with have told me that these examples are minuscule and shouldn’t be bothered with. When, however, you clump them together, you find that Baptist people say,”The Bible is my only rule for faith and practice” while they demonstrate that “experience is the best teacher.” These two axioms are incompatible.

        When any group, no matter what they call themselves, exhibits a level of cognitive dissonance between what they say they believe and what their actions teach they believe, that is a group in great need of reform. It is a group in need of a revolution back to the Bible, as one prominent IFB leader has been urging for many years.

        My main argument is that this world only has the ability to define people by the labels that they wear. If we are truly children of God who have made our garments white in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, His name (and Himself alone) should be all we cling to. If, however, you love the Baptist name too much to give it up, the reality is that you don’t love Christ enough to allow Him to be your all.

        PS > I was reading through my previous comments in this post, and while I don’t regret any of them, I understand how they could be misunderstood. So for clarity’s sake, let me say this: It may be true that IFB churches are the better option when comparing sinful men with sinful men. This, however, is not the point of any of my statements. I’m not looking to just be part of a group that is more Biblical than the other guys. I don’t trust myself that much, let alone any other man. Our object, example, goal, and guide is the Lord Jesus Christ only. If we are going to ‘look around’ to see how we measure up, we are already in sin and basing our religion on all the trappings of sinful pride. This life is to be lived as looking unto Jesus. So, while I fully agree with many people on these threads that every group has it’s problems, this does not excuse the issues or allow even for comparing between sinful men. It is all about Christ alone, and when we are unbiblical in His name, we dishonor Him.

      • Those are some good points nicholas and i agree with the majority of it. I havent claimed IFB for years now because of the types of things discussed on this blog. I just stick with IB.

  3. Brother Reagan,

    #1 Posting publicly opens one to public scrutiny, this said not as a lesson to you, brother, but as a public disclaimer for readers.
    #2 I do not count myself any type of authority. I’m simply a Christian.

    I certainly see a serious effort of honesty and Christian love here. Let that continue and abound.

    And the following directed at those who would look on this blog for any inclination to think ill of independent, fundamental Baptist churches by association–

    Not sure if folks are seeing things that aren’t there, or what, but I have never understood the ire (either implied or clearly directed) towards the fictitious denomination called independent fundamental Baptists, as mentioned by others here that it is truly a fictitious denomination. It seems to me that if one had an issue with something, then taking the Biblical tact to address that issue in the scriptural way would be a better road to take. Maligning folks by association just has no point. It can’t intelligently be accomplished and serves no positive purpose.

    I believe that any church who is lead by a pastor that fundamentally holds to the Bible, and happens to claim the name of Baptist over the door without being a member of a formal denomination, is probably guilty of being an independent fundamental Baptist church, and no more. What crime is there in that? It also seems to me that the best and safest churches on this planet are such that practice those traits. Baptists can be traced all the way back to the Anabaptists and all the way to the shores of Galilee. This is a good thing, not something to be derided.
    Being independent of denominations that have left the fundamentals of the faith and no longer preach salvation by grace as the main thing, is also a good thing for face value. And then obviously, holding to the fundamentals, as so stated is also the best way, not an alternate option to be avoided.

    I say, if there is someone preaching heresy, or adding works to salvation in their doctrine, name them, point them out and mark them; after following the Biblical path of restoration in private. But otherwise, bring more people into the loving environment of these churches that carry the truth of the gospel that are independent from false denominations, fundamental to the faith, and carry on in the Biblical tradition started by Jesus on the shores of Galilee when He started his church; today, called Baptist.

    If there are a handful or a multitude of men that have done wrong, let them be so named which is only right. But, my church, which is an independent and fundamental Baptist church located in Longview, Washington doesn’t need fellow Christians spreading rumors about our type of church by association. Today, the church in my town that is preaching The Gospel from the inerrant Word of God for the English speaking people is the church I attend, support and to which I gladly claim membership. I would think that other Christians would try to help me win others locally instead of hinder The Lord’s work.

    Knock on a door in my town, and one could arguably find someone who reads blogs on the Internet who deride independent and fundamental Baptist churches and therefore would throw me off his door step for a perceived situation which in reality only exists in one’s mind. And unfortunately, that mind is a Christian brother who shares in the responsibility of winning others to Christ and enlarging Heaven.

    In Glory, we will probably end up living next door to folks with whom we had disagreements here on planet Earth. How silly and wasteful the time will seem that we spent caught up in things that robbed us of time to be about The Master’s business.

    I have a suggestion, I suggest that one smarter and more spiritual than myself come up with some catch phrase that covers churches that are bereft of preaching the loving inclusion of The Gospel, instead of using the term Independent Fundamental Baptists or IFB as that catch phrase. Certainly we can come up with something that is true and only used if absolutely necessary instead of maligning true and honest churches like mine and yours who are independent, fundamental and Baptist.

    I have been a member of many churches in my life due to both geographic and philosophical association. I started as a Baptist and a Methodist as a little tike in Medford, Oregon, my home town. When I was 13 I got saved in a Baptist church in Talent, Oregon and then moved to another Baptist church in Rio Dell, California. Then I was a member of The First Baptist Church of Hammond Indiana for about five years. After that my career moved us to Murfreesboro, Tennessee where we were members at two different and very great, soul winning Baptist churches and then up to Dwight, Illinois in a hard working Baptist church in Dwight. Now we are out here on the left coast in Longview, Washington at the Longview Bible Baptist Church under Pastor Darrin House who preaches unashamed The Gospel of Christ to all who will listen and then some.

    My pastors were and are
    – ? Medford, Oregon
    – ? Medford, Oregon
    – Tom Burrows, Talent, Oregon
    – ? Rio Dell, California
    – Jack Hyles, Hammond, Indiana
    – Bob Kelly, Tom Wallace, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
    – Tony Hutson, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
    – Danny Woodward, Dwight, Illinois
    – Darrin House, Longview, Washington 2012-2014 (present)

    This is my pedigree for those wishing to qualify (or otherwise) my credentials in that great denomination known as IFB.

    I dare say that every pastor under whom I have ever served will feel comfortable and have a wonderful time sitting together at The Marriage Supper of The Lamb some day soon, I hope.

    God bless my brother, Pastor Reagan and all who read this. I love the effort of bridging a perceived gap among the brethren that seems to go on at large. I hope that in Glory and in God’s amazing and miraculous abilities that we all get to somehow live next door to each other.

    Stu Marks
    Longview, Washington

    • I am glad to have your perspective here. I do believe there are some great independent Baptist churches out there still.

      I never desire to make anyone angry here, yet I have never lost a wink of sleep if someone did. My thoughts have always been that WE should clean up our own group. The truth hurts at times, but is a help to us all.

      God bless!

    • I have gone to IFB churches my whole life. Some are more independent that others. Some are VERY tied into their bible college and only hire people from there, or only allow guest preachers from there. That doesn’t sound independent at all to me.

      • I am speechless! Well, not really, maybe just in a state of shock. The original post was correct, as always, and the replies always bear witness to the truth.

        You would have to be blind not to see the indoctrination that has occurred in the minds of folks who actually believe there is any validity in denominations. You will not find one ever spoken of the scriptures. If IFB’s, or any other denomination, holds the truth in righteousness, then please show us simple Christians where God mandates the very existence of denominations.

        And to think that Baptist roots can be traced back to the shores of Galilee, well, I was just waiting for a statement that I have heard in many (Yes, many) IFB churches, that being, “Jesus was a Baptist.” That is heresy! And yes, we should mark them.

        And yes, we should be about the Master’s business and not have to engage in such discussions, but, alas, the rudiments of this world have taken root in church; hence, it has become necessary to cultivate fertile ground and weed out those things that will choke the truth. If you fail to do so, you probably will wreck the lives of those who believed false teachings after they come to the knowledge of the truth by maturing in their Christian walk. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that I have spoken with folks who stopped attending church and when I asked them why they had ceased to attend they replied, “I was lied to.”

        Creeds, confessions, conferences, camps, denominations, distinctive. etc. are all creations of man and have nothing to do with, nor can they be found in the scriptures. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” People will die for their denomination, but would not even work up a good sweat to get the Gospel to a lost world. We are commanded to witness about our lovely Lord Jesus Christ, not to defend denominations.

        How confusing to a lost person when you have over 66 different subsets under the denomination known as Baptist. We know nothing is ever going to be perfect on this earth, but with 66+ Baptist denominations, I would have to say that confusion reigns and we know that God is not the author of confusion. Ask yourself the antithesis of that truth.

        I always ask Muslims why they would want to be associated with a belief system that spawns terrorists; those who believe they can force non believers into becoming believers. Often those Muslims will respond by saying. “We are not fundamentalists.” What a powerful statement! I mean, why would Christians want to be a part of a subset that is known for harsh language, racism, exclusion and isolation. Most are so independent they would not ever venture responding to a raised hand during the morning service.

        After visiting in churches in all 48 states I have yet to ever be in an IFB church that would permit those in attendance to engage the pastor during services. I did visit a Christian church in Spokane, Washington and during the preaching the pastor stopped speaking and asked if anyone had a question regarding what had been said up to that point before he continued on with the message. I was beside myself! What a kind and gentle shepherd to not be afraid of scrutiny.

        Those who are leaving the church are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to participate, but they feel spurned at every turn. The church follows the denominational tradition that offers no liberty to engage in dialogue during the preaching. Men hear the preaching about being the spiritual head of their family, leading in family devotions, communicating in a Godly manner with their wives and children; all of which require interaction, but the freedom to openly discuss the Bible and the Christian life are glaringly absent in IFB churches.

        So let’s ban denominations and change the meaning of IFB to something that is more in keeping with the example set forth by Jesus Christ. It is my heart’s desire that we all become Involved Foundational Believers. And while we are at it, let’s lose the titles and neckties too! Being a pastor, an evangelist or a teacher is a gift, never a title.

      • Brother Dave-

        “Ban denominations”… well, who’s going to do that? Who decides how to make people do that? What would happen if we banned labels, even? How about we ban safety labels, or road signs, any warning sign, then, since labels are bad. What you are recommending–yea, demanding–is nothing short of a form of tyranny. It reminds me of John Lennon’s song, and what he wanted–but how do you get from where we are to where you want to be, when you have such ideals that require absolute adherence to a single ideal to the exclusion of all others without tyranny?

        You see, the problem is not the labels, or even the denominations, or whatever one wants to call them–those are things that do not merely divide Christians, but also point out things that are important to particular groups of people. Are you going to tell them that they are all wrong because they are not all right? Are you all right? 100% right in everything you think and believe?

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