So You Must Be In Full-Time Ministry? (IBTR #59)

Have you ever been in a meeting where the strong impression is given that any life other than being in full-time ministry is a failed one? Have you not particularly felt that call on your life but been pressured, or even guilted, that if you were where you should be you would go into ministry? I am not sure what level this happens in other areas of Christianity, but it is widespread in the Independent Baptist world.

This is a problem, a problem with many implications. I say that even though I love being in the ministry and think it is an awesome life. I also love seeing young men go into the ministry and fear we may eventually face a crisis where there will not be enough in ministry to meet all the need.

Still, to say that one must be in full-time ministry to please the Lord is wrong on many levels. It degrades those you who are called to other noble lives. It overlooks that we need Christians in every honest field. It misrepresents Scripture as well. Think of some great Bible characters who were preachers.

The most collateral damage with this problem materializes in misspent lives. It could be as minor as a young person being forced into Bible college. That is a minor thing as Bible college could do you some good even if you did something else. Then, though, there are those highly-charged services where the aforementioned pressure is put on and many respond to “the call.” Then some fine young will not want to be the one who doesn’t love the Lord and in an emotional moment he will go forward and say he is called.

This will go wrong in some way as “the call” is real but must come from the Lord and not emotions. That young man may graduate and then either fail completely, not because he is bad or undedicated, but because he is uncalled. Or he may never land in a pastorate and feel like a failure when he is only uncalled. Some of these guys make wonderful Christian layman and thrive in some career that they thought was only to pay the bills. They may do pulpit supply, or be a deacon or song leader and do fine. Why? Because it was where they were called. I hate to see young men who finally stumbled into their real calling still feel like a failure on some level. It simply isn’t true.

The lesson for us is that we should encourage those who faithfully serve the Lord even if they once thought it was to be in ministry. We should also quit putting undue pressure on our young people. Our counsel should be that they find God’s will, no matter what it is, and give it their best. It is far better to pray for God to call more men than to push young men into a call they did not receive. This would spare a lot of pain on many levels.

Find all articles in the series here.

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Make Sure You Leave Right (IBTR #57)

Make sure you leave right. Ever heard that one before? It can be said to church members, and especially to departing staff members. I’ve had many a letter describe a sordid tale over simply leaving. In fact, a reader even asked me to tackle this topic.

This is an awkward subject in the sense of who wouldn’t want to follow “make sure you you leave right” as a principle? In leaving one could, of course, be unchristian and bring damage to the cause of Christ. We should recommend this as a course of action to each other in the instances of life where we must leave.

Just because it is a good thing to do, and a good step to recommend, does not mean it cannot be used in some bad cases of abuse. It most often rears its ugly head when a pastor abusing his role like an oily hireling uses it as manipulative–PR moves, scapegoating, character assassination, or ego enhancement.

Oftentimes the church member or staff member will strive to leave in the best possible terms. Some things that could be said are graciously left unsaid. Care is taken to get into no gossipy situations. And especially, must respect is afforded the pastor.

Then sadly, that respect is not returned. Accusations are made. The pastor acts like the ends justifies the means even if that means destroying someone to protect his ministry. Sad when we forget it is God’s ministry.

In some cases it is only an assistant being called out to other work. This should be a cause of rejoicing like a Timothy going out from Paul, but instead the pastor is only concerned with the immediate impact on him. He acts like his ministry is the height of God’s work instead of seeing that God’s work often thrives by others being sent out.

We need a call back to pastors as shepherds. We give our lives for the sheep, not destroy the sheep we were called to love and care for. May God help us.

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Have You Left Doctrine? (IBTR #56)

Have you ever had the charge that you have left doctrine? Of course, some have left doctrine to even take up with another gospel. In such a case, that is a fair assessment. But what about receiving that charge for something of lesser magnitude? Perhaps a temptation to all Christians, and certainly a common one in the Independent Baptist world, proclaiming one has left true doctrine simply simply because he or she disagreed with you is an all-too-common occurrence.

Some say that very thing when one takes a different opinion on dress standards, or music preferences, etc. That is a flawed, illogical charge because it assumes that all issues are equal. We break fellowship over changing the plan of salvation, but we also do over a change of standard. In both cases it is charged that there is a change of doctrine. There may be a change, but it is not necessarily one of doctrine.

Those who make the charge flirt with hypocrisy for the simple reason that neither they, nor anyone else, really believes that all issues are equal. I have seen cases where one breaks with someone because they changed a dress standard, but went and preached for a friend whose music is different and conveniently looked the other way. Or other cases where the music standard was held absolute, and they overlooked some other loudly-professed belief–like eating at a restaurant that serves alcohol. The examples are endless.

It is true that “doctrine” refers to “teachings”, or particularly, the content of teaching. Still, it does not follow that all are of the same magnitude. I know people have given their lives for the Gospel, but I can’t remember someone doing it over the issue of attending a movie theater or not. Again, no one really believes it is so.

If a person believed it were so they quite logically would be required to leave off every person who held a difference of opinion on any issue. That is to say, they must on EVERY issue. I have never yet seen any person, even the most militant, ever do that. Their actions, then, prove that they believe value judgments must be made.

Once your actions prove you believe value judgments can be made, then we must agree that our only real argument is what those value judgments are. Without some measure of charity, that argument becomes only that my value judgements are better than yours. The exceptions I make are acceptable, but yours are not.

Then, you could only say they left your opinion. You could not say they left doctrine. That is why sensible Christians have always realized those things that make up essential doctrine. Perhaps they called the fundamentals of the faith, or irreducible truths, but they were the things that held up Christianity. Without them there could be no Christianity as described in the Bible.

None of this is to say that I shouldn’t try to arrive at certain Biblical opinions, and when I to the best of my ability determine it, then I should live it as well. Still, I will not label differences on non-essentials as leaving doctrine. I will not be so sure of myself to dare do that!

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Cookie Cutter Christians (IBTR #55)

It is easy, so easy, to mix up the true goal of Christian discipleship. If the goal is missed, apparent success is worthless. I speak of Cookie Cutter Christians. Perhaps every group in Christianity struggles here, and Independent Baptists are, perhaps, masters of the art.

Perhaps you have taken part in a cookie making event. As a father of six, I have had at least a few Christmas opportunities (though I could in no way walk in the kitchen at this moment and make a batch of cookies). The first thing you will notice is how much they all look alike as you use you little cookie cutter.

Strangely, that is how some view disciplining new Christians. The great doctrines that define Christianity are mentioned to some degree, but no more than how we ought to look, exactly how a worship service should look, and what we are allowed to do or not do. Some of those discipled are shocked to learn later, if they actually become Bible students, that the emphasis does not match what the pages of Scripture show. If they never do, they will more likely become what their trainers hope they will.

It is not if they have a theological grasp on salvation by grace, but that they commit to memory all standards and never slip on any of them. It is not if they have the big picture comprehended, but if they have the rules down. If you doubt this to be the case, just let the Christian in question miss the doctrinal point (real doctrine) or miss the standard. Watch what happens, and you will see for yourself.

The other thing about making cookies is that if I remove the cookie cutter and some part of the little snowman falls off, I grab it and roll it back into the batter. That cookie doesn’t make it.

So it is for some new Christians. They get a little time to conform, but then they better get with the program; or else. I have seen more than one broke little Christian thrown back into the batter.

Perhaps if we saw the goal as Christians being conformed into the image of Christ, we would not be so concerned if they were not conformed into the image of us!

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The BJU Probe (IBTR #54)

Perhaps you have heard the news that Bob Jones University has received the findings from an independent firm involving problems the university had regarding dealing with sexual abuse allegations. The findings showed systemic problems dealing with these issues over many years. Since I have discussed many problems in this series, I want to take this opportunity to applaud BJU for allowing this independent probe to take place and mention a few lessons we might learn.

I realize they fired the firm at one point of the investigation, but I will still give credit for regaining composure and rehiring the firm they fired. They had to know some measure of unpleasant findings would come out, so no matter how it all went down, at the end of the day the probe was done. The study uncovered some embarrassing situations, but the positive I see is that steps of correction are much more likely to happen. Accountability has come and that is a good thing.

This situation teaches us that dealing with issues is the best, and only way, to regain respect. Too many churches and Bible colleges have felt that coverup is the better way. In the long run, that approach is doomed to failure as the Lord Himself instituted the law that sin cannot be effectively hidden. I am not suggesting that every sin has to be confessed to every person, but a direct dealing with the situation that handles all parties involved honestly and fairly is essential.

What this study of BJU is going to require is that who can counsel and the credentials they should have had better have a more sensible criteria. Apparently, one man with dubious credentials handled the bulk of their counseling of students with these serious problems.

The probe also uncovered an attitude that victims must suffer silently so as not to hurt the “man of God”. That is wrong on every level. Besides being a most unbiblical way to address an issue (At what point is he no longer a man of God?), it makes those who hold to it a party to the sin. Sadly, a public university would do a better job on that score, which is a shame for anything with the name Christian on it. Again, BJU has subjected itself to accountability in this critical area and I congratulate them for it. Those of us who point out these things have never wanted to destroy anyone, just see these egregious errors corrected.

Another thing we must learn is that some things are crimes and not involving the law is criminal itself. That is a liberty that some have imagined they possess when they actually do not. In other words, there are situations where our first step must be to call the police. Until we reach that point, we are going to face a deserved lack of trust.

My prayer is that BJU’s situation will usher in a new day of accountability and real Christian leadership. May God help us.

[I am breaking my habit of not naming names of those associated with the Independent Baptist world in this series because,ultimately, I am offering BJU praise.]

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The Inverted Spiritual Gift Of Griping (IBTR #53)

Sometimes the most trumpeted spiritual gifts are the ones that are not spiritual at all. One example is the snooping around done that leads to griping. We sit there griping about someone as if the words out of our mouths were new nuggets in our accumulating treasure in Heaven.

We read articles to see who has messed up. We ask around for the juiciest gossip of who has fallen just so we can wax eloquent on how upset we are about it. Strangely, it is not common to be really upset about what you go seeking to find. Usually, that is a source of joy. Could that be the case here? You can answer for you, but I must ask: O Lord, help me.

Sometimes we are looking for lesser things than someone falling. We scan Facebook newsfeeds with squinting eyes asking our spouse: does she have on pants? We have an in-depth conversation at church about whether so-and-so went to the movies. And on and on.

If that wasn’t bizarre enough behavior, we then talk about that person as if he or she has apostatized. We say, “Isn’t that so sad?” Now the emotion shown looks like something other than sadness. Gloating is, perhaps, a little more accurate. Then we gripe and gripe: “What is this world coming to?” “Isn’t there anyone left who loves and follows The Lord?”

There are people, I believe, who never have a week go by without engaging in this aberrant behavior. It is done with the pretense of spirituality, but how does The Lord view it?

On several occasions such people showed up to check on Jesus. Can you believe He eats with sinners? He ignores the Sabbath–He doesn’t love God. They would come finding what they were looking for and just gripe incessantly. What does Jesus think of that attitude?

Well, once John the Baptist answered the question. Matthew 3:7 says:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Read on–his words only got stronger!

It might be time to put this supposed spiritual gift on the shelf where it belongs much as you would poison when making a nutritious dish. We need no such spiritual griping.

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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.

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The Greatest Motivation To Be A Pharisee (IBTR# 51)

They were an ugly group. They fought Jesus at every turn. Their hearts had run so amok that Christ reserved the harshest words He ever spoke for them. Strangely enough, they thought they followed God better than anyone ever did. The irony that they thought God’s Own Son was a devil jumps off page after page of the Gospel records. As you might imagine, to be called a Pharisee for anyone who thinks themselves a solid Christian will arouse a blood-boiling reaction. Though this pharisaical attitude rears its hideous head in all corners of Christianity, and although I know there is a little Pharisee in both you and me, I call on those in the Independent Baptist world to give careful thought to just how much the spirit of Pharisaism is entrenched in some places.

Don’t make the error of thinking that Pharisees sprang from evil and only ever had bad motives. Just because Jesus called them hypocrites, don’t assume there was never any sincerity. After the Captivity and its corresponding trials rendered its chastening to the point that it became difficult to reboot and sustain their OT worship, it appeared to some well-meaning believers that something ought to be done. In that idolatry was at the core of the offense that brought on the agonizing judgments, it seemed, quite reasonably, that steps ought to be taken that it never happen again. From those ashes rose a patriotic, zealous group of sincere men who made their lives about restoring what they thought they lost from God.

So it wasn’t the original aims or goals that were a problem. No, these “separated ones” likely were as sincere as any believers have ever been. I have no reason whatsoever to believe that they did what they did for any other motivation than love of God. Still, I must know well the one I love for my love to accomplish an end worthy of love.

With a zeal that puts our halfhearted efforts to shame they went relentlessly after their goals. As time went along, it occurred to them that fences were the only safety net to avoid another round of horrors as they had experienced in the bondage of oppression. So they took the things God had said and added many regulations to it to ensure that they did not stumble across the line God had drawn. They saw breaking God’s Law as the cliff and so they built fences father and farther back until they were hundreds of feet away. By Christ’s day they were so far back that they could not even see the cliff. And they felt really good about it.

What never occurred to them was that in backing away from the cliff they had somehow backed far away from God Himself. They were too far away to hear His voice, but in the cacophony of their own voices they did not even notice. Hearing your own voice standing in the place of the Lord’s, however, will do a number on you, especially if you have convinced yourself that you did it for Him!

Plus when you only know someone from a distance you tend to get a warped view of who they really are. They knew about the fear of the Lord. They did not just know it, they lived it. That the fear of the Lord might be more appropriate when we are purposely running from Him, not when we are treading watchfully, never crossed their minds. That the fear of the Lord when we are in an appropriate relationship with Him might have more to do with reverential awe never occurred to them either. Had they taken the time to actually listen to Jesus they might have learned what intimate fellowship our Lord has in mind for us.

Is it clear to you now what was the great motivation to be a Pharisee? Fear. It was then and it is now. Never mind that Jesus told us that He had not given us the spirit of fear; some still design their entire Christian experience on it. Sadly, it will make a Pharisee of you every time. Fear is the basis of idolatrous religions and has no place in Christianity. Our God in not a pagan god to be feared and appeased, but a real God to be known and loved. In that light you can see that a Pharisee is the last thing you would ever want to be.

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A Cult? (IBTR #50)

It may be the worst label of all. It is the first word that comes to mind for one severely hurt in religious circles and the last one anyone wants to hear hurled at them. While many in the Independent Baptist world are appalled at any hints of cultish behavior, others in it deserve no less than to be called members of a cult.

I suppose cultish behavior is more easily spotted from a distance. There is, apparently, a blinding effect when you are in the middle of it. Looking over into some other group you would say they are whacky, but if you are in it you often feel these abnormalities obvious to everyone but your group are the very essence of Christianity.

May I suggest a few alarming signs that you might want to consider in determining where you are today?

1. An only-we-are-right mentality

It is our obligation to attempt to understand our Lord’s heart as shared in His Word on all important matters, but this mentality is much more than that. We are right because we are the right group. When that subtle line is crossed it is often accompanied by intellectual suicide and a replacement of God’s voice by political pronouncements. You should study God’s Word until you feel confident about your position, but the day you are right because you line up so well with some group is the day you betrayed Christianity (and Christ) and started grazing in cultish pastures.

2. Your group turns inward and becomes closed minded to any discussion

Perhaps you could make a biblical argument for fencing out sin, but fencing in your own people as if they were both too stupid and too unspiritual to be trusted to follow the Lord becomes the day you allowed cultish behavior to control you. Whether you are the fence builder or the one fenced in, you breathe cultish air.

3. Your allegiance is to a man or group

Christ is The Lord! I can hardly believe more would ever need to be said on this subject, but many preachers rise up and usurp the loyalty that should only be Christ’s. I mean only He purchased it with His Own blood! How many times can a phone call from some big-shot preacher totally alter the course someone is on. This is the one thing that grows until we have someone like Jim Jones leading a whole group to drink the poison-laced Koolaid. That is a cult in full blown, and though it may not be this far, any transference of the Lordship of a Christ is putrid and evil.

4. The distinction between the law of God and the law of man is blurred

Cults thrive where men can say “Thus saith The Lord” when He actually did not and people can not even tell the difference. It becomes fertile soil for cultish errors to grow.

5. Man made rules start defining us

A holiness that springs from God’s clear Word is always positive, but a pseudo-holiness based on extra-biblical rules always corrupts. We had better check and see if what we vociferously proclaim actually can be found on the pages of the Bible. To be known as the group that doesn’t allow ____ may mean we are already a card-carrying member of a cult.

6. We overlook abusive behavior

There are things I have knowledge of (many email and Facebook messages by this 50th article) that are absurd and should be seen instantly as unacceptable and unchristian, yet they go on day after day. Some folks are chewed up and spit out on the ground, but the abusers just turn to a new victim without ever being held accountable.

7. Our Christianity doesn’t resemble Christ

There are many who would define for us exactly what Christianity ought to look like, but does it resemble what Jesus did those 3 1/2 years He ministered on this earth? If it doesn’t, I think you have your answer!

There may be other items that could be added to this list, and readers may very well add them in the comments section, but these seven alone would probably be enough to tell you if you have drifted into a cult.

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Quarantined (IBTR #49)

In the right situation, quarantining can be a splendid idea. Many, I have noticed, suggest it in the current Ebola crisis(?). Someone mentioned to me the other day that quarantining is often used in the Christian world. The Independent Baptist world, for the record, contains some of its greatest practicitioners.

Before we consider it in a religious context, we must remember what the goal of quarantining always is. A disease is cordoned off so that it might not spread. The idea is to keep it out.

In a most bizarre twist, many in certain groups use it to keep it in. That’s right! They work to keep the disease in!

They have some unscriptural ideas that they do not want to get out. They have some particular standard or church practice that they deem essential and they quarantine those inside their own circles from all others who might hold a different point of view. (The quarantining of those in the group who disagree is a subject for another day). That one who disagrees on some dress or music standard must be ignored, shunned, and never listened to. In that they think they are so right, it seems odd that they would quarantine those they deem to be well! It would be like quarantining all the Americans who don’t have Ebola and putting them in medical facilities while letting the two or three that do have the run of the country. I guess it could work, but it seems the long way around.

I suspect that in the churches I speak of the real reason for quarantining is never mentioned. What is it? Their great distinctive point cannot be easily defended with Scripture or logic, so they must quarantine so real, tough, honest questions can never get to their ears. Deep down they know how hopeless the cause they champion would be! It is a position diseased Scripturally. Quarantining is they last wall of defense where unquestioned position live.

I say quarantine disease away, but never truth. Truth is not diseased and needs no medical intervention. Let it stand for it never stumbles. It is too strong to ever fear. There are cases where fear makes no sense and truth is one of them. I don’t fear dandruff (it takes hair to have it!). Let it out and all will be healthier; that is if you really have it.

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