“Minding the Heart” by Robert Saucy (a review)

Robert Saucy of Talbot School of Theology has written a substantive volume on the biblical subject of the heart. Saucy confesses that he has long desired to write such a work for the benefit of the church. The chapters are filled with biblical, theological, psychological, and medical arguments and evidence for Saucy’ view of the heart. The author looks to the Old Testament conception of the heart as the seat of one’s emotions, but also points out that the heart is inseparable from every other part of one’s being. He suggests the heart is the person, and the person is the heart. This argument is certainly in line with the Old Testament conception of heart.

The author, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, uses resources from secular psychology and medicine to support his arguments at times. This may be a negative for some but in the early portions of the book the secular sources are only used to support arguments, not establish them. An issue I have with Saucy’s approach is the section on meditation, which sets forth lectio divina as a model for Christian meditation. As long as an individual follows biblical exhortations and guidelines for Christian meditation, the practice of meditation is fine. My problem is the Catholic mysticism, which is bound up in lectio divina. It is inseparable from the writings of those who originated the practice. I would’ve found it more helpful to leave lectio divina out of the volume completely.

Saucy also discusses the Lord’s Supper employing imagery that sounds sacramental, even Catholic. He said, “Eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood are vivid metaphors for our need to ingest through faith the spiritual food and drink of the One who surrendered his body to death and shed his blood as a sacrifice for our sin that we might share in his resurrection life. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it should remind us of the truth that our spiritual life and growth is dependent on our continual feeding on the living Christ even as our physical life depends on the ingesting of physical nourishment” (p. 267). This language sounds very similar to Catholic theology. They believe that Catholics will receive spiritual nourishment by participating in the Catholic “mass.” This is entirely at odds with the intended symbolism of the New Testament teaching concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper. The author clarifies by stating the following, “The nourishing food of Christ comes through consuming and digesting God’s Word even as we consume and digest food and drink” (p. 267). He also reiterates this biblical concept of receiving spiritual nourishment through the Scriptures on page 268. So, in fairness he does clear up any potential misconception. But, my defenses were raised to the issue because of his promotion of lectio divina which originated with Catholic mystics.

Saucy moves on to discuss the very important but frequently misunderstood issue of, “What do you do when you don’t feel like doing what God has commanded you to do?” The author proposes that right actions will lead to write thinking and right emotions. If believers always waited around for their emotions to be in line before they acted in obedience, they would rarely act in obedience. This conclusion and counsel from the author is supported by his earlier chapter on the condition of the heart. The believer needs to progress in personal sanctification and the heart needs further transformation, which is aided by right action.

The author touches on the importance of fellow believers (i.e. community) in the spiritual transformation of heart and the believer’s progressive sanctification. Believers are able to speak truth to each other, hold one another accountable, and encourage each other. Saucy points out that God has designed the Christian life to be lived out in community with other believers. Overall, Saucy has provided a thorough and helpful work. He has discussed the significance of the heart in the life of man, especially the Christian man. I would recommend this book as a beneficial treatment of the subject.

I received this book from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.

Two Ordinances

In my last article on the Baptist Distinctives, which discussed, “Priesthood of the believer,” I covered the N.T. teaching that every born-again Christian is a believer-priest. There is no distinct class of individual referred to as a priest in the N.T. Church. This week I will cover the biblical teaching of, “Two ordinances.” The two ordinances of the N.T. Church are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or “communion”). Let’s examine what an ordinance is.

An ordinance is a decree or command given by Christ, which is to be carried out by the N.T. Church. Some refer to these as, “sacraments,” rather than ordinances. Those who view baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments believe that God’s grace is dispensed and received automatically through individuals taking part. This “sacramental” teaching is not found in the N.T. It is something that developed in the Roman Catholic Church, and unfortunately was not abandoned by some of the reformers (Calvin, Luther). It is more biblical to view them as ordinances given by Christ for the N.T. Church to observe. They are not acts which result in the participant receiving grace, either in regard to saving grace (salvation) or sanctifying grace (spiritual growth). These are simply commands or ordinances to be obeyed.

When we look at the Lord’s institution of the N.T. Church ordinance of baptism, we see it as a component of making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Those who repented of their sin and believed the gospel became disciples (i.e. followers), and they were baptized publicly to demonstrate their faith in Christ and decision to follow Him. This establishes the importance of disciples being baptized. When Peter’s sermon reached its conclusion the listeners asked how they should respond. Peter replied, “Repent… and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).1 They were to repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized. Baptism was their public profession of repentance and faith. Following the Ethiopian eunuch’s repentance and faith, he was baptized as an outward demonstration of his repentance and faith in Christ (Acts 9:34-38). In Acts, we read of the baptism of the 3,000 who responded to Peter’s sermon (2:41-42), a number of Samaritans (8:12-13), Saul (9:10-18), Cornelius and a number of Gentiles ( 10:42-48), among others. When an individual has repented and believed the gospel, baptism outwardly identifies the individual as a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus commanded baptism as something to be carried out by local churches, as they make disciples. Therefore, it is one of the New Testament Church’s ordinances.

The other N.T. Church ordinance is the Lord’s Supper. It was instituted by the Lord Jesus as a means of remembrance (Matt. 26:26-28). The Lord’s Supper would employ elements (unleavened bread and grape juice) that would remind believers of the body of Christ (the bread) and the blood of Christ (the cup). These elements are symbols to remind us of what has been given on our behalf by Christ. Christ was crucified and His blood was shed on the cross. Peter said, “He bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds” (1 Pet. 2:24). Every time we gather as a local church and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate and remember the spiritual union we have with Christ because we have received salvation by faith in the gospel (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:1-11). Also, we celebrate and remember the spiritual union we have with all true believers because we are a part of the body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor. 12:14-27; Eph. 4:11-16). We celebrate our salvation, our union with the Lord, and our union with all true believers, each time we observe the Lord’s Supper with our local church.

Paul gave instructions about how to observe this ordinance properly (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Obviously the Lord’s Supper is only for true believers. It is to be celebrated with a local church, as this is the setting of 1 Corinthians 11. Participation in this ordinance is to be preceded by self-examination (11:27-32). Believers should not participate in an unworthy way (v. 27). Therefore, believers should give thought to whether or not they are living in unrepentant sin. If so, they need to repent and confess their sin to the Lord (1 John 1:9). Also, believers should make certain they are reverent and worshipful as they participate. Furthermore, believers are to demonstrate love and consideration for the fellow members of their local church as they celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18, 21-22). Local churches are to observe the Lord’s Supper until He returns (1 Cor. 11:26).

Others hold that foot washing is a third ordinance for the N.T. Church (John 13:1-15). Foot washing had great significance in the first century because people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads. Whenever someone entered a home the lowest servant of the host would clean the feet of the guests. Jesus was modeling servanthood for His disciples through a culturally relevant practice. The disciples would’ve been astonished to see the Lord Jesus doing something customarily reserved for the lowest servant of a household. This practice does not have the same significance today that it had in the first century. We can take away the principle that the Lord Jesus desires Christians to serve one another in humility (1 Pet. 5:5b; Rom. 12:9-16; Phil. 2:1-11). Our attitude as Christians is to be marked by humble servanthood, as is outlined in Philippians 2:1-11.

As we observe the ordinances of the N.T. Church, we honor the Lord Jesus who instituted them. One may see the distinction between viewing baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances rather than sacraments as something trivial. I would suggest it is important to define things as biblically as possible. We don’t read of baptism and the Lord’s Supper being, “Means of grace,” (i.e. sacraments) in the N.T. Therefore, we have defined them as ordinances.

Next week I will discuss the Baptist Distinctive, “Individual soul liberty.”

Priesthood of the Believer

I took a break from my series on the Baptist distinctives (BAPTISTS1) but now I am endeavoring to finish it. I’ve already covered Biblical authority, and Autonomy of the local church. This week I will address Priesthood of the believer. Priesthood of the believer? What do I mean? You may be thinking, “But, I am not Catholic.” Well, when we look at the N.T. we learn that every true believer in Christ is referred to as a “priest” (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:5b-6). So, if you have been born again through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ then you are a priest, a believer-priest.

What is the significance of the N.T. priesthood of the believer? First of all, it alerts us to the fact that in the N.T. Church there is no special class of believer referred to as a priesthood. All genuine Christians are priests. Jesus Christ lived in perfect obedience to the O.T. law and therefore fulfilled it. As a result, the O.T. priesthood no longer exists. Under the O.T. Law, only a descendent of Aaron could serve as high priest and represent the nation of Israel by offering a sacrifice to cover the sin of the nation for one year (Lev. 16). Jesus Christ is our high priest having offered Himself once for all time on the cross (Heb. 9:11-29; 6:20). The Levites served as priests and would carry out duties related to worship, teaching, sacrifice, and prayer (Lev. 10:15). Priests had to be descendents of Aaron, and to offer sacrifice they had to be blameless physically (Lev. 21:16-24). They were essentially a special class of Israelite. Priests were allowed to do certain things that other Israelites were not.

In Christ, all N.T. believers are a part of His body, the church, and are called priests. This priesthood has nothing to do with lineage (no need to be a descendent of Aaron), physical attributes (Lev. 21:16-24), clothing (Ex. 28), or holy conduct (Lev. 21:1-15). Through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ a person becomes a N.T. believer-priest. This priesthood cannot be forfeited because it is a part of being an authentic Christian. But, the important question is, what is the significance of being a believer-priest? Believer-priests can confess their sins directly to God (1 John 1:9). There is no need to appear before another individual to confess sins. A N.T. believer can pray directly to God (Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 4:2-4). Since Jesus Christ is our high priest we can, “Approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb. 4:16b).2

Believer-priests can offer “sacrifices” to the Lord directly. O.T. priests offered animal sacrifices to the Lord at the Tabernacle and then later at the Temple in Jerusalem. Christians can offer the Lord: sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15); financial sacrifices (Phil. 4:15-20); obedience (Phil. 2:17; 1 Pet. 2:4-5); ourselves through holy living (Rom. 12:1-2); individuals whom they have led to Christ (Rom. 15:15-16); and their own lives to the point of execution for Christ (2 Tim. 4:6). Furthermore, N.T. believer-priests can all hear from God through His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). These are privileges that every Christian possesses through faith in Christ.

According to Scripture there is no such thing as a church leader being a priest or belonging to a priesthood that is distinct from that of other Christians You do not need to confess your sins to a church leader (i.e. a priest), unless you are apologizing for sinning against him personally. You can pray directly to God the Father and confess your sins to Him because of your faith in Jesus Christ. There is no church leader that has authority on his own to forgive sins. As a believer-priest you are able to have fellowship with God to the same extent (or depth) as any other Christian. There is no hierarchy or special class of believer. There is no distinct priesthood.

This is one of the reasons why every Christian who is a member of a local church has a responsibility to ensure: church discipline is carried out biblically (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5); false teaching is addressed and not tolerated (Gal. 1:6-10); ministry is done by the church body, not just by the “professionals” (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Rom. 12:3-8, 11); believers are exhorted to biblical living (1 Thess. 5:13b-15); believers are cared for (1 Tim. 5:3; Heb. 13:16; Rom. 12:10, 13); prayer is occurring (Rom. 12:12); and disciple making is the focus of the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Every true Christian is able to hear from God through His Word, pray and confess sins to God, and serve Him. It is so important that we are aware of Scripture’s teach on the N.T. priesthood of the believer. It will help us to function biblically as believers and as a church. Otherwise, the temptation to create an extra-biblical hierarchy (or priesthood) is present. It has happened in history and we must guard against it. Next week, I will address the Baptist distinctive, “Two offices.”

1Biblical authority, Autonomy of the local church, Priesthood of the believer, Two offices (pastor and deacon), Individual soul liberty, Saved church membership, Two ordinances (communion and baptism), and Separation of church and state.

2Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Autonomy of the Local Church

A couple of weeks ago I discussed the Baptist distinctive, biblical authority (BAPTISTS). This week I will discuss the Baptist distinctive, autonomy of the local church. When we look at the N.T. we witness the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).1 We are informed by God’s Word that the Lord Jesus Christ alone is the head of the Church (Eph. 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19). What Scripture means by “head” is Jesus is of superior rank. He is the Lord or master of the Church. Let me start by distinguishing the Universal Church from local churches. The Universal Church includes every born-again Christian. At the moment of salvation every true Christian is placed into the body of Christ (i.e. the Universal Church) by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 18-20; Eph. 4:1-16). Local churches are to be visible expressions of the Universal Church in different geographical locations. But, the difference is it is possible that local churches may have members who are unbelievers, professing to be genuine Christians. Only God and the individual professing Christian ultimately know whether he/she is genuinely born-again. The Universal Church contains only true believers. Only those with credible professions of faith should be baptized and become members of local churches. As much as is humanly possible, our church membership rolls should reflect those who are a part of the Universal Church (i.e. born-again Christians). This is why we have membership classes, and strive to keep our membership roll current.

Christ has communicated in the N.T. Scriptures how he desires the church (Universal and local) to function (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:4, 12-15; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:5; 1 Tim. 3:15). So, Jesus is the head of the Church and he has given us his complete instructions for the Church in the N.T. (hence, the Baptist distinctive, biblical authority). The local church is a structurally organized fellowship of baptized professing believers in a specific locality: meeting in the name of Christ, under the authority of Scripture, for the purpose of carrying out Christ’s commission in their area (Acts 2:41-47). A local church should be under the leadership (or at least in pursuit of) of a biblically qualified and called elder/pastor (or if possible a plurality of elders/pastors) (Tit. 1:5-9; Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). The local church is called by God to carry out the biblical purposes and functions of the church in this world – evangelism (Acts 2:47), discipleship (Tit. 2:1-5), prayer (Acts 2:42), ministry (Eph. 4:11-16; 5:19-21; Tit. 3:8, 14), worship (Acts 2:47), baptism (Acts 2:41), celebrating the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), appointing of elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13; cf. Acts 6:1-6 – prototype deacons), disciplining elders (1 Tim. 5:19-20), and disciplining members (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11).

The apostles led the Church following Christ’s ascension to the Father’s right hand. We see Peter as the leader of the apostles (Acts 1:15; 2:14; cf. John21:15-19). Therefore, the apostles taught, led/shepherded, and equipped the Church for ministry. But, as the Church began to grow numerically, it began to spread geographically (Acts 8:1; 11:19-26). In these new geographical locations the Christians were organized into local churches. The apostles were mainly stationed in Jerusalem, where they provided leadership for the local church there. This necessitated leadership in the various local churches that were being organized. The first mention of non-apostolic leadership for local churches is found in Acts 11:30. The local church in Antioch sent financial relief to the local church in Jerusalem. They sent it with Barnabas and Saul, who delivered it to the “elders” of the Jerusalem church. Now, these elders were not the elders of Judaism, but rather, elders in the Jerusalem church. This begins a shift from apostolic leadership to elder leadership. Ultimately, the spiritual leadership was carried out according to Scripture, under the Lord Jesus Christ’s authority. He is the head of the Church (Universal and local). In Acts 14, we learn that after a group of individuals repented of their sin and believed the gospel, they were organized into a local church under the leadership of biblically qualified elders (vv. 21-28). In Acts 15, we learn that the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church led the church through issues concerning Gentile Christians. Verse six says, “Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter.” Verse two describes the apostles and elders as those in leadership. So, it is clear that as time progressed in the book of Acts, the leadership role transferred from the apostles to the elders in local church. The apostles oversaw the Universal Church but elders had oversight of individual local churches.

When we look at Acts 20, we observe the apostle Paul, who had planted the church in Ephesus, exhorting the Ephesian elders to shepherd (i.e. pastor) and oversee (i.e. bishop) the Ephesian church. He urged them to follow his own personal example (vv. 17-38). Paul urged them to, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers (i.e. bishops), to shepherd (i.e. pastor) the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood” (v. 28). Leadership in the Ephesian church transferred from Paul the apostle to biblically qualified elders. The apostle Peter exhorted elders of local churches here, “I exhort the elders (presbuteros) among you: Shepherd (i.e. pastor, pomenate) God’s flock (pomniou) among you, not overseeing (i.e. bishoping, episkopontes) out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording (i.e. dominating) it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (pomniou). And when the chief Shepherd (archipoimenos) appears, you will receive me the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1b-4). Jesus is described here as the chief Shepherd (i.e. chief Pastor). He is the head Pastor of the Church (Universal and local). Elders are Christ’s under-shepherds.

When the apostle John died of old age before the end of the first century the apostolic office came to an end. Jesus Christ is still the head of the Church (Universal and local). But now, biblically qualified elders/pastors/overseers lead local churches in which the Holy Spirit appointed them (Acts 20:28). These biblically qualified and divinely appointed men serve under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. They shepherd (i.e. pastor) and oversee local churches.

Now, I’ve gone through all of these biblical passages to establish the biblical basis for each local church being autonomous. Each local church has Christ as its head. According to the N.T. biblically qualified elders were appointed to shepherd (i.e. pastor) and oversee local churches. Each local church carried out its own church discipline (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11). Some of the local churches are addressed in Revelation 2-3 were urged to repent of their congregation’s sin and conversely some of them were encouraged to continue in their congregation’s obedience. The church in Philadelphia wasn’t told to help the Ephesian church repent (2:4-5). The church in Ephesus wasn’t told to deal with the idolatry and sexual immorality in Thyatira (2:18-23). The local church in Philippi was called to spiritual unity in their congregation (Phil. 2:1-4). They were not called to spiritual unity with the church in Corinth. Each local church is called to respect, love, and submit to its own pastor(s), not the pastor(s) of another local church (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17). Each local church is responsible for its own affairs under the headship of Christ. It is to be submitted to the Word of God in all areas, and following the leadership of its biblically qualified pastor(s).

This means the local church should not be under any denominational hierarchy or authority. No one outside the local church has authority to tell that church what to do or teach. Under the headship of Christ, each local church should call its own pastor(s) and appoint its own deacons to care for it. It functions under the authority of God’s Word in all areas. It should approve its own Constitution and doctrinal statement. Local churches should follow God’s Word in issues of church discipline, baptism, church membership, doctrine, encouragement, correction, music, etc… Others have created a denominational hierarchy outside of the local church. It determines what pastor(s) a local church receives, how much he makes for salary, and how long he remains at the church. The denominational hierarchy outlines its doctrine, even what marriages a church will perform. Many local churches have been evicted from the buildings they in which they met because they did not agree with their denomination over homosexual marriage, female pastors, and a variety of other issues. We do not find evidence of any such hierarchy in the N.T. Christ alone is the head of the Church. Pastors lead the local church they were appointed to, under the headship of Christ. The apostles are gone. So, there is no one who has authority over multiple churches, except Christ himself. He is over them all.

The Baptist distinctive, autonomy of the local church, states that there is no authority outside of the local church, except Jesus Christ the Lord. Next week, I will deal with the Baptist distinctive, priesthood of the believer.

1The church was born when the Holy Spirit came upon the Christians, baptizing and indwelling them (Acts 2).

Biblical Authority

Last week I began speaking of the Baptist Distinctives. These biblical distinctives have defined Baptist churches for hundreds of years. In fact, they are the reason why Baptist churches came into existence in the first place. Other churches did not hold to the biblical convictions outlined in the Baptist Distinctives. So, like-minded believers sought to organize their own local churches where these biblical convictions would be upheld and practiced. These churches came to be known as “Baptist” because of their conviction of baptizing (by immersion) only those who repented and believed the gospel personally. This biblical conviction is covered by the final “s” in the acrostic BAPTISTS and it stands for, “saved church membership.” These biblical convictions have defined churches which came to be known as Baptist.

This week I will deal with something that is absolutely foundational for Baptists, biblical authority (BAPTISTS). In every situation and circumstance, the Bible is the authority from beginning to end. The Bible is God’s Word. It alone provides God’s message to mankind (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is binding and authoritative in all that it says. In the Bible, God describes how N.T. churches are supposed to function (1 Tim. 3:14-15). God’s Word discusses pastors/elders/overseers and their responsibility to oversee, shepherd/lead, and equip the church for ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Pet. 5:1-5; Heb. 13:7,17; Acts 20:17,28; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). God’s Word discusses deacons and their responsibility to serve in caring for the church (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:8-10, 12-13). The Bible also discusses how churches are to submit to the biblical leadership of their Pastors (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7,17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). The Bible discusses how to confront believers who are living in sin. (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5).

The Bible discusses Christians forgiving offenses (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-13). It urges churches to encourage fellow members to grow in “love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). Scripture encourages faithful, consistent church attendance (Heb. 10:23-25). We know what truth is and how God wants us to live from the Bible (1 John 5:3-4). Scripture says, “The entirety of Your Word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever” (Ps. 119:160). The Lord Jesus said the evidence of love for Him is obedience to His commands (John 14:15, 21). Those are clear-cut statements from the Word of God. The Scriptures are the sole authority for local churches.

Now you may wonder, why would any church not believe in and practice biblical authority? That is a very good question and the answer varies. Some churches are guided by church tradition. In such a case, historical figures and leaders set up practices and standards, which have been handed down over centuries. These churches follow tradition rather than the Bible, even if such tradition contradicts or violates Scripture. In some churches, writings of theologians and leaders from the past are the dominant content of lessons and messages and church practice rather than God’s Word. Tradition is not always bad. But, it cannot ever contradict or violate Scripture. There is inherent danger in tradition being the authority. It can be contrary to the Bible and it can be detrimental to the health of the Church. Scripture always trumps tradition.

Some Churches are guided by emotion and experience. In such a case, what one feels overrides what God’s Word clearly states. The goal is a mystical, emotional experience with God. The thinking in such churches is, “If I have experienced it, it must be true and it must be from God.” There is inherent danger involved when emotion and experience are the authority. We see from Scripture that Satan himself appears as an angel of light and his servants disguise themselves as workers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Satan is able to give people experiences. He will be able to perform, false miracles, signs, and wonders through the antichrist in the future (2 Thess. 2:9). Many have chosen to follow their emotions, seeking experiences that Scripture does not teach or encourage. The Bible informs us of the unreliability of our emotions. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable – who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Just because someone feels something is true or right does not make it so. Just because someone wants an experience from God and claims to have had one, does not mean it was from God. Our emotions and experiences are trumped by Scripture.

In churches where experience and emotion are the authority you will hear a lot about love and everything will be directed toward eliciting an emotional response. The music, preaching, and videos will be geared toward the emotions. The question is, is it biblically accurate? John MacArthur writes, “The modern evangelical quest for relevance has created several rifts in the Church, perhaps none more visible than the divide over worship. Deep, biblical understanding of God’s Word and His character is routinely pitted against the euphoria of a vibrant musical experience. But that false dichotomy is a great injustice to the church, as it obscures the massive impact the Bible has on the reality and genuineness of true worship.” Emotions and experience cannot be the authority in local churches. Scripture trumps emotions and experience.

Some churches are guided by whatever works. In such a case, pragmatism is the authority. If it draws a lot of people and they are happy, then all is well. This mentality has been around for a long time. Proponents of this approach are continually seeking, “a silver bullet,” which will unlock the church’s success (higher attendance). They look to a style of music, preaching that pleases its hearers, and any other sort of gimmick that will attract and entertain people. In such churches biblical doctrine is minimized because it will not please a multitude of people. The lyrics of songs are focused on people and heightening their satisfaction in themselves. Biblically deep, theologically rich songs will not do because they don’t entertain people, or make people feel better about themselves. Any mature Christian who holds to the sufficiency and authority of Scripture will take issues with fluffy, man-centered, theologically light, biblically vague, and doctrinally inaccurate songs. If you don’t have a problem with such songs something is wrong.

In such churches where pragmatism is the authority, preaching is “short and sweet”. The thinking is that messages must be short to avoid upsetting people. Did you know that Ezra preached to the nation of Israel from daybreak until noon (Neh. 8:1-3)? God brought about revival through his sermon (8:7-12). Pragmatic preaching ends up being secular humanism with a a few Bible verses thrown in. Such preaching is aimed at making people feel good. The inherent danger is that God doesn’t want people to feel good about being spiritually lost and/or in sinful rebellion against Him. In fact, one of the signs of being in the end times is that churches will seek teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4). It doesn’t matter what people like or want. It doesn’t matter what seems to work. What truly matters is what God’s Word says. The Bible always trumps pragmatism.

Next week I will discuss the Baptist Distinctive, “Autonomy of the local church.”

In Need of Clarity

We live in the 21st Century and we have seen advances in so many things during our lifetime. Yet, we have seen battles arise over spiritual truths that many thought would never occur during our lifetime. Some professing Christians from evangelical churches have questioned the inerrancy of the Bible. Others have questioned a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis and have ascribed to theistic evolution1. Others have rejected the male only requirement of the pastoral office (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), and the requirement of men only being allowed to teach or exercise authority over men in the church (1 Tim. 2:11-15). Still others have become more involved with humanitarian efforts rather than Christ’s call to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Churches and Christian colleges have tossed out doctrinal precision and clarity in their statements of faith in the name of love and acceptance (not love for God I would argue).

Why are all these things and more occurring? Much of it is summed up in this – many professing Christians are more conformed to this world than conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). God’s Word says, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God”2 (Rom. 12:1–2). Many professing Christians and even evangelical churches are taking their lead from the world instead of God’s Word.

In the history of the church this is not a new phenomenon. There have always been occurrences of churches drifting toward worldliness and liberalism. In fact, Baptist churches came into existence as a reaction against such a drift. Baptist churches have been marked by spiritual convictions and characteristics known as “Baptist distinctives.” These area easily outlined in the acrostic BAPTISTS.

Biblical authority

Autonomy of the local church

Priesthood of the believer

Two offices (pastor and deacon)

Individual soul liberty

Saved church membership

Two ordinances (baptism and communion)

Separation of church and state

All of these distinctives are biblically based and have caused Baptist churches who hold to them to stand apart from other denominations. Since Baptist churches have traditionally held to biblical authority, it stands to reason that these distinctives are biblically based. These biblical distinctives help to define how a Baptist church functions, biblically.

In the coming weeks I am going to dedicate each prayer letter to one of the Baptist distinctives. Each week I will outline a Baptist distinctive and give the biblical basis for it. I am a born again Christian through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe strongly that the Baptist distinctives are biblical. Therefore, I am a Baptist by conviction.

1The belief that God created everything but then allowed it to evolve over millions of years.

2Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Christians serving

One of the aspects of the Christian life is serving. You may have heard the slogans, “Saved to serve” or “Every member a minister.” When we placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we became born again Christians. We became followers of Christ. We became servants of Christ or“doulos.” “Doulos” is the Greek word for slave, which is how the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders it. This is truly the sense of the word. We are no longer slaves of sin. Now, we serve Christ. We minister for Christ. We no longer are masters of our own domain. We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”1 We belong to Christ and are to glorify Him. We have the privilege to serve the Lord of the entire universe! Slave is a horrible master, but the Lord Jesus is a kind and loving master. He is the good shepherd (John 10:11-18).

Why do I mention all of this? I mention it because it can be so easy to get caught up in wrong thinking. Christians can begin to think that they are not needed in local church ministry. This is completely untrue. In fact, one of the ways that God grows us spiritually and conforms us to the image of Christ is through serving Him and our local church. In the past, pastors have been referred to as “ministers.” It is true, pastors are servants of the Lord. But, a pastor is not a minister or servant because he is a pastor. He is one because he is a Christian. So Christian, do you view yourself as a servant of Christ? Better yet, are you serving Him actively? It may not always take the form of a local church ministry. When I share the gospel it frequently happens outside of the church walls.

But, the question is, are you serving Him? Or, are you leaving the serving to others in the local church?

I will leave you with this passage from the book of Titus, “This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone… And our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works for cases of urgent need, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:8,14).

1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert – a book review

I was very intrigued by the title and advertised content of the book When Helping Hurts. The book was co-authored by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Fikkert is an associate professor of economics at Covenant College and the founder of The Chalmers Center for Economic Development. Corbett is an an assistant professor in the department of economics and community development at Covenant College and the community development specialist for The Chalmers Center for Economic Development. Therefore, the two men have significant knowledge in regard to the process of helping individuals who are financially poor in a biblically guided way.

 

As I read through the book I was immediately confronted with my own preconceived notions. The authors are very cognizant of the fact that all humanity is born sinful. They hold to the biblical gospel and need of all mankind to be reconciled to God through his Son Jesus Christ. The authors present the reality that there are individuals in this world who are in need as a result of their own poor choices. But they also point out that there are individuals in this world who are in need as a result of corruption on the part of those in power. According to my understanding of God’s Word this will result until Christ judges the unbelieving world and establishes his eternal reign here on earth. Yet, this should not result in Christians ignoring the condition of those around them. Corbett and Fikkert provide instruction, correction, and an alternative way of approaching those who are in need.

 

The authors point out that many times those who have financial means “provide” for those in need in a way that ultimately hurts more than it helps. They provide examples of groups traveling to the storm ravaged South and rebuilding homes while able-bodied man (who would live in those homes) watched. The point being raised is that it would be far better for those in need to be a part of the process. Being a part of the process may take various forms, for example, helping to build the home; making suggestions for a recovery plan; working for money to pay for bills and needs. Corbett and Fikkert urge Christians and local churches to think through what they are doing to help those who are in need. To question whether or not their ministries are helping the individuals or causing them to become dependent. None of those who are seeking to help those in need would desire to create dependency. But, as the authors demonstrate, our methods frequently create that very thing.

 

Corbett and Fikkert address issues of those in need not only in the United States but also worldwide. They point out the effect American Christians have when traveling overseas and offering help. Frequently very little listening occurs and suggestions abound. The authors urge their readers to be learners first. They propose that questions must be asked of those who are in need and resources found in the local contexts must be identified. This approach is one of partnership and the authors suggest it is a more biblical and healthy approach for all involved.

 

When Helping Hurts provides substantial information for every local church to help evaluate its own approach to ministering to those in need at home and abroad. Corbett and Fikkert conclude that you must determine who the poor are. Then they set forth the following principles for determining how to help the poor: should we do relief, rehabilitation, or development? Only then can churches and individuals begin to work on strategies to help.

 

I would say these principles are some of the most helpful pieces of information I have seen in regard to helping the poor. The authors do not operate under any illusion that poverty will be eliminated by the implementation of these principles. But they do suggest that the implementation of these principles will help the poor and the non-poor. Corbett and Fikkert propose that the result of giving answers and throwing money at situations have harmed those who gave and those who received. Those that gave frequently contributed to a sense of superiority in their own hearts. Those that received frequently had a growing sense of inferiority in their own hearts. In both cases neither group was truly helped because of the means of the help that was given.

 

As you wrestle through the issues involved with attempting to help the poor I would encourage you to read this book. You will have to wrestle through the suggestions and claims that the authors make. Compare the authors’ conclusions with Scripture. Pray about these issues and how you can keep the gospel message involved with the efforts. Corbett and Fikkert clearly state that the gospel message must be a part of the process. If individuals are helped financially and materially but they remain ignorant of the gospel message then the help is not complete.

 

I received this book as a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for an honest review.

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