A brief meditation for those who are anxious

1 Peter 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

What does it mean to cast something? You may think of fishing and casting your line into the water. Perhaps that is a fit analogy. We who are heavy burdened and full of anxiety, we may cast our burdens, our stress, our fears and our failures upon the Lord. Fling them to Him. Withdraw the anxiety from the account of your own heart and mind and deposit them to His. He is able. He strong enough.

And to what degree are we casting our anxieties to the Lord? We are casting all anxieties. All of them. Each and every one of them. Do not hold tight to your worries and your anxieties. They do you no good. What will worrying gain you? It will not add hours to your life. In fact, it may rob them from you. Cast all of them to the Lord. Your finances. Your family. Your career. Your home. Your future. Cast them to the Lord.

Whose anxieties? Your anxieties, dear friend. The burden that you bear is heavy enough. Like the tale of “Pilgrim’s Progress” in which the main character Christian, carrying with him the burden of his sin on his back until he comes to the holy sepulcher of the Lord and is released of his burdens, you too cast off all your burden and proclaim, “”He hath given me rest by his sorrow, And life by his death.”

And, dear friend, what do we cast to the Lord? All our anxieties. The burdens. The cares. The worry of this present world. I assure you, there is much to worry about. We see around us storms and fires and flooding and nuclear attacks and uncertainty. There is much to worry about. But the Scriptures say to cast the cares of this world to the Lord. He that is in you is stronger than anyone in this world. Our God is stronger than Harvey or Irma or Kim Jong-un.

To whom do we cast our anxieties? On Christ. On the living and loving Lord. The Savior. Maker of Heaven and earth. The one who is mightier than the thunder of great waters and mightier than the breakers of the sea. The Lord who is high and mighty. Who is enthroned over the flood. The King forever.

And why should we cast them upon our Lord? Because He cares for you, dear one. Consider this for a moment. He. Cares. For. You! The Maker of heaven and earth, the One who knows all things including your past sins, fears and failures, cares enough for you to take ALL of your anxiety.

Spurgeon said, “O child of suffering, be patient; God has not passed you over in His providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows will also furnish you with what you need. Do not sit in despair; hope on, hope ever. Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and your opposition shall yet end your distress. There in One who cares for you.”

Acknowledge the Lord’s boundless goodness and mercy. Seek Him in our every need, as children are accustomed to take refuge in the protection of their parents whenever they are troubled with anxiety, let us seek our Rock and Refuge of our saving Lord.

Say good bye to your anxiety and leave all your concerns in the hand of the gracious God.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who can observe communion?

I was recently told about a church service where, before communion was observed, a leader stood up and read from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and stated that “anyone, sinner or Christian, can take communion because Christ opened it up to all.” So the question was posed to me… is that true? Who can participate in communion? Is it for everyone, just Christians, just specific church members?

Here was my answer:

I have never heard of the practice of serving communion to non-Christians. That’s what I’m assuming you mean by serving to “anyone, sinner or Christian.”

What we typically see in most churches is either something called closed communion or a practice sometimes called open communion. However, closed and open communion usually have to do with church membership, not whether or not you are a Christian.

Open communion usually means any Christian in attendance can observe communion. Closed communion usually means only members of that particular church can observe communion. Each local church will go about this differently.

At my local church, we practice what I call a semi-closed communion. Before we observe the communion meal, I fence the table and explain that communion is only for Christians because it is a remembrance of what Christ did on the cross for us and an anticipation of His coming again for His church.  Communion gives Christians an opportunity to renew or profession of faith in Christ and our commitment to Christ and his people (our local church).  I like to think of communion as a family meal. We gather around the table as a family and we enjoy each other’s company, fellowship and love. If a non-family member joins in, then it is no longer a family meal. There is no commonality. There is no mutual love for God. It can still be pleasant, but it’s not quite as intimate as a family gathering.

As harsh at is may sound, non-Christians have nothing to remember or look forward to as far as Jesus’ death and future return. They aren’t in the family (yet!) We invite them to stay and watch/observe, but we invite only Christians in good-standing with an evangelical church participate in communion. I’ve only had one or two people get upset at me for that, but most understand.

That being said, we do not have communion police. After the observance has been explained, we let each person to either partake or allow the elements to pass them by. We simply pray that they take this communion meal seriously. The only time we may be intentional in withholding communion from someone is if the individual has been excommunicated from the church by a the voting membership during a membership meeting. We’ve only had to do that twice, and it has not been an issue yet.

Now, I would like to address the text at hand. I’m not sure where this brother from the church us getting the idea of  what can only be described as universal communion. It is certainly not this text in 1 Corinthians 11.

First of all, Paul is writing to the church. Throughout the entirety of the letter he makes distinctions between the church vs. non-Christians. He even says in verse 32: But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned ALONG WITH THE WORLD (emphasis mine.) So even in this passage he is making the distinction from Christians in the church and non-Christians outside the church.

However, the troubling warning from verses 27-32 is very serious, but for Christians; not so much non-Christians. The Corinthians were abusing the communion table. They were selfishly eating all the food (more than crackers, apparently.) They were not letting the poor and hungry get their portion. And they were getting drunk on the wine. What Paul is saying is that if Christians will not take communion with the necessary seriousness and with open sin in their hearts, then there will be consequences. He even goes as far as saying that some people are weak, ill and even have died from improper attitudes while taking communion.

So, in that respect, what most Christians (specifically Baptists) have always been taught is correct; a Christian should reserve some time of introspection, self-refection and confession of sin before observing communion. We take a time during the communion service for exactly that. It is quiet and awkward, but necessary.

In this instance, a robust statement of faith would be helpful. Many churches take a ambiguous approach to communion without making any firm theological distinctions. Our own Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is somewhat helpful. It says, “The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH, throughout partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.” So at least they said members of the church. Again, each church will have to decide whether that means an open communion to all Christians or only their own members.

The strongest Baptist language is found in the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, which is basically where most Baptist theology comes from. It says: “All ignorant and ungodly people are unfit to enjoy communion with Christ and are thus unworthy of the Lord’s Table. As long as they remain in this condition, they cannot partake of these holy mysteries or being admitted to the Lord’s Table without committing a great sin against Christ. All those who receive the supper unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating and drinking judgment on themselves.”

I hope this clears some things up. I have found this short little book from 9 Marks to be really helpful. It’s like 65 pages long and can be read in one sitting.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Robert E. Lee, My Brothers and My Neighbors

So, I’m going to say something that may be unpopular: I’m totally okay with taking down all the Confederate monuments.

Why would I say that? It’s not because I’m not proud to be a Southerner. I am. I know that Florida is a hodge-podge of transplants from all over the country, but not where I’m from. Not Central Florida. Not Polk County. Not North Lakeland. We are country boys. We drive trucks and drink sweet tea and say, “Yes ma’am” and “No sir.”

It’s not because I don’t have any ties to the Civil War. I do. On my father’s side, my great-great grandfather Samuel C. Croft fought for the Confederacy and on my mother’s side, my great-great grandfather Francis Alexander Maddox also fought for the Confederacy. Obviously I never knew these men. I never met my paternal great grandfather nor my paternal grandfather. I spent seven short years with my maternal grandfather, but we never mentioned his grandpa or the Civil War. But, I know how to use the internet, and I know how to read, so I know that they fought in the Civil War.

It’s not because I don’t have an affinity for Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson. I do. I like the guys. By all accounts that I have read, they were good guys; God-fearing men. Southern gentlemen. Lee graduated top of his class from West Point without any demerits in his entire academic career. That is nearly unheard of. Jackson wouldn’t send the postal riders out to deliver the mail if he knew they would be working on a Sunday because he believed so deeply in the Christian Sabbath.

008-5

My father and I have a running joke about Lee because they share a birthday, January 19. I live in Lee County, for goodness sake. It was named after Robert E. Lee. There is a bust of the man three minutes from my house in Downtown Fort Myers. Fort Myers was named after Abraham Myers, a Confederate Colonel. There’s a portrait of him hanging in our city hall.

myers

So, why am I okay with taking down all the Confederate monuments? Because they are not worth the offense they bring to my brothers and sisters in Christ or my neighbors who need Christ.

Here’s the deal: these men, even though they are considered upstanding humans and fine Christians, were on the wrong side of history. They rebelled against their country and lost. They tried to form a new country, a Confederate States of America. And by God’s sovereignty, they did not succeed. If God wanted them to win, then they would have won! But I get the feeling that if we could do it all over again, the people demanding that we keep up the statues and memorials think the Confederacy would win this time.

Now, I understand, many people will say something like, “Hey, wait a minute! They were fighting for States’ rights! Isn’t that a good thing?!” And yes, I agree with States’ rights. But can we be honest; what right were they most worried about losing? Their right to own slaves. It made them rich. You cannot serve both mammon and God. And the way they acquired their great mammon was literally on the back of people they considered their own property.

To quote from Dr. Russell Moore, “The Confederate States of America was not simply about limited government and local autonomy; the Confederate States of America was constitutionally committed to the continuation, with protections of law, to a great evil. The moral enormity of the slavery question is one still viscerally felt today, especially by the descendants of those who were enslaved and persecuted.”

So, if I have a brother or sister in Christ, or a neighbor who is in need of Christ, and every time they drive past the bust of Robert E. Lee in Downtown Fort Myers, or see the portrait of Abraham Myers hanging in our city hall, or their children have to attend Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama (whose student population is 93% black, by the way) and they see a symbol for hatred and a way of life that made them less than a person, then I’m totally okay with removing that stain from our history.

No amount of Southern pride can overshadow the feeling of hate, bigotry and racism that is felt by our fellow countrymen, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and fellow image-bearers of God who must hear the good news of the gospel. The gospel that says all men are created equal. The gospel that says God has come to set us free from the slavery of sin. The gospel that says one day a multitude of people of every skin color, ethnicity, language and nation will gather in the throne-room of Heaven and proclaim the goodness of God. A gospel that is a white-supremacist’s worst nightmare.

We have Holocaust museums in this country. Not to celebrate the Holocaust, but to preserve the memory of a time when evil was fought and defeated. We obviously can’t erase our past. But we certainly should learn from it. We shouldn’t celebrate it by putting up giant statues and portraits for all to see. We don’t have any statues of King George or Kim Il-Sung or Ho Chi Minh anywhere that I am aware of. Why? Because they were on the wrong side of history. We’ve moved on. And we’re better for it.

Let me close with one last thought. There is a New Testament idea of living our lives in a peaceful manner for the sake of our brothers and sisters and their conscience. In fact, if we can go without a little bit of personal freedom or Christian liberty, then we should if it means that our brother or sister will have a clear conscience and sounder mind.

The Apostle Paul says that we should not prize our freedom to the point of destroying those for whom Christ died. We should instead “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).

He says elsewhere, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

If that means removing Confederate monuments that are nothing but a reminder of a black eye of our country’s history for the sake of the gospel, then I’m all for it. For the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ. And for the sake of my neighbors who need Christ.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here’s how I answer the question, “How was your mission trip?”

I decided to write this blog post to answer the question that I will inevitably get: How was your mission trip?

Really, how do I answer that question? It was good? Fine? Went great? Glad to be home?

It really was good and fine and great and I really am glad to be home. But there was a lot more than that. The 10 days spent in Uganda were some of the most difficult, uncomfortable moments that I remember having, but also some of the most rewarding and eye-opening times of my life.

mt1

Traveling is hard. It’s especially hard for me. I cannot get comfortable on an airplane. I don’t think I slept for more than a couple of minutes here and there for the entire flight (approximately four 5-hour flights and two 6-hour flights.) The buses were small. We had no water a few days. We took mostly sponge baths at the guest house. We ate food that I’m not sure what it was called nor am I sure what it was.

But that’s just first world comfort problems. The real difficult was driving deep into the villages and seeing the utter poverty that thousands of people live in each and every day. Granted, I was viewing these people with my American eyes through the lens of privilege and comfort, but there is no doubt that the people we visited last week were some of the poorest people I’ve ever met. They lived in mud houses or shacks. Their beds were small mats on the floor. Their clothes were dirty and tattered, coming apart at the seams. Their children were either completely naked or nearly naked. They had little food and no running water; yet many of their faces beamed a smile from ear to ear when they saw us.

We went into the villages and gave dresses to the girls, some clothes or flip-flops to the boys, and whatever sweets (candy) we had. Boy, did they love the sweets. We gave away the yarn dolls to the small children, and we shared the gospel and prayed with every family we came across.

It was both heart-wrenching and yet strangely optimistic to be there. Like, who are we kidding? Their need is so big. A bag of clothes will not fix this. Certainly a piece of candy will not fix this. Yet they people were so happy. So thankful. So genuinely glad to see us.

The worship service at the church we visited was loud, worshipful and heavily-attended. The little sanctuary was packed with people young and old, singing at the top of their lungs songs I didn’t know and a few I did. Yet, all I could think about was this was surely a foretaste of Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the lamb!”

For everyone who thinks that Heaven will be full of white people singing in English, you have a huge wake-up call coming. I experienced more of Heaven in a little church in Uganda than I probably ever had in America.

So, how was my mission trip? Exhausting. Difficult. Uncomfortable. Did I cry? A couple times. Some bad tears of stress and missing my family back home. But mostly good tears. Tears for these people who have so little yet love so much. Tears knowing that their sufficiency is in Christ. That when you don’t have food to eat or a roof over your head or clothes to wear, that Christ is enough.

How was my mission trip? Worth every penny. Worth every waking moment in that too-small airplane seat. Worth every ice-cold sponge bath I had to endure and malaria pill I had to swallow.

When I see my daughter’s face light up when she gets to play with the village kids. When I see God confirming in her heart over and over again her call to missions. When I see God stretch me out of my comfort zone. When I see God care for and protect my family back home.

How was my mission trip? It was good. Fine. Great. Glad to be home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yes, I Do See Skin Color — To the Glory of God

I never grow tired of reading good bumper stickers. Some are quite funny. Some are thought-provoking. And of course, some are rude and crude, which I don’t enjoy. However, the one I read the other day caught me off guard for some reason. Actually, it was two bumper stickers on the same car.

The first one read these words: “Either a man is an American and nothing else, or he is not an American at all.” The statement appears to be a paraphrase of several Theodore Roosevelt quotes from speeches that he made after his presidency on the issue of immigration and assimilation.

quote-we-can-have-no-50-50-allegiance-in-this-country-either-a-man-is-an-american-and-nothing-else-or-theodore-roosevelt-158093

This quote appears to be innocuous enough, but you could see the direction this was going when it was accompanied by the other bumper sticker on the vehicle that read something like this: “Bienvenido a América, ahora habla inglés,” which is roughly translated to: Welcome to America, now speak English.

I’m not sure why those bumper stickers got me so hot under the collar. I’ve heard these sentiments before. I’ve seen them on other bumper stickers or t-shirts or on Facebook. We certainly heard enough of that type of language last year during the presidential election.

But reading those got me going on a tirade that only my wife was privileged enough to endure; until now. I’ll see if I can put my thoughts together in a more meaningful way than when she got to hear them unfiltered and without a thesaurus.

  1. I get it. People who move to America should learn the language. It would be easier for us and it would be easier for them. But try this on for a size: I’d love to see anyone from America over the age of 30 be helicoptered into down-town Beijing and dropped off in the middle of town. And now you’re going to live in Beijing for presumably the rest of your life. Let’s see how you would handle: a. Providing for you and your family. b. Getting a job. c. Putting food on your table. d. Learning a foreign language when all you’ve known for your whole life is English.

I don’t think it would be that easy. Dare I say, nearly impossible. But that is exactly what we expect from the people who move here. Now, add to that the fact that most of the immigrants do not come here so they can go to Disney World whenever they want. The move here because of immense hardship. Financial difficulty. Extreme poverty. A war in their home country. Or because they still believe that America is the place of dreams. And if they can just get here then everything will be better. I would bet that there are immigrants all over this country who would love to go home, speak their language, and never have to hear from an arrogant American for the rest of their lives. But they don’t have that luxury.

The ironic thing is that in my made-up scenario of being dropped off in down-town Beijing, chances are you wouldn’t have to look too long before you found someone who spoke English. In fact most of the industrialized world speaks at least a little English.  Americans are largely the only ones who not only want everyone in American to speak their language, but they expect the entire world to speak it as well.

  1. Nearly every aspect of American society has been a gift from another country and culture. I can think of a handful of things that can trace their origins to America: baseball (get out of here with all the “rounders” talk), football, Nascar, hip-hop music, rap music, graffiti as art, etc. Obviously, there are plenty more examples. But let’s think about this for a second, most of the things we enjoy have been around a lot longer than America has.

The word America probably gets its origin from a 15th century Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, for goodness sake! The truck that had those ridiculous bumper stickers on it was from Florida, which is a Spanish word for “covered with flowers.” Perhaps we should change the name of our country and our states lest we be too foreign sounding.

Hot dogs, hamburgers, apple pie, blue jeans, even COWBOYS all came from other countries. When I picture America, I think of a cowboy wearing blue jeans eating a hot dog while grilling hamburgers and chasing it down with a slice of apple pie. But when you do that, you aren’t really being American.

Or are you? In reality, isn’t part of what it is to be American having the luxury to take, sadly, sometimes by force, what is the best of other culture and make it our very own. The fact of the matter is America would be a very boring and bland place without all the food, music, architecture, polity (ever heard of democracy? – not originally American!) and even names of states and cities that we have borrowed from other countries and cultures.

Not only that, the English that you are speaking, isn’t really English. I don’t pretend to be a lingustic or language nerd, but I do know that the majority of our English words come from other languages known as the Romantic Languages. They are Latin, French, Spanish and Italian. That’s why so many Spanish words sound like English words. They come from the same root language.

If you want to be technical, none of us Americans would understand true Old English. To prove my point, here is an excerpt of a homily of St. Gregory the Great written in Old English around the year 1000 BC:

“Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, “Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon.”

Perhaps we both need to brush up on our English.

  1. It won’t be very long from now that America’s majority demographic will be Hispanic people. Some say as soon as the 2040s. Now, I know that sounds like forever away, but I plan on living AT LEAST another 25-30 years and certainly my children and grandchildren will be alive then.

It not only seems wrong to have ill feelings toward people from other nationalities who do not assimilate into our white American lifestyle, but in a few years, white American will be the minorities. That just seems a little counter-productive to plant the roots of xenophobia and polite racism now when we will reap what we have sown in a few short years.

  1. What we were taught is not always true. I vividly remember the lessons I was taught by my grandfather and grandmother. Both were born in the south during the 1920s (Georgia and Alabama, respectively). They didn’t have to sit me down and lecture me on how they felt about minorities (though they did,) I could tell by the way they spoke about them and treated them.

I get it, that’s how they were taught. Well, they were taught wrong. And what they taught me was wrong. And what we’re teaching our kids is wrong if we are teaching them that Americans only talk, dress and act a certain way.

  1. I am certainly not in favor of people going to any country illegally. You should abide by Caesar’s rules as long as they do not contradict Scripture. But, as far as I know, it is not illegal to not know English to live in America.
  1. We should always err on the side of inclusiveness rather than exclusivity. The poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty says these lines: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Sounds a whole lot like another line that I like a lot. Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In case you didn’t know, Jesus said that last part. You know, the Guy who went to parties with prostitutes, pimps and pot heads. The One who has people different than Him in His family tree (at least three gentile WOMEN listed!) The One who always turns our comfortable little world on its head.

  1. For Christians, it is a whole other story. Christians should view the world differently, non-English speaking minorities and refugees included. The gospel changes the prism in which we see people.
  • We believe that ALL people are created in the image of God. Therefore, ALL people have value, just the way they are. If God wanted everyone to be a white American, He would have made them that way. But instead He created every person precisely the way He wanted. That includes brown and black and whatever hue in between. That includes people who know how to speak English and not.
  • We are commanded to reach the nations. The Great Commission is one those verses that should hit home with every Christian. We are commanded to go out into the world and reach the nations. Well guess what. The nations are coming to us.
  • Every refugee and immigrant that comes to America is like God saying, “Here you go. I’ll make it easier on you. You don’t have to get on a plane or a boat to go to them. I’ll bring them to you.” We have the ability to make a global impact on the nations without leaving our city or state.
  • Guess what Heaven will look like? It will consist of people from every tribe, nation and language. If you think that Heaven will be populated by mostly white, English-speaking Americans, you are going to be sorely mistaken. It will be a shock for some people in the American church to consider that the majority of people in Heaven may have never even heard of America, much less had the opportunity to learn English.

I had a friend tell me not too long ago that he doesn’t see color, he just sees people. And I get what he is saying, that color or creed or background doesn’t determine how he will treat people. He will treat everyone with the same amount of dignity and respect and kindness. And I agree.

But I disagree with not seeing color. I do see color. Because God made color. He made ethnicities. He made tribes and languages and tongues. And He made them all a little bit different. And each color contributes to the tapestry of truth that humanity in all its various shades and colors and languages and cultures represent and glorify the image of God.

I am thankful that God didn’t make everyone white Americans. And as thankful as I am of being a pretty privileged and blessed white American, I am even more thankful that when I get to Heaven, it really won’t matter what language I speak the color of my skin.

P.S. If you need any other reason not to think this way, you certainly don’t want to sound like this guy: (Language warning at 9:26)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marks of a Church Needing Revitalization

cover112207-medium

I am really enjoying Pastor Andy Davis’ new book “Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again.”

In it, he lists eleven marks of a dying or a dead church. I tend to agree with him. They are:

Low view of Scripture. The church question both the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture and get a steady diet of man-centered, topical messages or the congregation rejects and drives away pastors who preach God’s Word faithfully.

Man-centered rather than God centered. The church lives for its own glory, reputation, agenda or ideals more than for the glory of God.

Lax shepherding of members and no church discipline. The church has low standards regarding who joins the church and has a bloated membership roll full of unregenerate and non-attending members.

Little evangelistic fruit resulting in dwindling numbers. The church has little connection to the surrounding neighbors, and if they do, it is in a pattern of worldly “good works” with no real connection to the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ.

Disunity and bitter factions. The church bites and devours one another (Galatians 5:15) rather than showing the love of Christ. The seeds of discord run deep in this church.

Disrespect for godly leaders, resulting in short pastorates. The church almost always fights godly leadership, refusing to submit to its authority (Heb. 13:17).

Disorderly polity. Instead of following the pattern of plural elders and deacons who meet the filtering criteria of 1 Timothy 3, they establish extra-biblical structures (like “church council” or “personnel committee”) to suit their own ideas.

Clinging to traditions, stubbornly unwilling to change. Clinging to “Heritage Days” or traditions, the church tends to be stuck remembering their old glory days.

Selfish spending patterns. These churches spend little on evangelism, missions, or relief of the poor.

Little zeal for corporate prayer. The things prayed for in public tend to be worldly or connected only with the physical health of dying members. Almost no emphasis on the lost or missions.

Increasingly worldly doctrines and behaviors. They especially stagger at controversial teachings in the Bible, namely, God’s sovereignty in salvation, the exclusivity of Christ, personal holiness, divorce/remarriage, homosexuality, abortion, et al.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What is a Baptist (Really?) My Thoughts on Dr. Rainer’s Social Media Poll

PREFACE

Let me first say that I write this as both a fan of Thom Rainer. I have found Dr. Rainer’s articles, books and resources the be exceedingly helpful to me in my pastoral career and I pray that God continues to use His ministry to bless scores of other pastors and leaders. If there is any sort of tone of criticism towards Dr. Rainer, it is not intended in the least.

I also write this as a Baptist. I’ve been one since I was born (kind-of. I guess technically since I was baptized and joined my church. You’ll see more of this later.) I’ve never been a member of any other type of church, have always attended a Southern Baptist church, and am currently the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. Having said that, there are many flavors of Baptists in the world and our theological and ecclesiological beliefs range all over the board. I write as a confessional Reformed Southern Baptist. You may have to look those terms up if you don’t know what they mean.

DR. RAINER’S SOCIAL MEDIA POLL

Dr. Rainer recently posted online the findings of a question he posted on Twitter a few weeks prior in which he asked, “What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Baptist?’” He notes how this is a unscientific and rather informal poll but nonetheless informative.

Here are the top 15 responses in order of frequency based on Dr. Rainer’s Twitter question “What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Baptist?’:

  1. Legalism
  2. Potluck
  3. Immersion
  4. John the Baptist
  5. Traditional
  6. Bible
  7. Outdated
  8. Southern
  9. Boring
  10. Conservative
  11. Sound theologically
  12. Fundamentalism
  13. Hymns
  14. Suits and ties
  15. Missions

Quite a list, wouldn’t you agree. Again, this is unscientific and informal. This was not done by a professional survey firm over a period of months. This was done by Dr. Rainer and his team on Twitter. But, I bet that if a professional survey company did a similar study over the frame of a few months, the results would be pretty stinkin’ close.

USE OF THE NAME “BAPTIST”

These results caused me to think about this list and the use of the name Baptist. There was a time when I was in the camp of doing away with the name Baptist in the name of a church. Back when I was planning and going through the church planting evaluation process I had anticipated not using the name Baptist in the church that we planted.

I was under the assumption that the word Baptist just brought too much baggage with it. That people think of Westboro Baptist or the crazy Baptist pastor in Jacksonville, FL who burns Qurans. I thought that Baptist left a bad taste in people’s mouth.

This is the same argument that many of the church leaders and pastors I know even in Southwest Florida have used in order to change the name of their churches or plant a church without using the word Baptist. In fact, my area Director of Missions unilaterally began using an unofficial nickname for our association by taking Baptist out of the title and adding “SBC” at the end of the name. SBC is short for Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination in the world. The argument is that people who are looking for a Southern Baptist church or group will automatically recognize SBC, and everyone else won’t be turned off by the word Baptist.

Well, apparently, he might be correct. It appears that the first thing people think of when they hear the word Baptist is legalism followed by potlucks. People, probably both inside and outside the church, do not think of evangelism or inerrancy or cooperation when they think of Baptists. They think of hell-fire and brimstone and, of course, fried chicken.

ARE WE REALLY THAT?

Let’s be fair, shall we? We’ve done this to ourselves. I’m a Baptist so I’m allowed to say this: we are legalistic chicken graveyards. Too many Baptist preach and teach about all the “Thou shall nots” of the Bible and too many Baptist eat all the casseroles at the church potluck.

But is this really who Baptists are? Are we really just a bunch of boring (#9,) traditional (#5,) fundamental (#12,) stiffs wearing suits and ties (#14) who sing outdated (#7) hymns (#13) in the southern states (#8)? I don’t think so. I mean, sure, some of us are. And some of us are proud to be that. There is a Baptist church 5 minutes from my house with a sign on the front of the church that proudly displays the fact that they are independent, fundamental King James-only, friend chicken lovers. Okay, maybe not the fried chicken part, but I’m sure that is implied along with the legalism and the suits and ties.

So, yes, to some degree we are those things. Baptists have a traditionally been legalistic in the areas of cards, movies, dancing and alcohol (all secondary and tertiary issues.) And yes, even my church has a monthly potluck meal (or is it pot-blessings since luck is an unbiblical idea?).

But there are plenty of Baptists who don’t wear suit and ties (even though I usually do), who don’t sing hymns (even though they should), and who aren’t in the south (though most of them are!)

WHAT SHOULD WE BE?

But what about the other words. Take out John the Baptist. He has nothing to do with what we know as Baptist today. What about immersion (#3), Bible (#6), sound theologically (#11) and missions (#15). Those are the words that I like to hear because those are the words that I think about when I think about what a real Baptist is.

BIBLICALLY SOUND THEOLOGY

Let’s start with the Bible and sound theology. These two go hand-in-hand. Baptists have long been considered people of the Book. We love the Bible and dive deep into the treasure trove of the infallible, inerrant and completely sufficient Word of God. The result: sound theology. Now, again, we have theological differences in the Baptist camp, but by in large most Baptists agree on the central tenants of the orthodox Christian faith. To quote Tom Hicks, “Baptists, along with all orthodox Christians, believe in the Trinity, that God is one in essence and three in person. We also believe in biblical Christology, that the incarnate Christ is two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, united in one person. We believe that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners through His death and resurrection. This means that it’s impossible for liberal theologians, who deny the deity of Christ but affirm the immersion of believers, to be considered Baptists. Orthodoxy has been an indispensably interconnected part of Baptist identity from the beginning.” (Hicks 2016)

In other words, Baptists usually believe what Baptists have always believed; and this comes from a robust understanding of sound doctrine and theology.

IMMERSION AND MISSIONS

This leads directly to the other two words that I think of when I heard the word Baptist; immersion and missions. Immersion is related to what we call credo- or believer’s baptism. This is following the teaching that baptism is reserved only for those who make a credible testimony of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and are then baptized by immersion. It is in opposition to what is called paedo- or infant baptism. Christians who practice infant baptism do so because they understand infant baptism as the new covenant equivalent of circumcision. In this view, just as circumcision joined a Hebrew to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, so baptism joined a person to the New Covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ.

I am not here to defend my position on baptism. If you want to look up some resources, the internet has plenty of them.

What this belief in credo-baptism does is separates Baptists from other orthodox, Bible-loving, Jesus-honoring Christians like Methodists and Presbyterians, among others. This belief shapes our ecclesiology and how we view our church membership, church government and even church discipline.

If only people who can faithfully attest to the gospel of Jesus Christ with any sort of certainty can be baptized, then only regenerate Christians can be baptized and thus become true church members. If the members of the church are truly regenerated and converted, then they posses the Holy Spirit and have the spiritual capability to vote on important matters of the church such as leadership, membership and discipline.

True converted church members possess the keys to the kingdom given to us by Christ to bind and loosen the gates in order to accept members into the local church based on their testimony and witness and also discipline sinning members who are living in unrepentant, habitual sin (see Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.)

Jonathan Leeman says there are six job responsibilities for every church member: help preserve the gospel message, help affirm gospel citizens, attend member’s meetings (where presumably members will be voted on), disciple other church members, share the gospel with outsiders and follow your leaders. (Leeman 2016)

This belief also leads us to a robust theology of missions. It is not coincidence that Baptist (the Southern Baptist Convention, more specifically) has the largest missions force in the world. The approximately 47,000 SBC churches care for almost 3,000 international missionaries and their families and nearly 6,000 missionaries in North America in many different contexts and categories. Now, obviously, with nearly 47,000 churches and 15 million people on our church rolls (though only about 5 million show up to church any given Sunday) those numbers should be higher. But, nevertheless, Baptists are missions-minded, Great Commission-focused people.

We believe that the church always has been and always will be God’s “Plan A” to reach the nations and there is no “Plan B.” We take the Great Commission seriously: we go to all nations and make disciples. And yes, we baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And, hopefully, we are teaching the converts to obey all that Christ has commanded us through His Scriptures with the promise of Jesus’ presence until the end of time.

BEING A BAPTIST

So, yes, Baptists eat too many potlucks. And yes, some have a tendency to be stuffy and Pharisaical. But a true Baptist loves God and His Word, loves people enough to tell them about Jesus and protect and defend their gospel witness, and loves the world enough to go and send missionaries to every corner of the globe for the sake of the gospel.

If that is what a Baptist is, then count me in.

References

Hicks, Tom. What is a Baptist. June 23, 2016. http://founders.org/2016/06/23/what-is-a-baptist/ (accessed January 11, 2017).

Leeman, Jonathan. Don’t Fire Your Church Members. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment