Minggu, 27 September 2009

THE JESUS SEMINAR


September 24, 2009 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service)

The Jesus Seminar, a seriously misnamed organization composed of some 75 “experts in religion and New Testament studies,” began meeting in March 1985 (it was first announced in 1978) with the misguided objective of discovering which words of the Gospels are authentic.

Through the Jesus Seminar, the hiss of the slithering serpent can still be heard asking, “Hath God said?”  

In the 1980s, the Jesus Seminar fellows cast ballots on the authenticity of Christ’s sayings in the four Gospels using pegs or balls. After discussing a passage, the “scholars” would cast their votes. Red indicated a strong probability of authenticity; pink, a good probability; gray, a weak possibility; and black, little or no possibility. The colors therefore indicate various degrees of doubt in God’s Word.  

In 1993, the Jesus Seminar published The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. This included a new translation called “The Scholar’s Translation.” The color coding was incorporated into the text to describe the degree to which the various portions of the Gospels are considered authentic.

The Seminar concluded that Christ spoke only 18 percent of the sayings attributed to Him in the Bible.

According to this group of modernistic scholars, Christ did not speak most of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount; He did not say anything about turning the other cheek; He did not speak the parable of the sower, the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the ten pieces of money, or the parable of the talents; He did not say, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”; He did not pray in the garden of Gethsemane; He did not say, “Take eat, this is my body,” and the other sayings associated with the Lord’s Supper; He did not say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” or, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” when He was on the cross. The Jesus Seminar determined that Christ did not walk on the water, did not feed the thousands with only a few loaves and fishes, did not prophesy of His death or resurrection or second coming, did not conduct the Last Supper as it is recorded in Scripture, did not appear before the Jewish high priest or before Pilate, did not rise again bodily on the third day, and did not ascend to Heaven.  

According to the Jesus Seminar, “THE STORY OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS ENDED WITH HIS DEATH ON THE CROSS AND THE DECAY OF HIS BODY” (Religious News Service, March 6, 1995).

According to these modernistic scholars, Jesus Christ was a mere man who was filled with delusions and was caught up in some sort of political intrigue. At the Redlands, California, meeting in 1986, Jesus Seminar scholar Ron Cameron stated:

“THE DEATH OF JESUS WAS LIKE A CAR WRECK; IT’S AN ACCIDENT OF HISTORY. ... I’m not sure why the Romans killed Jesus, but the gospel stories are not historical in the modern sense of the word. I don’t think Jesus had the notoriety that the gospels say he had. His sayings don’t anywhere give evidence that he was trying to found a church or a reform movement” (Christian News, April 7, 1986).

One of the Jesus Seminar fellows, Marcus Borg, made the following statement to the religious press in 1992:

“I would argue that the truth of Easter does not depend on whether there was an empty tomb, or whether anything happened to the body of Jesus. ... I DO NOT SEE THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION AS EXCLUSIVELY TRUE, OR THE BIBLE AS THE UNIQUE AND INFALLIBLE REVELATION OF GOD. ... It makes no historical sense to say, ‘Jesus was killed for the sins of the world.’ ... I am one of those Christians who does not believe in the virgin birth, nor in the star of Bethlehem, nor in the journeys of the wisemen, nor in the shepherds coming to the manger, as facts of history” (Bible Review, December 1992).

The Jesus Seminar has been revitalized in recent days. After the death of founder Robert Funk in 2005, the organization nearly went out of business. As of 2009, though, it is moving to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and is receiving an influx of money to carry on its Satanic work of destroying people’s faith in God’s Word.

The Jesus Seminar is only one voice in a loud chorus of end-time unbelief that was supernaturally prophesied in the very Bible they so blindly denounce.

“But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).

“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).

Distributed by Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service

Berita Mingguan 26 September 2009

Sumber: Way of Life Ministry, Friday Church News Notes
Penerjemah: Dr. Steven E. Liauw
Graphe International Theological Seminary
Untuk berlangganan, kirim email ke: gits_buletin-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

PENULIS DA VINCI CODE DISESATKAN OLEH GEMBALA SIDANG LIBERAL
Berikut ini disadur dari sebuah laporan yang terbit tanggal 16 September 2009, oleh missionari Daryl Coats: "15 September 2009 adalah tanggal peluncuran, di Amerika Serikat, novel terbarunya Dan Brown, penulis dari The Da Vinci Code. Sebagai bagian dari usaha dunia untuk mempublikasikan peristiwa ini seluas mungkin, edisi 13 September dari majalah Parade memuat sebuah wawancara singkat dengan Brown. Sebagai respons terhadap pertanyaan, `Apakah anda beragama?' Brown menjawab sebagai berikut: `Saya dibesarkan sebagai seorang Episkopal, dan saya sangat beragama sewaktu kecil. Kemudian, sekitar kelas dua atau tiga SMP, saya mempelajari astronomi, kosmologi, dan asal usul alam semesta. Saya masih ingat berkomentar kepada seorang hamba Tuhan, "Saya tidak mengerti. Saya membaca sebuah buku dan katanya ada ledakan besar yang dikenal sebagai Big Bang, tetapi di sini dikatakan bahwa Allah menciptakan langit dan bumi dan binatang-binatang dalam tujuh hari. Yang mana yang benar?" Sayang sekali, jawaban yang saya dapatkan adalah, "Anak-anak yang baik tidak menanyakan pertanyaan seperti itu." Ada cahaya yang padam, dan saya berkata, "Alkitab tidak masuk akal. Ilmu pengetahuan lebih masuk akal bagi saya." Dan saya lambat laun menjauh dari agama.' Ada beberapa hal yang menonjol dari kesaksian Brown. Pertama, Brown jelas menyesal akan keputusannya meninggalkan Alkitab. Perhatikan kata `sayang sekali,' yang dia pakai untuk mengawali jawaban yang ia dapat dari sang `hamba Tuhan.' Kedua, Alkitab berkata, `Bila tersingkap, firman-firman- Mu memberi terang, memberi pengertian kepada orang-orang bodoh' (Maz. 119:130). Allah jelas memberikan terang tertentu kepada Brown yang muda, tetapi (menurut kesaksiannya sendiri) ketika Brown muda menolak satu-satunya sumber sejati akan terang, `ada cahaya yang padam' - bukan MENYALA. Ketiga, [betapa tidak logis dan bodoh] untuk mengklaim bahwa kata-kata yang jelas dalam Kejadian 1 `tidak masuk akal,' tetapi konsep bahwa sebuah ledakan menghasilkan keteraturan dan bukannya kehancuran dan kekacauan -- `lebih masuk akal bagi saya'? Keempat, betapa banyak kerusakan yang ditimpakan pada pekerjaan Allah karena satu jawaban yang buruk. (Buku The Da Vinci Code telah terjual 80 juta kopi dan telah ditonton oleh jutaan orang dalam bentuk film). Saat saya di sekolah, jawaban-jawaban palsu dari guru-guru dan literatur denominasi-denomina si, hampir membuat saya keluar jalur secara rohani. `Kalau bukan karena kasih karunia Tuhan, ke sanalah saya menuju.'"

ORANG-ORANG MUSLIM MEMBUNUH KRISTEN DI SOMALIA
Berikut ini disadur dari "Muslim Militants Slay Long-Time Christian," Compass Direct, 18 September 2009: "Perjalanan iman seorang yang sudah lama menjadi Kristen secara tersembunyi di Somalia berakhir dalam tragedi minggu ini ketika militan-militan Islam yang menguasai sebuah checkpoint keamanan membunuh dia setelah menemukan Alkitab-Alkitab pada dirinya. Militan-militan dari ekstrimis Muslim al Shabaab membunuh Omar Khalafe, 69 tahun, pada hari Selasa (15 Sept.) di sebuah checkpoint yang mereka kuasai, 10 kilometer dari Merca, sebuah sumber Kristen memberitahu Compass....Bulan lalu, para ekstrimis al Shabaab yang sedang mencari bukti bahwa seorang lelaki Somali beralih dari Islam menjadi Kristen, menembak dia mati dekat perbatasan Somalia dengan Kenya....Di Mahadday Weyne, 100 kilometer (62 mil) sebelah utara dari ibukota Somalia, Mogadishu, para Islamis al Shabaab pada tanggal 20 Juli menembak mati seorang lain yang beralih dari Islam, Mohammed Sheikh Abdiraman, pada pukul 7 AM, para saksi mata memberitahu Compass....Para militan dilaporkan memenggal kepala tujuh orang Kristen pada tanggal 10 Juli. Reuters melaporkan bahwa mereka memenggal kepala dua orang bocah kecil di Somalia karena ayah mereka yang Kristen tidak mau membeberkan informasi tentang seorang pemimpin gereja."

PERSENTASE GEMBALA SIDANG WANITA BERTAMBAH DUA KALI LIPAT DALAM 10 TAHUN TERAKHIR
Sebuah penelitian oleh Barna menemukan bahwa persentase wanita "Protestan" yang melayani sebagai gembala sidang senior di AS telah meningkat dua kali lipat dalam dekade terakhir (Christian Post, 15 Sept. 2009). Jumlah gembala sidang wanita saat ini ada pada angka 10%. Alkitab telah meluruskan masalah ini 2000 tahun yang lalu, tetapi di zaman kesesatan ini, Firman Allah kebanyakan diabaikan demi filosofi dan tradisi manusia. Rasul Paulus menulis di bawah ilham ilahi, "Aku tidak mengizinkan perempuan mengajar dan juga tidak mengizinkannya memerintah laki-laki; hendaklah ia berdiam diri" (1 Timotius 2:12).

EKUMENISME DALAM BAPTIS INDEPENDEN, BAGIAN I, MENYERANG SEPARASI
Saya melihat ada suatu gerakan yang semakin bertumbuh, yaitu "ekumenisme Baptis independen" atau "ekumenisme fundamentalis. " Menurut pandangan ini, para fundamentalis seharusnya melakukan separasi terhadap orang-orang yang sudah jelas adalah penyesat (yang benar-benar kacau) tetapi harus mendukung kesatuan di antara kita sendiri. Kita tidak seharusnya terpisah oleh isu-isu seperti cara berpakaian, musik, cara menyembah, teks dan versi Alkitab, metode penginjilan, pertobatan, separasi, dll. Inilah filosofi yang dipromosikan oleh Charles Keen dalam buku "Thinking Outside the Box" (First Bible International, 2003). Seseorang memberikan buku ini kepada saya dalam perjalanan terakhir saya ke Amerika Serikat, dan saya memutuskan untuk mereviewnya karena Dr. Keen adalah seorang pemimpin Baptis Independen yang berpengaruh dan filosofinya ini semakin menyebar. Mengingat akan pelayanan penggembalaannya di First Baptist Church, Milford, Ohio selama 35 tahun, dan bagaimana ia telah mendirikan pelayanan Bearing Precious Seed yang besar di sana, saya agak ragu untuk melakukan hal ini, dan saya tahu dari pengalaman bahwa akan ada cukup banyak permusuhan yang diarahkan pada diri saya karena kritik ini, dan saya akan semakin diberi label sebagai "pemecah-belah" ; tetapi saya percaya bahwa kritik ini memang perlu. Buku Keen mengandung poin-poin yang bagus. Para Baptis Independen memang perlu ditantang untuk membuang tradisi-tradisi manusia dan berpikir di luar kotak dalam pengertian tersebut. Rata-rata gembala sidang Baptis Independan sama terikatnya dengan tradisi dibandingkan seorang Episkopal. Andai saja saya dapat meneruskan nada seperti ini dan berfokus pada hal-hal yang bagus dalam buku ini, tetapi ada masalah yang menonjol. Buku ini mengandung pikiran Injili yang sangat nyata. Dengan cara yang tipikal Injili, Keen banyak menyerang separasi. Walaupun dia berkata percaya akan separasi, ia sama sekali tidak cukup memberikan penekanan pada topik tersebut di zaman yang penuh dengan kesesatan dan kompromi ini. Seharusnya, kita bahkan harus lebih semangat lagi memberitakan separasi, bukan mendorong orang untuk mengecilkannya. Perhatikan petikan berikut: "Separasi ekklesiologis (gerejawi) dapat membuat dukungan kelompok kita sedemikian kecil sehingga tidak ada dampak kita bagi dunia" (hal. 32). "....pendirian kita yang bagus dalam hal separasi telah membuat kita tanpa sadar menarik diri dari penginjilan dunia" (hal. 80). "Penekanan berlebihan pada separasi membuat kita berpaling pada diri sendiri, padahal kita disuruh untuk `pergi' ke luar ke seluruh dunia" (hal. 81). "Dunia sedang mati dan masuk neraka. Allah sedang kehilangan penyembah dengan laju 3 orang per detik. Apakah perbedaan-perbedaan kita cukup besar untuk membenarkan hal itu?" (hal. 82).
KOMENTAR OLEH SDR. CLOUD: Sama sekali tidak ada keperluan untuk mempertentangkan separasi melawan penginjilan dunia seolah-olah kedua hal itu bermusuhan. Keduanya adalah hal yang perlu; keduanya diperintahkan oleh Allah. Saya, sebagai contoh, melakukan keduanya. Istri saya dan saya telah menghabiskan berdekade-dekade hidup kami memulai gereja-gereja di tengah-tengah apa yang disebut Jendela 10/40 [maksudnya negara-negara yang terletak di antara lintang 10 dan lintang 40]. Dr. Keen berbicara mengenai mengutus orang untuk melakukan hal ini. Kami telah melakukannya. Kami memiliki kehormatan mendirikan gereja Baptis yang pertama di Nepal pada tahun 1980an, dan target kami saat ini adalah mendirikan 100 gereja baru melalui penginjilan pribadi dan mendidik pengkhotbah- pengkhotbah. Anak-anak kami yang telah menikah juga terlibat dalam proyek ini. Anda tidak perlu secara artifisial membagi kebenaran menjadi yang penting dan yang tidak penting, dan lalu menyerang dan mengeruhkan separasi Alkitabiah dan mempromosikan missiologi yang sangat dipertanyakan untuk mematuhi perintah Kristus akan penginjilan dunia. Separasi yang Alkitabiah tidak menghalangi penginjilan yang Alkitabiah; ia justru melindunginya dari kesalahan.

KUDUSLAH KAMU
"Sebab itu siapkanlah akal budimu, waspadalah dan letakkanlah pengharapanmu seluruhnya atas kasih karunia yang dianugerahkan kepadamu pada waktu penyataan Yesus Kristus. Hiduplah sebagai anak-anak yang taat dan jangan turuti hawa nafsu yang menguasai kamu pada waktu kebodohanmu, tetapi hendaklah kamu menjadi kudus di dalam seluruh hidupmu sama seperti Dia yang kudus, yang telah memanggil kamu, sebab ada tertulis: Kuduslah kamu, sebab Aku kudus. Dan jika kamu menyebut-Nya Bapa, yaitu Dia yang tanpa memandang muka menghakimi semua orang menurut perbuatannya, maka hendaklah kamu hidup dalam ketakutan selama kamu menumpang di dunia ini" (1 Petrus 1:13-17).

POVERTY: WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

September 23, 2009 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service)

The emerging church claims that Christians are responsible to solve the world’s poverty problem. They emphasize the need for a grand “social justice” program that will create heaven on earth, but it is a vain dream. The kingdom of God will not be established on earth until the King returns from heaven, and until then the Bible says that man will go from bad to worse.

The Bible’s recipe to reduce poverty is simple: obedience to God, honesty, thrift, diligence, and charity. Consider the following study from the Bible’s book of wisdom. This is from the Advanced Bible Studies Series course on Proverbs, published by Way of Life Literature.

Book of Proverbs, Advanced Bible Study (309 pages; $19.95)
 
Add Coil / Spiral Binding $1.00
 
Add Large Print and Coil Binding $2.00
 
 
WHAT PROVERBS SAYS ABOUT POVERTY
Proverbs 10:4, 15; 12:11; 13:18, 23; 14:20-21; 15:16-17; 17:1, 5; 18:23; 19:1, 4, 7, 17, 22; 20:13; 21:17; 22:2, 7, 16, 22-23; 23:20-21; 28:8, 11, 19, 22, 27; 29:7, 13; 30:8-9; 31:20

Billions of dollars in foreign aid have been poured into impoverished nations, but it hasn’t solved the poverty problem there, and billions of dollars in welfare money have poured into poverty relief in wealthy nations like America and England, but the poor are still poor. What foreign aid and welfare rarely if ever do is address the root problems underlying poverty. The book of Proverbs, on the other hand, goes right to the heart of the matter and does not gloss over underlying issues and human responsibility.

1. THE CAUSE OF POVERTY

a. Dealing with a slack hand results in poverty (Prov. 10:4; 20:13). This refers to being lazy, and this is certainly one of the root causes for poverty in this world. Many people loll around, avoiding work as much as possible, and if forced to get a job are not dependable or hard-working and are a frustration to their employers. The Bible says that those who do not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). It is foolish and wrong to provide government support or private assistance to lazy people. It only makes them more lazy.

b. Loving sensual pleasure and drunkenness results in poverty (Prov. 21:17; 23:20-21). Multitudes of people have been reduced to poverty by this means. They unwisely spend their income on liquor and debauched living and having become enslaved thereby are reduced to drowsiness and poverty. Many who are poor remain poor because they spend their income on these things. In the Himalayan Times in early 2007 I read about a group of beggars in Kathmandu, Nepal, who work at a certain temple area and receive a good income from begging by Nepali standards, but they waste it on liquor and gambling and thus remain poor. Their many health problems come not from lack of money but from debauched living.

c. Following vain persons results in poverty (“He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding,” Prov. 12:11; 28:19). This is repeated two times in Proverbs by way of emphasis.

(1) It is God’s will for men to till the land, meaning to occupy themselves with making an honest living by means of hard and faithful labor. From the very beginning it was so. God put the first man in the garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15), and after man sinned God ordained that “in the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). It has been said, “Keep thy shop, and thy shop shall keep thee.”

(2) But when a man neglects his own business and follows after vain persons who promise an easy living by means of theft or violence or extortion or revolution or gambling or some other thing he incurs God’s judgment and “shall have poverty enough” (Prov. 28:19). He who follows vain persons often is enticed to spend his own substance on their gluttony. The young man Jesus described in Luke 15 “wasted his substance with riotous living” (Lk. 15:13), and no doubt he had plenty of vain friends who were eager to help him spend his inheritance, but when the money was gone so were the “friends.” When he was in need “no man gave unto him” (Lk. 15:16), because vain persons are not true friends but rather leeches.

(3) Note that he that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread (Prov. 12:11). God has not promised that we will be rich but He has promised to meet our needs when we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and follow His will (Mat. 6:33; Heb. 13:5).

(4) By way of spiritual application the one who tills his land is the one who pays careful and diligent attention to his relationship with the Lord. He reads and studies his Bible every day. He walks in fellowship with Christ and has an effective prayer life. He is faithful to church and can be depended upon to give and work so that Christ is glorified in the assembly. Such a Christian will be satisfied with the bread of life, but the Christian that follows vain persons, whether sinners or heretics, will go out of the way and backslide and be brought to spiritual poverty.

d. Refusing instruction results in poverty (“Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured,” Prov. 13:18).

(1) There are many ways that a person can refuse instruction. Some people refuse instruction in school and drop out. Some refuse to heed the instruction of a father and mother and run away from home. Some refuse the instruction of a boss and will not put themselves under authority. Some refuse the instruction of the law and become criminals. All those who refuse instruction are foolish (Prov. 12:1) and receive the fool’s reward, which is divine punishment. “He that is so proud that he scorns to be taught will certainly be abased. ... He will become a beggar and live and die in disgrace; every one will despise him as foolish, and stubborn, and ungovernable” (Matthew Henry).

(2) The individual that regards reproof, on the other hand, will be honored. Obedience brings both physical and spiritual blessing. The wise person knows that he needs reproof and correction and accepts it with humility (Prov. 9:9).

e. Lack of judgment results in poverty (“Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment,” Prov. 13:23). This proverb contains a far-reaching truth in this sin-cursed world. Why are so many people poor? Oftentimes it is because they are made poor by lack of judgment.

(1) God has ordained that there is much food in the tillage of the poor. Tillage refers to plowing. If a poor person will labor diligently and honestly and attend to his business and not waste his substance through drink and gluttony and gambling and such he will usually have plenty for his own needs and those of his family.

(2) But much is destroyed by lack of judgment.

(a) Many times the lack of judgment is on the part of the poor himself. First, he that lacks wisdom and judgment can waste his substance through sloth and gluttonous or riotous living and following vain persons, or through lawbreaking. Second, he can ruin his estate by lack of prudence in its management. Many times poor people have been given houses and modular homes and apartments through government and private welfare schemes only to have them ruined by lack of judgment. Third, the poor can also ruin themselves by borrowing unwisely. In South Asia the poor often borrow large amounts of money in order to go overseas to work or to start a business, but in many cases the job doesn’t pan out and the business is not run wisely and they end up in much worse condition than before. “Men over-build themselves or over-buy themselves, keep greater company, or a better table, or more servants, than they can afford, suffer what they have to go to decay and do not make the most of it; by taking up money themselves, or being bound for others, their estates are sunk, their families reduced, and all for want of judgment” (Matthew Henry).

(b) The lack of judgment can also be on the part of others who affect the poor such as governments and revolutionary movements. Even if the poor man is laboring diligently and not following after vain persons and not spending his substance on riotous living and is minding his own affairs prudently, his labor can be reduced or destroyed by lack of judgment on the part of those who are over him. The food in the tillage of the poor is destroyed by corruption in government. When governments are corrupt and self-seeking they do not protect the poor and do not provide true justice to the poor and thus allow the poor’s enemies to harass and rob him. This is just as true in the West as in Third World nations. In America environmental and unjust property laws have destroyed the value of much real estate. We knew a couple who had 40 acres of land in Washington state and were planning to divide it into eight pieces and sell the five-acre lots for their retirement, but the government ruled that the property could not be divided down to less than 20 acres and they lost their income. These were ordinary people whose food was destroyed for want of judgment. Unreasonably high taxes have forced many people to sell property that has been in the family for generations just to satisfy an unjust and greedy government. Valuable properties have been confiscated through unjust imminent domain laws. I have lived for nearly 18 years in poor countries with corrupt governments and have often witnessed the poor run over and destroyed by lack of judgment. A vast amount of foreign aid from wealthy countries is squandered through such corruption. The food in the tillage of the poor is also destroyed by lack of judgment on the part of revolutionary movements. Communists run over the poor even in the name of the poor, confiscating their crops and lands, kidnapping their children, demanding provisions for their cadres, forcing the poor to perform their labor, and many other things. The food in the tillage of the poor is also often destroyed by false religion. Consider, for example, the Hindu caste system. It divides men into castes and the lowest castes, particularly, are terribly mistreated and are kept in perpetual poverty and bondage. In some villages in Nepal the high caste villagers will not allow the low caste to drink out of the wells; they will not allow them to enter their homes or touch their possessions. The low caste cannot attend the same schools or work the same jobs as the high caste and they cannot marry out of caste.

f. Hastening to be rich results in poverty (“He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him,” Prov. 28:22). The evil eye is defined in Matthew 6:21-24 as the eye that is focused on obtaining wealth and pleasure as opposed to the eye that is focused on serving God with a true heart.

(1) Many men have been made poor because they hastened to be rich and thought there was an “easy” path to wealth. They have been impoverished by joining with thieves and extortioners. They have been impoverished through gambling and lotteries. They have been impoverished by promises of lucrative-sounding jobs that do not pan out. They have been impoverished through deceitful “get rich quick” schemes. It has been wisely said, “If something sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true!” Many, though, are captured by fantastic-sounding promises because their greed blinds them to common sense and they refuse to listen to good advice.

(2) Bible examples of men who had an evil eye and hasted to be rich and ended up poor include Lot, Achan, Ahab, and Gehazi. Lot moved to Sodom and overlooked its wickedness in his pursuit of wealth, and lost both his wealth and his family (Genesis 13-14). Achan coveted pagan gold and was destroyed with all his possessions (Joshua 7:20-26). Ahab lusted after Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21), and because of his greed God said to him, “Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity...” (1 Kings 21:21). Gehazi lusted after Naaman’s silver and was smitten with leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-27).

2. THE PAIN OF POVERTY

Proverbs not only shows us the cause of poverty, it also warns that poverty is attended by many pains.

a. Poverty is the destruction of the poor (“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty,” Prov. 10:15).  

(1) This means that the poor is destroyed because he is poor and lacks the protection that wealth provides in this wicked world. Whereas the rich man has his money and possessions to act as a protection and he feels secure in this “strong city,” the poor man has no substance of any significance. He must face life’s contingencies alone, without money, without position and prestige, without higher education, without connections, often even without political and libertarian rights. So when the poor man gets sick or is arrested or otherwise faces life’s problems he has no “strong city.” For example, a report on international calling card scams which cheat people out of their money emphasized that it is the poor who are targeted. “You have companies with no scruples targeting low-income minorities with no access to traditional credit and banking services who view themselves as defenseless” (“Fraud Is a Hang-up for Pre-paid Calling Card Market,” USA Today, Oct. 5, 2008).

(2) It is important to understand that the rich man’s wealth which he looks to as his “strong city” is fleeting and uncertain and can disappear in a moment, whereas if a man puts his confidence in the Lord he has a true rock and fortress and high tower which cannot be overthrown and in which he is truly safe (Psa. 18:2). The Bible warns us not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (1 Tim. 6:17).

b. The poor is hated even of his own neighbor (“The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends,” Prov. 14:20). See also Proverbs 19:4 and 19:7.

(1) The rich have many friends because they are rich, though such friends are insincere and undependable. The Prodigal Son discovered this the hard way (Luke 15:11-16). Multimillion dollar lottery winners invariably discover this. Teresa Brunnings, who won $1.3 million in a lottery in 1985, says that she had a party then for her “friends,” but later after the winnings were gone, “Of all the people who came, not one speaks to me now.”

(2) The poor, on the other hand, is hated even of his own neighbor because, unlike the rich, he has nothing of substance that they desire and no social standing or office that they respect. You would think that the neighbors of the poor would respect him and care for him because they, too, are poor, but this is not the way that fallen human nature works. The poor is commonly disrespected, disdained, neglected, and mistreated by his poor neighbors. Rarely do they band together to help one another, but they often take advantage of one another in a multitude of ways. They lie to one another and steal from one another. They borrow and do not pay back. They loan to one another at exorbitant rates. As we saw in the studies on Proverbs 6, Jim Corbett, the famous tiger hunter of India during the first half of the twentieth century, told of how that millions of poor people in India were made bond-servants generationally through debts, and that the children of those who borrowed would inherit the debt and its crushing interest, the debt actually increasing exponentially with each generation. The neighbor of a poor man will loan him money requiring that he put up his family property as collateral, knowing that the man very likely will not be able to repay the loan on time and the property, which is of much greater value than the loan, will fall into his hands. Relatives of the poor man take his property upon the death of his father by hiring shady lawyers and bribing corrupt court officials. The poor are scammed by their neighbors in a multitude of ways. There have been many reports about poor people who have won large sums of money through government lotteries and almost immediately their own neighbors and relatives attempt to cheat them. And even though the poor man pursues his hateful neighbors with words, begging them for help and reproving them for their unkindness, “yet they are wanting to him” (Prov. 19:7).

c. The poor are ruled over by the rich (“The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender,” Prov. 22:7).

(1) This is another painful aspect of poverty. It is the rich who rule in this present world, regardless of how evil and unjust they might be. The poor man is subject to the rich on every hand. He is ruled by the rich in government, in the judicial system, in education, in the business world, in real estate, even in religion.

(2) This verse reminds us of the potential danger of borrowing. Proverbs 22:26-27 warns that the borrower who cannot pay will be forced to relinquish his most necessary possessions. Hebrews 13:5-6 exhorts believers to live contended, covetous-free lives and not to put themselves in any position whereby they must fear what man shall do to him and cannot explicitly trust the Lord. To borrow in any situation whereby the borrower could become enslaved and impoverished is foolish.

d. The poor use entreaties whereas the rich answereth roughly (Prov. 18:23).

(1) The rich is puffed up in his false sense of superiority and is often unkind to those of lower “social standing.” This tendency to pride is one of the many spiritual dangers of wealth. The Bible exhorts the rich man to humble himself before God and to forebear threatening his fellow man (Eph. 6:9). “The tendency of wealth to foster pride and haughtiness of spirit, is great. To be rich, and at the same time truly humble, is the fruit of divine grace” (Family Bible Notes).

(2) The poor, on the other hand, knows that in order to get any help or justice he must humble himself and use entreaties. He cannot demand anything. This does not mean that the poor are naturally humble. Pride rather than humility is the natural characteristic of the flesh that we have inherited from our father Adam. That the poor’s humility is commonly faked is demonstrated by the fact that when he is elevated out of his poverty he quickly loses his humility.

(3) Spiritually, every sinner is poor before Almighty God and salvation is not a right that we can demand but a matter of God’s grace that we must entreat. The believing sinner is not rich in his own right, and thus has nothing of which to boast, but he is rich by means of having inherited Christ’s riches (2 Cor. 8:9). Salvation is a gift that was purchased for undeserving sinners by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9).

3. MISCELLANEOUS OTHER LESSONS ABOUT POVERTY

a. The Bible says that one’s attitude toward the poor is an evidence of the condition of one’s heart. (“The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it,” Prov. 29:7). The book of Proverbs is a mirror that shows us the condition of our hearts, and if we have no concern for the poor we are wicked and probably unconverted. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9).

b. Many things are worse than poverty. Though the book of Proverbs does not hedge about the fact that poverty is attended by many troubles, it hastens to add that poverty with righteousness is much better than wealth with unrighteousness. The poor person must not be deceived into thinking that poverty is the worst thing in life and that at all cost he must find a way to be rich. If a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ and finds wisdom he learns how to look at his situation properly and to judge things through God’s eyes rather than man’s. He can look beyond this brief life to eternity and thus not be shortsighted. He understands and agrees with the words of Christ, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mat. 16:26).

(1) Poverty with righteousness is better than wealth with trouble (“Better is little with fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith,” Prov. 15:16-17). See also Proverbs 17:1. Those who love wealth and pursue it do not stop to think about the trouble that often accompanies it. How much better it is to live in a simple manner and to be surrounded by God’s blessing and the sincere love of one’s spouse and friends in Christ and the honor of one’s children than to be married to the most beautiful movie star who lives only for herself and to have riches untold in the midst of strife and trouble, such as the rebellion and dishonor of one’s children and the greedy devices of one’s friends and relatives. The Bible warns that “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).

(2) The righteous poor is better than the fool (“Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity than he that is perverse in his lips and is a fool,” Prov. 19:1). See also Proverbs 19:22. To walk in integrity and honesty brings blessings both in this world and in the next. If a person has riches but is foolish and unrighteous any enjoyment he gets from the riches will be corrupted by strife and trouble and he will enjoy his riches for a few months, or a few years at the most, and will then go out into eternity without Christ and suffer eternal wrath.

c. God blesses those who help the poor and judges those who oppress them.

(1) There are three specific promises in Proverbs to those who help the poor.

(a) He that has mercy on the poor is happy (Prov. 14:21). There is joy in giving, especially when those we help are truly needy.

(b) He that hath pity on the poor lends unto the Lord (Prov. 19:17). The Lord, who cares for the poor and needy, promises to pay back those who help them. What a great deal! Almighty God pledges Himself on the behalf of the poor, and those who help the poor put God into their debt, so to speak. It has been wisely said, “You can’t out give God, because when He shovels blessings back to the giver His shovel is bigger.”

(c) He that giveth to the poor shall not lack (“He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse,” Prov. 28:27). This is another wonderful promise, and we have found it to be true. During the years we have lived in one of the poorest parts of Asia we have given many thousands of dollars to help the needy, and we can testify that we have never lacked for anything.

(2) There are also three sharp warnings in Proverbs for those who oppress the poor.

(a) Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his maker (Prov. 17:5). God identifies Himself with the poor in such a manner that if the poor are mistreated God is mistreated, and He will repay. God takes the oppression of the poor seriously, and punishes those who practice it. This warning looks beyond the brief days of his life. In this world there are countless people who mock and abuse the poor, and it often appears that they get away “scot free,” but they don’t. They will give an answer for their crimes at the Great White Throne judgment described in Revelation 20.

(b) He that oppresseth the poor shall come to want (“He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want,” Prov. 22:16). We have described some the ways that the rich and the poor alike oppress the poor to increase their own riches, but God observes all such things and will impoverish those who practice it. Whether it be fulfilled in this present world or in the next or both, this warning is infallible and will be heeded by those who are wise. To give to the rich, in this context, refers to giving to them to increase one’s own riches. The context is corruption and theft. It refers to such things as giving bribes to the rich so that they will turn a blind eye to one’s oppression. John Gill says “he that giveth to the rich” refers to the one “that gives to those that are richer than he; or that are in greater power and authority, that they may protect him in the possession of his ill gotten riches.”

(c) He that oppresses the poor will be impoverished in his soul (“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: For the LORD will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them,” Prov. 22:22-23). Not only does God warn that those who oppress the poor will come to want in the material sense but also that He will spoil their souls. Thus a spiritual curse comes upon the one who oppresses the poor. His soul is spoiled in this present life and in the next. The Bible tells that the soul can be spoiled by leanness (Psa. 106:15), by spiritual blindness (2 Cor. 4:4), and by being given up to its own way (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). And in the next life the soul is spoiled in eternal hell (Mat. 10:28).

d. The rich man is wise in his own conceit but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out (Prov. 28:11).

(1) Rich men are often deceived into thinking that they are much wiser than they actually are. Since they have the sense necessary to gain and/or hold onto wealth they come to think that they know almost everything. It is the rich man’s conceit that causes this. Bill Gates has been one of the world’s wealthiest men for many years and in interviews he has expounded on a wide variety of things that have nothing to do with his narrow field of expertise, which is computers. He even makes predictions about the future. In an interview with David Frost on the Public Broadcasting Network in November 1995 Gates said he does not believe in “the specific elements of Christianity.” It is doubtful whether he has made a serious study of the Bible and Christianity, yet he boldly expresses his unbelief and is given a hearing because of his great wealth.

(2) The poor that has understanding can search out the rich man who is wise in his own conceit. He does this with God’s Word. He can cut through the rich man’s false thinking and refute his wrong-headed arguments. Proverbs informs us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the man who fears the Lord will have far more understanding about the important things pertaining to life and death than any unconverted person, regardless of his wealth, intellect, education, or social standing. The rich often promote evolution as fact, whereas the poor that is wise knows that God created the world and can refute the rich man’s philosophy with the Bible and common sense and observation, which is true science.

(3) We see that wisdom is far better than wealth. Wealth cannot buy forgiveness of sin or a relationship with the living God. It cannot buy the things that wisdom naturally gives in this present life, such as the knowledge of God’s perfect will and the ability to make wise decisions about friends, education, marriage, and occupation. Wealth cannot buy rewards at the judgment seat of Christ.

e. The wise person prays for neither poverty nor riches (“Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain,” Prov. 30:7-9).

(1) In light of what Proverbs says about poverty, we are taught in conclusion to seek neither poverty nor wealth. Paul taught Timothy the same lesson in 1 Timothy 6:6-9.

(a) The prophet Agur prayed that God would feed him with food convenient for him. This refers to that which is fitting and proper in God’s eyes, that which meets his needs though not necessarily his wants.

(b) He knew that the great danger in being rich is to become proud and self-sufficient and to deny God.

(c) He knew that the great danger in being poor is to become desperate and steal from others in order to escape one’s poverty and to foolishly blame God for not lifting him out of poverty. Notice that the poor can be tempted to steal. He is so tempted because he wants to get out of his poverty and if he dwells on that sole objective he can get to the place where he is willing to do anything toward this end. The stealing can come in several forms. It can come in the form of robbery, of pick pocketing or entering into houses to steal possessions or robbing stores or banks or highway robbery. It can come in the form of cheating and scamming and lying in order to gain wealth, which encompasses a multitude of sins. It can come in the form of joining an extortion gang.

(2) Notice that the wise man knows how to pray properly. When praying for himself he does not pray for something to consume upon his lusts (James 4:3). He prays rather that God will provide his needs, protect him from sin, and not lead him into temptation. This is how Christ taught us to pray. See Matthew 6:9-13.

Distributed by Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service

THE EMERGING CHURCH: THE 21ST CENTURY FACE OF NEW EVANGELICALISM

September 17, 2009 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service) -

The following is excerpted from WHAT IS THE EMERGING CHURCH, available from Way of Life Literature. This is a thorough examination of the emerging church, a name that describes a new approach to missions and church life among some “evangelicals” for these present times. Nothing has made us more conscious of the vicious battle that is raging for the very life and soul of Bible-believing churches than our research into the emergent church. It is frightful, because so many are falling into devil’s trap and so many more will doubtless fall in the coming days. At the same time, it is exciting, because it reminds us that the hour is very, very late and we need to be busy in the Lord’s service and always “looking up.” I have made a great effort to understand the emerging church. I have read more than 80 books and a great many articles by emerging church leaders, and I have attended emerging congregations as well as a large emerging church conference with media credentials.
OUTLINE: I. What Is the Emerging Church? II. A Great Blending and Merging. It is difficult to draw a strict line between the two streams of the emerging church, because there is a blending and merging going on that will cause all lines to be blurred eventually. III. The Liberal Emerging Church and Its Errors. IV. The Conservative Emerging Church and Its Errors. V. Cain the First Emerging Church Worshiper. VI. Charles Spurgeon Exposed the Emerging Church. VII. Index. 489 pages. $19.95

___________________________

The emerging church is simply the twenty-first century face of New Evangelicalism.

Andy Crouch calls the emerging church “post-evangelicalism.” He says:

“The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism” (“The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, Nov. 2004).

The late Robert Webber also observed the association between the emerging church and the neo-evangelicalism of the 1940s and 1950s. He taught that the emerging church is the latest of four movements that have occurred within evangelicalism since 1946, the first being neo-evangelicalism.

“The new or neo-evangelicalism, as it was first called, broke away from its roots in the fundamentalism of the first half of the century. The new evangelicalism regarded fundamentalism as ‘anti-intellectual, anti-social action, and anti-ecumenical.’ Influential leaders called for engagement with philosophy and the intellectual ideas of the day, to the recovery of a robust involvement with social issues, and to a new form of ecumenical cooperation, especially in evangelism. ... The new evangelical theology distanced itself from fundamentalist biblicism ... They wanted to spar with the best, engage secularists and liberals on their own turf, and create institutions of higher learning that would command respect” (Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, p. 11).

The intimate association between New Evangelicalism and the emerging church is witnessed by Christianity Today. This magazine was founded by Billy Graham and his friends in 1956 as a mouthpiece for the New Evangelical movement. Today it is a mouthpiece for the emerging church. A section of their web site, called “The Emergence of Emergent,” is dedicated to it, and they have published many positive articles dealing with it, including several by Brian McLaren. Marshall Shelley, vice president of Christianity Today, said of Spencer Burke’s An Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, which is foreworded by McLaren: “Spencer is a winsome walking companion for those who find traditional dogma too narrow. It’s a thoughtful conversation” (http://www.spencerburke.com/pdf/presskit.pdf).

The emerging church is the natural progression of New Evangelicalism. Let’s go back a half century and consider some of its history.

The founders of New Evangelicalism grew up in fundamentalist homes as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the first half of the twentieth century was winding down. They were the proverbial new generation. “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).

In the first half of the 20th century, evangelicalism in America was largely synonymous with fundamentalism. George Marsden (Reforming Fundamentalism) says, “There was not a practical distinction between fundamentalist and evangelical: the words were interchangeable” (p. 48). When the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was formed in 1942, for example, participants included such fundamentalist leaders as Bob Jones, Sr., John R. Rice, Charles Woodbridge, Harry Ironside, and David Otis Fuller.

By the mid-1950s, though, a clear break between separatist fundamentalists and non-separatist evangelicals occurred. This was occasioned largely by the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham. The separatists dropped out of the NAE. The terms evangelicalism and fundamentalism began “to refer to two different movements” (William Martin, A Prophet with Honor, p. 224).

The sons and grandsons of the old-time evangelical-fundamentalist preachers determined to create a “New Evangelicalism.” They would not be fighters; they would be diplomats, positive in their emphasis rather than militant. They would not be restricted by a separationist mentality.

The very influential Harold Ockenga claimed to have coined the term “new evangelical” in 1948. He was pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, founder of the National Association of Evangelicals, co-founder and first president of Fuller Seminary, first president of the World Evangelical Fellowship, president of Gordon College, on the board of directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, chairman of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and one-time editor of Christianity Today.

Following is how Ockenga defined New Evangelicalism:

“Neo-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address REPUDIATED ITS ECCLESIOLOGY AND ITS SOCIAL THEORY. The ringing call for A REPUDIATION OF SEPARATISM AND THE SUMMONS TO SOCIAL INVOLVEMENT received a hearty response from many evangelicals. The name caught on and spokesmen such as Drs. Harold Lindsell, Carl F.H. Henry, Edward Carnell, and Gleason Archer supported this viewpoint. We had no intention of launching a movement, but found that the emphasis attracted widespread support and exercised great influence. Neo-evangelicalism... DIFFERENT FROM FUNDAMENTALISM IN ITS REPUDIATION OF SEPARATISM AND ITS DETERMINATION TO ENGAGE ITSELF IN THE THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE OF THE DAY. IT HAD A NEW EMPHASIS UPON THE APPLICATION OF THE GOSPEL TO THE SOCIOLOGICAL, POLITICAL, AND ECONOMIC AREAS OF LIFE. Neo-evangelicals emphasized the restatement of Christian theology in accordance with the need of the times, the REENGAGEMENT IN THE THEOLOGICAL DEBATE, THE RECAPTURE OF DENOMINATIONAL LEADERSHIP, AND THE REEXAMINATION OF THEOLOGICAL PROBLEMS SUCH AS THE ANTIQUITY OF MAN, THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE FLOOD, GOD'S METHOD OF CREATION, AND OTHERS.” (Harold J. Ockenga, foreword to The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell).

Regardless of who coined the term “New Evangelical,” it is certain that it described the mood of positivism and non-militancy that characterized that generation.

Ockenga and the new generation of evangelicals determined to abandon a militant Bible stance. Instead, they would pursue dialogue, intellectualism, non-judgmentalism, and appeasement. They refused to leave the denominations, even though they were permeated with theological modernism, determining to change things from within. The New Evangelical would dialogue with those who teach error. The New Evangelical would meet the proud humanist and the haughty liberal on their own turf with human scholarship rather than follow the humble path of being counted a fool for Christ’s sake by standing simply upon the Bible. New Evangelical leaders also determined to start a “rethinking process” whereby the old paths were to be continually reassessed in light of new goals, methods, and ideology.

New Evangelicalism further called for a social aspect to the gospel -- “a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life” (Ockenga, foreword to the Battle for the Bible).

New Evangelicalism rejected the old traditional standards of separation from the world, and the result has been the strange rock & roll Christian culture.

In 1978, Richard Quebedeux wrote The Worldly Evangelicals, documenting the dramatic changes that were already occurring within evangelicalism a mere thirty years after the onslaught of the spirit of “Newism.” He said:

“Evolutionary theory, in a theistic context, is now taken for granted by many evangelical scientists. ... Biblical criticism has now made inroads in almost all evangelical colleges and seminaries. In fact, a few evangelical biblical scholars actually stand to the left of their liberal counterparts on some points. ... it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit young pastors who have not been deeply influenced both by biblical criticism and by the behavioral sciences. ... Prior to the 60s, virtually all the seminaries and colleges associated with the neo-evangelicals and their descendants adhered to the total inerrancy understanding of biblical authority (at least they did not vocally express opposition to it). But it is a well-known fact that a large number, if not most, of the colleges and seminaries in question now have faculty who no longer believe in total inerrancy. ... The position affirming that Scripture is inerrant or infallible in its teaching on matters of faith and conduct, but not necessarily in all its assertions concerning history and the cosmos, is gradually becoming ascendant among the most highly respected evangelical theologians. ... Indeed, the new theological heroes of the evangelical left are Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer... Clearly and undisputedly, the evangelical left is far closer to Bonhoeffer, Brunner, and Barth than to Hodges and Warfield on the inspiration and authority of Scripture” (The Worldly Evangelicals, pp. 15, 30, 88, 100).

Quebedeaux observed that “the wider culture has had a profound impact on the evangelical movement as a whole” (p. 115). Though Quebedeaux didn’t make the connection, this is a direct result of the repudiation of separation. He said:

“In the course of establishing their respectability in the eyes of the wider society, the evangelicals have become harder and harder to distinguish from other people. Upward social mobility has made the old revivalistic taboos dysfunctional. ... the COCKTAILS became increasingly difficult to refuse. Evangelical young people LEARNED HOW TO DANCE AND OPENLY ‘GROOVED’ ON ROCK MUSIC. ... And evangelical magazines and newspapers began REVIEWING PLAYS AND MOVIES. ... The Gallup Poll is correct in asserting that born-again Christians ‘believe in a strict moral code.’ BUT THAT STRICTNESS HAS BEEN CONSIDERABLY MODIFIED DURING THE LAST FEW YEARS … DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE are becoming more frequent and acceptable among evangelicals of all ages, even in some of their more conservative churches. … Some evangelical women are taking advantage of ABORTION on demand. Many younger evangelicals occasionally use PROFANITY in their speech and writing . . . Some of the recent evangelical sex-technique books assume that their readers peruse and view PORNOGRAPHY on occasion, and they do. Finally, in 1976 there emerged a fellowship and information organization for practicing evangelical LESBIANS AND GAY MEN and their sympathizers. There is probably just as high a percentage of gays in the evangelical movement as in the wider society. Some of them are now coming out of the closet, distributing well-articulated literature, and demanding to be recognized and affirmed by the evangelical community at large. ... It is profoundly significant that evangelicals, even the more conservative among them, have ACCEPTED THE ROCK MODE. This acceptance, obviously, indicates a further chapter in the death of self-denial and world rejection among them. ... When young people were converted in the Jesus movement, many of them simply did not give up their former habits, practices, and cultural attitudes--DRINKING, SMOKING, AND CHARACTERISTIC DRESS AND LANGUAGE. ... Young evangelicals drink, but so do conservative evangelicals like Hal Lindsey and John Warwick Montgomery (who is a member of the International Wine and Food Society). ... But EVEN MARIJUANA, now virtually legal in some areas of the United States, is not as forbidden among young evangelicals as it once was. A few of them, particularly the intellectuals, do smoke it on occasion...” (The Worldly Evangelicals, pp. 14, 16, 17, 118, 119).

When light associates with darkness, when truth associates with error, the result is always the corruption of light and truth. “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33), and, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9).

Quebedeaux observed that evangelicals were fluid in their doctrinal convictions, moving toward “the left”:

“In the present ‘identity confusion’ among evangelicals, MANY ARE IN TRANSITION, moving from one stance to another (GENERALLY FROM RIGHT TO CENTER OR LEFT)” (The Worldly Evangelicals, p. 27).

Over the past 30 years since Quebedeaux published The Worldly Evangelicals, the apostasy within evangelicalism has continued to spread and exercise its corrupt leaven in countless ways.

It is obvious that the emerging church is not something new. It is just another wrinkle in New Evangelicalism’s deeply compromised history and the latest wrinkle of end-time apostasy.

Those who reject “separatism” feel that they are only rejecting “extremism,” but in reality they are rejecting the God-ordained means of protection from spiritual pollution.

(For more about this see our books What Is the Emerging Church and New Evangelicalism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit, available from Way of Life Literature.)

NORMAN VINCENT PEALE: APOSTLE OF SELF-ESTEEM


Republished September 16, 2009 (first published April 26, 1997) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service) –

Norman Vincent Peale died on Christmas Eve, 1993, at the age of 95. He was one of the most popular preachers of the twentieth century. His famous book The Power of Positive Thinking has sold almost 20 million copies in 41 languages. It was on the United States best-seller list for a full year following its publication in 1952 and has been in print continuously ever since. Peale pastored the Marble Collegiate Church, a Reformed Church in America congregation in New York City, from 1932 until 1984. At the time of his retirement the church had 5,000 members, and tourists lined up around the block to hear Peale preach. For 54 years Peale’s weekly radio program, The Art of Living, was broadcast on NBC. His sermons were mailed to 750,000 people a month. His popular Guidepost magazine has a circulation of more than 4.5 million, the largest for any religious publication. His life was the subject of a 1964 movie, One Man’s Way.

THE FATHER OF POSITIVE-THINKING SELF-ESTEEMISM

Peale the father of the positive-thinking, self-esteem gospel, an unholy mixture of humanistic psychology, eastern religion, and the Bible that has almost taken over the Christian world and has even made deep inroads into fundamentalist churches.

In 1937 Peale and psychiatrist Smiley Blanton established a counseling clinic in the basement of the Marble Collegiate Church. Blanton had undergone extended analysis by Freud in Vienna in 1929, 1935, 1936, and 1937. The clinic was described as having “a theoretical base that was Jungian, with strong evidence of neo- and post-Freudianism” (Carol V.R. George, God’s Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking, Oxford, 1993, p. 90).

In 1951 the clinic became known as the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry, and in 1972 it merged with the Academy of Religion and Mental Health to form the Institutes of Religion and Health (IRH). Peale remained affiliated with the IRH as president of the board and chief fund raiser.

In 1952 Peale published his famous book on positive thinking, becoming the father of a wretched syncretistic doctrine that has flooded Christianity. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California, has patterned his ministry after Peale and has been called “the Norman Vincent Peale of the West.” Schuller is also in the Reformed Church in America.

POSITIVE IMAGING

Peale also was a promoter of the idea of “positive imaging” which has become popular in many charismatic circles. Peale’s latter years were dedicated particularly to giving motivational talks to secular businesses. He was paid fees of $5,000 to $10,000 by companies who were seeking his services to help them make more money by his positive confession methodologies.

For example, a group of Merrill Lynch real estate associates gave Peale a standing ovation after he told them this:

“There is a deep tendency in human nature ultimately to become precisely what you visualize yourself as being. If you see yourself as tense and nervous and frustrated, if that is your image of yourself, that assuredly is what you will be. If you see yourself as inferior in any way, and you hold that image in your conscious mind, it will presently by the process of intellectual osmosis sink into the unconscious, and you will be what you visualize.

“If, on the contrary, you see yourself as organized, controlled, studious, a thinker, a worker, believing in your talent and ability and yourself, over a period of time, that is what you will become.

“Now, you may believe that this is all theoretical. But I believe, and I’ve tested it out in so many cases that I’m sure of its validity, that if a person has a business and images that business at a certain level and fights off his doubts ... it will come out that way--all because of the power of the positive image” (Jeanne Pugh, “The Eternal Optimist,” St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Florida, Religion Section, June 8, 1985).

This is a New Age doctrine and practice. Man, allegedly, has the power within himself, or the ability to tap into a higher power within himself, to accomplish whatever he desires by learning how to visualize it into reality.

In his 1987 book Positive Imaging, Peale said:

“Imaging consists of vividly picturing in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where IT RELEASES GREAT, UNTAPPED ENERGIES” (p. 7).

“There is a powerful and mysterious force in human nature that is capable of bringing about dramatic improvement in our lives. It is a kind of mental engineering... So powerful is the imaging effect on thought and performance that a long-held visualization of an objective or goal can become determinative. ...In imaging, one does not merely think about a hoped-for goal; one ‘sees’ or visualizes it with tremendous intensity, reinforced by prayer. Imaging is a kind of LASER BEAM OF THE IMAGINATION, A SHAFT OF MENTAL ENERGY in which the desired goal of outcome is pictured so vividly by the conscious mind that the unconscious mind accepts it and is activated by it. THIS RELEASES POWERFUL INTERNAL FORCES that can bring about astonishing changes...” (pp. 9, 10).

Peale gives dozens of testimonies of people who used positive imaging and visualization to heal diseases, build large corporations, obtain business promotions, improve marriages, pay off debts, create a more healthy personality, build large churches, you name it. Peale describes how that he used imaging techniques in his second church when the attendance was low:

“I visualized that pew full, and all the other pews full, and the church filled to capacity. I held that image in my mind. ... And the day came when the image became a reality” (p. 25).

He tells of a woman who went to a pastor distraught about her husband. He was irritable, full of tension, unable to progress in his business, sleepless. The pastor, John Ellis Large, author of God is Able and a man that Peale describes as “a former colleague of mine,” asked her what time of the night her husband slept the most soundly. She replied that “by five o’clock in the morning he is in deep sleep.” He then gave her the following advice:

“At five o’clock every morning you get up and sit by your husband and pray for him. Believe that God is there by your husband’s side, actually present with you and with him. IMAGE YOUR HUSBAND AS A WHOLE MAN--happy, controlled, organized and well. Hold that thought intensely. Think of your prayers as reaching his unconscious mind. At that time in the morning his conscious mind is not resisting and YOU CAN GET AN IDEA INTO HIS UNCONSCIOUS. Visualize him as kindly, cooperative, happy, creative and enthusiastic” (p. 37).

You guessed it. After practicing this visualization technique for several weeks the man’s personality allegedly changed and he got a promotion!

This is not biblical praying. It is occultic. To pray to God and ask Him to do something is one thing, but to try to create something by visualizing it and “speaking into” another person’s unconscious mind and forcing it into reality through “holding the image,” is occultic and is entertaining demons unawares. The God of Norman Vincent Peale was a God that was available to empower me to live out my own dream.

Peale advised the members of his congregation:

“When you leave the church, visualize Him walking out with you, strong, compassionate, protective, understanding” (p. 38).

Observe that the God that Peale taught people to imagine is not holy and is not to be feared.

THE POWER OF GOD WITHIN ALL MEN

Peale taught people that they could tap into the power of God within, and he said this indiscriminately to everyone and made no important distinction between the saved and the lost. I have never read a clear statement in Peale’s books of how to be born again in a biblical fashion, yet Jesus Christ solemnly said: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

In the introduction to the book Discovering the Power of Positive Thinking, Peale’s daughter, Ruth Stafford, says:

“[My father’s] faith led him to the conviction that GOD HAD PLACED A PORTION OF HIS POWER IN ALL OF US. My father reasoned, if this was the case, then each of us was capable of doing great things. ... The overall message of Discovering the Power of Positive Thinking is simply this: If you believe that THE POWER OF GOD WITHIN YOU is equal to any of life’s difficulties, then a rewarding life will be yours. This belief inspired the bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking” (pp. 5, 6).

This is a universalistic view that man is not estranged from God and has God living within him. It is akin to the New Age doctrine of human divinity.  

MANY “CONVERSIONS”

As could be expected, Peale’s own testimony of salvation was not clear. He claimed to have had a number of “conversion” experiences. When he was a boy, Peale’s father instructed him to pray for renewed faith and trust in God and “to get converted” once again. The doctrine of the once-for-all new birth was muddled by this type of teaching. Peale claimed to have had another conversion experience in England in 1934. He said he “prayed aloud, confessing his weaknesses and surrendering himself to the Lord,” and immediately he felt “warm all over” (George, p. 82). Peale also described conversions during a Graham crusade in 1957 and while watching Rex Humbard on television.

In an interview with religious news writer John Sherrill, Peale testified: “I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I mean that I believe my sins are forgiven by the atoning work of grace on the cross. ... Now I’ll tell you something else. ... I personally love and understand this way of stating the Christian gospel. But I am absolutely and thoroughly convinced that it is my mission never to use this language in trying to communicate with the audience that God has given me” (Christianity Today, June 21, 1993).

One problem with this testimony is that Peale had the habit of redefining biblical terms. What did he mean atoning work, by grace, by the cross?

Second, as we will see, Peale worshipped a false christ of his own imagination, and it is impossible to be saved by a false christ.

Third, the fact that Peale said God did not call him to express the gospel this way shows his rebellion to the Word of God. There are not multiple ways of stating the gospel! There is only one way, the Bible way. Any other way of stating the gospel is a false gospel and is cursed of God. The “atoning work of the grace of the cross” is exactly how the Bible describes salvation, and those are the types of terms we should use, as well.

We don’t know what Peale’s spiritual condition was when he died, and we hope that he was born again, but if Peale had been truly converted, we believe the Holy Spirit would have brought him to repentance for his modernistic, New Age thinking. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth...” (Jn. 16:13).

INFLUENCED BY A LIBERAL EDUCATION

Peale was reared in a Methodist home, the son of a Methodist preacher. Though we do not know how sound his father’s faith was, we do know that his parents encouraged him to attend schools which were hotbeds of liberalism. Peale’s modernism was nurtured at liberal Methodist schools--Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. In a sympathetic biography, God’s Salesman, author Carol V.R. George devotes an entire chapter to “Learning the Lessons of Liberalism.” George describes Peale’s education:

“... he was guided by his professor of English literature, William E. Smyser, to works by Emerson and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius for a sympathetic unfolding of the power of the individual mind. ... Peale’s discovery of James and EMERSON, and to a lesser extent Marcus Aurelius, acquired in the atmosphere of romantic idealism that seemed to flourish on the Methodist campus, EVENTUALLY BECAME PART OF HIS MENTAL EQUIPMENT AND THEN A LIFETIME FASCINATION. He would soon encounter the EMERSON OF TRANSCENDENTALISM again in seminary as a shaping force in liberal theology. ...

“Peale’s course of study at seminary was therefore a mixture of theology, philosophy, and social science, of THE MYSTICISM OF PERSONALISM and the activism and ethics of the social gospel. ... it became another means for nurturing A METAPHYSICAL SUBJECTIVISM that had been planted in his religious outlook in his earlier days....

“When he left seminary he described himself as a liberal ... in any conflict with fundamentalists his spontaneous reaction was to side with the modernists” (George, pp. 36-37, 49- 52).

These remarks are very telling. Peale’s faith was mystical and metaphysical. This is New Age. He was powerfully influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a Unitarian minister who fashioned a religious philosophy that attempted to synthesize pagan religions such as Hinduism, Confucianism, and Zoroastrianism, with Christianity. He held to such heresies and pagan doctrines as the fatherhood of God, the divinity of man, the unity of religions, and man is one with God and has no need of an atonement.

In his 1841 essay “The Over-Soul,” Emerson wrote: “... within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One. ... there is no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins” (Emerson, The Over-Soul). Thus, Emerson taught that man’s soul is God and God is man’s soul.
(e) In his message to the Phi Beta Kappa society at Harvard in 1837, entitled “The American Scholar,” Emerson exhorted scholars to free themselves of tradition (such as the Bible) and to maintain a “self-trust.”

This is pure New Age heresy.

Parents who send their children to liberal schools and who stay in denominations which allow room for modernists and who continue to support the denominational institutions by their tithes and offerings should not be surprised when their children become apostate or at least weakened in faith.

TICKLING THE EARS OF AN APOSTATE GENERATION

Peale’s first pastorate after graduation from seminary was at the King’s Highway Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York. His populistic, positive message gain instant acclaim: “In the three years he was at King’s Highway, between 1924 and 1927, the church experienced phenomenal growth, increasing from just over a hundred members when he arrived to nearly 900 when he left...” (George, p. 56).

Peale’s biographer notes, “His message was already assuming the contours it would retain; it was a theologically liberal, inspirational talk that emphasized the transforming result of a relationship with Jesus and with the church” (George, p. 57).

The problem was that Peale’s Jesus was the not the Jesus of the Bible, but the Jesus of his own creation. Peale’s Jesus was a Jesus that did not condemn sin; a Jesus that was not born of a virgin; a Jesus that was not the eternal God; a Jesus that did not die and shed His blood for man’s sin.

Peale used the fundamentalist’s vocabulary, but he used the modernist’s dictionary. This is why so many were deceived by the man. Peale’s god was not the God of the Bible, but the god of self. His faith was not faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible, but faith in faith. His gospel was not the gospel of repentance from sin and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, but a gospel of self-esteem, self-help, and self-recovery.

PEALE AND THE EVANGELICAL WORLD

In the 1950s Peale was labeled a heretic by the evangelical world. For example, an article in Christianity Today, November 11, 1957, said, “Peale speaks much of faith, but it is not faith in God, but ‘faith in faith,’ which means in your capacities. ... This is neither religion, moralism, or anything more than self-help baptized with a sprinkling of devout-plus-medical phrases. For those who believe in the God of Scripture, the reality of vitality of good and evil, and the grace of God unto salvation, there is nothing here but the frenzy of a guilty life and the misery of creeping death.”

The May 1, 1955, issue of United Evangelical Action, noted with wise and courageous insight:

“Unless one is deeply discerning it will not be noticed that Peale has caricatured God, ignored sin and its needed repentance. Norman Vincent Peale’s philosophy is so high-sounding, so full of secondary gospel truth, that millions of his patrons fail to see that the basic redemptive truth of the gospel is completely ignored. Unless one is deeply discerning it will not be noticed that Peale has caricatured God, ignored sin and its needed repentance. Peale presents a very convenient God who is a sort of ‘glorified bellboy.’”  

As the years passed, Peale did not change but evangelicalism did. Peale remained the same heretic he always was, while evangelicalism became increasingly apostate and blind so that in recent decades Peale has been widely hailed as a man of God.

Billy Graham helped raise Peale’s status in the evangelical world by inviting him to give the benediction at a crusade in New York in 1956. At a National Council of Churches luncheon on December 6, 1966, Graham said, “I don’t know anyone who has done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale, or have meant any more in my life--the encouragement they have given me” (Hayes Minnick, Bible for Today publication #565, p. 28).

Peale’s wife, Ruth, was a member of the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society (ABS). Peale addressed the 171st annual meeting of the American Bible Society in New York on May 14, 1987. In the announcement for this event, the ABS described Peale as “an author who has inspired millions of his fellow human beings the world over to think ‘positively,’ an uplifting radio and TV personality, and for more than 60 years, a preacher of the Gospel of Christ truly filled with the Holy Spirit” (Christian News, Feb. 16, 1987).

In 1988, Eternity magazine, which has a stated goal of helping “believers in America and elsewhere develop a genuinely Christian mind-set,” was taken over by Peale’s Foundation for Christian Living. Well-known evangelical leader James M. Boice, editor of Eternity, wrote a glowing report of the merger which he entitled “An Exciting Milestone.” Boice gave no warning about Peale’s modernism. (By the end of that year, Eternity had ceased to exist.)

The National Religious Broadcasters presented Peale with an Award of Merit.

Eric Fellman, one-time editor of Moody Monthly, resigned in 1985 to become editor-in-chief of Peale’s Foundation for Christian Living, and Moody continued to print articles by Fellman.

Fuller Theological Seminary offers a Norman Vincent Peale Scholarship in recognition of the supposed “outstanding ministry” of this apostate (The Fundamentalist Digest, Sept.-Oct. 1992).

In a review of a biography on Peale, Christianity Today said this of the positive thinker. Observe how dramatically the thinking of Christianity Today had changed since 1957:

“Norman Vincent Peale is a devout Christian, who injected vitality into a church that was losing touch with ordinary Americans--with the salesmen and housewives and schoolteachers who found him so inspirational. Peale spoke their language, much as televangelists and megachurch pastors who followed him have done. But did he pay too high a price to connect?” (Christianity Today, June 21, 1993, pp. 35-36).

This is the typical new-evangelical hallmark of tiptoeing around the hard issues. Unwilling to come out negatively against heresy, Christianity Today merely throws out a mild question for its readers to answer themselves rather than make a plain statement that Peale was an apostate.

Many were deceived by Peale’s winsomeness and his use of Bible terminology. Guideposts magazine goes into the homes of many Bible-believing Christians who are unaware of Peale’s heresies and who do not have pastors brave enough or well-informed enough to warn plainly of heretics. None of the popular Christian publications are willing to lift a voice of clear warning today of the Peales and Schullers and Chos of our time.

PEALE’S THEOLOGICAL MODERNISM, RELIGIOUS SYNCRETISM, AND UNIVERSALISM

Though Peale rarely spoke in clear theological terms, he did on occasion openly deny the Christian faith. In an interview with Phil Donahue in 1984, Peale said: “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God; I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine. ... I’ve been to the Shinto shrines, and God is everywhere.” Donahue exclaimed, “But you’re a Christian minister; you’re supposed to tell me that Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life, aren’t you?” Peale replied, “Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere.” Peale told Donahue that when he got to “the Pearly Gates”, “St. Peter” would say, “I like Phil Donahue; let him in!” Mr. Peale gave comfort to some in the audience who believed that “just so we think good thoughts” and “just so we do good, we believe we’ll get to heaven” (Hugh Pyle, Sword of the Lord, Dec. 14, 1984).

Peale was a Mason and served as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of New York City and Imperial Grand Chaplain of the Shrine. On September 30, 1991, he was inducted into the Scottish Rite Hall of Honor, and his oil portrait hangs in the House of the Washington D.C. Temple (The Berean Call, Oct. 1992).

In an article that appeared in the Masonic Scottish Rite Journal in February 1993, Peale said:

“My grandfather was a Mason for 50 years, my father for 50 years, and I have been a Mason for over 60 years. This means my tie with Freemasonry extends back to 1869 when my grandfather joined the Masons. ... Freemasonry does not promote any one religious creed. All Masons believe in the Deity without reservation. However, Masonry makes no demands as to how a member thinks of the Great Architect of the Universe. ... men of different religions meet in fellowship and brotherhood under the fatherhood of God.”

This is a true description of Masonry, of course, but it is strictly contrary to Christ’s exclusive claims as the only way to God and the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and flies in the face of such Bible demands as 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? ... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”

In a July 22, 1983, interview with USA Today, Peale was asked, “Do you think herpes and AIDS is God’s punishment of homosexuals and the promiscuous?” Peale responded, “I don’t believe God spends his time revenging himself on people. These things come about because of scientific methodology. God is too big to spend his time in revenge.”

In the same interview Peale said, “The church should be in the forefront of everything that is related to human welfare because the church is supposed to be the spiritual home of mankind and it ought to take care of all of God’s children.”
 
In an interview with Modern Maturity magazine, December-January 1975-76, Peale was asked if people are inherently good or bad. He replied:

“They are inherently good--the bad reactions aren’t basic. Every human being is a child of God and has more good in him than evil--but circumstances and associates can step up the bad and reduce the good. I’ve got great faith in the essential fairness and decency--you may say goodness--of the human being.”

In the same interview Peale said regarding Christ, “I like to describe him as ... the nearest thing to God...”

In 1980 Peale attended a dinner honoring the 85th birthday of Spencer Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the Mormons.

Peale endorsed the use of New Age occultic automatic writing: Speaking of Jane Palzere and Anna Brown, co-authors of The Jesus Letters, which professes to be the product of automatic writing under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, Peale said: “What a wonderful gift to all of us from you is your book, The Jesus Letters ... You will bless many by this truly inspired book. ... It little matters if these writings come from Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus of Jane [Jane Palzere] they are all the same consciousness and that consciousness is God. I am a part of God, and Jane and Anna are part of that same God” (advertisement for The Jesus Letters and Your Healing Spirit).

The advertisement quoted above gives this information about the automatic writing recommended by Peale:

“Initial contact from the entity was made with Palzere on February 3, 1978, when she was sitting at her desk in Newington, Connecticut writing a philosophy of healing for a course she was taking. `My hand began to write “You will be the channel for the writing of a book,”‘ she explains. From then on, one message came each day. Palzere reports that `they would be preceded by a tremor in my hand, would come without hesitation and would end when the message was completed.’“

In this strange book the supposed Jesus channeled by Palzere and Brown says, “God does not see evil; He sees only souls at different levels of awareness.”

Of this unscriptural nonsense, Peale gave the following frightful testimony:

“I found myself fascinated, deeply moved and having the feeling that he [the ‘Jesus’ of The Jesus Letters] was also speaking to me as I read” (Ibid.).

Peale was deeply moved by the New Age teaching of a demon masquerading as Jesus.

SEVEN KEYS TO FRUITFUL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Updated September 15, 2009 (first published September 12, 1999) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service)

[The first edition of the following article appeared in O Timothy magazine in 1993 under the title “The Other Side of Separation.” We later published an updated edition under the title “Grace and Authority in the Church.” In 1999, we changed the title to “Keys to Fruitful Church Membership,” and this edition is a rewriting and enlargement of the latter.]

A few years ago, I received a letter from a young couple who exhorted me as follows: “Your book on separation is very good, but you may want to add a caveat that a person must have a better church to separate to before he separates from a church. We were shocked at the liberal doctrines held by the fundamental churches in our city.”

Later they wrote to me and shared with me more detail about these things. Following are specific things that they mentioned:

(1) Their former pastor did not teach that women should not work outside the home, and the wife of the associate pastor worked. (2) The church held parties or fellowships on Valentines Day, Halloween, and Christmas. (3) The pastor allowed a divorced person to work in the bus ministry. (4) The pastor failed to correct publicly certain erroneous statements which were given during testimony times and certain (supposed) erroneous statements which were made by visiting preachers. (5) The pastor failed to do anything about missionaries who joked and told stories in the pulpit. (6) Though the church took a stand for the KJV, this man did not think there was sufficient teaching on the subject of Bible versions. (7) The pastor “used humor to break the tension” in his preaching, whereas this one felt that sober- mindedness required that such levity in the pulpit cease. (8) The pastor seemed to prefer to let God change people about such things as appearance (long hair, ear r ings on men, etc.) rather than approach them directly.

The couple eventually wrote and said they had “separated” from this fundamental Baptist church and from its pastor “because of his liberal teaching on remarriage, women working outside the home and his refusal to correct error.”

It is natural that in any church we will find things with which we do not agree. To practice Bible separation based on the type of things discussed in this letter, though, is not proper or healthy, in my estimation. These are not matters of “liberalism” or apostasy. These are matters of preference, or, at best, relatively minor issues. Church members must deal with many such things.

While we are to separate from error, we are also exhorted to submit ourselves to pastoral authority and to exercise grace in the church. I believe there are many types of things with which we can disagree in a church while continuing to submit ourselves to God-ordained authority. There does not have to be a contradiction here.

I know of others who have separated from practically all churches because none of them take what they believe is a proper stand in all matters. Many times these are good people who want to stand for the Word of God and who want to contend for the truth in a confused and apostate hour. (Many others, though, are contentious people who simply refuse to submit to God-ordained authority.) I praise the Lord for anyone who has a zeal for the truth in this wicked hour, but I also believe there are some important lessons in the Word of God that can help us deal with the complex matter of church membership.

I believe the following thoughts, which are an enlargement of my original reply to the aforementioned couple, can help us to have a more fruitful attitude toward the assembly in spite of the many problems and imperfections we find there. I have thought and prayed a lot about these things, so please bear with me while I offer seven things we must know and do in order to be a fruitful member of a New Testament church. I think of these things as “keys to fruitful church membership.”

NO ECUMENISM OR COMPROMISE

Let me hasten to say that I am utterly opposed to ecumenism and compromise. I realize that New Evangelicals and ecumenists take some of the things we will deal with in this article and misuse them to excuse their disobedience. They speak much of love and liberty, but they take verses on these subjects out of context and refuse to deal with the enormous amount of material in the Word of God on other subjects, such as separation, rebuking sin and error, apostasy, and discipline.

In this article I intend to deal with grace and liberty and submission to the church, but do not think that I am thereby ignoring the responsibility to stand for truth and righteousness.

Those who know us will not have to be told this, but I say this for the sake of our readers who do not know us. For twenty-six years, we have stood unapologetically for Bible separation. In this instance, though, we are dealing with other equally important matters.

SEVEN KEYS TO FRUITFUL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

1. WE MUST HAVE AN ABIDING RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST

The first and foremost key to fruitful church membership is a real and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:67-69).

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4).

“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).

In order to submit to godly pastoral leadership and to have spiritual discernment to know right from wrong in churches, one must be born again and have the indwelling Spirit of God. Many church members who cause unnecessary problems in the church and who injure the welfare of the church do so because they do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They do not have spiritual discernment, they walk after the flesh rather than the Spirit, they do not know how to submit to authority, and they do not care how they harm the church, because they are not born again. The Bible warns that God will deal severely with those who harm His churches. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:17). The reason many troublemakers do not fear God’s retribution for their actions in the churches is that they are not saved.

In order to be a fruitful church member year after year, one must not only be saved but he also must abide in Christ. He must walk in fellowship with Christ the Saviour day by day. When we walk with Christ and have our eyes upon Him, we do not become offended at what man does in this world. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165). This is why some church members throw up their hands and quit or become disgruntled and spiritually ineffective when they witness a pastoral failure or some such serious problem in the church, whereas other church members keep on for the Lord in spite of any discouragement that comes their way. They are disappointed when men fail them, but they do not quit or turn aside because their eyes are upon One who never fails!

Abiding in Jesus Christ is the most crucial key to fruitful church membership.

2. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CHURCH

Another thing we must understand to be a fruitful church member is that God ordained the church. It is a divine institution and it is the center of God’s work in the world today and is to continue until Jesus returns.

The Bible emphasizes that the church is God’s chosen means of accomplishing His purposes in this age. Even the most cursory study of the New Testament reveals that the church is God’s chosen means of accomplishing His purposes in this age. There are more than 100 references to the church in the New Testament. This shows the emphasis that the Holy Spirit has put upon the church, and the vast majority of those references are unquestionably to the local assembly, not to a general or prospective aspect of the church.

Men have corrupted churches, but the church is God’s plan. The Lord Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mat. 16:18). The church is Christ’s program.

The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:16), and that is a church with elders and elders (1 Tim. 3:1, 8).

Most of the New Testament was written directly to churches. And even those portions not written directly to a particular church refer to the church. The theme of Acts is the planting and multiplication of the first churches. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were written to instruct church planters in their work.

Even the General Epistles, which are not written to particular churches, always have the churches in mind. Hebrews refers to the church in chapters 10 and 13. Hebrews 10:25 exhorts God’s people not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. In Hebrews 13:7 and 17 Christians are exhorted to obey church rulers. The last chapter of James refers to the church. Those who are sick are to call for the “elders of the church.” The final chapter of 1 Peter also refers to the church, in exhorting elders in their duties. John refers to the church in his third epistle, when he mentions the proud Diotrephes. The book of Revelation, of course, is addressed to the seven churches that existed in that day.

Consider, too, that there is no Bible instruction about the discipline and watch care of Christians apart from the church. There is no instruction about leadership among Christians apart from the church. The entire life and work of God’s people for this age appears in the context of the assembly.

We must also understand what a church is. A proper New Testament church has certain biblical ingredients. It is not merely a group of Christians meeting for prayer and Bible study. Paul wrote to Titus about church work in Crete. The gospel had been preached and there were believers who were meeting together, but that was not sufficient. Paul instructed Titus that certain things were lacking (Titus 1:5). What were those things? The thing that was lacking was proper qualified leadership and biblical organization, and these are the thing that Paul addresses in the book of Titus. The very first thing that Paul instructs Titus about is the ordination of elders. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).

We see the same thing in the book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas raised up groups of believers in various towns, they were careful to “ordain elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).

A proper New Testament church, therefore, is a body of baptized believers who are congregated together under the oversight of qualified and ordained pastor/elders and who are following the pattern of government and accomplishing the work described in the apostolic epistles.

It is clear from Scripture that it is God’s will that every believer be a faithful and fruitful member of a sound New Testament church. That is what we see in Acts 2. Those who were saved on the day of Pentecost “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42)

If there is not such a church in the area, the establishment of such a church must be the highest priority. A believer should never be content merely to listen to preaching sermons on a cassette player or CD, or to read sermons from a book, or to listen to preaching on the radio or television, or to meet together with a loose-knit group of believers without proper biblical leadership and organization.

The reason I have remained a faithful member of a church for 32 years is not that I have found perfect pastors and perfect churches, but because I know that this is God’s will and anything less would displease Him. It is my understanding of the doctrine of the church that keeps me going in spite of grave imperfections I have found in churches.

3. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THERE IS NO PERFECT CHURCH

Another thing we must understand is that there are no perfect churches. We have mentioned this, but it needs to be emphasized very strongly. It sounds like a simple matter, but it is not. It is something that must be relearned frequently.

Even the early churches founded and pastored by the apostles had problems. In fact, there were very serious problems in many of the early churches. Consider the church at Corinth. The members were carnal and divided. They refused to discipline one of their own although he was living in open fornication with his father’s wife! They were taking each other to court. They were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. They were misusing the spiritual gifts. They allowed false teachers to discredit the Apostle Paul. What a church! Yet Paul was thankful for the grace God had given them (1 Cor. 1:4). The seven churches mentioned in Revelation two and three also had many serious problems, including spiritual coldness, false teachers, and immorality. Two women in the church at Philippi had to be corrected for being antagonistic toward one another (Phil. 4:2). Paul had to rebuke Peter for his hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul and Barnabas had a contention that was “so shar p between them, that they departed asunder one from the other” (Acts 15:39). Need we go on? There never has been a church that did not have problems, and the simple reason for this is that church members are sinners.

It is not therefore surprising to find many problems in independent Baptist churches today. I have been a part of the independent Baptist movement for more than three decades and have spoken in 450 or more churches across North America and in many other lands, and I have observed the problems firsthand. When I was a young Christian at Bible school, I saw problems that almost devastated me. As I started Bible school training in 1974, I was almost 25 years old, but I was only one year old in the Lord, and I was shocked at many things. Thirty years later, I am still saddened by these same things! These were things such as Sunday School promotionalism which turn the church of Jesus Christ into a carnival; extreme levity at times in the pulpit; little biblical content in some of the preaching; exaltation of men above that which is proper; shallow, manipulative methods of evangelism and an overemphasis on “decisions” and “prayers” rather than repentance and regeneration.

Because of issues like these, I left after the completion of my first year, determined to attend a different school. The Lord gave me no peace over my decision, though, and within a few weeks I returned and completed my studies. In looking back, I am pleased with the Lord’s leading, though I did not understand it very well at the time. The other school that I was looking at was Calvinistic and was part of a group that was well down the path to New Evangelicalism, and I would have faced an entirely different set of problems--problems even more unhealthy to my Christian life than the ones I was trying to flee.

I still believe the aforementioned problems are wrong, and I try to avoid them as much as possible; but I have also learned some things that have helped me, I believe, have a more balanced attitude toward church problems in general.

In spite of the fact that all churches are imperfect, we do not see in Scripture any healthy examples of Christians who disregarded the assembly. In fact, those who separated themselves were considered unregenerate. John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 Jn. 2:19).

4. WE MUST EXERCISE KEEN SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT, DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE IMPORTANT AND THE LESS IMPORTANT

Another key to fruitful church membership is keen spiritual discernment. Notice the following Scriptures:

“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” (Matt. 23:23).

“And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14).

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14).
 
In Matthew 23:23, the Lord Jesus Christ taught that not all things in the Bible are of equal importance. Some biblical teachings are “weightier” than some others. Everything in the Bible has some importance, but everything is not of equal importance. Knowing the difference between the two requires a thorough knowledge of God’s Word and keen spiritual discernment. This is the lesson of Romans 15:14; 2 Timothy 2:15; and Hebrews 5:12-14. Such discernment comes only through long and diligent study and through exercise of the senses to discern good and evil. Paul told the church at Rome that the reason they were able to admonish one another was because they were full of goodness and filled with knowledge (Rom. 15:14).

It is my conviction that the friends who wrote to me that they were separating from that independent Baptist church lacked the maturity to distinguish between the “weighty” matters of biblical truth and those matters that are less significant. Although they lacked such maturity, they felt they had better discernment than even their godly pastor. This happens frequently. In fact, it is a characteristic of young Christians. Someone has wisely stated that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is one reason why God forbids a novice to be a church leader (1 Tim. 3:6). The young Christian begins to gain some knowledge of the Bible and the ministry, and suddenly he “knows it all” and tries to straighten out everybody else, blithely ignorant of his own serious shortcomings. This happens frequently to young Christians who are in Bible College. They have some knowledge, but often they don’t have the experience and maturity to use it correctly . If they are not careful with their newly found knowledge and zeal, they can cause more problems than they solve!

Pastors and churches are to be judged by the Word of God (1 Thess. 5:21), but church members cannot do this until they first gain the necessary biblical knowledge and discernment required for such judgment. Young Christians need to be extremely cautious and patient about exercising judgment against the pastor. Unless the matter in question is something that is exceedingly plain from the Bible and unless there are mature Christians who can confirm the judgment, it is wise for the immature Christian to the pastor’s greater knowledge and maturity.

One of my evangelist friends differentiates between the “weightier matters” of God’s Word and the less weighty by calling them “fatal” and “non-fatal” teachings. That is a good distinction. It does not mean that the “non-fatal” teachings of God’s Word are of no importance; it simply means they are less important than some other matters.

Some of the “weightier matters” of God’s Word in relation to churches are things such as sound doctrine, the gospel, Christian love, godliness, separation from error, and soul-winning and missions. Some of the less weighty matters are things like the music program (within reason), Sunday School materials, promotions, youth activities (again, within reason), special speakers, and political involvement. Good examples of less weighty matters are the list of eight things mentioned at the beginning of this article: whether or not the church has fellowships at Christmas or jokes being told from the pulpit, etc.

I am not saying that the child of God should ignore Christian rock music or false teaching or unqualified leadership or anything like that. I am not saying we are to be blind to things that are wrong. I am simply saying that not all matters are of equal importance, and we must learn to weigh various issues of church life in order to exercise mature judgment.

We see this in Christ’s judgment of the churches in Revelation 2-3. The problems He rebuked were of a truly serious nature. He did not rebuke a church because of joking in the pulpit; He did not rebuke a church for having a church social on Valentine’s Day or for using recorded music during the specials. I’m not trying to be facetious. I’m not trying to make light of the less important things, but the fact remains that Christ did not treat all church problems with the same degree of seriousness, and we must follow His example. This is exactly what we see in the church epistles. The problems rebuked by the Apostles under inspiration of the Holy Spirit were of a very serious nature. The Church at Corinth was not rebuked for allowing a divorced man to work in the evangelistic ministry, but for drunkenness and immorality and carnal divisions.

5. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONVICTION AND PREFERENCE

Another key to fruitful church membership is to understand the difference between conviction and preference. Conviction is based upon a clear teaching of God’s Word. Preference is not. A Christian can have preferences on all sorts of church matters, but he is not at liberty to make his preference a law for others. This is discussed in Romans 14:

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks” (Romans 14:1-6).

This passage is often misused by ecumenists to support their phony idea of legalism. They claim that it is not right to judge others even in matters of doctrine, but that is nonsense. It is not legalism to cry out against sin, to judge false teachers, to set standards for God’s people based on the clear teaching of the Word of God, to demand that Christians obey the details of the Bible. In Romans 14, the Lord is forbidding us to judge others IN MATTERS THAT ARE NOT CLEARLY TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE. Two examples are given: what we eat and how we respect holy days. These are issues that the New Testament does not address. There are no dietary laws for Christians, and there are no Old Testament holy days that we must keep. These are matters of Christian liberty. I am free to eat meat or not to eat meat, but I am not free to judge others by my conscience in this matter or in any other matter that is not plainly taught in the Scripture.

When the Scripture speaks plainly, we must speak; but when the Scripture has no plain word, we have no authority to speak. In such matters I am free to follow my conscience and the Lord’s leading in all matters for my personal life, but I am not free to make my conscience a law for others in areas of Christian liberty. That is the teaching of Romans 14.

I believe many of the things mentioned earlier in this article fall into this category. There is the matter, for example, of holding fellowships on Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Halloween. Obviously it is wrong to be involved in witchcraft, idolatry, or immorality, but as for the days themselves, they are nothing. The Lord made the days. Why would it be wrong to have a church fellowship on October 31, for example, as long as the church does not promote things associated with evil, such as a haunted house, or similar things connected with ghosts and goblins? If the church tried to incorporate such worldly, evil things into the youth activities, this should be resisted loudly; but if they are simply having a youth activity on or near October 31 in order to reach the unsaved or be a blessing to Christian young people, there is nothing wrong with this. It is strictly a matter of preference. Our church often has a Harvest Fellowship at Halloween time, primarily to provide an activity for to help keep young people away from the wicked things that go on in the world then. I see nothing unscriptural about this.

Likewise, the Lord made February 14. The Lord made romance. If a church wants to have some sort of fellowship on that day, so be it. Don’t get me wrong. I am not giving a blanket endorsement of the world’s holidays. There is much that is evil there. Cupid is connected with a pagan god of lust, and the Christian must avoid every form of immorality; but I don’t believe it is wrong for a church to have a fellowship or some sort of sweetheart banquet at Valentine’s Day for married couples. There doesn’t have to be immorality or lasciviousness involved, and that is what God forbids.

I am convinced there is freedom of conscience in such matters. They are matters of preference. If a person doesn’t want to have any type of get together on such days, he shouldn’t have them. He also doesn’t have to participate in something at the church if his conscience will not allow him to do so, but he shouldn’t make his own opinions about these things a law for others. God has made no such laws.

I know some are going to groan when they hear this, but I believe this principle is applicable for certain Christmas practices, as well. We know that the Christmas season has come from Rome and from paganism. I am as opposed to Romanism as anyone. I have written many unpopular books against Rome. Yet while I am sickened at the commercialism and debauchery that characterizes the Christmas holidays on the part of some, I don’t think it is wrong to enjoy some aspects of that season. I am convinced there is Christian liberty in many of these things. Definitely we must not be involved with Santa Claus, which is a combination of a pagan god and a Catholic “saint,” but I believe a person can enjoy the social and family aspects of the season without worshipping false gods or committing sacrilege. I don’t believe in setting up Christmas trees in or having a Santa visit the church, but I don’t think it is wrong to have a nativity play and sing some of the Christmas carols that are Scriptural and otherwise involve one’s self in activities which do not bring dishonor to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me be quick to say that it is important that the church recognize that Christmas is not a biblical celebration of the birth of Christ. We must not try to Christianize paganism. That is the essence of Romanism. The only holy day God has specifically given to the churches is the first day of the week, the resurrection day. This is what we are to focus on, but it is also true that the Bible does speak much about Christ’s birth.

I know this is a delicate subject, and there are strong feelings on all sides. My goal is not to defend Christmas. I am simply talking about one’s attitude toward those things which other people or churches do that I might not agree with, but which are not directly and plainly condemned in the Word of God. I am trying to illustrate this with some concrete things that we face in everyday life. I don’t expect every reader to agree with me in all of these matters, but I am trying to illustrate that we have liberty in matters not directly addressed in Scripture. The very fact that each of these matters is highly controversial illustrates my point. I must be careful that I am not trying to make my own preference in some issue a law for others.

While we must stand for the Word of God in every detail, we must also be careful that we not take away God-given liberty and hold our own conscience up as a law for all. Anything which is not clearly taught in Scripture falls into this category--whether or not a church uses musical instruments, the type of music that a church uses (we know that some types of music are clearly wrong, but there is also a lot of liberty in the area of music), times and days of services, evangelistic methods, how to conduct children’s ministries. The list is very long. It is a blessing to see that God has given us much liberty in Christ and that in these matters each Christian and each church is free to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.

6. WE MUST UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT PASTORAL AUTHORITY

Another crucial key in fruitful church membership is a right attitude toward pastoral authority.

“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7).

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

We have looked at the emphasis God has placed on the local church. That emphasis is woven into the very warp and woof of the New Testament and is undeniable. It is God’s will that every Christian be a faithful, fruitful, contributing member of a sound church. That being the case, it is not surprising that we are exhorted to obey those who have the rule over us. The verses quoted above are strong; we are to obey our church leaders. They are not to be dictators; they do not have unlimited authority; they are not to be obeyed unquestioningly; but they ARE rulers. Hebrews uses plain language, and I believe it means exactly what it says. Not all Christians have equal authority in this world. Some are rulers and the others are to obey those rulers.

The pastors of a church have the major responsibility before the Lord for the teachings, practices, and direction of that church.

The Bible warns that the church leaders watch for our souls and that we must not cause them grief for that is unprofitable for us. I believe that this points to the judgment seat of Christ. If I am a grief to my pastor, it will result in grief for me at Christ’s judgment bar. THE NOTABLE EXCEPTION TO THIS, OF COURSE, IS IF THE PASTOR HIMSELF IS RESISTING THE WORD OF GOD OR IS FAILING TO OBEY THE WORD OF GOD OR IS LEADING CONTRARY TO THE WORD OF GOD IN SOME AREA OF HIS MINISTRY AND IS GRIEVED AT ME SIMPLY FOR MY STAND FOR GOD’S WORD. (In the article “Unquestioning Loyalty to Pastoral Leadership Is the Mark of a Cult” I have dealt with the abuse side of pastoral authority. This article is in the Church section of the End Times Apostasy Database at the Way of Life Literature web site -- http://wayoflife.org/~dcloud).

Thus I must find a church that is following the Word of God, and I must then obey and be a blessing to my leaders in that church; I must support that church in every way possible. That is the will of God for every Christian. The leaders, in turn, will give an account to the Lord for their teaching and decisions. THEY HOLD THE GREATER RESPONSIBILITY, AND I, AS A CHURCH MEMBER, WILL NOT GIVE ACCOUNT FOR EVERYTHING THAT GOES ON IN THE CHURCH.

Obviously, this does not mean we are to close our eyes to false teaching and sin, but it DOES mean that I am not to try to impose my views in all matters upon the church and its leaders. I must remember that I am not the pastor of the church; I therefore don’t have wisdom, the unction, or the responsibility for that. I must submit to those who are the pastors, and I must allow them to make decisions with which I might not agree, submitting myself because God has told me to do so.

The church member will never find a pastor with whom he agrees 100%. Think about it. This would be impossible. The only one with whom I agree with 100% is myself, and sometimes I disagree with myself! We all know this in theory but the practice of it is often a difficult matter. I must recognize that if I am ever to submit to a pastor, it will be to an imperfect one.

Is it not reasonable to believe that God can guide the man he has placed over the church? Who am I to try to impose my views upon him? I must understand this if I am to learn to get along in a church and to be a fruitful member. God works in this world through our imperfections. This, of necessity, is the way He works in a church.

The friends who wrote to me that they were separating from a fundamental Baptist church said that the pastor holds what they believe to be a weak position on divorce and remarriage. By this, they meant that the pastor allowed a divorced person to work in the bus ministry. The thing to keep in mind is that this is an extremely difficult matter. I take a strong position personally against divorce and remarriage, and I believe we must preach boldly against divorce. I don’t believe a divorced man is qualified to be a pastor or a deacon, but I don’t believe it is wrong for a divorced person to work in the bus ministry. There are difficulties with any position one might take on this issue, and the more perverted our society becomes, and the more fragmented our families become, the more difficult it will be to deal with problems in this area.

The problem with divorce and remarriage is not so much whether a pastor believes divorce is wrong; practically all Fundamentalist pastors believe this. The difficulty comes in how we treat those who are divorced. Do we allow them to join our churches? I know of one Fundamental Bible church that does not allow divorced people to be members. Does the pastor perform the weddings for those who are divorced? If so, under what conditions? Do we allow divorced people to serve in the church? If so, in what capacity? Can they be Sunday School teachers? Can they be ushers? Can they work in the bus ministry? Good churches differ in these matters, and I believe this is an example of something in which a church member can submit to his rulers, leaving it in the hands of the Lord.

The pastors will answer to God about these things, and there are many matters like this. I might disagree with my pastor over his teaching on giving, for example. I know Fundamentalist Christians who don’t believe tithing is for the New Testament. I don’t agree with them, but this is what some believe, and these will disagree with a church that teaches storehouse tithing.

I might disagree with some of the music in my church. Some Christians don’t like any “canned” or recorded background music to be played during the services; others don’t like guitars to be used; others don’t like gospel quartets. In my estimation, none of these things are wrong in themselves; it is the character of the music that is performed that makes such things right or wrong. I have heard some spiritual recorded music, and I have heard some unspiritual recorded music. I have heard guitars used in a spiritual manner as well as in a carnal manner. I have heard spiritual quartets and unspiritual ones. The point is that there is some room for variety in the music program of the church, and I probably will not agree with all of the decisions that are made.

I might disagree over the standards my church has for workers, thinking the standards are too strict, or not strict enough. I might disagree over whether or not a pastor has a TV and whether or not he preaches against this. (We would never encourage someone to stay in a church that has low moral standards for workers and teachers, if they listen to rock music, for example, or wear immodest clothing, and in which the pastor and leaders watched wicked television programming. I am merely saying that my exact standards might not be enforced by the pastors, and that alone does not mean that they are wrong or that I should leave.)

I might disagree with how my church conducts its business meetings. My home church, for example, doesn’t include women in the business meetings. The women can attend if they choose, but do not make motions or vote. The men conduct the business. Imagine such a thing in this feministic society! I am sure there are many who would not agree with this.

I might disagree with some of the missionaries the church supports.

I might disagree with some of the ways the church finances are used.

I might disagree with the kind of materials that are used in Sunday School, about whether or not promotions are used, about whether or not puppets and such things are used, about whether or not there is a bus ministry, or with the way it is operated.

I might have problems with what is or is not said and done at Christmas, or about how the missions program is conducted. I might not like some of the special speakers that the pastor brings in. I might disagree with my pastor over his involvement or lack of involvement in political and social issues. I might disagree with the pastor regarding his dealings with erring members. He might seem toso patient, too soft, or too harsh.

I’m simply saying that there are many things that we must leave in the hands of the pastors, and this is never an easy matter. In every church I’ve been a member of I’ve disagreed with some things. There is a time to leave a church over things that we believe are wrong, but we must also learn to put many things into the hands of the Lord and do what He has told us to do: submit to the church leadership and be a blessing. The pastors must be the pastors. They will answer for things that I will not answer for, and they have an authority that I do not have. This is not shirking responsibility; it is obedience to the Bible; and it is wisdom and blessing.

7. THERE MUST ALWAYS BE GRACIOUSNESS IN OUR JUDGMENTS

Another crucial key to fruitful church membership is to bathe all of our judgments in love and mercy and graciousness.

“But speaking the truth IN LOVE, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort WITH ALL LONGSUFFERING and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, IN FAITH AND LOVE which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; BUT BE GENTLE UNTO ALL MEN, apt to teach, PATIENT, IN MEEKNESS instructing those that oppose themselves...” (2 Tim. 2:24,25).

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one IN THE SPIRIT OF MEEKNESS; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1,2).

Some of the things mentioned in the letter from the friends who “separated” from the fundamental Baptist church remind me of these verses. God tells us that we must always maintain an attitude of meekness, patience, and compassion when dealing with people about their problems.

The friends mentioned some instances in which their pastor supposedly “failed to correct error in the church.” The examples they gave made me think of the above verses. While it is crucial to stand for the truth and to rebuke sin and error, there is also such a thing as wisdom and patience and caution when dealing with people. You don’t necessarily come down hard and publicly on every problem that arises.

They mentioned the rambling testimony of a new convert. She believed a woman who had recently died went to Heaven because of the peaceful expression on the face of her corpse. That’s a weird testimony, to be sure, but I don’t think it is something the pastor should necessarily have corrected publicly. Lack of graciousness and wisdom can easily turn a slight problem into a very large one.

They mentioned a deacon who testified that “he liked to put God in impossible situations just to see what He will do,” and they seemed shocked that their pastor and the other deacons said “Amen” to this. They said this contradicts Matthew 4:5-7, in which the Lord told the Devil that we are not to tempt God. I don’t think this is the case. The deacon was probably just saying that it is a great thing to be in a situation in which God must do something special to help us, or something to that effect. I read a little ditty in the Maranatha!!! paper a few years ago that said, “When God is going to do something wonderful, He begins with difficulty; if it is going to be something very wonderful, He begins with an impossibility!” That is probably the same idea that the deacon was trying to convey. His way of saying it might have left something to be desired, but this is not a serious matter. We must judge such things in a spirit of graciousne ss and patience, always giving the benefit of the doubt.

They mentioned that the song leader said one night that Satan was the king of this world, and that Christ was not king. They said that since Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King, they felt the title of king is reserved for Christ. That is not so. Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, but there are kings many and lords many in this present order of things. Satan is called the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). He is not necessarily spoken of as king of the world, but I do not believe it would be wrong to call him that in light of the verses quoted. He is king in the hearts of lost people. This is a petty matter that requires more graciousness than that which was displayed by the couple who wrote to me.

A pastor has to exercise supernatural wisdom and kindness. This is one reason I have a tremendously high regard for godly, scriptural pastors. They must always walk that fine line between caution, concern, and compromise, between zeal for the truth and patience with the erring. I believe they have the most difficult job in the world. If they make mistakes and fail to do everything exactly as we think they should, we shouldn’t be surprised! We must always season our judgments with grace. Mel Rutter, retired Vice President of Maranatha Baptist Mission, once told me, “Dave, be as firm as the rock in your position for truth, but as sweet as the honey from the rock in your disposition when striving for truth.” That’s good advice, and though I have often fallen very short of practicing this, it is definitely one of the chief goals of my ministry. I want to be a gracious Christian and a gracious preacher. Anything less is unchristlike.

CONCLUSION

There is much more that could be said, but I will stop here. I must add that I am not giving a blanket recommendation of independent Baptists churches. There are MANY I would not join because of matters I count too serious to overlook. There is immorality in some. Some are New Evangelical in practice. Some use all sorts of corrupted Bibles. Some remind me more of a carnival than a church. Some appear not to know anything of old-fashioned Bible holiness and separation from the world and have very low or nonexistent standards for dress and entertainment. Some use the world’s music. Some require unquestioning loyalty to the pastor, which the Bible never demands. (The pastor’s authority is limited by the Bible, and he is to be proven in all things -- 1 Thess. 5:21. Further, he is not a lord; he is a shepherd.).

Please understand, too, that I am not trying to quench anyone’s zeal for doing right. We need more zeal for truth and righteousness, not less. It certainly is not wrong to try to correct perceived problems in our churches, or to talk to the pastor about things with which we disagree. The Bible instructs us to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) and to judge all preaching (1 Cor. 14:29). There is a ministry of correction that is taught plainly in Scripture, but I did not set out to address that subject in this article. Here, I am merely trying to balance the zeal for correction with some other things that are equally important. I want to be a blessing to the churches. The Bible makes it plain that God wants His work to be done through the church; thus it behooves us to make a supreme effort to submit ourselves to this institution except in matters of clear doctrinal error and moral corruption.

POSTSCRIPT: The people to whom I originally addressed the above information did not receive my counsel. In fact, they cut off all fellowship from me and counted me as their enemy and as a compromiser of the truth. The last I heard about them, they were moving from church to church, becoming increasingly bitter, in search of that ideal congregation. This is very sad, but I have seen almost exactly the same thing happen other times.