Monday, January 30, 2006

Mormons at the Door

About once every three or four months, a couple of Mormon elders will come to my house to talk about Jesus Christ. Actually, the time between the visits may be a little longer because the elders are always different guys. I had another visit Friday.

I always invite these guys in for conversation. I am polite. I ask how they feel that their mission is going, and I ask if they have visited any of the members from my church. I ask how they have been treated by them and if they have had any good conversations with them. Then I ask them this question: "Okay, if I were here and I were desperate, and if I were to say to you, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' How would you answer me?"

The response is almost always the same. They say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Repent of your sin and follow Jesus Christ."

That answer always grieves me. At face value, that is a wonderful answer. When the average member of my church hears that answer, he will think that these guys are "one of us." But what they are thinking when they say it, and what comes into the mind of the average member of my church when they say it are two radically different things.

I feel during these conversations that I am having to coax a snake out of the grass so I can kill it. Or so I can at least defend against it. For the first twenty minutes or so they always assert that we believe in the same Jesus and have the same salvation. This is patently, completely, and totally false. And when angers me the most is that they know it. I have not met a Mormon elder yet who actually believes that we believe the same things about Jesus.

If you press the elders, you will eventually find out these things:

1. Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are three gods.
2. There is no creation out of nothing. You are eternal matter and the same substance as God himself.
3. You are the same as God, but are behind in your progress as a god.
4. The Church of Jesus Christ ceased to exist on the earth for almost 1700 years.

These are a few of the things that Mormons believe. I ask you, if you believed that, would you go around telling people that you believe in the same Jesus Christ that others believe? I believe that they are practicing purposeful deception in order to get their foot in the door with unwary church members. This is not naive theology; this is serpentine lying.

I always point out a few things to them before they go.

1. Their gospel elevates them to the place of God. This is atrocious.
2. Their gospel lowers God to the level of man. (For he was once as we are, according to their theology.) This is blasphemy.
3. The Church of Christ, His beloved bride, will never fail; the gates of hell will never prevail against her; she is the glorious wisdom of God made evident to all generations without end.
4. I make it clear that it offends me, and that it angers me to hear of Christ's Church as a failure.

There are other things that can be touched on if they come up, such as Joseph Smith's credentials as a prophet. But these are the main things that come up. So be wary and watchful, and do not under any circumstance allow these elders to leave your home under the delusion that we "believe basically the same things."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The IMB's New Baptism Policy

I simply cannot get enough discussion regarding baptism. Hopefully, I will be able to return to my discussion on Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and John Calvin, but not immediately. Not that many care except for Etrangere and I.

I do want to wade in on the baptism controversy started by the new IMB policy. As I understand it, one of the qualifications to be an IMB missionary now is that your baptism had to be administered by a church that believed in "Eternal Security." I believe that this policy is fundamentally wrong, and I am ashamed that this part of the policy passed. It is, in my opinion, way worse than the no speaking in a "private prayer language" policy. Here is what I understand it takes to have a proper baptism:

1. The candidate must be regenerate (a believer).
2. The baptism must be by immersion.
3. The baptism must be done in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In baptism, we are identifying with Christ Jesus, not a doctrinal position. In the early Church, when a person believed, he got baptized. Did the Ethiopian eunuch understand Eternal Security? Did the church he got baptized in belive that? Wait, he wasn't in a church. He was at a river with Phillip. If the Ethiopian wanted to be an IMB missionary, would he have to call Phillip on the phone to make certain that he believed in Eternal Security.

I was quite fortunate not to be baptized in the Church of Christ. They believe in baptismal regeneration. Why did I almost get baptized in that church? Let me tell you.

1. I got saved and I knew that Jesus said we should be baptized. I wanted to do what Jesus said.

2. My old "Baptist" Church was "doing" baptism for another month. I did not want to wait. I was gushing with excitement.

3. I had a close friend who was Church of Christ. He told me that his preacher would baptize me this very day at this very moment if I called him and asked him to. I said, "Well...let me call my grandmother's church." That church was SBC, thank God or else I would have to be baptized again I suppose.

This brings up some interesting questions for me. According to my construction above, I would have met the requirements for baptism if I had let the Church of Christ minister baptize me. I did not believe that baptism would save me. I believed that I was already saved. Would it have mattered if the minister believed that I was being saved through baptism? Would he be baptizing me into his church and his doctrine or would I be being baptized into Christ?

I thought that we had already gone over this issue with the Donatists. Could someone remind me what we decided in that controversy about baptism?

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Curse of Danny Lee's Bones

I recently wrote a post dedicated to the fact that I lost the key to the four wheeler. I think that it is now time for me to give you the whole truth. I have dubbed my recent streak of weirdness "The Curse of Danny Lee's Bones."

To begin with, I should probably tell you who Danny Lee is...or was. Danny Lee was a stud horse owned by a friend of mine. His commenter name on here is "DeadCoyote". How appropriate. Anyway, Danny Lee developed a, shall we say, growth on his part that makes him a stud horse. It was a rather large tumor, actually. It was a sad sight to behold. Truthfully, it got so bad that people who saw Danny Lee from the road would call DeadCoyote and ask him what was wrong with his horse.

When it became clear that Danny Lee could not be cured, DeadCoyote did the responsible horse thing. He tied Danny Lee up and put him down. Actually, I think that Danny Lee had also gotten into a barbed wire fence and torn up his leg pretty badly. Whatever the case, Danny Lee was put down for the long dirt nap.

At the present time, Danny Lee is a pile of bones in the pasture. One day while cutting wood, I happened across Danny Lee's bones. I thought it would be funny to put his hips on my head like a helmet and walk around like some deranged Uruk-Hai. It was pretty funny. Me and the DeadCoyote got a good laugh at Danny Lee's expense. Later that day, I lost my sunglasses that I bought in India. I joked to the DeadCoyote that I had been cursed by Danny Lee's bones. We laughed.

I'm not laughing now. Since that day I have lost my sunglasses, four-wheeler key, some very nice Pentax binoculars, shot an eight point buck that's horn spread was 1/2 under club regulations, lost my cell phone, and missed a monster deer that looked like BullWinkle...twice.

This morning, my kitchen flooded. It flooded because we have a ten pound rat running around the house chewing through walls, wiring, plumbing, and anything else he can get his teeth on. He cannot be fooled by traps or poison. He's like Mighty Mouse on steroids. We can hear the beast running through the attic and the walls both day and night...taunting us. My wife is ready to move out. I may set up a ground blind in the kitchen and spotlight for him with my pellet gun tonight. It'll be like The Ghost and the Darkness only it'll be man versus rat instead of man versus lion. You laugh, but this is one scary rodent. I am certain that if I miss he will attempt to go for the jugular. It'll be like the scene from the end of Watership Down where the big bad rabbit lunges for the dog and the dog lunges for the rabbit. That was also one scary rodent.

Of course, I do not believe in the rubbish of curses from the bones of a dead horse, or even bad luck. DeadCoyote says that he doesn't believe in it either, but he's been acting weird around me ever since he accidentally fired his muzzleloader with the ramrod still in the barrel. That was yesterday, and his nose is still swelled from the impact of the scope busting him in the face. He mumbled something about me rubbing off on him; I told him that he was the idiot that shot Danny Lee. Maybe he was rubbing off on me. But then, we don't believe in bad luck and curses, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

We The Church..

Last night, our Plans and Policies Committee met to begin a revision of our constitution and by-laws. I am very excited about this. What we do in this committee will shape our Church for years to come. Here are some of the things that we are attempting to do.

1. Write a new Church Covenant.

We have a covenant now, but it is a generic one published by LifeWay. We are going to expand it, make it more "us", and we are going to require that one assent to it before one can join our membership.

2. We will change the requirements to join the Church.

This is related to number one. We will require that a person go through a "New Member" class before one can join. In this class, I will teach basic introductory theology and explain the Church Covenant. Currently, all one has to do is come to the front, give a profession of faith and admit to being credo-baptized. This is a terrible way to take in new members.

3. We will write a job description for the student pastor.

When the by-laws were written, the church had no student pastor. Last week, we had 37 students show up for an event. That is amazing considering we have 135 total attendance on Sunday morning. The student pastor will be an expository pastor. His job is not to entertain, do lock-ins, or act like an adult who does not wish to grow up. The first two he can do, the latter will get him fired. The goal of the student pastor is to teach young people to love the Lord their God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength, and to teach them to be contributing Church members. We want to structure the ministry in such a way that there will be no dichotomy between what happens on Sunday mornings and on "Student Night".

4. We will be creating a Council of Elders.

It will be the job of the elders to oversee the church. They will help me with discipleship, discipline, and encouragment of the flock. They will further help the deacons be aware of what needs the church has and will have the responsibility to direct them to the work.

I am so very excited about this, and I pray that the Lord will bless us to make this these transitions smoothly, wisely, and without quarreling. I have now been at FBC Plaquemine for two years. I now feel like we are finally getting started. May God bless us in this endeavor.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Shoddy Theology of Heaven

It is extremely popular in most evangelical circles to bash the health and wealth, name it and claim it theology. I'm glad. We ought to ridicule such dangerous doctrine. However, I find that in practice many evangelicals are not much better off. Instead of expecting material riches now, they simply believe that they will be filthy rich after they die. This is true, just as it is true that God's hears our petitions and will grant us whatever we ask for. Take this little quote for example, "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you recieve them, and you will have them" (Mark 11:24). That's an unqualified promise there. It may be qualified elsewhere, and it is, but in this context Jesus says ask for it, believe it, and you've got it.

If Mark 11:24 were all I had to go on, I'd be wearing a suit made of gold, a humongous gaudy tie, and I'd have my own show on TBN. But Mark 11:24 is not alone. I have James 4:3 that says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ak amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." How do I square this with Mark 11:24? It seems that anything that I ask for that tends toward the glory of God is going to be granted, but anything I ask for simply as an end in itself is not going to be given.

That's the problem with many believer's idea of heaven. In truth, they are not so much looking forward to seeing Jesus there as much as they can't wait to walk down Gold Street Avenue and have their great big mansion. They want to get into that place where their treasures are heaped up. Like Scrooge McDuck, they want to swim in their personal treasure vault for awhile. Instead of heaven being about the glory of the Lamb of God, He is simply a means to an end, and that end is living forever in a lavish paradise.

Have you ever heard something to the effect of this statement?:

"You don't think we'll just spend all our time worshipping, do you?"

That is the sort of mentality that makes me wonder if we really infected with a sort of "health and wealth" gospel that makes heaven our playground, and that most only look forward to it because of all the "cool stuff" they'll get.

As I have said before, heaven is heaven because Jesus Christ is there in all of His splendor. Heaven would be heaven if Jesus were there if the streets were gravel and I lived in a shanty. It is His glory and majesty and the greatness of seeing Him that we should be teaching people to look most forward to. Beside Him, all other rewards will be pale and lackluster.

Friday, January 13, 2006

On The Brink of Madness

I consider myself to be a fairly patient and level-headed individual. This could be simple pride, but I believe that those who know me would testify to the truth of that. But something has happened to me today which I cannot abide or deal with in a mature manner. I have almost lost all semblance of my Christian character. What is this horrible thing that has happened?...I have lost a key.

My father-in-law was gracious enough to let me borrow his Honda ATV. In order to crank this thing, you have to have the key. A little, 1/2 inch, black key. If it is lost, one has to actually take the ignition off of the four-wheeler and take it down to the dealership where they will attempt to make a new key.

The thing that drive me utterly mad is that the stupid key is in this house! Somewhere, that key is simply lying there, probably in the open. Or it may be, as I am coming to believe, the key has inadvertently slipped into a hole in the space-time continuum, and short of a Star Trek science miracle, I will never see that key again. Actually, I think that the only way that I will ever manage to close the space-time rift would be to get out my tools, take off the ignition thingy, go down to the Honda place and spend at least $50, and then that key will re-materialize on this particular plane of existence...most likely on my dresser.

Please pray for me. I am having trouble thinking about anything other than this key. I cannot sit still for more than two minutes without going scrounging for it. Also, if my wife asks me, "Where do you remember having it last?" or "Why don't you retrace your steps?" one more time I may start tearing my hair out. Other phrases that may provoke utter madness are, "Did you look under the ______?" Or, "Did you check your pockets?"

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Baptism: Arm Wrestling with John Calvin Cont.

I have a great respect for classical Calvinistic theology. It is, to say the least, neat, tidy, and well thought out. It provides a wonderful theological lens through which one can well interpret the Scriptures. Before anyone goes bonkers about having a "theological lens" in place to study Scripture, let me submit to you that even the most ardent defenders of "Sola Scriptura" have some sort of grid they use to interpret Scripture. If you were stranded on an island by yourself, knew nothing of Christianity, and one day a Bible washed ashore and you read it and were converted, as you began to study you would naturally begin to form your own grid.

These grids are absolutely necessary, but they also cause blind spots. That is why the church, and individuals, must be in constantly in the process of reforming. Notice I didn't say can cause blind spots, I said that our grids cause blind spots. That is why discussion, reading, and submitting ourselves to expository preaching are so essential.

Infant baptism is part of the covenantal grid. Here is how this system works in Biblical interpretation.

Israel = Church

In Calvin's theology, Israel represents the seed of the Church, and the modern Church is now the true Israel. In many ways, I am in total agreement with that. I believe that I will sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a joint-heir of the promise given to Abraham. By faith, I am Abraham's spiritual descendant. However, I do not think that this completely dismisses ethnic Israel anymore more than saying that there is "no more male or female" has eliminated sex.

Once one grasps the idea that the covenant of faith that God made with Abraham is the same covenant that God made with the church, one can easily understand where Calvin is going to go with his idea of baptism and why it should be administered to infants. Now, the above is a very quick, shallow overview of Calvin's theology, anyone who wishes may flesh it out a bit more in the comments. However, I think that it will suffice for the discussion of baptism.

If you made it through the last post, you will notice that I quoted Calvin as saying this:

Therefore, let him who would fully learn the value of baptism, its object, and indeed its entire nature, not fix his thought upon the element and the physical appearance, but rather raise it to God's promises which are there offered to us, and to the inner mysteries which are represented in it (p. 1325).

Calvin wishes for you to forget about the sign for a moment and think of only the thing symbolized. We have already noted that what he believed baptism symbolizes: cleansing from sin, mortification (death) of the flesh, and rebirth into newness of life (cf. 1325).
From here, Calvin will move to circumcision. Watch out, it's a tricky move. Keep your eye on the birdie. This is a long quote but worth it for the studious. Try not to nod off:

Let us examine how these two signs (baptism and circumcision) differ from each other, and in what respects they are alike...the Lord covenants with Abraham that he should walk before him in uprightness and innocence of heart [Gen. 17:1]. This applies to mortification, or regeneration. And lest anyone be in doubt, Moses more clearly explains elsewhere, when exhorting the Israelite people to circumcise the foreskin of their heart for the Lord [Deut. 10:16], that circumcision is the sign of mortification...Moses declares that they ought to be circumcised in heart, explaining the true meaning of this carnal circumcision [Deut. 30:6]...We have, therefore, a spiritual promise given to the patriarchs in circumcision such as is given us in baptism, since it represented for them forgiveness of sins and mortification of flesh. Moreover, as we have taught that Christ is the foundation of baptism, in whom both of these reside, so it is also evident that he is the foundation of circumcision. For he is promised to Abraham, and in him the blessing of all nations [Gen. 12:2-3]. To seal this grace, the sign of circumcision is added (pgs. 1326-1327).

Did you follow that? Remember what Calvin said baptism symbolized? Cleansing, regeneration (rebirth), and mortification. If you compare that list to the above paragraph you will see that he believes circumcision meant the same thing to Israel. Same covenant, same thing symbolized.

So where are the differences he promised? The title of the next section should be a big tip-off. He entitled it: The difference is in externals only. In other words, if one peels back the signs and looks into the heart, you would see the same thing happening in the heart of a "born-again" Israelite that is happening in the heart of someone being saved in the Church. Calvin deftly took away the symbol of being dunked...err...sprinkled, and then he slid the sign of circumcision in on you while your eyes where closed.

I told you from the start that it was neat, tidy, and well thought out. It makes sense, doesn't it? The only problem is that, as neat as it is, it isn't true. I do not believe that circumcision and baptism symbolize the exact same things. I will continue with that thought next post. Hopefully, this will generate a bit of feedback from both sides.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Baptism and the Lord's Supper: Arm Wrestling With John Calvin

Let it be known by all who read here that I am, soteriologically speaking, a Calvinist. I mean that I agree with the TULIP outline. I did not necessarily learn this from Calvin, nor do I agree with all of what Calvin says, nor do I even particularly like him as an individual, but still I admire him and I believe that he was a brilliant thinker.

Baptists have historically had a frustrating relationship with the Reform movement. The wonderful London Baptist Confession of 1689 was born out of a desire to join in that movement while yet retaining baptistic distinctions. Then as now, the baptist 'movement' was hardly a lock-step group, and it must have been maddening for those who agreed with so much of what came from Luther and Calvin to see themselves lumped in with some of the nut cases that called themselves 'baptists'. Alas, this seems to be the perennial plight of the baptist, something that we have not overcome even to this day.

Above, I alluded to the fact that I may not like Calvin personally. You may be rightfully wondering how I can possibly dislike a man whom I never met. The answer is that I have read a good bit of the Institutes and his commentaries. Simply put, he is a jerk to baptists. I'm a little sensitive about that, not just because I happen to be one, but also because many of my friends are. Calvin would have run us out of Geneva on a rail if he could, so I can't help it if my affections are somewhat diminished for the man over it. I am still a work in progress, after all.

Let me now turn to the book that will be consuming most of my time for the next few weeks. That is the most wonderful book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion by none other than John Calvin. I will actually interact with the book. I will quote it and give you page numbers. Dear reader, I will even let you know which copy from which I am working! It is from The Library of Christian Classics Volume XXI, Calvin: The Institutes of the Christian Religion published by Westminster John Knox Press in Louisville & London, edited by John T. McNeill, and translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. I got a sweet deal on these two volumes, and they are worthy every penny.

Our discussion begins in Chapter XVI which is under the category of "Means of Grace: Holy Catholic Church". The chapter title is "Infant Baptism Best Accords with Christ's Institution and the Nature of the Sign". As if those weren't fighting words enough for a Credo-Baptist, I want to give you a few more that get my dander up:

The attack on infant baptism

"But since in this age certain frantic spirits have grievously disturbed the church over infant baptism, and do not cease their agitation, I cannot refrain from adding an appendix here to restrain their mad ravings" (P. 1324).

Frantic spirits, eh? Mad ravings you say? Cannot refrain from adding an appendix, huh? Bring it on you emaciated baby sprinkling paedo-baptist!

Kidding aside, there is something in this ad homenem laced paragraph that I very much agree with. I could write it to about 15 million Baptists who are currently asleep at the theological wheel right now. He writes, "If this may perhaps seem too long to any man, let him, I pray, ponder with himself that, in such an important matter, we ought so to esteem purity of doctrine as well as the peace of the church that w must not fastidiously take exception to anything conducive to the achievement of both" (P. 1324). Amen to that. This will be one long post after another for me, and likely as not, no one will read it for that very reason. I care not. This is important to me, and if no one reads what follows, I have at least tried to be thorough and fair.

In the same paragraph, Calvin writes another sentence with which I wholeheartedly agree, "If (infant baptism) appears to have been contrive by the mere rashness of men, let us bid it farewell and measure the true observance of baptism by God's will alone" (P. 1325). Amen to that. And may I say that this goes likewise for the Credo-Baptist position. If I can be convinced of the validity of infant baptism, I shall join the Presbyterian Church at once and hope to become an elder there someday.

Continuing his discussion, Calvin will define what baptism means. This is of paramount importance in the discussion. If we cannot agree with him here, then we can hardly agree on anything. Surprisingly, I find myself in total agreement in his definition. He writes...and mark this well:

Let him who would fully learn the value of baptism, its object, and indeed its entire nature, not fix his thought up the element and the physical appearance, but rather raise it to God's promises which are there offered to us, and to the inner mysteries which are represented in it...Scripture declares that baptism first points to the cleansing of our sins, which we obtain from Christ's blood; then to the mortification of our flesh, which rests upon participation in his death and through which believers are reborn into newness of life and into fellowship with Christ (P. 1325)

I wonder, after reading this, why we can't just call it a day and all go home. I would nearly think that Calvin were a baptist himself after such a definition. Of course he isn't, but this is a good definition. Does any baptist reading this disagree with what is written so far?

The problem, I believe, is not just with Calvin's understanding of baptism, but with his understanding of circumcision. In order to make his system work, he is going to have to demonstrate that circumcision was done for the exact same reason that baptism is done. When he establishes that, then he will be able to conclude then that infants should be baptized just as they were circumcised under the Old Covenant. This is poor reasoning, I believe, and though we may be able to find elements in common, the two are not the same. They do not symbolize the same thing.

Go back and read his admonition to "not fix his thought upon the element and the physical appearance," this is crucial to his argument. He will attempt in the next few paragraphs to teach that the thing symbolized is exactly the same in both though the sign be different. That is, he will argue that circumcision was given to represent regeneration, cleansing by Christ, and the death of the flesh through belief in Jesus Christ. That is what the next post will be dedicated to. Let the reader judge to see if Calvin is correct. I will do my best to demonstrate that he isn't.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

True Intellectualism and the Value of Scholarship

I am feeling much better today, and I thought that since every Greek nerd who comes through here is now offended at my last post I should clarify a few things. First of all, I am a Greek nerd. I had some pretty good Greek nerd professors also. I studied under Dr. David Black and Dr. Andreas Kostenberger. They are pretty sharp fellows.

In fact, I actually tested out of first year Greek. I am such a fan of the original languages that I spent a summer studying Greek on my own. That way, I could go ahead and take second year Greek right away. When Dr. Kostenberger found out I had done that without approval, he wasn't thrilled. He found out halfway through the semester somehow and called me to the front to discuss this with me. At the time, Dr. Kostenberger had a broken foot, so he walked with a limp. He's also from Austria, so he has a bit of an accent. He simply said, "Did you take the first year of Greek?" I said, " that a problem? I have an A in here so far..."
He said, "Meet me in my office at 2. Bring your Greek Bible. Come alone."

Needless to say, I was frightened half to death. With the limp and the accent, he reminded me of a James Bond villian. I went in there expecting something like me saying, "Do you expect me to parse verbs, Dr. Kostenberger?" And him saying, "No Mr. Williams, I expect you to die!!" I passed his exam. So he let me stay in the class. He's no villain after all. Actually, he's quite a gracious man.

My point was not to scorn everyone who studies Greek. I think that all preachers should study Greek. What I despise is the use of Greek to belittle others or using it in such a way as to make the common man feel inadequate to read his Bible. I despise it when Greek students use the language like a 'secret knowledge' that only the elite can access, and therefore only they know the true meaning of the text.

I study the original text for my sermons, but I rarely, rarely let the people know that I have used it. If I find a translation or interpretation that I like better than the one I am reading from, then I can usually find a major, reliable English version to point them to. After all, the guys who translated the Bible were no slouches. The are almost never guilty of "mis-translation", but they may not have the interpretation that you like. That's where the bulk of the expositor's job comes in.

So relax O Greek guru. I love you and appreciate you. Keep parsing those verbs and figuring out those participles. Just watch the exegetical fallacies; someone will eventually call you on it. Oh yes, and if you ever start a sentence with, "What this really means in the Greek is...." you can rest assured that you are most likely going to say something redundant, silly, and conceited.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pseudo-Intellectualism and the Scholastic Waste of Time

*Alert! This is a pet peeve rant from your Local Blogcasting System! This is only a rant. If this were a real emergency, you would be directed to your local Baptist Church for Shelter. Remember, this is only a rant.*

Sometimes, pseudo-scholarly individuals make me want to crack some skulls. I know that this is not necessarily a pastorly thing to do, but sometimes I think it may be appropriate. Okay, maybe if I flipped a few tables and scourged a few money lenders I might get some relief.

I will admit that I am no Greek scholar. However, I fancy that with my studies in Seminary and with my personal dedication to language and with my wonderful BibleWorks 6.0 program, I'm no imbecile either. I know enough to know when some fancy pants Greek scholar is trying to jerk the wool over my eyes, and that, dear friends, is worth the admission price to your local seminary.

Let me tell you what I mean. Take Romans 1:5 for example. In the NKJV, Paul writes, "Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations." This verse is huge in the grand scheme of things, and it is especially so here of late. But let me tell you where the local yokel Greek geek will try and mess with your non-Greek mind. Do you see the phrase "to the faith" in verse 5? Of course you do, I just wrote it. Well, "to the faith" is in the genitive case in the Greek...

Did your eyes just glaze over? Congratulations, so did about 99.9% of the folks who just read that. Most Christians couldn't tell a genitive from a gerund, yet they still manage to walk and talk and have children. Is it important that the phrase is in the genitive? You bet it is! Do you have to know Greek to get it? NO.

Here's what a genitive is: It can show possesion. Like if I say, "He's no son of mine!" Of mine is in the genitive. Got it? That is very basic, but it will be true most of the time. Sometimes it isn't, but most of the time it is.

Back to the Greek geek. After he has glazed your eyes with the very scary word "genitive", he may proceed to tell you that this particular genitive is an objective genitive or a genitive absolute. what does that mean? Who knows? It's a snowscreen anyway. Do you know why it is a snowscreen? Because even a Greek speaking Jew from the first century would have to make a subjective decision on what kind of genitive it is, even if he knew what a genitive was, which he wouldn't because I do not even know if they had a word for genitive! After all, you use genitives all the time and most of us don't know what one is...did I make this point already? Good, let's move on.

Let me give you a phrase to clear things up:

"The love of Amy guards me against adultery."

Read it you see the genitive? Yes!!! Brilliant! Now, let me ask you a question: Does this sentence mean that my love of Amy keeps me from adultery, or does it mean that Amy's love for me keeps me from adultery?

*Jeopardy Music for 30 Seconds*

Times up!

Guess what...both could be correct! You have no idea of knowing what I meant unless I clarify somewhere else. You'd have to ask, and I'd have to tell you. If you and a friend found this in a letter, you could argue all day over what I meant but it would be a stalemate. It could mean either.

So when Mr. FancyPantsNerdFaceGreekGeek tries to assert that he has the secret gnosis that no other living man has and asserts that it means one thing and that their is no ambiguity allowed in the phrase...tell him to shove off, especially if he is trying to deny Sola Fide. He gonna have to find some other non-Greeker to pick on. I feel strangely better now.

*Rant Over. You May Now Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming*

Preaching and Teaching With Fear and Trembling

I believe that one of the most underrated emotions is fear. For some reason, we have equated being afraid with cowardice and wimpiness. This is simply not the case, at least I certainly hope not. As I look over my ministry and my Christian walk, one of the primary motivators in my life is fear.

I confess to you that I preach and teach because I am afraid. I study my Bible because I am afraid. I pray because I am afraid. I often feel guilty that I haven't studied because I am afraid. What, you may ask, am I afraid of? I'm glad you were thinking that.

Imagine, if you will, a soldier standing on the rampart of a castle. His charge is to defend the keep, to the death if necessary. The armies of the enemy have surrounded his home and castle. They are a ruthless enemy who offers no quarter to survivors. Their one intention is to destroy, ruin, and obliterate the castle, the soldier, his family, and his way of life. The soldier knows this, as well as every woman and child who is huddled in the castle for protection.

Suddenly, the soldier sees a breech in the gate, and the enemy threatens to overwhelm the castle. How do you suppose that he feels? How would you feel?

If he charges headlong into the battle and fights valiantly to drive off the enemy, many may name him "Fearless". I think not. I believe that it is fear that drives him into the breech. Yes, he may fear losing his life, but if that causes him not to act then he is indeed a coward. But I believe the fear that drives men to such deeds is the fear of what will happen if they don't act. It is the fear of what will happen to the women and children if the enemy wins the field. It is the fear of what will happen to freedom and culture and home and all that they find good if they cower and do not act. How could they face the Lord of the Keep if they are found to be derelict in their duty?

This is why I preach and teach the way that I do. I do not wish to dissappoint the Lord of Heaven, and I fear for the souls of those who listen. This is why I cringe when TV Evangelists act absurdly. I do not cringe merely because I think they are idiots; I cringe because they are dangerous enemies who threaten to overwhelm the faith of many.

Of course, love drives me as well. It is what undergirds my fear. If I did not love the Lord or His people, I would not be afraid of shaming Him or seeing them harmed. This, I believe, is the difference between a servile, slavish fear and the fear that Scripture encourages. It is a fear born of love and awe, not of contempt and terror.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bethlehem Baptist Withdraws Motion!! For Now...

It has been a marvelous day. First off, I learn that I am the recipient of the coveted "Most Improved Blog of 2005" by the noble Centuri0n, then as I am contemplating my next series on the Lord's Supper, I see this over at the Paleoevangelical's place. I began this series on Baptism and the Lord's Supper because the original proposal at Bethlehem Baptist upset me tremendously. I am glad to see that a few of the elders have changed their mind. I hope as they pray and put their heads together that more will change their minds as well, including John Piper and the majority of the staff.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Culture, Homosexuality, and the Christian Response: Getting Past the 'Yuck' Factor

It is my hope that this post will cause a few people to think about how they deal with people who are homosexuals. I do not believe that the evangelical response, by and large, has been a good witness. Perhaps. I could be wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our reversion to homosexuality has been more fleshly pride than godly grief. Here is what I mean.

In the West, and in the East, homosexuality has been a cultural taboo. This, I believe, is a sign of the common grace of God that has kept our culture from sexual debauchery. But common grace is not enough to bring someone to saving faith, and a reaction to a cultural taboo is not the same as a godly sorrow.

In our culture there are certain things that are deemed "disgusting" by virtue of our societies mannerisms. Belching at the table comes to mind. We may also find the custom of eating fresh monkey brains revolting, or cooking our food over cow dung, or etc. In other lands, these things may not only be acceptable but even encouraged! These are cultural issues, not Biblical ones.

Sometimes cultural taboos and biblical prohibition intersect. Such has been the case with homosexuality. It is clearly defined as sin in Scripture, and our culture has attached a 'yuck' factor to it. I would submit that the latter cultural factor is slowly being eroded, but the biblical prohibition will remain. Evangelicals can get mad about this, but there has already been an amazing acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle in the public eye over the past thirty years that would have been undreamed of in the past. I think that this bodes well for evangelicals if they are mature in their faith.

I believe that as often as not, when an evangelical condemns homosexual behavior, it is because he or she is reacting to a cultural, perhaps natural response and not a godly conviction. This fleshly reaction is not compassionate or loving, but rather it is fleshly and hateful. This is the reaction of the beastly redneck drunkard and not the Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus Christ. The redneck farts, drinks himself into a drunken stupor, and picks fights for fun on a regular basis. He will sleep with any woman that he can dupe into a short-term relationship as often as he possibly can. Yet he will display the most extreme form of predjudice against homosexual conduct than anyone could imagine or muster. Would you say that this reaction is 'godly'? Would you encourage it? How should the Christian react differently?

I would submit that he is acting this way because his culture has taught him that homosexual behavior is disgusting, weak, and to be despised. It is not part of his cultural manhood to accept such behavior. So he would boast about beating up gay guys. By the way, this same redneck probably claims to be a Christian as well. His home church probably still has him on the active roll of the church membership and makes jokes when he comes to church.

Here is where the arrogance plays in for the Christian, and here is how we can recognize the rebellious redneck in all of us. First of all, if you think that you are less disgusting of a sinner than a homosexual you do not understand your own depravity. I do not have a problem with someone finding homosexuality repulsive for the right reasons. In fact, I applaud it. But I wonder why we do not treat divorce, adultery, thievery, and fornication with the same disdain? Why, o sinner, do you not act with revulsion when your own heart burns with lust towards someone of the opposite sex? Is this not appalling in the eyes of God? Why is it, O man, that the very fact that you know that you can be tempted by your neighbor's wife not enough to teach you that you are capable of the most horrific crimes of sexual debauchery?

Homosexuality should grieve us for reasons beyond the Yuck Factor. But I am afraid that is all the grief that the average evangelical can muster. Why is that? Because our view of sex has been so eroded, our view of marriage has been so dismantled, and that our eye has grown so lustful that the understanding of the sacredness and holiness of the marriage bed is not elevated high enough to teach us to grieve over the loss of innocence and purity. Not just a purity that comes from a legalistic abstinence, but an understanding that is born of the knowledge that the consumation of marriage is the closest model on God's earth to the relationship between Christ and His beloved. I would be willing to bet that the average teenager in America could not define the word 'chaste' other than to associate it with prudery and sexlessness. Chastity is not equal to virginity. A Christian wife who delights in the pleasures of sex with her husband is declared chaste by the Word of God (Check 1 Peter 3:1-8 and look for the word 'chaste' to see if I am telling the truth.)

When we react with an ungodly revulsion towards homosexuality, we hinder our witness and shame ourselves before the Lord. It is a prideful thing to believe oneself above even the most shameful sins. It is a poor understanding of depravity.

How then ought the Christian to react? I would submit that it should be with pity and hope. Pity because someone in that lifestyle is lost and missing the fulness of joy which God has promised. Hope because God can teach them yet how sex is meant to glorify Him, and that no one is beyond His grace or reach; you yourself are living proof of that. Finally, you must not be too harsh in your judgment. Apart from the grace of God, common or special, you may have woke up this morning in the bed with someone of the same sex. We have no room for boasting save in the mercy of our Lord. May God give us the grace to overcome pride that we may be the salt and light of the earth.