Friday, October 04, 2019

An Exhortation to My Fellow Pastors

The dark depravity of the evil shepherds in Ezekiel 34 comes into especially sharp relief against the brilliant and beautiful light provided in the revelation of Jesus Christ as the good Shepherd. 

The Dark Depravity of the Evil Shepherds
A look into the behavior of the evil shepherds will reinforce this reality. F.B. Huey argues that ancient shepherds had three primary responsibilities, all of which may be seen negatively in the early verses of Ezekiel 34. 
First, the shepherd must "provide food, water, and a resting place for the sheep." But the shepherds of Israel were under judgment precisely because they were concerned about providing these things for themselves rather than for the sheep (v. 3). 
Second, shepherds "took care of the sick sheep, dressed their wounds, and hunted for sheep that strayed from the flock." However, the shepherds of Israel were doing the exact opposite; they were abusive toward the flock (v. 4). 
The third responsibility that the ancient shepherd had "was to protect the sheep from danger." The shepherd held a staff that could either be used to ward off a dangerous animal or that could be used to retrieve a sheep that had fallen into a crevice or otherwise become trapped in the underbrush. 
It is in our focal passage, Ezekiel 34:5-8, that we witness the Lord's verdict regarding the neglect of the shepherds to protect the sheep:
So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: "As I live," says the Lord God, "surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did my shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock."
The Problem of Hired Hands
Jesus Christ's description of the hired shepherds, who neglected their office at the first sign of a dangerous wolf, similarly applies to these faithless shepherds of ancient Israel. Jesus identified the "hireling" as one who does not really deserve the name of shepherd. The hireling does not care for the sheep, for he has no sense of ownership (John 10:12-13). 
The comparison is appropriate for the situation of Ezekiel. The last kings of Judah, who succeeded one another in rapid succession in the final years of the kingdom, did not really care about the flock of the Lord. They did not even search for the sheep that had been deported from the land into Babylon, much less risk their lives to redeem the flock (as Jesus would one day do). The neglect of the shepherds meant that the sheep were scattered and had become prey for the beasts of the field. 
The word פוץ (puwts), which is translated as "scattered," is used thrice in this passage. Sheep are at their most vulnerable when they are separated from one another and from their shepherd. One of the ancient shepherd's primary responsibilities was to keep the sheep together in his presence. 
When the shepherd does not tend to the sheep and gather them regularly into the fold, they will naturally "wander" (שׁגה or shagah). It is in such a state of dispersion that a flock becomes a series of individuals, who then make easy "prey" (בז or baz). In a horrifying figure of speech evocative of cannibalism, Ezekiel said that the people as sheep thereby become "food" or "meat" (אכלה or 'oklah) for the conqueror as "beast" or "wild animal" (חי or chay).

The Evil Shepherds Focus on Themselves
The issue is then raised, "Why did the shepherds allow the sheep to be scattered?" Ezekiel also provides the answer to that important question.
A shepherd's constant task in his role of protecting the flock was to "seek" (בקשׁ or baqash) and "search" (דרשׁ or darash) for the sheep, monitoring them so as to keep them from endangering themselves or to remove them from the peril of predators. When a shepherd is not monitoring the sheep in this fashion, they will easily become scattered and endangered.
Rather than being focused on tending to the flock, however, Israel's shepherds were focused on tending to themselves. "But the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed the sheep" (Ezek 34:8).

The One Shepherd
These verses from Ezekiel 34 present a very dark picture, but the passage is not without indications of hope. Repeatedly, the Lord refers in this passage to the people as "My sheep" or "My flock" (vv. 6 and 8). The kings as shepherds may act as hirelings, but there is a Shepherd who owns this flock, who has a vested and intimate interest in the welfare of his sheep. 
Israel and Judah may have had various kings who were to function as shepherds, but they also have their covenant Lord God, who is ultimately the King that they must worship (cf. Ps 98:6) and ultimately the Shepherd that will rescue them (Eek 34:11-16, 20-31). And in a rich allusion to the Messiah who would be their only shepherd, the Lord also promises through Ezekiel that, "I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them" (vv. 23-24a). 
Israel's motley crew of faithless and vanquished shepherd-kings would be replaced with a singularly faithful and victorious shepherd-king, the Christ. Note that the Lord's promise regarding the Davidic "one shepherd" (v. 23) within the overarching context of the Lord's promise to act decisively as Israel's shepherd (vv. 20-31) brings the human Messiah and the Lord God into a profound unity redolent of the New Testament's high Christology.

The New Testament Shepherd
In light of such darkness in human leaders and the truth of the One Shepherd, New Testament church leaders must be extremely careful that their hearts are focused on Christ and their actions on their flock. Church pastors should not be like the wicked Israelite king-shepherds, who were focused on ἐαυτούςποιμαίνοντες, "feeding themselves" (Jude 12). 
Sadly, there are too many cases where contemporary pastors neglect the flocks that the Lord placed in their care and pursue their own self-interests instead. The shepherd who has descended into ministry for money and not for love has become a despicable hireling. However, if a pastor discovers his heart's intentions toward God and his outward actions toward the flock have been engrossed with evil, he need not utterly despair. For the errant shepherd who has neglected his flock and heedlessly allowed them to wander morally and doctrinally, there is yet hope for repentance and restoration. [For the abusing wolf, who pretends to belong in the pastorate, although the Lord did not call him thence, know that your judgment is coming.]
The first pastor to be instituted was Peter, and in spite of his claims that he loved Christ more than any of the other disciples (Mark 14:29), he had failed. Not once nor twice but thrice Peter denied Jesus in his greatest hour of human need (Mark 14:66-72; John 18:15-18, 25-27). But in a moving redemptive moment for Peter and potentially for every shepherd since Peter, the Lord re-commissioned his fallen under-shepherd (John 21:15-17). 
It is noteworthy that the risen Christ thrice correlated Peter's love for the Lord with Peter's fulfillment of his appointed office to shepherd the flock. It is when Peter fully embraced the cross of the shepherding office Christ had given him that Peter would find his heart was truly following his Lord (John 21:18-19).

An Exhortation to My Fellow Pastors
The only way a Christian under-shepherd may avoid becoming an evil shepherd like those in judgment under Ezekiel is through a heart continually transformed by the Word of God and the Spirit of God to take the shape of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is primarily concerned for his flock's welfare and seeks them out to save them. May we, Christ's shepherds, have self-sacrificial ministries that follow the good Shepherd of the New Testament rather than the self-centered actions of the evil shepherds of Ezekiel.

-----------------
(Note: This pastoral commentary on Ezekiel 34 was originally part of a longer essay. It reflects my own dismay and disgust with certain models of ministry becoming increasingly evident and is published here with a sense of hope for a better future. May the culture change for which J.D. Greear and Keith Whitfield have expressed a longing come about sooner than later. I am thankful that Russell Moore and Philip Bethancourt of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have sponsored the recent Caring Well Conference, which is helping to start the process toward a culture change. Finally, I am thankful that Southwestern Seminary's retired Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, F.B Huey, a man of gravity and grace mentioned above, was my professor. [The bracketed sentence above was added in 2019 to the original 2015 essay after the horrific revelations of widespread sexual abuse in the churches became known.])

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Orthodox Doctrine of Local Church Autonomy and Accountability

While I surmised previously in an ERLC essay that the Baptist doctrine of local church autonomy was being misused to shield sexual abusers, it became increasingly apparent at the turn of the year that this was indeed and tragically the case. Through two ground-shifting series of articles published in the first case by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and in the second case by the Houston Chronicle, Baptists learned to their horror that their churches were being used for gross evil rather than for anything good.

After some Baptist pastor theologians and academic theologians stated publicly as individuals that local church autonomy should not be so employed, Dr. Bart Barber, Dr. Nathan Finn, and I decided it would be helpful to ask the Southern Baptist Convention to address this critical theological issue as a body. It was a privilege to work together with this distinguished pastor-theologian and this dynamic academic administrator in bringing clarity to one of the most important theological crises of our day. 

The resolution we submitted was slightly amended in friendly ways by both the Resolutions Committee and from the floor. It was then adopted unanimously by the Southern Baptist Convention. Before the three of us submitted the resolution, we agreed that the fourth Resolve contained the key issue. Local church autonomy, properly understood, must never be divorced from mutual accountability under Christ. Scott Gordon, a pastor and messenger, noted and approved the same emphasis from the floor of the convention. Gordon's motion to amend the title to include "Accountability" was heartily approved.

It is thus appropriate that pastors and theologians and denominational servants of the churches now make sure that they present local church autonomy in its proper biblical and Christological frame. This ecclesiological doctrine is not about an individual person's autonomy, nor is it about a particular human community's autonomy. This longstanding Baptist doctrine is about the mutual submission of Christians living in covenant under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ. As the seventh Whereas indicates, the doctrine of local church autonomy must remain subordinate to Jesus, who is always the only Lord of all his churches. 

Those who divorce local church autonomy from the Lordship of Christ have, if I may say so, adopted an exalted and self-centered view that draws more upon Pelagian soteriology and Enlightenment anthropology than upon any theology that is recognizably Christian. Kudos to the Resolutions Committee, led by the highly capable Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Dr. Curtis Woods, and to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention for advancing the cause of Christ through clarifying what the doctrine of local church autonomy means and what it doesn't mean. 

Either we who are Southern Baptists will get this correct, or we will face the judgment of the One who deeply loves his "little ones" and will avenge them.


On Local Church Autonomy and Accountability

WHEREAS, The biblical doctrine of local church autonomy is based in the local church’s covenant with God in Christ (Matthew 18:18– 20; 1 Peter 3:21), Jesus Christ being the eternal and only Head of His church (Ephesians 1:22–23; 2:19–22; 5:22; Colossians 1:18); and

WHEREAS, Local church autonomy is exercised through congregational processes (Matthew 18:15–17; Acts 5:12; 6:3–6; 13:1-3; 1 Corinthians 5:11–13), with reference to other churches (Acts 15:1–2, 22–23, 30; 1 Corinthians 11:16; 14:33), and only for the purposes determined by God for His glory (Ephesians 3:21); and

WHEREAS, Baptist churches appoint leaders who are charged with care for the souls of those in their congregations (Acts 6:1–7; 20:17, 28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1–2); and

WHEREAS, The doctrine of local church autonomy is a cherished and inextricable part of the historic faith of Baptists, being expressed as early as the 1644 London Baptist Confession; and

WHEREAS, The cherished doctrine of local church autonomy is confessed by Southern Baptists in The Baptist Faith and Message, with each church governed by the Lordship of Jesus Christ and exercising its autonomy through congregational processes (Article VI); and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have confessed local church autonomy is to be exercised with reference to other churches, stating in the same article, “The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation”; and

WHEREAS, The historic doctrine of local church autonomy likewise places every church under the universal headship of Christ and refers the churches to one another, as expressed in the 1644 confession, “And although the particular Congregations be distinct and several Bodies, every one a compact and knit City in itself: yet are they all to walk by one and the same Rule, and by all means convenient to have the counsel and help one of another in all needful affairs of the Church, as members of one body in the common faith under Christ their only head” (Article XLVII); and

WHEREAS, Recent news stories make it painfully clear that some Southern Baptist churches have failed either to choose fitting persons to be set apart for ministerial leadership, to discipline ministers and other church members properly, or to communicate from church to church the unfit condition of some ministers, and that some church leaders have failed voluntarily to submit themselves to others for spiritual accountability; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, reaffirm our doctrine of local church autonomy under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which must be exercised through congregational processes with the leadership of scriptural officers and with reference to other churches for the glory of God alone; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the autonomy of the local church must never be understood apart from being a gift of God in Christ, who grants His church authority for His purposes alone and only according to His ways; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we reject the concept of local church autonomy as mere “self-rule,” for Christian authority may never be exercised apart from Christ’s Lordship and must be exercised only for God’s glory as revealed in the Word interpreted by the congregation led by the Holy Spirit; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that local church autonomy is compatible with the mutual accountability to the Lord of all the churches, especially those churches of like faith and practice that voluntarily cooperate through associations and conventions for the sake of better fulfilling the Great Commission (see The Baptist Faith and Message, Article XIV); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we warn those who would misuse local church autonomy as a license for sin that God will judge both shepherds and the wolves who abuse the vulnerable sheep in the flock (Ezekiel 34:1–24); and be it further

RESOLVED, That God explicitly instructed His churches to be careful when setting apart individuals for ministerial leadership, appointing ministers in their churches, and monitoring the continued integrity of these ministers (1 Timothy 3:1–7; 5:22; Titus 1:5–9); and be it further

RESOLVED, That every local church must carefully determine whether a professed minister or Christian transferring from another church is worthy of reception in their own congregation; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we as Southern Baptists hereby repudiate any who seek to use the cherished doctrine of local church autonomy as a means of hiding the sins of ministers and others in the church who abuse, sexually or otherwise, “the little ones” of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:6–10).

Adopted June 2019 by the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Two Letters from Birmingham: Pursuing Biblical Justice

During the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, our churches' messengers did many good things. For instance, we finally began addressing the sexual abuse crisis. Much attention was also given to the indispensability of women in our churches. Again, our President, J.D. Greear, reminded us that our constant theme must be the "Gospel Above All," even as we address gospel issues created by errant anthropologies with us since our denomination's foundation.

However, one convention action that deserves more attention, but has not yet received it in the news and social commentary, concerned the struggle for biblical justice. The juxtaposition of two letters from Birmingham should help put more light on something that requires emphasis. These letters remind us of the need to take positive action in undoing the effects of evil anthropologies.

The First Letter from Birmingham

It should not be lost upon us that 56 years ago, in the hot summer of 1963, Birmingham was seized by non-violent demonstrations after the city fathers failed to stem the tide of unconscionable bombings of churches. Martin Luther King Jr. came from Atlanta to help put the spotlight on the horrific problems faced by a huge segment of the Christian population of this city. But rather than listening to King, Birmingham's authorities unwisely threw him into jail.

Adding salt to King's wounds, a group of white Christians who sought to support his goals asked him to be more patient in the pursuit of justice. The letter King wrote in response to the white moderate Christians has since become a classic text. Filled with biblical and theological reflections on the theme of pursuing justice in the midst of an unjust society, reading it again brought me to tears. King's rebuke to the white moderates, who were generally friendly to him, was necessary. That letter grips the soul of this privileged white man. For instance, he rebukes those Christians who blithely dismiss the suffering of others:
In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, "Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with," and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.
Many white Christians have been complicit in keeping civil rights from their fellow human beings and, even more hypocritically, from their own Christs' blood-bought Brothers and Sisters. Today, it is clear that many of us who are Southern Baptist lament the evil of racism, but there remains much to do. The evils of racism and misogyny and sexual abuse, evils which have often been downplayed even denied, must become objects of identification, rebuke, and repentance whenever they arise among us. King's letter from the Birmingham jail rightly calls predominantly white Christians to embrace their responsibility.

The Second Letter from Birmingham

Another letter from Birmingham was written this summer. However, rather than coming from a single man in the unjustly imposed confines of a jail cell, this letter came from a group of men and women who worked diligently in the self-imposed confines of Birmingham's conference center. The Resolutions Committee of the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, chaired by the highly capable Curtis Woods of Kentucky, crafted a resolution that deserves more attention than it has yet been given.

Resolution 7, entitled "On Biblical Justice," offers a timely reminder that pursuing justice remains an integral aspect of Christian responsibility in this world. Drawing upon Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message, the resolution was adopted overwhelmingly and wholeheartedly by the messengers in 2019. While there have been advances since 1963, this letter indicates how much more work we have to do in advancing human flourishing among the precious beings who bear the divine image and live in our cities, states, nations, and world. Among the many truths brought forward in this resolution, the final whereas reminds us that biblical evangelism and biblical justice are integrally intertwined:
WHEREAS, Our witness to the truth of the gospel includes obedience to Christ demonstrated in giving our lives to evangelize the lost around the world and in becoming involved with the struggles of our neighbors as well as our believing brothers and sisters (Genesis 18:19; 1 Peter 2:11-12);
Notice another wise balance among the resolves, this time showing that the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the true pursuit of justice must be held together among Christians. In one resolve, inappropriate ideas are rejected; while in the very next resolve, Christians are reminded of our responsibility to pursue justice:
RESOLVED, That we reject solutions for social brokenness that depend upon ideas that are antithetical to the Christian faith, for they ignore the lasting transformation only found in the gospel; and be it further
RESOLVED, That in light of the urgent needs in our world, we commit to address injustices through gospel proclamation, by advocating for people who are oppressed and face wrongs against them, acting justly in our own dealings, and by insisting that spheres of society should operate according to “principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love” (The Baptist Faith and Message, Article XV);
Even as we focus on preaching the gospel and advancing truth, let us not forget that advancing biblical justice is a necessary part of our remit in this fallen world. Kudos to the men and women of the Resolutions Committee of the SBC for the fine work they have done in reminding us of so many critical truths in their fine batch of resolutions, including the continuing pursuit of biblical justice.

Thank you, Southern Baptists, for the way you addressed so many important issues this year. Among them, thank you for adopting this second Letter from Birmingham. Perhaps the great civil rights leader, himself a Baptist minister and very capable theologian, might approve of the progress we have made, but doubtless he would rightly remind us we have further to go.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

You Must Die, If You Want to Live

At the center of the Gospel of Matthew, God the Father revealed to Peter, a man like you and me, the way to a victorious life. That way is through the faithful confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt 16:13-20). A little later, after Peter demonstrated that he did not fully understand how this victory would be achieved (Matt 16:21-22), Jesus the Christ offered a lesson about how we must go about living the victorious life that He freely offers to believers.

In Matthew 16:23-27, it is written that Jesus told his disciples,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
With these poignant, even piercing, words, Jesus totally reorients the lives of his listeners. Through years of trying to live, at first without the Word of God, but afterward with the Word of God ever before my eyes and in my ears and on my tongue, I have learned that the Word of God challenges us, changes us, compels us. His words have power, life-altering authority, and in this text He speaks to you today.

Jesus sets out a command for how to conduct your life, and then He offers one compelling reason, expressed in three increasingly demonstrative terms, as to why we should take his command with utmost seriousness. Let us look quickly at “the cost of discipleship,” which is death, and “the cause for discipleship,” which is life:

I. The Cost of Discipleship: Death


If you want to be Jesus’s disciple, then you are required to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow him. The Germans use the term Nachfolge to convey the Greek mathetes. It means, literally, “to follow after.” A disciple is one who follows after a master. He or she fashions his life upon the life of his or her master.

Because Jesus denied himself in his needs and his desires in order to bless the other, so we must do likewise. In his profound book, Nachfolge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously cried out, “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Every time I read those words, they challenge me to the core of my being. Will I really deny myself? Will I really die to this world, so that I might rise with Him? Again and again, I cry out, like Bonhoeffer, with my whole heart, “I am yours, Lord!”

Because Jesus embraced the calling of God to live and then to die in this way, so we must do likewise. This does not mean we carry a literal wooden cross and are nailed upon it. Nor does it mean that we may propitiate for the sins of others, for that is far beyond our capabilities. However, it means we are called to a life of suffering on behalf of the needs of other people in other ways.

Because the life of Christ is the exemplar for the life of the Christian, it means we are to adopt his humility, his way of life, his higher purpose. The high calling of Christ is a claim that our lives mean more than the mean goals to which we are prone to reduce ourselves.

If I have noticed one thing that is highly detrimental to Christian believers of whatever age, it is the short memory we have regarding the high calling that He has given to each of his children.

  • While God may bless you with a face of beauty, this is a mere means to the higher call. 
  • While God may gift you with a mind of acuity, this is only an intellectual instrument to strive toward the higher calling.
  • While God may grant you gifts of wealth and power and status, they are not what you really should be concerned about. Rather, see them as avenues toward a greater way of life.
Don’t let the little things, the lesser aspects, the mean moments become the purpose of your life.

Yes, develop your bodily beauty, your mental capacity, and your other talents and gifts to their utmost potential. However, keep the higher calling in mind. Your life is not about the things you own or the people with whom you cavort. Your life is about the One who owns you and who gave you all these things to use and all these people to love.

II. The Cause for Discipleship: Life


Why should you follow Christ? Why should you take up the cross God is laying upon your life? Why should you deny yourself and allow God to ensconce Himself exclusively upon the throne of your personal life?

Jesus offers three descriptions for the one reason for being his disciple:

  1. You must lose your life to save it.
  2. You must give your life to gain it.
  3. You must prepare for judgment or glory.

Behind each of these expressions lays the overwhelming truth that we must ultimately give an account to God for what we do with our lives.

You must lose your life to save it? It is admittedly counter-intuitive from a humanistic perspective. I must lose my life in order to save my life. It only makes sense in the light of the sovereignty of God. By “lose your life,” Jesus means that you must stop trying to “save your life.” Your sin has already brought to you the loss of life. The only way that it can be saved now is if God himself does that for you. He wants you to trust him with your life.

You must give your life to gain it? Again, this is counter-intuitive from a purely anthropological perspective. It only makes sense from the theological perspective. By “give your life,” Jesus means that, once you have begun the life of faith, you must entirely dedicate to living your life God’s way. We want to gain things in this life—family, friends, experiences, joys, adventure. And yet, God tells us that we must give it away to get it. The older I become, the more I am convinced that this life is a grand adventure, a progress, a pilgrimage, and I am an adventurer, a pilgrim, a temporary resident on my way through the vagaries of this world headed to the promised land. This is not my home yet, and if I must give everything I have and I am in order to go home, then I will give it away.

This brings us to the third cause for discipleship: The final judgment. Jesus made it very clear in the Gospel of Matthew that there is a judgment coming (Matt 24:29-25:46). And every single person shall give a personal account. The Son of God will divide humanity into two groups on the basis of their response to Him. There are only two possible categories, and the result of one's placement therein is ainios, “eternal.”

  1. Those who have turned away from him in disbelief shall be judged and condemned to “eternal punishment.”
  2. Those who have walked with him in faith shall be ushered into “eternal life.” 

The subject of hell is not exactly a popular subject these days, but these are the words of Jesus, and they stand at the center of his gospel. The subject of heaven, however, is very popular, but there is no eternal heaven without a life of discipleship, a cross of death, and a resurrection.

Conclusion


And, thanks be to God, Jesus has paved the way through death into eternal life by his cross. When life is understood through the paradigm of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the coming judgment, then our lives take on their ultimate meaning.

Life will give you so much, and you will have many choices to make. May I encourage you to keep the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ at the center of your every consideration?

  • May I ask you to accept the adventurous life that He has for you? 
  • May I ask you to keep your faith in Christ first, your spouse second (if He grants you such), your children third (if He grants you such), and finally your diligence to work hard and to study hard in whatever particular vocation He grants you? 
  • May I ask you to leave the gifts of joy in this life—gifts that He will grant you, because He loves you and wants to bless you? Can you leave the gifts up to Him and focus on the life He wants you to lead? Leave the delights of this life to be divine surprises that He delights to give to you. 

Pursue the high calling He has laid upon you. You won’t ever regret it. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow your Creator, your Redeemer, your Consummator through this life, through the death at the end of it, and beyond that into eternity. You won’t ever regret following Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, fully God and fully Human.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Apostles' Creed


I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; on the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life.

Amen


[The creed is a poetic masterpiece constructed for use during worship but also properly used for theological instruction. Notice its explicitly Triune form. Notice, moreover, that the second part, which summarizes the apostolic kerygma of Jesus Christ, is the fullest of the three articles. Strikingly, Christ’s death and resurrection, the gospel in sum, thus stands at the very center of the creed.

Because the descensus ad infero clause, which may be translated as “descended to hell” or “descended to the dead,” was not found in the earliest manuscripts and currently remains a matter of dispute among evangelical Christians, it has not been included here. This is not to say the translator necessarily disagrees with that doctrine. However, its use in worship may distract the minds of some from the centrality of the cross and the resurrection.

This version of the Apostles’ Creed has been specifically designed for use in congregational worship, thus its style recalls a poetic cadence and a centralized emphasis upon the gospel. It was first used at Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury, Texas, on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2019, where I am the Teaching Pastor. An earlier version of this translation appeared in a more traditional form in my God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).]

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Let Us Tremble in Light of Such Heavy Responsibility

Christians believe in human dignity. But we face significant challenges at this very time to human dignity in both the realms of the Church and the State.

We as Christians are compelled to contend against both abortionists without and abusers within. Article XV of our Baptist Faith and Message reminds those of us who are Southern Baptists to provide for and contend for both the abused and the infant: 
“We should work to provide for ... the abused ... 
We should ... contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception...”
Ezekiel 34:7-10 applied to “shepherds” in ancient Israel who held the various offices of kingship and priesthood. Consider how the words of the Prophet apply to the State and to the Church today.
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
Therefore, against the abortionist Democrats in the modern American Senate, we must remind them that God holds them accountable as “shepherds.” Also, therefore, against those ministers who would either abuse or neglect to properly protect the abused in the Church, we must remind them, too, that God holds them accountable as “shepherds.”

I mourn for the aborted and the abused, for the little ones who belong to Christ. As an American voter, God will hold me accountable for what shepherds I empower in the State. As a Christian church member, God will hold me accountable for what shepherds I empower in the Church.

As a Christian pastor, I tremble before the thought of the accounting I must give before God’s throne. May He find me a shepherd who did well faithfully. And may He also on that judgment day deem all of us as Christians today to have been faithful in both the realms of the Church and the State in providing for the abused and contending for the babies. Let us tremble in light of such heavy responsibility. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

“Autonomy”? No, Evil Doesn’t Get a Pass

The Southern Baptist Convention cannot reform itself due to local church “autonomy”? No, my brothers and sisters, evil doesn’t get a pass.

“Autonomy” ought not be taken as an excuse to neglect the churches’ moral responsibility. The churches are equally responsible to Jesus as Lord. The churches must thus identify and rebuke any and all activities that harm any of his “little ones,” including in other churches.

It might be helpful if in the Baptist Faith and Message the term “autonomy” was replaced with the term “Christonomy.” This would help correct the idea that Baptists may rule themselves. Looking to Christ as our ever-present Governor would subvert inappropriate power claims.

As President of the Flat River Baptist Pastor’s Conference (in North Carolina) in the early 1990s, liberal pastors blasted me for wanting to remove one church that allowed a teacher to deny the resurrection. I reminded them that their churches are not alone in their autonomy. Orthodox churches are autonomous, too. Evil doesn’t get a pass.