Hell, Hate, and the Peril of Christian Witness


A few years ago, a friend of mine got in trouble. This time, my friend got in trouble for doing the right thing.

In solidarity with his union brothers, my friend was walking a picket line because the company he was working for had been taking advantage of employees. My friend was enjoying conversation with his colleagues talking about a number of items in the news, talking about the weather, about fishing, and traffic.

Death Life Christian Witness Card My friend cared for his colleagues, and so he explained to them the gospel. To make his explanation clear, he used a simple, two-sided tract called Life or Death. The tract was the size of a business card and had the word “Death” written in such an ornate and elaborate way that any calligrapher would have coveted the skill of its artist.

Death” was the beginning point—and the bad news. The card was designed in such a way that all my friend had to do was flip it around and the word which had looked like “Death” now appeared to say “Life.” From the simple flip from death to life, he shared the gospel message of John 3:16.

The workers hearing the gospel message gave it little merit. They held their tongues and kept their death, but not without recourse. They quietly filed a grievance with the union and filed charges against my friend for making “Death” threats against them.

At the time, I thought the entire affair was ludicrous. As it turns out, it was portentous, an ominous sign of things to come. Earlier this week, another

Baptist hate crime hell norfolk attleborough

Source: Steynonline

harbinger of hate crimes to come arose from Great Britain. Mark Steyn tells the story of one Robert Gladwin, a twenty-year old peace-loving, uber-tolerant Brit who simply could not tolerate the sign posted by the Attleborough Baptist Church.

The church sign featured an 8.5 x 11 color flyer with flames coming up from the bottom. The words of the sign read: “If you think there is no God, you’d better be right.” Death, judgment, and hell were not mentioned, but certainly implied. Steyn’s piece makes the excellent contrast between this rather benign flyer and the often seen (and protected) signs of Muslims in London: “Behead those who insult Islam.”

Still, the twenty year-old Gladwin was offended enough to report the crime to the police, who quickly launched a hate crimes investigation against the church. The pastor of the church, John Rose, removed the sign as a result of the investigation and replaced it (unfortunately) with a sign featuring the message “God loves you” with a meerkat saying “Simples” in a floating speech bubble overhead.

Christians must be clear on the gospel message as never before. Any number of issues—Hell perhaps preeminently—will become intolerable hate speech in the days to come. The simple message of eternal life in Christ for those who believe may easily be reinterpreted as a death threat by those who reject the Lord.

None of this is new, really. Christ told His followers from the beginning,

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Who Is a Disciple of Jesus Christ?


Working from Matthew 28:18-20, I would say that anyone who is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and who is obeying everything that Jesus taught—that person is a disciple of Jesus Christ.  No doubt, there is room for dispute. But the bottom line is that we must be able to define who is and who is not a follower of Christ.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThis question takes on significance when considered in light of “fencing the table” for the Lord’s Supper. Throughout history, Christians have had to wrestle with who should partake of the Lord’s Supper (Communion).  Is it for anyone and everyone who happens to show up the day it is celebrated? Or is it for only some of those present? On what basis does one decide?

The natural sentiment is to say that we should not exclude anyone. But to say such a thing is to gut the Lord’s Supper of its meaning. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have communion with God through Jesus Christ. When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christ did not celebrate it with the whole crowd gathered for Passover. He celebrated it explicitly with His disciples. So, it seems logical to conclude that the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated by Christ’s disciples.

Most Christians would agree that the Lord’s Supper is not for all, but for some. Non-believers, atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mormons—all these groups find themselves routinely excluded from the Lord’s Supper because they are not disciples of Christ Jesus. If it is the case that one must be a disciple to partake of the Lord’s Supper, then it must be necessary to exclude non-disciples from the Lord’s Supper. To do that, one must be able to define who is a disciple.

Some wish to simplify the process and say a disciple is “a follower of Christ.” The problem with saying this is that, often, people in the excluded categories mentioned above will profess to be followers of Christ. I have had Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons tell me they are “Christians.” Does follower of Christ (or Christian) get defined by the individual? If one professes to be a follower of Christ, then she is—on that basis—a follower and, thus, able to enjoy the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper with other believers?  If not, then on what basis is it decided whether or not the person is a follower of Christ?

As a pastor, I answered the question using the equation found in Christ’s great commission. Instead of the term follower of Christ or Christian, I used Christ’s word in Matthew 28—disciple. And, using Christ’s definition, I concluded that a disciple is someone who obeys all that Jesus commands and has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). These two characteristics—having been baptized and being obedient to Christ’s commands—are the defining characteristics of a disciple of Christ.

This will not satisfy all, but it is a biblical position. Regrettably, it does exclude those who have never been baptized as believers. It excludes those who are ignorant of or in rebellion against the commands of Christ, too. But it defines disciple in Christ’s own categories, which include being baptized and being obedient.

Why (some) Stubborn Baptists Still Fence the Table of the Lord’s Supper


As a pastor, I have often had folks close to me ask (in separate—and as far as I know—unrelated incidents) for me to explain why Baptists don’t allow Presbyterians to fellowship with us in the Lord’s Supper. [The questions were not all that succinctly worded, but they were all to the same effect.]  So, I feel obliged to answer the Presbyterian question from a Baptist perspective.

Lord Supper Close CommunionAllow me to say at the outset that I am burdened by division in the body of Christ. I long for the day when there are no dividing walls disturbing the fellowship of the faithful.  One cannot help but feel the force of Robert Frost’s tension in “Mending Wall.” In that poem, one farmer is dutifully determined year after year to reconstruct a boundary wall between the two farms on the dubious authority of a single proverb: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

For his part, the second farmer at least asks what is being walled in and what is being walled out; nevertheless, without answering the question, the first farmer faithfully rebuilds the wall because “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Many Christians feel this poem pictures our present predicament with the Presbyterians.  The current evangelical ethos appears ready to test the proverb again.  To many evangelicals, Baptists appear as stubbornly stuck in fence-building as Frost’s farmer, perhaps explaining why I—a Baptist pastor—have suffered through a mini-explosion of pointed questions sympathetic toward the Presbyterian position.  I am left feeling sort of like a father who has had the distasteful task of taking candy away from his little daughter, only to watch her eyes pool with tears.

Feelings aside, the questions are legitimate and deserve a studied answer.  Though I profess to be no expert, I have been pondering the question for months now. Honestly, I desire to find a way to resolve the tension between myself and others of the Presbyterian persuasion.  I am personally affected by this tension nearly every day.  Yet, there are three things which I have not been able to reconcile.

First, though Baptists typically are those whose position is targeted for intolerant ire, the Baptists are not the only fence-builders in the Christian community.  Indeed, every Christian church and denomination builds fences around the Lord’s table.  Granted, a very few ecumenical churches (no longer evangelical in most cases) build the largest fence possible, allowing anyone without examination to partake of the Lord’s Supper.  But they are exceedingly rare and certainly not biblical.  The overwhelming majority of churches build a much smaller fence around fellowship.

All Christian churches build a fence around the table of fellowship known as Communion (or the Lord’s Supper).  Typically, these churches share the Baptist position, building the fence along the line of baptism to protect the Lord’s Supper.  Baptism is viewed by Christians as the rite which signals entry into fellowship, while the Lord’s Supper is the rite which signals on-going fellowship in the body of Christ.  So, it is really no mystery that Baptists require baptism before one partakes of the Lord’s Supper.  All Christians do that.  Who doesn’t require baptism prior to the Lord’s Supper?  Lutherans require it.  Roman Catholics require it.  Methodists require it.  Eastern Orthodox require it. And, yes, Presbyterians require baptism prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Speaking of what it calls the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Orthodox Presbyterian Book of Church Order says, “They are properly administered only in a gathering of the congregation for the public worship of God, baptism being a sacrament whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and the Lord’s Supper signifying and sealing the communion of believers with Christ and with each other as members of his mystical body.”

All Christians build fences for the sake of the gospel.  Though we can bemoan the final outcome of such fence-building, let us not too hastily condemn the practice. As you will remember, Paul once informed a church that her members were getting sick and dying because of the manner in which some were partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  If we value Christ’s instructions at all, then we will treat with gravity the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  We will likely agree with Christian history that the Lord’s Supper belongs to those who have been baptized.

Second, the issue between Baptists and Presbyterians on the topic of the Lord’s Supper is not really about the Lord’s Supper.  The issue is the significance of baptism with regard to church membership.  Baptists—whose very identity is tied to their convictions on this issue—insist that Baptism is a visible, initiatory rite for entrance into the church.

I have stated already that all denominations fence the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper with the entry ordinance of baptism.  The issue is not whether one ought to be baptized before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. On this point, we all agree. All disciples must be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20).  And that baptism must take place before taking the Lord’s Supper.  What we do not agree upon is the definition of baptism.  What is baptism?

Rather than attempt to explain the various nuances between Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians on the question of baptism, I think I would simply say that Baptists alone insist upon a clear text-by-text definition for the practice of baptism.  The clear teaching of the New Testament appears consistent with Acts 2:41, “So, then, those who had received his word were baptized…” (NASB).  Baptism is reserved for those who hear the Word of Christ and respond to it by faith.

As Paul explains in Romans 6:3-7, baptism is a testimonial picture of the power of the gospel in the believer’s life.  Baptism functions as a confession because of its signifying visually the gospel of our Lord.  Baptism, then, is for believers who have (through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ) died to the old way of living in sin, have buried both their sin and their guilt in Christ’s cleansing flood, and have risen anew from the waters with the empowerment of the Resurrection working in them to ensure a new walk in the narrow way of life.

According to the New Testament, baptism is pretty much what The Baptist Faith and Message teaches that it is:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper. –Baptist Faith and Message, 2010.

The verse references used in the Baptist Faith and Message: Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.

All denominations pretty much agree that baptism must precede partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  We do not agree on the definition of baptism, although I would point out that even the OPC Book of Church Order recognizes that baptism ought to be for believers.  Accordingly, Presbyterians can say, “Baptism with water signifies and seals cleansing from sin by the blood and the Spirit of Christ, together with our death unto sin and our resurrection unto newness of life by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ.”  -That could be said by a Baptist, although we would most likely quibble with the “sealing” part.

What a Baptist cannot say, which the Presbyterians can say, is, “The time of the outward application of the sign does not necessarily coincide with the inward work of the Holy Spirit which the sign represents and seals to us.”  I cannot find warrant for this application of baptism anywhere in the New Testament.  In fact, I can think of an instance in which people were baptized (“outward application of the sign”) but not born again of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 19, Paul arrived in Ephesus to discover a group of professing believers who had been baptized into the promise of John the Baptist.  Paul explained that the promises John was preaching were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  With that knowledge, these professing Christian adults gladly agreed to be “re-baptized,” as folks are wont to say nowadays.  Paul, I don’t believe, thought that he was re-baptizing them.  He thought he was baptizing them in the New Testament understanding of the term, complete with the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, Baptists today are simply trying to maintain the biblical practice of keeping the ordinances in order: baptism, then the Lord’s Supper.  Baptism means what the New Testament declares that it means.  Baptists like me do not wish to withhold the Lord’s Supper fellowship from anyone who professes Christ, but we must also insist (again as all denominations do) that any who receive the sign of fellowship must first undergo baptism.  How is a Baptist supposed to ignore that which he believes is the biblical definition of baptism?

Finally, the issue of baptism is inherently and inextricably linked to church membership.  As stated, the real issue between Baptists and Presbyterians is the issue of the significance of baptism with regard to church membership.  Once again, most Christian churches place the same fence around membership as they do around the fellowship ordinance of the Lord’s Supper: Baptism.  Presbyterians agree with Baptists that one must be baptized in order to be a member of the church. Obviously, there is disagreement about what constitutes baptism.  As a result of the different definitions of baptism, the two groups end with a different definition of church.

Baptists believe that only those who receive the Word should be baptized. That appears to be the pattern of the New Testament (as mentioned above).  Historically, Baptists have referred to this practice as regenerate church membership. Who makes up the body of Christ if not the followers of Christ?  Who is the Bride of Christ if not those who have come to love Him through the gospel?  The one who has been taught to obey what Jesus commanded is the one who should be baptized and called a disciple (Matthew 28:18-20).  Where in the New Testament is the church made up of those who never believed or repented or exercised faith?

Presbyterians (at least as indicated above from the Book of Church Order) understand that baptism ushers one in to membership in the local, visible church.  Yet, they are comfortable baptizing persons who have never been born again in the Holy Spirit.  Presbyterians baptize into the church people who have never made a profession of faith.  In the case of young children, Presbyterians will baptize into the church persons who are unable to profess faith.

Presbyterians do this because they hold to a different definition for baptism and a different definition of the church.  Presbyterians (if I understand their Baptism Lord's Supper ordinanceteaching correctly) equate the visible church with the covenant community of Israel, utilizing baptism as roughly equivalent to circumcision—a sign of the covenant people of God.  Thus, believers are baptized into the visible church, but so also are their children.  If there is a family in which the wife is a believer, and the husband is not, the Presbyterian Church will baptize their children into the visible church. As long as one parent is a believer, the children can be baptized into the church.  In this scenario, the church ends up being redefined.

Obviously, I am a Baptist. Thus, I think Presbyterians have a faulty definition both of baptism and of the church.  About these two important Christian concepts, we disagree.  We have learned to live with that disagreement.  Though I can think of a great many arguments for my positions on baptism and church, I will forego those arguments in order to stick to the single point of this article—explaining why Baptists look so intolerant on the matter of the Lord’s Supper.

Presbyterians (or any denomination that demands Baptists to offer the Lord’s Supper) are asking Baptists to do something they themselves are unwilling to do—serve the Lord’s Supper to those who have never been baptized.  According to the PCA Book of Church Order,

6-4. Those only who have made a profession of faith in Christ, have been

baptized, and admitted by the Session to the Lord’s Table, are entitled to all

the rights and privileges of the church. (See BCO 57-4 and 58-4)

It is a little hypocritical for Presbyterians and other evangelicals to demand that Baptists allow admission to the Lord’s Supper merely on profession of faith.  No Presbyterian Church would allow that.  Why should the Baptist Church be so compelled to disregard baptism in relation to the Lord’s Supper? I’ve had cult members profess faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, I know that they don’t mean what it sounds like they are saying. Their profession is insufficient. This is why most who argue for allowing the Lord’s Supper based on profession will usually end up qualifying what they mean by profession. They mean not profession, but evidence of conversion. They mean the Lord’s Supper is for disciples. With that sentiment, I heartily agree.  But discipleship is defined by Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

As Baptists, our problem is that we insist on defining baptism so closely to the New Testament practice. We may lament the consequences of such a definition, but we must ask in response, “how else are we to know the definition of the word?”  We must be guided by our study of the New Testament, and we must act according to the dictates of our consciences on the matter.  Whatever the New Testament says is baptism, that is what we must practice.

So, who should partake of Lord’s Supper?  All disciples of Christ.

Who are the disciples of Christ? Those who have learned to obey Christ and have been baptized (Matthew 28:18-20).

 

One Night for the World


For 11 years, Cedar Grove Baptist Church has been working to get Christians together on One Night for the World.  Sunday night, November 11, is the one night we have set aside this year to pray for persecuted Christians. We will be praying for Christians in Nigeria. The entire event will be streamed live at CedarGroveBaptist.org.
One Night for the World Pray for Persecuted Church Nigeria

 

Baptists Join Catholics in Fighting Uncle Sam


Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online has recently conducted an interview with Samuel “Dub” Oliver concerning the recent court filing by East Texas Baptist Samuel Dub Oliver East Tx Bap against obamacare mandateUniversity against the Health and Human Services mandate in Obamacare. I have listed just a snippet from the interview so you can get a feel for the motive behind this Baptist’s actions.  Baptists were too far behind Roman Catholics in the original Roe v. Wade abortion debate.  Now, Baptists seem to be coming on board for the sake of religious liberty–which really should be called Christian liberty, since our concern is actually upholding Christ and His righteousness more than upholding the American rule of law.  Nevertheless, we are Christians in the context of nation with a rule of law. Thus, we ought (as Paul did in Acts 16) to speak out against injustice.  So, I am glad East Texas Baptist has joined this battle against injustice.

Here is an excerpt, but the whole interview is worth your time:

LOPEZ: Should going to court to make political points really be a priority of a university? It’s not like the government is asking you to make abortion services available on campus. What business is it of yours what medical services your employees need or want?

OLIVER: The administration’s mandate covers emergency contraceptives such as Plan B (the morning-after pill) and ella (the week-after pill), which even this administration admits can interfere with a human embryo.

The most recent science tells us that these drugs may cause abortions. But, under the administration’s mandate, our school will be required to buy insurance so that our employees can obtain these drugs for free, as if these drugs were no different from penicillin. We believe that is wrong.

We are going to court to defend religious liberty. We would rather not have to do so. There are many other ways that we would choose to spend our time and resources. However, the administration refuses to listen to our concerns or accommodate our religious views. Frankly, it is hard to believe that a religious institution has to take the Department of Health and Human Services to court to protect something guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

LOPEZ: Do you respect the women you employ? How can you when you’re denying them their freedom — or so was my understanding of the issue from the president?

OLIVER: This issue is not about women’s health. This is about whether the government can get away with trampling on the rights of religious organizations.

It’s ridiculous to claim that organizations like ETBU don’t care about women’s health. As far as I am aware, no religious group objects to most of the preventive services in the mandate. In fact, we already cover preventive services, including contraceptives, under our employee health plan. We simply object to a few drugs, which the government calls contraceptives, because we believe they cause abortions.

Additionally, I’ve heard it suggested that this mandate is necessary to increase access to contraception. The president has said that close to 99 percent of women use contraception. I don’t know if that number is true, but surely if the president is quoting this number, he knows there is no problem accessing these drugs.

This issue is not about women’s health; it is about religious liberty. It is about whether the government will force religious people and organizations to do something they believe is wrong. Good people everywhere want women to have access to quality health care. What we are asking is that our religious views be respected.

Grace and Controversy


Presently, a small group of Southern Baptists have stirred a mini-controversy over the issue of Calvinism (just in time for the convention).  This group (mostly affiliated with the seminaries in New Orleans and Fort Worth) have undertaken an effort to exclude or diminish the impact of Calvinism from “traditional Baptist soteriology.” I have strong opinions about the foolishness of their efforts, and I wrote a piece expressing my opinions. However, under the advice of godly people close to me, I chose to keep my opinions to myself rather than publish them for others to see. Basically, my decision was made by following the age-old adage: “If you can’t say anything nice. Don’t say anything at all.”

Fortunately, two godly men have published very helpful pieces in response to this controversy. If you are unfamiliar with the controversy, or if you are sorting your way through the details of it, you would do well to read these two pieces.  Dr. Mohler’s article is remarkably gracious and generous (read it here).  And Dr. Tim McKnight’s piece offers historical perspective which might ameliorate much of the animosity if heeded.  Of course, many folks have responded to the Statement made by SBC Today (authored by Erick Hankins). The pro-Calvinist responses I have read have been filled with both truth and grace.  I am severely unimpressed with the position statement authored by Hankins.

Again, I could not be as generous as Dr. Mohler nor as patient and cool-tempered as Dr. McKnight; so I have chosen to say nothing about the current controversy.  Both of these pieces are excellent.  Take confidence through the controversy that the Lord Himself will judge in grace and truth.  May truth indeed prevail and may the flock of God be shepherded and protected by Spirit-filled preachers.

Russell D. Moore: Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone? – WSJ.com


Russell D. Moore: Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone? – WSJ.com.

How timely this piece is that Russell Moore wrote for the Wall Street Journal.  Denominations are “dead” according to the article.  In many ways, this dying of denominationalism is a good thing.  However, denominations have a purpose.  Dr. Moore demonstrates that there remains a core of denominationalism at work in American evangelicalism.  At Cedar Grove Baptist Church, we have been focusing on these issues in our Kerusso Corner videos.  While most churches are dumbing down their content to appeal to more and more people (with less and less knowledge of Christ), we are working to understand what we believe and why it matters.  Good job, Cedar Grove.