Fighting the Same Battles (Yes, We’re Still Talking about Sanctification…)

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[Just as a disclaimer, not everyone here at LNT will agree with every jot and tittle of what I’m about to say, but that’s the beauty of LNT, we are proud to be a theologically eclectic bunch.]

I know I said I was taking some time off from LNT, but I felt the need to crawl out of my hidey hole for one more article.

I left the world of Pentecostalism because I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that no matter how much “do more, try harder” religion I crammed down my throat it wasn’t helping me do more and try harder. (Go figure!) I started reading the Bible for myself and sure enough, I realized that my grandparents’ worst nightmares were coming true – I started to understand eternal security or as they called it “Once saved, always saved.”

Now, I feel like I need to stop here and explain something. A lot of the Reformed community (particularly Piper’s side) will say, “We don’t believe ‘once saved, always saved,’ we believe in ‘Perseverance of the Saints.'” They say that they want to make that distinction because they don’t want to be accused of “easy believism,” and after the recent Desiring God/R. Scott Clark Sanctification debate, I can see why. I mean, if I didn’t believe what the Bible is actually saying about salvation and sanctification, I wouldn’t want someone saying that I did.

So, as I said, I left Pentecostalism and found a home within the Reformed ranks because I thought I was safe. I thought I was free to explore the Gospel and see that it really was everything that I was reading about in Paul’s writings, and that I really was interpreting Jesus’ words in John 10 correctly when He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For once in my life, I could actually take what Jesus said to the bank, I didn’t have to rely on the weird ‘if’s or ‘but’s that Wesleyan Pentecostals tend to add in there just so they don’t feel uncomfortable. (Fun Fact: In this camp, I was told, “Yes, no one can snatch you out of His hand, but you can jump out of His hand if you want to.” So, basically, I was taught that God was powerful enough to make someone speak in tongues, but not powerful enough to keep someone’s soul.)

As I settled into the Reformed community, I knew nothing about Federal Vision or Norman Shepherd. I would occasionally read Douglas Wilson’s books and articles (and still do), but I never really saw anything troubling, other than his hyper-conservative ideas of complementarianism, but finding someone whose Reformed and not complementarian  is finding a needle in a haystack so I just did what I was do when I eat fried chicken, I took the meat and threw away the bones.

In spite of all of this, I never thought in my wildest dreams there would be such controversy over something that is so clear, and so freeing. I’ve read the arguments, I’ve read the quotes, and I’ll provide an abridged list of articles on both sides, but the fact of that matter is that there are those who claim the Reformed banner who want their works to count for something so badly that they need to hold to a Romanist view of the book of James in order to feel like they’re ‘doing enough.’ They are more deceived than our Roman Catholic friends because they’ll at least admit that works contribute to their salvation, and they’ll say that Sola Fide is false. Our Reformed friends who side with Piper on the other hand, will say ‘faith alone’ out of one side of their mouth and ‘works are necessary for salvation’ on the side. They are the true double-tongued serpents.

I don’t believe the False Prophet of Revelation is one specific person or group, but if I did, then it wouldn’t surprise me to see that person rise from ranks of Christendom claiming the Reformed banner and paying lip service to Sola Fide while saying that our salvation hinges on what we do for Christ rather than what He has done for us.

So, in conclusion, I didn’t jump ship to fight the same battle. I’m here because this is where my reading of Scripture and my study of theology has taken me. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that God doesn’t see my works as something that allows me to be one of His, and I’m not turning back. Call me a heretic. Call me a backslider. Call me an antinomian. Go ahead and tell me that I’m not really Reformed. I’ll gladly wear those labels as long it means that I’m sticking with what the Bible has said. I’m in the same company as Paul whenever he felt that he had to qualify the Gospel when he wrote the beginning of Romans 6, and if you don’t like it you can straight to… my Father in Heaven, and take it up with Him.

Piper’s Side:
Does Faith Alone Really Save? – John Piper
John Piper Compromising Sola Fide? – Mark Jones
The “Means and Way” to Salvation – Mark Jones
How to Train Your Dragons – Greg Morse

R. Scott Clark’s Side:
Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through – R. Scott Clark
Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works” – R. Scott Clark
The Marrow of the Matter: The Sanctification Debate Returns – Jay Sawrie
Keep Looking: A Response to Greg Morse and Desiring God – Jay Sawrie
Dressed in His Righteousness Alone: The Sanctification Debate, Round 3 – Jay Sawrie

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Believing Jane: Reflections on a Rape and it’s Cover-Up at The Master’s College & Seminary

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On this fine afternoon as thunder rumbles outside my window, my blood is boiling and my “injustice antenna” is sounding alarms. I just read a well-documented account of the rape of a Master’s College student. Her rapist was a student at the Master’s Seminary. Both of these institutions are associated with John MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church. When college and church staff learned of the rape, instead of supporting the victim, she was blamed, called to repent, and kicked out of school. You can read the full story on Marcy Preheim’s website at http://www.marcipreheim.com/2017/09/18/do-you-see-me/ but I will also provide a summary of the situation.

Jane (not her real name) was a 21 year old student at the Master’s College studying to become a Biblical Counselor. In her courses, she learned all about how to deal with situations of rape, including the importance of reporting it to the police. On a school break, she went to a restaurant with some friends who were students at the Master’s Seminary. (The restaurant was an approved location according to the strict guidelines for student behavior.) Also at the restaurant was a friend of her friends (also a Master’s Seminary student) who offered to buy her a drink. She said yes, and he brought her a Coke. But the coke was drugged. After she blacked out, the stranger carried her to his room where he raped her, drugged her again, and put her in a dress that was against the school dress code. He also repeatedly offered her alcohol to drink.

When Jane finally was conscious enough to realized that she had been drugged and raped, she confidently went to the police, knowing the importance of reporting such matters. She then spoke with her Residence Director, who was shocked–not at her rape, but at her use of alcohol and drugs. She was assigned a Biblical Counselor as well, who assured her that the only way to make this better would be to marry her rapist. She was also made to go see Rick Holland, the college pastor at Grace Community Church. He asked for all the details she could remember about her rape, much to her discomfort. (This is sexual harassment, by the way.) Rick consulted with Pastor John MacArthur and together they told her that she would be kicked out of school for violating school standards against alcohol and drugs. They were also angry that she had reported the situation to the police.

Jane was shocked at how people were responding to her, which was not at all in line with how she had been taught in her counseling classes to respond to allegations of rape. She was later contacted saying that she could finish her final year at the Master’s College under a few conditions. She found out that her rapist had confessed to raping her, specifically noting that their sex was not consensual. However, she was required to apologize to her rapist for her part in the matter. The second condition was she must consent to regular counseling sessions with her rapist. She refused, and was subsequently barred from campus. Up to that point she had received all A’s for her classes, but when she was expelled, the school changed all her grades to F’s. When she sought to further her education elsewhere, the appearance of her flunking out of college made that extremely difficult. After she left the Master’s College, she continued to receive messages from people associated with the Master’s College and Grace Community Church calling her to repent for fornication and drinking alcohol. The story was circulated that she was expelled for sleeping around and using drugs/alcohol.

That is Jane’s Story. She asks, do you see me? And yes, Jane! We see you! And I for one believe you! What happened to you, the rape itself, was a horrific crime! And the cover up and blame that ensued at the hands of “godly men and women” is unconscionable!

I know there are those who will blame Jane for coming forward with her story, for uncovering these “deeds of darkness.” Others will persecute her for daring to question their favorite Christian celebrities. Some will assume that she’s lying because of John MacArthur’s reputation and fame, even though she has documented evidence of the whole situation as well as a corroborating witness.

But for myself, I believe Jane. And I applaud her courage in speaking the truth.

I’ve heard enough stories like Jane’s to know that it’s possible for even famous Evangelical educational institutions and pastors to so grossly and horrificly mismanage cases of rape. I know that false allegations of rape are extremely rare. I also believe that faulty views on sexuality, authority, consent, gender roles, and submission played heavily into her story.
So I believe Jane. And I am angry at the injustice she experienced–the crime of rape, yes. But also the further injustice of being blamed, disbelieved, disciplined, and silenced as if she had been the perpetrator instead of the victim.

I also call to repentance the people at the Master’s College and Seminary who blamed and oppressed Jane. I call to repentance Rick Holland for his sexual harassment and punishment of Jane. And I call to repentance John MacArthur for participating in disciplining Jane for her drug and alcohol use (which was forced upon her!). These men and women have erred greatly and have caused harm to Jane and to the name of Christ. The best things for them to do now is to: acknowledge their wrong; repent; seek to make restitution to Jane, including clearing her name; seriously consider resigning from their jobs; and examine what sort of distorted theology can contribute to such gross injustice.

Jane asks “Do you see me?”

Yes, Jane, we do. We see you and we believe you.

When Traditional Values Create Toxic Churches

*Contains References to Domestic Violence & Rape*
Christianity cannot be rightly categorised as either inherently progressive or inherently traditional. There IS, however, Biblical overlap with both progressive and traditional ideals. For example, like the Bible, traditional cultures place high value on the family unit, while progressive cultures, like the Bible, affirm the intrinsic dignity of all people. It is likewise possible to wrongly assimilate as “Christian” either traditional or progressive cultural values that are in actuality antithetical to Christianity (like the traditional belief that women are property of their husbands or the progressive belief that being true to yourself is the highest goal). To give proper credit: I was introduced to this way of comparing and contrasting various cultures with Christian teachings a couple years ago in several Tim Keller sermons. I’ve found it very helpful.

In my experience, theologically-conservative Protestants tend to focus almost exclusively on ways churches can err in adopting certain aspects of progressive ideology; one might call this the “left boundaries” of Christianity, and it is important! But I contend that of equal importance is to recognize ways that Christians or churches err when they incorrectly adopt certain traditional ideologies as in line with Biblical truth; these could be called the “right boundaries” of Christianity.

This post will focus on instances when those right boundaries have been crossed. I’ve observed that these errors most often to relate to authority, sexuality, gender roles, and politics.

One final note: all of the following warning signs are based on real-life situations in theologically-conservative Protestant churches (and most involving well-known, well-respected pastors). These are things that have been actually said! Actions that have actually been taken! This isn’t hypothetical; these are real issues affecting churches today. 

So without further ado,

A Pastor or Church Might be Toxic if…

  •  The pastor teaches or implies that all Christian parents–if they want to be truly godly–must homeschool their children.
  • Church leaders silence all criticism as “gossip” or “lack of submission.”
  • Churches shun former members.
  • The pastor never apologizes.
  • Church leaders speak of certain political candidates as having the potential to “bring our country back to God.”
  • The pastor boasts that his wife has never refused him sex.
  • A pastor believes it is permissible–even godly–for husbands to discipline their wives with spankings if they fail to perform tasks (such as washing the dishes) in the way their husbands prescribe.
  • The church strips couples of small group leadership when the wife works full-time and/or the husband stays home with the kids.
  • When wives bring allegations of rape, abuse, or adultery regarding their husbands, church leaders respond with dismissiveness or even blaming.
  • A pastor believes that marriage cures pedophilia.
  • Church leaders fail to report the crime of child abuse to the police and then discipline church members who DO report child abuse to the police.
  • Church leaders believe that minors can be partially responsible for being sexually abused.
  • A pastor teaches that oral sex may be the best evangelism tool to convert a non-Christian husband.
  • Church leaders urge blind trust in the leadership, instructing congregants not to read blogs that detail alleged abuses perpetrated by the church.

So there you have it! A dozen or so instances of unbiblical, unhealthy, and toxic church beliefs or practices! My purpose is not to hate on the church. Rather, I urge discernment in recognizing unhealthy patterns in our churches for the sake of the peace and purity of the church; for the sake of the health of its members; and for the sake of its witness to those who embrace other belief systems. I hope that I have also made an introductory case for the idea that traditional cultural ideas (not just progressive ones) can be anti-Christian. Note, however, that “patterns” is the key thing to watch for; having one or two of these characteristics does not necessarily make a church toxic.

So in summary: the church is meant to be a beautiful display of Christ, and it is tragic when it falls short of this beauty–yes, when it embraces untrue aspects of progressivism, but likewise when it accepts faulty facets of traditional culture.

– Hannah Conroy
(The views expressed are the author’s and may not reflect the views of other blog contributors.)

A “Yuuuge” Mental Buffet

Mental Buffet

 

I’ve been slacking off on the mental buffets so I decided to make up for it with this one…

 

Is My Repentance Enough? – Chad West

“Every choice I make affects me and those around me. The physical consequences of my actions might well echo down the hall of the rest of my life. Worse, it’s an affront to God. But our imperfect repentance doesn’t keep the gift of God’s love from washing us clean. His forgiveness isn’t based on how perfectly we get the grammar, or how well dressed we are when we present it to our Father. Forgiveness is based on the finished work of Jesus, not how well we repent.
Of course I’m not saying to half-do it. But I don’t think I’m talking to people who want to half-do it. I’m talking to people who are sincerely sorry for their sins—so sorry they can’t imagine their screw-ups can be made right.”

 

Discovering Liturgy – Heidi Johnston

“Not only does this intentional practice train you heart towards thankfulness, it also teaches you to see differently. I am beginning to realise how much discipline it takes to cultivate a moment by moment awareness of God’s presence in all things and I am grateful for the new place good liturgy has come to play in this ongoing battle.”

 

It’s Gospel Law the Way Down – JDK

“You see, the distinction between law and gospel is not related to grammar, semantics, or even theology, but power: the gospel silences the accusation, curse, and demand of the law. Now, this is not, as some will be quick to say, the (impossible) heresy of anti-nomianism, as if we could somehow will away the demand of the law, or simply be freed from it’s accusation. It is, instead, when G-D becomes Father, when Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus remains, when this “true saying that is worthy for all people to receive, that Christ Jesus came to save sinners,” is heard, then he/she is one whom the Son has set free, and is free indeed (Jn 8:36).”

 

Keep Christianity Weird – Joshua Kinlaw

“Christianity’s sheer familiarity has desensitized us to its radicalness. Hurtado aims to show how the “odd” became “commonplace,” by surveying the first three centuries of the Jesus movement. In fact the very concept of a book can be traced to early Jesus followers. The “bookishness” of the movement is one of the “distinctives” Hurtado describes, which helped make a ragtag group of Jewish schismatics into a global institution. It also offered a radically new way of thinking about three things: identity, religion, and morality.”

 

Protestant Priestcraft – Douglas Wilson

“But know this—wine for the world is not the same thing as wine for the priest only. Bread for the world is the grace of God that challenges priestcraft everywhere—whether those “priests” are Protestant or Catholic.”

 

Education, Gospel, and Freedom – Rod Rosenbladt

“In this short lecture, Dr. Rosenbladt tackles modern education and how it has transitioned from what educational institutions were originally established to do in early American history to the institutions that they are today, and how that relates to basic Christian doctrine and individual liberty.

This lecture was presented on Monday, October 2015 as the first of Concordia University Irvine’s CUI Bono lecture series for the academic year.”

 

Why do we gather for corporate worship? Five essential reasons – Brian Croft

“When a congregation collectively sits under the preached Word, a level of accountability is established and nourished among the hearers to urge each other to go and apply that sermon. A greater obligation to “do something” with the Word preached and to rely on one another for help and strength to obey it exists in this kind of community life that is not present when we listen in isolation or hop churches depending upon who is preaching that week.”

Suicide & The Christian

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I wanted to make this post because Christians have real questions about serious issues like suicide and sometimes the answers given aren’t always clear or Scripturally sound so I want to provide you with a couple of short videos and an excerpt from Luther’s Table Talks that hopefully answers the question of what happens to a Christian if they should commit suicide and whether or not suicide was a sin that Jesus died to forgive. (Here’s a spoiler: Yes, Jesus died to forgive all sin including suicide.)

In one of his “Table Talks,” Martin Luther himself commented: “I don’t have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil.” Luther goes on, however, to express concern that this statement not be misunderstood or misused in a way that would downplay the danger and seriousness of this sin in the minds of people (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 54, p. 29).

Exegesis and the Small Church Mentality

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“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, NIV

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, KJV

It was exactly 4:30 PM on a Thursday night, laying on my bed, listening to Radio Free Geneva where he was talking about how politics not impacts exegesis, but determines exegesis in Southern Baptist congregations and when I heard these words come from Dr. James White’s mouth, and I instantly gave him an audible “Amen.” Actually, it was more like an “A-f***ing-men.”

White said that you shouldn’t underestimate the power that politics plays in determining exegesis of Scripture in the Southern Baptist Convention. I resonated so well with his comments because I saw this first hand, but not in the SBC. Let me stop here and explain. I spent 3 years in a reformed (lower case ‘r’) Southern Baptist Church where the politics wasn’t necessarily an issue, but they definitely had some horror stories to tell from the SBC church that they came from before planting their church. Where I mostly saw politics play a role in exegesis was these small, non-denominational, Pentecostal, and Free Will Baptist churches. So, that told me that this wasn’t a problem that was limited to any denomination or any particular theological movement. This is something that’s going on in smaller churches, and not all smaller churches either, but I’m willing to bet about 90% of all churches with an active membership of 50 people or less.

Most of the time (not always, but most of the time), if you see a small church there’s a reason why it’s small – hardly anybody wants to go to a church where the sermon is about “the evils of socialism” every freaking week. We, as Christians, believe (or should believe) in a fundamental separation of church and state. Now, to what extent you believe in that separation is up for debate. Personally, I believe in an absolute separation of church and state because I don’t think God needs the assistance of Christians in the government to rule and reign over the earth that He’s created, but that’s just me. I guess if you don’t think God is doing a good enough on His own, you can keep voting Republican. “Hey God, I saw that the world was to hell in a handbasket so I thought I would give you some help by voting for Trump. No need to thank me, I’m just doing my civic duty.”

Going back to the subject of exegesis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer hit the nail on the head when he said, “The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.” Now, if this were true in Bonhoeffer’s day how much more true is it now? Now, like I said, it’s not just small churches that do this. Cornerstone Church in San Antonio is the worst. John Hagee preaches week after week that the government is going to start lobbing our heads off any minute now so we need to start keeping an eye on our dispensational timeline charts to see what chapter of the book of Revelation we’re in this week. Now, I haven’t heard a single Hagee sermon since the election, but I’m willing to bet that since Trump is the President Elect, Hagee is ready to convert to Post-Millennialism even as week speak. There seems to be a trend among dispensationalist to read into the text of Scripture what isn’t there. They do this by comparing Israel to America. They tend to take Old Testament passages of Scripture concerning Israel and saying that those passages apply to America when, in fact, they do not.

This is a common habit among pastors in smaller churches. They tend preach that the physical nation of Israel is still “God’s chosen people” so we should pray for Israel and honor Israel. Then they start preaching about how “evil” it is to not show political support for Israel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting Israel, but it is solely for political reasons. My reasons for supporting Israel have nothing to do with my faith or my interpretation of Scripture. But, these small church pastors are, for the most part, uneducated. They get their learning from watching guys like John Hagee and Perry Stone instead of actually cracking open a reasonable Bible commentary over the book of Revelation. (As far as commentaries go, I would rather a pastor use Wilhelm Brakel’s commentary over Revelation than for them to go by what John Hagee or Perry Stone is teaching, and that’s saying something because Brakel is Postmillennial and I hate Postmillennialism with a fiery burning passion. The only way Postmillennialism makes sense is you’re either a Universalist or if you’re in favor of a Christian version of Sharia Law.)

But I digress, the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “exegesis” as “The act of interpreting or explaining the meaning of verses or passages of Scripture.” So, if this is the true meaning of exegesis, then can we say that a lot of our smaller churches are really exegeting Scripture? I say with a resounding voice, “NO.” When you tell your congregation that America (and the Church) is Israel then you are completely ignoring Romans 9 and you are ignoring the promises of God to His elect people in Ephesians 1 and 2, and there’s no telling how many other passages you’re ignoring.

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got so many other exegetical problems in these smaller churches that it’s unreal. In a lot of churches that aren’t Southern Baptist, you’ve got pastors telling their congregation that they can lose their salvation at the drop of hat. They offer little to no comfort to those of us who struggle with assurance, and they completely ignore every promise of assurance that God gives to His people and say that it only applies to people who “live right.” They make no distinction between law and gospel in their preaching. RJ Grunewald says, “Christians, including preachers, routinely confuse the Law and Gospel, misapplying both. Confusion results: Some needlessly suffer under a burdened conscience as they live under the crushing weight of the Law, while others dismiss the Law (unrepentant sinners) and ignorantly bask in grace they find outside of Christ’s work on their behalf.”

When you step into the pulpit you carry a very weighty task of explaining a text in the context of the whole Bible, and distinguishing between law and grace.

“Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.” – CFW Walther

If you’ve been able to sit through this angry rant, let me know what you think and let’s talk about it.

Blessings, Logan.

So, This is Christmas

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At my home church, I preach on the third Sunday night of every month, and every other Wednesday. And since my pastor isn’t really the sermon series kinda guy (which is perfectly fine for his style of preaching), I’ve decided that I’m going to use my preaching dates as opportunity to try my first shot at preaching an advent series.

In case you couldn’t already tell my inspiration for the title “So, This is Christmas” comes from the opening lines of John Lennon’s 1971 Christmas hit, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

When this song came out it was an anthem for peace in the UK and eventually the song got more popular over the years, and The Fray has even recorded a cover of it (which is fantastic by the way, check it out here).

What I really want to do in this series is give us a reminder that Jesus really is the reason for the season. In reality, that should be the goal of every advent series. As a matter of fact, the goal of your preaching (regardless of where you are in the Church calendar) should be to exalt Christ and present the Gospel. I think so often we’re trying to come up with original ideas for our preaching. “Maybe I can present this new idea or that new idea.” “Maybe, I can try a different approach.” While creativity in a sermon series isn’t a bad thing, it can become a bad thing when we make the focus all about how ‘original’ we are instead of how good God is. In reality there’s nothing new under the sun, and if we think it’s new then it’s probably just an old heresy revisited.

But, in case you’re interested, here’s the basic outline that I’m thinking of working with:

Sermon 1: The ‘Who’ of Christmas
Text: John 1:1-5

Sometimes we just need to return to the basics. In the hustle and bustle of the busy Christmas we try to find the right gifts for our friends and family we must remember that God has given us the ultimate gift of His son, Jesus Christ.

Sermon 2: The ‘What’ of Christmas
Text: Hebrews 2:10-18

In this message we’ll look specifically at what Jesus came to do. In this message, we’ll cover the Incarnation, a brief overview of the life of Christ, and his death and resurrection. 

Sermon 3: The ‘Why’ of Christmas
Text: 1 John 3:8

Carl F.H. Henry said, “The early church didn’t say, ‘Look what the world has become!’ They said, ‘Look what has come into the world!” 1 John 3:8 clearly says that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. That’s the ‘why’ of Christmas. So, what does that look like for us? What are the works of the devil and what does it look like for them to be destroyed in our lives and in the world?

I realize that these are not the traditional texts that one may use for their Christmas readings, but I believe that this is the guideline that I’m supposed to use in this advent season. If you like it, feel free to use it.