Sesame Street & the Gay Marriage Agenda

Within the next three to five years, our nation will undergo a sea change in its perception of gay rights, including the rights of gay couples to marry. (Southern Baptists & the Homosexual Culture)

What, pray tell, will bring about this sea change when it comes to perceptions of gay rights within our country?  What will change the hearts and minds of Americans regarding gay marriage?  If you answered, “start with the children,” then you are onto something.  And, the younger the better.  With the recently enacted SB48 that would require California’s public schools to begin teaching “homosexual history” to students as young as six, this new law:

prohibits any school material or instruction that reflects adversely on homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism, and prohibits parents from removing children from classes over offensive material. (see here)

With totalitarian state guidelines which forbid parents to even opt out of having their children taught such blatantly radical propaganda, there is every reason for Christian parents (and those parents who object to the sexual indoctrination of their children) to pull their kids out of the public schools in California.  I fully recognize that there are Christian teachers and administrators scattered throughout California’s public schools who are trying their best to fulfill God’s call in their lives.  I applaud all such teachers — in California and elsewhere — who have willingly taken on the challenges of the public schools in order to serve as a Christian witness in an increasingly dark world.  However, children should not be willingly subjected to such darkness and radical ideas masquerading as “education.”

If parents withdraw their children from public schools in California and other school districts, like New York City (which is trying to include gay marriage curriculum into its classes), then how will children’s perceptions about gay rights be changed?  Well, if Lair Scott (no relation as far as I know) of Oak Park, IL has her way, Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie will inspire children (and adults) to embrace gay marriage as the norm in America.

Ms. Scott started an online petition on August 4 which calls for Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie to get married — to one another — in a same-sex wedding to be performed on the long-running show.  As one who watched Sesame Street as a young child and who enjoyed the antics of these two best friends — along with the other colorful characters, including Grover, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and the Cookie Monster (but NOT Mr. Snuffleupagus, the Jar Jar Binks of his day) — this petition would be funny if it were not so sad.

In language that would make George Orwell proud, a portion of the online petition states:

We are not asking that Sesame Street do anything crude or disrespectful by allowing Bert & Ernie to marry. It can be done in a tasteful way.

I won’t even try to comment on what is and is not crude about using characters from a popular children’s television program to agitate for gay marriage.  Regardless of what your opinion is on gay marriage, the entire spectacle would be tasteless.  And, as to being disrespectful, I suppose if you don’t think that using Bert and Ernie in a publicly televised gay marriage on PBS is not crude or tasteless, then you will certainly not see it as disrespectful.  Of course, many Americans — even some who may support gay rights and gay marriage — will find a wedding ceremony involving Bert and Ernie as more than a tad unseemly.

However, as of last night, the 3,750 people who have thus far signed the online petition must like the idea of these two men tying the knot.  With more publicity, there is no doubt that this number will grow rather quickly.  While I vehemently disagree with the purposes of Ms. Scott’s petition, I acknowledge that she has every right to advocate for gay marriage and to try to get Sesame Street to unite Bert and Ernie in matrimony.

Thankfully, unlike California’s public schools which will soon prohibit that which “reflects adversely on homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism,” I can still write and speak out against such overt indoctrination.  To the Children’s Television Workshop and PBS I say, “Leave Bert and Ernie alone!”  Surely there are more appropriate — and less controversial and distasteful — ways of proclaiming a pro-gay marriage message.

Posted in Culture, Homosexual Agenda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Showing Concern for Outsiders in Mayberry

After the ouster of Flat Rock Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, NC from the Surry Baptist Association for violating Scripture (see Association Letter which cites 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Timothy 3) by calling a 28 year-old woman, Bailey Edwards Nelson, as their new pastor, one must ask the question, “What other violations of 1 Timothy 2 and 3 will cause a church in good standing in a local Baptist Association to be kicked out?”  If you answered none, you would most likely be correct.

William Thornton, a conservative Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia, writes on SBC Plodder:

“Of the list of requirements for overseer in 1 Timothy 3, referenced in the document linked above, at least half a dozen are always, always, violated by some pastors of some churches in every association I have ever been around. There’s not an association in the SBC, anywhere, that this very day does not have at least one “quarrelsome” pastor in it. So, they get a pass? And you wouldn’t have to look hard to find a pastor who is a “lover of money.” Greedy with impunity?  Guess so.”

I wouldn’t look for Surry or any other Baptist Association to use any other qualifications — save the gender of the pastor — to go after any other churches whose pastors may not pass muster according to the Scriptural standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  I would certainly concur with William that every Association that I have ever been a part of had at least one “quarrelsome” pastor (and usually more than one).  But, I’ve never heard a church being disfellowshipped because they had a mean, quarrelsome pastor. 

Each of those qualifications are important, but each one ultimately fleshes out what it means to be “above reproach” or “blameless.”  I still remember Dr. David Dockery, who was my theology professor at Southern Seminary, teach that each of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 were specific examples of what it meant to be “above reproach.”  Furthermore, these examples were present tense, meaning were we now:

“above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be recent convert or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”  1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)

As pastors (and even non-pastors), we are not called to be perfect, but we are called to be blameless, not only before God, but before other Christians and even those who Paul calls “outsiders,” unbelievers who are outside the faith.  The ESV Study Bible note on 1 Timothy 3:7 puts it this way:

“The concern for the opinion of outsiders emerges again.  There is a concern throughout this letter for how the church (and therefore the gospel) is portrayed to the watching world (cf. 2:2, 10; 5:7, 14; 6:1).

In other words, not only is God watching what we do, but an unbelieving world is watching what we do.  And, the stakes could not be higher, for eternity hangs in the balance!  Therefore, it is vitally important for Christians — particularly pastors — to live in such a way that their lives are seen as “above reproach.”

What happens when we do not live our lives “above reproach?”  The church’s reputation in the community — particularly with outsiders — takes a hit and the gospel witness is damaged, sometimes beyond repair (for instance, in churches where a pastor/minister has sexually abused children).  Most of the time, our actions which do not meet the “above reproach” standard are done because of sloppy boundaries and poor judgment, not because of any malicious or willful intent on our part.

I believe such is the case with the Surry Baptist Association’s hasty decision to disfellowship Flat Rock Baptist Church because they had called a woman as their pastor.  With additional information now available (here) and a timeline of events established (here), it has become even more clear today than it was last week that the way that SBA chose to disfellowship FRBC was not only graceless, but the procedure did not even rise to the level of “above reproach.”

How can I be so bold in making that statement?  While I’m quite sure that there will be many who will continue to strongly disagree with my conclusions, I simply cannot comprehend how Surry Baptist Association approached this issue in such a way as to be “well thought of by outsiders,” which is a clear qualification of pastors (of which the Association is loaded).  Now there will be some who will argue that what SBA did was just swell and that they showed a backbone in taking such swift and decisive action.

That’s all well and good, but I don’t see how SBA’s actions adhered to 1 Timothy 3:7.  I would be more than happy for someone to share with me the reasons why they believe the process — not the outcome — was handled in a manner which showed concern for “how the church (and the gospel) is portrayed to the watching world.” 

Some pastors in the SBA were so concerned with a woman pastor coming into their midst that they rushed a vote to disfellowship Flat Rock within 16 days of Pastor Nelson’s arrival.  Would that they had been as concerned with the outsiders all around them that were watching this sad spectacle unfold!

Posted in Christianity, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Ends & Means: When Baptists Abandon Their Principles

In the aftermath of my recent post, “Female Pastors & Graceless Responses in Mayberry,” where I wrote about the recent kerfuffle surrounding the disfellowshipping of Flat Rocks Baptist Church from their local Baptist Association in Mt. Airy, NC (“Mayberry”), someone asked me:

Since you posted this item, what has surprised you the most in the comments you have received?

After reading all of the 78 comments on my blog (the most ever for any of my posts) and the ones at SBCVoices, that question has become rather easy to answer.  For me, I would have to say the most surprising aspect of this debate has been: 

the complete unwillingness of most people who are against female pastors to at least acknowledge that what Surry Baptist Association did was less than grace-filled. Some have tried to bend over backwards (both here and at Voices) to defend the Association’s actions. That is surprising, but I guess it shouldn’t be since this issue is one that is so black-and-white for so many people that they can’t even see the shades of gray.

As more facts are brought to light, one would think that there would at least be some acknowledgment — however meek — that how Surry Baptist Association (SBA) went about disfellowshipping Flat Rock Baptist Church maybe — just maybe — was not entirely proper.  But, despite these additional facts, some (many) theological conservatives within the Southern Baptist Convention seemed determined to defend SBA’s handling of this case as well as defend the ultimate outcome, even in spite of the facts.  Ronald Reagan once quipped that “facts are stubborn things.”  Apparently there are just as many stubborn people.

Some have argued that Flat Rock must have been a troubled (read moderate/liberal) church that was pulling away from the Association and that calling a woman as their pastor was the final straw.  There’s only one problem with that argument — the facts seem to indicate otherwise.  There doesn’t appear to have been much, if any, straw that could break the old camel’s back prior to Bailey Nelson becoming a candidate for and subsequently being called as the pastor of Flat Rock.

One could only conclude that Flat Rock, while perhaps a more moderate church than other churches in the Association, was not theologically “out there” or otherwise suspect prior to the church calling Pastor Nelson as the first female pastor in the Association.  How could one make such a conclusion?  By the fact that the wife of the Association’s Director of Missions was employed by the church as an Administrative Assistant.  I can certainly understand why she would resign after the church decided to call Bailey Nelson as pastor.  However, unless the DOM and his wife were also theologically suspect — which defies common sense and logic — there was no burning theological issues which would have made Flat Rock a target prior to Nelson’s call.

Others have argued that Flat Rock asked to be disfellowshipped from the Surry Baptist Association.  For those who have not heretofore heard of this special request made by Flat Rock, you will be happy to know that by:  1. Calling a woman pastor and, 2. Refusing an invitation to meet with representatives of the Association to discuss the church’s having called a woman pastor, that either one or both of these facts somehow automatically morphed into Flat Rock’s begging SBA to kick them out.  In a word, that argument is ludicrous!

So, a scant 16 days after assuming her responsibilities as pastor of Flat Rock Baptist Church, with one refused meeting invitation, and with no advance notice that a motion to disfellowship the church would be discussed, much less voted on at the quarterly meeting, approximately 80% of those present voted to sever all ties with a sister church that had been a part of a local Baptist Association since 1905.  The motion to disfellowship, which many Associations (including my local Association) have procedures for, would generally be brought by the Membership or Credentials Committee.  Although the Chairman of the Membership Committee, in his personal capacity, brought the motion, this was not a recommendation of the Committee itself.  As William Thornton has pointed out, it has taken far longer to disfellowship churches that approve of homosexuality than it did for SBA to disfellowship a church with a female pastor.  And, in case you’re wondering, the two issues are not in the same league.

While some have argued that they see nothing wrong with the outcome or the process, I would simply ask if they would want the same type of process employed if their church was the one being disfellowshipped?  To give Flat Rock advance notice of a vote to disfellowship (which, by all accounts was not done) is surely not asking too much, is it?  Is arguing for a vote at a subsequent meeting — where representatives of Flat Rock could be heard on the motion to disfellowship — now seen by most conservatives as “turning a blind eye to sin?” 

I fully understand that my defense of Flat Rock’s right to a fair process will be seen as cooperating and/or enabling moderates.  However, when did it become acceptable for conservatives to adopt an “ends justify the means” mentality when it comes dealing with theological opponents with whom they disagree?  Now, some will take umbrage at my characterization, but I am quite frankly at a loss considering the myriad of comments that in effect said that since Flat Rock called a woman pastor, the Association could do whatever it wanted, however it wanted, to get rid of this clearly “rebellious church.”

Am I surprised that Surry Baptist Association (or most any Baptist Association) would vote to disfellowship a church who called a woman as pastor?  No, I am not.  I will continue to be surprised at the majority of conservative Baptists who are so willing to abandon principles of fairness and due process when it suits their theological objectives.  They would do well to remember Jesus’ admonition, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  Who knows?  They might one day find themselves in the same position as Flat Rock.  Oh, not for the “sin” of calling a female pastor, but for whatever the majority wants to call sin that day.

Posted in Christianity, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Channeling My Inner Lawyer: An SBC Pastor’s Journey

“You teach yourselves the law. I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and if you survive, you’ll leave thinking like a lawyer.”  Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., (The Paper Chase)

As a young law school student in Tallahassee from 1988-91, I could relate to Hart and his friends who were terrorized intimidated by Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. in John Jay Osborn, Jr.’s 1970 novel, The Paper Chase.  Thankfully at F.S.U., I did not have any professors quite as harsh as Kingsfield (immortalized in the movie and television series by the legendary John Houseman).  There are a few professors’ names which still send chills up and down my spine, but that is a different story altogether.

Toward the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, I began to seriously consider becoming an attorney.  As the son of a funeral director, I had grown up watching my mom and dad serve people during times of grief.  For my parents, particularly my dad, he viewed what he did as a ministry.  But, I never felt a calling to be a funeral director.

As a Political Science major at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., I was determined to do all that I could to prepare for law school.  By God’s grace (because my grades were not nearly as good as I had hoped), I was admitted to Florida State’s College of Law.  And, it was in Seminole country that my journey from small-town funeral director’s son to lawyer to pastor really began.

When I began my law school studies in the Fall of 1988, my skull was full of mush.  But, for the next three years, my mind was trained to think like a lawyer.  Funny thing is, once a man has been trained to think like a lawyer, there will always be a part of him that thinks like a lawyer.  Even 17 years after leaving the practice of law to answer God’s call to the Gospel ministry, my inner lawyer still comes out from time to time.  And, for those of you who believe that thinking like a lawyer and thinking like a Christian are always incompatible propositions, all I can say is, “Shame on you!”🙂

The kerfuffle surrounding Surry Baptist Association’s seemingly quick vote to disfellowship Flat Rocks Baptist Church has brought out my inner lawyer once again.  I can’t speak for any other lawyer turned pastor, but as for me, my life as a law student and practicing attorney continues to inform my thinking about religious, cultural, political, and legal issues today.  I don’t expect other pastors who have not had my life experiences to view every issue through the same lenses that I do nor do I expect to always be understood when I may defend those who hold political or theological positions with which I may personally disagree.

Unlike some, I have had (and continue to have) a myriad of diverse friendships with people across the political and theological spectrums.  Some of my dearest friends in life are my fraternity brothers from my days as a Phi Sigma Kappa at G.W.U.  It would be fair to say that not a few of them are proud liberal Democrats in the grand New York/New Jersey tradition (you know who you are).  I have other life-long friends, some of whom I have known since Mrs. Christian’s kindergarten, who do not see eye-to-eye with me on political or religious issues.

If any of my fraternity brothers or life-long friends were in trouble or was being treated unfairly, I would not hesitate to come to their defense.  Just because someone defends the rights of others does not necessarily mean that you agree with what someone else believes.  I think that too often, Christians, particularly pastors, are simply too afraid to defend the rights of those with whom they disagree.  Why should that be the case?  Look around the SBC blogosphere and watch how otherwise conservative pastors are maligned with the “moderate” label (no offense to moderates, which, just by my saying that, will offend some who see themselves as “true conservatives”) and you may begin to understand the dilemma.

In the last year, I have made what I would call “blogging friends.”  These are people who I have gotten to know through my blog, other blogs, or communities like BaptistLife.com.  Some are theologically and politically more conservative than I am while some are more moderate.  I have blogging friends who could be labeled as Calvinists of one degree or another, Baptist Identity folks, and those who eschew labels other than Christian and/or Baptist.  Most of my blogging friends I have never met face-to-face.  From what I know of my blogging friends, there would be some that I would be more inclined to eat a pizza with or shoot the breeze with, but that is not necessarily determined by whether I agree with their theology. 

Call me contrary, call me an iconoclast, call me a lawyer, or call me whatever you want (just don’t call me late for dinner).  In the end, I’ll keep calling them like I see them, from the viewpoint of a lawyer turned pastor, from one who was in law, but is now in grace.  And, if defending a political or theological opponent’s rights to be treated with grace, dignity, and basic Christian courtesy is now seen as theologically suspect, then my inner lawyer will have to plead guilty as charged.  I think I can live with that!

Posted in Blogging, Christianity, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Female Pastors & Graceless Responses in Mayberry

After spending Thursday night in the cool-weather environs of Ruidoso, NM, nestled in the Sacramento Mountains, the heat of Alamogordo has perhaps got me in a contrary mood.  With limited time on the internet, I’m just now catching up on some of the latest news in the nation and in our Baptist world at large.

I couldn’t help but notice a piece at Associated Baptist Press written by Norman Jameson, “NC Association ousts church with woman pastor.”  As I read the article, I began to think that some Baptists simply lack that which we would all like to receive from one another and most especially from God — GRACE!

A scant two weeks after 28 year-old Bailey Edwards Nelson was called as the Pastor of Flat Rocks Baptist Church in Mt. Airy (the real-life town that was the basis of the fictionalized Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show), NC, Surry Baptist Association — a fellowship of 65 Southern Baptist churches in the area —

voted “overwhelmingly” at a regularly scheduled meeting to disfellowship the church for calling Bailey Edwards Nelson as pastor. Messengers viewed the church’s action as violating scriptural guidelines that they believe reserve the role of pastor to males.

I believe strongly in the autonomy of not only the local church, but the autonomy of the local Association, State Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention itself.  Surry Baptist Association was within their rights to exercise its autonomy in this situation, but I do question the wisdom and Christian charity of autonomous organizations exercising their autonomy in a heavy-handed way with an apparent lack of Christian charity.

Now, at the risk of losing my conservative SBC credentials, let me state that I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that the office of Senior/Lead Pastor “is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (see BF&M2000, Article VI.  The Church).    But, the Bible clearly teaches many, many theological concepts and principles, in addition to practical rules for living.  Some of the more important theological principles have been codified in the latest edition of the Baptist Faith & Message.

However, what has not been codified in the BF&M2000, but which has been on display in the summary and rather quick ouster of Flat Rock Baptist Church from the local Association, is the lack of grace that has been displayed by the majority of churches within the Surry Baptist Association.  Only a week after Pastor Nelson’s first Sunday in the pulpit — on July 10, 2011 — Flat Rock Baptist Church

received a letter from the association’s membership committee citing “concerned pastors” and asking for a meeting to discuss “possible solutions” to the issue they said threatened the fellowship of the association.

These “concerned pastors” were so worried about the grave situation of a woman preaching in one of “their” churches that they had to act within a week of the young lady assuming her pastorate.  Don’t want to let her settle in or even meet her before moving to oust the church.  If I had to guess, these pastors would probably not be as gravely concerned about obese pastors preaching in one of their churches, as long as that overweight pastor was a man, but I digress!

Billy Blakley — Surry Baptist Association’s Director of Missions was quoting as saying that:

pastors in his association wanted to withdraw fellowship from Flat Rock as “peaceably” as possible amid rumors that an angry motion would be made at the associational meeting.

Moving to disfellowship Flat Rocks Baptist Church on July 26, only 16 days after Pastor Nelson assumed her responsibilities at Flat Rocks, is sure a funny way of “peaceably” withdrawing fellowship.  Orwell would be proud.  And, by the way, why would someone make an “angry motion” at the Association’s regularly scheduled meeting?  Are there pastors or lay folks who have a problem with the sin of anger?  A few pastors in the Association who have a problem with gluttony?  Anyone who doesn’t properly observe the Sabbath?

And, therein lies the rub.  Without knowing what Pastor Nelson believes and without the opportunity to dialogue with her and Flat Rocks Baptist Church (one missed meeting does not a dialogue make), the overwhelming majority of those voting in the July 26 meeting chose to allow their adamant (and apparently emotional) opposition to female pastors to inform their decision to summarily disfellowship this church and pastor.    

May be that would have happened anyway.  Who knows.  But, in a town that was made famous as Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show, the members of the Surry Baptist Association sure could use a reminder of the BF&M codified Biblical principle that Barney, Opie, Floyd, Aunt Bea, Gomer, and even Otis experienced daily from Sherriff Andy Taylor — GRACE!

Posted in Grace, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 89 Comments

When Scripture is (Mis)Used to Stifle Debate!

Many of us are guilty of it.  I admit that I am.  We sometimes selectively use Scripture to bolster our arguments.  When we want to win a point in a debate over theology, methodology, ecclesiology, or the like, we run to our favorite Biblical passage for ammunition to use in the fight.  After all, who wants to “lose” a fight and, what better way to “win” than to resort to God’s Word.

Who hasn’t been in a debate with a non-believer — someone who couldn’t tell you if the Gospel of Matthew was in the Old Testament or New Testament — when all of a sudden, they begin quoting a verse from Matthew from memory.  Now mind you, the particular verse that he or she quotes has overtaken John 3:16 as the most popular verse in America.  It is a short verse, so that has made it easier for cultural Christians to commit to memory, should they ever need it when debating overly judgmental Christian-types.  What verse am I talking about?  Why Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (they always seem to memorize it in the KJV).

While Matthew 7:1 is the most popular verse for pagans to use to win a debate with the Bible thumpers, another verse in Matthew has become popular with Christians who want to stifle debate with other Christians.  What verse might that be? 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, ESV)

I must admit that I am not a fan of using this verse to cut off debate or to win an argument.  I believe that it not only is a misuse of this particular Scripture, but that many times the use of Matthew 18:15 comes into play when one wants to deflect attention away from the central points of a debate.  When you don’t want to defend your position — or more likely the case, when you don’t want to defend the actions or words of someone who you like — you can pull Matthew 18:15 out to redirect an opponent away from pursuing a friend or an ally.

The latest example of the use of the Matthew 18:15 defense is occurring in the context of a discussion at SBCVoices (here) regarding criticism of Dr. James Merritt, Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Georgia and a former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, by certain bloggers (here, here, here and here), including yours truly (here). 

In response to an email inquiry sent by Voices Editor Dave Miller to Dr. Merritt regarding his “alleged” involvement in a multi-level direct marketing scheme called Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing (FHTM), the Communications Director for Cross Pointe, Gene Mason, wasted no time in taking Matthew 18:15 out of his arsenal in an attempt to defend Dr. Merritt’s refusal to respond to (unnamed) critical blog posts.  Said Mason:

“Pastor Merritt has chosen not to respond to blog entries he recently was made aware of because (1) the authors have already defied Matthew 18:15 . . . ” (Mr. Mason’s full email response can be read here)

I’m still not sure what it means to “defie” Matthew 18:15, but someone proficient in communication must know better than I what that means.  In any event, just because a Pastor, Communications Director, Blogger, or Commenter says that something defies or contravenes Matthew 18:15 does not make it so.  A person is certainly within their rights to interpret Matthew 18:15 as applying to this situation, but that person’s interpretation is not binding on anyone else.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Mr. Mason meant that certain bloggers have “defied” Matthew 18:15 because they did not first contact Dr. Merritt regarding his involvement in FHTM.  Of course, also for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate to the fact that Dr. Merritt’s participation in FHTM was public knowledge through the posting of public videos (since deleted) on the internet showing Dr. Merritt extolling the virtues of FHTM.  Let’s further stipulate to the fact that Dr. Merritt, through Mr. Mason’s email to SBCVoices, admits that Dr. Merritt “was involved in FHTM.”  Finally, let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Dr. Merritt “found it (FHTM) to be a reputable organization” during the time of his involvement.

Of course, that’s all well and good, but that doesn’t answer if or how Matthew 18:15 should be applied to well-known Christian figures prior to any public criticism or questioning of that figure’s actions or words.  The way that I read Mr. Mason’s response, it would appear that any criticism of Dr. Merritt (or any other Christian) can only happen if and when a “critic” contacts the object of criticism or questioning in advance of writing anything negative.

If one were inclined to view the Church as “universal” first and “local” second, then one could argue that a Christian brother in New Mexico or North Carolina is mandated — via Matthew 18:15 — to always try to make contact with the offending brother or sister before anything negative or critical is written.  If that were the case (which I don’t believe it is), then would we not also be obligated to contact an offending Southern Baptist as well as an offending Moderate Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Catholic before questioning their words or actions or books in our blog posts?  Before I questioned the Pope about his thoughts on the Big Bang Theory, shouldn’t I have at least tried to email the Vatican?  The next time that I criticize President Obama (a professed Christian), I suppose I should shoot out an email to the White House for a response.  That is, unless you think that only Southern Baptists are part of the universal church!

I could offer more examples, but you may begin to understand that the Matthew 18:15 argument, as selectively employed by Mr. Mason and others to stifle debate, collapses under its own weight.  One need only peruse the blog sites of some well-known SBC bloggers to conclude that they probably don’t contact all the subjects (many times professed Christians) of their critical blog posts prior to publication. 

Kinda reminds me of my freshman year at George Washington University when I lived in Thurston Hall.  Marijuana consumption was rampant in the Fall of 1984 and I had often complained to the Resident Assistant on my floor.  She knew about the pot smoking, but chose not to enforce the clear rules.  One day, a friend and I were kicking a soccer ball in the long hallway on the 7th floor.  That also was a clear violation of the rules.  The RA came around the corner, picked up the soccer ball and said she was going to confiscate it because we were violating the rules. 

I simply turned to her and said, “If you’re going to enforce that rule, why don’t you go ahead and start enforcing all the rules.”  Needless to say, she handed me back the soccer ball.  The moral of the story:  if you’re going to apply Matthew 18:15 to your theological opponents, you better start applying it to your theological friends!  Or, better yet, don’t apply it where it clearly doesn’t belong.

Posted in Christianity, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Heaven’s Real: The Bible, Experience & a 4 Year-Old

When one of our church’s most precious saints died on Tuesday — after a long battle with cancer — I immediately knew where her soul is — heaven.  How did I know?  Because of the Word of God and my faith in God’s promises.  I didn’t need a book about a 4 year-old boy’s supposed trip to the celestial realm to believe that heaven is a real place.

Apparently, some people — even a good many Christians — are turning to the best-selling book, “Heaven is for Real:  A Little Boy’ Astounding Story of  His Trip to Heaven and Back ,” to bolster their belief in heaven.  However, when a cottage industry — including the original book, a new book (“Heaven is for Real for Kids” out in November 2011), and a DVD-Based Conversation Kit and Guide (also available November 2011) —  is built upon “the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven,” I can’t help but be a little skeptical.    

Why be so skeptical, pastor?  Why question the experiences of a 4 year-old boy who visited heaven?  After all, aren’t all of our experiences true?  I mean, “Heaven is for Real” proclaims that it is based on a “true story.”  Sadly, too many self-professed Christians today, including the boy’s father — a pastor himself — allow experience to take precedence even over the written Word of God.  And, woe be unto anyone who dares to question someone else’s experiences.

But, question we must, especially in the light of Scripture.  The Bible is clear that heaven is a real place.  One can choose to believe in heaven or not, but for Christians, we simply do not need any more evidence — experiential or otherwise — to know that heaven and hell are real.  In fact, the last book of the Bible — Revelation — warns those who would add to Scripture:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.”  (Revelation 22:18, ESV)

While some may try to limit this warning to the book of Revelation only, I would argue that God’s warning applies to any who would add to His Word — from Genesis through Revelation.  When someone says that he has had a “true” experience in heaven and then proceeds to write a book about it, I’m not sure what loophole he is trying to employ to avoid the plagues?

If this experiential-based Christianity were new, then we might be at a loss as to how to answer those in our post-modern world who allow their experiences to overshadow — and in some cases take precedence over — the Word of God.  But, thankfully, we have God’s all-sufficient Word to guide us  in our queries.

Just the other day, I was talking to someone who relayed how God had spoken to them through a dream.  Now, I love dreams and thinking about the significance (if any) and meaning of my dreams, but I am under no illusion that God is speaking to me through my dreams.  Could God communicate with me (or anyone else) through dreams?  He could because He is God.  What are the chances that God communicates through dreams today?  Slim to none!

Why can I be so certain that God does not currently communicate this way to people even though He communicated that way to Joseph in the Old Testament and Joseph in the New Testament?  Because Scripture tells me that God does not need to communicate with us through dreams anymore:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.”   (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV)

In fact, God, through His Word, even warns people (primarily false teachers) about relying upon their dreams:

“Yet in like manner these people (false teachers) also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” (Jude 8, ESV)

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a really good argument FOR taking experiences — including dreams and visions — at face value.  But, for those who still think that we need extra-Biblical sources like “Heaven is for Real” or Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” or “23 Minutes in Hell” to convince us of the reality of heaven and hell, one need only look to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus, who I don’t believe would make up heaven and hell just for illustrative purposes, was teaching primarily about the sufficiency of Scripture for those who had not yet believed.  The rich man, now in hell, begged father Abraham to send Lazarus, now in heaven, back to warn the rich man’s brothers about the “place of torment” that he was now in.  In sharing this parable or story, Jesus would give us ample evidence for the primacy and importance of Scripture:

“And he (the rich man) said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He (father Abraham) said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)

If anyone has any doubt about heaven or needs to be convinced that heaven is for real, he or she does not need to buy “Heaven is for Real.”  Instead, go to THE WORD and hear God speak His Words of promise and encouragement:

“Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms (mansions).  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”  (John 14:1-3)

Where is Jesus talking about?  A very real place called heaven.  I know heaven is real because God’s Word proclaims it as true and promises it to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.  I don’t need the supposed “true” story of a 4 year-old boy to tell me that heaven is real.  Do you?

Posted in Christianity, Religion, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

NASCAR, Prayer & an Irreverent Baptist Preacher

By now, many have had the opportunity to watch Pastor Joe Nelm’s “prayer” at last weekend’s Nationwide Federated Auto Parts 300 race in Nashville, TN.  Since his unusual invocation at the July 23 NASCAR event, Helm’s prayer has received over 1.8 million views on YouTube.

While I had read a little bit about Nelm’s and the uproar caused by his prayer, I had not taken the time to watch the video of the prayer until Sunday night.  There is no question that Pastor Nelm’s prayer has stoked a debate about the appropriateness of such a prayer directed to Almighty God.  Whoever posted the prayer on YouTube dubbed Nelm’s missive as “the best prayer ever.”  Others, like Dave Miller at SBCVoices, found the prayer “tasteless and profane,” but allowed commenters to answer the question posed by the YouTube video, “Best Prayer Ever?”

Before providing my own answer to that question, I want to direct you to a spot on analysis of the prayer controversy surrounding Pastor Nelm’s NASCAR invocation.  While I don’t always agree with him on every theological jot and tittle (although we probably agree on more than we realize), Jared Moore, who I have gotten to know through our mutual contributions to SBCVoices, has written a great piece at his blog. 

Entitled, “What if the NASCAR Preacher Had Sung the National Anthem Irreverently?” Moore answers that question by comparing the reaction of the American public to the butchering of the National Anthem by Roseanne Barr to their reaction to the irreverent “prayer” given by Joe Nelms.  Amazed at how many — including many Christians — are defending Pastor Nelms’ prayer, Jared asks a penetrating question:

“So, I have a question for Christians that are defending the Nascar Prayer: Why is it wicked to irreverently sing the National Anthem, but it isn’t wicked to irreverently pray to the Creator of all things? Is it not worse to trample our only Savior and God underfoot than to trample men and women underfoot?”

While Jared did not answer his own question, I’ll take a stab at it.  During a Bible study on the book of Revelation that I was leading Sunday night, we got into a discussion of the coming judgment of God upon a rebellious world.  In the midst of the discussion, we agreed that most people — even many who call themselves Christians — simply do not have a “fear” or reverence for God.  That may be sporadically or most of the time.

When we do not revere God, then we allow ourselves (and others) to do that which ought not to be done.  When we pray, we are not praying to be heard by the crowd — as Nelms’ apparently was — but we should be praying to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who spoke the Universe and World into existence.  No matter how one wants to spin it, to approach a Holy and Awesome God in a way that does not communicate a proper reverence for God is by very definition irreverent.  Unless one to employ Orwellian definitions, then there should be no question that Pastor Nelms’ prayer was irreverent.

That Pastor Nelms has tried to defend his prayer only complicates the matter.

“I never rehearsed any of the prayers that I’ve done. I don’t know, I just got up there and let’er rip, I guess. I knew that I wanted to do something different. Every time, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do the cookie cutter prayers that everybody does.’ I wanted to make an impression on the fans. (emphasis added) I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know it would be that until I got on the stage.” (full article here)

There’s just one problem with that justification:  the only One that we are to make an “impression” on in our prayers is God.  Jesus had something to say — and it was negative — about those who would stand on street corners or at NASCAR events and pray so that they could be heard by others.  Those at the NASCAR event were not the audience for Pastor Nelms’ prayer, no matter how sincere he was in his desire to reach the masses.

That Nelms does not recognize this can be seen through his apparent belief that God Himself used his prayer to bring others to church.  (God also spoke through a donkey once.)  And, for that, Pastor Nelms is not apologizing.  In fact, it sounds like he would do the same thing if given the opportunity (which no doubt he will be afforded):

“ I wouldn’t apologize for doing it. I would do the prayer again because of what it’s done. Some of the emails that I have gotten from people have said they’ll be at church on Sunday, not necessarily at our church, I’m talking about people from Arizona and Utah and Washington and all of these different places that say they’ll be at church because of that. That’s amazing to me that I had that kind of impact, that the Lord used just a little humor to show folks that Christ can be fun, too.”

So, for Pastor Nelms, the ends justify the means.  That’s exactly what he is saying when he tells us that he would do the prayer all over again “because of what it’s done.”  I suppose he is talking about the folks who have emailed him, telling him that they are getting back into church.  Well, if that is the standard, then why not turn church worship services into entertainment venues where motorcycles and cars are driven onto the platform by the “cool” pastor of the church?  Or, luring the unchurched to visit by promising to talk explicitly about sex?  Oh, that’s right.  This is already happening.

When we do not fear or revere God, then any and everything is possible.  It is not surprising that so many Christians have simply laughed off Pastor Nelms’ prayer as nothing more than humor.  I’m pretty sure God is not laughing!

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Religion, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Weekend 7: Money, Money, Money

As the looming deadline of August 2 fast approaches, many Americans are thinking about money and debt.  Despite the polls, I would venture to guess that most Americans are only thinking about their own money — or lack thereof — and their own debt.  Go to Times Square or Los Angeles and ask people on the street about the debt crisis in Washington and they will look at you with a blank stare.

However, ask them about their own finances, jobs, mortgages, car payments, grocery bill and how much it costs to fill their tank of gas and they will gladly have all the relevant information at the ready.  In fact, “debt related stress is up 17% from November” levels and equal to stress levels in 2009, during the worst of the recession.  People are not nearly as worried about the national debt as they are their own debt.  I think most of us can relate to that sentiment.

For those who are worried about their personal finances — particularly those who have incurred a lot of debt — there is one surefire way out of the financial mess.  It’s realizing — unlike President Obama — that any credit card debt is not manageable.  Oh, you might think it is.  But, in the long run going into debt to buy things today that you cannot afford will only cause more stress and worry.

That’s why Dave Ramsey, America’s premier Christian financial expert, is encouraging people to join the Great Recovery and learn “God’s and grandma’s ways of handling money.”   If only more politicians would heed that advice, our country would be in far better shape.  But, since many of our “leaders” don’t seem to possess any common sense or real world business experience, it appears that individuals and families will have to make the Great American Recovery start at the grassroots level.

To get out of debt — either personally or as a country — will take time.  There really is no such thing as a “get-rich-quick” scheme that will work.  They might appear to work for some — just like the lottery appears to work for some — but too many people, particularly Christians — fall prey to smooth-talking salesmen who promise instant results and loads of money.  We should expect this type of behavior from the likes of Bernie Madoff, but when Christian pastors and churches peddle the “get-rich-quick” multilevel marketing schemes to their parishioners, that is unbelievable.

In revealing posts exposing one such multi-level marketing scheme being “presented” to church members by a mega-church pastor — and former President of the Southern Baptist Convention — both Tim Rogers (“Surprised by a Hero of Mine”) and Peter Lumpkins (“FHTM and Dr. James Merritt’s Confusing Ministry”) reveal the dubious nature of Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, Inc., a “direct selling company that gives people the opportunity to build their own businesses by marketing FHTM’s diverse lineup of outstanding products and services.” 

I know that Southern Baptist churches, like Cross Pointe Church where Dr. Merritt is the Senior Pastor, are autonomous.  However, I find it hard to believe that any pastor would use the sanctuary of the church to hawk this kind of “get-rich-quick” multi-level marketing scheme to members of his church, particularly when the pastor is already making money off the scheme and stands to make even more money by signing up more people.  And, couching what you’re doing in spiritual language does not make one immune from criticism or questioning.

That goes for those companies who specialize in “Church Capital Fundraising Campaigns.”  Far too many churches forget that God is in control of finances and that He will provide what our churches need — be it for new ministries or new buildings — and that He often gives us above and beyond what we could think, ask, or imagine.  William Thornton, the SBC Plodder, shares 10 lessons he has learned when it comes to CCF Campaigns (“Those wonderful church capital fundraising campaigns”).

Finally, when it comes to money and finances, many (most?) Christians and churches understand that the money that they have is not their own, but is a gift from God that we are to use as good stewards.  As stewards, we are not to keep all that God has given to us, but we are to give some back to Him through the local church in the form of tithes and offerings.  As churches, we are not to keep everything that people give, but we are also called to be generous givers for the cause of Christ and fulfilling The Great Commission.

As Southern Baptists, our churches partner together to accomplish missions and ministry in our communities, states, nation, and world.  We can do far more together than we can separately.  Through what is known as the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists pool their resources together so that the Gospel can be proclaimed in North America and to the uttermost parts of the world.

If you want to know more about the Cooperative Program and how those who maybe considered “blue state” Southern Baptists (as opposed to “red state” rural/suburban SBs) view CP and the visions that are “competing” within the SBC, I would encourage you to watch “Talking Cooperative Program” (posted at MicahFries.com).  In an interview with Fries, Bruce Ashford, and Jimmy Scroggins (a classmate of mine at Southern Seminary) conducted by Jon Akin during the recent SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix, the interview may have you wondering, “Is Bobby Welch Wrong About CP?”   I know what my answer to that question would be, but I’m not sure it would be the answer of many within the “blue state” contingent within the SBC.

Regardless of what happens with the debt ceiling debate over the next few days, each of us has a personal responsibility to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted into our care.  Money is not evil, although it is the root of all kinds of evil.  Using Biblical principles and common sense, let’s “live like no one else today so that later on we can live like no one else!”

Posted in Finances, Weekend Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Tea Party, Debt & Insufferable Intransigence

With the resolution of the Debt Ceiling “crisis” coming down to the wire, one thing is certain — if both Democrats and the Tea Party oppose a proposed solution, then that is almost indisputable evidence that the solution is both conservative AND reasonable.  And, at this point, the only solution that has any chance of being passed into law and signed by President Obama is one that is the most conservative AND reasonable. 

It’s understandable why the Democrats — who are mostly to the left-of-center — and Tea Partiers — many of whom are to the far right of center — would oppose that which is conservative (Democrat opposed) and reasonable (Tea Partiers).  But, in the final climactic days leading up to default day (August 2), both groups appear more willing to allow America to default if they don’t get all that they want and more.

With divided government, that is simply not going to happen.  That is the reality and, reasonable people understand that reality.  In today’s National Review Online, both Charles Krauthammer (here) and Mona Charen (here) have spot on articles arguing for the passage of Speaker Boehner’s debt reduction plan.  In pointing out the obvious, Krauthammer writes:

“And under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone. Today’s resurgent conservatism, with its fidelity to constitutionalism, should be particularly attuned to this constraint, imposed as it is by a system of deliberately separated — and mutually limiting — powers.  Given this reality, trying to force the issue — trying to turn a blocking minority into a governing authority — is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.”

But, self-destruction behavior is exactly what the Tea Party politicians are practicing this week.  Instead of supporting Boehner’s plan — even if it is not ideal — some within the Tea Party Movement would rather stand athwart history and spout nonsense.  Much like John Cusack’s tweets, the inane things coming out of the mouths of some Senators and Representatives is mind-boggling.  Mona Charen shares but a few in her article:

“Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) vowed that he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling until a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution passed. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) explained his unwillingness to back Boehner’s bill this way: “I really truly worry that the debt is one of the single greatest threats to the United States of America. That we’re talking about a problem that is multitrillion dollars in its depth and I think we ought to be cutting more. I just don’t think it goes far enough.”

Of course, this is the same Senator Paul who publicly questioned parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  And, yes, I am aware that he later — under heavy pressure — “clarified” his remarks.  However, his past comments on the Civil Rights Act, coupled with his present comments on passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment, reveals someone who maybe intelligent and principled, but lacking in common sense.

But, it is common-sense conservatism that we need in Washington, D.C.  To the extent that the Tea Party contributes to common-sense conservatism, they should be applauded.  However, when the Tea Party Movement exhibits what Charen calls an “obtuseness” — either in selecting candidates for the Senate (i.e., Angle and O’Donnell) or in opposing the most conservative debt ceiling legislation THAT CAN PASS AND BE SIGNED INTO LAW — then the Tea Party should be called out and opposed by common-sense conservatives.

 As you might have guessed, I am definitely not part of the Tea Party Movement.  I consider myself a common-sense conservative — theologically, politically, economically, and socially.  I do think that the Tea Party — by and large — has been good for America.  But, they are not perfect.  They make mistakes.  Some within their ranks — elected and non-elected — would rather not compromise, but instead stand firmly on their principles, even if they are standing on a sinking ship. 

Compromise is not always a bad word.  I can think of a few words that are bad — default, debt, taxes, and “two-term President Obama.”  The Tea Partiers can oppose the Boehner plan this week.  But, they shouldn’t be surprised when their intransigence in 2011 leads to all those bad words becoming a reality in 2012 and beyond!

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments