A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS: BEGINNINGS
There are many ideas about how Baptists began, from the pseudo-history “The Trail of Blood” to the Anabaptists (Mennonites), but historically Baptists began in Holland and England in approximately 1609. That means that this year Baptists celebrate 410 years of existence! I’ve checked on a cake, with 410 candles, but as yet have had no luck, so I decided to look back to how we got here, even if we won’t get to have a party.
The first Baptists were “Separatists” from the Church of England. The Church of England had split from the Catholic Church in the 1530’s when the Pope refused to grant Henry the VIII a second divorce. Henry took over the Catholic church in Britain and created a “middle way” between the Catholic and Reformation churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.). This middle way was not enough for some English Christians, who wanted a purer, more faithful church. Some of these people stayed within the church and sought to reform it (and became known as Puritans; yes, those Puritans) while others gave up on the Church of England and separated to start their own congregations (thus becoming known as “Separatists”), an act which was illegal and meant persecution at the hands of the crown (the king or queen).
That persecution led one particular group of 40 separatists (led by John Smythe and Thomas Helwys) to flee England in 1608 for Amsterdam, Holland. There they became convinced of “believer’s baptism” (that baptism must follow belief in Christ) and were re-baptized (having been baptized as infants in the Church of England). For almost 1,000 years almost all Christian baptisms were of infants, but a return to the Scriptures by Christians in the 1500’s began to call that into question. They recognized that believers in the New Testament were baptized after believing in Christ, not as infants. After their re-baptism, trouble hit the group, as Smythe and most of the congregation decided to become Mennonites. Those who remained in the congregation (only about 10 people) returned to England with Helwys and are recognized as the very first Baptist church. In 1611 they made their home in Spitalfield, just outside London, and called themselves the “Church of Jesus Christ.” Two notes: 1) The name “Baptist” came later as an insult to their practice of believer’s baptism; 2) Note that the first Baptist church split even before it was a Baptist Church!!
Back in England, Thomas Helwys published “A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity” in 1612, making a bold plea for liberty of conscience. He said that the king is “a mortall man and not God” and “therefore has no power over y mortall soules of his subjects.” This challenge to the divine right of the king and his place at the head of the church landed Helwys in prison, where he would die in 1614. The king who imprisoned him was King James 1 (yes, that King James, of Bible fame). Helwys’ imprisonment did not quiet the movement: Leonard Busher argued that it should be lawful for “any person or persons, yea Jews or Papists, to write, confer, and reason, print and publish any matter touching religion.” That’s something we take for granted now, but at the time, only the Church of England under the king could publish anything dealing with religion. Thomas Murton, who succeeded Helwys as pastor of the church, wrote that “no man ought to be persecuted for his religion.” This is the idea of religious freedom, and those first Baptists were ahead of their time. Their ideas, though, would find fertile soil in the New World. Next week, we’ll look at what happened when Baptists came to America. -Pastor Tim
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS: IN AMERICA
Baptist history began in England in the early 1600’s, and those first Baptists had a strong desire for religious freedom. It led them into conflict with King James over his “divine right” to rule the Church (and churches) of England, and eventually led many to leave England and seek freedom in the “New World.” What they found in America, though, was that the exercise of their faith was often just as difficult as it had been in England. They faced persecution in Virginia at the hands of the Church of England and in Massachusetts by the Puritans (yes, those Puritans). While the Puritans had come to America for religious freedom, they did not allow that freedom for others, persecuting both Baptists and Quakers.
The Baptist dream of religious freedom was first realized in Providence Plantations (later Rhode Island) in the 1640’s, and Roger Williams and John Clarke played important roles. They secured a charter for the colony from England that guaranteed freedom of religion for everyone in the colony. Williams also founded the first Baptist church in America, the First Baptist Church of Providence, in 1641 and Clarke the second, the First Baptist Church of Newport. Williams remained a Baptist for only a few months, however, saying Baptists cared “far too much about water and not enough for the Spirit.” In Providence Plantations not only Baptists, but Quakers and Jews, found a safe religious environment: Each person was free to practice religion – or not practice it – as they saw fit.
Outside Rhode Island Baptists continued to face persecution. John Clarke and two of his members, including Obadiah Holmes (an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln), were arrested for visiting a sick man in Boston, and Holmes was publicly beaten “until blood filled his shoes.” In 1638 Anne Hutchison, a mother of fourteen children, was dismissed from the Massachusetts colony because she held a Baptist Bible study in her home. Despite these difficulties Baptists continued to grow in number, moving into the South and Midwest, and were avid supporters for – and participants in – the American Revolution. This earned the respect of their American neighbors, and as the new nation was taking shape the Baptists pressed for religious liberty and the “separation of church and state.” *
When the United States Constitution was ratified Baptists were uneasy because it did not address religious liberty: They wanted a definitive statement of their rights. John Leland, a Baptist pastor, decided to run for Congress to push for this issue, but his opponent was James Madison. The two made a political deal: Leland would withdraw from the race and Madison would spearhead the drive for a guarantee of religious liberty. Baptists wanted no government interference in their religious lives and did not want any official state religion or denomination (Later, when Patrick Henry proposed a federal tax to go to all Christian denominations, Baptists, along with Madison and Thomas Jefferson, said, “No way!”). They received that guarantee when the First Amendment, whose language had been worked out by Madison and Jefferson, became law. -Pastor Tim
*“Separation of Church and State:” This is a term that was later used to define the new situation in America. The phrase was first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a Baptist association in Delaware concerned about their liberty but is now used to describe the genius of American government! Note that the Baptists were intent on keeping the government out of religion, not faith out of the public square.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS: “MISSIONARY” BAPTISTS
In 1813 Adoniram and Ann Judson, along with Luther Rice, had sailed from America as missionaries to India from the Congregationalist Church. On the long ride aboard the ship “Caravan” they spent their time studying the Scriptures and came to accept the Baptist view of immersion (the Congregationalists used sprinkling as their mode of baptism). Upon their arrival in India they resigned from the Congregationalist Church, unwilling to accept their funds if they could no longer in good conscience be part of their denomination. This position was a sign of their integrity, but it also put them in a quandary: Without any financial support, Luther Rice decided to return to America to seek help from the Baptists while the Judsons proceeded to Burma to begin work as Baptist missionaries.
Luther Rice found Baptists in America willing and able to support the Judsons (in fact, some Baptists had already sent help when they were first leaving as Congregationalists!), and he moved from church to church seeking financial assistance. So excited were the Baptists to participate in foreign missions that a national convention was called to organize the work. In May of 1814 the Baptist churches in America came together in Philadelphia to form “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions.” Because of the length of the name and the decision to meet every three years, the name “Triennial Convention” became the common title for the new body. Through this organization Baptists in America sponsored foreign missionaries (and some home missionaries) from 1814 to 1845.
The mission enterprise did not go off without difficulty. Home missionaries sent to share Christ with Native Americans fell in and out of favor, depending on the political climate. Missionaries would be sent but would then lose their funding when relationships with Indians were strained or Baptists were less charitable. Theological concerns also led to anti-mission Baptists. Some steeped in Calvinism felt that the atonement of Christ was limited to the “elect,” who would undoubtedly be saved. They felt, then, that it was unbiblical to send missionaries: If God wanted to save Native Americans or people in foreign countries, He would do it without our help. This view was taken seriously by many Baptists, despite the clear meaning of the Great Commission to “go and make disciples.” Anti-mission Baptists continue today as Hardshell or Primitive Baptists, and the phrase “Missionary Baptist” became a testimony of those who felt sending missionaries was a biblical necessity. Our church has always stood in this tradition, that it is a necessity for us to share Christ at home and throughout the world.
While there had been tension over sending missionaries to Native Americans, a greater tension was brewing among Baptists. Northern Baptists were more and more identified as abolitionists, opposing slavery, while many Baptists in the south were for keeping slavery and sought to give it biblical support. That issue would separate Baptists in America fifteen years before it would the country! More next week! -Pastor Tim
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS: SOUTHERN BAPTISTS
Slavery is one of the worst evils of humanity and the slave trade of the 1600-1800’s one of the saddest chapters of our nation’s history. African families and individuals were kidnapped, brought across the Atlantic in deplorable, inhuman conditions, and then sold for hard labor. It is amazing that while Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” he and many others who signed the Declaration of Independence were themselves owners of slaves. It would take many years for people in America to see slavery clearly, and not without the great struggle that culminated in the Civil War.
As early as the 1700’s several Christian denominations had voiced their opposition to slavery, including the Quakers and Mennonites, but not Baptists. There were several reasons for this: The Baptists’ all-consuming fight for religious freedom; a general policy of non-interference in civil matters; and a desire to keep the peace as much as possible, since many Baptists held slaves (in South Carolina, two-fifths of the ministers had slaves!) – and the majority of Baptists were in the South. Some Baptists in the South opposed slavery (East Tennessee being one area where a majority did) while many Baptists in the North hesitated to take a stand. The Triennial Convention (the mission organization of all Baptists in America) took a neutral position and maintained that stand until its final meeting in 1844.
During the 1830’s the situation between Baptists in the North and South intensified, with many Baptists in the North becoming active abolitionists. They did not want any dealings with slave holders, and critiqued Baptists in the South. At the same time, and in response to the abolitionists, Baptists in the South took a more militant pro-slavery position, with many pastors supporting slavery form their pulpits (the Bible assumed it, they said, so it must be God’s will). An Alabama Baptist Convention committee on abolition stated in 1840 that: 1) Abolition is unscriptural and unconstitutional; 2) Money would be withheld if the Triennial Convention took an abolitionist position and a new Southern foreign mission board would be formed. Alabama Baptists then sent a test case to the Home Mission Society of the Triennial Convention: It proposed
J. E. Reeve, a slave holder, as a missionary to the Cherokee Indians. The Home Mission Society refused Reeve and the Triennial Convention concurred, thus ending their position of neutrality. This reply led to the separation of Northern and Southern Baptists in 1845, fifteen years before the nation would follow suit. Due to the disagreement on slavery, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed. In 1995, one-hundred-and-fifty years later, the Convention would officially apologize for their position on slavery. -Pastor Tim
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS: THE SBC
In May of 1845 a meeting was held in the First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia, to organize the work of Baptists in the South. They had withdrawn from the national organization, the Triennial Convention, following that body’s refusal to approve a slave holder, J. E. Reeve, as a missionary to the Cherokee Indians. Three hundred people met to form the new organization, which they called the Southern Baptist Convention (the regional name reflected the spirit of the times as the nation moved toward war) and was based on the Triennial Convention: Work in several mission areas under one organization. This included a Foreign Mission Board (Richmond, Virginia), a Home Mission Board (Atlanta, Georgia), and a Sunday School Board (since 1891, in Nashville, Tennessee). The Southern Baptist Seminary was also founded in Greeneville, South Carolina in 1859, but would later move to Louisville, Kentucky.
While most Baptists in America lived in the South, the work began very slowly and was entirely suspended when the war began in 1861. Following the Civil War the South was devastated by the loss of men and property, and their money was worthless. The Convention slowly revitalized during Reconstruction, but not without hard feelings. Northern Baptists missionaries were sent to the freedmen in the South, and conflict developed between those missionaries and the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. A compromise between the two in the 1890’s would eventually end the tension.
In the years following the war there was talk of reuniting with the churches in the North (eventually all other major denominations would reunite, save for the Baptists), but in 1879 the Southern Baptists determined to continue separately. Why? First, was their form of organization. Northern Baptists did their work with several mission societies (Foreign, Home, Bible) without a strong central organization. They were afraid of any governing authority, which the Southern Baptist Convention favored (the North would later adopt a form of organization similar to the SBC, but not until 1907, when their societies found themselves competing with one another for the same church funds).
Another factor in the continued separation was that by 1879 the two groups had been separated for over 30 years, and few remembered the old mission union. The bitterness of the war was much fresher in their memories, and the intervention of the Northern Baptists in the South kept those tensions alive. They were perceived as “carpet baggers” invading Southern Baptist territory, whatever the intentions were of the Northern missionaries (most were sincere, but some did have biases toward the southerners).
The result was a slow but steady growth that reflected the South’s recovery, until today the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest evangelical denomination in America, with over 47,000 churches and 14.8 million members. From humble and humbled beginnings, God has been able to do a great work.
What Do Baptists Believe? Seven Baptist Distinctives
It has been said that a Baptist can tell you what they don’t believe quicker than they can tell you what they stand for. That’s understandable, since we began as a reaction to the abuses of the English church and government. One of our basic assumptions, that we have no creed but the Bible, is clearly a reaction against the use of such statements as a test of faith. Yet Baptists do have strong and distinctive beliefs that reveal who we are. Seven of those distinctives are listed below. In future weeks, we will expand on each:
1) Soul Competency – Each person is endowed by God with the inalienable right to make our own moral and religious decisions, and to decide how we will serve God. This is part of what it means to be made in the image of God, and that right cannot be taken over by any family member, government or law. Each of us can relate to God without intermediaries (priests, pastors, etc.) directly through Jesus Christ.
2) The Church is made up of Regenerate Members – Only those who have had a personal experience with Christ and accepted Him as Savior are eligible to be part of the church. As Jesus told Nicodemus, we “must be born again.”
3) The Bible is our Guide to Faith and Practice – The Scriptures are the final authority for what we believe, and as the revealed words of God provide all we need to know about Him and His salvation.
4) Baptists observe Two Ordinances (Commands) – We believe that Jesus gave two commands that we are to follow:
- Baptism – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
- The Lord’s Supper – “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
5) Local Church Polity – The word “polity” refers to the form of organization that a church uses to carry out its work. Baptists are part of the “Free Church” movement that focuses on the local congregation. Each congregation is competent to determine its own calling and government, call its own leaders and pastors, etc., without the help of any overseer other than the Holy Spirit. The reason we cooperate with other churches is to do work that one church might not be able to do alone, such as foreign missions.
6) Priesthood of the Believer – This is a Reformation term used by Martin Luther to describe the “royal priesthood” of all Christians (1 Peter 2:9) in which we “bear one another’s burdens” and acts as messengers of grace and support to one another. This is the same for all Christians, not just a few: Every Christian is part of this priesthood, whatever their place of service in the church.
7) Religious Liberty for All, with Separation of Church and State – Baptists hold that “soul competency” (see #1 above) leads to these conclusions: Each person is responsible for their own faith and should be able to make those decisions without interference from any government.
Baptist Distinctive #1 – Soul Competency
“Baptists cherish freedom of conscience and full freedom of religion for all persons. Man is free to accept or reject religion; to choose his faith; to preach and teach the truth as he sees it, always with regard for the rights and convictions of others; to worship both privately and publicly; to invite others to share in the services of worship and church activities…Such religious liberty is cherished not as a privilege to be granted, denied, or merely tolerated, either by the state or any religious body, but as a right under God.” (Baptist Ideals: Sunday School Board, SBC)
In the early 1600’s when the first Baptists began to disagree with the Church of England (and thus the English government) over their religious rights, they did not seek “toleration,” but claimed those rights as God-given. This stance was often met with imprisonment, but the Baptists did not back down: Since it was God’s gift, they were determined to make their own choices, whatever the outcome. The idea of soul competency was latent in the Reformation doctrine of the “Priesthood of the Believer,” which stated the biblical truth that we all have a direct relationship with God. We do not need priests or any other mediators, for Christ alone is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). We can speak directly to the Lord, our true High Priest, and have the right to make our own decisions about our service to God. This is part of what it means to be “created in the image of God.”
When the Lord made humanity, He made us in “His image,” and even though this image became marred by sin, it remains part of the dignity given to us by God. We are competent under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to make our own response to God’s call through the gospel of Jesus Christ, to commune with God, and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. Though sinful we can be recreated by God’s saving work, and this salvation is available to all. Any person can choose to turn their life over to the Lord (Romans 10:8-13). This is personal and voluntary and requires no religious rites or ceremonies. Christ alone effects salvation and we can come boldly to Him as our High Priest (Hebrews 4:16). He then begins to remake us in His own image (2 Corinthians 5:17, 3:18), working through the Holy Spirit. His Spirit:
- Draws us to God and awakens us to truth, convicting us of our need for salvation (John 17:7-13);
- Comes to live in our hearts, sealing us as God’s own (Ephesians 1:13-14);
- Responds to our spirits and confirms our place in the family of God (Romans 8:15-17);
- And is the source of life and power in the daily walk of the Christian and is all the assistance we need in prayer (Romans 8:26-27).
All Christians have a direct, personal relationship with the Lord. We are capable of reading and interpreting the Scriptures for ourselves and comprehending His truth. It is the responsibility of pastors and teachers to share the truth, but each Christian must test and examine their words for themselves. We are to discern the “spirits” (1 John 4:1), and that discernment is another right of the individual, as well as the community of faith.
As for the community of faith, the church, there is an inherent danger that the individual may become more important than the Body of Christ, so we must point out the difference between “individuality” and “individualism.” “Individuality” contributes to the group (“we are members of one body;” Romans 12:4), while “individualism” disregards the group (“Lone Ranger” Christians). While Christian faith is always personal, it is never private. We must make those choices for ourselves, but it is within the church that they are lived out. Thus “soul competency” proclaims our right to know the Lord for ourselves, to come directly to Him, but does not deny the New Testament assumption that being a Christian means being part of the Body of Christ and serving and having fellowship with other believers in His Church. -Pastor Tim
Baptist Distinctive #2 – Regenerate Membership
Historian Robert Torbet said of the early Baptists: “English Baptists of the seventeenth century were clear on what makes a true church. They regarded the church as a gathered community of redeemed men and women who had covenanted to walk together under the discipline of the Word of God and, with a properly appointed leadership, to proclaim the gospel and observe regularly the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Believer’s baptism became the symbol of their identification with the risen Christ through the experience of individual conversion.”
The key phrase is “redeemed men and women”: a church of Christ is made up of “regenerate members,” people who have been “born again.” Baptists had read the New Testament and found no mention of infants being baptized, or of people becoming members without first giving their lives to Christ (being saved or converted). This was very different from their culture, where all children were baptized as babies and all citizens were considered members of the state church, whatever their actual practice. Baptists proclaimed this to be unbiblical, determining that only those who trusted in Christ and had been baptized as believers could be part of their churches.
They pointed to the teaching of Jesus in John 3, when he confronted Nicodemus’ religiosity with the declaration that we must be “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3-8). This new birth or “regeneration” was the work of the Holy Spirit and was a necessity to follow Christ – and this teaching is found throughout the New Testament. Peter said that “according to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3) and John wrote that “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things are passed away; behold they are become new.”
The church of Jesus Christ, then, is made up of those who have had a personal experience with Christ and have accepted Him as Savior. We are saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) when we “confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). Only those who have experienced this new relationship with the Lord are eligible for church membership, after the public profession of their faith. Our faith experience may have been a very private, personal decision, but it requires a public profession of salvation and a commitment to serve the Lord within a body of Christ, a church.
Each congregation is the body of Christ and those who make up its membership covenant together to do His work. Each member has their own callings and spiritual gifts, and therefore their own responsibilities within the church. God uses our varied gifts in different ways in the work of the congregation to bring about His will, confirming Paul’s words that we are “one body, but many members” (Romans 12:5). The life of the church is founded on the assumption that all its members are there because Christ has placed them there, for He alone makes us eligible to be part of His Body. – Pastor Tim
Baptist Distinctive #3 – The Bible Is Our Guide to Faith & Practice
The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith (approved by New Hampshire Baptists in 1833, and revised by J. Newton Brown in 1853) says of the Scriptures: “We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, the truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions shall be tried.”
E. Y. Mullins, a pastor and scholar in the early part of the 20th century, said that three marks sum up what Baptists believe about the Scriptures: That they are sufficient, that they are certain, and that they are authoritative. The Bible has sufficient truth for all religious purposes, since it is the revelation of God. Other revelation exists (in nature, etc.) but although it provides the knowledge that God exists (Romans 1:20), it is not sufficient for salvation. Only the revealed words of God as recorded in the Scriptures provide the information we need to know about God.
While scientific “truth” changes daily with new discoveries and new theories, thus becoming an uncertain source of knowledge, the Scriptures do not change. They are certain in the truth they relate to us about the Lord and are the path to finding Him. As such, the Bible has authority that no other earthly source has, because it has His authority. The Bible is God’s will: He brought it about through its many writers, scribes and translators. Recognizing its divine origin and inspiration, it is the basis for all we believe as Christians.
In the world of early Baptists, biblical truth often took a backseat to centuries of church tradition. What the church had evolved in practice was considered more important than what the biblical text said, and tradition was considered equal or even more valuable than the words of the Bible. There were two reasons for this: First, the tradition in the Catholic Church that synod rulings and papal decrees were binding, and second, the fact that most of the laity did not have access to the Bible.
Before the printing press, the Bible was usually read in Latin by priests to people who did not know Latin. With the Reformation, Luther sought to make the Bible available to all German-speaking peoples in their own language, and other language groups followed. The Roman Catholic Church opposed this move, considering it dangerous to let common people have ownership of the “Holy Book.”
One person actively involved in publishing an English Bible was William Tyndale, who was considered a criminal because he wanted every “plough boy to be able to read the Bible.” King Henry VIII had him hunted and later killed for this “deed,” but then needed an English translation when the Pope refused to grant Henry a second annulment (divorce). In fury Henry claimed the Catholic churches in England as his own (thus the Church of England) and his Archbishop used Tyndale’s translation as the basis for a new English Bible (which would lead to the King James Version in the next century). It is no coincidence that the availability of an English Bible came at the time of the Puritans and Separatists: Reading the Scriptures for themselves, they realized how “unbiblical” their churches were. The Puritans sought to reform (“purify”) the Church of England along the lines of the New Testament, while the Separatists (such as the Baptists) gave up on the English church and founded new churches based on the New Testament.
The invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into the common languages made it possible for everyone to read and study the Scriptures. Baptists cherished the right to read and interpret the Bible for themselves and saw it as a blessing from God. This resulted in the rejection of set creeds, which set forth in a few sentences what one believed and held to be important. Baptists rejected creeds as man-made and held firmly to Scripture: The Bible or at least the New Testament was their only creed! The right of reading and interpreting Scripture and the refusal of creeds has been basic to Baptists ever since (although they do accept non-binding confessions of faith). Only God’s word is authoritative and if we adhere to that, then that is as clear a statement as we need.
It is difficult to imagine a world where the Bible is inaccessible or is read each Sunday in a language we do not understand. In our day the Bible is available in multiple translations, in various study formats, and in thousands of languages. Still, the greatest threat to the church remains biblical illiteracy, where people do not know what the Bible says. Baptists call themselves the “People of the Book,” but for that to be true, we must read, study and know the Word of God. It is our basis of faith and practice only if we are familiar with its wonderful words!
2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”
Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
2 Peter 1:21 – “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Baptist Distinctive #4 – The Ordinances:
Baptism & the Lord’s Supper
What is an ordinance? In military terms it refers to ammunition, but in Baptist life it means the two “orders” or “commands” of Christ. In Matthew 28:19-20 (“The Great Commission”) we are told to baptize and in Paul’s account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Jesus told us to take the bread and the cup “in remembrance” of Him. These observations aren’t sacred events (Baptists have no sacraments, where events bestow special grace or salvation), nor is the bread and wine more than just bread and wine. They are special in that they fulfill Christ’s commands and are a sign of true devotion and worship.
C. Brownlow Hastings says that Baptists ask three questions about religious rites that Christians are to observe: 1) Did Jesus command it? 2) Did the church in the New Testament practice it? 3) Does it have meaning for the believer in the community of the church? He says that “marriage does not pass the first test, foot washing fails the second…and the baptism of infants fails all three.” That’s why the two we observe are those Christ commanded and we see practiced in the early church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
BAPTISM: The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message says, “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 Savior; the believer’s death to sin; the burial of the old life; and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”
The first step in that process for Baptists was that baptism was for believers. Smythe and Helwys determined this in 1609, based on what they read in the New Testament. They found this in Matthew 28:19-20 (above) when Christ told us to “make disciples,” then “baptize them.” Their first baptisms were by affusion (“pouring”), but within a few years (by 1641) most Baptist groups were immersing. This again was based on Scripture, since the word “baptizo” in Greek means to “immerse” or “dunk.” Since baptism symbolized the death and resurrection of Christ, as well as that of the believer (see Romans 6:1-14), the form was appropriate. When we are baptized we are stating publicly what has happened in the privacy of our hearts: We have given our lives to Christ, our sins are forgiven, and we are living a new life in Him.
THE LORD’S SUPPER: While the issue of the Lord’s Table is one of the most hotly contested issues of Christendom, Baptists hold that the Supper is symbolic and the elements (the bread and wine) have no special significance in themselves. The meaning comes from Christ’s presence among His people as they remember His death and proclaim His Second Coming (“for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” 1 Corinthians 11:26). We obey Christ by commemorating His death and worshiping Him in a very special time of “communion:” “Fellowship” with Him and with one another. As for our church, we practice what is called Open Communion: Any Christian is welcome to share in the Lord’s Supper with us whether they are members of our congregation are not. Some Baptists practice “Closed Communion,” which allows only members of that congregation to share in the Lord’s Supper. Why do we practice Open Communion? We feel it’s the Lord’s Table, not ours! -Pastor Tim
Baptist Distinctive #5: The Priesthood of Believers
The “Priesthood of the Believer” is a Reformation term used by Martin Luther to refer to the “royal priesthood” of all Christians (1 Peter 2) who “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and have an active concern for the world in which the Lord has placed them. This was in opposition to the priesthood that had developed within the Catholic tradition, where the priest supposedly held a higher status before God than the “common folk” and was considered a mediator between the laity and the Lord. Luther rejected any need for “priests” since Jesus Christ alone was our Mediator: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The idea that other mediators were necessary was not in line with the New Testament teaching that all of us could come directly to God through Christ. Luther saw in 1 Peter 2:9 (“but you are a…royal priesthood”) and in Romans 12:1 (where our duty is to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service”) the truth that this is the calling of all Christians, not just a select few. The community of the church was to be a place where everyone acted as priests to one another, as messengers of grace and support.
Ordination was not an elevation to a new spiritual realm, where one’s relationship to God became more important than that of laity, but rather the act of setting aside those whose spiritual gifts were preaching and teaching the Word. Each Christian stood on level ground before Christ, and each calling was just as much from God, whether it was pastor, farmer, ditch-digger or doctor. If one was following Christ’s call in life, then that was pleasing in the sight of God.
The priesthood of believers was part of the background in the development of Baptists and led directly to their concept of soul competency. We all have a direct relationship to God, one which we are responsible for. Out of our relationship with the Lord comes our relationship with others, for we are to support one another in prayer and encouragement and are to minister to one another. The “Church Covenant” (Baptist Hymnal, 1956) states that we will “engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress.” This is a statement for the whole church, not just its spiritual leaders.
For spiritual leadership we do set aside the offices of pastor and deacon. Despite accepting those defined roles in our churches, Baptists maintain that there is no spiritual difference between those leaders and other Christians, only their function within the church: Their gifts are recognized as given by God and they are set apart for a special ministry. Ordination then becomes an act of recognition of God’s spiritual gifts, and the church’s endorsement of those gifts. While some preach and teach, all are called to minister in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the world would know we belonged to Him by our love (John 13:35), and that goes for every Christian!
Baptist Distinctive #6: Polity of the Local Church
The word “polity” refers to the form of organization that a church or denomination uses to carry out its work. Baptists are part of the “Free Church” tradition, which places authority in the hands of the congregation. Baptist scholars have noted that the word “church” is used over 100 times in the New Testament, and of these all but four refer to local congregations. Baptists have focused on the “congregational principle,” seeing the local church as the basis of God’s work on this earth.
The “congregational principle” works out basically in a democracy: The church decides by majority vote how it will carry out its work. The hope is that it will be a theocracy (that God’s will is found through the decisions of His people) but this is not always realized. The results for Baptists have been both wonderful and frustrating, with the growth of many strong congregations who tailor their ministry to their community, but also many clashes in church settings due to our independent spirit. While it takes years to grow a strong congregation, the destruction of a church can occur in a short time: We have to balance our independent spirit with the well-being of the church, always seeking the guidance of the Lord through His Holy Spirit.
This independent spirit has been a part of Baptist life from the beginning and is found in the concept of “soul competency” (Baptist Distinctive #1): Each of us is responsible for our faith and study of the Scriptures and for determining how we will serve the Lord. This is on the personal level, but the same spirit is also found on the congregational level, for Baptists have guarded the church’s rights just as strongly as they have defended our personal freedoms: Baptists do not want anyone dictating to their congregation what they will believe or practice, or how they will function as a church.
Some Baptist Math (from C. Brownlow Hastings)
- “Soul Competency + Regenerate Church Membership = Congregational Polity” – A church should use democratic methods to find God’s will, with each member guided by the Holy Spirit (and using prayer, Bible Study, and conscience). This allows the free expression of the individual member, as well as unselfishness in deferring to the will of the majority.
- “Local Church Autonomy + Interdependence of Churches = Denominational Structure” – Each church is responsible for its structure, budget, leadership, etc., but cooperates with other churches to do things they cannot do alone (foreign missions, for example). Denominational participation is always a voluntary act of the local church (within associations and state & national conventions: For us, that means the Knox County Baptist Association, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention).
- “Voluntarism + Lay Leadership = Internal Growth” – This truth is often lost in many congregations, who expect pastoral staffs to handle all ministry and do the “work of the church.” Churches grow when the members accept their calls form the Lord and participate in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). This is how we do Sunday School, which has been the most successful venture in Baptist history. A survey in the late 1990’s asked people how they came to be part of their churches: 80% said a friend has invited them!
Baptist Distinctive #7: Religious Liberty for All
& The Separation of Church and State
Although most religious groups came to this country for freedom of worship, it is amazing how few of them were willing to grant the same freedoms to other Christians. The Massachusetts Bay Colony established Puritanism, Virginia and the Carolinas the Church of England, and New York was Dutch Reformed (until the British took over and it became Anglican as well). Early on Maryland had an act of toleration for both Catholics and Protestants (Lord Baltimore was a convert to Catholicism) but later the Protestants took over the legislature and forbade Catholic worship. Baptists were arrested, whipped and banished in both Anglican and Puritan areas, and as late as the Revolutionary War they were still being imprisoned and fined for preaching and conducting assemblies. The exceptions were Pennsylvania and Rhode Island: William Penn was a Quaker and opened the colony to all (but restricted public offices to those who professed faith in Christ). Rhode Island guaranteed full liberty to all, with no restrictions on the basis of religion.
The “father” of Rhode Island was Roger Williams, considered to be the first Baptist in America. Williams had been banished from Massachusetts because he believed: 1) The Church and State are different entities, since the church is made up of regenerate people; 2) There is no such thing as a Christian “state;” 3) Citizenship cannot be restricted to the regenerate, nor should the ideals of the Church be lowered to include the populace; 4) The “Sword” belongs to the State for “civil vengeance and punishment;” and 5) The “Word” belongs to the Church as the power to change men. Williams felt the Church and the State were different and should be separate. While Massachusetts threw him out, his ideals were realized in Providence Plantations (later Rhode Island) and its charter of 1663 became the blueprint for religious freedom in America.
In 1776 the Virginia legislature passed an act of tolerance for religion in a state bill of rights, but James Madison pressed them to change the term “tolerance” to “free exercise of religion.” This was in keeping with the Baptist ideal that religious freedom was not just “allowed” but was a “right.” When the constitution of the new nation was ratified, the same was sought by Baptists, with the help of Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Their battle was on two fronts: 1) The guarantee of religious freedom in a Bill of Rights, and 2) the ending of “State churches.” The last state church was in Massachusetts (ending in 1833!) and the Bill of Rights guaranteed no state church and no government interference in the practice of religion. In addition to the Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) another important document is President Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for this faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that the legislature should “make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
From these documents we arrive at several important conclusions:
- The term “separation of church and state” is actually unofficial in American history documents. Jefferson used it in a letter to a Baptist Association, thanking them for an award they had given him.
- The language of the Bill of Rights does not guarantee any favoritism toward Christianity in this country. At the time it was created the issue was mainly that of Christian denominations (plus Judaism, Deism, and atheism) but that is not in the wording. Even the Southern Baptist Convention confession says that “no ecclesiastical group or denomination” should be favored.
- The historical context was that Baptists were seeking protection from the state due to previous persecution (at the hands of other Christians!): Present issues are over protecting the state from religious interference. Because of the language of the Bill of Rights, the courts have often ruled against Christian groups (not establishing “religion”) resulting in conflicts with “the free exercise thereof.”
- Places where the “wall of separation” are being tested are:
- The removal of all Christian symbols from the public square due to the charge that it “establishes” Christianity as a religion;
- Government support of parochial schools: Federal funds being used for religious schools, such as for transportation, etc.
- Tax Exemption for churches. This will be a battle in the future, since tax exemption is seen by many as veiled public funding.
The battle between Christian truth and the cultural standards. Any statement of what the Scriptures say about sexuality is already a “hate crime” in Canada, and many are echoing that charge here. “Fit in with where we are or shut up” is the present attitude toward Christians and the church, and our own stand for religious freedom is now being used against us! We desired protection from the government when it aligned with a religious entity and then persecuted other religious groups. In attempting to make America a “secular nation” (avoiding the “establishment of religion”) Christianity is being constantly attacked and we now find ourselves worried about its free exercise! -Pastor Tim
Considering the “Rebellion” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, Paul writes these words:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
There are several important points in this passage:
1) He is speaking about the Second Coming (v. 1);
2) Someone had written a letter pretending to be Paul (v. 3);
3) He mentions the “man of lawlessness,” who we know as the Antichrist (from 1 John 2 & 4).
What I want to focus on is the short phrase in verse 3: “unless the rebellion comes first.” What is the “rebellion”? There are several possibilities:
1) The delusion that the man of lawlessness will have over the world, leading to a wholesale rejection of the true God (see MT 24:9-13, 23-25; 2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 13:5-10);
2) A falling away of those claiming to be Christians: They reject the salvation of Jesus Christ and the truth of Scripture (see 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-9, 4:3-4);
3) A return of all people to the wickedness of the pre-Noah time (see Rev. 20:1-10);
How do we understand these possibilities, and do we need to worry about them in our walk with Christ? We’ll explore this in the sermon next week (May 19th), with more to follow on our Pastor’s Page.
Considering Our Society and the Words of Scripture
By Timothy C. Turley
The American Moral Climate in 2019
What are we to make of the moral climate in our country? Does the church need to “get up to date” with the times, or is something else going on? How does the Bible apply to our present situation?
God created humanity in His image and likeness, but that image was quickly marred by human sin. Sin grew rampantly, leading the Lord to take several measures: 1) The Flood, 2) the shortening of lifespans, and 3) the dispersal of people throughout the world. God then began the process of revelation and salvation, revealing His will and purpose to humanity (beginning with Abraham in Gen. 12 and continuing throughout the Bible).
God’s will for marriage was given to the people of Israel in the Law. From creation God intended marriage to be between a man and woman, and the Law gave guidance to God’s people on how to live holy lives. All sexual activity outside the bond of husband and wife was sinful, including adultery, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, etc. Were God’s people always faithful to this? No, but they did know His revealed will.
The early church inherited the Old Testament and its sexual ethic. Jesus agreed with Genesis 2:24 (the husband and wife become “one flesh,” see MT 19:4-6), and called His people to be “pure of heart” (MT 5:8) and to seek complete holiness (MT 5:48). Jesus noted that He did not “come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill them” (MT 5:17ff) and in his interpretation of the Law He stressed the need to be fully faithful from the heart (MT 5:21-48).
The rest of the New Testament writings follow suit: Marriage was holy (Heb. 13:4) and sexual sin was an enemy of Christian purity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, Heb. 13:4). In Romans 1:18-32, Paul identified the worlds’ sins with their rejection of God, and this included sexual practice (note also the sins in 1:29-32).
A clash between Christian holiness and the world’s morals took place in Corinth in the 50’s. Paul had taken the gospel there, and spent years trying to get the Corinthians to recognize that sexual sin was still sin! What happened? The Lord’s call to holiness was not only victorious in Corinth, but in the next centuries became the predominant sexual ethic for all of Christendom, including our country. It was God’s Spirit working in His people that brought about this change, and the wickedness of the world was reined in by God’s revelation in the Scriptures. Were God’s people always faithful? No, but His will had been made clear. Did people still sin? Of course, but it was recognized as sin.
What is happening now? The sinful practices of the past have once more broken through, unleashed by the American sexual revolution. Many people refuse to accept the Bible as God’s revealed will (or accept God, for that matter!), declaring that they will no longer submit to the “truth claims” of “evil religion.” Some do try to keep “Jesus,” but blaspheme Him by claiming their own views for Him, re-making Him in their image! Many Christians, who have friends practicing all kinds of lifestyles, do not know enough about God’s word to even deal with this – and assume the world’s position that Bible-affirming Christians are, in fact, simply bigots! Are we? Or is our home in a place “not of this world” (the Kingdom of God, see JN 18:36) that we are called to bring into this world (“the light of the world, see MT 5:14)? Yes, that’s our call, but it is not easy! We need Jesus’ help, and there’s more to be said!
What Does God’s Word Say About Christian Holiness?
Many Americans think that sexuality is a personal choice and is not considered sinful, so long as consent is involved. The problem is that this is a modern idea and conflicts with the Scriptures. Since we believe that the Bible is God’s revelation, we have a very real problem. Please note the texts below (I have included only New Testament texts):
1 Timothy 1:8-11
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Several things we learn from these passages:
- All sexual sin is included, with none emphasized over the others;
- There is no biblical way to divorce sexual sin from Christian holiness;
- Note the order given in 1 Cor. 6 & Col. 3: These sins precede salvation; once forgiven, they are no longer part of the Christian life;
- The Spirit of God bears fruit in the lives of Christians, while our human nature leads us into sin, and away from the Lord (Gal. 5)!
What About Our Modern Perspectives?
One of the main arguments of the last 20 years is the issue of “homosexual orientation.” Some have claimed that since they were “born this way” (their assumption) their same-sex attraction is normal for them, and if it is normal, then it is not sin. Two points:
1) The continued developments in the LGBTQ communities have
undermined some of these arguments. Now that “gender is fluid” (their term) it is difficult to maintain that orientation is fixed. The very definition of “trans” is that it is not fixed!
2) More important is the biblical perspective. Orientation is not a biblical
issue, practice is! The suggestion that the Lord was ignorant of orientation fails to remember just who God was – and is! There are no new perspectives that render the Scriptures irrelevant.
What the Bible does say (Paul in Romans 3:23-24) is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” All of us sin and have weaknesses (where we are tempted)! The writer of Hebrews wrote, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In trying to follow Jesus we are to put aside “every weight” (those things that hinder us: sins in general) and that “which clings so closely” (those places where we really struggle – those where we are weakest).
All of us have specific areas where we struggle (and these may seem normal to us) but that does not mean that those actions are not sinful. I have heard men say that monogamy is not possible for them, so adulterous activity is their norm. Just because they call it normal does not mean it isn’t sin (EX 20:14, MT 5:27). God’s word defines what is appropriate and what is sinful: We don’t get to re-write it to fit our personal issues – or to allow them! We often try to rationalize our own sins, but what we think and what is true are not always the same. That’s why we are encouraged to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). God is at work in us through His Holy Spirit, guiding us to a faithful understanding: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jesus, John 16:13).
John wrote, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (I John 3:4-6). His point is not that we can be perfect (see Romans 3:23!) but that if we know the Lord we cannot settle into a lifestyle of sin. The writer of Hebrews calls that “sinning deliberately” (HB 10:26) and in God’s Law it said, “the person who does anything with a high hand… shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment (Numbers 15:30-31).Living in open rebellion toward God is not a safe place to be, but that’s what happens when we refuse His word!
What is the Biblical Response?
To date we have looked at: 1) Sexual sin is still sin, despite what our culture says; 2) Scripture shows that modern views of sexuality clash with Christian holiness; and 3) Sinful lifestyles cannot be excused because they seem normal to us. Today we look at the various responses by the Christian churches.
Note two important statements found in the N.T.:
1 Corinthians 6:11 – And such were some of you. But you were washed, you
were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and
by the Spirit of our God.
Colossians 3:7-8 – In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
But now you must put them all away…
Paul taught that sinful lifestyles may precede our conversion to Christ, but that receiving the saving grace of Jesus puts those things in our past. This has been the message of 2,000 years of Christian history and is clearly what God’s word reveals, yet in our day there is a varied Christian response. Some of the viewpoints of various Christian groups are:
- The Episcopal and Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches have gone along with the culture, even ordaining ministers who are gay (and approving and conducting gay marriage). They ignore the Scriptures, finding them outdated and limited to the past. Note: Other Presbyterians have disagreed, leading to new denominations, and some American Episcopalians have revolted, calling themselves “Anglican.”
- The United Methodist Church is now in crisis over this issue, with leaders on both sides of the argument (biblical authority versus cultural
appeasement) trying to mediate an acceptable compromise. Their
goal is to keep the church together so that both sides will be happy!
- Most Baptists hold to the truth of Scripture, but there are Baptist congregations that accept the gay lifestyle as normal (CBF). Local, state and national Baptist organizations often remove fellowship with congregations that do this.
- In general, most churches are “welcoming” (everyone is invited to worship) but are not “affirming” of those lifestyles, maintaining the biblical witness. Some are intent on sharing the truth of Scripture, while others attempt a low profile, hoping to avoid controversy.
Why the varied response? Why is there not one clear authentic witness by all Christians and churches? If one accepts the Scripture as God’s revealed word, there is ONE response. It is when we try to fit in with the world that trouble comes. Some questions to consider are:
- Is it faithful to compromise Scripture to find the world’s acceptance?
(1 John 2:15-17)
- Is this a late-20th, early 21st century aberration due to the rejection of God’s word, or have modern Americans stumbled on new truth?
(2 Timothy 3:14-17, particularly 3:16-17)
- Were all Christians, including the Apostles, wrong for 2,000 years?
(1 Corinthians 6:11, Colossians 3:7-8)
- Are we confusing PC (political correctness) with JC (Jesus Christ and his will!)? Everyone claims Jesus for their argument, but since he is the “Word of God” (John 1:1ff), doesn’t that mean that he agrees with Scripture? That will be our next topic.
Hijacking Jesus, and Other Excuses for Ignoring the Bible
Are modern Americans really supposed to take the Bible seriously? With all our scientific knowledge and technological advances, can we rely on a book written so long ago? There are many people who would answer that with a resounding “No!” Why? There are many reasons, but one of the most important is because it limits what we want to do. In the desire to control our own destinies, we refuse anyone or anything that challenges our freedom. Since God constantly calls us to His will, and not our own, well…we just can’t have that!
Critiques of the Bible are rampant in our culture. At Christmas and Easter the media tells us about the latest scholarship, and what modern scholars affirm (which isn’t a lot!). Books are written about problems with the Bible, ignoring the continued support it receives from archaeology and cosmology (Yes, the Big Bang Theory proposes there was a beginning, just like Genesis 1 and Hebrews 11!). We are encouraged to see the Bible as an outdated relic, no more important to us than Homer or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Still, an amazing curiosity remains!
Despite the ignoring (and ignorance) of the Bible, many still want to hold on to the message of Jesus, at least the part they like. Jesus said, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This love is exemplified by Jesus’ death on the cross and is the love that flows into the lives of those who have received His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Despite this authentic message, what most of the world hears is only “love,” and it’s not the love just described by the words of Scripture!
Here are some sample opinions I’ve heard or read: Jesus is all about love. He would not condemn anyone who was in love with someone else, no matter who that person is. He would agree with me if he were alive today. I like Jesus, he loves everyone. I don’t like Christians, though, because they misuse Jesus. He is always loving. If we’re loving (however “love” is defined) then we’re more like Jesus than those hypocritical church people! Jesus would not tell anyone in love that it could be wrong.
These statements reveal people who want Jesus on their side but are totally uninformed as to what Jesus said and did. I noted above that his love is defined by what He did for his disciples (and us); we must also note that Jesus did not endorse sinful actions. He called us to be “pure in heart” and to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (MT 5:6, 8), and pointed us to God’s perfection (MT 5:48). While caring for others, He still confronted them with their sin, and called them to hear and follow his words. Those words were recorded in the Scriptures, along with the rest of God’s revelation that Jesus trusted and endorsed (“Scripture cannot be broken,” John 10:35). Jesus divorced from the Scriptures is a figment of our imagination, not the Lord! Why do so many think they can speak for him and put their words in his mouth? Because they do not know his words or the words of the Bible, the words revealed to us by God: Jesus speaks for himself!!
Epilogue: So How Do We Respond?
One of the main reasons that some Christians accept the LGBT movement is that they know someone who fits one of those lifestyles. They seem to be nice people, and it is difficult to imagine them in any way living in rebellion toward God.
We never know a person’s heart. Most of the people we know (friends, family & others) we do not know well. This is just reality (for an extreme example, after a shooting the neighbors often say, “He seemed to be nice guy. We never had any trouble”). We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (RM 3:23): Niceness doesn’t save anyone!
The old maxim is “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but acceptance is NOT love. In ignoring God’s word and proclaiming sin okay (by today’s standards) we are failing to fulfill God’s call to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We should always be loving, but the love of Christ does not condone sin.
In 1 John 4:1ff, we are told to “test the spirits,” which is the Christian discipline of discernment. We do this with so many issues, asking, “Is this from the Lord? What do the Scriptures say?” Then we take it to the Lord in prayer, leaning on the guidance of his Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jesus, JN 16:13).
Why do so many people come to different conclusions about these issues? In an earlier article I noted, “If one accepts the Scripture as God’s revealed word, there is ONE response. It is when we try to fit in with the world that trouble comes.” So why do people reject the Scriptures and claim another message from the Holy Spirit? One of the greatest weaknesses in American Christianity is our failure in listening to the Holy Spirit. So often we hear our own thoughts and call them God’s!
In 1 John 2:26-27, we read, “26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” Important issues and decisions are best dealt with in a close walk with Christ, and the “anointing” is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Living in Christ is our daily call, and John wrote that the Holy Spirit is our gift: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We have the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him” (JN 14:17). Just as the words of Jesus agree with all of Scripture, the Holy Spirit does not speak a message opposed to God’s word; instead, He guides us “into all the truth” – God’s truth!
How can we do a better job of hearing the Holy Spirit? The writer of Hebrews warned immature Christians to grow up, telling them that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (HB 5:14). How do we become able to discern God’s word and will? By “constant practice,” by living lives that are anchored daily in the life of Christ himself!
On the Way to the Cross
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
This verse has always fascinated me: Knowing that the time to make his final trip to Jerusalem had come, Jesus “set his face to go.” “To be taken up” meant the cross, and despite what that would mean to Jesus, he began a determined journey to give his life for us.
Like Jonah, I might have been tempted to run in the opposite direction. Jonah was not called to die, but to proclaim God’s judgment to Nineveh so they would repent. Jonah did not want the people of Nineveh to live: They were the enemies of his own people, Israel, and he feared that God would forgive them. He feared God’s mercy so much that he took a boat going in the opposite direction, was tossed in the sea, and swallowed by a great fish. He finally went to Nineveh, preaching to them through gritted teeth.
Contrast that with Jesus, who was the embodiment of God’s mercy. With no sin of his own, he was determined to go and bear our sins so we might be saved. Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21) and “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
On the Way to the Cross – Part 2
Jesus “was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” Mark 9:31-32
This is the second time Jesus tried to explain to his disciples what was going to happen when he went to Jerusalem. The first time Simon Peter rebuked him, and the third time James and John followed his warning with a request for the first positions of power in his new kingdom! They did not get it, which is made clear Mark 9:31 – “They did not understand.”
It is difficult to understand why they did not understand! Jesus’ statement seems very clear, and they were accustomed to his use as “Son of Man” for himself: Yet they did not comprehend what he said. He was going to give His life for our sins, while they thought he was going to be made King!
One of the reasons they did not understand may have been their expectations for the Messiah. The truth He spoke did not fit the mental images they had of what the Messiah would be. His very clear words could not penetrate what they assumed to be true. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? So often we hear God’s word or read the Scripture, but years of presumption blind us to what is right there before us! Paul wrote that only the Holy Spirit can remove the veil that blinds us to God’s truth (2 Cor. 3:16ff).
On the Way to the Cross – Part 3
23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:23-24
Jesus had arrived at Jerusalem for his final Passover and some Greeks attending the festival wanted to meet him. They were Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel but had not yet taken on the Law and circumcision (converted to Judaism). They first spoke to Philip, who then corralled Andrew; they then both went to ask Jesus to meet with them.
Jesus’ answer was apparently “no” for that specific request, but at the same time he announced good news for those who made the request, as well as for all of us! The “hour…for the Son of Man to be glorified” had arrived: Jesus had come to Jerusalem to give his life for the sins of the world. He used agriculture to explain: One grain of wheat is just one grain until it is planted, then it grows into a plant that produces many grains. In the same way, his death on the cross (and burial and resurrection) would result in the salvation of all people, Jews and Gentiles included. He came to bear fruit: The redemption of the world!
In John 17:20, he prayed for all those (including us) who would believe! 20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Wow!
On the Way to the Cross – Part 4
31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 12:31-33
Jesus said this shortly after Palm Sunday, as he began the last week of his life (and incarnation). He had said earlier that “his hour had not come” (John 2:4), but with his arrival in Jerusalem "the hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). That hour would mean the Cross, and in John 12:31-33 we discover its import.
Jesus said that through the Cross the world would be judged and the “ruler of this world cast out.” That “ruler” was Satan, who until the Cross held sway over this world (note that Jesus did not correct Satan’s claim in Luke 4:6, but pointed that worship belonged only to God!). Satan sought to destroy Jesus through Judas, the Jewish leaders and the Roman executioners, but discovered that death could not contain Jesus. Through the resurrection Jesus was declared “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) and through him we all have the promise of salvation and eternal life. Satan is now a defeated enemy, who knows that his days are numbered (Rev. 12:7-17, 1 Peter 5:8).
Since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), He has made it possible for us to be saved. Our decision on accepting Christ’s salvation becomes our moment of judgment: Those who believe have eternal life, while those who refuse remain under God’s wrath (John 3:16, 35-36).
Pastor’s Page: This past week the United States moved their embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Congress approved such a move in 1995, but the relocation had been postponed (in 6-month increments over a 23-year period) to avoid inflaming the Palestinian people. Israel has considered Jerusalem their capital for many years, but the USA (and others) had not recognized that, staying in Tel Aviv… Until this week, which also happened to be the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence (May 15, 1948). The USA was the first nation to recognize the Jewish state (by President Truman on May 14, 1948), so the move was timed with that celebration.
While Israel celebrated, there were many who did not. Many world governments have criticized the USA’s recognition of Jerusalem as a threat to peace (as did the Pope). Some consider Israel to be an occupying force in Palestinian territory, and a negative view of Israel is growing, even in our country. What’s a Christian to think? Is this a political issue, best left to the government, or is there more going on here? What about the promises to Israel in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ words in the New Testament?
America’s support for Israel comes from our Judeo-Christian worldview (which is rapidly waning!). The land was basically given to the Jewish people as a guilt offering for the Holocaust, but since then most American leaders have operated with the assumption that the land rightfully belongs to them. That under-standing has a biblical background, which was part of American culture for over 200 years (that is waning as well!). Those who reject the Bible as relevant in today’s world will most likely not support Israel; many Christians continue to support Israel, but not all.
Two thoughts: 1) Don’t forget that there are Palestinians who are Christians (most are Muslim), so some of those people are our brothers in Christ. I knew Arabic Christians in Cincinnati. 2) The growing enmity may be the fulfillment of prophecy: "Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples…On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves” (Zechariah 12:2-3). While modern Israel is very secular and opposes Christianity, we are told that someday the Lord will come to rescue them – and they will “look on me, on him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). How will God do all this? That remains to be seen!! -Pastor Tim
What is an Evangelical? by Timothy C. Turley
Everywhere I turn I see the word “Evangelical” used as a political designation. It has become a favorite of the media, but is not being used correctly. We witnessed something similar in the 1980’s, when the term “evangelist” was maligned due to the misbehavior of several TV “evangelists.” Now the same thing is happening to the word “evangelical.”
What does “evangelical” mean? According to Merriam-Webster, the top three definitions are:
1) Being in agreement with the Christian gospel, especially as it is presented in the four gospels;
3) Emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching instead of ritual.
Historically, then, “evangelical” refers to an approach to Christianity evidenced by Protestant churches. Each person must believe in Jesus Christ, receiving forgiveness by faith. Guidance for Christian living is found in the Bible, which has greater authority than church tradition. The contrast is with those churches that do practice ritual and do not emphasize conversion (those that practice infant baptism). This is the way the term has been applied for many, many years.
Thus being an evangelical has nothing to do with American politics, but is an approach to the Christian gospel. Are there some political issues that evangelicals might have concerns about? Certainly, but we are in no way defined by the American political battles: liberal versus conservative, Republican versus Democrat, Socialists versus Tea Party, etc., ad nauseum. We are defined by our allegiance to Jesus Christ!
On February 21 of this year, one of the greatest evangelists of all history passed away. Billy Graham spoke to people all over the world, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what evangelists do – share the gospel! Yet even today the connotation of “evangelist” for many is “charlatan,” based on the actions of some who claimed that title for themselves. Now the word “evangelical” is caught in the political maelstrom, and its true and positive meaning is also in danger. As Baptists we are true evangelicals: our trust is in Jesus Christ!
Nothing More Than Feelings
Feelings? We all have them. Some days we feel better than others. Certain activities may make us feel happy: being with our family, achieving success in work or school, going on a ride through the mountains. Of course, some things bring negative feelings: taxes, the flu, politics!
“Feelings” are the basis for much of our behavior: “The way I feel is…” “I feel this is best…!” Most of us operate through our feelings: “I decide what is true for me, and this is what my heart tells me. This is how I feel!” Always following our feelings assumes one very important thing: That our hearts know what is best and are a reliable basis for our feelings. While that is often assumed, it is unfortunately not true! In Jeremiah 17:9-10 we read:
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who
can understand it? 10 "I the Lord search the heart and test the
mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the
fruit of his deeds."
In God’s word we discover something eternally important: Our hearts are unreliable! Jeremiah said they are “deceitful and desperately sick,” so our feelings are not the best gauge for determining what’s best for us! Why? Despite our high view of human freedom, we have forgotten that we are fallen people with darkened hearts. Paul wrote:
18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:18-19)
The reality of sin greatly undermines the idea of going only by our feelings. Our hearts, apart from the Lord, are unreliable. What we feel is not the end of the matter, but only the beginning: We are to put our feelings through the blinding light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to Christians to guide us (Ephesian 4:22-24):
…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
If we operate only through our feelings, we can end up far, far away from God’s will. We should always ask: Are my feelings reliable? Does this line up with God’s word and His plan for my life? Why do I feel this way? Is it from God’s Holy Spirit or from my own human desire?
In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul speaks of Christians who once lived in the darkness of the world:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were
sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ
and by the Spirit of our God.”
Jesus came to save us from our sins, reconcile us to God, and transform our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit! Once we know Him we are to rely on Him, letting Him guide us in “the paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3). That’s something much better than just feelings!
Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24
Following the horrific school shooting in Florida I saw Facebook posts with the words “Thoughts and Prayers” marked out, and “Change” and “Policy” written below. The insinuation was that “thoughts and prayers” were unacceptable; only changes in the gun laws would suffice.
The problem is that the vast majority of us have no role in such policy or in the enactment of gun laws. If someone wanted to voice their concern through prayer, to reject that as unacceptable or worthless is insulting to the person who offers real prayer. This also implies that prayer does not matter, and any Christian should take issue with that. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. I assume that any person who says they are praying about an issue ARE actually praying! “I will be praying for you” is an empty promise if they don’t!
2. Prayer for prayer’s sake is unhelpful. The act of prayer is not powerful, but the One we pray to, our God, IS! If we mumble prayers to ourselves, we are not talking to God. The gift of prayer is that we can speak to the Lord and know that He hears us! It’s not our practice, but His faithfulness, that is important.
3. Jesus encouraged us to pray to the Father in His name (John 16:23-24). In his Model Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:9-13) Jesus told us to pray to our Father (Abba). Then in the Upper Room He told the disciples (and us) to go to the Father in His own name. As He interceded for us on the Cross to redeem us, He intercedes on our behalf before the Father!
The idea that prayer is powerless can be true (if we don’t pray, if we pray to someone other than God, etc.), but the prayers of Christians are very important! James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Jesus told us to pray, and so did Paul, who wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Just remember: It is God who gives our prayers their power! -Pastor Tim
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me." 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
When the time came for Jesus to begin his journey to Jerusalem for his last Passover and the Cross, he “set his face to go.” He knew the Father’s will and was determined to do it! Note the contrast with that of Jonah, who heard God’s will – and immediately headed in the other direction!
Jonah was the opposite of Jesus in many ways. He was a reluctant prophet, self-centered and unloving. His attempt to flee to Tarshish ended up with his ship in a great storm, and the storm only stopped when he was thrown into the sea. That meant 3 days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and finally 40 days of preaching through gritted teeth. He did not want the Ninevites to repent and was unhappy when they did. He was also angry that his “shade tree” died while he watched to see if the people of Nineveh would be destroyed!
On the other hand, Jesus “emptied himself” of his glory to become one of us, and then further humbled himself by dying on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). He calmed the sea to save his disciples, and his 3-days-and-3-nights ended in his resurrection (MT 12:40). Why? So that he might save the whole world, dying for all of our sins: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son!” Jesus was the opposite of selfish Jonah! -Pastor Tim
“Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday”?
When a Christian in East Tennessee says they are celebrating “Easter,” they mean that they are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That celebration usually involves a “sunrise service,” a special breakfast, and a larger than usual congregation at church. For many it also means a large family gathering for lunch (“Sunday Dinner”) and an egg hunt, with baskets of eggs delivered by an “Easter bunny” and lots of candy.
Some Christians, even in East Tennessee, will point out that “Easter” has connections to pagan festivals, and that the word derives from “Ishtar,” a goddess of fertility. Some languages derive their name for the resurrection through “Passover,” such as the Latin Pascha. The English title, Easter, is derived from festivals already present before the arrival of Christianity. The pagan Easter celebration was swallowed up (and baptized!) by the Christian worship of the resurrection, but we can still recognize a few items that were carried over: the name “Easter,” and eggs and rabbits, which are symbols of fertility (and not of Christianity). So what’s a Christian in East Tennessee to do?
I tend to use the terms Resurrection Sunday and Easter interchangeably. Despite the background, for most people Easter still means the resurrection, and hiding eggs does not mean we worship fertility goddesses: It’s a simple game the children enjoy. Yet we should know our history, and why we do what we do. Easter bunnies and eggs are peripheral; the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of our Easter celebration! -Pastor Tim
13 "For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. 14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. 15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown," says the Lord. 16 Thus says the Lord: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'” Jeremiah 6:13-16
Jeremiah was called by God to proclaim judgment on the people of Jerusalem and Judah. His was a very difficult mission, with most of the Jewish people and their leaders hating him and his words (which is why Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet”). His mission broke his heart, as he proclaimed God’s coming judgment on their sins. In this passage he notes that everyone, including the religious leaders, were so mired in sin that they no longer knew “how to blush.” In other words, they were beyond the conviction of the Lord, brazenly doing as they pleased.
A Christian leader wrote recently that we in America also no longer “know how to blush.” As a culture we have lost our sense of decency, with biblical standards long forgotten, and have become accustomed to the continual media images and reports of immorality and sinful behavior. Constantly bombarded by these images and assumptions, we can discover that we are being desensitized to its content. Rather than being aware of the sinfulness of our public discourse, and convicted by it, we consider it “par for the course.”
In Jeremiah 6, the Lord told the people to look for the “good way” and “walk in it” so they could “find rest for” their “souls.” What were the “ancient paths” that led to the good way? God’s commandments that had been given to Moses, which were His guidelines for a blessed life. This they steadfastly refused to do: “We will not walk in it.” Their lack of conscience, so seared by their sin, would lead to their judgment by the nation of Babylon.
In Isaiah 5:20-21, the Lord said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Like Jeremiah’s words above, this warning by the Lord seems very pertinent to our time: While God’s word and His will are mocked, sinfulness is celebrated! What’s a Christian to do?
Hopefully we have not forgotten how to blush, to be spiritually broken by the brokenness that is all around us! Hopefully we allow the Spirit to guide us in what is right and wrong – and refuse to allow that wrong to enter our hearts and minds! In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul wrote that we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” In a culture where we are being inundated with images and attitudes that are intended to harden our hearts, Paul’s words are a true comfort and blessing! -Pastor Tim
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
This verse is a word of encouragement from the author of the letter to the members of the church. In fact, he calls the whole letter of Hebrews a “word of exhortation” (13:22; or encouragement): He wrote to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ!
These few words encapsulate Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in Matthew 22:37-40 to “love God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Our author begins with the neighbor, encouraging “peace with everyone.” While this is not always easy, it is part of being a follower of Christ: Since He has forgiven us, we are to be forgiving! Living in peace and harmony with others is God’s will for us as Christians.
The second half of the verse encourages “holiness,” which is part of loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. Having been declared holy by our faith in Jesus Christ, we are to seek that holiness. In Romans 4:22-24, Paul said that Abraham’s “faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.” Through our faith in Christ we are declared righteous in God’s sight, then through the working of the Holy Spirit the Lord calls us to seek that righteousness. For the rest of our lives we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Note the subtle warning the author gives: “without which no one will see the Lord.” Why does he say this? Because some of those he was writing to were showing no sign of a “new life” in Christ. They considered themselves to be Christians, but their lives did not evidence the working of the Holy Spirit: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” He was writing to exhort them to be the people Christ was calling them to be – and intended them to be! The Holy Spirit was given to them, and to us, so that we can be remade in the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! -Pastor Tim
Pastor’s Page, by Timothy C. Turley
37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed…
This Mark is the author of the “Gospel of Mark,” but at one time he was considered a quitter by the Apostle Paul. Mark had gone with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary trip, but he had returned home shortly after it began (Acts 13:13-14). When they planned to return to those new churches, Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance, but Paul said, “No way!” There was such a “sharp disagreement” between them that they no longer served together: Barnabas took Mark, and Paul was joined by Silas.
For Barnabas, this is very much who he was as a Christian: His real name was Joseph, but the apostles gave him the title “Barnabas,” which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). We see this encouragement when he helped Paul be accepted by the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27), and we see it with Mark.
He sought to give him a second chance.
How did it work out? Later Mark would be a close associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and would write the gospel (many think he tells Peter’s memories of Jesus). The second chance offered by Barnabas was very successful!
More importantly, note the words of 2 Timothy 4:11: “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” This is Paul’s last letter, written shortly before his death in Rome. Two gospel writers are mentioned, Luke and Mark, and note Paul’s words for Mark: He is “very useful.” In Colossians 4, Paul also mentioned that Mark was a “fellow worker” with him while he was imprisoned. Whatever his earlier opinion, Paul forgives and appreciates Mark, and we see the love and grace that we are called to exhibit as servants of the Lord! Too often we form opinions on others and are slow to forgive or forget: That is not the way of God’s grace!
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” 11 For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, 12 to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. Isaiah 28:10-12
These words were directed by the Lord to the ten northern tribes of Israel, who would be taken into exile by the nation of Assyria in 721 BC. The 12 tribes divided into two nations in 922 BC, and through Elijah, Elisha, Amos and Hosea, the Lord had warned of coming judgment for 200 years, but they did not repent or turn their hearts to Him.
In this passage Isaiah described their religion as “precept upon precept…line upon line.” What did that mean? It meant that they saw the Law as a set of rules to know, but they did not know the Lord. He offered them rest (28:12), but they refused that rest, just as they refused to hear the words of the prophets. Their religion was without heart, lacking a relationship with their God. The result was that He would now speak to them through their captors. They would realize God’s will under the rule of a people they could not understand.
As Christians, there is the danger of replacing our relationship with Christ with a set of rules we feel compelled to obey. Jesus offered his rest in Matthew 11:28 (Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest), yet many try to substitute religion for relationship, rules for resting in Him. Do we go to church because we “have to,” or because we want to thank and praise the Lord? Do we see our attendance and offerings as a check on God’s scorecard, or do we offer them out of our love for Him? When Jesus said, “Come unto me,” He was not inviting us to become part of a religion or even a church. He was inviting us to know Him, to live in fellowship with Him. Out of our walk with Him, we want to be part of His church and be obedient to HIM. It’s not an obligation, it’s an amazing blessing!
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
With these words, Luke begins Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem for his last Passover. He was going to offer himself as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). “He set his face” means that he was determined to go to the cross for us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The last week of March (March 25 thru April 1) is known among Christians as “Holy Week.” This tradition developed over time to describe the last week of Jesus’ earthly life:
Palm Sunday – When he entered Jerusalem to
the cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who
comes in the name of the Lord!” The palm
branches they placed before him gave the
day its name.
Maundy Thursday – “Maundy” means
“command,” and refers to the Last Supper,
where Jesus told us to “do this in memory of
me.” After that Last Supper Jesus would go to
the Garden of Gethsemane, and there he
would be arrested.
Good Friday – His trial went through the night,
and on Friday morning he was condemned
by Pilate and sent to be crucified. He died
around 3 pm, and was quickly buried by 6
pm, the beginning of the Sabbath.
Resurrection Sunday (Easter) – At dawn on
Sunday morning Jesus was resurrected, and
by the end of the day many of his followers
had seen him!
We will have worship services centered around many of these events, and we invite you to be a part of those you can. You can also read the gospel accounts for that last week. I will provide those passages later in March. -Tim