Monday, December 13, 2010

Like a virgin: what the first Madonna song teaches us about God.

It’s the time of year where almost every radio station you turn on, every store you go in, almost everywhere you go you hear Christmas music. Have you noticed how almost every Christmas song is about happiness or joy?

Songs like…
• “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”
• “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”
• “Joy the World”
• “We wish you a Merry Christmas”
• “Tis the season to be jolly”

Christmas is a very sentimental time of year. But have you ever stopped to realize that the events surrounding the first Christmas were far from sentimental or jolly.

The Gospels reveal the anger of King Herod as he orders the slaughter of children in hopes to eliminate the threat posed by this “Christ-child.” The shepherds who are out in the fields are all of a sudden startled by warrior-like (known as angels) beings announcing the birth of Christ. Joseph, a day-laborer, just trying to make ends meet is told that his wife-to-be is pregnant and he knows he had nothing to do with it. He is now asked to put everything on the line to accept this story that the Holy Spirit has conceived a child in Mary and that she has not been unfaithful.

And then there’s Mary. When we think of Mary we often think of her as a soft-spoken woman with a blanket over her head. She’s a peaceful and sentimental prop in a nativity set. But that is not the picture we get from the Scriptures. Mary is a poor, peasant, teenage girl who has just received the news that she will give birth to the Son of God. News that one would think would bring excitement, but that is not Mary’s immediate response. Mary is afraid!

The Anxiety of Mary

Luke tells us that when Mary receives the news she is scared to death (Luke 2:29). An angel speaks to her and tries to calm her down saying “do not be afraid” (2:30). And then Luke says she “makes haste” to go to Judah to see Elizabeth. While the birth of Jesus is wonderful news, one can hardly blame Mary for being frightened as to how this will all turn out.

Why would this announcement make Mary so anxious?

1. Economically: She is married to a day-laborer and now will have to support a child.
2. Martially: She will have to break the news to Joseph. Matthew tells us that apart from an angel speaking to him he most likely would have broken off the engagement and put her away.
3. Socially: She might end up being a single-mom, not to mention that having a baby during a betrothal was socially unacceptable (and against OT law).
4. Spiritually: And on top of that she has just been told she will be the mother of God? How’s that for pressure? Try leading the prayer at that family meal? Try leading the family devotion when your child is the Creator of the world?

So the news of this birth brings financial, marital, social, and spiritual problems. I’d make haste and flee to Judah too! This was not sentimental, it’s far from a “jolly season” in the life of Mary. The first Christmas is more like “God I trust you, but I’m scared to death.”

The first Christmas wasn’t sentimental, because life isn’t always sentimental. Life is full of marriages that are one fight away from separation, financial struggles, silence caused from the loss of a loved one, and the building pressures of negative pregnancy tests. You see, sometimes God’s richest blessings come when your soul is the most troubled. It certainly was for Mary!

The Affirmation of Elizabeth

So Mary makes haste for Judah to visit her relative Elizabeth, a woman who Luke tells us had been barren all her life until about 6 months before this. In that day if you were barren, it was believed that you were being punished by God for something. So Elizabeth was a woman who knew suffering.

Now Elizabeth’s response says something significant. She has known the pain of barrenness all of her life and for the past 6 months has known the joy of pregnancy only to have her younger relative, who has never known the sufferings and reproach of barrenness, reveal the news that she is conceiving of an even more miraculous child than her own. Can’t you see the temptation to say “I’m really happy for you” as she walks away crying in the other room?

But Elizabeth is secure in God’s plan for her life. She is not drowning in self-pity or unrighteous jealousy? There is great freedom that comes when you can joyfully embrace God’s story in your life without comparing it to someone else's. Elizabeth was secure in the plan that God had for her and it didn’t have to be the same plan God has for Mary. This allowed Elizabeth to encourage Mary in her time of stress. Even the baby within Elizabeth leaped for joy!

Elizabeth’s words ministered to Mary, it brought her comfort. Through the affirmation of Elizabeth, Mary’s anxiety turned to adoration.

The Adoration of Mary

Things started to settle in for Mary and the text says that her soul turned to God and began to worship him in a song. Mary has just been told “blessed are you among women” and yet her response is to turn and praise God rather than glorify herself. Mary not only magnifies God, but she rejoices in God. Her joy in God surpasses the pain and anxiety of life.

How is Mary able to magnify God and find joy in God? I believe it was Mary’s view of God. Mary says at least 10 things that serve as an anchor when we are frightened and uncertain.

i. God is in control (“Lord”) Mary calls God her “Lord”. Mary could magnify and rejoice in God even in her circumstances because God was in control, not her.

ii. God will deliver (“Savior”) Mary calls God her “deliverer”. Mary believes that God will rescue her and lift her up in her time of need. [*Important to note that Mary realizes her need for a Savior, she’s not perfect.]

iii. God knows my situation (“looked on the estate”) Mary says that God has “looked on her lowly estate.” In other words, God is not unaware of her situation, He knows what the consequences will be, He knows what the outcome will be, and there is a great comfort in knowing that He knows.

iv. God is for me (“will call me blessed”) Mary realizes that though this situation is a lot to bear, God is for her. However this story unfolds, God has promised that her name will be blessed.

v. God has done great things (“has done great things”) Mary takes inventory of God’s resume. He has done amazing things in the past, and He has not changed!

vi. God is holy (“holy is His name”) Mary mediates on the nature and character of God. God is good, and perfect, and everything He does is right. Holy is His name.

vii. God is powerful (“strength in His arm”) In the eyes of man, this story seems impossible. But there is nothing that is impossible with God.

viii. God is just (“brought down thrones”) Mary sees God as a just God who holds the proud accountable. If this birth is the plan of God, then those who try to stand in His way will be put to shame.

ix. God is merciful (“his mercy is for those who fear”) Mary knows that those who look to Him will be shown mercy even when they don’t deserve it. God takes the proud and humbles them; God takes the humble and lowly and exalts them.

“Praise you God that you take peasant girls and give them a name, thank you that you take a criminal on a cross and give him paradise, thank you that you take fishermen and make them the foundation on which you will build your kingdom. Thank you that you will take a baby born in a manger and a man from Nazareth and change the world. Thank you that no one is too lowly that you will not lift up.”

x. God remembers His promises (“Ab and offspring”) Mary realizes that God is doing something through this birth that is fulfilling a promise of long ago. God had promised Abraham an offspring, God had promised David a heir to the throne, God had promised, and what God promises, He always delivers. God has not forgotten his people!!!

Now that’s a song! Mary has gone from worrier to worshiper, from afraid of shame to her name being blessed before many, from lowly to lifted up, from anxious to adoring God. Mary put her faith and found her joy in the true and living God. The God who is in control, the God who saves, the God who knows, the God who is for us, the God who has done great things, the God who is holy, the God who is powerful, the God who is just, the God who is merciful, and the God who always fulfills His promises.

Maybe this season we would do well to turn off for a moment the happy, sentimental Christmas songs and sing the Christmas song of a frightened, teenage peasant girl who was scared for her life. Her song is not a song about a baby who "no crying he makes", but a song about a man who cried out, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Her song is not a song about sleigh rides in the snow, but a Savior on a cross. Mary’s song was a song of faith! Will you sing with her? If you do, you may feel something inside you leap for joy!

Pastor Wes

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Divorce and Church Leadership

Recently we studied the topic of “Divorce and Remarriage” in our Sunday night “Hard Questions” series. We were unable (due to time) to get to implications for church leadership. As promised, here our some notes to reflect on.

The debate really centers on the meaning of the qualification μιας γυναικος ανδρα, usually translated "husband of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3 for both pastors (elders) as well as deacons.

A few cautions:

1. Too Inclusive: Some, in the name of grace, want to lower the bar and make it easier for people to qualify as elders or deacons. This is usually because someone “knows someone” who they think should qualify rather than starting with the Scripture.

2. Too Exclusive: Others will wish to raise the bar and make it more difficult to qualify.

3. We should not make the qualifications of pastor/deacon any more inclusive or exclusive than God does. We must let the text say what it says, regardless of how difficult or unpopular it may be. Scripture is not written to back up our preferences.

Views on “husband of one wife”

1. Polygamy: Some say the phrase should be taken to mean that a polygamist is not qualified to be a pastor or deacon. This is the most literal interpretation of the phrase. Though I have been quick to dismiss this view in the pastor, there is a credible argument to be made on this point. D.A. Carson, for instance, argues that Paul is talking about those who have come into the church from the “outside” world, which would have had polygamist. As a mark of church leadership, pastors and deacons should be models for the “one-wife” picture of Genesis 2. Though credible, I am not convinced (yet) that this is what Paul is addressing directly (though indirectly in certainly applies).

2. Married, not single: This is remotely possible since the Sanhedrin—an elder sort of leadership body—required that its members be married, because a married man would be more merciful in his judgment. That Paul is requiring that all church elders and deacons be married seems unlikely, since Paul himself was not married, and actually argues for greater ministry freedom for the unmarried (1 Corinthians 7). The apostle Peter calls himself a fellow elder in 1 Peter 5:1: “Now the presbyters among you, I, who am fellow presbyter and witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that will be revealed, exhort: shepherd the flock of God among you, being overseers....”

3. Moral Purity: This would indicate that a pastor or deacon must be absolutely loyal to the woman he is married to. This interpretation focuses more on moral purity than marital status. Given the additional clause of “above reproach” moral purity is most certainly apart of the qualifications whether that is what is meant by “husband of one wife” or not.

4. One Marriage (no divorce): The phrase could also be understood to declare that in order to be an elder/deacon/pastor, a man can only have been married once, meaning his has never been divorced. The problem with this view is that someone could be divorced and never have remarried and would not have broken this qualification theoretically. In other words, since singleness is clearly not apart of the discussion (see comments above) and a man has divorced by not remarried, one could not argue that “being the husband of one wife” has been broken based upon the divorce alone.

It is noteworthy that Paul doesn’t say “no divorce” he says “husband of one wife.” If that is what Paul meant, it would have been easy to make such a statement clear. In addition, the Bible provides grounds for divorce: adultery (Mt. 19:9) and abandonment of a non-believing spouse (1 Cor. 7:15). This does not settle the question about pastors and divorce, but it does tell us to acknowledge that a pastor, like anyone else, can be the innocent victim of a spouse’s covenant-breaking sin. Moreover, the biblical standards for the office of elder – which includes pastors – contain guidance about marriage.

Therefore, if a man can justly (keeping within biblical guidelines) divorce his wife it doesn’t not necessarily make him unqualified (it doesn’t guarantee that he is qualified either).

What it does mean?

Interpretations 1) and 3) are the most likely. Interpretation 4) seems to be unlikely, primarily because Scripture clear permits (though doesn’t command) divorce in exceptional circumstances (Matthew 19). Since, therefore, the phrase “husband of one wife” do not necessarily exclude a divorced man from serving as an elder/deacon/pastor, there are other issues to consider one must consider.

1. “Above reproach”: The divorce could have occurred in a way that disqualifies a man over this. The means circumstances of the divorce matter. If the man committed adultery and abandoned his wife and children, then he has broken this qualification. But if the man was the innocent party or and if the man has gained the respect of Christians and non-believers by his subsequent conduct in marriage, then I do not see why his divorce renders him less than “above reproach.”

2. “Manage his household well”: Paul links the man’s ability to lead the church as demonstrated in his ability to lead his family. If the divorce someone breaks this then he would be disqualified. However, if the divorce is not a reflection on the man’s leadership (and there are certain examples of this) then the divorce does not necessarily disqualify.

3. Did he remarry? If he divorced for non-biblical reasons and remarried then he is not a “one-woman man” and would be disqualified based on this qualification. See Luke 16:10 and Mark 10:10-12.

4. Is he sexually faithful? Regardless of divorce or no divorce, is he currently sexually faithful to his wife.

Additional comments on the phrase “husband of one wife”

“The phrase literally reads, "one-woman man." As simple as that sounds, it has been the subject of numerous interpretations....(some) have interpreted the phrase to mean that a candidate for overseer must never have been divorced in his life...But this seems to be too light of Jesus' words in Matthew 19:9, where he permits--though He does not promote--divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality. So what does 'husband of one wife' mean? Taken in its most basic sense, it means that an overseer, if married, must be married to only one woman (which excludes bigamy, polygamy, and homosexuality) and must be devoted to his wife (which excludes promiscuity and an unhealthy marriage)." (Chuck Swindoll, Guide to 1st Timothy, pg 41)

"Paul is not referring to a leader's marital status...rather the issue is his moral, sexual behavior. Many men married only once are not one-woman men. Many with one wife are unfaithful to that wife. While remaining married to one woman is commendable, it is not indication or guarantee of moral purity. Some may wonder why Paul begins his list with this quality. He does so because it is in this area, above all others, where leaders seem most prone to fall. The failure to be a one-woman man has put more men out of the ministry than any other sin. It is thus a matter of grave concern. The Scriptures permit and honor second marriages under the proper circumstances....Still others hold that this qualification excludes divorced men, from spiritual leadership. That again, ignores the fact that Paul is not referring to marital status. Nor does the Bible forbid all remarriage after a divorce. In Matthew 5;31-32 and Matthew 19:9, our Lord permitted remarriage when a divorce was caused by adultery." (John Macarthur)

Final Comments

1. Therefore I believe what Paul has in mind is that to be the “husband of one wife” or “a one-woman man” means that…

a. If married, he is morally pure and faithful to his wife (obvious from text).
b. Not a polygamist (obvious from text).
c. If divorced, he was not the guilty part and the divorce was on biblical grounds (from other Scriptures and “above reproach” clause).
d. If divorced, the divorce did not bring reproach on his name nor bring question to his ability to lead and manage his family (from the “above reproach” and “manage his household well” clause).
e. If divorced and remarried, does the remarriage make him unable to be considered a “one-woman man?” If divorced and remains single (given the above is true) then he is still qualified as well.

2. Grace makes clear that all sin is forgiven in the cross, but it also calls for us to hold church leaders to a high standard.

3. It is important to remember, though, that just because a man is disqualified from serving as an elder/deacon/pastor, he is still a valuable member of the body of Christ and can (and should) serve in many other key leadership positions.

Pastor Wes

Monday, December 6, 2010


The homosexuality debate is one of the most important issues facing the church today, specifically whether homosexuals are biologically predisposed or if such a lifestyle is a matter of choice. Most evangelicals are committed to the view that homosexuality is a self-consciously chosen sexual preference (and an immoral one at that). On the other hand, many homosexuals would argue homosexuality is caused, not chosen. According to such a view, homosexuals are born predisposed to such tendencies, often emerging later in life, but have been possessed from birth. So how should a Christian respond?

Relevance to the Homosexual Community

The possibility of biological factors influencing or determining an individual’s drive towards homosexual behaviors has significant implications for most homosexuals. First of all, many in the homosexual community see biological predetermination as grounds for recognized rights. “A major goal of the homosexual-rights movement has been to stipulate a biological cause of homosexuality, in order to shift the discussion of homosexuality from morality to minority rights.”[i] If homosexuality is caused from birth, and is therefore not merely the choice of the individual, advocates believe rights should be given to homosexuals like any other minority. For many homosexuals, biological determination removes any notion of blame and should lead to accepted sexual orientation. “It could gain them the civil-rights protections accorded any ‘natural’ minority…”[ii] It is important to mention that not all in the homosexual community are concerned with whether or not there is a biological connection, for them homosexuality is legitimate either way.

Biological predisposition also raises the question of whether homosexuality should become an accepted moral lifestyle. “It then becomes necessary to accept human sexual diversity rather than to find ways to limit it. The question becomes less of a moral one and more a statement of biological fact.”[iii] One should understand, however, that there is a difference between giving rights to homosexuals and accepting the lifestyle completely.

If there is a biological connection, many homosexuals will want to go as far as to say that homosexuality is therefore moral and given as a gift from God. “A homosexual man could claim that because he inherited the gay gene and did not choose a gay orientation by his own free will, he is morally innocent.”[iv] According to their view, if homosexuality is biological then it must be natural, and if natural, it must be moral. Many homosexuals even want to claim that God has gifted some with homosexual desires. Notice this chilling article written by a gay woman:

Yes, God has called me. He did not just choose just my mind, just my body, just my speaking ability, just my caring. He chose me—the total and complete me. He not only chose me, but he made me. He has gifted me and a portion of that gift is my being gay. Yes, being gay is a gift from God and we are called by this same loving God to be the best, total, loving persons we can be. To do this, we must learn to love ourselves as God loves us—completely, unconditionally, totally—with all our gifts, including, and maybe especially, our gift of gayness.[v]

The progression of thought is clearly seen. Genetic homosexuality starts with rights, leads to acceptability, and concludes, at least in part, with morality and God-given approval. The homosexual community claims “homosexual behavior is naturally occurring, morally blameless behavior which should find expression.”[vi]

The importance of the issue is obvious. The next question that must be answered is whether or not there is any proof to makes any biological connection with homosexuality? Does the homosexual community have any grounds to make a case for predisposition upon birth? Is homosexuality volitional or is it a matter of genetics?

Overview of research

Research related to Twins

One of the most common studies conducted concerning homosexuality and biological influence is the genetic similarities found in twins. A popular study, done by Bailey and Pillard, compared fifty-six monozygotic twins, fifty-four dizygotic twins, and fifty-seven nongenetically related adopted brothers.[vii] These experiments tried to pin point particular genes with particular traits. The idea is that the more genes an individual shares with another, especially in situations like identical twins, the more common traits that should be found. In this particular study, Bailey and Pillard found that 52 percent of monozygotic twins were both gay, 22 percent of dizygotic twins were found to be gay, while only eleven percent of adoptive brothers were shown to be gay.[viii] Bailey and Pillard did a similar study on lesbian women, and the results were practically the same. These results show, at least on the surface, that there seems to be some connection between the genes and the commonality of traits found. Bailey and Pillard concluded that genetics explain a significant amount of the reason why people have a homosexual orientation.[ix] Their study alone has left many believing that homosexuality is genetically caused after all.

Prenatal Neurohormonal Hypothesis

This hypothesis, most attributed to Ellis and Ames, focuses on the 5th month of gestation for fetuses. They tried to show that sexual orientation is based upon the sexual differentiation of the gonads and the brain determined by the neurohormonal interactions.[x] Amounts of testosterone can affect the gonads and the hypothalamus to develop according to the male pattern. For a male, if there is not enough testosterone, female development could occur. Therefore, male homosexuality would occur from a feminization of the brain, while female homosexuality would occur from an overexposure to testosterone.[xi] There was a study done in 1985 showing an increase in female homosexuality and bi-sexual preferences because of over exposure to male testosterone. Similar experiments were done on female rats, when after injected with a dose of estrogen, responded with a release of luteinizing hormone (LH). The researchers thought there was evidence that a “feminized brain” was a result of early brain patters before birth.[xii]

Neuroanatomical Evidence

Another hypothesis given by Simon LeVay, tried to show how sections of the brain determined the sexual orientation of the individual. For homosexual men, the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus is smaller than that of heterosexual males. LeVay scanned the brain of 41 cadavers, including 19 homosexual males.[xiii] His findings showed that a cluster of neurons known as INAH 3 was more than twice as large in heterosexual males as in the homosexual males. This has left many suggesting that the INAH 3 is dimorphic for sexual orientation and may constitute a biological substrate for homosexuality.[xiv]

The Gay Gene hypothesis

Finally, there have also been studies done trying to show whether or not an actual “gay gene” exists. Dean Hamer did the most popular study in 1993, were Hamer and his colleagues tested 76 men who had homosexual brothers as well as homosexual tendencies themselves. They examined the X chromosomes of these men and found that 33 of 40 brothers shared similar chromosomes. Because of these high numbers, many researchers believed that chromosomes played a large role in determining the sexual orientation of the individual.[xv]

Critique of the research

Research related to Twins critiqued

There are some serious problems surrounding the research of Bailey and Pillard. The first problem is with the research itself. At least in part, the research that Bailey and Pillard conducted dealt specifically with identical twins, yet only 52% had a probable connection. Chandler Burr has it exactly right when he writes:

Ironically, what the study actually demonstrates is that homosexuality is not purely genetic. Identical twins—clones—have the same genomes exactly. If sexual orientation were 100 percent genetic, then 100 percent of all identical twins would have the same sexual orientations. But they clearly don’t. Only about 50 percent of them do, so the other 50 percent must be nongenetic.[xvi]

Even the 50% findings have been called into question. As Jones and Yarhouse point out, even Bailey himself acknowledges that some of their findings were flawed.[xvii] Research concerning twins also points to different conclusions as well. A study done by McDonald in 1992 found a high degree of discordance for sexual orientation for men and woman who were twins.[xviii] The evidence found in the studies related to twins is inconclusive at best.

Prenatal Neurohormonal Hypothesis critiqued

As with the study on twins, other research has shown different results concerning the role of testosterone and its affects on the brain. A study done by Gooren (1986) “demonstrated that the LH response to estrogen could not discriminate between homosexual and heterosexual men and suggested that the findings of the preceding study may have been due to a failure of investigating the entire hormonal picture involved in the LH response.”[xix] In recent years the research for this hypothesis has become less convincing, especially in its effect on female orientation towards homosexuality. It is doubted that it results in any females, and even the findings for men lack solid evidence.[xx]

Neuroanatomical Evidence critiqued

Regarding LeVay’s research, it is widely held that his findings do not give any certainty and at best do not go far enough. Schoenfeld has pointed out that the brain is a product not only of genetic directions but also of early experience and social environment.[xxi] Therefore, since the brain is affected by many different factors, it is impossible to make conclusions by focusing on one area only.

Another problem with LeVay’s research is related to the individuals he used for his experiments. Most of the individuals he used died of AIDS, and therefore no attention was given to the type of sexual involvement practiced prior to death. A virus such as AIDS could have a tremendous impact on the INAH 3. There has been little research to result in the same kind of statistics that LeVay’s has reported, not to mention research that has shown larger structural differences in the brain for homosexual males.[xxii]

The Gay Gene hypothesis critiqued

The first main problem with the “gay gene” theory is that of replication. Chandler Burr has rightly noted, “Replication in science is everything…Researchers can do a study, find the answer to the question of life itself, but if no one can repeat the work and arrive at the same results, the effort is, for all practical purposes, worthless.”[xxiii] So far, Hamer’s research has not been replicated enough to cause a significant impact yet. Even now there seems to be little relationship between the chromosomal markers and the actual sexual orientation of the individual.[xxiv] Many other inconsistencies remain, such as nonhomosexual brothers who share the same chromosomal markers but not the same sexual orientation.[xxv]

In conclusion, given the research concerning the biological connection of homosexuality the results are at best inconclusive. Even those from the homosexual community admit, “That genes do play some role in homosexuality seems to be almost certain, that environment plays some role in homosexuality seems just as certain, but we are still a long way from sorting out the respective components.”[xxvi] However, what if in the coming years more research points us towards biological predisposition for homosexuals? How should evangelicals respond to this issue in the midst of a wide range, and often confusing, scientific opinions?

An evangelical response

Many evangelicals are perplexed concerning the issue of biological causality for homosexual lifestyles. The simple, off-the-cuff answer “it is just a choice” will no longer suffice in the face of twenty-first century research. Many conservatives have viewed homosexuality more as a lifestyle or a disease than anything having to do with biological orientation.[xxvii] However, as Chandler Burr points out, if all conservatives can say about this issue is “it’s a choice” they may find themselves with the painful reality of being proven wrong.[xxviii] The research has already been seen to be mostly inconclusive and unconvincing at the present, but what if the research leans towards a biological connection in the future? Will evangelicals be ready with the proper response? The fact is, despite what science concludes, evangelicals do not have to compromise biblical truth.

Biological Orientation would not eliminate responsibility for actions.

Every individual is responsible for his or her actions despite their genetic make up. Genes do not make us guilty; our evil actions and desires make us guilty.[xxix] In a postmodern culture, individuals are willing to place blame on anything but themselves. However, a genetic link to homosexual tendencies does not elevate one from the responsibility to avoid such actions. Accepting the fact that there is a biological predisposition to homosexuality no more excuses such behavior than does an overdose of male sex hormones excuse a heterosexual rapist of his behavior.[xxx] Dr. R. Albert Mohler correctly notes,

A genetic basis—unlikely in the extreme—would, if objectively established, not carry great theological importance. A genetic link may be established for any number of behaviors and patterns, but this does not diminish the moral significance of those acts nor the responsibility of the individual. Genetic links have been claimed for everything from diabetes and alcoholism to patterns of watching television.[xxxi]

Biological Orientation would not change the biblical view that all are born sinful.

The person contending with inclinations to homosexual behavior, then, ought to view such a predisposition as “a kind of symptomatic participation in the fate of the fallen world,” on the same level as our other inclinations to act in defiance to God’s plan for his creation.[xxxii] The Bible teaches that all of us are born sinful with a predisposition to sin. We are born with natures that hate God and desire nothing more than to live in defiance to His created order.[xxxiii] Chandler Burr may be right when he claims, “The gay gene is a remarkable vindication of conservative ideas about human nature and may offer one of the most devastating refutations of liberalism we have yet seen.”[xxxiv] As evangelicals who hold to the teachings of Scripture that all have sinful predispositions, a biological connection to homosexuality, if proven, does not affect the sinful nature of homosexuality.

Biological Orientation would still make homosexuality a biblically sinful lifestyle.
Even if homosexuality had proven biological tendencies, it would not change what the Scriptures teach us concerning homosexual behavior. Leviticus 18:22 teaches that homosexual behavior is an abomination to the Lord, while 20:13 speaks of it as a detestable act. Paul explains it in Romans 1:26-27 as a degrading passion that is unnatural, while also listing it in 1 Cor 6:9 as describing someone that cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Last, but not least, Paul also lists homosexuals beside immoral men in 1 Timothy 1:10. Although the hermeneutics of biblical interpretation would be questioned from many in the homosexual community, most evangelicals can agree that a biological predisposition would not change the stance of the Bible, but would rather serve to all the more prove it.


In a cloud of inconclusive data and in a culture of inconceivable challenges, the evangelical position is poised to make a stand. The issue is important on both sides of the aisle. Homosexuals want their lifestyle to be accepted as natural and moral and the call for biological confirmation is louder than ever. However, the point is clear, no direct coloration can be established for biological predisposition to homosexuality, and if there was, it would not change the immorality of homosexuality. So whether homosexuality is caused or chosen, biological or psychological, the evangelical can stand up for truth no matter what the next season of science may bring.

[i] R. Albert Mohler, “When science is enslaved to social agendas: what should the church think of the ‘gay gene’ studies?” World Magazine 31 Jul (1993) 22.
[ii] David, Gelman. “Born or Bred?” Newsweek 24 F (1992) 48.
[iii] Allan P Drew. “Genes and Human Behavior: The Emerging Paradigm.” Zygon 32 Mar (1997) 47.
[iv] Ted Peters, Playing God? (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), 96.
[v] Unknown. “From Abomination to Blessing: The Gift of Being Gay.” Theological Pastoral Resources Aug (1981), 74.
[vi] Jones, Stanton L. and Yarhouse, Mark A. “A Critique of Materialist Assumptions in Interpretations of Research on Homosexuality.” Christian Scholar’s Review 4 Nov (1997), 482.
[vii] Chandler, Burr A Separate Creation (New York: Hyperion, 1996), 35.
[viii] Ibid., 35.
[ix] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality: the use of scientific research in the church’s moral debate, 72.
[x] Sherwood O Cole. “The Biological Basis of Homosexuality: A Christian Assessment.” Journal of Psychology and Theology Sum (1995), 92.
[xi] Ibid, 92.
[xii] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality: the use of scientific research in the church’s moral debate, 63.
[xiii] David Gelman. “Born or Bred?” Newsweek 24 F (1992) 48.
[xiv] Cole, Sherwood O. “The Biological Basis of Homosexuality: A Christian Assessment.” Journal of Psychology and Theology Sum (1995), 94.
[xv] Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: the use of scientific research in the church’s moral debate, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 79-80.
[xvi] Chandler, Burr A Separate Creation (New York: Hyperion, 1996), 47.
[xvii] Jones, Stanton L. and Yarhouse, Mark A. “The Incredibly Shrinking Gay Gene.” Christianity Today Oct 4 (1999), 53.
[xviii] Cole, Sherwood O. “The Biological Basis of Homosexuality: A Christian Assessment.” Journal of Psychology and Theology Sum (1995), 91.
[xix] Ibid., 93.
[xx] Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: the use of scientific research in the church’s moral debate, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), pg 79-80.
[xxi] Drew, Allan P. “Genes and Human Behavior: The Emerging Paradigm.” Zygon 32 Mar (1997) 44.
[xxii] Cole, Sherwood O. “The Biological Basis of Homosexuality: A Christian Assessment.” Journal of Psychology and Theology Sum (1995), 94.
[xxiii] Chandler, Burr A Separate Creation (New York: Hyperion, 1996), 42.
[xxiv] Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: the use of scientific research in the church’s moral debate, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), pg 80-81.
[xxv] Ibid, 81.
[xxvi] Geoff Puterbaugh, Twins and Homosexuality (New York: Garland, 1990), 117.
[xxvii] Burr, Chandler (Why conservatives should embrace the Gay Gene) Retrieved April 2004,
[xxviii] Ibid, 2.
[xxix] Ted Peters, Playing God? (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), 109.
[xxx] Cole, Sherwood O. “The Biological Basis of Homosexuality: A Christian Assessment.” Journal of Psychology and Theology Sum (1995), 96.
[xxxi] Mohler, R. Albert. “Homosexuality in theological perspective: toward an evangelical response.” Oct 29-31 (1993), 21.
[xxxii] Jones, Stanton L. and Yarhouse, Mark A. “A Critique of Materialist Assumptions in Interpretations of Research on Homosexuality.” Christian Scholar’s Review 4 Nov (1997), 494.
[xxxiii] Romans 3:10-11, 23. Eph 2:1-3.
[xxxiv] Burr, Chandler (Why conservatives should embrace the Gay Gene) Retrieved April 2004,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is Baptism a prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper?

Recently in conducting the Lord’s Supper I made a comment that in order to partake one needed to have been scripturally baptized and a member of a church of like faith and practice. There were a few who had never heard this before and wondered why Baptists hold to this order. Last night, in our Sunday evening Bible Study I taught on this topic and the following is an overview of what we discussed....

There are two ordinances in the New Testament, namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They work in relation to one another as a proclamation of the gospel in the life of the church. Therefore, we must first understand what the purpose of each ordinance is before we can see how they work together.

A (very) brief overview of baptism as a church ordinance

* The SUBJECT of New Testament baptism was someone who had repented of sin and exercised faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we believe strongly that baptism is only for believers (hence the name “believers baptism”). Therefore, baptism is not baptism if the person is not a genuine believer in Jesus Christ. This would, of course, rule out people who have not exercised faith or were unable to (as in infants) at the time of their “baptism.”

* The MODE of New Testament baptism was immersion, namely the submerging of the believer completely under the water. The very meaning of the word “baptizo” is to “dip” or “immerse.” Therefore, we believe strongly that baptism is only by immersion. This would, of course, eliminate sprinkling or pouring as legitimate forms of baptism.

* The RELATIONSHIP of New Testament baptism is to the local fellowship of believers. Therefore, we believer strongly that baptism is a church ordinance, not an individual act. It is to be done under the accountability and oversight of the local congregation as a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus in that church and in the individual’s life.

* The TIMING of New Testament baptism is in relationship to the individual’s conversion. Therefore, we strongly believe that the Bible teaches that the Bible is the first sign of obedience and testimony in the believer’s life. Though the believer is not necessarily baptized within seconds of exercising faith, baptism is something that should be done sooner rather than later if the person has genuinely believed. So baptism is closely connect with the sign of conversion in that it symbolizes the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16) and one’s union with Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Col 2:11-12).

A (very) brief overview of the Lord’s Supper as a church ordinance

* The SUBJECT of the Lord’s supper is an individual who has expressed their union with Christ and is in fellowship with other believers (more on this to come).

* The MODE of the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine (or the fruit of the vine). This is represented in the Passover feast and faithful to Jesus’ instruction with his disciples in the Upper Room.

* The TIMING of the Lord’s Supper is ongoing. Unlike baptism, the Lord’s Supper is repeated in the life of the church because whereas baptism is the initial act symbolizing conversion, the Lord’s Supper is the ongoing act of remembering the accomplished work of Christ and the future kingdom of God.

* The RELATIONSHIP of the Lord’s Supper is to the unity of the church and unity in Christ. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The Lord’s Supper represents accountability within the church, both personally and corporately.

So why does biblical baptism need to occur before participation in the Lord’s Supper?

The order of the Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20
1) All authority belongs to Jesus.

2) The church is to go into all nations (evangelism/missions).

3) “Baptizing” them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is recognized as “conversion” because baptism is (as stated above) the initial sign of one’s union with Christ and forgiveness of sins.

4) Then, comes “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Clearly, fulfilling the command of observing the Lord’s Supper falls here and not before.

Therefore, it is after conversion, which is seen publicly and symbolically through baptism that a person would gather with other believers (the church) in participation of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

The pattern of the early church: Acts 2:41-42

1) Peter preaches the gospel.

2) They “believed” and were “baptized”.

3) After faith/baptism they were added to the “fellowship of believers”.

4) As apart of that fellowship with believers they devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, prayers, and “the breaking of bread”.

This is a clear example of the order we see in the Great Commission, namely evangelism, conversion/baptism, and then participation in the life of the church (which would include gathering for the Lord’s Supper). It should be noted that there is no biblical evidence of their being any different pattern than this in the NT.

The Logical placement of Baptism and Lord’s Supper

If baptism is the initial sign of identity with Christ and His body, then it only makes sense that a believer would NOT join with believers in partaking of the Lord’s Supper without first express such union in the way Scripture teaches (i.e. believers baptism).

Baptist Confession

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper. The Baptist Faith & Message [2000]

Objections to Consistent Communion

The case cannot clearly be made from passages like Matthew 28:18–20.

Answer: Though the topic is not directly addressed, it is a natural assumption derived from these passages. Assuming that the “all things” of Matthew 28:19 includes everything which Jesus taught, it is only logical that his teaching regarding communion.

You shouldn’t prevent someone over something as small as disagreeing on the “mode of baptism.”

Answer: You are assuming that Scripture isn’t clear on the right mode of baptism and therefore one’s “opinion” of baptism trumps the clear teaching of the NT. As a result, you are asking the church to compromise their clear conviction of NT baptism for the sake of inclusion.

The Lord’s Supper is a Christian ordinance given to the church universal.

In the New Testament, it was local congregations that “broke bread” together. It was when the congregation was gathered that believers were instructed to examine themselves before partaking. There are no examples in the New Testament of the Lord’s Supper occurring outside of the context of a local church gathering.

Pastor Wes

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life and Death: meditations on the restoration of all things

Over the past couple of weeks my family has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. Two weeks ago this Friday we welcomed our 3rd child (Ashlyn Grace) into the world, and a week ago this Saturday we lost my father-in-law who went home to be with Jesus. On one hand, we have experienced the joy of new life. On the other hand, we have experienced the sadness and grief of death. And as I have reflected these past few days on these events I a reminded that is precisely what we are seeing taking place all around us. When one studies the narrative of Scripture, two main themes emerge: “new birth” and the “curse of death.”

“Curse of Death”: Since the Fall of humanity, all of mankind has been born in sin and died as a result. After the sin of Adam and Eve God places a curse upon them and the creation (Genesis 3) and the pattern of Scripture after that is we are “born” and then we “die” (Genesis 5). After all the wages of sin is death (Romans 5) and the entire creation has been subjected to futility (Romans 8). The imagery that Paul uses to explain this curse is “birth pains” an experience that is blazed into my mind after two weeks ago. Our first two deliveries went fairly smooth, this one did not. I will spare you the details, but this husband/father got caught up in the intensity of the moment. The anticipation got stronger, the pains of birth (at least for my wife) continued to mount, and I longed for it to be over and see our new gift of life.

Yet I could not help but think that this is exactly what all of God's children are experiencing. Paul writes in Romans 8:22, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth." Jesus said in Matthew 24:8, speaking of the tribulation, "All these are the beginning of birth pains." There is absolutely nothing joyful about the “birthing process” outside of the fact that we know what is coming is “new life.”

So as I watched my wife suffer the pains of childbirth, I also became aware of the birth pains I see all around me. A father-in-law dying of cancer, a church member with an alcoholic family, hurricanes that destroy cities in a matter of moments, a family that holds grudges and refuses to forgive, a body that grows older and older by the day, a father who decides to just walk away from his family, a baby who dies at an early age, nations that rage, and people who think life is all about them...oh how I long for NEW BIRTH!! Not just for a baby, but for a fallen world! As we see numerous birth pains all around us we know that there is nothing joyful about it, other than the fact that you know it’s pointing you to new life, a future resurrection that is kept by the power of God in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).

“New Birth”: Most Christians have been taught to believe that the “ultimate” future is heaven. This is not, however, what Scripture teaches. Our future hope is a new creation, a city that comes down rather than us going up (see Rev 21). The separation of the spirit and body is not according to the original design of God (Genesis 1-2) and while to be absent form the body is to be present with the Lord, a future resurrection in a restored creation is the new birth we are all longing for.

Not only is new birth the ultimate future reality for those who are in Christ, the promise of this new life is tasted of through genuine conversion now. The transformation we see in our lives as we come by faith to a resurrected Messiah is a transformation of death to life, of cursed to blessed, of slave to free. This theme is all over the biblical narrative. Ezekiel speaks of a day when we will be washed with water, which Jesus shares with Nicodemus when he tells him you must be “born again” (John 3). Jeremiah speaks of a covenant when we will have a heart of flesh and “know the Lord” (Jer 31). Paul uses this imagery in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he says that if you are “in Christ” you are a “new creation.” In other words, what we are longing for eternally, namely a new birth, we are able to experience the first fruit of now “in Christ.” After all, the narrative of Scripture boils down to whether or not you are “in Adam” and dead or “in Christ” and alive (see 1 Corinthians 15).

What my family has experienced in a 1 week time frame is the very same experience we are all facing if we will just look around. There are images of new birth and images of death all around us and each one is saying something to us about a future reality and a future hope.

We waited, and the day finally came when our little girl was born into the world. What a wonderful day that was! After all new birth is a beautiful thing.

We waited, for the day when my father-in-law would take his last breath. And as we laid his body to rest today in a grave that will one day be opened with a trumpet shout, I am reminded that we must all wait for a day when the skies will be opened and our Savior will return to make all things new. What a wonderful day that will be! After all new birth is a beautiful thing.

Awaiting the Restoration of all things,
Pastor Wes

Monday, August 2, 2010

Speaking in Tongues (a reflection on the Great Debate 2)

We had another great evening last night as we hosted our second “Great Debate” at TBC. Our topic was on the gift of speaking in tongues. We were blessed to have Pastor Ron Strack from Meadowbrook Community church in Champaign, IL representing the Charismatic viewpoint, Dr. Alan Phillips Jr. from Bloomington, IL representing the Open but Cautious view, and Dr. Mark Coppenger from Evanston, IL representing the Cessationist view. These three men handled themselves with class, humility, and gave challenging insights to God’s Word. I am deeply grateful to each of these men for their contributions to our event.

My post is not to rehash the discussion from last night, but to provide some additional thoughts on the issue of speaking in tongues. As moderator, I did my best to remain neutral. As pastor, I want to add some thoughts regarding the issue.

The Church: A Theological Framework

In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul uses specific language to describe the Church. He describes the Church as, “God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (2:19-20). This is a very important description in my mind. Paul recognizes that the “chief” cornerstone is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection so that “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11; 15:3-4).

The next building stage is the work of the Apostles and prophets, not because the work of Christ is insufficient, but in order to carry out the mission Jesus gave His followers (Matthew 28). Therefore, the Apostles have a unique role in spreading a revelatory Word in the mission of Christ as He builds His church (Matthew 16). So the finished work of Christ is joined with the Apostolic witness, which was to provide revelatory, infallible witness through the Holy Spirit that would bring about sacred Scripture and the spread of the gospel to the nations.

Just as Christ would not be on earth permanently, neither would the Apostles (the office or the gifts associated with it as I will argue later). How do we know that the Apostolic office was temporary? First of all, to be an Apostle you had to be an eye-witness of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:21-26 and 1 Corinthians 9:1). Secondly, Paul viewed himself as the final Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:7-9). Thirdly, (and yes I realize this is an argument from silence) we never hear of the office again. Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith, is never viewed as having Apostolic authority but rather is encouraged by his “father-in-the-faith” to study the Scriptures “which are able to make you wise” and “rightly handle the word of truth.”

The Apostolic Age: Signs and Wonders

In addition to the office and role of Apostle, Jesus said that “signs and wonders” would accompany the spreading of the gospel, which is in the context of the Apostolic witness moving forward.

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

One should first note that there is a lot of discussion as whether or not these verses are in the original manuscripts. That said, Jesus says that these signs will accompany the spreading of the gospel (“those who believe”). Therefore, they are intended demonstrate the authenticity of the gospel. One of these signs is “glossolalia” which Jesus described as “new” languages. "New" meaning unknown to the speaker. Therefore, as the gospel is going forward one of the signs that will accompany it will be the ability to speak in languages “unknown” by the speaker. This interpretation is enhanced and supported in how the story unfolds in the book of Acts.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)

In Acts 2, the Spirit comes down and fills the Apostles and they began to speak in other tongues (glossolalia) just as Jesus had said and just as the prophet Joel had prophesied (Joel 2). Peter himself refers to this in Acts 2. Yet Jesus mentioned that these signs would serve so that people “would believe.” This is why through the gift of tongues and the proclamation of the gospel (Acts 2) Peter concludes that it was to “let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (vs. 32)." In other words, this event was to show the Jews that Jesus was who he said he was (proclamation of the gospel).

Some important facts:

1. It is clear in this passage that the gift of tongues was a known language because the response of those who heard it was "are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? (vs. 8-9) What was amazing was that these speakers were speaking in a language they did not previous know.

2. The content of the message was concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ so as to prepare their hearts to come to faith in Christ. So the miracle of the gift was to draw attention to the gospel.

3. Only existing believers received this gift and there is no evidence that new converts received such a gift after coming to faith in Christ. The gift they received was the Holy Spirit Himself. (2:38)

This event continued at other times in the book of Acts.

Acts 10:46—what happened in Acts 2 to the Jews, happened again to the Gentiles in Acts 10. God manifested Himself again for the Gentiles. Once again the purpose of the gift was to verify that the Father was active in saving people (now to the Gentiles) by sending His Son and Spirit.

Acts 19:6—the experience of Jews and Gentiles is now occurring for the followers of John the Baptist. This is the third and final time in the book of Acts. In all cases the gift is public, communicates the gospel, and verifies who Jesus is for three different groups.

Also, there are instances of the coming of the Holy Spirit without any record of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:41-42, 8:12, 9:17-19).

Other comments from the book of Acts

Many Continuationists have concluded that “being filled with the Spirit” resulted in speaking in tongues, prophesying, and/or performing miracles. However, in all of the verses that speak about “being filled with the Spirit” not a single one mentions speaking in tongues. Rather in all of these occasions the individuals spoke the word with boldness. Therefore, to be filled with the Spirit should refer more to bold evangelism rather than speaking in tongues. (4:8,31; 13:9,52)

The Apostle Paul and the Corinthian church

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away, For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (1 Cor 13:8-10)

Paul is writing to an extremely unhealthy and fractured church that was caught up in paganism and therefore he must reeducate them on the proper place of tongues. Unlike the churches in Jerusalem and Ephesus, the use of tongues in Corinth was unintelligible and had caused division. Paul does confirm that speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift (though among the least 14:1) though it is not possessed by every Christian (12:30).

What is very clear from this passage is that tongues and prophecies will pass away or cease, so cessationism is true on some level. The point Paul wants to make here is to compare love (eternal) to gifts (passing). Now two important questions emerge: why tongue and prophecies and when do they cease?

Why tongues and prophecies? It’s simple. For Paul, tongues (when interpreted and under control) and prophecy work together because they are revelatory gifts (14:1-7). In fact, I would suggest that tongues, used properly, are a mode of prophecy. So these gifts are used together to bring revelation (see 14:14-19) in that it bypasses the intellect of the speaker and comes through the Holy Spirit.

When do they cease? Paul here is discussing present knowledge (which is partial) and future knowledge (which will be complete) when we see Christ (when the perfect comes). Many cessationists have argued that what Paul means here is the closing of the canon, or Bible. Continuationists would argue that the perfect is the Second Coming of Christ and therefore these gifts will continue until then.
Most likely, Paul does mean here the Second Coming and not the closed canon (because it assumes that Scripture is only sufficient when completed). However, just because it refers to the Second Coming does not prove a continuation of tongues/prophecies/etc. With this emphasis on partial knowledge, prophecy and tongues are no doubt singled out. But the time of their cessation is not the concern Paul has here. His stress is on the duration, until Christ returns, of our present, limited knowledge. So this passage does not teach that prophecy and tongues (revelatory gifts) will continue until the Second Coming, but only that they will pass. Complete knowledge will occur at the Second Coming.

2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb 2:2-4)

Notice once again the progression of revelation: “declared by the Lord,” and then “attested to us by those who heard” [Apostles] by the witness of “signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” The phrase “bore witness” is a present participle and therefore some argue that these “signs and wonders” continued on.
The participle, however, is a genitive absolute which means it must be linked to the main verb (“attested”) which is an aorist verb. Therefore, the “signs” happened in the past. In other words, at the time the Apostles “attested” the signs “bore witness.” So these verses are strong evidence that signs and wonders were connected with the witness of the Apostles. In addition, (though again an argument from silence) if the signs and wonders where happening for the author’s audience all he had to do was refer to the “signs and wonders” happening in their presence. Rather, he referred back to the “signs and wonders” associated with the Apostolic ministry. These verses further prove that the gifts of the Holy Spirit served to authenticate the gospel message during the early church.

Final Comments on Continuationism

First, passages such as Eph 5:18-20, 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19, and Jude 20 are often used to suggest the modern practices of speaking in tongues. However, glossolalia is never mentioned. Therefore, I do not believe these passages speak to the gift of tongues.

Second, based on what I see in Scripture (as detailed above) I personally have a hard time recognizing a correlation between the modern practice of tongue speaking and the biblical form as expressed during the Apostolic age.
Third, (I realize this is an arguement from history and not Scripture) it is hard for me to understand how outside of Montanus and a few of his followers in the later part of the second century, the emphasis on glossolalia was silent until the 19th century with the birth of Pentecostalism. If the gift of tongues is so foundational to the body of Christ, why was it silent for so long? Just a curiosity more than a dogmatic statement.

Theological Triage: keeping the main thing the main thing

In closing, I must admit that while I have biblical convictions regarding the gift of speaking in tongues, I would not want to break Christian fellowship over the issue. There are much more imporant topics (in relation to the gospel) that we cannot compromise on, namely the exclusivity of the gospel, the baptism of believers by immersion, the virgin birth, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and many others. Though we may disagree on the timing of the cessation of tongues, I would join with my charismatic brothers and sisters in defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ any day. For one Day, we’ll all be speaking the same language!

Pastor Wes

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: Crazy Love

While I was gone to the Southern Baptist Convention a few weeks ago I was able to catch up on some reading. One of the books I read was Crazy Love by Francis Chan. The book is excellent in that it challenges you to go beyond the status quo of Christianity and hunger for an authentic faith that is deeply in love with God.

Chan touches on a lot of important themes in the book. He talks about how our passion for God starts with seeing God for who He is. Most Christians get stuck in the status quo because their God is too small. Chan challenges us to think big about God, which will in turn cause us to be amazed at the fact that we get to have a relationship with Him.

He also devotes an entire chapter to lukewarm Christianity. We all know that we are not supposed to have that kind of faith, but we don't always know what lukewarm faith looks like. Chan (with Scripture references) lists the following descriptions of lukewarm faith:

  1. They attend church regularly because they believe that is "what good Christians do."
  2. Give money, as long as it doesn't threaten their standard of living.
  3. Care more about being saved from the penalty of sin, rather than actually being saved from sin. As a result, they don't geniunely hate sin they just don't want God to punish them for it.
  4. Are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, but assume that is just for "extreme" Christians.
  5. Rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends becaues they do not want to be rejected.
  6. Gauge their own morality be comparing themselves to the secular world.
  7. Jesus is "a part" of their lives.
  8. Love others, but not as much as they do themselves. They spend most of their time with people who are just like them.
  9. Think about life on earth much more than they do about eternity in heaven.
  10. Will do whatever it takes to keep themselves from feeling guilty.
  11. Like playing it safe, in fact they even structure their life so that they don't have to live faith.
  12. Probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren't very different from your typical unbeliever.

I don't know about you, but those are penetrating statements. I think most of the Christians in American can find at least a few of those that relate to their own walk with Christ. May we seek each day to learn what it truly means to take up a cross and follow Him.

One last helpful part of the book is when Chan gives real examples of people lived with a crazy love for God. So often we think that such committment is only for those in the Bible and that no one in the real world lives that way. He shares examples of members in his own congregation and many others to help the reader see that this is the life God has called all of us to live not just a few elite Christians.

I would encourage you to read this book and let God use it to minister to you as you seek to love Him more than ever before.

Pastor Wes

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why I’m proud to be a Southern Baptist: an overview of the Great Commission Resurgence from the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention.

Last week I attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, FL. One of the major topics of debate was the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommended by the Great Commission Task Force of the SBC. Since I realize that many of you will be unaware of what was recommended and approved, I will summarized the major propositions and then give you my feedback.

Proposition #1: Adopt a new mission statement.
“As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”

Proposition #2: Adopt Core values, as a Convention, which should define what we do and how we act. The core values were the following:

•CHRIST-LIKENESS: We depend on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer to make us more like Jesus Christ.
•TRUTH: We stand together in the truth of God’s inerrant Word, celebrating the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
•UNITY: We work together in love for the sake of the Gospel.
•RELATIONSHIPS: We consider others more important than ourselves.
•TRUST: We tell one another the truth in love and do what we say we will do.
•FUTURE: We value Southern Baptists of all generations and embrace our responsibility to pass this charge to a rising generation in every age, faithful until Jesus comes.
•LOCAL CHURCH: We believe the local church is given the authority, power, and responsibility to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world
•KINGDOM: We join other Christ-followers for the Gospel, the Kingdom of Christ, and the glory of God.

Proposition #3: Encourage Cooperative Program giving and other Great Commission giving.

Proposition #4: Refocus the North American Mission Board by focusing more on church planting, particular in more populated regions and areas beyond the southern states, and to slowly withdraw for current partnerships.

Proposition #5: Free up the International Mission Board to be able to focus on international people within the United States (which removes a previously held limitation).

Proposition #6: Promote the Cooperative Program more effectively and stress the importance of biblical stewardship.

Proposition #7: Increase the giving from the Executive Committee to the International Mission Board from 50% to 51%.

The Urgency of the Great Commission Resurgence

The following is from the report given by the GCR task force. If you are a Christian and these numbers do not lead you to weep, pray, and give, your heart has become calloused to the plan and purposes of God!

There are almost 7 billion human inhabitants of planet Earth. At the most generous estimate, somewhere around 1 billion are believing Christians. That means that over 6billion people are lost, without Christ, and thus without hope. Of these 6 billion, over 3.5 billion have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over 6,000 people groups are without any Christian witness. There is no way that Southern Baptists can make real progress toward reaching these unreached people groups unless we experience a genuine Great Commission Resurgence. We must see a tidal wave of evangelistic and missionary passion, or the numbers of unreached people groups will only grow, and lostness will spread.

In North America, evangelical Christians are falling behind the level of population growth. Put simply, we are failing to reach new immigrant populations, the teeming millions in urban areas, and a generation of youth and young adults who are living in a time of vast change and confused worldviews. Lostness is not only our concern when it is found across oceans – it must be our concern when it is across the street. North America represents a vast continent of lostness, where millions still have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and where many communities and ethnic groups are woefully underserved by Gospel churches.

In our own congregations, we see falling rates of baptism and other signs of concern. In 2008, Southern Baptist churches baptized more than 33,000 fewer people than in 1950 – and that was with more than 17,000 additional churches. Baptism rates among teenagers have fallen dramatically, and many young people become disengaged with the church soon after graduation from high school. In 2008 we baptized only 75,000 teenagers. In 1972, we baptized 140,000. Why?

Research conducted by LifeWay Research on the Millennial generation and research by Thom Rainer on previous generations indicate that every American generation from early in the twentieth century forward has been less evangelized than generations before. Tracing generational patterns from the World War II generation to the Millennials, the estimated number of Christians has fallen from 65 percent to 15 percent. Churches in America are losing ground with each successive generation.

We desperately need to reach our communities for Christ – and this starts with our own young people. Furthermore, we must see this generation of young Baptists take their places on the front lines of the Great Commission Resurgence. Humanly speaking, that is our only hope for a bold advance of the Gospel in the coming generation.

My Thoughts on the GCR and the future direction of the SBC

I have been Southern Baptist all my life. I have developed a deep appreciation for our heritage, our theological conviction, and our unwavering commitment to take the gospel to the nations. This is why I am Southern Baptist. I, as a young Southern Baptist pastor, have grown concerned over the past few years with the amount of money given to administration and pet programs at the expense of missions. I realize that healthy levels of administrative positions are needed to make organizations function, and leadership is critical for any convention. However, over the past several years more and more missionaries have been turned away while more and more money is spent on local programs.

When a Southern Baptist church gives to the Cooperative Program around 60% (it varies by state) of that money goes to the state convention while 40% goes to the national convention. The national convention then divides that 40% up between the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the six seminaries, and other agencies. While I am pro-state and local associations, there is a far greater need (in my opinion) that more money being going to send missionaries to places where the gospel is not known and churches are not established.

While I realize it is controversial to some, this committed Southern Baptist longs to see a day when local/state conventions, while still healthy and able to function, are trimmed down in such a way that more international missionaries are sent to the field. This means reprioritizing our convention, our churches, and our lives!

So why do I place my full support behind the GCR?

1.I think these changes mean that our best days are still ahead of us as we, as a convention, focus more than ever before on reaching the nations for Christ.

2.The GCR continues to emphasize the need for “cooperative” giving through the Cooperative Program. This is a foundational tie that holds Southern Baptists together.

3.We are simplifying! Just as the church has become over-programmed, we as a convention have become over-programmed and must get back to the simple goal (which should be reflected in our convention structure) of reaching people for Jesus.

4.The GCR focus on church planting. To be the largest Protestant denomination, we should be leading the way church planting around the world.

5.The GCR focuses on places beyond the South. While I am a Southern boy at heart, I live and pastor in a pioneer state (IL). We must reach the major cities and other populated areas in places other than the Southeastern region of our country.

I will close by giving some food for thought. To be honest, I have not thought through all of the following recommendations, but they are worth our consideration. The following recommendations are from our newly elected SBC president Bryant Wright who will serve in 2011. Dr Wright suggests:

1.That each state strive to keep no more than 25-30 percent of the CP funds in state. Funds staying in state currently range from 43-86 percent (see documentation here). The local church should be the primary vehicle in carrying out state and local missions.

2.That at least 50 percent of the CP funds from our local churches go to the International Mission Board (IMB) vs. the present average of approximately 16 percent. How can we keep saying that supporting the CP is supporting missions when only about 16 percent of the funds go to the IMB?

3.That we increase the percentage of funds directed to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to help us reach our nation for Christ, with a primary focus on church planting – especially in unreached areas.

4.That we dramatically increase the percentage of CP funds going to our seminaries that are training thousands of men and women who will lead the way in carrying out the Great Commission. The called in this younger generation have a passionate love for Christ and are willing to go to the hard places.

Wright admits, “this is a major change that would need to be implemented over 3-5 years to allow the state conventions to adjust in their planning. But implementation toward this goal needs to begin immediately.”

Much more could (and probably should) be said about the GCR and the future of the SBC. While we still have our problems and will still face many challenges, today is a great day to be apart of what God is doing through Southern Baptists.

For the sake of the nations,

Pastor Wes

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jesus was a communist (and other things you can conclude if you take the Bible out of context).

Back on March 22, 2010, an opinion article was written in the Herald & Review about how the Bible supports the recent health care reform. The author, in the context of a commentary on Glenn Beck, mentioned that Jesus was a communist or at least advocated for the communist ideology. After all, “the Apostles who spread the Christian faith to the Gentiles certainly thought so.”

The author goes on to quote Acts 4:32 that “the community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had every thing in common.” According to the author, this verse presents a problem for “real Christians” who want to take the Bible “literal.”

If right-winged Christians, according to the author, ignore this verse they are engaging in a “Wikipedia-style project to rewrite the New Testament.” The author concludes by saying that “at least I don’t have to rewrite the Bible to support passage of health care reform.”

Wow! There are so many exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological problems with this statement I don’t even know where to begin. Before I make a brief comment, let me say upfront that my desire in responding is NOT political, it is theological and biblical. I am not trying to defend any political party, I am defending the Bible when it is taken out of context and used to advance a political agenda (particular one the Bible doesn’t support).

That said, the author makes a major error by taking what is true of the Christian community (i.e. the sharing of possessions), which is done voluntarily and upon a common confession of Jesus Christ, and tries to make it normative for an entire government. In other words, it is beyond the bounds biblically to take what Christians are to do because they belong to one another in Christ (Romans 12:4-5) and argue that it should be legislated for all Americans. Such a view is an impossible exegetical jump.

Since Christians in the early church voluntarily gathered on Sunday for worship would the author support worship-reform, whereby legislating all Americans to be in church on Sunday or face penalty? For some reason I don’t see that reform passing.

In doing this, the author is guilty of the very same thing she accused “right-wing, biblical literalists” of doing when she accuses them of being “selective in their Bible readings.” By pulling this verse out of context and arguing that it encourages some form of communism is to be most selective indeed. Why, even Wikipedia has higher standards that that!

Pastor Wes

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Where do babies go when they die? Biblical Reflections on the death of the little ones.

I know of very few issues that have been harder to deal with in ministry than the death of a baby and the unbelievable grief experienced by the parents. I do not write this article out of personal experience and therefore am not trying to act as though I know what others who have gone through such a tragedy may feel. Rather, I write this article because I am asked often about what happens to babies when they die and want people to be biblically informed in handling these situations.

When approaching an issue like this it is easy to run to emotional responses or human logic for the sake of comfort, though many times void of truth. It is easy to be sentimental rather than biblical. This is dangerous and unhealthy because one should not “hope something is true” but rather “know something is true” based upon the authority of Scripture. Therefore, before I share what I believe the Bible teaches concerning infant salvation, let me first expose some of the false beliefs that many have embraced.

False Belief #1: Babies go to heaven because they are innocent (Pelagianism).

I have heard many who hold to an age of accountability [a term that I am not a fan of, nor use] share that they believe that children are “innocent” until they reach a certain age. Then at a certain age they become accountable for sin. This is far from a biblical understanding of original sin and is, in fact, an early church heresy known as Pelagianism [the belief that human beings are born morally innocent].

The biblical reality is that no one is born innocent [minus Jesus], no not one! No one is righteous (Rom 3), we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2), and we are born in sin (Psalm 51). [Other Scriptures: 1 Kings 8:46, Psalm 143:2, 1 Jn 1:8, Psalm 58:3] So regardless about what one believes about the salvation of infants, one cannot biblically argue that babies are innocent.

False Belief #2: Babies go to heaven because everyone goes to heaven (Universalism).

Though not as common in evangelical circles, there are certainly some who would say that because God is a loving God he would not send anyone to hell, particular babies. Of course this is a false view of God’s love. God’s love is not expressed in his willingness to overlook sin and accept everybody, but in his willingness to offer his own Son so that by faith we can enter into a right relationship with God.
The Bible is clear that not everyone will go to heaven (in fact the majority won’t).

Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
There are many other texts [Matthew 13:37-42, Luke 16, 2 Thess 1:9, Rev 20] that teach against universalism, namely the idea that all will go to heaven.

So one cannot make the argument that babies go to heaven because “God is so loving he would never do something like that.”

False Belief #3: Babies go to heaven if they are “baptized” as infants (Paedo-baptism).

Some would argue that babies who have been sprinkled go to heaven because “baptism” removes original sin. (I place baptism here in “” because I would argue that baptism is only a believer by immersion and therefore “infant baptism” is a contradiction in terms, but that’s for another article )

Luther believed that baptism “worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil,” Catholicism teaches that “by baptism one enters into the kingdom of God and into the sphere of the saving work of Christ.” Even Augustine believed that paedo-baptism released the baby from original sin [I have written a length article on Augustine’s view of baptism if you are interested].

The problem here is that the Bible teaches that “entering the Kingdom of God” or “being forgiven of sin” is something that is conditioned upon faith and union with Christ. “For God so loved the world…and whoever believes will not perish (John 3:16).” “Whoever believes in him will have eternal life (John 6:35).” “If you confess with you mouth and believe in your heart (Rom 10:17).” In fact, the entire book of Galatians is an argument that those who inherit the blessings of Abraham are those who like Abraham believe in the promised seed (Gal 3). [See also John 3:3, Titus 3:5]

In light of this, all baptisms in Scripture are believers who are immersed. Therefore, in my opinion, the issue of infant “baptism” is no biblical solution at all and does not assure the baby of heaven. In fact, such a process can give false hope to parents who assume that “because their baby was ‘baptized’” he or she is secure. Such an approach bypasses the clear biblical teaching of personal faith in union with the death and resurrection of our Lord Christ.

False Belief #4: Babies go to heaven because they are given the opportunity to believe after they die.

I will not expound on this for there is simply no biblical evidence to warrant such a belief. A relationship with Jesus Christ is a prerequisite for heaven, not something that follows it. This position was held by Gregory of Nyssa, who claimed that all, regardless of age, would have an opportunity to believe after death. The Bible simple does not teach such a belief.

What I believe the Bible teaches concerning babies going to heaven.

I have tried to be biblically faithful to this point, demonstrating that all are born in sin, all must have faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, and only in Jesus Christ can that forgiveness be realized. It would seem then that I would be arguing against the salvation of infants. However, such a conclusion would be invalid.

In addition to the previously mentioned claims, the Bible also teaches that the judgment of God will be based upon the “deeds done in the body" (2 Cor 5:10, Matthew 16:27). In other words, we are born in sin and as we grow will act out in rebellion towards God because of the sinful, depraved nature inherited in Adam. When we are exposed to the General Revelation of God (law of God in our hearts and God revealed in creation) we will suppress the truth and live for our own desires (see Romans 1-3 for more on this).

So you have two parts here: 1) Humans are born sinful, 2) Humans will act in rebellion towards God because of that sin when exposed to the General Revelation of God. Therefore, as Paul states, man is “without excuse" (Rom 1:20). Babies (and mentally handicapped), however, never make it to step 2. In other words, they never advance to the stage where they act out in rebellion against the General Revelation of God. They simple do not have the cognitive or moral capacities to do so.

This does not mean that they are born innocent; they simple never act on their guilt. [The emphasis on the rejection of the General Revelation of God is key here because in my view this is what separates babies from those who live in other countries and have never heard the gospel. They, unlike babies, have rejected the General Revelation of God and are without excuse, subjecting them to the judgment of God.]

Though we are born in Adam’s sin, we must answer for our own personal, willful acts of rebellion towards God, something that infants have not done. As a result, I would argue that babies/infants do not face the condemning judgment of God. In light of Luke 18:16 where Jesus says, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” I believe that babies are objects of the mercy of Christ, purchased through the cross of Christ, therefore avoiding the condemning Judgment of Christ.

So in summary, are babies born in sin? Yes. Do they act on that sin? No. As a result, they are received into heaven through the atoning work of Christ.
I must add that if babies do face the judgment of God, God is not for a moment unjust. We must always remember that God is but nature just and therefore we have absolutely no right as the clay to tell the Potter how He is to act. So the justice of God is not in question, regardless of the outcome.

When we deal with the death of infants we do not run to false beliefs, unbiblical claims, or mere sentimental appeals, for none of these can offer us hope. For our hope must be rooted in the word of God and the work of our Christ, the One who gave His life for the old…and the young.

Pastor Wes