Friday, May 15, 2015

Why We Left the SBC for the PCA


     I have spent my entire Christian life as a Southern Baptist. When I was a teenager, caring friends invited me to a Southern Baptist Church.  I heard the Gospel of God’s saving provision of his sinless Son.  I heard the truth of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and I received the Lord and believed in his name. I then became a youth intern and children’s minister at an FBC, worked my way up to assistant manager at Lifeway Christian Store, and did a semester of study at Criswell College.  I was Baptist with a capital “B”, and I was Southern Baptist to be more precise. 

     But then something happened.  I was challenged.  I began to read widely and converse with people of different backgrounds.  My monolithic-Christian world began to be infiltrated by infidels bearing challenges.  Wesleyans, Bible Churchers, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans; Calvinists, Molinists, and Arminians; Charismatics and Cessasionists; 5-pointers, 4-pointers, 3-pointers, and Free Throws all converged to assault me with an overdose of perspective. Of greater effect than these assaults was the fact that I had become enamored with the Scriptures. I was spending more time than ever studying and praying, and this caused me to question what I truly believed.  I had become rather familiar with what Southern Baptist doctrine was, but I was finally to the point of needing to decide whether I believed these doctrines or just indiscriminately received them. As I studied and came to systematize many of my seemingly random beliefs and struggles, I began to feel like a man with no home.  But, to my relief and delight, confessionalism in the form of conservative Presbyterianism offered my family a home.

     What would lead a family to leave an SBC congregation and unite with a church in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)?  What distinguishes a PCA (not to be confused with the PCUSA) church from an SBC church in such a manner that it warrants the always-painful and inherently-risky effort of leaving one body to unite to another?  Some key differences between the SBC and the PCA can be summarized under the headings of doctrine and practice.

     The PCA is a denomination that affirms the Doctrines of Grace and the sovereignty of God.  The SBC has a long and tumultuous history with “Calvinism”, which in SBC-language is simply an affirmation of the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP).  Many SBC churches find themselves battling over these doctrines and end up either excommunicating (“Why don’t you go try this church?”) or silencing (“You can believe that…just don’t talk about it.”) those who affirm them.  In the PCA, these doctrines are not seen as blasphemies or dirty little secrets. The doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are truths in which we can rejoice. These doctrines are unapologetically and openly proclaimed.  Preaching and prayer is in the active voice.  People do not “get saved.”  God saves sinners. Prayers are made for God to perform the miracle of raising the spiritually dead to eternal life and granting them repentance and faith to believe and receive the Lord Jesus.  While it is possible to embrace these doctrines in the SBC, it proves exceedingly difficult to sit and hear truths you adore be actively attacked or passively dismissed.

     The PCA is a confessional church.  This means “that Presbyterian churches summarize their beliefs in confessions of faith,” and “require their pastors, ruling elders, and deacons to subscribe to the WestminsterStandards.” (Lucas, On Being PresbyterianAs a Southern Baptist, I was always troubled by the fact that we had no overarching, binding documents.  I would appeal to Scripture only to be rebuked by a “that’s just your interpretation.”  I would appeal to the Baptist Faith and Message, but any appeal to that document would require 1) someone to know about it, and 2) it to have some sort of authority.  I longed for the stability offered by uniform (to a degree) interpretation.  While there is still some variation and even some deviation found within a confessional body, what the church believes and teaches is not left to the whim and caprice of individuals or “autonomous” local bodies.

     The PCA is a denomination that is covenantal and sacramental.  PCA churches understand the story of God as revealed in the Scriptures to be one, continuous, unfolding story.  There are no parenthetical ages or times of gross discord.   The PCA has a sacramental understanding of what the SBC would refer to as ordinances.  The Lord’s Supper is more than simply a memorial; it is a covenantal meal in which we receive the grace of God by feasting spiritually on the body and blood of the Lamb of God.  Reformed Presbyterianism avoids the error of Rome (and, to a lesser degree, Luther) on one end and Zwingli on the other by recognizing the actual, spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper.  PCA churches find precedent for their position, among other places, in the words of Paul to the Corinthians.  Paul writes, “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?”(1 Cor 10:16)
     
     In the same way, baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promises to believers.  It is not seen as an “outward expression of an inward change” or a “first step of obedience.”  It is also not seen as an act that grants salvation in any way or in any sense, contrary to Rome, Wittenburg, and (to a degree) Auburn Avenue. Baptism is seen as the sign of the new covenant, given to believers and their children as a testimony of God's covenant faithfulness.  It is a symbol of God's promise to his people, not our promise to him. (WCF 28)

     Practice demonstrates belief.  This is true of people, and it is also true of churches.  Practices and traditions are not random.  They are based on an understanding of the Scriptures and of God as revealed in them.  When I began to look at the practical implications of my theology, there was much with which to deal. If I believed that the worship service was for God, then he should be the one to direct it.  If I believed that the Scriptures were sufficient to teach me how to live a life that was pleasing to God, including how to worship him, then the Scriptures should direct how we approach him in corporate worship.  The PCA holds to the regulative principle of worship, though this seems to be an issue on a spectrum.  Basically, this principle is that God directs the worship of him and he does so by his word. 
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all . . . the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible re presentation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy scripture.(WCF:Edinburgh Edition, page 111)

     One issue that always concerned me in my time in the SBC was the idea of “autonomy” in the local body.  To me, this always seemed to be an overreaction to the ecclesiastical abuses of Rome and left churches in precarious situations.  Many SBC churches operate under a sole-elder setup.  That coupled with an autonomous-local-body mindset seemed ripe for spiritual abuse, moral failure, and theological error.  PCA churches are ruled by a plurality of elders that submit, essentially, to a plurality of churches.
The PCA maintains the historic polity of Presbyterian governance set forth in The Book of Church Order, namely rule by presbyters (or elders) and the graded assemblies or courts. These courts are the session, governing the local church; the presbytery, for regional matters; and the general assembly, at the national level. It has taken seriously the position of the parity of elders, making a distinction between the two classes of elders, teaching and ruling. It has self-consciously taken a more democratic position (rule from the grass roots up) on presbyterian governance in contrast to a more prelatical form (rule from the top assemblies down).(http://www.pcanet.org/history/)  
     It is hard to be a rogue PCA church; although I am sure it can be done.  If a pastor is in error, he is corrected by his brothers who are serving the local body with him.  If not, then there are other brothers in other local bodies who can hold him and that entire church accountable.  Greater accountability inevitably leads to greater spiritual health and greater maturity. 

     My brother moved to Alabama a while back.  He went there because he believed doing so would be the best for him.  He went there to go to school and be with the woman to whom he would eventually be married.  He didn’t leave his family in Texas because he hated his family or despised the state.  My brother and I used to share a room, and then we found ourselves not even sharing a state.  But we did not cease to be brothers when the U-Haul crossed the state line.  In fact, petty conflict and simmering angst were actually relieved by the distance and the new direction.  My family leaving the SBC for the PCA should not be seen as a severing of the tie that binds.  Southern Baptists are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I will always have an affection for that denomination for the mighty works that God has done through it, not the least of which to me is being the vessel through which I heard the Gospel and believed.  It is time for my family and me to move on, but that in no way diminishes how thankful we remain, and will remain, for the believers who have taught us, loved us, and discipled us for so many years, and it does not negate the fact that we will one day be united beyond divisions to worship our Lord together, forever.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Great offer from Ligonier

From the Ligonier Blog

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Get 160+ Hours of Trusted Teaching for a Gift of Any Amount

FROM  May 14, 2015 Category: Ministry News

Do you want to help make as many disciples of Christ as possible? I do.
Why is this my passion and, indeed, the passion of Ligonier Ministries? It’s because we love Christ, who commands us to make disciples of all nations.
The nations can’t be discipled if God’s people don’t know what they believe and why they believe it. That’s why I’m also committed to helping equip believers in the faith. We know firsthand that understanding the “what” and “why” we believe blesses us in all of life. Our worship is enriched, our zeal for Christ is enflamed, our love for His people is strengthened, and our growth in godly wisdom is advanced.
I’m excited about the digital outreach of Ligonier Ministries because it enables us to reach the nations. With our digital outreach, we are assisting the church in making disciples around the world, even in places that are closed to traditional missions work. Our digital outreach is also reaching many people who have never heard of Christ.
And we need your support to continue and expand this critical work.
When I look at the growth of our digital ministries, I’m encouraged by the impact Ligonier friends like you are having on the world. Last year alone, for example, more than 3.3 million people visited Ligonier.org and accessed 26 million pages of trusted content, much of it for free.
This isn’t about extending Ligonier’s influence—it’s about raising up disciples who will themselves disciple others. It’s about calling the church to fidelity in her mission to reach the world with the unchanging gospel.
That’s why we have an aggressive plan to increase our already substantial kingdom outreach through digital media. In addition to our existing social media presence, RefNet online Christian radio, and podcasts, we’re developing a new online version of Tabletalk with content above and beyond the print magazine. We’re also working on Portuguese and Spanish versions of our resources and social media initiatives to help bring about a new Reformation among those whose first language isn’t English.
Digital outreach is particularly important for making disciples in those parts of the world where access to theological education and resources is limited. Christian pastors and leaders in other countries who lack theological training, as well as laypeople who want to grow deeply in their faith, can engage in focused study through Ligonier Connect.
Your support enables this, and as thanks for your gift of any amount to Ligonier’s outreach this month, we will send you a 64 GB USB drive loaded with more than 160 hours and 10,000 pages of Ligonier teaching content (500 pages in Spanish). We’re also distributing these free of charge to pastors around the world to aid them in making disciples.
Note: Offer expires 6/30/2015. Please allow up to 6 weeks for delivery after your gift is processed. Contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by law. For federal income tax purposes, the deductible portion of your charitable contribution is limited to the excess of the money contributed over the value of the goods provided. Our good faith estimate of the value of these resources is $13. Offer valid in U.S. and Canada only. Thank you for your support.

Hammer of the Huguenots



Douglas Bond writes books I like.  That seems straightforward enough.  I have found it consistently true, that time I spend with a work of his is time well spent.  Whether it is a biography, a work of practical theology, or a novel; I have yet to be disappointed by one of his works.  His newest novel, Hammer of the Huguenots, is the third volume of his Heroes and History series. I bought the other two when P&R had a sale a few months back, but I have not had a chance to read them.  That is a truth that must quickly change.

Hammer of the Huguenots is a work of historical fiction that follows Phillippe; a young, Roman Catholic man, as he witnesses the French Catholic persecution of Reformed Christians around him and the effects of the Gospel ministry of Pierre Viret.  What drew me to this book, beyond enjoying how Bond writes, is its historical context.  I am still a novice to the genre of fiction, and I am still highly selective on those works with which I will spend time.  If you are not a book about a quest for a ring, hopping through a wardrobe, or solving crimes with your buddy named Watson, I have had little time for you.  But historical fiction I can justify.  Sure, the stories are not “history,” but the truths they convey are historical.  And the context and many of the characters and many of the events are all historical.  So, I can tell myself that I am not reading for entertainment or fun or any of those silly reasons.  Nope, I am learning!

But then here is the kicker.  Hammer of the Huguenots is a work that engages the reader.  I can tell myself I am not reading for entertainment, but then I have to deal with the fact that I am being entertained.  And I can tell myself that I am not reading to enjoy the catharsis of vicarious experience, but then I have to acknowledge how this book causes such a visceral, emotional, personal reaction.  Bond writes in a way that causes an emotional response.  You find yourself feeling the anxiety, fear, and sadness; relief, peace, and joy.

History is good.  Storytelling is good.  Better than anything is the Gospel.  And Douglas Bond would agree.  Hammer of the Huguenots makes that clear.  Bond focuses on the Gospel throughout this book.  The Gospel is presented in many ways and in multiple contexts.  We see the true Gospel presented in contrast to Rome’s doctrine of “faith +.”  We see the Gospel of Christ’s all-sufficiency and vicarious atonement through preaching, teaching, and the response of the characters.  Watching Phillippe confronted with the Gospel time and again and watching him struggle with the implications of his beliefs is more than good literature; it is convicting, challenging, and encouraging.

I greatly enjoyed this work.  If you want to read some good fiction, get a dose of history, and be overwhelmed by the Gospel and its implications, Hammer of the Huguenots will prove to be an investment that pays great dividends.


I received a review copy from the publisher.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Blind Spots

I think I am right…on most everything…most of the time (if not all the time).  However, the Scriptures coupled with a lot of experience are beginning to convince me that this might not be 100% accurate.  I am willing to make a concession that on rare occasions I might be ever-so-slightly mistaken on things of the most trivial nature.  Of course, by “rare” I mean “often” and by “ever-so-slightly mistaken” I mean “plumb wrong” and by “most trivial” I mean “some of the most important things there are.”

I have blind spots.  I have ways that I think and ways that I look at things and ways that I earnestly believe that things should be.  And, for the longest, if someone dared to think differently from me on these things, my attitude was, “Bless their hearts.  I’ll pray for them.  Maybe the Lord will grant them repentance so that they can understand and believe and think just like me.”  I am on the mend from that attitude.  I still have to guard against it and still slip into it far too often, but I am on the mend.  I have always had blind spots in my thinking.  I have just come to the point where I am willing to admit it and act as if this were true, because it is!

I might have been an extreme example.  But, if we go by the internet comments sections, then maybe not so much.  The “I am right, you are wrong” virus afflicts humans pretty indiscriminately, Christians included.  Colin Hansen has offered a short book that encourages readers to recognize our own blind spots and to be gracious towards those of others. 

Hansen wants us to “see our differences as opportunity.”  He argues that, “(b)ecause of these blind spots, neither you nor I see everything clearly. We need each other.”  He groups Christians into one of three camps; the compassionate, the courageous, and the commissioned.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of categories and there is considerable cross-over, but the distinctions made are accurate and helpful.  Hansen shows how these groups can end up in conflict, especially when their agendas do not line up and especially when people become “sole-issue Christians.” 

While there is still much to be concerned about, we do not have to be as concerned with a person who is a “single-issue Christian” as we are with someone who is an “only-issue Christian.”  A single-issue Christian has a passion and is utterly focused on it (pro-life, street-evangelism, homeless ministry, etc…) A sole-issue Christian is like a single-issue Christian, except for one key difference.  This person’s issue of interest is the only issue.  And that is true not just for them, but also for you.  If you oppose their issue, either actively or simply by it not being your only issue, then you are an enemy.  And you are not just an enemy of them, you are in sin.  You are opposing God.  Single-issue Christians get much done for their cause.  Sole-issue Christians get much done in dividing the Body.     
Hansen writes to help us see our own blind spots, and he writes to keep us from devolving into sole-issue Christians.  He shows that “unless we can both step outside ourselves to hear our arguments from another vantage point, we won’t enjoy church unity and an effective gospel witness in the world.”  Hansen shows how the Body of Christ needs all these different types of Christians and how we keep each other accountable and balanced.

Hansen is writing to Christians.  He recognizes that we love the Lord.  He knows that we, even in our blindest of moments, are in some sense operating out of a desire to honor God--as misguided as it might be.  Hansen points out that we often have the tendency to emphasize one aspect of Christ over others, and then use that to hurt the ones we are called to love the most.  “We often seize on one aspect of (Christ’s) character and ministry and brandish it as a weapon against other believers. And we rope our partial Jesus into some of the nastiest conflicts.”

Hansen goes beyond diagnosing.  There is much practical wisdom scattered throughout the book, but I especially enjoy his admonition to all of us towards the end.  Hansen sees one main solution to these problems, and it is being united to and abiding in Christ.

Abiding in Christ is the best defense against the blind spots that destroy our joy in following Jesus and set us against other believers with different gifts and callings. Abiding in Christ will protect you from growing discouraged and getting sidetracked in trying to obey Jesus’s commandments. Some people you try to love will reject you because they have rejected him. Some Christians and churches suffering from blind spots will fault you for not caving to their pressure. You see this discord where the world presses for conformity from the church. Western culture’s idol of sexuality tempts churches to respond in limited, even self-destructive ways when beset by blind spots. Some withdraw in fear from the world and call it courage. Or they mute the clear teaching of Scripture and the call to discipleship and call it compassion. Or they ignore the problem altogether for the sake of false unity and call it obedience to the Great Commission.

Abiding in Christ does not allow us to veer off in only one of these directions. Jesus intends for us to follow him down a path that only he knows. The Spirit is our guide, because Jesus sent him to us as a witness (vv. 26–27). As we follow the teaching of the apostles who walked and talked with Jesus, we can hear clearly the voice of Jesus calling us through the cacophony of the world. (pg 111)

Blind Spots is a necessary book.  It addresses a persistent and pernicious issue, but it is not the answer.  We need more than 100+ pages from Collin Hansen, as good as they might be.  We need discussions and worship and cooperation and grace.  And we need a lot of those and more.  But, Blind Spots is a great little primer on a great big issue and, hopefully it will encourage us all to love our neighbor in the church down the road just a bit more.


I received a review copy from the publisher.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

John Newton

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ by Tony Reinke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another great book in a great series.  Theologians on the Christian Life has fast become a go to series for me.  If you have any interest in history and the Christian faith, these are some nice non-biographies.  I have read a couple and they have consistently been quite good.  Newton would be the theologian I am least familiar with that I have read about in this series, so I was pretty interested to get started with it.

Reinke does a great job of outlining Newton’s thought, primarily through his letters, and really encouraging the reader to dig deeper to learn more about this interesting life.  I always enjoy how Reinke writes and this subject matter.  My one criticism would be that I thought it was a bit long.  Not that the last chapters should have been cut, but I think the whole could have been condensed a bit.  This work in 180-200 pages would have been my ideal.  That being said, this is a great volume that the reader will not regret investing time and money in.

I received a review copy from the publisher.      


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Monday, May 4, 2015

Adoption


Crossway is releasing a new booklet by Russell Moore based on his book, Adopted for Life.  In it, Moore makes the same case that he does in his earlier work but presents in in 60 pages as opposed to a couple of hundred, making this important work on this important topic that much more accessible.

Moore does a great job of giving a reasoned and forceful plea for Christians to care for the fatherless.  Moore is not na├»ve enough to believe that everyone is called or capable of adoption, but he definitely encourages all believers to follow the mandate of Scripture in making the care for orphans a priority in our ministries and in our lives.  Moore presents a forceful case that rightly appeals to the heart of the reader.  However, to his credit and to the great benefit of the reader and the cause, Moore does not stoop to guilt-trip or manipulation.  He encourages, he pleads, he reasons from Scripture, he educates, he leads by example, and he pours out his heart.  And the result is a challenging, encouraging, and convicting little booklet that will, hopefully, find its way into the hands of many people who will be prompted to make a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable, most fragile, and most in need.

I received a review copy of this book.

From the publisher:

The Bible depicts Joseph of Nazareth as a good and honorable man. The adoptive father of Jesus, he stood by his wife when it appeared that she had betrayed him, raising Jesus as his own son. In doing so, Joseph provided all Christians with a beautiful picture of what fatherhood is meant to look like: steadfast, loving, protective. But such love stands in stark contrast to what we see in our world today: on-demand abortion, unreported abuse, and widespread neglect. Calling Christians to take a stand for children—born and unborn—this short booklet, adapted from Adopted for Life, makes a passionate plea for Christians to view adoption as a way to value and protect every human life.

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and AppliedGod, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied by Richard D. Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

P&R Publishing has put out a collection of essays on a topic that remains incredibly relevant to our culture in general and ever-increasingly relevant to me personally.  The compatibility/incompatibility of evolutionary theory and the Bible has been a personal issue of interest for quite some time.  This new volume, edited by Richard Phillips, will be one that I return to time and again.

The list of contributors gives the reader confidence that this will be a work filled with theological precision and fidelity.  Derek Thomas, Joel Beeke, Kevin DeYoung, Liam Goligher,  Richard Phillips, and Carl Trueman all contribute one or two essays from their confessional, Reformed perspectives.  It goes without saying that these men respect the Scriptures as the revealed Word of God and seek to submit all other forms of knowledge to God’s Word.

The subtitle of the work is Biblical Creation Defended and Applied.  I was guilty of not reading the subtitle well and was half-expecting this volume to be a simple apologetic for creation and polemic against evolution.  While the reader will definitely find positive arguments for Biblical creation and negative arguments against atheistic and theistic evolution, this work shines most brightly when the contributors venture into the application of these competing truth claims.

I am accustomed to the simple, slippery-slope type arguments where the reader is warned that a rejection of a literal Adam inevitably leads to a rejection of inspiration, inerrancy, the authority of Scripture, the historicity of any of the Old Testament, original sin, substitutionary atonement and leads to an embrace of an allegorical reading of Scripture, egalitarianism, abortion, homosexuality, and anY/every form of licentiousness one dare to even think of.   While there is a bit of that argument to be found scattered throughout these pages, the contributors move beyond simple bogeyman language and lead the reader through the necessary consequences and implications of rejecting a literal Adam.  To say the least, these consequences are far reaching and paradigm shifting.

The interaction between science and faith, specifically in the realm of evolutionary theory and conservative Christianity, is a persistent topic of debate and dissension.  This subject proves worthy of substantial and sustained scholarship, study, and conversation.  I feel confident in saying that God, Adam, and You will show itself to be a commendable and lasting contribution to that important conversation.

I received a review copy from P&R Publishing.


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