IFB Memories #12: Church and politics

There’s always been a tension within Christianity regarding what kind of a relationship the church should have with politics and the state. The early Reformers unfortunately adopted the Roman Catholic viewpoint that the state was the divinely ordained agent of the church. That concept still lingers in varying degrees throughout the West but especially in the United States. European countries still have official state-supported denominations although few people attend services.

In American evangelicalism today, at one end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the church and state should work hand in glove; elect Christian-friendly politicians, ensure the appointment of Christian-friendly judges, and legislate laws that reflect Judeo-Christian beliefs and values. At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the job of the church is to evangelize and disciple and not to become entangled in worldly concerns. We are ambassadors of our Father in Heaven on a mission to evangelize, not to be deeply-rooted, nationalistic patriots.

My wife and I accepted Christ back in the early-1980s and we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church that patterned itself after Jerry Falwell (pictured) and his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell and his Moral Majority were so focused on championing conservative causes that the Gospel was relegated to the back seat. Co-belligerency alongside religious unbelievers (e.g., conservative Catholics) eventually contributed to an “ecumenism of the trenches” as Chuck Colson once approvingly noted.

Our pastor regularly mixed the Gospel with politics from the pulpit. America was presented as a Christian nation that was in a covenant with God in the very same way as was ancient Israel. Old Testament passages meant only for Israel were regularly misapplied to the United States. Our church was heavily involved with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a political advocacy group supported by IFB and conservative evangelical churches in the state (see last article below). During election years, candidates from both parties were invited to our church to discuss their political positions but only Republicans bothered to show up. That church’s heavy involvement in politics and the constant harangues about the culture wars from the pulpit led to our decision to leave, among other reasons.

I don’t know exactly where the line is regarding the church’s involvement with politics and the state but I’m quite happy politics are never mentioned from the pulpit of our current church.

I’m currently reading “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald, which was published in April. It’s a history of evangelicalism in America from an unbeliever’s perspective. It’s not always complimentary but the facts are fascinating, especially regarding the struggle to determine the church’s relationship with the state. Review to follow.

Below are a few articles that touch upon this church-state dichotomy:

With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics

Don’t compromise the gospel in social cooperation
http://news.sbts.edu/2017/04/13/dont-compromise-gospel-social-cooperation-says-mohler-tgc-workshop/

Evangelicals gather in Albany
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/273279/evangelicals-gather-in-albany/

The Conversion Center: Still Reaching Out to Catholics after 65 years

After my wife and I accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior in 1983, we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church in the area. The church’s information table was stocked with tracts and the latest issues of “Our Daily Bread” and “The Sword of the Lord,” a newspaper geared toward independent fundamental Baptists. Inside “The Sword of the Lord” were advertisements from Christian outreaches to Roman Catholics including The Conversion Center (Donald Maconaghie), Mission to Catholics (Bart Brewer), and Christians Evangelizing Catholics (Bill Jackson). Coming from a Catholic background, I was thrilled to see there were ministries devoted to reaching Catholics for Christ. I immediately wrote to all three ministries requesting their catalogs of available books and pamphlets and to be added to their mailing lists. This was obviously before the internet era. All the materials I received were a blessing to me at the time.

I eventually soured on what I was hearing from the pulpit of our IFB church, which sadly resulted in my walking away from the Lord for many years. In the interim, Bart Brewer of Mission to Catholics went home to be with the Lord in 2005 at the age of 80 although his website is strangely still available with a note saying it was last updated in 2006 (see here). I’m not sure of the status of Bill Jackson although a note posted in 2007 on the Apprising Ministries website states Bill suffered a second heart attack. There’s no trace of Jackson on the internet after that and the website for Christians Evangelizing Catholics is no longer operational. The Conversion Center continued to faithfully send me quarterly newsletters during my very long prodigal “season,” much to my discomfort (praise God!), and the ministry continues to this day.

The Conversion Center was founded in 1952 by Alex O. Dunlap, and was led many years by Donald F. Maconaghie (d. 2001). The current director is Mark Reno. The Conversion Center reflects hardcore independent fundamental Baptist beliefs and previously offered books from Chick Publications via its on-line store. The organization also upholds KJV 1611-Onlyism like many other IFB churches and groups. The Conversion Center has recently updated its website (see here), which includes on-line copies of its quarterly newsletter (see photo). Gone is the long list of book and pamphlet offerings but there is a very large assortment of tracts written for Catholics. I don’t agree with The Conversion Center’s endorsement of Chick publications and its view on KJV 1611-Onlyism, but I certainly do support their outreach to Roman Catholics with the Gospel of grace.

In addition to The Conversion Center, there are several other ministries that reach out to Roman Catholics with the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. See my Links page here.

More on Paul Washer

PWW

Last week I posted that evangelist and missionary, Paul Washer, had suffered a heart attack. From the last message posted on his Twitter account on Saturday it appears that he’s on the mend. Thanks for all your prayers.

The Lord has blessed me immensely since I returned to Him three years ago. One of those blessings was making me aware of Paul Washer’s ministry. As I mentioned before, Paul may not be the easiest preacher to listen to, but that’s because our flesh doesn’t enjoy conviction over our disobedience. Now, the Lord doesn’t want us to be constantly overcome with guilt. Every morning we wake up we should have great joy for being in the Lord. But He will correct us for our own good through the preaching of His Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit when we stray from the narrow path. I don’t want to put any man on a pedestal but we desperately need godly preachers like Paul Washer who won’t compromise the Gospel. You won’t find a preacher like Washer on TBN.

Will Graham, an excellent writer for Evangelical Focus, recently submitted the following about Paul Washer after the news broke of his heart attack, which I would like to share.


10 Reasons Why I Love Paul Washer
By Will Graham
Evangelical Focus
March 25, 2017

Almost all of my heroes are dead. The good thing about following dead folk is that they can’t put their foot in it! Whilst they’re alive, there’s always the possibility they’ll slip up. But once their six-feet under, there’s no such danger! Just as well…

Nevertheless, “almost all of my heroes” doesn’t mean “all” of my heroes. There are some great living servants of the Lord who continually inspire me. One such bondservant is our beloved brother in the Lord, Paul Washer (1961-).

After his sudden heart-attack last week, I felt burdened to translate the following text I published in the Spanish Evangelical Press way back in October about ten reasons why I love Brother Washer. I hope this brief list will encourage you all to download some of his material because I’m 100% sure it’ll bless your socks off!

Here goes! Oh, and let’s keep praying for our heavenly Father to keep sustaining His precious son in these times of physical frailty…

To continue reading click here.

Creeds, confessions, and lists of beliefs

WWB

I’m currently reading “God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture” by Matthew Barrett. It’s book #3 in Zondervan’s series on the five “solas” of the Reformation. Dry theology? Hardly! As Christians, we stand on God’s Word ALONE rather than on the teachings and traditions of men. The book is well-written and the pages are turning pretty quickly (review to follow in a couple of weeks). This book – such a treasure – prompted me to post on creeds, confessions, and lists of core beliefs in general.

My wife and I attended an independent fundamental Baptist church for eight years after we accepted Christ. After a very long prodigal “season” we attended a Southern Baptist church for a year. For the last sixteen months we’ve been worshipping at a nondenominational evangelical church. The church began as a Baptist church and has a long history. Several years ago the church decided to shed the “Baptist” label to appeal to more people although Baptist teaching and polity are still followed.

I’m somewhat knowledgeable about the history of the Baptist movement and I’m personally most comfortable within that faith tradition. Evangelical churches generally have a list of basic beliefs they follow with the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ at the core. There’s some evangelical churches that I couldn’t comfortably worship at because of their beliefs regarding secondary doctrines but we’re still all united in our faith in Christ.

Christians have been formulating creeds, confessions, and statements of core beliefs for centuries in an attempt to summarize the faith. Some statements have been more helpful than others. The early creeds were woefully deficient because they didn’t spell out exactly HOW a person appropriates the free gift of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Billions have recited the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds over the centuries without ever accepting Christ as Savior by faith.

The Reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries strove to return the church to the simple, saving faith proclaimed by the New Testament church. The movement was centered around what came to be known as the Five Solas of the Christian faith:

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

As evangelical Christians, we base our beliefs on God’s Word rather than man-made creeds but if you have to summarize the faith, the Five Solas ain’t a bad way to go.

Our previous pastor mentioned the Five Solas regularly in his messages but I haven’t heard our new pastor mention them once in the past seven months. I suspect that congregations throughout evangelicalism are hearing less and less about the Five Solas of the Reformation, all part of the dumbing down of doctrine that’s part and parcel of the popular seeker mega-church movement.

IFB Memories #11: “The Sword of the Lord”

Shortly after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior back in 1983, my wife and I beganFront page of the Sword of the Lord, October 8, 1954 attending an independent fundamental Baptist church and we stayed there for eight years. I’ve already shared several memories from that time, both good and not so good (see here). Another memory from our stay at that church was “The Sword of the Lord” newspaper.

I’m an information person. I love to read, always have. As a baby Christian, I was drawn to our church’s information table, which was well-stocked with tracts (including Chick tracts), along with copies of “Our Daily Bread” and “The Sword of the Lord.” What? You’ve never heard of the “Sword of the Lord”? Well, back before the internet age, people used to get their news and information from the printed page and independent Baptists of a particular strain relied on “The Sword of the Lord.” I fell in love with the bi-weekly newspaper and subscribed immediately.

Pastor and evangelist, John R. Rice (1895-1980), first began publishing the Sword in 1934. The readership grew and grew as did Rice’s influence. Circulation of the newspaper peaked at 300,000 in the mid-1970s. Although independent Baptist churches are autonomous, there is a certain degree of networking through conferences, seminary support, etc. The major camps in the independent Baptist movement back in the 60s, 70s and 80s were the Sword group, spearheaded by Rice, and the Bob Jones group led by Bob Jones, Jr. and Bob Jones III. Rice and Jones, Jr. had split over the issue of separation, with the latter taking a much harder stand against the Southern Baptist “compromisers” (and racial integration).

Rice had died by the time I had started subscribing to the Sword, but the paper was continued by his successor, Curtis Hutson. I looked forward to seeing the Sword in our mailbox every other week. There was news, columns, and sermons from Sword regulars and Rice allies, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, Bob Gray, Truman Dollar, Lester Roloff, Jerry Falwell, etc., along with classic sermons from Spurgeon, Moody, and Sunday. Very helpful to me were the advertisements from ministries to Catholics including The Conversion Center (Donald Maconaghie), Mission to Catholics (Bart Brewer), and Christians Evangelizing Catholics (Bill Jackson), all of which I contacted for resources.

There was a lot of good stuff in the pages of the Sword but some of the information also bothered me. Patriotism and nationalism in excess were constant themes. There was also a certain degree of spiritual arrogance and moral superiority that characterized the messages, as if to say, “We are such good Christians and wonderful people who do right as opposed to those terribly wicked unbelievers (and non-IFBers).” The hearts of the contributors didn’t always seem to be humble and contrite before the Lord. One could even sense a spirit of pomposity and Pharisaism. There seemed to be more “Dr.”s in the pages of the SOTL than a medical journal. It’s sad to say but public scandal eventually caught up with some of the names I mentioned above.

After a couple of years I let my subscription to the Sword run out. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Shelton Smith succeeded Hutson as publisher in 1995. Circulation has dropped to around 100,000. Independent Baptist Fundamentalism isn’t what it used to be and that’s both good and bad. Praise the Lord for men like John R. Rice who upheld the Gospel of grace by faith in opposition to those who began to accommodate and compromise (Billy Graham & Co.). But something went sour with the Rice camp and some of the other Baptist fundamentalists. They often came across as arrogant WE ARE SOMEBODYS rather than humble sinners saved by grace.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.

http://www.swordofthelord.com/

Taking the NFL thing a little too far

I’m not a big fan of “Good Morning, America” but it comes on right after my favorite localboys morning news show and about 15 minutes before I leave for work. This morning, one of GMA’s lead stories was about how a church in Dallas, Texas had shown the first-place, 8-1 Dallas Cowboys versus the Baltimore Ravens football game on one of their big screens “during” the church service. Are you kidding me? Have evangelical churches sunk that low?

From the article below, we learn that the church in question was Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, but according to a comment from a church member the game was presented “after” worship service and before some other event. GMA strikes again!

Dallas Church Plays Cowboys Game During Service

I know football is religion for many people. Even many Christians get more worked up about the NFL and/or college football than they do about Jesus Christ. Men, if we only had a fraction of the passion for Jesus Christ and lost souls that we do for weekend football!

Now, I’m not going to begrudge anyone a little entertainment. Far be it from me! I certainly have my own hobbies and interests. But let’s get our priorities straight. As for showing a football game in the sanctuary between events so the fans can go to church and still get their ‘Boys fix…well, you might call me a legalist but that strikes me as a bit off kilter.

IFB Memories #8: Beating up people for Jesus

My wife and I attended an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church back in the 80s.MMO We have many good memories of the church as well as some disturbing ones. I became so increasingly upset by some of the things that went on at that church that we finally stopped attending and I even walked away from the Lord for a couple of decades. That was obviously a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE mistake. If I had been walking closely with the Lord, I would have just asked Him to find us another church right away.

Anyway, over the last couple of months I’ve been able to look back at some of the unusual, outrageous, and even comical events that we witnessed at that church. Here’s another one.

The pastor of our IFB church was on the short side but somewhat hefty. His suit jackets strained to contain his bulky chest and arms. He wasn’t someone you would want to mess with from his appearance. He was also a black belt karate master. Karate classes were eventually started at the church and many of the youth signed up. A couple of times the pastor put on his “karategi” (white karate uniform) and black belt and gave karate demonstrations, breaking wooden boards and cement cinder blocks, during church services.

The pastor’s sermons were usually peppered with references to physical fighting. He became especially animated when he preached on Old Testament passages in which one of God’s followers beat the snot out of some deserving pagan. Oftentimes, he would speak about desiring to straighten out some wayward Christian or some unsaved God-mocker he knew by “kicking their butt, in Christian love of course.” He always added that last part to make his aggression “okay.” He frequently encouraged the congregation by telling us, “if you don’t like my preaching, don’t let the door hit you in the behind.” Nice.

Initially, this in-your-face style of Christianity was an entertaining novelty. I was used to limp-wristed priests and brothers in Catholicism so this macho-man brand of Christianity was refreshing. The pastor often said Jesus was a tough guy, a carpenter-mason with thick, calloused hands who wasn’t afraid to go nose to nose with the religious big shots. But after the novelty wore off, the pastor’s tough guy approach became increasingly annoying. The Jesus who I read about in the New Testament was nothing like the he-man caricature the pastor spoke of.

As I remember, many other independent Baptist pastors took the crack-the-whip approach in their ministry back in the 80s but I think a lot of that has fizzled out. Our old pastor made tough guy, Mark Driscoll, look like Joel Osteen.

Application: If there’s a megalomaniac in the pulpit, don’t give up on God, find another church.

Post script: A wealthly church member bequeathed a large sum of cash to the church sixteen years ago. The money was used to build a large recreation center on the church campus. The pastor retired about five years ago because of health reasons and handed down the pastorate to his son, predictably, another martial arts enthusiast. The son has turned the rec center into a training facility for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting. Can anyone imagine Jesus Christ beating someone’s face to a pulp in an MMA cage?