Papal allies accuse Catholic and evangelical Trump supporters of joining together in “ecumenism of hate”

For centuries, Bible Christians never had much of a problem distinguishing between the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and Roman Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit.

But beginning around sixty years ago, evangelical pastors and para-church leaders began to rise up saying ecumenism with Rome was fine and even desirable; influential men like Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell. Sure, they didn’t embrace all of Rome’s doctrinal deviations and “eccentricities,” but they gladly overlooked the “fine print” and declared Roman Catholicism to be “close enough.” After all, Christians in America were in a bitter battle to preserve “Judeo-Christian morality” and to “save America for Jesus,” so it didn’t seem wise to inspect the denominational dog tags of fellow soldiers combating the onslaught of secularism. Chuck Colson cleverly coined this alliance, “ecumenism in the trenches.”

But at this stage of the “culture war,” in the year 2017, politically-involved evangelicals have to concede that secularism has pretty much taken over the high ground. However, political/religious ecumenism with conservative Catholics and the culture battles continue. Research shows that 81 percent of White evangelicals voted for unlikely-candidate (to put it mildly), Donald Trump, in the presidential election. That’s no surprise given the only other option was Hillary Clinton. What is surprising is that 52 percent of Catholic voters, historically supporters of Democratic candidates, also voted for Trump.

But an article last week from a Vatican-approved source reveals not all Roman Catholics are pleased with the alliance between politically conservative Catholics and evangelicals in America. The article, written by two of pope Francis’s close advisors, warns of the “ecumenism of hate” shared by conservative Catholics (labeled as “integralists”) and evangelicals (labeled as “fundamentalists”).

“Appealing to the values of fundamentalism, a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic Integralists brought together by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.” – from “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism,” La Civiltà Cattolica, July 13, 2017.

See here for the full article.

According to Francis and his allies in the church, religious and “social justice” ecumenism is just fine, but ecumenism based on “the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state” is not.

Where does Jesus Christ fit into all of this? He doesn’t. Evangelical Christians need to be about their Father’s business as emissaries and ambassadors of the Kingdom and the Gospel of grace. Roman Catholics are our mission field, they are NOT our allies in some misguided Falwellian “culture war” to “save America!”


Below are two articles on the controversy from a conservative Catholic source. This newest squabble gives traditionalist Catholics yet another reason to hope for an early end to Francis’s reign.

Vatican-reviewed magazine accuses Catholics of ‘hate’ for supporting Trump
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/u.s.-catholics-and-evangelicals-supporting-trump-are-fostering-an-ecumenism

Archbishop rips Vatican-approved magazine’s ‘ignorant’ attack on pro-Trump Catholics
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archbishop-chaput-rips-vatican-approved-magazines-willfully-ignorant-attack

What’s going on with the Southern Baptist Convention?

News sources have recently reported that well-known Calvary Chapel pastor and evangelist, Greg Laurie, has decided to align with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  See the article below. I had wanted to write a post on the SBC at some future date, especially in light of reports about declining membership, but the news about Laurie got the ol’ brain synapses firing.

After my wife and I trusted in Christ in the early 80s, we attended an independent fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church for eight years. I subscribed to an IFB newspaper for awhile and one of its favorite targets was the “liberal” Southern Baptist Convention. I became increasingly unhappy with the legalistic preaching at our church and eventually walked out. Sadly, I allowed the experience to turn me away from the Lord.

The Lord graciously took me back three years ago and where did we start attending church? You guessed it! At an SBC church! I know I was purposely looking for a fellowship that didn’t resemble our previous one.

The small SBC church was a breath of fresh year because the new pastor just out of seminary emphasized God’s grace and mercy as much as His holiness. Regrettably, he was also very ecumenically-minded and often praised Catholic theologians, which is why we left after one year and began attending our current non-denominational church (with Baptist roots) about 20 months ago.

The Southern Baptist Convention reports around 15 million members in 47 thousand congregations. After one year in an SBC church, I’m certainly not an expert on the convention but I do have some thoughts on why it’s experiencing a decline in membership:

It’s too conservative

I believe the SBC is not attracting new members because it’s perceived as too conservative. In this era of egregiously hip church names – Resurgence Church, Elevation Church, The Gathering, etc. – having “Baptist” in the church name just doesn’t cut it for many. Research from Lifeway, an SBC organization, shows unbelievers and especially millennial unbelievers have a comparatively low opinion of Baptists. When Hollywood needs an “overly-zealous” religious character, who do they turn to? The character is invariably a Baptist. Then there’s the completely crazy Westboro Baptist Church nightmare in Topeka, Kansas. People also still link the Southern Baptist Convention with the White slave owners of the antebellum South and post-Civil War segregation. The young pastor of our previous SBC church dropped the “Baptist” from the church’s name only one year after he arrived.

It’s becoming too liberal

I believe some people are walking away from the SBC because it’s drifting into liberalism. An intense battle raged between orthodox and liberals over control of SBC seminaries beginning in the 1960s and continuing into the late 1990s with the orthodox eventually claiming victory. But liberalism continues to nibble away at the convention. SBC leaders, Richard Land and Larry Lewis, were initial signers of the 1994 ecumenical document, Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Popular Southern Baptists such as Rick Warren, Steven Furtick (pictured with his polar opposite, Charles Stanley), Beth Moore, Ed Young, and Dallas Willard (d. 2013) continue their assault on Biblical orthodoxy. Former SBC president, Ronnie Floyd, joined with pope Francis at Together 2016. Now, with ecumenically-minded and TBN-favorite, Greg Laurie, joining the SBC, the orthodox/conservative members of the convention have another reason to be concerned.

Too conservative? Too liberal? Is there a Catch-22 going on here or what? The rising number of “nones” (no religious affiliation) nationally is also assuredly affecting the SBC.

I am a Baptist Christian and I love my Baptist brothers and sisters. There’s many excellent, godly pastors and para-church leaders (Charles Stanley, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Paul Washer come to mind) and Christ-loving members in the SBC. No doubt about it. But in such situations as we currently see with the SBC, there’s the danger of fidelity to the organization and numbers taking precedence over fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and Biblical orthodoxy. My prayers go out to those in the SBC who continue to uphold the Gospel and God’s Word.


Greg Laurie, Calvary Chapel’s Big Crusader, Joins Southern Baptist Convention
http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/june/greg-laurie-southern-baptist-calvary-chapel-harvest-crusade.html

Southern Baptists have lost a million members in 10 years
https://baptistnews.com/article/southern-baptists-lost-million-members-10-years/#.WULHKuvyu1s

Southern Baptist Convention Deploys Theology Referees To Elevation Church (satire)
http://babylonbee.com/news/southern-baptist-convention-deploys-theology-referees-elevation-church/

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.

Ben Seewald reaches out to Catholics again!

After a very long prodigal “season,” I returned to the Lord in 2014. That same year, our oldest son hooked us up with Netflix. I can’t say I watch a lot of Netflix but I did make it a point to watch the “19 Kids and Counting” show featuring the Duggar family. I watched the first four and a half-seasons until The Learning Channel yanked the show from Netflix.

The Duggars didn’t talk a lot about their religious affiliation directly, but if a viewer paid attention they could gather that they were independent fundamental Baptists who adhered to Bill Gothard’s and Doug Phillips’ ultra-conservative Christian Dominionist/Reconstructionism. Coming from an IFB background myself (although much less hardcore than the Duggars’), I was fascinated by the show. Among many other IFB distinctives, the girls weren’t allowed to have short hairdoos or wear pants. I could argue secondary doctrinal issues with the Duggars but at least they uphold the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE.

The series premiered in 2009 and ran until May 2015 when news headlines revealed oldest son, Josh Duggar, was involved in several scandalous transgressions. A spinoff show, “Counting On,” carries on the Duggar saga, focusing mainly on married daughters, Jill and Jessa.

I recently saw that Jessa’s husband, Ben Seewald (see photo), is making headlines once again with remarks about Catholicism. Back in 2014, Seewald posted some comments critical of Roman Catholicism on his Facebook account, which caused a firestorm among 19 Kids and Counting’s Catholic fans. I see in the recent article below from a virtual gossip rag that Ben has posted on Facebook and Instagram that he’s currently reading James White’s excellent “The Roman Catholic Controversy: Catholics and Protestants – Do the Differences Still Matter?” (see my review here) to further educate himself regarding Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit and Catholic fans are up in arms once again.

Up until about fifty years ago, most evangelicals were very aware that Catholicism’s gospel of sacramental grace and merit was a false gospel. But because of the ecumenical push by Rome and some Judas evangelicals, the differences between Catholicism’s false gospel and the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE have been blurred in the minds of many. It’s now considered unkind, unloving, and intolerant to warn Catholics that they are on the wide way to destruction. I admire young Ben Seewald for upholding the Gospel of grace despite undoubtedly enormous pressure from network executives and family to keep his mouth shut.

Persevere in the Lord, Ben Seewald! There’s already way too much cooperation, compromise, and betrayal within evangelicalism.


Ben Seewald: Duggar Husband Studies To Refute Catholicism While Jill and Derick Evangelize to Catholics
http://www.inquisitr.com/4166855/ben-seewald-duggar-husband-studies-to-refute-catholicism-while-jill-and-derick-evangelize-to-catholics/

Tainted by association

NJR

Night Journey From Rome
By Clark Butterfield
Chick Publications, 1982, 207 pages

Clark Butterfield was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1965 and “served” in that capacity in California, Kansas, and Michigan until 1973. After losing confidence in various Catholic dogmas, he left the priesthood without scandal and obtained a job working in the offices of the Detroit Police Department, although he still practiced his Catholic religion. He was led to the Lord by a fellow member of the police department in 1978 and subsequently wrote this book, which includes his personal testimony and comparisons of God’s Word with Catholicism in regards to Mary, church authority, confession, the eucharist, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and end times eschatology.

In attempting to get this book published, Butterfield relates that several of the main Christian book publishers rejected his finished manuscript because it was anti-ecumenical. Butterfield then sent the manuscript to Chick Publications where the controversial Alberto Rivera championed its publication. Butterfield died in 1981 and this book was published the following year.

This is a strange book in more than a few regards. At the beginning of the book Jack Chick inserts a publisher’s note and Rivera adds an introduction. A preface attributed to Butterfield is highly complimentary of Rivera although Butterfield’s core original manuscript includes absolutely no hints of Rivera-like claims of Jesuit world-wide conspiracies. A postscript written by Jim MacKinnon, the man who led Butterfield to the Lord, which is also mildly complimentary of Rivera, closes the book. It’s suggested that Butterfield’s death was suspicious in nature but such an insinuation is par for the course in any Chick publication.

Jack Chick was already publishing hard-hitting, comic tracts that were very popular in fundamentalist circles when he hooked up with Rivera, who claimed to be an ex-Jesuit bishop, in 1979 and the two would proceed to write and publish a boatload of comic books, tracts, and books, which purported that every calamity in the history of Western civilization could be traced to the Jesuits and the Vatican. Rivera stoked the Chick conspiracy engine until his death in 1997. Those outlandish attacks on Catholicism did much to undermine the witness of responsible Gospel outreach ministries to Roman Catholics. I believe Satan was the inspiration behind Alberto Rivera and Chick Publications. It’s a shame “Night Journey From Rome” was published by Chick because, excluding the favorable extraneous references to Rivera and Chick that I mentioned, it’s an informative testimony from an ex-Catholic priest.

Fundamentalism and a family: I couldn’t put it down

The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Familyjr
By Andrew Himes
Chiara Press, 2011, 344 pages

Several weeks ago I posted a message regarding “The Sword of the Lord,” a Christian fundamentalist newspaper I subscribed to for a couple of years back in the early 1980s. See here.

Evangelist John R. Rice (pictured) was the original editor and publisher of the Sword. Although he had been dead for a few years by the time I started my subscription, I came to admire the man through his archived sermons and writings. Yes, the Sword often featured some hard-nosed fundamentalist diatribes that rubbed me the wrong way and eventually led to my letting my subscription run out, but I still have a soft spot for Rice and for much of what he preached.

I saw this book on Amazon when it was first published and was intrigued but not enough to buy it. After posting the message on the SOTL, I ordered a used copy from an Amazon 3rd-party seller and I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed this book immensely.

The author, Andrew Himes, is a grandson of John R. Rice and he gives the reader an intimate account of the rise of fundamentalism in the early 20th-century and the rise of Rice’s ministry. Few evangelical Christians know about John R. Rice these days but the man was perhaps the most influential leader of Christian fundamentalism from the 1940s through the 1970s. The movement had its struggles especially in regards to segregation and race relations (Rice’s minister father was a member of the KKK), the emergence of Billy Graham and evangelical ecumenism, and increasing involvement with politics which peaked with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Himes gives fantastic insight into the life of his grandfather and the movement he shepherded.

Relatively few churches still preach the hard-core brand of fundamentalism championed by J. Frank Norris, William Bell Riley, John R. Rice, Bob Jones, Sr., and Jack Hyles, where the Gospel was mixed with a certain degree of arrogance and judgmentalism.  Unfortunately, many of today’s evangelical churches lean toward the opposite extreme with Joel Osteen-Rick Warren-TBN loosey gooseyism. Andrew Himes says he accepted Christ as a child, became a Marxist atheist, but now encourages everyone to discover the enigmatic “God within ourselves.” But don’t let that stop you. Hime’s New Age/Universalism soliloquy only lasts a paragraph or two. Although this book is harshly critical of several aspects of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, Himes combines criticism with love and a good degree of respect.

For anyone interested in the history of Christian fundamentalism with a very personal twist, this book is the ticket. I couldn’t put it down.

p.s. Be forewarned. “The Sword of the Lord” traces the Rice family history from 1778 onward, sometimes with exacting detail. Those who dislike history will find this book more than a little daunting. Himes has definitely done his research.

jrr

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/

Small groups: “You can run but you can’t hide!”

When my wife and I and our two sons attended an indy fundy church back in the 1980s, thesg worship service schedule, typical of many other evangelical/fundamentalist churches at the time, went like this:

Sunday
Sunday School: 9-10 a.m.
Worship Service: 10-11 a.m.
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m.

Wednesday
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m. Many churches often referred to this mid-week service as a “Bible study” although at our church it was the exact same format as the Sunday morning and evening worship services.

It was somewhat expected that a committed church member would attend all four services.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of such a thing as a “small group.” Frankly, there was no time for a small group meeting during the week given the above church schedule. Just about everyone in that 150-member congregation was on a first-name basis anyway with all that contact. Well, we left that church and I subsequently walked away from the Lord for many years but when I returned to Him a couple of years ago I found the church landscape had changed quite a bit. For many churches, especially the increasingly popular mega-churches, the worship service schedule consists of a single Sunday morning service. Period. There’s no Sunday School or Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services. Large churches offset the impersonal environment of their single Sunday service with mid-week small group meetings where members can disciple and support each other in a much more personal setting.

About fifteen months ago, we began attending a non-denominational mega-church (with Baptist roots) and we initially appreciated the anonymity afforded by such a setting. We could nod hello, shake a few hands, worship the Lord in song, hear the sermon, and leave. No muss, no fuss. We didn’t “bother” anyone and no one “bothered” us. After a couple of “sour” experiences at our previous churches, my wife and I had pledged several times to each other that we would never again be in anyone’s back pocket when it came to church, even though we knew our preferred anonymous, arms-length relationship with others in the congregation wasn’t Biblical.

Our new church regularly encourages people to join a small group. The idea began to appeal to me but I wasn’t going to bring it up to my wife. If the Lord wanted us to join a small group, He would work it out. A couple of months ago, a person at church caught us before we could make our getaway and asked if we were members of a group. She turned out to be a group leader and invited us to join. My wife confessed she had been agreeable to joining a group but, like me, wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. All I can say is the Lord MUST have a sense of humor

Since joining our 18-member group (quite a bit larger than the “optimum” 12) we’ve shared a meal at a restaurant, did some Christmas caroling at a nursing home, and attended the first meeting of the new semester last week. At the meeting, we discussed the previous Sunday’s sermon and what it meant in our lives followed by the men and women splitting up into separate groups for prayer. My wife and I are slowly getting to know everyone and we’re already receiving blessings. Christianity isn’t living life in an isolation booth, it’s reaching out to the lost with the Gospel and it’s also reaching out to brothers and sisters in Christ and allowing them to reach out to you.

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45.

The bottom line for groups and everything else in the life of a believer: The focus should be on Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord! He will never disappoint.


Postscript: I looked up the history of the concept of small groups at church and found smatterings of information here and there. Small church groups have been popular for decades so, once again, I’m late to the party. It would make sense that large churches would incorporate small groups to complement the large, impersonal Sunday service.

IFB Memories #10: Joy!

Over the past several months, I’ve shared several memories that were critical of themp experience at our first church, but there were some joyous times in those years as well.

I accepted Jesus as my Savior in 1983 at the age of 27. What a joy it was to know all my sins had been forgiven through faith in Christ. Do you remember the day you accepted Christ? It felt kind of like I had been in prison, on death row, and the governor had given me a pardon, but even better. Not only did Jesus pay my sin debt for me but then He beckoned me to walk with Him throughout eternity as Lord and Friend! What can possibly compare to that?

Immediately after accepting Christ I leafed through the yellow pages (remember those?) and found an independent Bible church in my area. Between constantly reading God’s Word (with a new understanding and appreciation), attending church services Sunday AM, Sunday PM, and Wednesday PM, and listening to previous sermon cassettes (remember those?) my life had become Jesus 24/7. There’s nothing quite like the zeal of a new convert to Christ.

Did I mention what my unsaved wife thought about all of this? My wife watched all of these goings on with a very jaundiced eye. What had I gotten myself into now? She thought I had gotten mixed up in a cult. My wife was raised Roman Catholic as I had been but she wasn’t gung ho about her religion by any stretch. I began sharing the Gospel with her as much as possible but the harder I pushed the more she resisted. And she definitely resented the new love of my life and the time and energy I was devoting to Him.

This went on for several months and our marriage was definitely headed for trouble. How could such a good thing like accepting Christ lead to such heartache? Why wouldn’t my wife just accept Christ? Why didn’t she understand? I prayed and prayed but things only got worse. In desperation I made an appointment with the pastor. I explained my situation and he gave me some godly advice. He told me to keep praying, be the best husband I could be, and leave the rest to the Lord. He said not to even mention Jesus to my wife. I drove home wondering how the pastor’s counsel could possibly work. It seemed counter-intuitive. My wife’s unbelief was a “problem” that I needed to fix but now I was being told to get out of the way and let God take control? I grudgingly heeded the pastor’s advice and totally gave the situation over to the Lord. I put my energy into loving my wife the way the Lord wanted me to and kept completely quiet about Jesus. After several months I could see the Lord was working on my wife and that her heart was softening. When she started coming to me with questions about God I tried to remain cool and composed.

My wife finally accepted Christ. Oh, happy day! I readily admit it was all the Lord’s doing. I was just getting in the way. We’ve had some trials in our marriage over the years. What couple hasn’t? It didn’t help when I walked away from the Lord for an extended time. We even divorced for a year fifteen years ago. But the Lord got us back together and He also graciously accepted me back. My wife and I now read the Lord’s Word and pray together almost daily. What a miracle! I sit next to my wife at church and silently tell the Lord how grateful I am.

I know things don’t always work out for everyone the way they have for my wife and I. Sometimes a married person accepts Christ but their spouse never does. Sometimes a believing married couple separate permanently. Although my wife accepted Christ, our two sons have not. Whatever your circumstances, I think back to the advice the pastor gave me: give it all to God. The frustration, the pain, the regrets. The Lord desires that we live our lives with our focus on Him and not be chained to the past or allow ourselves to be conquered by our current circumstances.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” – Philippians 3:14-16