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.