Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Praying for the President: Should I, Would I?

A neighboring pastor, Jerry Fallwell Senior, used to say that people in Lynchburg VA would either pucker (as in to kiss) or spit when they saw him coming. Clearly, our current President, Donald Trump, brings out those kinds of polar responses in the political social realm. I'll leave it to others to sort out which pole, or perhaps a mediating view, is right about the current resident of the White House. My thought today has to do with an interesting encounter another Virginia pastor had with Mr. Trump.
At this point, I'll quote from Tim Challies's blog. I had heard about Trump appearing before a church asking for prayer. It was Challies who provoked me to click and learn more.
PRAYER FOR THE PRESIDENTDavid Platt explains how he found himself praying for President Trump on Sunday morning. “Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God. Today, I found myself in one of those situations.”
Platt found himself in a very typical pastoral situation, not that the President regularly appears in a church requesting prayer, but pastors frequently find themselves in situations when they have to make potentially important--even life-altering decisions in a very brief time. I have often been in these Nehemiah moments. You remember, don't you, when Nehemiah stood before the absolute sovereign of Persia. In the sycophantic culture of the palace, Nehemiah had been caught in what could be a capital crime. “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick?" (Nehemiah 2:2) Sadness in the monarch's presence was considered an insult. Nehemiah bravely summarized the source of his discomfort, the plight of his people, the Jews, who lived on the fringe of the Persian kingdom. I figure Nehemiah's senses must have been on high alert. The plight of his people was the result of the policy and practice of the Persian administration, and he was standing before the Supreme Persian. Nehemiah's relief at not being immediately dragged away was short-lived.
Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?”" (2:4)
In that brief moment--that was all he had--Nehemiah prayed.
I figure Platt uttered one of those "Help, Lord!" prayers as he decided how to handle the request put before him. President Trump had shown up, unannounced, toward the end of a service, and requested that the McLean Bible Church have a time of public prayer for him. (It would appear from the report that the President's request was not disruptive--at least not to those other than Pastor Platt.)
I've not made requests before all-powerful Kings or had the controversial President of my nation appear at a service requesting prayer. I have, many, many times found myself in situations when I needed to decide fairly quickly, knowing that the decision wasn't completely black or white and/or knowing that either way I decided there would be consequences, some negative. Just off the top of my head here are some. Fellow pastors will note, "been there, decided that."

  • Phone call from a funeral director: "Rev. Merrell, The family of Sally Jones has asked that you speak at her funeral." At this point the default, "Yes, of course." answer is on my lips. "Oh, and by the way Rev. Objectionable will also be speaking." Fill in the blank. Rev. Objectionable is a heretic, sexually immoral person, member of a group that is Theologically obnoxious, or someone who has instulted me and my church, etc.
  • Walking into a hospital room of a person who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The family has been diagnosed with a sickness called "denial." In hushed tones they instruct me, "Don't mention that she has cancer." 
  • In spite of my best efforts to set up policies and guidelines, someone or something comes along that doesn't quite fit what I had already decided. As I make up my mind I can already hear the protests, "But you didn't do that for . . ." The nuance that influenced my spur of the moment decision would be lost on my detractors.
  • I wish I could more consistently take comfort in the knowledge that our Lord suffered at the hands of critics. "He hangs out with tax-collectors and prostitutes." Too frequently, my thoughts continue, "Yes, and they crucified Him."
I could go on, but I think I have made the point, at least one point, of this post. Church-member, your pastor is called on to make decisions that you will never have to make and often make those choices in a Nehemiah moment. Cut him some slack. More importantly, pray for him.

For what it is worth, I think Platt made the right decision. He probably won't read this, but I figure I ought to stick up for someone who is making a good effort to do the right thing in a turblent context. To those who think otherwise, I ask you to consider, would your objection still be there if the President were Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Sanders, or (fill in the blank with your favorite)?

I also was convicted by the news. I find it difficult to consistently pray for my leaders. Often mention of "Kings and all who are in high places" in my public prayers are most prominent by their absence. I need to do better.

Below is the link to a post in which Pastor Platt shares his thoughts. It concludes with a video of him praying for President Trump.


BTW, a word of thanks to Denise Gregson for giving me a heads up about Tim Challies post. :)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dealing with the Troubling issue of Child, Sexual Abuse from a Pastoral Role:

We live in troubling times. To use the old KJV language "perilous times." Part of the peril of our day has to do with the swirling issues in regard to human sexuality. Some of the dangers are obvious--there are those who adopt clearly wrong/destructive behavior and hurt not only themselves but others. On the other side is the reality that dangers lurk for those of us who are just trying to figure out what is the right response. How do those of us seek to proclaim God's truth and hope navigate these troubled waters? Some of us, who have reached a certain age, have seen the public and official agencies change views and policies. Some of these changes are for the worse, some for the better. Present attitudes and legal requirements concerning the abuse of children represent one area that has changed in recent decades. A case can be made that with the new abortion law just signed in New York, and the one being considered in Virginia, that our culture has forsaken its responsibility to protect the most vulnerable. I can't and won't argue with that, but that is not my purpose today.
The same bureaucratic machine that protects the right to kill the unborn, and perhaps the just-born, can cause a great deal of trouble for the pastor or other religious worker who is just trying to do the right thing. The Roman Catholic Church historically did the rest of us clergy a great service (though some would say what I'm about to say is a dis-service to many) by maintaining the sanctity of the confessional. As I understand it it is, "the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything that they learn from penitents during the course of the Sacrament of Penance (confession)." Those of us who pastored in traditions that don't have confessionals generally adapted and adopted that general principle and applied it to matters shared with us in counseling or other pastoral ministry. Readers who are interested can search for ways in which this practice has been challenged in recent decades. It needs to be understood that while the general principle of pastoral confidentiality should be upheld, maintaining an absolute seal on information received in pastoral settings creates ethical problems.
In my pastoral ministry the expectation that I gave to people in counseling, etc. is that I will not tell/share anything that is inappropriate for me to share. The obvious implication being that there are some matters that I conclude should be shared. If the counselee is not comfortable with that assurance they can seek other counsel. We can talk more about that later. I have a different purpose today.

In my humble opinion, it is clear that pastors, youth leaders, and others who are likely to come face-to-face with child-abuse, or behavior that leads one to reasonably suspect that child-abuse it taking place be informed about what the law says about their responsibility to report.
My thoughts were jogged by two good articles that I read in the last couple of days:
What Clergy Need to Know About Mandatory Reporting, and 
What Churches Need to Know about Sexual Crimes.
The second of the links above is particularly helpful in that it contains links that lead to several databases of information. As usual Gene Edward Veith is helpful. Both articles point out that laws vary from state (or in my case territory) to state. Also, it is clear that this is an area of law in which changes have been made, not only in actual statutes but in the way courts are interpreting them.
The articles provoked me to check what the law says in my new home, Guam. I would encourage my colleagues to do the same in the place where they serve. 
I was reminded of a reality that I knew, but which is often not front and center in my thinking. For purposes of the law, a child (minor) is anyone not yet eighteen years of age. Even in the college setting where I currently work I on occasion deal with people who, for purposes of this law, are defined as children. 
The Archdiocese of Agana is currently mired in a horrendous clergy sex-abuse scandal. The problem is not isolated to the Roman Catholic Church. A pastor friend of mine is on the docket to testify about another pastor's alleged abuse of a teen church member. Keeping these kinds of problems in mind, one can understand the motivation for the portion of Guam's Child Protective Act that specifically states that clergy are not exempted from reporting requirements. Many would say that the consequences for failing to report are not enough, but they are serious enough to bring fear to my heart.

"Any person required to report pursuant to § 13201 who fails to report an instance of child abuse which he or she knows to exist or reasonably should know to exist is guilty of a misdemeanor and is punishable by confinement for a term not to exceed six months, by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by both. A second or subsequent conviction shall be a felony in the third degree. Fines imposed for violations of this Chapter shall be deposited in the Victims Compensation Fund."

I know there may be times in which conscience may compel one to "obey God rather than man," and face the consequences. That's not my point today. As I began, we live in troubling times. It is wise to know the lay of the land and give some forethought to what one will or won't do. If these thoughts put you on track to do that, you are welcome.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Lessons from a couple of great scholars like Professor Brainard the inventor of Flubber and Dr. Quick Draw McGraw:

I just read Al Mohler's apology and explanation about his former support of C. J. Mahaney, of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
I read Dr. Mohler's piece at a time when several sources of input are coalescing into a general caution in my consciousness. Let me explain.
We live in a day that discourages investigation and contemplation. The instant comment or retort is highly admired. If you think about something too long, and "too long" can be as little as the proverbial "sleep on it," you'll lose your place in the discussion.  It's like commenting, while on a road trip, about something you noticed an hour ago. The rest of the travelers are already into the scenery that presents itself NOW. Right or wrong, some people praise me by telling me that I think well on my feet. The desire to live up to that approbation makes what I'm talking about a particular temptation for me.
To give a very unscientific explanation, it seems that our minds work according to a set of unseen algorithms. When a piece of "news" is introduced into the marvelous computer known as my brain, it first passes through a set of rudimentary filters: 

  • Do I agree or disagree?
  • Do I like or dislike?
  • Is this about friend or foe?
  • Is there potential in this news to help or hurt me?
  • etc., etc..
Somewhere there is a blinking light that says, "Check it out"

Image result for check it out

But like the conscience that can be seared (1 Tim. 4:2), that warning light has been dimmed or hidden by clutter. The need for speedy response tends to make the pulsating warning more of a nuisance than a caution.
"I know something people need to know." or,
"I need to protect this good person who is being treated badly." or,
"This is so right I need to put my "AMEN!" in the comment stream."
I may even breathe a prayer. "Lord, please let my comment/blog-post/tweet/email to my loyal readers show up before Dr. Big-Name's." 
I don't want to impute my faulty reasoning to another so I'll simply quote Dr. Mohler,  "I deeply regret this. I frankly was not equipped to sift through the allegations and did not grasp the situation, and I am responsible for that and for not seeking the counsel of those who were." 
If the President of Southern Seminary, with a capable staff of researches to work with, is not equipped, what chance do we mere mortals have?
I'm going to try to avoid doing what I'm saying not to do, but consider the Jussie Smollett episode. I have no way of knowing who is right and who is wrong--that's a big part of the point of this post--but I figure a foreign news agency is my best hope for objectivity. The BBC gives an overview of what allegedly happened.  That word, "allegedly," deserves a comment. In the brief article, I counted about 15 times that words like alleged, reported, he said were used.  This kind of self-protective language has become ludicrous.

Journalist Harris Sherline says, "'Alleged' has become perhaps the most overworked and misused word in the American lexicon. His article,  goes on to ask, ". . . does using the word 'alleged' in every reference to a crime really protect the rights of the accused . . .?" I'll confess my bias. I think it often has more to do with protecting the writer than anyone else. 
But getting back to the alleged Smollett incident, when it was first reported, folk with one view of the way things are responded with outrage in one direction. Then when the police were reported to have alleged that Mr. Smollett faked this so-called attack, others with a different view of the world jumped on their own bandwagon and proceeded down the information superhighway with the volume at deafening. Let the dust settle? If I do that, I'll be seen as not appropriately outraged. We even have a new term for it, virtue signaling--the conspicuous expression of moral values. No one wants to be seen on the wrong side of history (look it up), and since history is constantly being made and just as quickly being forgotten I need to make my view known quickly. Since the virtue that folk are signaling varies from one side to the other this game can be like playing ping-pong with a ball made of flubber (Boy, I'm showing my age on that one.) Some online commenters will actually shame others because they were too slow to draw their virtue-signaling six-gun.

I like Dr. Mohler. His writings have been helpful to me. I appreciate his apology, not only because it appears to be (there I go) a sincere attempt to do the right thing, but because it is instructive. 
With the clarity of hindsight, Dr. Mohler says, "I did not even grasp the context I was speaking into." 
How many times have I been guilty of that--not allegedly guilty, but guilty? The answer is many times.
He points out as well that his earlier statement was made on the basis of wrong information. " I did not realize until this past year. . . . When this issue resurfaced a year ago, I was made painfully aware of my serious mistakes."
My late Father frequently said to me, "Now son, let that be a lesson to you." I pray that it will be, not only to me, to Dr. Mohler, but to those of you who allegedly read my blog.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let's Not Let the Tragedy Be Multiplied

Mark Galli, at Christianity Today, often does a good job of looking at a news item from several sides. He usually succeeds in not only reporting the news in Evangelicalism but in bringing the story back to the all-important question, "So What?" What should I do about this? What can I learn from this? Do I in some way, I hadn't thought of before, have a part in this?  I imagine that all of you are at least acquainted with recent reports of inappropriate behavior on the part of Bill Hybels, former pastor of the mega-influential Willow Creek Community Church. I've heard Hybels speak. I was challenged and helped by a lecture/sermon he gave a long time ago at a pastors' conference on "unchurched Harry and Mary." The lecture came at a time when most of us still had not met this pair. Like many others, I have been helped by his books. On at least three occasions I have I have been involved in classes based on the "Contagious Christian" series. Hybels didn't write or produce the series but were it not for him, the very useful material would never have seen daylight.  I fancied that I had some things in common with Pastor Hybels. We are about the same age. We both pastored one church for our entire career. Though Hybels was a mover and shaker in the Evangelical world, he came across with a sort of "Aw Shucks" plainness that I admired. While we disagreed on a number of issues, I like the man from a distance. More, I appreciated his contribution. For these reasons, among others, when the "me too" movement came to South Barrington, IL, my response was, "Oh, no. I hope not. I'm going to wait for more to come out." In the past couple of weeks, more did come out, and it isn't good. In his article, Galli doesn't go into detail about all the past news. One can easily find more than he wants to know about the story. Christianity Today, the magazine Galli leads, has been out front with coverage. Instead Galli focuses on, what do we do now?
"In light of the resignation of [Willow Creek's] pastoral staff and elder board, it’s time to rally around Willow Creek Community Church with support and prayers. With those resignations, and the repentance they suggest, Willow has an opportunity to enter into a new fruitful season of ministry." You probably ought to stop here and read Galli's article (if you can't open the link below, you might find it on another site).

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/august-web-only/willow-creek-bill-hybels-pray-for-healing.html

So, what should we do in the light of what appears to be a major failure on the part of a big-time pastor, and the corollary failure of those around him? For one thing, we can learn. I hear my late Father quietly saying, "Now, Son, let that be a lesson to you." Here are some lessons Galli suggests with one of my own added.

  • "We tend to think that loyalty means always taking the side of the leader to whom we want to be faithful. Loyalty instead means doing everything in your power to make the leader not only a better one but a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ."
    Wisely, and rightly, Galli points out that loyalty does not only run in the direction of fellow-staff, with whom we serve but to the constituents we do serve. Supremely, we must be loyal to God.
  • Frequently, when commenting on incidents like what has taken place at Willow Creek, I find myself making statements that begin with, "They should just . . ." as if what needs to happen now is easy. It isn't. As Galli points out, "Repentance is a hard and fearsome thing." Doing right is often hard. Cleaning up a mess like the one at Willow Creek--whoever is telling the truth--is off-the-scale hard.
  • The possibilities of redemption are greater than we tend to think. Ponder these words from Galli: After confirming that care and help must provided to the victims of abuse, he goes on to say, "[T]he gospel calls some of us to rally around the accused and guilty, as well. What loyalty and love looks like in each situation is different, but in the end it should be a combination of honesty and grace, tough love and tender mercy, that leads one and all into a deeper relationship with God." Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and John Mark, are all reminders of the reality that God may not be finished with someone just because we are. I'm in no way endorsing the express lane to restoration that has too often marked big-time Evangelicalism. I am saying that God's mercy is bigger than I know.
    For most of us, what this means is that we should pray.
  • Here is mine: While I did see some parallels between my ministry and Pastor Hybels's there is one glaring difference, scale. I once attended a midweek service at Willow Creek. I was like a wide-eyed farm boy visiting the city for the first time, only more so. For those of us labor in relative obscurity, there is a powerful temptation to jealousy and envy. And, then when things go wrong in the mega-ministry, there is a powerful urge to say something like, "See, I told you." That temptation yaps in my heart like an aggravating little dog. So far I've succeeded in telling the annoying beast to "shut-up." I'm praying that it will go out for a walk and not come back. I pray that my ministry colleagues, those who serve faithfully in ministries big or small, will be delivered as well. At this point, I can hear Screwtape's infernal printer grinding out a memo to all junior demons tasked with the ruination of those who serve in leadership for "the enemy" (for those of you not familiar with the Screwtape Letters, that would be our Lord Jesus Christ).
 ". . . encourage their envy. Your goal is to make them self-righteous about the fact that they are faithful in a small hard place. From there it should be an easy step to temp them to pride. Those who serve the enemy are sad that we have won a victory concerning one of their esteemed leaders. For a moment contrast that sadness of the enemy with the shrieks of joy--if such is possible in the underworld--if we can leverage this small victory into the far greater advance that will come if we can get many of them to become proud. The silly vermin are going about spouting the phrase, 'Me too.' It should not be hard, even for incompentent tempters like you, to start a 'not me,' movement. Make sure to plant the thought that these silly pastors and such can resist the temptation on their own. At all costs keep them from the patently obvious observation that they are fundamentally no different than others who have fallen. The possibilities cause me to sink lower and lower with delight. . . .
With Ravenous Affection,Screwtape. 



Friday, July 20, 2018

Plagiarism in the Pulpit

An evangelist and excellent preacher, Glenn Mathews, told me on numerous occasions after I had heard him preach, "Clean that up and use it." I did on several occasions, though it is doubtful that my "cleaning" improved anything. When I did I always mentioned that it had originated with him.
I remember attending a quite large and successful church. The Pastor had a national audience, had been part of huge rallies, and had written a book that I found quite helpful. I was disappointed a year, or more, later when I found that he had been removed from his position as pastor because he had been preaching the sermons of others as if they were his own.
One of the changes that I observed in my forty+ years of pastoral ministry is the raising of standards for preachers to cite their sources. Now that I am in an academic setting, my sensitivity to the issue is greater. For what it is worth, I see several reasons for the trend of greater expectation for the words "Dr. So and So wrote." or "In a book published last year . . ."


  • The internet makes it easy for others to catch you when you are plagiarizing someone else. It used to be that preachers would jokingly say, "During the first year of my ministry I preached some of the greatest sermons ever preached. They were written by Spurgeon, Moody, and (fill in the name)." Now if there is the least bit of suspicion, someone will Google it and you'll be caught before the benediction. In addition to the ease with which one can get caught, the same ease applies to one's ability to copy. On Saturday night it is a temptation that would make the serpent blush and slink out of the Garden.
  • The well-known violators, like the one I mentioned, have caused this to be a hot topic. Maybe it is just because I am old and forgetful, but I don't think so. Whatever the reason I don't remember this being an issue when I started in ministry. Pulpit committees and church leadership teams, now, have to deal with, "We don't want that to happen to us."
  • It used to be that sermons were one time events. Now, even tiny churches record and make available their pastor's sermons. 
Whatever the reasons behind the new level of expectation, make no mistake it is real.I haven't read the book, at least not yet, but I found a review of  Scott Gibson's book, Should We Use Someone Else's Sermon? to be quite helpful and thought-provoking. If you are a preacher, you should read the blog post. I'll let you know if I get around to reading the book. (In case you missed it, here is the link, again, https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/ron-forseth-3-tests-of-pulpit-plagiarism-do-you-pass-them-1230?ref=)

Rather than quote from the article, I'll let you read it. I encourage you to click on the link to the "Preacher's Pledge." I signed up. The article helped crystalize some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for a while.


  •  Preaching is not the same as writing an academic paper. How do you footnote something in a sermon? If you give out a note sheet with your sermon, you can put a footnote there, but not everyone will read it. Especially if your sermon is broadcast in some way, almost no one will see it. I frequently do put sources in my handouts. When I do I always try to give a very brief mention verbally, "MacArthur says," or in the introduction, "I am indebted to my friend Glenn Mathews for a number of the thoughts in this message."
  • The article points out that the preacher is dealing with more than honesty in regard to the author of the source. We also must be concerned with maintaining the trust of the congregation. That means, among other things, that our concern is not only with copyright material. It seems to me that satisfying the need to maintain trust varies from situation to situation. Some preachers are able to make clear by body language and voice that they are speaking another's words. I would suspect that a preacher ministering to a group of academics would need to meet higher expectations than one dealing with a blue-collar crowd. Maybe I was wrong, but I found that saying "Keil and Deilitzch says . . ." was more apt to communicate pride--"I read high-end books that you don't"--than honesty. Often, unless I am referring to a source that might truly be helpful to the people I'm preaching to, I'll just say, "A commentator said. . . ." 
  • Along that line, the article points out that we have to let our conscience guide us, not someone else's conscience. Just one of many reasons to keep our consciences away from hot irons. (Since this is a post on plagiarism I need to point out that this allusion comes from 1 Timothy 4:2, though the Apostle Paul has never given me a hard time about quoting him.)
I'm not sure Spurgeon said, " All originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching." or not. If he did say it, he uttered those words in a different era and, I suspect, tongue in cheek. The words do provide some balance to the discussion. While it may not be good enough anymore--at least not all together--I think there is still some truth in the words of Solomon. I have applied them to sermonizing many times. "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Or, as one young preacher is reported to have cried out, "The ancients have stolen my ideas." If I come up with something truly original it is probably truly wrong. Maybe someone will come up with a list of iron-clad (that refers to two battleships in the American Civil War) rules for when to cite and when not to--I sincerely doubt that will happen--we have to do the best we can. Our goal is to effectively communicate God's truth. We can't let extra-Biblical rules interfere with that. Yet, we must be people of integrity. If we aren't, we forfeit any opportunity to speak for God. It's harder than it looks. Maybe we can help each other. Let's start a conversation. Let us know how you handle this issue in the comments section, below.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Two Good Articles on the Church's Role in the 21st Century Sexual Mess.

Last Thursday I was involved in the nth session of an important and difficult dialogue. How does the church, how do those of us who have leadership in the church, respond to the questions of sexual ethics in the Twenty-first Century? My partners in dialogue were a half dozen clergy, involved in a variety of ministries, and from a smattering of Theological backgrounds--a retired" missionary/pastor, still very active; four pastors of churches here on Guam, but from at least three different subcultures; a military chaplain; and me, an old pastor and somewhat reformed Fundamentalist, now serving as president of a small Christian college. Theologically, the guys are from Baptist, Pentecostal, Reformed, and Evangelical churches and backgrounds. All are conservative--they take a high view of scripture--well-read, and articulate.
Basically, the topic of the conversation was the same as it had been in scores of other conversations I have been involved in with different partners, "How should the church respond to the unBiblical, in some cases antiBiblical, sexual mores of our day, and how do we minister to those who choose a way of life that the Bible labels as sinful?" My current ministry places me in the midst of young adults, many of whom have been abused by sinful, dare I say "perverted," versions of sexuality that are winked at, if not culturally sanctioned in the communities they come from. The "winking and sanctioning" includes some church leaders. On top of that these "kids" (I have a grandson older than some of them) now live in a world where they have 24/7 exposure to the sexual muck of the world I used to live in, on the other side of the pond, plus all the stuff that comes from the other direction as well. It's like they are trying to put their lives together in the aftermath of one typhoon while enduring the fury of another one bearing down with full-force. It is a privilege for Kathy and I to model what a wholesome marriage looks like, and to, whenever possible, engage in productive conversation on the subject.
This morning two articles came my way that profitably continued the conversation.
Joe Rigney posted an article at Mere Orthodoxy, "Today’s World Would Not Be Strange to Paul: On Church Discipline." His article is mainly a critique of a post by Wesley Hill, a name that came up in my conversation last Thursday (though I mistakenly called him "Wesley White), "FIVE THESES ON CHURCH DISCIPLINE." I encourage you to read Hill's article first and then read Rigney's reaction to it.*
Knowing, though that many of you won't read the articles, I share a few comments below. My hope is that they will encourage you to read the articles.

Here are Hill's Five Theses:
  1. There is no singular biblical model of church discipline, and our obedience to what the New Testament teaches in this regard must be an imaginative, metaphor-making obedience.
  2. Church leaders must face the fact of their own complicity in the moral failings of those under their care.
  3. The complexity of our post-Sexual Revolution cultural moment should lead us to expect that many “conversions” to a scriptural view of sex and marriage will be gradual and halting.
  4. Church discipline in Anglicanism should be treated as a largely forgotten practice in need of rediscovery, rather than a possession being intentionally neglected.
  5. In our slow recovery of the practice of church discipline, we must remember the aim of discipline: the forgiveness of sins.
#1 is primarily a matter of exegesis. I'll leave it for another day. Rigney has some thoughtful comments on this aspect of the discussion.
I was most interested in #s 2 & 3. 
#2 is true beyond any doubt. Some church leaders, being so desperate for a place at the cultural table, have become exegetical contortionists, excusing, and even embracing what scripture condemns. Others by their proverbial ostrich stance, teach and act like a traffic cop at a wreck, "Move along, there's nothing to look at, here." Still others by their lack of compassion, and failure to accurately reflect what Scripture really says, are like straight men for those who proclaim a new version of sexuality. A good straight man makes it easier for the other guy to deliver his lines effectively.
In particular, Hill points to the lack of clear winsome teaching on sexuality.
One of the details in 1 Corinthians 5 that has struck me with more and more force in recent years is how Paul not only counsels the Corinthian Christians to hand over the sexually immoral man in their midst to Satan (i.e., excommunicate him, in the hopes of his eventual restoration) but also stresses their collective failure in handling the situation in a godly way. Immediately after naming the presenting problem, Paul rounds on the church as a whole: “[Y]ou are arrogant! … Your boasting is not a good thing” (5:2, 6). In context, Paul is accusing the Corinthians of hypocritical pride in their spiritual status when they can’t even muster the moral will to confront the flagrant immorality of one of their congregants. But his point seems to me to have a wider significance. It highlights the fact that no individual sin is truly individual. We are all implicated in one another — or, to use Paul’s organic metaphor, we are members of the same body (Rom. 12:5) — and one person’s disobedience can affect the community, just as the community’s disobedience can affect an individual.
This strikes me as incontrovertibly true.

#s 3 & 5 mark the overall tone of Hill's article, as well as his book*. We on the conservative end of Christianity need this counterbalance.
Concerning #4, I'll let my Anglican friends sort their own laundry. I would say in general, though, concerning this one, that it has to be put next to #2. When we adopt the ostrich stance we are not innocent.

I think last Thursday I gave my version of one of Rigney's points. "If you bought the Apostle Paul a suit of 21st Century clothes, gave him a Star Trek universal translator, and dropped him in San Francisco, as soon as he figured out how to ride the trolley, he'd feel pretty well at home. While I don't think Hill is guilty of this, he does lean more in this direction more than I'm comfortable with. One of the tendencies in our day is for exegetes to adopt a stance toward the Biblical text that sees it as so culturally embedded that it loses any relevance to any cultural situation beyond the one immediately addressed in the text. Good Biblical hermeneutics demands that we respect the cultural setting. Yet, it appears to me that when we consider that Holy Spirit is the coauthor of scripture, and that He oversaw (sees) the preservation of Scripture (canonicity), that we can conclude that there are timeless, transcultural truths and ethical standards contained in the Bible. I maintain that a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality is one of those universals. Hill agrees with that, but he gives a greater level of sympathy to those who take the other side, than I or, it would appear, Rigney.**

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*Several years ago, when I and a fellow pastor were working on a series on how the Bible defines marriage, I read  Hill's book, Washed and Waiting. It did a great deal to help me understand the questions, not only intellectually, but empathetically, something that is hard for we "straight" oriented types. I hadn't heard from Hill recently. Though I am somewhat disappointed that he is no longer a Baptist, I am pleased that his orientation toward how to handle homosexuality is still the same. I encourage anyone who is studying deeply on 21st Century sexuality to read his book. Here is a review that will give you an idea of what Hill has to say, http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2010/11/09/book-review-washed-and-waiting-by-wesley-hill/.
I'm not familiar with Joe Rigney. I do appreciate the way he interacts with his friend in this article.

** This article by Robertson McQuilkin and Bradford Mullen speaks to this issue, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp069-082_JETS.pdf.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Some thoughts at the death of a great evangelist and evangelical, from an, at least somewhat, reformed Fundamentalist:

I just heard the News that Billy Graham died. I am sad that a man of his stature has departed, but then, in reality he has not been the force in Christendom, that he once was, for some time, now. From all I heard over the last few years, he has been but a fragile shell of the man he once was. His dear wife, Ruth, died some years ago. A long time ago I read a book Dr. Graham wrote about heaven. I rejoice at his transition; now he can check things out to see how much of his book is right.
As far as my spiritual upbringing, I grew up a Fundamentalist. I am thankful for my heritage. Men like my pastor in my formative years, Rev. Eugene Marsceau, who later became my father-in-law, the President of Appalachian Bible Institute, Dr. Lester Pipkin, my Theology prof. Dr. Joseph Pinter, and my pastor during the last two years of my college career, Rev. Victor Decker were/are all Fundamentalists. All of them were gentlemen. Though Lester Pipkin was one of the strongest, most effective preachers I ever heard, and all of these men were men of strong conviction, none of them had the fire-breathing, eat-nails-for-breakfast-and-spit-out-tacks-at-lunch persona for which Fundamentalists are famous. All of them were but one generation removed, though, from the Fundamentalist battles of the early and mid-20th Century. For them, to be called an “Evangelical” was not a good thing. To be called a “Neo-Evangelical” was even worse. Graham was both. At the famous (in my circles) Madison Square Garden Crusade, he sold out his more conservative comrades. At least that was the view in my camp. They wanted to maintain a higher degree of doctrinal purity. Graham, and his core associates, wanted to be as inclusive as possible to gain a broader hearing for the Gospel. (You can do your internet search to read the history.) Fundamentalism never forgave Graham. Graham not only continued on to become the most prominent, widely-heard evangelist in the history of the church, he also became the visible representative of the Evangelical movement.
I remember early in my pastoral ministry, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was holding a Crusade in a city not far from my home. A delegation from Bob Jones University, at the time a bastion of militant Fundamentalism and a school where Graham was once a student, set up a picket line outside the auditorium where the crusade was being held. I was impressed with Billy Graham’s humanity when I heard that he quoted Dr. Bob, Bob Jones I, “If a hound dog is howling for Jesus, I’m on the hound dog’s side.” I suppose that became my statement about the matter. I didn’t and still don’t agree with all the decisions the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has made over the years. There were times when Evangelist Graham reached too far in his attempt to be inclusive. Still Graham preached the John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15, Romans-Road Gospel. I knew people who had clearly come to know the Lord through his ministry. I might not be able to offer wholehearted support for everything, but I sure didn’t want to oppose what God was doing through Billy Graham. I wasn’t alone in my discomfort about “Fundamental” opposition to Graham.
I’m guessing it was about 30-35 years ago. Another Billy, a good pastor friend of mine, and I attended a pastor’s meeting with an old Fundamentalist warhorse evangelist, who was holding meetings at my friend’s church. After the meeting, we sat for maybe two hours in my van and talked. That two-hour conversation was the equivalent of a semester of 20th Century Evangelical/Fundamentalist church history. Our older companion was close enough to Graham that they still exchanged Christmas cards. Rev. John was well aware of the Madison Square Split that had taken place between Graham and those who objected to his inclusiveness.  Rev. John remained firmly on the side of those who felt the famous evangelist had gone too far. Yet, Rev. John was convinced that Billy Graham was a man that God had greatly used, and was using. He told a story about being on the platform in a meeting where Graham was preaching. He was not impressed. He leaned over and whispered a comment to the person sitting next to him, “This isn’t going anywhere.” Almost as soon as the comment was made, Rev. John said a change took over the meeting which he could only explain as the power of the Holy Spirit. I thought it was a statement of rare transparency. Here was a man of God who concluded that Graham was wrong, yet was convinced that the hand of God was on him. When those who differ with you praise you, that is powerful praise.
 That lesson, about being on the side of the canine who howls for the Lord is but one of the lessons I learned from Billy Graham’s long an effective career. He helped me see that one is contaminated not only by what one approves but also by what he opposes.
·         One cannot look at the evangelist from a farm family in North Carolina and not believe that God can accomplish great things through a life given to Him. Several years ago I read Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am. Not only did it help me make sense of Rev. John’s history lesson, it bore eloquent witness to the old adage that “the chief ability is availability.”
·         Billy Graham was the gold-standard in ministry purity. He lived through the era when many notable pastors, evangelists, and leaders in Christian ministry brought shame to the cause of Christ. He was like Job, “Have you considered my servant Billy?”
·         As one who is at the far end of his ministry, I think Graham, by and large, set a good example for aging and stepping out graciously. There were a few times when in later years he said some things that caused some of us to wonder, mostly, though, he was content to let others be out front, while he stayed in the background where the ravages of aging had compelled him to sit.

I didn’t know the famous evangelist, but seeing him from afar has not only caused me to rejoice in what he did, but to be thankful for the impact his ministry had on me. I’m confident that he was greeted in heaven with a “Well done.”