Archive | October, 2012

Is Sarcasm a Spiritual Gift?

30 Oct

Proverbs 29:8, “Scornful men bring a city into a snare: but wise [men] turn away wrath.”

Scornful people.  I purposely chose a verse for this post that is not the one about sitting in the seat of the scornful.  We may know that one too well and miss its impact.

The modern term for a scornful person is a sarcastic person.   And many of us have realized that sarcasm can be a double-edged sword, as it is just so stinkin’ funny!  So while we realize that it can be spirit-killing when directed against other people, we find it hard not to laugh.  We may go almost an entire lifetime without realizing the damage we do with that laughter . . . until someone directs sarcasm against us in an open way.

How can sarcasm be used in a way that is not scornful and doesn’t kill the spirits of the people around us, many of whom are also blood-bought believers in Jesus, just like we are?

I think we can use it in a general way to comment on society and the immense number of contradictions we see in it.  If we don’t single people out for sarcasm, we will hopefully not kill anybody’s  spirit.  It is a real danger.

We ourselves are often big packages of contradictions, so we need to keep that in mind, too.  Our sarcasm makes fun of the frailty and contradictions of human flesh, but we, too, inhabit that flesh.

We can also use sarcasm against ourselves.  One of my best friends is a master at this.  He is hilarious, but he rarely makes fun of anyone but himself.  And when he does make fun of someone else (like me!!!), he makes sure in advance that it is someone who understands his humor and will take it for what it is.

I think he has taught me that the people who have the ability to be the funniest also have the responsibility to master that gift and to not use it in a spirit-killing way.

As I learn to use humor to make fun of myself mostly, I realize that there is always the danger that someone will take me seriously and think I really am a loser!

But I am also learning to leave that to the Lord.  The people who know me well know where I am coming from.  Hopefully others will get to know me or will give me the benefit of the doubt, if unsure.  But . . . in all truth, it is a small price to pay to have others, here and there,  think I am a loser because I have learned to make fun of myself instead of them.  That way, I guarantee that my humor will not kill the spirits of others, even those who may regard me as a loser (ironically).

I know the Lord is pleased with all of us who purposefully decide to only use humor in ways that affirm others and uphold life.


Strawman Monday: Heads, I Win; Tails, You Lose

29 Oct

Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:”

A particularly hostile type of strawman argument I have seen comes up when a person is, well, just plain in the throes of a grudge against another person so that nothing that other person could do would ever please her.

This type of strawman argument is often used against people in ministry, in my experience as an onlooker for 54 years so far.  Person A will have an invisible list of demands that she thinks a person in ministry should fulfill in her life and . . . the ministry person/people are, of course, blind to that invisible list of demands.  So they proceed, as human beings, loving Person A as best they can (but, of course, imperfectly, because they are human beings) and Person A goes off on them with a strawman argument that can’t be won because its terms are invisible!  And if, by any chance, the ministry person does make a valid point, Person A will turn the argument completely around so that it seems as if she expected something completely different anyway.

Sometimes Person A will argue both sides of an issue within the same discussion.

Like this (seeing as I am on the East Coast and we are in the midst of a hurricane today):

Person A:  I was really surprised you didn’t ask me to stay at your house during the hurricane.  You know I am a single woman, alone.

Pastor and his wife:  We did call you three times during the storm, but you didn’t seem to be picking up.

Person A:  I was leaving my line open for emergency updates from work.  But you could have texted.

Pastor and his wife:  Actually, when we couldn’t reach you, we did text.

Person A:  That text came in at 9:31 PM.  I don’t take texts after 9:30.

Pastor and his wife:  We weren’t sure what to think after we tried to contact you four times and couldn’t get you.

Person A:  Well, I am a very private person so you shouldn’t really keep me under a microscope like that!  (reminder:  this is the person who two minutes before had said she wanted to be under the same roof with them during the hurricane!!!).

Okay, that is a bit of hyperbole, but I have seen conversations take similar tacks many times when people have grudges and want to grind a mental ax.

Sheesh!  Sometimes people, especially ministry people, can’t catch a break no matter what they do!

The Story That Never Grows Old!

29 Oct

“For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure [unto him].  The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  (John 3:34-36)

I just love to hold the above words in my mind and heart and turn them over and over, like taking a delightful mouthful of hot apple pie and vanilla bean ice cream and chewing on it slowly.

God didn’t give the Spirit by measure to Christ.  He gave the Spirit without measure to Christ.  Even in His earthly flesh, Jesus had full access to God the Holy Spirit, whose role is to glorify Jesus, whose role is to obey God.

Trinitarian truth.  I just love it.

And God didn’t just give the Spirit without measure to Christ.  He gave all things into His hand.

So Jesus, who was with God and was God from eternity, agreed to come to earth and put on flesh, still fully God but also fully man.  And God the Father withheld nothing from Him at that time that He was on earth.

What lovely grace!

And a God like that, a God so good as to put on flesh in order to redeem us, certainly has the right to say what verse 36 says.  He who has the Son has everlasting life.  He who doesn’t have the Son will see everlasting death because God’s wrath on him can only be abated by the death and resurrection of the righteous God-Man Jesus Christ.

If we want nothing to do with Jesus Christ, we must carry the weight of our own sin.  And that will sentence us to eternal death.

If there is anyone reading this who doesn’t understand what Jesus did for him or her, please let me know.  I would be overjoyed to share with you further.  This information is the most important information of our lives!


Stuck Home in a Hurricane, I Am Reading the Best Abraham Sermon Ever!

28 Oct

We all know Abraham’s story pretty well, after we have been saved for a decade or so . . .

But how do we apply it?  This is the best application sermon of Abraham’s life I have ever read.  If you are home with the hurricane today like me, I strongly recommend it.


Which Way the Wind Blows (or Human Choice in Salvation)

28 Oct

John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

Yesterday, I left my usual form of discourse and addressed an issue directly and sharply, probably leaving little room for argument (at least I hoped so).

Today’s post will also be different in that it involves a series of questions I can’t answer.  Some of the questions may not be answerable in this world.  I am not sure.

The discussion might be fruitful, however, as we strive to know God and discover His ways in the world He created.

In the above verse, Jesus challenged Nicodemus about not understanding earthly things.  He said if Nico couldn’t understand earthly things, he should not expect to understand heavenly things.

Sometimes I think we are in a similar bind when we try to explain how God’s election/choice interacts with our choice in the process of salvation.

I know there are two extremes in belief, the extreme Arminian belief (now usually referred to as “open theism” in which it is taught that God Himself doesn’t know the outcome of all events) and Hypercalvinism, in which man is drawn to God by irresistible grace without seemingly having any choice at all in the process.

There are many shades of belief in between the two extremes, usually clustered around five points called either the Five Points of Calvinism or the Five Points of Arminianism.

Smarter people than me have studied and debated these ideas for centuries.  Some of these debates have been, and remain, rancorous.  My aim is to take apart these ideas and present them in a way that the layperson can understand.  Sometimes important issues are at stake.  I try to identify those.

Talking with a friend of about my same age today, we remarked how much the world has changed in our lifetime.  We mentioned my career as a female naval officer and her husband’s career as a nurse.  When we were young, it was rare to have a female naval officer or a male nurse.  There were centuries when such people would have been non-existent.

The question became, “Did God change His will as the human race changed?  Was He not calling any women to be naval officers or men to be nurses in the 1800’s?  Or did He have such a calling upon people all along, but it took a while for the human race to catch up to His will?”

You see, that may seem like an exercise in semantics to some, but the question truly encapsulates God’s movement in this world.

People have wills, too, and groups of people have collective wills and, somehow, whole societies willed for centuries that there would not be female naval officers or male nurses, though both of those roles exist now and people are doing wonderfully at them.  How do we explain that?

Hmmm!  I can’t even explain God’s will in earthly things.  How can I explain it in heavenly things (in the process of salvation)?

Another thing I have noted is that almost no one says “yes” to God the first time he hears the plan of salvation.  So right there the idea of “irresistible grace” has to be modified.  If it were truly irresistible in the sense the Hypercalvinists use, no one would be able to withstand it at all, even for five minutes or a couple of weeks.

So, it can take a while for an individual to understand what salvation is, and to accept it.  Doesn’t it seem then like it might be a bit hard for we humans on earth, caught in time as we are, to see the overall view of how salvation looks from eternity?  I fear we get caught up on facets of it and argue those, in the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates.  The entire product probably can’t be comprehended nor explained completely while we are still in earthly bodies.

And that is why I maintain a holy awe toward such things.  I know Jesus came to save me and I am a saved woman.  I also know there are many parts of my salvation which I can’t explain but just accept by faith.  And for me, right now, that is enough.

Deleting People out of our Lives

27 Oct

Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

You guys know me and my way of presenting you with Scripture, ideas related to it, and some conclusions I have made, then . . . standing back and encouraging you to form your own conclusions.

If you belong to my Saviour, you are perfectly capable of doing that, with or without me along for the ride. I just like to write and I like to challenge people to keep exercising their critical thinking skills all life long. At my age, if I stop doing that, I will lose those skills!!! Ha ha!

So you are used to having a lowkey approach from my keyboard. Tonight I will change that up a bit.

There is a practice that is going on that is so ungodly and so juvenile that I am going to call it out. I am going to do that plainly.

I saw it start among the teens in my life. Especially the teens on Facebook. Facebook enabled it initially. Now it has become an epidemic.

What is worse, the adults who are supposed to set an example for the teens and call them to growth in their walk with Jesus are . . . starting to adopt this ungodly practice. I have seen it with my own eyes.

That practice is the use of the delete button and the block button on Facebook and other social media to control other people through fear and other socially manipulative tactics.

The Lord told us to avoid corrupt communication. That means we are to exercise sincere communication with each other. Yet, instead of going to brothers or sisters with whom we have issues that need to be talked out, as the Lord told us to do in Matthew 18, we delete them or block them from our lives, then gossip about them to everyone else.

This may start out on social media, but by the time it is full blown, it is not just a Facebook issue. There are people dropping out of other people’s lives without a word to them. People who have formerly been friends who just stop talking to someone else, with no explanation. Ungodly stuff that.

I have heard of cases where people moved and, as soon as they were several states away, blocked large numbers of people on Facebook who thought they were their friends. I can’t imagine what is going on in the mind of someone who would pull a stunt like that. I don’t know what is in their minds, but I will call it what it is, a huge emotional powerplay over those other people.

There is no excuse for this. No excuse that involves sincere Christianity anyway. If someone wants to admit to being an immature believer who likes to pull stunts for shock value, I will give him points for honesty.

You see, you can’t delete years of friendship with the stroke of a key. To pretend to do so is to show that you have every intent of wounding the other person in the most childish way you can find. Your action says, “We may have been friends for a decade or more, but you matter so little to me and the input God has made to my life through you means so little to me that I believe I can hit one key and dislodge it forever from my memory.” Make no mistake, that is a very cold and calculated move.

And then no one is content to just hit the delete or block key anyway. They always have to tell lots of other people about what they have done. And the quarrels grow and pull in innocent people to choose sides and sharpen their swords (and tongues).

If you are reading this and suspect that you may have done this to others, it is not too late to make it right. Don’t excuse the inexcusable. This is an action not even worthy of the critical thinking skills of a preteen. Don’t be swept into it by your emotions as an adult.

What would God have you to do? Go talk over your differences with that person. You may not need to have each other on Facebook, and you may not end up as best friends no matter what you do, but you do need to have a cordial relationship on this earth. You will dwell in heaven together forever. Let’s start to get the relationship right while we are here. We need each other, and we are all sinners, saved by grace alone.

College Friends Can Last Forever!

26 Oct

Hebrews 6:10, “For God [is] not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”

I have this verse, handwritten on a piece of construction paper, given to me in 1977 by a college friend.  Mary was three years older, getting ready to graduate, and wanted to encourage me that God was watching me and being blessed by the kindnesses I did in His name, at college and in our church community.

Ironically, life has come full circle now and we are back in touch via social media.  Mary may be reading this post now.  If so, “Hi, Mary, you have never ceased to be an encouragement to a younger sis.”

It takes so little to encourage another human being,  another Christian.  Just paying attention to that person, noticing her giftings and uniquenesses, remarking on where they intersect in a special way with God’s will.

And a person gets so much renewed energy to serve from such encouragement.  Truly, we do our good works as unto the Lord, as He has ordained, but we are built for relationships here on earth, too.  Those who can be “Jesus with skin on” to cheer us onward are very special gifts from the heart of God Himself.


25 Oct

Ladies’ Thursday, or Why Baptists Don’t Wear Burqhas

25 Oct

Ladies' Thursday, or Why Baptists Don't Wear Burqhas

I Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”

Recently, in my journey of a nearly 90 pound weight loss, I have been asked quite a few times when I am going to get some new clothes to reflect my new figure. I have tried to figure out what that means and have been told I have “too much fabric” in certain clothing that I wear.

Trying to deconstruct that, I realized the speakers who say this either mean: a) my clothes are too loose or b) my clothes are too long or) my clothes are not cut low enough.

I know that all of my Christian friends use the word “modesty” when deciding how to dress. Yet we all dress differently. So it must mean we have different definitions of the term “modesty.” And I can accept that. But I can also be assertive in saying that I get to have my opinion, too, and that, for the most part, the amount of material in my clothing right now is exactly the amount I intend to have.

Okay, there are some things that are totally baggy now and need to be left behind. But you’ll only find me throwing those on when it is a day I don’t care what I look like. We all have those days.

I am writing this post about the days when we take some care with ourselves to look professional at work and attractive for our husbands and social circles.

The enclosed picture is an example. My husband’s favorite dress. My favorite dress, too. Someone told me it has too much fabric. I think they meant that it seems loose on me.

I judge that dress to be just right by my standards. You can see that I am a woman in it. In fact, I regard it as my most womanly dress (and so does Noel). The parts that make up a woman are all there and they are in the best proportion they have been in for fifteen years. You can tell that by looking at the dress.

What is not visible is uncovered skin, neither around my bodice nor above my knees. And that is a choice I choose to make.

What is also not visible is clearly defined lines of my body. You can see my contours, but the dress is not tight. Again, this is a choice I choose to make about the fit of my clothing.

The Bible’s use of the word “modest” generally translates to “appropriately arrayed.” I feel appropriately arrayed in that dress. The Bible’s definition also generally had to do with covering up between the shoulders and the knees. While I will not criticize anyone who doesn’t accept this as a dress code for herself, I have to ask for the same respect for my decisions.

We are not Muslims and we don’t do burqhas as Baptists. Burqhas are so loose and cover so much of the body that you can’t even tell, in some cases, that there is a woman in there. Burqhas have actually been used to smuggle men out of areas where they are wanted for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who knows if that is a man or a woman in there?

Nor are we veiled like Old Testament women. When a man marries a Baptist woman, even one with my idea of modesty, he has a pretty good idea of what he is getting. He won’t have a wedding night shock, like a Muslim man might or like Jacob definitely did when he got the wrong sister under the Old Testament wedding gown and veil.

It used to be that Christian women understood the concept (and forced Christian men to understand it) that the body is reserved for the husband’s eyes alone. A woman would not cover herself in order to hide—we never did anything nearly as extreme as a burqha—but she rather covered the body in ways that were womanly, attractive, and, let’s just say it, alluring.

Back in those days, before the instant gratification of the sexual revolution, a man might have a pretty good idea about what was in that package that was so attractively wrapped, but he would not expect to see inside of it until he appropriately unwrapped it on his wedding night. And he would only expect to see inside one package ideally. One man, one woman, for life.

Lots of things have changed since then, but my question is “How have the changes made life better for us? Have they? And do they allow us to glorify God more in the gift of sexuality He has given us and in life in general?”

I will leave you with those questions. We all have to make our own choices. May they be ones that make life sweet for us and that, most of all, glorify our God.

Photo credit: Kathy Van Horn Carbaugh

And while we are on the topic of Arminianism and Arminius . . .

24 Oct

Seems like Romans 7 is one of the keys.  Do you think that the passage about “the good that I would do, I do not” was written by Paul as a believer, as Calvin thought, or as an unbeliever (or later looking back to when he was an unbeliever), as Jacob Arminius thought?  Some interesting history of how we got to where we are today!


Controversial Tuesday: When Gay People Want to Join a Baptist Church

23 Oct

John 8:30-32, “As he spake these words, many believed on him.  Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”

Do you ever reach a place where you know that a wise decision can be made only by drawing upon God’s limitless wisdom?  When you realize that the God in whom perfect holiness and perfect mercy met on the cross of Calvary is the One who cares the most for every human being and thus should be the one deeply consulted for decisions that deeply affect their lives?

I find myself there with the matter of gay marriage, or, more specifically, with the matter of how to counsel gays who come to Jesus for salvation.

I am coming to this post with holy fear, even while putting it up for “Controversial Tuesday.”  I am coming to this post with holy fear because the subject is so complex and because probably no human could address every possible case that occurs and never make a mistake in determining a good course of action in each case.  We need to cling so closely to our Saviour in such determinations, as we risk harming real people in real situations if we rely on ourselves and simplistic answers.

The questions I am attempting to answer with this post are:  “Under what circumstances should the leadership of a church intervene in a home’s existing living arrangement?”  and “How soon should this happen?”  My answers are not necessarily “one size fits all” answers.  We live in a fallen world, but it is also a complex world.  What is right for one home is not necessarily right for another.

As an initial answer, I can think of one situation where we must intervene in a living situation and must do this immediately, as soon as we become aware of the need.  That would be a situation in which a child is being abused, either by violence or sexually.  No one in a position of authority has any excuse for not acting right away to get a child removed from such a harmful setting.

With adults, the situation gets more complex.  If you have a gay couple attending your church, but not yet saved, you are not yet in a position to influence their living arrangement, by virtue of the fact that they don’t yet have the Holy Spirit to help them extricate themselves from sin.

It is analogous to an unmarried heterosexual couple living together while attending your church.  Until they are saved, they don’t have the power to stop sinning, regardless of the amount of conviction they may get from hearing your sermons.

If you truly have a heart for helping gay people become the people Jesus created them to be, you will eventually deal with this issue in your church.  Someone who is currently living a gay lifestyle will come and start listening to your teaching.

It is important at this point to not allow those churchmembers who have a personal “ick” factor about gayness to run these new people out of the church by way of ugly behavior toward them.  Don’t allow them to be inconsistent in their witness.  Sexual sin is sexual sin.  It is only different from generic, run of the mill sin because Jesus told us sexual sin is directed against our own bodies.

If your church has learned to deal redemptively with people who have conceived babies out of wedlock, with people who have had extramarital affairs, and with people who have lived together before marriage, then you know the redemptive attitude you need with gay people.  The Lord forgives sin and grows the repentant sinner into sanctification.

And, indeed, the question of intervening in living arrangements is much wider than the question of how to counsel gays when they get saved.  There are any number of heterosexual people living together without the benefit of marriage who would have the same issue upon getting saved.  How do church leaders compassionately break the news to such couples that their living arrangement is one that will keep them from spiritual growth in their new life in Christ?

I am going to borrow from the traditional missionary understanding of how to deal with polygamy overseas.  The reason for doing so is not because I find the traditional missionary response to be a perfect one, but because I find it to be a compassionate one.

Traditionally, if a member of a polygamous marriage gets saved overseas, the missionaries who disciple him have influenced him to decide on one of the wives and keep her as a mate, while divorcing the others.  That, in itself, may be debatable (because it involves divorce).  But the compassionate thing that occurs is that the missionaries realize the families have all been supported financially by the husband/father, and they keep the financial arrangements in place.

Certainly we must realize that, when a man gets saved, he does not become less financially responsible for the lives that have been nurtured in his home, even if his living arrangements have not conformed to the one man-one woman marriage for life that Jesus laid out in the gospels.

There would be nothing to be gained by throwing the additional wives and their children out into a gutter.  They are the innocent victims of man’s sin, at least the children are.

And, if we think about it long enough, we will realize that God used Abraham, Jacob, and King David while they were living in polygamous situations.  That is not to say that those were ideal situations.  Jesus defined marriage in the gospels as a picture of Himself with His bride, the church.  He defined it as one man-one woman, married for life.

Through pondering all of this, I have come to believe that we must go slowly and prayerfully with new converts who have been living in a relationship that does not reflect Christ’s definition of marriage.  Obviously, no one can join the church leadership team while still in such a living arrangement.  But most pastors don’t ask new converts to join leadership during the first year after they are saved anyway!  They need to focus on personal growth for at least a year, in most cases.

There can be situations where two people have totally combined their finances for years, or decades, and pastors may end up counseling them to leave the financial supports in place, especially in the cases where a couple may have had one person at home, taking care of small children, instead of working for an income.  This could ostensibly apply to gay couples as well as to unmarried heterosexual ones.

The part of the situation that will require the most discernment is the point at which church leadership advises a couple to move to separate living quarters.  If it is a heterosexual couple, seeking to be legally married, I agree with my pastor to get them to separate housing for several months while they work on their lives individually prior to taking their marriage vows.  If they are serious about following Jesus, they won’t take the change in living arrangements as an inconvenience, but rather as a chance to glorify their New Master!

With a gay couple or a heterosexual couple that does not seek to marry, for whatever reason, there could be more time to gradually ease into a separation.  The point of this would not be to give the couple more time to engage in sin, but just the practical considerations of preparing to live life apart, setting aside their loyalty to each other in order to give their highest loyalty to the Saviour and His commands.

Someone will ask, “What if the extended time together allows them to still engage in sexual sin?”  I would put that under the same umbrella that covers every other home.  Just because a married couple lives together and their pastor teaches about the proper role of sexuality within marriage, there is no guarantee that one or both of those people are not engaging in sexual sin elsewhere.  At some point, we all realize it is not the role of the pastor to conduct bedchecks on his people.

If a pastor is preaching truth from the pulpit, and counseling truth to the newly saved couple, they should eventually move forward into living arrangements that reflect the truth of God’s Word.  Maybe not right away.  There can be powerful emotional aspects to a gay relationship, aspects that I don’t even pretend to understand.  If a couple is counting the cost, moving ahead, getting ready to follow what the Lord is telling them to do . . . there is a lot to be said for their obedience.  It would be best if it were immediate obedience.  It may not always be so.

Try to put yourself in the place of a woman who has identified herself as exclusively lesbian for the first forty years of her life.  Maybe she has lived with a partner for twenty of those years.  She gets saved and understands God’s design for marriage.  And she is willing to obey, but . . . she also sees that she not only needs to leave a relationship that has defined her, but she also needs to leave her self-definition as a lesbian.

Even if this woman is one of the gay people who never moves over into a heterosexual identity and marriage (as evidence is mounting, in our fallen world, that many born again gay people don’t make that transition, remaining celibate the rest of their lives), she still has to adjust her self-perception, as a new creature in Christ.  That is a lot of change.  The least we can do is walk beside her in compassion as she navigates it all.

I have read that the biggest facet of a gay relationship is the emotional comfort attained in the relationship, the same way that occurs in heterosexual marriages.  Lesbians are, it has been written, more attracted to being in an emotional relationship with a woman than they are attracted to the sexual relationship.  The same has been said for gay males.

If that is indeed the case, the easiest part for the new convert will be giving up the sexual relationship; the part where they might need patient encouragement is in leaving the emotional bonds that keep them inordinately tied to the other person.

I will conclude with a story.  I realize not every lesbian relationship resolves this way.  A friend of mine once told me about her daughter, who lived in a lesbian relationship for a year or two right after college.  She was already a Christian, as was, I believe, her partner.  The wonderful thing is that God broke through to them and showed them the need to leave their relationship in order to grow in Him and serve Him.  And, in this case, He gloriously delivered both of them into a heterosexual marriage.  In fact, they were able to remain best friends, without inordinate emotions between them, and both served as maid of honor in the other’s wedding.

God can do anything!  We just need to stay close to Him and follow His lead as we counsel people into His will.

Strawman Monday: Some Thoughts as a Baptist Looks at Calvinism

22 Oct

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”


“Surely the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) are not all doctrines with which we disagree.  Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Seems like we agree completely on total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Unconditional election is pretty hard to dispute by anyone who believes Jeremiah 17:9 about the heart’s deceitfulness.  There is nothing to recommend us to salvation except the fact that God loves us.  So . . . we get stuck on the limited atonement issue.  And fight so fiercely about it that you might think that Calvinist doctrine was more of an obstacle to Baptists than are the cults, or the Eastern religions, or the atheists.”


The above quote is from my first post on Calvinism, several months ago (see the category “Calvinism” to pull it up).


Remembering that a strawman argument occurs when we write down what we think someone believes, and then argue against that, instead of taking the time to learn someone’s true beliefs and then say why we disagree with them, I am going to try to deconstruct the anti-Calvinist reaction that many of us Baptists have.


It does not really go back to Arminianism, I have found (and I will write about Arminianism later, just not now).  It really, truly goes back to the era when Baptists were known as “four-pointers” (General Baptists or those who believe in a general atonement) and “five-pointers” (Particular Baptists or those who believe in particular atonement or, as Calvinists say “limited atonement).


Baptists have pretty much never gone to the extremes of Arminianism that other denominations have.  And it’s a good thing.  You see, I have seen an extreme reaction to the election doctrine among some of my Episcopal/Anglican friends.  These particular friends are born again, I am sure of it.  But they are teaching that, since they don’t believe in election, God not only doesn’t elect anyone for salvation but He doesn’t even know yet who will and who will not be saved.


How do you make a case for God’s sovereignty if you believe that?  I believe the doctrine is called “the open-ended universe.”  In that belief system, God doesn’t determine a lot of the outcomes in His creation.  And He doesn’t know about them till after they happen, as though God could be constrained by time, as we humans are.


No, we Baptists are left, along with the Calvinists, to try to explain in our systematic theology how we can reconcile a God who is sovereign and knows everything before it happens with a world in which we have choices.

The Calvinists choose an explanation of that which we Baptists would consider extreme, saying that the Holy Spirit engages in the salvation process in a much stronger way than we Baptists traditionally believe.  We all agree that the Holy Spirit starts the salvation process.  If He didn’t woo us, then we would never come to Christ.  We differ on what happens after that.


That, my friends, seems to be the area where Calvinists and Baptists differ.  Right there.  The Holy Spirit’s role in the process of salvation.


We Baptists are not Arminians, at least not unless we are Free Will Baptists who believe that you can lose your salvation.  See, that doctrine is part of Arminianism, too.


So . . . if we are very close to being “four pointer” Calvinists or even “five pointer” Calvinists as Baptists, it is important for us to listen carefully to each other, so as not to make strawmen arguments out of each other’s doctrines.  We are talking fine points of doctrine here, not differences that are like chasms between us.  And it is hard to understand fine points of doctrine if we are in attack mode.


It is only meet and comely to listen and to treat each other with mutual respect.  After all, we will have to share heaven together for eternity.

I Ought to Be Ashamed . . .

21 Oct

Hebrews 12:2:  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I wrote earlier this week that I do not believe in the statement that is used so much nowadays:  “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”  One reason I gave was that no one ever changes when someone else has a finger of shame poking into their chest!  We just aren’t made that way.  Focusing on shame shortcircuits any growth we might have had from the situation.

Don’t we just have to find a kinder way to show people we don’t agree with what they have said or done?  One that might actually engage their emotions and get them to agree with us that they could change something?  Isn’t that, in all actuality, doing God’s work in discipling other people?

Another reason I don’t believe in using shaming language with others is that it is not good for me to talk like that!  If I am telling someone else that he ought to be ashamed, I am putting myself in the precarious position of feeling morally superior to that other person.  Which would all be well and good if the reason God had saved me was so that I could feel morally superior to others.

I don’t think that is why He saved me.  I find that Christian growth, for me and for others, takes place so much more naturally and effectively when I join that person and work with her, shoulder to shoulder, rather than when I try to go into an ivory tower and lord it over that other person.

And, bottom line, it is not just that other person who ought to feel ashamed anyway.  It is me.  My sins put my precious Saviour on that cross.  If He drank down my shame for me in His act of love when He gave His life, then I think it is my job to spend my life proclaiming freedom from shame for all who are in Him.

Just a thought!

Wisdom to know the difference

19 Oct

Is there one “best way” to evangelize the lost? I would assert no, since everyone is not an exact copy of every other person!

Tabernacle for Today

“And of some have compassion, making a difference:  and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 22, 23).

I had a discussion on-line yesterday with one of my best friends, who lives far away, on this very topic.  She had put up an article about ensuring that our friends know how to be saved.  She likened it to chasing after someone who is walking into traffic, pulling that person back.  She reminded us that that action might not be gentle at the time, but it would be very necessary.  And she was, oh so right!  We pull people out of the fire when they are heading into it!

We segued from that point to the next point–that we tend to get unbalanced in our evangelism.  We have those who go house to house and boldly talk to strangers…

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Growing In Grace

19 Oct

When we speak of “grace-filled living,” what does that look like? A starting point to the conversation . . .

Tabernacle for Today

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and for ever.  Amen.”  (II Peter 3:18)

This glorious Lord of ours wants us to grow in grace as we grow in knowledge of Him and of His ways.  If He wants us to do that, how do we know when we are growing in grace?  What if we are actually going backwards and becoming graceless at certain stages of our lives?  How can we tell if that is happening?  How can we be sure, at any given point in time, that we are growing towards Him in grace?

Is it possible to find out God’s ways, through the Scriptures, and to live them, and thus to live what we could term “grace-filled lives”?  I believe we can.  First because we are commanded to grow in grace, but also…

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