Shepherds Conference Aftermath, part 4

To my Dallas Statement brethren,

I love you deeply. I hope this feels brotherly, as that is the intent. I probably agree theologically with most of you the most. In other words, I might call myself a part of the middle ‘tribe,’ but that’s mostly because of relationships I have built there. Theologically, I am a 1689 guy! So this is as in-house as it gets. A few challenges for you:

  • I don’t know how to define “fear-mongering” but I know what it is when I see it. You are often guilty of this– basically making situations sound worse than they really are. I cannot speak to motivations, check your own hearts. But if you think Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Lig Duncan are in the same danger that the Galatians were in, we cannot possibly have a logical conversation about this. Please make that clear that that is not how you view them.
  • You have a responsibility over those you influence. (If you don’t want that responsibility, then stop doing public-wide ministry, and just focus on your own church.) It appears to be your “disciples” who are the worst fear-mongerers of all. Let’s call them the “discernment” types–those who spend an inordinate amount of time telling everyone what is so bad about everyone else. I read someone saying something along the lines of “welp, I guess we know those three guys are not going to be invited to next year’s Shepherds.” Johnny Mac can invite whoever he wants. But if this is going to cause a withdrawing of the right hand of fellowship with the middle group, it is you who is in serious trouble. So, please, speak into the kind of “discernment” culture that you are creating.
  • Thank you for writing the Dallas Statement. It is helpful, and informative. It took a lot of work. Praise God for your sharp minds. But please do not expect the signing or not signing of it to be a sort of way to separate sheep from goats! That was not a Church Council/synod/diet/presbytery (or whatever other authoritative meeting term you can think of). I don’t know if there were any Anglicans who signed the statement, but I can tell you Anglicans are laughing at us right now. We evangelicals cannot have our cake and eat it when it comes to ecclesial authority. There is no council that can “settle” the Social Justice debate among evangelicals. You might object: “The truth of God’s Word should settle it!” And I am SUPER sympathetic toward that, but the only way I would have confidence in a document is if the meeting included leaders from all three camps. You cannot just have a meeting with the right and write a statement, and say “sign it, or else you are against the Bible.” Which leads to
  • Remember, the middle, and even the left, are your brothers and sisters. I have seen some exchanges online between some in your camp and guys like Thabiti Anyabwile. The vitriol appears two way. But I have already challenged the other side. You must not treat your brothers like they are enemies. Could it be, brothers, that the reason you have a hard time understanding the middle group is because they have so many friends on the left, but you, sadly, don’t have that many, period? (this is an honest question) Your camp has the appearance of pride more often than the other two. We cannot read hearts, but here’s how I discern that: whenever these controversies happen between your camp and some other camp, NO ONE in your camp ever accuses any of you of wrongdoing. It is always the other guys at fault. John MacArthur and Phil Johnson were infallible in that panel Q&A. It is the attitude that says “let’s assess everyone else all the time” that creates that. Until you address that, I do not think you have what it takes to contribute to true unity in the Body of Christ.

Lastly, can you please be open to being wrong on some things? And wherever you find yourself wrong–whether in belief or in conduct– please repent. We will forgive so fast you won’t know what hit you.

To 1689, and Beyond

Todd

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Shepherds Conference Aftermath, part 3

To my T4G brothers (I really don’t know who exactly to address here, so I will just pretend Mark, Al, and Lig are reading this):

I love you deeply. I am not particularly fond of the term “tribe” as a way of describing theological or ministry philosophy like-mindedness, but if I had to pick, I am a part of your tribe.

I want you to know I think many are over-reacting to the panel Q&A. There’s no way that panel was objectively as bad as they make it out to seem. I will say this to them, but the right tends to be fear-mongering, so take comfort. I was edified by the panel overall.

I also want you to know that I think you may be the most important group of the three here. People on both sides listen to you. You have strong friendships on both sides. You guys are so smart! You can move into the division of the Body of Christ and help bring greater reconciliation.

If I can offer some sharpening about the panel itself and conversations moving forward, I do think you have to articulate where you stand on some of these issues, if for no other reason but to help us know how to think about them. I can’t really find anything in the Dallas Statement I disagree with, but I can’t really bring myself to sign it, but I can’t articulate why. Perhaps you can help people like me figure out what I’m wrestling with.

If you have friends on either side who you believe are sinning or in danger of losing the gospel on any level, you should be willing to confront them. And if they refuse to repent, you have to be willing to lose friends over it, possibly lose trustee support, possibly lose funding, whatever the case may be.

Please remember that not everything can be done in private when it comes to some of the things you guys deal with. Public sins should be dealt with publicly, so don’t let anyone tell you that you should have gone to someone privately if that someone’s teachings are out on the internet or wherever.

I cannot fathom the kinds of pressure you guys face on a daily basis. So please hear these things knowing I bathe it with compassion and love and gratitude.

Lastly, can you please be open to being wrong on some things? And wherever you find yourself wrong–whether in belief or in conduct– please repent.

Thank you, brothers, for discipling me from afar, and I trust you will continue to do so in how you navigate these waters.

Together With You For the Gospel

Todd

Shepherds Conference Aftermath, part 2

To my brothers and sisters in what I perceive to be a Social Justice movement in the Reformed Evangelical wing of the church (some of the prominent voices, I perceive, so I could be wrong and please correct me if I am: Eric Mason, Kyle Howard, and Thabiti Anyabwile):

I love you deeply. Not just because we are fellow image-bearers, not just because we are fellow Christians, not just because we are both united to the same Christ, but we have a lot of theological like-mindedness! We all believe in a big God, in Calvinism, in the necessity of the preaching of the gospel, in the exclusivity of Christ, in the absolute sufficiency and authority of the Bible, in the essential role of the local church. We are brothers and sisters in the closest sense. If the context in the U.S. were different religiously, I am certain we would all be willing to burn at the stake together. On the front end, it is clear to me that this is an in-house discussion, a family debate, only friendly wounds here. Which leads to:

  • Please do not throw any more heat. Light, not heat. I totally understand how the some of the Dallas Statement guys can get under your skin. But they are your brothers too. Light and love and the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit. No more heat.
  • Please be humble about history. We must all learn from church history, and history in general. But please acknowledge that history must be interpreted. And similar to how I think New Perspective on Paul guys throw down historical nuggets from the 1st century (that may or may not be true) to make a point, I do think you have a tendency to do that as well. And know that all of your brothers and sisters in Christ desire to repent of current, personal (and corporate) sin, and if you show them from the Bible where they are currently in sin, they will repent.
  • Please do not elevate all racial sins to the level of the murder of unborn children. Many racial sins are on the same level. But racial sins come in so many different forms, don’t they? There is the KKK bigot who should burn in hell, if not for the mercy and grace of God. There is the willfully ignorant fool who thinks African Americans are raising their children badly by putting the fear of cops in them. There is the well-meaning Japanese American who teaches his children to be “color-blind”, not because they want the status quo of whiteness, but because they really believe that is the best way to bring back the one-ness of the human race. Then there is the little Reformed church in urban Atlanta that only knows how to sing the Trinity Psalter, and has never known of a tradition of Reformed African American worship songs. You may call all of these racial sins, or sins of racial ignorance. But my contention is that only the first is on the level of abortion. And I think you need to make that clearer if you agree with me there.
  • We could be helped by a much more thorough conversation biblically about the church’s role in social justice. It is confusing for most of us. Hopefully that is surprising to you. The fact that you think it is so simple shows pride or ignorance on your part. It is not simple to know how “the Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” or “do good to all, especially to the household of faith”– how that automatically means the church must do more for those on welfare, or more in the political realm, or more to combat all the anecdotes of questionable police shootings. I find a lot of generalizations and assuming going on in your rhetoric, and I don’t think either is helpful. But please know we all want to do our part as the Church. We want to be found faithful. But it is not that clear how your view of justice is not eerily close or overlapping with a sort of aggressive Theonomy (the Church’s Law being the authoritative Law of the land, and vice versa). And if I am way off there, hence, the confusion.

Lastly, can you please be open to being wrong on some things? Surely, none of us have this all right. And wherever you find yourself wrong–whether in belief or in conduct– please repent. We will forgive. We will keep loving you, no hard feelings.

Your brother in Christ FOREVER

Todd

Shepherds Conference Aftermath, part 1

My heart has ached over the last few days because of division in the Body of Christ. There was a panel Q&A at the Shepherds Conference. The main issue discussed was an apparent “Social Justice” movement in Reformed Evangelicalism. This is on the heels of the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel written up in 2018, signed by several great Reformed ministers of the gospel (guys like John MacArthur, Voddie Baucham, James White, and Tom Ascol).

James White came out and said the panel was a disaster. Do some google searches and you will find lots of fodder about this panel. There are three basic groups that have emerged from all this (and I will only speak about what I perceive to be Reformed Evangelicalism): the Social Justice left, the Dallas Statement right, and many in a middle camp (I will call the T4G camp- guys like Mohler, Duncan, and Dever who share major concerns with the right, but have many friends on the left, and would not articulate or argue like the right wants them to).

If I were to pin myself, I’m somewhere middle-right 🙂

I want to say something to all three camps. And that will be the next three posts. But just one observation about the panel: it was not as bad as many have made it out to be. Dr. James White–whom I have a ton of respect for–as well as many in his camp, have said this was a HUGE missed opportunity. I say, ‘ease up, guys.’ Watch it again, perhaps without the lens that Phil Johnson and John MacArthur are infallible. See if Dr. Mohler’s reactions were perhaps not the most outlandish thing you ever saw. See if Mark Dever actually makes some helpful and constructive comments. See if anything Lig Duncan says is off base. See if John MacArthur actually might sound a little insensitive toward sex abuse victims. Think about whether or not Phil Johnson needs to try a little harder to not only ask leading questions, and perhaps try to prep guys more than just a couple minutes ahead of time. See if it’s really as one-sidedly bad as people say, and actually, overall, if it was not more edifying than people give it credit for. Point: social media has a way of overblowing so many things. This is no exception. I think all the men on the panel are godly, faithful ministers of the gospel, whom we are all indebted to in many ways, and will always be. Until they prove otherwise, I trust those six men (Phil Johnson, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, and John MacArthur) as much, or more, than I trust anyone to help lead the Body of Christ back toward greater visible unity.

Let’s settle this ‘local church autonomy’ thing

The SBC is mired in controversy right now, and I pray the result will be more criminals put in prison, more abuse victims given gospel hope, and more churches becoming stronger and safer. One issue brought up in many discussions about what has gone wrong among SBC churches is the issue of local church autonomy. It sounds like many sexual predators have left churches only to find their way into other churches, and many people believe that is connected to a weakness in Baptist churches, namely, that each Baptist church is autonomous. So, the story goes, if church A fires a sexual predator and hears of the predator looking for a job at church B, church A does not believe they can tell church B, “don’t hire him,” because that would be a violation of church B’s autonomy.

I have a hard time believing any situation actually happened this way (I could be wrong, and God help us if I am), but this is at least how many people believe these things happen. It is at least plausible in people’s minds.

As a way to hopefully correct all kinds of things, including a way to help Baptist churches become better protectors of women and children, let me try and set the record straight on local church autonomy. I am open to sharpening and pushback, but you better be ready to fight if that’s you.

The Baptist doctrine of local church autonomy is a necessary implication of three biblical truths:

  1. God commands local churches to discipline unrepentant sinners (Matthew 18.15-17; 1 Corinthians 5.1-5)- Every church must have a visible, tangible membership so that they can hold each other accountable, even to the point of excommunication if sinners refuse to repent. That is the responsibility of not just the elders, but of the whole congregation. But the C&MA church down the road is not going to be a part of deciding if one of our members needs to be excommunicated or not. That is an ‘in-house’ decision. Each local church is autonomous in matters of membership/discipline.
  2. God commands local churches to choose, respect, and hold elders and deacons accountable (Acts 6.1-6; 1 Timothy 3.1-13, 5.17-22; Hebrews 13.17)- Every church must choose their leaders based on their gifting and character, and once you put them in place, you must obey and respect them and let them lead with joy. Each church partly decides how a man is able to handle the Scriptures based on that church’s theological commitments. Each church also must see a man demonstrate quality character in different ways before placing them in leadership. However, the PCA church up the road is not going to know our men as well as we know our men, so they will not be a part of choosing our leaders for us. (these first two items are part and parcel of the Baptist understanding of congregationalism; many matters in church life are handled by the congregation– not some outside body of leaders or an individual bishop deciding for us)
  3. God commands local churches to obey God rather than men (Acts 5.29, 10 Commandments)- If the government commands us to stop preaching the gospel, we will keep preaching the gospel (maybe stop putting our sermons online, maybe start meeting in a house; we may make some changes but we will NOT stop preaching the gospel). God created the local church to be autonomous from civil government in matters of faith. We obey our government as fully as we can unless their laws would keep us from obeying our true Lord.

This is at least the Baptist understanding of local church autonomy. I hope you see they are not crazy ideas.

That is what local church autonomy means. And that is basically all it means. Here is what it does not mean:

  • Baptist churches should not challenge each other doctrinally
  • Baptist churches should not worry about why a new member left their last church
  • Baptist churches should not warn other churches about sexual predators in their area
  • Baptist churches should not counsel other churches about how to handle someone who left their church under less-than-great circumstances
  • Baptist churches should not excommunicate churches from their associations and cooperations
  • Baptist churches should not submit to creeds and confessions

Baptist churches are Christian churches, a part of the one Body of Christ, and like all other Christians and churches who are a part of the Body of Christ, we must work together with Baptists and non-Baptists to uphold the Trinitarian gospel and protect women and children.

One last implication of local church autonomy: if we are truly autonomous, then we are not a denomination, meaning, a pastor ordained to be a pastor at my church is not an “ordained Baptist minister.” He is simply ordained to be a pastor at Kailua Baptist Church. You might say he’s an “ordained minister” while in office at my church. But if he ever leaves my church, he does not carry around an “ordination” certificate that he can show another Baptist church, that automatically puts him in a higher status and the inside track to getting a job there. That means if a man is ever fired from my church, or resigns because of immoral reasons, the next church he tries to work at should not look at his resume and see “wow, he’s an ordained Baptist, great!” No, they should see he had a terminal period of working at my church and find out EXACTLY why he is no longer committed to shepherding the flock at my church. Understanding local church autonomy can save lives.

Baptism of children, part 11

This is the conclusion to this series. I don’t think any of this series is earth-shattering at all. But I do think many of these issues are taken for granted in many churches, and where these issues are taken for granted, you can be sure that there are more people who do certain things for the wrong reasons. And that includes baptism.

I also think many churches simply disagree with some of these posts. And where that happens, you can be sure that there are false professions of faith.

All these posts taken together are meant to paint a picture of a faithful, Reformed church. And in that context, you can have much more confidence that the profession of faith of younger children are true professions than in non-Reformed churches.

The last reason you can have more confidence of any profession of faith in a Reformed church context is because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on theologically rich worship. You have been hiding under a rock or have had your head stuck in the sand if you have not noticed the broader evangelical church’s trend toward theologically-lite worship. In my opinion, light theology is a contradiction to pure worship.

One example: one of the most popular Christian songs in recent years is a song that talks about God having “reckless love.” And everyone goes back and forth on whether that is a valid description of God’s love. READ SOME THEOLOGY, PEOPLE! There is a reason the Christian church has never used any words that communicate what “reckless” communicates. You want to say “merciful” or “unbelievable” or “unfathomable” or “powerful”– awesome. But sound theology does not allow us to uphold the thought that there is anything “reckless” in God, much less His love (by the way “God is love”; to call His love “reckless” is to say “God is reckless”– may God have mercy).

The desire to use a word like “reckless” in worship is because of a desire to be poetic in combination with a desire to be catchy and a desire to communicate one truth at the expense of other truths. That is a toxic combination. And it is, by definition, immature theology.

Rich theology in worship means a worship gathering will involve lots of Scripture reading, weighty prayers, songs that dive deep into the riches of God’s Word, and preaching that will always challenge every soul to grow (in other words, preaching always has to be above people’s heads on some level–always). Imagine a seven year old sitting through that kind of worship for three years– the weight of God’s glory and the unsearchable riches of Christ being pressed upon their soul week in and week out– and at the end of three years they say, “I want to follow Jesus!”

We in Hawaii are always relatively near water. What prevents them from being baptized?

Baptism of Children, part 10

We can be confident that a young person professing faith in a Reformed church has a credible profession because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on family worship. I don’t know about you, but I never heard of the term “family worship” until I went to seminary. Not that it was an absolutely foreign concept, but surely a foreign term, and undoubtedly an un-emphasized practice. As much as I love my dad, and am thankful for the way God used him to lead me to Christ, I know he did not lead us in family worship as he ought to.

But that’s because we never grew up in a Reformed church!!! The Westminster Assembly actually wrote up a document called “the Directory for Family Worship” in the 1600’s. And it is gold! Read it when you can.

Family worship helps our children see that Jesus is Lord everyday, not just on Sunday mornings. It helps them get used to sitting and being reverent and behaving and listening to the Word of God. You can also use the time to teach children theological concepts that will help them to engage better on Sunday mornings, as well as practice reading and praying out loud. In short, the more ministry of the Word happens in our homes, the more the ministry of the Word on Sundays is supported, and the more exposure there is to the means of God’s grace to convert sinners.

If the only time our children are engaging in worship is Sunday morning, it is still possible for them to be converted. That’s how powerful the Word of God is. But I am less confident in a child’s profession in those cases. But where Christ rules in the home as well, we can be sure the Spirit of God will work in the way He says He will (Romans 10.13-17, 1 Peter 1.3-25). And if a child sits under the serious ministry of the Word week in and week out, and sits under a similar ministry of the Word day in and day out, is it so surprising if they want to follow the Lord Jesus in baptism?