October 10, 2017

ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN” by Dr. Rick Flanders

“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
Dr. Rick Flanders
(First Corinthians 9:22)
Pretty well the theme of most evangelical churches at the present time is “all things to all men.”  Many changes have been made to update the operation, the message, and the feel of these traditionally-conservative ministries so that they can be more “relevant” to the culture as it has turned out to be.  The hope is attracting and winning millennials to Christ.  While the motive is worthy in some ways, the adjusting of standards and practices is mostly misguided, due in significant measure to seriously-flawed interpretations of a Bible verse, First Corinthians 9:22.
That verse, it should be noted, is found in the section of the First Epistle to the Corinthians that deals with what’s wrong with eating meat that has been sacrificed to false gods.  To “abstain from pollutions of idols” was a controversial standard sent out from the Jerusalem church some years before to the new Gentile churches after a big council had been held to discuss legalism (read the whole story in the fifteenth chapter of Acts).  These “pollutions” were defined by the church as “meats offered to idols” (note Acts 15:19-29), which it was said that Christians should refrain from eating.  The standards set by the Jerusalem council were beneficial to the Gentile churches that heeded them (as we see in Acts 16:4-5), but they met with resistance from many who considered them too restrictive and offensive to the culture of the Roman world.  Consequently they had to be defended by leaders like the apostles Paul and John.  Paul’s divinely-inspired defense of the standard to abstain from dedicated meat is found in First Corinthians 8, 9, and 10.  John’s defense of the Jerusalem standards (actually the words of Jesus in their favor) is featured prominently in the second chapter of the book of Revelation.
The thrust of the teaching in First Corinthians on the subject is that Christians ought not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to the idols worshipped in the pagan temples.  The Gentile believers were no longer worshipping the idols, but they should abstain even from eating the meat sold in the restaurant of the temple or in the meat-markets as having been dedicated to the gods.  This was the standard for Gentile Christians formulated by the Jerusalem church.  This epistle argues for this standard based on three principles.
1.       Love (Chapter 8)
Although instructed Christians know that an idol is “nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one,” they need to have a concern for the idolaters and for the new converts who don’t have this fact totally figured out yet.  If somebody who thinks of an idol as a god sees a more knowledgeable believer sitting “at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols,” and might he not be caused to stumble?  Chapter 8 says that there is something that ought to come ahead of our exercising our liberty based on superior knowledge.  That something is “charity” or love.  Out of love, Christians should abstain from doing things that might trip up somebody who sees us doing them, such as eating meat sacrificed to idols.  First Corinthians is plain about that.
2.       Evangelism (Chapter 9)
The next chapter is about exercising restraint and practicing self-denial in order to make our efforts at evangelism more effective.  This principle of self-denial for a greater purpose was found also at the end of Chapter 8, where it is applied to our influence on new Christians.  In verse 13 we read, “If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth.”  Self-denial, don’t forget, is at the heart and the foundation of Christian life and service (Matthew 16:24-25).  The point made in Chapter 9 is that Paul and Barnabas refrained from doing many things they technically had a right to do so that their work of evangelism could be more effective.  They didn’t take wives around with them, although they were not forbidden to marry, and were permitted to travel with a wife.  They did secular work so that they didn’t have to look for others to give offerings to provide for them, although they certainly had a right to live on the tithes and offerings of God’s people, as the priests at the Temple did.  They might be expected to abstain from doing secular work, and would not have been blamed if they had, but they worked anyway, “lest we should hinder the gospel.”  All of these policies were based on the principle of Christian self-denial, and were followed in order to keep the doors for evangelizing pagan people open.  This is also why Paul would not eat the meat sacrificed to the idols.
3.       Faithfulness (Chapter 10)
In Chapter 10, Paul writes plainly that eating the meat devoted to an idol provokes God to jealousy.  Idolatry must be avoided and fled by faithful Christians because they must be loyal to their Lord.  Idolatry, we learn, is dangerous, and Christians must not even get close to it! So even eating the meat sacrificed down at the idol’s temple is dangerous.  The Lord’s Supper associates us with the Lord and His sacrifice.  Does not then the sacrifice offered at the pagan temple associate those involved in it with the worship of the idol?  Are not the gods of paganism actually devils? “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and the table of devils.”  To do so would be to be unfaithful to the Lord.  So believers in Jesus Christ must abstain from eating meat from pagan sacrifices, even though nearly everybody else partook of it. 
Clearly the point of First Corinthians 9:22 was not that Christians should adopt the practices of the pagan in order to evangelize them effectively.  Such an idea is opposed to the whole point of chapters 8, 9, and 10, and particularly of chapter 9.  It doesn’t teach us to lower the standards of Christian living; it tells us to raise them.  It doesn’t say that we should exercise our rights; it says that there are reasons we might give them up.  Critics of the standard argued that eating meat isn’t worship, the idol isn’t really a god at all, and that food is no big deal.  But Paul was saying that believers ought to abstain from dedicated meat in order to keep open the opportunity to win souls.  If Christians do what everybody else in the Roman culture did and ate meat from the temple, many would say that they are idol-worshippers, too.  So those who spread the gospel must refrain from the practice.  So Paul writes.
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more,” says the apostle in verse 19.  A life of winning men to Christ is not a life of more freedom, but less.  Rights are forfeited for the greater good of preaching the Gospel without hindrance.
Who might Paul win through surrendering some of his rights?  In the first place, Jews (verse 20).  Although he was an ethnic Jew, he was not required by the Gospel to keep the Law of Moses.  This was the point about legalism proclaimed by the Jerusalem council.  See in verses 1, 5, 10 and 11 of Acts 15 that legalism in its original form taught that men must become Jews (by circumcision) in order to qualify for salvation in Israel’s Christ, and that every believer in Christ must follow the Jewish Law as an observant Jew after coming to Jesus.  So Paul did not have to keep the specifically Jewish statutes of the Law, but sometimes he did, voluntarily.  Already in Acts 16, we find him circumcising Timothy before taking him as a co-worker in evangelism in order not to offend the Jews he would encounter everywhere he went.  “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law” (verse 20).  But it was a voluntary practice, based on self-denial and not on legalistic bondage.
Around Gentiles he did not parade his Jewishness as a barrier between them by observing the distinctively Jewish aspects of the Law of Moses.  See this is verse 21.  Whenever he did follow the Israelite ceremonial law, he did so voluntarily.  Around Gentiles he voluntarily did not keep Jewish observances.  But notice that Paul makes the point that he is definitely “not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.”  It was the abolished ceremonial law of Israel that he as a Jew could follow, but as a believer in Christ was not required to follow.  When it was helpful, he would take advantage of his Jewish privileges and observe the statutes (as in Acts 18:18), but usually not around Gentiles.  However his varying observance of these laws did not mean that he was lawless, or unprincipled.  He lived under Christ’s law (see John 13:34, Galatians 6:2 and James 2:8-12).  To teach or imply that Christians must bend their principles in order to conform to the culture is not to follow the spirit or the words of this chapter.  Paul makes sure that we don’t get this wrong impression from the idea of being “all things to all men.”
With Christians, sometimes we must defer to “the weak” (verse 22), as we see in Romans 14 and First Corinthians 8.  In other words (read those chapters again) we may bend to the right, to the unnecessary restrictions of weaker brothers in order not to cause them to stumble.  The motivation for adjusting life for others is to remove things in our lives that hinder our witness for Christ or influence on younger Christians.  In all of these cases, we are restraining ourselves and not exercising our rights in order to more good.  The idea in First Corinthians 9:22 is not that we should relax and do what everybody else does so that people won’t be bothered by our standards.  The whole chapter is about self-denial and restraint.  Actually, the word “temperate” in the comparison to athletics given in verses 23 through 27 means restraint or self-control, and describes what our attitude should be.  We restrict ourselves for evangelism, rather than tear down the restrictions.
To be “all things to all men” does not mean to ignore teachings of the Bible in order to avoid going against the grain of culture.  It means to put evangelism at such a high priority in our lives that we are ready to adjust our lives, our schedules, our budgets, our preferred ways of doing things, and our habits not mandated or implied by the Word of God, so that we can win more people (“that I might gain the more”) to Jesus Christ (“this I do for the gospel’s sake”).
Dr. Rick Flanders

September 18, 2017

Archival Series- Kevin Bauder: There He Goes Again, Redefining Fundamentalism

Pastor Marc Monte
In his recent [3/6/15] essay, “Another One Bites the Dust,” Dr. Kevin Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, analyzes the unfortunate trend of the dissolution of Fundamentalist institutions of higher learning.  Dr. Bauder is a brilliant man and prolific writer who has bequeathed a wealth of thought-provoking material to the Lord’s church.  His book, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order, is a poignant defense of the Baptist position concerning both the polity and the practice of Baptist churches.  This author uses Dr. Bauder’s book and he recommends it widely.

Dr. Bauder’s recent article seeks to address reasons for the demise of many prominent Fundamentalist colleges and seminaries.  Going beyond the standard arguments of cultural shift and constituency alienation (both of which, he postulates, are legitimate issues), Dr. Bauder presents additional, not-often-considered factors pertinent to the death of these institutions.  His analysis deserves thoughtful consideration as Fundamentalist institutions move into the “brave, new world” of the 21st Century. 

In such a thoughtful article, it is unfortunate that Dr. Bauder could not resist his penchant for trashing what he describes as the “King James Only orbit.”  It appears to this avid Bauder reader that the good professor harbors unreasonable angst toward fellow fundamentalists who hold to a view of manuscript evidences different from his own.  His classification, “King James Only orbit,” paints with a broad brush, thereby unfairly dismissing legitimate theological positions within that orbit.

More than most men, Dr. Bauder understands that precise theology is nuanced theology.   For example, Dr. Bauder would not accept the tenants of every form and presentation of Calvinism.  He would be careful to distinguish his brand of Calvinism from others, emphasizing the nuances of his position as opposed to others.  This author contends that the same careful, nuanced approach should apply to the “King James Only orbit.”  There are some within the “orbit” who hold to a false theory of double inspiration.  There are others, however, who simply appeal to the Textus Receptus manuscripts as their authority, rejecting other differing manuscripts as spurious.  Such a view is not heterodox.  It is a legitimate, nuanced theological position.  To hold such a position does not place one outside the fundamentalist theological sphere.  Indeed, the Lord’s church held to the infallibility of those apographs (manuscript copies) for over 1800 years.  Only in the late 1800’s did the text of the New Testament suffer significant destabilization with the publication of newly discovered, variant manuscripts.

Dr. Bauder’s most jarring and politically charged statement appears with his textual position playing loudly in the background:
The King James Only crowd likes to boast that schools like Pensacola Christian College and West Coast Baptist College are thriving, and that may be true. These colleges, however, are not representative of fundamentalist institutions, and their prosperity does not do anything to help normal fundamentalism.” (Emphasis added.)
Herein, Dr. Bauder grievously errs. To say that Pensacola and West Coast are not “representative of fundamentalist institutions” redefines, once again, fundamentalism.  Neither school denies nor do they adulterate any point of the classical fundamentalist credo.  Their doctrinal statements are readily available for anyone’s inspection.  In addition, both schools practice personal and ecclesiastical separation, the hallmark of fundamentalism. The fact that these schools specify allegiance to a specific Greek text in no way diminishes their fundamentalist credentials.  In addition, both schools have a strong fundamentalist heritage.  In the case of Pensacola, it has flourished within the sphere of fundamentalism for decades.  Many fundamentalist churches recommend both Pensacola and Bob Jones as options within the fundamentalist realm.  Dr. Bauder’s needlessly divisive statement lacks both theological and historical support.

The second portion of his statement is even more troubling:  The prosperity of these colleges “does not do anything to help normal fundamentalism.”  Frankly, this author could scarcely believe a man of Dr. Bauder’s intellectual stature would make such an all-encompassing, condemnatory statement.  To claim disagreement with a nuanced theological issue is one thing; but to claim that these schools do “not do anything to help normal fundamentalism” demeans the work and dedication of sincere servants of Christ.  His statement slanders thousands of pastors who recommend Pensacola and West Coast, classifying godly men as somehow as not “normal.” And his statement simply isn’t true.  Thousands of fundamentalist pastors find in these schools a place of believing scholarship for their students.  Both of these schools have sent out thousands of Christian workers into the harvest fields of the world.  Both of these schools proclaim and defend the “faith once delivered to the saints,” (Jude 3).  Both take missions, church planting, and evangelism seriously and both have seen stellar success in these areas.  Both are filling the fundamentalist pulpits of America with men sound in the faith and zealous for the redemption of the lost. 
Succinctly stated, Dr. Bauder’s declaration is both irresponsible and indefensible. 
While Dr. Bauder has presented much good analytical material in his article—material that deserves thoughtful consideration—he has, once again, marred his work with an unnecessary rant against Christian people—fellow fundamentalists—who love and serve the Lord.  He seems bent on making enemies where he could have found friends, and, in so doing, he repeats an error plaguing fundamentalism from its inception—an error which increasingly alienates intelligent young men and women from the fundamentalist movement.

Ps. Marc Monte (Originally published March 9, 2015)
Faith Baptist Church, Avon

For a continuation of this discussion from Pastor Monte, please see:

Previous Articles by Ps. Monte:
Muddying the Clearwaters 
Bauders position differs markedly from the strong stance of R.V. Clearaters. Doc, as he was called, had no trouble calling a spade and spade. Bauder struggles with that…. For reasons known only to himself, Bauder mocks those whose doctrinal concerns include bibliology, the blood atonement and sovereignty/free will.
Kevin Bauder: It Wont Fly With Those of Us Who Know
If Kevin desires to take Dr. Clearwaters venerable institution a different direction from the founder, he should do so without pretending to be the guardian of the legacy. I knew Doc well enough to know that he would not be at all happy with the direction of Central Seminary under Bauders leading.  Its bad enough that his school is headed in a decidedly leftward direction. Please, Dr. Bauder, dont make it any worse by pretending some affinity with one of the greatest separatist Christians of the last century.
 Genuine Integrity Demands a Simple Admission 
What troubles [me], however, is the nagging feeling that Jeff Straub was attempting to convey more than just mere admiration for stands well taken. His not-so-subtle mention that both of these pastors are entrenched in the SBC appears to lend tacit approval to the denominational organization…. Dr. Clearwaters was not one to speak well of the denominational machine.” Genuine integrity demands a simple admission from institutional leadership that they are moving from the separatist principles of their founders.
Related Reading:
A Letter From Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters to Kevin Bauder
Kevin, while reading your articles I have observed an inordinate affection towards pseudo-intellectual teaching, and a disdain for old-fashioned, confrontational Bible preaching.  Make no mistake, old fashioned, confrontational Bible preaching is exactly why I founded Central Seminary.  My burden was to train men with an air-tight understanding of the Scriptures, with the ability to stand in pulpits across the land and preach, thus saith the Lord,” with the desire to start churches and win souls to Christ.  To the contrary, I did not start the school over which you [Bauder] preside, for men to flounder in unbelief, for them to wonder for decades where they stand, or for them to be given to counseling, teaching and academic idolatry.  I often told the men I was training, We use the mind here, but we do not worship it.” Dr. Bauder, all given appearances seem to indicate that you are intentionally trying to lead those who follow your writings…away from the testimony upon which [Central Seminary] was founded and into the compromising orbit of protestant evangelicalism.
Piedmont/TTU: A Predictable Pattern of Mergers With Only One Survivor

What Do NIU, Pillsbury and (NOW) TTU Have in Common?

September 5, 2017

Dr. Clay Nuttall Promoted to Glory

Brethren, While we sorrow not as others which have no hope, we mourn the loss of our brother in arms for the cause of Christ.  Clay Nuttall went home to be with the Lord this afternoon, as reported by his son, Dennis. We have shared some pictures of Clay on Donna's Facebook page, mostly from IBFNA Conferences and ask for your continued prayers for Ruth and the family.

Pastor Chick Dear

Site Publisher's Comment: Dr. Nuttall's voice for the Biblical hermeneutic will be sorely missed in Bible believing circles. You may peruse 64 of Dr. Nuttall's latetst articles, reproduced at IDOTG, Clay Nuttall, The Shepherd's Staff.  For Dr. Nuttall's complete online articles see, The Shepherd's Staff.

August 2, 2017

The Enticement of Cultural Relevance: Serious Thoughts for Preachers and Other Christians

Recently an insightful evangelist I know published a blog based on an informal survey of his friends

Dr. Rick Flanders
regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the independent Baptist churches over the years. Those responding to his survey named several strong points exhibited by the independent Baptists, and also criticized them for a number of serious weaknesses. The evangelist said that the survey responses influenced his own thinking, and led him to make his own evaluation of the people and the churches with which he has spent his life serving Jesus Christ. His conclusion is that the principal strength of the independent Baptists has been their allegiance to the authority of the Bible. He thinks that their primary weakness has been neglecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They have done well by emphasizing the Word, and have faltered by de-emphasizing the Spirit. As I indicated, this writer is intelligent and insightful. He goes on to identify four problems that have been produced among Baptist fundamentalists because of their unnecessary and wrongful neglect of the Holy Spirit:

1.      “Emperor-ism”—neglecting of the role of the Spirit in the churches often led them into an exaggerated dependence on human authority. Although this was not true in all of the independent Baptist churches, a number of them have suffered under authoritarian pastors, and my friend sees the source of this problem in the neglect of the Holy Spirit in the churches.

2.      “Traditionalism”—not walking in the Spirit is blamed for leading some independent Baptists into living by traditions without biblical warrant. Although this accusation is used by some to criticize the commendable practice of following and preaching high standards of living, there is some truth in the charge that some believers live strictly and exclusively by the rules handed down to them, and seek to keep them in the strength of their own character and determination. The Holy Spirit is the secret to holy living, and not rule-keeping, although guidelines for life that rise out of Bible teaching and do not contradict Spirit-led living can help. But ignorance of the Spirit’s ministry has left many in many floundering in defeat within the confines of a fleshly legalism. They maintain the standards handed down to them, but fail to experience the reality of the Spirit-filled life.

3.      “Lack of Love”—the fruit of the Spirit, of course, is first “love.” Therefore carnal Christians (who live according to the lusts of their flesh), even if they profess to be committed to Christian living, will lack love. And this lack of real love for people will readily be detected in churches. Unfortunately, many independent Baptist churches have been plagued with a cold, harsh, and uncaring atmosphere, due undoubtedly to their neglect of the Spirit.

4.      “Pride”—Since Christians who strive to live the Christian life and to serve the Lord Jesus without depending on the Holy Spirit sometimes see a measure of outward “success,” their tendency is to take credit for it. This is the reason for the pride in carnal preachers. And independent Baptists have had a number of them. The Lord Jesus warned His followers to beware of pride (as in Matthew 18:1-4), and thus we can expect it to be a problem in every group of Christians. And so it is. But it cannot be denied that neglect of the ministry of the Spirit has left independent Baptists especially open to the sin of pride.

My evangelist friend concludes correctly that while emphasizing the Holy Spirit without emphasizing the Word of God leads to delusion, emphasizing the Word without emphasizing the Spirit produces deadness. Deadness has been a problem for many independent Baptist churches in recent years, and it is because so many of us have neglected the Holy Spirit. It is as if Pentecostalism made us afraid of Him. Of course, such an observation is a generalization with many exceptions, as are all four of my friend’s observations about the effects de-emphasizing the Spirit. Every group of Christians has trouble with all four of these problems, and certainly independent Baptists have experienced them in recent decades. But let us, as we discern that these problems come from our neglect of the Spirit, let us also recognize a fifth significant problem experienced by independent Baptists which has also been created by neglecting the ministry of the Spirit. That fifth problem plaguing us today is the attraction in Baptist churches to making unwise changes based on what is called “cultural relevance.”

Because they learned over the years to depend on the flesh rather than upon the Spirit, pastors who want their churches to grow are particularly susceptible to the enticement of cultural relevance. Anyone who has paid attention to the conversation among pastors in the past ten to fifteen years is aware of the emphasis that has been given to “cultural relevance.” It has been a subject of real importance in many minds ever since students of church growth began to adopt business methods to build churches. “Cultural relevance” is seen as essential to the business of growing churches, especially since Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren began producing his “purpose-driven” books. A church that is serious about growing in our time must make sure that their approach to growth and to church itself is culturally relevant, we are constantly told.

What iscultural relevance?Actually it is a pedagogic term emphasizing the importance of a teacher’s “cultural competence” in his efforts to educate effectively students with different backgrounds. In the context of reaching people for Christ, the term indicates that Christians must make themselves aware of the demands and prejudices of the culture in which the people live they are seeking to evangelize. What the culture dictates will also dictate how the churches must evangelize, is the basis of the theory. Because they are fundamentalists, with a conservative point of view, we would expect independent Baptists to take offense at appeals to cultural relevance, but these appeals are having a remarkable influence on them. Maybe our problem in reaching people, they reason, has been that our lifestyle and church-style have ceased having cultural relevance to those we invite to church. Who we are, how we live, and what we do at church tend to give them a negative impression, the experts on church growth are telling us, and they present an obstacle to those we are commissioned to evangelize. So if we change our ways to be more culturally relevant, we can win more souls and build bigger churches.

This approach is especially appealing because so many independent Baptist churches have been evangelizing and building churches based on fleshly methods and appeals for years. In the hey-day, the thinking implies, we reached a lot of people without much help from the Holy Spirit. Our congregations became very large because of our effective methods, hard work, smart plans, and appealing events. But the times and the culture have changed. This has made our old methods ineffective. What we did in the ‘70s doesn’t work anymore. The Baptists never say it this way, but they do think this way. So when the old flesh-based methods quit working, it is asserted that we need simply to adopt new methods based on the changes in our culture. What appeals to people these days? What turns them off? Why don’t they like our churches anymore? What can we do to make church more appealing to the unchurched? You can’t expect to succeed if you are not willing to change, it is said. And our flesh-dependence has opened our minds to this approach.

However, the preachers and the people who have kept their noses in the Bible are much less often seduced by appeals to cultural relevance. They are instead persuaded by scripture that the way the world is to be reached is through the power of God, and not the energy of the flesh.

“Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”

(Luke 24:47-49)

“Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

(Acts 1:8)

Let Christians in the twenty-first century see how insignificant cultural relevance is in God’s plan for evangelizing our cities, our country, and our world. The secret to spreading the gospel effectively in any generation is partnering with God the Holy Spirit. In comparison with the supernatural biblical means, every natural means for evangelism based on human methodology must appear weak and ineffective. Consider four biblical facts about cultural relevance:

1. The first Christians did not consider cultural relevance when they set out to evangelize their world. The book of Acts begins with the command of Jesus that His followers spread the gospel in Jerusalem, to the surrounding area, to the next country, and then finally to the “uttermost part of the earth” (1:8). Then, as we continue reading, we follow them as they do it. What did they do, and how did they do it? They prayed and were filled with the Spirit (1:12-2:4). Then they simply worked at telling people in the city that Jesus had risen from the dead. He ascended to the right hand of the Father, sent the Holy Spirit, and is both Lord and Christ (2:5-47). They were bold and aggressive as they preached the gospel to everyone, but really they just preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. There wasn’t really any method to their work; they just worked at it, depending on the Lord for power, boldness, and wisdom. We have no hint that the leaders of the Jerusalem church held strategy meetings before Pentecost to determine the most appealing approach to telling the news that the One they had crucified at Passover arose from the dead and is the Savior of the world! It would be hard to take the sting out of this message, and they never tried to do it. Peter rose and made his announcement and then told the multitudes who listened in rapt attention that they must repent. Was the cultural relevance of the message or the delivering of it even considered? Apparently not. Was the preaching of the gospel effective? Apparently so. The first-century world was turned upside down through the simple obedience of Christians to the Great Commission.

One influential writer in the evangelical world of our day, who has expressed concern about this focus on cultural relevance, is Karl Vaters. He is the pastor of an Assemblies-of-God church in California who is gaining a hearing by opposing the emphasis on cultural relevance in building churches. In the magazine Christianity Today, he said, “Forget being culturally relevant; the church needs to be contextually real!” The church of Jesus Christ needs to be true to its Lord and to its mission if it is to have an effect on the world. Conformity to the world does not go with winning the world to Christ. “Chasing cultural relevance makes our churches look the same in ways we should be different…from the world,” he said. “I don’t care if the church is culturally relevant…cultural relevance is not the answer…I want the church to be better than relevant. I want us to lead…Trying to be culturally relevant is turning the church into followers instead of leaders.” On this issue, Mr. Vaters is dead right. When we try to fit the culture, we cease trying to persuade sinners. It’s as simple as that.

2. The Holy Spirit does not seem concerned about cultural relevance in His work to convert the lost. Of His work through Christians, Jesus said (read His words in John 16:7-14), “He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Reproof doesn’t take into account cultural relevance, and the reproof of the Spirit is absolutely essential to the conversion of a sinner. They were “pricked in their hearts” on the day of Pentecost before three thousand Jews were converted to Christ (Acts 2:37). You cannot be saved until you know you are lost, justly condemned before the law of God. The Holy Spirit is not approaching sinners based on the principles of public relations or cultural relevance. He is reproving them based on the Word of God we are sharing with them. He shows them that they are in trouble, and that their only hope is in Jesus Christ. His work through us as witnesses brings people from death unto life. And cultural relevance has absolutely nothing to do with it.

3. Concern about cultural relevance seems to contradict the passion for holiness. Ephesians 5 is one of many chapters in the New Testament that calls on Christians to live holy lives (See also John 8, First Thessalonians 4, and First Peter 1). It tells us not to live like unbelievers (verses 1-7). It tells us not to endorse what they do (read verses 8-11). It even says that as children of light, we should not talk about the way wicked people live (verse 12). We are to be separate from the world. The Hebrew and Greek words for “holy” imply separation. Those who have an obligation to separate from the sins of the world around them cannot afford to be draw into an attraction to cultural relevance. Can we? Shall those who have left the world behind to follow Jesus keep looking back in the interest of maintaining some kind of cultural relevance?

4. Culture is based on religion. Acts 17 says that in one generation the first Christians “turned the world upside down.” It is a fact of history that the spread of Christianity changed the Roman Empire into “Christian civilization,” which is the foundation of Western culture today. Culture is not morally or religiously neutral. It is based on certain beliefs and standards. The paganism of the Greek and Roman worlds gave the Roman Empire its culture, and the people their way of life. The gospel of Christ changed all that. Great numbers of the people “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God” (First Thessalonians 1:5-10) in just a few decades, and the culture changed. So it has been with every great awakening. Thus conforming to the culture as a strategy for evangelism is in reality a form of betrayal. When the churches fail to recognize the false ideas and moral perversions behind the culture in which we live, they adopt ways of doing things that betray the truth they claim to represent and fail to win the people to the true God. When we preach the gospel without apology we are actually laying the groundwork for a new culture as a by-product of our mission. To adopt pagan culture as a way of winning pagans is counter-productive and a form of denying Jesus. Of course, some misinterpret and misapply the words of Paul in First Corinthians 9 about becoming as a Jew in order to win Jews and becoming as weak in order to win the weak and becoming all things to all men, to justify conforming to the culture for the cause of evangelism. But if you study the whole chapter, you will find that just the opposite is taught. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 argue that Christians ought to refrain from eating meat sacrificed to false gods in the temples of the idols for several good reasons, although to eat something dedicated in a ritual to an imaginary deity cannot be proven to be inherently sinful. The idea is that through the self-denial of the Christian life, a believer will be stricter in his life on himself than technically he might be required to be. He will do this out of love for others (Chapter 8), for the cause of evangelism (Chapter 9), and out of loyalty to the true God. Study it. Paul was not justifying dropping his standards in order to please the pagans, but rather he was advocating the raising of our standards so as to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy in order to give credibility to our evangelism. Read it.

Making reasonable changes in the way we do things to improve our effectiveness can make sense, but becoming enamored with cultural relevance is dangerous. Let independent Baptists keep their noses in the Bible, their eyes upon Jesus, and their dependence on His Holy Spirit, as we move forward to reach our world with the truth about the love of God and the salvation that is in His Son!

Dr. Rick Flanders
Revival Ministries

July 12, 2017

The One Biblical Hermeneutic by Clay Nuttall, D.Min.

The following is a pre-publication “sneak peek” at the book, The Normal Hermeneutic: The One Biblical system.  The authors are Hani Hana, an Egyptian national, and Clay Nuttall, who prepares the Shepherd’s Staff.  Have fun.
We have discussed the need for a book on hermeneutics, a book that is foundational and that would be consistent with the normal use of language.   After observing students who finish degrees in theology and still hold to theological error, we sought to find out why.  The answer became very clear: their interpretation wasn’t the problem, varied as it might be.  The problem was that they had no authoritative system of interpretation.
After searching through the plethora of humanly generated systems, it was evident that a lot of systems will produce many conflicting interpretations. Did God intend for us to have such theological confusion?  Is the text of holy scripture so weak that it could not sustain the one interpretation that God had placed in a text?  Was there a single system that would, with major passages, always provide the same interpretation that everyone could arrive at?  The problem wasn’t that God has not given us the answer, but that man was always tempted to add to and subtract from the text.
The answer to the problem has been clearly established.  It was in the correct use of all language in the plain, clear statements of the text. Following this path, this book -The Normal Hermeneutic - only deals with that one system of language that all literature follows.  The Bible is literature, and it is the one book of interest for us in this discussion; but it is a book like no other.  God is the author of this text.  The Holy Spirit produced it, using human writers.  Every word and thought, hence the whole, is inspired, reliable, sufficient, and authoritative.  There is no higher authority.  Anything scripture speaks to is the final word on the subject.  Only one biblical hermeneutical system rises from the Bible text.  It is the normal, clear, plain, consistent, literal use of language.  The faithful, consistent use of the normal hermeneutic is a scientific process, and it is mathematical.  When this system is utilized, it will produce the same answer every time for everyone, unless it is corrupted by human insertion.
Every doctrinal error has its roots in an erroneous system of interpretation or some corruption of the one biblical system.  To practice the normal hermeneutic, one must pay attention to the rules that guard all literature. The focus in this work will be on the correct use of grammar, context, and the historical setting of the text.  These are rules that are used not only for this specific genre, but for all literature.  They are identified in this discussion, as is the proper use of application once the normal hermeneutic has produced that one interpretation of a text.
The nature of this material is foundational.  Philosophical discussions are identified only for the purpose of reference, and they have no real authority.  We are interested in the clear, plain statement of scripture.  This is the real authority.  Once a reader leaves the plain, clear text, the temptation to rewrite it is always present.
One has to ask why it is that various learned scholars go to the same text and come away with a dozen different interpretations.  It is particularly troubling because many of these commentators claim to use the same system of interpretation.  That simply isn’t possible.  Intellectuals argue that there is no such thing as exactitude in the matter of interpretation of the Bible text.  The Biblicist demands that the inspiration of scripture by careful oversight of the Holy Spirit is a verbal, plenary product.  The Bible is inerrant.  Everything placed in Holy Writ is pure and correct.  God cannot be accused of error in the writing of the text.  It is fair to ask if God gave us the tools and ability to get out of the text that very same truth that God placed there.  This, however, is the point of The Normal Hermeneutic.  God did make it possible for us to draw from the Bible the very truths He inserted therein.  It would be a scandalous thing for God to leave the Bible student without the ability to know exactly what God said and also to know that He meant what He said.
Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min.
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.  Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the e-mail address shepherdstaff2@juno.com or Shepherd's Staff.

June 30, 2017

A Tribute to America & Her Flag

The Star Spangled Banner Lyrics By Francis Scott Key 1814

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light.
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

You’re a Grand Old Flag by George M. Cohan - 1906

You’re a grand old flag, You’re a high flying flag And forever in peace may you wave. You’re the emblem of
The land I love. The home of the free and the brave. Ev’ry heart beats true ‘neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

America, The Beautiful Lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates - 1913

O beautiful for spacious skies,
 For amber waves of grain,
 For purple mountain majesties
 Above the fruited plain! 
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
 And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
 Whose stern impassion’d stress
 A thoroughfare for freedom beat 
Across the wilderness!
 America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
 Confirm thy soul in self-control,
 Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
 Who more than self their country loved,
 And mercy more than life! 
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
 And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
 That sees beyond the years
 Thine alabaster cities gleam,
 Undimmed by human tears!
 America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
 And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea!

June 22, 2017

Dumb Things People Say by Clay Nuttall, D. Min

Some of the things people say are just plain funny, while others are extremely harmful.  Quite often, things that are stated are only strange because of where they are uttered.  This is like the visitor who goes to the OB ward to visit an obviously expectant mother.  The visitor says, “Are you still here”?  Then there is the man who is visiting at the funeral home and comments about the deceased, “My, he looks so nice.”  My favorite is church bulletin humor.  “The Pastor’s message: What the fool said.”  Dumb things can often be quite entertaining.
When the time rolls around for elections, we are subjected to some of the dumbest things I have ever heard.  You sometimes have to wonder how anyone could possibly be elected who appears to be totally brain dead.  I love one-liners, and they probably are the best way to respond to dumb statements, if you are not still laughing after five minutes.  Dumb things are not always verbal; sometimes they are put in print.  I tend to do this in emails because I never spell- check them.  That can get you into a lot of trouble, as some of you well know!  Then there is social media. This is the king of written dumb things.  It covers almost 50% of the comments posted. We live in a world that doesn’t think. That, of course, is the fruit of today’s liberal American education, and almost everyone I know struggles with thinking before speaking.
Let me begin with dumb things preachers say.  An oft repeated statement is, “The lost will be separated from God for eternity” or “The worst thing about hell is that God is not there.”  Unless you have a different God than the one described in the Bible, that is a dumb statement.  The God of the Bible is omnipresent.  That means He is present always, everywhere, for all time and eternity.  There is NO place where He is not eternally present.  The psalmist put it this way: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”  (Psalm 139:8)
My pet peeve involves a string of things that all mean the same thing.  “I believe,” “I think,” “my view,” “my opinion is.”  Let me be blunt.  What the preacher believes, thinks, opines is not relevant.  I don’t care.  What we want to know is what the clear teaching of the Word of God says.  If you don’t know, either say so or wait until you do know.  The authority in the pulpit is the Word of God, not the imagination of the preacher.  If you do know what the Bible says, then say it clearly and pointedly: “The Bible says…”  That is not arrogance; it is obedience.
We should all agree that preachers telling lies in the pulpit is dumb.  Everything we say ought to be tested with the truth.  Let me focus on lying about time: “This is my last point,” “I am almost done,” “Just a minute more.”  This is fine if it is true; but if you then ramble on for another half hour, let’s face it - you lied, and that is dumb.  Oh, I see - “the Lord led you.”  Why do we always blame our errors on God?  That is also dumb.  The best preaching doesn’t ever refer to time.  It holds the attention of the listener so that, when the end does come, the listener is surprised.
The problem appears to be that there is more error taught in the name of God than truth.  Part of this has to do with a tragic, casual approach to the study of God’s Word.  Digging in the text is hard work.  It takes time, energy, and persistence.  I often wonder why anybody listened to me in my early years of preaching, and I wish I had known then what I know now.  What I do know, for sure, is that I now know very little of the whole even after fifty-seven years of ministry!
A second problem with this issue of dumb things is the infringement of “historical theology” upon the clear teaching of the Scriptures.  Instead of being like the saints at Bera (Acts 17:11). who “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” too many preachers blindly accept what other men have said about the text.  Everyone wants to be loved and accepted, so asking questions about historical positions is off base.  To those who have chosen to be followers of a man, disloyalty is almost criminal.  Even the faithful know better than to ask questions about historical conclusions that don’t make sense. 
This would include the problem of the worship of scholars.  I repeat: scholars and scholarship have great value for all of us, but they do us no service if we are not allowed to ask questions. How often are scholars wrong?  The answer is “often”, and that is easy to prove.  With so many and such varied conclusions about a text, they couldn’t possibly all be right.  Maybe one of them is; but even if one is right, it means the majority must be wrong.  Let me remind you that the Bible was not written to scholars; it was written to the common man.  Deep inside, the liberal in you may be saying that this writer is opposed to scholarship and serious education, even if the evidence is the exact opposite.
The road to “dumb things” is paved with wrong interpretation.  Actually, it is paved with wrong systems of interpretation.  I am racing to finish the book “The Normal Hermeneutic.” In it I deal with the word “interpretation.”  The Bible interprets itself.  God put truth in, and He wants to lift it out of the text.  Somewhere, it seems, we got the idea that God needs our help; so, we began to add our wisdom to that of the scriptures.   We end by adding our ideas to the text.  Our task is to find out what God has plainly said and to make sure that is what we teach.  What has happened is that we teach what we think about what the Bible says and so end up saying a lot of dumb things.
An example of this problem is found in our own national government.  The founding documents of this nation are its laws.  The responsibility of the courts is to see that the original documents are upheld and that people obey those laws.  Now enters a system that allows the courts to interpret the law rather than uphold what was written.  The product is a corrupted judicial system that does not represent the original documents.
That is exactly what has been done to the Bible.  Instead of letting the Bible speak, we have added our ideas and ignored the things we don’t like.  So, we end up drowning in a sea of dumb theological ideas.  And then there is music…but don’t even get me started!
Shepherd's Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min. 
A communication service of Shepherd's Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.  Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the e-mail address shepherdstaff2@juno.com or Shepherdstaff 

June 5, 2017

A Pie in the Sky?

Socialists have long accused religion of offering “a pie in the sky by and by” as a way of distracting

Dr. Rick Flanders
and pacifying those who suffer under capitalism, thus keeping them from rising up in insurrection.  The phrase (which has moved into our general conversation in reference to things other than religion) comes from a folk song, titled “The Preacher and the Slave,” which was written by a radical revolutionary named Joe Hill a century ago.  He was echoing the charge of Karl Marx that “religion is the opium of the people.”  The far Left has long regarded religion in general, and the church in particular, as supporting the interests of the rich (who, they say, control religion) by mollifying the discontent of workers using vain promises of heavenly rewards for those who will not make trouble for capitalists.  The ironic fact, however, is that it is socialism, and not Christianity, that promises rewards it never delivers.
The different kinds of socialism that have appeared on the scene in the past 250 years have all promised utopia and yet they have all failed to deliver.  And it is strange that those who in our time are charmed by Leftist promises have not noticed this fact.  So-called “utopian” socialists in the 19th century set up a number of communal colonies, such as Robert Owen’s New Harmony, Indiana, and, and none of them succeeded.  One of the participants in the New Harmony experiment explained the reason for its failure in these terms:
“We [the members of the famous communal colony] had a world in miniature—we had enacted the French revolution over again with despairing hearts instead of corpses as a result…It appeared that it was nature’s own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us…our ‘united interests’ were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation…”
(Josiah Warren, 1856)
Every one of the other utopian colonies set up in America and abroad in those days (such as those in Nashoba, Tennessee; New Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Fruitlands, Massachusetts; and the Oneida Community in New York) failed for the same reason.  Human nature makes successful communalism impossible.  And government-enforced collectivism must always become oppressive.
The communist revolutionaries who overthrew the monarchy in France gave the French the Reign of Terror and a corrupt dictatorship, instead of the liberty, equality, and fraternity it promised.  All of the revolutions inspired by Marx and Engels ended badly, and certainly not in the Workers’ Paradise they convinced people they were creating.  Look at the miserable histories of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Cambodia and East Germany.  See how socialism sucked the very soul out of these once-great nations, and put them under the rule of terrorists who murdered great numbers of innocent people.  The history of the past two centuries seems to prove that if politicians promise Heaven on earth, they will give us Hell on earth.
In Europe and America, socialism and communism arose in response and opposition to the gospel preached by evangelical preachers in the churches and revival meetings.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ comes to us as good news in contrast to the bad news that all men are sinners and justly condemned before God for our sins.  The good news is that God loves us and sent His Son on a mission to rescue us from the power and consequences of our sins.  Jesus died on the cross “for our sins, according to the scriptures” (First Corinthians 15:1-3-4), and God “raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).  Sinners who come to Jesus for their salvation and trust Him to bestow the grace of God upon them will receive eternal life, and a new life of peace and hope, and also the promise of Heaven.  They will not be condemned because Jesus paid for their sins (John 5:24, Romans 8:1).  They can live triumphantly because He arose the Victor over sin and death.
Preachers of the socialist gospel say that the evil present in human society does not arise from the human heart or the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, but rather is generated by the way we operate the economy.  Capitalism, they proclaim, creates evil.  Suffering and injustice come, not from our innate sinfulness and our need of the Savior, but rather from the selfishness and oppression that is part and parcel of our economic system.  Our need is not for Jesus, but for a new economic system.  We need to devise and implement some system of collectivism and force it upon our society.  Private property and free enterprise are the enemies of the good, and must be crushed by a socialist revolution and communist-type government.  Things will be better for everybody, they say, soon after the socialist gospel is believed and accepted.  But all of the nations that have received and implemented socialism, expecting the pie that was promised, are still waiting for it to come out of the oven.
The Apostle Peter wrote by divine inspiration about the false prophets that will come to challenge the truth:
“These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.  For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption, for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.”
(Second Peter 2:17-19)
Socialist rulers rise to power by offering empty promises that desperate people accept.  Whether it was Lenin or Stalin or Hitler (who called himself a “national” socialist) or Mao or Pol Pot, every socialist dictator gained absolute control over his people by promising them the pie in the sky, which he never produced.  This is true also of less vicious rulers who have gained power with the same vain socialist promises.  Socialism in any form has never worked.  It doesn’t share the wealth, but only the misery.  It is never a movement of love and compassion, but always a movement of hatred and envy.  It is a false gospel that has been proven a lie over and over again.  And the revolutionaries of our day in our country still sway people by promising the pie that never materializes.
On the other hand, the gospel of Jesus Christ comes through with all that it offers, and has never been a message offering only hope in the next life.  Those who receive Christ receive benefits of profound value right away.  Jesus told the sad and sinful woman He met at the well of Sychar,
“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water…
“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
(John 4:10 and 13-14)
The sinner who comes to Jesus for everlasting life receives immediately a new life that satisfies him forever.  Just ask a born-again Christian if all He got in Jesus was a promise of something after he dies.  He will tell you that the need of the thirsty soul is fully and forever satisfied the moment he turns to Christ for salvation.  It happens every time, in this present life, because Jesus came that men might “have life and, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Dr. Rick Flanders
Revival Ministries