Should we throw out the baby with the bath water?

I get distressed when I see or hear of Christians I know, like, and admire, who also listen to and follow those who teach false doctrine.

For the purpose of this short article, we therefore need a criteria, a set of parameters that we can use to distinguish good and sound teaching from self-centered and erroneous teaching. I suggest the Bible as that criteria.

For those who would reject the Bible as that criteria, a different conversation would be in order. I’d be glad to talk to you more if you’d like.

My encouragement to the body is this: If someone distorts, misrepresents, or blatantly teaches against the Bible as part of their teaching, then all of their teaching must be suspect and therefore disregarded as spiritual nourishment. A religious speaker can’t be “mostly right” anymore than the Bible can be “mostly accurate” or God can be “mostly divine.”

This occurs everywhere from well-known national television evangelists to local teachers and preachers. Those who teach and preach must teach/preach the “whole counsel of God.”

Acts 20:26-27 – Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

 

Have you heard of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might be a Redneck if…?”

Well, here is Pastor Harvey’s “They might not be worth listening to if…” in no particular order. If your admired Christian speaker is/does the following, it might be worth praying about whether to continue to follow his/her teaching or not.

 

1. They spend more time worrying about receiving your money than communicating that God provides all needs. Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

 

2. They spend more time bashing the church or her leaders than lifting up her head. (I’ve seen too much of this one on facebook lately) – Colossians 1:18 – “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Beware of anyone who claims to serve the Bridegroom (Jesus Christ) but slanders the Bride (the church). See Ephesians 5:25-27.

 

3. They spend time condemning those who believe in minor doctrinal issues that do not pertain to nor disqualify people from salvation, and ignore the biggest ones of all. For one of many examples, if a person is more concerned about the version of the Bible being read than the receptiveness of the person reading it, they’ve missed the forest for the trees. Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

 

4. They recite and propagate the world’s wisdom, even though it completely contradicts the wisdom of the Bible. Proverbs 9:10 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

 

5. They neglect the great Commission in favor of their own personal ideas for what is best. Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

6. They only preach that we are meant to be successful, that we have a great destiny, that God wants us to prosper, etc. For example, James 4:10 says “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” If a speaker teaches that the best way God can lift you up and exalt you is in a material manner, beware. God has much better ways of sustaining and providing for His children than the satisfaction of man’s wants. God DOES want the best for you. And that best is to completely and wholeheartedly abandon self by pouring your life into worshiping Him and serving others. It isn’t about receiving, nor is it about self.

 

7. Their riches are extravagant. Simply put, spend the money on what matters, if you have that much money. For example, James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The world has stained too many of our more prominent ministries.

 

8. Their version of the gospel is inoffensive to the lost and comfortable to the saved. If they preach a gospel that does not bring a sense of conviction, then it isn’t a complete gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:18 – “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it isthe power of God.”

 

9. Their version of the gospel is hopeless to the lost and offensive to the saved. Some ministries present a God that is only a vengeful judge. As I preached the other morning – to some God will be a terrifying judge one day, but to others, He is our loving Redeemer. John 3:16-17 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

10. Comfort is their unspoken theme. The problem with being a casual, comfortable Christian is this: Serving God is not comfortable. Obeying God is not easy. You can’t say “yes” to God half-heartedly. Following God requires more than good intentions. Worship is not passionless. Christ requires all. You can’t obey Him mostly. You can’t obey Him 99 %. Multiple verses to support – which one to cite? Colossians 3:17 – “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

 

And a BONUS one – this one is free!

11. They don’t love children. I love the church I pastor (Bethel), and one of her shining bright positive areas is that she loves children. You want to get on God’s bad side? Mistreat a child. I shudder to think of all the self-identifying Christians in my own life who I’ve seen mistreat children, or who mistreated me when I was a child. I’ve actually been in church services where the speaker was harsh about children disrupting and treated them and/or their family with obvious contempt. Don’t do that. You better be nice to the children, even the squirrely ones! 

 

Be blessed and follow God, not man!

 

Being a Spiritual Door Greeter

Short Analogy #1

Last week, I had the opportunity to go out of town to visit a few very near and dear friends. I had a wonderful time. But the issue was this: I take blood pressure medicine. And without getting too graphic, it dehydrates me in the morning. It is a diuretic. So not only do I drink a lot liquid in the morning, I also get rid of a lot!

Pastor Harvey, why in the world are you letting us know this?

You see, about 90 minutes into the journey, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I just HAD to stop. So I pulled into a Winn Dixie and was met by a nice fellow who greeted me as soon as I walked into the door. I said, “Sir, where is your bathroom?” And he directed me.

On the way out a short time later, the same gentleman was at the door. And I said, “I’ll buy something next time.” He said, “That’s ok. Have a nice day!”

 

Short Analogy #2

Before we had children, I was a different person. I like to think that I have calmed down and am in much more control of myself than I was 10 years ago. I really had an anger issue at times. Sometimes I directed it at those I loved; at other times it was directed in their defense.

Sarah came home from a trip with a sister-in-law very late and very bothered. I knew something was up. After prodding the information out of her, I arrived at the fact that she had been mistreated by an employee of a local club-warehouse-sales place. Even though we had an account that was current, the employee’s computer wasn’t showing it, so she heavily insinuated that Sarah was a liar, cheater, etc.

So I did what any reasonable person would do. I chopped up my membership card into 4 equal pieces. I mailed the 4 pieces to the local store, the regional office, the national office, and the better business bureau, explaining precisely what I thought of their company and why I would never set foot there again.

A reasonable reaction, yes?

 

 

What do these 2 analogies have in common?

We all represent something. The guy in Winn Dixie made me want to go back to Winn Dixie. The girl at that big store caused me to not step foot in there for many years (and I still only rarely frequent the place).

When we go into a store, a minimum wage employee often has the same power as the international president of that company. They represent that store. They are wearing the uniform and a nametag. They have been trained and authorized to represent that store or that company to us. And we as consumers often form a more positive or negative perception of that store based on even the part-time, minimum wage employee.

That employee could think, “I only work here 20 hours a week and barely make minimum wage. I could care less what this company looks like 10 years from now.”

Regardless, as you saw examples of in my analogies, the employees of corporations have that representative power to their consumers. Whether the employees think it is fair or not. Whether the consumer is fair in arriving at that opinion or not. You, Mr. Retired-senior-standing-at-the-front-door-greeter, have a huge amount of influence on whether I continue returning to your store, or stop doing so.

Did you know that it is the same way in our spiritual walk? People know if we are Christian or not. They usually know if we go to church or not. Hopefully, they can put 2 and 2 together by looking at our conduct, speech, and priorities.

And whether we like it or not, we are representing our entire company – that is the church, as well as our CEO – that is, Jesus Christ! We may think we are the lowliest of the low – just a minimum wage door greeter, but our influence over this world and their receptiveness of Christians is huge! And therefore, “poor customer service” simply isn’t an option.

We have to represent Jesus Christ accurately and continually. Because if we don’t, then the reputation of our Christian brothers and sisters, the church, and our Savior is harmed in the eyes of those who need us the most!

Maybe it’d be nice to live in a little box, unnoticed and unobserved by the world. The introvert side of me would enjoy that at times. But today, I will be on display. It is as if I will have a balloon I am carrying around with me that says, “Christian Husband, Father, and Pastor.” People know who I am. They will watch me to see if what I do and say matches up.

They will watch you too. That’s why it IS important what you do. How you do it. What your attitude is. What your speech is. How you present yourself to others. How you act in traffic. In a line at the grocery store. At family reunions. With people who have disappointed you. In every single situation that you’ll face today, you face as much more than an employee – if you’re a believer, you face as one who represents your Savior.

I’ve had people try to convince me otherwise. That it doesn’t matter what they say or do. I’ve heard pastors who can swear with the best of them. I’ve seen people proclaim Christ, but live completely opposite of His teachings.

Don’t take who you are lightly. Seek to provide fantastic customer service today! Remember your actions affect how others see your Christian brothers and sisters, your church, and your God. If people know a Christian is supposed to be one thing, but see us being entirely the opposite, they will have reason to call us hypocritical. Give people a reason to want to know God, not a reason to reject Him more.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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The thorn in my flesh

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

For some reason, the last few days, I have been living over and over the historical failures of my life. Maybe it is because of the present calling that I cling to, and how drastically it contrasts to the long line of these shortcomings.

I’m not beating myself up over them too much, nor am I having a pity party. As I was thinking about these failures just now, my mind was instantly curious about Paul’s wording of this struggle which he had to deal with. We don’t know what this struggle was – whether it was a psychological struggle (such as intense grief or sorrow), a person who caused him much trouble, an actual physical condition (which many scholars believe), or even a matter of constant spiritual warfare, we can only guess.

Many times when we begin inching the closet door open, we expect to see the worst in each other. Don’t worry reader, my struggle is not with anything that you would need to notify law enforcement about. But it is a struggle that breaks me, and one that I would wish away from me, just like you would wish yours away. We all have these deep, innate struggles; these things that if publicly broadcasted about our life, would threaten to ruin us (and in many of our cases, would actually carry out that threat).

I think about one particular struggle. I believe 2 people are aware of it, though others have been indirectly affected. I ask the obvious questions – Why did my Creator instill this tendency toward sin in my life? Why is this sin so destructive in nature? Why can’t he just remove it from my life completely?

I look at Paul’s admission in 2 Corinthians. He didn’t tell us what the struggle was. But he, like many of us, also asked for it to be removed – three times – and the answer was no. Instead came this:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The fact that we are corrupt, that we struggle daily if not hourly against the carnality of the human condition, outlines the overwhelming need and dependency we have upon our Savior. I’m reminded how Peter was going to sink, except that he cried out and was saved in a literal sense.

Matthew 14: 30-31

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

In a very real sense, this is what we must do. Under our own power and effort, sin is powerful and capable of enslaving our lives. It will drown us. Sin has no dominion over us, unless we are not under grace:

Romans 6:14

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Just as Paul boasted in his weakness, and was even content in his weakness (2 Cor 12:9-10), let us also, with thanks, celebrate the only One who can rescue us from the curse. I don’t know what your thorn is any more than you know what mine is (are), but believers have this in common:

Romans 8:3-4

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

thorn

Our Christian Pilgrimage

There’s a pretty decent documentary on Netflix on the pilgrimages that muslims make. It’s a pretty huge thing. The documentary followed several people, one from the U.S., as they traveled to Mecca and participated in the occasion and formality of what is the “Hajj,” one of the largest pilgrimages in the world. There are entire companies set up to take care of pilgrims as they travel to Saudi Arabia, and house them, feed them, give them traveling arrangements, and help them stay within the laws and customs of Islam as they are on the pilgrimage.

The Hajj

It really is a pretty fascinating documentary, providing an insight into the mind of the Muslim, explaining in part why they do some of the things they do, and act in certain ways.

In contrast, Christians have no prescribed physical pilgrimage. We don’t have to travel to London, or to Rome, or to Jerusalem (though all three would make fascinating and spiritually enriching journeys!). However, the scripture says that we do have trials and tests, and gives us directions, wisdom, and insight not only to recognize the trials, but to pass them joyfully, with the result being that our spiritual maturity and faith increases. We are even promised the “crown of life.”

James 1:2-4 tells us to:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It is conceivable that on a pilgrimage, the life of comfort is forsaken and trials occur. Take one of the most famous (even if fictional) Christian pilgrims, “Christian” in “Pilgrim’s Progress.” As he is journeying from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, his way is interspersed with grave trials and conditions. He is captured in the city of Vanity. He is diverted by deceivers. He is captured by a giant in Doubting Castle. They have all sorts of trouble on their pilgrimage.

Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Dictionary.com defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.”

It is safe to say we cannot make such a pilgrimage without acting, and moving. We will experience opposition, trials, and troubles. If we do not, then there is no sacrifice, there is no process of refining, there is no growth, and there is no need to exhibit faith.

I’m amazed at how we Christians sometimes avoid and attempt to avert trials, when James clearly points out that these are a good thing. We would sooner rebuke trouble from ever occurring than grow as a result of experiencing it. The storm on the boat in the Sea of Galilee was not a bad thing! It produced faith in the disciples as they observed Jesus’ command of the storm. And storms in our life aren’t necessarily bad either. They provide unique opportunities in our life to see God glorified. They provide circumstances in which we cannot rely upon ourselves, our goodness, or our ability to cope and move on. We have to reach outside of ourselves to find resolution and redemption. If my life is made controllable by my own efforts, then what need do I have to reach outside of it for help? If the disciples could’ve calmed the storm, then what need would there have been to call upon Jesus?

We are all born into a condition in which none of us can do anything about…the condition of sin, thrust upon us by our humanity, absolved only by the sacrifice of an unblemished Lamb, which was provided by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, on behalf of all who would receive.

Brothers and sisters, let us be wise enough to recognize the benefit of storms. James 1 continues in verses 5-6:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

As we are on the pilgrimage of the Christian life, encountering obstacles in our life just as “Christian” did in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” let us not get boggled down by every single obstacle. How easy it is for me to default to the lowest common denominator and react as “Harvey” would react instead of being the person God has intended for me to be and to become. God has intended that as we walk, we grow, and as we grow, we remain steadfast in the storm, displaying faith in Him.

James 1:12 –

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Being thankful…

John Reynolds, in his Anecdotes of the Rev. John Wesley (1828), tells the story of Wesley’s student days at Lincoln College in Oxford. A porter knocked on Wesley’s door one evening and asked to speak with him. After some conversation, Wesley noted the man’s thin coat (it was a cold winter night), and suggested that he had better get a warmer one. The porter replied: “This coat … is the only coat I have in the world – and I thank God for it.”

When asked if he had eaten, he replied: “I have had nothing today but a draught of spring water … and I thank God for that.”

Wesley, growing uneasy in the man’s presence, reminded him that the headmaster would lock him out if he did not soon return to his quarters. “Then what shall you have to thank God for?” Wesley asked.
“I will thank Him,” replied the porter, “that I have dry stones to lie upon.”

Deeply moved by the man’s sincerity, Wesley said, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear; … nothing to eat … no bed to lie on. I cannot see what you have to thank God for.”

The man replied: “I thank God… that he has given me life and being; a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.”

The man left with a coat from Wesley’s closet, some money for food and words of appreciation for his living testimony. Wesley later wrote these words in his Journal: “I shall never forget that porter. He convinced me there is something in religion to which I am a stranger.”

Impressive, challenging, and begs the question, “Do I offer that kind of thanksgiving to God, or am I, as Wesley put it, a stranger to that side of religion?”

Psalm 65:1-4 

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!

 

What’s a Christian?

As I mentioned earlier, there are doctrines that are considered essential to the Christian faith. There are also cases where some beliefs, if embraced, are contrary to the Christian faith.

Back in one of my seminary courses – apologetics, I believe, I was exposed to a website I’ve used over the years. It is entitled “Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry” and is from a gentleman named Matthew Slick. I have some denominational-belief-related differences with him occasionally but I’ve always found him to be solid on his core stuff. Anyways, the following is from his website at http://www.carm.org and his from an article entitled “Yes, there are essential Christian Doctrines” which can be located in its entirety here.

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Primary Essentials

  1. The Deity of Christ
    1. John 8:24, “I said, therefore, to you, that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
      1. This is where Jesus clearly taught what you cannot deny and you must affirm.
    2. Jesus is God in flesh (John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14). See also John 1:1,14; 10:30-33; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 1:8
  2. Salvation by Grace
    1. “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace,” (Gal. 5:4).
    2. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast,” (Eph. 2:8-9).
      1. Both these verses show salvation is by grace through faith, not by works and that to add works is to not be saved.
  3. The Resurrection of Christ
    1. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” (1 Cor. 15:14). “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” (1 Cor. 15:17).
      1. These verses clearly state that if you say that Jesus did not rise from the dead in the same body He died in as he prophesied in John 2:19-21, then your faith is useless.
  4. The Gospel
    1. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8-9, NIV).
    2. 1 Cor. 15:1-4 defines what the gospel is: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
  5. Monotheism
    1. There is only one God (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8)
    2. “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments,”  (Exodus 20:3-6).
      1. We can see that God will visit iniquity on the descendents of those who do not follow the true and living God.

Secondary Essentials

Secondary essentials are likewise necessary truths, but there is no self-declared penalty for their denial — yet they are still essential to the Christian faith.  Again, by way of example, Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him, (John 14:6).  I call this a secondary essential because there’s no penalty associated with its denial.  Nevertheless, it is a statement of absolute truth and is an essential Christian teaching that cannot be denied.

  1. Jesus is the only way to salvation
    1. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me,'” (John 14:6)
      1. Jesus declared that he was the only access to God the Father.  To deny this is to deny what Jesus said.
  2. Jesus’ virgin birth
    1. “’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us,’” (Matt. 1:23).
      1. Without the virgin birth, we cannot substantiate the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus being God in flesh.  This would put at risk what Jesus said above in John 8:24, where he said, “I said, therefore, to you, that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
  3. Doctrine of the Trinity
    1. Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,”  (See also, Matt. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6.)
    2. This doctrine is not represented by a single verse per se, though it is hinted at.  The doctrine of the Trinity is arrived at systematically by looking at the totality of Scripture.  It is, nevertheless, the proper representation of scriptural revelation concerning the nature of God.

Our faith is only as good as who we put it in. There are false teachers who redefine God, redefine Christ, and redefine the gospel to their own destruction. Jesus warned us about false Christs and false teachers in Matt. 24:24.  Paul clearly said in Galatians 1:8 that anyone who preaches a false gospel is to be cursed.  Therefore, we can see from Scripture that there are doctrinal/propositional truths we cannot avoid and that these truths cannot be governed by experience and/or the ambivalence of emerging “conversation”. If that were the case, we would not need the propositional truths given to us by God in the Bible.

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Of course, as a Southern Baptist, I would always encourage members of my own church and/or denomination to refer to the Baptist Faith and Message for a concise listing of core doctrines and beliefs. You can find that here.