Several days ago, Ken Ham, the oldest dinosaur at the Creation Museum, wrote a blog post about K.P. Yohannan coming to speak to the Answers in Genesis staff. Yohannan is the founder and president of Gospel for Asia, an Evangelical ministry that focuses on evangelizing and starting churches in Asia. Years ago, Polly and I supported several native missionaries through Gospel for Asia, as did several of our sons.
K.P. finished his devotional presentation during our morning meeting with some encouragement for our staff about the power of prayer. He said, “God is not looking for workers, he is looking for worshippers.” Would you pray with us for the victims of the Nepal earthquake, the ministry of Gospel for Asia (and please consider a donation to the GFA relief effort), and the many missionaries around the world facing increasing persecution for their Christian faith? Would you also continue to pray for the ministry of Answers in Genesis as we too face a degree of persecution in the US, especially in relation to our religious freedom lawsuit with the state of Kentucky over the coming Ark Encounter? We need to pray that the state of Kentucky will decide to preserve and protect religious freedom. And please pray that we will continue to stand solidly on the authority of God’s Word from the very beginning and boldly proclaim that truth to our increasingly hostile culture.
Pray for the victims of the Nepal earthquake+pray for the ministry of Gospel for Asia+pray for the many Christian missionaries facing increased persecution for their faith=pray for Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis because they too are being persecuted for their faith. Let’s see, thousands killed and injured in the Nepal earthquake; hundreds of Christian killed because of their faith. Yep, just like Ham and Answers in Genesis being denied a sales tax abatement for the Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Such persecution for Ham and his staff. I wonder, will they live to see another day, safe from the atheist horde trying to make sure they obey the Constitution and the laws of the state of Kentucky.
What follows is a humorous and tragic story of a man I met in church.
In 2003, my family and I moved to Clare, Michigan so that I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church. (a Southern Baptist church) I pastored Victory Baptist Church for seven months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a beautiful home north of Farwell Michigan in a gated community called White Birch.
One evening, my family and I drove to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping at Meijer. When we returned home I noticed that the red light on the answering machine was flashing. I clicked play and I heard the following:
Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying and the Doherty Hotel in Clare. I would like to talk to you. Please call me back at ______________.
I thought, yeah right. Elvis? I thought one of my preacher friends was trying to put one over on me. So I called the number expecting to reach a jokester on the other end, but come to find out it really was Elvis.
Well, actually it was a man named Barry and Barry believed he was Elvis.
I don’t remember how Barry got to Clare, but he was on disability and lived in a rented apartment.
Barry wanted to attend our church. And so he did…
Barry didn’t come to church every week, but when he did he came dressed in bright colors, scarfs, and spangles just like Elvis wore. When Barry arrived…everyone paused to look, not saying a word. He definitely stood out among the more “normal” people who attended the church.
Barry had mental health problems, and quite frankly a lot of church members didn’t know how to handle him. He was “different” and “different” is not something the church understood. Barry and I got along quite well. I found out that he had been abused, misused, and taken advantage of by several Pentecostal churches and a homeless shelter in the South. They mentally and emotionally crushed Barry and it is a wonder he didn’t end up in a mental hospital.
I tried to be Barry’s friend. I knew he needed people to love and encourage him. Unfortunately, Barry had a tendency to say whatever was on his mind, and a lot of church members found his verbal outbursts upsetting. One Sunday, we were sitting around the table in the Adult Sunday School Class, also known as the Heresy of the Week Class, talking about the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, a man by the name of Steve, asked if anyone had anything to share. Barry did:
I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.
Dead silence. Instant offense showed on the faces of many at the table. The teacher didn’t know what to say so he said nothing. I quickly told Barry that we would talk about this after church.
Barry definitely spiced up the church. I have often wondered what happened to him. I hope he found someone to help him, love him, and accept him for who he was, even if he thought he was Elvis.
The Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian church has many gods. While they will profess to worship the true and living God, the God of the Bible, often their true object of worship is human and not divine. Most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian churches have a congregational form of church government. Some churches have adopted an elder rule form of government. Regardless of what form of government a church adopts, there can be no doubt about who really runs the church. The CEO, the boss man, the head honcho is the pastor, also known as the senior pastor, executive pastor, and prophet, priest and king.
The pastor is the hub upon which the wheel of the church turns. He (there are very few she’s) is the man who runs the show. He sets the course for the church. He is a modern-day Moses leading the church to the Promised Land. He is the visionary with a vision that the church is expected to follow. He is, after all, the man of God. He is divinely called by God, a call that can not be explained with human words. He is the man of God, given a message by God, to speak to the people of God.
He is a man not to be trifled with. He has been anointed by God. He has been set apart by God to do the most important work in the world. His calling is higher than even the President of the United States. The congregation is reminded that the Bible says “touch not mine anointed.” They are also told the story about the Elisha, the mocking boys, and the bears:
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. 2 Kings 2:23, 24
You have been warned, says God’s man. Say anything negative about the pastor and you run the risk of bears eating you; or cancer, heart attack, accident, or death.
The pastor is the Lone Ranger’s Tonto. He is the Green Hornet’s Bruce. He is Batman’s Robin. God and the pastor are joined at the hip. After all, the pastor has a divine calling; a calling that can’t be explained. In fact, the only way anyone knows for sure a pastor is God-called is because he says he is.
Most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian churches are independent. Even those who belong to denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention are independent. Each church is a local, autonomous entity, accountable to no one but themselves. The Southern Baptist Convention has a HUGE sex abuse problem, yet little is done by the Convention because each church governs itself. The convention has no power over churches or pastors, or so they conveniently claim.
Since most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian churches are independent, there are few standards or requirements for starting a church. Anyone can start a church. Anyone can claim to be a pastor. Anyone, Anyone, Anyone. In most states, there are no legal requirements for starting a church. The Federal government, by default, treats churches as exempt from taxation. By default, they receive most of the benefits of 501c3 status without actually applying for it. Starting a church is a con artist’s dream. Just tune into a Christian TV channel for proof of this. There are no educational requirements; no ordination requirements. Anyone can become a pastor. It really is that easy. (Please see What is a Church According to the IRS)
In charismatic/pentecostal circles, some pastors have added titles to their name. Not content to be called pastor, they demand that they be called bishop or apostle. Several apostles have set up shop right here in the county I live in . Once again, a man is an apostle or bishop because he says he is. God has imparted to the man a special anointing, a special dose of Holy G-h-o-s-t power that raises the man to a higher level in the church. Or so he says.
Now let me try to tie all this together. I am writing under the anointing right now, so it is hard to put this all together for you common folks. But I will try.
We have independent churches with independent pastors without any checks or balances. A man can start a church whenever and wherever. The church becomes his church, the religious equivalent of a corporation. The pastor is considered divinely called by God because he says he is. How dare anyone question GOD! This type of religion flourishes in America. We are a people who applaud the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a church is akin to starting a business. We worship personalities: entertainers, sports figures, preachers, playmate of the month, etal. We are a lazy people, content to let others think for us.
So what do we have? Churches operated by entrepreneurial pastors. These churches are often filled with people who love to worship personalities, and in this case the personality is the pastor. Content to let the pastor think for them, run the show, and speak to them on God’s behalf, many Christians have surrendered their autonomy for a seat at the feet of the most awesome pastor in town.
The pastor becomes god. He is given so much control and power that it is almost impossible to unseat the god when the church finds out the pastor has feet of clay. I said almost… Daily news reports of pastors committing crimes, seducing church members, sexually abusing children, and stealing money are too common to be just aberrations. I could write for hours about pastors I know who have a scandalous past, yet they are still pastors. They just moved down the road and started a new church or they stood their ground and ran off their accusers.
In the 1980’s Jack Hyles, at the time pastor of the largest church in the United States, was accused of sexual improprieties with a married woman in his church. The evidence against him was overwhelming. Yet, he successfully withstood his accusers, and when he died two decades later he was still pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. The church that Jack built lost thousands of members, but he remained god until he went the way of all human gods.
Jack Hyles’ son David was also accused of sexual improprieties. He left the church and moved on to another church in Texas, a church his father previously pastored, Not one word of his past peccadilloes was shared with the new church. David Hyles continued his sexual exploits and conquests. He had sex with women in the church and was only exposed after compromising photos were accidentally found by someone in the church.
After Jack Hyles died, his son-in-law, Jack Schaap became the Pastor CEO of Hyles Industries. Like his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Schaap had a problem with fidelity. Schaap was accused of having sex with a church teenager. He was later convicted and is now serving a twelve-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.
Aberration? Hardly. In many churches, the pastor has incredible power. They become gods. The pastor does the preaching, does the counseling, and is the chairman of the board. Everything goes through him. In some churches, the pastor even checks the tithing records to see who is giving and how much they are giving. One pastor was told by the Church treasurer that the many of the Christian school teachers were not tithing. The next Sunday he berated the teachers and told them that he was going to have their tithe taken out as a payroll deduction if they didn’t start tithing. Never mind the fact the church paid the teachers poverty wages, and if they tithed they would be well BELOW the poverty line.
One pastor decided one Sunday to preach against the evils of attending the Prom. When it came time to preach, he instructed the ushers to lock the doors so no one could leave. Everyone was going to hear what he had to say. This same pastor had the deacons secretly follow church members to see what they were up to. Young couples considering having children were encouraged (required?) to counsel with the pastor first before engaging in procreation.
One pastor had a portrait of he and his wife hung over the water fountain in the church foyer. He joked “that way every time someone gets a drink they have to bow to me.”Funny? Not when you consider the horrific mental and emotional damage caused by these megalomaniacs.
Children who grow up in Fundamentalist/Evangelical churches are conditioned to accept that the pastor is the final authority. Even in matters of faith, the Bible is not the final authority, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible is. The church believes whatever the pastor says the church believes. If he started the church, he likely wrote the church’s doctrinal statement, constitution, and bylaws. He determines what is truth and what is error. Remember he is God called; God speaks through him.
It should come as no surprise then that some men aspire to be pastors for reasons other than serving others. It’s the perfect job. No one to answer to but God, and he seems to never have anything to say. Conscientious, faithful men do a wonderful work and serve the church, however, far too many men are corrupted by the power they are given. Some men have ulterior motives and the pastorate becomes a safe place to hide. I know of men who had irregularities in their past and the pastorate allowed them to keep from being held accountable for their past deeds.
One pastor had no social security number. He had not filed an income tax return in years. His church paid him in cash. When the IRS changed reporting requirements, requiring evangelists and special speakers to be given 1099’s if paid over a certain amount, some churches began giving evangelists and special speakers (pastors) cash offerings. Many a pastor has received a brown-bag offering.
Pastors have incredible, and quite legal, ways to avoid income tax. Some incorporate as a charity or a ministry. The ministry has a “board” that is made up of the pastor’s family or friends By incorporating they avail themselves to the tax benefits that corporations receive. Pastors buy cars, trucks, travel trailers, and houses and put them in the church’s name. They receive a tax-free housing allowance. Many pastors have little taxable income. even though they live quite comfortably, It is a great gig if you can get it.
One day, the inevitable happens.The pastor, the god, falls from his exalted throne. Over time, people become disillusioned with the pastor. They take issue with his preaching, his vision, his wife, his children, his theology, his suit, his hairstyle, his entertainments, etc. People tire of pastors just like they do the other gods they worship. Perhaps he commits a grievous sin. He has an affair,steals money from the church, or embraces a teaching that the power brokers in the church consider heresy; heresy being anything they disagree with.
All of a sudden, the church remembers that IT has power. They remember they can take down their god and vote him out of the church. And so they do… The god may fight to keep his power, to keep his throne, but most often he negotiates a settlement package, the conditions of surrender, and moves on to another church. The church promises to never let another pastor have the power that he had.
But then a new god comes to the church. A new vision, a new inside track with God. He is a wonderful preacher. His wife and kids are adorable. He is given the reins of the church and once again the pastor is restored to his throne. And so it goes…
In no way do I wish to disparage good men and women who conscientiously serve their churches; people who sacrifice and work selflessly day in day out. But they, most of all, should know that what I write is true. The American Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian church is overrun with power-hungry, ambitious men who have an eye on their own kingdom and not God’s. They are the god of the church, not the God they preach about. Sadly it seems, in many cases, this is exactly what the church wants.
While I no longer believe in the Christian God, I did spend 50 years in the church. For many of those years, I was on the inside, knowing its secrets, knowing who did what and where the bodies are buried. I know whereof I speak. I know what I have seen and what I have done myself in the name of God. I know too much and I have seen too much for it to be anecdotal or coincidental.
I am not sure I have any answers. We can’t look to the structured denominational churches for answers. They too have their power-hungry gods. They too have scandals, as is clear for all to see with the scandal ridden Catholic church. It is hard not to at least question whether the Christian church is hopelessly corrupt. Regardless of the good men and women who serve selflessly, perhaps the church is irreparably broken.
Some people, realizing this, start new movements,but, over time, they most often become just like that what they opposed and despised. They organize, men gain power, and over time there are new gods to worship. Perhaps the best we can hope for is individuals who take the ethical and moral teachings of Christ seriously and live accordingly. They steer clear of organized religion. They seek no place of power or authority. They seek only to love God and love their neighbor.
I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, has been lost in the mire and corruption of the modern Christian church. I have little confidence that he can be found. He has been swallowed by a Leviathan called Christianity, and if Jesus appeared today he would most likely be nailed to a cross by those who say they worship him.
If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. St.Augustine
Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.St. Jerome
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Irenaeus
This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. Cyril of Jerusalem
“The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” Gregory of Nyssa
Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right Basil the Great
There is no Christianity without the Bible. Bruce Almighty, Bishop of Ney
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17
I am becoming increasingly weary of attempting to interact with Christians who refuse to see that the Bible is central to their faith. It seems that an increasing number of American Christians are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Bible. They think by saying I don’t worship the Bible, I worship God, or I am a follower of Jesus, not a follower of the Bible that they are somehow free of the Bible and its uncomfortable dictates.
No Bible Christians like to remind me that the early church operated according to oral traditions, as if this is somehow the end-all answer to my criticism. The problem with this line of thinking is that the oral traditions were codified in the letters that make up the New Testament, and this was completed within eighty years of the death of Christ. Go ahead and focus on the oral tradition of the church, but that has not been the standard for the Christian church for 1,900 years.
Take a look at Jewish temple practice during the lifetime of Jesus. Were they people of a book? Sure. The Scriptures were central to their religious practice. The first converts to Christianity were Jewish. They were very familiar and comfortable with the propagation and use of religious texts. For those who continue to disagree with me on this subject, I have several things I would like for you to consider.
When you attend Church this Sunday, how much of your religious practice will be according to what your particular denomination believes the Bible teaches concerning the proper way to worship God? (whether you believe in the normative or regulative principle) When you recite the Lord’s Prayer or the creed of your church, what is their foundation? Oral traditions or the Bible? When your pastor stands up and preaches, what will he be preaching from? Oral traditions or the Bible? Would it be okay for your pastor to set the Bible aside and spend his time talking about this or that oral tradition, with you having no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth? What is your church’s objective standard of truth?
When a person says they are a Christian he or she is saying they are a follower of Jesus Christ. By their profession of faith they are willingly submitting themselves to the teachings of Christ. Where are the teachings of Christ found? How does one become a follower of Jesus Christ? Where do we find the necessary steps for becoming a Christian?
Your church has certain practices and beliefs because they believe that the Bible clearly teaches them. Even people who love to sit on the three-legged stool of Bible, reason, and tradition seem to forget, as they are busy extolling how reasonable their church is, that ONE of the legs IS the Bible. Even tradition oriented churches like the Roman Catholic Church appeal to the Bible as a rule and standard.
Imagine for a moment a world without the Bible. Would you naturally come to the same beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity, etc? Of course not. There is little historical proof apart from the Bible that Jesus ever existed, and no evidence that a person named Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, or resurrected from the dead.
For those who contend they can have Christianity without the Bible, please tell me how that is possible. Without Jesus there is no Christianity and without the Bible there is no Jesus. The foundation of the Christian church is the Bible, or perhaps better put, what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and salvation is the foundation of the church. Evangelicals go to churches that proudly say “Thus saith the Lord” . The Thuses are codified in the Christian Bible. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship their God, and in doing so they prove that the Bible is central to their faith.
Even liberal Christians are held captive by the Bible. Every liberal Christian, at some point or another, must say this or that part of the Bible is truth. No matter how much some liberals try to distance themselves from the Bible by appealing to tradition, reason, common sense,or their theology training, sooner of later they must return to the Bible as the ground of their faith. It is the Bible that tells them of Jesus. They can’t get that information anywhere else but the Bible.
It is quite amusing that I believe in the Bible more than many Christians do. I don’t see it as a divine text nor do I think any god had anything to do with its writing, but I do recognize that the foundation and hope of the Christian church is found within its pages. Either you believe the Bible is truth or you don’t. Either it is your rule for faith and practice or it is not, Either you embrace the God and Jesus of the Bible or you don’t.
I get it, the Bible is a book hopelessly out of touch with the 21st century. It is a book that endorses things we now consider immoral and criminal. It is a book that glorifies a God that is mean, vindictive,violent, and petty. The problems with the Bible are legion. It has errors, mistakes, and contradictions, but it is still the foundation of Christianity. If a person is not willing to embrace the Bible, then it is time for them to admit they are not a Christian. They might be spiritual or think Jesus was a great teacher, prophet, or example, but they are most certainly not a Christian. (I am not talking here about belief-independent cultural Christianity.)
For twenty centuries, the standard of the Christian church has been the Bible. Regardless of what part reason and tradition played, the central focus of the Christian church is the teachings of the Bible, particularly the teachings of the New Testament. Those attempting to jettison the Bible while still claiming to be a Christian are actually promoting a new religion, a religion that is not found in the history of the Christian church.
James Melton is the pastor of Bible Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Sharon, Tennessee. The Christian Nightmares website made me aware of a tract written by Melton titled Safe Sex. Melton, because he can read and understand the King James version of the Bible, considers himself a “sexpert.” According to Melton, “No one is more qualified to speak on the subject of safe sex than God Himself.”
Really? What does God really know about sex or “safe” sex? Only the second person in the Trinity, Jesus, was human, so only he could have had sex. Did Jesus, an unmarried man, have sex? I am sure that Melton would say, ABSOLUTELY NOT! We do have the curious case of the Holy Spirit, a Ghost, an incorporeal entity, impregnating a virgin by the name of Mary. According to the Bible, this is the only reference to any part of the Godhead having sex. And even here, did not the Holy Spirit commit fornication, having sex with a woman he was not married to?
Melton likens having sex to buying a gun:
Picture, if you will, a man who purchases a gun. By law, this man has done nothing wrong in purchasing a gun. He is allowed to have a gun, and he is allowed to shoot the gun as long as he does so in a safe manner. However, he is not allowed to harm anyone with the gun or even threaten to do so. If he does, then he has abused his free privilege, and he will be punished. Rather than use the gun for legal purposes, he chooses to use it illegally, so he must pay for his crime. Even if the judicial system fails to punish him, people with common sense still know that he is a criminal and he deserves to be punished.
Sex works the same way. There is nothing wrong with a person enjoying sexual activity. God made us to desire sexual gratification, and He doesn’t frown upon us when we fulfill this desire His way, according to His word. However, when we ignore God’s laws and practice our own sexual preferences, we become criminals in God’s sight, and punishment will surely follow. Even when the sexperts say, “Use protection and you’ll be okay,” God never said it, and you will not be protected from His wrath. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)
Let’s see, why am I permitted to purchase and own a gun? State and Federal law determine whether I am permitted to buy and own a gun. If I do not meet the criteria, then it is not legal for me to purchase and own a gun. Now imagine if I went to the gun store and the dealer, as he was explaining to me what the law said about gun purchase and ownership, opened up a King James Bible and said, right here in God’s Holy Word it says __________________. Does the Bible have any authority when it comes to purchasing and owning a gun? As Pastor Melton, hypothetically said earlier, ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Melton does the equivalent when he interjects the Bible into a discussion about sex. State and Federal law determine who may legally have sex. We rightly protect children from having sex and we punish adults who manipulate teenagers so they will have sex with them. We have ages of consent and sexual assault and rape laws. At one time, we had laws criminalizing adultery, fornication, and sodomy. While some states still have these laws on their books, thanks to the Courts, such laws are not enforceable. While Melton is free to believe and practice the moral strictures of the Bible, and through strong-arm preaching get others to also do so, the Bible is no authority when it comes to sex. No one can be criminally punished or imprisoned for disobeying what the Bible says about sex.
Melton has harsh words for those who cohabit without being married:
…This is just a sinful grown-up way of “playing house.” A couple who lives together without marriage is a couple who has become habitual and irresponsible fornicators. She thinks he’s a wonderful man, yet he’s such a coward he can’t even ask her to be his wife. He thinks she’s a fine lady, yet she’s nothing more than a cheap prostitute who allows herself to be used for his sexual gratification in exchange for what seems to be a stable and secure home life. This make-believe game may fool people, but it doesn’t fool God. This is a sin, and it will be punished! God didn’t change His law just because someone started acting like married people. Either you are married or you are not married. If you are not married, yet you have sexual relations, then you are a wicked fornicator…
I am shocked by Melton’s liberal, Bible denying view. While he calls a sexually active, cohabiting, unmarried woman a cheap prostitute and the couple, wicked fornicators, he doesn’t use the word whoremonger one time. So disappointed. I love hearing a Baptist preacher using the word WHOREMONGER. Here’s my favorite Baptist preacher (25 second clip) :
IFB preachers like Melton are fighting a losing battle when it comes to sex. Far stronger than the Holy Spirit or the outrage of the preacher is the human desire for sexual intimacy. While there are certainly many good reasons for waiting to have sex, the fact is, most people don’t. Rather than shaming people for indulging their desire, Melton’s church would be better served if he taught them how to responsibly handle their sexuality. Instead of threatening punishment from God for any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage, wouldn’t it be better to educate teenagers and young adults about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and when it is “right” to have sex? Instead, Melton preaches the Puritanical gospel of NO!
I get it, it IS in the Bible, but we are 2,000 or more years removed from the writing of the Bible. It is NOT a timeless book of absolute moral instruction. Take, for example, masturbation. Many IFB preachers still preach against masturbation. It’s considered fornication with self. How boring, eh? We now know that masturbation is a good way to release sexual tension. It won’t make you blind nor will it make you sterile. Imagine how relieved the purity ring wearing teens in the Baptist youth group will be if they hear their pastor compassionately and honestly tell them that it is OK to masturbate. No shame, no guilt; just a wonderful THANK YOU JESUS release of sexual tension.
(in this post I use authority and expert interchangeably)
If you have spent significant time in Evangelical churches, you know the pastor is considered the pope of the church. He is the go-to guy about everything. The pastor takes seriously Paul’s statement, “I became all things to all men.” Not only is the pastor an expert on the Bible and theology, he is also an expert on current events, history, archeology, politics, science, sports, medicine, sex, construction, child rearing, meal planning, and auto repair.
If the pastor doesn’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.
Now here is the truth.
Most pastors are barely proficient when it comes to their chosen profession. Many church members would be surprised to know how little actual Bible training their pastor received while attending an Evangelical college. It should never be assumed that any pastor is adequately trained in understanding and teaching the Bible. Personally, I am of the opinion that it is almost impossible, due to their ideological bent, for a pastor to get a proper education about the Bible in an Evangelical institution.
Most pastors know enough Greek to make them dangerous. Few pastors know any Hebrew at all. A parishioner would be mistaken to accept the pastor as the authority on the Bible without inquiring as to WHY he should be accepted as an authority. Should he be accepted as an authority just because of the position he holds or because the Bible says he must be accepted as an authority? Perhaps church members need to start asking their pastor, WHY should I listen to you?
No pastor is an oracle who knows everything. His office does not make him an authority. Becoming an authority on a matter requires work, hard work. There are some things I am good at. I work very hard to know what I know and to be able to do what I do. Granted, many of us are good at some things because they come easy for us, but no one should be faulted for that. For example, I am very good at being a pain in the ass. It comes easy for me.
Early in the ministry, I was flattered that people would come to me for advice. I was glad to be the answer man. For many years, I even had a “Ask the Pastor” question time one Sunday night a month. Parishioners could ask me any question they wanted. I answered every question, no matter what the question was. I came off as a man with a vast knowledge of virtually everything. In reality I was like a fart in a forty mile per hour wind. I was five miles wide and one inch deep. In other words, I was a pompous, arrogant know-little know-it-all.
In the latter years of my time in the ministry, I became less willing to answer questions that were not within the range of my expertise. I’ve had to learn that there is a difference between having an opinion about something and actually knowing about something. Since leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity, I have worked very hard to fill in some of the glaring knowledge gaps I have. As a pastor, I would pontificate about Darwin, creation, and evolution, yet I didn’t know a damned thing about science. In high school I took earth science and biology. In college I took one science class, a biology class that had no lab and a teacher who had no actual science training beyond being able to read the textbook. So science is an area where I am working very hard to fill in the gaps.
Years ago, a liberal Baptist pastor and I got into a discussion about psychology. At the time, I was an Evangelical. He brought up Maslow. I waxed eloquently about what I had read in a book opposing psychology. The liberal Baptist preacher could tell I didn’t really know anything, so he called my bluff and then he told me I was full of shit. He was right.
Pastors should stick to what they know. If their calling is to teach and preach then they owe it to their congregations to be educated about the Bible and to learn communication skills that will allow them to be the best preacher possible. Sadly, over the years, I’ve heard countless preachers preach that were illiterate concerning theology and who had little or no training in public discourse.
Want to talk about the Bible, church history, Evangelicalism, fundamentalism, tax issues in the ministry, photography, or Windows computers, I’m your man. If you want to talk about gardening, environmental issues, politics, or sports, I am “kinda” your man, depending on the specific subject. Most everything else, I am just a man with an opinion. An intellectual jack of all trades, master of none.
The next time someone speaks as an authority ask yourself, “WHY should I accept this person’s word on this matter?” Each of us should think critically about the people we grant authority to. In the 1960’s young people were challenged to question authority. The pastors of the churches I attended as a youth said, submit to authority. Their authority. I was raised in an environment that frowned upon, and sometimes punished, any challenge to authority. The college I attended had the same methodology. Imagine where we would be today if no one ever questioned or challenged authority.
The internet has brought us a vast store of information. No longer do we have to take someone’s word for anything. We can investigate a matter and determine if a person is being factual. Before granting anyone the vaulted position of an authority, it is always wise and prudent to fact-check their claims. Even then, a person we accept as an authority might not be equally authoritative on everything.
Here’s the bottom line. Be careful about who you allow to be an authority in your life. WHY should they be granted this noble position of authority? No person can be an authority on everything. Be wary of any man, especially a holy man, who passes himself off as a know-it-all. Such a person can not be trusted.
At the same time, we should not be guilty of showing no respect for authority at all. When a man or a woman give themselves to learning a particular discipline they should not be dismissed without reason or cause. I am always amused when people dismiss Bart Ehrman out of hand without ever engaging or understanding what he writes. He’s an agnostic, an unbeliever, why should I listen to him, they say. Regardless of his spiritual state, he IS an expert in the fields he writes about. Since I am NOT an expert, I must determine if I can trust his expertise. I do. Others don’t. Such is the nature of choosing which experts we will believe.
The same could be said of the science surrounding climate change. Few of us are experts. We must choose which experts we will believe. Personally, my money is on the 95% of climate scientists who say global climate change is real. I am aware of the other 5%, but I don’t think they are right. Granted, I am not a science expert, and I am willing to even admit I am poorly trained in science, but I can read. I do have a rational mind that still has a modicum of sharpness that allows me to make an educated choice about which expert I will believe.
How do you decide who to grant authority in your life? How do you determine which expert to believe? Have you ever been deceived by an “expert”? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About twelve years ago, when our family was still looking for a church to attend, we visited Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson, Michigan. Thornhill is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Our first visit was on a Sunday night. The church was having an open discussion about the church, its future, and how best to reach their community.
The pastor said the following:
Let ask our visitors. They are fresh meat. What’s your opinion?
After getting over the shock of being called fresh meat, I gave my typical pastor answer (they didn’t know I was a pastor). Sound Bible preaching. Evangelism, etc., etc., etc.
The pastor then turned to my oldest sons, then aged about 23 and 21, dismissed what I said, and asked them what they thought. They repeated some of the things I had said. He laughed and the asked them what they “really “ thought. What kind of things did they like to do? What kind of things did they think were fun?
In other words, my sons were lying or simply repeating what their father said. In this pastor’s mind, when it came to teens and young adults, it was all about making church “fun” and ”entertaining.”
The conversation moved on to music. Several members (most of them were 55 and older) were against using contemporary music. One old man suggested the church give the young people a steady diet of southern gospel music. After all, he liked southern gospel music, so why wouldn’t they?
Needless to say, we crossed this church off our list of potential churches to attend. It didn’t take long to turn the fresh meat into burnt steaks.
The church is still open. Elton Spurgeon is the pastor.
In 2010, the church made the news due to the arrest of nine members of Hutaree (Christian warrior), a Michigan militia group. Two members of the group were members of Thornhill Baptist Church. Seven of the militia members were acquitted of all charges. The two who were members of Thornhill were found guilty of weapons charges and sentenced to time served. In a 2010 Detroit Free Press article (link no longer active), Spurgeon was quoted as saying:
The arrests this month of nine members of Hutaree — a militia in Michigan whose members called themselves Christian warriors — have brought renewed attention to end-times theology.
To the Hutaree, the world was in the seven-year period of tribulations that comes before Christ’s return, said the head of the church they attended. They believed “the government is already influenced by the antichrist,” said Elton Spurgeon, pastor of Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson. And so the time to fight was now, members believed.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Christians tout John 3:16 as the simplest verse in the Bible. They revel in the simplicity of the message. It is often the first verse children are taught to memorize.
Is John 3:16 really the simplest verse in the Bible? What if we looked at John 3:16 through the lens of the plethora of theological beliefs within the Christian church?
First, we would have to settle who wrote the gospel of John in general and John 3:16 in particular. We know chapter and verse numbers were added fifteen centuries after the writing of John. There’s a lot of debate about who wrote John, when it was written, and whether it should even be considered a gospel or a part of the canon of Christian scripture.
Once we settle the legitimacy issue, we would then have to decide who is actually doing the speaking in John 3:16. The author of John? Jesus? Did the author actually hear Jesus speak these words? Is John 3:16 a verbatim quote of what Jesus said?
Now to the verse.
Right away we are forced to decide which God the Bible is talking about. Christianity is hardly unified on the God question. Witness a Baptist and an Apostolic fight over whether the trinity is taught in the Bible. Is God one? Is God three in one?
So Loved the World
It would seem that this part of the verse is pretty straight forward. God loves the world. World means God loves everyone. However, as millions of Calvinists will quickly tell you, all doesn’t necessarily mean all, and world doesn’t necessarily mean world. First, you have to take the verse and push it through the Calvinist sieve and then you can interpret John 3:16 correctly. World doesn’t mean everyone. It means out of every kindred, tribe and tongue God has people he loves and people he intends to saved. In other words, God doesn’t savingly love everyone. It is right there in the verse, can’t YOU see it?
At about this point Calvinists launch into a discussion about the difference between God’s love for everyone (common grace) and the love he has for those he has chosen from before the foundation of the world. Of course, Arminians have a far different view of the scope of God’s love and grace. Let the never-ending debate begin.
That He Gave His only Begotten Son
We will assume that son means Jesus. This raises an issue right away, an issue that many Christians have fumed about over the years. Was Jesus always the son of God? One side adamantly says yes. The other side says he became the son and there was a time when he wasn’t the son.
Then we have to deal with the only son issue. Did God have more sons or daughters? As Mormonism becomes a mainstream American religion, what about their belief that Lucifer (the devil, Satan) is Jesus’ brother?
The next issue we have to deal is “how” Jesus was begotten. Did Jesus have a sperm donating father? If the Holy Spirit “begat” Jesus, how did that happen? Did God have sex with Mary? Virgin birth? What a laugher, many liberal Christians say. Everyone knows virgins can’t be pregnant. Besides, the word virgin means young woman. Liberals and fundamentalists battle back and forth, each certain their view is correct.
That Whosoever Believeth in Him
Whosoever. Once again does this refer to everyone? No matter who you are, where you are, if you believe in Jesus you will have everlasting life? What about reprobates? Does whosoever apply to them? The Calvinist, the party of the exception, says whosoever doesn’t mean everyone. Only the elect will savingly believe in Jesus. Everyone else, even if they wanted to, cannot savingly believe in Jesus. If you are not elect, predestined, chosen you are bound for an eternity in the Lake of Fire. God decided before you were even born that you would burn forever.
What does it mean to believe? What do we have to believe? Here is where the whole issue becomes every religion for itself. Every flavor of Christian ice cream has its own take on what it means to believe and what it is a person must believe to be saved. Even among churches of the same denomination there are differences about what it means to believe and what one must believe to be saved.
Should not Perish
What does it mean to perish? Death? First or second death? Hell? Lake of fire? Purgatory? Eternal punishment? Temporary punishment? Annihilation?
But Have Everlasting Life
When it comes to life after death, all Christians believe that they will go heaven after they die. No matter what road they take, what theology they have, every sect/church believes everlasting life is the prize for those who believe. Though … I do remember a debate among preachers about the difference between eternal life and everlasting life. It goes something like …
Here’s my point. Even the simplest verse in the Bible can be interpreted different ways. Each interpreter believes their interpretation to be the correct one. There is no such thing as Biblical truth. All we have is Individual sects/churches/pastors/individuals saying their interpretation is the truth. Armed with study bibles, concordances, and dictionaries, many Christians believe they are ready to emphatically tell anyone who will listen what the Bible teaches.
Imagine a person who has never heard about any of the religions of the world. He has lived his life in isolation. One day he comes upon an inscription on a cave wall that says:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
What conclusions would he come to? Would he naturally come to the conclusions I mentioned above? Not likely. Perhaps he would start a religion. What is the likelihood that it would resemble any of the Christian sects? Once again, not likely.
This is why I don’t involve myself in long debates or discussions about the Bible. Such discussions become like ten students looking at a Monet, each giving their own interpretation. Then the teacher says,NO! NO! NO!, all of you are wrong. The picture is saying ________________.
After all, the Bible does say, Let every man be persuaded in his own mind …
On April 5, 2015, Polly and I took a short road trip south that landed us in Delphos, Ohio. Like many of our day trips, we had no planned destination. We just head north, south, east, or west and see where it takes us. Our children have plenty of stories they could tell about Dad’s famous road trips. When the children were young, we rarely had much money, so piling into the car and going somewhere, anywhere was a cheap form of entertainment. While we have the money to take “real” trips, we still like unplanned trips that take us to places we’ve never been.
In back of the Delphos Herald building there is a canal and lock dating back to the days of the Miami and Erie Canal. As I shared before, getting to the canal was a challenge for me, but I carefully made my way down to the canal, snapping photographs as I walked. (waddled would be a better word) Once I had my photo fix, it was time to head back to the car. I thought, I should go back the way I came. Instead, Polly came near the concrete abutment and I thought, with her help, I could hop up. Yeah…the hop turned into a nasty fall, a fall that left me with a nasty gash on my leg and numerous other contusions. Polly landed on her knees and was quite sore for several days. A week or so later, the gash became infected. Since I am diabetic, any wound like this can be deadly. Fortunately, the doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and it killed off the infection.
My decision to hop up instead of walk back was foolish. Had I fallen backwards instead of forward, I would have tumbled down the abutment into the canal. I have no doubt that the fall likely would have killed me. This was a reminder to me that I am not physically fit and I am not twenty-five anymore. As I am writing this, a humorous thought comes to my mind. Polly, how did your husband die? He was killed by a duck.
No, granaries isn’t a misspelling. When I first typed the word I spelled it graineries. The spell check God objected and told me the proper spelling is granaries. It’s pronounced as I spelled it the first time. Just another one of those strange English words.
Earlier this year, on two of our short Ohio/Indiana/Michigan road trips, I photographed two granaries that I thought were quite interesting. Hopefully, you find them interesting too.
Most Americans are completely disconnected from the source of their daily sustenance. In the 1950’s, the decade of my birth, 12.6% of the American work force consisted of farmers. In 1900, 38% of American workers worked on a farm. Today, only 2% of American families operate a farm or a ranch. Small family farms have become a relic of a bygone era as major corporations and large acreage farmers dominate farming. Our food supply is increasingly in the hands of multinational corporation who care only about the bottom line. Years ago, a farmer in the church I was pastoring at the time told me that the on-hand American food supply was dwindling, and that it would only take one nationwide crops failure for Americans to find themselves starving. Disconnected from where food really comes from, Americans go to the grocery thinking that there will always be a ready supply of eats.
Ask the average child raised in the city or the suburbs where hamburger comes from and they will likely say the supermarket. Even here in the rural heartland, children are increasingly ignorant about where their food comes from. Our supply of meat is controlled by a few multinational corporations and large concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms) These farms hide from public view the horror that goes on behind closed doors. Why is it factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses never offer tours of their facilities? I would think they would want everyone to know where their food comes from. For most Americans, all it would take is one tour to turn them into vegetarians.
I have spent most of my life in farm country. Though my Dad wasn’t a farmer, we lived in many a farm-house and often visited the farming operations of my Dad’s brother and brother-in-law. At an early age I learned where food came from. Knowing what I know, I have struggled for years with eating meat. Knowing what goes on in factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses, I often find myself sickened by the very thought of eating a burger or streak. Yet, in time, my guilt will assuage and off to Fort Wayne I’ll go with Polly to eat a steak at Texas Roadhouse. This is one area where I deliberately ignore what I know to be true, going against my moral and ethical values. I know what I SHOULD do, but my craving for meat almost always wins the battle between desire and morality.
Is there a question you’d like me to answer or a subject you’d like me to write about ? If so, here’s your chance. If you have a question you’d like me to answer or a subject you’d like me to write about , please leave your request in the comment section. Any subject…ask away.
Doing this from time to time helps me understand what is important to the readers of this blog. I have plenty of subjects to busy myself with, but I would love to hear from you,
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