The Church is a Safe Place & Other Lies that Led Us to This Point

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Last week I wrote about The Nashville Statement and why it is a praiseworthy statement deserving our endorsement. I also acknowledged that progressive Christians have responded with their usual regressive tantrums. For this we also should be thankful, clarity has been brought as we see how individuals respond. You must either condemn the idol of the current sexual revolution, or you must worship it. There is no middle ground. This statement has brought that clarity to the forefront.

J. Gresham Machen in the early 1900s dealt with the rise of theological liberalism. Is his classic work, Christianity & Liberalism, Machen lays out how theological liberalism is not Christian in the slightest; rather it is a completely different religion. Like Machen, we face a movement that claims Christ, which uses many of the same terms as we do, and yet it is an entirely different religion. This is evident in the rebuttals issued against The Nashville Statement. Machen was correct when he wrote, “Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.” The Nashville Statement sheds light on how separated we really are from the so-called progressive Christians.

The question we should now ask is, “How did we get here? What led us to this point?” These types of changes and divisions only appear to happen overnight. In fact, they have been a long time coming.  The division between evangelicals and progressives is far deeper than whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Our differences lay in how we understand God, the work of Christ, the nature of mankind, and what the church is. Sadly, there is confusion even among evangelicals that is crippling our ability to respond to progressives. The difficulties stem from the reality many of us have already taken steps down the progressive path without even realizing it.

Below are three lies many in evangelicalism have accepted.  These lies (and many more) serve as part of the assumed foundation for the reasoning of progressives in accepting homosexuality and transgenderism:

Lie #1: The Church is a Safe Place

One objection raised against The Nashville Statement is that the church is to be a safe place—a place which accepts everyone as they are. The current statement is wrong because it makes church an unsafe place for homosexuals. To be clear, the church is a place of grace where forgiveness is extended through the blood of Christ and granted upon repentance. Yet nowhere in the New Testament will you find the church described as a safe place the way the term is used today. Surely all are welcome to come to church, but what they are to find there is teaching and preaching that calls for a change of life (repentance) and which challenges the values of our age. The gospel challenges us in our sin and calls us to holiness through faith in Christ. The church is inclusive in that all are welcome to come and repent.

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows that the church is not a safe place. In Ephesians 6 we are told how the church is to be prepared for spiritual warfare with Satan. In Revelation 2-3 we see how the church is threatened with persecution in this age. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the removal of sexual immoral people from the church. In the next chapter, he writes no one who practices sexual immorality (including homosexuality) will not inherit the kingdom of God.  In Galatians 5 Paul wishes that the false teachers troubling that church would castrate themselves (that’s certainly not safe). Finally, there is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. These two lied about their property sale and were both killed on site by God in the church. It is clear the church was not a safe place for those who persisted in hypocritical wickedness. So no, the church is not a safe place. It is a place where snowflakes melt either in the light of the glory of Christ or in the fire of God’s holiness.

So what is the church supposed to be? It is to be a holy place where God’s elect grow in faithfulness and conduct spiritual warfare through bringing all things under submission to Christ. It is not a place where it is safe for people to live and think any way they want. In fact, the New Testament warns us again and again that God will not tolerate such sinful behavior in the church. The safety of the church is not rooted in the modern understanding of self-affirmation and tolerance. Rather, the safety of the church is rooted in Christ’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.

Lie #2: Religion is to be Therapeutic

As relativism has pushed aside the idea of universal truth it has impacted the how people view religion. Religion once was seen as a pursuit of universal truth revealed to us by God, but now it is about helping individuals feel better about themselves. For progressives, Christianity is about making our lives in the now better. If this the main point, and not seeking truth and God, then why would anyone be excluded from it?

Christianity does not promise you your best life now. In fact, it promises suffering and calls its adherents to die to the self. At its heart, Christianity claims to be universal truth revealed to us by God through propositional truth claims found in Scripture. Christianity is not about offering you therapy. It won’t always make you feel better, sometimes it might make you feel worse.

But the Gospel offers forgiveness, restoration to God, and new life in Jesus.  Following Christ comes at a cost, the cost of leaving everything in repentance and faith. This is not about feelings, it is about the truth claims of the Gospel.

Lie #3: The Gospel is about Self-Fulfillment

In its pursuit of relevance, many churches have turned the gospel into a self-improvement model. Every Sunday across the country you will hear sermons on Five Ways to Raise Better Children, Three Ways to Fix Your Finances, Seven Tips for Better Communication, and Four Ways to Improve Your Marriage. What is at the center of such a message? Self-fulfillment. If this is the heart of Christianity, to be relevant in order to improve ourselves, then why would we require anyone to deny themselves and repent? Don’t repent, just seek the best you!  

The truth is the call of the gospel is self-denial, to pick up your cross and follow Christ. This requires repentance, a radical change of identity and direction. This only happens when the Holy Spirit regenerates an individual.  When the Spirit transforms someone, they leave behind their old life to follow Christ. But if being a Christian is really about seeking yourself, then anything goes.

The heart of the Christian faith is a crucified savior which is seen as both offensive and foolish to the world (1 Cor. 1.23). The cross is not safe, it is not about feeling better about ourselves, and it is certainly not about self-fulfillment. When we move the message of the cross from the center of our message; we will reap what we are getting today. If we lose the heart of God’s good news to mankind, then anything goes.

 

Tearing Down Idols & The Nashville Statement

This week a group of evangelical pastors and theologians released a statement on what the Bible teaches about human sexuality called The Nashville Statement. This statement specifically addresses gender issues and homosexuality in light of Scripture. The statement is worth reading as it lays out the biblical teaching on these subjects by a series of statements Christians should affirm and deny. You can read it here.  

I have read the statement and I agree wholeheartedly with its assertions. This statement reflects what Scripture has taught and what the Christian church has affirmed for two-thousand years. Thus I have added my name to this statement.

The responses from the secular world have been predictable, as have the responses been from those who fancy themselves progressive Christians. These rebuttals center around appealing to other authorities, which shows us this is not faith versus science. It is faith versus faith. They have an ultimate authority which they appeal to, they have their god they follow as well. Yet the question I want to address is why this is a good and necessary action at our present moment.

The Idol of the Sexual Revolution

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Recently I preached on Judges 6 and the call of Gideon. In this chapter, God calls Gideon to be the instrument of deliverance for his rebellious people, but first Gideon must tear down the idol to Baal in his hometown. To do so was to declare war on what his society held most dear. While we do not have many people bowing their physical knee to carved images and offering sacrifices to them, idolatry is still a problem. Anything which stands in opposition to Christ, which is elevated above him, stands as an idol which must come down.

In our cultural moment, there is no bigger idol than the current sexual revolution. This is why the church had to respond. The false gospel which our age promotes is an idea of sexual freedom, which is really sexual perversion. This sexual ethic is the path to fulfillment, meaning, happiness, and salvation. You need to be who you are, and then life will be better.

Moreover, to be righteous in our world you must affirm the goodness of such actions. You are not allowed to be neutral, you too must praise and worship this ethic.  This is the chief idol of our day, it is our Baal, and all faithful Christians must not only refuse to bend the knee to Baal, we must strive to tear that idol down. Why? Because we know who God is. If Christianity is true, then the idol of sexual freedom really only offers slavery and death. Life is found in Christ, not in sexual practices and identities. The choice is between life and death; salvation and damnation.

Much like Gideon in Judges 6, we must stand opposed to anything which stands opposed to God’s Word. As Christians, we believe the Bible to be God’s Word, and if he has spoken, then it carries his full authority. God is the highest authority in the universe. It follows then that anything which stands opposed to his Word also stands opposed to God himself. There is no middle ground; you cannot be in the middle of the true God and false gods. You are one side or the other.

Christian, this is the test of our time, we can either be faithful to God, or we can follow the Baals of our day. We cannot do both. We should expect opposition anytime we attempt to tear down someone’s idol. When Gideon destroyed the idol in his town, the townsfolk demanded his head. We should expect no less. People do not like it when you attack their gods.

This statement draws a line between life and death. You cannot worship the God of Scripture and the false gods of this age. Faithfulness requires us to stand in clear contrast with the false gods of our age. The Nashville Statement recognizes this reality, and for that all faithful Christians should be thankful.  

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance

This week marks two important anniversaries in my life and these two events have brought home to me the tension of life in a fallen world. Ecclesiastes 3 speaks of this tension telling there is a time for everything.  A time to be born and a time to die. A time to tear down and a time to build. Verse 4 hits home this week, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

The Pals family

The Pals family

These two anniversaries demonstrate the two extremes of life illustrated in this text. One year ago today I woke up to my wife yelling as she came up the stairs to tell me our good friend, Jamison Pals, his wife Kathryne, and their three children died in a tragic car accident on their way to missionary training the day before. It took a good while to process the news. To an extent, I am still processing it in light of this the one year anniversary. This week is a time to mourn for us, our friends, and the families who lost so much that day.

This week also includes the opposite extreme—celebration. The second anniversary for me this week will be the joy of celebrating ten years of marriage with Emily.  I am a truly blessed man to have been given by God such a lovely and godly spouse. So this week is also a time for my wife and me to laugh and to dance in joy of the grace God has given us in our marriage. Two extremes found in one verse and in one week for us.

Me & my groomsmen ten years ago thinking we were cool 

Me & my groomsmen ten years ago thinking we were cool 

These anniversaries share more than the same week. Ten years ago when got married, Jamison was a groomsman in our wedding. He was a friend of Emily’s from high school and he became a dear friend of mine while we were all at Northwestern. Our joy and sorrow this week are intertwined.

So how are we to handle these two extremes, these two drastically different anniversaries?

Who Can Make Straight What God Has Made Crooked?

Ecclesiastes helps us navigate the tensions of life in a fallen world. This book meets us in the battle of living in a world full of both evil and good.  In 7:13 we read this, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” This question addresses the reality that we all live in a world which is bent because of sin. This world is not as it should be, we feel it in every breath we take. It is bent because we sinned, and in response, God has cursed man and creation. There is no power here on earth which can make straight what God has bent (cursed). Who then can make it straight again? God alone. It is not in our ability to redeem ourselves or this world. God alone can bring salvation.

How then do we live in light of a broken world? The next verse helps, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” This world, though cursed and broken, also contains much good. Some days we experience ecstatic joy, other days we are left in the darkness of sorrow. This is how this world is between the fall and the second coming.

Joyful and sorrowful days exist so that we consider the character of God and our own sinfulness. The good days shows us God’s goodness and what this creation was meant to be and will be again one day. The days of sorrow show us the wickedness of sin and its cost to us. When we look at the fullness of death and evil it points us to God for we can do nothing to stop death. He alone can make straight again a world which is crooked. He alone can save and God started to do just that through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

So what will I do this week? I will mourn the tragic loss of my friends. I will mourn the pain experienced by the friends and family of the Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin. I will cry out to God asking that he no longer tarry and that he may come to make this world straight again. This is a time to weep and mourn and to do so fully. It is a good and right response to the brokenness of such events to truly weep. Too often in Christian circles we do not know how to mourn, we do not want to look death in the face and see it for it is—a great evil and the final enemy to be overthrown. We are pressured to treat death as merely an inconvenience when it is something Christ himself deeply mourned (John 11.33-36).   

So I mourn the death of my friends but I do not mourn as one without hope. In my mourning I am comforted that my Savior, the Pals’ Savior, overcame death by death. The sting of death is removed through the resurrection of the indestructible life of Christ. How dear is Christ’s perfect work in these moments of mourning! His gospel is my comfort, and it is a great comfort.

Even in light of this great loss, I will praise God for he has taken this evil and brought about much good. The gospel is going to Japan—people have been mobilized through the suffering of the Pals to support missions to Japan and some are now going themselves to Japan. Through their tragic death, God is working even in the salvation of the truck driver who hit the Pals’ mini-van. God is still sovereign; he wins even over untimely deaths.

Later this week I will turn to rejoice with my wife. We will celebrate ten years of marriage and how God has blessed us in innumerable ways through it. It will be a time to laugh and dance even as we live in a crooked world. God has made both days, and we will respond accordingly in faith to them both

What You Can Do

If you have read this post I thank you. Often when we consider tragedies such as this, we want to know what we can do. I offer three things you can do in responses to the one year anniversary of the death of the Pals family:

  1. Pray for the family and friends who are mourning the passing of the Pals family. Especially lift up the Pals and Engel families as this year has surely been difficult. Pray that God may comfort them and that his people may be an instrument of that comfort.
  2. Pray for Japan. The Pals were set on bringing the gospel to Japan because it is one of the most spiritually dark places in the world. Pray that the gospel goes forward in power to Japan and that many may come to salvation through Jesus Christ.
  3. Give to missions. Support the building of Christ’s Kingdom by actively supporting gospel-centered missionaries. There are many people like the Pals who need financial support to bring the good news around the world. This is the job of the church—to make disciples all around the world. Support missions in your church, in your denomination, and if you feel so led, consider donating to the Pals Family Foundation which will use your donation to bring the gospel to Japan.

Soli Deo Gloria-

Levi Secord

Devil in the Blue Jeans

We have an independent streak in our society. Being original is considered a virtue to be pursued. The term rebel is often used in a praiseworthy way of such individuality. The problem is most rebels today are not that original at all. This is especially true when it comes to theology. A person may think he is being a brave and rebellious hero by adopting liberal theological views (i.e. accepting homosexuality, denying the truthfulness of the Bible, promoting a Marxist idea of justice, etc), but the reality is such a person is  neither original, nor a hero. Such originality is really just doing and believing what the spirit of the age puts forward as true. This is not original, though it is rebellious against God and his word. 

In his work, The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis Schaeffer wrote the following concerning rebels in the 1960s:

They were rebels. They knew they were, for they wore the rebel’s mark—the worn-out blue jeans. But they did not seem to notice that the blue jeans had become the mark of accommodation—that indeed, everyone was in blue jeans…It is so easy to be radical in the wearing of blue jeans when it fits in with the general climate of wearing blue jeans. 

In the sixties many thought they were rebelling or being original by wearing blue jeans but in reality they were all dressing the same. They thought they were being cutting-edge, but in reality the whole climate embraced the wearing of worn-out blue jeans. All they had done is accommodate the prevailing wind of the age which is really not very rebellious or original. 

Schaeffer went to apply this to theological liberalism and its spread within the church. Those who want to be rebels often do so by wearing the blue jeans of accepting the morality of secularism, but they end up just looking like the culture of the day. It is easy to wear those blue jeans when the world wants you to and when it praises you for doing so. It is easy to wear blue jeans when it fits in with the general climate of wearing blue jeans.

To be a true rebel, a rebel with a cause, Christians are called to be against the spirit of whatever age they find themselves in. For example, today it takes no bravery whatsoever to wave a rainbow flag in public. To do so, especially in the name of Christianity, will earn you praise for it is exactly what the climate of our age is. There is no courage required for such an act today, rather it is cowardice and accommodation.

But to proclaim  there is salvation in no one else besides Jesus Christ, and that to receive it you must repent of your sins (including homosexual behavior), that takes real bravery. Doing so will  make you an actual rebel in our age. All it takes to rebel against the prevailing wind of the current sexual revolution is to be faithful to scripture. 

I was faced with this dilemma recently when I was invited to preach at a chapel that our church regularly staffs. This chapel had  a new chaplain, and when I met him it was clear he and I were not on the same page. He proudly wore rainbow earrings and talked about how different perspectives and traditions are all just the same. When I arrived I had in my hand a prepared message that did not address the obvious problems with this man’s views. What should I do? 

I was faced with a choice. Accommodate the new chaplain’s blue jean mentality, or adjust my message on the fly to confront these lies. This was not an easy decision. No one wants to be that guy, not even me. The pressure to pretend we were on the same page was immense. 

So what did I do? I came to the conclusion I may be the only person who comes into this chapel and actually preaches the gospel to these people. So I adjusted my message on the fly to cover topics like sin, repentance, and how faith in Jesus is the only way to God, and the surety of God’s judgment for sin. I told the chaplain the Baptist perspective (which he had said was in essence the same as all the others) is that God’s Word is central, so I preached his word faithfully. 

It was obvious the chaplain did not care for my message. After the service we awkwardly parted ways. In that moment it was clear, one of us thought he was rebel, but only one of us was not accommodating the spirit of the age. I do not tell this story to paint myself as a hero, for I am not. I am more than likely a fool who could have done his job much better. This story though illustrates an important point. We can either seek to rebel against God through accommodating the spirit of the age or we can rebel against the spirit of the age. If we rebel against God, the world will praise us and God will judge us. If we rebel against the spirit of the age God will bless us and the world will hate us. The choice should be easy, but often it isn’t. 

This is a choice many of us will face in coming years. We can either put on the blue jeans of our age to fit in, or we can be faithful to the God of the Universe and in the process become rebels to our society. To choose cultural accommodation would be cowardice and faithlessness. To choose obedience to God will require bravery, grace, and faith. Like the faithful who have come before us, if we choose to fear God instead of man, we will not fit in, but we will be blessed by God for our obedience. But if we choose to put on the blue jeans of the day, we will find ourselves in a crowd,  who all look eerily similar, shaking our collective fists at God.  
 

Feeling the Bern?

This past week Bernie Sanders had an exchange with Russell Vought over whether or it is appropriate for a public official to believe Jesus is the only way to be saved. I encourage you to watch from the above link.  Sanders was upset about comments Vought made in relation to a debate occurring at Wheaton College, his alma mater. The debate centered around a professor at this Christian school claiming Muslims worship the same God as Christians. There were many layers in the exchange between Sanders and Vought which deserve careful thinking:

  • Sanders’ line of questioning appears unconstitutional as he is asking for someone’s theological beliefs to determine eligibility for public office
  • The exclusivity of Christianity in its assertion Jesus is the only way to God and what practical implications that should have on our public discourse
  • Sanders’ apparent shock there are people who actually believe what Christ and Scripture teach as well as what the church has confessed for two thousand years

All those discussions should be had, but I want to focus in the worldview and reasoning behind the argument Sanders made in this exchange. Sanders' argument is illogical, inconsistent, lacks intellectual honesty, and is in the end a byproduct of a devout hostility toward Christianity. Unfortunately, these traits are all too common in the secular left of our day. 

What makes this more pressing is Sanders should know better, he was almost the Democratic nominee for president after all. He had very passionate followers, even from those who identify as being evangelical. While some evangelicals were feeling the Bern, the feeling apparently wasn’t mutual.

Here is the statement we should consider from Sanders:

Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

It is clear from his line of questioning, Sanders believes the claim that Christ is the only way to be saved is Islamophobic.  In response we must ask, “What does it mean be ‘phobic’ of something?”

According to Sanders, being phobic of a people group amounts to thinking their beliefs are wrong,  thinking you are right, and thinking these beliefs have an actual impact.

For example, Christians believe Muslims (and any other religion) are wrong because they reject Jesus as God and Savior. Christians believe they are right in their belief that Jesus is God in the flesh and the only way to be saved. Christians believe being right or wrong in this area will have significant impact on your future (heaven or hell).  According to Sanders, such beliefs are Islamophobic.

We can safely deduce then, according to Sanders' worldview, Christianity is also Jewish-phobic, Hindu-phobic, Buddha-phobic, Atheist-phobic, etc.

Is this really what it means to be phobic?

If this is what it means to be phobic of others, to think they are wrong, you’re right, and it matters, then we are all phobics. Christians do believe Jesus is the only way because this is what Jesus taught, this is what Scripture teaches, and this is what the church has believed for 2,000 years. We believe we are right, and we are not the only ones who believe they are right.

If Christians are Islamophobic for believing they alone have access to salvation, then Muslims are Christo-phobic. Islam teaches Jesus is not God, they teach he did not die for our sins, and they teach salvation is not found in him. They believe Christians are wrong. They are in the same boat as Russell Vought.  

According to Islam, you must follow the Five Pillars of Islam to be saved. One of those pillars is the confession that Allah alone is God (not Jesus) and Mohammed is his prophet. This confession excludes all Christians from salvation. Following Sanders' logic, Muslims are Christo-phobic and their beliefs are offensive to billions of Christians around the world. We could use the reasoning for every world religion and every worldview including the beliefs of the secular, relativistic left of which Sanders is a part.

The secular left often pretends they are above these religious squabbles, but all-the-while they hold their beliefs to be untouchable and absolute. If you disagree every path leads to God, then you stand condemned as a bigot. If you deny everyone is right, then you are wrong. This is the creed of relativism and at its core is the dogma that they are more right than everyone else.

Sanders clearly believes anyone who confesses Jesus as the only way to be saved is wrong, and that he is right. He believes so strongly Christianity is wrong and dangerous that he cannot even vote to confirm person to public office who confesses Christ as Savior.

By doing this, Sanders has done the very thing he vehemently condemns. He has made an absolute claim to truth, and to the truth about salvation. In doing so, he is saying Vought, and all who agree with him, are wrong. Where he diverges from Vought though is Sanders wants to discriminate against those who disagree with him by barring them from public office.

If to be phobic simply means to believe you are right, others are wrong, and it matters, then Sanders is the King of the phobics.  According to his reasoning,  Sanders is himself Christo-phobic and unfit for office because he thinks Christianity is wrong and that he is right.

It doesn’t stop there. If he truly believes no religion should make truth claims about salvation, then he must be against Islam as well. Sanders is then found to be Islamophobic and just as unfit for office as he claims Vought is! 

At least Vought’s views were only offensive to one of the two largest religions in the world, while Sander’s is offensive to both. But I do not think we should hold our collective breath waiting for Sanders to resign from office. His reasoning conveniently does not apply to his own beliefs. 

Leaving Sanders' reasoning behind, we should be able to disagree with others about important things and refrain from automatically labeling them as being phobic or intolerant. We need to relearn  the virtue of civil disagreement, that is how to disagree with someone and still treat them with respect. Sanders has lost sight of that, along with most of Washington.  

The Heart Behind the Reasoning

Seeing the absurdity of Sanders' argument and the inconsistency by which he applies it, we must ask ourselves the question, “Why do Sanders, and others in the secular left, zealously apply this reasoning to Christians, but not to Muslims or to themselves?”

The truth is Bernie thinks he is right. The truth is secular leftism is a religion which will suffer no rivals. It is fine if you call yourself a Christian as long as you bend the knee to their view of relativism. It is fine if you are a Christian as long as you do not actually believe Christian things. Secular relativism has it truth claims, its own prophets, its own goal, and its own rivals. And its chief rival is Christianity.

Why do Sanders and others target Christianity? Because it is public enemy number one. Why does it not apply this reasoning to Muslims and other religions? Because they see them as allies against the greater enemy of Christianity. 

Sanders has shown us what he really thinks of any Christian who believes what Christ taught. Such a person “is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.” His words flow from his religious adherence to relativism [there is no absolute truth] and the religion of the secular left. This displays his own phobic ideas and discrimination against those who disagree with him as he thinks they are unfit for office and even unfit this country based on their religous beliefs. 

Bernie wants you to know: If you dare to believe Scripture, this country is not for you. If you dare to believe Jesus, then you are unfit for public office. At least we now know what he believes, and how inconsistent his beliefs are.

If this is what it means to feel the Bern, count me out.