The Courage to Lead Through…An Example

Courage to Lead

The words have come back to me so many times, “Do the right thing, keep a right spirit, and leave the results to God.” I am not sure if I ever heard these words expressed or if I just formed the thoughts over time. They did, however, come from somewhere. They came from the men and women who impacted my life along the way—through their teaching, but most of all through their living. One of those men was Robert D. Crowley.

My father was in and out of the Washington, D.C. area during his military career, and when we were there, we attended the Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, MD. As a young boy I still remember the larger than life presence of Pastor Crowley, his strong preaching, and a church that was growing by leaps and bounds. He baptized me when I was nine. He would stop by our home on Saturday mornings and take me with him up to Summit Lake Camp in Emmitsburg, MD, where he would let me help the men with construction projects, mow the grass, and take care of the horses. I ended up working at Summit Lake for seven consecutive summers and realize now, more than ever, how much of my life was shaped by being around my pastor.

Bob CrawleyPastor Crowley was a Southern Baptist and Montrose was a Southern Baptist Church. That really didn’t mean much to me at the time, for all I knew was that I was part of a very healthy and vibrant church—there was no negativity. We were multi-cultural, had strong teaching and preaching, and were evangelizing our community. I also remember how many of the adults would take particular interest in the young people. I still remember their names— think it was because they remembered mine.

Toward the end of my high school years my father was transferred to Rhode Island. I really didn’t want to go to a place I’d never been, so I followed some friends at camp to a fundamentalist university in the south. It was my first real exposure to the south and my first real exposure to fundamentalism and separatism. I would spend the next seven years of my life there and God would do many great things, including preparing me for ministry. I am very thankful for that experience. One of the decisions I made early on in my freshman year was to leave my Southern Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention because of the liberalism that had crept into most of its seminaries.

When I left Montrose Baptist Church in 1975, I would not speak to my pastor again for twenty years. I knew I had hurt and disappointed him. Interestingly enough though, I had gone on to plant a church in Colorado and had patterned the entire ministry right after what I had watched at Montrose and in the life of Pastor Crowley. I had in many ways become just like him. In 1995 Pastor Crowley would retire from the pastorate and turn his attention to Summit Lake Camp and Middle Creek Bible Conference. Just before this took place, I reconnected with my friend Ken Coley. Ken is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC and married to Kathy (Bob Crowley’s daughter). He encouraged me to reconnect with the Crowleys and to come to the retirement service. So, I did.

The retirement service was incredible. The church was packed and people had come from all over the country. Paige Patterson spoke, and so did Judge Pressler. I was asked to give a testimony. After the service, we went over to the Crowley’s home and we were able to share what had happened over the past twenty years. I had left Montrose and the SBC, become an independent Baptist, and planted a church in Colorado. Pastor Crowley had become a trustee at Southeastern and helped spearhead the resurgence from 1985-1995, something I was completely unaware of.

“He was at SEBTS during those tumultuous years when it was making the transition from a decidedly liberal institution to a conservative one that proclaimed the authority of the Bible,” said Kenneth Keathley, senior vice president of academic administration and dean of the faculty. “The school went through a tumultuous time when its theological future and very existence was unsure. There were a lot of things the board of trustees did, sacrifices they made, that had they not done them, Southeastern would not be what it is today.”

Southeastern’s current president, Daniel Akin, said he and Paige Patterson, who led the seminary from 1992-2003, have said “on many occasions that neither one of us would have served at Southeastern were it not for Bob Crowley. He is as responsible as any person for the miraculous theological turnaround of Southeastern Seminary.”

Pastor Crowley and I had travelled different paths and yet came to the same place. I “got out” because of my convictions. He “stayed in” and fought for his convictions. Who was right? Who was more courageous? Who was more of a “fundamentalist”? I feel no need to answer that. But, it was my joy to unite again, to have Pastor and Mrs. Crowley as our guests at Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster, CO, and to have him preach for us. He was a hero to me. And, what I have found is that there are many others like him that stayed in and fought; Southern Baptists. Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Dan Dumas, Ken Coley, etc. Good friends. Fellow laborers.

Men like Bob Crowley did not travel an easy path—for many of them endured cruel and harsh attacks through those years, by enemies and “friends.” They had their character assaulted, motives questioned, and abilities ridiculed, but, they never lost sight of what they were called to do, and they did not lose the joyful, steady resolve of following through in the will of God. I have seen men called “cowards” because they didn’t “stay in,” and others called “compromisers” because they didn’t “get out.” At the end of the day every man will have to do what he believes is right before God and be ready to give an account. The full story is yet to be told.

So, my challenge to the next generation; “Do the right thing, keep a right spirit, and leave the results to God.”

Tim Keller Comparing Religion & the Gospel

In this video, Josh Matteson, pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Scottsdale, AZ, joins me for a discussion on the gospel.

The following is from page 65 of Tim Keller’s newer book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. You can download the PDF by clicking on the image.

“Sinclair Ferguson (in his lectures on the Marrow Controversy) and others have argued that the gospel is not at all a balance between two opposites but an entirely different thing. In fact, it can also be argued that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites but essentially the same thing — self-salvation — opposed to the gospel. So please note that putting Gospel between these two extremes is simply a visual shorthand.” Center Church by Timothy Keller.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Transparency and Candidness from Brian Fuller

At the beginning of the month Brian Fuller, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH, wrote a transparent and candid post about this generation of students and young people. I think that much of what he says is helpful and is accurate. Why have young people been bailing from the church in epidemic numbers? It is easy to put the blame here or there or on that thing over there, but Fuller accurately says that we must first look at ourselves. Take a look at this article and I think you’ll find that he is accurate in his writing.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

What Matters Most: Functional Distinctives

This is part 4 of a multi-part series on “What Matters Most. Click these links for part 1part 2, or part 3.

Most Christians that I know would agree on “the fundamentals of the faith,” the sine que non of true, historic, Christian orthodoxy. After that, we begin to differ, both in our functional distinctives and in our personal convictions. And while everything we believe is important, not everything is equally important.

Functional distinctives are beliefs and practices that are necessary for a local church to operate in a healthy way. These might include, but not be limited to; mode of baptism, church polity, eschatology, spiritual gifts, view of soteriology (reformed or not), and basic philosophy of ministry (doxological or soteriological). The temptation might be to add everything we believe to this list, but I am not convinced that “everything we believe” fits here. Not every belief is a fundamental of the faith, and not every belief is necessary for a church to have healthy life. Some of our beliefs should remain as our personal convictions. We need to strive for unity—not unanimity.

The church, as well as the para-church organization, will need to decide upon the functional distinctives as well as the degree of compliance necessary for organizational participants: administrators, representatives, faculty, staff, accepted students, candidates for graduation, members of the alumni association, etc. I think these distinctions should be drawn very thoughtfully and carefully.

If everything we believe is important, but not equally so, it might even be a good idea to develop at least a two-tier doctrinal statement:

  1. A statement of faith that would clearly delineate an orthodox position.
  2. A statement of functional distinctives that would give necessary clarity and guidance for the healthy operation of a church or organization.

Both of these doctrinal statements should include what is necessary, but not more than what is necessary. After that, freedom should be allowed for different views as long as they do not violate Scripture, prove to be divisive, or hinder the work of the church.

I believe it was Augustine who said it first, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

What Matters Most: How We Draw the Lines

This is part 3 of a multi-part series on “What Matters Most. Click these links for part 1 or part 2.

I believe that the same lines that I draw for an orthodox Christian faith are the same lines that I should draw for Christian fellowship. I believe that every true born again Christian is a brother or sister in Christ and that not only can I have fellowship with him or her, it is what Christ has intended, and it is what brings him great delight (Romans 1:1; Philippians 2:1-11). For me to draw dividing lines that He has not drawn grieves Him, hurts the body of Christ, and hinders the work of the Great Commission.

The mode of baptism, timing of the rapture, cessationist or non-cessationist positions, dispensational or covenant positions, church polity, style of music, philosophy of ministry—are NOT fundamentals of the faith. They never have been. When we get to heaven I think there are going to be a lot of people feeling ashamed about how they fought over these things and neglected what matters most.

Every local church or ministry will have its functional distinctives, and we need these. Every believer will have his own personal convictions, beliefs, and opinions. We need these as well. They are not unimportant and they may even affect the degree of practical cooperation in certain ministry contexts. But, these are not matters of separation and those who don’t agree with someone else’s opinions are not simply disobedient brothers.

A disobedient brother is someone who is in clear violation of biblical teaching and one who after repeated confrontation continues in his sin. The Bible gives plenty of instruction on how to work through these situations in love and toward restoration (Galatians 6:1-5).

What do we separate over?

  1. The Christian should expose and separate from a false Gospel (Galatians 1:8,9).
  2. The Christian should expose and separate from another Christian who continues to walk in disobedience (after following a biblical process for restoration, I Corinthians 5:9-13).
  3. The Christian should separate from the world (This is another discussion that I would like to take up in the future because I find many people have a wrong view of  “the world” I John 2:15-17).

I can visit a church on Sunday morning, fellowship with believers, love what I am seeing, encourage fellow believers in what they are doing—and still choose not to join that particular local assembly. When we start separating over every belief and opinion we soon find ourselves standing all alone, criticizing the rest of body of Christ. I don’t think that is what God intended (I Corinthians 1:10-17).

Let’s separate to Christ and enjoy the sweet fellowship with every believer walking with Him. Let the church be the church autonomous. Let every believer stand and give an account for his own life as a priest before God. And let us discuss our differences with grace, integrity, and humility.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

The Fall of Jack Schaap

When the Jack Schaap story first broke, we all had initial reactions. For me it was a feeling of great sadness. Over the past few days I have contemplated a few things.

First, this could be you. Yes, it could. While it could be legitimately argued that poor theology, abused polity, and a distorted philosophy of ministry set the stage for this kind of tragedy, there is more to it, and if we don’t see “the more to it” then we are all in trouble. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (Corinthians 10:12). “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We must face the fact that every man has the same rotten flesh, lives in the same fallen world, and has the same common enemy (Satan) who is out to destroy. We should beware, lest in our criticism and evaluation we fail to see our own vulnerability.

Second, it is more hurtful than we realize. There is no getting around it. It is difficult to comprehend how much carnage has been brought about by one man’s sin. The destruction is so widespread and the pain so deep. People’s lives are shattered, families ripped apart, innocent children victimized, the name of Christ dragged through the mud, and now not a few will turn from God in disillusionment and anger. It is lose-lose. Everyone loses—the victims, the families, the perpetrator, the cause of Christ, and anyone who calls himself a “Christian.” It is initially so hopeless. We hear again the desperate cries of the psalmist, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3).

Finally, there is hope. It will be hard for a lot of people to get to the place of hope, but it is true. The good news is that our sovereign God still reigns supreme. He is all powerful, all wise, and good in all that He does. He will bring all things to justice and reconciliation through the work of His Son, the Lord Jesus, to the praise of His glorious grace. He is working toward eternity where all of us will have the opportunity to live with Him in peace and joy forever. That is the truth. That is the reality. But, for so many people it will be a struggle to believe this. Yet… “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:36-39).

It is time to bow down in brokenness and humility and cry out for His grace. All of us.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Free to Live

Institutional rules, regulations, guidelines, and policies can serve a purpose. We all have them as a functioning part of life—whether home, church, or institution. Rules have the ability to protect, structure, and control behavior but they cannot produce spiritual life, real growth, or lasting fruit. Authentic Christianity can only be realized through Christ, by means of His Spirit and His Word, as faith is exercised. There is nothing to add. If you do, you have another gospel. Having rules and standards does not make a person a legalist,  but making rule keeping as a means or a measure of spirituality does. That is the point.

There is another danger that should be discussed. Some, in their fear of driving into a legalistic ditch, can easily swerve off course and into another ditch. It is called license. Satan is out to destroy our lives and if one thing won’t work, he’ll attempt another. We can be snared and enslaved by legalism or license. Both of these are attractive to our sinful flesh and we are so easily seduced.

We, however, are called to live free! Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Some Galatian believers, who had been saved by grace through faith, were now turning back to their “works of the law” as a means of growth (Galatians 3:1-6), and others Paul had to warn about a return to the “acts of the flesh”(Galatians 5:19-21). When we say that these problems are in all of our churches it is because these tendencies are in all of our hearts! Only by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ can we stay true to a life radically centered in Christ and avoid the ditches.

So, what does “living free” look like?

  1. “Living free” does NOT look like this: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
  2. “Living free” DOES look like this: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23a).

That is what it looks like. It is the “means” that I am most concerned about. It is possible to end up in “self righteous legalism” or “self indulgent license” and both are results of giving into the flesh and not living by the means of the Spirit. Neither will ever lead to a life that pleases God. Pleasing God can only be accomplished through Christ, by means of His Spirit and His Word, as faith is exercised.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). Few times in history has there been a greater need or opportunity for a new generation to rise up and “live free.”

Recommended reading: Tim Keller’s book Prodigal God. It is simply outstanding!

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

The Attraction to Legalism

Why is legalism so attractive? It is attractive because it feeds the sinful flesh. It may not feed the flesh in the same way that sexual perversions, alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity do, but it does feed the flesh. And, I will argue that it does so in a more dangerous way, because it deceives a person into thinking he is doing the right thing while in fact he is destroying his life and the lives of those around him. Legalism feeds our fleshly bent toward self-righteousness.

The problem is that we can’t see it. We see it in others but not in ourselves. Who has ever said, “I am legalistic” or “I am a Pharisee”? No one. But we sure are good at pointing out people who are—proving the point that self-righteousness is like bad breath (everyone notices it but you).

Legalism preys on orthodox, well-meaning, passionate, committed, fired-up young people who want to live for God with all their hearts. They get attracted to legalism because:

  1. It is something they can do. Quick and easy.
  2. It is an image they can adopt and manage. It is a “look” they can quickly establish.
  3. It allows them to write more rules that protect from sin and make them even “better Christians.”
  4. It provides a checklist that helps them feel good about themselves when they check it off.
  5. It provides a checklist for them to measure how other people are doing.
  6. It brings clarity with new rules that show how to separate from others when they are “disobedient.”

I have heard the argument, “I am not a legalist, because I believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works.” Wrong. Legalism is more than just a false doctrine of justification; it is also false doctrine of sanctification. Paul made this very clear in Galatians. They had begun “by means of the Spirit” and were now attempting to live their lives “by means of the flesh.” It is possible to be an orthodox Christian and still be a legalist. The same error that plagued the Jews, and early church, is alive today—in all of our churches.

Paul said in Galatians 3:1-5;

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

What makes our own legalism hard to see is that on the surface we can be doing a lot of things right. Remember that the Pharisees were also highly regarded in their day. They were very committed to orthodoxy, teaching, fellowship, evangelism, tithing, charitable deeds, separation from the world, etc. But underneath they were motivated by the law and not by grace. That is all the difference. Keeping the law cannot please God, but “believing” does. Only grace can produce real fruit. Everything else is plastic.

How do I know this? I have seen it it in my own life! Sadly, as a young man, I was attracted by legalism because it played into my zeal for God and my desire to be used of Him. I didn’t see it until I started teaching new believers about the Christian life. Being in the business of training young people has forced me to dig deep and to be honest with what Jesus is saying in the Gospels. I began to see that many of my rules, regulations, and guidelines could not be supported by Scripture and that was why new believer’s weren’t “getting it.” However, the things that were there and the things that really mattered they did get! Then I began to see with real clarity that only grace through faith produces what is holy.

Have you considered that what you have been doing just might be self worship coming through the back door? You just didn’t see it? It does happen to good orthodox, and well-intended people. I think the seeds of it are in all of our hearts.

For further reading on this subject I would like to recommend a book that has really helped open my eyes to my own condition: Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees by Tom Hovestol. It is out of print right now, however, there are used copies available through many used book stores.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Around the Web (May 13-18)

G. A. Dietrich | Book Review of Gospel Centered Discipleship

Greg Dietrich reviewed what looks to be a helpful book that focuses on the gospel in discipleship. I’ve got this book on my list of “to read” for this summer.

 Trevin Wax | A Critical Mind vs. A Critical Spirit

“From the books and magazines gobbled up by the evangelical populace to the sheer gullibility on display in our forwarding of emails, it seems that biblical illiteracy and theological aberrations are widespread even in Bible-believing churches.”

AiG | The Rise and Fall of Inerrancy in the American Fundamentalist Movement

“The Christian fundamentalist movement in America played a key role in defending and promoting the importance of biblical inerrancy. While often ridiculed and mocked, early American fundamentalists withstood the tide of theological liberalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Crossway | Training Parrots or Making Disciples?

Jim Hamilton addresses this question on the Crossway blog. “Solid exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology are necessary for preaching and teaching. We don’t exercise these skills merely for our own excellence in sermon delivery, but because the people in the pews have the ability to think, analyze arguments, read the Bible for themselves, and formulate answers to questions that we may never even address from the pulpit.”