Friday, August 30, 2013

I Am A Free Will Calvinist

I know, I know, some people use the name, Calvinist, in a derogatory way to describe me (as if Calvinism is a dirty word or John Calvin was some kind of heretic).  I’m not ashamed of it.  In fact, one of the graphics on the side panel of my blog site clearly and unabashedly declares, “I am a Calvinist.” 
Why am I a Calvinist?  Because I believe in the biblical doctrines of grace that are summarized in the five points of Calvinism or, to be more accurate, I believe the biblical doctrines of the reformers that are articulated in the Five Solas.
And that really irritates some people because they think I don’t believe in “free will.”  Well, I do believe in free will.  I just don't believe that an unregenerate (dead) soul can, of its own volition, choose to love God.  I believe that we are all born with a free will that is rebellious, self-serving, and at enmity with God.  A free will is one that will always choose to do wrong because we are born with a sin nature that is Hell-bent on doing wrong.  A free will is one that hates God.  
In the last verse of the popular Christian song, “Take My Life And Let It Be Consecrated,” are these words, 
Take my will and make it Thine; 
It shall be no longer mine.”  
Think about that.  That is a prayer that the petitioner’s “free will” should be taken captive by God and that he should become a slave to His will.  And when that happens his free will is no longer free.  A free will is one that is free from God. 
I am thankful that God is strong enough to destroy my will because, left to myself, this dirty low-life scumbag would never have chosen Him.  When I was running away, He sought me; He bought me; He keeps me; He owns me; He cleanses me; and He makes me fit to live eternally in His presence.  It is all His doing.  I had nothing to do with the transaction.  I am saved by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone and not by any effort or merit of my own. 
And that is why I am a Calvinist.  To God alone be the glory.


Friday, August 16, 2013

I Am Unashamedly Baptist

I am unashamedly Baptist.  And I am a member of a Baptist Church.  When my church ceases to be a Baptist church, I will disassociate with it and find another Baptist or “baptistic” church.

It’s not that I believe that Baptists have a corner on truth or that a person must be a Baptist to get to heaven or anything like that.  Nor am I stupid enough to believe that all Baptists believe all the same things; in fact, they don't.  It’s just that I believe the body of doctrines and practices as they pertain to the theology of the church, that are summarized in “The Baptist Distinctives” are biblical. 

I know those “Distinctives” broadly characterize all baptistic churches, but they are not always embraced, taught, or practiced in every Baptist church. However, that is not a problem with Baptist churches in general.  It’s a problem with errant, so-called Baptist churches; churches that subtly abandon those Distinctives and bring shame to the name of the denomination.   They are ashamed to be Baptist and should either change their behavior or change their name.

So whenever any Baptist Church abandons or ignores any of the Baptist Distinctives, it is a church of a different stripe.  It is NO LONGER A BAPTIST CHURCH.

For example, the first distinctive has to do with the Authority of Scripture.  In most Baptist Church, doctrinal statements will be found the phrase, “The Bible is the final authority in all matters of belief and practice.” (that means, not only what we believe but also, what we do.)  Those are great words but do we believe them?  Do we always consult the Bible in all matters of church polity, programs, purposes, and practices?

How about that second distinctive about the Autonomy of the Local Church?  That means that although the local church is accountable to God for everything it does, all human authority for governance lies within the local body; baptist churches are governed by their members.  Whenever that authority is usurped by dictatorial leaders or handed over to a hierarchy, it is no longer autonomous.

Baptist churches are comprised of saved, baptized members.  I know it is increasingly popular with many churches to de-emphasize membership today.  Some have suggested that we need to “tear down the fences” (figuratively speaking) and make our churches more attractive and friendly to the outsiders.   After all, membership is restrictive and controlling, they say, and baptism is too ritualistic and divisive.  What is important is fellowship.  So they let them in, get them connected and involved in hopes that maybe they will somehow get saved by assimilation.  But that is not what God’s Word says (oops, there's that pesky first distinctive) about His Church.

I think there are good reasons for churches to change their names.  Sometimes they are for simple, pragmatic purposes like a change of location.  If the Elm Street Baptist Church moves across town to Shady Lane, they should take a new, locally appropriate name.  But most name changes reflect underlying and subtle philosophical shifts.  When a Baptist Church is no longer identified by the Baptist Distinctives, it is NO LONGER A BAPTIST CHURCH and it should choose a name that better reflects its new philosophy. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Go To The No Name Church

Everyone needs a name.  Even people with no names need names.  I know a man whose parents never gave him a name.  They just gave him a couple initials but no name.  He calls himself Jack because EVERYONE NEEDS A NAME.  Most people have two or three names.  It’s a matter of identification.  Their first names identify them as individuals.  Their last names (sir name) identify them with their families.

Churches are like that too.  For most of our history churches' names included something that had local or missional significance as well as a name that identified them with an association or denomination.  It’s a matter of identification.  And that’s a good thing.  There are doctrines, purposes, and practices that are often unique to denominations and some of us would prefer to know something about a church before entering. 

In recent years it has become popular to drop their denominational identifiers.  One church in our town dropped the denominational identifier from its name because they ceased being Baptists.  Another one recently dropped it because it didn’t want the community to know it was associated with its denomination.  But then they quickly reassured their members that they were still loyal to the denomination.  I wonder how that would work if a married woman told her husband, “Honey, I am dropping your last name because I don’t want people to know that we are married, but I still love you.”

Sometimes when I ask people, "what is your church’s denomination?" they will answer something like “we are non-denominational.”

So think about that statement.  From the Online Etymology Dictionary, we learn that the word “denomination” stems from the root, "nom" which means NAME.  So then a church that wants to be known as non-denominational is, in fact, a church whose name is No-Name.

Okay, I understand that most of them, for doctrinal or political reasons, do not want to, or can't be easily identified as Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and so on but by declaring themselves to be non-denominational, they have become part of a de facto denomination with NO NAME.  Kinda silly I think because most of them share common doctrines or practices with other no-name churches.  They think that we don't know, but we really do.

Everyone should have a name.  Of course, there are legitimate reasons to change your name (i.e. adoption, marriage, protection from personal danger) but I can’t think of any good reason to just not have one at all. And I can’t imagine a church without one either.  You may be thrilled with your church’s name but WHAT KIND OF A CHURCH IS IT?  For the record, I am a member of a church whose name declares its Baptist beliefs, polity, and practices.  It’s a matter of identification.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Good Are Denominational Distinctions?

They say that money talks.  I don’t know.  I’ve had a little, but I have never heard it talk.  But let’s imagine that it does. 

Suppose I opened my wallet to pay for something and all my money had somehow been changed and each bill had become indistinguishable from the others.  “Hey, what is this?” I might ask.

“We are your money,” they reply.

I pull one out and ask, “What denomination are you?”

The bill proudly boasts, “I am non-denominational.  After all, we are all money.  I prefer to not be stereotyped by just one denomination.  If I tell you I am a one dollar bill, you might not value me as much as the twenty dollar bill.”

So what’s my point?  All bills are NOT of the same denomination.  They may very well be worthless, but some are more worthless than others.

That’s why most churches are identified by denomination (a name).  When I meet someone who tells me he is a Christian, I might ask him what church he attends.  Why?  Because I know that all denominations are NOT the same.  And some of them are counterfeits.  So it is not good enough when someone tells me he does not want to be identified by any particular denomination because “we are all just Christians.”  And it’s not going to be good enough when my granddaughter decides that she wants to marry a nice Christian boy from Utah who dons a white shirt, a tie, and funny, secret underwear and rides around on a bicycle doing missionary work for two years. 

Seriously, though - I am not suggesting that I can discern a truly, born-again, saved Christian by his church affiliation.  I believe that there may very well be real Christians in all denominations because salvation is a free gift of God’s grace bestowed on undeserving sinners and it is received by faith alone in Christ alone.

But there are some characteristics of each denomination that are helpful in “profiling” those who are members.  When a person identifies with a denomination, he is subjecting himself to the doctrines and practices of that denomination.  He may be ignorant of his church’s teachings but he is never-the-less, sitting under those teachings and that will shape his beliefs.  And, when it comes to the subject of salvation, there are some doctrines that are not negotiable; not everything that claims to be Christian is Christian and false doctrine can have eternal consequences.