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Two Shall Become One

Having just preached on one of Jesus’ more controversial teachings, I wanted to make my manuscript available to the faithful believers at Southside Baptist Church so that it may be of help to them–and hopefully it will be of help to others as well.  Ironically, this is around the 15th anniversary of a seminary paper I wrote on this same topic while in a New Testament Survey class under one of my father’s in the faith, Dr. Ken Easley.

May the Lord be pleased to expand our understanding of His glory and our need of Him!

Two Shall become One (Mark.10:1-12)
Before we read our Scripture, let me begin with a few cautions.  Any sermon you hear ought to be listened to carefully.  If that’s true for any sermon, it’s especially true of this one.  The topic we address today is incredibly prone to misunderstanding.

Divorce is no easy subject because many of you have experienced the pain it can mete out.  Many of your parents divorced.  Many of you have divorced.  Simply bringing up the topic can evoke deep-seated feelings associated with the uprooting of our most intimate relationships—husband and wife, parents and child.

The Church has responded with extreme errors.  At times, she’s been too harsh, saying divorce and remarriage are never permissible for any reason, making divorcees feel like second-class Christians, as if divorce is equivalent to the unpardonable sin—and that’s wrong, and no better than divorce itself.

At other times, the Church has overcorrected and become too soft, as if it’s no big deal, saying divorce and remarriage are permissible for any reason.  In doing so, the Church has compromised the holiness of marriage and God’s intentions for it.

Both errors seem like the proper approach in the moment, but both are destructive in the long run.  So what’s the right answer?

     Mark 10:1-12—“ And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the   Jordan, and crowds gathered to him a-gain. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (English Standard Version)

Mark tells us Jesus is making His way into Judea by way of the area “beyond the Jordan” (v.1a), also known as Perea.  He’s teaching the crowds (v.1b), and the Pharisees show up “to test him”.  They ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (v.2).  Matthew’s Gospel adds the phrase “for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3), further evidence they’re trying to trap Him.

The Pharisees throw Jesus into the debate between the Hillel and the Shammai views.  All Jews agree divorce and remarriage is allowable in the case of adultery.  The debate is whether there are any other permissible reasons.  The Pharisees are trying to provoke Jesus, perhaps hoping to see Him martyred like John the Baptist.  Remember Herod Antipas had married his own sister-in-law, and John had denounced the union and was beheaded for it.  So what can we say about divorce?

1.  Our view of divorce must come from the Bible and not our individual feelings (vv.3-8). Jesus answers the Pharisees, “What did Moses command you?” (v.3).  The idea is, “Who cares about Hillel and Shammai?  What has God said?”  They answer, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away” (v.4).  They’re referring to Deuteronomy 24, which contains the much contended word that divided the two sides.

     Deuteronomy 24:1—“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.

The word indecency is the debated word; and it comes down to emphasis, or should we say emphasis.  The Hillel view said divorce and remarriage are permitted for “any indecency”.  Examples they gave for divorcing a woman included burning the toast, talking to a man, or exposing her ankles while twirling.  The Shammai view said divorce and remarriage are permitted for “any indecency,” usually understood to be sexual immorality.

But Jesus didn’t side with either.  “Because of your hard-ness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (v.5).  That’s important because upon closer inspection of what Moses writes (Dt.24:3-4), God never commands divorce in cases of indecency but only acknowledges that divorce happens because of sinful hearts.

Jesus then quotes Scripture too but a Scripture that predates the Mosaic Law and predates the need for the Law because there was no sin in the beginning.  Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ” (v.6; cf. Gen. 1:27).   “ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (vv.7-8; cf. Gen.2:24).

Jesus is retightening the screws of God’s original intention for marriage so tightly it shocks the disciples, “And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter” (v.10).

2.  Marriage is a lifetime covenant (vv.5-9). As a covenant, marriage reflects God’s covenant keeping character.  This is why Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (v.9).  The concession Moses made for divorce was not to open the door wide for divorce but to discourage and warn against it.  Why is Jesus so adamant on this point?

      3.  Marriage is a work of God (v.9). Even if a husband and wife are not Christians, marriage is still a work of God’s providence and evidence of God’s law written on the (Rom.2:14-16).

     4.  Divorce is never pleasing to God. There is no such thing as a divorce that pleases God and brings Him honor (Mal.2:16).  To say otherwise would be like saying there are times when lying or stealing please God.  Of course, God can take divorce and work good out of it, but that does not give us permission.

Yet, sometimes divorce is the lesser of two evils.  For example, God commanded Israel not to intermarry with pagan idol worshipers (Dt.7:3-4), but many did it anyway.  In Ezra 10:3, the solution was to divorce the pagan wives.  But this does not mean Christians should divorce unbelievers today. In the New Testament, we are commanded to stay if the unbeliever agrees to it (1 Cor.7:13).

     5.  Marriage can be dissolved because of sexual immorality (vv.10-12). In Matthew’s Gospel, we find what the Church calls the “exception clause” for divorce, meaning divorce in such cases may not be sin for one of the spouses.  “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt.19:9; cf. 5:32).  Notice we’re saying sexual immorality can dissolve a marriage, but it doesn’t have to.

The reason sexual immorality can dissolve a marriage is because it strikes at the most unique and intimate aspect of marriage.  Therefore, sex outside of marriage is the vilest threat to its holiness.  In the Old Testament, the penalty for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10).  That would end the marriage!

But Jesus uses the Greek word porneia, a word covering every kind of sexual sin.  It would include a husband raping his wife for example.  And thinking of sexual immorality this way should at least make us sympathetic to the possibility of allowing divorce in cases of persistent physical abuse because such behavior is so far removed from what it means for a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church and a wife submitting to her husband as unto the Lord (Eph.5:25-33).  All sin erodes the foundation of marriage, but these are like an earthquake.  And spouses are faced with the decision: Do I renew this broken covenant or dissolve it.

      6.  Marriage can be dissolved because of desertion (1 Cor. 7:15).  The nature of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood is so different from the Old that the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to give a second “exception clause” for divorce.

     1 Corinthians 7:15—But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

     7.  Divorce should never be easy to obtain. Even when divorce is permissible, is it always the best option?  No, it should always be the last option.  Spouses should persistently aim for reconciliation.

Since divorce is permissible in cases of sexual immorality and desertion by an unbeliever, we believe remarriage is permissible in such cases.  But what about remarriage after an unlawful divorce?

     8.  Remarriage after an unlawful divorce leads to adultery (vv.11-12). “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (vv.11-12).  The disciples exclaim in Matthew’s Gospel, “It is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10b).  Jesus agrees: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:11).  Staying married is a supernatural act of God’s providence.

     9.  Remarriage might be permissible if a divorce occurs prior to conversion.  We are stretching Scripture to the edge, so we want to be careful.  But my personal conviction is that if you were an unbeliever at the time of your divorce, then remarriage is permissible without being adultery.

      Colossians 2:13-14—And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumci-sion of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

There is no record of debt against a Christian for pre-conversion divorce and no legal demand that a Christian remain unmarried.

     10.  Remarriage does not consign someone to perpetual adultery. Only the initial consummation of the new marriage is adulterous.  Otherwise there would be no room for God’s grace and God’s forgiveness for the sins of divorce and adultery.  The gospel would not be good news for those who have sinned in this way.  But there are no scarlet-Ds or scarlet-As on the chest of those who repent of their sin and trust Christ for pardon.

Desiring marriage?
1.  Don’t marry an unbeliever (2 Cor.6:14-15)
2.  Don’t consider divorce an option
3.  Don’t underestimate the struggles of marriage
4.  Remember that marriage is about Christ and not you

Contemplating divorce?
1.  Make sure it’s your last option
2.  Make sure it’s for biblical reasons

Desiring remarriage?
1.  Make sure your prior divorce had biblical grounds
2.  Resolve all issues from the previous marriage (as far as it’s up to you)
3.  Make sure you are humble about your divorce (this is evidence of true repentance)


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Self-Induced Faith

There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to the word “faith”.  Most of it creeps in over time as people become increasingly removed from the biblical concept.  Of course, some use the Bible to justify their self-revelatory versions of “faith”.  And everyone but atheists (whose “faith” is in “nothing-ness”) seem to have some kind of “faith,” usually affectionately termed “my faith”.

The trouble with these misconceptions of faith is they’re mostly self-induced, meaning faith is treated like something you must drum-up from within, more like an emotion.

So what’s the big problem with self-induced faith?
1. Self-induced faith hijacks the doctrine of sin.  It underestimates the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God.  We are more wicked than we know; and God is more holy than we can conceive.  Human depravity is total.  Our mind, will, and emotions are incapable of the righteousness required by God to enter His eternal presence.  As Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
 
2. Self-induced faith hijacks salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.  Self-induced “faith” is really “faith in faith”–or more specifically, faith in self.  Often, people with self-induced faith talk more about being “spiritual” than having faith because they aren’t keen on historical, propositional truth as recorded in the Bible.  The result is a self-induced faith directed toward self while biblical faith is directed toward Jesus.  And any faith directed toward the self is by definition a “faith + works” system of salvation that falls short of God’s glory.

3. Self-induced faith hijacks salvation by God’s grace alone. If “faith” is something you must work up in yourself, God’s grace is rendered meaningless. God grace is God’s undeserved favor, meaning no amount of good deeds or self-actualization (aka, “name it and claim it”) can earn God’s grace.  You can’t earn that which is un-earnable.  Self-induced faith turns biblical faith into “works of the law”.

4. Self-induced faith hijacks the doctrine of perseverance.  If faith is something you are primarily responsible for coming up with, then faith is something you are primarily responsible for maintaining.  And there is no guarantee that you will keep “the faith”.

Biblical Faith
Biblical faith, on the other hand, acknowledges man’s inability to come to God for salvation on his own because it recognizes the sinfulness of sin and the holiness of God.

Biblical faith acknowledges that man’s only hope is trusting (faithing) in Jesus Christ alone for deliverance from his sin debt to God.

Therefore, biblical faith in Christ alone is the Christian’s only hope of salvation and perseverance because only biblical faith depends on God’s grace.  Biblical faith is grace-dependent.  In fact, faith is a gift of God’s grace.

Ephesians 2:8–For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Philippians 1:29–For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

We can no more perfectly obey the command to “Believe” than the command of “Do not lie.”  Faith must first be granted by God according to His eternal purposes.  But self-induced faith turns biblical faith into “works of the law” rather than a gift of grace.

So how do you know you have received the gift of faith?  That’s the question people often pose in reaction to salvation by God grace through a faith that is itself a gift of grace.  If you are trusting in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and living out the “obedience of faith” (Rom.1:5; 16:26), then you’ve received His grace.

Sola Fide,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Southside Baptist’s Website

I’m very excited and thankful for the launching of Southside Baptist Church’s website.  It still needs a little work, but for the most part it’s ready to go.  I encourage you to look it over.  We pray it will be blessing to many!  If we can be of any help to you in your walk with Jesus, please let us know.

http://www.ssbclebanon.com

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Santa Would Make a Horrible god

Have you ever really thought about it that way: that Santa would make a horrible god?  He would.  Receiving good things from Santa requires you to be “nice” rather than “naughty”, “good” rather than “bad”.  In some ways, that is similar to the true God of Christianity.  God does reward the righteous.

But what is Santa’s definition, or standard, of “good”?  If the definition of good is when a person’s “good” deeds outweigh his bad, then I guess Santa then must make distinctions between those whose “good” deeds are at 51% versus those at 63%, 75%, and 81%, etc.  Shouldn’t those with more “goodness” get more “good” things?  And I guess, all those who fall below the 51% mark get nothing.  Those that come in at 49% get the same nothing as those who are only 1% “good”.

What a horrible god Santa would make.  I imagine many a million kids on Christmas morning discover that apparently they’re not “good” enough, that they just didn’t measure up to Santa’s standard of righteousness.  And what hope do they have?  None, because Santa would make a horrible god.  They have no way of knowing what 51% looks like.  Worse yet, why would anyone think that 51% good is good enough, or even 99% for that matter?  Is a glass of water with only 1% pig manure “good” enough.  This is why we need Jesus so desperately.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to just make it possible for us to be righteous.  Jesus came into the world to be our righteousness through His perfectly obedient life, His perfect substitutionary death on the cross, and His perfect victory over sin and death.  All who put their faith in Jesus as there only hope, turning from their sin and turning to Him, will receive His imputed righteousness.  The gift of Heaven is not based on being naughty or nice; it’s based on the perfection of Christ on our behalf and distributed according to the riches of God’s grace and mercy in accordance with His sovereign purpose.  May God be gracious to us and our children as we teach them to treasure Jesus this Christmas.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Antinomianism: Still Extant and Slippery

I am recently finishing up an interesting book I wanted to recommend to those interested in the topic of Antinomianism.  Mark Jones has written an excellent historical and theological analysis of the subject in his book “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?”

The most significant take away of the book is how the Antinomian view of sanctification claims a high Christology in regards to God’s grace and justification by faith alone yet falls desperately short of the Christo-centric approach to which they claim to hold.

Read it for yourself, and be challenged by its conclusion that justification by faith alone in no way does away with the reality of a grace-fueled sanctification of a faith that works hard to kill indwelling sin and obey God.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God’s grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Precious Babies

Among the most sensitive issues with which pastors must deal is the question of salvation regarding babies and very young children that die, whether in utero, infancy, or prior to conscious awareness of sin.  (I would also include here the mentally impaired/special needs person, but for the sake of this article I will simply use the terms baby/babies.)  Because of the deeply personal sensitivity of this issue, I will make four clear and concise statements that I believe are plainly supported by God’s Word.

1.  Babies are not innocent:  This is harshest of the four, but the Bible teaches that there is no such category as an innocent person.  Not only are we born sinful, but we are conceived in the womb as sinful (Jn. 3:1-12; Eph. 2:1-5; Ps. 51:5).  Sin was imputed to us through our ancestor Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).  Physical death, no matter how early or late in life, demonstrates we are connected to the guilt of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13-14).

Psalm 51:5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 58:3—The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

Romans 5:12-14— Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Romans 9:10-13—And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born

2.  Babies are incapable of seeing the revelation of God through conscience:  Babies have Adam’s sin-nature, but at least two passages of Scripture in the New Testament give us hope for babies.  Both John 9:41 and Romans 1:20 teach that people will be judged for their sin because they are naturally capable of seeing God’s revelation yet reject this knowledge of God.  Thus, we may safely conclude that because babies are incapable of seeing or knowing God’s revelation through conscience, God will extend His grace to them in the same way that He extends grace to conscience sinners, delivering them from spiritual blindness.

John 9:41—Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

Romans 1:20—For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse

3.  Babies that die will be saved by grace: While there is no proof-text verse that we can turn to in the Bible that babies that die will go to heaven, I do believe they will be saved based on principles found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  The following verses lend themselves in support of this conviction (bold type is added for emphasis).

2 Samuel 12:21-23— Then his servants said to him [David] , “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”  He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Psalm 22:9-10—Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

Luke 1:15—“For he [John the Baptist] will be great before the Lord.  And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

4.  Those who never hear the gospel will be damned eternally:  I have added this fourth statement because talking about babies as being “ignorant” of their need for salvation inevitably leads some to conclude that people who never have an opportunity to hear the gospel will either be saved or at least given a future opportunity to believe.

This category of the “ignorant”, however, is different than babies.  People who never hear the gospel are not ignorant of God’s existence or their sin against Him (Rom. 1).  Although these people are ignorant of God’s saving work through Jesus, they are guilty and accountable because both creation and their own conscience bear witness of God and His righteousness (Rom. 1).  The evidence of their judgment is physical death (Rom. 5:14).

Death’s reign over mankind spares no one.  The good news is that babies are covered by the blood of Jesus by God’s grace.  The bad news is that people who never hear the gospel aren’t.  Why?  Because those who sinned between Adam and Moses are examples of what happens to people who never hear God’s truth.  They are held accountable for their sin even though they do not sin in the same way as Adam, that is by disobeying a direct command (Rom.5:14).  Yet, they are held accountable because they have a universal God-consciousness written on their hearts.

Romans 2:12a, 14-15—For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, . . . For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

By no means do I think I’m an authority on the issue of what happens to babies that die, but I do believe the Bible gives enough clues to conclude that in God’s mysterious providence they are a part of God’s elect and precious in His sight.  It is my prayer that families who have faced the loss of a baby would find hope and peace in the words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.19:13).

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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How NOT to Leave a Church

Here’s an article that I’ve been wanting to write for years, but there’s never seemed to be a good time to do so because I always felt like someone who has left the church recently might think I’m talking about them.  But I’ve come to realize that I’ll never be able to write this article if I continue to worry like this because there’s always people coming to and leaving the church.

DISCLAIMER: So, if you’re reading this and feel like I’m targeting you, then please understand that I have no one in particular in mind.

As a person who has grown up in the church and has now pastored for nearly ten years, I’ve heard a lot of people give their reasons for leaving the church.  Unfortunately, most of the reasons have been, what I would deem, unbiblical.  Here’s my top eight.  If you have heard some different ones, feel free to leave a comment.

1.  “It’s nothing personal.”  This one I’ve heard in combination with some of the other reasons.  I don’t think a person who says this really grasps what the church is.  The church is God’s chosen people who has been set apart by His grace and redeemed by Jesus.  As such, the church is God’s family that loves and serves one another.  Therefore, leaving a church, even for biblical reasons, is a deeply personal thing.

2.  “I’m not mad at anybody.”  This one I’ve heard several times.  Most of the times it was in months following an argument or disagreement with another church member(s).  Seeing it in others and dealing with my own anger at times, I’ve found that the “I’m not mad” reason is really just a way to make us feel better about ourselves even though our hearts are bitter.

3.  “There’s not enough activities for the kids.”  This one ranks pretty high on the list among the most frequent reasons for leaving the church, primarily among thirty-somethings.  While there is part of me that sympathizes with this one, my ecclesiology kicks in and reminds me that the Bible doesn’t place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  When the corporate church gathers it is for the purpose of worship through prayer, preaching, and Holy Communion.  “Activities” should be a natural overflow of our worship together and should manifest themselves in living our lives together outside of the corporate gathering.  That may mean having an organized children’s/youth program or it might mean children hanging out together while Dad and Mom are hanging out with other church members.

4.  “My kids don’t have any friends.”  This is similar to the previous one.  Again, I have some sympathies here having grown up in a church where I was the only kid who went to school in the next county over.  The friendships I had through church were never as deep as they could have been had I went to school with them, but at the end of the day it’s still no reason to leave a church.  The Bible doesn’t place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  Besides, children are under the authority of their parents.  Parents that move churches based primarily on their child’s wants are making a grave mistake.  At the least, they are teaching their children that church is all about getting what we want out of it rather than finding ways to serve others.  It’s a very self-serving attitude.

5.  “I don’t like the preaching.”  This is one that I’ve heard several times, sometimes referring to my pastor’s preaching and sometimes referring to my own!  There’s nothing more humbling than being told “your preaching stinks.”  Sometimes leaving the church because of the preaching is a good thing, if that preaching is unbiblical or if the pastor is biblically unqualified.  But even in these cases, I would say that patience and loving dialogue with your pastor is prerequisite to you leaving.  In my experience, most of the people who say “I don’t like the preaching” are under deep conviction of sin as result of the preaching.  I’m not sure if I could say that anyone I’ve known who has used this reason had a passion for knowing and obeying the Bible.

6.  “I don’t like the music.”  This one is like the previous.  If the music is unbiblical or the person(s) leading the music is biblically unqualified, then leaving the church might be acceptable.  But again, patience and loving dialogue with church leadership is prerequisite.  But in my experience, people who have left the church over the music have been generally selfish.  They want the songs that they want played on the kind of instruments that they want without taking into account the preference of the rest of the church.  Worship is not about “me”.  It’s about “we,” God’s people gathering together to worship HIM!

7.  “It’s just time to move on.”  I’ve heard this one a lot over the years.  It’s probably the most troubling because you generally know your fellow church members well enough to know that it’s really a cover for, “I’m not happy,” or “Someone hurt my feelings,” or something similar.

8.  Don’t just disappear.  This one is the most frustrating and probably the most selfish.  For the church, it’s like having a limb removed without anesthesia because the person who leaves doesn’t prepare the church for the pain but simply cuts the body.  I understand that some people have a hard time with good-byes, but no matter how hard it can be, love says “good-bye.”  For others, they’re embarrassed about leaving, possibly because they have one of the other 7 “reasons” for leaving.

In the end, a few minutes of good-bye tears will be much more therapeutic than the days, weeks, or even years of bitterness that can result from just disappearing from the body.  My suggestion is that you talk to your pastor(s), your small group, and your closest friends about the possibility of leaving and ask for their prayers.  This simple step can go a long way toward a less painful departure.

In light of all of these reasons people give for leaving a church, might I offer some biblical reasons one might leave?

1.  The Word of God is held in little esteem.  The church may say it believes the Bible but few people are demonstrating hunger and thirst for it.  The preacher may say he preaches the Bible but his sermons are really not much more than reading a text and departing never to return thereafter; or reading a string of texts that may or may not be related; or continually preaching “turn or burn messages” that appear more hateful than helpful.

2.  The driving force is something other than Jesus Himself.  The church may say Jesus is its main priority but it turns to forms of entertainment, manipulation, and various other shenanigans rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to both attract an audience and convert a people for Jesus’ glory.  Some may say this is too passive of a view.  To the contrary, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to be the church: preaching, teaching, worshipping, praying, giving, and serving one another.  Jesus said that unbelievers will know that we’re His disciples by our love for one another (Jn.13:35), not by how entertaining of an event we can put on.  [For the record, I’m not against programs and events, but I am against them if our trust is in them rather than the power of the Spirit]

3.  The majority of interpretations of Scripture are rooted in legalism rather than grace.  The church may say that it believes in salvation by God’s grace alone but the “air” may be thick with legalism: do this/don’t do that; shape up or ship out; turn or burn; be present every time the doors are open; you can’t wear this; you can’t drink that . . . .

4.  Holy living is sparse at best.  While legalism is satanic, holy living is Jesus-like.  We cannot save ourselves or stay saved by being good enough, yet all believers who have been justified by faith will live a godly life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The church may say that they believe in holy living by God’s grace, but the “air” may be thick with carnality–“holy” on Sunday but helly the rest of the week!

I hope this helps us minister to our fellow church members who are considering a church change.  May God grant us grace to be biblical in our decision making when it comes to whether we stay or go.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Communication and Correction

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4).  Ephesians 6:4 sums up so much of what parenting is all about, including communication and correction.  When it comes to correcting our children, it seems that too many of us are correction-heavy and communication-light.

Now, when I say that we are communication-light, I do not mean to say that we communicate too little.  But I mean to say that we communicate inappropriately.  The reality is this: we as parents are always communicating with our children.  The question is not whether we’re communicating but what we are communicating.

Therefore, both good communication and biblical correction are crucial aspects of discipline that have three primary stages of discipline.  It is important to note that these three stages can overlap at different times and in different ways depending on the individual family dynamics.  Today we will look at the first stage.

Discipline Stage of Child Rearing
The discipline stage is what some have termed the give me your attention  stage.  It is most crucial in the first 5-8 years of childhood.  Having corrupt hearts, we are born as me-centered sinners. The discipline stage is when parents should use communication and correction to say “give me your attention,” and it should begin very early.  Take, for example, the changing-table situation in which an infant is demonstrating anger.  While it is not appropriate that you spank an infant, simply placing a gentle but firm hand on their chest or legs accompanied by a firm but gentle voice can do wonders.  Regular spankings of a child may be used as soon as the child is able to understand  a simple command and demonstrate defiance to that command.

Defining Discipline
1) Positive in nature :  Defining discipline can be difficult because many consider it to be negative and confuse discipline with punishment or retribution.  Biblical discipline, however, is always positive even when a spanking is involved.  God’s word tells us this plainly:

Proverbs 3:12-13—“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reprove, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 23:13-14—“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.  14 If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul form Sheol.”

Hebrew 12:7-11—“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

2) Love-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of love rather than sinful anger.  If we are angry about our children’s disobedience, then we are likely disciplining out of retribution rather than reconciliation.  The goal of discipline is to reconcile children to God and to others.  Therefore, we should be grieved by our child’s disobedience rather than angered.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6—“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

1 Corinthians 5:1-2—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  2 And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3) Heart-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of a concern for our child’s heart and not simply his behavior.  We must focus our attention on “Why?” a child did what he did and not simply on “What?” he did.  Dealing only with behavior can quickly turn children into hypocrites, who either become manipulators or fearful of punishment rather than God.

Matthew 15:19—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

4) Instruction-oriented:  Discipline must be saturated with instruction in righteousness and the gospel of Christ.  This is where communication plays a crucial role.

Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Kinds of Discipline
1) Formative instruction (offense): This kind of discipline is primarily preventative in nature and can  be both formal (Scripture, catechisms, prayers, Christian literature) and informal (using teachable moments throughout the day).  This is the foundation of everything that a Christian parent  does.  Just as in sports, we want to spend more time on offense than  defense in our parenting.   For example, the best way to deal with a child who runs away from you when you call them at the grocery store is by practicing this at home through formative discipline.

Proverbs 1:8-9—“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,    9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”

Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart      from it.”

2) Corrective discipline (defense): This kind of discipline is primarily reactive in nature and should be used frequently in the discipline stage when formative instruction has been ignored.  Sometimes only a verbal reproof is needed, such as when: the child has not been informed of the parent’s standard; or the child is not characterized by the sin in which he is caught.  In many cases, however, a spanking should be given.  Formative instruction should always precede and follow a spanking, though it should be brief because neither the child nor the parent is in their best form.

Proverb 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Pr. 22:15).

Proverbs 29:15—“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

Steps in Corrective Discipline

1) Examine your motives:  Ask yourself a series of questions such as the following.

–Am I doing this because my will has been violated or God’s will has been violated?

–Am I doing this because my child has sinned against God or because his behavior has caused me some personal discomfort, embarrassment, or trouble?

 –Am I doing this out of love and kindness?  (beware of unkind comments like, “I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate,” and replace them with more positive comments like, “Do you think it is kind or rude for you to . . . ?)

 2) Choose the right time and place:  Whatever you do, don’t embarrass your child because this shifts the focus to humiliation rather than repentance.  While discipline should be swift, it should also be prudent.  Therefore, do not spank your child in public or even in front of his siblings.

3) Choose the right words, not substitutes:  In describing your child’s disobedience, avoid words such as mean, stupid, or telling a story and replace them with the biblical words unkind, unwise, and lying.

4) Choose the right tone of voice:  Do not scold your child and demean him, but be self-controlled and respectful toward him.  Remember the Golden Rule:

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

5) Bring Scripture to bear:  Give them God’s standard and show them how they have fallen short of that standard.  Show them that only Jesus can meet this standard and that we must turn from our sin and trust in Him as our only help for obeying God.

6) Administer the spanking:  Give 1-5 swats on the bottom or upper thigh (the number will depend on their age and the nature of the disobedience, and make sure you tell your child how many swats they will be receiving). The spanking should be significant enough to inflict pain but should be controlled (as should dad or mom’s temper).  After the spanking, comfort your child and tell them that you forgive them and that forgiveness from God is possible through faith in Jesus. Tell them that Jesus died for this kind of disobedience.  Whenever possible, pray with your child after the spanking is complete.

7) Be prepared to suggest a biblical solution:  Help the child work through what a biblical response would have been and have the child follow through with it.  If they have sinned against someone, have them go to that person, apologize to them, and make restitution.

Obviously, there are many variables when it comes to corrective discipline, but prayerfully what we I have written here will be of help to parents as they strive to raise their children to know Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Remove the Persistent Agitator

This is adapted from a manuscript of a recent sermon preached at Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN.

As Paul brings his letter to Titus to a close, he wants to give some instructions on what to do with divisive church members who persistently disrupt the unity in the church with their wild theologies and controversies.

Titus 3:10-11—As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

1. The Church must be patient with divisive members (v.10a): Paul has already alluded to divisive members who promote “controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law” (v.9).  He says they are “unprofitable” and “worthless.”  Notice, Paul didn’t say that these divisive members were being unprofitable and worthless or that their theology is unprofitable and worthless, though those things are certainly true.  Paul says that they, the members themselves, are unprofitable and worthless.

This is why the job of the shepherding elders is so tough.  Not every person that enters our building is membership material, meaning that not every visitor is here for the right reason.  The reason we exist as the Church is to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt.2:9).  But people come in all the time with their own agenda and motivations that are rooted in selfishness and not the gospel.

And sometimes, some of our own church members will become like those self-righteous visitors.  Some of our own members will hear a weird preacher with weird views, or else they’ll hear a good preacher with good views but they misunderstand something he says.  And then they begin to promote those weird views in the church, and before you know it divisions arise.

Paul gives Titus, as one of the elders of the Cretan Church, the responsibility of rebuking such divisive people.  But notice the patience with which the Cretan leadership is to have with them.  They are to be warned not once but twice.  This is very similar to Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18: call for repentance privately; then with two or three witnesses; and then tell it to the church.

In Matthew 18, however, sinning church members get three warnings.  In Titus, Paul is dealing with a more serious problem, namely false teaching that is causing division.  Someone who is committing adultery may or may not threaten the unity of the church.  Someone who has been unfaithful in gathering with the church may or may not threaten the unity of the church.  But false teachers spreading their gangrenous division is always a threat to the unity of the church.

Paul, however, is not saying that the false teachers ought to be ousted because of their false teaching, although that would be permissible.  Rather, Paul is saying that false teachers that are causing division in the church ought to be ousted.  And it is Jewish legalism that is especially in view in Paul’s mind.  Today, it might be denominational legalism or American-pride legalism or self-made moralism.  Yet in God’s grace, God calls for patience.

2. The Church must remove divisive members from its fellowship (vv.10b-11): Paul says to “have nothing more to do with” the divisive church member.  It means that after two warnings, the agitator is to be excommunicated and ostracized.  No more hanging out.  No more game nights or Mexican cheese dip or guy outings of any kind or shopping trips for the gals.

Paul is very adamant about this, and he tells us why in verse 11: “knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Warped and sinful means that a person is beyond ordinary instruction.  While they are not beyond the power of God’s grace to work in them, we must understand that the primary way that God works grace into a person is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  If a person is unteachable, always arguing and debating doctrine with a know-it-all attitude, then they are beyond God’s ordinary means of grace.

The phrase, “He is self-condemned” is very interesting.  Often people will react to church discipline by saying, “Who are we to judge?”  But notice that Paul does not promote the judging of others.  Rather, he makes it clear that such people are self-condemned, meaning they have brought judgment on themselves.  The church is simply confirming the sinner’s unrepentant status.

Sometimes we react to a single teaching of Scripture like this as if it is an isolated instruction, but the teaching on church discipline is far from being a single teaching.  Here’s a few examples of other places that mention the removal of and warning about unrepentant members:

2 Thessalonians 3:6—Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:14—If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.

Galatians 6:1—Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Romans 16:17-18—I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.

The biblical evidence is clear.  The church should not tolerate theologically divisive people, but we should lovingly remove them from our fellowship.  For church discipline is love in three directions:

1) Love for the unrepentant person–It is better they suffer now than to suffer eternally in hell.  The hope is that they will repent and get right with Jesus.

2) Love for faithful members–We hear a lot about harming the unrepentant sinner, but what about the rest of the church that is walking faithfully with Jesus?  What is it teaching our children when a church member is living in adultery and the church stands by and does nothing about it?

3) Love for the glory of Jesus–Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus.  The Church has been saved and set apart for the purpose of making Jesus look good, for shining the spotlight on Him.

May the Lord continue to purify for Himself a people who willingly remove unrepentant members from its fellowship with patience and love in the hopes of bringing them back to repentance.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Election Time

My good friend Ben Simpson, pastor of my home church of West Main Baptist Church, has written an excellent article on how disciples of Jesus ought to vote this year.  I encourage you to check it out.

http://westmainbaptist.com/broben/how-to-vote-on-november-6

Sola Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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The Ephesians 4 Project: In the Bond of Peace

The purpose of The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity has been to remind Southern Baptists that we have a consensus document in the Baptist Faith & Message.  From the very beginning of this blog series, I have demonstrated from the BF & M 2000 that Southern Baptists are unified if we can conscientiously affirm this document.  The problem of late has been a certain element within Southern Baptist life that tends more toward a Fundamentalistic rather than a Baptistic understanding of Christianity.  While there is much about Fundamentalism with which I agree, the tendency of such proponents is more akin to lynch-mob Christianity than seeking “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Nevertheless, The Ephesians 4 Project has been a success in the sense that the BF & M was upheld as a unifying document of belief.  It has been my prayer that these articles have been received as words of humility, for I have worked hard to maintain such an attitude.  We can only pray that Southern Baptists will remain steadfast in maintaining the Spirit of unity for the sake of the gospel and Christ's Kingdom.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project XVII

Article XVII:  Religious Liberty
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Unifying Principles of Article XVII
On this Independence Day holiday weekend, it is most appropriate that I post this particular article.  History is replete with examples of the blunders and abuses that occur when religion and the state become too cozy.  I think of the atrocities infamously known as the Crusades, Nazism, and various Islamic dictatorships.  This is why I am glad that the Baptist Faith & Message contains Article XVII on Religious Liberty.  Since God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a Divine Independent, the church should be wary of promoting secular politics within its body.  The BF & M leaves no stone unturned on this issue but makes it abundantly clear that, “Church and state should be separate.”  Rather, the church should “render loyal obedience thereto [the state] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that our churches are to be religiously free from and yet conditionally accountable to the state.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XVI

Article XVI:  Peace and War
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Unifying Principles of Article XVI
Few articles in the Baptist Faith & Message resound with unifying language like Article XVI.  This article unifies Southern Baptists in our joint effort to live at peace with all men and “do all in their power to put an end to war.”  As a part of Christ’s world-wide church, we have the grand responsibility of proclaiming peace and righteousness to the nations, and we must begin this task on our knees in prayer.  Surely this statement on Peace and War is sufficient for some Southern Baptists to put down their proverbial swords and take up the pruning hooks for bringing in the gospel harvest.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XV

Article XV: The Christian and the Social Order
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Unifying Principles of Article XV
The Baptist Faith & Message calls Southern Baptists to responsible Christian living in their particular subcultures of society.  We all agree that the “will of Christ” is to be supreme in our personal lives and that this should inevitably affect our society as the power of God’s regenerating work demonstrates the effectualness of the gospel.

According to this statement of faith, all Southern Baptists agree that some of the primary ways that the Christian should impact society are in the areas of: racism, greed, selfishness, vice, every form of sexual immorality, orphans, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, the sick, and abortion.  The key phrase in regard to how each of the items on this list should be approached is “in the spirit of Christ.”

While I do believe that Southern Baptists agree on this point, there is a handful of people in our denomination that are not practicing what they believe but seem determined to split-hairs over some of these things.  Even recently a pastor from Waco, GA, Peter Lumpkin, has been calling out Albert Mohler regarding Mohler’s past comments on homosexuality and homophobia.  The culmination came when this pastor formally addressed Mohler at the 2011 SBC.

For the record, Mohler is right.  The fact is, Southern Baptist have traditionally approached homosexuality in a homophobic way, much like they approached (and still do in many quarters) racism in a ethnophobic way.  Both of these phobic sins hinder proclamation of the gospel to these segments of our culture.  The comments made and the tactics used by some in our denomination appear to be only loosely attached to “the spirit of Christ,” yet Southern Baptists as a whole are unified in our understanding of The Christian and the Social Order.

In light of what has been said here, let us hear again the closing sentence of the BF &M with my emphases added: “In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.”  May it be so by God’s grace.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XIV

Article XIV:  Cooperation
Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

Unifying Principles of Article XIV
One of the reasons that I am proud to be a Southern Baptist is her history of Christian cooperation, not only within the SBC itself but also with “various Christian denominations.”  The Baptist Faith & Message gives a proper balance here around which all Southern Baptists can rally.

In recent days, however, it seems some Southern Baptists have become divisive over what really should be non-divisive issues such as the following, just to name a few: single, pastor/elder-led congregationalism versus plural, pastor/elder-led congregationalism; use of church discipline versus refusal to use church discipline; consumption of alcohol versus teetotalism in regard to alcohol; and Reformed soteriology versus Arminian soteriology (perhaps more of a fence-riding form of Arminianism since Southern Baptists affirm perseverance of the saints; see the BF &M, Article V).

These divisions are regrettable and lamentable when a world of lost people remains lost.  Let us, therefore, return to a deeper sense of cooperation as Southern Baptists and preach the gospel to all the nations.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article X

Article X.:  Last Things
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

Unifying Principles from Article X.
If there were no other doctrine in the Baptist Faith & Message to prove that Southern Baptists are doctrinally unified on the whole, the BF & M’s statement on the doctrine of eschatology would be sufficient.  There is no particular eschatological view being touted here, although the wording would be more akin to what a post-tribulation, historic premillennialist would say.

All Southern Baptists agree that God will bring an end to the world as we know it “in His own time and in His own way,” despite what false teachers like Harold Camping say.  All agree that Jesus will deliver His chosen bride from the wrath of God to come and perfect judgment will be meted out.  The “unrighteous will be consigned to Hell” and the “righteous . . . will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article IX.

Article IX.: The Kingdom
The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God's will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.

Unifying Principles from Article IX.
Regarding the doctrine of God’s Kingdom, there is no major disagreement within the SBC.  All Southern Baptists agree that God is reigning sovereignly over the universe, including “His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King.”  The exact outworking of God’s sovereignty may be disputed, but we all agree that God is sovereign.  Further, all Southern Baptists agree that God’s Kingdom includes both the “realm of salvation” and the awaited “full consummation” of His Kingdom at which time God’s will “will be done on earth.”

Once again, the BF & M frees Southern Baptists from trivial doctrinal disagreements for the purpose of unification around the building of God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VIII

Article VIII.:  The Lord’s Day
The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Unifying Principles from Article VIII.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Day can involve some disagreement among Southern Baptists.  Some would like the wording from the BF & M 1963 reinstated that includes phrases denoting activities to avoid on the Lord’s Day.  The former statement said that the Lord’s Day ought to be observed “by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only being excepted.”

Interestingly, Southern Baptists from a variety of theological understandings argue that the 1963 wording was best, while other Southern Baptists from those same varieties of theological understandings argue that the 2000 wording was a needed change. It appears, however, that the BF & M has maintained a delicate balance between the two more opposing views by catering to both.  Here is a great example in which a local church ought to draw up an additional statement of belief  that will be “commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

The unifying principle remains the same despite minor disagreement, which is Southern Baptists agree that the Lord’s Day ought to be observed regularly for the remembrance and worship of our great Savior, Jesus Christ.  Further, I would conclude that all Southern Baptists agree that Jesus is not only Lord of the Sabbath, but He is also Lord of the Lord’s Day.  If we can conscientiously sign the BF & M with its statement on the Lord’s Day, then we are welcome under the umbrella of the SBC.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article III

Article III: Man
Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Unifying Principles from Article III
The BF & M again presents a unifying statement of doctrine.  Southern Baptists can easily affirm that man is a special creation of God who has sinned against God and now stands in need of salvation.

There is, however, the potential for disagreement in one area of the BF & M’s wording of the doctrine of man in the phrase that man “fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. . . . as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. (italics added).  There are some Southern Baptists that would rather this section read more affirmatively of total depravity.  Total depravity is the doctrine that represents the understanding that man is born with original sin, that is an inherited sin-nature from Adam.  Total depravity does not mean that man is as sinful as he could be, but that sin has corrupted every aspect of man: including the body, mind, and will.  Proponents of this understanding would likely prefer that the BF & M read something like, “his [man’s] posterity inherit a nature and environment corrupted by sin.” 

Even so, Baptists of all theological stripes agree that man has a depraved nature in need of regeneration, confirmed with the BF & M’s statement, “Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”  While some may disagree over some of the nuisances of this doctrine, Southern Baptists actually agree on more than they do not, and this is where an autonomous congregation’s use of their own doctrinal statement can be helpful as they hammer out differences in interpretations.

No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same by Baptists that agree that man has a serious problem with sin and is in need of God’s redeeming grace and love.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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