Pastor's Blog

I am the Teaching Pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN, married to Sarah, raising four children (Rachel, William, Lydia, & Kate), and seeking to honor God in all things. I received my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from MTSU, and my Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies and Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament and Greek from...
I am the Teaching Pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN, married to Sarah, raising four children (Rachel, William, Lydia, & Kate), and seeking to honor God in all things. I received my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from MTSU, and my Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies and Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament and Greek from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
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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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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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Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart

If the previous article, Foundations for Gospel Parenting, where not clear enough, this article intends to convince us further that parenting is impossible without the grace of God.  In parenting, we are not dealing with a dog or some other animal that can be trained through behavior modification or some other psychoanalytic method.  We are dealing with human hearts.

Corrupt Hearts
Every human being has a serious problem called sin.  Drawn from Scripture, Christians have referred to this as the doctrine of original sin, which says that all of humanity is born with the inherited sin-nature of Adam (Rom.5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22) that leaves us dead in our “trespasses and sins” (Eph.2:1; cf. Col.2:13).  This is the bad news that makes the good news so good.

Romans 5:12—“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

1 Corinthians 15:22—“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Ephesians 2:1-2a—“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. . .”

Therefore, every child is born with a sin-nature (Ps. 51:5; 58:3), with sinful foolishness “bound up in” his heart (Pro. 22:15).  We know they are born this way because we see the evidence from the earliest days.  No one has to teach a baby to arch his back on the changing table or to bite others out of selfish anger.  While we can learn how to sin in more horrendous ways from others, we do not need others to teach us how to sin.  One of the earliest examples in the Bible is Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8).  Who taught Cain to murder?  No one.  He learned it from his own sinful heart.

In the same way, every “fit” that our child throws is really the rebel cry of the sinner saying, “I want what I want right now!”  Sometimes we convince ourselves that it is only the “strong-willed” child that needs our greatest prayers and correction.  The fact is every child is strong-willed, some are just more obvious about it.  Every child has the same sin-nature.

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

Psalm 58:3-4—“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.  4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent.”

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

But lest we forget, we parents were born with that same sin-nature, and even after salvation, we still struggle with our sinful flesh (Rom. 7:13-25).  So we are not simply dealing with the sinful hearts of our children, but we are dealing with our own hearts too.  The only help we have is the new birth that only the gospel of Christ can bring.

Romans 7:18—“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

New Birth
Therefore, Christian parenting is not mainly about parents changing a child’s behavior but about God changing hearts, both the child’s and the parents’.  Our hearts need new birth, the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Eze.36:22-32; Jn.3:1-8).

Ezekiel 36:25-27—“ ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rule.’ ”

One of the greatest dangers of parenting is to assume that your child is saved.  But we should never presume upon God, and we should never assume that because a child has “made a profession of faith” or that our child attends Sunday School and church that he is converted.

On the contrary, parents should preach the gospel continually to their children and be fruit inspectors looking for evidence of conversion.  Salvation is known by its fruit, not simply a decision that was made in the past.  Parents should watch for the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 that will be produced in every believer.

Galatians 5:22-23—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”

But be careful of two things when inspecting children’s spiritual fruit:

1)  Do not confuse fruit for faith.   We are not saved by the fruit of the Spirit.  We are saved by faith in Christ alone.

2)  Do not expect a bumper-crop from young fruit trees.  The fruit of the Spirit is a progressive process for all believers that is life-long.  This process is called sanctification.

May the Lord grant us the grace required for dealing with corrupt hearts in our parenting.

Sola Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Foundations for Gospel Parenting

Parenting is among the most challenging tasks in the world, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility. In hopes of encouraging parents or parents-to-be, I want to write a series of articles on Gospel Parenting beginning with the Foundations for Gospel Parenting.

Mission Impossible
1.  Keeping eternity in mind: Christian parenting is a high calling, not of primarily preparing our children for this life but the life to come. Therefore, the goal of Christian parenting is to prepare our children for eternity. And the stakes are high because eternal judgment is a real danger of preparing our children only for this life.

2.  Grace-required: The only hope for our children is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our children don’t need a better earthly life than dad and mom have had. They don’t need simple morality, which can be just as damning as outright sin. Our children need moral perfection, even as God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev.11:44). The problem is that children cannot make themselves holy, and parents cannot make their children holy. Therefore, our children need new life that only the gospel can bring. So at this point, we all need a reality check—parenting is not easy, in fact it is humanly impossible because of sin.

Channels of Grace
1.  Gospel power: The first means of grace in parenting is the gospel itself. The word gospel means “good news,” and it is that. It is the best news on the planet. But to have good news means there must be an opposite. The opposite is the bad news that we have rebelled against our King who created us and who demands punishment for our sin. Sin is no laughing matter, whether done by an adult or by a child. Because we cannot atone for our own sin, God sent Jesus to live the life that we could not live and die the death that we deserve, and every person that turns from self-reliance to Christ-reliance receives the gift of eternal life.

2.  Godly marriages: A second means of grace in parenting is found in Ephesians 5:27-33, where God instructs wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord and for husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Our marriages will either be a living and walking example of the gospel, pointing our children to the cross, or our marriages will be a living and walking example of selfishness, leading our children away from the cross. The foundation of gospel-centered parenting is gospel-centered marriages.

3.  Father-focused homes: A third means of grace in parenting is the establishment of the father as the head of the household. Whether we like it or not, our God is a patriarchal God. God is Father to us. In the same way, God has determined that the family be led by the father. The trend in America, however, is just the opposite. We place excessive emphasis on the mother in our homes, or even worse the children. The statistics that reveal this as a problem are overwhelming.

When it comes to spiritual leadership in the home, men sin in one of two ways: domination or abdication. Most people scoff at the biblical teaching of the wife submitting to her husband as a license for the husband to dominate his wife, often in a mental and physical way, but this is the furthest thing from the truth. The Bible’s teaching is actually very liberating for women. Further, domination of women among genuine Christian men is very rare.

The greater temptation is that of abdication of male leadership in the home, characterized as a husband’s direct or indirect refusal of leadership. For the best parenting results, the husband must take responsibility for his God-ordained role as head of the home. This leaves no room for pride or feelings of superiority. Rather, husbands should approach this task with fear, trembling, humility and love.

4.  Loving discipline: A fourth means of grace is loving discipline. This is the most familiar tool of parenting for most of us. When we think of raising children in the ways of God, we think of discipline, especially spankings. Many Christians administer spankings, but many of those who do must confess that that they do not always administer them in a biblical way (something we’ll examine in a future article).

5.  Scripture and prayer: If the previous four means of grace are going to advance our parenting, then they must be saturated with two final gifts from God, Scripture and prayer. Without divine guidance as found in God’s Word through fervent prayer, parents can have no assurance that their children will grow up to love God as their Sovereign Lord. It is through Scripture and prayer that the Holy Spirit opens eyes and ears to the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Because It's God's Word

Some of the stranger moments in my ministry have to be when people have asked, "Why would you preach that [topic]?  My answer on some of these occasions has been less than stellar but I have always tried to emphasize it's because it's God's Word.  But mostly, I think I have been dumbfounded by this question.  This is especially true given the fact that I preaching expositionally--meaning that I strive to draw my "topic" from whatever the topic the verses I am preaching presents.

It has been my experience that the "Why would you preach that?" question has been primarily in regard to more debated issues, and unless I preach those issues uniform to what the hearers have always been taught or have always assumed, then people tend to get upset.  Here are a two reasons I have heard over the years for their disgruntledness.

1)  "It's confusing for people"--While I completely understand this concern, I don't believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic.  Certainly, some biblical topics must be taught age appropriately or even spiritual-age appropriately, but the Church must never back down from preaching the Word and trusting the Holy Spirit to apply it to hearts as He sees fit.  How often did Jesus teach His disciples something that only led to their being wholly confused?  One of many examples is when Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn.2:19), and the disciples had not a clue what Jesus meant (cf. Jn.2:22).

2) "It creates doubt in the hearts of people"--Again, I completely understand this concern, but I don't believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic.  We should certainly anticipate the potential doubts that may arise, but that's part of the job of a pastor.  It is his responsibility to be patient with those who have doubts, but it would be irresponsible for a pastor to avoid a topic for fear of creating doubts.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, some of His disciples doubted it (Matt.28:17).  Does that mean Jesus was irresponsible in raising Himself from the dead?  Or does this mean that pastors who preach the resurrection are irresponsible for preaching it?  God forbid!  What we must realize is that oftentimes doubt is just a polished up word for unbelief.

I remember in particular being asked once why I would even bring up the doctrine of election because it only leads to confusion and causes people to doubt their salvation.  This person tried to defend his statement by saying, "What if someone has been a member of the church all their life and think that they're saved but they're not.  And when they hear about election it creates doubt that troubles their heart.  If they are not elect, wouldn't it be better for them to live in peace for the few years they have on earth before they die and go to hell."

Needless to say, I was astonished for several reasons.  First, I would never just "bring up" a difficult doctrine like election unless I think it necessary.  I would say that 9 times out of 10, I have only brought up election and similarly difficult doctrines only if the doctrines are mentioned or alluded to in the Scripture that I am preaching.

Second, I'm pretty sure Jesus never held back anything in His preaching that would discomfort unbelievers who thought they were believers.  On one occasion in which the Jews were arguing with Jesus about eternal life, the Jews said to Him, "Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?  And the prophets died!  Who do you make yourself out to be?" (Jn.8:53).

Jesus ends this argument a few verses later by answering all of their questions with great finality: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Jn.8:58).

What do you think their response was to Jesus?  Great joy?  No, anything but.  Their reaction was unbelief and anger and murderous intentions (Jn.8:59).  Here are the Jews who thought they were "saved," but in reality they were not.  And here is Jesus who did the most loving thing He could in that situation--He taught them the truth.

So in the power of the Holy Spirit, and speaking the truth in love, may the Church proclaim all the counsel of God--because souls hang in the balance and it is better to trouble a soul a little here than to see an "untroubled" soul perish in hell.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Team Baptist

One of those distinct memories of my early elementary school was P.E.  Inevitably, the sport of the day began with choosing teammates.  The teacher picked “captains,” and the captains would then alternate in choosing their teammates.  In the end, this elementary draft sometimes left you with a hodge podge of players.  But there was one thing I noticed—no matter how different the players on each team, they rallied around one another for the sake of the greater goal of winning the game.

This illustrates a great spiritual truth.  Despite many differences among Southern Baptists, I have found that we have mostly recognized that we are on the same team: our rule of faith being the Bible; our consensus statement regarding biblical doctrine being the Baptist Faith & Message; and our rallying cry being JESUS SAVES!

Perhaps this is why the SBC team morale in the last 7-10 years has been especially troubling.  It seems we have teams within the team nowadays (perhaps this is the way it has always been but it seems more evident of late).  And it seems that one of the ways of determining whose “team” you’re on is being asked questions like, “Who do you read?” or “Who do you listen to?” (referring to pastors/theologians).

This line of questions has come to me several times in recent years.  And then when they hear that I primarily listen to people with whom they disagree in some respects, then they insinuate that I have become skewed in my beliefs because of this.

Please allow me to clear the air on some of the greatest influencers of my theology.  From a very young age, I remember Sunday mornings in my home included Charles Stanley on television right after breakfast and before we left to assemble with the saints.  I like to say that I cut my teeth as a new believer on his preaching.

In my early days of college, I remember several summer revivals with Tennessee evangelist Ronnie Owens.  I can’t tell you how much God used this man to bring revival to my wandering college-heart.  I like to say that through his preaching I had root canals on several rotten teeth.

In my late years of college, I remember listening to Adrian Rogers on my morning commutes.  His preaching helped me grow in my passion for Jesus, the lost, and for expositional preaching.  I like to say that God did some additional work on my teeth that was not only corrective but even cosmetic.

Finally, it was while in seminary that I was deeply influenced through the preaching of Bob Pitman of Kirby Woods Baptist, Bud Bickers, missions professor; and Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist.  God used these men and others like them to polish my gospel teeth even further.

Ironically, throughout the years of being greatly influenced by these men of God, I have come to disagree with some of the finer points of their biblical interpretations—for example, in the areas of ecclesiology and soteriology.  I don’t disagree with them by and large but on the finer points.

Yet, I continue to have a great respect for these men and their ministries.  And yes, I still listen to them on occasion.  But no, I do not listen to them exclusively nor primarily.  I believe in a varied diet of God’s Word as long as the shepherds feeding my soul are within the realm of orthodoxy.  And yes, that means that some of the shepherds that feed me are outside of the SBC—men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Tim Keller, John Piper, and C.J. Mahaney.

Time and again, I hear of my fellow SBC teammates criticizing teammates like me for listening to SBCers who are Reformed in their ecclesiology and soteriology; and they seem even more disturbed that I would listen to non-SBC preachers.  Ironies of ironies, however, some such critics have no problem listening to non-SBC preachers like John Hagee.  Some will even use non-SBC evangelistic programs such as Evangelism Explosion, which was put together by D. James Kennedy.

Now I understand that there is a pocket of squirrely Reformed Baptist in the SBC.  But I can say that out of all of my Reformed acquaintances, they all love Jesus, share the gospel, and have a passion for their local flock.  Besides, there are always fringe elements.  Yes, there is a small number of squirrely Reformed Baptists.  But just as accurate, there is a small number of squirrely “Traditionalist” Baptists.

Yet, I am convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists recognize there is plenty of room under the SBC umbrella for a variety of Baptistic expressions.  And that is exactly what the Preamble of the BF & M allows for.  After all, we are on the same team.  So I say, let’s start living and loving like it in our ministries and communications.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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"Plurality of Elders": The Preeminent Structure for Church Leadership

In the previous article "Elder": The Preeminent Term for Church Leaders," we learned that the term "elder" is by far the most frequently used term for church leaders in the New Testament.  As was previously noted, this doesn't mean that we should no longer call church leaders "pastor/shepherd" or bishop/overseer." But I did suggest that the preeminence of the term "elder" might affect our understanding of how decision-making ought to happen in the local church.  I said this because the contexts in which the term "elder" occur reveals a lot about the leadership structure of the early church.

Today I will be noting the three main church leadership structures that have been employed over the last two thousand years and try to determine which one gives Christ the most preeminence, especially as it obeys Scripture the closest.

1.  Episcopal:  The Episcopal form of leadership has been the most used form since at least Ignatius of Antioch and was practically undisputed until the Reformation.  This remains the form of church leadership in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican/Episcopalian churches.

2.  Presbyterian:  The Presbyterian form of leadership has been common in Presbyterian and Reformed churches and is commonly described as elder-rule.  A plurality of elders are elected by the congregation or the drawing of lots.  These elders also serve as leaders in the regional body of churches (classis), and the classis will send a chosen few to a broader body of leadership known as a Synod.  These broader bodies do not have a higher authority except only in so far as authority has been delegated to them.

3.  Congregational:  The Congregational form of leadership is founded on the principle of each local congregation being an independent, self-governing body of Christ.  Congregational churches may be involved in associations of other local churches and conventions of churches across a wide geographical area, but congregational churches remain autonomous—that is self-regulated.  If you have been a long-time Baptist then you will understand this form of leadership the best.  But you might be surprised to learn that there are two main forms of Congregationalism:

a)  Single elder-led/Congregational-rule:  This is when the congregation elects a single man to serve as the elder of the church.  While the elder is sought for council and leadership, the congregation makes nearly all of the decisions.

b)  Plural elder-led/Congregational-rule:  This is when the congregation elects a body of elders to serve as a plurality of leadership.  They will not all be paid staff of the church but they all will be responsible for shepherding, teaching, equipping, and being examples to the congregation.  Usually there will be a “first-among-equals” that does the majority of the public teaching and may be the only paid staff.

In some cases, the elders are sought for council and leadership, yet the congregation makes nearly all of the decisions.  In other cases, the congregation is free to take opinions or concerns to the elders, yet the majority of decisions are made by the elder body.  Usually the only decisions that the congregation actually vote on include an annual budget, appointment of elders or deacons, major building programs, or the admission/dismissal of a member.  The congregation elects the elders and trust that they will shepherd the flock faithfully.  If they have issues with any of the elders’ decisions or an elder himself, then they simply talk with the elders about it.

It is my conviction from Scripture that a plural elder-led/ congregational-rule best reflects the New Testament evidence of what local church leadership ought to look like.

a.  Evidence of a plurality of elder-led leadership:  There is ample evidence in the New Testament of a plurality of elder-led leadership.

Acts 11:29-30—So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.  30 And they  did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 14:23—And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 15:22-23—Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  They sent Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leading men among the brothers,

Acts 20:17, 28—Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. . . . Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.

Philippians 1:1—Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints of Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.

1 Thessalonians 5:12—We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves.

James 5:14—Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Hebrews 13:7, 17—Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . .  Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

b.  Strengths of a plurality of elder-led leadership:  Not only is there biblical evidence for a plurality of elder-led leadership, but there are lots of common sense reasons why it is a better system.  The following seven strengths are drawn from Mark Dever's The Deliberate Church.

1)  It curbs the exaltation of one man above others

2)  It balances the strengths and weaknesses of the leaders (1 Cor. 12:27-30)

3)  It gives greater pastoral wisdom (assurance in knowing and doing God’s will; Acts 6; 15:25; Matt. 18:18-20)

4)  It indigenizes leadership

5)  It enables corrective discipline

6)  It reduces congregation criticism

7)  It reduces “us vs. him” thinking

c.  Weaknesses of a single elder-led leadership:  There are also lots of common sense reasons that a single elder-led, congregational-rule system is quite weaker.

1)  It is easier for a few influential people to manipulate a congregation than it is to manipulate a plurality of elders.

2)  It is easier for a congregation to bulldoze a single pastor than a plurality of elders.

3)  It is easier for a congregation to idolize a single pastor to the point that he becomes an autocratic leader that is “above the law.”

4)  It is easier for dissension to grow in the congregation because everyone considers himself a decision maker in the church.

5)  Most single elder-led congregations have adopted an elder-led structure by default:  We see this in congregations where the body of deacons is looked to as the decision makers in the church.  While the deacons must have the congre-gation’s vote to make it official, everyone knows that it is mainly a formality.  The problem with this system is that deacons are not qualified to serve as elders.  Therefore, it would be best to simply adopt the most biblically sound leadership structure—a plurality of elders that are entrusted to lead the congregation.

While there is certainly some room for debate on the issue of church leadership structures, it  seems that the weight of New Testament evidence points to a plurality of elders who lead the local congregation.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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"Elder": The Preeminent Term for Church Leaders

Who are the leaders in the local church?  That's a simple enough question, but it sometimes proves difficult to answer.  Really, there is only one leader of the local church--Jesus Christ, Son of God.  Paul teaches us this in Colossians 1:15-20:

Colossians 1:15-20—He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

From these verses we learn two crucial truths about Jesus. 1) Jesus is preeminent over all creation (vv.15-18).  2) Jesus is preeminent over the Church (vv.18-20)

While this answer is obvious, we often give lip-service to this truth with little real life application.  So its important for the local Church to look to Jesus as its authority in all things.  And one of those things has to do with who He has appointed to lead His local churches.

While there are several structures used by various denominations and churches that are adequate enough, we are in search for something more than adequate. We are in search for the leadership structure that gives Jesus the most preeminence.  And our search must begin with Scripture and not simply our own traditions.

The first step is to define the terms used for Church leaders in the New Testament.  I believe the best text to start with on this issue is Acts 20:17-29.

Acts 20:17, 28-29—Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. . . . 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;

1.  Three terms: There are two terms for Church leaders used in these verses (elders/overseers), and the third term (pastor) is indirectly alluded to with the use of the word flock.  We will also look at a fourth term (deacons) that the New Testament mentions as well.

a.  Elder (presbuteros):   This term is used 16 times in the New Testament in reference to local Church leaders (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Tim. 5:17, 19; Tit. 1:5; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:1, 5).  The word elder is best defined as an official within a group and is sometimes translated presbytery.

b.  Overseer (episkopos/episkopein):   The term is used in reference to local Church leaders 4 times (Php. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 2; Tit. 1:7).  The word overseer is best defined as one who is engaged in oversight or supervision of a group of people and can also be translated as bishop.

 c.  Pastor (poimein):  The term is used in reference to local Church leaders only 1 time (Eph. 4:11) The verb form of the word is used 2 times (Acts 20:28; 1 Pt.5:2) in reference to local church leaders.  The term is literally translated shepherd (or the verb form, shepherding), which highlights the pastor’s role as a leader and protector of Jesus’ sheep

  d.  Deacon (diakonos):  The term is used in reference to local Church leaders 3 times (Php. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12).  It is best defined in two ways: 1) an agent or courier who serves as an intermediary in a transaction; 2) an assistant who gets something done at the request or command of a superior. Based on the meaning of the word itself and the evidence in the New Testament, the office of deacon is a servant body, NOT A DECISION-MAKING BODY.

This is where many churches (including many Baptists) have erred the most.  No where in Scripture do we see deacons as the primary decision makers in the Church.  Rather, the deacons exist for the purpose of meeting the physical needs of the congregation so that pastors can be freed up for prayer, study, and teaching of God’s Word.

2.  One office: While there is debate among Christians, the biblical evidence is most in favor of these three words being used in an over-lapping sense.

a.  Scripture confirms this:  The Scripture that we read today, Acts 20:17, 28-29, is most convincing, but two others clearly support this understanding as well.

Titus 1:5, 7a—This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you . . . 7a  For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach . . .

In Titus, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders, and then he goes on to describe the qualifications of an overseer (1 Tim.3:1-7).  If the words elder and overseer are not being used in an overlapping sense here, then Paul is indeed confusing.

1 Peter 5:1-2—So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder   and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed; 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.

This time it's Peter using the terms in an overlapping sense.  He commands the elders to shepherd (i.e. pastor) the Church by exercising oversight (i.e. overseeing/bishoping).

b.  Scripture never lists separate qualifications for the three terms:  This is proven by looking at Titus 1:5, 7a again and cross-referencing it with 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Therefore, we can conclude that the three words refer to one office in which qualified men have the same function (primarily that of teaching and leading the flock).

3.  The preeminent term of "elder":  As we have seen, the word elder is used 4 times the frequency of overseer, and the word elder is used 16 times the frequency of pastor.  Therefore, the preeminent term for a church leader in the New Testament is elder.

4.  Plurality of elders:  While it doesn't really matter which of the three terms we call the ministers in the local Church, the fact that the term elder is the most prominent does affect our understanding of how a Church is led.  Over the years, I have been convinced from Scripture that a plurality of elders is what God intends for the local Church.  I still whole-heartedly affirm congregationalism, but I have come to believe that a Church should have more than one elder/overseer/pastor.  And that will be the next topic on The Threshing Floor . . .

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Brad Brandon
Good article Jeremy. This is one of those topics (I guess like all things biblical) that simply needs to be repeated and re-repeat... Read More
Monday, 04 February 2013 02:48
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Thanks Brad for your comment. Sorry for such a delayed "approval" of it. I completely agree I pray you and Amy are well! Blessings... Read More
Saturday, 09 February 2013 00:34
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The Tithe That Binds, part 3

Having presented the case that Old Testament tithing is no longer binding as a law for New Testament believers, and having put forth the abiding principles of faith, sacrifice, and worship as the center of giving in the New Testament, I now want to present and answer the most common objections to my view that I have encountered over the years (some of which have already been addressed in the previous articles).

1) Some have said “Jesus commanded us to tithe”: This conviction comes primarily from Matthew 23:23/Luke 11:42.  About the tithing of herbs, Jesus certainly says, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt.23:23), but we must remember that the overall context and the overall biblical theology of this phrase (i.e., how it fits into the entirety of scriptural teaching) must guide our interpretation.  Jesus is talking to Jews living under the Old Covenant system.  We should expect Him to command them to tithe, just as He would command them to circumcise their baby boys, eat kosherly, observe all of the feast days, and keep the Sabbath Day holy.

If we are going to insist that Jesus is commanding us to tithe from these texts, then we must be consistent in our interpretation of other such commands from Jesus.  For example, in John 13:14-15 Jesus commands His disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (emphasis added).  Admittedly, foot-washing is not an Old Testament law, but it does serve as a command of Jesus nonetheless.  It is the very Word of God just as much as His Word on tithing, but few Christians would say that foot-washing is binding on New Testament believers (minus a few groups here and there).

2)  Some have said, “I know that you have a seminary education but . . .”: I have to say that this one can be a bit disconcerting.  What does a seminary education have to do with anything?  Certainly, such an education can sway a person to my view on this issue.  But just as certainly, an education can sway a person to believe that the tithe is still binding in the New Testament.

3)  Some have said, “Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek before the Mosaic Law”: I have briefly addressed this in Part 1 of this series but want to say a bit more here.  While it is true that tithing predates the Law in the Old Testament, so too does circumcision.  Every orthodox branch of Christianity agrees that circumcision is no longer binding on God’s people under the New Covenant.  Some may object that circumcision was the sign of the old covenant.  Therefore comparing tithing and circumcision is like comparing apples to oranges.  I must respectfully disagree.  I do so respectfully because I do agree that circumcision was the sign of the covenant.  But I consider this a false dichotomy.  Even though circumcision was the sign of the covenant, this makes tithing no less a part of the Mosaic Law.  While tithing was not the centerpiece of the Law, it certainly was the major tool for funding the religious system that carried out the other laws and duties of the covenant such as circumcision.  In other words, the tithe "paid" for the procedure of circumcision.

4)  Some have said, “Won’t this encourage people to give less”: This may be the most frequent objection I have heard, that on one hand I consider to be the most reasonable.  It is the most reasonable because it can be the most natural response.  We might say this is man’s natural response to a financial issue.  I’ve noticed over the years that people get antsy when the money gets tight in the local church.  Our natural reaction to such a problem is usually law.  We tend to believe that laying down a standard percentage for giving and then teaching that standard a bit dogmatically will lead to more faithfulness.  But this misses the point of giving entirely.  Law-based giving lends itself to legalism and worry over whether you have met the “standard.”  Grace-based giving, however, lends itself to freedom in the Spirit.  The “standard” for giving in a grace-based economy leads to a deeper reality of worship.  The people that would use my interpretation of the tithe to wiggle their way out of "having" to give more money have already nullified God's grace anyway.  Both legalistic giving and libertarian giving miss the point of the Bible: grace-based giving.

While this series of articles on the tithe may have left some things unanswered, I pray that it serves to help us understand God's Word and to keep lines of communication between Christians open.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben Simpson (@JBenSimpson)
Jeremy, you and I are probably not that far apart in our understanding of tithing. We agree that New Covenant believers are not b... Read More
Monday, 14 January 2013 05:08
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Ben, you are right to characterize my view as “saying that the tithe has no other continuing role . . . than as an example that we... Read More
Monday, 14 January 2013 09:05
Guest — Ben Simpson (@JBenSimpson)
Jeremy, Thanks for the reply! You are always thoughtful and brotherly. I'd like to tease out a few more things with you if you ... Read More
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 01:45
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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 Tithe That Binds, part 2

Having presented the case that Old Testament tithing is no longer binding as a law for New Testament believers, I thought it important to lay out further the principles, or patterns, of giving that saturate the New Testament.  I will also be writing a third and final part that will answer the most common objections that I have encountered in my ministry.  As stated in part 1 of The Tithe That Binds:  “While tithing is no longer a law to be obeyed, it certainly remains a principle to be applied.  Whatever our view on tithing, the binding principles behind the giving of tithes is strongly reaffirmed in the New Testament: faith, sacrifice, and worship.”

Rather than a continuation of a total tithe of 23.3% (Num.18:21-24; Dt.14:22-27; Dt.14:28-29), the New Testament presents giving based on the principles of faith, sacrifice, and worship.  (These are certainly not the only principles, but they are the prevailing ones).  These three principles were also present in the Old Testament economy, but they have taken on an even more profound importance under the New Testament.

1)  Faith: True New Testament giving is first of all an act of faith.  Both sacrifice and worship are impossible without faith in God.  When we give out of obligation, guilt, or greed (hoping to get something from God), then the purpose of giving is lost.  The reason we give is to joyfully see the work of God carried on, lives changed, provisions given, and God glorified.  The purpose of giving is to turn our naturally stingy hearts into generous hearts.  Indeed, we are to give joyfully or not at all.  Paul’s word to the Corinthian Church, though he doesn’t actually use the word “faith,” is a reminder of how our giving is really an indicator of the quality of our faith.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8—The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

2)  Sacrifice: Sowing bountifully not only requires faith but also sacrifice.  By its very nature, faith hinges upon giving up something in order to gain something better.  For example, real faith in Jesus for salvation hinges upon giving up our self-perceived “right” to rule our own lives (otherwise known as sin) in order to gain forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  That hinge is what the Bible calls repentance.  There is no faith in Jesus without repentance, nor is there repentance without faith in Jesus.

Like salvation, the giving of money to the Lord’s work through the local church requires sacrifice on the part of believers.  We see a great illustration of sacrificial giving in the early church in Acts 4:32-37.

Acts 4:32-37— Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

The principle of sacrificial giving is founded on an even more encompassing principle: Christ sacrificed it all (His very life) that we might have a better standing with God.  Hear what the writer to the Hebrews says:

Hebrews 8:6-7—But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

3)  Worship: The New Testament is clear that God is to be valued above earthly possessions because God is the Creator, worthy of all of our attention and adoration.  A realistic view of possessions includes the acknowledgement that earthly things will fade away but God and His gospel are eternal.

Matthew 6:19-20—“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Jesus commands us not to treasure earthly wealth in the place of what is most valuable, namely God.  Once we see possessions as we should, then we will be free to give to the church with the right motives (Matt.6:19-24).  One way that we do this is through the giving of money to a local church as a part of our worship of God.  Let’s state it clearly:  Giving is an act of worship, just as much as singing, praying, and hearing God’s Word.

In the New Testament, there is no law on giving but one: Give!  Give in faith.  Give sacrificially as God leads you by His Holy Spirit.  Give as an act of worship of a God who has sought us and bought us by the blood of His Son.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Something to Think About

This is a great article  a friend of mine shared with me two years ago that was written by Dr. Russ Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Check it out.  Seven Reasons Halloween Judgment Houses Often Miss the Mark.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben Simpson (@JBenSimpson)
Jeremy, that’s a great article! I added a couple of thoughts of my own at my blog about judgment houses. They were: In the past, ... Read More
Monday, 08 October 2012 04:22
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Ben, Thanks for the additional thoughts. You probably figured it out, but you were the "friend" who highlighted this article two ... Read More
Monday, 08 October 2012 10:04
Guest — Ben Simpson (@JBenSimpson)
Was I that friend? I wasn't sure but thought I'd throw out my thoughts to your readership. Did I give myself a plug?
Monday, 08 October 2012 15:21
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The Tithe That Binds, part 1

We assume too much.  Sometimes we assume we know things that we really don’t know.  Sometimes we assume that others understand us when they really don’t.  When it comes to the Bible, we often assume we know what it says and what it means.  This is especially true regarding its teaching on tithing.

Many Christians assume that the New Testament teaches them to give a tithe of all of their income to the local church.  For many of us, this idea has been engrained from our earliest days.  Thankfully, some have assumed less than others and have at least studied the New Testament for themselves and believe they have found evidence that tithing is still binding for Christians today.  But upon closer examination, I am convinced from the New Testament evidence that the tithe is no longer a law to be obeyed by believers.

Four References with No Substantial Proof
If the tithe were still binding for New Testament believers, then one would think that there would be clear and ample evidence.  But there is not.  Granted, the New Testament talks about the use of money, the love of money, and the giving away of money all over the place.  When it comes to the tithe, however, there are but four sections of New Testament Scripture that mention it, and two of those are one verse in length and parallel accounts in the Gospels at that (Matt.23:23/Lk.11:42; Lk.18:12; Heb.7:1-10).  The question before us is whether or not these four references teach that Christians are required to give a certain percentage to the local church.

The references to tithing in the Gospels simply affirm that Law-abiding Jews are certainly expected to be tithing just as they would be expected to keep the kosher food restrictions and stone people caught in adultery.  Ironically, in both Gospel sections Jesus is actually rebuking the Pharisees for their legalistic understanding of tithing.

Regarding Hebrews 7:1-10, many tithe-advocates drive their stake in the ground here.  While I admit that this text has more flesh on the skeleton than the examples in the Gospels, Hebrews 7 still lacks clear evidence that the tithe is binding.  In the context of Hebrews 7, we must understand that the writer is striving to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus over the Levitical priest—Jesus is a better High Priest than the Levitical one, just as Melchizedek was too.

The point is not that tithing is reaffirmed as binding for Christians.  The point is that all of the temple-related regulations, such as tithing, were fulfilled by Christ.  There is no longer any need for the temple, priests, or sacrifices of any kind.  Therefore, there is no longer any need for tithes to “pay” for the upkeep of the temple or the needs of the priests.  The tithe, like circumcision, was an Old Testament Law that was temporal in nature rather than eternal (like “love your neighbor” or “do not murder”).  Even though the tithe in Hebrews 7 is traced back to Abraham before the Law, so is circumcision.  And practically all Christians agree that the pre-Law practice of circumcision is no longer binding.

All or None
Here’s the thing.  If the tithe is still binding, then we must obey the law of tithing to the letter (Gal.3:10-14; Jas.2:10).  True tithing would look more like this:

1)  Old Testament tithes were only on food, drink, and livestock (Lev.27:30-33).  Today, that would mean, in addition to bringing 10% of our income to the church, we must bring 10% of our livestock and fruits and vegetables from our gardens into the church, or else sell 10% of them and bring that money.

2)  Actually, it would be closer to 23.3% because obeying the letter of the Law means that we must give all three Old Testament tithes (Num.18:21-24; Dt.14:22-27; Dt.14:28-29)—20% each year and 10% more every three years.  It is possible, however that tithes two and three (Dt.14:22-27; 14:28-29) are really one—tithe two simply being given to the poor and indigent every third year.

3)  We should stop expecting all Christians to tithe since a few groups were also exempt from tithing—namely the Levite, sojourner, fatherless, and widow (Dt.26:12).  Some would say non-farming occupations were also exempt.

Based on this evidence (and the lack of evidence in the New Testament to the contrary), Christians are free to give less than 10% of their income to the local church, or Christians are free to give more than 10% of their income to the local church.  While tithing is no longer a law to be obeyed, it certainly remains a principle to be applied.  Whatever our view on tithing, the binding principles behind the giving of tithes is strongly reaffirmed in the New Testament: faith, sacrifice, and worship.  While I do not expect nor desire conformity for all Christians on this issue, I do pray and desire that we be unified despite our differences.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ray Johnson
While anyone can choose to give , or not to give. I choose to listen to the words of Jesus in Mathew 23:23 woe unto you, scribes ... Read More
Friday, 21 September 2012 10:13
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Ray, As you and I have discussed this before, I completely respect your interpretation of Matthew 23:23. It is not a matter, howe... Read More
Saturday, 22 September 2012 01:25
Guest — Ray Johnson
Pastor, I recognize your call as a man of god and your study in seminary however when you state my view as that of giving only 10%... Read More
Saturday, 22 September 2012 05:29
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Why We Homeschool?

There is nothing like those awkward moments in conversation to remind you of the importance of knowing why you do what you do and believe what you believe.  Why we homeschool our children has to be one of the top items on the list!  Most people mean well, but the awkward questions and comments can sometimes be trying.  Then you have those obnoxious folks that are flatout rude.

Nonetheless, Sarah and I have what we believe to be some very solid reasons for home educating our children.  But before I share them, let me make a qualifying statement: We do not believe that homeschooling is for everyone, and neither do we look down on others because they choose to have other people educate their children.  With that said, here are the primary reasons that we home edcuate:

1)  We believe that God has directed us to homeschool.  It is not for everyone, but it is for us because God has called us to it.

2)  We believe that we can provide a great education for our children through one-on-one instruction and more specialized curriculum that fits the individual child, increasing the likelihood of personal excellence.  We like that our children are able to study at their own skill level rather than that of the average child in a classroom.

3)  We believe that we can provide a more physcially and spiritually safe environment for our children, specifically in these crucial years.

4)  We believe that we are responsible for reducing negative peer pressure and creating healthy opportunities for appropriate socialization through the Church, homeschool co-ops, enrichment classes, etc.  The debate over "socialization" continues to be the most misunderstood aspect of homeschooling.  What many seem to forget is that homeschooling done right is far more socializing than your average school system.  Being confined to one building, a few classrooms, and one group of children year after year is not nearly as sociable as meets the eye.  This is not even to mention what kind of socializing is taking place (early exposure to vulgarity, sexuality, drugs, disrespect for authority, etc.).  Our children, however, have greater freedom to explore the real world through more frequent field trips, grocery shopping, nature walks, hospital visits, and other such experiences.

5)  We believe it is a more efficient use of time and money.

6)  As a family in the ministry, the frequency of moving can be greater.

7)  We love the flexible schedule!

8)  We love being with our children!

While we believe that God expects followers of Jesus Christ to be "salt and light" in a distasteful and dark world, we also believe that God expects Christian parents to "train up a child in the way that he should go" and gradually release them into the frying pan of the world rather than dropping them in before they are ready.

Now that these are in official print, hopefully I will have a better answer for those who wonder, "Why do you homeschool?"

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Must Baptism Precede Membership?

Due to recent experiences in counseling with baptismal candidates, I found this article by Jonathan Leeman to be helpful and insightful.  Does it really matter whether or not a person is baptized before or after church membership?  Check it out and feel free to discuss.

Must Baptism Precede Membership? Of course!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Mark Bass
Hey Jeremy...I agree. I've had this discussion with some people recently who are not in agreement on this point. It was honestly... Read More
Tuesday, 15 May 2012 03:33
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Thanks for your comment Mark. Like you, it has just seemed common sense to me (not to mention biblical sense) that baptism is the... Read More
Tuesday, 15 May 2012 07:17
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3 Reasons I'm a Posttribulationist

I have been a posttribulationist now for 12 years.  Back then, I would not have seen such a transition from my pretribulationist past coming, but it happened.  I can say with all confidence that it happened because I was convinced from Scripture and not some fly-by-night T.V. personality or fanciful author.  I can also say with all assuredness it happened despite it being among the more infamous views in my own evangelical circle.

First,  I want to affirm the non-dogmatic status to which all mainline eschatological views should be viewed.  Whether we end up being pretribulation, midtribulation, posttribulation, premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial, we should all be able to get along as long as we all affirm that Jesus Christ will literally return one day to deliver His people and judge those who have refused to believe.

Second, I want to admit that not all 3 of my reasons for being a posttribulationist carry equal weight.  Some may be stronger than others, but I believe each one is rooted in Scripture.

Without further ado, I am a postribulationist because . . .

1)  It is the most contextual view:  This means that posttribulation better allows individual texts and even entire books to speak for themselves without bringing in undue baggage from other texts.  This is especially true regarding Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.  For example, let's take a look at 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-10  Now concerning  the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  2 For you yourselves are fully aware that  the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then  sudden destruction will come upon them  as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.  4 But you  are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.  5 For you are all  children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.  6 So then  let us not sleep, as others do, but let us  keep awake and  be sober.  7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk,  are drunk at night.  8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober,  having put on the breastplate of  faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.  9 For God has not destined us for  wrath, but  to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (ESV)

Based on the context of these verses, we see that the topic is the Second Coming of Christ because it speaks of destruction coming upon unbelievers (v.3).  So whether pre-trib or post-trib, all should be agreed.  But not only will unbelievers be present on the Day of the Lord, but the Church will be too.  According to Paul, the Thessalonians will not be surprised by "that day" (v.4).  It is not that the Rapture occurs some 3.5 or 7 years before "that day" because Paul is certainly calling the Thessalonains to be vigilant (vv.5-8).  If the Thessalonians are going to be in heaven with Jesus, why would Paul even mention this?  Why would he call them to be vigilant and discerning about the times?

2)  It is the least complicated view:  Even a pretribulationists must admit that the posttribulation view is the simplest, especially if understood from an amillennial perspective.  Occam's razor proves often true:  The simplest solution is often the correct one.  Even in the 1 Thessalonians 5 passage above we see this to be true.  A posttribulationist reads these verses and simply concludes: Jesus is coming back at a time unknown to believers and unbelievers, but it will occur on "the Day of the Lord," a day on which unbelievers will be destroyed but believers will be delivered from God's wrath.  No charts or timelines necessary.  No further complexity need be inserted.

3)  It is the most covenantal view:  Posttribulation maintains a closer relationship between God's Old Testament people and God's New Testament people, affirming that the Church is the New Testament fulfillment of all that we find in the Old Testament.  This means that the New Testament Church is made up of both Old and New Testament believers, and there should be no separation within God's people along nationalistic or genealogical lines.  And this does not amount to "replacement theology" in which some would say that the Church has replaced Old Testament Israel.  Rather, I would term it "fulfillment theology" (Rom. 2:28-29).  While greater multitudes of Jews may believe on Jesus as the latter days draw nearer (Rom. 11), this does not automatically necessitate a literal "time of the Jews" in which the Church is missing.  After all, to be a follower of Jesus means you are a part of His body, the Church.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben Simpson (@jbensimpson)
Jeremy, it's great to be back at The Threshing Floor! As you may know I'm a posttribber too! You point to some really great stuf... Read More
Monday, 14 May 2012 01:30
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Good to be back! I have been way too preoccuipied in recent days to write, but God has increased my time of late! Yes, I would p... Read More
Monday, 14 May 2012 03:58
Guest — Ben Simpson (@jbensimpson)
I've not considered the John 6 text in relation to the rapture. I'll read further into it.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012 03:36
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Far Above Rubies

Were I on my death bed today, what would I say to my wife of 13 years?  That may seem a bit morbid but it is a great question, especially as we fast approach another Mother's Day celebration.  Now the list could get quite lengthy, but considering that death upon one's deathbed is unpredictable at best, we will keep it to 5.  Well, it is off the top of my hand, but here goes.  I would say, Sarah Vanatta:

1) You are loved more than my words or actions have ever demonstrated.
2) Forgive me for not pointing you to Christ more than I have.
3) Thank you for believing in me even when you probably should have not.
4) Thank you for pouring your life into me and into our children.
5) Thank you for being my best friend.

Or, I could simply answer the question with a question and say to Sarah, "An excellent wife, who can find?  For her worth is far above rubies" (Pro. 31:10).

My answer to this would be, "I found her in you!"

Yours Only,
Jeremy
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God Has Spoken

God has spoken.  Of all the things that the Christian believes, he must believe this.  The controversy, however, swarms around the question of how has God spoken.  Historically, God's people have believed on the Scriptures as God's primary means of speaking to them.  We are talking over 2,000 years of hearing and reading the Bible (keeping in mind that the earliest believers only had portions of the canon of Scripture, which was completed in the late first century A.D.)

From the beginning, Satan was a liar and the father of lies.  That is the first thing we learn of him in the Bible as we find him selling his elixir to Eve. When it comes to the reliability of the Bible, many professing Christians today have swallowed the ancient venomous brew of Satan.   As a part of a major, conservative, Baptist denomination, I have been surprised at how many individuals I have had to counsel on this subject.  I'm not talking about general questions or confusion.  I'm talking about people who say things like, "Writers in the New Testament were only giving their opinions when they were writing."

I have literally spent hours attempting to answer such objections to the simple statement, "The Bible is God's word to man and not simply man's word about God."  It is to the point that many local churches do not even examine a ministerial candidate's basic theology or view of the Bible.  This results in churches placing people in ministry positions that have no solid foundation of truth because the source of authority of these candidates is themselves.  Unfortunately, I know of more than one person who has served or is serving in important ministry positions who do not believe in the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible.

Some are tempted to say at this point that people like me are splitting hairs or making a mountain out of a mole hill.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Let me be very clear at this point: Believing God's word to be God's word is a matter of life and death.  Because this is such a serious matter, I want to share a few reasons, along with biblical citations, why I believe the Bible is a trustworthy collection of writings and why disbelieving it puts a person in danger of eternity in hell.

1.  The Bible contains self-claimed authority:The Bible itself claims to be authoritative truth from God.  So either the biblical writers are looney liars, or they really were recording God's truth.  In essence, God's credibility is at stake (2 Tim. 3:16).

2.  The Bible contains eyewitness testimony: From Moses to John (that is Old Testament to New Testament), the Bible is full of eyewitness testimony.  For example, the Gospel of John is written by a man that claims to have seen, heared, and handled Jesus, not to mention experienced the ministry of Jesus firsthand.  Can you imagine witnessing the dead being raised to life, the deaf given hearing, and the blind given sight?  Can you imagine seeing some 20,000 people fed with only five loaves and two fish?  Again, either John and the other biblical writers were looney liars, or they are giving us a subjectively objective account.  By subjectively objective, I mean that God allowed them to use their own personality, style, and perspective in writing, yet everything that is recorded is exactly what God purposed for them to write (Jn. 21:24-25; Acts 1:16; Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Pt. 1:20-21; 3:2).

3.  The Bible brings spiritual life: There is no spiritual life apart from hearing the truth contained in the Bible.  A person in the darkest jungle may have an awareness of God and His moral law, but that person cannot be right with God through this limited awareness.  The gospel of Jesus must be read and/or heard for salvation to come to a person whose spirit is dead to God but alive to sin (Ps. 119:130; Acts 26:15-18; Rom. 10:12-15; Eph. 4:17-19; 2 Tim. 3:15).

4.  Reading the Bible requires faith: The words recorded in the Bible are ludicrous to the unbeliever.  God's word is not meant to be purely logical, and there are innumerable paradoxes and stories that defy logic.  Yet, that is the very nature of God's truth.  God's truth only "makes sense" to those who have been given life by the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God's word is meant to reveal who God really is and who we really are in relation to Him.  Believing that God is holy and pours out wrath on unrepentant, unbelieving sinners requires faith that we don't have.  Believing that we are sinners incapable of producing a righteousness that pleases God also requires a faith that we don't have (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 12:3; 14:23b; Php. 1;29; Heb. 3:12).

5.  Faith includes belief in God's providence: Providence is the teaching found in the Bible that describes God's will being worked out in every detail of the created order, from a flock of birds that fill the sky to a single bird feather that falls to rest on a blade of grass.  God works all things according to His good pleasure.  If God is so involved in the minutest detail, would He not ensure that the Bible is wholly inspired, infallible, and inerrant?  Yes!  He would and He has (Ps. 115:3; Matt. 10:29-31; Col. 1:17)!

There is no way in this article to answer all of the objections and mention all of the intricacies of the debate over the Bible.  But the things that have been noted are sufficient to make the point that the Bible is God's Word to man, and the only proper and saving response to His Word is belief.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Confessions

I am thankful for the kindness of God in allowing me to read Saint Augustine's Confessions.  I can say that it has impacted my understanding of God and of myself as much as any other book that I have ever read (aside from the Bible mind you).  I only wish that someone would have clued me into this great treasure many years ago because it would have been helpful in so many spiritual battles.

One of the first things I noticed as I began reading is Augustine's utter awe of God.  Not one sentence in this book spoke of God flippantly.  Rather, God was held in the highest esteem, yet it was done without any hint of legalistic rigidity.

There is one thing evident above all others: Augustine had been changed by the sovereign grace of God, by the life-giving Spirit of God.  Whereas he was once enslaved to sexual promiscuity and man-centered philosophy, God awakended him to new life.  As he sat in a garden contemplating his spiritual state, he heard a voice of a child from a nearby house chanting, "Pick up and read, pick up and read."  So he did, and in the providence of God, Augustine opened to Romans 13:13-14, which said, "Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts."  His often quoted conversion is recorded this way:

"I neither wished nor needed to read further.  At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.  All the shadows of doubt were dispelled."

Later in the book Augustine described his conversion this way: "You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours."

These kinds of statements in the Confessions about the grace of God in salvation through Jesus Christ bring the Christian reader to a point of worship.  It would be hard to imagine how a genuine believer could read such words and be unmoved.  To think back and remember how God calls sinners like me out of darkness into spiritual light humbles me and brings me to worship God for His work of salvation.  My earnest prayer is that any reader of this article would read the testimony of Augustine and that God would do the same in them.  May He turn dark hearts to light!  May He turn light hearts to ever brighter lights!  May He show every reader that no good thing lies within us, and that we need Him more than our next breath!

Well, time and space would not permit me to share the numerous quotations that set my soul soaring and those that brought me to the depths of the valley, but suffice it to say that this book is worth the read.  It takes a little while to get used to reading a fourth-century document like this, but if you pick up a good translation of it, this will help immensely (I read the Oxford World's Classic printing translated by Henry Chadwick, and it was excellent).  Also the last two or three chapters are quite philosophical in their approach to the topic of time, so be aware of that as well.

Aside from these cautions, "Pick up and read, pick up and read!"

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything

What do you think of when you hear the word disciple? You would think after 2,000 years of Christianity that Christians would have a definite definition, but you might be surprised to learn that they don't.  The words disciple, discipleship, and discipling are all buzz words among many Christians but often their understanding of these words are very different.  Some believe that these words refer mainly to one Christian mentoring another Christian and helping to mature them in the truths of Christianity.  While this is certainly a desired goal of discipling, this is a more complicated understanding than it has to be.  So what is discipleship and how do we do it?

In The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address this issue from a fresh perspective.  Using the metaphor of a trellis and vine that is common in an everyday garden, the authors make a comparison to the work of the church.  They compare the structure of the church (programs, facilities, events, institutionalism, etc.) to the trellis and the Great Commission (evangelism/discipleship, worship, accountability, fellowship/Christian community, etc.) to the vine.  Like the trellis and the vine, most everyone agrees that the church must have some kind of supporting structure to maintain healthy relational community within the church.  What most everyone disagrees on is whether the trellis or the vine is more important.

The point of The Trellis and the Vine is that while a church's structure is important, the most important thing is the vine itself.  Without the vine, there is no need for even a small, simple trellis, let alone a large, complex one.  The Great Commission is the vine--that is, the preaching of the gospel, the making of disciples, and the nurturing of disciples.  And it is the duty of all Christians, and not just the elitist clergy, to do the vine work.  The pastor leads out as an example to the flock and as a guardian of doctrine and health of the flock itself, but all members of the flock are to be vineworkers.

Speaking about the Great Commission, Marshall and Payne state, "The commission is not fudamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country.  It's a commision that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple." (emphasis authors', p. 13).  To make their point clear, they said, "our goal is to grow the vine, not the trellis" (p.12).

The remainder of the book sheds light on how to go about vine work, and they make the case that a ministry mind-shift has to take place.  The average Christian must catch a vision that they are called to proclaim the gospel to lost people, see God convert sinners to Christ, and then help those disciples learn how to be vineworkers too.  While programs and other structural things can help us with vine work, they can also become a crutch and/or an idol that hinders us from doing personal evangelism and discipleship.

I really appreciate the fundamental truths shared in this book and recommend it to leaders of the local church who desire that every Christian be involved in the disciple-making process.  May it start with you and me!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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