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 Mid-...America Baptist Theological Seminary. More

"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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Radical

Few things will get you as strange a look among American Christians as the mention of the principles found in David Platt's book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, published by Multnomah.  This book, however, is timely in that the material prosperity of the American church has been no greater than today.  With such prosperity comes avalanches of temptations to "do Christianity" out of a man-centered, self-effort sort of way.  The biblical fact is that Jesus has called us to a life of sacrifice and suffering.

While there is nothing sinful about having earthly wealth as a Christian, I am convinced that it is sinful to do with our wealth what too many of us do.  When the statistics bear out that more than 26,000 children will die today of starvation or a preventable disease and that Christian Americans have the means of making a difference in the lives of many of these children, then we must reevaluate our spending habits, both as churches and individuals.  Reflecting on the American church's historical blind spot of slavery, Platt rightly contemplates:

"We look back on slave-owning churchgoers of 150 years ago and ask, 'How could they have treated fellow human beings that way?'  I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today and ask, 'How could they live in such big houses?  How could they drive such nice cars and wear such nice clothes?  How could they live in such affluence while thousands of children were dying because they didn't have food and water?  How could they go on with their lives as though the billions of poor didn't even exist?' "(p.111)

Radical is a call to a simplified approach to possessions for the sake of helping others with the basic needs of life, including food, water, clothing, shelter, and (not the least of which), THE GOSPEL.  Platt makes the poignant statement, "Surely this is something we must uncover, for if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to questions just how effective we will be in declaring the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth." (p.111)

One of the driving points of Radical is that Christian Americans need to understand that God has blessed them materially so that they can be a conduit of blessing to the nations.  While it is not sinful to live  in abundance (as is amply clear from Scripture), it is sinful to live stingily and callously toward the poor.  While caring for the poor must not be substituted for preaching the gospel, how can we preach to the poor without a deep compassion for their physical human condition and not just their souls?

I pray that God would continue to use the message of Radical to impact Christians around the world for the glory of God and His great gospel

For His Glory,
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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What Is the Gospel?

I recently read a great little book titled What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert and published by Crossway.  In the same way he introduced his book, I introduce this book review with stating the obvious: You would think that answering the question, what is the gospel?,  would be easy for those professing to be Christians.  Gilbert noted, "It's like asking carpenters to sit around and ponder the question, What is a hammer?" (p.15). 

Therefore, Gilbert's book addresses a serious question for Christians to ponder, indeed the most serious of all questions.  If we get this one wrong, then it is a matter of eternal life or death.

In eight short chapters, Gilbert addresses the question, what is the gospel.  Chapter 1 begins by pointing inquirers to the Bible as our only sure hope of truth and authority.  The remaining chapters highlight what we find in the Bible that are inseparable pieces to the gospel puzzle.

Chapter 2 affirms God as the righteous Creator of man.  As such, God has Creator-rights over man and demands holiness from those who have been created in His image.

Chapter 3 affirms man's sinfulness by both nature and choice.  As such, man is completely unable to initiate any step toward God.  Rather, God must take the first step of spiritual birth referred to as regeneration in the Bible.  Gilbert noted, "The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest.  To human hearts that stubbornly think of themselves as basically good and self-sufficient, this idea that human beings are fundamentally sinful and rebellious is not merely scandalous.  It is revolting." (p.51).

Chapter 4 affirms that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of mankind.  He is the long-awaited Messiah, fully God and fully man.  He lived the righteous life that man should have lived.  He died the horrendous death, enduring the wrath of God, that sinful man deserved.  He was raised from the dead victoriously as the first-fruit of resurrection.  He nows sits at the right hand of God the Father making intercession on behalf of His people.

Chapter 5 affirms the only appropriate response to the message of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection: faith and repentance.  Faith is relying on the truth of the gospel and the promise of eternal life to all who believe this truth.  Faith is relying on Jesus to secure a righteous verdict from God on our behalf.  Faith alone in Christ alone without any insulting human effort added is the simple message of the gospel.  Repentance is the flip-side of faith.  To believe in Christ is to turn from sin, and to turn from sin is to believe in Christ.  Repentance is not a life of sinless perfection, but it is characterized by a life of warring against sin, no longer living at peace with it.  As Gilbert stated, "We declare mortal war against it and dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God's power on every front in our lives."

Chapter 6 affirms that the gospel is really a command for all people to repent of sin and believe in the King who is building His kingdom.  The gospel is a call to live for the King now and to live with the King one day in His consummated heavenly Kingdom.

Chapter 7 affirms that the gospel must be cross-centered or it is no longer good news for anyone.  While the cross is offensive to many and a stumbling-block to others, it remains the only hope for those who are being saved.  By the foolishness of the cross, Christ put to death sin for all who believe on Him alone for eternal salvation.

Chapter 8 affirms the utter power of the gospel to save sinners to the uttermost.  From repentance and faith, to resting and rejoicing in Jesus, to loving fellow Christians, to loving lost sinners enough to call them to Christ, to longing to be with Jesus in heaven, the gospel has the power over us for God's glory.

And so I end with this plea to my fellow Christ-lovers: proclaim the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for God's glory alone.  And to any unbeliever that may be reading this I plead with you: turn from your sin that is leading you to eternal destruction and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your deliverance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

A few months ago I read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, which was written by John Piper and published by Broadman & Holman.  As to be expected, Piper has produced yet another God-glorifying text on a most important issue in the American church.  In the opening chapter, he highlights what the pastor ought to be and then questions how closely evangelicals are adhering to this biblical standard:

"I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world.  We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise.  We are weak, but professionals are strong.  Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute.  We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.  When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13).  Or have we?"  (p.2).

The book contains thirty chapters, mostly short, in which Piper exhorts American pastors strengthen areas of pastoral minsitry that he believes have languished in recent years.  Because of the lengthiness of any attempt to addres every chapter, I am going to choose my favorite quotes from various portions of the book and simply quote them.  In doing this, I hope to unobscure Piper's own words and allow him to speak on his own behalf.

  1. Chapter 1: Brothers, God Loves His Glory--"Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God?  Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think that we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem.  Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us. . . .  God's ultimate commitment is to Himself and not to us." (pp.6-7)

  2. Chapter 4: Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith--"If you work for your justification, what you are doing is trying to put God in your debt.  And if you succeed in getting God to owe you something, then you can boast before men and God.  If you worked for justifcation and you succeeded, you would not get grace, but a wage.  God would owe it to you.  And when you got it, you would be able to say, 'I deserve this.'  And that, Paul says, is not what Abraham did." (p.25)

  3. Chapter 6: Brothers, Tell Them Not to Serve God--"What is God looking for in the world?  Assistants?  No.  The gospel is not a help-wanted ad.  It is a help-available ad.  God is not looking for people to work for Him but people who let Him work mightily in and through them." (p.40)

  4. Chapter 7: Brothers, Consider Christian Hedonism--"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." (p.45)

  5. Chapter 8: Brothers, Let Us Pray--"Oh, how we need to wake up to how much 'nothing' we spend our time doing.  Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to 'nothing.'   For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer." (p.55)

  6. Chapter 12: Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker--"Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations.  In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error." (p.84)

  7. Chapter 16: Brothers, We Must Feel the Truth of Hell--"When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news." (p.116)

  8. Chapter 19: Brothers, Our Affliction Is for Their Comfort--"When Paul says to the Corinthians that his afflictions are for their comfort and salvation, he implies that there is a design and purpose in his sufferings.  But whose design?  Whose purpose?  He does not design and plan his own afflictions.  And Satan surely does not design them to comfort and save the church.  Therefore, Paul must mean that God designs and purposes his pastoral afflictions for the good of the church." (pp.139-140)

  9. Chapter 21:  Brothers, Don't Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations--"Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn't look like one.  Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.  Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.  Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.  Alcoholics don't feel welcome in the church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in the church." (p.155)

  10. Chapter 23: Brothers, Tell Them Copper Will Do--"The person who thinks the money he makes is meant to mainly to increase his comforts on earth is a fool, Jesus says.  Wise people know that all their money belongs to God and should be used to show that God, and not money, is their treasure, their comfort, their oy, and their security." (p.168)

  11. Chapter 28: Brothers, Focus on the Essence of Worship, Not the Form--"It will transform your pastoral leadership in worship if you teach your people that the basic attitude of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with your hands full to give to God but with your hands empty to receive from God.  And what you receive in worship is God, not entertainment." (pp.238-239)

  12. Chapter 29: Brothers, Love Your Wives--"Loving our wives is essential for our ministry.  It is ministry." (p.246)


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

Article XVIII:  The Family
God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God's pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Unifying Principles of Article XVIII
It has been several weeks coming, but we have finally arrived at the last article of the Baptist Faith & Message.  After this article, I will post one final article that highlights some of the more notable points of unification and contention among Southern Baptists.

As for Article XVIII on The Family, Southern Baptists are in agreement on the importance of the family “as the foundational institution of human society,” as marriage between one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment, and the complimentarian view of the marriage relationship.  Further, Southern Baptists agree that “children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord."  My one concern, as with many other statements of belief in the BF & M, is that too few Southern Baptists are actually living out this doctrine of the family.  The alarming fact that most evangelical Christians are statistically identical to non-Christians in America when it comes to the family (especially regarding divorce) demonstrates that this is a genuine problem.  Despite this, Southern Baptists are united by this article of the BF & M.

Let me end this article on the last statement of the BF & M with my recurring claim throughout this series: EVERY CHURCH AND INDIVIDUAL THAT IS CONSCIEOUNTIOUSLY ABLE TO SIGN THE BAPTIST FAITH & MESSAGE EASILY FITS WITHIN THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION.

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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