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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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article III

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article II: God
There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

A.  God the Father:  God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

B.  God the Son:  Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

C.  God the Holy Spirit:  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.

Unifying Principles from Article II
The BF & M is firmly orthodox in its statement of who God is and how God has eternally existed in the three persons of the Trinity.  Regarding God the Father, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that God is reigning “with providential care” over all things in accordance with “the purposes of His grace” and that God is all powerful in His knowledge, love, and wisdom.  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that God is sovereign over all things, though we may disagree on how that works itself out.

Regarding God the Son, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that Christ was the righteous servant who died to redeem sinners from spiritual death and was raised from the dead as the first fruit of eternal life for whosoever believes in Him.  Further, Baptists with varying theological stripes agree that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God the Father and “will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that Jesus is the only hope for man's salvation but only those who believe on Jesus will be saved.  Further, all Southern Baptist can agree that Jesus will return one day, though we may disagree on the details of His return.

Regarding God the Holy Spirit, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures, and He illuminates the Scriptures so that men may understand the truth contained within God’s word.  Further, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that the Holy Spirit convicts sinners of sin, calls men to the Saviour, effects regeneration, justifies believers, and then sanctifies them.  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that the Holy Spirit is the author and illuminator of Scripture who effects regeneration in the hearts of men, though we may disagree on the details of His operation.

No matter our slight variations in our theological understanding, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same among Baptists that agree that God is the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, who is indeed holy and requires holiness from humanity, and who is one God in essence expressed in three co-equal persons. 

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: The Preamble and Article I.

The Preamble
From the very outset of the Baptist Faith & Message, 2000, we see that this is a document written for the express purpose of unifying Southern Baptists under core theological and methodological issues while leaving plenty of room for diversity.  In The Preamble of the BF & M, it is especially important to note the inclusion of the 1925 committee’s five-pronged disclaimer regarding “the historic Baptist conception of the nature and function of confessions of faith in religious and denominational life . . . . ,” which I will cite here:

(1)  That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

(2)  That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

(3)  That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

(4)  That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

Unifying Principles from The Preamble
The primary unifying principle found in The Preamble is the fact that the BF & M stands as a “consensus of opinion” document for the purpose of unity rather than uniformity.  Since the purpose of the BF & M is to “constitute a consensus of opinion” that should not be regarded as containing “complete statements of our faith,” we can confidently affirm that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits underneath the SBC umbrella.

Further, since the BF & M permits “any group of Baptists . . . to draw up for themselves” their own confession of faith, we can confidently affirm again that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits within the SBC.

Finally, since the BF & M asserts “that the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” and that documents such as the BF & M should “not be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life,” we can confidently affirm once again that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits within the fellowship of the SBC.

Article I: The Scriptures
The BF & M states the SBC’s affirmation of Scripture succinctly: The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Unifying Principles from Article I
In today’s SBC, there does not appear to be any significant controversy over the nature of Scripture, quite unlike the situation in the convention from the 1960s-1990s.  It seems that we are completely unified around the belief that the Bible is completely inspired, inerrant, and infallible, and that it is our final authority as a denomination and as autonomous local churches.

No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message should be proclaimed the same among those that can conscientiously sign the BF & M and agree that the Word of God is the Word of God.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben Simpson
Doctor, it seems to me that you have struck a goldmine here with the preamble. To be honest, I've never read these disclaimers be... Read More
Thursday, 19 May 2011 16:58
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, I agree with your comments. I believe the preamble is forgotten about far too often. I've noticed on some of the more aggre... Read More
Friday, 20 May 2011 00:27
Guest — Ben Simpson
As for the article on Scripture, how do we account for Southern Baptists agreeing on the source of our authority for our faith and... Read More
Thursday, 19 May 2011 17:02
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The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity

If I've learned nothing else from thirteen years of ministry, this one thing I have learned: spiritual warfare is very real and very dangerous.  The Apostle Paul wasn't kidding when he wrote, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph.6:12).  While this spiritual reality is not surprising, I can't help but be disturbed by the combative mood of some within our Southern Baptist Convention of late.  Yet, I’m praying this combativeness will not win the day because God has called us to one gospel that unites us as brothers in Christ against a common spiritual enemy.

I wish that I could say that this combative trend is the abnorm rather than the norm, but I can't.  It seems that the SBC has had a long history of fighting.  Now don't get me wrong, there are many fights worth fighting, and the SBC has fought some battles that were of biblical necessity, the foremost in our minds being the Conservative Resurgence that stretched from the late 1960s practically to the early 1990s.  That lengthy and needful battle was primarily about the authority of the Bible, and we praise God that He upheld His Word and glorified Himself by protecting the SBC from diabolical liberalism.

In some sense, however, it seems that the fight over the authority of Scripture has progressed to its next logical step.  Now that we’ve all agreed that the Bible is completely reliable and authoritative, frayed factions have redrawn the battle lines.  The lines no longer encircle the text of Scripture only but now the theology derived from it as well.  If the drawing of theological lines were not difficult enough, we also have mud flying over various missional methodologies, including divergence regarding the general direction of the SBC in the task of world missions.

Here's the question that I’m seeking to answer.  How different can our doctrine and practice be and we still be united under the banner of the SBC?  While that may seem like a daunting question, I believe there is both a conservatively theological and practical answer.  For me, the answer rests squarely on the Baptist Faith & Message and our willingness to cooperate within its parameters as a unifying document.

It is my conviction that if Southern Baptists would be genuinely unified under the BF & M, then most of the doctrinal arguments and many of the methodological arguments would be sufficiently resolved.  Now don't misinterpret what I'm saying.  I'm not saying that it will all be "pie in the sky."  But I do believe that unity around our statement of belief is sufficient to debunk much of the vitriolic speech occurring between fellow Christians in the SBC.  The fact is, we agree upon far more than we disagree, both in our theologies and methodologies.  The purpose of the BF & M is to unite like-minded, but not identically-minded, Baptists in the cause of the Great Commission of going to the nations, making disciples, and teaching them to observe our Lord's commandments.

In light of the aforementioned issues, I plan to write an eighteen part blog series, one for every article of belief in the BF & M, 2000 that I hope to publish over the course of the next four weeks.  The title, The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity, comes from Paul’s call for unity to the Ephesian believers, as found in Ephesians 4:1-8 particularly and 4:9-16 by extension.  Verse 3, perhaps, should serve as our theme:

Ephesians 4:3—“[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The purpose of this series is to seek unity among Southern Baptists around the fact that our doctrine is mostly uniform, though our practice may be less so.   It seeks to highlight the unifying principles of the BF & M, while allowing for diversity among Southern Baptists.  It also seeks the fulfillment of John 13:33-34 in the SBC.  Talk about your Great Commission Resurgence!  If we would come closer to fulfilling our Lord’s command to love one another, our GCR would be overwhelmingly successful as the Spirit of God would stir the hearts of unbelievers all around us.  And until we have obeyed the second great command of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot say that we are obeying the first great command.

It is my prayer that The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity will contribute to the unity of Southern Baptists under the core articles of our faith while urging us to an "agree-to-disagree" status on matters of lesser importance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben Simpson
Jeremy, I'm really looking forward to this series. We in the SBC need some voices seeking unity. There are always things to divi... Read More
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 16:08
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, thanks for your comments. I'm very much looking forward to writing this series with the prayerful hope that God would use it ... Read More
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 23:45
Guest — Jeremy Vanattas Call for SBC Unity | West Main Baptist Church
[...] it out at http://jeremyvanatta.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/the-ephesians-4-project-a-call-for-sbc-unity/ and join the conversat... Read More
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 16:18
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Gospel-Powered Parenting

If you're like me, then you find it difficult to find gospel-centered parenting books out there.  While there are morality-centered and behavior-oriented books aplenty, the scarcity of God-centered and gospel-centered parenting books can be quite frustrating when you set yourself to looking for them.  God recently graced me with one of those rare treasures of a gospel-centered book on raising children to know Christ, and I rank this one right up there with two of my other favorite parenting books: Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Ted Tripp; and Don't Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Plowman.  This newly found treasure is Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.

Gospel-Powered Parenting is written by William P. Farley, pastor of Grace Chrisitan Fellowship in Spokane, WA, and is published by P & R.  Throughout the book, Farley holds high the power of the gospel as the only hope of our children's future.  Thus, he remains true to the title of the book.  In the following, I will note the chapter titles and briefly summarize each chapter with a few points and/or quotes from William Farley.

Chapter 1: Intellectual Submarines, contains five assumptions that Farley believes a parent needs in order to grasp the power of the gospel in our parenting:
1)  Parenting is not easy: "Because parenting is difficult, and because you are imperfect, you will need the grace that comes to you through the gospel.  God will use problems to deepen your dependence on him" (p.20).
2)  God is sovereign, but he uses means: God is the beginning, middle, and end of salvation.  In His infinite wisdom, however, He has elected to use parents as one of His means to work in the hearts of children for His glorious purposes.  Farley notes, "God is sovereign, but parents are responsible" (p.22).
3) A Good Offense:  "Effective parents assume that a good offense is better than defense" (p.22).  Parents are too often guility of defending/protecting their children against the wiles of the world (which is obviously necessary to a great degree), but these parents tend to forget about using godly offense.  Just as a football team with either a weak offense or no offense at all will more likely lose the game, so will the parenting that is weak on offense more likely lose the soul of the child.  Now this is not to presume either way upon the sovereigny of God in salvation, but it is a reminder that God has ordained means by which He brings a person to salvation, including a good offense.
4)  Understand New Birth:  Farley says bluntly, "Statistically, most Christian parents assume their child's new birth.  This could be your biggest parenting mistake" (p.26).  The point here is that parents should never assume that just because their child "made a profession of faith" at a certain point in time or that their child attends Sunday School, church, or a Christian school, that their child is "okay" and has no more need for instruction in the gospel.  To the contrary, parents should be fruit inspectors on behalf of their children.  Farley says, "The bottom line is this: New birth is known by its fruits, not by a decision.  The most important fruit is hunger for God himself.  Effective parents assume this, and patiently wait for sustained fruit before they render a verdict" (p.30).
5)  Child-Centered Families:  "Effective parents are not child centered.  They are God centered" (p.31).  In too many Christian homes, the children and their desires are the driving force of the family.  Many examples of "child-run homes" exist, but here are a few decisions that many parents have relinquished to their children: sleep schedule, eating schedule, TV/Video Games schedule, extra-curricular schedule (sports and fine arts activities: how many and how often), and many more.  Farley concludes, "It is positively hurtful to build your lives around your children instead of God.  It damages children, it tears down our marriages, and most importantly, it displeases God" (p.36).

Chapter 2: Gospel-Powered Parenting, emphasizes the fact that the main goal of Christian parents is to prepare their children for eternity.  So the goal of preparing them "for life" alone is insufficient.  Rather, parents should have the goal of preparing their children "for eternal life," or else their children will face judgment for their sin against a holy God.  The only hope of our children is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, our children don't need simple morality, which can be just as damning as outright debauchry.  Our children need the new life that only the gospel can bring.

Chapter 3: Gospel Fear, reminds parents that a genuine fear of God is imperative even now that God's people have entered the New Covenant through the blood of Christ.  In fact, the cross of Christ is meant in part to floor us at the foot of the cross, realizing that this is what God thinks about sin.  God's wrath will be poured out on the sinner either at the cross or in an eternity of hell.  So the cross brings us to fear God "who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt.10:28).

Chapter 4: A Holy Father, builds on chapter 3 and the fear of God.  The cross brings Christian parents to fear God because they see God's holy justice there where God poured out His holy wrath upon His own Son.  Not only does the cross bring Christian parents to fear God, but Farley gives four other motivations:  the cross motivates them to pursue personal holiness, give them an eternal perspective in all of life, makes them decisive in their approach, and reminds both parents and children of their neediness.

Chapter 5: A Gracious Father, demonstrates the great need of parents for the grace of God in the impossible task of Christian parenting.  Commenting on God's grace, Farley states, "It reminds us every day that we cannot be perfect.  We can't discipline consistently.  We can't teach sufficiently.  We don't love adequately.  But it also emboldens us.  It reminds us that God's grace is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10)" (p.101).

Chapter 6: The First Principle of Parenting, presents an idea that may surprise many Christians. The first principle of godly parenting is not discipline or love of children.  No, the first principle of parenting is acutally 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 here.  In short summary, "This chapter has said that our example matters, that our marriages preach the gospel" (p.122).

Chapter 7: Gospel Fathers, is another somewhat shocking chapter, but one that rings with so much biblical truth.  It probably is the most counter-cultural chapter in all of the book, and this is obvious from the first sentence that claims, "Christianity is a patriarchial religion.  That means that it is father centered" (p.125).  Farley goes back to Eden and reminds us that God created the husband as head and the wife as his assistant.  Interestingly, he argues, "The Bible addresses all its verses on parenting to fathers.  That is because God has given each father inordinate power over his children's hearts, and ultimately their spiritual destiny.  The general principle holds: As the father goes, so goes the family, and so goes the parenting" (pp.141-142).  Farley fills the chapter with plenty of statistics to support this biblical aspect of parenting.

Chapter 8: Foundations of Discipline, discusses the biblical fact that "Clarity about sin and authority are the foundations of parental discipline."  Both parents and their children have the same problem, namely sin.  Sin is more than outward behavior but lies in the very nature of man, and our children are not exempt.  Therefore, parents must deal with heart issues and not simply sinful behavior alone.

Chapter 9: Discipline that Preaches, connects chapter 8 with chapter 3.  Christian parents discipline their children out of fear of God because they know that the hearts of their children are corrupt and in need of redemption that comes only through the gospel.

Chapter 10: Food for the Hungry, emphasizes the need for feeding our children the Bread of Life (God's word, particularly the gospel) on a regular schedule.  Parents must guard against the busyness of life that will absorb valuable time that is required for instructing our children in God's word.

Chapter 11: Gospel Love, can be summed up with Farley's words, "Before we can love our children, we must love God more.  That is because love for God defines how we love our children" (p.214).

Chapter 12: Amazing Grace, reminds parents once again that God's grace must be held at the forefront of our parenting because it is not a matter of "if" we will fail but "when" and "how often" we will fail.  Farley comments, "Parents who repeatedly find forgiveness in the gospel can extend that forgiveness to their children.  Your children need to watch you continually shedding your guilt and fear at the foot of the cross" (p.219).

May the Lord grant in His grace that Christian parents raise up children who are passionate for God's glory, and may this book remind them of the only hope of that happening--THE GOSPEL!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Our Greatest Enemy

Believers in Jesus Christ have a lot of enemies in life.  Some are more serious than others, but there is no doubt, we have many enemies.  For some it’s a co-worker or a classmate.  For others it’s a family member or a former friend.  But I want us to ask, who or what is our greatest enemy?  Now before you answer that too quickly, you might want to think about it on a deeper level.  We are tempted to answer emphatically, “It’s Satan!”, but I’m not convinced he is.  No, I believe our greatest enemy is even more deceptive than Satan.

To identify our greatest enemy, let’s turn to Hebrews 4.  The main topic here is entering God’s Sabbath rest, or heaven.  In the Old Testament, the Promised Land was the rest that the Israelites sought after, and it served as a foreshadowing of the heavenly city to come (Heb.11:13-16).  Hebrews 4:11 emphasizes the seriousness of entering God’s rest, saying,

Hebrews 4:11--“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” 

The word strive is the main verb that drives verses 11-13.  It is a word that describes a passionate effort to do something even at the expense of comfort.  In this case, we are to “strive to enter” heaven because it is worth every pain and discomfort, for we have been called to bear the painful cross of Christ.  We see in verse 11, however, that the Israelites failed to enter God’s rest because of disobedience, and their disobedience remains a temptation for all people even today.  In fact, this disobedience is our greatest enemy.  So this leads us to ask a few questions:


What was the Israelites disobedience?
  The Israelites disobeyed with their unbelief.  Even so, the core of sin is always prideful and selfish unbelief.  Every sin under heaven is a constant cry “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU GOD! ”  or else, "I WON'T BELIEVE YOU GOD!"  Hebrews 3:19 notes the Israelities disobedience through unbelief:

Hebrews 3:19--"So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” 


What did the Israelites fail to believe?
  We see the answer to this particularly in Hebrews 4:2:

Hebrews 4:2--“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” 

They failed to believe the good news of God’s word—His promises of protection, provision, and ultimately salvation.  Rather than believe God, what did the Israelites do?  They listened to their own sinful hearts rather than God.  We too have received good news, called the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Listen carefully.  Believing God’s word is necessary for entering God’s eternal rest, “for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).  That makes unbelief our greatest enemy because it threatens us with hell.  And beware of pride at this point, for pride and unbelief go hand-in-hand.  We often proudly proclaim that we believe God’s word, that we believe the gospel.  But unless a godly lifestyle of repentance and obedience accompanies our belief, there is no real belief.  The Bible testifies to this fact again and again:

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

James 2:26--“You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe—and shudder!”

James 1:22-24-- “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at  himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”


What is our only defense against our greatest enemy of unbelief?
  Hebrews 4:12-13 answers this question for us most powerfully:

Hebrews 4:12-13--"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

Our only hope of slaying the great dragon of unbelief is the word of God.  Notice the three main characteristics of God's word here that bring us hope.

1.  God’s word is living:  The verb used for “living” actually begins the sentence, which emphasizes to us that this is one of the most unique characteristics of the Bible.  It is not your average book.  In fact, there is no other book like it.  It is a living book, and as such, it is life-giving.  We see a multitude of examples of this throughout Scripture.  Here’s just a few:

1 Peter 1:23--“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;”

Deuteronomy 8:3--“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Ezekiel 37:7-10--“So I prophesied as I was commanded.  And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them.  But there  was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”    

2.  God’s word is powerful:  The word for “powerful” is one used to describe God’s word as both effective and active.  As such, God accomplishes His will through it.  Do you remember what God said through Isaiah?

Isaiah 55:10-11—“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do no return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

We must be careful not to get caught up in our own expectations of what we believe the word ought to accomplish.  Too often the preacher is blamed (and sometimes perhaps rightfully so), but friend, if the word of God is preached faithfully and truly, God is doing a mighty work that only He fully understands.

For example, I once had someone approach me after a morning sermon complaining about the length of the sermon (though it was really about the length of the service) and how people “had places to be” and “things to do.”  I politely responded, that if “people have more important things to do, then they were welcome to excuse themselves.”  Interestingly, while this person and a handful of others were murmuring, two people contacted me the next week testifying to the power of God’s word in their lives from that sermon.  God’s word is powerfully effective!

3.  God’s word is piercing:  The Bible is said to be sharper than a double-edged sword.  Such a sword is designed for maximum effectiveness.  The writer piles up the language here.  It’s not just that God’s word is sharper than any two-edged sword but that it is beyond-sharper.

Because of its effective sharpness, God’s word cuts very deeply.  It cuts things that would otherwise be inseparable, like soul from spirit, joints from marrow, and thoughts from intentions.  The point is this: the word of God penetrates to the deepest part of who we are and judges what is there.  Ultimately, God’s word pierces to the depths of the heart discerning whether our thoughts and intentions are believing or unbelieving.  And this is exactly what we need because our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer.17:9).  Hebrews 3:12-13 says it like this:

Hebrews 3:12-13--“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

 As a double-edged sword, God’s word has at least two characteristics:

 a.  It can be a painful-pleasure: Much like the surgical scalpel that cuts through tissue and muscle in order to get to the cancerous tumor, God’s word can be both bitter and sweet.  The cut can be painful, but the cut will result in healing and godly pleasure for God’s people.

 b.  It can be a controversial-peace:  It embitters unbelievers and believers alike because it exposes sin deep in our hearts.  Unbelievers that refuse to believe will continue in this bitterness because they refuse to submit to God’s surgery.  Believers, however, will be renewed through repentance and belief, or else they do not know Christ (1 Jn.1:8-9).

Though the word can be quite controversial, it always brings peace to God’s people.  Listen to what Jesus has taught us, and notice how He alludes to both the controversy and the peace that results from God’s word:

John 16:33--“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have  peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Verse 13 then gives the reason that the word of God is so alive, powerful, and piercing, namely God has a full view of every created thing.  All things are uncovered to the eyes of God.  Literally, the word means naked, which tells us that God is omniscient, knowing all things.  Psalm 139 is one of my favorite reminders of this:

Psalm 139:7-8—“Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee  from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!"

 And all people will give an account to this all-seeing God.  We will all answer for our sin, and only those who have treasured Jesus more than anything else will find mercy on the Day of Judgment.  For Jesus is our high priest, representing His redeemed people before God the Father (Heb.4:14-16).  By God's grace, may we hear the word of God, submit to the painful process of cutting out unbelief, and be renewed through repentance of sin and faith in God's promises.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Jeremy, thank you for this thoughtful and meaty post on our worst enemy. I find myself often praying to God like that father from... Read More
Friday, 11 March 2011 02:33
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, I amen your thoughts. Mark 9:24 is a great reminder to us of our impotency before our Sovereign Father. We have to "be beli... Read More
Saturday, 12 March 2011 00:24
Guest — jeremyvanatta
And about the Chinese: how about a late lunch on Monday in Smithville with Mark?
Saturday, 12 March 2011 00:25
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Double-Standard Discipline

Without doubt, one of the most popular Bible verses among many professing Christians today is, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1).  While anti-judgment sentiments have always been an issue throughout the church's history, we live in an age that prides itself on its non-judgmentalism to a degree not previously known.  This becomes a practical issue when it comes to Chirst's church, and more specifically church discipline.  If we are not supposed to "judge," then what, if anything, should the church do about obvious sin in the lives of professing believers?  But a more basic question must be answered first.  Are these persons who are crying "Don't Judge!" correct in their interpretation of Matthew 7:1.  I give a vehement, "NO!"  They are absolutely in error.  More than that, they are in sin, and I hope to demonstrate my conviction in this article.

While not exhaustive, I want to put forth three reasons that the "Don't Judge" advocate is incorrect, each followed with Scriptural support.  By "Don't Judge" advocate, I am referring to Christians who believe that it is wrong to confront a fellow Christian about sin and to call him to repentance.

1.   "Don't judge" is itself a judgment:  So we can see the irony in the argument immediately.  If we are not supposed to judge at all, then telling other people not to judge is the same as making a judgment.  In this case, the judgment being made is against judging.  So in essence, "Don't Judge" advocates undercut their own conviction from the start, which is the same problem that all postmodern understandings of reality face.  While a bit out of context, Romans 2:1 can be applied to this argument.

Romans 2:1--"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judge.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things

2.   "Don't judge" is steeped in partiality:  Again, we sense the thickness of irony.  For most of the "Don't Judge" advocates, their conviction usually only applies to the things or persons they "love" or in which they have a vested interest.  This is especially true in cases of partiality that involve ethnocentrism, family relations, and authority issues--each of which is important and needs to be illustrated with possible scenarios:

  • Ethnocentrism--This can be seen when the hearts of "Don't Judge" advocates bleed with mercy over a member of their own ethnicity who has committed a grievous sin, but the same mercy is often withheld from a sinner of a different ethnicity.  Therefore, church discipline is for "those other kind of people."

  • Family Relations--The old adage "blood is thicker than water" proves too often true.  This can be seen, for example, when the "Don't Judge" advocate may affirm homosexuality as a sin against God that will be met with God's wrath if Christ is not trusted and this sin forsaken.  Yet, many refuse to believe that their own homosexual son or daughter is bound for hell without Christ, especially if that son or daughter has made a previous "profession of faith."  Therefore, church discipline is for "other sinners outside of my family."

  • Authority Issues--People the world over are depraved sinners ever seeking to be "free" from authority.  One way that this form of partiality manifests itself in the local church is in regard to the pastor-sheep relationship.  Not only have I experienced this first hand as a pastor, but practically all of my pastor friends have experienced the same thing.  Time and again, the "Don't Judge" advocates will defend the members of their own ethnicity, family, or their close friends to the hilt.  If you want to see people's blood boil, then simply obey the Lord's instructions on church discipline, and the "Don't Judge" sword will be thrust in you repeatedly.  Ironically, many of these same "Don't Judge" advocates will gladly throw you under the bus for your own sin, whether perceived or actual.  In other words, the only people subject to church discipline in most evangelical churches today are pastors.  To add insult to injury, churches that discipline the pastor most often do so unbiblically.  Rather than follow the commands of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20, they more often than not skip to Step 4 in the process and rashly excommunicate the man of God, affecting multiple consequences in the life of his family and many families within the church.


James had quite a lot to say about the sin of partiality in his epistle, primarily drawn from chapter 2.  The entire book, however, speaks to the issue of true religion, and the sin of partiality is especially pinpointed as evidence of relgion that is false.

James 2:1--"My brothers, hold no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory."

James 2:8-9--"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as trangressors."

3.    "Don't judge" is rooted in the eisegesis of God's word:  Eisegesis is sort of a tongue-in-cheek term that means that a person reads his own meaning into the Bible rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself (the latter of which we call exegesis).  Now admittedly, all people read into the text due to our naturally biased slant, but this doesn't mean that we should desire to do so.  Rather, our desire should always be to exegete the text, that is bring out the meaning of the text as intended by God through His inspired author.  Eisegesis is severely detrimental when it comes to the church discipline passages in Scripture and in the use of Matthew 7:1 as a supposed defense against church discipline.  This form of partiality can be seen when the "Don't Judge" advocates do one of several things with Holy Scripture:

  • They frequently rip verses out of their context, as in the case of Matthew 7:1

  • They frequently ignore or downplay what the Bible says altogether, as in the case of Matthew 18:15-20 and Galatians 6:1

  • They frequently under-contextualize the Bible (in other words, they say that these verses are for first-century Christians only), as in the case of 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15


In answer to these common twistings of God's word, let's look at a more complete context of these passages.

Matthew 7:1-5 (this passage clearly teaches that the judgment that Jesus has in mind is primarily hypocritical in nature, though He may also be alluding to a final/eternal judgment; but there is no doubt that believers are to help fellow believers remove specks of sin from their lives)
1     "Judge not, that you be not judged.
2     For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
3     Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4     Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?
5     You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

Matthew 18:15-20 (this passage clearly teaches that there is a minimum of a four step process for dealing with sin between Christians for the purpose of reconciliation)
15   "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
16   But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
17   If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
18   Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

Galatians 6:1 (this passage clearly teaches that believers are to restore/reconcile sinning believers back to a repentant status)
"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."

1 Corinthians 5:1-7 (this passage clearly teaches that ignoring and/or enduring sin in the local church leads to arrogance and impurity; therefore, church discipline is actually meant to be a process of humility and purity;  further, excluding an unrepentant believer from church fellowship is for the purpose of reconciliation and for his eternal salvation)
1     "It is acutally reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.
2     And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3     For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.
4     When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
5     you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.
6     Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
7     Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."

2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 (this passage clearly teaches that sinning believers who are unwilling to repent must be excluded from fellowship but that they must continue to be warned of the need of repentance)
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.
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.
15   Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."

In conclusion, while a complete picture of church discipline has not been presented and all objections have not been answered, the basic question of whether Matthew 7:1 condemns all forms of judgment/discipline has been addressed.  We must conclude with Scripture and with common (sanctified) sense that discipline is necessary in all aspects of life and especially within Christ's church.  We can no more deny biblical church discipline than the Lord who gave us the command to carry it out (Matt.18:15-20).  May God in His grace reconcile all of us sinners to Himself and to one another through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Jeremy, you've touched on something so important here. If I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say "Judge not, lest you... Read More
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9 Marks of a Healthy Church

9 Marks of a Healthy Church was published by Crossway and written by Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Bapist, Washington D. C., and the executive director of 9 Marks ministries.

Perhaps one of the more troubling facts regarding the current state of most evangelical churches in America is the dire state of their overall spiritual health. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I am a late comer to Mark Dever's 9 Marks of  a Healthy Church.  Not only do I verge on shame, I'm actually twinged with regret as I have no doubt that Dever's words of wisdom would have strengthened my many weaknesses and failings in my previous pastoral posts had I read his work earlier.

Dever has accomplished much for the church with this book.  Rather than sit on the sidelines in perplexity at the problems facing too many churches, Dever challenges us to contemplate and (re)commit ourselves to nine of the most fundamental catalysts for church health.  While so many things could be said of this book, I will limit our discussion to a brief summary of each of the nine marks:

1.  Expositional preaching: This is the supreme mark of a healthy church.  God brings spiritual life through the expositional preaching of His word.  Expository preaching is preaching that draws its main point from the main point of a particular passage.

2.  Biblical theology:  A healthy church has a biblical understanding of God's character and ways.  Dever summarized the main thrust of the Bible's teaching on God when he noted, "that He is creating; that He is holy; that He is faithful; that He is loving; and that He is sovereign" (p.60).

3.  The Gospel:  A healthy church recognizes the centraility of the work of Christ (death, burial, resurrection) for all those who would repent of sin and believe in His atoning sacrifice.  This repentance and believe is not simply out of tradition but actually changes the way the believer lives.  True repentance and faith is not just a one time thing but is a lifelong characteristic of the believer.

4.  A biblical understanding of conversion: A healthy church understands that conversion is an act of God.  Just as no one can "born themselves" physically, neither can a person be born again spiritually without the initiating and efficacious working of the God the Holy Spirit.

5. A biblical understanding of evangelism: A healthy church is actively evangelistic, but not necessarily in a programmed sort of way.  Rather, evangelism is the natural overflow of Christian worship and fellowship.  Simply put, the church is the evangelistic program.

6. A biblical understanding of church membership: A healthy church emphasizes and requires faithful membership for the sake of purity, accountability, and mutual edification.

7. Biblical church discipline: A healthy church disciplines blatanly sinning members for the sake of the sinner, the ones offended (other believers and God), and the unbelieving world.

8. A concern for discipleship and growth: A healthy church disciples new believers, as well as more mature believers, with the word of God and in mutual accountability around God's word, most easily done through covenanting together around a common statement of believe such as a church covenant.

9. Biblical church leadership: A healthy church seeks out leaders based not on secular qualifications but on biblical qualifications of godly character and trustworthiness.  Both pastors and congregations will be held accountable for what is being taught from the pulpit.

May the Lord continually purify His church and may His church continually submit to His sanctfiying work so that every local body of Christ will be spiritually healthy for God's glory.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Gulf Between Good and Godly

There seems to be a common phrase among many church-goers.  It goes something like this: "They're some good people down there at Insert Church Name."  Yet, if you actually went "down there" to some of these churches you would find out quite quickly that their definition of "good" is not so good.

While we all understand what is meant by this, I have thought about the biblical accuracy of such a phrase.  I have concluded that there is absolutely no biblical foundation for making such a statement, and I hope to demonstrate my claim with three basic points from Scripture:

  1. There is no good personPaul, quoting the Old Testament, reminds us of our depravity before a holy God when he says, "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:12).

  2. Only God is goodJesus teaches us this plainly when He says to the Rich Ruler, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone" (Luke 18:19)

  3. By God's grace, believers are godlyAgain consulting Paul, he reminds us that believers are to be separate from the world.  We are to be godly and that is only possible by God's grace.  "For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you." (2 Corinthians 1:12).


Based on this simple three point approach, I believe we need to re-orient our belief on what constitues "good" and "godly" for there is a world of difference between the two.   Good, by the world's own estimate, falls far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  For God calls us to be more than "good", He calls us to be godly.  Peter says it like this, "But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16).

So, I guess the point I'm getting at is this, who cares if the folks down at the local church are "good" if they aren't godly?  Is it not of far more importance that God's church be known in the community as being godly and holy people?  Is not God's gracious imputation of His righteousness the only thing that separates believers from unbelievers?  Lest we be godly, we will be nothing more than the world around us is? (1 Peter 2:11-12).  So let God's people, who have been saved by His grace, be godly.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Jeremy, thanks for helping us get our point of reference off of other people and onto God. When we compare people to other people... Read More
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Guest — Ben
Sorry about that messed up hyperlink in my comment. My HTML is novice!
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Guest — jeremyvanatta
Thanks for your comments. There was more that I wanted to say in the blog but was trying to keep it short and simple. Your comme... Read More
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Church Planter

Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission was published by Crossway and written by Darren Patrick, who is the vice president of the Acts 29 Network and the founding pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis.  Patrick has organized the material for his book around the simple premise noted in the title and sub-title.  It seems good to present this review with that same organization in mind.

Church Planter: The Man--In essence, Patrick describes the qualified church planter as a man who has been genuinely saved by grace, called of God, meeting the biblical qualifications of elder/bishop/pastor, who is dependent on God, skilled in teaching the Bible, able to shephered the flock of God, and determined not to turn his back on the task no matter the personal cost.

Church Planter: The Message--In this section, Patrick discusses the message that the qualified church planter will proclaim.  The message is the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message rooted in actual history, that results in salvation for all that repent of sin and believe in Christ, a message that is centered on Christ rather than sinful man, that exposes sin for what it is and what it does, and a message that destroys man-made idols that hinder whole-hearted worship of God.

Church Planter: The Mission--Patrick ends the book with this section on the church planter's mission.  Each chapter addresses an area of the mission including the necessity of the church planter having a compassionate heart, carrying out the mission through the local church (as opposed to para-church organizations), contextualizing the gospel, caring for the less fortunate, and hoping and aiming for city transformation.

Strengths of the book include Patricks' faithfulness to the Bible and biblical orthodoxy when addressing issues in the sections on The Man and The Message.  For Patrick, the church planter must be a man, and a saved, called, qualified man at that.  Additionally, the church planter must be a preacher of the historical, saving, Christ-centered gospel that exposes sin and crushes idols.  This is a breath of fresh air in an area that too often encounters mush.  The Mission section also challenged the reader to think deeply about how compassion is a key component for every church planter and every pastor in general.  Each of these strengths coupled with the fact that the book is an introductory work for church planting types, makes it a valuable tool.

Weaknesses of the book are most notable in the final section The Mission.  The previous sections were outstanding material, especially for potential church planters who may not have a solid foundation in the areas of biblical qualifications of pastors and the biblical understanding of the gospel.  Patrick's  section on the church planter's mission was also insightful, yet it lacked the jolt of the previous discussions.  The greatest weakness of The Mission was the discussion of contextualization.  To be fair, Patrick acknowledged the slippery slope of contextualization.  On one end there is under-contextualization that ignores a cultures "language, customs, politics, and belief systems" (p.194).  On the other end there is over-contextualization that subverts the gospel to the authority of culture.  I agree with his point here.  While I also agree with Patrick's main premise that the church will always carry cultural baggage and have a certain cultural flavor to it, I do think too much is made of this principle in the book.  As I have heard Thabiti Anyabwile say, the church is indeed multi-ethnic but that does not mean it is multi-cultural.  Rather, the church has its own culture, which in reality is counter-cultural.  There is neither time nor space to elaborate on the issue here, so much has been left unsaid.  All in all, Patrick has done a good job handling even this aspect of church planting.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Call His Name Jesus

I love Christmas.  I love the sights, sounds, songs, and smells.  I love the candies.  I love the family reunions and the gathering of friends.  I love the gifts and the givers.  But as much as I love these things, I do not love them in and of themselves.  I love these things because they remind me of the One who loved me first.

Every year there seem to be more and more stress-laden, unhappy partakers in the holiday we call Christmas.  It is almost as if someone forgot to give these pessimistic prunes the memo: CHRISTmas is coming.  On the other extreme, you have the euphorical extremists all tanked up on the materialism of it all.  It is almost as if someone forgot to give these optimistic ones the same memo: CHRISTmas is coming.  You see, both have lost sight of the bigger picture and turned in on themselves as the center of Christmas.

But Christmas is far from being about self and what self wants. Christmas is about the Christ child who was sent on a mission by God.  This was a rescue mission.  The mission was this: deliver God's people from themSELVES.  For the child born in a stable and laid in a manger grew up to be the man of sorrows, crushed for the inquities of His people.  So Christmas should never be about fulfilling our selfish desires, no matter what form they take. Christmas, always and forever, should be about Jesus Christ, Son of God. Christmas should always bring hope to the hopeless, and we all fit that bill.  For without Christ, we all are a hopeless people.  Hopelessly searching for happiness, contentment, or simply stuff.  Hopelessly headed for eternal destruction in hell.

Yet, God reminds us of the simply profound message of Christmas:  "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).  Now that is worth celebrating!

Merry Christmas!

Jeremy Vanatta
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Jeremy, merry CHRISTmas to you and your family. I know this is late but I just read it. Thanks for a reminder, which I am finding ... Read More
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Slippery Little Fellas

It seems most natural for man to fear serpents.  All the world over snakes find themselves the repeated targets of panicked ophidiophobics (snake-fearers).  Two memorable occasions stand out in my experience that prove my point.  One was watching a "macho" fifteen year old boy run out of the tobacco field screaming like a lady and cussing like a sailor because he saw a rattlesnake.  The other was observing twenty or so African men in Zimbabwe, along with a few Americans, gathering  around a puff adder with rocks in hand.  I imagined in that moment what it must have felt like to be the woman caught in adultery or Stephen who was martyred for his testimony about Jesus Chirst.  As with Stephen, the puff adder died for his testimony--the adder's testimony being, "Yes, I am an adder.  Here I lie!"

In some ways, man's fear of serpents is unwarranted and more often rooted in frenzy rather than fact.  Serpents, however, can be dangerous creatures depending on the ones you encounter.  Perhaps one of the reasons that man has such difficulty with snakes is because they are simply so stealthy.  Yes, most snakes bite and/or coil, and some snakes use venom on their prey.  But at the end of the day, these predatory features are only as useful as a snake's slipperiness.  They accomplish such stealth via their God-cursed ability of slithering from place to place.

We can draw many parallels between serpents and the perennial enemy of God's church.  Satan, with false teachers under his direction, have always posed a threat to the health of the local expressions of Christ's body.  While we all freely admit that false teachers are dangerous for the church, it is their slithery character that catches us off guard.   Jude reminds us of this dangerous aspect of false teachers when he writes, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4).   Notice that they "crept in" (the verb literally means, "to go down into" or "to come alongside").  The implication of the word is saturated with creepiness and stealthiness.  False teachers are indeed slippery little fellas.

Well, since false teachers are so dangerous, what exactly are the dangers?  I will attempt to answer this question only briefly and partially using Scripture as our guide.  False teachers may have one, more, or all of these ten dangerous characteristics:

Dangers of False Teachers

1.  They disguise themselves as sheep but are really ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15)

2.  They will bring destructive heresies into the church secretly (1 Peter 1:21)

3.  They lead many astray (Matthew 24:11)

4.  They are spoken well of by "all" (Luke 6:26)

5.  They attack true believers (1 Corinthians 11:26)

6.  They preach a form of works-righteousness rather than grace (Galatians 2:4)

7.  They stray from core Christian beliefs (1 Timothy 6:3-4)

8.  They are arrogant, though this may be hidden beneath sheep's clothing (1 Timothy 6:4)

9.  They are greedy and liars (1 Timothy 6:5-10; Titus 1:10-16)

10.  They seek to please man rather than God (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Therefore, Christians ought to be on the lookout for such Slippery Little Fellas.  Prayerfully, these ten dangers will remind us of their character and tactics.  May God continue to protect His church and His truth from the wiles of the Serpent and all his brood.
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Guest — Ben
Excellent post, Jeremy! Well thought out and engagingly written! I'll have to tell you about my rattlesnake incident sometime. ... Read More
Sunday, 19 December 2010 15:40
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, I can't wait to hear your snake story. If you're a secret snake-handler, then we need to talk because I don't think West Mai... Read More
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 01:22
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Anti-Santa or Pro-Christ?

[This is an updated version of an article written several years ago]

Christmas is undoubtedly one of my favorite times of the year.  While I abhor the plague of syncretistic paganism that envelopes much of the holiday season as much as the next Christian, God always works it out to His glory.  Despite the world's effort to euthanize Christ from Christmas, the Star of the show shines brightly on.

But all the traditions do pose a challenge for the Christian.  Specifically, how do Christians maintain as central that which is central to Christmas, namely God's plan of salvation for sinners through Jesus?

One of those aspects that my wife and I have wrestled with is Santa Claus.  We both grew up in homes that told their young children that Santa was real, Santa knew all your deeds, and Santa was the giver of gifts at Christmas.  After we married and before God blessed us with children, we began discussing the Santa issue.  After many conversations, we opted out of "being Santa" for our then future children for a variety of reasons, but our top five are below.

1)  Being Santa de-centralizes the centerpiece of Christmas--Jesus:  This one is difficult to get around.  Yes, the historical St. Nick is worthy of respect and honor.  We can learn much from his heralded compassion and kindness.  Yet it remains, that it's all about Jesus.

2)  Being Santa attributes divine characteristics to Santa that belong to Jesus:  In many ways, this may be the most serious issue.  Only the Divine Jesus knows all of our thoughts and deeds.  To ascribe any other being but our God with these divine characteristics is idolatry.  In our minds, it is all pretend.  In the minds of children, it is somethhing altogether different, which leads  to numbers three and four.

3)  Being Santa lends itself to covetousness and idolatry rather than worship of Jesus:  If our children are more concerned about Santa because of what kinds of gifts he can bring than they are about Jesus for the gift that He is to sinners, then we have contributed to our children's already idolatrous nature.  In addition, I've heard many parents proclaim they're love of "being Santa" because of the priceless "joy" or "look on my kids' faces."  It seems this is a slippery slope toward parents idolizing their children rather than worshipping Jesus.

4)  Being Santa introduces mythological themes into historical realityChristmas is about the truth  of Jesus Christ.  Why then would the believer want to introduce mythological elements into a holiday that Christians celebrate as a historical reality, that Christ is born?

5)  Being Santa lends itself to immorality rather than holiness:  Since many parents that "do Santa" lie to their children about Santa, then one must question the very foundation of "doing Santa."  This is not the same as a temporary, birthday-surprise type situation.  We are talking about a deception that is maintained anywhere from three to ten years.  Add to this, Christmas is supposed to be about the truth that Jesus is indeed "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  Therefore, it does not seem the wiser to mix fact and fiction at Christmas time.

Of course, many people (often professing Christians) seem to have a beef with folks like us.  Some are genuinely curious as to why we don't do Santa.  Others are downright indignant.  Here's some of the reactions we received over the years:

1)  "Aren't your kids missing out on all the fun at Christmas?"An alternate version of this questions is, "Aren't your kids missing out on their childhood?"  Of course, this assumes that Christmas is about having fun and getting stuff.  Now granted, Christmas is lots of fun and should be, but I know plenty of children (including mine) that have never been fed the Santa tradition and who think Christmas just as grand.  In essence, they don't really care so much about Santa as they do about getting stuff.  Either way, you have to deal with a child's covetous idolatry (the "Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome), and we believe that task is best accomplished by focusing on historical truth at Christmas.

2)  "You're just being legalistic."First off, we must use the term legalism carefully, since it often requires that we know the motivations of someone's heart, and we can only know their motivations by getting to know them personally.

Second, legalism can only be legalism if it is a belief or practice that a person believes sets them apart as more righteous than another person and obtains for themselves a more righteous standing with God.  And this is certainly not where we stand.  A Christian's righteous standing with God is by His grace alone through faith in Jesus.  Thus, my wife and I don't judge other Christians for "being Santa."  Rather, this article is not religious dogma but a call to consideration from fellow believers.

3)  "So, you don't celebrate Christmas?":  We were meeting with a group of Christians once, and we happened to share with them that we "don't do Santa".  One lady in the group said, "So, you don't celebrate Christmas?  You don't do gifts?"  Indeed, the Santa myth is deeply ingrained even among adult Christians.  Apparently for some, leaving Santa out of Christmas is no longer Christmas.  Thus, we see plainly the real and present danger of neglecting the Savior during the holiday.

All this to say, let us keep central that which is central at Christmas.  Christians, if you choose to "do Santa", then do it.  But by all means, please be careful in how you deal with the historical truth of Jesus coming into the world at Bethlehem, living a sinless life that we couldn't live ourselves, taking God's wrath against sin that we ourselves deserved at the cross, and rising from the dead so that everyone that turns from sin and follows Him will have eternal life.

Merry Christmas!
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben Simpson
Jeremy, thanks for laying out your reasons for being countercultural at Christmastime. Christy and I have certainly struggled alo... Read More
Tuesday, 14 December 2010 06:00
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, I really appreciate you sharing your and Christy's background on this topic. Sarah and I did not come to our decision on Sant... Read More
Wednesday, 15 December 2010 01:26
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Church Planting Is for Wimps

The book Church Planting Is For Wimps is not, as you might guess from the title, your typical approach to the topic of church planting.  As his subtitle notes, the author, Mike McKinley, admits that he is a messed-up person.  Immediately, the (honest) reader can relate.  McKinley served on the staff of Capital Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C.  In 2005, God called him to revitalize Guilford Baptist Church, Sterling, VA.  This book is a recounting of how God used McKinley to accomplish this feat.

McKinley writes openly and honestly, with humor and insight.  He has a knack for keeping the reader involved in the story.  Of course, the title communicates much sarcasm since the book is the story of a church revitalization as opposed to a fresh plant; but McKinley in no way communicates disdain for church planting.  The book is a must read for those praying about church planting or revitalization.  While there are plenty of wisdom nuggets to be found in the book, I want to share the following three:

1)  Beware of contextualization: while certain aspects of contextualization have their place, it does seem to be the newest catchphrase for the "homogeneous unit principle"--you know, the "pick your social demographic and appeal . . . to them" (p.20) model.  This form of contextualization is problematic for at least two reasons: it caters to the flesh rather than the spirit, and it steers God's people away from a gospel-centered unity.  As McKinley noted, "People favor people who favor them.  They favor goods and services tailored to their tastes and how they want to perceive themselves.  Niche marketing works." (p.17).  But, as he went on, "if you look at what the Bible says on this subject, you'll see that one of the glories of the gospel is that it reconciles people that could never be reconciled without it." (p.18).

2)  The preaching of God's word must be central: McKinley reminds us that if we fail to preach the word of God, then we fail altogether.  He wrote, "the one thing that Christians and non-Christians need is the Word of God.  It is alive and powerful, and it's what our churches need." (p.53).  He encourages the church planter to never allow the the preaching of the Word to be decentralized by a plethora of pragmatic and administrative details.

3) Beware of "obessing over church size": McKinley spoke plainly on this point, "Let me be straightforward.  The obsession with church size is killing many church planters.  I used to drop in occasionally on a gathering of local church planters.  There was a running tension in the group--everyone either subtly bragged about the size of his church (while trying to seem like they weren't) or made excuses for it." (p.107).  He warns us of the clear and present danger of numberitis.

While these three points fall short of all that Church Planting Is For Wimps relates to the reader, they do serve as a launching point for those interested in further helps in the arena of church planting and revitalization.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben
Sounds like an interesting book. I actually went to McKinley's breakout session at T4G 2010. He really has a multicultural church!... Read More
Friday, 03 December 2010 18:23
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, those are some thoughtful questions. First off, there are a variety of factors to take into account. For example, since the... Read More
Sunday, 05 December 2010 16:23
Guest — Ben Simpson
Jeremy, I just saw your reply. I thought I had set it up to email comments, but I guess it didn't work. Two other barriers to ch... Read More
Thursday, 09 December 2010 14:31
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The Unquenchable Flame

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, written by Michael Reeves, the Theological Advisor for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship.  Reeves has written a concise and comedic history of the sixteenth-century Reformation.  To use the adjectives "concise" and "comedic" to describe a history book may seem oxymoronic, but both words fit the bill.  Not only this, Reeves' account is accurate, balanced, and thoughtful.

Space would not allow for sharing all of the most significant points that this little book brings to light, but I must note at least the following four:

1)  The Reformers, while far from perfect in a variety of ways, risked all for the sake of returning the Church to a biblical understanding of the gospel: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, God's glory alone.

2)  Opponents of the gospel hate God's word.  The Roman Catholic Church and its devotees feared the translation of God's word into "common" languages more than anything else because they knew it would lead to the questioning of their authority regarding church tradition and popish dogma.  We can find a correlation with today.  Today, many professing Christians hate the expositional preaching of God's word either out of fear or flat out boredom.  Those that fear it do so because it challenges their traditions and preconceived notions of God, not to mention that it brings them face to face with some of the most difficult texts in Scripture such as, "He who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt.24:13); and "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him." (John 6:44).  Those that find it boring usually do so because they want their flesh fed (John 6:25-27) or are simply indifferent (1 Cor. 2:14).

3) The heart of the Reformation was not political but religious.  Now admitedly, the radical fringes were quite political, and even the mainstream reformers found themselves inextricably intertwnined in political issues.  The heart of the Luthers, Calvins, and Zwinglis, however, was one of religious intent.  For the likes of these, the Reformation was about the truth of salvation.

4) Related to the previous point, the heart of the Reformation was justification by faith alone.  If all other things could be agreed upon, yet it remains that the marked difference between Catholic and Protestant was and is the doctrine of justification by faith.  Luther said, "Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed." because it is the belief "on which the church stands or falls".  Reeves concurs, "Justification was what made the Reformation the Reformation." (p.176).  It is here that the line must be drawn and maintained.  For the Catholic, justification by faith is the process of becoming more holy and thus becoming more worthy of salvation.  For Reformers, justification by faith is the declaration of God that the sinner, whille still a sinner, has been given the righteousness of Christ.  The argument may seem to be a mere wrangling over words, and at one level that is true; but it is so much more than that.  What is at stake when one wrangles with these hot-bed words?  The gospel itself.  The Catholic side says one must develop a righteousness, with God's help, that will result in salvation.  The Reformer says one must simply receive the righteousness of Christ by God's grace through faith in Christ, which results in salvation.

In conclusion, we must ask with Reeves and many other contemporary figures, "Is the Reformation over?  Reeves, and I with him, give a resounding, "NO!"  As long as the enemy continues to lead so many (including Protestants) into the error of thinking that the sinner can muster up a righteousness of his own in order to obtain salvation, the Reformation must continue to cry, "Solus Christus!"

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Guest — Ben
Jeremy, I've not read the book, but it sounds interesting! Number 2 is incredibly critical for our present situation. I pray tha... Read More
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 12:08
Guest — Ben
Sorry, I meant "numbers 1&3" in that 4th sentence.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 12:09
Guest — Jeremy Vanatta
Right on Ben. Number 2 was mostly an inference from what Reeves was saying. Regarding Number 1, Reeves admitted several imperfecti... Read More
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 14:12
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Essential Things or Not: Do All to the Glory of God

Perhaps one of the greatest struggles for followers of Jesus Christ is the very real tension between essential and less-essential matters within Christianity.  If the The Threshing Floor is going to be of any use to anyone (not the least of which, me), then we must bear in mind that some wheat kernels that fall to the ground are less essential than others.  When we speak of essential matters, most Christians are referring to the most fundamental truths of Christianity.  Truths that would render Christianity quite unremarkable and quite impotent if they were ignored or adjusted.

What are some of these essential truths (also referred to as core or fundamental truths)?  To name only a few, we should mention: the sovereignty and holiness of God; the sinfulness of man; the virgin conception of Jesus, His substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection; His Second Coming; justification of the sinner by faith in Christ alone; and the sanctification of all those who are genuinely His.

What, then, are some of the less-essential truths (also known as non-core or secondary truths)?  Again to name only a few, we should mention: Sabbath-keeping; frequency of Lord Supper observance; food choices; clothing choices; alcohol consumption; tattoos; styles of music; speaking in tongues; and the list could go on and on.

On all of the essential truths, Christians must be inflexible and vigilant as the assaults of the enemy are relentless here.  We can in no way deny these truths without denying the very core of Christianity itself. But what should Christians do with the less-essential truths of Christianity?  Paul's instructions to the Corinthians can be especially helpful here.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul writes about the less-essential issue of meat that has been sacrificed to idols.  Should a Christian eat or not?  Many believers would immediately answer, "No way!  Don't eat it!"  But Paul instructs us differently.  He actually says, "Eat" (v.25), although we should be able to answer "Yes!" to at least two questions:
1)  Is it helpful to my neighbor? (1 Cor.10:23-24; Rom.14:13-19)
2)  Does it bring glory to God? (1 Cor.10:31)

If the answer to either question is no, then the Christian must not partake.  If, however, the Christian's conscience is clear on these two points, then he may proceed, all to the glory of God.  I pray this helps us in at least some small way to navigate the often confusing maze of truth.
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Guest — Nick Nokes
I really enjoyed this one. Keep up the good work!
Monday, 06 December 2010 21:18
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Thanks Nick. I pray God uses it in our lives for His glory.
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 05:47
Guest — Brad
One of the scariest things I see happening within the American Church today is the addition that is taking place concerning first ... Read More
Friday, 10 December 2010 13:55
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Threshing It Out

Some may wonder why I've chosen "The Threshing Floor" as the title for my new blog.  To explain, I must first describe what a threshing floor exactly is.  In pre-modern cultures, the threshing floor is a flat surface made of dirt or stone where the harvested wheat stalks are brought so that the wheat grains can be separated from the chaff.  The workers smack the wheat stalks against a hard surface until the grain heads are removed.  They then grab their winnowing forks, scoop up a load of the wheat/chaff, toss it into the air and let wind and gravity finish the job.  The chaff is blown away by the wind and the good grain falls to the threshing floor.

For many years, people have used the threshing floor as a metaphor for life.  Just as the wheat must be separated from the chaff before it can serve any good purpose, so too must truth be separated from falsehood, especially as it relates to our Creator God.  This is the sole intention of "The Threshing Floor."  Here we will strive to separate the truth from fiction when it comes to any number of biblical issues, for there is more at stake than many may realize, even our very souls.

So I hope you join me here on The Threshing Floor as we thresh out the truth.

For His Glory,
Jeremy
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Guest — Ben
I'm looking forward to reading what you put forth. May God bless this medium for His glory and our edification!
Saturday, 20 November 2010 22:26
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A Whole New World

Well, here goes.  I've resisted the blogging world for some time.  I've come close via my Facebook account but never an actual blog.  So this will be the beginning of a beautiful thing perhaps.  I am new to how these work exactly.  Therefore, I ask for much patience as I strive to set it up and use it for the glory of God and the building up of people.
For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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