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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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