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Precious Babies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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How NOT to Leave a Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Communication and Correction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps in Corrective Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Remove the Persistent Agitator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Election Time

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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The Ephesians 4 Project: In the Bond of Peace

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

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

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project XVII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Jeremy, I've read this article before, but given some of the debates I've been in on the blogosphere, this article is evermore rel... Read More
Monday, 13 June 2011 00:24
Guest — jeremyvanatta
You're right been. It is a sad day when Southern Baptists are not cooperative with other like-minded (not same-minded) believers ... Read More
Monday, 13 June 2011 01:10
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article X

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

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

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

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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I'm not sure about this unity thing when it comes to eschatology! Just kidding. Once again, the BF&M does a great job of leaving... Read More
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 10:27
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, you've pinpointed the entire reason that I've pursued The Ephesians 4 Project. To lose our heads over most secondary, and fo... Read More
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 23:30
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article IX.

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

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

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

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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I'm glad to have a King and to be a part of the Kingdom!
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 10:00
Guest — jeremyvanatta
For sure!
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 23:26
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VIII

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

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

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

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

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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I think the BF&M 2000 got it right placing the activities of the Lord's Day under the authority of the Christian conscience. Sund... Read More
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 10:56
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Ben, I agree, despite my great respect for the Sabbatarian Puritans : ) Sola Fide, Jeremy
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 15:48
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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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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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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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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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Guest — Ben
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
Friday, 14 January 2011 02:03
Guest — Ben
Sorry about that messed up hyperlink in my comment. My HTML is novice!
Friday, 14 January 2011 02:05
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
Saturday, 15 January 2011 01:25
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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
Tuesday, 28 December 2010 04:58
Guest — jeremyvanatta
Thanks Brad and Merry Christmas to you and yours and a Happy New Year blessed by our God. You're right. It is amazing how quickl... Read More
Tuesday, 28 December 2010 23:45
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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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