"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

A Spirit of Forgiveness Is Peculiar to God's People

I've got three seconds to pique your interest to read this article. Some of you have already scanned it and said, "I'm not reading it, it's too long." Here's the reason why you should.

You may be the woman whose husband left you for a younger, prettier version of yourself.

You may be the adult who endured trauma during your childhood at the hands of one who should have loved you, but instead abused you.

You may be someone who has been falsely accused by others in an intentional attempt to ruin your reputation and career.

You may be the church member who experienced spiritual abuse by authoritarian church leaders who seemed more interested in protecting their institution than offering loving support to members of said institution.

In other words,  you may be a person in need of an understanding of biblical forgiveness.

Let's begin:

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." 
 
These words are from Jesus on the cross. Matthew Henry, in his Concise Commentary on the Scripture, writes "As soon as Christ was fastened to the cross, he prayed for those who crucified him."
 
A couple of things need to said about those for whom He prayed:
 
(1). They were intentional. They were intentional in their shouts "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" They were intentional in their desires that Jesus be killed. They were intentional in everything they did.
(2). They brought injury.  It's self-evident that crucifixion brought injury to Jesus. Yet, not many consider the injury that came to His mother who watched Him die. Nor do any of us fully understand the injury of those who had followed Him every step of the way for the previous three years.
(3). They possessed ignorance. According to Gill, "they did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, nor the prophecies concerning him, nor the evil they were committing." Paul said had they not been ignorant, they would not have crucified the Lord (Acts 3:27). This ignorance is simply descriptive of the persons crucifying Jesus, and is not the basis for their forgiveness. Remember, they were intentionally injurious; the ignorance was in relation to "Whom" they were crucifying. Had not this forgiving spirit been in the Son and His request to forgive been made, the Father very well may have struck all the crucifiers down immediately and catastrophically in righteous judgment.
 
These ten words of Jesus, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," comprise the first of seven last statements of Jesus from the cross. They also fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12; "He made intercession for the transgressors."


This spirit toward intentional, injurious, and ignorant sinners is a peculiar character quality of God's people. Nobody else in the world has this spirit.

A Difference Between the Spirit and the Act of Forgiveness

Much of the confusion about "forgiveness" can be resolved when one understands the difference between the spirit of forgiveness and the act of forgiveness.  Only God can ultimately forgive sin. ("Father, forgive them...") for in the end, all sin is ultimately against God.

Though our God alone is ultimately the One who forgives, we are called to maintain a spirit of forgiveness toward all people, just as Christ had this spirit on the cross.

Albert Barnes put it like this:
"No other religion "teaches" people to pray for the forgiveness of enemies; no other "disposes" them to do it. Men of the world seek for "revenge;" the Christian bears reproaches and persecutions with patience, and prays that God would pardon those who injure them, and save them from their sins."
We must actively maintain a spirit of forgiveness toward the injurious, intentional and often ignorant persons who are in the act of harming us. Jesus language on the cross was in the present, active tense, "Father, forgive them for what they are doing..."

Here's the hard part. When the injurious, intentional and often ignorant person says "I repent," we are to forgive. Forgiveness is not granted until there is repentance, but I've found that as long as there is always a willingness (spirit) to forgive, the act of forgiveness is relatively easy. It's a little bit like "We love Him because He FIRST loved us." In a spirit and climate where people are known to be willing to forgive, real repentance grows like flowers in a well-water garden.

Someone has said, "Forgiveness without forgetting is like loving without liking." I tend to agree. That's why it is impossible for people to judicially forgive, and why we should remember that ultimately only God forgives sin, but we should all possess His Son's spirit of forgiveness. We should want the intentional, injurious, and ignorant sinners who cause harm to others to come to the place of repentance, find peace with God, and change their injurious behavior.

Until they do, we will always maintain a spirit of forgiveness, forgiving them when they say, "I repent." In addition, until they come to repentance, we will in love continue to point out sin when it occurs. Further, we will even forgive the intentional, injurious, and ignorant sinners for the same sin, again-and again-and again -even if they sin repetitively (seven times in one day) or infinitely (seventy times seven) because this is precisely what Jesus commanded us to do.

Two Key Questions

So how do we know that we have the spirit of forgiveness?

Answer: We don't question the motives of the intentional, injurious, and ignorant people who cause us harm when they say they repent.

So if we 'forgive' does that mean we don't remember their sin in the future?

Answer: No. We are human. Only God can judicially forget. The child predator's actions must be remembered and standards of accountability implemented. The unfaithful spouse's actions must be remembered and the consequences of the infidelity felt (i.e. "divorce, annulment, etc...). The action of an oppressive church leadership government that places a covenant above a congregant must be remembered and steps taken to stop the spiritual abuse, if not completely abandon of the abusive church.

But the entire time we stand for truth, we must always display a spirit that is willing, hopeful and desirous of God to forgive and bring to repentance.

Though Jesus was willing to forgive those who crucified Him, they were not forgiven until they acknowledged their wrong and repented of it (Luke 23:34; Acts 2:36-39). When one refuses to repent, he is to be regarded as a "heathen and a tax collector to you" (Matt. 18:15-17).

Here's the difficulty for us all. "How do we know someone has 'truly repented?'" Answer: We don't. All we can do is maintain a spirit of forgiveness, speaking truth where we see sin, and granting forgiveness when a brother or sister in Christ says "I repent."

So here's the formula: Speak the truth in love. Be a person full of grace and truth. Be willing to forgive when repentance comes, and don't be a judge of whether or not repentance is real by questioning the motive of someone's statement of repentance. Forgive and forget as much as humanly possible, but never be afraid to speak out against sin, and never neglect the protection of helpless.
Maintaining a spirit of forgiveness means we must make a separation between the actions of the injurious person and our acceptance of that injurious person.
(1). In having a forgiving spirit I will want those who injure to ultimately be blessed by God in the same manner that I am blessed by Him - "Father, forgive them..."
(2). I am not dependent on the behavior of others for my personal happiness; I look to God for my inner satisfaction and happiness. To the extent I am able to trust God with my past, present and future is the measure of my ability to pray- "Father, forgive them...".
(3). I will never confuse actual forgiveness with a spirit of forgiveness. Ultimately God will cast sin and its consequences into the sea of forgetfulness, but until then, I will continue to point out injustice, I will continue to protect the helpless, and I will continue to encourage the broken -- all the while praying for the intentional, injurious and ignorant persons who harm the innocent.  
This spirit is unique among Christians. It's peculiar to we who follow.

It's the mark of genuine Christianity.

Simply SAYING " I Repent," Means I Must Forgive

I am an equal opportunity offender. My writing will often irritate people who are on polar opposite ends of an issue. Even those who know me well and call me a friend will at times dislike what I write. But I don't hesitate to say what I feel needs to be said, regardless of how people feel about me saying it. This is a post that may upset more than a few people, particularly those of you who've been injured or hurt by the institutional church.

Matt Chandler and the elders of Village Church have apologized for their actions against Karen Hinkley and others whom they've placed under discipline for violating Village's membership covenant. They've specifically said "In every way that we’ve mishandled this (Karen Hinkley's) situation, along with others in the past, we repent and ask for forgiveness."

I can't speak for anyone else in this matter, including Karen Hinkley. I can only represent myself.

I accept Village elders' apology and statement of repentance.

I may choose to write again in the future about covenant membership in general, but I will not write on Village's mishandling of the Karen Hinkley situation, or write of Village Church for that matter in relation to this situation. I will do anything I can to help Karen Hinkley, including giving her financial support and advice (were she to ever ask). I believe that very few people could ever understand the pain Karen has been through, but I marvel at how she has publicly handled herself in her writings. She has displayed a grace and maturity beyond her years.

Some may not care to understand why I must forgive Village, but for those interested, let me give you my reasoning.

(1). Village elders did exactly what I thought they should do in seeking forgiveness for their actions, reversing their decision regarding Karen's membership and allowing her to "withdraw from membership," and promising not to speak on her behalf again
.
(2). Jesus said in Luke 17:4, "If your brothers sins against seven times in a day and  SAYS (every time)  'I repent...you MUST forgive him." Many Christians--just like the disciples in Jesus day--will say, "We don't have enough FAITH to do that!" Jesus responds, "It's not a matter of enough faith - the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. It's a matter of obedience. You MUST forgive." I will not play any role in judging the sincerity of Matt Chandler and the elders. They have said they repent, and I must forgive them.

(3). When I forgive others, I think of God's forgiveness of me. I'll not go into a doctrinal discussion on the forgiveness of God for me, but I can guarantee you my forgiveness of Village Church will be modeled after what I see Scripture to teach of God's forgiveness of me.

(4). I do not consider this forgiveness "cheap grace." I consider this forgiveness to be real grace. God's kind of grace. Thank God that He forgives me not based on my sincerity or promise "to never do it again,", but based on my acknowledgement of sin and plea for His mercy.

My thoughts, prayers, and admiration are with both Karen Hinkley and Village Church.

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Postscript: I will be unable to respond to any comments on this post until sometime next week.

Five Reasons to Say "No" to a Church Covenant

"But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all ... All you need to say is
simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
Jesus
 
 
 


Village Church in Dallas, Texas recently placed a member named Karen Root  under church discipline because she annulled her marriage with a confessed child pornographer.  A letter Village Church elders sent to members last Saturday (May 23, 2015) gave their logic for placing Karen under church discipline. The elders believed they had no choice because Karen violated the church covenant that she signed when she joined Village Church. Specifically, Karen violated the covenant by not getting church leaders' permission to file for an annulment. The elders wrote:    
"...Karen filed for an immediate annulment of her marriage to Jordan apart from the counsel of the church... (by) signing the Membership Covenant, a member agrees ... to receive our care..."
Karen had respectfully requested withdrawal of membership from Village Church, but the elders wouldn't allow it because she had not sought their counsel. She refused to come "under their care," so they put Karen under discipline. No Village Church member under discipline, wrote Village church authorities, can "withdraw" from membership. Therefore, Village pastors/elders "refused to accept" Karen's request to withdraw from Village membership.

This is an ugly situation all the way around. Village Church leaders--regardless of the vocal criticism they receive--believe they are men of integrity. They are, in their minds, fulfilling their pastoral role and abiding by the church covenant they demanded everyone sign before they became members. Some who are not members of Village are blaming Karen for signing a church covenant. Nobody should blame Karen. She, like other evangelicals, probably had no idea of the ultimate consequences of signing church covenants. The guilt lies with church authorities who demanded signatures from prospective members that turned their spiritual formation and maturation over to mere men instead of the Holy Spirit.

Read Village's Church Covenant. It's chilling when it comes to the authority of elders and church leaders. Here are some of the phrases that the prospective member must read and then sign, vowing their allegiance to obey:
  • I understand the importance of submission to church leadership
  • I will submit to the elders and other appointed leaders of the church
  • I will agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse
I've written several articles stating that the major problem in modern evangelical Christianity is the authoritarianism of evangelical leaders. I have sought to explain how pastors/elders "twist the Scriptures" and demand "obedience and submission" to this alleged authority. Jesus tells us that that true 'spiritual leaders' are only servants, never masters. Yet, evangelical leaders seem not to be listening to Jesus.

With this in mind, I would like to give you five reasons why I would never sign a church membership covenant in order to become a member.

(1). A church covenant makes the Holy Spirit irrelevant in my life.

We are called in Scripture to be led "by the Spirit." Though there is counsel in the wisdom of many, when I sign a church covenant I abdicate my right to hear from the Spirit myself. When Karen Root resigned her membership from Village, she stated "I have sought the Lord diligently and several godly people I trust..." That wasn't good enough for Village elders; Karen didn't seek them out. A church covenant fetters one's ability to seek the Spirit's wisdom and advice from godly people other than the elders and pastors of the church that demanded you to sign.
 
(2). A church covenant replaces my one true Mediator with inferior mediators.
 
I have only One High Priest who stands between me and God - Jesus, the Son of God - and anyone who comes between me and Jesus as I walk by His counsel and His wisdom is a detriment to my growth. A true servant in the Kingdom will only and always point me  to Jesus Christ for my marching orders, and will never demand that I accept their orders as from God. When I sign a church covenant I'm in essence handing over the authority of Jesus Christ in my life to mere men.
 
(3). A church covenant makes the institutional church equivalent to the Kingdom of God.
  
 A 501c-3 non-profit institutional church plays an important role in the Kingdom of God, but the local church is not the kingdom of God.  Anyone who knows history understands that institutional churches who demand spiritual authority over individual believers have wrongly placed their institution on par with God's Kingdom. For example, the great 17th century Baptist hymn writer and theologian Benjamin Keach decided to write a book for children containing evangelical truth. Authorities of the Church of England sought to execute him for writing that infant baptism was not biblical. On what basis could the Church of England kill Benjamin Keach? Answer: The same basis Village Church can consign Karen Root to church discipline. Leaders of the 17th century Church of England and the 21st century Village Church both believe their institution is equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Their leaders falsely believe that they hold the keys of life and death and of heaven and hell. It isn't so. Don't sign a covenant and perpetuate this dangerous lie.
 
(4). A church covenant by its nature is designed to protect an authoritarian structure.
 
When a Christian signs a church covenant that demands submission to elders/pastors, he or she is enabling that institutional church to maintain an authoritarian structure. Rather than the weak and wounded sheep being the focus of attention within the church, most modern covenants are written with phrases that seem intent on bringing church members into "submission to church authorities." Quickly scan any church covenant, If "submission to church elders" is anywhere found, then know the covenant is designed to keep control of members and maintain the authority of the leaders. Paul Burleson points out that any institutional church more concerned with supporting their authoritarian system of control than healing their wounded members is sending signals of weak spiritual leadership. Jesus said that the world uses titles, positions of honor, and seeks to "exercise authority over those they rule," but "this should never be the case among His followers (Mark 10:35-45).
 
(5). A church covenant requires something more than a simple "Yes" or "No."
 
Jesus said that anything you have to do that goes beyond your simple words of "Yes" and "No" is from the "evil one" (Matthew 5:37).  When I join a church, I will forever refuse to sign any document, whether it be a "tithing card," or "a membership covenant," or any other document that requires a vow from me regarding my future performance or activity. In fact, if I ever attend a church that requires such a thing, I will refuse to join on the basis of principle. I will live freely, speak with integrity, and rest in the simplicity of following Jesus and living by the Spirit. I will not be fettered by written vows to a church that is seeking to protect their authority over me.
 
I need no covenant to guarantee that God will finish the work He's begun in me.

Introducing Emmanuel Media: Videos for Worship

Our staff at Emmanuel Enid is a constant search mode for worship videos, 1 to 2 minutes in length, that are appropriate to play during a Sunday morning worship service. Beginning about two years ago we began to produce our own videos. We have made the decision to begin offering these videos to other churches as well.

The site, www.emmanuelmedia.org, is being launched today. It will take time to add various videos that our staff produces, but it is our desire to provide--at a very low cost--videos that are well done visually, sound theologically, and contribute to the worship experience on Sunday morning. We perform the music ourselves (or purchase the commercial copyrights), write the scripts, and produce the videos internally.

Our first video on the newly launched website is one available for Father's Day (June 21). Go to www.emmanuelmedia.org and preview the video free of charge. If you purchase the $4.99 video, you will be sent a link to the HD quality video that can be downloaded for use. All proceeds from the sales of these videos will go into an earmarked fund for video equipment at Emmanuel Enid.

From Tragedy to Triumph: The IMB Reverses Itself

Last week trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention reversed two decade old doctrinal policies it implemented in 2005. Those two policies  revolved around (a). a prospective SBC missionary's baptism; and (b). a prospective SBC missionary's private prayer life.

A decade ago, over my objections as a trustee of the IMB, my fellow trustees went beyond the Baptist Faith and Message and restricted the appointment of Southern Baptist missionaries to only those who had been baptized in a Southern Baptist Church and to only those who had never "prayed in tongues" in their prayer closet.

The belief that proper authority and doctrinal orthodoxy of the baptizer is necessary for a valid baptism is historically a Landmark position. The Baptist Faith and Message is not a Landmark document, and the Southern Baptist Convention is not a Landmark denomination. In addition, the Baptist Faith and Message is absolutely silent on the subject of a believer praying in tongues.

I discovered that a few of the IMB trustees who were pushing the "new doctrinal policies" were actually attempting to press IMB President Jerry Rankin to resign because it was known he had a "private prayer language." The politics of trustees (and others) forcing Dr. Rankin's removal, using "doctrinal purity" as a cover, disgusted me.

I also learned that a few other IMB trustees were avowed Landmark Baptists (they told me) and they wished to make Southern Baptists into a Landmark convention of churches. It was a matter of 'doctrinal purity" they said. I was of the belief that no agency which represented the entire Southern Baptist Convention (as the IMB does) has the authority or right to change the doctrinal standards by which the agency will operate without the approval of the entire Southern Baptist Convention.

I decided that Southern Baptists needed to hear about the International Mission Board doctrinal policy changes. I started a blog, and used it to make Southern Baptists aware of the impact of the doctrinal changes. Dr. Morris Chapman proofed a couple of the more important blog posts, offering both suggestions and encouragement before his retirement. Both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Rankin understood the "behind-the-scenes" politics taking place, but were unable--because of their denominational positions--to say anything publicly. My writing infuriated IMB trustee leadership. Other trustees, unfamiliar with SBC politics, were told by trustee leadership that I (Wade Burleson) was the problem and I had to be removed from the board.

I'll not rehearse all that happened from 2005 to 2008, but anyone interested can read the book Hard Ball Religion. The IMB trustees failed in their attempt to remove me as a trustee, not realizing at the time that the entire Southern Baptist Convention had to approve my removal. IMB trustee leadership rescinded their recommendation for my removal prior to the vote at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention. However, IMB trustee leadership later censured me for violating their newly revised trustee "standard of conduct" which stated, "an IMB trustee must publicly affirm board approved policy even if he cannot privately support it."  Of course, I voted against the new trustee standard of conduct and continued to speak out against the new doctrinal policies.

Punishing the person who opposes authoritative rules--rather than allowing respectful and principled dissent--is an axiom of dysfunctional leadership. I was censured for continuing to speak out against the policies. I was often flabbergasted at the tactics used against me, as was my wife (who later told me "Wade, I wouldn't have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes"), but I persisted in seeking to express my principled dissent. In January 2008, after less than three years of service on the International Mission Board, a position I neither sought nor desired, I resigned as a trustee.

Southern Baptists Are Smarter than Most Think

Before my resignation, two things occurred that seemed to set the stage for what happened last week in the reversal of the IMB polices.

First, in 2006 Frank Page was surprisingly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention. I promoted him and predicted his election, which shocked the leadership of both the IMB and many in the Southern Baptist Convention. The President of the Southern Baptist Convention holds all the power. He appoints the Committee on Committees that recommends the trustees. The process of replacing trustees who wished to exceed the convention-approved Baptist Faith and Message began.

Second, in the summer of 2007 the Southern Baptist Convention passed the Garner Motion. To say my fellow trustees were upset with the passage of this motion would be an understatement. However, of all the experiences I enjoyed during my tenure at the IMB, the passing of the Garner Motion was by far the most significant.

I will let David Rogers explain the practical effect of the Garner Motion. David's words come from a recent comment at SBC Voices, but they succinctly and accurately portray the meaning behind the Garner Motion, and they are a perfect explanation for understanding why the IMB trustees reversed the 2005 doctrinal policies last week.
"If you are familiar with the regulative and normative principles of worship, perhaps this explanation will make sense. Some take the“regulative” approach to the Baptist Faith and Message. Most Southern Baptists take the “normative” approach. In other words, a person who takes the regulative approach to the BFM believes what is not specifically permitted is inherently forbidden. Most Southern Baptists' take the "normative" perspective of the BFM and believe what is not specifically forbidden is generally permitted. The Baptist Faith and Message, by it's very design, is meant to be applied in a normative, not regulative, way."
Bingo.

The 2005 IMB trustee leadership sought to regulate the doctrinal practices of all Southern Baptist churches who wished to place missionaries on the field by forbidding certain practices (private prayer language, baptism by immersion in churches other than Southern Baptist, etc...), practices that the BFM does not specifically forbid. The IMB trustees last week abided by the will of the Southern Baptist Convention in its passage of the 2007 Garner Motion) and reversed the ill-advised policies of 2005 that exceeded the BFM in forbidding private prayer language and baptisms by immersion in churches other than Southern Baptist.

President David Platt and the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention

By August of 2014, there were enough like-minded normative trustees in place at the International Mission Board to elect David Platt as President. There would have been a greater chance of a snow ball remaining frozen in hell than David Platt being elected President of the IMB in 2005. Leadership has changed during the past ten years.

The Southern Baptist Convention is returning to her normative roots.

I'm as uninterested in the politics of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2015 as I was in 2005. I have recently read that some Southern Baptists are wishing to "pull out" of the Southern Baptist Convention because the recent change of policies at the IMB. I hope they don't. I've stayed a Southern Baptist. We've continued to support missions.  I hope those who don't like the changes from last week take the same approach and support SBC missions.  In addition,  those of you who oppose the action of the IMB trustees last week should voice your dissent. Write and publicize your disapproval. Make known your opinion! That's the Southern Baptist way.

Only the weak stifle dissent.

I Feel as David When Told of the Death of Absalom

Benjamin Helm
At 9:30 am on September 20, 1863, Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin Hardin Helm fell from his horse on the Chickamauga (Georgia) battlefield,  mortally wounded by a Union marksman's bullet to the chest. General Helm commanded the 1st Kentucky Brigade, which after the Civil War became known as The Orphans Brigade. Most people believe the post-war "Orphan" tag came from the painful loss of their beloved "father" figure, General Helm.

My son Boe and I were on the battlefields of Chickamauga last week, looking for--and finding--the precise locations where our maternal great-grandfather FTD Cherry and his brother, Cutler Cherry, were captured by the Union army. The helpful Federal Park Ranger told us he never before had met a family who had two family members captured at Chickamauga. During our day at Chickamauga we came across the moving story of General Helm.

Benjamin Helm graduated from West Point in 1851, just shy of his 20th birthday. He ranked 9th in his class of 42 cadets. He became a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons (Cavalry) and then served as an instructor at the cavalry school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He served in the U.S. Army for a little over a year before he was diagnosed with inflammatory rheumatism and forced to resign his commission.

Helm then studied law at the University of Louisville and Harvard University, graduating in 1853. In 1855 he was elected to serve in the Kentucky House of Representatives  and then was later appointed Kentucky's state attorney. At the outbreak of the Civil War--in spite of his rheumatism--Helm was offered a commission with the Union army. Helm declined the appointment, and instead chose to serve as a field army officer in the Confederate States of America. He began his CSA army career as a colonel, but after two years of brilliant battlefield leadership, he was promoted to general and given charge of the 1st Kentucky Brigade. General Helm died at Chickamauga at the age of 32.


When President Lincoln received the news of General Helm's death, he went into an intense period of private grief. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who was present when Lincoln received the news of Helm's death, reported that the President proclaimed, "I feel as David of old when he was told of the death of Absalom."

General Helm was President Lincoln's brother-in-law.

It was President Lincoln who had offered Helm the position of postmaster for the Union army at the beginning of the Civil War, which Helm declined in order to serve in the Confederacy. Mary Todd Lincoln's niece would later recall the dilemma of the Lincoln's: "A single tear shed for a dead enemy would bring torrents of scorn and bitter abuse on both the President and Mary Todd Lincoln" - even if those Presidential tears were shed for family.

That's why the President and Mary Todd Lincoln grieved in private. The President granted his widowed sister-in-law, Emilie Todd Helm, safe passage to the White House to receive condolences from her family. CSA General Breckinridge informed Helm's widow by letter that her husband "commanded the men of the Orphan brigade like a thorough soldier. He loved them, they loved him, and he died at their head, a patriot and a hero."