Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Four Tenors Singing "Amazing Grace" in an Ancient Coliseum

For your weekend cultural enjoyment, follow this link to listen to The Four Tenors (Il Divo) performing "Amazing Grace" in the Coliseum at Pula, Croatia. This rendition, one of the most stunning performances of all time, will give you a new appreciation for the ancient classic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Attaching God's Name to Our Decisions--A Violation of the 3rd Commandment?

Dr. Daryl Eldridge is the President of Rockbridge Seminary, a fully-online seminary built on the five purposes of the church. He served as the Dean of the School of Educational Ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and on the faculty of SWBTS from 1984 through 2003. He is the editor of the textbook, The Teaching Ministry of the Church and is the author of numerous articles and curriculum materials.

Recently, Dr Eldridge wrote me an enlightening email about Christians attaching God's name to what we do (i.e. "God spoke to me and said," or "God led me to do this," or "God called me to go," etc...) and how this is, at least in the Jewish mind, taking God's name in vain. I am reprinting his email here, with permission, to provoke some thoughtful consideration on how often we are careless using God's name:

I read with enjoyment your blog on how we use God to justify our reasoning and actions. I had a life changing discussion with a rabbi a couple of years ago about the 3rd Commandment, “Thou shall not use the Lord’s name in vain.” We typically interpret that commandment as a prohibition against cursing or profanity--which is only a portion of the meaning. The rabbi explained the Jews see this commandment as a legal term. In other words, it forbids you using God’s name to win an argument. If you say, “God told me,” then it ceases all discussion.

The rabbi could not understand why any preacher, from the pulpit, would ever say, “God told me that we should do……” The rabbi believes that statement, or one similar, would be a violation of this commandment.

God’s name is never to be used as a trump card. Judaism and Christianity are both founded on a dialogical faith. Faith is something to be passionately argued, debated, or discussed. Unfortunately, I believe we have made it monological. We have the answers. Christians leaders are no longer “seekers,” of truth, but those who have all of the answers.

Conservatives, by the nature of the word, “conserve.” They protect or conserve the status quo. A heretic, on the other hand, challenges the status quo. We forget that Jesus was a heretic, as was Paul and the disciples, Luther, and Calvin. Baptist come from a long line of heretics. Thanks for being a heretic in the finest tradition, by challenging the status quo.

Good word Dr. Eldridge.

In His Grace,


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Is It Possible for a Christian with Convictions to be Civil in Conduct?

Lutheran theologian Martin Marty made the observation in his 1982 book By Way of Response that people who are civil often do not have strong convictions. Likewise, wrote Dr. Marty, people with strong convictions often aren't very civil. He suggested the world needs people with "convicted civility." Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, read Dr. Marty's words and was inspired to write a classic work on Christian civility called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Dr. Mouw writes of the reason why he wrote his book in an essay that has recently been published, along with a collection of other essays on Christian Civility, in a book entitled Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, edited by Mitch Carnell. Dr. Mouw writes:
"I designed my book to counteract the incivility of people who, like myself, operate with strong religious convictions."

He goes on to give a descriptive definition of Christian civility and an anecdote that illustrates the power of practicing the art of civility in an uncivil world. He writes:
"We can think of civility as a form of hospitality. It is making room for other people, for their hopes and fears; it is a willingness to create a space in our minds for their ideas and experiences, for showing empathy for what is going on in their lives, even when strictly speaking we are not obligated to do so.

Jesus showed a literal hospitality to people whose lifestyles and ideas he strongly opposed. This is what got him into trouble with the religious leaders of his day: "The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (luke 5:30). I can understand something of the concerns of those religious leaders. A genuine vulnerability often comes with a hospitable spirit. The same holds for a willingness to "make room" for the ideas and experiences of those with whom we disagree on serious matters. But we need to take the risk.

Once I gave a talk to a good sized audience on a large university campus. I spoke on the subject of civility . . . Afterwards, the leaders of one of the evangelical campus groups came up to talk with me. They told me how they had run ads in the campus newspaper stating the evanglical understanding of sexual fidelity, with some mention of their opposition to same-sex relationships. One of the gay-lesbian groups had countered with an angry published response, and htey had gone back and forth a bit, trading letters to the editor. "It has gotten a bit out of hand," the leaders said. "Realistically, from your point of view, how should we have handled it diferently?"

I told them that I thought they should have asked for a private meeting with the gay-lesbian leaders at the outset. They should have shown them the ads and said, "We know that you will disagree with our position, but we do want you to see this ahead of time. And if there is anything in here that you think seriously misrepresents your point of view, we want to know aobut it. We want to say what we believe, but we do not want to be needlessly offensive in doing so."

The evangelical leaders thanked me for the advice, and they told me they wished they had done the kind of thing I proposed.

Several weeks later, I received a note from one of them. "After we talked with you," they said, "we met with the leaders of the gay-lesbian group-we invited them to lunch, and they accepted," he reported. "We told them that we wish we had contacted them privately before running our ad. We apologized for how we have typically gone about making our views known, and we asked for their forgiveness. It started off awkward, but by the end of the conversation we were talking about other stuff, and then they said we should meet again, and the next time lunch was on them. I think we are on a new path--not compromising, but making our case in a kinder way!"

This group was taking some important risks in cultivating civility. I was proud of them fow what they had done. They were learning good manners!"

Then, Dr. Mouw concludes his essay by making an observation as to why we Christians are so reluctant to reach out to people with whom we disagree, particularly fellow Christians with whom we have much more in common than those who are lost in this world. He writes:

The answer I keep coming back to is that it is a failure of spirituality. We have not seen public manners, the cultivating of civility, as an important element in our spiritual formation.

Dr. Mouw suggests that cultivating good manners and hospitality is as important to spiritual development as prayer, reflection, Bible reading, etc...

The Christian, even that Christian with very strong convictions, who does not work as hard on good manners, is as unspiritual as the person who doesn't pray or read his Bible.

Amen, Dr. Mouw, amen.

In His Grace,


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Have You Ever Noticed How Easy It Is to Use "God" as the Reason for Doing What We Do?

Back in the 19880's and early 1990's the Southern Baptist Public Affairs Committee and the Christian Life Commission were the targets of some our Conservative Resurgence leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. These CR leaders believed that the aforementioned SBC agencies needed to be purged of the "liberal" leadership they possessed. Two of the people strategically placed to serve as board members on the PAC and the CLC agencies during this time were North Carolinians Sam Currin (pictured here) and Coy Privette. These two Southern Baptists, closely identified with the Conservative Resurgence, were friends and associates of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. They worked behind the scenes, and eventually publicly, to get the Public Affairs Committee and the Christian Life Commission to merge into the an entity that would be named The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The intended goal was to put the newly formed ERLC under the direct control and influence of Dr. Richard Land through getting Dr. Land elected as the President of the new organization.

They succeeded.

But that is not the end of the story. Sam Currin, a former United States attorney was just released from prison after serving over three years of six year jail sentence for fraud. Coy Privette--a politician, director of missions and pastor who was known in all three positions as an outspoken moralist--was himself arrested and charged in 2007 with six counts of aiding and abetting prostitution. These were the two men that leaders of the newly conservative Southern Baptist Convention strategically assigned to bring about a change in Washington D.C. regarding Southern Baptist's representation in religious issues, morality and ethics.

I've gone back and read as many quotes I could find from Sam Currin and Coy Privette regarding the merging of the two Southern Baptist entities into the ELRC and Dr. Richard Land's election as President. Not one time did I read either of these men publicly acknowledge that they had an agenda to merge the two institutions and get their friend and like-minded idealogue Richard Land elected as President. The language was all "The Lord has directed. . ." or "We are grateful to God for His leadership . . . " or "This historic day is part of God's plan . . ." etc... One of the reasons the world has such a hard time with Christians, particularly when we Christians end up getting caught in scandals on par with Currin's and Privette's, is that we have spiritualized our language and our actions--attaching God to just about everything we do. Though we are all sinners--every single one of us--we act as if we aren't. We Southern Baptists need to stop speaking as if everything we do is God directed and be humble enough to talk about our own agendas, our own need for control and power, our own decision making, etc... Frankly, if we were brutally honest like that, it might prevent the compartmentalizing of our "spiritual" lives and our "real" lives. Constantly keeping our tendencies to say and do those things that are often selfish and sinful in front of us by being honest enough to talk about our tendencies would keep others from being so surprised--or cynical--when we fail. There's not a person one who should condemn Privette or Currin. But there's also not a person who shouldn't learn a valuable lesson from these men. The only cure from the kind of pride that leads the foot to slide in due time is an honest assessment that God is not always the reason and motive behind doing what we do.

Bottom line: I wish Christian people would simply state the plain truth and stop spiritualizing everything. How many pastors say "God has called me to another church" when it is more accurate to say "I have an opportunity to go to a bigger church that will pay me a larger salary which will possibly enhance the opportunties and influence I have in terms of my ministerial career." I, frankly, would find the latter--if ever said--refreshing.

In this vein, I was genuinely surprised and pleased when I read the following article in the October 8, 2009 edition of the Arkansas Baptist News.


In the Oct. 8 issue of the Arkansas Baptist News we reported that Chuck McAlister had resigned as pastor of the Church at Crossgate Center to devote full time to his Adventure Bound Outdoors ministry because he felt torn between two ministries that each needed to be full time. Since publishing the article, we have learned he was as one of four defendants in a breach of contract civil lawsuit against a real estate development corporation of which McAlister was a vice president. In a follow-up phone conversation with McAlister, he acknowledged that circumstances regarding the suit factored into his decision, but said he has realized for more than a year that he needed to devote full time to outdoor men’s ministries.
Good for the ABN. How refreshing is that correction?

Chuck McAlister is an International Mission Board trustee. He chaired the committee that took the IMB through their recent (2009) reorganization, a reorganization that I will comment upon sometime next year. I wish Chuck the best in his new venture and his continued service to the IMB. Chuck might not like the honesty of the Baptist newspaper, but I hope he sees that the ABN has done all us Southern Baptists a favor. We got some honesty when others were trying to attach "God" as the reason for a decision made.

It's about time we Southern Baptists agree to stop spiritualizing and simply state the truth. We may find one day God's not quite as thrilled as we think He is about us attaching His name to everything we Southern Baptists say or do.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Impending 2012 Hysteria

On Saturday, October 17, 2009, one of the first 2012 Survival Conferences will be held in Scottsdale, Arizona. This twelve hour conference, led by Cody Lundin (pictured here), will enable participants to prepare for the coming end of the world as we know it. Cody, the author of two best-selling books on survival and preparedness, 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive and When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes, is preparing people for the catastrophic end of the modern world on December 21, 2012--the end of the Mayan astronomical calendar. 2012 Survival Conferences might be compared to dispensational Bible conferences; they both get people worked up about the end of the world while neglecting the far more important truth that God has already appointed death to every person--and then the judgment. How one escapes the just judgment of a holy God is a far more important survival question than how one endures natural or supernatural catastrophes in this present world. With that in mind, and recognizing the tendency for those with little or no eternal perspective to fret over cataclysmic world events, I offer my personal tribute to the impending 2012 hysteria.


AN ODE TO 2012

2012 is coming toward us really fast;

And it prompts me to give you this forecast.

When you look with dread toward events on that date;

You tend to ignore the truth of your personal fate.

It is the individual soul who gives an account to God;

So one ought be very careful how this life is daily trod.

There is no guarantee that you'll be given another breath,

For this reason it's wise you prepare this day for death.

Certain it is that without faith in Christ you will never please

The Righteous Judge whom your sinful self could never appease.

So before you get worked up over events in a forthcoming year;

It should be remembered that it's the Creator whom you should fear.

But once a sinner finds rest through trusting God's gracious cross,

There'll be no more fretting over this world's speculative dross.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

P.S. Cody looks like he could double as a 50 year old SBC youth director. :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Southern Baptists Who Break the Law, Even for "Noble" Reasons, Should Go to Jail

. Sunday night after church I watched a CNBC news show called American Greed. This particular episode focused on the largest non-profit fraud in the history of America, the scam perpetrated by Southern Baptist leaders at the Baptist Foundation of Arizona. Senior Vice-President of BFA, Donald Dale Deardoff, Southern Baptist attorney Tom Grabinsky, and BFA President Bill Crotts (pictured here) were sentenced in early 2007 to four, six and eight years in prison respectively for their participation in the fraud and cover-up.

The fraud was a ponzi scheme, and though Bill Crott's swears that he did not "personally" profit from any money that Southern Baptists gave to the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, that does little to comfort those Southern Baptists who had millions of dollars taken from them through fraud and deceit. Here's how the scheme worked.

The Baptist Foundation of Arizona, through Bill Crott's leadership, encouraged Southern Baptists everywhere to invest their money at BFA to "plant churches" and grow the kingdom of God. Money poured in, which the BFA invested in real estate, ostensibly to use the profits to "plant churches" for the glory of God. But when some of the "investments" in real estate went sour in the early 1990's, instead of coming clean with Southern Baptists, Bill Crotts did two really bizarre things that should have tipped people off there was a problem.

(1). First, he directed a few of his closest friends, one even happened to be a former director at the Baptist Foundation, to establish two "non-profit" companies that would do business directly with the BFA to help cover BFA's losses. These two companies, ALO and New Church Ventures (a fancy name for a non-profit "church planting institute"), would buy and hold BFA’s overvalued real estate in exchange for notes receivable valued in the millions of dollars. In short, the Baptist Foundation cooked the books to show Southern Baptists that BFA's real estate holdings had been "sold," but President Bill Crotts would tell his accomplices at his newly established non-profits "Just pay us later" (wink, wink). The hope was that the value of the Arizona real estate that BFA held would rise in time, and then the BFA could cover their losses--because they never really "sold" the land in the first place, though their books said they did. Had they not fabricated these transactions through dummy corporations the BFA established, the books would have shown them insolvent. As it was, they continued to get more and more money from Southern Baptists.

(2). Second, when people began asking questions about suspicious transactions at the BFA, those high in Southern Baptist leadership used their connections to discredit the people who were asking the questions--making them the problem. All dysfunctional organizations never address real problems, they simply make the whistle blowers the problem. Southern Baptists should have known by the late 1990's that something was amiss for several reasons:

(a). There had been a high turnover of key staff. Between April and November 1996, three high-level BFA staffers—a lawyer and two accountants—resigned in protest. They each wrote letters noting their concerns about continued deception of investors and board members and specific allegations of fraud. Yet millions and millions of dollars continued to flow to the BFA for the next several years.

(b). Major tips went uninvestigated. Shortly before the completion of the 1996 audit in February 1997, a former BFA accountant met with Arthur Andersen’s BFA audit manager for lunch. The BFA accountant had formerly prepared the financial statements of ALO and New Church Ventures. She warned the Auther Anderson audit manager responsible for BFA's audit that entities owing BFA material amounts of notes receivables were insolvent and incapable of paying the receivables. Yet, when the audit manager met with Southern Baptist officials at BFA, THE VERY OFFICIALS INVOLVED IN THE FRAUD, he was assured that there was "no problem." He took their word for it rather than continuing an investigation.

(c). The BFA's nonprofit status was in peril because of their business transactions. Arthur Andersen’s tax team informed the audit team in January 1998 that unrelated business income could jeopardize the foundation’s tax-exempt status, yet nothing was done.

(d). There were numerous newspaper articles suggesting irregularities at the Baptist Foundation. The Phoenix New Times published articles on April 16 and 23, 1998, “The Money Changers,” that contained extensive allegations of fraud and insider dealings at BFA. The audit team responded by reviewing each allocation and asking management if the allegations were true. Again, BFA management assured the auditors that the allegations were not. On April 27, 1998, Auther Andersen signed off on its unqualified opinion for the 1997 financial statements.

Southern Baptists and Arthur Andersen made a huge error by ignoring the major fraud occurring at the Baptist Foundation of Arizona. Millions of dollars of Southern Baptist money was lost--maybe because Southern Baptists and others are hesitant to question anyone who says they are doing the Lord's work and planting churches. Thankfully, three Southern Baptist officials in Arizona have now spent two years in jail for their fraud and will spend several more years in federal prison for their crimes.

Many state Southern Baptist Conventions have paid close attention to the high profile Arizona case. But it should be noted that people misusing money designated for kingdom work is not a new occurance in the Southern Baptist Convention. It has happened numerous times before the BFA fraud was discovered in the 1990's, it has happened since, and it will happen again. I'm sure it is tempting for some in Southern Baptist leadership to try to avoid negative publicity by covering the truth when they discover that someone under their authority has stolen money intended for kingdom work.

I just remind those who wish to hide the truth that the men in Arizona went to jail precisely for that reason. Unlike some embezzlement cases in the Southern Baptist Convention that have been thoroughly documented in the past, nobody involved in the Baptist Foundation of Arizona investigation ever suggested BFA officials took money for personal gain. Their crime was an attempt to hide the loss of millions of dollars at the non-profit Baptist Foundation of Arizona by lying about it and then covering up their lies.

They deserved jail.

How much more does that Southern Baptist who takes money for personal gain deserve jail? In my opinion, a great deal more.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Total Abstinence from Alcohol Is The Only Solution for the Christian Who Cannot Abstain from Drunkenness

John Gill (1697-1771) is considered by historians as the finest and most erudite Baptist theologian of all time. Spurgeon called Gill "my mentor in Israel," and told his pastoral students that "the world and the church ... both bow before Gill's erudition". Augustus Toplady, author of the classic hymn Rock of Ages, spoke at Gill's funeral and stated:

"Gill never besieged an error which he did not force from its stronghold, nor ever encountered an adversary whom he did not baffle and subdue."

In Gill's classic multi-volume work The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Gill commented on Paul's statement "Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18; updated with modern punctuation and grammar).

"The sin of drunkenness is a custom, or habit, of voluntary excessive drinking of any strong liquor, whereby the mind is disturbed, and deprived of the use of reason. Though wine is only here mentioned, that being the usual liquor drank in the eastern countries, the same (principle) holds good of any other strong liquor. Drinking for necessary reasons is not prohibited, nor is the drinking of alcoholic beverages for honest delight and lawful pleasure prohibited. It is the excessive drinking of alcohol that is forbidden. This sin is voluntary, and with design, and on purpose -- for sometimes persons may be overtaken and intoxicated, through ignorance of the strength of the liquor, and their own weakness. It is also a custom, or habit of excessive drinking, and not a single act. It is a series of actions, a course of living in this sin, and is what denominates a man a drunkard. It causes persons to be excluded from the communion of the church; and, without the grace of true repentance, (these persons) shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Many things might be said to dissuade people from drunkenness: it hurts the mind, memory, and judgment; it deprives of reason, and it sets a man below a beast; it brings diseases on the body, and it wastes the estate; it unfits for business and duty; it opens a door for every sin, and exposes to shame and danger; and therefore should be carefully avoided, and especially by professors of religion."

I love Gill's expositional abilities, and like Spurgeon, I consider this Baptist theologian an expositor without equal in his day or ours. There are some modern Southern Baptists who allege that total abstinence from alcoholic beverages is the only Christian and biblical treatment of alcohol. As stated before, personal total abstinence from alcohol as a conviction should be respected, but demands for personal abstinence by all Southern Bapists should be resisted. Why? There are four reasons:

(1). The Bible does not command total abstinence, but commands God's people to abstain from the sin of drunkenness.
(2). The historic Baptist position, as articulated by Gill, is that of moderation, not total abstinence.
(3). To totally abstain for the sake of others is wisdom and biblical Christianity, but to demand others totally abstain from alcohol for your sake and to meet your self-imposed standards is unwise and evidence of an extra-biblical religion.
(4). If one concedes to the wishes of those that all Southern Baptists be defined by their total abstinence from alcohol, then it will not be long before other extra-biblical standards will be used to attempt to define Southern Baptists.
(5). Our faith and practice as followers of Jesus Christ is best defined by the Bible and not any other religious standard.

There may be 50 percent of Southern Baptists who disagree with the above five statements, but I have yet to see any Baptist provide a definitive rebuttal to Gill's biblical and historic Baptist beliefs regarding the consumption of alcohol.

Until I do, I shall remain Southern Baptist, a believer in the inerrancy of Scriptures, a supporter of the individual who is convicted to totally abstain from alcoholic beverages, but a firm resistor to to that person who demands that everyone else in the Southern Baptist Convention totally abstain.

In His Grace,


Thursday, October 08, 2009

At Times It Seems Hard to Tell Who Really Won the War

HIROSHIMA, JAPAN in 1945 (black and white) and in 2009 (color).









DETROIT, MICHIGAN IN 2009 (compare with Hiroshima)






It is tough to tell who actually won WW II.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why Every Southern Baptist Should Know and Care About a Woman Named Pamela Wynona Schoen

The Star Fish Insurance Agency in Gulf Shores, Alabama, pictured here, is owned by a former Southern Baptist woman named Pamela Wynona Schoen. I first introduced readers to Pamela in December of 2008, explaining that she had hired, in good faith, a former Southern Baptist missionary named Gray Harvey to be her bookkeeper. Wynona had grown up in a family who regularly gave money to Southern Baptist causes (Lottie Moon, Cooperative Program, etc...). What could be better but to have one of those missionaries as an employee at her office, right?

Wrong. Gray Harvey began to write fraudulent insurance policies on multi-million dollar condominiums and homes in Gulf Shores, Alabama without Wynona Schoen's knowledge. Harvey scammed dozens and dozens of policy holders out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He wrote what looked like legitimate policies on fake Lloyds of London forms, underbid competitors, and pocketed the premiums--all without his boss's knowledge. Harvey was eventually arrested by federal authorities, and will soon face prosecution by the United States attorney for bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud in stealing all that money from unsuspecting people. Wynona Schoen's lawyer, Richard Lively, recently told the Alabama insurance regulators that his client, was the worst victim of all, suggesting that Benton Gray Harvey may have poisoned Schoen to keep her away from Starfish Insurance Agency as the scam peaked in the summer of 2008.

What makes this story so sad, and why every Southern Baptist should remember Pamela Wynona Schoen, is because Gray Harvey had previously stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board--but IMB executives and trustees did not wish to criminally prosecute him. The IMB had their reasons for not wanting the authorities to press charges against Gray Harvey in 2004. But, in my opinion, the unwillingness of SBC officials to see Gray Harvey prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law directly led to Wynona Schoen's legal, financial and physical problems. Wynona's life, as she once knew it, has been ruined. Had Gray Harvey had his rear sitting in jail, or at least had it been made public that Gray Harvey was a professional thief, he would have never been hired by Pamela Wynona Schoen and been in a position to defraud her and others in his Alabama scam. When a thief changes his environment by moving from one state to another, nothing in the evil nature of that thief changes. As the old-timers used to say, "Unless there is a change in the atmosphere, what thaws in the sun will once again freeze in the shade."

One year ago, in the fall of 2008, after I visited with Pamela Wynona Schoen's very emotional mother over the phone, I made a vow. I promised myself that if I ever came across another individual who exhibited the gall to deceitfully and intentionally steal money from Southern Baptists, I would do everything within my power to ensure that federal authorities prosecute to the fullest extent of the law--regardless of the desires of SBC leaders, whomever they may be, who might wish the problem to go away lest further "embarrassment" come to Southern Baptists. I call it my "Pamela Promise."

And I aim to fulfill it.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mossab Hassan Yousef, The Son of Hamas, Who Himself Has Become a Follower of Jesus Christ

Yesterday our church hosted Mossaab Hassan Yousef. He spoke at all three of our Sunday morning services and for an hour at our evening service. You may log in (or register) and watch the archived television broadcast here.

Mossab Hassan Yousef is the son of the only surviving founding council member of Hamas, the largest terrorist organization in the world. When Mossab Hassan turned eighteen, he was arrested and tortured by the Israelis. It was during his two years in prison that followed, that Mossab Hassan began to question his involvement as a leader in the Hamas Youth Movement and the expectations of others that he would eventually take over leadership of Hamas. What really jolted him was seeing Hamas torturing their own Hamas brethren while in prison. Everyone seemed so filled with hate for one another. After his release from prison he would eventually spend months studying the Bible after being introduced by a simple taxi cab driver in Jerusalem to the words of Jesus "Love your enemies."

Mossab Hassan Yousef eventually trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Three years ago, this "son of Hamas" was able to enter the United States and is currently applying for political asylum. I first heard his story in a Fox Television investigative report which aired last January and blogged about it then. We arranged for Mossab Hassan to speak at Emmanuel yesterday and we all profited by what he had to say.

One of the more startling things about this refreshingly honest and humble evangelical follower of Jesus Christ is his denunciation of Islamic idealogy. He loves Muslims, but he despises Islamic teaching. He says anyone who can read the Koran, and chooses to believe it, is sick and needs help. The Koran teaches the ideaology of hate and violence. Any logical, rational person who simply compares the teachings of the Koran and the teaching of Jesus Christ would see the radical ideological differences. But therein lies the problem.

Mossab Hassan points out that there are 1.5 billion Muslims. Only 300 million of them speak Arabic, but it is street Arabic and not the "high" Arabic of the Koran. Muslims don't even know what the Koran teaches, so they have to read hundreds of books or listen to dozens of Islamic teachers who will tell them, often incorrectly, what the Koran teaches. Mossab Hassan wants the Koran translated into the common languages of mankind so that people can read it and understand it. He says Muslims are deceived. They are trapped in an ideology of hate, and the only way to provide them solutions for their problems is to show them another way to live--and that is through the ideology of "love"--which provides a solution for every problem, even those caused by your enemies.

It is Mossab Hassans desire to one day return to his homeland to help lead his family and people to faith in Jesus Christ. His father remains in prison in Israel, and his own brothers are arguing with him about the Bible and who Jesus is. But at least, says Mossab Hassan, they are discussing the issues. Jesus Christ is Almighty God, and His teachings are far superior to any of mans' religions. Mossab Hassan is a "Jesus follower" and he firmly believes the only way for the problems in the Middle East to be solved is for others, by the millions, to become Jesus followers. It was refreshing to hear the story of conversion from a man who has given up so much, in terms of the world, to follow after Jesus.

I also couldn't help but think about how hard it seems to be for Christians in the west to "love our enemies." We have a hard time loving our Christian brothers. Could it be that many of us in the west treat Christianity as Muslims treat Islam? Could it be that we are more interested in maintaining our "religious" institutions than we are in our strengthening our relationship with the One who transforms our hearts into being able to "love our enemies"?

In His Grace,


Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Theater-Going Preachers" and Spurgeon's Censure of Them During the Downgrade Controversy

When it comes to the doctrines of the faith, one will find no Southern Baptist pastor who agrees more with Charles Haddon Spurgeon on particular and effectual atonement, the substitutionary and vicarious death of Christ for His people, the need for regeneration of the sinner's soul in order to believe, and other doctrines to which Spurgeon held. Monday's post criticized Spurgeon for not thinking enough of his relationship with his fellow pastors within the Baptist Union to make his concerns over their departure from the historic doctrines of the faith personally and privately known before making his concerns a public, denominational issue. Some have little understanding that Spurgeon believed Baptists stay on the road of orthodoxy by believing in the doctrines of "Calvinism"--doctrines Spurgeon called "vital." I disagree with Spurgeon on this point, believing orthodoxy and fellowship among evangelical Baptists is not dependent on similar views of the doctrines of grace. Most all Baptists in the 18th Century were Calvinists; and there was, as Spurgeon saw, a "downgrade" of belief in these doctrines during his era. Spurgeon sought a doctrinal statement for the Baptist Union that would be more precise in defining the doctrines of grace. It's my feeling that doctrinal statements upon which fellowship is built among Baptists can be, and often should be, much broader in scope.

But what most Southern Baptists today don't understand is that the concerns of Spurgeon during the "Downgrade Controversy" went far beyond what he called the forsaking of "vital" doctrines. He was just as concerned with the growth of "worldliness" among the pastors and churches. Spurgeon wrote:

We mentioned a decline of spiritual life, and the growth of worldliness, and gave as two outward signs thereof the falling-off in prayer-meetings, and ministers attending the theater.

The first (attendance at prayer-meetings) has been pooh-poohed as a mere trifle. The Nonconformist (ed. a London newspaper), which is a fit companion for The Christian World (ed. another newspaper), dismisses the subject in the following sentence: "If the conventional prayer-meetings are not largely attended, why should the Christian community be judged by its greater or less use of one particular religious expedient?" What would James and Jay (ed. famous English pastors) have said of this dismissal of "conventional prayer-meetings," whatever that may mean? At any rate, we are not yet alone in the opinion that our meetings for prayer are very excellent thermometers of the spiritual condition of our people. God save us from the spirit which regards gathering together for prayer as "a religious expedient"! This one paragraph is sorrowfully sufficient to justify much more than we have written (about the Downgrade).

The same newspaper thus deals with our mention of theater-going preachers. Let the reader note what a fine mouthful of words it is, and how unwittingly it admits, with a guarded commendation, that which we remarked upon with censure:—"As for theatres, while we should be much surprised to learn that many ministers of the gospel take a view of life which would permit them to spend much time there, yet, remembering that men of unquestionable piety do find recreation for themselves and their families in the drama, we are not content to see a great branch of art placed under a ban, as if it were no more than an agency of evil."Let it never be forgotten that even irreligious men, who themselves enjoy the amusements of the theater, lose all respect for ministers when they see them in the play-house. Their common sense tells them that men of such an order are unfit to be their guides in spiritual things. But we will not debate the point: the fact that it is debated is to us sufficient evidence that spiritual religion is at a low ebb in such quarters.

Very unwillingly have we fulfilled our unhappy task of justifying a warning which we felt bound to utter; we deplore the necessity of doing so; but if we have not in this paper given overwhelming evidence, it is from want of space, and want of will, and not from want of power. Those who have made up their minds to ignore the gravity of the crisis, would not be aroused from their composure though we told our tale in miles of mournful detail.

It is not my desire to address Spurgeon's concern over the lack of attendance in prayer meetings at his fellow pastors' churches. We could all express agreement with him. Where I think my hero in ministry failed is in pointing his finger at other pastors who churches were suffering such a decline. I think it profits a man of God to go about his ministry, faithfully fulfilling God's requirements on him, without the need to single out other pastors who may be suffering through a desert ministry.

It is the "theater-going preachers" and Spurgeon's censure of them which I would like to single out as an example of how Baptists will often allow cultural issues to divide them. The Royal Court Theater was the most popular theater in London in 1887, the year the Downgrade Controversy began. The long running play at the time was Dickens' Great Expectations. Were it to be made into a movie today, it would receive a "G" rating. Several of the evangelical pastors who attended the theater in London were well-known pastors like Dr. Talmadge, Henry Ward Beecher, Dr. Chapin and others. Spurgeon spoke the following about pastors who attend the theater in a sermon from 1888...

"The Christian church of the present day has played the harlot beyond any Christian church in any other day. There are no amusements too vile for her. Her pastors have filled a theater of late; and, by their applause, have set their mark of approval upon the labours of play-actors. To this point have we come at last, a degradation that was never reached even in Rome's darkest hour;-and, if you do not love Christ to be indignant about it, the Lord have mercy on you!"

The romanticist who wishes to view "The Downgrade Controversy" as a battle between theological conservatism and liberalism must be careful or he will find himself codifying for others his own personal convictions (like Spurgeon did) based upon what is, and is not, historically culturally accepted by the organized church instead of the clear teachings of the Word of God and the freedom that comes from resting in the God of all grace who gave us His Son so that we might enjoy Him instead of religion.

In His Grace,