Archive for November, 2011


Sooner or later, every Christian is going to understand the heart of David when he asked this question. In Psa. 10, he records his frustration with the seeming prosperity and success of the wicked who were “hotly pursuing the afflicted” even while they declared “there is no God” and delighted in their conviction that they would never be moved or face adversity. Naturally, a Godly man like king David found this situation intolerable and it caused him no small amount of grief.

David’s description in this Psalm is chilling. The wicked laugh in the face of God, they have no fear of Him, and don’t worry about ever being called to give an account of themselves. They succeed in whatever they do no matter what harsh methods they employ. They think nothing of killing the innocent and delight in the cleverness of their schemes.

Where is God, David laments. Why is He hiding Himself? David struggled with the notion that such people could prosper while God is enthroned. In desperation, David cries out: “Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the afflicted.” Knowing that God is just and kind and merciful, David could not accept the continuing prosperity of the wicked who opposed all that is righteous and good. He had only one option, however. He could not stop the mouth of the wicked from boasting; he could not prevent them from trampling the poor and defenseless under foot. But David could call upon God Himself to come and judge the evil doers. And that is what he does.

Obviously, David had lived for some time in the context described in this Psalm. He saw the innocent persecuted; he saw justice perverted. David witnessed first-hand the cruelty of men who found satisfaction in heaping misery upon others. He experienced the pain of being threatened and maligned; David knew what it was like to have an enemy “pile on,” as we say. David also knew something else; he knew the character of God and the consideration of that knowledge results in the restoration of his confidence and hope.

“You have seen it, for You have beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Your hand. The unfortunate commits himself to You; You have been the helper of the orphan.” (v. 14) It is God’s nature to be just and merciful; it is His nature to protect the helpless. This truth was David’s solace during this terribly difficult period in his life. David’s cry of despair becomes a shout of confident praise as he reminds himself of the amazing power and deeds of God.

As I noted in the beginning, every believer will eventually find himself in a situation where it seems that God’s attention has been turned away. It will appear that the plans of the wicked are unfolding without hindrance. It will feel as if an enemy is free to launch attack after attack and to make unopposed accusations of the most disturbing kind. That is when a Christian might wonder: “O LORD, why do You stand afar off?” Such thoughts are known to God, of course. It is how we react to them and to our situation that matters most.

The right course of action is to follow David’s example and remind ourselves of God’s character during those times when it seems as if God is not near us. We may never fully understand all that God is doing when He causes us to pass through the kind of heart-breaking circumstance I’ve described; at such times, we must cling to what we do know for sure, which is the holy character of God. As we dwell on what we do know to be true about God, those elements that are, at least for the moment, beyond our comprehension will cause us far less stress and anxiety. We know that God is good. We know that God orchestrates all things for His glory and our good. This includes whatever we encounter in this life, be it blessings that leave us astonished or trials that leave us in tears.

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On occasion, I have come into contact with congregations in which the majority of members see themselves as theologically superior. In such churches, it is generally believed that they have reached a level of maturity in which their understanding and practice of the Christian faith is more advanced than what is commonly found in modern evangelicalism. And, more often than not, these people are correct—they are well-grounded in theology, in terms of knowing what the Bible teaches. The problem, however, is that this type of congregation can become elitist, almost by necessity (in any association of people, elitism perpetuates itself).

Inevitably, there is a standard by which individuals and families are measured within such a group. While professing to be guided by Scripture in terms of association and fellowship, the people within this congregation will, in reality, follow a list of “checkpoints” they have composed as they encounter others. This assessment helps them determine the compatibility between new arrivals and the existing membership. This is regarded as an expression of wisdom. But, again, there is a big problem. Attempting to determine compatibility in order to decide to what degree, if any, you will welcome someone into your fellowship is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The Church of Christ is intended for all who follow the Savior (cf. Rev. 5:9). Setting up some kind of “entrance exam” obscures this truth.

In addition to the Bible’s prerequisite for membership status in the visible church, which is a credible profession of faith, an elitist congregation will expect (or even demand) conformity to a number of secondary practices, convictions, and regulations. And it will be maintained with enthusiasm that these secondary issues are, in fact, matters of obeying God.

Appropriate household management, for example, is one of the most prevalent subjects stressed in an exclusivist congregation. You are likely to find dogmatic assertions regarding dress, entertainment, employment, education, hobbies, and even food. The Bible speaks to all of these issues, of course, but in the congregation I am describing, these assertions go well beyond Scripture and, as I just noted, matters in which God has given us liberty become matters of obeying or disobeying the Word. Consequently, they are also means of determining if you “belong.”

I will conclude with a fundamental question: Can the gospel function as intended in an environment of elitism? No, the gospel may be present—in the sense that some are truly born again—but, as it is taught in Scripture, the gospel cannot function as designed in such an atmosphere. There are at least three reasons for this. First, the gospel is relevant to people where they are, so to speak. The gospel is for sinners—all kinds of sinners at all stages of sin. The gospel does not require a certain level of understanding or conformity before it can deliver a sinner from the domain of darkness (cf. Col. 1:13). Spiritual elitism, as explained above, does not accommodate a person wherever they happen to be in terms of knowledge or maturity.

Second, and related to what I just said, the gospel makes no distinctions between sinners; it is a message to be broadcast to all people in all nations and at all times (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). A congregation characterized by religious exclusivity, however, must, by necessity, create distinctions between one sinner and another. The system by which new arrivals are “screened” and by which existing members are judged is grounded in elitist presuppositions. Therefore, some will be welcomed into the group and embraced, but others will not. Rejection of some will occur because they appear not to be convinced of the extent of rigidness associated with the congregation as a whole in matters neither commanded nor condemned in Scripture.

Third, once believed and flourishing in the heart of a sinner, the gospel produces humility. This comes from the recognition of our lowly estate, our offensiveness in the eyes of a holy God, our inability and unwillingness to seek after God in our fallen condition, and His marvelous grace by which we are saved in spite of our status. Spiritual elitism, by contrast, smothers humility while encouraging pride. This is a simple matter of understanding how the flesh reacts when we believe that we have achieved a level of maturity that is not common to all who profess to be Christians. Any commendation of the flesh results in the cultivation of pride, which is always lurking just under the surface, so to speak.

The “cure” for spiritual elitism is, of course, the same gospel it obstructs. A strong and enduring grasp of the gospel—its nature, power, and purpose—will prevent the development of an elitist perspective in us. And, by way of implication, if the members of any fellowship or congregation know the character of the gospel well, the prideful appraisal of one another will have no ground in which to thrive. 

Every person needs accountability. Regardless of age, experience, or other factors, and because we are fallen creatures, we must be made accountable to help us deal with the sinful impulses that continue to trouble us even after our conversions. The concept of accountability originated with God Himself. The fact that we are created beings necessarily implies that we are subject to our Creator’s authority. In His wisdom, God has established various levels of accountability so that we are never left without this much-needed benefit.

As children, we are answerable to our parents. As adults, we are accountable to a number of sources. For example, as an adult, I must answer to civil authorities for my conduct as a citizen in this society. I am also accountable to Church authority primarily for spiritual oversight. Even if we should manage to remove ourselves from liability to any civil or ecclesiastical institution, we are still ultimately and inescapably accountable to God.

In this post, I want to comment on one particular aspect of accountability, which is the situation you face when you are accused of wrong-doing and the matter automatically becomes the concern of those to whom you are accountable. For instance, as a teaching elder (minister) in a Presbyterian denomination, I labor in the local church, but my membership, and therefore my accountability, rests with the Presbytery. Consequently, in our system of government, when allegations are made against a minister (by fellow officers or church members, for example), his Presbytery is responsible for investigating the matter and rendering judgment. In order for this arrangement to function properly, it is absolutely essential that those conducting an investigation demonstrate a clear understanding of Biblical teaching covering such matters and a steadfast commitment to objectivity. This holds true for all situations in which accountability exists.

As the accused, your one true hope for justice relies on the willingness of those to whom you look for judgment to process all information from both sides in a manner that shows no partiality, one way or the other. In matters in which there are two sides in conflict, the Scripture’s warning is plain:

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” (Pro. 18:13)

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Pro. 18:17)

These verses provide the opportunity for me to explain the title of this post, The Danger of Accountability. While I may find some genuine encouragement in the concept of accountability, since it applies not only to me, but also to whoever might accuse me of wrongdoing, this arrangement can become extremely detrimental if those to whom we are accountable violate the principle found in the two verses above (as well as many other passages in the Word, of course). This is the danger of accountability. If your circumstances are not given a completely impartial analysis, you may find that your relationship of accountability actually works against you and against a just resolution.

If those in authority fail to demonstrate absolute objectivity, regardless of the nature of the charge or the “evidence” offered, then your cause is lost. In situations where one person accuses another, those with the responsibility of rendering a judgment are in a critical position. Should they allow themselves to be persuaded, even in a minor form, one way or the other, based upon the initial information they are given, the process is corrupted and, in the case of an innocent man, a great injustice is in the works. The fact is that we are rarely as careful as we should be when it comes to hearing reports about others, but when the well-being of another person is in your hands as one responsible to judge, you must maintain neutrality until both sides have been examined.

This isn’t just a matter of human fairness, it is a matter of obeying the Scriptures. Since that is the case, if the Word is not kept in a situation like the one I’ve described, then the one acting as an evaluator has transgressed in a most harmful manner. In his failure to remain objective, he has sinned against one of the parties in the dispute. And let’s not overlook the involvement of the one who presented the initial “evidence.” It’s almost a certainty that his manner of presentation was characterized by repeated assurances of his regret for having to bring the charges, his concern for the good of his “brother,” an exaggerated declaration regarding the reliability of his “proof” and the righteousness of his cause. But this is precisely the kind of situation envisioned in the verses quoted above.

God has given us unmistakable guidance because of the danger that we would be tempted to believe the first report, especially if it is presented as just depicted. Due to our fallen natures, we cannot rely on our ability to remain unaffected by a presentation. In fact, we should assume that we will be unfairly persuaded unless we are dedicated to remaining completely unbiased having been forewarned by God’s Word.

A Few Good Men

Historically, certain institutions in our culture have been characterized by male leadership. In the family, for example, men have been viewed as heads of homes responsible for protecting and providing for the members of the household. This position requires self-discipline and self-sacrifice in order to establish and maintain a prosperous and happy home. The obligations required of men emphasize some particularly masculine traits, such as bravery and strength. And, of course, the Designer of marriage and family set before men the inspiring example of our Savior. To match the pattern set down in Scripture, a man has to become a servant who lives and labors for the good of his wife and children.

Another institution historically characterized by masculinity is the military. Entering combat for the sake of protecting others has always been a calling that is distinctively male. We can go back as far as we like in history and we will discover that warfare in defense of nations has been dominated almost entirely by men. As indicated above, this is in keeping with the nature of masculinity as defined by God. Men are supposed to fight for country and home. When females are involved in this endeavor, it has usually been in support roles, not positions on the front line. This, too, is in keeping with God’s design of females.

Both of these institutions, in which men occupy unique positions that carry unique responsibilities, have been dramatically altered by homosexual activists and their political supporters. Marriage has always been defined as an arrangement in which a man pledges himself to a woman and a woman pledges herself to a man. As husband and wife, they establish a home, which normally includes children. Although the will of God in this matter remains what it has always been since the creation of Adam and Eve, our culture is rapidly adopting a view of marriage and family that is absolutely contrary to Scripture.

Marriage is being redefined to accommodate men marrying one another and women marrying one another. And since it is impossible for two men or two women to produce offspring, they have resorted to various procedures by which children can be obtained. Such relationships are now sanctioned as “families.” This wholesale reconstruction of marriage and family is enjoying the increasing protection of law. In a very short amount of time, the homosexual agenda has advanced to levels that now profoundly and detrimentally affect the fabric of our society and, consequently, the future of this nation.

Action being taken by the present administration in Washington has hastened a similar corruption of our military forces. A substantial majority of those who are actually doing the fighting clearly oppose allowing homosexuals to serve openly in their ranks. But this opinion is simply ignored and the agenda progresses. Effeminate men are not suited for combat and the close quarters shared by soldiers is not the place for both heterosexual and openly homosexual men. This decision is bound to have the same kind of destructive impact as what we’re seeing in regard to the institution of marriage.

There are now no institutions in our culture that are distinctively male in character. This might be acceptable if God had not created the sexes with different, yet complementary, characteristics and abilities. The compromise of the military represents an enormously significant step forward for the homosexual strategy, which aims to erase all restrictions, both moral and practical, that have heretofore restrained the widespread acceptance of that which the Scripture condemns.

Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Toward the end of Heb. 5, the writer is continuing his explanation of the priesthood of Christ when he refers to Melchizedek, the somewhat mysterious figure who met Abraham as the patriarch returned from rescuing Lot (Gen. 14). The writer intended to explain how Melchizedek was a type of Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant, but hesitated due to the immaturity of his audience. These believers were not recent converts, which made their lack of understanding even more serious.

The text indicates that they had been trained in basic doctrine at some point in the past. (cf. 13:7) The writer expected them to be capable, spiritually speaking, of receiving and benefiting from some significant and complex teaching regarding the ministry of Jesus Christ. In fact, he declares that these believers should be teaching others by this point. This additional information would help complete their understanding of the ministry of the Savior and more precisely reveal the nature of His relationship to the Church.

The phrase, “elementary principles,” refers to the first in a series or the first element on which every other element in the group depends. In this context, the writer is referring to primary Christian doctrine. The readers of this epistle did not have a solid foundation, doctrinally speaking, which left them unprepared for instruction that necessarily would rest on those first principles. Although they were not new converts, as noted, they still could not accept the “solid food” of Biblical revelation; at their present level of maturity, they could only “digest” the simplest of instruction (referred to as “milk” in this text).

The cause for this situation is identified in vv. 13 and 14. These believers had not made sufficient effort to learn and apply what they already had been taught. They remained “infants” in terms of their theological perception. Therefore, this passage illustrates how adversely we may be affected if we ignore, forget, or count as unimportant our doctrinal “ABC’s.”

In the beginning, a believer learns the rudimentary elements of our belief system. As time passes and by God’s grace, he endeavors to conform to that divine standard. This is the process of sanctification. Maturity comes as the convert progressively builds doctrine upon doctrine, as it were, while also continuing efforts to apply what is being learned.

Regretfully, I recently experienced a real life example of what can happen when a congregation becomes convinced of its theological superiority and, at the same time, neglects the foundational teachings of the Bible in regard to telling the truth, handling offenses, protecting reputations, avoiding gossip, forgiving one another, and demonstrating simple Christian charity (see also my recent post “Remembering What We Have Received”).

In what turned out to be my last sermon for this church, one of the issues I emphasized was my perception that we, as a body of believers, were not giving appropriate attention to many of the elementary commands in Scripture. Over a period of two or three years, I told the congregation that I noticed a disturbing increase in the number of relationships being shattered. In almost every case, it was apparent to me that the basic obligations given to us by God were being neglected (see my partial list in the paragraph above). With such foundational imperatives being discarded, intense turmoil was bound to follow.

The level and intensity of the destruction that has taken place in this church is well beyond anything I’ve ever heard of or witnessed. But, as I just said, it was inevitable. When believers set aside our elementary obligations regarding how we treat one another, the way is cleared for horrendous abuses. Sin that is practically unrestrained is a frightening thing to encounter; it gains momentum rapidly, begins to consume, and expands. But that is what we face when we ignore the “ABC’s” of Christian conduct. In my opinion, much trouble in the church could be avoided if we concentrated on the foundational commands of God; this commitment would keep us from becoming arrogant, overly confident, and hypocritical. We should never allow ourselves to reach the point where our expanded knowledge of doctrine obscures basic relational requirements.