Honoring My Brother on Memorial Day

On Memorial day I always try to take some time to thank God for the freedoms I have as an American citizen and for the men and women who have given their lives so that I could continue to have these freedoms. I also try to remember to pray for the many service members who are still in harm’s way. I pray especially for my brothers and sisters in the Lord who are serving in the military, that they will be faithful witnesses to Christ under very difficult conditions and that they will be protected and come home safely.

Today, however, I am especially thankful as I think of my brother, Paul Throop, who served his country well in the US Army in many dangerous combat situations. In the process he suffered a significant injury, for which he was medically discharged and with which he lives in pain every day. Yet he does not regret his service. Nor does he complain about the limitations and the discomfort his injuries have caused in his life. In fact, he now serves the Lord Jesus Christ with an even deeper devotion than that with which he so faithfully served his country. He is an amazing example of the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ in saving sinners. He is a devoted husband and father, who loves his wife as Christ loved the church. He is also a loyal brother in the Lord, one whom I don’t deserve. I wish there were more men like him. I wish I was more like him in many ways. I love and respect him, and I honor him on this Memorial Day.

Dr. Belcher’s Writings Available at Grace and Truth Books

Over the years Dr. Richard Belcher has written many books designed to help laymen understand Bible study and theology, and most of them now appear to be available at Grace and Truth Books. In fact, it looks like the single best place where you can find them. If you haven’t read any of the books in his Journey series, I would especially recommend them, and you can even buy them as sets for discounted prices. It is a series of what Dr. Belcher calls “theological novels,” in which he writes of the life and ministry of a fictional character, Ira Pointer, who learns about theology and its practical application as he encounters the many blessings and tribulations of ministry. The first in the series in called A Journey in Grace, and I am especially thankful for it because many years ago it helped my wife come to an understanding of the Doctrines of Grace. I have also found that the series has been helpful in teaching people who may struggle to read theology but who seem to enjoy these books because the stories keep them engaged and help them to see how important each theological issue really is and how it impacts — or should impact — people’s lives. If you haven’t read them yet, get a copy of A Journey in Grace, or perhaps the set of the first seven in the series, and give them a try.

Post Update 5/29/16

Dennis Gundersen of Grace and Truth Books sent me a message he said I could post here:

Thank you, Keith, for mentioning us. Yes, Dr. Belcher has reached the age of 82 and asked us to take over the storage and distribution of all his books. So, in addition to the 31 volumes of his “Journey” series (starting with “A Journey in Grace”, shown above) we also have his biography of A. W. Pink, his two collections of the Letters of Pink, and various books on preaching, the Sabbath, and biblical exposition. 

As Keith suggests, for anyone unfamiliar with these, the first set is a fine place to start.

Richard Belcher’s “Journey” Series – Set One (7 volumes)

The Journey Books: Complete Set of 31 volumes

I would definitely check out the website. They have a lot of good titles.

NCFIC: A New Family Integrated Church Denomination? By Shawn Mathis

Last September Shawn Mathis posted an article entitled NCFIC: A New Family Integrated Church Denomination? In this article he sets forth the evidence that the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) is continuing to look more and more like a new denomination, despite their assurances to the contrary. With Shawn’s permission, I have quoted the article here in its entirety:

Is the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) morphing into a quasi-denomination? Maybe something akin to a Presbyterian way of running things? As a group they unite together over children in worship (that is good) but denounce children in Sunday school (that’s bad).

Late last year, Scott Brown announced the formation of “regional facilitators.” These men coordinate area-wide events and leadership meetings to better cement inter-church relationships.

But Scott hastily assures his readers that this is not the formation of a denomination but an “organic way that brothers and sisters in churches are designed to love one another.”

Since when does an organic way have such a regional structure with regional leaders? Or when does an organic way include a publicly signed confession? Or when does an organic way involve a national church roll–all of which is coordinated by a central organization with one small board and one main leader?

This organic way seems a little more structured than many will admit.

But someone will quickly point out that Scott is not disciplining the churches like a bishop. Yes and no.

Consider the simple fact of signing the NCFIC declaration: to whom is the promise given that the church signing it agrees with the Nicene Creed and is in “substantial” agreement with the document itself?  To the NCFIC. Or rather, to the board, I think (the details of the NCFIC are not clear). Thus there is an implicit moral (and now structural) authority to accept or reject the church’s signing. They hold the keys to membership.

It is true that the NCFIC has a stated hands-off policy toward member churches. But churches have been removed from the list.

Consider further, that a church can list any exceptions it has with the NFIC declaration. But who decides what exceptions are allowable? The NCFIC. They hold the keys to membership and to doctrinal purity.

But there is more. The goals of the NCFIC are eerily denomination-like:

1. To facilitate the creation of new churches: “Facilitate church planting…Wherefore [the undersigned NCFIC churches and individuals], in Light of This Our Faith, We Do Hereby Resolve to…Consult with biblically sound churches that will likewise plant [FIC] churches, which perpetuate faithfulness to the Word of God in matters of church and family life.” (Welcome Pastors, NCFIC declaration)

2. To maintain structural cohesion of said churches: “How important is the establishment of biblically-ordered local churches? It is very important, since the church is ‘the body of Christ,’ (Eph. 1:22-23) and ‘the pillar and ground of the truth,’ (1 Tim. 3:15). This is why the NCFIC maintains an online church network called the, ‘FIC Network.’ (Scott Brown, posting)

3. To preserve and spread the Gospel: “We have seven objectives at the NCFIC. The first and foremost is to preserve the spread of the true Gospel from one generation to the next, through biblically-ordered, Gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting churches and families” (Scott Brown, posting)

I rejoice that Scott Brown is moving toward something beyond Independency. It seems the NCFIC is becoming something akin to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) with some regionalism of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) thrown in for good measure.

Both groups affirm the autonomy of the local body, while the CREC has regional presbyteries. And the CREC is a collection of Baptists and Presbyterians.

But there is more: “it seems to me that God would have many of these [FIC] churches be connected with one another for mutual help.”  What does that help look like? Scott believes this help is found in the “pattern of the churches in the New Testament” and approvingly quotes the following:

“They shared love and greetings; They shared preachers and missionaries; They supported one another financially with joy and thanksgiving; They imitated one another in how to live the Christian life…They were cautioned about whom to receive as teachers; They were exhorted to pray for other churches and Christians.”

If these become implemented, there will be no doubt that the NCFIC has become a denomination. Part of this list is already being implemented:

“Kevin Swanson and I are going to be hosting a church leader’s luncheon for the church leaders in Englewood, CO…We greatly desire to see like-minded pastors and congregations within a small geographical area begin to (1) know each other, (2) actively encourage each other, and (3) join together in Great Commission labors.”

Functionally, the NCFIC is in a unique position to be a denomination-that-is-not-a-denomination, working across existing denominational boundaries.  Will regional Presbyteries have to contend with a presbytery-within-a-presbytery if some of their churches join the NCFIC?

The question remains: is the National Center for Family Integrated Churches morphing into a quasi-denomination? Only time will tell.

I appreciate the work that Shawn has done over the years helping to correct the FICM and helping to warn the body of Christ about the dangers of some of their views. I have found in him an ally in supporting the truth and strengthening the churches against some of the aforementioned dangers involved with the FICM, and I hope the blog’s readers will consider his writings on the subject in addition to my own. He has written a very helpful book on the subject entitled Uniting Church and Family: Observations About the Current Family Crisis.

2016 "What is a Reformed Baptist?" Poll Update

Four months ago we began a poll on the blog. If you identify yourself as a Reformed Baptist and you haven’t already taken part in the poll, please check out the “What is a Reformed Baptist?” Poll on the right sidebar on this page (the red box with white type). The intention is to run the poll for one year with an interest in how the Reformed Baptist community might answer this question. I have given four options for answers that I think basically sum up the various groups or individuals that I have found to be using the term. Here are the four possible answers:

To regard oneself as a Reformed Baptist, one must …

1) adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology.

2) adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology and to Covenant Theology.

3) adhere substantially to the Baptist Confession of 1689 (e.g. modify regarding Impassibility).

4) adhere strictly to the Baptist Confession of 1689.

For those interested, here are the results thus far:

13% say that one must adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

28% say that one must adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology and to Covenant Theology in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

40% say that one must adhere substantially to the Baptist Confession of 1689 (e.g. modify regarding Impassibility) in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

19% say that one must adhere strictly to the Baptist Confession of 1689 in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

Again, if you haven’t yet taken part in the poll, please do so. You may read more about the poll here in order to understand better why it is phrased as it is.

The Problem With Preaching Other Men’s Sermons

Most of us know that pulpit plagiarism is becoming an increasingly rampant problem these days. I think this is probably due to a number of factors, including such things as the easy availability of large numbers of sermons and sermon outlines online, the increasing pressure on pastors to sound like the celebrity preachers so many of the people in their congregations like to listen to or watch online, and the lack of solid training in exegesis and expository Bible teaching among so many pastors these days. But perhaps one of the most glaring problems is the lack of understanding among so many pastors regarding what their calling really entails.

D.A. Carson touched on this issue back in 2010, in an article at The Gospel Coalition website which asked the question When Has a Preacher Crossed the Line into Plagiarism in His Sermon? Answers were published from five Coalition members, one of whom was Carson, who writes:

First: Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.

This is a very good answer, in my opinion, but I am struck by the fact that there are many pastors these days who would claim that the first two points do not really apply to them, despite the fact that they regularly repeat other men’s sermons. For example, many would say that they are not stealing if they have obtained permission to use the sermons, even without citing their original author. And they would argue that, so long as the members of their congregation know that they are preaching other men’s sermons, then they are not deceiving them. But I don’t think that there can be an answer to Carson’s third point, which is that they are failing to devote themselves personally to the study of God’s Word “to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.” The simple fact is that, as pastors, we are called to preach the Word, not simply to repeat what someone else says about it (2 Tim. 4:2). In the process we are to make sure to teach “the whole counsel of God,” an important aim of pastoral teaching for which the Apostle Paul held himself up as our example (Acts 20:27). To this end Paul admonishes a pastor to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 NASB). How does simply repeating the work of other men even come close to heeding this command?! How does one demonstrate his own ability to accurately handle the Word of God if he doesn’t even bother to do the work himself?! We simply cannot fulfill our calling as pastors if we are not doing the hard work of understanding and accurately handling the Word of God for ourselves.

I would also argue that fulfilling this calling is a necessary part of heeding the Apostle Peter’s command to pastors to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4 NKJ). How can a man serve as an example of how we must learn to hear God speak to us in the Word for our sanctification if he isn’t even bothering to delve deeply into the Word himself? How can one serve as a proper example of how to accurately handle the Word of God if he doesn’t even know how to do it himself? In my view, one of the most important things I do as I teach the Word week in and week out is to model for the flock how they should rightly handle the Word of God for themselves. In this way I serve as an example to help them be like the Berean Christians, who were “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11 NASB). How does simply repeating the work of other men serve as an example to the body of Christ of how they ought to properly study the Bible for themselves? We simply cannot be the example we are called to be without demonstrating how the flock under our charge can properly study and interpret the Bible for themselves.

In my opinion, there are far too many pastors across America who are either incapable of doing the hard work of exegesis and sermon preparation, or they are unwilling to be diligent to present themselves approved to God as a workmen who do not need to be ashamed. Instead, they would rather simply repeat the sermons of other men, and for this they ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves! My fellow pastors, let us not be among them!

Jesus Is Lord: The Mediatorial Reign of Christ

Jeff Johnson announced earlier today that a new book will soon be available from Free Grace Press. The book is entitled Jesus Is Lord: The Mediatorial Reign of Christ, by Ron Crisp & Daniel Chamberlin. Here is Jeff’s announcement:

A great book on the mediatorial reign of Christ by Ron Crisp and Daniel Chamberlin, published by Free Grace Press, is coming May 23. If you want to know more about how a man, from our own ranks, has been given sovereign power over all things, then you will want to read this book. Short, full of Scriptures, and full of glory and hope. You can preorder by emailing freegracepress@gmail.com for $5.00 per copy.

If you want to preorder, now is the time! I would recommend checking out the growing number of other titles at Free Grace Press as well. You can purchase any of Jeff’s books there at a good price, and you can keep up new titles coming in the future here.

The Danger of "The Soft Prosperity Gospel"

Erik Raymond has written a thought-provoking and needed article entitled The Soft Prosperity Gospel, and I hope all of you will read it. Here is the introduction to the article:

What do you think of when you read the words prosperity gospel? Odds are that your stomach turns a bit as you think about the preachers on television who speak to very large crowds and appeal to even more people in their books. Queasiness is the reaction one should have to the brand of Christianity trumpeted by prosperity preachers. This is because the prosperity gospel is not a gospel at all but rather a damnable perversion of the true gospel. Its preachers herald a message of self-improvement that runs painfully contrary to several key biblical realities. They minimize the purpose of suffering, discourage self-denial, and make the Christian life about the accumulation of stuff. To do this they turn Jesus from the self-giving, sin-atoning, wrath-satisfying, guilt-removing Savior into an eager butler who fetches all of our desires and gives us our best life now.

The prosperity gospel shrinks the gospel down to an unfiltered pursuit of our desires. It shifts the message from the spiritual to the materialistic. Let’s be clear about this: the prosperity gospel is about us rather than God.

Eric further states that:

We would be naive to think that prosperity thinking is limited to those who cruise around in their expensive private jets or overtly speak in self-help platitudes fit for fortune cookies. No, prosperity thinking has gone viral today. Being more nuanced and subtle than you may think, prosperity thinking is very active in the church. And because it undermines our understanding and application of the gospel, its effect is cataclysmic. Like a computer virus, it drains the vitality and productivity of the covenant community. And you know the worst part? We may not even recognize where we’ve been affected by it.

Let’s call this the “soft” prosperity gospel. It is not so loud and ostentatious. It is more mainstream, polished, and even American. Here are a few ways that you can tell that you may be nibbling at the hook of a soft-prosperity gospel without, perhaps, even knowing it.

Eric then gets into several areas in which we may have been infected with the virus of the false prosperity gospel without even realizing it. I highly recommend reading what he has to say here. As always, your feedback is welcome.