Thursday, July 25, 2019

Jordan Hall, Sabbatarians, and Arminianism

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to debate Jordan Hall regarding the Sabbath. Before the debate we enjoyed lunch together and I told Jordan that during the debate I would take the gloves off and throw few bare fist theological punches. However when the time came, I relented and went a little softer than I had planned- even though at some point in the evening I did refer to him as a "Sabbatarian Bruce Jenner, who can only self identify as Sabbatarian yet doesn't actually have what it takes to actually be one." So today, I'd like to be a little more direct and say some of the things that I had planned to say on that warm October day in Phoenix. 


Jordan Hal, along with a majority of Sabbatarians, is a Calvinists who thinks that Arminians are inconsistent and wrong in their Soteriology. But would it surprise you to lean that Sabbatarians, like Jordan Hall for example, actually have a lot in common with Arminians? You may ask, "what could Jordan Hall (and all other "Christian Sabbatarians") possibly have in common with Arminians?" After all, the two seem so very different. I think Charles Spurgeon can answer that question.


I've always been a fan of Charles Spurgeon. I love his clever wit and style of examining and communicating theological issues. One particular work of his on Arminian theology has always been one of my favorites. He writes:


You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer! For the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees  prays desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free-will: there is no room for it... 

Now, when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to pray, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out.


Here, Spurgeon is keying in on an aspect of Christian regeneration, namely; that Christians may have different understandings of certain theological issues, but the Spirit of God at times will not allow certain behavior from his children. They can think that they believe some note of doctrine when they're preaching slowly, but when it comes time to act, the truth comes out. Spurgeon notes this as the "brogue of his country where he was born," but it's more appropriate to think of it as the brogue of the county into which he's been born again. This principle of the Spirit of God not allowing for such error in practice has been noted in different ways throughout history. Spurgeon's observations in this matter are accurate. But this principle does not only apply in the Arminian practice of prayer, but it also applies in the Sabbatarians' practice as well.  Let's look at Spurgeons words again, but this time I will replace the references to Arminianism with Sabbatarianism.  


You have heard a great many Sabbatarian sermons, I dare say; but you never seen a Sabbatarian practice such doctrine! For the saints in practice appear as one in word, and deed and mind. A Sabbatarian in practice would look desperately like a non-Sabbatarian. He cannot practice a Sabbath in the New Covenant, there is no room for it... 


Now, when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to practice the Sabbath, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out.


Both the Arminian and the Sabbatarian are equally contradictory in word and practice. Sure, they may have grand sermons on the need to believe in and practice a Sabbath, but when they come to actually live what they preach, the true thing slips out. They can't help but live as non-Sabbatarians and allow every man to live according to his own conviction (either to observe a Sabbath or not observe). But as soon as they allow men to refuse to observe a Sabbath, they become deniers of the Sabbath doctrine which they profess.

Consider that at the outset of the debate, Jordan Hall made it a point to affirm that I'm his brother in Christ. He also affirms the same for other non-Sabbatarians like John MacArthur, as well as all other Christ honoring New Covenant, and Dispensational Theologians. But he can only do so in direct contradiction to his professed Sabbatarianism. True Biblical Sabbatarianism cannot affirm non-Sabbatarians like myself or John MacArthur or the millions of other non-Sabbatarian believers around the globe. They must label all non-Sabbatarians as false converts and heretics. Here's why.

In Romans 14, Paul says, 

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but do not quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgemnt on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 


See? This passage proves that there is no such thing as a Sabbath. Some believers choose to esteem one day above the rest, but some believers esteem all days alike. Thus, there is no obligation to treat one day above the rest. "This proves that there is no Sabbath." says the Sabbath denier. 


"Not so fast," says the Sabbatarian, "It is evident that these texts are not referring to moral commands, but refer only to the Jewish ceremonial days. The Apostle does not have the Sabbath day in view here. Paul is referring to disputable matters within Christianity such as whether or not a person can in good conscience observe Passover or any other Jewish ceremonial days. The Sabbath command is moral and not one of the disputable matters."

That is how the Sabbatarian vs. non-Sabbatarian arguments go.

So if the non-Sabbatarian is correct in his interpretation of this passage, then the idea of a Christian Sabbath is a disputable matter and each believer is free to practice or not practice as he sees fit. Thus, it's not a moral issue at all, but just one of preference and no one is under any obligation to observe a special day. But if the Sabbatarian is correct here, then this is NOT a disputable matter. The Sabbatarian cannot then allow each man to do as he chooses. He must demand that all Christians observe a weekly Christian Sabbath; for it is a moral matter. But that's not what the Sabbatarian does. Instead, after having argued that Paul does NOT believe the Sabbath to be a disputable matter, he walks away from the text, forgets his argument against the non-Sabbatarians, and then pretends as if the non-Sabbatarian is correct in that it's a disputable matter. He allows each Christian to practice or not practice a Sabbath; thus adopting the non-Sabbatarian interpretation of this passage and admitting by his practice that the Sabbath is indeed not a moral issue. 


Imagine for a moment if we were not speaking about the fourth commandment (the commandment concerning the Sabbath) and isntead, imagine if we were speaking about the first, second, third, or fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth, or ninth or tenth. Imagine for a moment Paul arguing, "one man esteems the Lord above all the rest, and another esteems all gods alike, let each one be convinced in his own mind."  Or perhaps, "one man esteems one sex for a bride, while the other man esteems both sexes alike." Or how about, "one man esteems one idol above the rest, and another esteems all idols alike?" These of course are moral issues and Paul would never say such a thing regarding moral issues. 




Tony Jones, Emerging Church minister who argues for open-marriages,
as well as polyamory.
http://apprising.org/2011/08/10/tony-jones-argues-for-open-marriage-and-polyamory/
Moral issues are not disputable matters, they are not open for personal interpretation, and a person cannot veer from these issues and still be called a Christian. A Christian cannot say, "you have your moral code and I have mine and we can disagree" or "you have your many gods and I have my one, but we can disagree" or "you have your polyamorous poligamous bisexual marriage and I have my monogamous heterosexual one, but we can disagree." Nope! That's not possible! The only correct response would be, "this is not a disputable matter! This is a moral matter based on the moral command of God and you must repent of your sin or else you are demonstrating that you are cut off from Christ!" And the Scripture affirms this as true, "for no one who abides in God keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." (1 John 3:6)

So why doesn't the Sabbatarian respond that way? Why doesn't he say, "this is not a disputable matter, you must repent!"  After all, when he's preaching or talking slowly, he's very clear, "this is not a disputable matter, the Sabbath is a moral obligation given by God, and it is a perpetual, and moral obligation, binding on all men!" But we know that's not what happens when it comes to actual practice. Instead, they wish to clearly and unequivocally assert that it is a disputable matter (which is of course the non-Sabbatarian position).

Thus, although Spurgeon was a Sabbatarian himself, he would have to assert of the Sabbatarians, "
when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to practice the Sabbath, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out."

In order to hold to the Sabbath doctrine, the Sabbatarian must tell the non-Sabbatarian that just like all other moral issues, Sabbath doctrine is not a disputable matter. Do Christians allow for disagreement on commands such as adultery, and idolatry? Of course not! But for the Sabbatarian and Arminian alike, he has to allow his practice to remain completely divorced from and unaffected by his belief.  For if he wished to be consistent, the Sabbatarian must tell all non-Sabbatarians that if there is no repentance from his immoral Sabbath breaking ways, there is no communion with Christ. Isn't that what he believes about idolatry? And adultery? And murder? And every other commandment? Why then does he make an exception regarding the 4th commandment? Could it be that "when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to practice the Sabbath, the true thing slips out?" 

Clayton Jennings 
Let's look at a living example. Jordan Hall and his ministry have written extensively about Clayton Jennings, a popular minister and speaker who also happens to be an unrepentant sexual predator, and noted his lack of repentance for sexual sin and has labeled him as a false professor of Christianity. They write, "we also would covet your prayers for Jennings, that he might find saving faith that leads to repentance."1 Why does the Pulpit and Pen deem Jennings to be in need of saving faith? After all, Jennings repeatedly and consistently professes himself to be a Christian. He even preaches and teaches at churches. Why then does Jordan Hall and the Pulpit and Pen ministry label him as a false brother?  They do so because he persists in breaking the 7th commandment without repentance. Now, it's true that Jennings also consistently breaks the 4th commandment regarding Sabbath keeping far more frequently and repeatedly than he breaks the 7th commandment regarding adultery, but for some reason, Hall doesn't seem to care about his breaking of the 4th commandment so much. I have yet to see a single article from Hall or his ministry, condemning Clayton Jennings or any other ministers who refuse to keep a Sabbath. But of course the lack of repentance towards breaking of the 7th commandment necessitates a handing over to Satan and calling him a false brother.  


In order to highlight the extreme failure of Sabbatarians in this matter, imagine for a moment that Jennings was not only guilty of sexual immorality himself, but also was also teaching thousands of people that they could do the same. How would Hall respond in this matter? Would he sit quietly while this man was teaching thousands that they are free to break one of the Ten Commandments? I doubt that any Sabbatarian, with or without a watch-blog ministry, would sit quietly while a popular pastor taught that they could cast off the 7th commandment, or any other commandment. So what about pastors who not only rejects Sabbath observance for himself, but he openly and actively teaches others that they too can cast off that commandment?  How do Sabbatarians relate to those who not only persists in breaking the 4th commandment themselves, but teach others that they may do the same; let's say someone like John MacArthur? For example, in a Sermon about Sabbath doctrine, MacArthur told his congregation, "
Don’t let anybody hold you to the sabbath.  It was part of the system that included the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices.  It’s gone.  It was only the shadow, not the substance."2 Imagine the outcry if MacArthur would have said, "don't let anybody hold you to the 2nd commandment about not making idols." Or "don't let anybody hold you the 7th commandment about not committing adultery."  Had he said something about any of the other nine commandments, no doubt Hall would have written an article about MacArthur's apostasy. But in this case, the Spirit of God testifies to Hall and other Sabbatarians about the reality of the abrogation of the Sabbath, and they continue to embrace one another as brothers should. 


Thus, Jordan is careful to make sure to communicate to the wider Christian body that non-Sabbatarian men like John MacArthur are his brothers in Christ.  His reasoning?  Because MacArthur thinks Sunday is a special day and refers to it as "the Lord's Day."3 But for MacArthur, "the Lord's Day" is not a Sabbath and he considers himself free to work and to play on the Sabbath 4, both of which are popularly accepted Sabbath violations, one of which Hall considers to be a Sabbath violation (working).  But, why the double standard? Why write extensively about one minister's breaking of the 7th commandment and remain silent in regard to the persistent breaking of the 4th? Especially when it includes not just the breaking of the command but the teaching of others to do the same? This is sin upon sin. This is egregious! He should be condemned far more harshly than someone like Clayton Jennings. But of course, in practice, this isn't what happens. In the case of MacArthur specifically, Hall accepts his Sabbath breaking because he appreciates that MacArthur calls Sunday "the Lord's Day," but such acrobatics just won't do. Again, imagine the man in Israel about to be put to death for having collected sticks on the Sabbath protesting, "but I'm not guilty of breaking the Sabbath, I call today 'the Lord's Day!'" Such an excuse will not do. Nor could I see Moses protesting, "but Lord, sure he was picking up sticks and breaking your Sabbath, but the day is special to him and he calls it 'your day.'" No. Such a thing could have never happened.  Sabbatarians may dutifully proclaim the moral obligation of Sabbath keeping, "when he is preaching and talking very slowly the Sabbath is binding on all; but when he comes to practice that doctrine, the true thing slips out; he cannot help it."


The observation that Sabbatarians resemble Arminians in this way is not new. In his book, In Defense of Jesus, the New Lawgiver, John Reisinger notes, 

"The next time someone insists that the Sabbath is a moral commandment just as binding on a Christian today as it was when first given to Israel, ask this question: Exactly what must a person do before your church will discipline him or her for Sabbath breaking? After a moment of silence, ask if the church has ever disciplined someone for breaking the Sabbath commandment. When he or she says no, then say, “You must have a church filled with extremely conscientious Sabbath-keepers or else you have a very hypocritical leadership that treats a moral commandment of God as if it had a nose of wax that could be twisted to mean anything any individual wanted it to mean.”





In other words, every member's Sabbath doctrine must match the pastor's view of the Sabbath in all points, or else be excommunicated from the church as someone who does not know God. Is this claim too extreme to be believable? It shouldn't be. It is standard Biblical doctrine. Jordan Hall confirms this in a Facebook exchange between him and I. 


To the left is a screenshot of the interaction. Jordan begins by quoting the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith regarding what God requires from men every Sunday. I saw this post and asked, "what should be done with those who unrepentantly break the Sabbath?" Hall answers, "They should be handed over to Satan, that they may be taught." The phrase "handed over to Satan" comes from 1 Corinthians 5 and is the Scriptural instruction to be carried out on a man who has been urepentantly having sex with his father's wife. In the passage, Paul argues that anyone who calls himself a Christian "brother" and yet engages in unrepentant sin is to be put out of the church and not to be numbered among the believing Christians. 

So we know that Hall rightly sees Sabbath breaking as no different than sexual immorality, such as the type of sexual immorality for which he calls Clayton Jennings to repent and considers him a false brother. Here we see that Hall is being very consistent in his theology of penology. Although this is very surprising since the 1689 London Baptist Confession from which he quotes here condemns Hall himself as a Sabbath breaker for playing basketball with friends on Sunday. As he speaks slowly in sermons and on Facebook, he says the right thing concerning consistent Sabbath doctrine and rightful penalties, but when it comes to practice, the old brogue of his heavenly country cannot help but slip out. So he calls Sabbath breakers (ironically, himself included) brothers. Surprised that he verbalized such a consistent penal theology for Sabbath breaking, I asked, "Are you referencing 1 Corinthians 5?" and he replied, "Sure. It's the same for any unrepentant sin." Now consider the two facts together. One, Sabbath breakers are to be handed over to Satan, and two, even if Sabbath breakers give Sunday a beautiful title like "the Lord's Day," Sabbath breaking is still Sabbath breaking. There's no excuse for it. There's no reason for Sabbatarians to allow for such unrepentant sin in the church simply because they say "today is the Lord's Day" while they go about breaking it, especially when someone like John MacArthur hold such extensive influence over thousands of other Christians, telling them that they can ignore any Sabbath command because the Sabbath is "gone." Again, what would Hall say if MacArthur said, "feel free to commit adultery because that commandment is gone?" It is highly unlikely that Hall would support such a man simply because he gives marriage a beautiful title such as "the Lord's union." To call it "the Lord's Union" while at the same time ignoring what the union requires is nothing but bold faced hypocrisy, and the same applies to the Sabbath. 



Depiction of Jan Hus (right) at the council of
Constance where he was excommunicated and
declared a heretic. 

Now a seemingly easy solution to this problem is for Hall and other Sabbatarians to simply respond by declaring me and all other non-Sabbatarian Christians, false believers, heretics, those who are "to be handed over to Satan." But the problem is far more troublesome for the Sabbatarian. Because if he hands non-Sabbatarians over to Satan for Sabbath breaking, then he also has to hand over all of his fellow Sabbatarians to Satan as well. This is because there exist no two Sabbatarians who agree on what the Christian Sabbath requires. And because they don't agree, they must consider one another to be guilty of unrepentant and immoral Sabbath breaking. 


Image result for soccer girlConsider the Sabbatarian who thinks it's perfectly  to play in an organized sporting event after church. According to Hall, she is a Sabbath breaker who should cease her unrepentant Sabbath breaking ways or else be handed over to Satan. All this despite the fact that she considers herself a genuine Sabbatarian who simply disagrees with Jordan's personal opinion on what is permissible on the Sabbath. But there's no room for disagreement on this issue. If Hall is correct and playing in organized sports is a breaking of the Sabbath, then she is guilty of unrepentant Sabbath breaking and should be "handed over to Satan." Morality has no room for each man to hold his own opinion. It doesn't matter if she's a Sabbatarian or not. It only matters what the Sabbath does and does not require. If it requires abstinence from organized sports then anyone who partakes in them is guilty of Sabbath breaking. Again, she must be handed over to Satan. 
The commandment breaker is not allowed to have her own personal interpretation of the commandment. 




But the issue becomes even more problematic for the Sabbatarian because conversely, while he believes that it is acceptable to play sports on Sunday, she thinks it sinful to travel on the Sabbath because, flight attendants, pilots, tarmac directors, tower control officials, baggage handlers, clerks, repairmen, and many more have to work on the Sabbath in order for Hall to enjoy the luxury of immediate travel. Therefore, she must hand Hall over to Satan because she believes he too is in violation of the Sabbath. The Sabbath command not only prohibits an individual from working but, according to many Sabbatarians, it also prohibits an individual from asking others to do the work for him. So just as he is to hand her over to Satan for playing in organized sports, she will be handing him over to Satan for traveling on the Sabbath. But of course there's disagreement on what types of travel are permissible as well, and some Sabbatarians will condemn her for putting gas in her car while on her way to her sporting event. Without question, there is disagreement on all issues. 


The Office Finger Guns GIF
Possible footage of Sabbatarians accusing one another

This is why every Sabbatarian is guilty of Sabbath breaking in the eyes of every other Sabbatarian. This is why everyone of them is logically forced to point the finger at one another and hand all the others over to Satan. No one adopts the exact standards as another. In fact, we saw above that Hall does not even agree with himself. In one moment he quotes the 1689 LBC which forbids recreation, and the next moment he says that recreation is permissible. They all adopt their own, and so no one agrees. Therefore, they are all Sabbath breakers in one another's eyes and they all have to point the finger of judgment and call for repentance, everyone to another. (And yes, Christians are called to judge one another and is Paul's thesis in 1 Corinthians 5). 



In all seriousness, the only person that a Sabbatarian would be able to consider a true Sabbath observer is oneself. I am not deliberately attempting to make a reductio ad absurdum argument, it's just that the logic requires a universal condemnation of all others.  According to all other Sabbatarians, the only true Sabbatarian can be one's self. The reason for the infinite number of opinions on what the Sabbath requires is because it is not just a question of can I play sports or not. But it explodes exponentially into questions of  whether or not one can go out to eat on a Sunday, or if one can drive on a tollway (I know a pastor who refuses to do so), or when the Sabbath begins and ends? Does it begin at Sundown according to the Biblical precedent, or the modern practice of midnight?


And what happens when one travels into a different time zone? Is their home timezone indicative of the Sabbath or the new timezone where they now reside? What about men who live up north where daylight can last for months? How can they observe Sabbath from sundown to sundown? How long does the Sabbath last? Is it 24 hours? Is it only daylight hours? Is it only until the church service is over (a famous pastor whom Hall looks up to once told me that it ends once the church service is over)? These questions of time and duration have never been agreed upon. There are also disagreements about or whether one is permitted to read the newspaper, listen to secular radio, watch secular TV, read non-religious books, go out to eat, use Facebook, use a phone, use running water, use public transportation, take a nap, visit friends, buy or sell, or even shave their face. What if I don't take advantage of a day of preparation before hand? Does failing to observe the day of preparation constitute a breaking of the Sabbath itself? (The 1689 London Baptist confession teaches that failing to prepare for the Sabbath is a breaking of the Sabbath). Can I celebrate birthdays? Hall has preached that birthdays cannot be celebrated on the Sabbath.  What about weddings? My previous church would not allow for weddings. The disagreements between Sabbatarians abound. 


Questions like these abound, and no one agrees perfectly with any other. Every Sabbatarian is a Sabbath breaker at some point in the eyes of every other Sabbatarian.  Because of this reality, Scripture requires them to hand one another over to Satan. Jordan Hall is right, "it's the same for any unrepentant sin." And this is exactly the point that I am trying to make. It is the same. You won't find me saying this very often in a discussion about the Sabbath, but I agree completely with Hall!  Sabbath breakers should be treated the same way every other rebellious unrepentant sinner is treated. So why does Hall (and all other Sabbatarians) always abandon his theology at this point and go out of his way to embrace Sabbath breakers as Christian brothers? They can only do so in contradiction to their professed theology. When they are preaching or talking slowly, they profess the most ardent and sincere Sabbath doctrine, but when it comes to practice, the true brogue of their heavenly home cannot help but slip out, and they accept all Sabbath breakers who profess Christ.


Thus, like the Arminian, the Sabbatarian has a real problem with consistency. And Jordan Hall's response to me during the debate; "I may be bad at practicing a Sabbath, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one" doesn't really answer the problem at hand. It's not just that he's bad at practicing a Sabbath, it's that he cannot practice a Sabbath. Well, he could, but if he did he would have to label all non-Sabbatarians as heretics who should be "handed over to Satan." As we have seen, this includes Christian brothers like myself as well as a dearly loved brothers of his such as John MacArthur, and even all other professed Sabbatarians who disagree with Hall's personal list of Sabbath obligations and prohibitions. And according to Hall's own profession of the 1689 LBC, he would have to even hand himself over to Satan for playing a friendly game of basketball on the Sabbath.5


Even if Sabbatarians could find a reason to maintain the bond of fellowship with one another, they cannot consistently embrace those who verbally and actively cast off the Sabbath command. They have to hand us over to Satan. Imagine for a moment if all Sabbatarians actually did so. They would be claiming that the only ones who belong to Christ are those who call themselves Sabbath keepers (a very tiny number). To employ their doctrine would reveal that our salvation is literally tied to the keeping of holy days; in this case the keeping of the Christian Sabbath. This is the Galatian heresy. Fortunately for the Church, Sabbatarians, just like Arminians, don't actually put their profession into practice. " For when he is preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when he comes to practice that doctrine, the true thing slips out; he cannot help it."


The Sabbatarian and the Arminian alike may preach and profess a belief in certain doctrine, but the Spirit of God cannot help but shine through when it comes time to practice. When it comes time for prayer, the Arminian abandons his theology and prays like a Calvinist. And when it comes time to practice the Sabbath, the Sabbatarian abandons his theology and embraces his brothers. You have heard a great many Sabbatarian sermons, I dare say; but you never seen a Sabbatarian practice their doctrine! 

5 http://www.fpchurch.org.uk/about-us/what-we-contend-for/the-sabbath/how-the-sabbath-should-be-kept/   . . . after the public exercises of God’s worship are over, the work of the Sabbath is not over; but we must retire to our families (not seek our pleasure in the fields, or in vain company) and there repeat over what we have heard, catechise and instruct children and servants, sing Psalms, pray with our families, and whilst we moderately make use of any creature refreshment, we must discourse of the things of God. We ought also to take time in the evening to retire into secret, and there examine ourselves as to the carriage of our hearts before God in the day; labour in meditation to get the Word wrought more thoroughly upon our hearts; we must also endeavour to pour out our hearts before God in secret prayer, humbly confessing sin, earnestly and believingly requesting pardon and further supplies of grace, and thankfully praising God for all His mercies, especially for His Son Jesus Christ, and the gospel privileges which we have in and by Him. In such variety of holy exercises we may spend the whole Sabbath, which we should make as long as we can. And when the day is at an end, we should long for the Sabbath in heaven, which will never have an end.

















Saturday, December 29, 2018

Coming to the End of the Emmaus Road



Oh give thanks to YAHWEH, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 107:1)


As I write this, iis Christmas day, 2018. I am sitting at the table while my children play in the living room with their newly opened toys. As I sit, am thinking back to December 14th, 2013. 


Almost exactly 5 five years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the gospel. One month later, I and another minister, began a newly formed, Emmaus Road Church. Our first meeting was in that very living room where my children now play. Since that first day, A lot of many people have been in that living room since thenmore than a hundred a lot of sermons have been preached, a lot of precious fellowship has been shared. Thank you Lord.

Four years ago, my partner in ministry left and I began to carry the full weight of the church, a part time job, and a family. It was hard, sometimes extremely hard, but God was faithful and would not let me quit. He graciously strengthened me, sustained me, motivated me, and gifted me. With his Spirit faithfully filling my sails I sped along, preaching, teaching, counseling, doing the work of the ministry, bounding over treacherous waves, and persevering even through the storms. Thank you Lord.

Three years ago, I was counseling and ministering to the first person who would be baptized at Emmaus Road. I thank God for the privilege to take part in His work to add to His Kingdom and join in baptizing those who came to faith at Emmaus Road. Thank you Lord.

Two years ago, we began meeting in a Lutheran church facilitySince that time, many people have come and gone. We have added to our membership, lost and said goodbye to members, and worked to set the vision for what type of church we wanted Emmaus Road to be. We grew in understanding. We grew in Spiritual stature. We began to grow into what Christ desires his bride to be, not a meeting place, but an intentional, and organic, mutually encouraging and supporting group of believers. Thank you Lord.

A year ago, as we do every new year's eve, Vivian and I planned for the future. We considered how working, pastoring, and trying to be a husband and a father was weighing on me and affecting all of us. We discussed whether or not our family would be able to maintain the demands on our personal finances and time. We discussed the costly burdens of trying to do so many things simultaneously and to do them well. I told Vivian at the time that we would wait one more year and see what God would do in 2018. We were intentional about evangelization evangelism and hoped that God would add to our number. He answered our prayer to a lesser extent than we had hoped, but He gave us the privilege of baptizing another member into His body. Thank you Lord.

Today, a year later, after prayerful reflection, find myself having to announce that Emmaus Road Church is coming to a close. These past 5 five years have been my hardest ever, and my favorite;--my happiest. I have never wanted to do anything with my life other than ministry. My life belongs to God I cannot think of anything that would make me happy, or give my life meaning, other than serving Him by making an eternal difference in the lives of His bride and those with whom I plead to unite themselves to Him. I have spent the past 5 five years doing just that. Thank you Lord. 

Emmaus Road has grown in ways that I never would have imagined. I have grown in ways I never could have imagined. From a human perspective, Emmaus Road Church has failed, but from a heavenly one, Emmaus Road has made an impact on eternity. Of course as a young pastor, one always wants to "succeed" and build a church that causes some to look at and marvel. To be honest, I still wish I could have done such a thing. But God saw fit to grow us Spiritually instead of numerically, to sanctify rather than multiply us. Thank you Lord.

The reality of God’s sovereignty allows me to understand that Emmaus Road was destined to "fail" from the start, and I am comforted by that. My role has been difficult, and I accept that. A road diverged in my life and I am grateful to have chosen the difficult path God has accomplished more than I ever could have if I would have chosen the road which leads to what men call success—what I expected success to look like. I am thankful for the past five years. I am thankful for the trials. I am thankful for the joys. I am thankful for what God has done.  The closing of Emmaus Road is not a mark of God failing but rather a sign of God completing his intentions in and through Emmaus Road as a corporate church gathering, and moving on to something else, just as a farmer completes one field and then moves on to the next. I thank God for his faithfulness to me and to members of his adoring bride which has gathered as Emmaus Road Church. Thank you Lord.

I do not know what the future holds for me personally.  Right now, I am engaged in a flurry of activity to open a restaurant like the one that I have been managing for the past five years. Emmaus Road is closing. God's kingdom is advancing. He has accomplished all he wanted to accomplish through Emmaus Road and I am grateful for the privilege to be a part of itThank you Lord.

By the time you read this, it is no longer Christmas day, 2018. By now, Emmaus Road has finished its last corporate gathering and we are each moving on to serve God at whatever place and in whatever capacity God has ordained. Only in eternity will we be able to see all that God has eternally accomplished in these past five years. Thank you Lord for doing it.

"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained." (Philippians 3:13b-1)



I would like to express a special thank you to my wife who has been so faithful through everything. I have sacrificed much over the past five years but she has sacrificed more. She's a wonderful woman and I'm thankful for her.

I would also like to thank my children who have given up much, although they are still too young to understand. Over the years, I've heard the phrase, "daddy, I wish you were around more" too many times.

I would also like to thank all the members of the Emmaus Road body. Everyone has sacrificed something to see Emmaus Road become a permanent fixture in Sugar Land. Thank you all for your sacrifices. Each of you knows what you've sacrificed, and so does God. Thank you for storing up treasure in heaven to join me in my attempt to give Sugar Land a solid gospel-centric, Christ-centric church. The Sacrifices you have made are the sacrifices of the New Covenant priesthood. Thank you.

Sugar Land still lacks a solid gospel-centric, Christ-centric church body, and I pray that perhaps God would one day raise up such a local church body to bring his sheep into the fold and to protect them from the weak, popular and contemporary theology which is unable to be of advantage to them. May the Lord be good to his sheep.

Christo et Ecclesiae

Thank you Lord. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Open Letter to Thabiti Anyabwile

Dear Thabiti,

I'm sure you don't remember me, but we met a few years ago. I was one of Voddie Baucham's pastoral interns at GfBC in Houston, and you were a speaker at our annual conference. You preached from 1 Corinthians 12 and the unity of the one body, the church. It was one of the best handlings of that particular text that I can remember hearing.

The reason I write you now, ironically, is because I think you're doing harm to the one body. I think you're causing and prolonging division. You've said so yourself. Perhaps not in those words exactly, but if you'll hear me out, I think you'll agree with my assessment.

If I understand your position correctly, you claim that there is division in the church, and most African American Christians (like yourself) won't reconcile with the church until there is repentance from white brothers and sisters.

Now, I am a white pastor at a small congregation, but one that is significantly made up of African Americans, and unity is of the utmost importance to me. In fact, I just preached yesterday on Philippians 1:27-28 where Paul urges the body to be unified for the sake of the gospel. I love Christ with all my heart and want to see him glorified through the advancement of that gospel. According to Paul, if anything is going to stop that advancement, it's not going to be the enemy that impedes, but division in the ranks. Division is inherently gospel stifling. And so I, (and I'm sure you as well) want nothing more than for the church to be unified, because ultimately, we want Christ to be glorified. He is all that matters.

And so this is why I'm troubled. You know that there is a lack of unity and you won't (can't) be the first one to move towards unity. You claim that you, and other like-minded black men and women, will not forgive and reconcile with the "white church" until something happens first. And this brings me to the reason for writing. WHAT do you want to happen? WHAT needs to happen to attain this unity?  I want nothing more than unity with all people, red, and yellow, black, and white. So let's get to work and identify clearly what needs to be done to seek attain the unity that Christ has purchased with blood. Are you interested?

You obviously want racial reconciliation; and when I say racial reconciliation I refer to racial reconciliation "in the Church," not the world. For it's the unity of the body that I'm after. I hope that when you use the term "racial reconciliation," you also are referring to reconciliation within the church; for it is the body of Christ that is called to be unified. In fact, the only people on earth that can be unified is the body of Christ.

TOWARDS RACIAL RECONCILIATION

You state that there can be no reconciliation in the church until white people do something first.

You have written,

"Racial reconciliation does not start with forgiveness...There’s no form of reconciliation that starts with forgiveness. All reconciliation—if it’s informed and true—begins with either the injured party declaring someone’s offense or with the confession and repentance by the guilty party. Jesus teaches us this clearly in Matthew 5:23-26. The guy claiming to worship can’t go on worshiping at the altar when he remembers there’s a rift with a brother. He needs to leave his gift—the very gift that was being offered to God for forgiveness. He needs to reconcile. Agree to terms. Get things patched up by dealing with the facts of the offense, and so on, and then come back to the altar where forgiveness with God and man might be enjoyed in a clean conscience during worship. "

So obviously, you want someone to confess to something. You want someone to seek forgiveness for something. And you claim that if that someone would come, confess, and seek forgiveness, then reconciliation will follow. We can make that happen. Since you're the one saying that you will not reconcile until white people act first, then you need to say what action we need to perform.  If you would clearly identify WHO you want to confess and WHAT you want them to confess to, then I'm sure white Christians would be happy to "leave our gifts at the altar" and "first be reconciled to our black brothers." We've been trying to get you to reconcile for a long time.

You contend that you want confession of sin from the "white church" white people don't know what that means.  We're confused concerning what you're after since the white church as already confessed. The Presbyterian Church in America offered a public condemnation of racism throughout their history. The SBC has also offered a public apology to "all African-Americans," as well. White people are striving for unity, even to the point of passing a resolution to "urge churches to demonstrate their heart for racial reconciliation by seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity in church staff roles, leadership positions, and church membership." And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many efforts that the "white church" has made to seek reconciliation. We're doing all that we know to do.

We are sincerely trying to tell you that we are sorry. So it leaves me wondering why you wrote an article saying, "We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King? We have "left our gift at the altar" and have gone to you, and confessed and repented. You said that is what was necessary for you to offer forgiveness, but obviously, it's not since you're still "Awaiting Repentance."

When the SBC published their apology to African Americans, it was received by Reverend Gary Frost who said,

"On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology and we extend to you our forgiveness in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Ephesians chapter 4, verses 31 and 32 say, 'let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice, and be kind, one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as god, for Christ's sake has forgiven you.' Because of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and his great love toward us, we extend that same love, forgiveness, grace and mercy towards you. We pray that the genuineness of your repentance will be reflected in your attitudes and in your actions. We forgive you, for Christ's sake, amen."

The way that it seems from where I sit, white believers are seeking reconciliation, and some black Christians, like Rev. Frost, are saying, "we forgive you." But you, as well as others, are still saying, "you can't have forgiveness until X happens first." But I have placed X in that sentence because we don't know what X is. We don't know what has to happen.


THE CORE ISSUE

This brings me back to my core questions. WHO do you want to confess? And WHAT do you want them to confess?  And if you want more than confession and a plea for forgiveness, then you need to tell us. What exactly, in your eyes needs to be done?  Up to this point, you've said that asking forgiveness was all that was necessary, but obviously, that doesn't seem to be the case. White Christians are desirous for forgiveness; for your forgiveness. What do we need to do in order to get it? What still stands in the way?

LET'S MOVE FORWARD

I don't ask these questions in rhetorical fashion and these questions don't serve to advance an argument. I'm seriously and sincerely asking very real questions; very real questions that you must answer. Your white brothers have left their gift at the altar, come to you, and asked for your forgiveness. The ball is in your court so to speak. You have to be the one to tell them why they still can't have your forgiveness even though they've asked. What more do we (as white brothers) need to do? Please seek to answer this question clearly and openly. What still needs to be done to attain the unity that we have in Christ?

We want forgiveness. We're striving for forgiveness.  Why don't we have it?

We need to get this done so that we can move on to the real work of advancing the gospel. Let's reconcile, for the sake of our Lord. His gospel and his glory demand it. We can't afford to continue stalling on this issue. And we can't move forward until these questions are answered. Let's do this!






"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel."  Philippians 1:27










Saturday, March 31, 2018

Philippians 1:6 Probably Not What You Think It Means

In the movie "The Princess Bride" the inimitable character Vizzini keeps using the word "inconceivable" at every chance possible. Finally, Inigo Montoya can't take it anymore, turns to Vizzini and says, "you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means."

As Christians, I think we might have more in common with Vizzini than we would care to admit. I sure wish I had an Inigo Montoya there to correct me when I needed it. But if the truth be told, I have someone better than Inigo Montoya. Jesus called him "the comforter" or "the advocate."  We call him, "the Holy Spirit." He has many functions, and correcting us is one of them. Let me offer an example.

All my life I've been convinced that Philippians 1:6 was a declaration of our continued progressive sanctification. You know the verse, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

That's about progressive sanctification right? Or is it not? As I was studying this passage recently, I began to have my doubts. It was like the Holy Spirit was there whispering in my ear, "you keep using that verse, I don't think it means what you think it means." 


Before I continue, let me put your fears to rest. I still believe in progressive sanctification. I think it's all over the pages of the New Testament. I just don't think it's on this particular page, not in this particular chapter, and not this particular verse. 

So if Philippians 1:6 is not about progressive sanctification, then what is it about?


In verse 6, Paul references the "good work" which God began in the Philippian church. But Paul is not referencing this "good work" in a vacuum, he's already mentioned what that good work was in verse 5, the "partnership in the gospel." Paul is citing the Philippians continues to share with Paul, their money, their people, and in suffering. In fact, in chapter 4, Paul says, "Yet it was kind of you to share
 my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only."

The Philippians are most likely afraid that all of their efforts have been done in vain now that Paul is sitting locked up in a Roman prison cell. Imagine investing all you have into a company only to see the government come in and shut them down. You would feel like all of your effort and investment has been done in vain. I imagine the Philippian church felt the same way. 

Thus, Paul mentions their "partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" in verse five and then immediately says, that this "good work" that God began will be brought to completion at the day of Christ. In other words, I think Paul is saying, 

"you've partnered in the gospel with me. You've invested money in me. You've invested people to serve me. You've invested in prayers and suffering with me, and all of this partnering with me in the work of the gospel will not be short circuited simply because I'm sitting in a Roman prison cell. Instead, this partnership in the gospel 'will be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ' so don't worry. Be encouraged. Nothing was in vain. The work will not stop just because I'm behind bars."

I think that makes verse 6 encouraging for two reasons.


1. Whatever you have done in service to God will not be lost, thwarted, short circuited, erased, or diminished. God WILL bring it to completion at the day of Christ. So whatever you've done in service to God that you feel like was done in vain, you're wrong. Partnering with God in the work of the gospel will be brought to completion at the day of Christ, even if our natural eyes see it having come to an end. Don't believe the way things appear. God is still using what you thought was done in vain. 


2. We can be encouraged to continue our efforts for the sake of the advancement of the gospel with full assurance that our efforts are not in vain and never will be. 

Thus, we have hope for both the seed that we have planted in the past, and the seed that we have opportunity to plant today, and tomorrow. 



So let's roll up our sleeves, get to work, and join in the gospel work that God is doing. We have full assurance that our partnership in the gospel will not be in vain, God will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. 



Here are two more detailed arguments concerning verse 6. 

1. 

https://bible.org/article/does-philippians-16-guarantee-progressive-sanctification-part-1


2. 

https://faithalone.org/journal/1996i/Hart.html