So What’s the Point of the Armor of God?

In writing this, I realize that I might be confessing too much.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been buried under a rock.  How do I miss such important truths for such a long time?  At times, I seem to discover (to my shame) a truth that believers have understood for years.  Nonetheless, when I have that “eureka” moment, I like to share it.

So, here’s my confession: I have never really understood the point of the armor of God.  Pretty sad, huh?  I knew I was to put it on, and I knew what all the pieces were.  But like the guy who shops the bargain bin at the Army surplus store, I had no idea what to do with it.  Should a pastor have a good handle on this, maybe a few years before his ordination?  Probably.  But since I can’t get a do-over on the past 20 years, I’ll have to start where I’m at.  Good for you if you’ve known this. 

So, here’s what I learned: the fiercer the battle rages, the more timid the Christian becomes.  We have this innate sense that if I don’t hit the devil too hard, he’ll leave me alone.  “Don’t rock the boat” becomes the battle plan.  Don’t provoke the enemy.  The enemy will leave me alone if I avoid doing anything too valiant.

I think there is a certain safety in maintaining the status quo within our homes and families.  Remember that the armor of God is set in context with Paul’s instructions related to the family.  When husbands tolerate small insurrections and wives carry on subversive warfare and the children are passively rebellious, we know that any attempt to follow God in our family may result in an all-out war.  If a husband sits down with his wife to discuss a few things where he thinks she is in sin, he expects things to get ugly.  So, he avoids saying anything.  If a parent seeks to correct the kids, he braces for the temper tantrum.  So, we don’t rock the boat. 

We don’t want the fight, so we tolerate the sin.  We make an uneasy truce with disobedience and (sometimes) outright rebellion.  God gives us armor before He sends us out to fight.  But make no mistake: God provides armor because He wants us in the fight. 

And the battle is for holiness.  Three things to consider then…

The Risk of Holiness

Holiness isn’t our default setting.  Nor is it an act of nature.  We fall into sin by the force of gravity, but nobody “falls” into holiness.  Sins grow up like weeds in our life without any special effort; holiness requires careful cultivation.  The way to holiness is the upward way, winding up a steep pass over rocky ground and rugged terrain.  The way to destruction is the pleasing way, a gentle slope, no sudden turns or sharp drops.

Photo by kristen munk on

Maybe that’s why so many Christians have come to terms with their sins and have made an easy truce with them.  Because it seems to me that when you leave a sin alone and don’t try to fix it, it lurks in the background without causing too much of a fuss.  Bad habits and sinful thought patterns pester us without causing us too much disruption.  We can be “at ease in Zion.”  But confronting a sinful pattern in our lives is like poking a smoldering fire.  It is bound to flare up again. 

The Philistines secure their place in the garrison and are pleased to let you come and go.  But if you try to drive them out, they won’t leave without a fight.  And that’s why God gives us armor.  Because you will have to fight; it will cost you something.  You know you can’t drive out an entrenched sin without some pain and suffering and maybe a little embarrassment.  And we are all a little afraid of the damage we might suffer.

God gives us armor so we can confront principalities and powers as they manifest themselves in our own lives.  And we can overcome.  Our armor prevents our being overcome of evil and enables us to overcome evil with good.

When I was a teen, I heard Jack Hyles preach, “You can’t fall from a crawl.”  It rhymed, which made it extra persuasive.  He pointed to some of the great heroes of the faith – Samson, David, even Moses.  And he explained that they fell because they were running.  They were in the fight.  The guy who is doing something is the guy who falls.  You can’t fall from a crawl. 

Continue reading “So What’s the Point of the Armor of God?”

When You Strap on the Armor, Be Ready to Fight!

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints (Ephesians 6:18)

I have always heard prayer linked to the sword of the Spirit as part of the soldier’s offensive arsenal.  E.M. Bounds famously wrote about the Weapon of Prayer, and I think most Christians would consider prayer a weapon.  No doubt we could make a solid case for this view, and I won’t quibble with it.

However, I don’t believe Paul means to treat prayer as a weapon in his catalog of the panoply of God.  Notice what Paul says between the 17th and 18th verses.  He begins with a command – the only imperative in the register of armor: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.”  He follows this command with “praying always” – clearly descriptive of the way we take the helmet and sword.  The grammar supports this understanding.  The Greek uses a genitive prepositional phrase, literally “through all prayer.”  Prayer is the way we take the helmet and sword. 

The message is simple.  You strap on the armor because you are going to war, so be ready.  And nothing prepares us for battle like watchful prayer.  So when you strap on the armor, you better be praying and watching.  Be alert in prayer; be praying watchfully.

Prayer, then, is the soldier’s readiness.  We want soldiers who not only arm themselves but who are poised to strike.  What good is a soldier who sluffs around in his armor?  For that matter, when a soldier straps on his armor, he better not sit down.  Armor can be heavy: he might not get back up if he sits.  Once the armor is in place (and we put it on when we receive Christ), it is time to go to war. 

So then, prayer and watchfulness aren’t additional pieces of armor, nor are they weapons.  Instead, they refer to the soldier’s attitude when He is armed – He is ready to fight.  He prepares for battle by praying and watching.  Let’s expand this into four elements of “readiness.”

Continue reading “When You Strap on the Armor, Be Ready to Fight!”

The Practical Value of the Armor of God 3

When we think of sanctification, we tend to think of things like resisting the devil, living godly in Christ Jesus, studying to show ourselves approved to God, not being conformed to this world, being transformed by the renewing of our mind.  We give attention to our walk with God, our time in the Word, our time of prayer.  We focus on overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil. 

But we pay little attention to the armor of God.  At least, I haven’t given it much thought.  Yet, God has armed us and equipped us for the battle so Satan cannot ultimately overthrow us.  Of course, he can trip us up and stumble us.  He can catch us in his snares.  He can tempt us and cause us to fall.  But he cannot pluck us out of the Father’s hand.  And this is in part thanks to our armor.

Our Heavenly Father is no helicopter Dad, hovering above us to ensure we never have trouble.  He is no Celestial Snowplow, clearing our lane so we can travel smoothly without disrupting our pilgrim way.  Instead, God gives us legs and teaches us to walk.  He infuses us with the strength of His grace so we might walk upright.  God raises us into maturity so we have the strength to confront principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places.  He declares us “more than conquerors.” 

So, God holds us in His hand but doesn’t hold our hand.  He sets us out to join the battle and confront the enemy while protecting us by His grace.  The panoply of God is His grace surrounding us, protecting us, defending us. 

And this armor is of practical value.  It doesn’t exist merely in doctrinal platitudes.  We should give careful attention to the whole armor of God because of the spiritual protection for the spiritual war it provides. 

We gird on the armor when we maintain our relationship with God in vital spiritual arenas related to the armor itself.  The sincere way we pursue the truth, our growing righteousness, our ever-deepening grasp of the gospel, our vibrant witness, and our taking hold of God’s promises and resting in them.  By looking to Christ in the Word and growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, we keep the armor fitted properly and in good repair.

This might not be all that sexy to a generation accustomed to quick fixes, Jiffy Lubes, and row upon row of self-help books.  But this is what God has provided for His saints so that we are armed for battle and ready to join the fray.  So, we must be attentive to our relationship with God to be armed for war. 

I wish I could write “10 hot tips for spiritual warfare.”  I wish I could tell you practical things, like “Tell yourself NO!  LOUD!” or “Spend 30 minutes in prayer before you read your Bible.”  “Stay off sugar.”  “Don’t watch YouTube after 10:00 at night.”  No doubt, these things could be helpful.  But God wants you to be attentive to His gifts of grace.  Ensure your armor fits right, is all in place, and is in good repair.  Be attentive to your salvation, sanctification, sincerity, and soul-winning.  Not fun, not fluff, but fundamental.

The final two pieces of armor will complete the panoply.  May God teach us to utilize His gifts of grace aimed at protecting us in this conflict.

The Helmet of Salvation

Before we consider the helmet, notice how the grammar changes at Ephesians 6:17.  With the first four pieces of armor, Paul used participles to describe how we stand.  “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness…” “taking the shield of faith.”    But now, Paul uses an imperative: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.”  He no longer describes the soldier standing, but calls the soldier to action.  Grab your helmet, grab your sword, and let’s go! 

Continue reading “The Practical Value of the Armor of God 3”

The Practical Value of the Armor of God, Part 2

God provides us with spiritual armor for a spiritual battle with a spiritual foe.  Dressed in the armor of God, we can enter the fray confidently, knowing that God has provided us with the protection we need against a dangerous enemy. 

And yet, we approach the armor casually, as if these are mere doctrinal theories to be discussed and (perhaps) debated among God’s people.  I don’t deny the need to understand the armor of God on a doctrinal level, nor do I deny that spiritual armor comes from our theology.  But of course, the Christian wants to know how this works, the practical value, “What do I do?” 

A young man in our church joined our local sheriff’s department, and when he started on patrol, he would often come to church straight off his shift – wearing his police uniform and gear.  The kids were most fascinated by his belt, which is like a small armory.  He definitely enjoyed showing them everything he carried and explaining their use.  But before this, he spent time training, learning the use of the things he carried in his belt. 

Think of this little series of articles as training.  We need to know our armor – not because learning about the armor gives us any kind of protection, but because we are soldiers, and a soldier should know his armor.  Knowing how the armor protects us will make us confident as we face our enemy in battle.  The armor does its work whether or not you are aware.  But knowing the armor gives us the courage to stand and fight.

God, by His grace, has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness.  But the most practical gifts of grace are the armor of God.  As we tour the pieces, we are reminded that our protection in battle comes from our relationship with the Lord.  By strengthening that relationship and keeping it in good repair, we ensure that the armor God has provided will do its job in the heat of battle.  Though the armor is spiritual, it consists of concrete spiritual truths – grace in exercise – that provide the protection we need.  Therefore, we must wear the armor and keep it in good repair so that in the day of battle, we will be armed and equipped and not be taken by the enemy or give up ground to him.

Consider then the shoes for the feet and the shield of faith.

Shoes for the Feet

I never feel more unprepared for battle than when I have my shoes off.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get into a fight when I’m barefoot.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t done martial arts.  I want my feet protected.

Leading up to the description of the armor of God, Paul stresses the importance of standing.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; (11-14)

You get the idea from Paul that a soldier’s great duty on the battlefield is to “stand.”  There will be times when he must advance and times when he must charge.  But for much of the time, he must stand.  He must not give up ground.  He must hold the ground he has gained, and he must gain ground on the enemy.

A soldier’s footwear must have two qualities: It must allow for mobility – in other words, it must not be cumbersome or clunky and difficult to move; and it must give him sure footing, keeping his feet from sliding.  God has provided the Christian soldier with shoes for his feet – “the preparation of the gospel of peace.”

Continue reading “The Practical Value of the Armor of God, Part 2”

The Practical Value of the Armor of God, part 1

I’ll be honest: I’ve never understood the practical use of the armor of God.  I’ve always considered it pie-in-the-sky, metaphorical not meaningful armor.  If that sounds heretical to you, it does to me as well.  But I took a little truth serum before writing this, so I’m being completely candid with you.  I have known that the armor is there and that God says I am to take it so that I can withstand in the evil day, “and having done all, to stand.”  But I have never understood how, practically speaking, “the helmet of salvation” or the “shield of faith” would help me in the hour of temptation.

Then, I took a good look at it.  I should have looked thirty years ago.  Maybe I did – you forget a lot in thirty years.  But recently, I had the opportunity to preach through the armor of God. In doing so, I was struck with the practicality of it.  Christian armor gives us real-world help in the face of trial and temptation.

Satan is the original Wile E. Coyote.  We are not ignorant of his devices (2 Corinthians 2:11).  He has had thousands of years to hone his skill at deceiving, has developed an entire system for enslaving, and has wounded many mighty.  We shouldn’t think that anything in our Christian experience – regardless of how long we have been standing or how faithful we have been – will exempt us from his attacks.  We must take unto ourselves the whole armor of God, or we will fail in the day of battle.

But how does the armor of God give us practical help?  What is the use of it?  I hope I can encourage you to consider the value of each piece of the armor of God.  We’ll cover two pieces of armor here.

The Belt for the Armor

The belt is not for you.  The girdle is for the armor.  Maybe that’s why Paul starts with the belt though we would typically dress in a different order.  The practical purpose of the belt is to keep the armor firmly in place – to hold it together.  We don’t want the breastplate riding up or getting twisted in the heat of battle.  And besides, we need a place to keep our swords and tuck our skirts so we might gird up our loins like a man. 

Continue reading “The Practical Value of the Armor of God, part 1”

Armed For Battle

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Believer, we are in a war.  We know this for a fact.  In any given week, we are reminded that we are in a war.  We see the red glare of the rockets and hear the bursting of the bombs.  In case you haven’t in a while, watch the news and you will see.  We are in a war.

Most Christians know that God has provided us with armor for the war.  But if we were to ask how exactly that armor works, how it is useful in a practical sense, we might struggle to answer.  Yet, the armor of God is not theoretical or mystical armor.  God has given us complete armor that will protect us against Satanic attack and enable us both to withstand in the evil day and overcome in the last day. 

Continue reading “Armed For Battle”

How Important Is Church Growth?

Jesus had a following.  A conservative estimate would have 10,000 people gathered on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee, possibly doubling that number (John 6:10).  That’s a crowd.  Most pastors would feel that their ministry was successful, given similar results.  The crowds were very enthusiastic about Jesus.  “He perceived that they would come and take Him by force to make Him a king” (6:15).  So, they were all in.  What an opportunity, if that was the point.

I’m a child of the 80s, and in the 80s, Jack Hyles was the king of church growth.  When I talk to older pastors from that era, almost universally, they will tell me that they made the trek to Hammond for the Pastor’s School.  My own family migrated towards and eventually landed at a Hyles church.  And those were exciting days.  I remember a discussion my dad had maybe a year or two before our family moved to the Hyles church.  We were visiting friends in Kansas, and the topic of Jack Hyles came up.  Everyone was talking about him at that time.  He had one of the biggest churches in America – he said it was the biggest.  My dad and his friend discussed his methods, and I listened from the back seat of the car.  As I recall, they were a bit skeptical.  But eventually, we ended up there.  Who can argue against a growing church?

The ministry of First Baptist in Hammond is a case in point that, for many Christians, church growth trumps many vital things.  If a church is growing, we will give them a pass on nearly anything – heresy, impropriety, even immorality.  Chicks dig the big crowd.  Perhaps then, we could be instructed by how Jesus handled His enthusiastic followers above Tiberius.

Continue reading “How Important Is Church Growth?”

Thy Thoughts Which Are to Us-ward

Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. (Psalm 40:5)

Berean Baptist Church of Ogden started on the first Sunday of April in 1958 – 65 years ago this past Sunday.  For the past twenty-two and a half years, I have had the privilege of serving Berean as her pastor.  God has done some extraordinary things for our church, and I still haven’t gotten over it.  So, I decided to share a couple of things with the reading public, hoping that you will be encouraged by God’s amazing kindness to a small and relatively insignificant body of Christ.

A Short History

Humanly speaking, we shouldn’t be here.  The believers God used to form the church reached out to Dr. Ed Nelson, who directed them in establishing the church Biblically and recommended a man to pastor them.  While the church waited for a pastor during their first year, one of the men took care of the preaching.  And when the new pastor arrived, he lasted only about three years.  After this, Berean experienced a revolving door of four different pastors over the next six years, followed by two years without a pastor.  So, in the first twelve years of our existence, we had five pastors, one interim, and two years without a pastor.  How does a church survive this?

But God sustained the church, and in 1970, God brought Pastor Hal Mason.  Pastor Mason led the church for eight years, followed by Pastor Wayne Musson, Sr., who pastored the church for twelve years.  Pastor Musson established our Christian Academy in 1979 and led the church to build our academy wing in the mid-1980s.  But near the end of his twelve years, tensions erupted into a full-fledged church split.  About half the membership walked out the door, and Pastor Musson served without a salary for the next two years.  Finally, in 1990, Pastor Musson decided it was time for him to step down as pastor. 

Under Pastor Musson’s direction, the church extended a call to Pastor Mark Short, the youth pastor for fourteen years at Anchor Baptist Church in Salt Lake City.  When Pastor Short moved to Ogden, he wasn’t sure if God was moving him there to close the church or to lead it forward.  But God healed the hurt from the church split, and the church soon thrived again.

Before I go any further, let me say that the point of rehearsing our history should not be to praise ourselves as if we have done something special.  The history of our church is the history of God’s providence towards an undeserving people.  We haven’t survived because we were especially great or especially godly.  We have survived because God decided to display His goodness by preserving Berean Baptist Church.  I cannot explain to you why Berean continues to this day.  I can tell you that God has worked through some tragic events to keep and use us as a church.  Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done.

My Story

I first heard of Pastor Short and Berean Baptist Church on a rainy night at the end of a long workday in the summer of 1997.  My shift ended at 9:00, and when I returned home, my wife had a message from a pastor in Utah.  He said it was urgent and asked me to call him when I arrived home.  Before I called, my wife and I got an atlas to see how far we were from Utah (this was in the pre-smartphone world).  We had been receiving phone calls fairly regularly from pastors at the time.  We had just left our second ministry in about one year – our first ministry ended with the pastor asking us to go after six months (he didn’t think I was loving enough).  Our second ministry ended when the pastor resigned, and the deacons didn’t want us to stay.  In June and July of that year, we worked, attended a wonderful church on the south side of Harrisburg, and visited Gettysburg every other Saturday (not kidding).  I fielded plenty of phone calls from churches during that time, but I had pretty much determined that God didn’t want me in the ministry, so I declined every invitation. 

So, when Pastor Short called, I figured this was just another “no.” However, I was curious about Utah.  When I hung up the phone after my conversation with Pastor Short, I was even more persuaded that the answer was “no.”  But, I had promised to spend some time praying before making a final decision and to mail him my resume the next day – which meant I needed to type it (on a typewriter) that night.  Fortunately, WalMart was open, so we could get ribbon for the typewriter (ask an older person to explain).  My wife ran down to the store – as she describes it, kicking and screaming and stomping angrily through the puddles – while I pulled out the old resume and prepared to update it.  My wife didn’t think there was a remote chance that we would be going to Utah, so she didn’t see the logic in revising a resume – at 10:30 at night – so we could mail it out the next morning.  But she bought the ribbon, and we sent the resume.

And over the next week and a half, I spent hours in prayer, seeking God’s will.  With the previous offers, I had prayed for maybe an hour or two before God settled it in my mind that this wasn’t His will.  But with this offer, God wouldn’t let me walk away.  After a week of praying, the only thing I knew for sure was that I needed to keep seeking God’s direction.  I talked to Pastor Short a second time, and God clarified His will for us after that phone call. 

In August of 1997, my wife and I loaded a moving truck and moved to Utah, sight unseen.  My wife had traveled through Utah several years earlier when she vacationed with a friend before we were married.  Otherwise, we had never seen the state, let alone Berean Baptist Church. 

God blessed us with four helpful, healing years under Pastor and Mrs. Short, and we began to thrive in ministry. Then, at the end of our third year of ministry, God used a friend’s death to stir me about the next stage in ministry.  At the time, I was delivering newspapers (ask an older person about that), and I used those early morning walks to pray and seek God’s face. 

Truthfully, when the thought of becoming a pastor first entered my mind, I believed I was in sin.  I accused myself of pride and haughtiness in thinking I could ever pastor a church.  Day after day, for several months, I pleaded with the Lord to deliver me from this pride, to forgive me for thinking that I could pastor a church, and to give me a humble spirit that would be content in the place God had given me. 

Perhaps this sounds contrived, but God is my witness that this was how I saw it.  Morning after morning, the thought would enter my mind that maybe I would become a pastor, and no sooner did the idea enter my mind but I began to plead with God to take it away and my pride with it.  And then, one day, it dawned on me that maybe my pride wasn’t speaking.  Maybe the Lord was leading. So I presented that to the Lord and asked Him if this was His will.  In my heart, I imagined God asking me, “What if I want you to become a pastor?”  When I thought about it that way, I decided it would be sinful pride on my part if God called and I refused.  That brought a moment of wonderful surrender, and for the next couple of weeks, I began to ask the Lord to direct me to what He wanted me to do.

At the end of that period of prayer, I became convinced that the first step was to tell Pastor Short what the Lord had been doing.  I figured that if this were of the Lord, my pastor would agree; if it weren’t, my pastor would object.  So, one day in early August of 2001, I told Pastor Short what I thought the Lord was leading me to do.  Pastor Short shocked me with his response.  He said, “Amen! I’ve been praying for this!  I pray that God will move me to the mission field and make you Berean’s pastor.”

Of all the horrifying things a person has ever said to another person, that had to be the worst thing I had ever heard.  I had been wondering if maybe God would move us to Idaho to start a church or if God would have a church for us to take over.  But the thought of pastoring Berean was too much for me, and I told Pastor Short that this was the last thing I would want to do.  Pastor Short asked me to return to talk to him again in a week while we both prayed about what the Lord wanted.

A week later, Pastor Short expressed his concerns about me, especially if I was to become a pastor.  I thought he was telling me that he had changed his mind – something I would have welcomed at that moment. But instead, he concluded by telling me that he was more convinced than ever that this was of the Lord and then reiterating his hope that God would move him and his family to Fiji and make me the next pastor of Berean.

A Tragedy

This meeting happened about a week before Pastor and Mrs. Short traveled with their family to Fiji, where the Short’s oldest daughter was a missionary with her husband, Kory Mears.  The tragic events of that trip still sting.  This past Sunday, we showed the documentary we made for our 60th anniversary.  Central to that history is the tragic death of Pastor Short, who was swept out to sea in a riptide and drowned just days after 9-11.  As a church, we still can’t rehearse that devastating day without a very emotional response.  God took our pastor, and we will never get over that.

When I received the phone call with the terrible news, I knew immediately that God had prepared me for this moment.  But I had a church to comfort and care for, and that took up all of my thoughts and energy.  The deacons and I gathered at the church that night for prayer.  We wept together, claimed God’s promises, found comfort in His Word, and reminded ourselves of our good God.  At the conclusion of that meeting, I read the section of our church constitution that describes what the church is to do in the event of the sudden loss of a pastor.  I wanted to ensure that the church knew the steps so we could avoid uncertainty and insecurity.  Our church constitution (thankfully) sets forth very clear actions to be taken in such an event.  The constitution requires that the assistant pastor become the interim pastor and that a pulpit committee be formed.  We all agreed that the pulpit committee should wait until after the funeral.

After that meeting, I visited with some of our grieving members before returning home to see my wife late that night.  The next morning early, a flood of emotion overwhelmed me.  Throughout the day, the phone at church rang off the hook as pastors, friends, and well-wishers called to express their condolences and offer the best comfort they could.  The most challenging moment came that first Sunday after his death.  I dreaded standing in the pulpit that Sunday.  I’ll never forget walking into the basement entryway and seeing one of our men.  We both broke down, and I had to return to my office to regain my composure.  That Sunday morning, I preached on the love of God from Romans 8.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

God carried our grieving hearts through those dark days.  Pastor Short’s body was recovered that Sunday afternoon, and we set the funeral for two weeks after his death – providentially because it took that long to return his body to the States.  After the funeral, I met with our deacons to form the pulpit committee.  As Interim Pastor, I was responsible for leading the church, but I would not be part of the actual committee – only serving in an advisory role. 

The Call

I knew what God was leading me to do, but I also knew that it would be very damaging to the church if I breathed so much as a hint of my conversations with Pastor Short.  I believe in transparency, but this had to be an exception.  As you can imagine, our church was emotionally exhausted, and if we had given any hint to the church of Pastor Short’s wishes, the people would have voted unanimously.  I felt very strongly that the church needed to confirm God’s leadership in my life.  For this reason, I didn’t give the pulpit committee any indication of what direction they should take.  Instead, I encouraged them to choose a chairman, and then I turned the committee over to his direction.

The first meeting of the pulpit committee was interesting, to say the least.  Once the chairman was chosen, he began to discuss the process of finding candidates.  He asked the men if they had any suggestions.  One by one, the men said they had no idea where to look. Finally, the chairman asked, “Would we want to consider Pastor Mallinak.”  One of the men immediately said, “He doesn’t want it.”  The men agreed.  “If he wanted it, he would have said something.  We wouldn’t need this pulpit committee if he wanted to be the pastor.”  As the men discussed this among themselves, one man pointed out that we would still need a pulpit committee even if I did want it because the church constitution required it. There is no automatic succession from Assistant Pastor to Pastor.  This led to further debate about my desire to become the pastor. Finally, one of the men said, “Well, Pastor Mallinak is sitting right here.  Why don’t we ask him if he wants to be the pastor?” 

So, the men asked, and I told them that I was willing to be considered.  One of the men pressed me on it.  If they offered, would I accept?  He insisted that they didn’t want to offer it if I wasn’t going to take it.  I told them I wouldn’t say: it doesn’t work that way.  They needed to seek God’s will as to whether or not they should extend an invitation to me, after which I would seek God’s will as to whether or not I should accept that invitation.  The men asked again, “Are you willing to be considered?”  And I said that I was.

Immediately, one of the men said, “I nominate Pastor Mallinak,” and another man seconded.  The chairman of the pulpit committee looked around in surprise, then said, “Well, I guess we should vote.”  I’m pretty sure it doesn’t fit with Robert’s Rules of Order, but I thought I should interject something before they voted.  So, I reminded them that not ten minutes before, they didn’t think I wanted to be considered.   I pointed out that in the ten minutes from then to now, I was pretty sure nobody had taken time to pray and seek God’s direction in this.  The men agreed, and we tabled that motion.  We decided to meet again in a week.  Meanwhile, the men would take time to pray over this decision.

The following week, the men had many questions for me.  Some had serious concerns about me as well.  Some even considered me arrogant (shocking, I know!). Nevertheless, I was thrilled with their questions and concerns, and I am grateful that they sought the Lord diligently.  At the end of that meeting, the men voted to a call to me. 

The following week, the chairman of the pulpit committee announced to the church that the deacons had voted unanimously to ask me to consider becoming Berean’s next pastor.  We gave the church a few weeks to pray and invited them to discuss with me and among themselves whether or not I should be the pastor.

At this time, the opposition began to rise within the church.  Once the announcement was made, our adult Sunday School teacher decided that he would teach what a pastor should be – and it just happened that his ideal for a pastor was the opposite of me.  The chairman of our pulpit committee suggested that maybe I should attend the Sunday School class, and I did.  But my presence (I sat in front of the man) did not deter him from what he had to say.  On the Sunday of the vote, he opened Sunday School by announcing that he was not going to vote and intended to return his ballot empty.  His father-in-law, a missionary supported by our church, had recommended this as an alternative to a “no” vote. 

On the Sunday of the vote, it felt like the wheels would come off.  One of the most bizarre things that happened that day came immediately after my “friend’s” Sunday School lesson (about me).  I was mildly irritated at the lesson, and as I walked through the parking lot to my office, two cars came whipping into parking stalls, and about three couples came spilling out.  Enthusiastically, they pumped my hand and informed me that they had heard we needed a pastor, and they had a man with them who had moved to our area to take a church.  They then asked me if we had found a candidate yet.  I told them that we had, that, in fact, we were voting on a man that very evening.  Surprised, they asked me for the candidate’s name, which I gave them.  They had never heard of him. 

They didn’t ask me for my name, and I didn’t volunteer it, as they didn’t seem too interested in anything except their own agenda.  Instead, they hustled into the church while I continued to my office.  I took a moment to ask the Lord’s help and wisdom, fully expecting to stand up and preach to this clan, but by the time I returned to the auditorium, they were gone.  Apparently, they came into the lobby asking the same questions they had asked me, and when they learned that they weren’t needed, they decided to vacate the property. 

Before the vote, I had decided to accept the church’s call so long as I received the minimum vote required in our constitution (a 2/3 vote), with one exception.  I did not believe I could accept the church’s call if I received a unanimous vote.  I understand that many pastors desire a unanimous vote, but I had served in the church for four years, and I knew some people didn’t like me (such as the adult Sunday School teacher).  I wanted an honest vote, not a sentimental vote.  We were cautious not to hint at Pastor Short’s desire, knowing how that would influence the church.  I assumed that a unanimous vote would not be an honest vote and thought I couldn’t accept if that were the result.

That Sunday night, after I preached, my family and I returned home while the church voted.  We did not participate in the vote.  About an hour later, the chairman of the pulpit committee came to our house with his family.  He informed me that the church had voted to call me as the pastor.  He was very anxious about what my answer would be and told me that the number one concern the church had expressed during that time was that I would decline the call. 

Then, I told him what the Lord had been doing in my life before Pastor Short’s death.  I told him that in the very moment when I heard the news that Pastor Short was lost at sea, God had confirmed to me His call in my life and indicated that He intended for me to pastor Berean.  I then asked the chairman to give me until Wednesday to pray and re-confirm this with the Lord and told him that I would announce my decision to the church that Wednesday.

That was over twenty-two years ago now.  When I accepted the call, I asked the Lord to give me forty years to pastor this church.  I thought then – as I believe now – that longevity is crucial in Utah, as Bible-preaching churches are scarce, and our church especially had suffered for so many years through a revolving door of pastors.  I praise the Lord for the years He has given me here.  I recognize that forty years is my desire, not necessarily God’s plan and that this could all end tomorrow.  But I am grateful that God continues to carry this ministry forward.

Some Thoughts

I have often looked in awe at how God helped us through such a tragic time.  We are a small church.  Initially, I thought that perhaps God intended something more significant for us, but twenty years later, we are still essentially the same church we were then.  Humanly speaking, I would expect God to give such remarkable providences to an important church, a substantial church, a famous church.  I wonder: why Berean?  We aren’t well-known.  We have been engaged with our city and community for these many years, and we certainly have impacted Ogden for Christ.  But we aren’t exactly turning the world upside down.  I don’t have an influential public ministry.  For the most part, we have labored in obscurity.  So, why would God go to all this trouble to preserve our church? 

I don’t have an answer to that question.  Everything I thought God might do through us has turned out to be wrong.  We have met with many struggles and difficulties and disappointments along the way.  Our church has experienced seasons of significant growth followed by times of decline.  We have seen families gloriously saved and others turn from the Lord.  We have sown much and brought in little and sometimes feel as if we have little to show for our work and labor in the Lord. 

I am reminded that, in the history of the New Testament church, a few churches were famous, genuinely great, and influential to a generation.  And there have been countless thousands of small, obscure, faithful churches scattered around the globe, where Christ is preached and magnified, and believers are disciplined in all things God has commanded. Of course, God has a purpose for the important, influential churches, and I praise God that He has raised up churches like that in every generation.  But for the most part, the kingdom of God is advanced through the work of faithful churches that labor in obscurity, unknown and yet well-known, serving the Lord in their generation. 

If God allows us to be that, it is enough.   

Answering Some Twitter Claims About the Text Issue

I came across this tweet from David Green @Biblicist4Life a little late.  I have interacted with David several times on Twitter and generally found him rigorous and studied.  Since I was late to interact with this particular tweet (given the very short shelf-life of Twitter), I decided to write a post about it.  David is pretty dogmatic in this tweet – not that I object to raw assertion.  But I found several “facts” in it that I think require a little more information than he provides.  And since King James Only debates have been the rage for nigh unto two decades running, I thought I would feed the beast and keep things going. 

As debates go, both sides believe they hold the stake to drive through the heart of the opposing side.  Yet, somehow, the discussion continues.  This comes, no doubt, from the obstinance and implacability of the other side.  Plus, KJV people don’t think much.  Plus, we all talk past each other.  Plus, King James might have been a homosexual.  And we know he was an Anglican.  So, the debate continues. 

Anyhow, let me start by copying and pasting the entire tweet.  Then, I will break it down and attempt an answer for each point.  Here’s the tweet…

7 Facts I Wish KJV-Onlyists Would Get Straight:

1. There is no received text. Sorry. There are errors in all Greek manuscripts. Not only are there not 5000+ manuscripts that agree with each other, there actually aren’t any manuscripts that perfectly agree with each other. And I’m not talking about just the dreaded “Alexandrian” manuscripts. All of the manuscripts have errors. The Greek NT hasn’t been passed down cleanly.

2. The KJV translators didn’t have one text in front of them. They consulted many texts that differed from each other because…there was no received text. So they guessed. Somewhat educated guessing, sure. But sometimes there is good evidence on both sides of a textual variant. Hard to say which is original and which is an error. And the KJV translators didn’t hide this fact. They made textual choices, and they included marginal notes with alternate readings where they were uncertain due to their Greek texts disagreeing.

3. Westcott and Hort didn’t discover any manuscripts. Vaticannus has been housed in the Vatican Library (hence its name) for centuries. Sinaiticus was discovered by Tichendorf in St. Catherine’s monastery. (This point isn’t overly relevant. It just bugs me when people talk about Westcott and Hort discovering these. Lol)

4. It’s true that Westcott and Hort published a new edition of the Greek New Testament in the 1800s, but they didn’t only use 2 manuscripts to create it. That’s absurd. What would be accurate is to say that they leaned heavily (not exclusivity) on a few manuscripts. At times they leaned too heavily on them. Pretty much everyone today acknowledges that. Which leads to the next fact…

5. NO ONE IS STILL USING WESTCOTT & HORT’S GREEK TEXT. This whole argument from KJV-onlyists is super outdated. The KJVO attacks on Westcott and Hort’s text were an exaggeration a hundred years ago. They’re completely irrelevant today. No one is still using Westcott & Hort’s text. Zero Bibles are being translated from it.

6. The Greek text that is being used today (Nestle-Aland 28th edition or the UBS 5th, same text just different apparatus) has made hundreds of changes in favor of the majority of Greek manuscripts. In other words, the imbalance of Westcott and Hort relying too heavily on a few manuscripts has been corrected. Decades ago. Now you might think it hasn’t gone far enough and it is still somewhat imbalanced. Fine. Make that argument. But don’t say that we’re all using Westcott & Hort’s text that was created by comparing only 2 manuscripts. Both of those are lies. Stop it.

7. The KJV isn’t based on majority readings. Here’s where the argument really falls apart…Most KJV-onlyists believe that there are 5,000+ Greek manuscripts that support their text, and basically only 2 manuscripts line up with the modern text. They tend to be shocked when they find out that this just isn’t true. For example, take the 2 most significant “missing verses” in the NT: 1 John 5:7 and Acts 8:37. Both of these verses are absent in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. So the “We have 5000 on our side and you guys have 2” argument is just not true. In hundreds of places, the exact opposite is true. When it comes to 1 John 5.7, the KJV guys have like 4 Greek manuscripts that contain it (all dated to over 1000 years after 1 John was written).

Some KJV-onlyists know this last fact. And when you bring it up, they will never be ok with removing a verse like 1 John 5:7, even though the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscripts don’t have it. They’ll come up with some reason to keep everything just as it is in the KJV. Because at the end of the day, the manuscript evidence doesn’t really matter to them. What matters is whatever the KJV says. The argument about a “Received Text” is just a distraction. KJV-onlyism is a conclusion in search of an argument. So, the advocates of KJV-onlyism have to use inconsistent/contradictory arguments for their position, depending on which variant is being discussed.

Let’s take this apart, point by point…

Continue reading “Answering Some Twitter Claims About the Text Issue”

Legalism and Scripture 4: Pastor, Preach Standards

Standards are inescapable.  It isn’t a question of whether your church will have them – your church has standards.  Every church has standards.  The question is, who will set the standard, and what will be the basis of that standard. 

Every church has a dress code.  It doesn’t matter if the church uses fog and theater lighting like a nightclub or uses robes and collars like a cathedral.  Every church has a dress code.  Somebody sets the expectations for those who attend church regularly.  Everyone who attends knows what that expectation is and what the boundaries and limits are.  Your wife or daughters can probably tell you who sets it.  And those who attend the church regularly will, for the most part, conform to the expectation.

Of course, there are exceptions.  I am setting forth general observations here, not hard and fast rules.  I am pointing out the way things are in churches.  But I intend to argue something from these generalizations.  Since dress codes and standards are inescapable and there will be a standard wherever you go, the church’s leadership should set the standards intentionally.

I don’t intend to say what that standard should be in this article.  I think my view of these things is pretty well-known.  I have written on them in the past.  My point here is to say that there is a standard, and since there is, the church’s leadership should set out to establish a Biblical standard (as they see it) from Scripture.

This article is the fourth and final installment for this go-around on legalism.  In the previous three articles (here, here, and here), we have highlighted a few things about legalism.  First, it is not a Scriptural category – the Bible never speaks directly about legalism, and in fact, many of our notions about legalism do not fit with anything we see in Scripture.  For example, God doesn’t forbid law-keeping or treat it as if it were contrary to New Testament Christianity.  Jesus taught His disciples that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and that they should do what they said – but not what they did.  Second, legalism is, to some degree, inescapable.  We all have rules that we are very rigid about and would impose on everyone around us if given the opportunity.  Those rules can be all across the spectrum – from “live and let live” casual to super-uptight suit-and-tie fundamentalism.  Legalism isn’t found in any particular rule.  Legalism is a kind of spiritual pride that attaches to whatever standard one might hold, believing that I am spiritually superior to others because I have high, low, or even no standards. 

I want to extend this idea a little further.  It isn’t legalistic to establish a standard in your church that will be preached and taught and honored.  It is, in fact, necessary to the unity of the church and part of what it means for a pastor to shepherd the people.  So here are a few points for consideration.

Continue reading “Legalism and Scripture 4: Pastor, Preach Standards”