A Tale of Two Church Splits

Though I will not be naming names in this article, I want you the reader to know that I am writing about true events that have taken place in the Salt Lake area over the past decade, the most recent part of the story in the past few months.  I am writing this for three reasons: first, as a cautionary tale to pastors and churches.  The events outlined in this article are wicked and un-Scriptural, but an example of what happens when self-interest drives the decision-making process of a church.  Second, as a warning: if you know someone who has been contacted about taking a church in the Salt Lake Valley, you might want to make sure it doesn’t involve the people I am discussing in this article.  Send me an email or a private message, or call my church to discuss it with me.  I am not naming names here for the sake of innocent friends who have been affected by these things, to safeguard their identities.  Should the need arise, I will not hesitate to name names in a future article.  But for now, I will relate the events and leave the principal characters anonymous.  If you are an Independent Baptist living in our area, you are no doubt familiar with the story.  If you aren’t already familiar with these things, it won’t hurt you to know the history without knowing the details.  Third, I write this as a rebuke: the men who have done this deserve to be rebuked and exposed.  I am not sparing for their sake, but for the sake of others who would be affected should I expose the main characters.  But also, a slew of pastors who have supported the main perpetrators of this ungodly act also deserve to be rebuked.  And I rebuke them.  That said, I will be relating here the history of two church splits, and then re-visiting a few of the points I have just made. 

The story involves two churches and three pastors, and unless I give them each some name, the story will be hard to follow.  For the sake of simplicity, we will name the two churches The Original Church and The Church Split.  With that clarification, let me begin.

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Unscriptural Expectations Keep Us from Enjoying God

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4)

The gross and pervasive abuse of this text has opened up the floodgates of the prosperity gospel – the health, wealth, and happiness gospel. I blame our inability to enjoy God on the unhealthy and unscriptural expectations that have grown out of its misuse.

Because many Christians neglect sound doctrine, we have become susceptible to abuses like this.  When the Bible is misused, when it is used to promote a “name it and claim it” kind of theology, weak Christians with a covetous heart are immediately sucked in.  And frankly, it can be tough to refute the logic of the prosperity preachers.  Because on the surface, the Bible does seem to teach the “name-it-and-claim-it” philosophy.

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Did Paul Shame His Neighbor?

In a previous post, I wrote a fairly mild piece on the issue of shaming one’s neighbor.  That article was in response to a small, hardly noticed episode of Facebook shaming that affected people known to me.  The article was met with a rather bland kind of enthusiasm, rife with atta-boys and way-to-goes.  I hardly noticed any opposition, though I was made aware of some through the ever-vigilant eye of my lovely wife, who can sniff when someone doesn’t like me from several miles away.  Since there seems to be one mildly serious point of opposition to what I have written, I thought I would use this space to answer it.  So, here goes.

The protest runs something like this: didn’t Paul shame Peter when he was engaged in public sin?  Wouldn’t that be grounds for shaming others who are in public sin? 

Ah yes, the ole’ “if-it-was-good-enough-for-Paul-its-good-enough-for-me” argument.  Well, yes, I suppose we might consider dealing with that question.  Actually, I can think – off the top of my formerly hairy head – of quite a few examples in the New Testament when one of the Biblical writers started naming names.  Of the New Testament name-namers, Paul is probably the most prominent.  In addition to Peter (Galatians 2:6-16), Paul called out Barnabas (Galatians 2:13), Demas (2 Timothy 4:10), and even two women, Euodias and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). John called out Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence (3 John 1:9).  Peter called out Simon Magus, who (he perceived) was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:18-23). If these apostles called out public sin publicly, why wouldn’t we?  Don’t they set an example for us to follow?

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On Shaming Your Neighbor

Late Thursday night last week as I was about to fall asleep, my wife showed me a post that my friend Pastor Courtney Lewis had on Facebook.  We could tell from what was said that he had posted engagement pictures from a young couple, and had chastised them for holding hands in their pictures.  Pastor Lewis led off his commentary on the picture with a quote from I Corinthians 7:1-2, which says,

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

By the time my wife showed me the post, Pastor Lewis had taken the pictures down, but left the post up.  My wife began reading some of the more than 500 comments on the post. Suffice it to say, we were horrified, both by the comments that were being made and by the use of a couple’s engagement pictures to make a point about purity.

When I had a few moments on Friday morning, I took a look at the post for myself.  By this time, the post had more than 650 comments, many of which I would characterize as flaming.  I scrolled through the comments to get a feel for what people were saying, and then I started typing a message to Pastor Lewis to ask him to remove the post altogether.  As I was typing the message, I saw that he in fact had removed the post and replaced it with another.  You can read the replacement post here.

In the second post, Pastor Lewis doubled down on the couple he used as an example, naming both the young man and his brother and expressing his disagreement with the engagement pictures each young man had published.  In particular, Pastor Lewis pointed out that the older brother had posted similar pictures, and that since nobody opposed him for it, now the younger brothers thought it was okay.  Pastor Lewis also took to task larger churches with more influence who could speak out on this.  He didn’t name the larger churches he had in mind.  I can only think of one larger church that he might be thinking of, but I won’t speculate about whether he thought they should have been the one to shame these couples. 

I absolutely agree with the standard Pastor Lewis holds.  My wife and I did not so much as hold hands until we met at the altar on our wedding day.  We have taught this same standard in our church and to our children, and we would not approve if they went against it.  Because many of the vitriolic comments Pastor Lewis received focused on the standard itself, I made the choice to support him on the standard, and to publicly express my concern for the way many had responded.

Later that afternoon, I received a call from a pastor friend who had read my comment and wanted to know if I also supported the tactic Pastor Lewis used to make his point.  He made it abundantly clear to me that he agrees with the standard – several of his children have married, and they followed that standard as well.  But he was concerned about the tactic of publicly shaming a young couple, using their engagement pictures.  After hem-hawing around for a minute, I had to agree.  The tactic was wrong.  I was disgusted by it from the moment my wife brought it to my attention.  My pastor-friend (who mainly knows Pastor Lewis through Facebook), pointed out that my comment left it unclear where I stood on the tactic.  I agreed with him.

Later that evening, I typed a second comment, in which I expressed my agreement with the standard and my disagreement with the tactic.  I commented that, if one of my own children were to publish engagement pictures that went against our standards, I would hope that the first response would be to pray for them, and the second to contact me to see if there is a problem and what can be done to help.  I would hope that the first response would not be to publicly shame them.  Far too often, when a young person does something wrong, we trample them under foot rather than address the problem Scripturally. 

I sent Pastor Lewis a message prior to posting my comment, and I offered to discuss any disagreement with him.  He replied fairly quickly with a simple “No” to my offer for a discussion.  I posted my comment, went to bed, and the next morning, I had a message from Pastor Lewis that assured me of his friendship despite our disagreement.  I didn’t think much of the reassurance until another friend contacted me to ask why I took my comment down.  Since I didn’t take it down, I asked Pastor Lewis if he did.  He told me, “Yes.  Feel free to post it on your account.”  Thus, this rather lengthy post.

Before I wade into the issue here, let me make a few preliminary points. 

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To Enjoy God, We Must Know Him

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

We have been answering the question, “why don’t I enjoy God?” Many, many Christians would confess that they don’t enjoy God.  They know that they can enjoy God.  They know that they should enjoy God.  But they don’t enjoy God.

They want to enjoy Him.  They may try to enjoy Him.  But their efforts end in frustration, and soon it is back to the grindstone. I believe this is the case among believers who are faithful to their devotions.  I believe it is the case among believers who are careful in their everyday lives, who strive to honor God and do what is right.

We have observed several hindrances to our delight in the Lord.  So far, we have considered two of the most obvious – you cannot enjoy God until you are born again, and you cannot enjoy God while harboring sin.  I want to tackle yet another hindrance to enjoying God – we cannot enjoy God if we do not know Him.

In His intercessory prayer, Jesus said that knowing God the Father and God the Son “is life eternal.” That is, “eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 556) This eternal life begins the moment we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior.  It reaches its summit in the day when we hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”  Between the day we receive Christ and the day we see Him, we can expect to grow into that joy and delight in the Lord Jesus Christ.  But our growth as Christians, as measured by the growing delight we experience in the Lord Jesus, comes as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him. 

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If You Don’t Enjoy God, You May Not Be Saved

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

The question of why people don’t enjoy God gets at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. What is the good of being reconciled to God if you don’t enjoy Him? What is the good of walking with God if you dread that walk? 

When Christians think of walking with God, of experiencing Him face-to-face and spending significant time alone with Him, far too many feel a paralyzing dread, a choking fear, a painful desire to run and hide from the presence of God.

In our most recent post on this topic, we showed you that the biggest hindrance to our enjoyment of God is our sin.  We must add an element to that.  If sin prevents us from enjoying God, then we can’t enjoy Him until we have been born again.

Our text describes the condition of the unsaved man as “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart…” Unregenerate man is alienated from God. Such a person can strive to overcome sin all he wants.  He can feel a strong sense of remorse and a strong desire to change his ways because of his sin.  He may even be able to overcome some isolated sins. But he cannot overcome that alienation from God, no matter how much he might “turn over a new leaf” in his life, or how much he tries to reform himself.  So long as a person continues in a state of alienation from God, his sin will stand as a barrier between himself and God.  If he were to attack that barrier with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, he would find that the sins would pile higher even as he carted off loads of former sins. 

There are cases when a Christian will say, “I don’t enjoy God, I never have enjoyed God, I don’t even know what it would be like to enjoy God, and I don’t even know if I want to.”  There could be a variety of causes for this, but before we consider anything else, we ought to consider this, that you are still in your sins.  Paul describes the condition of every person apart from a supernatural work of grace…

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Sin Keeps Us from Enjoying God

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. (Genesis 3:7-10)

Far too often, Christians do not enjoy God.  They believe in the Lord.  They are active in church.  In many cases, their life revolves around church.  But they do not enjoy God.  For too many Christians, the life of faith is cloudy and dismal, the duties are heavy and the rewards are light, and the Christian walk is more burden than blessing. We are afraid of God, afraid of messing up, afraid that we are a disappointment to God. We go through the motions of the Christian life. We approach our calling in Christ as if it were a job chart with no reward other than the fire escape at the end. Too many Christians have lost their joy in believing.

In order to understand this dynamic in the Christian life, I want to invite you back to the time in the history of the world when mankind first lost their joy in their walk with God. 

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Four Ways to Enjoy God

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

The most important – and often the most neglected – emphasis of the Christian life is to enjoy God.  The ancients developed what has become a staple of practical Christianity:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

To glorify God and to enjoy Him… But how many Christians ever think about enjoying God?  To many, the Christian life is all duty and discipline and doing.  We make sure we read our Bible every day.  But we don’t have time (or perhaps, we don’t take time) to enjoy God in what we read.

In a previous post, I pointed out that we relate to God the way one person relates to another – understanding, of course, that God as a Person is on an entirely different level than we are.  Still, it is possible for us to enjoy Him on a personal level because God is a Person.  If we would enjoy God, we must enjoy Him the way one person enjoys another.  That requires attentiveness and affection in our interaction with God.

God made us to enjoy Him.  Certainly then, He wants us to enjoy Him.  That is good, because it would be impossible for us as finite men to enjoy an infinite God otherwise.  God has made it possible for us to relate to Him and to be delighted by Him. 

We love him, because he first loved us. (I John 4:19)

In this, the initiative is not ours, but God’s.  Delight is our right response to God’s loving overtures.  God delights in us, and that is why we can delight in Him.  In fact, the Bible says more about God seeking us and desiring us than it does about us seeking God and desiring Him.  The entire gospel story is the story of God seeking His lost creation in order to restore us to fellowship with Himself.  The groundwork for fellowship with God is laid in Jesus Christ, and through His saving work on the cross it is possible for us to enjoy that fellowship.

I want to make four quick points from Psalm 27:4 that will show us how to enjoy God.

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What It Means to Enjoy God – And Why We Don’t Enjoy Him

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

If I were to describe what I see as the biggest struggle believers have in their Christian walk, near the top would be the struggle to enjoy God. 

This is certainly not our only struggle.  Christians struggle with many things – some common to us all, some unique to the individual.  We struggle with certain besetting sins.  We struggle to rest in the Lord. We struggle to live according to the instructions of God’s Word.  And we could list many other struggles.  But I see this one struggle as perhaps bigger than all the others – the struggle to enjoy God.  Christians may ask, why don’t I enjoy God? 

While many factors may explain why we don’t enjoy Him, our failure to enjoy God cripples our walk with Him. Too many Christians feel this dread of God that goes beyond the “fear of the Lord” taught in Scripture.  In our approach to God, we are plagued with doubts and fears.  Will he accept me?  Is He angry with me?  Some may even wonder, does God really love me? Does He love me as much as He loves someone else?  We know that God loves the world, but in a practical sense, we worry that God overlooks me, that He is displeased with me and disappointed with me.

Where do we begin to overcome our own doubts and fears?  We read our Bibles; we pray.  But for too many Christians, we don’t know how to walk with God beyond that.  To add to our dilemma, personal devotions can have a way of choking the life out of us, especially when they become a task on the to-do list.

More than a few Christians, if they could be completely honest, would say, “I really don’t enjoy God.”  Some don’t enjoy God and don’t want to.  They are angry with God or (more commonly) indifferent towards Him. 

Others don’t enjoy God but want to.  They might not know how to enjoy Him. Maybe they know how to enjoy Him but feel that they are currently hindered from enjoying Him. No doubt some are frustrated that they don’t enjoy Him, or that they don’t enjoy Him the way they once did, or the way they want to. And some Christians enjoy God just about every day. 

I do not write this as one who fits in that last category; I write as one who has had my own share of struggles with this.  In part, my own experience has motivated this topic: I haven’t always found this easy.  I wish it were.  I think it should be.  I wish I could lay aside my sinful nature and win this victory once for all.  But so long as I continue in my sinful flesh, I believe that I will struggle with it.

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Money Mistakes Pastors Make

As a pastor, I have learned firsthand the kind of quality men God has called to the ministry – some of the finest men in the world. I mean that – no tongue in cheek here. The world may think of pastors as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things, but I know too many good men, men who have committed their life to the gospel and the good of their fellowman to give any credence to that kind of thinking. From across America and around the world, I am blessed by the many pastors and assistant pastors, missionaries, church planters, and Christian school teachers who have committed their life to God’s work.  They love what they do. They don’t consider it a sacrifice. If they could live their lives over again, the men I know would choose the ministry over any other vocational calling.  I think if they had nine lifetimes and could choose any vocation to fill those lifetimes, they would choose the ministry.  The “burdens” are a small price to pay for the joy of serving God and His people full time.  Truly we can say of them that “the world was not worthy.”

One thing I have observed about nearly every pastor or missionary I know: they know what it means to give themselves.  I hope you will keep that in mind as I discuss money mistakes pastors make. Most of their mistakes are made on the side of self-sacrifice and a desire to maximize the Lord’s money.

What I intend to address here is not intended to promote greed or cause anyone to stumble into the love of money.  Too many pastors come to the end of their ministry and have little to fall back on.  After giving themselves to God and their people, they find that they are not in a position where they can retire comfortably and still provide for their wife.  And while I realize that many pastors have an aversion to the “R” word (retire), I also think that much of the discussion on that subject is unrealistic. 

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