What God is Doing in Utah

God has been doing some exciting things in Utah, and I thought I would take a few moments to pass along the good news.  Currently, Utah is one of about five states that are experiencing an explosion of population growth.  Despite the high cost of building, contractors in Utah cannot keep up with the growing demand for housing.  Whereas in other states, real estate may be experiencing a bubble effect, there is a genuine housing shortage in Utah, leading to a massive explosion in housing prices.

Meanwhile, alongside this population explosion, more and more, the LDS church has become mired down in the tensions caused by our country’s social lunacy. As a result, many in our state wonder what course the LDS church will take in the immediate future, as there is such a strong push from so many members of the church to embrace a more tolerant and progressive state

Not surprisingly, the LDS church is quickly losing its iron grip on the spiritual life of our state.  Anecdotally, when my wife and I moved to Utah in 1997, I would estimate that an average of 3 out of every four doors we knocked on were staunchly LDS.  In any given neighborhood, we might encounter one household that was not active members of the LDS church. 

Not so today.  We have faithfully canvassed every part of our area from North to South, from East to West multiple times.  Today when we evangelize a neighborhood, whether in the heart of Ogden or the outskirts of town, in the wealthiest areas, or the newest communities, we do well to encounter more than one faithful member of the LDS church. 

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Some Final Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

We conclude our little series on defrocking the pastor by considering four positive standards that can lead to dismissal if neglected. Our desire is to build our standards for disqualification on defensible ground. I hope this article will offer some guidance towards that end.

What about his reputation?

The Bible gives good reason for this qualification: “lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” 

This qualification is meant primarily for a pastor entering the ministry.  Before calling a pastoral candidate, the church should take some time to review his credit report.  The credit report may have its flaws and shortcomings, but it does provide an objective snapshot of a man’s integrity.  Does he pay his bills?  Does he have excessive debt?  Does he manage his money well?  These things can dramatically impact his ability to minister in the church. 

At the same time, the church shouldn’t be quick to remove the pastor on this basis.  Chances are, the church will have an idea why the pastor might have fallen into financial hardship in the middle of his pastoral ministry.  It could be that his family has faced a health crisis or that they have endured a string of financial setbacks.  In some cases, the pastor has passed on a pay increase for several years running, and things have started to catch up to him. 

This qualification presents another area where the church will need to use discretion.  If the pastor has gotten himself into excessive debt through luxurious living – new cars, expensive vacations, etc. – and now he is on the verge of bankruptcy, I think the church should discuss his finances with him.

In general, the point of disqualification should hover somewhere in the vicinity of bankruptcy, having the car repossessed, or having the house foreclosed.  But even here, I don’t believe there would be a cut-and-dried disqualifier.  If, for example, some hard providence caused the bankruptcy – say, a car accident left the pastor in dire financial straits – I would hope the church would move to support the pastor, not defrock him.

What about his marriage?

The qualification of marital fidelity – that a pastor must be a “one-woman man” – requires more than just the absence of sexual uncleanness.  While this qualification includes negative prohibitions, the point of the qualification is that he must be devoted to his wife.  That is, he must treat his wife with dignity and respect and must love his wife as Christ loved the church, sacrificially giving himself for her.  His marriage must be exemplary, both in public and in private.

Continue reading “Some Final Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

The list of pastoral qualifications is relatively broad – I believe intentionally.  God wants His churches to be discerning.  For this reason, it is not always possible to identify a strict point at which a pastor would be disqualified based on these standards.  For example, I have no idea when a pastor would be disqualified based on how he practices hospitality (a practice that both Timothy and Titus require).  If the pastor is sometimes reluctant to open his home to guests, is he therefore disqualified?  He isn’t a “lover of hospitality.”  Should the church have a minimum requirement for their pastor, how often he must invite guests to his home?  If the deacons haven’t had dinner at his house in a couple of years, is that grounds for removal?  Hardly. 

Similarly, Titus says that the pastor must not be “self-willed” or “soon angry.”  I know many pastors who would be in serious trouble if their church strictly applied these qualifications.  Their entire ministry is marked by self-will.  They are hot-headed bullies.  These qualifications count every bit as much as the requirement that a pastor be “blameless.” Yet, pastors and churches regularly overlook or ignore these standards.  At what point should a hot-tempered pastor be sacked? That answer may not be so immediately apparent. 

For most of these qualifications, it would be impossible to lay down a minimal standard that a pastor must meet to avoid disqualification.  Again, I believe this to be a design feature of the qualifications.  God didn’t give these lists so we could defrock the pastor.  The list provides a standard that every pastor should strive to meet.  They give the church a benchmark to look for in a pastor.  But God made these qualifications sufficiently broad, leaving room for interpretation.

Two or three of these specific qualifications are relatively straightforward, and grounds for removal would at least be identifiable.  On the negative side, a pastor must not be a “striker” or a “brawler,” he must not be “greedy of filthy lucre,” and he must not be “given to wine.”  On the positive side, he must be “the husband of one wife;” he must “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;” “he must have a good report of them which are without” (all taken from Timothy’s list). 

I intend to discuss a minimal requirement that, if not met, should result in removal.  Not to repeat everything I have said, but individual churches would determine when and how to enforce these standards.  Nor should a church consider these as minimal standards for a pastoral candidate.  A pastor should strive for the highest quality in his everyday life based on Scriptural standards.  What I am discussing here is the minimum expectation which, if not met, should result in the removal of the pastor.  

For the sake of organization, we will consider the negative qualifiers in this post, then consider the positive qualifiers later.  Negatively, a pastor must not be a striker or a brawler, he must not be “money greedy,” and he must not be given to wine. 

What about the pastor’s temper?

Let me preface what I have to say here with a word about the effeminacy of our age.  America has a pandemic of effeminate pastors.  If a backboned man leads your church, then you know that from time to time, he will get a little hot.  Inasmuch as his wrath is motivated by the purity of the church and the honor of God, a church should be grateful that they have such a pastor.

Continue reading “More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

Some Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

I find it interesting that the Bible never gives a single instance when a sitting pastor was defrocked.  I suppose there could be several explanations for this odd phenomenon.  Perhaps the pastors of that time were cut from a different cloth than pastors in our day.  It could be that there were no pastors who disqualified themselves, and thus nothing to reveal.  Or perhaps, the writers of the New Testament simply chose to ignore specific cases that called for the dismissal of a pastor.

To be clear, we are not arguing that the New Testament has nothing to say about the discipline of a pastor. Paul gave clear instructions for handling such a case. 

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; (I Timothy 5:1)

Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (I Timothy 5:19-20)

These verses indicate the possibility that there will be accusations against elders.  Anticipating this, Paul gives direct instruction on how to handle it.  Consider then what we have here.  Paul acknowledges that there may be accusations against an elder.  He admits that the pastor may in fact be in the wrong.  Yet, he does not provide a single example of the dismissal of the pastor.  Are we to take this to mean that no pastor disqualifief himself in the New Testament?

To be honest, I can’t say.  I believe that a pastor can disqualify himself from pastoral ministry, of course.  But the Scriptural emphasis is on the qualifications, not the disqualifications. The point of the qualification passages (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)  is not so we will know when to give the pastor the sack.  Paul gives the qualifiers; we imply from his list the disqualifiers.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

With this in mind, we should consider at what point violation of the qualifications of a pastor would require the removal of the pastor.  I have observed that many make assumptions about the point of disqualification, but more than a few of these assumptions are extra-biblical, informed more by tradition than Scripture.  In my mind, an even bigger problem comes from the uneven way these qualifications are applied.      

That said, here are a few points to consider.

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

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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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. 

Continue reading “On Shaming Your Neighbor”

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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Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 3

Now that our racial hostilities have come to a fast boil – some might argue a volcanic eruption – I believe it is time we admit that our approach to the issue has been ineffective.  I would describe my approach to racial tension throughout much of my life in terms of ignorance and apathy.  I didn’t know, and I really didn’t care.

A little more than 20 years ago, God used a visiting evangelist to expose the racism in my own heart.  It came through a discussion we were having after a chapel service in our Academy.  I was an assistant pastor at the time.  My evangelist friend had just preached a message to our teens about courtship and marriage.  Our pastor had one objection, and he addressed it after the students were dismissed.  His objection? “You didn’t say anything about interracial dating.”

Before I relate our evangelist’s answer, I should remind you that a traveling evangelist depends for his livelihood on the relationships he has with pastors and churches.  It would be easy enough for an evangelist to be a little bit craven out of fear of losing meetings.  Our evangelist friend was not.  His answer stunned me, like an open-handed slap to my face.  He did not hesitate: “I don’t have a problem with interracial dating or marriage.” He explained: “You can’t tell me that a black girl and a white boy who grow up in the same church and live a few miles apart shouldn’t marry because of the color of their skin.  They were raised in the same environment, they have the same cultural experiences, there can be no Scriptural reason to forbid it.”

I interjected. “God separated the races at the tower of Babel.  Interracial marriage blurs the lines between those races.” He looked at me and shook his head: first, nothing in the Bible commands that we maintain “racial integrity” through marriage standards.  The idea that “God set the bounds of their habitations” came from Bob Jones, and (as my evangelist friend said it), “everyone knows that the old man was a racist.” Second, nobody could give a Scriptural breakdown of what constituted a different race, or which races were forbidden to marry one another.  He pointed out that some pastors say there are three races, some say there are more – some as many as seventeen.

I respected this man for his answer, but at the time, I strongly disagreed with him.  Since then, God has changed my heart.  First, my friend was right – God has not put a restriction on marriages based on skin color.  When Aaron and Miriam criticized Moses for his Ethiopian wife, God gave no credence to their criticism at all, though He did punish Aaron and Miriam for opposing Moses’ leadership.  Second, God reversed Babel on the day of Pentecost, when the gospel was heard in the heart languages of – you guessed it – seventeen nationalities (Acts 2:8-11).  Third, God has made of one blood all nations of men (Acts 17:26).  And while it is true (as Bob Jones argued) that God has determined the bounds of their habitation, He has never restricted a nation to that boundary.  Fourth, and I think most importantly, God has made us all of one blood.  There can be no Scriptural grounds for forbidding marriage between blacks and whites.

In the twenty years Continue reading “Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 3”

The Turning of the Tide

The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. (Psalm 126:3)

This past Sunday marked the end of a rollercoaster week for us, and I would like to take a few moments to praise the Lord for His goodness to us.

Like every other pastor in America, I have spent many sleepless nights over the past two months.  We have been navigating uncharted waters, and it has seemed to me that every week has required a fresh decision about what we should be doing.

Before I tell our story, let me just say how much I respect my fellow pastors.  I have known that God has filled His pulpits with men of conviction and quality, but this crisis has made it even more clear to me that we have some truly outstanding pastors around our county.  Many decisions have had to be made, and the opinions and positions that have been taken seem to cover every extreme of the compass.  Yet, in discussions with dozens of pastors, I have observed one certain truth – that every one of them has acted on what they believed to be right and have sought to bring God the honor that He deserves.  I count myself blessed to serve as a contemporary with these men.

Our church decided early on that we should follow the health guidelines that were issued by our state.  Though our Governor has been great in the fact that he has not used a heavy hand to control us, yet we believed that we should exercise caution in this thing.  We added services in order to accommodate our people and give them the opportunity to be part of a service every week, and the majority of the church has had to suffer through online services for nearly two months now.

Continue reading “The Turning of the Tide”