Here’s Hoping for a Solid Debate on the Text Issue

On February 18, James White will debate Thomas Ross on the text issue.  You can learn more about the details of the debate here.  I look forward to the debate for several reasons.  Let me tell you how:

First, my appreciation for James White

I understand if some of my KJVO friends don’t share my enthusiasm for James White.  He has handled some of us pretty roughly over the years.  But I do have an appreciation for Dr. White.  I have had the privilege of meeting him; I have had the opportunity to get to know a fine young man planting a church in Salt Lake out of Apologia Church, and we share several mutual friends.  Despite several significant differences, I believe Dr. White to be a brother in Christ.  That said, here are a couple of things I appreciate about Dr. White.

First, I live and serve the Lord in Utah.  I cannot express the value of Dr. White’s ministry in this state.  For many years, he has traveled to Utah to preach the gospel to the LDS and engage them in debates or discussions.  I have to say that he has set a tremendous example for the way we ought to engage these neighbors.  My good friend, Pastor Jason Wallace, hosts Dr. White almost annually and has held a variety of debates at the University of Utah – including one infamous debate with a nut-wing professor who attempted to get Dr. White to drink antifreeze on stage.  Dr. White has shown a willingness to engage unbelievers from nearly every form of unbelief, but I believe his best work has come from his engagement with the LDS.  I had the privilege of sitting in on a discussion he had with Alma Allred, which I consider to be one of the most important public discussions with a Mormon in the past decade. 

Second, I appreciate Dr. White’s willingness to continue to engage on the text issue.  Yes, I recognize that he wants to defeat the position I hold dear.  But I am grateful that he believes we are still worthy of debate.   

Third, Dr. White believes in presuppositional apologetics, as do I.  I consider this key in the debate with Thomas.  We should take a presuppositional approach to preservation. 

Second, the opportunity to hear a Biblical case for textual criticism

I am excited to hear Dr. White present a presuppositional case for textual criticism.  I have searched the Internet, hoping to find someone who would make the case from Scripture for textual criticism, and so far have come up empty.  Perhaps one of my readers can point me to a book, YouTube video, or website that lays out the case from Scripture for textual criticism, but I have yet to hear one.

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Why the KJV Debate Won’t End Soon

I’ve lived long enough to see a variety of phases of the King James Only controversy.  You might think of it like the phases of the moon.  The debate waxes and wanes.  Fifteen or twenty years ago, the debate really grew legs as online forums and blogs took off.  The debate had raged prior to this through books and papers published by respectable institutions of higher learning.  But the rise of the Internet and the popularity of blogs and forums in the early 2000s brought the debate into the living room.  As a result, there began to be some significant movement in one direction or the other.  Believers who had only seen one side of the issue found themselves woefully unprepared for some of the arguments coming from the other side.  There were casualties on both sides of the issue, though the trend certainly favored the anti-King James Only position. 

But the ultimate result of these online interactions was that both sides became more entrenched against each other.  Like most controversies, the debate ebbs and flows.  The rise of Facebook, Twitter, and (even more so) YouTube expanded the debate, challenging a fresh generation to again examine their assumptions and (in more than a few cases) switch their allegiances.  I have not looked to see if there has been any kind of scientific study to see where the majority have landed.  Anecdotally, I would guess that more have left the KJVO position than have come to it.  Advocates for an eclectic text show a great deal of talent for video production, and people prefer a 15-minute video to a longer, in-depth book or blog post.  But once again, as the debate picks up, parties become more entrenched in their position and more unwilling to listen to the other side.

Nobody should think that the migration has been a one-way street.  I have become good friends with a pastor who recently came to embrace the King James Version, who had before used every other version but the KJV.  The rise of the “Standard Sacred Text” position and Jeff Riddle certainly indicates that the anti-KJV faction isn’t running up the score on the KJVOs (note: I’m not saying that Riddle is KJVO – he isn’t).  I have friends in the ministry who embrace the Critical Text (and many versions as a result), who have also admitted to me that there is a significant shift away from the Critical Text towards the TR and the idea of a settled text. 

So, those who think that we are on the cusp of putting the debate to rest forever should probably rein in their horses.  It can be deceptive to spend hours a day on Twitter, where the debate is pretty one-sided.  Many believers stay off Twitter altogether.  I would say that you really don’t get fair representation of both sides of the issue there.  And the proponents of the Critical Text will have a tough time conveying their message to their targeted audience if they are relying on Twitter to do it. 

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Touch Not Mine Anointed

And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.  (I Chronicles 16:20-22)

Growing up in the Hyles’ wing of fundamentalism, I heard the “touch not mine anointed” sermon preached more times than I care to say.  Always it was used to warn anyone who dared oppose the preacher. 

When God providentially removed me from that world, I stopped hearing that preached.  I didn’t catch on right away – though if I remember correctly, my first post-Hyles pastor corrected that view, pointing out that the Bible had Israel in mind, not the preacher.  Over the past twenty-five-plus years, I have spent little time thinking about this specific notion.  But currently, I am preaching through I Samuel, where David refused to raise a hand against Saul, so it has come to mind once again.

Serious students of God’s Word know that the Bible never describes the pastor as the “anointed” of the Lord, nor does “touch not mine anointed” refer to a pastor.  I don’t find a single reference where the Bible hints that the pastor is the Lord’s anointed.  In 2 Corinthians 1:21, Paul reminds the Corinthians,

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Glad to be a “Fundamentalist”

I’ll be the first to admit that the term “Fundamentalist” is pretty broad and causes heartburn for many on every part of the theological spectrum. Some embrace Fundamentalism as the counterpart to Evangelicalism. Others reject Fundamentalism as weak and shallow and a major proponent of “Easy-Believism.”  Quite a few Fundamentalists still hold to the historic “fundamentals” as identified by the early proponents of the movement. More than a few reject Fundamentalism because of its ecumenicism. That might strike many readers as strange given the historic “hyper-separatism” of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism stretches way across the spectrum, and you can find Fundamentalists who embrace beliefs and practices that I reject out of hand. Various taxonomies have been attempted to categorize the potpourri of Fundamentalists one might encounter.

I did some time in the “nut-wing” of Fundamentalism, under the influence of Jack Hyles (primarily). That is not historic Fundamentalism, but it did become a significant player in the 1980s.   Probably the easiest, most recognizable way to categorize Fundamentalism is based on the various Fundamentalist colleges. I won’t attempt to provide a chart here, as I doubt we could reach any actual agreement on it. Besides, it is beyond the scope of this article. The opposite side of the spectrum from the Hyles wing (which includes about a half dozen or so Bible Colleges that still align with the Hyles tradition) is the Bob Jones /Maranatha/Central Seminary wing, which tends to be closer to “classic” Fundamentalism. And in between are colleges like Pensacola and Crown and West Coast. Again, this is not an attempt at a genus and species hierarchy – only recognizing that there is a broad spectrum of “Fundamentalism.”

This article does not mean I embrace all that could be included with broader Fundamentalism. I don’t. There are many “Fundamentalist” churches, as Churchill once said (about prepositions, not Fundies), “up with which we shall not put.” Some I wouldn’t cross the street to attend. And some, to borrow from Spurgeon, I would cross the street in order not to attend. Here’s to you, Tony Hutson.

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I don’t usually call myself a Fundamentalist for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I could write about that in the future. I agree with what my friend Kent Brandenburg wrote on this topic (He has a lot to say on it). However, most outside of my church would tag me as a Fundamentalist. Our church sign has “Fundamental” on it. I didn’t put it there, but it has been twenty years since I became the pastor, and I have never bothered to take it off. The scorn and ridicule heaped on Fundamentalism is also often heaped on me. And it is in that sense that I am here embracing that particular tag. I’m not embarrassed about my fundamentalist roots, and I’ll not be cool-shamed by those who call us cultists, legalists, primitive, and in general, the offscouring of all things.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, in Utah there is a genuine housing shortage, leading to a massive explosion in housing prices.

Meanwhile, and at the same time as this population explosion, the LDS church is quickly becoming mired down in the tensions caused by our country’s social lunacy.  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. 

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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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