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.

Continue reading “A Tale of Two Church Splits”

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?

Continue reading “Did Paul Shame His Neighbor?”

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”

Where To?

My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war. (Psalm 120:6-7)

No Christian should rejoice at what we saw Wednesday.  No matter which side is responsible for the things that happened at our nation’s capital, whether Antifa or MAGA, we should all be concerned.  I doubt we will know the truth of the matter for a while.  We are watching our republic implode at this very moment.  And it ain’t pretty.

Continue reading “Where To?”

How One Man Found Healing On the Race Issue, Part 2

He was a militant black activist. He followed Malcolm X and thought Martin Luther King, Jr. was too nice, compromised. He admired Nat Turner. But when he found the grace of God, he recognized the flaw in his resentment towards white people. In the first part of our discussion on race, Melvin Price shared his own experience with the race issue as a student leader at Weber State. Melvin explained what a difference it made in his thinking when he found forgiveness and pardon through the blood of Christ.

In this second discussion, Melvin offers his perspective on our current racial animosities and encourages us to talk to each other face-to-face. Above all else, Melvin and I had this discussion for two reasons: first, to share an experience from someone who lived it; second, to give an example of how to discuss these things with a desire to learn.

I hope you will find it helpful.

The conclusion of our discussion on race

Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 2

On July 4th, at least two NBA players – Chris Paul and Donovan Mitchell – posted a meme on their social media accounts.  The meme said, “Free-ish, since 1865.” Predictably, many white fans were outraged by this sentiment.  After all, these men are NBA stars, millionaires. Hasn’t America been exceptionally good to them?  When have their rights been deprived?

But they have a point.  The road to freedom has been especially rocky for black people in our nation.  As I highlighted in the first part of this series, even after slavery, America treated blacks as sub-human, an inferior race and culture.  We degraded them, despitefully used them, and persecuted them.  Though I was never personally involved in the segregation that characterized the first half of the 20th century – and neither were my parents or grandparents – I can assure you that my attitudes as a teenager would undoubtedly have supported such a thing.  Had I lived in the days of segregation, I believe I would have been a fan of it.

Out of the 150 years since the Civil War Continue reading “Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 2”

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”

Pray Without Ceasing

In I Thessalonians 5:16-22, the sometimes wordy Apostle Paul strings together a list of very clipped, concise instructions for the people of God: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks… and so forth. I don’t intend to deal with the passage here, but just to urge Christians to be praying during this time. I hope I can encourage faithful prayer for two particular things.
First, pray for our elected leaders, especially the Governor of your state. Pray for your county officials as well – your county commissioners, your county sheriff, your local health department, and so forth.  These men and women are especially burdened right now with decisions that go beyond the norm.  I cannot imagine the pressure they feel and the responsibility they carry. No doubt some of our nation’s Governors have handled this coronavirus pandemic better than others. I appreciate the way Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert has dealt with this so far, especially as he has avoided some of the heavy-handed tactics other Governors have used. No doubt any one of our nation’s Governors can be criticized for one thing or another. But I wouldn’t trade places with any of them. I am glad that I am not in their shoes. I cannot imagine the weight of responsibility they must feel at this time.
In our dealings with elected leaders, I hope we will all remember that they are in many ways a lot like us. They second guess themselves, they have doubts and fears and misgivings, and, apart from a few exceptions, they want to do what is good and right and best for the people. Most of what we know of politicians come from 10-second clips on the news. Personally, I wouldn’t want my life to be judged by a 10-second sound-bite.  I have had the privilege of getting to know quite a few politicians and elected leaders in our area.  I can’t speak for every politician in the country, but it seems to me that our local politicians get into this business so they can better our community.  They would be the first to tell you that they don’t always get it right.  They get frustrated like the rest of us.  They wish they had a crystal ball to foresee the future so they could make the perfect decision.  They feel our outrage and our disappointment with them very deeply and personally.
I am not asking you to stop holding them accountable.  We should be watching what our elected leaders do.  I am not asking you to give them a pass when they make the wrong decision.  I am not asking you to leave them alone or to avoid any sort of confrontation.  Most of them value the feedback they get from citizens, even if they disagree with it or decide to go a different direction.
people holding mask over a sculpture

I am asking you to pray for our elected leaders.  Pray that principle will determine their decisions and that their policies will align faithfully with God’s Word and our Constitutional principles.  Pray that they will guide their affairs with discretion.  Pray that they will make wise decisions that will allow us to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness.  Pray that God will uphold them and sustain them at this time.

In all this turmoil, it would be worth its weight in gold for your elected leaders to hear a word of encouragement from you.  They could retire early if all the criticisms they receive were turned to coin.  A word of encouragement goes a long way for them.

Ricky Hatch is our Weber County Clerk/Auditor, and one of the top Clerk/Auditors in the nation – no exaggeration.  He is a rock-solid conservative, devoted to the Constitution, and a great friend.  Ricky put together this little spin on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (click the link to watch it) to give some guidance to those who work with Legislators.  He offers some great advice.  You can accomplish much by shaking your fist and glowering, no doubt.  You will at least gain a reputation.  But if you can respect your elected officials and try to work with them, you will find them much easier to deal with.

Second, pray for your pastor.  I have had countless conversations with pastors over the past few weeks.  In every one of those conversations, I hear a common thread.  A pastor’s first concern is for the spiritual health and well-being of his people; a close second is for the spiritual needs of his community.  Right now, a pastor’s ability to serve his people and his area has been limited.  He feels like a hobbled racehorse running the derby.  He navigates uncharted waters right now — the turbulence doesn’t make navigation any simpler.
Every pastor I know is deeply concerned about making the right decision in this situation.  Pastors are very aware of the impression they are giving in whatever decision they make.  Some will say that they are cowing or caving in.  Some will say that they don’t care about the people of their community.  Some will charge them with recklessness.  Some will accuse them of cowardice.  They want to glorify God and please Him.  They desperately want to shepherd their people through these trying times.
Please, pray for your pastor.  Every pastor in America has been faced with a gut-wrenching decision over the past few weeks.  In a time of crisis, a faithful shepherd wants to gather his sheep around him so he can support and protect them.  Yet, our current situation has made that very difficult. 
Yesterday, I was told of a pastor who, to protect his flock from COVID-19, announced that they would be moving to online services.  No sooner had he finished making the announcement than a family in the church met him at the front to say that they were resigning their membership immediately because of his decision. 
Believer, I hope you will uphold your pastor in prayer.  You might not like his decision, but do your best to support him in it.  Understand what he is faced with right now.  The people of God never need spiritual guidance more than in times like these.  But because of the nature of this pandemic, Pastors find themselves hindered, prevented from giving the personal care and spiritual guidance Christians need.  I hope you will take some time to think through what this must be like for your pastor.
We should all be praying fervently during this time.  There is a great reunion day coming when those churches who have had to limit their services will be able to gather again in full strength.  I imagine that day will be a little like that “Great Gettin’ Up Mornin’.”  What a day that will be!  We should all pray for it fervently. 
Until then, every Christian should pray that God will accomplish His purpose in all of this, that we will surrender to Him and seek Him, that this disease will not claim too many lives, that unbelievers will come to repentance and that our nation will seek the Lord.  We should all be upholding each other in prayer.  Remember the sick and elderly in your church family, especially.  And again, please pray that our reunion day will not be long delayed.
We can rejoice at this time because God’s will is being done.  We are in God’s hands!  Praise the Lord!

Dear Christian Friend

I’m not trying to add to all the angst I see on the Internet. I get it that everyone is frustrated. We really aren’t used to these sorts of disruptions to our lives, and judging by all the whining and complaining and outrage I have witnessed, we really aren’t in shape for it. So, you might see this as some form of virtue-signaling or pious something-or-other, but I want to risk alienating a few friends so I can use my gift of slaps for those who need one right now.
 
First, I have seen the first amendment posted on Facebook a lot lately. I am happy that you love the first amendment. I love it too. But if you think all the travel bans and stay in location orders and gathering restrictions violate the first amendment, let me remind you that we have a court system for that very reason, to protect our constitutional rights.
 
But before you rush out to hire an attorney and fight this in court, let me save you a little money. States rushed to declare a “state of emergency” before this pandemic really even got going because, by law, emergency powers give the states the ability to put all kinds of restrictions in place – unconstitutional limits included. Most states have laws in place that provide them with this power. I don’t like it, and you shouldn’t like it. But that is the reality of this situation. Before you hire a lawyer and take it to court, understand that our courts would most likely uphold the emergency powers that our states have claimed. In other words, these laws probably will withstand a constitutional challenge.
 
If you don’t like the power that a “state of emergency” gives your Governor or local authorities, I would recommend that you do something to change the law. Over the years, I have heard many excuses Christians make for not being involved in politics. You are too busy, politics isn’t a place for Christians, and so on. I understand if you don’t like to be involved. But, this sort of thing is the result of Christians withdrawing from the public arena and then demonstrating their ignorance of these things when they happen.
 
My suggestion? Sometime after this is over, you might consider contacting your legislator (I hope you at least know his or her name) and let them know what you would like to see done in the future. I believe there ought to be more restraint. You might be interested to know that some states have moved to protect second amendment rights in a time of emergency. Why not try to ensure that first amendment rights receive equal protection? Consider writing some letters or helping craft some legislation that addresses your frustrations. As Americans, we really do have a great system, but it only works if we get involved.
 
Now, let me turn to something a little more spiritual, for the sake of those who think me too pious. I get it that everyone is frustrated, irritated, perhaps even outraged. Some are worried, some afraid. But I would love to see a more Scriptural response to this. Much of the angst and outrage I have seen on Facebook has come from my Christian friends. But Christians, God did not leave us without instruction when times like these come along. Let me remind you, God calls for two things from his people: consider yourself and turn to the Lord.
 
Yes, in times of calamity, the first thing God wants from His people is repentance. I shouldn’t need to give Scripture references for this one, because the Bible reminds us of this repeatedly.   
…if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Consider yourself, Christian.  Have you grown cold towards the Lord or the things of God?  Have you grown worldly in your outlook?  Are your loyalties divided?  What has your attitude been in this calamity? Have you been thankful? Joyful? Full of peace and hope and encouragement? Consider your ways.
Then, turn to the Lord.  There are about five ways that I would urge you to do this – no doubt there could be more – but these make a good starting point.
Turn to the Lord in worship.  Turn your heart, your focus, your adoration back to God.  Humble yourself before Him.  Be amazed by Him.  Could I point something out to you?  Not more than two months ago, our President stood before a joint session of Congress in the presence of the American people and proclaimed that our economy was the greatest in history. How’s that looking now?  What happened?  Regardless of who you might blame for our troubles, hasn’t God shown Himself to be mighty?
We have no assurance that our economy will recover from this.  We certainly hope it will, but we cannot be sure.  In a matter of a couple of weeks, God brought it all to a screeching halt. Isn’t God awesome?  I do not use that word frivolously either. “Awesome” is the best word to describe the magnificence of Almighty God.
Turn to the Lord in thanksgiving.  The Bible teaches us,
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
I haven’t seen much in the way of thanksgiving on Facebook.  I have seen much in the form of whining, complaining, and outrage.  But Christian, let me ask you: what are you thankful for in this inconvenience?  What are you grateful for amid this coronavirus?  It would be a sad thing if, in any situation, we could find nothing to thank God for.  It is His will that you give thanks in everything, and this coronapanic is part of that everything.
Turn to the Lord in rejoicing.  The joy of the Lord is your strength, believer.  Can you rejoice in hard times?  I struggle to hear you praise God in good times if you can’t praise Him in the bad.  Rejoice evermore.  Rejoice in the Lord alway!
Turn to the Lord in giving.  Let your joy in your affliction overflow into generosity.  Be sure to maintain your support for local church missions, your local church, those who lose their jobs in this crisis, and those who struggle and suffer at this time. This is what the Apostle Paul referred to when he said,
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
Turn to the Lord in prayer.  Pray for your elected leaders during this time.  Times like these call for special prayer for our elected leaders.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; (I Timothy 2:1-3)
Pray for your pastor.  Pray for your fellow Christians, your fellow church members.  Pray for your unsaved friends.  Pray fervently.  Pray without ceasing.

The coronavirus has made it difficult for us to lead that quiet and peaceable life in all godliness.  For the first time in my life, our government has branded church services as non-essential, restricting the size of our meetings.  In many places, liquor stores and abortion clinics remain open, while churches cannot gather.  This is not a good thing. But this explains why we must pray at all times for our rulers and those who are in authority.  I won’t ask for a show of hands (or a thumbs up) of how many have been praying for our elected leaders.  I will only remind you that this is a Christian duty.

In times like these, we must return to those things that God has called us to do.  Judging by what I have seen and heard recently, on Facebook and other places, we are not in the right mind for sharing the good news with the lost.  Admittedly, Facebook might not be the best gauge of these things. Still, I would remind everyone that the things we post in this medium are the things that the world sees about us.  And they reveal what is going on in our hearts. I hope that everyone will let their joy abound in this time, and their light shine.  And may many who are lost and desperate for hope find grace and help in this time.

May you all be blessed in these trying hours.

 

A Worship Style Primer, Part 2

This is the second offering on worship style, in answer to the claim made by Contemporary Independent Baptists like Josh Teis (see this link also) and Robert Bakss that worship style is merely a matter of preference and personal taste.  If you have not yet read the first in the series, please kindly follow this link before reading this post.

In the first post in this short series, I sought to distinguish between the subjective and the objective in order to establish a foundation of objective beauty.  As style is an element of beauty, it is necessary that we understand that beauty is not divorced from truth or goodness, and that none of the three are purely subjective.  Christians have historically believed in objective truth, objective goodness, and objective beauty.  The ultimate objective standard of truth, goodness, and beauty is God Himself, Who is truth, is holy, and is altogether lovely.  Because we are commanded to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, our worship style must reveal that beauty, must show what the beauty of holiness looks like.

In this post, I want to Continue reading “A Worship Style Primer, Part 2”