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”

A Worship Style Primer: Rudiments

Before We Begin…

In this particular series of posts, I am dealing with worship style, not worship music – though worship music is a part of the overall style.  I want to be clear on that point because some Facebook readers did not seem to understand that, especially some who read my article on Tom Brennan’s Facebook page (at https://www.facebook.com/tom.brennan.58/posts/10214908523539365).  I intend to deal with worship music eventually, but first, I want to establish a foundation for style in general, and for worship style in particular.  In previous articles, especially my article called “Gothpel Style,” I was attempting to show from Scripture that God cares about style, that style is not merely a matter of preference, a neutral vehicle for conveying a somehow disconnected message.  The Scripture passages I used were not intended to speak specifically to the subject of music, though I do believe they establish a certain kind of style that should be used in worship.

That said, I hope to advance the discussion here in order to outline a Scriptural worldview regarding worship style.  Please note that this series of posts deals with the big picture first, and from there will seek to offer some specific principles.

Rudiments of Style

Style rightly belongs with beauty, the third of what has been called the “transcendentals” of truth, goodness, and beauty.  As I have pointed out, Contemporary Independent Baptists like Josh Teis and Robert Bakss argue Continue reading “A Worship Style Primer: Rudiments”

Gothpel Style

Contemporary Independent Baptists like Josh Teis and Robert Bakss insist that style is a matter of preference, that God says nothing about style. You prefer traditional hymns; we prefer contemporary. You prefer a suit and tie; we prefer casual. You want the lights bright; we like them dim. You use a pulpit; we prefer an open stage. Potayto; potahto.

But not so fast. These men make some major leaps based on assumption.  They do not attempt to prove their major premise.  They beg the question; they assume what they should prove; they rely on “special pleading” to make their case.

Their major premise, that style is merely a matter of preference, exposes a serious worldview flaw.  It does not faithfully represent Scripture. Ultimately, their principle of musical style undermines the worship being offered to a holy God. In response, I offer three points to consider.

First, Style is not Neutral

The idea that style is neutral, that style choices are merely preference choices, reveals a deep worldview flaw that cannot be ignored. To argue that style is a matter of preference is to say that there are areas in this world over which God makes no claim, over which Jesus Christ is not Lord. If in fact, the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not extend to our style choices, then anything goes. Why not host a Pajama Sunday?  After all, how else will we reach late-night WalMart shoppers?  Better yet, Continue reading “Gothpel Style”

Gone Contemporary

Recently, several pastors reached out to me about a conference in the Northeast where both Southern Gospel and Contemporary Christian music were a major part of the program.  As a result of their call, I began to look into the use of contemporary music among Independent Baptists.  For quite a few years now, a segment of Independent Baptist pastors and churches have been “modifying” contemporary worship music, attempting to use the music without the characteristic soft rock beats and rhythms.  Over the past few years, some have thrown off their inhibitions, so that we now have a group of men who do not conceal their whole-hearted embrace of contemporary worship music.   They don’t water it down.  They don’t deny it or downplay it.  They have in fact launched a campaign to correct what they see as the “unscriptural” view of worship held by so many stodgy Independent Baptists.

Though I find their position appalling, Continue reading “Gone Contemporary”

Utah’s Sex Change Bill – SB 138

The Utah Legislature is considering a bill that paves the way for the transgendered to seek a legal sex change. I have been in contact with the author of the bill, Senator Todd Weiler, since the bill was first introduced. Initially, Senator Weiler told me that the bill was simply meant to provide guidance to judges for these matters, rather than allow the judges to legislate from the bench. Believe it or not, Utah has had a law in place for 43 years that about half of our judges interpret to allow a legal sex change. The language is somewhat obscure, but it is in place.
 
As this bill has progressed now through 3 substitute bills, it has followed a normal course for a controversial bill, first tipping in favor of one side in the debate, then of the other. However, the 3rd substitute of the bill, available at https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SB0138.html, offers 3 options – “male, female, or other,” and requires nothing more than a “sincerely held belief” of a sex change.
 
The biggest problem with this bill is the risk to conservative churches like ours. Our church would not accept a homosexual couple into membership. That would violate our deepest convictions about the nature of marriage and God’s view of sexuality. Currently, state law protects our right to take this position. Of course, if a homosexual couple came to faith in Jesus Christ, we would accept them into membership once they dissolved their marriage and the homosexual relationship.
 
But suppose we are discussing a gay couple, and one of the partners in the marriage sought and obtained a legal sex change. Would the law still consider the couple to be a gay couple? Would the law require us to treat them as a heterosexual couple?
 
By conviction, should a couple like that profess faith in Jesus Christ and apply to our church or a church like ours for membership, we would make the same stipulation as in the case of a gay couple. But would the law accommodate us in this position? I say that it is impossible to know. Certainly, the legal standing would change, and no doubt this would be tested in court. Cultural pressure is already decidedly against us. I see this as a losing situation for our church and every church that takes the same stand as ours.
 
For our LDS friends, a similar question must be considered. If an individual were to seek and obtain a legal sex change, would they then be qualified for a priesthood position in the LDS church, and would the LDS church be at risk if they denied them that position? Again, we are too early in this process to know the answer to that question. But I believe that the LDS church or perhaps a church like mine would eventually find themselves dragged into court over this issue.
 
For this reason, I am urging all Utah residents to contact their Senator and urge them to vote against this bill.

Brethren, Arm Thyself

Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (Luke 22:36)

No doubt we all sat up and took notice on Sunday afternoon or whenever it was that we heard about the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in this sort of thing – I saw a statistic that says violent assaults at churches have increased 2,000% since 2007 – and no, that isn’t a typo.  I hope that by now we have all adjusted to the idea that church is not necessarily a “safe space” any more.

My thinking on these things has changed dramatically over these past few years.  For many years, I made it clear that we are in God’s hands and not in the hands of any invader, that He is protecting us, and that if anything were to happen, we as men would throw ourselves in the path of the bullets.  Sounds spiritual, but not really Scriptural or wise.

Jesus taught us to beware of men.

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

When He first sent out the 70, He sent them without purse, scrip, and shoes.  But when they returned he told them to sell their garment and buy a sword.  This was not metaphorical.  They would have to face the reality that they were as vulnerable to assault from thieves and robbers as anyone else.  We live in a fallen world, and Christians have a duty to protect themselves and their families as much as anyone else.

Over 20 years of ministry now, I have my share of experiences.  I once sought to disciple an alcoholic who eventually became very angry with me.  He would stand across the street from our church screaming at me when I came out the door at the end of the Sunday morning service.  He would leave beer cans arranged on the church doorsteps and around our property.  He would walk across town to stand glaring in front of my house.  He left a ten-page letter on the door of the church detailing what he wanted to do to my wife.  He finally set up a tombstone for me behind the church.

Another man attended our church off-and-on for a short period of time.  One Sunday after a long absence, he visited again, angry about something.  He kept moving seats from one side of the aisle to the other, closer and closer to the front, until he wound up directly in front of me.  He then proceeded to stare me down.

A couple of years ago, a set of Academy parents became extremely unstable.  We tried to help them for a time, until the dad wigged out at the front desk, becoming very aggressive towards our Academy secretary.  It was her husband who came to me and insisted that we needed to put a security plan in place.  I agreed.

I hope no pastor who reads this article will ever need to defend themselves against an invader.  But it would be foolish for us to ignore the rising threat against our ministries.  We must take seriously our duty to protect the sheep against wolves.

With that in mind, I would like to recommend a few immediate steps that ought to be taken with the goal of developing a security plan for your church.  Some of these we have done, some we are in the process of doing.  By the way, our church is small – around 30 families.  A church need not be large in order to do what is listed here.

First, lock your doors during services

Leave the doors unlocked prior to the start of the service, but once the service begins, lock the door or else station an usher at that door.  When the usher leaves the door, that door should be locked.

Secondly, designate men to carry a firearm

When I sat down with officers from our local police department, they said this was the most important defense against intruders.  Those who carry should be competent with the use and handling of a firearm.  Some training is ideal.  Our church probably has a disproportionate number of gun enthusiasts, so we have had to set some good sense rules for those who carry on our campus.  Rule number one: if you carry a firearm, it must be in your immediate control at all times.  If a lady carries a handgun in her purse (several of our ladies do), her purse must be in her immediate control at all times.  Nobody wants to hear of a baby in the nursery finding the handgun.

Thirdly, equip your ushers with Mace

This is a simple step, and makes good sense.  Mace gives an usher the best chance of neutralizing a threat.

Fourthly, control the keys to your building

You shouldn’t give keys to everyone, and you should know who has keys to your buildings.  When someone moves or leaves the church, have them return their keys.  It might be necessary to change the locks on the church periodically (which is fairly inexpensive) in order to re-establish key control.

Fifthly, assign a man to roam the property during the service

Obviously, this should not be the same man every service, as the roamer will not be a part of the service.  I was surprised to learn that the majority of violent incidents at the church start outside and move inside.  From what I have read, this was the case at the church in Sutherland Springs as well.  Another surprise to me, and one that we should know, is that a large number of church attacks are not directly related to the ministry of the church itself.  A surprising number of assaults are the result of a domestic dispute or custody battle.  Having a person patrolling the facility and grounds gives a great way to be alert and vigilant.

Sixthly, train your teachers and workers how to do a lockdown

For our academy, we installed door locks, flip latches, and barracuda door lock systems.  You can get one of these for outward swinging doors and another for inward swinging doors.  Your Sunday School teachers should be trained – not just told – what to do in the event of an emergency, especially if an intruder presents a threat.

Finally, the men of the church must be vigilant

It is a good idea to ask the men to station themselves on the aisles and to spread themselves throughout the church.  This should be done every service.

Of course, these are immediate steps.  Much more can be said on this, and it would be wise to look into some sort of security training for your ushers and the men of your church.  Let me recommend Strategos International for more in-depth and expert advice and training for your church’s security concerns.  These folks do a great job helping a church develop a security plan.

Of course, in urging these steps, we are not ignoring our need for the protection of God.  We must trust the Lord and preach the gospel.  But we must acknowledge that we live in perilous times.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.