King Saul: The Progressive, Liberal Faith of the OT

liberalThe core of liberal Christianity is not the brain child of twentieth and twenty-first century theologians. People who wore tunics and rode in chariots were writing off the Bible as being too harsh, too outdated, and too confining long before ascot adorned professors arrived on the scene. In fact, Adam and Eve wrestled with this very question of the whether or not God really said what he meant. “Did God really say, not to eat the fruit?

In 1 Samuel 15, we come across another precursor of liberal Christianity. God commands Saul to annihilate the Amalekites because they had abused the nation of Israel and other people groups. By obeying God’s command, Saul would fulfill a divine prophecy. In Exodus 17:14-16, God had declared, “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”  If Saul fails to destroy Amalek, he would violate the Word of God just a a child violates the Word of God by stealing. God said, “You shall not steal.” 

Sadly, Saul fails to obey God’s command. The text reports that

Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of that fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction (1 Sam. 15:3).

Saul and his army profited from those they were sent to execute. The Jews under Saul were like a prisons guard stealing a convicts Air-Jordan’s and Apple watch as he received a lethal injection.

Saul and the people seemingly disobey God’s Word for personal profit. Though their actions would cause most of us to gag, we can still relate to the two heart desires driving Saul: a desire to be relevant and a desire to be liked. The king refuses to kill Agag because Kings in the ancient world considered the killing of other kings bad Karama. The cultural thing to do was to kill the armies and the people but to spare the king. And so, Saul spares King Agag even though he had spent his reign terrorizing and murdering women and children (1 Sam. 15:23).  As the great theologian John Calvin noted:

“Here then was Saul’s sin; He wished to be more merciful than God.”

Saul looked at his culture and concluded that God’s commands were too harsh and so he lessened them.

Postmodern, progressive Christians often make the same argument. They deem the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and divorce to be too harsh. The liberals know that Bible-deniers are some of the most powerful and popular people in their community. If they cling to the Bible, they will offend the powerful and lose social status.

To maintain their relationship to the divine, progressive souls must declare that God has changed his view of sexuality declaring yesterday’s evil to be today’s holiness. As Saul before them, liberal Christians extend the mercy of God to keep pace with the cultural elites.

Second, Saul disobeys God because he feared the common people. He wants to please the people and so he fails to follow God’s Word to the letter. The people desire nice stuff, so Saul allows his troops to profit from the execution of Amalekites. He feared men more than he feared God.

The fear of man continues to plague modern men and women of faith. No one wants to be hated, picked last for kick-ball, or discover that they are in the minority on any substantive issue. We feel a lot more confident when we are part of the 90% of America as oppose to 10%. Yet those who follow the Word of God are promised perpetual minority status. Jesus said, “because you are not of this world…the world hates you (John 15:19).”

But, we still love to be loved, creating a problem.

The majority culture that has the greatest reservoirs of human love hates the words of God. Before we can access the culture’s love, we have to repudiate the Bible’s teaching on sin, homosexuality, and the exclusivity of Christ. If we don’t walk back God’s commands, the culture threatens to empty our churches. And sadly, we often listen to our culture, believing the ends will justify the means. We think God will understand that we have to abandon parts of the Bible to reach and influence more people with the Bible. Popularity demands we fear men and women instead of the Scriptures. And so, we follow after Saul and our culture.

Unfortunately for Saul and for liberal Christians, God does not tolerate changes to his commands. God never stutters when he speaks. God is not a college student who needs the opportunity to rewrite his term paper.

The prophet Samuel reports, “The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret (1 Sam. 15:29).”

God does not change. God never outlaws sexual sin and then regrets his harsh words a few millennia later because he saw how “in-love” two unmarried coeds were.

Those who change the law of God, have not helped God and have not stumbled unto deep religious truth. They have defied God and deserve death. Samuel point blank tells us that ‘Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” Those who change the Bible by expanding upon God’s mercy to appease cultural elites or by whipping away truths to appease the masses do not worship the God of the Bible. They worship a false God of their own imagination.

J. Gresham Machen correctly notes that the modern, liberal, progressive Christianity that dominates much of the media, “is fundamentally hostile to the Christian faith.” He goes on to say,

Liberalism is totally different from the Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.

The religion of Saul and of liberalism is a false religion. God hates such half-heart, evolving, man-centered faith because it is not true faith. Samuel tells Saul, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” Regardless of their titles and their church affiliations, those who disobey the Word of the Lord receive God’s judgment.

According to liberal theologians, children who have grown up talking to Suri will only stay with Jesus if we make his teachings more culturally aware and relevant. King Saul made this same argument long before radios, cars, and airplanes dotted the earth. God was not impressed then and he is not impressed now.

The Bible has never been modern enough for even the most rudimentary of people. But it has always been true. Will you believe it?

Bedside Evangelism: Yes or No?

bedside-evangelismSharing the gospel with those about to wade through the river of death can seem daunting and at times inappropriate and unkind. The Clinical Pastoral Education movement ardently discourages ministers from discussing the cross, Jesus, and eternal life with those in the middle of a medical crisis. The group believes pastors should offer comfort through listening and through sharing encouraging thoughts that restate the patients’ beliefs, concerns, and desires.

While this pastoral trend towards therapeutic listening has a certain appeal because it keeps ministers from unnecessarily stepping on the toes of suffering and seems to picture God’s love, it actually hides the love of God from those who need it most.

Illnesses, car accidents, and natural disasters exist because of the fall. They are manifestations of evil. Christians should always seek to rescue, help, and comfort people who acutely feel the effects of the broken world. But sorrow and suffering are not random evils. They are often used by God to accomplish his divine will.

God afflicts the wicked with suffering because he desires their salvation. In 1 Samuel 5-6, the Philistines come to grips with this reality. They had defeated the Israelites and captured the Ark of the Lord. As the begin to celebrate this great victory, God pummels them with divine wrath. Their god, Dagon,  is smashed to pieces. Their people develop tumors and begin to drop like flies. Mice overrun their fields. Because of their great anguish the Philistines realize that the God of Israel is the most powerful God.

C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, wrote,

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victims suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt

When life goes well, people are prone to ignore God. As Jeremiah 22:21 reminds us, “I spoke to you in your prosperity but you said, ‘I will not listen.” Pain gets the attention of the modern man and woman just as it got the attention of the ancient Philistines. But pain does not save. As Thomas Watson noted,

If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the dammed in hell should be most, for they are most in anguish.

Pain only knocks people off of their demigod thorns, revealing that someone else rules the universe. But pain does not fully reveal who that ruler is and how one can enjoy a peaceful relationship with God. The Philistines returned the Ark and escaped their pain. But they did not follow their cows into Israel and become followers of the one true God. The Philistines never found salvation.

Pastors have the amazing opportunity to supply the prophetic voice that the Philistines lacked. When a minister learns that a sinner is dying or hears that a less than faithful church member is approaching death, he should come to their bedside equipped with the gospel. The pastor should share the truth that Jesus has died to save sinners. As the Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter noted,

Even the stoutest of sinners will hear us on their death-bed, though they scorned us before.

The pastor should seize the bedside moment and share Christ with the dying, risking social scorn and a few bruised toes.

Is not the salvation of the wicked worth a little angst in the pastor’s souls? Did not Christ offer paradise to the thief on the cross? Can the faithful minister do any less?

Admittedly, pastors can abuse the suffering. The pastor can wrongfully offer salvation in exchange for physical blessing and peace. The sick and weak can be prone to do anything to get relief. The Philistines made golden tumors and mice. Pastors must offer Christ crucified and not some twisted gospel of self-interest where people come to God in order to get favors from him. God does not want to be treated as a genie bound to do the will of human flesh. God wants the sinner to repent and follow Him with his or her whole heart. Anything less is not real salvation and will not last. Watson rightfully notes,

A passionate resolution…raised in a storm will die in the calm.

Salvation ultimately has to be a work of God. And God often uses suffering to draw men and women to faith. Pastors should not hide the gospel when at the bedside of the dying. Rather as Baxter said, “it is time for us, while there is hope, to help him if we can.”

Pastor…Minister are you ready to help?

Thoughts and Reflections on Why The Back 2 School Connection Matters

back-2-school-blog-picThe buzz around the 2017 Back 2 School Connection was louder than a bug zapper on Middle George summer night. The first drove into the FBCE parking lot at 8:40AM. A line happy parents and sleepy kids began weaving around the sidewalks of First Baptist Church Eastman at 9AM. The event did not start for another hour.  When the glass doors to FBCE’s Children’s Ministry Center were swung open at 10AM, more than 300 people began pouring into FBCE.

The stats alone reveal that the 2017 Back 2 School Connection was an amazing success. But the greatest part of the Back 2 School Connection was the event’s ability to foster relationships.

info-graphic-for-back-to-school.jpgBack in 2015, George Smith, former Associate Pastor- Joe Daniel, and I launched the Back 2 School Connection.

Our heart was twofold. First, we know that many hardworking families struggle to provide for their children’s needs. We wanted to bless and encourage the single moms and the couples who are working hard but continual find the bank accounts short.  We also wanted to directly encourage kids and so that would feel at home when the come to FBCE.

But second and most importantly, we launched the event desiring to foster meaningful relationships with people outside the walls and culture of FBCE for the expansion of the gospel. We wanted the Back 2 School Connection to be one of many front doors into our church. We wanted our nieghbors to experience the truth people that FBCE is more than the big, cold, scary building on the corner of Oak and Sixth Street. We want our friends to know to that we are a thriving, living body of men and women dedicated to loving God and loving each other.

I am happy to report that the Back 2 School Connection is proving to be a bridge into the families of Dodge County. Unknown faces that walked though our doors three years ago, our now the familiar.  They are now the faces of children who regularly attend our Wednesday night program. They are now the faces of kids who come to camp with us. They are now the faces children who come to Sunday school. They are the faces of our friends and neighbors.

And they are also the faces of our new neighbors. This year several new families came onto the FBCE’s campus for the first time. They learned that we have a youth group; they learned that we have kids programing on Wednesday night. They learned that there is a church in Eastman that has a heart for them and that wants to share Christ with them.

These relationships are vitally important to FBCE and to the expansion of the kingdom. Many people think evangelism consists of running quickly through a tract, demanding a prayer before running back home to your church as fast as you can. We fear getting deeply involved in people’s lives.  That is not the gospel.

The gospel model by Jesus consists of eating with people; it consists of inviting people into our homes and churches; and, it consists of getting deeply involved in the lives of others. If we hope to reach the world with the gospel, we have to take the time to know our neighbors. And as we fulfill the law of God by loving others, we will have ample opportunity to share the good news of Jesus.

The numbers are great because they point to opportunities for relationships and for kingdom expansion.

I am happy to report that did have some amazing numbers. We served over 300 meals! We handed out 491 backpacks to children in Eastman. And we connected with 227 families. Literally hundreds of families were blessed with the backpack and were introduced to the gospel and to the people of God.

The Back 2 School Connection was an amazing success. I am so thankful for all who help! To God be the Glory!

If you helped with the Back 2 School Connection or would encouraged by the event, please share your experience below!