First Things First

Hitting the snooze while the “ooga chaka” opening of Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on a Feeling” shouts at me from my phone. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I didn’t choose that song as my alarm because it’s a particular favorite (I actually prefer B. J. Thomas’ version), but rather because it has the most grating opening of any song in my phone’s music library. I don’t need something that soothes we to wake me up from the deep slumber that claims me each night. I need something jarring. Something abrasive. Something uncomfortable. Otherwise, I’ll just happily let the music play and continue on with my dreaming.

We all have our “first things” we do each day. They are part of our morning routine that generally includes various manifestations of hygiene care  and caffeine intake. Whatever forms they may take, we cannot get to the rest of our day without them.

I’ve been preaching through a series this month called “First Things”. Each message has dealt with areas within the life of a follower of Christ that must be prioritized in order to effectively and obediently walk in the way He has called us to. Everyone wants to be a mature believer right out of the conversion gate, but the fact of the matter is that there is no shortcut to growth in the life of the  Christ follower. None of us (hopefully) would think of leaving the house without brushing our teeth, fixing our appearance somewhat, and putting on appropriate clothing before going to engage people in meaningful conversation (I’m certain that people who wear pajamas in public have a perfectly valid reason for doing so). Likewise, if we are not properly grounded and prepared in our own walk with Christ, how can we consider ourselves ready to help disciple others?

Is this jarring and uncomfortable? Sometimes more than others, yes. There are times we forget to brush our teeth. (Yes, you’ve done it, too. That’s why you keep chewing gum in your car.) Or forgot to put on anti-perspirant. Or mismatch your shoes because you put them on in the dark. These uncomfortable moments serve as landmarks that help to remind us of what we need to focus on first so that the things that follow go smoothly.

Paul wrote to the younger Timothy that he was to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). The idea here is that there is to be earnest, diligent study of the Scriptures to ensure a right walk for both the one studying and the one who is discipled. There are no Cliff’s Notes to Christian maturity (Do they even still make those? I think I just dated myself). No one can do it for us. We must take the time required to know the Truth. Do we mess up? Of course, but these mistakes must serve as reminders of the first things, the priorities that ensure everything that follows is in its proper place.

Who is Christ? What has He instructed me to do? What is the cost of obedience? What am I willing to give up for Him? These are the “First Things” I’m preaching on this month. You can check them out online at http://www.rbcgreer.com. If you’re in the area, we’d love for you to come check us out in person.

 

A Response to the Response(s) to Perry Noble and NewSpring Church

This article is actually a response to a letter written by Dr. Thomas Kelly, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, that was published last week in The Courier, the state Baptist newspaper. I have sent a copy of it to Dr. Kelly, and spoke with him on the phone. He was extremely warm and gracious in response to my article, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak with him directly. I have also sent a copy to the Courier. I was kindly asked to post it in the comments section of the original article. I have also sent a copy to Pastor Noble and his staff. I was on “Christian Worldview Today” with Dr. Tony Beam this morning discussing it, so I thought I’d post my article here, in its entirety, for anyone who is interested.

I have read the recent statement from our current SCBC president, Dr. Thomas Kelly, and I wish to address several statements he made in regards to calling all Southern Baptist pastors in the state to action. As I am one, I feel obligated to reply.

I wish to make very clear that I am not an apologist for Perry Noble and NewSpring Church. I do not necessarily agree with everything that Pastor Noble has said or done in and from the platform. Our church is also approximately 1 mile from a proposed NewSpring site, which has the potential to impact our area—and our church—in a significant way. I do not know him personally, nor have I ever met or spoken with him. I say all of this because my issue in writing this is not what Pastor  Noble has said or done, but how Southern Baptists—particularly Southern Baptist leadership—has responded.

By now everyone with any interest in the matter knows about Pastor Noble’s error in regards to the broad strokes of the misapplication of Hebrew regarding the Ten Commandments in his recent sermon. They should also be aware of the fact that he has since publicly acknowledged said error, as well as for his own frustrated outburst on social media. In this apology, he clearly said that his statement was not correct and that he “should have put way more time into doing research before making that statement.” I am sure that all of us have stepped in the pulpit and preached something that we later realize required more in-depth study to better understand so that we might more accurately teach the people under our care. Pastor Noble has stated very clearly that he holds a very high view of Scripture, but it also seems that from time to time his eagerness to communicate the Good News of what Christ offers to all people—forgiveness through His substitutionary death—overcomes his knowledge. In over twenty years as a senior pastor, I have certainly been guilty of this as well, and I believe most honest pastors would say the same. I am in no way condoning this, but the fact of the matter is that the man has publicly acknowledged his mistake, asked for forgiveness, and committed to working hard to avoid such mistakes in the future.

The question must then be asked: what else would we have him do? Dr. Kelly asked in his column that all Southern Baptists “publicly state and remove ourselves from these positions and problematic statements and call for NewSpring to correct these positions if it chooses to say that it affiliates with South Carolina Baptist churches.” It certainly seems that was covered in Pastor Noble’s public apology. What else must be done?

According to Dr. Kelly, all SCBC pastors should avoid  “coarse, profane language [on the platform] as well as choosing music that is sacred in content.” Anyone could see the clear value and biblical basis for avoiding coarse language during a hermeneutical discourse, but there seems to be something else that is at work as well in the comment regarding music. In other words, only songs that are explicitly directed to or about God should ever be played in church. On the surface, I certainly agree with the intent here. The only songs people should be using for worship should be directed at a Holy God that has provided redemption for those who will receive His Son.

Can music not serve an illustrative purpose as well, however? Virtually all preachers use stories to illustrate a point of teaching; can songs not be used for the same effect? I believe that a song can register more powerfully to illustrate a point than any quaint story or pitiful, stale joke that causes everyone to roll their eyes at and promptly forget.

Dr. Kelly’s statement that “most ministers live an isolated existence regardless of church size or location” and should therefore “find and actively engage in accountability groups to hold them to a higher standard morally, ethically, and biblically” is absolutely correct. It should be noted that in order to have accountability it must be confidently known that those involved have a true love for and commitment to the success of the others involved. In the nearly 12 since years since I returned to the Upstate of South Carolina, I have consistently heard Pastor Noble’s “brothers” in the ministry excoriate him and NewSpring  for one thing after another. Is it truly surprising if Pastor Noble doesn’t have volumes of trust in a group of people that has certainly shown little love, mercy, or kindness towards him? This is not a man who has denied the Trinity, or suggested that the apostle Paul should be rebuked for his stand against sin in his writings. Pastor Noble has certainly raised some eyebrows over the years, but the fact is that he preaches Christ as the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world, and that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. Hundreds upon hundreds of people have made professions of faith in Christ as a result of his ministry. Some are quick to point out, “Well, I’m certain not all of those people are really saved,” or “How many of those baptisms are repeat baptisms?” The same statements could be levelled against any large church or even Dr. Billy Graham’s many crusades. It is safe to say that not everyone who walks an aisle or is baptized is truly saved, but is that the fault of the preacher or ministry? To suggest otherwise would demand that salvation is supplied by the minister, and that is certainly biblical heresy.

On Dr. Kelly’s third point, that all SCBC pastors renew “themselves to more sound exegetical study and expository preaching and teaching of God’s word,” I could not agree more. The first task of the pastor for his people is to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). In the midst of this great and worthy cause, however, we should not forget Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 18:21-35 that we are to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven” as He clearly states the danger inherent in a lack of forgiveness. Each one of us would like to be forgiven when we fail and then turn from it. What a novel idea if we showed the same kindness to others. Jesus also said that the unconditional love His followers have for one another would demonstrate to the world those that are His (John 13:35). To do otherwise is certainly to fail in the exegesis of Jesus’ own words.

When we are incapable of showing any more love, mercy and forgiveness than this towards our own people—our own pastors—then we should not be surprised that the world finds us increasingly irrelevant. Jesus did not call us to be such, but that as we are going about our everyday lives we should be making disciples (Matt. 28:19). A staggering lack of love, mercy and forgiveness on the part of pastors is blowing up the very bridges into our communities that we should be seeking to build.

As a pastor, I believe it behooves all Christians to show the kind of mercy we believe Christ has shown us. Should we refute false teaching? Absolutely, and when that person apologizes  and promises to change, we accept it. Seventy times seven. To do less is unworthy of our cause and our Christ.

Do Our Efforts Make Us Holy?

Paul frequently describes the Christian life in very physical terms, far beyond merely “walking in the Spirit”. Paul describes the Christian life as running a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, where he also uses the imagery of boxing. The author of Hebrews says “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b).   In Ephesians Paul plainly states that there is a struggle that requires us to use strength given by God, that there is genuine warfare against the devil and his demonic forces (Eph. 6:10-13). Time and again the Scriptures paint a picture of effort, not earning. Willem Van Gemeren  writes: “Paul defines true wisdom (or godliness) as the pursuit of the triune God. He speaks of wisdom as a walking with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He calls upon Christians to walk worthy of God (1 Thess. 2:12; 4:1-8), to be filled with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19), to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:11-14), to live in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:6-7), and to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-11). Paul contrasts the life in the Spirit with the carnality of the world (1 Cor. 3:1-4; 10:1-10; Gal. 5:16-21). The newness of life is theocentric and produces nothing less than a godly way of life, as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 6:22; Eph. 5:1-2; Gal. 5:22-23; Col. 1:9-10)” The “newness” of life produces evidence that demonstrates the proper functioning of the power dwelling within.

What separates mere effort from the process of sanctification is the power behind it. The Bible states that the best works man can offer are like filthy tatters of cloth before God (Isa. 64:6), so clearly the best efforts of man will not elevate him in the process of Christ-likeness. John M. Frame points out that many secular writers, including the likes of Aristotle, have highlighted the great importance of inner righteousness. While they struggle with the need for such inner character, “they have not succeeded in showing what constitutes virtue or how such virtue may be attained. This insight is based on God’s lordship attribute of presence, ‘for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). Without inward regeneration and sanctification, our best works are hypocritical.”

Frame summarizes the struggle with works and grace in the context of sanctification this way: “In justification, our works play no role. God accepts us as righteous solely on the basis of Christ’s atonement. In sanctification, God’s grace is equally pervasive, but there is a role for our efforts. All our goodness comes from God, but it is still important for us to take up arms against Satan and do what is right…So Protestants have maintained that justification is ‘by faith alone.’ Sanctification is also by faith, but not by faith alone…It is not by faith alone, for human effort is necessary to achieve it. Of course, it is God’s grace that gives us the ability to put in that effort. But human effort is necessary for sanctification in a way that is not necessary for justification. Even though sanctification is not by faith alone, it is certainly by faith. In our quest for holiness, we must above all trust God.”

The Biblical teaching of sanctification indicates a process by which God works through man to provide the power need for man to grow in his walk, his faith, and therefore his relationship with Christ as a disciple. While there are those who question the nature of this process, the life of a Christ-follower is meant to be a life of growth. This process of growth is a lifelong adventure that God uses to build the believer into His image until the day when faith is made sight.

Passive Purity?

One of the most difficult subjects to wrap one’s head around is the interaction of faith and works. Once a person receives the forgiveness of Christ, is that all there is? Is no further action required, or is there something the believer has to do? If we are saved by faith, as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, do works have any role whatsoever in the life of the Christian?

To suggest they do not is dangerous at best and unbiblical at worst. Since the very best we can do is, as the prophet Isaiah said, “filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6), we know that our efforts have no part in becoming righteous in God’s eyes other than our reception of the forgiveness offered. Even so, the moment of conversion– the justification of the believer through the atonement of Christ– is only the first step in the process. The ongoing walk with Christ in this life, or sanctification, follows as surely as exhaust flows from an internal combustion engine. Sanctification is the natural result of justification, and is not possible through works. This being said, the works are the overflow of the conversion.

Paul teaches that there is more than a passive reception of purity involved in sanctification. In the great doctrinal thesis that is Romans, Paul points out the necessity of involvement in the work of sanctification. “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Rom. 6:19b). Here he indicates that the nature of man is to offer up service to one of two masters: sin or righteousness. When man chooses to allow his sinful nature to dictate his course, the resulting actions will be an increase of sinful activity. Conversely, when man surrenders himself to God and appropriates the righteousness offered through the cross, his actions will result in actions that are increasingly righteous or undergoing “purification.”

Paul further highlights the effort required of the believer in the process of sanctification in Ephesians 6:22-24: “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”. The “laying aside of the old self” suggests effort in addition to the justification of the substitutionary atonement. To suggest that no effort at all is required can be taken to such extremes as universalism, or such passive forms of Christianity as Quietism.

Paul continues and instructs the believer to “put on the new self”. The Greek word used here, enduo, has the connotation of not merely having a garment but putting it on, of literally sinking into the folds of it and having it envelop the wearer. This is very clearly an energetic act as opposed to a passive occurrence. Just as a parent lays out the clothes for a child, the child is undressed until they put their clothes on. When the child is small, the parent puts the clothes on for them. As they mature, they are to dress themselves.

Too many Christians are laying around waiting for God to dress us when He has provided us with everything we need. We need to not overstep our bounds, to be sure, but we must also ensure that we are assuming the responsibility our Father intends for us to take. Saved by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, we are to live out our lives demonstrating the hope we have within us.

Is “Getting Saved” All There Is?

Salvation itself needs to be clearly defined. Is the initial moment of salvation intended, or rather the totality which concludes in the presence of God? Here the three steps of salvation become critical as opposed to merely informative.  In his book The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings On Discipleship, prolific author and professor Dallas Willard wrote that “when ‘salvation’ is spoken of today…what is almost always meant is entry into heaven when one dies…This usage of ‘salvation’ and ‘saved’ deprives the terminology of the general sense of deliverance that it bears in the Bible as a whole.” If this is true—which the Bible seems to indicate is so—then the concept of deliverance can be especially clarifying.

For example, consider a hiker who becomes lost on the side of a mountain. He has no cell phone service, no GPS, and an injury that keeps him from going any further. Suddenly he hears the sound of a rescue helicopter overhead. The rescuer spots him, hovers over the injured hiker, and lowers a rescue basket and operator. The hiker is placed by the operator into the basket. Is he saved at this point? Has he been delivered from his distress? Certainly he has been rescued from his current helpless predicament, but the totality of the rescue is far from accomplished. He must now be lifted into the helicopter and be removed from the rescue basket so that he might be treated for his injuries. Are his injuries instantly healed by the medic on board? No, the treating and healing of injuries is a process that must be endured. Now, the helicopter must transport him back to civilization where true care can finally be given to fulfill and complete his healing. Does the helicopter instantaneously arrive at the hospital? No, it must make the journey there, varying its course and speed according to the situations it encounters along the way.

James the half-brother of Jesus rhetorically asked those who questioned a need to show effort in discipleship and sanctification: “are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:20) Regarding the balance of God’s work and man’s effort, he continues, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.   You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:21-24). There is a significant difference in the word used here than what was previously seen in Paul’s writings, however; James uses “justified” (Gk. dikaioo), which means “to render innocent.” This is the first step of salvation, whereby the sinner in radically transformed on the inside into a saint of God at the moment of regeneration. Is James advocating a works salvation? Is he saying that works can render someone innocent in God’s eyes? Not at all, as he clearly states in verse 22: “faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.” The key to understanding this seeming conundrum is the word “perfected”—the Gk. teleioo, which means “to complete” or “consummate.” The works do not save, but rather are an evidence of that salvation.

Car engines direct their spent fumes from the internal combustion process through exhaust pipes. Some cars are very quiet, while others are very loud. Regardless of the sound volume, each produces evidence of their inner workings—grab either tailpipe, and a burn will be the result. The inner process produces an outer result. Genuine salvation manifests itself through Godly works.

Can True Discipleship Ever Be Completely Program-Driven?

The nature of discipleship has become something of a hot-button topic in recent years in the Christian church. Growing up Southern Baptist, I have seen firsthand the struggle to balance evangelism—getting people out of the pew and down the aisle during the invitation—and discipleship—getting people out of the pew to follow God in their everyday lives. For many years the emphasis was almost exclusively on getting people to “make a decision to get saved”, to receive the forgiveness of Christ through His atoning death. Whatever it took, the priority was getting people down the aisle during the “altar call.”

Certainly the centrality of people’s need to repent of their sin and receive the forgiveness offered by Christ alone is unarguable within the context of biblical Christianity, but this was treated as the end of journey and not the beginning. There was need for a system of developing new converts into mature believers, that much was certain, but the implementation of such a system was woefully inadequate. Relying upon program after program, Southern Baptists fell into the trap of seeing discipleship as a Sunday or Wednesday night option instead of an everyday part of the Christian life.

Much of the damage from the programmed imitation of true discipleship comes from the fact that it so easily replaces genuine relationship with busywork. God is not impressed by our class attendance, nor is He moved by the number of evangelism program outlines we have memorized. He desires an intimate relationship with His children, one freed from legalistic barricades and programmed responses. This relationship, of Master and disciple, is a process that begins at the moment of conversion and continues until we meet Jesus face to face. We short-change ourselves when we seek the shortcut.

Why are we then so tempted by the pull of the quick and easy way? Because it is exactly that. Genuinely following Christ is not only difficult, it is impossible. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit that takes up residence in the heart of the believer at the moment of conversion do we have any hope of being a faithful follower of Christ. It is this total, constant dependence upon Christ which drives genuine discipleship. Programs are only the framework upon which everything hangs. They are not the foundation, and when they become such they prove to be shifting sand at best.

The Key to Blogging Is Consistency? Oops

I can give you a lot of reasons why I haven’t posted on my website in the last decade. I can use the excuse of working on my doctoral dissertation. Or this or that. The fact of the matter is I just haven’t done it. I’ve cheated by posting short blurbs on Facebook and Twitter, but it isn’t the same. So I’ve officially asked a few key people to keep me accountable about regularly posting on this site. We’ll see how that works out.

If you have topics you would like me to address, or questions you would like to ask, feel free to send me an email to marcus@rbcgreer.com. I’d love to write about things you’re dealing with or interested in. In the meantime, we’ll see about getting this thing going again.

Why It’s Important To Get Your Facts–and Sources–Straight

Here’s an email I received the other day regarding my comments on the Tebow jersey/clutural bias against Christianity discussion. I’m deleting the person’s name so as not to make anyone uncomfortable, but this is a pretty good example of the few negative messages I got. I’m sharing this so that if someone else has the same thougths or feelings that this might answer some questions preemptively. There’s also another lesson here: before you crank out an email or other form of communication, make sure you have your facts straight. It saves time and generally makes for a much better experience for all involved. To my friend’s credit, it was not sent anonymously. I’m posting his email first, then my response.

And by the way, I do not know Tim Tebow. Have never met him or spoken with him. I’d like to, just to say “atta boy!”, but I haven’t. The only dog I have in this hunt is biblical truth, and that’s the only one that really matters.

 

 

Dear Rev.  Buckley and those who you influence,

I had to respond, as a Christian, to your opinions regarding those who do not approve of the public displays of religion.  To classify all of these individuals as “haters”, and l say this will all due respect Sir, is simply not fair, well considered nor well thought out by you.  Some people, such as I, do not agree with it and l am in no way a “hater”; I simply disagree with Christ and his message being displayed in this manner. To me it is degrading and disrespectful to God, reducing Him and His name to that of a commercial sponsor or a simply a ball player’s displaying an action that few truly look at it as a testament to God, but actually as a promotional act, self-serving and in no way serving the message even if well intended. There are many reasons that a person could and would take issue with seeing the Lord’s name on a piece of sports clothing….He deserves more respect than that. Look at both sides of this, I ask of you.

While l can appreciate your position and opinion, l take offense that you would consider a man such as myself a “hater” and strongly believe that you need to rethink what you said, how it’s possible that you and your words hurt other people in the Family of God and if you both have the right to do that.  So then do you become any different than those you accuse of being “haters” by saying things are to me were indeed hateful? You were the proverbial “pot calling the kettle black”, though l do not want to cast stones, l will take my fate for saying this as you offended me and assuredly other  Christians with your own words of hate. Reflect on what you said and ask yourself, did I act as Christ would have? In that is your answer, as it always is. When you do, you will surely find that the answer is the Lord would never have held the position nor said the words you did.

As a Pastor, I am honestly surprised that you forgot “Judge not lest ye be judged”, but we are all men, not perfect, and while l was, still am upset and disappointed in you, l do forgive you regardless if you see any wrongdoing in your words and/or deeds including becoming upset with me for stating my peace with you. I don’t need you to see and understand it to forgive you, but l would imagine the Lord would prefer you do, but that is between you and God.  May God bless you and give you both the sight and wisdom to understand those things you have been so far blind to see.

Your Brother in Christ,

 

 

My response:
Thanks for taking the time to write. Actually, I never referred to anyone as a “hater”. The columnist who quoted me used that term. I was not even interviewed directly by the writer who used that term–he simply cut and pasted a quote from a tv interview. There were no words of hate in anything I actually said. I encourage you to read the articles I wrote regarding this on my website, www.marcusbuckley.com.  You would be better served understanding what I actually said than what you think I said.
I understand your viewpoint and you have every right to your opinion, but the Bible is very clear that we as Christians are to boldly proclaim our faith at every opportunity.
To say that we are not to judge is only quoting part of the passage. It continues and says that whatever measure we use will be the measure we are judged by. Scripture, not personal or public opinion, is that measure. According to Scripture, we are not to cover our light but rather let it shine. The Great Commission calls all believers to make disciples of Christ  of people everywhere. That involves living out Christ in every arena, not just church. Incidentally, you judged me on something I never actually said, so you can see how important getting the whole message is important. Further, you have accused Tim Tebow of being “self-serving” and “promotional”, which certainly strikes me as judgmentalism on your part. How do we know that his are not genuine expressions of faith and gratitude to the God who has blessed him with his talents? I don’t know him personally, but I believe Tim Tebow to be very genuine.
I have, in fact, looked at both sides. In a radio interview with a station in Cleveland, Ohio, this morning I stated that I personally was not a big fan of the “Jesus” jersey. It’s hard to make a fair judgment when you don’t have all the information, much less incorrect information.
I’m not upset at all with you sharing your viewpoint. In fact, I completely welcome discussion about what people believe. What I find problematic is your accusatory language regarding wording I never used. In the future, it would be beneficial to look before you leap. You would be better served saying the things you directed at me to the writer who actually referred to people as haters. His name eludes me at the moment, but I’ve posted a link to the original article on my blog.
Please let me know if I can do anything for you in the future. Rest assured, there are no hard feelings on my end.
Rev. Marcus A. Buckley