Rock Solid Faith

So many spiritual theories, some even claiming to represent Christianity, swirl around us, all vying for our attention. And all, either openly or subtly, elevating humanity over Christ. Those who stand firmly on Scripture, convinced that it alone is God’s medium of communication with man, risk everything from occasional ridicule to outright persecution…sometimes even from those who profess to be believers.

As American culture grows increasingly intolerant of Biblical Christianity, we must cling to the Lord with even greater tenacity. He must be our only focus. All man-centered philosophies will shift beneath our feet, compromising our balance so that we fall. Therefore, like the writer of today’s hymn, I recognize that my only security comes from Christ.

Really And Truly

Some of the online circles I frequent spend a lot of time talking about false conversions, and many of the people claim to have once been false converts. At times, I catch myself wondering if some of their confessions represent the latest Christian fad, although I understand the sinful folly of making that sort of judgment. If they feel convicted that they Ladies Study 03initially made insincere or misdirected professions of faith, I must accept their testimony with thanksgiving that Christ has at last granted them true repentance and faith.

Interestingly, I’m presently reading Matthew’s gospel, and I notice how many of the Lord’s parables deal with this very topic. The fact that Jesus spoke so often about this matter indicates that many people believe themselves to be Christians when in reality they’ve never experienced genuine salvation. Therefore, false conversions not only really happen, but the typical church has many members who lack authentic saving faith.

The understanding that false converts fill even the best of local churches led me to question my own standing with God. The Bible recommends such self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10).  Yet, I can tend, in examining myself, to scrutinize my failures to such a degree that I eclipse all the ways the Holy Spirit indeed has demonstrated His activity in my life.

Yes, for all too many years I found ways to take some credit for “accepting the Lord.” And I felt some  self-righteousness about my outward obedience. When I actually did face up to various ongoing sins, I’d worry that I’d lose my salvation. But even with my faulty theology, the Lord always brought me back to the assurance that He had paid the totality of my debt on the cross.

Certainly, I spent 31 years in Charismatic circles, 18 of which I identified as a Charismatic. For 12 years after that, I belonged to a market-driven church. The teaching in these churches wasn’t necessarily false, but neither was it as faithful to Scripture as it should have been. Yet even at my most Charismatic point, I wanted to be faithful to God’s Word, and I sensed discrepancies between what the Bible said and many teachings I received.

Looking back, I see many serious problems that hindered my maturity in Christ. I even fell into several deceptions. But I also see that, in spite of myself, the Holy Spirit had His hand on me, and He graciously kept me from totally embracing error. On the basis of His faithfulness to constantly steer me back to trust in His shed blood and in His Word, I  stand by my belief that He brought me to genuine salvation in 1971. Definitely, many false converts do mingle with true believers, giving me good reason to question my salvation. Thankfully, however, the Lord has confirmed that, without a doubt, He has claimed me as His own.

I Can, But That Doesn’t Mean I Should

Read BibleAs Christians who care about sound doctrine, we should be willing to have people challenge us to back up our positions with Scripture. Such  challenges may cause a degree of discomfort, certainly, but that discomfort shows us whether we care about God’s truth, or simply about showing off our cleverness at wielding Bible verses. Once we study a matter with humility and arrive at conclusions that follow good hermeneutics and the agreement of well-established Bible scholars, we can (and should) defend Scripture.

Women bloggers, however, have to exercise particular caution as we contend for the faith, lest we cross the line from answering honest and valid criticisms from our male readers to actually instructing those male readers. My fellow women bloggers, Pamela CourvetteErin Benzinger and Elizabeth Prata (among others too numerous to mention) undoubtedly feel this tension. We all know men read our blogs, yet each of us firmly believes God’s Word prohibits us from teaching men (1 Timothy 2:11-12). This limitation makes it tricky to blog about God’s Word without violating it.

Recently, a man commented on one of my posts, wanting a rather detailed defense of my position, backing my argument with Scripture. I may address some of his presuppositions in future posts because they influence Charismatic thought at its core. I think some of his points need to be addressed, and I know I have the ability to provide Scriptural answers.

What I question is the appropriateness of me going in-depth. It’s one thing to voice my concerns about various movements among evangelicals in a way that asks readers to go to Scripture for themselves. And I have no objection to writing about my past theological errors, briefly contrasting them with Biblical teaching. I even consider it legitimate for me to warn against popular teachers and trends that undermine either the authority or the sufficiency of God’s Word. Also, and most importantly, I want to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, the very Person that sound doctrine honors.

In honor of Christ, I want to avoid teaching men through this blog without avoiding my responsibility to substantiate my assertions (or, when necessary, recant them) with Scripture. Sometimes, I may cross the line, in which case I’ll eagerly repent.

If I had a way to guarantee an all-female readership, believe me, I’d be teaching a lot more boldly! Alas, I can’t control who reads this blog. I will, to the best of my ability, state my beliefs with appeals to Scripture, and will provide links to in-depth teaching  by respected men. This approach may not satisfy those who take issue with me. I anticipate accusations of copping out and of being unable to defend my position. But as much as my flesh would relish the opportunity to demonstrate my theological abilities, I choose to restrain  myself out of obedience to Christ.

Simple Rest

To have faith in Christ means to cease trying to win God’s favor by one’s own character; the man who believes in Christ simply accepts the sacrifice which Christ offered on Calvary. The result of such faith is a new life and all good works; but the salvation itself is an absolutely free gift of God. ~~J. Gresham Machen

The Wrong Person To Trust

Faint CrossIn 1995, I  moved from San Rafael, CA to Memphis, TN in order to continue working as a correspondence counselor for Love In Action (an ex-gay ministry that now uses the name Restoration Path). In order to join in the ministry’s relocation, I willingly became a resident in a Memphis nursing home.

When I first encountered the frustrations and indignities of living in an institution,  I philosophically reasoned that the suffering would prepare me for end time persecution. To my shame, I failed to maintain such an attitude. Very quickly, my self-centerdness reared its head, and my behavior greatly, and regularly, dishonored the very Lord I supposedly came to Memphis to serve. In 1997, I could no longer tolerate nursing home life, so I resigned my 12-year job (which I’d loved) and moved back to my mom’s home in San Rafael.

My moral failures in Memphis haunted me for years. They caused me to worry that I might deny Christ when real persecution came to the United States. I’d seen my cowardice and selfishness all too vividly in the nursing home, and I knew how easily I could collapse into self-preservation when circumstances threatened my comfort. I secretly hoped persecution would hold off until I could die peacefully in my own bed, so that I wouldn’t run the risk of being unfaithful to the Lord.

In recent months, however, the Lord has changed my perspective by helping me see that I’d been focusing on my unfaithfulness rather than on His faithfulness. Left to my own devices, of course I’ll fail Him. Guess what–so will you! In and of ourselves, the whole lot of us will   succumb to pressure, just as surely as Peter did in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin (see Mark 14:66-72).

The Holy Spirit has used Paul’s closing remarks in his first letter to the Thessalonians to help me shift my gaze from myself to the Lord.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. ~~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)

The whole point of the Gospel is that the Lord does in us what we can never hope to do for ourselves. Once He saves us, He doesn’t want us to assume responsibility for maintaining our salvation. The entire letter to the Galatians, in fact, refutes the heresy that we must look to our own efforts in order to complete our salvation.

I failed in Memphis because I trusted in the wrong person: myself. But, as American Christians now face persecution, and consequently suffering far more intense than anything I went through in the nursing home, I now cling to Christ. He will not let me ultimately deny Him because, unlike me, He is faithful!

Distracting Deviations

This past Sunday, our pastor made  the point, in his sermon called Discerning the Times, that compromise within the visible  church has led to the moral disintegration of our society. If you can budget an hour, please listen to this sermon–it’s foundational in understanding how to respond to the persecution that promises to come on Bible-believing Christians.

Pastor Garber began his sermon by asserting that churches have confused the world by making moral compromises. Certainly, those who call themselves Christians show an increasing tolerance of premarital sex, no-fault divorce and same sex marriage. But he  doesn’t camp on that rather obvious point. Instead, he goes on to contend that many professing Christians have also compromised the Gospel message in the name of evangelism, as if modifying it could enhance its marketability.

I would add that postmodern churches confuse the world by compromising doctrine. My addition ties in closely with the compromise of the Gospel, perhaps, but I believe it differs slightly. This type of compromise may not mitigate the Gospel so much as it obscures it by emphasizing ideas that contradict the Bible’s teaching or distract people from Christ.

For most of my Christian life, for example, I had the basic Gospel right, but I embraced a lot of teaching that deviated from Scripture.  Of all people, I know how easily believers can get caught up in teachings that sound spiritual but don’t accurately represent Biblical Christianity. Perhaps my passion for doctrinal purity comes from having fallen prey to so  many evangelical fads. At any rate, I do understand the temptation to jump on Christian bandwagons, because I’ve ridden far too many.

A popular teaching may very well seem consistent with Scripture, particularly if it’s supported by Bible verses that are wrenched from their context and manipulated into mere proof texts. But, as the following graph illustrates, an idea that begins as only a  small deviation from God’s Word will, if followed, take a person extremely far away from truth.

Christians, because we are still encumbered with fallen sin natures, can allow false teachers to lure us into all sorts of deceptions. Most of these deceptions start as innocent misapplications of Scripture (barely perceptible), only to lead us miles away from Biblical Christianity.  To protect us from such departures from truth, the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to counsel Timothy:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)

Many translations render this verse, “Watch your conduct and your doctrine.” Indeed, Christian conduct flows out of Biblical doctrine. Until we learn to properly interpret God’s Word, mastering its great doctrines, how can we hope to apply it correctly. By all means, the Lord wants His people to put our faith into action, proving that our faith is authentic. But let’s make sure to apply those principles that Scripture actually teaches.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage this summer puts Christians in the crosshairs. Persecution is coming! Pastor Garber desires to prepare our local church for this persecution by equipping us to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and by maintaining sound doctrine. The seriousness of our times necessitate  that we put aside our gimmicks, return to the purity of Biblical doctrine and offer the world the Gospel.

The Disgrace Of Almost Right

Faded ChurchThis morning, scrolling through Facebook, I once again came across a popular quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon:

Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.

Having spent the past few days in unrelated Facebook conversations with people who passionately disagree with the reviews I’ve posted about War Room, I found this quotation to be incredibly timely. The “almost right” that evangelicals frequently employ in efforts to win people to Christ may be less appropriate than the “right” of simply preaching the Gospel from Scripture. The “almost right” of quoting Bible verses may be less honoring to the Lord than quoting them in proper context. “Almost right” may actually lead people into error.

War Room may, by God’s providence, open some hearts to the Gospel, and even result in a handful of genuine conversions, just as the Charismatic ministry I participated in as a teenager led me to saving faith in Christ. But should Christians settle for pragmatic approaches to ministry at the expense of truth simply because those approaches might be (or even have been) effective?

The apostle Paul refused to compromise God’s Word simply for the purpose of making the Gospel more attractive. Consider his words to the church in Corinth:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. ~~1 Corinthians 4:1-4 (ESV)

Some might argue that 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 authorizes a seeker-sensitive approach to evangelism, to which I’d counter that the context of that  passage emphasizes Paul’s humility in limiting his personal freedom so he wouldn’t distract people from the Gospel. That attitude is far different than taking a non-Christian to a movie in which protagonists rebuke Satan, hoping that non-Christian will come to Christ despite the doctrinal error. Evangelism that tampers with God’s Word may be “almost right,” but it’s still disgraceful and underhanded.

The Lord calls Christians to exercise discernment. Like Spurgeon, we must understand that “almost right” fails to actually be right. “Almost right” may produce short-term effects, but we must aim at making eternal disciples.