Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Don't Squander Your Liberty

Saeed Abedini is a U.S. citizen who lives in Idaho with his wife and two young children. He converted to Christianity from Islam in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Prior to moving to the U.S. he had been active in planting house churches in Iran. Last September he traveled to Iran to help start an orphanage and was arrested by the Iranian jihadist Revolutionary Guard. He was tortured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Iran’s most brutal prison. And what was his crime? He was charged with undermining the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam. Is this an isolated case? No. Sadly, there are thousands of Christians imprisoned throughout the world for the crime of following Christ and sharing the Gospel with others. We find such persecution in Egypt, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many others. China maintains strict control over churches and those not registered and officially sanctioned are subject to arrest. The government detained over 700 Christians from unregistered churches in 2012. Thousands of Christians throughout the world understand clearly the words of the Apostle Paul, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
In the United States Christians often fail to contemplate the wonderful blessing of our religious freedom. We enjoy the freedom of worshipping God without interference from our government and we have the marvelous liberty of being able to share Christ with others. We can stand on a public sidewalk and pass out tracts without fear of being arrested and imprisoned, a blessing Christians in many countries can only dream of. On March 16 several men from our church walked the route of our local Saint Patrick's Day Parade passing out tracts. We were mere feet in front of the lead police car and policemen on bicycles were often right next to us. Not once did they interfere with our labors. Oh what blessed freedom! While our freedoms are under continued threat of being eroded, we enjoy great liberty today.

Such blessings carry great responsibility. Has God granted us such liberty without the expectation of us using the gift diligently? We must not squander our liberty. Our nation is on a downward spiral of moral decay. The only hope of our survival is the Gospel of Christ. Churches must not turn their eyes inward and forget their duty to the world. Healthy churches are those that maintain an emphasis on evangelism. Ernest Reisinger wrote, “The church that does not evangelize will fossilize, that is, dry up and become useless to Christ and to the world” (Today's Evangelism, p.xv). Our Lord commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
When the Church was in its infancy persecution soon broke out in Jerusalem. Luke records that Christians had to flee the city and were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. What was their course of action? Did they go into hiding? Did they try to conceal their attachment to Christ? Did they keep the Gospel carefully hidden from others? Luke records, "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). These were not the Apostles. Luke records that the Apostles remained in Jerusalem (Verse 1). These were the lay people! The word used for "preaching" here is not the word "kerusso," which designates the work of those called to the ministry of the Word, but "euaggelizo," which simply means, "to announce glad tidings" or "to bring good news." It is the labor of every Christian. Will Metzger writes, "In our world probably 99.9 percent of all Christians are not in the ministry. Unless everyone engages in evangelism--praying, initiating, and fervently speaking the gospel--not much will happen" (Tell the Truth, p.21). Pray that you might seize every opportunity share the good news of Jesus Christ. Do not squander your liberty!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Louisiana College and Calvinism - An Old Familiar Foe

Several within my small sphere of influence have asked me what's going on at Louisiana College (LC) with regard to the decision to not renew the contracts of three professors, presumably because of their Reformed (Calvinistic) theology. I am, by no means, an insider with what is happening at LC. I personally know none of the parties involved. I only write this because, from the outside looking in, this appears to be the working of one with whom I am all too familiar. I've seen him divide churches and weaken marriages. I've seen him divide brother against brother. Of course, I'm speaking of our old foe, the devil.

Satan's lies and deceptions are so cunning that he is able to make the wrong seem right. Or as the Apostle wrote, "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). None of us are above being influenced by his lies. Even as I write this I am prayerful that my own motives are pure and that I am not adding to the division that Satan has orchestrated--that Satan is not using me. The danger is so great that the New Testament gives continual warning. He is described as a vicious lion and we are charged to stay on the alert - "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). We are warned to be on guard against his schemes, "in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Cor. 2:11). None of us are above his attack and deceptions. The Apostle Peter knew personally how Satan can use us to hinder the work of the Kingdom of our Lord. The words, "Get behind Me, Satan" (Matt. 16:23) must have forever burned upon his ears. Pastors (and church and denominational leaders) must be mature because of the danger - "and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the devil" (1Tim. 3:6). We must understand the source of many of the disputes between brothers - "for our struggle is not against flesh and blood . . ." (Eph. 6:12). The point is, we are all in danger of being deceived and distracted by the lies of the devil. Satan is so cunning that, while listening to his lies, we can actually believe we are doing the work of God - "but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering service to God" (John 16:2).

I say all of this because the dispute at LC bears all the marks of this old familiar, lying foe. Is Calvinism really the enemy? I could understand the dispute if it was an issue of heretical doctrine; if it was a denial of the Trinity or justification by faith alone. But this involves a doctrine that has long been approved by a large segment of the Church. Calvinism was the fuel that fired the revival of the Protestant Reformation. It was the doctrine of the Puritans that came to build America in the 17th Century. It was the fuel that led the charge of the great missionary endeavour of men like William Carey and Adoniram Judson. And so important to the present debate, Calvinism was the doctrine of most of the founders of the SBC. W.B. Johnson, the first SBC president, held to these doctrines. P.H. Mell, who held the office of SBC president longer than any other (1861-1871, 1879-1887), held to these doctrines. The founder of Southern Seminary, J.P. Boyce, was a Calvinist. John Broadus, Basil Manly, William Williams - the list goes on and on, were all Calvinists. So do we really want to make this the issue that will divide our Convention today?

So why do I say that this bears all the marks of our fiendish foe? Because while the very foundation of our culture has fallen into moral and spiritual decay, the Church has been largely silent. We are too busy devouring one another. Our nation is confused over very basic questions. What constitutes a marriage (or a family)? When does life begin? Is is proper to kill babies? And how do we respond? Get rid of the Calvinists! My friend, Jim Law, recently stated it well on his blog: "In a culture that is jettisoning biblical foundations by the hour, there is no time for this! In a church fractured by disputes and misplaced devotions, there is no time for this! In a world where there are billions who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, there is no time for this!"

Again, I am not an insider in this dispute. And I am not writing with any desire to enter the debate, but as an outsider looking in, it would appear that there are brothers who have been hurt because they hold to a set of doctrines that have long been accepted within orthodox Christianity, and by our own Convention. We need to put an end to this madness and stop being prey to the schemes and devices of our true enemy. We need to rise up together with one heart to advance the Kingdom of our Lord.