Saturday, April 16, 2016

Free Excerpt from the book: Indeed, Has Paul Really Said?

Indeed, Has Paul Really Said?
Appendix, Part 5 (excerpt)

9781935358022_frontcovThough this section is the last in the series, it is a response to Wright's first critique of my original manuscript. I have chosen to save this matter for the conclusion of the appendix in view of its more sensitive nature. I say "sensitive" because it is my conviction that much of modern Christendom has entered into the dangerous realm of hero-worship, especially when it comes to their favorite Christian personalities. This issue has become so endemic within the Christian culture that very few perceive its influence. Let me qualify this point before proceeding, and before the reader assumes too much by what is being said in this section: we can thank God for those humble servants whose writings and examples of life are worthy of our time and imitation, however, such servants must never become the objects of our adoration or devotion. Even the Apostle Paul had the restraint and wisdom to offer an equitable rebuke to a church that was being corrupted by a similar problem:

1 Corinthians 1:12-13: 12. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13. Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

We must note that Paul had the humility to include himself in this list of names. We can thank God for such humility! Paul didn't succumb to the temptation of ignoring those who were showing deference to him above others; instead he rebuked all those who had reduced their Christianity to a personal following which divided Christ and His body. It takes a mature man to refute a personal following, but this was the man who had become an Apostle and bond-servant of Jesus Christ. Men who, in the modern day, suffer from such a personal following would do well to imitate this humble leader of the 1st century church. As an introduction to this final section, I must first mention that the modern church has become similarly Corinthianized, and this is a problem that carries with it profound implications. Throughout my years in pastoral ministry I have found that when speaking to others about doctrine, it is not uncommon to find a peculiar sensitivity among those who are highly devoted to a particular Christian leader. The modern Christian culture, replete with its well advertised television, internet and radio markets, has created a potential minefield for the local church. Pastors discover this most when they present an interpretation of Scripture which conflicts with the interpretation of someone's favorite Christian personality. When such contradictions arise, destructive and unnecessary conflicts can ensue. The solution to this problem is not to over-react by ignoring the best of what these leaders have to offer, however, one should exercise wisdom and caution when harvesting the most profitable elements of their teaching and example, remembering that they are fallible men. Ultimately, the church must embrace that Berean nobility which sends us back, not to human wisdom, but to the authority of God in the Scriptures. What I mention in this section is not rendered as a wholesale attack; instead it is an appeal to the very wisdom and discernment to which we are all called as Christians. As well, those who are viewed as being popular leaders in our day must be careful to exercise great caution when responding to controversies like NPP, or other dangerous doctrines like Federal Vision,[1] knowing that their commentary has the potential of leading others into greater discernment, or possibly greater error. All of this I mention at the outset because of who it is that Wright mentioned in his correspondence with me - John Piper. Wright mentioned that he had responded to Dr. Piper's developing work: The Future of Justification. Wright's response to Piper was given, as he said, at great length such that the final version of Piper's book was "considerably modified" by what Wright said. Wright went on to say that there were still a good number of misunderstandings in Piper's book, but that in the end - "it's much better than it was!"[2] After these claims, Wright went on to mention another man whose views were transformed once Wright had the opportunity to sway him. Concerning Dr. Piper, only the Lord knows the full detail of Wright's claims. The initial and final state of Piper's manuscript, before and after Wright sought to improve it, cannot be known. However, Wright's mention of Piper led me to read The Future of Justification. On the whole, The Future of Justification does a fair job of analyzing the details of Wright's theology; however, I would contend that it fails to confront the implications of Wright's errors. Additionally, his book is prefaced with commendations regarding Wright's exemplary commitment to Scripture, the resurrection of Christ,[3] the Gospel, justification,[4] and rigorous scholarship.[5] Taking this list in reverse order, what I would affirm is that he (Wright) may be well studied in contemporary scholarship; however his secularized ideology has infected his devotion to everything else in the list. I have already addressed the question of Wright's demonstrated view of Scripture in chapter four of this book, and would only add that a man's professed devotion to anything is best evinced by his actions, rather than words, or as the Lord taught his disciples:

Matthew 7:20: “So then, you will know them by their fruits."

Our Lord did not teach that we can know others by their words alone, instead, we see them best by means of their actual actions. Thus, I can profess to love evangelizing the lost all day long, but if I never tell others about the Savior then such words are revealed as a putrefying vapor. I am often reminded by others that Mr. Wright has in fact written a large work on the resurrection (740 pages). Perhaps it is on this basis that Piper affirmed Wright's commitment to this key doctrine, I don't know. But even the most cogent defense of the resurrection can be quickly gutted by a denial of the implications of such doctrine, and it is not uncommon to find our aforementioned problem of personality-adoration at the heart of succlip_image002[5]h a denial. As an illustration of this the reader should note that Mr. Wright has co-authored a book[6] with Marcus Borg, who serves as Professor of Religion at Oregon State University. Professor Borg denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in an interview with The Australian, Wright opined the following about his friend: 

"I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection," he [Wright] says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg, co-author with Wright of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. "But the view I take of them - and they know this - is that they are very, very muddled. They would probably return the compliment. Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection. I actually think that's a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher, but I don't want to say he isn't a Christian." [The Australian - Feature, April 13th 2006]

Notice that Wright charges Borg, not with outright error, but with being "very muddled" in his views. Now, if the Scriptures were not clear on this issue (the resurrection), then we would certainly have many muddled arguments over the matter, but the doctrine of the resurrection is one of the clearest and most central doctrines of Scripture:

Luke 24:36-39: 36. While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37. But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39. “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

John 2:13-22: 13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me." 18 The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?" 19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

When it comes to establishing the reality of Christ's bodily resurrection, Luke 24 and John 2 (among other texts) are unavoidably clear. As in the case of John 2:21, John used the Greek word – somatos > soma - "body," which clearly identifies the reality of a physical, bodily resurrection. Thus Christ's reference to "this temple" clearly meant His own body, such that what would be physically destroyed through death would also be physically raised again in resurrection life.[7] Not even a mountain of modern “scholarship” can hide the clarity of that statement! It seems difficult to believe that anyone would want to defend the profession of a man who denies what Jesus Himself said He would do by His own power and authority (John 10:17). The test of Christian discipleship is not determined by what we subjectively feel, think, or believe about others, but by that which Christ taught by His own authority: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine."[8] Sadly, Borg’s habit of playing fast and loose with the words of Christ does not end with the resurrection:

"I have learned that the message of Jesus was not about requirements, was not about here is what you must do or believe in order to go to heaven. It was about entering into a relationship to God now in the present–I see in that–wisdom teacher and a social father. And for me as a Christian what Jesus was like as a figure of history is a powerful testimony to the reality of the sacred or the reality of God. Being a Christian doesn't mean that one has to believe that Jesus really walked on water, or really multiplied loaves, and so forth. And I think that a literalistic approach to scripture has in the minds of many Christians become a major obstacle. I think I would be willing to say that the teaching of Jesus makes profound religious sense to me, whether Jesus said it or not. I'll simply say that I think given my understanding of Christianity there's all the room in the world for disagreement about whether the resurrection of Jesus involved something happening to his corpse, things like that. I grew up in a tradition which stressed correct belief, and I now see it's not about correct belief it all. It's about, you know, being in relationship to that to which all this stuff points. I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb, and for me, that doesn't matter because the central meaning of the Easter experience or the resurrection of Jesus is that His followers continue to experience Him as a living reality, a living presence after His death. So I would have no problem whatsoever with archaeologists finding the corpse of Jesus. For me that would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition."[9]

Despite Mr. Borg's irreverent musings about the resurrection, the Apostle Paul settled the matter, once and for all, when he said:

1 Corinthians 15:17 "...and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins."

With all of this we are reminded that what is at stake is the Gospel itself, and when men obfuscate the Gospel we must be careful to expose such obfuscation and refute it. Mr. Piper is free to have whatever opinion of Mr. Wright that he desires, but I must contend that a man who is willing to sideline the bodily resurrection of Christ, as a non-essential, should not be so freely affirmed as a lover of the Gospel.[10] By the evaluation of Holy Writ, I am of the conviction that Wright's indirect affirmations of heresy, along with his outright denials of imputed righteousness, place him in the category of those who are content to love and preach another Gospel:

Galatians 1:6-10: 6. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7. which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

Even Paul had to contend with this same issue of personality adoration amidst his defense of the Gospel, otherwise why would it be necessary for Paul to add: "...If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." For the defenders of the Gospel, no amount of popularity, scholarship, or personal friendship should ever stand in the way of our defense and proclamation of the Gospel. An uncompromising stand for the Gospel will always yield polarizing results, but we must leave such outcomes to the Lord Himself.[11] In view of this, I was surprised by Piper's comments regarding Wright, both in his book and in public…  [For more information on this title, please go to http://ihprs.thearmoury.org/]


[1] The focus of our study centers on N.T. Wright's teaching on justification, and the surrounding layers of NPP theology overall. Federal Vision theology, as a separate discussion, also carries with it many unsettling teachings that undermine and distort the Gospel, not the least of which is the notion of covenantal election and decretive election. These troubling matters will not be addressed here any further, but are only mentioned as a matter of record.
[2] Bishop Tom Wright, December 2nd 2007 correspondence, RE: "What Saint Paul Really Said..."
[3] John Piper, The Future of Justification, (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL), p. 15.
[4] Ibid, p. 17.
[5] Ibid, p. 25.
[6] The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.
[7] Matthew 28:5-6: "......the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying."
[8] John 8:31
[9] Rethinking Jesus, PBS Interview (March 28th, 1997), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/religion/jesus_3-28.html.
[10] Piper, The Future of Justification, p. 17.
[11] 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Memory of Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia

I know precious little about the now deceased Antonin Gregory Scalia, but it was quite apparent that during his life he held fast to the dignity of human life, the importance of the institution of marriage, as well as the value of the rule of law. Upon learning of his death, I was left to wonder if our Lord is now handing our nation over to the lawless zealots who hated him, and others, for such convictions. The sad thought of his passing also brought to mind the fact that I recently quoted him in my book, My Banner is Christ, in view of his piercing and poignant comments made in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013. I quoted Scalia in view of his expressed concerns over the manner in which the supporters of traditional marriage are rabidly vilified by many in our “progressive” society. In particular, his use of the Latin expression hostis humani generis, in reference to such vilification, brought to mind and memory a similar expression used by Tacitus when describing Nero’s intense prosecution and persecution of Christians in the 1st century. It is for this reason that I quoted Scalia’s judicial concerns in order to remind Christ’s body that the church has weathered very intense storms in the past, and may have to face similar trials in the future. Yet, believers must remember that God’s Supreme Court of Justice will prevail over the opinions of men. It is for this reason that believers must fear God rather than men, especially when faced by a society that is descending into the depths of unbridled lawlessness and wickedness. In view of this, I wanted to offer, for free, the very chapter in which I quote this former member of the Supreme Court. I believe that his concerns from the past issue a prescient warning for us in the days to come.
 
Dear brethren – if God is giving this nation over to greater lawlessness and darkness, then it behooves us to reverence Christ above all rather than the mere mortals of this passing life:

~ CHAPTER VI ~

SOLUS CHRISTUS

IN THE LAND OF SODOM

AND GOMORRAH

Like Vanity Fair, the world in which we live continues to proffer its ungodly wares, yet we must be committed to buying truth alone. It is a great challenge to discern and tease out those influences that appear to be helpful, but instead incline us to stray from God’s pathway with remarkable stealth. Whether by the printed page, video stream, or any other means, we are surrounded by countless counselors who seek to advise and direct. Whatever they have to say, we must always remember that Scripture alone must chart the course of our lives. As we press on in the Lord’s prescribed pathway, we may find ourselves losing the preferments and honours of mere men, or we may even face persecution, but such matters must never deter the soldier of Christ. Flavel well understood such trials himself:
“…there is no temptation in the world that hath overthrown so many, as that which hath been backed and edged with fear: the love of preferments and honours hath slain its thousands, but fear of sufferings its ten thousands.”[1]
In the end, our subjection and servitude in the fear of Christ must never be supplanted by our regard for mere men. As the men of this world proceed from bad to worse,[2] we must remember that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.[3] I find these reminders to be remarkably needful and helpful, especially since our nation has recently entered into a new phase of enmity with God and His word. On June 26th 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States announced its ruling that “same sex marriage” cannot be prohibited by any state in the Union. By this single act, a slim majority of unelected judges had thereby created an impotent mandate opposing God and the first of all His institutions – the institution of marriage. While believers rightly mourned this irreverent act of rebellion against the Creator, our nation’s president, who repeatedly identifies himself as a Christian, proudly celebrated the court’s decision by having the White House lit up like a LGBT flag. What this portends for the future no one can say for sure, but it does appear that things are proceeding from bad to worse[4] based upon the trajectory of recent history. Exactly two years prior to this judgment by America’s highest court, another significant ruling was made against the institution of marriage. On June 26th 2013, the Supreme Court ruled against The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law which simply asserted that marriage was the union between one man and one woman.[5] Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a response against the majority ruling in which he rebuked the “high-handed” attitude of those who so eagerly undermined the institution of marriage:
“To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to ‘dis-parage,’ ‘injure,’ ‘degrade,’ ‘demean,’ and ‘humiliate’ our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homo-sexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence— indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostis humani generis, enemies of the human race.”[6]
Scalia’s observations are quite interesting, if not ironic, especially when we consider his use of the expression, hostis humani generis – enemies of the human race. Though he may not have intended the association, Scalia’s use of this Latin expression brings to mind a similar expression used by Tacitus when describing Nero’s persecution of the Christian community in the 1st century:
"But neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital. First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned - not so much for incendiarism as for their hatred of humanity (odio humani generis).[7] Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals' skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight."[8]
Tacitus’ description of these early Christians reveals how they were poorly viewed within the Greco-Roman world as the haters of humanity. The most likely explanation for this label is that the Christian community resisted, for conscience’ sake, the hedonistic and idolatrous culture of the Greco-Roman world replete with its sacrifices to the gods and licentious living often associated with such worship.[9] Such opposition to idolatry was seen as an act of hostility against others, especially since the superstitious and pagan world believed that sacrifices to the gods were necessary for the greater good of the broader community.[10] Such opposition to pagan worship made the disciples the perceived enemies of the state. Though this reputation was remarkably unfair, it did point to the integrity of many believers who heralded a clear and strong Gospel witness in view of their unwillingness to compromise on the priority of exalting Christ and His authority. I would suggest that these historic points of interest offer a preview of what may come in the future. Apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention in America’s apparent moral and spiritual suicide, further darkness will prevail in this land. Because of this, we must look to our Father with filial fear, lest we shrink back from the violent storms of this world, as Flavel said:
“It cannot be said of any man, as it is said of Leviathan, Job xli. 33 that he is made without fear; those that have most fortitude are not without some fears; and when the church is in the storms of persecution, and almost covered with the waves, the stoutest passengers in it may suffer as much from the boisterous passion within, as from the storm without; and all for want of thoroughly believing, or not seasonably remembering that, the Lord high Admiral of all the ocean, and Commander of all the winds, is on board the ship, to steer and preserve it in the storm.”[11]
It is for this reason that believers must be resolved to stand firm in the strength of the Lord’s might in order to fight the good fight of faith. Rather than shrinking back from the intense front lines of spiritual battle, in the fear of man, the church must press on with Christ’s banner (Solus Christus) on the basis of His authority alone (Sola Scriptura). The wicked choices recently made by our nation, though sad, should be seen as an opportunity to magnify Christ’s radiant glory amidst such a world of darkness. Moreover, the subject of marriage must not be avoided as if it were some ancillary point of doctrine with respect to the Gospel. Doing so would forsake many rich opportunities to magnify Christ, seeing that the Scriptures repeatedly associate the institution of marriage with the Lord’s redemption of His people. Should anyone doubt this statement, they must consult the prophets Hosea (Hosea 2:19), Isaiah (Isaiah 62:4-5), and Jeremiah (31:31-34); King Solomon (Song of Solomon 8:6); and the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:22-33). Moreover, John the Baptist’s confession of humility, as mentioned in the introduction, also happens to be rooted in the metaphor of holy matrimony:
John 3:29–30: 29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Moreover, it is the true church’s ultimate longing to be joined with her Bridegroom in His eternal kingdom (Revelation 19:7-10). In all of this it is quite clear that, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the doctrine of marriage is no ancillary subject with respect to the Gospel. If we follow the teachings of the Scriptures, while heralding Christ and His authority alone, then it is impossible to avoid this relationship between marriage and the Gospel. It is in this sense that our nation’s recent debates over homosexuality should be seen as an opportunity for the Gospel rather than as a reason to hide. In view of the church’s current circumstances, she will most likely face further hostility in the future, but we must not be surprised by this.[12] We must seek to be at peace with all men,[13] but never at the expense of the truth,[14] remembering that we as servants are not above our persecuted and crucified Lord and Master:
John 15:19–20: 19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

The church in America has reached a new crossroads such that she must stand for truth while resisting compromise before a watching world. The lines of separation continue to be made all the more clear in our society, but this offers us an even greater opportunity to make it clear that we are citizens of heaven and soldiers of the cross.

Yet we must consider another landmark event related to the homosexual debate. This one has nothing to do with the Supreme Court, but has everything to do with the question of the church’s Gospel witness within a nation that is going the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. The event in question took place just months before DOMA’s undoing. President Barak Obama had just won his second term of office, and plans were being made for his upcoming presidential inauguration to be held on January 20th, 2013. As planning was underway, it was announced that the much celebrated pastor, Louie Giglio, had been invited to offer the benediction at the event. With the choice of Giglio, the White House had allied itself with a remarkably prominent Evangelical leader. His popularity among today’s youth is self-evident, as seen through his multiple books and DVDs which have sold in the millions; his annual and highly attended Passion Conference; and his recording label, Sixstepsrecords, which is distributed by Capitol Christian Music Group. The magnitude of Giglio’s cultural prominence made certain that many would be carefully watching his every move in association with the presidential inauguration: both friend and foe. All proceeded according to plan until an older sermon of Giglio’s was discovered in which he called homosexuality a sin. With the full force of the internet at their disposal, those who made this find broadcasted their rage immediately, charging that such a view was incompatible for anyone who would be tasked to pray at the inaugural celebration. Amidst a time when the debate over homosexuality was swelling, this event seemed to capture the attention of the nation and well beyond. Giglio’s past comments on homosexuality, delivered some fifteen years prior, were stirring important conversations about what the Bible actually says about marriage and sexuality. All of this seemed to produce the perfect storm of opportunity for Giglio to stand forth and state, boldly, what the Bible teaches on the subject of homosexuality, universal sin, and ultimately the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sadly, what the waiting world received was something remarkably inferior. Shortly after the commotion over Giglio was stirred, he announced his decision to resign: a choice that was encouraged by the White House,[15] but ultimately made by Giglio himself. He then published a letter to his church (Passion City Church) which was made available on the church’s website and, as a result, the letter was more widely distributed to the public. In his letter, Giglio mentioned that, despite some ideological differences, he had fashioned a friendship with President Obama around the common goals of ending human trafficking. However, Giglio stated that he felt the necessity to withdraw his acceptance of the president’s invitation to pray at the inauguration, and the reason he supplied for this choice was quite striking:

"Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation.”

Nowhere in Giglio’s resignation letter does he state or clarify what he actually believes it is that the Bible teaches on the subject of homosexuality. His silence on this matter, though largely unnoticed, was remarkably loud. For the benefit of those who had stirred this discussion, as well as those who follow his ministry, such a response would have provided a rich opportunity to address the realities of human sin, corruption, condemnation, and mankind’s universal need for Christ. To date, Giglio has offered no statement of support, renunciation, or clarification regarding his one controversial message on homosexuality from the past.[16] His eagerness to avoid controversy was readily admitted in his resignation letter, where he said:
“I’m confident that anyone who knows me or has listened to the multitude of messages I have given in the last decade would most likely conclude that I am not easily characterized as being opposed to people—any people. Rather, I am constantly seeking to understand where all people are coming from and how to best serve them as I point them to Jesus.”
Giglio’s thoughts regarding how others should perceive him are clearly a core concern of his, but should this really be the focus of a messenger of God? After all, the Apostles were riddled with faulty accusations throughout their respective ministries here on earth, but this never led them to flee from public contests. Even Christ Himself was accused of being a glutton and drunkard,[17] deceiver,[18] liar,[19] demoniac,[20] Sabbath breaker,[21] immoralist,[22] heretic,[23] and riot-maker;[24] yet our Savior unflinchingly declared truth to those who blasphemed Him. Exactly where in Scripture are believers enjoined to focus on the public’s perception of them above the priority of proclaiming the truth? While the thought of pointing others to Jesus, as Giglio mentions, is commendable, we must wonder if this includes the avoidance of opposing people – any people, as he said. The dramatic reality all believers must face is that God’s word is inherently divisive[25] in a Christ-hating world. Though this truth may seem harsh, we do ourselves and others no favors by pretending it is not real. Just the mere mention of biblical truth within this enmity-filled world is enough to provoke an abundance of hostility. Though we earnestly seek the reconciliation of the lost through the message of the Gospel,[26] we must also understand that the very Gospel which has the power to reconcile sinners to God is the same Gospel which divides, convicts, and cuts like a two edged sword.[27] Thus, to some, the knowledge of Christ is a sweet aroma. To others it is the stench of death:
2 Corinthians 2:14–17: 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
While we must guard against the introduction of any offense due to our own sin or foolishness, we must never seek to nullify the inherent offense of the Gospel. In the end, we cannot interfere with the manner in which the Spirit wields His own Sword,[28] for we have no governance over how men will respond to the truth when it is proclaimed. In his letter, Giglio rightly spoke of our nation’s need for grace and mercy, however, one must wonder how he thought this should be achieved: “Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever we need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need." Giglio’s expressed concern over America’s deep divide and simultaneous need for grace and mercy raises further questions about his choice to resign and remain silent. Though conflict-avoidance may seem to issue such grace and mercy to this world, I must argue that it does not. As the pillar and support of the truth, the central means by which the church is to minister the love, grace, and mercy of Christ to this lost and dying world is by proclaiming God’s word abroad. And while the subject of homosexuality is not the heart of the Gospel message by itself, it is directly connected to it as is any sin.[29] For this reason, the avoidance of this divisive subject is not the solution. If we faithfully and lovingly proclaim the truth of God’s word, resulting in deep division and pain,[30] then we must accept this as a part of the Spirit’s promised ministry of convicting the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.[31]
I would submit to the reader that Giglio’s reason for his withdrawal is deeply troubling. Before a watching world this highly celebrated pastor not only refrained from stating the Bible’s clear teaching on homosexuality, but he also withdrew from any further debate or discourse on the subject altogether. Those who shouted loudly in support of the gay agenda successfully silenced a highly visible pastor on an issue that, in fact, should be discussed for the sake of heralding Christ in the Gospel. What became a victory for the homosexual community turned into a moment of shame for the church. Giglio’s withdrawal from this controversy is also remarkable in view of a key statement he made in his Passion 2013 message, Resurrecting These Bones,
“No one does great things without going through fire.”
His above statement is quite true, yet, we must wonder about the example he has set before a watching world. Those who follow this popular pastor may very well deduce from his example that it is best to avoid controversy, especially if the controversy in question is not of one’s own choosing - as Giglio said. Yet, is this the example of the Apostles in the Scriptures? Is it not the case that the Apostle Paul was dragged into a great number of fights which were not of his choosing, and yet he embraced these conflicts as God’s providential opportunities to proclaim the Gospel – both by word and deed? Paul rightly understood that the external conflicts which he experienced in this world only served the greater purpose of magnifying the name of Jesus in the message of Christ and Him crucified. Not counting his life as dear to himself, his principal priority was not self-preservation. Contrarily, if his priority had been that of self-preservation, or conflict avoidance, he would not have been able to finish the course of his ministry. As we observed the Apostle’s words earlier: “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”[32] A simple reading of the book of Acts should remind us all that the sparks of conflict often spread the flames of the Gospel whenever the Savior’s Lordship is magnified over all aspects of life. In fact, it was precisely when Paul suffered as a prisoner in Philippi, singing praises to God from that musty cell of his, that his true emancipation in Christ was made evident to the Philippian jailer. The Philippian jailer knew that, though he was free, he was a slave to sin; and that though Paul was a prisoner, he was the true freedman of Christ (1 Cor. 7:22). When the watching world sees a Christian standing unflinchingly in the face of ungodly opposition, they are beholding a power that is truly supernatural. But when they see men fleeing contests in order to avoid unwanted controversy, or to appease men, they are seeing what all men do by their common, fallen nature. Flavel helps us on this very point:
“…it is impossible to serve God without distractions, till we can serve him without the slavish fear of enemies.”[33]
The example set by those who serve in leadership, for better or worse, is of critical importance. Pastors will either be the fearful slaves of men, or the slaves of Christ – the choice is simple, but quite grave. They will either preach the whole counsel of God for the glory of the Master (Acts 20:27), or cherry pick messages which satisfy the expectations of this world. Should a pastor find himself among that latter category, he will have the shameful bloodguilt of men on his hands. All believers must face down the common temptation of thinking that by gaining some measure of leverage with the world, the church can minister more effectively; instead, the ultimate result is that the fulcrum of worldly evil eventually brings Christ’s body down.
As we think further about the growing conflict over the subject of homosexuality in our nation, the church should consider what her approach to this ought to be. The culture in which we live will most certainly demand that we address this subject as time continues. Homosexual sin, like any other sin, is an opportunity to explain a universal truth about all mankind:
John 8:34: Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
This is the subject of slavery that should capture our attention the most, especially when we consider mankind’s greatest need. As the Savior teaches, all are slaves of sin, because all men sin. The good news of the Gospel is that though the natural man is a slave of sin, he can be emancipated by the One who has all power over sin and death:[34]
John 8:36: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”
One of Satan’s great tactics is to have men believe that they are truly free when, in reality, they are not. Much of what is so offensive about the Gospel is that its message is just the opposite of Satan’s deception. Thus, the Gospel stands as an offense to the earthly and carnal desires of lost men, but if we love the lost truly, we should share the truth with them for the glory of Christ no matter what the results may be. Shrinking back from this priority is not an option for the disciples of Christ. Imagine if one were to redact the book of Acts such that every contest which Paul faced, not of his choosing, ended with his preemptive flight from such controversies. Such an approach to conflict would have resulted in the stifling of his preaching and exemplification of the grace of God[35] in the presence of men. Of course, he would have been spared from the “beatings, imprisonments, and tumults” (2 Corinthians 6:5), the very afflictions which gave his physical appearance the mutilating brand-marks of Jesus. (Gal 6:17). Yet, neither would he have carried the fragrant aroma of Christ as one who could say: “…indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:9). In all of this, I am greatly concerned that the modern culture of Christendom is more caught up with mere form and fashion than it is with the brutal realities of a life that is fully dedicated to the Gospel ministry. It would appear that men today are more preoccupied with cool appearances, hipster haircuts, and whatever else is deemed as trendy within this world. As Spurgeon once said, “…we need soldiers, not fops,[36] earnest laborers, not genteel loiterers.”[37] Simply put, any shepherd who wishes to emulate the Good Shepherd in this harsh battle of life must remember that it is not an option to flee at the sight of encroaching wolves. The habit of hirelings has no place in public ministry:
John 10:12–13: 12 “He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them.13 “He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep.”

The watching world does not need more silence from the church, instead it needs brethren to speak the truth in love, even though that truth may be hated with satanic fervor. As already noted, the debate over homosexuality is not a distraction from the Gospel. The relevancy of the doctrine of marriage and the doctrine of universal sin points to the Lord’s plan of redemption. There is, however, another point of connection between the homosexual debate and the Bible. In God’s divine providence it is profoundly ironic that the homosexual community’s banner of choice is, of all things, the rainbow.[38] I call this ironic in view of God’s purpose for the rainbow, as juxtaposed to the homosexual community’s maligned use of it. When we consider the rainbow’s origin, we find a remarkable message of God’s judgment and mercy with respect to mankind. Having destroyed the world of wickedness in a deluge, God gave Noah the promise that He would never again destroy all flesh by means of a flood. Therefore God revealed to Noah “the bow [h&Q#c#t] that is in the cloud” (i.e., rainbow) as His symbol to all of mankind that He would refrain from giving humanity what it otherwise deserves, thereby supplying a measure of mercy to the sons of men while they live on the earth. The Hebrew word h&Q#c#t is normally used in reference to a bow used in hunting or warfare. Those who have ever drawn a recurve bow know that it takes an abundance of strength to draw and sustain a bow’s tension. Releasing the bow is the easy part, but keeping it drawn and restrained for long periods of time requires significant force. I would suggest to the reader that this very concept represents two important truths: 1. God is mercifully withholding the wrath that we deserve due to indwelling sin; and 2. One day, His bow of wrath will be released in the judgment of men. It is this very picture of God’s temporal mercy upon the sons of men that is similarly unveiled in the New Testament: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). This text in John 3 unpacks some of the inherent symbolism of God’s h&Q#c#t (bow) of judgment and mercy: His mercy is now active such that men “live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), enjoying “rains and fruitful seasons” here on the earth (Acts 14:17). Yet, John 3:36 tells us that God’s wrath “abides” on all those who do not obey the Son. That word “abides” (menei) is a present active indicative verb, indicating a present and ongoing reality in God’s relation with this world. John 3:36 is a picture of presently restrained wrath denoting an active tension of God’s present mercy which will someday give way to the release of His just and eternal wrath upon all those who resist Him. In the days of Noah, the world of sinful men was destroyed by water, but in His final judgment the present heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire such that even the elements will be consumed with intense heat.[39] In all of this, the rainbow is both awesomely beautiful, yet haunting in light of its implied message. Overall, the rainbow is not just a fearful warning to the homosexual community, it is a fearful declaration to all men in light of God’s promised future wrath. It is a reminder that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); and that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23); therefore, apart from Christ, all men are counted as God’s enemies (Romans 5:8) and must plead for mercy and grace which is fully revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ. Like the discussion of marriage, it is impossible to discuss the sin of homosexuality without discussing the Gospel and our universal need for Christ.

If possible, as far as it depends upon us, we are to be at peace with all men,[40] yet without a shred of compromise over truth. Any peace that is achieved at the expense of heralding God’s truth and glory is no peace at all. Much precious blood has been spilled throughout history by saints who refused to shrink back from upholding God’s word in a fallen world, and for this reason we can echo the truth that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.[41] It would be a dangerous presumption to conclude that the persecutions of yesteryear could never revisit the church again. Flavel warned his readers of such a dangerous presumption, especially in view of those brethren throughout history who suffered and died in the defense of God’s truth:

“We are conscious to ourselves how far short we come in holiness, innocency, and spiritual excellency of those excellent persons who have suffered these things; and therefore have no ground to expect more favour from providence than they found…If we think these evils shall not come in our days, it is like many of them thought so too; and yet they did, and we may find it quite otherwise (Lam. iv. 12)…the same race and kind of men that committed these outrages upon our brethren, are still in being…their rage and malice is not abated in the least degree, but is as fierce and cruel as ever it was…”[42]

The Lord promises His people many things in His word, one of which is the promise given by the Apostle Paul: all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.[43] When affliction arises, we may be tempted to flee in the face of opposition, but we must resist this in reverence for Christ. John Bunyan did not write The Pilgrim’s Progress in the quietude and comfort of his pastor’s study; instead, he wrote it while serving time in jail. His “crime” was quite simple: as a non-conformist minister, he refused to stop preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for this he was imprisoned twice for a total of thirteen years. Had Bunyan wished to avoid this conflict, all that was required was his silence, but this was an idolatrous sacrifice that he refused to offer up to his earthly overlords. Instead, Bunyan retained his witness for Christ and the Gospel by refusing to seek the approval and praise of the men of this world. Understanding the corruption of seeking worldly praise and affirmation, Bunyan created the obsequious character, Mr. By-ends, who was from the land of Fair-speech. His love for worldly praise belied his professed love for Christ. Christian asked Mr. By-ends who his relatives were in the town of Fair-speech, and this was his response:
“Almost the whole town; and in particular my Lord Turn-about, my Lord Time-server, my Lord Fair-speech, from whose ancestors that town first took its name; also, Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, Mr. Any-thing; and the parson of our parish, Mr. Two-tongues, was my mother’s own brother, by father’s side…’Tis true, we somewhat differ in religion from those of the stricter sort, yet but in two small points: First, we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street, if the sun shines and the people applaud him.”[44]
When we honestly and openly admit our imperfection and frailty as mere men, we must admit that the hypocrisy of Mr. By-ends and his kin is much closer to us all than we might wish to believe. Only by God’s grace we can resist such compromise by living as lights in this dark world.

[1] Flavel, A Practical Treatise of Fear, 277.
[2] 2 Timothy 3:13.
[3] 2 Timothy 3:12.
[4] 2 Timothy 3:13.
[5] DOMA was originally passed on September 21st 1996.
[6] National Journal: Scalia: 'High-Handed' Kennedy Has Declared Us 'Enemies of the Human Race', http://www.nationaljournal.com/domesticpolicy/scalia-high-handed-kennedy-has-declared-us-enemies-of-the-human-race-20130626.
[7] Scalia’s reference to hostes humani generis, though strikingly similar in meaning, is probably rooted in maritime history, rather than being a quote from the ancient Roman historian.
[8] Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993), 365, italics mine.
[9] Minucius Felis: "You apprehensive and anxiety-ridden Christians abstain from innocent pleasures. You don't watch the public spectacles, you don't take part in the processions, you absent yourselves from the public banquets, you shrink away from sacred games, sacrificial meat, and altar libations. That's how frightened you are of the gods whose existence you deny!" Minucius Felix, Octavius 8.4, 5; 9.2, 4-7; 10.2, 5; 12:5.
[10] “…The existence of the gods depends to an appreciable extent on man's devotion to them. Varro puts this quite simply when he writes: ‘I am afraid that some gods may perish simply from neglect.’" Robert Maxwell Ogilvie, The Romans and Their Gods (New York: WW Norton & Company, 1969), 42.
[11] Flavel, A Practical Treatise on Fear, p. 242.
[12] 1 John 3:13: Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you.
[13] Romans 12:17-18.
[14] Matthew 10:34-37.
[15]“We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection, and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural,” said Addie Whisenant, the spokeswoman for the committee. “Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.” NY Times Minister Backs Out of Speech at Inaugural, Jan 10th -
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/us/politics/minister-withdraws-from-inaugural-program-after-controversy-over-comments-on-gay-rights.html?_r=0
[16] Prior to the writing of this book, I sought to gain clarification on his views regarding homosexuality by phone and private letter. To date, I have received no response from him, or any other leader from the church.
[17] Matthew 11:19a.

[18] John 7:12.
[19] Matthew 27:63.
[20] John 8:52.
[21] Luke 6:2.
[22] Luke 5:29-32, Matthew 11:19b.
[23] Matthew 26:65.
[24] Luke 23:14.
[25] Matthew 10:34-39.
[26] 2 Corinthians 5:20.
[27] Hebrews 4:12–13: 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
[28] Ephesians 6:17.
[29] 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 5:5-6, Romans 1:18-32, Revelation 22:14-17.
[30] 1 Corinthians 1:18-23.
[31] John 16:7-11.
[32] Acts 20:24.
[33] Flavel, A Practical Treatise of Fear, 271.
[34] 1 Corinthians 15:57.
[35] 1 Thessalonians 1:5-13.
[36] Fop: A man who is excessively concerned with his appearance.
[37] C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, (Grand Rapids: Zoncervan Publishing, 1996), 36.
[38] The establishment of the rainbow, as a symbol for the homosexual community, is normally attributed to Gilbert Baker – an artist from San Francisco – who first designed the flag in 1978. There is no apparent evidence that Baker was attempting to imitate the Bible’s description of the rainbow in Genesis 9. Instead, the homosexual community has used several colors (in recent history) in order to depict various aspects and perspectives of the gay community.
[39] 2 Peter 3:3-10.
[40] Romans 12:18: 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
[41] Normally attributed to Tertullian.
[42] Flavel, A Practical Treatise of Fear, p. 267.
[43] 2 Timothy 3:12.
[44] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress.
For more information, please go to http://www.thearmouryministries.org/mbic.html.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We Have Been Here Before: Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump, and America’s Insatiable Appetite for Infantilism

TRUMPANIA

To the reader, I issue this scriptural reminder: we have been here before – Ecclesiastes 1:9-10.

In Minnesota’s 1998 gubernatorial race something unimaginable happened, and I was an eyewitness. The better known candidates who were running for governor, Norman Coleman (R) and Hubert Humphrey (D), had to face off in the political ring with former professional wrestler: Jesse “The Body” Ventura. It seemed as though a cloud of incredulity hung over the entire state in view of such a strange spectacle. Ventura’s political advertisements were clownish, featuring children who battled each other with action figures made in the likeness of Ventura and nameless career politicians. It was all good for a chuckle, especially as we watched the cringe-worthy awkwardness of conventional politicians having to deal with someone who was so desperately unconventional. It was funny, that is, until Ventura actually won the election. Just days after the election, my wife and I ran into Mrs. Ventura in a bookstore where she openly admitted that neither she nor Jesse expected they would win the election.

Well, neither did we.

Ventura ran the government like a genuine WWF wrestler, and for this reason it soon became apparent that head-butts and pretzel-holds aren’t the best way to lead and motivate people. Ventura’s rise to power came amidst a perfect political storm consisting of three key factors: 1. An angry and disaffected electorate that was exhausted with an ineffectual government; 2. Timid political contenders whose talking points sounded like dry reruns from the past; and 3. An emerging desire for something different… anything different. For Ventura, the slogan - "Don't vote for politics as usual" – rang true for enough people to win the election. At the time, I remember wondering when such an odd experience would visit the national stage. In light of our nation’s current primary-parade, I no long wonder. It would appear as though we are now headed towards another perfect political storm, but this one is on the national level replete with a disaffected electorate and a growing desire for something different. In particular, Donald Trump’s rise to prominence has had all the political pundits spinning ad nauseam, while the nation watches in either hopeful eagerness or morbid interest. Few of us know what to make of all this or what will come in the future, but one thing is for certain: there is great danger that comes whenever people recklessly vote for something different… anything different.

The surprising mass of Donald Trump supporters reveals that many “conservatives” agree with much of what he is saying. It also seems that people are enjoying the aggressiveness of Trump’s approach and his eagerness to fight in order to “make America great again.” Yet, one must wonder what a President Trump would discover about the persuasive campaign rhetoric that got him elected. As Ventura came to realize that head-butts and pretzel-holds are ineffective tools for leadership, would Trump learn that the president is not a CEO who simply fires Congress or the Supreme Court in the face of a conflict? Will he come to terms with the fact that, despite all his bloviations about Mexico paying for a wall, he is not a monarch who can issue mandates to sovereign nations? Though many are responding favorably to such blustering rhetoric, there is this wee-little-problem of what we call: living in the world of reality. Remarkably, Jesse Ventura was able to sway voters using infantile ads with action figures, yet, the adult-like realities of leadership and governing issued a rude awakening for those who voted for “The Body.”

That was 1998. We can now only wonder what America’s disaffected electorate will serve up in 2016.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Banner is Christ–Introduction

Below is the Introduction to: My Banner is Christ – An Appeal for the Church to Restore the Priority of Solus Christus and to mortify the idols of Celebritism and the Fear of Man

Introduction – He Has Given Us a Banner (pdf & below)
Chapter I – Lessons from History with Pillars of Warning
Chapter II – Being Subject in the Fear of Christ
Chapter III – Celebritism and the Worship of the Nehushtan
Chapter IV – Solus Christus Versus Man-Centered Partisanship
Chapter V – You Cannot Serve Two Masters
Chapter V – Solus Christus in the Land of Sodom and Gomorrah
Chapter VI – Solus Christus in the Home and Church
Chapter VIII – Solus Christus in the Land of Beulah
Chapter IX – Not all are Teachers
Conclusion – The Palace that is Called Beautiful
Appendix – Part I: John Bunyan, John Flavel, and the Fear of God
Appendix – Part II: The Fear of Christ in Marriage and Family
Appendix – Part III: Thomas Manton's Epistle to the Reader

Date of Publication: October 31st, 2015
ISBN-9781935358107 - 252 pages.
Copyright Year: © 2015

mbicMEDINTRODUCTION: HE HAS GIVEN US A BANNER -
In the fourth Gospel, John the Baptist was asked why all were coming to Christ rather than to him (John 3:26). Rather than competing for the attention of the people, this humble forerunner of Christ simply confessed: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). I would submit to the reader that John’s reverent confession regarding the supremacy and worthiness of Jesus Christ is one that we all desperately need. After all, pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation are as germane to human nature as is breathing, but the desire to magnify Christ alone can only come by divine grace. Apart from such grace, the tendency of human nature is quite the opposite. Man-centeredness is the universal religion of fallen man, and we are all dull fools to deny this. It is for this reason that I say to the reader that John the Baptist’s confession of Christ’s supremacy and worthiness is the very medicine that our proud hearts greatly need. Without such divine medicine, all that we are left with is the deadly disease of human idolatry.

Over the years in pastoral ministry, I have developed an increasing concern regarding the dangerous pathway which leads to the reverence and preeminence of mere men rather than of Christ. By writing on this subject, I make no claim of being above the temptation of human idolatry. It is for this reason that the concerns expressed in this book regarding the church at large, are also concerns that I have for my own soul. As I look back over the years, I can identify several occasions where I was guilty of exalting or fearing men, yet, through it all the Lord has continued to teach me that He alone deserves all reverence, honor, and glory. While attending seminary many years ago, I invited a guest to join me at a chapel service. The speaker was a very popular person whom I admired and respected a great deal. I had already read a few of his books and had heard several of his sermons, thus my opinion of him was already highly favorable. This man preached a sermon in chapel that raised a great deal of controversy among some who heard him that day. He said some things that had a few seminary students buzzing with controversy for weeks afterwards. When I heard the sermon, along with my invited guest, I remember feeling a sense of reservation about what he had said, but I quickly ignored any concerns. After chapel I had lunch with my guest who complained about some of the points made by the speaker. I, as a mindless fan of this speaker, proceeded to defend what he said at the chapel service even though I too had private doubts and questions in my own heart. My internal hypocrisy eventually became a rebuke within my soul such that I came to realize that I had placed my love for, and devotion to, one of my favorite theologians over Christ and His word. What at first seemed like a small error of the heart was later revealed to be a well-hidden disease. But this is not all. Remarkably, I was also guilty of the sin of fearing man.[1] Aware of the fawning devotion of my fellow seminarians for this famous speaker, I felt a degree of implied social pressure to fall in line with the crowd, and this I did like a good little fool. I was no victim in this. My choices were a volitional rebellion against the greater wisdom of Paul who, when faced with theological stardom and the pressures of doctrinal complicity, declared: what they are makes no difference to us; God shows no partiality.[2] Such mistakes from my earlier days became a sharp warning within my heart, reminding me that all such infractions of devotion to Christ alone constitute an incipient disease of the soul, one that can affect myself, my family, my ministry, and my Christian witness in the Gospel overall. In other words, such errors are not minor infractions for anyone, instead they are massive cracks in the foundation of our lives.

I offer this personal account as a means of introducing the core concern expressed in this book. It is my conviction that the modern church has become dangerously distracted from her high calling to adore and reverence Christ alone. What has tempted and lured her from this precious priority is that forbidden fruit whereby the homage that is due to the Creator is instead directed towards the creature.[3] Such a tragedy as this is guaranteed whenever the church fails to live and minister in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). When godly fear diminishes in the heart of the believer, the weeds of ungodly fear will grow in its place, resulting in the corruption of man-centered fear or adoration. Man-centered fear is evident whenever the creature is seen as having greater authority and power than the Creator Himself. In this context, the dread of enmity with men, persecution, or social rejection will often lead individuals to obey men rather than God. On the other hand, man-centered adoration is that corruption whereby individuals are exalted and celebrated in a manner which diminishes Christ. What is so dangerous about this idolatrous corruption is that it is often quite subtle and unnoticed. Its prominence and popularity in American culture thrives in the modern day, and it is for this reason that I distinguish it with the word: celebritism. Its core error is found in the adoration of men over Christ, and its corruption often spreads quickly, especially in this present age of modern media. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of celebrating God’s provision of grace in the lives of godly men and their ministries, there is everything wrong with the idolatry of celebritism: the act of exalting men in a way which diminishes the glory and sole authority of Jesus Christ. The pressures that can lead to this particular problem are enormous, especially in a world which demands that it have its various celebrities and idols: professional athletes, pop icons, movie-stars, prominent politicians, and even internet-idols etc., however, the church must resist such worldly conformity. When it fails to do so, it yields a banner of identity which exalts men rather than Christ, and this is often done under the false assumption that popularity is a guarantee of veracity and piety. When such a banner as this is heralded before a watching world, the church’s sole Savior, Bridegroom, and returning King is horrifically blasphemed. Scripture never calls us to chase after popular trends or prominent personalities, yet this habit among men flourishes readily in our celebrity culture of the modern era.

The sins of celebritism and the fear of man both stem from the absence of an adoration and reverence for God, and every believer must be extremely guarded against this deadly arena of sin. Knowing our human frailty, Satan constantly seeks to lure God’s people into such treacherous territory. Even without his temptations, sinful human nature tends to veer to one such idol or the other like an old jalopy with a defective steering alignment. Left unchecked, this inherent frailty can take any believer off course with little effort at all. All such temptations and defections run rampant wherever there is a lack a genuine fear of God. In such a dangerous condition as this, individuals become far more beholden to the words and thoughts of mere men than they should be. Within this dynamic, it is not surprising that, when teachers of prominence speak, their hearers often slip into a passivity of thought which decimates the requisite critical analysis that all believers must have. When this happens, the hearer enters into a dangerous place where the words of mere men are exalted, Christ’s authority is diminished, and doctrinal errors can take root in the soul. However, Scripture never grants such passivity to the student of God’s word. When we consider the Apostle Paul’s own life and ministry, we find multiple examples of this point. For one thing, Paul bore unique authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and yet he never demanded that others follow his teaching blindly and without question. Instead, he called on his hearers to scrutinize his words with extreme care:

Galatians 1:8 …even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

By this statement alone, we see that Paul understood a very important principle, and it is one that must be upheld by the church in every age: whatever authority God’s servants may be granted in this life, they must remember that Christ is the ultimate authority over His church. Therefore, the Apostles and Prophets did not possess any inherent authority within themselves, instead, the authority they possessed came from the Lord.[4] Because of this, God’s people throughout history have been called upon to test the veracity of those who claimed to be God’s messengers, whether prophets or apostles (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:18-22, Jeremiah 14:13-15, Galatians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). Such reminders as these stand as a rebuke to anyone thinking that exceptions can be made for prominent teachers in the modern era simply because they are prominent and highly celebrated people. Even Paul’s station as an apostle did not afford him such a luxury, instead, his teaching was carefully examined by the Bereans such that they “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [what Paul taught] were so.”[5] We should note that Luke’s record of their activity was not followed with a rebuke against them for some presumed rebellion. To the genuine prophet or apostle of yesteryear, or to the pastor in the present day, Scriptural accountability will always be welcomed because such scrutiny reveals the ultimate harmony of God’s authoritative revelation, while exposing all imposters to the truth. Because of this, Luke called the Bereans noble-minded in view of their willingness to measure Paul’s teaching by the standard of the very Scriptures from which he habitually reasoned:

Acts 17:1–3: 1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom [eiwqos, habit], he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” [italics mine]

No matter where Paul preached, he habitually reasoned from the Scriptures, explaining the Scriptures, and giving evidence from them. All such scriptural evidence became the standard by which all of Paul’s hearers, including the Bereans, could measure his preaching. Clearly, what the Bereans did was not a rebellious response to the Christian faith, instead their noble-minded response was evidence of the Spirit’s work within them. Apart from the Spirit, our fallen tendency is to exalt the messenger above his station, while receiving what is said without careful consideration. Such passivity of thought is dangerous. We could list the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility as “exhibit A” amidst a vast warehouse of past and present demonstrations of such fleshly thinking. All such reminders regarding mankind’s dangerous propensity towards idolatry underscore our desperate need for Christ and His word.

This concern regarding the dangers of celebritism and the fear of man is something that I have dealt with for many years, and for this reason I have already addressed the subject, briefly, in three prior books. Yet, what was a mere parenthesis in those works now constitutes the central concern in My Banner is Christ. It should be known, however, that despite the polemical nature of what I have here written, the ultimate design of this book is to direct attention to Christ Himself, remembering that He must increase, but we must decrease. In particular, there are three foci that I wish to highlight as represented by the title and subtitle of this book:

1. The Priority of Solus Christus: The primary goal of this work is to magnify Christ in the church by restoring the priority of Solus Christus. Of course, Solus Christus is that historic call of the Reformers who sought to magnify the reality that Christ alone is the sovereign Lord over all creation and is the church’s sole redeemer and head, a central truth that was decimated through centuries of various, incremental compromises along the way. In addition to the call of Solus Christus is its necessary companion: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). These two are inseparable and indispensable, for without the latter, it is impossible to seek the former. Without God’s word we do not have the means by which Christ’s supremacy and glory can be magnified. Moreover, without these two aforementioned Solas, all the others fall away: Sola Fide, Solas Gratias, and Soli Deo Gloria. The church’s daily pursuit must be to magnify Christ’s power, supremacy, and authority for He, and He alone, is our message of hope to the church and to the nations. Yet, in order to pursue this priority well, the church must forsake the idols of celebritism and the fear of man.

2. The Idols of Celebritism and the Fear of Man: As already noted, wherever the fear of God wanes, the exaltation of the creature waxes hot, often igniting the sins of celebritism or the fear of man. Regarding the term, celebritism, I gladly confess that it is an invention. Feel free to peruse the Oxford English Dictionary if you wish, but I promise you that, to date, it is not to be found. In crafting this word, I have taken the liberty of adding the suffix ism to the word celebrity in order to denote the natural tendency of human excess due to our struggle with indwelling sin. Of course, the word celebrity isn’t inherently problematic. At its root, it has in mind the idea of celebration. When this word is employed to speak of people, it simply connotes an individual who is celebrated for various reasons. However, due to human sin and frailty, celebrities are often heralded well beyond reasonable measure, leading to sundry cults, cliques, and factions – various isms within society, i.e., celebritism. Within the church, it constitutes that grave corruption whereby the reverence and homage that is due to Christ alone is given to mere mortals. Here in America, where religious persecution still remains at a minimum, celebritism remains as a dominant disease. However, as our freedoms continue to wane, we must also remember that the fear and dread of men is an equally poisonous corruption. Like celebritism, the fear of man stems from the sin of exalting and reverencing the creature above the Creator.[6] Whatever we may face in the future, we must remember that, whether by fear or fawning devotion, the idolatry of heralding men above Christ is a ubiquitous and deadly disease. This contagion in the church has a long and sordid history, and it must therefore be mortified on a regular basis.

3. The Main Title: My Banner is Christ: The science of heraldry (a subject that will be further explored in the next chapter) reminds us that banners and flags are normally used in order to signify the identity and authority of individuals, families, institutions, and nations. In the Old Testament, a banner [n#s] was used as “a rallying point or standard which drew people together for some common action…one of the most important being the gathering of troops for war.”[7] In Psalm 60:4, we are reminded that God gives a banner of truth to those who fear Him so that His glory may be displayed before the nations: “Thou hast given a banner to those who fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. [Selah].” For the church, she has but one object of adoration and reverence, and only one banner of truth within this fallen world: the Lord Jesus Christ – who is the way, and the truth, and the life. Yet the question that remains for believers is this: how well are we clinging to Christ and His authority rather than to false and substitute authorities? This question applies for all believers, myself included, and it is for this reason that I ask the reader to remember that the title of this book is not a personal boast, instead, it is an admission that I write as one whose lifelong goal is to have Christ increase while I decrease. What I believe and seek for myself, I also seek within Christ’s body, and it is for this reason that I issue a heart-felt appeal to the church.

It is my hope and prayer that Christ will increase within His church through a renewed pursuit of Solus Christus, and through a joyful submission to His authoritative revelation alone - Sola Scriptura. I should remind the reader that, though this work contains several polemical arguments, our ultimate resolve will be to seek the biblical solutions to the problems facing the church today. Additionally, as this work was being developed, I was further drawn to the excellent writings of John Flavel (1627-1691) and John Bunyan (1628-1688): two contemporaries who faithfully served as ministers of the Gospel during England’s persistent persecution of nonconformist preachers. In particular, Flavel’s piece – A Practical Treatise of Fear – and Bunyan’s work – A Treatise of the Fear of Godbecame excellent helps and witnesses to my own labors. Both of these men strongly grappled with the subject of godly versus ungodly fear during a time of intense pressure to conform with the religious culture of their day. Within the crucible of such affliction, many brethren learned this crucial lesson as summarized by Flavel in, A Practical Treatise of Fear:

“…it is far better to lose our carnal friends, estates, liberties, and lives, than part with Christ’s truths and a good conscience.”[8]

All brethren who have learned this truth through times of testing, illustrate God’s gracious and powerful work in the life of frail, human instruments. By infusing the writings of Flavel and Bunyan within this work, it is my hope to introduce some readers to these dear servants whose desire it was to herald Christ in a time which heralded men and manmade religion.

Additionally, it was originally my hope to avoid the matter of identifying individuals by name amidst the quest of describing the struggles of the present day. Knowing something about the sensitivities of many within our celebrity-driven culture, I had hoped that this could be done without destroying the structure of the book’s overall development. However, this proved to be impossible. Because of this, I urge the reader to remember the nobility of the Bereans when encountering a critical analysis of any given teacher or teaching. The point is not to tear down people, but to uphold truth.[9] The church is called the pillar and support of the truth[10] – not the pillar and support of prominent personalities within modern Evangelicalism. Should we lose sight of this distinction, then the priority of having Christ increase is utterly lost. The church has no other head or authority and she must therefore rebuff all substitutes for His divine office. When the church understands this truth well, she will be willing to scrutinize every teacher and teaching that comes in her midst – even if the teacher is very popular by the appraisal of the masses. Such activity is not unloving. Instead, it is the most loving thing that the church can do for the Lord and for His people.

Finally, in consideration of this book’s title, the importance of reverencing God, along with the priorities of Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura, I would like to share C.H. Spurgeon’s comments on the aforementioned text of Psalm 60:4. The following comes from his excellent commentary on the book of Psalms, The Treasury of David:

Psalm 60:4: Thou hast given a banner to those who fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. [Selah]: Their afflictions had led them to exhibit holy fear, and then being fitted for the Lord's favour, he gave them an ensign, which would be both a rallying point for their hosts, a proof that he had sent them to fight, and a guarantee of victory. The bravest men are usually entrusted with the banner, and it is certain that those who fear God must have less fear of man than any others. The Lord has given us the standard of the gospel, let us live to uphold it, and if needful die to defend it. Our right to contend for God, and our reason for expecting success, are found in the fact that the faith has been once committed to the saints, and that by the Lord himself.

That it may be displayed because of the truth. Banners are for the breeze, the sun, the battle. Israel might well come forth boldly, for a sacred standard was borne aloft before them. To publish the gospel is a sacred duty, to be ashamed of it a deadly sin. The truth of God was involved in the triumph of David's armies, he had promised them victory; and so in the proclamation of the gospel we need feel no hesitancy, for as surely as God is true he will give success to his own word. For the truth's sake, and because the true God is on our side, let us in these modern days of warfare emulate the warriors of Israel, and unfurl our banners to the breeze with confident joy. Dark signs of present or coming ill must not dishearten us; if the Lord had meant to destroy us he would not have given us the gospel; the very fact that he has revealed himself in Christ Jesus involves the certainty of victory. Magna est veritas et praevalebit (Truth is mighty and will prevail).”

Such is the overall point of this book: to unfurl the banner of Scripture alone and Christ alone amidst a secular and religious world that has countless competing banners. In so doing, we must remember Christ’s victory and triumph over all. By divine grace alone we are the bride of the Lamb and we long for His return. Until He comes again let us raise His banner and uphold the lamp of His word, amidst this crooked and perverse generation.[11]


[1] Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.

[2] Galatians 2:6.

[3] Romans 1:25.

[4] 2 Peter 1:20–21: 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

[5] Acts 17:10-12.

[6] Romans 1:25.

[7] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds., The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1379a.

[8] John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel Vol III, A Practical Treatise of Fear (London, 1820), 303.

[9] 2 Corinthians 10:3-8.

[10] 1 Timothy 3:15.

[11] Philippians 2:15-16.