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Category Archives: Gospel

Do we have to choose between hate and the condoning of sinful lifestyles?

There has been a lot of discussion regarding the “Baptist” pastor from Auckland who supposedly sent an extremely evil email to a gay man.

Interestingly Ian Wishart has made the following observation on his FB page:

“Maybe it’s the investigative journalist in me, and the sceptic in someone else who shall remain nameless, but something seems fishy about this story of the pastor abusing the gay author.

Logan Robertson does not seem to have much of a digital footprint pre-dating this. In fact, his “church” is so obscure it runs from a house and its website was only established a matter of weeks ago. Frankly, I’m surprised Jim Marjoram was able to find so obscure a church to send an email to…because I couldn’t find it in the usual church email directories he would ordinarily have used..

Maybe I missed something…”

The Baptist Union clearly and rightly distanced themselves from this supposed “pastor”.

As a Christian I would want to clearly affirm that this man’s statements do not represent true Christianity or the Bible, regardless of what Denominational label he chooses for himself or whether he even pastors an actual church.

At the same time, I am just as concerned about the following sentence in the Herald article, “He [the author of the book] said several congregations in Auckland, including St Matthew in the City and Ponsonby Baptist, had supported his book and support group.”

Not only do this man’s [the supposed “pastor”] views not represent true and historical Christianity, neither do the views of St. Matthew in the City and Ponsonby Baptist.

In today’s cultural environment it may be more palatable to speak publicly against those who claim to be Christians and are inherently hateful, but it is equally necessary to speak out against those who name the name of Christ and openly encourage sin and do not call people to repent of their sin. By openly condoning an active, homosexual lifestyle even performing same-sex “marriages” both of the above mentioned churches have done just this. [I am not sure if St Matthew’s has performed a same-sex “marriage” yet, but Ponsonby Baptist has and there was (may still be) another scheduled there this month.]

The Scriptures clearly rebuke those who hate and command us not to speak evil. Yet they also clearly call us to speak the truth and to call sinners to repentance, never forgetting that we all are sinners in need of repentance.

As Christians, we don’t have to choose between hate and condoning of sinful lifestyles. We can strive to obey God’s Word by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

The supposed “pastor” from West Auckland failed to do this, but so have churches like St Matthew in the City and Ponsonby Baptist.

I have written quite a bit on this subject over the past couple of years. You can read more on the following links:

Marriage manifesto

Marriage, definitions, and homophobia

Everything’s different. Nothing’s changed

To Attend or not to Attend? This is Soon to be the Question

To Attend or not to Attend? This is Soon to be the Question – Part #2

To Attend or not to Attend? This is Soon to be the Question – Part #3

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Bill Cosby, Cliff Huxtable, My Childhood, & Reality

I grew up with Bill Cosby. Ok, not literally, but it was Bill Cosby I first knew (or so I thought) and not Cliff Huxtable.

My parents had the vinyls (yeah, you read that right) of Cosby’s first comedy recordings. I remember sitting in the lounge listing to these over and over again. They are still some of the funniest stuff I have ever heard!

Eventually I copied the vinyls onto cassette tape (yep, you read that right) so I could listen to them in my room and in may car. (Though my first car had an 8Track/cassette adaptor – yep you read that right.) A few years ago, I passed those cassettes on to my son who has listened to them over and over again!

I watched reruns of I Spy and The Electric Power Company and probably every episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. I knew him as Cosby, or even just the “Cos” long before he was Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show and A Different World.

I remember seeing this live and being so disturbed, because I thought Mr. & Mrs. Huxtable were married!

My sister gave me a copy of Cosbyology and I can remember reading it at night before bed crying with laughter then reading the portion to my wife and she replying, “Huh! I don’t see the humour!”

Are all the stories coming out about Cosby’s treatment of women true? I don’t know… There is certainly an increasing number of similar stories coming forward spanning decades. Whether true or not, I have been shocked, unsettled, and stirred.

Shocked

I listened to and watched so much of Cosby growing up, because he was wholesome, clean, and generally moral. Sure when I watch or hear some of the episodes today I think, “that’s not as wholesome as I remember” but still, at the time Cosby was a man who exemplified morality.

In a strange way I trusted him.

I have been shocked to think that the man I trusted and often considered a leading moral light in the entertainment industry may have been the exact opposite in reality.

Unsettled

I continue to be a bit unsettled. Do I listen to his stuff anymore? Do I let my son listen to the tapes I gave him? Do I laugh when I read a Cosby quote or think about a section from Cosbyology. If I find him funny, knowing that these things about him may be true, am I in some way advocating what he has done?

Stirred

I am stirred to consider reality afresh. Some from a younger generation may find it funny that I thought so much about Bill Cosby. But all they have to do is replace Cosby with whatever reality TV star or singer, or etc. who has their attention and they will be able to relate.

Some people say, “reality is always uglier than fantasy” but I don’t think so… The reality of our lives is always uglier than fantasy, that is true. But, my problem, and the problem of so many is that we think our lives are reality and when we see the ugliness of our lives we are stirred to despair. But we must look beyond ourselves, the Bill Cosby’s of this world, and in fact this world itself and see that reality is ultimately determined by and found in God alone!

Psalm 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. (Psa 36:9 ESV)

You see we can only see anything at all for what it actually is when we first see God for Who He actually is and through Him we see ourselves and this world aright.

In the New Testament we read the following with regards to Jesus:

John 1:9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (Joh 1:9 ESV)

John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (Joh 3:19 ESV)

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Joh 8:12 ESV)

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (Joh 12:46 ESV)

2 Corinthians 4:4 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. (2Co 4:4 ESV)

I am stirred, afresh, to place my hope in Christ alone, the Light of the world, Ultimate reality.

When I do, He shocks me anew by His sinless perfection and unfailing love.

When I do, He unsettles me anew, by His matchless grace which is more than sufficient for my sin.

When I do, He stirs me anew, to love Him more than anyone or anything in this world.

 
 

2014 Stand for the Gospel Conference with Don Carson – Registrations Open

Registrations are now open for this year’s Stand for the Gospel Conference with Don Carson. Space is limited, so register early!

In 2010, Howick Baptist Church (where I current serve as Associate Pastor) held the first Stand for the Gospel Conference. This conference was started with a vision to serve the church in New Zealand, across denominations around the unity of the Gospel; its life transforming power and the call to proclaim it to all people, calling all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

The conference is purposely simple. We host one keynote speaker from overseas who expounds the Scriptures challenging us with the Word of God. There are also a small number of seminars given by men and women serving the church in New Zealand on topics which unfold implications of the Gospel applying them to our lives as believers and the ministry of the church.

In previous years we have hosted Conrad Mbewe, 2010 & 2012 (pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia), Geoff Thomas, 2011 (pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales), Thabiti Anyabwile, 2013 (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman).

We are scheduled to host Carl Trueman (Westminster Theological Seminar) in 2015.

This year our keynote speaker is Don Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.He has been at Trinity since 1978. Carson came to Trinity from the faculty of Northwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he also served for two years as academic dean. He has served as assistant pastor and pastor and has done itinerant ministry in Canada and the United Kingdom. Carson received the Bachelor of Science in chemistry from McGill University, the Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. Carson is an active guest lecturer in academic and church settings around the world. He has written or edited about sixty books. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition. Carson and his wife, Joy, reside in Libertyville, Illinois. They have two adult children.

Once again we will offer several practical seminars on the Saturday: Dave Clancey (How the Gospel Forms our Gathered Worship); Alan Thompson (What is Biblical Theology and Why Is It Important?); Lisa Moelker (The Gospel and Dirty Dishes: Living by Grace in Every Area of Our Lives); Nick Brennan (Praying with Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer as a Sketch of Christian Prayer); Owen Griffiths (The Early Missionary Movement in New Zealand); Q&A Panel(Here the Reformation Begins: A Practical Discussion on Family Worship).

Conferences can be a drain on time and resources. They can also be a wonderful opportunity for fellowship and spiritual feeding. We pray Stand for the Gospel falls into the second category. Why not come along this year and see for yourself?

The dates for this year’s conference are 18-20 July. See the website to register and for more details: http://www.standforthegospel.org/conference/stand-2014/

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Joe Fleener

(“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)

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Associate Pastor, Howick Baptist Church | Church Planting Pastor, Rolleston Baptist Church |Steering Committee, Stand for the Gospel Board Member, Gospel Training Trust Adjunct Lecturer, Grace Theological College | Adjunct Lecturer, TIM Training Course

 

To not inherit the Kingdom of God is serious business

Another month has arrived along with another issue of the Baptist Magazine.

Here is my monthly column for May’s “Minority Report”. This will likely be my last column on the same-sex marriage issue.

(ESV) 1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(All of the following is hypothetical, yet not unreal.)

As I sit in my office and look across the desk I see a young couple (male & female) in their 20’s, they are not married yet they have been having sex with each other and, come to find out, others in the young adults group regularly and unapologetically.

As I have coffee with a husband of a lady in my congregation I learn that he is being investigated for fraud. He admits to me he has systemically stolen 2 million dollars from his employer over the last five years. He shows no signs of remorse or repentance, only a sorrow for being caught.

As I meet with another husband of a lady in my congregation the truth comes out that he is a drunk and when he is drunk (which is most evenings and weekends) he physically assaults his children and wife. He shows no signs of remorse.

As I meet with these people I will obviously discuss a number of items some which will involve the law, others relational damages, etc. Yet at the bottom line what must I say to them (granted this is an over simplification)?

Firstly, I must tell them that they are in serious trouble. Their sin is against those people they know but also, and most significantly, against God Whom they do not know. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is a serious matter. Yes, there are other serious matters as well, but the enteral destiny of their soul hangs in the balance. They must come to understand the holiness of God, the sinfulness of their sin and the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

Secondly, I must tell them of the hope found in the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. I must pray for the Spirit to open their eyes so they can see that this same Jesus that made it possible for Paul to say of the people of Corinth, “And such were some of you”, is available to them as well. Forgiveness is possible. They can be set free from the power of sin (not necessarily from the consequences) and find rest in Christ and peace with God.

As I sit in my office there are two men in their 40’s sitting across the desk. They have not been thus far involved in homosexual sex, but they desire to get married so that they may be able to enjoy said activity as a married couple. Once they marry they will inevitably be men who “practice homosexuality.”

However, unlike the previous examples which are all listed with this activity in 1 Cor. 6:9-12, rather than pointing out their sin and pointing them to a holy God accessible only through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ, I will help them plan a wedding.

By sanctioning “same-sex marriage” one is by definition declaring holy the practice of homosexual sex. By declaring such as holy one is saying those who God says will not inherit the kingdom of God will.

This is serious business. The very gospel is at stake.

 

Marriage: A Countercultural Event

The latest (April) issue of the Baptist Magazine should be out soon. Here is my monthly “Minority Report” column for this month.

In January of this year, in the course of two Saturdays in a row, I had the wonderful privilege of officiating for two weddings.  Though it was somewhat challenging to keep the details for the two weddings straight in my mind, like any wedding I officiate they were both a profound joy. The marriage of a young man and a young woman who are standing before God, their families, and friends and declaring their desire, by grace, to enter into the covenant of marriage for a lifetime which has been designed by God to picture the love Christ has for His bride the church is truly glorious.

Yet, I was struck by just how countercultural this “normal” ceremony has become. For, at least, two generations marriage has become disposable in the eyes of many. If you give it a go and it doesn’t work well, just get a divorce and either try again or just stay single. In the very recent past marriage has even been redefined by many to include two people of the same gender. So for a man and a woman to stand up today and enter into a life-long covenant based on the covenant Christ has made with His bride the church is radically countercultural in ways previous generations would never have imagined.

While this is happening I am reading a number of items in print and online where Christians are calling for the church to be radical, to be countercultural, and to strive to redeem and transform culture. Without even getting into the theological legitimacy of “redeeming culture” which I have written about before, I am struck by the irony of all of this.

Simultaneously we have voices, sometimes the same voices, calling us to radically transform culture and to modify our practice of what is today one of the most radically countercultural activities a Christian can do – participate in (as well as teach on and uphold the practice of) a monogamous, lifelong, covenantal, heterosexual marriage!

If your one of the pastors or church leaders or “every day” Christians who is all excited about the potential of radically transforming culture, can I point out what has become amazingly obvious? Stand up and declare that marriage has been designed by God to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime to the praise and glory of Christ – that is profoundly radical and deeply countercultural.

Of course this isn’t terribly surprising really. The gospel is radical and to follow Christ has always been a call to be countercultural.

Marriage was designed by God to picture the covenant between Christ and his bride the church (Eph. 5:32). In this covenant we see the radical truth that all mankind are sinners, completely helpless and unable to do anything to earn forgiveness of sin, yet Christ died satisfying God’s wrath so that all those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ alone can receive pardon and the joy of becoming children of the living God.

No wonder something designed by God to picture something so radical and amazing is fundamentally countercultural.

Of course we could redefine marriage to be anything but a covenant between a man and woman so that our practice of marriage looks like the rest of our culture’s and not the Scriptures.

Oh, wait, if we do that not only are we disobedient to the clarity of Scripture on this, but we have just stopped being radically countercultural. Oops!

 

Does Man have “Free Will” or God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

(Something I wrote up about 10 years ago, I just dug up for this Sunday night’s topic on “What is Man?”)

God doesn’t even have “Libertarian Free Will” => A person is freely able to choose any of all available options.

Let me explain…

The Shorter Catechism asks the question, “Can God do all things?” the answer is “Yes, God can do all His holy will.”

See, to say God is omnipotent is to say He can do anything and everything which is consistent with His nature – HOLY.

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), He cannot tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), in short God cannot sin.

Theologically, since Augustine this has been known by the phrase, “Not able to sin.” God, by His very nature is “Not able to sin.”

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God unmarred by sin.

In the garden, Adam and Even were told not to eat.

Adam and Eve were created “Able not to sin.”

In God’s covenant with Adam, Adam had the ability not to sin and his relationship with God was dependant on his continued obedience.

However, Adam disobeyed. He sinned. God promised on the day he ate of the fruit he would die (literally the Hebrew reads, “dying you will die”).

Adam died that day spiritually and began dying physically.

As a result all mankind is born with an unregenerate nature. They are created in the image of God, but with a nature that is completely sinful, dead, depraved, unregenerate.

From the time of Adam’s sin, he and all mankind became, by their nature, “Not able not to sin.”

Just like God in His actions and even His omnipotence is “restricted” by His nature, man being created in the image of God, but being Spiritually dead is also “restricted” by his nature.

He can only act and exercise his will within the boundaries of his nature – which is dead.

Therefore, yes he does have a free will, but it is not a “Libertarian Free Will” – man cannot freely choose God, he can only freely choose to do things consistent with his nature (just like God, being in the image of God), but in his unregenerate nature his is “not able not to sin.” Everything he does is sin – even his good deeds are “filthy rags.”[1]

Therefore, no one “seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11). They can’t, it is not possible for them to choose anything outside of their nature.

Unregenerate people seek after all kinds of things, many of them religious or even “spiritual” in nature. They are looking for something to fill the hole in their soul which only God can fill. However, no man on his own is seeking God. He may be seeking a solution to his pain, but it isn’t God.

That all changes when God, by the ministry of His Word and Spirit, begins to draw a man to Himself. But, even then, it is not the man who is seeking God, it is God who is seeking Him!

Only God’s Spirit can change a man’s heart, regenerate his soul and give him a new nature! By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the Glory of God alone.

Once God has regenerated a man he has a new nature. However, he still has within him the flesh, the old man.

Now, consistent with his new being, and with the fact that he is a creature created in the image of God, he is “able not to sin” – we are now like Adam in the garden – but even our ability not to sin is not really our ability as it is “he that works in me both to will and do His good pleasure.”

So:

Adam in the garden                                                                                                        Able not to sin

Adam and all mankind since the Fall                                                                        Not able not to sin

Adam and all mankind who are given a new nature by God/regenerate   Able not to sin

All of God’s children in eternity with Him                                                             Not able to sin

We all long for the day of total redemption when “we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” – we will finally have the unmarred image of God and like Him we will be “Not able to sin!”

So how does all of this – God’s sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility “make sense” this side of Glory?

Have you ever stood in the middle of a set of railroad tracks and looked way off in the distance?

Now, you know railroad tracks are parallel lines and parallel lines don’t cross do they? But your eyes tell you something different. If you look one direction, way off in the distance the two railroad tracks seem to cross. If you turn around and look the other direction, they seem to cross in that direction too.

Well, in actual fact they don’t.

Just like parallel lines and the optical illusion of those railroad tracks God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility are completely compatible.

They are both equally true, both clearly taught in Scripture.

Parallel truths that crossed in Eternity past and will cross again in Eternity Future.

The really cool thing is those concepts are only in our minds – we live in time and space – God does not – so Eternity Past and Eternity Future are non-differentiated time descriptors for Him – these things are just true in the same way as He just IS.

Isn’t our God awesome!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!


[1] Luther wrote, The Bondage of the Will while Edwards wrote, The Freedom of the Will. These books seems to have conflicting titles, but in fact were arguing the same point, just looking at it from differing perspectives. Man’s will is free, but not in the libertarian sense. Man’s freedom to express his will is in bondage to his nature.

 

Baptist Autonomy Can’t Mean Each Church is Free to Do Anything

The following is my March article for my regular column, “Minority Report” in the Baptist Magazine.

This is a big topic and the space allowed for this article is small. Therefore, I am not pretending to say all that could be said here, but I do intend to stimulate thinking on this very important question.

A discussion that has arisen from our “debate” regarding same-sex marriage, homosexuality and Baptist Union churches/pastors participation in such is that of local church autonomy. Can one church or the majority of churches in a union of churches give direction to other churches on what they can or cannot do in areas of practice?

Here, I just want to ask a simple question, do we see any precedent in the New Testament for this practice?

In scanning through the New Testament one only makes it to Acts 15 before we find an example of a group/church giving direction to other Christians/churches. Here we have the Jerusalem council debating questions regarding the nature of the gospel and giving a letter of direction to other churches.

Secondly, I would simply point out that the majority of the letters in the New Testament (certainly Paul’s) are written to churches providing direction and correction – in some cases to churches the author has never even visited.

By way of a passing observation, one can’t help but notice how often the subject of sexual purity comes up in these letters (even the letter to the churches in Acts 15!).

Now, here is what I am not saying. I am not saying anyone today carries apostolic authority as did Paul or the leaders of the Jerusalem church in Acts 15. I am not saying any one church or even the Baptist Union leadership holds inspired authority like the council in Acts 15.

However, I am saying that those who claim that autonomy precludes the possibility of sister churches within a union of churches correcting each other over areas of doctrine and/or practice are without warrant. The New Testament itself along with all of church history argues otherwise.

We as member churches individually and as a union collectively have a responsibility, New Testament model, and historical precedent to stand up and seek to correct those churches that are in error.

If your general position on the issue of same-sex marriage is, “I wouldn’t perform one myself, but I don’t think we should tell others they cannot” you are, but your silence condoning this practice. By condoning this practice you are saying an open, active homosexual lifestyle is pleasing to God and something that the Baptist Union of Churches in New Zealand should welcome. You are also, by your silence, affirming the view that an active homosexual lifestyle is pure and therefore is not a sin and there is no need for repentance. You see this isn’t just about marriage; it is about the definition of sin & repentance which gets at the heart of the gospel itself. And if there was every anything churches ought to be vigilant at in providing clarity, direction and even correction over, it is the gospel.

This is not a time to stay silent. This is a time to speak. Speak compassionately, graciously, lovingly yes, but speak nonetheless. Even more so for those in positions of leadership. If leadership if anything, it is standing for truth and speaking compellingly for those who do not have a voice. As leaders, silence speaks volumes. Silence communicates to those we lead, that this issue isn’t important, that we have nothing to say or even more critically for Christian leadership, God has nothing to say on this topic!

In the December issue of this column you will find a succinct statement regarding the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage. It is time for those in the leadership of Baptist churches and Carey Baptist College to speak out publically in defence of the clear Scriptural teaching on this vital issue. This is not the time for a “conversation” but a declaration. Simply declare the whole counsel of God on the subject of sexuality and marriage and call all those who reject the Scriptures on this to repent – for the purity of the church, the glory of God, and the beauty of Christ.

 
 
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