AN UNFLATTERING TAKE ON SOUTHERN BAPTISTS

I must admit that I am not a regular reader of The Atlantic magazine. I’m more of a Lewis Grizzard or Golf Digest guy myself. The  Atlantic is a magazine that started over 150 years ago in Boston. Some of its founding writers were Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Greenleaf Whittier. The magazine has quite a history. It published many works by Mark Twain and other famous American writers.

Thus, I was very interested when I found out that The Atlantic recently took note of we Southern Baptists. And the article was not real flattering. It was titled “Baptists, Just Without the Baptisms.”

I don’t blame The Atlantic for the unflattering article. The fact is that we Baptists haven’t been very flattering lately.

The article noted that we Southern Baptists have lost almost a million members in less than 10 years. We are down from 16.6 million in 2005 to 15.8 million in 2012. But that’s not all. The hit’s just keep on coming!

The number of Baptisms performed in Southern Baptist churches has dropped by 25% since 1999. According to a Southern Baptist Pastor’s Task Force that is set to report at the June meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, baptisms in the SBC “reached a plateau in the 1950′s” and “peaked in the 1970′s.”

Furthermore 25% of Southern Baptist churches reported 0 baptisms in 2012. Sixty percent of Southern Baptist churches reported no youth baptisms in 2012. Eighty percent of Southern Baptist churches reported either 0 or 1 young adult baptism (age 18-29) in 2012. And for a denomination that does not practice infant baptism, it is disturbing that the only age group that is growing in the number baptized is children under age 5.

That is troubling!

We must ask ourselves, what is going on and what must we do to address the situation?

First, it seems that we are facing an increasingly hostile cultural environment. The biblical message that all humanity is separated from God due to sin and needs redemption through Christ is viewed with hostility by a culture that believes everyone is born with innate goodness, that there are fewer and fewer limits on human behavior, and that God is somehow obligated to love and approve whatever His creatures choose to do.

Decades ago Karl Menninger asked “whatever happened to sin?” The answer today is that we have redefined behavior so that there are fewer and fewer things considered sin. We haven’t changed our behavior, we’ve changed our definitions. In classic Christian thinking the Seven Deadly Sins were lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. In our society lust is promoted and encouraged by virtually every media outlet, gluttony is rarely mentioned, sloth is covered by many government programs, wrath is viewed as justified behavior, envy is promoted by political leaders who seek use it to promote their campaigns and garner votes, and pride is celebrated on  holidays dedicated to ___________ (fill in the blank) “pride month.”

A society that sees nothing as sinful also sees no need for a Savior. A society that sees God as approving all things will never understand the need for transformation, redemption, or a new birth.

Years ago my pastor told me that “before you can get them saved, you must first get them lost.”

Perhaps we Southern Baptists need to refocus our preaching and teaching on a Biblical anthropology. The Baptist Faith and Message states that “Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”

Man is not innocent. We have inherited a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. The battle in our culture is a battle over anthropology. Is mankind innately good or inclined toward sin? Are we innocent and pure or are we “transgressors” and “under condemnation?”

Perhaps instead of trying to become like the culture in an attempt to influence it, we should stand prophetically apart from the culture and speak  truth to its illusions about mankind. The church should boldly proclaim that all is not well with humanity, that the heart is deceitful and wicked, and that all are in need of redemption.

Through the years I heard the argument repeated over and over that our methodology or our ways of “doing church” must change to reach a new generation. I’m not opposed to new ideas, creative programs, and innovative methods. But could it be that those in the culture have seen our new methodology and have mistaken it for a new theology. Perhaps a watered down theology.

When I was getting my Bachelor’s degree in Communication I was taught Marshall McLuhan’s theory that “the medium is the message.” His view was that the medium used to deliver a message is more important than the content of the message delivered.

For example, if I am interviewed by a television reporter and put on the evening news, many people will not accurately remember the message I shared, only the fact that I was on television. The medium (television) is the message. People will say “my pastor was on the news.” The medium overpowers the message.

Imagine a lost person enters a church. They hear a powerful band, listen to music with familiar beats, watch videos on screens that overpower their senses, and hear a sermon preached by someone dressed like themselves and peppered with movie clips and anecdotes from current events.

Could it be that our methodology (intended to reach that lost person and others in our culture) in fact overpowers the message we are desperately seeking to proclaim. The medium is the message.

I don’t claim to have the answers. But our culture does not seem to be impressed by the church’s message. Perhaps by attempting to identify with the culture in our  methods, our message has gotten lost. It’s hard to argue that we aren’t much better at technology, stagecraft, dramas, video, lighting, social media, etc., than ever before. But our message is more ineffective than ever.

How do we address our spiritual malaise as Baptists? What are the answers? How do we reverse the trends?

Perhaps I’m off base in my musings. What are your thoughts? Let’s put our minds, hearts, and prayers together so that we can fulfill our calling as followers of Jesus Christ to go, reach, and win the world!

So, thanks to The Atlantic for taking note of we Baptists. Your article wasn’t very flattering. But at the present time, neither are we.

 

WHO IS JOHN CALVIN?

John CalvinThe theology of John Calvin is currently experiencing quite a renaissance. His followers are today called “young, restless, and reformed” or adherents of “The New Calvinism.” In fact, Time magazine in 2009 listed “The New Calvinism” as one of the “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”

Calvin and his ideas are making inroads among Southern Baptists. Many  seminarians and young pastors identify with his doctrines, while long established  traditional Southern Baptist Churches (and their leadership) generally stay away from the thinking of Calvin.

Because of the contemporary emphasis on Calvinism, I thought that perhaps we should take a closer look at a man who, although he has been dead for over 400 years, still speaks to many in our day. Who was John Calvin? Where did he live? What did he teach? And would you want to live in a place where he exerted a dominating influence?

John Calvin was born in France in 1509. He was educated in the law and trained for a legal career and only later on became interested in religion. While living in Paris he became acquainted with numerous Protestant Christians who dissented from Catholic teachings on things such as transubstantiation (the view that at communion the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ and are not just symbolic of his body and blood). In 1533 many Protestants were forced to leave Paris because of their call for reform in the Church. Calvin “disguised as a vinedresser, escaped in a basket” from the city.1

Calvin was eventually asked by a friend to assist in the Reformation efforts in Geneva. In 1536 he arrived  in Geneva, but was banished for three years in 1538 before returning for good in 1541. His banishment came at the behest of Roman Catholics who were aligned with less religious people in the city in opposing Calvin’s desire to make Geneva a “model Christian community.”2

Upon his return to Geneva, Calvin began to work in earnest to transform the city into his vision of a model Christian city. Until his death in 1564 this was the focus of his life.

What kind of community did Calvin seek to build? Unlike Traditional Baptists, Calvin did not believe in the separation of church and state. Religious Liberty was not to be found in Calvin’s Geneva. Although Calvin never officially held public office, he ruled the city as pastor of the church. How did he rule? An ecclesiastical court called The Consistory was formed that included laymen and ministers. Though not a member, Calvin’s will was expressed through this group. His teachings and reforms were the foundation of their decisions.

According to historian Clyde L. Manschreck,  in Calvin’s Geneva “between 1542 and 1546, fifty-eight people were executed and seventy six people were banished.”3 During Calvin’s time in Geneva many were forced to leave the city while many who supported his teachings moved there from other areas of Europe.

Manschreck goes on to report that people were sentenced to death in Geneva for things such as adultery, being a witch, blasphemy, and various other offenses. One child was beheaded for striking his parents.

On one occasion, one of Calvin’s numerous critics in Geneva placed an unsigned letter on Calvin’s pulpit. The authorities conducted an investigation and searched the home of a man named Jaques Gruet. In Calvin’s Geneva, homes could be searched at any time without notice. In Gruet’s home they found evidence they used to arrest him. After being tortured, Gruet confessed to writing the letter along with other crimes.  His confession, derived under torture, was cause for him to be condemned to death. He was beheaded for freely expressing his views. In Calvin’s Geneva, freedom of expression was not always tolerated.

As a Traditional Baptist who believes in Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, I admit to being troubled by Calvin’s conflating of religion and government. As someone who believes that all people have the right to freedom of worship, I believe that no one should be coerced to worship. Freedom of conscience is important. Genuine faith cannot be forced. Genuine faith cannot be manipulated by law or government. Genuine faith comes from the heart.

But in Calvin’s Geneva the population was compelled to adhere to what Calvin viewed as God’s sovereign will for the model Christian community. It is difficult to understand how someone like Calvin could reconcile his soteriological positions with his political positions. Let me explain.

Calvin taught that God was absolutely sovereign, good, and just while mankind was totally depraved and corrupt. God thus sent Christ into the world as redeemer. But according to Calvin, not all have an opportunity for redemption (or salvation). He said that Election is the reason why some respond to the gospel and some do not. God, he taught, chose to save SOME through the work of Christ while others were left as reprobates. In Calvin’s view, some hit the jackpot and some don’t. Some are chosen for salvation. Others are left in a state of hopeless reprobation in which they will eventually end up in hell forever.

And why, we might ask Mr. Calvin, did God elect some and not others? He would answer  “Because He wanted to!” Calvin taught that it pleased God to do so. And in Calvin’s view God has “determined what he would have to become of every individual of makind.”4

My conundrum is this: If God had determined that some would be elect (or redeemed) and others would not be elect (thus reprobate), then why would Calvin rule Geneva in a way that required all citizens to conform to his view of the “model Christian community?” How did he expect non-elect citizens to behave like elect citizens? If he truly believed that many were non-elect, how could he build a system of social control that was imposed on all citizens, many of whom were non-elect who didn’t believe in, nor have the desire to obey Calvin’s laws?

While I agree that there must be limits on behavior, Calvin imposed laws that were strict even in the 16th century. Calvin’s Geneva outlawed theatrical performances, coming late to church, laughter, dancing, playing  cards, fighting, and charging interest in excess of five percent. Also prohibited in Geneva were things such as fastings, religious idols or symbols, and many things associated with Catholicism. And behind it all was the man in the pulpit, John Calvin.5

To many of his day, Calvin was viewed as an agent of God who was working to reform a city and remake it as a Christian community. To others, he ruled as a tyrant who dominated the city. Many Protestants streamed into Geneva from other areas of Europe wanting to live and learn in a city like Calvin’s Geneva. Others were forced to flee for fear of being convicted of violating the laws governing Calvin’s political system.

Perhaps the most notorious act of Calvin’s rule involved the notorious Spaniard, Michael Servetus.  Servetus was a physician of some renown and not an orthodox Christian. His views on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other doctrines were outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. And Servetus took great exception to the teachings of John Calvin.

Servetus denied Calvin’s doctrine of original sin and infant baptism. And he stood in opposition to many other ideas promulgated by Calvin in his famous work Institutes of the Christian Religion. In fact, he and Calvin exchanged many letters in which they debated doctrine. One act that upset Calvin occurred after he sent Servetus a copy of his book Institutes of the Christian Religion. Servetus sent it back to Calvin with the margins filled with notes in which he pointed out what he believed were errors in Calvin’s arguments. 6

As if sending Calvin’s book back with corrections wasn’t enough, Servetus then published a book in which he took issue with Calvin’s Institutes. This was more than Calvin could handle. Through an aide he informed the French Inquisition of Servetus’ heresy and even gave them what he viewed as evidence of his errors.

Servetus fled France and headed for Italy, but on his way he stopped off in Calvin’s Geneva, where he went to church, was recognized and arrested. The following quote from historian Clyde L. Manschreck describes what occurred.

“The Genevan Council found Servetus guilty of obstinately spreading heresy and sentenced him to death by burning. Seven years earlier Calvin had vowed that if Servetus ever came to Geneva he would not leave it alive. On the day after sentencing, Servetus was chained to a stake, his book (in which he opposed Calvin) fastened to his arm, sulphur and straw rubbed into his hair. But the straw and fagots (a bundle of sticks or twigs bundled together as fuel) were damp and Servetus died only after half an hour of agony and screaming. At the end he cried ‘O Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have pity on me!’” 7

To be fair, Calvin and the Geneva Council were not the only ones of that period who believed that killing heretics was just. Many in the period thought that heresy was a poison to the people that must be dealt with severely.

However, we must not simply let those who acted in such a manner off the hook too easily.  As a Baptist we must remember that we too were once a persecuted people. Baptists in the early American colonies were persecuted for dissenting from the majority view of the colonial leaders. Henry Dunster, the first president  of Harvard College, was removed from that position in 1654 Harvard College when he became a Baptist. In 1651, Obadiah Holmes was beaten on the Boston Common for preaching as a Baptist in a state in which it was illegal to be a Baptists.

Persecution often occurs when the power of the government is used to enforce one religious group’s ideas upon others. The danger of integrating church and state is that it limits the freedom of those who don’t agree with the church that is supported by the state.

As a traditional Baptist, I believe in freedom of conscience and religious liberty for all. Let every person proclaim his views. Let us proclaim the gospel. And let the Holy Spirit use that proclamation to convict, convince, and call men and women into the kingdom. I believe so strongly in the gospel that I am willing to put it up against every man made philosophy  and every religious idea ever presented and I am convinced the gospel will prevail!

When Christians attempt to prop up their faith by using the power of the state they are in reality demonstrating a lack of faith in their beliefs. We don’t need the government to fund our faith, preach our faith, or impose our faith. We need the government to allow freedom of conscience to all and to give us the liberty to preach the good news of Christ. And when we faithfully proclaim the truth about Jesus, lives will be transformed and culture itself will be transformed.

Those like Calvin who seek to dominate through governmental power are in actuality demonstrating a lack of trust that their faith can be victorious over the world. “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit’”, says the Lord,” should be our motto. As the hymn says, “Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.”

My final question is this: would you want to live in a world like Calvin’s Geneva? I’m not so sure the “model Christian Community” was all it was cracked up to be. No Religious Liberty. No freedom of expression. No freedom of conscience.

As a Traditional Baptist many doctrines that were taught in Geneva would have violated my conscience.

Unlike Traditional Baptists, Calvin taught that infants should be baptized by sprinkling. We believe in believer’s baptism by immersion.

Unlike Traditional Baptists, Calvin taught and practiced the melding of church and state. We believe in Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State.

Unlike Traditional Baptists, Calvin taught that Jesus died only for the elect and that all people were not savable. Traditional Baptist believe in the savibility of all. Whosoever will may come to Christ.

Unlike Traditional Baptists, Calvin believed those who held dissenting views should be persecuted, excommunicated, or otherwise punished. We believe those who hold dissenting views should be prayed for, witnessed to, and allowed to make a free choice of whether to convert or not to convert.

No doubt, Calvin was  brilliant thinker, strong leader, and influential personality. We cannot ignore his influence on the Church throughout the centuries. His doctrinal positions continue to stir debate and demand intellectual engagement.

But his story, like all of our stories, includes more than meets the eye. When modern day “new Calvinists” or “Young, Restless, and Reformed” folks think of Calvin, I sometimes wonder if they know anything about him other than the TULIP, the 5 theological points that summarize Calvin’s soteriology (doctrines about salvation)?

Calvin’s story is more than the TULIP. And before we begin planting 21st century TULIP gardens, perhaps we should know a little more about the man behind the TULIP.

ENDNOTES

1.            Clyde L. Manschreck.  A History of Christianity in the World. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985), 188.

2.            John Dillenberger and Claude Welch. Protestant Christianity: Interpreted Through It’s Development. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1988), 23.

3.            Manschreck, 190.

4.            Ibid, 189.

5.            Ibid, 190.

6.            Ibid, 191.

7.            Ibid.

FREEDOM: Why Authentic Baptists Should Care About The Little Sisters of the Poor

Listening to our Baptist Heritage (third in a series)

As a  Baptist I’m not a big fan of the idea of toleration. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the concept of freedom. In America today there is much talk about toleration. I want to propose to you that the focus on toleration is a misguided, and even dangerous, focus.

Those early Baptists who were living out their understanding of the Christian faith in England in the 17th century experienced firsthand the dangers of toleration. They learned that toleration demanded that someone be the one who tolerates while others were the ones who were tolerated. And it is no fun to simply be tolerated when the one who is doing the tolerating can change their mind about tolerating you.

John Smyth and Thomas Helwys led a group Christians who were worshiping at Gainsborough in England. These believers dissented from the beliefs of the Church of England (or Anglican Church). King James I, who is famous for authorizing what we know as the King James version of the Bible, enforced laws that prohibited the formation of new religious groups and  punished those who deviated from the beliefs and practices contained the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer.

King James I had the power to tolerate dissent but chose not to do so. Several members of the group were arrested for not conforming to Anglican beliefs. Thus Smyth and Helwys led their group into exile in Holland where they ultimately became what historians consider the first Baptist church.

King James I was not the only monarch to lead a government to crush those who attempted to live out their religious faith. Charles  II was adept at it as well. It was Charles II who imprisoned famed Baptist John Bunyan for the crime of preaching the gospel without a license from the government. Bunyan, as you surely remember, authored one of the greatest works of English Literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress, during one of his imprisonments.

Yes, he was imprisoned more than once. On one occasion he was before a judge for the crime of preaching without a government license, which violated the Religion Act of 1592, and the magistrate wanted to release him. Bunyan told him, “If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow.”

Bunyan, like any authentic Baptist, had a deep-seated belief in freedom. He didn’t want to be tolerated. He wanted to be free. Toleration is a dangerous idea because the one who is doing the tolerating has power over the one who is being tolerated. And even when someone is tolerated they are under the authority and control of someone else.

Authentic, genuine Baptists don’t want to be tolerated. We don’t want to have some magistrate, monarch, president, governor, or any person who has the power to tolerate us. We still believe as John Smyth did in the early 17th century when he said, “that the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine, but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions” (As quoted in Leon McBeth’s, The Baptist Heritage, page 85).

Baptists have always maintained that the government (or magistrate) is “not , by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience.” We don’t want politicians or the politically correct cultural police to tolerate us. We demand freedom. Freedom is due to all people because we are made in the image of a God who created us with freedom. And any time a government official has the power to tolerate, then by definition, he or she has the power to regulate your conscience and mine. He or she has the power to approve what we do or do not do. For some government to have the power to tolerate the religious views of its citizens is to give that government authority over the souls of its citizens. And any good Baptist believes in “soul freedom.”

Continue reading

God with Us

Jesus Christ is the central figure in human history. No person comes close to this man from Nazareth who towers over history.

Yet, in our culture there seems to be a great deal of confusion about who Jesus is.  Many do not seem to understand the nature of Jesus Christ.  Who is this man?  Who is this one whom the Scriptures call Son of Man, Son of God, God with Us, and many other titles?

The Old and New Testaments tell us much about the person  of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, the Fourth  gospel, The Gospel of John,  was written to give us a close up picture of Jesus.  John’s gospel differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Those three are called “synoptic” gospels.  This word means “to see together.”  Those three gospels see the life of Jesus in the same way.  In fact almost all of the material in Mark is repeated in Matthew and Luke.  There are only 24 verses in all of Mark that are not repeated somewhere in Matthew and Luke.  Those three gospels often give the same perspective on the life of Jesus.

John’s writing is different.  John gives us a personal, up close, look at his life.  John was in the inner circle of the disciples.  He was close to our Lord.  There is even some evidence that he and Jesus were first cousins. By harmonizing Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40 it suggests that Salome was John’s mother.  If she was also the sister of Jesus, as John 19:25 may suggest, then John and Jesus would be first cousins.  We can’t be absolutely certain of this, but the biblical record makes it clear that John was one of the disciples that was closest to Jesus.  For example, John was one of the disciples who accompanied Jesus for the amazing experience on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17).

John, when writing his gospel, however, was faced with a common problem. How could he communicate the message of Jesus to people who were not familiar with the Old Testament Scripture, the Old Testament sacrificial system, and who came from a different culture. His gospel was targeting those who were more familiar with Greek philosophical concepts and Greek culture than Hebrew culture. Continue reading

Being wacky makes Jesus “Happy, Happy, Happy!” And that’s a fact, JACK!

While walking into our local LifeWay Christian Store this past week a few odd thoughts entered my mind.

First, can a store really be “Christian?” Strictly speaking a “Christian” is defined as a follower of Jesus Christ. He or she is a person who has been saved by grace through faith in the risen Savior. So in a strict sense the term “Christian” applies to redeemed individuals who are followers of Christ.

Yet we often speak of a “Christian nation” or “Christian homes” or “Christian music” and in LifeWay’s case a “Christian store.” I suppose what is meant by the modifying term “Christian” is that an institution such as a nation, home, or store is either founded upon or is guided by the principles taught to us by Jesus Christ. And in the case of music, the word “Christian” implies that the music is to be about some aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching and the manner in which his life and teaching is experienced by and lived out by his followers who are, of course, called Christians.

So, after some thought, I decided to give LifeWay a pass on being called a “Christian” store. I’ll accept the broad use of the term “Christian.” Thus we can agree that it is okay to refer to things as Christian. So we have Christian books, Christian t-shirts, Christian music, Christian camps, Christian homes, Christian trucking companies, Christian cruises, and even Christian bobbleheads.

Say that again?

Yes, evidently we now have Christian bobbleheads. And for only $19.99 you can purchase one at your local Christian store. And it comes with a Christian CD just as an added bonus!

Upon entering the store I saw the bobbleheads, which LifeWay markets as a “wacky wobbler.” I don’t know why they are called such a name. Perhaps it is to differentiate them from non-christian bobbleheads purchased at secular stores. But that is pure speculation on my part.

The “wacky wobblers”  are of the cast of the popular TV show Duck Dynasty, which has become a mega-hit, especially among Christians. You can buy your Jase, Willie, Phil, or Uncle Si “wacky wobbler” and as an added bonus enjoy the tunes of the season. All this for only $19.99, plus tax.

Before I make all of you Duck Dynasty fans angry, let me admit that I, too, am a viewer of the show. That’s a fact, JACK! I have watched with interest as the Robertson clan bought trucks, sunk boats, shot snakes, gigged frogs, drank gallons of iced tea, and ate Miss Kay’s cooking.

They are quite the family.

But I thought to myself as I entered my local LifeWay “Christian” Store, “I wonder what Jesus would think about selling “wacky wobbler(s)” for $19.99, plus tax?”

Earlier this year my wife and I were in Rome and in shops all over town there were Pope bobbleheads for sale. She and I both thought that selling (and buying) Pope Benedict, Francis, or even John Paul II bobbleheads was a bit sacrilegious. And they didn’t even cost $19.99, plus tax.

But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps I am a prude. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive. You might even think that I am wacky. Perhaps I should adopt the viewpoint that if someone wants to spend $19.99 for a “wacky wobbler” bobblehead so they can sell it in next spring’s yard sale for $1, that is their business, not mine. Perhaps I shouldn’t be having such thoughts as I enter my local “Christian” store.

But there’s the rub. If someone or something applies the name “Christian” to itself, shouldn’t we “Christians” have the freedom to ask some probing questions?

Can you see Jesus peddling “wacky wobbler(s)”? I know that a store is not a temple or a church and I’m not suggesting he would take a whip and cleanse theses wacky wobbler wobbleheads, but can you envision him marketing many of the products that are sold in his name?

Have we Christians bought into the materialism of our culture? And do we as  Christians have anything prophetic to say to the materialism of our culture? Jesus spoke repeatedly of economic issues and against the view that life consists in the abundance of our possessions (Luke 12:15). Like the Old Testament prophets, he preached against those who took advantage of the poor. And in a culture like ours in which materialism is rampant and shopping is a hobby, what should Christians do? What should we teach? How should we live?

James, the Lord’s 1/2 brother, blamed wars and murder on our lust for possessions (James 4:1-2). He identified the root of many conflicts when he said “you desire and do not have so you kill.” He is right. Nations have gone to war over oil, land, and financial matters.

Think about it, the American Revolution was fueled by anger against “taxation without representation.” Material interests were are the heart of the conflict.

The war of 1812 was instigated because the British were impeding American shipping and impressing U.S. sailors into service in the British Navy. Again, a material interest.

The Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, which was an economic issue for planters in the south.

World War II began when Japan launched a pre-emptive strike against the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, but the reason they did so was because they wanted to cripple the ability of the U.S. to hinder their desire to overtake nations in Southeast Asia. And the reason they wanted these lands was for their natural resources such as oil and rubber. Again, material interests were at the heart of the war’s origin.

What does this have to do with wacky wobblers Many of you would say that they are unrelated. Perhaps you have a point. But the larger question is this: Have we as Christians capitulated to the materialistic culture in which we live? Have we adopted the values of the world around us? Have we baptized the “desire for things” and declared that it is virtuous to market products that appeal to the desires inculcated in us by the popular culture?

The church is called by our Master to be a prophetic voice in a sinful culture. We are to speak an eternal word to a temporal culture. We are to declare God’s truth to people. We are to teach that our base instincts are warped and marred by sin and that we are to live by Kingdom values, not the values of our culture.

I love all who work for LifeWay and I am thankful for those who are blessed by the books and supplies sold at the store. I am not angry at Duck Dynasty and don’t want to be besieged by a “quack attack” from their fans. I’m just a single voice who questions whether Jesus would sell “wacky wobblers” of any of his disciples (including Peter, John, and the Robertsons) in his carpenter’s shop for $19.99, plus tax.

Perhaps you think I’m odd for even writing a post such as this. You might even call me wacky. Again, if you know me you are probably more correct than you think. But I like to think that being a follower of Jesus requires us to be a bit odd and maybe even wacky. It requires us to step back from our culture and be distinct. Here is how A.W. Tozer described followers of Jesus.

“A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen; talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see; expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another; empties himself in order to be full; admits he is wrong so he can be declared right; goes down in order to get up; is strongest when he is weakest; richest when he is poorest and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live; forsakes in order to have; gives away so he can keep; sees the invisible; hears the inaudible; and knows that which passeth knowledge.” (A.W. Tozer. The Root of the RIghteous. As quoted in Kenneth Boa’s Conformed to His Image, page 260).

If I am a bit odd, then perhaps that is a good thing. Jesus likes his followers to be a bit wacky. In fact, I think being  “an odd number” makes Jesus Happy, Happy, Happy!

And that’s a fact, JACK!

Who Were The First Baptists?*

Listening to our Baptist Heritage (second in a series)

Where did Baptists begin? Who were the first Baptists?

Those questions have been the source of many arguments among Baptists themselves through the years.

I can remember as a child listening to some members of my family argue that we were right to be Baptists because John the Baptist was a Baptist. While I appreciate the passion behind those ideas, I certainly disagree with the historical thesis (or lack of historical facts) they were based upon.

The question of Baptist beginnings has, on occasion,  impacted the highest echelons of Baptist intellectual life. In 1899, William Whitsett resigned as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over the matter. As a history professor he argued that Baptists could not trace their origins through an unbroken succession of churches (or believers) back to John the Baptist. He demanded that Baptist history be rooted in facts and valid research, not in spiritual theories. He argued that Baptists had their beginnings in the 17th century. This upset the Baptists of his day who were influenced heavily by the Landmark movement (more about them in a later post). These folks had the idea that Baptists were started by Jesus, John (the Baptist), and at the Jordan River. They prevailed in their opposition to Whitsett and he stepped aside from his role at Southern Seminary.

I  believe we Baptists need to know our history. It is important to understand who we are and where we have our roots. We have a great story. It is a story of devotion to the principle of biblical authority and the lordship of Christ. It is a story of courage in the face of persecution. It is a story of  people who were looked down by those in power but whose principles prevailed because they were rooted in eternal truth.

So let’s get back to our original question? Where did Baptists begin? Who were the first Baptists? And then let’s examine what they have to say to Baptists living in the 21st century.

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Pull up a Coca Cola Case, Sit Down and Listen

Listening to our Baptist Heritage (first in a series)

When I was growing up, my grandfather was the proprietor of a simple country store. He sold groceries, gas, and other assorted goods to customers from the small community in Northeast Mississippi in which we lived. Our family had a history of running a country store. My great-grandfather had at one time operated the store and now my grandfather was the proud owner of the K.B. Comer grocery store.

As a young boy, I enjoyed working in the store. I would work the counter, stock the shelves, and help out any way that I could. My brother and I (we were the only two grandchildren) were given a daily benefit of what was called the “quarter’s worth free.” Each day my grandfather gave us $0.25 cents worth of soda, candy, or ice cream free.

In 1973 that meant that we could get a Coke (which in those days could mean a Coca Cola, a Pepsi Cola, a Sprite, etc., but they all were still “Cokes”) and a candy bar or bag of chips every day free.  A Coke was $0.15 cents and a candy bar was $0.10 cents. Those were the days.

However the one of the real benefits of growing up around a country store was the history lessons you could learn. I spent hours sitting on Coca Cola cases listening to older men recount stories of the Great Depression, the events of World War II, and the oral history of every family in the community. Men would gather, drink a Coca Cola filled with peanuts, and tell great and often funny stories about events long since passed. It was in that store that I gained an appreciation for history and learned to use my imagination about things of the past.

I remember one story that was told about a man who once lived in the area who was known as the biggest liar around. One day, the story goes, he passed by the store while riding a horse. The men gathered at the store shouted for him to stop and “tell them a big one.” He said that he didn’t have time. He said that a man had died and was being buried at the local Andrews Chapel Cemetery a few miles away and he was going to help them dig his grave.

The men gathered at the store sat around for a few minutes before one of them suggested that they might need some help digging the grave and that they ought to help. They loaded up and drove to the cemetery. When they arrived they found no plot marked off, no men digging, and no sign that any grave was to be dug. Upon further inquiry they found that the man who was supposedly deceased was alive and well.

The skilled liar had pulled one over on them. He lied about not having time to stop and talk. He lied about the man’s death. He lied about the need for a grave. He lied and kept on riding his horse. And he probably laughed the rest of the day at those men who, much to their chagrin, believed him.

In our 21st century world, we seem to have lost our appreciation for our history and heritage. And that is not a good thing. As Baptists we have a great history that continues to influence how we practice our faith.

Baptist churches all across the world practice baptism by immersion, preach and teach from a Bible that is viewed as the source of our faith and practice, receive members by statement of faith, transfer of letter, or baptism, conduct the Lord’s Supper as a memorial celebrating the sacrifice of Christ, send money to mission boards, and do countless other things that are rooted and grounded in our Baptist History.

Over the next few months I will be posting articles that reflect on our Baptist History. My goal will be to share the wisdom and lessons of the past in order to assist the modern church in understanding some of the challenges and opportunities we are facing today.

So pull up you Coca Cola case and prepare to listen to some voices from the past!