Brothers, Don’t Make Us Flip the Sign

I try to stay out of most of the discussions in the SBC on Calvinism. It’s been my experience that more heat than light is delivered in these debates. So, it’s with some trepidation that I even write this article. Or rather rewrite this article and update it a bit for our Voices audience. (Original is here)

Ken Hemphill seems like a nice guy and a solid choice for SBC President. But I’m a bit bothered by the way in which he is being promoted as the pro-John 3:16 candidate as if JD Greear isn’t. Or that Ken Hemphill is a man who can say “whosoever will may come” whereas JD Greear cannot. I believe the missions track record of The Summit Church should decry any notion that this brother isn’t passionate about telling everyone about the gospel. And he’s not being inconsistent when he does this. That’s what I hope to show today.

All of this reminded me of an article I read awhile back by Ronnie Rogers at SBCToday. In the article Rogers urges Calvinists to “speak in such a way that all can be reminded” that not everyone will respond to the good news. He tweaks a quote from Piper and says this:

…without opportunity for all sinners to accept, Piper’s message should be changed to say, “Some can be glad in God if He predestined you” or “God loves to exalt Himself by showing mercy to some sinners.”

Rogers believes that in order to be consistent Calvinists ought to share the gospel in this way. My response is to urge him—and others—to not force Calvinists to speak in a way that the Bible doesn’t.

Someone once explained it this way (I say someone because I think I’ve heard Spurgeon, Ironside, Barnhouse, and Moody credited with the saying—but its mostly attributed to Spurgeon):

When the sinner comes to the gates of Heaven, above the gate it reads “Whosoever will, let him come” (Rev. 22:17). As he accepts this gracious invitation and goes through the gates into Heaven, he sees written on the other side – “Chosen…in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

That is the way that we, Calvinists, believe that the Bible speaks. There is no gospel presentation in the Bible that says to unbelievers, “make every effort to make your calling and election sure.” The gospel proclamation is always, “repent and believe. Come to Jesus.”

That double-sided placard (“whoever will” on one side and “chosen before the foundation” on the other) is not one that can be flipped. It’s not like the open/closed sign on the barber shop. It’s immovable. The Bible never urges us to speak differently.

Most Calvinists that I know are less concerned with being “faithful to Calvinism” and more faithful to the Bible. That’s why we speak in the language that we do.

For All Who Hear?

Rogers goes on to question the “righteous legitimacy of indiscriminately declaring the gospel so construed that, in any way, intimates that it is for all who hear because it is emphatically not…” In other words, it is dishonest for a Calvinist to tell every man that the gospel is for him.

As I read that sentence I have to wonder what Rogers means that the gospel is “for” all those that hear. Does he mean that all who hear the gospel are called to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and if they do, they will be saved? If he does, then I don’t see how a Calvinist cannot say this.

I think we both believe that the gospel is only good news for those that repent and believe. The reign of King Jesus is not good news if you remain a rebel to that kingdom. It’s only good news if “kiss the Son”. For that reason, I’d prefer that we say that the gospel is for all who believe—rather than all that hear.

I have no problem speaking biblically to any sinner. There is no hidden motive or wink when I tell men and women, “repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. Jesus Christ is the rightful King. He is rooting out of His world all sin and unbelief and replacing it with passionate worshippers from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation. Believe in the Son and you’ll be saved. Reject him and you’ll be rooted out of His kingdom.

That is what the placard says to every unbelieving man and woman.

We can discuss what we believe it says on the other side of the placard, but let’s not force brothers and sisters to speak to unbelievers in a way that the Bible doesn’t speak.

Does That Ministry Count?

I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from David Murray’s latest book, Reset. It’s a phenomenal book on preventing burnout. Though not specifically about burnout, I want to share a paragraph I read that was incredibly helpful.

In the seventh chapter Murray encourages his readers to assess their calendars. He suggests making statements of purpose over four life areas: spiritual life, family life, vocational life, and Christian service. As he began the section on Christian service, Murray said this:

Remember, you are already serving God in your spiritual life, in your family life, and in your vocational life. That’s a lot. If your season of life permits, however, you may also want to add a Christian service purpose statement… (Murray, 130)

I absolutely love how Murray frames this, because we vocational ministers can sometimes count ministry wrongly. We say with our lips that your job matters, but do we really count it? We say that ministry in the home is vital, but when we are trying to track the spiritual development of our people do we have a way to assess how well families are being raised up?

Quite a few books that I’ve read do not really seem to “count” those first three segments as ministry. Some models track Christian maturity based upon the ministry that a person is involved in. If a person is serving in a ministry in the local church, then they have moved from the crowd to the committed.

One particular model uses a baseball diamond to track spiritual growth. You get to third base when you are actively involved in a local church ministry. But there isn’t much of a way to give credit to a guy who is sharing Jesus with his coworkers and discipling his family.

We should be careful to communicate similar to how David Murray has communicated this truth. Pastors can tend to focus on the ministry that they see happening in their local church but ignore the way God is using their flock to shape the community through their jobs and their parenting. If we don’t communicate effectively we’ll inadvertently minimize the real ministry that is taking place, and make people feel like they aren’t doing ministry just because we cannot track it on our local church calendar.

If we really believe that ministry on the job matters and that family discipleship matters we’ll track spiritual growth accordingly.

What If Church Isn’t Meant to Be a Weekly Cataclysm?

Chew on this:

In his wisdom, God has crafted a life for us that does not careen from huge, consequential moment to huge, consequential moments. In fact, if you examine your life, you will see that you have actually had few of those moments. You can probably name only two or three life-changing situations you have lived through. We are all the same; the character and quality of your life is forged in little moments. Every day we lay little bricks on the foundation of what our life will be. (Tripp, What Did You Expect?, 58)

This is, in my mind, one of the most helpful chapter’s of Paul Tripp’s book on marriage. Here he is making the argument that we must develop a “little-moment” approach to our marriages. And I think he is right. He goes on to say, “things in a marriage go bad progressively. Things become sweet and beautiful progressively.”

As I was thinking through the chapter I just read, getting ready for a counseling appointment, and thinking through how this applies to my own marriage, I decided to open some mail. One of the letters I received was from one of those super cool conferences that I absolutely MUST attend. Having just read that paragraph from Tripp a particular statement on that flier stood out to me: An Experience that will CHANGE YOUR CHURCH.

Why do we do this?

Given the rhythms of church life here in America, I think we are trained to think of church as moving from one big moment to the next. We move from Sunday to Sunday and Wednesday to Wednesday, with each one being a monumental moment. Think about the way we often advertise our Sunday morning gatherings. We don’t want anyone to miss out on the life-changing encounter with God….every single Sunday.

We are trained to think in big moments. We become wired to think that the way people grow, and churches grow, and pastors are encouraged, and disciples are trained, is by moving from monumental encounter to monumental encounter.

But what if that isn’t how God usually works? What if what Tripp says about marriage is also true of our church and our ministry? What if the reason why so many marriages are difficult for pastors is that we’ve been trained to think in cataclysms when our marriages thrive on the commonplace? Should we not put into the life of our church daily rhythms similar to that which should be in our marriages?

What would this look like in practice?

In What Did You Expect?, Tripp gives six commitments that mark a day by day marriage. I wonder if these couldn’t be revamped a bit and put into the DNA of our local churches.

  • COMMITMENT #1: We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
  • COMMITMENT #2: We will make growth and change our daily agenda.
  • COMMITMENT #3: We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
  • COMMITMENT #4: We will commit to building a relationship of love.
  • COMMITMENT #5: We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
  • COMMITMENT #6: We will work to protect our marriage.

As I read through the book of Acts what I see is something similar. What we read in Acts 2:42-47 looks an awful lot like having a day by day commitment to one another. This is why things like life groups (or small groups) is, I believe, vital to the health of a local church. It creates in us a day by day way of thinking about life together and less about just gathering with a group of like-minded people once or twice per week.

Marriages are built brick by brick, day by day, tiny moment by tiny moment. And I’m convinced that churches are the same way. What would it look like for us to adopt this way of thinking in our local church? What would change?

How Our Unbiblical View of Forgiveness Perpetuates Social Media Outrage

I’ve read quite a few articles lately about something sociologists are calling FOMO. That’s short for “fear of missing out”. It’s why you keep your phone with you all the time and are almost constantly checking out social media. But I can save you from FOMO…at least a little bit.

Here is what you are going to miss out on this week if you disengage for a little while. I don’t know the details but they don’t matter—or at least won’t matter once the next big story drops.

At some point this week somebody important is going to say something dumb and insensitive. Some people will laugh. Most will be outraged. This person is going to offer an apology. Depending on how much we liked this person in the first place, many will offer forgiveness. But some won’t “forgive” and will call for this person to face the consequences of their actions. Then they will get in trouble for being so unforgiving and not letting it go.

The cycle is predictable. I do something wrong. I say I’m sorry. You forgive me. We bury it in the depths of the sea…only we don’t actually bury in the depths of the sea and our relationship is awkward and strained for a lengthy season…but, hey, FORGIVENESS!!!!

The problem with this cycle is two fold. First, sorry isn’t repentance. Secondly, forgiveness isn’t unconditional. Forgetting these two points is why so many relationships have all kinds of junk bubbling under the surface. And it’s why our media/social media is caught in a vicious cycle of dumb outrage.

“I’m sorry” is not repentance

In his book, From Forgiven to Forgiving, Jay Adams helpfully shows the difference between asking for forgiveness and apologizing. Noting that the concept of apologizing is not found anywhere in the Bible, Adams gives a visual picture:

Picture the wrongdoer holding a basketball. He apologizes saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ The one offended shuffles his feet awkwardly. It is always awkward to respond to an apology, because you are not asked to do anything, and yet some sort of response is expected. The offended party says something inane like, “Well, that’s OK.” But it isn’t. The matter has not been put to rest. When you say the wrongdoing is OK you either lie or condone a wrong. At the end of the transaction the wrongdoer is still holding the ball. (Adams 59)

In our feelings-centered culture we’ve turned forgiveness into a feeling. We assess whether or not somebody is “really sorry” by how deeply the feel bad about what they’ve done. If the person can sufficiently show that they feel terrible and have egg on their face, then we are more likely to grant forgiveness. In the mind of many, if they feel bad, they’ve done the time, and to not offer the “it’s OK” is to be far from Christ-like.

But repentance isn’t a feeling. Asking for forgiveness isn’t centered on how people feel. It’s more like a business transaction. The offending party has put themselves into the other person’s debt. Forgiveness is deciding to no longer charge them—it is to absorb the cost of the offense. Again, Adams helpfully explains:

Now, consider forgiveness. The wrongdoer comes with his basketball. He says, ‘I wronged you. Will you forgive me?’ In so doing, he tosses the ball to the other person. He is freed form the burden. Now, the burden for the response has shifted. The one wronged is asked to do what God requires him to do…The wrongdoer confessed to wrongdoing; he committed himself to that confession. The offended party committed himself to burying the matter. At the end of the transaction, the ball is tossed away and obligations concerning the matter are over and done with. Both are free to become reconciled. The matter has been set to rest. (Adams, 60)

Listen, if you are really “sorry” for what you’ve done, you do not want to hold onto that basketball. You have sinned and you put yourself at the mercy of the offended party. Apologizing doesn’t get the job done because it doesn’t actually address the problem. Repentance isn’t present. The offending party is still maintaining control in the relationship.

But we get away with this because our culture (and especially our Christian culture) has swallowed another error concerning unconditional forgiveness.

2. Forgiveness is not unconditional

It sounds so counter to everything we’ve been taught about the gospel, but forgiveness really is not unconditional. If it were then every single person would be saved. Yes, there is a posture of forgiveness that every believer must have. But we cannot fully forgive unless the other person repents. (See more here).

This is why stuff is never actually dealt with in so many of our relationships. This is why we are stuck in this perpetual season of outrage on social media. It’s because nothing is ever actually dealt with. Only biblical forgiveness provides the healing and reconciliation that we need.

Settling for apologies and unconditional forgiveness traps us in a cycle of non-resolution. The offending party is not given the opportunity to actually pursue repentance and redemption in Jesus. And the offended party is not given the opportunity to actually forgive and pursue healing and full reconciliation.

The sooner the church drops these unbiblical notions the better off we will be. And maybe then we can be a bit more of a beacon of light on social media than joining in on the perpetual outrage.