Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Black Eyes Needed

By Monte Shanks, Ph.D.
Dr. Monte Shanks is an Asst. Professor of NT at Liberty Seminary

Good Reasons for a Black Eye

I love cowboy movies, they are just plain fun to watch.  Westerns always have a few necessary components.  Obviously there is the climatic gunfight.  There usually is a break-neck horse chase.  There should always be a heroine or women worth fighting for.  And generally there needs to be a barroom brawl in which the hero gets beat up.  One of the best lines I ever heard in a movie occurred when a kid asked the hero “Hey, who gave you that black eye?”  The hero stared at the boy with an unflinching gaze and forcefully said, “No one gave it to me, I earned it!”  I guess one of the reasons to like western movies is that the line between right and wrong is clearly drawn in the sand, and when it’s crossed then the time has come to take a stand and let the chips fall where they may.  Regrettably churches today are losing their capacity to not only draw a line in the sand on moral issues in society, but to even take stands for doctrinal issues within the church.  Many seem to believe that “tolerance” and “peace” are the most important things for a church to hold to, and under no circumstances should anyone endanger them.  Well, there are times when we should take public stands in our churches—even at the expense of unity and peace, and below is a list of some of these non-negotiables.

*    The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Paul said that if Jesus has not risen from the dead then Christianity is a vain faith and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15.12-19).  The doors of every church should be locked if Jesus has not bodily risen from the dead.  But he has risen, and he now sits at the Father’s right hand mediating on our behalf.  The bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is a non-negotiable for anyone who would call themselves a Christian.

*    The divinity and incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The apostle John stated that anyone who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh was of the spirit of anti-Christ (1 Jn 4.1-3).  The scriptures are clear; Jesus is literally the incarnation of God in the created realm (Jn 1.1-18; Col 1.15, 19; 2.9; Phil 2.5-11; Heb 1.1-3).  The confession that Jesus is fully man and fully God is a non-negotiable for any claiming to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

*    The Trinity.  If you review the doctrines of any major historical denomination of Christianity you will notice that they all have a Trinitarian declaration.  Christianity confesses and proclaims that there is one God who has revealed himself in 3 persons who are united essence, nature, and being.  This unity and diversity within the Godhead is a mystery that is hard to fathom, but there are other complex truths that are also hard to fathom but nonetheless they exist.  For example, take “love” and “justice”; we know that they exist, but can you explain how they exist?  You cannot, and so it is with the Trinity.  Christians do not profess that God is one person who reveals himself in 3 different ways at different times, but that God is one who co-exists in 3 different persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—all are equally divine and perfectly one while sharing the same essence and purpose (Matt 28.19).  Although each member in the Godhead simultaneously functions differently in the created order, they all are nonetheless equally divine.  True believers can accept no less; consequently, neither should they tolerate any fellowship that would promote anything contrary to this essential truth.

*    That Salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone.  Salvation is not received or earned by humanly participating in the ordinance of a church (i.e., baptism or communion); neither is it the reward of human effort or endurance. It is only received after one repents of his or her sin and personally entrusts themselves and their sin debt to the Lord Jesus Christ through his substitutionary death on the cross. This redemption is a gift that God freely offers to all who would receive it, and his offer is completely a gift of his grace.  In other words, it is a gift that is completely undeserved, and its reception by the desperate sinner can in no way be perceived as a meritorious act (Eph 2.8-10).

The above 4 are non-negotiable for anyone who would call themselves a Christian.  There are others, such as that God exists, that there is an afterlife, a final judgment, etc., etc.  But these confessions are so fundamental that to mention them would be elementary.  Indeed, even these listed above are elementary, but the fact is that some churches and denominations today are losing sight of the fundamentals of the faith.  Below are 3 more items that I would argue are doctrines worth fighting for; regrettably there are some churches that are not sure that these also are worth defending publically.


 *   The exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus claimed to be the only person through which anyone could be reconciled to God (John 14.6).  Paul wrote that if there was another way to God then Jesus died needlessly (Gal 2.21).  And John said that if anyone does not confess personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ then they do not know the Father (1 Jn 4.1-6).  If someone professes that there are ways to be saved other than placing one’s personal faith in Christ then he or she is misguided and needs to be discipled into the truth, or they are false believers that should be avoided. 

*    The inspiration and authority of the Gods word, which is the Bible.  The division of the Christian church between Protestantism and Catholicism largely rests on this one issue.  It is ironic that the Roman Catholic Sir Thomas Moore once said “I never intend, God being my good Lord, to pin my soul to another man’s back, not even the best man that I know this day living: for I know not where he may happen to carry it.”  Believers must not abdicate their consciences to the decisions of others no matter what positions they may hold in a church.  Our sole authority for the rightful belief and practice of the Christian faith is the Bible and not submission to the offices of man-made religious institutions, whether they are local churches or worldwide denominations. The freedom of conscience to follow God’s word is a doctrine referred to as “the priesthood of the believer.”  It simply means that each believer has the capacity through the indwelling Holy Spirit to rightly discern God’s will for himself or herself, so long as their decisions do not contravene God’s written word.  Consequently, if someone demands that you submit to any doctrine, profession, or behavior contrary to God’s word then it is your duty to respectfully rebuke them irrespective of what office they may hold.

*    The security of the believer.  I hold this doctrine as something worth fighting and possibly “loosing” for because to proclaim otherwise is to rob the gospel of its glory and to suggest that human will is greater than the power of God.  Jesus himself said that anyone who has received eternal life through faith in him will never again suffer the threat of eternal damnation (John 5.24).  Paul clearly promised that there is no longer any condemnation for those who have been justified through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 8.1).  And Peter wrote that we have received by God’s power an imperishable promise of eternal life through Christ (1 Pet 1.3-5).  If salvation can be lost by an act of human volition then it cannot under any pretense be described as “imperishable,” “eternal,” or under the control of the “power of God.”  Consequently, this is a doctrine worth taking a public stand for against those who would declare otherwise.

This is my list and I’m sure there are others that I have failed to consider.  Nevertheless, it is time to take a public stand for these fundamental truths when confronted in churches by others advocating contrary doctrines.  Some may ask is this really necessary?  Yes it is!  One of the least known scriptures is 1 Corinthians 11.19, where Paul wrote, “For their must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”  Paul said that conflicts within congregations are a necessary part of protecting the flock and identifying those who are truly in the faith.  Did Paul want the body to experience harmony and unity, or course he did—but never at the expense of the truths concerning Christ and his promises.  Just a word of warning, don’t be surprised when after taking a public stand for the true faith that at time you “lose.”  It will happen and it will bother you, but don’t let it do so for long.  Jesus took your lashes and your nails in order to hang on your cross; consequently, the very least you can do for him is to earn a black eye.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mausoleums or Ministry Centers

By Monte Shanks, Ph.D.
Dr. Monte Shanks is an Asst. Professor of NT at Liberty Seminary

Mausoleums or Ministry Centers

I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the Taj Mahal.  Some may not know where it is, but the name is certainly familiar enough (it’s in India if you were wondering).  But what most people are unsure of is what the place actually is.  The most that some know is that it is a “fancy place.”  The fact is that the Taj Mahal is primarily and foremost a mausoleum—in other words; it’s a place to store dead people.  I won’t bother you with a lot of details, but about 360 years ago a king built it for resting place of his beloved queen who died during childbirth.  Another very famous mausoleum is the West Minister Abbey, which is where England buries her royalty and national heroes.  The sad thing about the Abbey is that it originally was a church, but it ceased to be so hundreds of years ago.  Now it a place for royal weddings and storing dead people.  

It strikes me that a lot of church facilities are more like mausoleums than ministry centers.  For some reason we Christians get attached to the buildings where we worship, and sooner or later we turn them into things of worship, which inevitably leads them to becoming more like mausoleums—which are places that people generally don’t want to spend a lot of time.  It’s a rather odd habit to say the least.  Jesus knew this about us, he once said “. . . for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16.8b-9).  Simply put, Jesus noticed that the people of God weren’t too smart about using money for the purpose of reaching the lost for Him, and this is most obvious with respect to how we use our church buildings.  

Most church facilities are basically cared for like mausoleums that are filled with dated esthetics and furniture, instead centers for constant ministry activities.  Our facilities should be more like college campuses than places that are primarily used one day a week, or where people go to get married or buried.  Think of it this way, if church buildings were businesses then it wouldn’t be long before Christianity would go bankrupt because of lack of use.  In order for a retail outlet to be profitably it must be easily accessible and endure a lot of foot traffic.  To put it simply, in order for a store to make money it needs to have a lot of different people go to it and they need to do so often.  Some may say “how crass, you aren’t talking about a store, but about the church!”  And I say that mindset couldn’t be more wrong!  Those who are in Christ and are members of your congregation are those that Jesus has made holy, not the facility in which you meet.  If people in your fellowship start thinking of the building where you meet as something sacred and requires preservation, then they will inevitably become an impediment to effective ministry with respect to the use of your fellowship’s facilities.  And if they become the majority, then your church will function more like a mausoleum than a ministry center.  They will in essence turn your facility into sterile places of inactivity rather than a place where sinners regularly come and have their lives changed through the gospel.  

It’s tragic that as fellowships grow more and more people try to make their ministry facilities more and more comfortable, and inevitably nicer carpet, furniture, and décor begins to show up.  This has an unintended consequence, which is an insatiable desire to protect and preserve the building’s esthetics.  The only way this can be done is if those in charge restrict the availability and use of the ministry’s facilities.  In other words, some in your congregation will become more concerned with preserving everything within the building, rather than hoping it all gets worn out by constant use.  The interesting thing about retail stores is that they account for the wear, abuse, damage, and theft as part of the price of doing business, and if they didn’t they would lose money!  In case you are unaware, baked into the price of everything you buy at the grocery store is the cost of what someone else steals or breaks.  Moreover, whether you realize it or not, all of that furniture, carpet, and décor in your facility will become dated in about 10 years.  In other words, it will not be long before your facility’s esthetics start to become less fashionable and attractive to visitors and seekers, so what’s the use in trying to preserve it all?  Why not allow it to be used and worn out for the cause of the gospel?  Moreover, people are messy, especially with things they didn’t buy with their own money.  Consequently, if more and more people begin to come to your “chapel,” they will inevitably spill things, tear things, break things, and even possibly vomit on things—as anyone in children’s ministry can attest.  So we should get use to it and realize that it’s all part of the price of doing effective ministry.  I’m not suggesting that we should allow people to intentionally abuse the resources that God has entrusted to us.  Nevertheless, wear and tear as well as accidental abuses will occur, and when they do, the last thing anyone should do is get mad or upset because someone has messed up the esthetics of your ministry facilities.  The bottom line is this, church buildings should be envisioned as beehives of ministry, training, and worship rather than mausoleums where dead people go once a week.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Back Scratching or Heart Surgery?

Dr. Monte Shanks is an Asst. Professor of NT at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
The Difference between Sermons
and Messages

Last Christmas I got the best backscratcher ever!  It is made of aluminum, it has a rubber handle, and best of all it is retractable!  Consequently, it takes up very little space in my desk, which is a big draw back with a lot of other backscratchers.  Most backscratchers are long and awkward, so people inevitably put them in out of the way places where they are usually forgotten and lost.  Consequently, many backs go unscratched, which is a problem since people love to have their backs scratched.  A lot of today’s pastors are in the business of back scratching.  Pastors are called to be heart surgeons, but regrettably, a lot of us have turned into backscratchers.  There are several reasons why pastors become backscratchers.  One of the main reasons is that some congregations won’t tolerate a pastor who is passionate and has conviction, so over time some pastors learn that they better start scratching backs or lose their “jobs.”  When this realization occurs some pastors simply keep their cushy jobs, while the good ones leave and find real ministries.  Some pastors are backscratchers because they like being liked, so it comes naturally to them.  Others are backscratchers because they think it’s their job to mesmerize and entertain their congregations.  These pastors are essentially showmen.  They aren’t really backscratchers per se, but rather they are ear ticklers.  Nevertheless, the impact of their sermons is functionally the same, hearts are not renewed and spiritual arteries remain clogged. 

Many backscratchers appear to be very successful because their churches are often filled with a lot of “listeners.”  So the question is this: how can you tell the difference between a backscratcher and a pastor how knows God, understands His word, and applies it to our modern lives?  A good test is to look at their impact on the hearts of those who hear them.  In other words, are people convicted and are lives changed.  We can see this kind of impact from the messages of great preachers in the Bible.  Look at Jesus, he once preached a message that caused so much consternation that the audience in the synagogue grabbed him and led him to a cliff in order to demonstrate the effects of gravity (Luke 4.28-29).  Luke actually documented that Jesus’ audience was “filled with rage” by the things that Jesus had said.  In full disclosure I must confess that I’ve never preached a message that had that kind of impact, so I’m preaching to myself here as well.  I guess you can say that Jesus wasn’t much of a backscratcher.  Then there is Stephen, in his very last message he gave an exceptional survey of the entire Old Testament that ended with him proclaiming the truth that his very audience had crucified the very Messiah that they confessed to be waiting for.  And what did they do?  The promptly carried him out of that same meeting and stoned him.  I guess you could conclude that he didn’t tickle many ears.  The passage actually describes their dispositions as being “cut to the quick” (Acts 7.54).   A lot of people, however, don’t really know what that means; in today’s vernacular it would be like saying that they were “shot through the heart.”  And then there is Paul, he once gave a message where the audience was quiet and listened intently, they were hanging on his every word you could say—that is until he spoke of God’s mandate to share the gospel with everyone, it was at that point that a riot broke out (Acts 22.22-25).  The text states that after Paul told them about the great commission that those in attendance literally threw their coats down and started throwing dirt in the air.  Now I’ve preached people into comas, but I’ve never started a riot.  But not Paul, what he said pricked their hearts so much that they began acting like a bunch of crazed chimpanzees.  The Roman soldiers present were so stunned that they immediately began preparing Paul for a scourging.  I’m not convinced that they even fully understood why they were about to scourge Paul, they only knew that something bad had just happened and something had to be done about it.  So in typical Roman fashion someone had to be beaten and everyone knows that scourging a single person is a lot easier than beating an entire mob.  Again, I’ve never been threatened with a whipping for anything I have said in a pulpit.  Someone may have wanted to punch me, but I never knew about it, so who knows.  The point is that Paul wasn’t in the ministry so that he could scratch backs and tickle ears; he was gunning for hearts.   

I bring up these 3 events not because they are good examples of well-groomed “sermons,” but because they are excellent examples of impactful “messages.”  And there is a difference between the two.  The difference is that same as the difference between Cicero and Demosthenes.  There is a famous quote concerning these two great ancient speakers, which loosely goes like this: “When Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke.’  But when Demosthenes had finished speaking, they said, ‘Let us march!’”  And that is the point, isn’t it?  Are we supposed to be about sermons or messages?  A sermon is what a pastor prepares and then speaks to a listening audience.  A message is when spiritual shepherds have the guts to proclaim the truth about what Lord desires to do in the hearts of those who are actually “hearing” the word of God.  And if people hear God speaking to their hearts through your message, then people will be brought to a point of decision.  Sometimes they will weep, or repent, or worship, or be strengthened, and then they will serve; and if not, then they will begin picking up stones.  Either way, they will not have had their backs scratched or their ears tickled.  And isn’t that what the church needs?  The church doesn’t need more backscratchers, it needs more heart surgeons.