Thursday, July 7, 2016

A New Era in My Life (Updated)

Ever since I penned the letter below I have been asked by thousands of people to reconsider my decision to not seek reelection. It has been incredibly overwhelming to hear the response. I have deeply appreciated how many people have expressed to me that they believe I have been their voice on the school board. I do not take that responsibility lightly. As a result, I have been weighed down for the past month as I pray through these requests to reconsider. I have sought counsel from numerous quarters. I have gone back and forth in my own heart and mind.  I have asked many to pray for me.

I want you to know that I have decided to stand by my original decision to not seek reelection. My wife and elders concurred with my original decision. I continue to hold the conviction that my original decision is the correct one.

I know many of you will not understand why I am "giving up the fight." I am not giving up the fight. I am redirecting my time and effort. I am exhausting myself in preaching the gospel. I am spending my time equipping parents and their children to be godly witnesses of Christ in an increasingly hostile society. 

As I considered the many requests I became increasingly dogged by the concern that staying on the board would be giving Christian parents false hope. Why? I do not believe this battle can be won at the school board level. It is lost. The State and Federal governments have co-opted your local schools. They mean to indoctrinate your children in their radical secularism. They mean to cause your children, and Christian teachers and administrators, to bow to their sex gods. I simply can't be part of enforcing that.

It is now law in CA that your children must be taught how to have safe homosexual sex, how to obtain an abortion, and that gender does not correspond to biological sex. Think of that! It is legally required to teach your children the LGBTQ sexual mores while simultaneously illegal to mention God. I can't and won't enforce that foolishness.

I do not know how long Christian teachers and administrators can ethically continue. They will certainly need to increase in their wisdom as they navigate this new legal reality in our state. Please pray for them. I also do not know how Christian parents will afford to find other options for their children. I know they will need to make sacrifices their parents likely didn't have to make. Please pray for them. 

We must wake up to the reality of where our state has headed. We must prepare the church to live as sojourners in a foreign land, a land that feels more foreign by the day. We need to help parents find alternatives to public schools as they disciple their children. We have to shepherd our public school teachers and administrators through wisely and faithfully working in this new legal environment. There are many challenges that face us. I have not given up the fight. I have chosen to direct my efforts fully to these pastoral responsibilities.

Thank you for 12 years of trust. I am deeply grieved that our state has moved us to this point. In the midst of all of this, I am deeply encouraged that Jesus is in his temple and on his throne. 

For His Glory,

The following is the letter I sent to my congregation on June 2, 2016:

Dear Sovereign Grace,

I am sitting here in my home having just returned from a Kern High School Board of Trustees meeting. I have almost never discussed my role on the board with you. I intend to change that with this letter.

You are a congregation that has graciously endured my often well-known public disputes regarding political issues. You have graciously allowed me to attempt to love my neighbor through that public service, while also being your pastor. You have done me the great service of not bringing up my board responsibilities at church and left me free to be a pastor. I am sure there are times you believe I represented you well. I am sure there are times when I have not represented you well. You have been gracious on all occasions. You have corrected me graciously when necessary. You have encouraged me greatly when needed. I am deeply thankful for the incredibly mature and kind way you have stood with me as a brother in Christ and as a pastor. The 12 years I have served on the board have been made bearable by you.

Today, I sat in a meeting as our board voted to bring into our district policy the full spectrum of the LGBTQ agenda. I realized as I listened to the numerous legal justifications and requirements that board members uphold these deeply offensive and immoral laws that I can no longer serve in this role. I am a Christian pastor above all else. I could not vote for these policies. I can not remain on a board to enforce these policies. I spoke out against the board voting for this. I called on them to realize that they will answer to God on this vote, and they should fear Him more than the state. I did not prevail.

I plan to address further my own personal realization that government education has been hijacked as a cause for the indoctrination of your children in nihilism, hedonism, and atheism. I will also address more my realization that I was naive not to think this was the only direction government education could go. I am not calling Christian teachers to abandon their posts. By all means, please keep being a light in a dark place as long as you ethically can. I am encouraging you to find other means to educate your children. Please know that this is my advice and not God's law, nor an official declaration of our church. We believe in Christian liberty. However, I can tell you after 12 years of sitting through meetings that public education means to indoctrinate your children in anti-Christian ideology.

With that said, I will not be seeking reelection to the Kern High School District Board. I will give all my time and effort to being a pastor in our church. I will also be helping look for alternatives for Christian parents to educate their kids. I am called to preach the gospel. I am called to pray for you and minister to you. My time as a public school board member has come to an end. I am very much at peace with this decision. While I am not optimistic about the future of our country, I am deeply optimistic about the future of Christ's church. Jesus will build his church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

For His Glory,

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Letter to Young Men Aspiring to be Pastors

Dear Aspiring Pastor,

I have been thinking about what I want to write you as a result of your recent desire to pursue pastoral ministry. First, let me say that I thank God for this desire. I consider the privilege of being a pastor of Christ’s flock an unspeakable joy which I do not deserve. It is my great joy and only desire to preach his Word to his people for his glory. I desire nothing more than to see Christ’s fame spread to unbelievers around the world and to see Christ’s church honoring his name by walking in the truth.

I believe God can be glorified in secular vocations as much as this sacred vocation. However, it remains true that being called into ministry is certainly the grandest of vocations. It is not grand because it is easy, or comfortable, or because it makes you wealthy or powerful. It is sacrificial and often painful. It is can be frustrating and demeaning. It is glorious though to be an under-shepherd of Christ. Few people know the privilege of serving the flock of God which he bought with his own blood. Thus, as pastors we rejoice in our sufferings as we fill up the afflictions lacking in Christ for the sake of his body, the church (Colossians 1:24).

Being a shepherd of the flock is also a dangerous calling. You will stand before God and give an account for the souls of those in your care (Hebrews 13:17). It is not easy to be an example for the flock to follow day in and day out (Hebrews 13:7). It is weighty to know that teachers of God’s Word incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1). It can be incredibly discouraging to be rejected, mocked, and persecuted as you pour out your heart making an open statement of the truth to those who are blinded by their sins (2 Cor. 4). Many men fall to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They prove to be hired hands as they pursue self-preservation and flee the sheep, leaving them to the wolves (John 10:11-14). Many men cannot tolerate the blessing of having their name reviled for the sake of Christ. Most men do not last a life time in ministry. I heard recently that 9 out of 10 pastors who begin in ministry end up leaving the ministry.  I have watched men I love and respect fall into grave sin and disqualify themselves. I have watched others lose sight of suffering as a good soldier in Christ and walk away for “greener pastures.”

This drives me to the central reason I am writing this letter. How do you avoid being a casualty of your own sinful heart, the pull of a world that beckons you to earthly comfort, and the Devil who will seek to bring harm to Christ’s church by attacking her shepherds? While I don’t think there is a silver bullet which will guarantee your pursuit of holiness, faithful preaching of the Word, and endurance in suffering, I do think there is some wisdom to be found in learning from the application of the Word by older men. My best shot at an answer is that you need to start ministry in a wise and Christ-honoring fashion, if you hope to finish in that same manner. So, what does a wise and Christ-honoring beginning look like?

I think we ought to look to the Scripture for the answer, particularly the Apostle Paul. There is much to gain from Paul as he trained so many young pastors and wrote much of the New Testament. As we look at his writings, I want to focus on Paul’s supreme passion in ministry, his goal for the church, his method in ministry, and his exhortations and his expectations of pastors.

Paul’s Supreme Passion in Ministry

Paul tells us his passion in a variety of places. He states it quite succinctly in his letter to the pastors in Ephesus in Acts 20:24.

24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul’s life mattered not to him. He only wanted to finish the race the Lord Jesus had given him. What was that race? To testify to the gospel of the grace of God. This is Paul’s supreme passion in ministry. He wants the gospel of God’s grace in Christ to be known across the world for God’s glory. He states the same in Romans 1:1-5 and Romans 15:20-21. This is what Paul was focused on. If you want to last in ministry, you need to begin and finish with this same passion. You need to be ready to pour yourself out for this ultimate end. You need to be committed to preparing for this. You may not fully know yet how much this will cost you. However, you can choose to be committed to paying whatever cost will come.

Paul’s Goal for the Church

Paul’s goal for the church was really fairly simple. He tells us his goal in Colossians 1:28-29.

 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Paul states his goal for the church is that they may be presented mature in Christ. His deepest desire for the church is that she grows up in maturity in Christ. He is jealous for her to be singularly devoted to Christ and his gospel (2 Cor. 11:1-4). He wants to see her walk in a manner worthy of her calling (Ephesians 4:1-6). He desires that the church not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but that she knows and speaks the truth in love so as to be mature in Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16). Paul also tells us his method for achieving this goal when he says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone…” He proclaims Jesus and exhorts and teaches the church. This leads to my next point.

Paul’s Method in Ministry

Paul’s method necessarily followed from Paul’s understanding of the gospel. Paul strives with all Christ’s energy precisely by using a methodology that is dependent on Christ’s Spirit to do the real work of heart change. The gospel teaches us that we are dead in our sins. We are unable to believe and obey. We are under God’s wrathful and just judgment. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“ (Ephesians 2:4-5).

God is the agent who gives us life. God does this through the unmerited favor he shows us in Christ. He is not provoked by any good in us, but by the fact that he is good. We receive this grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, we must have a ministry methodology that is likewise dependent upon God’s powerful and gracious working. Paul tells us that his methodology is to “proclaim Him (Jesus).” In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul gives us more insight into his method.

1Cor. 2:1   And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul teaches many truths besides just the Cross. So, why does he insist he knew nothing but “Jesus Christ and him crucified”? He does so because everything he taught ties back to the center of the story of God and his work: Jesus and his death and resurrection. When Paul teaches on living under unjust government, he ties it back to Jesus and the cross (Romans 13). When Paul teaches on marriage, or having an unjust employer, he ties it back to the gospel (Ephesians 5:21-6:9). Jesus is the center of the story. Our ministry methodology must be constantly tied to proclaiming him. Further, in 1 Cor. 2:4-5, Paul tells us that he intentionally avoids gimmicks, entertainment, and other worldly means of attracting attention, because his ministry is Spirit-dependent and he wants God to get the glory. Paul actually states in 1 Cor. 1:17 that to use these other methods is to “empty the Cross of its power.” I can think of no more damnable statement about worldly methodologies than that! I could multiple examples where Paul speaks of his ministry methodology, but I will end this point with his statement to the Ephesian pastors from Acts 20:26-27:

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Paul’s Exhortations and Expectations of Pastors

Paul was not just an Apostle and Missionary-Pastor. Paul was also a man who trained young pastors and elders. He often gave them exhortations as to what mattered in ministry and in their own lives. The first of these exhortations is found to his church plant in Ephesus. We read his exhortation to the elders / pastors in Acts 20:28-31:

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

Paul is deeply concerned that wolves will come in and lead the flock into false doctrine. He commands the elders to be on the alert. He challenges them to follow his example of constant teaching and admonishment. He knows that from the beginning Satan has had no greater desire than to lead God’s people astray from God’s Word. Satan is a liar who comes as an angel of light. He deceptively whispers into the ear of Christ’s bride prodding her to pursue other lovers. He comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Christ’s under-shepherds must be diligently on the look out for these false teachers. We must be constantly teaching and preparing Christ’s flock the Word, so that they can spot the wolves and reject their lies.

Unfortunately, the elders at Ephesus did not seem to have taken Paul’s admonishment to heart. For it was not long until Paul sent Timothy to clean up the mess of false teachers in Ephesus. Paul wrote 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy as letters to a young pastor who needed to be exhorted as to how to do his job. I want you to see Paul’s clear and unambiguous focus in his exhortations to Timothy. Look first at what he says in 1 Timothy 4:12-16:

 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 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.

Notice that Timothy is to be a godly young pastor who is devoted to reading and teaching the Bible. He is to immerse himself in these practices. He is to keep a close watch on his own life and on “the teaching” (doctrine). The salvation of the church, in some mysterious way, is connected to the godliness and doctrine of its pastors! While this passage is powerfully telling, I would argue that it does not reach the heights that Paul comes to at the end of his life in his final exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5.

2Tim. 3:10   You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2Tim. 4:1   I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

What is Paul’s death bed exhortation to Timothy? Follow his example. What did he do? He suffered for the gospel. How does Timothy follow that example? He remembers the gospel that saved him, which is recorded in God’s Word. He stays committed to the Bible as the inspired and all-sufficient Word of God. A word that can thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work. Further, Timothy is to take up Paul’s incredibly exalted charge to “Preach the Word.” He is to preach the Word when it is popular to do so and when it is not. He is to preach the Word knowing that people will reject it and run after false teachers. He is to be godly, endure suffering, and make the gospel known to unbelievers.

If your heart beats with Paul’s, you will feel refreshed and encouraged by this word. You will want to get on your face and ask God to give you gifts and godliness consummate with such a glorious calling. You will feel as if the Word is screaming to come out of your mouth in preaching, like “fire shut up in your bones.” And, you will wonder how you become a man who is qualified for this glorious privilege. I think the best way to answer that question is to stress two attributes you need to do well in ministry:

    1. Godly Character.

We live in an age in which patiently waiting for people to mature is sadly under-valued, while gifting is over-valued. Gifting is more important to our godless culture than character. This has become increasingly true in the church. If you are a talented and attractive figure, who cares if you are a godly man? You are a great guy who has a charismatic personality. You will attract crowds. This is so contrary to the view of Paul. Listen to how he describes the character of pastors when writing to both Timothy and Titus:

1Tim. 3:1   The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Titus 1:5   This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Paul spends the vast majority of his writing on describing the character of the pastor, and comparatively very little describing his competence. Gifting is a distant second to godliness for Paul. Paul’s emphasis is on making sure the pastor is a godly and mature man in the faith. This is where I would exhort you to slow down and grow in godliness before being a leader. Any leader who offers you a pastoral leadership opportunity when you are young in the faith is directly violating God’s holy word. Such a pastor may believe he is doing you a favor. But he is bringing harm to you and Christ’s church. This is why Paul tells Timothy to “entrust these things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).” Maturity over time proves a man’s faithfulness. This requires patience on the part of the young man as he prepares himself for this glorious vocation.

    2. Doctrinal Competence

Further, it is also vitally important that the young pastor is well-trained in the Word. He must be able to teach. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” He must be well-prepared if he hopes to discern truth from error. He must be thoroughly conversant with the Bible if he hopes to teach the whole counsel of God. He must be able to understand how every part of the Word of God is interrelated in one coherent story about Jesus. He must be able to articulate that to others with clarity. He also should know how the church throughout history has understood the Bible, so as to learn from the faithful men whom God has given the church. He should be adept at understanding how to answer the deepest needs of his congregation through a proper application of God’s Word. This kind of ability requires solid training in biblical languages, biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, and church history. It would also be incredibly wise to be mentored by other faithful pastors. I would urge you to strongly consider going to seminary, and to intern in a biblically faithful church ministry.

Final Thoughts

I have no authority to make decisions about how you approach the next phase of your life. But I would like to give you advice and recommendations based on what I have written above. You will not hurt my feelings if you don’t take my advice. I offer it because I love you, and more importantly, because I love Christ and his gospel.

1. Please date and marry a woman who is pursuing Jesus. I have seen several men end any hope of ministry because they married unwisely. If I could narrow down just one trait, I would say look for a woman who encourages you to trust and obey Jesus. Any woman you are dragging along with you is an unwise choice.

2. Please slow down the pursuit of ministry and take the time to grow in maturity as a godly man. I imagine you are chomping at the bit. But what you need more than anything else is time in a biblically-saturated, Christ-centered, local church. You need time to sit under the preaching of the Word and to read your Bible.

3. Please commit to seminary training. It is easy for young men to arrogantly turn from the immense benefit of sitting at the feet of men who have spent their lives becoming experts in God’s Word. Don’t follow that example. Christ gave these men to his church. Rejoice in that good gift! I am happy to recommend good seminaries to you. I am even pleased to take you to visit some.

4. Please think about doing secular employment while you grow in maturity. It is incredibly helpful to be able to shepherd men in secular vocations in the church when you have had to face walking with Christ in the secular work world yourself. Further, we should not presume upon the church to provide for us. As Christ’s servants, we are worthy of our wages. However, we are also those who are prepared to serve the church while also providing for ourselves through secular employment. The apostle Paul often did this.

5. Please commit to learning ministry in the context of a local church that will help you to grow in your understanding of the Word and how to minister in Christ’s church.

I would love to continue to help you along in ministry, whatever you decide. It is my desire that if you go into ministry, you have the opportunity to start the race in a manner that will help you to finish well. I am jealous for the opportunity to share with you the great joy of ministry I have experienced. I am praying for you.

For His Glory,

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Open Letter to Ron Vietti and Jim Crews (Revised)

Dear Ron and Jim,

Your message entitled "Exposing Calvinism" has certainly made its rounds this past week. As one of the local Calvinist pastors who was essentially called a "wolf," who was said to be teaching a "doctrine of demons," and who was called a "heretic on steroids," I decided I should at least give some form of response. I have no intent in beginning a debate with you on Facebook. We all know those are rarely productive or generous. I hope to accomplish 5 objectives: 1) Provide a direct answer to your main question, 2) offer an apology, 3) give you a commendation, 4) suggest a few corrections, and 5) issue a few challenges.

1). Since there is some fear that Calvinist pastors around town may keep their views a "dirty little secret," let me start this by answering your primary question (or at least my paraphrase of it), "do you believe in predestination as Calvin taught it?" Yes. I absolutely believe Calvin properly understood the Bible with regard to the doctrines of predestination and election. Further, I think Calvin properly understood the biblical teachings of the guilt and corruption of man, the effectual nature of God's grace, the particular nature of redemption, and the perseverance of the saints. I have read much of Calvin's work and rarely find much in his commentaries or theology with which I take issue. Have you read his work? I commend it to you.

2). I want to apologize to you if you believe I have somehow attacked you personally. I barely know either one of you. I don't ever remember attacking you personally. I remember our personal exchanges always being kind and respectful. I bear no personal animus toward either of you. I thank God for men I get to work alongside of whom you personally benefitted. I have certainly taken issue with some doctrines you have taught. I have found some of them to be not only erroneous, but heterodox. It saddens me to think that the largest church in town is teaching doctrine which is heterodox. I don't glory in these concerns. Further, I am not a fan of the modern tendency to make truth personal. Thus, I don't take my problems with your doctrine to be an attack on your person. I believe truth is external to us, which is why I don't take your recent message to be an attack against my person. With that said, if I have said or done something which you have taken as a personal attack, I sincerely apologize.

3). I want to commend you for attempting to protect the flock from what you consider a false gospel and blasphemy against the character of God. In a cultural moment when so many are afraid to love others by speaking against false doctrine, I am thankful you reject this kind of modernistic sentimentality and relativism. I am thankful you desire to refute those who contradict and to silence false teachers (Titus 1:9ff).

4). I don't have the intent of staging a debate in this letter, but I want to offer four corrections:

First, what you represented to be Calvinist doctrine is unrecognizable to me. As someone who holds to the historic reformed confessions and who reads Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, Shedd, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, Sproul, Piper etc fairly regularly, I don't recognize what you called "Calvinism." Is it possible you misunderstood Calvinism? The 9th commandment commands us not to bear false witness. I would say this applies to our friends, opponents and enemies. Please don't misunderstand me. You are free to provide assessments of my doctrine I don't agree with. However, when you say, "person A believes X, then person A should be able to heartily agree that X is what he believes." I have never read any Calvinist theologian who denies man has a real choice, nor that God loves all people. Can you point me to one? Have you read "Spurgeon versus the Hyper-Calvinists" by Ian Murray? I commend this book to you. It is published by the Banner of Truth. Spurgeon was a Calvinist who had to fight off Hyper-Calvinists who believed God's love was not for the whole world. These Hyper-Calvinists taught a doctrine called eternal justification and denied the need for evangelism, missions etc. This was a perversion of Calvinism, much like the open-theist perversion of Arminianism taught by Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock etc.

Second, when you spoke about election and monergistic regeneration you spoke as if these doctrines arose from Calvin. Luther taught these same doctrines more often than Calvin did (see Bondage of the Will). He was before Calvin. Aquinas taught this nearly 5 centuries before Calvin. Augustine taught the same 11 centuries before Calvin. I would argue Paul and Jesus taught them as well, but that's the real debate, isn't it?

Third, your history of Calvin's life was just false. The city council of Geneva put Servetus to death for the heresy of denying the Trinity. Calvin was not on the city council of Geneva. Calvin was a pastor in Geneva. Servetus was on the run from the Roman Catholic Church for this heresy. He wanted to flee to Geneva, largely because far less people were put to death there than in the rest of Europe. Calvin wrote him a letter warning him not to come because the city council would try him. Servetus did not take Calvin's counsel and came anyway. He was put to death. Calvin actually asked that the city council do so mercifully. Should Calvin have spoken out more strongly against the State church and the use of capital punishment for heresy? Sure. Does his lack of doing so make him guilty of putting Servetus to death? No.

Fourth, Calvinists don't believe most babies are going to Hell. We make no claim as to what percentage of people are elect. We make no claims to know who the elect are. Our historic confessions teach that infants who die in infancy go to Heaven. We believe whole-heartedly in evangelism, missions, and prayer. In fact, arguably the greatest evangelists and missionaries in the last several hundred years of history were Calvinists (George Whitefield, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon). I could multiply this list for some time, but I think the point is made.

5).  Finally, I want to challenge you in three regards:

First, I would challenge you to read Calvin himself. Buy a copy of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion." The translation by Battles is particularly good. Read through it slowly. I am happy to meet and discuss this book with you. Since you believe Calvin's doctrine is such a growing problem, wouldn't it be worthwhile to read him first hand? This would help you to protect the flock from his growing popularity. I would be willing to bet that you may disagree with him, but you will find him anything but a wolf.

Second, I challenge you to either privately or publicly begin meeting with me to discuss our differences. I think public discussions have huge advantages in helping our congregations learn how to think well. However, they also have the disadvantage of creating a more defensive atmosphere. We may rightly conclude after such conversations that the doctrine of the other person is in fact heresy. However, we are commanded to love each other well. I doubt talking at each other will ever accomplish that. The worst case outcome is that we gain certainty our suspicions are correct. You name the time and place, and I will do my best to be present.

Third, I challenge you to issue a direct and full apology to local Christian high schools. There is no evidence that the doctrine of any teacher at any Christian high school is increasing the likeliness of suicide among their students. This was an incredibly uncharitable, inflammatory, and unsubstantiated charge to make. Many of the teachers at these schools are sacrificing better pay and benefits and lots of emotional time and energy to help parents educate their Christian children. We ought rather to thank God for their work.

I look forward to discussing this with you more. If you disregard everything else I write here, I ask you to consider issuing an apology to local Christian high schools. Thank you for your consideration.

For His Glory,
Chad Vegas

Purpose for Revision: Jim Crews contacted me and pointed out that they never mentioned Bakersfield Christian High School by name. He asked that I change my letter. I am happy to oblige. Between minute 19 and minute 22 of their video they reference pastors in Bakersfield and then go on to discuss local Christian high schools. I made the assumption they were referencing BCHS because I am not aware of any other Christian high schools in Bakersfield. This was an unfair assumption on my part. I sincerely apologize for making that assumption. There certainly may be Christian high schools I have not heard of in Bakersfield. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 7)

Edwards provides 3 more positive signs to know if a work is a true work of the Spirit. I want to give a brief overview of those 3 positive signs in today's post.

1. "The spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God." Commenting on 1 John 4:6 Edwards rightly establishes that a true work of the Spirit is a work which causes us to love his word more and to gain a clearer understanding of his word. If you see a work of a spirit which is not bringing about a greater hunger for the word of God in Scripture, and a greater illumination of God's word to the mind, then you are not seeing a true work of the Spirit of God. Satan may appear as an angel of light but he never points people to the light of God in the Word. Rather, he leads them to increasing darkness. He confuses their minds and leaves them with strange and novel interpretations of what God has said. Satan started this practice in the Garden and he continues it to this day.

2. "...if by observing the manner of the operation of a spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit." A true work of the Spirit of God leads men away from error into truth. Satan is a deceiver. The Spirit of God is the truth teller. If a work of a spirit is leading us away from the lies of Satan and to the truth, that spirit is the Spirit.

3. "If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God." Edwards draws this mark from the rest of 1 John 4, but particularly from v. 12-13, "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit." Edwards presses us to define love as it is so in 1 John 4. This kind of sacrificial payment of great cost to self for the sake of showing kindness to others is the work of the Spirit of God.

However, Edwards warns us that there is a counterfeit of this love which often appears among those with a spirit of delusion. "Indeed there is a counterfeit love, that often appears among those who are led by a spirit of delusion. There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasts, a kind of union and affection, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and from which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind. This naturally will cause them so much the more to prize those peculiarities that make them the object of others' contempt." Edwards names groups such as the Gnostics, and fanatics like the Quakers. He goes on to argue that true love is marked by humility which arises from an apprehension of the free grace and sovereignty of God's love to us in Christ.

Let me conclude by reminding my brothers and sisters in Christ that we are not cynical, or quenching the Spirit, when we don't believe every spirit. We are being obedient! We are commanded by God to not believe every spirit but to test them, for many false spirits have gone out into the world. I pray we will take the apostle's admonition seriously and test claims of a work of the Spirit. We are commanded to do no less.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 6)

Today we turn to the second positive sign that a work is of the Spirit of God. Edwards said, "when the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan's kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men's worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that it is a true, and not a false spirit."

Working through 1 John 4, Edwards has come to v. 4-5 in which John says, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them." Edwards wants to drive home the point that a true work of the Spirit causes us to overcome worldliness, not to press further into worldliness. He argued that his readers need to understand John's use of "the world" as defined by 1 John 2:15-16.

Edwards rightly argues from his understanding of 1 John that a spirit that is at work "after such a manner, as to lessen men's esteem of the pleasures, profits, and honours of the world, and to take off their hearts from an eager pursuit after these things; and to engage them in a deep concern about a future state and eternal happiness which the gospel reveals--and puts them upon earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and the spirit that convinces them of the dreadfulness of sin, the guilt it brings, and the misery to which it exposes, must needs be the Spirit of God."

As a short summary, we have learned so far that 2 positive marks of a true work of the Spirit are that He causes in us (1) a growing esteem for the biblical Jesus, and (2) a growth in holiness as defined by turning away from worldliness and the vileness of sin unto Christ and his righteousness.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 5)

Today we turn to consider the sure marks and evidences of a work of the Holy Spirit. Edwards used 1 John 4 as his text and confined his marks of a true work to that text. We will consider those marks from 1 John 4 with him. Let me remind you of the command to be cautious and to "test" claims of a work of the Spirit. Let's be careful to remember that we are not quenching the Spirit, nor being cynical, when we are cautious and test claims. Instead we are being obedient to a direct command.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.~1 John 4:1

Mark 1~ "When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God." Edwards points to this mark of a true work of the Spirit from 1 John 4:2-3. When a claimed work of the Spirit of God is such as to "convince them of Christ, and lead them to him--to confirm their minds in the belief of the history of Christ as he appeared in the flesh--and that he is the Son of God, and was sent of God to save sinners; that he is the only Saviour, and that they stand in great need of him; and if he seems to beget in them higher and more honourable thoughts of him than they used to have, and to incline their affections more to him; it is a sure sign that it is a true and right Spirit."

The apostle John is likely rebuking docetists as he writes this in 1 John. Docetists would claim to believe in Jesus. They denied he had an actual physical body. They believed he only appeared to have physicality. Edwards understands properly that John is arguing that a true work of the Spirit leads us to a greater understanding and affection for the true biblical Christ (though he would also be clear to say that the Holy Spirit could point you to the true Christ as he hardens your heart). Edwards points out the false Christ extolled among the Quakers. He is basically arguing the Holy Spirit leads us into a true biblical understanding of Christ, as best expressed historically in the great Christian creeds.  

Here is the nub of this point: If your "experience of the spirit" does not lead you to a truer understanding and affection for the biblical Jesus, as he is faithfully expressed in the Christian creeds, then your experience can't be trusted. The Mormons claimed great experiences of the spirit, including speaking in tongues, emotional experiences, hearing from God, and healings. Satan is capable of of counterfeits. We must not believe every spirit. We must test them. Tomorrow I will turn to more of Edwards' marks of a true work of the Spirit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 4)

As we continue working through Jonathan Edwards' work, I hope to cover negative signs 5-9 today. Please keep in mind Edwards is arguing for the idea that certain phenomena are neither signs the Spirit of God is at work, nor signs he could not be at work. These are what he calls negative signs. We will turn next to signs that are necessarily present if the Holy Spirit is at work.

5. "It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that example is a great means of it. It is surely no argument that an effect is not from God, that means are used in producing it..." Edwards seems to be arguing Christians should not deny an effect in one person because the example of another person was the means used to bring about the effect. If a man is moved to worship by seeing others worship as he hears the word, Edwards argues this man's worship is not necessarily less genuine. On the other hand, this man's worship could be just an attempt to conform or follow a pattern seen in others.

6. "It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that many, who seem to be the subjects of it, are guilty of great imprudences and irregularities in their conduct. We are to consider that the end for which God pours out his Spirit, is to make men holy, and not to make them politicians." Edwards is arguing that the Spirit works among men who are sinners. He is working to make them holy, but they still struggle with sin. If one argues the Spirit can't be present where sin is still great, then one has not read 1 Corinthians. However, the Spirit is not present where there is no repentance and growth in holiness.

7. "Nor are many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work, any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God." It is not only possible but likely Satan will attempt to bring confusion when the Spirit is at work. He will produce counterfeits alongside the true work of the Spirit, so as to confuse God's people. Error and delusions does not necessarily rule out that the Holy Spirit can be at work in the main. Of course, all of this is provided the positive signs of a true work of the Spirit are present.

8. "If some, who were thought to be wrought upon, fall away into gross errors, or scandalous practices, it is no argument that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God." Whenever the Spirit of God is at work in men, there are bound to be men who are phonies. Those men may look like the real deal initially. Their fall is no proof that the work of the Holy Spirit was not working at all. The Spirit of God was at work in the apostles while Judas turned out to be a phony. However, most would have considered Judas the real deal as he cast our demons and followed Christ. The devil always sows tares in among the wheat.

9. "It is no argument that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that it seems to be promoted by ministers insisting very much on the terrors of God's holy law, and that with a great deal of pathos and earnestness." It seems that many were arguing the preachers of the day were stirring up excessively emotional responses by speaking passionately about the terrors of the law and the coming pains of Hell. Edwards can't imagine the idea of coldly and calmly speaking of people going to Hell. He believes the minister's primary job is to preach the gospel. He also believes we must warn people with tears of their coming judgment apart from Christ. He does not believe we can rule out men's responses to this kind of preaching as superficial fear. The Spirit of God could very much be at work. He also may not be.

All 9 of these signs could demonstrate we have strange fire and not a true work of the Spirit of God. However, none of these 9 signs necessitate that the general work occuring is strange fire. So, how do we then judge a whether a work is strange fire or a true work of the Spirit of God? To answer that question we will turn to the positive signs of a true work of the Spirit in our next post


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 3)

In today's post I plan to list in rather short form three of Edwards' negative signs of a true work of the Spirit. Please keep in mind that Edwards is arguing that these signs neither confirm, nor exclude, a true work of the Spirit. They are simply phenomena that may exist in the midst of true work of the Spirit or under a false spirit. This list begins with the second negative sign, as I already covered the first in my last post.

1. "A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tremblings, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength." Edwards speaks of the connection of soul and body. He argues that these effects on the body may be a result of the work of the Spirit. If a man captures a glimpse of the Hell that awaits him, or the glory of God, he may have many of these effects in his body. These also may be outward effects of false religion. One simply cannot judge a false or true spirit based upon these phenomena.

2. "It is no argument that an operation on the minds of people is not the work of the Spirit of God, that it occasions a great deal of noise about religion." Edwards' argument here is that an outward and ostentatious display of religious fervor is not a sign of whether a work is a false or true work of the Spirit. The Pharisees caused no little stir with their false religion. The disciples also caused quite a stir in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

3. "It is no argument that a work is not of the Spirit of God, that some who are the subjects of it have been in a kind of ecstasy, wherein they have been carried beyond themselves, and have had their minds transported into a train of strong and pleasing imaginations, and a kind of visions, as though they were rapt up even to heaven, and there saw glorious sights." Edwards argues that great experiences of the imagination may be present during a work of the Spirit. They also may be present during the work of a false spirit. He particularly believes these may be present among those whose faculty of imagination is "too strong and the other faculties too weak." Those who have less developed intellects and discernment may be subject to their own imaginations. He does not believe their imaginations equate to the visions of the prophets and apostles. But he does believe the imaginations of some can be so overwrought by their sense of the beauty and love of Christ that their imaginations are affected.

I hope tomorrow to cover at least 3 mores negative signs provided by Edwards. I hope these posts are helpful to spur you to think more carefully about the work of God's Spirit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 2)

I am not expert on the study of Jonathan Edwards. I enjoy reading him occasionally. I appreciate his depth of thought upon a subject. I don't always agree with his conclusions. However, I am thankful to God for giving teachers such as him to the church. As a leader in the First Great Awakening in America, Edwards was well situated to think about what is a true work of the Holy Spirit. This is why I have chosen to blog through his work, "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God."

Edwards began his work by following the apostle John in imploring us to not accept every spirit, but to test the spirits. We are positively commanded to examine claims of a work of the Spirit. You are not a skeptic, or quenching the Spirit, if you closely examine a work to see whether it is from God. You are an obedient Christian. Edwards then proceeds to lay out 9 negative signs. These are not signs that a work is from the Holy Spirit. However, many of these works may be true works of the Spirit. Yet, they do not remain as true marks by which we judge a true work of the Holy Spirit.

The first negative sign Edwards points to is a "work that is carried on in a way very unusual and extraordinary." The Spirit can do a work that is unusual and extraordinary. He can do a work different from what we have seen in previous works. He is not limited to only do what he has done. It is important to note though that an unusual and extraordinary work of the Spirit must always comply with the rules of Scripture.

If an unusual and extraordinary work does not violate the rules of the Word, it may be a true work of the Spirit. Edwards expects us to see great outpourings of the Holy Spirit. He expects the Spirit to do great works he has not done in the past. He expects us to be skeptical of the claims of these works being works of the Holy Spirit. But we must be careful here! Edwards is not saying that because you witness an extraordinary and unusual work, which does not violate the rules of Scripture, you are thereby witnessing a true work of the Spirit of God. It is necessary that a true work of the Spirit of God not violate the rule of Scripture. But not violating the rule of Scripture is not sufficient to determine whether something is a true work of the Spirit. The positive marks which distinguish a work of the Spirit of God must also be present.

I will continue to work through the negative signs in my next posts. Let me sum up this post with a few thoughts. First, I agree with Edwards. I believe the Holy Spirit can and may do extraordinary works. I also agree that a work being unusual does not disqualify it from being a true work, so long as it complies with the rules of Scripture. Second, I agree with Edwards that a work not violating the rule of Scripture is not sufficient in determining whether a work is a true work of the Holy Spirit. There are lots of counterfeits in the history of God's people. There are signs which sweetly comply with God's Word but which are performed by false spirits posing as angels of light. We must constantly be reminded of our biblical duty to test the spirits to see whether they are from God for many false prophets have gone into the world. Third, I found John MacArthur's sermon working through Edwards at Strange Fire to miss the mark here. He did a superb job of walking through the positive signs of a work of the Spirit. At the same time, he seemed to dismiss all contemporary and unusual works as false. His argument seemed to border on using their unusual nature as an evidence they are false. I believe this weakened his case. His charismatic listeners likely tuned him out here. He may have won their attention better by structuring the argument in a similar fashion to Edwards. It is also true they still may have tuned him out for doing his biblical duty of testing the spirits.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 1)

Last week I participated in live streaming the Strange Fire conference. Lots of controversy ensued as cessationists made their case. One of the saddest displays, for me personally, was the appearance of Mark Driscoll to hand out books as a kind of publicity stunt. In the midst of it all, I began to get questions from members of my own church about the biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work. I thought it would be interesting to begin discussing this by working through "The Distinguishing Marks of a work of the Spirit of God," by Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards begins his work by pointing out that true works of the Spirit have always been accompanied by counterfeit works. As the Holy Spirit blows, so too do Satan and his emissaries. Therefore, the church needs rules to distinguish between a true work of the Spirit and a counterfeit. Edwards takes us to 1 John 4 as the fullest treatment in the Bible on marks for discerning a true Spirit from a false one.

Edwards begins by pointing out that believers must be on the alert for false spirits. We must not be those who readily admit that every ordinary, or extraordinary, claim of a move of the Holy Spirit is true. We must be ready to examine every such claim against the signs of a true work of the Spirit given to us by the apostle John in 1 John 4.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.--1 John 4:1

We are commanded by the apostle to not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits. We must be on guard against false spirits. False moves of the Spirit claim to be from God. They appear to look like a true Spirit. Those who perform them look like real sheep and real shepherds. However, we are to be on guard and to test. Why are we to test them? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

We live in a day when we are told not to question someone's sincere experience. However, the apostle is clearly commanding us not to believe everyone's experience, not even our own. We must test every spirit against the rule of the Word of God. Everything must be examined according to the Word the Spirit superintended. Reserving a positive judgment on someone's "experience of the Spirit" is not cynicism. It is obedience to the apostle's command. Test the spirits. Test them against the Word.

The apostle lays out several marks of the work of the true Spirit of God. Edwards works through those marks. However, Edwards begins by making a negative case. He begins by demonstrating what are not signs or evidences of a work of the Spirit of God. We will turn to those negative signs in the next post.