Archives for June 2007

on the FBF and illegal aliens

I am a member and enthusiastic supporter of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. I am pleased with the direction it is taking and was especially pleased recently by the inclusion of Clarence Sexton as one of the speakers at the annual meeting just a few weeks ago, despite the criticism of naysayers [see my comments in the comments section there].

Having said that, let me offer a criticism of one of the 2007 resolutions as published at the FBF website here. The resolution concerns illegal aliens. I think the general meaning of the resolution is correct, but that the resolution doesn’t go far enough. Here is the resolution in question:

Resolution 07-02: Concerning Ministry to Illegal Immigrants.

Recognizing the New Testament church’s obligation to win and disciple the world, the FBFI acknowledges the responsibility of fundamental Baptist churches to reach the growing number of immigrants in our communities regardless of their legal status. We urge churches to avoid making legal status, in any way, a condition of evangelism. But we also urge churches to practice and teach submission to human governmental authority as an essential aspect of Christian growth. Churches should act consistently in the matter, not treating the legal status of an immigrant differently from other issues of equivalent moral and spiritual import in the lives of church members. We recognize the autonomy of each local church to implement these principles in harmony with its own understanding and application of church polity.

The problem I have with this resolution is the last sentence. Yes, local churches are autonomous, but we as believers ought to call our autonomous brethren into account concerning their obedience to Scripture.

I am especially concerned with ‘Spanish’ churches who claim to be fundamentalist but at the same time knowingly use illegal aliens in any capacity of ministry. Do they ever preach Romans 13? What about 1 Peter 2? Should illegal aliens serve as deacons in any local church? Should they teach Sunday School? Should they serve in any capacity or even be admitted to membership?

There are all kinds of stories offered concerning the hardship that individuals experience in their home countries. I appreciate the difficulty people have in some countries, but these stories of hardship are meant to justify lawbreaking. The solution to problems for believers can’t be to simply flout the laws of more prosperous countries. The excuses of illegal aliens are not persuasive. I recall a chapel speaker many years ago uttering the line, ‘an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.’

I say this as the descendant of immigrants, as a friend of immigrants, and in particular as a friend and former pastor to some whom I know are persisting as illegal aliens in the USA. I have counseled my friends to get themselves legal. I am told that I don’t know the ‘prejudice’ in the system, that the cost is very high, etc, etc. I really can’t buy that argument. It is right to do right and we ought to do it.

And the so-called Fundamental Baptist churches that tolerate illegal aliens need to read their Bibles and submit to the Word of God. They should encourage converts to get legal, whatever the cost, or go home and serve God there. Excuse making needs to come to an end.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the Sword & Trowel

Did you know that the Sword & Trowel still exists? The S & T was Spurgeon’s magazine. During his ministry it enjoyed a wide circulation. The magazine declined on his passing and went out of publication for a time, I believe. The current pastor of the venerable Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon’s former church, Dr. Peter Masters, revived the magazine some time back. It is now published four times a year and includes a book with each issue.

I thought of subscribing for some time and finally took the plunge this year. Just last week, my first copy arrived, S & T 2007, No. 1. On the cover is a picture of the first issue in 1865. The book included is a publication of The Suffering Letters of C. H. Spurgeon. The letters are some Spurgeon wrote to his congregation at various points during his ministry, especially when he was kept away from the pulpit by sickness or some other suffering.

The magazine contains four articles, two by Peter Masters and two by others. It also contains reports from various mission works around the world. Apparently, these are the work of men supported by the Tabernacle. Masters’ first article is “The Christian’s Personal Struggle”, ‘a simplified view of Romans 6 to 8, showing how to overcome trial and temptation’.

I thought I might share some of Masters’ observations with you. Some of what he says is quite familiar, but he makes some suggestions concerning the passage that are quite profound, especially in light of the series I am working on concerning Legalism and Christian standards.

One thing that Masters’ points out is something he calls ‘getting the scale right’. When we think of Rm 6.1, [What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?] we typically have in mind ‘big’ sins. Masters says we have the scale wrong:

The key to understanding these words is to get the scale right. Some Christians think that Paul has in mind people who commit scandalous sins without care or conscience, presuming on the grace of God to pardon them. This idea, howver, has the scale all wrong, because Paul is writing to typical Christians who would not dream of murdering anyone, living adulterous lives, or stealing. Paul surely has in mind the higher standards required of Christians, saying, ‘Shall we be casual about holiness, and rest on the fact that grace will save us anyway?’

The challenge is necessary, because believers are frequently much too relaxed about holy living. We tend to lower our guard, allowing ourselves to give way to ‘lesser’ sins, such as a little covetousness, or a small measure of selfishness, or a spot of peevishness, or a moment of pride, or spasmodic skipping of devotions. Moods and tempers (though, of course, not too extreme in scale) are allowed to go unbridled, and perhaps ‘white lies’ and exaggerations also, or fragments of unkind, harmful gossip, and many other slithers and scraps of pre-conversion life.

Masters talks about scale again when he comments on 7.14 where Paul says ‘I am carnal, sold under sin.’:

As with chapter six, the key to the passage is to get the scale right, because Paul is not thinking about sins such as murder, adultery or extreme uncleanness. He has in mind the standards of the Christian life, where the aim is much higher. He requires in himself complete honesty, total unselfishness, the absence of pride or self-consideration, unlimited kindness, abounding love for God, and complete, unwavering trust in Him in all circumstances.

Have you ever thought of these passages this way? I have to confess that I have always thought of them as referring to the major sorts of sins, but I think that Dr. Masters is correct in saying that Paul primarily has in view the deeper Christian understanding of sin in these passages. By deeper Christian understanding, I mean that as we go along in our Christian life, we grow in our understanding of the pervasiveness of sin in us and how much we offend God with those things the world may dismiss as ‘little’ sins or, more probably, not sins at all. Pride, ambition, covetousness and the like are often seen by the world as virtues, not vices. When we consider Christian standards, we need to have a deeper understanding of sin in our minds as we set standards for ourselves. The world builds fences for itself to keep it from what it considers to be sin – not much, but of course all agree that murder is wrong, etc. The Christian realizes sin is much deeper than that and must build fences to keep himself as much as possible from the life that dishonours God.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on smart aleck kids

During our prayer request time at church this evening, mention was made of my son Rory having his wisdom teeth taken out yesterday. He is quite the chipmunk these days! I remarked that I still have three of my wisdom teeth, so I must be much wiser than him.

Rory quickly responded, “Yes, but I am hole-ier than you.”

I thought that was a pretty good come back.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the impact of the apostles

I picked up a book in 1991 edited by E. G. Selwyn. I recall discovering it when looking for a commentary on 1 Peter by the same man. I don’t think I ever found the commentary, but I found this little book: A Short History of Christian Thought. The book is a collection of eight essays on the development of doctrine through the ages. Selwyn was Dean of Winchester, an Anglican clergyman. The author of the first essay was Gregory Dix, a man who had significant influence on Anglican liturgy and appears to have been a very high-church Anglican. As such his views are somewhat suspect, but his reputation as a scholar is high.

Gregory Dix’ essay is entitled “The First Four Centuries: Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity”. In the second paragraph he makes this interesting observation:

The decade AD 30-40 saw the public proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as ‘Messiah’ within the Semitic world of Syrian Judaism. The next found the infant Church embarked on the much greater audacity of a direct assault upon the dominant Hellenistic culture of the pagan Roman Empire. By AD 50 Christian propaganda among the Gentiles was becoming organized and deliberate, and in some circles was already spreading fast. By AD 65 the imperial government of the strongest police-state the world had known was finding itself impotent to put a stop to it, even in the capital, either by spasmodic violence or the steady pressure of prohibitory laws. … After AD 70 the direction of Christian expansion lies, apart from the Far East, overwhelmingly among the Gentiles. But it is a cardinal fact for the whole future history of Christian thought that this virtual transference of Christianity from its original Judaic matrix into the Greco-Roman world was a swift and sudden thing, the astonishing achievement of the first — the single ‘Apostolic’ Christian generation.

[A Short History of Christian Thought, p. 15. Bold emphasis mine.]

The thing that struck me from this observation is how striking the sudden advance into the Gentile world was. Is there any other religious development in history that really can parallel with this peaceful conquest? Isn’t it amazing that a group of 12 frightened men at the Crucifixion had expanded to a body of churches from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond in only 35 years?

When Revelation describes the foundation of the heavenly city as comprised of twelve stones on which is inscribed the names of the apostles, it is a fitting tribute. These men were God’s ROCKS on which the entire church is built. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Lord for his gifts of the apostles. Praise the Lord for his grace to us who would be in darkness had the apostles not gone forth to establish Christ’s church.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on Law, Legalism, and Life

I began a new series of sermons last week. Our subject is prompted by a paper by David Hesselgrave, available on Bob Bixby’s site, Pensees. Hesselgrave’s article, “CONVERSING WITH GEN-XERS AND MILLENIALS CONCERNING LAW AND GRACE, LEGALISM AND LIBERTY” was prompted by the queries of two young people concerning the imposition of a ‘code of conduct’ by Christian colleges.

The article is excellent, though of course I have a few small quibbles at a couple of points. I decided to use it as an outline for a series of sermons on the subject of Christians and establishing codes of conduct, especially by local churches.

The first message came last week, 6/17/07, Christian Standards: an historical appreciation. The main idea of this message is that Bible believing Christians from the very first ages of the church until now have always maintained a stance of aggressive separation from the world. The notion that you can be an orthodox Christian while lowering your standards of conduct to match the standards of the world is an innovation. I advanced this proposition as the direction churches ought to take in their pursuit of a pure Christian testimony: ‘Christian churches stand against the tide of advancing evil by emphasizing personal purity as a mark of faithful Christianity.’

Our second message in the series was yesterday, 6/24/07, The Gospel of Grace: do Christian standards rob the Gospel of grace?. One of the accusations of modern antinomians is that those who promote Christian standards actually rob the gospel of grace, making Christianity works-oriented and man-centered. I pointed out that both salvation and sanctification involve God’s grace. I used Hesselgrave’s definitions of various forms of legalism, including something he suggests as a kind of ‘positive’ legalism. The categories are ‘salvation-by-works’ legalism, ‘excessive-conformity’ legalism (basically Pharisaism), and something Hesselgrave calls ‘reactive nomism’, i.e., a positive response to God and God’s laws because of gratitude for God’s grace. I call this third category ‘personal devotion’ to get to a less awkward and more descriptive term. The point of this message is: ‘My reaction to the gospel involves devotion to the grace God has given me for my personal sanctification.’

I hope to continue to develop these messages through the next few weeks. Next Sunday we will be expanding on God’s viewpoint of the three types of responses to God’s law.

Our afternoon services continue to feature the preaching of my 19 year old preacher boy. Rory is working on a series on the Love of God from 1 John. On 6/17/07, he preached ‘Responsive Love’ on the idea that we should respond to God’s love since God first loved us. Yesterday, he preached ‘Directed Love’ on the idea that our love for God is only seen when it is directed towards others. Rory is working hard on these messages and is developing into a fine preacher.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the best choice of a bad lot?

Fred Thompson appears set to announce his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States of America. While not an American citizen, I am married to one and happen to be the father of five of them. As a Canadian, the politics of the United States are very important to us. One of our former prime ministers (not one of my favorites) described our nervous relationship with the USA as ‘like being in bed with an elephant … its fine as long as the elephant doesn’t roll over’.

Of the Republican candidates for president Fred Thompson has a lot of attractive qualities. He seems to best embody the political principles that I believe in. But today I ran across an article that didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Thompson is a lawyer [I suppose that by itself is not a disqualification…] who also has been involved in various Hollywood productions as an actor. The article, “Old girlfriends cast their vote for Thompson” comes from the Sunday Times, a product of the Times of London, I think. Thompson’s marital history is the subject of the article, including interviews with several girlfriends from his days between his divorce of his first wife (after 26 years) and his marriage to his second wife, a woman 24 years his junior.

One of his former girlfriends, Georgette Mosbacher, a Republican fundraiser, had this comment on Thompson’s character:

“It says a lot about his character that his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends think he is fabulous,” said Mosbacher. “Character is important in a president.”

Womanizing is a sign of character if all your former women think you are fabulous?

What are we to do? Every one of the other major Republican candidates have major problems for Christians to give their support. Giuliani is far to the left on too many social issues. Romney is a Mormon. McCain is McCain, an unprincipled maverick who masquerades as a conservative but is really driven by self rather than ideology. Thompson, on the other hand has generally espoused conservative political philosophies during his previous time in office (though his record is not as strong as one might like). Are his marital issues a deal-breaker for Christians?

This particular story seems to fit the strategy of getting the bad news out early so the public can get used to it by the time voting day comes. We are about to be manipulated once again.

I am afraid that the coming election will be one of those ‘hold your nose and vote’ situations for conservative Christians. There are no really great candidates out there, but there are some truly awful ones. Christian voters may be voting against several bad choices in order to select the lesser of evils.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on goin’ to camp, gonna have a ball

Tomorrow begins our annual trek to Family Camp in scenic and microscopic Winthrop, WA. We have four families from our church set to enjoy camp this year. The weather man says it will be warm across the mountains…

And blogging will be basically nonexistent, unless I can get some in before we leave…

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the celestial railroad

Last week at Mount Calvary Baptist Church a dramatic reading was presented of Nathanial Hawthorn’s Celestial Railroad. Hawthorn wrote the short piece as an allegory for the creeping modernism of his day in keeping with John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The text for Hawthorn’s allegory is available here (I think in its entirety – it is also available at several other sites). It is well worth reading. I recommend listening to the reading of it at Mount Calvary as well, although you will have to pay for the download.

We live in a day of easy religion that was rushing ahead in Hawthorn’s day as well. Our young fundamentalist friends are asking the same questions that so many asked in Hawthorn’s day, in the days of the Graham compromise, in the seventies of my youth, and now again today. Must the way be so narrow? Must we be so strict and exacting in our religion?

Well… yes.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps 116.15)

I am in the process of digitizing our old messages recorded on audio tape. Today I came across our Christmas program from 2002. We have used an arrangement of Christmas carols interspersed with a reading of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke several times over the years. On this particular occasion, we asked one of our dearest members, an elderly gentleman named Wally Russell, to be our reader for the evening. At the time he was 88 years old.

Wally Russell came into our ministry when he was 75. Within a few days following the passing of his wife, he received a mailing from us inviting folks to come ‘check us out’. Wally visited our services the next Sunday and one of our men followed up with a visit to his home. In that visit, Wally came to understand his need for a Saviour and trusted Christ to save him from his sins. He would often testify of his gratitude to the Lord for ‘turning me around 180 degrees’.

Wally passed away last year at the age of 92. He is now in the presence of his Lord and Saviour. As I listened to his voice in the recording, I thought of the fact that the words Wally read that Sunday in 2002 are a brilliant reality for him now. He is in the presence of the Lord who came to the earth to save him. No doubt he has seen many of the angels and has grown spiritually far more than he ever could on this earth. What a blessing it is for our brother to be in heaven, and how we long to know what he now knows.

Wally’s voice stumbled a few times in the reading that night. Time on earth was taking its toll. But the moment his spirit slipped out of its earthly bounds, everything was made whole.

This is the chief delight in the ministry – witnessing the spiritual birth, growth, and translation to glory of the lives of the Lord’s saints.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on marking an anniversary

Sunday happened to be the 24th anniversary of my wife’s wedding (mine too!) We marked the occasion with a special day at church oriented around the theme of Christian marriage from three perspectives. Here is how it all came about…

A couple of months ago, a fellow from the Baptist College of Ministry contacted me about visiting our church on his honeymoon. In our correspondence, he offered to serve in any way he could in our ministry. At first, I thought to just have him relax and enjoy the fellowship with our church on his visit, but then I noticed that the Sunday he would be here would be our anniversary… and the wheels started turning in my head. What about making the day an emphasis on Christian marriage from different perspectives? And so we did.

I preached on Mk 10.6-12, the Lord’s answer to the Pharisees concerning the permanence of marriage. My title was Marriage – A Supernatural Work. I elaborated on the theme of my recent post on the subject. Working on this proposition, ‘Marriage is a supernatural work of God, creating a new union between two people that is intended to be a life-long relationship.’ I discussed God’s involvement in marriage, where God supernaturally makes two individuals one married couple, then man’s abuse of marriage, where men violate God’s creation by sinning against the union God created, and the Christian’s commitment to marriage, which, though understanding the divine perspective of marriage might cause one to fear, still proceeds in faith, committed to God’s ideal and availing of the grace of God to live out Christ’s ideal – permanent, indissoluble, supernatural union by the work of God.

My son, Rory, preached “Single Focus”, from 1 Cor 7.24-35 concerning the focus a single Christian should have towards marriage. That is, don’t be so in love with the idea of marriage that you are distracted from what ought to be your focus in life, married or unmarried, living and serving with the will of God as your priority in life.

Last, bro. Thomas Overmiller brought us a message from Gen 2.16-18, Marriage is for Ministry. First there is a ministry of wife to husband and husband to wife, and a ministry to children who may come, and a ministry to and through the local church. In other words, marriage is not about self, but about serving.

It was another great day in the Lord’s house. We had a number of visitors, including a former member who returned for this particular day having heard what the topic of the day would be. We pray that the Lord would work in hearts and continue to build his church.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3