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Ten Principles for Christians Interacting with Cultural Moments

I have noticed that some of my friends on social media are concerned that the current cultural moment will create a backlash against central biblical teachings. No doubt some will use this moment to advance their own agendas, but Christians have nothing to fear from any cultural moment that helps us see truth more clearly. Also, we must be careful about impugning motives to people who are taking a stand on matters of social justice and/or siding with women who have been victimized by men, as being a part of some vast left-wing conspiracy to lead Christians into theological liberalism. Although we must be always vigilant for the truth, some of hysteria that I have seen borders on libel. For those who affirm and have not denied the core doctrines of the Christian faith, we should not accuse them of a strategy of subterfuge because we might disagree with their application of biblical truth to a specific situation. We often have a knee-jerk reaction to anything recognized or celebrated by our culture. This is understandable given the fallen world’s general opposition to divine truth. However, just because our culture is recognizing a truth, does not mean that the church must reject that truth. Here are some principles that I believe we should use in evaluating cultural moments in light of divine revelation.

  1. All truth is God’s truth.
  2. Because of general revelation, we should not be surprised to find divine truth reflected in human culture.
  3. This truth is often distorted because of human rebellion against the Creator.
  4. However, there are areas of overlap between biblical truth and truths recognized by our culture.
  5. Scripture is our ultimate authority and will always overrule cultural mores.
  6. However, Christians have sometimes misinterpreted and misapplied Scripture.
  7. Scripture is infallible, but our interpretations and applications of Scripture are fallible.
  8. The majority of American Christians have been tragically wrong on some major issues, eg., Slavery, Civil Rights, and treatment of women.
  9. When cultural moments allow us to recognize and correct our misinterpretations of Scripture, this is not compromise but faithfulness.
  10. These cultural moments are opportunities to reevaluate our interpretations and applications of Scripture, but must never cause us to deny the trustworthiness and sufficiency of Scripture.

The Problem of the Parables

2018-05-14 21.14.20.jpgIn Matthew 13:10-17, in the midst of his parables of the kingdom, Jesus explained something of the purpose of the parables to his disciples. The answer is problematic, however, because it goes against our common assumption that the purpose of the parables was to simplify and clarify. Consider the following:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.”

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

This raises a couple of questions.

Is the Purpose of the Parables to Reveal Truth?
This seems to be one of the most obvious things in the world at first glance. My guess is that if you asked most regular church attenders what the purpose of the parables was, you would hear something like “stories that illustrate truths or principles from Jesus.” And for good reason. The word “parable” actually comes from a compound Greek word παραβολα meaning “to throw alongside.” In other words, a parable is meant to be a story thrown alongside a more abstract idea to illustrate it in familiar terms. Parables are earthly stories illustrating heavenly truths. For example, has ever a better illustration been given of what it means to love one’s neighbor than the story of the Good Samaritan; or, of the forgiving love of the Father than the story of the Prodigal Son?
So the parables exist to reveal, clarify, illustrate truth.

But, if this is the case, why did Jesus have to explain his parables so many times? This leads us to our next question.

Is the Purpose of the Parables to Conceal Truth?
In verse 10, Jesus is asked by his disciples the precise question that we are considering this morning. This what we want to know. “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus’ answer is as pointed as it is shocking. Rather than to reveal his teaching, Jesus says his parables are meant to conceal truth. First, he says, it distinguishes between his disciples and the unbelieving crowd. Verse 11: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” This highlights the necessity of supernatural revelation for us to know divine truth. Divine revelation is necessary because humans naturally do not understand God’s truth. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The scriptures clearly teach human inability to attain any saving knowledge of God apart from an exercise of his grace. For example, in John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The word “can” is a word of ability. While all are invited to come and all “may” (a word of permission) come to Christ, the biblical reality is that no one can apart from God’s gracious drawing of that individual to himself. This fulfills Isaiah 6:9-10 quoted in verses 14-15. We see here the nature of human ability. It is not the lacking of some physical faculty, but a moral inability. They see, but will not see. This means they are morally responsible, because it is not lack of physical ability that hinders them from coming to Christ. This is why Jesus could say in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Their guilt is their own.

This reality of human inability makes divine initiative an absolute necessity if anyone is ever to be saved. Thankfully, God graciously reveals himself to some. To his disciples, Jesus said in verse 11, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” This is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11:25-27.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

These verses highlight the divine prerogative that God has to reveal truth to some and conceal it from others. We don’t understand this fully, but we are committed to believing what Scripture teaches and rejoice that God in his grace has chosen to reveal himself to us. This is exactly what Jesus says we should do (verses 16-17). Marvel at divine grace to you! The doctrine of election is never in Scripture something to be argued over and debated, but something to wonder over in amazement at God’s grace. If we truly understand human sinfulness and rebellion, our question will never be, “Why does God not reveal himself to some?”, but “Why, oh why, has God revealed himself to me?”

The Answer is “Yes.”
So, the answer to the question, “Did Jesus teach in parables to reveal or conceal truth?”, is an unequivocal “Yes!” Jesus taught in parables to illustrate and clarify abstract spiritual truths with physical illustrations with which everyone could identify. However, he did so in such a way that those truths would actually be unclear to those in rebellion against him and clear only to those committed to following him. Though Jesus spoke these parables in public to large crowds, they mostly only heard a good story. They didn’t understand the spiritual meaning. When Jesus was alone with his disciples, he would explain the heavenly meaning. In this way, Jesus made it more difficult for his opponents to have accusations against him, but he also used this method to fulfill his divine prerogative of revealing truth to some and concealing it from others. The same sun that hardens the clay, also melts the wax. In a similar way, the same parables which concealed the truth to some, revealed it to others.

At the end of the day, our response should be gratitude to God for his gracious revelation of himself to us.

Conclusion
The primary response of believers should be gratefulness! We who were spiritually dead and totally unable to come to God have been awakened by divine grace and made to see the glories of Christ to which we have gladly responded in repentance and faith. To God Alone Be the Glory!

This teaching should also lead us to compassion for the lost. That we would weep for them as Jesus did and plead with them to come to Christ (as Jesus did). We should pray to God that the same God who opened our eyes would open their eyes to the gospel. This is their only hope. If we truly believed this, we would be people of prayer!

Finally, we should be grateful that we have in Scripture Christ’s own explanation of many of these parables. These teachings have been preserved for us by the work of the Holy Spirit who inspired biblical writers to record this information. We also have the presence of this very same Holy Spirit in our lives as believers to lead us in our study of Scripture. The Spirit of Christ himself lives within every believer guiding in our understanding of God’s Word. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!

200th Anniversary of Buck Run Baptist Church

Cover of BRBC History

Cover of forthcoming history of Buck Run Baptist Church

On January 31, 1818 (200 years ago today), the “Baptist Church of Christ at Buck Run” was constituted. The initial meeting was held in the home of Isaac Wilson near Buck Run Creek on the Forks of the Elkhorn in Franklin County, Kentucky. Wilson was one of twenty-one charter members of the church. Present at this gathering were some of the most prominent of the Baptist preachers in Kentucky. The pioneer preacher William Hickman was there and served as the moderator for the meeting. Silas Mercer Noel, a Circuit Court Judge turned preacher and one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Frankfort two years earlier) was there and served as the clerk for the meeting. Also present as a charter member was the inimitable John Taylor and his wife, Elizabeth.

Like all Baptist churches of the period, the church was formed with two primary documents—a confession of faith (what they agreed to believe together) and a church covenant (how they agreed to live together). Baptist churches are not formed based on geography or genealogy. In other words, a person does not become a member of a Baptist church simply by living in a certain area or by being born into a particular family. Baptist churches believe in what is called regenerate church membership. This means that only professing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who give credible evidence of that profession are admitted as members. Therefore, the only reason a Baptist church can exist is if a group of believers come together sharing a common set of beliefs (a confession of faith) and an agreement of how these believers are going to dwell together (a church covenant).

Although similar in form and content to other churches’ founding documents, the Buck Run documents were principally authored by the legendary Pioneer Kentucky Baptist preacher John Taylor. The sixty-five-year-old Taylor had by this point been laboring in gospel ministry for forty-five years. He was a well-respected leader among the Baptists who had seen many converted through his preaching and had helped to establish many churches. Taylor would later write that, in the constituting documents adopted by Buck Run, “the creed of my own heart on these subjects, is very [sic.] fully expressed.” He went on to say that these ideas were not a recent revelation to him, but instead reflected his “unwavering opinion from my youth.” In these documents, Taylor declared, one could “see the complexion of my whole soul in theology.” Although he had considered writing an explanation of the beliefs contained in these documents, he said “they stand explicit for themselves.” In these beliefs, Taylor said, “I have lived long, by them I expect to die, which I hope is not far distant.”[1]

Taylor would live another seventeen years to the age of eighty-four years. Those extended latter years were given in service to the Buck Run Church. A contemporary young man whose job it was to ring the court house bell to announce the beginning of preaching services for the various churches in the Frankfort area reminisced of how often he “hammered That old Cort [sic.] house Bell For … old man Tailor [sic.], “the Father of the Buck Run Church.”[2] Clearly, Taylor was recognized as the founding father of Buck Run by those in the community.

To read the church’s founding confession of faith, see here.

If you would like to pre-order a copy of this history, please comment below and I will send you the information on how to secure your copy at the special pre-release price of $25 (it will retail for $40).

[1] John Taylor, A History of Ten Baptist Churches, 2nd ed. (Bloomfield, KY: Will. H. Holmes, 1827), 199-200.

[2] Frances L. S. Dugan and Jacqueline P. Bull, ed., Bluegrass Craftsman: Being the Reminiscences of Ebenezer Hiram Stedman Papermaker, 1808-1815 (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1959), 80.

Articles of Faith of Buck Run Baptist Church (1818)

Article 1

Article 1 of the Buck Run Confession (1818)

On January 31, 1818, the Buck Run Baptist Church on the Forks of the Elkhorn in Franklin County, Kentucky, was constituted with twenty-one members. Like all Baptist churches of the period, the church was formed with two documents—a confession of faith (what they agreed to believe together) and a church covenant (how they agreed to live together). These documents were principally authored by the legendary Pioneer Kentucky Baptist preacher John Taylor, who was called by a contemporary “the Father of the Buck Run Church.” Taylor said that in these eight articles “the creed of [his] own heart on these matters is fully expressed.”

The confession as it appears in Buck Run’s Minute Book reads:

1st There is but one true and living God – the maker and preserver of all created things, visible and invisible; and that in this adorable Godhead there are three personal relations, a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And these three are one – equal in glory, dignity, eternity, and power. Though, as to the true humanity of Jesus Christ, He is often spoken of in the New Testament as inferior to the Father.

2nd That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as stated in their canonical books, is the uniform doctrine of faith; and that this sacred volume is the only infallible rule of all our faith and practice.

3rd That by the disobedience of the first Adam, all his posterity became guilty, and sinful in every part; and helpless as to any aid they can give, in the great work of converting their own souls.

4th That according to God’s foreknowledge, previous to time, he did predestinate his people to life, and they being chosen in Christ before the world began, He did as our second Adam, the Lord from heaven, assume their nature, yet without sin when he became incarnate, and by his obedience and atoning sacrifice brought in everlasting righteousness for the rebellious and where said blessed merit is imputed or applied to them, they are thereby justified before God and being efficaciously called by his grace shall finally persevere therein to eternal happiness and glory.

5th Since the day of the Apostles, there is no higher ecclesiastical authority on earth than the congregated worshiping church of Christ being God’s heritage here below, there [sp.] right is to govern themselves by their own voices, select their own officers as Bishops and Deacons, who are their servants for Christ’s sake. So that no conclave of bishops or any counsel [sp.] appointed by themselves or even their own officers have a right to lord it over the church.

6th That as it is appointed for men once to die so there shall be a resurrection of the just and unjust on which awful day Jesus Christ will judge all men in righteousness; when the wicked shall go into everlasting punishment and the righteous into life eternal.

7th We consider baptism valid only by profession of faith and immersing the whole body under water.

8th We most seriously consider the preaching of repentance, and the invitations of the gospel to all characters of men to be one of the most interesting subjects of the gospel ministry, and that they who persecute, neglect or disobey, the gospel more highly aggravate their own guilt.

Indian Creek Baptist Church, Cynthiana, Kentucky (Audio included)

received_2102075659817998.jpegIn the year 1790, the Indian Creek Baptist Church (Harrison County) was founded. They applied for membership to the Elkhorn Baptist Association the same year. They would remain in the Elkhorn Association until 1813 when they were founding members of the Union Association of Baptists. They were founded by Augustine Eastin, a man who later became a Unitarian under the influence of a governor of Kentucky who was a member of the Cowper Run Baptist Church where Eastin pastored.

2017-10-15 10.22.37.jpg

The church claims to have the longest run of continuous worship west of the Alleghenies. Indian Creek as experienced a revitalization in the last fifteen years or so through the ministry of Pastor Tom Moore. I was privileged to speak this past Sunday at their annual
Legacy Celebration. The theme this year was Kentucky Baptist history. I delivered two lectures/sermons for the event. I was asked to speak on Kentucky Baptist history, but it was in the context of a local church worship, so I tried to combine both. Below are links to the audio of the attempts.

  1. “The First Kentucky Baptists”
  2. “The Great Revival”

You should be able to download the MP3s.

 

New Edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life

TTTH-Front-Cover1FP-300x450A little over a month ago, a new edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life was released by Founders Press. The book by Baptist historian Tom Nettles was originally released by Calvary Press in 1998. This first edition was instrumental in my own education about Baptists’ use of catechism historically. I could never have guessed when I first read this book that I would be involved in a future edition of it.

Due to my doctoral work on Hercules Collins under Dr. Nettles, he invited me to contribute material on Collins’ Orthodox Catechism to the new edition. My contribution was to provide a complete, edited transcription of the catechism and a substantial chapter-length historical introduction to the work. This amounts to 75 pages of the 328 page work.

The book is available for order directly from Founders Press.

Below is my expression of appreciation to Dr. Tom Nettles (He insists that I call him Tom, but I struggle to do so.) from the Foreword:

I would first like to express my appreciation to Tom Nettles for including me with him in the second edition of this important volume. I must confess that I share Tom’s love for catechisms, largely due to his influence on my life. In fact, like for so many others, it was when I read the first edition of this volume that I became convinced of the importance of catechisms in Baptist life. Therefore, it is a distinct honor to have had the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies under the primary author of this volume and now to contribute in a small way to this second edition. My prayer is that this new edition will lead to the continued recovery of the use of catechisms in Baptist life today.

I appreciate the following endorsements of the work from men who I greatly respect.

“As this superb collection shows, Baptists have made ample use of catechisms throughout their history, and they still have practical value for building up God’s people today. I welcome this volume and cheer it on!”

Timothy George
Founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University
and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture

“Tom Nettles’ Teaching Truth, Training Hearts is a helpful introduction to the rich tradition of Baptist catechisms. All who desire to better know their faith, and to more effectively pass it on to the next generation, will benefit immensely from this book.”

Jason K. Allen
President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & College

“Passing sound theology from one generation to the next is a matter of vital importance for developing strong Christians. The time-tested use of catechisms has been proven to be a most effective tool for this safe transfer. Here is a collection of ‘the best of the best’ Baptist catechisms that have shown themselves to be an invaluable teaching aid in instructing both children and adults, new believers and seasoned disciples alike. This book is a treasure house of Bible doctrine that will benefit all who plunge into its concise statements of core scriptural truths.”

Steven J. Lawson
President, OnePassion Ministries

Seventeenth-Century English Baptists on the Incarnation

The Second London Confession of Faith was issued, in part, to set the record straight with the general public that Thomas Collier’s heterodox views on the Trinity and the eternality of Christ’s human nature did not represent the Particular Baptist community as a whole. The latter is addressed in the confession’s strong statement on the full divinity and humanity of Christ united in his one person.

The Son of God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Fathers glory, of one substance and equal with him: who made the World, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made: did when the fullness of time was come take unto him mans nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a Woman, of the Tribe of Judah, of the Seed of Abraham, and David according to the Scriptures: So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, were inseparably joined together in one Person: without conversion, composition, or confusion: which Person is very God, and very Man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and Man.

Contra Collier’s position on the eternality of Christ’s human nature, the confession asserts that Christ “did when the fullness of time was come take unto him mans nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.” The human nature was assumed at the incarnation and did not exist prior to this point in human history. At this point, the framers of the Second London Confession were following the wording found in the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration. Just after this section, however, the Second London adapts language from the First London Confession not included in either of these historic Protestant confessions. This wording further emphasized the full humanity assumed by the second person of the Trinity at Bethlehem. They added: “the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a Woman, of the Tribe of Judah, of the Seed of Abraham, and David according to the Scriptures.” This issue was important because these Baptists believed that the same human nature possessed by Eve, Judah, Abraham, and David was shared by the Christ. Only in this way could the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s coming be fulfilled.