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Why Freedom of Religion Matters; or, Why a Christian with Half a Brain Would Support Religious Freedom

Religious liberty is a rare thing in the history of the world. Much of the world today does not experience it and most in the history of the world have not lived under it. The reason for this is that when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in AD 312, he enacted a series of laws that granted first toleration, and then special privileges to Christianity. As a result, during the Middle Ages, Church and state were married together in a way that would prove unhelpful. The State now had the authority to punish heretics. As a result, those who differed with the official state religion were persecuted. When the Protestant Reformation took place, it was for the most part a replacement of the Roman Catholic Church with other state churches. Church and state were still joined together. Thus, the state church would still persecute those who differed from the official religion.

Seventeenth-Century English Baptists and Religious Liberty

Seventeenth-century English Baptists commitment to religious liberty was closely related to their understanding of the definition of the church as a body of baptized believers. As Baptist historian Thomas J. Nettles has observed, this commitment to religious liberty flowed from their prior commitment to a regenerate church, as opposed to a national one. “The doctrine of believers’ baptism coincident with the doctrine of regenerate church membership necessitates a doctrine of religious liberty with its attendant truths.” It is no coincidence, then, that the seventeenth-century English Baptist pastor Hercules Collins’ clearest call for religious liberty is found in Some Reasons for Separation From the Communion of the Church of England, the work in which he most strongly argued for regenerate church membership.

Baptists’ defense of religious liberty has historically been linked to their concept of a regenerate church membership, since this necessitates a separation of church and state. In the early seventeenth century, men such as John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, John Murton, and Roger Williams had been advocates for religious liberty. Collins was not afraid to identify himself with their pleas for religious liberty. In the imaginary dialogue between a conformist and nonconformist in Some Reasons for Separation, Collins places himself clearly in the Smyth–Helwys–Murton–Williams continuum by citing some of the same sources first used in 1621 by John Murton in A Most Humble Supplication of Many the Kings Majesties Loyall Subjects. These quotes were later repeated by Roger Williams in his defense of Murton against the New England Puritan John Cotton in the classic 1644 work on religious liberty, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Collins, however, offered his own concise summary of the issue at stake by asserting, “That none should be compelled to worship God by a temporal Sword, but such as come willingly, and none can worship God to acceptance but such.” Collins believed that, although dissenting churches may not have been in submission to the law of England, they were to the law of Christ, and this is what mattered for it was more important to obey God than , citing Acts 5.

Christ hath given full power to his Church, as such to Preach the Gospel publickly, administer Ordinances, and to officiate in other Matters, relating to their Meeting in God’s Worship; which, if we should decline at the Command of Men, this would be to regard men more than Christ, which we dare not do. Is it better to obey God or man, judg ye? Were the sayings of two Worthy of old, Act. 5.

For the principle of religious liberty, which preserved the ability of freedom to worship God as conscientiously convinced by Scripture, Baptists like Hercules Collins were willing to risk their freedom, and even their lives. Collins, was in fact, soon arrested and imprisoned after publishing this book.

Religious Liberty in America

Baptists have historically defended the principle of religious liberty. Since Baptists have always believed in churches made up only of professing, baptized believers, they have always rejected the idea of a state church union which results in a church composed of all citizens. In the sixteenth century, the European Anabaptists opposed the use of the sword to mandate matters of the conscience. Seventeenth-century proto-Baptists such as Thomas Helwys (in England)  and Roger Williams (in Colonial America) spoke directly to the governing authorities appealing for religious liberty. Baptists have always stood on the side of religious liberty for all. In fact, it was a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT, concerned about the infringement of the newly formed federal government upon the consciences of American citizens, to whom Thomas Jefferson responded in a letter with the famous expression of “separation of church and state” that has become such an important part of the American discussion concerning religious liberty. This expression was a summary of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This is what the New England Baptist, Isaac Backus, had argued for in 1781.

As religion must always be a matter between God and individuals, no man can be made a member of a truly religious society by force or without his own consent, neither can any corporation that is not a religious society have a just right to govern in religious affairs.

Why Religious Liberty Matters

We believe in religious liberty for all. Is it because we think all religions are equally true? Or that there is no true religion? No, it’s because we don’t believe that government has the right to arbitrate people’s religious beliefs. Only God is over the human conscience, therefore we reject any human attempt to usurp God’s authority.

Sometimes, Christians don’t think clearly about these issues. This is why sometimes you will see Christians opposing Muslims building mosques or atheists from having public groups. Ironically, when Christians oppose the religious liberty of those who differ with them, they are laying the groundwork for their own demise.

Historically, Baptists have understood that a government that can outlaw Islam or atheism today, can outlaw Christianity tomorrow. Baptists have historically argued for the religious liberty of all people. As a group that was persecuted in their early days, Baptists have consistently argued for four hundred years that the civil government does not have authority over the consciences of citizens. Baptists have recognized that we either have religious liberty for all or not at all. If the government can take someone else’s freedom today, they can take yours tomorrow. Below is a list of quotes evidencing Baptists’ historic commitment to religious liberty. These could be multiplied many times over. The unique thing about the quotations below is not their advocacy of religious liberty for all, but that they specifically identify Muslims, Jews, heretics, and pagans specifically as deserving freedom to practice their religion. (Note: “Turks” and “Turkish” was used as an identifier of Muslims.)

“For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612)

“It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries.” Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644)

[Roger Williams also cited in a positive fashion that Oliver Cromwell once maintained in a public discussion “with much Christian zeal and affection for his own conscience that he had rather that Mahumetanism [i.e. Mohammedanism or Islam] were permitted amongst us, than that one of God’s Children should be persecuted.”]

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” John Leland, “The Virginia Chronicle” (1790)

We don’t solicit the government to help us with evangelism by outlawing other expressions of religious belief. Instead, we must be about the task of personal evangelism. We appeal not to force, but to the heart and mind of the individual. We don’t believe that you can be forced to be a Christian. Instead, we believe that if we have a free society in which the free exchange of ideas is allowed, the truth will prevail. If we believe the truth is on our side, there is no cause for Christians to be afraid of the free exchange of ideas that religious liberty provides.

Reflections on an Inauguration by an American, a Christian, and a Minister of the Gospel

I watch the Presidential Inauguration with my family every four years. I have voted for President 8 times in my life and the candidate I voted for has won only twice. However, as an American citizen, I celebrate the pageantries of democracy. The constitutionally-mandated transfer of power is part of our shared civics and transcends politics. This is a tradition to be preserved and celebrated. With each President’s inauguration there are both hopes and fears for many Americans. Let us pray and work for peace and civility. Let us work and pray for truth and justice. Let us work and pray for righteousness and morality.

As an American and a Christian, I am a citizen of two kingdoms. My citizenship of the kingdom of heaven transcends my citizenship to any earthly kingdom. Nevertheless, my American citizenship is real and cherished. The key is to never confuse or conflate my citizenship in the two kingdoms. I believe I can be the best citizen of the United States by recognizing that my citizenship is ultimately in heaven. My heavenly citizenship requires that I be subject to earthly powers, except when they cause me to disobey God, my ultimate authority.

As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ alone and call for faith and repentance for entrance into the kingdom of God. Therefore, I pray for continued freedom and liberty to do that. This freedom is for all peoples, regardless of beliefs or no belief. The gospel remains the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

As a Christian, my primary responsibility is to share the gospel of Christ. However, I am also called to live out that gospel in works of faith and love. I am also called to work for the good of my neighbors, fellow-citizens, nation, and world.

Please pray for President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as they take their oaths of office in a ceremony at noon today. Here is how we are commanded in Scripture to pray for our leaders:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

In other words, pray for our leaders, pray for our ability to live out our faith peaceably, pray for the spiritual well-being of our leaders, and pray for the salvation of all peoples in conformity to God’s desire.

A Sad Chapter in the History of Evangelicalism in America

In a recent post on Facebook and Twitter I mentioned that this chapter in the history of evangelicalism in American will not be pretty. Here’s a preview of how that chapter will likely be written in years to come:
  • In January of 2016, Jerry Falwell, Jr. endorses Trump and promises to deliver Evangelicals for him in January in exchange for Trump’s lawyer helping cover up the issue with the “pool boy.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-politics-falwell-exclusive/exclusive-trump-fixer-cohen-says-he-helped-falwell-handle-racy-photos-idUSKCN1SD2JG
  • More details of this ^ have come out today in this story (which I am frankly ashamed even to share the link to). https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-falwell-relationship/
  • In June of 2016, Falwell introduces Trump to a group of 1,000 Evangelical/Conservative leaders. Read the story about the event now (especially Falwell’s comments) in light of what we have learned about the basis of this endorsement. https://time.com/4375975/donald-trump-evangelical-conservative-leaders-meeting/
  • Trump, of course, goes on to win the nomination and eventually the presidency buoyed by the Evangelical vote.
  • Trump continues to receive cover from same Evangelical leaders amidst all manner of corruption and failures in leadership (while occasionally throwing bones to Evangelicals for their continued support).
  • Trump is endorsed and supported by Evangelical leaders for a second term with some leaders saying things like you aren’t a true Christian if you don’t vote for Trump or all true Christians will vote for Trump.
  • Pastors who don’t wholeheartedly endorse Trump or allow for the Christian conscience to be shaped differently in the upcoming election are accused of being Marxists, socialists, liberals, lack courage (BTW, you’re crazy if you don’t think this takes courage to say. BTW2, this is what many African-American Christians have dealt with for decades and it is pathetic that they have been treated as sub-par Christians by the wider white evangelical world because many of them vote differently for what should be completely understandable reasons.).
This isn’t about politics for me. I am non-partisan and a registered Independent. I love and minister to both Republicans and Democrats and have dear friends in each group. But I am devastated for the witness of Christ’s church. The watching world sees and understands all of the above while many in the church remain blind to it. I am not trying to provide cover for Biden or the Democratic party. There are major problems with them also from a Christian perspective. But contrary to popular opinion, most Christians are not being tempted to endorse Biden as the only Christian choice. That is being said about Trump. My job as a Christian pastor is to courageously tell the church what they need to hear. The Prophet Isaiah was told by God to “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1). Peter said, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God:” (1 Peter 4:17). God have mercy on us for being so easily played!
I truly respect those who are moved by their consciences informed by Scripture to vote for the Republican nominee because they genuinely believe his policies are best for America, especially those who sincerely have the goal of protecting the lives of the unborn. But I also respect those who see the immense moral problems with this President and choose to vote a different way. And I respect those who don’t believe the presidency has much impact on the issue of abortion anyway, but has tremendous impact in other areas that impact people’s lives everyday and they are compelled by their Christian conviction to vote differently.
Please don’t tell me that you can read the above history and not at least admit that this upcoming presidential election is complicated for Christians. (Factor in the way that race has been used in politics and it becomes exponentially more complicated. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is certainly not blessed in this case.)
Please don’t tell me (or others) that I’m not a faithful pastor for not telling people they must vote for a particular candidate in this election. I believe that I am actually being a faithful pastor by preaching God’s Word verse-by-verse and helping people to think from a biblical worldview, not by legalistically binding their conscience.
Please don’t tell me (or others) that all true Christians will vote for a particular candidate.
Please don’t tell me (or others) that courage is only standing for what your crowd wants you to say. Trust me, “my crowd,” doesn’t want to hear this. It takes courage everytime I post about politics in a non-partisan way and certainly whenever I post about race. Everytime there is backlash, which is deeply disturbing because of what it reveals about the idols of the hearts of some. I am deeply grieved, sad, disappointed, angry, and, honestly, sick to my stomach over this.
Wake up, “sheeple” (I hate using that term pejoratively because it is a beautiful description of God’s people, but since others use it and it actually applies in this situation in the way that it is now used in the vernacular, I will use it this one time.)! You’re being played. Don’t blindly follow any political party and don’t blindly demonize any political party. Don’t allow your conscience to be shaped more by CNN, FOXNEWS, MSNBC, OAN, or talk radio than by Scripture.
Vote according to your consciences guided by Scripture, but don’t think that there is one Christian candidate or one Christian way to vote.
There are two major political parties in this nation, each with deep problems from a Christian worldview. There are certain areas where both parties reflect Christian values and certain areas where they don’t. There are good people (still!) in both parties that are working for change within and without. Think as a Christian and make the best choice you can according to your conscience.
In the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” Kyrie eleison.

Prayer to Open Kentucky House of Representatives This Morning (Text)

2020-03-04 00.00.58

Our Sovereign God,

We pray to you recognizing that you are in control over all things. There is not one maverick molecule in the universe. All planets, stars, comets, molecules, microbes, and viruses are under your sovereign control. You work all things after the counsel of your will. None can stay your hand or say what doest thou.

We acknowledge that not only you sovereign, but you are a loving father over creation, and especially to those who know You. Not one bird can fall from the sky or one hair from our heads without you knowing and caring. You knit us together in our mother’s wombs. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. You know our bodies better than we know our bodies. You know disease better than doctors know disease and, ultimately, we rest in your loving, sovereign care of us.

We also thank you that you have given us as human beings the ability to understand disease and infection and how it spreads. Thank you for the medical community that is working so hard to prepare us for, respond to, and treat this current health challenge. Thank you also for civil government which was established by you to protect its citizens. Thank you for our governor and his team and those advising them from the medical community. I pray for strength and health for all those making decisions and recommendations that impact the public safety of so many.

Thank you also for members of the House and Senate who are serving their constituents by keeping themselves and others informed and find themselves in the difficult position of giving advice to those in their districts. We pray for health and strength for these legislators, their family, and the staff that supports them.

Please be with this body today as they conduct the business of this Commonwealth. Give them peace as many of them are separated from their families and homes in this time of uncertainty. Give them all your peace that surpasses human understanding.

Most of all we thank you for your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world of sickness and sin as an expression of your sovereign plan and fatherly love of this world. Thank you that by His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, He conquered the grave, defeated death, took away death’s sting and, in the words of the author of Hebrews, delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery! May all who hear these words and all across our Commonwealth and around the world, find peace and comfort in the grace and mercy through faith in the Lord Jesus.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Response to an AP Reporter on the Relationship between Faith and Science in Light of COVID-19 and the Governor’s Recommendation to Cancel Worship Gatherings

I was contacted yesterday by Elana Schor, national AP reporter for religion and politics. She was working on a story on the relationship between faith and science in the current COVID-19 health crisis. Specifically she asked me about the role of faith and science in light of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s recommendation that churches consider canceling their worship services this weekend. Elana did an excellent job on the article exploring how different faith communities are responding to the virus crisis. Of course, my comments were only one section of the story that focused on Kentucky and only one sentence was shared (it was done responsibly and I have no complaints). I thought I would share my full response to Elana in case it might be helpful for those thinking through these issues. In the response, I reference my email to our church. It is available here.

Dear Elana,

Below are the plans for our church services going forward. These are subject to change as more data becomes available. That probably partially answers your question by indicating that I am open to data and considering that data in making decisions. I have a lot of thoughts about the relationship between faith and science. I believe that there are often conflicts between the two and when that happens we (the faith community) have improperly interpreted or applied scripture OR the scientific community has improperly interpreted the natural world. In other words, I don’t believe there can be a real conflict between God’s two books of nature and scripture; the conflict lies in our interpretation of the same. As such, I am open to the findings of science, especially regarding the spread and containment of infectious diseases. Governor Beshear’s recommendation to consider canceling services was well taken by me. I recognize his responsibility and concern to mitigate this health crisis and I respect that. We want to take seriously the health challenges that experts are describing and their prescriptions to address those challenges. However, we have to balance that by our responsibility to continue our regular expressions of worshiping and gathering, which I believe is commanded of us as Christians (Hebrews 10:25). The precautions that I outlined in my email to the church (below) and posted on social media are a response to the scientific information being provided. I would not rule out canceling services altogether when it becomes clear that the steps I’ve outline are not sufficient to protect our people. We do know how disease spreads and the type of individuals that are particularly at risk. Those concerns are being addressed, I trust, sufficiently in our plan. This allows us to balance the practice of our faith while recognizing and responding responsibly to the health crisis outlined by the medical community.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to follow up.

Blessings,
Steve Weaver, pastor
Farmdale Baptist Church

Email to the church:

Statement regarding our services at Farmdale

“A Tailor, a Tinker and a Cobbler”: Guest Post by Austin Walker

keach__19608.1422658601Today is 29 February. It is a leap year. So was 1640.  On 29 February 1640 in the remote Buckinghamshire parish of Stoke Hammond Benjamin Keach was born to John and Joyce Keach. He became a prominent preacher in London after 1668. He was the most prolific writer among the Particular Baptists in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, and one of the men who convened the 1689 National Assembly of Particular Baptist churches, signing the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

At his trial before the Aylesbury Assizes in 1664 he endured rough justice, was subsequently fined and pilloried. The rector of Stoke Hammond had brought Keach to the attention of the authorities, belittling him as an uneducated tailor, ‘and one that is a teacher in a new fangled way.’ In the indictment read out at his trial, he was charged with saying (among many other things) that ‘Christ has not chosen the wise and prudent men after the flesh, nor great doctors and rabbis: not many mighty and noble, saith Paul, are called: but rather the poor and despised, even tradesmen and suchlike…’

Twelve years previously on 28 November 1628, in the parish of Elstow in neighbouring Bedfordshire in a cottage near the hamlet of Harrowden, John Bunyan was born. His fame is greater than that of Benjamin Keach. He too was an ordinary man, a tinker by trade. He also suffered for his Christian faith.

Over a hundred years later, 16 August 1761 in the village of Paulerspury, in neighbouring Northamptonshire, William Carey was born. By trade he was a cobbler. He of course became famous as the man who took the gospel to the Indian sub-continent.

A tailor, a tinker, and a cobbler: ordinary men who became decided and influential Christians. The grace and power of God equipped them to be preachers of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keach was right, ‘God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence, 1 Corinthians 1.27-29.

Austin Walker

If would like to read more about Keach then get hold of The Excellent Benjamin Keach, Joshua Press, 2015. Be sure you obtain the second edition.

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.