Category Archives: fellowship

A Call For Civility

It is with a burdened heart that I write this post. I am concerned about something that is occurring among Christian blogs even as I sit at my keyboard.

Over the past month or so I have observed and even participated in an ongoing discussion among evangelical bloggers. This conversation has primarily been among those who would identify themselves in alignment with Free Grace theology or a more centrist soteriological position. These are people that I believe are sincere in what they believe and I look at them as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Debates among bloggers are certainly not unusual occurrences. Having often engaged in them myself, I find that they can be stimulating, challenging and generally enriching when conducted in a gracious spirit.

What concerns me in this particular situation, however, is the devolvement of the dialogue into a playground brawl. I have observed name-calling, childish attempts at deceit, intimidation tactics, taunting, false accusations and even people questioning one another’s salvation. Instead of getting better, the problems are escalating, even spilling over onto blogs that are not even a part of the discussion. Not everyone involved in the debate has stooped to such tactics, but many have.

I have watched as pastors, teachers, theologians, students, authors and lay-persons alike have sullied themselves in this fray and are doing so head-long with little regard to possible consequences.

Brothers and sisters, I implore you in the name of our Lord, let us put an end to this maliciousness. I am not asking anyone to compromise their beliefs, or even end the discussion. The truth of the gospel is always worth proclaiming, but let us do so in a Christ-like spirit.

Let us keep in mind that while we may consider this to be an intramural debate, this forum is visible before the whole world. We must remember that this is being observed by those who do not know our Lord. Do we honestly think that this will have the effect of drawing them to Him?

I am sure that each person involved is convinced of the rightness of their particular theological position. That is between them and the Lord. But nowhere does God ever give us license to treat each other with such acidic behavior, even if the other person is a “heretic”.

I do not write this to sound arrogant or judgemental. This is merely a plea from my heart to those who will hear it. Let us treat one another with the same grace that God has extended to us.

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Bits and Pieces

It’s been quite a weekend. On Friday, I took my two sons along with my mom and dad to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. We had attempted to go the week before, but had to postpone the trip due to sickness.

We had a great time and saw a variety of birds including, wild turkey, bald eagle, osprey (a really big one), white ibis, glossy ibis, wood stork, egrets and herons of several varieties (including a beautiful great blue heron), kingfisher, pelicans and some blue-wing teal. We also saw a deer as we were leaving. Migrating butterflies were everywhere and we were able to see a really nice rainbow.

On Saturday, my wife and I went with some friends to see the Seminoles beat up on North Carolina State. It was a great game, even though the weather was a little wierd. We had a lightening delay of about 49 minutes, but when we re-entered the stadium, there was a beautiful double rainbow arching over the field. (I wonder if there is any significance in that? hmmm).

We had a wonderful day at church yesterday. There was a great spirit in the services and the fellowship was sweet. Last night we had several members share some scriptures that they had been reading and talk about what they were learning from the Word. It was really great and some edifying thoughts were brought out. On the way to church, we saw yet another rainbow, making it the first time in my life that I have seen rainbows on three consecutive days.

I also want to share with those of you who might be interested about a blog that some friends are running right now. Keith and Julie Parker and their son race are the son-in-law, daughter and grandson of Cleve and Judy Dixon who attend Pine Park Baptist Church. Keith recently graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They are in the process of adopting a little boy from Viet Nam. Julie is keeping a blog of their trip and the process. You can read about it here. Please keep this family in your prayers as they travel.

I hope you have a blessed day. Come back soon.

A Pleasant Lunch

   One of the things I am coming to really enjoy about blogging is the new friends and connections that you can make through this process.

    My two sons, Clay and Glen, and I just returned from Tallahassee, FL, where we were able to meet fellow pastors and bloggers Garry and Steve Weaver. We didn’t have a long time to fellowship as they had a conference they had to get to, but the time we had was very pleasant Christian fellowship. Bro. Garry was generous to pay for our lunches.

   We were able to discuss some mutual acquaintances and experiences, and of course talk a little baseball (Steve is a big Braves fan, like me).

    Fellows, I just wanted to say how much we enjoyed it and hope we have opportunity in the future to do it again.

The Problem With Labels

   I’m from the south. Down here, every soft drink is referred to by the label “Coke”. (Probably because Coca-Cola is headquartered in Atlanta). Every Georgian knows that when you say, “I’m thirsty, I’m going to get a coke,” you don’t necessarily mean the beverage with the red and white label. You might be referring to a grape soda, root beer, Mountain Dew, or any other of the members of the fizzy spectrum.

   In fact, even buying a Coca-Cola these days can be more frustrating than trying to crack the IRS tax code. You must decide whether you want regular or diet, both of which are available in caffeine-free versions. Then you have to decide which flavor (cherry or vanilla), color (black or ?) and number (zero?) you want that in. It’s enough to drive someone to drinking Pepsi (which I do).

   The thing about Coca-Cola however, is that the labels are neat and precise. If I go into the retail grocer of my choice and select the Decaffeinated Diet Vanilla Coke, I can be reasonably sure that I will get precisely that. I have every right to expect exactly what the label says is in the bottle. There is little danger of any spill-over of cherry syrup (that might be grounds for a law-suit if it occurred) or of it keeping me awake half the night.

   If only theological labels were as precise.

   One doesn’t have to venture far into the realm that is identified as Christendom before they are confronted with a myriad of labels. Denominational labels, theological labels and associational labels are just a few of the names that you may encounter. 99.999999% of these labels are man-made (the one exception being “disciple”). This doesn’t mean that labels are wrong, in fact they can be quite useful at times. At other times, however, they can be confusing.

    Most of those who read this blog would probably agree that the mainstream media plays a little fast and loose with the term “Christian”. It seems that anyone who at one time may have attended Sunday School or had a relative who was a deacon will be labeled as Christian by the world. That term has come a long way from its original usage to identify true disciples of Christ.

   Sometimes labels are applied with derision, hatred, misunderstanding or just downright mean-spiritedness. At other times, labels are willingly embraced by those who wish to identify with a certain group.

   Let me use myself as an example. I willingly call myself a Southern Baptist. We have a stated articles of faith. I affirm those articles of faith because I believe they are biblically correct. Am I happy about everything that goes on the Southern Baptist Convention? Absolutely not. I realize that there are some things being debated within the convention in a manner that does not always cast a positive light on our denomination. However, if I am to call myself a Southern Baptist, I must be willing to accept the bad connotations with the positive points, otherwise I am not being completely honest.

   Likewise, it would be disingenious of me to call myself a Southern Baptist but then start issuing disclaimers such as saying that I believe salvation must earned, that God is not omniscient, that my salvation can be lost, etc. If I am going to identify myself theologically and associationally with Southern Baptists, I must be willing to embrace the core beliefs as stated in our articles of faith. Otherwise, I should find another way of identifying my doctrine.

   I said all that to say this, if we are going to label ourselves by identifying with a particular group, we should not be surprised when people assume that we share common beliefs with that group. Labels produce expectations. If we don’t want to be identified with a certain doctrine, we shouldn’t adopt the name of the the group that believes it.

   Some of you will remember the fiasco in the 1980’s called “New Coke”. It was an extremely bad idea on the part of some marketing execs at Coca-Cola that cost that company very dearly. Why? Because the product didn’t match the expectations produced by the label.

   On the other hand, to quote Junior Hill, “If the bottle is empty, it really doesn’t matter what the label says.”

The Art of Christian Statesmanship–Part 2

   In the previous post in this series, I listed some negative aspects of debates that I have observed in theological debates that have taken place around the blogosphere. In the discussion that followed, some excellent points were made concerning right motives in debating and in the methods we employ while engaging in debate.

   I want to share with you some principles that I am trying to keep in mind when I engage in debates. As the Apostle Paul stated in Philippians, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” I am still learning to apply these, and at times my fleshly nature still rises up and works against these principles, but they are the goal to which I strive.

1.  I will assume that my opponent is a brother or sister in Christ. Unless I am debating and atheist or someone from a different religion, I am not going to assume that differences in interpretation of scripture arbitrarily mean they are not saved. Thus, I am going to give them the respect that the Bible says is due between children of God.

2.  I will remember that my goal should be edification.If I am only trying to prove that I am right and my opponent is wrong, then I will never achieve this goal. I cannot presumptiously excuse ungracious language or behavior simply because I think I am right. I must define a “win” as being the edification of the one whom I am debating. I do not have to compromise to achieve this, but I must be kind, gentle, meek, patient, temperate and above all, loving as I express what I believe to be the truth.

3.  I will remember the likelihood that my remarks are being read by unbelievers. I do not want my comments to be so vitriolic that they would harm the testimony of Christ and hinder someone from coming to Him.

4.  I will remember that I am not perfect and still have much to learn. Just because I have believed something all my life does not mean that it is true. Truth is defined by God’s Word alone, and even the brightest of theologians can be mistaken. If they can be wrong, who am I to think I have a monopoly on truth? Along those same lines, I will try to remember that just because my opponent may be wrong on one point does not mean that he is wrong all the time.

5.  I will remember that my ultimate goal will be the glory of God. Before I fire off that fiery response, I should ask myself, “Will God be glorified in this?” If I am trying to make myself appear intelligent, wise or superior to my opponent, I will be operating from the wrong motive and will be prone to use methods and language that do not glorify the Savior.

   As I said, I am learning these principles. I am ashamed to say that I have learned their importance because of my own shortcomings as much as those I have observed in others. By God’s grace, I intend, however, to adhere to them as closely as possible from now on.

   May Christ be glorified in all I say and do.

And We’re Back!

  What a trip! My dad and I had a wonderful trip to Atlanta the last couple of days to attend the State Evangelism Conference of the Georgia Baptist Convention. We were not able to get there for the entire event but we were thoroughly blessed by what we heard.

    We had the opportunity to hear Dr. Fred Luter, Dr. Ergun Caner, Dr. Johnny Hunt, and Dr. David Jeremiah among others. I was refreshed and challenged on several levels. Charles Billingsley brought some inspiring music as well.

   In addition, we had some wonderful fellowship with some old friends and made some new ones as well. It was especially nice to meet Galen Towns, aka Misawa, and fellowship over a cup of coffee with him. He is a frequent visitor and commentor here and is just as pleasant in person as he is on the web.

   After a quick visit to Bass Pro Shops (I could have stayed there all day) we returned home yesterday feeling a little tired in the body, but very refreshed in the spirit. The only problem is, since my dad is preaching a revival for us at Pine Park next week, I don’t get to preach for another week and a half or so. I may burst a blood vessel or something in the meantime.

The Art of Christian Statesmanship–Part 1

   From time to time, I have posted on this blog about gracious speech. Christians are called upon by God to use speech that is filled with grace and ministers edification to the hearer. I would like to take that thought a little further and apply the principles of grace to methods that we sometimes see employed in theological debates, particularly on the internet.

    Let me say up front that I am exploring these ideas as a learner, not a master. I have been tempted, at times, to use every underhanded tactic that I am about to describe. I am ashamed to say that there have been times when I have stooped to using some of them in one form or another. I have been doing a lot of praying and thinking about this topic, though, and am trying to set a higher standard for myself. I want to share it with you. In this post, I want to point out some of the unsavory methods that I have seen used in theological debates. In the next in this series, I will propose some positive methods to which I am going to try to hold myself to following.

   I titled this post, “The Art of Christian Statesmanship,” because of the implications of the phrase, “Christian statesmanship”. Statesmanship is the art of diplomacy. I would like for us, for the sake of this conversation, to view debate as a diplomatic endeavor.

   Debate can be a very healthy thing. Debate can cause us to re-examine our theology, thus giving us opportunity to see where we may be wrong, or further solidifying our grasp on truth. Debate can broaden our understanding of the way others think. We can be exposed to ideas, concepts, and tenets that we previously were not aware of. Debate can clear up misconceptions that one may have about another’s position.

   Debate can be a healthy thing, it can also turn ugly. 

   What I am about to share is hardly earth-shattering news. If you have been involved with, or simply observed many theological debates in bloggyland, you have more than likely seen some of the things I am about to describe.

   In its simplest and purest form, debate should be a dialogue between opposing points of view. It should consist of one side presenting its own perspective, allowing the other side to present their perspective, and then perhaps each side responding with further information about their own position or questioning the validity of the opponent’s position (not the opponent’s intelligence, etc.). I call this “statesmanship” because it should be an exercise in diplomacy. I call it “Christian statesmanship” because above all it should be carried out in a manner that reflects the grace of Christ.

   Here are some tactics that I feel have no place in Christian debate:

  1. Allowing debates to devolve into a series of personal attacks. Name-calling and character assassination do not minister grace to the hearer.
  2. The use of “straw men.” This is a deliberate attempt to misrepresent an opponents position for the purpose of making their position look ridiculous.
  3. Attempting to align an opponent’s view with another view that is heretical without a clear line of connection. It is not unusual for various theological camps to share some common ground and even common terminology. The fact that they do so does not mean that they are in line with each other. Those who resort to this tactic should be careful, it is likely that their own position could be connected in this manner to a doctrine that they find revolting.
  4. Ridicule, sarcasm and generally rude behavior. Making fun of someone who holds a differing point of view does not minister grace. I have heard it argued that men of God (including Jesus) used sarcasm at times to make their point. I would say that there is a significant difference between Elijah using sarcasm against the prophets of Baal, Jesus using sarcasm against the Pharisees, and us using it against a brother or sister in Christ who has an opinion (or even a conviction) that differs from our own. I have yet to see any of these tactics used in a positive way in contemporary debates.
  5. Using a difference of opinion as a basis for judging.This is perhaps the most reprehensible of all tactics. When we allow our distaste for someone’s pet doctrine to cause us to question their love for God or their salvation, we should immediately step back and examine our own heart. I am not speaking about differences in religions, I am speaking about brothers and sisters in Christ who may interpret a particular Scripture text differently than we do.

   This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly covers many areas which Christians should avoid in our debates. Hopefully, in the next post we will take a look at some positive methods of discussion.

   Until then, be filled with the grace and peace of God.