The Intellectual And Spiritual Wanderings Of American, Conservative, Evangelical Christians: Or, Why I Do Not Listen To Glenn Beck.

To begin, I have several confessions to make. First of all, I listen to talk radio. Not every day, but several times a week. I like Rush Limbaugh. Maybe because I understand his humor. I do not hang on every word, but I appreciate another perspective than network news. I listen to several other radio talk show hosts depending on when I am driving in the truck. That said, I do not listen to Glenn Beck. I use to, but not now.

I think Glenn Beck is an expert on American history, and insightful in American politics. I agree with many things Beck says. I also think he and his radio show crew have a great time. Sometimes they are hilarious. But, except for occasional short segments transitioning to or from other shows, I do not listen. My problem is a problem of Christology and eschatology.

First the Christology; on Glenn Beck’s Facebook page he states:

I am a born again LDS Christian who teaches Gospel Doctrine in my church, speaks about God and Jesus more than any other main stream radio or television host in the last 70 years, who also studies the Torah with rabbis on a regular basis and met today with the Dalai Lama. [smile emoticon.]

Glenn Beck does sound more like a televangelist than a radio talk show host. And, the times I have listened to his program he is constantly calling for prayer, revival, and for Christian unity. In the above quote he is obviously proud of his ecumenical spirit. He often invokes Christ’s name in his pleas. He is quiet passionate about God and Jesus.

The conundrum is his adherence to the “Gospel Doctrine in my church.” The LDS Christ was once a man, just a man, not the 100% God/100% man of the Bible and the historic creeds of the Christian faith. The gospel according to Glenn Beck’s LDS teachings is not the redemptive work of God through Christ and the cross. The LDS gospel teaches salvation through obedience to the teachings of the LDS church. The LDS Jesus was a man as we are; and if we avail ourselves of baptism in a Mormon Temple, marry in a Mormon Temple, spend two years as a self-supporting LDS missionary, earn and maintain a “Temple Recommend”, and in general work your way through life you will experience exaltation. Your eternity will consist of becoming a god, like Jesus is now, and becoming a god, along with your wife (wives) to another world. I am sure some Mormons may say I don’t have it exactly right, but I am correct in the fact the LDS does not use the word “gospel” as the Christian Church does. The Christ of the LDS is not the Christ I worship and serve. Therefore, to hear Glenn Beck evoke Christ and claim a unity on spiritual grounds is unacceptable.

Glenn Beck is well informed concerning Shiite eschatology. This branch of Islam contents the twelfth and final Imam will come for the final reckoning. As Beck has made clear, the danger of a nuclear Iran is the fact that Iran’s leadership believes they can hasten the twelfth Imam’s return by starting a nuclear war. Just as the hijackers did not hesitate to fly planes into buildings on 9/11, Iran’s leadership will not hesitate to start Armageddon. Their eschatology (doctrine of end times) drives their thinking. Securing the return of the twelfth Imam and earning their place in Paradise is worth it all.

In the same way we need to understand LDS eschatology. The LDS church is similar to historical Christianity in regards to the return of Christ. However, Mormons place a greater emphasis on the end times, the cataclysmic events preceding His return, and the need to prepare for those preliminary events. You might say, Christians believe the same. I am basically a Pre-Tribulation supporter. I am not rigid and can even go for a Mid-Tribulation Rapture. However, if I am wrong, that is OK. I do not spend a lot of time preaching about the events of Revelation. I think it is largely written to the people who will experience it. I do not stockpile large supplies of food as LDS encourages.

It might be wise to stockpile food supplies and doing so is not a bad thing. However, that eschatology is apparent in the Glenn Beck Show’s tone. I get depressed when I listen to Beck for any length of time. Beck expects the worse. Every show I have heard is a litany of coming disasters. I do believe America will be judged and receive the consequences as we continue to move farther from our Founder’s moral base. However, I am also a student of revivals and believe God will have another great harvest before He shuts this all down. Therefore, in the midst of all the crazy (and sick) things occurring in our world, God is still in control.

Can I, as a conservative Christian, work with people of like morals and values? Yes. I will be happy to work with people of all faiths to stop abortion, sex trafficking, and other societal sins. I have had, and still have, friends of various beliefs, including LDS. However, there is a line that cannot be crossed. After 9/11 there was a ecumenical “worship” service in New York led by Oprah Winfrey. I would not have participate in that service if invited. Would I attend a community gathering honoring the victims? Yes. Actually, I have less problems with Oprah because she doesn’t present herself as a Christian, and that is the rub. Beck thinks he is.

In the last year Glenn Beck has promoted various events with a spiritual emphasis. He is calling “Christians” to unite. He has spoken from the podiums of various Christian churches. He presents himself as a “Born-again Mormon.” Unfortunately, many Christians now see Glenn Beck as a prophetic voice like a modern day Dwight L. Moody. They are not only trusting him for political advice, but spiritual direction. When I invite anyone to speak in the church I pastor, or attend a spiritually focused event, I best consider who is leading the movement.

Can I accept Glenn Beck, or any other Born-again Mormon as a brother in Christ? Yes, on one condition. To accept Christ as Lord and Savior requires me to reject all other ways of salvation. I pray for the day Glenn Beck denounces the “Gospel Doctrine [ of the LDS] church” as a false gospel and Jesus Christ and His substitutionary, propitiatory sacrifice as the only means of salvation. No one can accept the gospel piecemeal. What it means to be a Christian is not determined by other religious groups or someone desiring to adapt elements of Christian doctrine within his own religious framework.

       I am in agreement, we probably are in “the last days”. Therefore, I need to remember 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 2 Peter 2:1, and other passages in which I am warned of the danger of false teachers. Do not expect them to identify themselves as anything other than Christians. I also consider the warning of Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV)
Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV)
15  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16  You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20  Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 21  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

The people of this passage will be stunned when they are cast out. They thought they were Christians. I am sure others also thought the religious workers were Christians.

In closing I might as well kick the dog on my way out. I would have made some comments about the way Christians are jumping on the political bandwagon of people like Donald Trump because they like his bluntness, but I have said enough for now.

 

 

The Cross and Political Correctness

In the last few weeks the national news has been focusing on the legislation in Indiana and Arkansas dealing with protecting religious liberty. We are in the midst of a collision of biblical and non-biblical values. Before dealing with the contemporary events I would like to go back to the Roman Empire and its use of crucifixion.

The Romans were not inventive. They were innovative. They had the practice of using other cultures’ ideas and improving them. Crucifixion was used by the Persians and the Macedonians, but the Romans took the practice to a new level. Crucifixion was not about killing the victim. There were much more efficient means of execution, and the Romans loved efficiency. The main purpose of crucifixion was silencing opposition. If a non-citizen was determined a threat to Roman rule he was crucified. You may have been unhappy under Roman rule, but you kept your thoughts to yourself, because the cross was always looming. Crassus crucified 6,000 slaves after crushing their uprising. That was the last revolt by the slaves. Crucifixion silenced the opposition.

We do not literally crucify people today. We are more civilized in silencing opposition than that. The Indiana Freedom of Religion bill was in line with federal legislation signed by President Bill Clinton. The purpose was to support the First Amendment protections for Indiana residents. The news media “carried the water” for the homosexual community portraying the law as promoting businesses who wish to discriminate against homosexuals. Like numerous other recent events, the facts of the case were never presented. America has become a society that does not desire truth. Our culture does not want an exchange of ideas. Instead of presenting the various positions in the public arena and trusting that the truth and the superior position will win the day, divergent positions are silenced by “crucifixion”, that horrible death.

Crucifixion was designed to humiliate and intimidate. The victim was scourged with lashes tipped with metal and bone. They were disfigured with pieces of flesh hanging from the open wounds exposing bones. They were stripped of their clothes. They were hung along the public roadways. They were made less than human. American “crucifixion” involves a social media blitz bombarding the enemy with hate mail and threats. The guilty party’s livelihood or business is threatened. The person’s integrity, character, and morals are maligned. In some cases the federal government becomes involved with threats of IRS audits or justice department investigations. The message to the observing masses is clear, do not express your views, especially do not take a stand for a biblical worldview, go with the flow. It is not surprising that our politicians run for cover, who wants that kind of attention. But, we are not politicians. We are followers of Christ.

As His followers, we are to love all people while standing on His word. As Americans we have a unique place in history. As an army officer, I took an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution. We have been given a priceless gift of the First Amendment. The freedom of religion is the foundational right. When it falls, all others will follow. As a Christian, I am a bondservant of Christ. I am to be faithful to my Lord even if it conflicts with the government. We have a moral obligation to protect our constitutional rights for future generations. In the recent collisions of values there is a clearly stated constitutional right, the freedom of religion, versus a lifestyle choice. Christianity is not a religion of coercion. You must come to Christ of your own free will. Whether you come or not, you are to be loved as a human being. The sanctity of human life is true for all. I reject all lifestyles that do not conform to God’s word, but respect the person’s right to choose their own life. In turn, I expect others to respect my choice. Do not try to force me affirm yours. The homosexual social agenda is the affirmation of their worldview while stripping all others of theirs, and one of their most powerful tools is “crucifying” anyone brave, or foolish, enough to speak in opposition. Christians and others can hold their private views, but cannot express those views as others do. We are being forced out of the public arena. Christian businesses daily serve people of other faiths and lifestyles, but that is not enough. Now those businesses must participate in practices contrary to Christian beliefs. There is a difference between others practicing their lifestyles (i.e., homosexual marriages) and being required to approve of the practice by catering the event, or providing flowers. You know it is political correctness when a Muslim business does not have to serve me pork barbeque, or the equivalent for businesses of a liberal viewpoint.

The Jewish religious leaders and the Roman government thought they had silenced the teacher from Nazareth. By all appearances they had won. The followers of Jesus were scattered, in hiding, and terrified. That was the usual effect of crucifixion. But, they were wrong. The Resurrection changed everything. The world was “turned right side up” by His followers. (Remember, it was the lost who said the disciples were turning the world upside down.) The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples into men who were more in awe of God than afraid of the cross. Tradition tells us that the disciples died for the faith. Thousands of Christians died under Roman persecution and the Church’s response to the hate was love.

Political correctness is effective as long as people are intimidated. As American Christians we have the right to hold our moral positions and exercise them in the political process. That said, our greatest concern is not the political ramifications of our silence. Our faith is not lived out in isolation.  We cannot be not salt and light in selected arenas. If we are followers of Christ, He is Lord of all the arenas of our lives.  We must speak truth in love and with boldness. Where would we be if the first century disciples were silenced by the political correctness of their time? Where will our grandchildren be if we are not faithful? No one wants to be vilified, but Jesus was not excited about his looming crucifixion.

 

The Harlot’s Child

Written in 2007

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! For your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’ ” 24 The king said, “Get me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. 25 The king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!27 Then the king said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him. She is his mother.” 28

1 Kings 3:23-28 (NASB)

Early in Solomon’s reign a situation arose that proved God had granted Solomon’s request for wisdom. Imagine, make the wrong choice and a woman loses her child and the child itself is placed in the care of a neglectful mother. Solomon’s ruling demonstrated his favor with God. We need that wisdom today in the issue of “relevancy” or “contextualization.” On one hand to err is to hurt fellow Christians and the expansion of the Kingdom, to err on the other is to allow a false gospel and cause many “converts” to suffer eternally. Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21-23 necessitates discernment instead of naiveté.

Recently several of my church planting students attended a conference. They returned with more concerns than answers. The conference objective was to facilitate launching potential mega-churches which would in turn promote evangelization. Unfortunately, the message seemingly focused more on business models, marketing strategies, and financial plans than evangelism. In fact, the students were concerned because evangelism was not mentioned, and the lost were referred to as “the disconnected.” Instead of presenting the gospel they learned their task is to help people become “connected,” and, except for one speaker, prayer and the Bible were not discussed. The students’ concerns are not new; in fact, it is hard not to read an issue of our denominational publications without encountering comments or articles on the topic of contextualization and relevancy. The debate takes many forms, the most common of which deals with methodologies of evangelism relating to corporate service formats and “emergent leaders.”

Both sides of the debate insist on the legitimacy of their concerns. Many established leaders including the former head of the denominational publishing company have expressed concern that younger leaders are being ostracized over trivial issues such as preaching in a Hawaiian shirt or not singing hymns. On the other hand many express concern that we communicate the gospel faithfully, clearly, and compellingly. How do we preach a contextualized gospel without compromise? Are “younger” leaders faithfully preaching the gospel in a contextualized way, or are many of those preachers compromising the gospel message? Based on my experiences as a pastor and professor; “Yes” answers both questions. There are many younger ministers who are doing a great job of reaching our culture with the gospel. Their choices of clothing, music, or other methods may not be my cup of tea, but they are preaching the word. Unfortunately, there are also many who equate drawing a crowd with making disciples. So, how do we determine the validity of a ministry? How do we determine the substance of the book instead of judging the cover?

Over the years I have developed a series of “filters” to evaluate situations, methods, or teachings in an attempt to remain an acceptable servant to the Lord. Much like a swimming pool water filter which uses various layers of diverse materials my ministry filters employ series of questions. One of those filters fits the ongoing debate of relevancy. This series of questions do not have to be asked in any particular order. The first two questions are more subjective and therefore debatable, but final two questions are non-negotiable.

Has the minister developed his ministry approach from much time in God’s word and prayer? I can not count the number of people I have encountered that base their ministries on conferences. There is nothing wrong with cross pollination of ideas and you do not get bonus points for reinventing the wheel. I have been blessed by conference speakers and workshops. But, in our “shake and bake,” fast food culture many ministers would rather copy than create. Copying is an anathema to contextualization. Why spends months struggling with a ministry strategy when you can down load one from a successful ministry (substitute mega-church pastor). I must respect someone who has spent time with God and reflects it in his ministry and life. He has a stability that does not vacillate or change with every new trend. Cutting edge is fine; just remember 8 track tapes were cutting edge.

Is the ministry approach biblical? This is a trick question because I have never met a minister who will ever admit otherwise. There are some in the Church Growth Movement who hold to the standard “If it works and the Bible doesn’t prohibit it; then do it.” This provides tremendous latitude in ministry. The Bible doesn’t specifically prohibit being a nudist, but I would not consider the annual North Carolina Christian Nudist Conference (no joke) as a biblical ministry. Instead ask, “Can I find specific support for the activity in Scriptures?” Again, the Bible does not deal with many aspects of modern culture and ministry, but this filter can be passed with integrity. When I know God’s plan for His church in completing the Great Commission then many activities come into question. The church’s task is to make disciples. Evangelization, glorifying God, worship, and other activities all flow from discipleship. So, the question becomes “How does this activity promote discipleship?” Related to this is the question, “Does this ministry enable the membership to minister outside the walls?” The vast majority of Christian churches have reduced the evangelism and ministry time of the church to Sunday morning. When we spend the majority of our energy, budget, and abilities on the Sunday morning production we have left the biblical model.

Does the ministry glory God? Much in church planting today runs afoul of this filter question. We have become so market savvy, business model attuned that God is not needed. We can talk about how God gave us a great interest rate for our loan, but how does that glorify God? The Mormons can say the same thing. That is actually another question I often ask, “How is this different from the Mormons?” The first century church did not have buildings, social standing, multimedia presentations, or extensive financial resources, but they had the power of God. Go back and read how many times the church would pray, the Holy Spirit would work, the lost would be converted, and God would be glorified. There are two starting points for all we do, God or man. Either we design our services, craft our sermons, and develop our ministries focusing on God or on man. You can not straddle the fence. If you focus on God then the Holy Spirit will connect to the people, if you focus on man God will leave you to your own designs. American Christians envy the rapid growth of the Chinese church and try to replicate that explosive growth by better marketing, cultural exegesis, and everything but focusing on God and glorifying Him.

Does the ministry clearly communicate the sinfulness of man and his need for salvation? The largest church in America, according to some sources, is pastored by Joel Osteen. Osteen will come to your local arena and pack the house while charging admission. He makes no apology for his message of self-fulfillment. He does not believe we should make people feel bad; they already have low enough self-esteem. Osteen is successful. He has a mega-church. He draws thousands to “Christ.” Unfortunately, it is a Christ of Osteen, Schuller, and others’ creation, a Christ who died on the cross to make life better, not the redeemer of sinful man. It seems that every generation thinks that it needs to repackage the gospel to make it more relevant. The Judaizers probably thought that they were just contextualizing the Gospel while Paul was perverting it. The cross has always been offensive because it declares mankind’s rebellion and depravity. Any ministry that does not clearly proclaim the necessity and sufficiency of the cross can not be supported. If we do not present our faith up front then how long do we wait to reveal our beliefs? Are we guilty of a spiritual bait and switch? Do we believe God the Holy Spirit can draw people or must we ease them into the Kingdom?

North America is the only continent in which Christianity is failing to grow in proportion to the population. Simultaneously the number of mega-churches is growing. I will not, and can not, judge the motives of my fellow Christians. The individuals I know who practice the methods I can not accept sincerely love the lost. So, what do we do in the current debate? Do we accept every ministry labeled “Christian” without critique or question? Or, do we condemn all but our cookie cutter ministries?  What would Solomon do? The beauty of the Church’s diversity and unity must be cherished while contending for the faith (1 Jn 4:1, 1 Cor. 5:12, 2 Cor. 11:13-15, 2 Peter 2:1). With that in mind I must evaluate each ministry and if they pass the above standard then I need to allow them flexibility in methodology for contextualizing the gospel. I need to pray for them and rejoice with them as God blesses. If the ministry fails the test then I need to pray that God will correct them. I will love them, but not support them. Solomon displayed his God given wisdom in the case of the harlot’s child. To paraphrase another teaching involving babies, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but the water has to go.”