Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Founders' Conference Reflections

Last week my family and I attended The Southern Baptists Founders' Conference Southwest held on September 26-28, 2013, at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas.  The conference theme was 'Being a Disciple of Jesus Christ'.

As I think about what was said and how to apply it to my life, I'll share my notes with you over the next few posts.

The Cost of Worship presented by Dr. Fred Malone

From Romans 12:1-2, all of life is worship.  The word of God lead to the Reformation and is the foundation of faith and life.  Therefore, Christ-centered worship is word-centered.  Hear the word, repent, and believe is not only the basis for salvation, but also for sanctification.  The Book of Hebrews exhorts us not to be dull of hearing (the word of God) and not to forsake the assembling together.  Thomas Watson:  Hearing the word starts with believing in the Lord's Day.

Prepare for the Lord's Day on Saturday.  Sunday morning:  (1) read the word, (2) meditate on it (works of creation, our infinite Creator, God's holiness, Christ's redemptive love, etc.), and (3) pray (for God's presence at the worship service, for God to bless the preaching of His word, for the Holy Spirit to quicken the pastor, for my family, for the congregation, etc.).  Actively pay attention to the sermon during worship so that the word is effectual to me; fight distractions and drowsiness (opiates of the devil) by remembering God's presence in the service.

The Fear of the Lord in Discipleship presented by Dr. Tom Ascol

Fearing God is vital to spirituality because it leads to holiness and the right worship of God.  True discipleship arises out of a right fear of God.  If you have no fear of God, then you are a slave to sin.  To walk in the fear of the Lord is the same as to walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit; this is biblical Christianity.  Godly fear is implanted by God.  Cultivate godly fear by:  (1) prayer, (2) studying God's works, (3) meditating on what God has done in scripture, (4) studying God's character and attributes, and (5) studying the grace of god in Christ Jesus.  God is not domesticated.

The Covenant with the Eye presented by Pastor David Dykstra

Job 31:1-4 is a picture of masculine godliness just as Proverbs 31:10-31 is a picture of feminine godliness. A man of virtue doesn't indulge in inappropriate sexual fantasy.  The eye is the gate of imagination and the brain is the most erotic organ; therefore, Job made a covenant with his eyes because prevention is easier than treatment.  Mark Twain:  "I'm sorry I saw because I will always see it now."
  1. Set high standards.  
  2. Don't tolerate sin; it will lead to the chastisement of God.  In Matt. 5:27-30, Jesus tells us that fantasizing about other people deserves hell-fire.  Therefore, identify how you fell in the past, impede yourself in the present, and imagine the consequences of sin in the future.
  3. Remember the omniscience and omnipresence of our holy God.  Secret sin is a myth.  We cannot see God, but He can always see us.

During the Q&A session, Pastor Dykstra (along with Dr. Ascol) affirmed that local church membership is not optional for the Christian.  Some people will say that they don't need to be a member of a local church because they are a member of the universal Church.  Pastor Dykstra pointed out that membership in a local church leads to membership in the universal Church, not the other way around.  I thought this was timely clarification, especially for the American Christian who thrives on individuality and independence.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spiritual Food for Thought

From The Evil of Evils by Jeremiah Burroughs (p. 59)
“True, God will bring about His glory, and have more glory from you another way than if you had been made a dog or a toad, but no thanks to you.  You do what you can in your way of sin to hinder His glory.  God’s almighty power brings this to pass.  But if you go on in your ways of sin, it may be said of you that, if you had been made a dog or toad, God would have had more glory in the world than He now has in making you a man.  Yes, you are so far from bringing God glory that you dishonor God as much as in you lies.  And this, if it lies upon your heart as it should, is a sad consideration to humble the proudest heart in the world; to think that you live, and God has no glory by you, though this is the end for which God made the world.”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pop Culture...Round 2

In my last post, I looked at Ted Turnau’s unbiblical reasoning for writing his new book called Popologetics:  Popular Culture in Christian Perspective.  
Jared Moore interviewed Mr. Turnau last year and posted an excerpt on SBC Voices.  The post is unclear about who is saying what, but I’m assuming that Mr. Moore brings up the objection of aligning with pop culture based on 1 Thess. 5:22, and Mr. Turnau responds with four main points.
Here are some selected quotes from the interview excerpt:
[Mr. Moore] “What do you say to those who believe Christians should separate themselves from popular culture: “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (KJV) (1 Thess. 5:22)?"
[Mr. Turnau] "To start off, I wouldn’t want anything I say about popular culture to have the effect of encouraging a Christian to violate their conscience, or to put themselves in the way of temptation. I want to be clear about that. However, there are other things to say here as well.
  1. The first is that I’ve got to disagree with the King James’ translation of 1 Thess. 5:22 here.  There are really good reasons to believe that it should have been translated “every form of evil” rather than appearance.

  2. But let’s say then that 1 Thess. 5:22 wasn’t about appearances, but about actual evil. Should we avoid popular culture then, since it’s evil? Well, I certainly think that some people ought to avoid some types of popular culture, for exactly the reason I said above: Christians shouldn’t be violating their consciences by doing something they know is sinful. But that’s not going to be the same for each and every person, and we ought to recognize that.

Let me give you a really striking example. A mentor of mine had a friend. He was a missionary of sorts. He would go into a strip club and witness to the girls who worked there, trying to share Jesus with them, trying to persuade them to come out of that really degrading lifestyle. He said that the nudity and environment just didn’t bother him. He wasn’t fazed by it, not tempted to lust by it. Now for me, that would not be a good mission field, because I would be tempted by it. I think 99.97% of men should not follow this man’s example. It would just be feeding idolatry and drawing them away from God. But if this guy is really telling the truth, who am I to say to him, “You can’t do that!” God may have specially gifted him, and it’s not my place to shoo him away from the field where God has called him. I think he needs encouragement, support, prayer, not judgment.

  1. There’s another thing I’d say to those who quote 1 Thess. 5:22, and that is that popular culture is not simply evil.

  2. Though we may have to avoid some types of popular culture (depending on our heart’s idols), I have a problem with folks who use 1 Thess. 5:22 as an excuse for ditching non-Christian popular culture as a whole.”
Mr. Turnau, a PhD in Apologetics from Westminster Seminary, disagrees with the translation of the word 'appearance' in the King James Bible; he prefers the word 'form' used by the NASB and ESV because he thinks that it better supports the view he is promoting in his book.  According to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Dictionary by Noah Webster, 'appearance' is "the act of coming into sight; the act of becoming visible to the eye," and 'form' is "the shape or external appearance of a body; the figure, as defined by lines and angle."  Mr. Turnau's disagreement is a red herring because it leads the readers to a false conclusion that there is a difference in the meaning for this verse between the KJV and modern translations.  However, the words 'appearance' and 'form' are synonymous, and therefore, regardless of the translation, both verse mean the same thing:  avoid evil.
In his second point, Mr. Turnau is on a very slippery slope by questioning God's word to avoid evil.  Basically he's saying that as long as you can handle the evil and not let it drag you into sin, it's okay to participate in the evil of the culture.  He is making the argument that the command to avoid sin is relative to each Christian despite the biblical command to flee from idolatry, (1 Cor. 10:14), to put off the old man, (Eph. 5:22-31), and to love not the world, (1 John 1:15).  His first (and only) example is a man that serves as a missionary in strip clubs.  Mr. Turnau doesn't recommend this mission field for most men, but it's okay for this one man because this man can handle the temptation.  But the fact remains that this man is still sinning because sin is breaking God's command, and Psalm 101:3 explicitly says that "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes," which this "missionary" is obviously doing.  Regardless of his excuses, his mission field is not biblical.  Yes, these girls need to hear the word of God, but not while they're on-the-job.
Until we are glorified, Christians are still sinners on this earth; that's why we need to guard ourselves and set our affections on things above and not on earthly things, (Col. 3:2).  This missionary, and those who affirm his work, are simply foolish.  "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting," (Gal. 6:7-9).
I addressed Mr. Turnau's last two points in my first Pop Culture post by showing that the fallen world doesn't reflect God's glory, and therefore, there is no good in it.  Christians should remain separate, but continue to witness for Jesus Christ.
"Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he [Jesus] is righteous.  He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.  For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil," (1 John 3:7-8).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pop Culture

I'm not an advocate for Christian isolationism.  I don't agree with the Amish lifestyle or any type of Christian-only community; although, at times, it does sound appealing.  In God's sovereignty, Christ has not taken believers out of world, (John 17:15), but the Bible does warn us not to conform to the world, (Rom. 12:1), not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, (2 Cor. 6:14), and not to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, (Eph. 5:11).  Of course, the obvious question is how does this look in a Christian's life?
Ted Turnau, a lecturer at the Cultural Studies and Religion in Prague, Czech Republic, recently wrote a book called Popologetics:  Popular Culture in Christian Perspective.  I have not read his book, but based on his reasoning for writing the book, I don't think that I will.  Let's look at what he says:
"'Popologetics' is my term for understanding and apologetically engaging with non-Christian popular culture. I wrote the book because I think Christians typically do not respond to popular culture well. We don’t know what to do with it. We’re tempted to just reject it, surround ourselves with Christian culture, and live in our little bubbles where it’s warm and safe for us and our kids. Or we’re tempted to just dive in without thinking about it, and enjoy it as if there were no dangers or risk involved. Both options are bad. Both are, in my opinion, sub-Christian. We are called into our world, but not to be conformed to our world. We are called to understand our non-Christian friends and neighbors, and that means understanding the world they live in. And a big part of that world is shaped and informed by popular culture. As I see it, popular culture is a mission field all around us. We just cannot afford to live in our Christian subculture, and we cannot afford to just enjoy it uncritically. We’ve got to be prepared to engage the wider culture in a way that brings us closer to the hearts of our non-Christian friends and neighbors. We need to be able to speak their language.
But there’s another reason I wrote the book, quite apart from any evangelistic concern. I believe that enjoying popular culture is very human. Popular culture, in part, reflects God’s glory, fractured and distorted though it be. And when we cut ourselves off from that, we cut ourselves off from a very human enjoyment. It diminishes us somehow, as well as distances us from those around us. So I wrote Popologetics as a way to give permission to Christians, to say that the thoughtful enjoyment of popular culture was OK, wasn’t sinful."
First, let's consider Mr. Turnau's biblical support for writing his book.  Granted, this is a short, promotional excerpt, but there's not one Bible verse listed to confirm his reasoning.  Christians are exhorted not to let the words of the Lord depart from us, but to meditate on them, (Josh. 1:8; Psalm 119: 10-11; Prov. 3:1-3 & 4:20-22).  Mr. Turnau has made at least one biblical statement with no citation, but he has also mixed in his own reasoning, leading the reader to think that he has complete biblical support for his writing endeavor.  He says:  "We are called into our world, but not to be conformed to our world."  This is an accurate paraphrase of Romans 12:1.  Therefore, he reasons, in order to evangelize the world:  "We are called to understand our non-Christian friends and neighbors, and that means understanding the world they live in."  Mr. Turnau does not cite a biblical reference for this claim because there is no biblical call for Christians to understand non-Christians or the world we live in.  Actually Romans 12:1 tells us not to conform to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  Mr. Turnau equivocates on the word 'world'.  Christians need to be educated, and as a homeschool mom, I'm not saying that Christians should be ignorant of the world's teaching.  However, Mr. Turnau is using the word 'world' to mean our pop culture, but understanding pop culture so that we can engage the hearts of our non-Christian friends by speaking their language is exactly what the Bible prohibits Christians from doing, (Rom. 12:1, 2 Cor. 6:14, & Eph. 5:11).  His reasoning to find a balance between Christian isolationism and full indulgence is not realistic.  There's no middle ground in the scriptures; you are either with Jesus Christ or you are against Him, (Matt. 12:30).
Apart from his evangelistic concern, Mr. Turnau also says that popular culture (even if it's fractured and distorted) reflects God's glory; therefore, we should not isolated ourselves from human enjoyment.  There is clearly no biblical support for this self-centered view of man.  From Wikipedia:
“Popular Culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.”
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question #1, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  We see the glory of God in His general revelation through nature, but works done by unregenerate men, though they may be of good use, are not done in accordance to God's word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, (LBCF Chap. 16, paragraph 7; Matt. 6:2 & 5).  Therefore, pop culture in a fallen world does not and will not reflect the glory of God.
The Great Commission to go, teach, and baptize, (Matt. 28:18-30), is very important for all Christians.  However, we do not accomplish this command by partially assimilating to our culture.  God's word transcends all times and all cultures.  We influence the world by holding to God's commands in His word and living out our faith in Christ apart from the cultural norms.  In today's world, even the Christian bookstore can be a dangerous place.  Christian discernment requires knowing God's word and rightly dividing it.  In his zeal for relativism, Mr. Turnau has lost the Christian focus on Christ and Christ alone.
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," (2 Tim. 2:15).

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Problem of Evil

Before I started reading The Evil of Evils by Jeremiah Burroughs this week, I listened to Samuel Renihan's sermon titled 'God's Will: Concurrence & the Problem of Evil' preached on March 10, 2013.  It is an excellent sermon, and I recommend that you listen to it here.

If you don't get a chance to listen, I've shared my notes below (quoted directly or closely paraphrased from Mr. Renihan's sermon):
  1. Sin is a part of God's decree.  Sin is not an accident; it is not something that God didn't foresee or foreknow.  God decreed for eternity that some angels and all men in Adam would fall into sin, (Lam. 3:37-38).  Sin is still under God's control; He knew that sin would happen.
  2. Remember what sin is.  Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of, the law of God.  Sin is not a substance or a thing; it is violating what God has commanded [this statement was profound in changing how I think about sin].  God exists apart from creation; therefore, there is no dualistic nature of sin-->because God is good, evil necessarily exists and has always existed.  Within the Trinity there is only perfection; the will of God is always carried out.  Sin is only possible because God created a world distinct from Himself and gives commands to the creatures within that world.  Sin is the disobedience of his creatures.  God is accomplishing his decretive will despite the fact that his creatures are constantly violating his preceptive will.
  3. God is sovereign over sin (over the violation of His revealed will).  LBCF chapter 5, paragraph 4 states that God's providence (or His government of the world) extended to the Fall (Adam's sin) and all of the sinful actions of angels and men.  God works out His plan through the sin of man (Gen. 50:20).  He decrees to permit sin.
  4. God's permission is not a bare permission.  God binds, orders, and governs sin.  "In permitting evil God does not simply let it happen, but He determines how far He will let it go and how He will overcome it for good," (Mike Horton).  God does not act in and through evil, but over and against it.  He does not will sin to be done, but He wills to permit it.  (Phil. 2:13).
  5. God is able to bring good out of sin.  Why did God permit sin?  Sin is the wisest way for God to demonstrate His character to us.
  6. God is not the author of sin.  God is active and working in mankind, but He does not tempt mankind; He is not the approver of sin; He cannot even associate with sin (Jam. 1:13; 1 John 2:16).  God is able to use sin to accomplish His purposes in a way that we cannot (in a way that we cannot fathom).  God forbids sin, but is able to guide, direct, govern, and use it to accomplish His own purposes without willing it to be done (without causing anyone to sin & without being the author of it).  God hardens hearts, but it is a hardness that is already there; God does not create it.
  7. Man is responsible for disobeying God.  God will execute justice and pour out holy wrath on those who disobey Him.  The wages of sin is death because the creature is accountable to the Creator.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Christian Duty

In reference to the bakery in Oregon that closed down because the Christian owners would not sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, a question has been raised as to whether or not the denial of service spreads the message of Christ.  It's been argued that a Christian business owner does not refuse service based on other sins, such as adultery, so why should the sin of homosexuality be singled out?

The duty for the Christian is found in James 4:17 which says, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."  If a Christian business owner is convicted by the Holy Spirit to deny a service because the customer has blatantly stated that the requested service would be for a same-sex ceremony, then the owner is required to obey God and not man, (Acts 4:19).  Ignoring the conviction to deny service is sin.

The adulterer who wants to buy a cake generally does not announce that he (or she) is having an affair.  While affairs are more culturally accepted, they are still viewed as wrong, especially by the offended party.  I don't think a wife (or husband) will say that an affair is okay because that's the way God made their spouse.  No, usually when an affair is discovered, it leads to counseling and/or divorce and the sinful action is not allowed to continue without consequences.  Adultery is secretive and adulterers are not out on a political agenda to change laws and force acceptance as an alternate lifestyle.

Christian business owners interact with sinners daily (including themselves), but the homosexual advocates need to be rebuked because their goal is to force acceptance of homosexuality by requiring Christians to embrace their lifestyle.  Christianity will always be offensive to homosexuals because Christians will never accept homosexual sin as a mainstream alternative to God's word.  The homosexual agenda was very evident in the New Mexico Supreme Court decision last month in which Justice Bosson insisted that business owners must compromise their religious beliefs for the good of the nation because that's that price of citizenship (see my earlier post).

Christian business owners should not capitulate to the demands of the homosexuals, not because they are singling them out for their specific sin, but because Christians are wrestling against the rulers of the darkness of this world.  When any other group of sinners tries to silence Christianity by requiring acceptance, they should be denied service as well.

"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them," (Eph. 5:11).

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Look at BSF: Part 3 - Practical Concerns

In my last two posts, I looked at the unbiblical ministry classification of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and how their lack of church oversight leads to weak doctrinal teaching and vague statements in their notes.  Now I'm going to look at some of their rules which guide the dynamics of the organization as a whole.  All weekly BSF class meetings have the same structure:  opening time (announcements, singing, and prayer), small group discussion (led by the Discussion Leader), and the lecture (presented by the Teaching Leader).  There is also a weekly leadership team meeting to prepare for the next class meeting.

BSF is an interdenominational Christian organization; it does not adhere to one denominational view and anyone is welcome to join.  To promote participation BSF encourages each member to complete the daily homework questions and to discuss the questions in the small group setting by emphasizing that there is no right or wrong answer.  Therefore, a spiritually dangerous atmosphere is created within the BSF organization due to their ecumenical stance and the relativistic mindset that there is no wrong answer.

In addition, members are not allowed to talk about where they go to church or even what denomination they belong to.  This prohibition makes it difficult to discern and guard against unbiblical answers because the presuppositions of the individuals within the group are not allowed to be voiced and the organization ingrains the idea that no deeply held belief is wrong.

Prior to leaving BSF, I contacted my Teaching Leader many times about the theological and practical issues I had with BSF, including the points outlined here and in my previous post.  After I had communicated my concerns about God the Father being presented as a living person, my Discussion Leader commented during our small group discussion that the wording in the notes was weak on this point, recognized the fact that I didn't agree with it (the Teaching Leader must have spoken with her), and asked for someone else (on the other side of the room) to answer the question.  Based on the Bible, as well as the London Baptist Confession of Faith, the stance that God the Father is a living person is not just weak, it is wrong.  However, due to the BSF organizational structure, leaders cannot openly disagree with the notes.  The Teaching Leader can send comments on the notes to BSF headquarters, and future notes may be edited, but that's the extent of what she can do.  Obviously, a double-standard exists:  the BSF notes are right and cannot be wrong.

In that same discussion period, I also encountered the relativistic mindset championed by BSF.  Another group member (who seemed to be a new Christian) was very confused about the Holy Spirit being the breath of God and wondered if God breathes his Spirit into everything (not only all male & female individuals, but also animals).  I quickly tried to give biblical support against her universalistic and panentheistic statement; but after I made my clarification, another member reminded the group that according to our Teaching Leader there is no right or wrong answer, and that the important thing is to hear God speaking to you in your heart.  She was reading and studying from The Message Bible which encourages the mysticism of experiencing God by bypassing the mind.  The 'whatever feels good, this is what I think the Bible means' approach to Bible study is not edifying and it certainly isn't biblical according to Acts 17:11.

I couldn't even discourage the use of The Message Bible because in previous BSF literature, the Executive Director Susie Rowan had quoted scripture from it.  The Message is not a faithful translation of God's word; it is a modern version based on the critical text that is loosely translated using dynamic equivalence and not formal equivalence (thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word).  It is not doctrinally sound.  In addition, BSF literature also promoted Dallas Willard who encourages contemplative prayer and mysticism through spiritual formation.

While I appreciate the faithful work of my local Teaching Leader, I do not agree with the relative, contemplative direction of BSF.  In order to reach the next generation of Christians, Susie Rowan is compromising a strong doctrinal stance for a weak, post-modern position so that participants feel comfortable with the program.  I believe that the defense of proper doctrine is being sacrificed by BSF for the relativistic inclusion of everyone's "right" view.  The notes are weak and a correct view of scripture is not tolerated.  Therefore, it became clear that I needed to separate from this organization, (Eph. 5:11).  Modifying God's word so that it is palatable for the masses is not an honest way to approach Bible study and will not produce strong Christians or true converts.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Look at BSF: Part 2 - Theological Concerns

In my last post titled 'A Look at BSF', I considered the classification of Bible Study Fellowship as a para-church ministry and noted that it does not align with the biblical model.  However, the ministry stance of BSF was the last thing I considered as I decided whether or not to participate in this program.  My main concern was its theological teaching.

BSF presents the gospel from an arminian perspective which states that man is not so depraved that he cannot naturally seek God.  This synergistic view of salvation can be seen in their literature on the assurance of faith and in their handout on sharing the gospel.  Many of the BSF resources include questions such as:  'What is your response to God?' and 'Will you now receive Jesus Christ as your Savior?'  However, the Bible teaches that "According as he [God] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love...And you he [God] hath quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins," (Eph. 1:4, 2:1).  Therefore, the BSF view of synergistic salvation is unorthodox.

My following analysis of BSF’s doctrinal views is based on the Lesson 1 and 2 notes from their fall 2011 Genesis study.  BSF prides itself on teaching a literal view of the scriptures, but when the Creation story in Genesis 1 was covered, a literal 6-day view of creation was not taught as the most literal biblical view.  Instead, many theories of creation were offered along with multiple definitions of the word 'day'.  I found this very surprising because at the BSF Leaders' Retreat in Dallas in March 2011, the Executive Director of BSF, Susie Rowan, taught on the Book of Revelation and insisted that the correct and most literal view of the end-times was pre-tribulational (dispensational) premillennialism.  I completely disagree with the popular (but unorthodox) teaching, and those of us who did not agree were soundly chastised for our non-literal view of eschatology.  Unlike the current leadership of BSF, I believe that the narrative story in the Book of Genesis is literal and the apocalyptic language in the Book of Revelation is prophetic.

From the Genesis Lesson 1 notes, my first concern was the section on page 5 titled "God -- a living person" (section III.B.4).  In the second paragraph under point 4, the notes state that "God made us know the tenderness of His love for us and His desire for closeness with us by presenting Himself in human form (Genesis 1:27; 2:7)."  The London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 paragraph 1, defines God as:
"The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; who subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto;..."
The supporting reference for God as a 'spirit' is John 4:24 and for 'without body' is Deut. 4:15-16.  The Bible does use anthropomorphic language to describe God in language that we can understand, such as Isa. 49:16 -- "graven on the palms of His hands".  However, no one can see God and live (Exod. 33:20).  Therefore, the God walking in the garden was the pre-incarnate Christ, not God (the Father) as implied in the notes.

My second concern was in the Third Day's question #3 which instructed the reader to list 3 facts that you learn from God as a living person from Genesis 1.  These notes were distributed prior to the 2011 Presidential Election, which made the discussion of this question very dangerous.  With famous talk-show hosts and presidential nominees, Mormonism has been gaining acceptance in our culture as a legitimate form of Christianity.  The founder of Mormonism was Joseph Smith, and his view of the nature of his god was quite clear:  "god was once as we are now, and is now an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens" [taken from his King Follett Sermon].  Therefore, Mormons believe that god the father is an exalted, glorified, and perfected man; this view makes Mormonism a false religion, and therefore, a cult of Christianity.  The vague and mis-leading BSF notes seemed to support Smith's view.

Finally, Mormonism also teaches that god eternally existed with elements of a preexisting universe, so I found the statement on page 3 (Section II.D.1.) a little strange:  "Humans are created in the image of God and have a unique relationship both to God and to the universe."  I couldn't find any scriptural support for this statement.  The Creation Mandate establishes man's dominion (or stewardship) of the earth, but it does not establish a relationship between man and the universe.

The biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo is what fundamentally distinguishes true Christianity from Mormonism, which assumes that the world was formed out of eternally preexisting matter.  Therefore, the inclusion of the 'Different Creation Words' listed on page 5 (Section III.C.3.) was confusing, especially the sentence under #3:  "He also formed the first man from existing materials of the earth."  There's no concluding paragraph to even get a sense of the point the writers were trying to make with this information.  Again, without any clarification, this information seems to support Mormonism.

On a minor note, I also didn't agree with the statement on page 4 (Section III.B.3.) which says, "Humanity is the apex or high point, even the aim, of God's creation (Genesis 1:26-27)."  The aim of God's creation of man is His glory.  From the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

All lesson notes are approved by the BSF Board of Directors, so with no accountability of an overseeing pastor, no guidance of a subscribed confession, and no denominational claim, the biblical teaching is subjective at best and heterodox at worst.

The Teaching Leader of local BSF groups does have some leeway on how things are presented during the lecture.  I am aware that there are some reformed BSF Teaching Leaders who can impact the group as a whole so that the concepts presented align with scripture.  Nevertheless, the wording of BSF's salvation presentation is vague enough that the prescient view of election can be held which teaches that the predestination of man is based on God knowing ahead of time what man will do; therefore, God chooses someone for salvation because God knows that person will choose Him.  This is the view of the local BSF Teaching Leader that I sat under.  Unfortunately, you do not know the doctrinal view of the Teaching Leader upfront, and the leader can change at any time.  With the uncertainty of the biblical presentation of gospel, along with the vague (and at times unbiblical) lesson notes, I became deeply concerned with doctrinal soundness of BSF and convicted that it was not a good use of my time nor an orthodox means to increase my biblical knowledge.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Look at BSF

In my experience, one of the weaker areas in the Church today is biblical discipleship and mentoring within the church.  Shortly after my conversion in 1994, I was invited to join Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  BSF is an ecumenical, non-profit organization that offers a systematic study of the Bible for women and men.  Originally, it was set up for women only, but men's groups were added later, and now co-ed groups are available.  It is a para-church organization overseen by a Board of Directors, and the Executive Director of BSF has always been a woman.  

BSF has a four-fold approach to Bible study:  Daily questions, Discussion Group, Lecture, and Notes.  I really enjoyed the format, and our local group had a wonderful Teaching Leader.  I stayed with the program for a number of years and even served in leadership, but after the birth of our second child, I was overwhelmed with all of the duties I was trying to juggle (career, home-life, church, PTA, etc.); so to help simplify my life, I withdrew from BSF.

At the turn of the 21st century, my departure from BSF left a Bible-study void in my life that I tried to fill with less rigorous options.  I started participating in the Ladies' Bible study groups offered at church, and I can say that they were usually more detrimental to my spiritual growth than not--from Beth Moore who claims that God speaks directly to her to Henry Blackaby who says that I might miss God's will in the mundane choices of my life.

After a decade of thinking I was being spiritually fed, I finally realized that I was incredibly malnourished as I began to study reformed theology.  However, finding reformed resources for personal Bible study is not an easy task; there are just not many options available.  Therefore, I decided to join BSF again.  But unfortunately, what I thought as a new Christian was sound, biblical teaching was not. 

It has been almost a year now since I left BSF for the second time.  The first time I left for pragmatic reasons; the second time I left for theological concerns.

This post will be the first of a multi-part look at BSF.  First, I'll finish up this post with a quick look at the legitimacy of para-church organizations, and then I will discuss the theological issues and current organizational practices of BSF.

For many reasons, I do not agree with most (if not all) aspects of Mark Driscol's ministry, but he does have a good definition of a para-church ministry:  "Taking the gospel to the culture without the church."

In Brian Schwertley's essay on "The Great Commission," he says:
"Para-church ministries do not have the authority to publicly preach, baptize, administer the Lord’s Supper or administer church discipline...The para-church organizations are not founded upon Scripture, but upon pragmatism.  The responsibility to disciple the nations rests with the church and no one else."

The establishment of the New Testament church in the Book of Acts was to further the preaching and teaching of the gospel for the glory of God.  Therefore, para-church ministries, such as BSF, should be under the authority of a local church and submissive to the instruction of a pastor/elder (the requirements for an elder in 1 Timothy & Titus both show that this role in the church is for men only).  Without the accountability of a local church to give biblical counsel and guidance, a para-church organization is solely influenced by those in charge which is not the biblical model that we see in scripture.  Therefore, BSF is is not a biblical ministry model that should be teaching and preaching the gospel because it is not under the authority of a particular church and it is run by a woman, (Matt. 28:16; 1 Tim. 2:11-12).