20 February 2019

I Walk the Line

(Well, anyway, I try to)
by Phil Johnson

If you have friends on FaceBook or people in your Twitter feed who traffic in evangelical scandals, you must be aware that the religious online community is host to some forums where spiritual abuse is always the topic du jour, and some of the regulars who hang out in those neighborhoods have at times—rather aggressively—accused me of lacking appropriate sympathy for their cause.

So not a few people have asked for clarification regarding whether I am in complete agreement with the article Hohn Cho posted in this space yesterday.

The answer is yes. It's not a totally unqualified yes, but it's a hearty yes to pretty much everything Hohn actually said.

My one qualification: I would say even more. And although Hohn contrasted his opinions with the position taken by Doug Wilson, I don't think Wilson is entirely wrong. (I am also pretty sure Hohn himself doesn't believe Wilson is entirely wrong. Also, full disclosure: both Hohn Cho and Doug Wilson are friends of mine.)

Let's suppose that Hohn's point of view and Wilson's published remarks represent two points on a spectrum of evangelical opinion, with the spectrum's center exactly midway between the two. The fact is, if you go much further from the center than either of these two men, you'll encounter lots of poisonous passions and dangerous pitfalls lying along that spectrum in both directions. That's not a mere guess; I'm not wildly extrapolating into the realm of pure conjecture. There are, in fact, some extremely noisy people with villainous tendencies at both ends of that spectrum.

On the one side, you have the undeniable fact that there's a disastrous epidemic of both spiritual and sexual abuse in churches across north America—and the guilty parties are usually men in leadership.

Furthermore, that's not really a new phenomenon.

Adding to the scandal and compounding the abuse suffered by victims is a tendency among far too many church leaders to give cover to the perpetrators—sometimes with patently nefarious motives; sometimes because of a willful naïveté; and sometimes out of sheer ineptitude. Whatever the underlying motive, any attempt to sweep such abuses under the rug is a sinister transgression. It is a true and appalling injustice—and a blight on the reputation of biblical Christianity and evangelical conviction.

My position is and always has been that serious charges of spiritual or sexual abuse should never be automatically rebuffed by the elders of a church. All such accusations do need to be investigated—thoroughly and without partiality. The fact that either the accused or the accuser might be made uncomfortable or feel threatened is no reason to forego a careful inquiry or (worse yet) to declare a verdict one way or the other without actually doing any serious, in-depth, objective fact finding.

To know that someone in the church is guilty of spiritual or sexual abuse and fail to deal with it—whether deliberately or by neglect—is to abdicate one of the essential duties of a shepherd (namely, the duty of guarding the flock against predators). It's tantamount to the negligence of a hireling; it is not the work of a true shepherd (John 10:12).

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the "survivor blogs"—websites that specialize in publishing practically any kind of obloquy or unsubstantiated allegation against church leaders—all in the name of victim advocacy. If the target of someone's incrimination is particularly well known and widely respected, the accusation will inevitably receive maximum publicity and encouragement. No proof is required; the denizens of these forums are expected to treat the accusation itself as sufficient evidence. Visitors who inquire about evidence will typically receive a scolding.

The stated goal is to provide a "safe zone" for people claiming victimhood, and the policy is to discourage as strongly as possible (I'm tempted to say they prohibit) anyone from expressing doubt or asking challenging questions of the person claiming victim status. Typically, a disgruntled excommunicant (or even an angry apostate) will receive the same approbation, sympathy, and encouragement as a genuine victim of sexual abuse. Violations of 1 Timothy 5:19 are commonplace, and remember: if you cite that verse or ask the accuser for evidence, you'll be rebuked (and possibly overrun with a stampede of angry Tweets). You might even be accused of participating in a coverup.

These forums existed and had been weaponized several years before the #MeToo movement demonstrated to the whole world the dangerous potential of the kind of "victim advocacy" where a mere accusation is regarded as sufficient proof.

Also like the #MeToo movement, the survivor blogs serve as vehicles through which feminist ideologies and egalitarian passions are brought in and dropped off in endless succession. The idea is to overwhelm and silence (by sheer intimidation, not by rational arguments) what Scripture teaches with regard to the role of women in the church.

So let's review: It's true that there is indeed an all-too-obvious scourge of spiritual abuse in conservative churches. I do not for one minute wish to minimize the actuality or the atrocity of that fact. But it is likewise true that the practice of publishing accusations without sufficient evidence is just a different form of bullying behavior; it is positively sinful; and it is no solution to the abuse epidemic. It's an utterly abominable practice whose dangers must not be downplayed.

In case you didn't get that, I'm saying that #MeToo-style mob "justice" is every bit as unjust as covering for an abuser. One evil is simply the mirror image of the other.

In fact, let me say it once more, as clearly as possible: to support and participate in unsubstantiated accusations is to sanction a kind of serial abuse.

Especially in a culture like ours where victimhood is deemed a desirable status, and a significant percentage—maybe even a majority—of the most heavily publicized "hate crimes" turn out to be manufactured by the "victims" themselves, it is foolish to think we can actually help victims or deter abuse by credulously accepting every claim of victimhood as if it were gospel.

That's the short version of what I'd add to what Hohn said yesterday—without taking anything away from the point he made. There's a vital biblical balance to be struck in this complex issue, and keeping your equilibrium is like walking a fine tightrope. The key to it is impartiality—a virtue that's hard to maintain consistently whether you're an advocate for victims' rights or a church leader tasked by our Lord with staying on guard against wolves, phony apostles, devils in angelic dress, self-appointed apostles, all-purpose critics, divisive people, false accusers, and all others who would abuse the flock of God.

There's still more that could be said. For example, every qualified church leader needs to serve the flock, not lord it over them (1 Peter 5:1-3). Being a leader in the church necessarily entails being a slave and an advocate for spiritually oppressed and suffering people (Matthew 20:25-28). These are not different—much less adversarial—roles. It is to the wretched shame of the whole church that even within the fellowship of faith people have begun to think of victim advocacy and church leadership as disparate duties. Both are heroic and perfectly compatible roles as long as we maintain a high regard for truth and a willingness to go wherever the evidence leads.

But woe to the church leader—or the lay Christian who advocates for victims—if he or she judges with partiality. We're told repeatedly that God is no respecter of persons, and He strictly forbids us to be. Those who spurn objectivity in judgment have therefore abandoned a crucial aspect of Christlikeness and holiness. They are scoundrels, not spiritual heroes.

And there are lots of scoundrels hanging around both poles of this particular axis.

Phil's signature

Missing the Point on Sexual Abuse

by Hohn Cho

t has been an eventful week on the topic of sexual abuse and the church, as the Houston Chronicle published a series of articles on the scope of the problem within the Southern Baptist Convention, a problem which has been exacerbated by the relative lack of oversight, information sharing, and accountability within the highly decentralized organization. Highly-ranking SBC leaders have already spoken out, acknowledged the magnitude of the problem, and promised reforms, including and most importantly for the purposes of this piece, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

The statement is a good model for taking ownership and responsibility for one's own past words and actions, and although a few critics have persisted in demanding Mohler's resignation or questioning his sincerity, and others are (perhaps more understandably) adopting a "wait and see" attitude, the general response from interested Christians has been appreciation, and gratitude to God, and this latter group includes internationally-recognized sexual abuse expert and survivor advocate, Rachael Denhollander.

I was honestly somewhat surprised to see criticism of Mohler from the other direction, however, with one commenter Monday calling it a "gratuitous and unnecessary apology" in the midst of an article that missed the point so badly that I can only assume it originates from a massive blind spot. The author, Doug Wilson, is certainly no stranger to either controversy or verbal pugilism (ha!), and yet despite that fact I cannot recall even a single time over the past decade-plus that he's ever actually issued a material apology or owned up to a significant mistake in thinking, so perhaps the blind spot lies somewhere therein. Perhaps more likely, however, is the reality that Wilson's perspective on sexual abuse is so astonishingly wrong-headed that it has led to tragic results in at least two cases which have been documented thoroughly in the public record. If the records are a bit too dry for you, Rod Dreher went into the Sitler case in some detail a few years ago.

Given Scripture's clear admonition to us in Matthew 7:3-5, one might think that perhaps Wilson is not the most appropriate or helpful messenger on the topic of either apologies or sexual abuse, even as Mohler heeds his own conscience in extending his own apology and seeking forgiveness for his own overt statements and actions in support of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Churches (formerly known as Sovereign Grace Ministries). And that is precisely where Wilson misses the point. He spills much ink on the concept of the presumption of innocence, despite the fact that aside from some secular Title IX administrators and other radical left wingers, most people are not really contesting that point, certainly not that I've seen within the church.

The point here relates to integrity of speech. Mohler is not apologizing for his presumption of innocence. He is apologizing for going far beyond that in his own past, overt statements of support for Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, which he made without sufficiently investigating the other side of the story per Proverbs 18:13 & 17, and with partiality in judgment per Proverbs 24:23 & 28:21. Obviously, Mohler is personally convicted over these matters, and when one has erred publicly, one ought to make amends publicly as well. As someone in a position of spiritual authority myself, I would be loath to get in the way of a man moved by the Spirit to correct himself, lest he risk grieving the Holy Spirit per Ephesians 4:30 or searing his conscience per 1 Timothy 4:2. And for any Christian minister, we know from 1 Timothy 1:4-5 that maintaining a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith are fundamental to efforts toward loving instruction and advancing the Kingdom of God.

There's another important point to consider here, however, and that is the fact that an elder must be above reproach and have a good reputation with those outside of the church, as clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. One need not discard either the presumption of innocence or the requirement in 1 Timothy 5:19 for a charge against an elder to have two or three witnesses in order to note that there exist differing levels of proof, and that the Bible nowhere requires conviction of a crime—which requires "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" under our criminal justice system—in order to establish that an elder is not qualified for the office, as Wilson seems to imply. Indeed, for many matters relating to moral failure, there will never be a criminal conviction, because adultery, to use one example, is simply not enforced as a crime in any US jurisdiction.

Instead, in even the T4G statement itself (since deleted) that Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan released to defend Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, they indicated in an apparent nod to being above reproach and having a good reputation with those outside of the church that "A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry."

What Mohler now seems to acknowledge is that the charges against Mahaney and Sovereign Grace were more serious than he'd initially believed. As a trained attorney, Denhollander has done an admirable job of highlighting precisely why this is, and her devastatingly detailed March 1, 2018 summary not only provides a credible charge with witnesses that has existed for years, for those who took the time to investigate,[*] in my view it basically establishes a prima facie case that demands a substantive response. It is simply light years more substantial than mere gossip, or biased axe grinding, or anonymous complaints.

Sadly, from my perspective, the response from Sovereign Grace has been to attack straw men, disingenuously deflect, point to procedural maneuvers as a vindication, and steadfastly refuse to address the issue in an (increasingly vain) effort to move along in the apparent hope that people will just forget about it.[**] They're also eager to tout their relationship with "Ministry Safe" as an apparent talisman against criticism, but given the fact that Ministry Safe has become the go-to organization for many major insular entities when accused of sexual abuse (including Doug Wilson's own denomination, and others such as the United States Olympic Committee, Bob Jones University, and Nazarene Global Ministries), at the risk of seeming jaded, I've become rather skeptical of how strong the safeguards implemented by the husband-and-wife legal team at Ministry Safe truly are.

Regardless, in light of this background, I literally laughed out loud when Wilson scolded, "[Denhollander] has gotten out of her lane." It's a backhanded insult that attempts to define and confine her only in relation to her direct testimony as a survivor, when in fact she has become the best advocate for and expert on sexual abuse reform that I have ever known. She's really a textbook example of what earnest and well-intentioned Christian "social justice" advocates might be able accomplish, were they laser-focused on a real and present issue with tangible and measurable injustices, and proposing specific and effective reforms consistent with biblical principles. Her "lane" is precisely sexual abuse and the law, and despite Wilson's patronizing comment about not being trained to identify ambulance chasers, the legal code of ethics which Denhollander presents and teaches on actually requires lawyers to identify and avoid ambulance chasers.

The comment was so ludicrous, so lacking in self-awareness and situational understanding, that I have to wonder whether any of it stems from discomfort that Denhollander has righteously barged into the lanes of coddlers and enablers of abusers who would vastly prefer that she simply shut up and allow them to remain under cover of darkness, rather than expose them pursuant to Ephesians 5:11.

On that note, as someone who deeply appreciates statistics as a basis of measurement and comparison, especially in relation to demographics, I wanted to challenge Wilson's attempt to dismiss the Houston Chronicle articles. First, the reporters were only able to catalog cases where reporting could be found, so the count necessarily excludes many rural areas that have very limited reporting, and cases that were not considered newsworthy. Second, obviously, the cases fail to include situations where direct or indirect or cultural pressure resulted in no report being made, this number is currently unknown due to a lack of studies on the topic, but investigations into various organizations such as the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, Bob Jones University, Ethnos 360 (formerly known as New Tribes Mission), the Independent Fundamental Baptists, the Southern Baptist Convention as mentioned previously, and Protestants generally all sadly seem to indicate a major problem. Third, it has been known from insurance reports since at least 2007 that the scale of the sexual abuse problem in Protestant churches is arguably at least as large as the one in the Roman Catholic Church, which nearly all observers (including Wilson) agree is a genuine scandal.

Finally, I wanted to say a word about Wilson's concerns regarding the trajectory of "woke" justice and capitulation on biblical principles to the worldly spirit of the age. Candidly, I share a number of his concerns, and have said as much on this blog, many times. I'm well aware that numerous egalitarians are using legitimate concerns over sexual abuse to attack the notion of biblical complementarianism itself, just as certain other social justicians are using a legitimate hatred of the sin of racism to attack a biblical understanding of what it means to regard no one according to the flesh, in true unity, which refuses to elevate the importance of trivial surface distinctions between Jew and Greek.

But whether from the left or the right, pragmatic concerns over trajectory and potential results should never trump basic biblical ethics. Mohler obviously believes that in his prior full-throated defenses of Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, he spoke too soon, with partiality, and without sufficient investigation. It is right and proper that he make equally public amends for that, just as it is right and proper that Mahaney and Sovereign Grace provide a substantive response for their actions in light of Denhollander's prima facie case. The alternative is a cloud of scandal persisting over their ministry as they remain subject to legitimate reproach, and establish and confirm an increasingly poor reputation with those outside (and inside) the church.

An independent investigation, which Denhollander, Mohler, and even all Wilson appear to support, despite the latter's skepticism about the existence of an appropriate organization—and by the way, my understanding is that although Denhollander has spoken well of Boz Tchvidjian's GRACE organization, she has not at all insisted it is the only legitimate organization—would be one way of commencing to clear that cloud. With every passing day of intransigence, however, Mahaney and Sovereign Grace make the dispersal of that cloud more and more difficult, and at this point I do wonder whether they will ever recover any credibility whatsoever. Like Wilson, they've badly missed the point, whether it's their responses to sexual abuse cases, their attitudes and actions toward survivors, or their doubling down on a continuing strategy of stonewalling and diversion after being called on it.

Learning from Mohler's apology, rather than Wilson's defense, would perhaps be the bare beginnings of a start.

Hohn's signature

[*] I was one who failed to do so, instead simply accepting the assurances of people like Dever, Duncan, and Mohler, until a bit under two years ago when a blogpost commenter pointed me to Mahaney's May 22, 2014 statement in which he claimed, "I look forward to the day when I can speak freely. For now, the simple and extraordinarily unsatisfying reality—for myself and others—is that in the face of an ongoing civil lawsuit, I simply cannot speak publicly to the specifics of these events." And yet even after the dismissal of that lawsuit, Mahaney has refused to address any of it substantively, an omission that seems so out of step with his May 22 statement that it again implicates the issue of integrity of speech.

[**] A point-by-point establishment of these patterns I've perceived is beyond the scope of this blogpost, but pick just about any public response by Sovereign Grace over the years, and I'd be happy to break it down and fill out my opinion more specifically.

17 February 2019

Drones prohibited

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Speeches at home and abroad, Pilgrim Publications, page 72.

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"All our members should be at work, with no exceptions, unless it be such as extreme sickness or disability." 

I was taken aback the other day when I heard a minister of large experience, who has been for many years a pastor of a very useful church, say that he did not think that more than five per cent of the members of our churches were actually serving God by direct Christian effort.

I began to inquire among my brethren, and although I challenge the statement as applying to the church of which I am the pastor, I have reason to believe that it is sadly near the truth as to many churches; for while a large number of workers would be reckoned up in our statistics, it would be found that the same persons are filling several posts of service, and so are counted several times over.

Those who work in one direction are usually the first to occupy yet another part of the field; but a still larger proportion were doing nothing beyond paying their subscriptions, listening to the preaching of the gospel, and, I hope, behaving themselves with moral decency. It is really a very degrading state of things, if such is largely the case.

My esteemed brother, who is a very apostle of Christ, Mr. Oncken of Hamburg, in forming Baptist churches in Germany, lays down as one of the first questions to be asked of a person applying for membership, “What will you do in the service of Jesus Christ?”

Perhaps the candidate says, “I can do nothing,” and in that case the pastor replies, “I cannot receive you; we can have no drones in this hive.” Or perhaps the candidate will reply, “What do you think I can do?” and the pastor will say, “Something you must do; you can only become a member of this church by engaging in some Christian service.” 

I would almost carry it so far as to say, "Unless you are laid aside by illness, you must continue to do something, or be excommunicated ipso facto by your doing nothing.” That might be too extreme a rule; but the spirit of it is right.

If it were a generally understood regulation that one of the conditions of church membership was service, we might see our churches rising to a far higher degree of zeal for God than they have ever yet attained.

11 February 2019

"What's Your Name?"

by Justin Peters

hen most of us think of John MacArthur we think of the precision of his preaching and the care with which he has handled God's word. We think of the courage he has displayed in interviews with Larry King and more recently Ben Shapiro as he has boldly declared unvarnished biblical truth and yet done so with love and compassion. All of these things are true.

There is another aspect of John, though, that has had just as much impact upon me as has his preaching. His humility.

Though I do not pretend to know him nearly as well as do many others, I have had the opportunity to see his humility come through in a couple of totally unscripted moments. One such opportunity came on a Sunday morning in November of 2017. I was guest preaching at the Grace Life Pulpit, led by Phil Johnson and Mike Riccardi. John knew that I was there with my wife, Kathy, and invited us to sit on the front pew with him during the morning worship service.

Kathy and I were not there by ourselves, however. Also with us was one of Kathy's close friends, Franke Preston, whom God soundly saved out of lesbianism just a year or so before, and Franke's then 19 year old niece, April. After Grace Life Pulpit the four of us walked to the sanctuary and sat down on the front pew. Kathy sat to my left followed by Franke and then April.

A few minutes after taking our seats John walks into the sanctuary from our left so the first person to whom he comes is April. He extends his hand to shake hers and said, "Hello, what is your name?" She responds, "April. What's your name?" Without missing a beat and without the slightest hint of surprise he responds, "Hi April, I'm John. It's so good to have you here with us this morning."

You see, April is lost. She does not know Christ. She had never heard of Grace Community Church and had no idea who John MacArthur even was. Imagine this scene for a moment and put yourself in John MacArthur's shoes. You walk into the sanctuary of Grace Community Church on Sunday morning for worship, greet someone on the front pew sitting there by invitation, she looks you in the eye and asks, "What's your name?" I'd be willing to bet that it is not often John MacArthur is asked that question—much less on a Sunday morning by someone sitting in the front pew of Grace Community Church. It had to have been at least somewhat surprising to him that this young lady did not know his name, but if it was, you would have never known it by observing this brief but revealing interaction between a seasoned pastor and a young lady who does not know Christ. He was so kind and gracious with her. It was an impromptu reveal into John MacArthur's heart that I will never forget.

Now, lest you think I am giving him undue accolades, I understand theologically that none of us as believers does anything with 100% pure motives. We live in a fallen world with fallen bodies, fallen wills, and fallen motives. Yes, we are new creatures in Christ; the old things have passed away and new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our hearts of stone have been graciously and sovereignly replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). But within every believer resides rebel outposts of sin that not even the most godly among us can completely put to death this side of glorification (Romans 7). John MacArthur is not an exception to this; a reality, I have no doubt, he would be the first to confirm.

But if anyone had reason to be prideful it would be John. He has preached through the entire New Testament verse by verse, has written dozens of books including a complete commentary set and systematic theology. He has likely done more to champion expository preaching, sound doctrine and equip pastors and churches than anyone in the modern era. He has now had a full half century of faithful pastoral ministry unblemished by scandal. There are very few men of whom this can be said. There can be no doubt that he has had to put to death the temptation to be prideful. But, at least from what I have observed, John does it as well as anyone.

The Apostle Paul was granted the magnanimous privilege of being caught up into the third heaven. Paul writes, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Though Paul does not specify exactly what this "thorn" was (The Greek word σκόλοψ—skolops—is better rendered as "stake." This was no minor annoyance.), he does say that it was given to engender in him humility. It seems most likely that the skolops was a false apostle in the Corinthian church who opposed Paul and tried to turn others in the church against him.

John MacArthur has certainly had his detractors and to this day has been unfairly maligned and slandered. He has had more than his share of skolops. But I have never seen him return evil for evil. I have never seen him disparage those who disparage him. As the skolops developed in the Apostle Paul genuine humility, its modern-day equivalents seem to have done the same with John MacArthur.

I pray that one day April will come to be known by God (1 Corinthians 8:3). If so, she will almost certainly eventually come to know who John MacArthur is and will remember that Sunday morning he beautifully displayed to her true Christian humility.

I have learned much from John MacArthur's 50 years of faithful ministry. I have learned much about how to study and preach God's word. As thankful as I am for these things, I am equally thankful for the model of genuine humility he has been to me and countless others.

God gives true humility to His slaves, not to glorify them but to glorify Himself. The humility I have seen in John leaves me in awe of God for I know that this is the good fruit borne from a lifetime of study and application of the scriptures.

"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:7). I am thankful for the tremendous grace God has given to John MacArthur.


10 February 2019

Dwelling upon excellencies

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Speeches at home and abroad, Pilgrim Publications, pages 73-74.

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I remember when I came first to London preaching to eighty or ninety in a large chapel, but my little congregation thought well of me, and induced others to come and fill the place. I always impute my early success to my warm-hearted people, for they were so earnest and enthusiastic in their loving appreciation of “the young man from the country,” that they were never tired of sounding his praises. 

If you, any of you, are mourning over empty pews in your places of worship, I would urge you to praise up your minister. There can be no difficulty in discovering some points in which your pastor excels; dwell upon these excellencies and not upon his failures.

Talk of the spiritual benefit which you derive from his sermons, and thus you will induce the people to come and listen to him, and at the same time you will do him good, for the full house will warm him up and make him a better preacher, and you yourself will enjoy him the more because you have thought and spoken kindly of him. 

I have already said, those who are doing no good are the very ones who are creating mischief. Have you ever observed that exceedingly acute critics are usually wise enough to write no works of their own? Judges of other men’s works find the occupation of the judgment-seat so great a tax upon their energies that they attempt nothing on their own account. 

Mr. Gough used to tell a story of a brave man and admirable critic in Russia, who on one occasion was visited by a bear. Now, there was a ladder which led up to the room on the roof, and the aforesaid hero climbed it nimbly, and for fear the bear should come after him he took up the ladder, and left his wife with Bruin below. 

His wife, who must have been his “better half,” seized a broom, and began to belabour the beast right heartily, while her heroic lord and master looked on from above, and gave her his opinion as to her proceedings in some such terms as these: “Hit him harder, Betty.” “More over the nose, Betty.” “Try the other end of the broom, Betty,” and so on in the most judicious manner. 

Surely his spouse might have said, “Good man, you had better come down and fight the bear yourself.” Those who are doing nothing are sure to be great in discovering flaws in the modes and manners of those who bear the burden and heat of the day. Surely they would be much more nobly occupied, and usefully occupied, if they would show us our faults by doing better themselves.

05 February 2019

On Preemptive Outrage

by Jeremiah Johnson

t will come as a surprise to some to learn that the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel contains no ultimatums. There are no threats about repercussions to follow for those who don't fall in line with its affirmations and denials. Not one use of the menacing phrase, "or else."

And yet, if you give ear to the persistent bleating of some overwrought discernment bloggers and evangelical gadflies, you might think the drafters of the Dallas Statement are guilty of making empty threats. That their collective bluff has been called, that they caved to compromise, and that they betrayed their fellow signatories, if not the very gospel itself.


To refer to such foolishness as mere jumping to conclusions severely underplays its recklessness. We'd almost need to invent an entirely new sport just to adequately illustrate the perilous logical leap involved—one that includes a trampoline, a pole vault, roller skates, and a blindfold.

What triggered this chorus of complainers and their misguided manifestos? Of all things, it was the announcements of the guest speakers at last month's G3 Conference and the upcoming Shepherds' Conference. Both events feature speakers who, to varying degrees, have personally promoted the popular doctrines of the social justice movement in the church (or have expressly supported those who do).

The response from some corners of the church has been the sadly predictable rush to judgment—to disavow the conferences and decry the supposed failures of their respective figureheads, Josh Buice and John MacArthur.

I don't know Buice personally, but I had the privilege of attending the G3 conference, and can vouch for the fact that the conference theme—missions—remained unadulterated and unambiguous throughout, regardless of who took the stage. Not only was there an absence of crosstalk regarding social justice, Buice and the organizers hosted a pre-conference that put specific emphasis on defending the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. We heard from many of the original drafters—Voddie Baucham's message was particularly strong in its denial of social justice rhetoric. Neither G3 or the pre-conference were home to capitulation or sissified speech regarding the threat presented by the social justice movement. Put simply, it did not live up to the hype about all the confusion it might have caused.

On that point, a brief aside: I believe the single greatest cause of concern and confusion on this issue of who is speaking where is the constant barrage of handwringing articles about their potential to cause confusion. It should go without saying that when your calls for discernment are actively fomenting confusion, you're doing it wrong.

Never mind that the Dallas Statement wasn't about delivering an anathema, or even a prelude to one. The point wasn't merely to delineate new dividing lines—give the drafters more credit than that. Yes, it was a rebuke, but a loving, brotherly one, with an eye toward restoration. That sense is largely absent from the way believers today mark out and discuss their differences. God's people shouldn't be so eager to write off and dismiss one another. At the very least, we ought to be able to talk with and about one another in a way that evidences a sharp contrast to current social discourse, bringing salt and light into a world in desperate need of both.

By way of example, here are a couple paragraphs from the closing chapter of John MacArthur's book, Strange Fire.

I titled this chapter "An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends" because I want to emphasize, from the outset, that I regard as brothers in Christ and friends in the ministry all who are faithful fellow workmen in the Word and the gospel, even if they give a place of legitimacy to the charismatic experience. I have good friends among them who label themselves as "reformed charismatics" or "evangelical continuationists."

The Charismatic Movement is teeming with false teachers and spiritual charlatans of the worst kind, as can be aptly illustrated by turning the channel to TBN (or any of several smaller charismatic television networks). Certainly I do not view my continuationist friends in the same light as those spiritual mountebanks and blatant frauds. In this chapter, I'm writing to Christian leaders who have proven their commitment to Christ and His Word over the years. Their allegiance to the authority of Scripture and the fundamentals of the gospel has been consistent and influential—and it is on that basis that we share rich fellowship in the truth.

Those so eager to signal the death and destruction of the Dallas Statement need to reread it in the spirit of those paragraphs, and the compassionate concern they communicate. God's truth is always an anvil, but not every situation requires our heaviest hammer.

You might think that G3's uninterrupted focus and uncorrupted pulpit would lead to more measured and circumspect pre-reactions to the Shepherds' Conference, or a ceasefire in the glowering prognostications altogether. You'd be wrong.

If anything, G3's lack of compromise has emboldened these prophets of doom. Full of their own virtue, they appear more confident than ever that the Shepherds' Conference is a bellwether of capitulation and corruption, and that John MacArthur is leading the charge.

That's right, the same John MacArthur who this week marks fifty years of faithful ministry in the pulpit of Grace Community Church. The same man whom church history will likely regard as this generation's premiere expositor of God's Word. The man who has shown time after time to be willing to take the unpopular stances that Scripture demands, and has held fast to the Word throughout countless battles for its authority, sufficiency, perspicuity, and relevance. It is that John MacArthur who they argue has now caved to corruption and compromise.

Frankly, I've had more than my fill of seeing these discernment wonks cite their respect for John MacArthur's decades-long track record of integrity, discernment, and faithfulness as the prelude to questioning his integrity, discernment, and faithfulness. If you really have so much respect for the man and what the Lord has accomplished through him, might that not lead you to reflect on your own, comparatively short track record of expertise? At the very least, shouldn't it give you some inkling that the flaws you're attempting to identify in his discernment are just as likely to be present in your own? Such humility is in short supply in the church these days, especially among those angling for the role of evangelical Jiminy Cricket.

At the very least, can't you holster your weapons and wait for an actual offense to take place before writing off the man altogether? Does a half century of integrity and faithfulness—not to mention the personal spiritual influence you profess he has had on you—not merit at least some measure of circumspect restraint? Doesn't love hope for the best rather than presume the worst?

And if your conscience is so weak that the mere presence of these speakers is tantamount to a betrayal of the Dallas Statement—or perhaps the gospel itself—let me encourage you to hold back your word vomit and not inflict yourself on the rest of us. The church is chock full of spiritually immature confusion; we don't need yours, too.

That might be the great tragedy of this latest rush to judgment. The church—of all places—ought to be the last bastion of circumspect wisdom and thoughtful responses. We ought to be the most patient and forbearing, and the least likely to overreact and jump to conclusions. We ought to be able to see the counterproductive trends that dominate the world's discourse today, and we ought to strive to be markedly better.

If you can't bring yourself to do even that, then you ought to pack it in altogether. Your tongue is a dangerous flame, and this world is already on fire. We could—and should—be doing much more important work with the time it takes to stamp out your ginned-up controversies and endless outrage. For the edification of the saints and the growth of Christ's kingdom, please shut up and step aside.

Maybe learn to code.

Jeremiah's signature

04 February 2019

Five Decades of Faithfulness Will Inevitably Come under Attack

by Hohn Cho

Update: See the P.S. below for answers to some of the questions about John Perkins and John MacArthur.

his week at Grace Community Church and beyond, we are celebrating faithful ministry from the same pulpit by Pastor John MacArthur for the incredible period of 50 years. For many earnest Christians, it's an opportunity to thank the Lord for the work of His servant—or to use a better translation, His slave—who has been laboring joyfully for God's Kingdom and the benefit of His saints. Here's a great interview between MacArthur and Phil Johnson to mark the occasion.

And of course, it is inevitable that any Christian engaged in public ministry over five decades of faithfulness will come under attack. We can see this throughout church history, and also in Scripture, which warns in John 15:19 that precisely because God has chosen the faithful out of the world, the world will hate us. That's a theme the apostle John echoes in 1 John 2:15 and 1 John 3:13. And yet the Word also promises us in Psalm 34:19 that "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."

The latest "controversy" is brought to us by a website that even upon cursory inspection appears to be, shall we say, of questionable repute. In its "About" section it states plainly, "We don't claim to not have spin. Our biases are evident." And sprinkled throughout the website are stories labeled with the "Conspiracy Theory" tag and links to clickbait ads with lurid and tawdry titles. I'm not going to dignify the hit piece with a link, but the essence of the claim is that MacArthur lied about his associations and experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.

Johnson responds briefly but clearly here. I would only add that neuroscientific studies demonstrate that memory is a highly fallible and unreliable tool under even excellent circumstances, much less after you add multiple decades of intervening time and the rigors of increasing age. The term "fade to gist" (coined by Dr. Charles Brainerd of Cornell) seems particularly apt, and whether Charles Evers was actually present or merely on the phone after a call from his secretary, or James Earl Ray was standing on a toilet or a bathtub, or a trip to the crime scene took place hours or days after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, the underlying "gist" would seem to be the same, and generally in line with MacArthur's consistently-related accounts.

That the article author, as well as Charles Evers' "interviewer" (who comically attempted to conceal his voice, but in such a low-tech manner that a few moments of investigation with readily-available tools apparently exposed the ruse), would manufacture this fake "controversy" in their continuing, axe-grinding grudge against MacArthur is no surprise, given their incorrigibly vitriolic hostility toward him in recent years. The Word may have something to say to them in Proverbs 6:16-19 and 10:18. Neither is it surprising that certain WVW cronies and "watchblogs" and "discernment ministries" would give maximum exposure to this hit piece, because that's just their stock in trade.

It's both saddening and at least mildly surprising to me, however, that certain professing Christian "social justicians" would seize upon this thin reed and attempt to use it like a club against MacArthur. The seeming eagerness to pass along this false report in violation of Exodus 23:1 by some on Twitter has been something to see. Could it really be that simply because MacArthur has disagreed with them plainly and biblically on the topic nearest and dearest to their hearts, that they would actually be excited to see a faithful man of God be taken down, regardless of the motive of the accuser and even more, the validity of the accusation? That's an attitude more akin to someone bewitched by an idol, than a believer!

Anyone wishing, hoping, or preferring that MacArthur lied rather than the far more reasonable, understandable, and most of all charitable explanation of a misrecollection by one or more parties really ought to have his head (and even more, heart) examined.

You'd think that they'd gain a clue from watching the mainstream media over the past few weeks, as it's been burned leaping to conclusions forwarded by people with an agenda, whether it's the Buzzfeed report about the Mueller investigation that was refuted by Mueller's own team, or Nick Sandmann and the Covington Catholic kids who were unfairly excoriated by an American Indian Movement activist with a history of false statements.

Sadly, however, in one of the great ironies of the "social justice" movement, the mavens of so-called tolerance are hardly tolerant of others who decline to subscribe to their overzealous worldview. This movement which calls for charity and mercy toward the most vulnerable is actually among the most uncharitable and merciless for those who refuse to toe the party line. I shudder when I think of Matthew 7:2 and even more, James 2:13, from the famous passage on partiality, as applied to some of the most severe and unrelenting "social justice" commissars.

I'd urge Christian social justicians to pray and repent of any celebration of scurrilous attacks against faithful proclaimers of the saving Gospel. I'd urge them to tread very carefully in this regard, and to examine their own lack of forgiveness for matters like this, and even more, past wrongs of decades or even centuries ago, and current offenses of the microaggression variety. As my fellow elder, Mike Riccardi, said elegantly, "Woke theology teaches Christians to regard one another according to the flesh, to nurse bitterness, keep records of wrongs, and build walls that Christ has torn down. Gospel unity teaches Christians to regard one another in Christ alone, to forgive, absorb wrongs, and be at peace with all." I haven't yet found a better short biblical summary for what many of us who are in accord with the Statement on Social Justice find so wrong with the Christian "social justice" movement, and so I'll just leave it at that.

Hohn's signature


03 February 2019

Up or down?

Image result for charles spurgeon

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 38, sermon number 2,281, "Our Lord in the valley of humiliation."

"The lower he stoops to save us, the higher we ought to lift him in our adoring reverence."

Did Christ humble himself? Come, brothers and sisters, let us practise the same holy art. Have I not heard of some saying, “I have been insulted; I am not treated with proper respect. I go in and out, and I am not noticed. I have done eminent service, and there is not a paragraph in the newspaper about me.” 

Oh, dear friend, your Master humbled himself, and it seems to me that you are trying to exalt yourself! Truly, you are on the wrong track. If Christ went down, down, down, it ill becomes us to be always seeking to go up, up, up. 

Wait till God exalts you, which he will do in his own good time. Meanwhile, it behoves you, while you are here, to humble yourself. If you are already in a humble position, should you not be contented with it; for he humbled himself? If you are now in a place where you are not noticed, where there
is little thought of you, be quite satisfied with it.

Jesus came just where you are; you may well stop where you are; where God has put you. Jesus had to bring himself down, and to make an effort to come down to where you are. 

Is not the Valley of Humiliation one of the sweetest spots in all the world? Does not the great geographer of the heavenly country, John Bunyan, tell us that the Valley of Humiliation is as fruitful a place as any the crow flies over, and that our Lord formerly had his country house there, and that he loved to walk those meadows, for he found the air was pleasant? Stop there, brother. 

“I should like to be known.” says one. “I should like to have my name before the public.” Well, if you ever had that lot, if you felt as I do, you would pray to be unknown, and to let your name drop out of notice; for there is no pleasure in it. 

The only happy way seems to me, if God would only let us choose, is to be known to nobody, but just to glide through this world as pilgrims and strangers, to the land where our true kindred dwell, and to be known there as having been followers of the Lord.