An Open Letter To A Progressive Pastor

 

 

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Dear Pastor:

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you as an evangelical pastor who is a “Biblicist” that believes an honest interpretation of the Bible is the only foundation for truth. Many would tell you not to waste any of your time and energy listening to me because I don’t embrace any new ideas and I simply push my untenable arguments. Most likely, you have heard all that I will share below, but I felt I had to respond to your movement’s assertions.

As the progressive Doctor Daniel A. Helminiak said, “Conservatives are only a shrinking and marginalized group of spiritually enslaved Bible believers.” This may be true, but I humbly submit that in reading the progressive Church’s doctrinal trajectories I see that they push their arguments just as stubbornly as we do.  Consequently, I realize that our disagreements are somewhat permanent. That is, we conservatives believe in unchanging “outdated doctrines” and progressives “believe that Biblical texts have no inherent meaning but acquire changing meanings from shifting cultural interpretations.” At best, we are stubborn “enslaved Bible believers,” at worst; we are bigoted, anti-gay, judgmental Neanderthals who do not understand the newest techniques of postmodern criticism.

So I will simply highlight the inconsistencies in both of our movements. Oh, yes, conservatives who believe the whole Bible and its historical doctrines are inconsistent. We have a text that teaches us to love and forgive and accept people as Christ would, but many times we judge and push them further from the Gospel. Again, conservatives claim the high-ground that the Word of God is the final authority for doctrine and practice, but many times their lack of Christ-like compassion and character belie this assertion. Hypocrisy comes from within the Evangelical movement as it does from any movement. But we must be honest and repent of these inconsistencies. The end result is that many times progressives are far ahead of conservatives when it comes to “people skills.” Conservatives are too combative about the truth instead of being gentle and winning in their approach.

That being said, I simply want to point out a few inconsistencies in the progressive movement that are never addressed. Before I do, I’m not saying that every progressive pastor emulates these inconsistencies. Some progressive pastors still believe in the unchanging Word of God and many of them have a genuine love for people that outshines most Evangelicals. But, it seems that this movement, being very sure of its “high ground” of inclusiveness, overlooks its own false dichotomies.

The first inconsistency of progressives is that they unconsciously imply that they are one of the primary spiritual movements in the earth “that really cares.” By doing this they imply that the rest of us don’t care. That is really how it comes across. This smacks of a superiority that lives off of stereotypes. For example, even if people experience a conservative church in a negative way and leave feeling “judged” or “rejected” there are a multitude of possibilities of why this happened. Of course, one of the main reasons could be that this church needs a fresh baptism of God’s love. But it doesn’t always mean conservative churches don’t care about people. We shouldn’t build our entire ministry philosophy by branding ourselves as “the people who care more than others.”

To be fair, neither side can say, “You don’t care.” Progressives do care about the marginalized, whether they are homosexual, straight, white, black, poor or rich. Conservatives also care about the marginalized whether they are homosexual, straight, white, black, poor or rich. To say the other side doesn’t care is inconsistent and truly a false narrative. What we can say is that each side differs greatly on how to reach the people they care about. Progressives define care through inclusiveness, conservatives through offering a Gospel of repentance, redemption, and restoration through Biblical love. But to say only one side cares is unfair and emotional self-righteousness.

The second inconsistency is that progressives label conservatives judgmental for challenging people to forsake their sins and follow Christ. This is a “spiritual straw man” which is put in place to make conservatives feel guilty for being true to their conscience. The trigger words “judgmental” and “intolerant” have been weaponized against conservatives since the 1920’s. These words are used to pronounce anathemas against us and give those who don’t want to follow the historical doctrines of the Church a way out of Biblical repentance. As someone said recently, “Progressives come across with an attitude that says. “Why aren’t you for everything we believe in, isn’t it obvious that we are right.”

But really, who are progressives asking people to follow? They are not calling them to follow a Biblical Jesus who preached repentance. They are not calling them to turn away from selfishness and sin (since “a good God” isn’t going to judge based on sin). They are not telling them to turn to Jesus and seek His forgiveness through the cross (since no atonement was effected by Jesus and He didn’t rise from the dead). People are simply affirmed no matter what spiritual condition they are in without ever calling them to follow a Jesus who desires to save and transform.

In this theological stalemate, progressives claim that conservatives are anti-gay, Biblicists. We are not anti-gay. We are for Biblical sexuality which takes place within a covenantal marriage between a man and woman. We love people just as deeply as progressives do but we also call everyone to follow Christ and turn from their sins, (even the judgmental Bible-believing Evangelicals who are cold and nasty) and receive His forgiveness and life-changing grace.

Actually, conservatives receive everyone as they come, and we love them whatever condition they come in, but we also give them the truth from Scripture that renews and changes the heart. This is something that is hopeful, measurable, and attainable. However, to be on a journey where you can do whatever you want, live as you want, and be “affirmed” in whatever lifestyle you choose, so long as it is consenting adults, seems to be a boundary-less pursuit of selfishness without accountability.

One more thought about spiritual accountability. Do progressives realize that through this hyper-focus on inclusiveness they have given away all their authority to bring about any future moral restraint? Inclusiveness, by nature must change with the culture. Every time the culture changes your movement adapts to the moral degeneracy of the culture. Don’t you think this is very scary: When the culture moves the goal posts, your movement moves with them? Instead of being a constant you are only a reflection of the culture. Abortion came along, you went with it. Same-sex unions come along, you went with it. This is doctrinal appeasement not inclusiveness.

Why wasn’t there a doctrine of same-sex unions in the progressive churches in the 1950’s? Why weren’t theologians in the 1950’s finding Scriptural precedent for homosexuality? The progressives did not affirm homosexuality until 1991. Why, because the culture was not pushing for it until then? The progressives are not ahead of the culture, they only follow the culture. In fact, progressive theology is unoriginal; it simply mirrors the trajectory of the culture around it. On the other hand, Biblical theology is original. It remains an unchanging mirror of God’s holiness for mankind to reflect upon and follow. What if our culture suddenly decided homosexuality is wrong again; would the progressives change their position? Furthermore, when polygamy and threesomes become acceptable in the future, it is inevitable that your movement will find a doctrinal basis for these sins.

The third inconsistency is that the progressive movement can’t admit that unconditional inclusiveness is actually unattainable. The progressives are trying to create an “inclusive utopia” that is un-achievable. Furthermore, they cannot grasp that reconciling spiritual opposites is impossible and has never worked. Why is it that those in the inclusive movement speak derisively of conservatives as “judgmental?” That doesn’t sound like an expression of inclusivity.

We are not offended; by the way, as conservatives, when people tell us the truth. We understand there are times when the truth hurts and people can give us constructive criticism. We understand that this is very difficult to achieve in a loving way. Sharing opposing worldviews is extremely problematic and sometimes we all do it wrong.

But when there is a real difference between our worldviews, it must be admitted and stated. This only makes logical sense. You can’t have a church where people believe the Bible is the sole authority and defines same-sex unions as sin, and people who also believe in an evolving cultural interpretation of Scripture that affirms homosexual lifestyles attending together in peaceful bliss. That would be like having a church where you declare that both the “White Supremacists” and the “NAACP” members both have mutually acceptable worldviews and we are going to be an inclusive church that worships peacefully together at “the same table, and drink at the same watering hole, and celebrate God’s wonderful grace at the same wedding banquet.”

At some point you will have to confront which worldview is the true and which is a lie. To prove my point concerning this confusion, a progressive leader recently said, “We don’t really know what to teach our children about sin because we don’t want them bogged down in shame and guilt—yet we also want them to grow up into adults who are moral, ethical and compassionate.” You can’t have it both ways. If a child doesn’t have a clear definition of righteousness and sin they will be confused. Inclusiveness feels like a spiritual mirage painted over a very well-meaning but confused people.

Christian progressives unwittingly become unto themselves a secular governmental entity in their quest to be inclusive. Our constitution in America requires the government to be inclusive; to create space for the “white supremacists” and the “Antifa” groups through the first amendment. Our government leaders may personally dislike both groups but they have to make space and protect their rights. The progressives adopt this same governmental approach when in fact, Jesus told us to be salt and light not the government of nations. Christians are called to influence and engage in government and culture through the light of the Gospel but not make room for and accommodate every worldview as a government has to. Christianity in its original form called all other worldviews to come to its “Light” (Christ) and accept Him as the only way.

As alluded to above, the fourth inconsistency with progressives is that if there is no such thing as a stable definition of “sin.” It is an ever evolving moral target. One progressive leader said, “Sin is not as narrow as sexual behavior; and we know it is not as simple as breaking any of the Ten Commandments.” OK, then what is it? If there’s no such thing as “deviancy” then there is no such thing as hypocrisy. Consequently, your movement can’t legitimately tell anyone they are hypocritical, or judgmental.

If everything is “inclusive” then “conservative judgmental behavior” is simply acceptable to an inclusive people and no one can say otherwise.  Furthermore, conservatives don’t randomly change the definition of the word “sin” so as not to offend a segment of modern culture that has thrust the Word of God behind its back in arrogance and said, “That doesn’t mean that anymore, we were born this way.”

Finally, if conservatives have interpreted Scripture correctly, the progressives will be judged for distorting the Word of God and leading countless millions astray, pouring on their souls the danger of eternal judgment (2 Peter 2:1). But if progressives are right then conservatives lose nothing. They are simply despised as ignorant Pharisees in this life, but the God of the progressives as a “good God who does not see sin, and does not condemn anyone, despite the real wrong they have done,” will allow them into heaven in spite of their intolerance.

Therefore, as conservatives, we have to conclude that to be intolerant, then, is to be true to our conscience according to historical Biblical truth. To be judgmental, then, is to believe in righteousness and sin – to be unwelcoming, then, is to accept as true that people are either saved or unsaved.

Therefore, as progressives, to be loving is to be tolerant of every one’s moral agenda even if you never tell them the truth. To be non-judgmental is to have a theological relativism that is really convinced there is no eternal judgment awaiting anyone. And to be welcoming is to believe that moral appeasement is the highest form of love.

Salvation and Theology

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Is it possible that our theology is so fixed in how it describes our relation to God that we are more enamored with our brand of theology than with God Himself?

Within us exists a subtle temptation to convey that our interpretation of Scripture (our theology) is far more advanced and more excellent than the next brother or sister. But, perhaps more serious than that, is the fact that we can be more zealous to bring people into relationship with our brand of theology than with God Himself. Oftentimes we are convinced that there is a special “freedom” or “anointing” to our theology that no one else can offer.

Now I’m admitting that each of us wrestles with many nuances as we engage the Word of God. We are imperfect when it comes to expressing ourselves Biblically and relevantly, and also in agreement with the truth that transformed us on our personal journey. Furthermore, that each one of us is convinced we are right is not prideful or surprising. No one goes around saying, “I’m wrong, I’m wrong, I know I’m wrong.” We have grappled with the various interpretations of theology expressing salvation and, more importantly, exemplify the living-proof that God used certain compelling truths to capture us, change us and motivate us to live for Him.

But after that work is accomplished in us, we can easily convey the truth in such a way that. if only people believed the way we do, they would find a greater fellowship, freedom, or breakthrough: If they would apply our version of the Gospel they would not fall into the error of so many others. (And I’m talking about those who preach a pure Gospel – Jesus is Lord and you need to turn from yourself and accept His free gift of redemption through faith.) Again, it can be more about our methods and our special teachings and how the others are “off” in some error instead of simply calling people into REAL SIMPLE PASSIONATE FAITH RELATIONSHIP with God.

It is not theology that saves us. Theology expresses the deeper realities that are going on in our journey of salvation. But salvation is much deeper than a teaching or a method or a mindset. God uses each of these tools. But if our emphasis stops short with people celebrating the greatness of our teaching or method or mindset, then they missed the whole point.

The challenge is getting people to respond to spiritual realities. Many live in a perpetual spiritual fog. They cannot see the forest for the trees. It is my belief that opening them up to spiritual reality is only able to be accomplished through the help of the Holy Spirit Himself. Our whole passion, as believers, should be to partner with God to see this work take place; to see people respond through a living faith. We should be excited whether God uses our particular brand of theology or whether He uses someone else’s. “Glory be to God. He captured another selfish heart and won their surrender and allegiance.” That should be our thinking. It doesn’t matter if it was Calvinism or Arminianism,or Wesleyism…or anything else.

When will we be humble enough to admit that God has used very different theologies at various points in history to awaken hearts? Interesting enough, in our day, it seems the pendulum has swung very far to the grace-only side. It’s like we have a “paranoia” about guiding people on how to engage God. “Now be careful, don’t engage God too intentionally now. He did it all for you. You are very near the cliff of self-effort and works, be careful!”

Don’t we think God can handle our passion, excesses and errors? If we engage Him and become obsessed with “doing,” instead of “being,” won’t He guide us and change our perspective? Many movements seem to project a message that they don’t think God can handle the different approaches of theology that are brought to the table. Once again, in such a subtle way, so much theology throughout the Church-age is reactionary theology. Leaders who have been in a dead religiosity and have lived an experience that was fake come across like they have a corner on the market of real freedom and anyone who is motivated and deeply engaged and wants to draw near to God in earnest seeking is somehow operating in self- effort. We need to make room for various emphases without projecting on others that they are in error and putting unnecessary labels on each other.

The True Believer and Ultimate Fulfillment

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“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”
– Psalm 63:3, NIV

“You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8, NIV

Our world is constantly looking for the next big thing; the next big trend, the next big product, the next big movie, the next big food sensation, the next big hero or rock star. In its quest for excitement and pleasure, the world raises its level for fulfillment to an unsustainable level. To add insult to injury, when the world is at its highest highs or greatest delights, these moments are not born out of God-honoring decisions—where the will of God is followed or where He is thanked as Creator and Provider. This leaves the pleasure-seeking masses feeling deeply hollow, deprived of lasting satisfaction and under the conviction of the Holy Spirit for their idolatry. For most of these pleasure-seekers, their only response is to immediately begin plotting a course for their next pleasure acquisition.

The believer, however, lives under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit and experiences something totally different. When a true Christian (not one in name only) surrenders their appetites and pleasures to the Lord, God becomes their highest love, pursuit and pleasure. Clearly this is the drive of Psalm 63:3, “His loving kindness is better than life.” This shift to worship instead of idolatry releases the Lord’s pleasure over our lives and brings freedom from the guilt-ridden cycles of chasing endless self-gratification. Consequently, where the world pursues satisfaction and falls way short, the true Believer finds incredible satisfaction without the bondage of addiction or the voice of a guilty conscience.

Therefore, a Christian who is walking in obedience should be the most content, satisfied and thankful person in the world. They have the goodness of the Lord, a saving intimacy with the Father, and—when they do enjoy the pleasures that the Lord has created—they don’t elevate the creation above God and can righteously partake of these pleasures without guilt.

Charles Finney (who was an effective, yet controversial, evangelist in the mid 1800s) always said, in effect: “Mankind doesn’t necessarily receive a change in his constitution as much as he receives a radical change in his heart. Any new power he receives is the power of the Holy Spirit to motivate and properly order his life according to the will of God. However the Christian’s constitution is the same as when he was unconverted; he simply surrenders those powers and actions that were previously used for selfish ends to the Lord for His will and purposes.”

Consequently, if a man was an alcoholic before he became a follower of Christ, then afterwards he would consecrate that power of his old appetite under the control of the Holy Spirit and drink only in a way that is pleasing to God (or not at all). Again, a person who was a womanizer and who lived a sexually loose life would now consecrate his sexuality to God and become celibate or married and covenanted to his wife. Furthermore, a millionaire who lived only for his money and portfolio would repent of his idolatry and use his resources for the glory of God instead of his selfish pre-conversion materialistic obsession. Therefore, a Christian does not receive a new constitution that automatically sets him free from carnal desires but he simply receives a new heart that changes him into a pleaser of God.

Once more, the world’s pleasures—outside of Christ’s plan—always come with collateral damage and consequences because they are not consecrated to the Lord. Outside of obedience to Christ, sexual sins may be extremely pleasurable. However, they are guilt-tainted and the true satisfaction that comes from pleasing the Lord is missing. For example, many live-in couples may have awesome sexual lives but, behind the façade of pleasure, they are unsure that their partner will remain committed to them. This leads to a lot of mutual mistrust and manipulation in these relationships.

True, many Christian marriages suffer the same fate. But they do have the potential to be satisfying and healthy because they are founded on pure relational foundations in Christ and have the blessing of the Lord. “The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22, NKJV). A Christian couple has the potential to enjoy their sexuality without guilt, without condemnation and with the full confidence that God is working in both of them to be a couple who loves according to 1st Corinthians 13. Let me repeat it again: a true believer should be the most fulfilled and happy person on earth. Their life is founded on the eternal purposes of God and they have more lasting rewards than the best pleasure the world has to offer.

The Psalmist says: “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies” (Psalm 141:4, NIV). This sums up the passion of a Spirit-filled believer. The world sets its sights on the “secret delicacies” of hidden pleasure; better sex, better highs and more extreme pleasure. But the Christian allows the power of the Gospel to cut off ungodly lusts as they humbly acknowledge that, without the Holy Spirit to motivate and govern their appetites, they would undoubtedly fall into this alluring black hole.

The primary excuse—for those in the world who laugh at a surrendered relationship with the Lord—is “they don’t want to be a Christian because they will have to give up all their fun.” They love to party. They love to sleep around. They love to get high. They love cool cars and lots of money. Following Jesus would be boring to them. They would have to give all these things up…and they don’t want to.

Now there is an element of this statement that is definitely true. Jesus will require a full surrender of our sins at the Cross. Jesus does call us into holiness and obedience. But there is a part of this statement that is completely wrong. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that we live without any pleasure. It simply means we consecrate, or surrender, our pleasure to the will of God.

What the world doesn’t understand, since it is without a life-giving relationship with God through Jesus, is that a follower of Christ ends up experiencing as much pleasure as those making ungodly pursuits, except a follower’s pleasures are more satisfying. The life of a follower of Christ may be full of pain, testing and persecution, but it is also full of God-pleasing pleasure, richness and contentment.