The National Conference on Preaching 2015

Anderson University host NCP2015 at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL, May 12-14. For more information visit NCP2015.com or call 864.328.1809. More>

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The Broadus Lectures on Preaching

Attendance at the lectures will be free and open to the public. Lectures will be held Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Smith will preach for campus worship on Wednesday, Oct 29 at 10:10 am, then bring the concluding lecture at 2:00 pm. For more information call 864.328.1809. More>

 

Covenants & Coffee cups

CoffeeMugTemporary v. permanent. I think of these two terms frequently. The dynamic is at work when you consider a temporary solution v. a long-term one. Or short-term goals v. long-term ones.

But, most of the time this relationship comes up when I drink coffee, which is regularly.

I like to use a “real” coffee mug instead of a travel cup. It’s not really an opposition, as much as a preference. I’m not “offended” when I use a travel, to-go cup to drink coffee, but if given a choice I opt for the old-fashioned mug over the paper cup.

Frequently, when I think of the purpose of a coffee mug v. a coffee cup I think of covenants. Specifically, I think of covenants. Covenants between God and the Israelites (or wider in scope) are throughout scripture (see Genesis, especially: 6.18-21; 9.1-17; 15.1-21; 17.1-27). Immediately my attention turns to the point that when rightly considered covenants are promissory. They are pledges, compacts, agreements, declarations, and oaths, often in the form of a promise.

As a specific example, see the covenant established by God with Noah, in Genesis 9, is essentially a promise. The difference between God’s promises and mine are significant. They resemble each other, kind of. They have similiarities, sort of.

This is precisely why I think of promises when I think of coffee mugs. Promises made by God v. ones I make. The difference is about as identifiable as the difference between a coffee mug – which falls on the permanent side of things – and a travel paper cup – which falls on the temporary, disposable side of things. Sure they serve the same function. But, the very nature of them is different. And the quality of the materials and their utility is of a different kind, too. This also leads to their shelf life. One is temporary. The other is permanent.

I make promises to my children in a “I promise we can get a QT slush on the way home” sort of way. I suppose I have made more significant ones, too, but I am reticent to over-commit so often I steer clear of obligating myself too often to the whim of the moment. If I’m honest this has less to do with Jesus’ comments in Matt 5.33-37, and more to do with my fear of not keeping the promise.

When I make a promise it’s closer to a “I really want to do this, so I hope it works out” stop-gap measure. When God makes a promise, the declaration is guaranteed. God will not fail to fulfill the obligation. For God, a covenant is an assured promise. Arguably, for God, a covenant is a fulfilled promise (even though we may be awaiting fulfillment). Said differently, when humans make promises they are weak, temporary, not for long-term utility. Like to-go paper cups.

God’s promises are strong, permanent, and able to be passed from one generation to the next. Like coffee mugs.

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The Rights of Conscience Inalienable

In a sermon entitled “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable,” preached and published in the late 18th century, American colonists John Leland contended:

To produce uniformity in religion. Rulers often fear that if they leave every man to think, speak and worship as he pleases, that the whole cause will be wrecked in diversity; to prevent which they establish some standard of orthodoxy to effect uniformity. But is uniformity attainable? Millions of men, women and children, have been tortured to death to produce uniformity, and yet the world has not advanced one inch towards it. And as long as men live in different parts of the world, have different habits, education and interests, they will be different in judgment, humanly speaking.John Leland

Leland wrote these words as a champion for the religious liberty of Baptist pastors in Virginia and other colonies.  He supported the formulation and adoption of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  His words ring poignantly true considering the recent efforts by the mayor of Houston to curtail the First Amendment rights of several pastors in that city.

The First Amendment protects Americans from the establishment of a state religion.  It also protects the freedom of speech, including the freedom of religious expression.  Particularly in Leland’s time, the First Amendment protected Baptist pastors in Virginia from persecution by Anglicans for preaching doctrines contrary to that of the state church.  State officials incarcerated these Baptist pastors for preaching without a license in an effort to protect the doctrinal purity of the state church form the “errant” preaching of these dissenters.

The mayor of Houston’s actions look very similar to the actions taken by these 18th century Virginian officials.  Some people might argue that Mayor Parker is not seeking to espouse any particular doctrine; however, such a conclusion is misguided and incorrect.  By asking for these pastors’ sermons to enforce the omission of particular content that counters an agenda promoting homosexuality, the mayor actually seeks to produce a uniformity in the doctrine of “tolerance.”

This doctrine contends that Americans should tolerate beliefs and behaviors of their fellow countrymen because of their right to “live and let live.”  She apparently considers anyone who would oppose such a belief of toleration as intolerant at best and criminal at worst; however, is the mayor not being intolerant in preaching her message of tolerance?  Does the same freedom of expression of speech and action that she champions for the homosexual community not also apply to these Houston pastors?  They have just as much right to preach their faith of biblical beliefs as she does to preach her faith of “tolerance.”

In his sermon, Leland asks:

Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of the mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear—maintain the principles that he believes—worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e. see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging of him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death; let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.John Leland

Mayor Parker promotes a dangerous proposition and view regarding the relationship between government and freedom of religion and conscience.  If she has her way, we will return to a time when the government promotes a state religion, perhaps secularism or tolerance, in the name of uniformity.  In so doing, she is advocating an attack on freedom of conscience no different than the attacks on religion that occurred under Soviet communism or now exist in communist China.

We would do well as Christians and Americans to review the history behind the First Amendment and the great price that Baptist pastors in Virginia and other states paid to promote religious liberty in our nation.  Are you prepared as Christians and pastors to champion those rights today?  Like the Baptist pastors of 18th century America, are you prepared to go to jail for preaching biblical messages?  Remember the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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