Church & Ministry

Three Lines in the Sand, Part 1

An Analysis of Type A, B, and C Fundamentalism

(My apology that this article has been slow in coming. I had hoped to publish this in late summer. We have been so busy here at Southeast Valley Baptist Church that I simply have not been able to take the time to finish this until now. Blessings on you as you read and think through the issues found here. Looking forward to future interaction here regardless of what “type” you are. Straight Ahead! Joel)

I’m getting to the place where I dislike writing. It’s not the work of placing ideas on paper that is the challenge. It’s not even having good people disagree with some element of my presentation. The frustration comes when people try to read “into” what is written. Often instead of taking what is written at face value, guesses are made as to the motivation or “deeper meaning” of a composition. I am told by those who are both gifted and experienced (and I am neither) in writing that I might as well get used to it.

That being the case, we once again start this article with the obligatory fence-building. First, what I write here is simply my understanding of what is happening within Fundamentalism today. Second, I do not think I’m better than those who have a different “take” on the past, present, or future of the movement. Third, I offer the following combinations of ideas, views of history, and solutions to present challenges to Fundamentalism with a strong optimism about what God is doing with separatist ministries today.

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Book Review—Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry

Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, ed. Thomas K. Ascol (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2004), 384 pp.

timothy.jpgIf anything should make you appreciate a faithful pastor, it’s spending time with one. Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry may not place you directly at the side of a pastor, but it will give you the distilled thoughts of 19 seasoned men of God on various aspects of the pastoral ministry.

“Timothy,” like Ira Pointer in Richard Belcher’s series of books that began with Journey in Grace, is a fictional pastor. Unlike Ira Pointer, whose story is filled with other fictional characters, Timothy receives 20 different letters from real-life pastors who encourage and warn him about the privileges and pitfalls of the ministry. Timothy and his wife, Mary, are parents of a two-year-old and are expecting their second child. Timothy is 26 years old, a seminary graduate who has just finished his first six months of pastoral ministry. The book is designed to profit those presently in pastoral ministry and those considering it.

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So What Are the Fundamentals Anyway?

I have been gratified of late to hear of so many men and women discussing what exactly Fundamentalism is. The biggest recurring problem, however, is that while everyone seems to be talking about it, we have not been able to determine what exactly the “fundamentals” are. I do not believe that this question is as difficult as it may seem to be, although to a certain extent a multitude of counselors has made the discussion louder and more unclear. As I see it, a ‘fundamental’ is a doctrine that is critical to orthodox Christianity–that if it were to be removed or impugned, it would be utterly impossible to have or maintain Christian orthodoxy. While this may initially seem to be a matter of semantics, bear with me as I explain further.

A fundamental is any doctrine expressly articulated within the Scriptures that is critical to a right understanding of the Christian faith. These doctrines are similar to the “We hold these truths to be self evident” phrasing in the Declaration of Independence; or, as the Westminster Confession notes in chapter one, article seven:

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Misplaced Emphasis and Missed Opportunities

Although the title of this article presents a negative connotation, my goal in writing it is one of encouragement.

Many Christian schools and homeschooling groups present a spring play with either their elementary or high school students, or both. Unfortunately, the mindset of some of those school drama instructors is that, in order for a program to be a quality presentation, it must be a “classic.” Many use only secular dramas, musicals, etc. I would like to encourage these teachers to climb out of the rut of secular thinking and view their yearly spring production as an opportunity from the Lord.

The opportunity is threefold:

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Of Sunday Schools and Dodo Birds

To ask, “What is the biblical philosophy of Sunday school?” is a loaded question: the question is loaded with the assumption that the Sunday school should be there, and it is loaded with all our circumstantial preconceptions of the Sunday schools we’ve grown up attending. There is no “biblical philosophy” of Sunday school per se; no concordance search will locate the “Sunday school chapter” of the Bible, telling us how, or even that, God wants Sunday school conducted. Sunday school is a man-made institution; and along with the Sunday evening service, gospel tracts, Christian camps and schools, SharperIron, visitation, church buildings, and a host of other institutions, it could go the way of the dodo bird without the church flagging in faithfulness one bit. That so many churches in town are dropping their Sunday evening service may speak of a trend toward capitulation to the spiritual sloth and lethargy of the masses; nevertheless, there is nothing inherently wrong with nixing the evening service, or Sunday school, for that matter.

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Lied About, Stoned, and Left for Dead

Note: Parts of this article came from the Labor Day 2006 sermon Pastor Joel preached at Southeast Valley Baptist Church (Gilbert AZ).

A Pauline Illustration of the Modern-Day Need for Barnabas-Styled Ministries

I recently preached on a passage found in Acts 14:19-20. The title of the sermon was the same as this article: “Lied About, Stoned, and Left for Dead.” The occasion for the sermon was Labor Day, so I tried to insert a little humor by adding the following subtitle, “A Union/Non-Union ‘Sensitive’ Labor Day Sermon: A Pauline Case Study of the Biblical Procedure in Recovering from the Emotional, Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Wounds Received from Those Nasty, Stinky, and Stubborn Elephants That Often Will Run You Over in Life, Work, and Ministry.”

Other than the fact that I’ve never preached a sermon with a longer subtitle, the folks of our congregation enjoyed the description. It’s funny, but several folks said the subtitle immediately set the context of how the topic intersected with them. Most of us have suffered pain in the context of trying to do the right thing at home or at the work place and even in ministry. That happened here with the apostle Paul. Notice the passage.

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Character in Ministry

A Call to the Higher Standard

In mentoring his son in the ministry, Paul challenged young Timothy with these words, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12, ESV). Throughout his Holy Spirit-inspired counsel to this young man in the ministry, Paul stressed the need for a transparent character, an excellent reputation, a humble integrity which would allow others to see Christ in and through him.

In his Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon left virtually no stone unturned while impressing the need for private integrity which leads to public credibility upon his college students. From prayer to “keeping the tools sharp,” to the work of the Holy Spirit, to the ways in which a pastor/teacher might use his voice, Spurgeon understood and emphasized that ministry leads us to a total investment of ourselves into the work of the ministry.

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