Historic Biblical Christianity & Contemporary Progressive Christianity

PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY AND LIBERAL CHRISTIANITY – PART 1

Recently in light of the increasing challenges by the persistent and penetrating movement of Progressive Christianity within the Evangelical Church in general and my own denomination—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)—in particular, I made a book recommendation to the 20+ young men in my Pastoral Mentoring Group as well as to the Briarwood Session and Diaconate with whom I am honored to serve as Senior Pastor. The book recommendation was the recently published “Legacy Edition” of “Christianity and Liberalism” by the noted professor, educator, preacher, scholar and churchman J. Gresham Machen.

Full disclosure. J. Gresham Machen is the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, my alma mater.  He was accompanied by an extraordinary faculty which followed him from Princeton Seminary in the days of the Princeton Seminary Downgrade which corresponded to the predictable apostasy of Theological Liberalism within the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) after its embrace of Liberal Christianity. The original publication of “Christianity and Liberalism” was designed to counter the burgeoning movement of Christian Liberalism in the 19th and 20th Century within the Protestant Church in general, yet the focus was the consequential theological apostasy within the PCUSA in particular. Furthermore, this volume was influential in the founding of the International Board of Missions, Westminster Theological Seminary and ultimately the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The re-publication of this book in the “Legacy Edition” by Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) includes chapters by the present stellar WTS faculty aligned with the chapters originally written by Machen.

Not surprisingly my recommendation was not only questioned by some outside the Briarwood fellowship when it was broadly shared but was actually challenged passionately by Progressive Teaching and Ruling Elders within my own denomination—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The challenge was repetitive and unambiguous—“Machen wrote to confront Theological Liberalism produced by the Liberal Christianity movement initiated in the 19th Century. The Theological Liberalism produced by Liberal Christianity challenged the reliability of the Divinely revealed ‘fundamental and supernatural truths’ of Biblical Christianity.”

The rejoinder continued, “Pastor Reeder, no one in the PCA is challenging these ‘fundamental and supernatural doctrines’ affirmed within our Confession as they did in the days of PCUSA (Northern Presbyterian Church) Theological Liberalism; and then, fifty years later in the PCUS (Southern Presbyterian Church). Machen confronted Theological Liberalism and its resulting adulteration of the Confession leading eventually to theological apostasy. Progressive Christianity is not mounting an assault upon the ‘fundamentals of the faith:’ nor has it proposed theological aberrations to the Westminster Confession.”

In a word, while Progressive Christianity is not promoting the Liberal Theology of the 20th Century, it is and will produce an equally destructive Progressive Theology in the 21st Century which is why I not only maintain the relevance of Machen’s book but also its importance. 

The simple reason the Progressive Christianity of the 20th and 21st Century will produce a theological downgrade as did the Liberal Christianity of the 19th and 20th Century is because they both originate from the same Motivation and are committed to the same Mission.

THE SIMPLE REASON

Progressive Christianity and Liberal Christianity are “both cut from the same bolt of cloth.”

The fabric of this bolt of cloth which is found in both Liberal and Progressive Christianity was identified by Machen as early as his 1912 presentation on “Christianity and Culture.” There as he addressed the Biblical Mission and Ministry of the Church within the culture, he also identified Liberal Christianity’s Motivation and Mission which of necessity led to the adulteration of the Christian Message/Confession and then ultimately theological apostasy. In that lecture, and even more precisely in “Christianity and Liberalism,” which he published almost two decades later, he exposed the fabric of Liberal Christianity that inevitably results in Theological Liberalism. Therefore, since Progressive Christianity is cut from the same bolt of cloth, meaning that it is made of the same fabric as Liberal Christianity, it will likewise inevitably produce, first, its own brand of Theological adulteration and then ultimately Theological apostasy. In other words, Liberal Christianity because of its originating Motivation and its newly adopted Mission of necessity produced an apostate Message—Liberal Theology.

Therefore, since Progressive Christianity originates from the identical Motivation and adopts the identical Mission of Liberal Christianity it will likewise, of necessity produce, first, an adulterated Message, and then, an apostate Message—Progressive Theology.

THE “FABRIC” OF LIBERAL AND PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY EXAMINED

In my “deep dive” I was amazed at how obvious the Motivation and the Mission of Progressive Christianity aligned with the fabric of Liberal Christianity. Although they are separated by 100 years, Progressive Christianity in a real sense is Regressive Christianity as it reveals itself as Liberal Christianity 2.0. Why? Because it originates from Liberal Christianity’s same failed Motivation, and is committed to its same failed Mission, which insures an inevitable Progressive Christianity Theological downgrade of its Message—though not necessarily adulterating the same doctrines as did Liberal Theology.

For the purpose of accuracy, it needs to be stated clearly that the theological apostasy of Progressive Christianity while inevitable will not necessarily be doctrinally identical to the theological apostasy of Liberal Christianity but it will be equally destructive. So, let’s take a closer look at the three elements that comprise the fabric of Liberal and Progressive Christianity—Motivation – Mission – Ministries.

THE MOTIVATION

By documentation Liberal and Progressive Christianity are movements which arise from an identical Motivation. The self-confessed Motivation of 19th and 20th Century Liberal Christianity was not to destroy Christianity but to save the Mainline Protestant Church from the burgeoning movement of “modernity” and the intimidating boasted sophistication of the “modern mind.”  The Motivation talking points of Liberal Christianity were: “in light of modernity the church must be saved from cultural irrelevance” and “Christianity must be saved from the intellectual dustbin of history” and “if Christianity doesn’t change we will lose the next generation”—sound familiar?

Likewise, the Progressive Christianity of the 20th and 21st Century does not originate from a desire to destroy Christianity but to save not the Protestant Mainline Church but this time, the Evangelical Church from “cultural irrelevance,” “the dustbin of history” and “the loss of the next generation.” There is no doubt in my mind that few Progressives are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” such as those Paul warned the Elders of the Church at Ephesus to alertly guard against in shepherding “the flock of God which He bought with His own blood.” In fact, I believe the vast majority are “sheep in wolves clothing.” But make no mistake as affirmed by its celebrated apologists and preachers, Progressive Christianity is “wolves clothing” in that it has the identical and dare I say in reality arrogant Motivation as Liberal Christianity—to save Christianity and the Church from cultural irrelevance.  Also, interestingly, they have the same talking points and marketing slogans. But, do they have the same Mission

THE MISSION

In Liberal Christianity the church is saved from “cultural irrelevance” to a new culturally approved Mission of “Cultural Transformation—human flourishing.”   Mainline Protestant 20th Century Christianity was aspirationally committed to making the 20th Century The Christian Century.  They even initiated new publications such as “The Christian Century.” Mainline Protestant Churches were now poised to unleash an updated and “culturally relevant” Christianity which would usher in a newly defined Post-Millennial Utopia. This optimistic hope was broadly proclaimed from the pulpits of Mainline Protestant Churches.  Liberal Christianity promised to be the venue to bring “human flourishing” to a waiting world—“Cultural Transformation” was within our reach…sound familiar?

Fast forward 100 years to the concluding 20th and newly inaugurated 21st Century.  Interestingly and informatively, the Mainline Churches which embraced Liberal Christianity are actually in the “dustbin of history” and on a trajectory into oblivion having been eviscerated by Theological Liberalism.  Yet, amazingly, previously self-identified “Evangelical churches” are now proclaiming their new—actually not so new—Mission of the “culturally relevant Evangelical church” committed to “cultural transformation.” The Evangelical Church now promises to secure “human flourishing” through “social justice” and a newly defined accommodating sexual ethic guided by a culturally sensitive informed initiative—to seek the welfare of the city. Yes, a Biblical quote, but a quote for cultural reasons taken out of Biblical context and therefore bereft of Biblical content.

THE MESSAGE

Liberal Christianity, Motivated to “save the church from cultural irrelevance” and position the church to be a primary player to achieve its newly discovered Mission of “cultural transformation” then had to edit the unacceptable Theology from its Message/Confession in order to be culturally acceptable in the age of “modernity.” The necessary casualty was the removal of any and all doctrines that offended the “sensibilities of the modern mind.” Why? Because the doctrines that affirmed the supernatural power of God, the Holiness of God and the sinfulness of man were no longer culturally acceptable. In other words, any and all of the “foundational, fundamental and supernatural doctrines of Christianity” (i.e. the Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the necessity of Christ’s atoning death, the inerrancy of God’s Word, the recorded miracles etc.) were removed. Even more specifically, Liberal Christianity, to be “culturally relevant” and to obtain a seat at the table of the “culture shapers,” out of necessity, jettisoned the Reformation secured Doctrine of “Biblical magisterium”—Sola Scriptura. In its place Liberal Christianity embraced “Cultural magisterium” resulting in the formulation of a theological Message marked by “Cultural accommodation.”  This cleared the way for proposed theological changes to the Confessions of the Protestant Churches introducing first theological adulteration and then demonic theological apostasy.  Sound Familiar?

Progressive Christianity (like Liberal Christianity) uses the glossary of theological terms from historic Biblical Christianity but does not use the same Dictionary to define those terms. Progressive Christianity, (like Liberal Christianity) in the pursuit of “cultural relevance” to achieve its new Mission of “cultural transformation,” willingly abdicates selected theological fidelity by also abandoning Biblical magisterium—Sola Scriptura—for Cultural magisterium (cultural accommodation).

In summary, to redefine the Motivation and Mission of the Evangelical Church, “cultural magisterium” is introduced as the new rule of faith and practice under the guise of “contextualization” in order to fulfill its Motivation and to further its new Mission.  Since Sola Scriptura is no longer the functional authoritative “rule of faith and practice,” the Evangelical Church is free to functionally canonize literature originating from anti-God, anti-Gospel and anti-Christian political and sociological philosophies. Thus, Social justice, replaces Biblical justice; penance replaces repentance; oppressors become the oppressed; racism replaced by a new racism with no redemption promise, no reconciliation offered but continued polarization and division assured. 

Further casualties, men and women in sins of addiction and specifically sexually unnatural besetting sins, now hear “another Gospel”—which is not “The Gospel.”  This non-Gospel deceitfully offers the positional blessings of Justification and Adoption but effectively denies the transforming blessings of Regeneration and Sanctification.  Regeneration and Sanctification are now replaced with culturally approved sociological and psychological categories and terms baptized with a redefined theology.  The church’s new Message is no longer one of sinner transformation with a cultural impact but now it is a deceptive Message falsely promising cultural transformation through providing cosmetic behavior modification delivered through categories of sociological manipulation.

THE MINISTRIES

Liberal Christianity in its Motivation for cultural relevance in order to achieve its Mission of cultural transformation not only had to embrace cultural accommodation resulting in the apostasy of its Message/Confession, but also its Ministries had to be culturally approved and applauded.   Rapidly, the historic Biblical ministries of God-centered worship, personal evangelism and intentional discipleship disappeared to be replaced by ritualism, social action, philanthropic initiatives, and psychologically defined therapy. Sound familiar?

In Progressive Christianity, not only has personal evangelism with a Gospel Message that delivers men and women from both the penalty and power of sin been abandoned but also Gospel discipleship ministries that address the practice and effects of sin in the lives and relationships of men and women.  The transforming power of the Gospel has now given way to psychologically defined categories, behavioral therapies, and verbal cosmetic solutions. Sins including addictive and deeply embedded sexual sins of thought, word and deed are now syndromes to be managed instead of sins to be mortified.  The Gospel hope of victories over sin in thought, word and deed, by Regeneration—which breaks the power of sin; and Sanctification which progressively eradicates the practice of sins through discipleship are now dismissed statistically as unattainable and unreasonable.  Yet, the Gospel blessings of Justification and Adoption are still assured. 

Destructively, Biblical justice is now replaced by social justice defined through extra Biblical literature produced from anti-God, anti-Gospel, anti-Christian social and political philosophies which deny not only the Supremacy and Inerrancy of Scripture but also the Sufficiency of Scripture. Furthermore, and astonishingly, the once sacred calling of a “Gospel Minister” is now suspended and superseded by the politically correct cultural calling of a “Community Organizer.”

THREE TAKEAWAYS

1. Motivation and Mission inevitably control and define the Message and Ministries of a Church.  An unbiblical Motivation and Mission no matter how well-meaning will infallibly insure an apostate Message/Confession of the Church and will also destroy the Ministries the Church.

2. Contextualization – When a church embraces an unbiblical Motivation (cultural relevance) and an unbiblical Mission (cultural transformation) it will produce an unbiblical Message (cultural accommodation) by redefining the Biblical doctrine of “contextualization”—to be in the world, but not of the world.  Biblical contextualization actually is the call to speak in the culture to its people in terms they can understand.  Unbiblical contextualization speaks in the culture to the people on the terms they demand.  This inevitably produces the devasting consequences of “first order apostasy.” In Liberal Christianity it produced Liberal Theology. In Progressive Christianity it produces Progressive Theology, such as the loss of Biblical justice to now pursue politically defined social justice. The loss of the Biblical doctrine of one race (human) and multiple ethnicities for the Darwinian fabrication of multiple races with the unending chaos of attempting to remove sins such as racism with racist philosophies and tools—i.e. critical theory; critical race theory; critical law theory and the scorecard of intersectionality, all of which exchange repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation for unending penance, polarization and reverse oppression.  The Gospel of Redemption that delivers us from sin’s power (regeneration); sin’s penalty (justification); sin’s position (adoption); increasingly from sin’s practice (sanctification); and ultimately from sin’s presence (glorification); is now abandoned for “another gospel” offering empty promises of self-forgiveness, self-esteem and psychologically defined terms and therapies to “manage sin as a syndrome instead of mortifying sin as an enemy.”  Furthermore, our identity in “union with Christ” is now abdicated to hyphenated identities exalting our besetting sins which according to the Scripture are “not to be named among us,” but in Progressive Christianity are now being used to name, identify and define us.

3. Sola Scriptura – Liberal Christianity’s theological apostasy began with the abandonment of “Biblical magisterium” for “Cultural magisterium.”  Sola Scriptura which declares the Supremacy of the Scripture was dismissed along with all of its culturally unacceptable doctrines including Biblical inerrancy in its cultural accommodating surrender. In Progressive Christianity, the theological downgrade also begins with the abandonment of Biblical magisterium—Sola Scriptura—the Supremacy of Scripture by abdicating the Sufficiency of Scripture, the Sufficiency of Christ and the Sufficiency of the Gospel to save men and women from sin’s penalty and power by the grace of God to the Glory of God.

FINAL THOUGHT

But the fact is, the Church must remain “the bulwark and the pillar of truth.”  There is no “unity by love” if there is no “unity of truth.”  There will be no ability to love the lost nor one another if we lose the truth out of a desire to gain the affirmation and the applause of the world instead of the affirmation and applause of God. We are stewards of the truth—Stewards must be found faithful.

Since Progressive Christianity is Liberal Christianity 2.0 because it is cut from the same bolt of cloth—with the identical fabric of a wrong Motivation, wrong Mission, leading to the wrong Message, and the wrong Ministries—then, what is the right Motivation, right Mission, right Message, and right Ministries of Biblical Christianity displayed and deployed in Christ’s Church—so I invite you…

Historic Biblical Christianity and Contemporary Progressive Christianity – Part 2

CHRIST’S CHURCH – ON MISSION – ON MESSAGE – IN MINISTRY

Letter to the Briarwood Congregation

Dear Brother and Sisters,

Grace and peace to you in the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and Praise the Lord! As I am sure you know by now, our Session, in light of Governor Ivey’s Declaration, has approved the 2021 Summer Worship/Ministry Transition Plan. You will notice there is no longer any need to use Interim nor the need to put a letter from the alphabet behind Plan. The key word is “transition.”

For the last 15 months our leadership has attempted to keep us intentionally, effectively and safely… On Mission, On Message and In Ministry. Some might ask,” Well Pastor, can’t we just go back to normal?” The simple answer is “Not yet” for a number of reasons.

For instance, In the Providence of God as we have attempted to remain faithful as a Great Commission Church attempting by God’s grace to live within a Great Commandment culture where we “love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.” The Lord has opened up a number of ministry strategies, venues and opportunities. For instance, our Lord’s Day media ministry footprint has been expanded, Today in Perspective Podcast as well as Fresh Bread devotionals have geometrically expanded and at one time were being heard in every State as well as on 6 continents. To God be the Glory!

So, how can we continue to use this outreach tool while affirming the primacy of gathered worship? We have established communication instruments that are not substitutes for gathered fellowship, Bible Study and meetings but can supplement and enhance such efforts. We have and are finding means that allow us to love those who are medically vulnerable with intentional, effective and safe ministry while confidently trusting the Lord yet not carelessly tempting the Lord.

So, it’s not simply “normal” that we are returning to in August but a “new normal” and hopefully even more effective “normal” to fulfill our Biblical Mission with our Biblical Message through our Biblical Ministries. Affirming and expanding the joy of gathered worship on the Lord’s Day, shepherding people with personal contact while taking advantage of new communication instruments will make us by God’s grace even more effective as…

“For God’s glory Briarwood is committed to equipping Christians to worship God and to reach Birmingham to reach the world for Christ.”

Brother and Sisters, the challenge from the world to the church is before us. The need to address the issues within the professing evangelical church is also before us. But the Word of God is inerrant and sufficient, the Spirit of God is powerfully present and the Glory of God is our greatest delight as we evangelize the lost, equip believers and edify one another. Our confidence is in our Savior who saves his people at the Cross and has promised us “I will “build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”



I want to thank the sacrificial, servant-hearted leadership of Briarwood Elders, Deacons, Pastoral staff as well as the Support Staff for your Christ-honoring labor over these last 16 months. I want to thank the fellowship and membership of the Briarwood family for your persistence, patience, intercessory prayers and commitment to “press on” in your commitment to honor the Lord, love one another well and be “the Salt of the Earth” and “the Light of the World“ during “this present distress” which soon God willing, will be in our rearview mirror. So let’s “press on” as we “rescue the perishing,” and proclaim Jesus “Who is merciful to save.”

 I say it often but I don’t say it enough! It is a privilege to serve the Lord with all of you! So one final request. Please join me in intercessory prayer that we will not only enjoy and take advantage of the “Summer Transition Plan” but anticipate with joy the opportunities which the Lord has, is and will open for us to serve Him as we “Lift High the Cross” ….

On Mission, On Message and In Ministry.

For Christ, The Gospel and His Church,

Harry L. Reeder, III

Pastor Teacher

Matt 6:33

Pastoral Letter #9 In This Present Distress

Pastoral Letter on Interim Worship/Ministry Plan F

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Over a year ago the Covid19 pandemic necessitated our response as a church to address the challenges of the pandemic and the directives from the Federal and State Governmental agencies, while maintaining our prioritized commitment to fulfill our Christ-given, Great Commission defined ministry. It began with a Pastoral Letter introducing “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan A” and now, over a year later “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan F.”

I am sure that almost all of you have heard of Gov Ivey’s new directive issued last week. In response to the current status of Covid19 she has replaced the previous directive for our State – “Safer at Home” with this new directive – “Safer Apart.” Basically, “Safer Apart” calls for the exercise of personal responsibility, respectful thoughtfulness and genuine concern for our fellow citizens. Mandates for medical and safety protocols are now by and large strong encouragements to be embraced with special considerations for those who are especially vulnerable to the Coronavirus.

In response to this new “Safer Apart” directive, the Briarwood Session has now approved for implementation “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan F.” The development of Plan F was guided (as the previous worship/ministry plans) by three governing principles.

  1. Motivated by our love to Christ, the lost and one another our Leadership will develop plans that allow Briarwood to thoughtfully and respectfully stay On Mission, On Message and In Ministry.
  2. In obedience to Christ we will appropriately respond to our Governor’s directives and with thoughtful engagement the “Interim Worship/Ministry Plans” will incorporate the encouraged medical and safety protocols out of our respect and love for one another, our visitors and our immediate as well as extended families.
  3. We will intentionally provide a 360-degree proactive/reactive Shepherding Ministry for the Briarwood membership family throughout this pandemic. This Shepherding Ministry will also allow us to focus upon those who are acutely vulnerable to Covid19 along with extending our Ministries whenever possible by social media including the streaming of the AM and PM worship services. Knowing that such efforts cannot substitute for “gathered worship” and Bible Study, they can at least supplement and encourage those who are in categories of vulnerability or who are shut-in.

May I encourage you to look closely at the guidelines of Plan F as they have been sent to you beginning with the introductory remarks by our Executive Pastor, Bruce Stallings. You will note that most of the changes are focused upon the Lord’s Day Worship services and the implementation of a transitional re-engagement of Sunday School for our Congregational Communities.  The Children’s Worship Hour during the 9:30 and 11:00AM worship services will no longer do double duty as Worship and Sunday School but will now focus upon Worship since Plan F allows two provisions for Children’s Sunday School on Sunday morning.

In addition, we have been able to significantly increase attendance opportunities in the Lord’s Day Worship services and still maintain the “Safer Apart” guidelines enhanced by staggering the pews that are being occupied in worship. Lord’s Day evening worship will continue. For those who are shut-in or in vulnerable categories we will maintain streaming for both AM and PM worship services. Congregational Communities will address how to best extend their Sunday School class contents technologically for those yet unable to attend in person. Cindy and I, for the sake of people flow are still unable to greet in the Lobby after the 8:00 and 9:30 Worship services but we are looking forward with great joy to being available to appropriately greet one another in the Lobby after the 11:00AM worship service.

I cannot conclude this Pastoral Letter without Pastoral appreciation for the gracious demonstration of the Love of Christ by so many during “this present distress.”  I am deeply grateful for the wisdom and demonstrated love for the Flock by our Elders and Deacons as well as the sacrificial and servant heart leadership of our Pastoral and Support Staff who have sought to implement these “Plans” out of love to Christ, His people and the desire to fulfill our Christ- given Mission at Briarwood. Most of all, I want to thank you for a Christ-honoring, Fruit of the Spirit-revealing “Love” and “Patience” undergirded by your commitment to persistent intercessory prayer.

Not only is our Savior worthy but this world is in desperate need of Christ’s Church to embrace the Great Commission Make disciples of all the nations – and to display a Great Commandment culture within Christ’s Church – a people who were not a people have become the people of God. Together we not only do the Great Commission but we live the Great Commandment – to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”

To the Glory of God – On Mission – On Message – In Ministry,

Harry L. Reeder III

Pastor Teacher

Matt 6:33

Pastoral Letter #7 in this Present Distress

Interim Worship/Ministry Plan D

Dear Church Family,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I feel certain that you are aware of our next Interim Worship/Ministry Plan D, but as with the other plans I wanted to take a moment to write a Pastoral Letter for three reasons.

My first reason is to express my deep appreciation for your patience, your perseverance and your active support of Briarwood’s Leadership as they/we have attempted to shepherd us through this “present distress” in a way that would honor Christ, bear a clear witness for Christ, and further our commitment to the Briarwood Mission – Message – Ministry.

“For God’s Glory, Briarwood is Committed to equipping Christians to worship God to reach Birmingham to reach the world for Christ…”

Your encouragement has been expressed in multiple ways…notes, emails, even your countenance, and most of all your intercessory prayers not only for Briarwood but also for our Nation, which now in this “present distress” is experiencing multiple and even tumultuous physical, spiritual and social fractures. For me, the phrase “stress-fracture” has taken on new meaning. If there was ever a time this Nation was in need of Christ’s Church being unified and engaged with a Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, Bible-saturated testimony of God-centered Worship and Gospel-permeated Witness, it is in this day.

My second reason is also one of gratitude. While we have attempted to honor the supremacy of Christ as Head of His Church and we simultaneously embrace His command to “honor those in authority over us” when they thoughtfully and faithfully pursue their responsibility for the general welfare of the citizens in our Nation/State—you have thoughtfully avoided unnecessarily politicizing or spiritualizing valid medical directives when universally applied to the citizenry—so I wholeheartedly praise the Lord for this discipline of grace and thank you as well.

My third reason is to encourage you to take a close look at Plan D and familiarize yourself with its content. Realize as you read that you will be receiving even greater detailed information from the various ministries (i.e., Congregational Communities, Nursery, Youth Ministry, Men’s and Women’s ministries, etc.). Plan D affects accessibility for worship while maintaining the guidelines established by our State/Local Medical Directors for public gatherings in general and church worship services in particular. Those guidelines will be intentionally implemented with graciousness by the individual ministries as the new opportunities for assembly and ministry safely evolve. Please also remember we are going to continue to make available our various worship services and ministry opportunities through various technology for those who are in vulnerable categories and not yet able to safely participate.

In addition to the Interim Worship/Ministry Plan D, we are also initiating this month a focused and intensive follow-up to the Shepherding Ministry which has been implemented these past six months in the life of our Congregation. As the Senior Pastor of Briarwood, I am overjoyed by the efforts throughout these months of our Pastors, Elders, Deacons and Shepherding Teams of the Congregational Communities, but we realize that this “present distress” can create and bring to the surface issues which need to be addressed in your life, so as you are contacted, please communicate to us any issues which we need to know and/or what you want us to know—so that we can intelligently respond as needed whether it be providing counseling, mentoring, or most importantly, praying for you according to your needs. It is our joy not only to serve Christ with you, but to be faithful shepherds in your life.

Finally, I would like to thank the Briarwood Elders and Deacons and the Pastoral Staff for not only the work of establishing this plan while maintaining and even going beyond the medical protocols, but also for implementing it with intentionality and integrity.

This past week, we had the opportunity to see our Student Ministry enjoy worship, teaching and fellowship with all of the protocols in place. The socially distanced and protected students were not only properly supervised, but also responsive to the leadership directives and requests in a way that honored the Lord. I have seen the same thing this week in the opening of Briarwood Christian School. So, please pray as other ministries move forward with the same Christ-honoring efforts.

Praising the Lord as by His grace we live “sensibly, righteously and Godly
in this present age” for Christ our King.

Blessings,
Pastor Harry L. Reeder III
Matt 6:33

Discourse with the Foolish

Proverbs 26:4–5 tells us: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” I have to confess that I love these verses. But let’s be honest. Many believers have stumbled over this text and even more have been challenged by unbelievers with this text. Don’t be intimidated. When they challenge you, they have actually opened wide a door for you to talk with them about the futility of unbelief and to talk about a life of purpose and meaning for any and all who come to Christ as their Lord and Savior. So, now let’s take on the inevitable challenges and blessings of this captivating text.

Inevitably, some Christians will be confronted by unbelievers wielding this text and sporting a barely concealed confident smile. It usually arrives this way: “I thought you said God’s Word was inerrant and without contradiction. Well, here is an obvious contradiction found in what you identify as a book of wisdom.” You can then eagerly share with them that the book of Proverbs is a book of divinely ordained common sense. It is neither a book of promises nor a book of prophecies. Furthermore, it is written in the genre of Hebrew poetry, which makes judicious use of parallelism. Synthetic parallelism, for instance, consists of two or three statements addressing the same truth to enhance our understanding. In the case of Proverbs 26:4–5, we have antithetical parallelism, which sets forth a seeming contradiction but does so also for the purpose of enhancing and enlarging our understanding of the truth presented. So, in other words, the command to “answer not a fool according to his folly” (v. 4) is not a comprehensive or universal stand-alone axiom but is necessarily modified by the following statement to “answer a fool according to his folly” (v. 5).

Start answering—according to God’s Word and by God’s Spirit.

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The Word of God is abundantly clear that foolishness is far reaching, but its foundation is a godless worldview—“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1). Therefore, when in conversation with a “fool,” our reply to his questions (apologetics) is to be rooted and framed by God’s truth revealed in His Word and in nature—yet communicated reasonably and always with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15). That is how we answer a fool not according to his folly.

Then we are ready to move from apologetics—defending the faith—to evangelism as you “answer the fool according to his folly” to win him. Specifically, we are seeking to win him from the foolishness and eternal ruin of his godless worldview (“lest he be wise in his own eyes”; v. 5), which he is presently convinced is unassailable wisdom, to a personal relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior who confounds the foolish “wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 3:19) and delivers us from its inevitable consequences of death now and for eternity.

Let me restate it this way: when the fool comes as a skeptic with his questions, answer him from the truth of God’s Word, not from his faulty and irrational worldview. As you answer intentionally, seek both to dismantle his argument and to win his heart.

I’m sure you have heard the attractive statement that I once made with unfeigned confidence—“Don’t try to win the argument; win the person.” This is wrong. You should actually seek to do both—with full resolve and reliance on the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. In fact, for the sake of both the skeptic and watching young Christians who are easily intimidated by the foolish “wisdom of the world,” you must seek to do both. They must see and hear us not only “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and destroy every “speculation . . . raised up” (NASB) against the Lord your God, but they must also see it done winsomely to rescue the perishing.

Such an endeavor must be embraced with humility and bathed in prayer. “Contend for the faith,” but do not be contentious (Jude 3). “Defend” the faith, but do not be defensive. Win the debate with grace for God’s glory while you also seek to win the person to God’s grace and glory in Christ.

I love this challenge. But sometimes I love it too much. The remedy to that self-absorbed trap is to love Jesus more. And when you love Jesus, you will love what and whom Jesus loves. And Jesus loves His Word and He loves His people and He loves the lost. So must we, and by His grace so can we. Start answering—according to God’s Word and by God’s Spirit.