REVOICE? – GOD’S VOICE!

The Revoice Conference is history. When first announced with its advertised purpose statement, sponsors, plenary sessions and speakers, my Session requested I pastorally address it for them and our congregation, especially since it was hosted by a PCA church in St. Louis and contained students, graduates and faculty from Covenant Theological Seminary, our denominational seminary.  In compliance, I provided an initial analysis upon the purpose statement, each plenary session synopsis and the speaker’s publications as well as public positions.

In the podcast/blog initially recorded on the Revoice Conference, I made a specific request that even though there were clear reasons to be concerned about the conference we ought to wait and see what each speaker would actually say in their assigned sessions. In addition, the speakers should not be critiqued simply because they are speaking at such a conference, but ultimately on the content of what they actually say in the conference. Through online access to the plenary session talks we now know the content of the conference. The overall verdict is in. Revoice was not and is not God’s voice.

Except for a few notable exceptions – such as Dr. Skylar’s treatment of Leviticus 18, which was consistent with his overall excellent commentary on Leviticus – Revoice was not and is not God’s voice. While unable in this venue to address all of the issues which lead to this verdict, I will highlight five essential issues with necessary foundational thoughts as to why the plenary sessions were at best inconsistent and in many cases contradictory to God’s voice which is revealed in His Word. I am grateful for a number of colleagues from various seminaries, ministries, churches and, in particular, The Gospel Reformation Network, each of whom are pastorally and comprehensively addressing with Gospel faithfulness and theological accuracy the content of the Revoice conference.

During the initial criticisms of the Revoice conference, multiple assurances were given by the conference organizers that everyone was overreacting. In fact, the conference founder, Nate Collins, declared that the organizers were committed to what the Bible teaches as “the traditional historic understanding of sexuality in marriage.” But the reality is that the conference actually confirmed the concerns surfaced by the conference purpose statement which is…

The Revoice Conference is designed to support, encourage and empower gay, lesbian, same sex attracted and other LGBTQ+ Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.

So, in light of the heightened concerns evoked by the conference content and to comply with my Session’s request, here are five essential issues with a brief theological rationale as to why these specific Revoice propositions are not God’s voice. 

GAY CHRISTIAN IDENTITY

The Revoice purpose statement clearly affirms that those who profess Christ from an LGBTQ+ lifestyle are to be welcomed into the church and identified as “gay Christians.” This Revoice identity proposal is not God’s voice. Without denying or diminishing the reality of the “old man”—the powerful remnant of sin which indwells every Christian until glorification; nor  dismissing the challenges related to eradicating the practice of addictive sins, especially sins of sexual addictions intrinsic to natural or unnatural sexual immorality—it is abundantly clear that neither Scripture nor the Gospel affirms, allows or proposes that any believer is to be identified by their pre or post-conversion entangling sins no matter how notorious or addictive.

On the contrary, the Gospel calls us by faith, as the elect of God, who repent of our sins and come to Christ by the Spirit of God with the Word of God to know that we have been delivered from the power of sin through regeneration, with a new heart; from the penalty of sin through justification, with a new record; from the place of sin through adoption to a new family; and increasingly, though unevenly, from the practice of sin through sanctification with a new life; and ultimately, from the presence of sin through glorification to a new home. Therefore, our sins (from which we have been, are being and will be delivered) are no longer our identity as they once were through the distortion of idolatry.  Our identity is now Christ. In Him, by the saving power of the Gospel, we now confess we were created in the image of God and we also confess we are being conformed to the image of Christ.

In a word, we are in Christ and He is in us. Therefore, to live is Christ.  As for indwelling sin – it is an enemy to assassinate, not a distorted identity to embrace.  It is not only inconsistent to use sin as an adjective to modify or define our profession of Christ to the world, it is also unsupported in the Scripture and the Gospel message.

To my dear brothers and sisters who have come to Christ from such sexual immorality and anarchy—Praise God and hear God’s voice as you fight the good fight for Christ.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. AND “You have been set free from the Law of sin and death.” AND “Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies.”

Please know you are in Christ and Christ is in you. Now through Christ and by the means of grace, join us as sinners saved by grace to confess Christ, who is our life to this world and until we meet him let us kill the sin that would kill us because Christ is our life and our identity.

I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. 

SAME SEX ATTRACTION

The Revoice Conference, as anticipated from the purpose statement and plenary session synopsis, consistently presented same sex attraction as an inconvenient desire beyond the power of the Gospel of grace to eradicate, and in fact, unnecessary to eradicate. It must simply be handled. The unmistakable proposal in Revoice is that same sex attraction is a syndrome to be strategically managed.  That is not God’s voice.  To be clear same sex attraction is not a syndrome to be managed. It is a sinful desire to be mortified.  God’s voice is clear. His grace is greater than any and all of our sin.  His grace not only provides an atonement to remove the guilt and shame of sin, but also empowers the forgiven believer to kill the practice and desire for sin before it kills you.

While the Word of God affirms, commends and commands brotherly and sisterly love within the same gender, it does not affirm sexual, erotic, or romantic love within the same sex. On the contrary, same sex erotic love in the Bible either brings God’s judgment (Genesis 19, Leviticus 18) or its shameless practice and approval in the culture is the evidence of God’s present judgment. (“God gave them over to unnatural desires…” Romans 1) Yet, praise God such sins though worthy of judgment, are not beyond the grace of God. The grace of God does not treat such sinful lusts of the heart as inconvenient attractions to be controlled, but as sinful desires to be crucified.  James 1 informs us that sin is the inevitable progeny when internal sinful desires (lusts of the heart) unite with external temptations. James is simply affirming our Savior’s warnings concerning the sinfulness of the lusts of the heart which render us culpable of guilt, even though the heinous deed has not been done which brings even greater guilt and consequences. The believer is called to not only avoid the deed of sin but to relentlessly kill the sinful desires from which the deeds of sin are birthed when united to the external temptations of the world.

The call is clear and unmistakable. We are to mortify sin by fleeing temptation and killing sinful desires. When the parents are eradicated, the progeny cannot be conceived and birthed. The Gospel promises not only a sufficient atonement to remove the condemnation of such sins, but also the power to kill them.  Yes, we have “sin living in us” but we do not “live in sin.”  On the contrary, the dominion of sin has been broken; therefore, in humble reliance upon Divine grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we can flee temptation and kill sin. Some of us may enjoy the blessing of immediate deliverance from its practice in our life.  Some may have to fight a lifelong battle with uneven success. But, all of us pursue holiness with full awareness that in Christ, we are “more than conquerors.” Therefore, we will not and cannot accommodate our sinful desires nor lay down the Sword of the Spirit and the power of prayer by signing peace treaties with our sinful desires. That is God’s voice. 

MARRIAGE AS A HISTORIC CHRISTIAN TRADITION

The Revoice conference affirmed that the act of sex outside of marriage, whether natural or unnatural, heterosexual or homosexual, is sin. Such a statement, of course, is commendable and one for which I am grateful. Revoice also proposes that “LGBTQ+ Christians” honor the “historic Christian tradition of marriage.” Again, I’m grateful for such a position. Yet, some speakers declared that the teaching of a family consisting of one man and one woman for one life with their covenant children was idolatrous .  To support this contention they proceeded to use Biblical accounts of God’s grace in dealing with broken marriages in a broken world and even accounts of brotherly love as the true Biblical teaching of family. While the Biblical definition of marriage and family like anything else can become an idol, the Christ-affirmed Biblical definition of marriage as foundational to family is not idolatrous and to propose such is not God’s voice.

God’s voice is a ringing declaration that marriage is affirmed in general revelation and defined in special revelation.  It is not simply a historic Christian tradition.  It has become a historic Christian tradition because it is a Biblical mandate, “For this cause, a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one.” Genesis 2:24 as quoted by our Savior and New Testament writers. By doing so, Jesus defines marriage as a heterosexual, monogamous and conjugal covenantal relationship to be “held in honor by all.”

Furthermore, Christ and Scripture affirm heterosexual intimacy within marriage as a Divine gift. Thus, the doctrine of marriage and sex within marriage to initiate the marriage and recreate, as well as procreate, is a historic Christian tradition because it is mandated in the Word of God which is our only rule of faith and practice. Specifically, the tradition exists because marriage and monogamous heterosexual intimacy within marriage is a Biblical ethic that is affirmed as a creation ordinance, embraced in the Decalogue and Biblically amplified by the impact of the Gospel upon marriage in the lives of husbands and wives. That is God’s voice.

QUEER CULTURE

One of the most astonishing plenary sessions, though consistent with the purpose statement of the Revoice conference, was the astounding proposal that the New Heavens and the New Earth would be “blessed by treasures from the queer culture.” This is not God’s voice.

There is no doubt that God’s common grace which restrains men and women from being as sinful as they could or would be, secures, as a byproduct, remnants of virtue even within some of the most depraved cultures produced by humanity’s rebellion against God. I am sure that the queer culture, by God’s common grace, has such vestiges of virtue that echo what is good and beautiful and true. But such remnants of virtue are not preserved by the motivating sins of the culture but – in spite of them.

The treasures of the New Heavens and the New Earth owe their presence only to Christ, to whom we also owe our assured presence in the New Heavens and the New Earth. All treasures of the New Heavens and the New Earth exist by the common or redeeming grace of God in Christ alone having been secured by the Spirit of God whom He sent for us and who preserves us for the glory of God the Father who sent the Son to make us His treasure. We have a treasured inheritance preserved for us in glory and we are preserved for that inheritance having been treasured by Christ who has made us His treasure and when we see Him we will declare that He is our treasure. “High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.” That is God’s voice.

SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS

In order to “observe the historic Christian tradition of marriage” and manage same sex attraction, the Revoice Conference proposed the path of celibacy and the establishment of “spiritual friendships” for those with same sex attractions. “Spiritual friendships” were then declared as a means to manage same sex attractions in an aesthetic relationship.  This is not God’s voice.

While Biblically defined spiritual friendships—the communion of the saints and the fellowship of believers—is certainly an embraced virtue and dynamic within the Body of Christ, but this proposed quasi-covenantal relationship built around the erotic impulses of same sex attraction is more than a bad idea. It is an instrument of assured destruction for any and all who embrace it.

The Church of Jesus Christ is called to welcome sinners to hear the Gospel of saving grace and then call upon them to believe in Christ and repent of their sins, all the while reflecting Christ who is a “friend to sinners” but no “friend to sin.” We are to Biblically, by the power of the Spirit, patiently love one another in the uneven and imperfect journey of sanctification by grace. Moreover, there are and should be discipleship groups designed to help believers grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Furthermore, at times, believers who are seeking to mortify sins they have in common gather for encouragement and accountability. But those relationships are not built around the sin but around God’s grace to eradicate the sin.

Christ’s church is and must be a welcoming haven for sinners. But it is also a lethal death trap for sin. Our call to love one another in Christ is not a license nor a recommendation to develop a quasi-covenantal relationship configured around any sin and certainly not around sexually addictive sins. To paraphrase the commentary of another – same sex desire is not a pet cat to be tamed. It is a man-eating tiger who will devour its naïve owner if it is not killed.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Though I have restricted myself to five issues and restrained the analysis of each one to some simple Biblical, foundational perspectives, I realize this is beyond blog length. But I ask you to patiently read a few more sentences.

I was initially grateful to hear there was a conference addressing the LGBTQ+ agenda for two reasons. First, we are in the throes of a sexual revolution reflecting a tsunami-like wave of the neo-pagan world and life view of secular humanism with its insatiable sacramental pursuit of natural and unnatural sexual gratification. This revolution requires the normalization of sexual promiscuity and perversity. As one cultural analyst has said, “a cultural revolution is designed to celebrate what was once despicable and make despicable what was once celebrated.” Like all revolutions, those who do not surrender will be marginalized or eliminated.  We are in such a revolution marked by sexual anarchy. Much is at stake. Therefore, a conference designed to help us with a Christian apologetic to defend the faith without being defensive and contend for the faith without being contentious is desperately needed—a conference faithful to God’s Voice revealed in Scripture.

Secondly, we need a God’s Voice conference that equips believers to not only speak the truth in love in the public square but also to love others with the truth through Biblically effective personal evangelism and discipleship. The Revoice Conference was not the issue. The issue was the purpose and content of the conference. I am praying that the Revoice Conference will stimulate confessionally faithful Seminaries, ministries and churches to produce a conference and publications which proclaim God’s Voice and therefore, provide assets for a winsome apologetic and an effective Gospel ministry of evangelism and discipleship to both rescue those perishing in the idolatry of sexual anarchy and lovingly nurture them within the Body of Christ.

I do not question the heart motives of the Revoice Conference organizers. I am neither inclined nor equipped to do so. However, I do question their proposals. Revoice was overwhelmingly not God’s voice found in God’s Word.  But we do need to know God’s voice on these issues. There will be no place to hide in this sexual revolution and there are men and women being deceived into death by the LGBTQ+ agenda and message that we must reach with the Gospel.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  Corinthians 6: 9-11

WHERE TO SPEAK? WHEN TO SPEAK? WHAT TO SPEAK? PT. 2

A few days ago I wrote a Blog in response to both the questions and the criticisms of my decision to speak at the Memorial Day in Montgomery. In it I attempted to communicate my talk which is appropriately represented by the thesis/title – “Voices From the Past Calling for Personal and Racial Reconciliation in the Present for the Future.”

A REVIEW

A brief summary is, beginning with historical facts and illustrations and attempting to build on commendable efforts at regional reconciliation, after a fratricidal war, I then challenged the audience to not simply remember history but to make history. And the only way to make a history that cannot be hijacked is to build a history which removes sin with repentance, forgiveness and filling it with the love of Christ. This kind of history can only be made when those who make it are first reconciled to God through the Gospel of salvation by grace in Christ, which is received by faith and repentance – as we trust in His atoning work on the cross – and are filled with His Spirit and who repent of their sins to follow Christ. Referencing II Cor 5 I also affirmed the Apostle Paul’s identification of the Gospel as “the ministry and message of reconciliation in Christ.”  Furthermore, this Gospel places us under a mandate to reconcile with others through repentance and forgiveness. This Gospel culture of repentance and reconciliation must be intentionally nondiscriminatory and without partiality since all of this human race, no matter the ethnicity, are made in the image of God.

The simple fact is, we, who are saved by grace, are called to treat others with grace, respect and dignity. This lifestyle was illustrated imperfectly but astonishingly through the post-Civil War efforts of an adopted son of Alabama, Booker T. Washington from whom I used three illustrations. The 20 minute talk concluded with an invitation to Christ and a call to follow Christ by hearing the voices from the past now challenging us in the present to pursue personal and racial reconciliation for the future and to labor for a Gospel Awakening in a deeply divided nation.

The Blog concluded by my sharing my framing ministry philosophy from the Word of God – Where do I speak? – When do I speak? – What do I Speak? – along with the basic premise that even with my inadequacies I must compassionately but clearly speak the Gospel and be numbered with the company of God’s people who are identified as – “Everyone Evangelizing Everyone Everywhere Every day.”

A REQUEST

I have obviously received numerous responses. Many thoughtfully worked their way through the Blog taking the time to identify what they affirm and what they question. There were various comments and critiques. The vast majority were thoughtful, reflective and for me, instructive and insightful, for which I am grateful. I had planned on a Part 2 for next week but in light of some of the questions that have surfaced and after much prayer; I was convinced I need to respond now.

First of all to those thoughtful comments – I repeat, thank you. Your focused responses both positive and negative have been very helpful. I am amazed and reaffirmed by the fact that learning is a lifelong experience. While I have responded to many individuals personally and continue to do so, there are others that still need to be addressed and therefore this Blog.

For many, their first encounter of my speaking at this event was a carefully framed picture of me on the podium with battle flags flying in the breeze behind me. As one brother shared, “it was startling to see, not only a PCA pastor but YOU in that setting.” Furthermore he said, “I confess I embraced it as it was intended for me to embrace it…supposing you were there with an uncritical support of the battle flag and what it represents in today’s world.” As I said to this young man and to others but particularly to my African-American brothers please know that nothing could be further from the truth therefore I am deeply sorry for the offense and/or the confusion that picture has caused and my involvement in it. Please note, I am not saying “if you were offended forgive me.” What I am saying is, forgive me for offending you. Regardless of my intentions of the meeting the offense of that optic in your life pains me. But allow me to simply assure you, not in self-defense but for clarity, I went to the event for my speaking part and not the ceremonies and of course I spoke from my assigned position on the podium and had no input as to the ceremonial decorations.

Perhaps for some context as I mentioned in my first Blog I have spoken at a number of LGBTQ events where the rainbow symbol was prominent, flags flew and placards surrounded me on the podium and in the audience containing statements I cannot repeat in this Blog. But I do remember seeing the picture of me on the podium when it was published. Again, in that setting I had no control over the optics. I could only trust that the people who know me would also know that I deeply wanted to love those in the audience by speaking the Gospel but I did not agree with the symbols or statements displayed. I have encountered multiple instances when I have been invited to speak where the optics were shattering including churches that had statues and images which made me cringe but I chose to go ahead and preach hoping no one would assume I was theologically in agreement with the display. Yet that doesn’t diminishes the pain I feel at the awareness of the pain, offense and confusion which that picture caused my brothers in the faith and most especially my African-American fathers and brothers.

A REFLECTION

Let me respond to another thoughtful question. – “Harry what is your opinion of “The Lost Cause” and the flag controversies?” Thankfully I have spoken specifically to these issues. I’ll be glad to provide links to the talks that I have done for various organizations, documentaries, as well as the daily Today In Perspective 10 minute podcast on current issues from a Christian world and life view (i.e. the podcast we did on South Carolina Governor Haley’s decision to move the flag to the museum etc.). I will also list a few of the talks I have done on these subjects from a Biblical world and life view that can be obtained through links.

  1. Five Southern Presbyterian Preachers Who Could Have Saved 700,000 Lives
  2. Valid Concerns Polluted By an Evil Cause
  3. The Spirituality of the Church – The Wrong Use of a Right Doctrine and Its Consequences
  4. Question: Where Was our William Wilberforce? Answer: Where Was our John Newton?
  5. 19th Century History and the Civil War – Learning from the Past to Live in the Present to Change the Future for Christ.
  6. PBS Broadcast – The Founding Fathers and Slavery
  7. The Founding Fathers and America’s Original Sin
  8. The Conversion and Discipleship of Abraham Lincoln Through Two Northern “Old School” Presbyterian Pastors and its Consequences
  9. (Meditations Upon the Divine Will – Emancipation Proclamation – Gettysburg Address – Reconstruction Policy – 14th Amendment)

Thirdly, while I am particularly concerned of any offense to my African- American fathers and brothers I do want them to know that a partial reason for my speaking at such events to proclaim the Gospel and a call to personal racial reconciliation was to advance our denomination’s overture of promoting Gospel racial reconciliation throughout every demographic in our society as well as the church.

While the response from this particular talk has not been overwhelming it has been significant. I actually have follow up meetings with individuals who want to speak with me about what it means to be reconciled to Christ and some who have asked for a meeting to discuss how they can be a part of a racial reconciliation movement in the state of Alabama. I have no idea where this will lead or the breadth of its impact. But I have some experiences in my life and ministry that inform me where it can lead and propel me to proclaim the Gospel and its call to repentance and forgiveness to everyone and praying for the effects multiplied. Let me share three of these personal experiences that transformed my life in the ministry of Gospel racial reconciliation.

THREE SEMINAL LIFE CHANGING GOSPEL RACIAL RECONCILIATION EVENTS

The first event that affected my desire to see Gospel based racial reconciliation occurred literally days after my conversion. As many who were raised in the South, racism was a way of life and existed in the air we breathed. When I was converted to Christ at age 21 I began to share the Gospel with all of my friends. Within days I had spoken with my best friend. He rejected my invitation for him to come to Christ. But having told me “no” he then proceeded to ask me a question – “Harry, now that you are a Christian what is your view of black people (as was the polite term in those days)?” I simply looked at him without an answer…he then said “Well, I’m not a Christian but if you are then it should change.” That was a transforming moment for me and I am forever glad for his boldness to challenge me even though there were reasons he should have been hesitant to say what he said. I praise the Lord he wasn’t. Not only did that become a transforming moment for me in a journey that not only led to a personal transformation in my relationships but it also became an ever present reminder of the transforming power of the Gospel to produce racial reconciliation and maturation in a moment. By the way, my best friend did become a Christian two years later and called me to tell me so we could celebrate together. O how I love the power of the Gospel

In my second pastoral ministry we held our annual Missions Conference. Our guest speaker was a 40 year veteran missionary from India. Since I have not obtained permission I will not use their actual names…so I will call him Mr. Smith. One of our pastoral interns was a retired, African- American Army Colonel moving toward the Gospel ministry. Interestingly he had the same last name as this missionary. So, I purposely asked them to sit together at the Missions Banquet head table. The conversation between them went like this:

“Well I guess you see we have the same last name.”

“Yes, do you think we are brothers?” (laughter)

“Probably not.”

“Where are you from?”

“Maryland”

“Oh really? I’m from Maryland?”

“Oh really? What part?”

“The western part”

“So am I!”

Minutes later they were looking at each other in amazement realizing that the missionary’s Great Grandfather had owned the Colonel/Intern’s Great Grandfather as a slave on his plantation. After Emancipation, the Colonel/Intern’s Great Grandfather took the name of his slave owner thus these two men now had the same last name!During the testimony time the Missionary, instead of presenting his ministry, shared with the audience what had transpired in their conversation. With tears he shared his repentance of his family’s enslavement of the Colonel/Intern’s Great Grandfather and also the joy of his forgiveness. We then all watched as they embraced one another declaring, “We really are brothers!” There was not a dry eye in the congregation and with no embarrassment I was perhaps the most emotional. How glad I was in God’s providence we had sat them together. How glorious it was to see in them the power of Gospel transformation and reconciliation.

The third event was the work of God’s providence in ways I would have never anticipated allowed me, in my first pastorate to serve a church that in three years amazingly grew mostly by conversions and developed a demographic that was almost 40% African American/Caribbean. It was life changing for me and for the church. After I was called from that church to plant a church in Charlotte I was eventually succeeded by an extraordinary African American pastor/preacher, Mike Campbell and then he was succeeded by another gifted African American pastor/preacher, Kevin Smith both becoming leaders in the PCA. But interestingly this experience providentially prepared me for another life changing event – of my 10 precious grandchildren, three are African American. I want to them to see and experience the power of the Gospel in their own lives and Gospel racial reconciliation in every demographic of our society.

 

In the last two days one person has written to tell me that some viewed the Memorial Day event as a counter to the opening of the monument to Peace and Justice that was being dedicated to mark the place where the last known recorded lynching had occurred. Nothing was said to me about this and I certainly would not have countenanced such a thing. But I can assure you that I’m now looking forward to not only seeing this new museum but incorporating it as part of the Booker T. Washington/George Washington Carver 2-Day Tour I lead each year that begins in Birmingham with our extraordinary Civil Rights Museum proceeding to the Civil Rights Trail in Montgomery and concluding at the famed Tuskegee University.

By the way, in response to my first Blog a number of people have asked a good resource to begin an acquaintance with the lives of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver illuminating the role of their relationship with Christ and their Christian world and life view. So I would highly recommend John Perry’s biographical study as a starter on their lives in tandem called “Unshakeable Faith.”

FOUR SEMINAL LIFE CHANGING TEXTS ON GOSPEL MINISTRY

There is so much more to say and so much more to learn. Again, for all who have thoughtfully made comments, thank you. Let me conclude by identifying four Biblical texts that challenge me in terms of being willing to proclaim Christ not only in the safe environs of the Briarwood sanctuary/pulpit and Christian conferences but in other less than welcoming environments.

Mark 5:1-20

When Jesus sailed to the “other side of the sea” ( i.e. for orthodox Jews, they would not go to the paganized territory called “The Galilee of the Gentiles.”) to evangelize the demoniacs He provided a fourfold challenge for my life as a Gospel minister – there is no place He would not go to seek and save the lost; no person so lost He would not seek to save them; no power He would not overcome to seek and save the lost; and no person He saved that He would not use to seek and save others.

Interestingly, when Jesus denied the saved demoniac’s request to go with him, He then told him to go home and “tell your family and friends what great things I have done for you.” Though Jesus was entreated to leave the region He came back months later. When He did, thousands thronged to hear Him. I believe that was the result of the saved demoniac’s witness to his family and friends which changed the landscape of the culture and those who at one time wanted Jesus to leave now couldn’t wait to hear Him.

Matt 9: 9-13

Jesus declared He had come as the Physician to heal those who were sick. So He went to the culturally and religiously despised tax gatherers (i.e. traitors/thieves) and to the prostitutes (i.e. sexually immoral) and not only spoke the Good News to them but sat down at the table with them. The optics were not good. In fact, the Pharisee’s used the optics to slander Him with not only criticisms but with lightly- veiled accusations of immoral sexual motives… but He went. Gloriously, many were saved and became part of the company of believers and one was numbered with His Disciples.

 Acts 17

The Apostle Paul, provoked at the sin of idolatry in Athens, proclaimed Christ in the synagogues and marketplaces. He even accepted an invitation and spoke from the podium at Mars Hill likely filled with pagan philosophers. He actually used quotes from Stoic and Epicurean philosophers with the Parthenon and statues of idols in the background. Again, the optics were not good and I now wonder what he would have done if iphones had been present but I do know he preached the Gospel. The result, many ridiculed, slandered and rejected him. But praise the Lord, some believed and others asked him back to speak to them again.

Matt 13/Mark 4/Luke 8

These texts contain the parable of the sower which has multiple lessons but two have drastically affected my life and ministry. The primary lesson of the parable is – the fate of the seed (Word of God) is determined by the condition of the soil (heart of the hearer). Another lesson is that the sower sows the good seed indiscriminately. He doesn’t just go to good soil or to what he thinks is good soil and he doesn’t avoid the bad soil. He sows the seed on rocky ground, thorny ground, good ground and even hard ground. He does this for multiple reasons. But one reason is that the sowing of the seed not only produces fruit from the good ground but the sowing of the seed is also used by the Spirit God to create good ground. So the next time the seed is sowed the heart will be prepared to receive it. “Some plant, some water, God gives the increase.”

So with Biblical principles guiding, the Holy Spirit granting lessons from patient brothers and sisters such as those who have so thoughtfully responded to this situation, your forgiveness, which is not deserved but desired, and with God’s strength, power and wisdom, I’ll keep pressing on “growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.” SDG

 

 

WHERE TO SPEAK? WHEN TO SPEAK? WHAT TO SPEAK?

About a year or so ago I was invited to speak to the State Memorial Holiday designed to honor the valor of the fallen citizen/soldiers of the South in Montgomery. I have been questioned and criticized for doing so. Therefore it would seem appropriate to answer the questions and in so doing address the issue of What? When? and Where? – would I agree to speak?

My initial response to the request for multiple reasons was to say no. But in light of my denomination’s recent overture to pursue racial reconciliation in our church and nation, I agreed after being assured that I would be free to speak from a Gospel perspective while acknowledging the historical realities related to the state holiday. In fact the sponsoring organizations readily and graciously agreed. The reasons I was asked are because of the Civil War leadership battlefield tours I do for military units, police academies, student groups and non-profit leadership entities which again I only do if they will allow me to share not only Biblical principles of leadership but also the Gospel and its claims on these battlefield “staff rides.” For 40 years 18th and 19th Century history has been my bridge to various segments of the culture to which I would not normally have the opportunity to speak as a pastor but can as a historian. Also contributing to the reason for the request for me to speak were the PBS documentaries and various video productions on the Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and Reconstruction where I have participated as a “talking head.”

As to this particular talk which has been questioned I do not have a manuscript to publish since I do not use manuscripts. But I will share with you both the flow and essential content of my 20 minute talk from the written notes and outline I took to the podium.

The title/thesis of my talk was “Voices from the Past Calling for Personal and Racial Reconciliation in the Present and for the Future.” I began with honoring the memorial purpose of the holiday by acknowledging the documented valor of both the Northern and Southern citizen/soldiers. I then moved to highlight some of the “voices from the past” who promoted reconciliation after a fratricidal war and the resulting success in what the historians now call the “Era of Reconciliation – 1880-1920.” I also used examples from the sponsoring organization who by decorating both Northern and Southern soldier’s gravesites at battlefield cemeteries after the Civil War prompted an admiring article in a Northern newspaper that contributed to the birth of our National Memorial Day in May. Other personal and historical efforts at regional reconciliation as “voices from the past” were further recounted after which I challenged the audience to not only “remember” history but to “make” history by intentionally making a present and a future commitment to go beyond regional reconciliation and intentionally pursue personal and racial reconciliation in order to overcome the present destructive divisions in our nation and from our national history. I also affirmed our nation’s present desperate need for a Gospel Awakening through a God-sent revival to His church.

I was going to use the extraordinary example of First Presbyterian Church in Montgomery and their Statement of Repentance under the courageous leadership of their Pastor/Session which the Lord convicted them to do (which I understand is now available on line). I was familiar with it as it had been developed out of their thoughtful application of the Embers to a Flame strategy#2 on Corporate Repentance. But since I had not obtained their permission I substituted references from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and his Second Inaugural Speech which was graciously received by those in attendance.

I then shared the Gospel principle that authentic reconciliation only comes from men and women who are first reconciled to God through the atoning death of Jesus Christ by proceeding to II Corinthians 5 where the Apostle Paul identifies the Gospel as “the ministry and message of reconciliation.”

 Moving on I appealed to incidents from the lives of two adopted sons of Alabama, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver by first affirming their Christian foundations and then the impact of their lives in the limited but amazing progress of post-reconstruction racial reconciliation. I won’t take the time to give all that I said but I did dwell on the amazing fact that within three years of establishing Tuskegee in the Black Belt of Alabama, Booker T. Washington had the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners working, eating and singing hymns together for workdays on the newly constructed buildings of the famed Tuskegee University. Some of the buildings are still standing and the fingerprints of those who worked on them can still be felt in the bricks to this day.

In this brief response I won’t recount all of the illustrations used. But, I must note I was compelled to also recount Booker T. Washington’s courageous speech at what today is Piedmont Park in Atlanta for the segregated audience at the Cotton Exchange Expo where he manifested unbelievable courage while calling for racial reconciliation in the South. I confess to having stood on the spot where he made that speech with hatred directed at him from both sides of the segregated crowd, while also trying to imagine the personal fortitude it took to speak under the hateful glares from all sides and then his wonderful skill as an orator as he overcame his fears and their hatred to draw the entire crowd to his yes incomplete, but clear call to racial reconciliation – imploring them to come together illustrated by his clasped hands and “drop down your bucket.”

I then shared a couple of other illustrations and used a quote from one of the sponsoring organization leaders who had passionately said, “we only want to remember our history and must not let hate groups hijack our history.” I affirmed her desire to “remember history” only adding that we should “learn from history – not to live in the past but to learn from the past in order to live in the present to change the future.” My personal plea was to hear the “voices from the past” calling us to now in the present move from commendable regional reconciliation to the imperative of personal and racial reconciliation -which can only be authentically done when those who have been reconciled by Christ through the Gospel of grace, graciously, intentionally and personally engage one another to listen, to learn, to repent, to forgive and to be reconciled.

I concluded with two requests in the name of the Gospel – One – if you love Christ, then you must “love your neighbor as yourself” with no partiality and don’t just remember history from yesterday but make history today and let’s start in our own state of Alabama.  Two – the only way to keep hate groups from hijacking history is to make a history filled with the love of Christ to others.

I have left out a number of the comments but this is the essential flow and elements from my notes. I also hasten to add it was graciously received at the conclusion of my invitation to Christ, and my challenge not to wait for politics or programs but to intentionally pursue person to person reconciliation in the present culture to change our future.

 

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Now, as to the framing issue of my philosophy of Gospel ministry which affects my decision on “Where, What and When to Speak,” I resolved a long time ago after I preached a sermon from Mark 5 on Jesus going to the paganized communities of the Decapolis in the evangelization of the demoniacs and when I preached on the criticisms as well as the not so veiled accusations of Jesus on the optics of Him being in the presence and pursuing tax gatherers and prostitutes – which was culturally and religiously unacceptable. Therefore, I have resolved that if I am free to preach the Gospel and advance its claims – then by God’s grace there is no place I will not go; no person so lost that I will not pursue, no power so threatening I will not face while believing there is no person saved who cannot change and be changed by God’s grace. So, if I am free to present the Gospel and its claims and the Gospel call to repentance, by God’s grace, strength and power I will go.

The question for me therefore is not whether I will go but what will I say and how must I say it? Not too long ago, I went to a forum dominated by an LBGTQ agenda requiring proactive police protection. Again symbols and signs surrounded me at the event. But I went because I was free to share the Gospel and its claims and except for minor incidents was again graciously received. If I am invited by an organization focused on racial issues (of which there are many in our country) to do one of my talks on Booker T. Washington or George Washington Carver or to the talk I do on The Biblical Worldview in the Letters from the Birmingham Jail (Martin Luther King) and if I have the freedom to present the Gospel I’ll go to those events also. I believe the Lord can save and change anyone through the power of the Gospel and when He changes them He will bring them to repentance and reconcile them not only to the God of glory but to others while changing their relationships and everything around them.

So, if He opens the doors I’ll go and ask Him for the strength, wisdom and power to proclaim the Gospel of saving grace to any and all of this fallen human race made in the image of God and anticipate with joy seeing men and women from every ethnicity now reconciled to God and with one another to exalt Christ their King. I long for my children and grandchildren including three precious African American grandchildren to know, believe and see this in their lifetime. Most of all I long to see it around the Throne of Grace in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

In this particular instance, the response to this talk was gracious and receptive which in light of its content I was not necessarily expecting. I am grateful for the Lord’s strength to overcome my fears and inadequacies which are many. But more important to me is the fact that I have received calls from attendees thanking me and asking what their next steps in racial reconciliation could be. The Gospel opportunities presenting themselves more than compensate for the criticisms. Actual meetings are already being set up with those who are asking where and how do I/we start. Not an overwhelming response yet, but some response and I am praying for an ultimate harvest of Gospel fruit and the repentance that brings joy to the angels in heaven and a Gospel culture of repentance and reconciliation on earth through a revival in this nation.

Another confession – I would love to hear again the words of bewilderment uttered by Benjamin Franklin during the Great Awakening – “It looked like the whole world was going to church.” What he didn’t understand is what his friend George Whitefield kept telling him – The reason the whole world is going to church is because the church is going into the whole world with Christ and for Christ.

Everyone Evangelizing Everybody, Everywhere, Everyday by God’s grace and for His glory until He comes or until He brings me home is my humble answer to Where to Speak? What to Speak? and When to Speak?

 

3 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Reformation

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Cathedral door and, as they say, the rest is history. That act ignited what may be the most revolutionary movement in the history of Christianity since Pentecost.

In 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this landscape-changing event. But to be a kingdom people Christians cannot and must not live in the past, lest we become a museum. Still, we should learn from the past to live effectively in the present and impact the future. We move forward by first going backward. That’s why God called the Israelites to raise an Ebenezer—a stone of remembrance—and to recount to their kids all his marvelous acts.

When we know what God has done and why, we can celebrate those great acts in worship and learn to implement biblical principles in our commitment to expand Christ’s kingdom to all nations.

Over the years I have been privileged to lead a number of Reformation tours, taking fellow believers to sites in Europe where God brought about one of the most profound revivals in church history. Along the way, I’ve learned some helpful insights. Here are three, each with a “life takeaway”:

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1.The Reformation was the result of divinely called, equipped, empowered, and sent leaders.

The Reformation evoked a gospel awakening that spread through Europe and overflowed to North Africa, South America, and beyond. It was heaven-sent through the ministry of prayer and the Word from a Spirit-revived and Bible-renovated church.

Without a doubt, the Reformation came from the Lord through imperfect but impassioned leaders marked by courage and compassion. The simple fact affirmed in both Scripture and history is that when God sovereignly moves, he raises up and sends out leaders with a calling that becomes their relentless passion.

Life Takeaway: We need to pray for and intentionally cultivate godly leaders in the church, for the church, and from the church into the world.

2. When God calls, equips, and sends movement leaders, he calls, equips, and sends other leaders alongside them, creating a team of leaders.

This is not an exhaustive analysis, but in following the steps of the Magisterial Reformation, history confirmed what I had always believed: To ensure the Reformers’ perseverance, effectiveness, and maturity, God called and deployed other leaders to work in tandem. This was true of Luther in Wittenberg, Bucer in Strasbourg, Zwingli in Zurich, Calvin in Geneva, and Knox in Edinburgh.

I praise God for Luther, but I also praise God for Melanchthon, who complemented and enhanced Luther personally and ministerially. God gave us Zwingli, and he gave Zwingli the indefatigable Bullinger. He gave us Bucer, but he gave Calvin to Bucer at the right time and for the right season. He sent Calvin back to Geneva, the citadel of the Reformation, and gave him Theodore Beza. From the womb of Geneva and the mentorship of Calvin, he gave us John Knox. And he gave to Knox the ever-faithful Christopher Goodman.

The magisterial Reformers were magisterial because the hand of God’s providence was manifest in multiple ways and for multiple reasons. One of those ways was the gift of competent leaders to complement them personally and ministerially.

These Reformers were leaders with unbelievable passions, gifts, and devotion, but magisterial gifts and strengths inevitably come mixed with significant weaknesses and blind spots. God addresses these shortcomings by providing leadership plurality, resulting in a team of leaders who not only exercise complementary gifts but also forge relationships of personal accountability.

Life Takeaway: Effective leaders reject solo leadership for the sake of increased effectiveness and accountability. They also reject leadership teams that ultimately serve the primary leader. Instead, they developed “teams of leaders” which the primary leaders serve in order to multiply, mobilize, and motivate leaders in the church and from the church into the world.

3. Christian education is a priority that will bless both church and community.

In my study of the American colonial period I was struck by the consistent action of the colonists: on arrival they immediately built a church—a place for worship and thanksgiving. Then they built a home that would initially be sufficient for the bare necessities of family life. Then, before establishing a reliable community infrastructure or reliable food supply, they built a school. Not only did the school educate church members, it also provided an initiative to educate the entire community.

It struck me that 17th-century colonists were doing what the 16th-century Reformers did while in exile. The Reformers established a robust gospel church for worship and discipleship as the first priority, one matched only by the need for a family home. Then Bucer, Zwingli, Calvin, Luther, and Knox established schools to educate both the covenant community and also the general population.

They were committed to carrying out both the Great Commission (“teaching them to observe all I have commanded you”) and to the Great Commandment (“to love the Lord with all their mind . . . and to love their neighbors”) by providing public education from the church to the community. They launched a school to train leaders for the church and the family, and also to prepare leaders from the family and church to serve the community.

Life Takeaway: Christian education is not just a parental commitment to our children, it’s also a gracious gift from the church to benefit the community. It should be designed to educate the public in general and mentor civic leaders as well from a biblical worldview.

Toward a New Reformation 

These insights are selective but by no means exhaustive of the many valuable lessons embedded in the Reformation. In many ways the cultural climate for today’s gospel ministry is similar to that era, revealing the need for another gospel awakening.

National gospel awakenings only come through robust God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, prayer-empowered, and gospel-saturated churches. This needed revival awaits a reformation among pastors—one that will provide the church with ministers committed to the mission, message, and means of ministry prayerfully focused on God’s unstoppable Word.

As written for The Gospel Coalition and published originally on May 12, 2016

INEVITABLE SIDE EFFECTS OF A CHURCH GROWTH MINISTRY MODEL

athletesSome athletes, fascinated with body growth, employ “biological steroid enhancement.” Why? Because they know that it works…at least for a while. They will get bigger, stronger and faster…for a while. But soon they discover injected steroids also bring the side effects inevitably leading to death. Interestingly, the Church is called “the body of Christ” in Scripture. When a church becomes preoccupied with “body growth” it becomes susceptible to a temptation to employ “cultural steroid enhancement.” But the inevitable side effects are soon manifested- worship becomes entertainment, discipleship becomes therapy, evangelism becomes self-esteem and the Gospel becomes a self-help prosperity message. Like biological steroids, cultural steroids work—for a while. The church grows numerically and is applauded culturally while dying spiritually.

Though not growing statistically at the rate that it did in previous years, the numerical size of the professing evangelical church in the USA is significant. However, the waning witness of the contemporary church is painfully obvious. The documented decline of personal evangelism, life-changing discipleship and cultural influence reveals a spiritually impotent and Biblically illiterate church. So why is the church corporately—and professing Christians individually—failing in the God-given mission to be “salt and light”? Let me propose one reason with seven consequences and conclude with a single analysis.

THE REASON

For 40+ years the evangelical church in the USA has fully embraced the presuppositions of the “church growth” philosophy and dutifully implemented and mainstreamed its mandated practices in life and ministry. On the one hand, this has resulted in a glamorized, marketed yet culturally tamed church that is five miles wide and one inch deep. On the other hand, it has resulted in an inevitable reactionary, critical and cynical church that is at best one inch wide while claiming to be five miles deep. In addition to offering a multitude of unfulfilled promises, there are multiple observable consequences of this ministry model. Here are seven inevitable side effects of the “church growth” model that has infected the contemporary evangelical church in America:

THE SEVEN CONSEQUENCES

    young-people-sitting-movie-theater-auditorium-watching-33785779 1.  Program and personality dependency in place of persistent intercessory prayer. Instead of programs designed to facilitate church growth, there is an insatiable search for programs promising to create church growth. The absence of persistent and protracted prayer in dependence upon God is the casualty.

     2.   Celebrity pastors with self-esteem therapy and/or success in life crowd-attracting “talks” in place of celebrated Biblical expository equipping and evangelistic preaching. In his 2011 Themelios article, “A Preacher’s Dialogue,” Sinclair Ferguson makes the following observation:

 “As an observer as well as a practitioner of preaching, I am troubled and perplexed by hearing men with wonderful equipment, humanly speaking (ability to speak, charismatic personality, and so on), who seem to be incapable of simply preaching the Scriptures. Somehow they have not first invaded and gripped them.”

     3.  Missional drift from “Making Disciples.” Personal evangelism is now replaced by event evangelism where there is a lot of event but little evangelism. Small group life on life transformational disciple making is lost to crowd attracting, life success and self-esteem therapy support groups.

4.   The disastrous novelty of our (at best misguided and, at worst, arrogant) efforts to “re-invent or re-engineer” Christ’s “prevailing” Church that transcends all ages and cultures. While it is true that the Church must be contextualized into every situation, location and generation, it does not need to be reinvented. Whether Kansas or Kenya, 800 or 2100 AD, the Church rightly contextualized is singular in its Christ-designed and Biblically revealed mission, message, ministries and means. Christ called us to pray for laborers not architects.

5.   The gravitas and density of the Lord’s Day “gathered” worship of the Triune God of Glory in “spirit and truth” has been exchanged for choreographed superficial entertainment events. Such events are designed to attract and manipulate the emotionally empty men and women of our age while promising to fulfill their self-assessed religious needs and preferences. Seeking to please the attending “worshipper” now supplants the true objective of Biblical worship—the adoration of the Triune God of Glory as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. One devastating result is the loss of the majesty of God that forfeits the blessing of God-centered “scattered” worship where God’s people present themselves as “living sacrifices” in all of life to the glory of God. What is lost is Trinitarian worship “in spirit and truth” by true worshippers in “gathered” worship which sets the thermostat of lifestyle “scattered” worship by which God is glorified “in whatsoever we do.”

biblical-road-map6.   The church, as an outpost of the Kingdom of God, inexplicably effective because of the presence and power of God has been refabricated into another “business enterprise.” This, in turn, has rendered the church as one more institution shaped by the culture in the name of relevance. Godly pastor-teachers are no longer sought to lead Christ’s church. In their place the church now seeks CEO’s profiled by personality evaluation instruments guaranteed to produce statistical growth, instead of God-gifted pastor-teachers who are marked by Gospel holiness.

7.   The essential commitment to Holy Spirit-empowered and Biblically defined contextualization is now perverted. Rightly understood, contextualization is the necessary effort to speak to the culture in terms that the culture can understand and to the issues it needs to hear. True contextualization has been exchanged for cultural accommodation where the church speaks only on the terms the culture affirms and the issues it allows. This is profoundly obvious as today’s church—in the name of “social justice”—rightly addresses issues that the culture applauds (e.g. sex trafficking, misogyny, racism). Yet the same church is conspicuously silent on the blasphemous issues the culture promotes, namely, sexual perversion and promiscuity, gender autonomy, marital and familial anarchy and the industries of death through abortion, infanticide and assisted suicide.

AN ANALYSIS

Let’s be clear. The Bible in general and the book of Acts in particular records and affirms the expected and desired dynamic of statistical growth in and through Gospel healthy churches… and so do we. But whenever statistical growth becomes the focused objective of a church’s ministry (instead of a valued consequence of its ministry), it is simply a matter of time until church leaders exchange Biblically defined principled faithfulness for worldly defined pragmatic success. The former brings the applause of heaven. The latter is always numerically measured and prized thinking it will bring the applause and approval of the culture.

In other words, if the world’s metrics become the ministry objective then the Biblical message we proclaim, the Biblical means we are to employ and the Biblical mission we are to engage will inevitably be compromised to gain what the culture accepts, applauds and attends. Church growth is a wonderful blessing from God but it cannot become our god. Rather, God-exalting faithfulness is the Biblical metric of divinely defined success.

church-revitalizationThat metric is not the applause of the world leading to a Biblically illiterate and spiritually impotent Body of Christ but the applause of heaven. An applause that joyfully echoes into eternity whenever the lost are found, sinners saved and discipled throughout the world by a Gospel-healthy Body of Christ built up, equipped and growing by staying on mission, on message and in ministry.

                                                                          

 

 

THE ADVENT SEASON IS NOT JUST CHRISTMAS

THE ADVENT SEASON IS NOT JUST CHRISTMAS

The Advent is a work of God’s grace whereby God Himself has come to us, to be among us and become one of us in order to save us from our sins and will come again for us to be with us forever.

Early in my pastoral ministry a thoughtful young man came with an interesting question while our congregation was in the midst of celebrating the Advent season. The question arose from a hymn sung during a Lord’s Day worship service. The hymn was the Isaac Watts classic “Joy to the World.” The question was, “Pastor, why are we singing a hymn during Christmas containing lyrics that refer to the 2nd coming of Christ?” My pastoral response was twofold.

First, together we examined the hymn. It soon became obvious the hymn actually contained lyrics that referred to both the 1st Advent (i.e. His Incarnation and Birth) and lyrics to the 2nd Advent (His Second Coming). Furthermore, the hymn, verse by verse, traces the triumph of Christ as the Redeemer of His people from His 1st Advent to His 2nd Advent.

Secondly, we noted there are multiple hymns sung during the Advent season which exalt the Lord for His redeeming work in both the 1st and 2nd Advents. Then, it was my turn to ask a question. “Why do you think so many Advent hymns sung at “Christmas” extol both Advents of Christ?” The answer though simple has been lost to many. But, if recaptured can lead us to a profound blessing.

The reason so many hymns and confessions associated with the Christmas celebrations reference both the 1st and 2nd Advents is because the early church intentionally designed the Advent Season to celebrate both the 1st and 2nd Advents of Christ. Why?

The Old Testament, through types, symbols, prophecies and Christophanies (pre-incarnate appearances of Christ) anticipated the coming of the Messiah – the Promised One – in whom “all of the Promises of God are yes and amen.” Those Messianic prophetic Promises can be summed up with two specific Promises.

  • The first Promise was that the Messiah would “save His people from all of their sins” and deliver them from all of His and their enemies.
  • The second Promise was that the Messiah would not only defeat these enemies but would ultimately destroy them and deliver His people into a glorious forever Kingdom.

But when the Messiah came into the world to fulfill God’s promises He revealed a surprising yet Biblically consistent truth. The Epiphany of the Messiah was not one Advent to accomplish two Divine Promises but two Advents, each one designed to accomplish one of the two Promises.

The 1st Advent or the Incarnation when the Son of God humbled Himself by taking upon Himself true humanity through the prophesied Virgin conception/birth was designed to fulfill the first Promise that God would “save His people from their sins” and defeat all of His and their enemies. The second Promise that He would receive His people to Himself and destroy  His  defeated enemies in His 1st Advent would be fulfilled by a 2nd Advent when He would “come again” in that same incarnate body now resurrected and transformed for all eternity – Two Epiphanies – Two Advents.

For the grace of God has “appeared” (epiphanos – 1st Advent) bringing salvation to all men; disciplining us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and “appearance” (epiphanos – 2nd Advent) of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:11-14

Gradually for multiple reasons the Advent season initiated by the celebration of His 1st Advent – Christmas – when He was born “to save His people from their sins” and to defeat His and our enemies at the Cross, became the singular focus of the Advent season. One reason is that the 1st Advent is the occasion of His humiliation which was accomplished, not by the subtraction of His deity but, by the addition of His humanity. Another reason is that the 1st Advent celebrates His Incarnation, a necessary act of God to save sinners – “by a man came death, by a man comes the resurrection of the dead.” Yet another reason is that the triumph of the 1st Advent assures the 2nd Advent and the 2nd Advent consummates the victory of the 1st Advent. A final reason is the 1st Advent is a fact of history while the 2nd Advent is a prophetic promise which makes it  pre-written history.

But pastorally, while not being enslaved or conscience-bound to observe a church calendar, I would suggest that if we intentionally returned to the historic emphasis of the Advent season which intentionally celebrates the 1st Advent while also anticipating the 2nd Advent we could add a theological focus which would enhance our pastoral ministries of both celebration/worship and discipleship/equipping. So, here is a pastoral recommendation.

START RECLAIMING THE VIBRANCY OF THE ADVENT SEASON FROM SECULARIZATION BY ENHANCING OUR COMMITMENT TO THE GREAT COMMISSION OF MAKING DISCIPLES THROUGH EMPHASIZING THE INSEPARABLE DYNAMIC RELATIONSHIP OF BOTH ADVENTS OF CHRIST.

In a word, let’s return to the historic objective of using the Advent season to affirm both the victory of Christ in His 1st Advent and our longing for the consummation of His victory in the 2nd Advent. In so doing we would not only minister to a heart-felt need in the lives of God’s people we would also more effectively disciple God’s people and more effectively proclaim the Gospel of Hope to the world.

The Advent season, historically, was designed to minister to the grace-implanted and grace-nurtured heart of every Christian. A heart which both “rests” in the joy of our Savior’s victorious 1st Advent and yet a heart which is also “restless” in the anticipation of our Savior’s 2nd Advent to receive us to Himself that we might be with Him in a New Heavens and a New Earth forever.

I go away to prepare a place for you and if I go away to prepare a place of you I will come again so that where I am there you may be also… Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.”