“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
I recall a veteran Independent Baptist missionary who looked around for a few minutes in my 6,000-volume library. He had no questions and showed zero interest and the only comment he made was negative, because he looked upon serious research as more of a hindrance and a sidetrack than a blessing. The only comment he made was that “we will be held accountable for our time,” and I couldn’t agree more, but time spent in serious Bible study and ministry-related research is time well spent for now and eternity!
The mindset of this missionary is the mindset that has already destroyed a great many Independent Baptist churches both here and around the world, and it is going to destroy a great many more in coming years. And this is a missionary who has started churches and raised a godly family, but even godly people can be destroyed by ignorance.
Thousands of churches have been established around the world by fundamental Baptist missionaries, but what is their character? How solid is their spiritual foundation? Are they well-grounded, properly-taught congregations, or are they shallow and largely ignorant of important issues facing God’s people today? Are the parents properly educated by the church so they can train, disciple, and protect their children? What is happening to the second generations in these churches?
With the aforementioned mindset, the preacher doesn’t carefully ground his people in such a way that they can deal effectively and intelligently with the issues of the day. He teaches them how to be faithful church members and to do “Romans Road” evangelism and hopefully encourages them to love their wives and discipline their kids, and these are good things (apart from shallow evangelism methodology), but this isn’t enough to protect churches from the onslaught of end-time apostasy and the subtle compromise of the hour.
Most Southwide Baptist Fellowship and BBFI churches taught these things, but they have fallen like dominoes to New Evangelicalism and the contemporary philosophy.
About 15 years ago my pastor rented a table at the Southwide Baptist Fellowship annual conference for two or three years running. He offered solid Bible study books such as the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible and Christianity and Things Hard to Be Understood and seriously-researched books on issues such as music and New Evangelicalism. Though the books were deeply discounted, there was little interest by the hundreds of preachers in attendance.
I see a direct connection between this and the spiritual downfall of a great many of these very churches, including the host church, Highland Park Baptist Church, which turned into a rock & roll, Southern Baptist congregation before going defunct.
A couple of decades ago, those same churches renounced New Evangelicalism, but even the pastors had only a vague idea of New Evangelicalism’s history and principles, were uneducated about contemporary music, etc., and they weren’t interested in studying such issues. And for the most part the people were more ignorant by far than the preachers.
In light of the fact that every Independent Baptist church is inundated with New Evangelical philosophy from every direction (e.g., Christian bookstores, Christian radio, Internet, friends, neighbors, relatives, graduates of compromising schools), it is no surprise that churches that were not properly educated and spiritually fortified against error are either in the New Evangelical contemporary camp today or are heading in that direction.
A preacher friend told the following sad testimony about the condition of many Independent Baptist preachers:
“Some years ago I started asking preachers questions when we sat around talking or when we drove down the road. Questions such as what doctrine was especially precious to them at that moment, or what book of the Bible they love the most this week, or what good book they are reading, or which one has helped them grow the most, or what authors are the most challenging to them spiritually, or what they think about this or that verse (and I pick the hardest ones to ask about). If they are driving, I take my Bible and read to them some passage I am meditating on and ask them to explain them to me. Most of them are out of their depth within ten seconds. Some of them stare at me with open mouth and shake their head. Most of the IB pastors have never read anything deeper than Rice or Hutson.”
In the 1990s, I had a book table set up at a Bible conference, and a missionary proclaimed during his sermon, “We don’t need more books; we need more preaching.”
I love preaching. I am a preacher. I have preached thousands of sermons in more than 550 churches, on university campuses, in our missionary church planting work, in jails, etc. I believe in preaching. But I love good books. I need good books. Good books help me preach more effectually.
Paul was a preacher, but he said to Timothy,
“The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).
This downplaying of the importance of godly education didn’t characterize preachers of the past. Consider two examples:
“What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep: there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian. O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no; read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a petty, superficial prayer” (John Wesley to John Trembeth, August 1760).
“Only Heaven will determine which was the most important in my earthly ministry--my preaching or the distributing of books.” (Peter Cartwright, circuit riding preacher).
Countless times I have witnessed pastors, missionaries, and evangelists walk by the book table, take a cursory look, and walk away.
They don’t walk away because they are already well educated in the issues facing the churches and already know the things we publish. They don’t walk away because they have no money. We find a way to purchase the things we want and the things we hold valuable. Charles Spurgeon counseled his Bible college students to “sell your shirt and buy books.” No, these preachers walk away because they have no passion for godly education. They think a little three point sermon outline (marked at appropriate places with “weak point, shout loudly here”) backed by some shallow illustrations, many of which are pure fantasy, is enough.
“Just preach,” they say.
Yes, preach by all means, but the preaching should have enough substance and content that it can build up the Lord’s people in God’s Word and protect them from error. Our preaching is to be characterized by reproof, rebuke, exhortation, AND DOCTRINE (2 Tim. 4:2).
The “just preach” (without serious study, without much doctrinal content) philosophy hasn’t protected multitudes of churches that were once sound and are now traveling the contemporary road of compromise toward total apostasy.
Some church members put their own pastors to shame. I was told recently about a woman in a church who works six days a week but she has gone through the entire 20 titles in our Advanced Bible Studies Series (totaling more than 6,000 pages). I know of several church members who have read the entire Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible and Christianity. Many people in the congregations educate themselves with materials such as O Timothy magazine even though their own pastors are largely ignorant of the things about which we educate and warn. And these pastors have no interest in educating themselves.
There are exceptions, praise the Lord, but the fundamental Baptist congregation that has an interest in anything more substantive than a little pamphlet is the exception and not the rule, and most of the church members don’t even take the time to read pamphlets.
The people aren’t encouraged to read substantive publications that would enable them to keep abreast of issues they are facing.
The members of soft separatist churches walk into a Christian bookstore and are unequipped to distinguish between sound and unsound authors and are thus in danger of being influenced in a wrong direction. They are unequipped to discern the compromise represented by the nationally-syndicated personalities on Christian radio. They are unequipped to deal effectively with the error that permeates Internet blogs. They are unequipped to deal with the contemporary worship phenomenon. They don’t know Darlene Zschech from Annie Oakley.
A pastor once accompanied me to a LifeWay bookstore, and as I walked through the store and pointed out various authors and the spiritual/doctrinal danger they represent he exclaimed, “I don’t know anything about any of these men.” But he should know something, because his people are in danger of being influenced by them, either by book or via the Internet.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...” (Hosea 4:6).
I try my best to help pastors and to provide information for them. I do research that the average pastor doesn’t have time to do, and I provide a large amount of well-documented information on hundreds of topics, much of it for free, but I can’t help a man who isn’t willing to take the time and effort to study.
We have published reports such as “Dangers in Christian Bookstores” and “Dangers on Christian Radio,” which list the popular authors and speakers and document their errors, but such materials accomplish nothing if they aren’t used by pastors who are eager for such education. We have published digests such as the Directory of Contemporary Worship Musicians, a 600-page book that documents the position of most of the popular CCM artists, and we have published it as a free eBook at the Way of Life web site. All a preacher has to do is download it and use it, but few are interested.
I frequently meet preachers who say, “I don’t know anything about Darlene Zscheck or Hillsong or the Gettys or these other people.” There is no excuse for this in a day when these very people are influencing members of Independent Baptist churches throughout the world. Many of these same pastors know a lot about professional sports and conservative politics. It’s a matter of priorities.
I thank the Lord for the fundamental Baptist churches that are engaged in training their people properly and educating them in the issues they must face. Consider a couple of examples among many that I could give:
Grace Baptist Church, Oxford, Pennsylvania, is pastored by Steve Rogers. In 2011, I preached for five days on the theme of compromise and biblical separation. I preached on Contemporary Christian Music, Bible Prophecy, the Emerging Church, the Charismatic Movement, and New Evangelicalism. The response was enthusiastic and encouraging. Most of the members were there for every service, which is always a sign of a spiritually healthy church. The book table, which was packed with titles providing the education that church members need today, was well used.
Pembina Valley Baptist Church in Winkler, Manitoba, is a large, evangelistic church that operates a full-time Bible college. While it is typical for Independent Baptist Bible colleges to tone down the message of separation for the sake of drawing from a larger number of congregations, Pembina Valley, under the leadership of Mike Sullivant, is not afraid to fly the flag of separation. In the church and school the leaders educate and warn, not only about spiritual and doctrinal dangers “without,” but also about dangers within Independent Baptist “circles.” Their bookstore carries titles on separation. I have preached at Pembina Valley on the dangers of contemporary worship music, New Evangelicalism, and the emerging church, among other things.
I could describe many churches like this. Though they are now in the extreme minority, I thank the Lord that such churches still exist. They are laying a proper biblical and spiritual foundation against the onslaught of end-time apostasy.
The church being the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), it is essential for the cause of truth that we establish Christ-exalting, biblically-sound, spiritually-healthy, properly-discipled, discipline-practicing, well-educated churches for the glory of Christ and the blessing of the people.
The home and church are divinely-ordained institutions, each of which has its own ministry, responsibility, and influence. We need godly families, but godly families should be the pillars of sound churches, and the churches should build godly families.
In this day of “soft fundamentalism,” it is refreshing to be associated with men who are willing to fly the flag of godly biblical separation high, men who will speak the truth even if it means marking their own brethren as compromisers, men who don’t buy into the New Evangelical “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty” heresy, and who do not hesitate to educate their people properly in the face of rapidly-increasing compromise and apostasy.
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