Monday, March 23, 2009

Our Church Covenant
For the members of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, one of the most vital and crucial documents of our church family (next to our Confession of Faith) is our church covenant. We count this document very precious, because it is a published standard of biblical imperatives which help us all to hold one another accountable; to a path whereby we can glorify God in how we relate to one another. On March 18th, 2007 - when we officially organized as a church - the charter members publicly signed a copy of our covenant. Such an act solemnized even more the weightiness of what we committed as a way of life for our church. Those who have joined us since then have also been required to agree to this same standard in the same way. Would to God that other churches (especially fellow Baptist churches) would restore this historic means of grace which truly makes church membership meaningful. The following is our church covenant in full:
Having, as we trust, been brought by Sovereign Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been transformed by the Spirit into a new creation with a new nature, and thus being baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious power, solemnly and joyfully affirm our covenant with each other (Eph.2:1-10; Rom.14:7-8; II Cor.5:17; Matt.28:19; I Thess. 5:12-22).
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph.4:3).
We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require (Jn.13:34,35; Rom.12:10; Heb.3:12-14; 10:24,25).
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others (Heb.10:24,25; Eph.6:18).
We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nuture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends (Eph.4:12-16; Tit.2:1-3:8).
We will rejoice at each other's happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other's burdens and sorrows (Rom.12:10,13,15; Gal.6:1-2).
We will seek, by Divine strength, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as our old life has been crucified and buried with Christ, and we have now been raised up in spiritual union with Christ; so there is on us a special responsibility and expectation to lead a new & holy life (Rom.6:1-8:13; Gal.5:16-23; Eph.4:17-6:9).
We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, doctrine, and governance as it is based on God's Word and affirmed in the Church Constitution; we will further contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel to all nations (Phil.1:3-7; Col.3:12-17; Matt.28:19; I Cor.11:23-26; Matt.18:15-17; I Tim.3:15; II Tim.1:13; I Cor.8-9; I Cor.9:8-12,13,14).
We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word (Heb.10:24,25).
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all (II Cor.13:14). Amen.
The Importance and Value of Church Covenants
Nearly from the very first emergence of Baptists in 17th century England, taking their cue from their fellow Separatist forbears, was the adoption and practice for church covenants. The basic concept behind the church covenant is to answer the question, "How do we commit to live together?" Thus, a church covenant is "a solemn agreement voluntarily entered into by a particular congregation of believers" (from Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms by Timothy and Denise George; published by Broadman and Holman; 1996. p.14). This covenantal "agreement" is for the manner in which a local body of believers shall walk together in the name of Christ and unto His glory. At the very core then, a church covenant is really the published expression of the biblical mandate for the communal and missional life of God's people as they gather together as a visible localized church.
Noting the great value and practical effects of having and keeping a church covenant, Mark Dever (in his book The Deliberate Church) offered these helpful observations:
"Implenting a church covenant helps to correct the misperception that members can live in either isolated individualism or unrepented sin and still be members in good standing. It provides a biblical standard of behavior for members, notifying them of what it means to be a member of the local church, and reminding them of the [responsibilities] that membership entails for our lifestyles and interactions with each other. Church covenants make membership meaningful because they clarify the spiritual and relational commitments that membership signifies. Clarifying the commitments of membership promotes health of the local church because it keeps nominalism at bay and keeps us accountable to growing in real Christian piety. And the more we grow in true Christian holiness and love, the more evidence we have that we are indeed [Christ's] disciples."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Corrective Church Discipline: The Missing Mark
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. once wrote these sobering words concerning the lack of church discipline in most evangelical churches:
"The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other."
Dr. Mohler went on to say that he believed church discipline to be "the missing mark" in most churches; and thus the proof, that "Christ has abandoned many churches who are blissfully unaware of His departure."
This assessment and observation is no doubt strong but painfully true. For the "deadness" which is seen and felt in so many local churches, can be largely attributed to the absence of church discipline which results in the absence of Christ's felt presence and power (see Matt.18:20). Even in churches where there is a large attendance of people with exciting music and a myriad of programs, if there is no practice of church discipline, then all appearance of "spiritual life" is only an illusion of something that is in truth, base carnality.
Biblically speaking, church discipline has two sides: first, there is formative discipline. This is carried out by the regular teaching of God's Word, the example of Christian living, and the mutual ministry of the collective members who make up the body of Christ. Its goal is the instruction and edification of Christ's church as a gathered community of His people (Rom.12:1-16; I Cor.12:4-27; Eph.4:11-13). This form of church discipline is attempted in most churches to a greater or lesser degree.
It is the other side of church discipline however which has gone missing from a vast majority of local congregations. This is called corrective discipline. Concerning the nature and form of this type of discipline, Mark Dever noted: "[It] is the act of excluding an individual who carelessly brings disrepute onto the gospel and shows no commitment to do otherwise...[it] helps the church to reflect God's glorious character faithfully [and] it helps the church to remain holy. It's an attempt to polish the mirror and remove the specks." To say it another way, corrective church discipline is that special means of grace whereby the church helps wayward members to return to the path of holiness which they have left due to sin (see Matt.18:15-17; I Cor.5:1-13; Gal.6:1-2; II Thess.3:14-15).
Now it might seem strange to describe corrective church discipline as "loving". How could something so negative be so loving? The truth is, there is nothing more "unloving" and even hateful, that to knowingly allow fellow Christians to pursue a path of sin. As members of Christ's body we are responsible for the spiritual welfare of one another (Gal.6:2; Heb.10:24). It therefore matters for the internal health of the church, the external witness of the church, and the faithful display of God's glory by the church, to rescue, restore, and if necessary, exclude sinning members.
But when churches fail to carry out corrective discipline they are sending a damning message to those inside and outside of their congregations. To those inside, they are saying, "You can be a Christian without repentance and holiness"; and to those outside, they are saying, "Jesus is not a Savior who saves from sin but He condones all sin." In both cases, the absence of corrective discipline perverts the message of the gospel and denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What is Preaching?
Last year, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., (the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote a book on the subject of preaching called, He is Not Silent. Having personally read a myriad of books on preaching, I can honestly say that this particular work is one of the clearest and most compelling presentations on what biblical preaching really is. I wish every pastor would read this book once a year as a reminder of what their primary calling is - namely - to feed God's sheep (John 21:15,17). In Chapter Three of Mohler's book, he plainly defines what preaching is and what it is not. This one portion of the book should be read carefully and searchingly by every pastor. Consider what Dr. Mohler wrote:
"One of the hallmarks of our time is that we face a crisis of preaching. Indeed it would be an exercise in self-delusion if we tried to pretend that nothing is wrong with the preaching that happens in most evangelical churches. Let me ask some honest and difficult questions: if you picked an evangelical church at random and attended a Sunday morning service there, how likely is it that you would hear a faithful expository sermon, one that takes its message and its structures from the biblical text? If you answer that question honestly, you'll admit that your expectation would not be very high. Further, do you believe that as time passes it is becoming more likely or less likely that you would hear an expository message in that random church?
I am convinced that we add to the confusion by discussing expository preaching as merely one kind of preaching - or even the best kind. When we fall into that pattern, we do serious injury to the scriptural vision of preaching. Let's be clear. According to the Bible, exposition is preaching. And preaching is exposition.
Here we must deal not only with what preaching really is but also with what it is not. Much of what happens in pulpits across America today is not preaching, even though the preacher - and probably his congregation along with him - would claim that it is. Preaching is not the task of saying something interesting about God, nor is it delivering a religious discourse or narrating a story.
Many evangelicals are seduced by the proponents of topical and narrative preaching. The declarative force of Scripture is blunted by a demand for story, and the textual shape of the Bible is supplanted by topical considerations. In many pulpits, the Bible, if referenced at all, becomes merely a source for pithy aphorisms or convenient narratives...One sympton of our modern confusion is found in the fact that so many preachers would claim that their preaching is expository, even though this often means no more than that the preacher has a biblical text in mind, no matter how tenuous may be the actual relationship between the text and the sermon. One of the first steps to a recovery of authentic Christian preaching is to stop saying, 'I prefer expository preaching.' Rather, we should define exactly what we mean when we say 'preach'. What we mean is, very simply, reading the text and explaining it - reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and patiently teaching directly from the text of Scripture. If you are not doing that, then you are not preaching...Essentially, [therefore] this is what it means to preach. The heart and soul of expository preaching - of any true Christian preaching - is reading the Word of God and then explaining it to the people so that they understand it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

God without Christ is no God
In the last ten years, I have become more convinced that declaring the exclusivity of Jesus Christ cannot be weakened or compromised in any degree. With statistics telling us that 56% of professing evangelicals in America believe that "all good people will go to heaven without having Christ as Savior"; and with the increase of secularization abroad in our country - the time has never been more crucial to be clear about the Gospel of Christ. In other words, when we proclaim the gospel, there must not be even a hint in anything we say that would lead others to think that some other "road" than Jesus Christ will put them right with God. Or to say this another way: Christians must be more bold and direct in our day that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
In his heart-searching book, Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper nails this matter down with the kind of clarity that needs to resonate and be applied with every believer in Christ:
Since September 11, 2001, I have seen more clearly than ever how essential it is to exult explicitly in the excellence of Christ crucified for sinners and risen from the dead. Christ must be explicit in all our God-talk. It will not do, in this day of pluralism, to talk about the glory of God in vague ways. God without Christ is no God. And a no-God cannot save or satisfy the soul. Following a no-God - whatever his name or whatever his religion - will be a wasted life. God in Christ is the only true God and the only path to joy...Ever since the incarnate, redeeming work of Jesus, God is gladly glorified by sinners only through the glorification of the risen God-Man, Jesus Christ. His bloody death is the blazing center of the glory of God. There is no way to the glory of the Father but through the Son. All promises of joy in God's presence, and pleasures at his right hand, come to us only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the litmus test of reality for all persons and all religions...People and religions who reject Christ reject God...There is no point in romanticizing other religions that reject the deity and saving work of Christ. They do not know God. And those who follow them tragically waste their lives.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Careful Approach to a Difficult Passage
Since November of 2006 I have had the great joy and pleasure of preaching through the book of Romans. This series has been a verse-by-verse study, taking in this entire New Testament epistle in its full context. For our church family, the study in Romans has been a mighty means of God's grace in grounding us more deeply in the Gospel. Furthermore, we have also come to have a full-orbed view of the biblical doctrine of salvation. In other words, the book of Romans really gives us a complete view of what is incorporated in God's act to save sinners.
Now one thing I love about preaching chapter-by-chapter in a book of the Bible, is that you come to face passages which are very challenging and difficult. Rather than preaching only on those verses we may all know and believe, "expository preaching" (the technical name for the kind of preaching I do) forces us to look at portions of the Bible that otherwise we might tend to avoid. So as we have been working through Romans we have come upon such passages that Christians would either ignore or explain away - because the passage is hard to understand or they don't like what it says.
One of these passages in Romans is 8:29-30. These verses say: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." I spent four weeks expounding these verses. But on the first Sunday we approached this text, I opened my sermon waving eight caution flags to help put us all in a right frame of mind and spirit that would be to the honor and glory of God. Each of these cautions could be applied to most any passage of the Bible which might be seen as difficult.
In the first place, we must see these verses in their proper context. Romans 8:29-30 is the exposition of God's purpose of salvation and His promise to work all things for the good of His people, in order to complete their salvation. In other words, these verses are sandwiched within the larger and greater context of Romans 8 - which is the assurance of final salvation. Paul the apostle is therefore bringing to every Christian in verses 29-30 the most profound doctrines to deepen the most lasting assurance that if God has saved you He will keep you saved. To be more precise, Romans 8:29-30 is explaining how God has determined to accomplish the purpose and promise of Romans 8:28 - which is the complete salvation of His people.
In the second place, we must realize the magnitude of the task we are undertaking. We are NOT musing over theories here! But we are considering the mind and will of Almighty God. This is a passage that we must therefore approach with reverence and godly fear. Commenting on this same approach to Romans 8:29-30, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) declared:
We, pigmy creatures of time, fallible creatures as we are, unworthy and sinful, are now going to look together into this particular revelation that God has been pleased to give of His own mind. There is no activity in which we can ever engage which is more solemn than this, or more holy.
In the third place, we must not approach these verses in a merely intellectual manner. We are not dealing here with a problem in philosophy. This is God's divine revelation of His will and purpose that is before us in Romans 8:29-30.
In the fourth place, we must not approach this passage with an argumentative or quarrelsome spirit. We would all do well to remember the counsel of Second Timothy 2:23-24, "Have nothing to do with foolish controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome..." The word translated "quarrelsome" means to "wrangle" and "fight over words." Thus, taking this in application to Romans 8:29-30, we do not enter our study here to fight over words in this passage. Now I grant that we must define the words that are used so that we can understand them - and that may lead into controversy with certain people. But how we approach this passage should never be in a spirit to stir up controversy and argument over the words used in these verses. To do this is sinful and will accomplish nothing for the good of God's people.
In the fifth place, we must also never come to a passage like this in God's Word with the idea that we can fully understand and comprehend it. I believe this in one reason why so many Christians turn away from the teaching of Romans 8:29-30. They cannot fully understand and comprehend the doctrine of these verses, so they pass over them. Now in response to any believer who may do this, let me say plainly: not only is it foolish but even worse, it is arrogant to reject something just because you can't understand it - especially, when we are looking at God's Word.
The truth is, we are dealing here with the Mind of the infinite, holy, and sovereign God who will never be fully comprehended (see Rom.11:33-36). If I can fully understand and comprehend God and all that He does, then He is not worthy of either my worship nor my obedience at all! For in that instance, He has ceased to be God. However, thank God He is above and beyond all that we can understand and fully know because He is God! Furthermore, we have got to develop those categories in our mind for "mystery". In other words, we have got to develop categories for accepting all the counsel of God's Word, despite the fact that we will not be able to completely fathom everything the Bible teaches - like the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, and even predestination.
In the sixth place, we must approach these verses with absolute honesty by letting the Scripture speak for itself. Here again is another area where I see the greatest trouble generated over passages like Romans 8:29-30. I have seen more people in the church just simply deny what is plainly taught by these verses for the simple reason that they do not like what it says; or it doesn't fit their worldview; or most of all, they will just not accept that God can be like what this passage teaches. "My God", they retort, "would never do such a thing!" This is a common objection to the teaching of Romans 8:29-30. However, this objection is built upon a purely dishonest approach to the passage. They see what it says and they know what it says but they refuse to believe it. Therefore, they press upon the passage a meaning which is entirely contrary and foreign to what it actually teaches. It is nothing but sheer dishonesty.
In the seventh place, we must understand that the great doctrines of Romans 8:29-30 are meant only for the children of God. Who was the book of Romans written to? This letter was written to believers in Jesus Christ (see Rom.1:6-7). Henceforth, the doctrines of God's foreknowledge, predestination, and calling in particular, are all designed for the Christian to understand and embrace. These doctrines are not meant for anyone else but Christians. J.I. Packer called them, "The family secret of God's children." But admitting this means that such passages like Romans 8:29-30 should be preached and expounded to every Christian. Moreover, the setting of these verses are "pastoral" in nature, which means they are meant to comfort believers and give them greater assurance in salvation. It is therefore sad and disappointing that so many pastors choose to deny the Christians they shepherd, the comfort and assurance that Romans 8:29-30 would provide.
Finally, the greatest proof that we have approached these verses in the right spirit will be a greater urgency toward holiness and sanctification. To know that God has chosen me, set His love upon me, has marked me out to be like Jesus and has guaranteed that I will persevere to the very end - should only motivate me more to pursue holiness and be deeply humbled by the sovereign grace of God (see I Cor.15:10; Eph.1:4; Col.3:12). However, if the doctrine of predestination, for instance, should motivate me toward careless and loose living (since God has predestined my life to salvation and nothing can stop that plan); then not only am I putting myself in a very dangerous position, but I am also proving that I don't understand predestination. Humility, kindness, compassion, repentance, and love for Christ and my neighbor should all be the by-products of understanding in truth the teaching of Romans 8:29-30.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Real Problem with Arminianism
In their "Historical and Theological Introduction" to a modern edition of Martin Luther's The Bondage of the Will, J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston get to the heart of the problem with Arminian thinking about salvation. What they maintain in effect, is that those who understand salvation through the lenses of Arminianism posture man as the "first cause" of salvation. This is specifically seen in the Arminian idea regarding the origin of "faith". Consider the following observations:
What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of justification which is left to man to fulfill? Is it a part of God's gift of salvation, or is it man's own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man's utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all.
It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformers' thought). Arminianism was, indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favor of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is an un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.
Now one must ask after reading such a strong denunciation like this: "Are we to conclude that Arminians are not Christians?" My first answer would be "no" - however, this does not mean that there are no "un-Christian" elements in Arminianism. While Arminians will affirm that salvation is by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ, they still want to assert that man has the ability to exercise the instrumental cause of faith without first being regenerated. In other words, for the Arminian, to be "born again" is not a true neceesity (see John 1:13; 3:1-8). To hold this position is essentially at large, a denial that salvation is by grace ALONE. It denies the very clear teaching of Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works" (emphasis mine). Faith is God's gift to the sinner not the sinner's gift to God.
But for the Arminian, the faith to be exercised in Christ, is their own contribution to the work of salvation. Hence, by this way of thinking, they have "in effect" added to the merits of Christ and have thus gutted the power and sovereignty of God's grace in saving sinners. It is no wonder that Packer and Johnston denounce Arminianism as a "return to Rome" (i.e., Roman Catholicism); because it turns "faith" into a meritorious work of the sinner. This is the real problem with Arminianism.

Monday, March 02, 2009

On Further Reflection...
Having mused on the essential origins of the church I pastor in my previous blog - I want to indulge a little more time reflecting on where we have been as a church in these past three years. In the first year that we were together (2006-2007), there was both a revival and reformation occuring at the same time. The revival was seen in the fact that God's Word simply came alive in the hearts of this small band of believers. Every time we met together God's Word was all the buzz and chatter. Men, for example, who certainly believed the Bible to be God's Word were now overjoyed with an insatiable hunger to know everything the Scriptures taught. Moreover, this hunger carried them in their families and into the workplace. They just wanted to talk the Word of God with whoever would listen.
The reformation which took place was also centered around the Word of God. Since everyone in this new congregation had come out of a church culture where God's Word did not regulate anything in either doctrine or practice - now the Scriptures were seen as the final authority in all these matters. So then, in our first year, I led studies on Sunday evenings which focused on developing a biblical doctrine of the church. And on Wednesday evenings we concentrated on the doctrine of salvation.
Regarding the doctrine of the church, we studied church government and church discipline. Both of these Bible studies were hugely important in laying down a solid foundation for how the church is to be led and how sin is to be handled. Having come out of a background where "the mob rules" and sin is given a free reign, it was deeply illuminating for everyone to learn from the Bible about being an "elder-led church" (see I Thessalonians 5:12-13; I Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; I Peter 5:1-5) and a church where sin is corrected and censured with the erring believer restored in love (e.g., Matthew 18:15-17; I Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1-2). In addition to these teachings, on Sunday mornings I preached a series through book of Titus which I called, "The Marks of a Healthy Church" (the title is of course not original with me).
On Wednesday evenings, as I mentioned, we studied intensely the doctrine of salvation. But our main focus here was on "the doctrines of grace" (i.e., total depravity, unconditional election, definite atonement, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints). This study actually lasted over a year. And during that time we also viewed three very crucial DVDs: Chosen by God & Willing to Believe by R.C. Sproul and Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism. The doctrine of salvation was now being understood with God at the center rather than man. Furthermore, salvation was being seen as what God accomplished for all those He chose to save before the foundation of the world (John 6:37; 17:2; Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-11; II Thessalonians 2:13-14); as opposed to an offer He was making to everyone with no guarantee that man would accept it.
Needless to say, God in His gracious providence was fashioning a church that would be driven by the Truth of His Word in all things rather than the whims and fancies of carnal men. Moreover, the very unity of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church would be gathered around the Word of God - not personalities or a denomination or the traditions of men. This was the reformation God brought to us in that first year and it has served since as an unshakable foundation for our church.
We also took in that first year The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith to be our church Confession. In December of 2006, I started an exposition of this Confession which has lasted ever since on a weekly basis! This study has wonderfully forged in us all a clear confessional identity as being Evangelical, Reformed, and Baptist. In addition to this, in 2007 we joined the Southern Baptist Convention, holding to its doctrinal heritage and historical principles which actually fall in line with the 1689 Confession. And this year (in April), our church will officially join The Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA). This association is made of churches which all hold to the 1689 Confession, and thus makes for us a meaningful and authentic fellowship with other like-minded churches.
Now since our church has begun, I would not want to give the impression by everything I have written so far, that we somehow think ourselves to be "perfect." Or that we have "arrived". No, the truth is, we all know ourselves to be sinners saved by God's sovereign grace alone in Jesus Christ alone. Moreover, we know too well that we are a people in the life-long process of sanctification. We may be "reformed" in our theology but we are "reforming" always according to the Word of God. We also have nothing to boast of in ourselves but only in Jesus Christ who is our Treasure, Life, and King. This is who the family of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church is in Lenox, Georgia. And as for me, their pastor, I am simply humbled and thankful that God in His good pleasure chose to make me a part of such a work for His kingdom and the spread of His gospel in South Georgia and beyond.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Reflections on the Riches of God's Grace in South Georgia
This month marks the three-year anniversary for the church I am so humbled and privileged to pastor - Sovereign Grace Baptist Church. On the third Sunday of this month we will have what we call, "Reaffirmation Sunday". This special event is dedicated to the "reaffirmation" of our covenant together as a church. When we officially organized and constituted on March 18th, 2007 - part of our coming together as a new church was committing to each other by a written covenant. This document expresses the biblical imperatives which all of us as Christians are to carry out in our personal relations with one another (e.g., John 13:34-35; Hebrews 3:12-14;10:24-25). And for us as a church family, our covenant serves as a means of grace to hold us accountable to each other and to our walk with Lord.
So, as an annual reminder, we publicly read from our covenant on the third Sunday in March (though this is surely not the only time the covenant is before us). In addition to this, we also have a special speaker to come and bring the Word of God to us. This year we are privileged to have Pastor Roy Hargrave from Riverbend Community Church. Needless to say, I look very forward to this time of the year! It is a great way for all of us as a church to reexamine ourselves in the light of God's Word as the body of Christ.
Today I have just been reflecting on these past three years, and once again, I truly stagger at the riches of God's grace. You see, first of all, from a purely human standpoint, this church was not a "planned" church plant. Contrary to what circulates in the rumor-mill of Lenox, Georgia (i.e., the town where I pastor) - I did not come to South Georgia in 2003 with the intentions to "split a church" in order to start a church. I originally came to pastor a local Baptist church where my full intentions were to stay there and shepherd God's sheep till the Lord called me home. In fact, I would often tell the congregation of that former church that I "brought my coffin". This meant very simply, "I am here to stay." Of course, knowing that God is sovereign over all things, I certainly recognized that I would be there only as long as the Lord saw fit.
So, in the mystery and wonder of God's providence, I pastored that church for exactly two years and three months. Now the question must certainly be raised: well what brought your ministry there to an end? Certainly the first answer is God. He is the First Cause of whatever comes to pass (e.g., Genesis 50:20; Psalm 33:10-11; Isaiah 46:10-11; Ephesians 1:11) . Hence, I must give God the praise and glory for closing the door there. However, there are second causes which must be recognized too. And what God used to bring about His purpose to shut that door was a faction of people who, quite honestly, did not want the preaching of God's Word.
I know that explanation may sound too simplistic. But if I may put this in biblical terms, the apostle Paul in Second Timothy 4:3-4 gave this sober warning: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." The large majority of the membership in this church could not and would not "endure sound teaching." As an example, there were people who denied the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, and His deity. Others did not believe in the authority, sufficiency, and infallibility of Scripture. Moreover, the errors of mysticism and antinomianism combined with the heresy of Pelagianism plagued the general culture of this congregation. And for most members in this church, they were essentially deists or practical atheists - denying completely God's absolute sovereignty over the universe, and thus His divine personal intervention sustaining and governing all things. Needless to say, when it came to expounding God's Word with faithfulness and clarity in the face of such an heretical, liberal, and unorthodox culture - the church membership at large said: "We can't put up with this!"
Now if you were to ask those who actually sought my removal why my ministry came to an end, they would probably tell you that I was a Calvinist who was deceiving the people by my Calvinism. It is true that I am a Calvinist! It is also true that this church knew about my Calvinist convictions before I was ever called as pastor. So there was no deception about that. Furthermore, I never made "Calvinism" an issue from the pulpit nor an issue for anyone personally. Plenty of people asked me about Calvinism and I answered their questions openly and honestly.
But for certain people in this church, they needed a "scape goat" to run the preacher off. And in our present day, there is no better scape goat in Baptist churches (especially Southern Baptist churches) than that "nasty theology" called Calvinism. So in a matter of ten months, a faction of people capitalized on the ignorance of the majority and demonized both Calvinism and those who are Calvinists.
On March 15, 2006, it all came to a head in a classic stereotypical Baptist "business meeting." Nearly two hundred people showed up (several of whom were not even church members) and called for my resignation because I was a "Calvinist" who believed in "predestination." However, God's amazing grace showed up in that meeting in a very unexpected way. First, by giving me the peace and courage to rest in God's sovereignty and to love my enemies. I can say honestly that I really felt no personal anger toward those who so viciously slandered me that night. But the second display of God's grace was in the actions of nearly thirty people. They stood up to the majority and rebuked what was taking place. They defended my integrity as a faithful pastor who simply preached the Word of God. But most importantly, they defended the Truth of God's Word which was being horribly misintepreted and misapplied.
The most shocking thing that occured that night though, was that these thirty or so people were literally told by the majority to "leave the church". They were plainly told that if they believed what I believed (i.e., the Bible!) then they could not worship there anymore. So not only was I told to leave that night - but church members who had served in that congregation for several decades were also told to pack their bags.
All of this is why I said that what would become Sovereign Grace Baptist Church was not planned by human hands. No, the truth is, what certain people meant for evil God meant it for good! God closed a door that no one would have ever believed could have been closed; and He opened a door no one ever expected. So in a matter of three months following much prayer, Bible study and discussion, a new church came into being. In fact, the decision to start this new church was not even originally broached by me! It was the rest of the men in this gathering who came together and said to me: "With you or without you we are starting a new church. But we would like it to be with you." My wife and I knew, (at this point after much prayer), that our service to Christ in South Georgia was not yet finished (even though we had planned to move back to our home in the Atlanta area).
Since that time I thank God for what He has brought together in this church. We are twelve families strong who have grown deeply in God's Word and through the joy of suffering for the sake of the gospel. We have also been blessed to see genuine conversions to Christ, and take great pleasure in reaching our community and county for Christ. But most importantly, we have come to hold a sincere conviction, that we exist not for buildings, bucks, or bodies but for the glory of God alone. This is our motto, if you will. And yes, we are unapologetically Reformed, Evangelical, and Baptist in our confessional identity. There is no shame at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church for being a bunch of Calvinists! O the unsearchable riches of God's grace in South Georgia.

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