Impotent Words: “Our Thoughts Are With You”

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston today I’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of concern and support for those affected by the horrific events. I’m encouraged by those Christians and others who have openly expressed their concern and support through prayer. But, I’ve been equally disgusted by those who have nothing better to offer than that their “thoughts,” which either “go out to” or “are with” those who are suffering. I’m sure many of these folks will offer more tangible support in the coming days; but how impotent does your worldview have to be that the best you can muster in the face of evil is that you will think about it?

What can your mere thoughts accomplish in the face of evil? Am I the only one who finds mere thought less than encouraging in the face of evil? Should we not, rather, avail ourselves of the One who has the power to bring evil to a final end? Should we not avail ourselves of prayer? Should we not offer humble intercession and supplication to the creator who holds all things together by the exercise of His great power? Should we not do much more than merely think about the victims of evil?

Philippians 4:8 commends us to think. But, it commends us to think of those good things which flow from God. And, 1 Corinthians 14:15 entreats us to pray with our minds. Our thoughts are to dwell on that which is good and to actively direct ourselves to those things in prayer. Dwelling on evil with our minds will not make things right. And how impotent our lives will be if we only think about the great evil and suffering around us. We must do more. We must pray. For it is God who has the power to bring an end to all evil.

I will pray for all those who suffer, because I know my mere thoughts can not blunt the sting of evil. But, my prayers go up to the one who will, one day, put all evil to an end and make right all that is wrong. Come, quickly, Lord Jesus!

Playing Pagan

This past weekend was an wonderful time for me. Friday evening I spent time in fellowship and study as part of the Secret Church simulcast at First Baptist Church of Provo. And, Sunday I celebrated Resurrection Sunday with family and friends in worship of our risen Lord. But, this weekend was also special to thousands of other people; people who ostensibly want to be known as followers of Jesus Christ. I’m referring to the participation by thousands of Mormons in the annual Holi Festival that takes place at the local Hari Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. While these members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would swear to no end that they follow Jesus Christ and that they worship one and the same God as other Christians, their participation in an overtly pagan religious practice tells a very different story. The reaction of some of the event participant’s to First Baptist Church of Provo’s, and others’, evangelical efforts outside the festival also reveals that as much as Mormons want to call themselves Christians, many are little more than run-of-the-mill pagans putting on a shameful pretense. Just to cite an extreme example, one girl left a message on the church’s voicemail telling us, in the same breath, that “God loves everyone. And you can go to hell.” Apparently, God’s love didn’t inspire this girl to extend  love to those of us who proclaim that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s love and the only means of salvation. We are, apparently, so wretched that we ought to be consigned to everlasting punishment by the very God whom she asserts loves everyone equally. Pardon me while I laugh at the utter foolishness of such a statement, as well as the attitude and inconsistent beliefs that underly it.

Now, I know I’m going to be labelled as hateful, bigoted and/or judgmental for this post; but, in light of the truly hateful response some members of my church received for their evangelical efforts, I’m willing to hazard the vain and hollow name calling. Besides, the people flinging those particular insults around probably should stop and do two things: 1) read the name of this blog; and 2) examine the tone and attitude of their own response. I encourage those two bits of reflection because, as a theologically conservative Baptist, no one should be surprised that I’m neither syncretistic nor pluralistic. And, I usually find that the ones calling others bigots, hateful or judgmental often are doing far more to project and expect outright acceptance of their own beliefs, opinions and attitudes by others than the one they are calling nasty names.

But, that is straying from the point I wanted to get at. Why are Mormons behaving like pagans when they go to the Holi Festival? The Holi Festival is an ancient tradition that is tied up in a lot of Hindu mythology. There are some good moral lessons to be gleaned from the mythology regarding the conquering of good over evil, but there are also some really troubling religious teachings wrapped in the good moral lessons. So, lets examine a bit of history about the Holi Festival:

“It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.

Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.”

(“History of Holi”, Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India, http://www.holifestival.org/history-of-holi.html)

What is interesting to me, and should be interesting to anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ is that monotheism is implicitly portrayed as evil in this myth. The Bible is clear that God is both one, and to be worshipped alone (Deuteronomy 6:4; Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 21:8). So, to celebrate a festival that has its mythological origins tied to the acceptance of polytheism should cause anyone who wants to claim they believe the Bible some pause. I know that most of the folks who went to the festival are about as ignorant of the religious underpinnings of the festival as they are the theological underpinnings of Hanukkah; and, who can blame them. There are probably just as many Jews in Utah as there are legitimate devotees within the Hari Krishna community, meaning a lot fewer than there are Christians (< 3%). Yet that doesn’t change the reality that thousands of supposedly good Mormon folks, who would claim to be followers of Christ, participated in a religious worship service. They just didn’t stop to think about what they were doing and why. In that way, at least, they are not so different from many others who would claim to be Christians, even people within my own faith community: Southern Baptists. But, ignorance will not excuse anyone on the day of judgement (Acts 17:30; Ephesians 4:8).

Because ignorance will not excuse them, I am proud of those who went out from First Baptist Church of Provo on Saturday to share the Gospel with those who willingly, yet probably ignorantly, participated in offering strange worship to false gods. Hopefully someone among the thousands of attendees of the Holi Festival will read the 2013 Holi Festival Tract that was distributed and ask the question of why they would worship false gods while claiming to be followers of a God who describes Himself as both jealous and wrathful regarding right worship of Himself (Exodus 20:5). In the end though I expect that thousands of Mormons will continue to participate in the Holi Festival, even knowing it is a pagan act of worship, and in so doing they will merely confirm that they are no more followers of Christ than the Krishna’s they worship with or the legions who worshipped Zeus centuries ago. In the end, pagans will behave like pagans and even knowledge won’t stop them. Only through being transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ can anyone hope to be saved and to rightly understand how to worship God in spirit and in truth.

Heart of the Matter Cancelled: It’s Complicated…Sort Of

Well, I’ve received the official statement from KMTW TV20 about why they chose to cancel Shawn McCraney’s show, “Heart of the Matter,” earlier this week. As a matter of review, here is the basic timeline:

  • First, Shawn went on the air on January 1st announcing that his show’s 2013 emphasis would not be a continued critique of Mormonism, but instead a year-long focus on the problems within American Evangelical Christianity.
  • Following this announcement the station attempted to dissuade Shawn McCraney from this plan and he responded with a letter, dated January 2nd, to the station owner reiterating his reasons and calling for them to allow him to continue.
  • On January 4th Greg Johnson, founder of Standing Together Utah and host of “This Week in the Word” on TV20, sent out an email to a couple dozen Pastors in Utah calling on them to express themselves to the station regarding what he termed an “attack against the Body of Christ in Utah.” (Read them on my previous post)
  • On Monday, January 7th, Greg Johnson sent out a follow-up message announcing the cancellation of Shawn’s program
  • Shawn released a letter later announcing the cancellation of his program on the “Heart of the Matter” web site
  • On January 8th I received a copy of the letter sent by Shawn McCraney to the station owner that has since been verified to be the one received by them.
  • On January 11th, today, I received a copy of the station’s official statement regarding the cancellation.

In the interest of total disclosure I am posting both the letter sent on January 2nd by Shawn to the station, including the proposed programming schedule, and the official response in their entirety here, as PDFs:

Also, over the last couple days the program that aired on January 1st has been made available as well:

So, now that everything is out and official, what do we know? Well, the letter from Shawn McCraney is caustic at points and expresses frustration over the idea of not being allowed to pursue this new emphasis. Greg Johnson’s messages still stand as clearly as before and seem to be most critical of the topic that Shawn had planned to cover. The program itself is pretty standard fare from what I can tell and while some may object to certain choices of Shawn’s with regards to language, it seems pretty tame  to my sensibilities and I don’t know if Shawn’s program could ever really have been considered children’s programming, given the content. The station’s response provides a lot of history about Shawn’s original coming to the station, some troubles he had in the past and the concern that the station had over Shawn’s unannounced decision to change direction. Given all this context I’m willing to walk back my previous opinion that the station over-reacted; although in a qualified way.

Had Shawn still been airing at the largesse of the station their desire to make sure he stayed on message with their desire for his program would seem perfectly reasonable. But, that situation apparently ended two years ago, and Shawn has been paying to have his program aired on TV20. Given that fact I tend to think he should have been given some license to deal with whatever topics he wanted to deal with. However, I understand the station’s concern that he did not clear this change with them first and that they previously turned down a program he wanted to air which addressed this same general topic. All that to say, I understand the station’s point of view and reasons for canceling Shawn’s program, as they’ve stated them.

I still believe the station should not have cancelled the program though. Shawn has always been a caustic figure, it is part of both his appeal and the reason why many dislike him. He’s similar, in many ways, to a radio “shock jock.” It would seem that were his method of criticism the heart of the reason for his cancellation it would have come sooner. The convergence of criticism over his style and the chosen topic seem to be unavoidable to deal with. The station’s letter cites their choice to air “Wretched” with Todd Friel, and “Word Pictures” as evidence of their willingness to host programming critical of Evangelicalism. The latter of these two programs I am not familiar with, but I am a fan of Friel’s program in general. To say that “Wretched” is a match for the systematic critique that Shawn was apparently planning doesn’t seem like an even comparison. Yes, “Wretched” mocks all kinds of problems within Evangelicalism; but it also goes after all kinds of other groups. But, “Wretched” does criticize Evangelicalism, so if the station wants that to be the extent of its self-critical programming then they can do that.

A staff person at the station has told me that they receive only a handful of calls regarding Greg Johnson’s email to pastors. Whether those played any role in the decision to cancel Shawn’s program is unclear, since they are not mentioned in the official response from the station. It seems unlikely that criticism of Shawn’s focus and possibly further criticism of his style from area pastors would not have tipped the scales to some degree. But, the station has stated their official reasons for the decision to cancel “Heart of the Matter,” and unless something else becomes known that’s the most that we’ll know.

In the end I’m still not a fan of Shawn’s style, but the topic he was planning to delve into is something that needs to be dealt with. There are lots of churches in Utah and throughout this country that lack strong biblical teaching, where musical worship is more of a concert than true worship, and where the sheep are not being adequately cared for or defended by their pastors. Shawn’s plan for 2013 could have been part of a very healthy bit of self-examination for the Evangelical community in Utah. It would have provided a opportunity for dialogue. Now, that needed self-examination will have to come by some other means, and hopefully it will still come.



UPDATE: 2012-01-13

Yesterday an additional update was posted to the Heart of the Matter web site by Shawn. You can read the update on Shawn’s website or here: HOTM January 12 Update. Shawn rightly identifies a lot of division that is surrounding the cancellation of his show. Such division was probably inevitable, given the circumstances, and some of it existed before the cancellation took place. I think this whole situation is perhaps reflective of a larger issues facing contemporary Christianity.

In Utah, and the rest of the United States, there are may questions about the future of Evangelicalism. With the failed attempt to unite Evangelicals around Mitt Romney, there are cracks appearing in the once, seemingly, mighty “Moral Majority.” A former co-worker of mine at the Oneida Baptist Institute once introduced me to the term Post-Evangelical. With the rise of the Emergent and Emerging movements within Evangelicalism it may be time to think about what it means to move beyond Evangelicalism. To move beyond the socio-political ecumenism and towards something more meaningful.

I’ve mused elsewhere that today’s Evangelicalism looks an awful lot like the Fundamentalism of the early twentieth century. It lacks the penchants of sectarianism and separatism, but it is no less combative or politically oriented. Even, the same concerns that were played out in the Scopes Trial of 1925 have been popping up periodically for over two decades now. The difference is that today’s Evangelicalism is far more ecumenical than the Fundamentalism of the 1920s. But, the similarities are no less striking.

Everything that is playing out in this situation could be instructive for other conflicts that may be coming, as well as for some that are already upon us.


UPDATE 2013-02-01

Over the last week or so I’ve had a number of items forwarded to me that have been published by Shawn and his ministry. It sounds like Shawn recognizes problems in the way he handled certain aspects of what transpired in the January 23 2013 Update from Shawn McCraney posted to the HOTM site last Wednesday. While it is very good to see Shawn publicly apologizing for errors in judgement, it still seems unfortunate that his show was cancelled over a set of matters that could have been handled via an on-air apology. But, hindsight is almosts always 20/20 and I am waiting patiently for Shawn to take up the task of critiquing Evangelicalism in 2013 that he seemed intent on continuing to pursue in the January 2013 Alathea Ministries Newsletter.

This Wasn’t Right

Yesterday I heard that KTMW – TV20 had cancelled Shawn McCraney’s show, “Heart of the Matter.” This is an unfortunate turn of events since Shawn McCraney said absolutely nothing that merits that kind of response. Now, I have no idea what the real motivations were for canceling Shawn’s show. But, if they are, as I suspect, an example of Evangelical “blackballing” I want to say that it’s wrong.

I want to share a few things, and I know by doing so I run the risk of angering some. The nice thing about being me is that I have a thick skin and don’t care much about making people angry. First, I want to share the gracious response for Shawn McCraney as it was posted on the Heart of the Matter web page:

Dear Fans, Friends, (and even all you enemies out there) –

On Tuesday night, January 1st 2013, we announced on our television program Heart of the Matter that after seven years of passionately “going after” Mormonism with relentless and factual tenacity we were going to use 2013 to shine a light on our own house – namely, on American Evangelical Christianity. Five days later we received written notice from the owners and management of KTMW TV20 that they were officially severing all ties with Alathea Ministries and this decision was non-negotiable.

We wish to extend to the owners and management of KTMW TV20 our deepest gratitude for allowing us to use their facilities over the years in our attempt at bringing all who would hear to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord has blessed these efforts abundantly and they never would have occurred without the constant support from KTMW TV-20.

We invite any and all who have questions, concerns, or objections to this decision to refrain from responding to this event in the flesh but to instead pray – for TV-20′s continued success, for the LDS, for the Body, and for Alathea Ministries. God almighty has been, is, and will forever be in charge. To this we are convinced.

If you should desire to experience church stripped of most of the modern evangelical cultural trappings plaguing the Body today we invite any and all to visit us on any given Sunday at the University of Utah.

God bless you, one and all. And thank you for your prayers and support over the years.

Shawn McCraney
Alathea Ministries

This is a response to a difficult situation that is both gracious and encouraging. Shawn doesn’t express any ill-will towards the station or anyone else. This is an exemplary response to an apparent over-reaction. And, now to explain why I believe this is an over-reaction and a probable example of blackballing of the worst sort. On January 4th I was forwarded a message by a dear friend who asked my opinion on a set of two email messages bearing the curious subject line “Shawn McCraney’s last days?” The message was originally sent to a number of pastors in Utah and contained the following, including an original message from an apparent employee of TV20 linking to a YouTube video representing a sped up excerpt of Shawn’s announcement of his 2013 focus:

Ok, pastors, here’s a sped up version of Shawn McCraney’s program of last Tuesday night (New Year’s Day eve) where he discusses his plans to denounce evangelical Christianity with the same vengeance as he has done against Mormonism for the last eight years. You can watch this sped up version that does not have the phone calls included in about 15 minutes. This attack against the Body of Christ in Utah must not be allowed to take place, this is divisive and wrong. I believe this is something we could all agree on, the unity of the Body of Christ is worth standing up for!

Feel free to pass on your concerns to channel 20 and Denny Ermel (they actually need to hear from Utah Pastors) if you are concerned about Shawn’s new agenda.

Thanks,

Greg

Hi Everyone,

FYI, TV 20 sent me this link to Shawn’s last show. It’s “sped up” which allows you to watch the entire show in 15 minutes! Interesting 2013 focus for Shawn! 😉

==========

Hi Bill, here you go…

Sean O’Brien

KTMW TV20

===========

This message is entirely inappropriate because Shawn said absolutely nothing. He laid out his intent to criticize his own camp (Evangelicalism) regarding excesses that he believes need to be addressed. Was his tone combative, of course. That’s how Shawn works on Heart of the Matter. It’s not an approach that I find appealing to imbibe, but it’s what he is known for. And, it is what others have supported as he went after Mormonism. But, as soon as Shawn decided to criticize the problems within Evangelicalism it was described as an “attack against the Body of Christ.” I want to be very clear: Evangelicalism is NOT the Body of Christ. Evangelicalism is an inter-denominational movement made up of people who may or may not be part of the Body of Christ, individually. Evangelicalism is NOT the Church.

The failure of Greg Johnson, of Standing Together Utah, to understand that distinction is the heart of the current problem. The failure of those who took Greg’s advice and chose to “pass on [their] concerns to channel 20” to also see this fundamental error is at the heart of the current problem. What we see is an example of Evangelicals wielding power in a worldly way, suppressing and silencing a critic, before any real criticism has been made. This is the behavior of a coward and a bully. Again, I want to be very clear: Evangelicalism in Utah has now shown itself to be both cowardly and bullying towards someone they had treated as one of their own.

What Shawn McCraney said in his January 1st show did not constitute an “attack against the Body of Christ,” nor was it “divisive and wrong.” Shawn didn’t say anything of substance, and thanks to the over-reaction of TV20 and those who encouraged their action, Shawn has been wrongly silenced. Shawn did not attack “the unity of the Body of Christ.” Shawn expressed an opinion that there were problems in American Evangelical Christianity that needed to be addressed, and that he was going to use his television show as a platform to try and address them. That is a worthy endeavor. An endeavor I had concerns about. But, I was willing to wait until Shawn actually spoke and made plain his concerns, rather than acting on a knee-jerk reaction and seeking the silencing of the messenger.

As a follow-up to Shawn’s cancellation I was forwarded another message by another friend in the ministry, also sent by Greg Johnson:

Pastors, just an fyi (if you don’t already know), channel 20 hand delivered Shawn his termination letter today, Heart of the Matter and Shawn McCraney are done at the station.

Not sure what the fallout will be from his supporters (some of which attend your churches), but I wanted you to be properly informed before things went public on Tuesday.

In all seriousness, this is a sad ending for Shawn. He is a passionate man and he runs hard after God, but his approach has gotten the best of him and his platform has been removed. I’m sure he will try to continue, but without TV, he is very limited.

I hope he responds to some of you that have attempted to reach out to him personally, but in the mean time remember to say a prayer for Shawn and ask that the Lord help him respond appropriately.

One last thing, say a prayer for Ch. 20 itself as this decision will not come without some backlash. Perhaps this is an important time to reach out to Denny and the station with support and encouragement. Send them an e-mail, consider helping them make up the financial lost they will take by canceling Shawn’s show (he paid them $400 an episode), for doing the right thing and canceling him. If you end up sending them $25 or $50 a month let everyone know so that we can see how the Lord might meet the needs of the station. By the way, they would love to film a commercial for any interested church and air it throughout the week, so by supporting them you will be blessed too.

Anyone interested in filming a 30 to 60 second commercial, just let me know and we’ll arrange it.

With a hopeful heart for the future of Ch. 20,

Greg

This message strikes me as a bit disingenuous as it expresses sadness over the cancellation of Shawn’s program, after this same author encouraged pastors to call the station and “pass on [their] concerns.” Those pastors, and possibly others did was was asked and “Shawn’s last days” came about, just as the subject of the original message portended. Shawn’s last days on TV20 were ushered in at the encouragement of this man who now expresses that “this is a sad ending for Shawn.” A sad ending for whom? Clearly it is a sad day for Shawn and his ministry; to be silenced before you can even speak can’t be a good thing to endure. But, it is exactly the sort of ending that Greg Johnson and others sought. For them, this should be a good day and a pleasurable ending.

This is evidence that Evangelicalism is sick and in need of some healthy introspection. There are practices that pervade many Evangelical churches that are unbiblical and unhealthy. Shawn McCraney isn’t the first to seek to address them; nor will he be the last. David Platt has spoken extensively on this subject, as has John Piper, and others. Shawn McCraney though was silenced because it was easy to do so, and that simply wasn’t right. Shame on Utah Evangelicals for not being willing to hear hard words that may have been good for the unity and health of the body. Now, we may never know what good could have come. This wasn’t right!



UPDATE: 2013-01-09

I will be posting a follow-up by Friday that will include a letter Shawn McCraney sent to TV20’s station manager alongside an official statement from the station.


UPDATE: 2013-01-10

A staff person at the station has told me that the official statement will not be ready until tomorrow. Depending on when the statement is made available, I may not have it and the other materials I’ve received ready to post tomorrow.

Also, I’ve had one particular complaint about the tone and conclusions of this post that lead me to want to make something clear, if it wasn’t already: this is an opinion piece. I’m not a journalist, I’m just a guy with a blog. I stated at the outset that I did not have any information at the time of writing about the internal reasons for TV20 canceling Shawn’s programming. I drew conclusions based on materials given to me and stated my opinions. As opinions, everything I’ve stated may be subject to correction based on additional information being made available. At this time I stand by my belief that the station over-reacted and that Greg Johnson helped to drive that over-reaction. Should the station’s official statement reveal new information, my opinion is subject to change. Along with that I believe that portions of the letter than Shawn McCraney apparently sent to the station’s owner may have also fueled the over-reaction, and plan to address that along with dealing with whatever the station decides to officially say about the matter.


UPDATE: 2013-01-11

I’ve now published the letter Shawn sent to the station, along with their official response. You can read all the updates here.

A Definition of Evangelicalism

To build upon what I wrote yesterday concerning Shawn McCraney’s decision to spend 2013 going after “American Evangelical Christianity,” I thought it might be sensible to provide a definition of who it is Shawn McCraney plans to go after. I have no idea who Shawn McCraney thinks Evangelicalism is, or what unites it as a movement; but  the movement needs to be defined in order to be critiqued. I sincerely hope that Shawn spends some time on his show defining, carefully, who it is he is criticizing. A failure to do so will doom his efforts to merely being a collection of rants which can do nothing but damage.

Historically, the movement had its origins in the 17th century and was formally identifiable around 1730 with the development of Methodism and Pietism groups within the Anglicans and Lutherans of that time period. The movement found its most numerous expression in the wake of the First and Second Great Awakenings in the United States. In the United States, the movement eventually became synonymous with Fundamentalism. However, by the 1950s the distinction between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism developed afresh, in part due to the ministry of Billy Graham. Evangelicalism since the 1950s has been characterized, broadly, by a rejection of the separatism of Fundamentalism and a tend towards active social and political engagement. These traits are viewed by some as a peculiarly American phenomenon, despite the fact that one of the central elements of Evangelicalism has always been a Gospel-focussed activism that seeks collective transformation through individual transformation.

Contemporary Evangelicalism crosses denomination boundaries. Their are Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, and even Catholics that can be identified as part of Evangelicalism. The four central tenets of Evangelicalism have, historically, been:

  1. Conversionism — An emphasis on individual conversion and the “born again” experience.
  2. Biblicism — An emphasis on the authority of the Bible
  3. Crucicentrism — The doctrinal centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
  4. Activism — Active individual participation in the spread of the Gospel message and seeking individual transformation

While all of these tenets have theological character, the specifics vary based on denominational traditions. In contemporary Evangelicalism there is even some disagreement about the definition and necessity of these tenets. For these reasons church historians have found it incredibly difficult to come up with a coherent definition of what it means to be an Evangelical. This matter is complicated further by the development of the Emerging and Emergent church movements within Evangelicalism. The Emergent church movement blends post-modern sensibilities with Evangelicalism and is more apt to compromise doctrinal integrity and coherency in exchange for cultural acceptance. The Emerging church movement is an expression of Evangelicalism that tends to downplay the abuses of the Evangelical tenet of Activism, particularly political expressions of that tenet, and in its place to seek to contextualize the other three tenets in a way that is intended to speak into and challenge a predominant culture.

All that to say that defining Evangelicalism is next to impossible, because there is no authority or organization that can legitimately speak for Evangelicals. The movement is multifaceted and highly variable. Certainly there are some criticisms that can be legitimately made of those who would identify themselves of Evangelicals, but those criticisms can not be rightly laid at the feet of all who would fall under the very broad umbrella of Evangelicalism. So, I hope Shawn McCraney uses caution as he heaps on criticism of this very eclectic movement. A movement, oddly enough, it appears that Shawn McCraney himself could be said to belong to.

In 2013 Evangelicalism Sucks!

I’ve been out in Utah for almost two years now and it is an interesting sort of place. Aside from all the Mormons, the very small Christian community is peculiar too. For one thing, trends and practices that fell out of fashion years ago back east are just finding adoption out here. In some ways it’s like being stuck in the Evangelicalism of 10 years ago.

But, Utah’s Christian community also has some more unique facets. One of those more unique facets is the plethora of ministries devoted to watching, critiquing, and sometimes downright attacking Mormonism. It wouldn’t be improper to call some of these “Anti-Mormon” ministries. I’m willing to call some of these ministries “Anti-Mormon” because some actually seem more interested in fostering bitterness and resentment towards the errors of Mormonism than they are in making positive statements regarding Christian truth. Most of these ministries I tend to ignore since their influence is narrow.

However, one ministry that I’ve mostly ignored will be meriting my attention starting this year. This is the ministry of Shawn McCraney. In Utah, and elsewhere, Shawn is known for his two books; “I Was a Born-Again Mormon” and “Where Mormonism Meets Biblical Christianity Face to Face”, and his local TV program “Heart of the Matter.” Over the last number of years Shawn has devoted himself to observing, critiquing and attacking Mormonism. He has a broad following and is respected by a lot of people in Utah, especially those who have come out of Mormonism.

But, this past week on his TV program Shawn announced his intent to discontinue his regular emphasis on Mormonism and instead to devote himself to going after “American Evangelical Christianity.” Not surprisingly there is some concern about this new focus of Shawn’s amongst some in Utah. Personally, I have to say I have some sympathy for the issues that Shawn identified this past week as being the motivation for his new emphasis: political pandering, mega-church culture, shallow worship, etc. However, I am concerned about Shawn’s motivation for a couple reasons.

First, Shawn stated that part of the motivation was his visiting six large churches in Utah during the holidays. This concerns me because Utah is only one state, and is not a good representation of America at large; and going to only “large” churches hinders Shawn’s experience since the vast majority of churches in the United States are actually quite small; and there are huge differences between how large and small churches operate and worship.

Second, I have a big problem with Shawn’s choice of target. Evangelicalism is a horrible group to try and criticize; not because it could hurt Shawn’s ministry or anything like that. Rather, going after Evangelicalism is a horrible idea because nobody even knows what Evangelicalism is. Evangelicalism is not a cohesive movement, its not a distinct denomination, it has no universally accepted doctrines or practices and some people who get lumped into that group probably don’t belong.

So, 2013 should be an interesting time for Christians in Utah as one locally prominent voice has decided to attack “American Evangelical Christianity.” Many of the things Shawn identified as being problematic within Evangelicalism are ripe for criticism. However, I don’t think Shawn has the knowledge, experience or wisdom to really deal with this issue well. I expect a lot of damage to be done, and Shawn McCraney won’t be the one doing the cleanup. That job will be handled by the Pastors, Elders, Deacons and lay people in good churches throughout this state that will be hurt by what I expect to be division, in-fighting and worse prompted by this new emphasis of Shawn McCraney for 2013.

A Poor Attempt to Uproot TULIP

Over the last few weeks the controversial “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” has blossomed into what I feared it might become. With the publishing by Malcolm YarnellRick Patrick and David Allen, along with others over on SBC Today, a full assault on the Doctrines of Grace appears to be breaking out. While Most of the subsequent responses from adherents to this recent statement seem innocuous or even weak in their argumentation, the rapidity of their release leads me to conclude that this is what they intended from the initial publishing of the statement. I originally had my concerns about this possible outcome because of the outright baiting and pejorative treatment of Calvinism within the statement’s preamble, despite the complete lack of any historical or theological basis for the statements therein.

As of yesterday, Malcolm Yarnell’s previous attempt to uproot the common Calvinist acrostic TULIP, which is a helpful summary of Calvinist doctrine, has been re-published. His attempt is far too brief to be taken too seriously since volumes have been written both in support and against the core doctrines of Calvinism. But, what makes Yarnell’s post worthy of critique is it’s misrepresentation of the Southern Baptist confessional tradition in relation to the five points of TULIP as well as his nearly complete lack of a Scripture-based interaction with the points of doctrine. It is interesting that this post is not a fresh take, but is instead a retread of a substantially similar article from April 2006 with all its original weaknesses intact.

First, Yarnell is to be commended for affirming that Scripture is the final authority for all matters of Christian belief and practice. All believers ought to affirm this simple truth, and Calvinists certainly do.

Where Yarnell’s argument begins to show its weakness is when he delves into the Baptist Faith and Message and it’s affirmations in relation to Total Depravity. He errs in stating that Calvinists believe man to be incapable of moral action. Article III of The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine from the Canons of Dort states “Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.” Clearly the emphasis of Calvinism in the summary of Dort was that man is incapable of saving himself, which is the highest moral good. Because of the Fall humanity is in bondage to sin and our desire is for sin. It is not that we are incapable of moral action; it is, rather, that we we are incapable of choosing the moral good. We may perform acts that outwardly appear to be morally good, but we will do them out of sinful motivations. The heart (our affections) and the will of every person is inclined towards sin, we freely choose to sin and therefore God is not responsible for our choice to disobey Him, we freely choose sin because we can do no other because of the corruption wrought by sin in all of humanity.

Scripture affirms both of these realities: our slavery to sin and our inability to perform moral good apart from Christ (Slaves to Sin: John 8:34; Rom 6:6, 7:14ff, 7:23; Gal 4:3, 4:8; Eph 2:1-3; Incapable of Moral Good: Jer 17:9; Rom 14:23; Eph 2:3; Heb 11:6). Clearly the Bible stands in support of the approach of Calvinists on the matter of Total Depravity, at least so far as Yarnell has critiqued it. What is ultimately problematic about Yarnell’s approach is that he tacitly asserts that the human will is not affected by sin, he thus separates the will from the rest of the human person and seems to hold that it is left incorruptable, and I would simply ask on what basis does he make that claim? Where in Scripture do we see man presented as both corrupted but also possessing an incorruptible will? If the human will is, in fact, held to be uncorrupted by the Fall, then from where does the natural inclination for sin which is affirmed in the Baptist Faith & Message come from? It appears that Yarnell’s position is difficult to reconcile both with Scripture and the confessional tradition of Southern Baptists at this point.

Next, Yarnell asserts that Calvinists uniformly affirm “double predestination.” This assertion is nothing more than pure ignorance. Within Calvinism’s history there have been two distinct camps with regards to predestination, Supralapsarians and Infralapsarians. Only the Supralapsarian would affirm what Yarnell describes as the Calvinist view of predestination in which both election and reprobation are decisive acts of God’s will. The Infralapsarian, instead, holds that God viewed humanity in their fallen state and chose to act decisively to save many through Christ and that the others merely received the condemnation that would be deserve because of sin. The fact is that Scripture affirms this understanding of election, despite Yarnell’s objection. Ephesians 1:4 states “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” John 15:16 and 19 have Jesus speaking of His divine choice of the disciples and He even contrasts it with them not choosing Him. Romans 9:11 further separates God’s election from even the good or evil actions of the elect person as it speaks of God choosing to continue His promise to Abraham through Jacob, to the detriment of Esau.

Never in the Calvinist approach is the statement from the Baptist Faith & Message on God’s Purpose of Grace contradicted. In concert with the confessional standard of Southern Baptist, Calvinists fully affirm that “[e]lection is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.” Further, because Calvinists believe God acts to renew the will and the heart of man through regeneration we fully affirm that God’s work of election is compatible with man’s free agency, because God brings about the necessary change in affections so that those who are elect willingly choose to repent and follow after Christ in obedience, just as those who are not elect continue to willingly reject the call to repent and to seek after their own sinful desires.

There is perhaps some room for criticism of Calvinism at the next point that Yarnell addresses, concerning Limited Atonement. This point has made many uncomfortable because it seems to have difficulty aligning with Scripture at certain points, 1 John 2:2 being the chief one that Yarnell notes. However, Limited Atonement, as presented in The Second Main Point of Doctrine from the Canons of Dort states that the death of Christ “is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world” (Article 3). Further it affirms that “it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel” (Article 5). Further, Article 6 declares that rejection of the Gospel Call made to all men is the fault of the one who rejects it. And, Article 8 affirms that God actually saves the elect, He doesn’t simply create a potential for salvation but actually accomplishes it through the atonement of Jesus Christ. This all is in full concert with the Baptist Faith and Message, especially if one has the affirmation of the perseverance of “all true believers” in view with relation to election and atonement as is included in Article V of the Baptist Faith and Message. So, the full value, worth and effectiveness of the atonement of Christ is fully affirmed by Calvinism and no deficiency exists in how Calvinists would affirm both Limited Atonement and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Yarnell fails to make anything resembling a compelling argument that Irresistible Grace is incompatible with either Scripture or the Baptist Faith and Message. John 6:44 affirms that God must draw individuals in order for any to come to Christ and that Christ is decisive in raising them up for salvation. John 17 further affirms the decisive nature of Christ’s work of redemption, not presenting it as a potential reality but as a definite one. John 10:27-19 probably makes the decisive nature of salvation the plainest when Jesus says “[m]y sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Clearly, Scripture affirms the unfailing nature of redemption in Christ, and if the entirety of Article V from the Baptist Faith and Message is taken together we see the affirmation of the sureness of salvation expressed because it is the decisive act of God, which is “consistent” with the will of those who are save not cooperative.

Thankfully, Yarnell affirms the Perseverance of the Saints as formulated by the Canons of Dort. It is too bad that he fails to recognize the the culmination of God’s decisive work in salvation as expressed by the doctrine of Perseverance necessitates effectiveness in the atonement and decisiveness in relation to the nature of God’s saving grace. The tenets of Calvinism fit together because they are seen together in Scripture. And it is the total testimony of Scripture that Yarnell seems to miss in his attempt to critique Calvinism.

While it is true that many in Southern Baptist life have sought to modify Calvinism’s tenets they often stray into systems such as Molinism, Amyraldianism or even into expressions which resemble Semi-Pelagianism, or worse. The fact is that most Southern Baptists probably have within their theology a odd collection of beliefs, some of which are likely inconsistent with others. I join with Yarnell in abhorring any theology that leads to division in churches, except when that division is justifiable from Scripture since we are called to defend the truth and to seek unity around the truth. His closing pejorative comment that assumes Calvinism is a purely man-made invention simply serves to reaffirm what I already stated, that I believe the choice of this post and the presentation of others at this time is nothing more than an attempt to stir up strife and create division within the Southern Baptist Convention. And such an attempt is particularly ill-timed since we are about to head into an annual meeting that will likely be historic with relation to the SBC and it’s relation to the African-American community and the unity all Christians should desire when it comes to racial differences.

May this attempt to divide us fail as the unity that Christ prayed we should have prevails in our hearts, minds and wills. May God have mercy on us wretched sinners in need.

Nulla Salus Extra Ecclesium

In the third century bishop Cyprian of Carthage wrote the words that form the title of this post. The expression means “no salvation outside the church.” This idea is well understood and has been expounded upon by Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic teachers for many centuries. But, within the Protestant and Separatist traditions this concept is not well known, nor understood, and in many quarters I would expect it to be flatly rejected and scoffed at. But, in light of the widely popular “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video and the responses that it garnered through social media, I think this phrase and its meaning are worth exploring for contemporary Christianity.

First, to understand Cyprian’s statement we must know what salvation is and what the Church is. I am going to assume that salvation is understood as a four-fold process; beginning with Regeneration, made sure by Justification, expressed in Sanctification and completed in Glorification. My understanding of salvation is monergistic in essence. But I include the life of the believer as they walk in Sanctification, not just the changing of their moral standing before God. Additionally, for clarity, I am going to seek to distinguish the universal fellowship that all believers in Jesus Christ have as “the Church,” while referring to local, visible, congregations of believers as “the church” or “churches.” The distinction I am drawing is similar to the distinction recognized by many theologians between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. As a Baptist, along with other Protestants and Separatists, I reject the Roman Catholic notion of the Church Suffering on the basis that I reject the existence of Purgatory. So, the Church Militant is seen in the earthly visible congregations of believers throughout the world and across denominational lines; while the Church Triumphant is seen in all believers, both living and dead, who are counted in the Lamb’s Book of Life and known eternally to God. This definition of the Church Triumphant is different from the Roman Catholic understanding, but I believe it is ultimately more helpful and more biblically faithful.

So, we understand the church as having two expressions: one visible and one invisible. All true believers make up the invisible Church. But, what about local churches? What about those who have membership in local churches or who claim to be Christian while not having fellowship with a local church. This is where the whole discussion gets very difficult. Because only God knows all who are truly part of the Church, it is not possible to accurately discern the spiritual condition of those who are in local churches or those who are not. But, as believers we are called to join together. Jesus Christ established both the Church and the churches. He did so most clearly in Matthew 16:18 Jesus tells Peter that “and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (ESV). He also spoke through the author of Hebrews to criticize those who were “neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV). But, Christians can meet together apart from the church, so what need does a believer have to associate with a local church?

Matthew 18:17 presents the church as the arbiter of Christian discipline when it says: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (ESV). It is impossible to present a disciplinary matter to the Church in its invisible manifestation, so this passage only makes sense as referring to a local church. Additionally, Acts, First & Second Timothy, Titus and others all speak of the organization and operations of local churches in particular detail. The New Testament presents the church as being an essential aspect of Christian fellowship. Paul instructs the Corinthian church on how to administer the Lord’s Supper as well as giving them clear instruction on maintaing order in their worship. Repeatedly, throughout the entire New Testament, the church is witnessed, identified and taught in its local, visible, form and this presentation is normative. The assumption of the New Testament is that believers would gather together in local churches and be subject to discipline, participate in worship and observe the ordinances as local church families. Never, in Scripture, is there a normative presentation of a “lone wolf” Christian or of a believer being recognized as having all that they require for a faithful Christian life apart from the local church.

So, it is normative, from Scripture, that believers should seek fellowship and participation in the local church. But, which denomination? Which local church should a believer join? As a Baptist I value the idea of Liberty of Conscience. The Baptist Faith and Message states that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it” (Article 17, BF&M 2000). For this reason I recognize that different denominations and local churches exist for a myriad of reasons. Some of the reasons are good, biblical, reasons for distinctions between believers. Other reasons are worldly, unbiblical, distinctions created by sinful men. But, ultimately, through the work of the Holy Spirit there is still unity across denominational lines in many ways. So, I am drawn to reject the insistence of some that there is only one organized, institutional, church that all believers ought to be a part of. But, I do so without compromising on the issue of whether believers ought to be a part of a local church; my unequivocal answer is that all Christians are called by Scripture to be united to a local church by clear teaching and normative example.

So, while it is reasonable to reject the notion that there is only one organized, institutional, church; it is not reasonable to believe that one can truly call yourself a Christian while not seeking fellowship, discipline and the ordinances of the local church. It is ridiculous for anyone to claim to be a Christian while rejecting Christ’s Body, the church. It is unchristian to try to simultaneously affirm that one is a follower of Jesus while refusing to associate with the organization that Jesus established, gave instruction for and left in the care of the Apostles and those who came after them. Cyprian was right to declare that there is no salvation outside the church; not because the church is the arbiter of salvation; but, because there is no obedience in the life of the one claiming to be saved who rejects what Jesus, Himself, established and which He and the Apostles gave instruction for and emphasized the importance of.

The Great Lie That Stole Christmas

Dear Children
Dear Children

What we know today as the Christmas season has a long history. The celebration of the Winter Solstice and related mid-Winter celebrations and holidays have been part of the cultures of most of the world’s people far back into antiquity. Rome had various celebrations during this time of year as did most of the people of Europe.   Most of the iconic traditions of the Christmas season can be traced to various pagan cultures and, so, continue to connect the modern holiday to the ancient celebrations of various people groups. And while there are vast differences between how this season is celebrated throughout the world, many of the traditions have common roots.

In more recent times Evangelicals and other conservative Christians have engaged themselves in a culture war over the meaning of Christmas as a holiday in the United States. The common refrains of “Christ is the reason for the season,” or “keep Christ in Christmas” have become rallying cries for many Baptists as they enter the fray over the meaning of Christmas. And, in some cases there are good reasons for Christians to be concerned about the dilution of Christmas. However, Christmas has no real Christian origins. Jesus, or His disciples, never taught that the birth of Himself was to become a holiday for regular observance. In fact, none of the holidays identified with Christianity, including Easter, find their institution in the Bible. And so, for Baptists, it can be rightly asserted that there is no biblical justification for Christmas at all. Yet the celebration is not without merit.

The idea of taking a special time to remember the coming of the Lord is a great idea. The idea that there is value in remembering the great condescension of God to take on the fullness of humanity in order to make satisfaction on our behalf is a reflection of a Gospel-oriented sense of value. The centrality of Jesus Christ during Christmas is something that Christians should seek to cultivate in every season. Yet, many Christians fail to even focus on Jesus Christ in a committed way during the Christmas season. Christians join with the world every year in propagating a great deception which does more than dilute the meaning of Christmas and distract people from the birth of Jesus Christ, it outright contradicts it.

I am speaking of Santa Claus. Many Christians will profess that Jesus is the reason for their Christmas celebrations and simultaneously that Santa Claus is the one who brings gifts to their children. There is only one phrase that can describe this second figure in Christmas celebrations: a lie. Santa Claus and everything about him is a great deception that has no merit at all for Christians. A simple examination of the attributes of this fictional character should turns the stomachs of those who love the Gospel of Grace. “He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or god; so, be good for goodness sake. … He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.” This is a god-like figure with omniscience and a strict accounting of moral uprightness. And the consistent picture of Santa Claus is one who brings gifts for all the good girls and boys and passes over the naughty ones. This is hardly a figure with any Gospel characteristics, yet he is welcomed into the homes and celebrations of many Christian families.

And the worst part about Santa Claus is that he is an outright fabrication. He doesn’t exist, he has no power, nor any gifts to bring. Yet, Christians who would be shocked at being called liars and deceivers are just that. To tell your children something that is not true is a lie. Good parents seek to cultivate honesty and truthfulness in their children, yet many Christian parents join the world in this great deception called Santa Claus and think nothing of it. And, these Christian parents do so when there is no reason at all to lie to their children. Why is the message that Immanuel, God with Us, has come and that God has given Him to us as a gift in order to accomplish our salvation not enough? Why is the message of Jesus Christ not enough for some Christians?

No easy answer is forthcoming except for a realization at the struggle even believers have with sin, but why does the church not call its members to a higher standard. If a person were to habitually lie they would be called a liar and ought to be subject to church discipline for dishonoring themselves and the name of Jesus Christ. Yet millions of so-called Christians do this very thing every single year and are never challenged on it. This is a Gospel issue. If a person is willing to lie about something as frivolous and bereft of meaning as Santa Claus, why would their children or anyone else trust their testimony about Jesus Christ? It is a betrayal of our Lord to profess faith in him and then encourage faith in Santa Claus amongst our children. And it betrays a failure on the part of those who engage in the promulgation of this lie to separate themselves from the things of the world when the separation is truly simple and the benefits truly profound. Isn’t Jesus a good enough reason to celebrate? Isn’t his coming to us in the form of a baby, living the perfect life that we could not, suffering on our behalf on the cross, and rising again to secure eternal life for us a powerful and awesome enough message to merit celebrating all year long? Why mix that great a message with anything else? Why make yourself a liar to your children and to the world? Why compromise on something so utterly devoid of value or meaning? Why betray your Lord for the sake of a fat man in a red suit? Repent and return to your first Lord this Christmas season!

Priesthood – Aaron, Melchizedek or Jesus Christ?

Over the last couple months, especially since I had the opportunity to attend the Priesthood Session at the LDS’ General Conference in October, I have been drawn to consider a number of things regarding the idea of priesthood in the Christian church. Of course, a clergy class has existed within the church since it’s earliest days, with Godly men and women being called to special areas of service. For men the roles of Pastor, Bishop, Priest and Deacons have always been open and so the idea of men holding various priestly offices is in no way foreign to the Christian church. The area where I have been drawn to further thought and study is with regards to the priestly role of women within the Christian church, especially since the Protestant Reformation, and then particularly within Baptist theology. And, so, I am drawn to consider more fully the meaning and significance of the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers.

This past Sunday at First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah our Pastor preached from Mark 15:33-41 on the death of Jesus. In that we spent a fair amount of time on verse 38: “And the curtain on the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This passage is almost universally recognized as meaningful because the path to the dwelling place of God was opened for all to see and thus access is granted through Jesus Christ to the very presence of God. For many this passage doesn’t inspire much reflection; but, as my Pastor pointed out, it ought to. For any who are not familiar, the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Jewish religion was centered and offered their sacrifices to God, was laid out similarly to the Wilderness Tabernacle with some notable differences. First, there were a series of courtyards surrounding the Holy Place. The outermost was the Court of the Gentiles, within that was the Court of the Women, within that the Court of Israel and then finally the Court of the Priests. Within the Court of Priests and Holy Place the layout was just like the Wilderness Tabernacle, simply a lot grander in scale and beauty.

The entirety of the Temple complex was built to segregate and separate those worthy to approach God. Only certain priests would enter the Holy Place, and only to discharge very specific duties concerning tending to the Table of Showbread, the Altar of Incense and the Golden Lampstand. Most of the priests would have spent their time seeing to the ritual duties connected with the Altar of Burnt Offerings and the Laver of Cleansing. Yet within the Holy Place was the most sacred room of the entire Temple complex, the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest, and only once a year, was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to offer blood on the Mercy Seat, which formed the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was the earthly dwelling place of God’s glory and was the penultimate symbol of God’s presence with His people. All the rituals and all the divisions of the Temple complex accentuated the separation that existed between the holiness and glory of God and His people. Because of sin no one could approach God except in the very elaborate way that God prescribed, which allowed God to temporarily turn away His wrath and be approached by the High Priest.

So, what happened in the death of Christ with the veil of the Temple being split in two was a monumental change in the approachability of God. Through Jesus Christ, access was granted for all to look through the Temple to the place where God’s presence dwelled with His people. Access was granted to God through Jesus Christ. This is why in Hebrews and elsewhere we see Jesus Christ presented now as the Christian’s great High Priest. 1 Peter 2:9 calls the whole of the church a “royal priesthood.” Hebrews 4:14-16 in exalting Jesus as the Christian’s High Priest calls all believers to “draw near to throne of grace.” Believers are encouraged to approach God directly through the one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). Furthermore, in Galatians 3:26-29 we see the great leveling of the Christian church in Jesus Christ. This passage teaches that all are made children of God and joint heirs to the promises made to Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith alone makes men and women, slave and freemen, Jews and Gentiles equal in their relationship and standing before God. All believers gain access through Jesus Christ to the throne of grace which was once hidden behind the veil of the Temple.

And, so, I am drawn to criticize the LDS church and its misapplication of priestly offices. The distinctions created in the LDS’ doctrine between the so-called Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and the isolation of men as the only ones worthy to hold those offices distort the message of the New Testament in which these former and inferior priesthoods are laid to rest by the higher and unsurpassable priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7). Furthermore, we have no need for priests in the New Covenant. Priests are mediators and the Bible tells us there is only one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). The true offices of the church, those of Elder and Deacon, are thus obscured and made worthless in the LDS church by their mixture of the true offices with false priestly orders. The LDS church justifies their practice on the grounds of continuing revelation, but for that justification to be valid they must nullify the words of Christ’s own Apostles, who established the order for His Church.

So, let no one be confused by those claiming priestly authority, for there is no priesthood after the order of Aaron or Melchizedek in Christ’s Church, save the priesthood of Jesus Christ. For the true Christian, only two offices stand within the church, that of Elder and that of Deacon. And, according to the teachings of Scripture, while the office of Elder is restricted to men only, and while the office of Deacon may be restricted to men alone, the throne of grace is open to all. And all are called by Scripture to approach that throne of grace through Jesus Christ, and Him alone, by faith. We have no need for sacrifice, nor mediator. We have need of Jesus Christ and Him alone. Everyone who believes on Jesus Christ, and Him alone, is made a priest to God following after the order of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian Church.