Conscience!

ConscienceOur consciences are like snowflakes, there are no two that are identical. While we may have many of the same moral ideals, there will be some areas in which we all will differ. We will notice these differences very quickly and long before we appreciate what areas overlap in agreement.

We must remember that our conscience is prone to error and on its own is not sufficient to unerringly guide us. While all of our consciences are different, all consciences fail to meet God’s standards. Therefore, while we may be fully persuaded in our mind of the correctness of our understanding of third level issues we must hold them loosely and be willing to allow them to be corrected by the Word of God. Our main problem is that our culture shapes our conscience more than the Scriptures. This is further problematic due to our inability to adequately distinguish between which of our convictions are cultural and which are biblical.

One example of this is divorce. The Scriptures explicitly condemn divorce. Yet, living in a culture where divorce is accepted and even promoted in certain cases, our consciences lean toward cultural convictions instead of biblical convictions. So our consciences are subjective and therefore not an absolutely reliable guide. This is why we must hold third-level beliefs loosely and make sure they are submissive to the objective truth of the Bible.

One of the errors we can make is that we help people embrace cultural conversion rather than genuine conversion to God in Christ. We can wrongly lead others to conform to our cultural convictions instead of repentance from sin and faith in Christ as written in the Word. We want people committed to God, Christ, and the Word and not to our set of non-essential convictions. I feel we would rather see people agree with our conviction of eschatology instead of committing themselves to Christ.

This is why faithfulness to church and our own consistent Bible study is so important. We must constantly be subjecting our consciences to God’s standards and not the cultures. It is God who must and who will adjust the conscience. Our consciences are being sanctified by the Word of God through the power of God in the Spirit of God.

Again there are truths we MUST believe to be Christian, other things we must believe to be a unified church, and there are things we do not have to agree about and yet we can love one another and fellowship with one another until the Lord adjusts our consciences.

Be Persuaded!

live persuadedOne man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Romans 14:5

Here is an area where differing opinions were clearly permitted. We must obey our conscience and we must not cause others to sin against their conscience. We must not change our opinions unless we are convinced in our mind that change is true. You are not to change because someone wants you to change. You must be convinced of the truth from the Bible.

The conscience is our conviction that what we believe is either right or wrong. Everyone has a conscience. Your conscience is independent–meaning that it can cause guilt when you don’t want it to. It can have different results depending on individual standards. Our consciences can mature and change. What you thought was wrong at one time in your life, you may now believe is right and vise versa. Your conscience warns you or wrong, convicts of wrong, and celebrates the right.

Let me also say that just because we have a conscience, that does not mean our conscience is right. I may be fully persuaded in my own mind about a certain thing and be totally wrong. Our conscience needs constant adjustment toward compliance to God’s Word.

So whatever you believe about food, drink or special days— or whatever the issue—live consistently by that decision until God leads you from his word to adjust your conscience.

Anything else would be spiritually unhealthy. No matter what you believe concerning third level truths, be fully convinced it is Biblically true.

Refrain From Judging!

Judge-not3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. Romans 14:3-4

It is very easy to for those whose conscience allows them eat meat to look down on those whose conscience won’t let them eat meat and vise versa. It is easy for one group to feel superior, holier, or more mature than the other. It is easy for one group to call the other group legalistic and the other group to call the other liberal. Paul condemns that attitude from either side. In non-essential matters we are not make them issues of judgment.

I do understand that whatever side you take on a particular issue both cannot be right. One is right, one is wrong or they are both wrong. We may not know at this point. Therefore, don’t make issues out of things that are non-issues.

Paul says that one reason you are to reserve judgment is that God has received them. What right do we have to reject one that God has welcomed? How do we break fellowship with those who are in fellowship with God? Are we greater than God? It seems that God has permitted us to have different opinions on minor issues. We should allow these disagreements instead of trying to make everyone see things our way.

The second reason is that when we look down on another we are establishing a Master/Slave relationship that should not exist. We are not their master, God is their Master. I am not anyone’s master and no one is my slave. That is the relationship between God and believers. Who are we to intrude in that relationship? We need to welcome our brother and let God, their master, straighten out any errors. Each of us has to answer to God.

Again, we are speaking of matters where disputes are permitted. We are not talking about essential matters of theology. There are things we must believe to be Christians and there are things we must believe if we are going to have a unified church. However, Paul says that the Lord is able to make him stand. God can straighten out errors. God can take care of it without our help.

 

Welcome and Don’t Argue!

welcomePaul writes in Romans 14:1, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.”

God has rescued us from sin and Satan in the work of Christ and has placed us in the church, the body of Christ. It is God who choses the members of the church. He chooses who will be members of Lakeview Baptist Church. What this means for me is simply this; God chooses who my friends will be. If I choose my friends, they will be much like me: same likes, same dislikes, same political views, same theological beliefs but in the church, God chooses my friends and the friends that God chooses for me might have different opinions from me, different ways of doing things, different politics, and different likes and dislikes.

That is why Paul tells us in Romans 12:16, “Be of the same mind one toward another.” And in Philippians 2:2 Paul commands the church to “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Being of the same mind does not mean that we will always agree about everything. We MUST agree on the major doctrines of the Bible, but we will disagree about smaller issues. That is why Romans chapter 14 teaches us how to love one another even when we disagree, otherwise, when we have disagreements in the church, we will sin against each other. We might even spit the church or quit attending. That is not the way of God, but is the way of the world.

Paul tells us that we are to welcome a weaker brother and not argue over opinions. Or in other words, we are to receive and not make third-level truths an issue.

In almost every church in the Bible consisted of a mixture of Jew and Gentile. They both brought their own traditions and opinions to the table. The Jew was very careful to obey as many Old Testament laws as they could, especially the laws about observing holy days and refraining from certain kinds of food, like meat that was not prepared properly and may have been left over from the previous day’s idol sacrifices at the pagan temples. Just because they were now Christians does not mean these traditions were easy to change immediately. His conscience still convicts him if he eats meat. So in Paul’s day, may Jewish Christians were still obeying many of the Jewish laws.

On the other hand, Gentile Christians had no law keeping traditions at all. There was no conscience toward these eating laws for the Gentile. So “weak” here does not mean their faith in Christ was weaker than the others. However, it meant that they still were troubled by their conscience about traditional matters—so their conscience was weak. I think we would put these traditions in the third-level category. You had some who were very strict (weak in faith) and those who were free (strong in faith). Yet, Paul says to welcome them and to not make the traditional baggage an issue.

This idea of hospitality and tolerance of third-level issues are important in the church. J.D. Crowley reminds us why Paul saw this as important. “When you’re splitting firewood, you try to hit the log right where there is already a gap. So Satan saw that there was a natural gap in the church between Jews and Gentiles, and that’s where he tried to split with his axe. Some who were strict about food laws started to think that they were better than the free group. They were judgmental toward those who ate any kind of meat and didn’t follow certain holy days. As far as those who had the freedom to eat meat, some of them thought they were the better Christians. After all, they were the ones following Christ who said that it was okay to eat everything. So they were tempted to look down on the Christians who had too many rules.”

The sad truth is that many churches have split and countless fruitful relationships have been destroyed over issues that should have never been divisive. Satan took aim and hit the gap and it easily split. Paul is telling us here to remove the gap.

Levels of Truth!

Unity_in_Our_CommunityThere are always priorities in our lives. Some things are more important than others. That is not to say some are important and some are not important. However, there are levels of importance. That is true when we come to the Bible as well. Everything is important but there are levels of importance or priority that we need to consider and remember.

There are things that are ESSENTIAL TRUTHS. These are those truths that you cannot deny and still be a Christian in any meaningful sense. For example, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the sacrificial death of Christ, salvation by grace alone, the second coming of Christ, the Triune Godhead, and so on. A denial of any of these truths would cause you to cease to be a believer and follower of Christ.

Secondly, there are things that are ESTABLISHING TRUTHS. These are truths that create boundaries or divisions in the sense of what kind of church or denomination you choose to belong to. Such as what you believe about baptism, church government, eternal security, spiritual gifts, role of men and women, and so on. What you believe about these issues do not determine whether we are a Christian but it is very difficult for a group of people (church) to have unity when it disagrees on these types of issues.

The third level are things that are ETHICAL TRUTHS. These are truths that are disputable matters or matters of indifference. These are things that we can hold different opinions about and yet we do not separate or withhold fellowship over. These are not unimportant matters but members of the same church should be able to disagree and still have close fellowship with each other. In other words, disagreement over these issues should not cause disunity.

What this means is that none of us will agree with each other over every Biblical doctrinal issue. You will never agree with everything an author says in a book you read, you will never agree with everything the preacher says, and you will never agree with everything the person you sit near in the church. You don’t even agree with everything your wife or husband says. Nevertheless, we don’t cease fellowshipping with each other because of it.

Some of these disputable issues include: going to movies or not, having a television or not, how we dress for church and how we dress during the week, what version of the Bible are we to use, how we spend our money, how should we celebrate Halloween, Easter and Christmas or should we celebrate them at all, birth control or not, disciplining children, how often or when should the church gather, what programs should the church have, beliefs about end times, what type of music should the church use, should we clap in the church, should we raise our hands in church, should we say amen in church, what kind of political stance are we to take, and so on. This list is almost endless.

We all have opinions on every one of these third level issues, opinions that we are convinced are correct, and opinions that we have reasons for believing. These issues are important but the question is how important are they? The answer is they are NOT AS IMPORTANT as first or second level matters. They should never be first level or second level matters as so many are prone to make them. In fact, I know churches today that the entirely of their thinking is on third level issues. They are flexible on essential matters as long as you dress a certain way and use the “right Bible.”

We must agree on first level issues, we probably have to have a high level of agreement on second level issues but we do not have to agree on third level issues to have fellowship. We can be unified, love each other, and glorify God even though we disagree on disputable matters. Moreover, we are dead wrong when we think we can’t or when we don’t.

Several years ago a man who wanted to join our church came to me and expressed concern that he did not hold to the dispensational understanding of scripture and wanted to know if that would disqualify him from our fellowship. I immediately told him NO even though our church’s by-laws and constitution holds the dispensational view. I replied the way I did because I feel that eschatological views are third level truths and are disputable and not divisional. In addition, if we elevate them to first or second level status, and divide fellowship over it, we are dead wrong.

Does the Bible address this issue, of course it does and that is what I want to try to discuss on the blog over the next few posts. I hope it will be informative, helpful, instructive, corrective, and glorifying to God as we strive to move toward greater unity at Lakeview.

By lakeviewbc Posted in Unity

Why Hobby Lobby is Matters!

Supreme-court-buildingTwo good articles to help us process the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The first is from Russell Moore:

This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets for joy. The Supreme Court just handed down the Hobby Lobby case, and ruled that the government cannot force closely-held corporations to violate their religious beliefs in the purchasing of abortion-causing drugs.

The ruling isn’t just a win for evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Greens. It’s a win for everyone. Here’s why. A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens can steamroll over any dissent anywhere. Whether you agree or disagree with us about abortion, every American should want to see a government that is not powerful enough to set itself up as a god over the conscience.

As Christians, we believe in obeying the law and honoring our government authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). But Jesus taught us to render unto Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to him. Our consciences are not held in a blind trust when we leave our church buildings on Sunday.

I hope this decision is a warning to the White House to stop such a cavalier disregard of religious liberty, seen both in this coercive mandate and, earlier, in their argument to do away with the ministerial exemption in hiring.

More than that, though, I pray for churches that can raise up a new generation to prize freedom of conscience and religious liberty for all. We won this case, and now is the time to thank God. But who could have imagined just a few years ago that we would even have to take such a thing to the United States Supreme Court? We must teach our children what it means to be free people, and what it means to follow Christ whatever the cost.

This is not just a political issue. The Apostle Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship when he was charged with disrupting the peace. All the way through the appeals process, he not only plead for his freedom, but he also preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 25-26). We should do so as well. But that means teaching the next generation that following Christ will be costly, and that they will be often viewed as strange and even subversive by a culture in which sexual liberation is the highest god in the pantheon. A discount-rate prosperity gospel will not supply such grit. The gospel of Jesus Christ will.

So let’s celebrate today. And then let’s remember that we prize religious liberty not preeminently because it keeps us out of jail. We prize religious liberty because we believe there is a court higher than the Supreme Court. No government bureaucrat will stand with us before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and thus no bureaucrat should seek to lord over the conscience.

Let’s remember the words of the Apostle Peter: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a coverup for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). Let’s fight for religious freedom, for everybody. And let’s preach the gospel with power. We must be about both: persuasive proclamation and the guarding of the freedom to disagree with us. That’s what Jesus taught us. So let’s hold onto freedom and let’s pray, for liberty and Jesus for all.

Then one from Al Mohler:

Today’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case represents a huge win for religious liberty in America, and the 5-4 decision will now stand as a landmark case that will reshape the religious liberty debate for generations to come. At the same time, the deeply divided court also revealed in startling clarity its own internal debates over religious liberty — and that division of understanding at the nation’s highest court is very disturbing indeed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito declared that the Obama Administration had profoundly failed to meet the demands of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA] and, more importantly, the demands of the U. S. Constitution. By mandating that corporations provide all forms of contraception or birth control for all female employees at no cost, the government had burdened the consciences of the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood, the three corporations involved in the decision.

The Court restricted its decision to “closely held” private corporations. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are owned and operated by the family of David Green, who with his wife Barbara, began the company in their own home. Though much smaller than Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood is also a privately held corporation. The Green family is a bulwark of evangelical Christian conviction and generosity. The company pays its employees about twice the minimum wage, closes on Sundays, and references the Christian gospel in advertising. All along the way, the Green family makes clear that they are driven by Christian convictions in their corporate policies.

Similarly, Conestoga Wood Specialties operates on the same convictions. The Pennsylvania company is known for its quality wood products. It was founded by a deeply committed Mennonite couple, Norman and Elizabeth Hahn, who continue to operate the business with their three sons.

Both companies sued the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate authorized under the Affordable Care Act — a mandate that required them to provide and pay for birth control coverage that would have included four specific forms of birth control that may cause early abortions. Neither company sought a complete escape from the contraception mandate.
As the majority opinion in the case made clear today, one of the largest questions hanging over the decision is this: Why is the Obama Administration so deliberate in attempting to violate the religious convictions of Americans on the contraception and birth control issue?
Today’s decision is yet another repudiation of the heavy-handed and blatantly unconstitutional overreach of President Barack Obama and his administration. The President could have covered contraception and birth control under any number of other means which would not have specifically targeted religious liberty. Instead, the Obama Administration appeared to take the route most likely to trample upon religious liberty and offend Christian conscience. Today’s decision is another rebuke of the President and his approach, coming just days after a set of cases in which his arguments were repudiated by the same court in 9-0 decisions.

Furthermore, the President faces the looming threat of even greater rebukes to come. His administration continues to violate the convictions of Christian non-profit organizations and ministries on the same grounds. He faces lawsuits coming from a massive collection of religious non-profit ministries, ranging from evangelical colleges and universities to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic charity. Today’s decision makes the victory of those groups very likely.

The majority opinion handed down today makes several important points worthy of close attention.
First, the Court’s decision affirms the central importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 [RFRA]. Interestingly, that Act was made necessary by the Court’s own 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, in which the majority opinion had been written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who joined with Justice Alito in the majority for Hobby Lobby. Responding to that decision, Congress passed RFRA, demanding that any law or policy of the federal government that would violate a citizen’s religious convictions must pass two key tests: It must meet a compelling state interest, and it must do so by “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling state interest.” As Justice Alito stated, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood did not protest against the compelling state interest of the contraception coverage — only against the four specific birth control products that were mandated. Justice Alito and the majority rightly concluded that the Obama Administration had utterly failed the second test. There were any number of alternatives the administration could have taken that would have accomplished its goals without burdening conscience.

What makes this especially important is the fact that RFRA passed in Congress without a single dissenting vote in the House of Representatives and by a 97 vote majority in the Senate. RFRA had massive support within Congress and public opinion at large. And yet, just 21 years later, it seems that many Americans would gladly violate the religious liberties of some in order to advance liberal social policies for others. Today’s decision underlines the importance of RFRA, but it also demonstrates the massive task of defending religious liberty that lies ahead.

Second, Justice Alito reminded all Americans that the designation of any corporation, whether commercial or non-commercial, is vital to individual liberty. Many Americans seem deeply confused about this, but as Justice Alito reminds us all: “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

So American corporate law protects the rights and liberties of the people associated with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood — but also for the corporations known as Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace. The Court rules today that there is no basic distinction between closely held for-profit and non-profit corporations in this regard. As Justice Alito observed, the dissenting justices did not even really make any clear argument in defense of such a distinction. The Hobby Lobby decision applies only to closely held private corporations, not to publicly traded companies. The Green and Hahn families, the Court ruled, did not surrender their religious liberties by establishing a for-profit corporation. The same is true for your local kosher deli. This is an important win for the religious liberties of all citizens.

Third, the lead dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reveals a massive ideological divide on the Court that mirrors the divide within the nation at large. Her dissent leads with concerns about the need for contraception and birth control for women and proceeds to dismiss the Christian convictions of the Green and Hahn families as “too attenuated to rank as substantial.” She ignored the fact that the Obama Administration’s policy required the families to facilitate what they believed to be morally wrong, when the government could have accomplished the same result without this requirement.

In one of the most important passages in Justice Alito’s majority opinion, he sets the issue very well:
“The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage. This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another. Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principle dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed.”

That is a stunning rebuke and a much-needed clarification. Justice Alito defended religious liberty and revealed the deep divide on the Court and in the nation — a divide in which some Americans are willing to trample religious liberty under the boot of sexual liberty, and to dismiss all arguments to the contrary as “too attenuated to rank as substantial.”

Some Supreme Court decisions are considered landmarks, even as they are handed down. Today’s Hobby Lobby decision ranks among those. Just consider the fact that had the Court ruled otherwise, religious liberty in America would have taken a very direct hit from which it may well have never recovered. The public debate revealed all over again the fact that we are in a great and enduring battle for religious liberty, for the sanctity of human life, and for an entire range of concerns that are central to biblical conviction. Today’s decision does not settle those issues, but it does represent a much-needed defense of our nation’s cherished “first freedom.”

For that, at the very least, we must be thankful.

Why Would You Want to Be in Heaven?

20140623-072211-26531420.jpgIntriguing thought from Collin Smith on why do we want to go to heaven!

Whom have I in heaven but you? Psalm 73:25

Imagine Joe and Mary, a young couple engaged and about to be married. The wedding is just five days away, and Joe takes Mary out for a candlelit dinner.

“Five days to go,” Joe says, “I can hardly wait for Saturday to come.” Mary smiles as she looks into his eyes across the candles. “Tell me why you’re so excited about Saturday.” Now, all Joe has to say is, “Because on Saturday I get to marry you!”

But instead, Joe says, “I can’t wait for Saturday, because my great uncle Jack is coming in from Boston, and I haven’t seen him for years!” Or, “My college friends from the football team are all coming into town, and we’re going out Friday night!” Or, “The reception is at the Grand Hotel, and the food there is awesome!” These things may be wonderfully true. The problem is that by making them his focus, Joe has completely missed the point!

Surveys show that something like 90% of all Americans think that they’ll be in heaven. A good question to ask is “Why would you want to be in heaven?” Your answer to this question will be one of the most revealing things about you.

If your life on earth is about people, pleasures and possessions, that will probably be your idea of heaven as well. There is no more room for Christ in some people’s view of heaven than there is in their life on earth.

Why would you want to be in heaven?

By lakeviewbc Posted in Heaven

Fire Hydrants!

Fire_Hydrant_3.jpg078d278e-d856-49ba-b5df-04da52d07f9eLargerMy friend recently moved into a private and expensive neighborhood. The homeowners pressured the town and successfully had a fire hydrant installed in the midst of their community. This new hydrant will have the ability to provide an unending stream of pressured water in the event of a fire. The hydrant greatly reduces the chances that homeowners there will suffer complete and catastrophe loss. In fact, insurance premiums for the homes have been lowered because of the hydrant.

If you were not looking for it, you would likely miss it. However, to the keen observer, there it is. A one-and- half foot high and freshly painted red fire hydrant sitting in the middle of a perfectly groomed area. It is true that it looks like every other fire hydrant but to these homeowners, it is special. The local fire department has a map of the location of every hydrant in town and sure enough, this new hydrant has a prominent place on the map.

Last night, faulty wiring in the garage of a newly constructed home was responsible for the start of a fire. The smoke alarms, installed and tied to the fire department, did their jobs in alerting the authorities of the problem. The fire trucks arrived quickly and hooked their hoses to the new hydrant. As a firefighter began to unloose the valve that would deliver thousands of gallons of water, the unthinkable became apparent. In their haste to get the fire hydrant in the neighborhood, the town had failed to hook it up to the water supply. Not one drop of water came out of the hydrant and in a matter of minutes the house was totally lost.

Above ground, the hydrant looked functional and provided security and a sense of safety but there was no connection that would make the hydrant functional. Everyone took for granted that the outward appearance indicated an underground connection.

I am afraid that many people are just like the fire hydrant in this hypothetical story. They look the part and on the at times they appear to be what they say they are. When the salvation question arises, they quickly say, “I am saved.” There is assurance in their statement and some security for the family in their assertion. However, I fear that when the fire of God’s judgment comes they will discover there was a fatal neglect in connecting themselves to Jesus Christ. They installed themselves in the community of God’s people but they never truly connected themselves by faith to the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The Bible tells us that many on that day will face Jesus and will claim that they have done many things in His name only to hear Jesus respond that He never knew them. When the fire of eternal punishment is blazing, they will turn the valve only to find that there is no water—no connection to the only remedy for the flames of judgment—Jesus Christ.

Please make your calling and election sure. Examine yourself to see if your clearly see the fruits of the Holy Spirit evident in your heart. Make sure of your connection to Christ by faith. He is the only hope.