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Shepherd’s Conference: DAY ONE Journal Entry

A report from Wednesday, March 2nd, at the Shepherd’s Conference in California.
(MacArthur/Holland)


Early in my quest for truth, the Spirit of God used John MacArthur to feed my soul and answer some of my questions when I wasn’t getting answers anywhere else. The Lord began to impress upon my soul the glories of salvation as well as the demands of the gospel by using John. I was a much younger man when leaders in our movement began to denounce him for something about the blood. By that time, I was beginning to think for myself, so I picked up a book by John in order to confirm what my trusted leaders were saying. My trusted leaders failed me. Then, the controversy turned to something about — oh, I can’t even remember — lordship? Bought another book. Once again, my teachers failed me. Time and time again, it has been the same type of experience. Now, the big question is perhaps not a theological question, but a practical one. How does one minister in this world as a teacher that can be trusted?

The leaders of my circles keep telling me that it’s not about what John says (I think they have conceded the battle there). No, it’s not about what John teaches, they say, it is about what he does. What he does garbles his message. Compromises it. We want to send a clear signal. MacArthur sends a mixed message.

Really? How come most of the clarifications I have ever gotten from a contemporary Bible teacher have been through John MacArthur’s ministry? How come all of his opponents have no problem understanding where he stands on the essentials? To whom is he sending an unclear message? Whom is he confusing? These are questions that have been running through my mind for years. I have a default mentality that gives my teachers the benefit of the doubt in spite of my propensities to be to be cynical and hyper-analytical, which propensities I know to be the sinful perversions of wisdom and thoughtfulness.

I came to the Shepherd’s Conference. Got here Monday. I came here prepared to be discerning. Trusted friends are telling me that to cooperate with this man on any level is a sin. Some are a little more broad-minded. It would be sin for them, they say, but they will allow me a little bit of latitude. Nonetheless, something that would be unwise and sinful for a brother that I love and trust, could very likely be unwise and sinful for me, too. To what am I so blinded?

Most of us are fundamentalists because we were born fundamentalists. That’s just a fact. Providentially, we were placed into the environment that nurtured us. I know that’s the first reason why I am a fundamentalist. But I have ventured beyond that. I have studied, prayed, examined positions, analyzed, prayed, critiqued, called upon God, confessed my sins, committed myself to His will, re-examined my doubts, pored over thousands of thousands of pages, determined not to be a man-pleaser, fought in the Spirit, fought in the flesh, asked forgiveness, demonstrated arrogance, prayed, cried, scorned, and prayed. In the end, I’ve become a fundamentalist by conviction.

I’ve also become a fundamentalist without a home. The differentia of fundamentalism, so we are told, is separatism; but no one can really agree on what that distinction is supposed to look like. The safest thing to do is to stay in the warm embrace of our circle of churches and institutions and allow only our teachers to interact with the contamination of other teachers from other circles. Thus, we have no problem allowing leaders in our institutions be tutored by Rick Holland in the D.Min. program at the Master’s Seminary, but God forbid that we should interact with Rick Holland, little peons like us, on the conference level. Apparently, it is not cooperation to sit at someone’s feet as a passive learner to get a degree from them, but it is sinful cooperation to stand beside the same person as an active participator in order to freely speak one’s mind. Doesn’t make sense to me. (I talked briefly with Rick. He’s sort of confused by us. So am I. He told me he wanted to get together sometime this week, but what am I going to say? I’m as nonplussed as he is. And I’m a 35-year-old pastor within the “movement” and with all kinds of attachments to all kinds of places and people within these circles!)

Anyway, I was sad when I went to sleep on Monday night. Devotions on Tuesday morning “just happened” to be Leviticus 10. I bowed to the Lord and trembled. “Strange fire” in worship. “O, Lord, deliver me from it.” Scratched in my Bible: Every worship is a strange fire that is not in and of and through Christ.

We went from the hotel to the church. The organization was superb. Greeters everywhere. They gave each one of us (we are 3,300) a nice Bulova watch when we registered. Met some guys I had never seen before. They came up smiling. Called me “Troll.” Chatted. The doors to the auditorium opened about 30 minutes before the first session.

The first thing that struck me was the simplicity of the auditorium. A little dated. The pulpit is very simple, almost cheap-looking. Looks like paneling. I love it. No wasted money in this meeting place. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t embarrassingly cheap. Nothing was. But one gets the impression after he has just put on a watch that retails around $100.00, knowing the same thing was repeated 3000 times over, that there is a different prioritization of funds around here. Seek first the Kingdom of God, I think.

About two hundred guys, all in dark suits and ties, are sitting in the choir. They are the seminary guys. In fact, so far, everybody on stage is in a suit. The music is anthem-like. Old hymns. Outstanding organist. The orchestra plays “Brethren, We Have Met To Worship.” Then the men sing. Two hundred voices, backed by organ and orchestra, bellow out “The Church’s One Foundation” and “Soldiers of Christ, Arise.” Phil Webb, opera singer, sang “Look to the Cross.” Then it’s our turn to sing. We sing from the hymnal my church uses, The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration. Our song is “Guide me, O, Thou Great Jehovah.”

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
[or Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer…]
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

As we sing,

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.

…I weep.

John MacArthur speaks from Jude. A long introduction for a message he plans to finish Friday. It’s a rousing call to arms. Something like one might have heard in a Bible conference one hundred years ago. He names some “tests” that the Church is failing: Billy Graham is cited, Purpose-Driven Life (thereby Rick Warren), and Schuler. He loves the Church. It’s evident.

Over three thousand people are served lunch before the two workshops. I have to check Rick Holland out. Besides, he is talking about a subject that means something to my heart: preaching. It is outstanding. Still checking him out, I go to his next workshop. Besides, that too, is on a subject near and dear to my heart — the measure of true success. He recognizes me in the last session. Must’ve seen my mug online somewhere. We chat briefly, plan on getting together sometime.

Then, I sit down next to some guys (not pastoral staff) from Tri-city Baptist Church in Blue Springs and Inter-city Baptist Church in Detroit (fundamental bastions). Holland’s message blows me away. I lose sight of him and feel like I am caught naked before the mirror of God’s Holy Word, every damning blemish of my character exposed, morphing into demonic little demons, pointing at me and saying, “Thou art the man.”

As one guy put it, I’ve been mauled by the Lion of Judah. Feel like I need to limp home, dig a hole, crawl in it and cover my head with my arms. I find some rest for body and spirit in the sanctity of my hotel room. Pray. “Lord, have mercy on me.” Confess my sins. Ask myself why am I even in the ministry. Get upset at God for not giving me opportunities I wanted. Confess that too. Feel shame for my shortcomings. Embarrassment for my objectives. I wonder if I can absorb all this, and I’m only one full day into the conference. Then I wonder why some people won’t come to hear this guy. Some people within my circles, anyway. And they refuse to on the basis of Biblical authority.
My emotions stream from contrition to frustration to severely challenged sanctification to contrition again. Who gives a rip about his differences on music? Rise up, O men of God, have done with lesser things.

Time to go to the evening service.

On the way to the evening service we pray for blessing, appeal to God to give us a greater receptivity to His Word. We also pray for a good seat. We get all of the above. Sit smack dab on the front row, directly across from a small trap set. The music, once again, is superb. The only visible program snag so far occurs when someone fails to make sure the congregation received the music sheets. We made a joyful noise anyway.

Little detail. We sing my church’s hymn-of-the-month for February (“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”) and our hymn of the month for this month (“Before the Throne of God Above”) back to back! Music is just outstanding. Again, mostly traditional. We are also blessed with two pieces that are more contemporary in sound.

John MacArthur preaches the evening message from Luke 11. He gives teaching on how to deal with a false teacher. It strikes me that so often I have heard messages about false teachers that summed up in one phrase a simple solution: separate from them. John says, however, “Be like Jesus: confront them.” He assures us that an approach like that will be sure to arouse hostilities. But he also assures us that it is the only compassionate thing to do.

A very full day. Thank you, Lord, for enriching my soul. What else can I say?


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14 Responses

  1. So what am I doing in Ohio? Thanks, Bob.

  2. What did you go out to the Shepherd’s Conference to see? Certainly you expected to hear solid preaching, soul-challenging sessions, and meet other conservative Christians. If you didn’t expect that, I don’t suppose you’d have gone.

    I came to fundamentalism because of John MacArthur. My family has enjoyed his radio broadcasts, tape ministry, and books since I was in elementary school. We were looking for a church with a pastor who preached like him. After searching through a half dozen evangelical church we finally found a fundamentalist church where the pastor preached in the expository style. I’ve been attending fundamentalist churches for the past twelve years now and each one has had a strong expository pulpit and an appreciation for Pastor John’s ministry.

    Why do these ministries not fully fellowship with him and his ministry? In the ministries I’ve been a part of, it is not because they have an ornery personality or because they’ve believed slander about his ministry. It seems to me that they would enjoy a greater unity between their ministries, but their consciences are bound by Scripture to keep some distance. In talking and listening to the fundamentalist leaders closest to me, it seems that they have not come to their views by some kind of groupthink. Instead they have individually wrestled over the Scripture’s teaching and its bearing on their relationship with other evangelicals.

    A relationship with a ministry so close in philosophy to our own is a hard case. Hard cases make bad laws. One thing that I find troubling in these discussions is the lack of grounding them specifically in Scripture. That does not make the hard cases go away, but if Scripture really is the basis for all we believe and do, I think we all need to make sure we’re grounding our practice firmly upon it.

    I wish these discussions would end as much as anyone, but since they continue, may they be to the strengthening of His body.

    Brian

  3. It is true, Brian, that some ministries are as you say respectful and would be willing to fellowship if it weren’t for their carefully thought-through and independent convictions. I am very happy that is your experience. With you, I glorify God for that. However, that is simply not the case for many, way too many, churches. We don’t need to rehash the fellowship/separation argument here. Adam Baillie’s blog will suffice for the month.

  4. I remember a Shepherd’s Conference a few years back. A certain preacher was both convicted by his human, self willed efforts and so fired up about the possibilities when the word is allowed to do its work, it was a toss up which effect the church would see upon his arrival. I now wonder what changes there will be (there will be I’m sure) when Morning Star Baptist Church receives their beloved pastor back.

    I’m sure your expectations will be both confirmed and will not have done justice to your time at his feet.

    Keith

  5. Amen. I can’t wait for my pastoral staff to get back after a week in the Word and Christian fellowship.

    It seems that there are a lot of fundamentalists at the conference. Praise God for Spirit-created unity.

    I am interested to hear the session on fundamentalism (referred to in this thread on SharperIron.org).

    (edited by j.m. – 8:00am, 03.04.05)

  6. There seem to be at least 3 groups of Fundamentalists represented in these discussions:
    1. those who remain separate because of party loyalty and/or woeful ignorance
    2. those who remain separate because they cannot do otherwise in good conscience
    3. those who remain suspicious that the emperor has no clothes, that there is no real reason for distinction between GCC and BJU

    Fundamentalists will split from those who allegedly don’t practice so-called “secondary separation” (i.e., Rick Holland, in this discussion). Will they then split from those who don’t practice secondary separation from Rick Holland?

  7. Pastor Bixby,

    But why compare the best of evangelicalism with the worst of fundamentalism? My appeal is simply to ground our discussions in Scripture rather comparisons, which IMO, tend to confuse rather than clarify.

    Jon,

    If we focus our discussion on the pertinent Scripture passages I think we’ll 1. enlighten those who separate because of party loyalty and/or woeful ignorance, 2. better understand the convictions of those who separate because their conscience’s are bound by those Scriptures, 3. discover whether the emperor has clothes or not. It’s hard to discover the latter if we’re just discussing personality issues. We need to talk to the GCC folks on the exegetical level to see if we are agreed or not.

    As an example of how interaction with the text brings clarity, let’s see how it bears on your final question.

    In the Thessalonian situation Paul had instructed brothers who were out of line while he was with them (2 Th. 3:10), in 1 Th. 4:11-12; 5:14, and in the 2 Th. 3, yet he still anticipates that some may still not respond to his commands (3:14). It is after all of this that he commands the Thessalonians to distance themselves from these brothers.

    Disassociation from a brother is not the first step. It happens after many long discussions (practically speaking, this also allows for the clearing of any misunderstandings as well as giving the brother in the wrong, if he is indeed so, the opportunity to turn). Even then, not all contact is severed. The brother is still a brother and there as least enough contact for continued admonitions to continue.

    So I think it’s a little premature to be asking if fundamentalists are going to separate from those who work with Rick Holland at the conference.

    (BTW, like pastor Bixby I also feel that we don’t need to rehash the fellowship/separation argument here–I don’t feel like writing too many more posts :o)–but feel free to stop by the room anytime to chat)

  8. I just realized that I asked a question that:

    a.) in light of recent blog discussions, I don’t really want to open up either.
    b.) is, as Brian said, premature. Much too premature.
    c.) cannot be answered in any concise fashion on a blog.

    Hasty commenting shall be eschewed in future…

  9. Bob,

    Glad you are enjoying the conference. It sounds like it has been interesting and nourishing. I really don’t want to start up another blogathon, but can’t get myself to pass on some comments you made. Your wrote:

    “Thus, we have no problem allowing leaders in our institutions be tutored by Rick Holland in the D.Min. program at the Master’s Seminary, but God forbid that we should interact with Rick Holland, little peons like us, on the conference level. Apparently, it is not cooperation to sit at someone’s feet as a passive learner to get a degree from them, but it is sinful cooperation to stand beside the same person as an active participator in order to freely speak one’s mind. Doesn’t make sense to me.”

    I am just going to pass on all the loaded words that prejudice the discussion (who called anyone peons and has anyone really accused you of sinning?). My concern is that it seems that you are blurring categories significantly here. To attend a class or a conference seems to be something much different than hosting a conference or bringing in a teacher/lecturer/speaker. I am sure there are people out there who believe it wrong to take the class or attend the conference, but this would be a very small fraction and a very late development. Attendance is something very different from sponsorship.

    That one (attending) is not considered objectionable, then, does not ispo facto make the other (sponsoring or inviting) acceptable. The merits or demerits of bringing in a speaker or speaking along side of a speaker must be evaluated separately. It doesn’t help the discussion to use false analogies.

    Just for clarity re: my point. If I decided to take some classes under world class Semitic scholars at the Univ of Michigan (who probably are not fundamentalists!), that is a different thing than if I bring one of them in to speak in our church or pastors conference. Now, you may not think that either would be wrong, but that is not my point. They are different relationships and must be evaluated differently.

    At least that is how it seems to me, but maybe I am buried farther into the mainstream than some think.

    DMD

  10. I’ve been with Bob all week and let me assure you that Bob IS INDEED a peon!

  11. Dave,

    I can’t argue with Shannon’s brilliance. But I actually came to that assessment of us by myself.

    Seriously, the short answer is this: I called myself a peon. And as to being charged as disobedient, that is for real. At least once directly, and a number of times indirectly when when I have been told specifically concerning the conference that I am biblically required to separate from Rick who does not separate from those who do not separate from apostates. In short,according to them, I am being disobedient.

    You have not said that about me. Nor have you implied that. Thanks.

    BTW,I am neither “hosting the conference or bringing in a teacher/lecture/speaker” as you said. I am speaking as a free man (which is what I said) beside a brother in Christ who is not a Semitic professor from a secular university. Nor, did I use a “false analogy” (as you said). I used a real life illustration. I don’t speak in code. An analogy (I say this not for you, but for some of my other readers) is a similarity in some respects between things otherwise unlike. You just gave an analogy which shows the similarity between your hypothetical situation and my real-life situation in some respects which otherwise are very unlike.

    I have life beyond this blog – a pretty active one actually. It is a wee bit hasty of you to pose a question which appears to challenge the veracity of my statement about being called a sinner. It could also appear that you are attempting to insert doubt into my readers’ minds by suggesting that I am overstating it. It could also appear that your question as to who the “accuser” is an attempt to obligate me to reveal the person’s/persons’ identity which, if I did not do, would lessen my argument. Well, I won’t do that. Their relationship to me is more valuable to me than winning an argument on blog!

    My assumption is that you did not mean to appear this way. I know you too well. But I can’t let my statements be mitigated by insinuation.

    In short, no false analogy from me here. A real life illustration. Current, too. We all know what/who I’m talking about. No overstatement either. Again, I don’t speak in code except when I want everyone to be capable of breaking it.

    And I, like you, don’t want a long blog conversation on here. If I have misrepresented you, please clarify. I know this is a complicated venue. I hope the Lord prospers your day tomorrow.

    Bob

  12. Bob,

    Thank you. In almost every way, I feel like we are brothers separated (did I use that word 🙂 ) at birth.

    I feel much of what you are expressing and am refreshed to “know” you through this venue.

    God Bless,

    Joe

  13. Bob,

    Points all taken about the parenthetical comments. They were late additions that would not be added again if would have known that they would obscure the whole point of my post. For the record, I was not, and hopefully would not ever in this kind of forum, trying to call into question your veracity. I was suggesting that the language was somewhat hyperbolic (which is legitmate although not always helpful). I think you know that I would not be seeking anyone’s identity from you.

    Let me state my point more directly with a question: Do you believe that attending a conference or taking a class is to be evaluated by the same standard as hosting a conference or speaking in one?

    If you say yes to that, then we disagree with each other and I can understand why you would make your statement (even while disagreeing with it). If you say no to that, then your earlier comments are off target. Whether we agree with each other or not is not important. The discussion of how one make decisions is. Compare apples to apples, not to oranges is my point.

    Nothing in what I said claimed that you were hosting a conference, etc.

    I regret that I stepped into this and will slink back out. Please know that I do not question your truthfulness. I gladly rejoice in your freedom.

    DMD

  14. Bob-

    OK, I’ll admit it – I’ve been trying to avoid your blog. I’m sorry.

    This [old, but recently highlighted] post did my heart some good. Like you, I also take the name Fundamentalist, and like you, John MacArthur has been a terrific help and blessing to my soul, especially over the course of the last year or so.

    Although I have my BA and MA degrees from two Fundamentalist institutions, as I have read and studied out MacArthur’s ministry and books, I find very little to condemn – nothing that I can think of, and certainly nothing of any serious significance. I even started reading “Hard to Believe”, and although I don’t necessarily understand everything in it yet, I do feel that MacArthur is doing exactly what he claims to -“Exploring God’s Word, One Verse At A Time”…and that is all I ask.

    Is MacArthur a fundamentalist? He claims so, and I’m hard pressed to disagree. I know that there are some who would disagree, and that there are some who would separate from me because I won’t separate from him. But that’s OK. I know that MacArthur is a believer, a brother in the Lord, and until he goes off the deep end or says something so obviously in error that I’m forced to break with him, I won’t do it.

    And that’s where I stand. You aren’t alone – there is a very confused 27 year old Fundamentalist in NY who is standing with [beside?] you on this issue.

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