Friday, September 4, 2015

Obey or Resign: A Short-Sighted Doctrine

In the wake of the arrest of a government official in Kentucky, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has once again furthered a position that Christians who are government employees or office holders only have two options when their religious convictions are violated in the course of their official duties.  Obey or resign.

This position was restated earlier today when ERLC president, Dr. Russell Moore, along with co-author Andrew Walker penned, “Need We Jail Each Other Over Marriage Licenses?”

The article states, "When an official can no longer execute the laws in question due to an assault on conscience, and after all accommodating measures have been exhausted, he or she could work for change as a private citizen, engaging the democratic process in hopes of changing the questionable law." (italics mine)

After reading the article, I tweeted that the “‘Obey or resign’ doctrine espoused by many is based on a weak hermeneutic, a secular worldview, and a flawed view of the U.S. Constitution.”

A weak hermeneutic

No passage of Scripture Is singularly controlling, making all others stand on their head and yield to it.  More bluntly, neither Romans 13 nor 1 Peter 2 in full context require complete and total obedience to all human authority.  The context, even of these oft-cited texts, deals with using civil liberty to do good and not evil.

As for his inspired text, Peter says we are to use our civil liberties as “bondservants of God.”  Peter is one who, in the book of Acts, repeatedly defied human institutions, bluntly declaring that God's laws were higher than man's.

From the earliest pages of the Bible, we read of citizens who defied governmental laws and were commended by God.

Exodus 1:17-20 - “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them…therefore God dealt well with the midwives…”

There is even textual evidence that the midwives lied to the governmental representatives about the whole birthing process.  And yet, God commended and blessed them for their actions.  Their heroic actions led to the birth of a deliverer.

Some will say, “Yes but they were not governmental employees.”  Though that’s a distinction without a difference, I’ll concede the point for a moment and talk about a few government employees/officials.

We could speak of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  There is no record that these provincial governors (Daniel 2:49) resigned their posts before refusing to bow.

Then there’s Daniel himself.  Daniel 6:10 records, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed (italics mine), he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”

Notice that the great prophet knew he was violating the law.  When he went home he didn’t pen his resignation as one of the king’s top 3 governors.  No.  He defied the king (his boss) and obeyed God.

Daniel 6:22ff records the end of the incident.  Daniel said, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”  Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.

Daniel testified and the Holy Spirit affirmed that Daniel did nothing wrong.  Don’t miss that.  Our immutable, unchanging God stated through the testimony of the prophet and the testimony of the Holy Ghost that Daniel was blameless, all the while holding his office and simultaneously disobeying the orders of the king.

Those who believe the Bible requires an elected official to either comply or resign are simply wrong.  It's just that simple.  The only way to state that more clearly is to say it again.

Those who believe the Bible requires an elected official to either comply or resign are simply wrong.

A secular worldview

A fundamental worldview question is “Where did man originate?”  I mean, “Did God create man or did man create God?”

This worldview question intersects the matter of civil liberties on a regular basis.  Namely, “Who/What is the source of our rights?”  It appears to me that the ERLC isn’t as clear on this question as they need to be.

Today’s article states, “We must recognize the crucial difference between the religious liberty claims of private citizens and government officials.”  With all due respect, that is a fundamentally flawed view of civil liberties, religious or otherwise.

My civil liberties are inherent and unalienable.  They come from God and not the government.  The government has never given me (or anyone else) a single right. 

The government guards and guarantees rights but has never given any.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  It has none to give.

The government protects and preserves my rights but has never provided any.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  It has none to provide.

This is a basic misunderstanding in today’s culture.  The First Amendment doesn’t give me ONE. SINGLE. FREEDOM.  Not a one.  The prohibition is on Congress.
Kim Davis had no fewer religious liberty rights the day she took public office than the day she was born.  The notion that anyone has fewer religious liberty claims because they have a certain employer is a bizarre one that is based on a secular, not a Biblical worldview.
Kim Davis does not have a right to be a county clerk.  If legally removed, her rights have not necessarily been infringed.  But the idea that she checked her religious liberty rights, even in some small measure, at the door of the clerk's office is a troubling notion.  More troubling in this case is that this belief is held by those whose present ministry is to speak with Biblical and constitutional clarity on such matters.

A flawed view of the U.S. Constitution

To be clear, I'm not advocating a government where individuals can disregard legitimate laws and become a law unto themselves.  If Davis has done so, she isn't the only one.  That's exactly what Judge Bunning has done as well.

Our founding document calls for a separation of powers which are governed and controlled by checks and balances.  In the present case, there is a legal remedy for an elected official who is derelict in performance of his/her duties.

Kim Davis was subject to any number of constitutionally-tenable responses from other branches of government and from the electorate itself.  The laws of this country never envisioned an elected official being arrested for such a breech.

Judge Bunning believed (perhaps rightly) that Davis’ recall/impeachment would be unlikely.  He further believed that fines would be paid by others, rendering them ineffective as a penalty.  That's not his call to make.  So he took matters into his own hand.

The laws of the state of Kentucky explicitly put the right to seek remedy in the hands of others.  Not the federal judge.  By his unilateral action, Judge Bunning became guilty of the very transgression for which Kim Davis now sits in jail.  He didn't like the outcome of following the law so he made his own decision.

It is not a judge’s prerogative to decide that when the legally-proscribed means will not produce his desired ends he can circumvent those means and decree an end of his own choosing.  Frankly, that judicial approach is what got us here in the first place.  It’s bad enough to have a legislative judiciary.  Must we have an executive one as well?

That is called monarchy.  And our forebears fought a war with red-coated British soldiers over that.

Some have rhetorically asked, "What if a county clerk were a Quaker and refused to distribute gun licenses?"  Then she, like Kim Davis, should be subject to the laws that govern derelict officials.

In the present matter, Davis is not limited to two options, obey or resign.  She can exercise her own religious liberty while submitting to the actual laws of the state of Kentucky.  If properly recalled or impeached, she can pack her office and go home.  Quietly.  Respectfully.  Legally.

In the meantime, those who limit her choices to only two might be well advised to reconsider their position on the basis of Biblical, natural, and constitutional law.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Response to J.D. Hall


I am writing, as you likely assume, because you included a screenshot of my tweet regarding Bruce Jenner in a recent post of yours on the same topic.  My tweet simply stated, “Grace won’t let me treat Bruce Jenner like a freak.  Truth won’t let me treat him like a girl.”

I stand by every word of that tweet.  Every one of them.

While you seem most bothered by the word “freak” and my refusal to treat Mr. Jenner like a “freak,” you must see the word “freak” in light of the other words in the tweet.


As a fellow pastor and Bible student, I know you don’t need an explanation about the unmerited favor of God.

I would simply point out for the sake of my readers that grace and truth are not opposing forces that need to be balanced.  Too many in this debate seem to think so.  Our Master was filled with grace and truth (John 1:14).

All grace is truthful.  All truth is full of grace.

I do not believe there is any such thing as truthless grace or graceless truth although I know how those phrases are commonly used.  If it's not the truth, it's not gracious.  If it's not overflowing with the grace of the gospel, it's not Biblical truth even if it's factually accurate.  For myself, I've been guilty of sharing a lot of graceless facts through the years.

On this subject, it's important to note, we don't ultimately show grace to Bruce Jenner (or anyone else in the LGBT life) by withholding truth.


When I’m walking in grace, there is an inner compulsion that simply will not allow me to act certain ways, at least not without conviction.  As a fellow believer I know you’ve experienced those times of brokenness and repentance where the indwelling Spirit made His displeasure known.

It’s not that we are incapable of sinful actions but rather we are incapable of acting in an ungodly way without conviction and chastisement.  As much as the chastisement hurts at the time, I appreciate the fruits of peace and righteousness that it yields in the end.


I can’t speak for everyone.  That’s obvious.

I can’t speak for the lost church member who quotes Scripture all the while putting a black eye on the gospel.  But grace won’t let ME…

I can’t speak for the political conservative whose moral deism is leading him straight to hell.  But grace won’t let ME…

I can’t speak for a fellow believer whose hasty use of social media does more harm than good.  I’ve been guilty of that myself more times than I’d like to admit.  But when I get alone with the Master, His grace won’t let ME….


The Christ that lavished grace on me did not treat me as I deserved to be treated.  The very nature of my sins might not have looked “freakish” to an on-looking world but they were every bit as repulsive to our holy God.  I deserved damnation and eternal punishment.  I get forgiveness and eternal life instead.

Now He calls me to a life of paradox.  A life of grace.  A life that treats my enemies with love.  That blesses those who curse me.  That prays for those who spitefully use me.  A life that doesn’t treat people the way I believe they deserve to be treated.

That doesn’t mean I roll over dead and ignore their behavior.  I just love their person.  I am to love the child molester but I’ll never let them within reach of my kids.  I am even to love the false teacher although I’d never ask him to lead silent prayer at the church I oversee.

I wish I were better at this grace-life than I am.  My tongue has wounded both friendly critic and sworn enemy alike over the years.  I request your prayers in that regard.

God will one day treat sinners as they deserve.  In His righteousness, He will do so.  But even on that great and horrible day, treating sinners as they deserve to be treated will be His place and His place alone.


I join you in exhorting Bible-believers to not call Bruce, “Caitlyn.”  Far different from a more typical legal name change, such as “Fred” to “Bill,” the name change from a male name to a female name in this case is inextricably linked to the transgender behavior itself.  I believe to embrace the former is to normalize the latter, even if unintentionally so.

I am grieved beyond measure that leading voices in my denomination seem to lack enough Biblical discernment to make this simple distinction.  I even wrote a lengthy satirical post to address this troubling trend.

Truth restrains me from calling a man a woman.  It’s just not true.  And therefore, it's not gracious.  Hence, my second sentence.  But that’s not the line that troubled you.


You make your case that you believe Jenner is a freak.  For the record, I firmly believe his behavior is sinful, strange, odd, unusual, and even freakish.  I agree with you on that point.  I didn’t say his behavior wasn’t freakish.

But grace doesn’t treat freaks like freaks. It doesn't treat jerks like jerks.  His common grace even presently treats the unrepentant far better than they deserve.  Thankfully, God’s grace didn’t treat His people like the sinners we were before His grace came.

Far from treating us like we deserved, He pressed His way up a blood-spattered path to a skull-shaped hill.  There He took my sin upon Himself and suffered under God's wrath for me.  In that moment of holy justice, God treated the Sinless One like I deserved that He might treat me as the Sinless One deserved.

The essence of the gospel involves God treating people like they do not deserve to be treated.  Should God save Bruce Jenner, it won’t be because God treated him like he deserves to be treated.  That grace, like the grace given to Mike Stone and J.D. Hall, will be unmerited to its core.

And when God’s grace is at work in me, His grace won’t let me treat Bruce Jenner like a freak any more than His truth will let me treat him like a girl.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Be Careful on the Caitlyn Issue

NOTE:  For those who do not understand satire, this article is a tongue-in-cheek way of addressing a simple issue.  Leading voices in our own Southern Baptist Convention are urging us to address LGBT issues in a way they would NEVER ask us to address any other issue.  When you replace LGBT issues with any other sin, such as animal cruelty, the flawed argument becomes obvious to most people.

It’s been all over the news this week.  From USA Today (1) to the LA Times (2) news outlets have bombarded the nation with stories about her.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

All of my social media accounts have been buzzing about this story.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Some have recoiled in disgust.  The photos are particularly troubling for many.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Many Christians say, “This is not what God intended.”  Even moralists say, “This just isn’t right.”  It’s obvious that surgery will be required to address the damage done to the body.  But the real issue is a heart issue.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

I’m talking about the strange and sad story of Caitlyn, the dog.

According to a June 2, 2015 story in the LA Times, “Caitlyn, a 15-month-old chocolate staffie, was found wandering along the streets of Charleston, S.C., seemingly looking for her former home. The dog probably had wandered for at least a day, or even two, seeking safety and security after being horribly abused. Her jaw was bound so tightly in thin black electrical tape that the blood flow had been cut off and her tongue was trapped between her teeth, officials said.”

41-year-old William Leonard Dodson has been arrested on various felony charges related to cruelty to animals.

But as strange as the case is, I want to issue a gentle but firm plea to my fellow believers.  Please be very careful how you address the “Caitlyn issue."

Pastors, your friends, neighbors, and church members are watching.  The way you address this matter will give them a clear insight into how you will address any issues of animal abuse subsequently revealed in their lives.  It is a gospel issue at its core.

Animal abuse is much more common than most people think.  The National Humane Society is forced to acknowledge that, “Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.” (3)

That means that statistically, you have an abuser on your Facebook feed.  It’s highly doubtful there’s no animal abuser numbered among your Twitter followers.  And pastor, you are very likely to have an animal abuser in your congregation this Sunday. 

And I don’t just mean you mega-church pastors.  I’m talking about the secret abusers who teach Sunday School at New Ebenezer #27.  I’m talking about the choir member at Mountain Look Primitive Baptist Church and the usher at Greater Macedonia AME.  I’m talking about US.

I beg you, be careful how you speak, tweet, and post about animal cruelty. Be aware that the testimony of the gospel in the animal-abusing community is at stake with every word, click, and keystroke.

Animal abuse takes on many different forms and expressions.  Of the nearly 2,000 cases reported in the last statistical year, about 65% involved dogs, 18% involved cats, and a full 25% involved horses, livestock, and other domesticated animals.

I know what some of you are saying.  I grew up in the church.  I know all the clich├ęs.

Yes, the Bible says, “The righteous man cares for his animals.” (Proverbs 12:10).  But we must also be careful that we do not become unloving, needlessly dogmatic, and hurtfully judgmental in declaring what the Scripture says about animal cruelty.  Saying that righteousness requires a man to care for his animals is, well, awfully narrow.  Such statements necessarily imply that animal cruelty is unrighteous.

Now, as believers we understand that animal cruelty is not righteous.  But people in your realm of influence may have taken a different view.  We will never convince the modern, culturally-savvy animal abusers of our day that animal abuse is unrighteous if we tell them that animal abuse is unrighteous.  If we declare our message, we will lose the credibility to declare our message.

See, this post isn’t even really about Caitlyn.  It’s about the William Leonard Dodsons of this world.  The William Leonard Dodsons of your town.  The William Leonard Dodsons in your church.  Honestly, it’s about the William Leonard Dodson that lives in each of us.  In those dark, quiet, hidden places that you don’t talk about at your Sunday School social.

It’s so easy for us to share a post, write a tweet, and click the “like” button as we arrogantly exalt ourselves above the Caitlyn issue.  For a small minority, it’s about their hatred of animal abusers.  For others, it’s a subconscious desire to deflect attention from the animal hater that lurks in each of our depraved hearts.

I mean, who among us can honestly say we’ve never wanted to harm the neighbor’s screeching cat?

Who among us can say we’ve never wanted to shoot the neighbor’s barking dog with a BB gun…or worse?

Who among us has never considered contacting the dog catcher or the local pound with a reckless disregard for the euthanasia that most certainly awaits the culprit?

When the neighbor’s dog poops in your yard or their cat leaves claw marks on the hood of your mini-van, who among us hasn’t muttered under their breath, “I’d like to get my hands on that varmint?”

When you said it with your mouth and thought it with your mind, you are as guilty as the nationally-vilified Mr. Dodson.

If you dare say, “I’ve never wanted to harm an animal,” then that’s all the more reason you should speak slowly…and tweet even more slowly.  If you’ve never known the inner confusion and struggle from animal-abusing desires you tried to hide and suppress, you have no business speaking to this issue.

Simply put, if you have EVER wanted to harm an animal you have no room to speak.  If you have NEVER wanted to harm an animal you have no place to speak.  In either case, only God can judge William Leonard Dodson.  And we’re not God.

Rather than throwing around our Proverbs 12:10 verses, we should remember Matthew 7 and John 8.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  Ye without sin cast the first stone.

Without grace we'd be just like him.  Cat-killers, dog-deserters, and maybe even bird-beaters.  Our animal-hating depravity may not have manifested itself in full measure but if we recognize its presence in the ugly corners of our soul we will speak more softly and much more slowly about another man taping a dog's mouth shut and leaving her alone to die of starvation and heat exhaustion (an act I chronicle here only in the most loving and compassionate way).

William Leonard Dodson is created in the image of God.  Be careful that in your denunciation of his actions that you don’t lose sight of the Imago Dei that resides even within Mr. Dodson.

Pray for Caitlyn and William.  And pray for yourself.  Especially that self-righteous part of you that wants to declare animal cruelty is wrong with reckless disregard for how your words hurt those who live in the animal-abusing community.

Perhaps Providence has allowed this issue to come to the forefront of our national consciousness to remind us all of a simple truth:  We are all broken and depraved William Dodsons in desperate need of grace.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Destruction of Sodom

Tom Strait’s recent column in The Blackshear Times, “What Do You Think Jesus Would Do?” is filled with numerous errors both explicit and implicit.

He errs regarding the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Georgia.   He errs with his implications about the character and conduct of the Lord Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible.  And he errs about the historical Biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Theologically, this third mistake is the root cause of the first two and is therefore the subject of this post.

No accurate and complete reading of the Scriptures would indicate that an inhospitable attitude “sealed the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah,” as Strait suggests.  The fact that Strait’s theory finds sympathy among liberal revisionist theologians is irrelevant.  Repeating an error has never made it true and it doesn’t do so in this case either.

Were the men of Sodom inhospitable toward the visiting men who were, in fact, angelic messengers of grace as described in Genesis 19?  Absolutely.  But that wasn’t Sodom’s ultimate offense.  It isn’t even close.

References to the city of Sodom appear throughout the Bible, literally from Genesis to Revelation.  A good Bible student would examine each instance to get a full understanding of the issue.  To do otherwise is the ultimate example of “sound biting” God and taking His comments and actions woefully out of context.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 states, Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.  Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

The economy was good in Sodom.  The Gomorrah-Jones Industrial Average rose every day.  In this environment of prosperity and blessing the wealthy forgot about the poor and they oppressed the needy.  There is surely a strong word of warning and rebuke for the modern church and its focus on institutional growth and financial prosperity.  But that’s not why God destroyed Sodom.

The people of Sodom forgot about God.  Their eyes and hearts were filled with pride and they turned away from God.  That’s why verse 50 above says, “THUS they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.” (emphasis mine)  The pride and prosperity led to wicked abominations.

Their propensity to do whatever gratified the flesh and lined their pockets led them to commit unspeakable abominations.  But what were those abominations?

Could it have been the inhospitable actions toward the visiting angels in Genesis 19?  Well, considering the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was determined in the mind of God back in Genesis 18, it seems unlikely that an event in Genesis 19 prompted the wrath of God.  To say that chapter 19 prompted chapter 18 is anachronistic at best.

Further, 2 Peter 2:8 describes the destruction of Sodom and references their “lawless deeds” that occurred “day after day.”  It is clear that the destruction of Sodom was not due to a single event of inhospitality or any other single event for that matter.  Well, what were those “lawless deeds?”

2 Peter 2:7 calls their sin, “sensual conduct.”  Verse 10 of the same chapter describes the actions as “indulg(ing) the flesh in its corrupt desires.”

Bible students have long recognized that 2 Peter and Jude are parallel books.  So it’s not surprising that Jude 7 describes the same issue.  “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

Neither of these passages requires the reader to be a Bible scholar or have an advanced degree in ancient Greek to understand their clear meaning.

Strait turns the Bible on its end to reach his flawed conclusions.  Did Jesus reserve harsh criticism, perhaps His very harshest criticisms for the religious leaders of His day?  Yes.  But to imply that Christ’s criticisms of first-century dead religious Judaism would necessarily require contemporary Divine criticisms of those who hold a Scriptural view of homosexuality as a perversion is an exegetical error of Biblical proportion.

If you don't know what it means to make "an exegetical error of Biblical proportion" let me make it simple:  People who make such a claim don't have a clue as to what the Bible is actually teaching.

Was the riotous mob at Sodom inhospitable toward the angels?  Certainly.  The Sodomites were so inhospitable they tried to gang-rape the angels who they mistakenly thought were mortal men.  Lot in his compromised spiritual state offered his daughters to the crowd all the while emphasizing they were biological virgins.  The historical context of Genesis 19 is utterly steeped in immoral passions and saturated with ungodly sexual desires.

If a visitor to a modern home is accosted and threatened with gang-induced sodomy, it is highly doubtful any of us would dial 9-1-1 and report a case of inhospitality.  To suggest otherwise stretches common sense to its breaking point.

Both 2 Peter and Jude reference the destruction of Sodom in connection with the return of Christ and the wrath He will pour upon the ungodly.  By God’s grace, the wrath is not poured out on the basis of sexual purity or sexual pasts but on the singular basis of a person’s relationship with Christ Himself.  It is Christ’s death on the cross that provides the escape from God’s wrath.  And His forgiveness is available to anyone who will repent and believe the gospel.

After describing the destruction of Sodom (don’t miss that), Simon Peter’s second epistle tells us three things about the vengeful and victorious second coming of Christ and the rejection of this doctrine by future generations.  He tells us THAT the doctrine would be rejected, WHY the doctrine would be rejected, and HOW the doctrine would be rejected.

THAT it will be rejected
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking…

WHY it will be rejected
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts…

HOW it will be rejected
“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Simply put, the day will come that people will deny the coming wrath of God against present sin.  To further their case, they will seek to deny that the God of the Bible ever poured out wrath against sin.  At least, if He did, it wasn’t for any of the sins we commit today.  God's wrath against sin is ironically reserved for those who speak of His wrath against sin.

And the rejection of the wrath of God will be because men want to do whatever they want to do, pursuing their owns lusts, with no consideration for the righteous laws of God.  To defend their immoral desires, they will monkey around with the book of Genesis.

The American culture does this on a regular basis.  But for a clear example of this doctrinal error, one need only read the guest column in the April 8, 2015 edition of The Blackshear Times.