Rehoboam Lite

  When I was a college student, my pastor was one of John Rice’s sons-in-law. In a sincere effort to reach more people and “minister to this generation,” he attended “How to do it” meetings sponsored by the Navigators, the Southern Baptists, and John MacArthur. He read widely from the then-available supply of New Evangelical books.  Since Dr. Jack Hyles had preached frequently at his church, I once asked him, “Preacher, what does Dr. Hyles think about these new ideas?”  He smiled wryly and in a statement which contained, in my opinion, equal parts of humor and reality, said, “I’m scared to tell him.”

   I am blessed with a loyal staff, a faithful church, and scores of young people from our church and Christian school in the ministry. I am never disturbed when one of them asks me a question.  I have been asked why I don’t attend movies, why I take the stand I do on the King James Version of the Bible, about my position on dress standards, schedule of services, innovative ideas for doing the work of God, and a host of other issues. This never offends me.  I believe that I should be able to give a Bible principle as the basis for my practice.

    What does grieve me is when someone who calls me his pastor makes significant changes in ministry without ever giving me the opportunity to share my heart and beliefs.  Major changes have been, on rare occasions, made by those who were once a part of our church and whom we had supported with prayers, finances, and influence.  Sometimes, I found out about the changes from a third party.

    I refer to this phenomenon as “Rehoboam Lite.”  Rehoboam had the option of listening to the patriarchs, who had counseled his father, or his peers, who had grown up with him. At least he took the time to hear both sides.  At least he gave the patriarchs a chance.  While it’s true that he did not identify with his father’s advisors, and he may have been merely going through the motions, he nonetheless listened to what they had to say.

    How many young people have gone off to college and came back using a different version of the Bible?  How many have embraced Calvinism; how many have become enamored with the Contemporary Church movement: accepted its presuppositions, adopted its principles and applied its practices . . . all without ever asking their pastor or the patriarchs God had placed in their lives for advice?

 Why?  It seems to me that there are at least two reasons:

  • Solomon was a terrific exhorter but a lousy example. The book of Proverbs is filled with wonderful wisdom, but the life of Solomon was filled with wicked women. He actually worshipped strange gods because of the “strange gals” he allowed into his life. He broke the commandments God gave to the kings and turned his back on what he knew to be true. While it does appear, based on the book of Ecclesiastes, that he turned back to the truth in his older years, he had a significant time of departure from that which he knew to be right. In many cases older men have displayed the attitude towards younger men:  “Do as I say, not as I do.”  They have taken what may have been a correct position Scripturally while living a life that seems to be much more controlled by the flesh than the Spirit. In other cases, they have been offended to even be asked about their positions (I believe this is often because they don’t have a good Bible reason for what they’re doing themselves).  Unfortunately, many of us in the older generation have been unwilling to patiently, Scripturally and kindly explain truth to those who are following us.
  • There are many young people who have allowed their peers to influence them to the point that their mind is already made up.  Having listened to and agreed with new philosophies; having allowed old truths to be disdained without defending them; having in front of their friends agreed with a new practice or position, it is very hard for them to go back and ask the patriarchs what they think and listen to what they have to say.  Like my old pastor, they are “scared to tell him.”  . . .  for what it’s worth.
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Rehoboam- Who are you listening to?

The story of Rehoboam in I Kings 12 seems increasingly relevant to independent Baptists in the 21st Century.  Rehoboam, of course, was the son of Solomon and the one to whom the Proverbs had been written.  He was given excellent advice and excellent training.  When he became king, the citizens of Israel came and made an appeal to him.  They explained that the tax burden placed upon them by Solomon in order to build the Temple and the king’s palace had been exceedingly heavy. They asked for some relief.  Rehoboam told them to come back in three days and went to see his advisors.  There were two sets of advisors:  “the old men that stood before Solomon . . .” and “the young men that were grown up with him.”  Unsurprisingly, the two sets of advisors gave him two different kinds of advice.  The old men advised humility whereas the young men urged him to defend his honor. The old men counseled patience with long-term benefits in mind.  The young men counseled a display of power with short-term benefits in view.  The old men counseled Rehoboam to surrender his rights. The young men counseled him to exercise his rights.  Rehoboam followed the counsel of his peers with disastrous consequences.

 

Here are few thoughts in regards to this portion of Scripture which I hope will be pertinent to our service for the Lord Jesus today.

  • It is clear from the story that Rehoboam had already identified with the “young crowd” and separated himself in his mind from the old crowd. He said to the old counselors in v. 6, “How do ye advise that I may answer this people? (emphasis mine)”  He said to the young counselors, “What counsel give ye that we may answer this people?”

- Of course, we should identify with truth more than with age; with that which is right more than with that which we are comfortable.

- There is a reason most counselors are old.  It takes time to live life and learn lessons from the Lord.

- The people that we “grow up with” make wonderful friends and helpful co-laborers. They seldom make great counselors.

  • Rehoboam’s demise did not begin when he chose to follow the advice of the young men. After hearing the advice of the old men, the Scripture says (I Kings 12:8), “But he forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him . . .”  In other words, Rehoboam did not weigh both sides and then choose wrong. The Scripture tells us that he was turning his back on the counsel of the old men when he decided to even listen to counsel of the young men.  One might reasonably ask why the Word of God and the testimony of our forefathers is not sufficient for us; why we spend so much time reading that which is current and so little time reading that which has stood the test of decades and even centuries.
  • Rehoboam had a problem with his attitude, not just with his actions and his advisors. The Bible tells us in v. 13 that Rehoboam “answered the people roughly . . .”  His was not a reasoned approach. He did not reluctantly explain that he could not, at this time, reduce taxes. No, he was feeling his oats, strutting his stuff and demonstrating his power.  How often do we observe a chip on the shoulder; a defiant or rebellious spirit in those who challenge Biblical positions that have been long held.  Seldom do we see a meek, humble, sincere seeker of truth who works diligently to obey the admonition:  “Rebuke not an elder.”
  • Rehoboam paid a terrible price for following the wrong advice.  I can imagine Rehoboam as he gives his speech. I can see him swaggering off the stage, proud of his exercise of authority, smiling smugly and saying in his heart, “Well, I guess I told them!”  But these emotions, if they existed, did not last long.  In short order, he lost ten of the twelve tribes he had been given by God and inherited from his father.

 

I have been blessed all my life with godly advice from older men.  My father, Dr. Ken Ouellette, taught me, trained me, encouraged me and exhorted me. I still seek his counsel today though I will be 60 at my next birthday.  Dr. Jack Hyles took time when he came to preach for us and answered multitudes of my questions. Dr. Curtis Hutson would stay up late as I peppered him with inquiries about the work of God. He would patiently give me his thoughts and I would drink in every word. Dr. Paul Vanaman befriended and encouraged me when I was a young, new pastor. I can hear his voice today as he would impart to me words of wisdom.  May God help us to love the truth, appreciate the counsel of the “old men” and “continue . . . in the things that [we have] learned.” (II Timothy 3:14)

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Of course you have liberty!

 

  •  A church member wants to teach Sunday School. He learns that part of the leadership requirements for such a position involve abstaining from attendingHollywoodmovies.  “Oh, no!”  he says to the pastor. “You can’t tell me not to go to the movies.  I have liberty.”
  • A missionary candidate applies to a particular board.  Among the requirements the board has for its missionaries is that women not wear slacks in public.  “You can’t do that,” the missionary argues. “That’s a matter of my personal liberty.”
  • A noted pastor conducts a meeting. Among the speakers he invites are some whose positions and practices are those against which the host previously took a stand.  Some speakers who had agreed to come withdraw.  Some who would normally have attended the meeting decide not to come.  “Well,” the pastor laments, “Baptists seem to have lost the principle of individual soul liberty.”

1.  Liberty has to do with the believer’s relationship with his Lord.  Neither I, nor any other human being, is the source of your liberty.  I cannot extend liberty to you, and I cannot determine whether or not you have a clear conscience.  We have liberty in Christ. (Galatians 2:4 – “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:”; Galatians 5:1 – “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”)  We are free from sin.  We are free from its penalty.  We are free from the law (so that I am not misunderstood, please note that both Old and New Testament saints are saved by faith. No one ever got to Heaven because of keeping the law. (Hebrews 10:4 – “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”)

2.  Charity has to do with the relationship between believers.  It requires me to be kind, to put things in the best possible light, to be unselfish, to be patient, etc. (I Corinthians 13).  I cannot give you liberty, but I am commanded to show you charity.

3.  Those who accuse us of robbing them of their liberty are really complaining that we do not extend to them our approval. Like so many in our society, it is not enough that we acknowledge their right to behave in a certain way.  They insist that we publicly affirm that their behavior is right.  I recognize that it is legal for people to drink alcohol. I also believe that it is unscriptural for them to do so. I recognize that people in our society have a legal right to rent pornographic movies. I also affirm that it is Scripturally wrong for them to behave in this way.

4. Sincere believers can and will disagree.  It is the extent of our agreement that will determine the extent of our fellowship. I readily acknowledge that it is Billy Graham’s business whether or not he accepts the sponsorship of unbelievers in his meetings. I have never called him to challenge his behavior or written and threatened him with the loss of my support.  I have, however, refused to sponsor his meeting when asked to do so.  If an Independent Baptist wishes to preach at Southern Baptist churches, that is his decision.  While these men have the liberty to promote and defend their behavior, I have the liberty to oppose their practices and to argue that they are misusing their liberty.

5. Soulwinning churches have, by and large, done a wonderful job of accepting people from all levels of society.  (Romans 14:1 – “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.”)  On any Sunday  you will find at the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, people who are struggling with alcohol, drugs, immorality,  and a host of other unscriptural behaviors.  These people are welcome at our services. They are loved, and they are accepted. They do not need to do anything for us to love them. However, I cannot Scripturally approve of their behaviors. Nor can I Scripturally elevate them to a position of influence and example.  I can and do extend to them charity.  I accept their person, but I cannot approve of their practice or affirm their position.

 

So, enjoy your liberty.  I fully recognize that you must answer to God for your behaviors as I must answer to God for mine.  But understand, that if I find your exercise of  liberty to be unscriptural, I may – in order to keep my conscience clear and my testimony consistent – withdraw from fellowship with you.  Please give me liberty to publicly oppose the behaviors that you publicly practice. I too, must answer to God . . . for what it’s worth.

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When a Brother Falls

   All of us in the work of the Lord have had the sad experience of watching a friend of ours get off-track or even make a shipwreck of their lives.  It is always interesting to me to watch the responses to such tragedies.  Some are smug:  “I knew it. I could tell something wasn’t right. I warned him!”  Others are scandalized: “I can’t believe it!  How could anyone do such a thing?  I am totally shocked.”  Others are sad.  Dr. Shelton Smith, editor of the Sword of the Lord, once said to me about a brother who had gone off-track:  “Every time I think about it, it makes me want to cry.”  What a godly response!   Others are sympathetic: “Well, you know, that could happen to anyone. There but for the grace of God, go I.”

   The Scripture response is given to us in Galatians 6:1:  “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”  I am told that the word “restore” is a word that was used in reference to repairing a boat.  The idea was to take a vessel and make it seaworthy again; to restore it to its condition of original usefulness.  (Let me be clear.  While we may always  be restored to our relationship with God, there are some responsibilities that we can forfeit by our sin.  I have told my people on more than one occasion, “If I commit adultery, fire me.” Many years ago, I watched a program hosted, I think, by Peter Jennings, in which he led a panel discussion of Christian leaders.  The most conservative of those was Jerry Falwell.  The question was asked if a preacher could commit adultery and stay in the ministry. One preacher, who had committed adultery, said yes.  Jerry Falwell called that preacher by name and said, “There is no New Testament example of it.”  Another read from Proverbs 6;16, 17 the seven things that God hated. He then went on to say, “And adultery is not on the list!  It’s not on the list!”  Yet another gently chided him by saying, “I would remind my brother that there is another list in Exodus of Ten – and adultery did make it onto that list.”)

Here are a few thoughts on maintaining a Scriptural relationship with our brothers and sister who stumble.

1.  Determine your role in the situation.  If I were merely an acquaintance of the individual, a phone call, an email, a note, or a text may be all that is appropriate for me. If I were a close friend, perhaps I should endeavor to maintain regular contact. If I had been in a position of giving advice and encouragement, maybe the Lord would allow me to be a part of his restoration.

2.  Pray for those who have been hurt by the sin. Often, in our effort to help one who has done wrong, we fail to consider those who have been damaged by his or her wrong.  There may be a spouse, children, or church members who are deeply wounded. The Devil will, no doubt, try to use the fall of a leader to discourage the hearts of the followers.  (Zechariah 13:7 – “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.”)

3.  Reach out to those who are hurting when appropriate.  Many times I have been prompted by the Holy Spirit to call one who has been damaged by the failure of another only to learn that God had directed my attention to come at a particularly needful time in his life.

4.  Do not ask questions.  One individual whom I had endeavored to help said to a relative of hers, who was a pastor friend of mine, “It seems like nobody really cares.  Bro. So-and-So calls, but he’s an information-digger.”  So many times we become like rubberneckers at an accident:  both appalled by and eager to learn all the details possible.

5.  Consider yourself!  In I Corinthians 10:13 it says that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” it is clearly saying that none of the temptations we face are unique to us, but are common to all men.  That must, conversely, mean that any of the temptations that come to others could come to us.  The moment we feel that we are above a certain behavior, we have become particularly susceptible to that exact sin.

5.  Maintain contact with the individual who has fallen.  I do not know how many times a former preacher friend has said to me, “You’re the only one who calls.”  “Nobody else cares.”  Or something similar.  A preacher friend I was with recently told of an evangelist who had back surgery.  The doctors left some surgical implement in his back, causing him great pain.  When the problem was finally discovered and corrected, he was given Oxycontin, to which he became addicted.  After losing his church, his wife, and virtually everyone who had been an important part of his life, my preacher friend continued to love and reach out to him.  He said, “You’re the only friend I have left.”   It is my view that we need to keep a bridge between ourselves and those who have fallen.  They may not choose to do so, but if they want to, there will be a way for them to travel back to the place of faithfulness they once left.

They were a nice couple in their middle years when I visited their home. The man told me their story.  After being saved in jail, he went to Bible college and started two churches, one inAlaskaand one inMichigan.  In his own words, “My wife told me to leave the house once too often.”  He not only left, but took a lady in the church with him.  In a bizarre turn of events, the wife he left wound up marrying the husband of the woman with whom he left.  He and his new wife had been out of church for 19 years when I visited them.  “Would you,” he asked after telling me his story, “allow us to come to your church?”

“Of course,” I replied.  “The church is a spiritual hospital. We don’t kick out the sick people. We try to reach them.”

That dear man was in our church for several years before he died.  He was a model of Christianity, generosity, faithfulness, and service. Many of the children in the church looked to him as a grandfather. Every testimony he gave was used of God to touch hearts. His ministry in the jail resulted in hundreds of people coming to know Christ as their Savior.  His widow still attends our church. While some would have preferred to not have the “baggage” of his life attached to their ministry, I will be forever glad that we obeyed the Bible and were used of God to have a part in the restoration of this dear man . . . for what it’s worth.

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Becoming What We Left

A man pastors a church which is part of the Conservative Baptist Association.  He involves himself in this organization until one day, he realizes that he has had an inappropriate motivation:  a desire to become the president of the group. He also becomes increasingly aware of things in the organization he believes are wrong. After prayer and consideration, he quits.  He focuses his attention on another “group.”  He invests his time, his money and his personal influence into this group. After a while, that group, too, goes bad.  By now, he is an older man. He is tired of fighting. While he will grieve at the things that are happening in his group, he will not leave.  He has friends, relatives, associates there. It is too hard to go.

A man, 80 or 90 years ago, objects to what he views as excessive control and compromise in the Southern Baptist Convention. He preaches against it, opposes it, and eventually withdraws his church from this affiliation.  Later, he starts his own organization.  After a while, he becomes as controlling in his own organization as those he spoke against in the Southern Baptist Convention. A group of men object and leave.  They start yet another fellowship, which after some years, begins to take a weakened stand on the Bible, on separation, and on scriptural church-building. The more conservative men in this group leave and start yet another organization.

A man grows up in the Southern Baptist Convention.  As a matter of conviction, he leaves and becomes an Independent Baptist.  He willingly describes himself as a Separatist.  After time goes on, motivated, at least in part, by a sincere desire to do more for the cause of Christ, he decides to start his own fellowship, publish his own directory, and lead his own movement.

It seems to me we can trace the steps in the cycle of compromise as follows:

  • Affiliation.  For some reason, the local church, which God instituted and ordained, is not enough.  We want to be part of something larger, something “more important,” something that can “do more” for the cause of Christ.  Therefore, we affiliate ourselves with some group which may encompass many local churches.
  •  Aggravation.  Some compromise occurs within the group.  Some policy changes are made. A direction is taken which troubles us.  At first, this is just a matter of prayer or quiet discussion with a few friends.  Ultimately, the problems become more pronounced.
  • Altercation.  Now we take a stand.  Now we speak up in the meetings. Now we may find it necessary to write a letter to publicize our position in one manner or another. Sadly, most of these efforts fail, and we end up leaving the organization that had become so important to us.
  •  Alienation. The meetings we once attended are no longer on our calendar. The position we once held no longer exists. Many of the friends with whom we fellowship have stayed with the original organization, and we find it difficult to enjoy the same relationship with them we once did. We feel isolated.  Alone.  (I find it interesting that the man referenced in my second example above who once criticized the Southern Baptist Convention in the strongest of terms, later criticized churches which would not join his organization as “spiritual Ishmaelites: all alone, out in the wilderness.”)  Some of our brethren, who have taken the same stand we have taken, gather together and we start . . .
  • A new organization!  We are now back to the stage of …
  • Affiliation.  And the cycle repeats itself again and again and again.

Much of this occurs because man is a tribal creature. We like to belong; we like to be accepted; we like to feel secure.  Some of it occurs because we get to a stage in our life and ministry where we would like to influence others. Sometimes that desire to influence lends itself to an inappropriate attempt to control.  I always find it intriguing that those who rebelled against being under bondage find no objection to placing others in bondage under them.

My personal opinion is that much good has been done through fellowships and there are many of which I have a highly favorable opinion. I have preached at some of these meetings and appreciate the spirit of the people and all that they are trying to accomplish. However, any such involvement has inherent dangers as listed above. Especially as we get older and tired of fighting, it is easier for us to ignore compromises that would once have caused us to withdraw. If we choose to be part of fellowships beyond the local church, we must set clear markers, must draw bold lines, and must make strong commitments to depart when compromise occurs.

For me personally, I’m entirely content to be part of my family and my church. I enjoy fellowship with my brethren. I attend wonderful meetings, almost all of them sponsored by a local, independent, fundamental Baptist church. I support missionaries. I try to help my brethren in their projects. I want to have a cooperative spirit. I am not an isolationist, but I personally have found it wise neither to be a joiner.  For me, the word “independent” is not a noun naming the organization I joined.  It is an adjective describing my behavior. Of course, my main motivation in being independent is that I have no organizational structure between me and God. I must be independent from the control of men so that I may remain dependent on my Heavenly Father . . . for what it’s worth.

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