Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Thoughts on the Recent Controversy

I will always appreciate Pastor Sweatt for his gracious and selfless role he played in the creation of our new church plant. He allowed Andy Henderson to present his vision for a new church in the Hamilton Mill section of the northern Atlanta suburbs and then said that anyone from his church who wanted to go and help Pastor Henderson had his complete blessing and support. We started Grace Baptist Church with a good five or six families from Berean, one of those families being mine. Pastor Sweatt was more interested in building the kingdom of God than his own kingdom and thus serves as an excellent role model for other fundamentalist pastors in this regard.

I am also a fervent supporter of fundamentalism. I believe that churches and individuals ought to be fundamentalist in their outlook and philosophy because I believe that fundamentalism most accurately reflects Scripture’s teaching regarding New Testament Christianity. It grieves me when young men or old men depart from fundamentalism because I believe they are departing from the Scriptural ideal.

I realize, of course, that many so-called expressions of fundamentalism in this country are corrupt caricatures of that ideal. While I identify with fundamentalism, I do not identify or associate with every extreme expression of fundamentalism. In fact, I would encourage people to leave hyper-fundamentalism (e.g., militant KJVOism, Hyles-type ministries, abusive troubled-teen ministries, and those whose theology is so weak or whose legalism is so real that it actually teaches another gospel in the Galatians 1 sense), not to embrace conservative evangelicalism, but to find a more Biblically based fundamentalism.

In no sense do I put Berean Baptist Church into the hyper-fundamentalist category. Berean is a good church and Pastor Sweatt has served there faithfully for many years. They are conservative but in no way extreme.

That said, while I love Pastor Sweatt, there are things that he did in that message that are going to drive people away from “mainstream” fundamentalism because they highlight some of the very serious problems that exist within hyper-fundamentalism. I am not a pastor, but I have spoken enough to know that sometimes you say things that you had no intention to say. Some of these things may have been inadvertent, but some things I have heard him say before.

There is a fine line between supporting a man that God has raised up to serve a generation, and falling into ungodly, man-centered hero worship. We should never be blind followers on one hand or completely dismissive critics on the other. But please, promoting the likes of Jack Hyles and Bob Gray because they were soul winners is inexcusable. These men did not just have small foibles; they were blights on the body of Christ. We have got to distance ourselves (and rebuke if necessary) the idea that soul winning covers a multitude of sins.

Second, and I know this one has been beaten to death, but Calvinism is not our enemy. I am Calvinistic (probably 4 to 4.5 points) but I don’t think Calvinism should be stressed in the teaching ministry of a church. It can easily get unbalanced. Preach the sovereignty passages and the man’s responsibility passages in their Biblical proportion and according to each passage’s emphasis. Don’t try to solve the theological tension by pulling up either one of the stakes. If you have recently been convinced of the doctrines of grace, don’t go around making an irritating fool of yourself or getting all offended if your church is not as Calvinistic as you would like. It is not always easy to co-exist but it can be done with humility and appropriate deference. This plea, however, works both ways. We need non-Calvinistic pastors to realize that the problem with the Pipers and Mahaneys of the conservative evangelical world is NOT their Calvinism. If your people are reading Piper or MacArthur or Mahaney, don’t stress out over it. Most likely they are growing in the Lord. This is a good thing but it can also be a dangerous thing, and that leads me to my last point.

When fundamentalist pastors and teachers rightly say that the Bible is our sole and inerrant authority for faith and practice, your people will listen and believe it. When they read or listen to those who model that belief in their preaching and writing ministries, it thrills them. And when your people get a taste for it, nothing else will ever satisfy. Nothing. So here is the challenge that you must embrace with all your being – preach and teach the Bible as if the very words of it are God-breathed inerrant wisdom. Make sure that your people see that you are making God’s point, using His reasoning, His authority, and advancing His agenda, not yours. Be thankful for the men that God has gifted and given a national or international ministry. Don’t be jealous of them or think that you cannot measure up. Here is the beauty of preaching this way – you don’t have to be unusually gifted, you just have to work hard and be faithful with the text. No doubt there is skill involved but if you have been called to preach, God has given you the grace you need to effectively communicate His Word to the people to whom He has called you to serve. So, roll up your sleeves, pray over your text, and preach it!


At 11:24 AM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Thanks, Andy. As always, you are very balanced and thoughtful. I really appreciate it.

I agree that citing Hyles and Gray is really inexcusable, but the uproar mostly has little to do with that point, correct? It has been mentioned, but not been the main "how dare he" rallying cry.

I agree that we meed to preach the Bible like we mean it. In most of the preaching I have heard in FBF circles, the men have been doing that. Occasionally you get a dud (I've probably had a few duds myself), but the duds seem to come indiscriminate of the age of the speaker! So on this point, I would urge the young zealots to be patient. And to privately encourage a man who struggles if he is a solid fundamentalist but isn't a good preacher ... there may be reasons other than laziness or inability that hinder him. In small churches, pastors often have to do secular work on the side and everything else at church as well, plus preaching... So charity and understanding and HELP is in order.

That's not to say that every man in the pulpit should be there, etc. Some guys are beyond help.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 11:37 PM, Blogger Frank Sansone said...


Thank you for your comments. I linked to it, but it does not show up here (I have never figured out that "trackback" thing.)

As I indicated in my post, since I have not had time (inclination?) to listen to the message in question, I am allowing your post to basically reflect my current thoughts on this.

Keep up the good work,


At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very levelheaded analysis

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Dave Barnhart said...

Good comments, Andy. I'll have to echo Don and say that yours are some of the most thoughtful and balanced I have read on this controversy.

I wouldn't describe myself as Calvinist, and I agree completely with what you said about preaching both the sovereignty and free-will passages as they are. I'm not sure that some of that tension you talk about was really intended to be resolved this side of heaven.

At 7:28 PM, Blogger John Bensley said...

Excellent. Glory to the Lord!


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