When the Gospel is Not Enough

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2: 2

Whether ancient or modern, Christians claim that we all need to come to Jesus. Furthermore, while church membership does not save you, most bodies expect that you will affiliate with a group of believers once you have made a profession of faith. This has been the case since the time of the Apostles. It was the practice in the early church that converts would go through a period of two to three years of discipleship and learning before formally joining the church via baptism; often as part of the Easter worship celebration. Catechisms date to the first century; the oldest being the Didache (also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles).

In most Christian groups, baptism is the normative method of adding a person to church membership. Membership for people coming to the church from outside also involves some instruction or agreement with a statement of principles. Children raised in the church may follow a different path than outsiders to achieve full membership and privileges in their particular denomination. Following baptism, Christians can access Holy Communion or Eucharist which involves partaking in the symbolic body and blood of Christ.

Thus far, I think I have avoided stepping on anyone’s theological toes but clearly I’m about to stomp on somebody’s.

Membership Has Is Privileges
Church membership is a means of guarding access to Communion but what if it’s a barrier to people joining your church due to extra biblical requirements.

We sing songs like “Just as I Am” But do we really mean it?

Is your church a hospital for sinners or an exclusive club that only allows “the right kind of people” to join?

Frankly, I’ve been struggling with this very question for many months and I don’t like the conclusion that I’ve reached. Let me set this issue up for you and see if you agree.

Positive Spin
First, there are two different ways to define or describe your beliefs. You can use negative statements or positive ones.

Negative example
“I don’t drink and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.”

Positive example
“I believe in healthy life choices and avoid the common vices of the ignorant. My ideal life partner will embrace similar views to mine.”

As the old song says, “Emphasize the positive.”

Sometimes by stating the positive answer, you are leaving unstated that the opposite condition is bad.

Have you ever heard someone say something like this? “I believe that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation and I look forward to spending eternity with Him.”

This is a very positive statement and a true one. However, what is left unstated? The negative corollary can be condensed to this, “If you reject Jesus then you will spend eternity in Hell.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith—when dealing with things like the Ten Commandments—states both what is forbidden and what is commanded by God’s Law.

Remarkable Claims
In the church that I attend, the Preface of the denomination’s Constitution concludes with this remarkable sentence:

Accordingly, we profess that the principles set out in this Constitution are binding on us in the same way as are the historic confessions of faith, catechisms, and creeds of the church listed below.

The church’s constitution is just as binding as the Historic Creeds! Let that sink in for a moment before you continue reading my post.

In light of both the above; namely, people stating their viewpoint in the most positive way and the Constitution of the church being equal to the Historic Creeds, please read the following carefully.

Accordingly, we reject the subordination of the family and church to the State in matters of faith and religious practice. As an extension,

(i) We believe in promoting and supporting the training of our children in Christian educational institutions, especially in the home schooling method.

Book of Church Order, page 6 (B. 2. e. WCF 23)

What is left unstated? What is the negative of these statements?

Positive—what is commanded
“We reject the subordination of the family … to the State…we believe in … training our children in Christian educational institutions…”

Negative—what is forbidden
“We accept the subordination of the family … to the State…we believe in … training our children in State educational institutions…”

Translation: Good Christian parents don’t send their children to public schools.

Here is a portion of Deuteronomy 6  which will be discussed below:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

(Variations of the word “command” appear 14 times in this chapter.)

We promote and support the Christian educational training of children

The Bible gives parents the clear direction in Deuteronomy 6 that they are to train their children in the statutes of the Lord throughout the day. This mandate is compromised when children are sent to public institutions of learning where they are indoctrinated in the principles of secular humanism and influenced by worldly peers and teachers. The result of such secular instruction is a weakened church and divided families. We promote, instead, those educational alternatives which are guided by and serve Biblical principles and purposes. These include Christian homeschooling and biblically regulated covenant schools.


Please note that the “clear direction in Deuteronomy 6 ” is described as a “mandate ” in the next sentence. If a mandate is found in Scripture then I think it can fairly be described as a Command of God.

Using word substitution the second sentence reads as follows:

“This Command of God is compromised when children are sent to public institutions of learning where they are indoctrinated in the principles of secular humanism and influenced by worldly peers and teachers.”

Granted that it’s been a few years since I was in a Sunday school room, but don’t we tell children that sin is the result of breaking God’s Law, His Commandments?

Here is the logic:
1 God commands us to educate children “in the statutes of the Lord throughout the day.” This is God’s Will, His Command, His Instruction.
2 This Commandment (mandate) is violated by sending our children to a State run government school.
3. Disobeying God’s Commands is sin.
Therefore, sending your child to a public school is a sin.

Even if you want to stop short of describing sending children to public school as a violation of God’s Commandment (or you’re just squirmy about it), per the above you are still sinning because James 4: 17 states:

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Privileged Have Their Membership
This is the set of rules that governs the church that I have been attending for the last few years. Over time, this distinctive has really grown to bother me. In my previous blog, I spoke of the suspicion of strangers and the simultaneous lament that the church is not growing. Now throw a prohibition against public schooling in the mix. I look at the totality of the beliefs and practices that I have mentioned and marvel at how we have twisted the Gospel of Christ.

So what happens if Bobby Baptist were to experience the Light of the Reformation and as he begins to embrace the likes of John Calvin, he comes to our church? Or Peter Pagan manages to run the gauntlet and get a chair during our service and then comes to a saving faith as he hears the Gospel from the pulpit?

What are we to do?

In a state like California, a married couple with children is likely to be struggling with two college loans, two car payments, a mortgage, and a host of other bills. Both he and the wife work and their children are in public school.

Believing the Gospel is not enough in our congregation. At what point do we have to deny people access to the Lord’s Table because they are openly sinning against God’s Commandment by sending their children to public school?

It is common practice in the church that people in open rebellion and sin are not only prohibited from Communion but will be subject to the discipline of the church including trial and excommunication if they don’t change their ways.

My family is the only non-home school family that is a member of the congregation. We often joke that we were the most conservative members at our previous church and now we are the most liberal. But all kidding aside, this is a serious issue.

We have added a socio-economic barrier to church membership that discriminates not on the basis of the Historic Creeds and Christian Faith but an additional demand of income; so if God doesn’t bless you materially as much as somebody else then we don’t want you. If you were a young man that made poor financial decisions—as defined by Dave Ramsey—then you can’t be in our little club?

What happened to James 1: 27?

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Remember that applying Deuteronomy 6 to the issue of public schools is a serious doctrinal position. The Commands in this passage are clearly not optional.

Consequences of Exclusivity
The culture of distrust of strangers which I discussed in a previous blog and condemnation of those not home schooling their children colors the actions of our congregation. The things that I have described about the church not only keep people from getting in but keep us from reaching out.

We are unwilling to go to the highways and byways and compel them to come in. We systematically refuse to get involved in our community. I can’t help but wonder if this is because we only want to minister to people that already are predisposed to agree with us. However, people that home school for religious reasons are typically already involved in a church somewhere and not usually looking to jump to another congregation.

If we really want to grow our church we need to reach out to the unchurched or those underserved by their current house of worship. We purposely offer no programs for youth or children because we are “family integrated” which means that children sit with their parents during church. We don’t own our own building so there are no mid-week services or events. The net result is that we can’t out do the programs offered by the local mega-church, so we refuse to offer anything. Thus, our only real opportunities for growth lie in converting the heathen or reaching people that left the church earlier in their youth.

Try this scenario. Our friend, Peter Pagan and his wife have experienced a conversion by attending our church. They believe in all the tenants of the Historic Creeds and ask the pastor to join the church. At what point do you ask about having his wife quit her job and moving the children out of the public school?

If the church really believes what it claims, would it be unreasonable to comp the family so they can attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and help them develop a plan to be able to live off of one income? What about childcare and medical benefits for the family? Can we help the father develop his skills and get a better job to make all this achievable? Sadly none of these things has ever been discussed, let alone implemented.

Christian education—especially home schooling—is not just a preference of the denomination it is a “mandate”. How does Peter Pagan get from where he is to where the denomination says he should be? Sadly, he is left to his own devices.

Now I’ve shared my dilemma with you. Coming “just as I am” is just not good enough. I clearly can’t change the rules of the denomination or the culture of the congregation. But where else would I go? I agree that in theory a Christian Education—however that is defined—is better than the government option in many instances but…

To circle back to the beginning of my discussion, is my church a hospital for sinners or an exclusive club that only allows “the right kind of people” to join?

Meanwhile, if you have paid off your student loans, cars, mortgage, and credit cards; your wife can stay home all day to cook, clean, and teach the children; and you can throw ten percent of your income into the collection basket each month then look us up; we’ll be happy to have you. Oh, and don’t forget about the potluck after the service.

Stranger Danger or Opportunity

I often critique or admonish the behavior of other folks on this blog. Often it is because of something that I care about or view as a potential learning opportunity for readers. This blog post is about my church and a set of problems that I have been having with them. I can think of three things with which I have real disagreements with the leadership. Two of the three will be discussed publicly and the other will not. The present subject is the first upon which I wish to vent.


The Bible has much to say on the subject of strangers. Some folks clearly do better than others in regard to how they treat new people. Here are some sample passages from the Bible:

• Rahab the harlot treated strangers well and became an ancestor of Jesus.
• The people of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to fornicate with the strangers (angels) visiting their cities on the final night of their existence.
• Joseph treated his brothers harshly and with many trials before revealing himself.
• The disciples were told that if they were treated badly to shake the dust off their feet when leaving an unwelcoming town.
• Hebrews tells us, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
• Exodus reminds the Jews, “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
• Matthew quotes Jesus, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:…”
• Paul wrote the Ephesians, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;”
• John said, “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;”

Given the weight of biblical evidence, it is clear that we are to treat strangers the same way as those we know. People that have one set of rules for themselves and another for the masses are violating Scripture.

Furthermore, those claiming any part in the theology of John Calvin bump into the doctrine of Predestination. One thing that Predestination means is that everything has been ordained by God for His purposes. Unfortunately for my church, that includes encounters with strangers.

My church is openly hostile of strangers. We meet in a rented public building next to a very large park. We place signs out on the street showing folks where we meet and then lock all the doors to the building. We used to have unlocked doors that were guarded. For some reason, allowing folks to enter the building that want to use the bathroom is equated with inviting bad guys into our place of worship.

Many men in my church carry firearms to the service and many of the young men carry as many as three knives. Young children are expected to be escorted to the bathroom and are never left unattended.

Are we hyper-Calvinists or what? Why can’t a stranger entering our door be viewed as a Providential appointment to share the Gospel? Why not expect that people will respond favorably to Christ and stop assuming that everyone that we don’t know wishes us ill or is at least an irritation that we don’t want to deal with? What happened to give a cup of water in the name of the Lord?

It is ironic that members lament that our numbers are not growing and wonder why? “Welcoming” is never a word used to describe our fellowship. It seems to me that we are way too busy hiding under our bushel basket instead of being a light. Yeah, lights may attract moths but it also can lead people to safety.

The final irony is that two members of the congregation are registered sex offenders and nobody is afraid of them. (This policy towards strangers predates the attendance of either man.)

Happy Veteran’s Day 2017

I got back into the old uniform for the first time in 29 years and walked in the Veteran’s Day Parade in Elk Grove today. Its was moving to be thanked for my service.

I was also blessed to hear my wife sing three songs at the event. God Bless America, Star Spangled Banner, and Amazing Grace.

What a contrast from the time when I got out of the Navy back in 1988 and was looking for a job. I distinctly remember applying for work at a local Filco. I handed the guy my resume, he laughed at me, handed the resume back to me, and told me to get out of here. The thought of this treatment still stings.

Car Pool Troubles

A story in the news yesterday is gut-splittingly funny on several levels but before I get there, here’s my background on this issue.

During a lazy summer day a few months ago, I met with an occasional contributor to this very blog near the Toys R Us in Elk Grove. As I was minding my own business just walking through the parking lot, I beheld a sight that I shall never forget.

A small car passes me heading away from said toy retailer that is driven by a woman with a most unusual load on the roof of her vehicle. She has one hand on the steering wheel of her little Toyota and the other out her open window holding onto a plastic swimming pool about fourteen inches deep and six or seven feet around. No straps or other safety devices were holding the pool onto her car, just one hand out the window.

Needless to say, I was shocked that anyone would be so brazen (and stupid) to endanger others in her clearly selfish quest to get this pool back to her house. Clearly a gust of wind or a passing vehicle would easily be able to cause her to lose control of the pool and drop it into the middle of the road thus causing and accident and rendering the pool useless.

Clearly this woman was daring the laws of nature and physics to doom her cargo.

Apparently this was not an isolated incident.

A Wisconsin woman is facing charges after her 9-year-old son was tied to the roof of their minivan to help hold down a plastic pool.

Prosecutors allege 28-year-old Amber Schmunk had her son hold down the molded pool they’d just purchased because it wouldn’t fit inside the van.

Boy Tied To Minivan’s Roof To Hold Down Plastic Pool

Schmunk told cops she “had no way to strap it down so she had her [son] climb on the roof to hold it down while she drove,” and later said she did strap the boy down inside the pool, according to the complaint.

Perhaps a rope around his wee ankle to keep him connected to the pool like a surfer to his board?

Amber Schmuck: Car pool mom

Schmunk said she “believed it was OK as her father let her do things like that when she was that age”

Mom strapped son to the roof of minivan to hold down plastic pool

Once I saw her name, I thought, did you ever notice that in books like the Bible, that a person’s name often describes a characteristic of their personality? Her name looks a lot like a word you may know: Schmuck. Per the Internet, “the definition in American English is a pejorative term meaning one who is stupid or foolish”. In this case if the shoe fits…

Oh, no surprise that no Mr. Schuck is mentioned in any version of the story that I can find.

Trump, Russia and Other Nonsense

“As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
—Donald Rumsfeld

Candidate Donald Trump was not given a snowball’s chance in hell by the political class when he announced his run for office. The smart money was on people like Jeb Bush. With a full slate of House and Senate races already in the pipeline, Trump had few options available in terms of available personnel when his campaign started picking up traction with voters. The top tier political consultants and more experienced people were already committed to other campaigns. Trump was at a disadvantage in terms of traditional campaigning. Thankfully for him, he was willing to spend his own money to make-up the difference in media buys.

For a while, this served him well but he had huge holes in his organization as he entered the spring of 2016. In many cases, he was left with a combination of inexperienced or disreputable people to run his campaign. Roughly speaking, these folks could be called the “bottom feeders” of the political world.

Such was the case in California. Trump basically had a choice of two consultants to choose from when he began gearing up his California operation. If you recall, it was looking like Trump might need the delegates from the winner-take-all state of California to seal the nomination against Ted Cruz. Trump’s California choices were folks with availability to work for him because they had losing records in running statewide campaigns.

If you apply this personnel deficit on a national scale, you might start to understand why Trump kept changing personnel throughout the campaign and during his first few months in the White House. In fact, even as recently as last month he is still changing people faster than the Senate can confirm them.

The special prosecutor and indictments that were unsealed don’t lead to Trump as the author of any wrongdoing.  The wrongs alleged in the indictment dates back to 2014 and even before; long before Paul Manafort was on Trump’s payroll. The media is still stuck on their Russia narrative but the facts lead elsewhere. Assuming this prosecutor is an ethical guy—which I know is a charitable gesture, if your last name is Clinton or Podesta, you might want to “lawyer-up”.  Trump will survive this sideshow and Hillary will fade away if she knows what’s good for her.

I was contacted by the Sith Lord who shed some more light on the reason that Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort in the first place.

If you recall, as the Trump campaign was winning various state primaries, Ted Cruz supporters were systematically trying to highjack the delegate selection process to get Ted more delegates than he was winning at the ballot box. By doing this, Ted was boosting his delegates in many states with more relaxed systems of delegate selection. Their goal was to deny Trump an outright victory on the first convention ballot and force a brokered convention where Cruz hoped to pick up more supporters in subsequent ballots. Some Trump delegates were actually Cruz supporters that would then be free to vote for Ted after the first vote. Many Establishment types were also hoping for a brokered convention where they planned to dump both candidates and bring in someone like Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney.

It was because of this possibility that Manafort was hired. Per the Sith Lord, Manafort was instrumental in the last brokered convention where he flipped delegates from Reagan to Ford at the 1976 Republican National Committee Convention. Manafort was the “enforcer” for Gerald Ford making offers that delegates simply couldn’t refuse.

As the likelihood of a brokered convention fight between Cruz and Trump dissolved, so did Manafort’s influence in the Trump campaign. He lingered long enough to help with the transition into the White House and then Manafort and Trump parted ways.