Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Are You Haggard?

Pastoral Letter to the Springs Reformed Church (RPCNA):

I write to you today in the most somber of moods. In light of the recent fall of Ted Haggard, it is truly, a time to weep…a time to mourn (Eccl. 3:4). Many biblical principles come to mind at a time like this…

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. 10:12)

Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Gal. 6:1)

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Gal. 6:7)

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?— unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5)

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom. 2:23-24)

…many more passages could be, and probably should be, added here. Yet, as I think of you all during this time, and consider some of the public statements and public reactions that have surfaced, I have a particular concern that I wish to address with you in this letter. In Mr. Haggard’s letter to the New Life congregation, he stated:

“Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me…When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me.”

On Monday, Nov. 6th, United Press Independent writer, Julie Bogart caught this statement as well, quoting it in her article entitled: “Scripture little help for Haggard’s sex addiction”. She goes on to say,

“What if evangelicals admitted that breaking bad sex habits is beyond the scope of its ability and is not a promise in Scripture?...When people say that Haggard should have been more honest with himself, I want to say that evangelical theology is guilty for his dishonesty. The promises are lies. They make a mockery of leaders who depend on the promises and find no relief. What else does a pastor do but lie when the practices he preaches don’t work for him?” (emphasis added)

We cannot simply respond to this by saying, “Well, we’re all sinners.” Yes, that is true, but that has already been stated by Michael Jones, Haggard’s accuser! As Christians we must have more to say than the unbeliever who brought Haggard down!

More than simply having something to say, what do you do with Mr. Haggard’s statement and Ms. Bogart’s contention? Have you tried it all and none of it has been effective in you either? Does this resonate with you? How do you respond to the charge that, “The promises are lies”? When you examine your own life, are you Haggard/haggard? What advantage is it to be a Christian? Of what value is your baptism?

Paul addresses these questions effectively in the midst of a similar discussion in his day:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar… (Rom. 3:1-4)

You see, one man’s lapse does not nullify the promises of God. In fact, if everyone on earth who claimed the name of Christ fell from grace, this would still not nullify the promises of God: Let God be true though every one were a liar! Mr. Haggard’s fall has opened God up to the charge of lying. Ms. Bogart has clearly seen this and states clearly: “The promises are lies”.

But neither Ms. Bogart nor Mr. Haggard, nor most of the Evangelical world, understand what the promises of God are, and particularly what He has promised in the area of our deliverance from sin. It is most telling that in Mr. Haggard’s letter, he never once mentioned explicitly, nor even implicitly, our Lord Jesus Christ. What he articulates in his letter and describes about his struggle with sin is in fact a Christ-less religious experience.

But the Bible tells us of a God who really saves sinners: A Father who has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29), a Son who gave His life for us to save us from our sin (1 Jn. 3:16), and a Spirit who not only raised Jesus from the dead, but who also works just as powerfully in us to mortify sin within us (Rom. 8:11). The great divide between biblical religion and the religions of the world is the contrast between faith in Christ and works—between grace and human effort.

The hard fact that many of us will sooner or later need to swallow is that modern Evangelical Christianity is not biblical Christianity. Evangelical Christianity offers gimmick after gimmick for people to try, in order to overcome their sins—accountability groups, certain kinds of devotional exercises, deliverance ministries, etc. But God promises us the absolute efficacy of His Son to deliver us from the penalty and power of sin:

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)

What are you to do to be sanctified? The same thing that you did to be justified—Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col. 2:6-7)

Are you Haggard/haggard? Are you also struggling with besetting sin? Has the current situation made you question the promises of God? Are you distraught because you have tried to change yourself, but have utterly failed? Heed Christ’s call to you today (Matt. 11:28):

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Affectionately in Christ, Pastor David Reese

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Amish & Islam

The recent tragedy of the Amish schoolgirl killings has brought into the public eye a clear difference between Islam and Christianity that I hope will not be lost on the world. We are constantly told that those perpetrating the violence in the name of Allah are "extremists" of the Muslim religion...Well, the Amish are the Christian "extremists"! In saying this I am admitting that they are not mainstream Christianity, but I do find it absolutely striking that "extremism" in Christianity manifests itself in passivism...this in contrast to "extremism" in Islam manifesting itself in mass murder and terrorism.

The following action of the respective "extremist" groups is quite telling as well. The Pope quoted an ancient source saying basically that Islam is violent. In response, Islamic "extremeist" (actually high-up officials in major-player nations), issued death threats calling for his execution and retaliated by attacking other Christians. A crazed madman invades a schoolhouse in a Christian community and shoots and kills 5 young girls. In response, the Christian "extremeists", issued statements of forgiveness and sought to help and comfort the widow and children of this madman...

Now, I should explain why I consider the Amish "extremists". They are so because they have gone beyond (or below) the teaching of the Bible, and created an idocencratic religious expression of Christianity that is not biblical. You see, the Amish are extreme passifists. The hard truth in all of this is that no Amishman would have sought to defend the schoolgirls--jump the gunman, hit him, fight him off--had he had the opportunity. In other words, an Amishman would just stand there and watch (and probably pray) as violent crimes and criminal acts are carried out against you, me...even his own family.

The Bible calls us to defend our do everything in our power to preserve our own and others lives. In other words, self-defense is righteous. Watching as others are killed or maimed is not matter how stiking and touching this might seem today in a world gone mad.

But there is something in both religions respectively that set the trajectory of their extremist. You see, the fact is that Christian extremist err on the side of passivism...Islamic extremists err on the side of mass murder. Christianity is a religion of grace and forgiveness...Islam is a religion of law and retribution. This is not to say that Christianity is without law-the law actually defines the sin from which we must be saved-but if there was a law given that could give life, then righteousness would have come by the law.

This is a sad story and I have only compassion for the Amish during this time. Furthermore, some of the public exposure of their actions has been God glorifying. In God's providence, there wasn't an Amishman there to "do" anything. The trajedy happened. And, in such stark categories, the contrasts between Christianity and Islam have been made clear by our "extremist."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

R. Scott Clark & Confessional Orthodoxy

Dr. Clark of Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA has an excellent set of lectures availible on the internet addressing the need for American Protestants to return to their roots and again be "confessional" churches. Dr. Clrak can speak for himself and so avail yourself to these talks at:

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ray LaMontagne

By far, one of the best, new American singer-songwriters is Ray LaMontagne. He was born in New Hampshire, but he seems to be from everywhere. He has a very different approach to music and writing, and his product manifests this. A biography on his website states:

"LaMontagne does not consider himself an entertainer; he writes, records, and performs his music and hopes that, in so doing, sheer passion and music will triumph. 'I always just express myself,' he says. 'I just kind of let them go, my songs. There are songwriters and musicians out there who are entertainers. They have so much fun. I envy that sometimes. They're having such a great time.'"

His music is simple and Dylanesque, and his voice is absolutely hurts to listen to sometimes, not because it is poor, but because it is so full of emotion. Just as Van Gogh's paintings demand thought and involvement, arresting the looker and forcing him to consider the message, so it is with LaMontagne's songs. These are complex poems filled with emotion, pain, questions, reflections, etc. and it is impossible to simply turn his music on as background filler noise. Again, the biography on his website states concerning his latest album,

"LaMontagne's voice — battered, bitter and beseiged, devastated and uncomprehending — remains central and alive..."

His latest album is, musically speaking, amazing. Till The Sun Turns Black is intricate and...for lack of a better word...beautiful.

I know nothing of his personal religious or philosophical beliefs, but as a general rule, don't look to artists for either. On his first album Trouble he disappointingly quoted from the book, The Last Temptation of Christ, but it is unclear what his point was. The quote mentions that God will always pardon singers...Again, he is a songwriter and singer...not a theologian.

If you are looking for a break with the normal trash that is perpetually pumped out of today's industry studios and then forced onto the masses, LaMontagne will not disappoint. His website is:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Blaise Pascal

I have always been impressed with the thoughts (i.e. "Pensees") of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). I am again reading his "Thoughts", and while they are not always accurate (he defended Jansenist doctrine), there are a lot of excellent comments made by him on a variety of topics (e.g. on the depravity of man). One of my favorite quotes ("Thoughts") of his comes from his first chapter, "Thoughts on Mind and on Style" #10:

"People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others."

In his chapter on "Morality and Doctrine", Pascal speaks very much like a Federal, Law/Gospel Calvinist:

"The law imposed what it did not give. Grace gives what it imposes." (522)

"All faith consists in Jesus Christ and in Adam, and all morality in lust and in grace." (523)

Perhaps my favorite quote is:

"Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride, and before whom we humble ourselves without despair." (528)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Divine Right of Church Government

Most people today do not think about Church Government, nor do they think it is an important concern for the Christian. But, contrary to popular sentiment, Church Government is one of the most important parts of the Christian Faith. Jesus told His disciples that the leadership of His Church would not be like the leadership in the world (Matt. 20:25-28), and Paul tells us that after Jesus ascended on high He poured out gifts upon His Church, "...the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers..." (Eph. 4:11).

One of the most helpful books ever written on the subject is The Divine Right of Church Government by a variety of some godly pastors in London in the middle of the 1600s. It is a defense of presbyterian church government and a refutation of both Erastianism and Congregationalism. For a limited time it is availible for $11.95 from Naphtali Press:

Get it while you can, as when it goes out of print again, it may be unavailible for a long time.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Christmas & The Christian

Since the man-made celebration of Christmas fell on the Lord's Day this past year, I thought it would be helpful to our congregation to speak on the subject, and I did so on the Lord's Day eveing prior to the 25th. I believe that there is much more to say on the subject, but I have tried to put forth principles by which we can think through this session. The lecture is availible to listen to here:

I believe that you can celebrate and take part in some of the festivities of this seasonal time in a non-religious manner, without violating either the general principles of the Word nor the RPW. Outside of the church and on a personal level, we as a church do allow for latitude in our people's involvement and participation. We have attendees who are adamantly opposed to any participation at all, and we have others that are some-what inclined to be involved at differing levels. Since it is outside of the worship of God, we do not think that the RPW is the question at this point, but rather the more broad principles of God's Word. We all agree that Xmas has pagan and Papist origins, but also believe that things can outgrow their origins and become removed to the point of becoming adiaphora. As I alluded to in the John 10:22-23 teaching, 1 Cor. 10 seems to be a helpful passages in navigating these issues. The meat under consideration was killed and became meet by way of pagan sacrifices to idols. Yet Paul is teaching that it is just meat to Christians. If it is an issue of stumbling a brother or in the eyes of some who really consider it sacrificial not partake. While much of the festivities of this season began in the same way as the meat in 1 Cor. 10, they are not evil in and of themselves ( e.g. taking time off work, giving gifts, family get-togethers, feasting, etc.). Along these lines then, we grant latitude to one another and seek each others edification. These are the principles that guide our actions on this matter outside of the congregation and worship. We do not understand the entire season to be a man-made religious fact we do not acknowledge it as a 'religious holiday'. As I mentioned in the teaching it is viewed more as 'happy' time...not 'holy' time.