Category Archives: Fundamentalism

The Spiritual Qualifications of the Pastor and the Failure of the 21st Century Church (Titus 1:6-9)

One of the great failings of the 21stcentury church is men in the pulpit and positions of church leadership who are not spiritually qualified.

This past week, Josh Harris, a former mega-church pastor of the Sovereign Grace Movement (becoming pastor at age 30), former leader of The Gospel Coalition, and best known for his best-seller book on dating titled, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (published when he was only 21 years old), announced on social media, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

Harris’ announcement of his “falling away” from the Christian faith was preceded by an announcement two weeks prior that he and his wife of 21 years were ending their marriage.  

Harris’ most recent announcement grabbed national and international headlines as he not only repudiated his book on dating and rejected Christianity, but also made an apology to the LGTBQ community writing on Instagram, “to the LBGTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry.”

Behind the latest headlines is some old news…Josh Harris and his mentor, C. J. Mahaney, the former leader of the Sovereign Grace Movement, were exposed in May 2014 for their failure to prevent or stop sexual abuse in their Maryland church, Covenant Life when they learned a youth leader was sexually abusing three boys in the church.  That same man was later convicted of sexual crimes against minors.

While the secular and Christian media, along with a legion of bloggers, are focused (and some celebrating), Harris’ rejection of Christ and the authority of God’s Word in faith and practice, I suggest there is a greater disgrace than one man’s “falling away”; the 21st century church’s failure to examine its leadership in light of the spiritual qualifications for the office of pastor\teacher (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 3:1-12; Titus 1:6-9).  

What lesson might we take from this ecclesiastical humiliation?  A spiritually unqualified man in the role of pastor\teacher will inevitably disgrace a church, it’s ministries, and testimony in the community and world.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Church, Her Spiritual Leaders and Their Failures

On a personal note: By God’s grace I recently celebrated four decades of ministry and have been blessed to serve on the pastoral staff of Hillsdale Baptist Church for thirty-four years.  The following article is written from my perspective as a pastor and graduate of a Christian University that historically made no apology for its Bible fundamental, separatist stance.

For two decades I have pondered the waning of conservative, independent, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges in our nation.  While I pray for a spiritual awakening in America, I see little hope when our own families and ministries are following the spiritual erosion of our culture. Indeed, should we who identify as Bible-believers continue our flirtation with sin, I fear Bible-preaching is at risk of being silenced within a generation.

Having experienced social media vilification in the past, I fear my perspective will offend some and is not shared lightly or with a desire to offend. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my concerns, not as a provocation, but as an exposé of what I believe is the primary factor contributing to the failure of historic, conservative Bible-Christianity in America.

Across our nation, a millennial consortium of progressive preachers is assuming the pulpits of conservative, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges.  Preaching a message of grace without a call to personal sanctification and holiness, they have spawned a pseudo-piety and tolerance of sin and carnality the generation before them decried.  

A brief history lesson on conservative, fundamental Bible Christianity

From the 1950’s to the closing years of the 20thcentury, Bible-fundamentalism inspired a Gospel awakening (not so much a spiritual revival) in America.  Veterans of World War II returned to America with an evangelistic zeal giving rise to conservative, fundamental Christian Colleges whose student bodies experienced phenomenal growth until the late 1990’s.

Tens of thousands of young men enrolled in Bible colleges and became pastors across America and missionaries around the world.  That generation inspired the School Bus Ministry movement in the 1960’s and began the Christian School movement in the 1970’s continuing through the 1990’s.  The birth of the Home School movement in the 1990’s revived the prospect of a generation of youth who might surrender their lives to the LORD and dedicate themselves to serve as pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

The 21st century; however, has proved disastrous for conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches and institutions.

Failing churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries dot the American landscape.  Spiritual apathy has taken hold on our homes, churches, and schools.  Aging congregations, falling church attendance, and a precipitous decline in young men going into ministry now threaten the future of conservative Biblical Christianity.

While there are many explanations for the spiritual erosion we are witnessing in our Bible-believing churches and institutions, I will limit myself to a few.  The first, cultural wars within and without our homes. Some will argue the church has failed to adapt to cultural changes.  Others will argue, in an attempt to be relevant, the church lost its identity and has become irrelevant.  The disparity between what the Bible teaches and what our homes, churches, and institutions practice is another reason for the diminishing of our churches. We are hearers of the Word, but are we doers?  Christian educators fault the churches for pervasive spiritual apathy in the students, while pastors accuse those same institutions of accommodating carnality at the sacrifice of spiritual zeal.

Believing everything rises and falls on leadership, I conclude the responsibility for the spiritual failings of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and universities, and seminaries rests with the spiritual leaders of this, my generation. 

My peers have served as the spiritual leaders of our institutions for more than two decades.  Unlike any generation before, my generation has faced and grappled with an unprecedented intrusion of technology.  While the pastors of my youth sounded the alarm regarding the secular influences of radio, television, movies, and rock music; the ministers of my generation pastor congregations that, with a few clicks of a mouse, surf the internet and introduce to their families every imaginable influence… doctrinally, culturally, and socially.

Cable television, internet, social media, and cell phones are seducing the hearts of our children and empowering the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology.  While Christian parents prove either ambivalent or ill-prepared for the seduction of “worldliness”, their spiritual leaders are encountering a radical cultural shift and failing to address the intrusion of sin in their own homes and ministries.

Facing a spirit of rebellion in their homes, churches, and Christian schools, the spiritual leaders of my generation, in an attempt to parley peace with their own youth, have accommodated their sins. The consequence is an extra-biblical liberty that embraces the sins of the world, its pleasures, and inevitable consequences (1 John 2:15-17).

Warning: Spiritual leaders who accommodate the sins of their children will invariably compromise the core values of the ministries entrusted to their care.

To understand why Bible-believing churches, Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries are forsaking spiritual disciplines, one need only to look to the pulpits and the leaders who occupy them. My generation has failed to call the church to sanctification and holiness because we have succumbed to a paralysis induced by our own spiritual failings.

Almost without exception, the failure of churches and the compromise and eventual closure of Christian institutions in my sphere have one thing in common… leaders who sacrificed their spiritual integrity to accommodate the sins of their children.

Consider Paul’s admonition to Titus.  Having declared the virtues and spiritual qualifications of the leaders of the church (Titus 1:6-9), including “blameless”, the principal, indispensable qualification of the pastor that includes his role as the “husband of one wife” and “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6), Paul warns:

“For there are many unruly [disobedient; rebellious] and vain talkers [empty, useless talk] and deceivers [impostors; seducers]…whose mouths must be stopped [silenced; bridled], who subvert [overturn; destroy] whole houses [families], teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake [dishonest gain]…Wherefore rebuke [reprove; convict] them sharply [cut off; severely].” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13)

Principle – Leaders deficient in the spiritual qualifications of their office will invariably lack the spiritual power and authority “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” [opposed to Truth and sound doctrine](Titus 1:9)

I close this introductory article on spiritual leaders and their failings, urging you to take away three lessons from the failed example of my generation:  

1) Technology will seduce the hearts of your children and empower the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology; 2) Accommodate the sins of your children and you will invariably sacrifice your core values;   3) Compromise your convictions and you will lack the spiritual power and authority to exhort and rebuke those who oppose sound Biblical truths.

1 John 2:15-17– 15  Love not the world, neither the things that arein the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him
16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 
17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Many follow pastors, but few encourage them. (Luke 7)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 23-24, Psalm 51, and Luke 7. Our devotional is from Luke 7.

Luke 7 records some of Jesus’ greatest miracles: Healing a dying servant in response to a Roman centurion’s faith (Luke 7:1-10; note also Matthew 8:5-13) and raising the son of a poor widow from the dead in a village identified as Nain (7:11-17).

We are also made privy to an intriguing interview when the followers of John the Baptist, the forerunner and maternal second cousin of Christ, come to Jesus desiring on John’s behalf the affirmation that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 7:18-35).  Lest we be tempted to criticize  John the Baptist, we should remember John was in prison after boldly confronting king Herod’s adultery (Luke 3:19-20).  There is little doubt the hardships of prison, his isolation from the people, and knowledge his own life and ministry are nearing the end moved John to seek assurance Jesus was the promised One, Israel’s Messiah.

Rather than rebuke John for doubting, Jesus responded to the questions with reassurances. The first response was in deeds; we read, “in that same hour He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight” (Luke 7:21).  Having performed many miracles, Jesus sent the Baptist’s followers away commanding them, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22).

Turning to the people, Jesus affirmed the ministry of His forerunner (7:24-28) and hailed his character saying, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

I close with an exhortation to believers: If John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets (Luke 7:28), could succumb to doubts and fears, realize the same is true of your pastor. 

The number of disciples who followed John the Baptist is uncertain; however, in his most vulnerable hour there were “two of his disciples” (Luke 7:19) to whom he expressed his earnest desires and “sent them to Jesus saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19b).

I have learned there are many who follow faithful pastors, but few who encourage them.

John the Baptist had at least “two of his disciples” in whom he confided (Luke 7:19-20); however, I am afraid that number may be two more than many pastors feel they have.

Many pastors quit the pastorate prematurely and the pulpit of many Bible-believing churches has become like a revolving door. Why? Why is the minister retention rate so deplorable in our churches?  I am of the opinion many pastors feel taken for granted and there are few church members who make an effort to encourage them.

A hurting pastor in the midst of his sheep might raise the anxiety level of a church; however, loving, understanding and compassionate church members will get their pastor through dark days and trying times.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Muzzle the Ox to Your Own Detriment (Numbers 18; 1 Timothy 5:17-18)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 17-18, Psalm 50, and Luke 6. Our devotional is from Numbers 18.

The challenge to Moses and Aaron’s authority led by Korah, the son of Koath of the tribe of Levi, had tragic consequences (Numbers 16:1).  While the earth opened up and carried to their deaths the small circle of rebels who followed Korah (16:31-33), another “two hundred and fifty princes…men of renown” lost their lives for participating in the uprising (Numbers 16:1-2, 35).

When the congregation of Israel gathered and “murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD” (16:41-49), the LORD descended visibly in a cloud upon the tabernacle and urged Moses and Aaron to depart from the congregation. The LORD sent a plague among the people and, in spite of Moses and Aaron’s intervention, another 14,700 lives were lost before the plague was stayed (16:41-49).

In Numbers 17 the LORD determined to leave no doubt the priesthood would descend from Aaron’s lineage and no other.  The LORD then commanded Moses to instruct the heads of each tribe to bring a wooden rod, a symbol of authority, to the tabernacle with the names of the elders of the tribes inscribed on them (17:2).  Aaron’s name was inscribed upon the rod for the tribe of Levi (17:3).  A visible testimony of God’s favor was the rod of the man whom God had chosen would blossom (17:5-7).

On the next day, of the twelve rods representing the twelve tribes, the rod of Aaron alone miraculously budded and “bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” (17:8-9).  Moses displayed Aaron’s rod to the children of Israel as a sign his lineage alone would lead the priesthood (17:10-13).

Numbers 18 records the charge and ordination of Aaron’s household, including the responsibility of the tribe of Levi over the tabernacle, vessels, and sacrifices (Numbers 18:1-7).  Unlike the other tribes whose labor and the fruit of their labors would sustain them, the tribe of Levi would derive a portion of the sacrifices brought to the LORD by the people as the means of providing for their households (Numbers 18:8-19).

Because the provision for the households of the tribe of Levi was a portion of the sacrifices brought to the tabernacle, the tribe of Levi would “have no inheritance in their land” (18:20-24).  The Levites were in turn to give a tithe (literally a “tenth part”) of the portion that fell to them as an inheritance (18:25-26).

I close with a reminder the principle of providing for the priesthood found in today’s scripture does follow over into caring and providing for those who minister in the church. The apostle Paul writes,

1 Timothy 5:17-18– “17  Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18  For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer isworthy of his reward.”

While all who minister to the church are to be well cared for, those whose lives are especially dedicated to laboring in, preaching and teaching “in the word and doctrine” are to be particularly honored (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Here Comes the Bride!

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 3-4, Psalm 45, and Luke 1. Our devotional is from Psalm 45.

The heading of Psalm 45 identifies this psalm as “A Song of Loves” that was sent to the chief musician and set to a tune for worship. The tune is identified in the setting as “Shoshannim”, meaning “Lilies”.

Psalm 45 appears in the first reading as a love song composed by a king for his bride; however, the fact verse 6 states, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre” (45:6) and the song was used in worship means its application rises above that of a love song composed for a bride.

Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes Psalm 45:6-7, identifying the “Son” as Jesus Christ; therefore the bride of Psalm 45 is the Church, the bride of Christ.  What a wonderful thought!  As a groom loves his bride, even so does Christ the King love His bride, the Church.

Notice the idyllic description of the Church and the manner of people her members ought to be: “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness” (Psalm 45:7).

As a godly groom anticipates his bride to save herself, a virgin and morally innocent; so it is the duty of believers to be pure and holy in the sight of the King of kings and Lord of lords (Psalm 45:10-17).

Romans 12:1-2 –“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Hey Millennial Pastors: God has not called you to be “real”; He has called you to be “holy”! (Leviticus 21-22)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 21-22. Our devotional is from Leviticus 22.

Leviticus 21 reminds us God’s calling to ministry is a sacred calling.  Whatever laws God commanded His people, the priests ordained to minister sacrifices and offerings were to strictly observe in their homes, marriages, and families (21:5-15).  Indicating God’s demands for his ministers to be holy and unblemished, no sons of the Aaronic priesthood could serve as priests if there was a physical blemish (21:16-24).

The opening verses of Leviticus 22 remind 21st century ministers and believers that God sets forth the highest ideals for those who minister before Him on behalf of His people.  I understand the context of Leviticus 22 is in its immediate application guidelines for the priesthood; however, we find enduring principles for those who serve the LORD.

The first, priests were to treat as sacred the sacrifices brought to them by the people (22:2).   The work of continually offering sacrifices might have easily become routine for priests and, rather than treat their duties as a sacred responsibility, a sense of doldrums and lethargy might set in that would treat the offerings as less than holy.

There is also a danger of failing to take account of one’s spiritual standing before the LORD (22:3).  Samuel’s rebuke of king Saul’s pretentiousness in offering sacrifices echoes this same principle when we read, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).  The people bringing sacrifices might not have known the priest ministering before them was merely going through the motions; however, the LORD knows the hearts of those who serve Him and requires holiness.

A third example of treating the priesthood with less than the holiness God demanded was a laxness in who might share the portions set aside for the priest and his immediate family (22:10-16).  In other words, the heart of a priestly father might be to give a portion of meat to family members and guests who did not qualify to partake of the portions God set aside for priests and their families.

Finally, sacrifices offered to the LORD were to be of the highest standard (22:17-32).  Like those who offer the LORD less than a tithe, there was the temptation to offer animals for sacrifice that were deformed, ill or injured.  God’s standard was “there shall be no blemish therein”(22:21).

Pastors who fail to live above reproach and take the high road when it comes to so-called “gray areas” in life are a leprosy in the 21st century church.  Projecting an ideology of being “real” and approachable, our pulpits are sacrificing holiness, embracing carnality, and our church members are following the same (1 John 2:15-17).

I close reminding pastors and believers, God’s call for holiness is for us all.

1 Peter 1:15-16 – 15  But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16  Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Is a “Strange Fire” in Your Place of Worship? (Leviticus 10:1-7)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 9-10, Psalm 36, and Mark 8. Our Bible devotional is from Leviticus 9-10.

Our study in Leviticus continues with the ordination and consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood.  While Moses offered sacrifices to the LORD, Aaron and his sons remained at the Tabernacle for seven days (8:31-36) and on the eighth day began ministering before the LORD offering sacrifices on behalf of the nation (Leviticus 9:1-24).

What a glorious day for Israel when “the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people” (Leviticus 9:23) and “there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (9:24).

One would hope the visible display of God’s favor would induce a perpetual spirit of humility and obedience; however, such was not the case.  Tragedy soon befell the tribes of Israel when “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron…offered strange [foreign] fire before the LORD, which He commanded [charged] them not” (Leviticus 10:1).

We are not told why the eldest sons of Aaron offered strange fire; however, I suppose the privilege of the priesthood incited pride.  Whatever the motive, the LORD was swift to judge and “there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD” (10:2).

No doubt the sinful actions of his sons and their deaths devastated Aaron and Moses reminded him how the LORD sanctified the priesthood (Exodus 19:22) and demanded He alone be glorified before the people.  Of Aaron we read, he “held his peace” (10:3), meaning he was silent.

To add a greater solemnity to the tragedy, the LORD commanded the bodies of Nadab and Abihu be taken outside the camp of Israel for burial (10:4-5) while Aaron and his younger sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, remained at the “door of the tabernacle” (10:7).  Lest the people be tempted to sorrow and grieve over the deaths of those who sinned against the LORD, Moses warned Aaron and his sons to not make a public display of their grief (10:6-7).

I close today’s devotional wondering if there is a “strange fire” (10:1-7) in your place of worship. 

 “I lost my church sitting in the pew”, has become a familiar refrain from saints longing for the days when, in the words of evangelist Dr. Ron Comfort, “Preaching was king and music was queen”.  With rare exception (in fact, I cannot think of an exception), those saints point to a subtle change in music as the commencement of their churches drift from its historical conservative, Biblical roots.

I believe the “strange fire” of our day is music and pastors of my generation and the one following have failed God and His church.  We have given “worship leaders” a prominence in our ministries akin to the pastoral office, but failed to require of them Biblical virtues and spiritual discernment requisite of elders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

Our failure has permitted a flood of music from ministries whose doctrine we would never tolerate in our fellowships and associations, let alone in our pulpits!  We allowed an integration of music from those movements, albeit repurposed and arranged to make it palatable to churches and institutions historically fundamental, but the slow creep of carnality and the erosion of spiritual values has followed.

“Strange fire?”

Do you remember when the “new music” was introduced to your church?  Do you remember the sensitivity in your spirit that something was not right?  Do you remember being told, either verbally or tacitly, “You’re being an old fuddy duddy!” and the church needs to adapt for the sake of the youth?

I have come to realize music is and has been the catalyst for a drift in the culture and doctrine of our families, churches, Bible colleges and seminaries.  (I highly recommend a new book on the subject of worship music by Evangelist Ben Everson titled “Fusses, Fights, and Funerals”).  Like Nadab and Abihu, we are offering “strange fire” from religious movements foreign to the historical character of our fundamental churches and institutions.  Unlike the swift judgment of fire experienced by Israel (Leviticus 10:2), I fear our compromise in music and preoccupation with the taste of the masses has resulted in God removing His power from our pulpits and blessings from our ministries.

“Be Holy!”

God commands His people to be holy, because He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  We are to be imitators of Christ and not imitators of the world (1 Peter 1:14; Romans 12:2).  If what we call worship finds its origin in religious movements that look, sound, and mimic the world, it is not holy.

Like Israel bewailing “the burning which the Lord has kindled” (Leviticus 10:6), I fear there are many who too late, mourn the decline of our fundamental churches and the erosion of institutions that once sang with passion, “Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry”.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith