More than a year has passed since I first published my concerns regarding the direction the board and administration of Bob Jones University is taking my alma mater. “Silent No More” and “A Failure to Stay the Course” tallied a pattern of compromise that has taken the University far from its historical moorings as a separatist institution.
BJU Seminary Seminar, November 11-12, 2019
Board members, administrators, and faculty who have any longevity with the University are well aware they have taken the institution down a path far from its historic legacy as an unapologetic bastion of Biblical fundamentalism. For over a year I refrained from addressing the drift until I learned of yet another example too egregious to ignore.
The latest conference identified as the “Stewart Custer Lecture Series” (November 11-12, 2019) is illustrative of how far and how fast Bob Jones University is lunging toward the cliff of “no return”.
For perspective: John Piper is a non-cessationist and believes in the present-day employment of Charismatic gifts (tongues, healing, and prophecy). While Piper believes the office of the Apostle has ceased, he does believe in some sense of the prophetic gift. Understanding Andy Naselli serves as a pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and is employed by institutions associated with John Piper, it is safe to say…Andy Naselli is not a Biblical separatist fundamentalist.
Make no mistake… Andy Naselli was privileged to serve as the highlighted guest speaker at BJU’s Seminary and the University and its administrative leadership has accepted the baggage that goes with Piper and his cronies—The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, to name two.
Under Dr. Steve Petit’s leadership, Bob Jones University continues to follow a path of ecclesiastical compromise, embracing the spirit of Neo-evangelicalism, and rejecting its historical legacy as a Bible fundamental, separatist institution.
Dr. Bob Jones, Jr.
At least we who were in classes and privileged to be challenged by separatists like Drs. Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones III, Gilbert Stenholm and Richard Rupp can take consolation in this: While the current administration has sadly tarnished the reputation of Dr. Stewart Custer, they have so far spared the Jones’ that humiliation.
Jude 1:3 – 3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
After enjoying a vacation in the Smoky Mountains, I look forward to being back in Hillsdale’s pulpit this Sunday. We will return to our verse-by-verse study of the Gospel of John, taking up our study with the closing verses of John 9 and introducing one of the most beautiful and beloved passages of the Gospels… the Parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).
Knowing the shepherd is a metaphor for a spiritual leader and the sheep is a metaphor for God’s people throughout the scriptures, I invested several hours focusing on the role of the shepherd and his relationship with the sheep. In the Parable of the Good Shepherd we identify not only the character of the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ), we also see the evil characteristics of Israel’s spiritual leaders portrayed as “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) and as the “hireling” who flees “and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13).
Israel was cursed with spiritual shepherd’s like those described in John 10. When the nation needed shepherds to boldly declare the Word of the Lord and condemn the sins of the nation, she instead promoted men to be her pastors who not only failed to lead the nation spiritually, but also exploited her vulnerable state.
The prophet Jeremiah warned the “pastors” (spiritual shepherds) of Israel, “1Woe be unto the pastors [lit. shepherds] that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD…I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1-2).
Ezekiel prophesied “against the shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:1-2), condemning the spiritual leaders for putting their self-interests before the needs of the people (34:2). Israel’s pastors had taken the best of everything for themselves (34:3), neglected the weak and injured (34:4a), failed to seek the lost, pursued sinful pleasures, and failed to call God’s people to be a holy people (34:4). Israel had become an immoral, lawless nation and God determined to turn the nation and their shepherds over to be afflicted (Ezekiel 34:10). God, however, did not leave His people hopeless and promised them He would one day deliver them (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
The task of a faithful prophet is not a popular one and God warned Ezekiel he would become the object of scorn (Ezekiel 33). God challenged the prophet, “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7). Ezekiel was admonished, should he fail to warn the wicked in his sin and the wicked man “die in his iniquity”, the blood of the wicked would be on his hands (Ezekiel 33:8).
Ezekiel 33 closes with a malady that in my observation is present in fundamental churches and colleges of our day…a generation that is “talking against” the prophet, expressing a faux-piety of hearing “the word that cometh forth from the LORD” (33:30), and “with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (33:31). God warns Ezekiel, “they hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32).
From a perspective of outward results, Ezekiel was a failure for Israel did not repent of her sins and her pastors continued in their wickedness. Ezekiel was promised, when God’s judgment falls upon Israel, all would “know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33).
The words of a faithful, prophetic (forth-telling), uncompromising preacher are not welcome in most pulpits and one need not look far in our churches, colleges, and seminaries to understand there are many who “hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32). I pray God might find me faithful and some “shall know that a prophet hath been among them” (33:33).
I realized my earlier blogs stating my observations and concerns regarding Bob Jones University would not be received well by some. While I expressed my thoughts in a spirit of love and sorrow, I was aware I might be greeted with a vitriol that might turn personal and caustic.
Like the culture we live in, I have found many believers infected with a strident spirit that maligns and attacks. Indeed, it is that harsh vindictive spirit that chides many into silence.
I have no interest in debating ad nauseam my concerns, nor do I have time to address every critic. My concerns are my concerns. If you do not share them, that is fine by me; however, do not attack me for daring to express them.
My blogs were not written with a spirit of malice, but as an expression of a shepherd who loves his sheep. After nearly 33 years of ministry at Hillsdale Baptist Church, I am content with being a pastor and have no interest in being a crusader for or against any institution.
Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018
Institutional erosion often begins slowly, perceived by only the most discerning, and too often explained and dismissed as harmless and inconsequential change. When the signs of decay are apparent, it is often too late to correct without a major, often expensive, and sometimes impossible attempt to salvage.
Like the disaster that follows a ship at sea when its captain fails to stay the course only by degrees, so too is a Christian institution’s end when it departs from the very distinctives that instilled discipline and character in its student body.
For more than 15 years I have observed a pattern of change at Bob Jones University that is all too familiar. Like a ship slowly, imperceptibly drifting from its course, the University is adrift from the disciplines that shaped the character of generations of Christian students in its past.
While the University has failed to stay the course in its disciplines, its alumni have failed to hold its administration accountable for its direction. Fundamental pastors, so quick to point out the flaws and failures in other ministries in the past, have been all but silent while the board and leadership at BJU steers the University away from its fundamental moorings. Why the silence? Why the accommodation of changes we know are not welcome in our own ministries, but are being thrust upon us and our children by an institution we loved and trusted?
The University recently announced changes to this year’s Student Handbook that include allowing women to wear pants to class and athletic shorts raised to 2 inches above the knee. Other changes in the clothing standard are summed up as “too many changes to write”.
Admittedly, there were some things in BJU’s Student Handbook that did not make sense in my era (for example, guys wearing ties to classes in the morning, but not in the afternoon; men wearing suit jackets to dinner and ties to go off campus; women wearing hose year round). All of those irritants are gone now, but so are many of the disciplines that instilled distinctive Christian virtues in the student body.
In a video Facebook post, Dr. Steve Petit addresses the dress code changes that take effect in this Fall’s 2018 Student Handbook (see pp. 29-32) and gives his reasons for the changes. Some changes in the handbook are practical and merely an adaptation of institutional policy taking advantage of new technology. Other changes are, in my opinion, a continuing pattern of pragmatism evidencing a drift from core principles that were once the trademark of Bob Jones University.
It is not the individual rule changes that are bothersome as much as it is the continuing pattern of change that is eroding the core values that once shaped the character of the student body at BJU. The distinctive disciplines that set BJU apart from the likes of Furman University, Liberty University, and Cedarville University are eroding as is the polished character that was BJU’s hallmark.
The board and administration of Bob Jones University are following its smaller predecessors to its own ruin. Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University, and Clearwater Christian College (to name a few), all drifted from their distinctive character as fundamental Bible Colleges and because of that drift their demise became inevitable. I am afraid their end will be sadly the same for the University.
For too long we have given liberty to the BJU board, administration, and faculty, believing they shared the same convictions and core values as our churches and families. It is with sorrow I confess, while many of the University’s alumni have stayed the course, the board, administration, and faculty have not.
The erosion and decay of BJU has manifested itself openly. The institutional drift has taken the University far from its distinctive moorings. I fear Bob Jones University is too far gone and what was once the flagship of Bible fundamentalism is a shadow of her past.
With the heart of a shepherd and a 1977 alumni of Bob Jones University,
Travis D. Smith
An Addendum (09\07\18) – I became aware some of the critics of my original post have tried to paint me as an old “fuddy-duddy”, anti-pants pastor; however, my article on the dress-code change at BJU was not an anti-pants rant, but a question of where the institution will draw the line in holding to its disciplines and distinctives. I believe BJU’s decision on the matter of women wearing pants to class and chapel removes yet another discipline for teaching young women godly modesty and appropriate decorum. BJU was at one time all about training, discipline, and developing a sharp product. I fear that philosophy continues to be sacrificed at my alma mater.
On a personal note, every organization of any worth will have established policies for appropriate decorum. While Hillsdale Baptist Church requires men on our platform to wear suit jackets and women to wear modest dresses, we do not expect the same of our audience (although the overwhelming majority of our membership follows the lead of our platform dress).
This brief blog post serves as an introductory post to one that will follow titled, “A Failure to Stay the Course: Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018”. I am a 1977 graduate of Bob Jones University and one who has been a loyal alumnus.
I arrived at Bob Jones University as a 16-year-old freshman in the fall of 1973 and was overwhelmed with a culture shock like none I have experienced since. This son of the South, born in Lancaster, South Carolina and aptly self-defined as a country-boy was unacquainted with the graces of culture and the refinements of art. I was a rough, crude piece of coarse clay; a public-school graduate who loved and longed to serve the LORD and desired the training and polish of a Christian education.
My childhood home was loving and disciplined. I knew the rigors of rising early on a small farm, working hard, and appreciated the sacrifices of my loving parents. My desire to go to a Christian college was foreign to my family and the culture of my community; however, it was a seed planted in my heart by the visit of a missionary to Alaska.
A child of the hippy culture of the 1960’s and the anti-war, anti-establishment of the 1970’s, I was unaware of my immaturity as a believer, the deficiencies of my education, or my cultural backwardness. I knew little of the scriptures and nothing of Christian Fundamentalism, Keeping the Faith, or Fighting the Good Fight.
The administration and faculty of Bob Jones University gave no accommodation to this southern boy’s worldly-wise ways and even less provision for my academic failings. I found myself, in a proverbial sense, thrown into the deep-end of the pool where I found little empathy for my struggles. BJU had somehow insulated itself from college-campus riots and “panty-raids” that were dogging other college campuses. The school was not only unapologetically Christian, it was doggedly adherent to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
There were many irritants in the BJU culture that were not only exasperating, but provoking. There was a discipline that gave little grace and even less understanding for the excuses and failures of youth. Outside the campus fence my generation was bold and rebellious; casting aside disciplines and morals that had shaped the “Greatest Generation”. Inside the campus fence little had or would change for another twenty-years.
I thank God it was that culture of discipline, tough-love, and unapologetic convictions that were present to shape and prepare the pliable heart of this Christian teen. I learned my superiors were not concerned with fairness, but rightness. I also knew there were times they were wrong; however, the rules were the rules and institutionally the approach was “one size fits all”.
I have learned rules and regulations, often inconvenient and at times inexplicable, are necessary. Patterns of personal and academic disciplines thrust upon us in our youth shape attitudes and strengthen character. When we cast off or adapt rules and standards to accommodate youthful immaturity or to enhance cultural assimilation we do so at the peril of a generation that will never know the enrichment of exhortation or the powerful influence of loving correction.
I close with a brief dedicatory of names whose lives provoked me in my youth and whose influence follows me to this day: Dr. Bob Jones, Jr; Dr. Gilbert Stenholm; Dr. Richard Rupp; Dr. Gunter Salter; Dr. Walter Fremont; and Dr. Dwight Gustafson.
Having challenged Israel to remember and rehearse the providences and promises of the LORD, and reminding the people to obey the commandments and teach them to their sons and daughters, Moses challenged the nation to not commune or assimilate with other nations (Deuteronomy 7).
Assuring Israel the LORD was them and would drive the heathen nations out of Canaan, Moses reminded the people God chose them to be a distinct people. Realizing how easily Israel could be turned aside from the LORD by the sinful ways of the heathen, God commanded the nation to “smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them” (Deuteronomy 7:2).
Antagonists of 21st century Christianity take the commands given to Israel in Deuteronomy 7 out of historical context and foolishly equate them to our day. Adversaries of believers and the Church declare the Bible is a violent book and Christianity is as evil as militant Islam. Those who assert such are either disingenuous or ignorant!
It is true the LORD commanded Israel to not covenant with other nations or tolerate intermarriage of their children with heathens (7:3-4), as was the custom of enemies who sought peace through marrying and giving in marriage their sons and daughters. However, the LORD is jealous of His people and knew the influence of idol worshippers would invariably turn the hearts of their children from the LORD and His covenant (7:4).
The LORD’s covenant required Israel to be intolerant of the ways of the heathen (7:5) for He had chosen them and commanded the nation to be a “holy people” (7:6). Assuring the people of His love, grace and mercy, the LORD commanded the nation to keep His commandments, hearken to His judgments, promising to bless them “above all people” (7:7-14).
God’s love for Israel was unconditional; however, His promise of blessings was conditioned upon Israel trusting God and purging the land of its idols and those who worshipped them (7:15-26).
Moses’ challenge to Israel continues in Deuteronomy 8. Not wanting the people to forget God’s faithfulness, Moses rehearsed how the LORD blessed and sustained them during Israel’s forty years in the wilderness (8:1-2). Reminding the people of God’s loving care and miraculous provision (8:3-4), Moses challenged them to know the LORD will chasten His people as a loving father chastens his son (8:5). As the people obeyed the LORD and His commandments, God promised to bless them (8:6-10); however, should the people become proud and forget His commandments, He promised to bring His judgment upon the nation (8:11-20).
Lest the people’s heart be lifted up in pride, Moses reminded the nation the land the LORD promised Abraham and his lineage was occupied by nations “greater and mightier” (9:1-2) than Israel. Israel would be victorious over the nations, not because the people were more righteous or powerful than their enemies, but because the LORD was with them (9:3-5).
Moses reminded the people when he was receiving the commandments of the LORD they returned to the sinful ways and idolatry of Egypt and God would have destroyed them in His wrath if He had not heeded Moses’ intercessory prayer for their sakes (9:6-29).
Permit me to close with a few applications of truths we have seen in today’s scripture reading.
The first, like Israel, we are saved from the curse of sin, not because we are good, but because God is merciful and gracious. In his letter to Titus, Paul writes,
Titus 3:5-7 – “Not by works [deeds] of righteousness [i.e. by keeping the law] which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by His grace[undeserved, unmerited favor], we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
A second truth seldom taught or preached today is the LORD has commanded His people and church to be holy, a reflection of His holiness.
1 Peter 1:15-16 – “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.”
The doctrine of Sanctification, the LORD’s command for His church to separate from the ungodly and their sinful ways was the hallmark of Biblical fundamentalism in the 20th century; however, separation is almost universally neglected by 21st century fundamental churches in preaching, principle and practice. As it was commanded of Israel, it is no less commanded of the church. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes,
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together[by contract or covenant; an alliance in business or marriage]with unbelievers: for what fellowship [partnership; common interests] hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion [harmony] hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord [harmony; business] hath Christ with Belial [wickedness]? or what part [business] hath he that believeth with an infidel?”
2 Corinthians 6:17 – “Wherefore come out from[lit. get out from]among them[unbelievers], and be ye separate [exclude; limit; sever], saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you”
Moses was aware of the temptations God’s people faced in Canaan if they failed to obey the LORD’s commands and tolerated sin and wickedness in their midst. I am afraid the same cannot be said of the majority of my peers in Bible fundamental pulpits.
Fearing the wrath of a generation who trifle with the LORD’s call to holiness, a generation of preachers catering to carnality has failed to call the church to holiness and sanctification.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
Our study in 2 Chronicles continues today with a nation in mourning when we read, “Now Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. And Jehoram his son reigned in his stead” (2 Chronicles 21:1).
Jehoshaphat’s reign over Judah was aptly summed up in these words: He “walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 20:32).
Jehoshaphat and his father Asa reigned over Judah sixty-six years and the LORD blessed the nation with peace and prosperity; however, the latter years of each king’s reign was stained with alliances that compromised not only their life testimonies and the nation.
King Asa made a foolish alliance with Syria in the latter years of his reign and went to his grave ruling a nation at war (2 Chronicles 16:9). Like his father before him, Jehoshaphat’s last act as king was an alliance with the Ahaziah, the wicked king of Israel, “to make ships to go to Tarshish” (2 Chronicles 20:35-36); ships that were apparently lost in a storm and “broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish” (2 Chronicles 20:37).
Jehoram, unlike his father and grandfather before him, began to reign over Judah with no evidence he loved or aspired to serve the LORD (2 Chronicles 21:1). Rather than peace and prosperity, the reign of Jehoram began with him commanding the murders of his own brethren to secure the throne of Judah and eliminate any challenge to his reign (2 Chronicles 21:2-5).
Though he ruled only eight years, Jehoram’s reign was not only a terror to his father’s household, it began Judah’s decline into all manner of evil. Taking the daughter of Ahab, Israel’s wicked king, to be his wife, Jehoram “walked in the way of the kings of Israel…and he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD” (21:6). Jehoram’s godless example was far reaching, for “he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah thereto” (21:11).
God raised up Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet, to confront Jehoram (21:12-13), who warned the king his wickedness not only provoked the LORD’s judgment against Judah (21:14), but would also result in his own dreadful death described as a “great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day” (21:15). We are not told what the intestinal disease was, but I suspect it might have been a cancer for we read, “his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases…” (26:19). Unlike his father’s memorial service, Judah did not honor Jehoram with a king’s burial.
Continuing on a path of compromise with the wicked, one that would eventually lead to Judah’s destruction, Ahaziah, the youngest son of Jehoram, secured his father’s throne in Jerusalem and following the counsel of his mother, having his brethren slain (22:1). Though he reigned for only a year, Ahaziah “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (22:4) and followed the counsel of the idolatrous and wicked “house of Ahab” (22:4).
Ahaziah was slain after reigning only one year over Judah (22:9) and was succeeded by his wicked mother Athaliah, who ordered the slaying of all the royal line of David (22:10-12). Josah, the infant son of Ahaziah, was spared when Ahaziah’s sister concealed him for six years while Athaliah reigned in Judah (22:11-12).
2 Chronicles 23 records the coronation and ascension of Joash to the throne led by the high priest Jehoiada and the priestly tribe of Levi (23:1-11), the slaying of Athaliah and her followers (23:12-15). Having crowned the new king, the high priest Jehoiada boldly led the nation in revival, purging the land of the worshippers of Baal (23:16-21).
Joash began to reign when he was seven years old and Jehoiada, the high priest served as his counsel and guide (24:1-3). Under the influence of Jehoiada, Joash set his heart to repair the temple that had fallen into decay during the six-year reign of Athaliah (24:4-7). Joash made a proclamation for a collection to be taken from the people and the offerings of the people used to hire workman to repair the temple (24:8-14).
The high priest Jehoiada counseled and guided Joash until his death at one hundred and thirty years old (24:15-16). With Jehoiada dead, the “princes of Judah” (24:17) were emboldened to come to the king who turned the heart of the king and the nation from the LORD and provoking His wrath (24:18).
The LORD raised up prophets to prophesy against the sins of the nation; among them was Zechariah, the son of the Jehoiada the high priest. Zechariah confronted the sins of the nation, warning of the LORD’s judgment (24:19-22). Having forgotten the kindness of Jehoiada the high priest who had saved his life as an infant and made him king, Joash was complicit in the prophet Zechariah’s death, whom the people rose up and stoned.
The LORD judged Joash and Judah, giving Syria victory who slew the “princes of the people” (24:22-24). The servants of Joash rose up and slew the king while he slept on his bed and buried him without the honors given to kings (24:25).
A quote of the late evangelist Dr. Bob Jones Sr. comes to mind as I read, “Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son…” (2 Chronicles 24:22a). Dr. Bob, as he was affectionately known by students of Bob Jones College, reminded the student body, “When gratitude dies on the altar of a man’s heart, that man is well-nigh hopeless.”
Indeed, there was no hope for Joash when he turned from the LORD and “remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son…” (24:22a).
How could a man whose life was saved by the selfless act of another, not only fail to remember his kindness, but be guilty of the merciless death of his son?
I suppose every believer can answer that question when we bear in our heart a spirit of bitterness, forgetting the LORD sacrificed His Son for our sins. Thus we read this exhortation:
Ephesians 4:31-32 – “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
To those who faithfully follow this pastor’s daily meanderings through the scriptures, thank you for your patience. Ministry demands, sermon preparation and travels often interrupt my capacity to write daily commentary. I am sure many find the demands of life crowding out your readings of the same. If my count is accurate, we are beginning our forty-first week of devotions with eleven weeks to go before the end of this year. Let us persevere and complete this expedition through the scriptures!
Our journey through the Bible in one-year continues today with the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the first five books of the Bible known as the Pentateuch. Whereas Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers chronicled Israel’s journey in the wilderness giving us a record of God’s Law, the book of Deuteronomy begins at the journey’s end at the threshold of the Promise Land. With the exception of Moses, Joshua and Caleb, the generation that was twenty years old and older and followed Moses out of Egypt was dead.
Deuteronomy is a record of Moses’ final words and exhortations to the people he had shepherd for forty years. We read:
Deuteronomy 1:3 – And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them;”
It was important for Moses to rehearse with that generation who they were, from whence they came, and God’s plan for the nation (Deuteronomy 1:8). Much like you might search your ancestral family tree to know your physical lineage, Moses recognized his days were numbered among the people and he wanted them to know not only their physical lineage, but more importantly, their spiritual lineage as God’s chosen people.
The people who were 19 years old and younger when Israel refused to cross into the Promise Land, were now in their late fifties and Moses feared their children and grandchildren would be tempted to turn back from the challenges of the new land. Knowing many were either too young to remember or not yet born when the people rebelled against God, Moses rehearsed the failure of their forefathers to trust God and cross the Jordan River into the Promise Land (Deuteronomy 1-2). Concerned they lacked an understanding of what faithlessness cost their parents and grandparents, Moses made certain the people appreciated the tragic consequences of disobedience and understood the challenges before them (Deuteronomy 2).
Twentieth century philosopher George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I fear that truth has befallen many Gospel preaching churches, Bible colleges, and fundamental Christian institutions in recent years.
I am old enough to remember well the reminisces and exhortations of Dr. Gilbert Stenholm, Dr. Richard Rupp and Dr. Bob Jones Jr. in “Preacher Boys” during my Bible college years at Bob Jones University. Those men had fought spiritual ecumenical battles, sometimes open warfare, against the progressives of their day who compromised their ministries fellowshipping with men and institutions that denied the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Thirty, forty, even fifty years passed since those men waged war for the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith; however, their passion had not abated, nor their determination to pass on to the men of my generation not only knowledge of the past, but a warning and exhortation. I graduated Bob Jones University knowing compromise with those who trifle with the doctrine of sanctification and personal holiness or reject the fundamentals of the Christian faith would eventually be a cancer destroying ministries, churches, Bible colleges, and mission boards.
Sadly, I have lived to witness the failures of venerable Bible fundamental churches, Bible colleges, and Christian institutions led by men either ignorant of the lessons of the past or dismissive of the fundamental spiritual heritage of those institutions.
The result of ignorance or leadership contemptuous of the past is the same; those institutions either close their doors or become a shadow of what they were in their golden years.
Warning: When the leadership of a Bible fundamental church, Bible college, or ministry distances itself from its heritage, it will invariably sacrifice its identity and forget God’s providences.
I stated in an earlier commentary that the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles was largely devoted to the genealogical record of Israel and Judah. 1 Chronicles 9 concluded with a brief summary of the lineage of king Saul and his sons (9:35-44).
We noted the reign and death of Saul, Israel’s first king in an earlier commentary in 1 Samuel 31:1-10. 1 Chronicles 10 gives us another perspective of Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines and the tragic deaths of Saul and his sons on the battlefield (10:1-6) and their humiliation that followed (10:7-10).
1 Chronicles 11 gives us a record of the coronation and reign of Israel’s beloved king, David. Although a brilliant strategist in war and surrounded by mighty men (11:10-47) and loyal servants (12:1-40), the secret to David’s success was found in neither. David was a great king for only one reason… “the LORD of hosts was with him” (11:9).
Unlike leaders of our day who strive to unite a people around the strength of their personality and ideas, David sought the unity of Israel, not around himself, but around the LORD. Heralding a call for revival, David commanded the “Ark of God” [also known as the Ark of the Covenant] be brought to Jerusalem, noting the nation had “enquired not at it in the days of Saul” (13:2-3). The celebration of the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem was cut short when a man named Uzza “put forth his hand to hold (or steady) the ark” that was being carried on a cart pulled by oxen (13:7-10).
“WHY?” becomes a question we should address. Why would God punish Uzza whose actions were not only instinctive, but arguably innocent? After all, was it not a good thing that the desire of David and the elders of Israel was to have the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence in Jerusalem the capital city?
An insightful quote of the late evangelist Dr. Bob Jones Sr. comes to mind when addressing the tragic death of Uzza: “It is never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.”Uzza was not struck down because he was insincere or impassionate in his desire to see the Ark moved to Jerusalem. Uzza died because the manner in which the Ark was transported was a violation of God’s instructions to the Levites (Numbers 4) and touching the sacred Ark to steady it defiled that which God had declared holy and sanctified for Himself (Numbers 1:51; 4:15, 20).
I close this devotional with a personal observation:
I am observing a steady, progressive departure from institutional convictions and principles that were the foundation of vibrant churches, schools, Bible colleges and Christian universities in the 20th century.
Well-meaning, zealous men are stepping into the pulpits of fundamental churches and Bible colleges who, driven by a passion to see their institutions successful, adopt a pragmatic approach to ministry that is a departure from their institution’s guiding principles and core convictions. Suggesting “times have changed” and believing their sincerity is enough, good men are leading our churches and schools down a path that inevitably sacrifices Christian disciplines and Bible convictions that are at the core of spiritual distinctives.
Like Uzza, our dying churches and Bible colleges are a sad testimony that, “The end never justifies the means.”
Over the years I have admired and empathized with pastors who minister within the “bubble”, the label Bob Jones University graduates have given to the sphere known as Greenville County and its surrounding areas. Because I was recently awakened to the enormity of this “bubble” (up to 25% of BJU graduates reside in the Greenville area), I am compelled to address the drift I perceive in believers, churches, and institutions that once represented the stalwart walls of historic Bible fundamentalism in Greenville and vicinity. (On a personal note, I am a 1977 graduate of BJU, and am glad the LORD spared me from the “bubble” and thrust me out of Greenville into the “real world” at the beginning of my ministry).
This blog post is the first of several admonitions and exhortations I plan to write in the weeks and months ahead. As one who has spent the entirety of his ministry and adult years outside the “bubble”, it is my desire and purpose to address the citizens of the “bubble”. I am hopeful many living in the “bubble” share my concerns for the spiritual drift of their friends, churches, and institutions. Some living in the “bubble” are hesitant to voice their fears regarding observable compromises in principles and changes in philosophy and policies, fearing further alienation from loved ones, churches, employers, and constituencies. I remind those believers, “The fear [trembling; anxiety; dread] of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust [confidence; hope] in the LORD shall be safe [exalted; defend; i.e. strong]” (Proverbs 29:25).
My objective in addressing the “bubble” is not to be offensive, inflammatory, or provoke a vigilante spirit from the “bubble” or its defenders. However, I am not naïve, and after 38 years in ministry, know all to well those who preach Love and Liberty are the first to unleash a torrent of vindictiveness on those who question or challenge their ideology and direction.
Finally, historic Bible fundamentalism has, like all movements, been thwarted with imperfect leaders and stances too often divorced of spiritual principles. Nevertheless, those same leaders evidenced in their generation the character and fortitude of visionaries, exercising the wisdom of discernment and foreseeing the evil of compromise. Parents, pastors and Christian leaders who pacify and patronize Millennials might, like their children, chafe under the “old guard of Bible fundamentalism”; however, it was they who kept the “chapel platform hot” and launched thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Bible believers into the world to fulfill the mission of carrying the Gospel and being “Salt” and “Light” in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
News Bulletin to BJU Graduates and Churches Residing in the “Bubble”: If you view today’s Bible fundamental pastors, preachers, churches, and their institutions as the “far right”, it is not they who moved, but you.
With the heart of a shepherd,
Pastor Travis D. Smith
* This is the first in a series of posts that will follow and is not representative of any group, institution, or organization. The opinions expressed are those of this pastor.
** “From the Heart of a Shepherd” is a domain principally dedicated to Devotional commentaries to my church family; however, I also employ the site as a means of addressing national and international observations and concerns. You can subscribe to future posts at http://www.HeartOfAShepherd.com.