Tag Archives: Sanctification

A History Lesson for Bible Fundamental Churches, Colleges, and Their Leaders

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The following is a repost of a devotional I wrote for my church family, October 16, 2017. I am publishing it today as a challenge to my peers and friends to take time to review the history of 20th century Bible fundamentalist.  Read their writings and sermons.  Do not fall victim to progressives who pull a quote out of context to support a position the men they quote would have never taken.  

I am today a 63-year-old pastor who had the privilege of standing in the shadows of great fundamentalists who are now with the LORD.  Were they perfect men?  Of course not; however, the same is true of my generation and the rising millennial generation. The following is a copy of the devotional, posted two years ago.

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 Hebrews 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).

The late Dr. Richard Rupp who succeeded Dr. Gilbert Stenholm as the leader and mentor of the Preacher Boy’s Class of Bob Jones University in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.

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.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Lunging Toward the Cliff of “No Return”

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”.

Who is Andy Naselli? 
Andy Naselli is an associate professor of New Testament and theology at John Piper’s Bethlehem College & Seminary and a pastor\elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN where Piper served as pastor for 33 years (Piper is the founder and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary).  

Staff Leadership Photo; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN

While I hate to admit Naselli was trained in the vein of a fundamentalist (BA from Baptist College of Ministry  MA & Ph.D. from Bob Jones University), I can at least take some solace that he has followed the path of his most recent institution, with a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

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

“Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap” (Numbers 25-26; Galatians 6:7)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 25-26, Psalm 52, and Luke 8. Our devotional is from Numbers 25-26.

Today’s reading assignment (Numbers 25-26) sets the stage for the beginning of the end of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.  

Reminding us “evil communications (companions) corrupt good manners (morals)” (1 Corinthians 15:33), Numbers 25 opens with a tragic decision made by some in Israel.  We read, “the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (25:1).  The influence of the Moabite women did not stop with the lust of the flesh, for we read in the next verse they invited the men of Israel to share in sacrificing, eating, and bowing down to their gods (25:2).

Consider three spiritual lessons from today’s Bible reading.

The first, familiarity with the ways of the wicked leads inevitably to the Temptation of Sin.  Having cast aside all moral restraint (Numbers 25:1-3), the people provoked the LORD to wrath, worshipping Baalpeor, the Canaanite god of fertility represented as a bull (25:3).

A second lesson is the Tragic Consequences of Sin (25:3b-5, 9).  The sins of the people were so egregious they provoked the LORD to anger and He demanded justice (25:3b-4).   Placing the responsibility for the sins upon the “heads of the people” (25:4), the LORD demanded they be slain and their bodies hanged in the sun as a warning to the nation (25:5).

One sin led to another until one man was so brazen in his sin he “brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:6, 14-15).  Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, and grandson of the late high priest Aaron, was so moved with godly zeal, he rose up and slew the man and the woman, and the LORD stopped the plague leaving 24,000 dead in Israel. (25:10-13).

Numbers 26 opens with a reminder of the plague that had taken 24,000 lives (26:1; 25:9) and closes with a review of an entire generation that perished in the wilderness, save two men, Caleb and Joshua (26:65).

The LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to take a second census of the males, 20 years and older, by tribe and household, before they crossed the Jordan River.  The census served two purposes: The first, to number men by tribe who were old enough to go to war (25:2).  The second, to use the count of each tribe as the basis for assigning geographical territory in the Promise Land (Numbers 26:52-56).  With the exception of the tribe of Levi, twelve tribes of Israel are named and include a total of 57 families (26:5-50).

The priestly tribe of Levi and its households is also named and numbered (26:57-62).  Unlike the other tribes that will be assigned lands, the Levites were assigned forty-eight cities in the Promise Land (Numbers 35:1-8).

A third lesson from today’s Bible reading is, the LORD is faithful to His Word and promises.

“The LORD had said…They shall surely die in the wilderness” (14:29; 25:65a).  Murmuring, faithlessness, and a love for the sins and idols of Egypt had dominated the affections of the first generation and all had died with the exception of two men, Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 26:65).  I close with a timeless truth:

Galatians 6:7 – 7  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

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

A Sacred Trust: Standing Between the Dead and the Living (Numbers 16)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 15-16, Psalm 49, and Luke 5. Our devotional is from Numbers 16 .

The drama in Numbers 16 serves as a warning to any who sow discord and usurp the spiritual leadership of a congregation.

We are not told the reason for the rebellion, but given the assertions made against Moses and Aaron, we can venture pride leading to discontentment was the root issue.  Three men are named as leaders of the rebellion with the ringleader one named Korah, a Levite, but not a priest (Numbers 16:1). Incredibly, these three men were able to engage two hundred and fifty others, “princes…men of renown”, to join their band (16:2).

While the criticism of the rebels appeared sincere in motive and spiritual in nature, (“Ye take too much upon you”), their object was not for “they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron” (16:3).  Notice how the rebel’s veiled criticism of Moses and Aaron grew to open derision (16:3).  The object of the rebels was not to relieve Moses and Aaron; instead, they aspired to the dignity and duties of the priesthood (Numbers 16:10).

When Moses heard the criticism of the rebels and saw the crowd gathered against him, “he fell upon his face” (16:4); a visible sign of humility.  Rather than a hasty diatribe against his critics, Moses deferred to seek the LORD saying, “Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy” (16:5).

On the next day, Moses called an assembly of the rebels and warned, “ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” (16:7).  Two of the rebels refused to come before Moses (16:12) and sent an accusation that he had failed the nation in not leading them into “a land that floweth with milk and honey” (16:14).  The charge against Moses was a lie and stoked his anger (16:15) for it was the people, not Moses, who rebelled and turned away from the land the LORD had promised as an inheritance.

The LORD’s judgment against the rebels fell swiftly when “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed [the rebels] and their houses…[who] went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation” (16:31-33).  As the congregation fled from the LORD’s judgment, “there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (16:35). Unfortunately, the LORD’s judgment against the rebels did not quench their influence and on the next day another 14,700 were slain (16:41-50).

There are many lessons and cautions we might derive from Numbers 16.  One is, while this passage is instructive, it does not suggest the LORD must always swiftly judge the critics of His ministers.

I have known too many pastors who aspire to pedestals and presume to be above accountability.  The same might be said of some in the church who are all too eager to level veiled criticisms at spiritual leaders and not give them the respect due their office.

Pastors are far from perfect and some engaged in ministry lack the Biblical qualifications of the pastor\shepherd (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9); however, those ministers who are qualified and faithful should be honored for their sacrifices and endeavors.  After all, as purveyors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they stand “between the dead and the living” (16:48).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Be Careful: “Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners” (Numbers 11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:33)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 11-12, Psalm 47, and Luke 3. Our devotional is from Numbers 11-12.

Three days into their journey from Mt. Sinai, an old pattern of sin returned and the people of Israel began to complain (Numbers 11:1).  The LORD’s “anger was kindled” (11:1) and His wrath poured out as fire from heaven beginning with the outskirts of the encampment.

Why the “uttermost parts of the camp” (11:1), meaning the outlying areas, and not the center of the encampment?  I suppose that is where one will always find the grumblers—on the fringe, far from the LORD and neglecting His service.

There arose a spirit of discontentment, a covetous spirit and its source was “the mixt multitude” (11:4).  Who were they? They were non-Hebrew, most likely poor Egyptians who departed with Israel hoping greater opportunities might be found by casting their lot in with the children of Israel. The sinful attitudes of the “mixt multitude” infected the children of Israel who wept asking, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” (11:4)

Complainers and grumblers are a cancer among God’s people and soon the Hebrews began to “remember the fish…cucumbers, and the melons” they did eat in Egypt (11:5).  They became dissatisfied with God’s provision (11:4-5) and their lusts romanticized their unrealistic memories of Egypt (11:5).

Lamenting the complaints of the people (11:10), Moses felt overwhelmed.  Rather than seeing the complaints of the people as an offense to God, Moses accused the LORD of afflicting him saying, “Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant” (11:11a).  In his despair, Moses’ questioned the LORD (11:11-15).

God was angry and gave the people the meat they demanded (11:31-32) and the people gorged themselves until they became sick (11:33).  The root issue of the people’s complaints was not that they were hungry.  The core issue was they had rebellious hearts and “despised the LORD” (11:20).

The sorrow Moses suffered in Numbers 11 was great; however, Numbers 12 brought a more grievous wound when his sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, challenged his leadership and authority as God’s spokesman (12:2).  Notice the initial complaint was against the wife of Moses (12:1); however, the narrative reveals that criticism was not the real issue.  The heart issue was the envy and jealousy they held against Moses and his leadership before the LORD and the people. 

Moses’ response to criticism is instructive.  We read, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (11:3).

It is probable Moses was aware of Miriam and Aaron’s contentious spirit and, being “very meek”, would have overlooked their transgressions; however, the LORD determined to confront and punish them while commending Moses’ unique relationship with the LORD (12:6-8).

I close with two observations based on my life experiences.

1) I have found when adversaries are unable to fault or attack your position, they often criticize a deeply personal area of your life.  For Moses it was the race or nationality of his wife.

2) Criticisms are often a smoke screen concealing deeper issues.  While complaints should drive us to search out our hearts for faults, we should remember initial criticisms are seldom the real issue. (Numbers 12:1)

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith