Tag Archives: Separation

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

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

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

A Lesson in Biblical Morality (Leviticus 17-18)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 17-18, Psalm 40, and Mark 12. Our devotional is from Leviticus 17-18.

Leviticus 17 continues the LORD’s instructions to Moses concerning sacrifices the priests were to offer for the people before the door of the tabernacle.  The centrality of blood sacrifices for sin is mentioned 13 times in chapter 17 and explicit instructions are given regarding the offerings to the LORD, including the prohibition regarding the consumption of blood (17:10-14).  For those curious regarding the meaning of “Kosher” meats; they are meats derived from animals slaughtered and the blood drained according to Biblical guidelines.

Morality and the sanctity of marriage is the subject of Leviticus 18:1-30 and one I deem should be a subject of teaching in the 21st century church.  Several moral issues are addressed including the prohibition of incest (18:6-19), adultery (18:20; Exodus 20:14), homosexuality (18:22), and bestiality (18:23).

The wicked immoral practices the people remembered from Egypt and the immorality they might observe in the new land were prohibited.   In other words, the world was not Israel’s standard in conduct or lifestyle.  The people were not to follow in the ways of Egypt and Canaan (Leviticus 18:3; 24-29).

The LORD commanded His people, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God” (18:4).  Excommunication from fellowship and from living among the people was the judgment against any who chose to walk contrary to the law and commandments (18:29).

Friend, there was a time the church set the moral standards for these United States and God’s Word, HIs Law, and Commandments defined the lifestyles of His people. It is troubling to see the average Christian home in America has an appetite for the world and looks to society, politicians, judges, and liberal media for their moral judgments.

God will not bless our homes, churches, and schools until we return to the LORD and His Word becomes our guide and standard (18:30). 

Psalm 119:9-11 – 9Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

In the words of Dwight L. Moody, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

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

At the Heart of the Problem is a Problem of the Heart (Leviticus 13-14)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 13-14, Psalm 38, and Mark 10. Our devotional is from Leviticus 13-14.

I confess, it is easy to read Leviticus 13-14 and feel overwhelmed with the text, its application, and the issue of leprosy addressed in its verses.  Before you dismiss the passage, give this pastor an opportunity to make its meaning plainer.

Leprosy, known today as “Hansen’s Disease” (HD), is a bacterial, infectious disease.  Treatable, even curable in the 21st century; in ancient times it was a dreaded disease not only feared, but also inevitably leading to its victim’s isolation from society and assignment to miserable leper colonies.

In addressing the scourge of leprosy, the LORD directed Moses and Aaron in steps required to not only diagnose the disease, but also isolate its carriers from the people of Israel (Leviticus 13:1-59).  “Unclean, unclean” (13:45) was the leper’s warning to any who approached.

Should the leper be deemed healed of the disease, steps and sacrifices were prescribed in Leviticus 14 to insure the legitimacy of the healing and the purification of the leper.  After following the prescribed rituals, the leper would be deemed clean and restored to the fellowship of his family and the nation (14:9-32).

Leprosy is the disease God chose to illustrate the infectious danger of sin among his people. Notice in chapter 13 the number of times leprosy is described as “unclean”.  Leprosy is more than a skin issue; it inevitably infects the tissues, nerves and eventually the extremities of the body.  Leprosy so scars the body it is a well-nigh unbearable ugliness of rotting, putrid flesh.

Such is the way of sin.  Liberals would have you believe man is born innocent and it is his environment (i.e. home, society, religion) that is the origin of man’s societal deprivations.

God’s diagnosis is that man’s sin is a problem of the heart!  Rather than innocence, God’s Word declares, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).  The apostle Paul likened sin to a physical ailment writing, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18).

Jesus taught His disciples,For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man”  (Matthew 15:19-20).

Without a cure for leprosy, lepers prayed for a miraculous healing, a divine intervention that would be verified by examination and sacrificial offerings (Leviticus 14).  In the same vein, man has no cure for sin apart from divine intervention.  21stcentury doctors and judges prescribe psychiatric evaluations, counseling, and drug-therapy for lawbreakers deemed to have “mental-disorders”; however, all fall short of addressing the heart of the issue, which is the issue of the heart.

There was no cure for leprosy without the LORD; in the same way, there is no cure for a sinful soul without turning from sin and placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Isaiah 53:4-5 – “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  9But he waswounded for our transgressions, he wasbruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace wasupon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith