May 21, 2015

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

This is an article that I reissue every Memorial Day weekend and on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on our nation. Let us once again remember, but never forget, those who serve today, those who served throughout our nation's heritage and the fallen who gave their all that we might be free.

Our leaders and military responded to the 9/11 attacks with tenacity and determination. Over the years, until the second Obama term in the White House, we dealt serious blows to the terrorists, nations that offered them safe haven and seriously diminished their capability to attack us here at home. There is much work yet to be done, but I am confident America will prevail and eliminate this threat to our nation and way of life.

For this commemorative moment I would like to focus our attention on another national tragedy, the American Civil War. There were many terrible battles in that war: Antietem, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga and Vicksburg. None was more costly, nor so much at stake than at the Battle of Gettysburg. After three days of battle there were approximately 50,000 American casualties.

One of the most endearing and treasured memories from Gettysburg was not forged on the battlefield itself. No, for we must go forward to November 19, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln came to honor what had been done there and deliver his immortal
Gettysburg Address.

On June 1, 1865, Senator Charles Sumner commented on what is now considered the most famous speech by President Abraham Lincoln. In his eulogy on the slain president, he called it a “monumental act.” He said Lincoln was mistaken that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Rather, the Bostonian remarked, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.” (From Abraham Lincoln Online)

With that I offer for your encouragement Lincoln’s
Gettysburg Address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

May 12, 2015

A Critical Review of the “GRACE Final Report” on Bob Jones University

Much has been reported and discussed about the Grace Report. Here is a critical review, for your consideration, by Martin Bobgan of PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries. Sample excerpts include:
GRACE has an integrationist view, which is a Bible-plus-psychology orientation…. GRACE’s partnerships include the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). They [AACC] are guilty of psychoheresy in that they do not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture for the issues of life normally counseled by psychotherapists and have substituted or integrated the psychological wisdom of men for what God has already provided in His Word.”
I do not know Dr. Jones III, in whose defense I will be coming, or anyone else at BJU. However, I am in disagreement with GRACE’s recommended ‘personnel action upon Dr. Jones, III.’ GRACE has erred grievously and egregiously in this ill-supported recommendation. GRACE’s ignorance and naiveté about college governance and the delegation of responsibility would be forgivable if their report were private, but when they impugn the reputation of Dr. Jones III publicly with their insupportable reasoning, it is appalling!”
The worst part of the GRACE Report is the seemingly smug and self-righteous, overblown, undeserved indignation against BJU.”
I hope and pray that Bob Jones University does not fall victim to GRACE’s shocking and spiritually scandalous suggestions and solutions to remedy any deficiencies and particularly that the BJU Board rejects and reacts against GRACE’s proposed persecution of Dr. Jones III. While psychoheresy is the primary reason I took on this task, the auxiliary reason was because of the outright, outrageous, and outlandish recommendation against Dr. Jones III, whom I do not know.”

May 8, 2015

Dr. Rick Flanders: “Recant, Or Else!”

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:10)

For two thousand years, Christians have been persecuted in many places all over the world for teaching and practicing their faith.  This is not new.  And news sources are telling us of places where Muslim radicals are giving Christian believers an ultimatum today which amounts to “Convert or die!”  Many are dying for their faith.  Strangely however, a similar ultimatum is about to be presented to Christians in the United States.  Changes in the law are mandating that believers violate their consciences and their faith or suffer a variety of consequences.  The truth is that the First Amendment to our Constitution was adopted some 225 years ago to prevent such a situation by guaranteeing the “free exercise” of religion.  Unfortunately the political events of recent years have worked tonegate that guarantee and will soon force Christians to choose between obeying God and obeying the government.  Is there not a way to reverse the course of the ship of state and avoid the imminent collision of religion and government?
The issue that is producing this conflict is the proposal by progressives to re-define marriage to include the union of homosexual “lovers.”  Marriage has always had a logical and needful definition making two people of the opposite sex into one legally for many reasons, and nations of all times and places have historically recognized this traditional and rational definition.  The viewpoint of civilization has been consistent about what marriage is.  But in recent years, when laws that reaffirmed the traditional definition of marriage were adopted by the people of certain states, they were called by opponents in the media “bans on same-sex marriage.”  This label of course was misleading.  You might as well speak of a “ban on the jackalope.”  Of course, there is no such thing as the jackalope, and so there cannot be a ban on the species.  A list of animals native to a certain region cannot be said to ban the jackalope if that mythical creature is not on the list!  Likewise there is no such thing in our society as same-sex “marriage,” and so a law defining marriage in the time-honored way ought not reasonably to be called a “ban” on faulty definitions.  The effect of these laws is to discard false definitions by affirming the right one, but labeling them as bans on homosexual marriage gives the impression that they bring a form of persecution to a segment of the population.  The laws simply fortify the right definition of marriage against the attacks of the irrational.  They do not take away anybody’s rights.  Contrary to the misleading propaganda, it is not the homosexual community that is being persecuted.
When the law calls for the acceptance of these “marriages,” those whose religion prevents them from recognizing or accepting them will suffer persecution.  Already Christian business-owners have been run out of business for refusing to cater “gay weddings.”  How will the revision of civil-rights laws to cover the interests of same-sex couples affect consistent Christians?  Will there be fines, penalties, or jail time for those who refuse to recognize same-sex marriages as marriages or participate in same-sex weddings?  Will the changes in the law bring churches into legal trouble that teach and practice the Bible?  The Bible condemns homosexual activity as sinful, just as it condemns heterosexual acts committed out of wedlock.
“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.  Amen.
“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affection: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”
(Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter one, verses 24 through 27)
Bible-believing Christians cannot go against the teaching of scripture, no matter what the government tells them to do, or not to do.  Look up Acts 5:29.  The Christians have no choice.
Will ministers who decline to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies be denied the right to perform other weddings?  Will churches with policies against homosexual activity or same-sex marriage lose tax-exemption or incorporation?  How many churches in the United States will fold under the burdens the new anti-Christian public policy will bring upon them? 
Somewhere this week ISIS will demand that a Christian renounce his faith, or die.  Someday soon Christians in our country will be told to abandon their religion or suffer serious consequences.  “Progressive” activists don’t seem to understand that a person with religious convictions cannot just change!  In order to accept same-sex marriage, the Christian must reject the divine origin and authority of scripture.  In order to do that, he must reject the teachings of Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.  He must recant his faith in order to make the change.  And a Christian cannot do that.
True believers in Christ will not shrink from suffering for Him, but do Americans want to make them suffer?  Is it the will of the people that large numbers of decent citizens suffer for their faith in the Land of the Free?  Some think that the trouble caused for Christiansby progressive politics is a matter of unintended consequences, collateral damage.  Others suppose that the suppression of Biblical Christianity is actually a goal of powerful progressives, and that believers are in the cross-hairs of their sites.  Whatever the truth is about why this is happening, the ugly face of religious persecution is coming quickly to America, disguised as tolerance and equality, and only Americans can stop it.
“If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”
(First Peter 4:16)

Dr. Rick Flanders
Revival Ministries

May 4, 2015

Archival Series: Where Have All the Bible Colleges Gone?

With the recently announced closure Northland International University,1 the latest in a string of Bible college closures,2 let’s turn our attention to a timely article from October 2011 by Dr. Clay Nuttall.  Here now is, Where Have All the Bible Colleges Gone?
We should begin with this question: “Is the day of the Bible college over?”  In the past, this phenomenal movement produced huge numbers of ministry servants who then flooded the mission fields and filled the pulpits of our land.  Many of those people have already retired or have been promoted to Glory and received a “well done” from the Master.  A lot of well-known mission fields benefited from the service of these men and women who have left a major mark on mission history.  Men trained in Bible colleges were used of God to build some of the largest and most effective local churches we have known.

It has been argued by some that the quality of Bible college students is no longer sufficient for the day we live in.  The culture may be different today, but the Word of God has not changed; and that was the heart of the Bible college movement.  Most of these institutions came into existence for the sole purpose of training pastors and missionaries.  Theirs was meant to be a foundational training, and there always were institutions that could provide advanced training for those who chose specialized service.  The idea that a Bible college education was not good enough to prepare people for ministry is seriously flawed, if not downright arrogant!  A look at the thousands of servants who were trained, and the ministries that have been established, definitely settles this question.

This is not about the fact that some of those schools failed; the same is true of every movement.  Even our Lord had one disciple who flunked the course!  Not every Bible college graduate made a serious mark on the ministry, but the same is true of any level of training.  A degree, after all, is no guarantee of success.

As the years have passed, many Bible colleges have faded from the scene.  There are a lot of reasons for this: some were poorly constructed and failed because of finances, leadership, and constituency.  Some of them merged with other schools, while others left their original goal of training missionaries and pastors and broadened into other fields.  Many in this category continued their new direction until they were no longer even Bible colleges, either in practice or in name.  They had every right to follow this path, but the progression demands some honesty.  If a school is no longer a Bible college, or doesn’t really want to be one, then the right thing to do is to move on.  If they are not Baptist, if their main driving ministry is not the Bible, then the best thing to do is to openly confess their new goals.

Confusion arises, however, because of those who claim to hold onto the old even though they have chosen a new direction.  To claim that they still are now what they had been leaves much to be desired. 
There is nothing wrong with admitting that the change is based on funding, enrollment, or even prestige in academia; there is something wrong with a shell game.
 Over the last forty years, I have heard those who have obviously moved away from the Bible college model argue that they still teach the same doctrine and still have the same statement of faith; that is absolutely irrelevant because of what is really being taught and allowed in the classroom.  My favorite saying is, “We teach more Bible now than we did when we were a Bible college!”  Of course you do, because you reached your goal of a larger enrollment; but being one of the “big boys on the block” doesn’t mean you still have the same theology you once taught!

Now we arrive at one of the major reasons why the Bible college has been left behind. As our movement has progressed, there has been increasing pressure for us to become respectable in our academics, like the “elite.”  Both old and young fundamentalists have become enamored with the intellectuals and want to be like them at all costs; they even talk like them and walk like them.  This is the same mistake that Israel made when they wanted to be like the other nations around them who had kings.  So, where there once was a true Bible college, now the leaders mainly want to be respected by the intellectual pagans.

The journey from Bible college to a pursuit of prestige and intellectualism always takes a toll, and this sad declension is almost always represented by a change in theology.  It is not always deliberate; in some cases, it may occur out of ignorance of a biblical theology.  The journey always demands a change in leadership; and when the new main leaders are not biblical theologians, the slide becomes more rapid.  The truth is that sometimes this change is deliberate, even as it is in churches that have left the Bible and Baptist out of their identification.  It is not that the leaders are heretics, but rather that they are swept away by motives that differ from their foundational standard.

It appears that the further an individual or institution moves on this journey in order to have the respect of human leaders, the further they also move from a theology that is biblical.  Every change has its cost, and those who protest this maxim only prove the point.  I am not opposed to higher education; much of my ministry has been there.  I am opposed to teaching and defending error.  Of course, some Bible colleges have problems with academic and theological issues. That is to be expected because we are all human.

While dozens of Bible colleges have gone out of business, and some have moved on to other areas of emphasis, others have stood firm in their majority purpose of training men and women for the mission field and church ministry.  The great thing is that God today is raising up new Bible colleges that have returned to the foundational goals of training.  While these schools have gotten their share of criticism, they have come to life to fill a gap left by those who have gone on to different things.  One of those new colleges gets my thumbs-up; it is Grace Baptist Bible College of Winston Salem, North Carolina.  Not only has it successfully put together a program that looks like that of the Bible college of old, but a number of well-respected saints in our movement have come to join its ranks.  Perhaps God will raise up some more of these fine institutions to take the place of the departed.

Clay Nuttall, D.Min, October, 2011

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For those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible
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Related Readings:
1) NIU Closes: The Pattern of Demise 

NIU a Gift? Thanks, but No Thanks

May the "Northland Heart" Perpetuate

2) What Do NIU, Pillsbury, TTU Have in Common?

Closure of Calvary Baptist Seminary: Predictable & Repeatable

Calvary Baptist Seminary: They Are Accountable and Won't Own Up To It

Piedmont/TTU: A Predictable Pattern of Merger With Only ONE Survivor

April 30, 2015

Northland International University Closes: Continuation of the Pattern of Demise

Earlier today Daniel Patz announced the closure of Northland International University.

This is the result, predicted result, of Matt Olson’s Experiment with the “new wave” of new evangelicalism.  In the closure letter Daniel Patz wrote, “In the last two weeks, Northland has faced unexpected events that led to this decision.” To any objective observer of what Matt Olson was doing to the former Northland Baptist Bible College, it was clear that the school would not survive Olson’s changes.  The last two weeks event NIU a Gift? Thanks, but No Thanks was the final of many nails Matt Olson and his team had already pounded into the coffin of a once fine, fundamental, Baptistic, separatist school.

In our previous article, May the “Northland Heart” Perpetuate, Dr. Dana Everson called it, “R.I.P Northland Baptist Bible College.”

Related Reading

April 27, 2015

May the “Northland Heart” Perpetuate

After a while, one runs out of adjectives to describe the tragedy of Northland. This recent news of SBTS’s decision NOT to bring the school under its wings after all is yet another embarrassing blow to the ministry.* I was not expecting the Southern Baptist support to be an improvement anyway, but their rejection of accepting the school as a gift seems to affirm the hopelessness of bringing the college into financial and ministry solvency.

One grief is added to another for those of us who felt a deep loyalty to what the school stood for in its best years. Was the school ever perfect? None of us believed that. But the overall direction, humility, and sincere attempt to be Biblical were consistent qualities over most of its existence.

The rapid ruin of the school brings to mind images of the Hindenburg. The fact that the disaster might have been prevented or at least delayed had there been honesty and a willingness at the top level 4-5 years ago (cf. Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:8) to hear counsel from scores of pastors, alumni, and staff brings to mind images of the Titanic.

I hope no one will respond by saying “well, fundamentalist/conservative Baptist ministries are failing everywhere because they have become irrelevant, old-fashioned, or legalistic.” Northland and most of its supporting churches had much life and refreshing ministry as evidence of its heart and faithfulness to the Scriptures. I saw this first hand for over 12 years and continue to see this in Northland alumni in our own local church and school ministry.

These images may seem overinflated to those watching Northland Baptist Bible Colleges demise from the outside. However, Northland had a lot of wonderful ministry for most of its years as an independent Baptist college. Thousands of people who have been trained, inspired, and encouraged by the school’s ministry are now seemingly watching the last faint pulses of the “Northland Heart.”

Hopefully, alumni and former faculty and staff who have transplanted the “Northland Heart” into themselves, and into their ministries and will perpetuate that kind of Biblical attitude till the Lord returns.
“Lord, in your mercy please bless and protect other schools and their leadership, which are doing your work with integrity and a right heart!” 
No doubt there will be last-gasp attempts to salvage the ministry, but unless the LORD by some miracle sends wholesale revival, R.I.P. Northland Baptist Bible College.

Dr. Dana F. Everson

Previous articles by Dr. Everson, on the tragedy that has become NIU:

For Dr. Eversons philosophy of music please see Sound Rootshis dissertation in book form.

April 22, 2015

NIU a Gift? Thanks, but No Thanks!

"Uhh, on second thought, no thanks."
Previously, I shared the report that the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) would be receiving the former Northland Baptist Bible College as a "gift" from NIU president Daniel Patz.1  Well, after fully unwrapping the "gift" the SBTS contacted Mr. Patz. Yesterday, NIU received the "Thanks, but no thanks" letter.

Dear Northland Family—

On Tuesday, April 21, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary informed the board and administration of Northland International University of its decision not to accept the gift of the Northland campus as they previously announced last October. Therefore, Southern will not open a branch campus of Boyce College or continue management of the camping program. With nearly two weeks until commencement, the Northland board is working to develop an appropriate response to this change of plans. The leadership of Northland is committed to doing everything possible to serve the faculty, staff, and students as we evaluate and adjust our plans for the future.

Despite challenges and changes over the past two years, God has continued to care for and use this ministry to glorify his name by equipping students, staff, campers, and many others for Great Commission living. Northland’s leadership remains steadfast in its commitment to that vision and is appreciative of the relationships developed with Southern and Boyce over the past year in support of that vision. At this time, the Northland board of trustees and administration continue to evaluate all available options and appreciate prayers as they seek to glorify God and trust him for his leading in the days to come.

We understand that you may have questions and concerns. We will be sending you more information very soon.

Daniel Patz
NIU President

Because of Matt Olson's we are "unchanged" strategy NIU alienated its base, consequently blew through the entirety of its cash reserves, and was/is carrying some heavy debts. Why would the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) accept a "gift," that would saddle them (SBTS) with a cash poor, in-debt school with essentially no hope of recovery?

Among the options Mr. Patz and the NIU board are evaluating, surely closure is chief among them. There will be no recovery of what was lost, what was squandered because of Matt Olson's grand vision to remake Northland.

So, who will Mr. Patz and the NIU board reach out to now to buy or accept NIU as a "gift?" The Mormon Church, Rick Warren, KOA? Whether NIU closes or changes hands the once vibrant Northland Baptist Bible College, with a cause for Christ and His holiness, remains a stark image of what happens when leadership compromises biblical principles, its heritage and policies. A reminder of the result of Northland's leadership betraying its base, alumni, supporting churches, pastors and families.


1) Northland Joins Southern Seminary: Culmination of a Modern Day Tragedy

UPDATE: Al Mohler explaines why the SBTS/NIU deal fell through.  Summarizing here:
When the plan was first announced, we all thought that there was a realistic hope of achieving a business plan that would work…In more recent days, we realized that we were unable to achieve a plan that we felt had a reasonable expectation of success. Several factors played a role in this realization. First, it became apparent that no financial model we could establish for a Northland campus of Boyce College could sustain the academic program…. Second…we came to the conclusion that we could not accept students into a program of studies that we did not believe had an adequate chance of thriving and continuing over the course of their studies. Third, we faced the moral reality that, once we knew these facts to be the case, we had to act.  
For Dr. Mohler’s complete statement see, Statement by R. Albert Mohler Jr. on Northland Matter
Site Publisher Notice:
Dr. Dana Everson, former NIU faculty of over 12 years, is contributing an article on the failed NIU experiment.  I heartily recommend his new article, May the "Northland Heart" Perpetuate.  Given Dr. Everson's personal, first hand experience on the NIU faculty prior to and during the initial years of "change," his insights will prove to be a valuable read.

April 15, 2015

Shot in the Foot

The purpose of these monthly articles is to create discussion and it is to that end that I continue. It is not sufficient to discuss a problem, there must indeed be a suggested proposal and that is all a proposal is, an idea.
In one of his short stories Edgar Allen Poe tells of a man who is shut in a room where the walls move slowly inward. His death is sure if some answer doesn’t arrive soon. This is actually a picture of what is happening in our society as the walls of offense and restriction move in on Biblical Christianity. One of these issues is about sodomy. In our life time this practice has moved from being criminal to permissible, to acceptable, to legal and now supported to the point that people faith are required to accept it and be silent.
In the market place legal action is being taken against a business that exercises freedom of religion. These believers are required to honor and give respect to something God has condemned. The penalty for exercising the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, guaranteed in our founding documents, is that the best citizens in our nation are fined and forced out of their livelihood.
Several states have passed laws to support religious beliefs of its citizens but in doing so they are maligned, attacked and marginalized. In these actions believers are blackmailed and discriminated against. Discrimination is the very thing that those on the left say they champion. The language used against moral citizens is filled with hate, threats and demonstrates the very essence of evil that the immoral practice typifies.
Who is responsible for this slide into the moral abyss and the vengeful attack on believers? This may surprise you but we are. We shot ourselves in the foot. Let me explain.
We began this slide by choosing to use terms that favor the enemy. Trying to be polite we began using terms that were not so offensive to those who mock God’s holiness. “Gay” doesn’t mean happy but we wanted to so nice. “Same as” didn’t carry the seriousness that God describes in Romans one and Deuteronomy but “sodomy” was such an unkind word. Then sweet talking evangelicals fell into the word trap and made something evil not so evil. Now those terms of accommodation are used, by the cowardly, out of fear of penalty.
Finally the term “same sex marriage” came to the surface. No thinking Biblicist should ever use such a phrase because there is no such thing. Only God gets to define marriage. Using such language only gives credibility to wickedness. Use whatever name you choose but don’t call it marriage. If you are afraid just be quiet but don’t criticize those who will stand for righteousness at any cost.
We are a short step from this issue reaching the door of our churches. The God of the intellectual heathen is man. Their God said “anything goes” and even churches must comply. When they demand that godly pastors perform heathen marriages, what are you going to do? If you refuse your doors will be closed just as businesses are being closed.
The problem is that we chose to be “agents of the state”. We agreed to put marriage under a humanistic authority. You can argue until you are blue in the face but you cannot find any biblical authority for the state being in charge of marriage. Your allegorical, philosophical hermeneutic will get you there but not the bible text. I explain all of this from the biblical text in my book “The Coming Conflict” on the separation of church and state.
You will argue “it is law” and this is one of the big problems. Many things are legal but that doesn’t make them right or moral. Making the murder of unborn children legal didn’t make it right or moral. The bible is clear, when man’s law is in direct opposition to God’s law no believer is obligated to participate in evil. If they did Moses never would have had a chance, Daniel and the three Hebrew children would have signed up and the apostles would have been silent about the gospel.
You will argue that the courts have ruled in favor of this evil. It is hard to help people who have little understanding of just how corrupt the judicial system is. This goes all the way to the top with a supreme court that has rewritten the founding documents of this land. Those documents were meant to protect good citizens as Paul and Peter explain they should. Now the court is punishing good and giving protection for evil. One can only wonder why this isn’t treason.
What is a godly pastor supposed to do? Remember we are right around the corner on this issue. In our city someone has been going from church to church asking if they would do “same as” marriages. I suggest you stop being an agent of the state. Let the couple go to the Justice of the Peace for a license. Then have a real wedding under God in the church. So when the “same as” question comes you say “sorry we don’t do state weddings, our wedding celebrations are for the believers in our church just like any other worship event”. If you don’t find an answer sit down and compute what taxes will cost you when they take that freedom away. You will be out of business in less than three years and that is what they want, your silence. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot twice.
Shepherds Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min
A communication service of Shepherds Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherds Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the email address-

April 6, 2015

The Obstacle

Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.  And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.  And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.  After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.  And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.  Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”
(Mark 16:9-14)

Dr. Rick Flanders
Verse nine of the sixteenth chapter of the book of Mark begins a very important passage of scripture, although strangely and sadly questioned by critics.  Taking a look at the end of Mark in the newer Bibles will show the Christian reader just how seriously this section is questioned, although an examination of the evidence in favor of it will demonstrate just how groundless the criticism really is.  And the ending of Mark focuses in a profound way upon the solution to the world’s problems, and also on the obstacle to the fulfilling of that solution.  It is indeed a very important passage.

Notice the recurring theme in verses 9 through 14.  Our Lord “was risen” from the dead on Easter Sunday, and several witnesses to this fact came to His followers with the news.  First we read of Mary Magdalene, the one to whom “he appeared first” (verses 9 and 10), who “went and told them that had been with him.”  The account of her experience is given fully in John 20.  But “when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, [they] believed not” (verse 11).  They wouldn’t believe her.

Then we read about “two of them” to whom He also appeared “as they walked, and went into the country.”  This story is told in more detail in Luke 24.  When “they went and told it” to the rest of His followers, they wouldn’t believe them.  “Neither believed they them” (verses 12-13).

Then we come to verse 14, where we are told that Jesus appeared to the apostles “as they sat at meat,” and it is recorded that He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”  The theme of verses 9 through 14 is the unbelief of the believers.  When the Lord arose, and witnesses came to the rest of His followers, they consistently refused to believe.  And the risen Christ rebuked them for their inexcusable lack of faith.

Ironically the factor that has left the critics in the dark about this very passage is their unbelief.  It is their doubt and resulting unwillingness to take at face value the promise of Jesus in Mark 13:31 that “my words shall not pass away” that have prejudiced some against the last twelve verses of Mark.  They conjecture that because a few old manuscripts unexpectedly end the book with verse 8, the original parchments on which Mark wrote the book must have been damaged with the last page torn and the ending lost.  One of the arguments they use for this theory is that the wording of the passage they criticize is supposedly dissimilar to the language of the rest of the book of Mark.  But they are wrong about this.  A phrase that connects this passage with the rest of the book is found in verse 14, where we read that Jesus “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.”  Belief and unbelief are recurring themes of Mark, and he alone among the writers of the first four books of the New Testament, which record the words and works of Jesus Christ, connects unbelief with hardness of heart.  Hardness of heart is presented as causing grief in Jesus in chapter 3 in the account of the healing of the withered hand.  Neither Matthew nor Luke (who also record this story) mentions the hardness of the hearts.  In Mark 6, Jesus came back to Nazareth and failed to receive a prophet’s honor from His hometown acquaintances and relatives.  Consequently, He “could there do no mighty work” and “marveled because of their unbelief.”  Later in the chapter He has to deal with the unbelief of His own disciples, and it is attributed to the fact that “their heart was hardened.”  In Mark 8, the Lord’s warning against “the leaven of the Pharisees” is not understood by His disciples, and He attributes their confusion to unbelief caused by hardened hearts.  “Have ye your heart yet hardened?” (verse 17).  Unbelief attributed to hardness of heart is a distinct characteristic of the record we find in the book of Mark, and it is found all the way to the end.  The evidence for the integrity of the book as it has been handed down to us in the vast majority of copies is conclusive.  It is only the unbelief of the critics that blinds their minds to it, and prejudices their judgment of the final verses.  And it is unbelief that is the obstacle which prevents the fulfillment of our Lord’s plan to deliver mankind.  It is unbelief in believers, as described in Mark 9:24 in the words of a man who cried, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”  Unbelief is the obstacle, and it will be faith exercised by His followers that will be the key to their accomplishing the task He gave them!

The rest of the passage (and of the book) also has a clear theme.  Verse 15, of course, records the Great Commission:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Then He makes some promises.  The promise in verse 16 is to the person “that believeth.”  Verses 17 and 18 promise certain “signs” to “them that believe.”  Then verses 19 and 20 state that these were among the final statements our Lord made to His disciples before going back to heaven, and before they began the work of evangelizing the world.  We can summarize the message of this passage by saying that verses 9 through 14 rebuke unbelief in Christians, while verses 15 through 20 commend belief or faith exercised by them.  If we are to carry out our Lord’s plan for the world, we must learn to exercise faith in Him, to believe.

The plan for the world laid out by the Lord Jesus is that everybody on earth hears from His followers the Gospel of His grace and salvation.  Men are given the responsibility to decide for themselves whether or not to receive and believe the Gospel, but it is His program that all of them hear it.  Obviously, this program is failing in our day.  The reason is our unbelief.  It is not God’s fault that the mission of Christ is not known to the sinners He came to save.  It is our fault for not believing Him.

Not believing what?  First, it is unbelief concerning the Gospel that stands in the way of fulfilling the plan.  This is where our Lord begins in his recommendation of faith.  Look at His words recorded in verses 15 and 16.  The one who hears the Gospel, believes and is baptized “shall be saved.”  On the other hand, the one “that believeth not shall be damned.”  Notice that it is the Gospel that is the key to saving the world.  The word “gospel” means good news, and the Gospel is news about something that God has done for us.  It is historical.  It informs us about something that has happened.  The Gospel is not a church to join, or rules to keep, or just a creed to recite.  It is news about what God did to rescue the world from its sin and misery.  The God Who created and rules the universe does not stand aloof somewhere in space, cold and unresponsive to our plight.  He did something about it, two thousand years ago.  The fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians spells out the Gospel as the news “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again according to the scriptures.”  On the cross and at the empty tomb God’s Son, the Savior of the world, remedied the damage and undid the consequences of Adam’s sin, and all of man’s problems were solved potentially by what He did.  The Gospel of Christ is the solution to the problems of every man (“every creature”) in the world, and we must believe that.  But do we?

Believing or not believing in the work of Christ spells either salvation or damnation for sinners who must all face judgment for their sins.  This is clear in verse 16.  Those who hear but won’t believe will be damned.  But the verse also says that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  Now baptism is not required for deliverance from eternal damnation.  Those who use this verse to argue that it is do not see or refuse to admit that it does not deal with the case of somebody who believes but is not baptized.  It deals with the one who does not believe, and says he will be damned.  The question of what happens to the true believer in Christ that for some reason doesn’t get baptized (such as those mentioned in Luke 23:39-43, John 12:42, and John 19:38-39) is not handled here (although faith in Christ for eternal salvation is presented as the only requirement in passages such as John 3:16, John 3:36, John 6:47, Acts 16:31, and Romans 5:1).  However there is another kind or level of being saved mentioned in verse 16.  There is a salvation from eternal damnation, and there is also salvation from a worthless life.  Read about this second kind, also wrought through Christ and His cross, in Matthew 16:24-25, Acts 2:38-40, Romans 6:1-14, and Galatians 2:19-20.  The one who goes “all the way” through surrender to God, baptism and what it symbolizes, and the living of a victorious Christian life is saved from the domination of sin in his life, and lives this way by faith.  The Gospel offers us both deliverance from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin, and its deliverance is accessed by faith.  It is unbelief that prevents the victory and holy living.  It is unbelief that is the obstacle to a consistent, credible, and powerful Christian life.

Next the passage says that we must also believe in the power of God.  Read again verses 17 and 18.  Those who have read the book of Acts recognize that these “signs” are matters of fact and history, and not matters of doctrine and practice.  The promise does not justify Pentecostalism or snake-handling.  But it does describe the response of faith to the challenges of evangelizing the world.  The apostles did these things, not to show off, but to meet the challenges of language barriers, devil-possession, and life-threatening danger.  When they faced the problem of language when a great opportunity for evangelism presented itself on the day of Pentecost, the band of believers did not shrink back and say “we can’t.”  They went forward in faith.  When Paul was bit by a poisonous snake, he did not assume that he was going to die.  He trusted God and kept on doing his duty.  God may not do the exact things for us that He did for His servants in the book of Acts, but our responses to challenges must be borne of faith rather than unbelief.  Even the possibility of evangelizing the world is questioned today by people who are oddly called “believers.”  And yet the Great Commission itself implies the promise that it can be fulfilled!  Read again verse 15.  He said “all the world” and “every creature” and He said it to the men who stood before Him, “Go ye.”  Did He mean that they in the power of God could evangelize the world in their lifetimes?  Obviously, this is what He was saying.  And it is what He is saying to us!  So we must respond by faith!  We must believe that it can be done.

But many are giving up, coming back from the mission field, refusing to venture out on ambitious evangelistic efforts, backing off for lack of finances, contenting themselves with failure, and doing what they do under the dark cloud of unbelief.  Unbelief is the great obstacle to New Testament Christianity, and to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

The commission Christians received from the Lord is to be fulfilled in the same way that Israel was to fulfill their divine commission to conquer the land of Canaan.  They were to do it by faith.  The odds were certainly against them, but they would succeed by divine intervention and supernatural power as long as they marched on by faith.  It is in this way that we are to evangelize the whole world.  The odds are clearly against us, in the purely natural and human assessment of our situation, but we were never expected to fulfill the Great Commission without supernatural help.  The Holy Ghost was given so that we would have “power” to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth.  And we have power when we move by faith.  A great man encouraged his co-workers to go forward on their knees.  The days of doing the work of God by natural means ought certainly to have ended.  We have seen so much failure.  Let us confess to Jesus the sin of our unbelief, and decide to believe every word of the Bible, and to anchor our lives and our work on its trustworthiness.

Mark 16:19-20 teaches us that we must also believe in partnership with God.  “They went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them.”  How often did the Lord Jesus speak of us working in partnership with Him!  We are to take His yoke and do the work in partnership with Him (Matthew 11:29-30).  We are to bear fruit by abiding in Him (John 15:5).  We are laborers together with Him (First Corinthians 3:6-9).  He said that as we obeyed the commission, He would be with us always (Matthew 28:19-20).  Don’t you think that if we partnered with God we could succeed in evangelizing the multitudes, winning men to Christ, planting New Testament churches, sending missionaries to the uttermost part of the earth, and evangelizing the whole world?  But we must believe in His offers to be our Senior Partner, to fill us with the Spirit, to go with us to places we have never been because our unbelief held us back.  Belief will be the key, as unbelief has been the obstacle.

Dr. Rick Flanders