Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Modest Apparel: For the Glory of God

Many believers today stand against cultural norms in apparel not for the purpose of looking different or strange but for the purpose of honoring and glorifying God.

I am grateful for preachers, like my own, who continue to plant themselves firmly against the world in areas in which others are not willing to “go that far.”  I appreciate those who have continued to take a stand against women wearing men’s apparel, as mentioned in my previous post.  I likewise appreciate the freedom which comes from seeking to glorify God in both our bodies and our spirits, "which are God's" (I Cor. 6:19-20).  One way Christian women can glorify God is by dressing modestly, which includes times spent swimming in the company of the opposite gender. 

In a world that is anti-God and anti-Bible, we do well to consider the history of clothing in our culture and to investigate, in a Berean-like manner, the mind of God on the subject of modesty in apparel.

I'm thankful for a dad who willingly studied the Scriptures for himself in these areas and did not fail to teach such truths to his children.  When I was about five years old, I learned for the first time the freedom of obedience in this area of biblical modesty.

As I heard the Scriptures presented, I embraced these truths for myself.  Covering one’s body with modest apparel never seemed a stretch to me, for such teaching was clearly that of Scripture (I Tim. 2:9).  Later, when I got into high school, I began to fight a little bit on the exact standard of where that modesty was (which I’ll describe in a later post) but this issue of covering one’s body, even when swimming in mixed company, made sense to me.

While many today assert that grace teaches we can dress as we please, God's Word explains what grace actually teaches--that we are to deny worldly lusts.  I would contend that such strong desires include our own desire to fit into the world in areas such as apparel (Titus 2:12).  Grace liberates us to behold freedom in Christ--not rules or bondage.  Such freedom has its root in obedience to His Spirit and results from looking into God's Word and habitually living it out.  Second Corinthians 3:16-18 illustrates this beautifully—

Nevertheless when [their heart] shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.  Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

This freeing Spirit transforms us into the image of our redemption-loving Lord!  As sinners sunken in despair, we can be both lifted from the miry clay and transformed into the likeness of our Redeemer! Indeed, we who were bought with a price—the precious blood of Christ—ought take seriously our obligation to “glorify God in our bodies and our spirits, which are God’s.”

One woman blogger ridicules IFB women, who--she says--cover “nearly every square inch of flesh.”  She asserts this practice illustrates that these women are ashamed of their bodies--that they're not free.

The Bible, however, describes shame as being first illustrated in a Garden where a man and woman broke fellowship with the God of the Universe after having sinned.  When they recognized the sin, they covered their naked bodies the best they knew how—in fig leaves, probably similar to the kind of covering one would observe on today’s beaches. 

But God covered their nakedness with modest coats of skin.  The blood sacrifice of an animal illustrated that Christ’s blood is needed for forgiveness.  God's covering showed not only the divine standard of covering but also pictured salvation—when one’s sins have been covered, he is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. 

So, clothing and covering illustrate the Gospel.

That’s why this issue of modesty, or covering, matters.

At its heart is not a bunch of outward standards but a picture of the cross.

We can’t forget this.

As believers, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, housing the third person of the Trinity!  As such dwelling places of God Himself, our bodies are to be covered in “shamefacedness and sobriety” (I Tim. 2:9).  This is a choice of obedience we can make each day.

Dressing in modest apparel is a New Testament commandment and would rule out a great deal of wardrobe choices offered in popular culture.   Adherence to this principle would likewise rule out wearing traditional swimming suits at the beach.  The biblical standard of modesty ought be followed, whether one is in the water or out of it.

So how do I respond when I hear of other believers engaging in the practice of mixed swimming?

I don’t look down at them. 

I just wonder if they understand that it is a noble thing for women to obey God’s command to “dress in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety” (I Tim. 2:9)—even in such places where the culture dresses differently.  Believing women are princesses of the great I AM and are “all glorious within” (Psalm 45:13).

As such, the King’s daughters care about the inside.  They want to please God in their spirit—which isn’t a self-indulgent spirit but one that reflects the mind of Christ.  They look to find God’s mind at the heart of the issue and then willingly, joyfully obey--allowing their presupposition to be, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).

The princess of the great I AM looks to the God of the Universe on culturally uncool issues like apparel and takes her cue, not from the unsaved culture about her, but from His Word, for her lifestyle is grounded upon obedience to God’s Word.  She views modesty as an issue to be determined from God’s definition--not her own and not culture’s.

I appreciate those who study this issue in-depth and have produced mammoth volumes describing nuances of words.  But, having been raised in a Bible-preaching IFB church, where standards of modesty were embraced and mixed swimming was preached against—I must say, I get it.  And I don’t ever remember rejecting the truth of this area.  I wanted to cover my body, because I saw it is as a good thing reflecting God's standard.  Later, I began to see that it pictures the Gospel.  

In a day of compromise and rejection of biblical standards of apparel, those who stand against the world’s way when swimming in mixed company are considered “old-fashioned,” out of date, and far from relevant, I contend that believing women ought to accept and embrace the biblical definition of covering and modesty in apparel.

Many IFB women joyfully wear modest apparel when swimming.  We don’t feel restricted to cover our bodies.  In fact, we are grateful to dress in a way that honors God.

Not to earn favor. 
But to obey.

You see, obedience in each area of life, even in what we wear, is about our relationship with God.  It's not about about adherence to some outward rules of man.  It’s about loving God and wanting to please Him Who gave His all for us--even in areas that are culturally uncool.

And that’s ok.

Because it’s not about us anyway.

It’s about our Savior...

His Gospel.

And His glory.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Free Indeed

There is a great deal of negative speech abroad on the Internet.  The kind of thing that calls Independent, Fundamental Baptist (IFB) homes and churches part of a cult, insinuating that confrontational preaching in fundamental churches is verbal abuse.  These blogs and articles are frequently written by disgruntled individuals who believe they have finally found freedom after having been inundated with cult-like dogmas most of their lives.  From my own observation, it seems a great number of these "finally freed" individuals are women.  And so, as a woman happily serving in an IFB church, I would like to answer a few charges against the criticism.  Such entries may be extended over time, but I hope to satisfactorily and Scripturally deal with some of these allegations. 

One woman claims to have had to put on a face for years in her IFB church, staying under the radar, just obeying the rules, but inwardly chafing the entire time.  She felt coerced into tithing and, when she was first able to try on a pair of jeans and walk around another town far from her own, she felt free.  Just taking a walk through the city brought her immense exhilaration. 

She asserts that true freedom in the greatest sense is found outside IFB churches.  

But she and others preach a message that I don’t embrace—based both upon God’s Word and my own experience.
The problems with this woman's analysis are many. I speak, firstly, from experience. Having been born and raised in an IFB home myself, I felt great freedom to be me—in the context of the Word of God.  When I went out to do farm chores at 5:30 in the morning, I inhaled fresh air and cherished the freedom to consider ideas for myself.  I would feed the animals and, in the winter months, as I glanced up at the stars, would frequently spend moments marveling that the same God who formed Abraham and promised by Himself to send a Savior into the world was yet that same God who saw us, who loved the fledgling congregation in my town, who knew every problem and understood every need, who offered Himself freely to me each day in His Word.  
I remember, as a 1st grader, stopping and pondering eternity—the immensity and never-ending nature of that forever place where everyone would live somewhere.  It seemed a circle to me and held me in its grasp.  To think that the God who inhabits eternity would love me, would give Himself for me, would call me to Himself to worship Him!  What privilege!

My parents were true servants, and I loved the freedom I had to work with them repairing the old farmhouse we moved into.  I was just a young girl at the time but I clearly remember waking up one morning and asking my dad, “Can I wear slacks today?”   

To which he replied, “Yes.”   

We were on the journey to abandon trousers from the girls' wardrobes of our home, but I wanted to make sure it was ok before I went outside wearing them.  I knew Dad wanted me to dress like a lady.  And that was ok.  But I still liked my slacks.

Then there was the time in 1st grade when all the other girls in my PE class at school were wearing jeans and I, trying to be more lady-like, wore a dress over my slacks.  My teacher had me tuck in my dress so that I could do the exercises.  But in that environment, I began to feel odd about not wearing jeans and a t-shirt to PE, so I would wear them—by this time my parents had said the girls in our family were going to stop wearing slacks as an outer garment—under a long coat, so that if my sister were out for recess, she would not be able to see me with them on. 

Then one day, as we sat at dinner, I confessed.  I had been wearing slacks to P.E., I told my parents.  But from now on I would wear culottes to PE or just keep the slacks on under my dress.  In my heart, I determined that I would wear slacks in the regular way when I got to be 18.  Then I would have my own way.  Until then, I would want to wear them in my heart even if I outwardly conformed to the rules.
But I didn’t reckon with one thing that day as a seven-year-old.  The Holy Spirit of God began to work on my spirit.  He began to show me that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry" (I Sam. 15:23).  Even more, He opened my eyes to other truths of His Word.  In sixth grade, I read the Bible through for myself and in 7th grade, I had firm conviction concerning my apparel.  I believed that it was a sin for a woman to dress in men’s apparel.  While many argued that “Well, they all wore robes” in biblical times, so “It’s ok if women wear slacks today,” God had convinced my own spirit that to “wear that which pertains to a man” (Deut. 22:5) would be to wear what has been traditionally male apparel in our Western culture—slacks, whether or not they were in the men’s or women’s section of the store. 

While I have had to continually consider the Scriptures related to this issue—God often commands us to “Remember” in His Word—I have, by God’s grace, held to this position since I was 12 years old.  Held to it not because I was forced into it, but because the God of Heaven writes His laws in the hearts of His children. I held firmly to it—not looking down on others for wearing trousers, for I had been there at one time—but understanding that, as for me and my conscience, my relationship with God—I would obey His Word.  And that is what it is for me. It’s not some sort of freedom to indulge in something other than what God has convinced me from His Word.  This is the kind of God I serve.  He longs for people who are emptied of self so that He might fill their hearts with His Word.  And, Oh--how I need His filling every day to make me echo the words of the song writer, "None of self and all of Thee!"

Isaiah 66:2 is one of my favorite verses—“For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.  The freedom-preaching bloggers frequently fail to exposit Scripture.  When I look into the Word, I see the Word leading and guiding my every decision.  I see that it is incredibly called what many might view as an oxymoron—a “law of liberty”--and not only that, a perfect law of liberty!

 “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (James 1:25). Certainly, the freedom God offers in His word is found in a law.  And that law is perfect.  It is the law of liberty, for God has always wanted us to be free—in Christ.   

The psalmist knew this God.  And he wrote:   
“I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? 
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.   
I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.  A froward heart shall depart from me: 
I will not know a wicked person.  Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.   
Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.   
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.” (Psalm 101:2-7).

One lady writes of the freedom she has now to do what she wants after suffering near PTSD symptoms after leaving her IFB congregation.  But God’s perfect law is the law of liberty.  And Psalm 101 tells us that this law results in a lifestyle that does not embrace anything that opposes God.  No wicked thing.  No slanderers even.  

The discomfort these bloggers feel from confrontational preaching is so frequently applied to a man of God who is merely teaching the Word of God.  It saddens my heart that these bloggers fail to discern the voice of God’s Holy Spirit. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel—these prophets were refused because the people discarded the messenger and failed to understand the truth of God’s Word.  And yet, through these sometimes awkward preachers, God delivers truth throughout His Word.

No preacher of God is perfect.  But my own preacher—my father in an IFB congregation— loves God and His Word.  Truth matters to him.  A lot.  After listening to his sermons, I am so often encouraged to take God at His Word, to spend more of my week reading and pondering the Bible, to spend more time of my day with Jesus in prayer.  Those kinds of messages help to drive me to the Sovereign God of the Universe, the eternal God who loved me with an everlasting love. 

Taken in Spain, in 2004
My parents gave me a lot of freedom.  I could drive at 16.  I traveled overseas to several European countries, often by myself, before I was married.  I loved exploring new places.  But when I saw new things and explored new countries, I couldn’t help but see souls.  All around me, people were dying and going to hell.  Every person was a soul created in the image of God.  It filled my heart with a desire for missions—to see missionaries raised up to go all over the globe.  This is a beautiful world, a complex world, but it is a fallen world.  And, as such, it demands that people reach it with the Gospel, for that is God’s heart cry.  Jesus Himself, the Word, came to “seek and to save that which is lost" (Luke 19:10).

Sometimes I’ve struggled with the balance between a fervor for souls, as we see in the Apostle Paul, and moments in which we are to enjoy all things God gives us –something Paul writes to Timothy while he himself was suffering the deprivations of hunger, being bound in the Mamertime Prison in Rome.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not free.  It means I’m experiencing the tension of a Christian in the world but not of it.  My home is not here but in heaven.  As Abraham, I am merely a sojourner here.

Another photo, taken in Spain, 2004
I love to travel, having been to about twenty different countries.  Opportunities such as these have allowed me to explore the world and have given me freedom to write and to reflect.   

But at salvation, I was given the most important freedom--the freedom found in Christ.  It is this freedom which I greatly cherish.  In fact, I find that one of the most fulfilling things I can do in a day is to share with others the Gospel, for at salvation, Christ gives us a heart to see others redeemed.

Please be ware of false teachers in the form of “freedom-preaching” bloggers who assert that IFB churches offer no freedom.  When Jesus Christ redeems you, He makes you free indeed.  He offers a completely different perspective on life, found in the perfect law of liberty, His Word.  Tithing, for example, is a joy, for life is not about pleasing ourselves, not about following our own way but about letting the God Who has redeemed us shape us through His Word that we may please and glorify Him.

Truly, great freedom exists in Christ. 

In the words of John 8:36, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed"!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Do We Really Love? (Part Three)


According to Thayer, the Greek word elpizo (translated hope in the above verse) means, "in a religious sense, to wait for salvation with joy and full confidence."  This kind of hope encompasses the idea of assured expectation of a future event.  True, Biblical love, then, views the most impossible situations with the eyes of faith.  It looks upon the seeming hopelessness of surroundings and sees an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.

Some time ago, I considered what a different place this world would be if we would see advertised
upon the road of life billboards displaying products for a Heavenly Kingdom.  One such company I envisioned was Faithwear.  Its commercials might go something like this: 

“Put on Faithwear’s glasses and change your perspective!  You’ll see the world with much clearer vision.  Not only will every blade of grass and each twinkling star magnify the Original Designer, but so will your daily tasks be transformed as you encounter a fresh view of God.  Look upon your every task and each relationship and perceive our glorious Creator, Who has revealed Himself in each aspect of His creation. 

“Mothers, see those children to whom you minister as strong in God’s service.  Working women, see those frustrating moments in your daily schedule as opportunities to praise God—to rejoice because God’s mercies are better than life itself.  Children, see every rebuke as a correction of love, offered to you from heaven, borne from God’s own throne.

“Our new brand of hearing aids assist you in perceiving with the ears of faith.  Mothers, hear not the crying infant nor the complaining child, but the voice of the Master saying, ‘I was in all points tempted as you are, yet without sin.’  

“You’ll be amazed at how our products transform the senses.  So try some to day! And the fantastic part of all our specialty goods is that they will cost you nothing but a willing mind, a broken spirit, and a contrite heart.  Pay no money, but offer yourself as a living sacrifice, willing to enjoy God’s perspective.  Faith comes by hearing (hence you must have the right heart attitude), and hearing by the Word of God.  So, once you’re outfitted with the right spirit, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Investigate His Word, meditate upon it, live it, and you, too, will be transformed by Faithwear! 

“Faithwear.  Don’t live life without it.”

But instead of Faithwear, the sight perspective, the sensual, crowds upon our lives, drowning out the message of faith, the perspective which truly satisfies.  When I see with the eyes of faith, I note not the Peter who doubted Christ nor the disciple who denied him but I see instead the martyr who hung upside down upon a cross, meekly offering his body, refusing to die in the same way as his Lord and Master.  Every student of mine I view, not as a discouraged, discontented, or rebellious teen but rather as a vibrant, victorious Christian, slaying the enemy in daily life by the sword of the spirit, which he grasps firmly in hand. 

I look past the difficulties of this turbulent world, the sea upon which heaps of discarded, wasted lives have been cast—and see that beautiful potential which Christ has for every life, a pathway of peace, which He desires for each of His own.  Facebook searches occasionally yield discouraging realities of the direction individuals have chosen, but instead of being overcome by the unbiblical decisions of people to whom I once ministered, I can view all with the eyes of faith.  The hopeful sees that, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  She understands that if Christ’s best earthly friend denied Him, I too have the possibility of doing so and likewise realizes that the flesh is strong, for even Lot himself vexed his righteous soul from day to day, living among the sinners in Sodom.  The one whose hope is steadfast in God is satisfied—ultimately, from God Alone—realizing that no sensual feeling can replace the solid relationship of a walk with the Almighty. 

When Discouragement rears its misshapen head, when Defeat casts down its deathly gaze, when Despair tears in, tantamount to her temper, the one infused with agape love eats, satisfied, at the table of Wisdom.  Christ has furnished His table, mingled His wine, and set abundant provisions for those who recognize their need to dine there!  He has built His house and prepared an abundant spread for His hungry guests.  His bread and beverages satisfy, contrasting with the fodder of fools, the taste of which leaves only a mouthful of gravel. (Prov. 20:17). 

Oh, to seek the Lord at His table each day, to recognize our inadequacy, our inability, our insufficiency!  This recognition is part of that hopefulness which is part of love, for the one imbued with such hope realizes she has no strength in herself and thus seeks the Lord, finding Him satisfactory.  After dining at His table, she notes that the fruits of folly look less attractive.  The delicacies of the devil appear as they are—not delicious, but deceitful.  That sinful thought is smitten by recalling a personal feast at His table, and praise daily perfumes her breath as those moments with her dear Savior linger in her memory, for she has dined with Him, her Satisfaction. 

Dear Sister, is this your state?  Do you revel in God’s meditations?  Do you find yourself often encouraged by His Word?  Like the psalmist, can you pray, “Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou has caused me to hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction, for Thy word hath quickened me” (Ps. 119:49-50)?  Upon what word is your hope today?  This abundance of wisdom is available to you.  Feast at the Savior’s table.  Let your hungry soul be satisfied.  How your heart will live forever when Christ is your daily Bread! Your heart, sound in God’s statutes, will live; you will be unashamed when you stand before Him if this feast is your daily reality (Ps. 119:80)!

And this love, which hopes all things, will emanate from a heart saturated by the One Who is Eternal Love!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Do We Really Love? (Part Two)

The house was barren, stripped of all furniture except a small table lamp that illuminated the living room.  It was December when my husband and I walked through the antiquated home for the first time, thin orange carpet, loosely laid, gathering and folding with many of our steps.  The place would need a lot of work, and we weren’t actually considering purchasing—not seriously, at least.  But a month later, it was a done deal.  The day after we closed on the house, we began the work of gutting out that orange carpet, painting the dulled walls, and transforming the place into the vision we had for it.

When we first saw it, that home off Main Street in our little town felt empty, devoid of human spirit and personality.  Sure, the remnants of homemade curtains still hung on certain windows.  And wallpaper hinted at the taste of the daughters who had selected it.  But those people were all gone now, or at least had moved on to another place.  After purchasing the house, it was our joy to spend time making it a home once again.

That house before inhabitants reminds me of the emptiness which can occur in the lives of believers.  It’s reflected in lifeless hymn singing, dullness to hearing God’s Word, and an apathetic ministry with others.

Lifeless Christianity is an oxymoron, for Jesus is a risen and living Lord Who affects the spirit of those He indwells.  Jim Eliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”  A passion that consumes us, a wisdom that balances us, a love that enlivens us—such spiritual vitality can resonate from our souls when we are in love with Jesus Christ. 

But that is the rub.  To be in love with Him is essential before we can in any way be effective in loving others.  And yet, too often our ministry can be a sham, for it is not sourced in His love.  God wrote the Manual on Love.  How our ministries must reflect that love!  How that agape kind of love must perfume every relationship!  How this selfless love should envelop all our service, so that we are merely stepping in the footsteps of the One Who is Love.

When we fail to follow Love’s leadership along the path of life, we will feel the emptiness, the hollowness.  We will begin to doubt God’s perfect love for us and question the service He has sanctified for us.  In turn, that faithless focus will affect others.  Living in unbelief will quench the fires of love for others, turning our ministry gaze to focus upon the sin, meanwhile failing to adequately view the kind of love God has for the individual sinner.

But living in the reality of Him—that is where love begins and continues, for every act performed from a heart of love never fails but rather brings forth eternal fruit.  He is All-Sufficient, my source of wisdom, my strength in weakness, my Savior from woe.  How intimately do I know Him?  Obey Him?  Does He have my waking moments?  Does He have my time?  Do I freely give Him all things, as He freely gave for me? 

Withholding minutes from the One who gave His life for me screams “Insensible!”  Claiming my rights when He yielded up His own entirely shouts, “Illogical!”  Failing to love others wholeheartedly when He loves them absolutely yells, “Insensitive!”

False fronts gone, stripped of all our own ways, in step with the Spirit, we can be the channels of love which God originally intended.   Rights in hand, time our own, failing to abide in God’s Word and spend moments reveling in His goodness, we will block the Love which God desires to send through us to others--from Him! 

Oh, let us not be weary in continuing our daily time with Him, in spending seasons of prayer alone.  Let us not fail of God’s grace in this fellowship with Him.  In due season we shall reap a harvest brought about by God alone.  Faint not, Christian!  Your All-Sufficient One has love enough for you!  
--Heather Ross

Monday, February 17, 2014

Do We Really Love? Part One

Having grown up in a pastor’s home and seeing young people in the throes of decisions, homes in the heat of the battle, and individuals daily, weekly, monthly embraced in decision-making that will affect the rest of their lives, I submit this first article in this series as a specific question directed to members of IFB churches.

IFB churches and schools are regularly given harsh criticism from external sources, but within the own local church proper, no lack of charity should ever exist!  And yet, I have watched happy, contented, thankful people grow angry and bitter over time and leave within a decade (or less!) of their arrival in such a church.

We are negatively evaluated for our school handbooks, dress codes, and demerit systems.  Authorities are criticized for harshness, discipline, and a “lack of mercy.”  Again, while critics come in all forms, this post deals specifically with those within a congregation. Rarely do the preacher’s critics take seriously the command given in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without dissimulation.  Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”

The above verse commands that members in the local church body love with no difference between those we prefer and those we don’t naturally get along with.  Hatred is never toward an individual but to evil.  Good is that to which we cleave—not to criticisms, irritation, or complaining. 

If every believer in an assembly determined to practice biblical, self-sacrificing love (as described in I Corinthians 13), that church would be a completely different place.  The local community would be transformed; homes would be restored; lives would be brought back together.  Believers and families within every assembly must practice biblical charity.

The kind of love depicted in Romans 12:9 encompasses the following:  No negative discussions at home about people at church.  No talking behind people’s backs.  No storing up frustration or anger in the heart.  The same kind of love, appreciation, and kindness evidenced to every member of that body of Christ, whether it be kindness toward the person with occasional body odor, or the woman who is overweight, or the guy who talks too loudly in the lobby.

Truth is one thing, but charity must serve as the mouth of truth:  if we speak words of criticism we must utter them from a heart of love, as described in I Corinthians 13.  Love is patient, kind, not easily provoked.  Love thinks the best of others, does not plot evil, rejoices—yes, rejoices—in truth!  It seems the loudest voices are often the critics, but that need not be the case!  God’s people can cleave to good, rejoicing because of truth.  Everything that is good and godly they can hold dear.

“If you love me,” Jesus said in His final sermon to His disciples before His crucifixion, “keep my commandments.”  Oh, how we must embrace the biblical injunctions to love, which sprinkle themselves generously throughout God’s Word, which evidence the loving heart of God!  Defining love God’s way is a task completed through His Book.  It’s an incredibly rich experience, looking at and studying these verses on biblical, self-sacrificing, agape love.  But take just one passage, John 14:15, part of Jesus’ final words to His disciples before His crucifixion, and see that love is obedience in action.  If every member of every IFB church took only one of God’s commands today and decided to live by it—just one—practicing it now and continuing in a regular, consistent manner, our assemblies would be transformed!  Consider Romans 12:10, for example:  “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.”

The phrase, “kindly affectioned” is used only once in the Bible.  Thayer defines it as
1) the mutual love of parents and children and wives and husbands
2) loving affection, prone to love, loving tenderly
2a) chiefly of the reciprocal tenderness of parents and children. 
What an endearing, tender description this phrase offers us concerning our familial ties specifically to those within the local church assembly! This is a heart attitude—a spirit of kindness that envelops our innermost being and manifests itself outwardly toward everyone with whom we come into contact! 

Practically speaking, then, others within the church will be the objects of good words, which make the heart glad.  We will be givers, not takers.  We will be caring, surrendered, joy-filled individuals toward every believer!

“In honor preferring one another,” Romans 12:10 concludes. God says we are literally to prefer others within the local assembly to ourselves. Many critics of “standards” or “preferences” seem to indicate that their opinion is as important as God’s own Word, but that idea is not taught by Romans 12:10.

It’s so much easier to point fingers at others than to blame ourselves.  I know.  I’ve been there.  I remember literally putting tally marks on my notes paper at one time for every grammatical error a preacher made in his sermon!  My focus was on his mistakes, not on my need to embrace truth. 

In his poem , “To A Louse:  On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church,” Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote words that, without the Scottish dialect, read… 
“What a gift God would give us—to see ourselves as others see us!
It would free many blunders from us and foolish notions.
What airs in dress and gait would leave us, and even devotion!”

The fine Miss Lunardi seemed unsuitable for such a despicable visitor such as a louse upon her person, but sure enough, out from underneath her very pristine bonnet, a louse crawled.  And Burns saw it, the poor Miss Lunardi completely oblivious to such a show. While she seemed to assume she manifested flawlessness, Burns saw her inadequacies.

If we perceived the error within our own way, that our opinions are not infallible, that our criticisms may be incorrect, that our perspective is not as important as God’s Word—our demeanor would change.    Our pride would crumble.  Our love would grow.  Let us prefer our brothers and sisters within the church to ourselves, live by God’s book, embrace His commands, and show true, biblical love one toward another.  In every situation.  Regardless of our own natural inclinations.  That’s love.
--Heather Ross

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Female Fundamentalist: A Re-Introduction

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog, but I think that, after over nearly a decade has passed, it’s about time to get started.  Not that the passage of time means something should get a restart but in this particular case, as the years elapse, my “voice” has begun to develop.  (That’s a term I heard back at a writers’ conference—that sometimes the writer’s voice inside of you needs time to develop, grow, and be nurtured before you have something worth saying.)

It’d be nice to think that I could speak more to the point now than I did when I started blogging, that the issues that troubled me then have been worked out.  In fact, grey issues have melded into closer shades of white and black and a new perspective has emerged in the several twelve-months that have separated me from this blog, but I am far from having all the answers.  However, my colleague Ricci and I will seek to post once every 7-10 days, to keep this blog a lively journey.

And so again begins our trek toward congruity, the Female Fundamentalist.

Before we continue on our journey, I find it necessary to define my terms.  By “Female Fundamentalist” I mean these posts will be authored by women in an IFB church, an independent, fundamental Baptist church. 

Historically, fundamentalism acquired its name in the early part of the 20th century when G. Campbell Morgan, R. A. Torrey, and sixty-two others wrote in defense of the “fundamentals” of the faith in dozens of essays.  That is essentially the link to the term fundamental, a term which speaks of the rudiments of belief. 

Unfortunately, this term fundamental is confusing in a number of ways.  The ultimate question in fundamentalism is: what are the fundamentals?  Several groups within fundamentalism proper will argue over which fundamentals are important and which are not, making fundamentalism more of a misnomer than an accurate depiction of our circle.  

Another confusion is the link of this term in our society with radical movements, such as radical Islam.  A “fundamentalist” Muslim believes in the fundamentals of the Koran.  A fundamentalist Christian believes in the fundamentals of the Bible.  When God says love your enemies, the Koran says, "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121).  Both the fundamentalist Muslim and the fundamentalist Christian take their holy book literally.  The problem is, the Koran and the Bible teach radically different ideologies concerning, among many other things, the treatment of one's enemies; this example merely illustrates one polarizing "fundamental" difference between the two belief systems.  Yet, because of its literal interpretation of Scripture, Fundamentalism has been bashed because secularists consider such a position extreme.  However, I would argue that everyone in our culture is a fundamentalist about something.  You must be a fundamentalist linguist to put together the rudiments of a sentence.  You must be a fundamental historian to grasp an overview of world history and cultures.  And the list could continue.  For a Christian, whose entire belief system is rooted in Scripture, what better place to be a "Fundamentalist" than about the interpretation of this fundamental book?

So the fundamentals of belief are needful, but which ones are important are argued over time and again; thus, the term “Fundamentalist” in this blog will essentially embrace those elements of Christian culture within conservative IFB churches.

“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” states I Cor. 8:1.  So much has been said to bash IFB churches, and this blog is intended to do nothing of the sort.  The evaluations offered in this blog will, by God’s grace, include edifying words that seek to build up the body of Christ and fellow believers.

Opinions are offered understanding that meekness is necessary for any and every reproof (Gal. 6:1).  Personal accounts are given to illustrate the authors’ own identification with struggles within IFB circles.
                                                                                                                                     --Heather Ross

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another View from the Back of the Church

Fundamentalist thought concerning the back row can sometimes be interpreted as, “Back row means backslidden.” Teasing about the “Back Row Baptist” is fairly common. We have all wondered where that person in the second to last row disappeared to before the end of the service.

The question is, why does the back row have such a bad rap? Why such stigma and stereotype?

As my fellow blogger humorously elaborated upon, there are multitudes of distractions when you sit in the back. You can see every sleepy head nodding. You can see every moment of a parent’s disciplining. You can see, and maybe hear, those two teen girls whispering and giggling.

And all of these things are taking place between you and the pulpit. According to Ephesians 4:11-12, God has given His church pastors to perfect the saints and edify the body. These ministries of the pastor are certainly going to be hindered if the saint cannot focus on Word of God that the pastor is faithfully proclaiming. If that believer cannot block out all the activity going on in front of him and sincerely pay attention, it will certainly limit his spiritual growth. This giving and receiving of the Word is part of true worship. Worship can become more like work when one chooses to sit in the back.

Speaking of worship, have you ever tried to sing in the back? It is terrible. You can only hear yourself. It seems like no one around is singing at all. And for me, that is a very bad thing. Put me on the third row, left hand side, aisle seat, and I can sing praise to God with the glorious sounds of a congregation that loves God surrounding me.

But wait, that beautiful sound comes from behind me. So herein lies the problem. Not everyone can sit in the front four pews. Someone, unfortunately, has to sit in the back. Right?

The stigma and stereotype come from the people who choose to sit in the back. Let’s be honest, when was the last time you saw young people goofing around in the second row of the church? No, the ones who want to cause trouble sit in the back. If you want to sneak out during the invitation, where are you going to sit? Fourth row by the window? Nope, the back. If you do not really want to hear what your pastor has to say, it is much easier to ignore him from the back of the room. Part of fundamentalism is that we believe the Bible teaches that what is going on in our soul, in our spiritual life, is going to reflect itself in our actions. One of the actions that just might be affected by our spiritual condition is where we choose to sit in church. Maybe we should each examine ourselves to see if we are in the right seat.

The solution to the problem of the back row is this: everyone in the whole church building should behave as if they are sitting in the front row, even if they are sitting in the very back. All, young and old alike, should join together in a joyful sobriety that would make all seats in the house equally desirable. And then maybe, just maybe, we could all change seats every once in a while. But then we might have to give up “our pew.” Horrors! What if someone steals it while I am away! I know some would think that way, but really, if the whole congregation, from front to back and side to side, had the same earnest spirit, no messing around, no passing notes, no slipping out early, there would be no problem with the back row. The stereotype and stigma could be cast off, and all pews would be regarded with equal status.

But, this will not be accomplished without organization. Therefore, I call for a committee to revolutionize seating in the fundamentalist world. It will not be easy, but the battle for Pew Rights must start somewhere. Let it start with me. I call for all serious fundamentalists to remove themselves from the third row, left side, aisle seat (Where all good fundamentalists sit. It is a myth that they sit in the front row.), and go sit in the back! Maybe not the very back, but venture towards the back. And when you do so, behave yourself. And sing. And pay attention. And encourage others to do the same. Let The Pew Revolution begin!