Greg Linscott

Some Random Musings…

Working With The Karen, Part 1

In the summer of 2010, the HR director at Turkey Valley Farms dropped in for an unannounced visit. I remember distinctly that I had been working pulling weeds in our garden plot behind the church building. He said that they were actively recruiting workers from the S’Gaw Karen refugee community in St. Paul. However, if they were coming here, there needed to be some measure of community support and stability for them, and for many of them, it was important that they find that in a local church, and more specifically, a Baptist church.

At that point, I was not especially familiar with who the Karen were, but as I began to put some of the pieces together in my mind, I remembered hearing about them before. One of my favorite biographies I read as a boy was To The Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson. It tells the story of Adoniram Judson, the pioneer missionary to Burma. It was Judson’s labors that ultimately led to the introduction of Christianity to the Karen tribe.

That day, I remember expressing a willingness to accommodate these people however we could. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for us all.

Impromptu Service at the Linscott’s During a Blizzard, February 2011

The first group came about a month later toward the end of August. That first Sunday, we had 10-15 Karen people, most of whom were from a church in Worthington and had been here in the USA for a few years, and were helping the initial Marshall residents get settled. Our first group was a core of anywhere from 3 to 7 people, with a few others who attended more sporadically. Those numbers grew quickly, however, and 6 months later, we were seeing numbers of 15-20 Karen each week, and 8-10 children and teens in our Wednesday youth programs.

First Karen SS Class, October 2011

First Karen SS Class, October 2011

To be continued…

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A Day To Remember

April 2013

One of the most radical life changes our family has experienced began in in 2011, when Jennifer and I became certified foster parents with the state of Minnesota.  Jennifer had wanted to adopt children since she was a child herself, and I was certainly not opposed to the idea. Leading up to this moment, Jennifer and I had been discussing the idea of adoption, and even looked into the agency route. We found the costs to be rather intimidating, though, and while we didn’t rule it out, we were somewhat skeptical that we would be able to fund an agency adoption without disrupting our family’s financial stability.

Then one day, Jennifer and I noticed a flyer on our refrigerator, promoting an event held by our local social services agency to recruit potential foster parents. When we asked our three girls about it, they readily confessed and almost demanded that we attend, though neither Jennifer or I had mentioned our interest in adoption to them. We couldn’t  help but smile at their enthusiasm, and before too long we were signed up to take the required training needed to secure foster parent certification.

Our expressed intent from the beginning was to pursue foster-to-adopt. Our first placement took place in October, when we took a little girl directly home from the hospital. We loved little Z, and were certain that she would always be our little girl. Two weeks later, however, the agency informed us that the birth parents had gotten things together enough to regain custody of their daughter. We remembered that “reunification is always the goal” of the foster system, but somehow that didn’t make the tears and sense of loss any more tolerable.

A couple of weeks later, we were asked to do respite care for a couple of severely autistic children (respite care is essentially giving the regular foster parents a weekend off). The children had left their blankets with their foster parents, though, so one of their neighbors, also foster parents (we had taken training sessions together) agreed to deliver them to us. They brought their foster children with them to deliver the blankets, and that ended up being the first time we would meet Emma and Caleb.

They left an unmistakable impression the first time we met them. The autistic children we were watching were very calm, and were pretty much content to sit by themselves with a single toy, singing quietly to themselves. When Emma and Caleb came over, it was like a tornado had been unleashed in our home! One of the first things they did was find our game closet, and literally began taking the contents and slinging them over their shoulders onto the floor behind them. As disruptive as they seemed at first, though, they also had an enthusiasm that was infectious. It also made us smile that they immediately started calling us “Mom” and “Dad.”

Shortly after that, the agency asked us if we could consider taking them in, as well as their yet-unborn brother, due in December. Initially, we were hesitant, because we had originally thought that we could handle one, maybe two- but three? Again, the Lord used our girls. When they found out that we had been asked about Emma and Caleb, they immediately begged us to take them.

November 2011

So, in November of 2011, Emma and Caleb began their time in our home with a foster care placement. They fit in quickly, as did their brother, Hayden. From that point on, there was never any question in my mind… these were my kids!

December 2011

Still, like many things, you had to wait for paperwork. The filing process moved along slowly, but in October of 2012, we received noticed of our court date to finalize the procedure. Being the sentimental guy that I am, I compared it to getting the title in the mail after we’d already driven the car off the lot several months before… 🙂 but it was truly a day I will never forget, when they finally took my name as their own.

October 2012

I won’t pretend that it has always been “they all lived happily ever after.” There have been moments where we all have had to adjust. Tempers sometimes flare. Patience wears thin. Then again, those things were true with our own offspring (and still are!). Having 7 children has its moments (especially for Jennifer, who home educates the lot pretty much single-handedly). However, if you asked any one of us, we are convinced that God knew exactly what he was doing when he placed us all together, and we are profoundly grateful that he did so.

Happy Adoption Day to my beloved daughter Emma and son Caleb. I am so thankful to be called your father!

Interesting Pairing…

In reviewing the copy of the S’Gaw Karen hymnal I have, I discovered that they paired the lyrics of Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” with the tune WOODWORTH, which most of us would associate with the song “Just As I Am.”

Reflections, Part 5- Why Did We?

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

I have tried to address the objections to why we invited Phil. What I’d like to finish with is a post on the more positive aspects behind the invitation…

Emphasis on the Word. To me, this was key. If a speaker isn’t going to present and apply the Scriptures, what makes our event a Christian one? Phil has a well-earned reputation in being a sound expositor of the Scriptures, and his working partnership with John MacArthur does nothing but enhance that.

Boldness for the Truth. Phil has been willing to address erroneous teaching, behavior, and problems within and facing the American Evangelical scene. Whether “we” agree with the extent of some of the relationships the folks at GCC have established or not, the fact is that Phil, MacArthur and co. have used those relationships as a platform for influence toward what they believe to be the truth. Examples of this would include the aforementioned “Strange Fire” conference,  MacArthur’s “Why Every Calvinist Should Be a Premillenialist,” or even the video below addressing the excesses of “The New Calvinism”:

I personally appreciated Phil’s comments in this 2012 interview:

“The abuse of the term evangelicalism and the corruption of the evangelical movement really started, I think, with a core of people who included the founder of Christianity Today who wanted a new kind of evangelicalism and that was their term – new evangelicalism… They wanted to do away with certain evangelical distinctives and embrace a kind of ecumenical diversity instead. And slowly and gradually that’s what they did. My argument would be today, these days, you could read Christianity Today, you barely will find any actual theological evangelicalism in the magazine at all…”

“The distinctive of evangelicalism is we as evangelicals believe the Gospel, which means that spiritual redemption is the only true remedy for what ails fallen humanity… The Gospel is about sin, righteousness and judgment, but it’s not politically correct these days to preach about those things and it’s amazing and appalling how few pastors are willing to break those political conventions and go against the spirit of our age. It’s just not fashionable to do that and truly proclaim the Gospel.”

Doctrinal Affinity. One fact often downplayed is Phil’s unapologetic affirmation of the doctrinal principles that define the MBA. In Phil’s own words to me, “I’m a dispensationalist, cessationist, and young-earth creationist.” You can see his signature appended to our current speaker doctrinal/position statement below:

DSC06497Shifting gears a little, I would like to comment on how evident it was that the men benefited from his ministry to them. First of all, the initial response showed that there was a keen interest in what Phil brought to the table. There were over 100 more men in attendance in comparison to the same event last year, representing several churches who had not participated in recent days. While there may have been other factors that also played into the increase (a drop in expenses, and a venue change from a campground to a local church facility in the Twin Cities metro), Phil’s reputation as a preacher was not, I am confident, a neutral factor in the upsurge.

I had several older men approach me afterwards, both pastors and laymen, who spoke well of the benefits they received. One veteran pastor noted “this is one of the best Men’s Fellowships we’ve ever had… perhaps the best.” Another confessed his skepticism of the invitation going in, but said with conviction, “I don’t know how you couldn’t have been blessed and challenged by what we just heard these last 2 days.” One of the most encouraging comments came to me in a feedback survey response:

“This was the most worthwhile Men’s Retreat that I have ever attended. Men of all ages (I’m 67) could relate to Phil Johnson’s message, and grow from his consistent scripture-based teaching.”

DSC06327-001I enjoyed very much the personal time I was able to spend with Phil along the way. We spent nearly 6 hours traveling between Marshall and the Twin Cities, due to Phil speaking at our church on Sunday. The conversation did nothing to reduce the impression that there are many things we would hold in common, and I was actually intrigued to hear of how familiar he was with people and voices in “our circles,” and the high regard he held some of them (even as he observed that there are some of those who didn’t appear to have a high opinion of him).

Conclusion

I don’t pretend to know everything the future holds. In the whole scheme of things, this event may be a mere flash in the pan. I know that for me, it has shown that we have friends we can appreciate and benefit from- and not just nationally known figures like a Phil Johnson, but the pastors and churches who came to hear him. It showed me the need for people to lead. As much as we don’t want the return of a Fundamentalism centered around a centralized, personality-driven leadership, neither is it efficient to be permanently mired in committee doing nothing because we can’t reach a consensus and we are concerned about negative response.  It seems to me that in our (right) emphasis on the separatist nature of the Fundamentalist idea, we have too often neglected and forgotten the “big tent” aspect of Fundamentalist fellowship. I am hopeful that this event will serve as a reminder to others that “not all fellowship is created equal,” and that there can be blessing and benefit in centering around common principles to better accomplish the work God has called us to.

Official MBA Report on the Men’s Fellowship

In light of other posts, the latest edition of the MBA’s official publication, the North Star Update,  might interest some of you. It includes a follow-up article by Phil Johnson to his conference messages.

Reflections, Part 4- The Matter of Music

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

There are few topics potentially more divisive in Fundamental Baptist circles or even American Evangelicalism in general than the topic of music. I have been involved on conversations on the topic enough in the past to understand that I am unlikely to convince anyone of my specific conclusions in a single blog post, and such an attempt is not my purpose here.

Rather, it is my intent to examine it as a possible obstacle to cooperation and fellowship, such as we had when Phil Johnson addressed the Men’s Fellowship of the Minnesota Baptist Association.

“What?” you might ask. “Phil Johnson is a musician?”

Well, not that I know of, anyway.

The issue of music as a hindrance to fellowship, in this case, usually goes to a general principle of what is tolerated in the ministries of Grace Community Church and its related ministries. The most extreme example and often-cited objection typically is the music used in their Resolved conferences, targeted at college students and held from 2005-2012.

The sense that I get is that as is true in many churches, there is not one single school of thought on music shared throughout the congregation. John MacArthur himself has been both critical of the excesses of contemporary worship, and affirmed the historic Christian tradition of hymnody with a list that would pass about any conservative Christian’s immediate evaluation. This message is one that would have many traditional Fundamentalists consulting their chiropractors the next morning because of pain caused by repetitive, vigorous nodding.

I have a long-time friend who serves as the pastor of a small Regular Baptist church in Southern California. He is about as traditional in his music at his church as they come. His perspective on GCC is that for the environment in which they minister, the congregation has a perception of being a proponent and defender of conservative worship and traditional hymnody. He frequently  attends the annual Christmas concert held there, and his perspective is that virtually all of the music performed there would pass muster at most Fundamentalist congregations today (though he did admittedly cringe when he mentioned the rendition of “Little Drummer Boy”).

The question seems to me to be how much should music affect the boundaries of our fellowship and cooperation?

The answer is not as easy as it might strike some of us. I daresay that most of us with conservative music tendencies have active members whose listening habits, at the very least, do not match up neatly with our conclusions and established personal practices. In my own church, I am certain this is the case. This variety would also be true, I suspect, if your congregation’s supported missionaries were placed under scrutiny.

Many of us have, to this point, successfully avoided situations where we have had to actively partner with congregations who use the instrumentation and styles reminiscent of the rock culture on their platforms. But for those of you reading this who belong to the MBA, let me ask you: if one of our churches were to bring in a trapset, or employ a cajón in the course of their corporate worship music, would that in itself be sufficient grounds to expel them from the Association? Should it be?

The fact is, whether we like it or not, we live in a setting where we have been conditioned to accept many musical styles as normal, whether or not we personally would affirm everything about them. I have heard ringtones- ringtones- on the phones of some Christians that would have gotten me suspended from my Christian high school 25-30 years ago (and I’m not kidding about the suspension). You can hardly go into a store or restaurant these days where you don’t hear music that many Christians have found to be objectionable for various reasons (and more often than not, rightfully so). Just as vernacular speech of the day inevitably ends up in our personal conversations (I had to laugh at a dignified PhD friend of mine who employed the word “dude” in casual conversation), it is inevitable that some of these things will influence some Christians. The point is not whether or not this is a desirable or positive development. The point we must contend with is how do we respond when we encounter that influence?

As much as some might like to disfellowship over music at the Association level (something that has not actually happened, so far as I am aware), I have to this point never heard of a congregation placing a member under discipline because they “got their Getty on” (is that even a phrase?). Unless we are prepared to demand complete unanimity on music conclusions in our own congregations and throughout our Association (something I am absolutely certain is not the case in the MBA, anyway), I don’t think we can make the music issue a reason to divide with Phil and company, especially when they would share many of the same struggles and frustrations many of us might have in this matter.

Feel free to pursue this matter further in the comments. I’ll even turn moderation off, if you guys promise to behave… J

I hope to conclude this “Reflections” series next entry by considering why the Phil Johnson ended up being, from my perspective, a very good choice.

Grace Alone: Music By Josh Bauder Available for Pre-Order

Listing on iTunes

Listing on Amazon

Congregational settings are available free of charge at newhopemusic.org

Josh is the son of Kevin Bauder of Central Seminary… but don’t hold that against him…  🙂

I am privileged to know Josh, and have worked alongside him a couple of times in camp settings. Josh has played for a few other settings I’ve been involved in, most recently at our MBA Men’s Fellowship. He is someone who loves the Lord, and uses his skills as a musician to magnify Him.

The album will be available October 19. You can listen to previews at the links above.

Reflections, Part 3- Theological/Practical Concerns

Part 1 Part 2

Another common objection that has been aired is differences in doctrine and practice between churches like those in the MBA and the positions  and practices of MacArthur and Johnson. I will list and address some of the most frequently cited ones.

  • Speakers who have Charismatic/Continuationist leanings. GCC has in relatively recent days used C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries to speak from the GCC pulpit and be featured as a main speaker for a conference directed toward college-aged people. John Piper would be another example of a well-known individual who has articulated a continuationist position.
  • Matters of Polity. John MacArthur and GCC are unapologetic advocates of elder rule, a modified system of Presbyterianism that does not include a human authority structure over multiple local congregations.
  • Theological Points of Disagreement. Well-publicized issues over the years would include the Lordship salvation issue, the blood/death of Jesus, and the eternal sonship of Christ.
  • Music. Need I say more?

The first matter is, like Mohler’s, complicated. There have been a lot of things I have heard and appreciated that have originated from people in the Sovereign Grace Ministries orb. I use and recommend Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say I Do, for example, as a good resource for marriage or pre-marital counseling. How Can I Change? by Mahaney and Robin Boisvert is another good counseling resource. Many of the materials authored by Joshua Harris that I have read have value, and I would generally commend them to you. It should also be noted that things in that group are in a state of upheaval due to a couple of highly-publicized scandals, which I will not address here, not because they aren’t important, but because the point here is doctrinal/practical position, and not the conduct and behavior that deviated from their own established principles based on God’s Word.

Optimized-StrangeFire-GracetoYou-JohnMacArthurOne thing I think has to be taken into consideration is how John MacArthur (and Phil Johnson) have confronted the Charismatic matter directly. If you are going to do any reading or preparation on the matter at all, if you don’t go to Charismatic Chaos, you do yourself a disservice. It is a great resource, and JMac’s position comes out very clearly in it. To build on that, next month, their church is hosting a conference (and will publish a subsequent book on the theme) under the title of Strange Fire, confronting these matters quite directly. Their overall position as unapologetic champions of cessationism is well-documented and well-established.

Another consideration overlaps into the next matter. As prominent as MacArthur is nationally, he is not, in the end, a supreme dictator on all matters, but is one of several elders. My understanding is that the original invitation to Mahaney was not MacArthur’s personal idea. Putting it another way (though it isn’t a fully even parallel)- there are men in the leadership of the MBA who were not in agreement with the Phil Johnson invitation, and though that decision met the overall approval of the executive board, it was not, in the end, a unanimous decision. We Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones who have to live with decisions we aren’t always fully supportive of. I expect that would be to some degree applicable to the matter at hand.

The idea of polity differences is another frequently cited concern. As independent Baptists, we tend to favor some form of congregationalism (the “P” in B-A-P-T-I-S-T, of course,  being the priesthood of the believer!), usually coupled with a single pastor/several deacons arrangement. In the interests of full disclosure, this is currently the arrangement at our church, and we have no immediate or long-range plans to alter it.

At the same time, I know of several settings where Fundamentalists have had a form of polity similar to what is advocated and practiced at GCC. There are Bible churches in New England I know of, whose roots are in the IFCA, who have basically the same kind of polity structure as GCC. They used to invite some of the professors from my alma mater to speak at their Bible conferences all the time.

One of the knocks against TMC/TMS graduates can be that they have a reputation for going into a church with a long-time established history and practice of Congregationalist polity, and quickly bringing it to a point of upheaval and division because of their quick implementation of plural elder governance. This is a perspective I have heard from more than one GARBC pastor in the West. In my conversations with Phil, interestingly enough, he acknowledged the problem, saying that 1. The reputation was well-deserved, and 2. It was a problem. “I counsel these guys all the time to back off,” Phil said to me very candidly, noting that while they were convinced of the position, it did not rank high enough to divide a church over.

Without trying to make a hard case for one position over the other, one frequent objection I have heard communicated on this specific point is, “Well, they aren’t Baptist! Whatever else I might see in our MBA documents, the only pertinent passage in our Confession of Faith says that a “gospel church” is to be “governed by (Christ’s) laws,” and “that its only Scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the epistles to Timothy and Titus.” However more specific any of us would get in our application, I do not think there would be anything there that would preclude a church that practiced either of the models I have referenced. In other words, it is possible to be a Baptist congregation and advocate some forms of plural eldership.

There have also been objections where Theological Points of Disagreement have been cited. I’ve mentioned some of the specific issues above. Without taking the time to analyze each one thoroughly, I have heard positions advocated by MacArthur in his “Lordship” materials, for example, from others in decidedly Fundamentalist settings (such as the FBFI, for one example). While not everyone would support everything he has said in these areas, I doubt every Fundamentalist Baptist would want to identify with every single, specific position someone like Mark Minnick has championed over the years, either. There are going to be some differences in our conclusions. Unanimity on every issue ought not to be a requirement for any form of collaboration.

I’ve said enough for now. I’ll give music its own post, next.

Reflections, Part 2- The Charge of Inconsistent Separation: The Matter of Mohler

Carl F. H. Henry, R. Albert Mohler, and Billy Graham talking during the week of Dr. Mohler's inauguration-

Carl F. H. Henry, R. Albert Mohler, and Billy Graham talking during the week of Dr. Mohler’s inauguration, 1993

When critiquing the selection of Phil Johnson as the speaker for this year’s Men’s Fellowship, a common concern that was raised was the inconsistent practice of separation. When asked to elaborate further, many people would point to the frequent inclusion of Albert Mohler as a speaker at Shepherds Conference. Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. One of the concerns most frequently cited with Dr. Mohler is his association with Billy Graham. Mohler chaired the Graham Crusade in Louisville in 2000. The seminary is also home to the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry.

The Mohler issue is complicated. The conservative resurgence within the Convention has been well documented, and there is no doubt that Mohler has been among the most important figures in the movement. There is also no getting around the fact that Billy Graham has been a prominent presence within the SBC (not to mention American Evangelicalism) for decades. As I am understanding it, Mohler has explained that at the time he was asked to chair the crusade, he had expended most of his convention capital by purging the liberals from the seminary, and could ill-afford to alienate Graham supporters by distancing himself from the crusade. My understanding (and this is a fact worth is worth noting) though, that his agreement to associate with the crusade was conditioned upon there being no Roman Catholics or theological liberals involved in the Louisville effort- a condition the BGEA quietly consented to.

Regarding the matter of the school of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry- it is my understanding that Mohler’s reforming was a process of years. One of the things that accelerated the transition process from theological liberalism to theological conservatism was the establishment of the School of Evangelism- a new institution under the Southern Seminary umbrella, that allowed an entire faculty to be built immediately from the ground up, while the School of Theology went through a more deliberate process of time. This new school was funded by a substantial donation by the BGEA.

Pastor’s School, Hammond, IN, 2008

Now, as someone firmly entrenched in a heritage of separatism, I understand why this course of action is of concern to many. At the same time, making changes, especially substantial changes such as the ones undertaken by Mohler and his conservative SBC colleagues, will not happen overnight. Even within our own historical tradition, there have been those who determined to remain and reform rather than immediately departing, and remained until they were expelled. It is possible to identify with someone’s position, disposition, and convictions without affirming everything in someone’s methods. I believe history will show that like Josiah of old, Mohler  was a man who eventually “purged the land,” though even in Josiah’s case, the process is said to have come to a state of completion in Josiah’s 18th year. To disparage PJ/JMac for association with Mohler who was associated with Billy Graham would be like disparaging Bob Jones University, who is associated with Ron Hamilton, who was associated with Jack Schaap… but I digress.

My observation is that under scrutiny, almost anyone will have a charge of inconsistency that will stick somewhere. The matter of association with Mohler is not, in my mind, any more problematic than  partnerships and identifications forged within Fundamentalism over the last decade or more.

To be continued…

Encouraging Day

MARBCJennifer and I took the opportunity today to drop in on the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Association of Regular Baptist Churches, hosted by Calvary Baptist Church in Rochester. It was great to see some people we knew from our days in Iowa while students at Faith, and members at Altoona, and some familiar faces from relationships we have formed since serving here in Minnesota.

Though the congregation I serve in has a long-standing history as part of the Minnesota Baptist Association, I am greatly encouraged to see the commitment to doctrine and local church ministry among these brothers. It was good to hear the report of church planter Steve Gilbertson, whose efforts are being actively supported by both the MARBC and the MBA (as well as individual congregations in both fellowships). Church planter Jerry Miller, recently ordained by Faith Baptist in Albert Lea, serves as another example of positive overlap, as MARBC and MBA pastors joined together to grill determine the fitness of the candidate last week 🙂 , and are actively joining together to support his efforts in establishing a work in the Sioux Falls, SD area. In my assessment, there is a growing respect for like-minded congregations and pastors to pursue ministry partnerships and see the work of God go forward in the state that is teeming with promise. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for like-minded congregations here in the state of Minnesota in the coming days!