Raise the Standard!

Many churches define their rules as ‘standards.’ Some standards are given a higher ranking than others and are labeled ‘convictions’ while others which carry less weight are ‘preferences.’  Different churches, attempting to determine what is important based on the Bible, asserts these standards upon the congregation.  Some churches even create defining boundaries of fellowship and partnership with their standards.  But I firmly believe that our standards are too many and far too low…

Our Standards are Too Low!

A standard, by definition, is a sign or a banner used in wartime to rally the troops.  It is a symbol placed conspicuously to mark a point of direction.

For the church, our standard should be singular.  It should be Jesus Christ.  He is our banner (Exodus 17:15-16).  If there is one symbol that must mark our direction, it must be the cross!  We do a tragic disservice to our church and community when we place any lower standard than this (John 3:30)!

Jesus Christ is our goal (2 John 9).  If anything else is raised up as the rallying point to Christians, then something else will become the measuring stick for Christianity.  If anything besides the perfection of God (Matthew 5:48) is patterned, then each generation will model their own goodness and righteousness… leading to a slippery slope of decay from the inside-out.

Standards are what many churches measure their members up against… Is his hair short enough?  Is her skirt long enough? Their music has drums in it!  I heard they went to the movies!  He didn’t wear church clothes to church!  Their family went to the beach!  Did you know that he smokes?  Ahhhhhhh!  The list goes on and on… It is a shame that these rules (mostly man-made) have become the criteria / yardstick for sizing up a person’s spirituality.  Are these better than measurements than Christ himself?  Should we substitute some rule or line-in-the-sand for the Standard that has already been raised?

Yes, certain rules are profitable. (I am not an anarchist, by any means, nor do I endorse throwing the baby out with the bathwater.)  And yes, they can reveal a direction – either good or bad.  But these should never be the end, they are only by-products of the goal: Christ-likeness.  The end is not living up to standards, it is raising the Standard in my life to be like Christ.

Our Standards are Too Many!

Many churches do religion like the US Government does legislature: when a rule is broken or a loophole is found, it is time for more rules.  For example, there are now about 20,000 gun control laws in effect in America.  The answer is not more laws – but to get back to the intent of those laws in the first place.  Wouldn’t you agree?

That’s where the Pharisees got off track.  They were good guys.  Really good guys.  Yet Jesus condemned this group of very righteous, religious followers the hardest.  Why?  Because they let their rules get the best of them.  Rules about clothes.  Rules about church.  Rules about family.  Rules about pleasure.  Rules about everything.  They ended up getting so caught up in the rules, they lost sight of why they wanted to be a Pharisee to start with – love for the holiness of God.

See if some of my observations apply in your situation… Standards often give a false sense of spirituality.  Standards give credence to comparing yourself to others, which is not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12).  Standards focus on physical sins of the body instead of the spirit, which is far weightier in the New Testament (Matthew 15:11).  Standards can make people inappropriately accountable to a pastor / leader, bypassing the convicting role of the Holy Spirit.  An over-emphasis on standards makes room for the false accusation of ‘legalist’ to be applied.  Too many standards always create double-standards!

A Simple, Sensible Solution:

Make your standard singular… Jesus.  If you must have ‘standards,’ make sure every single one has a Biblical principle behind it.  One of holiness, of purity, of godliness, of separation.  Principles are timeless – they never change with the culture.  Here are a few principles that make sense:

1. Separation from the world – Christians are called to be Christ’s.  We should look, talk, and act like a child of God.  Being a Christian is something that should define you as a new creature in Christ.  (Romans 12:2, 13:4, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, James 4:4, 1 John 3:3)

2. Separation between the sexes – Our culture is in a gender crisis.  The distinction is being lost as the unisex movement takes over.  But God has given each male and female a unique identity and, with that identity, unique roles.  (Deuteronomy 22:5 is a perfect example.  Men should not be putting on a woman’s apron & trying to play mommy; while women should not work on a construction site or serve in the military!)

3. Separation from sin – Far too many Christians are comfortable with sinful entertainment, sinful habits, sinful lifestyles, sinful cravings, sinful words, etc.  Our inward convictions must drive us from our sinful behaviors.  (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14)

4. Separation unto the LORD – True holiness is ‘unto the Lord’ and not just ‘from the world.’  Righteousness without humility is just prideful piety.  (2 Corinthians 6:17; Psalms 119:115; 1 Thessalonians 1:9)

For 4 Principles on Determining Questionable Things (gray areas) … click here.

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11 Responses to “Raise the Standard!”

  1. Patrick Jackson Reply 11/11/2010 at 5:15pm

    Pastor Nix,
    Hey, i have been watching your ministry through the eyes of your website for years now and have just finished reading your synopsis of standards. You have always left a big question mark in my mind as far as where you really stand theologically and philosophically ( are you IFB, neo-fundamental, neo-evangelical?). Yes our standard is Christ alone and yes the Pharisees took their standards beyond the law (His criticism was not so much in their rules but the motivation behind those rules – self glory, instead of sincere desire to have every part of their lives in line with the holiness of God). When reading your article, and past articles, it seems as you are moving away from the very faith and practice that birthed you in the first place (Shawnee, Crown, etc.) That would be fine if those institutions and their form of theology and philosophy was wrong but they are not. If we start with the premis of GOd’s holiness, then how do we display that holiness in our lives? Through convictions, standards and separation. With each passing generation and the onslaught of newer forms of sin and wickedness, each generation must add to the standards of previous ones. Your attitude (it seems) is one that mocks and belittles the stands that IFB have (music, dress, entertainment, etc.) lived for generations. THese standards don’t make us “holier-than-thou” but attempt to make us holy like GOd. Instead of being afraid to make a stand in our modern culture, the greatest show of compassion and love is to show them righteousness in this present day of darkness. I don’t care if the world views my standards as legalism. THe only ones who bemoan standards (unsaved or saved) are the ones who don’t have them and don’t want them. Yes, separation is unto the Lord but it must also be from the world. THey are one in the same action. The closer i get to Christ, the further i will be from the world. You can’t have one without the other. Christianity that demeans standards in fained humility is the ultimate prideful piety. Brother, I love and respect you. I am certainly not as smart as you (*wink) and don’t have your experience but i do have the Bible. I am not out against you. We are independent Baptist and certainly may have independent, differing opinions. I simply and humbly have just expressed mine. God bless

  2. Dr. “Action Jackson” (*wink) –

    Thank you for making me think! The article above should be tempered with another I wrote about Law (http://wp.me/pElZC-9f), especially the PS and points to ponder at the bottom … I recommend reading both to give a balanced viewpoint of my tendencies. You requested that I clarify who I am / where I stand theologically and philosophically. I don’t know about the other labels, but I would say that I am probably not an IFB in the sense that ‘they’ would not consider me one because of their opinion of the ‘F’ in IFB. The F stands for much more than the fundamentals of the faith. It has come to mean many standards / religious codes of conduct that, although I might practice, I don’t necessarily preach. I guess from their perspective, since I don’t line up with them, I am not an IFB.

    My article just states that we would do much better living by principles of purity, of modesty (for men & women – in much more than clothing), of identity (as Christians, as separate genders). I believe in principles (above) – more than standards. I would agree with Paul Washer that this Christian generation call upon God with their mouths, even seek Him in their hearts – yet their appearance, their cravings, their conforming is not unto the image of Christ, but unto the world’s image. The IFB Movement seeks to strap itself to the gospel as THE Bastien of Separation, Sanctity, & Soul-winning – and in so doing, it is slowing down the gospel mission of reaching the world. A recent study found that Fundamentalist pastors would rather (if forced) sacrifice communion over the altar call (Communion is an ordinance, altar calls are not). In this sense, I am not an IFB.

    I believe… Christ is grieved much more over a girl’s envy / jealousy than He is when she doesn’t wear culottes over her ski pants. Christ is grieved over a man’s gossip much more than He is if he is a smoker. Christ is grieved by our insatiable appetite for pleasure much more than our presence in a building that shows 3-D cartoons. Christ is not near as concerned about my liking a certain beat of music as He is about my longing for possessions and positions. Christ cares more about whether two teenagers gossip than if they hold hands. Christ is grieved more by our church’s lack of generosity (selfishness) than by the absence of suits and ties at church. Standards do not reflect or reveal the heart of Christ, nor can they – they fall short. Standards focus our attention of an outward adherence over an inward transformation. In this, I am probably not an IFB.

    BUT – if I’m not an IFB, then I don’t really know who I am. I am independent. I am Baptist. And since I still believe in the fundamentals – I am a fundamentalist. But I am not an IFB in their sense of the word. I don’t condemn them, but I know that I am not like them. I prefer the title Disciple. I hope that, when others observe my life, they might say that I’m a Christian. Anything else is unimportant to me.

    **Footnote: Separation is not only one-dimensional (as you mentioned). It is two-fold. Holiness (sanctification) is a separation unto the Lord, which requires a separation from the world. But there is a separation (which I have seen in many churches) which is ‘from the world’ but not necessarily ‘unto God.’ The Amish or Puritans are both separated, yet neither really as unto the Lord. Truthfully, we shouldn’t have to even mention ‘standards’ when Christ / Holiness is the goal… that’s the intent of the article above. “Let Christ be our Standard because anything less is to little and anything more is too much.”

    I too am only a young student of the Word. I have not made up my mind totally (I am still growing in my faith). I appreciate all of my influences, yet I am not like any of them – but more like all of them. I do not judge any IFB before me who chose to do it their way. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14:5 I often feel like a fish-out-of-water because of many of the things above. Yet here is where I find Christ & a balance of life. Hmmm – balance. That’s probably the hardest thing for me.

    Pastor Patrick Nix

  3. Patrick Jackson Reply 11/13/2010 at 11:27am

    Pastor Nix,
    Thanks for the quick response. I too thought of privately emailing my thoughts to you. In fact, I thought I had, failing to realize the post was public!

    There is a lot that could be countered (and then you could counter and we could do this all day without any real edification resulting). We both love God and both desire to serve Him passionately but both look at how to do so through the lenses of a different paradigm.

    I agree – sometimes our human labels are silly and don’t full describe what we are or believe but at the same time, they are important for they give others an easy, quick definition of who we are. I am unashamedly IFB because I fully believe the Bible make me an IFB.

    I agree with your basic premise – even our best “standards” fall way short. Is that reason though to have no standards or fail to preach any? Attitude determines action; belief determines behavior, inner man transformation of God reflects itself in the outer conformation to the image of Christ. One cannot claim transformation BY God without evidencing conformation TO Christ.

    I disagree that God is MORE concerned with the inside of man and LESS with the outside. I believe He is concerned with BOTH because if you are a new creature in Christ, both by necessity will change. Believing that most IFB are hypocritical (I disagree but no more than any other human) and judgmental (again, no more than any other) is in itself a hypocritical and judgmental statement. Most IFB, in their desire to be separated to the Lord, strive to separate from the world. No one can honestly judge their motive or intention and to do so is theologically and intellectually dishonest.

    I believe the old quip that “You are what you read”. Any Christian can get on the internet and blog all kinds of doctrine while seeming authoritative (not referring to you; just a blanket statement). Though my head is not in the sand and I am not excluded from other viewpoints, I do limit and control “outside” influences lest my theology and philosophy changes for the worst. I don’t believe that any modern viewpoint, doctrine or popular evangelical author is superior to the faith of my fathers and the ancient landmarks set in stone (Scripture).

    Instead of anchoring my belief to a blogger (again- just a blanket statement) I’m anchored to the Book. If that puts me on the fringe of popularity or acceptance then so be it. If I am in balance with modern Christianity than I am most certainly out of balance with the “faith once delivered.” A peculiar people are not a popular people and by their peculiarity alone are veiwed with suspicion and contempt.

    I will say that there are extreme quacks amongst IFB but so are there in other groups also.
    I don’t think I’m a quack… just want to make sure all my ducks are in a row.

    Love you brother. May God continue to bless you, your family and your ministry.

  4. I have to say that I have become increasingly disillusioned with much of our fundamental movement. As I get around more and more men that I always respected & looked up to and see them make a huge deal about outward standards and preferences, yet talk in a vulgar and petty way in private, that says a lot about where a lot of our fundamental movement is as a whole: obsessed with the outward at the expense of the inward. We can deny that charge all we want, but personal experience and anecdotal evidence have proven it to be true time and time again in my life. I know I still battle with a lot of the things that were instilled (with good intentions by good men) in me as being a “fundamental”, but I’m increasingly understanding that many of those things have nothing to do with the fundamentals of Scripture.

    I think we’ve confused what is a “fundamental” and what is not. A “fundamental” is the deity of Christ & inerrancy of Scripture, not whether or not I wear culottes. A “fundamental” is the same for all people in all ages, from the early church to the modern church. By the true definition, although I am a KJV only advocate, using only the KJV would not necessarily be a “fundamental”, unless you subscribe the the flavor of fundamentalism that says you can only be saved through the KJV. Although, I do have to add the disclaimer that using the KJV is certainly a desirable trait and, I believe, the correct position.

    I also think we’re confused about what Jesus did and did not do. We don’t need to ask “what WOULD Jesus do?” We just need to read “what DID Jesus do?” And what He did was so different than what we often do. He got labeled as a friend to prostitutes and publicans. And He never countered, denied, or refuted that claim. In fact, He seemed to wear it as a badge of honor when He told the pharisees that the publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of heaven before them.

    I just got done preaching a series on How To Become A Pharisee In Just 7 Easy Steps Or Less. I was very nervous about our people’s response, but I actually had so many people from our church come up to me and tell me how refreshing and eye-opening it was. Tell me that these don’t ring a bell:
    1. Make things that aren’t important and aren’t biblical your rules
    2. Define yourself by how well you keep your rules
    3. Find happiness in keeping your rules
    4. Get angry with anyone that doesn’t have your rules
    5. Feel like you’re better than everyone else because of your rules
    6. Convince yourself that God loves you because of your rules
    7. Beat yourself up when you break your rules

    And the key to all of that is the line “your rules”. Because so often, that’s what drives so much of our “Christianity”. It’s all about our rules. And we believe that because we keep our rules, it makes us a good Christian with a good relationship with our God. And that’s the problem: our rules drives the relationship. When the exact opposite is true: our relationship should drive the rules. That makes us a Pharisee. I really despise the term legalist, because that’s not the true definition of legalism. But so often I do find myself being a Grade A Pharisee. Pharisees had an unhealthy obsession with their rules and defined their standing, relationships and self-worth by their rules.

    By the time Jesus came to this planet, the Pharisees had developed a system of 613 extra-biblicl laws – 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws. And that was the problem. By the time Christ came it had produced a heartless, cold, and arrogant brand of righteousness. And their religious system contained a lot of flaws. And this to me is where so much of fundamentalism is today.

    The problems were this: New laws constantly were invented for new situations or inventions or technology. Accountability to God was replaced by accountability to men. It reduced a person’s ability to personally discern and know what Scripture said, rather than just what the Pharisees as the loudest, most judgmental voices were saying. It created a judgmental spirit in them. The Pharisees constantly confused personal preferences with divine law. They had no idea what was Scripture & what wasn’t. It produced a lot of inconsistencies. The punishment didn’t fit the crimes, a lot of times, and some things that should have been important, weren’t given importance. Their rules created a false standard of righteousness. They thought God was pleased with them, & were proud of themselves, but who did Christ slam constantly during His ministry? God wasn’t happy with them. In fact, they made Him sick. It became a burden to the Jews. And it just made life hard & difficult on regular people that just wanted to do right. One of the biggest problems of their system was that it was all based on external factors. How much you loved God was determined by what was outside, not inside.

    Now, when I mention all those things, who does that remind you of? It reminds me of a lot of people that call themselves “Independent, Fundamental Baptists”. I constantly hear things said like “if the line’s over here, then I want to be waaaaay over here in my separation so that I don’t even get close to breaking the rules!” There’s one problem with that: it’s unbiblical, it’s a burden that’s too grievous to be borne, and it’s not what Christ advocated. The Pharisees struggled with the same “I don’t even want to get close to breaking the rule, so I’ll go waaaay over this way” attitude that we so often exhibit. All their obsessions with things like “a Sabbath day’s journey” made life hard. God just told them not to pick up manna on the Sabbath day or work, but worship. Well, back then they placed the tabernacle 1,000 yards away from the rest of the camp. So the people would travel 1,000 yards to & from the tabernacle to worship. Well, by Jesus’ day, the rabbis concluded that since they weren’t allowed to work, but could go to the tabernacle in Moses’ day, & it was 2,000 cubits to & back, that they could only go 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath. But THEY found a way out for themselves. If they rested & ate something, then they could go 2,000 cubits more. So if they had something to do on the Sabbath & it required going more than 2,000 cubits, they would literally map out the journey ahead of time & place food by a tree, & rest there & then keep going. It was ridiculous. But notice the progression: God told us to rest on the Sabbath day…we could walk 2,000 cubits to the tabernacle on the Sabbath day…therefore I’m going to only walk 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath in order to not get close to breaking a very general command to rest & not to work.

    That’s exactly how they got rules that prohibited a seamstress to carry a needle in their pocket on the Sabbath or kept them from taking a bath on the Sabbath because they might get soap & water on the floor & rub it with their feet and it could be considered washing the floor. All of that stuff is foolishness and reeks of the modern day pharisaical ideas of “secondary separation” and “if this is the line of separation, I’m going to go waaay over here so I won’t ever get close”. If you create a new line, then you’ve become your own God and created your own standard and have therefore become a modern day pharisee.

    We want to justify those kinds of things by saying we’re abstaining from all appearance of evil. There’s only one problem with that: we don’t get to determine what’s evil and what’s not. We don’t define that for ourselves: the Bible does. And if the Bible is silent about it, let’s be silent. If the Bible is vocal, let’s be vocal.

    I have to be honest and say that often I feel as if I’m getting left behind by fundamentalism. And maybe that’s the truth. Many preachers and churches are moving. Not moving away from standards, but moving away from biblical standards into a man-made culture and monument of creeds and systems. There are so many good Bible believing men in our “movement”, but there are also some people that would be the exact same people Jesus would deride and rail against had He come in our day. I guess that’s the real question: if Jesus had come in our day, where would I fit in? Would I have been one of the people who would have willingly flocked to Him & been called to come follow Him? Or would I be called out by Christ for being cold, indifferent, and the problem, rather than the solution due to my obsession with rules & whether or not someone matches up to me & gains my approval? It seems to me that so often I would fit into the latter. And that’s something I’m neither proud of nor want in my life.

    And I know this is long, and I apologize, but I just started typing and this is where I ended up. I could have cut some of it off, but it would have watered down the discussion, I believe.

  5. Lonnie Mattingly Reply 12/28/2010 at 1:56pm

    You should order my sermon “Why All Those Rules.” The message does not deal with our intimacy with Christ which is obviously essential in pleasing God. It deals with understanding the difference between Biblical standards of seperation and rules given to help things be done decently and in order.

    Some related thoughts:

    I believe the Bible (KJV) is the final authority. I read many opinions and theories in the above article and responses.

    If in fact you also believe the Bible I suggest that you obey it rather than explain it away. I trust that, that is in line with your thinking also.

    In my 42 years of preaching the Word of God I have viewed much strange fire. It has often resulted in a mushroom of growth but the fallout has left little for the generations that follow.

    In a world that seeks acceptance I have observed many Christians (some very sincere) so blend into the wallpaper trying to avoid being peculiar that they have lost all their effectiveness as world changers.

    Finally I suggest:
    Read your Bible more than self help and church building guru propaganda. Read for enjoyment and information.
    Develop a real prayer life.
    Be faithful to a Bible believing Bible preaching church.
    Tell someone about Jesus daily. Be soul conscious. Talk about soul winning. Go soul winning.

    There is much more I could say in this subject. However I remember the familiar statement. “When all has been said and done, much is said and little done.” Time to practice what I preach.

    For Christ and for Souls
    Lonnie Mattingly

  6. I take it my comment didn’t make the cut! 🙂

  7. This really helps! I wish that I would have seen this as a teenager. No matter how many hours I spent soul winning, or how many times a week I went, I was never good enough. Instead of encouraging our youth group for soul-winning and inviting people to our anniversary Sunday, the church got phone calls because I was out with three other teenage boys, one who had already graduated high school. We were witnessing to people and passing out flyers. The teens went soul-winning Wednesdays and church wide was Saturday. Many times I was the only girl who showed up Saturdays so I would go with my brother. I was told that was the appearance of evil. I wish I would have been mature enough to realize that I just needed to please God, and not stress over pleasing man. I would not have been nearly as discouraged as a teenager had I realized my standards were only too low because I was not putting my effort into pleasing God first!

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