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Faith of our Fathers Pastor Spotlight: RG Lee, part 3

Payday Someday

Jezebel When R. G. Lee pastored the First Baptist Church of Edgefield, South Carolina, he gave a devotional during a prayer meeting called "Payday Someday." A deacon told him afterwards that he had some pretty good material and needed to work on it some. Lee did! He ended up preaching "Payday" more than 1,200 times! This was arguably the greatest American sermon in the twentieth century. Lee is perhaps the greatest Southern Baptist preacher of all time, and "Payday" is perhaps the greatest Southern Baptist sermon. "Payday" is a narrative sermon. Lee masterfully tells the story of Naboth, Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah as a theater tragedy with eight scenes: the real-estate request, the pouting potentate, the wicked wife, the message meaning murder, the fatal fast, the visit to the vineyard, the alarming appearance, and payday itself.

Ahab and Jezebel cheat Naboth out of his vineyard, and Jezebel signs a letter ordering his assassination. It looks as though evil will triumph and go unnoticed by God. Lee erupts, "Where is God? Where is God? Is He blind and He cannot see? Is He deaf and He cannot hear? Is He dumb and He cannot speak? Is He paralyzed and He cannot move? Where is God?" Then, Lee assures his audience, "Wait just a minute, and we shall find out." As a result, Elijah announces God's judgment sentence upon Ahab and Jezebel, "Ahab, as the Lord God liveth before whom I stand, God sent me here to tell you that someday, someday, where the dogs licked Naboth's blood will the dogs lick thy blood, even thine. And Ahab God sent me here to tell you that someday, here, by the walls of Jezreel the dogs will eat Jezebel." The sermon is about God's judgment. God must and will judge sin. He may not punish today or tomorrow, but He will punish eventually.

Lee pauses the story after Elijah passes God's judgment sentence and begins to drive home application. He tells his audience that "Payday Someday" is written "in the constitution of God's universe." God has revealed the reality of judgment in His Word, and it cannot be sidestepped or avoided. Sin will be repaid 'Someday.' Lee lists certain sins and the payday God promises for them, "Oh, you can take God's name in vain, if you will, if you're indecent enough to be a profane swearer, but I have a book that tells us about the cursers payday, 'God will not hold him guiltless who taketh His name in vain.' You can tell lies, if you will, forgetting that lying lips are an abomination unto God… Here's the payday, 'All liars,' says this book, 'shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.' You can drink your rotten booze, if you will, or legalize it, if you will, and go home and not know the keyhole of the door from the mouth of mammoth cave, your wife from a baboon, or the railroad track from a clothesline, but I have a book that tells us about the boozer's payday, 'Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise… at last' that is someday, 'at last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.' And liquor never touched an individual that it didn't leave an indelible stain. Liquor never was served in a home that it didn't plant the seeds of dissolution and misery. Liquor never got a place in a community that it didn't lower the moral tone. Liquor never was legalized by any government that it didn't increase that government's troubles… You can live to flesh and sex, if you will, like thousands do, but I have book that tells us about the payday for that, 'the works of the flesh are these: adultery, fornication, uncleaness…' Well, what's the payday? God says that, 'He who soweth to his flesh will of his flesh reap rotten flesh, corruption, carrion, which buzzards love.'"

Lee presses play on the story and describes how God's payday came on Ahab and Jezebel. An arrow kills Ahab. He is stood up on the chariot while the bottom fills with his blood. Then, the dogs leap up in the chariot and lick his blood, "according to the word of God spoken by Elijah the Tishbite… God said it, and it was done. 'The wicked shall be turned into Hell with all the nations that forget God.' God says that, and it shall be done!" Lee's point is that just as God's promised payday came upon Ahab, so God's promised payday will come upon all sinners. God's payday continues to come to bear as Jehu, the newly anointed king of Israel, is told to blot out the house of Ahab. Jehu kills Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel, and soldiers place his body in the vineyard Jehoram's parents stole from Naboth. Lee points out the irony, "Listen, the vineyard they got by shedding Naboth's blood is now stained with their own blood as it flowed in the veins of their son Jehoram. God's payday train is coming into station, and all the powers of men and hell can't put on the brakes…" Finally, Jehu commands eunuchs to throw Jezebel down from a palace window. They do, and the dogs eat her, leaving her head, feet, and hands. Lee pleads with his listeners to escape the sinner's payday for the Christian's payday though Jesus Christ, who took the sinner's payday. "Jesus became all that God must judge, so that we, in Him, could become all that God cannot judge."

One cannot adequately set forth "Payday Someday" as it deserves. "Payday" is a masterpiece. It is meant to be heard. I encourage everyone to listen to it. If you have heard it before, I encourage you to listen again with fresh ears. If you have never heard it before, listen for the first time to maybe the greatest sermon from perhaps the greatest preacher in the long line of Southern Baptist pulpiteers. May we be terrified at the reality of God's judgment on sin. We deserve the fate of Ahab and Jezebel. We should be food for the dogs, and much worse. May tears fill our eyes as we consider the lost who are certain to face the dogs of judgment let loose by a holy God. May we be overjoyed and awestruck that King Jesus received the full force of God's payday on our behalf. God crushed him and healed us. May we resolve to plead with sinners to be reconciled to Christ, because there will be a payday, someday!

Jon Akin

The Death of Liberalism Covered by the ERLC

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has a link on its website referencing several articles about the toll that Liberalism has had on the church. The article from the LA Times has been referenced by some of our favorite bloggers here and here. You can read it here. The LA Times article and another article entitled "God-Lite Doesn't Cut It" from the National Review tell a story that should be of great encouragement to the minister who strives to preach the scriptures as authoritative in our lives. This should strengthen our resolve to be committed to the authority of scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. It might stun you to realize the articles came from secular sources, but it is worth noting how the secular world looks at the problem of liberalism in the church. May this ERLC page make us grateful for the men of our convention who fought to win this battle over the “faith once for all delivered to the saints”. May we realize that the battle for the Bible was not just about rescuing poor theology, but the battle for the Bible was about rescuing the perishing.

Also, not to beat a dead horse but the ERLC has a link on alcohol. It, like the other alcohol links we have referenced, is very clearly and well put together. The page goes through a number of scripture references to help the believer think through this issue.

Nathan Akin

Praying for Change, Sitting in Silence

What servant of Christ with any vision for the church and the glory of God does not pray to be used as a conduit for God’s Spirit to flow through for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom of Christ?  Certainly, our greatest prayer must be for the gospel to be worked into people’s hearts, resulting in changed lives and true worshipers of the Father.  However, when I glance into the mirror of my life, I too often notice I am praying for change while sitting in silence.  Those of us who believe “the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” (Rom. 1:16) are the very ones who deny its power by never heralding the message.  Dr. John Avant, V.P. of Evangelization at NAMB, shares a testimony reminding us of the need to step out of our comfort zones in order to discover, or rediscover, the greatest joy in life.  May we be those who pray for change and speak of the supreme satisfaction for which the world is hungering.

Mohler On Apologetics in the Postmodern age

Dr. Mohler is running a three part series on Apologetics at his website. The series initially appeared in October of 2005, however; this is of special interest to me as I prepare to teach Apologetics to juniors in High School this upcoming school year. The first part of the series really drives home Dr. Mohler's thought that apologetics are as important now as they have ever been. I think that Dr. Mohler reminds us very clearly that we must “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us”, and he points out that this need is at an all-time high as truth comes under attack. I know this will be helpful for me and I hope that it will be helpful for all believers in this postmodern age. Part 2 of the series has been released and is entitled “The Beginning of the Apologetic Task.” The final installment has been added entitled "You Are Bringing Strange Things to Our Ears: Christian Apologetics for a Postmodern Age, part 3".

Nathan Akin

W. W. Finlator (1913-2006): The Passing of a Southern Baptist Progressive

Last week witnessed the death of W. W. Finlator, one of the most prominent Southern Baptist liberals during the 20th century. Rev. Finlator was a native of the Raleigh, North Carolina area who spent most of his ministry in that city. From 1956 to 1982, Finlator served as the pastor of the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. Pullen, long one of the most progressive churches in the SBC, had been an openly liberal congregation for decades; Finlator's predecessor, Edwin McNeal Poteat, was perhaps the best known SBC liberal of his generation. Pullen Memorial is probably most famous for being one of two churches disfellowshiped from the SBC in 1992 for the congregation's endorsement of homosexual practice.

During the SBC Controversy, it was commonplace for conservatives to label denominational progressives as "liberals." In reality, the liberals (or "moderates," as they preferred to be called) were a coalition of Baptists comprised of loyalists to the denominational status quo, champions of a leftist social agenda, proponents of Neo-Orthodox theology and a handful of what might be called "classical" theological liberals. Finlator was certainly no denominational loyalist, and much of his theology was to the left of Neo-Orthodoxy. But doctrinal formulations are not what Finlator is most known for. Rather, he is known for his advocacy of liberal politics and his relentless call for Southern Baptists to embrace a public theology akin to the Social Gospel of the early 20th century.

Finlator's understanding of Baptist identity was rooted in a view of freedom strongly influenced by enlightenment individualism. As such, he believed that every Christian was free to interpret the Scriptures according to the dictates of his own conscience. Sometimes this meant an individual's interpretation contradicted or redefined some of the teachings of Bible. Often this meant that the Bible was better understood as a "prophetic" indictment of cultural ills than a message of God's redemption of individual sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

While serving as the pastor of the Pullen Memorial Church, Finlator became well known for his commitment to a liberal socio-theological agenda. He was a leading Southern Baptist proponent of the Civil Rights movement. He was also a committed pacifist, opposing the Vietnam War in particular and military force in general. Finlator was an outspoken defender of women's rights, inviting the National Organization of Women to meet at Pullen Memorial. As a progressive Baptist, he was also a fierce advocate of church-state separation of the ACLU type; in fact, the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU was formed at Pullen Memorial. Finlator also spoke out against poverty, defended workers' rights, advocated the homosexual agenda and was a fierce opponent of the death penalty.

Finlator's views were not without controversy, even within his own progressive congregation; in 1982, Finlator was encouraged to retire by members of his church who felt like he was spending too much time championing political causes. In retirement, the Finlators became members of the Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, also an openly progressive congregation (and the other church to be disfellowshiped in 1992 for its pro-homosexual posture). In retirement, Finlator frequently contributed articles to the Raleigh News and Observer, often championing the liberal causes so dear to him.

Despite a firm belief in a leftist view of Baptist distinctives, Finlator was a leading proponent of downplaying many crucial tenets of Baptist identity. Pullen Memorial became one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches to practice open communion, and by the early 1970's the congregation had embraced a view of open membership that did not require baptism by immersion of potential church members. This progressive view of the ordinances is directly tied to Finlator's criticism of what he believed to be Baptist sectarianism. A champion of the Ecumenical Movement, Finlator tirelessly (and unsuccessfully) encouraged SBC involvement in the National Council of Churches.

As an outspoken progressive, Finlator was a critic of the Conservative Resurgence, especially when it was brought to bear in his own city. He was especially opposed to the conservative redirection of Southeastern Seminary that occurred in the late 1980's, writing several columns critical of the seminary in the News and Observer. Finlator eventually gravitated away from the SBC orbit; both Pullen Memorial, where he pastored, and Binkley Memorial, where he worshiped in his later years, are affiliated with the liberal "shadow-denomination" the Alliance of Baptists, an organization that embraces many of Finlator's social causes, including openness to homosexuality.

W. W. Finlator was an outspoken liberal in an overwhelmingly conservative denomination. As a pastor, he challenged traditional Baptist polity. As a public theologian, he challenged traditional southern culture–sometimes rightly so, as in the case with racial issues. As a political activist, he challenged traditional American values. Finlator was a Baptist gadfly without parallel, one who was always honest about his progressive beliefs and always willing to buck the status quo. Many of his convictions prefigured the leftward drift of a later generation of "moderate Baptists" who continue to champion some of the same leftist causes that Finlator publicly defended for the better part of sixty years.

Assessing the Emerging Church

The so-called "Emerging Church" movement has garnered quite a bit of attention the last few years. Actually a spectrum of movements ranging from relatively conservative but non-traditional churches to thoroughly postmodern congregations, emerging churches have become all-the-rage in many evangelical circles. This is the case among many younger Southern Baptists who identify themselves with such phrases as "emerging," "emergent," "incarnational" or "missional." Some of these pastors and churches are simply describing new ways of being On Mission (a once-popular slogan in SBC life). Others are questioning not only tradtional methodology but also orthodox theology.

Over the last several months a number of Southern Baptists scholars have weighed in on the debate over the emerging church phenomena. John Hammett, professor of theology at Southeastern Seminary, read a paper at the 2005 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "An Ecclesiological Assessment of the Emerging Church Movement." You can access a PDF version of Dr. Hammett's paper here. A number of thinkers also contributed articles to the Spring 2006 issue of the Criswell Theological Review, including several leaders associated with the various segments within the movement itself. For those unacquainted with the emerging church, a helpful place to start may be Ed Stetzer's brief introduction to the movement, written a few months back for Baptist Press. Dr. Stetzer serves as a missiologist with the North American Mission Board of the SBC.

All Southern Baptist pastors, denominational workers and seminarians would do well to avail themselves of these resources and become acquainted with the ever-growing, ever-popular, ever-controversial emerging church movement(s).

Faith of our Father’s Pastor Spotlight: R. G. Lee, part 2

LEE'S PREACHING METHOD RG Lee

R. G. Lee's oratorical style creatively turned a phrase into the topic of his sermon while passionately and doctrinally proclaiming God's Word. Lee's sermon "The Face of Jesus Christ" is an excellent example of his methodology. The text for the sermon is 2 Corinthians 4:6 which mentions "… the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." He used the last phrase of the verse as his subject matter and title. Lee introduced the Bible as a "vast portrait gallery." He listed God's portraits in the Bible: Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Paul, etc.

These biblical portraits set up the contrast for the thesis of his sermon, "But on every page we will get evidence that all its portraits lose their splendor in the greater glory of the face of Jesus Christ. Of His face, His blessed face, His sweet face, His dear face, we would now speak. What kind of face is it?" Lee said that Jesus' face was: sad, shining, stained, smitten, set, scorching, shrouded, and seen. Jesus had a sad face, which speaks of people rejecting his teaching, his compassion on the lost, and his sorrows. Jesus' face was a shining face because his appearance transfigured, his face blinded Paul on the way to Damascus, and his face shone like the sun on Patmos when he revealed himself to John. Jesus had a stained face. This speaks of the tears he wept for Lazarus, tears shed for Jerusalem, blood he sweat at Gethsemane, blood he shed at Calvary, and even spit he received from Roman soldiers. His smitten face speaks of God bruising him and soldiers beating him. Jesus' set face points him toward Calvary. His face scorches because he violently cleared the temple and furiously judges his enemies. Jesus' shrouded face speaks of his death. Yet, his seen face proclaims to the world that Jesus is alive and "we shall see him as he is!" Lee, "The Face of Jesus Christ" in Payday Someday and Other Sermons, 68-87.

This sermon shows how Lee used the scriptural phrase from the verse and turned it into the theme for his sermon. He strung together meditations and thoughts on the theme for the body of the sermon. Indeed, turn of phrase is the most striking feature of his preaching. Mostly he used scriptural phrases or phrases loosely derived from the scriptures (i.e. the sermon title "Christ, Above All" is derived from Philippians 2:9-11 and John 3:31), but there are features other than turn of phrase to note quickly. His oratorical abilities were also demonstrated by his use of: repetition, poetry, and rhetorical questions.

An example of each of these features will make evident Lee's oratorical method of preaching. His repetition is seen in the sermon "The Blood of Christ" where Lee preached (italics mine), "The blood in drops, falling like red rain from the cross… The blood in rills, pouring down like red wine from the crevices of a wine press… The blood, splashing like shafts of red sunlight in the face of his enemies, is saving blood" Lee, Blood of Christ, 3-26. The poetic aspect of his preaching was not only seen in the artistic way that he strung words and phrases together, but it was also seen in the way he used poems in his sermons. One sermon about the Gadarene Demoniac he quotes the boy's testimony by using a poem:

In loving kindness, Jesus came

My soul in mercy to reclaim;

And from the depths of sin and shame,

Through grace he lifted me.

Finally, Lee used rhetorical questions to drive home his points. In his sermon "The Paths of Disappointment" he said, "What shall it profit a man if he be a great artist and know not Jesus, the one altogether lovely? What shall it profit a man if he be a great architect and know not Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone? What shall it profit a man if he be a great baker and know not Jesus, the Living Bread? What shall it profit a man if he be a great banker and know not Jesus, the Priceless Possession? What shall it profit a man if he be a great biologist and know not Jesus, the Life? What shall it profit a man if he be a great carpenter and know not Jesus, the Door? What shall it profit a man if he be a great doctor and know not Jesus, the Great Physician? What shall it profit a man if he be a great farmer and know not Jesus, the Lord of Harvest? What shall it profit a man if he be a great geologist and know not Jesus, the Rock of Ages?" Lee, "Paths of Disappointment" in Whirlwinds of God, 33. Ralph Turnbull described Lee as an orator when he said, "Part of the secret of Lee's effectiveness lies in his oratory. He is one of the few men left in this era who has a link with past oratorical preaching" Turnbull, A History of Preaching vol. 3, 221. Comparison, repetition, clever phrases, poetry, and much more demonstrate the depth and uniqueness of Lee's abilities.

Lee was best known for his powerful preaching. The two biggest influences on Lee's preaching were T. DeWitt Talmadge (whose sermons were published in full in the New York Newspapers every Sunday) and Sam Jones, the great evangelist. Paul Gericke said, "Lee's own preaching style would combine the biblical wisdom and oratorical skill of Talmadge with the down-to-earth applications and evangelistic fervor of Jones" Gericke, The Preaching of Robert G. Lee, 13-14. Lee possessed old era oratorical skills repackaged and applied to his modern hearers. He commanded attention. People could listen spellbound for more than an hour. Turn of phrase, repetition, rhetoric, and poetry demonstrated his oratorical skill. He used these to build his sermons.

Modern preachers need to study the way that Lee used words in a Spurgeon-like way to engage his audience. Words are extremely important, and preachers should be intentional in the way they craft their sermons to dynamically communicate God's Word. Lee and old era oratory may both be resting quietly in their coffins, but the need to craft our words intentionally to effectively confront modern hearers has never been more alive! This and much more can be learned from the preaching of Robert Greene Lee.

Another Seminary President Weighs in on the Alcohol Issue

Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a "First-Person" piece on the issue of alcohol. It is replete with Scripture and helpful observations. Dr. Patterson even includes a section on Scripture verses that the abstainers must reckon with. This is another helpful entry by an SBC leader in the discussion.

Russell Moore on Baptism, the Church, and the Glory of Christ

Dr. Russell Moore recently preached a sermon at Ninth and O Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky on "Baptist, the Church, and the Glory of Christ." Dr. Moore serves as dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary and director of the seminary's Carl Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. The audio version of Dr. Moore's sermon has been available for some time at the Henry Institute's website. The sermon is now also available in both audio format and in the form of a "White Paper" at Southwestern Seminary's new website Baptist Theology. Be sure you take the opportunity to listen to or read this great presentation of the historic Baptist view of baptism.

SBC Highlights