Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Cremation… ID-ing false teachers… Church membership… Women translators)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question.

I like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

Or maybe I answered your question already? Check out my article The Mailbag: Top 10 FAQs to see if your question has been answered and to get some helpful resources.


I can’t find any Scripture about cremation. Is this practice another pagan tradition Christians have accepted? I, myself was thinking it’s okay, but now I’m unsure. Thanks.

Thank you so much for setting a super example for us all by a) wanting to do the godly thing about this, and b) searching the Scriptures to find your answer.

You didn’t find any Scriptures about cremation because Scripture doesn’t mention cremation, and there are no related biblical principles that directly indicate that we either should or shouldn’t participate in cremation. And, no, the way cremation is practiced today in Western culture, it is not a pagan practice. Therefore, cremation is an issue of adiaphora, or Christian liberty.

I think Todd Friel has done a good job of answering this question from his “burial is preferable” perspective…

…but I don’t find it compelling enough to move me from my “either way is fine with me” perspective, and I feel like some of the things he says are stretching it just a tiny bit. A few reasons:

  • In the same way that the overwhelming majority of people – even many Christians – don’t make the Ephesians 5 connection between husband and Christ, and wife and church in a wedding ceremony unless it’s explicitly explained to them, the overwhelming majority of people – even many Christians – aren’t going to make the connection between burying someone and the resurrection of the dead at a funeral unless it’s explicitly explained to them. Naturally, I’m all for those explicit explanations during those respective ceremonies. I’m just saying it’s not an automatic connection most people make merely from witnessing a wedding or burial.
  • If you’re buried long enough, your remains are going to decompose and disintegrate, just like someone who is cremated, dies in a fire, is buried or lost at sea, is eaten by a wild animal, etc. If you’re being buried instead of cremated because you want to be sure you have a body to be resurrected into, I would encourage you to do a little more study on the science of the decomposition of the human body. God is able to resurrect every saint no matter what happened to her body after death. And besides, you’re getting a new body anyway.
  • I think a perfectly biblical, and possibly even more strongly Scripturally supported argument could be made for stewardship. Burial is typically much more expensive than cremation. What about the person who would rather be cremated and give the difference in cost to his church? What about a struggling family who could scrape together enough for a cremation, but would have to go into debt for a burial?

This is an issue you will have to pray about, talk with your family about, and maybe even discuss with your pastor. If your conscience would bother you to be either buried or cremated, don’t violate your conscience. A few more resources that may help:

Burial vs. Cremation on Wretched TV

What does the Bible say about cremation? at Got Questions

What does the Bible say about cremation? by John MacArthur


Is Prophetess X a false teacher?

What do you think about the teaching of Apostle Y?

Can I get your thoughts on LifeWay Women’s newest divangelista1?

I’ve received several questions along these lines in recent weeks. Lemme just give you the quick and easy answers to these.

I would never literally bet my life on something, but if I were so inclined, I would feel perfectly comfortable betting that nobody who goes by the title Prophet/Prophetess or Apostle is doctrinally sound. In my experience, everyone I’ve encountered who has gone by one of those titles has been a New Apostolic Reformation heretic (NAR doctrine is literal heresy – another gospel). So, if you come across somebody who goes by one of those titles, there’s no need to sweat whether or not you should read her books or follow him on social media, just avoid all of them them all together.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t think it has caught on widely, yet. It pains me to say this, but if you’re trying to find out if a certain female author or teacher is doctrinally sound and you need a quick rule out without doing hours of research on an someone you’re not familiar with, I would recommend avoiding any author or conference speaker platformed or promoted by LifeWay Women (the women’s division of LifeWay).

I’m not saying every author and teacher LifeWay Women features is necessarily a heretic or false teacher, I’m just saying that enough of them are that it’s reasonable to draw the conclusion that that’s mainly the type of woman they like to promote. (I mean, you don’t see them promoting women like me or Susan Heck or Martha Peace, do you?) I’ve written articles on many of their featured teachers. I’m not familiar with all of them, but all of the ones I am familiar with are biblically problematic.

And, of course, you can always use my article Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own for tips on researching any of these or other teachers.

Can I please, one more time, beg y’all to stop searching for the diamond chip in the pile of Women’s “Bible” study poo and just study directly from the text of Scripture? You don’t have to vet the Bible or worry whether or not the Author is doctrinally sound. God took care of all that for us.

And if you’re looking for some great women to follow on social media, blogs, or podcasts, or some wonderful pastors to listen to in your leisure time, click here.

1“Divangelista” is just a slang term I coined because the phrase “popular women’s ‘Bible’ study authors” is too long and cumbersome for writing. It’s a combination of the words “diva” and “evangelical” and rhymes with “Sandinista” (if you’re old enough to remember them) for no particular reason.


I came out of the New Age and am looking for a good church. I went to your recommended list and found a church I was interested in. It looked great at first, but it appears they have a rather strange ‘membership’ proposition. It consists of you going to membership classes, then in front of a panel of elders, then you have to attend for up to six months before your ‘interview’. Honestly, I find this bizarre, unusual and is this really necessary? Please could you comment, or get back to me as we have been looking for a spiritual home for a few years now. Thanks.

I’m so happy for you that the Lord is leading you to seek out a doctrinally sound church!

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say, based on no other information than what you’ve given me, that this is probably a very doctrinally sound church. Typically, the reason churches have membership processes like this is that they’re trying to make sure, as best they can, that they don’t admit lost people into membership. The membership classes are for you to learn about the church – their doctrine, their practices, etc. The six month waiting period and the interview are for the church to get to know you and observe the fruit of your life – to see whether your walk matches your talk, so to speak. During this process, they can get a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re actually saved and growing in holiness, and you can get a good idea of whether or not this church is a good fit for you and your family.

Here’s what I would suggest. If I’m understanding correctly, you read all of this information on the church’s website, right? Why don’t you try visiting the church for several weeks and see if it even seems like a church you’re interested in. If not, the membership process is moot. If so, set up an appointment with the pastor or appropriate elder and ask him any questions you may have about the membership process.

If you end up needing to find another church, be sure you carefully peruse all of the church search engines and other resources at the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

I would also encourage you to listen to this brief sermon series my pastor preached earlier this year about church membership. (Our membership process is similar to, though not quite as extensive as the one you described.)


I agree with you about women’s preaching. But I have a question, what do you think about when a woman translates the message of the preacher? I’m a missionary in Mexico and over here they don’t see a problem with women preaching in most of the churches. So one time at our church my husband gave his testimony in English to the American community and I translated in Spanish, and the other day someone asked me when I would like to preach on Sunday at the Mexican church and I was like “no thank you, I don’t think that is something I will ever do” but this person said: you have preached already. When you translated for your husband…. I personally don’t think is the same. But what are your thoughts?

You are correct. Translating and preaching/teaching are not the same thing, and a woman translating for a pastor or teacher is not something that falls under the biblical prohibition against women pastoring, preaching, or instructing men in the Scriptures. I, myself, have translated for worship services in the past.

That being said, because of the confusion and biblical ignorance of the people you’re working with, it sounds like the wisest thing would be for a man to translate if at all possible, and for you to take the women aside and disciple them in a proper understanding of the Scriptures that govern the role of women in the church.


We understand and agree with the value and Biblical reasoning behind church membership. We are in a small town with limited church options. The most solid church here is a church that requires believer’s baptism for membership. My husband would be more in line with paedo baptism and was baptized as an infant. He is a solid, Biblical, regenerate believer. Because of this we cannot be members. I have no idea what we should do in this situation.

OK, let’s take a deep breath and put things into biblical perspective. As you know, church membership is very important and shouldn’t be treated as trivial, but in a situation like this in which you’ve done everything you possibly can to pursue membership, but it’s impossible, your husband is not sinning by not going through the formal membership process. (You didn’t specify, but from your message, it sounds like you either have been baptized as a Believer or would be willing to submit to credo baptism.) Let me offer you a few thoughts:

  • (This first thought is for my unmarried readers, and is not meant as a criticism of you.) Single ladies considering marriage – it is extremely important that you and your intended be as close to 100% agreement in your theology as humanly possible before you get married. As you can see from this dear sister’s dilemma, differing views on things like baptism are not a “no big deal” proposition, and can cause issues in your marriage and in parenting.
  • If you haven’t already done so, the two of you need to make an appointment with the pastor and discuss your concerns, beliefs, and questions. Some churches have a provisional type of membership for situations like this.
  • Have you thoroughly scoured all of the church search engines at the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page? Perhaps there’s a new church you’re not aware of, or another church in a neighboring town that would be a better fit for your family.

If this church is absolutely the only option available, and you’ve talked with the pastor, my counsel would be for you to go through the membership process (assuming you’re credo baptist) and for both of you to attend and serve faithfully, as far as is possible (most churches don’t allow non-members to serve in certain ways or positions). If your husband’s convictions about baptism change at some point, he can then pursue membership.

And, as I suggested to the previous reader who asked about church membership, I would also encourage you to listen to this brief sermon series my pastor preached earlier this year about church membership. I think you’ll find it encouraging.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Church, Sermons

What the Bible Says About Church Membership

“The Bible doesn’t say Christians have to join a church.”

Are you sure about that? Because most people who say that don’t seem to know their Bibles very well. They’d probably know a lot more about what the Bible does and doesn’t say about joining a church if they were joined to a solid local church.

If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me say:

Christian, you need to be a faithful, invested member of a doctrinally sound local church.

You might have noticed that, often, my first instruction to a new Christian or a sister seeking counsel is to find a doctrinally sound church to join.

One of my most shared resources is the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

Maybe you’ve even explored some of my materials explaining how crucial church membership and faithful attendance are, such as…

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly

7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast: Is This Church for You? with Michelle Lesley and Amy Spreeman

…just to name a few

But just why is church membership so important? What does the Bible really teach about church membership?

Today, I’m going to turn things over to my pastor, Dr. Lewis Richerson, to explain. Below is an excellent three part sermon series he preached earlier this year on church membership. I found it very helpful and interesting, and I hope you will, too.


Is Joining a Church Biblical?


Church Membership as Covenant


Meaningful Church Membership

Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Church Leadership Qualifications: Biblical or Pragmatic?

Originally published February 21, 2017

leadership-1959544_1280

When it comes to leadership positions in the church we often get ourselves into unnecessarily sticky situations because we put practical considerations – who is available, who is most talented, who is willing, etc. – above biblical qualifications.
When we fill a position of leadership or responsibility at church we first go to Scripture to find out if the person we’re considering for the position is biblically qualified to hold it. Practical considerations come second. A few examples:

1.

An elder or deacon just died and the church needs someone to replace him. The first place you go is 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and you start by weeding out the men who don’t fit those qualifications. It doesn’t matter how willing they are or how great of a job they would do or what kind of connections they have or how much money they could bring into the church, they have to meet the biblical qualifications first.

2.

Your church is located near a neighborhood full of Chinese immigrants, most of whom don’t speak English. Someone comes up with the commendable, Great Commission-honoring idea to start a Bible study to reach out to the men and women of this community. The only person in your church who speaks Chinese is a woman, so she’s the natural choice to teach the class, right?

Wrong. We start with the biblical qualifications for teachers, and one of them (1 Timothy 2:12) is that women are not to teach men. She could certainly teach (assuming she is able to teach – language alone doesn’t make someone a good teacher) a women’s class, or a male could teach the class in English and she could translate, or a man could take the time to learn Chinese before the church begins offering the class, or if there is a Chinese man in the class who is able to teach, he could teach the men and she could teach the women. But the woman doesn’t teach a co-ed class herself because Scripture forbids this.

3.

A young couple starts attending your church. After a few months, they step up and say they’d like to sing on the worship team. They’ve both got great voices and would radically improve the quality of the music on Sunday mornings. As you chat with them about joining the team, you find out they’re living together (unmarried). They’re both well aware that this is sin, but disagree with what the Bible says about adultery and fornication and have no intention of repenting, marrying, or moving out. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 are quite clear that people who continue in rebellion after being called to repent are not even to be members of the church, let alone lead in worship.

Remember that the practical way is not always God’s way. Remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Remember that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12). Remember when Saul did what was good in his own eyes instead of obeying God’s word (1 Samuel 15). Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they conducted worship their own way instead of God’s way (Leviticus 10:1-6).

Obeying God’s word is not always easy, practical, or convenient, but it is always best, biblical, and blessed.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: My “Christian” Family Member Bears Rotten Fruit

Originally published October 24, 2016

mailbag

I have a family member, *Fran, who claims to be a Christian, but follows several major false teachers, drinks, habitually lies, is very proud, boastful, and manipulative. She has been shown that these teachers are false but chooses to follow them anyway.

Should I treat her as though she were a sister in Christ by going to her and rebuking her and going through the “disciplinary” steps in hopes of reconciliation? Or should I go about it as if she weren’t a sister in Christ?  I have been praying for her and for wisdom for myself to handle this in a God honoring way.
(*Name changed)

It’s always difficult to watch a loved one choose sin over Christ and false doctrine over sound doctrine. Praying for Fran and for God’s wisdom and guidance are the first and best step.

You’ve asked about “going through the ‘disciplinary’ steps in hopes of reconciliation.” I believe what you’re referring to here is the process described in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

This is the basic outline Christ has given us for disciplining sin in the local church. One thing to notice about that last step is that if the person sinning does not listen to the church, the church is to excommunicate (remove, or disfellowship) him from membership and regard him as someone who is lost and in need of the gospel. This brings us to the question of whether Fran is a member of your church or another church. A church obviously can’t excommunicate someone who isn’t a member of that church. This helps us to see that each local body is responsible for disciplining its own members.

If Fran is a member of your church, then, yes, the steps in the Matthew 18 passage should be applied. The wisest course of action, especially if you’ve never done something like this before, is to seek the counsel of your pastor or an elder as to the best way to approach Fran and handle the meeting. Set aside some one on one time to talk to Fran, and be sure you listen to her as well. Part of that one on one meeting is for you– to make sure you are correctly assessing the situation, not, for example, reacting to a rumor you heard, a misunderstanding of an incident, etc. Lovingly and humbly point her to the Scriptures she has transgressed. Pray with her if she is willing.

After that initial meeting, give her some time to consider what you’ve said and to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart. Check back in with her at a later date and find out if she has repented. If not, prayerfully gather two or three others Fran likes and respects and repeat the process. If she still doesn’t repent, take those two or three people, meet with your pastor or the appropriate elder, and seek his guidance on the next step to take.

You didn’t specify in your e-mail, but it sounded as though Fran is not a member of your church. In this case, you really don’t have any ecclesiological redress (i.e. excommunication) to back you up. What you have is a family member who appears to be a false convert because she is bearing the fruit of someone who is unsaved rather than the fruit of someone who is saved.

I would again encourage you to meet with your pastor, an elder, or a godly, older, spiritually mature woman at your church for counsel as to the best way to proceed. It might be possible to carry out the first two steps of the process simply as an act of love and concern, considering what steps you would take in your personal relationship with Fran if she refuses to repent. First Corinthians 5:9-13 is a good passage to study as you consider this situation:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This passage is also written to the church body regarding church discipline, but we can glean from it, as well as from the Matthew 18 passage, that there is to be some noticeable degree of separation between Christians and individuals who call themselves Christians yet unrepentantly persist in sin.

As you mentioned, the whole point of lovingly confronting someone you care for about her sin is to – for the good of her own soul – point her back to Christ so that she may first be reconciled with Him through repentance and forgiveness, and then be reconciled with her church family and others. Two good Scriptures to remember and take to heart when we have no other choice but to approach a sinning sister are:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

It can be difficult, painful, and embarrassing to hear someone tell you you’re in sin. Put yourself in that sister’s shoes. Treat her as kindly and mercifully as you would want someone to treat you. We never confront another in her sin with the motive of shaming, punishing, seeking revenge, or proving her wrong and ourselves right. That is not the gospel. It is not how Christ treats us when we sin. If she repents when you approach her, forgive and rejoice with her in the good work Christ has done in her heart.

Additional Resources:

What is Excommunication in the Bible? at Got Questions

What does the Bible say about church discipline? at Got Questions

A Church Discipline Primer at 9 Marks

In Order that You May Know at Grace to You


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should I Join a Church Pastored by a Loved One?

 

We are just coming out of a non denominational church environment, and we’re so excited to have found a new, doctrinally sound church. However, my son-in-law is the assistant pastor. Is it wise to consider joining a church where your son-in-law is in a pastoral position? I am concerned as this may be crossing boundaries in some respects and I’m wondering if we would be better to seek out another church.

I suspect a lot of people might wonder if it’s a good idea to join a church where their close family member is the pastor, minister of music, or in another pastoral leadership position, so this is a great question to tackle.

Naturally, when we have a decision to make, the first thing we do is to find out what Scripture has to say about the issue. It would be so much easier to answer this question if the Bible clearly said, “Thou shalt/shalt not join a church pastored by a relative,” but, as with so many other specific scenarios, God’s Word doesn’t really address this issue. We have to pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance as we seek to make the most godly decision possible:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life

There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this question. A lot of it is going to depend on your particular relationship to your particular family member, which position he holds in the church, and how spiritually healthy the church is. But mostly, it will depend on whether God is truly leading you to this specific church or not.

If this is the only doctrinally sound church available to you, join it. Sound doctrine is more important than potential family issues.

If it’s a strong, healthy church, you have a solid, loving, relationship with your loved one on staff, and you’re convinced through wisdom, prayer, and circumstances that it’s God’s desire that you join this church, then go the direction God is leading you and join it.

Having been a member of a couple of churches in which a pastor’s extended family were members of the church, and even when extended family members simply attend the same church together and none of them are on staff, I would encourage you to think about the following points and sit down with your daughter and son-in-law and have an open and honest discussion about these things and how they might be handled. A sit-down meeting like this will help give you more insight as to whether or not you should join the church:

•What are your daughter’s and son-in-law’s thoughts about you and your husband joining this church? Would they be uncomfortable in any way with you joining the church? Encourage them to be completely honest about concerns and problems they foresee arising, and lovingly hear them out.

•Honestly and objectively consider the emotional and personality dynamics of your relationship with your daughter and son-in-law. Would your son-in-law feel tempted to make church decisions that would please you rather than following God’s leading or the pastor’s direction to do something else? Would you be tempted to be critical or manipulative with your son-in-law if you didn’t agree with his decisions? Could you graciously submit to your daughter’s leadership (without trying to tell her what to do) if she were leading the area of ministry you were working in? Ministry is hard enough without the added pressure of trying not to offend a family member, especially a parent.

•Recall or imagine the worst thing you’ve ever seen or know of happening in a church. Now imagine that happening in this church with you, your husband, your daughter, and son-in-law as members of the church, and your son-in-law in a position of leadership. What would be the impact on your familial relationships with one another?

•What’s going to happen to your personal relationship with your daughter and son-in-law if a problem arises in the church and you’re on opposite sides of the issue? What if it’s such a huge problem you and your husband have to leave the church? How will that affect your family?

•One thing I have always encouraged pastors’ wives to do is to have at least one good, godly friend outside the church she and her husband serve. That way, she has someone who’s not personally involved with the church who can pray for her, offer her objective counsel, and with whom she can freely share her burdens. Your son-in-law needs that too. Consider whether you and your husband could be a greater support and godly counsel to your daughter and son-in-law by not joining their church.

•If you decide to join the church, are there any “ground rules” that either you and your husband or your daughter and son-in-law feel would be beneficial to your relationship as family members, as church members, and as assistant pastor to church members? It may be helpful to discuss these, write them out for clarity, and agree to them before you join the church.

•Bear in mind that any negative situation that might happen in the future is not something you can foresee right now. Even if something nasty does end up happening in the church it doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong in deciding to join the church. God may put you in this church specifically for the purpose of being a biblical example and influence in that future situation that He knows is coming, even if it’s extreme enough to cost you your relationship with your daughter and son-in-law. Our calling as Christians is not to maintain family relationships at all costs, but to follow and obey Christ and His Word no matter the cost. Will you – and they – be able to do that if you join this church?

•Remember that the final decision on this issue is up to your husband, and God calls you to graciously submit to whatever he decides.

Pray and discuss these things with your daughter and son-in-law, and ask God to lead you and your husband to a wise decision.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.