AN OPEN LETTER TO PASTOR PAUL ELMORE AND CLEARVIEW BAPTIST CHURCH,
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
I came to Clearview Baptist Church seeking fellowship and Christian friendship - the kind that takes you as you are.
I had hoped I wouldn't have my spiritual gifts restricted or held against me. This has often been the case elsewhere.
At first, I held my peace in the light of Pastor Paul's admonishment to me when I first met him to refrain from participating in any meetings. He said that everything was strictly lecture format with no participation permitted. I quickly discovered that most meetings did encourage participation! I was puzzled by the contradiction.
Over time, I gradually began to contribute whenever anyone was encouraged to answer questions or offer comments. Tuesday night's bible study was especially lively with everyone participating.
I never kept anything about myself a secret. Everything I espoused relative to the bible was on my website which was mentioned to church leaders so I could be authenticated as biblical in my views and extended the right hand of fellowship. No one seemed very interested in doing this.
As the weeks went by, my hope to have meaningful conversations with members of Clearview relative to God's Word, fellowship and personal matters dwindled. No one, including the Pastor seemed interested in digging that much into God's Word, nor being a friend to me in Christ. The only communications between me and most members never got any further than banter about 'my restaurants' - which was my namesake but not my reality. The only serious words from the Pastor were his initial admonishment to not participate in any meetings. I went through some tough times losing a dear friend and pastor; but no one offered me any consolation, although I made it known.
One day, Pastor Paul called me on the phone and asked me to meet with him in his office for a private conversation. I was delighted. After all these weeks I would be able to have a serious conversation with him.
He said, 'I want you to do something for me.' I was elated that he would ask me to do anything. His answer burst my balloon.
He wanted me to keep silent whenever I was in church. 'Use your discretion', were his words. Keep your mouth shut was his meaning.
Let's walk a mile in my shoes for a moment. What is any believer's obligation before God when he hears a verse being mangled beyond recognition or the gospel being perverted to include human doing and has an opportunity to present an accurate point of view from Scripture?
No particulars were presented to me by Pastor Paul of unbiblical comments or of unchristian like behavior. The content of what I said was never addressed, only the fact that I made comments and someone took offence was in view.
I thought how all the classes and meetings I attended encouraged participation and how everyone did indeed offer their personal comments however unbiblical - and that was often the case.
I attempted to recall the substance of my comments so as to detect if there was indeed anything to bring before the Lord in confession of sin. I recalled that the Tuesday night teacher insisted that salvation was a reward based on different amounts of work depending upon God's sovereignty. I rose my hand and when I was called upon, I commented that salvation was not a reward based on human doing but a free grace gift based on a moment of faith alone in Christ alone + nothing else.
Another time in that class I recall speaking of the bible teaching one not to have close relationships with people who would tempt one to fall away from the faith. Unbelievers in particular were in view in the passages under consideration, but also carnal Christians who are into things that could cause great harm to a faithful believer if continually exposed to such things. There were several people in the class who took great exception to this and boasted that their faith was rock solid and could stand up to any temptation.
I recalled another comment I made that Jesus Christ acted solely out of His humanity during His ministry to the cross with the exception of when He showed His glory at the Mount of Transfiguration. The teacher accused me of denying the Diety of Christ. So I elaborated a bit more showing that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man at the same time, and operated out of both essences at various times. The next week I provided a detailed exposition of this subject to show that I wasn't holding an heretical view that denied our Lord's Diety.
One week the subject in Sunday School was Romans chapter 8. Relative to the phrase, 'those who live by the sin nature will die,' I commented that the word 'die' could not mean eternal death here as maintained in class but physical death. Believers are in view who are secure in their salvation. Furthermore, no one goes to hell for living by their sin nature, but for never trusting in Christ as Savior. I explained that individuals who sin by excessive drinking, smoking, worry or doing drugs for example will certainly die early, be they believers or unbelievers.
When one of the deacons preached for several Sundays that repentance from sin, i.e., a commitment to live a holy life be made effective in order to be saved; I pointed out to him privately that neither the word repent nor its concept appears in the gospel of John relative to salvation unto eternal life. I noted that the Gospel of John is one of the greatest of the books of the bible on salvation. I concluded that the few passages that contained this word elsewhere pointed to a repentance, i.e., a change of mind from not believing to faith in Christ unto salvation. Our discussion seemed to go quite well. There was no apparent acrimony, only a pleasant discussion and a pleasant farewell to one another.
And then there were the two members that maintained that religion and living by faith go hand in hand in the Christian life, especially in keeping the Ten Commandments in order to be saved or continue in salvation. After a discussion which ended up without acrimony, I provided a detailed study of religion vs. walking by faith to a young man. My comments on this subject gave hope to a lady. I advised her that living a life of faith began with confession of sin in order to remain in fellowship with God, but that her salvation was always secure. She ended up thanking me for taking the time to explain that she had absolute assurance of her salvation and wasn't under the Ten Commandments in order to keep it.
There were a number of other discussions I had with members of the congregation. Perhaps any one of these became an offense. Sometimes others will raise objections to what a believer has said - but can he be accused of causing a needless argument? I suspect that what I have done was considered unchristianlike and divisive. I recalled that Scripture commanded that one share ones faith in season and out of season. Might I suggest one examine what Scripture has to say on the matter:
The final straw...
It came during 'Revival Week' when a visiting evangelist was invited to preach revival from Sunday through Wednesday. The evangelist announced an early ending of the Sunday night service so that anyone for any reason who felt called could come up to the front and speak with him.
I felt called. His message on salvation seemed to include being committed to a faithful Christian lifestyle which I had never done in order to be saved. I moved forward because I did not want to go out into the night without speaking with him about this. All my Christian life I've had periods of success and failure. I have endeavored for many years to live a faithful Christian life, but never in order to get to heaven. I wondered how much a commitment he meant it might take. I could not recall any bible passage that was clear on the matter.
So I went forward and related to him that 43 years ago I was saved simply on the basis of John 3:16, 'Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.', i.e., a moment of faith alone in Christ alone to pay for my sins + nothing else.
He became quite concerned with what I said and brought me over to a church pew and sat me down. The congregation was still moving slowly out of the area. He emphasized that more than a single moment of faith was required. When I focused on Jn 3:16 he got angry and told me that to believe in Jesus was not sufficient. He pointed to 2:23-24 where it said. 'Many believed in His name but Jesus entrusted Himself to no man.' He said that the word 'entrusted' meant a committed lifestyle was required of one in order to be saved.
I observed that 1:12 indicated that believing in Jesus' name resulted in becoming a born again child of God unto eternal life and that 2:23-24 wouldn't contradict that. As a matter of fact, I pointed out that 2:23-24 did not say that the many who believed in His name were not saved, but that Jesus simply did not trust in their testimony. After all they were mere men, albeit just recently saved men, whose testimony would not be trustworthy at this point.
The evangelist shot up out of his seat, berating me loudly that a simple mental assent was not enough and that I was going to hell because to believe on His name required a commitment to Jesus in ones lifestyle. He said that it was much more than a simple mental assent.
I explained that believing in Jesus Christ could be described as a commitment to His work of paying the price for my sins, but that would not translate into having to commit to living a faithful lifestyle in order to be saved. I noted that salvation was not by works of any kind. The context of any salvation passage simply does not support this idea of a committed lifestyle in order to be saved.
I presented to him a dictionary definition of the word, 'believe' which I had with me which supported 'mental assent as true' to define believe. I also stipulated 1 Jn 5:9-13 defined saving faith as an acceptance of the testimony of God about His Son, i.e., a mental assent as true that eternal life was in God's Son.
I apologized for causing him to be so angry. Nevertheless, he boiled completely over, jumped out of his seat and darted away from me as if something struck him. His parting words, as he raced away, reached peak volume: 'You will burn in hell with your intellectual assent.'
I wondered what kind of evangelism that was that a so called 'lost person' by his definition would be invited to speak with him and then be treated this way.
I went off into the night completely devastated. My hopes for having any kind of fellowship at Clearwater were in ruin.
The next evening I got a message after repeated attempts to contact Pastor Paul about this awful matter. Pastor Paul said that I was not permitted to argue theology with anyone at Clearview Baptist Church at any time. I had been warned of this before, he said. This virtually meant to keep silent and violate my obligation before God to defend the faith in season and out. His tone was very negative - this was a last warning.
Walk a mile in my shoes before God and tell me my next step. I can be reached at 727-204-8189.
This came from the website for Clearview Baptist Church with my comments in brackets:
GOD LOVES YOU VERY MUCH-
The Bible says....
"God loves you so much that He gave His only Son, on your behalf, so that if you, by faith, accept Him, you will not perish, but you will have eternal life." John 3:16
(The Bible teaches that if you have "eternal life" you will go to heaven when you die.)
[Comment: A better rendering of this verse is:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Notice that the verb is 'have eternal life.' not will have. So a present moment of faith alone in the Son being given for you and you have at that instant moment eternal life. A moment of faith alone in the Son given for you and you immediately have eternal life. Nothing else is stipulated but this moment of belief that God gave His one and only Son for you and you have eternal life. ]
GOD IS PERFECT-
The Bible says.....
"Everybody commits sins, everyone is far from God's perfection." Romans 3:23
(No matter how hard you try to do what is right, you sometimes fail and do wrong. The Bible calls these wrongs, "sin.")
THROUGH JESUS CHRIST CAN YOU OBTAIN ETERNAL LIFE-
The Bible says....
"Everyone who, by faith, accepts God's Son, has eternal life, but whoever rejects Him doesn't have eternal life and they will remain under God's judgement of sin." John 3:36
Since sin can have no place in God's perfect heaven, the Bible teaches that it was God's plan that through His Son Jesus you can receive forgiveness for your sin. God sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin. God also raised Jesus from death so that he is alive today.
IS NOT THE END IF YOU ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST AS LORD-
The Bible says.....
"The final result of sin is death, but God offers us the free gift of eternal life if we, by faith, accept Jesus Christ as Lord." Romans 6:23
The Bible teaches that if you do not accept Jesus as Lord you will not receive forgiveness of your sin, but remain under God's judgement of sin. When the Bible speaks about Jesus as "Lord," it means allowing him to be in control of your life.
[There is no verse in the bible that demands you accept Jesus as Lord in order to be forgiven of your sin. And certainly no verse that demands that you allow Jesus to be in control of your life. This requires an effort on the individual's part to live by our Lord's rule. Know anyone who has mastered that in this life???? That demands human effort and contradicts the nature of the free gift of eternal life. Free means no obligation on your part, you simply receive this free gift by believing it is a free gift that Jesus Christ paid the price for your sins ]
OR NOTHING ELSE CAN PROVIDE ETERNAL LIFE IN HEAVEN-
The Bible says.....
"God is so merciful that He gives us eternal life if we, by faith, accept Jesus as Lord; and even the ability to have faith is a gift to us from God. Eternal life is not the result of our doing good things, therefore no one can brag or take credit for obtaining it." Ephesians 2:8-9
Some people think that if they simply try to live right that they will go to heaven. The Bible teaches that you can never be "good enough," to earn heaven.
[You will notice that this is indeed true and rules out human effort to allow Jesus to be in control of your life. Salvation is by a moment of faith alone. If you quote the verse more accurately you will find that being saved is not of yourself, i.e., any commitment or effort at all:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." ]
EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO GO TO HEAVEN MUST ACCEPT JESUS-
In the Bible, Jesus said .....
"I am the only way, the only truth, and the only life, therefore no one can go to heaven except through me." John14:6
This is the good news of the Bible. God has provided the way to heaven for you through Jesus, but you must respond by accepting His plan. Not only will you go to heaven, but the Bible teaches that when you give Jesus control of your life, your life will have more meaning and purpose today.
[Again, no salvation passage demands that you give Jesus control of your life. No one is capable in doing that before being saved anyway. So it would be a false message at best. ]
INDIVIDUALLY ACCEPT JESUS AS LORD-
The Bible says.....
"If you say that Jesus is your Lord, and if you believe God raised him from death, you will be saved." Romans 10:9
The Bible uses the words "saved," and "salvation," to describe what happens when you accept Jesus as Lord. You are saved from God's judgement of sin in your life. The Bible teaches that God's judgement of sin for those who reject Jesus is eternal punishment in hell.
[This verse has been taken out of context and is best read within the context of chapter 10 which does not contradict the rest of Scripture which teaches that salvation is via a moment of faith alone in Christ alone plus nothing else:
Details available here.
ASK GOD IN PRAYER TO FORGIVE YOU FOR YOUR SIN-
The Bible says.....
"Everyone who calls out to God will be saved." Romans 10:13
Prayer is God's way for you to have a personal relationship with Him. Prayer is simply talking with God about your deepest heart concerns. There is nothing nor no one that God will not forgive if you humbly ask His forgiveness.
[Praying and calling out to God will not save you, a moment of faith alone in Christ alone will. Ro 10:13 says everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, i.e., everyone who relies on the capacity of Jesus to save you will be saved = a moment of faith alone in Christ alone + nothing. There is no demand that you call out something to God. ]
DO YOU WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN?
The Bible teaches that the only way you can go to heaven is to, by faith, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. It is very important to do that at this very moment since no one knows what the future may hold for them.
[Accepting Jesus as your Lord is not a requirement in order to be saved. A moment of faith alone in Christ alone to save you + nothing else is all that is stipulated in dozens of salvation passages. Jesus is Lord. When you trust in Him to save you then you will be under His lordship whether you like it or not. But there are no guarantees that the saved individual will always act like Jesus is Lord.]
Why not bow your head and read silently or out loud this simple prayer to God:
Dear God, please forgive me for my sins. Thank You for sending your Son Jesus so that I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Jesus, I receive You as my Savior and Lord and ask you to be in control of my life. Thank You for saving me and coming into my life. Amen
[Once you have expressed a moment of faith alone in Christ alone you are saved before you even begin to pray. Perhaps a prayer of thanksgiving would then be appropriate. Asking for forgiveness is not stipulated in Scripture as a requirement in order to be saved. Only a moment of faith alone in Christ alone is consistent throughout all of the passages in the bible that tell one how to have eternal life.]
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
If you prayed and asked for forgiveness and for Jesus to become Lord of your life, then God answered your prayer.
Saving faith is more than religion, it is a relationship.
[Saving faith is nothing of the kind. A moment of faith alone in Christ alone + nothing else secures the relationship but is not the relationship itself. Once one is saved, one is permanently placed into the body of Christ and is in a relationship with Christ and is commanded to act like it. But then again, there are no guarantees that the believer will act Christlike all the time]
God is spirit and you cannot see Him, but you can relate to Him through prayer, Bible study, and worship.
The Bible teaches that you should get involved in a local church so that you can grow in your understanding of God and be encouraged by other believers (Christians). Find a church that teaches the Bible and encourages people to make Jesus Christ Lord of their life.
[Once you are saved, I wholeheartedly agree that one should be encouraged to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their life. Interesting that this point is made here, inferring that making Jesus Christ the Lord of their life is an ongoing process and not part of what it takes to be saved.]
(The Scripture passages in this website were used in modern contemporary English for clarity. Careful attention was given not to change their meaning.)
[The version used is not a good translation. Suggest you stick to a more accurate rendering in English. The KJV or NKJV or NAS or the NIV follow the text more accurately]