Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Where do I begin? I might as well start where it all started twenty-six years ago. The subject of divorce and remarriage. I want to remind you that none of these posts on various theological subjects will be a definitive statement of research, but rather, a narrative of my journey.

When I first began pastoring at age seventeen I had no idea of biblical Truth and Authority. That is particularly true of the subject of marriage. I thought I was suppose to marry anyone with a valid license. That may be an overwhelming reason to believe what scripture says about not "suffering a novice to teach" Of course I didn't know that reference either. It didn't take long for that to be corrected. I then went to the opposite extreme and came to believe no Christian should be divorced and, were they to be, there was no possibility of remarriage without living in adultery and grieving the Spirit for the rest of their life. The exception clause pertained to the engagement period in my newfound theology.

Enter 1980. I began to see the scripture as my sole authority and here is what I now know for sure about divorce and remarriage. I know no one should approach marriage casually. "What God has joined...no one puts asunder" is serious stuff in scripture. I also know that many opt out too quickly when trouble comes. Mary and I have discovered the forty-seven years we've stuck it out, and some of those years were unbelievablly difficult times, are now paying dividends. But it is often true that comes later not early on.

Having said that, I know it is true in scripture that divorce does not turn a person into a leper. In fact, in scripture, those hurting the most, and divorce hurts, are the ones Jesus gave the greatest attention to in expressing love and compassion. To see any action as invalidating the worth of an individual is certainly contrary to everything biblical.

So, while those things I know for sure here are some things I'm not so sure about yet I now hold to because of my understanding of the text of scripture. The Bible gives three reasons for a marriage to end. Death, divorce because of "porneia", [Matt.] and desertion. [1 Corth.] As I see it, the right to remarry is given because of the ending of the marriage covenant in each case. The marriage covenant is for life with these exceptions, but is not eternal as there is no marriage in heaven. I do not see in the text mentioned here a command to end the marriage covenant but the right to do so. I know God hates divorce but He did divorce Israel and established a New Covenant relationship. That choice may be made in these three cases it seems to me. I also believe that "porneia" is broader than adultery and really covers a host of sexual sins as a pattern. So, marriage is God's best, but divorce is permitted on certain grounds with remarriage is a viable option for the innocent party. Discernment and insight must be used to weigh what constitutes desertion obviously.

It is also obvious that each case must be examined individually, but always in a biblical fashion. Someone told me right after coming to this in the eighties that I was "cutting a hole in the fence of the marriage covenant and whose to say other chickens who shouldn't will go through." [Actual words.] My response was and is...we only teach what God says/allows as we see it and the guarding of the hole [so to speak] is in His capable hands.

The reason I say..."I'm not sure" on this is for two reasons. One is, I've held other views that I later had greater light on as I examined the text. While Revelation doesn't continue in my opinion, my enlightenment does. Also, good men stand on both sides of this issue so I always want to be careful of dogmatism when that's true. More light does come and I want to be teachable. But this is what I teach without rancor toward those who disagree or hold a different view.

Next time...divorced Deacons/Elders and Women in ministry. [It was my second call to reconsider my held views in those turbulent eighties.]


Monday, September 18, 2006


I have served as Pastor to several great churches not the least of which is Southcliff Baptist Church in Ft. Worth Texas. It was while there that a profound moment came to my life and ministry at the age of 40. To fully explain this event I will need to give a bit of background and follow this with a few individual posts on specific subjects. But the background first.

Having been born into an alcoholic family with little or no church ties at all, you can understand my lack of biblical knowledge of any kind into my first ten years of life. My sister then started dating a baptist preacher and all that changed for the good. It was off to church with some regularity. At age 13, under deep conviction and great fear, I responded to the gospel and was converted, baptized, and well on my way to a different life. My now Brother-in-law was my role model, the only real one I'd ever had, and like him I wanted to be. At age 15 I "felt called to preach" and told him so. He wisely accepted my leanings and tested them in September of 1955 by asking me to preach for him on a Wednesday evening. I did and the rest is history, you can do the math.

Ordained at 16, called to my first church as pastor at 17, three weeks before my 18th birthday, and married to a 17 year old girl whom I loved deeply, and still do, I was 18 at the time, I was on my way to being the best baptist preacher/pastor Southern Baptists had ever seen. [IMHO]

My hero in the faith, my brother-in-law, and my sister had long since gone to Chile as missionaries, where they served for over 35 years, so I had lost the one pointing the way. I found another. He was my father-in-law. A SBC evangelist lifted out of the oil industry and the planning and resources board for the state of Oklahoma, fired for witnessing on the job, he began to preach and replaced my need for a direction setter. It was at this time I began reading, not only J.M.Carroll's book "Trail of Blood," but the reformed writers old and new. It was A.W. Pink, with whom my father-in-law carried on a personal correspondance, that carried the day theologically for me. I now had my pace setters again. You can see the pattern setting up already. I wound up a rabid Landmarker, a Calvinist, a dispensationalist and having many other systems firmly in place. I then came to the place of a Christ in me/Holy Spirit life being as real to me as any system could possible be.

Don't misunderstand, all of this was genuine in me and I was learning to preach while developing sermons and reading all of this time. But it was a dependence on the regurgitated thoughts of others in which my confidence lay. My preaching was Truth as I heard and knew it, and, if people were to be believed, I did a fair to middling job of presenting it sunday after sunday. Add to that all the seminars and movements that capture preachers and I was one of the captured. I'm not condemning them or me, just setting the background for what I want to say later.

Before my friends jump to my defense and tell me how much I helped them, I want those friends to know I'm aware God did some extraordinary things in me, through me, in them, and through them to me. He takes us where we are and I, along with several churches, was hungry for God to be God and He said "Okay".

But in the late seventies and event took place. A couple, her husband had departed twenty years before leaving her to raise her daughters which she did marvelously, his wife had died of cancer, met and it was love. Marriage was decided upon. When I heard, the first thing I did was protect my theology. I couldn't do it according to my held view of divorce and remarriage which was embraced from a seminar teaching that I had jumped into with both feet. The funny thing is, they didn't ask me to or want me to, as a friend in Houston was going to perform the ceremony. Well, they married. They continued to love me, their somewhat self centered pastor, as evidenced by the fact that rather than rejoicing with them when they told me of their plans, my first thought was how it would affect me. In fact, those two now serve on my Board of Directors for my ministry and are dear lifelong friends.

But that brought me pause. Why had I been so quick to react to protect my theology? The answer came. It wasn't mine. It was another's and my fear of being challenged was to the level of my ignorance of my own. So in 1980, at the age of 40 years, I began a journey. No longer would I teach anything in the pulpit that I did not find in the text of the scriptures. I did not then nor do I now discount the value of baptist tradition. I simply believe it is not our guide for belief or behavior as an absolute standard. I do not hold the BF@M as an absolute standard either. While I greatly appreciate the effort to catalogue our uniqueness as baptists into a confession, I do believe we really are to be a people of the Book. So I can affirm such a confession with some reservations with a clear conscience but what I teach and believe must be the text of a scripture I trust.

The battle for inerrancy was now going on and I must plead ignorance of a lot of what was being done and said. I did not like the attitude of either side particularly and would defend my friends on both sides. It was during this time, arriving in Atlanta, a pastor, whom I did not know well, was speaking desparagingly about Daniel Vestal and I told him to keep his mouth shut or take me back to the airport. Daniel Vestal was a friend of mine and as conservative theologially and gracious personally as any person I'd known before or since. I may and did disagree with some of what Daniel and others were doing but I would not allow that kind if disrespect of a friend in my presence. I may have been a bit weak theologically but never lacked in ethics or guts. I would have told a moderate the same thing had he spoken the same way about my friends who were conservative. I will admit moving to Oklahoma, heart surgery, and many other things kept me from being politically involved along with a natural revulsion for it all. But my ministry continued with friends from both sides while I was hammering out my own place in the understanding of the scriptures.

It is during this time, the last twenty-five years, that I began to be sure of some things and not so sure of others. I'm going to write about both. I'm not asking anyone to agree with me, but rest assured, it will be what I think. This excercise is probably of little significance for anyone but myself and a few friends, but it will be my attempt to share what I see as really important to my journey. If it is of interest or help to anyone else, that will be a special blessing to me personally.

More to come, for good or bad, in PART I

Paul Burleson

Thursday, September 07, 2006


There is much conversation today on blogs about the N.T. model of a local church. I found this article to be most interesting no matter your personal perspective.

This is just stuff to chew on as I travel extensively for a couple of weeks and find it difficult to post. Enjoy whether agreeing or not.


An over simplified synopsis of Reisinger's basic theme is that the N.T. Church was an "organism" that embraced all believers and that the local organization/institution of that Church may have varied in structure or methods as ours may also seeing that there is no textual authority for such

By John Reisinger

"We reject the notion that there is a 'true, New Testament, institutional role model church.' No one can find such a system anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures! We would argue the same as the Anabaptist argued with the Lutheran when discussing baptism. The Lutheran chided the Anabaptist by saying, "Surely, sir, you believe there was at least one small infant in the Philippian jailer's household." The Anabaptist replied, "No, sir. The youngest person in that household was a sixteen-year-old boy." The Lutheran opened his Bible to Chapter 16 of Acts and said, "Where, sir, do you find your sixteen year old boy in these words?" The Anabaptist replied, "In the same verse that you find your infant child!"

I am not obligated to prove that something could not possibly be in the Bible. It is your duty to prove it IS clearly there if you claim Biblical authority for it. I can say that no single 'institutional' view of the church is biblical and therefore not mandatory, not only because there are so many different views, but also because no one view can be established with specific texts of Scripture. However, in this case I can go further and prove that the basic concept of church that is essential to ANY institutional system is itself contrary to Scripture. That fact in itself is enough to convince me that the black cat does not exist. Let us consider the following facts:

(1) An institutional role model church simply cannot be found in Scripture by clear exegesis of texts. It must first be assumed to exist and then discovered by a whole series of logical (?) deductions. One must first make the assumption and then look for the evidence to prove it. This is backwards. The truth should come directly from texts of Scriptures. It takes a pretty thick book to prove any system of church order. You have to have a lot of therefores, and we can assumes, when you have no texts of Scripture. If the Bible was one-tenth as clear about church polity as the institutionalist claims, his book on church order would be very thin and made up mostly with Scripture. He could make his statement and give a text of Scripture to prove it. It is the 'sound reasoning' part that takes up so much space.

(2) We could not have such a true New Testament church today without someone having the same authority as that possessed by the Apostles. Some Baptists, especially some Reformed Baptists, have actually come very close to practicing this in their view of eldership but none (that I know of) have claimed Apostleship. One Reformed Baptist preacher has convinced himself, and some immature zealots, that he is the 'modern day Nehemiah' raised up by God to purify the twentieth century church.

(3) We could not have a true New Testament church without having the Apostolic gifts of the Spirit in operation since it was these gifts that created and operated the early church. Do we have prophets giving us special messages from God today? I agree that some zealots make this claim, but we all know better.

(4) We could not have a true New Testament church unless all of the true believers in our area were part of it and there were no other kinds of churches around. If Paul wrote a letter to the "Church in Any Town," I verily believe that some deluded souls actually believe the mailman would bring the letter directly to their pastor. They literally believe they are the only 'duly authorized' church in town. Is a Bible-believing Presbyterian church just as duly authorized by God as a Reformed Baptist Church? Can we accept them as a 'church' when most of their members have not obeyed Christ in biblical baptism? The moment you say "yes," to either of these questions then you must either admit that there is no clear role model for the institutional church or else God has 'duly authorized' some people to disobey God and practice error.

(5) We could not have a true New Testament church today because the New Testament Scriptures not only do not give us details for such a church, they give us evidence of more than one view of church polity among the early believers themselves. One of the difficult struggles in both Acts and Paul's epistles is resolving the problems that arose simply because they did not have a uniform polity in the various churches. This was glaringly evident in the Jew/Gentile struggles. The church at Jerusalem, under James, would never have agreed to operate that congregation like the Gentile congregations that Paul established.

(6) We should not even WANT churches like some of those described in the New Testament Scriptures! How would you like to be an elder in the Corinthian church? Who in his right mind would accept a call to pastor the Galatians? This last question assumes that local congregations in the New Testament times followed the modern practice of extending a 'call' to an ordained (?) clergyman to come and 'pastor' them. Is this practice (a) Biblical, (b) against Scripture, or (c) legitimate expediency? Are we denying the sufficiency of Scripture when we frankly admit we have no clear biblical proof for such a practice? Just because Paul would never have been willing to accept a call to pastor a church already established by someone else (Romans 15:20), does that make it wrong for me to do it today? If so, then I have sinned in this manner at least five times.

I will never forget the first Baptist ordination service I attended. The chairman kept saying, "We Baptists go by the Book" as he waved the Bible. However, all he did was wave it. He never opened it. I was waiting for him to read about how the early church 'called an ordination council,' how they interviewed the candidate on 'his (1) conversion, (2) call to the ministry, (and (3) his doctrinal statement.' I was really waiting for the verses that justified women being on the ordination council (actually there were more women than men but only the men 'laid on hands'). I guess every one was familiar with the verses 'in the Book' on that subject so they did not bother to quote them. I really learned a lot about 'Baptists going by the Book' that day.

(7) The Scriptures themselves give us no encouragement even to look for a role-model church with each detail laid out. It gives us principles and exhorts us to apply them in wisdom and love to the existing situation. We are to create a church order that is consistent with biblical principles and which also enables us to serve God in unity and efficiency with other congregations that differ with us in church order but preach the same gospel of grace."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I talked by phone with a friend this morning. The news was not good. I certainly don't believe that doctors have the final word about the future, but the news was not good. I've been asked not to give specifics as to names and details, and won't, but for our kids sake, I will say it was ministry related not family related, to relieve any incorrect conclusions.

My wife and I watched a movie on Labor day starring Michael Keeton where he was diagnosed with terminal cancer as his wife was carrying their first child. Told he would die before the birth of the baby, he began video taping himself telling of his childhood, shaving the proper way, reading bedtime stories, and a host of other little things, all so his child one day would be able to know his daddy. He lived to hold his child, while bringing some healing to the bad relationships of his family of origin, and, all in all, it was a good movie to watch.

But I got to thinking...

Then this morning, in preparation for preaching in the Houston area next Sunday, I read Psalm 91. One verse struck me. Verse 13 says..."Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet." I know this is a psalm with specific reference to the Messiah's victory over evil. I know also it is a personal thing because the devil quoted verses 11 and 12 in the middle of the temptation experience. "For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands lest you dash your foot against a stone." [Or as one translation says..'so you won't even stub your toe.']

In putting these together in my thoughts here's what came out. The lion, the adder, the dragon, as one writer said, certainly remind us of certain kinds of dreadful events. The lion, could be seen as that undisguised thing that happens to us like disease or death. The adder, perhaps the unexpected things as accidents, and the dragon, the unfounded things we fear which never come to pass. [Dragons aren't suppose to exist.] All speak of painful, hurtful, even tragic things that happen. It's spoken to the Messiah, as I said, and is why He didn't need to fear anything. It follows verse 12 which the devil tried to use to get Jesus to operate in the power of His Divine nature to no avail. So the whole thing is personal to Him.

But the thing that intrigues me is that while Jesus was promised the Angels were assigned to protect Him from all this so He had no reason to fear what He saw, couldn't see, or the worst thing He could imagine, He still endured rejection, severe beatings, family abandonment, and finally the crucifixion. Did the Angels forget to bear Him up and over those hurtful things? He said He could have called and they would have. But He didn't and they didn't. He thus attested to the fact that the lion, adder, and dragon kind of things can happen to Him and to us. These identifiable, unexpected, and sometimes, self imposed painful things really do happen to us as the children of God. No badge of exclusion can be worn by anyone.

Maybe the goal in life is not the escaping of the lion, the adder, or the dragon. Maybe we have no reason to fear them because they are not the real issue. Maybe the purpose of God is. Jesus fulfilled His purpose and we certainly know what that was and are eternally grateful. Maybe we should just fulfill our purpose too. When that's done, whatever the doctor says, however long we last in life, whatever pleasant or unpleasant things happen to transpire, maybe life is real life because it is measured in terms of purpose more than in length of days or absence of pain or discomfort. Maybe that's what "well done" is all about.

And that's what I was thinking...

Just a thought after my conversation with a friend today. I realize this may be more personal than professional, but, since I'm the former and certainly not the latter, I'll post it anyway.

Paul Burleson