The Purest Sources

I would like to share a theory that I have been playing around with concerning the sources of doctrine and practice. I have come to realize that there are two types of sources people tend to favor, I will call them Origin Sources and Structured Sources.

Origin Sources try to get back to the original source of the belief or practice or as close to the origin as possible. You can see this play out a few different ways. One is by seeking Scriptural foundations (II Timothy 3:16-17). Another is by looking at the early church in Acts as an example to model.

Structured Sources don’t ignore their origins, but they do build on them. For example, if I were to study the deity of Christ I could study seek the source (read the Gospel of John, for example) or I could pick up a theology book and turn to the chapter on that subject. In that theology book I may find a structured, logical presentation of the doctrine and even discussions of its development.

Which of these is superior? I am not sure either is inherently superior to the other.

I thought of an analogy involving water. If you wanted to drink the purest water you can find, where would you turn? Well, we see essentially the same two sources.

You can find water at its source, before it could be polluted or contaminated. Remember that in the case of a river the cleanest water is at its head before it has picked up sediments and run off from its tributaries. That is essentially the same as Original Sources.

You may also get water that has been processed and filtered to have any contaminates removed. By sufficiently treating the water chemically or filtering it mechanically we could theoretically be left with only H2O molecules. This is essentially the same as Structured Sources.

Which source of water is superior: pure from the source or pure from filtration? Chemically speaking I suppose you could say both could be equal if the water is tested and proven to be similar. The choice is largely up to you if you would rather buy a bottle of water that is labelled as being straight from a natural spring or another bottle that is labelled as being filtered thoroughly through reverse osmosis .

Returning to our discussion on matters of belief and practice, which type of source is superior? I would contend that both Original or Structured Sources are acceptable as they should produce similarly sound positions. I can trust the Original Sources of the Scriptures, the example of Christ, and the model of the early church. I can also trust doctrinal positions and presentation that has been filtered through the centuries and tried in the flames of debate and controversy.

Why is this important? In large part because the body of fundamental doctrines and practice has been purified and forged throughout the centuries since Christ. Through that time we have developed systematic positions based on Scripture that have stood up to the tests of time, analysis, and debate. There is little need to seek to reinvent the fundamental doctrines or practices because they are tried and true. We may test them, which I would recommend for your own benefit, but they will prove true.

There is danger in rejecting we have founded on Structured Sources to seek primarily from Origin Sources. Often I see articles claiming something has been re-discovered about the Christian faith that has been lost for centuries. Examples that have made headlines in recent years include the spurious Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Gospel of Judas. I would also include the various Restorationist movements that seem to multiply and thrive in America since the early 1800’s. One of the earmarks was a desire to seek the Original Sources and while rejecting Structured Sources.

There is an error that is bred into this line of thinking is that all sources except the Original Sources are corrupt and unfit for use. For example, the Charismatic movement ignores centuries of theological analysis of the subject of spiritual gifts, especially in regards to tongues, to reinterpret the teachings of the Original Sources. In essence they claim that a vital (in their estimation, anyway) doctrine was lost to Christianity for centuries until rediscovered. Even that position they will defend by saying it is a sign we are in or approaching the End Times. Personally, I cannot see how an omnipotent God could allow vital truth to completely disappear from the earth as even in the darkest of days there is a faithful remnant to be found (examples: Genesis 6:5-9, I Kings 19:13-18).

It is that very thought process concerning “lost tenets” of Christianity that I have been contemplating for some time now and has led me to further develop the water analogy I shared earlier. I strive to hold to the traditional Baptist position of basing as much of what we believe or practice on the sure foundation of the Scriptures. The Original Source of the Scriptures is, and does merely contain, the very words of God, and are thus as reliable as God Himself. But how we interpret and apply the clear teachings of the Scriptures may be largely built upon Structured Sources.

Is that an issue? Not necessarily, and that is point of this article. The harmony of Original and Structured Sources is vital to our faith. These two sources work in unison to present us with the purest teachings on which to build our faith. We must both trust in God’s Word (Original Sources) and that which is tested and proven true (Structured Sources). But we also cannot forget that the most untrustworthy link in our chain of understanding of God’s message is not the sources but is instead ourselves. Our understanding and logic is faulty because we are fallible beings.

To conclude, no matter what path we take we are seeking truth. To quench your physical thirst you will seek good a pure water to drink and its source may vary. When we seek the most fundamental or orthodox points of Christian doctrine we likewise must realize that it is truth that we seek. How that truth is arrived at is not unimportant, but the most important element is the pure truth we seek and hold. Just realize that we may find that truth through differing but not incompatible means.

J. Frank Norris and Donald J. Trump

I can’t wait for this picture to make it onto Google Images! – MBG

On more than one occasion I have been asked to whom we can compare J. Frank Norris to today. Some preachers have imagined themselves as a spiritual heir of Norris and there are some with similarities, especially among those who were influenced by him and his ministry. Some preachers are polarizing like Norris, some are controversial like Norris, some are trailblazers like Norris, but I have yet to find another man whose life and ministry parallels that of Norris.

A couple of years ago, I had an epiphany on the matter. I saw that the presidency and actions of Donald Trump show many similarities to the ministry and methods of J. Frank Norris. I have mulled over this comparison since then and feel that I can finally articulate it enough to foster a discussion on its merits.

Now, let me say up front that there are many areas in which the two could not be more different. For instance, I do believe Norris was sincere in his faith while Trump is not (and I probably just lost a lot of readers with those two statements). The greatest attack on Norris is that he did shoot and kill a man, which was ruled to be self-defense in a court of law, and I do not see a parallel in Trump’s life. The many instances of immorality in Trump’s life and business career are different than the questionable and debatable actions of Norris. It has only been in recent years, almost seventy years after his death, that accusations made against Norris concerning improprieties with women have been put into print and gained acceptance among his detractors. Quite a different situation than the cases brought against Trump by multiple women. Also let me say that I am looking largely at the five or so years of Trump’s candidacy, election, and term in office while looking at many decades of Norris’ ministry.

What I want to emphasize here is the similar mindset and methods of these two men. How one reacted to opposition is similar to the way the other did. How one promoted his agenda is similar to the way the other did.

With no particular order, let me begin with:

I. Norris and Trump both utilized cutting-edge media to reach their audiences and were both had their message censored or ignored by traditional media outlets.

Trump was legendary for the use of his Twitter account to attack his enemies and push his message. When Trump’s message was ignored or attacked in major media outlets, he promoted upstart networks or promoted it himself online.

Norris did not have modern social media, but he was as effective as anyone at using the media of his day. He was a pioneering radio broadcaster, which is a fact that is largely unmentioned today. He used his personal paper, known by various names like The Searchlight and The Fundamentalist, to disseminate his sermons and launch attacks on his foes and even on his allies. Local newspapers and denominational publications would reject Norris’ material in their pages but his message still went out. If Norris had been able to have a Twitter account, I think he would have used it almost exactly like Trump did.

II. Norris and Trump both demeaned and demonized their opponents through name-calling and personal attacks

Trump famously gave nicknames to his opponents. “Sleepy Joe” for Joe Biden and “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren are some well-known examples. His enemies, not mattering if they were in his own party, would expect to be treated to constant accusations and attacks that Trump used to transform their message or person into a caricature.

Norris had his nicknames also. For example, he said he was attacking “Dawsonism” (named after J.M. Dawson) instead of just Modernism in the Baptist denomination. He used Dawson to personify these attacks. The attacks on Dawson are legendary, but I’d like to point out that Dawson did openly and unapologetically hold modernist positions in areas such as Creation and Inspiration of the Scriptures. But Norris could not keep the battle in the theological realm and instead made it personal.

III. Norris and Trump both developed extremely loyal followings that dwindled over time and after controversy.

As I write this we are less than a month from Trump’s successor Joe Biden being sworn in as President. Yet I still see Trump flags and signs displayed proudly. Not as many as a few months ago though. After the riot at the Capitol, even some of his strongest supporters where ready for his departure. Now his own party is largely ready to move on from Trump’s time in office.

Norris had an entourage of extremely loyal followers and supporters. I have heard more than one preacher who claimed to be Norris’ “right hand man” before embarking on their own pastorates. I have seen reports that Norris would hold meetings at the same time and place as denominational conventions and outdraw those meetings. Even today, a few preachers are fiercely loyal to and quick to claim the name of Norris, but they are not many. His contemporary and somewhat rival George W. Truett is not afforded the same popularity and loyalty.

IV. Norris and Trump both used the “cult of personality” to their gain.

Trump promoted Trump. When press conferences were held in the early days of the COVID pandemic he was front and center. His campaign was largely on the name TRUMP and not the ticket of Trump/Pence.

Norris promoted Norris. Other men came and went, like John. R. Rice or G.B. Vick, but Norris was the center of attention. Roy Kemp tells of him preaching about selling J. Frank Norris to the crowds so people would come hear the Gospel. From page 17 from Kemp’s Extravaganza!:

“Then Norris – his soul on the wing – soared up, and up, and up! And for what purpose? Answer: To get his people to sell J. Frank Norris to the masses – by house to house visitation – in order that they might get the sinners out to hear him. And then, he pressed upon them, the claims of Christ, unto eternal salvation, and service in the Lord’s church; yes, and Heaven!”

V. Norris and Trump both attacked their own institutions and made enemies of those of similar beliefs.

Trump was largely and outsider to the political realm. He did not spend time strengthening his party’s influence or strength. He made enemies of some of the most influential party leaders like Romney and McCain. Many in his own party were prepared to lose a presidential election just to rid themselves of Trump.

Norris held few loyalties in his life. I think the only major denominational leader of his time that he did not attack was B.H. Carroll. He attacked leaders and programs of the local, state, and national Baptist conventions of which he began his ministry strongly advocating. He attacked his alma mater Baylor University when evidence of modernistic teachings came to light. His own followers split over Norris’ leadership when many broke away and formed the Baptist Bible Fellowship in 1950. Over the course of his life many of his enemies had earlier been in the ranks of his allies.

VI. Norris and Trump both used populism to push their agenda.

Trump appealed to the “every man” in his message. I have spoken to many people that were convinced Trump had the back of the common man. Much of his message could be interpreted as common man vs. the elite.

Norris appealed often to the common Christian layperson. He accused the denominational institutions of moving in directions that rank-and-file Baptists would not approve of. He appealed not to intellectualism, but to the ordinary faith of the ordinary Christian.

VII. Norris and Trump both thrived on controversy and upheaval and eschewed bipartisanship and compromise.

Many of Trump’s more memorable acts were in the heat of battles. I’ve already mentioned the demeaning names which he would lambast his enemies with. Those usually flew around when he was forced to work with those individuals in effort to throw pressure on them to accept his proposals. We can see much of Trump’s demeanor in the first presidential debate of 2020 in the way he went on the offensive against both Biden and the moderator Chris Wallace.

Norris fostered controversy and many of his attacks had little impact on the issues. He had an ability like P.T. Barnum to market any situation to his advantage. He used sensationalist and controversialist methods that alienated him from potential allies and often hindered any progress to address the issues at hand.


I’m sure these observations are not exhaustive but I hope that the reader can see the same conclusion that I have come to; that is, we finally have someone in Donald Trump in which we can use in comparison to foster a greater understanding of the ministry and methods of J. Frank Norris.

Regarding II Chronicles 7:14

Image by SEspider from Pixabay

If we are not careful we can easily misinterpret the Scriptures. One of the easiest ways this happens is by ignoring Scriptural or historical context. This happens often when we focus on a verse or phrase that can have a different meaning when removed from that context.

A perfect example of this is the use among America Christians of II Chronicles 7:14. This verse is printed on posters, shirts, and coffee mugs in any Christian store you walk into. It will be preached on and quoted as a Biblical command that if America would get right with God then He could bless America like He did in the “good ol’ days”.

But is that the true teaching of the verse? I believe if we would examine this verse in its proper context we will see its primary application does not correspond to America at all.

Context

To get a feel for the context of II Chronicles 7:14 we can get a good feel for the context by looking at the events leading up to it. We can trace this by looking at the the preceding chapters of II Chronicles.

  • Chapter 1 – the early reign of Solomon, includes God appearing to Solomon in Gideon when Solomon asked for and received wisdom.
  • Chapter 2 – preparation for building the Temple
  • Chapter 3 – The construction of the Temple
  • Chapter 4 – The making of the furniture and implements for the Temple
  • Chapter 5 – Beginning the dedication of the Temple
  • Chapter 6 – Solomon’s address and prayer at the dedication of the Temple
  • Chapter 7 – Ending the dedication of the Temple, followed by God’s second appearance to Solomon.

So we see that after the construction and dedication of the Temple, God appears to Solomon and speaks in chapter 7 from verses 12 to 22. What is the purpose of the message of this passage? God Himself tells us in vs 12: “I have heard thy prayer”. What prayer? The prayer of Solomon in chapter 6. For what purpose? The dedication of the Temple, as God also says in vs. 12: “and [I] have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice”.

So the passage begins as a response to the dedicatory prayer of Solomon in chapter 6. Here let’s look at a remarkable feature of the next verse of chapter 7 is that they are largely God expressing His response to Solomon’s prayer by practically quoting it:

God in chapter 7

Solomon in chapter 6

“If I shut up heaven that there be no rain,…” – 7:13

“…when the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain,…” – 6:26

“…or if I command the locusts to devour the land,…” – 7:13

“…if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, or caterpillers;…” – 6:28

“…or if I send pestilence among my people;” – 7:13

“…if there be pestilence,…” – 6:28

“If my people, which are called by my name,…” – 7:14

Solomon refers to Israel as as “thy people” or as “thy people Israel” a total of ten times in his prayer.

“…shall humble themselves,…” – 7:14

This phrase has no parallel to chapter 6 in letter but does in spirit.

“…and pray,…” – 7:14

“…if they pray…” – 6:26

“…and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways;…” – 7:14

“…if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin,…” – 6:26

“…then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin,…” – 7:14

“Then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants,…” – 6:27

“…and will heal their land.” – 7:14

“…send rain upon thy land,…” – 6:27

“Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.” – 7:15

“Now, my God, let, I beseech thee, thine eyes be open, and let thine ears be attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. ” – 6:40

Verse 16 finishes the first section of God’s message to Solomon with the promise concerning God’s dedication to the Temple: “For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. “

The final six verses of chapter 7 are God reaffirming the Davidic Covenant with Solomon. That details of that covenant can be found in II Samuel 7:1-12.

To summarize, the surrounding passage of II Chronicles 7:14 is about God responding to King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Who is God addressing in this passage? Solomon.
  • What is God responding to? The dedication of the Temple and Solomon’s dedicatory prayer.
  • Who is the “my people” of 7:14? Israel.
  • Where is the land that God promises to heal in 7:14? The Promised Land.
  • What is that land healed from? The drought, famine, pestilence, etc., that God would send to bring Israel out of their sin and back to Him.

Can these verses apply to America?

In their primary application, no. These verses are clearly linked to Israel. They are not addressed to the church or America.

Why then do we see it so often as a patriotic promise in America? Largely through lazy application of the Scriptures and the commercialization and politicization of Christianity in America.

I see something similar in the use of Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD”. Note that it does not say, “if a nation has God then it is blessed.” It is not a conditional statement at all. It is acknowledging the fact that there exists a people or nation that was chosen by God. This is amplified in the rarely quoted second half of the verse: “…and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” What nation was chosen by God in the days of the writing of the Psalms? Israel.

Another reason this verse may be misinterpreted is through the use of Replacement Theology. This false teaching holds that God has replaced Israel in His plan and promises with either Christianity or another nation such as Britain or America.

Can we still learn from these verses?

Absolutely! Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Though II Chronicles 7:14 was not addressed to us we can still find countless truths in it that can find applicable in our lives.

Here’s a few examples of some truths we can apply from this passage:

When sin caused Israel to turn away from God they were commanded to repent and seek Him. We too are commanded to repent of our sin and seek God, first in our salvation and then when we backslide in our relationship with God.

II Chronicles 7:14 begins with the word “if” which makes it a conditional statement. If man would repent, then God will respond.

Note that God said “my people” needed to get right with Him. Not the wicked. Not the Edomites, Jebusites, Amalekites, or any other nation. If only we applied this today! We try to get everyone else to repent but ourselves!

God doesn’t just seek for us to perform the actions or repentance or service to Him. It is our heart that needs to be affected. It is not enough to speak words in prayer or to flee from wickedness. He wants us to humble ourselves. That is not an action, it is an attitude.