Friday, October 12, 2007

Baptized By One Spirit Into One Body



Forrest L. Keener

"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."
This is a verse which has, through the years, received a huge amount of attention. I have read a great deal of material on the subject, and even distributed a lot of tracts with which I am less than totally pleased. I will try, in this brief tract, to state what I feel is the extremely simple and pointed truth of this verse. May I say to begin with, I don't think we need to be an egoistical or a translation expert to understand it; it is just not that complicated. It says precisely and simply what it seems to say.
I have read many discourses which approach this verse as if we needed some particular insight into great mysteries, or an ability to dig out very obscure interpretations of other Bible verses, to understand this one. These approaches normally lead to some "necessary implication" of a "universal body." This wrong interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." is supported by a wrong interpretation of Ephesians 4:3 and 4,("Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;") and in turn that wrong interpretation of Ephesians 4:3 and 4 is supported by the same wrong interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13. The fact of the matter is that neither of these verses so much as hints at any kind of a universal body. In fact, the words universal and body are so antagonistic to each other, that we should be forced into laughter, by merely hearing them so used. The word body always means something that is localized by union and united by locality, while the word universal, as used in this respect, means something that is everywhere. Infinitude of locality always necessitates a spirit, as opposed to a body. Why the complication then? It is because of the carry-over of Catholicism, even through Protestantism, in so much of our "Christian literature."
If it were not for the Catholic teaching that the "body of Christ" is literally the visible universal (Catholic) church, or the Protestant teaching that the "body of Christ" is literally the invisible universal ("Holy Catholic") church, no such notion would ever exist among evangelical Christians. They certainly would not, in a million years, arrive at it, merely by reading 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:3-4 and Ephesians 5:25-27. The fact is that to arrive at a universal church interpretation of these verses, a man must start with this Catholic presupposition and use these verses as proof texts to support it. I want to take each of the determinative words of 1 Corinthians 12:13 and show that this passage does not even suggest universalism. Then, I want to very briefly expound the verse in its simple contextual meaning.
"For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body." It has been argued by some, who realized the error of the Catholic interpretation, that the Spirit here was "a spirit of unity," and should be translated spirit not Spirit. Such a conclusion is not necessary, and I do not believe it is either accurate or logically justified. The Spirit here is the Spirit of the context. He is the Spirit who, according to verse 3, leads one to confess Christ, in verse 4 bestows diversities of gifts, and in verse 7 manifests Himself for the overall profit of the church. He is the same Spirit who, in verse 8, gives the word of wisdom to one and the word of knowledge to another, and who in verses 9 and 10, gives gifts of faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers tongues, and interpretation. He is the same Spirit who, in verse 11, sovereignly divides gifts to men, individually as it pleases Him. It is, by every contextual standard of interpretation the "Spirit" of the context and thus, the Holy Spirit who is mentioned here.
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." It is thought, by the universalist, that this word, if properly translated, forces us to believe that this verse has the Holy Spirit baptizing us into Christ literally, and thus the baptism could not be water baptism, and the body referred to could not be a local church. This is interpretation either by presupposition, or by panic, or some of both. The word by need carry no such meaning. It simply means we are led by the Holy Spirit to unite with that body (local church), exactly as we are led by the Spirit to confess Christ in verse 3. This is how Simeon, in Luke 2:27, came into the temple at the time of Christ's dedication. ("And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,") He came by the influence of, or the leadership of, the Holy Spirit.
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." Again the "body" of this verse is the body of the context, that is the church at Corinth. This is what Paul is, throughout the chapter, illustrating by the human body. The first question that should be asked here is this: Is the word "body" in this verse, that is the body of Christ, being used literally or figuratively? Is Paul saying we are literally being placed by this baptism into the physical, fleshly, actual, biological body of Christ? Of course not! He is using the human body, in this chapter, to illustrate the truth of necessary union and interdependency within the church, and he is using this metaphor, "body of Christ," to illustrate the relationship that the local church has with Christ as her "head," which is simply to say He has complete authority over the church. To make the use of the words body or head more literal than that is to violate the whole nature of the chapter and indeed the entire epistle. Let it further be understood that we are to think locally, that is of the church at Corinth, and locally as these truths apply to us in any church. Only in this setting can verses such as 25 and 26 have any applicable reference to the context. Members of a local, visible assembly are to have the same care one for the other, suffer with each other and rejoice when another is honored. If there were such a thing as an invisible, universal body (whatever that might possibly be) this conduct would surely not be possible for them. So the term body here is a metaphorical term describing the relationship that the members of the church at Corinth had with each other under Christ their head. He is talking specifically of the body, that is the church, at Corinth. Oh, but someone asks, does Christ have many bodies? This is a foolish question. Once we see the metaphorical use of the word BODY in this passage we understand that the usage is generic or institutional and thus is not numerical in any sense of being either singular or plural.
Let me illustrate this truth in this way: Christ took a piece of loaf of bread on the night before His crucifixion. He broke it and said, "Take eat, this is my body." He was simply saying this piece of bread which you are to eat, pictures my body. But He said "This is my body." Now, are we to understand that this was the only piece of bread about which that statement could be made, or that all pieces of bread are composite parts of one great piece? Absurd! When we see that the statement is a metaphorical one, and could be rightly made of any qualifying piece of bread, that is, unleavened bread consecrated to the purpose of symbolizing Christ's body, we see the truth that applies in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Any proper qualifying piece of bread, at any proper time, and in any proper place and setting, could be referred to as "His body," and in the singular without violence to any other piece. The very same thing applies easily and automatically to any true church, and it does no violence to any other true church, nor does it so much as hint that they are composite parts of the same thing. Moreover, it does not hint at the foolish idea that the local church is only the manifestation or as some prefer to say, the only visible manifestation of the "real thing," "the true church," or the "universal church." Notice this truth as applied to the human body in 1 Corinthians 12:15: Can the foot say "... I am not of the body..." What body? It speaks of the human body as an object, not an individual. So is the normal case in all metaphorical usages.
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." Some have said the word WE here of necessity includes Paul, who was obviously not a member of that local assembly, and thus the usage of WE; supports a universal interpretation. Nonsense! If the word WE in verse 13 necessarily included him, the word YE in verse 27 of the same chapter would necessarily exclude him. The principle, that we are each part of a local body, applies to Paul, and thus he uses the word WE in an editorial sense. However, throughout the epistle and especially in the context, he excludes himself from this body of which he is speaking in this chapter. Notice verses 1-3, and 27. In none of these places does he imply that he is including himself in the body to whom he is speaking. To understand his editorial use of the word WE in verse 13, notice the use of the word I in chapter 13, verses 1-3. His usage here is hypothetical as if he had not love and became as sounding brass, but he does not really include himself in that group. For an example of the use of the word WE, which does not include both first and second persons, notice 1 Thessalonians 3:1. Notice 1 Thessalonians 5:5, where he, in the same verse, uses YE and WE referring to the same group. So don't let the word WE in 1 Corinthians 12:13 be used to erroneously point you in a universal direction. It implies no such thing!
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." The universalist's interpretation of this verse is essentially this: The Holy Spirit places (baptizes) us into the "true church," "The Body of Christ." They make this a statement of regeneration, that is to say salvation is the Holy Spirit baptizing us into the "true church," the universal body of Christ. But where in Scripture is salvation referred to as "baptism" either in or by the Holy Spirit? While it is true that baptism is used metaphorically to describe salvation, salvation is never referred to as baptism in or by anything or anyone, unless 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the only place. No ground is laid for it anywhere in Scripture. The believers of Luke 3:16 and Acts 1:5 were promised the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It was fulfilled to them in Acts 2:1-4, but no one would claim that this was their regeneration. Salvation is not the context of 1 Corinthians 12:13, the context is conduct in the local church. Again, salvation is not the context of Ephesians 4:4. In reading Ephesians 4:1-3 you find that mutual conduct among the members of the church at Ephesus is the context. This will be the case everywhere in Scripture you see the illustration of the body used. Regeneration is never the context. I thus conclude that no place in Scripture ever refers to salvation as baptism in, or by, the Holy Spirit. These people in the church at Corinth had been led by the Holy Spirit to confess Christ, and had by the same Spirit been led to identify themselves with that particular body, by water baptism. It was by the ordinance of water baptism that they had come into the fellowship of that body (the church at Corinth).
The message and exhortation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 and 14 is this: Cease your individual competition in the attempted display of spiritual gifts. Notice the first and last verses of this chapter are clearly this, and every verse in between is right on that line. This verse is simply saying: All of you, whether Jew or Gentile, whether bond or free have been led by the Holy Spirit to, by water baptism, unite yourself with this body (the church at Corinth). Now stop competing for position and pre-eminence, as if you were a unit within yourself, and accept the place in the body to which God has sovereignly appointed you, because you are by the design of God all dependent upon each other.
If this simple truth is missed, we not only entertain a totally wrong concept of Bible doctrine and definition of the biblical word church, we miss the glorious practical appeal for church unity and inter-submission within our church. Any notion of a universal church becomes an escape from the obligation to the local church, and to proper conduct within the local body, the true and only church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

For Several years I have published, each month, a short article, entitled "Keener Thoughts."
All of thses articles have been provoked in me by a scripture. Below is a copy of the 12 articles published during the year of 2006.

Keener Thoughts for January, 2006
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; (Acts 17:24-28a)
I recently addressed this passage in a Keener Thoughts article, but I want to approach it from a different perspective. If the above statement of Paul, given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is accurate, then the common human philosophy that we, by whatever process, have life, and that it is our own personal possession, is wrong. Paul says it is the gift of God, He has given "to all life and breath and all things." He then adds that in Him we live and move and have our being. He hath "determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;" This most relative truth should absolutely arrest our attention, forcing each of us to ask, "If I am so personally designed and appointed by God, then for what purpose?" And to this question, Paul does not leave us without an answer. It is in order that we should seek the Lord. We should feel after Him, that is to say we should pursue investigation of our Creator most carefully and patiently. Initially, of course, we should attend diligently to the Gospel, that we might be fully established in repentance and faith, for He has now, in the Gospel, "Commanded all men everywhere to repent." But this is not even nearly all of our responsibility to God, as being His creation. While, heretofore, these Gentile idolaters had only the creation, and in beholding creation, could get only limited knowledge of God, they were still responsible to feel after Him, even as one groping in the darkness. God had, in the times of this ignorance, in some way, winked at it, but no more. He now commands all men everywhere, Jew and Gentile, to repent and turn to Christ, whom He has appointed to be the judge of all men at a given time.
If seeking God is the responsibility of men in general, how much more responsible are we, to whom He has particularly revealed Himself. There is no greater form of praise, than learning, speaking of, and crediting to God, His divine attributes. When we behold the beauty, and the wonder of His attributes, we are amazed, and what we dwell upon we shall reflect. Let me not forget that my very life is given and sustained by God, in order that I should seek Him constantly. Each breath I take further obligates me to that responsibility. FLK

Keener Thoughts for February, 2006
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Mat 5:43-44)
While writing the December, 2005, article for "Keener Thoughts," I noted the words of Shimei when he cursed David. "And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial:" It was simply a criticism, an accusation of wicked character, and the desire for God to dethrone David. This is a biblical definition of cursing, and probably the one intended in Mat. 5:44. By this definition, being cursed has been the lot of every president since George Washington, and every preacher since Jesus Christ. It seldom is stated to their face, but it comes. If we find ourselves in a place of either authority or leadership, some people will disapprove of us to the point of wishing us the greatest possible judgment from God. They will genuinely see us as being wrong, and in many cases, even wicked. David subjected himself to this cursing, and according to the words of our Lord, so should we. This has never been easy for me. Through the years I have often promised never again to defend myself from such criticism, and imprecation again, and I have often broken that promise.
Our Lord required more of us than to merely endure this cursing gracefully, as He did, but also, to bless them that curse us, as He also did. This exposition of God’s law, in Matthew chapter five, is not a mere philosophical suggestion. It is the very law of God for every man. The person who is sensitive to Scripture, will be driven to his knees, as it were, because of his inability to fulfill such an exacting requirement, as that which consummates this teaching, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Mat. 5:48) His heart will involuntarily cry, "Woe is me for I am undone," and "God be merciful to me a sinner." He will, with Paul cry out, "And who is sufficient for these things?"
Having said this, let me assure you that the Christian should not sit helplessly, and passively impotent, merely saying I am glad to be saved by grace. We should remember that if we, indeed, are His sheep, we have a duty, a desire, and a propensity, to follow Him. (John 10:27) He said bless them that curse you, and we should take that seriously. While we will not do it as well as we should, we should endeavor to pursue it as a manner of life. As Stephen died, he did not say visit their sins upon them and their children, but "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." (Acts 7:60)
I have told you what the word curse depicts in this passage, but what of the word bless? That, being our Christian duty, should be carefully defined in our hearts. There are several meanings of this word and most of them are confined to things that only God can do. However, in this context our Lord is instructing us to do good to them, to ask God’s blessing upon them, to be patient and loving toward them, and to try to be a blessing to them. This goes against our nature. Our nature is to curse back, to get even, and to pronounce imprecations against them. This natural response fills families, societies, churches, nations, and the world, with hatred, misery and wars. Retaliatory cursing, will somewhat justify the initial cursing, and will always perpetuate it. Let our prayer be this: Lord help me to bless those who curse me, and to return, for their anger and evil, patience and loving kindness. FLK

Keener Thoughts for March, 2006
Read carefully 1 Sam. 2:27 - 32 and consider the following verses, and my conclusions, in that context. For I have told him (Eli) that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. (1Sam 3:13) ... And Samuel told him (Eli) every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good. (1 Sam. 3:18)
We see, in these passages, a terrible judgment of God against the house of Eli, indeed, against the entire tribe of Levi. It came upon the tribe of Levi because of desecration of the priesthood, and upon Eli, and his more immediate family, because he did not restrain his sons, and even lived in excess because of their violence to the priesthood. When King Saul was later rejected from being king, he fought God’s pronounced judgment all the way to his death, even by trying constantly to destroy his divinely chosen successor. But here in 1Sam 3:18, we see Eli submitting to God’s righteous rejection, and trusting Jehovah to do that which is right in His eyes, even though God would take the life of Eli, and his sons, and fill his Levitical position with Samuel, a man of the tribe of Ephriam. This submission to God’s righteous judgement, and confidence in God’s future government, is certainly to be commended. I believe his submissive spirit shows a faith that was certainly not displayed by Saul, and often not by you and me. When God has spoken, we will always do well not to object, though it is always proper to repent, seek to do the right thing, and pray for mercy, even when judgement has been pronounced. Who can say that He will not delay judgment as He did in the case of Nineveh? I still contend that Eli showed a patience and faith something like that of Job, ( Job 13:15) "Though He slay me yet will I trust Him." May God help me to develop that faith.
But there is another side of this matter, in which I believe Eli’s faith was deeply flawed. It seems only to have been a faith of resignation. "It is the LORD (Jehovah) let Him do what seemeth Him good." Eli could trust in God’s holiness and power, to assure total success in righteous action. God help me to always have this confidence and submission. But what about our faith of resolution? Job also said, "But I will maintain mine own ways before him." Job was not claiming self-righteousness. He knew he was a sinner, but his lifestyle recognized that, and he had God’s testimony that he lived uprightly, and it was that divinely commended lifestyle which he resolved, by grace, to maintain. It was that faithfulness (integrity) that he promised to pursue, in spite of Satan’s opposition. Eli’s faith of resignation was commendable but what of his resolution? His sons were not the priest, Eli was. His sons were in the place of his servants, (1Sam 2:13-14.) He rebuked them, and even warned them of divine judgment, but he did not restrain them. Samuel’s sons were later guilty of the similar wickedness, and apparently, he did not restrain them either. But that did not excuse Eli’s abnegation of his responsibility. Whether Eli tried to restrain his sons and found himself unable, or whether he only admonished and warned them is not clear, nor is it the point. The point is, they were not restrained and thus the sacred office was profaned and violated. God is often long suffering with us in such failures, but longsuffering is always of grace, and grace is never owed to anyone, thus judgment may rightly fall at any time. Let us remember Paul’s words and seek to attain thereto. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." I long to exercise the faith of Eli, in his resignation to God’s sovereign purpose, but may I also have a faith that resolves to obey God. FLK

Keener Thoughts for April, 2006
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mat. 26:40-41)
Some people believe this saying of our Lord refers to His own sorrow at this juncture in His life, "If it be possible let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done." Scriptural revelation leaves no place for such an interpretation. I am quite sure He speaks of Peter’s vocalized resolve, and that of all the other disciples, voiced just a short time before,"Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples." (Mat 26:35) They pledged to follow Him faithfully, as all true disciples ought to do. He has said in John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice and they follow me." They meant to follow Him when they spoke, but now they are all fast asleep. He says this to all of them, except Judas Iscariot, as well as to us. He affirms that their profession of discipleship is genuine, and that they are determined to follow Him, but warns, watch and pray lest ye fall into temptation, for though your spirit truly is willing, your flesh is weak.
Every true disciple has resolved to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus Christ, but we are frequently, and humiliatingly, reminded of a terrible weakness of the flesh which plagues our every effort. The person who has not experienced such defeat is either a babe in Christ, or is not truly in Christ, and thus is insensitive to what sin is. How often does the Spirit, who dwells in us, bear witness with our spirits that we are truly willing to give up all for His sake! Then, as suddenly as Peter was defeated, the weakness of the flesh sweeps over us like a violent storm, and we join Peter in his failure, and subsequent bitter tears, and then find ourselves crying with the publican, God be merciful to me, I am such a weak and pathetic sinner. If it is not heard and seen by others, in our words and deeds, it is felt in our hearts. These failures may be precipitated by overwhelming circumstances, as were Peter’s, or through seemingly insignificant events that we may not even associate with our spiritual decline. They may come as a result of sorrow or blessing, poverty or prosperity, sickness or health, fatigue or leisure, pride or humiliation, success or failure. Satan can use any circumstance, because susceptibility to temptation and failure is within us. Truly, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. It is weaker in some of us than others, but weak in us all, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. One may suffer a propensity toward covetousness, while the sin of another goes in the direction of self-righteousness. However, in every case, God’s providence, and our response, will teach us all, with great emphasis, that the flesh is weak.
Let us ask then, is this a result of some failure in the grace of God, which grace must always give us any degree of victory we enjoy, or does our weakness lie within divine ordination? I believe the latter is true. If it is true that salvation is all of grace, then it must be by grace at every stage, whether in our calling, or in our being conformed to the image of Christ. If we do not find the sufficiency of God’s grace through our weaknesses, where shall proud sinners, like you, me, and Peter, find it, and how else shall we learn that in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect? Let’s be slow to boast of our resolve, as did Peter, and quick to pray for the brother who has stumbled. As long as we are in this flesh, we shall surely lament its weakness. FLK

Keener Thoughts for May, 2006
I was recently asked the question,"Just what is a Missionary/Evangelist?" Since I list myself as a Missionary/Evangelist, out of Bethel Baptist Church, of Lawton OK, that certainly is a fair question, so I shall answer the question. Strictly speaking, missionary is not a Bible word, so we must take care to define it. The first synonym given for it, in most English dictionaries, is apostle. The apostles of the Bible were called Apostles because they were sent forth to preach the kingdom of God. The Greek word apostolos means a delegate, or one who is delegated, or sent, to speak for another, or others. Obviously, none of us is an apostle in the sense that the twelve were, for we are not given the gifts and powers they were given, but we are emissaries or ambassadors for Christ. I use the word missionary because I am sent out by the authority of Bethel Baptist Church, because they believe that they are acting after the pattern of Acts 13:2. Missionary has become the common word churches use today to describe one sent forth. Why then, the term Evangelist? Evangelist is also a synonym for missionary, so the title may be somewhat redundant, but it is used by me for a specific purpose. It is to state that I am being sent forth for a particular purpose. That purpose is to preach (kerusso) the Gospel (euaggelion). That meaning, and those Greek words are taken directly from Mark 16:15. I use the word evangelist to make it clear that I am going specifically to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Eph. 4:11-14)
As we look at the gifts enumerated in this passage, and the purpose for which God gave them, there are several things we should learn. First, we should see that these are sovereignly bestowed gifts, given by Christ, never acquired by mere education and practice. Jesus chose apostles who were considered ignorant and unlearned men, who had very questionable pasts. While Paul was highly educated, he had a very dubious past, and therefore, counted himself totally unworthy to fill the office unto which God appointed him, and he counted what the world would have considered his personal excellencies to be as but dung. The church at Antioch perceived the reality of his gifts and calling, and by divine direction, separated him, and sent him out to go and preach the Gospel of Christ wherever he had opportunity, and felt led. If the churches do not find those men gifted, profitable, and desirable for use, there is no reason to believe that God has called them, and we may count them simply volunteers, and in the same category as Simon the sorcerer.
The reason these men are called is clear. It is, "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Their individual jobs vary, but their overall purpose is the same. I am quite sure the term, "Body of Christ" is used here to describe local churches, in a generic sense. While some men are called to labor in only one church, others are used of God to serve in many churches, as in the case of Paul, and as are many present day missionaries, who preach in many churches. So a Missionary/Evangelist is a man called of God, and sent out of a church to preach the Gospel. FLK

Keener Thoughts for June, 2006
As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. Pro. (26:21-22)
When I was a child we traveled a lot in an old farm wagon. As I reached the teenage years we acquired an iron wheeled wagon, but I remember well, the old style wooden wheels with an iron rim around them. They were built of hard wood, usually oak. The hubs were of thick oak staves, encircling a thick Iron sleeve, and the staves were grooved, fitted, and held together by heavy iron rings. Into these hubs were fitted heavy spokes and the outer ends of them were fitted into a heavy wooden outer circle which was encircled by a heavy iron band about a half inch thick, and with about a three inch road surface. These wheels ranged from 36 to 54 inches in diameter. The cone shaped sleeves, in the hubs, were packed with axle grease, slipped over the axle or spindle, and held in place by the axle nut. This system, which was once big business, worked well, and could take many miles of punishment, with relatively little maintenance. Summer time was tough on them, however, because the wooden wheels would dry out and shrink, and if they did not receive immediate attention, the iron rims would fall off and the wheel would break to pieces in a few minutes, and the whole wagon was unusable. The most common maintenance for this problem was to back the wagon into some shallow water, about hub deep, and let it soak for a few hours, move it forward or backward a third of a wheel’s turn, repeating this until the wheels were all well soaked and, presto, the wagon was ready to go. Sounds easy, but sometimes a badly needed wagon was out of business all day, while this necessary repair took place.
The moral of my story is this: Contentious elements in a church can do just what the dried out wheel does to the wagon. It can destroy the effective operation of the whole church. Sometimes the repair is quite disruptive, and painful, but it is not optional. If neglected, the burning coals will spread contention throughout the church, and like a house set on fire, it spreads beyond repair, and all will ultimately be lost. Conversely, when a wise leader says, "We must take the day off, and attend to this maintenance," a day may seem lost, but the ultimate result will be good. Moreover, the work of God will finally prosper.
On one of my trips to the Philippines, almost the entire three week period was spent in such and effort. I came home sick at heart, because so much time had been spent, "putting out fires, and painting fences." I hated what seemed like such an investment in nothing. Every pastor has, at some time, or shall at some time, suffer this bitter experience, but the work in the Phillippines was saved by that effort. It ultimately survived, and today, is producing good fruit. I look back at that trip now and conclude that the period was not wasted.
So it is with our churches, we must turn aside to repair or replace dried out or broken wheels, and at those times, our hearts are filled with dread and sorrow. I have experienced this several times in forty-three years of pastorate. However, I have always seen that the end result was good. We just have to remember something. The real issue is not the wheels. It is not even the wagon, nor is it the trip. All these, including ourselves, are expendable means to a greater end. The final purpose of the church is clear, and we should take utmost care to let nothing outweigh or defeat that purpose. It is to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. May we let no wheel, or wagon, or driver, be so important to us as this purpose. FLK

Keener Thoughts for July, 2006
But by the grace of God I am what I am:...(1Co. 15:10) As we pass another anniversary of the Declaration Of Independence, my heart has been repeatedly lifted to God in gratitude for my American nativity. No, I am not of American Indian decent, but I am certainly a native American, because I was born in this nation, as were my forefathers for at least ten generations (that is what native means). As is the case of all men, I did not gain this for myself, so I must thank God, as opposed to swelling with pride. Yet, I say, without apology, I am both thankful and proud to be a citizen of the USA. This country is what it is, both good and bad, because of what my forefathers, and their contemporaries, by God’s grace, made it. Americans, of generations now passed on, have plowed, labored, invented, manufactured, developed and refined resources, purchased, pioneered and developed, unused and undeveloped land, built homes, hospitals, churches, and businesses, and left them to their posterity. They have made mistakes, administered injustices, and committed crimes, like fallen sinners do. Men of both noble and poor character have fought and died defending this land, and I owe them both, as do you. US citizens have also lifted up the fallen, shown charity to the downtrodden, fed their enemies, and all the other things that fallen and depraved men do, when overruled and/or motivated, and assisted, by the grace of God. As the result of all this, we have the greatest nation on this earth, in which every resident, including the American Indian, is highly profited and privileged, by the position of being a citizen of the USA. Every American Indian, every immigrant, and every native born person, should be thankful for the privileges, and conveniences that we enjoy today as citizens of this country. Let us never forget, however, that it is by the providence of God, that we are citizens of the USA.
It is true that we have much shortcoming to bemoan, and much sin of which we should long ago have repented. But at this particular season, I want to dwell upon our blessings, and praise God for His continual mercy toward us. In this country, any man or woman, regardless of their background or ethnic history, if they will work hard enough, and exercise enough tenacity, can be advanced to almost any position in industry or level of society. If they are willing to work hard enough, and long enough, and sacrifice enough comfort, they can get a good education in almost any field. They can advance to almost any industrial, political, or social position. These great opportunities are seldom available to those who pity themselves for past mistreatment, either real or imagined. Few, if any, have the luxury of both self-pity and self-advancement. Nor, is it likely to come to those who are more intent on their right to eat their piece of the pie, than their responsibility to earn their daily bread. I think that is exactly as it should be. Those who feel the need can complain their life away, but as for me, I am deeply thankful to be a Citizen of the United States of America. FLK

Keener Thoughts for August, 2006
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isa. 40:28-31)
What a wonderful passage of encouragement! God, Jehovah, the Creator of all things, never faints or grows weary, nor is there any limit to His understanding, including His understanding of our weakness and our need. He renews the strength of fainting, and increases strength for them who have no might. Man does not have what his day requires. Even the youth faint and grow weary, and young men utterly fall in exhaustion. But in contrast,
those who wait upon the Lord, shall have their strength renewed. The words wait upon, in this context, in both the Hebrew and the English, carry the idea of the subjects of this passage, prayerfully and patiently, looking to God, for what they do not have and cannot accumulate. The promise is that for those who do this, He who "fainteth not, neither is weary" will provide a renewing of strength, whereby they shall be able to persevere in their assigned task. It is exactly what He is promising Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9. "And he said unto me, ‘ My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
If God allows me to continue on in this pilgrimage, I will be 73 years old the 23rd of this month. I honestly do not feel nearly that old. With reasonable maintenance, I am enjoying good health. I have been through a time of terrible weakness, but I believe I feel as good, and as strong, as I felt fifteen years ago. Memory could be failing me in that matter, but I really do not think so. The Doctor believes I am cancer free, though only God knows. I have preached, at least, 67 times this year, up until now, in 8 states, and I believe, in 25 churches. Nothing could make me happier than such privileges, and I am sure I could not be thus, if God did not renew my strength day by day. I hope and pray that I am one who waits upon the Lord, though I am not competent to judge myself. But there is one thing I do know. God, who has promised that my strength shall be as my day, is faithful. He appoints my pathway, and I can’t see very far ahead. That is alright, since He is totally trustworthy. He will renew my strength as He deems necessary and for whatever task He appoints.
Now for a moment of application. None of us knows the length of our days, nor do we know the measure of strength we shall need for tasks that may lie ahead. God not only knows both, but He ordains it all. He not only ordains the pathway, but He ordains the very steps we must take as we travel it. We are not privy to, nor are we cursed by the knowledge of what lies ahead. What we are privileged to is the knowledge of the glorious person of the one who appoints all things in heaven and on earth. As we know Him better, we can learn to trust Him more, and as we learn more of his trustworthiness, we will be brought to greater and greater peace concerning the darkness of a future that only He sees. As we walk constantly into that darkness, may He be our perfect light. Let us always be reminded that He has appointed our pathways, and that He will daily renew our strength, so that it will be sufficient for the journey He has appointed. FLK

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)
Please notice that all the words in The Gospel of John, 3:27 through John 3:36 were spoken by John the Baptist. If you do not know what they are, I would urge you to turn there and carefully read the entire passage again. Among these statements are, "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." and "he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth:" In both of these statements of John included himself, as well as you and me. We will do well to qualify everything we say, everything we think of ourselves, and everything we claim for ourselves by these statements of John the Baptist. We should assess ourselves, and every other man, who we would either compliment or criticize, by these divine truths. If he seems ignorant, and you feel comparatively knowledgeable, give God the credit, not for your pride, but for whatever amount of knowledge you may have. Yes, there are, indeed, differences in men, but remember, God makes the difference, so don’t take the credit.
The above introduction, is not my main purpose in this article, nor is it the focus of it. John the Baptist said of himself, "I must decrease." I expect we most often read this, and apply it, as saying, "I must decrease if He is to increase," or even, "I must decrease so that He may increase." May God forgive our foolish pride. We must decrease. We must, we shall, and there is nothing we can do about it. I turned 73 years old today. When I was 20, I measured 6 feet 2.5 inches tall, and could lift more than I will tell you. Today, I can barely stretch to 6 feet. When I was 25, I could memorize dozens of addresses and phone numbers, chapters of scripture, and almost never need to be reminded of a name. Today that is not so, and I can never get either of those attributes back. I must decrease, I have, and I being of the earth, will decrease, until I am dust. While it is true that in many ways we may increase as we grow older, if it is true of us, let it be noticed by others, not acclaimed by ourselves. Christ must increase, not if we cause it, by our dedication, even though we should be dedicated to that cause. Christ must increase. That is a definite. It is decreed by our sovereign and infinite God, and it shall come to pass. "For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (1Co. 15:27-28) This is God’s plan, and no religious effort, including Christian zeal, can thwart it.
Now, why would I suggest that the zeal of Christians might seek to thwart God’s purpose? I say it because there is an inherent, and almost irresistible, drive within each of us to increase. I hope you are not living in denial of this universal fact. Essentially every Christian minister feels, and tries to assure, that his ministry shall increase. Of course, that is not totally wrong. What is wrong about it is that our motivation is not all together the increase of Christ and His kingdom. I wish it was not true of us, but it is, and always will be, so long as we are "of the earth." God help us to increasingly crucify the flesh, in this area, for there is no area in which the flesh is more active. May we, by God’s grace, find less and less of ourselves worth thinking about, and worth talking about. Sobriety will assist us in this, but above all, the grace of God will be required. As this attribute of self-denial matures in us, so shall we be more valuable earthen vessels, for the sure increase of Christ’s Kingdom. FLK

Keener Thoughts for October, 2006
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Ecc 9:10)
Work is a multifaceted word. It can mean simply to act, to labor, or to persevere in labor. It can mean the product of one’s labor. It can be a benevolence, or a crime. It can be pleasure or toil, a short chore, or one’s daily and weekly occupation. It is fundamentally a responsibility of man, exacted upon him by his Creator. It is revealed to be an essential purpose of God in creating man. "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Gen. 1:28) God’s first verbal communication with man was to assign him his work. In Gen 2:15, you will see that as soon as God created man, He placed him in a firm connection with his appointed work "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." Notice that in the giving of the ten commandments, preceding the command to rest on the seventh day, there is a command to work six days. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: (Exodus 20:9) So it seems to me that work is not only a universal responsibility, but that it is good for man in his overall balance and happiness in life.
Nowhere should this truth and principle be more recognized than within the operation of a church, by Christian people. I was the visiting speaker in a church a few weeks ago, and the pastor took me to the church building about forty five minutes before morning services. Three or four families were already there. From the grass outside to the general appearance of the walks, and building’s janitorial maintenance, church property was immaculate. I was taken to the pastor’s study to relax and prepare, and I sat down leaving the door to the hall open. In a matter of fifteen minutes, sitting there, I saw no less than four different men, all dressed in nice suits and ties, come to the hall closet, take out a broom, walk away, and then return the broom after a few minutes. I believe these men were probably deacons by title, but if not by title, they surely were by works. I noticed them, and felt free to ask questions. Those to whom I spoke, made some kind of joke out of their actions, as if it were nothing, or as if they just wanted to appear to be doing something. I knew better. They had seen some little janitorial detail that they felt could be improved. They did not critique someone else, their eye saw, their hand found work that needed doing, and they did it with willing heart and hand. The attendance was great that morning, and the services were wonderful. I wonder why!
After forty three years, as pastor of a vital and progressive church, with many ministries, I value and respect a good Christian work ethic, more than all the wisdom, knowledge, and skill of planning, in the world. I believe God does too! Laziness is the plague of our age. Where hard work is dreadful, failure will always be bountiful. FLK

Keener Thoughts for November, 2006
And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. (Mark 14:3-8)
Much good commentary has been written on this passage, ranging from the theological implications to the spiritual insight of Mary, as to the future restrictions that would surround the death and burial of our Lord. It would be interesting and, no doubt profitable, if I discussed some of these commentaries, and their implications. However, I want to focus on a narrower issue today, and that is these six words of Our Lord, "She hath done what she could."
There were some who felt sure that they could have had a wiser plan for her service and her property. There are always some self-qualified planners who know a better way to do everything, but seem to never finish anything, and never start much but conversation. They have much more insight than initiative, more vision than vitality, and offer more lip than labor. They can more easily point out your mistakes than their accomplishments, and more quickly cite their wisdom than their work. It does not matter if you are preparing a sermon, teaching a class, building a building or cleaning a bathroom stool, they do it a better way. You will know it, not because they can show you, but because they will tell you.
The Lord’s admonition to them was short and sweet, pointed and simple. "Let her alone; why trouble ye her?" To paraphrase this with modern language, we might say, or hear: "Why don’t you shut up?" "Pipe down." "Put a sock in it." The laborer is worthy of his hire, but the motor mouth is worthy of nothing but rebuke and smiting. The Lord does give defense for her action, but He precedes that defense with the simple justification, "She hath done what she could." Many people, including myself, can do only limited works, because of ignorance, limited resource, or other encumbrances, but we can do something. Whoever you are, you can do something. May the grace of God allow us to have this epitaph. He/She did what She/He could. Let laziness not be once named among us. FLK

Keener Thoughts for December, 2006
Please read carefully Rom. 1:21-32, then reconsider, in its context, verse 28.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; (Rom 1:28)
As we read Romans 1:21-27, we are reminded that men unavoidably know of God’s existence, simply by the things that are around them. It is pointed out that great judgment is upon man both outwardly and inwardly because he does not acknowledge God. Then in verse 27, there is a summarized description of man’s horrible state of mind, and of God’s unparallel temporal judgment visited upon him for this sin. He is given over to a reprobate mind. What does that word mean? Strong defines it as unapproved, rejected, worthless, castaway. In my Word Perfect thesauruses, thirty-nine synonyms are given. Remember this is a secular thesaurus. The first synonym is degenerate, the second is delinquent, others include libertine, profligate, abandoned, apostatize, corrupt, debauchee, wanton, wicked, and wretch. These are not exactly the words you would use on a job application, or want for your character reference in a court room. However, these are the people we accommodate most whole heartedly in our society, invite into our living rooms to entertain us, elect to our public offices, and produce in our own families. God is not in all their thoughts, nor is He in ours, as He ought to be. Whether you hate me for saying it or not, we are under this judgment of God, from our homes, to our employment, to our society, and alas, throughout our churches. Surely, it is because of His mercy that we are not all consumed. I am ashamed to even speak of the wickedness in the world, and in apostatized churches, while there is so much corruption in our own homes, and "doctrinally sound" churches.
How could this reprobation have fallen so generally upon us, and covered us like a net encircling a fish? Well, I believe our text answers the question clearly. "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind,...") When has our society, our homes, our government, our churches, had less taste for God. I was thinking this morning, as I listened to the local weather and heard the term "Turkey Day," how few times I have heard the term Thanksgiving used anywhere in the last few days, compared to Turkey Day. I expect the word Halloween has been used a hundred times more often, and at least, that much more recognition has been given to the day. Isn’t that strange? Not in this society! Thanksgiving implies that we owe gratitude to God, and there is no taste for God in society, homes, government, or churches, and let’s not talk much about the first three before we deal with our churches.
The lack of desire for the knowledge of God was the sin mentioned in this verse. The knowledge of God is identified by the word Theology, and that is a word for ridicule in most of our churches today. Social propriety, church growth, personal success, errors being taught in other churches, personal moral excellency, and on we could go, all have great places in our pulpits today, and there is rightly a place for them, but how little time is given to teaching the holy attributes of God, and how little appetite there is for it! How shall people hunger for the knowledge of a God they do not know, and how shall they know except they hear, and how shall they hear without a preacher. Dear brethren, we will never make strong Christians if our preaching majors on Christianity. It must major on Christ, Jehovah incarnate. What a change it would make in our land if our people had the vision of Isaiah! "In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up..." Let us think about it brethren, and speak up! Let us admonish those around us to retain God in their knowledge. FLK

Friday, August 24, 2007

Forrest L. Keener Preaching Itinerary

August 18 -19, 2007 Weekend Meeting
Alma AR - Doug Anderson Pastor

September 2 - 3, 2007 - Weekend & Bible Conference
Frankfort KY - Lonnie Bennett - Pastor

September 5 - 9, 2007 - Revival Meeting
Fairborn OH - Pastor

October 5 - 7, 2007 - Weekend Revival
Godfrey IL - Ralph Blake - Pastor

October 18-20, 2007 - Bible Conference
Choctaw OK - Royce Smith - Pastor

November 1 - 4 - 2007 - Bible Conference & Sunday Service
Tyler TX - Pastor Cozart - Pastor

March 12-14, 2008 Bible Conference
Carthage MS - Gerald Willis - Pastor

October 1 - 3, 2008 - Bible Conference
Carmichael CA - Bill Brown - Pastor

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who is Forrest L. Keener

My name is Forrest L. Keener. I am seventy four years old, and have spent my life, since age twenty five, in the ministry of the Gospel. During my nearly fifty year ministry I have preached in more than thirty states in the USA, three provinces in Canada, four states in Mexico, four states in India, and essentially all over the Philippine Islands. I served as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, in Lawton Oklahoma, for Forty three years, from January of 1960 to January of 2003. At that time I resigned the pastorate to do full-time evangelistic work, as a missionary/evangelist, under the authority of that same church.
I believe, and preach, the doctrines of free and sovereign grace. I have written about forty Gospel Tracts, and about twenty books and booklets. I began a publication called The Baptist Watchman in 1974 . We published and distributed this eight page tabloid monthly, we distributed it free, for twenty nine years, and its circulation became world wide. This resulted in the organization of The Watchman Press, which has printed, assembled, and distributed printed materials world wide. During the last years that I published The Baptist Watchman, I did a short article each month which I entitled "Keener Thoughts." When I resigned the pastorate, and ceased to be editor of the Watchman, and even after it ceased to be published, in 2006, I had many requests to keep writing "Keener Thoughts." I have, therefore, done this via e-mail for the last couple of years, and now have been asked to do it via a Blog Spot. I will be distributing Keener Thoughts by both e-mail and blog now. I will also keep my current preaching itinerary published on the blog. This will let you know the areas where I will be preaching.
A major part of my life and ministry, during the last fifty years, has been careful Bible study. I have, by way of reading the printed page, daily spent much time in the classrooms of some of the most learned theologians the world has known. I have availed myself of the study and writings of some of the most recognized students, on most all issues of Bible doctrine, and more importantly, have purposed to digest their work, not just have it on my shelf. My purpose has not been to walk in the footsteps, or to echo the opinions, of any man, or group of men, but to learn the meaning of the Holy Scriptures. I have enjoyed the honor of being the guest speaker and classroom lecturer in a good many Bible Colleges. I have a total of eight degrees from some of these Bible Colleges, two are honorary and six are "earned." The integrity of these degrees must be left to the colleges which bestowed them, as must every human credential. In any event, all these paper certifications will wind up in someone’s trash, or storage bin, and will decay almost as soon as this old body. However, my prayer is that, contrary to these perishing certificates, I will have, by writing and teaching, committed some of my study, and teaching, to faithful men who will also teach others, thus perpetuating something of my life’s work.
Something I consider a most important part of my life’s work is "The Bible Institute of Correspondence." It is an institute designed for ministerial students. It comprises 96 college hours of serious Bible Study, which hours are recognized by several resident Bible Colleges across the country. It involves 384 outlines on major divisions of biblical study, and is accompanied by 384, forty-five minute, taped lectures, along with comprehensive tests which the student must pass. I spent many hundreds of hours, over a period of twenty years, completing this work. Several hundred students have studied in this institute, who are now pastors across the USA, and in several foreign countries, especially in the Philippine Islands. My prayer is that the labor of men furnished by this study may influence many to faith in Jesus Christ. This institute can be acquired at a very reasonable price, by contacting The Bible Institute of Correspondence, Bethel Baptist Church, 1902 NW Columbia, Lawton OK 71507. The phone number is 580 353 8014
Comment or critique is welcome. If I can be a spiritual blessing in any way please let me know.
In His service by grace alone,
Forrest L. Keener