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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
"And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." (1 Kings 18:17-24)
Elijah the prophet called upon the northern kingdom of Israel to choose between the LORD (Jehovah, the true God) and Baal (the leading pagan deity).
". . . if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him."
The nation was at a crossroads when the events of I Kings 18 took place. Which God would they follow, the God of their fathers or the popular god of the times? The challenge of the prophet was a challenge of prayer, and the God Who answered the prayer was the Winner that day.
"And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God." (verse 39)
Our country, the United States of America, is at a similar crossroads today. We are in the process of deciding whether or not to change gods. At a different time, the southern kingdom of Judah also struggled with changing gods, and the prophet Jeremiah was raised up to call them back.
"Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
So said God's man to God's people forty years before his nation collapsed, and so says God to America now!

During and just after the recent election campaign, many were saying that there are really "two Americas." Our nation is divided philosophically, and the division has been shown in the results of recent presidential elections. There are "blue states" and there are "red states," but the division is more complicated than which party wins which states. The division is cultural and philosophical more than it is political. We are morally two Americas, and religiously divided, too. The division is real and profound, and yet it is understood by very few. What is dividing the people of our country is the question of which God we will follow. A survey of Israelite and American history will demonstrate this fact.

The chapters that come before I Kings 18 reveal to us how Israel got to this crossroads. In chapters 11 and 12, we read about King Solomon's apostasy and also the disobedience of his son, King Rehoboam. "For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father" (1 Kings 11:4). The nation's decline began with public defiance of God's Law. They acknowledged that it was the Law of God, but they did not obey it. The Lord judged His people at this time by splitting the country into two kingdoms: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.

In chapters 12 and 13, we see the king of Israel in the north diverting his nation into what we would correctly call "modernism." For various reasons, King Jeroboam wanted to revise the religion of Israel so that his subjects would no longer go to the southern Kingdom to worship the Lord. To revise religion because of changing times and circumstances is "modernism." We see in I Kings 12 three aspects of modernism:

1. Conformity. Religion was revised to conform in some way to the beliefs and practices of other religions.

". . . the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold . . . and he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan." (verses 28 and 29)
Modernized Jehovah-worship incorporated some paganism with the idea that all religions point somehow to God.

2. Convenience. The king suggested that Jerusalem was too far to travel for worship.

"It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (verse 28)
The new worship sites in Bethel and Dan were more conveniently located. They were both within the borders of the northern kingdom, one on the north part of it and the other in the south part of it. Modernism is more convenient for modern people than the old orthodoxy. It isn't as hard as the old-time religion.

3. Condescension. Standards were lowered in the revised religion of Israel.

"And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi." (verse 31)
Modernistic religion always lowers standards. Modernism claims to be the old religion updated.
"And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense." (verses 32-33)
But "modernized" religion never lasts. Repeatedly the Bible calls Jeroboam's altered version of worship "his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin" (I Kings 14:16, 15:26, 15:30, 15:34, 16:19, 16:26), and it records the story of its decline.

The last king to adhere to Jeroboam's modernism was Omri. After him it gave way to outright paganism.

"And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him." (1 Kings 16:30-31)
Modernism cannot last long because it is unreasonable. If the faith of the fathers was revealed by God, why must it be revised or updated? If it is in need of alteration, it must not have been divinely revealed. Jeroboam worshiped Jehovah with golden calves, although Jehovah (it was written) forbids idol-worship. Illogical religion like this has real trouble surviving from generation to generation. Modernism in Israel continued from Jeroboam through two years of Nadab's reign, twenty-four years of Baasha, and about 14 more years to Ahab. Then it gave way to Baal-worship, outright paganism.

The spiritual decline of the northern kingdom went through three stages: disobedience (I Kings 11-12), modernism (I Kings 12-16), and paganism (I Kings 16-18). When Ahab introduced pagan Baal-worship to the kingdom, the Lord called Elijah to challenge him!

America got to her crossroads by the same route as Israel! Her disobedience-modernism-paganism transformation happened twice. The generations that followed the original Puritan settlers were increasingly disobedient to the Faith that brought their forefathers across the ocean. Even a casual study of New England's early days provides anyone interested with many examples of religious compromise, moral decline, and spiritual laxity. Those who led the "Great Awakening" of the eighteenth century sought successfully to turn many back to the religious devotion and fervency of those earlier days, but not all New Englanders were awakened. Numbers of the leading preachers in the Congregational denomination (the movement founded by the Puritans) opposed the revival and then set out to re-define Christianity. The "modernism" of eighteenth-century America was Unitarianism. Many of its tenets were the same as those later held by the "liberals" of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It denied the infallibility of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the possibility of the miraculous, and the reality of Hell, and it put the emphasis on this life rather than the next. But Unitarianism rapidly lost its power and largely gave way to "Transcendentalism" in the first half of the nineteenth century. Transcendentalism (found in much of the literature of that era, as well as in the pulpits of New England) was a form of pagan spirituality that rejected Christianity altogether. Thus the transition from Jehovah to Baal in New England went from 1640 to 1840 through the phases of disobedience, modernism, and paganism.

The same thing happened on a bigger scale from 1840 to the present day all across the religious establishment in our country. As the Second Great Awakening (1800 - 1840) waned, the churches became more and more disobedient to Christ, and Americans who believed in the Christian faith became less and less committed to it. Although the Prayer Revival of the late 1850s and the great evangelistic campaigns of the post-Civil War era brought the old-time religion to millions of hearts, a movement from disobedience to modernism was evident in the religious educational networks. A deemphasis on Bible doctrine and the salvation of the soul accompanied a new emphasis on the salvation of society. By the arrival of the twentieth century, theological liberalism with its denial of Biblical infallibility and its "social gospel" had seized control of the higher levels of authority in most evangelical denominations. The big Protestant church organizations became great promoters of socialism and modernism. However, the modernism of the mainline denominations did not rule American religion for very long. By the 1960s, modernistic churches were losing members and conservative churches were growing. Modernism is not reasonable, and cannot hold minds for long. If the Bible is not the infallible Word of God as it claims to be, why bother with it at all? The modernist attempt at respecting the Bible while not believing it, following Christ without worshiping Him, and saving society without addressing sin failed and left churches cold and empty. The philosophical movement that rose up in the 1970s to replace modernistic religion was a combination of ancient pagan doctrines called "the New Age." The New Age Movement has beliefs similar to several of those held by the Transcendentalists one hundred and fifty years ago. The mainline liberal churches at the beginning of the twenty-first century continue to preach revised morals and left-wing politics to shrinking congregations, while New Age ideas are growing in their influence everywhere. American religion has again moved from disobedience to modernism to paganism. And now the country is divided over whether to fight for the old faith or to embrace entirely the new faith. We are at the crossroads, and we need Elijah!

Actually, the division between pro-Christian thinkers and anti-Christian thinkers has existed in our country throughout its history. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is a strange sight on the north side of the town square. Two old churches stand there very near each other. One is made of stone, and the other of white-painted wood. The sign in front of the stone church identifies it as the "First Church in Plymouth (Unitarian)." A tablet in front of the other (called the Church of the Pilgrimage) tells a story:

"This tablet is inscribed in grateful memory of the Pilgrims and their successors who, at the time of the Unitarian controversy in 1801, adhered to the belief of the Fathers and on the basis of the original Creed and Covenant perpetuated at great sacrifice in the Church of the Pilgrimage the evangelical faith and fellowship of the church of Scrooby, Leyden, and the Mayflower organized in England in 1606."

As the century turned to the nineteenth, the church that had been organized by the Pilgrims (who were English Separatists) voted to call as their new pastor a Unitarian who denied the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. At the time the Unitarian modernism was taking over many churches in Massachusetts, and the Plymouth church had to decide about it. A bare majority of the members voted to install the Unitarian, and soon a large minority withdrew to form a new church. It was technically a new church, but it held to the old faith. Someone said that the First Church kept the furniture but the split church kept the faith! Although the Church of the Pilgrimage has since fallen to twentieth-century modernism, the truth illustrated by the two churches with the two signs is till powerfully significant! Separated by a few feet, the two churches picture the split in American religion. On one side is America #1: Christian America. On the other side is America #2: Disobedient Christianity developing modernism turning into paganism. These are the two Americas that are doing battle today.

America #1 believes in the Creator-God, Maker of heaven and earth. America #2 believes in a Creation-God, the spiritual Force behind the material world, not separate from but intrinsically part of nature. The Creation-God is the deity of evolution and the Creator-God is the God of Genesis.

America#1 believes in a God to be served. America #2 believes in a God Who serves. Of course, the true God gives loving and merciful attention to the needs of man, but fundamentally He is to served, glorified, and worshiped by man. However, many believe in a Power that can be harnessed and used by man for his purposes. This Power they like to call "God."

America #1 believes that man needs to be redeemed. America #2 believes that man can redeem himself. No one can deny that something is wrong among humankind, but there is strong disagreement over what it is. Christians know that the problem is man's innate sinfulness resulting from the original sin of Adam. The solution is in God's plan of redemption through His Son's sacrifice for man's sin, and His victory over sin and death. Anti-Christians see the problem elsewhere: in childhood experiences, in capitalistic economics, and in the Christian religion! Man can redeem himself by ridding himself of such things. The two ideas of redemption are absolutely incompatible.

America #1 follows absolute laws based on God's nature. America #2 follows relative standards based on man's perceived needs. The fuss over displaying the Ten Commandments in the courtroom was not just a disagreement over the meaning of the First Amendment. The fight was really over the Ten commandments themselves! The cultural war is about how moral judgments are to be made. Controversies rage over marriage, human life, the meaning of truth, the rearing of children, the moral character of words, and the definition of decency primarily because the two Americas cannot agree on whether we must live by absolutes that come from God or by pragmatic arrangements we make for ourselves!

Observers who think that the great divide in our country is basically political do not know what they are talking about! The division is religious. The great question is, "Whom will we follow, Jehovah the God of our fathers, or Baal the deity of paganism?" And we need Elijah to help our country see the issues. Christians must seek to do what he did to turn a nation back to the true God:

1. Confront the prophets of Baal.

"Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred . . ." (1 Kings 18:19)
"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." (1 Kings 18:21)
As Elijah did, we should tackle false doctrine directly and courageously. We must do it in the name of the Lord, and not just in the name of conservatism or family values. We must do it directly in both private and group conversations. We must speak up, believing that God will bless the unadulterated truth!

Baal had become the most popular pagan deity of the Middle East in Elijah's day. Originally worshiped as a plurality of gods (Baalim, as in Judges 2:11 has the plural ending), Baal became singular as this cult evolved (Judges 2:13). The name Baal meant "lord" or "master" and referred at first to a spirit-being that supposedly ruled over a certain realm. If you could please or placate the "Baal" of this land area or that kind of thing, you could get favors from him in the realm of his control. Baal myths eventually merged with other pagan stories and Baal became one god. But still behind his religion were the concepts of the spiritual Force behind nature and the existence of spirit beings that can achieve godhood. These false doctrines the Bible says originated with Satan (See Genesis 3:4-5) and form the basic religious rival of true religion. The New Age Baalism of our day must be fought at its root. Confronting surface issues only will not gain ground for Christianity in the culture war, at least not for long. We must present the controversy to the people as a "God versus Baal" battle.

2. Repair the altar of the Lord!

". . . he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down." (1 Kings 18:30)
Right now the American church needs a thorough and courageous renewal. We need to get back to Bible standards and Bible ways. Even evangelical churches are in a state of disrepair, and serious action must be taken now! The approach of evangelism-by-compromise was wrong from the beginning and has led the churches to the low point of seeking success by capitulation to the declining culture! The teaching of our Lord that His disciples be salt and light on the earth (Matthew 5:13-16) has been twisted to mean that Christians must be more engaged in the affairs of the world, when the metaphor He used clearly meant that we must live lives in stark contrast to the dark and decaying world around us. Let us get to work restoring our churches to the old-time Biblical standards, doctrines, and methods.

3. Call on the name of the Lord!

". . . I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God . . ." (1 Kings 18:24)
In his prayer on Mount Carmel that day, Elijah asked for four things:
a. That the people would know that Jehovah is God.
b. That the people would identify Elijah as God's servant.
c. That God would vindicate Himself, His servant, and His Word.
d. That God would turn the people back to Him.
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again." (1 Kings 18:36-37)
Now is the time for bold praying among God's people in America, although prayer alone will not suffice without the confrontation of evil and the repair of God's altar. Christian Americans must view the emergence of "two Americas" as a God-given opportunity to promote another great revival. Let us be Elijah at this crossroads in American history.

Monthly Article
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

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