Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Bread and Circuses?


As I have been trying to spread the word about our new blog, I have had more than one person ask me, "Why Bread and Circuses?" I would love to tell them and everyone else for that matter that the idea was entirely mine and that I had no help whatsoever. I would love to say that, but I would be lying--actually my brother Josh thought up this name without any help from me. When people have asked me this question about the name of our blog, I knew that eventually we would need to make a post giving its relation to our experiences at FBCH. First a little history would be in order:

During the years of the Roman Empire, there were some who used entertainment and food in the form of great feasts, Roman games, and grand circuses to divert attention from the current political injustice and unrest.

"In Juvenal's time (55-127 A.D.), the Roman Republic was but a distant memory as the power of the emperors grew stronger and stronger. The once proud Senate that had witnessed the splendid orations of Cato and Cicero, dominated and weakened year after year by the succession of dictators, atrophied into a figurehead of an institution. However, Juvenal felt that the populace took the duties of citizenship far more seriously during the days of the Republic than in the virtual dictatorships of the Caesars. He lamented that the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and longs eagerly for just two things, bread and circuses."

"Those scornful words 'bread and circuses,' or 'panem et circenses' in Latin, become more meaningful when you understand that Roman citizens became increasingly addicted to free distributions of food and the violent gladiatorial and other contests held in the Colosseum and the chariot races of the Circus Maximus. He felt that Romans had lost the capacity to govern themselves so distracted by mindless self-gratification had they become."1


"The Plebeian and freed population of Rome vastly outnumbered the Equestrian and Patrician classes, and their lives were much harder. Many had no jobs, little money and little food. Augustus, realizing that the masses of average Romans had to be kept both fed and happy enough to remain peaceful, began the system of patronage we now refer to as "bread and circuses." He gave the people food by means of grain distribution and legislation of food prices and free entertainment such as chariot races, gladiators, lavish spectacles in amphitheaters and the Circus Maximus."2

When I read about this Roman society and their appetite for more and more free entertainment and grandiose circus-like events, I could not help but immediately think of FBCH. They wait with bated breath for the next magnificent show and each one must outdo the last--the next big day--the next "famous" guest--the next fabulous fall or stupendous spring program--the next narcissistic event on the church calendar!


Just like the people of Rome during the days of the Republic, at one time FBCH was not ruled by one strong and charismatic personality! Just like the citizens in Rome under the direction of dictatorial Caesars became lazy and complacent with simply "not rocking the boat", I believe many of the good and decent people of FBCH have likewise adopted this philosophy. The picture of the impotent Roman Senate during the time of the emperors pictures almost perfectly the good men on the deacon board at FBCH--they are nothing more than a rubber stamp for anything the preacher/emperor desires to do or refrain from doing.

Much of what goes on in Hammond in the guise of ministry is nothing more than "free entertainment" in the form of panem et circenses! When you read about the Circus Maximus does any FBCH event come to mind? I can certainly think of a few!

Stay tuned...

Matthew Richards

1 Taken from article "Bread and Circuses" by Thomas James Martin
2 The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Texas Baptist Crucible

We at Bread and Circuses have decided unanimously to post a brief plug here for our friend James Spurgeon at the Texas Baptist Underground. James was involved with a school and ministry in Longview, Texas, for seven harrowing years until the Lord saw fit to open his eyes to the extremely unbiblical and man-centered philosophies that were so rampant.

I think it would be safe to state that Texas Baptist College and Longview Baptist Temple could best be described as both extremely man-centered and legalistic. The book is aimed at informing those who may be involved in one of these ministries of the unbiblical principles on which they are based and thrive upon.

It was not too long ago that I sat in disbelief reading some of his 'Tales from the Temple' on what was known in cyberspace as the Fighting Fundamentalist Forums. 'Tales from the Temple' are the basis, I believe, for what now has been published as "The Texas Baptist Crucible". I can honestly say that they were a forum favorite for many people for several years.

I soon will be submitting my order for a copy of "The Texas Baptist Crucible", and I hope that you will do the same.

order from Barnes and Noble

Joshua Richards

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

To Discipline or Not To Discipline?

Last Sunday in the church that I attend our pastor spoke from and expounded upon I Corinthians chapter five. In my later meditations upon the instruction in the letter I was reminded that the concept of church discipline was not even stabbed at from the pulpit in Hammond, Indiana.

During my 20 plus years at First Baptist Church of Hammond, not one time to my knowledge was there exercised anything remotely close to a New Testament model of church discipline. Beyond that, the topic of what we call local church discipline was never even addressed Scripturally, but was avoided. I reckon that the closest Hyles ever approached this topic was during his Wednesday evening Bible studies that would later be manifest in the book form of "Jack Hyles On Justice", but that is for an entirely different post.

There are multiplied reasons for this that I will not propound upon at this time, but the fact remains. In the aftermath of my exiting FBCH, I have come to see that a plethora of problematic situations could have been easily avoided and wayward believers brought to Biblical repentance via church discipline.

Is not a purpose of the Pauline epistles to lay a correct Biblical framework for the local church in this present age? My answer to myself would be "yes."

I Corinthians 5:6 "...Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?"

I find the Apostle to be abundantly clear on this matter. Maybe it's just me.

More to come...

Joshua Richards

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Making of a "Classic" Sermon

Great Preachin' Hammond Style

Joshua's post about pop-psychology vs. Biblical exegesis in preaching got me thinking. While growing up at FBCH, major staples of our spiritual diet were topical and personal illustration-saturated sermons. Here are some thoughts on the topic.

It has been said that the more things change the more they stay the same--this is certainly not always the case, but this statement did come to mind as I listened to a recent sermon from the First Baptist Church of Hammond. It was the Sunday morning sermon from March 12, 2006 entitled, "The Breakaway Moment". I have been told time and time again by current members of FBCH that the church is heading in a fresh direction and that many things are changing for the better. I certainly pray that this is the case, but a simple listen to many of the Sunday services broadcast from Hammond will quickly quell any glimmer of hope that these assertions are valid.

Jack Hyles was the infamous pastor of this church for over 4 decades and he created an insatiable appetite in his church members for "story hour" in place of weekly sound Biblical preaching.

I recently read a sermon Hyles preached on a Sunday evening entitled "Inferior Churches" and was reminded why he was so entertaining to listen to as a young and impressionable lad--his stories were second to none and his comedic timing was fabulous! In the aforementioned sermon he berates churches in the Bible as "inferior churches" because they did not win souls as Hyles thought they should. He goes on to brag ad nauseum about how FBCH was winning the lost like none other--thus the conclusion that FBCH was in fact NOT an inferior church but truly a superior church! One scripture is alluded to briefly and the rest of the 45 minute diatribe is nothing but personal illustrations and criticism of those who do not see things his way. The lack of scripture was tragic, but sadly I was not surprised.

Fast forward a few decades to the sermon I referenced earlier preached by Jack Schaap on March 12, 2006. I listened to this sermon desperately longing to hear something different--alas I found much of the same ingredients that were commonplace on Sibley Street during the Hyles era. The sermon begins with 12 minutes of fluff about personal situations before a scripture passage is even mentioned. Of course they all read a text before the performance began, but the scripture he mentions 12 minutes in isn't even from that text. I heard about all the marriage counseling that Dr. Schaap does on a weekly basis, I heard about all the teens in the youth group that come by his office on Saturday and "cut up" with him, I heard about all the negative influences we have in our lives (speeding tickets, angry drivers, terrorism, etc...), and I even heard a very familiar refrain when Schaap asks some "Brother Brian" who is sitting on the platform to stand on the stage and hold a glass half-full of water for his object lesson.

Some may say that this is just the style of preaching that these folks have chosen so get over it--I couldn't disagree more. Herein is one of the ways that the "image machine" works every week in Hammond. Preacher is an expert on everything--he is an expert on which churches are inferior and which churches are superior--he is an expert on marriage counseling and has pieced together scores of marriages--he is an expert on politics--he is an expert on how to deal with teenagers--he is an expert on everything that you struggle with and he will never tire of telling you just how wise he is! Here are my questions for you:

1. If he is an expert why does he have to keep reminding you about it?
2. Is he really an expert or is he a "self-proclaimed" expert?
3. Wouldn't you rather have the Word of God preached in a systematic and expository manner than hear favorite proof texts taken out of context wrapped neatly with silly personal illustrations?

I know which one I choose! How about you?

2 Timothy 4:2 KJV "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."

Matthew Richards

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pop-psychology vs. the Systematic Preaching of the Word

In the coming days I plan to elaborate on my journeys growing up in the ministry of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. As has been stated in the initial welcome post, both myself and Matt possess a good deal of experience with the aforementioned church and its related ministries. This includes not only kindergarten through 12th grade, but also four years at Hyles-Anderson College.

For the moment, however, I would like to provoke thought regarding their philosophy of the ministry of preaching. Jack Hyles was certainly famous for grand storytelling, and Pastor Jack Schaap is also quite adept at this art. Now then, before you current members pounce on me to prove me wrong regarding the current leadership there, let me express that I don’t doubt that Schaap may stay closer to his text as a whole than his late father-in-law. The point that I would like to make is this: if we as Christians truly believe what the Word speaks about itself, namely Hebrews 4:12, why is the ratio of pop-psychology application to Scriptural exegesis so lopsided? If one were to visit the chapel sermons section of the college website they would not need to listen for long before finding this to be the stark reality.

This is one that for the life of me I have been unable to figure out since leaving FBCH and its related ministries. In retrospect it appears as such a pronounced wart on their theological nose, yet I highly doubt that the leadership there has thought twice regarding it. For this I am saddened. What I fear is that their reason for avoiding systematic teaching and preaching is that it would "quench" the "fire" of the preacher boy crowd and thus do damage to their numerical and visible results. That would be less than befitting for the "flagship church of fundamentalism", no doubt.

The truth is that nothing is more powerful than the "twoedged sword" of Scripture. What could produce more authentic fruit for the Kingdom of God than a disciplined exposition of the "holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."? Let us endeavor to pray that hearts may be changed regarding this issue.

Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

Joshua Richards

A View from the Lighter Side

I was speaking with a friend of mine last week about the opening day of Pastors' School in Hammond on Sunday, March 19. He made a statement that almost caused me to have an accident as I was driving. He said, "I have never seen so many tapered haircuts, ten gallon hats, and double-breasted suits in one place!" Granted that this would probably be the case among other groups especially south of the Mason Dixon Line, I found it dead-on accurate and hilarious all at the same time!

Matthew Richards