At the beginning of Jude’s letter, he wrote, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
This past Sunday, November 21, Religion News Service editor Jonathan Merritt preached a sermon from Mark 13 at his church, Good Shepherd in New York City. His preaching was praised by his own father, James Merritt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a visiting professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. James recommended that everyone listen to Jonathan’s preaching.
“I don’t agree with my loved son Jonathan Merritt on everything to be sure,” James said. “But I encourage you to listen to his message on Mark 13. It is both brilliant and faithful to the gospel and the coming of Jesus!”
But Jonathan’s sermon was none of those things. The theology was terrible, neither “faithful to the gospel” nor to Christ’s second coming. The point of Jonathan’s message was that “Nothing lasts forever,” and “Jesus is always coming, again and again and again, even in this terrible, wonderful time.”
To Jonathan, the return of Christ is not “a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31), but it is something that is continually happening if you will just open your eyes and embrace the change. “There is another way to keep watch in times like these,” he says. “We can simply open our lives to the truth that just as the world is always ending, Christ is always coming.”
What did Jesus say about His return? He said, “On the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:29-30).
But of course Jonathan Merritt isn’t going to teach that. He doesn’t give two cents about what Jesus actually said or what the gospel is. How do I know that? Because Jonathan Merritt is of Sodom.
In August, Jonathan came out as gay to no one’s surprise. He had already been outed after a homosexual encounter nine years ago. Ed Stetzer attempted to clear Jonathan’s name, and Jonathan retained a status as an evangelical darling, but he never repented. Instead, he became hyper-critical of the church and embraced the ethics of the LGBTQ revolution. He approves of and practices abominable sin that Jesus Christ has judged with holy fire (Genesis 19:24), and He has promised He will judge with fire again (Revelation 21:8).
Jonathan believes in a false christ, one who would bless homosexuality as holy, as he pulled from Jen Hatmaker. He agrees with Brian Zahnd that eternal hell and penal substitutionary atonement are “theological aberrations.” He claims everyone is welcome at God’s table no matter their theology, when Jesus said, “No one gets to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).
In his sermon on Sunday, Jonathan read the words of Jesus from Mark 13:5, “Watch out that no one deceives you,” with no irony in his tone or wink in his eye. Jonathan’s christ is a cheap, worthless imitation with less potency than a used Christmas tree car air freshener. There is no truth in Jonathan’s christ. Yet his father, James, thinks there’s merit in his unregenerate son’s teaching, and we all need to hear it.
In defense of his recommendation, James said, “Regardless of who preaches Jesus or speaks truth, I rejoice when they do because I love Jesus and truth. I can approve a message even when I have disagreements with the messenger. I agree with Paul: love rejoices with the truth. And that is the truth.”
That would be all well and good if Jonathan’s message was true, but it wasn’t! The Apostle Paul said the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, including “men who practice homosexuality,” as Jonathan does (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Where is that truth in James’s doctrine? If James truly loves his son, then he will tell him the truth—that he does not know Jesus and he’s headed for hell if he does not repent.
I wish that I could say this was only a case of a father trying desperately to hold on to some kind of relationship with his rebellious son. Sadly, he’s willing to twist his doctrine in order to cope with the tragic reality that his son is dwelling in the city of destruction. My heart breaks for both of them.
However, this is much more than that. James Merritt is a famous preacher teaching other preachers at a large Southern Baptist seminary. Consider the implications of what he’s teaching by claiming his son is preaching the gospel:
- He is teaching others to embrace a false gospel that cannot save, when the Scripture says “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3).
- He is teaching that homosexual men are fellow Christians, when the Scripture plainly says “the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality” are contrary to Christ and His word (1 Timothy 1:10).
- He is teaching his own son that he’s saved and a qualified preacher, when Jonathan has “made shipwreck” of his faith and blasphemed Christ (1 Timothy 1:19).
At the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, James Merritt rebuked the members who were calling down Critical Race Theory as incompatible with the gospel. In his rebuke, he said, “It’s time to find out who we are and where we’re headed.”
Is James showing who he really is and where he’s headed? He’s wrong on the gospel and who’s qualified to teach it. He is steering others wrong, and he could make a shipwreck of his own faith if he does not change course. Time will tell what Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary intends to do about this or where the Southern Baptist Convention will stand.
Jude goes on to say, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (verse 7).
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Jude says. “They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt. Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (verses 17-23).