Paul's Passing Thoughts

Tragic Grace Saved Him From Church

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 7, 2021

I have written many times about the man who led me to a relationship with God. His name was Mark Cline, and you can read about him here. No matter who you are and what your relationship is with God, He intervenes in your life. That is how I define God’s sovereignty. Life is largely determined by our own self-will, but influenced and dictated at times by God’s sovereign interventions. Be sure of this: though we rarely know what God is up to; He is always up to something. Sometimes, it may be 40 years later before we understand what His purpose was in some event; that’s what this post is about.

“Grace” is one of those words that Protestants throw around without really understanding what it means. Again, there is a huge disconnect between what Protestants believe intellectually and how they function. Americanism totally confused the church for the better after the American Revolution. Intellectually, it led to a closer understanding of the new birth, which Protestant orthodoxy rejects according to its Augustinian Neo-Platonist roots. However, the order of traditional church worship, which speaks to the “ordinary means of grace,” remained intact and has paved the way for a return to authentic Protestantism via the New Calvinism movement. Here, please note the functioning definition of “grace” according to Protestant orthodoxy: it always means “salvation.”

Hence, clearly, church order of worship is a continuing means of salvation because ones salvation is a process, according to church orthodoxy, and not a one-time finished work in the individual. The latter is very bad for recurring monthly revenue. Church, whether Catholic or Protestant, claims that Christ’s passive and active obedience to God was a one-time finished work, but that one-time finished work must be continually applied to the “believer’s” life in order to maintain salvation. Accordingly, does this not mean the focus is a maintaining of salvation rather than an outward focus on loving God and others? Of course it does. Watch the church testimony in general; any questions?

Though I would not have applied the following truth to the situation I am getting ready to share, it is apropos to the writing at hand. But first, what is the biblical definition of the word, “grace”? Simply stated, it is love in action. In every Bible verse where the word “grace” is used, you can replace it with “love” and it will work in the sentence. And of course, salvation was the ultimate act of love by God. Love, salvation, and grace are synonymous words with the intended use determined by context.

When I was a young pastor, I was called on by a mentor to accompany him to visit a young couple who had just lost their three-year-old son in a tragic accident. He was accidently struck by a vehicle driven by the father’s best friend. My mentor, in an attempt to comfort the couple, stated that God might have used the tragedy to save the child from a worse fate that God knew was going to happen. Of course, yes, I agree with you, the assertion in that particular case was a colossal fail. My mentor at the time was speaking of tragic grace, or God using a tragic situation as an act of love. The notion of tragic grace has merit; let me share such a case.

Mark Cline was a devoted member of the world renowned Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, TX during the 80’s. He was 20-something, single, and the epitome of what every father would want for a son-in-law. Like many at Prestonwood, he adored the celebrity pastor, Bill Weber. As an alcoholic womanizer, I was also drawn to the charismatic preacher and would rarely miss one of his Sunday morning sermons regardless of suffering from severe hangovers. Mark had brought me to a point of believing in God, but I was unwilling to relinquish the life I was living to follow God. You see, the knowledge that salvation is synonymous with a new life initiated by God is intuitive within every living being with a conscience. A mandate to make changes in your life in order to be saved is an idea that misses the point entirely; people know that if you want to become a child of God, and ask him accordingly, he will remove the desire and enslavement to your present life. People don’t want to change the desires. They don’t want to change masters. I was told by the Prestonwood deacons that I didn’t have to make any changes in my life to say the sinner’s prayer and be saved qualifying me to become a member at Prestonwood. A commitment to changes, they said, as a prerequisite to salvation, was salvation by works. Even as an unregenerate narcissist, I knew more about the gospel than they did. I knew that if I wanted to become God’s child, he would change my heart miraculously, and subsequently, desires. I didn’t want to lose those desires that drove the things in my life that I loved. I didn’t want to love other things, and I knew that change was an initiation by God, not me. That doesn’t mean we are not participants, it means we participate as new creatures recreated by God.

Fact: church orthodoxy denies recreation of the individual. That would diminish sin, and as a business that survives on the principle of supply and demand, sin is the supply side of the economic package. The logical conclusion of church orthodoxy follows: degree of sin is directly related to degree of growth. Therefore, church orthodoxy redefines the new birth as mere joy experiences in the salvation process and not a change in one’s state of being. A “sinner saved by grace” is yet a “sinner,” which is biblically defined as unregenerate.

Nevertheless, I saw Prestonwood as a sanctuary city when I was ready for a new life in Christ. I had it all planned out: I would wait till I was too old to party and then give my life to Christ. I would give Christ the leftovers of my life, and I thought that was even a good deal for God.

I was definitely a project in Mark’s life. For every ten times he would invite me to do something, I would accept the invitation. Yet, he never relented in pursuing a friendship with me. He called to inform me that he had obtained tickets to the Cowboys/Redskins game of that year. He may or may not have been a football fan but knew I was a football fanatic. He mentioned that he was having minor surgery, but would be fully recovered for our trip to Arlington Stadium for the game. He would never recover from the surgery; the surgeon, who had worked 18 hours before Mark’s surgery without a break, made a critical error that killed Mark on the operating table. Mark was put to sleep for the surgery, and awoke in glory right on time, but far too soon for the world’s sake.

Mark was one of those people who is an exemplary picture of health. So, it kind of blew my game plan out of the water regarding salvation on my time schedule. If Mark’s exemplary life was unpredictable, how much more was mine? His death served that purpose in my life, but was a small residual outcome of the massive impact Mark’s life had on others. Many lives he had impacted showed up for his funeral resulting in a traffic quagmire for several city blocks around the funeral home. Bill “Billy” Weber delivered the eulogy.

During that very time, behind the scenes, and only known to a few people who kept silent, Bill Weber was living a secret decadent life. The stunning hypocrisy of it was masterfully documented in a “D Magazine” article published in 1989. Even more telling was the familiar story of how fallen pastors expose the church for being a mere salvation-selling marketing machine that only serves the religious elitist crowd on the backs of the working laity class. True to the Protestant Platonist tradition, pastors are the philosopher kings, elders and deacons are the warrior class, and the laity are the producers. The church is the antithesis of the one body in Christ biblical picture. Instead, it is a picture of Plato’s Republic.

One cannot venture to even imagine how badly this would have devastated Mark. The scandal was revealed shortly after Mark’s death. I thank God he didn’t live to see it. I thank God that his testimony wasn’t relegated to someone who was foolishly deceived by a snake oil salesman. Mark’s death is the perfect picture of a tragedy that is also grace, and…

…salvation from church.


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