Thursday, July 02, 2015

Being A People Of Peace In A Land Without Laws

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (1 Thess 4:9-12)
These words from Paul were sound 2000 years ago and are just as valid and timely today. Christians of those days lived in a lawless land and yet they survived, thrived and multiplied in spite of that as well as the very real persecution they suffered, indeed perhaps they thrived precisely because of it. Very few people are looking to get themselves persecuted but it isn't like the Bible is silent on the topic. In the middle of this persecution, Paul's words seem counter-intuitive, as they so often do. Work quietly. Mind your own business. The reason was also clear. So that we as  the church may walk properly before outsiders and not be dependent on anyone. His language is interesting. He describes those who are not the brethren, i.e. not part of he church, as outsiders. Coupled with his previous admonitions for purity and avoidance of sexual immorality in 1 Thess 4: 1-8 (an interesting comparison can also be made for today), Paul seems to be setting out very, very clear instructions for marking out the boundary between the church and not-the-church. Loving our brothers included being self-reliant, living quietly and living distinctly such that no one mistakes us for the world and vice versa.

Back to the title of the post. Make no mistake, this is a lawless land. That doesn't mean that there are no laws of course, we have enough laws to keep a billion lawyers happily employed. It just means that the average American has no say in the law of the land. The government can take your money, your property, your children, even your life and you can't do a thing about it. If the government comes onto your property and decides it is a "wetland" you are just out of luck, the 5th Amendment not withstanding. If the government decides that your kids are being mistreated, they can take them away by force and leave the burden to the parent to try to get them back. As we have seen time and again the democratic process is defunct and the Constitution is null and void. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote regarding the ridiculous Obergefell decision: A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy. Of course for the better part of a century this country allowed the enslavement of an entire race of people so our overall record as a land of laws is not exactly stellar.

In a land where the church dwells as part of a mass population ruled by a bureaucratic oligarchy we can look back to the early days of the church and the words of Paul ring true. The illusion of "we the people" is gone and the once comfortable perch the church sat on as the useful idiot and tame pet of Caesar has been knocked over. Caesar doesn't need us anymore and certainly doesn't want us. We are not going to regain that standing and we shouldn't try to. What matters now more than ever is not our influence but our witness. Our commitment to marriage and our embrace of a Biblical understanding of gender is a big part of that. Our love for our neighbor and especially one another is an even more important part. As Paul writes we should be a quiet, loving people who rely on each other. Our distinction from the world should be crystal clear, especially when the world is caught up in immorality.

This is one of those places where the broader church can learn from the Anabaptists but also be cautioned by them as well. The "conservative" Anabaptists have done a great job of being distinct from the world, normally a quiet and industrious people that rely on each other. They have not done such a great job being a witness to the world because they really don't want people to join them. Somewhere in the middle is probably the right way for the church. We should be very clearly distinct but that distinction should also serve as a witness and invitation. Something makes us different, we would love to tell you about it! Come share a meal with us, come spend time with us, come learn why we are different and not just learn all the ways we are different. In a world that is progressively (pun intended) more acrimonious and angry, we ought to be a quiet people of peace, bold in the Gospel but gentle in our lifestyle.

The Christianity of the coming years in America will of necessity be a less powerful Christianity as the world understands it but that doesn't mean a less powerful witness. Our weakness will be our strength, our quiet lives will be our loudest voice. When the church is interdependent and internally reliant we won't care about tax exemptions. Our love for one another will speak to the world that we are disciples of Christ far better than our opulent religious temples. We must rely on one another and we must therefore be willing and eager to support one another, even (especially) financially. Our American economic system is about the best we can hope for in a fallen world but it is completely inadequate for the church. I think there is a lot to be said about the church and how we function in the economic system, how we make a living, how we allocate our resources and how dependent or not we are on the surrounding economic system but that will have to wait for another post. Above all we must remain a people of peacemaking even when the world itself seems to be at war against us.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Caesar Giveth and Caesar Taketh Away

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it provided that we continue to be able to make tax deductible contributions to local religious organizations. (Matthew 16:18, Post-Christendom Standard Version)
The initial fallout over the tyrannical imposition of "gay marriage" on America is largely past. The playground chest thumping from Trash-Talker-In-Chief Obama has run its course and social media has moved on to other issues for the most part. Behind the scenes however, this is still a live issue. Both sides are already bracing for the next steps, homosexual activists breathlessly imagining what else they can do to quash dissent and religious conservative girding for the next battle that they are going to lose. I was writing a little longer post on my thoughts for the church in the days to come but I came across a post from Denny Burk at The Federalist, Ending Tax Exemptions Means Ending Churches, that I thought worthwhile to comment on. His driving point was a premature call to end tax-exempt status for religious organizations in the New York Times. I don't think the judiciary has the stomach for that just yet but it will.

I also think a lot of confused liberal Christians and religious "progressives" are in for a shock when their presumed buddies in the "gay marriage" movement turn on them as well and their "progressive" churches also lose their tax-exempt status but maybe they don't care since they have already been doing a great job of committing religious suicide over the years anyway. If there is no one there to put money in the plate, does it really matter if the nonexistent contribution would have been tax-deductible?

Burk is correct that "gay marriage" was never the real point of this entire fight but his response to the next inevitable step of the homosexual movement and the dream of the progressive Left forever, the elimination of tax-exempt status for churches and other religious groups is more telling than the actual topic itself. According to Burk, "After I posted a link to his article on Facebook, a pastor friend commented: “I’m not sure our small church could survive.”' What a sad commentary on the church that love and fellowship is not enough, we rely on tax-exemptions to survive. Burk goes on to say:
No, the real intent of removing tax-exempt status is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution. When tax exemptions are removed, donors will give far less than they are giving now. Churches will become liable to property taxes. That means that many churches will have to forfeit their property to the government because they won’t be able to afford the taxes they have to pay on it. Many of them wouldn’t be able to pay them now. If donations went down, they would be that much further from being able to pay them. As a result, churches that reside on valuable properties in urban locations would be immediately vulnerable. Eventually, so would everyone else.
As I said, I agree that is one of the next steps we will see in short order but I see it somewhat differently. That statement exposes one of the major flaws in organized religion, namely that it is primarily focused on self-preservation. How in the world did the church survive without preferential tax treatment and still care for the poor and the widow? Well it did so by not saddling itself with debt, expensive property and permanent salaried staff. Burk is part of the religious establishment that churns out "ministers" that need jobs, jobs that are funded by the tax-deductible contributions of Christians and other religious folks. If he is correct, and I am certain he is, and donations to local religious organizations rapidly dry up when they stop being tax-deductible, that probably will mean fewer "churches" and commensurately fewer jobs for ministers, which more bi-vocational ministers who enter the clergy later in life and are less likely to seek formal theological education and even more purely voluntary church leaders who have regular jobs and don't depend on the church for a living. That is probably bad news for the Religious-Industrial Complex known as the seminary system, especially the numerous degree mills that church out worthless M.Divs, but I don't think it is all that bad for the church.

It is hardly the end of the church if we have to sell off our expensive property that sits empty most of the week and the clergy has to get regular jobs instead of depending on checks from widows. Quite the opposite. For a church in the wilderness, on the margins of society, it is far more healthy. People are less than interested in our religious rituals, our crappy pseudo-pop "praise music" and our carefully sanitized "church" experience that seems like a religious version of a theme park ride. It is going to take some getting used to but being a peculiar, distinct people within a broader society is going to be wonderful because it will of necessity require us to depend on one another and I for one would rather stand next to my brother in the face of persecution than face off against my brother in our competition for "members" and money.

I have more, a lot more, to say about this but that will have to wait for my next post (unless something else more interesting pops up first!)

Friday, June 26, 2015

So now what?

That is the question a lot of people are asking today. With the stroke of a pen the Supreme Court added by judicial fiat the "right" of two people of the same gender to "marry", placing Obergefell v. Hodges alongside Roe v. Wade, with the "right" of a woman to murder her child in the womb, in the pantheon of "rights" made up out of thin air by the court outside of and in opposition to the legislative process.

From a legal standpoint this was going to happen anyway. The tides of the culture were already moving in this direction and within a few years the entire nation was going to have legalized "gay marriage". Having the Court step in to circumvent the process is simply the latest dangerous precedent where the Court makes the law and there is not much you can do about it because that same Court interprets the law. It is somewhat akin to a baseball umpire getting up in the middle of a game and rearranging the scoreboard to achieve whatever outcome they want rather than ruling on balls and strikes. The American system of governance does not work when one branch stops being a checks and balances branch and becomes the de facto rulers of the nation.

The decision was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. The same court that ruled in favor of Obamacare a day earlier because the law is a mess and they decided not to make it worse, rather than sending it back to the legislature to fix like they are supposed to, was certainly going to have at least 5 members rule in favor of "gay marriage" no matter what the arguments were for or against and certainly without bothering to consult the Constitution. So there it is. America is not a "marriage equality" nation, to our shame and national degradation.

So what next?

If you think that those who pushed for "gay marriage" are going to be satisfied that they got what they demanded, you are delusional. There is always a next step. You need proof? Check out this tweet from our esteemed Commander-in-Chief:
A "big step". That implies there are more steps to come. Having won the "right" to get married, now comes the push to silence those who disagree and force at least external acceptance of homosexual unions. The institutional church is going to bear the brunt of this because that is where the money is and lawyers and activists always chase the money.

Imagine this scenario. Church X is a moderately conservative Southern Baptist church with a beautiful sanctuary. The family of Guy A are lifelong members there and Guy A went to church, youth group, was baptized there and accepted into membership as a youth. In his adulthood he decided he liked dudes and found "the one". So Guy A and Guy B want to get married and Guy A wants to have the ceremony in Church X because he is a "member" there and it carries deep emotional significance for him. Church X declines. Guy A feels upset by this. Do you seriously think that Guy A can't and won't sue to demand that they accommodate him and do you seriously think that he won't win?

Or, as many have predicted for some time, the courts are going to be inundated with appeals from polygamist groups. Given the complete lack of Constitutional interaction there is no reason that the same reasoning doesn't apply to polygamist groups. As the dissenting justices wrote: "The majority's decision is an act of will, not legal judgment." The five justices wanted something, so they did it. Simple as that. Justice Roberts has already made this point in his dissent:
One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people. Cf. Brown v. Buhman, 947 F. Supp. 2d 1170 (Utah 2013), appeal pending, No. 14- 4117 (CA10). Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one. 
It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” ante, at 13, why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry? If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” ante, at 15, why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children? If not having the opportunity to marry “serves to disrespect and subordinate” gay and lesbian couples, why wouldn’t the same “imposition of this disability,” ante, at 22, serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships? See Bennett, Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution? Newsweek, July 28, 2009 (estimating 500,000 polyamorous families in the United States); Li, Married Lesbian “Throuple” Expecting First Child, N. Y. Post, Apr. 23, 2014; Otter, Three May Not Be a Crowd: The Case for a Constitutional Right to Plural Marriage, 64 Emory L. J. 1977 (2015). 
I do not mean to equate marriage between same-sex couples with plural marriages in all respects. There may well be relevant differences that compel different legal analysis. But if there are, petitioners have not pointed to any. When asked about a plural marital union at oral argument, petitioners asserted that a State “doesn’t have such an institution.” Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 2, p. 6. But that is exactly the point: the States at issue here do not have an institution of same-sex marriage, either.
Precisely.

As I have been saying for a while now, the church needs to disentangle itself entirely from civil marriage. Let the state do whatever it wants. The church will not recognize nor perform nor act as agent in civil marriages. Marriages in the church are marriage in the church alone. The state never should have had any sort of relationship with the church when it came to marriage and it is time to end our unequal yoking. For once let's be ahead of the curve and tell Caesar to take his marriage licenses and stick 'em. The church needs to focus on marriage and gender as God has designed and defined as a witness now more than ever. We have tried to play the respectable patsy for the culture for long enough and all it has gotten us is a smack on the hand when we got out of line. God intended marriage as not merely a sexual union with procreative results but also as a witness to the world. It is time for that role to be front and center for the church.

Slow Down A Bit Here

Reading/watching the news is usually a grim way to spend time. I was driving some Amish last night and in passing a church with a sign showing solidarity for the church in Charleston they asked me what happened because they had no idea. They were duly horrified when I explained. While I like to be informed, sometimes I wonder if it is healthy to be too informed, too caught up in the day to day stuff that is almost always negative.

I have been thinking about this sudden and visceral backlash against the Confederate flag or the "Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag" as some like to point out, which is accurate but come on, the people who fly it are 99.99% not aware that it is not the actual flag of the Confederacy. I have no dog in this fight. I was born, grew up in and lived almost exclusively in Northern states. I never understood someone in northern Michigan would have a flag representing the Confederacy in the window of their pick-up truck. I always wanted to ask them if they knew that Michigan was on the other side in that war. To me that flag was the flag of the losing side and was only flown to preserve "Southern heritage" which was a less than subtle reference to "the good old days when we went to war to keep people enslaved". Like I said I am a Northerner through and through and there is plenty of racism in the north but I don't think the problem is that this is "a Southern thang, y'all wouldn't understand". No, I understand all right, I just think it is juvenile and disgusting. No offense intended to my Southern friends and readers but I have never found anything praiseworthy in the history of the South from that era. I don't find the great leaders of the Confederacy to be all that great because no matter how you nuance it they were fighting to keep slavery, just as I don't care if Erwin Rommel was a swell guy. To make matters worse, going to war over this particular issue once and for all skewed the question of state's rights versus Federal rights in favor of the Federal and forever tainted the conversation about state's rights with the enslavement of human beings. I think you can point back to the Civil War in any conversation about the grotesque reach of the Federal government today.

Having said all that, the response to this act of terror by a lone, disturbed, young man who was on psychotropic drugs like so many mass killers has been breath-taking and more than a little worrisome. I don't think the presence of the rebel flag on the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina was the trigger that set this guy off, although I don't know why it was flying there in the first place. I imagine this kid was a) mentally disturbed in the first place, b) was on mood altering drugs and c) was probably fed racist drivel and then sought out every nutcase who thinks that shooting up a church full of black people worshiping was somehow going to strike a blow for the white man. I also don't understand why Wal-Mart and Amazon and places like that carried merchandise with the rebel flag in the first place other than it was a way to make a buck. I do know why they yanked everything so quickly while leaving Nazi memorabilia for sale, simply because corporate America as a whole is a risk averse enterprise that is terrified of bad publicity to the point of knee-jerk reacting to any event so as to avoid bad press. Our tendency as a culture to overreact to anything and everything is going to come back and bite us. Sure the Confederate flag is low hanging fruit, it is hard to defend in the first place so it easy to try to erase it from our culture. What if Dylan Roof had prominently been wearing a crucifix around his next? Would these stores stop selling selling? Would we see crucifixes pulled down in religious buildings? Before you laugh that off, let me have you talk to me ten years ago and explain that the Supreme Court of the United States just created a "right" for homosexuals to marry. Nothing is off the table these days. More on that later.

At some point we need to remember that we are allegedly living in a free society, although it is harder to make that case by the day. You do not, as a citizen of this republic, have a right to not be offended. In fact just the opposite is true. Part of living in a free society means we tolerate all sorts of offensive nonsense all the time. I am not calling for anyone to lock up Louis Farrakhan no matter how much dangerous nonsense he spouts off. I am not calling on anyone to banish the entire Palin family to a remote island, even if doing so would benefit society as a whole. Free speech, free expression and free association include dumb speech, dumb expression and dumb association.

The point I am trying to get to here is that we as a people might need to tone down the outrage meter and think a little bit before we act. The real reasons behind these senseless murders have little to do with a Confederate flag and taking it down from state capitol buildings and not selling merchandise with the Confederate flag is not going to stop these sorts of people in the future. In fact it likely is going to embolden them by reinforcing their conspiracy theories. Likewise the calls for gun control that invariably follow tragedies like this do nothing to stop the problem. What is needed is a discussion of what is really going on, why people feel emboldened to gun other people down. What is needed is a real conversation about the mass murder on a daily basis of black babies by "doctors". What is needed is an honest discussion of young black men killing young black men on a scale that makes Dylan Roof look like the punk he is. In our rush to "do something" we end up not doing anything and look as confused the next time this happens. Sadly I am not sure that we in America as a people are intellectually capable of doing much more than pulling down flags and ending the sale of "General Lee" model cars. So ignorance will continue to rule, people will die and the masses will ask "why?".

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Headcovering: Now More Than Ever

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
This is a weird passage for a lot of Christians, one that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It deals with a couple of awkward issues, like submission and a command to wear something on your head. You can see this awkwardness in the general way that it is treated in most sermons when the pastor comes to this passage and generally skips past it as fast as he can, The typical treatment of these verses is to dismiss them based on an alleged, unspoken cultural question that really has no bearing on the church today in our enlightened age. In general it is dismissed as a quaint, kind of confusing cultural relic that has no place in our modern church.

I would argue just the opposite. My wife has covered for many years, even when she was the only person in a gathering who did so. The practice kind of was in vogue in some circles a few years back and I blogged a bit about it but seems to have cooled off. Here in 2015 I am hoping to revive this conversation because if ever there was a time when the church needed it, it is now. I am not going to go back through and review the arguments for an actual covering versus long hair or a covering being replaced by a wedding ring, I have posts on those topics already if you are interested.

A covering is more than just an external sign of a submissive heart, although it is not less than that, The covering is also a quiet act of subversion against the culture that tells us that gender, like race, is whatever you want it to be, whatever you feel like at that moment. The covering reminds us that God intentionally made man and He intentionally made woman, He made them in a specific way and order and He made them to be distinct, interdependent and complementary. The two genders and how God designed them to relate with one another is integral to God's design for humanity and even for His plan of salvation. When we read the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ, generation after generation. When we see the curse in Genesis 3 we also see the promise that would be fulfilled in Christ Jesus through the seed of the woman. When we see the promise to Abraham we know that it is fulfilled in the children of the union between man and woman. The covering is a critical, external symbol of recognition of the pivotal place of gender. Absolutely the heart is even more critical in this equation but you simply cannot negate the external sign commanded in Scripture, just as Christians are called to actually be baptized in water as an external sign of an inward reality.

As I said, the covering is a subversive statement today, a counter-cultural act that quietly witnesses to and stands in defiance of the prevailing culture. The culture says "be whatever you want to be, feel free to mutilate the canvas of your flesh". The cover says "I am a daughter of the Most High, made as a woman in His image and by His design and for His glory". The culture says "Men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable" , the covering says "I am unique and irreplaceable as a woman and I have no desire to be a man". A woman with a covered head leaves no doubt as to the nature of men and women and her embrace of how God has made her. A husband blessed to have a wife at his side with a covering is a witness to the complementary nature of the genders and a recognition of his own incompleteness apart from his spouse. I don't want a woman who looks and acts like a man, I want a woman who is "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18).

The culture wars are over and the religious right lost. The casual immorality and confusion we see all around us speaks this truth loud and clear. Now is the time for the quiet way of the cross, a way that does not shout or seek power but also does not seek to hide or accommodate. Rather than seeking to blend in through capitulation or fighting for the last vestiges of political coercive power, we instead can follow a third way of quiet subversion via witness. The covering is an ancient symbol but one that carries with it powerful ramifications and a similarly powerful witness without saying a word. It says to the world that no matter what the nonsensical, ignorant chattering heads on The View or the writers of People magazine have to say, God has already spoken definitively on the question of men and women.

Sometimes the ancient practices are the best response to the modern errors.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Little More About That Book

A while back I announced some exciting news, specifically that I am going to be working on a solo book project. At the time I was kind of vague but I am ready to give some additional details.

The book is going to be tentatively titled: Reuniting the Step-Brothers Of The Reformation. That title might be a bit unwieldy so it is subject to change and is a less than clever play on the title of the polemic work by Leonard Verduin The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, I don't see the Anabaptists as the stepchildren of the Reformers, rather I see the Reformers and the Anabaptists as estranged stepbrothers in dire need of a reconciliation.

The genesis of this book project was a blog post I wrote back in October 2013, What The Anabaptists Can Learn From Their Reformed Brethren. My point at the time was that these two groups, the Reformed and the Anabaptists, while historically at odds with one another, have a lot of teach and learn from one another and both groups are poorer for their historic antipathy. I was encouraged by Dave Black to consider expanding on those initial thoughts and after a lengthy period of hashing it over I have finally decided to move forward with the partnership of Energion Publications as my publisher.

My goal and my desire is to spark a conversation between two groups that have historically been at odds, the Reformed and the Anabaptists.

It is my belief that these two groups are the most significant and most representative of the descendants of the Protestant Reformation. Reuniting in a meaningful way these two groups is not an insignificant hurdle. The history of antipathy between these two streams of the faith goes way back.Tracing their lineage directly to the earliest days of the Reformation movement, these two groups represent the most central facets of that era but they have also been at odds since the earliest days, often violently.

The driving for behind my desire to see these two groups find common ground or at least have open communication is two-fold.

The first reason is more pragmatic in nature. The general state of the faith in the West and particularly America demands that the church come together. We stand at the brink of a seismic shift in the culture surrounding the church and most of the church, I might say virtually all of the church, is utterly unprepared for what is coming. The shock, anger and bewilderment of most of the church is understandable but it is also unhelpful. I think that both the Reformed and the Anabaptists have their own unique strengths to teach one another that I believe are critical to how the church will face the years to come.

The second reason is a little more difficult to explain. Since the split between these groups, followed quickly by one-sided persecution and mutual denunciation, the Reformed and the Anabaptists have developed largely in isolation from one another. In between the two is the great, mushy middle of American evangelicalism with all the negatives that accompany it. In growing more or less disconnected from one another the two great traditions that flowed from the Reformation have had little impact on one another and both are poorer as a result.  It is high time for these two tribes to interact with one another, test their assumptions and both grow as a result. I am actually starting to see some of this happening thanks to the internet and I am also seeing some predictable backlash against it. I hope to add my voice to those who wish to see this conversation happen. I am under no illusion that Presbyterians and Mennonites will suddenly start to merge churches but there still is so much that they can learn from and encourage one another in.

If I am being honest, there is a third reason. I am someone who finds myself astride both streams of the church and, while I am not unwelcome, I am also certainly not comfortable in either. I love the Anabaptists for their understanding of the church and their commitment to non-resistance. I love the Reformed for their robust theological scholarship and boldness. Perhaps if we can get past some of  the old enmity and suspicion we can also see more crossing over and cooperation between the two.

More details will follow in the weeks and months to come. I expect the publication date to be sometime in early 2016 but I would also like to post thoughts on my blog and incorporate those conversations into this book as I go. It should be an exciting journey, the first of hopefully many more to come.

Finally, what would an announcement dealing with reuniting be without a little Peaches & Herb?


Maybe The Theologically Worst Tweet Ever

I saw this from C.J. Mahaney:

If there was ever a statement that fed into the clergy-centric, event driven style of institutionalized church that has led to generations of Christians, millions strong, who see the faith as an event to attend and a passive, observation based life, this is it. Here we have a statement that is not only Biblically indefensible (there were no monologue sermons ever described or commanded in the New Testament) but also incredibly prideful (sitting in silence and listening to a sermon is the highlight of the Christian life?). Is it any wonder that so many of us sit around all week doing none of the things we are actually called to do in Scripture while waiting for the next Sunday to roll around? Is it any wonder that we have "superstar pastors" who surround themselves with sycophants and think they are above the little people in the pews and sometimes above the law? Is it any wonder we have so many clergy who are depressed when our professional religious culture places this much emphasis on a 45 minute talk that invariably is not able to meet this standard? Is it any wonder that people who are looking for something transcendent instead are invited to come to church to hear this all important sermon and leave looking for something else? Is it any wonder that there is a mass exodus of Christians from organized religion, sick to death of the ego driven model we see on display here?

Pastor, if your ego is so self-inflated that you think that your talk on Sunday is the most important moment in the life of a Christian, more important than a father taking a moment to talk to their child about Christ or more important than reading the Scriptures or praying or more important than a husband showing his love for his wife or a Christian visiting a widow or a Christian giving food to the poor or a Christian sharing the Gospel with their neighbor, then you sir are a proud man filled with a demonic level of pride. I can think of innumerable ways a Christian serves God in meaningful ways in a given week and none of them happen while sitting in a pew, surreptitiously looking at the clock to see how much longer the sermon is going to last.

Christianity is a faith centered around a Person, not "the preaching event in the local church". It is a life to live, not an event to attend. I don't care how many academic accolades you have or how many people endorse and buy your books or which fancy conferences you speak at or how many people show up to listen to your "preaching event", if this is your mindset then you haven't a clue what it means to live the Christian life and you probably have no business being an elder in the church.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Threats and Guilt: It Is How We Do Church!

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate but boy his wife better get them dressed in their nicest clothes and have them on their best behavior and make sure they get to "worship" every Sunday or someone is being weak and needing a slap on the wrist. And for crying out loud, keep that baby quiet, can't you see we are fixin' to worship here! (Psalm 127:3-5, Institutional Church Version)
For some reason I still often read Gospel Coalition articles and often they make me do a facepalm but just when I think I have seen it all, I see this: Moms With Hands Full Need The Church by Emily Morrice. Now from the title you might assume that the point is that the church needs to help and support new moms when the church gathers, something I am all in favor of. You would be wrong. There is some of that but the gist of the article is that having your hands full with young kids is no excuse for not getting them to church every Sunday.

Here are some choice quotes with a couple of comments thrown in:
If your children are younger than school age, Sundays might be the only day you have to hustle out the door and be somewhere on time. This process requires discipline where we may have grown weak. In the case of church attendance, churches are often ready to extend grace, but sometimes at the cost of accountability.
HUH?! So women with kids younger than school age have no where to be on time all week. No doctor's appointments, nothing. They just sit around all week waiting for the opportunity to go hear a sermon so by golly suck it up and get your kids to church! Unfortunately a lot of the church has been blinded by the lie that women have to leave the home and work so they absolutely are getting their kids somewhere on time all week long. The next line is even more insulting. To suggest that these young moms lack discipline and have weak self-control is a slap in the face. Capping it off is the less than subtle appeal to "accountability", which is code for "show up or the pastor might have to have a chat with you". That is essentially threatening young moms with church discipline for not showing up on demand. So in other words, if you don't make it to church because of family issues you are weak, lack discipline in your life and ought to get called on the carpet by the elders for your disturbing lack of faith. After all, it isn't like we have designed "church" to be akin to a theatrical event or an academic lecture where a child fusing is a distraction to the rest of us. Family friendly!
Church membership requires church attendance. In an age of individualism, particularly in matters of faith, it is important that churches expect attendance from their members and accountability to that end. Yet too often families with young children are left out of this assumption.
The old canard, if you don't show up to church as demanded you are obviously caught up in the individualism of this age. Here is a news flash: being a member of the church comes from being born again and adopted into the family of God, and that is true no matter how often you go to church (or if you go at all). Conversely being a "member" of a local religious group and showing up whenever the doors are open doesn't make you a member of the church. For a tribe of the church who takes such pride in their Protestantism, the Reformed seem awfully clueless when it comes to how much they still look like Rome in how they view the church. Our problems in the church have less to do with "individualism" than they do with "hive mentality collectivist tribalism".
Pastors and elders, don’t enable young families to drop off the face of the earth in the name of child rearing. By all means, do what you can do make your church a hospitable place for families. In the times when mothers can’t attend church due to a child’s illness or postpartum healing, consider how you can bring fellowship to her or loving service to her family. At the same time, practice accountability with mothers, as you would all church members.
Even here where elders are encouraged to find ways to help families we see that same fall back to "practice accountability". If you can get around to it, make some accommodations for families with young children but if they still don't show up it is time to break out the church discipline hammer and remind them who is boss!
It’s easy to lose heart when our congregation is sitting under solid teaching and we’re in the hallway with a fussy baby, or when our church is praising God in musical worship and we’re called to the nursery—again. But if we’re honest, this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to put our needs behind those of others. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul urges us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
So showing up to church and then spending the entire hour sitting in the hallway with a fussy baby is just the way it is. No thought is given here to the notion that maybe how we insist on organizing the church into a performance might make it nigh impossible for young families to do much other than try to sneak out the back every few minutes with the inevitable stares from other families who are trying to hide their irritation at being distracted. "Be quiet you, can't you see I am worshipping over here!"
Having young children gives us myriad excuses to miss fellowship with our local church, but God’s Word is clear: our interests cannot be paramount. When we don’t attend church because it inconveniences our family, we are robbing our larger spiritual family of our fellowship, our service, and our witness (and of course our check in the offering plate).
In actively participating in your local church, as a mom with her hands full, you are giving others the opportunity to use their gifts to serve you. You are setting a priceless example to the younger women as you love your family and prioritize Jesus and his bride.
Actually you are probably scaring young women. Wow, I don't want to have kids that I have to struggle with every Sunday. I have been in a lot of churches, and I have seen a lot of moms struggling with little kids. I have never thought to myself "Boy that looks awesome, let's have more kids!". Now we do have a lot of kids but never because I was so inspired by how delightful it looked to wrestle with toddlers in a pew.
Families with young children, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).
Ah the obligatory misuse of Hebrews 10:25 which is apparently a requirement to get anything posted on the Gospel Coalition webpage. Somehow I don't think that the average young mom trying to hush a crying baby in the hallway and straining to hear a snippet of the sermon comes away at the end of the service feeling like she encouraged anyone or was encouraged herself. She is mostly just glad it is over. Any use of Hebrews 10:25 to guilt/cajole/threaten people into showing up to a culturally mandated religious event on Sunday morning is dishonest, poor exegesis and theological malpractice.

What a hypocritical people we are. We talk about being family friendly and loving children, we put pro-life bumper stickers on our cars but then we get stuff like this (and this essay is only putting on paper what a lot of the church believes) that basically scolds the imperfect parent and makes showing up to a religious event with a colicky baby the mark of a young mother's faithfulness. The dirty little secret in the church, and let me be blunt and a bit angry here, is that for all of our talk about loving children and family, our attitudes toward them are not much different from the world. We encourage our kids to build careers and the ever elusive financial stability before getting married and then delaying child birth. We are terrified to come out and say that women should stay at home to care for their own kids rather than dumping them in institutionalized child care because that might offend someone and after all a two-income family can write bigger checks. We design our "worship" services to be as child unfriendly as possible, an hour or more of sitting in uncomfortable chairs or pews watching a performance on stage so that moms are often either out in the hallway or trying to entertain their understandable bored kids, or even worse we dump our kids into nursery so they don't bother anyone while we are "worshiping". Our "family friendly" attitude is really little more than slogans, a political tool to get us to the polls and something to manifest with pictures of our kids on Facebook.

If we really care about family, let's encourage our young people to get married and start families rather than chasing the demonic promise of "financial security" and let's gather the church in such a way that young families feel like they are truly welcome rather than something that the rest of us have to tolerate.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Duh indeed

A few days ago, one Roger Olson, writing for Patheos, wrote a rather lengthy and largely ignorant post titled: Is Mormonism Christian? (Long But Everyone Interested in Mormonism Should Read This). Patheos often is a breeding ground for aberrant teaching, although some of it is decent. This is not one of the decent ones.

Now at the outset let me say that I know of Olson mostly for his Quixotic tilting at the Calvinst windmill. He is a fountain of trite and demonstrably false quips about "Calvinism" so I wasn't expecting much. I try to stay out of the Calvinist/Arminian wars as best I can but I simply cannot stomach those who mischaracterize those they disagree with. Mr. Olson may get a wide audience and publish a lot of books but based on his interaction with me and with others who know a lot more about mormonism than he does, he comes across as a middle-schooler on the playground rather than a serious academic. Here is a screen shot of my comment, his response and my rejoinder that never made it through moderation (although he seemed effusive in his praise of mormon comments). Click to enlarge the photo:



"Duh, I know this"? I didn't think my comment was "Duh" worthy but there you go. I guess that is what passes for academic discourse these days.

Back to the article itself.

From the get-go the question in the title itself is ridiculous. No orthodox Christian tradition has ever considered mormonism to be Christian in any sense of the word. You might as well have a post titled "Are lemons made of uranium?". Any theologian with even a cursory understanding of Christian teaching and mormon teaching knows that we are not talking about two different flavors of ice cream, we are talking about the difference between a rock and a tree. Also, again as anyone who pays attention realizes, the mormon religion has changed tactics over the last decade or so, moving away from the prior position of emphasizing how different mormonism is from Christianity to trying to soften the public face of mormonism to emphasize the alleged similarities. I don't even know if a lot of younger mormons realize how much the alleged great apostasy and the vitriolic way that Smith describes "Jesus" speaking about orthodox Christianity is foundational to their religion. It is all P.R., as the response to LDS teachings becomes more widely disseminated thanks to the internet and their aberrant teachings more clear in the public square, mormons have had to change tactics to keep bringing in the converts. Olson seems to blithely accept that Millet is in the vanguard of the change in mormonism to become more orthodox. That is a wonderful idea but it is impossible. Every aspect of mormonism, from the "prophet" who claims direct revelation from Christ to the temples where pagan ceremonies are held to every bit of the mormon proselytizing machine would have to be torn down. My fervent prayer is that mormons as a people leave mormonism and come to saving faith in Christ but I have no hope for orthodox reform of the religion itself.

Second, Olson may consider Millet to be his buddy but Millet has no authority to speak for mormonism. When the current "prophet" declares that Joseph Smith was a liar, as he was, and that the "Book of Mormon" is a fraud, which it is, and that the teachings of all of those who came before Monson and claimed the title of "prophet" were also liars and deceivers, then we can cheer their progress. Until then this is all just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Third. Here is the thing about false prophets and wolves. They lie. It is kind of what they do. I don't know Millet but I imagine that someone that deep in the mormon hierarchy and with the ear of many top mormons has to know that what they teach is untrue. He has to. So his continued defense of mormonism, nuanced as it may be, is tantamount to lying and false teaching. He is a wolf, not a slightly confused Christian.

Fourth, Olson's response to fellow Christians often seemed (as shown above) to be arrogant, juvenile and downright nasty. His use of the term "Anti-mormon" to describe those who have been doing the heavy lifting of witnessing to mormons while he hides away in his ivory tower is insulting and childish. I got a chuckle of out the statement he made on his follow-up post, , where he states:
This blog is for civil, respectful, constructive dialogue, not preaching, flaming or advocacy.
Ah, I see. Maybe where Olson comes from "Duh, I know this" qualifies as "civil, respectful, constructive dialogue" but it doesn't where I am from.

Olson's final paragraph is his follow-up post, What I Learned from the Responses to My Post about Mormonism tells you everything you need to know.
On the other hand I do not consider the LDS Church a cult. I consider it a quasi-Christian denomination and a Christian-based world religion. I still think there is enough Christianity in Mormonism that there is reason to hope that someday the LDS Church will emerge, as the WCG did, as a truly Christian denomination.
That kind of says it all. In one fell swoop he discounts the cultic behavior that left scars on virtually everyone I know that left mormonism, myself included. I know of families that are divided and devastated by this cult. I know first hand the cultuc tactics used to scare people into staying in line On top of this he sees "enough Christianity" in mormonism and sees it as a "Christian-based world religion". In what possible way? Taking aside some common terminology with a different meaning, which Roger "Duh, I know this" Olson claims to understand, there is not one shred of Christianity in mormonism. None. It is a polytheistic, pagan religion more akin to Islam than to Christianity. Trying to find common theological ground with mormonism is like trying to find common theological ground with ISIS. That is not an exaggeration.

Mr. Olson is not doing anyone any favors with his kid gloves approach to mormonism coupled with his pompous treatment of fellow believers. Hopefully someone with more time on their hands can disassemble his posting for the benefit of the church because Roger Olson has done Christianity and those trapped in mormonism an enormous disservice.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

When Eight Seems Lonely

Starting today two of my kids are on mission trips very far from home. That means that our home will have "only" six kids running around. For many people having that many kids in the house would be overwhelming but for us having two kids missing leaves a huge hole. I take some comfort knowing that each in their own way is serving God but it still makes it hard to see empty beds and empty chairs around our cramped little table, although it does make it a little less crowded for the eight of us who remain.

My wife and I find ourselves entering that transitional phase with children who are adults while at the same time with little kids still at home. For so long it has seemed to be somewhat static with our kids, the number went up but how we lived didn't. Now we have a son who works 50-60 hours as a farmhand for the Amish while going to school so we rarely see him, two daughters who are on mission trips and have lives of their own. It is not an easy place to be as a parent. We have never been those who look forward to and encourage our kids to run off and make their own way. We try to have family be the anchor in their lives rather than people you visit on holidays while still balancing their need to spread their proverbial wings.

This all makes me rather melancholy and full of regrets. Time has started to slip through my fingers like sand and other circumstances make me feel more than a little helpless. These are not easy days for me. If not for the gift of faith in and from Christ and the helper He has provided in my spouse I am not sure where I would be. Perhaps I am but I don't like to contemplate it. If you feel inclined or led, please do pray for me and my family. These are days full of uncertainty. Pray most especially for my daughters, for safety and for fruitful times of service.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. - 2 Cor 1:3-6

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

You! Yes, you! I Need Your Help!

I mentioned yesterday, somewhat cryptically, that I have a new book project in the works. As part of my project I am soliciting the opinions of others to be part of a brief survey, specifically brothers who are Reformed or Anabaptist.

Are you part of the Reformed camp, whether one of the newer "young, restless, reformed" crowd or a member of a traditional, confessional Reformed denomination? I need your help!

Are you an Anabaptist, especially if you are part of a traditional Anabaptist denomination (which pretty much means Mennonite if you are reading this)? Or are you just leaning Anabaptust (Ana-Curious?)? I need your help!

If you would like to participate, let me know! Hit me on Facebook or direct message me on Twitter. The survey will be short and mostly free form about your experiences so nothing too intrusive or time consuming but getting some feedback will be critical to the success of my project. So hit me up friends!