Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Powerful Examination Of One Of The Most Often Misused Verses In The Bible

Dwight Gingrich did a masterful job in his essay, Giving Account for Our Use of Hebrews 13:17, which I finally got around to reading. It is not a stretch to say that that is one of the most mishandled and prone to abuse Scriptures in the New Testament, often by the very people who are trusted to know better. I am not going to excerpt it at all or offer comment other than saying that you really, really should read and ponder what he is saying.

Seriously, if you are not reading Dwight's lamentably too infrequent blog posts, you are bad at the internet and you should feel bad about yourself.

Kentucky, Gay "Marriage" and the Schleitheim Confession

Around the web yesterday was a news story out one of the states we formerly lived in, the great although muggy state of hot Kentucky. A County Clerk, Kim Davis, is refusing to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals in spite of a Supreme Court decision making up a "right" for homosexuals to marry out of thin air with a heaping helping of judicial acrobatics and a subsequent appeal by Ms. Davis. According to Ms. Davis her decision is based on her religious convictions.

In one sense she is correct. There is no way to reconcile the Bible and homosexual "marriage". No matter how committed the relationship, you cannot draw an equivalence between two men sodomizing one another regardless of how long it has been going on or how much they love one another and a marriage between a man and woman. That characterization may seem jarring to our tender ears by putting the defiling act of homosexuality in the place of priority but what defines homosexuality is the act, an act that has been considered disordered and unnatural for thousands of years, and not without reason.

On the other hand, the church long ago abdicated our responsibility and permitted us to be unequally yoked with Caesar in the matter of marriage. Greedily seeking after tax and pension benefits we took from Caesar and now he is taking back, leaving us in this ridiculous state. Ms. Davis is an employee of Caesar no matter her faith. When you work for Caesar and swear an oath of office (another Biblical violation), you have to do Caesar's bidding.

So what does that have to do with the Schleitheim Confession? As a reminder, the 6th article of the Anabaptist confession deals with the sword and as part of that deals with the office of the magistrate:
Thirdly, it will be asked concerning the sword, Shall one be a magistrate if one should be chosen as such? The answer is as follows: They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow Him, and so shall we not walk in darkness. For He Himself says, He who wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Also, He Himself forbids the (employment of) the force of the sword saying, The worldly princes lord it over them, etc., but not so shall it be with you. Further, Paul says, Whom God did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc. Also Peter says, Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye should follow His steps.
Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christian's is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christian's are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, but the Christian's citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian's weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. In brief, as in the mind of God toward us, so shall the mind of the members of the body of Christ be through Him in all things, that there may be no schism in the body through which it would be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed. Now since Christ is as it is written of Him, His members must also be the same, that His body may remain complete and united to its own advancement and upbuilding.
Being a magistrate carries with it a responsibility and tacit understanding of being willing to do Caesar's bidding and carrying out Caesar's laws. If a Christian serves as an agent of Caesar while trying to follow Christ at the same time, inevitably something will have to give and more often than not it is following Christ. I affirm that you cannot be following Christ while killing your enemy as soldier of Caesar to give just one example, although it is the most obvious one. Another one would be an officer of the court that is charged with evicting a family from their home for non-payment. The law is clear, you don't pay what you owe and out you go. That is the law and whether it is just or not it is the law. How then can a Christian act as Caesar's agent in throwing the family out of their home?

That is why Anabaptists have traditionally stayed clear of being magistrates or even voting in elections. When you do either you become an agent of the state or a supporter of an agent of the state and they are bound to run into stuff that is contrary to the teachings of the faith. Ms. Davis is right to not issue a license for something that God has decreed to people who live counter to what God has declared. She also ought to resign if there is no other option. Christians should not willingly put ourselves in a place where we have to choose loyalties between the God of Creation and the god of this world, between Christ and Caesar.

Each day the simple wisdom of the historic Anabaptists looks smarter and more critical to study and understand.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Conversational Theology

I came across a term in a book I am reading, The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, that reminded me a lot of an old post but one I return to a lot, Toward a community hermeneutic.

This has been a great book and I am almost done so a review is forthcoming but one passage really jumped out at me. This is the passage in question:
In the foreword to his 2007 book The Formation of Christian Doctrine, the contemporary Baptist scholar Malcolm Yarnell— who is also my supervisor and my teacher— meditates on the “necessarily conversational dimension” of theology. “From a believers’ church perspective, this entails conversation and judgment within the local church, conversation and recommendation within one’s own tradition, and conversation and proselytism with those outside.” This approach offers several advantages. First, it avoids an inadequate limitation to mere theological theory: Etymologically, the word “conversation,” derived from the Latin term "conversatio", denotes “living together, having dealings with others; manner of conducting oneself in the world,” as well as the “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” Hence, conversational theology cannot be done from the writing desk alone. 
The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity (Kindle Locations 5024-5033). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I really like that phrase, "conversational theology". All too often theology is done in the dusty offices of seminary professors and professional theologians (no offense to seminary profs with tidy offices). This leads to all sort of debate over minutiae and some squirrely ideas as they seek for something new and novel to talk about among their colleagues. It also removes the bulk of the church from the conversation, meaning that we end up with "trickle down theology" where each local pastor decides which theological ideas he shares and which he does not share. I don't blame them for that, if you talk with me you are not going to hear much positive about King James Onlyism or "Christian feminism" or a non-omniscient God. Nonetheless the church as a whole should be talking about and thinking through theology, not just in theory but also how it applies in practice, in the real lives of real Christians facing an increasingly hostile world.

So remember, if you are talking about the things of God with the brethren, you are engaged in conversational theology. You might not think you are a theologian but if you are a Christian you by definition are. The only question is whether you will be a good, informed theologian or a poor, ill-informed one!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Words As Peals Of Thunder

I has become quite en vogue among certain segments of the religious social media world to trash the Apostle Paul for his various inconvenient and politically incorrect statements on pretty much everything except "love", a word easily misused and reinterpreted to meet the standards of the world.

That is not how the early church viewed Paul. They had, as did many other generations of Christians, a much higher view of Paul. Rightly so. Jerome is quoted in The Principal Works of St. Jerome as writing the following regarding the words of Paul:
I will only mention the Apostle Paul, whose words seem to me, as often as I hear them, to be not words, but peals of thunder.
Peals of thunder. Peals is not a word we use these days but we probably should. What a different view of Paul we see from the early church and the great theologians throughout history, especially in the Reformation. In fact I ran across this quote again recently when reading  the intro to Timothy George's masterful work, Theology of the Reformers, now in a revised edition. George writes:
The Reformation was not merely a tempest in a teacup. Jerome once said that when he read the letters of the apostle Paul, he could hear thunder. That same thunder reverberates through the writings of the reformers as well. Contemporary theologians would do well to listen afresh to the message of these courageous Christians who defied emperors and popes, kings and city councils because their consciences were captive to the Word of God. Their gospel of the free grace of Almighty God, the Lord God Sabaoth, as Luther’s great hymn put it, and their emphasis on the centrality and finality of Jesus Christ stand in marked contrast to the attenuated, transcendence-starved theologies that dominate the current scene. It is not the purpose of this study to canonize the reformers. The sixteenth century was an age of violence and coercion, and the mainline reformers were not completely innocent of bigotry and intolerance. The Anabaptists, who had warts of their own, offered a counterwitness on this score, a witness that still needs to be heard in our own violence-ridden century. Luther’s invective against the Jews, Zwingli’s complicity in the drowning of Anabaptists, and Calvin’s in the burning of Servetus are all the more tragic because one senses that these, of all people, should have known better. However, what is remarkable about the reformers is that despite their foibles and sins and blind spots, they were able to grasp with such perspicuity the paradoxical character of the human condition and the great possibility of human redemption through Jesus Christ. This concern undergirded their approach to the church, worship, ministry, spiritual life, and ethics. In each of these arenas we need desperately to hear what they have to say. 
George, Timothy (2013-09-01). Theology of the Reformers (Kindle Locations 178-190). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Emphasis mine.
To paraphrase Maximus Decimus Meridius: Their words echo through eternity like thunder. I think we could use a little thunder these days. Scratch that, we could use a lot of thunder these days.

We have lost the power of words, of ideas, of truth. Our battle-cry is tolerance, ecumenism, pragmatism. We try to fight the good fight by surrendering before the first shot it fired and shockingly keep losing, although that doesn't seem to bother some people. Anything to keep the peace and ensure that the tithe checks and book royalties keep flowing in. Paul makes for an easy target for the self-appointed editors of the faith because he is so readily slandered by those looking for an easier, less offensive gospel. Just pick and choose some seemingly innocuous passages about love, preferably from Jesus, and call Paul a misogynist or simply suggest that you can't really trust what Paul wrote, thereby setting the stage to discount whatever portions of the Bible the culture finds inconvenient. Pitting Paul against Jesus is a favorite pastime for too many religious folks and a fair number of Christians buy into it in their quest to find cover for their embarrassment of following such a primitive faith.

We could use a lot more thunder these days, a little more spine and a lot less congeniality. No one is going to read Jim Wallis or Joel Osteen or Rachel Held Evans and say wow, their words are like peals of thunder! Somewhere along the line we decided that being nice and inoffensive and politically correct were the hallmarks of a Christian when anything but that is the case. Thanks to our Hallmark culture we have a skewed, sub-Christian view of love and that view makes many of us theological wimps and whiners. I have a lot more to say about the view of the Bible and Paul in particular in the days to come. How we view the Bible in our culture today makes all the difference between a faithful witness and an empty religion. Stay tuned.

Hay And Love

Driving around yesterday where we live almost anywhere you went you could smell freshly mowed and raked hay fields. That is such a wonderful smell. With thousands of Amish in close proximity to our home, everywhere you looked there were farmers, Amish and English alike, cutting, raking and baling hay for the winter. Watching the English with their high tech equipment and then watching the Amish with the plodding but mighty draft horses is such a contrast but when you look at their houses it looks like the Amish are prospering more with less technology. What is especially awesome is when you are out of the car and can not only watch but listen. All you hear are the sounds of the horses doing what they love, leaning into the harness and pulling hay rakes and hay wagons. The soft jingle of their harness out in the open air while they do what man and beast have worked symbiotically together for centuries to accomplish in the never-ending change of the seasons reminds me that bigger and louder is not necessarily better. Farming the way the Amish do seems almost quaint but I don't think many of the Amish envy their English neighbors and the environmentally controlled cabs of their massive tractors with a commensurately massive loan payments.

How different the times and seasons are when you spend a lot of your summer preparing for fall and winter rather than looking ahead to the next vacation or the start of the Christmas shopping season. The rhythms of the seasons in the Midwest are very meaningful for those of us who grew up here and choose to live here and it always brings back memories. For me the smell of freshly mowed hay means more than feed for our livestock this winter, it takes me back to my younger days when I was an insufferable kid dating the woman who would be my wife.

Part of the process of courting my wife included helping with the hay when her dad cut it back when his health was better. That was not much fun because the bales were bound with wire making it possible to make them much heavier than hay bales bound with twine. Some of the bales weighed more than half of what I did back then. Plus I didn't really know what I was doing which made me feel awkward, something I hate. To top it off my wife's brother would toss bales like he was playing corn-hole, which is made easier by him being a giant who was immensely strong. I was pretty strong for a 125 pound kid but each bale was a major effort. Lifting weights in the gym is not quite the same as using your whole body to manhandle a bale of hay.

When I was living in those days of sweating, sore backs and arms that looked like a herd of cats had used them for a scratching post it wasn't much fun but looking back it was all well worth the effort and irritation. I am not sure her dad ever thought I would amount to much but I have to believe it earned me some grudging respect to go toe to toe with the hay bales.

Those days seem so long ago but I still remember the smell of hay and it reminds me of my wife. She would be out there with the men, working every bit as hard but smiling all the while. Hard work never bothered her and I tell skeptical Amish guys all the time that back in the day she could work every bit as hard as an Amish woman or even an Amish man. Stacking hay bales in the barn seems an odd thing to remind me of her but I recall those days and the smell of hay reminds me of how blessed I am to have a faithful wife of more than twenty years and eight children that we love. Our oldest son is out of the house every morning before 7 AM to go work on Amish farm and I see in him so much of what I respect about my wife. My other sons will head out later to care for our pigs, horses and cattle. My daughters are bright and beautiful and the two older girls spent part of their summer in Nicaragua and Nepal serving Christ.

My ungrateful and vain younger self would be shocked and disappointed at how we choose to live but I look around at my family and especially my wife when I see hay being made and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Cage Stage: Not just for Calvinists Anymore!

There is a well known phenomenon that occurs when a generic evangelical discovers Reformed Theology/Calvinism. It even has a name: the cage stage. I will turn to R.C. Sproul, Jr. to explain in more detail. From the article Cage-Stage Calvinism: What Is It and What Causes It? :
“Cage-stage” describes an all too common phenomenon wherein a believer comes to embrace the doctrines of grace, and for a time becomes an obnoxious lout in defending the doctrines to all comers, whether they are interested or not. It suggests that such a newbie should spend some time in a cage until they calm down. If you are a Calvinist, you likely have been through this stage. If you are not, you surely have encountered those who were infected.
Yep. I remember that stage. Like Sproul, Jr. says, what causes it is a lack of belief in Calvinism. Read the whole article if you are interested.

I can go back to my earlier posts when I was even less wise than I am now, which is hard to believe, and a newer Christian and you can see the cage stage pretty dramatically on display. I even used to spend a lot of time arguing with other Calvinists about what constituted legitimate Calvinism!  Get a couple of younger Christians who hold to the Five Points and they will find something to argue about. As I grew older, I grew (mostly) out of that stage. That doesn't mean I hold less firmly to the five points or Reformed theology proper, if anything I hold to it even more firmly. It just means that I don't wander the back alleys of the internet looking for a fight. Again, as stated above, the cage stage is not a flaw in Calvinism, just a somewhat understandable overreaction when someone is introduced to an alternative to the easy-believisim, semi-Pelagian hokum that passes for theology in most of evangelicalism.

As I travel this life I have noticed that while the cage-stage Calvinist is still a thing, although the fervor seems to have cooled a bit as I have mentioned previously, it is not unique to Calvinism. While most people who embrace Calvinism sincerely find the tenets in Scripture, it also seems to attract people who are exceptionally bookish and prone to arguing over minutiae. I have also noticed a disturbing trend in my own past writing and in the writing of a lot of others who are part of the "house church" or "organic church" or "simple church" movement. Perhaps being in a sub-movement in and of itself is a problem but there are a lot of advocates for a simpler, participatory church that are fixated on that over anything else. Again my past writing demonstrates some of this and a lot of people out there still do. That doesn't mean that striving for a simpler, more participatory model of ecclesiology is wrong, no more so than being a Calvinist is. It does mean that while this group is full of lots of great people that I call friends, it is also home to some serious egos, a disturbing amount of bad theology and some flat out false teachers who seem to get a pass on damnable heresy because they say the right things about ecclesiology.

I guess my point here is that it might be a good idea for more mature and wiser heads to help talk down some newly awakened folks who feel betrayed by the institutional system (probably with cause). Perhaps a little time in the cage to work out what this all means and ask some critical questions like "What do I do if I can't find exactly what I am looking for?" and "What are the boundaries of acceptable theology?". Like newly minted Calvinists, new house church types need some time for reflection before canonizing the works of Frank Viola and singing the praises of other house church advocates, many of whom are involved in a disturbing number of ego and power driven squabbles. Take what you have learned brothers and sisters and let it percolate for a while before you decide to conquer the world under the banner of 1 Corinthians 14:26 and assume everyone you meet is dying to hear why the way they do church is wrong.

Southern Baptist Convention To Cut Hundreds Of Missionaries

Christianity Today reports that the International Mission Board, the foreign mission arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, is cutting hundreds of staff including missionaries: Southern Baptists Will Cut 600 to 800 Missionaries and Staff. David Platt, president of the IMB, announced that the IMB has overspent by almost a quarter billion dollars and it sounds like the prior leadership was not exactly fiscally responsible. Is this a sign of things to come? It sounds like it could be...
Scott Moreau, editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, said the IMB staff cuts could be a sign of things to come. Since the 1700s, he said, evangelicals have used the “William Carey” model of missions funding.
In that model, churches and individual Christians donate to a mission society, which then sends out missionaries.
It’s a model that could falter in the future, Moreau said. “This might be a step toward the demise of the centrally funded mission agency.”
To me it is inconceivable that the current model of missions will survive the near future. We should be thinking very seriously about how to fund mission work and we should have started to do so a long time ago. Being a missionary supported by the IMB must be nicer than having a dozen local churches you have to ask for money from but I think both of those models are in trouble, We should have been moving to a model of using mission funds to equip local Christians in foreign mission fields. rather than parachuting white American missionaries into foreign countries to save the heathen. We have plenty of white heathens right here in America and you can find a bunch of them pretty easily because they are in a pew on Sunday mornings. By equipping and even supporting for a time Christians in their own native lands we change the 'Murica To The Rescue! paradigm and hopefully have a more genuine and less threatening Gospel witness. Plus I think it would be far more cost-effective. For a fraction of the cost of supporting U.S. missionaries in the lifestyle they are accustomed to, we can send equippers to help Christians already on the ground obtain the tools they need to be witnesses, which is far more Biblical anyway (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

Of course it wouldn't be like me to not point out the institutional elephant in the room. The SBC's IMB has been selling off mission property and not replacing retiring missionaries because they lack the funds to stay within budget. That means people in foreign lands are not hearing the Gospel and are dying condemned in their sins. Meanwhile as I have posted previously, the Southern Baptist Convention, as the largest Christian denomination in America, has tens of billions in real estate that sits mostly empty most of the week (see my post, Speaking of haranguing the institutional church  to see where I come up with that claim.). How can we sleep at night as the church knowing that our priorities are that screwed up? Let me say that again: people are dying and going to hell without Jesus and the richest and most powerful Christians in the world can't be bothered to spend less on ourselves so we can send the Gospel to them. You can bet we have the money to support sending Marines and drone strikes to those countries but not Bibles and missionaries. If God were not infinitely patient and sovereign  I fear that every lot in America containing a "church" building would be a smoldering ruin. I am not at all joking about that.

We are at the point where we have to decide which is more important for us, having a cozy and convenient place to get our religion on or taking the Gospel to every corner of the earth. We don't have enough money to do both now and that is only going to get worse in the future. I am quite confident that the Bible already answers that question for us in favor of the latter. The only remaining question is whether the church of Jesus Christ will be a faith Bride and carry out the Great Commission He entrusted to us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

800 Military Bases Around The World

Watch this video from Vox as part of the article This map shows how enormous US military spending really is and pay particular attention to a couple of stats. First that we spend between 70 and 100 billion a year to maintain these overseas bases, many leftovers from prior conflicts that just never were closed and that it costs 10,000-40,000 more to maintain troops based overseas compared to those in American bases. In the case of Germany there are around 50,000 U.S. troops so even at the cheapest rate of $10,000 more a year that means half a billion dollars in extra expenses to occupy a country we haven't been at war with for over 70 years. That is just one country.....

That is a whole lot of foreign bases for one country to have compared to all the rest combined. Just remember that when you are told that we need to spend more on "defense" lest the rest of the world catch up. Here is a spoiler, they are never going to catch up but we are still going to spend ourselves into financial ruin. (p.s. sorry the video is so wide)

Swing And A Miss

I know Bo is kinda distracting but I love me
some Bo Jackson.
Baseball is a game of inches, especially at the Major League level. The difference between a great hitter like Miguel Cabrera hitting a fast ball and missing it is usually determined by a tiny difference in when and where he swings. I would say the same is true in theology. Usually the most dangerous false teachers are not nutjobs like Jim Jones, David Koresh or Victor Hafichuk because they are obviously crazy. No, the really dangerous false teachers and teachings are those that modify Scripture just a little bit. Even among generally orthodox Christians this can be true.

I was reminded of this when I saw an article from the Gospel Coalition on headcovering by Benjamin Merkle, Should Women Wear Head Coverings? .The genesis of his essay is the very real problem posed to complementarians when they talk about why women are forbidden to teach men in the church. A common response, one I have gotten several times, is to ask why passages like 1 Timothy 2:13-14 are universal and binding but the church doesn't teach that women should wear a covering apart from some rare examples in Reformed churches, the "Plymouth Brethren" and conservative Anabaptist groups. It is a legit issue, one I have raised before. I can answer someone who asks that question by affirming that my wife does indeed wear a covering and that she is the one who broached the topic with me, not the other way around but most other Christians need to come up with a legit excuse. This is pretty typical of the response. Benjamin affirms that both passages above make their argument from creation but then says it doesn't apply to headcoverings:
A closer examination of the two texts, however, shows it’s consistent to reject the need for women to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11) while affirming they are not to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim. 2). The reason for this distinction is that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul only indirectly uses the argument from creation to affirm head coverings for women. The direct application of his reasoning is to show that creation affirms gender and role distinctions between men and women. Therefore, Paul’s argument from creation which demonstrates men and women are distinct cannot be culturally relegated. The application of this principle (i.e., head coverings), then, can and does change with culture. In contrast, the argument from creation in 1 Timothy 2 applies directly to Paul’s prohibition, and therefore is not culturally conditioned.
He later says that coverings only point to a greater reality:
Third, it’s important to notice the passive nature of a head covering. A head covering was a sign or symbol pointing to a greater reality. It had no meaning in itself, but was a concrete expression of an intangible truth. Thus, Paul isn’t concerned with head coverings per se. Rather, he’s concerned with the meaning that wearing a head covering conveys.
I see where Benjamin is going astray here. I would heartily affirm that headcoverings are not the main question. Male headship based on the created order is. Amen! However that doesn't negate the fact that women in the early church, not just in Corinth, wore a visible, recognizable symbol for submission to male headship in the covering. The problem is his assumption that while in the early church, and the broader church for much of post-resurrection history, women did cover their heads, they don't have to today:
Christian women are not required to wear head coverings today when praying, since the symbol of a woman’s head being covered is different today than it was during the time of Paul (at least in many cultures).
OK, so what is this different symbol. How does a typical evangelical Christian wife in an evangelical church setting demonstrate the principal involved here? *crickets*. What about long hair? What about a wedding ring? The problem here is that neither of those indicate submission to male headship. Lots of women, including single women, have long hair but no one looks at a long haired woman and assumes she is a Christian submitting to her husband's male headship. The wedding ring is worse because most people that are married wear those and women who are anything but submitting to their husband's headship wear them. Of course there is also the problem of substituting something (jewelry) for headcovering when the wearing of external adornment is problematic at best and we are never given permission to do so in Scripture. What we end up with is a muddled argument from Benjamin that demonstrates that he doesn't really understand the arguments for headcovering at all. No one I know thinks headcoverings are the point in and of themselves. What we argue is that the physical, visible covering is the external symbol of headcovering is a commandment that has not been abrogated and the covering on a woman's head cannot be replicated by something else.

Let's look at a different example and apply Benjamin's reasoning. Baptism is an external sign of an internal change. I am born-again, which is not visibly apparent, so I follow the command of Scripture to be publicly baptized to show outwardly what has changed inwardly. Now the practice of baptism or ceremonial washing is deeply embedded in the culture of the 1st century. Based on his reasoning toward headcovering, we no longer use ceremonial washing in our culture so we shouldn't baptize new believers. In our culture we could maybe post on Facebook in place of baptism or tweet "Born again!". That is how people nowadays show externally to the world what is happening with them. You might say "That is silly, baptism is necessary because there is greater meaning in baptism that can't be replicated, like identifying with Christ by being buried with Him in the water and coming out of the water to represent new life!". I would say "Amen!" and "Exactly!" and then I would show how a woman having a symbol on her head to show that she is covered by male headship cannot and must not be substituted for anything else because it loses the critical symbolism. The word "head" is used for a reason and a different word makes no sense. To say that "The husband is the foot of the woman even as Christ is the foot of the church" makes no sense. The head is the top of the body, where our mind resides in our brain. Having a symbol there is not something you can substitute with something else.

I would imagine that anyone who advocates for a gender-less church and home is going to see right through Benjamin's argument because it is as flimsy and transparent as ziplock bag. I can't see how anyone who thinks women should teach men in the church and wonders why complementarians are so inconsistent in their hermeneutic is going to do anything but chuckle at his argument. I don't even think they are the audience. His audience seems to be male church leaders who bang the drum for complementary gender roles in the home and church but are afraid of saying anything that would offend evangelical women by suggesting that they need to cover their head. The hatred of Muslims in our culture doesn't help because a lot of people assume if my wife has her head covered she is either a Muslim or Amish. Where we live that isn't the case because so many women cover but in most of America that has been true. I would say that fear is the same reason we don't hear preaching from  the pulpit about why women shouldn't adorn themselves because in our culture getting dressed up and looking good for church includes jewelry and nice clothes. A pastor who depends on the offering plate for his living is probably dumb to suggest that those who put the money in the plate shouldn't get dressed in external adornment and instead should dress modestly in a comprehensive manner. This essay from the Gospel Coalition is completely counter-productive, providing flimsy cover (pun intended) for those who are afraid of offending the church with such a primitive notion like headcovering while at the same time confirming to those who oppose Biblical gender roles that we are hypocritical and inconsistent.

I know some may wonder why worry about something this silly when we have Planned Parenthood aborting babies. Let's fight the demonic anti-Christ of "choice" and leave this sort of stuff to the theologians. I don't see this as an "either-or" situation. Here is why.

First the obvious. Nothing is in Scripture by accident or as a superfluous detail. Everything that was preserved by God's sovereignty was preserved for our benefit. If Paul took the time to address headcovering in a church with issues like unrepentant and perverse sexual sin (1 Cor 5:9-13), we should not be so quick to dismiss it.

Second, those two issues are not distinct and unrelated, to the contrary they are very much related. The move to a consequence-less sexual free-for-all that has led to abortion on demand to sweep the results of promiscuity under the rug is the same movement that denies gender distinctions in the home and church. We have got to stop treating issues that face the church as if they are unrelated to one another!

In other words there are no unrelated issues in the church because they all have a common authoritative source, namely the Bible. Give Benjamin's article a read and see if you agree with my assessment.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Pox On Peter Jackson

I have made no secret of my disdain bordering on an infantile fit over the crime against art and humanity itself known as the "Hobbit" trilogy put out by the once great director who brought the Lord of the Rings to life, Peter Jackson. Having Jackson butcher the Hobbit story to drag it out into three films, apparently to make a few extra bucks, invoked the same emotional betrayal I would feel if Al Mohler started officiating at gay 'marriage' ceremonies and embracing Arminianism.

Anyway, my fury slowly cooled as the Hobbit movies faded into cinematic irrelevance as they were destined to do. I thought I had vented my anger and moved on. Alas it was not to be so.

The actor that plays Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Armitage, joined the cast of NBC's Hannibal this season playing a well known character, Francis Dolarhyde aka The Great Red Dragon. He rarely speaks but his performance is magnificent as he commands the screen while not uttering a word and when he does speak he captures the role of the serial killer Red Dragon perfectly, far better than the actor in the older movie based on this character, Manhunter, in much the same way that Mads Mikkelsen is a far better Hannibal Lecter than the great Anthony Hopkins, especially in the sequels which were pretty awful compared to the Silence of the Lambs. His presence on screen is amazing, one of the best performances I have watched in a television show in a very long time, and one on broadcast television to boot.

As I watch the character played by Armitage unfold in the third season of Hannibal, it is painfully obvious how misused he was in the Hobbit movies. I don't blame him for the performance as he clearly had little to work with as an actor playing a well known character with an awful supporting cast and ridiculous dialogue. It turns out that Armitage is a wonderful actor who is doing justice to the part in a way that he was not allowed to in Jackson's criminal trilogy. So this has rekindled my quiescent anger into a bright flame of righteous indignation. I know that Hannibal is a terribly violent show, not cartoonish violence but up close and personal violence, with a major character (Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy) fighting a descent into madness brought on by his uncanny ability to get in the minds of the criminals he fights, something that is probably not great for my own mental health. Yet what attracts the unfortunately small audience (leading to cancellation of the show for poor ratings) to the show is the depth of the characters, especially in scenes of one on one interaction. Armitage has meshed into the show perfectly.

So Peter Jackson, you need to go make small budget movies and get no acclaim for it until you atone for the ongoing atrocity known as The Hobbit trilogy. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Speaking Of Music

Two music related posts in a row! Better get out your prophecy charts, Nicolae Carpathia might have been born of a jackal or something last week.

My wife was out of town so I went with three of my girls to a Gospel sing in our town. I don't mean our town as in Fort Wayne, the closest metro area. I mean our home town, the tiny little burg of Spencerville, notable mostly for our covered bridge. The event was sponsored by Cuba Mennonite Church (no relationship to the nation of Cuba, it is on Cuba Road), the fellowship we semi-regularly gather with. I was only able to stay for about an hour and it was pretty sunny so the pictures below are not great but it was still nice time to see some friends, have some hot dogs and listen to music with some of my girls.

The event featured two quartets, the New Heights Quartet out of Ontario, Canada and Cross Walk Quartet out of Goshen, Indiana about an hour away. It was a nice evening and it looked like quite a few people with no affiliation to Cuba Mennonite showed up plus a whole bunch of other miscellaneous Anabaptists. I am not a huge fan of the quartet style of singing but any song sung with an eye toward honoring our Lord is a joy.

The Crosswalk Quartet

Terry Myers, one of the elders at Cuba Mennonite,
introducing the members of the New Heights Quartet

The New Heights Quartet

A view of the audience from the parking lot

It was a little warm and very sunny so a lot of the audience
huddled in the shade of the Spencerville Community Center

Friday, August 21, 2015

Obligatory Old Fuddy Post About Youngsters And Their Rock And Roll Music

As I get older I find less and less to be appealing with the obsession of deafening music when the church gathers. We haven't been to anything approximating a "contemporary worship service" for a very long time except for a friend's installation service and my wife and I both remarked to one another afterward that it was so loud that it drowned out the sound of the congregation singing. Now when you go to a rock concert (and yes I have been to some, back in the hard rock hair band 80's when I saw Ratt and Cinderella in concert and was deaf for two days afterward.) you certainly might be singing along but you aren't there to hear yourself and those around you sing. You are there to see and hear the musician. In church we should be singing together as the Body of Christ, not trying to be heard over the deafening music. Like everything we do in the gathered Body, it should be marked by mutuality across the Body, not a performance by one or a few up front.

I have to say that while I think some of the really rigid groups when it comes to not having instruments accompany congregational singing are a bit kookie and are doing a lot of swallowing camels and straining gnats, especially the exclusive Psalmody people, but in general the less accompaniment the better for me. Perhaps a piano or an acoustic guitar but I like singing when the only thing you hear is the followers of the Lamb singing praises to His holy Name. This is the sort of music I am talking about from the Shenandoah Christian Music Camp, very similar in style as well as dress to the Anabaptist fellowship we semi-regularly fellowship with:

Notice what is missing. No smoke machines. No disco lights. No interpretative dance or holy mimes on stage. Actually more jarring, no instruments, not guitars or even a piano. I wonder how many church goers comfortable with "praise and worship" music would not be able to "worship" to that? I am not saying that you can't or ought not have musical instruments and many people really like them but for me, much as I sort of like being drowned out as I am terribly self-conscious of how badly I sing, I like to hear the voices of the brothers and sisters around me. It might not be the highest production value but the true value of congregational singing is in the heart of those who sing, not the quality of the performance.